By American Public Media
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Composers Datebook™ is a daily two-minute program designed to inform, engage, and entertain listeners with timely information about composers of the past and present. Each program notes significant or intriguing musical events involving composers of the past and present, with appropriate and accessible music related to each.
||CleanLoeffler and Anderson in Boston||Today we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in Boston (where else?), noting two musical premieres in that Celtic city. The first was in March of 1922, when Pierre Monteux conducted the Boston Symphony in the premiere of three of the “Five Irish Fantasies” by the German-born American composer Charles Martin Loeffler. These were settings for solo voice and orchestra of poetry by William Butler Yeats, and, for their Boston premiere, the vocalist was none other than THE great Irish tenor, John McCormack. In 1947, the Eire Society of Boston commissioned another American composer, Leroy Anderson, to write an “Irish Suite” for its annual Irish night at the Boston Pops. Anderson used six popular Irish tunes, ranging from the sentimental to the exuberant, for his suite… skillfully arranging them into an immediate hit and lasting success. Arthur Fiedler conducted the premiere during the Pops’ summer season that year.||3/16/2018||Free||View in iTunes|
||CleanMario Castelnuovo-Tedesco||On today’s date in 1968, a 72-year old Italian-born American composer named Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco died in Beverley Hills, California. As a young man, Castelnuovo-Tedesco was already known as a rising composer, concert pianist, music critic and essayist. In 1939 he left Mussolini’s Italy and came to America, and like a lot of European musicians of the time, he found work writing film scores for major Hollywood studios. Castelnuovo-Tedesco became an American citizen, and eventually taught at the Los Angeles Conservatory, where his pupils included many famous names from the next generation of film composers, including Jerry Goldsmith, Henry Mancini, Andre Previn, Nelson Riddle and John Williams. In addition to film scores, Castelnuovo-Tedesco composed a signifigant body of concert music, including concertos for the likes of Heifetz and Sergovia. One high point in the composer’s post-war career occurred in the 1960s, when his Shakespearean opera “The Merchant of Venice” was staged in both Italy and Los Angeles. A number of Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s works are directly related to his Jewish faith, including a choral work from 1947, entitled “Naomi and Ruth.” The composer’s mother was named Naomi, and he claimed the faithful Ruth in the Biblical story reminded him of his own wife, Clara. “In a certain sense,” he wrote, “it was really my symbolic autobiography, existing before I decided to write—to open my heart—in these pages.”||3/15/2018||Free||View in iTunes|
||CleanDohnanyi’s Second Symphony||Ernest von Dohnanyi’s Second Symphony was written during the closing years of World War II, begun during the German occupation of his native Hungary in early 1944, and finished after his flight to Vienna later that same year as Soviet troops advanced from the east. According to his wife, Dohannyi was so focused on the composition of this work, that on one occasion she had to tear him away from his desk to seek shelter during an Allied air raid. Dohnanyi was wrongly accused of being a Nazi sympathizer, even though he had resigned from the Liszt Music Academy and disbanded the Budapest Philharmonic rather than dismiss any Jewish musicians. His strong anti-Soviet views also made him persona non grata with the post-war Communist government in Hungary. Dohnanyi eventually found a new home in America, where he taught at Florida State University in Tallahassee. He and his wife became American citizens in 1955. Dohnanyi’s Second Symphony received its first performance by a semi-professional orchestra in London in 1948, but he revised it substantially for its American premiere on today’s date in 1957 by the Minneapolis Symphony under Antal Dorati. In its final movement, Dohnanyi quotes the Bach chorale, “Komm, Susser Tod” (Come, Sweet Death), and in program notes for the Minneapolis performance, quotes the Hungarian playwright Imre Madach: “The goal is death. Life is a struggle.”||3/14/2018||Free||View in iTunes|
||CleanPrevin's Violin Concerto||On today’s date in 2002, a new Violin Concerto received its premiere by the Boston Symphony. The soloist was the German violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter, with the new work’s composer, Andre Previn, conducting. Despite his French-sounding first name and his British honorary knighthood, Previn was born in Berlin, he came to the United States in 1939, and became an American citizen in 1943. Previn’s Violin Concerto has a kind of homecoming in its third movement, subtitled “From a Train in Germany.” Late in 1999, Previn had telephoned a birthday greeting to his manager back in New York while riding on a German train. That call prompted a suggestion that a musical work planned for Boston might reflect that train ride through the country of his birth. The 3rd movement also incorporates a German children’s song suggested by Anne-Sophie Mutter, one that Previn had known as a child in Germany. Autobiographical inferences throughout the Violin Concerto are also suggested by an inscription from T. S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets,” which reads: “We shall not cease from exploration/And the end of all our exploring/will be to arrive where we started/and know the place for the first time.” And, as if to underscore the autobiographical interplay of life and art, Mutter and Previn were married on August 1, 2002, five months after the premiere of “their” Concerto. That marriage (Previn’s fifth) ended four years later when the pair divorced in 2006, citing the 34 year difference in their ages as the cause.||3/13/2018||Free||View in iTunes|
