Music History Monday https://robertgreenbergmusic.com/blog/ Speaker, Composer, Author, Professor, Historian Tue, 10 Dec 2019 15:05:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.3 Exploring Music History with Professor Robert Greenberg one Monday at a time. Every Monday Robert Greenberg explores some timely, perhaps intriguing and even, if we are lucky, salacious chunk of musical information relevant to that date, or to … whatever. If on (rare) occasion these features appear a tad irreverent, well, that’s okay: we would do well to remember that cultural icons do not create and make music but rather, people do, and people can do and say the darndest things.<br /> Music History Monday episodic Music History Monday robertgreenbergsocial@gmail.com robertgreenbergsocial@gmail.com (Music History Monday) Exploring Music History with Robert Greenberg Music History Monday https://d3fr1q02b1tb0i.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/28114845/MusicHistoryMondays.jpg https://robertgreenbergmusic.com/blog/ Music History Monday: A Life for the Tsar https://robertgreenbergmusic.com/music-history-monday-a-life-for-the-tsar/ Mon, 09 Dec 2019 15:00:00 +0000 https://robertgreenbergmusic.com/?p=6107 https://robertgreenbergmusic.com/music-history-monday-a-life-for-the-tsar/#respond https://robertgreenbergmusic.com/music-history-monday-a-life-for-the-tsar/feed/ 0 <img src=https://d3fr1q02b1tb0i.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/06185018/1.-Michail_Glinka_by_Brullov.-c-a-1840jpg-838x1024.jpg class="RSSimage" style="width:100%;margin-bottom:16px;" "border="0" tabindex="0" />On December 9, 1836 (or November 27, 1836 in the old style, Russian Julian calendar), Mikhail Glinka’s opera A Life for the Tsar received its premiere at the Imperial Bolshoi Theater in St. Petersburg, Russia. More than just an opera and a premiere, the opening night of A Life for the Tsar – 183 years ago today – marks the moment that a tradition of cultivated Russian music came into existence! Mikhail Glinka (1804-1857) was the right musician at the right place at the right time. Born in the village of Novospasskoye, in the Smolensk Oblast (or “province”), he came from a wealthy, highly cultured, land-owning family. As a child he studied piano and violin and received a first-rate education, first at the hands of his governess Varvara Fedorovna Klammer, and then in St. Petersburg at the Blagorodny School, an exclusive private school for the children of nobility. When he graduated, he did what young men of his class did, and that was take a cushy civil service job. In Glinka’s case, he became assistant secretary of the Department of Public Highways.
Mikhail Ivanovich Glinka (1804-1857) in 1840
Mikhail Ivanovich Glinka (1804-1857) in 1840

On December 9, 1836 (or November 27, 1836 in the old style, Russian Julian calendar), Mikhail Glinka’s opera A Life for the Tsar received its premiere at the Imperial Bolshoi Theater in St. Petersburg, Russia. More than just an opera and a premiere, the opening night of A Life for the Tsar – 183 years ago today – marks the moment that a tradition of cultivated Russian music came into existence!

Mikhail Glinka (1804-1857) was the right musician at the right place at the right time. Born in the village of Novospasskoye, in the Smolensk Oblast (or “province”), he came from a wealthy, highly cultured, land-owning family. As a child he studied piano and violin and received a first-rate education, first at the hands of his governess Varvara Fedorovna Klammer, and then in St. Petersburg at the Blagorodny School, an exclusive private school for the children of nobility. When he graduated, he did what young men of his class did, and that was take a cushy civil service job. In Glinka’s case, he became assistant secretary of the Department of Public Highways. 

It was a do-next-to-nothing, light-weight post, one that allowed Glinka lots of time to indulge his musical interests: playing piano and composing drawing-room music for the amusement of his high-society friends in St. Petersburg’s toniest salons.

And then something in Glinka clicked (might we say “Glinked”?). Tired of his dilettante existence, Glinka – already in his mid-twenties – decided that he wanted to be a real composer. His family was against it, but in 1830, at the age of 26, Glinka left home. Three years in Italy (including a stay at the Milan Conservatory) were followed by a year of intense study in Berlin. 

Glinka learned his lessons well. When he returned to St. Petersburg in 1834, he was determined to compose an opera that would be recognizably, authentically Russian.  

Glinka got involved in a high-end salon run by the Imperial Court poet Vasily Andreyevich Zhukovsky (1783-1852). It was through Zhukovsky that Glinka got to meet and be inspired by a group of artists who were in the process of defining Russian literature and art and putting it on the international map. Dropping names faster that gulls drop guano, Glinka recalled:

“I continued to visit Zhukovsky in the evenings. He was living at the Winter Palace, and each week a select group gathered there. To mention a few: [Alexander] Pushkin, Prince Petr Vyazemsky, [Nikolai] Gogol, and [the poet and critic Petr] Pletnev. [Various] others turned up as well. Sometimes, instead of [a] reading, there would be singing and piano playing. When I mentioned my desire to undertake a Russian opera, Zhukovsky wholeheartedly approved my intention and suggested a subject: Ivan Susanin.” 

Monument to Ivan Susanin in Kostroma, Russia
Monument to Ivan Susanin in Kostroma, Russia

Background. 

The period between 1598 and 1613 is known in Russian history as the “Time of Troubles.” And that it was: a catastrophic time of dynastic struggles and pretenders to the throne of the Tsars; famine; and invasion and occupation by the hated Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. 

On February 21, 1613, a sixteen-year-old nobleman (nobleboy?) named Mikhail Romanov was elected Tsar of Russia by a Grand National Assembly. Having elected Mikhail Romanov Tsar, there was a priceless moment when it was realized that no one knew where he was. He was finally tracked down at the Ipatiev Monastery near the city of Kostroma, about 150 miles northeast of Moscow. When he was informed that he’d been elected Tsar, he reportedly burst into tears, no doubt aware that the Tsars of recent memory had rather short shelf lives. 

Mikhail Fyodorovich Romanov (1596-1645)
Mikhail Fyodorovich Romanov (1596-1645)

But consent to be Tsar and rule well Mikhail did, for 32 years, until his death at age 49 in 1645. His reign saw an end to the Time of Troubles, and Romanov Tsars would rule for 304 years, until the abdication of Nicholas II in 1917.

But according to legend, the Romanov Dynasty almost didn’t happen. Despite having been recently defeated in Moscow, there was still a Polish military presence in the countryside around Moscow. A Polish cavalry detachment got word that the search was on for the newly elected Tsar – Mikhail Romanov – and that he was very likely holed up at the Ipatiev Monastery near Kostroma. In the woods near the monastery the Poles met a logger named Ivan Susanin; they asked for directions to the monastery. “Oh sure, I know the place. I know a great shortcut!” Deep into the woods they went, and there they disappeared, never to be heard from again. It is assumed that the Poles killed Ivan once his duplicity had been discovered, and that they themselves froze to death trying to find their way back out. 

The death of Ivan Susanin, painted by Konstantin Egorovich (1914)
The death of Ivan Susanin, painted by Konstantin Egorovich (1914)

Back to Mikhail Glinka.

When the Imperial Court poet Zhukovsky suggested that Glinka compose an opera about Ivan Susanin, he – Glinka! – didn’t have to be told twice. The story resonated with Glinka for two ginormous reasons. One, it is about the unswerving willingness of Ivan Susanin – a Russian “everyperson” – to sacrifice everything for his Tsar who was the very embodiment of the Russian state. Two, it is about fighting off foreign invaders, the great bugaboo of the Russian mind. Let us not forget that Napoleon’s invasion of Russia had occurred just 23 years before Glinka’s opera was composed and that peasant partisans à la Ivan Susanin had played an important role in Napoleon’s defeat. The theme of unswerving loyalty to the Tsar in the face of a foreign threat was as contemporary to Glinka as it was in 1613, when the events depicted in his opera presumably took place.

A Life for the Tsar received its premiere in St. Petersburg at the Bolshoi Theater on Friday, December 9, 1836, with the Imperial family in attendance.

The premiere was a triumph. Glinka remembered:

“The success of the opera was complete. I was in a daze and cannot remember to this day just what happened when the curtain came down. Right afterwards, though, I was called to the imperial box. The Tsar [Nicholas I] thanked me for my opera. After he had thanked me, the Tsarina did so, too, and then all the Grand Dukes and Grand Duchesses. I soon received an imperial gift for my opera: a four-thousand-ruble ring made up of topaz encircled by three rows of the finest diamonds.”

Glinka’s working title for the opera had been “Ivan Susanin”. However, he changed the title immediately before the premiere to A Life for the Tsar in order to be “allowed” to dedicate the opera to Nicholas I. Glinka’s “reward” for the dedication was the ring. 

A Life for the Tsar was not just a triumph for Glinka; it was a triumph for Russian art and culture, taken as widely as we please. It was embraced as the first great “Russian” musical work. It was the first Russian opera to be known outside of Russia. Following its premiere in 1836, A Life for the Tsar opened every opera season in St. Petersburg and Moscow until 1917, the year of the Revolution.

So: What’s So Special About A Life for the Tsar?

It wasn’t that A Life for the Tsar was the first opera produced in Russia; that event had occurred back in 1735, when Empress Ann – the niece of Peter the Great – imported an Italian opera company to St. Petersburg to perform contemporary Italian opera. Neither was A Life for the Tsar the first Russian language opera composed and produced in Russia by a Russian. That distinction goes to a comic opera entitled Misfortune on Account of a Coach of 1779, by a court musician named Vasily Pashkevich, 1742-1797. 

Having said all of that, Glinka’s A Life for the Tsar was considered by his contemporaries to be the first real Russian opera for four reasons. 

Reason number one: rather than use Russian folk songs or folk-like music for “effect”, the entirety of A Life for the Tsar is imbued with the sensibility of Russian song. A contemporary critic of Glinka’s named Yanuariy Neverov addressed this issue when he wrote:

“[Glinka] has looked deeply into the character of our folk music, has observed all its characteristics, has studied and assimilated it – and then has given full freedom to his own fantasy, [thus creating] images that are purely Russian, native, clear, comprehensible, familiar to us simply because they breathe a pure narodnost’ [an embodiment of the nation], because we hear in them native sounds.” 

Reason number two has to do with the specifics of Glinka’s text setting, particularly the recitatives. Glinka creates a recitative style that reflects brilliantly the idiosyncratic sounds and rhythms of the Russian language. 

Reason number three: late compositional bloomer though he was, Glinka created in A Life for the Tsar a full-length, up-to-date, cosmopolitan opera, an opera written in a “high style”. Like contemporary Italian opera, A Life for the Tsar is fully sung, with accompanied recitatives, virtuoso arias, multi-part ensembles, and blockbuster finales. Like contemporary French opera, A Life for the Tsar employs recurring themes, big choruses, and a second-act ballet sequence (which is as Parisian as dog poop on the sidewalk). Like contemporary German opera, A Life for the Tsar is harmonically complex and exploits its orchestra to rich effect. All of this sophisticated (if eclectic) cosmopolitanism – employed in the service of a Russian opera – dazzled contemporary Russian audiences, who were thrilled that one of their own had created an opera that could compete, on equal terms, with anything being composed in the West. 

Fourth and finally, as a nationalist story portraying a heroic peasant defending his nation from invading outsiders, A Life for the Tsar spoke directly to the pride and patriotism of Russia’s middle and upper classes. As for the ruling class, well, they adored the opera, because it reaffirmed the status quo: Russia’s divinely ordained autocracy and the peasantry’s submission to that autocracy. 

At seemingly every level, A Life for the Tsar rang with “authenticity” for contemporary audiences; it was a serious, Russian language opera product that deployed its “Russianisms” intrinsically and not just decoratively; an opera that portrayed Russians behaving the way Russians believed Russians should behave. Overnight and forever after, Mikhail Glinka came to be considered the godfather of “cultivated” Russian music.

Glinka deified: one of the many monuments to Glinka spread across Russia; this one in St. Petersburg
Glinka deified: one of the many monuments to Glinka spread across Russia; this one in St. Petersburg

For lots more on Glinka, A Life for the Tsar, and the Time of Troubles, I would direct your attention to my course Music as a Mirror of History, produced by The Great Courses/The Teaching Company and available for examination and download at RobertGreenbergMusic.com (and on sale through December 27). I would recommend joining me on my Patreon channel.

