Chapter 2: Slow Speeds


Listening Guide 2.1.1

Historical Background

Composer: Robert Schumann (1810-1856)

Era of music history: Romantic

Nationality: German

Life and work: Born into a family that was not musical, Schumann was encouraged to study law, though his first loves were music and literature.  He eventually turned to composing, music criticism, and conducting, achieving prominence in all three.  Mental illness took its toll, and he died a few years after attempting suicide.  Thanks in large part to his wife, Clara, a famous pianist, his compositions have been in the repertoire since his death.  


Symphony No. 3 “Rhenish” IV. Feierlich (1850)


Instrumentation: symphony orchestra

Duration: 5 minutes and 30 seconds

Mode: minor

Form: non-standard

Comment: As with the Liszt, the form here is not standard.  But this piece has only one main melody, and the different sections change the melody in various ways.

Listening Guide 2.1.2

Historical Background

Composer: Ottorino Respighi (1879-1936)

Era of music history: Romantic / Twentieth-Century

Nationality: Italian

Life and work: Born into a musical family, Respighi was first a professional violinist and violist.  He later taught composition at the Conservatorio di Santa Cecilia in Rome.  He was an internationally famous composer during his lifetime, though his reputation today rests on only a handful of widely performed works, of which Pines of Rome is one.

 “Pines Near a Catacomb” from Pines of Rome (1924)

Instrumentation: orchestra

Duration: 6 minutes 45 seconds

Mode: The piece begins in minor, but moves to major in section 2.  The mode continues to switch between major and minor.

Form: free (section 1, 0:00; section 2, 2:05; section 3, 3:17; coda: 6:14).

Comment:  The three sections are interconnected.  Each of the first two sections presents a melody, and these melodies are combined in section 3: the melody from section 1 comes back as a response to the repeated notes that begin section 3; the melody from section 2 appears in section 3 in the trombones as the music approaches the movement’s searing climax. 

Listening Guide 2.1.3

Historical Background

Composer: György Kurtág (b. 1926)

Era of music history: Twentieth-Century

Nationality: Hungarian

Life and work: One of music’s great late bloomers, Kurtág’s first “mature” composition dates from when he was thirty and international acclaim didn’t come until he was well into his fifties. Today he is widely regarded as one of the greatest Hungarian composers of the twentieth century, and he has fulfilled many prestigious commissions and appointments.  

Stele, III. “Molto sostenuto” (1994)

Instrumentation: orchestra

Duration: 6 minutes

Mode: atonal with tonal references

Form: ternary: A, 0:00; B, 2:16; A1, 4:00

Comment: Listen for how the opening chords return in the second A section transposed to a lower note, as if stooping under a burden.



Listening Guide 2.2.1

Historical Background

Composer: Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971)

Era of music history: Twentieth-Century

Nationality: Russian

Life and work: Though from a musical family, Stravinsky’s father did not want him to pursue music.  Nonetheless, before he was thirty, Stravinsky was in demand as a composer, a demand he sustained until he died.  Perhaps the most celebrated composer of the twentieth century, he was also active as a conductor of his music. 

Symphony of Psalms, third movement (1930)

Instrumentation: orchestra and chorus

Text: Psalm 150 (Vulgate version)

Duration: 11 minutes

Mode: major – freely tonal

 Lyrics: Psalm 150 – King James Version


    Praise God in His sanctuary:

    Praise Him in the firmament of His power.

    Praise Him for His mighty acts:

    Praise Him according to His excellent greatness.

    Praise Him with the sound of the trumpet:

    Praise Him with the timbrel and dance.

    Praise Him with stringed instruments and organs.

    Praise Him upon the high sounding cymbals,

    Praise Him upon the loud cymbals.

    Let every thing that hath breath praise the Lord.


Listening Guide 2.2.2

Historical Background

Composer: Claude Debussy (1862-1918)

Era of music history: Romantic

Nationality: French

Life and work: Born into a non-musical family, Debussy was a freelance composer and music critic who lived in Paris.  Though he himself disliked the distinction, he is often referred to as an “impressionist” composer, much as Claude Monet was an impressionist painter.  Regarded in his lifetime as an important composer, his work has been highly esteemed since his death.

Prelude to “The Afternoon of a Faun” (1896)

Instrumentation: orchestra

Duration: 10 minutes and 40 seconds

Mode: major – freely tonal

Form: ternary (A, 0:00; B, 3:17; A1, 7:07)

Comment: The music is inspired by a poem by Stéphane Mallarmé.  In the poem, a faun wakes up and wonders whether the delicious memories he has of cavorting with nymphs really happened or are derived from a dream.


