Coming to you from our email inbox, here's an episode of music requested by you the listener! These three works are iconic, but leave your preconceived notions at the door and prepare to hear them in a new way. Plus, we also do a little Q&A at the end of the show. 

Show Notes

Music featured in this episode

Johan Pachelbel - Canon and Gigue in D Major, P 37

The "Romantized" version that launched this piece to 20th-century fame.

This one is closer to how Pachelbel would have heard it, more upbeat in a Baroque style.

Franz Liszt - Liebestraum No. 3

After listening to the episode, listen at 4:18 in the video above for the start of the coda.

Below is an excerpt from the poem that inspired this music by Liszt (read it all here)

O love as long as love you can,

O love as long as love you may,

The time will come, the time will come

When you will stand at the grave and mourn!

Be sure that your heart burns,

And holds and keeps love

As long as another heart beats warmly

With its love for you

And if someone bares his soul to you

Love him back as best you can

Give his every hour joy,

Let him pass none in sorrow!

Ralph Vaughan Williams - The Lark Ascending




John Banther: I'm John Banther, and this is Classical Breakdown. From WETA Classical in Washington, we're your guide to classical music. This time, I'm joined by WETA Classical's Linda Carducci and everything in this episode was recommended by you, the listener. We have three popular works to explore by composers Johann Pachelbel, Franz Liszt and Ralph Vaughan Williams. Plus, stay with us to the end as we answer a couple of your questions.

Okay, Linda, we've had many people write into us over the years of this podcast and this is the episode where we take a look at some of the works that people have requested. This first one was requested by Andrew R who wrote in saying this is one of his favorite works from the Baroque period, what we know as " Pachelbel's Canon" and this is one that some people love it, some people hate it, either way. This was pretty inescapable for a while, I think in the 80s and nineties.


Linda Carducci: It was and what's interesting is that it fell out of practice and performance for many, many years after Pachelbel wrote it and then it was resurrected in the 20th century. Arthur Fiedler actually conducted it first and recorded it first, but then in the 1960s, in 1968, Jean- François Paillard recorded it and that's what brought it into public attention.


John Banther: And this recording, well it's a style that was then repeated and copied for many different ensembles, and that is he plays the music here, the canon, quite slow. It's much slower than it would've been in Pachelbel's time, notes are played tenuto, they're full length, they're kind of stretched out and very evenly played. And then he even added extra parts in that were required to be played that Pachelbel didn't write. So that's not to say that's why maybe I dislike it. If someone likes that version the most, absolutely listen to that one. But the other side of this is there are recordings that are more in the style of perhaps Pachelbel that I think can really grab people's attention. These are kinds of recordings that I really enjoy. The tempo is much brighter. The notes have separation, a little more life, and they're able to lift off of the notes, give a little space and more style and characterization, I think, when you have this different style of playing that you can find in recordings like one we're hearing now.


Linda Carducci: It was popular in the mid 20th century to romanticize Baroque music. Stokowski did that, for example, he was a good example of that. Taking the Baroque music as written and expanding it, playing it in a very romantic, expressive way and orchestrating it in a literally large sense, in a much larger sense than it was in its original form. So many people heard Baroque music in this very romantic, lush, large kind of performance in the 20th century. That's a perfect example of it. I listen to the Paillard recording of it and I do think it is sort of a romantic sense of what he's putting in there. However, in the last few years, as you note, people have been trying to get a little bit more of fidelity to the score, fidelity to the style, and so going back to maybe period practices and period instruments.


John Banther: Yes. And I love it, although that this Paillard style of playing it does it... I mean, I wasn't around in the 70s, but I feel like this was a really big 70s vibe.


Linda Carducci: Yeah. It was. That was an interesting time for music in general. Rock music was exploding with social injustice and social themes. It was a great time for music.


John Banther: So this piece is a canon and a gigue, and a lot of people don't know the gigue I think, which comes after the canon because we're so used to the romanticized version that is played in all of the weddings, of course, and I think the person is at the end of the aisle or wherever they need to be by the time the canon's over. So the gigue is just omitted a lot of times. So I guess we get to the question of what is a canon? Because...


