Category Archives: 20th- and 21st-century music

Miriam Gideon’s “Fortunato”

Miriam Gideon

In 1958 Miriam Gideon (1906–1996) completed her only opera: Fortunato, based on the eponymous tragicomic farce by the Spanish playwrights Serafín and Joaquín Álvarez Quintero (1871–1938 and 1873–1944, respectively).

Although Gideon’s opera has never received a full performance and has only been available until now in a marginally legible autograph copy of the piano-vocal score, it may be regarded as a central work within the composer’s style and oeuvre and an important American operatic work of the 1950s.

Fortunato: An opera in three scenes (1958) (Middleton: A-R Editions, 2013) includes the fully edited piano-vocal score along with a substantial introductory essay by the editor, Stephanie Jensen-Moulton, which summarizes Gideon’s compositional activity during the post–World War II years, her most active period. The essay also provides a context for the opera by examining attitudes toward women composers in the U.S. in the 1950s and by placing the work’s main themes into dialogue with recently discovered personal writings by the composer.

A supplement includes Gideon’s full orchestration of Fortunato’s first scene, recently discovered among the composer’s personal papers, which she may have intended as a sample to be pitched to television networks.

Alas, there are no recordings of Fortunato; below, another example of Gideon’s vocal writing—Bömischer Krystall from 1988.

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German-Jewish organ music

German-Jewish organ music

German-Jewish organ music: An anthology of works from the 1820s to the 1960s, edited by Tina Frühauf (Madison: A-R Editions, 2013), traces the main phases of the history and stylistic development of organ music in the Reform Jewish communities in Central Europe, as well as in the German-influenced communities of Königsberg (Kaliningrad) and Odessa, and works by German-Jewish composers who emigrated to the U.S. and Israel after World War II.

The small but respectable body of compositions for the organ in the synagogue is represented by fourteen exemplary works; the pieces span the period beginning with the Reform movement in the early 19th century to post-Holocaust works in the mid-20th century.

Initially oriented predominantly toward Christian models, a specifically Jewish style of organ music emerged in the late 19th century, made up from elements of both Jewish and Western musical cultures. The selected repertoire featured in the anthology, although all emanating from the same cultural milieu, is based on a wide variety of musical thematic material, including biblical cantillation, 19th-century synagogue song, Yiddish folk song, and the musical traditions of various Jewish cultural groups (Ashkenazic, Sephardic, and Yemenite).

Some of the selected repertoire corresponds to detailed analyses published in the editor’s monograph The organ and its music in German-Jewish culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009).

Below, music by Louis Lewandowski, with an assortment of relevant images; he is represented in German-Jewish organ music by his Fünf Fest-Präludien (1871),

Related article: American cantorate

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Dimitri Mitropoulos (1896–1960)


Dimitri Mitropoulos (1896–1960) is a research portal on the Greek-born American conductor compiled by Ilias Chrissochoidis.

This open-access resource includes a biography and an appreciation; a list of his compositions; bibliographies of his correspondence and writings about him; lists of concerts, lectures, and exhibitions held in his honor; and numerous photographs of him and facsimiles of his manuscripts and editions.

Below, Mitropoulos’s Greek sonata, performed by Charis Dimaras.

Related article: Library of Greek musicology

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Max Roach and “We insist!”


Recorded in 1960 and first performed in 1961, Max Roach’s We insist! Freedom now suite moves from depictions of slavery to Emancipation to the civil rights struggle and African independence.

The work draws on both long-standing symbols of African American cultural identity and more immediate historical context. It is a modernist work as well, as Roach (1924–2007) and his musicians strove to make use of African and African American legacies in new ways.

Decades after the recording, We insist! still sounds fresh, modern, and haunting, reminding us that jazz tradition has always been in dialogue with the social and cultural movements going on around it, and has often been at its most inspired when engaged in social commentary.

This according to “Revisited! The Freedom now suite” by Ingrid Monson (JazzTimes XXXI/7 [September 2001] pp. 54–59,135; available online here).

Today is Roach’s 90th birthday! Above, Roach and Abbey Lincoln performing We insist! in 1964; below, an excerpt from the work from around the same time.

Enhanced by ZemantaBONUS: Roach was the first jazz musician to receive a MacArthur Fellowship! You can read about it here.

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Ned Rorem’s organ music

ned rorem

Although Ned Rorem had composed little organ music until he was in his 50s, his output for the instrument since that time has been considerable, making him the most prolific living U.S. composer for the organ.

