Watch Party Idea – Time for a Picnic!


If you’re like us, you’re looking for little ways to get an escape! With our Trip to the Country live stream our goal is take you on a musical journey away from busyness and stress and into nature…and if you’ve got a tablet or computer you can quite literally take us outdoors!

With that in mind, here are some fun ideas that can give you a chance to take a picnic right in your backyard, on the deck, or inside if its raining!

First up is the Food!

It’s all about being refreshed – and while a picnic takes a little bit of preparation, the pay off is totally worth it. Let’s start with the mix of sweet and savory to give your taste buds their own little adventure. The best part? Each recipe is incredibly easy to make!

How about a simple yet absolutely delicious Thai Watermelon Salad paired with Prawn & Avocado Vietnamese Summer Rolls. You can have a lot of fun preparing Picnic Dip Jars and you get a little fancy with some Mini Pork and Chorizo Picnic Pies.

If you’re wanting to support some amazing local eateries, our picks for this concert include ordering take out from Botte Chai Bar, Bagel Shop, and Filosophi!

Dessert is essential for any good picnic…its a bit early for berry season, but there’s all sorts of amazing Saskatoon Berry treats available at the Berry Barn, you have to grab some chocolates from our friends at Harden and Huyse, or order desserts from Calories!

But if you have the itch to make it yourself, our pick are these incredibly delicious and refreshing Lemon and Blueberry Bars…trust us, you’re going to love them!

What to Drink?!

It wouldn’t be a proper picnic without refreshments! And picnics are a family affair, so try some thirst-quenching creations like a Berry Smoothie or Apple Mint Iced Tea.

As we asked around the SSO, one drink suggestion kept coming up over and over again…if its a picnic for family or for romance, in Saskatoon it has to include Black Fox.

Black Fox Distillery has garnered international attention for their world class gin, and on first taste you’ll quickly see why…or taste why!

They offer an array of amazing gins – their Oaked Gin and Haskap Gin are absolute MUST haves. And their website helps you create a custom cocktail for a picnic like their Cucumber Lemonade, Mike’s Sour Cherry Lime Spritz, or a Cran G&T.

Their gin is so delightful that simply mixing with lemonade or limeade will make for the perfect drink for our escape with a Trip to the Country!

Whether a picnic in the backyard, drinks on the deck, or chic indoor glamping, make sure you do something special for this last stream of the season!

Mathieu’s Creative Pandemic

A new album, lessons & feature performance

Life has been full of twists and turns for violinist Véronique Mathieu this past year. In March 2020, Mathieu was set to release a brand-new album Cortége, a celebration of French classical music. The album is a collection of pieces her and pianist Jasmin Arakawa hand selected. With the world shut down, the album was quietly released, and Mathieu found herself shifting gears.

“It was music that kept me sane. To have other projects that would allow me to put the pandemic aside and work towards something.”

“It was really difficult at first to adjust to not being able to leave your home. It was difficult to practice because it was hard to see a goal in the future,” Mathieu says. “It was music that kept me sane. To have other projects that would allow me to put the pandemic aside and work towards something.”

Mathieu has been balancing motherhood with her position as the University of Saskatchewan’s David L. Kaplan Chair in Music which has her teaching a combination of online and in-person classes. She says working with her students allows her to continue to grow as an artist.

“It’s funny because it has allowed me to really notice things fast in my own playing and come up with solutions,” Mathieu explains. “Teaching makes you reflective in your own artistic practice. I’ve become much more efficient.”

Mathieu’s latest projects include assembling the works contemporary composers from Brazil, China and North America to develop a series of lessons that can help violinists learn different, experimental techniques for violin. She is also already hard at work on a new album with Toronto pianist Stephanie Chua focused on works by female composers.

Mathieu has performed as a soloist and chamber musician all over the world and while she’s kept busy with other projects, she’s been missing the stage. That’s why she says it’s exciting to be asked back for the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra’s finale performance of the 2020/21 season. Trip to the Country will feature Mathieu performing Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Lark Ascending. The piece is a loving tribute to nature and is based on William’s poem of the same name.

“This is a really soothing work. It triggers beautiful images in the imagination that remind me of the green fields and majestic mountains,” says Mathieu. “This will be my big “return to the stage” moment and playing such a wonderful work, it’s just really exciting.”


Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony

When you think of Ludwig van Beethoven, chances are you hear the infamous pulses of his fiery Fifth Symphony. But did you know that the symphony he composed simultaneously with the Fifth is equally brilliant? Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony, referred to as the Pastoral Symphony, is an immaculate offering of sound and color. Described by Beethoven himself as being “more the expression of feeling than painting”, the Pastoral Symphony is a moving tribute to the beauty of nature which served as one of Beethoven’s greatest muses during his life as a composer. Spending much of his free time walking in the countryside surrounding Vienna, Beethoven found a peace in nature which stabilized and nourished his passionate soul.

Composition of the Pastoral Symphony was undertaken in 1802, and the work would take another six years to reach completion. It was debuted at a concert taking place at the Theater an der Wien in Vienna, alongside Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony Musicologist Frank D’Accone maintains that the programmatic ideas featured in the symphony (bird song, thunder, a shepherd’s pipe, and the flowing of a stream) were lifted by Beethoven from Justin Heinrich Knecht’s 1784 musical work “Le Portrait musical de la Nature ou Grande Symphonie”.

The Pastoral Symphony is scored for full orchestra, and makes use of trumpet, timpani, trombone, and piccolo in specific movements. The Symphony begins with the Allegro ma non troppo, in which the composer arrives in the country amidst an atmosphere of cheerful melodies. Set in 2/4 meter and sonata form throughout, each musical theme is developed to its greatest potential by Beethoven. The orchestral texture is thickened by the composer’s reliance on short, repeating motifs.

The first movement ends in comfort and the second (Andante molto mosso) begins with speed, mimicking the fast flow of a stream by way of a motif in the string section. Also in sonata form, the second movement is delivered in 12/8 meter in the key of B♭ major. The cello section is split in their duties during this movement, with many players assisting the double basses in jubilant pizzicato notes while only two cellists stay with the babbling brook. This movement is unique within the context of the work because it delivers a cluster of bird calls rendered in a woodwind cadenza towards its end. Interestingly, Beethoven was very specific about which birds were to be imitated by which instruments: the flute plays the song of the nightingale, the oboe provides the somber notes of the quail, and two clarinets warble the jubilant sounds of a cuckoo or two.

After a refreshing chorus of birdsong, movement three (Allegro) unfolds. A scherzo in 3/4 time, this country folk dance returns us to the main key of F major to revel and frolic amongst the trees. The doubling of the trio movement makes this an unusual, but memorable scherzo. Another odd choice on Beethoven’s part was to prematurely end the appearance of the third scherzo theme. Beethoven forever changed how scherzi would be composed through the creativity he displayed within this movement. As the tempo builds in excitement and vitesse, the movement suddenly stops without warning. We are catapulted immediately into the fourth movement with no time to prepare ourselves as a thunderstorm threatens in the distance.

Beethoven outdoes himself in this fourth movement (which bears the same name as the third) by using a 4/4 meter in F minor to depict a lightning shower of violent proportions. What starts as a few drops of rain quickly turns into an awe-inspiring musical downpour. After the storm passes, Beethoven borrows from Mozart’s String Quintet in G minor of 1787. He accomplishes this by simmering a stormy preface into a rich final movement of serenity.

The finale of this symphony (Allegretto) is in F major and features a meter of 6/8 time. Capitalizing on sonata rondo form, in which the main theme appears in the tonic key at the beginning of the development as well as the exposition and the recapitulation, the finale presents a symmetrical eight-bar theme to conjure the sounds of a shepherds’ thanksgiving song. The coda is soft at first, but soon grows to encompass the entire orchestra. The violin section is incredibly active in this final section, playing rapid triplet tremolo to increase the emotional tension. There comes a moment in every great piece of music that is utterly unforgettable, and for Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony this moment occurs during the final passages of the coda. The prayer-like quality of this passage culminates in two victorious F-chords, summarizing the majesty of nature like no one else could. Beethoven found his gentle side in nature, and we hope you enjoy your Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra’s performance of Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony at our Trip to the Country concert!

All the Different Parts of Harder

Saskatoon composer Kendra Harder instantly grabbed the attention of the SSO’s Wind Quintet a few years ago when they workshopped an arrangement Harder had done for one of her classes at the University of Saskatchewan’s Music Department. Our premiere of her piece “All the Different Parts” comes as such a joy to the quintet musicians who’ve been able to workshop the piece this year with Harder.

