Skip navigation

Category Archives: Chamber Music

Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904) was a Czech composer who was helped to prominence in Europe by such luminaries as Johannes Brahms and the critic Eduard Hanslick.  These two men were among the panelists who awarded Dvořák the Austrian State Prize for Composition in 1874 (and again in 1876 and 1877).  Dvořák wrote music in a nationalistic character for much of his career, mostly focused on his native Bohemia (now part of the Czech Republic).  He is also famous for having traveled to America in the 1890s, where he directed the National Conservatory and wrote his most famous work, Symphony no. 9 “From the New World.”  He now has a detailed biography on Wikipedia, an extensive website dedicated to him in both Czech and English, and an ongoing Society in his name that is dedicated to Czech and Slovak classical music.

The Serenade, op. 44, came about in 1878, emerging in a seemingly spontaneous rush during two weeks that January.  It came immediately before the Slavonic Rhapsodies (op. 45) and the first set of Slavonic Dances (op. 46), and as such it reflects some of their style and the direction Dvořák was to take with his music.  It also came immediately after the tragic loss of his three young children, so it likely represents a new beginning in both his life and career.  Its most unusual feature is its instrumentation: 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons (and optional contrabassoon), 3 French horns, cello, and bass.  This very closely resembles the harmonie band that was popular at the end of the 18th century, and may be a nod specifically to Mozart’s most famous serenade, the Gran Partita in B-flat from the early 1780s (a comparison of both pieces’ third movements strengthens this impression).  It was to be the only time that Dvořák used this instrumentation, and only one of two serenades that he would write (the other being for strings).

The instrumentation matches what would have been used in a serenade in the classical era.  Such pieces were intended to be played outdoors, often by musicians on the move, a function to which wind instruments were particularly well-suited.  However, Dvořák uses a more traditional symphonic structure for this work, which ends up in four movements with the middle two flipped from their usual placement.  The first movement is a stately, Baroque-sounding march.  In somewhat of a twist, the second is a triple-meter dance approximating the Czech dance sousedská (despite the title “Minuetto”), with a Furiant thrown in in place of the usual trio.  The third movement is slow, and sounds strongly like Mozart’s “adagio” from the Gran Partita.  The final movement races to its finish, but not before bringing back the entire A section of the first movement in a uniquely 19th-century move.  The whole thing sounds strongly like Dvořák, reflecting both his knack for accessible writing and fervor for his native Czech music.

As much as it pains me to admit this, the best performances of this piece that are on YouTube all come from unconducted ensembles.  Conductors, I challenge you to learn this piece and create compelling performances of it so that we may retain an indispensable role in this piece in the future!  For now, here is a joint British-Russian group delivering quite a performance:

Read more about the Serenade at the Dvořák archive, on this website from 1999, at the University of Maryland Wind Orchestra blog, on Musicweb International, at the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, at Chicago Chamber Musicians, and on Wikipedia.  Also, full sheet music for two different public domain editions of this piece is available on IMSLP.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) was a child prodigy born in Salzburg, Austria who toured Europe as a boy, playing keyboards and violin for nobility and the general public.  He began composing at age 4, amassing an impressive output of over 600 pieces by the time of his untimely death at age 35.  His compositions encompassed solo keyboard works, symphonies, operas, string quartets, concertos, chamber music of all stripes, and religious works.  He famously died while composing his Requiem, K. 626.  It is possible that he believed himself to be writing his own funeral music, but it is unlikely that he was poisoned by the composer Antonio Salieri, as is asserted in the film Amadeus.  In life, he had a reputation as a prankster, which shone through in his music at times (witness the 4-voice canons Difficile lectu and O du eselhafter Peierl).  He is remembered today as perhaps one of the greatest composers who ever lived.