||CleanArlene Sierra's beehive||The plight of honey bees and their possible extinction is much in the news these days, sad to say. Some attribute to Albert Einstein a quote that, “if the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, man would have only four years to live,” although most likely that’s a paraphrase of something Maurice Maeterlinck wrote in his 1901 book entitled “The Life of the Bee.” Bees show up in the concert hall on occasion, too. Think of Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee” from the 19th century and Arvo Pärt’s “If Bach Had Kept Bees” from the 20th. In the 21st century, this bee-inspired chamber work for 14 players by the American composer Arlene Sierra debuted on today’s date in 2009 at the Miller Theater in New York City. It’s titled “Colmena,” which means “beehive” in Spanish, and Ms. Sierra says, “Coloring this idea is a subtle nod to the stylized Franco-Iberian sound of early 20th century scores, with simmering energy and sweeping gestures,” and, “…the idea of a mass of insects hibernating, as beehives do each year, brought about the… exploration of a kind of buzzing repose.” An American composer based in London, Arlene Sierra’s music has been described over there as having (quote) “its own character, in which historical and contemporary influences are fused into a highly flexible and distinctive style,” while back home, a New York magazine called her music “spry, savage, sly and seductive.”||3/12/2018||Free||View in iTunes|
||CleanMagnus Lindberg||At the end of one of his parables, Jesus says, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” That’s also the spirit of a group called Ears Open, formed by Esa Pekka Salonen and Magnus Lindberg back when they were students at the Helsinki Academy, to raise the profile of new music in Finland. Years later, after Salonen became the music director of the LA Philharmonic, he gave Lindberg his first major American commission, a work called “Fresco,” which had its world premiere in Los Angeles on today’s date in 1998. In contrast to the chilly Northern landscapes of Finland, the title Fresco invokes much warmer places, and Lindberg has described it as reflecting both the ‘loud’ and ‘soft’ style of Indonesian gamelan ensembles, exotic percussion music designed for outdoor ceremonial purposes or for intimate indoor use. Both East and West Coast critics were impressed. The LA Times wrote: "Lindberg uses the orchestra as if it were one massive instrument full of ever-changing textures... the interplay of light and dark, of colors and textures, commands attention.” And, according to the New York Times: "Lindberg raises orchestral color to the level of line, rhythm, and counterpoint. ... Layers of timbre fall away and new ones are added, easing one episode smoothly into the next."||3/11/2018||Free||View in iTunes|
||CleanHaydn encored||These days if someone goes to all the trouble to write a symphony, they’re lucky to hear it performed at all—and it might be years before a second hearing. But back in 1791, when Haydn paid his first visit to England, Londoners were so enthusiastic about his new symphonies they asked for repeat performances as soon as possible. On today’s date in 1791, the work we know as Haydn’s Symphony No. 92 had its London premiere, and, “by particular desire,” as they phrased it back then, was repeated a week later and again the following month. And when Haydn paid a visit to Oxford University that summer to receive an honorary doctorate, he led a performance of this same symphony at Oxford’s Sheldonian Theatre. Ever since, this particular English favorite has been nick-named Haydn’s “Oxford” Symphony. Haydn, being a politically astute sort of chap, didn’t publicize to his British fans that one of their favorite symphonies was actually commissioned by a French Count who had sponsored a series of Haydn concerts in Paris some five years earlier. One wonders how the music-loving Count fared during the French Revolution, which was well underway in 1791. In any case, by 1794, when Haydn next paid a visit to London, England and France were at war, and Napoleon Buonaparte, the purported inspiration for one of Beethoven’s famous symphonies, was on the rise.||3/10/2018||Free||View in iTunes|
||CleanPaine in Boston||Following the successful premiere of his First Symphony in 1876, the New England composer John Knowles Paine finished a Second, to which he gave a German subtitle: “Im Fruehling” or “In Springtime.” In 19th century America, “serious” music meant German music, and “serious” musicians like Paine all studied in Germany. Returning home, Paine became the first native-born American to win broad acceptance as a symphonic composer, and, accepting a teaching post at Harvard, that school’s first professor of music. On today’s date in 1880, Paine’s “Spring” Symphony was premiered at Sanders Theater by the Boston Philharmonic, and warmly received by its first audience. You might even go so far as to say that the normally staid Bostonians went nuts. One critic who was present recalled that “ladies waved their handkerchiefs, men shouted in approbation, and the highly respected John S. Dwight, arbiter in Boston of music criticism, stood in his seat frantically opening and shutting his umbrella as an expression of uncontrollable enthusiasm.” Paine’s music remained tremendously popular in his own day. In 1883, George Henschel, then the conductor of the Boston Symphony, was sent the following poetic suggestion about his programming: Let no more Wagner themes thy bill enhance And give the native workers just one chance. Don’t give that Dvorák symphony a-gain; If you would give us joy, oh give us Paine!||3/9/2018||Free||View in iTunes|