Linda Carducci: Yes, I mean the word canon obviously we aren't talking about the thing that shoots the bullets out or whatever. And also we're now talking about a library like somebody's canon. But as far as a musical term what does a canon mean, John?


John Banther: So a canon, well, first a lot of people think of perhaps " Row, Row, Row Your Boat" or " Frère Jacques" as being a canon. Those are what we can call a round, which is a type of canon, and these are kind of hard to define because we're talking about centuries of use of a term. If you go to the Harvard Music Dictionary of Canon, it's several pages long and has all kind of context of time periods and practices. So " Row, Row, Row Your Boat," for instance, a round is... it's quite strict. It is that one line that is then repeated, perhaps for infinity if you want, with people coming in at those set intervals and a big kind of clue to it is there's really no music to it. We don't sit and study this when we're five years old, how to sing, " Row, Row, Row, Your Boat." It kind of comes naturally.

A canon is more... much more broad. It can be more vague. There's many different kinds of rules and ideas that can go with it. So instead of perhaps copying the exact same thing that was just introduced the next voice might come in on a different pitch. It might start it in on a different pitch. It may alter the rhythm slightly. It might evolve a little bit more. And there can be accompaniment as well like we have here with this baseline that repeats over and over again. We call that an ostinato. So for this particular canon and three voices, the three violins, they're each coming in on the same pitch, I believe that's called a canon in unison, but it allows so much more opportunity. For instance, here, it's not the same thing over and over again, it develops and evolves over these kinds of variations.


Linda Carducci: Yes. So if you hear the beginning of this, for example, the melody if you will, that starts off and that is repeated after I think two measures is with the interval, or they're just probably half notes, they're just strict half notes.


John Banther: Quarter notes.


Linda Carducci: Quarter... are they quarter notes? Okay.


John Banther: They sound like half notes in Paillard's long version, but they're quarter notes.


Linda Carducci: They're quarter notes. Okay. But then Pachelbel starts doing an elaboration of that and so now we start to hear little triplets and we start to hear some 16th notes on that same theme and then the base remains the same. Is that correct?


John Banther: That's correct. He goes quarter notes, then he does eighth notes, two notes in a beat and then he adds 16th, four notes in a beat, and that gives it this kind of unfolding sound. It's like it almost never ends, like you zoom in on a picture that has this elaborate pattern, it just gets more and more elaborate. It sounds very organic and natural and I think that's also another reason why we're drawn to this because it's this slow long evolution of a very, very simple tune.


Linda Carducci: Yes, like butterflies slowly opening up its wings. Theme and variations, that's what this is, sort of is a very popular form that has been used throughout the centuries. I mean, Brahms wrote several themes and variations.


John Banther: And we call it " Pachelbel's Canon" today, if you said that anytime before this, it'd be confusing because of course there are thousands of canons. This is something that people wrote... composers were actively writing quite a lot. So after the canon, perhaps when the person's at the end of the aisle, there's more music to come and that's a gigue and it sounds kind of like jig, which is, well, not a coincidence. This is an upbeat, clearly dance sounding piece here at the end. And what makes this a gigue, Linda, or what makes this really different from what we just heard, is that instead of having two notes in a beat, we now have three notes in a beat that (inaudible) it gives you that propulsive feeling. And that's one of the defining characteristics of gigue, its compound meter, meaning we're putting three notes in a beat instead of two. And I think this should always be included with the performance of the canon.


Linda Carducci: I do too. I think it's juxtaposed very well with the canon. Gigue is a dance, as you say, and it was a popular dance from the Renaissance and the Baroque era and if you look at Johann Sebastian Bach, for example, in his Orchestral Suites or in certainly his Keyboard Suites, the gigue was a very common dance that he would include.


John Banther: Oh yes. It would be almost an expected part of a suite that you'd have a gigue in within these other kind of dances. Now " Pachelbel's Canon", as we can just call it, it's been quite influential even more than perhaps we may think. Maybe people remember if maybe you were an angsty kid in the nineties like me and you remember... you loved Green Day and the song Basket Case, well that starts with almost verbatim " Pachelbel's Canon." The baseline. Yeah.