Music History Monday Podcast

Robert Greenberg Courses On Sale Now

]]>
On December 9, 1836 (or November 27, 1836 in the old style, Russian Julian calendar), Mikhail Glinka’s opera A Life for the Tsar received its premiere at the Imperial Bolshoi Theater in St. Petersburg, Russia. More than just an opera and a premiere, Mikhail Ivanovich Glinka (1804-1857) in 1840



On December 9, 1836 (or November 27, 1836 in the old style, Russian Julian calendar), Mikhail Glinka’s opera A Life for the Tsar received its premiere at the Imperial Bolshoi Theater in St. Petersburg, Russia. More than just an opera and a premiere, the opening night of A Life for the Tsar – 183 years ago today – marks the moment that a tradition of cultivated Russian music came into existence!



Mikhail Glinka (1804-1857) was the right musician at the right place at the right time. Born in the village of Novospasskoye, in the Smolensk Oblast (or “province”), he came from a wealthy, highly cultured, land-owning family. As a child he studied piano and violin and received a first-rate education, first at the hands of his governess Varvara Fedorovna Klammer, and then in St. Petersburg at the Blagorodny School, an exclusive private school for the children of nobility. When he graduated, he did what young men of his class did, and that was take a cushy civil service job. In Glinka’s case, he became assistant secretary of the Department of Public Highways. 



It was a do-next-to-nothing, light-weight post, one that allowed Glinka lots of time to indulge his musical interests: playing piano and composing drawing-room music for the amusement of his high-society friends in St. Petersburg’s toniest salons.



And then something in Glinka clicked (might we say “Glinked”?). Tired of his dilettante existence, Glinka – already in his mid-twenties – decided that he wanted to be a real composer. His family was against it, but in 1830, at the age of 26, Glinka left home. Three years in Italy (including a stay at the Milan Conservatory) were followed by a year of intense study in Berlin. 



Glinka learned his lessons well. When he returned to St. Petersburg in 1834, he was determined to compose an opera that would be recognizably, authentically Russian.  



Glinka got involved in a high-end salon run by the Imperial Court poet Vasily Andreyevich Zhukovsky (1783-1852). It was through Zhukovsky that Glinka got to meet and be inspired by a group of artists who were in the process of defining Russian literature and art and putting it on the international map. Dropping names faster that gulls drop guano, Glinka recalled:



“I continued to visit Zhukovsky in the evenings. He was living at the Winter Palace, and each week a select group gathered there. To mention a few: [Alexander] Pushkin, Prince Petr Vyazemsky, [Nikolai] Gogol, and [the poet and critic Petr] Pletnev. [Various] others turned up as well. Sometimes, instead of [a] reading, there would be singing and piano playing. When I mentioned my desire to undertake a Russian opera, Zhukovsky wholeheartedly approved my intention and suggested a subject: Ivan Susanin.” 



Monument to Ivan Susanin in Kostroma, Russia



Background. 



The period between 1598 and 1613 is known in Russian history as the “Time of Troubles.” And that it was: a catastrophic time of dynastic struggles and pretenders to the throne of the Tsars; famine; and invasion and occupation by the hated Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. 



On February 21, 1613, a sixteen-year-old nobleman (nobleboy?) named Mikhail Romanov was elected Tsar of Russia by a Grand National Assembly. Having elected Mikhail Romanov Tsar, there was a priceless moment when it was realized that no one knew where he was. He was finally tracked down at the Ipatiev Monastery near the city of Kostroma, about 150 miles northeast of Moscow. When he was informed that he’d been elected Tsar, he reportedly burst into tears, no doubt aware that the Tsars of recent memory had rather short shelf lives. 


]]>
Music History Monday 15:25
Music History Monday: Turangalîla https://robertgreenbergmusic.com/music-history-monday-turangalila/ Mon, 02 Dec 2019 16:01:14 +0000 https://robertgreenbergmusic.com/?p=6070 https://robertgreenbergmusic.com/music-history-monday-turangalila/#respond https://robertgreenbergmusic.com/music-history-monday-turangalila/feed/ 0 <img src=https://d3fr1q02b1tb0i.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/02074743/2.-Messiaen_1937_4.jpg class="RSSimage" style="width:100%;margin-bottom:16px;" "border="0" tabindex="0" />December 2 is – was – a great date for world premieres, as well as for one unfortunate and extremely notable exit.   Brahms’ Symphony No. 3 received its first performance on December 3, 1883 – 136 years ago today – in Vienna, when it was performed by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Hans Richter.   On this date in 1949 – 70 years ago today – Béla Bartók’s Viola Concerto, completed posthumously by Tibor Serly [TEE-bor SHARE-ly] (Bartók himself had died four years earlier, in 1945), received its premiere in Minneapolis, where it was performed by violist William Primrose and the Minneapolis Symphony, conducted by Antal Dorati.    We would note the unfortunate exit, on December 2, 1990, of the composer Aaron Copland.  He died at the age of 90 in North Tarrytown (known today as “Sleepy Hollow”), New York, about 30 miles north of New York City. There’s one more premiere to note, which will occupy the remainder of today’s post.  We mark the premiere, in Boston on December 2, 1949 – the same day as the premiere of Bartók’s Viola Concerto – of Olivier Messiaen’s Turangalîla Symphony, by the Boston Symphony Orchestra conducted by […]

December 2 is – was – a great date for world premieres, as well as for one unfortunate and extremely notable exit.  

Brahms’ Symphony No. 3 received its first performance on December 3, 1883 – 136 years ago today – in Vienna, when it was performed by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Hans Richter.  

On this date in 1949 – 70 years ago today – Béla Bartók’s Viola Concerto, completed posthumously by Tibor Serly [TEE-bor SHARE-ly] (Bartók himself had died four years earlier, in 1945), received its premiere in Minneapolis, where it was performed by violist William Primrose and the Minneapolis Symphony, conducted by Antal Dorati.   

We would note the unfortunate exit, on December 2, 1990, of the composer Aaron Copland.  He died at the age of 90 in North Tarrytown (known today as “Sleepy Hollow”), New York, about 30 miles north of New York City.

There’s one more premiere to note, which will occupy the remainder of today’s post.  We mark the premiere, in Boston on December 2, 1949 – the same day as the premiere of Bartók’s Viola Concerto – of Olivier Messiaen’s Turangalîla Symphony, by the Boston Symphony Orchestra conducted by Leonard Bernstein.  In my less-than-humble opinion, the symphony must be numbered among the most thrilling and original works composed during the twentieth century, and it will occupy us for two days.  This Music History Monday post will discuss Messiaen’s life and the creation of the symphony, and tomorrow’s Dr. Bob Prescribes post (which can be found on Patreon) will get into the particulars of the piece – which is Messiaen’s one-and-only symphony – and my recommended recording.  

Olivier Messiaen in 1913 with his brother Alain and his mother Cécile Sauvage
Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992, left) in 1913 with his brother Alain and his mother Cécile Sauvage

Olivier Messiaen was born in Avignon, France, on December 10, 1908.  His mother, Cécile Sauvage, was a well-respected poet, and his father, Pierre Messiaen, taught English.  Among Messiaen pere’s accomplishments was having translated the complete works of Shakespeare into French.  In such a highly cultured household, Olivier’s musical precocity was recognized early and carefully cultivated.  He began composing at the age of seven.  When he was ten years old, his harmony teacher, Monsieur de Gibon, gave his precocious young charge a score of the then just deceased Claude Debussy’s one and only opera, Pelleas and Melisande.  It was, for Messiaen, a revelation; he later wrote that receiving and then studying the score was:

“Probably the most decisive influence in my life.”  

Without any doubt, it was Debussy’s extraordinary and utterly original treatment of harmony, tonality, and rhythm – rhythm liberated from a predictable pulse and the tyranny of the bar line – that inspired Messiaen to even greater tonal and rhythmic freedoms in his own music.  If any single composer can be said to be the successor of Debussy – in terms of both musical syntax and sheer originality – it is Olivier Messiaen.

The year after he received that oh-so-important score of Pelleas and Melisande, the eleven-year-old Messiaen entered the Paris Conservatory.  He put the place on its ear, truly; I have been told that they still talk about him at the Conservatory to this day, so amazing was his tenure there.  In 1926, at the age of 18, he won first prize in harmony, counterpoint, and fugue.  In 1928, he won first prize in piano accompaniment.  In 1929, he won first prize in music history.  And in 1930, the year he graduated, Messiaen won the prize he coveted most of all: first prize in composition.  

Messiaen in 1937, at the age of 29
Messiaen in 1937, at the age of 29

Upon graduating in 1930, Messiaen was appointed organist at La Trinite in Paris, a post he held for forty years – until 1970!  In 1936 – at the age of 28 – he joined the faculty of the Ecole Normale de Musique in Paris.  Three years later, in 1939 – at the age of 31 – Messiaen joined the French Army as a medical orderly after Germany invaded Poland and France subsequently declared war on Germany.  

Messiaen, on the left, in the French Army, circa 1939
Messiaen, on the left, in the French Army, circa 1939

Joining the French Army in 1939 was the right thing to do, the patriotic thing to do but, as it turned out, it was like buying stock in Lehman Brothers on the morning of September 15, 2008 (a few hours before its sudden bankruptcy), it was not the smart thing to do.  The “Battle of France” (better called the “Fall of France”) lasted for all of six weeks.  Nazi Germany invaded France on May 10, 1940; France’s surrender, signed on June 22, 1940, went into effect on June 25.  

Messiaen was taken prisoner in May of 1940.  He spent the next two years in Stalag VIIIA in Gorlitz, in Silesia.  (It was there – as a prisoner of war at Stalag VIIIA – that Messiaen composed his Quartet for the End of Time for clarinet, violin, ‘cello, and piano.  Messiaen dedicated the quartet “in homage to the Angel of the Apocalypse, who raises his hand towards Heaven saying, ‘There shall be no more time.’” It was first performed at the camp on January 15, 1941, in an unheated space in Barrack 27.)

Yvonne Loriod (1924-2010) and Pierre Boulez (1925-2016), circa 1960
Yvonne Loriod (1924-2010) and Pierre Boulez (1925-2016), circa 1960

Messiaen was freed and repatriated in 1942.  He returned to Paris, where he was appointed professor of harmony at the Paris Conservatory.  On top of his duties at the Conservatory, he began teaching private composition classes in 1943 at the home of a friend named Guy Delapierre.  Among the student who attended these private classes was the pianist Yvonne Loriod, who would eventually become Messiaen’s wife and who would play a pivotal role in the creation of the Turangalîla Symphony, and a young Pierre Boulez, who today would make just about everybody’s short-list of most important musicians and most irksome pills of the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.  

On April 1, 1945 – roughly eight months after the liberation of Paris and a month before the end of the war in Europe – Messiaen, still working in relative obscurity – premiered a work for orchestra and chorus entitled Three Small Liturgies of the Divine Presence.  Well, so much for relative obscurity; the piece unleashed a veritable storm of controversy.  According to Messiaen’s biographer Robert Sherlaw Johnson:

“Overnight, Messiaen was condemned, on one hand, for his vulgarity and lack of good taste, and praised, on the other, for [having] a vivid imagination and true genius.  The work was disliked by the avant-garde for what they regarded as his reactionary, [tonal] harmonies, and it shocked the conservatives because of [its] peculiar dissonances which, by this time, had become a feature of Messiaen’s style.  The non-Christian was out of sympathy with the religious sentiments expressed, while the traditional Catholic was displeased by the apparently vulgar treatment of sacred ideas.” 

Messiaen in 1946
Messiaen in 1946

Messiaen emerged from the merde stormsmelling like Chanel No. 5.  You see, controversy attracts attention, and in those days immediately following the war the Western musical establishment was desperate to find new talent and new music that could represent the new reality of the post-War world.  

And so, pretty much out of the bleu, the not-quite 37-year-old Olivier Messiaen received the commission – a dream commission – that would establish his international career.  

Here’s what happened.

A short time after the premiere of Three Small Liturgies of the Divine Presence,  Serge Koussevitzky, conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra – the same Serge Koussevitzky who commissioned important early symphonies from Aaron Copland, Roy Harris, and William Schuman (among many, many others), who founded the Tanglewood Festival, created the Koussevitzky Foundation, and took on the young and brash Leonard Bernstein as his assistant and gave him the break that made his career – this Serge Koussevitzky contacted this “Olivier Messiaen” and made him an offer he could not possibly refuse.  The offer: a carte blanche commission to write a symphony for the Boston Symphony Orchestra of any length, using any instrumentation he pleased, to be delivered whenever he finished it, no deadline.    

Talk about a dream gig; I’m still waiting.

