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ClassicsOnline Home » 101 GREAT ORCHESTRAL CLASSICS, Vol. 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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101 GREAT ORCHESTRAL CLASSICS, Vol. 10