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8.551143 - 101 GREAT ORCHESTRAL CLASSICS, Vol. 3

101 Great Orchestral Classics - Volume 3

A sensitive musician of relatively humble parentage, Elgar has come to be identified with the heyday of English imperialism. His popular patriotic Pomp and Circumstance Marches support this view of a composer who, whatever his love of country pursuits, was no typical Edwardian gentleman.

Brahms, the son of a Hamburg double-bass-player, made his home in Vienna, where he was greeted by some as the successor to Beethoven. Like the latter he completed only one concerto for solo violin and orchestra, in the same key, and in its final Allegro giocoso movement introducing an element of Hungarian energy. The concerto was written in 1878, immediately after the first two symphonies of Brahms. It was composed for and with the collaboration of the great Hungarian-born violinist Joseph Joachim, a friend of Brahms since 1853.

The Russian composer Glière's Russian Sailors' Dance is taken from the 1927 ballet The Red Poppy, set in China, and stressing the unity of the proletariat throughout the world. A revolutionary coolie leader is saved from death by the heroine of the piece, which introduced a new populist political element into ballet in Russia.

Born in the German city of Bonn and a leading exponent of Italian opera, Handel finally made his home in England, where he remained from 1712 until his death 47 years later. His Water Music was written for a royal entertainment in 1717 on the River Thames, with barges full of musicians accompanying the German King George I to dinner up-river and back again. The Hornpipe rhythm is characteristically English.

National feeling grew throughout Europe in the second half of the 19th century. In Russia a group of five composers, of which Rimsky-Korsakov, a former naval officer, was one, busied themselves with the creation of a specifically Russian musical style. At the same time there were occasional excursions into more exotic oriental musical territory, as in Rimsky-Korsakov's version of the Arabian Nights, Sheherazade. The picture is a general one, interrupted from time to time by the solo violin, the voice of the heroine herself, as she tells story after story in an attempt to delay her execution.

Inspired by the poet Mallarmé, Debussy's Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun evokes an ancient, sensuous pagan world, in the heat of noon. The music was used by Nijinsky for a notorious ballet, in which his own sensual performance shocked the Paris audience in 1912.

The social summit of Bach's career came early. From 1717 until 1723 he was Court Director of Music to the young Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen, in charge of a small group of players, and largely relieved from responsibilities for church music, his preoccupation in Leipzig from 1723 until his death in 1750. Two concertos for solo violin and strings survive from the Cöthen period of Bach's life in their original form. The third and final movement of the Violin Concerto in A minor is in the customary rhythm, derived from the English jig.

A diffident man, Tchaikovsky was appalled when the head of the Moscow Conservatory, Nikolay Rubinstein, condemned the new piano concerto that had been played through to him. Tchaikovsky had studied in St. Petersburg, before taking a position on the staff of the Conservatory in Moscow, with duties that he gladly relinquished when circumstances allowed it a few years later. Nowadays the concerto is one of the most popular of all compositions. The brilliant final movement opens with a theme borrowed from a Ukrainian folk-song.

The Serenade in G, more usually known as Eine kleine Nachtmusik, A Little Night-Music, was written in 1787. The year had brought the death of Mozart's father in Salzburg and was to see the completion of the opera Don Giovanni for performance in Prague. The Serenade, of which the Romanze is the slow movement, is almost a miniature symphony, a work of limpid charm and beauty.

It was during his own Grand Tour of Europe that Mendelssohn, the son of a prosperous Hamburg banker, started work on his Italian Symphony, which he completed three years later, in 1833. The last movement of the symphony is in a rapid Italian dance form, the Saltarello, which had become very popular in Rome and its environs. The energetic dance has something of the Tarantella about it, a dance which some attributed to the effect and some to a cure for the bite of the tarantula spider.

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