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.
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.
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  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.
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.
In 2016 Prešovská Univerzita launched the series Opera theoriae artis with Súčasné hudobnoestetické myslenie na Slovensku v kontexte metodologických problémov estetiky a muzikológie, edited by Slávka Kopčáková.
Slovak music is a living river of new problems for theoretical thinking and the search for methodological innovations whose divergent solutions enrich the quality of the reception of musical art in the time of globalization and changing listening habits. This volume is an essential contribution to the field of musical aesthetics, applying historical and contemporary theoretical music-aesthetic concepts to the study of Slovak music in the 20th and 21st centuries.
The second volume of the series, 25 rokov študijného odboru estetika v Prešove, edited by Slávka Kopčáková and Lukáš Makky, presents the history and current activities of the aesthetics program at the Prešovská Univerzita in both Slovak and broader European contexts.
Below, a work by Ladislav Kupkovič, one of the composers discussed in the book.
On 27 May 1784 Mozart purchased a European starling (Sturnus vulgaris, above). The pleasure he expressed at hearing the bird’s song—“Das war schon!”—is all the more understandable when one compares his notation of it with the beginning of the last movement of his Piano Concerto in G major, K.453, which was written around the same time.
Three years later the bird died, and he buried it with much ceremony. Heavily veiled mourners marched in a procession, sang hymns, and listened to a graveside recitation of a poem Mozart had composed for the occasion.
Although many questions remain about starlings’ vocal capacities, a recent study supports a definite link between their mimicry and their lively social interactions, illuminating Mozart’s response to his beloved pet’s death.
This according to “Mozart’s starling” by Meredith J. West and Andrew P. King (American scientist LXXVIII/2 [May–August 1990] pp. 106–114).
Below, the concerto movement sung by Mozart’s starling.
In 2016 Società Editrice di Musicologia launched the series Metodi e trattati with a new critical edition of Francesco Pollini’s Metodo per pianoforte.
Pollini was the preeminent figure among Italian pianists of the early nineteenth century. A student of Mozart, he enjoyed considerable fame not only as a pianist and composer but also—and above all—as a teacher.
In 1811 the Conservatorio di Milano commissioned Pollini to write a piano method, the first of its kind to be published in Italy. Printed as Metodo pel clavicembalo in 1812 and reprinted in 1834, the treatise covers several aspects of pianistic technique and performance practice.
This new critical edition, provided with a parallel English translation, presents the text and its 400 examples and exercises based on the most complete edition of 1834. The introduction retraces the work’s complex publishing history, discusses in detail the typology of the instrument, and examines several technical and performance practice issues addressed in Pollini’s text, including articulation, touch, rhythmic flexibility, improvisation, ornamentation, and pedaling.
Below, Costantino Mastroprimiano performs one of Pollini’s works on the fortepiano.
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 2017 A-R Editions issued a new critical edition of Carl Ludwig Junker’s only surviving concerto, edited by Mark Kroll.
Junker, a pastor, critic, and writer by profession, is far better known today for his books, articles, and published letters than for his musical compositions. As one of the most interesting and perceptive commentators and theorists of the late eighteenth century, he provided valuable information about musicians and music making during his lifetime. He also wrote twenty-four symphonies (now lost), thirteen piano pieces, and several songs.
The concerto presented in this edition enriches our understanding and appreciation of the early piano concerto, a genre that would find its full realization in the hands of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. Below, a recording of the work with Prof. Kroll at the fortepiano.