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.
||CleanBeyond "The Planets" with Gustav Holst||On today's date in 1874, the English composer Gustav Holst was born in Cheltenham. He was christened "Gustavus Theodore von Holst," and his early works were published under that name, but he removed the Germanic "von" after World War I broke out in 1914. At the Royal College of Music, Holst studied composition with Sir Charles Villiers Stanford and became the close friend of his fellow student Ralph Vaughan Williams. For a time, Holst earned his living by playing trombone in theater and light music ensembles, and later played with a British opera company and toured with the Scottish Orchestra. In 1905, he took on a teaching post at the St. Paul's Girls' School in Hammersmith, a post he kept until the end of his life. He took his teaching duties seriously, and only composed on weekends or during his summer vacations. It took him two years to write his most popular work, the orchestra suite "The Planets," whose success baffled and dismayed Holst. "If nobody likes your work," he argued, "you have to go on just for the sake of the work, and you are in no danger of letting the public make you repeat yourself." True to his word, Holst disappointed many of his most ardent admirers, who kept hoping he'd write another big orchestral showpiece like "The Planets." He died in London in 1934.||9/20/2017||Free||View in iTunes|
||CleanBeeson at the opera||On today's date in 1975, the Kansas City Lyric Theater opened its 18th season with the world premiere performance of a new opera by Jack Beeson entitled "Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines." As if to prove that everything IS "up-to-date" in Kansas City, even BEFORE this world premiere, this Missouri company could boast a long tradition of staging contemporary operas by American composers, and they continue to do so to this day. "Captain Jinks" was the sixth of some ten operas composed by Jack Beeson, who was born in Muncie, Indiana, in 1921. Beeson says the radio broadcasts of the Metropolitan Opera are to blame for his catching the opera bug. "When I was about 12," says Beeson, "the Met started regularly broadcasting on Saturday afternoons, and I was seduced. With what spending money I had, I bought scores, and I would place the score up on the piano, and with a little radio on the piano and a big radio across the room, I would accompany the Met." In addition to "Captain Jinks," some of Beeson's other operas include, "The Sweet Bye and Bye" from 1957, "Lizzie Borden" from 1965, and "Sorry, Wrong Number" from 1999. In addition to his career as an opera composer, Beeson taught for many years at Columbia University in New York City, mentoring hundreds of his composition students.||9/19/2017||Free||View in iTunes|
||CleanVaughan Williams at Westminster||On today’s date in 1958, just nine days after his death, a funeral service was held for the great 20th century British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams at Westminster Abbey in London, where his ashes were laid to rest. Now, thousands of famous people are buried at Westminster Abbey, but an actual funeral service there, especially for someone not of the royal family, is pretty rare. In fact, Vaughan Williams was the first commoner to be buried there for almost 300 years. The previous funeral for a commoner had been for the great 17th English composer and sometime organist of the Abbey, Henry Purcell, whose grave, like Vaughan Williams, is in the Abbey’s north choir aisle, should you wish to pay your respects. Vaughan Williams had left instructions for the music to be played, which included his anthem “O taste and see,” sung while his ashes were interred, and also his setting of the hymn, “All people that on earth do dwell,” written for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, which had taken place at Westminster Abbey just five years earlier, in 1953. The service was broadcast live by the BBC, and the announcer noted that if all the submitted requests to attend had have been honored, the Abbey would have been filled twice over.||9/18/2017||Free||View in iTunes|
||CleanElgar's Fifth||On today's date in 1930, at a recording session in Kingsway Hall in London, the British composer Sir Edward Elgar conducted the first performance of his "Pomp and Circumstance March No. 5," the last in this popular series. Two of the previous marches had been dedicated to organist friends of the composer, and so when organist Percy Hull asked Elgar for a new work for the 1930 Hereford Festival, he might just have had his fingers crossed for luck. In any case, he got what he wanted, and the "Pomp and Circumstance March No. 5" is dedicated to him. In 1930, Elgar was 73 years old and he liked to go for drives in the country. Hull had given Elgar some driving lessons. Appropriately enough, just the year before, Elgar got the idea for the musical themes of his new march while riding through the countryside with a friend. Elgar suddenly asked for something on which he could jot down his ideas. All the driver could produce was an Ordnance Survey map of Worcestershire—so on its margins the first notes of Elgar's new march were scribbled. The march proved to be one of his last new orchestral works. Elgar planned to write a sixth "Pomp and Circumstance" March, a kind of soldier's funeral march, he said, but Elgar himself died in 1934.||9/17/2017||Free||View in iTunes|
