Tag Archives: Composers

William Herschel at the crossroads

 

William Herschel’s career shift from art to science can be regarded as a symbol of the change that music aesthetics underwent in the eighteenth century.

The traditional view of music’s dual nature as both art and science was widely accepted as the century opened, but it was challenged by a growing interest in issues such as genius and the role of inspiration in the creative process. The nature of musical expression defied rational explanation.

The conclusion that genius and inspiration were beyond the law of nature, and that music is not just an expression of natural order but a means by which feelings and emotions can be expressed and thoughts and ideas transferred, contributed to the philosophical background for the Romanticism of the nineteenth century. The arts and sciences had come to a crossroads, and Herschel chose to follow the path of science.

This according to “Music: A science and an art—The 18th-century parting of the ways” by John Bergsagel (Dansk årbog for musikforskning XII [1981] pp. 5-18).

Today is Herschel’s 280th birthday! Above, a portrait by Lemuel Francis Abbott; below, his viola concerto in C Major.

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Filed under Classic era, Science

Couperin and aesthetic reconciliation

 

François Couperin’s first attempts to reconcile French and Italian musical tastes came shortly after 1700, at the height of a prolonged conflict between the two musical nationalities. Despite Couperin’s authority, this contention was not to abate until the close of the 18th century, when both Italians and French were confronted with the rise of German music.

Already in the last decades of the 17th century, an Italianizing tendency had appeared under the tyranny of Lully and his followers in both Paris and the provinces. When Couperin intervened as a mediator in the resulting polemic he was not the first to do so—others less eminent had preceded him.

While his celebrated trio sonatas (1691–92) were strongly influenced by Corelli, the greater part of his output was purely French in character. But toward the end of his career, Couperin’s Les gouts rénuis (1724) and Le Parnasse ou l’apothéose de Corelli (1725), provided eloquent testimony to his desire to appropriate without partiality the best features of the different styles.

This according to “François Couperin et la conciliation des goûts français et italien” by Marc Pincherle (Chigiana XXV/5 [1968] pp. 69–80).

Today is Couperin’s 350th birthday! Below, Gli Incogniti plays l’Apothéose de Corelli.

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Filed under Baroque era

Amy Beach: Grand Mass in E-flat Major, Opus 5

 

In 2018 A-R Editions issued a new critical edition of Amy Beach’s Grand Mass in E-flat Major, the first large-scale choral and orchestral work to be premiered in the United States by an American woman composer.

Despite a successful premiere in 1892, the piece was never published and has been relegated to obscurity save for a small number of performances since the 1980s. Its performance materials have been housed in the New England Conservatory of Music and exist in manuscripts that are difficult to use in performance. This critical edition is the first to establish in print the corrections Beach made for the 1892 premiere and to correct errors that are present in the original source materials.

Below, an excerpt from the work.

Related article: Amy Beach’s Gaelic symphony

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Filed under New editions, Romantic era

Trude Rittmann, unsung Broadway hero

 

 

Gertrud “Trude” Rittmann was on her way to becoming one of Germany’s most promising young composers when the rise of Nazism forced her to flee to the United States in 1937.

Through her work as accompanist and music director in the New York ballet world, Rittman met Agnes De Mille; the two subsequently collaborated closely on the creation of dance music for several landmark Broadway shows.

Rittmann also created choral arrangements and underscoring for Richard Rodgers, making major contributions to The King and I, The sound of music, and South Pacific, and she worked on every musical composed by Frederick Loewe, including Brigadoon, My fair lady, and Camelot. One of her finest achievements was the original dance music for the Small house of Uncle Thomas ballet in The King and I, created with the choreographer Jerome Robbins.

This according to “A composer in her own right: Arrangers, musical directors and conductors” by Jennifer Jones Cavenaugh, an essay included in Women in American musical theatre: Essays on composers, lyricists, librettists, arrangers, choreographers, designers, directors, producers and performance artists (Jefferson: McFarland, 2008, pp. 77–91).

Today is Rittmann’s 110th birthday! Below, a performance of Small house of Uncle Thomas in 2012.

