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8.551150 - 101 GREAT ORCHESTRAL CLASSICS, Vol. 10

101 Greatest Orchestral Classics - Volume 10

Franz von suppé, born in Split (Spalato) in 1819, is distinguished by an extraordinary complication of names, Francesco Ezechiele Ermenegildo Cavaliere suppé Demelli, mercifully abbreviated to Franz during his career in the theatre in Vienna. He was the son of an employee of the Austrian government which then controlled regions that are part of what is now Yugoslavia, but moved to Vienna in 1835. He made his name with a series of operettas and light-hearted stage-works, of which Light Cavalry in 1866 was the thirtieth.

Warsaw in the early 19th century was something of a cultural backwater. Fryderyk Chopin, the son of a French émigré, a respected teacher who had become a fiercely patriotic Pole, had his early education there, at school and at the Conservatory. In preparation for a career as a composer-pianist he provided himself with two piano concertos, among a small number of other works for piano and orchestra, but eventually made a name for himself in Paris with more intimate forms of performance, largely avoiding the ostentation of the concert hall. The second of his two concertos, written slightly before the first, has a nocturne-like slow movement that hardly needs an orchestra to make its effect.

If Chopin's nationalism expressed itself in a series of poetic transformations of Polish dances into elegant piano music, Dvorák, originally a viola-player by trade, turned to an even more overt form of national expression in his Slavonic Dances. These, in their original piano-duet form, succeeded well with the popular amateur market, and proved equally winning in the orchestral guise the composer provided for them.

It was at Cöthen, where he spent the years from 1717 to 1723 as Court Music Director to the young musical amateur Prince Leopold, that Bach wrote a great deal of his instrumental music. His concerto for two violins, later arranged in Leipzig for two harpsichords, has a central slow movement in which the two solo instruments enjoy a gentle dialogue, above the constant slow dance rhythm of the orchestra.

Beethoven disclaimed any intention of writing mere programme music in his Pastoral Symphony of 1808. This was rather the expression of feelings aroused by a visit to the country, emotion recollected in tranquillity. The symphony opens with the cheerful feelings of the composer on his arrival in the countryside, which is later to be disturbed by passing storms.

The waltz may be associated initially with Vienna, but the Russian composer Tchaikovsky in his three ballets, in his String Serenade and even in his symphonies, provides fine examples of the dance. The Serenade was completed in 1881 and might originally have been either a string quartet or even a symphony before it assumed its final shape. The second movement is a sensuous waltz.

It was with his Enigma Variations that Edward Elgar first won more general fame. The variations remain something of an enigma, since the composer claimed that the theme itself has a well known melody that will go with it, a theme no-one has yet convincingly discovered. The more immediate puzzle of the variations lay in the hidden portraits of his friends that lay in each variation. Nimrod, the huntsman of the Bible, was his friend Jaeger, a name that can be translated into English as Hunter.

Obliged to earn a living as a pianist after the Revolution of 1917 in Russia, when his family estate was seized, Sergey Rachmaninov became internationally known as one of the greatest performers of his time. In addition to his four piano concertos he wrote in 1934 a Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. The theme is that of the demon violinist's 24th Caprice with which Rachmaninov's Rhapsody for piano and orchestra intermingles his own idée fixe, the Dies irae of the Latin Requiem Mass. The 18th Variation from the series of variations that make up the whole work has enjoyed particular popularity.

Composers are not always the sharpest of business-men. The Finnish composer Jean Sibelius might have become a millionaire from the profits of his Valse Triste, originally written as part of incidental music for a death-bed scene in Järnefelt's play Death, a piece that became widely known after its arrangement for orchestra in 1904. Instead it proved profitable to his publishers, who long enjoyed the copyright.

1812 saw Napoleon's defeat by the Russian winter and his catastrophic retreat from Moscow. The event was celebrated 70 years later by Tchaikovsky in the commissioned 1812 Overture, designed to mark the dedication of the commemorative Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow. The Festive Overture, The Year 1812, makes use of the French and Russian anthems, the latter victorious among the noise of cannon and sounds of war.

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