Composers and the Demon Drink

Theirs was not an auspicious first meeting. The young Johannes Brahms was on a walking holiday en route to visiting Robert and Clara Schumann, when he stopped at  Weimar in June 1853 to hear Franz Liszt give a private performance of his magisterial Piano Sonata in B minor, a work now regarded as one of…

Czerny: Grand Concerto in A minor

The early part of the nineteenth century was a fascinating period in the development of the piano concerto. With the public’s appetite for virtuoso performers, and with composers only too happy to oblige, much of the music was exuberant and high spirited, by turns lyrical and wistful but always written to delight and to show…

Visiting Bayreuth

Tchaikovsky was distinctly unimpressed with the new Festspielhaus (Festival Theatre) in the small Bavarian town of Bayreuth when he visited there in 1876 for the opening season. With its innovative design of a 1,925 seat auditorium resembling a classical amphitheatre (including a covered orchestra pit), the acoustics were tailor made for Wagner’s ambitious operas.

Wagner – from minor to major

While Richard Wagner’s lasting fame rests on his groundbreaking operas, he was evidently quite fond of his youthful Symphony in C major from 1832. Near the end of his life, he conducted a performance in Venice on 24 December 1882 for the birthday of his wife, Cosima Wagner; her father Franz Liszt also performed in…

The Piano Music of Jean Sibelius

Until fairly recently, the critical reception for the piano music of Jean Sibelius (1865 – 1957) has largely been dismissive and scornful. Tim Page writing in the New York Times in 1987 summed up the feelings of many when he described the music as “…for the most part, shockingly bad. And not the sort of…

An Alpine Symphony

Shortly before the premiere in 1915 of his tone poem  Eine Alpensinfonie (An Alpine Symphony), Richard Strauss (1869 – 1949) quipped “Now at last I have learned to orchestrate!”

Judgement Day

The great jazz composer, bandleader and notorious procrastinator, Duke Ellington once said “I don’t need time, I need a deadline”.

Lisztomania – a film review

This year sees the fortieth anniversary of the film Lisztomania, an outrageous fantasy biopic on the life of Franz Liszt, written and directed by the unashamed bad boy of British cinema, Ken Russell (1927-2011).  

Liszt in Weimar

“Do I care how fast you can play your octaves?”, Liszt remarked to a pupil in a master class, clearly unimpressed with the playing “what I wish to hear is the canter of the horses of the Polish cavalry before they gather force and destroy the enemy!”