Composers Datebook

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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 accessibl…

American Public Media


    • Jan 20, 2022 LATEST EPISODE
    • daily NEW EPISODES
    • 2m AVG DURATION
    • 634 EPISODES

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    Latest episodes from Composers Datebook

    Hindemith's Symphonic Metamorphosis

    Play Episode Listen Later Jan 20, 2022 2:00

    Synopsis In 1940, the choreographer Léonide Massine, approached composer Paul Hindemith, with the idea of having him arrange pieces by the 19th century Romantic composer Carl Maria von Weber into a ballet score.  At first Hindemith was intrigued, but Massine wanted straight arrangements and Hindemith wanted to write something original in the spirit of Weber, so the ballet idea was scrapped. Oh well, what Hindemith finally did come up with turned out to be one of his most successful and popular orchestral works, a piece entitled “Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Carl Maria von Weber,” which received its premiere performance on today's date in 1944 at a New York Philharmonic concert conducted by Artur Rodzinski.Now, Hindemith had a reputation for being serious and rather “Germanic,” so The New York Times critic had a little fun with that image of the composer, writing:“Sometimes [Hindemith's] counterpoint has been as busy and energetic as the works of an automobile – and as meaningless. Sometimes it has been thick and overstuffed in its style. This metamorphosis employs counterpoint as a matter only incidental to the gay development of ideas, and there is sunshine in every nook and cranny of the transparent, debonair score.” Music Played in Today's Program Paul Hindemith (1895 - 1963) – Symphonic Metamorphosis (San Francisco Symphony, Herbert Blomstedt, cond.) London/Decca 421523)

    A Fanfare for JFK

    Play Episode Listen Later Jan 19, 2022 2:00

    Synopsis When boomers wax nostalgic about the Kennedy Administration, it's Lerner & Loewe's musical “Camelot” they start to hum. After all, “Camelot” opened in 1960 just a month after John F. Kennedy was elected, and, a week after his assassination in 1963, Jacqueline Kennedy told historian Theodore H. White that they owned the original cast album and liked to play it before retiring at night. She quoted a phrase—"one brief shining moment"—from “Camelot's title song as how she wished his presidency to be remembered. But early in 1961, everyone was looking forward, not backwards. The President-elect had asked Frank Sinatra to help arrange a musical gala to be held on January 19, 1961, the eve of his Inauguration, and Leonard Bernstein was tapped to represent classical music. Bernstein had known Kennedy since the mid-1950s, and, after all, they both were Harvard men. As luck would have it, a rare blizzard hit Washington D.C. that night, snarling traffic, and a police escort had to rush Bernstein to the Gala. There was no time for him to change into formal attire, so Bernstein appeared onstage in a hastily-borrowed and much-too-large dress shirt to conduct the world premiere of his “Fanfare for JFK.” After the premiere of his “Fanfare,” Bernstein conducted a more familiar wind band standard—Sousa's "The Stars and Stripes Forever." Music Played in Today's Program Leonard Bernstein (1918 - 1990) — Fanfare for JFK ()

    The Harris Ninth

    Play Episode Listen Later Jan 18, 2022 2:00

    Synopsis Composers can be quite superstitious about numbers. Gustav Mahler, for example, was reluctant to assign the number “9” to his song cycle symphony, “Das Lied von der Erde,” fearing it would turn out to be his last: after all, Beethoven and Bruckner had only completed nine symphonies. Ironically, Mahler DID go on to complete a ninth, but died before he could finish work on his tenth. Most American composers have avoided this problem by rarely if ever producing more than one or two symphonies of their own. Naturally there are exceptions. On today's date in 1963, the Ninth Symphony of the American composer Roy Harris was given its premiere by the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Eugene Ormandy, who had commissioned it. Like many other symphonies by Harris, his Ninth has a patriotic program, with each movement having a subtitle from either the American Constitution or Walt Whitman's “Leaves of Grass.” Harris went on to write thirteen Symphonies in all – although, perhaps submitting to a bit of numerological superstition himself – when his symphony No. 13, a Bicentennial Commission, was first performed in Washington, D.C. in 1976, it was billed as his Symphony Number Fourteen! Music Played in Today's Program Gustav Mahler (1860 - 1911) — Symphony No. 9 (New York Philharmonic, Leonard Bernstein, cond.) Sony 60597 Roy Harris (1898 - 1979) — Symphony No. 9 (Albany Symphony; David Alan Miller, cond.) Albany 350

    Einstein and Glass on stage

    Play Episode Listen Later Jan 17, 2022 2:00

    Synopsis When TIME magazine chose Albert Einstein as their Millennium “Person of the Century” in 1999, their profile catalogued his achievements in physics and philosophy but made no mention of Einstein's interest in music – or music's interest in him.  That's where we come in. In addition to being a brilliant thinker, Einstein was a talented amateur violinist.  On this day in 1934, he even performed the second violin part of Bach's Double Concerto at a private recital in New York to raise money for scientists who had suffered at the hands of Hitler. So, was Einstein any good?  After that concert, the “Musical America” critic wrote, “The press had been asked not to criticize Professor Einstein's playing. Unofficially, however, they confessed to being impressed. He played, according to their report, as all great artists play, with ‘technique,' ‘expression' and a complete absorption in his music.” And Einstein himself has inspired more than a few musical works. The 1976 opera “Einstein on the Beach” by Philip Glass, for example, features a solo violinist dressed as Einstein who wanders in and out of scenes. Music from Glass's opera was quoted as an in-joke during a TV commercial showing Einstein trying to choose between Coke and Pepsi. Music Played in Today's Program Philip Glass (b. 1937) — Cadenza, from Einstein on the Beach (Philip Glass Ensemble; Michael Riesman, cond.) Nonesuch 79323

    The birth of "Les Six"

    Play Episode Listen Later Jan 16, 2022 2:00

    Synopsis Today marks the anniversary of the creation of a famous classical music nickname, “Les Six” – French for “The Six.” That's what Parisian music critic Henri Collet dubbed six composers in a magazine article on this day in 1920. Three of the composers Collet named are performed more often these days – Darius Milhaud, Arthur Honegger and Francis Poulenc – while the other three composers – George Auric, Louis Durey, and the only woman in the group, Germaine Tailleferre – are heard less frequently. Though Tailleferre is counted among the neglected half of Les Six, her music has been having something of a revival lately, perhaps it's a belated recognition that much of her work remains fresh and appealing. This music is from her Violin Sonata No. 1, composed in 1921 and dedicated to the great French violinist Jacques Thibaud. Born near Paris in 1892, Tailleferre was a prodigy with an astounding memory. Erik Satie proclaimed her his “musical daughter,” and she was also close friends with Maurice Ravel. Two unhappy marriages and resulting financial insecurity inhibited Tailleferre's talent in later years, and dimmed her fame, but she continued to compose and teach until her death at age 91, in 1983. Music Played in Today's Program Germaine Tailleferre (1892-1983) — Violin Sonata No. 1 (Renate Eggebrecht, violin; Angela Gassenhuber, piano) Troubadisc 1406

    A Messiaen premiere in a German prisoner of war camp

    Play Episode Listen Later Jan 15, 2022 2:00

    Synopsis The French composer Olivier Messiaen played the piano part in one of the strangest premiere performances of the 20th century on today's date in 1941. As the composer himself puts it: “My ‘Quartet for the End of Time' was conceived and written during my captivity as a prisoner of war and received its premiere at Stalag 8a in Görlitz, Silesia.” One of the four performers was cellist Etienne Pasquier, who offered this recollection: “We were captured at Verdun. Our entire company was initially held in a large field near Nancy. Among our comrades was a clarinetist who had been allowed to keep his clarinet. Messiaen started to write a piece for him… as he was the only person there with an instrument. [That] solo was later to become the third movement of the Quartet. The clarinetist practiced in the open field and I acted as his music stand. The piece seemed too difficult… and he complained about it to Messiaen. “'You'll manage,' was Messiaen's only reply.” Pasquier said the Quartet's premiere was a great success and led to the release of Messiaen and his three colleagues, because the Germans assumed – wrongly, it turns out – that the four musicians must have all been non-combatants. Music Played in Today's Program Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992) — Quartet for the End of Time (Tashi) RCA/BMG 7835

