Arguably Tchaikovsky’s most under-appreciated work (I don’t feel like making comparisons right now, so let’s just say that it is), we have here his only Symphony to go without a number. The Manfred Symphony represents Tchaikovsky’s sole attempt at writing multi-movement programmatic music. This video contains descriptions of what is going on in the “story,” which is always an interesting element. At the risk of sounding “unrefined,” I think that the analysis on wikipedia of this piece is quite good, so I won’t go into too much detail about my own feelings. However, it is interesting to note that there is no main key for this movement. I’m not completely sure why he does this, but I do think that Tchaikovsky takes his time to get started; at least for me, it takes me a while to really get into the music. But when it gets good, it gets to be Tchaikovsky good.

When Paganini wrote a letter to Hector Berlioz complaining of the lack of viola music to play for his wonderful instrument, he asked Berlioz to remedy this problem. In response, he composed this landmark piece of both the viola and the symphonic repertoire. It was, of course, the programmatic symphony/viola concerto Harold in Italy, and we have the first movement here. The finale can be found elsewhere on this blog. This movement has such a careful development of so many varied complicated melodic ideas and emotions. It really is a complex work; some have told me they think it starts off slow, but somehow I always find the opening melody so enthralling that I can’t help but being drawn in. When I posted the finale, I had said this was in my top 5 of best pieces of all time; posting the first movement here, I stand by that statement.

Here we have a remarkable work, written by a composer of such great stature, but nevertheless inextricably tied to a single instrument, the piano. I am of course speaking of Chopin, but this connection to the instrument is important to understand for this piece, his first piano concerto. Given that he wrote so little for orchestra, it is interesting to see how he utilizes, and what he thinks its role should be. It takes a while for the piano to enter, but once it does it really does seem to dominate. Definitely a piece that’s very easy to think about. Oh yea, and it sounds pretty good too.

When I was a freshman high school (way too long ago… ugh) I entered and did fairly well in a composition contest where I submitted a woodwind quintet I had written. On the judge’s responses, someone had written ‘listen to Stravinsky’s Octet.” It was, without a doubt, the best complement anyone had given any of my compositions. Stravinsky was a huge innovator, and this is no exception. The octet has a very strange instrumentation, and though it is dissonant, it is dissonant in a very clear and meaningful way. Enjoy.

This absolutely must be toward the top of every string player’s list of favorite pieces of music. A magnificent example of Mahler’s softer side, it is from his fifth symphony, and it usually suffices to call it “the Adagietto.” Its breathtaking tranquility and deep emotional strength has made it a landmark of classical music. Indeed, it was probably for this reason that it was conducted by Leonard Bernstein at a mass the day of Bobby Kennedy’s funeral. Having not been received the way he had hoped, Mahler was reported to have said upon its premier, “Nobody understood it. I wish I could conduct the first performance fifty years after my death.”

Consider this to be encouragement for all of you to send me requests for things to post. One composer I have managed to neglect for far too long is Alexander Scriabin, someone who I am not as familiar with as some of the other composers I have posted on this blog (and, to imagine, a Russian no less!). At the request of a follower, we have one of his pieces, his wonderful tone poem “Poem of Ecstacy.” Indeed, it should only take one listen to be completely intoxicated (at least, it did for me). Part of the piece is so dreamy that it could lull you to sleep, yet part of it is so harsh that it won’t let your mind wander from it at all. It’s clear that he’s not going for shock value, though—the two feelings weave together so amazingly that only a master of composition could pull off such a wonderful work.

I spent a good deal of time trying to find the a piece I had stuck in my head. It starts about 1:20 into the second part of this piece, Smetana’s Ma Vlast, a collection of tone poems centered around the composer’s impressions of his native homeland. Another movement is somewhere else on this blog, and others are bound to pop up. The pieces are only loosely connected, and as I stated before, each piece can be considered as a tone poem in its own right. This one has many calm yet dark moments which are often interrupted by loud brass calls, together with the very exciting and memorable section indicated above.

Few pieces of music are as influential as the one I am posting here; indeed, Beethoven’s Eroica symphony has often been hailed as the piece of music marking the beginning of the romantic era, which would last for the next hundred years. Beethoven initially wrote it as a piece praising Napolean Bonaparte, though when Bonaparte declared himself emperor Beethoven became enraged and crossed out the dedication, replacing it with “heroic symphony, composed to celebrate the memory of a great man.” The heroism Beethoven has in mind is particularly apparent in this movement.

It might be bad form to post Stravinsky twice in a row, but this one is too irresistible. It is the story of Renard the fox, who tricks the chicken repeatedly and eventually is tricked in return. The music is playful, in a sort of strange way. Though it might be a little hard to follow, the lyrics are truly memorable (“The only thing we cocks like is grain, so I feel talk is in vain,” “Don’t eat me Renard, i’m too fat,” “some like it fat and some like it lean”) and sung in a Stravinsky’s unique melodic yet dissonant style.

I recently returned from a trip to Norway, the home to the composer Edvard Grieg. They are very proud of Grieg in Bergen especially, a few kilometers outside of which one can find his esteemed home, Troldhaugen. Being in a city so proud of Grieg put me in the mood to post this piece, one of his proudest achievements. It is the Piano Concerto in A minor; tonight, I will post the whole concerto, with the first movement being here. The opening is one of the most captivating attention grabbers in all of classical music, reminiscent of the power at the start of Tchaikovsky’s first piano concerto; unlike Tchaikovsky, however, Grieg develops this opening line further throughout the piece. Quite a remarkable piece of music.