||CleanHildegard von Bingen, 12th century "New Ager"||On today's date in the year 1179, in the German convent of Ruppertsberg near Bingen, an 81-year-old abbess named Hildegard breathed her last. The 12th century was a time of great accomplishments in art, religion, and human thought, a kind of medieval Renaissance, and Hildegard of Bingen was one of the most remarkable women of that remarkable time. She recorded the precise moment when her life became a part of that reawakening: "When I was 42 years and seven months old," she writes, "a burning light of tremendous brightness coming from heaven poured into my entire mind, like a flame that does not burn but enkindles. All at once I was able to taste of the understanding of books—the Psalter, the Evangelists, and the Books of the Old and New Testaments." Hildegard of Bingen expressed her new awareness in music, and soon became famous throughout Europe as a major religious visionary and writer. She is one of the earliest Western composers we know by name, and left as her legacy a large body of highly original music. Largely forgotten for centuries by all but medieval specialists, in the late 20th century some recordings of Hildegard's music sparked renewed interest in her life and music, and her very old music seemed destined to resonate in a very new age.||9/16/2017||Free||View in iTunes|
||CleanShostakovich on Broadway?||On today's date in 1925, Vincent Youman's musical "No, No Nanette" opened on Broadway. The show had premiered in Detroit on April 21, 1924, and then had gone on to enjoy successful productions in Chicago and London before reaching New York City. So popular were some of the tunes from "No, No Nanette" that they even reached the Soviet Union, although occasionally something was lost in the translation. For example, in Russia, the musical's popular foxtrot, "Tea for Two," was called the "Tahiti Trot." Late in 1927, on a dare from the conductor Nikolai Malko, the 21-year old Soviet composer Dimtri Shostakovich orchestrated this tune in just one hour. Malko was so pleased with the result that he performed the orchestration the following year, and Shostakovich, who had a soft spot for musicals and operettas, incorporated the "Tahiti Trot" into his new ballet, "The Age of Gold." Just three years later, however, Soviet authorities apparently decided that the foxtrot was just one more vestige of Western decadence, and Shostakovich was quickly moved to disassociate himself from anything remotely connected to Broadway. His name even appeared on an open letter suggesting, "Only after thorough and widespread educational work on the class essence of light music will we succeed in liquidating it from Soviet society." In other words, "Nyet, Nyet!" to "Nanette!"||9/15/2017||Free||View in iTunes|
||CleanHenry Brant, "Marxist?"||Today is the birthday of Henry Brant, born in Montreal in 1913 to American parents. In 1929, his family moved to New York, and young Henry studied composition with Wallingford Riegger and George Antheil, exponents of the then-current modernist and experimental trends in music. Brant came of age during the Great Depression, however, and has said that in the 1930s avant-garde composers were faced with some hard choices. They could stop composing altogether, write for commercial films and radio, or simplify their cutting-edge music to make it more accessible to the general public. Satiric and comic music was also an option, and some of Henry Brant's early works fall into that category. One 1938 chamber piece by Brant is entitled "Hommage aux Freres Marx," subtitled "Three Faithful Portraits." The portraits in question are of Chico, Groucho, and Harpo, the wildly popular "Marx Brothers" comedy team of the 1930s. By the 1950s, Brant became fascinated with "spatial music"–the antiphonal brass choirs of the Renaissance composer, Giovanni Gabrieli, or the spectacular choral works of the Romantic composer, Hector Berlioz, involving groups of performers positioned at different spots in a concert hall or performing space. Brant began composing original works of his exploring this option. Brant's "Ice Fields" for pipe organ and a symphonic orchestra, scattered at different spots around the concert hall, won for its 88-year old composer the Pulitzer Prize for music in 2002.||9/14/2017||Free||View in iTunes|
||CleanTan Dun and Beethoven -- in (and out) of China||On this date in 1973, Eugene Ormandy conducted the Philadelphia Orchestra in music by Mozart, Brahms, and the American composer, Roy Harris. The program itself was nothing out of the ordinary, but the concert happened to take place in Beijing in the People's Republic of China. That concert marked the FIRST time an American symphony orchestra had performed in Communist China. The orchestra was invited to China following the famous visit of President and Mrs. Nixon and secretary of state Henry Kissinger. In the audience for one of the Philadelphia Orchestra's subsequent concerts was a young student of traditional Chinese music named Tan Dun. When Tan heard the Philadelphians perform Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, a work he had never heard before, he decided then and there to become a composer himself. In 1986, Tan Dun came to New York City, but rather than abandoning his Chinese roots, he managed to combine elements of East and West into his own musical works. In 1987, for example, he composed this work: a violin concerto entitled "Out of Peking Opera," which draws on both Chinese and European traditions. His work since then has won both critical and popular acclaim. In addition to prestigious awards and commissions from major foundations and orchestras, in March of 2001, Tan Dun won an Oscar for his film score to the Ang Lee film, "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon."||9/13/2017||Free||View in iTunes|