    Harp concertos by Villa-Lobos and Rautavaara

    Play Episode Listen Later Jan 14, 2022 2:00

    Synopsis Some instruments seem to have all the luck – or at least all the concertos! If you play piano or violin, you have hundreds of concertos to choose from. But if your instrument is the harp – and you will forgive the pun – the pluckings are slim. This hardly seems fair to one of mankind's oldest instruments, depicted on murals from ancient Egypt and traditionally associated with King David in the Bible. In the 18th and early 19th century, there are a handful of great classical harp concertos by Handel, Mozart, and others. In the 20th century, things start to improve a little, with modern concertos by Gliere, Pierne, Castelnuovo-Tedesco, and Rodrigo. On today's date in 1955, we're happy to report, one of the finest modern works for harp and orchestra had its premiere performance when harpist Nicanor Zabeleta premiered a new harp concerto by the prolific Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos – with the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by the composer. One more recent addition came in 2000 from the pen of the Finnish composer Einojuhanni Rautavaara. His harp concerto was commissioned by the Minnesota Orchestra, who premiered the new work with the Finnish conductor Osmo Vänskä and Kathy Kienzle as soloist. Music Played in Today's Program Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887 - 1959) — Harp Concerto (Catherine Michel, harp; Monte Carlo Opera Orchestra; Antonio de Almeida, cond.) Philips 462 179 Einojuhani Rautavaraa (1928 - 2016) — Harp Concerto (Marielle Nordmann, harp; Helsinki Philharmonic; Leif Segerstam, cond.) Ondine 978

    Prokofiev takes the Fifth in Moscow

    Play Episode Listen Later Jan 13, 2022 2:00

    Synopsis On today's date in 1945, Sergei Prokofiev conducted the Moscow Philharmonic in the premiere performance of his Fifth Symphony. Written when the tide of the Second World War was turning in the favor of the Allies, the premiere came one day after news reached Moscow that Soviet troops had begun a successful counteroffensive against the Germans. The symphony proved to be one of Prokofiev's strongest works, and in the context of 1945 must have had an incredible emotional impact. It was a tremendous success in Moscow, and also in Boston, where Serge Koussevitzky conducted the American premiere later that same year. Prokofiev even made the cover of Time magazine. As musicologist Michael Steinberg puts it: “No question, the Fifth was a repertory piece from Day One.” How sad, then, to realize how soon things would change for the man who wrote it. In three years Prokofiev – along with Shostakovich and others – would be denounced by Soviet authorities for supposedly straying from the party line. In five years, when the Red Scare in America turned our one-time Ally into Public Enemy No. 1, conductor Maurice Abravenel received a death threat when the Utah Symphony announced the Salt Lake City premiere of Prokofiev's Fifth. Music Played in Today's Program Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953) — Symphony No. 5 in Bb, Op. 100 (St. Petersburg Philharmonic; Yuri Temirkanov, cond.) RCA/BMG 60984

    Dahl's "Sinfonietta"

    Play Episode Listen Later Jan 12, 2022 2:00

    Synopsis On today's date in 1961, a new work by the German-born American composer Ingolf Dahl received its premiere performance in Los Angeles. Entitled “Sinfonietta for Concert Band,” it was commissioned by the College Band Directors National Association, who were eager to expand band repertory with major new works of the highest quality. Dahl had emigrated to the United States in 1938 and settled in Los Angeles, where he met and befriended Igor Stravinsky, who gave him some practical advice about composing for wind band: “You must approach this task as if it had always been your greatest wish to write for these instruments,” suggested Stravinsky, “as if all your life you had wanted to write a work for just such a group." “This was good advice,” recalled Dahl. “[And] after the work was done that it turned out to be indeed the piece that I had wanted to write all my life. I wanted it to be a substantial piece that, without apologies for its medium, would take its place alongside symphonic works of any other kind.” Dahl and the College Band Directors National Association must have been pleased to see their “Sinfonietta” rapidly become an established classic of the wind band repertory. Music Played in Today's Program Ingolf Dahl (1912 - 1970) — Sinfonietta (DePaul University Wind Ensemble; Donald DeRoche, cond.) Albany 435

    A John Adams Christmas oratorio

    Play Episode Listen Later Jan 11, 2022 2:00

    Synopsis As 1999 drew to a close it was a matter of debate whether – chronologically speaking – the new Millennium really began in 2000 or 2001.  As far as the musical world was concerned, why wait? The shift from 1999 to 2000 occasioned hundreds of celebratory concerts and special commissions worldwide. While not originally intended as a Millennium commission, a major new work of the American composer John Adams had its European premiere in December of 1999 and its American debut in January of 2000.  Years before, the San Francisco Symphony had asked Adams to write a big work for their chorus and orchestra. Then came a request from the Châtelet Theater in Paris for a new opera.  Adams combined both requests, folding in a dream of his own. As he put it: “I wanted to write a Messiah.” The result was a Nativity oratorio titled “El Nino” – a work for soloists, chorus and orchestra that could be performed as either a concert hall piece or a fully staged theatrical work. Kent Nagano conducted El Nino's world premiere in Paris on December 15, 1999, and the same cast and conductor gave its American premiere in San Francisco on today's date in 2000. Music Played in Today's Program John Adams (b. 1947) — excerpts from El Niño (soloists; Kent Nagano, cond.) Nonesuch 79634

    The singular Mr. Berwald

    Play Episode Listen Later Jan 10, 2022 2:00

    Synopsis Franz Berwald was a Swede who lived in the early 19th century and who made his living first as an orthopedic surgeon and later as the manager of a sawmill and glass factory. But these days, nobody cares very much about all that. Berwald's true passion was music, and in addition to operas and concertos, he wrote four symphonies, only one of which was performed during his lifetime, and that to mixed reviews. Berwald spent some years in Vienna, where a few of his works were performed. After Berwald's death in 1868, the crusty, conservative Viennese music critic Eduard Hanslick appraised him as (quote) "a man stimulating, witty, prone to bizarrerie, [but who] as a composer lacked creative power and fantasy". Oddly enough, it's exactly Berwald's “bizarrerie,” or amusing strangeness, that appealed to later generations – and likewise his creative power and fantasy. For many music lovers today, Berwald ranks as Sweden's first great Romantic composer and symphonist. This did not happen overnight, however. Berwald's Third Symphony, nicknamed “The Singular One,” was written in 1845, but had to wait 37 years after the death of its composer for its first public performance in Stockholm on today's date in 1905. Music Played in Today's Program Franz Berwald (1796 – 1868) — Symphony 3 in C (Singulière) (Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra; Okko Kamu, cond.) Naxos 8.553052

    Opposite-coast bouquets and brickbats for Weill and Sessions

    Play Episode Listen Later Jan 9, 2022 2:00

    Synopsis On this day in 1947, Pierre Monteux led the San Francisco Symphony in the premiere performance of the Second Symphony by American composer Roger Sessions. Prior to this work, Sessions had written in a more broadly accessible style, but this new symphony proved more dissonant and challenging. At the time, Sessions cautiously stated: “Tonality is complex and even problematical nowadays.” For their part, the San Francisco audiences found the new work both complex AND problematical. There was hardly any applause. Musical America's critic wrote that Sessions (quote): “seemed to express the epitome of all that is worst in the life and thinking of today.” Ouch!  Today, the Sessions Second doesn't sound ALL that challenging, but performances of this or any of his symphonies remain rare events. While Sessions' symphony was being panned in San Francisco, a new stage work by the expatriate German composer Kurt Weill opened to rave reviews in New York. Kurt Weill's “Street Scene” opened on Broadway on this same date in 1947. “[It's] the best contemporary musical production to grace any American stage,” enthused the “Musical America” critics. “We cannot imagine that an audience from any walk of life would not enjoy it. It has everything.” Music Played in Today's Program Roger Sessions (1896-1985) — Symphony No. 2 (San Francisco Symphony; Herbert Blomstedt, cond.) London 443 376 Kurt Weill (1900-1950) — Act 1 Intro, from Street Scene (Scottish Opera Orchestra; John Mauceri, cond.) London 433 371

    A fateful anniversary for Lully

    Play Episode Listen Later Jan 8, 2022 2:00

    Synopsis When you were a kid, did your mother warn you about playing with sharp sticks? Well, conductors play with sharp sticks, and it CAN prove dangerous. In 1976, while conducting Mozart's “The Marriage of Figaro” at New York's Metropolitan Opera, conductor Sir Georg Solti managed to stab himself in the forehead with his own baton during the third act, causing quite a bloody mess. It's said that Solti had already broken two batons during Acts I and II but managed not to hurt anyone. Before batons came into common use in the early 19th century, musicians just used their hands or a rolled-up piece of music paper to keep time. Unfortunately for him, the famous Italian-born French Baroque composer Jean-Baptiste Lully chose to employ a long, heavy staff when he was conducting.  He was thumping out the beat during a performance of his own “Te Deum” on today's date in 1687, and, like Solti, must have gotten carried away and accidentally smashed the staff into his toe. He continued conducting, but an abscess soon developed in the self-inflicted wound, followed by gangrene which spread through his lower leg and Lully died a few weeks later. Music Played in Today's Program Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-1687) — Galliarde, from Trios pour le coucher du Roi (Chicago Baroque Ensemble) Cedille 043