Listening Guide 2.2.3

Historical Background

Composer: Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)

Era of music history: Romantic

Nationality: German

Life and work:  Born into a musical family, Brahms worked as a pianist and choir director before achieving fame as a composer.  During the height of his career, he was regarded as a standard-bearer for traditional musical values in an age that placed too much emphasis on flashy originality and formal ambiguity.  His music has remained in the repertoire since his death.

A German Requiem, op. 45.

I. “Blessed are they that mourn” (1868)

Instrumentation: orchestra and chorus

Duration: 10 minutes and 45 seconds

Text: from Matthew and Psalms

Mode: major

Form: loose ternary.  A, 0:06;  B, 3:18; A, 6:17

Comment:  Written shortly after his mother’s death, A German Requiem was Brahms’s popular breakthrough.  His choice of text was unprecedented for a piece like this, given that requiems use a set, liturgical text in Latin.  For his piece, Brahms chose appropriate texts from Martin Luther’s translation of the Bible into German.

1:09     Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.

3:18     They that sow in tears shall reap in joy.

4:27     He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.

 6:32     Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.



Listening Guide 2.3.1

Historical Background

Composer: Hector Berlioz (1803-1869)

Era of music history: Romantic

Nationality: French

Life and work: Born to a non-musical family, Berlioz didn’t start studying music in earnest until he was twelve and he remained essentially self-taught.  He went on to become one of most original composers of his age, and his writings—both about his life and about technical issues—are still widely read today.  His output was highly unusual and many of his works languish largely un-played, though a handful have become staples of the repertory.

Symphonie Fantastique

III. Scene in the Countryside (1829)

Instrumentation: orchestra

Duration: 14 minutes and 50 seconds

Mode: major

Form:  non-standard, arch.  Intro, 0:00; Theme 1, 1:52; Idée fixe, 6:54; Theme 1, 9:36; Into, 12:59.

Comment: Like many pieces with that follow a literary narrative, Berlioz’s movement does not follow a standard structure, choosing instead to parallel in the music what happens in the story.  The protagonist is a young musician who has taken an opium overdoes and proceeds to dream about the woman with whom he’s obsessed.  She has her own melody, the famous “idée fixe,” which appears in every movement of the symphony.  Note also that here distance is musicalized as well.  The opening duet features an English horn and an offstage oboe, which echoes the former instrument from a distance.

Here is Berlioz’s program note.

III. Scene in the Countryside

It is a summer evening.  He is in the countryside musing when he hears two young shepherds playing the ranz des vaches in alternation.  This is the tune used by the Swiss to call their flocks together.  This shepherd-duet, the surroundings, the soft whisperings of trees stirred by the zephyrs, some prospects of hope recently made known to him—all these sensations unite to impart a long-unknown repose to his heart and to lend a smiling color to his imagination.

And then she appears once more.

His heart stops beating . . . painful forebodings fill his soul.  “Should she prove false to him!”

One of the shepherds resumes the melody, but the other answers him no more . . .

Sunset . . . distant rolling of thunder . . . loneliness . . . silence.

 --translation taken from Dover edition, pp. v-vi


Listening Guide 2.3.2

Historical Background

Composer: Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975)

Era of music history: Twentieth-Century

Nationality: Russian

Life and work: Born into a non-musical family, Shostakovich was nonetheless recognized early as a musical prodigy.  Success as a composer came in his early twenties, and, despite a stormy relationship with Soviet cultural censors, he remained an eminent figure in Soviet and world music until his death.  Many of his works remain in the repertory.

Symphony No. 5 in D minor, op. 47. III. Largo. (1937)

Instrumentation: orchestra

Duration: 14 minutes

Mode: minor

Form: loose ternary (A, 0:00; B, 5:03; A, 11:12)

Comment: The strings dominate the movement.  Listen for how poignant woodwind interludes break up what is predominantly a movement for strings.  Indeed, this alternation between strings and winds is arguably the main structural idea behind the movement.

Listening Guide 2.3.3

Historical Background

Composer: Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

Era of music history: Classical

Nationality: German

Life and work: Born into a musical family, Beethoven attracted the attention of Joseph Haydn and by the time he was thirty was the hottest composer in Vienna.  For much of his life, he enjoyed the patronage of the aristocracy.  But he also made money through publishing and performing his music.  A legend within his own time, Beethoven’s works have been the backbone of the classical repertoire since his death.

Symphony No. 3. II. Marcia funebre. (1804)

Instrumentation: orchestra

Duration: 17 minutes and 40 seconds

Mode: minor and major

Form: non-standard.  Combines elements of sonata form and ternary.

Comment: Beethoven’s third symphony was originally entitled “Bonaparte.”  But when Napoleon crowned himself emperor, Beethoven, in a sign of his disgust, canceled this subtitle, replacing it with “Eroica,” which means simply “heroic.”  Nonetheless, this cancellation happened after the music had been composed, and Napoleon remains the direct inspiration for the music.