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 Post subject: Re: Classical Composers
PostPosted: Tue Feb 27, 2018 2:51 pm 
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Can I just say I love later Schubert so much, Death and the Maiden in particular, I don't know why but I think it may be to do with how I find something to love in all four movements, which is really rather rare for me with classical pieces (usually I find that I most relate to the opening movement, particularly in concertos and symphonies. There are a few other works which I find fall into this category, like Shostakovich's 8th String Quartet, 7th, 10th, 11th and 13th Symphonies, or much of Janáček's work.

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 Post subject: Re: Classical Composers
PostPosted: Wed Feb 28, 2018 5:12 pm 
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 Post subject: Re: Classical Composers
PostPosted: Wed Feb 28, 2018 7:11 pm 
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 Post subject: Re: Classical Composers
PostPosted: Thu Mar 01, 2018 7:30 pm 
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This thread is excellent, Sal! I've just finished working my way through the examples here. I stopped listening to classical music about the same time that I stopped seriously practising the piano, but this thread is perfect for getting back into it. I didn't know much Schubert but definitely like what I hear. I'm looking forward to hearing more about Shostakovich or Rachmaninoff - I'm definitely more a fan of the big, dark stuff.

And just because you didn't mention it in the Brahms post, the first movement of his is one of my favourite ever pieces.

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 Post subject: Re: Classical Composers
PostPosted: Fri Mar 02, 2018 2:06 am 
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This thread has inspired me to look for a classical concert. I think I haven't been to a proper concert since I was 16 or so, though I have seen shorter pieces of live classical music.

I'm not sure yet what to look for. Something I really wanted to see was Mozart's Requiem, but unfortunately it seems there are no performances planned; there was a a performance just a few days ago. Maybe I'll go for a piano concert. I play piano (improv, not sheet music) and really like the sound of the instrument. Or to a Bach Passion, there will be loads of those in a few weeks since we're getting closer to Easter.


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 Post subject: Re: Classical Composers
PostPosted: Fri Mar 02, 2018 2:11 am 
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Oh and by the way, the Trout Quintet was one of my few classical cds back when I still used cds (along with the St. Matthew's Passion and Goldberg Variations). Just a random buy and always been quite fond of it since.


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 Post subject: Re: Classical Composers
PostPosted: Mon Mar 05, 2018 11:09 am 
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Looking forward to see who the other four 3rd-tier composers are.
In general, my favourites are baroque composers (Bach, Händel, Vivaldi) and Russian Romantics (Tchaikovsky, Mussorgksky, Borodin). But my listening to Classical music has very much been based on random encounters - hearing a piece, getting interested, listening to more of a composer, and then not listening to any Classical music in a systematic way for long times on end, so I have a lot of gaps. I'm using your thread to close them; thanks for the opportunity!


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 Post subject: Re: Classical Composers
PostPosted: Mon Mar 05, 2018 7:09 pm 
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 Post subject: Re: Classical Composers
PostPosted: Mon Mar 05, 2018 7:30 pm 
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 Post subject: Re: Classical Composers
PostPosted: Tue Mar 06, 2018 7:43 pm 
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GIUSEPPE VERDI
1813-1901
b. (near) Parma; d. Milan

In 1840, the young composer Giuseppe Verdi – director of a small town music school, but rejected by the Milan Conservatory – swore never to compose another note. He had by then written two operas, but while the first had been a modest popular (if not critical) success, the second had been a disaster. More importantly, in the last two years both his children had died, followed by his wife; he had little reason even to live, let alone write. But he was still under contract to an theatre director, who physically forced him to take a new libretto to consider, ‘Nabucodonosor’. As he threw the libretto onto a table in disgust, the pages opened by chance on the lines for a chorus of slaves lamenting their fate: “Va, pensiero” (fly, my thoughts, on wings of gold; go settle on the slopes and hills... O, my country, so beautiful and lost! O, remembrance, so dear and yet so fatal!... either give forth a sound of crude lamentation, or let the Lord inspire in you a harmony of voices which may give virtue to suffering!). A tune came to his head, and he began writing. Six decades later, when he died, 300,000 Italians lined the streets for his funeral, spontaneously bursting out into the same song.

After “Nabucco”, Verdi toiled away as a contract writer, composing fifteen major operas (plus revised versions) in the next eleven years, establishing himself as the world’s premier composer of opera; having made his fame and fortune, he largely retired to the life of a comfortable landowner, returning once every decade or so, in great secrecy, for one last surprise comeback, each more rapturously consumed by the public than the last. For his final opera, ‘Falstaff’, the theatre owners raised ticket prices an extra 200%, but the opera was still rewarded with a standing ovation more than a hour long. Today, around 1 in every 6 performances of an opera anywhere in the world are performances of Verdi – far more than any other composer (about 50% more than the 2nd and 3rd-placed composers, and 3 times as many as the 4th). 9 of the 30 most performed operas today are by Verdi (or 10 of the top 35).

