Chamber Symphony 1916 | 25 mins
Schreker’s Chamber Symphony was written as a centennial piece for the Vienna Music Academy and its unusual forces were specifically crafted to include the school’s teachers of the principal instruments. The piece displays the composer’s characteristic refinement of sound. You’ll hear the musicians working in familial groups, with the texture and volume at times building through additive instrumentation. Listeners may also be struck by the effect of the three keyboard instruments, often playing in tandem with the harp to produce glistening sounds of magical allure.
Violin Concerto 1940 | 25 mins
The opening of the Barber Violin Concerto is magical. Does any other begin with such immediacy and with so sweet and elegant a melody? Then, two more violin melodies appear: one is lightly touched by melancholia, the other is graceful and playful. After a surprising darkening of the scene there is a hint of a cadenza. The Andante begins with another inspired melody, this one given to the oboe. Barber lets the oboist bask in that glory, for the violin enters and occupies itself with quite different, more rhapsodic material. Listen for this movement’s coda—it is one of Barber's most beautiful pages. The finale starts with a hushed tattoo on muted timpani; the violin enters almost immediately and plays nonstop for 102 measures, then onwards through a movement of unremitting up-tempo motion. Just before the end, music played in two keys at once slews the music over to an entirely different trajectory. For a moment the solo violin seems to embrace this wild idea, but it is cut off by a loud chord that says unmistakably: That's it!
Symphony No. 7 in A major, Opus 92 1812 | 38 mins
Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony is one of the composer’s most popular compositions, but it actually didn’t start out that way. The first performance, in 1813, took place at a benefit concert for Austrian and Bavarian soldiers wounded at a recent battle in the war raging across Europe in Napoleon’s wake. The concert was a wild success—only audiences were more excited about another work of Beethoven’s, Wellington’s Victory. But they enjoyed the symphony, too. Years later, composer Richard Wagner described the Seventh as representing “the essence of the dance.” The work includes many moments of real abandon. A semi-slow introduction, the largest ever heard in any symphony at the time of its premiere and still one of the largest, defines great harmonic spaces. There is no slow movement. Instead, the second-movement Allegretto is relaxed only by comparison with what comes before and after. The symphony’s finale is one wild unharnessing of sound.
Jeanette Yu is Director of Publications at the San Francisco Symphony.