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.
After nearly being expelled from conservatory and enduring the disastrous premiere of his first symphony, Rachmaninoff didn’t write a note of music for three years. His recovery was affirmed by the 1901 premiere of his famously beautiful 2nd Piano Concerto.
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.
Mahler's sunny Symphony No. 4 ends with a song - a child's description of heaven. But it is also full of reminders of the vastness of his musical universe.
When Igor Stravinsky wrote his ballet Pulcinella, he looked to the past for inspiration, but he ended up inspiring his own future.
Schoenberg's Chamber Symphony No. 1 is full of passion and energy, channeling the past on the way to the future.
Anton Bruckner's symphonies are monumental cathedrals of sound, and his Symphony No. 8 is one of his grandest; composer Hugo Wolf called it "the absolute victory of light over darkness."
Living in Hollywood in the 1940s, Igor Stravinsky couldn't help but be influenced by the movies. His Symphony in Three Movements was almost entirely inspired by films—whether or not he cared to admit it.
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
For Haydn, who had spent most of his career unaware of his growing fame, success in London wasn't a roll of the dice - it was a roll of the drum.
Handel's graceful Water Music is the perfect accompaniment to a night in the concert hall, or a night out on the river with the King!
At the close of the nineteenth century, Finnish natives were enjoying a renaissance of their native culture, in opposition to their Russian occupiers. Jean Sibelius was swept up in this nationalistic fervor, and composed several patriotic tone poems, including Finlandia. Symphony No. 2, misinterpreted at its premiere as a commentary on the Finnish political conflict, was composed mostly in Italy, where Sibelius was renting a studio. Working with fragments and sketches intended for four separate tone poems, Sibelius then assembled the pieces into this full-fledged symphony.
In 1854, Robert Schumann, friend and mentor to a young Johannes Brahms, attempted suicide by drowning in the Rhine River. Thrown into emotional turmoil by Schumann’s resulting institutionalization and his unrequited love for Robert’s wife Clara, young Brahms began sketching his first major orchestral work. Brahms reflects his struggle with a tormented opening, a slow movement which he described as a “lovely portrait” of Clara, and acceptance of reality in the finale. Perhaps afraid to attempt a form so masterfully executed by Beethoven, the work soon evolved into a sonata for two pianos and then finally became his Piano Concerto No. 1, in D minor.
In his theater piece The Soldier's Tale, Igor Stravinsky shows off his gift for parody, as he lovingly sends up both old and new: Russian folk tales and American jazz.
Ravel’s American influences are easily heard in his Piano Concerto in G Major, which he modeled after the light, divertimento-like concertos of Mozart and Saint‑Saëns.
Although technically a mass for the dead, Johannes Brahms’s A German Requiem does not mention death until the penultimate movement, and even then addresses the living with a sense of reassured faith rather than anxiety.
In his Three Pieces for Orchestra, Alban Berg finally "graduated" from his studies with Arnold Schoenberg, and took his first giant step towards fulfilling his musical destiny.
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.”
Felix Mendelssohn's music to Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream is a sparkling accompaniment to one of the most magical plays ever written. And he began it when he was just 17!
Bach's Orchestral Suite No. 3 contains some of his best-known music, including the beautiful "Air on the G String." But it also contains the origins of the modern symphony orchestra.
Brahms's Symphony No.2 is generally thought of as his most lighthearted, but it's actually built on the contrasts between light and dark, between sunshine and clouds. Kind of like life.
Mahler's 7th is sometimes called "The Song of the Night," but it's really a journey from night into day, with some very interesting stops along the way.
For many, the sound of Copland's Appalachian Spring is the sound of American classical music.
Samuel Adams's Drift and Providence is not so much about the ocean as it is like the ocean: ebb and flow, crest and trough, and destinations that may be more felt than seen.
Rachmaninoff was already an admired conductor and pianist when he wrote his Piano Concerto No. 3 to bring along on his first tour of the United States. On that tour, he performed the concerto with the New York Philharmonic under their conductor Gustav Mahler.
Tchaikovsky's 6th 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.
Rachmaninoff’s last work was his Symphonic Dances, a three-movement work which showcases his mastery of orchestral color and includes buried secret references and codes.
In Also sprach Zarathustra, Richard Strauss set Friedrich Nietzsche's philosophy to a new kind of music. But was the world ready for either?
On his conceptualization of Rhapsody in Blue, Gershwin recalled: “It was on the train, with its steely rhythms, its rattlety-bang that is often so stimulating to a composer…and there I suddenly heard – and even saw on paper – the complete construction of the rhapsody...I heard it as a sort of musical kaleidoscope of America – of our vast melting pot, of our unduplicated national pep, of our metropolitan madness.”
Beethoven's first piano concerto took Vienna by storm, and set the stage for even more musical revolutions to come.
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.
To escape the city of Vienna, Beethoven often spent his summers in the rural counties surrounding it—a love reflected in his Symphony No. 6, Pastoral. With movements titled Awakening of joyful sentiments upon arriving in the country and Scene by the brook, the work depicts life in the country.
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