||CleanCopland counts to 12||On today's date in 1967, Aaron Copland's final orchestra work, entitled "Inscape," was premiered by Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor during a pre-season concert tour by the orchestra. Copland said the work's title "Inscape" was borrowed from the 19th century English poet Gerard Manley Hopkins. Its compositional technique was borrowed from the serial or 12-tone models of Arnold Schoenberg and the some of the late works of one of Copland's favorite composers, Igor Stravinsky. Leonard Bernstein himself was no great fan of 12-tone music, but he exclaimed to Copland following the premiere, "Aaron, it's amazing how, even when you compose in a completely foreign idiom, the music STILL comes out sounding like you!" Beyond the technical challenge involved, "Inscapes," said Copland, reflected what he called "the tenseness of the times in which we live." Copland's experiments with 12-tone pieces like "Inscape" didn't impress the avant-garde composers of the day, and only baffled audiences who expected him to produce more works in the style of his popular ballet scores of the 1930s and 40s. By 1970, Copland decided to stop composing altogether, and claimed not to miss it very much. "I must have expressed myself sufficiently," he said.||9/12/2017||Free||View in iTunes|
||CleanMilhaud and Bernstein in Venice||Have you ever been to Venice? A good number of the 20th century's greatest composers have—for decades they routinely visited that city's famous canals and churches during a biennial music festival that showcased brand-new works by the likes of Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Britten, and others. The French composer Darius Milhaud describes sharing space with several of his composer-colleagues in a cramped Festival "green room." "It was a normal sight to see Stravinsky's rain-coat and Constant Lambert's tweed overcoat hanging near my two walking sticks," writes Milhaud. "Meanwhile, the Italian composer Hildebrando Pizetti would be putting up a mirror, opening a silver toilet-case, and arranging flowers, his wife's photograph and a sheaf of telegrams." On today's date in 1937, Milhaud conducted the first performance of his "Suite Provencale" at the Venice Festival. This jaunty score proved to be one of his most popular orchestral works. In 1954, it was Leonard Bernstein's turn. On today's date that year, he conducted in Venice the premiere performance of his "Serenade" for violin and orchestra, with Isaac Stern the featured soloist. Like Milhaud's "Suite Provencale," Bernstein's "Serenade" has become one of that composer's most frequently programmed concert works. Despite its admirable track record for picking winners, the Venice Festival shut down operations in 1973, although its impact lives on in the number of modern masterworks it helped launch in its day.||9/11/2017||Free||View in iTunes|
||CleanDvořák's "Luzany" Mass||In 1886, a Czech patron of the arts named Josef Hlavka had a new chapel built at his summer residence at Luzany in Western Bohemia, and asked his composer friend Antonin Dvořák to write a mass to dedicate it. As a devout Catholic, Dvořák was happy to oblige. Since the Luzany chapel was quite small, Dvořák wrote his "Mass in D Major" for a quartet of soloists, a small choir, and organ, and led the premiere performance at the chapel on today's date in 1887, with his wife Anna singing one of the solo roles. Dvořák told Hlavaka that he was grateful for the chance to write so intimate a piece. "For until now," wrote Dvořák, "I had only written sacred works of larger proportions with considerable vocal and instrumental means at my disposal." In fact, Dvořák's international reputation had been made based on large-scale choral works like his "Stabat Mater," which was performed to great acclaim in London's immense Royal Albert Hall some ten years earlier. Ironically, Dvořák's intimate "Luzany Mass" became popular as just such a large-scale work. At the request of his publisher, Dvořák orchestrated his "Mass," and in that form it received its international premiere in 1893 at the immense Crystal Palace in London, performed by a huge chorus and a large symphony orchestra. The published orchestrated version became extremely popular during Dvořák's lifetime, but his small-scale original version was not even published until 1963.||9/10/2017||Free||View in iTunes|
||CleanCowell's "Hymn and Fuguing" tunes||The American composer Henry Cowell, who lived from 1897 to 1965, wrote thousands of musical works in a wide variety of styles. As a young boy, Cowell lived near San Francisco's Chinatown, so Asian influences are as likely to crop up in his music as European models. And among Cowell's aggressively experimental works are a number of piano pieces that employ what he called "tone clusters"—piano chords played with a fist or forearm. These pieces piqued the interest of European composers like Bartók and Janáček, but in addition to these strikingly avant-garde scores, Cowell wrote dozens of conventionally tonal works, often hauntingly beautiful. In 1941, Cowell discovered a collection of evocative 19th century American hymns titled "Southern Harmony." These reminded him of even earlier works by the 18th century American composer William Billings, who liked to write vocal works he called "Fuging Tunes." Combining these two influences, Cowell came up with his own series of over a dozen "Hymns AND Fuguing Tunes" for various combinations of instruments. Today, these rank among his best-known works. Cowell's "Hymn and Fuguing Tune No. 10" for oboe and strings, for example, was premiered on today's date in 1955, in Santa Barbara, California, by oboist Bert Gassman and the Pacific Coast Music Festival orchestra, conducted by Leopold Stokowski.||9/9/2017||Free||View in iTunes|
