Masterpieces old and new

Discover what makes a masterpiece by learning how classical works are composed. Music Director Gerard Schwarz explains the history, context and compositional techniques behind famous orchestral works, from Beethoven to leading composers of the present day.

Possibly the most iconic of all symphonies, "Beethoven's 5th" is instantly recognizable by its dramatic opening motive. Learn how this rhythmic and melodic idea permeates the entire work, holding the listener in thrall through all four movements to the blazing finale. Music Director Gerard Schwarz and noted expert Leon Botstein explore the many facets of Beethoven's masterpiece, including a demonstration by Maestro Schwarz of how to conduct the first movement.

The 4th Symphony of Piotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky, composed in 1877-78 when he was 37 years old, is one of the most dramatic works for orchestra. The music reflects the powerful emotions that Tchaikovsky experienced during this most difficult period of his life: forbidden love, a failed marriage, a mysterious patron whom he was never to meet, and the struggle to understand and accept the inevitability of Fate.

The “ Rhenish" Symphony was inspired by a boat trip that Robert and Clara Schumann made in 1850 on the Rhein River, as well as their visit to the great gothic cathedral of Cologne. It is a celebration of traditional life and folklore along the legendary river, and is filled with the spirit of German Romanticism. Music Director Gerard Schwarz offers a guide to this exciting musical journey.

Although Johannes Brahms never went to a university, he was offered a PhD from the University of Breslau, but he to receive this he had to compose a work for the school. This became the Academic Festival Overture, described by Brahms as a cheerful potpourri of student songs. The overture has the largest orchestration of any of Brahms’ works, and is among his most charming and optimistic pieces.

Inspired by American dreams and legends, Antonin Dvořák created some of his greatest works while living in the United States, above all the “New World” Symphony. Music Director Gerard Schwarz and Dvořák expert Joseph Horowitz delve into the music, and illuminate the multiple stories and influences – Native American, African-American and Czech –that Dvořák transformed in his most famous work.

Following the heroic birth of his first symphony, “The Titan,” in 1889, Gustav Mahler began his next symphony with the question “Is there life after death?” The opening movement of Symphony #2 represents mystical “funerary rites.” The music evokes awe of the unknown, and the hope of resurrection. Music Director Gerard Schwarz and Mahler expert Gilbert Kaplan offer two perspectives of this powerful work.

The magical world of Russian folklore comes to life as Music Director Gerard Schwarz tells the story of The Firebird ballet, and looks into the music of Igor Stravinsky's thrilling musical score that was commissioned by the legendary impresario Serge Diaghilev and his Ballets Russes.

Analysis by Gerard Schwarz. A love story from ancient Greek mythology inspired the creation of an epic ballet in 1912. French composer Maurice Ravel expanded the possibilities of orchestral color and texture in his remarkable score. Music Director Gerard Schwarz explores the history and musical structure of this landmark work of musical Impressionism.

Music has sometimes reflected, and at other times challenged repressive ideologies. Dmitri Shostakovich abandoned the premiere of his daring 4th symphony in 1935 for fear of reprisals from the Soviet government. Then he composed his triumphant 5th Symphony in 1937, and Stalin was pleased. To this day the 5th is Shostakovich’s most popular symphony. What is its message? What does “political music” mean today?

Philip Glass is often called the most famous living composer today. His short work, Harmonium Mountain, was conceived in partnership with the visual artist Clifford Ross as the soundtrack for an animated film based on ever-changing images of a mountain in Colorado. This analysis explores connections between the visual and musical arts.

Pulitzer-prize-winning composer and Harvard Professor of Music Bernard Rands discusses the art of composition. He and Music Director Gerard Schwarz look into the score of Rands' recent work "Adieu" ("Goodbye") as recorded by the All-Star Orchestra.

A leading composer of her generation, Augusta Read Thomas' works have been performed by major orchestras around the world. Here she discusses the compositional process that led to Of Paradise and Light. Music Director Gerard Schwarz joins in the discussion of this transcendent new work.

A lovely Intermezzo for piano by Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) inspired contemporary composer Bright Sheng to orchestrate this short work in his own style. Sheng, who served as composer in residence for the New York City Ballet, has titled this musical transformation “Black Swan."

“A Hero’s Journey” is the title given by Richard Danielpour to this dynamic movement from his Fourth Piano Concerto. In this analysis the composer describes the inspiration for his music, with comments by the soloist Xiayin Wang and Music Director Gerard Schwarz.

The composer says: "I knew what kind of piece this needed to be, and I knew I wanted it to be loud, and I knew I wanted it to be fun, so that's how it came to be “Blast!", and I had a blast writing it!”

The composer describes this work as an orchestral celebration: "I think of the orchestra is like a giant chamber ensemble and I like the feeling that everybody on that stage down to the last chair player is an artist."

This piece was inspired by the transcendental writings of Thoreau, and the New England landscape. The composer says: "There are mornings when the world seems to begin, it is a 'new beyond' where memory need not go, it’s the poet’s hour. You get up early in the morning, and it becomes an extraordinary invigorating environment in which to lead an artist's life.”