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


    • Jun 24, 2022 LATEST EPISODE
    • daily NEW EPISODES
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    Harry Partch and Terry Riley

    Play Episode Listen Later Jun 24, 2022 2:00

    Synopsis Today's date marks the shared birthday of two of America's most famous “maverick” composers, both hailing from California. June 24, 1901, is the birth date of Harry Partch, an Oakland native. Partch devoted his life to developing an alternate system of tuning. Instead of the conventional Western system of equal temperament, in Partch's harmonic world, microtones were welcomed. To play his expanded scales, Partch designed and built new instruments with colorful names like “marimba eroica” and “cloud chamber bowls.” For Partch, music was a synthesis of theory and theater, ritual and dance -- intensely physical in nature and best experienced live. Harry Partch died in San Diego in 1974. Another Californian, born on this date in 1935, is Colfax native Terry Riley. It was in San Francisco in 1964 that Riley's most famous piece, entitled “In C”, received its premiere. The score consists of 53 phrases, or modules, with each player freely repeating each phrase as many times as desired before proceeding to the next. The result is an unpredictable, unique music work of canonic textures and polyrhythms, capable of being performed by any group of instruments ranging from a marimba ensemble to a full symphony orchestra, and now regarded as one of the seminal works of the so-called “minimalist” movement in music. Music Played in Today's Program Harry Partch (1901 – 1974) –Delusion of the Fury (Ensemble of Unique Instruments; Danlee Mitchell, cond.) innova 406 Terry Riley (b. 1935) –In C (SUNY at Buffalo Ensemble; Terry Riley, cond.) CBS 7178

    Reinhold Gliere

    Play Episode Listen Later Jun 23, 2022 2:00

    Synopsis Today we remember the Russian composer Reinhold Glière, who died in Moscow on today's date in 1956. These days Glière is probably best known for the popular “Russian Sailor's Dance” from his ballet “The Red Poppy.” Glière was born in Kiev in 1875, and studied at the Moscow Conservatory, where he later became professor of composition. That was after the Russian Revolution, and Glière could count among his students Sergei Prokofiev and Nikolai Miaskovsky. With the success of works like “The Red Poppy,” Glière is often cited as the founder of Soviet ballet. Glière also wrote several symphonies, all intensely Russian in color and character. The most famous of these is his Third, subtitled “Ilya Murometz” after a legendary Russian folk hero. Glière was also intrigued by the folk music of the far eastern republics of the then USSR, incorporating folk themes from the Soviet Union's Trans-Caucus and Central Asian peoples into some of his orchestral scores. He was a very prolific composer, but apart from a handful of very popular works, most of Glière's operas, ballets and orchestral works remain largely unfamiliar to most music lovers in the West. Music Played in Today's Program Reinhold Glière (1875 – 1956) –Russian Sailors' Dance, from The Red Poppy (Philadelphia Orchestra; Eugene Ormandy, cond.) BMG 63313 Reinhold Glière (1875 – 1956) –Symphony No. 3 (Ilya Murometz) (London Symphony; Leon Botstein, cond.) Telarc 80609

    Wagner in New York (and Philadelphia)

    Play Episode Listen Later Jun 22, 2022 2:00

    Synopsis For eight summers starting in 1868, the German-born American conductor Theodore Thomas lead concerts at New York City's Central Park. As usual with Thomas's programs, there was a calculated mix of old and new music, and more than a few premieres. On today's date in 1871, for example, Thomas conducted the first American performance of “Kaiser March,” a brand-new work by the German opera composer Richard Wagner completed earlier that year to honor Wilhelm of Prussia who had just become Emperor of a united German Reich. It went over very well back in Germany, and, considering that: a) everybody likes a good march, especially at summertime pops concerts and, b) a sizeable percentage of New York's musicians in Thomas's day were either German-born or German-trained, we can assume Wagner's “Kaiser March” was well-received at its American debut. Five years later, in 1876, Thomas would conduct the premiere of another celebratory march by Wagner, this one commissioned for the 100th anniversary of the American Revolution. Wagner was paid $5000, an enormous sum of money in those days, to compose an “American Centennial March” for national festivities in Philadelphia. Both of these marches are seldom performed today, and are regarded as pretty thin stuff, musically speaking. Wagner himself quipped that the best thing about his “American Centennial March” was the fee he received for writing it. Music Played in Today's Program Richard Wagner (1813 – 1883) –American Centennialand Imperial Marches (Hong Kong Philharmonic; Varujan Kojian, cond.) Naxos 8.555386

    Sean Hickey's Cello Concerto

    Play Episode Listen Later Jun 21, 2022 2:00

    Synopsis There are dozens of famous cello concertos that get performed in concert halls these days, ranging from 18th century works by the Italian Baroque master Antonio Vivaldi to dramatic 20th century works of the Russian modernist Dmitri Shostakovich. In 2007, the American composer Sean Hickey was commissioned by Russian cellist Dmitry Kouzov to write a new concerto, which received its premiere performance on today's date two years later, in 2009. “In this work,” Hickey recalled, “I wanted to fuse my interest in neo-classical clarity and design with the songful, heroic nature of the greatest cello concerto literature … My Cello Concerto had its Russian premiere at the Beloselsky-Belozersky Palace, a neo-Baroque edifice on the banks of the Fontanka River in Saint Petersburg … [It] was then recorded in the legendary Melodiya Studios on Vasilevsky Island in St. Petersburg, known from Soviet times as producing recordings from the likes of Shostakovich, Rostropovich, Mravinsky, and many others. “One moment of personal satisfaction came when the Russian orchestra, after rehearsing the piece for days, picked up on a buried quotation from Shostakovich's Seventh, his ‘Leningrad Symphony' in the final pages of my piece. It's easy to forget in the glittering and watery metropolis, which rivals any European city for beauty and culture, that St. Petersburg is a city full of ghosts.” Music Played in Today's Program Sean Hickey (b. 1970) –Cello Concerto (Dmitry Kouzov, vcl; St. Petersburg State Symphony; Vladimir Lande, cond.) Delos 3448

    Anderson and Golijov for the record

    Play Episode Listen Later Jun 20, 2022 2:00

    Synopsis It's a mark success when a new musical work is recorded shortly after its premiere, and even more when the recording session itself is the premiere. But that was the case with many works written by the American composer Leroy Anderson, whose short and tuneful compositions from the 1940s, 50s and 60s proved enormously popular during his lifetime. On June 20, 1962, Anderson was at New York's Manhattan Center, conducting for Decca Records the premiere of his “Clarinet Candy.” By recording in the summer months, when many of New York's best symphonic players were available for studio work, Anderson was able to round up top-notch musicians for his recording sessions. The contemporary Argentinean-born composer Osvaldo Golijov has also proved popular enough to have many of his brand-new works recorded either at their premieres or shortly thereafter. This Klezmer-style clarinet piece is entitled “Rocketekya,” and was written for the 20th anniversary of New York's Merkin Hall. Golijov explained: “I thought it would be interesting to write a different sort of celebratory piece, and I had an idea of a shofar blasting inside a rocket—an ancient sound propelled toward the future.” Music Played in Today's Program Leroy Anderson (1908 - 1975) –Clarinet Candy (Decca Studio Orchestra; Leroy Anderson, cond.) MCA 9815 Osvaldo Golijov (b. 1960) Rocketekya (David Krakauer, clarinet; Alicia Svigals, violin; Martha Mooke, electric viola; Pablo Aslan, contrabass) Naxos 8.559403

    A Monster Concert for Peace

    Play Episode Listen Later Jun 19, 2022 2:00

    Synopsis On today's date in 1869, a visitor to Boston's Back Bay could have marveled at a huge, specially-erected wooden structure sporting American flags and surrounded by a mini-village of peanut vendors and lemonade stands. Inside, an orchestra of 1000 sat surrounded by a chorus of 10,000. Over the stage hung giant portraits of Handel and Beethoven, and higher yet depictions of two angels gazing heavenwards by a banner reading “Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward Men.” This June 19th concert marked the end of a 5-day Jubilee Festival of Music and Reconciliation, as America tried to mend the wounds caused by its recent Civil War. Former Union General and current President Ulysses S. Grant was on hand, and the New York Times opined that the Festival offered proof that, “our people can think of something beyond … the almighty dollar.” During the Festival, the massive orchestra and chorus performed selections ranging from “classical” works by Bach and Mozart to more recent works by Meyerbeer and Verdi. A review by John S. Dwight, Boston's leading music critic of that day, found the immense chorus “glorious and inspiring” and the huge orchestra “splendid.” However, he dismissed a performance of Verdi's “Anvil Chorus,” accompanied by 100 real anvils, as a “childish, trivial thing for such a grand occasion.” Music Played in Today's Program Giacomo Meyerbeer (1791 -1864) –Coronation March, from Le Prophète (New York Philharmonic; Leonard Bernstein, cond.) Sony 46709 Giuseppe Verdi (1813 - 1901) –Anvil Chorus, from Il Trovatore (Chicago Symphony and Chorus; Sir Georg Solti, cond.) London 466 075

    Pleyel in the Old World (and the New)

    Play Episode Listen Later Jun 18, 2022 2:00

    Synopsis Drop the name “Pleyel” among classical music aficionados and one might say, “Oh, yeah, Pleyel. He was a French piano maker. I think Chopin liked Pleyel pianos.” Another might add, “He was a composer, too, but... I don't think he was really French…” Another might add, “Didn't he have something to do with Haydn?” Well, they're ALL right. Ignace Joseph Pleyel was born near Vienna on today's date in 1757. As a teenager, he became a pupil of Haydn, and in 1791, ended up in London, where, for a time, Pleyel's orchestral concerts competed with Haydn's. The two remained friends, however, dined together and attended each other's concerts. In 1795, Pleyel set up shop in Paris, where he founded a publishing house and piano factory. His own compositions remained enormously popular. In 1805, Pleyel travelled to Vienna, visited the aging Haydn and heard that young upstart Beethoven improvising at the piano. In 1822, the whaling port of Nantucket, Massachusetts, formed a Pleyel Society ‘to chasten the taste of listeners,' in the words of a local newspaper. According to the New Grove Dictionary of Music, “The most telling evidence of the appeal of Pleyel's music lies in the thousands of manuscript copies that filled the shelves of archives, libraries, … and private homes, and in the thousands of editions of his music produced in Europe and North America.” Music Played in Today's Program Ignaz Pleyel (1757 – 1831) –Symphony in G, Op. 68 (London Mozart Players; Matthias Bamert, cond.) Chandos 9525

