Session one started out with Wagner’s overture to Lohengrin – an opera about fairy-tale love that ends in tragedy. Beethoven loved nothing more to relieve the frustrations of his encroaching deafness than to go for a nature walk – the sounds he would hear leading him to compose his sixth (pastoral) symphony. Maurice Ravel wrote a concerto which literally can be played with one hand behind your back. His Concerto for the Left Hand being commissioned by a pianist/soldier who lost an arm fighting in the first world war.
First up in session two was Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture written for a play about a fifth century Roman general whose ‘turncoat’ decisions led to his death at the hands of his soldiers – or perhaps he died at his own hand? Brahms, who was never a violinist, struck up a close friendship with one who was the premier violinist of the day. This led to a violin concerto that is one of the most recorded in the violin repertoire. Its premiere saw Brahms as the conductor of the orchestra and his friend as the soloist. A Brahms encore was composed in honour of another of his friends - an artist who died tragically at a young age. “Nänie” is sometimes referred to as Brahms’ “Litte Requiem” (as distinct from his much longer and grander “German Requiem”.
To top off the month’s musical journey Gershwin’s ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ – the inspiration for the name coming from Whistler’s painting “Nocturne in Blue and Green”. Written in a hurry (most of it on a train journey) and premiered even before the solo part had been put to paper (Gershwin himself being the pianist), the work went on to become an all-time American classic. You can read the detail and find the links to the music recordings below.
Wagner - Prelude to Act 1 Lohengrin
Beethoven - Symphony No.6
Why Ravel wrote a concerto for only one hand
Ravel - Concerto for the Left Hand
Beethoven - Coriolan Overture
Brahms - Violin Concerto (Substitute recording for the one played)
Brahms - Nanie
Gershwin - Rhapsody in Blue