||CleanA Fanfare for the Kennedy Center||On today's date in 1971, the Concert Hall at the newly opened Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., was inaugurated with a gala performance by the National Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Antal Dorati, its Music Director back then. The National Symphony, or NSO, was founded in 1931, and until the opening of the Kennedy Center, had used Constitution Hall as its home base. Not surprisingly, considering its location in our nation's capital city, the NSO has had a long tradition of performing, commissioning, and premiering works by American composers. Through the John and June Hechinger Commissioning Fund, the NSO has commissioned more than 50 works, including cycles of fanfares. One of these, entitled "Fanfare for the Kennedy Center," was written by American composer Ron Nelson in honor of the Center's 25th anniversary in 1996. Leonard Slatkin, who began as the NSO's Music Director that year, has this to say about the composer: "Nelson is the quintessential American composer. He has the ability to move between conservative and newer styles with ease. The fact that he's a little hard to categorize is what makes him interesting." For his part, about his "Fanfare for the Kennedy Center," Ron Nelson offered these words: "It's a musical epiphany that moves from darkness to light… from idea (French horns) to fruition (full brass)."||9/8/2017||Free||View in iTunes|
||CleanDavis? Davies? Or Mavis?||Today is the birthday of the British composer Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, who was born in Manchester on this date in 1934. Now, his name is spelled D-A-V-I-E-S, so most Americans tend to pronounce it "Day-VEES," even though "Davis" is the common British rendering of the name however it's spelled. Once, when Sir Peter was in the U.S. touring with the BBC Philharmonic, a British journalist called a Las Vegas hotel where the composer was staying and asked to speak to Peter Maxwell DAVIS. The receptionist said there was no one there by that name. Asked to spell the name, the British journalist did. "Oh, Day-VEES!" said the receptionist. "Sorry, there is no one registered by that name either." It turned out the hotel computer has somehow compressed Maxwell Davis into "Mavis" and THAT was how Sir Peter was registered. He found the whole incident so amusing that he wrote an orchestral tone-poem entitled "Mavis in Las Vegas," fantasizing that somehow he had a female alter-ego in that city, perhaps earning her living as a leggy Vegas showgirl. Well, stranger things have happened… In addition to the whimsical "Mavis in La Vegas," Maxwell Davies composed a number of symphonies, concertos, and operas, often inspired by the bleak Northern land- and seascape of the Orkney Islands—a locale about as far removed from Sunset Strip as you can get!||9/7/2017||Free||View in iTunes|
||CleanA 40-voice birthday greeting from Tallis?||On today's date in 1573, Queen Elizabeth the First celebrated her 40th birthday. Now, according to some musicologists, the Queen received as a birthday gift THIS music—a Latin motet for 40 voices by Thomas Tallis titled "Spem in alium," which translates as "Hope in All Things." The music-loving monarch was certainly fond of Tallis, and rewarded him with special gifts and privileges—despite the fact that Tallis remained a steadfast Roman Catholic throughout her reign. And remember, in the late 16th century, being a Roman Catholic in Protestant England was hardly the "politically correct" path to career advancement! In fact, other musicologists contend that this famous 40-voice motet was ACTUALLY written for the coronation of Elizabeth's predecessor, the CATHOLIC queen Mary Tudor. Still other music historians say: "No no—the motet was commissioned by a patriotic British nobleman, who challenged Tallis to write a work as good as—or better—than a contemporary Italian composer's 40-voice motet." The truth is: We just don't know for sure what compelled Tallis to compose this intricate and glorious music. We do know that in a dangerous time for ANYONE with strong religious convictions, Tallis lived to the ripe old age of 80. He was buried in a parish in Greenwich, and it's said his tombstone's epitaph read: "As he did live, so he did die—in mild and quiet sort (O happy Man!)"||9/6/2017||Free||View in iTunes|