The Serenade K 361 (370a) has long been known by its more famous nickname, Gran Partita.  This was not Mozart’s invention: his manuscript for the piece originally had no heading, but some unknown hand scribbled the nickname on it, and it has stuck.  It means, essentially, “big wind symphony,” which is not inaccurate: the Gran Partita uses an unusually large ensemble (13 players) for the era, as well as a seven-movement form that is larger than either a four-movement symphony or the more conventional six-movement serenade or divertimento that formed the core of the wind repertoire at the time.  In addition to the usual harmonie ensemble of two oboes, two clarinets, two horns, and two bassoons, the Gran Partita adds two more horns, a pair of basset horns, and a string bass.  The seven movements consist of a sonata-allegro with an adagio introduction, a minuet and double trio, an adagio, another minuet and double trio featuring an obvious ländlera tripartite Romance, a theme and variations with a curious interruption, and a spritely finale, totaling nearly an hour of music.  Its composition date remains in dispute: it could have been as early as 1780, although it was not performed in any form until March 23, 1784, when it was presented at a benefit concert put on by famous clarinetist Anton Stadler.  This is the only known performance during Mozart’s lifetime, and it only included four of the movements!  Thankfully, the manuscript has survived in complete form to the present day, and it has become a cornerstone of the repertoire for chamber winds.

There are many performances of the Gran Partita out there, and no two will interpret it the same way.  Answers to the questions of eingangen (little cadenzas), double dotting, ornamentation, grace notes, tempos, and more can only be guessed at, since we have no concrete and specific style guide from the period, let alone any recordings.  I chose the recording below because of the fabulous assortment of period instruments they used (despite the fact that there is no conductor).  Each movement is a distinct video, so you can start anywhere.  Listen, but also watch!

I. Largo – Molto allegro

II. Menuetto I

III. Adagio

IV. Menuetto II

V. Romance

VI. Tema con variazioni

VII. Finale

Now for the links I promised.  The Gran Partita has its own pages at Wikipedia and You can get certain versions of the score for free at the International Music Score Library Project.  It is also featured in program notes from the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, as well as this article by Roger Hellyer, who tries to get a fix on the elusive composition date.

As for Mozart himself, see Wikipedia, The Mozart Project, Studio-Mozart, and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra kids site for something a little more interactive.  All of this only scratches the surface.

I couldn’t write about Mozart without including a scene from Amadeus.  Here, the fictional Salieri recounts his feelings on first hearing the adagio from the Gran Partita, which aptly serves to demonstrate the young Mozart’s genius:

Willem van Otterloo (1907-1978) is best remembered as a conductor of international stature.  He began his career in his native Netherlands, conducting the Utrecht Municipal Orchestra in the 1930s and 40s.  From 1949-1973 he was the chief conductor of the Residentie Orkest in The Hague.  From this post he built an international career, conducting orchestras around the world and landing other music director positions in Australia, first in Melbourne, then in Sydney.  What compositions he left behind largely come from the period before 1945, when he was still firmly based in the Netherlands and had not yet taken off as a conductor.

The Symphonietta for sixteen winds is among those early compositions, dating from 1943.  This was a dark time in The Netherlands, which was under the occupation of Nazi Germany with no end in sight.  This darkness is reflected in the Symphonietta, especially in its first movement, which alternates between abject despair and pleading desperation.  The mood lightens considerably in the second movement, an octatonic scherzo in sonata form.  A solo cadenza connects these two movements, as it does the second and the third.  Movement three is a quiet, reflective song anchored by D-flat.  The fourth and final movement continues after the slightest pause, again lightening the mood with running sixteenth notes on an octatonic scale.  It is currently available from Floricor Editions.  Here is a good, recent performance of the whole thing:

California native Paul Dooley (b. 1983) has received many awards for his music, which has been performed by ensembles of all stripes around the US.  Early experience in percussion and improvisation led him to study composition with Frank Ticheli while at the University of Southern California (where he also received a math degree).  He is currently a lecturer in performing arts technology at the University of Michigan, where he is working towards a doctorate in composition, with Michael Daugherty among his teachers.

Dooley’s music tends to blend Western classical traditions with other world and contemporary musics, and Point Blank is no exception.  Dooley describes it well in his own program notes.  From his website:

Point Blank (2012) for band was commissioned by a consortium of wind bands organized by Gary D. Green and the University of Miami Frost Wind Ensemble.

Point Blank, is inspired by the sounds, rhythms and virtuosity of New York City-based new music ensemble Alarm Will Sound, who premiered a chamber version of the piece in 2010. Featuring synthetic sound worlds and tightly interlocking percussion ideas, the drum set, timpani and strings whirl the ensemble through an array of electronically inspired orchestrations, while the winds and brass shriek for dear life. Point Blank is a central processing unit of floating point tremelos, discrete pizzicatos, multi-threading scales and random access modulations.