In addition to the early ‘Nabucco’, Verdi’s great works include the three popular hits of his middle period – ‘Rigoletto’, ‘Il trovatore’, and ‘La traviata’, the world’s most popular opera (on average there are around 2.3 professional performances of ‘La traviata’ somewhere in the world each and every day) – the two as well as his heavier comeback shows ‘Don Carlos’, ‘Aïda’, ‘Otello’ and the comedy ‘Falstaff’; ‘Macbeth’, ‘Simon Boccanegra’, ‘Un ballo in maschera’ and ‘La forza del destino’ are also mainstays of the repertoire. Verdi’s style is popularist: he combines the easy melodies of the light Italian mode of his youth with the majesty of French ‘grand opéra’ and some of the immediacy and emotional weight of the ‘verismo’ style that replaced him. Verdi was no mere tunesmith – his operas progressively developed the genre in musical structure and harmonic language – but he almost entirely eschewed the revolutionary zeal of Wagner’s approach, preferring to retain the accessible, common touch. A common characteristic is his use of the chorus as a character, representing the ordinary people: most famously itself (‘the Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves’; Italy’s ‘unofficial national anthem’), and also the of ‘Il trovatore’ (also called the gypsy chorus, but with Verdi that’s not very specific; it’s a different one from the of ‘La traviata’, for instance). The same earthiness and melodic gift produced arias like (drinking song) from La traviata. But careful, kids: drinking may look fun, but ; and no, this clearly . If you’re expecting a happy ending, you don’t know opera. Meanwhile, the from ‘Rigoletto’ shows Verdi not just juxtaposing the earthy with the tragic, but actually superimposing them: as an unfaithful duke warmly seduces an assassin’s sister, his pet hunchback shows his unfaithfulness to the duke’s current love-victim, the hunchback’s own daughter, and the two simultaneous duets, one comic and one tragic, intertwine. [it’s an Italian opera. if there are no gypsies, there’s got to be a hunchback. and how could any good plot function without an assassin’s sexy sister!?]

Verdi pretty much only wrote opera; aside from a scattering of religious and secular songs, his only other major work is his Requiem, one of the most popular classical choral works, in which he brings the full dramatic power of grand opera into the religious sphere (though it’s more often performed in concert halls than in churches). It’s considered pretty stunning in its , though (perhaps due to the author’s own probable atheism) it’s rather less convincing in its celestial solace. tones down the brimstone, but only to exchange it for menace...

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PYOTR ILYICH TCHAIKOVSKY
1840-1893 (late Romantic)
b. Vyatka Governorate; fl. Moscow; d. St. Petersburg

Tchaikovsky has always had an uneasy place in the pantheon – appropriate, perhaps, for an uneasy man. Tchaikovsky was deeply insecure, easily offended and thrown into despair, and chronically depressed; a gay man (openly so among his friends, if not to the public), he repeatedly became infatuated with younger men, but love was stymied by self-disgust: “It would be unpleasant for me,” he wrote of one young man he was in love with, “if this marvellous youth debased himself to copulation with an ageing and fat-bellied man.” He fell in love with one woman, and mysteriously* married another – but, (it’s theorised) terrified of his wife’s sexual demands, he became so upset that he reportedly fell into a coma for some time, and the pair separated after only two weeks on the orders of his doctor. His most substantial relationship was with a third woman, the musical philanthropist Nadezhda von Meck, who kept provided him with houses and a vast stipend; even when they were staying in the same house, they took pains never to actually meet, but their voluminous letters show how they each regarded each other as a desparately-needed intimate confidant. Tchaikovsky died at only 53, allegedly of cholera, in mysterious circumstances that provoked conspiracy theories almost instantly, and that continue to do so**.

Musically and culturally, Tchaikovsky was trapped between two worlds, as the first significant professionally-educated Russian composer. The West viewed his innate Russian barbarism and quirky Oriental oddity with suspicion; the Russian establishment, led by The Five (AKA the Mighty Handful) viewed him as something of a cultural traitor, a stooge of the West. Only in the last decade of his life did the political intervention of the Tsar (who ennobled him and made him effectively the court composer) and the cultural intervention of Dostoevsky (with whom his music had often been compared, and who called for ‘universal unity’ with the West) promote him to respectability. In both West and East, his music has always been treated with deep skepticism by critics, who scorn his clumsy approach to large-scale structure, and disparage his intense, disordered emotionality, his conservative impulses (he loved Mozart and even wrote pastiches of Classical-era style; the Mozartian dimension can be seen in his singable tunes, if not in his more modernist approach to structure) and his explicit desire to write music that people might actually like. Nonetheless, that same popularism has seen his fame remain uneclipsed, and he is today one of the two or three most popular composers; gradually, some critics have been forced to admit that his genius for melody (perhaps second only to Schubert) and his great invention – as well as more technical aspects, such as his skill in orchestration – perhaps do earn him some modicum of respect.

Tchaikovsky’s work, sometimes accused of superficiality, is synonymous with passion. Just look, for example, at his fantasy overture, “Romeo and Juliet” – home to – and look also at how dives suddenly and dramatically from swooning love into explosive gang violence[/url]. Tchaikovsky often doesn’t so much develop ideas as shockingly juxtapose them. And then there (cannons!), which even Tchaikovsky thought was over the top (but then, he hated most of his works). Similar heart-on-sleeve power, if less noise, can be found in flamboyant popular works like the Violin Concerto, with its famous first-movement (you know how kids who want to be rock stars traditionally play ‘air guitar’? I suspect that if you want to be a violinist, the Tchaikovsky concerto’s first movement is what you play air violin to... I mean, just listen to how that movement ). Tchaikovsky is also probably the greatest composer to to turn his hand seriously to ballet (disregarding Beethoven’s “The Creatures of Prometheus”) – oddly, his three ballets declined in gravity, from the weight of through to the endearing superficiality of . The best of the three as a complete work is generally thought to be the second, [url=“The Sleeping Beauty”[/url], which is most successful in telling a coherent story, although it has fewer singable highlights. All three have their highlights available in reduced suite form. He also wrote a bunch of operas, although only two – “Eugene Onegin” and “The Queen of Spades” – are particularly notable.