||CleanA "well-Krafted" concerto?||Consider, if you will, the poor timpanist. At most symphony concerts, he (or she) has to sit quietly—waiting for the moment when a dramatic "thwack" is called for from the kettledrums. While the violinists in the orchestra rarely get a break, the timpanist must sit patiently for most of the evening, biding his time, waiting for one or two precise moments to strike. On rare occasions, however, the timpanist is the center of attention, functioning as the soloist in a timpani concerto. One of these concertos was written by an American composer, William Kraft, who was born on this day in 1923. Kraft—perhaps not surprisingly—just happens to have been a timpanist himself. In fact, Kraft served as a percussionist and timpanist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic for 26 years, from 1955-1981. He was that orchestra's first composer-in-residence, and founded the LA Philharmonic's first New Music Group. William Kraft's "Timpani Concerto" was written in 1983 for timpanist Thomas Akins of the Indianapolis Symphony, who premiered the work with that orchestra in 1984. Kraft's own description of his Timpani Concerto is as follows, "The first movement is very jazzy, with a lot of big-band motifs. The second movement is very beautiful, with two string orchestras and a lot of glissandi, and the third is hell-bent for leather."||9/5/2017||Free||View in iTunes|
||CleanProkofiev's String Quartet No. 2||During the summer of 1942, as the German Army was overrunning Russia, the Soviet government evacuated important artists to remote places of safety. Composer Sergei Prokofiev, for example, found himself in the little town of Nalchik, in the Kabardino-Balkaria Autonomous Republic, nestled in the foothills of the northern Caucasus Mountains about 1000 miles away from the front. Prokofiev was intrigued by the region's folk music, and, taking a break from a big project to turn Tolstoy's novel War and Peace into an opera, composed his String Quartet No. 2, based on local tunes. The new work was, as he put it, "a combination of virtually untouched folk material and the most classical of classical forms, the string quartet." Its three movements are all based on local songs and dances, and Prokofiev took care not to smooth out any roughness in the original material. At times, Prokofiev has his quartet players imitate familiar folk instruments like the accordion, but in the middle section of the second movement, they imitate the more exotic sound of the kemange, a Middle-Eastern style fiddle. Prokofiev's new string quartet received its premiere performance back in Moscow, at a concert given by The Beethoven Quartet, the Soviet Union's most famous quartet at the time. The start of their performance was delayed due to a German air raid. The new music was well-received, and Prokofiev, perhaps with the air raid in mind, supposedly called the premiere "an extremely turbulent success."||9/4/2017||Free||View in iTunes|
||CleanTchaikovsky and Glass at the movies||For ballet lovers, this Tchaikovsky score immediately conjures up tutus and white swans. But for old-time movie buffs, this same music might instead trigger memories of vintage black-and-white films of the 1930s. Back then, the eerie opening measures of Tchaikovsky's "Swan Lake" ballet served as the generic "main title" music for dozens of old Universal Studios thrillers, including the famous 1931 Tod Browning version of Bram Stoker's novel, Dracula, starring Bela Lugosi as the Transylvanian vampire. "Ah, the children of the night—what music THEY make…" On today's date in 1999 at the Telluride Film Festival in Colorado, Tchaikovsky got some competition from the contemporary American composer Philip Glass. For a festival showing of the classic film, Glass wrote not only a new main title theme, but also brand-new music for the REST of Tod Browning's film. Beyond the opening Tchaikovsky, the original "Dracula" soundtrack had included very little music, and, despite the creepy charisma of Bela Lugosi, by modern standards, the film moved at a ponderous pace. The new Philip Glass score, performed live by the Kronos String Quartet, helped add some fresh atmosphere and mystery to the familiar old film. In fact, it proved so effective that, following its Telluride premiere, Glass and the Kronos Quartet took the new score on a tour, accompanying live showings of the old film in Europe and the U.S.||9/3/2017||Free||View in iTunes|
||CleanBeethoven's "Razumovsky" Quartets||On today's date in 1806, Ludwig van Beethoven sent a letter to his German publisher Breitkopf and Härtel announcing that he could send them, if they liked, three new strings quartets—works we know today as the three "Razumovsky" Quartets that were eventually issued as Beethoven's Opus 59. In Beethoven's day, Vienna was swarming with Russian, Polish, and Hungarian aristocrats with a taste for music. Among them was Count Andreas Kyrilovich Razumovsky, the Russian ambassador to Vienna. The count was himself a good amateur violinist who occasionally played second violin in a string quartet he maintained at his own expense. The count commissioned Beethoven to write three string quartets, stipulating that they should incorporate Russian melodies, real or imitated. The most recognizable of the Russian tunes Beethoven employed occurs in the scherzo of the second quartet: It's the same theme that was later quoted by Mussorgsky in the big coronation scene of his opera "Boris Godunov." When these "Razumovsky" Quartets were premiered in Vienna in 1807, one contemporary review noted that (quote): 'Three very long and difficult Beethoven quartets… are attracting the attention of all connoisseurs. They are profoundly thought-through and composed with enormous skill, but will not be intelligible to everyone." In fact, when one Italian violinist confessed to Beethoven that he found them incomprehensible, Beethoven allegedly retorted: 'Oh, they are not for you, but for a later age.'||9/2/2017||Free||View in iTunes|