    Pop music by Rimsky-Korsakov and Michael Daugherty

    Play Episode Listen Later Jan 7, 2022 2:00

    Synopsis The fairy-tale opera “Sadko” by the Russian composer Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov had its first performance in Moscow on today's date in 1898. This opera is still staged in Russia, but rarely anywhere else – even though some of its wonderful melodies have proven extremely popular. One of the opera's arias had a tune so catchy that it was set to English words as “Play That Song of India Again” and became a best-selling Paul Whiteman recording in the 1920s. In the big-band era, Rimsky-Korsakov's “Song of India” even made the American “Hit Parade.” The line between popular culture and classical music has often been blurred – and seldom so wickedly as in the works of the American composer Michael Daugherty. Take his “Le Tombeau de Liberace,” for example. Now, in classical music terminology, a “tombeau” is a memorial tribute to an eminent musician or composer – in this case, it's Wladziu Valentino Liberace, the flamboyant, rhinestone-encrusted pianist and showman who died in 1993. Many of Michael Daugherty's other concert pieces have also been inspired by pop icons, real and imaginary, ranging from Desi Arnaz to Superman. Music Played in Today's Program Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908) — Song of India, from Sadko (arr Kreisler) (Gil Shaham, vn; Akira Eguchi, p.) DG 447 640 Michael Daugherty (b. 1954) — Candelabra Rhumba, from Le tombeau de Liberace (Paul Crossley, piano; London Sinfonietta; Markus Stenz, cond.) Argo 458 145

    Bach at Starbucks?

    Play Episode Listen Later Jan 6, 2022 2:00

    Synopsis On today's date in 1733, music-loving readers of a Leipzig newspaper called the “Nachricht auch Frag und Anzeiger” would have seen this welcome announcement: “Tonight at 8 o'clock there will be a Bach concert at Zimmermann's Coffeehouse on Catharine Street.” So, in addition to a Grandé Latté or Double-shot Depth-Charge, Zimmermann's patrons could treat themselves to a Grand Suite or Double-Concerto by Johann Sebastian Bach. As if Bach wasn't busy enough providing all those sacred cantatas and organ chorales for TWO Leipzig's churches every Sunday, he was also in charge of that city's Collegium Musicum, an organization that presented more secular musical fare. It's likely that on occasional weekday nights at Catharine Street, most of Bach's concertos and chamber works were performed by Bach himself, alongside many of the same musicians he employed each Sunday for his church music. Given his staggering workload, it's not TOO far-fetched to assume that caffeine helped Bach stay focused and alert: One of his secular cantatas might even be considered as an early form of an advertising plug: the humorous text of Bach's ‘Coffee Cantata' recounts how a young woman's addiction to coffee triumphs over her stuffy father's moral objections to the tasty brew. Music Played in Today's Program Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) — Harpsichord Concerto in f, S. 1056 (Gustav Leonhardt, Herbert Tachezi, hc; Leonhardt Consort) Teldec 35778 Coffee Cantata, S. 211 — Christine Schaefer, sop.; (Stuttgart Bach-Collegium; Helmuth Rilling, cond.) Hanssler 98.161

    Milhaud at West Point

    Play Episode Listen Later Jan 5, 2022 2:00

    Synopsis In the opinion of General George Washington, a commanding plateau on the west bank of the Hudson River, about 40 miles north of New York City, was a key strategic position during America's War for Independence. Washington selected Thaddeus Kosciuszko,* one of the heroes of the Battle of Saratoga, to design fortifications there in 1778, and transferred his headquarters to this “West Point” in 1779. In 1802, after America's independence had been won, President Thomas Jefferson signed legislation establishing a United States Military Academy at West Point. 150 years later, in 1952, the West Point Military Band decided to observe the Academy's Sesquicentennial by asking prominent composers to write celebratory works to mark the occasion. A number of composers responded, including the French composer Darius Milhaud. Milhaud's “West Point Suite” was premiered by the West Point Band at Carnegie Hall on today's date in 1952, with Captain Francis Resta conducting, and proved to be one of the most successful and oft-performed of these Sesquicentennial pieces. The previous year, Milhaud had paid a visit to West Point to hear the band, as he wanted to assess both their size and ability. He was impressed by what he heard—and surprised as well when the band struck up “Happy Birthday” in his honor. It seems that both Milhaud and his wife had completely forgotten that their September 4th visit coincided with the composer's 60th birthday! Music Played in Today's Program Darius Milhaud (1892 - 1974) — West Point Suite, Op. 313 (Liszt Academy Symphonic Band; Laszlo Marosi, cond) Hungaroton 32066

    Danielpour's home-town tribute

    Play Episode Listen Later Jan 4, 2022 2:00

    Synopsis Now, it may be a hotly-contested statement that New York is the cultural capital of the United States, but few would deny that city's important role in so much of our musical history. In 1992, to celebrate its 150th anniversary, the New York Philharmonic commissioned many new works by leading composers and spread out their celebratory premieres over several years. On today's date in 1996, Leonard Slatkin conducted one of these: an orchestral tribute to New York written by a native son – a work by Richard Danielpour titled “Toward the Splendid City.” While intended as sonic portrait of his hometown, it was written entirely outside of the city. As he himself explained: “[It's] is one of the very few works I've written completely away from New York – work on the piece began in Seattle and was completed in Taos, New Mexico – and, to an extent, it expresses the nostalgia I felt for the city. It became my sonic postcard of the town. One passage, a sound-painting with string harmonics, celesta, harp, vibes, and bells, was inspired by my memory of floating above New York at night on a plane and seeing the lights of the city in the mist...” Music Played in Today's Program Richard Danielpour (b. 1956) — Toward the Splendid City (Philharmonia Orchestra; Zdenek Macal, cond.) Sony 60779

    The productive Mr. Donizetti and Mr. Williams

    Play Episode Listen Later Jan 3, 2022 2:00

    Synopsis The comic opera “Don Pasquale” by the Italian composer Gaetano Donizetti had its first performance in Paris on this date in the year 1843. To this day it remains one of his best-loved and most often-performed works. In all, Donizetti wrote about 70 operas, sometimes turning out four per year. Amazing as this seems today, it wasn't at all uncommon in the 19th century, especially in Italy, where audience demand for new works was insatiable. Back then, when composers vied with one another for speed, Donizetti was asked if he believed that Rossini had written “The Barber of Seville” in only 13 days. “Why not?” quipped Donizetti, “He's so lazy!” In our time,  the corollary of a busy opera composer like Donizetti might be a hard-pressed Hollywood composer like John Williams, who could quip that Donizetti was the lazy one.  After all, John Williams has surpassed Donizetti's count of 70 operas with well over 100 film scores. Williams started out in the 1960s writing scores for TV shows like “Wagon Train” and “Gilligan's Island” before shifting primarily to movies and crafting the iconic soundtracks like “Jaws,” “E.T.,” “Star Wars,” and “Schindler's List.” Music Played in Today's Program Gaetano Donizetti (1797-1848) — Don Pasquale Overture (Philharmonia Orchestra; Riccardo Muti, cond.) EMI 54490 John Williams (b. 1932) — Devil's Dance, from Witches of Eastwick (Boston Pops; John Williams, cond.) Philips 422 385

    Wagner's "shaggy dog" story

    Play Episode Listen Later Jan 2, 2022 2:00

    Synopsis On today's date in 1843, Richard Wagner's opera “The Flying Dutchman” had its premiere performance in Dresden. The opera's sea-swept overture was supposedly inspired by a stormy voyage Wagner and his wife Minna took from Riga to Paris, their journey interrupted by an emergency stop in a Norwegian fjord due to rough weather, as well as a longer layover in London. As usual, Wagner was fleeing creditors, and made the cramped voyage – as usual – in extravagant style, namely in the company of a huge Newfoundland dog he named Robber. Imagine, if you will, being cheek-by-jowl with a wet, sea-sick Newfie. That North Sea crossing must have seemed as interminable as the Flying Dutchman's eternal wanderings! Negotiating London also proved a challenge, as Wagner recounted in his memoirs: “The dog whisked round every corner and dragged us every which way. So the three of us sought refuge in a cab, which took us to the Horseshoe Tavern, a sailor's pub recommended to us by our captain... The narrow London cabs were meant to carry two people facing each other, so we had to lay Robber across our laps, his head through one window and his tail through the other...” Music Played in Today's Program Richard Wagner (1813-1883) — The Flying Dutchman Overture (Berlin State Orchestra; Daniel Barenboim, cond) Teldec 88063

