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ClassicsOnline Home » 101 GREAT ORCHESTRAL CLASSICS, Vol. 8
The March from the Karelia Suite by the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius was
originally part of incidental music for a staged work in 1893. It has since
then become all too familiar as accompaniment or signature tune to a variety
of television programmes throughout the world. The border region of Karelia
was of particular patriotic relevance in Finland, at a time when Russian domination
was proving increasingly irksome.
Mozart spent the last ten years of his life in Vienna, in relative independence
from his father, who remained in provincial Salzburg, but without a patron.
Initial success was followed by a period of difficulty, which seemed about to
end with the triumph of The Magic Flute in 1791, the year of Mozart's sudden
death. The earlier Vienna years provided the opportunity for a magnificent series
of piano concertos, performed by the composer at subscription concerts that
he organised. Concerto No.21 in C major has won recent popularity through the
film Elvira Madigan.
Nationalism and interest in the relatively exotic were in part the symptoms
of 19th century romanticism. Brahms, a stolid native of Hamburg, where he was
born in 1833, made his first concert tour with a refugee Hungarian violinist
and later became a firm friend of another Hungarian violinist, Joseph Joachim.
The melodies of Hungarian gypsy music appealed to him and found a suitable vehicle
in the popular form of piano duets, the medium Brahms first used for his Hungarian
Dances, later orchestrated.
Johann Sebastian Bach, the most distinguished of a vast family of musicians
in Saxony, reached the social summit of his career relatively early in life.
From 1717 until 1723 he was Director of Court Music to Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen
and it was during this period that he was able to concentrate his attention
largely on instrumental music. The six Brandenburg Concertos, dedicated to the
Margrave of Brandenburg, whose patronage seemed promising, include a variety
of instruments. The third of the set is scored for three-fold divisions of violins,
violas and cellos, with a continuous bass (basso continuo) for harpsichord and
In 1892 the Bohemian composer Antonín Dvorák was invited to head
the new National Conservatory of Music in New York, a private foundation that
sought to establish a national form of American music. Dvorák's symphony
From the New World, as Bohemian as it is American, was completed in 1893, and
was partly inspired by a Czech version of Longfellow's poem Hiawatha. The famous
slow movement uses an evocative principal melody played by the cor anglais (English
horn or tenor oboe).
The French ballet-master Marius Petipa was a leading figure in Russian ballet
in the second half of the 19th century and largely responsible for its remarkable
flowering. In 1875 Tchaikovsky had been engaged to provide music for Swan Lake,
but it was not until 1888 that he was commissioned to write music for a second
ballet, The Sleeping Beauty, its libretto by Petipa and based on the well known
fairy-tale. It marks the height of achievement in the art of Russian ballet
of the period, revived in a variety of later versions throughout the world.
Beethoven made an early attempt at writing a violin concerto before he left
his native city of Bonn, where, like his father and grandfather before him,
he was in the musical establishment of the reigning Archbishop of Cologne. He
later completed another concerto for the instrument, but published separately
two Romances, typically lyrical slow movements that might have served his earlier
concerto, had he finished it. The second of these, in F major, is the better
known of the two and was completed in 1798.
Walt Disney's Fantasia has added vivid illustration to the story of the sorcerer's
apprentice, whose attempts at magic in the absence of his master lead to disaster.
The musical depiction of the tale is by the French composer Paul Dukas. The
work is described as a symphonic scherzo and is based on Goethe's ballad of
1797, Der Zauberlehrling.
Handel, born in Germany and resident for a few years in Italy, moved to London
as a composer of Italian opera, an expensive art-form of varying popularity.
His opera Serse (Xerxes) opens with the hero's song of admiration for the vegetation
around him, better known to later generations as Handel's Largo, transformed
by a series of transcriptions.
Johann Strauss the younger, successor to his father as a dominant figure in
light music in Vienna in the 19th century , wrote his waltz By the beautiful
blue Danube, better known by its shorter title, as a choral work for the Vienna
Men's Choir. The music came first, then the words, and finally a version that
dispensed with the chorus altogether, the form in which it is best known.
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101 GREAT ORCHESTRAL CLASSICS, Vol. 8