Richard Strauss, no relation of the waltz composers of the same name, was the son of a distinguished horn-player in Munich. He won an early reputation for himself as a conductor and as a composer of symphonic poems, music in which he claimed to express everything. Also sprach Zarathustra (Thus spake Zarathustra), completed in 1896, challengingly translates into music the rhapsodic philosophising of Nietzsche, the opening of the work familiar from its association with television drama and space documentary.
Max Bruch, born in Cologne in 1838 and briefly conductor of the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra in the early 1880s, is best remembered by his G minor Violin Concerto, with its rhapsodic introduction and lyrical second movement Adagio. This work far outshadows the many choral works for which he was once known.
The Serenade, whatever the connotations of the word, became a useful descriptive term for lyrical instrumental compositions that avoided the stricter form of the symphony or sonata. The 19th century Bohemian composer Antonín Dvorák contributed to the genre in 1873, with a Serenade for Strings, its second movement a delightful waltz.
The French Overture or instrumental suite provided a form for Bach in a series of four such works, collections of varied French dance-movements, each united by key and scoring. The second of the orchestra suites, for flute and strings, ends with a charming and light-hearted Badinerie, teasing.
Mozart settled in Vienna in 1781, at the age of 25, now for the first time independent of his father. During the next ten years, until his death in 1791, his fortunes varied. Initial success was followed by less public interest and in consequence less money. The last three of his 41 symphonies were written down in the space of a few weeks in the summer of 1788, designed for subscription concerts that never took place. The second of the three symphonies, in the key of G minor, opens with an energetic and ominous movement, well known to those once hooked on classics.
The eccentric composer Eric Satie, son of a French father and Scottish mother, exercised an influence on his contemporaries in Paris at the turn of the century that outweighs his actual achievement. His oddities included the foundation of a new religious order dedicated to Jesus Christ the Conductor, with himself as arch-priest and only member. His piano compositions include the curiously named Gymnopédies, pieces of simple charm, but with no apparent connection with their title and its suggestion of games in classical Athens.
In early 19th century Vienna Beethoven was able to build on the foundation Mozart had laid before him. The piano concerto, in particular, had been developed to newly integrated heights by the time of the latter’s death in 1791. Beethoven wrote five concertos for solo piano and orchestra, the filth of them now better known as the Emperor Concerto and composed in 1808. The work ends with a lively rondo, its main theme re-appearing between varied episodes.
Scotland appealed to the romantic imagination. Dr. Johnson in the rational 18th century had scorned its noble and wide prospects, but it was just these, with the remoteness of the place, that fascinated the new century. Mendelssohn visited the Hebrides in 1829, saw Fingal’s Cave, was sea-sick and recorded the pleasanter part of his experience in the Hebridf1s Overture, also known as Fingal’s Cave, in 1832.
Brahms had his first glimpse of the music of Hungary through his association with the refugee violinist Reményi and later in more congenial company with his Hungarian violinist friend Joachim. He made use of exotic Hungarian melodies in his piano duet Hungarian Dances, which proved as popular in this form as they have done in their later orchestral dress.
The American Samuel Barber won early popularity with his Adagio, a work that has continued to entrance audiences. The Adagio was originally the slow movement of a string quartet, written in Rome in 1936, where Barber had been awarded a travelling scholarship for study at the American Academy. In its large orchestral form it was introduced to the American public by Toscanini in 1938.
Nationalist feelings in mid-19fh century Europe ran high. In Bohemia Smetana was associated with the movement which found musical expression in his Czech operas and later in a remarkable series of symphonic poems, My Country (Ma Vlast), a tour through the history and landscape of Bohemia, through which winds the River Moldau or Vltava here captured in music.