||CleanE. J. Moeran||On today's date in 1948, at a BBC Proms concert at the Royal Albert Hall, the London Symphony gave the premiere performance of the "Serenade in G Major" by the British composer Ernest John Moeran. E.J. Moeran was born in 1894 in a London borough, but most music-lovers associate him with Ireland, since that country became his adopted home and his musical inspiration during the last decades of his life. Moeran was fascinated by folksongs, and his preferred method of collecting them was to sit in a country pub and wait until an old man started singing. He would note down the song and ask for more. In the 1920s, Moeran became the friend and drinking companion of another British composer, music critic, and fellow folk song aficionado Peter Warlock, a talented but rather notorious character who was the model for the outrageously Bohemian and somewhat shady composer depicted in Anthony Powell's string of novels collectively titled "A Dance to the Music of Time." Warlock's most famous piece of music was his "Capriol Suite," an affectionate reworking of Renaissance tunes, and Moeran's "Serenade in G," similar in tone, was perhaps intended as a tribute to his old boon companion. In any case, Moeran's 1948 "Serenade" proved to be last major work, as the composed died suddenly two years later, at age 55, in his beloved Ireland.||9/1/2017||Free||View in iTunes|
||CleanMozart "dissed" by Dittersdorf?||On today's date in 1785, Wolfgang Mozart dedicated his six latest string quartets to his friend and older colleague, Joseph Haydn. Earlier that year, Haydn heard some of these quartets performed at a private concert in Vienna. Leopold Mozart, Wolfgang's father, was also present, and must have been over the moon when, after the performance, Haydn told him, "Before God and as an honest man I tell you that your son is the greatest composer known to me either in person or by name." The six quartets Mozart dedicated to Haydn were published by the Viennese firm Artaria, and generated some much-needed income for Wolfgang. Whether they sold well enough to make money for their publisher as well is another matter. Three years later, one of Mozart's lesser contemporaries, Karl Maria von Dittersdorf, offered Artaria six of HIS string quartets at the same price they paid Mozart, with a note that read, "I am certain you will do better with MY quartets than you did with Mozart's, which deserve the highest praise, but which, because of their overwhelming and unrelenting artfulness, are not to everyone's taste." Apparently Mozart's quartets were regarded as a little too "brainy" to suit the public taste. Well, Dittersdorf's quartets may have sold better in the 1780's, but these days, performers and audiences have pretty much decided that Mozart's "unrelenting artfulness" appeals more to contemporary taste than Dittersdorf's sugary confections.||8/31/2017||Free||View in iTunes|
||CleanJohann Strauss, "right" and "left"||The "Radetzky March" is undoubtedly Johann Strauss Senior's most famous work. Its performance has become obligatory at the annual New Year's concert of the Vienna Philharmonic—it's the piece that involves audience participation in the form of a "clap along." The premiere performance of this familiar music took place on today's date in the year 1848. Few people outside of Vienna know that this music had a distinct political subtext in Strauss's day, and not everyone back then was clapping along. Field Marshall Radetzky was the commander of the Austrian forces that put down "insurgent democrats" in Italy during the revolutions of 1848, and, as such, became a counter-revolutionary hero in Europe. The premiere of the "Radetzky March" occurred at a concert attended chiefly by monarchists and the Austrian military, and the tune quickly became the unofficial anthem of the Austrian military and ultra-conservatives—the "far right" of that time. Curiously enough, Johann Strauss Junior held diametrically opposite political sympathies from his father. The younger Strauss even wrote a "Revolution" March and in 1848 his Viennese orchestra once dared play the "far left" French anthem, the "Marseillaise," which got him into trouble with the authorities. By the end of the 19th century, however, the bloody political troubles of 1848 were diplomatically swept under the collective Austrian carpet, and Johann Strauss Junior's "Blue Danube" Waltz became the unofficial anthem for ALL Austrians, right, left and center.||8/30/2017||Free||View in iTunes|
||CleanBarber's "scandalous" Overture||On today's date in 1933, the Philadelphia Orchestra was performing at its summer home at Robin Hood Dell. Conductor Alexander Smallens led the world premiere performance of a new work by a 23-year-old composer named Samuel Barber. It was his first orchestral composition to have a major public hearing, but oddly enough, young Mr. Barber himself was not in attendance. Barber was in Europe that summer, and so missed the premiere of his Overture to "The School for Scandal," a musical romp inspired by the 18th century English Restoration comedy of the same name by Richard Sheridan. Even before he had left the Curtis Institute of Music, where he pursued a triple major in piano, composition, and voice, Barber had begun winning prizes that enabled him to study abroad. Until the outbreak of the Second World War, Barber's musical career was quite Euro-centric. His "School for Scandal" Overture, in fact, was written in Italy in 1931. Barber's First Symphony premiered in Rome in 1936, and the following year was played by the Vienna Philharmonic at the 1937 Salzburg Music Festival. That led to stateside performances and commissions from conductors like Bruno Walter and Arturo Toscanini. Barber's international career, like that of many other American composers, was temporarily put on hold by the War and by a three-year stint in the U.S. Army.||8/29/2017||Free||View in iTunes|