Yet while Tchaikovsky may be best known for the ‘lighter’ genre of ballet and for virtuoso concertos (there are also three piano concertos, of which the first is the best-known), he also wrote very serious music in the genre of the symphony: there are seven, though one, Manfred, has only a name, rather than a number (a ‘seventh’ (or eighth, although chronologically sixth) symphony was also written in sketch form, discarded at the last minute, but later orchestrated by other hands). The fourth, fifth and sixth are frequently performed; the fifth in particular is a contender for the most popular and accessible of all symphonies, in an intense, heart-on-sleeve idiom – from the depths of its [url=https://youtu.be/CtxwKv0F4b0?t=39]tearjearker slow movement theme[/url] to the of the coda to the finale (the symphony is unusual in having all four movements based on a single theme, appearing in different disguises in each movement, giving the emotional journey even greater weight). It’s the sixth, the “Pathétique”, however, on which his ‘serious’ reputation primarily rests, with its combination of approachable melody and radical arc: the and slow, the normally the ‘slow’ second movement is a cheerful but slightly demented waltz in 5/4-time, and the conclusion of the third movement that the first audience apparently thought the symphony had ended at that point. But it hadn’t, because then there’s the finale, passionate yet even more morbid than the first movement, and ending with an, at the time, stunning . It was the first major symphonic work to end in such a subdued way since Haydn’s jocular “Farewell” over a century earlier, but here the impact is less amusing and more sombre. The whole work, while melodious, has a gravity and darkness that belies attempts to portray its composer as a mere tunesmith of fripparies and popular entertainments. The symphony briefly but prominently quotes the Orthodox Requiem; Tchaikovsky died ten days after conducting the first performance.


*as with much of Tchaikovsky’s psychology, this is a bit of a puzzler.


**allegedly, he died of drinking cholera-infected water, either at his brother’s house or at a famous restaurant, depending which friend of his you believe. However,

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 Post subject: Re: Classical Composers
PostPosted: Wed Mar 07, 2018 2:22 am 
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 Post subject: Re: Classical Composers
PostPosted: Wed Mar 07, 2018 5:55 am 
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 Post subject: Re: Classical Composers
PostPosted: Wed Mar 07, 2018 6:02 am 
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 Post subject: Re: Classical Composers
PostPosted: Thu Mar 08, 2018 12:18 am 
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 Post subject: Re: Classical Composers
PostPosted: Sat Mar 10, 2018 3:00 am 
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 Post subject: Re: Classical Composers
PostPosted: Sat Mar 10, 2018 10:22 am 
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Great to hear that you had a good experience! Slightly jealous - I don't think I've come across an orchestral free concert here, though they must exist. Free concerts are usually for music students of varying ages to get a taste of public performance - but the standards can be really high*. Or, sometimes apparently you get 'open rehearsals' by an orchestra before a paying concert, though I've never seen one.


But yeah, free and cheap concerts are one of those hidden treasures that most people don't realise exist. In London, there's something on probably every weekday, though unfortunately it's hard to find a centralised listing of them anywhere**. Usually in old churches, which provide great spaces and are in need of something to draw the punters in during the day. But you can find them in all sorts of places - I recently found out that the Austrian Cultural Foundation runs lunchtime concert series, for some reason. A couple of weeks ago, they had a theorbo*** concert...

And yes, live music is very different from listening to a CD. It sounds much more 'alive', and I think there's also something psychological that happens when you can actually pick out the locations of the sources of the different sounds.

[Why is live music different? In large part because of the limitations of the recording mechanisms, and even more the limitations of the playback, which tend to result in 'flatter', more homogenous sounds - and headphones, in particular, can't do justice to the bass. But also because it's difficult to replicate live acoustics properly. When you sit in a concert hall, you're really hearing the music multiple times, as different reflections of the sounds hit you from different angles, and hit your two ears at different times - you're literally immersed in sound, and it's an interactive process, because any movement of your head changes the profile of the echoes you hear. Modern recordings can attempt to replicate this, either by putting the recording device in the concert hall (but the absence of a crowd makes the acoustics too sharp), or by recording instruments or sections independently and mixing them together on a computer, but they can't really reproduce the effect. This is also why some concert halls are considered much better than others (near you, the Royal Concertgebouw in Amsterdam is one of the legendary concert halls; the Musikverein in Vienna is another)].


Although they were cheap rather than free, one of my favouite concert series is the 'coffee concert' programme in Oxford - they're held every Sunday (late) morning, chamber music, and they're in the world's first purpose-built concert hall, the Holywell Music Room, the rather puritan decor of which is practically unchanged since the 18th century, so there's a great ambience...


*ironically, while classical music faces problems in some areas, quality of performance has never been higher. There's been no reduction - if anything, an increase - in the number of young people studying instrumental performance, but there has been a considerable reduction in the number of orchestras and concerts for them to perform in (on average, if not in some cities, like London), so the competition is extremely fierce, so the standards are driven really high.


**for anyone in or visiting London: the two main weekly free series are at St James Piccadilly and at St Martin's-in-the-Field, but there are also about a dozen other places.

***it's like an old guitar with a stupidly long neck. It was one of the most important instruments for hundreds of years, but is now only encountered in historically-informed baroque recitals. .

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 Post subject: Re: Classical Composers
PostPosted: Mon Mar 12, 2018 6:29 pm 
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Belated International Women’s Day Special: Louise Farrenc

It seemed appropriate for International Women’s Day to briefly mention one of the great female composers. Unfortunately, there aren’t any.

What’s more, there aren’t even any very good female composers. It’s a struggle, frankly, to find any noteworthy female composers at all.

Oh, sure, back in the mists of time there was Hildegard, who was a genuinely innovative and interesting composer for her day. And in the modern era, Sofia Gubaidulina is widely considered one of the most important composers still living, with Kaija Saariaho also a candidate – although it’s frankly too early to say which modern composers will end up being notable in history’s hindsight. But between the two eras, it’s a desert with few oases; and in particular, during the heyday of classical music, from, say, 1750 to 1950, there were fewer composing women than ever before (presumably because, ultimately, that was also an era of historically remarkably strict gender roles). To be fair, there’s no dearth of women who have composed – there have always been bored, musical princesses and duchesses composing their own entertainments, there have always been divas and instrumental virtuose who occasionally wrote their own pieces, and there have always been curious daughters of musical families. But in only a tiny number of cases can we really say that these women were notable AS composers – rather than merely being composers notable for the oddity of being women.

