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Monday, Jan. 17, 2011

De Waart Leads Giants of German Romanticism

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By the time Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) composed his Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Minor, Op. 37 (1803), the Romantic Era in music was in its infancy. Hearkening back somewhat, Beethoven modeled this concerto on the C Minor concerto (K. 491) of that master of an earlier age, Wolfgang Mozart (but “modeled” doesn’t mean “imitated”). Beethoven’s Allegro con brio first movement is the weightiest of the three movements; the ensuing Largo begins with an 11-measure piano introduction; and the Rondo Allegro finale is rich both in humor and drama.

Exactly 70 years after Beethoven’s Op. 37, the great Classical-Romantic composer Johannes Brahms (1833-97) scored his first orchestral success with his Variations on a Theme by Haydn, Op. 56a. Brahms puts a simple melody (not actually by Haydn, as it turns out, but based on the old Austrian chant Chorale St. Anthony) through eight variations, bound by consistent harmonic motion.

Twenty-five years later, Richard Strauss (1864-1949) displayed full-throttle Romanticism with his self-promoting tone poem Ein Heldenleben, Op. 40. The work has “tremendous vitality,” as Claude Debussy wrote, further describing it as “a book of pictures, or even a cinema.” Basically, Ein Heldenleben depicts Strauss himself doing battle with his critics and in love with his wife—thoroughly bourgeois decadence, but what thrilling music it is!

Maestro Edo de Waart leads the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra in all three of these works—with “widely acclaimed Beethoven specialist” (MSO) Ronald Brautigam as piano soloist—at Uihlein Hall on Jan. 21-22.