Linda Carducci: Okay. Yeah, that's interesting. That shows you, I think, the value of the base work that other people have come along and thought that they can sort of use that as their base to make some flourishes.


John Banther: Yes. And so that's " Pachelbel's Canon". We know we've learned what a canon is and what a gigue is. I recommend listening to this more Baroque style recording. I'll put on the website as well. And if you're more used to that, listen to the Paillard one as well. And it's fun when you listen to this, really listen for when each voice comes in, what changes. And you'll probably start to pick on some moments in the music you did not recognize before.


Linda Carducci: Yes.


John Banther: So we go to our second request now and that is the " Liebestraum No. 3" by Franz Liszt, also recommended by Andrew R, who wrote in and said, " My late grandmother told me about this beautiful piece from her music teacher when she was a little girl." This one is so touching, isn't it, Linda?


Linda Carducci: Oh, it's very touching.


John Banther: Have you played this?


Linda Carducci: No, I tried to play through it, but I would just tell you this very quickly, in college, my piano teacher was very, very strict, but thankfully he did not give any of his piano students the traditional piano repertoire. He gave us off the beaten path music, which I really respected. So no, I did not learn this Liebestraum.


John Banther: Oh, okay. Well, it's so beautiful and it kind of just grabs you. There's something about it that also feels kind of nostalgic and it was originally a set of three songs that he put together with poetry by Ludwig Uhland, I think that's the first two. And then the third one, which we're talking about now, the most famous, takes its inspiration from a poem by Ferdinand Freiligrath, and later he took these and made a set of piano pieces. But if you think you don't like (inaudible) this one might be the one that changes your mind because it's just as beautiful, if not more so, than the piano version.


Linda Carducci: Oh, I think so too. You're right. Originally three songs with verse by these poets you named for high voice and piano, and then they were made for piano solo, which Franz Liszt tended to do. He would take sometimes one piece and then arrange it for various different ensembles or configurations. When I'd listened to this particular one, this Liebestraum, the most famous of the three of this, I think of Chopin so much. Yeah. Franz Liszt was a great admirer of Frederick Chopin. Chopin could write some beautiful melodies and Franz Liszt particularly admired some of the melody and the melodic talent that Chopin had. So when I listen to this, I feel it's almost in that Chopin vein.


John Banther: Because it's like you have this one note that's repeated quite a lot and it's just kind of almost poking deeper and deeper at your heart if you want to get sentimental about it. And also how he stretches time in this one. Time is very malleable, it seems, at parts. In part because we have these kinds of flourishes and many cadenzas between what we can call three sections of the "Liebestraum No.3."


Linda Carducci: Again, like Frederick Chopin.


John Banther: Yes.


Linda Carducci: And Chopin would do that in some of his pieces. I've played them, some of the Ballades and the Nocturnes, he will go on these little flights of fancy with the piano. It shows that he's sort of taking the thought of that melody and just sort of expanding it just a little bit, will of a wisp, just a sort of a flight of fancy for just a moment and then back down to earth. And I think it's also a way for the composer, in this case for Chopin and Liszt who were both pianists, to show off the piano. The piano was expanding at that time and it was getting greater sonorities and so this was a way to showcase the beautiful sonorities of a piano.


John Banther: And such complete freedom between these, what we call three sections, and it reminds me of perhaps a symphony from a century earlier, maybe by Haydn, when you think of the first movement of a symphony having three sections. The first one introduces the thematic material, the second one explores and develops that material and then the third section brings us back in to the original idea before tying it all together with a coda, which we'll explain in a little bit. But these little piano moments, cadenzas, they seem to just kind of float by, you don't really think about them, they're not so in your face where it's like, " Oh, something's happening, we're changing." But it just kind of dreamily wisps you along from one section to the next and like a symphony, where in this middle section goes in all kinds of different keys, Liszt does that as well, although quite briefly, in the second part.


Linda Carducci: Sure. And let's remember that what he's trying to convey in this particular third piece of the set is a poem. A poem about mature love and a person who has loved someone probably in their older age now and has lost that love and is talking about " I love you" and telling people, " Gee, appreciate your loves as you have them, because someday this will all go away." So that is the concept behind this entire piece. That's what Liszt is trying to say.