Rorem says that he writes music that he wants to hear, and composes out of necessity because no one else is making what he needs.

This according to The organ works of Ned Rorem by John David Marsh, a dissertation accepted by Rice University in 2002.

Today is Rorem’s 90th birthday! Below, Jung Jin Kim performs “Mary Dyer did hang as a flag” from A Quaker reader.

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Robert Craft and Stravinsky


Robert Craft progressed with remarkable speed from being Stravinsky’s assistant to serving as his adviser, collaborator, and defender.

While Craft has been castigated for suppressing or misstating information, his actions must be viewed in the context of his complicated relationship with the composer, which has no clear parallel in music history. Craft was ethically bound both to interpret Stravinsky to the outside world and to ensure his status as a 20th-century hero.

This according to “Boswellizing an icon: Stravinsky, Craft, and the historian’s dilemma” by Charles M. Joseph, an essay included in Stravinsky inside out (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001, pp. 233–265).

Today is Craft’s 90th birthday! Below, he recalls Stravinsky’s California years.

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Zappa and classical music

zappa conducting

Although he was best known as the guitarist and leader of The Mothers of Invention and other rock bands, Frank Zappa grew up with a keen interest in 20th-century concert music and aspired to be an orchestral composer as well; his scores have been recorded by Pierre Boulez, Ensemble Modern, and others.

Appropriate listening strategies for Zappa’s pieces for acoustic concert ensembles should be based primarily on models developed from his more abundant commercially successful output, and less so on the music of early–20th-century composers, such as Stravinsky and Varése, whose music he admired.

This according to “Listening to Zappa” by Jonathan W. Bernard (Contemporary music review XVIII/4 [2000] pp. 63–103). Above, Zappa at the Lumpy gravy recording sessions in 1967; below, conducting his G-spot tornado in 1992 with Ensemble Modern and dancers Louise Lecavalier and Donald Weikert.

Related article: Frank Zappa and Uncle Meat

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Webern series

In 2012 Verlag Lafite, a division of Musikzeit, launched the series Webern-Studien with Wechselnde Erscheinung: Sechs Perspektiven auf Anton Weberns sechste Bagatelle, edited by Simon Obert.

The series will serve as a supplement to Musikzeit’s edition of the composer’s complete works, providing relevant correspondence, journal entries, and so on, in addition to detailed analyses of the works themselves.

Below, the Tesla Quartet performs all six of Webern’s bagatelles.

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The riot at the Rite

Le sacre 1913

Historians have based their explanations for the tumultuous 1913 première of Stravinsky’s Le sacre du printemps on the accounts (none published before 1935) of the participants—Stravinsky, Diaghilev, Nijinsky, and Monteux.

Due to these accounts, for years it has been believed that either the choreography or the revolutionary score was the cause of the riot in the audience, and that the uproar was a spontaneous reaction to the performance.

However, an examination of contemporary newspaper and journal reviews and an understanding of the personal and political characteristics of Sergei Diaghilev reveals that the riot was actually anticipated and encouraged by the management of the Ballets Russes. The earliest reviews published in Paris offer a wealth of material relating to cultural values of the age.

This according to “The riot at the Rite: Not so surprising after all” by Truman C. Bullard, an article included in Essays on music for Charles Warren Fox (Rochester: Eastman School of Music, 1979, pp. 206–211).

Today is the 100th anniversary of Le sacre’s premiere! Above, a photograph from the original Ballets Russes production; below, part of the BBC’s dramatization from 2009.

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Curiosities, Dance

Ligeti and Africa


György Ligeti freely acknowledged the influence of African music on his work—an influence that is seldom readily obvious, though it can be teased out by analysis.

After he listened to recordings of African drumming, Ligeti began exploring the use of various rhythms through multiplication of the basic pulse, a concept that resonated with the additive rhythms of the traditional music that he grew up with in Hungary.

In one of his few passages involving the use of an African-sounding instrument, the third movement of Ligeti’s piano concerto includes an Africanesque pattern played on bongos. He marked the part to be played very quietly, so rather than being foregrounded it serves almost imperceptively to reinforce patterns being played simultaneously on other instruments. Unlike most African drumming, this bongo pattern evolves over time, so that its end is quite different from its beginning.

This according to “Ligeti, Africa, and polyrhythm” by Stephen Andrew Taylor (The world of music XLV/2 [2003] pp. 83–94).

Today is Ligeti’s 90th birthday! Below, Mihkel Poll performs the movement in question.

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