||CleanPachelbel and his Canon||On today’s date in 1706, the German composer and organist Johann Pachelbel was buried in Nuremberg, the town where he was born some 53 years earlier. In his day, Pachelbel was regarded as something of a progressive—an innovative composer of Protestant church music and works for harpsichord and organ. Pachelbel was acquainted with the Bach family, and was, in fact, the teacher of the teacher of J.S. Bach, and served as godfather to one of J.S. Bach’s older relations. As famous as he was in his day, Pachelbel would be pretty much forgotten by most music lovers until late in the 20th century, when an orchestral arrangement of a little chamber piece that he had written would suddenly become one of the best-known, best-loved, and one of the most unavoidable classical themes of our time. In 1979, the American composer George Rochberg even included variations on Pachelbel’s famous Canon as the 3rd movement of his own String Quartet No. 6. Like Bach, some of Johann Pachelbel’s children also became composers, and one of them, Karl Teodorus Pachelbel, emigrated from Germany to the British colonies of North America. As “Charles Theodore Pachelbel,” he became an important figure in the musical life of early 18th century Boston and Charleston, and died there in 1750, the same year as J.S. Bach.||3/8/2018||Free||View in iTunes|
||CleanCarter's Last Premiere||At Carnegie Hall on today’s date in 2015, James Levine led the MET Chamber Ensemble in the first performance of a new work by the American composer Elliott Carter, who died in November of 2012, a month or so shy of what would have been his 104th birthday. The 2015 Carnegie Hall debut of “The American Sublime” marked the last world premiere performance of Carter’s 75-year-long composer career. Hearing Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” at Carnegie Hall in the 1920s inspired Carter to become a composer. A high school teacher introduced him to Charles Ives, who became a mentor. By the mid-1930s, Carter was writing music in the “populist modern” style, ala Copland, but during a year spent in the Arizona desert in 1950, Carter finished his First String Quartet—music uncompromising in both its technical difficulty and structural intricacy. "That crazy long First String Quartet was played in Belgium," Carter recalled. "It was played over the radio, and I got a letter from a coal miner, in French, and he said, 'I liked your piece. It's just like digging for coal.' He meant that it was hard and took effort." Carter’s music remains hard work for performers AND audiences, but increasingly both are taking up the challenge. This music is from a BBC Symphony recording of Carter’s Horn Concerto from 2006, a work completed when he was 98 years old.||3/7/2018||Free||View in iTunes|
||CleanBrahms in Vienna||Of all music lovers in the world, the Viennese are notorious for the passion with which they can despise celebrities one moment, and lionize them the next. Here, for example, is one music critic’s reaction to the 1886 Viennese premiere of the Symphony No. 4 by Johannes Brahms: “Conspicuous is the crab-like progress in the output of Brahms. It has, to be sure, never reached beyond the level of mediocrity, but such nothingness, emptiness, and hypocrisy as prevails throughout this E-minor symphony has not appeared in any previous work of Brahms in so alarming a manner. The art of composing without ideas has decidedly found in Brahms its worthiest representative. Just like the good Lord, Herr Brahms is a master at making something from nothing.” And yet, 11 years later, on today’s date in 1897, when this same symphony was performed again in Vienna—by the very same orchestra and conductor—each movement was greeted by prolonged cheers from the audience. Not only had the Viennese come to admire the music, but also the man—and they knew their beloved Herr Brahms was dying. And so, on March 7, 1897, when the gaunt and sickly composer attended a matinee performance of his 4th symphony at the Vienna Philharmonic’s Golden Hall, the audience took the opportunity to acknowledge him and his music for the very last time.||3/6/2018||Free||View in iTunes|
||Clean"The Handmaid's Tale" opera by Ruders||On today’s date in 2000, the Royal Danish Opera in Copenhagen gave the premiere of a new opera, “The Handmaid’s Tale,” based on a novel of the same name by Canadian writer Margaret Attwood. The book and opera tell of a nightmarish future: following a nuclear disaster in the United States, infertility rates have soared, and a religious sect has staged a military coup, enslaving the few fertile women who remain as breeders, or “handmaids,” for the military and religious commanders of their sect. Says Attwood, "There is nothing new about the society I depicted in The Handmaid's Tale except the time and place. All of the things I have written about have been done before—more than once, in fact." Despite its grim subject matter, Danish composer Poul Ruders says he saw "huge operatic potential" when he first read the book back in 1992. The heroine of his opera, a handmaid named “Offred,” can still remember life before the disaster, and, through a series of flashbacks and monologues, recounts a tale of hope and suffering—emotions not foreign to many other classic operas of the past. The original production in Copenhagen was sung in Danish, but Ruders says he conceived the work in English. The opera was staged in that language first in London at the English National Opera, and subsequently, at the opera’s American premiere, in St. Paul by the Minnesota Opera, to great critical acclaim.||3/5/2018||Free||View in iTunes|