It was a spectacular opportunity, a commission to which Messiaen dedicated over two years of his life, from 1946 to 1948.  Never having written a symphony, never having even considered writing a symphony, Messiaen wrote a symphony that was a summation of everything he loved and knew and believed in at that time: Eastern religions and a very personal sort of pan-theistic spirituality; Gregorian chant; birdsong; ancient Greek scales; and ancient Hindu rhythmic constructs.  The result was a ten-movement, one-hour-and-twenty-minute symphony scored for large orchestra, piano (an extremely virtuosic piano part; there are portions of the piece that more closely resemble a piano concerto than a symphony), and an early electronic keyboard instrument called an ondes martenot (so-called because “ondes” means “wave” – as in “sound wave” – and “martenot” refers to Maurice Martenot, who invented the instrument in 1928).

Ondes Martenot
Ondes Martenot

Messiaen called his sprawling, one-of-a-kind new work the Turangalîla Symphony. The word “Turangalîla” is derived from two Sanskrit words: turanga and lîla. “Turanga” means “time”, and, by extension, “movement” and “rhythm”, activities marked by physical movement that take place in time.  “Lîla” means literally “play”, “sport”, or “amusement”.  According to Robert Sherlaw Johnson:

“[‘Lîla means] ‘play’ in the sense of divine action of the cosmos; that is, the acts of creation, destruction, reconstruction, and the play of life and death.  It can also mean ‘love’.  [‘Turangalîla], therefore, means ‘a song of love’, ‘a hymn to joy’, time, movement, rhythm, life and death.” 

The Turangalîla Symphony was premiered by the Boston Symphony Orchestra in Boston, on December 2, 1949, under the baton of Serge Koussevitzky’s 31-year-old, Massachusetts-born protégé, Leonard Bernstein.  In his program note for the premiere, Messiaen wrote:

“The TurangalîlaSymphony is a hymn to joy, a joy that is superhuman, overflowing, blinding, unlimited.  Love is present here in the same manner: this is a love that is fatal, irresistible, transcending everything, suppressing everything outside of itself, a love such as is symbolized by Tristan and Isolde.” 

For lots more on Messiaen’s Turangalîla Symphony I would direct your attention my Great Courses/Teaching Company survey “The Symphony”, which can be examined and downloaded at RobertGreenbergMusic.com – where through December 27, everything is on sale

Listen on the Music History Monday Podcast

All Courses On Sale Now

]]>
We mark the premiere, in Boston on December 2, 1949 – the same day as the premiere of Bartók's Viola Concerto – of Olivier Messiaen's Turangalîla Symphony, by the Boston Symphony Orchestra conducted by Leonard Bernstein. December 2 is – was – a great date for world premieres, as well as for one unfortunate and extremely notable exit.  



Brahms’ Symphony No. 3 received its first performance on December 3, 1883 – 136 years ago today – in Vienna, when it was performed by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Hans Richter.  



On this date in 1949 – 70 years ago today – Béla Bartók’s Viola Concerto, completed posthumously by Tibor Serly [TEE-bor SHARE-ly] (Bartók himself had died four years earlier, in 1945), received its premiere in Minneapolis, where it was performed by violist William Primrose and the Minneapolis Symphony, conducted by Antal Dorati.   



We would note the unfortunate exit, on December 2, 1990, of the composer Aaron Copland.  He died at the age of 90 in North Tarrytown (known today as “Sleepy Hollow”), New York, about 30 miles north of New York City.



There’s one more premiere to note, which will occupy the remainder of today’s post.  We mark the premiere, in Boston on December 2, 1949 – the same day as the premiere of Bartók’s Viola Concerto – of Olivier Messiaen’s Turangalîla Symphony, by the Boston Symphony Orchestra conducted by Leonard Bernstein.  In my less-than-humble opinion, the symphony must be numbered among the most thrilling and original works composed during the twentieth century, and it will occupy us for two days.  This Music History Monday post will discuss Messiaen’s life and the creation of the symphony, and tomorrow’s Dr. Bob Prescribes post (which can be found on Patreon) will get into the particulars of the piece – which is Messiaen’s one-and-only symphony – and my recommended recording.  



Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992, left) in 1913 with his brother Alain and his mother Cécile Sauvage



Olivier Messiaen was born in Avignon, France, on December 10, 1908.  His mother, Cécile Sauvage, was a well-respected poet, and his father, Pierre Messiaen, taught English.  Among Messiaen pere’s accomplishments was having translated the complete works of Shakespeare into French.  In such a highly cultured household, Olivier’s musical precocity was recognized early and carefully cultivated.  He began composing at the age of seven.  When he was ten years old, his harmony teacher, Monsieur de Gibon, gave his precocious young charge a score of the then just deceased Claude Debussy’s one and only opera, Pelleas and Melisande.  It was, for Messiaen, a revelation; he later wrote that receiving and then studying the score was:



“Probably the most decisive influence in my life.”  



Without any doubt, it was Debussy’s extraordinary and utterly original treatment of harmony, tonality, and rhythm – rhythm liberated from a predictable pulse and the tyranny of the bar line – that inspired Messiaen to even greater tonal and rhythmic freedoms in his own music.  If any single composer can be said to be the successor of Debussy – in terms of both musical syntax and sheer originality – it is Olivier Messiaen.



The year after he received that oh-so-important score of Pelleas and Melisande, the eleven-year-old Messiaen entered the Paris Conservatory.  He put the place on its ear, truly; I have been told that they still talk about him at the Conservatory to this day, so amazing was his tenure there.  In 1926, at the age of 18, he won first prize in harmony, counterpoint, and fugue.  In 1928, he won first prize in piano accompaniment.  In 1929, he won first prize in music history.  And in 1930,]]>
Music History Monday 14:22
Music History Monday: A Critical Voice https://robertgreenbergmusic.com/music-history-monday-a-critical-voice/ Mon, 25 Nov 2019 21:33:22 +0000 https://robertgreenbergmusic.com/?p=6029 https://robertgreenbergmusic.com/music-history-monday-a-critical-voice/#respond https://robertgreenbergmusic.com/music-history-monday-a-critical-voice/feed/ 0 <img src=https://d3fr1q02b1tb0i.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/25132713/5.-1972.jpg class="RSSimage" style="width:100%;margin-bottom:16px;" "border="0" tabindex="0" />We recognize the birth on November 25, 1896 – 123 years ago today – of the American composer and music critic Virgil Thomson in Kansas City, Missouri.
Virgil Thomson (1896-1989) in 1947
Virgil Thomson in 1947

We recognize the birth on November 25, 1896 – 123 years ago today – of the American composer and music critic Virgil Thomson in Kansas City, Missouri. 

Mr. Thomson was one of the most important American musicians and music critics of the twentieth century. But before we move on to him, we’ve an additional topic of nearly equal import with which we must deal, albeit, sadly, in a cursory fashion, here on the august and dignified pages of Music History Monday.

Nicholas Cage and Lisa Marie Presley
The love birds in 2002

On November 25, 2002 – 17 years ago to this very day – the Academy Award-winning actor Nicolas Cage (born Nicolas Kim Coppola in 1964) filed for divorce from the so-called, self-styled “Princess of Rock ‘n’ Roll” Lisa Marie Presley (born 1968). The loving couple had been married for all of 107 days. The marriage ended due to what was euphemistically called “irreconcilable differences”. A brief perusal of internet tabloids (“interbloids”? “tabnets”?) would confirm the “irreconcilable” part. For his part, Cage comes up relatively clean (I’ve used the word “clean” advisedly, as Cage is known for his aversion to deodorant). Indeed: he is impetuous in his actions and spending, which resonates with the spontaneity of his over-the-top, sometimes even surreal acting style. But being impetuous is not, in itself, a particularly damning trait except when it comes to choosing a marital partner. Impetuous and ill-advised was Cage’s choice of Ms. Presley; he should have done a little due diligence over Lisa Marie, who had just recently ended her sham (illegal), public relations-stunt marriage to Michael Jackson. During the course of their “marriage” (that’s “marriage” in scare quotes), Cage and Presley never lived together because they couldn’t agree on where they wanted to live. According to Cage (and Michael Jackson before him), Presley was a jealous control freak who would phone him and harangue him constantly, to the point that Cage could not conduct business meetings or rehearsals. She once had her bodyguards physically throw him out of a recording studio because his presence “made her nervous.” But the clincher – for a fellow collector like myself – is that according to Cage, Lisa Marie “made him” sell his huge and fabled comic book collection, something he regrets to this day. “I should have stood up for myself,” says Cage.

Uh-huh. Grow a pair, says we. 

I will be forgiven for the previous sentence, despite the fact that I know it was critical of me to say what I said, jumping to a conclusion – perhaps rashly – that Maestro Cage was/is cajone-challenged. 

But that’s what critics do, yes? They judge and draw conclusions based on their own opinions and experience, more often than not with hardly a clue as to the true intentions of the individual or object being critiqued.

Ah, critics. We can’t live with them and we can’t live with them (you read that correctly). Having said that, I have no intention – here – of getting into a conversation/screed on the role and responsibilities of the critic; that would take up three or four entire posts and would only, in the end, showcase my own frustration with “criticism” as it is generally practiced. 

(“But”, one might say, “critics help me decide what restaurants to go to and what movies to watch.” And well they might. But the soaring prose, scalpel-sharp wit, professional jealousy and personal agendas of many of the “best” critics effectively cloud their judgment and cause them – not infrequently – to overstate their critical case and to thus render their critiques as subjective as any laypersons.) 

Painful to the critical community though it may be, the fact remains that the surest way for a critic to be remembered is to get it wrong. 

Lexicon of Musical Invective by Nicolas Slonimsky
Lexicon of Musical Invective by Nicolas Slonimsky

There is a wonderful book that I cannot live without entitled Lexicon of Musical Invective: Critical Assaults on Composers Since Beethoven’s Time, gathered and edited by Nicolas Slonimsky, which catalogs many of the very worst things said about all our favorite composers. For example, we all know Beethoven’s opera Fidelio to be a masterwork, and so a positive review of the opera merely reinforces what we already know. But a rotten review, well that’s worth quoting, because the critic is so wrong. This is what August von Kotzebue wrote of Fidelio in the Viennese publication Der Freimütige on September 11, 1806:

“Recently there was given the overture to Beethoven’s opera Fidelio, and all impartial musicians and music lovers were in perfect agreement that never was anything as incoherent, shrill, chaotic, and ear-splitting produced in music. The most piercing dissonances clash in a really atrocious harmony, and a few puny ideas only increase the disagreeable and deafening effect.”

Question: would there be any reason to remember August von Kotzebue here in 2019 other than this review? Nope.

(For everyone’s information, Nicolas Slonimsky’s Lexicon of Musical Invective will be the topic for Dr. Bob Prescribes in two weeks, on December 10.)

Now I will be the first to admit that it’s often downright fun to read a really well written bad review. For just such a review I would direct your attention to Pete Wells’ categorical destruction of Peter Luger Steak House in Brooklyn, N.Y. in a review in the New York Times on October 29 past.

Entertaining though such reviews may be to read, they can be devastating, particularly when directed at an individual. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: anyone who says that “there is no such thing as a bad review” has never gotten a bad review. Bad reviews, in fact, suck. Every time. Always. Forever. As for so-called “constructive criticism”, to paraphrase Lorenzo da Ponte’s libretto of Mozart’s Così fan Tutte, “constructive criticism is like the phoenix; everyone says it exists, but no one has ever seen it.”)

Robert Commanday
Robert Commanday (1922-2015)

One might think that the best critics would be practitioners themselves: professional composers, artists, writers, film makers, painters, etc. Yes, one might think. But I would argue the opposite, and I personally had the opportunity to do so some 24 years ago. I was, at the time, a professor at the San Francisco Conservatory, where I was Chair of the Department of Music History and Literature and Director of the Adult Extension Division. It was in my capacity as Director of the Extension that I created a lecture series featuring present and former music critics living here in the San Francisco Bay Area. The first such featured critic was Robert Commanday (1922-2015), a Harvard and Juilliard-trained musician who was the chief music critic for the San Francisco Chronicle from 1964 until his retirement in 1993. I met with Commanday in 1995 at his nearby Oakland Hills home and persuaded him to participate in the lecture series. He, in turn, attempted to persuade me to participate in what was then a startup venture: an internet site to be called “San Francisco Classical Voice,” a site that would do what print journalism was no longer doing, that being to review the entire gamut of concert music – in particular new music – here in the San Francisco Bay Area. Referencing such notable composers-cum-critics as Hector Berlioz, Robert Schumann and Claude Debussy, Bob asked me to sign on to his venture as a critic on the new music scene. I retreated from his offer as quickly as I would a tongue kiss from an alligator. “Not on your life” I no doubt vehemently replied, or something to that effect. Commanday – who I knew fairly well – angrily called me a coward. He was being unkind, but he wasn’t wrong. As I pointed out to him, I had to live and work in the local new music community. The composers and performers I would be reviewing were, in many cases, my colleagues and my friends or possible future colleagues and friends. There was no way I was going to be a hoopoe bird, a bird – I once read – that is purported to foul its own nest. There was no way I was going to “foul my own nest” by reviewing the work of my colleagues. And that was that.

