Classical Music

Schubert's Popularity

May 26, 2017

In 1928, the centenary of Franz Schubert’s birth, H. L. Mencken began a celebratory essay with these words, “Franz Schubert… has evaded the indignity of too much popularity.” And Mencken lamented that, “Great stretches of Schubert’s music, indeed, remain almost unknown, even to musicians...” That’s in 1928. Now it’s true that much of Schubert’s music wasn’t published, or even publicly performed, until long after his death—so perhaps that helps explain things.

When it comes to Spanish composers of the late 19 th and early 20 th centuries, the three most important names are certainly Isaac Albeniz, Enrique Granados, and Manuel de Falla – all composers who brilliantly integrated Spanish folk influences into the Western classical tradition. All three were great pianists, and Albeniz and Granados in particular had important careers as solo performers.

Bach - Better

May 24, 2017

A colleague and I were listening to a Bach violin concerto on the radio some years back. After a while my colleague said, “You know, there are a thousand Baroque violin concertos. Why is it that this one is just…better?” Johann Sebastian Bach wrote sonatas, concertos, suites, preludes and fugues, overtures, oratorios, and cantatas—music in all the major forms of the Baroque era, with the exception of opera.

Franz Liszt - Part 2

May 23, 2017

Yesterday I mentioned that it was Franz Liszt who invented the solo piano recital, and that the frenzied reactions of Liszt’s audiences became known as “Lisztomania,” or “Liszt fever.” But I don’t want you have the impression that Liszt’s recitals were all virtuoso flash and little substance. Liszt had an enormous repertoire—he certainly played his own showpieces, but he also played pieces by all the great composers of the day and by those he called the “classics,” including many works of Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven.

Franz Liszt - Part 1

May 22, 2017

In 1841 Franz Liszt played three concerts in Paris, and afterward he wrote, “My…solo recitals…are unrivaled concerts, such as I alone can give in Europe at the present moment… Without vanity or self-deception, I think I may say that an effect so striking, so complete, so irresistible had never before been produced by an instrumentalist in Paris.” Well, if it’s true it ain’t braggin’, and by all accounts it was true.