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.
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.
A child prodigy, Saint-Saëns was not only a gifted composer but an accomplished pianist who could perform all of Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas from memory by the age of ten. Composed for the Philharmonic Society of London, his Symphony No. 3, Organ, is dedicated to his friend Franz Liszt.
Tchaikovsky's Orchestral Suite No. 3 is a kind of symphony lite—he called it "a ballet without choreography”—but it's really a symphony, a ballet, an opera and a roller-coaster ride all rolled into one.
Composed alongside fellow distinguished Russian composers at a House of Creative Work northeast of Moscow, Prokofiev’s renowned Fifth Symphony saw its premier in January 1945, as Soviet armies had begun their final push to victory over Germany. As Prokofiev raised his baton in the silent hall, the audience could hear the gunfire that celebrated the news, just arrived, that the army had crossed the Vistula and driven the German Wehrmacht back past the Oder river.
Tchaikovsky's Pathétique Symphony was not his farewell statement, although at the time of its first performances it may have seemed like one. What it did do was explore new depths of emotion, even for a composer used to wearing his heart on his musical sleeve.
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