    Bach and Mattheson

    Play Episode Listen Later Jun 17, 2022 2:00

    Synopsis Back in 1714, today's date fell on a Sunday, and, if you had happened to be attending a church service at the German Court of the Duke of Weimar, you might have heard some new music by the Duke's court composer and organist, Johann Sebastian Bach. It's possible that Bach's Cantata No. 21 received its first performance that day: its first part before the sermon, its second part right afterwards. The opening text, which Bach sets as a fugue, begins “Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis” or, in English, I had much affliction.” Now even in Bach's day, composers were afflicted with critics. In 1725, a then-famous composer—and critic—Johann Mattheson took Bach to task for the way in which he had set his text by quoting exactly what is being sung: "I, I, I, I had much affliction, I had much affliction, in my heart, in my heart. I had much affliction, in my heart…” etc… Mattheson's point, apparently, was that vocal music should not stutter, but flow gracefully in the “gallant” style that was becoming more fashionable and trendy back then. Even so, Mattheson knew that Bach was the real deal, and earlier had praised Bach in print for church and keyboard music so well written that (quote), “we must certainly rate this man highly.” Music Played in Today's Program J. S. Bach (1685 - 1750) –Cantata No. 21 (Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis)

    Charles Ives and Henry Brant

    Play Episode Listen Later Jun 16, 2022 2:00

    Synopsis The American composer Henry Brant is famous for his avant-garde “spatial” music – works that require groups of musicians stationed at various points around a performance space. But hard-core film music buffs might also know Brant as a master orchestrator of other composers' scores for Hollywood productions in the 1960s. On today's date in 1995, Brant conducted the National Arts Centre Orchestra of Ottawa, Canada, in the premiere of one of his orchestrations – in this case, a symphonic version of the “Concord” Piano Sonata of Charles Ives, first published in 1920. In the long preface to his Sonata, Ives wrote: “The [Sonata] is an attempt to present [an] impression of the spirit of transcendentalism… associated in the minds of many with Concord, Massachusetts… impressionistic pictures of Emerson and Thoreau, a sketch of the Alcotts, and a scherzo supposed to reflect a lighter quality… found in the fantastic side of Hawthorne.” Henry Brant had been profoundly influenced by Ives's music long before he got to know the “Concord” Sonata, but when he did, Brant set to work orchestrating it. “I sensed that here was a tremendous orchestral piece,” Brant wrote. “It seemed to me that the complete Sonata, in a symphonic orchestration, might become the ‘Great American Symphony' that we had been seeking for years… What better way to honor Ives.” Music Played in Today's Program Charles Ives (1874-1954) arr. Henry Brant (1913-2008) –A Concord Symphony (Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra; Dennis Russell Davies, cond.) innova 414

    Byrne and Eno in Minneapolis

    Play Episode Listen Later Jun 15, 2022 2:00

    Synopsis On today's date in 1980, a week-long festival entitled “New Music America” came to a close in Minneapolis with a concert at that city's Guthrie Theater. The program included the premiere of “High Life for Strings,” composed by David Byrne, a musician best known for his work with a rock band called The Talking Heads. Byrne later recalled, “When I participated in the New Music America festival in Minneapolis, minimalism and New-Age noodling were making big in-roads into a scene that had been more insular and academic. My piece, for a dozen strings was on a program with Philip Glass.” Byrne says he was influenced by the intricate rhythms of West African pop music. Brian Eno was another rock musician represented during the Festival in Minneapolis. Some years earlier, Eno had been so irritated by the inane, chirpy muzak he heard while traveling that he composed a soothing ambient synthesizer score he called “Music for Airports.” Appropriately enough, during the 8 days of the Festival, Eno's score was broadcast 24 hours a day throughout the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Decades after its composition, composer Michael Gordon arranged Brian Eno's synthesizer score for acoustic instruments, and recorded this arrangement of “Music for Airports” with the “Bang on a Can All-Stars.” Music Played in Today's Program David Byrne (b. 1952) –High Life (Balanescu Quartet) Argo 436 565 Brian Eno (b. 1948) arr. Gordon –Music for Airports (Bang on a Can All-Stars) Point Music 314 536 847

    Godfrey's Quartet No. 3

    Play Episode Listen Later Jun 14, 2022 2:00

    Synopsis It's summertime, the livin' is easy, and all across the country music festivals large and small are getting underway. In addition to the big symphonic festivals at Ravinia and Tanglewood, there are smaller ones devoted exclusively to the intimate art of chamber music. These festival often offer young, emerging composers the chance have their brand-new scores heard in workshop settings. Sometimes composers themselves are in charge of these summer festivals, partnering with established or specially-organized performing ensembles. In 1995, for example, two American composers, Daniel S. Godfrey and Andrew Waggoner, started up the Seal Bay Festival, a two-week series of performances and workshops of recently composed chamber music in the Penobscot Bay area of Maine. On June 14th, 2001, this newly-revised string quartet by Daniel Godfrey received its premiere by the Cassatt Quartet at the Center for Maine Contemporary Art in Rockport. The quartet is inscribed to the memory of Godfrey's mother, who died in 1997. “Her passing,” says Godfrey, “came to represent for me the losses, and the necessity of letting go, that have accompanied my arrival at late middle age. To oversimplify, perhaps, the first movement grieves, the second looks back wistfully, and the third looks ahead with determination and, ultimately, with hope.” Music Played in Today's Program Daniel S. Godfrey (b. 1949) –String Quartet No. 3 (Cassatt String Quartet) Koch 7573

    Milhaud's "French Suite"

    Play Episode Listen Later Jun 13, 2022 2:00

    Synopsis In 1944, the French composer Darius Milhaud was in California, teaching at Mills College in California, and received a commission to write a piece suitable for school bands. With a world at war, the Jewish composer had found safe refuge in the U.S., and so eagerly accepted the commission for a number of reasons. Milhaud, confined to a wheelchair for most of his adult life, sent his wife Madaleine to the College library to obtain a collection of French folk tunes. His idea was arrange of some these into a suite. As the composer himself explained after his “Suite Française” was finished: “The five parts of [my] Suite are named after French Provinces, the very ones in which the American and Allied armies fought together with the French underground for the liberation of my country. I used some folk tunes of these Provinces, as I wanted the young American to hear the popular melodies of those parts of France where their fathers and brothers fought on behalf of the peaceful and democratic people of France." Milhaud's “Suite Française” was premiered by the Goldman Band in New York City on today's date in 1945, and rapidly became one of the best-known and most often performed of Milhaud's works, and one of the established classics of the wind-band repertory. Music Played in Today's Program Darius Milhaud (1892 - 1974) Suite Francaise (Eastman Wind Ensemble; Frederick Fennell, cond.) Mercury 289 434 399-2

    Jennifer Higdon

    Play Episode Listen Later Jun 12, 2022 2:00

    Synopsis On today's date in 2002, a high-profile musical event occurred at Philadelphia's new Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts. The city was hosting the 57th National Conference of the American Symphony Orchestra League, and the Philadelphia Orchestra was celebrating its 100th anniversary with eight new commissions, all to be premiered in the Orchestra's new Verizon Hall. On June 12th, the new piece was a Concerto for Orchestra by a 39-year-old composer named Jennifer Higdon. Higdon's “Concerto” opened the Philadelphia Orchestra's program, followed by Richard Strauss's tone-poem “Ein Heldenleben.” Both pieces were performed before an audience of orchestral professionals from around the country – not to mention Higdon's proud mother. Higdon, understandably a little nervous, quipped to a newspaper reporter, "You'll know my mother because she'll be the one crying BEFORE the piece starts." Higdon needn't have worried. Her “Concerto for Orchestra” was greeted with cheers from both its audience and performers – the latter in typically irreverent fashion, dubbed the new piece “Ein Higdonleben.” Higdon, the only woman among the eight composers commissioned for the orchestra's centennial project, calls herself a "late bloomer" as a composer. She taught herself the flute at age 15 and didn't pursue formal music training until college. She was almost finished with her bachelor's degree requirements at Bowling Green State University when she started composing her own music. Music Played in Today's Program Jennifer Higdon (b. 1962) –Concerto for Orchestra (Atlanta Symphony; Robert Spano, cond.) Telarc 80620

    Riegger in Paris

    Play Episode Listen Later Jun 11, 2022 2:00

    Synopsis On today's date in 1931, the Russian-born American composer Nicolas Slonimsky was in Paris, conducting the second of two concerts of modern music from the Americas bankrolled by a retired insurance executive named Charles Ives. This second concert showcased Latin American composers like Pedro Sanjuan, Carlos Chavez, and Alejandro Caturla, as well as works by the Franco-American composers Carlos Salzedo and Edgard Varese. North America was represented by Wallingford Riegger's “Three Canons” for flute, oboe, clarinet and bassoon. Normally, chamber music for just four players doesn't require the services of a conductor, but in this case Slonimsky did beat time for the Parisian wind players hired for the gig. As Slonimsky put it, “Some instrumental parts were written in 5/8 and others in 2/8. I started beating time in 5/8, whereupon the binary musicians began to gesticulate at me to show their discomfort. What was I to do? OK, I said, I will conduct 5/8 with my right hand and 2/8 with my left. I was so delighted with my newly found ambidextrous technique that I applied it in other pieces as well, notably in the second movement of Ives' Three Place in New England, played on the first of the two Parisian concerts. Someone quipped that my conducting was evangelical, for my right hand knew not what my left hand was doing.” Music Played in Today's Program Wallingford Riegger (1885 – 1961) –Three Canons, Op. 9 (Samuel Baron, fl.; Ronald Roseman, ob.; Charles Neidich, cl.; Donald MacCourt, bsn.) Bridge 9068

