On Music: Blog Archive

These mini-essays are archived posts from my late (though not, as far as I know, lamented) blog about music.

 

A Big Surprise in Beethoven

I'll kick off this blog by giving you a steer to one of the great surprises in classical music. No, not the sudden fortissimo chord that rocks the slow movement of Haydn's "Surprise" Symphony (surely classical music's best known surprise). It's a passage, rather, in...

Solution to a Beethoven Mystery

In my previous post ("A Big Surprise in Beethoven") I called your attention to a phrase--the climactic one in the first movement of Beethoven's "Harp" quartet--that has the uncanny quality of sounding at once new and familiar (one of the deeper things music can do)....

Another transformation (this one in Saint Saens)

In the last post ("Solution to a Beethoven Mystery"), we traced Beethoven's transformation of a melodic phrase into something almost (but, crucially and wonderfully, not quite) unrecognizable. In writing about this move, I was reminded of a transformation it would be...

A Still More Amazing Transformation?

First things first: last week I invited you to find the hidden quotation of the ancient "Dies Irae" hymn in Saint Saens' Danse Macabre.  If you found it (at 2:25 in this clip) congratulations on having a damn good ear (and probably not a little pertinacity).  As I...

“Inch Worm” (or The Other Kind of Counterpoint)

When we think of counterpoint, we’re usually thinking of the "imitative" kind, where melodies (or bits of them) echo one another.  This is certainly the kind most of us encounter first, when we learn as kids to sing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” or “Frere Jacques” as a...

Beethoven Bites Off the End of a Bottle

Beethoven was facing an especially tough compositional problem. He’d just brought off one of the most singular coups in music.  The problem was how to repeat it. A little context: The third movement of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony is that mischievous descendant of the...

Kilroy–I mean Haydn–was here

In last week's post we listened in astonishment as Beethoven forklifts a passage out of his 5th Symphony's third movement and drops its into the alien environs of its fourth and final one. As we saw, this remarkable move is motivated by an unassailable (if...

Impudent Prophetic Plagiarism – 1

I once heard a lecture by the late great critic and pianist (or, as he would have said, pianist and critic) Charles Rosen on two strands of Romanticism: a backward-looking "classicizing" one (exemplified by Mendelssohn and Brahms) and a forward-looking “advanced” one...

Impudent Prophetic Plagiarism – 2

Last week we caught Mozart peeking at the future in composing a passage that could have been written by Schubert (if on a more inspired day, perhaps, than even the latter ever had). In bringing off this miracle, Mozart's futurescope was focused about forty years...

Impudent Prophetic Plagiarism – 3

Last week we saw Beethoven happening into jazz (and moving on to other things with nary a backward--or should that be forward?--glance). After writing that post, it occurred to me that Mozart can be caught in the same act, though in Mozart's case it's not jazz in...

Mozart Pulls a Switcheroo

When I signed off last week I was wracking my brains trying to think of the name of the jazzy tune prefigured in the finale of Mozart's K. 590 string quartet.  My thanks to reader Doreen Spungin for passing along her son Andrew Lubman's guess as to the tune in...

Mozart Pushes the Envelope

There are two common impressions of Mozart's music.  The principal one is of what could be called "Musicbox Mozart," the graceful, elegant sort of piece epitomized by "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik."  In recent years a second impression has developed, courtesy of the play...

Mozart, Giver of Pain

There's an episode of the original "Star Trek" (OK, you've outed me as a "Trekkie"--that wasn't hard, was it?) in which the crew finds itself on a planet populated entirely by primitive, downtrodden men dressed in bearskins and such.  Where are the women?  Turns out...