The Symphony’s free Program Note Podcast Series highlights a great work being performed each week by the orchestra. Hosted by KDFC’s Rik Malone, the podcasts feature music from Symphony concerts and recordings, and commentary based on our award-winning program notes by James Keller and Michael Steinberg. You can hear them on the way to the concert, on your smart phone or computer. Listen here, and subscribe to get future episodes automatically.
As World War II was winding down, the Soviet Union was waiting for Shostakovich's 9th Symphony, and they expected a great victory symphony, like Beethoven's 9th. What they got was something very different.
The plot of Prokofiev's opera "The Love for Three Oranges" may be almost incomprehensible, but the symphonic suite is anything but: whimsical and dramatic, with one of the most famous marches ever written.
Beethoven spoke of setting out upon a fresh path with his Second Symphony, and even included veiled musical jokes, which shocked the sensibilities of many critics. Produced between the widely popular First and the revolutionary Eroica, Symphony No. 2 forged new territory with development of theme and architecture, and would eventually take its place among Beethoven's great works.
Gustav Mahler's The Song of the Earth may end with a funeral march, but it's really a symphony about the triumph of life and love.
By the time he wrote his Symphony No. 2, Robert Schumann had already completed his Symphony No. 1; his Overture, Scherzo, and Finale; and the first version of the work that would eventually be published as Symphony No. 4. However, by summer 1844, Schumann began to be ruled by his mood swings and phobias (blindness, heights, death, and poison, among others), effectively halting his creative activity. But then, midway through 1845, he wrote a letter to Felix Mendelssohn about dreams of trumpets in C blaring in his head. Finally, in December 1845, he wrote, in three weeks, the essentials of Symphony No. 2, and after completing the orchestration, the symphony was premiered in November, 1846.
Among musicians, the viola may be the least respected member of the orchestra, but Berlioz' Harold in Italy gives it a chance to shine—despite having been rejected by the virtuoso for whom it was written.
Mozart's final symphony was nicknamed the "Jupiter," and—like the planet and the Roman god that share its name—it still stands out as one of the greatest of its kind.
Serge Diaghilev was turned down by four composers before turning to Igor Stravinsky to write the music for a new production by the Ballet Russe. Luckily, Stravinsky, eager to try his hand at a ballet, had already been working on the music for a month, and their artistic relationship went on to produce Petrushka and The Rite of Spring.
Bruckner's Third Symphony was his gift to "the master," Richard Wagner, and it's full of tributes and allusions to Wagner's works. But those tributes were buried under revisions and revisions of revisions, and only now can we hear what Bruckner originally presented to his idol.
Sergei Prokofiev wrote his ballet "Cinderella" as a simple love story that could be beautifully danced. Of course, the Soviet government had its own interpretation.
In the space of nine weeks in summer 1788, Mozart produced the last three of his symphonies, including Symphony No. 39. Started within a month after his opera Don Giovanni opened to a less than enthusiastic audience in Vienna, the symphony opens with a reflection on the opera’s overture.
Bernard Herrmann's score to Alfred Hitchcock's classic thriller Vertigo swirls and spins like the main character's condition, while it pulls you into the heart of his obsession.
On an extended journey through Italy in 1830 and 1831, Felix Mendelssohn began work on his Fourth Symphony. A wildly talented composer who wrote his famous Octet when he was only sixteen, Mendelssohn was prompted to finish the work when the London Philharmonic Society requested a symphony from him (and offered payment of a hundred guineas). Mendelssohn called it the jolliest music he had ever composed. Although he remained dissatisfied with the symphony and planned numerous revisions, the Italian Symphony still stands as one of his most easily recognizable works.
Carl Maria von Weber was no ugly duckling as a composer, but Paul Hindemith's "Symphonic Metamorphosis" turns four of Weber's themes into symphonic swans.
Despite his family’s financial turmoil, the year 1806 was extraordinarily productive for Beethoven. He wrote many of his great works, including the Razumovsky string quartets, Piano Concerto No. 4, and Symphonies No. 4 and 5. Symphony No. 4 - a return to the grace and relative simplicity of his earlier style - is perhaps Beethoven’s least frequently performed symphony. A passage in the middle of the second movement was called “one of the most imaginative passages anywhere in Beethoven” by musicologist Donald Francis Tovey.
Much like his fifth and sixth symphonies, Ludwig van Beethoven composed his seventh and eighth symphonies in quick succession. Compared with Symphony No. 7 and Symphony No. 9 (which would not be completed for twelve more years), Symphony No. 8 seems like a look back to Classical times, with nods to Beethoven’s teacher, Josef Haydn. However, the Eighth is more a study in compactness: there is just as much music packed into fewer notes, a sentiment that Beethoven himself echoed--when asked why the Seventh was so much more popular, he responded, “…because the Eighth is so much better.”
In June 1891, Antonín Dvořák was invited to direct the newly-formed National Conservatory in New York City. Leaving four of their six children behind in Bohemia, Dvořák and his wife made their new home on East 17th Street in cacophonous Manhattan, just a few blocks from the new school. Through his diverse student body and the advent of the polyrhythmic ragtime, Dvořák first encountered African American and Native American music. He was particularly taken with those cultures’ spirituals. He borrowed musical elements from diverse popular sources for many of his compositions, including his Symphony No. 9, From the New World.
By the summer of 1809, Napoleon’s French forces, at war with Austria for the fourth time in eighteen years, reached the suburbs of Vienna. “Nothing but drums, cannons, human misery of every sort!” wrote Beethoven to his publisher in Leipzig. But by year’s end, he had completed his Piano Concerto No. 5, Emperor, a magnificent affirmation made in terrible times.
However you like your Messiah - big or intimate, modern or period, authentic or interpreted - when you listen you become part of an almost 300-year tradition of what may be classical music's most beloved masterpiece.
Schumann's Symphony No. 1—"born in a fiery hour"—is as personal, original, and fresh as the season that gave it its nickname: Spring.
Schumann’s Symphony No. 3, Rhenish, completed in 1850 after his much celebrated appointment as Municipal Music Director in Düsseldorf, reflects his optimism in the face of new challenges. Filled with spirited, glorious themes, Rhenish marks the high point in the life of a composer who struggled with mental illness.
(Paste this link into your podcasting tool.)