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Istituto Europeo di Musica
Scienze pianistiche: A.A. 2017-2018
Istituto Europeo...
Istituto Europeo di Musica
Patronal Celebration in Honor of St
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Istituto Europeo di Musica
Apeiron Program 2016
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Talk Tempo di Avvento.
IstitutoEuropeo di Musica Et vidimus gloriam eiusgloriam quasi Uni...
Istituto Europeo di Musica
News and Acquisitions 2015
IstitutoEuropeo di Musica ArchivioEinaudiNews and Acquisitions Sep...
Claude Debussy
Sonata for Violin and Piano
Claude Debussy set out to compose a set of sonatas on his deathbed. ...
Johannes Brahms
Violin sonata No. 2 in A Major, Op.
Johannes Brahms was a fan of the rustic elements of Hungarian folk m...


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March 13, 2017. Hugo Wolf, a wonderful composer of the German Lied, was born today in 1860.  He lived a short life, dying of syphilis in 1903; he mentally deteriorated much earlier: his last song was written in 1898.  What a scourge it was, Hugo Wolfsyphilis, before the invention of penicillin!  Schubert died of it at the age of 31, and so did Schumann, just 46.  It is thought that Beethoven’s deafness was brought on by syphilis.  Gaetano Donizetti died suffering terribly, Frederick Delius went blind and became paralyzed, and Niccolò Paganini lost his voice, probably of the mercury treatment, which back then was considered a treatment for the terrible disease.  The notion of a great composer suffering from syphilis was so common that Thomas Mann made it central in his great novel, Doktor Faustus, but with a literary twist: he had the protagonist, the composer Adrian Leverkühn, strike a bargain with the Devil, the disease as payment for being a genius.  Mann studied Wolf’s biography and used some episodes to describe Leverkühn descending into madness.

Wolf was born in Duchy of Styria, then part of the Austrian Empire, now in Slovenia.  A child prodigy, he started studying two instruments, the piano and the violin, at the age of four.  When he was 11 he was sent to a boarding school at the Benedictine abbey of St. Paul in Lavanttal, Carinthia.  There he played the organ, performed in a piano trio and studied operas by the Italian bel canto masters and Gounod.  In 1875 he moved to Vienna to study at the conservatory.  There he composed his first songs and made many friends, one of whom was Gustav Mahler (they were born just three months apart).  While in Vienna, Wolf became an avid opera-goer; in 1875 he heard Tannhäuser and Lohengrin, declaring himself a Wagnerian in the aftermath.  He met Wagner in December of that year and showed him several compositions; Wagner was supportive but suggested that Wolf write more substantive pieces.  His early compositions were noticed in Viennese musical circles and he found several benefactors, which allowed him to compose without having to seek additional income.  That was fortunate as Wolf’s temperament made him ill-suited for teaching.  As fate would have it, it was one of his patrons, a wealthy but minor composer Adalbert von Goldschmidt, who took Wolf to a brothel for a “sexual initiation”; it’s there that Wolf most likely contracted syphilis.   Financial support being tenuous, Wolf tried to earn money as a professional musician, playing violin in an orchestra.  That didn’t work out, so eventually he turned to musical criticism.  He became known as a passionate writer who could be very hard on some composers (Anton Rubinstein, the author of the opera Demon, was one of his victims).

In 1888 Wolf dropped musical criticism and moved to Perchtoldsdorf, a suburb of Vienna, to a vacation home of a friend.  There he immersed himself in composing.  Thus commenced the most productive period of Wolf’s life: in 1888 alone he composed more than 90 songs.  The two songs that we’ll hear are from that period.  Both are performed by the soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, one of the finest interpreters of Wolf’s songs.  Here’s Kennst du das Land (Do you know the land), based on Manon’s song from Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister, and hereNachtzauber, after a poem by the German poet Joseph Freiherr von Eichendorff.  Gerald Moore is on the piano in both recordings.  Wolf continued composing feverishly till 1891, when his habitual depression set in, probably aggravated by the early onset of syphilis.  While he stopped composing, his fame grew, especially in Germany.  Even Brahms, whom Wolf severely criticized in some of his articles, and therefore was not a big supporter, acknowledged Wolf’s talent.  In the following years, Wolf composed an opera, Der Corregidor, based on The three-cornered Hat by Alarcón.  It was staged in 1896 with some initial success but soon was dropped, not to be revived to this day.  He started another opera, also after Alarcón. called Manuel Venegas but abandoned it after writing just several scenes.  By 1898 his madness was obvious.  He insisted that he was the music director of the Vienna Opera (Mahler actually was), attempted suicide, after which he was placed into an asylum for the insane.  He died there on February 22nd of 1903.