She says:
“I began composing All the Different Parts with the intention of writing music simply for the sake of writing music – no plots, no programmes, no character developments. But as with all best laid plans, this one was thrown out the window and fell into a snow bank two meters deep. With no programme driving the music, what came out while writing was music exposing my inner-most feelings – feelings I wasn’t even yet aware of. Life threw life at me (as it does), and this music became the vehicle that helped me process it. By the time I started writing the fourth movement, I realized that this music was simply expressing all the different parts of me.”

I. mistakes make great motifs
II. processing
III. discovery
IV. end with joy
Instrumentation: Wind Quintet
Duration: 15’07”

Premiere scheduled for May 9, 2021 by Mistral 5, Saskatoon, SK
Provincial premieres by Blythwood Winds in Ontario, and Fifth Wind in Nova Scotia TBD due to pandemic

Nielsen’s Wind Quintet

It was autumn in Copenhagen, 1921. Scandinavian composer Carl Nielsen had just put down the receiver of his telephone after having a brief conversation with his friend, the pianist Christian Christiansen. On that evening in particular, Chrisrtiansen was rehearsing for an upcoming concert to be performed by himself and the Copenhagen Wind Quintet. So it was that the background music of the rehearsal hall (in which the musicians of the Copenhagen Wind Quintet were rehearsing Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante) made its way to Carl Nielsen’s ear for the first time. He was immediately struck by the incredible musical synchronicity between flautist Paul Hagemann, oboist Svend C. Felumb, clarinettist Aage Oxenvad, hornist Hans Sørensen, and bassoonist Knud Lassen. Nielsen vowed that very evening to begin writing a wind quintet with the talents of these specific players in mind.

One of Nielsen’s biographers, the British composer Robert Simpson, stresses that it was Nielson’s fondness for the great outdoors and the people he met which served as the greatest inspiration for the Wind Quintet’s inception. “Nielsen’s fondness of wind instruments is closely related to his love of nature, his fascination for living, breathing things. He was also intensely interested in human character, and in the Wind Quintet composed deliberately for five friends, each part is cunningly made to suit the individuality of each player.”

Nielsen’s programme notes provide a window into the composer’s relationship with the work itself. He writes that “The quintet for winds is one of [my] latest works, in which [I have] attempted to render the characters of the various instruments. At one moment they are all talking at once, at another they are quite alone. The work consists of three movements: a) Allegro, b) Minuet and c) Prelude – Theme with Variations. The theme for these variations is the melody for one of C.N.’s spiritual songs, which has here been made the basis of a set of variations, now merry and quirky, now elegiac and serious, ending with the theme in all its simplicity and very quietly expressed.” Critics of Nielsen’s work have pointed out that it is this delicate balance between aspects of modernism and neo-classicism which make the composer’s work on the Wind Quintet so prolific.

The first movement of Nielsen’s Wind Quintet (Allegro ben moderato) is in sonata form, beginning with the bassoon’s statement of the theme in E. The upper winds echo this in their reply before it is repeated once more by the French horn (this time in the key of A major). The theme is played in fragments until the arrival of the second theme in D minor. First played by the French Horn, the bassoon and oboe are soon to follow with an accompaniment of triplet figures by the flute and clarinet. With a restatement of the first theme, the development of this movement’s melody begins. In the final segment of the movement, the recapitulation of the first theme in E major flows into the second theme (now in B minor) with harmonizing thirds in the horn and bassoon employing a rich texture throughout.

The second movement (Menuet) takes the shape of a pastoral minuet and enjoys a certain neoclassical sensibility. The French horn is scored lightly in this section, which allows the player to rest before their involvement in the third and final movement. The first theme of the Menuet features a duet between clarinet and bassoon, while the second theme follows a similar pattern of exchange between the oboe and flute. A simple and elegant dance, the movement sees all instruments engage in a recapitulation of the first theme. After this, a trio (played by oboe, flute, and bassoon) makes use of contrapuntal textures to provide contrast to the simplicity of the first two themes.