But there were other, less personal and more altruistic reasons why I could never work as a critic. I am aware that contemporary professional composers compose the way they do because they’ve found/created a musical language that works for them. But creating my own musical language has also meant discarding and abandoning those syntactical elements that do not work for me, which raises the dilemma: how could I, as a critic, honestly critique music that goes against my own musical grain, music that embraces a syntax and expressive content that I have personally rejected? Would I be big enough, mature enough, and fair enough to look beyond my own prejudices and critique such music strictly on its own terms?

Hell no. And in this I wouldn’t be alone; the aforementioned Hector Berlioz, Robert Schumann, and Claude Debussy all used their bully pulpit in the press to attack composers whose music they didn’t “like” and to promote composers whose music resonated with their own.

Virgil Thomson in 1972
Virgil Thomson in 1972

Which brings us, finally, to Virgil Thompson, who was introduced at the top of this post as a composer and music critic. 

Thomson was an excellent composer who wrote two important operas with Gertrude Stein early in his career and who, along with Aaron Copland, is responsible for creating what today we understand to be the “American sound” in concert music: a neoromantic compositional style that evokes a stereotypical American “sound” through the use of American folksong and folk-like music. We will explore Thomson’s life, his compositional career, and his Symphony on a Hymn Tune in tomorrow’s Dr. Bob Prescribes Post, which will be published at Patreon.com/RobertGreenbergMusic. 

For now, we would take a brief look at Thompson’s career as a critic, and the degree to which Thomson was able to negotiate the inherent conflict of interest by being both a practitioner and a critic of his fellow practitioners.

 Thomson was the music critic for The New York Herald Tribune for 14 years, from 1940 to 1954. His stated aim as a critic was:

“To describe what one has heard is the whole art of reviewing. To lead your reader step by step from the familiar to the surprising is the height of polemical skill. Language is for telling the truth of things.”

As a professional composer, Thomson professed to being:

“unimpressed by the trappings of celebrity performers and unemotional about the composer icons of music’s past.”

Thomson always gave the actual “music” pride of place in his reviews and not the performers. He was markedly impatient with the “50 masterwork canon” as it was regarded during his tenure as a critic, and he was unrelenting in his criticism of the New York musical establishment’s neglect of new music. He wasn’t perfect; according to his fellow critic Robert Miles, “he was capable of being vindictive and of settling scores in print.” According to the musicologist Suzanne Robinson, Thomson was motivated by “a mixture of spite, national pride, and professional jealousy”. (One suspects that Robinson, who did her doctoral work on English music, is personally miffed by Thomson’s storied dislike of the music of the English composer Benjamin Britten.) According to Joshua Kosman, presently the chief music critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, Thomson was:

“a virtual paragon of how not to practice music criticism.”

True, perhaps, but only if we consider Thomson as a “traditional” music critic, which he was most certainly not. He was a practitioner, with a personal and professional stake in the music scene as it existed at the time. And given the overwhelmingly positive impact his writing had – particularly in promoting new American music and in creating a new and more positive paradigm for American music vis-à-vis the European “standards” – we must measure Thomson’s critical career as a smashing success. In the end, Thomson should be considered not so much as a critic but rather, as an influencer.

Tomorrow in Dr. Bob Prescribes, Virgil Thomson’s life and his Symphony on a Hymn Tune.

For much more on the music of the twentieth century, I would direct your attention to my Great Courses/Teaching Company survey, The Great Music of the Twentieth Century, which can be examined and downloaded at RobertGreenbergMusic.com, and to my Patreon channel at Patreon.com

Listen on the Music History Monday Podcast

Robert Greenberg Courses On Sale Now

]]>
We recognize the birth on November 25, 1896 – 123 years ago today – of the American composer and music critic Virgil Thomson in Kansas City, Missouri. Virgil Thomson in 1947



We recognize the birth on November 25, 1896 – 123 years ago today – of the American composer and music critic Virgil Thomson in Kansas City, Missouri. 



Mr. Thomson was one of the most important American musicians and music critics of the twentieth century. But before we move on to him, we’ve an additional topic of nearly equal import with which we must deal, albeit, sadly, in a cursory fashion, here on the august and dignified pages of Music History Monday.



The love birds in 2002



On November 25, 2002 – 17 years ago to this very day – the Academy Award-winning actor Nicolas Cage (born Nicolas Kim Coppola in 1964) filed for divorce from the so-called, self-styled “Princess of Rock ‘n’ Roll” Lisa Marie Presley (born 1968). The loving couple had been married for all of 107 days. The marriage ended due to what was euphemistically called “irreconcilable differences”. A brief perusal of internet tabloids (“interbloids”? “tabnets”?) would confirm the “irreconcilable” part. For his part, Cage comes up relatively clean (I’ve used the word “clean” advisedly, as Cage is known for his aversion to deodorant). Indeed: he is impetuous in his actions and spending, which resonates with the spontaneity of his over-the-top, sometimes even surreal acting style. But being impetuous is not, in itself, a particularly damning trait except when it comes to choosing a marital partner. Impetuous and ill-advised was Cage’s choice of Ms. Presley; he should have done a little due diligence over Lisa Marie, who had just recently ended her sham (illegal), public relations-stunt marriage to Michael Jackson. During the course of their “marriage” (that’s “marriage” in scare quotes), Cage and Presley never lived together because they couldn’t agree on where they wanted to live. According to Cage (and Michael Jackson before him), Presley was a jealous control freak who would phone him and harangue him constantly, to the point that Cage could not conduct business meetings or rehearsals. She once had her bodyguards physically throw him out of a recording studio because his presence “made her nervous.” But the clincher – for a fellow collector like myself – is that according to Cage, Lisa Marie “made him” sell his huge and fabled comic book collection, something he regrets to this day. “I should have stood up for myself,” says Cage.



Uh-huh. Grow a pair, says we. 



I will be forgiven for the previous sentence, despite the fact that I know it was critical of me to say what I said, jumping to a conclusion – perhaps rashly – that Maestro Cage was/is cajone-challenged. 



But that’s what critics do, yes? They judge and draw conclusions based on their own opinions and experience, more often than not with hardly a clue as to the true intentions of the individual or object being critiqued.



Ah, critics. We can’t live with them and we can’t live with them (you read that correctly). Having said that, I have no intention – here – of getting into a conversation/screed on the role and responsibilities of the critic; that would take up three or four entire posts and would only, in the end, showcase my own frustration with “criticism” as it is generally practiced. 



(“But”, one might say, “critics help me decide what restaurants to go to and what movies to watch.” And well they might. But the soaring prose, scalpel-sharp wit, professional jealousy and personal agendas of many of the “best” critics effectively cloud their judgment and cause them – not infrequently – to overstate their critical case and to thus render their critiques as subjective as any laypersons.) 



Painful to the critical community though it may be,]]>
Music History Monday 16:35
Music History Monday: The Grand Journey https://robertgreenbergmusic.com/music-history-monday-the-grand-journey/ Mon, 18 Nov 2019 17:11:00 +0000 https://robertgreenbergmusic.com/?p=5990 https://robertgreenbergmusic.com/music-history-monday-the-grand-journey/#respond https://robertgreenbergmusic.com/music-history-monday-the-grand-journey/feed/ 0 <img src=https://d3fr1q02b1tb0i.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/18085728/mozarts.jpg class="RSSimage" style="width:100%;margin-bottom:16px;" "border="0" tabindex="0" />On November 18, 1763, 256 years ago today, the Mozart family – father Leopold, mother Anna Maria, daughter Marianne (12 years old) and son Wolfgang (7 years old) - arrived in Paris. They were in the midst of their “Grand Journey”, a 3½ year concert tour of Central and Western Europe that was to change the history of Western music.
Leopold Mozart and his children Wolfgang and Marianne in Paris
Leopold Mozart and his children Wolfgang and Marianne in Paris 1763/4; watercolor by Louis Carmontelle. Ludwig had a lithograph made from this painting which he widely distributed as an advertisement

On November 18, 1763, 256 years ago today, the Mozart family – father Leopold, mother Anna Maria, daughter Marianne (12 years old) and son Wolfgang (7 years old) – arrived in Paris. They were in the midst of their “Grand Journey”, a 3½ year concert tour of Central and Western Europe that was to change the history of Western music. 

I would suggest that few peacetime activities are more harrowing and exhausting than concert tours. The endless travel wreaks havoc on the human body; the cookie-cutter hotels, restaurants, airports and airport lounges wreak havoc on the human psyche; the schlepping and rehearsing and having to summon the energy to treat every audience as if it were the only audience wreaks havoc on the human soul. And yet to make a living, musicians must perform, and that means they must tour. In doing so, they leave their wives, husbands, children, friends, and homes behind – and in the process anything approaching normalcy and routine – for the untamed wilderness of the road. 

I’m burning out just thinking about it.

Some tours go on for months, and some go on for years. Between 2002 and 2005, Cher’s “Living Proof: The Farewell Tour” played 326 concerts, was attended by 3.5 million people and grossed $250 million (that’s $329 million in 2019 dollars). Between 2014 and 2017, “The Garth Brooks World Tour with Trisha Yearwood” played 366 concerts, was attended by 4.7 million people and grossed $364 million. 

(In terms of sheer attendance, the Ed Sheeran “÷ [‘Divide’] Tour” attracted 8.787 million live attendees over the course of its 255 shows between 2017 and 2019. In terms of sheer gross $, the present champion is the “U2 360° Tour”, which generated $820 million in 2019 dollars in 110 shows. Nearly a billion dollars. That’s a lot of money.)

However: the great-grandmother of all of these tours, the one that put the phrase “concert tour” into our modern lexicon, was the tour taken by the Mozart family between June 9, 1763 and November 30, 1766, a tour that has come to be known as “The Grand Journey”.

Leopold Mozart
Leopold Mozart (1719-1787)

On November 21, 1747, the 28-year-old Leopold Mozart – a musician from Augsburg (in today’s Germany) presently living in Vienna – married Anna Maria Pertl. The couple had seven children, though only two of them survived their infancy. The first was Maria Anna Walburga Ignatia, known as Marianne and nicknamed Nannerl; she was born on July 30 or 31, 1751. 4½ years later, a son was born on January 27, 1756 and named Johannes Christian Wolfgang Gottlieb Mozart.

Anna Maria Pertl Mozart
Anna Maria Pertl Mozart (1720-1778)

When she was 7 and her baby brother Wolfgang 3, Marianne began keyboard (harpsichord) lessons with her father. Almost immediately the young Wolfgang began to imitate his sister, initially, perhaps, to earn his share of attention from his father, Leopold. However, it quickly became apparent that this was no ordinary three-year-old boy banging upside a harpsichord. Leopold began giving Wolfgang lessons as well, and his progress was nothing short of astonishing. By four the child could learn to play fairly long pieces in a half an hour’s time; a few weeks after his fifth birthday he had written his first compositions; by six he had taught himself to play the violin well enough to participate in the playing of trios and quartets with adults. According to eyewitnesses, Wolfgang’s passion for music was so all-encompassing that he was interested in nothing else; even children’s games had to have some sort of musical component if he was to participate in them.

How did Leopold Mozart react to his son’s prodigious talent and promise? No surprise: he was astounded and overjoyed, and he immediately took over every facet of his son’s education, both musical and non-musical. 

Leopold Mozart had no intention of keeping his little gold mine under wraps for very long. In January of 1761, when Wolfie was 5, the Mozart family traveled to Munich for three weeks, where the 5-year-old Wolfgang played for and astonished, among others, the elector of Bavaria, Maximilian III. This trip paved the way for a much longer and more ambitious trip the following fall, a three-month visit to Vienna.

It was with this Viennese visit that Mozart’s rise to fame began. Leopold wrote home: 

“Everyone is amazed at the boy, and everyone whom I have heard says that his genius is incomprehensible.” 

