Robert Fuchs: Serenade for Strings No.3 in E minor, op.21
Robert Fuchs was a well-known nineteenth-century Austrian composer, educator, and organist. After studying composition at the Vienna conservatory, he returned in 1875 to teach harmony and later theory, instructing great pupils such as Gustav Mahler, Hugo Wolf, and Jean Sibelius. Fuchs was best known for teaching career. However, in addition to teaching and composing, he was also a professional organist. He took the organist position at the Piaristenkirche in Vienna in 1866. Fuchs’s compositions were written mainly for piano, orchestra, chamber, and choir. He was known for his skillful treatment of musical form and counterpoint within these works. In 1866 Fuchs won the Beethoven prize for his Symphony No.1 in C major, awarded by the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde (Society of Friends of Music).
Fuchs’s compositional style was polished and easily accessible, incorporating musical elements of both the Classical and Romantic eras. In addition, Fuchs’s clean, elegant counterpoint illustrates Franz Schubert’s influence. This influence is displayed in his Serenade for Strings No.3, op.21, published in 1878. The work opens with a short, slow movement. Beautiful, lush melodies are accompanied both by sustained notes and lighter, pulsing figures. This reverie is broken in movement two with graceful, lilting lines and major tonalities. The third movement feels like an elegant march at times, tripping steadily along at a moderate tempo that contrasts with a more fluid developmental section. Movement four is bolder than the preceding three movements. It is joyful, continuous, and quick, showcasing contrasting major and minor tonalities and high-spirited melodic lines.

Dmitri Shostakovich: Piano Concerto No.2 in F major, op.102
Celebrated Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich was born in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1906. He grew up immersed in the folk songs and piano music performed by his parents and older sister. In 1915, after seeing the opera Tale of Tsar Salan by Rimsky-Korsakov, Shostakovich finally agreed to begin the piano lessons his mother had long been pushing on him. His innate musical talent soon became blatantly obvious, and he quickly began composing in addition to playing.
Shostakovich commenced studies in 1919 with Maximilian Steinberg and Nikolay Sokolov, among others, at the Petrograd Conservatory. His years there were fruitful; he spent his time studying the various aspects of composition, taking violin and conducting lessons, and furthering his piano skills. After graduation, Shostakovich earned money playing piano for silent films and continued composing. Upon the premiere of his First Symphony in 1926, he achieved international fame. This first success, though, did not make an easy life for the young composer. Rather, Shostakovich spent his time attempting to make a living composing while battling the strict Soviet regime. Some pieces won him political favor and money, while others earned him loathing and contempt.
Shostakovich’s mature style is known, among other innumerable features, for the extra-musical qualities like sarcasm and dry humor that he was capable of writing into his compositions. His Concerto No.2 for piano and orchestra is no exception. Shostakovich directly juxtaposed playfulness and glee with strident, jarringly dissonant sections, making the work a continuous emotional rollercoaster. Movement one is predominantly jaunty and march-like, with beautifully disjunct melodic lines in the solo piano rising out of the texture. Moments of extreme dissonance interrupt, but playfulness prevails. Movement two is gentle and singing, as much Romantic as Twentieth Century in style. Movement three frolics briskly. Virtuosic ascending and descending scales and exercise-like lines propel the music forward, the mood shifting between energetic, joyful, anxious, and downright dark throughout the movement. The high winds frequently lead the march, pushing the concerto to a rousing close.

W.A. Mozart: Symphony No.41 in C major, K.551 (“Jupiter”)
Over the course of his short lifespan, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) wrote solo instrumental works, symphonies, operas, chamber pieces and more, many of which have been canonized. Raised in Austria, Mozart was touted in public as a child prodigy pianist. He was able to learn pieces at a rapid pace, and he possessed a dazzling technical ability and musicianship that far exceeded his age. After this public upbringing, Mozart spent his adult years living and working in Vienna. Not unexpectedly, the child prodigy turned prolific composer proved to be one of the most important, influential artists of the Classical Era and, arguably, the entirety of Western Art Music. During his lifetime, Mozart wrote over six hundred pieces, forty-one of which were symphonies. Remarkably, his last three symphonies, Nos. 39-41, were all composed in a matter of weeks during the summer of 1788. By this time, Mozart was living in abject poverty. Speaking to the composer’s incredible musical talent, all three of these works proved to be masterpieces, despite being written in a time of great hardship. In fact, these works have come to represent the pinnacle of Mozart’s symphonic composition.
Mozart’s mature compositional style is known for its beautiful melodies, sophisticated and graceful formal structure, exquisite counterpoint, and rich harmonies. Symphony No.41 in C major exemplifies this sophisticated writing. Movement one typifies elegance, maintaining lyricism even in the darker, dramatic moments. Movement two simply sings. Various groups of instruments combine, often on unison melodic lines, to create beautiful orchestral colors. Movement three introduces the first melody over a repetitive accompaniment. The whirling accompanimental figure appears throughout the movement, propelling the music forward. Movement four resumes the forward motion from movement three, but with an even faster tempo. This movement provides an exciting finale with elegant melodic lines, driving accompaniment, brilliant scales, and the celebrated fugue at the end that incorporates the various themes presented throughout the movement.