    Some Brits in New York

    Play Episode Listen Later Jun 10, 2022 2:00

    Synopsis On today's date in 1939, the King and Queen of England were in New York City. Despite the perilous situation back home in Europe, their royal majesties George and Elizabeth Windsor crossed the Atlantic to attend the 1939 World's Fair, and sample exotic native delights such as a hot dog picnic with President Franklin Roosevelt. That same evening at Carnegie Hall, another visiting Brit, conductor Adrian Boult, led the New York Philharmonic in premiere performances of three brand-new works by leading British composers of the day, including the world premiere of the Seventh Symphony of Arnold Bax, a work commissioned by the British Council and dedicated to the American people. Also premiered that night was a virtuoso Piano Concerto by Arthur Bliss and Ralph Vaughan Williams' set of variations for strings and harp on the old English carol, “Dives and Lazarus.” The music critic for The New Yorker, covering the premieres, wrote: “The symphony wandered, as Bax symphonies seem to do, yet wandered into many characteristic eloquences. The variations were soundly charming, and the piano concerto was a roaring triumph.” There seems to be no documentation on the quality of the hot dogs served to their royal majesties, but we're willing to bet they, too, were top-notch. Music Played in Today's Program Sir Arthur Bliss (1891 - 1975) –Piano Concerto (Philip Fowke, piano; Royal Liverpool Philharmonic; David Atherton, cond.) Unicorn 2029 Sir Arnold Bax (1883 - 1953) –Symphony No. 7 (London Philharmonic; Raymond Leppard, cond.) Lyrita 232

    Belated Haydn Premieres

    Play Episode Listen Later Jun 9, 2022 2:00

    Synopsis Contemporary composers may bemoan that their newly-composed opera or concerto might languish unperformed for years. “Haydn was lucky,” they whine, “His stuff got played right away!” Well, it's true that Haydn DID have his own orchestra at Prince Esterhazy's estate and got his music played while the ink was still wet. But even Haydn had to wait for a premiere on occasion—in two instances, for a very, VERY long time. Consider the last opera Haydn wrote, entitled L'anima del filosofo, ossia Orfeo ed Euridice –or, in plain English, The Soul of the Philosopher, or Orpheus and Euridice. This was supposed to premiere in 1791 in London. But a spat between the Prince of Wales and his pop, King George III, meant the performance was off. The opera was eventually premiered 160 years later – on today's date in 1951, at the Teatro della Pergola in Florence, with a cast including Maria Callas and Boris Christoff, led by the German conductor Erich Kleiber. And the public premiere of a Cello Concerto in C, a work some think Haydn wrote at Esterhazy in the 1760s, took place in the 1960s. Haydn's score was presumed lost until 1961, when it was discovered at the Prague National Museum and finally played by cellist Milos Sádlo and the Czech Radio Symphony, led by Sir Charles Mackerras, on May 19, 1962. Music Played in Today's Program Franz Joseph Haydn (1732 - 1809) –Orfeo ed Euridice Franz Joseph Haydn (1732 - 1809) –Cello Concerto in C

    Elliott Carter's “Two Controversies and a Conversation”

    Play Episode Listen Later Jun 8, 2022 2:00

    Synopsis The American composer Elliott Carter lived to be 103 and remained amazingly productive, publishing more than 40 works between ages 90 and 100, and over 20 more AFTER he turned 100 in the year 2008. On today's date in 2012, a new chamber work by Carter with an odd title received its first performance at a concert in the New York Philharmonic's CONTACT! Series. The work was titled “Two Controversies and a Conversation” and showcased the percussive aspects of the piano, highlighting that instrument alongside a solo percussionist. The premiere was an international triple-commission from the New York Philharmonic, the Aldeburgh Festival in England, and Radio France. An earlier version of part of the new work, titled just “Conversations,” had been premiered in the UK the previous year. The composer explained the title as follows: “How does one converse?” asked Carter. “One person says something and tries to get the other person to respond, or carry on, or contradict a statement. Those conversing are also all the time playing a kind of game with each other. I tried to put all that into my music … After the premiere of ‘Conversations' at the Aldeburgh Festival in June of 2011, [the British composer] Oliver Knussen suggested I expand this piece. I decided to add two more movements, which became the two ‘Controversies.'" Music Played in Today's Program Elliott Carter (1908 – 2012) –“Conversation,” from “Two Controversies and a Conversation” (Eric Huebner, piano; Colin Currie, percussion; New York Philharmonic; David Robertson, cond.) NYP 20120112

    Alice Parker and ChoralQuest

    Play Episode Listen Later Jun 7, 2022 2:00

    Synopsis Boston-born American composer Alice Parker is a respected figure in the world of choral music. She studied with the legendary choral conductor Robert Shaw and collaborated with him in a series of folk-song arrangements that are performed by choruses all over the world. Parker was approached by the American Composers Forum to write a new work for their “Choral Quest” series specially designed for middle school children. Parker was intrigued by the challenge, realizing that many scores written for elementary schools would be too easy for middle schoolers, but works written for high school choirs might be too difficult. Also, parts written for middle school boys would have to accommodate voices in the process of changing from treble to tenor, baritone, and bass. Parker collaborated with students from the Amherst Regional Middle School Choir in her home state, and found some Native American texts that intrigued her, including one that began “What I am, I must become.” That text seemed perfect, since, as Parker put it, “Children that age have so much ‘becoming' to do… what they don't realize—yet—is that is true for all of us, all of our lives!” That text became the first of a three-part suite entitled “Dancing Songs,” premiered by the Amherst Regional Middle School Choir and their director David Ranen on today's date in 2011. Music Played in Today's Program Alice Parker (b. 1925) –Dancing Songs (Minnesota Boy Choir) ChoralQuest promotional CD

    Cowell in Paris

    Play Episode Listen Later Jun 6, 2022 2:00

    Synopsis On today's date in 1931, the Russian-born American conductor, and composer Nicolas Slonimsky was in Paris conducting the first of two concerts of ultra-modern music from the New World. These were presented under the auspices of the Pan American Association of Composers, and funded by an anonymous philanthropist Slonimsky later identified as retired insurance executive and fellow composer Charles Ives. Slonimsky had approached Ives early in 1931 with the idea of presenting a series of new music concerts in New York. When that proved too costly, they suggested mounting the same concerts in Paris. “In 1931, the dollar was still almighty among world currencies,” recalled Slonimsky. “Ives gave me a letter of credit to the Paris branch of the Chase Manhattan Bank in the amount of $1500, an enormous sum of money in French francs at the time. The prestigious Orchestra Straram was engaged for my first Paris concert. I had a brilliant audience: composers, journalists, painters, Italian futurists. There was applause, but also puzzled responses.” One French music critic even entitled his review “The Discovery of America,” writing, “We have, (without joking), just discovered America, thanks to a Christopher Columbus called Slonimsky.” As for Ives, he was very pleased with the success of the concerts, and for a time jokingly addressed Slonimsky as either “Columbus et Vespuccius,” Music Played in Today's Program Henry Cowell (1897 – 1965) –Synchrony (Polish National Radio Orchestra; William Strickland, cond.) Citadel 88122

    Corigliano Dances

    Play Episode Listen Later Jun 5, 2022 2:00

    Synopsis Merriam-Webster's defines a “gazebo” as “a freestanding roofed structure usually open on the sides. To most Americans, however, “gazebo” conjures up warm, summer days spent out-of-doors: If you imagine yourself inside a gazebo, you're probably enjoying a cool beverage while gazing out at the greenery – or, if you fancy yourself outside one, you're probably seated in a lawn chair, gazing at a group of gazebo-sheltered band musicians playing a pops concert for your entertainment. In the early 1970's, the American composer John Corigliano wrote a series of whimsical four-hand piano dances he dedicated to certain of his pianist friends, and then later arranged these pieces for concert band, entitling the resulting suite “Gazebo Dances. “ “The title,” explained Corigliano, “was suggested by the pavilions often seen on village greens in towns throughout the countryside, where public band concerts are given in the summer. The delights of that sort of entertainment are portrayed in this set of dances, which begins with a Rossini-like Overture, followed by a rather peg-legged Waltz, a long-lined Adagio, and a bouncy Tarantella.” The concert band version of Corigliano's “Gazebo Dances” was first performed in Indiana on today's date in 1973, by the University of Evansville Wind Ensemble, with Robert Bailey conducting. Music Played in Today's Program John Corigliano (b. 1938) – Gazebo Dances (University of Texas Wind Ensemble; Jerry Junkin, cond.) Naxos 8.559601

    Brahms rediscovered

    Play Episode Listen Later Jun 4, 2022 2:00

    Synopsis In the summer of 1853 Johannes Brahms had just turned twenty and was touring as the piano accompanist of the Hungarian violinist Ede Reményi. On today's date, they arrived in Gottingen, where they were hosted by Arnold Wehner, the Music Director of that city's University. Wehner kept a guest book for visitors, and over time accumulated signatures from the most famous composers of his day, including Mendelssohn, Rossini, and Liszt. Now, in 1853, Brahms was not yet as famous as he would later become, but as a thank-you to his host, he filled a page of Wehner's album with a short, original composition for piano. Fast forward over 150 years to 2011, when Herr Wehner's guest book fetched over $158,000 at an auction house in New York City, and this previously unknown piano score by Brahms attracted attention for many reasons. First, few early Brahms manuscripts have survived. Brahms was notorious for burning his drafts and sketches, and second, the melody Brahms jotted down in 1853 showed up again in the second movement of his Horn Trio, Op. 40, published 12 years later. Finally, there's a still-unresolved controversy about who had rediscovered the long-lost score: the auction house had the manuscript authenticated in 2011, but in 2012 the British conductor Christopher Hogwood claimed he had stumbled across it while doing other research. Music Played in Today's Program Johannes Brahms (1833 - 1897) – Albumblatt in A Minor (1853) (Sophie-Mayuko Vetter, p.) Hännsler 98048