The Viennese court did more than applaud: they showered the Mozarts with money; two weeks into the trip Leopold had managed to bank 120 ducats, more than two years of his salary at Salzburg. But it was also during this stay in Vienna that Leopold revealed something quite ugly about himself. When Wolfgang fell ill with scarlet fever on October 21 and could not perform until November 4, Leopold fumed in a letter: “This [illness] has cost me fifty ducats at least!!!” 

On returning home to Salzburg the Mozart family were greeted like conquering heroes. Leopold and his wife Anna Maria immediately began planning an extended tour of Europe.

Which brings us to the Grand Journey, the if-it’s-Monday-it-must-be-Mantua; if-it’s-Tuesday-it-must-be-Trenton; if-it’s-Wednesday-it-must-be-Waco tour: the tour that made the Mozart legend, the tour that spawned stories and myths we’re still sorting through more than 250 years later, the tour that made Mozart the child prodigy by which we measure prodigies to this day.

Mozart in 1763
Mozart (1756-1791) in 1763, age 7

On June 9, 1763, the Mozart family – Leopold, Anna Maria, Marianne and Wolfgang – left Salzburg. They would be away for three years, five months, and twenty days. They stopped and performed in 88 different towns and cities. I offer for your pleasure a partial list of these burgs, in the order in which they were visited:

Munich, Augsburg, Ludwigsburg, Schwetzingen, Heidelberg, Mainz, Frankfurt, Koblenz, Poppelsdorf, Falkenlust, Bonn, Cologne, Brussels, Paris, Versailles, Calais, Dover, London (where they stayed for over 15 months!), Bourne Place, Dunkirk, Lille, Ghent, the Hague (den Haag), Amsterdam, Utrecht, Rotterdam, Antwerp, Dijon, Lyon, Geneva, Lausanne, Bern, Zurich, Winterthur, Schaffhausen, Donaueschingen, Ulm.

Talk about your frequent four-horse-coach miles.

Maria Anna Mozart in 1763
Maria Anna (Marianne/Nannerl) Mozart (1751-1829) in 1763

By the time the family arrived back in Salzburg on November 30, 1766, they had performed for tens-of-thousands of people. In a pre-electronic age, when the only way to actually hear someone play was to see him in concert, Wolfgang Mozart had indeed been seen and heard by a vast percentage of Europe’s musical cognoscenti. 

Writes Mozart biographer Maynard Solomon:

“Leopold Mozart left home a musician of good, even noteworthy reputation; by the time the family returned to Salzburg he was a figure of great renown. He and his children had written a new chapter in the history of music and were celebrated throughout Europe beyond all expectation. For decades thereafter, those who had witnessed Mozart’s performances recalled them as astonishing feats of virtuosity. As late as 1830, Goethe still spoke of having heard Mozart, vividly remembering ‘the little man with his wig and his sword.’ The image of the child Mozart had permanently entered the folklore of Western civilization.”

As the Mozarts’ trip progressed, unbelievable stories of prodigious musicality preceded them, only to be confirmed once they had arrived in a city and performed there. They were a sensation, a travelling musical circus, instant celebrities wherever they went. 

Madame de Pompadour
Madame de Pompadour (1721-1764)

Having arrived in Paris 256 years ago today, Leopold’s first job was to finagle an invitation to the royal court at Versailles. This took a bit of time; the Mozart family arrived at Versailles on Christmas Eve for what turned out to be a two week stay. The principal mover-and-shaker at the court of King Louis XV was Jeanne Antoinette Poisson, Marquise of Pompadour, best known as Madame de Pompadour. She has been Louis XV’s “official chief mistress” from 1745 to 1751, and in 1763 she was still a most influential person. According to Mozart’s sister Nannerl:

“She [Madame de Pompadour] had Wolfgang placed on the table in front of her but refused to allow him to kiss her when he bent forward to do so, prompting him to ask indignantly, ‘Who is this woman who won’t kiss me? Even the Empress [Maria Theresa] kissed me!’”

The Mozart kids had fewer problems with King Louis XV’s many daughters. According to Leopold, the princesses not only allowed the Mozart children “to kiss their hands, but kissed them innumerable times [in return].” On New Year’s Eve, “Wolfgang was graciously privileged to stand beside the Queen the whole time, to talk constantly to her, entertain her and kiss her hands repeatedly, besides partaking of the dishes which she handed him from the table.”

The hospitality at Versailles was great (the Mozart children were showered with expensive gifts), but it paled in comparison to the reception the family received when it arrived in London in April of 1764, 10 months into the tour. From the King and Queen to the general public, London audiences adored the Mozarts, particularly little Wolfgang. A typical announcement for a London performance reads as follows:

“Miss Mozart of eleven and Master Mozart of seven Years of Age, Prodigies of Nature; taking the opportunity of representing to the Public [Master Mozart], the greatest Prodigy that Europe or that Human Nature has to boast of. Everybody will be astonished to hear a Child of such tender Age playing the Harpsichord in such a Perfection – it surmounts all Fantastic and Imagination, and it is hard to express which is more astonishing, his Execution upon the Harpsichord playing at Sight, or his own Composition.”

The family earned money in London almost faster than Leopold could count it. Leopold reported from London, “At the courts up to the present we have been received with extraordinary courtesy. But the welcome that we have been given here exceeds all others.” 

By the time The Grand Journey ended, it had become clear to Leopold Mozart that his ticket to fame and fortune would be his son, Wolfgang. We are witness, then, to a troubling reversal of the usual financial roles, as a child – a small, sensitive, desperate-to-please child – became the main bread-winner for his father, mother and sister. As long as Wolfgang remained young and small and pliant, his magical and continually developing talents would both fascinate the public and satisfy Leopold’s monetary and social needs. But, as the father of four children myself, hard experience has taught me that no one stays young and pliant forever, particularly not someone who was petted and kissed by empresses and princesses at a formative age. 

But on November 18, 1763 – 256 years ago today – Wolfgang’s battles with his father were still far in the future. For now, let us imagine a crisp November day and the sense of awe and promise the Mozart family must have felt when arriving in Paris, which was – and remains – one of the world’s very greatest cities. 

For lots more on Mozart’s life and times I would direct your attention to my Great Masters biography of Mozart, published by The Great Courses and available for examination and download at RobertGreenbergMusic.com.  I’d also invite you to join me on Patreon for even more on Mozart and many others.

Listen on the Music History Monday Podcast

Robert Greenberg Courses On Sale Now

]]>
On November 18, 1763, 256 years ago today, the Mozart family – father Leopold, mother Anna Maria, daughter Marianne (12 years old) and son Wolfgang (7 years old) - arrived in Paris. They were in the midst of their “Grand Journey”, Leopold Mozart and his children Wolfgang and Marianne in Paris 1763/4; watercolor by Louis Carmontelle. Ludwig had a lithograph made from this painting which he widely distributed as an advertisement



On November 18, 1763, 256 years ago today, the Mozart family – father Leopold, mother Anna Maria, daughter Marianne (12 years old) and son Wolfgang (7 years old) – arrived in Paris. They were in the midst of their “Grand Journey”, a 3½ year concert tour of Central and Western Europe that was to change the history of Western music. 



I would suggest that few peacetime activities are more harrowing and exhausting than concert tours. The endless travel wreaks havoc on the human body; the cookie-cutter hotels, restaurants, airports and airport lounges wreak havoc on the human psyche; the schlepping and rehearsing and having to summon the energy to treat every audience as if it were the only audience wreaks havoc on the human soul. And yet to make a living, musicians must perform, and that means they must tour. In doing so, they leave their wives, husbands, children, friends, and homes behind – and in the process anything approaching normalcy and routine – for the untamed wilderness of the road. 



I’m burning out just thinking about it.



Some tours go on for months, and some go on for years. Between 2002 and 2005, Cher’s “Living Proof: The Farewell Tour” played 326 concerts, was attended by 3.5 million people and grossed $250 million (that’s $329 million in 2019 dollars). Between 2014 and 2017, “The Garth Brooks World Tour with Trisha Yearwood” played 366 concerts, was attended by 4.7 million people and grossed $364 million. 



(In terms of sheer attendance, the Ed Sheeran “÷ [‘Divide’] Tour” attracted 8.787 million live attendees over the course of its 255 shows between 2017 and 2019. In terms of sheer gross $, the present champion is the “U2 360° Tour”, which generated $820 million in 2019 dollars in 110 shows. Nearly a billion dollars. That’s a lot of money.)



However: the great-grandmother of all of these tours, the one that put the phrase “concert tour” into our modern lexicon, was the tour taken by the Mozart family between June 9, 1763 and November 30, 1766, a tour that has come to be known as “The Grand Journey”.



Leopold Mozart (1719-1787)



On November 21, 1747, the 28-year-old Leopold Mozart – a musician from Augsburg (in today’s Germany) presently living in Vienna – married Anna Maria Pertl. The couple had seven children, though only two of them survived their infancy. The first was Maria Anna Walburga Ignatia, known as Marianne and nicknamed Nannerl; she was born on July 30 or 31, 1751. 4½ years later, a son was born on January 27, 1756 and named Johannes Christian Wolfgang Gottlieb Mozart.



Anna Maria Pertl Mozart (1720-1778)



When she was 7 and her baby brother Wolfgang 3, Marianne began keyboard (harpsichord) lessons with her father. Almost immediately the young Wolfgang began to imitate his sister, initially, perhaps, to earn his share of attention from his father, Leopold. However, it quickly became apparent that this was no ordinary three-year-old boy banging upside a harpsichord. Leopold began giving Wolfgang lessons as well, and his progress was nothing short of astonishing. By four the child could learn to play fairly long pieces in a half an hour’s time; a few weeks after his fifth birthday he had written his first compositions; by six he had taught himself to play the violin well enough to participate in the playing of trios and quartets with adults. According to eyewitnesses, Wolfgang’s passion for music was so all-encompassing that he was interested in nothing else; even children’s games had to have some sort of ...]]>
Music History Monday 16:14
Music History Monday: Barbara Strozzi: Now You Know! https://robertgreenbergmusic.com/music-history-monday-barbara-strozzi-now-you-know/ Mon, 11 Nov 2019 16:59:17 +0000 https://robertgreenbergmusic.com/?p=5964 https://robertgreenbergmusic.com/music-history-monday-barbara-strozzi-now-you-know/#respond https://robertgreenbergmusic.com/music-history-monday-barbara-strozzi-now-you-know/feed/ 0 <img src=https://d3fr1q02b1tb0i.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/11085137/4.-Barbara_Strozzi_1-773x1024.jpg class="RSSimage" style="width:100%;margin-bottom:16px;" "border="0" tabindex="0" />We mark the death on November 11, 1677 – 342 years ago today – of the composer and singer Barbara Strozzi at the age of 58.

Barbara Strozzi, Amor domiglione (“Sleepyhead Cupid”, 1651); Molly Netter, soprano; Avi Stein, harpsichord; and Ezra Seltzer, cello

We mark the death on November 11, 1677 – 342 years ago today – of the composer and singer Barbara Strozzi at the age of 58.  Madame Strozzi saw eight volumes of her music published in her lifetime, making her the most extensively published composer of her time.  

Barbara who?

Fame and memory are fickle, to say the very least.  It takes very little time for us to forget people who were even recently front-page important.  Quickly, off the tops of our heads, who were the vice-presidential candidates on the losing tickets going back to 2000?  Who ran with Al Gore?  John Kerry? Mitt Romney? Hillary Clinton? (Yes, we remember John McCain’s 2008 running-mate Sarah Palin, but for all the wrong reasons.)

(For our information, those recent vice-presidential candidates were, respectively Joe Lieberman, John Edwards, Paul Ryan, and Tim Kaine, respectively.)

Fame and memory are fickle, often most unfairly so.  Certainly, that is the case with Barbara Strozzi, who was a prolific composer of the highest quality working – with some success – in what was most definitely a man’s world.  Hers is a fascinating story.

Giulio Strozzi (1582-1652) in 1627
Giulio Strozzi (1582-1652) in 1627

She was born “Barbara Valle” in 1619 in Venice, the illegitimate daughter of a woman named either Isabella Griega or Isabella Garzoni who went by the nickname of “La Greghetta.” Admittedly, when a woman goes by such a nickname – particularly in a place like Venice, which was the Bangkok and Las Vegas of its time – we generally assume that she makes her living, well, you know, on her back.  But La Greghetta was, in fact, a domestic servant in the employ of the poet and librettist Giulio Strozzi (1582-1652).  Strozzi was the real deal whose opera libretti were set by, among many other composers, Francesco Cavalli and Claudio Monteverdi.  Giulio Strozzi was almost certainly Barbara’s father; he referred to her as his “adoptive daughter”; she and her mother lived in his home; and at the age of 18, Barbara took the name Strozzi as her own.  