In the score he adds:

Point Blank for wind ensemble is inspired by electronic music, in particular a style called Drum & Bass.  I explore the interaction between computer generated musical material and the human performer.  For the wind ensemble’s percussion battery, I transcribe tightly interlocking electronic rhythmic material.  The drum set, mallets and timpani whirl the ensemble through an array of electronically inspired orchestrations, while the winds and brass shriek for dear life!

Point Blank exists in versions for large chamber ensemble (the original, written in 2010), wind ensemble (2012) and full orchestra (2011).  Links are to each page on Dooley’s website, each of which contains a recording and score.  For those who prefer to SEE their performances, here is the Baylor University Wind Ensemble:

And the premier of the original version by Alarm Will Sound (notice a fair bit of difference, especially at the end):

And the orchestra version (please forgive the conductor view):

Finally, here is just one example of what Drum & Bass sounds like.  This is just one example, so please explore further for a better, fuller picture:

Paul Dooley has a website of his own and biographies at the Wind Repertory Project and the University of Michigan.

Today, Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) is revered as one of the greatest composers of all time whose multitudinous compositions, with their combination of  intellectual rigor and transcendent beauty, are among the foundational documents of Western art music.  In his day, J.S. Bach was seen as a church musician who dazzled his contemporaries with his organ playing and churned out new compositions with almost alarming speed and frequency.  Though he was well-known and widely respected, he was not revered as he is now.  His reputation received a facelift in the early 19th century (long after his death) with the publication of a biography in 1802, the revival of his Saint Matthew’s Passion by the composer Felix Mendelssohn in 1829, and ultimately the creation of the Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis (Bach Works Catalog) in 1850.  Since then, Bach’s legacy has only grown.  Among his famous compositions are the Brandenburg Concertos, the Cello Suites, the Well-Tempered Clavier, the Art of Fugue, hundreds of cantatas and oratorios, and dozens of short chorales.  And that is but the tip of the iceberg.  Bach has over 1000 known compositions, and perhaps as many that have been lost forever.

Other interesting Bach facts:

  • He was a genuine patriarch, fathering 20 children (10 of whom survived to adulthood) with 2 successive wives.  See the family tree.
  • Several of his children became famous composers in their own right, most notably Johann Christian Bach and Carl Philip Emanuel Bach.
  • There are streets all over Germany named for Bach, although he never left the country and never lived more than 250 miles from his birthplace in Eisenach.  See the map.
  • He was once put in prison by an employer who didn’t want to let him move jobs.
  • He wrote a cantata about coffee addiction.  Read about it here.
  • Finally, Anthony Tommasini recently named Bach the greatest composer of all time.

Carter Pann is a celebrated composer in his own right who has written music from solo works to large orchestra and wind ensemble pieces.  He is on the faculty of the University of Colorado at Boulder, where he continues to write distinctly original music.  He is also a practiced arranger.  He assembled the 18 transcriptions that form the Bach Buch in 2010 for a unique ensemble: it is essentially a harmoniemusik ensemble with saxophones instead of horns.  He describes the collection in its score:

The music of Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) is a gift.  Nearly every piece that poured out of this man is as inspired and perfected as the next.  His body of work has cut a deep incision in the recorded history of music and set a benchmark to which all the contrapuntal masters who followed have aspired to meet.

The transcriptions found within this volume add to the thousands upon thousands of versions of his music already re-worked for different groups and media.  The music here does not, however, embellish Bach’s own scores (save but for a couple of instances in which it was felt necessary to add an inner voice to serve the expansive range of the ten woodwinds).  The selections are ordered (loosely) to assume a smooth, inclined trajectory of both difficulty and musical breadth.  The first piece is a small and simple minuet, the last is a long interior movement of one of the most beloved and advanced violin concertos in the whole repertoire.

As a keyboard player I grew up learning and falling in love with much of Bach’s music at the piano.  For this very reason, much of this volume consists of the composer’s keyboard works.  One cannot, however, deny many of the most cherished works from Bach’s oeuvre when compiling a set of transcriptions, and many of those “hits” are included here as well.

Departing from the traditional harmoniemusik ensemble, I have replaced the horns here with saxophones.  There are two reasons: 1) the nature of much of this music requires instruments with an ease of agility not executable so readily on the horn; and 2) the opportunity for saxophone players to be included in such an ensemble was very attractive, pedagogically.