The third movement of the Wind Quintet sees a brief Praeludium executed before the piece embarks on a set of variations. For the Praeludium, the English horn takes the place of the oboe. Music historians have posited that this change was included after Nielsen fell in love with oboist Felumb’s English horn solo during a performance of Hector Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique. Nielsen himself conducted this performance in Bremen, and was absolutely blown away at the raw emotion that Felumb’s English horn skills could evoke. The central theme of this third movement is taken from Nielsen’s own chorale tune “Min Jesus, lad min Hjerte faa en saaden Smag paa dig” (My Jesus, make my heart to love thee). The eleven variations which stem from this theme are very complex, not only in the skill required to execute them but also in their harmonic structure. The theme from Nielsen’s chorale is restated at the end of the Wind Quintet and builds to a triumphant climax.

Nielsen’s Wind Quintet was completed in 1922 at his residence in Gothenburg, Sweden. First performed on April 30th at a private gathering at the home of Herman and Lisa Mannheimer, the piece became an immediate sensation. Each of the five musicians who had performed in the Copenhagen Wind Quintet (and who had directly inspired the work’s composition) debuted Nielsen’s Wind Quintet on this occasion. They reconvened for an official concert debut on October 9th of that same year at the Odd Fellows Mansion in Copenhagen, a relatively intimate venue which showcased superbly the unique qualities of each instrumental voice.

Nielsen would pass away only nine years later, but his Wind Quintet would live on to inspire countless woodwind musicians in the decades following. The Wind Quintet itself is regarded as a staple of modern woodwind repertoire, and is performed more often in Nielsen’s native Scandinavia than any other piece he composed during his lifetime. Your Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra is delighted to bring this classic to the stage at our Mother’s Day Concert!

Poulenc Sextet

André George, a French reviewer for the periodical Les Nouvelles littéraires, once wrote that “with Poulenc, all of France comes out of the windows he opens.” One could extend such a compliment to include the whole world, for his contemporary musical stylings gave compositions like his Sextet an air of well-traveled sophistication and compelling emotional range.

An influential member of the composer group Les Six, Francis Poulenc composed his Sextet somewhere between 1931 and 1932. Originally composed as a piece of chamber music for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, piano and French horn, the Sextet came to Poulenc during a period of great musical productivity. The composer had just finished their Concerto for Two Pianos in addition to a cantata, Le Bal Masqué. Poulenc’s popularity as a member of Les Six was reaching its zenith, and he wanted to ensure his next musical gift to the world wouldn’t disappoint.

Poulenc struggled throughout his life with a musical form of writer’s block, something which inexplicably came and went depending on the nature of the musical work he was composing at the time. With the Sextet, Poulenc laboured for months to pull the music together in a way that best fitted his vision for the piece as a whole. The composer would return to his manuscripts for the piece in 1939, seven years after his Sextet’s premiere, in order to revise what he felt was a work of great potential that failed to execute properly the first time around.

After extensive revisions, Poulenc wrote a letter to his friend and confidante, the conductor and composer Nadia Boulanger. In this letter, Poulenc shared the experience of rewriting the Sextet to better fit his original vision for the piece. “There were some good ideas in [the original]” he wrote, “but the whole thing was badly put together. With the proportions altered, better balanced, it comes over very clearly.” Poulenc’s decision to rewrite his Sextet was ultimately a positive one, as critics cite the evocative capacity of each instrument within the quintet increased substantially following Poulenc’s return to the musical drawing-board.

The sextet is separated into three sections and is approximately eighteen minutes in duration. The first movement, “Allegro vivace”, features a rhythmic piano line upon which the quintet can layer rapid-fire melodies which draw inspiration from elements of jazz. The movement creates the sensation of movement by utilizing abrupt rhythmic changes in all instrumental voices, and it flurries away just as quickly as it arrived to reveal a beautiful bassoon solo.

Movement two, the Divertissement: Andantino, exhibits a fast section framed by two slower and majestic passages. The bassoon solo which opens the movement is repeated by other instrumental voices in turn before the oboe and clarinet drive the pace forward through the faster section. Recapitulating the themes explored in the movement’s beginning, the sumptuous strains of this second movement recall Classical influences while also parodying elements of Mozart.

The Finale: Prestissimo represents the emotional highpoint of the entire work, and the accelerated tempo reflects this. The movement is in rondo form, and begins with “an Offenbachian gallop”. The jazz influences from the first and second movements are more pronounced here, and the spirit of ragtime is explored to delightful effect. Critics have interpreted this element of the Finale as being a “satirical depiction of neoclassicism in music”. After revisiting themes from the first and second movements at greater speeds, the Finale takes inspiration from Ravel in the execution of a coda brimming with lyricism and beauty.