It was Giulio Strozzi who recognized and cultivated Barbara’s extraordinary talent as a singer and a composer.  Guilio arranged for her to take lessons in both voice and composition, the latter with one of the most important composers of the time, Francesco Cavalli (born Pietro Francesco Caletti-Bruni; 1602-1676).

Francesco Cavalli
Francesco Cavalli (1602-1676)

For Barbara Strozzi, it was a prescription for success.   Growing up in what was then the opera capital of the world, in the house of a famous librettist, surrounded by and hobnobbing with singers and composers and studying with the best of them, Barbara developed rapidly.  When she was 15, she was described as being “la virtuosissima cantratrice di Giulio Strozzi”: “the virtuosic singer of Giulio Strozzi.” 

Barbara’s first publication – of an eventual eight – is a volume of madrigals appropriately entitled Il primo libro de’madrigali (“First Book of Madrigals”).  Published in 1644 when she was 25 years old, the volume contains madrigals for two to five voices set to texts by her father, Giulio Strozzi. That she was acutely aware of the special challenges of being a woman composer is made explicitly clear in the preface, in which she wrote:

“Being a woman, I am concerned about publishing this work. Would that it lie safely under a golden oak tree and not be endangered by swords of slander which have already been drawn to battle against it.”

Barbara Strozzi (1619-1677) circa 1639
Barbara Strozzi (1619-1677) circa 1639

Her talent notwithstanding, given the time and place in which she lived, there was no way Barbara Strozzi was going to be hired as a court musician or commissioned to compose an opera.  And while she earned something from her publications, it was hardly enough to live on.  Thus, she did what talented women often had to do in her time and place: she became a professional concubine, the mistress of a married Venetian nobleman and musical patron named Giovanni Paolo Vidman.  The depiction of Strozzi in the painting above portrays her dual “professions.”  It was painted circa 1639 by Bernardo Strozzi, who may (or may not) have been related to Giulio Strozzi and hangs today at the Gemäldegalerie in Dresden. Titled Gambenspielerin – “The Viola da Gamba Player” – it does indeed portray a professional musician.  But much more, she is a highly sexualized musician.  Her amply pendulous bosoms stand (sit? dangle? hang? droop? slump?) almost entirely exposed; she gazes at us frankly and unashamedly, her lips slightly pursed; the skin on her face is flushed pink.  (Dearest readers: if a young woman looked at any of us that way and in that state of undress, I think we’d know precisely what she had in mind.  Then again, perhaps I just have that sort of mind.)

Barbara Strozzi had four children with her master Giovanni Paolo Vidman; two daughters (named Isabella and Laura) and two sons (Giulio and Massimo).  Both Isabella and Laura joined a convent and Massimo became a monk.  (Lucky Giulio; when his mother passed away 342 years ago today, he was the only one of her children who could inherit her estate which was, by that time, not insignificant.)

Of her eight published volumes of music, only one – volume 5 (and therefore, Op. 5) of 1655 – contains sacred music.  All the other surviving volumes (volume 4 has been lost) contain secular vocal music.  Aside from the madrigals in volume 1, this secular music consists of arias, ariettas (short arias) and cantatas (meaning works featuring declamatory and lyric music, meaning recitative and aria); all of them composed for solo voice (mainly soprano) and continuo (meaning a harpsichord or fretted instrument in accompaniment).  A few of the works call for strings as well.   

The music in these arias, ariettas, and cantatas is melodically lush, intensely lyric, often humorous, and utterly captivating.  (I was also going to use the word “fetching” but I’ve always found that word a bit precious, don’t you think?)  Strozzi’s vocal lines are wonderfully suited for a lyric soprano; they are neither unduly virtuosic nor do they plumb a particularly wide range.  According to Ellen Rosand and Beth Glixon, writing in the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians:

“The similarity in vocal style among Strozzi’s works, the scoring for soprano and continuo, and the frequent puns on her name in the texts suggest that she sang most of her music herself.” 

(For our info: in her lifetime, Strozzi was almost as well-known as a poet as she was a musician; most of her texts starting in volume 2/Op. 2 are of her own creation.)

The sheer beauty and nuance of Strozzi’s writing; its range of moods and clarity of expression; and its utter lack of virtuosity for its own sake have led many to observe that more than any other composer – including her own teacher, Francesco Cavalli – it was Barbara Strozzi that was the “heir” of the great Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643).  While I ordinarily find such statements a bit irksome (not unlike the work “fetching”), I’d go on the record by saying I’m entirely comfortable with the Monteverdi-Strozzi comparison.  We must, however, weep bitter tears that Barbara Strozzi never had the opportunity to compose an opera.  Or two. 

While there are a number of CDs of her music available, no one will ever claim that Strozzi is over-recorded.  Taking a page out of my Dr. Bob Prescribes post, I would heartily recommend Strozzi’s Arias and Cantatas, Volume 8/Op. 8 as recorded by Emanuela Galli, soprano; Fabio Bonizzoni, harpsichord; and the ensemble La Risonanza on the Glossa label. 

For those who’d like an immediate taste of Barbara Strozzi’s music, I have posted one of her best-known ariettas at the top of this post, an arietta titled Amor domiglione (meaning “Sleepyhead Cupid”) from volume 2/Op. 2, beautifully performed by Molly Netter, soprano; Avi Stein, harpsichord; and Ezra Seltzer, cello.  

We miss you, Madame Strozzi, and promise to never again forget you.  

For lots more on the music of the Baroque, I would draw your attention to my 48-lecture course How to Listen to and Understand Great Music, published by The Teaching Company/The Great Courses, and available for examination and download at RobertGreenbergMusic.com. I would also encourage you to join me on Patreon, and subscribe to the Music History Monday Podcast.

Listen on the Music History Monday Podcast

Explore Robert Greenberg Courses On Sale Now

]]>
We mark the death on November 11, 1677 – 342 years ago today – of the composer and singer Barbara Strozzi at the age of 58.

Barbara Strozzi, Amor domiglione (“Sleepyhead Cupid”, 1651); Molly Netter, soprano; Avi Stein, harpsichord; and Ezra Seltzer, cello



We mark the death on November 11, 1677 – 342 years ago today – of the composer and singer Barbara Strozzi at the age of 58.  Madame Strozzi saw eight volumes of her music published in her lifetime, making her the most extensively published composer of her time.  



Barbara who?



Fame and memory are fickle, to say the very least.  It takes very little time for us to forget people who were even recently front-page important.  Quickly, off the tops of our heads, who were the vice-presidential candidates on the losing tickets going back to 2000?  Who ran with Al Gore?  John Kerry? Mitt Romney? Hillary Clinton? (Yes, we remember John McCain’s 2008 running-mate Sarah Palin, but for all the wrong reasons.)



(For our information, those recent vice-presidential candidates were, respectively Joe Lieberman, John Edwards, Paul Ryan, and Tim Kaine, respectively.)



Fame and memory are fickle, often most unfairly so.  Certainly, that is the case with Barbara Strozzi, who was a prolific composer of the highest quality working – with some success – in what was most definitely a man’s world.  Hers is a fascinating story.



Giulio Strozzi (1582-1652) in 1627



She was born “Barbara Valle” in 1619 in Venice, the illegitimate daughter of a woman named either Isabella Griega or Isabella Garzoni who went by the nickname of “La Greghetta.” Admittedly, when a woman goes by such a nickname – particularly in a place like Venice, which was the Bangkok and Las Vegas of its time – we generally assume that she makes her living, well, you know, on her back.  But La Greghetta was, in fact, a domestic servant in the employ of the poet and librettist Giulio Strozzi (1582-1652).  Strozzi was the real deal whose opera libretti were set by, among many other composers, Francesco Cavalli and Claudio Monteverdi.  Giulio Strozzi was almost certainly Barbara’s father; he referred to her as his “adoptive daughter”; she and her mother lived in his home; and at the age of 18, Barbara took the name Strozzi as her own.  



It was Giulio Strozzi who recognized and cultivated Barbara’s extraordinary talent as a singer and a composer.  Guilio arranged for her to take lessons in both voice and composition, the latter with one of the most important composers of the time, Francesco Cavalli (born Pietro Francesco Caletti-Bruni; 1602-1676).



Francesco Cavalli (1602-1676)



For Barbara Strozzi, it was a prescription for success.   Growing up in what was then the opera capital of the world, in the house of a famous librettist, surrounded by and hobnobbing with singers and composers and studying with the best of them, Barbara developed rapidly.  When she was 15, she was described as being “la virtuosissima cantratrice di Giulio Strozzi”: “the virtuosic singer of Giulio Strozzi.” 



Barbara’s first publication – of an eventual eight – is a volume of madrigals appropriately entitled Il primo libro de’madrigali (“First Book of Madrigals”).  Published in 1644 when she was 25 years old, the volume contains madrigals for two to five voices set to texts by her father, Giulio Strozzi. That she was acutely aware of the special challenges of being a woman composer is made explicitly clear in the preface, in which she wrote:



“Being a woman, I am concerned about publishing this work. Would that it lie safely under a golden oak tree and not be endangered by swords of slander which have already been drawn to battle against it.”



]]>
Music History Monday 11:39
Music History Monday: All Too Soon: The Death of Mendelssohn https://robertgreenbergmusic.com/music-history-monday-all-too-soon-the-death-of-mendelssohn/ Mon, 04 Nov 2019 15:56:11 +0000 https://robertgreenbergmusic.com/?p=5911 https://robertgreenbergmusic.com/music-history-monday-all-too-soon-the-death-of-mendelssohn/#respond https://robertgreenbergmusic.com/music-history-monday-all-too-soon-the-death-of-mendelssohn/feed/ 0 <img src=https://d3fr1q02b1tb0i.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/04074621/4.-Mendelssohn_Barth1829-oldy.jpg class="RSSimage" style="width:100%;margin-bottom:16px;" "border="0" tabindex="0" />On November 4, 1847 – 172 years ago today – Jakob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn died in the Saxon/German city of Leipzig. He died all too soon; at the time of his death Mendelssohn was just 38 years old.

Feast or famine. November 4 is one of those days that is a veritable musical-historical feast, during which so many important musical events took place that we can only wish we could spread them about, so worthy of note are each of them. Among these events are four that I would certainly have written about had not a fifth event pre-empted them.

Here are those four, sadly “pre-empted” events.

Mozart

Mozart by Johann Nepomuk della Croce
Mozart (1756-1791) circa 1780, detail from a portrait by Johann Nepomuk della Croce

On November 4, 1784 – 235 years ago today – Wolfgang Mozart completed his String Quartet No. 17 in B-flat major, nicknamed the “Hunt”, K. 458. It is the fourth of the 6 string quartets that Mozart dedicated to his friend and mentor, Joseph Haydn. (Mozart had been inspired to compose those six string quartets by Haydn’s own 6 string quartets of Op. 33, composed in 1781.) Papa Haydn might rightly be called the “father of the modern string quartet” although Mozart should just as rightly be called the “Ayatollah of the modern string quartet” such are the compositional complexity, expressive intensity, and sheer joyful virtuosity of the six quartets he dedicated to Haydn. Joseph Haydn himself was the first person to admit that. When he first heard Mozart’s “Hunt” Quartet performed at Mozart’s central Viennese flat on February 12, 1785 (at Domgasse 5 right around the corner from St. Stephens Cathedral), the 53-year-old Haydn took Mozart’s father Leopold Mozart aside and told him that:

“I, as an honest man, tell you before God that your son is the greatest composer I know in person or by name. He has taste and, moreover, the most thorough knowledge of composition.”

Darn straight.

Brahms

Johannes Brahms
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) circa 1877

On November 4, 1876 – 143 years ago today – the 43-year-old Johannes Brahms’ Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 68 received its premiere in the German city of Karlsruhe, conducted by his friend Felix Otto Dessoff. The symphony had taken twenty-one years for Brahms to complete, not because he dawdled but because he was pathologically terrified that by going public with a symphony he would be compared to his numero uno hero, the big cahuna, the geeter with the heater, the boss with the sauce, Ludwig van freakin’ Beethoven. 

Brahms’ fears were well founded: his Symphony No. 1 was indeed referred to – by both friends and foes alike – as the “Tenth” (as in “Beethoven’s Tenth”). But the symphony was a success, and Brahms’ sympho-phobia thus broken, his final three symphonies followed in comparatively quick succession. 