[why is this? Hard to say – it’s not as simple as plain prejudice. Music has always been kinder on the disadvantaged than the rest of society – there have been black, gay and Jewish composers – and indeed women played an important role in music even in the 19th century. Female singers were the dominant musical figures of the century, and female instrumentalists were also very successful – even female music professors. It was speifically in composing (and conducting, of course) where women (and, even more so, Englishmen) were absent. Nor is it simply a problem of exclusion from education – particularly in the early part of the era, formal compositional training was something that was not seen as essential to a career as a composer. Part of it may relate to stylistic expectations: a woman who wrote ‘weakly’ would be overlooked as unimportant, but a woman who wrote ‘strongly’ would be seen as improperly masculine. More important, however, may simply be the strength of the maternal and matrimonial roles in that era. There were female performers, but they were usually young, and set aside their careers when they married (perhaps becoming teachers once their children were growing). Likewise, many female composers retired young, resulting in small oeuvres, mostly of chamber music (easily staged by newcomers) – effectively, they probably retired before they really mastered their arts. This does not really explain everything (cf. the number of great male composers who succeeded at a young age) but is probably the core of an explanation].

But there are always exceptions, to every rule. And one such exception in this case was Ms Louise Farrenc (1804-1875).

Farrenc was not born to a family of musicians, but she was born to a family of artists: her brother was a famous sculptor; her father was a famous sculptor; her grandfather was a famous sculptor; her great-grandfather was a famous sculptor; and her great-great-grandfather was a famous sculptor. She grew up in the artist’s colony in Paris, a hotbed of, relatively speaking, liberalism, and presumably encouraging for young artistic spirits. As a young girl, she was recognised as a prodigious talent at the piano, and her family arranged for the best possible musical training: she studied piano with Moscheles* and Hummel**, and eventually studied composition with Reicha*** himself.

Her career was briefly derailed by her marriage to a much older man – a flautist, who later became a musical publisher – but unusually neither wifehood nor motherhood (their daughter was herself a virtuosa pianist, before her untimely death) ended her ambitions. Quite the contrary. Having made a name for herself as an international pianist, she produced a string of piano works that gained great critical acclaim (including from Schumann; perhaps his marriage to Clara Schumann, who followed a very similar career path, encouraged him to support young female composers?); her Etudes became part of the required syllabus for pianists at the Paris Conservatoire – where she herself was appointed Professor (the only woman in France to hold such a position in the 19th century). From piano works, she graduated to chamber works; her Nonet, starring a young but already legendary Joachim**** was a remarkable popular hit for a chamber work. Chamber works remained the core of her compositional output (and gained her two awards from the Institut de France), but she also produced works for orchestra – a number of overtures, and three symphonies. None of her symphonies were published – but all were performed, repeatedly, and internationally, which in its own right was a great success for a composer working in a crowded field.

Meanwhile, as a piano teacher at the Conservatoire – she held her Professorship for 30 years – she not only held her own against her male colleagues, she excelled them, rapidly becoming known for the brilliance of her pupils. Indeed, so exceptional was her teaching – supplemented by her composition – that she was even granted the unprecedented privilege of receiving (eventually) the same pay as would have been given to a man in her post. In her old age, after the death of her daughter and husband, she turned from composition to scholarship, in which area she was no less significant: she revived, not only in print but in concerts with her students, the 17th and 18th century piano repertoire, and published an influential work tackling the difficulties of the interpretation of early modern music – a scholarly and artistic approach to ‘Historically Informed Performance’ decades ahead of its time. Combining her virtuoso performances, her unchallenged status as France’s premier piano teacher, her truly innovative scholarly work, and her highly accomplished compositions, Farrenc can be considered one of the most important figures in French 19th century music.

In the decades after her death, however, her music was largely forgotten – French, female, and focused on chamber music was not a good combination for the late Victorian era – only rediscovered by feminist scholars in the late 20th century. To be brutally honest, no great violence was done to musical culture through her neglect: Farrenc was not an innovative or inspired composer. Nonetheless, her abilities should not be underestimated. Farrence, particularly in her chamber music, possessed absolutely solid craftsmanship, and admirable good taste, making her superior to the vast majority of composers; she simply lacked genius. As a result, she stands alongside an entire tranche of largely overlooked composers who were perfectly, even exceptionally capable, and who collectively wrote a great deal of attractive, sophisticated music, but who never stumbled onto their one, era-transcending hit, nor who possessed the spark of genius necessary to rise from “very good” to “great”.

Farrenc’s calling card as both performer and composer for many years was her pair of piano quintets: . As can be seen, the first and third movements are energetic, the second appropriately tender, and all is put together beyond any complaint. a really quite sweet and graceful trio adagio (Farrenc wrote trios for clarinet, cello and piano, in addition to the usual violin, cello and piano; she even wrote for the uniquely early-Romantic lineup of flute, cello and piano). The same taste and craftsmanship can be seen in piano works like or [url=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x4I9M398z-g[/url]. [url=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ZeYHeXnNdo[/url]This third symphony[/url] is naturally somewhat heavier than the chamber music, but still a pleasure to listen to, with considerable fire. All of these are accomplished works of music – if they were by Schubert, Schumann or Brahms, they’d be considered very nice little works from the back catalogue. But with Farrenc – with all of this class of composer – there is no ‘front catalogue’...

Louise Farrenc, then, is a valuable, yet inessential composer. To the extent that her fame is (from a small base) spreading, it’s because she’s a woman. Yet rather than seeing this as unfair to her similarly-accomplished male colleagues, perhaps she should be seen as an admittedly rather arbitrary exemplar of a class – a reminder that, when viewed on the scale of centuries, there are behind the ranks of the immortal composers a sizeable number of impressive, yet largely forgotten composers who were nonetheless key figures in their own eras, and who continue to leave a legacy that is, while optional, still of interest.

