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We’re back with more Classical Music to deepen your appreciation of the genre. All the pieces showcase mastery of structure and styles from every period. Take a listen and enjoy. 

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Gustav Mahler (1860-1911)

Symphony No. 2 Resurrection (1894)

Mahler is known for his epic symphonies (he once said that a symphony should “contain the world”). In his Second Symphony, Mahler first revealed a fascination with death and the afterlife which would persist throughout his career. The final two movements feature texts on the nature of resurrection and the human soul performed by a soloist and chorus.

Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971)

The Rite of Spring (1913)

The premiere of this ballet was one of the most notorious moments in classical music history— the audience famously rioted in reaction, though there are rumors that the riots were instigated by the producer, Diaghilev, in order to spark public interest in the production. Either way, Stravinsky’s score is often pointed to as the beginning of modern music. Filled with brilliant orchestral effects and raw rhythms, the music draws heavily on Russian folk music to tell its story of a prehistoric Russian tribe welcoming the beginning of spring with a virgin sacrifice.

Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)

Piano Concerto for the Left Hand (1930)

The Austrian pianist Paul Wittgenstein lost his right arm in World War I. In the years following the war, he commissioned music for one-handed piano from composers including Hindemith, Prokofiev, Britten, and Strauss. Ravel’s contribution was a one-movement concerto filled with his special blend of French-accented jazz influences.

Alban Berg (1885-1935)

Violin Concerto (1935)

In the early 20th century, composers sought to adapt to expanding concepts of harmony and find new sounds. One idea that arose was what became known as serialism— a structured approach to composition in which traditional tonality was replaced by an aesthetic that rejected pitch centers. So-called 12-tone music was sometimes criticized for seeming cold and emotionless. Alban Berg, one of the early adherents of this approach, spent his career trying to resolve this tension. Written in response to the death of a friend’s child, Berg’s violin concerto shows that passionate emotion is not impossible to create with atonal music. Listen carefully near the end of the second music, and you’ll hear the ghostly strains of Bach’s organ music floating from the woodwinds— music from the past haunting the music of the future.

Béla Bartók (1881-1945)

Concerto for Orchestra (1943)

World War II drove many composers to seek refuge in America, where more than a few found it difficult to make a living. Hungarian composer Béla Bartók was among these artists. His Concerto for Orchestra was written for a commission from Serge Koussevitzky, who used his position as conductor of the Boston Symphony to direct support to struggling European refugee musicians. This stunning virtuosic work quickly became a favorite of orchestras and audiences alike.

Benjamin Britten (1913-1976)

Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes (1945)

Britten first conceived his opera Peter Grimes while living near San Diego, taking refuge from World War II. Homesick for his native England, Britten set Peter Grimes in a typical English fishing village. In between scenes, the orchestra performs music that establishes the atmosphere of the subsequent action. Britten later compiled this music into the Four Sea Interludes.

Silvestre Revueltas (1899-1940)

Sensemaya (1937)

Cuban poet Nicolás Guillén’s Sensemaya portrays an Afro-Cuban religious ritual in which a mayombero (priest) sacrifices a snake to one of his gods. Silvestre Revueltas draws on the musical traditions of his native Mexico to portray the snake, the priest, and the ritual chant.

Florence Price (1887-1953)

Violin Concerto No. 2 (1952)

Florence Price was a composer, organist, pianist, and single mother who lived in Chicago. The first African American woman to have a work performed by a major orchestra, Price was known for blending the music of her African American roots with the harmonies and forms of the classical tradition in which she was trained. Her Second Violin Concerto is lushly romantic music showcasing the virtuosity of the instrument.

Arvo Pärt (b. 1935)

Fratres (1977)

Estonian composer Arvo Pärt is known for developing a type of music he called "tintinnabuli", a style characterized by simple textures, slow tempos, and mystical contemplation, often drawing on the influence of religious chants. Fratres (“brothers”) is a series of nine variations on a six-bar theme.

John Adams (b. 1947)

The Chairman Dances (1985)

When John Adams’ Nixon in China premiered in 1987, it was unusual in being perhaps the first opera ever performed in which nearly all the historical characters portrayed were still alive. The opera depicts Richard Nixon’s historic 1972 visit to China. The Chairman Dances was composed for a scene in which Madame Mao appears uninvited at a presidential banquet, inviting the deceased Chairman Mao down from a portrait on the wall to join her in a ghostly foxtrot. The scene was cut from the opera, and Adams reworked the music into an independent piece for orchestra.

Further Listening:

Stream our Classical Music 301 Playlist

  • Mahler: Symphony No. 4
  • Beethoven: Symphony No. 7
  • Sibelius: Symphony No. 5
  • Nielsen: The Four Temperaments
  • Milhaud: La création du monde
  • Hindemith: Mathis der Maler Symphony
  • Chavez: Sinfonia India
  • Britten: Serenade for Tenor, Horn, and Strings
  • Prokofiev: Piano Concerto 3
  • Prokofiev: Romeo & Juliet

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