March 6 2017.  Ravel and more.  The ever popular Maurice Ravel was born on March 7th of 1875.  He’s a favorite both with performers (in our library we have about 150 recordings) and with listeners (for the different interpretations of La Valse more so than for any other of Maurice RavelRavel’s compositions).  He started as a younger contemporary of Debussy, 13 years his senior, and lived into the era dominated by Stravinsky and Schoenberg.  One of Ravel’s first serious pieces was Pavane pour une infante défunte (Pavane for a dead princess), a piano composition written in 1899 while he was still studying at the Paris Conservatory (his composition teacher was Gabriel Fauré).  Here it is, played by the American pianist Bill-John Newbrough.  In 1910 Ravel created an orchestral version, which can be heard as often as the original piano work.  One of the Ravel’s last compositions was a song cycle Don Quichotte à Dulcinée, from 1932-33.  It was written on the texts by the writer Paul Morand.  Morand, born in 1888, was a good friend of Marcel Proust.  Proust was half-Jewish, some of his friend were Jewish but some – anti-Dreyfusards and anti-Semites; unfortunately, Morand belonged to the latter group.  In the late 1930s Morand became close to the anti-Semitic Action française, and later, during the War, to the Vichy government.  Speaking of Proust, it’s interesting that he admired Debussy (he heard Pelléas et Mélisande several times on his Théâtrophone, an ingenious device that allowed the owner to listen to live opera or theatrical performances over the phone) but practically never mentioned Ravel.  One explanation may be that Reynaldo Hahn, a noted composer and one of Proust’s closest friends, was rather critical of Ravel’s work.  Here’s Chanson Romanesque from Don Quichotte with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau.   Karl Engel is on the piano.

When Mozart said that "Bach is the father, we are the children,” he didn’t mean Johann Sebastian Bach, he meant his second son, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach.  It may be surprising to us, but during Mozart’s time, C.P.E. Bach’s reputation was held in higher esteem than his father’s.  Carl Philipp Emanuel, whose second name came from his godfather, Georg Philipp Telemann, was born on March 8th of 1714 in Weimar, where his father served as the organist and Konzertmeister at the court of dukes of Saxe-Weimar.  From 1738 and for the following 30 years, Emanuel, as he was known to his contemporaries, served in Berlin at the court of Crown Prince Frederick of Prussia, who in 1740 was crowned as King Frederick II (the Great).  Emanuel was allowed to leave in 1768 to succeed his godfather Telemann as music director in Hamburg.  In 1769 Emanuel wrote The Israelites in the Desert, an oratorio considered to be his masterpiece.  Five years later he wrote another oratorio, Die Auferstehung und Himmelfahrt Jesu (The Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus).  The libretto was by one Karl Wilhelm Ramler written in 1760, and that same year the prolific Telemann used it for an oratorio of his own.  C.P.E. Bach’s oratorio is not well known, at least not as well as his Israelites, which is a pity, as it is a marvelous piece.  Here are the first seven episodes of Part I, from the Introduction to the wonderful soprano aria “Wie bang hat dich mein Lied beweint!” (How anxiously my song mourned for you).  The ensemble Rheinische Kantorei is directed by Hermann Max, Martina Lins is the soprano.

Don Carlo Gesualdo, the Czech composer Josef Mysliveček, who lived at approximately the same time as C.P.E. Bach, Samuel Barber and Arthur Honegger were also born this week.  We’ll have to write about them another time.


