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#3 Antonín Dvořák

Aug 28, 2016

Symphony No. 9, From the New World

Dvořák's Symphony No. 9, nicknamed From the New World, was written in the 1890s while Dvořák was living and working as the director for the National Conservatory of Music in New York City. The work premiered at Carnegie Hall on December 16, 1893.  As a skilled as seasoned composer and professor at the Prague Conservatory, Dvořák had a great deal of experience and expertise to bring to eager young musicians in the United States, where classical music was just beginning to establish itself.

#4 Samuel Barber

Aug 28, 2016

Adagio for Strings

The  Adagio for Strings by American composer Samuel Barber, made its debut in 1938 when it was performed on the radio by the NBC Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Arturo Toscanini.  It evolved as an arrangement of the second movement of Barber's String Quartet. The deep emotion of this work, which has been described as passionate, tender, dramatic, powerful, and gentle, has made it popular for use in television, movies and at times of tragedy like the events of 9/11, when American's were searching for comfort and unity.

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#5 Ludwig van Beethoven

Aug 28, 2016

Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125 "Choral"

Considered one of the greatest pieces of music ever written, Beethoven's 9th Symphony is one of the most widely heard pieces in the repertoire of classical music. The Symphony is known as the Choral Symphony from the choir and soloists who sing text from the poem "Ode to Joy" by Freiderich Schiller, in the fourth movement. Beethoven's decision to include voices in the Symphony, a traditionally instrumental genre, mark the first time a major composer had ever done so. Perhaps it was this choice that lead to some critics responding poorly to the work's premiere saying that it was "cryptic and eccentric, the product of a deaf and aging composer." However, the reception the Symphony continues to recieve from audiences around the world continues to show the popularity of the work, including your votes placing the 9th at #5 in our 40 for 40. Whatever the reason audiences adore this work, be it the sublime first movement, lively Shcerzo, or joyous fourth movement, Beethoven's Ninth shows no sign of losing its foothold in the canon of classical music.

#6 Ralph Vaughan Williams

Aug 28, 2016

The Lark Ascending 

This gorgeousness comes from the visionary 20th century English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, whose musical language was profoundly influenced in 1904 when he was asked to edit the English Hymnal.  What was to take two months instead took two years, and in completing the project, Vaughan Williams came to love the modal, polyphonic beauty of Tudor composers.  He also drew inspiration from poets.  In writing The Lark Ascending, the composer quoted a poem by George Meredith which includes these lines:

For singing till his heaven fills,

#7 J. S. Bach

Aug 28, 2016

Brandenburg Concerto No. 3

The set of six concerti, presented by Johann Sebastian Bach to Christian Ludwig, the Margrave of Brandenburg in 1721, remain some of the most frequently performed and beloved compositions of the Baroque era.  Written during a happy period in Bach's life, while serving as the Music Director (or Kapellmeister) of Coethen and writing music for the Court, the concerti show the light side of Bach's genius.  Interestingly, each of the six concerti require a different combination of instruments and different featured instruments; all requiring virtuosos.  Although Classical 91.5 listeners requested all of the six concerti during our 40 for 40 celebration, numbers 2 and 3 were mentioned most often; so today we hear No. 3.

#8 Sergei Rachmaninoff

Aug 28, 2016

Piano Concerto No. 2 in c-minor, op 18

The 1996 Oscar-winning movie Shine introduced the public to "Rach 3" and made it part of our popular culture.  But long before the film made the third concerto, it was Sergei Rachmaninoff's Second Piano Concerto, completed in 1901, that won the appeal of audiences and established Rachmaninoff as a concerto composer.  For several years, Rachmaninoff had been unable to compose. He was overwhelmed by doubt, depression and he had difficulty applying himself to his craft. It was Dr. Nikolai Dahl, an amateur musician himself, who began working with Rachmaninoff, taking him through sessions of hypnosis and discussions about music, that eventually brought him through this rough period.  The premiere of his Second, with the composer at the piano, was dedicated to Dr. Dahl.

#9 Gabriel Fauré

Aug 28, 2016

Requiem in D minor, Op. 48

Fauré's Requiem in D minor, Op. 48 stands out as the composer's most well known large scale work. Due to the Requiem's date of of composition, 1887-1890, it was believed that perhaps Fauré was writing the piece to commemorate his parents, who passed away in 1885 and 1887. However, Fauré was quick to deny this fact, saying in a letter to a fellow composer that "My Requiem wasn't written for anything – for pleasure, if I may call it that!" Unlike the requiems of many composers, Fauré chose to set the Roman Catholic Mass for the Dead with music that is tranquil, serene, and gentle. His reasons for writing the music in this way is summed up best by the composer himself in an interview from 1902: “It has been said that my Requiem does not express the fear of death, and someone has called it a lullaby of death. But it is thus that I see death: a happy deliverance, an aspiration towards happiness above, rather than as a painful experience... As to my Requiem, perhaps I have also instinctively sought to escape from what is thought right and proper, after all the years of accompanying burial services on the organ! I know it all by heart. I wanted to write something different.”

#10 George Gershwin

Aug 28, 2016

Rhapsody in Blue  

Imagine hearing the premiere of Rhapsody in Blue!  It happened in the afternoon on February 12, 1924 in New York City. Gershwin was the pianist.  Rachmaninoff was in the crowd; so was John Philip Sousa.  (No pressure, right?)  The concert was billed as An Experiment in Modern Music, and it must have been electric.  The wild opening clarinet glissando sprouted as a musical joke from the orchestra’s playful clarinetist. Gershwin liked it during rehearsal, so he asked him to play it that way at the concert with “as much of a 'wail' as possible.” The first airing of this jazzy concerto established George Gershwin as a “serious” composer -- seriously fresh, bold, and American.

#11 Sir Edward Elgar

Aug 28, 2016

Variations on an Original Theme for Orchestra (Enigma), Op. 36

The story goes that, after a long and tiring day of teaching, Sir Edward Elgar sat down at the piano and began to noodle.  A little tune caught the ear of his wife, Alice, who asked that he repeat it.  And so he did, throwing in variations as he went along. And so began one of Elgar's most beloved works, the Enigma Variations, with the deeply moving Nimrod variation as the centerpiece. Each movement is a variation on an unstated theme, created as a portrait of the Elgars' nearest and dearest friends, including themselves. The piece gave listeners two mysteries: who each movement described, and what that unplayed theme might be. Over time, the musical portraits have been decyphered, but that theme remains one of classical music's biggest mysteries. It's even been suggested that the theme isn't musical--it's perhaps literary or symbolic. But Elgar himself never unveiled the mystery, taking it to his grave.

#12 Gustav Mahler

Aug 28, 2016

Symphony No. 2 in c-minor, Resurrection

Sometimes concertgoers just want spectacle, and Mahler certainly delivered that with his Symphony No. 2, the Resurrection. While several of his other offerings baffled the public and critics alike, this symphony would become one of Mahler's most popular in his lifetime. Mahler began it as a symphonic poem (Totenfeier), added two more movements 5 years later, and then was stymied.  He knew he wanted a choral finale, but what text?  What would work? A year later, when Mahler attended the funeral of the great conductor Hans von Bulow and heard Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock's hymn, Die Auferstehung (The Resurrection), he knew he had his answer. He took two of Klopstock's verses, added some of his own, dropped in an earlier song, Urlicht, and his masterpiece was complete. It is a work that has taken audiences on a journey from dark to light for over a century.