[Two other names are interesting to mention here as well, in passing. One is the most important female composer of the 20th century: Nadia Boulanger. That’s the answer to a trick question, because Boulanger is significant not for her own compositions, but for her influence as the century’s greatest teacher. Among the countless musicians trained by Boulanger were seminal American composers Aaron Copland, Elliot Carter, Philip Glass, George Antheil, Virgil Thomson, and Roy Harris, in addition to the British Sir Lennox Berkeley and Sir John Elliot Gardiner, alongside pianist-conductor Daniel Barenboim, legendary guitarist Narciso Yepes (perhaps the greatest guitarist of the 20th century), and father of the modern tango Ástor Piazzolla. Also, Quincy Jones, Burt Bacharach, and, apparently, British female Muslim WWII war hero Noor Inayat Khan.
Montague Ring (1866-1956), on the other hand, was not particularly significant in history per se. She wrote forgettable parlour music – small, light suites, dances, and particularly love songs, suitable both for pop concerts and for amateur home performance, and while she may not have been important, she was successful in her day. Her real name was Amanda Aldridge, daughter of the great Ira Aldridge, making her one of the few examples of a 19th century successful black female composer; in addition to her composition, she worked as a teacher, where she inspired a generation of African-American classical and popular musicians, particularly singers (such as vaudeville star Roland Hayes and opera superstar Marian Anderson) – she also at times infused elements of African-American song into her own works.]


*Ignaz Moscheles, an influential and respected composer and virtuoso pianist, of a conservative disposition. A Jew, later in life he was one of the leaders of the anti-Wagner faction; he is best known today as the friend and mentor of the Mendelssohns (Felix and, relevant to this post, his sister Fanny, also a composer); he was also on good terms with the Schumanns (Robert and his composing wife, Clara); he played an important role in the reintroduction of music to the British Isles – Sullivan and Stanford both travelled to Leipzig to study at his conservatory. He may have invented the piano recital.
**Johann Nepomuk Hummel, an important composer and virtuoso pianist. Hummel was a child prodigy, famous for having been the pupil of Mozart (Mozart, recognising a fellow spirit, gave him lessons for free for two years, from the age of 8), and the (as much as possible) friend of Beethoven, and briefly Schubert (they met at Beethoven’s funeral). His book on piano technique was a bestseller, and his pupil, Czerny, went on to be a noted paedagogue, and specifically the teacher of Liszt; he was also a major influence on Schumann and Chopin, and briefly taught Mendelssohn. Outside of music, he was notably a close friend of Goethe; he agitated for the introduction of musical copyright, and established a pension scheme for musicians. As a composer, he was famed in his day primarily for his piano and chamber music (and 22 operas!) – he combined Mozartian classical restraint with a Beethovinian urge to experiment – but he fell out of fashion soon after his death. In addition to his professional contacts with Louise Farrenc herself, he made her husband the sole publisher of his works.

***Anton Reicha, a significant composer and incredibly important scholar and teacher. As a composer, he’s best remembered for his wind quintets – he’s more or less the father of the genre – but his chief role in history is as music teacher to Berlioz, Liszt, Franck, Gounod and many others (and as well as Louise Farrenc, he also taught the singer and composer Pauline Viardot; Liszt declared Viardot the first female composer of genius, but Viardot eschewed full-time composition and wrote only a few works, mostly for teaching purposes). In many ways, Reicha was at least a century ahead of his time – alongside his detailed and unfashionable theories of counterpoint, he wrote on such subjects as microtonality, bitonality and polyrhythm, which his colleagues of his day were unable to understand. At times, he even incorporated some of these ideas into his music, which was noted for its technical complexity; his string quartets were an influence on Beethoven’s. However, Reicha’s fame as a composer was badly damaged by his aversion to allowing any sort of publication or performance of his work, which chiefly circulated among his students and other professional composers.

****Joseph Joachim, a Hungarian Jew, perhaps the most famous violinist after Paganini and one of the genuine megastars of the 19th century (and cousin of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s grandmother, coincidentally). Began performing at 7 (when he left home to study in Vienna), but did not become internationally famous until 13, when he was acclaimed as the violinist of the century – by which point he had become the protégé of Mendelssohn. Later, he became a friend to the Schumanns, and friend and mentor to Brahms (it was Joachim who introduced Brahms and the Schumanns). Joachim is central to the history of the violin in the 19th century: of the five great 19th century violin concertos, Joachim was the first populariser of Beethoven’s (previously seen as barely playable), helped edit and revise and then gave the first performances of Bruch’s and Brahms’, and was studying with Mendelssohn when he composed his, before giving the second performance of it. [the fifth is Tchaikovsky’s]. The concertos of Schumann and Dvorak, probably next in line, were also written specifically for Joachim, though he never actually performed them. Unusually for a virtuoso, however, Joachim was also a great populariser of chamber music, through his Joachim Quartet, and his concerts alongside Clara Schumann. He also composed music although, aside from the most common cadenza to the Brahms, and an influential cadenza for the Beethoven, none is of great importance.

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 Post subject: Re: Classical Composers
PostPosted: Fri Mar 16, 2018 3:58 pm 
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GUSTAV MAHLER
1860-1911 (Late Romantic)
b. rural Bohemia; d. Vienna

Mahler, more than most composers, was a man of paradox: a Bohemian Jew, he converted to Catholicism for economic reasons (Jews were banned from many positions in the Viennese musical establishment) and embraced the German tradition in music, becoming noted as an interpreter of Wagner; he married an anti-semitic composer, but forced her to retire from composition; an acclaimed conductor (in addition to the Viennese orchestras, he was also head of the New York Philharmonic and the New York Met), he met with a mixture of polite interest and contempt as a composer, his immense and innovative symphonies more often mocked than listened to (outside the German-speaking sphere, his work was seen as an interesting curio, a hobby with no commercial future; in Germany and Austria, his work was seen as disgusting, crypto-Judaic degeneracy). He achieved only one significant commercial success – the debut of his 8th symphony; and yet in the 1960s, decades after his premature death, his fame exploded beyond all comparison, not only among professionals (other composers, particularly in America, had long been promoting his work), but among a new generation of music-listeners discovering classical music for the first time. My father, for example, was one of that generation whose LPs of Dylan and Paxton sat alongside a complete cycle of Mahler symphonies. Today, while the ardour of the Mahler Revival has faded among the casual public, among musicians and serious listeners his symphonies continue to dominate the upper reaches of opinion polls.

