From Paris to Vienna


(E) The Sixteenth Season of Music@Menlo, one of the best classical music festivals in Silicon Valley, is promising to make us rediscovering and traveling to the thriving European metropolises from Paris to Vienna from which some of Western civilization’s greatest musical artists and greatest musical arts were born. The festival will make us travel to London, Paris, St. Petersburg, Leipzig, Berlin, Budapest, and Vienna.

No city For some two hundred years following the death of Henry Purcell, England failed to produce a composer of international merit. The German critic Oscar A. H. Schmitz famously derided the nation as Das Land ohne Musik (“The land without music”). But throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, England nevertheless remained fertile creative ground; London, in particular, attracted many of the continent’s greatest composers—from Handel and Mendelssohn to Edvard Grieg—who in turn helped make that city one of the Western world’s musical capitals.

No city captivates the imagination quite like Paris. For generations, the world’s leading artists, writers, and thinkers—to say nothing of its young lovers and starry-eyed dreamers—have flocked to La Ville Lumière. Her splendor has inspired some of the Western world’s most innovative cinema, elegant cuisine, and irresistible music. Towards the turn of the century, after opera had dominated French musical life for decades, Camille Saint-Saëns, César Franck, and others led a resurgence of chamber music. In their wake came some of the twentieth century’s most refreshing musical voices, from Jean Françaix to Francis Poulenc and the enfants terribles of Les Six.

St. Petersburg
Built in 1703 by Peter the Great to be a cosmopolitan, Western-style metropolis, St. Petersburg emerged over subsequent decades as the center of Russian musical culture. It was in St. Petersburg that Mikhail Glinka, the progenitor of Russia’s classical music tradition, built his career. Glinka’s disciple Mily Balakirev likewise settled in the Russian capital, where he spearheaded the Russian vanguard known as the Mighty Handful. In 1862, Anton Rubinstein founded the St. Petersburg Conservatory, which remains Russian music’s foremost educational institution, producing such towering artists as Anton Arensky and Dmitry Shostakovich, whose works are featured in this program.

When Georg Philipp Telemann turned down the post of Leipzig Music Director and Cantor, the city begrudgingly offered the position to its second choice: Johann Sebastian Bach. Bach’s years in Leipzig produced some of the greatest music ever composed—from the St. Matthew Passion and Mass in b minor to scores of keyboard concerti—thus cementing that city’s place as one of music history’s most important locales. A century later, two of the Romantic era’s greatest composers would likewise call Leipzig home: Felix Mendelssohn, who served as Director of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra and founder of the Leipzig Conservatory, and Robert Schumann, whose mighty Piano Quintet concludes this summer’s fourth Concert Program.

Through the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Berlin emerged and then handily secured its status as one of Europe’s most vital cultural centers. It was to Berlin that the aging J. S. Bach traveled in 1747, where King Frederick the Great issued the contrapuntal challenge that yielded Bach’s monumental Musical Offering. Mozart and Beethoven subsequently appeared at the same court, before Friedrich Wilhelm II; Mozart honored the King of Prussia (and amateur cellist) with his Prussian Quartets, notable for their virtuosic cello parts, while Beethoven composed his first two cello sonatas for the occasion. Concert Program V concludes with the Piano Trio no. 2 in c minor by Mendelssohn, who spent his formative years in the German capital.

Western composers from Haydn and Mozart to Brahms were irresistibly drawn to the folk music of Central Europe, infusing some of their most popular works with its infectious spirit. With Hungarian music’s own nationalist movement in the early twentieth century, Hungary—and especially its capital, Budapest—assumed even greater importance in the Western classical tradition. Ernő Dohnányi, one of the twentieth century’s most gifted and versatile musicians, was moreover the first elite Hungarian artist who chose to train at the Budapest Academy of Music rather than studying abroad. His countrymen Béla Bartók and Zoltán Kodály—the progenitors of a nationalist Hungarian compositional language—followed suit, establishing Budapest as the epicenter of Hungary’s musical culture. Concert Program VI features the work of these three giants of Hungarian music and their heir apparent, the modernist master György Ligeti.

From the Classical era into the twentieth century, Vienna was the indisputable capital of the Western musical world. It was in Vienna that the Salzburg-born wunderkind Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart found his place among the pantheon of great artists and where, after Mozart’s death at the age of thirty-five, Beethoven traveled to “receive Mozart’s spirit from Haydn’s hands.” Vienna remained the seat of Western music through the Romantic era in a period bookended by Schubert and Brahms. When, in the twentieth century, the iconoclast Arnold Schoenberg sought to “ensure the supremacy of German music for the next hundred years,” his coterie fittingly became known as the Second Viennese School.”

Running from July 13 to Aug. 4, the festival will offer more than fifty events on three stages in Atherton and Menlo Park.

Events include live concerts performed by professional musicians, lecture and discussion events, Master Classes, and Prelude Performances performed by the young artists of the Music@Menlo’s Chamber Music Institute.

There is not much else to say – just go – and enjoy the music 🙂

Note: The picture above is By Zyance – Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5,

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