Premiered in 1933, the Sextet’s original lineup featured Poulenc himself on the piano alongside Marcel Moyse, Roland Lamorlette, Louis Cahuzac, Gustave Dhérin, and R. Blot on flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, and horn, respectively. Although the piece itself was not lauded by some of the more traditional critics in the musical community of France, (with critic Florent Schmitt of Le Temps criticizing it as wandering and vulgar), others found it to be a musical breath of fresh air.

Pulling from a multitude of musical styles, Poulenc’s Sextet is a triumphant example of what can be produced if one persists in the depths of a frustrating case of brain fog. You can hear your Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra perform Poulenc’s Sextet at our upcoming Mother’s Day concert!


Musical Herstory 2.0

For centuries, the writers of musical textbooks (and the programmers of musical institutions) excluded women who composed.

Francesca Caccini (1587-1645)

Motherhood. Quarantine. Saving one’s self from the guillotine with their piano skills. Composers of today have a surprising amount in common with composers of yesteryear!
In this second instalment of Musical Herstory, we will continue looking at the amazing lives and music of female composers from the past and the present. We’ll look at works created across the years in those typically “male dominated” genres, the dual roles of mother and composer, and music from composers whom we know very little about.

The SSO is again proud to present Saskatoon composer Kendra Harder in this six week course exploring the herstory of music that you need to know!

Classes take place Thursdays at 7:00pm (Saskatchewan time) – each class is 60 minutes.

The first class takes place on May 13th, and will be available on video to those who aren’t able to attend the class live on Zoom.

Click here to Register!

How does it work?

Before the first class, you’ll receive an email that gives you access to the 6 weeks of scheduled Zoom classes.

If you can’t participate in the live Zoom class, you’ll have access to the video of the class on our YouTube channel.

Week One – Composer & Mother

Our society often expects that women become mothers, but not composers. What is it like for those who are both? 
What are the challenges faced by women in professional spheres attempting to balance raising children and creating 
a career?

Composers in focus: 
 - Allison Loggins-Hull – this week is inspired by her project “Diametrically Composed.”
 - Elizabeth Maconchy (1907 – 1994)

Week Two – Symphony Week

We enter the "male domain" of the symphony and look at what women have done in this sphere.

Composers in focus:
 - Amy Beach (1867 - 1944)
 - Alice Ping Yee Ho

Week Three – Almost Footnotes

There are so many composers (both male and female) where there is little biographical information about them, 
and in some cases absolutely none is to be found. As a result, these composers and their music are overlooked 
putting them at risk of simply being a footnote in textbooks. This week we'll spend time listening to music by
 composers whom we know little about.

Composers in focus: 
 - Cesarina Ricci (c. 1573 - ?)
 - Hélène de Montgeroult (1764 – 1836)
 - Eva Dell’Acqua (1856 – 1930)
 - Cecilia Arizti (1856 – 1930)
 - Lyse Gingras (b. 1949)

Week Four – Guitar Week

Solo repertoire for the guitar is a very heavy male-dominated field; but men are not the only ones to have picked up 
that beautiful six-stringed instrument to create music. This week will look at two fantastic guitar virtuosi whose 
music is finally coming back into the public consciousness.

Composers in focus: 
 - Ida Presti (1924-1967)
 - Catharina Pratten (1824-1895)

Week Five – Beautiful Blends

These two composers make amazing blends of music with their traditional music and the Western classical music. 

Composers in focus: 
 - Tanya Tagaq
 - Reena Esmail

Week Six – Opera Week

This genre of large-scale works has been hailed as the grand rite of passage for any serious composer, and therefore, 
was denied to women. This week will look at one woman who wrote some of the first operas, and is considered the
first woman to have composed an opera. Plus, we will look at what women are writing today!

Composers in focus: 
 - Francesca Caccini (1587 – 1645)
 - Nkeiru Okoye

Playing It By Ear – Season 91

What are we doing next year?

Intriguingly I ask myself this question more than people ask it of me. Usually spring is filled with announcements of plans for the upcoming year but this year Eric and I made the decision that, instead of releasing the plans we had in place for the SSO’s 91st season, we’re going to play it by ear.