    Dvorak's "The Water Goblin"

    Play Episode Listen Later Jun 3, 2022 2:00

    Synopsis In the late 19th Century, there were two rival musical camps: one favored “absolute music” like the symphonies, concertos, and chamber music of Brahms; the other the “music of the future,” namely the operas of Wagner and the tone poems of Liszt, works that told dramatic stories in music. Now, Dvorak's mentor was Brahms, and Dvorak was famous for his symphonies, concertos, and chamber music. But on today's date in 1896, at a concert of the Prague Conservatory Orchestra, three tone poems by Dvorak premiered: “The Water Goblin,” “The Noonday Witch,” and “The Golden Spinning Wheel,” all three based on Czech folk legends – and rather lurid, even gruesome ones at that. Not surprisingly, the “absolute music” camp was shocked. The Viennese critic Eduard Hanslick lamented: “It is strange that Dvorak now indulges in ugly, unnatural, and ghastly stories which correspond so little to his amiable character and to the true musician that he is. In ‘The Water Goblin' we are treated to a fiend who cuts off his own child's head!” But another Czech composer, Leos Janacek, heard something quite different: “In all the orchestral tone poems that I have known, the ‘direct speech' of the instruments, if I might describe it thus, has never sounded with such certainty, clarity and truthfulness within the wave of melodies, as it does in ‘The Water Goblin.'” Music Played in Today's Program Antonin Dvorak (1841 - 1904) – The Water Goblin (Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra; Nikolaus Harnoncourt, cond.) Teldec 25254

    Walton and the Royals

    Play Episode Listen Later Jun 2, 2022 2:00

    Synopsis On today's date in 1953, thousands crowded the route to and from London's Westminster Abbey for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II and, at the Queen's own request, the event was televised live by the BBC. British composer William Walton was asked to write two new pieces. The first Walton's “Coronation Te Deum”, a work that he had begun almost a decade earlier for a quite different occasion, namely the opening night of the 1944 London Proms. The piece got shifted to a back-burner when Walton was asked to work on Lawrence Olivier's wartime film of Shakespeare's “Henry V.” For the new Queen's Coronation, Walton returned to his abandoned score, writing to friends, “I've got cracking on the Te Deum. Lots of counter-tenors and little boys Holy-holy-ing, not to mention all the Queen's Trumpeters and a side drum. You will like it, I think, and I hope He will too.” “He” was capitalized, so presumably Walton was referring to either the Deity -- or Winston Churchill, perhaps. Walton was also asked to compose a “Coronation March,” which he entitled “Orb and Scepter” after a line, coincidentally, from Shakespeare's “Henry V.” Walton's March may have seemed a bit jazzy to the more conservative audiences of the day, but one critic, slipping into Cockney slang, gushed, “It sounds like a right royal knees-up!” Music Played in Today's Program William Walton (1902 - 1983) – Coronation Te Deum (Andrew Lumsden, organ; Finzi Singers; Paul Spicer, cond.) Chandos 9222 William Walton (1902 - 1983) – Orb And Sceptre March (English Northern Philharmonia; Paul Daniel, cond.) Naxos 8.553981

    Handel's Testament

    Play Episode Listen Later Jun 1, 2022 2:00

    Synopsis When most people hit 65, they're anticipating their first social security check, but on today's date in 1750, when George Frederick Handel turned 65, he was making out his will. To John Christopher Smith, Handel left, “my large harpsichord, my little house organ, my music books, and 500 pounds sterling.” John Christopher Smith, born Johann Christoph Schmidt, was an old friend of Handel's from his university days in Germany. Handel persuaded Herr Schmidt to give up the wool trade and come to England. As MISTER Smith, he established a famous copyists' shop in London, became Handel's business partner. Seven years later, Handel modified his will, leaving his larger theater organ to John Rich, whose Covent Garden Theater had staged Handel's most recent operas and oratorios. To Charles Jennens, who had arranged the Biblical verses for Handel's “Messiah,” the composer bequeathed some paintings. To the Foundling Hospital, a charitable institute that had performed “Messiah” as a successful fundraiser, Handel left “a fair copy of the score and all parts” for that famous oratorio. Shortly before his death, Handel bequeathed 1000 pounds to the Society for the Support of Decayed Musicians, a charity in aid of musicians' widows and orphans, and directed that 600 pounds be used to erect his own monument in Westminster Abbey. Music Played in Today's Program George Frederic Handel (1685 - 1759) – Air, from Water Music (St. Martin's Academy; Sir Neville Marriner, cond.) EMI 66646

    Peter Sellars and John Adams

    Play Episode Listen Later May 31, 2022 2:00

    Synopsis For fans of British comedy, the name Peter Sellars conjures up an actor famous for his iconic role as the bumbling Chief Inspector Clouseau in “Pink Panther” movies. But for opera fans, the name refers to a completely different fellow: an American theater director born in 1957. The American Peter Sellars is notorious for staging classic operas as if they were set in present-day America. For example: Mozart's “Don Giovanni” in a dangerous, drug-dealing neighborhood in New York City's Spanish Harlem, or “The Marriage of Figaro” in a luxury penthouse in Trump Tower. Sellars is also the frequent partner of American composer John Adams in brand-new operas and concert projects. On today's date 2012, a new oratorio by Adams and Sellars titled “The Gospel According to the Other Mary” received its world premiere at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles with Gustavo Dudamel conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Los Angeles Master Chorale. The new work's libretto, crafted by Sellars, tells the Biblical story of the passion and death of Jesus from the point of view of "the other Mary," Mary Magdalene, alongside texts and scenes from contemporary American life, including a women's shelter, labor and social justice protests, and the opioid crisis. If Jesus were alive today, Sellars and Adams seem to be saying, He would be ministering to the suffering margins of American society, not to the rich and powerful. Music Played in Today's Program John Adams (b. 1949) — chorus, fr “The Gospel According to the Other Mary” (Los Angeles Master Chorale & Los Angeles Philharmonic; Gustavo Dudamel, cond.) DG 0289 479 2243 8

    Britten's "War Requiem"

    Play Episode Listen Later May 30, 2022 2:00

    Synopsis On today's date in 1962, Benjamin Britten's “War Requiem” for soprano, tenor, baritone, chorus, and orchestra, had its premiere performance at Coventry Cathedral in England. The Cathedral had been virtually destroyed in World War II bombing, and Britten's big choral work was commissioned to celebrate its restoration and reconsecration. Britten was a committed pacifist, and his “War Requiem” text combines poems by Wilfred Owen, who had been killed in the First World War, with the traditional Latin text of the Mass for the Dead. For the premiere, Britten requested soloists representing nations who had fought during the Second World War. With Britten's life-time partner, tenor Peter Pears, representing England, the plan was to have a German baritone, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, and a Russian soprano, Galina Vishnevskaya, for the 1962 premiere. As a young man, Fischer-Dieskau had been drafted into the German army, and had been a prisoner of war, but was eager to participate. Unfortunately, the Soviet authorities wouldn't issue a visa for soprano Vishnevskaya to sing in the new Britten piece. “How can you, a Soviet woman, stand next to a German and an Englishman and perform such a political work,” they told her. The British soprano Heather Harper substituted for her. For many, Britten's “War Requiem” is his masterpiece, and shortly after its premiere, Britten wrote to his sister, “The idea did come off, I think... I hope it will make people think a bit.” Music Played in Today's Program Benjamin Britten (1913 - 1976) — War Requiem (soloists; choirs; BBC Scottish Symphony; Martyn Brabbins, cond.) Naxos 8.553558

    Stravinsky's "Rite" at 100+

    Play Episode Listen Later May 29, 2022 2:00

    Synopsis It was on today's date in 1913 that Igor Stravinsky's ballet “The Rite of Spring” premiered at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris, provoking catcalls and fisticuffs from some in the audience. Most scholars suggest it was the ungainly, deliberately primitive choreography of Vaslav Nijinsky, more than Stravinsky's score, that provoked the most negative response. Pierre Monteux's concert performance—without the dancing—at the Casino de Paris the following Spring marked the start of the score's success as pure music. On that occasion, Stravinsky was carried in triumph from the hall on the shoulders of his admirers. Shortly before his death in 1929, Sergei Diaghilev, who had commissioned Stravinsky's score, was enthusiastically quoting a review in the London Times that suggested (perhaps ironically) that the “Rite of Spring” would be for the 20th century what Beethoven's Ninth Symphony was for the 19th. Well, that has rather turned out to be the case, in fact, and by 2013, a piece of orchestral music that in 1913 was considered almost unplayable is routinely programmed as a classic orchestral showpiece. One New York Times critic even wrote “… now everybody knows “The Rite.” [It's] an audition piece that every music student practices, so that now any conservatory orchestra can give a fleet and spiffy performance of what used to stump their elders, and professional orchestras can play it in their sleep, and often do…” Music Played in Today's Program Igor Stravinsky — The Rite of Spring (Cleveland Orchestra; Pierre Boulez, cond.) DG 435 769 On This Day Births 1860 - Spanish composer Isaac Albéniz, in Camprodón; 1873 - Estonian composer Rudolf Tobias, in Kaina on Haiiumaa Island; 1897 - Austrian composer Eric Wolfgang Korngold, in Brno; 1922 - Greek composer Iannis Xenakis, in Braila, Roumania; 1948 - English composer Michael Berkley, in London; He is the son of English composer, Sir Lennox Berkeley (1903-89); Deaths 1910 - Russian composer Mily Balakirev, age 73, in St. Petersburg (Julian date: May 16); 1911 - British lyricist Sir William S. Gilbert (of "Gilbert & Sullivan" fame), age 74, from a heart attack after rescuing a drowning woman, at Harrow Weald, England; 1935 - Czech composer Josef Suk, age 61, in Benesov; 1951 - Czech composer Josef Bohuslav Foerster, age 91, in Vestec, near Stará Boleslav; Premieres 1901 - Paderewski: "Manru," in Dresden; Also staged at the Metropolitan Opera in 1902; 1905 - Scriabin: Symphony No. 3 ("'Divine Poem"), in Paris, Arthur Nikisch conducting; 1913 - Stravinsky: "Le Sacre du printemps" (The Rite of Spring), in Paris, by Diaghilev's Ballet Russe, Pierre Monteux conducting; 1954 - Cowell: Symphony No. 11 ("Seven Rituals"), by the Louisville Orchestra, Robert S. Whitney conducting; 1970 - Rautavaara: Piano Concerto, in Helsinki, with composer as soloist, and the Finnish Radio Symphony, Paavo Berglund conducting; Others 1873 - American premiere of Brahms's Serenade No. 1 in D, at Steinway Hall, by the New York Symphony, Theodore Thomas conducting; 1963 - The New York Philharmonic "Promenade" concert series is inaugurated. Links and Resources On Igor Stravinsky More on "The Rite of Spring" Video of recreated original 1913 choreography for "The Rite of Spring"