||CleanSaariaho at the Proms||Say the phrase "BBC Proms Concert" to most music lovers, and they'll probably conjure up a mental image of the rowdy "Last Night of the Proms"—an event at which normally staid and reserved Britons don funny hats and make rude noises during Sir Henry Wood's arrangement of British sailor songs. But the raucous "Last Night of the Proms" is only the festive finale of several weeks of fairly serious music making: dozens of concerts covering a wide range of old and new music From the very beginning of the Proms in 1895, Sir Henry, who started the whole thing, had this specific agenda: "I am going to run nightly concerts to train the public in easy stages," he explained. "Popular at first, gradually raising the standard until I have created a public for classical AND modern music." On today's date in 1996, for example, violinist Gidon Kremer premiered this brand-new violin concerto by the Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho at a BBC Proms concert. The new concerto had an unusual title—"Grail Theater." "I like the unusual combination of these two words," explained Saariaho, "because it represents two such different things. One is the search for the Grail, and the other side is the theatrical aspect. I feel that the concerto situation is very much comparable to a theater, and the main person in this theater piece is the violin."||8/28/2017||Free||View in iTunes|
||CleanGershwin's operatic flop||The life story of George Gershwin usually runs something like this: an incredible string of successes is cut short by Gershwin's tragically early death. On today's date in 1922, George Gershwin suffered one of his rare flops when his one-act opera "Blue Monday" opened and closed on the same day. For five years, beginning in 1920, Gershwin had provided the music for an annual Broadway review entitled "The George White Scandals." The impresario Mr. White provided the money and the leggy showgirls, Mr. Gershwin the catchy tunes and light-hearted dances. But in 1922, Gershwin was eager to try something different: a modern, jazz-age version of an Italian verismo opera. The plot was simple: he does her wrong, and then she shoots him. Since it was a jazz opera, the characters were supposedly all blacks, but for the 1922 premiere, the cast was all white, made up in blackface. The reviews were devastatingly bad—one critic suggesting the soprano with the pistol should have shot all the rest of the cast before ANYONE had a chance to sing. Mr. White read the reviews the next day, and pulled "Blue Monday" from his revue before it could have a second performance. A concert revival by the Paul Whiteman band at Carnegie Hall in 1925, and a 1953 CBS-TV production with an all-black cast didn't fare all that much better, and "Blue Monday" is rarely mounted today.||8/27/2017||Free||View in iTunes|
||CleanRameau's "Pygmalion"||Around this time in 1956, the hot ticket on Broadway was for a musical based on the old Greek legend of Pygmalion, a sculptor so good that he fell in love with one of his beautiful female statues. The playwright, George Bernard Shaw, had updated the legend to modern-day London, with Pygmalion transformed into Professor Henry Higgins, and the beautiful female statue, a Cockney flower girl named Eliza Doolittle. In 1956, the Broadway team of Lerner and Loewe had in turn transformed Shaw's play into the smash Broadway musical, "My Fair Lady." But 208 years before all that, on today's date in the year 1748, another very successful musical adaptation of the Pygmalion legend opened in Paris. This "Pygmalion" was an opera-ballet by the great French Baroque composer, Jean-Philippe Rameau. Rameau was born in 1683, two years earlier than Bach and Handel, but unlike them, was something of a late bloomer. Rameau was 50 before he became famous, and his opera-ballet "Pygmalion" opened shortly before his 65th birthday. In this work and many others, Rameau prefigured Wagner's desire to integrate myth, music and dance into a theatrical whole. Rameau was also famous for imitating natural sounds and noises in his music. One of Rameau's contemporaries, in praising the overture to "Pygmalion," even suggested the repeated notes of Rameau's theme represented the chipping of Pygmalion's chisel as he worked on his lovely creation.||8/26/2017||Free||View in iTunes|
||CleanMartinu's "Frescoes"||Piero della Francesca was a 15th century Renaissance painter, whose series of frescoes entitled "Legend of the True Cross" inspired one of the best orchestral works of a 20th-century Czech composer named Bohuslav Martinu. In 1952, Martinu made a trip to the Tuscan hill town of Arezzo, where he saw the frescoes and got the idea for a new symphonic work that would attempt to capture in music what Piero had captured in painting. "If a composer tries to represent a picture in music," said Martinu, "his work is often considered merely descriptive, and somehow outside the range of pure music." What Martinu sought to capture was, as he put it, "a kind of solemn, frozen silence and opaque, colored atmosphere… a strange, peaceful, and moving poetry." Even so, Martinu did link the first movement of his 3-part score to one Tuscan fresco showing the Queen of Sheba and some women kneeling by a river; and the second to another depicting the dream of the Emperor Constantine. The third and final movement was intended, in Martinu's words, as "a kind of general view of the frescoes, calling attention to some battle scenes and many other fascinating details." Martinu's orchestral triptych, entitled "The Frescoes of Piero della Francesca," received its premiere performance on today's date at the 1956 Salzburg Festival in Austria, with the Vienna Philharmonic led by the eminent Czech conductor, Rafael Kubelik.||8/25/2017||Free||View in iTunes|