From the start of the pandemic we’ve been securely focused on two things: keeping everyone at the SSO safe and making sure we kept our musicians playing. I’m extremely proud that we’ve done both very successfully. It’s been an incredible amount of work and full of daily unpredictable stressors, but its also been a time of great growth and we’ve learned that when faced with the need to break the mold, we can!

Our industry got into the rhythm of long term planning decades ago. Orchestras typically plan a few years ahead in order to make sure they have a road map for programming, connect with guest artists, and keep the machine of production moving ahead.
But every time Eric and I have sat down to think about “next season”, we find ourselves faced with the reality that planning a season seems counter-intuitive right now.

We programmed our anniversary 90th season on the fly, sometimes having to adjust programming just days before a performance to ensure that the music allowed us to properly distance or meet protocols. What’s come from that is a very cool artistic energy. Rather than knowing months or years in advance of what’s to come next, we learned to create as we go.

The reality for our 91st season is that we don’t quite know what the pandemic will bring in the weeks and months ahead.

Last year in April, we still had a glimmer of hope that the fall would proceed…so if we’ve learned anything from this challenging year its that we have to remain on our feet, ready to adapt, and play it by ear.

We are looking forward to how exciting it will be to have a full orchestra on stage again, and even more thrilling to have it play to a packed house – but we are ready to wait until its safe to do so.

So, this spring there won’t be a launch of a season. No subscriber forms to fill out.

Don’t worry though – we’re keeping your seats for you. When the time comes, we’ll be ready for it – but for now we’ll wait until its safe to get the band back together. We’re already mapping out plans for fall that includes all sorts of variables – we’re attempting to address every scenario from a full stage and hall, to continuing to safely live stream. We know for sure that streaming is here to stay, and we’re busy at work right now to make our Digital Concert Stream more user friendly and more accessible for patrons old and new.

Improvised, adaptive, and nimble programming helped get us through this first year of the pandemic, and just like playing it by ear it’s made us a whole lot more creative!

Stay well and listen to good music,

Mark Turner
Executive Director

Bach in Books!

This spring we’re doing lots of great Bach related activities including Bach in Brandenburg and the online class On Bach’s Time – so we thought we’d give you some recommendations for books to fill your spring with even more Bach.

There’s lots of great books about JS, but these are ones folks at the SSO have read and recommended!


Music in the Castle of Heaven

by John Eliot Gardiner

Lifelong fans of Bach’s music will be thrilled to add this academic and richly illustrated volume to their shelves. Peppered with musical analyses and covering a wide spectrum of Bach’s life as a composer, this text is a deep dive into all things Bach. At times scholarly and at others subtle, this book provides the reader with the opportunity to familiarize themselves more fully with the period in which Bach created. Clocking in at almost seven hundred pages in length, this book is an ideal read for those seeking total immersion in the life and music of this legendary composer.



Harmony & Discord: 

by Julian Shuckburgh

Have you ever wondered what sort of mischief Bach got up to as a youngster? If so, then this book (which was carefully researched over a period of ten years) is definitely for you! One of the more impressive features of this text is its chronology of Bach’s compositions, the first definitive version to see publication. The biography itself has been described as “an impassioned, controversial, and personal portrait of the man who composed some of the most sublime music ever written, in spite of—or perhaps because of—a life blighted by tragedy.”




The Cello Suites: J. S. Bach, Pablo Casals, and the Search for a Baroque Masterpiece

by Eric Siblin

Easily the most unique book on the list, The Cello Suites was written after the author finished a ten-year career as a music journalist for the Montreal Gazette. Eric Siblin creates a narrative described as “part biography, part music history, and part literary mystery.” Chronicling Bach’s cello suites from the disappearance of their manuscript in the 1700s to their eventual reappearance in Barcelona, Spain, The Cello Suites will captivate classical music devotees and historical fiction lovers alike. The author’s passion for Bach’s suites for cello shine through the text’s insightful prose, establishing The Cello Suites as a must-read for anyone who delights in orchestral music and history. 

Where is Brandenburg exactly…

You might have heard about Bach’s Brandenburg Concerti, but how much do we know about the city that inspired their namesake? What happened before Bach presented the concerti to the city’s Margrave? What is a “Margrave”, anyway? Let’s delve into the historic past of this great city, from its founding to the 20th century…

In the beginning, Brandenburg was part of a region traditionally inhabited by an ancient people known as the Semnones. They lived there peacefully before being ousted in the 7th century by Slavic peoples who had settled to the East (themselves fleeing the influence of invading Huns and Avars who were in the midst of ransacking their country). These Slavic colonizers (known as Wends) had three hundred years of relative prosperity before a German king (referred to as Henry the Fowler) captured the capitol of Branibor during the 10th century.

