Classical Music Stories

Classical Music Stories #1: Anna Karenina (Part 4)


Holberg Suite, Op. 40: IV. Air (Andante religoso) by Edvard Grieg

Hold onto your hats, kids, because the hint of tragedy that was in the second movement is in full force now. We hear a pervasive hopelessness and what sounds like a struggle against something unchangeable (…hence the hopelessness). Plus, when the music comes back to repeat, it’s even sadder and more disillusioned, just like Anna after she gives birth to Vronsky’s child and thinks she’s dying.

(2:55) But then things become much more tender and hopeful (definitely a welcome surprise after all of this depressing music). It’s like when her husband, Alexei Alexandrovitch comes to visit her. Now that she’s sick he’s the only one Anna wants—the only one who can break her out of her own misery and self-pity (a.k.a. all the music up to this point).

(3:27) All of which leads quite nicely into Alexei forgiving her, expressing his love with a beautiful cello solo (lower notes) that alternates with Anna’s tender responses (higher violin notes). The sense of hope and tender love between the two sets of instruments is so touching (and the part around 3:52…LOVE!)

(4:20) Uh oh…the hope is getting mixed with darkness and tragedy again! And this time when the opening repeats it’s with lower, darker notes in the cellos—in other words, this isn’t going to end well for poor Alexei, and he kind of knows it.

Sure enough, the higher notes come back at the end, carrying the tragedy with them: once Anna gets well she rejects him all over again, arguably a more painful rejection than the first.

You probably noticed I presented today’s installment in a different format.  Did you like it more or less? Feel free to let me know in the comments!

Stay tuned for the final installment…

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