||CleanBernstein asks a musical question in Moscow||On today's date in 1959, Leonard Bernstein celebrated his 41st birthday in Moscow. The New York Philharmonic was embarked on an extensive world tour, which included three weeks in the Soviet Union. Their August 25th concert proved controversial, offering two works of Igor Stravinsky, a composer still condemned in the Soviet Union as "bourgeois" and "decadent." Even more daring, Bernstein opened his concert with "The Unanswered Question," a short piece by the American composer, Charles Ives. Even worse, Bernstein broke traditional Soviet protocol by talking directly to the audience through an interpreter, explaining Ives' philosophy of allowing several components of his score their own separate tempos and rhythms, which, in performance, came together in a kind of planned unpredictability. The enthusiastic audience response after the Ives led to it being encored. This really upset the Soviet authorities, and the music critic of the Ministry of Culture wrote, "Before this four-minute piece Bernstein spoke for six minutes. Only the good manners of the hospitable public resulted in a ripple of cool applause. Nevertheless, the conductor, setting modesty aside, himself suggested that the piece be repeated." Now, even the Tass news agency had reported that the enthusiastic audience had insisted on the encore. Even though furious at what he called "an unforgivable lie," Bernstein was persuaded to respect the local customs and to forgo any further controversial lectures from the podium for the remainder of the Soviet tour.||8/24/2017||Free||View in iTunes|
||CleanClaude Goudimel, Huguenot||We tend to think OUR time has had a monopoly on political assassinations and bitter religious conflicts, but all that flourished as well in the 16th and 17th centuries, when Catholic and Protestant nobility often used religion to justify their turf wars and power struggles. On today's date in 1572, which happened to be St. Bartholomew's Day, the Catholic queen dowager of France, Catherine de Medici, and her son, King Charles IX, decided that the best way to rid their kingdom of troublesome Protestants would be simply to kill them off. A few days earlier, Catholic and Protestant nobles from across France had come to Paris to attend a noble wedding which, ironically, was intended to bring the rival religious factions closer together. Things quickly turned ugly, and on the 24th of August the infamous "Massacre of St. Bartholomew" began and quickly spread across the entire country. Among those who perished was the composer of this music, a French Protestant named Claude Goudimel, who was killed when the massacre reached Lyons. Fortunately for posterity, not ALL Reformation era rulers were so bloodthirsty. The English Catholic composer Thomas Tallis managed to keep his head through the reigns of alternating Catholic and Protestant monarchs, and the Protestant Queen Elizabeth the First admired and supported the music of William Byrd, despite his openly Catholic sympathies.||8/23/2017||Free||View in iTunes|
||CleanHadley, Thompson, et. al. in the Berkshires||Tanglewood is one of America's most famous summer-time classical music festivals, and can boast a long and impressive list of premieres and performances by famous American composers and conductors. It takes place each year around this time in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts. Tanglewood has been the Boston Symphony Orchestra's summer home for more than 60 years, but it wasn't the symphony's first location in the Berkshires. In August of 1936, the first in a three-concert series was performed at Holmwood, a former Vanderbilt estate. And, in fact, the origins of this annual Festival actually began not with the Boston Symphony, but with the New York Philharmonic, which, on today's date in 1934 inaugurated the Berkshire Symphonic Festival in Stockbridge. That summer-time concert series was led by the American composer and conductor, Henry Hadley. When the New York Philharmonic dropped the series two years later, the Boston Symphony picked up on the idea. In short order, the great Russian-born conductor of the Boston Symphony, Serge Koussevitzky, moved the festival to Tanglewood and expanded the concert series into a kind of intensive summer camp for young musicians and composers. Among those who particularly benefited were two young composer-conductors named Leonard Bernstein and Lukas Foss. In 1940, the Berkshire Music Center (now the Tanglewood Music Center) opened, and to mark the occasion, American composer Randall Thompson's famous choral work titled Alleluia received its premiere performance.||8/22/2017||Free||View in iTunes|
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).
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.
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.