John Banther: And I'll put the poem on the show notes page. If you love poetry, it's great. It's very... It's also, I mean, I think it's very intense, you have to be in the right frame of mind or be careful when you're reading this because it can be quite intense and sad.


Linda Carducci: Yes, it is.


John Banther: And I'll read just a little bit here. And this was originally in German, so this is an English translation, but reading it, it says, " Oh love, as long as love you can, oh love, as long as love you may, the time will come, the time will come when you will stand at the grave and mourn. Be sure that your heart burns and holds and keeps love as long as another heart beats warmly with its love for you. And if someone bears his soul to you, love him back as best you can, give his every hour joy, let him pass none in sorrow." And it just goes on from there and it does get quite sad.


Linda Carducci: It does. But this is a mature love of a person who is now mature maybe toward the end of his life and looking back at what love has meant to him. It's not a love in the moment, it's not a young love, it's not an impulsive love, it's a mature love looking back at the virtues of love. That is what Franz Liszt is trying to convey in this particular work and I think it helps to think about that, John, what he's trying to say when you hear this.


John Banther: Absolutely. If you've not seen the poem or if you didn't know that the poem was associated with this, give it a read and listen to this and grab a tissue or two at the same time.


Linda Carducci: Franz Liszt, he was a great pianist, of course. So when he starts this piece off the melody is in the middle section of the keyboard, the so- called tenor section, and it's played with the thumbs, two hands, two thumbs, but in the center section, and then he goes on this flight of fancy, this little cadenza you're talking about. Then he comes back again and this time it's with the right hand, he uses octaves at some point to bring it back. So now we're talking about higher register of the piano with octaves. And then again, alternating with those flights of fancy, those little cadenzas that go on, that maybe the old person dreaming about his youth, those are those little flights of fancy. And then he comes back down again to remember, " Yes, I'm talking about a mature love and the love that I had and the love that I lost," and it's in a different register on the keyboard.


John Banther: There's a reason why it's such a popular encore as well.


Linda Carducci: Yes.


John Banther: Everyone loves it.


Linda Carducci: Yes.


John Banther: Now there's a new musical term that we can I think learn with this one. There's a good example of a little section at the end of a movement we can call a coda. This is a section, kind of like canon. You look up the definition in the Harvard a dictionary, it might be pages long, but basically the sense is this is the very end closing section where we're getting, as I think Bill Bakowski likes to say, maybe put a ribbon on it, just tie a bow, just clean it all up.


Linda Carducci: Wrap it up.


John Banther: Some new material might be introduced. It could feel very nostalgic and a good way to know, or to kind of figure out, well, where is the coda? As you're listening to this, you can hear for, towards the end, a moment where it sounds like if the music stopped right here, that'd be okay. It would sound complete and natural. But after that, the music goes on a little bit. And so in the case of this " Liebestraum No. 3," it ends in a flat major, nice chord going up on a flat major, and then it continues instead of just letting that ring out. And that's when you know, " Okay, now we're into this coda section."


Linda Carducci: Yes, as you say, a coda means tail, it means the end and it's tacked on to the end to sort bring everything together and wrap it up as you said. This particular coda is not very long. Codas can be long or short. Different lengths.


John Banther: Oh yeah, very short.


Linda Carducci: I think this one is relatively short for Franz Liszt and I just think it's particularly gorgeous. It is a way... it's a wistful, very slow intentional coda in which the person who is expressing this thought is now finally closing his thought, finally closing the thought of all that this brought to him. And there's a serenity to the end of it. I think it's a particularly beautiful coda.


John Banther: Listening to it a couple of times, and you get a sense of how the coda is happening, pay attention for that in other works, perhaps ones that you already love and know really well. You may be surprised kind of what you find.


Linda Carducci: Can I ask you, was it the same person who requested the " Pachelbel Canon" and the Liebestraum?


John Banther: Yes. Andrew R.


Linda Carducci: Okay. Yes. Thank you very much for that because those are two polar things. One is broken, one is straight heart romantic.


John Banther: And we'll get to the next listener request right after this.

