Piano Concerto No.1 in Eb major (2) John Field Download 'Piano Concerto No.1 in Eb major (2)' on iTunes
The great Europeans who captured the spirit of their homelands.
Rather than setting the Roman Catholic Mass as so many other composers did, the German Johannes Brahms chose Lutherism as his inspiration. And he really expressed what it means to be German. ‘It’s a very touching and comforting piece,’ says Katherine, ‘by the time Brahms began writing it in 1865, he had just experienced the sad loss of his own mother.’
Frederic Chopin expressed deep patriotism for Poland through his music. He loved his homeland, but he didn’t particularly consider himself a composer of Polish music. ‘What he did though was give Poland a voice in classical music,’ says Katherine. In his teens, he composed settings of poems by a number of Polish nationalists, and many of his pieces contain snippets of melodies from Polish songs. ‘In particular, his choice of the Mazurka - a Polish peasant dance – makes his nationalism more obvious.'
The subtitle of Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 is important: it’s not ‘To the New World’; it’s ‘From the New World’. This is very much a symphony that looks back, from the USA where Dvorak and his family were staying, to his native Bohemia. ‘It’s almost as if he was on top of the Empire State Building looking out to see if he can spot his faraway homeland,’ says Katherine.
The Radetzky March was dedicated to an Austrian Field Marshal called Radetzky (coincidentally enough), and it became quite a hit among soldiers. When it was first played in front of Austrian officers they spontaneously clapped and stamped their feet when they heard it. ‘So that’s a tradition that’s pretty much kept alive today when the march is played in Vienna,’ says Katherine.
As a composer, Mahler's works are relatively few. For much of his life, composing was a part-time activity for him while he earned his living conducting – but he devoted as much of his holidays as possible to intense periods of composing. He wrote his fifth symphony in the summers of 1901 and 1902. ‘It’s a hugely emotional work,’ says Katherine. After its premiere, Mahler said, “Nobody understood it. I wish I could conduct the first performance fifty years after my death.” It became a well-loved classic after its use in the film, Death in Venice starring Dirk Bogarde - pictured.
As a child, Francisco Tárrega would take his father's guitar and attempt to imitate the beautiful sounds he’d heard. A famous concert guitarist heard the young Francisco playing and advised Tarrega Senior to let the boy study with him in Barcelona. Soon afterwards, Francisco ran away and tried to start a musical career on his own by playing in coffee houses and restaurants. Three years later, he was off again, joining a gang of gypsies. By his early teens, Tárrega was proficient on both the piano and the guitar and by the end of the 1870s, he was teaching and giving regular concerts. He soon began composing evocative guitar works of his own like this one.
Despite being nearly blind from an early age, Rodrigo achieved huge success, composing some of the most popular works of the 20th century, particularly his Concierto de Aranjuez, one of the greatest concertos in the guitar repertoire. Composed in 1939, the Concierto de Aranjuez was inspired by gardens built by the Spanish King Philip II in the last half of the 16th century. And through this music, Rodrigo attempts to transport us to another place and time.