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Dramatic arts

Joan Tower’s “Made in America”

In 2005 and 2006 Joan Tower’s Made in America embarked on a tour of all 50 American states, featured on programs by some 65 orchestras. In an interview just after the work’s premiere, the composer looked ahead to the experience:

“I’m very curious as to the way they view me as a living composer, because I’m a litmus test. I’m very curious as to how they’ll negotiate my piece. Now, I know some of them are much better than others; there are all levels. But I’m curious whether the piece is strong enough to make them want to work harder and what the level of passion is that’s going to be in there. Part of that depends on the piece and part of that depends on the nature of their community orchestra and the people in their orchestra.”

“If my piece has some impact, and draws the players in a little bit, or a lot, and draws the audience in a little bit or a lot, then it has some reverberation. I’m putting the entire burden of this thing on me, because the music is the center of everything no matter what anybody’s telling you. Whatever the PR, marketing, historical value, blah, blah, blah, that’s going on around it, you still have this living entity in front of you that has to do its work, whatever that is.”

Quoted in “Joan Tower: Made in America” by Frank J. Oteri (NewMusicBox 1 October 2005).

Today is Tower’s 80th birthday! Below, a performance from 2012.

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music

African pianism and musicology

 

The African pianism developed by the Nigerian composer Akin Euba (above) is not well-suited to the research style of traditional musicology, and the limitations of conventional musicological perspectives and analytical models for research on this cultural phenomenon are obvious.

Ethnomusicology and other disciplines such as cultural anthropology may provide approaches and viewpoints that can be adopted in musicological research on African pianism.

This according to “My understanding of African pianism/我对非洲钢琴艺术研究的一些认识” by Li Xin, an essay included in Dialogues in music: Africa meets Asia/亚非相遇: 中非音乐对话 (Richmond: MRI, 2011, pp. 59–68, 345–353).

Below, Kingsley Otoijamun performs an excerpt from Euba’s Scenes from traditional life.

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

Stockhausen’s universalism

 

Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Telemusik represents an effort to create universally valid music.

In an analogy to Le Corbusier’s modulor concept, Telemusik is based on a proportional framework constructed on the Fibonacci series, through which so-called Klangobjekte—both found sounds and electronically modulated ones of the most diverse ethnic provenance—acquire musical form.

Still, the limits of the universalism sought by Stockhausen are seen in conspicuous traces of Western compositional practice.

This according to “Universalismus und Exotik in Karlheinz Stockhausens Telemusik” by Peter W. Schatt (Musica: Zweimonatsschrift XLIII/4 [Juli-August 1989] pp. 315–20).

Today would have been Stockhausen’s 90th birthday! Above, the composer around the time of Telemusik; below, the work in question.

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

Jheronimus Vinders: Collected works

Issued by A-R editions in 2018, Jheronimus Vinders: Collected works, part I is devoted to the composer’s motets and secular works.

Jheronimus Vinders is best known as one of the three composers who wrote a lament on the death of Josquin des Prez. This limited reputation does not do justice to Vinders, whose works bear comparison with those of his more famous contemporaries.

As one of the rather small group of Flemish composers that links the Josquin generation with that of Clemens non Papa and Thomas Crecquillon, Vinders blended old and new compositional approaches, with some works paying respect to earlier traditions and others falling more in line with the musical developments that led to the pervasive imitation of the 1530s and beyond.

Below, one of the works included in the edition.

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Filed under New editions, Renaissance

Beethoven’s coffee

A visitor to the 39-year-old composer’s Vienna apartment described Beethoven’s personal habits in notoriously disparaging detail—a picture curiously contrasting with the same reporter’s observations of his fastidious attention to his favorite beverage.

“For breakfast he had coffee, which he usually prepared himself in a glass machine. Coffee seems to have been his most indispensable food, which he prepared as scrupulously as the Turks. Sixty beans were calculated per cup and were often counted, especially when guests were present.”

This according to “Beethoven’s 60 coffee beans” by Leonardo Ciampa (The American organist LII/3 [March 2018] pp. 50-51).

Below, a highly caffeinated performance by Peter Schickele.

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Filed under Classic era, Curiosities, Food, Humor

Boito’s disastrous premiere

 

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.

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Filed under Opera, Reception, Romantic era