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.
Beethoven’s first symphony premiered when he was 30. Schubert wrote his first at 16, and Mozart’s was composed when he was only 8. But Johannes Brahms, at 43, had yet to finish his Symphony No. 1, which he’d begun writing more than twenty years previously. A notorious perfectionist, he burned many of his early works and sketches; it was not easy living in the shadow of the giants before him. His many years of preparation were worth it—upon the work’s premiere in 1876, the Vienna press called it “Beethoven’s Tenth.”
Symphony No. 2, Resurrection, by Gustav Mahler opens with a first movement originally composed as a stand-alone work entitled Todtenfeier (Funeral Rites). Five years later, following his appointment as principal conductor in Hamburg, Mahler realized that this was, in fact, the first movement of his second symphony. Following Symphony No. 1, which tells the story of a Hero’s life, the second symphony opens with the funeral rites of the Hero. The second and third movements are retrospective intermezzos, and the fourth and fifth movements depict the Last Judgment and Resurrection.
Upon visiting Stravinsky in late 1910, expecting to find him immersed in composing the Rite of Spring, Serge Diaghilev was quite surprised to find him instead composing the ballet of an anthropomorphized puppet. The story recounts the rise and fall of mischievous Petrushka, a puppet brought to life by a magician as he courts the Ballerina and fights the Charlatan.
The Fourth Symphony was a product of the most turbulent time of Tchaikovsky's life—1877, when he met two women (Nadezhda von Meck, a music-loving widow of a wealthy Russian railroad baron, and Antonina Miliukov, an unnoticed student in one of his large lecture classes at the Moscow Conservatory), who forced him to evaluate himself as he never had before.
Leonard Bernstein's On the Town has been a hit since it opened in 1944—a funny, lyrical, exuberant affirmation of life in the midst of wartime.
Schumann's reputation as a composer of symphonies has suffered over the years, and the failure of his Symphony No. 4 at its first performances didn't help. Even his revisions have been criticized. But he may simply have been ahead of his time.
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.
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.
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.
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