That brings us to our third one, which was requested by Tom S who wanted to hear more about " The Lark Ascending" by Ralph Vaughan Williams. Another beautiful work, another one based on poetry. This one's based off of a poem from 1881 and it was by George Meredith, and Vaughn Williams originally had the idea of writing this for violin and piano, which he did in 1914. But then in 1920 he wrote it out for orchestra and violin, gave it the subtitle " Romance," something you find in a lot of Williams's slow lyrical works, and he included 12 lines, I think, from the poem in the manuscript itself.


Linda Carducci: Yes. George Meredith was a poet, an English poet, and was a particular favorite of Ralph Vaughan Williams. And as you say, Vaughan Williams would use the term romance not necessarily to mean love, but sometimes just for something slow and contemplative.


John Banther: Now, this premiered in 1920 in London on the same concert as the first complete performance of Gustav Holst's " The Planets," which we did a whole episode on number 12. So if you know " The Planets" you might think, " Well, it's pretty easy for something like this, " The Lark Ascending," to just go disappear into the ether." But it definitely was noticed and pretty much loved right away. One critic for a big paper said that " The Lark Ascending" " stood apart from the rest as the only work in the program which showed serene disregard of the fashions of today or of yesterday. It dreams its way along in many links without a break and though it never rises to the energy of the lines, he is the dance of children, thanks of sewers, shout for Primroses banks. The music is that of the clean countryside, not of the sophisticated concert room." I think that last line's important, " the countryside, not the concert room" because Vaughan Williams, of course, was very involved with English folk song as well.


Linda Carducci: Vaughan Williams particularly loved the violin and so he uses now the violin as the show piece here to describe or give the image or give the kind of sense or atmosphere of larks ascending. From my basic research about larks, it appears that larks do not nest in trees, they nest on the ground. And so when they ascend, they do so very slowly from the ground, but they do very slowly in a circular motion because they're waiting for a wind to get underneath them to take them aloft and then they will finally get aloft.


John Banther: Okay.


Linda Carducci: So it's a rather dramatic kind of ascension.


John Banther: Unfortunately, we don't have them here in the United States, I think, these are European birds. But I'll read a little bit of the poem too, because I think it is right in line with what you're saying, describing the larks flight. In the poem that Vaughan Williams includes here, the lines are, " He rises and begins to round. He drops the silver chain of sound of many links without a break and chirp, whistle, slur and shake. For singing till his heaven fills, tis love of earth that he instills and ever winging up and up our valley is his golden cup. And he, the wine which overflows, to lift us with him as he goes, to lost on his aerial rings and lights and then the fancy sings."


Linda Carducci: That's beautiful.


John Banther: It is. And I think we love this so much, this piece where it speaks to us, of course I'm always sentimental, but it's a depiction of a bird and one of the most things we associate with birds, I think, is this idea of freedom. Birds are absolutely free. They don't respect a country's borders, they don't care about your laws, your societal or cultural customs. They are free. And so it's like Vaughan Williams is giving us an experience to see something that we can never fully attain. I think it's different from if we think of the music of Debussy from the last episode where we can kind of interact with the music. I feel like we can't interact with it here, we're only observing. This bird is unattainable up in the sky, something we can never have. I mean, just mention there's an eagle in the sky, everyone here would just turn their heads up and look for the eagle.


Linda Carducci: Yes, yes. It's a compelling work. He alternates these flights of fancy that the bird is doing with solo violin in periods and then he brings very gently in the orchestra in such a way just to give a little bit of atmosphere that this wind that the lark needs to ascend.


John Banther: And it starts very free... actually, it can start very, very, very soft, almost like first dawn or something. And it's just two brief measures before the violin comes in with this cadenza and they are absolutely free here, free like a bird maybe, because it says in the music " senza misura" basically there are no measures, which is how we kind of split up and dictate and make things well, very rhythmic or put together in music. Now there's no measures, the violinist is free to do here with the music as they want, as the orchestra just plays this chord underneath. And when you listen to this one, the sound I think is quite characteristic in the violin.

