The Symphony: A Listener's Guide

The Symphony: A Listener's Guide

The Symphony: A Listener's Guide

The Symphony: A Listener's Guide

Synopsis

Enriched by biographical detail, historical background, musical examples, and many finely nuanced observations, this volume is a treasury of insight and information. Readers will find illuminating discussion of the complete symphonies of Beethoven, Schumann, Brahms, Sibelius, and Mahler, as well as of the most loved symphonic works of Schubert, Bruckner, Dvorak, Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev, and others. We learn how to listen more sharply for Haydn's humor, to Mozart's singular combination of pathos with grace, and to the evolution of Beethoven's musical ideas in his nine symphonies. This remarkable range and variety of composers are illuminated by Steinberg's deft, inviting, and intensely personal essays, which give such a vivid portrait of each composer's personality that the reader gets an immediate sense of how the work is a direct expression of the person from whose soul and brain it has sprung. Tracing the ways in which composers have dealt with the musical challenges that have engaged them throughout the centuries, Steinberg takes us through the revolutions of expression, sound, and form that have shaped the symphony's remarkable history. Whether beginners or veterans, music lovers will listen to the symphony with enlivened interest and deeper understanding with Steinberg's masterful guide in hand.

Excerpt

When the Oxford University Press invited me to put together a collection of my program notes for publication in book form, we decided to organize it by musical genres, beginning with symphonies. This follows the plan used in the 1930s, when the Press began to publish, as Essays in Musical Analysis, the notes that D. F. Tovey had written over a period of many years for his concerts with the Reid Orchestra at the University of Edinburgh. (Ever since, Tovey has been the patron saint of all program note writers.) Here, then, is a volume of essays on symphonies; two similar books on concertos and choral works are forthcoming.

In the early stages of planning this book, I sometimes said that deciding on the contents would be the hardest part. I was wrong, but not entirely. Of course, some decisions were hardly decisions at all: the nine Beethoven symphonies had to be included, so did the four Brahms, certain Haydns, Mozarts, Schuberts, and so on. These necessaries by themselves take a lot of room and left* much less space than I should have liked for the electives. (The sensation was familiar from my years of planning programs, first for the San Francisco Symphony, later for the Minnesota Orchestra.) The absences--from the sons of Bach to Knussen and Kernis-- pain me, and hope there will be a chance to make amends later. Here I must mention John Harbison, who was most helpful in the early stages of sorting out the question of what to include.

Most of these essays began life as program notes for symphony concerts. All have been revised and rewritten, sometimes slightly, often thoroughly. The following notes originally appeared in some form in the program book of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, whose program annotator I was from 1976 to 1979: Beethoven Symphonies Nos. 2, 4, 5, 7, and 9; Brahms Symphonies Nos. 1-4; Bruckner Symphonies Nos. 5, 7, and 9; Dvorák Symphony No. 8; Haydn Symphonies Nos. 64, 100, and 102; Mahler Symphonies Nos. 1-4, 9, and 10; Mendelssohn Symphony No. 4; Mozart Symphonies Nos. 35, 36, and 38; Prokofiev Symphony No. 5; Rachmaninoff Symphony No. 2;Schubert Unfinished Symphony; Schumann Symphony No. 4; Shostakovich Symphonies Nos. 1, 4, 5, and 8; Sibelius Symphonies Nos. 3 and 4; Tchaikovsky Symphonies Nos. 4 and 5; and Walton Symphony No. 1.

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