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Classical music has such a long, storied history, that it can be difficult to know where to start. Each week, we’ll be...
Strauss’s opera Salome scandalized the musical world in 1905—and again in May 1906, when, as Ross vividly describes, the Austrian premiere in Graz drew together an astonishing array of musical luminaries, from Mahler to Schoenberg to Puccini. “Like a flash of lightning,” Ross writes, “it illuminated a musical world on the verge of traumatic change. Past and future were colliding; centuries were passing in the night.”
Hugely renowned in his native Europe, the young Béla Bartók can hardly have imagined that he would receive perhaps the most important commission of his life while languishing with an unknown disease on a hospital bed in New York, after several barren years. But the final chapter in Bartók’s life story was full of surprises.
Early critics of Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony reacted differently to the different movements, but the finale repeatedly came in for criticism. Tchaikovsky even started to believe some of the more negative assessments himself: “I concluded that this symphony is unsuccessful,” he wrote after conducting it in Prague. “There is something repulsive about it.”
It’s a strange thought that the farcical Figaro would be followed up with an opera in which the protagonist—a compulsive womanizer, as well as a murderer—literally descends to hell, leaving behind a smattering of his victims to try and rebuild their shattered lives.
Debussy began La mer in August 1903. Buoyed by the success of his opera Pelléas et Mélisande in 1902, the composer decided to embark on a set of “three symphonic sketches” inspired by the sea: his second tripartite work for orchestra, following the Nocturnes of 1899.
Despite what a certain well-known film would have us believe, the composer Antonio Salieri did not plot to assassinate Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The brilliant film (and play) Amadeus took, let’s say, a few liberties with the historical truth. But surprisingly, it is true that Salieri was responsible—albeit indirectly—for making Mozart’s workload significantly more complicated in the chaotic final year of his life.
Classical music has such a long, storied history, that it can be difficult to know where to start. Each week, we’ll be exploring an...