||CleanShostakovich and his "Leningrad" Symphony||The Russian city of Kuibyshev on the Volga river east of Moscow might seem an unlikely site for an important symphonic premiere. But from 1941 to 1943, Kuibyshev was the temporary capital of the Soviet Union. As German and Finnish troops advanced from the west, the Russian government and its cultural institutions moved east. Among the refugees relocated to Kuibyshev were the Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra from Moscow and the composer Dimitri Shostakovich from Leningrad. And so, on today’s date in 1942, that unlikely city was the venue for the world premiere of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 7, subtitled “Leningrad.” In 1942, the Soviet Union was America’s ally in the war against Hitler, and Shostakovich’s new symphony was enlisted as a major propaganda tool. A microfilm copy of the new score was flown from Kuibyshev to Tehran, then transported by car through Iran, Iraq, Jordan and Palestine to Cairo, then flown to Brazil for transfer by the U.S. Navy to New York. The American premiere was given on July 19, 1942, by the NBC Symphony under Arturo Toscanini. Less than a month later, on August 9, 1942, the “Leningrad” symphony was even performed in the besieged and starving city of Leningrad. The few musicians still capable of performing were given extra rations to keep up their strength, and, to ensure a measure of quiet during their performance, a Russian artillery commander ordered an intensive artillery bombardment on the enemy troops surrounding the city.||3/4/2018||Free||View in iTunes|
||CleanStrong's "Sintram" Symphony||On today’s date in 1893, a New York Philharmonic concert at Carnegie Hall featured the premiere of a big new symphony by a 37-year old American composer and New York native named George Templeton Strong, Jr. This was a pretty big deal at a time when the Philharmonic regularly played new works from Europe, but paid little attention to what Americans were composing. As the Philharmonic’s program book put it, somewhat defensively: “The acceptance of a work for performance is to a certain extent a declaration that it belongs to the very best class of contemporaneous literature according to the unbiased judgment of those who are entrusted with these concerts.” Strong’s Symphony No. 2, subtitled “Sintram,” was inspired by a literary work of that name depicting the victory of good over evil. The New York Times review gave it high marks, praising the composer’s imagination and mastery of instrumentation, but ventured to suggest that a few cuts might be welcomed by future audiences, as the new symphony WAS a tad long and unremittingly serious in tone. Still, the Times gave the opinion that Strong belonged to “the front rank of living composers.” Strong himself was not present. He was in Switzerland, a country he was soon to adopt as his permanent home. His absence on the American scene caused his music to be largely forgotten, but recently there has been a revival of interest in this late Romantic expatriate composer.||3/3/2018||Free||View in iTunes|
||Clean"Parsifal" in New York||The German composer Richard Wagner tried to limit performances of his final opera, “Parsifal,” to his own theater in Bayreuth, hoping it would provide a source of income for his family after his death. “Parsifal” premiered at Bayreuth in 1882, and after Wagner died the following year, his widow forbade rental of the music for performances elsewhere. Naturally, Wagner enthusiasts all over the world were eager to hear the new work. One of them was a German-born American named Walter Damrosch, who, at the tender age of 23, was the head of both the New York Symphony and Oratorio Society, and a conductor at the Metropolitan Opera, to boot. While visiting London in 1885, Damrosch had bought a miniature score of “Parsifal.” The purchase gave him no right to perform the work, but he discovered the fine for doing so was only 50 pounds, and so he hired copyists to prepare orchestral parts for a performance in America. On today’s date in 1886, Damrosch gave a concert performance of “Parsifal” at the old Metropolitan Opera House. Among his vocal soloists, Damrosch even managed to book soprano Marianne Brandt, one of the original Bayreuth cast members. Unfortunately for Damrosch, Anton Seidl, a close friend of the Wagner family had just been hired as the new music director of the Met. Seidl apparently took offense at Damrosch’s audacity, and as long as Seidl was in charge at the Met, he limited Damrosch to the NON-Wagnerian repertory!||3/2/2018||Free||View in iTunes|
