Thursday, March 31, 2011
A man spots a woman across the room at a party and falls instantly in love with her. In a fit of despair over his unrequited love, he poisons himself and fantastic dreams and visions result. This is the story, inspired by his own love for the actress Harriet Smithson, that Hector Berlioz portrays in his Symphonie fantastique, premiered in 1830. Using recurring musical motifs to represent characters and brand new instrumental colors, Berlioz worked on foundations laid by Beethoven to bring music fully into the Romantic era.
Posted by San Francisco Symphony Podcasts at 5:12 PM
Friday, March 25, 2011
In 1903, Ralph Vaughan Williams began collecting folk songs. His dedication to his English heritage was evident early on in his career, from his editions of Purcell’s music for the Purcell Society to his assembling, editing, and contributing to The English Hymnal. It is fitting, then, that his first instrumental symphony should be called A London Symphony. Vaughan Williams's Symphony No. 2 is inspired by the vibrant city life of London, and has been described as the musical equivalent of Claude Monet’s paintings of the sun rising over the foggy Thames.
Posted by San Francisco Symphony Podcasts at 11:20 AM
Thursday, March 17, 2011
At the close of the nineteenth century, Finnish natives were enjoying a renaissance of their native culture, in opposition to their Russian occupiers. Jean Sibelius was swept up in this nationalistic fervor, and composed several patriotic tone poems, including Finlandia. Symphony No. 2, misinterpreted at its premiere as a commentary on the Finnish political conflict, was composed mostly in Italy, where Sibelius was renting a studio. Working with fragments and sketches intended for four separate tone poems, Sibelius then assembled the pieces into this full-fledged symphony.
Posted by San Francisco Symphony Podcasts at 4:53 PM
Monday, March 14, 2011
In June 1891, Antonín Dvořák was invited to direct the newly-formed National Conservatory in New York City. Leaving four of their six children behind in Bohemia, Dvořák and his wife made their new home on East 17th Street in cacophonous Manhattan, just a few blocks from the new school. Through his diverse student body and the advent of the polyrhythmic ragtime, Dvořák first encountered African American and Native American music. He was particularly taken with those cultures’ spirituals. He borrowed musical elements from diverse popular sources for many of his compositions, including his Symphony No. 9, From the New World.
Posted by San Francisco Symphony Podcasts at 3:47 PM
Thursday, March 3, 2011
Bach’s Mass in B minor can viewed as a compendium of all of the musical styles in which the composer was fluent. The work encompasses many different styles popular in the Baroque era, including polyphonic choral textures, instrumental solos, and operatic aria solos for the vocalists. A work of huge scale, it is unlikely that Bach ever heard the Mass performed in its entirety. Composed at intervals throughout his life and finally compiled into a complete work just before his death, the B minor Mass stands as an embodiment of Bach’s genius.
Posted by San Francisco Symphony Podcasts at 12:29 PM
Tuesday, March 1, 2011
On an extended journey through Italy in 1830 and 1831, Felix Mendelssohn began work on his Fourth Symphony. A wildly talented composer who wrote his famous Octet when he was only sixteen, Mendelssohn was prompted to finish the work when the London Philharmonic Society requested a symphony from him (and offered payment of a hundred guineas). Mendelssohn called it the jolliest music he had ever composed. Although he remained dissatisfied with the symphony and planned numerous revisions, the Italian Symphony still stands as one of his most easily recognizable works.
Posted by San Francisco Symphony Podcasts at 1:16 PM