    On the Mall with Goldman

    Play Episode Listen Later Jan 1, 2022 2:00

    Synopsis We'd like to start the new year with some upbeat music to honor the American composer and bandleader Edwin Franko Goldman, who was born in Louisville, Kentucky, on today's date in 1878. At the tender age of 14, Goldman attended the National Conservatory of Music in New York City, where he studied composition with Antonin Dvorak. At 15, Goldman became a professional trumpet player with the Metropolitan Opera orchestra. In 1911, he founded the New York Military Band, later known simply as the Goldman Band. They performed hundreds of public concerts around the city, including on the Mall in Central Park.  In the 1930s, radio broadcasts made the Goldman Band famous nationwide. Their catchy signature tune, entitled “On the Mall,” was composed by Goldman himself, and invited the audiences to sing – or even whistle – along. Goldman composed about 150 band works of his own, and commissioned many more, including classics by composers such as Virgil Thomson, Walter Piston, and Howard Hanson. The Goldman Band, led by Goldman or his son Richard, also premiered new works by leading European composers. Goldman founded the American Bandmasters Association in 1929 and served as its Second Honorary Life President after John Philip Sousa. Music Played in Today's Program Edwin Franko Goldman (1878 - 1956) — On the Mall (Eastman Wind Ensemble; Frederick Fennell, cond.) Mercury 434 334

    Martinu and Hanson premieres

    Play Episode Listen Later Dec 31, 2021 2:00

    Synopsis In the 1940s, the Boston Symphony gave the premiere of more than 60 new orchestral works – most of them conducted by the very charismatic and very wealthy Serge Koussevitzky, the music director of the Boston Symphony. And why not? It was the Koussevitzky Foundation that commissioned most of those pieces in the first place, and certainly Maestro Koussevitzky had the knack for picking winners and advancing the careers of composers he admired. In the 1940s, for example, Koussevitzky premiered no less than four major works by the Czech composer Bohuslav Martinu. On today's date in 1943, one of these pieces, Martinu's Second Violin Concerto, received its first performance under Koussevitzky with Mischa Elman as the soloist. But not all the Boston premieres were conducted by Koussevitzky. Earlier that same December of 1943, the American composer and conductor Howard Hanson led the orchestra in the first performance of his Symphony No. 4, and on today's date in 1948, the premiere of his own Piano Concerto, with the Boston Symphony and the Czech pianist Rudolf Firkusny as soloist. Like the Martinu Concerto, this, too, was a Koussevitzky Foundation commission. Music Played in Today's Program Bohuslav Martinu (1890–1959) — Violin Concerto No. 2 (Josef Suk, violin; Czech Philharmonic; Vaclav Neumann, cond.) Supraphon 11 0702 Howard Hanson (1896–1981) — Piano Concerto, Op. 36 (Alfred Mouledous, piano; Eastman-Rochester Orchestra; Howard Hanson, cond.) Mercury 434 370

    Prokofiev in peace and (cold) war

    Play Episode Listen Later Dec 30, 2021 2:00

    Synopsis For fans of old-time radio shows, it's known as the theme for “The FBI in Peace and War.” But among classical music buffs its title is the “March” from Prokofiev's opera “The Love of Three Oranges.” This satirical, fairy-tale opera had its premiere performance in Chicago on today's date in 1921, with Prokofiev himself was on hand to supervise the rehearsals. His opera received a lavish production which cost Chicago $250,000 – a staggering amount back in 1921. The premiere was a modest success, even though the Chicago Tribune pronounced Prokofiev's music “too much for this generation.” The production then traveled to New York for one performance which was savaged by the press as “Russian jazz with Bolshevist flourishes.” Summing up his American experience, Prokofiev himself wrote: “In my pocket was a thousand dollars; in my head, noise from all the running around and a desire to go away somewhere quiet to work.” In the 1930s, Prokofiev returned to the Soviet Union, where his music had to toe the Stalinist Party Line. It's one of life's little ironies that a theme by a then Soviet composer would be chosen for a radio show about the FBI that aired during the height of America's postwar “Red Scare.” Music Played in Today's Program Sergei Prokofiev (1891–1953) — March, fr The Love of Three Oranges (Montreal Symphony; Charles Dutoit, cond.) London 440 331

    The Seattle Symphony

    Play Episode Listen Later Dec 29, 2021 2:00

    Synopsis On today's date in 1903, violinist and conductor Harry West led the very first performance by the Seattle Symphony. At that time, the orchestra comprised just 24 players. For their first program, the aptly named Maestro “West” conducted Schubert and Rossini, two long-dead classical masters, and also programmed works by three living composers: Max Bruch, Jules Massenet, and Pablo Sarasate. More recently, under music director Gerard Schwarz, the Seattle Symphony earned worldwide attention with its recordings of both classical and contemporary works, including critically acclaimed recordings of symphonic works by modern American masters like Howard Hanson, David Diamond, and Alan Hovhaness, as well as newer pieces by a younger generation of American composers including Richard Danielpour and Stephen Albert.That tradition continued under Gerard Schwarz's successor Ludovic Morlot, who took particular interest in fostering music from Seattle composers, including composers within the orchestra itself. And the Seattle Symphony commissioned and premiered a work by the American composer John Luther Adams entitled “Become Ocean,” which went on to win the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Music and the 2015 Grammy Award for Best Classical Contemporary Composition. Music Played in Today's Program Max Bruch (1838–1920) — Violin Concerto No. 2, Op. 44 (Nai-Yuan Hu, violin; Seattle Symphony; Gerard Schwarz, cond.) Delos 3156 John Luther Adams (b. 1953) – Become Ocean (Seattle Symphony; Ludovic Morlot, cond.) Cantaloupe 21161

    Huss in Boston

    Play Episode Listen Later Dec 28, 2021 2:00

    Synopsis If the name Henry Holden Huss doesn't ring a bell, we're not surprised – but in his heyday, around 1900, he was famous as a leading American concert pianist and composer. On today's date in 1894, Huss was the soloist with the Boston Symphony for the premiere of his own Piano Concerto in B Major. Now, piano concertos written in the key of B Major are not exactly thick on the ground, and Huss's unusual choice was probably influenced by the “Liebestod” or “Love-Death” music from Wagner's ultra-Romantic opera “Tristan and Isolde.” Certainly, Huss's Piano Concerto is in a similarly ultra-Romantic vein. In addition to his musical fame, Huss was justly proud of his ancestors: He was related on his father's side to the early 15th century Protestant martyr John Huss and on his mother's side to a member of George Washington's staff. Like his contemporary, pianist-composer Edward MacDowell, Huss studied in Germany. Unlike the more famous but tragic short career of MacDowell, Huss enjoyed a long, healthy and productive creative life. In addition to his Piano Concerto, Huss wrote symphonic poems, chamber works, music for chorus, and, not surprisingly, a number of solo piano works. He died at the age of 91 in 1953. Music Played in Today's Program Henry Holden Huss (1862–1953) — Piano Concerto, Op. 10 (Ian Hobson, piano; BBC Scottish Symphony; Martyn Brabbins, cond.) Hyperion 66949

    Bruckner in Boston

    Play Episode Listen Later Dec 27, 2021 2:00

    Synopsis The symphonies of the Austrian composer Anton Bruckner were introduced to American audiences in the 1880s, when Bruckner was still alive and composing. Walter Damrosch introduced Bruckner's Third to New York audiences in 1885, Theodore Thomas conducted the Seventh in Chicago in 1886, and Anton Seidl led the first New York performance of the Fourth in 1888. Bruckner, then in his 60s, was thrilled to learn that Americans were performing his music. He would have been less thrilled had he seen the reviews. “Formless, weird, fragmentary, flimsy, uncongenial, and empty,” were just a few of the adjectives that greeted his music. After Bruckner's death in 1896, it was the Boston Symphony's turn to take up his cause: On today's date in 1901, Wilhelm Gericke led the American premiere of Bruckner's Fifth, to mixed reaction: “Interesting, scholarly and very skillfully orchestrated, ”said some, “not very coherent or systematic,” said others. When Bruckner's Eighth debuted at a Boston Symphony matinee conducted by Max Fiedler in 1909, one reviewer wrote: “The work is, of course, massive, but it is massive like a business building, not like a mountain; it impresses one, but it does not move the emotions ... Altogether it made a trying afternoon.” Music Played in Today's Program Anton Bruckner (1824–1896) — Symphony No. 5 (Saarbrucken Radio Symphony; Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, cond.) Arte Nova 43305