||CleanOne of Our Favorite Things?||On today’s date in 1965, the now-classic and mega-iconic musical film “The Sound of Music” officially debuted at the Rivoli Theater at Broadway and 49th Street in New York City. Since we at COMPOSERS DATEBOOK are notorious for mentioning “little known facts,” let us state in our best Cliff Clavin manner, that the first test audiences to see the film did so in fly-over country—first in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and subsequently in Tulsa, Oklahoma, about a month before the film’s New York debut. The Midwestern audiences were ecstatic, and director Robert Wise knew he would have a hit on his hands when his film starring Julie Andrews opened on Broadway, not far from where the stage version, starring Mary Martin, had originally debuted back in 1959. The 1965 New York Times film review was a little snarky—well, what else is new? It began by referring to (quote) “the perceptible weakness of its quaintly old-fashioned book” and the show’s “cheerful abundance of kirche-küche-kinder sentiment,” grudgingly admiring, “the generally melodic felicity of the Richard Rodgers-Oscar Hammerstein score,” and ended by opining, “Businesswise, Mr. Wise is no fool.” Indeed, Mr. Wise’s film won five Oscars and displaced “Gone with the Wind” as the highest-grossing film of all-time. Its songs are known by heart by most of us—thanks chiefly to Mary Martin and Julie Andrews, of course, but also to others ranging from John Coltrane to Stephen Hough to Lady Gaga.||3/1/2018||Free||View in iTunes|
||CleanDebussy in Boston||In Twelfth Night, one of Shakespeare’s characters brags: “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” None of those happened to Claude Debussy, however, when his symphonic suite “La Mer”–“The Sea”–had its American premiere on today’s date in Boston in 1907. It was, as they say, a tough crowd… composed of “easily discomfited dowagers, quiet, academically-minded New England music lovers, and irascible music critics.” That’s the description of musicologist Nicholas Slonimsky, who collected notably bad reviews in his notably excellent “Lexicon of Musical Invective.” Other reviews of “The Sea” included lines like: “Frenchmen are notoriously bad sailors, and we clung like a drowning man to a few fragments of the tonal wreck.” Another said: “Debussy’s music is the dreariest kind of rubbish. Does anybody for a moment doubt that Debussy would not write such chaotic, meaningless, cacophonous, ungrammatical stuff if he could invent a melody?” An even more graphic critic said: “It is possible that Debussy did not intend to call it 'La Mer,' but 'Le Mal de Mer,' which would at once make the tone-picture as clear as day. It is a series of symphonic pictures of seasickness. The first movement is Headache. The second is Doubt, picturing moments of dread suspense... The third movement, with its explosions and rumblings, has now a self-evident purpose: The hero is endeavoring to throw up his boot heels!”||2/28/2018||Free||View in iTunes|
||CleanPizzetti in New York||For most music lovers, the phrase “Italian composers of the 19th and 20th centuries” means first and foremost OPERA composers. But during the 1920s and 1930s, when the great Italian opera conductor Arturo Toscanini was music director of the New York Philharmonic, American audiences heard many non-operatic, symphonic works by modern Italian composers. On today’s date in 1929, for example, Toscanini led the New York Philharmonic in the world premiere performance of the “Concerto dell ‘estate” or “Summer Concerto of the contemporary Italian composer, Ildebrando Pizzetti. And one year later, almost to the day, Toscanini and the Philharmonic premiered another Pizzetti orchestral work, his “Venetian Rondo.” In addition to premieres by Pizzetti, New York audiences heard recent Italian symphonic works by Respighi, Tommasini, Martucci, Busoni, Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Wolf-Ferrari, and others. Absent from Toscanini’s New York programs were new works by the rising American composers of the day. There were no Toscanini premieres—or even performances—of works by Copland, Hanson, Harris, or Piston. Those composers had to look to the Boston Symphony under Serge Koussevitzky if they wanted a hearing. The American composer Daniel Gregory Mason complained in 1931 that the New York Philharmonic was run by “fashion-enslaved, prestige-hypnotized minds... totally devoid of any American loyalty to match the Italian loyalty” that was, as Mason put it, “rather likeable” in the charismatic Italian maestro.||2/27/2018||Free||View in iTunes|
||CleanViktor Kalabis||Today’s date marks the birthday of a 20th century Czech composer you perhaps have never heard of. Viktor Kalabis was born in 1923 and by age 6, was giving public piano performances. All the signs pointed to a brilliant career in music. But Kalabis would face – and surmount -- two major political hurdles. First, his formal musical studies were delayed by the Nazi occupation of his country in 1938, when he was forced into factory work. Even so, he found time to conduct a choir, perform in a local trio, and take lessons in composition. After the war, Kalabis completed his studies in Prague, where he met and married a young harpsichordist named Zuzana Ruzickova, who was a concentration camp survivor. Victor was a Gentile, but in Stalinist Czechoslovakia, anti-Semitism was rampant and marrying a Jew was frowned upon. To make matters worse, both Victor and Zuzana refused to join the Communist Party, hardly what one would call “a smart career move” in those years. Despite that, Kalabis began to attract commissions and performances of his music at home and abroad. Following the 1989 Velvet Revolution, and before his death in 2006, Kalabis assumed a more prominent position in his country’s musical life. His symphonies, concertos, and chamber works reflect his admiration for both Igor Stravinsky and his Czech compatriot Bohuslav Martinu, and are now regarded as some of the most important contributions to Czech music in the late 20th century.||2/26/2018||Free||View in iTunes|
