The hurdy-gurdy man

The end of Wilhelm Müller’s Die Winterreise has a strangeness that never fails to touch and mystify. The image of the ancient, penniless hurdy-gurdy man making his music, unmoved by the passing world, is inexplicably potent – it calls to us. Who is he?  Death? Madness? A salvation of some sort? And then there’s Schubert’s setting: the simple hurdy-gurdy/bagpipe […]

…how strange the change from major to minor

Apart from it being a rather useful (trite but it works?) internal rhyme, Cole Porter wasn’t exactly wrong about the deep emotional effect of the juxtaposition of majors and minors; it’s just that it’s a bit more complicated than that. Have a listen… recognise them? The simple act of flattening one note in a chord, like […]

Good artists copy, great artists steal!

Schubert’s Octet dates from 1824, it was commissioned by the clarinettist Ferdinand Troyer as – so the story goes – a companion work to Beethoven’s (then) extremely popular Septet (still is!). Apart from adding a second violin to make the numbers up to eight, Schubert seems to have used the Beethoven piece as the template for his […]

Winterreise — The Winter Journey

The last five years of Schubert’s life. Just five years? Doesn’t seem that long, does it? But, in a life span of a mere thirty-one — once you take away ten or so years for childhood — those five years come to represent a quarter of the composer’s mature life and, in terms of composition, the […]

A concerted effort

By all accounts Mendelssohn found the writing of concertos difficult. His main problem, it seems, was finding a balance between the – almost inevitable – virtuoso, show off/exhibitionist element of the concerto and the serious/profound music that he felt he should write. Despite –or maybe because of – the difficulty in reconciling these opposites(?), the composer […]

Prodigious

Not the work of your average 16 year old, but Mendelssohn’s Octet seems to capture brilliantly the feral excitement, boundless energy and sheer joie de vivre of youth. And so that’s where we’ll begin, with a work by a boy who in his mid adolescence  produced this, one of the masterpieces of a century peopled […]

À bientôt, M. Croche

Monsieur Croche? Who’s he? In 1901 Debussy – always anxious to augment his sparse income – landed the job of music critic for the Parisian arts journal, La Revue Blanche. He used his articles not just to review the concerts he’d attended but also as a soapbox from which to express his (very Debussyan!) ideas on […]