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Mussorgsky, Hummel, Bach and Saint-Saens are on the menu for tonight's Concert of classical greats.
Mussorgsky was first inspired to write his orchestral poem A Night on the Bare Mountain in 1867. He was an ambitious young man with dreams to compose a full-scale opera called St John’s Eve, which he said would include the scene of a witches' sabbath. A Night on the Bare Mountain wasn’t completed until nine years after his initial inspiration for St John’s Eve and, despite its great popularity today, Mussorgsky really struggled to convince anyone to perform it. He even went back to the work several times, revising and refining it – to the point of adding a full choir – in an attempt to make it more performance-friendly. Sadly, the work never gained any semblance of a following in Mussorgsky’s lifetime. It was only when Rimsky-Korsakov produced his own re-orchestrated version (five years after Mussorgsky’s death) that the piece began to receive an appreciative audience.
Hummel's Piano Concerto No. 3 in B minor was composed in Vienna in 1819 and published in Leipzig in 1821. Unlike his earlier piano concertos, which closely followed the model of Mozart 's, this concerto is written in a nascent Romantic style that anticipates the later stylistic developments of composers such as Chopin and Mendelssohn.
The innovative Brandenburg Concerto No.5 was inspired by a new harpsichord Bach ordered in Berlin when he met the Margrave of Brandeburg. It's one of three featured instruments in this concerto, along with the flute and violin. The second movement features this trio alone before the entire ensemble comes together for a joyous finale, showcasing Bach’s ingenious use of counterpoint. It’s recognised now as one of the forerunners to what would become Bach’s later keyboard concertos, and as you’d expect, it’s designed to demonstrate the composer’s tremendous skill and virtuosity.
The 'Organ' Symphony by Saint-Saëns (pictured) is probably best understood as a ‘Symphony with added organ’, because only two of its four movements feature the instrument. It’s a magnificent work with the composer saying he was writing to his limits: ‘I gave everything to it I was able to give. What I have accomplished here, I will never achieve again.’ The Royal Philharmonic Society in the UK commissioned the work and Saint-Saëns came over to conduct its premiere at the old St James’s Hall, now the site of the Le Meridien Hotel in London’s Piccadilly.
Modest Mussorgsky: A Night on the Bare Mountain
Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra
Johann Nepomuk Hummel: Piano Concerto No.3 in B minor Opus 89
Piano: Stephen Hough
Bryden Thomson conducts the English Chamber Orchestra
Johann Sebastian Bach: Brandenburg Concerto No.5 in D major BWV.1050
Claudio Abbado conducts Orchestra Mozart
Camille Saint-Saens: Symphony No.3 in C minor Opus 78
Organ: Michael Murray
Eugene Ormandy conducts Philadelphia Orchestra