    Brahms up and down

    Play Episode Listen Later Dec 26, 2021 2:00

    Synopsis There are several examples in the catalog of German Romantic composer Johannes Brahms, of works that emerged from his pen in contrasting pairs. The most famous being his two concert overtures: the comic and upbeat “Academic Festival Overture,” and the dark, stoic pessimism of his “Tragic Overture.” While composing the jaunty Academic Festival Overture in 1880, to acknowledge an Honorary Doctorate he had received the previous year from the University of Breslau, Brahms felt compelled to write a more serious companion piece. To his friend the publisher Simrock, he wrote: "I could not refuse my melancholy nature the satisfaction of composing an overture for a tragedy," To another friend, Carl Reinecke, he wrote, "One weeps, the other laughs." Hans Richter conducted the premiere of the “Tragic” Overture in Vienna on today's date in 1880, and the following month Brahms himself led the premiere of his “Academic Festival” Overture in Breslau. And the new works soon came to the New World: On November 12, 1881, the enterprising Theodore Thomas conducted the New York Philharmonic in the American premiere of the “Tragic” Overture, and one week later, the “Academic Festival” Overture as well with the Brooklyn Philharmonic. Music Played in Today's Program Johannes Brahms (1833–1897) — Academic Festival Overture, Op. 80 (New York Philharmonic; Kurt Masur, cond.) Teldec 77291 Johannes Brahms — Tragic Overture, Op. 81 (Vienna Symphony; Wolfgang Sawallisch, cond.) Philips 438 760

    Carols by Burt and Betinis

    Play Episode Listen Later Dec 25, 2021 2:00

    Synopsis It's Christmas Day, and if you've ever been out “caroling, caroling” you might have sung this well-known staple by American composer Alfred Burt, a jazz trumpeter from Michigan who composed 15 beloved Christmas carols.  His were a continuation of a family tradition – begun back in the 1920s by his father, the Reverend Bates G. Burt, who – every year – composed a new one to send in a seasonal greeting card to friends and family. Fast forward to the 21st century, when Minnesota composer Abbie Betinis would celebrate Christmas with her Burt family relatives in Michigan. “I knew there were certain carols we'd sing – even joyful ones – that could make everyone cry... and I realized later that these were our family carols. They helped us remember the generations before and feel connected to them and to their traditions.  So I thought maybe I should write one myself.” And write she did.  With composition degrees from St Olaf College and the University of Minnesota, Abbie Burt Betinis, the great-granddaughter of Reverend Burt, has been writing an annual carol since 2001 – each one premiering on Minnesota Public Radio – before being sent to mailboxes across America as the new Burt Family Christmas card. Music Played in Today's Program Alfred Burt (1920-1954) — “Caroling Caroling” (Choral Guild of Atlanta, William Noll, cond.) Sony 62698 Abbie Burt Betinis (b.1980) — “Carol of the Stranger” (Vox Nova Chorale) MPR 201711

    Menotti's TV opera

    Play Episode Listen Later Dec 24, 2021 2:00

    Synopsis On Christmas Eve in 1951, NBC television broadcast live the world premiere performance of Gian Carlo Menotti's opera, “Amahl and the Night Visitors.” Now, for decades the kinescope recording of that original live transmission was thought to be lost, but miraculously, a copy resurfaced just in time for Amahl's 50th anniversary and was shown at the Museum of Television and Radio in Beverly Hills in December of 2001. On the broadcast, the dapper Mr. Menotti can be seen introducing the new work, confessing that NBC had commissioned the opera in 1950, but its wasn't until the Thanksgiving of 1951 that he actually began working on it, inspired by the painting “The Adoration of the Magi,” which he saw at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art.  In fact, Menotti was working on his new score right up to the last minute, delivering it bit by bit to the performers prior to its premiere. The opera proved a hit, and for the next five years became an annual live holiday broadcast on NBC. NBC continued to air “Amahl” occasionally through the 1970s, but by that time it had become an established seasonal tradition for both professional and amateur performers coast to coast. Music Played in Today's Program Gian Carlo Menotti (1911 - 2007) — Amahl and the Night Visitors Suite (The New Zealand Symphony; Andrew Schenck, cond.) Koch 7005

    Mendelssohn cooks up some music

    Play Episode Listen Later Dec 23, 2021 2:00

    Synopsis The greatest clarinetist of the early 19th century was Heinrich Baermann, whose son Carl was also a fantastic performer on the basset horn, the lower-voiced member of the clarinet family. Felix Mendelssohn, in addition to being fond of their playing, was fond another Baermann Family specialty: the “Dampfnudeln” or sweet dumplings they served their friends. In December of 1832, Mendelssohn asked if they'd whip him up a batch. The Baermanns said “Sure – if you'll whip something up for us, namely a duet for clarinet and basset horn.” Carl Baermann described what happened next: “Mendelssohn put a chef's hat on my head, drew an apron around my waist and stuck a cooking spoon into the waistband. He did the same himself, except that instead of a spoon, he stuck a pen behind his ear. Then he led me into the kitchen... He returned to his room where, as he said, he was going to stir and knead tones... “When I brought the dumpling in a covered dish to the table at the time agreed upon, Mendelssohn also had his duet in a covered dish. Father and I were delighted with the charming piece – although Mendelssohn kept saying that my creation was better than his.” Music Played in Today's Program Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (1809–1847) — Concert Piece, Op. 113, no. 1 (Sabine and Wolfgang Meyer, clarinet and basset horn; Wurtemberg Chamber Orchestra; Jorg Faerber, cond.) EMI 47233

    Deems Taylor

    Play Episode Listen Later Dec 22, 2021 2:00

    Synopsis In the 1930s and 40s, radio's so-called “Golden Age,” Deems Taylor was the dominant “voice” of classical radio. Taylor was both the broadcast announcer of the New York Philharmonic on the CBS Network, and the opera commentator for NBC. He was also the voice-over narrator in the famous Disney animated film “Fantasia”. In his day, Deems Taylor was also a very successful composer, producing a wide variety of works ranging from orchestral works to grand operas, including two that were commissioned by and staged at the prestigious Metropolitan Opera in New York: “The King's Henchman,” composed to a libretto by Edna St. Vincent Millay premiered there in 1927, and “Peter Ibbetson,” based on a novel by George du Maurier, in 1931. Deems Taylor was also a very fine writer and critic on musical topics, and the author of several books. He was born in New York City on today's date in 1885 and died there in 1966. The year after his death, ASCAP, the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers, established the annual Deems Taylor Awards to acknowledge outstanding coverage of music topics – and in the interest of full disclosure, this program, Composers Datebook was one of the recipients of that award. Music Played in Today's Program Deems Taylor (1885–1966) — Through the Looking Glass (Seattle Symphony; Gerard Schwarz, cond.) Delos 3099

    Sheppard's Media Vita

    Play Episode Listen Later Dec 21, 2021 2:00

    Synopsis In December of 2020, during the first, bleak winter of the worldwide Covid pandemic, The New York Times ran a story about the English Renaissance composer John Sheppard, who, as a member of the Chapel Royal, the household choir of the English monarchs, was buried in London on today's date in 1558.Shepard lived during the turbulent English Reformation, and as a church musician composed liturgical works in both English and Latin, probably reflecting whether the Protestant king Henry the Sixth or the Catholic Queen Mary the First was seated on the throne.We know little about Sheppard's life and nothing about his own religious inclinations. His most famous work, an elaborately polyphonic compline setting of a Latin text, “Media vita in morte sumus” (In the midst of life we are in death), might have been written for the funeral for a fellow composer who died from what was called the “new ague,” a pandemic that swept England in 1557, and returned the following year in a devasting second wave, killing one in ten Londoners. One of them was John Sheppard. He died just after the strain claimed Reginald Pole, the archbishop of Canterbury, and probably Queen Mary as well. Music Played in Today's Program John Sheppard (c. 1515–1558) – Media Vita (Tallis Scholars; Peter Phillips, cond.) Gimell 16

    Harbison's "Great American Opera?"

