Piano Concerto No. 3 1803 | 34 mins
When it came to melodies, rhythmic gestures, and phrasing, Beethoven held Mozart most dear. Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 24 in C minor, K.491, is a brooding work that was a favorite of the Romantic generation of listeners. Beethoven was one of its great admirers and was heavily influenced by its opening movement when he came to write his Third Piano Concerto. Many believe this piece is the first of his five piano concertos really to sound like the mature Beethoven. DID YOU KNOW? The work also reflects an important technological advance. In the final decades of the eighteenth century, manufacturers were beginning to stretch the piano’s range by incorporating keys beyond the instrument’s then-standard five-octave range. In his C minor Piano Concerto, Beethoven makes full use of this new technology, and he asks his soloist to play all the way up to high G. This concerto is thought to be the first piano piece ever to call for that particular note. By the time Beethoven got around to writing out the piano part for one of his students in 1804, he was emboldened to push the range further, all the way up to the C that sits above the fifth ledger line above the treble staff. His C minor Concerto stands not only as a great work in its own right, but also as a document relating to the adolescent growing pains of the piano itself.
An Alpine Symphony 1915 | 52 mins
For An Alpine Symphony Strauss adopts a narrative that embraces both a literary source and autobiographical events. Autobiographically it represents an ardent celebration of nature—of nature at its most awe-inspiring, as epitomized by a day of mountain climbing in the Alps. It also indirectly draws on a philosophical essay of Friedrich Nietzsche entitled Der Antichrist. Engrossed in soul-searching after the death of his friend Gustav Mahler, Strauss wrote in his diary in 1911: “I shall call my alpine symphony: Der Antichrist, since it represents: moral purification through one’s own strength, liberation through work, worship of eternal, magnificent nature.” An Alpine Symphony ultimately unrolls as a detailed piece of landscape tone-painting that the listener can enjoy thoroughly without getting wrapped up in philosophical implications. PICTURE THIS: The action unrolls from the pre-dawn of a new-born day through nightfall, and in the course of twenty-two discrete episodes the listener goes up the mountain and down again, encountering along the way a catalogue of natural features one might expect to find on such a journey—forests, streams, meadows, and so on—as well as a hunting party (in the “Sunrise”), some close calls (a slippery “perilous moment” and a violent storm), a spectacular view from the summit, and a glowing dusk and a post-sunset return home.
Jeanette Yu is Director of Publications at the San Francisco Symphony.