In the music, Vaughan Williams writes sur la touche which means to use the bow towards the fingerboard, more above the fingerboard. This makes the sound... I mean, I'm not a violinist, but listening, it gives it a softer timbre, a little more airy in its sound. The articulations, like the beginnings of notes, they can be a little more softer, diffuse as well. And it gives this kind of dreamy feeling to the music. Halfway through this cadenza, when the violin goes through those very, very high notes, then Vaughan Williams writes natural, put the bow back where it is usually. And then I'm not sure if that's because of the register of the violin, where it's easier to have the notes speak with a bow in that correct place, but it also gives, you'll hear, a little more kind of crystalline sound, a little more articulation, a little more clarity on the fronts of the notes as he gets out of the cadenza back into where the orchestra returns.


Linda Carducci: Yes, as if the bird is in the highest reaches of atmosphere where it's very crystalline and clear and pure.


John Banther: Yes. I've not talked to a violinist about this, but I'm sure there's like a no caffeine rule that day you play this solo to set up that high within making sure your boat doesn't bounce around hard. This one also has a couple of sections to it kind of naturally. Of course things are kind of pleasing coming in threes, if you think. After this cadenza we get in middle section, which is very different.


Linda Carducci: Yes. Yeah, it's the full orchestra. Again, he's not using the very, very, let's say large like Rachmaninoff orchestra on this, but yes, there are these alternations of the solo violin doing a cadenza and then the orchestra coming in to somewhat support the bird, but also to give us a sense of atmosphere of what's going on.


John Banther: In the middle section, it's like he brings us back down to earth, or perhaps we're in the countryside observing this bird, and then he draws our attention with this flute entrance back to earth around us. Maybe we've seen this bird and thought of, daydreamed about it, and now we're back to earth, back to reality, perhaps trying to find those bird qualities, that freedom qualities in what's around us.


Linda Carducci: Yes. And Vaughan Williams scores those sections sometimes with woodwinds. He uses the woodwinds very effectively to produce that kind of effect.


John Banther: Another thing we should think about here, Linda, is the time in which this premiered in 1920 after World War, which I think a lot of the world, especially in Europe, was kind of in an existential crisis basically after the war and then dealing with those consequences.


Linda Carducci: Yes. England was hard hit during First World War, as were other countries. This was a time when they were trying to rebuild. But you can imagine you're still sort of shell shock after losing so much of your population to the first World War.


John Banther: Oh yeah. This is just an absolutely beautiful work. Getting to the end, it's even sometimes softer, almost religioso in character.


Linda Carducci: It certainly is. There is a religious sort of character, a sense of awe and wonder in this work. And this particular piece does remind me in some ways of the Liszt that we just talked about, completely different styles, completely different eras, but the structure in some ways similar in that we have a contemplative section and then we have, say for example, the violin in the Vaughan Williams and the piano main melody in the Liszt, and then all of a sudden these cadenzas and these flights of fancy where maybe the composer or the person that they're depicting, all of a sudden their mind now wanders to some lovely melody of long ago or fancy fantasy of what they would love to do if they were up in the air or in the sea. And then it comes back down again to maybe the main melody. I see this structure in both of these works.


John Banther: And I love how you can get all of those things together without even necessarily knowing the poem here. I mean, Vaughan Williams really brings it to you and when he brings that violin back in the end for that kind of repeat of the opening sound, sometimes it's even softer, the example we're listening to, it might sound quite airy and loud, because I have to boost the volume even. They're so soft, it can almost be inaudible in the concert hall, which is actually quite beautiful when it kind of just floats out of literally nothing. He goes back to sur la touche, putting the bow towards the fingerboard to give that airy sound, softer articulation, softer sound. We use that almost too much a soft sound. But he does it again there and it really, I think, has even more impact than the beginning.


Linda Carducci: Oh, I agree with you. Because we've been on this flight now with the bird and now things are resolving. Either he's coming back to nest or he's just going back up into the atmosphere. It's a resolution. You can imagine the skill required of a violinist to produce that. Sometimes we think that skill means somebody playing fast or they're playing loud.


John Banther: Yeah. That's the assumption.


Linda Carducci: That's the assumption. But that's not the case. And many musicians will tell you that's not the case. Sometimes it's more difficult to play softly and to carry a line very slowly.


John Banther: I think it's way more difficult. But it is extraordinary. And I think everyone's blood pressure has lowered at the end of this in a concert.