February 27, 2017.  Chopin, Rossini and more.  This is one of those overabundant weeks: several composers of great talent, each deserving a separate entry.  Frédéric Chopin was Frédéric Chopinborn on March 1st of 1810 in a small village of Żelazowa Wola, about 30 miles west of Warsaw, the Polish capital.  We celebrate him, probably the greatest piano composer of all time, every year.  This time, we’ll play one of his pieces in different interpretations.  We’ve done something similar but with just one pianist, when we dedicated an entry to three different interpretations of Chopin’s Polonaise in F-sharp minor, Op. 44 made by Arthur Rubinstein at different stages of his career.  Today we’ll play one of the Ballades, No.3 in A-flat Major, which was written in 1841.  By then Chopin had been living in Paris for 10 years: he left Poland in 1831 in the aftermath of the November Uprising, a Polish revolt against Russia, which was brutally suppressed by the czarist army.  In 1841 Chopin was at the peak of his creative power and still healthy: just one year later the symptoms of the disease that killed him at the age of 39 would start showing up.  Ballade no. 3 is in the repertory of every concertizing pianist, so the selection of interpreters is almost infinite.  We’ll narrow it down to just three: first, a historical recording made by Sergei Rachmaninov, most likely in the 1930s (here).  You’ll notice the freedom of tempos, which would probably be deemed inappropriate today.  Even though the recording quality is not very good, the nuanced performance is lovely.  The one made by Maurizio Pollini is very different, much tighter and precise, but still warm; the overall lines are wonderful.  The performance by Ivan Moravec, made in 1966 (here), is probably the most idiosyncratic and the most lyrical.  It’s slower by a minute than Pollini’s.  If you go to our library, you’ll also find several recordings made by “our” pianists: Sophia Agranovich, Gianluca Di Donato and Mario Carreño among them.

Gioachino Rossini, who stood at the origins of the bel canto opera, was born on February 29th of 1792.  A melodic genius, he was known to work incredibly fast.  He composed 62 operas, but, even though he lived for 76 years, all of them were written within a period of just 20 years: his last opera, Guillaume Tell (William Tell) was composed in 1829, when Rossini was 37.  It’s said that he was late composing the overture for La gazza larda (The thieving magpie), so, to ensure that it was done in time, the producer locked Rossini in a room.  As he wrote the pages of the score, he was throwing them out of a window; on the other side copyists were picking them up and creating the orchestral parts for musicians to rehearse at the very last moment.  Here is the result, as interpreted by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of Claudio Abbado.

Bedřich Smetana was also born this week, on March 2nd of 1824.  A talented composer, he created the Czech national school, very much like the Great Five did in Russia around the same time.  He’s probably best known for a set of symphonic poems Má vlast and the opera The Bartered BrideIn 1854 he wrote Piano Trio in G minor, following the death of his older daughter at the age of four of scarlet fever (his second daughter died earlier that same tragic year of tuberculosis).  Here it is in the performance by the Lincoln Trio.  This year, the violinist Desirée Ruhstrat, the cellist David Cunliffe, and Marta Aznavoorian, piano, were nominated for a Grammy in the Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance category.  Our congratulations to the wonderful ensemble.

Antonio Vivaldi was also born this week (on March 3rd of 1678), we’ll get back to him another time.


February 20, 2017.  Handel.  George Frideric Handel, one of the greatest composers of the Baroque, was born in Halle on February 23rd of 1685.  We’ve  written about him many times (hereGeorge Frideric Handeland here, for example), so on this occasion we’ll look into a period of his life following his departure from Italy.  Handel lived there for about seven years, from 1703 to 1710.  His operas, (especially Agrippina, which was staged during the Carnival in Venice at the end of 1709) and his oratorios and cantatas were so successful that by the end of his stay, while just 25 years old, he was already world famous.  Among his admirers were Prince Ernst Georg of Hanover, and the Duke of Manchester, the English ambassador, both of whom invited Handel to their countries.  Handel chose Germany and traveled to Hanover, where he was appointed Kapellmeister.  We should remind ourselves of an unusual twist in the British royal lineage: by 1710 the Elector of Hanover, Georg Ludwig, was the acknowledged successor to the English throne and, upon Queen Anne’s death would become King George I of England.  His son, Prince elector Georg II August, would become King George II.  So, Handel was living at the court with intimate ties to Britain.  Handel was given a big salary and a special travel allowance, which he used to travel to London in the autumn of 1710.  London was always a musical city; one recent development at the time was the popularity of Italian operas, especially when sung by Italian castratos.  Giovanni Bononcini was the acknowledged master of opera – that is till Handel’s arrival.  As soon as he got to London, Handel set to work on a new opera; to speed up the process he reused some of the material he had written earlier in Italy.  The opera was called Rinaldo, and the title role was sung by Nicolo Grimaldo, a castrato known as Nicolini.  Nicolini, who became famous for performing major parts in operas by Alessandro Scarlatti, Porpora, Vinci and Bononcini, became one of Handel’s favorite singers.  These days the role of Rinaldo is usually sung by mezzo-sopranos or countertenors; Cecilia Bartoli is one of the best interpreters (here she is in the famous aria Lascia ch'io pianga). 