    Play Episode Listen Later Dec 20, 2021 2:00

    Synopsis The American composer John Harbison grew up listening to the Saturday afternoon broadcasts of the Metropolitan Opera, so on today's date in 1999 it must have been gratifying to celebrate his 61st birthday taking curtain calls there when his opera “The Great Gatsby” premiered at the Met. F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel, a devastating evocation of America's “Roaring 20s,” is a regular contender for the title of the “Great American Novel,” but Harbison says when he told his mother he was writing an opera based on it she wasn't very enthusiastic, arguing that the novel's characters were an unsympathetic bunch. Gatsby, the novel's anti-hero is a both a fraud and a crook. Daisy, Gatsby's lost love and the object of his obsessive desire, is selfish, spoiled and shallow. But Harbison saw it differently: “Yearning and despair are very big operatic themes,” he said. “As for the character of Gatsby, he takes a lot of risks and is steadfast and loyal to some vision that is not realistically possible. The opera provides many opportunities to look at to what degree he's an impostor, and to what degree his story is real, which is a big American theme in general.” Music Played in Today's Program John Harbison (b. 1938) — Remembering Gatsby (Minnesota Orchestra; Edo de Waart, cond.) Vol. 11, from "Minnesota Orchestra at 100" special edition boxed CD set

    Stravinsky's "Symphony of Psalms"

    Play Episode Listen Later Dec 19, 2021 2:00

    Synopsis On today's date in 1930, Igor Stravinsky's “Symphony of Psalms” received its American premiere by the Boston Symphony. The Russian-born conductor and new music impresario Serge Koussevitzky had commissioned the work to celebrate the Boston Symphony's 50th anniversary. Stravinsky said later that for some time he had been carrying around in his head the idea for a choral symphony based on psalm texts. Since Koussevitzky's commission was for “anything Stravinsky had on his mind” that is exactly what emerged. Even though Stravinsky is on record stating that “music is, by its very nature, essentially powerless to express anything at all,” in “Symphony of Psalms,” Stravinsky gave powerful expression to his own very deep religious convictions. Koussevitzky's performance was supposed to be the world premiere of the new work, but the conductor took ill, forcing the originally scheduled December 12th world premiere in Boston to be postponed until the 19th. By then, a European performance of Stravinsky's new score conducted by Ernest Ansermet had already occurred. No matter. Koussevitzky had the satisfaction of knowing that he had commissioned a masterpiece. Stravinsky's “Symphony of Psalms” has come to be regarded as one of the great sacred works of the 20th century. Music Played in Today's Program Igor Stravinsky (1882–1971) — Symphony of Psalms (The Monteverdi Choir; London Symphony; John Eliot Gardiner, cond.) DG 436 789

    Quincy Jones and The Color Purple

    Play Episode Listen Later Dec 18, 2021 2:00

    Synopsis Any movie buff knows that composer John Williams is the usual choice for director Steven Spielberg's movies. But for “The Color Purple,” which was released on today's date in 1985, Spielberg turned to jazz great and master orchestrator Quincy Jones. “The Color Purple” was based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Alice Walker that tells the story of a young African-American girl named Celie Harris, graphically depicting the trauma of a young African-American woman during the early 20th century.  Spielberg cast Whoopi Goldberg –  better-known back then for stand-up comedy – in the intensely dramatic role of Celie.For Spielberg, it was a movie without dazzling special effects or space aliens; for Jones, who had just finished producing Michael Jackson's “Thriller,” working on “The Color Purple” was, as he put it, “An amazing experience … the biggest of my life.”Whoopi Goldberg was nominated for an Academy Award for “Best Actress” – Quincy Jones, for both “Best Original Score” and “Best Original Song.” Neither Goldberg or Jones won an Oscar, but Quincy Jones says he felt honored to participate in a project that despite the many warnings of nay-sayers he had absolute faith in, inspired by the passion of all those involved in its making, Music Played in Today's Program Quincy Jones (b. 1933) – The Color Purple: Main Theme (Itzhak Perlman, violin; Pittsburgh Symphony; John Williams, cond.) Sony 63005

    Brahms makes his debut

    Play Episode Listen Later Dec 17, 2021 2:00

    Synopsis On today's date in 1853, expectations both on stage and off must have been pretty high when a 20-year-old German pianist and composer named Johannes Brahms made his public debut in Leipzig. Just two months earlier, the older composer Robert Schumann had published a glowing prediction that young Mr. Brahms was going to turn out to be the bright hope for the future of German music. Brahms played his big Piano Sonata in C, his Opus 1, no. 1, at the Leipzig Gewandhaus. Brahms also met the great French composer Hector Berlioz, who wrote: “Brahms has had a great success here and made a deep impression on me... this diffident, audacious young man who has taken into his head to make a new music.” When his Piano Sonata No. 1 was first published by Breitkopf & Haertel, along with some early songs, Brahms immediately sent copies off to Schumann, with this note: “I take the liberty of sending you your first foster children (who owe to you their citizenship of the world). In their new garb they seem to me too prim and embarrassed – I still cannot accustom myself to seeing these guileless children of nature in their smart new clothes!” Music Played in Today's Program Johannes Brahms (1833–1897) — Piano Sonata No. 1, Op. 1 (Sviatoslav Richter, piano) Philips 438 477

    Prokofiev in Chicago

    Play Episode Listen Later Dec 16, 2021 2:00

    Synopsis In the spring and summer of 1921, Sergei Prokofiev was living in a quiet village on the coast of Brittany. He wrote: “I get up at 8:30, put on a collarless shirt, white pants, and sandals. After drinking hot chocolate, I look to see if the garden is still where it's supposed to be. Then I sit down to work. I'm writing my Third Piano Concerto.” On today's date in 1921, Prokofiev himself was the soloist in the premiere of the new work, which took place in America, with the Chicago Symphony under Frederick Stock. In a letter written to conductor Serge Koussevitzsky before the premiere, Prokofiev wrote: “My Third Concerto has turned out to be devilishly difficult. I'm nervous and practicing hard three hours a day. But let the maestro be calm – there are no complicated meters, no dirty tricks. It can be conducted without special preparation – it is difficult for the orchestra, but not for the conductor.” Chicago audiences and newspaper critics gave the new Concerto a warm, if not overly enthusiastic, reception at its first performance in America, and in time, the Third Concerto –despite its difficulty – became one of Prokofiev's most popular works with performers as well as audiences around the world. Music Played in Today's Program Sergei Prokofiev (1891–1953) — Piano Concerto No. 3 (Alexander Toradze, piano; Kirov Orchestra; Valery Gergiev, cond.) Philips 462 048

    Bloch's "American" Concerto

    Play Episode Listen Later Dec 15, 2021 2:00

    Synopsis The Swiss-born American composer Ernest Bloch was born in 1880 and was in his 30s when he first came to America, where he achieved remarkable success with both critics and audiences. His most famous work, “Schelomo,” subtitled a “Hebraic Rhapsody” for cello and orchestra, premiered in New York in 1917. Despite his popularity in America, Bloch returned to Europe for most of the 1930s. By the end of that decade, the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Germany and Italy led the Jewish composer, then approaching 60, to reconsider making America his permanent home. Bloch's Violin Concerto was premiered in America on today's date in 1938, a month after he arrived, with violinist Joseph Szigeti and the Cleveland Orchestra conducted by Dimitri Mitropoulos. The main theme of Bloch's Concerto was supposedly based on a Native American theme, but the tone of the whole work echoes the Hebrew themes in his other music. Bloch wrote: “Art for me is an expression, an experience of life, not a game or an icy demonstration of mathematical principles. In not one of my works have I tried to be "original" or "modern." My sole desire and single effort has been to remain faithful to my vision.” Music Played in Today's Program Ernest Bloch (1880–1959) — Violin Concerto (Oleh Krysa, violin; Malmo Symphony; Sakari Oramo, cond.) BIS 639

    Barber in Rome (part 2)

    Play Episode Listen Later Dec 14, 2021 2:00

    Synopsis On today's date in 1936, just one day after the premiere of his Symphony No. 1, the young American composer Samuel Barber attended the premiere of his String Quartet No. 1. Both premieres took place in Rome, where Barber was enjoying the benefits of the Prix de Rome, which included a two-year residency at the American Academy in the “Eternal City.” Barber found Rome a congenial place to compose but found writing a string quartet hard going: “I have started a new quartet,” he wrote back home in one letter, “but how difficult it is. It seems to me that because we have so forced our personalities on Music – on Music, who never asked for them! – that we have lost elegance, and if we cannot recapture elegance, the quartet form has escaped us forever.” It's perhaps debatable whether Barber recaptured “elegance” in his new quartet, but “eloquence” is another matter: The new quartet's slow “adagio” was described as being “deeply felt and written with economy, resourcefulness and distinction” according to one critic after a New York performance the following year. Barber later recast this movement for full string orchestra, and, as Barber's “Adagio for Strings,” it's become one of the best-loved pieces of modern American music. Music Played in Today's Program Samuel Barber (1910–1981) — String Quartet Op. 11 (Tokyo String Quartet) RCA/BMG 61387

    Barber in Rome (part 1)

