1890 in Music

My music reviews for music published in 1890.

1. Cesar Franck: String Quartet in D major (10/10)

I am a sucker for a good string quartet and I like to think that this is a very good string quartet. It’s certainly interesting for its era and, though not as ballsy as so many of the great quartets of the early 20th century, I think it would probably bear comparison with other notable quartets of the late 19th century, especially those by composers more established in chamber music. (It seems Franck did not compose a lot of it.)

7 years later I added:

Having listened to it a few times now, this has got to be one of my favourite Romantic string quartets. Particularly the opening poco lento, which is perhaps my favourite opening to a Romantic string quartet ever. It’s been years since I aggressively listened to “classical” music and so it’s been years since I’ve listened to a lot of late Romantic string quartets but, in the moment, this is a masterpiece, and one I would heartily recommend to anyone interested in the form. And I don’t know how big a fan I am of Franck in general.

2. Enrique Granados: Danzas espanolas, op. 37 (9/10)

I love Keith Jarrett, and I want to believe that his “improvised” sets from the mid ’70s on are indeed spontaneously conceived, but listening to these dances, I detect at the very least the inspiration for (to get snobby) the harmonic language of The Koln Concert at the very least, in two of these. Read the rest of the review.

3. Frederick Delius: “Three Small Tone Poems” – ‘Summer Evening’ (8/10) and ‘Sleigh Ride’ (9/10)

“Summer Evening” is pleasant idyll of the kind that Delius seems to have been able to write so effortlessly. Honestly, he’s got tons of these. It’s pretty, it does a good job of conjuring a mood specific to the idle rich of England of the Victorian era. It works. I don’t love it, but it works.

“Sleigh Ride” is Delius’ most famous piece of music, at least to my ears. I have heard it more times than I can count, and I can’t say the same for anything else of his I’ve heard. It’s justly famous as its opening is just about the jauntiest thing ever written. Look up “jaunty” on wikipedia and they should have an audio recording of the first 30 seconds. It’s one of Delius’ best pieces. It conveys the alternate feelings of joy and serenity that likely came from careening through the snow on a sleigh, something that still rather new for some people at this point I assume.

The collection I have these on omitted the third poem, “Spring Morning” because why not?

4. Claude Debussy: Tarantelle styrienne (8/10)

This feels like a predecessor of Debussy’s later parodies, where the title suggests you should dance but when you listen to it you’re less sure you can dance to it.

It’s less traditional-sounding to my untrained ears than most of his other stuff from 1890. Or at least it’s more exciting.

5. Claude Debussy: Nocturne (7/10)

The nocturne (one of three, but the only one he wrote for solo piano) is quite pretty, and there are hints to my ears that suggest later Debussy. But it’s still just the odd hint, and for the most part this is quite traditional.

6. Claude Debussy: Ballade slave (7/10)

Not knowing enough Slavic music from the era (or folk music from that area), I have no idea how authentic this is in terms of one of those Romantic pieces inspired by the common people’s music.

But it’s a nice enough piece, which makes more of an impression on me than a lot of Debussy’s music from around this time.

7. Claude Debussy: RĂªverie (7/10)

The reverie definitely conjures up the kind of swooning you would expect from such a piece, and there are definitely hints of what was to come, but this is still a relatively traditional piece that doesn’t quite break away from tradition in the way that so much of his later music does.

8. Claud Debussy: Fantaisie for piano and orchestra (7/10)

The fantasy is something Debussy never wanted to be performed while he was a live. That’s a little extreme, to put it mildly, but listening to it, one is aware of its Romantic nature – it’s very much of its time and, to my ears, only contains slight hints of what was to come.

If you like your lush Romantic strings, this is probably going to be a fine listen. But listening to it at the tail-end of all his piano works, it feels like it’s from a different time.

Frankly, I would have been more interested in listening to the two piano version made later.

9. Claude Debussy: Mazurka (6/10)

I don’t know the Marzurka form very well but this is a pretty traditional piece, to my ears.

10. Claude Debussy:Valse romantique (5/10)

Exactly what the the title says it is.

11. Alexander Galuznov: Reverie in D-flat major for horn and orchestra, op. 24? (5/10)

This a little too saccharine for my liking.

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