||CleanChopin debuts in Paris||On today’s date in 1832, the Polish pianist and composer Frederic Chopin made his concert debut in Paris at the Salle Pleyel. Among the enthusiastic audience members was another composer-pianist by the name of Franz Liszt, who would rapidly become Chopin’s close friend and advocate. Chopin dedicated his recently completed Piano Etudes, Op. 10, to Liszt, and once wrote to a friend these lines: “I am writing without knowing what my pen is scribbling, because at this moment Liszt is playing my etudes and putting honest thoughts out of my head. I should like to rob him of the way he plays them!” The failure of the Polish Insurrection of 1831 had driven a large number of Polish refugees to Paris, where they joined émigré groups of Italians and Austrians who had also fled political repression at home for the more liberal, welcoming atmosphere of the French capitol. Chopin was in the midst of a concert tour in Austria and Germany when he heard of troubles back home, and, more by accident than design, found himself cut off from his native land. Increasing ill-health and crippling stage fright made Chopin’s public concert appearances in Paris rare events. When Chopin did perform in public, he liked to share the stage with a sympathetic singer like Pauline Viardot-Garcia, or a fellow pianist like Liszt. Despite his fame, Chopin’s concert appearances in Paris numbered less than a dozen.||2/25/2018||Free||View in iTunes|
||CleanMichael Daugherty's "Brooklyn Bridge"||“Pssst… Hey buddy—wanna buy a bridge?… No? Well, how about a Clarinet Concerto, then?” As most of us know, the Brooklyn Bridge is not for sale, but this New York icon has reputedly been sold to many unsuspecting visitors. After its opening in 1883, Harper's Monthly wrote, "The wise man will not cross the bridge in five minutes, nor in twenty, [but] will linger to get the good of the splendid view about him." The American composer Michael Daugherty did just that, and came up with a concerto for clarinet and wind ensemble. Daugherty’s “Brooklyn Bridge” concerto was commissioned by the International Clarinet Association, and was premiered in 2005 by clarinetist Michael Wayne and the University of Michigan Symphony Band, first in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and then, on today’s date, at Carnegie Hall during the national convention of the College Band Directors National Association. “Like the four cables of webs of wire and steel that hold the Brooklyn Bridge together,” says Daugherty, “my ode to this cultural icon is divided into four movements: East (Brooklyn and Brooklyn Heights); South (Statue of Liberty); West (Wall Street and the lower Manhattan skyline); and North (Empire State Building, Chrysler Building, and Rockefeller Center). In the final movement, I imagine Artie Shaw, the great jazz swing clarinetist of the 1940s, performing with his orchestra in the once glorious Rainbow Room on the sixty-fifth floor of the Rockefeller Center.”||2/24/2018||Free||View in iTunes|
||CleanGrieg's "Peer Gynt" premieres||Early in the year 1874, Norway’s greatest playwright penned a letter to Norway’s greatest composer, a letter that read in part: “Dear Mr. Grieg! I am intending to adapt Peer Gynt for stage performance. Would you be willing to compose the necessary music?” The letter was signed Henryk Ibsen. Two years later, on today’s date in 1876, Ibsen’s “Peer Gynt” premiered at Norway’s Christiania Theater with the requested music by Grieg. Excerpts from Grieg’s incidental music, arranged into concert suites, rapidly became some of his best-known and best-loved works. Oddly enough, Grieg himself complained that Ibsen’s play was quote “the most unmusical of subjects,” and that working on the project had become a nightmare for him. While Grieg’s music is famous around the world, the story-line of Ibsen’s play remains largely unfamiliar to music lovers. It’s ironic that Grieg’s music for “Peer Gynt” is perceived as being quintessentially Norwegian, when the story line of Ibsen’s play takes its hero on travels all across the globe. For most music lovers, the famous excerpt titled “Morning Mood” might evoke the sun rising over the snowcapped peaks surrounding a Norwegian fjord—but in the context of Ibsen’s play, in fact, it’s the prelude to a scene set in the North African desert!||2/23/2018||Free||View in iTunes|
||CleanDanny Elfman at Carnegie Hall||The American composer Daniel Robert (Danny) Elfman is best known for writing the opening theme of the wildly popular "The Simpsons" animated TV series and for scoring movies directed by his friend Tim Burton and others. But on today’s date in 2005, Elfman had, for him, a rather unusual experience—namely, hearing some of his music played live at Carnegie Hall when the American Composers Orchestra gave the premiere performance of “Serenada Schizophrana,” his first-ever foray into composing a symphonic concert work. In notes for a subsequent recording of the piece, Elfman said: “I’ve always had visuals to drive my orchestral music… As I’d never done anything like this before, figuring out how to begin was daunting. I began several dozen short improvisational compositions… Slowly, some of them began to develop themselves until finally I had six separate movements that, in some abstract, absurd way, felt connected… I more or less let the movements take themselves wherever they wanted to go in a kind of musical stream of consciousness (which, with the way my brain works, was not a very smooth stream).” Hearing the work at Carnegie Hall, Elfman concluded, was “a thrilling and surreal experience.” But, being a practical sort of fellow—or simply because stream of consciousness is such a “fluid” process of creation—Elfman retroactively re-purposed some of his “Serenada Schizophrana” as the soundtrack for 2006 IMAX film entitled “Deep Sea 3D.”||2/22/2018||Free||View in iTunes|