(It was thanks to his Symphony No. 1 that to Brahms’ public horror though secret pleasure, the pianist and conductor Hans von Bülow began using Brahms’ name in alliteration with Bach and Beethoven’s, creating for all time “the three B’s”, aka “the killer B’s”.) 

On November 4, 1924 – 95 years ago today – the French composer, organist, pianist and teacher Gabriel Urbain Fauré died in Paris at the age of 79. I am a huge fan of Fauré’s music, and so inspired by this anniversary of his death I will feature his superb Piano Quartet No. 1 in C minor, Op. 15 (of 1879 and revised in 1883) in tomorrow’s Dr. Bob Prescribes post on Patreon.

Schoenberg

Arnold Schoenberg
Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951) in 1948

Finally, on November 4, 1948 – 71 years ago today – Arnold Schoenberg’s A Survivor from Warsaw for narrator, chorus and orchestra received its premiere in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where it was performed by the Civic Symphony, conducted by Kurt Frederick. 

I’ll keep this short, because given the opportunity, I will wax, swoon, and weep inordinately about and over this gut-wrenching masterwork. Schoenberg was born in 1874 into a lower middle-class Jewish family in Vienna. In 1925, he was appointed a professor at the Prussian Academy of Art in Berlin. Adolf Hitler came to power on January 30, 1933, and that was that for Schoenberg’s professorship; on March 17, 1933, Schoenberg and his family left Berlin, never to return.

He ended up in Los Angeles, where he watched – filled with horror and guilt – as the Nazi war machine destroyed much of Europe and European Jewry. Schoenberg’s artistic reaction was to compose a series of truly extraordinary anti-Hitler, anti-Nazi, anti-war musical works, including his Concerto for Piano and Ode to Napoleon Buonaparte for string quartet, piano, and reciter, Op. 41. But nothing, not even the Ode, can match A Survivor from Warsaw for narrator, male chorus and orchestra of 1947. I exaggerate not: this seven-minute, 99 measure-long piece has the impact of a thermonuclear device. In my humble but not ill-informed opinion, it is the most gut-punch powerful, harrowing, heartbreaking and inspirational work composed during the entire twentieth century. 

How’s that for a setup? We’ll examine A Survivor from Warsaw in Dr. Bob Prescribes on November 12. 

On to the “sonar plexus” of today’s Music History Monday.

Mendelssohn

Felix Mendelssohn in 1829
Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) in 1829

On November 4, 1847 – 172 years ago today – Jakob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn died in the Saxon/German city of Leipzig. He died all too soon; at the time of his death Mendelssohn was just 38 years old.

He had never been a particularly healthy person, although in those pre-germ theory days of atmospheric coal dust, lead in everything, dirty water, questionable sewage disposal, fat-and-salt infused diets, tuberculosis and syphilis, it’s a small miracle that anyone managed to survive into adulthood. 

In March of 1845, the 36-year-old Mendelssohn was visited by a couple of American travel writers – J. Bayard Taylor and Richard Storris Willis – who were in the process of taking “the grand tour”. Mendelssohn conversed with them in English, and Willis left us with this description:

“[He is a] man of small frame [less than five foot, six inches], delicate and fragile looking; yet possessing a sinewy elasticity, and a power of endurance which you would hardly suppose possible. His head appears to have been set on the wrong shoulders – it seemed, in a certain sense, to contradict his body. [His head is not] disproportionately large, but its striking nobility was a standing reproof to the pedestal on which it rested.” 

Bayard Taylor was particularly struck by Mendelssohn’s:

“Dark, lustrous, unfathomable eyes. They were black [and] shining, not with a surface light, but with a pure, serene, planetary flame. His brow, white and unwrinkled, was high and nobly arched, with great breadth at the temples, strongly resembling that of Poe. His nose had the Jewish prominence [italics mine]. The lips were thin and rather long, but with an expression of indescribable sweetness in their delicate curves.” 

The first description – Richard Willis’ – dwells on Mendelssohn’s stamina and the seeming fragility of his body. It was an altogether accurate appraisal. Mendelssohn was thin as a rail, a workaholic, and chronically fatigued. 

In the summer of 1839 – at the age of just thirty – Mendelssohn suffered what was likely a stroke: while swimming in a cold river, he passed out.

“Unconscious and in convulsions for hours, he was confined to his bed and suffered debilitating headaches for two weeks.” 

It took him a month to recover his strength, and the chronic headaches Mendelssohn suffered for the remaining seven years of his life were not a good sign. He suffered from high blood pressure – a family condition – which could not possibly have been helped by his high-stress lifestyle or the high fat/high salt diet typical of the time. The truth be told, Mendelssohn’s health was that proverbial powder keg, waiting to explode; all that was required was the proper spark. 

That spark occurred on May 14, 1847, in Berlin. Mendelssohn’s sister Fanny was in the middle of a rehearsal of Felix’ cantata Walpurgis Night when she lost sensation in her hands. This had happened before; she washed them with warm vinegar and then returned to the rehearsal. Minutes later, Fanny’s entire body seized up. Just before she lost consciousness she said: 

“It’s a stroke, like Mother had.”

Those were her last words. She died a few hours later, at 11 P.M. that same evening. Fanny was 41 years old.

Background

Cécile Charlotte Sophie Jeanrenaud Mendelssohn in 1846
Cécile Charlotte Sophie Jeanrenaud Mendelssohn (1817-1853) in 1846

Mendelssohn married Cécile Charlotte Sophie Jeanrenaud (1817-1853) on March 28, 1837. He was 28 years old; she was 20. Cécile was a loving and supportive wife to Mendelssohn; a gifted hostess and visual artist who blessed her husband with five children. Even when allowing for the exaggeration typical of third-party memoirs, Felix and Cécile’s marriage would appear to have been a blissfully happy one. Which tells us that Cécile was not given to jealousy, because she must have understood that the great love of Mendelssohn’s life – his alter-ego, his soulmate, his artistic muse – was his sister, Fanny.

Fanny Cäcilie Mendelssohn Hensel in 1842
Fanny Cäcilie Mendelssohn Hensel (1805-1847) in 1842

Fanny Cäcilie Mendelssohn Hensel (1805-1847) was 3 years, 3 months older than her brother Felix. She was hardly less talented than her wunderkind brother, although – tragically – the societal mores of her time precluded her from a professional career in music. (A telling anecdote. In order to get some of her music into print, Felix included a number of her songs in collections published under his name in 1827 and 1830. Years later, in 1842, Felix was the guest of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert at Buckingham Palace. The Queen expressed her intention of singing what she said was her favorite of Felix’s songs, entitled Italian. An embarrassed silence must have followed before Mendelssohn confessed that the song had actually been composed by Fanny.)

Felix and Fanny were insanely close; for some observers, uncomfortably close. (An article in the prestigious journal The Musical Quarterly dated Winter, 1993 by David Warren Sabean, the Henry J. Bruman Endowed Professor of German History at the University of California, Los Angeles, is entitled “Fanny and Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy and the Question of Incest.”)

According to Mendelssohn biographer Herbert Kupferberg, the relationship between Felix and Fanny was so close that:

“it has engaged the attention of more than one amateur psychologist over the years. Even in their own years, there were jests upon the subject, with several family friends jovially asking the Mendelssohn’s when Fanny’s marriage to Felix would take place.” 

So when on May 15, 1847, a messenger brought Felix the news of Fanny’s death he shrieked and collapsed unconscious, apparently having suffered a stroke himself. 

Mendelssohn was crushed. He was not physically capable of attending his sister’s funeral in Berlin, and he fell immediately into a depression. He wrote Fanny’s husband, his brother in law, Wilhelm Hensel:

“If the sight of my handwriting stops your tears, put the letter away, for we have nothing left now but to weep from our inmost hearts.” 

Mendelssohn and his family escaped to the countryside, first to Baden-Baden and then to Interlaken, in Switzerland.  Mendelssohn initially dealt with his grief by drawing and painting watercolors. But by July he knew that it was time to begin composing again. By early September, Mendelssohn completed his final work: a String Quartet in F Minor intended as a memorial to his sister Fanny; the quartet was published as Op. 80

The quartet is a remarkable work in which Mendelssohn’s trademark restraint and elegance are pretty much nowhere to be found. Instead, the piece seethes with sorrow, rage, grief and pain, making it, without a doubt, the single most “autobiographical” work Mendelssohn ever composed.

Felix Mendelssohn on his deathbed
Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) on his deathbed

On October 9, roughly a month after completing the String Quartet in F Minor, Mendelssohn had another stroke and temporarily lost control of his hands while reading through some songs with a singer named Livia Frege. He seemed to be recovering when, 19 days later on October 28, he suffered another, much more devastating stroke. This one left him partially paralyzed and bedridden. Finally, on November 3, he suffered a third stroke which rendered him unconscious. He died the next day, on November 4, 1847, at 9:24 P.M., having outlived his sister Fanny by 174 days. He was 38 years old.

While we know it was a stroke that was the immediate cause of his death, truly, the cliché be damned, Felix Mendelssohn died – 172 years ago today – of a broken heart. 

For an in-depth discussion of Felix and Fanny and a detailed analysis of Felix’s masterful Overture to a Midsummer Night’s Dream, I would direct your attention to my Great Courses/Teaching Company course Concert Masterworks, which can be examined and downloaded here at RobertGreenbergMusic.com

Listen on the Music History Monday Podcast

Robert Greenberg Courses On Sale Now

]]>
On November 4, 1847 – 172 years ago today – Jakob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn died in the Saxon/German city of Leipzig. He died all too soon; at the time of his death Mendelssohn was just 38 years old. Feast or famine. November 4 is one of those days that is a veritable musical-historical feast, during which so many important musical events took place that we can only wish we could spread them about, so worthy of note are each of them. Among these events are four that I would certainly have written about had not a fifth event pre-empted them.



Here are those four, sadly “pre-empted” events.



Mozart



Mozart (1756-1791) circa 1780, detail from a portrait by Johann Nepomuk della Croce



On November 4, 1784 – 235 years ago today – Wolfgang Mozart completed his String Quartet No. 17 in B-flat major, nicknamed the “Hunt”, K. 458. It is the fourth of the 6 string quartets that Mozart dedicated to his friend and mentor, Joseph Haydn. (Mozart had been inspired to compose those six string quartets by Haydn’s own 6 string quartets of Op. 33, composed in 1781.) Papa Haydn might rightly be called the “father of the modern string quartet” although Mozart should just as rightly be called the “Ayatollah of the modern string quartet” such are the compositional complexity, expressive intensity, and sheer joyful virtuosity of the six quartets he dedicated to Haydn. Joseph Haydn himself was the first person to admit that. When he first heard Mozart’s “Hunt” Quartet performed at Mozart’s central Viennese flat on February 12, 1785 (at Domgasse 5 right around the corner from St. Stephens Cathedral), the 53-year-old Haydn took Mozart’s father Leopold Mozart aside and told him that:



“I, as an honest man, tell you before God that your son is the greatest composer I know in person or by name. He has taste and, moreover, the most thorough knowledge of composition.”



Darn straight.



Brahms



Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) circa 1877



On November 4, 1876 – 143 years ago today – the 43-year-old Johannes Brahms’ Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 68 received its premiere in the German city of Karlsruhe, conducted by his friend Felix Otto Dessoff. The symphony had taken twenty-one years for Brahms to complete, not because he dawdled but because he was pathologically terrified that by going public with a symphony he would be compared to his numero uno hero, the big cahuna, the geeter with the heater, the boss with the sauce, Ludwig van freakin’ Beethoven. 



Brahms’ fears were well founded: his Symphony No. 1 was indeed referred to – by both friends and foes alike – as the “Tenth” (as in “Beethoven’s Tenth”). But the symphony was a success, and Brahms’ sympho-phobia thus broken, his final three symphonies followed in comparatively quick succession. 



(It was thanks to his Symphony No. 1 that to Brahms’ public horror though secret pleasure, the pianist and conductor Hans von Bülow began using Brahms’ name in alliteration with Bach and Beethoven’s, creating for all time “the three B’s”, aka “the killer B’s”.) 



On November 4, 1924 – 95 years ago today – the French composer, organist, pianist and teacher Gabriel Urbain Fauré died in Paris at the age of 79. I am a huge fan of Fauré’s music, and so inspired by this anniversary of his death I will feature his superb Piano Quartet No. 1 in C minor, Op. 15 (of 1879 and revised in 1883) in tomorrow’s Dr. Bob Prescribes post on Patreon.



