Tag Archives: Birthdays

María Malibrán in public and private

Although 19th-century Parisian salon music was usually described in feminine terms (not including genius), the roles it played in social and political discourse preclude its disparagement as trivial; the genre should be approached as a social category rather than a formal one. The contrast between María Malibrán’s unconventional public life and her semi-private works is best understood in this context.

Malibrán published four song anthologies as well as many individual songs, which were not, however, composed to show off her virtuosity. These works illuminate how in salon music the authorship of singer and composer recedes behind an unspecific poetic I. Malibrán’s true voice is situated between her virtuosity as singer and her comparatively restrained compositions.

This according to “Voiceless songs: Maria Malibran as composer” by Mary Ann Smart, an essay included in Authorschaft—Genie—Geschlecht: Musikalische Schaffensprozesse von der Frühen Neuzeit bis zur Gegenwart (Köln: Böhlau, 2013, pp. 137–58).

Today is Malibrán’s 210th birthday! Below, her L’Écossais.

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Filed under Performers, Romantic era

Christa Ludwig’s legacy

Christa Ludwig has been called “the Earth Mother of all singers”, and the designation is fitting in every possible way—the arresting beauty of the sound itself, the reassuring strength of her technique, and the intense expressiveness of her singing, wed to a disarming simplicity and directness that sets her apart from some of her famous contemporaries. That lack of pretentiousness is a hallmark of her offstage personality as well, for which she is adored by fans and colleagues alike.

As a teacher, Ludwig sets exactly the right tone by asserting herself firmly as the person in charge, yet with an inviting warmth and charm. She is not shy about bestowing compliments when warranted, but she is an exacting teacher, not reluctant to cut off a singer after two or three notes to correct an errant rendition.

In short, Christa Ludwig is everything that a professional singer should be, and the fact that she was able to sing for so long with such excellence is perhaps the highest tribute of all.

This according to “The listener’s gallery” by Gregory Berg (Journal of singing LXV/1 [September–October 2008] pp. 119–24).

Today is Ludwig’s 90th birthday! Above, in 2015; below, singing Mahler’s Urlicht.

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Fats Domino and New Orleans

Antoine “Fats” Domino, the rhythm-and-blues singer whose two-fisted boogie-woogie piano and nonchalant vocals made him one of the biggest stars of the early rock ’n’ roll era, stopped touring in the early 1980s when he decided that he did not want to leave New Orleans; he said it was the only place where he liked the food.

Reclusive and notoriously resistant to interview requests, Domino even refused to leave New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina devastated the city, remaining at his flooded home until he was rescued by helicopter. “I wasn’t too nervous” he said later, “I had my little wine and a couple of beers with me.”

He was often seen around New Orleans, emerging from his pink-roofed mansion driving a pink Cadillac. “I just drink my little beers, do some cookin’, anything I feel like,” he said in 2007.

This according to “Fats Domino, early rock ’n’ roller with a boogie-woogie piano, is dead at 89” by Jon Pareles and William Grimes (The New York times 26 October 2017).

Today would have been Domino’s 90th birthday! Above, in 2013; below, performing in 1955.

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John Corigliano on new-music audiences

In a 2004 interview, John Corigliano noted that while audiences for most genres are always interested in new works, “new music is seen as a threat. It’s considered something that is above them and beyond them and in which they cannot be participants.”

“We have to take a little bit of the blame…at a certain point when you’re not talking to people and they know you’re not talking to them, they go away.”

“I trace this back to the birth of romanticism…all of a sudden, this virtue of incomprehensibility sprung up. I am incomprehensible because my message is so much more complex and morally stronger than the message of those people who were just speaking to you that you can understand. Therefore, you shouldn’t understand me. But you should worship me and come to these concerts. Well, OK, but composers are not gods, they’re people. And this has been the most destructive thing to art I have ever seen, art ruining art.”

“Romanticism ruined the 20th century as far as I’m concerned, and we have to get rid of it in the 21st. What it did was it gave us the egocentric idea of the artist-god and the audience-worshipper—the non-communication that that means—and bathed us in this until finally the audience was alienated by this and left like they leave churches. Now we want to win them back.”

“I think all composers should strive, if possible, to stand on a stage and to speak to an audience. I have found that the minute you say three words, whatever they are, and you’re friendly and warm to them, they’re so on your side…all of a sudden, they’re thinking of you as a human being in their society who is writing music that could speak to them.”

Quoted in “The gospel according to John Corigliano” by Frank J. Oteri (NewMusicBox 1 February 2005.

Today is Corigliano’s 80th birthday! Below, Teresa Stratas as Marie Antoinette in Corigliano’s The ghosts of Versailles.

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Reception

Felice Romani’s libretto reforms

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.