    John Williams and Alfred Hitchcock

    Play Episode Listen Later May 28, 2022 2:00

    Synopsis Unless you're Tony Soprano, if your boss turns to you and says, “Murder can be fun,” the prudent reaction would be to: a) start looking for a new job, and b) wait for a discrete opportunity to call the police. But in 1975, when Alfred Hitchcock made that statement to composer John Williams, Williams probably just nodded in agreement. After all, it was a great honor to be asked by Alfred Hitchcock to write music for what would turn out to be the last film completed by the famous Master of Suspense. That film was “Family Plot,” and Williams completed its music for recording sessions at Universal Studios early in 1976. Williams recalled that the already-ailing Hitchcock stayed just an hour, pronounced the music “fine,” and said, “I'll leave this to you,” before departing. Now, film buffs will recall that Hitch, a notorious micro-manager, had abruptly fired composer Bernard Herrmann, his legendary former collaborator, during a recording session for his 1966 film “Torn Curtain,” when Hitchcock realized Herrmann had NOT followed his instructions for a trendy pop music score. “Family Plot,” was shown at the 1976 Cannes Film Festival but was not officially entered in the competition. Still, it's ironic that on today's date that year, the Festival's top prize, the coveted Palme d'Or, was awarded to “Taxi Driver,” a film by Martin Scorsese, with – you guessed it – music by Bernard Herrmann. Music Played in Today's Program John Williams (b. 1932) — Closing Credits music, from Family Plot (Utah Symphony) Varese-Sarabande VCD-47225

    Higdon's "Rhythm Stand"

    Play Episode Listen Later May 27, 2022 2:00

    Synopsis The American composer Jennifer Higdon is used to having her new works premiered by some of this country's major orchestras. The Philadelphia Orchestra, for example, gave the premiere performance of her “Concerto for Orchestra” in 2002. The following year, another Higdon work, a piece for wind band entitled “Rhythm Stand,” premiered in Philadelphia. Now, if Higdon's “Concerto for Orchestra” was composed for the virtuoso members of the Philadelphia Orchestra, “Rhythm Stand” was intended for amateur musicians—middle-school students, to be precise, and its premiere was given by the kids of the Baldi Middle School Band, led by Sandra Dylan. “Rhythm Stand” was commissioned by the American Composers Forum for their “BandQuest” series of new scores, all written by leading composers, but intended for young performers. Higdon explains the title of her new piece as follows: “Composing is merely the job of combining interesting sounds into interesting patterns. And interesting patterns create cool rhythms. So... I'm making a STAND FOR RHYTHM… rhythm is everywhere… ever listened to the tires of a car running across pavement, or a train on railroad tracks? Because music can be any kind of sound arranged into an interesting pattern, I added sounds that you normally wouldn't hear coming from band instruments, sounds created out of ordinary things that might be nearby… like music stands and pencils, for example…. And some performers in this piece get even more basic...they snap their fingers.” Music Played in Today's Program Jennifer Higdon (b. 1962) — Rhythm Stand (University of Minnesota Symphonic Band; Craig Kirchoff, cond.) Hal Leonard (full score, parts and CD) HL-04002285

    Edward Collins premieres

    Play Episode Listen Later May 26, 2022 2:00

    Synopsis In 1923, the Chicago North Shore Festival sponsored a competition for new orchestral works. Of the 47 scores submitted, five finalists were selected by a distinguished panel of judges that included two leading American composers of that day: George W. Chadwick and Henry Hadley. Two of the five works that made the final cut were by the same composer, a 33-year-old Illinois native named Edward Collins. On today's date in 1923, conductor Frederick Stock and his Chicago Symphony played through the five finalists' scores at a public event at Northwestern University, with Collins in attendance to hear his two contrasting pieces. The first was called “Mardi Gras,” and, as you might expect, it was an upbeat work in a party mood. The second Collins piece was entitled “1914”—a grim orchestral evocation of World War I that Collins later retitled “Tragic Overture.” It was that work that won the competition's $1000 first prize, and so impressed conductor Stock that he performed the piece in New York and Chicago. Although Collins was famous in his day, after his death in 1951, his music was largely forgotten. Perhaps his unabashedly Romantic style seemed dated in the avant-garde 50s and 60s. After more than half a century after his death, a series of new recordings of Collins' orchestral works made by the Concordia Orchestra under Marin Alsop have helped to reintroduce his music to a new generation. Music Played in Today's Program Edward Collins (1889 - 1951) — Mardi Gras and Tragic Overture (Concordia Orchestra; Marin Alsop, cond.) Albany 267

    Verdi, Wagner and Sousa for the Red Cross

    Play Episode Listen Later May 25, 2022 2:00

    Synopsis When the United States entered World War I, American animosity against all things German resulted in a ban on German symphonic music and operas. During the Second World War however, musically-speaking, things were VERY different. With America at war with Germany and Italy, music by Wagner and Verdi, for example, continued to be performed in our concert halls and opera houses. In fact, just as the Nazis tried to appropriate German classical music for their propaganda purposes, the Allies adopted the opening notes of Beethoven's Fifth as a Morse Code "V" for Victory motive, and in OUR wartime propaganda, Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries," accompanied images of Allied bombers racing through the clouds to strike German cities. On May 25, 1944, the combined orchestras of the New York Philharmonic and the NBC Symphony presented a Red Cross Benefit concert at Madison Square Garden, with Arturo Toscanini conducting. The first half of the program was all-Wagner, the second half, all-Verdi. During the intermission, New York mayor Fiorello La Guardia auctioned off maestro Toscanini's baton. As a grand finale, after the German and Italian music, Toscanini closed with a rousing all-American encore—his own arrangement of John Philip Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever." So, as Walter Cronkite would put it: "That's the way it was, May 25, 1944." Music Played in Today's Program Richard Wagner (1813 - 1883) — Ride of the Valkyries, from Die Walküre (New York Philharmonic and NBC Orchestra; Arturo Toscanini, cond.) Radio Years 71/72 John Philip Sousa (arr. Toscanini) — Stars and Stripes Forever (New York Philharmonic and NBC Orchestra; Arturo Toscanini, cond.) Radio Years 71/72

    Carter and Copland in dancing shoes

    Play Episode Listen Later May 24, 2022 2:00

    Synopsis In 1935, a 26-year-old American named Elliott Carter returned to the States after composition studies in Paris with Nadia Boulanger. Carter found work as the music director of Ballet Caravan, an ambitious and enterprising touring ensemble whose mission was to present specially-commissioned new dance works on quintessentially American themes. Virgil Thomson, for example, wrote a ballet entitled "Filling Station," and Carter himself, decades before the animated Disney movie, wrote a ballet version of the story of Pocahontas and John Smith. While on tour, these new scores were presented in two-piano versions, but on today's date in 1939, the orchestral version of Carter's "Pocahontas" Ballet was presented by the Ballet Caravan at its home base at the Martin Beck Theater in New York. The New York Times reviewer didn't much care for the staging or Carter's music: "The costumes are in the manner of the old-fashioned cigar box Indian," he wrote, "and after the first amusing glimpse their psuedo-naiveté begins to grow irksome. Mr. Carter's music is so thick it is hard to see the stage through it." The Times reviewer DID like another new ballet also receiving its orchestral debut that same night. This was Aaron Copland's "Billy the Kid.” "A perfectly delightful piece of work," enthused the same critic, concluding, "Aaron Copland has furnished an admirable score, warm and human, and with not a wasted note about it anywhere." Music Played in Today's Program Elliott Carter (1908 - 2012) — Pocahontas Ballet (American Composers Orchestra; Paul Dunkel, cond.) CRI 610 Aaron Copland (1900 - 1990) — Billy the Kid Ballet (St. Louis Symphony; Leonard Slatkin, cond.) EMI 73653

    Daniel Pinkham's "Nocturnes"

