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The Opera and Classical Music Blog - Classical Greats
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This page is all about our opinions on classical pieces, from well-known to not so well known, from waltzes to symphonies. This page has all the classical greats, complete with the basic information and a story to introduce you to the piece. If you are looking for classical music pieces to listen to, we recommend these.
Prelude op. 28 no. 15 "Raindrop"

-Frederic Chopin-



One of Chopin's 24 preludes, this is one of the longest, lasting around 5-7 minutes and also one of the best known. The repeating A-flat in the piece reminds many listeners of raindrops, hence the name. The beginning starts out very quiet and very serene, sounding almost like a light rain. The middle gets somewhat loud and more minor, sounding like a heavy rain or even a thunderstorm. It breaks into the end, which repeats the beginning melody.

The Story

Chopin was said to have composed the piece during his and George Sand's stay on the island of Majorca, where the weather was always wet. Since Chopin didn't really like descriptive titles, he never actually gave it the name. Instead, George Sand gave it the name, finding it similar to the sound of rain falling on the roof of the monastery they were staying at in Majorca.

Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Variation 18

- Sergei Rachmaninoff-

Although this is only one variation in the full piece, it is one of the better known variations. The variation itself is close to a piano concerto, but it isn't. Variation 18 is a very calm, grand piece. The beginning starts off quietly with the piano only playing, then it gets more grand in the middle, then quiet again. In 1980, this variation became popular when it was one of the main themes for the film Somewhere in Time, starring Jane Seymour and Christopher Reeve. It is probably well known because of the film.

The Story
In 1934, Rachmaninoff wrote the full rhapsody during the months of July and August. Realizing it would be a hit, Rachmaninoff said this: "This one, is for my agent". The full work was premiered at the Lyric Opera House in Baltimore Maryland, USA, Rachmaninoff at the piano. To this day, it has remained a classical hit.
Rhapsody in Blue

-George Gershwin-





It's not red, orange, or purple, it's blue! Written by George Gershwin, it's one of his most popular works. Listeners will recognize the two-and-a-half octave glissando that is played in a jazzy style by the clarinet. Later in the piece, the piano strikes up, playing the same recognizable tune played in the beginning, with a few more jazzy additions. Rhapsody in Blue blends classical with jazz. Listeners will instantly think of (1920's-1930's) New York City when listening to this piece, where it first premiered. The piece spans from 13-18 minutes long (depending on who's playing it), and it's enjoyable through and through once you start to listen to it more.

The Story

You may not realize it, but Rhapsody in Blue was written very quickly. On January 3, 1924, Gershwin and his brother Ira were at a billiard parlor. An article in the New York tribune caught Ira's attention: George Gershwin was working on a jazz concerto that would be due on February 12th. This was all news to George. George had to hurry, because time was running out. On a train to Boston, Gershwin made plans for what is now Rhapsody in Blue. Before his musical "Sweet Little Devil" was about to premiere, he made a few extra changes, and the work was complete. A jazz concerto hadn't been created, but something better had. At first, George was going to name it "American Rhapsody", but his brother Ira suggested something better. While Ira was at an exhibition for Whistler's paintings, he saw a painting called Nocturne in Blue and Green. Ira suggested that instead of American Rhapsody, why not Rhapsody in Blue? Gershwin agreed. American Rhapsody was now Rhapsody in Blue.
On February 12, 1924, Aeolian Hall in New York City was packed. Violinist Fritz Kreisler, conductor Leopold Stokowski, and even composer Rachmanioff attended the premiere. With only a few weeks' notice, Gershwin came up with one of America's greatest classical pieces-Rhapsody in Blue.
Piano Sonata #14, "Moonlight"

-Ludwig van Beethoven-



Piano sonata #14 in C-sharp minor, also known as "Sonata quasi una fantasia" (translated literally to "sonata almost a fantasy"), is popularly known as the Moonlight Sonata. It is one of Beethoven's most popular piano works-and also one of the most popular piano works out there, the 1st movement being the most popular. The piece is separated into 3 movements. Movement 1, adagio sostenuto, is very gloomy and hardly ever gets very loud. It was very popular during Beethoven's day and made a powerful impression on it's listeners-including Beethoven himself. The 2nd movement, the allegretto, is more cheerful and is almost like a scherzo and trio. Despite the fact that it is very short and may sound easy to play, the 1st movement is much easier to play than the 2nd movement. The 3rd movement, the presto agitato is very stormy and fast and requires the most skillful of playing. The movement has many fast arpeggios and strongly accented notes.

The Story
Written in 1801, Beethoven dedicated this sonata to his pupil Countess Giulietta Guicciardi in 1802. In fact, it wasn't even named the Moonlight Sonata when Beethoven wrote it. The name "Moonlight Sonata" was actually suggested by German poet and critic Ludwig Rellstab. In 1832, 5 years after Beethoven's death, Rellstab said that the 1st movement reminded him of the moon shining on Lake Lucerne in Switzerland. Later in the 19th century, the sonata was known by that name. However, many people disagreed with the name, calling it "absurd" and "a misleading approach to a movement with almost the character of a funeral march". Not everyone disagreed, though. Many people found it to be a suitable title, and indeed the 1st movement may remind you of the clouds passing over the full moon.
Arabesque No.1
-Claude Debussy-



One of Debussy's most magical piano works, Arabesque no.1 is an essential piece that every classical music lover will enjoy. The piece starts out with a pretty, flowing meledy. During the middle, the piece is more solid and not as random and as scattered as the first part of the tune-only a little bit. . The end goes back to the first part meledy, flowing, scattered, and random, but very pretty. The piece goes up several arpeggios, and ends on a quiet chord.