In the years following occupation by German forces, the name of the capitol morphed from Branibor into Brennabor, finally becoming Brennaburg. An uprising allowed the Wends to drive the Germans out of Brennaburg, but soon after a new player joined the fight for conquest of the area: Lothar, duke of Saxony. He regained during a fierce thirty year campaign those areas lost by the troops of Henry the Fowler during the uprising. Lothar was eventually named German Emperor, and put a man named Albert the Bear in charge of Brennaburg and the surrounding area (the entirety of which was now referred to as the Northern March).

The descendants of Albert the Bear (known as the Ascanians) assisted in the founding of Berlin (then just a small township) and divided the Northern March into three sections: Old March (Altmark), Middle March (Mittelmark), and New March (Neumark). Each section of the Northern March was ruled by a specific dignitary, known as a margrave. These margraves steadily grew in power until 1356, when their titles received major a boost in influence: they were established as prince-electors, and were allowed to vote in the election of the Holy Roman Emperor. So Brennaburg became the Electorate of Brandenburg, and would hold that title for years afterward.   

The death of the last descendant of Albert the Bear brought about a period of chaos in the 1360s, and King Wenceslas of Luxembourg (yes, the same good king referenced in the winter carol) tried to keep the Northern March together. But the local nobility were growing in power, and the poorer were growing poorer by the day. Perhaps this is why King Wenceslas journeys out on a winter’s evening to bring alms to the poor in the holiday carol which bears his name.   

The year was 1415, and the Hohenzollern clan arrived to join the fray! Frederick of Hohenzollern was appointed elector by Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund to the Electorate of Brandenburg. Frederick’s son, known by his troops as Iron Tooth, got the nobles sorted out and kept peace in the towns while fighting off warring Pomeranians (the people, not the dogs).

Things really started developing in the Electorate of Brandenburg after Iron Tooth’s brother (Albert III Achilles) got the Pomeranians to settle down a bit. Roman law was introduced by Elector Joachim I, and hi son Joachim II made a daring deal with the Duke of Prussia which promised half of Prussia’s resources to Brandenburg if the Duke’s family tree should topple over. The Duke’s daughter Anna married Elector John Sigismund of Brandenburg, and the streets of the Electorate ran with Prussian gold upon Sigismund’s receipt of inheritance in 1618.   

And then it was the Thirty Years War, here to shake things up once again. Elector George William tried for neutrality, but failed. Invading Swedes held Brandenburg for several years before Williams’ son Frederick (who was known as the “Great Elector”) took back control. He then decided to try his hand at gathering as many local territories as possible. Minden, Kammin, Halberstadt, east Pomerania, and Magdeburg all joined the state of Brandenburg in quick succession.

As the leader of one of the most powerful states in Germany (rivalled only by Prussia and Austria), passed quite the legacy on to his son (also named Frederick). A military man from head to toe, young Freddy made quite a career for himself on the field of battle. He allied himself with other German princes to battle Louis XIV of France, and helped William of Orange out in his march on England in 1688.

As the year 1700 loomed, the Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I had a major problem on his hands: there was far too much competition for the throne of Spain, competition which was growing nastier by the day. Leopold I couldn’t intervene without more soldiers, so he decided to name Frederick III King of Prussia in exchange for the aid of 8,000 soldiers. Prussia couldn’t refuse this deal, as their dominion wasn’t technically a part of the Empire like Brandenburg was. So 1701 saw Frederick III crowned King in Prussia, and after this event Brandenburg added few territories and turned its attention towards supporting education and developing infrastructure.

Two centuries passed, and Brandenburg continued to flourish as a powerful independent state until being absorbed as a province of German Prussia after World War I. Prussia dissolved after World War II, which meant that every part of Brandenburg to the west of the mighty Oder River became a different part of Germany. When Germany became partitioned into East and West, Brandenburg was fractured into districts (similar to the days of the Northern March). Brandenburg was ultimately able to make a comeback in 1990 just before the toppling of the Berlin Wall. The reunification of East and West signaled a new era of prosperity for the city, which has continued right up to the present day.