    Play Episode Listen Later May 23, 2022 2:00

    Synopsis An old music dictionary's definition of “nocturne” reads as follows: “A night piece, a musical composition that suggests a nocturnal atmosphere, for example Haydn's ‘Notturno' or Mozart's ‘Serenata Notturna,' but more specifically a short piece of romantic character. First to use this title for this genre was John Field, followed by Chopin.” Hundreds of composers since Field and Chopin have tried their hand at writing nocturnes. This particular one was written for flute and guitar by the Boston-based composer Daniel Pinkham, as part of a five-movement suite of Nocturnes, all premiered on today's date in 1993, at the First and Second Church in Boston. Now, as any insomniac will tell you, there are all sorts of night moods, and the descriptive titles of Pinkham's set of five “Nocturnes” ranges from the sprightly to the serene, with others entitled “brooding,” “sultry,” and “restless” tossed in for good measure. Daniel Pinkham was particularly fortunate in his teachers. Imagine studying composition with Aaron Copland, Walter Piston, and Samuel Barber, or harpsichord with Wanda Landowska and organ with E. Power Biggs. Pinkham did – and in turn became a successful teacher himself, with a long tenure at the New England Conservatory of Music. He served as music director of Boston's historic King's Chapel, and as a composer was particularly honored by his church musician colleagues for his many works for chorus and organ. Music Played in Today's Program Daniel Pinkham (1923 - 2006) — Nocturnes (Fenwick Smith, flute; David Leisner, guitar) Koch 7423

    Richard Wagner at 200+

    Play Episode Listen Later May 22, 2022 2:00

    Synopsis Today's date marks the anniversary Richard Wagner's birth. During Wagner's lifetime, his most famous – and perhaps most perceptive – critic was a Prague-born Viennese writer on music named Eduard Hanslick. Hanslick knew Wagner personally, and described him as follows: “A stranger would have seen in his face not so much an artistic genius as a dry Leipzig professor or lawyer. He spoke incredibly much – and fast – in a monotonous sing-song Saxon dialect and always of himself, his works, his reforms, his plans. If he mentioned the name of another composer it was always in a tone of disparagement.” For Wagnerians, Hanslick was a crusty old conservative who preferred Brahms and was too thick-headed to appreciate the “Music of the Future” epitomized by Wagner's operas. But if one actually reads Hanslick's writings on Wagner, a more nuanced and balanced picture emerges. “I know very well,” wrote Hanslick, “that Wagner is the greatest living opera composer and the only one in Germany worth talking about in a historical sense … But between this admission and the repulsive idolatry which has grown up in connection with Wagner and which he has encouraged, there is an infinite chasm.” Upon learning of Wagner's death in 1883, Hanslick wrote: “Wagner stands at the head of the moving forces of modern art. He shook opera and all its associated theoretical and practical issues from a comfortable state of repose bordering on stagnation.” Music Played in Today's Program Richard Wagner (1813 - 1883) — Transformation music from Parsifal

    Brubeck's "Pange Lingua Variations"

    Play Episode Listen Later May 21, 2022 2:00

    Synopsis In the 13th century, St. Thomas Aquinas penned a Latin hymn in praise of the holy sacrament of the last supper in which bread and wine are mystically changed into the body and blood of Christ. Aquinas's text begins, “Pange lingua, gloriosi” or “Sing, my tongue, the Savior's Glory.” Aquinas's words have been set to a melody much older than his text, possibly derived from a Roman marching song or an even earlier Hebrew chant. On May 21, 1983, this ancient text and tune underwent yet another transformation at the hands of the American composer and jazzman Dave Brubeck, when his “Pange Lingua Variations” for chorus, jazz ensemble and orchestra had its premiere at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in Sacramento, California. In Brubeck's setting, each stanza is sung first in original Gregorian chant style, followed by a variation. Brubeck said, “I searched for the meaning of each stanza, and tried to convey that thought musically, so that each variation is a miniature meditation.” The third variation, taking its cue from the music's possible origin as a Roman marching tune, is given an appropriately martial treatment by both the chorus and jazz ensemble. While jazz fans associate Dave Brubeck with the sophisticated jazz he developed in the 50s and 60s, many church musicians also know him as the composer of many oratorios on sacred themes, which often incorporate jazz elements into their scoring. Music Played in Today's Program Dave Brubeck (1920 - 2012) — "Pange Lingua" Variations (Brubeck Quartet; London Voices; London Symphony; Russell Gloyd, cond.) Telarc 80621

    Alfons Diepenbrock

    Play Episode Listen Later May 20, 2022 2:00

    Synopsis It was the fashion in the late 19th century to decorate concert halls with the names of famous composers like Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms. Of course, over time some composers once very popular fell out of favor, and many old concert hall walls included names like Cherubini and Meyerbeer, composers who nowadays are performed only on rare occasions. In Amsterdam, the main hall of the acoustically famous Concertgebouw boats a pantheon of over two dozen composers' names as part of its interior decoration, and, not surprisingly, a few Dutch composers are included in the mix. Most of the native sons so honored are probably unfamiliar outside of the Netherlands, however. Take for example Alfons Diepenbrock, a self-taught composer and conductor born in Amsterdam who lived from 1862 to 1921. Diepenbrock composed a small body of big orchestral works in the late Romantic style of Gustav Mahler, who was a close friend. In Amsterdam on today's date in 1906, the Concertgebouw Orchestra and conductor Willem Mengelberg premiered a work of Diepenbrock's entitled “In Great Silence – a Mood Poem based on an Aphorism of Friedrich Nietzsche.” This music sounds a little like a lost movement from some big Mahler symphony, and while these days the name Diepenbrock might not be as familiar as Mahler, maybe that's something we should work on correcting! Music Played in Today's Program Alfons Diepenbrock (1862 - 1921) — In Great Silence (A Mood Poem based on an Aphorism of Friedrich Nietzsche) (Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra; Riccardo Chailly, cond (live recording)) Royal Concertgebouw Recordings 97033

    Jodie Blackshaw's "Letter from Sado"

    Play Episode Listen Later May 19, 2022 2:00

    Synopsis Australian composer Jodie Blackshaw is passionate about music for wind band and is fond of quoting her famous compatriot composer Percy Grainger on the subject: “Why this cold-shouldering of the wind band?” asked Grainger. “Is the wind band – with its varied assortments of reeds (so much richer that the reeds of the symphony orchestra), its complete saxophone family that is found nowhere else ... its army of brass – not the equal of any medium ever conceived? As a vehicle of deeply emotional expression it seems to me unrivalled.” For her part, Blackshaw has chosen to compose primarily for wind band. She also appears as a guest clinician and adjudicator for band festivals throughout Australia. “The Wind Band offers a varied and colorful contribution to instrumental music,” says Bradshaw, “and with literally millions of children world-wide entering musical performance through this medium, it is worthy of our serious attention.” On today's date in 2014, a new work by Blackshaw intended for middle-school band students was premiered by the Rosemount Middle School Band of Rosemont, Minn., under the direction of John Zschunke. The new piece, “Letter from Sado," was inspired by a Japanese haiku and traditional Japanese taiko drumming. This work is part of the BandQuest series commissioned by the American Composers Forum, intended to offer young musicians a diverse variety of fresh new wind band works by leading composers of our day. Music Played in Today's Program Jodie Blackshaw — Letter from Sado (University of Minnesota Wind Ensemble) Hal Leonard HL04004132 (sheet music)

    Milhaud's "Sacred Service"

    Play Episode Listen Later May 18, 2022 2:00

    Synopsis Temple Emanu-El in San Francisco is one of America's foremost reform congregations. For some 50 years its cantor was Reuben Rinder, who, in addition to his liturgical duties, was a composer, impresario, and musical mentor. Cantor Rinder influenced the careers of two of the 20th century's greatest violinists, Yehudi Menuhin and Isaac Stern, and also commissioned two of the 20th century's most famous concert versions of the Jewish liturgy, the Evening and Morning Sabbath Service settings of Ernst Bloch and Darius Milhaud. Milhaud's Sabbath Morning Service was first heard at Temple Emanu-El on today's date in 1949, with its composer conducting. Milhaud was born in Provence and wrote that the Provencal Jewish tradition evoked in his score differs somewhat from the more standard Ashkenazi liturgy prevalent in most American synagogues then and now. The composer's intention was to create a personal musical statement that could serve as both an actual liturgy for the faithful and as an ecumenical musical experience for any and all who hear the work, whether in temple or concert hall. In that respect, Milhaud's Sacred Service was a great success. Alongside Bloch's setting, written in the early 1930s, shortly before the onset of the Holocaust, Milhaud's setting, written in the years following the conclusion of World War II, remains a powerful and moving affirmation of religious faith. Music Played in Today's Program Darius Milhaud (1892 - 1974) — Sabbath Morning Service (Prague Philharmonic Choir; Czech Philharmonic; Gerard Schwarz, cond.) Naxos 8.559409

