The world premiere of Arrigo Boito’s Mefistofele on 5 March 1868 at Teatro alla Scala was a disaster.
On the aesthetic level, the opera’s unconventional melodies, harmonies, allocation of voices, and voice leading were jarring for the puzzled audience.
Even worse, in this work Boito repudiated the era’s emphasis on Italian nationalism and sought to stimulate philosophical thought and analysis. This cultural treason was viewed as a serious offense during the Italian Risorgimento, and Boito was forced to revise the opera; his reputation as a librettist suffered as well.
This according to La prima de Mefistofele e il Risorgimento: Pubblico e riforma del teatro musicale nella Milano postunitaria by Stefano Lucchi, a dissertation accepted by Universität Wien in 2009.
Today is the 150th anniversary of Boito’s disastrous premiere! Of course, now the opera is his best-loved work. Below, Renata Tebaldi sings the celebrated aria L’altra notte in fondo al mare.
Felice Romani revolutionized the Italian opera libretto, creating a clearly contoured melodramma romantico that was suitable for a through-composed setting.
Romani’s libretto for Donizetti’s Anna Bolena produced a virtually through-composed opera, making the meter conform to the dramatic situation and mood. In Act I, all the characters enter immediately after the prima donna, so that in place of the usual introductory aria there is now an ensemble. The entry of the seconda donna now leads as a rule to a concerted piece, the stretta of the pezzo concertato unleashing all the passions of the protagonists.
Act II proceeds similarly, except that its final scene is treated as a composition in its own right: Out of a stretta the concertato emerges, structured as a concert piece.
This according to Felice Romani–Gaetano Donizetti–Anna Bolena. Zur Asthetik politischer Oper in Italien zwischen 1826 und 1831 by Richard Hauser, a dissertation accepted by Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg in 1980.
Today is Romani’s 230th birthday! Below, Sondra Radvanovsky sings Anna Bolena’s finale.
The acoustic physicist Vinko Dvořák was a gifted violinist and a tireless promoter of music in Croatia. As a member of the board of the Hrvatski Glazbeni Zavod between 1913 and 1919, he took an active part in organizing and financing musical events, and the Zavod za Fiziku at the Sveučilište u Zagrebu, where he was a professor of physics, owned an extensive collection of musical forks and instruments.
Dvořák kept encouraging young Croatians to develop and succeed in music until his death, and in his will he left a notable amount of money for the education of promising music students.
This according to “Vinko Dvořák: Fizičar sa sluhom za glazbu i glazbeno darovita duša u fizici” by Branko Hanžek (Tonovi: Časopis glazbenih pedagoga XV/2:36 [prosinac 2000] pp. 41–43).
Today is Dvořák’s 170th birthday! Below, a tour of the Hrvatski Glazbeni Zavod, which still looks much like it did in Dvořák’s time.
In 19th-century Europe, the term bayadère—derived from the Portuguese bailadeira—referred to a Romantic concept of the Hindu devadāsī, a female temple dancer.
“Who has not heard of the bayadères,” gushed Victor Dandré, Anna Pavlova’s companion and manager, “so graceful and of such incomparable beauty, dancing sacred dances in temples and secular ones at feasts?”
In fact, Europeans had virtually no information on this subject at all, but that did not deter some of the most distinguished names in classical ballet from conjuring up their own images of devadāsīs and presenting them on the stage.
Thanks to travelers’ tales and other writings, India appeared to Europeans as a fabled land, steeped in mysteries, and abounding in stirring narratives of love, hate, devotion, and valor. At a time when the real devadāsīs were scorned at home, their image functioned as an icon of Indian dance in the West.
This according to “Devadasis in tights and ballet slippers, what?” by Mohan Khokar (Sruti 154 [July 1997] pp. 21–26); this periodical, along with many others, is covered in our new RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text collection.
Above and below, excerpts from what has proved to be the most enduring example, La bayadère by Ludwig Minkus and Marius Petipa.
Amy Beach’s highly polished Gaelic symphony represents her triumph over 19th-century women’s socialization and her honest desire to present a feminine image worthy of imitation.
After the work’s 1896 premiere Beach was described by the critic Philip Hale as “an epoch maker who has broken through old boundaries and presented an enrichment and expansion of woman’s sphere in art.” Even the Boston Brahmin composer George Whitefield Chadwick wrote, in a letter to her, “I am pleased that an American and a woman can produce such strong and beautiful musical ideas . . . You are now one of the boys.”
This according to “Amy Beach: Muse, conscience, and society” by Susan Mardinly (Journal of singing LXX/5 [May–June 2014] pp. 527–40).