I hope you enjoy these gems from such a great genius.

With the full collection clocking in at 48 minutes, the set is ideal for excerpting.  Below, I will present brief descriptions of each piece along with one representative video of the original version.  Since this collection is relatively new, no recordings of it have made their way onto the internet just yet.  Perhaps that will eventually change.  For now, you can view the entire score here.

1. The set opens with Menuet II from keyboard Partita no. 1 (BWV 825).  This was part of a suite for harpsichord written around 1725.  Here it is on the (upright!) harpsichord.  Skip to about the 15 minute marker for Menuet II:

2. The second piece is one of the two-part inventions, the sixth of the set, written between 1717 and 1723.  Originally in E major, Pann transposed it to F major.  Here is Glenn Gould playing it on the piano:

3. Prelude no. 9 from the Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1 (BWV 854), written in 1722.  Several of the other movements come from either of the two WTC books as well.  Again, Pann transposes this one from E major into E-flat major.

4. The fourth miniature uses the second prelude from WTC, Book 2 (BWV 871), written in 1742.  It is in C minor.  Here it is, with a little history lesson in front:

5. Prelude no. 18 from WTC, Book 1 (BWV 863), transposed from G-sharp minor to G minor:

6. Praeludium from Keyboard Partita no. 1 (BWV 825):

7. Prelude no. 12 in F minor from WTC, Book 2 (BWV 881):

8. Prelude no. 22 in B-flat minor from WTC, Book 1 (BWV 867):

9. Fugue no. 7 in E-flat major from WTC, Book 2 (BWV 876).  The video in no way uses authentic Bach-era instruments, but it does powerfully and clearly demonstrate the line of each voice in the fugue:

10. Fugue no. 21 in B-flat major from WTC, Book 1 (BWV 866).  This video follows Bach’s original manuscript as the fugue unfolds:

11. Variation 18 (Canon at the Sixth) from the Goldberg Variations (BWV 988), written in 1741.  The video has six different performances of the same variation (plus some very worthwhile “bonus tracks” at the end), all with different interpretive decisions:

12. Sarabande from Overture in the French Manner (BWV 831), written in 1735.  There are many different ideas about the tempo for this one, so please do not accept the following video as the one and only solution:

13. Badinerie (which, like Scherzo, translates as “jesting”) from Orchestral Suite no. 2 (BWV 1067), written from 1738-9.  This piece has been a central part of the flute repertoire for centuries.  As the title makes clear, it was originally written for orchestra.  Here is a performance on period instruments:

14. Chorale: “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” from Cantata (BWV 147), written in 1723.  In German, the title is “Jesus, bleibet meine Freude”, which translates less poetically as “Jesus remains my joy.”  The video features a fairly authentic sounding orchestra with a large chorus singing in German:

15. Chorale Prelude: “Nun fruet euch, lieben Christen g’mein” (BWV 734), originally written for organ in 1708:

16. Air (on the G String) from Orchestral Suite no. 3 (BWV 1068), from 1730:

17. Chorale: “Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme” from Cantata (BWV 140), also known as “Sleepers Wake”, from 1731.  This is a “gap chorale”, with the actual chorale melody interrupted separated by other material, which dominates the work:

18. Concerto for Two Violins, II. Largo ma non tanto (BWV 1043), written sometime between 1717 and 1723:

If you made it this far, you deserve some Bach bonus links.  Here he is on wikipedia, his own home page, Dave’s J. S. Bach page, and Facebook.  And that just barely scratches the surface!

In keeping with the spirit of this blog, I have a composer bio and piece description up for this piece as usual.  But so much has already been said about the man and the music.  There’s very little that I could possibly add other than to consolidate what’s already out there.  Therefore, I highly encourage you to explore the richly informative links below.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) was a child prodigy born in Salzburg, Austria who toured Europe as a boy, playing keyboards and violin for nobility and the general public.  He began composing at age 4, amassing an impressive output of over 600 pieces by the time of his untimely death at age 35.  His compositions encompassed solo keyboard works, symphonies, operas, string quartets, concertos, chamber music of all stripes, and religious works.  He famously died while composing his Requiem, K. 626.  It is possible that he believed himself to be writing his own funeral music, but it is unlikely that he was poisoned by the composer Antonio Salieri, as is asserted in the film Amadeus.  In life, he had a reputation as a prankster, which shone through in his music at times (witness the 4-voice canons Difficile lectu and O du eselhafter Peierl).  He is remembered today as perhaps one of the greatest composers who ever lived.

