Joseph Haydn. “Paris” symphony No 83 (La Poule). Haydn’s “Paris” symphonies mark a turning point in the composer’s creative career. By the mid 1780s Haydn was already somewhat tired of his monotonous musical duties as the Kapellmeister of Prince Esterházy. At this point the composer received a commission for six symphony works from the Masonic Loge Olympique in Paris, the patroness of which was Queen Marie-Antoinette of France herself. The Lodge had a huge number of musicians for the period, and it was famed for its brilliant performances, which allowed Haydn to demonstrate fully his phenomenal gift for orchestration. Filled with his characteristic ingenuity, wit and inventiveness, the “Paris” symphonies proved a tremendous success with the French public, and even today these brilliant scores are a matter of pride for the repertoire of any orchestra.
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Variations on a Rococo Theme for Cello and Orchestra (1876). The refined timbre of the cello, expressive yet also noble, was tremendously popular among 19th century Russian composers. Musical soirées, held regularly at noble families' estates, rarely passed without his being involved: as well as instrumental pieces for various ensembles, the rich and beautiful sound of the cello often had a solo role in vocal works in a duet with the singer. Variations on a Rococo Theme for Cello and Orchestra is a brilliant example of combining two styles – the concert virtuoso and the chamber domestic – in one work. In spite of certain allusions to music of the 18th century – and first and foremost the style of Mozart who was reverentially admired by the Russian composer – the theme of the Variations is absolutely unique. Developing throughout the work, it as if travels through a century of musical history, building a bridge from Mozart’s era to the time when Tchaikovsky lived and wrote. “Brilliant! There, at last, is real music!” exclaimed Liszt after hearing the Russian composer’s latest opus at a music festival in Wiesbaden.
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Maurice Ravel. Pavane pour une infante défunte (1899). One of his most popular piano works, Ravel composed the piece when he was a student. This is the second of his works that were published. The Pavane quickly became famous, in no small degree thanks to its intriguing title. Who was this dying Infante who had inspired the young Ravel’s creative genius? The composer himself always assured the public that her image was nothing more that the fruit of his imagination and that the work itself was just a “slow Spanish dance that could be performed by a young princess in times gone by.” And, in actual fact, the Princesse de Polignac, the mistress of a salon and patron of the arts to whom Ravel dedicated this work, was the only aristocrat who was truly concerned. The subtle enchantment of the light and sad lyricism of the work and its beautiful plastique melody have unfailingly found their place in the audience’s hearts. It is hard to understand why Ravel subsequently claimed that there were many flaws in the Pavane. Possibly one of the reasons for this was the deceptive simplicity of the work, which made it “a show of strength” for pianists who are starting out.
W. A. Mozart. Symphony No 31 “Paris” (1778). In 1777 Mozart, who had recently celebrated his twenty-first birthday, decided to undertake a tour of Europe to find a position worthy of his talents. One of his destinations was Paris, where the composer stayed for half a year. Thanks to assistance from his friends, he succeeded in receiving a commission for a symphony from the Société de musique spirituelle. The Director of the Société de musique spirituelle, who was extremely sceptical about Mozart (rivals spread rumours that Wolfgang’s genius was nothing more than a cunning trick of his father, who passed off his own works as those of his Wunderkind), forced the composer to write a symphony in his presence without any instruments. This could not, however, prevent the talented young man from writing wonderful music, which was highly praised by the knowledgeable Parisian public. In his symphony, Mozart made broad use of innovative techniques of the famed orchestra of the city of Mannheim, which the composer had visited shortly before coming to France. These were the vivid dynamic contrasts, the famed intensifications and weakening of the wound as well as the expressive effects of the Paris school – for example the “first swish of the bow” or the broad exposition of the theme by all the instruments.