    Ned Rorem for eleven

    Play Episode Listen Later May 17, 2022 2:00

    Synopsis While many great composers have also been great conductors, this can be the exception rather than the rule. On today's date in 1959, the American composer Ned Rorem tried his hand at conducting the premiere of one of his own compositions, a chamber suite entitled “Eleven Studies for Eleven Players.” Rorem recalled: “I learned that the first requisite to becoming a conductor is an inborn lust for absolute monarchy, and that I, alone among musicians, never got the bug. I was terrified. The first rehearsal was a model of how NOT to inspire confidence. I stood before the eleven players in all my virginal glory, and announced: ‘I've never conducted before, so if I give a wrong cue, do try to come in right anyway.'” Fortunately for Rorem, his eleven musicians were accomplished faculty at Buffalo University, and, despite his inexperience, Rorem certainly knew how his new piece should sound. Rorem's Suite incorporated a few bits recycled from music he had written for a successful Broadway hit—Tennessee Williams' “Suddenly Last Summer”—plus a bit from an unsuccessful play entitled “Motel” that never made it past a Boston tryout. Rorem's own tryout as a conductor convinced him to stick to composing, although he proved to be a fine piano accompanist for singers performing his own songs. As for “Eleven Studies for Eleven Players,” it's gone on to become one of Rorem's most-often performed chamber works. Music Played in Today's Program Ned Rorem (b. 1923) — Eleven Studies for Eleven Players (New York Chamber Ensemble; Stephen Rogers Radcliffe, cond.) Albany 175 On This Day Births 1866 - French composer Erik Alfred-Leslie Satie, in Honfleur; 1901 - German composer Werner Egk, in Auchsesheim, near Donauswörth; His original last name was Mayer, and it is said (although denied by the composer) that the he chose the acronym E-G-K because it stood for "ein grosser Komponist" ("a great composer"); 1923 - American composer Peter Mennin, in Erie, Pa.; Deaths 1935 - French composer Paul Dukas, age 69, in Paris; Premieres 1779 - Gluck: opera "Iphigénie en Tauride" (Iphigenia in Taurus), at the Paris Opéra; 1890 - Mascagni: "Cavalleria Rusticana," in Rome at the Teatro Costanzi; 1904 - Ravel: "Schéhérazade," in Paris, with vocalist Jane Hatto and Alfred Cortot, conducting; 1919 - Ravel: "Alborado del gracioso" (orchestral version), in Paris at Pasdeloup Concert; 1929 - Prokofiev: Symphony No. 3, in Paris, by the Orchestre Symphonique de Paris, with Pierre Monteux conducting; 1933 - Cowell: "Reel," for small orchestra, in New York; 1939 - Prokofiev: cantata "Alexander Nevsky," in Moscow; 1946 - Martin: "Petite Symphonie Concertante," in Zurich, Paul Sacher conducting; 1960 - Ned Rorem: "11 Studies for 11 Players," for chamber ensemble, at the State University of Buffalo (N.Y.), conducted by the composers; 1990 - Rautavaara: "Vincent," in Helsinki at the Finnish National Opera; 2000 - Michael Torke: "Corner in Manhattan," by the Minnesota Orchestra, Eiji Oue conducting; 2001 - Christopher Rouse: Clarinet Concerto, by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by Christoph Eschenbach, with Larry Combs the soloist; Others 1922 - Music of "The President's Own" reached homes across the nation when the first Marine Band radio program was broadcast; 1969 - Leonard Bernstein's last concert as Music Director of the New York Philharmonic, having conducted 939 concerts with the orchestra (831 as its Music Director); Bernstein conducted 36 world premieres with the orchestra; He continued to appear with the Philharmonic as an occasional guest conductor until his death in 1990; 1978 - Philips Electronics of The Netherlands announces a new digital sound reproduction system from flat, silver "Compact Discs." Links and Resources On Rorem NY Times feature on Rorem at 95

    Smetana and the National Theatre in Prague

    Play Episode Listen Later May 16, 2022 2:00

    Synopsis On today's date in 1868, the Czech composer Bedrich Smetana helped lay the foundation stone for Prague's future National Theatre. As the stone was driven into the soil with a ceremonial mallet, Smetana exclaimed, “In music is the life of the Czechs!” That same evening at Prague's New Town Theatre Smetana conducted the premiere performance of his new opera “Dalibor.” It's worthy of note that one of the players in the orchestra was a 26-year old violist and fellow composer named Antonin Dvorak. The subject matter of “Dalibor” seemed theatrically apt for the occasion: a Czech legend about a rebellious 15th century knight imprisoned for supporting a peasant uprising. During his imprisonment, according to the legend, Dalibor learned to play the violin so beautifully that people came to listen to him outside the window of the Prague Castle tower in which he was held. Thirteen years after the premiere of “Dalibor,” the National Theatre opened on June 11, 1881. For that gala occasion, another Smetana opera, “Libuse,” received its premiere performance. Sadly, by that time Smetana was completely deaf, mentally ailing, and desperately poor. To add insult to injury, the directors of the new theater had neglected to invite him to the gala premiere of his own opera! Despite the inexcusable snub, Smetana found his way into the theater, and, when called on the stage and recognized by the audience, was acknowledged with thunderous applause. Music Played in Today's Program Bedrich Smetana — Act I Prelude and opening chorus,. fr "Dalibor" (Prague National Theatre Orchestra and Chorus; Zdenek Kosler, cond.) Supraphon ‎SU0077-2 632

    Jerod Tate's "Children's Songs"

    Play Episode Listen Later May 15, 2022 2:00

    Synopsis The American composer Jerod Impichchaachaaha' Tate is a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation and its Composer-in-Residence. He was born in Norman, Oklahoma, and his chamber and orchestra works, all infused with themes and musical elements from his Native heritage, have been performed by major orchestras like the Detroit Symphony, the Minnesota Orchestra, the Colorado Ballet, and the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival. But during the fall of 2011, Tate began working with a non-professional ensemble closer to home—at Dickson Middle School in Dickson, Oklahoma. Tate had been commissioned by the American Composers Forum to write a new work for their ChoralQuest series for middle-school choirs. The resulting work, entitled Taloowa' Chipota, which in the Chickasaw language means “Children's Songs,” was premiered on May 15, 2012, by the children at the Dickson School. “The songs,” explained Tate, “are reminiscent of traditional stomp dancing and are based on old Chickasaw melodies. Stomp dances begin at dusk and end at dawn. The first movement depicts the beginning sunlight of the morning. The second is full of abstracted textures emulating the shell shaking in stomp dances.” For his part, Tate says he's pleased how it all turned out: “I was able to introduce a Chickasaw experience to a diverse group of students… I strengthened my own relationship with my Chickasaw community and demonstrated to the Chickasaws in the chorus how our culture can positively impact classical music.” Music Played in Today's Program Jerod Tate (b. 1968) — Taloowa' Chipota (Children's Songs) (Minnesota Boy Choir) Hal Leonard 00119300 (sheet music)

    Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever!" March

    Play Episode Listen Later May 14, 2022 2:00

    Synopsis On today's date in 1897, John Philip Sousa was in Philadelphia and leading his band in the premiere performance of “The Stars and Stripes Forever!” Sousa wrote his most famous march on Christmas Day, 1896, in a New York hotel room—completing the score, he said, in just a couple of hours. The work's title was a tribute to one of Sousa's mentors, another legendary bandmaster named Patrick S. Gilmore, whose favorite toast was, "Here's to the Stars and Stripes forever!” The 1897 premiere of the march went over well, but at first sales didn't surpass the other Sousa marches available at the time. It was the outbreak of the Spanish-American War in 1898, the subsequent national eruption of patriotic fervor, and some cagey showmanship on Sousa's part that catapulted “The Stars and Stripes Forever!” into its unique status. Sousa crafted a touring patriotic pageant involving hundreds of performers, which ended with “The Stars and Stripes Forever!” playing, as soldiers from all three branches of the military marched on-stage with flags unfurled, culminating in the entrance of an attractive local beauty decked out in red, white, and blue. Despite the thousands of times Sousa and his band were required to play “The Stars and Stripes Forever!” they claimed they never tired of it. And in its now 100+ year history, it's become one of the most frequently performed pieces of American music worldwide. Music Played in Today's Program John Philip Sousa (1854 - 1932) — The Stars and Stripes Forever (Royal Artillery Band; Keith Brion, cond.) Naxos 8.559093

    New York "novelties" by Liszt et. al.

    Play Episode Listen Later May 13, 2022 2:00

    Synopsis On today's date in 1862, the front page of The New York Times offered some encouraging news to the Northern side in the American Civil War: Union troops had captured Norfolk, Virginia, and there were other advances being made by General McClellan's troops. Under “Amusements” on the inner pages of that same edition could be found an announcement of a “Grand Vocal and Orchestral Concert” at Irving Hall to be conducted by a 27-year-old musician named Theodore Thomas. Thomas had been a major figure on the New York music scene since 1855, performing as the principal violinist in that city's first ensemble giving a regular series of chamber concerts. That chamber group presented hot-off-the-press works by Brahms and other ultra-modern composers of the day. This big orchestral concert, which marked Thomas's debut as a conductor, was no different. The Times noted, “We have never before had so much musical novelty presented to us. Such plentiful instrumental music equally new to our musical world, under the capable conductorship of the young musician, must insure a crowded audience of the more critical as well as the more fashionable portion of our public.” Tickets were $1 each—quite a lot of money in 1862—and the program offered the American premieres of orchestral pieces by Wagner, Meyerbeer, and Liszt's flashy orchestration of Schubert's “Wanderer Fantasy.” Music Played in Today's Program Schubert arr. Franz Liszt — Wanderer Fantasy (Leslie Howard, piano; Budapest Symphony; Karl Anton Rickenbacher, cond.) Hyperion 67403

    Gabriel Kahane

    Play Episode Listen Later May 12, 2022 2:00

    Synopsis The American composer and singer songwriter Gabriel Kahane claims someone once described one of his songs as having been from the wastepaper basket of Schubert – but, Kahane hastens to add, “I think he meant that as a compliment.” Certainly Kahane is a successful songwriter, and if not quite as prolific as the 19th century Viennese composer, is quite productive on a number of 21st century platforms and takes his inspiration from quintessential 21st century experiences. On today's date in 2018, for example, the Oregon Symphony premiered his “Emergency Shelter Intake Form,” a song-cycle or oratorio inspired by the questionnaire homeless people have to take to secure a shelter bed. “I live in Brooklyn,” said Kahane, “and I had volunteered at a shelter in Manhattan. I started thinking about the banality of going through that crushing bureaucracy on top of experiencing extreme poverty. That led to the intake form as a jumping-off point for the libretto. It is somewhere between found text and my own extrapolations that began with this sterile administrative form.” The Oregon Symphony's premiere performance of Gabriel Kahane's “Emergency Shelter Intake Form” was recorded, and, in equally quintessential 21st century fashion, is available as a download. Music Played in Today's Program Gabriel Kahane (b. 1981) – “What brings you here?” from “Emergency Shelter Intake Form” (Alicia Hall Moran, ms; Oregon Symphony; Carlos Kalmar, cond.) Digital download

    Maazel's "Ring without Words"

    Play Episode Listen Later May 11, 2022 2:00

    Synopsis In 1987, Telarc Records asked the late conductor Lorin Maazel if he would make a purely orchestral distillation of the four operas that make up Richard Wagner's “The Ring of the Nibelung.” Telarc wanted it all to fit on just one CD. Now, with these four Wagner operas clocking in at about 15 hours, that's a slimming-down assignment worthy of The Biggest Loser. Maazel crafted a 75-minute sequence, played without pause, beginning with the opening pages of the first opera and ending with the closing pages of the last, with all the music appearing in the same order as it does in Wagner's four operas. For the Telarc CD release, Maazel recorded his “Ring without Words” with the Berlin Philharmonic. But what had started as a purely studio affair proved an attractive orchestral showcase for other ensembles, so on today's date in 1990, Maazel led the Pittsburgh Symphony in the debut of his “Ring without Words” as a concert hall work. Since then, he has performed it with orchestras ranging from the New York to the Vienna Philharmonic. Maazel confessed he resisted the idea at first. "I said… it would be desecrating a unique masterpiece. But they kept after me.” In the end, Maazel capitulated, but insisted there couldn't be one note by Lorin Maazel. When one instrumentalist shuddered at a particularly abrupt transition, Maazel told him, "Sorry! That's the composer." Music Played in Today's Program Richard Wagner (1813 - 1883) arr. Lorin Maazel (1930 -2014) — Ring without Words (Berlin Philharmonic; Lorin Maazel, cond.) Telarc 80154.