Mozart wrote the Serenade in C minor, K. 388 in 1782.  Exactly when it was finished, when it premiered, for whom he wrote it, and what motivated its composition are all unknown.  We do know that wind music was very much in vogue in the Holy Roman Empire of the day thanks to Emperor Joseph II‘s establishment of a Harmoniemusik ensemble at his court.  These usually consisted of pairs of wind instruments, often oboes, clarinets, French horns, and bassoons, as in K. 388, although basset horns and English horns sometimes also appeared.  Very often they were used for light entertainment at parties (Mozart has one playing in the background during the ballroom scene of his 1787 opera Don Giovanni) or even to accompany the imperial supper.  They were ideal for outdoor performances: many of the contemporary serenades written for Harmoniemusik were intended to be played outdoors, perhaps even with the musicians on the move.  So the Serenade in C minor, with its dark tone and apparently serious purpose (let alone its minor key) would have confounded expectations for Harmoniemusik at the time, as it still does scholars of Mozart and wind music today.  The Serenade is in four movements, closely replicating the common symphonic form of the day.  The first is a straightforward sonata whose development seems to run out of steam before a forcefully dark recapitulation.  The second, an andante in three, also takes sonata form (the development is all of two phrases) and includes cadenza-like passages for the first oboe and first clarinet.  The third movement is a minuet marked “in canone”, and indeed there is always a canon going on.  The final movement is a decidedly dark series of variations broken up by a some unrelated E-flat major material in the middle.  After so much gloom, the Serenade takes an unexpected turn and ends with a noisy C major variation.

Here is a wonderful performance of the entire Serenade.  Especially wonderful is the variety of approaches to the variations in the fourth movement.

Now for the links I promised.  The Serenade has its own pages at Wikipedia, Hal Leonard, and You can get certain versions of the score for free at the International Music Score Library Project.  I am not the only blogger to have written about the Serenade: this enthnomusicologist’s blog post is much more comprehensive than mine when it comes to analysis and context, and I highly recommend you read it!  The BBC did a “Discovering Music” program(me) on the piece in 2006.  Fellow band blogger Dave Wacyk wrote about it at the University of Maryland Wind Orchestra site.  The Chicago Chamber Musicians also have a write-up about it.

As for Mozart himself, see Wikipedia, The Mozart Project, Studio-Mozart, and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra kids site for something a little more interactive.  All of this only scratches the surface.

I couldn’t write about Mozart without including a scene from Amadeus.  In one of my favorites, Mozart, on his deathbed, dictates the beginning of the Requiem’s “Confutatis” to Salieri:

Born in Russia, Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) was on track to become a lawyer until he began composition studies with Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov.  He started his career in Paris with three ballets written for choreographer Sergei Diaghilev and his Ballets Russes: The Firebird, Petrushka, and The Rite of Spring, the last of which is legendary for causing a riot at its premiere.   The Rite especially was a model of neo-primitivism, in which Stravinsky used very small cells of notes to create orchestral textures that often featured intense, driving rhythms.  In the 1920s he largely abandoned his primitivist tendencies and began writing consciously Neoclassical music, which at first baffled his contemporaries, although not as much as his turn to serialism in the 1950s.  Still, his music remained popular, and he was consistently seen as a bold and hugely influential composer, perhaps one of the most important of the 20th century.  His reputation endures today, with hundreds if not thousands of performances of his works happening every year.  He died an American citizen, having moved to California in 1939.

Stravinsky wrote the Octet (he also called it the Octuor) in 1922.  He conducted its premiere in Paris the following year. Its instrumentation is unusual, with 1 flute, 1 clarinet, and 2 each of bassoons, trumpets, and trombones.  About this, Stravinsky said: “The Octet began with a dream, in which I saw myself in a small room surrounded by a small group of instrumentalists playing some attractive music . . . I awoke from this little concert in a state of great delight and anticipation and the next morning began to compose.”  With its use of older forms like sonata and theme and variations, it marked the beginning of his Neoclassical phase, which was to last for most of the next three decades. Coming after intensely rhythmic and primitivist works like The Rite of Spring, the Octet sounds like a mockery of classical forms.  The first movement opens with an adagio introduction typical of classical sonata form, but utterly different in its melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic conceptions.  The sonata begins in earnest with a clear, allegro thematic statement.  It unfolds in typical sonata fashion: exposition, development, recapitulation.  The exact moment of recapitulation is hard to place: Stravinsky not only mirrors the restatement of his themes in the 2nd half of the movement, he also deceives the listener by stating only part of the primary theme toward the end, before finally giving the theme one last full airing at the very end of the movement.  The second movement is a fairly straightforward theme and variations.  It segues directly to the third, a rondo of sorts that is based on a Russian dance rhythm.