||CleanLowell Liebermann||In recounting the life story of many composers, it’s a familiar and perhaps Romantic cliché that their work will be—as a matter of course—NOT appreciated by their contemporaries, and that the composer in question will have to toil years in obscurity before his or her music is appreciated by performers and audiences. In reality, we’re happy to report, this isn’t always the case. Consider, for example, the American composer Lowell Liebermann, who was born in New York on today’s date in 1961. At the age of sixteen, the premiere performance of his Piano Sonata No. 1 at Carnegie Hall resulted in a number of prizes and awards. By the time he reached his thirties, Liebermann’s work was being commissioned and championed by some of the leading performers of our time, and the young composer was producing on average about six major works a year. For James Galway, Liebermann composed a Flute Concerto in 1992, and the success of that work prompted another concerto for Flute and Harp in 1995. Liebermann’s two-act opera “The Picture of Dorian Gray” was the first work that the Monte Carlo Opera commissioned from an American composer. In 1998, Liebermann was appointed composer-in-residence with the Dallas Symphony, and that orchestra premiered his Symphony No. 2 in February of the year 2000, and, in a symbolic Millennium gesture, simulcast their performance on the World Wide Web.||2/21/2018||Free||View in iTunes|
||CleanCowell for winds||Henry Cowell was one of the most prolific of all 20th century American composers. Some of his works are aggressively experimental in nature, while others tap into folk traditions and world music. The range and variety is quite remarkable. Cowell wrote so many works, in fact, that even the composer himself often had trouble keeping track of all he had written. Take his genial Suite for Woodwind Quintet, for example. It was written in the early 1930s for the great French flute virtuoso Georges Barrère, who commissioned and premiered many new works involving his instrument. In 1934, Barrère even made a recording of the Suite for New Music Quarterly, a publishing venture bankrolled by none other than the retired insurance executive and part-time composer Charles Ives. After that recording, Cowell went on producing new works, and the manuscript of his Woodwind Quintet remained with Barrère, who apparently just filed it away. The music didn’t surface again until 1947, when it was discovered among the late musician’s collection of scores. On today’s date in 1948, Cowell’s Woodwind Suite received its first concert performance at Columbia University in New York City, and quickly established itself as one of Cowell’s most popular works.||2/20/2018||Free||View in iTunes|
||CleanBach and Handel on a date?||Today’s date in the year 1724, a cantata of Johann Sebastian Bach was performed in Leipzig. February 20th fell on a Sunday that year, and, as part of his first annual cycle of sacred cantatas as the Cantor of St. Thomas Church in Leipzig, Bach’s cantata No. 22 was heard as part of the Sunday service. Meanwhile, on February 20 th that same year, London audiences at the King’s Theater in the Haymarket heard the premiere performance of a new Italian opera seria by George Frideric Handel, “Giulio Cesare in Egitto” or, in English, “Julius Caesar in Egypt.” How revealing, and typical, to find Bach in church and Handel in the theater, on the very same date—but NOT, is it turns out, on the same DAY. In 1724, Bach’s Germany kept track of dates under the Gregorian calendar we use today, but in Handel’s England, the older Julian calendar was still use, and in that reckoning of time, February 20 fell on a Thursday. In fact, Handel’s February 20th premiere would have occurred on a day Bach would have known as March 2nd. It wasn’t until 1752 and close to the end of Handel’s creative life that England adopted the same calendar that Bach used then and we use now. In the 18th century, it seems, you didn’t need an Albert Einstein to remind you that time is a very RELATIVE concept!||2/19/2018||Free||View in iTunes|
||CleanThe Sibelius Sixth||On today’s date in 1923, the great Finnish composer Jean Sibelius conducted the premiere performance of his Symphony No. 6 in Helsinki. He had begun work on it some five years earlier, and at that time described his vision for the symphony as follows: “The Sixth Symphony is wild and passionate in character. Gloomy with pastoral contrasts. Probably in four movements with a finale, which will build to a gloomy, wild romp of the orchestra in which the main theme disappears.” Well, that may have been the composer’s original idea, but the final product turned out quite different, and the late musicologist Michael Steinberg offers a more spot-on description: “The Sibelius Sixth is transparent, pastoral, lyrical, and notably even-tempered—a sanctuary fashioned out of music.” In the pecking order of popularity, the Second and Fifth of Sibelius’s seven symphonies rank at the top, with his First becoming more and more performed these days. The Fourth and Seventh, both very strange, enigmatic works, probably come next in order of popularity, with the genial Third symphony following those two. That leaves the Sibelius Sixth in last place with the public. But let’s close with another comment from the always perceptive Mr. Steinberg, who wrote: “To this day the Sixth remains the least known (or understood) of the seven symphonies, and yet for those who make its full acquaintance, the Sixth may become the most cherished of them all.”||2/18/2018||Free||View in iTunes|