[the LP was foundational to Mahler’s posthumous success. Conversely, the advent of CDs was problematic for him: the CD was designed to meet the needs of Beethoven, and Mahler’s works are simply too big to fit on them.]

In his music, too, there is paradox. He wrote in only two genres: short songs, and sprawling, colossal symphonies (the 3rd lasts over an hour and a half; the 8th was originally written for over 1,000 perfomers, including three full choirs, eight solo singers, and one of the largest orchestras ever assembled, filled with, at the time, bizarre instruments like glockenspiels and mandolins). Much of his career can perhaps be seen as an attempt to bridge the unbridgeable gap between these two genres: most of his songs have full orchestral backing, and most of his symphonies feature prominent solo vocal parts – indeed, many of his symphonic movements are merely (vast) expansions of his songs. Similarly, in style, Mahler stands at the crux where the two great strands of 19th century music re-unite: the formal, academic, controlled style of Brahms, and the chaotic, programmatic, free-flowing style of Liszt and Wagner. In both his lush and prolonged harmonic language, and his structural sophistication, Mahler has come to be recognised as, in effect, the ultimate realisation of the course of musical ‘progress’ that had begun with Haydn, and that dominated the Romantic era. Mahler represents everything that Modernism rebelled against; and yet, at the same time, Mahler has continually been a touchstone of inspiration for later composers, both Modernist and Neo-Romantic.

Among his songs, the best-known are the five traumatic Kindertotenlieder. [The belief that these were a response to the death of his young daughter is a myth; in fact, he wrote them while his wife was pregnant (she was not happy, worrying, correctly, that this was tempting fate). However, the death of children was not an alien topic to him: eight of his own brothers and sisters had died in childhood]. These songs, all dark, vary from the (“Look at us – soon we will be far away. What are only eyes to you in these days, in the coming night will be your stars”) to the (“I often think that they have only just gone out, and now they will be coming back home. Don’t be worried – they have just gone for a long walk”) and finally the (“I was worried they might die tomorrow – but this is no longer a concern”).

On the symphonic side, his best-known work today is the (often known as “Death in Venice”, after its role in the film). Note how the opening motif is shared with that first link to the Kindertotenlieder – here, it resolves, and so the orchestral piece is more serene than the song. However, as in a Wagner work, the music seems to be constantly striving – it knots up tension and releases it but never quite “gets there”... every release is itself a source of tension, and so rather than being divisible up into pat segments like a Classical work, the movement feels like an organic whole. The piece encapsulates the divisive nature of Mahler: for some, this is incredibly lush and warm, in both its rich harmonies and its deep orchestration, and hence beautiful and emotive; for others, it never gets to the damn point, and it’s easy to lose track of what the tune is and where it’s meant to be going.

His greatest symphony, however, may be his 2nd, the “Resurrection”. * symbolises, with power and control, the funeral rites, and considers, Mahler tells us, the question of whether there may be life after death, and shows the completely new scale on which Mahler is attempting to operate – a finale like [https://youtu.be/gpug1NIi2s0?t=924]this one[/url] would for most composers be the last word of a major symphony, but for Mahler it’s not even the climax of the first movement – when the orchestra finally runs out of steam in that explosion (around 16:40 here), there’s still nearly another 10 minutes to go! The second movement, in radical contrast, is – reminiscences on the happiness of the life destroyed by death. And now, for those keeping track, we’re over 50 minutes in – just the first two movements together are longer than almost any other non-Mahler major symphony in the repertoire. The third movement discusses the unbearable nature of life as pointless activity devoid of all meaning, and culminates in a hysterical “death shriek”, before the fourth, borrowed from a song, yearns for the sweet release of death. The fifth and final movement, half an hour long, emerges out of the fourth through that unexpectedly gives way to something like a little temporary peace of mind – the finale hopes that the agony of earthly life may be answered by a modicum of not-awfulness in a life to come. Finally, the music .

[*Normally given in German as "Totenfeier"; however, Mahler actually spelled it "Todtenfeier", because it looks more hardkorr and Romantyk that way.]

Similarly passionate and prolonged music can be found across all nine of Mahler’s symphonies (the 9th is the other, beside the 2nd, that generally tops the lists), and in his ‘unofficial’ symphony, (a collection of Chinese poetry, and the third candidate for his magnum opus). [Mahler apparently feared that writing a ninth symphony, matching Beethoven’s total, would result in his death; he therefore refused to call his ninth symphonic work a ‘symphony’, and, reassured, went on to write a new ‘ninth’, content that he had escaped fate. Then he died. This makes Mahler another victim of the ‘Curse of the Ninth’, along with Beethoven, Schubert, Bruckner, Dvorak and, later, Vaughn Williams; however, in all cases apart from Beethoven, there are heavy asterisks over these symphony numbers/totals, and it may be that the Curse of the Ninth has been more important in encouraging people to find ways to make symphony lists add up to nine retrospectively...]. Ironically, it’s the only success in his lifetime, that seems least popular today: critics accuse it of “optimism”, and hence (in the context of Mahler, and more generally Romanticism, in which nobody can ever have nice things*) insincerity.

