An Exuberant Concerto from a Fiery Czech

Myslivecek Venice
Venice, painted by John Singer Sargent

One could easily mistaken this outstanding violin concerto for a less known composition of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. But it’s not from Mozart! It’s from one of his teachers, Josef Myslivecek. Myslivecek introduced Mozart to several compositional models for symphonies, Italian opera seria*, and violin concertos. Both Wolfgang and his father Leopold considered him a good friend from the time of their first meetings in Bologna.  They found his dynamic personality irresistibly charming – in his letters Mozart calls Myslivecek full of “fire, spirit and life” – until a mutual allegations of betrayal estranged the Mozart’s from Myslivecek.

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A Piano Quartet Ressurected from the Archives

Bartok Piano Quartet-1
Black and white and grey. © Charles Thibo

December 1898: A young man of 17 travels to Vienna for an audition. He has worked the piano for years and written a few compositions: a string quartet, a piano quartet, a few melodies for piano and voice. He is nervous, certainly. Vienna – the musical center of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. But all goes well, he is accepted at the conservatory and he even is awarded a scholarship by the emperor. But the young man decides otherwise. Bela Bartok prefers to study close to home, in Budapest, where in 1875 the Royal Academy of National Hungarian Music has been inaugurated, in the wake of a national awakening in the multi-ethnic empire. The name of its director is Franz Liszt.

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Musical Splendor at Charles’ Imperial Court

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Charles V, painted by Titian

Did you ever read Cervantes’ medieval tales of Don Quixote? You should. First, it’s good fun. Second, it’s good fun. Third, Cervantes’ language is wonderful: poetic, evocative, ironic. I was lucky to read a very good French translation and I really, really enjoyed the reading as such. Pictures popped up before my eyes, I lived through the ups and downs of the unfortunate medieval knight and his faithful bickering servant. Oh futile attempts to control our destiny! “Don Quixote” is a parody on Spain’s nobility and the high society’s craving for heroic tales, nevertheless Spain had its hours of glory and splendour in the Middle Ages. Jordi Savall’s performance of music from the reign of Charles V gave me a taste of what one could hear at the Spanish imperial court in the 15th and 16th century.

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