||CleanBerlioz uses his imagination||Some things are best left to the imagination—at least that’s what the French Romantic composer Hector Berlioz came to think regarding opera. Berlioz didn’t have the best of luck getting his operas staged during his lifetime, and, on the few occasions he did, the resulting performance fell far short of his ideal. Increasingly Berlioz turned to what might be called the “Theater of the Imagination,” composing concert works that were for all intents and purposes really operas minus the staging and costumes. One of these “operas in disguise,” which Berlioz called “a dramatic legend,” premiered in 1846, was entitled “The Damnation of Faust,” and was based on the famous Faust plays of the German poet and playwright Goethe. Like many of Berlioz’s works, “The Damnation of Faust” proved an artistic success—but a box office failure—at its premiere as an unstaged concert piece at the Opera Comique in Paris. Some five decades later, on today’s date in 1893, an impresario named Raoul Gunsbourg decided to revive “Damnation of Faust” as a fully staged opera. As Faust, he enlisted the aid of the greatest opera tenor of that day, Jean de Reszke. This staged version at the Monte Carlo Opera proved such a success that in short order it was mounted on stages in Milan, Moscow, and Liverpool, and even reached the shores of America, courtesy of the French Opera in New Orleans.||2/17/2018||Free||View in iTunes|
||CleanLee Hoiby||Today’s date marks the birthday of the American composer and pianist Lee Hoiby, who was born in Madison, Wisconsin, in 1926. Hoiby was just six when he made his debut as a composer in the parlor of his Madison home for his grandmother’s Daughters of Norway Club. He played a piano piece he wrote himself entitled “The Storm,” and insisted, before playing it, that all the lights in the parlor be turned off to set a proper mood for the music. With that early sense of dramatic staging in mind, it’s not surprising that Hoiby eventually would write successful operas, ranging from “Bon Appetit!,” a monolog based on cook books of Julia Child, to a full-blown, three-act setting of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.” His best-known known opera is a 1971 setting of the Tennessee Williams play “Summer and Smoke,” which premiered at the St. Paul Opera in Minnesota. Hoiby studied with two virtuoso pianists, Gunnar Johansen and Egon Petri, both famous interpreters of the modern Romantic composer Feruccio Busoni, and Hoiby’s own music seems rooted in the later Romantic/early Modern tradition. “For me, composing music bears some likeness to archeology,” said Hoiby. “It requires patient digging, searching for the treasure; the ability to distinguish between a treasure and the rock next to it—and recognizing when you're digging in the wrong place.” Hoiby died on March 28, 2011, aged 85, in New York City.||2/16/2018||Free||View in iTunes|
||CleanCorigliano at 80||He was warned. He was given an explanation. Nevertheless, he persisted. That’s pretty much the story of how John Corigliano, Junior became a famous American composer. Corigliano’s father, John Corigliano, Senior, was the concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic from 1943 to 1966, and when Junior said he wanted to become a composer, his dad tried to warn him off. Corigliano Junior recalls: “He did everything he could to discourage me. He knew firsthand that the composer was the lowest man in the musical hierarchy. ‘Performers don’t want to bother with your work, and audiences don’t want to hear it. So what are doing it for?’ he would say.” After graduating from college, John Junior got a teaching job and made ends meet by working at classical music radio stations, producing recordings for Columbia Masterworks, and assisting Leonard Bernstein with his Young People’s Concerts. He also persisted in composing. In 1964, one of his early chamber works, a Sonata for Violin and Piano, was premiered in Italy at the Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto. It won a chamber music prize, and its success helped launch young Mr. Corigliano as a composer to watch. Since then, Corigliano. has been awarded the Grawmeyer Award, five Grammys for recordings of his music, an Oscar for “Best Film Score,” and the Pulitzer Prize. On today’s date, composer John Corigliano, Jr. is celebrating his 80th birthday. Congratulations, and here’s a toast to persistence!||2/15/2018||Free||View in iTunes|
At last, from my email to my iPod
I have enjoyed this as an email for a long time. It's good to see it as a podcast. As always, I wish the music portion would be longer.
As a music student in college and a young composer, I find this podcast to be very informative. If you enjoy this podcast, you should check out Naxos' Classical Music Spotlight Podcast as it goes more in depth (average length of 20 minutes).
This is a wonderful snippit. I always enjoy it. I also wish the music portion was longer. Maybe it's just long (short?) enough for many people. I have followed through on many of the works mentioned.