Yalta

In the 1890s Yalta – Russia’s southernmost (Black) seaside resort – was home to two famous convalescents. Both were suffering from tuberculosis and both had come to the warm south in the hope of easing their symptoms. The more famous of the two was Anton Chekhov; in Yalta he was to write the plays The […]

Hesperus, the evening star

It should have been an icon, but – though it may seem something of a cultural mismatch (and a measure of my irretrievably muddled intellect(??)) – the stained glass of Chartres (it’s the South Transept you see above) and Rachmaninoff’s All Night Vigil (aka Vespers) seem to have an active stillness and a numinous quality […]

The end of days

John Martin’s terrifying vision of the apocalypse has several musical equivalents. Apart from the many settings of the Requiem Mass’s Dies irae (think Berlioz, think Verdi), there are two famous musical Judgement Days that are the work of composers very much associated with Vienna: Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony (Symphony No. 2 in c) and Franz Schmidt’s […]

SchmWaltzing it

Schmaltz? Sure, but great schmaltz! Apfelstrudel, Sachertorte, Waltz, Esterhazytorte — which is the odd one out? Why, Esterhazytorte of course! (They’re all sweet and delicious confections, but Esterhazytorte comes from Budapest.) The Viennese waltz took the musical world by storm, and it wasn’t just the Strausses and the Lehárs who had a monopoly. Beethoven, Schubert, […]

The Leviathan and the Boa Constrictor

George Bernard Shaw – author, among a few other things, of The Perfect Wagnerite — was rather uncomplimentary about Brahms, describing him as ‘the leviathan maunderer’. Eduard Hanslick – the eminent Viennese music critic and friend of Brahms – wrote of Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony that it was ‘interminable, disorganised, and violent’ adding ‘it is not […]