Here is but one performance:

For another perspective, listen to this recording of Leonard Bernstein conducting members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1947 at Tanglewood.  Also, take a look at Bernstein’s markings in the score (of a later edition), via the New York Philharmonic archives.

Musicians love to talk about the Octet.  It has its own, extensive Wikipedia article, complete with a history and a formal analysis of each movement.  It was the subject of a doctoral dissertation at the University of North Texas in 2007, dealing specifically with the trumpet parts.  It is featured on the Wind Repertory Project.  This Boosey & Hawkes blurb has some great contemporary quotes on the piece (one of which I used above).  Stravinsky himself wrote an essay about it for the premiere, which he published in 1924.  This other essay refers to that.  Since the Octet has such legendarily fun bassoon parts (my favorite bit is the cascade in the 2nd movement, although the beginning of the 3rd also gets me every time), it’s only fitting that the principal bassoonist of the Columbus Symphony Orchestra would write a fantastic and detailed blog post about her experience with the piece.  Finally, it has a place in the Classical Archives.

Stravinsky has biographies on Wikipedia, IMDb, and Boosey & Hawkes, as well as Foundation in his name with an Internet presence.  So much has been written about him in print that the Internet hardly does him justice.  But here are some articles from humanitiesweb and Cal Tech (on his religious works), and some quotes from him, just to whet your appetite.

Kurt Weill (1900-1950) was a German composer whose musical theatre works have come to exemplify the Weimar Republic period in Germany.  He was born in Dessau to Jewish parents.  By World War I, when he was a teenager, he was a professional theatre accompanist.  He studied composition in Berlin, composing standard instrumental fare like tone poems and an orchestral suite.  In the 1920s, he began to make his mark on German music with theatrical pieces that played with American dance rhythms.  In many of these works he collaborated with the writer and political activist Bertolt Brecht.  His fortunes turned sour in the early 1930s, as the new Nazi regime ramped up a propaganda campaign against his popular, politically subversive works.  He fled first to Paris in 1933, then to the United States in 1935.  In America, he continued his successful career as a music theatre composer, collaborating with Ira Gershwin and Langston Hughes, among others.  He was still active on the Broadway scene when he died of a heart attack at age 50.

One of Weill’s most famous pieces was Die Dreigroschenoper (The Threepenny Opera).  He wrote the music in 1928 to words by Bertolt Brecht, based on The Beggar’s Opera by John Gay.  It tells the story of Macheath (Mack the Knife), a murderer in Victorian London.  In the spirit of the Weimar Republic, it also lampooned German society and capitalism.  It was one of the most popular works of the period: within five years, it had been translated into 18 languages and performed more than 10,000 times in Europe.  It had also attracted the attention of the serious music establishment in Germany.  Just four months after its premiere, conductor Otto Klemperer commissioned Weill to create a concert suite from the opera in the tradition of opera suites for winds from Mozart’s day.  Titled Little Threepenny Music (Kleine Dreigroschenmusik), Weill’s suite retains all of the unique character of the opera, with instrumentation that includes saxophones, a rudimentary drum set, and combination of guitar, banjo, and bandoneon among the more traditional wind instruments.  He even added some musical material, presumably because the original opera was written for actors who happened to sing rather than trained singers.  The suite comes in 8 movements:

I. Overture
II. The Moritat of Mack the Knife
III. The Instead-of Song
IV. The Ballad of the Easy Life
V. Polly’s Song
Va. Tango
VI. Cannon Song
VII. Threepenny Finale

The Ball State University Wind Ensemble plays the whole suite, bandoneon and all:

The number “Mack the Knife” took on a life of its own as a jazz standard and pop song with worldwide popularity that persists today.  Louis Armstrong is among the many renowned musicians to have recorded a version of the song:

I have to admit, when I think of Kleine Dreigroschenmusik, I can’t help but think of this:

And this:

both of which were certainly influenced by Weill’s work.