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Filed under Literature, Opera, Romantic era

Allen Toussaint’s legacy

Ranking among America’s most influential and versatile musical figures, Allen Toussaint excelled as a songwriter, arranger, session pianist, and producer. His influence extends across the popular music landscape; though he is most often associated with the music of his native New Orleans, he enjoyed success in R&B, jazz, country, blues, and pop. His piano playing blended the wealth of Crescent City styles, barrelhouse blues, marching band references, jazzy intervals, and sweeping octave leaps.

By the late 1950s Toussaint was already cranking out hits and frequently doubling as keyboard player and/or producer. In the 1960s two of his instrumentals became huge pop standards—Java for Al Hirt and Whipped cream for Herb Alpert. Glen Campbell’s version of his Southern nights was nominated for the Country Music Association Song of the Year award in 1977, and he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998.

This according to “Toussaint, Allen” by Ron Wynn (Encyclopedia of the blues II [2006] pp. 1005–396); this encyclopedia is one of many resources included in RILM music encyclopedias, an ever-expanding full-text compilation of reference works.

Today would have been Toussaint’s 80th birthday! Above, receiving the National Medal of Arts from President Obama in 2013; below, his classic Yes we can can.

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Ruth Brown’s legacy

Ruth Brown’s recordings—including, just for starters, 5-10-15 hours, (Mama) He treats your daughter mean, and Oh what a dream—have come to define for generations of music lovers the epitome of 1950s-era R&B: elegant and swinging, yet with a sassy sexiness that proclaimed the freedom-seeking spirit of a new generation.

Generations of vocalists, extending into the present day, have cited her as a major musical role model. And they weren’t all women: Little Richard patterned his squeal on his hit Lucille after Brown’s squeal on (Mama) He treats your daughter mean three years earlier.

This according to “Ruth Brown” by David Whiteis (Living blues XXXVII/1:188 [February 2007] pp. 69–71).

Today would have been Brown’s 90th birthday! Above, performing in 2005; below, Little Richard’s muse in 1955.

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Palghat Raghu finds a teacher

In a 1995 interview, Palghat R. Raghu recalled how he became a disciple of the legendary Palghat T.S. Mani Iyer.

“I was born in Rangoon. My grandfather was a self-made musician and in the locality he was known as Rangoon Radhakrishna Iyer. I was fond of drumming on biscuit tins for rhythm. [A relative] who came to our house presented me with a small mṛdaṅgam. It was a slow progress.”

“[A friend] suggested that I should have the guidance of Palghat Mani Iyer. So we shifted to Palghat. But Mani Iyer did not accept me as a disciple at our first meeting. My grandfather told him beseechingly, ‘We want to entrust Raghu in your hands. The boy is eager to learn from you.’ There was no encouraging response from Mani Iyer.”

“Two or three days we visited his house expecting a favorable reply; but no word of acceptance from Mani Iyer. It was here I found the hand of God coming to my rescue. One day when we were waiting in Mani Iyer’s residence, a close friend of his came there with a vessel of halwa and gave a piece to me and told Mani Iyer ‘Mani, this boy plays exceedingly well. I have heard him.’ That settled it. Mani Iyer asked me to come every day for lessons.”

Quoted in “Challenges brought out his best” by S.V. Krishnamurthy, an article included in The Hindu speaks on music (Chennai: Kasturi & Sons, 1999, pp. 245–47).

Today would have been Palghat Raghu’s 90th birthday! Above and below, the master in his element.

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Paco de Lucía’s roots

Flamenco purists may carp at Paco de Lucía’s incorporation of classical, Afro-Cuban, and jazz elements into his music, but no one can deny his prodigious knowledge of flamenco’s traditions or his ability to perform it like no other guitarist before him.

He insisted that all of his musical explorations and innovations are based on a solid commitment to flamenco tradition. “Everything I have heard has influenced me as a musician. But I have been careful about putting it in the music—my flamenco is not a fusion. I have always been careful that it doesn’t lose the essence and the roots and the traditions of flamenco. I have incorporated other styles, but they have not altered the philosophy of my music.”

This according to “Flamenco buena: Paco de Lucia’s guitar sings” by Felix Contreras (JazzTimes XXXIV/6 [July–August 2004] p. 44).

Today would have been Paco de Lucía’s 70th birthday! Below, performing in Carlos Saura’s Flamenco, flamenco (2010).

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Fletcher Henderson, composer-arranger

While there is no question that Fletcher Henderson had substantial compositional impact on the development of jazz, the term composition, with its overtones of singular artistic control and privileged aesthetic and legal status, fits only a small proportion of his creative work.

Henderson’s career is best understood from the broader perspective of a composer-arranger; indeed, distinctions between composer and arranger—and composition and arrangement, with their implied hierarchy—are precisely the kinds of differences that African American music making continually challenges.

This according to “Fletcher Henderson, composer: A counter-entry to the International dictionary of black composers” by Jeffrey Magee (Black music research journal XIX [spring 1999] pp. 61–70).

Today is Henderson’s 120th birthday! Below, Wrappin’ it up, one of the works discussed in the article.

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Filed under Jazz and blues, Popular music