Linda Carducci: Yes. There's a story, Hillary Hahn was performing this in London. You can imagine. And the story that I read now of course is just anecdotal and I'm paraphrasing and everything, but she was in London for this and was asked by three gentlemen, " Have you ever seen larks ascending?" And she said, " No, actually I haven't." So she made a point to go out to the English countryside and stand there and observe. And sure enough, these larks that are on the ground, they nest on the ground, and then they just very slowly and in a circular fashion, very slowly start ascending because they're looking for the wind to go underneath them to take them aloft. And she witnessed that and she said that informed her interpretation, her performance of that work.


John Banther: Oh yeah. I mean, I can only imagine the... I've never seen that. I mean, I've been there plenty of times. I don't remember seeing a lark. They kind of look like finches, I think.


Linda Carducci: Yeah, they're small, aren't they?


John Banther: Yeah. Small, brown, whatever kind of birds. But that's incredible. I mean, sometimes as musicians, that's what you need to do, go and see the thing itself because sometimes our image of something is not what it is in reality.


Linda Carducci: Yeah, that's for sure.


John Banther: So three pieces that we just talked about, the " Pachelbel's Canon", the " Liebestraum No. 3" by Liszt, and Vaughan Williams's " Lark Ascending." Now we get to just a couple listener questions here. Lynn V wrote in, " I love your podcast so much. I am learning exponentially and it has increased my appreciation of all the music I to." Well, thank you very much, Lynn, that's very kind. They continue, " I noticed you and your guests say that " something sounds modern ahead of its time or could have been composed today." I'd love to learn about what you're hearing that is ahead of its time or modern." That's a really good question and almost reminds me, Linda, if you're on the playground and someone asks you something and you say, " Well, if you have to ask, you'll never know."


Linda Carducci: Yeah, that's right.


John Banther: And I mean that jokingly. The thing is, when we say that, and we could probably do a better job when we say that to say why it sounds modern, but we have, being musicians and working in music, we have the context of really knowing what music in the early 1700s or 1600s sounded like with these composers and we know what it was like as it evolved through Mozart and Haydn and then Beethoven. So if you can think of when perhaps something you are passionate about that is, maybe it's film or poetry or anything else, and you're able to recognize because you have that context, what that person is doing, no one else is doing at that time. It was ahead of their time. And so for music, we can think of a couple of, I think, clear examples. If you think of Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique versus Beethoven's Symphony No. 9, feels like we couldn't get further apart here in kind of ideas. These are very, very different. Composed or finished just years apart.


Linda Carducci: I know, very close.


John Banther: 1824 is Beethoven 9, when that was premiered, Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique, 1830.


Linda Carducci: Yeah. So it's all relative is what you're saying. So for example, let's say you listen to Mozart a lot and you get a sense of how Mozart and Haydn sounded, they are your quintessential classical composers from the classical era of the 18th century. So you get an idea of how the harmony sounds, how the structure's going to go, how the melody's going to go. And then you hear maybe somebody from the romantic era, or even late romantic or even Beethoven. Cause Beethoven was experimenting all the time. And you hear... it sounds a little different. It sounds a little more adventurous, maybe a little bit more innovative than what you've just heard, but sort of like Mozart, but a little bit more innovative. That's where we sometimes what we're referring to when we say that was a modern sound for that time.


John Banther: And it's oftentimes breaking down the structure or the established forms and ideas of harmony, for instance, that's an easy one that you can hear progress. Instruments, not so much because... Vivaldi wrote incredibly difficult oboe music that people wouldn't for a while, but he didn't write anything for the tuba because the tuba did not exist for another century and a half. So it's not so much always the instruments because, well, a lot of instruments didn't exist at certain times, so they didn't have things like that. But I think that was a great explanation, Linda, of how things can sound more modern or ahead of its time. Basically, if everyone hated it when it came out, it may have been ahead of its time.


Linda Carducci: And I think of Beethoven as the quintessential experimenter. I mean, Beethoven is it, really. I mean many people did it after too, after him, but Beethoven had the guts and the courage to experiment, go away from the standard sonorities and the standard structures and the standard sounds and do what he wanted.