Read up on Kurt Weill on Wikipedia and the Kurt Weill Foundation for Music.  More info on The Threepenny Opera can be found at Wikipedia and its own website, run by the same Kurt Weill Foundation.  There is also a great entry on Little Threepenny Music at the Wind Repertory Project.

Composer Reynaldo Hahn (1875-1947) came to France from Venezuela with his family at age 3.  By age 10, he was a student at the Paris Conservatoire alongside Maurice Ravel.  He published his first song, a setting of a poem by Victor Hugo, when he was 13.  He was a child prodigy on the piano and a fine singer: even at that young age, he would often accompany himself in performances of his own songs.  At 19, he met the not-yet-famous writer Marcel Proust.  The two were briefly lovers, and remained close friends until Proust’s death in 1922.  In his autobiographical novel Jean Santeuil, Proust described Hahn as an “instrument of genius” who “moves our hearts, moistens our eyes, cures us one after the other in a silent and solemn undulation. Never since Schumann has music painted sorrow, tenderness, the calm induced by nature, with such brush strokes of human truth and absolute beauty.” Hahn remained best known for his songs, and he adhered to a conservative style of composition that prized elegant melodies and an aesthetic of beauty.  He was a constant presence in the high-society salons of Paris, and was known for charm and good looks.

Hahn wrote the ballet Le bal de Beatrice d’Este in 1905.  Music for winds was in vogue in Paris at the time thanks to the success of groups like Paul Taffanel’s Société de Musique de Chambre pour Instruments á Vent (Wind Instrument Chamber Music Society) and Georges Barrére’s Societé Moderne d’Instruments á Vent (Modern Wind Instrument Society), both of which were rediscovering the Harmoniemusik of Mozart and Beethoven while also commissioning new works like Gounod’s Petite Symphonie.  Hahn may have been inspired by their success – he was definitely involved in a concert of the Societé Moderne in 1903.  That group premiered Le bal on March 28, 1905 as part of their tenth anniversary concert.

Le bal presents an imagined evening in the court of Beatrice (1475-1497) of the House Este, a treasured princess of the Italian Renaissance.  She became the Duchess of Milan in 1491 when she married Ludovico Sforza.  Both were known as patrons of the arts and humanities: Leonardo Da Vinci completed his Last Supper under their patronage.  They were also known for hosting fine balls.  Hahn’s composition is in seven movements, scored for 2 flutes, oboe, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, percussion, 2 harps, and piano.  It opens with the fanfare, Entrée pour Ludovic le More, or Ludovico’s entrance music.  Three of the inner movements are Renaissance dances (LesquercadeRomanesque, Courante) interspersed with a portrait of Beatrice’s sister Isabella (Iberienne), and a musical impression of a Da Vinci painting (Léda et l’Oiseau).  The Salut Final au Duc de Milan puts a regal bookend on the piece.

The Orchestre de Paris once performed Le bal de Beatrice d’Este in its entirety on YouTube, but that recording has disappeared.  There is a partial recording of the Idaho Falls Youth Symphony doing some of the movements, but it doesn’t really do the piece justice.  If you want an idea of what each movement sounds like, check out the examples of this Hyperion recording: simply click the music notes before each movement title for a short excerpt.

Now some context.  Those dances in the interior movements are intended to be legitimate Renaissance dance styles.  The Lesquercade as a dance appears to have been lost from our collective memory.  The Romanesque is even harder to find specific information on.  That leaves just the Courante.  Alas, Hahn wrote his Courante in duple meter (cut time), but it was a triple meter dance.  So, instead of getting specific, here is a video with a whole range of Renaissance dances.  It starts with an introduction in Dutch, but the dances really get going around the 1:00 mark:

Bonus: Hahn’s first published song, “Si mes vers avaient des ailes” (If my verses had wings)

Le bal de Beatrice d’Este links: nice program note at the University of Maryland Wind Orchestra, information page related to this doctoral dissertation by Jared Chase, who created new critical edition of the piece.

Reynaldo Hahn links: Wikipedia page, Classical Archives page (click the about/bio tab), Naxos info page, Reynaldo Hahn Society page (in French).