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8.551144 - 101 GREAT ORCHESTRAL CLASSICS, Vol. 4
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101 Great Orchestral Classics - Volume 4

Ludwig van Beethoven, born in Bonn in 1770, spent the greater part of his career in Vienna, where he died in 1827. He completed nine symphonies and of these the Fifth, at least in its opening bars, is probably the best known. The composer started work on the symphony soon after completing the Eroica Symphony, the Third, but put it aside to deal with what is now the Fourth. The Fifth seems to have been finished by February 1808 and was first performed in December of that year. A chance remark by the composer -Thus Fate knocks at the door - has led some to name the work the Fate Symphony, a title Beethoven himself would not have recognised.

The clarinet, at least with its fuller range of notes, was a product of the early eighteenth century , but only gradually took its place in the orchestra. The first clarinettists in the Vienna Court Orchestra were the Stadler brothers, appointed in 1787, after some years of 5 free-lance and wind-band work in the capital. Anton Stadler developed a new form of clarinet, known as the basset clarinet, with an even wider range in the bass, and it was for this instrument and its inventor that Mozart, who had settled in Vienna in 1781 at the age of 25, ten years later, in the last year of his life, wrote a fine quintet for clarinet and string quartet and an even more splendid concerto, of which the Adagio is the slow movement.

Shakespeare fascinated the nineteenth century, his relative freedom and wide scope appealing in particular to the romantic imagination. Felix Mendelssohn had an early acquaintance with the plays and in 1826, at the age of sixteen, had written an Overture with the title A Midsummer Night's Dream, translating into musical terms some of the elements of the original play. In 1842 he was invited to Berlin, where he wrote, to a royal commission, incidental music for a German translation of the same play. The Scherzo is the epitome of fairy music, apt accompaniment to the activities of the fairy kingdom found in a wood near Athens, the setting of the magic play.

Among romantic piano concertos, the Norwegian Edvard Grieg's contribution to the genre is among the best known. Grieg, Scottish by remoter ancestry, but the principal nationalist composer of the late nineteenth century in his own country, wrote his piano concerto in 1868 and revised it in the months before his death in 1907. The attraction of the concerto, and particularly of its first movement, lies in its variety of melodic material and its colourful harmonies.

Some composers have had the misfortune to write pieces that become so popular that in the public mind, at least, they outweigh all else. The French composer Claude Debussy was haunted by his famous Clair de lune (Moonlight), part of a piano suite written in 1890 and revised in 1905.

Handel, German by birth, Italian in musical style and finally English by domicile, wrote his Royal Fireworks Music to accompany a celebration of the Peace of Aix-Ia-Chapelle that ended the War of the Austrian Succession. Held in London's Green Park in April 1749, the display was not without mishap, when the pavilion constructed for the pyrotechnic exhibition caught fire, to the dismay of its Italian architect. Rejouissance, aptly named, is part of the Grand Overture of Warlike Instruments that Handel was persuaded to write for the occasion.

Mozart as an infant prodigy enjoyed international fame as a child. In adolescence in the 1770s he found himself for a time confined to his native Salzburg, where his father was Deputy Director of Music to the reigning Archbishop. Mozart himself, as much violinist as pianist, served as leader of the court orchestra and in 1775 wrote a set of five violin concertos for his own use or for that of colleagues. The fifth of these ends with a refreshingly varied movement, one of its episodes of a fashionably Turkish character.

Music for ballet in mid-nineteenth century Russia was not always of the best. This changed when Tchaikovsky was commissioned to provide music for Swan Lake, commissioned by the Moscow Imperial Theatres in 1875. Ballet, with its relatively short musical forms, suited the genius of Tchaikovsky very well, with his gift for melody and orchestral colour. The waltz for the enchanted Swan Princess is among the most popular dances in the ballet.

Born in 1811 in Hungary, then part of the Habsburg Empire, Liszt was taken as a child to Vienna and theo to Paris. France was the base from which he first toured Europe as a virtuoso pianist, later moving to Weimar and finally to Rome. Although at first ignorant of the language, he was accepted in the Hungarian regions of the Empire as a national hero, not least for his Hungarian Rhapsodies, evoking popular gypsy music, wrongly identified with folk music. Nevertheless the suggestions of a vagrant gypsy life had a wide appeal in a romantic century.


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