Rinaldo was a tremendous success but Handle had to return to Hanover, where he stayed for another year and a half.  He obtained a leave from the court and moved to London by the end of 1712.  There, he wrote two more operas, and even though they were not as successful as Rinaldo, which had continued to be staged practically every season; his popularity didn’t suffer.  In the summer of 1714 the Elector of Hanover moved to London; on August 1st Queen Anne suffered a stroke and died, and George was proclaimed the King.  Even though his relationship with Handel during the previous two years had gotten frostier (George resented that Handel preferred London to his court in Hanover) it became more cordial after the coronation.  Te Deum and Jubilate, which Handel composed in 1714, were performed for the King, after which George doubled Handel’s salary.  During the next five years, Handel didn’t write a single opera, concentrating instead on orchestral compositions and chamber pieces.  His most successful composition of the period was Water Music, an orchestral suite written for George I to accompany him on his boat trip up the Thames.   Water Music consists of three separate suites; here’s the first one, performed by the Academy Of St. Martin in the Fields under the direction of the late Neville Marriner.


February 13, 2017.  Through the ages and countries.  This week affords us an unusually broad view of the development of European music, from the late 16th century to today.  Michael Michael PraetoriusPraetorius was born in February 5th of 1571 in Creuzburg, Thuringia (other sources state his birthday as February 15th of that year).   At the time, Germany’s musical culture was rather underdeveloped.  There was a not a single significant German composer, whereas in Italy the late 16th century was considered late Renaissance: Palestrina and Lasso were born half a century before Praetorius, while Giovanni Gabrieli and Carlo Gesualdo were a generation older.  Praetorius had a local musical education, and the only early encounter with a significant foreign composer that we are aware of was with John Dowland, who was invited by Duke Heinrich Julius of Brunswick-Wolfenbütte to meet with his court composer.  In this sense Praetorius was a singularly German composer.  Extremely prolific (he composed twelve hundred chorales) Praetorius exerted much influence over many composers, starting with the young Heinrich Schütz and through him on a generation of  German musicians, including Johann Sebastian Bach.  Later in life, when he was living and working in the cosmopolitan Dresden, he became more familiar with and influenced by the contemporary Italians; some of Praetorius’s compositions of the time clearly anticipate the arrival of the Baroque.  In 1619, two years before his untimely death, Praetorius published a set of choral works called Polyhymnia Caduceatrix et Panegyrica.  Here’s a wonderful chorale from that set, Puer natus in Bethlehem.  It’s performed by the Gabrieli Consort.

Francesco Cavalli was born February 14th

of 1602, just some 30 years after Praetorius, but he belonged to a completely different musical world.  Renaissance music, with its polyphony was a thing of the past; Claudio Monteverdi composed L’Orfeo, thus establishing the new musical form - opera.  Cavalli, who was born in Lombardy, as a teenager moved to Venice where he was a singer at the St. Mark’s Basilica.  Monteverdi was the music director there and became Cavalli’s teacher.  Cavalli wrote his first opera in 1639 when he was already a mature composer (most of his early compositions were church music).  He went on to write 41 operas, many of which survive to this day.  Cavalli was instrumental in developing opera as a musical genre: when his started, opera was in its infancy, and by the time he wrote his last opera in 1673, it was a mature (and extremely popular) art.  Here’s the aria Piante ombrose from his early opera, L'Amore Innamorato.  Nuria Rial is the soprano.  Christina Pluhar leads the ensemble L'Arpeggiata.