Oh, one last paradox, that might explain some of his music: as a child, Mahler was traumatised by a screaming row between his parents, and ran out crying into the street, where he encountered an organ-grinder playing a trite, popular tune. Ever since, he claimed, he was unable to dissociate grave matters and emotional trauma from the sound of light enternmaint...

(*except temporarily before they are destroyed and everybody dies and the world is obliterated, obviously, and only then in order for the temporary alleviation of despair to make the unavoidable suffering to come even more bitter by comparison. Yay Romanticism.)

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 Post subject: Re: Classical Composers
PostPosted: Sun Mar 18, 2018 1:10 pm 
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IGOR FYODOROVICH STRAVINSKY
1882-1971 (Late Romantic, Modern)
b. St Petersburg; d. New York

Igor Stravinsky was not the most important prophet of the new age: that was Schoenberg. But where Schoenberg positioned himself squarely outside the Common Practice, and hence outside these posts, Stravinsky straddled the boundaries of tradition – an inspiration both for those who passed beyond, and for those who remained within.

In 1910, nobody knew Stravinsky – he was a disciple of Rimsky-Korsakov, who had written only a few student works. But those student works had attracted the attention of Diaghilev, who commissioned the young man to write three ballets for his Ballets Russe (who were displaying Russian ballet to the Parisian public). Those three ballets hit the classical music world like three blows of an axe: The Firebird; Petrushka; and in 1913 The Rite of Spring. The first sounds of the Rite were greeted with confused laughter; laughter turned into uproar, uproar into dissent, and dissent into a pitched class-war fistfight between conservative aristocrats and progressive bohemians, who in turn both turned on the orchestra, hurling anything they could find; around 40 spectators had to be thrown out of the building, and allegedly a police presence was required to allow the second half to be conducted in peace; newspaper critics lamented that they’d missed much of the music due to the riot, and demanded that future performances be put on without the violent, hysterical “female element”.

But if the Rite outraged all but the most radical modernists, Stravinsky’s next phase, following his emigration to France (via an exile in Switzerland) at the outset of WWI, baffled and infuriated all but the most conservative: rejecting modernism, even his own, he adopted ‘neoclassicism’, or more accurately a neo-Baroque postmodernism. He persisted in this until WWII and his second emigration, this time to Los Angeles, where, after the war, he performed another volte face, adopting wholesale Schoenberg’s serialism – almost the minute he heard his archnemesis was dead.

Stravinsky therefore represents three wholly different approaches to the 20th century. His first, Russian period extends the language of Rimsky-Korsakov and the other Russian innovators into a more primitivist, cacophonous sphere; his work was particularly noted for the urgency and unconventionality of its rhythms; in short, he shows the way into bold expressivism. His second, French period represents a reaction, more conservative even than the neo-Romanticism of ordinary conservatives – a return to the cold simplicity of early modern music, and a prefiguring of the later 20th century rediscovery of the Renaissance and the Baroque. Finally, his third, American period is a belated embrace of serialism, the dominant form of Modernism, and served to propel serialism beyond the avant garde and the remnants of neo-Romanticism into, in the 1960s and 1970s, the primary vehicle of “serious” music.
To get a sense of early Stravinsky, I’d suggest as a starting point the first movement of his , less simplistically dance-like, but no less pounding. Stravinsky seems to be combining a turn toward folk music with the aesthetic of the modern age: of mass production, of hammering machinery. Then there is the Rite itself – is softer, though no less radical in its peculiar rhythms and sonorities (that’s a bassoon playing, but so far beyond its conventional range that it sounds like something new). But and here we’re suddenly in the sound-world of ‘Jaws’ or ‘Psycho’: Stravinsky’s hammering chords are jarring not only in their strength but in their harmonies (the whole ballet is ‘bitonal’ – he frequently gives us two different tonalities simultaneously – an example of how Stravinsky avoided atonalism as such, while pushing tonality beyond its conventional limits), and in their erratic, constantly shifting accentuation. But even that is sedate compared to sections like . Even the quieter sections like have this atavistic propulsion. [yes, if you’ve ever enjoyed a horror film, you can thank Stravinsky for the score]. And then that leads into (NSFW! assuming your work isn’t keen on bare-breasted human-sacrifice dances, at least)

So after than, naturally, after some diversions like (and apparently an affair with Coco Chanel, and a religious reconversion via Catholicism), Stravinsky next turned to music like – an opera that not only looks forward through the 20th century, but also back to Verdia and even Mozart, in a regression that ends in the sound-world of . Again, Stravinsky’s influence is so great that this even this historicism is a vision of the coming century – its clean, harsh technical, repetitive sounds seeming to prefigure minimalism. But just as people came to terms with Stravinsky writing things like and even more so ... suddenly he was off writing


DMITRI DMITRIYEVICH SHOSTAKOVICH
1906-1975
b. St Petersburg; d. Moscow

Perhaps more than any other composer of the 20th century, it was Shostakovich who rose to the challenge of attempting to bring together – or at least to show a way to bring together – the warring voices of early 20th century classical music: the radicalism of Modernism, and the conservative neo-Romanticism that rejected it. That he did so not through a single, coherent academic ideology, but through eclecticism, through ‘polystylism’, through the juxtaposition and integration of violent modernism with lush romanticism, and of high serious art with ‘low entertainment’ (folk songs, jazz, jingles), often employing techniques of irony, pastiche, repurposing and encipherment, has always undermined his reputation among Serious Composers; populists, particularly early in his career and in Russia, thought he was a decadent, out-of-touch intellectual, while the avant garde, particularly later in his career and in the West, condemned him as a weak-willed stooge of Communist conservativism. Yet throughout his life and ever since, in Russia and in the West, his reputation with the general public has grown, and he is now the most popular of all the mid-20th century composers.