    Maxwell Davies at a wedding (with sunrise)

    Play Episode Listen Later May 10, 2022 2:00

    Synopsis In 1970, British composer Peter Maxwell Davies moved to the remote and rugged Orkney Islands off the northern coast of Scotland. At first, he said, the natives thought he was just some weirdo from the south, and the more Puritanical islanders would pray the might find a more respectable means of earning a living than writing music. But over time Davies and the islanders got used to each other. The composer found inspiration in the landscape and legends of the area, while the community warmed to the fact that the newcomer found them so fascinating. In 1978, Davies attended a neighbor's wedding, which inspired a musical work he called “An Orkney Wedding with Sunrise.” “It is a picture postcard,” said Davies, “We hear the guests arriving, out of extremely bad weather. This is followed by a processional and first glass of whiskey. The band tunes up and we get on with the dancing, which becomes ever wilder, until the lead fiddle can hardly hold the band together. We leave the hall into the cold night. As we walk home across the island, the sun rises to a glorious dawn.” “The sun,” Maxwell Davies concluded, “is represented by the highland bagpipes, in full traditional splendor.” Despite its local color, “An Orkney Wedding with Sunrise” was actually an AMERICAN commission from the Boston Pops, who gave its premiere on today's date in 1985, with John Williams conducting. Music Played in Today's Program Peter Maxwell Davies (1934 - 2016) — An Orkney Wedding, with Sunrise (George MacIlwham, bag-pipes; Royal Philharmonic; Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, cond.) Collins 1444

    Alexis Alrich's Marimba Concerto

    Play Episode Listen Later May 9, 2022 2:00

    Synopsis One today's date in 2004, a new concerto for marimba and orchestra had its premiere in San Francisco, with soloist Matthew Cannon and the San Francisco Composers Chamber Orchestra. The new concerto was written by Alexis Alrich, who studied composition out East at the New England Conservatory, and out West at Mills College, where one of her teachers was Lou Harrison, who introduced her to Asian music through Javanese gamelan. Her own music, she says, blends American minimalism, Asian music, and Western classical and folk music, a mix some have described as “California impressionism.” “[My] Marimba Concerto,” says Alrich, “is highly demanding for the soloist and fully exploits the technical possibilities and sound palette of the five-octave marimba. The opening movement with its string tremolos and whispering wind motifs provides an atmospheric entrance for the solo marimba … The middle movement starts with a gently pulsating theme that recurs between contrasting sections, including one in Mexican folk style. The final movement climaxes with a multi-layered, Asian-inspired chorale … with a toccata-style cadenza for the soloist.” In 2010 British percussion virtuoso Dame Evelyn Glennie and City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong gave the Asian premiere of the concerto and made its first recording. Music Played in Today's Program Alexis Alrich (b. 1955) – Marimba Concerto (Evelyn Glennie, marimba; City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong; Jean Thorel, cond.) Naxos 8.574218

    Beethoven's Second on first?

    Play Episode Listen Later May 8, 2022 2:00

    Synopsis Hold on tight—we're about to cover 150 years of musical—and presidential—history in just 2 minutes! On today's date in 1821, back when James Monroe was president, Beethoven's Second Symphony was performed in Philadelphia at a concert of the Musical Fund Society. That occasion marks the first documented performance of a complete Beethoven symphony in America and occurred when Beethoven was 50 years old and residing in Vienna. In 1853, when Franklin Pierce was in the White House, the Germania Musical Society took Beethoven's Second on its American tour, presenting it in St. Louis, Milwaukee, and Chicago. That 1853 tour marked the first time an entire Beethoven Symphony was performed in the windy city. Additional 19th century “firsts” for the Second occurred over the next two decades in Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and San Francisco, during the administrations of James Buchanan, Abraham Lincoln, and Andrew Jackson. Ulysses S. Grant was president in 1870, when Beethoven's Second debuted in Washington DC, and Grant was still President in 1872, when the Second was the first symphony EVER to be performed in Minneapolis. A hundred years later, in the NINETEEN-Seventies, when Richard Nixon was in the White House, you could hear performances of Beethoven's Second from Maine to Hawaii, all while sitting comfortably in your own “Executive Mansion,” courtesy of your local government-assisted public radio station. If you wish, you may now stand and salute your radio! Music Played in Today's Program Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 - 1827) — Symphony No. 2 (New York Philharmonic; Leonard Bernstein, cond.) Sony 61835

    Thomson's "Mother of Us All"

    Play Episode Listen Later May 7, 2022 2:00

    Synopsis On today's date in 1947, a new opera entitled “The Mother of Us All” debuted at Columbia University in New York City. The libretto was by the American poet Gertrude Stein, and dealt with the life and times of Susan B. Anthony, a 19th century champion of women's rights. In Stein's dream-like account, iconic figures from America's past like President John Adams, orator Daniel Webster, and entertainer Lillian Russell interact even though they lived at different times in history. Two of the opera's 27 characters, playwright Constance Fletcher and Yale librarian Donald Gallup, in fact, were contemporary friends of Stein's. The music was by the American composer Virgil Thomson, whose score evoked seemingly familiar 19th century hymns, sentimental ballads, circus band music, drum rolls, and fanfares. The tunes were, in fact, all original creations. The mix of Thomson's music and Stein's text results in a rambunctious opera about American life and politics, at turns both amusing and strangely touching. It became an unlikely success. Thomson wrote two other operas: “Four Saints in Three Acts,” from 1933, was an earlier collaboration with Gertrude Stein, and “Lord Byron,” from 1972, sets a witty libretto by Jack Larson, an actor famous for his portrayal of Daily Planet cub reporter Jimmy Olson on the old “Superman” TV series. “Lord Byron” was intended for the Metropolitan Opera in New York, but never made it there, and performances these days are rare. Music Played in Today's Program Virgil Thomson (1896 - 1989) — The Mother of Us All (Santa Fe Opera; Raymond Leppard, cond.) New World 288

    Larsen's "Lyric" Third

    Play Episode Listen Later May 6, 2022 2:00

    Synopsis On today's date in 1992, Joel Revzen conducted the Albany Symphony in the premiere of the Third Symphony of American composer Libby Larsen. Larsen subtitled her new work a “Lyric Symphony.” Now, the early 20th century Viennese composer Alexander Zemlinsky had written a “Lyric Symphony,” one that involved vocal soloists. As a composer, Libby Larsen is noted for her songs and choral works, but for her own “Lyric Symphony” she opted for a purely instrumental work that would be somehow quintessentially “American.” In program notes for her new symphony, Larsen wrote: “As I struggle with the definition of ‘American' music, it occurs to me that in all of our contemporary American genres, the dominating parameter of the music is rhythm. Rhythm is more important than pitch. This is a fundamental change in the composition of music in the 20th century. Here we speak American English, an inflected, complex, rhythmic language. “What is lyric in our times?” continued Larsen. “Where is the great American melody? Found, I would say, in the music of Chuck Berry, Robert Lockwood, Buddy Guy, George Gershwin, Dolly Parton, Hank Williams, James Brown, Aaron Copland, Walter Piston, and those composers who create melodies that are defined more by the rhythm than their pitch. My Symphony No. 3—the Lyric, is an exploration of American melody.” Music Played in Today's Program Libby Larsen (b. 1950) — Symphony No. 3 (Lyric) (London Symphony; Joel Revzen, cond.) Koch 7370

    Debussy's Violin Sonata

    Play Episode Listen Later May 5, 2022 2:00

    Synopsis The French composer Claude Debussy was too sick to be called up for service when World War I broke out in 1914. His private battle with cancer on top of his nation's battle with Germany plunged him into depression. But by the spring of 1915, Debussy decided to keep on composing. “I want to work,” he wrote, “not so much for myself, but to give proof, however small it may be, that not even 30 million Boches can destroy French thought.” He knew his remaining time was precious, so decided to write small chamber works rather than big orchestral pieces. Debussy planned to write SIX chamber sonatas but completed only three. Working, as he put it, “like a madman,” he finished a Cello Sonata and a Trio Sonata for Flute, Viola, and Harp by the fall of 1915. In December of that year, the side-effects of radium treatments and morphine injections for his cancer brought Debussy's Sonata project to a grinding halt. Rallying somewhat by the by the summer of 1916, Debussy vowed to keep on working. He wrote: “If I am doomed to vanish soon, I desire at least to have done my duty.” On May 5, 1917, Debussy made his last public appearance in Paris at the Salle Gaveay, accompanying violinist Gaston Poulet in the premiere of his final work – a Sonata for Violin and Piano. Debussy would die the following spring. Music Played in Today's Program Claude Debussy (1862–1918) — Violin Sonata (Midori, violin; Robert McDonald, piano) Sony 89699

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