Today is Beach’s 150th birthday! Below, the work’s finale.
In 2016 Wagner Verlag launched the series Geistliche Musik im Stift Wilhering/Sacred music in Wilhering Abbey in collaboration with Stift Wilhering and its organist and music archivist Stefan Ikarus Kaiser.
The series presents editions of works closely related to Wilhering. As a rule, these will be unpublished works from the rich historical archive of the monastery itself, as well as works that were either written specifically for the monastery or whose composers have a close relationship with Wilhering.
The inaugural volume is an edition of a large orchestral work from the Biedermeier era. Its composer, Mathias Pernsteiner (inset), served as an organist at Wilhering in 1822 and 1823. This Mass, the so-called Missa posta in musica, was dedicated to Bruno Detterle, who was Wilhering’s Abbot at the time; it has not been previously published or performed. The work is an outstanding testimony to the Austrian church music of the period.
Below, a look at the monastery’s church, which has been called “the most outstanding Rococo ecclesiastical space in Austria”.
While Cécile Chaminade’s works were much loved in her day, she has been largely written out of musical history due to her enduring nostalgia for the aesthetics of her youth. “I confess,” she wrote to a friend in the 1920s, “that I can adapt myself no more to modern music than to modern painting, architecture, poetry, literature, mentality, or morality.”
Most of Chaminade’s successes were melancholy, nostalgic works. Her piano piece Automne at one time sold over 6000 copies a year, and a statement about it in one of her articles for the American magazine The etude shows her allegiance to the Romantic idea of correspondences between nature and the imagination in an almost Symbolist way. “Automne was composed…at the time of the year when nature is at peace and where one looks back on the fine days that have passed and, looking back, realising with heartfelt regret that they are now things of the past.”
This according to “Sister of perpetual indulgence” by Richard Langham Smith (The musical times CXXXV/1822 [December 1994] pp. 740–44). This journal, along with many others, is covered in our new RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text collection.
Today is Chaminade’s 160th birthday! Below, a performance of Automne by Valerie Tryon.
Launched by Editions Lugdivine in 2017, Musicologies nouvelles: Agrégation aims to provide a framework for incorporating past achievements in musical analysis into today’s research on the social, cultural, and psychological worlds that surround musical sound. The journal is edited by Isabelle His and Nahéma Khattabi.
Below, Liszt’s Von der Wiege bis zum Grabe, the subject of an article in the inaugural issue.
Enrique Granados’s Duo-Art piano-roll performance of his Danza española no. 5 (Andaluza), made some 20 years after the piece was published, illuminates much about late-Romantic piano performance practices.
Transcription and analysis of this piano roll illustrate the disparity between score and performance. Granados added and changed notes, ornaments, articulations, and chords. He also altered many rhythmic values, desynchronized melody and accompaniment, rolled chords at will, and introduced drastic tempo changes not indicated in the score. His performing style thus reflects a personal approach to the piano that lies well within the broader context of the Romantic performance tradition.
This according to “Piano-roll recordings of Enrique Granados: A study of a transcription of the composer’s performance” by Anatole Leikin (Journal of musicological research XXI/1–2 [January–June 2002] pp. 3–19).
Today is Granados’s 150th birthday! Below, the recording in question.
For 20 years Edward Elgar worked for The Gramophone Company as both an advocate of his music and an advocate of the gramophone.
During this period, recording technology changed from the cramped conditions of the acoustic studio of 1914 (above) to the specialized recording studio of Abbey Road using the electrical system of 1933, in which year Elgar conducted his last recordings, with the extraordinary appendix of Elgar supervising a recording by telephone connection from his deathbed in 1934.
As an interpreter of his own music—we cannot comment from direct experience on his success with the music of others, for nothing was recorded—he was as fine a conductor as Furtwängler for Wagner and Mengelberg for Brahms. His conducting ability extended to every aspect of the art, from the purely technical quality of the playing he repeatedly drew from orchestras to the inexhaustible fascination of the interpretations themselves.
This according to “Elgar’s recordings” by Simon Trezise (Nineteenth-century music review V/1  pp. 111–31).
Today is Elgar’s 160th birthday! Below, Elgar conducts the prelude to The dream of Gerontius in 1927, a recording singled out for praise in the article.
BONUS: Elgar conducts the trio of Pomp and circumstance march no. 1 at the opening of the Abbey Road Studios on 12 November 1931. After mounting the podium, he says to the orchestra “Good morning, gentlemen. Glad to see you all. Very light programme this morning. Please play this tune as though you’ve never heard it before.”