Another Italian, Arcangelo Corelli was born fifty years later, on February 17th of 1653.  He grew up in the musical environment of flourishing Baroque.  At the age of 13 Arcangelo moved to Bologna, one of the music centers of Italy, famous for a major school of violin playing.  At the age of seventeen, already a fine violinist, Corelli became a member of the Accademia Filarmonica.  He moved to Rome around 1675, where he found patrons in Queen Christina and, later, Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni.   He performed, composed and taught: many of his pupils, such as Francesco Geminiani and Pietro Locatelli became famous as composers and violinist.  Here’s Corelli’s Concerto Grosso, Op. 6 no.4 performed by I Musici.

We’ll skip Luigi Boccherini, a wonderful Italian composer of the classical era and jump straight into the 20th century.  György Kurtág was born on February 19th of 1926.  Together with his good friend György Ligeti, Kurtág is one of the most interesting contemporary composers.  Here’s his Stele, performed by the Berlin Philharmonic under the direction of Claudio Abbado.


February 6, 2017.  Alban Berg.  The great Austrian modernist composer Alban Berg was born on February 9th of 1885.  When we celebrated him the last time two years ago, we wrote about his first opera, Wozzeck, which was completed in 1922.  Wozzeck was a huge Alban Bergsuccess, which speaks volumes of the Viennese musical sensibilities – almost 100 years later, it is still considered a “difficult” opera.  Vienna was full of contradictions: on the one hand, it was the city where Schoenberg, Webern and Berg were acknowledged as masters and accepted by the artistic community; at the same time, it was more conservative than probably any other European capital, anti-Semitic, clinging to the vestiges of the lost empire.   Greatly diminished in the aftermath of the Great war, Vienna was the capital of a small country, not an Empire.  Austria even wanted to join Germany as a province, but the Allies wouldn’t have it.  At the beginning of the 20th century Vienna was one of the world centers of music, if not the center, but by mid-1920s many musicians started moving from Vienna to Berlin; back then, as now, Berlin was seen as a more open, exciting cosmopolitan city.  Composers Franz Schreker, whose operas were almost as famous as Richard Strauss’s, and Ernst Krenek left Vienna.  Alexander von Zemlinsky, the famous composer and an important figure in the Viennese musical cultural life, also moved to Berlin.  Even Schoenberg himself was spending more time in Berlin than in Vienna.  As Michael Haas, a music producer and writer points out, conductors Fritz Stiedry, who assisted Mahler in his youth, Georg Szell, and Erich Kleiber, all at some point active in Vienna, also left the city.  Still, even with these losses, the musical life of Vienna was vibrant.  The Vienna Philharmonic was still considered one of the best orchestras in the world and practically all prominent musicians performed there. 

Berg is best known as the creator of two seminal operas, the already-mentioned Wozzeck and Lulu, on which he started working in 1928 and continued for the rest of his life, leaving it incomplete on his death in 1935.  The period between these two major compositions was also very productive.  One of the more interesting pieces written during this time was Kammerkonzert (Chamber Concerto), a composition for Piano and Violin with 13 Wind Instruments.  Even though it was composed in the 12-tone technique, Berg’s innate lyricism shines through, softening its very rigorous structure.  Concerto was written in honor of Schoenberg’s 50th birthday, and Berg decided to create the main theme (or, rather, the main tone sequence) out of the names of Schoenberg and his two favorite pupils’, Anton Webern’s, and his own.   In German musical notation, B is what in English is called B flat, while the English B is called H; the flat sign is “-es.”  Therefore, “ArnolD SCHoenBErG” turned into the sequence of A–D–E-flat–C–B–B-flat–E–G.  From “Anton wEBErn” he derived A–E–B flat–E, and from his own name, “AlBAn BErG,” A–B-flat–A–B-flat–E–G.  Berg then went on to invert the theme, mirroring all intervals in the opposite direction, so that, for example, a third up became a third down.  He then “retrogrades” it, running the sequence from the end to the beginning.  Despite this scientific, almost mathematical approach, the music retains its undeniable warmth.  Of course it’s not an easy listening, and we have to apologize for presenting two difficult pieces two weeks in a row (last week it was Luigi Nono’s Como una ola de fuerza y luz).  Here’s Kammerkonzert, performed by Staatskapelle Dresden, Giuseppe Sinopoli conducting.  The pianist is Andrea Lucchesini, the violinist – Reiko Watanabe.

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