Kreisler’s "Syncopation" (1925) – A Classical Cousin

Recently, I dreamed I was playing the second movement of Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto, on stage, in front of a professional violinist, whom I was trying to “prove myself” to (!!).  I did tolerably well, which is the surprising thing, considering I never learned the piece (though always wanted to).

My violin

Ever since then, I keep thinking about picking it up again. I’ve barely touched my violin since I quit taking lessons about ten years ago (can it be, already?), when college took over my time and energies.  I generally don’t put much stock into dreams, but if nothing else, I feel inspired to start again, in seriousness.

Some of my favorite music for the violin was written by Austrian composer Fritz Kreisler.  He’s best known for his soulful “Praeludium and Allegro” (a piece I learned once) – in style, a kind of 20th-century successor of Vivaldi.  More delightful to me, however, are his lighter pieces in the turn-of-the-century style, or even a bit later.

Here’s “Syncopation,” played by the man himself, in an arrangement including his brother Hugo on the cello:

A newer rendition by Canadian James Ehnes is also excellent.

While we’re talking about Kreisler, here’s his recording of Meditation from Thais by Jules Massenet.  As a (admittedly moody) teenager, this was a favorite piece to play, and one of the few I could play decently well:

Well, regardless of whether I start practicing again, I will forever have the violinist’s repertoire ingrained in my consciousness.

Clara Schumann’s Lieder – A Classical Cousin

Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own has me currently entranced with its gentle, yet poignant questions about women’s history – not just in fiction, but in culture and arts generally.

According to a Washington Post quiz (which, given its loaded questions, ought to be taken with a pinch of salt), I come under the umbrella of “Yes, but…” feminists, meaning I identify as somewhat feminist but am also critical of feminism as it stands today.  Without getting deeply into the topic – I am trying, by a thread, to stay apolitical on this blog – I would say that’s a fairly accurate summary of my outlook.

My main concern for women’s rights are those basic ones which are still lacking in other countries.  In Woolf’s book, I am reminded that women in the West underwent similar struggles.  For example, as lately as 100 years ago, a choice of career was limited:

…I had made my living by cadging odd jobs from newspapers, by reporting a donkey show here or a wedding there; I had earned a few pounds by addressing envelopes, reading to old ladies, making artificial flowers, teaching the alphabet to small children in a kindergarten. Such were the chief occupations that were open to women before 1918.  (ch. 2)

More to come on this later.  (This will be Monday’s podcast episode!)

Here I just wanted to share a piece by Clara Schumann, the talented pianist and composer, best known (for better or worse) as the wife of composer Robert Schumann.  Like Robert, Clara composed lieder, or songs, which put German poetry to music.  (I picture the German gentry gathering around of a summer’s evening, listening to a talented family member performing these songs, though whether that is totally accurate, I cannot say.)

These are the lyrics, translated by David Kenneth Smith:

Der Mond kommt still gegangen  The moon so peaceful rises
Emanuel Geibel (1815-1884)  Op. 13 No. 4




Der Mond kommt still gegangen  The moon so peaceful rises
mit seinem gold’nen Schein,  with all its golden shine,
da schläft in holdem Prangen  there sleeps in lovely glitter
die müde Erde ein.  the weary earth below.




Und auf den Lüften schwanken  And on the breezes waft down
aus manchem treuen Sinn  from many faithful hearts
viel tausend Liebesgedanken  true loving thoughts by the thousand
über die Schläfer hin.  upon the sleeping ones.




Und drunten im Tale, da funkeln  And down in the valley, there twinkle
die Fenster von Liebchens Haus;  the lights from my lover’s house;
ich aber blicke im Dunkeln  but I in darkness still look out –
still in die Welt hinaus.  silent – into the world.

Bruch’s Violin Concerto – A Classical Cousin

In the spring of 1866, Max Bruch’s first violin concerto was debuted by celebrity violinist Joseph Joachim.  Its auspicious beginnings paved the way for its permanent success; the concerto is still popular (here it’s played by my favorite violinist, Gil Shaham).  Bridging a gap wider than 150 years, Bruch’s passionate melodies still have the ability to move us, bringing to heart a time period that can feel distant in pictures or even on paper.

For comparison’s sake, I found a Goodreads book list called “Popular 1860s Books.”  It’s really astounding to see so many famous books there, at a glance.  High on the list is, of course, Little Women, whose recent Masterpiece Classic adaptation I’ve enjoyed watching on PBS (tomorrow is the conclusion!).

Clearly great classics of art and literature did not appear within a vacuum.  I’d love to think a writer somewhere in Bruch’s audience was inspired by the story he tells with this piece.