    Play Episode Listen Later Dec 13, 2021 2:00

    Synopsis In 1935, when he was 25 years old, the American composer Samuel Barber was awarded the prestigious Prix de Rome. This meant that Barber could study at the American Academy in Rome for two years, with free lodgings and an annual stipend of $1,400 – a considerable sum of money in the 1930s. Barber found his Italian studio, a little yellow house approached through a garden, to be a good place to work. While in Italy, Barber finished his Symphony No. 1. The premiere took place in Rome on today's date in 1936, with an Italian conductor and orchestra. Years later, Barber recalled that the orchestra played well, but also that the Italian audience members were “not shy about expressing their feelings... 50% applauded and 50% were hissing.” In Barber's opinion, the Italians found the new work “too dark-toned, too Nordic.” The Cleveland Orchestra gave the Symphony's American premiere early the next year, followed by a New York performance under the direction of Arthur Rodzinski, who was so impressed he conducted the work with the Vienna Philharmonic at the opening concert of the 1937 Salzburg Music Festival in Austria. That performance was more warmly received, and Barber was called back to the stage three times. Music Played in Today's Program Samuel Barber (1910–1981) — Symphony No. 1 (Saint Louis Symphony; Leonard Slatkin, cond.) RCA/BMG 60732

    Henry Brant

    Play Episode Listen Later Dec 12, 2021 2:00

    Synopsis On today's date in 2001, the San Francisco Symphony under Michael Tilson Thomas gave the first performance of a new work by the American composer Henry Brant. The new piece was entitled “Ice Field” and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 2002, the year Brant turned 89. The Prize was an acknowledgment of five decades of Brant's work as one of America's great experimental composers. In the 1950s, when he turned 40, Brant became fascinated with the possibilities inherent in spatial music – music that positioned various groups of performers in all the corners of performing space. Moreover, he felt his music should reflect a wide variety of musical styles. As Brant put it: “I had come to feel that single-style music… could no longer evoke the new stresses, layered insanities and multi-directional assaults of contemporary life on the spirit.” Brant cites as his major model the earlier American composer Charles Ives, but also credits the experience of hearing in Paris the massive Requiem Mass of the extravagant French Romantic composer Hector Berlioz, who way back in the 19th century positioned an orchestra, brass choirs, and vocalists around a vast cathedral for a unique “surround sound” experience. Music Played in Today's Program Henry Brant (1913-2008) — Western Springs (La Jolla Symphony and Chorus; Henry Brant, et. al. cond.) CRI 827

    Cowell at the Forum

    Play Episode Listen Later Dec 11, 2021 2:00

    Synopsis The Great Depression put many Americans out of work, and in 1935 the Roosevelt administration created the Works Progress Administration, offering employment on various public projects. A Federal Music Project created thirty-four new orchestras across the country.  American composers weren't neglected either. A program called the Composers Forum Laboratories showcased new chamber works and invited audiences to offer their feedback directly to the composers involved. On today's date in 1935, at the seventh Composers Forum Laboratory held in New York, Henry Cowell was the featured composer, and took questions and comments following the premiere of his String Quartet No. 3. Typical of this “laboratory” situation, the chamber piece was highly experimental. Cowell conceived it as a kind of musical kaleidoscope or crazy quilt, in which five predetermined musical patterns can be played in any order. Cowell called this work his “Mosaic” Quartet, and, theoretically, no two performances would ever be the same. America's entry into World War II eventually brought all the WPA's musical projects to a close, but not before Federal Music Project orchestras had premiered a number of new symphonic works by American composers and dozens of new chamber works, like Cowell's Quartet, and had been workshopped at Composers Forum Laboratories. Music Played in Today's Program Henry Cowell (1897–1965) — String Quartet No. 3 (Mosaic Quartet) (Colorado String Quartet) Mode 72/73

    Still's Symphony No. 2

    Play Episode Listen Later Dec 10, 2021 2:00

    Synopsis During his 26 seasons with the Philadelphia Orchestra, the charismatic conductor Leopold Stokowski often programmed new music by contemporary composers. On today's date in 1937, for example, Stokowski and the Philadelphians performed works by two American composers.  First up was some ballet music by Robert McBride, which The Philadelphia Inquirer reviewer found (quote) “of indifferent interest.” The same critic, however, was enthusiastic about the second work, the premiere performance of the Second Symphony of William Grant Still, subtitled “Song of a New Race.” “[It] was of absorbing interest, unmistakably racial in thematic material and rhythms, and triumphantly articulate in expression of moods, ranging from the exuberance of jazz to brooding wistfulness.” William Grant Still himself contrasted his Second Symphony with his First, which was subtitled an “Afro-American Symphony.”  “[If my Symphony No. 1] represented the Negro of days not far removed from the Civil War," his Symphony No. 2, said Still, represented "the American colored man of today, in so many instances a totally new individual.”One striking feature of Still's Second is the expansive, lyrical writing for strings, perhaps a nod to the Philadelphia's famously silky string sound; another is the brass choir call and response gestures, reminiscent of African-American church music traditions. Music Played in Today's Program William Grant Still (1875 – 1978): Symphony No. 2 "Song of a New Race" (Detroit Symphony Orchestra; Neeme Jarvi, cond.) Chandos 9226

    Politically Correct and Incorrect Glinka

    Play Episode Listen Later Dec 9, 2021 2:00

    Synopsis The 19th century Russian composer Mikhail Ivanovich Glinka founded a distinctive national style of Russian classical music, and he wrote first great Russian opera, which premiered in St. Petersburg on today's date in 1836. That opera tells the story of Ivan Susanin, a folk hero of the early 17th century, who gave his life to protect the newly elected Tsar Mikhail, the first of the Romanov dynasty. Glinka's original title for his opera was “Ivan Susanin,” but after the then-current Tsar Nicholas I attended a rehearsal, Glinka changed it to “A Life for the Tsar,” to honor – and frankly flatter the current ruler in the Romanov line.  After the Bolshevik Revolution deposed Tsar Nicholas II in 1917 and executed his whole family, any opera praising the Romanovs, no matter how culturally significant, was unperformable in the Soviet Union.  But in 1939, Glinka's opera returned to Russian stages under its original title “Ivan Susanin,” thanks to a Soviet poet who removed all references to the Tsar from its libretto and adjusted its storyline to be “politically correct” for Stalinist Russia. These days, when Glinka's landmark opera is staged, it's under its original title and with its original, pro-Tsarist storyline restored. Music Played in Today's Program Mikhail Glinka (1804 - 1857) — "A Life for the Tsar" Overture (USSR State Symphony; Yevgeny Svetlanov, cond.) Regis RRC 1142

    Jean Sibelius

    Play Episode Listen Later Dec 8, 2021 2:00

    Synopsis The great Finnish composer Jean Sibelius was born on this date in 1865. In 1990, on Sibelius's 125th birthday, Finnish conductor Osmo Vänskä led the Lahti Symphony in the belated world-premiere of a previously unknown work by the composer, a Suite for Violin and Orchestra that Sibelius finished around 1929, but never published. Now, Sibelius was a very prolific composer up through his fifties, but during the last 30 years of his life before his death in 1957 wrote very little. He had completed his Seventh Symphony, his last, in 1924, and the world waited in vain for an Eighth. Perhaps it was due to depression, perhaps it was due to drink – or maybe, creatively speaking, Sibelius had just dried up. In any case, what works he did complete as a senior citizen were either revisions of much earlier pieces, or minor incidental works. Which makes this genial little Suite rather interesting. It's landscape music, evoking the Finnish countryside, but in a less bleak and abstract manner than usual. It may not be top-drawer Sibelius, but even so, we're grateful that Sibelius decided to put his Suite for Violin in a bottom drawer – and not in the fireplace! Music Played in Today's Program Jean Sibelius (1865-1957) — Suite for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 117 (Dong-Suk Kang, vn; Lahti Symphony; Osmo Vanska) BIS 1125

    Ruggles on the mountaintop

    Play Episode Listen Later Dec 7, 2021 2:00

    Synopsis It's perhaps not surprising that a solitary, iconoclastic 20th century composer should identify with a solitary, iconoclastic 18th century poet. The ultra-modernist American composer Carl Ruggles took as the title for one of his most famous orchestral pieces, a phrase from a motto by the early Romantic British poet William Blake which ran, “Great things are done when men and mountains meet.” On today's date in 1924, Ruggles' “Men and Mountains” received its premiere performance at a New York concert of the International Composers' Guild. The music critic of the New York Times was in attendance and wrote: “Mr. Ruggles … leaps upon the listener with a yell. There is a wild shriek of the brass choir, and thereafter no rest for the wicked. It is as if the irate composer had seized a plump, disparaging critic by some soft and flabby part of his anatomy, and pinched him blue, crying the while, ‘You will hear me and you'll not go to sleep, either!'” By the time of his death in 1971, at age of 95, Ruggles was seldom performed, yet he was still revered as the craggy, last-standing survivor of the craggy ultra-modernist movement of the early 20th century. Music Played in Today's Program Carl Ruggles (1876–1971) — Men and Mountains (Buffalo Philharmonic; Lukas Foss, cond.) Vox 8155

