Hearts floating in the sky with sheet music

Music of Love Concert Theme

Today I want to talk about one of the most versatile concert themes: The subject of love. The reason I like these types of themes is because it can span all genres and all time periods, with one connecting thread. This means you have nearly infinite options when putting together a concert program, but you also have focus to keep from getting overwhelmed.

This article is a discussion of the specific pieces I performed for a concert with a Love theme, including links to the scores in case you’d like to play the same concert yourself. As noted above, there are many, many more options for this theme so feel free to mix and match!

Here is a video of my performance of this complete concert. You can also sign-up to get a free printable of the program notes by subscribing to my email list!

1. Liebersträum S. 541, No. 3 in A-flat Major, “Notturno” by Franz Liszt

Portrait of composer Franz Liszt
Franz Liszt

In 1850 Liszt wrote three Liebersträume, which means “Dreams of Love”, each set to a different poem. This is the third and most famous of the three pieces, set to the poem “Notturno” by Ferdinand Freiligrath.

As a general rule, piano music by Liszt is considered to be some of the most difficult in the repertoire. Luckily this piece is on the slightly less difficult side. It does have two very virtuosic runs, but the piece is still beautiful even if those sections aren’t played as brilliantly as I’m sure Liszt played them.

2. Intermezzo No. 2 in A Major, from Klavierstücke, Op. 118 by Johannes Brahms

Portrait of composer Johannes Brahms
Johannes Brahms

Brahms composed a set of six pieces in 1893 dedicated to Clara Schumann, with whom he was in love. Unfortunately, she was married to composer Robert Schumann, who was also a good friend of Brahms’. Historians disagree about whether Brahms and Clara ever acted on this love, especially since they continued to be close friends for the next 30 years after Robert died in a psychiatic hospital in 1856.

Still, it is clear how Brahms felt about Clara. He is quoted as writing to her, “I wish I could write to you as tenderly as I love you and tell you all the good things that I wish you.” His love for her can also be heard in this very romantic Intermezzo.

This is a deceptively difficult piece, but also fascinating to play. Brahms interweaves several different musical ideas, placing them at times in the treble and at times in the bass, at times in the melody and at times in the accompaniment. It’s a bit of an Easter egg hunt to find them all, and once you do, bringing them out makes for a beautifully rich performance.

3. “Ah, Love, but a day!” from 3 Browning Songs,Op. 44, No. 2 by Amy Beach

Portrait of composer Amy Beach
Amy Beach

Although still not as well-known as her male counterparts, and despite considerable adversity from her mother and husband, Beach was the first successful American female composer of large-scale art music. In 1900 she composed a set of three songs based on poetry by Robert Browning.

It’s unfortunate that this piece and many others of the same composer are so difficult to find. Hopefully in the future there will be more emphasis on highlighting female composers throughout history and a new publication of these wonderful pieces will be released.

4. “À Chloris” from 20 Mélodies, Book II by Reynaldo Hahn

Portrait of composer Reynaldo Hahn
Reynaldo Hahn

This beautiful piece, composed in 1913 by a composer originally from Venezuela, is considered to be a work of musical “time travel”. Set to a poem by the French Baroque poet Théophile de Viau, the piece takes on a somewhat Baroque feeling itself, in large part due to the use of the bassline of Bach’s ‘Air on the G-String’.

The piano accompaniment of this work is so lovely, I’ve often played it on its own without the voice part at all! So that’s an option for you in case singing isn’t part of your musical toolbox right now.

5. “Song of Love” in Db Major, from 6 Piano Pieces, Op. 7, No. 1 by Josef Suk

Portrait of composer Josef Suk
Josef Suk

Another lesser-known composer, Suk’s musical style was greatly influenced by his mentor and friend, the very famous Romantic composer Antonin Dvořák. This piece was written while he was married to Dvořák’s daughter, Otilie, and is thought to reflect his love for her.

I hadn’t heard of this composer before beginning my research on music with a love theme. It’s so fun to discover new, unfamiliar composers and see what they’re all about. This piece is beautiful in its richness, often fluctuating between darkness and light.

6. “Pas de Deux” from The Nutcracker, Op. 71, Act II (piano transcription) by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Scene 14

photo of composer Tchaikovsky
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

In ballet a “Pas de Deux” is a dance for two people, typically a man and a woman, and often symbolic of a love story or the partnership inherent in love. In the ballet ​The Nutcracker​, the Pas de Deux comes toward the end of Act II, and is danced by the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier, Prince Coqueluche, as part of the festivities welcoming Clara and the Nutcracker Prince to the Land of Sweets.

This very famous ballet was composed in 1892 and is most commonly enjoyed during the holidays since the story takes place on Christmas Eve. However, much of the gorgeous music from this work, such as the one you will hear today, stands well on its own and is too good to be limited to only a certain time of year!

If you clicked on the music link for this, you may have noticed it’s a 70-page pdf! That’s because it’s the entire Act II of the ballet. Many of those pieces are wonderful, but if you want this specific one, it’s on page 128 (46 of the pdf document).

Encore: “We Will Be Together” from World Songs, Vol. I by Forrest Kinney

This is a beautiful song by a wonderful composer from the Pacific Northwest who composed prolifically during the 20th and 21st centuries. It’s from a book of songs he composed in collaboration with tenor Kevin Helppie, all set to English translations of ancient texts from around the world. This specific one is set to text from Ancient Egypt. It goes to show that love truly is universal throughout time and space.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this added information to enrich your listening experience. Through the single theme of “love”, this program connects music through wide ranges of space including Egypt, Russia, Europe, South America, and the United States. Though most of the music is set in the Romantic period, there are hints at Baroque, text from Ancient Egypt, and a composer from the 21st century slipped in seamlessly, thus spanning an enormous range of time as well. 

This shows that love truly is universal, transcending time and space, touching our lives and hearts wherever and whenever we are.

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Heidi has been involved in music in one way or another for most of her life. She studied music composition in college, has taught piano, voice, composition, ear training, and guitar, and has worked as a piano tuner and technician. Before the pandemic she loved playing concerts at retirement communities, bringing the joy of music to those populations. She is currently working on learning more about the connection between music and healing.

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