John Banther: Right. The growth of Fuge, the Fuge ends basically his writing on his life with had to have sounded so bizarre and also rhythmically, it was very, very different too.


Linda Carducci: And by the way, that was just the last movement originally to a huge string quartet.


John Banther: Yeah. Yeah.


Linda Carducci: Already huge.


John Banther: Yeah. He was doing what he wanted. Thank you so much, Lynn. And the last question is from Barbara S who said, " When I heard the What is a Concerto episode and learned that Vivaldi wrote more than 200 for the violin alone, it made me wonder why so many later and prolific composers only wrote a single concerto. Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikovsky. You know it's common when his is known as " The Tchaikovsky." That's a great question, why did later composers only write a few or only one compared to the 200 violin concerto that Vivaldi wrote?


Linda Carducci: Yeah. More than a hundred Haydn symphonies.


John Banther: More than a hundred Haydn symphonies. Yes. Mozart wrote over 40.


Linda Carducci: Yeah, 41. And then Beethoven nine.


John Banther: Nine. Yeah. And so what was happening was back in the day when you're thinking before Mozart into the 16th or 17th into the first half of the 18th century, composers are writing tons of music because they're writing especially for the court and for very wealthy people who... if I go to your estate, Linda, I don't want to hear some passe concerto from last month. I want to hear the new one. That was part of it, but also it was a popular form of music so people were writing a lot of it. And they were shorter usually. Yeah, they were definitely shorter. Lighter, not as deep or developed musically because that's not what was happening. But then when you get to someone like Tchaikovsky, it's totally different.


Linda Carducci: Yes. Now we're talking about the later era, the romantic era now. And the concept for writing music was different. As John said, prior to that, during Haydn's, Mozart's day, it was sort of his entertainment. Now, in the romantic era, that is of the 19th century, composers are writing because they have an artistic idea, an artistic expression that they want to express. And so now the fundamental concept is not, " Oh, I'm going to do something that's entertaining for other people," The concept is that they want to write an artistic piece that expresses what they want to express.


John Banther: Right. And I think you can also think of it like... there were just new portraits unveiled at the White House, and if they just wanted their image, they would've just taken a picture of Michelle Obama, for instance. But it's not about a picture, it's about the work of art. That's what it is. And I think that's kind of an easy comparison.


Linda Carducci: And because of that, then, the next step is that it takes longer to think about it. It takes longer to develop it, the ideas, figure out the orchestration, who's going to play it. That took a longer period of time, say for Tchaikovsky, to write one concerto than it did for Mozart to write a piano concerto. Because he was, Mozart, was using a pretty standard formula.


John Banther: Oh yeah. And they could churn them out and they could reuse material, Vivaldi, for instance. Tchaikovsky not... of course they did as well, but not on the level that they were doing before.


Linda Carducci: So now when it becomes a large artistic expression, it takes just a lot longer to write, to develop, to orchestrate and that's why they wrote fewer of them, I think.


John Banther: That's it. Well, thank you so much everyone for writing in. Of course we can't get to everything so over time we'll do more. Do we have anything else for our listener request?


Linda Carducci: No, no. But I would go back to something you said earlier, and that is if somebody really does enjoy the " Pachelbel Canon," it might be interesting for them to hear the two different interpretations. One is the more romantic interpretation of Jean-François Paillard, which is available on YouTube I'm pretty sure.


John Banther: Oh yeah.


Linda Carducci: Yeah. Versus a more loyal interpretation, more fidelity to the style of the Baroque era, and that would be a more modern performance.


John Banther: Oh, yeah. And then from there you can choose which one you like the most and that's the one you can listen to whenever you want.


Linda Carducci: Right.


John Banther: All right. Thank you, Linda.


Linda Carducci: Thank you.


John Banther: Thanks for listening to Classical Breakdown, your guide to classical music. Did you like that guitar playing we heard earlier? That was none other than our very own general manager of WETA Classical Dan DeVany. Now, if you have a piece of music you want us to talk about or a burning classical music question, send me an email at If you enjoyed this episode, leave a review in your podcast app and tell a friend. I'm John Banther. Thanks for listening to Classical Breakdown from WETA Classical.