The Story
Arabesque no.1 is one of Debussy's earlier works, and it is one of 2 arabesques written by him. The pieces were written between 1888 and 1891-about 3 years to compose. Not much is known about this piece, but it's hinted that Debussy was learning to develop musical style as this piece is relatively easy for some pianists.

The Four Seasons-Winter: Largo
-Antonio Vivaldi-



Even though baroque music isn't so descriptive at times, The Four Seasons by Vivaldi is as descriptive as baroque will get, and once Largo from Winter is heard, you'll instantly picture snowflakes softly drifting to the snow-covered ground. Largo is 1 movement out of 3 in Winter, and it is the calmest of the bunch, the other 2 being pretty intense. The piece starts out softly, baroque stringed instruments playing the meledy while the others are being plucked in the backround, symbolizing snowflakes perhaps. Although it's not a sad piece, it is somewhat bittersweet, and if you're a really emotional person while listening to music, it might bring on the tears.

The Story
The Four Seasons is of course one of Vivaldi's best known works. Vivaldi wrote poems for each of his seasons, which was unusual for the time. For Largo, the poem Vivaldi created was:

"To spend quiet and happy times by the fire,
While outside the rain soaks everyone."
Consolation #3

-Franz Liszt-



The Consolation #3, marked as Lento placido, is one out of 6 pieces for solo piano called consolations. Each consolation takes the style of a nocturne. The 3rd consolation is by far the most popular of the 3. It's also an encore favorite. If you have heard Chopin's nocturne op. 27 no. 2, you might be able to find that it is similar to this consolation. This particular consolation is very calming and relaxing.

The Story
Liszt wrote the consolations from 1849-1850. Ironically, Chopin died in 1849, so this has been interpreted as a tribute to Chopin. After Consolation #3 was composed, around 1883, Liszt received a grand piano from the Steinway Company that included a sostenuto pedal. He began to transcribe this consolation for the new feature included with the piano.
Impromptu in E Major

-Clara Schumann-



The Impromptu in E Major is a very short but lively tune. The piece is very merry and bright and may remind one of colorful flowers or a nice summer day.

The Story

Clara Schumann had written this piece when she was 24 years old, around 1844. Although she isn't a very well known composer, she was a prolific pianist and composer. She was also married to the popular Romantic composer Robert Schumann.
Cello Concerto in B minor

-Antonin Dvorak-

The Cello Concerto in B minor is possibly Czech composer Antonin Dvorak's most popular piece. It is his second and last cello concerto. In movement 1, allegro in B minor then B major, things start out quietly and grimly but quickly evolve into an intense, agitated whirl of beautiful music with the cello, of course, have the solo part. It may remind you of a thunderstorm during this phase, but eventually things calm down and the music turns sweet but somewhat sad with occasional lighter, happier parts. After that, the music turns happier and the movement arrives at a grand ending. Mvt. 2, Adagio, non ma trappo in G major, starts out very quiet, sweet, and gentle, but eventually it explodes into a yet another intense whirl of sad, desperate, and angry emotion that, although as stated it is emotional, is of course very beautiful. The music then calms down again and ends in a gentle way that may lull you to sleep. However, if you did in fact fall asleep to the sweet music of mvt. 2, brace yourself for movement 3, Allegro moderato-Andante-Allegro vivo in B minor then B major, for the happy, energetic tune of mvt. 3 that resembles the style of Dvorak's famous Slavonic dances is sure to get you on your feet and make you dance! Although occasionally wavering into more intense music, the happiness carries on until it gradually calms down and turns extremely quiet and beautiful. Then, it grows louder and explodes into the last few exciting notes, and the wonderful concerto ends.

The Story

Dvorak wrote his last solo concerto, the famous Cello Concert in B minor, from 1894 to 1895 during his time in America (New York, to be exact). He intended to have his friend Hanuš Wihan play it, but English cellist Leo Stern ended up premiering it. The third movement of the concerto (mainly the slow, gentle, sweet part that comes before the loud, triumphant ending) was written as a tribute to his sister-in-law, Josefina Kaunitzova, née Čermakova, who had recently died. The slower, beautiful part before the very end resembled Dvorak's song series "The Cypresses," which were Čermakova's favorite pieces. During the composition of this concerto, Hanuš Wihan suggested Dvorak make certain changes to it, but Dvorak refused to make most of them. Francesco Berger, Secretary of the London Philharmonic Society, invited Dvorak to conduct the premiere his concerto in London. Dvorak agreed. However, Leo Stern was secretly hired as cellist since Wihan was busy, and Dvorak refused to conduct. Soon it turned out that Wihan's promise to Dvorak to premiere the concerto had been broken, so eventually things were agreed and Leo Stern premiered Dvorak's Cello Concerto in B minor in London on March 19, 1895. Gradually it became one of Antonin Dvorak's greatest and most popular pieces of all time.



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