Edvard Grieg’s Lyric Pieces begin with a group of short piano pieces that are marked by the use of soft dynamics and major keys. Many of them, especially towards the beginning, are dance-like in fashion and incorporate elements of folk music and the waltz. Different emotional patterns develop as the piece progresses; the theme tends towards the light closer towards the beginning of the work, but at times the mood of certain pieces gets darker, particularly towards the middle of the set. As the subtle voice of the melody drifts into the minor, the set begins to take on a more melancholy feel; in Heimweh, for instance, the piece seems to evoke feelings not quite of darkness or despair, but rather a longing form of sadness. As the set draws to a close, however, these themes of longing and sadness are matched alongside with themes of a forward looking optimism, or perhaps more adeptly a feeling of inner peace that begins to show up in certain pieces. Pieces such as Drømmesyn and Hjemad incorporate subtle hints of optimism and energy; in many examples, there is more dynamic contrast and a faster tempo than in the pieces towards the beginning of the set. This leads to a slightly lighter feel for most of these pieces. The finale of the piece ends the set much as it began; the aptly named Etterklang (Remembrances) hearkens back to and mirrors the Arietta from the beginning.

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Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exibition begins with a promenade marked by a heavy yet driving rhythm that evokes a mood more befitting a traditional Russian folk song. The piece then transitions into a much more lumbering, somber section (Gnomus) based in the minor, before making its way briefly back to the promenade theme, this time in a different key. The piece then goes into its third movement, which differs greatly in style from the promenade; it is played very softly, with a rhythm that moves with more fluidity than drive and heaviness. This then gives way again to the promenade theme. The following movement is aptly named after the Polish word for cattle, Bydlo; the use of lots of low tones and a slow, driving rhythm is used to evoke the slow plodding of cattle pulling a cart. This is followed, yet again, by a brief return to the theme before moving on to the fifth movement. The fifth movement is marked by a light, quick style akin to that of the ballet, and a distinctive repeat. This then gives way to the sixth movement, which is composed of two contrasting themes; one a good deal heavier and louder, meant to evoke perhaps images of success, and one lighter and much more subdued. Both themes are repeated. The promenade theme is repeated for a fifth time, followed by the seventh movement. This is arguably the lightest, fastest and most athletic of all ten movements. It is marked by an interesting back-and-forth between the ‘voices.’ The eighth movement stands in stark contrast to its immediate predecessor in almost every way. There is a distinct shift from light to dark, from major into minor, from allegro into largo, and with it, the entire mood of the piece shifts. The subsequent movement can be divided into three stylistic sections; the first and third are quite fast and light on the keys, much like in the seventh movement, while the second section evokes a feeling of greater calm. This is then followed by the tenth and final movement. Two distinct themes take place within this movement, one of which, not surprisingly, is the original theme from the promenade. The secondary theme is a good deal more solemn than the brash forte of the promenade. The piece draws to a close with a long, dramatic ritardando.

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Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier begins with an interesting interaction between the Marschallin, Marie Therese, and her much younger lover, Count Octavian. There is a juxtaposition between the rather naive musings of the count, and the Marschallin, who is very conscious of the great gap in age between the two. The Marschallin’s boorish cousin, Count Ochs, shows up and describes to the two of them his amorous exploits, demonstrating some of his courtship techniques on Octavian, who has at this point been disguised as a chambermaid to avoid the scandal of their affair from getting out. After Octavian makes his successful escape, company arrives for the Marschallin. The callous Ochs interrupts the song of one of the guests to demand that his notary arrange for a dowry from his fiance’s family, which he then learns is not possible, to his disappointment. In the midst of this new commotion, the Marschallin still finds time to express to her hairdresser her concern; the idea that she looks like an old woman.

Upon the departure of her guests, the Marschallin sings ‘Da geht er hin’ in which she berates the fickleness of men such as the boorish Count Ochs. Octavian then returns to the Marschallin, but she is continually plagued by anxiety about the passage of time and the impending nature of old age, anxiety to which the age gap between she and Octavian contributes.

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Act III of Richard Wagner’s Parsifal begins with a scene set by Gurnemanz’s hut. Gurnemanz is shown at this point as an aged and tired old man, and the music helps to convey these characteristics accordingly. He discovers Kundry, who only beseeches him to ’serve’ (dienen). An unrecognizable figure then approaches; Gurnemanz is at first thrown off, but is then relieved when he sees that the stranger is in fact Parsifal carrying the all-important Holy Spear. Parsifal sings of how he must return to Amfortas in the aria Zu ihm, des tiefe Klagen. Parsifal is overcome with grief as Gurnemanz tells him how poorly things have transpired in his long absence. Gurnemanz and Kudry then anoint Parsifal with holy water and proclaim him to be the King of the Knights of the Grail. The music becomes much more peaceful as Parsifal looks about the  meadows and greenery.