Of course, for Shostakovich, more than for almost any other great composer, questions of style and theory were not merely academic: they were a battle for physical survival. Composition in the USSR was one of the most political and controversial of all careers, and the penalty for mistakes was death. His patron, Tukhachevsky, was tortured and shot. His friend, Zhilyayev, was executed – for the crime of being a musicologist. Another friend, Serebryakova, saw both her husbands shot and herself imprisoned in Siberia for twenty years. His girlfriend spent a year in jail. His uncle died in police custody; his brother-in-law was eventually released in such ill-health he never made it home; his mother-in-law, an astronomer, was sent to a labour camp; his sister was exiled; at least three of his friends who had written librettos for his works were executed. He himself allegedly escaped execution over the Tukhachevsky affair only because the man due to interrogate him was executed before the interview could take place. He was condemned by Pravda in 1936 in an anonymous article allegedly written by Stalin himself (it probably wasn’t, but it was probably written on his instructions, after Stalin had attended one of the composer’s works and not liked what he had seen); his fourth symphony had to be withdrawn from publication on implicit pain of death (the man who had written the libretto for a ballet of his that Pravda had disliked had just been shot). In 1948, he was again condemned, this time officially, in the Zhdanov Decree; he was expelled from the Conservatory, his family had their privileges revoked, and he was forced to publically apologise for his anti-revolutionary music. For some time, he slept by the lift outside his flat – so that when the NKVD came for him, they would not have to disturb his family. He survived by finding a way for his artistic impulses and the demands of the State (for popular and patriotic, understandable works) to co-exist – and by leaving many of his works as “desk-drawer” compositions not for public consumption.

Great music embodies the feeling of its era, and Shostakovich in many ways is the Stalinist USSR in music: at times brutal and violent, at others gaudy in its populism. “Battleship-grey”, Western critics mocked. In his serious work, he is rarely never soft – if often wistful; but unlike many of his critics, he was also rarely without a good tune.

He may at his most approachable in works like – a work he himself felt had little value, in which he is essentially imitating Rachmaninov (while being just as good as Rachmaninov), but which has had lasting popularity. But he’s more distinctively himself in the best of his fifteen symphonies – which surely includes his 10th, with this as its second movement (here, he combines the violent physicality of early Stravinsky with a tradition of Russian-inflected military tunefulness (cf the 1812)). His most widely acclaimed symphony is , which provoked mass weeping and a half-hour ovation – it’s thought to have served to provide the Soviet public with a form of politically-permissable grieving for the victims of the Great Purge. Ironically, this relatively accessible triumph was a result of oppression – an attempt to atone for the anti-democratic sins of his 4th symphony. It was not Shostakovich who coined its famous unofficial subtitle – “a Soviet artist’s practical creative reply to just criticism” – but he did endorse it.

His most popular symphony, however, both in intent and in effect, was his 7th, the “Leningrad”. The first few movements were actually composed while Shostakovich was starving during the apocalyptic Siege of Leningrad; the symphony was completed after his evacuation. Its first performance was given by surviving members of the Leningrad Radio Orchestra, in besieged Leningrad, supplemented by the Red Army – musicians had to be redirected from the war effort just to put together enough live bodies to play. The first rehearsal had to be stopped, because the performers were too weak; three of the orchestra died. To get a working oboe, a repairman had to be bribed with cats to eat. The première performance came on the night that Hitler had declared would mark the fall of Leningrad; a major Soviet military offensive was organised just to divert Nazi attention long enough for the concert to proceed without being bombed. As the orchestra played, the music was not only heard over the radio by the Soviet public – the military set up loudspeakers at the front line to play to the Germans, as a form of psychological warfare; the symphony came to be seen as symbolic of, and spiritually a cause of, the Soviet victory over Germany. Musically, it is best known for the military theme that dominates much of the first movement – a perfect example of Shostakovich, in that it’s a pleasant light entertainment tune repurposed wonderfully as a symbol of the absurdity of endless war. Also, in that it’s actually borrowed from Lehar’s “The Merry Widow”.

Of course, Shostakovich’s populist impulses are strongest in works written directly for the general public – in particular, his patriotic film scores, which yielded hits like , , or . But that side of his music must be set against the more personal works, like the eighth string quartet – here’s . The quartet was written in the ruins of Dresden (where he was writing the music for ‘Five Days Five Nights’), and is officially dedicated ‘To the Victims of Fascism and War’ – but it’s widely assumed to be just as much a criticism of Stalin. The motif at the beginning of , for example, is seen as the knock of the NKVD at the door (the same movement also quotes Lady Macbeth, for which he was denounced). Indeed, Shostakovich himself said that it had occurred to him that if he were killed, nobody would feel able to write anything memorialising him, and that this quartet could therefore be considered his own memorial to himself (one friend of his claimed he was actively intending suicide at the time).

Which is a morbid note to leave on, so instead, here’s probably my favourite Shostakovich piece: , a work on the edge of the conservative and the challenging, the populist and the sincere, the tragic and the comic. In other words, textbook Shostakovich.

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 Post subject: Re: Classical Composers
PostPosted: Sun Mar 18, 2018 5:11 pm 
Sanno
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Not sure why this is showing up as last posted to on Friday, when the post above this one was clearly made on Sunday. Hopefully this post will break that...

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 Post subject: Re: Classical Composers
PostPosted: Mon Mar 19, 2018 1:01 pm 
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 Post subject: Re: Classical Composers
PostPosted: Tue Mar 20, 2018 1:36 am 
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An in this week's Economist.

Excellent thread, by the way. (Though I've recently become something of a Holst/RVW man myself...)


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 Post subject: Re: Classical Composers
PostPosted: Mon Apr 16, 2018 3:56 pm 
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 Post subject: Re: Classical Composers
PostPosted: Wed Apr 18, 2018 11:18 am 
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 Post subject: Re: Classical Composers
PostPosted: Mon Apr 23, 2018 3:52 pm 
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