Classical music from the Romantic era

5 Nov

This DW Festival Concert features Antonín Dvorak's rarely heard and very expressive symphonic poem "The Golden Spinning Wheel," followed by Felix Mendelssohn's unique symphony-cantata "Song of Praise." 


The performances were recorded live at the opening concert of the Rheingau Music Festival and feature the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra. The ensemble's new music director, Alain Altinoglu, conducted.

Schumann's 'Fantasies'

We're going to start with music that evokes fantastical worlds. It was written at the end of the 1800s, a time when industrialization was booming and people longed to retreat to nature, to love and even to fantasy worlds. Composers were no exception.

Among the German Romantics, Robert Schumann stands out as an important figure. He wrote many pieces that he called "Fantasies." In his Fantasy Pieces Op. 73, instead of prescribing strict tempos, he marked the movements with emotions. We'll be hearing two of them: "tenderly and expressively" and "quick and fiery." The music brings stories to life inside the listener's head.

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Cellist Raphaela Gromes and pianist Julian Riem performed the Fantasy Pieces in a chamber concert at the Rheingau Music Festival. The performance took place on June 29 at what is called the "Prince of Metternich Concert Cube." This royal-sounding name refers to an acoustically fine-tuned mobile concert hall. It had been set up adjoining a palace that itself is located in the wine hills near Wiesbaden, in western Germany.

Cinderella's tale

As promised, this episode also features Antonin Dvorak's "Golden Spinning Wheel." Dvorak worked on multiple symphonic poems in 1896, and nearly all of them are based on the collection of folk ballads entitled "Kytice," which means bouquet. The ballads were written by Karel Jaromir Erben.

"The Golden Spinning Wheel" tells a sort of Cinderella tale, but a little darker: A king wants to marry a young woman. She is killed by her evil stepmother who then leaves the body in the woods, where a sorcerer brings it back to life. When the king returns from war, he condemns the stepmother to death, and with her out of the way, the couple is free to marry. 

The piece has Bohemian dances, dramatic sections with all the musicians performing and, ideal in any fairy tale, a happy ending. Alain Altinoglu conducted the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra.

A tribute to Johannes Gutenberg

This episode also features some praiseful music by Felix Mendelssohn. 2022 was a big year for his music: It marked his 175th death anniversary, and so, many concerts featured works by him, including the opening concert of the Rheingau Music Festival. The central piece of that concert was his "Lobgesang," or "Song of Praise," a giant symphonic work for orchestra, choir and soloists that is commonly referred to as his second symphony.

Felix Mendelssohn was born in 1809 to a family of Jewish origin; his grandfather had even been a rabbi. In 1816, the family converted to Christianity, and seven-year-old Felix was baptized. Mendelssohn had been commissioned to compose a symphony with vocal parts to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Johannes Gutenberg's invention of his moveable type printing press. Mendelssohn initially wanted to write an oratorio but ended up composing what he called a "symphony-cantata."

The large choir in the final movement immediately makes one think of Beethoven's 9th Symphony, with its epic choral ending. But conductor Alain Altinoglu associates this Mendelssohn work more with Bach than with Beethoven.

"We don't imagine how genius was Mendelssohn. He was really, what we say 'Wunderkind.' I mean, he was the new Mozart of that time. When he was so young, he could play anything on the piano. And he was the music director of Leipzig so young – he was like 26 years old, I mean that's very, very young. And then he rediscovered, reintroduced Johann Sebastian Bach, and you can really feel it in the piece," the conductor said.

From darkness to light

Considering that the Bible is the most famous book that Johannes Gutenberg ever printed, Mendelssohn wanted to incorporate this into his "Song of Praise." The texts are based on the Bible and the Protestant church song by Martin Rinckart entitled "Nun danket alle Gott" or "Now we all thank God."

It was conductor Alain Altinoglu's goal to bring out the religious aspects for the audience. In the piece, Mendelssohn praises God, who leads man out of darkness into light. Light can be seen here as a symbol of an enlightened society that can continue to educate itself, not least through the printing and dissemination of books.

The "Song of Praise" was lauded at its premiere in 1840 in St. Thomas Church in Leipzig. The work is structured in 10 sections. It starts with an instrumental symphony in three movements, which is then followed by 9 sections for soprano, mezzo-soprano, tenor and choir. These sections are woven seamlessly together and unified through repeated motifs.

A rising motif in the trombones, echoed by the MDR Leipzig Radio Choir, brought Felix Mendelssohn's symphony-cantata "Lobgesang," or "Song of Praise" to an uplifting close. The performance was recorded live on June 25 at the opening concert of the Rheingau Music Festival in Eberbach Abbey, which sits atop the wine hills of Eltville am Rhein. Music director Alain Altinoglu conducted the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra. The soloists were soprano Katharina Konradi, mezzo-soprano Miriam Albano and tenor Matthew Swenson.

That's all in this edition of DW Festival Concerts with our host, Cristina Burack, and I hope you enjoyed the Romantic music we heard in today's program. Thanks to producer Gaby Reucher and sound engineer Christian Stäter. We love hearing from you, so write to us at if there's anything you'd like to share. And join us for more fantastic classical music in the next Deutsche Welle Festival Concert.


Edited by: Manasi Gopalakrishnan

Autor Gaby Reucher

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