The second scene is set in the elaborate castle of the Grail. Amfortas is clearly quite distraught and begs his dead father to let him join him in death in a dramatic aria marked by great anguish and visible pain. While the knights urge Amfortas to uncover the grail, he flatly refuses and instead asks them to kill him and end his suffering. At this point, Parsifal steps forward with the music signaling redemption. He then produces the Holy Spear and orders that the Grail be revealed. The opera concludes with the death of Kudry and the absolution of Amfortas.

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Act IV of Giuseppe Verdi’s Don Carlos begin in a rather morose fashion. The prelude is composed mostly of a somber and dark cello solo that foreshadows the sadness expressed in King Philip’s famous aria, Ella giammai m’amo.  The King mourns that Elisabeth never truly loved him, using stark dynamic contrasts to illustrate both moments of pensive sorrow and exclamations of emotional pain. The king then has a troubling conversation with the Inquisitor; the Inquisitor demands that King Philip put Marquis Posa, his son’s friend, to death. The King tries to protect his friend from death, but realizes that even he is powerless against the inquisition. In the subsequent scene, the king accuses Elisabeth of having feelings for Don Carlos, pointing to a portrait of Carlos in her jewelry box. This causes Elisabeth to faint in a scene marked musically by loud, angry accusations on the part of the king and distinct unease on the part of Elisabeth. Eventually, however, the king sees that he has wronged Elisabeth.

In the second scene, Posa visits Don Carlos in prison to inform him that Posa will be put to death but he will live. At first, the music follows the mood set by Posa’s bad tidings. However, as Posa offers his reassurances that his death is for a just cause, the a bit of levity is mixed into the otherwise soft and understated music. At the shocking moment of Posa’s death, his dying anguish is shown by a stark shift in musical style. With his last strength, Posa informs Carlos of Elisabeth’s plans, and says that he is content to die if Carlos will free Flanders. The Act concludes with an angry crowd threatening the king and demanding the release of his son, before the Inquisitor comes and terrifies the crowd into silence and obedience.

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Act I of Gioachino Rossini’s La Cenerentola is a prime example of early Romantic Italian opera. It is unusual among Italian operas in that it is based on a fairytale, something more common in the tradition of German opera. Rossini, however, removed most supernatural elements from the story both according to his taste and for the sake of practicality. The opera begins with a stark contrast in singing style between the sweet Cenerentola and her stepsisters; while Cenerentola sings a mournful yet sincere style, Clorinda and Tisbe’s parts are much more athletic and brash, a contrast highlighed in their interactions with Alidoro. This trend continues after the arrival of the disguised Prince Ramiro. The hurried preparations of Clorinda and Tisbe, as well as the stress placed on poor Cenerentola, are reflected in vocal lines marked by a great variance in range and, at times, a tempo taken at breakneck speed. On the same token, the confident charm of Prince Ramiro shows in his calmer vocal line. It is clear from La Cenerentola that Rossini was quite adept at crafting a vocal line that was contextually appropriate. In using this tool, he embraced Romantic era idea that thoughts and emotions could be conveyed effectively through both the sound and text. One can therefore see how Rossini’s La Cenerentola represents an excellent example of early Romantic era opera.

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Schubert’s Trout quintet begins with a rather classical-sounding allegro marked at first by slow transitions from from key to key. The theme from the beginning is repeated again later in the movement. The transitions from key to key speed up towards the end of the movement. This is followed by the Andante, a movement which is much more subdued than its predecessor. It is marked by a series of recurring patterns and themes that repeat themselves once over the course of the movement. The Scherzo differs wildly in style from the Andante. It starts off with a series of small, athletic patterns that repeat throughout the beginning of the movement. About halfway through the movement, the style becomes much more legato, although it largely maintains its speed, and many of the same patterns are repeated. The fourth movement clearly bears great resemblance to our other focus piece, Die Forelle. The entire movement is a theme and variations on Die Forelle, with each instrument taking its turn in carrying the well-known melody. There are major rhythmic contrasts displayed throughout the movement as Die Forelle moves from instrument to instrument. Some sections are quite restful, whereas others are quite rhythmically active and athlethic. The piece is concluded by the Allegro Giusto, which contains a series of themes very similar to those found in the second movement. Moreover, the themes are arranged in a pattern similar to that found in the second movement.

The recording that I used for this entry can be found here.

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Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis in D major opens with a sizable chorus singing fairly straightforward, stately, traditional-sounding music that is largely centered around the tonic and rarely ventures out of major at first. As the Kyrie moves on, however, the choral voices begin to move in ways that are more contrapuntal and complex, even drifting into the minor on two occasions. The Gloria, however, sounds and feels distinctly more Romantic than its immediate predecessor. It starts out quite loud and brash in D major with a driving, athletic beat, but as the piece progresses, this energy is interspersed with moments of calm (ie at Gratias Agimus Tibi). These shifts between loud and soft, fast and slow, tension and release, are one of the main stylistic differences between the Kyrie and the Gloria. The Credo begins with an early Romantic style akin to the Gloria. As it moves forward, however, it becomes distinctly more melancholy and subdued, although it still maintains its expressiveness in subtle ways. It then concludes with a complex and energetic fugue.

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I’m not really sure what I’m supposed to write here… but I’ll give it a shot.

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