Free, but Happy

Hello all,

Our music for today is the third movement of Johannes Brahms’ Symphony #3, performed by the Orchestra of the Liszt Conservatory.

“Free, but happy.” These are the words in which Brahms characterized his mood in 1883. At the time, he was a fifty-year-old bachelor who had taken a five-year sabbatical from writing symphonies. In his native German, “free, but happy” is written Frei aber froh, and Brahms decided to use F-A-F (the first letters of each of these three words) as the foundational harmonic line for his third symphony.

This third movement is so beautiful because it captures the mixture of loneliness and freedom that Brahms was experiencing at this time. It is simultaneously mournful and joyous; restrained and unleashed; reflective and expository. Unlike most symphonic melodies, the primary theme of the movement begins from the very start of the movement. The cellos carry this line toward the violins, which help it soar to the winds and onward. I think of this movement as the definition of Romantic-era lyricism.

Enjoy!

T

Sketches

Hello all,

Our music for this week is the Suite No. 1 from Mikail Ippolitov-Ivanov’s Caucasion Sketches. I’m willing to bet that none of you – even the most veteran musicians – have heard of this piece. However, one of the many goals of This Week’s Music is to popularize music that no one knows about!

Ippolitov-Ivanov was a Russian composer in the early 20th century who studied with the famous Rimsky-Korsakov. One of his first jobs was as a conductor in the region of Russia that is now Georgia. During his eleven years there, he fell in love with the soaring mountain peaks and rich folk heritage of the region. The Caucasion Sketches are his musical depiction of the rural Caucasus Mountains of Georgia, which, as a result of their position along a major trade route from the Black Sea to Moscow, were filled with an incredible amount of cultural diversity.

There are four movements in the Caucasion Sketches:

  • In a Mountain Pass
  • In a Village – listen for the English horn’s solo in this movement. It is supposedly a representation of an instrument native to the Caucasus Mountains region called the zurna.
  • In a Mosque
  • Procession of the Sardar – the Sardar was the leader or regional commander, and this movement depicts the pomp and circumstance that surround his arrival in the village.

Enjoy!

T