    Schumann and Prokofiev in private

    Play Episode Listen Later Dec 6, 2021 2:00

    Synopsis Two famous pieces of chamber music had their premieres on today's date, both at private readings prior to their first public performances. On today's date in 1842, the German Romantic composer Robert Schumann arranged for a trial reading of his new Piano Quintet in E-flat at the Leipzig home of some of his friends. Schumann's wife, Clara, was supposed to be the pianist on that occasion, but she took ill, and Schumann's friend and fellow-composer Felix Mendelssohn stepped in at the last moment for the informal performance, reading the work at sight. After this preliminary reading, Mendelssohn praised the work, but offered some friendly suggestions concerning part of the trio section in the new work's Scherzo movement, which prompted Schumann to write a livelier replacement movement for the work's first public performance. About 100 years later, on today's date in 1949, a cello sonata by the Soviet composer Sergei Prokofiev received a similar private performance in Moscow, for an invited audience at the House of the Union of Composers. Two of the leading Soviet performers of the day, cellist Mstislav Rostropovich and pianist Sviatoslav Richter, gave the work its first performance. The following spring, it was again Rostropovich and Richter who gave the Sonata its public debut at the Moscow Conservatory. Music Played in Today's Program Robert Schumann (1810–1856) — Piano Quintet in Eb, Op. 44 (Menahem Pressler, piano; Emerson String Quartet) DG 445 848 Sergei Prokofiev (1891–1953) — Cello Sonata, Op. 119 (David Finckel, cello; Wu Han, piano) Artist Led 19901

    Berlioz gets snuffed?

    Play Episode Listen Later Dec 5, 2021 2:00

    Synopsis “Snuff” is a finely pulverized tobacco that can be, well, “snuffed” through the nose. In the 19th century, taking snuff was a common practice, and on today's date in 1837, the most notorious example of snuff-taking in music history occurred –or didn't, depending on who you believe – during the premiere in Paris of the massive “Requiem Mass” of the French composer Hector Berlioz. As Berlioz tells it in his Memoirs, the conductor of the performance, Francois-Antoine Habeneck, decided to take a pinch of snuff during an especially tricky passage, at the very moment he should have been giving an important cue to the orchestra. To avert disaster, Berlioz jumped up, gave the cue, and afterwards accused Habeneck of sabotage.  Some eye-witnesses are on record saying, “Yes, that's just how it happened,” while others, equally emphatic, state, “Preposterous! Nothing of the sort occurred.” Whom to believe?  Well, it IS known that once the basic tempo was set, M. Habeneck was in the habit of putting down his baton to let the orchestra play on by themselves. He would then calmly take a pinch of snuff. Sometimes, it's said, he even offered snuff to his neighbors, so perhaps those performances were indeed sabotaged – by an especially loud sneeze! Music Played in Today's Program Hector Berlioz (1803–1869) — Requiem, Op. 5 (French Radio Chorus and Orchestra; Leonard Bernstein, cond.) Sony 47526

    Bruckner's New York debut

    Play Episode Listen Later Dec 4, 2021 2:00

    Synopsis On today's date in 1885, at a public rehearsal at the Old Metropolitan Opera House, the New York Symphony, led by a fresh-faced 23-year-old conductor named Walter Damrosch, performed for the first time in America a work by a 61-year-old Austrian composer named Anton Bruckner – his Symphony No. 3 in D minor. The New York Times critic, in fairness to this unfamiliar composer, attended both the rehearsal and concert before venturing an opinion: “As to form and workmanship,” he wrote, “it is a highly commendable achievement. The composer's motives are distinct and fluent, the instrumentation is rich, though not cloying… Unfortunately, there is not in the whole composition a measure in which a spark of inspiration, or a grain of inventiveness is discernible.”  Other New York papers were more blunt: “A dreary waste of sound… formless, weird, flimsy, uncongenial and empty” according to The Sun, while The Post observed: “The first movement is marked ‘misterioso', but the only mystery about it is how it ever came to be written, printed and performed.” In fairness to those critics of 1885, it would take many decades before American audiences started to acquire a taste for Bruckner's particular blend of music and mystery. Music Played in Today's Program Anton Bruckner (1824–1896) — Symphony No. 3 in d (BBC Scottish Symphony; Osmo Vänskä, cond.) Hyperion 67200

    Bach Begins the Church Year

    Play Episode Listen Later Dec 3, 2021 2:00

    Synopsis In many denominations, the Christian calendar or liturgical year begins with the season of Advent, the four Sundays preceding Christmas. The word “Advent” comes from the Latin “adventus,” which means “arrival” or “coming,” because Advent celebrates both the joyful anticipation of the arrival of the baby Jesus and the need for believers to prepare for the second coming of their Savior at the Last Judgement. In 1724, a very devout German Lutheran church musician named Johann Sebastian Bach crafted a cantata, a work for a small instrumental ensemble with solo voices and chorus, to be performed on the First Sunday of Advent, which fell on today's date that year. At Bach's church, the Thomaskirche in Leipzig, there would have been readings from Luther's translation of the Bible appropriate for the day, so Bach asked a poet friend for a text meditating on them, and took for his musical inspiration Luther's Advent hymn, "Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland,", which in English means “Now come, Savior of the heathens." That hymn appeared as the first in the Thomaskirche's hymnal, which meant the church year was off and running once again. Now, it was Bach's responsibility to provide a cantata for performance each Sunday, and during his time in Leipzig he would write over 200 of them -- which no doubt made him a favorite customer with anyone in Leipzig selling music manuscript paper! Music Played in Today's Program J.S. Bach (1685 - 1750) — Cantata No. 62 (Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland) (Monteverdi Choir; English Baroque Soloists; John Eliot Gardiner, cond.) Archiv 463 588

    Messiaen in Boston

    Play Episode Listen Later Dec 2, 2021 2:00

    Synopsis On today's date in 1949, Leonard Bernstein conducted the Boston Symphony in the first complete performance of Olivier Messiaen's ten-movement, 75-minute long “Turangalila” Symphony. “Turangalila” is the Sanskrit word for love, and Messiaen's score is meant to be a voluptuous evocation of the emotion at its most exalted state. Messiaen had spent the summer of 1949 as composer-in-residence at Tanglewood at the invitation of the great Russian conductor and new music impresario, Serge Koussevitzky, who was also Bernstein's mentor. Before arriving in Tanglewood, Messiaen had written to Bernstein as follows: “I have put into my symphony all of my strengths of love, of hope and of musical research. But I know you are a man of genius and that you will conduct it the way I feel it.”  The exotic French score was a modest success in Massachusetts. At least it provoked no riot, but then, as The Christian Science Monitor noted: “If Bostonians suffer, they suffer in silence.” When Bernstein and the Boston Symphony took the new score to New York's Carnegie Hall, however, critical reaction ranged from “a really rousing experience” to the view that (quote) “the trashiest Hollywood composers have met their match.” Music Played in Today's Program Olivier Messiaen (1908–1992) — Turangalila Symphony (Concertgebouw Orchestra; Riccardo Chailly, cond.) London 436 626

    Stravinsky and Balanchine count to 12

    Play Episode Listen Later Dec 1, 2021 2:00

    Synopsis On today's date in 1957, the New York City Ballet staged a new collaboration between the great Russian-born composer Igor Stravinsky and the great Russian-born choreographer Georges Balanchine.  The ballet company had been asking Stravinsky for nearly a decade to write a third ballet on a classical subject to make up a trilogy that would include his two earlier dance works on Greek mythology, “Apollo” from 1928 and “Orpheus” from 1948. Just as they were about to despair that Stravinsky would ever do it, he unexpectedly obliged — if not with a Greek myth, at least with a Greek WORD: his new ballet was titled “Agon,” the Greek word for contest or struggle. On a more modern note, by the 1950s, as Stravinsky's assistant Robert Craft recalled, “Something called twelve-tone music was in the air, and ‘Agon' is about 12 dancers and 12 tones.” “Agon” is also set in 12 scenes, and some of its movements were consciously laid out in multiples of 12 bars. Balanchine himself said in working on the ballet, “Stravinsky and I constructed every possibility of dividing 12” – which in dance terms, meant abstract solos, duets, trios and quartets to match the abstract, if eminently danceable, nature of Stravinsky's score. Music Played in Today's Program Igor Stravinsky (1882–1971) — Agon Ballet (Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra; Michael Stern, cond.) Denon 78972

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