Schoenberg



Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951) in 1948



]]>
Music History Monday 17:53
Music History Monday: His Own Requiem? https://robertgreenbergmusic.com/music-history-monday-his-own-requiem/ Mon, 28 Oct 2019 15:20:43 +0000 https://robertgreenbergmusic.com/?p=5894 https://robertgreenbergmusic.com/music-history-monday-his-own-requiem/#respond https://robertgreenbergmusic.com/music-history-monday-his-own-requiem/feed/ 0 <img src=https://d3fr1q02b1tb0i.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/28081401/2.-March-14-1893.gif class="RSSimage" style="width:100%;margin-bottom:16px;" "border="0" tabindex="0" />We celebrate, on October 28, 1893 – 126 years ago today – the first performance of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6, the “Pathétique” in St. Petersburg, with Tchaikovsky conducting.

We would acknowledge two date-appropriate musical events before moving on to the pirozhki and potatoes of this post.

On October 28, 1896 – 123 years ago today – the American composer, conductor, and educator Howard Hanson was born in Wahoo, Nebraska. For an up-close-and-personal on Maestro Hanson and his Symphony No. 2, the “Romantic”, I would direct your attention to my Dr. Bob Prescribes post of March 19 of this year. It can be found at my subscription site a Patreon.com/RobertGreenbergMusic

Elvis hips
The groin/pelvis/hips in question

On October 28, 1957 – 62 years ago today – Elvis (“the pelvis”) Presley’s groin was once again in the news. Having performed a show at the Pan Pacific Auditorium in Los Angeles, Presley was informed by the Los Angeles Police Department that he would no longer be permitted to “wiggle his hips on stage.” The local press made its two cents known when headlines demanded that Elvis “clean up his act.” The following night – October 29, 1957 – the Los Angeles Vice Squad filmed Elvis’ entire show at the Pan Pacific Auditorium, the better to study the details of his performance.

(Did the L.A. Police and the local press realize that by their actions and statements they guaranteed Elvis standing-room-only audiences at his subsequent appearances? Presley’s agent – Colonel Tom Parker – must have been rubbing his hands together in unalloyed glee: you can’t buy publicity like that; then again, Parker himself was behind the whole thing!)

Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6

Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky on March 14, 1893
Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) on March 14, 1893

On to today’s primary topic. We celebrate, on October 28, 1893 – 126 years ago today – the first performance of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6, the “Pathétique” in St. Petersburg, with Tchaikovsky conducting. Tchaikovsky’s Sixth was his final symphony and is considered, by consensus, his greatest symphony and among his finest masterworks. Composed between February and the end of August of 1893, Tchaikovsky himself – typically self-critical to a fault – believed the symphony to be his best; while composing it he wrote his brother Modest:

“I am now wholly occupied with the new work . . . and it is hard for me to tear myself away from it. I believe it comes into being as the best of my works. I must finish it as soon as possible, for I have to wind up a lot of affairs and I must soon go to London. I told you that I had completed a Symphony which suddenly displeased me, and I tore

Background

By 1892 – at the age of 52 – Tchaikovsky had attained a level of fame rarely accorded a living artist. He was celebrated and honored everywhere he went. He was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from Cambridge University. He received standing ovations from audiences and, like some musical Godfather, was kissed on the hand by musicians. Of the many triumphs and anecdotes of these last years of his life one stands out in particular. In January of 1892 Tchaikovsky traveled to Hamburg, there to conduct a performance of his opera Eugene Onegin. With only one(!) rehearsal allocated to the opera – which was to be sung in German – Tchaikovsk, quickly decided to bow out and hand the baton over to the local conductor, a man, Tchaikovsky wrote:

“Of GENIUS, with a burning desire to conduct the performance.”

This man of genius was the young Gustav Mahler, who conducted what Tchaikovsky called a “positively superb rendering of my score.”

Tchaikovsky and Vladimir Davidov
Tchaikovsky and his nephew Vladimir “Bob” Davidov (1871-1906)

Tchaikovsky dedicated his Symphony No. 6 to his nephew, Vladimir Davidov, who was born in 1871. He was the son of Tchaikovsky’s sister Sasha and her husband Lev and he was known by the rather unlikely nickname of “Bob”. (As unlikely as it would be for yours truly to be called “Vlad”.) The homosexual Tchaikovsky adored Bob, to the point of obsession. By the time he was 13, Tchaikovsky was haunted by Bob and filled with guilty longings for him. A few random excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s diary entries dating to the summer of 1884 paint the picture; (Bob was 13 years old):

“[May 7] I feasted my eyes all day on Bob. How utterly ravishing he looks in his white suit. [May 8] Bob walked with me in the garden, then came to my room. Ah, what a delight Bob is. [May 9] Ah, what a perfect being Bob is. [May 10] A stroll with Bob . . . what a little darling he is! [May 13] Before supper, to his great delight, I played piano duets with my darling, incomparable, wonderful ideal Bob. [May 23] Strange dreams last night; wandering around with Bob. [May 24] In the end, Bob will drive me mad with his unspeakable charms.” 

Yes, this should make us all a bit uncomfortable. And while it’s clear that nothing sexually untoward ever occurred between nephew and uncle, it’s also clear that Bob shared his uncle’s sexual proclivities. This helps to explain the extraordinary bond between the two, which only continued to develop as Bob passed through his teens. Tchaikovsky wrote his nephew:

“You are constantly in my thoughts. Through every dark sensation, whether grief, melancholy or anguish, whatever the cloud of my mental horizon, comes a piercing ray of light with the thought that you exist, and that I shall soon see you again.”

It was to Bob that Tchaikovsky first revealed the conception and gestation of his sixth symphony:

“While on my travels I had another idea for a symphony – a program work this time, but its program will remain a conundrum to everyone. Let them guess at it. This program is imbued with subjectivity. While composing it in my thoughts, I often wept a great deal. Then I began writing drafts, and the work was as heated as it was rapid. In less than four days I completed the first movement, and the remaining movements were outlined in my head. There will be much that is new in this symphony where form is concerned, one point being that the finale will not be a loud allegro, but the reverse, a most unhurried adagio. You cannot imagine the bliss I feel after becoming convinced that time has not yet run out and that it is still possible to work.” 

On April 5, 1893, Tchaikovsky completed the sketch of his Symphony No. 6. He inscribed on the last page:

“Oh Lord, I thank thee! Today I have completed the sketches in their entirety.” 

The orchestration was completed on August 31, 1893. As we previously observed, Tchaikovsky dedicated the symphony to Bob. In a letter to the dedicatee, Tchaikovsky wrote:

“If this symphony is misunderstood, and torn to shreds, I shall think it quite normal, and not at all surprising. It will not be the first time. But I myself absolutely believe it to be the best and especially the most sincere of all my works. I love it as I have never loved any single one of my other musical creations.” 

Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6 was premiered in St. Petersburg on Saturday, October 28, 1893. While Tchaikovsky was greeted rapturously by the audience – his entrance provoked a sustained standing ovation – the symphony was not. On departing the hall, Tchaikovsky reportedly remarked that he expected the Moscow premiere of the symphony, scheduled to take place in three weeks, “to go better.” 

Who would have guessed that in just nine days Tchaikovsky would be dead? Tchaikovsky’s sudden, utterly unexpected death on November 6, 1893 remains a controversial subject, one we’ll no doubt discuss at another time.

Tchaikovsky in death
Tchaikovsky in death

The fourth and final movement of Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony begins with an anguished cry of pain and concludes with what many have interpreted as a death rattle and the nothingness of death. From the moment of his death, the temptation to explain this music as Tchaikovsky’s premonition of his own impending doom has been, for some good people, irresistible. They have described the symphony as a suicide note, as Tchaikovsky’s “requiem to himself.”

This is complete nonsense. For all of his emotional self-indulgence, Tchaikovsky was terrified by the subject of death, and avoided it like a cold sore. According to his old friend Herman Laroche:

“He [Tchaikovsky] had an uncommon dread of death and everything to do with it.  He feared anything that even hinted of death, so much so that one could not use any words like coffin, grave, funeral or so forth in his presence.” 

Adding to the misunderstanding of the symphony is the nickname that Tchaikovsky himself appended to it. He called it “Патетическая” (Pateticheskaya), which means, literally “the passionate” or “the emotional symphony”. But in the West, “Pateticheskaya” was incorrectly translated into the French “Pathétique”, meaning “pathetic”: something that causes feeling of sadness, grief, or sympathy. (Today’s colloquial definition of “pathetic” – as something unsuccessful, worthless, useless – does not apply!)

We can only wish that Tchaikovsky could have been present at the second performance of the symphony, which was given in his honor in St. Petersburg on November 18, 1893, 12 days after his death and conducted by Eduard Nápravník. The audience response that night was volcanic, and so it has remained ever since.

For lots more on Tchaikovsky, I would direct your attention to my Great Masters biography (currently on sale), produced by The Great Courses.

Listen on the Music History Monday Podcast

Robert Greenberg Courses On Sale

]]>
We celebrate, on October 28, 1893 – 126 years ago today – the first performance of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6, the “Pathétique” in St. Petersburg, with Tchaikovsky conducting. We would acknowledge two date-appropriate musical events before moving on to the pirozhki and potatoes of this post.



On October 28, 1896 – 123 years ago today – the American composer, conductor, and educator Howard Hanson was born in Wahoo, Nebraska. For an up-close-and-personal on Maestro Hanson and his Symphony No. 2, the “Romantic”, I would direct your attention to my Dr. Bob Prescribes post of March 19 of this year. It can be found at my subscription site a Patreon.com/RobertGreenbergMusic



The groin/pelvis/hips in question



On October 28, 1957 – 62 years ago today – Elvis (“the pelvis”) Presley’s groin was once again in the news. Having performed a show at the Pan Pacific Auditorium in Los Angeles, Presley was informed by the Los Angeles Police Department that he would no longer be permitted to “wiggle his hips on stage.” The local press made its two cents known when headlines demanded that Elvis “clean up his act.” The following night – October 29, 1957 – the Los Angeles Vice Squad filmed Elvis’ entire show at the Pan Pacific Auditorium, the better to study the details of his performance.



(Did the L.A. Police and the local press realize that by their actions and statements they guaranteed Elvis standing-room-only audiences at his subsequent appearances? Presley’s agent – Colonel Tom Parker – must have been rubbing his hands together in unalloyed glee: you can’t buy publicity like that; then again, Parker himself was behind the whole thing!)



Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6



Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) on March 14, 1893



On to today’s primary topic. We celebrate, on October 28, 1893 – 126 years ago today – the first performance of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6, the “Pathétique” in St. Petersburg, with Tchaikovsky conducting. Tchaikovsky’s Sixth was his final symphony and is considered, by consensus, his greatest symphony and among his finest masterworks. Composed between February and the end of August of 1893, Tchaikovsky himself – typically self-critical to a fault – believed the symphony to be his best; while composing it he wrote his brother Modest:



“I am now wholly occupied with the new work . . . and it is hard for me to tear myself away from it. I believe it comes into being as the best of my works. I must finish it as soon as possible, for I have to wind up a lot of affairs and I must soon go to London. I told you that I had completed a Symphony which suddenly displeased me, and I tore



Background



By 1892 – at the age of 52 – Tchaikovsky had attained a level of fame rarely accorded a living artist. He was celebrated and honored everywhere he went. He was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from Cambridge University. He received standing ovations from audiences and, like some musical Godfather, was kissed on the hand by musicians. Of the many triumphs and anecdotes of these last years of his life one stands out in particular. In January of 1892 Tchaikovsky traveled to Hamburg, there to conduct a performance of his opera Eugene Onegin. With only one(!) rehearsal allocated to the opera – which was to be sung in German – Tchaikovsk, quickly decided to bow out and hand the baton over to the local conductor, a man,]]>
Music History Monday 13:18
Music History Monday: Disproportionate Numbers and “The Screaming Skull” https://robertgreenbergmusic.com/music-history-monday-disproportionate-numbers-and-the-screaming-skull/ Mon, 21 Oct 2019 19:32:22 +0000 https://robertgreenbergmusic.com/?p=5865 https://robertgreenbergmusic.com/music-history-monday-disproportionate-numbers-and-the-screaming-skull/#respond https://robertgreenbergmusic.com/music-history-monday-disproportionate-numbers-and-the-screaming-skull/feed/ 0 <img src=https://d3fr1q02b1tb0i.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/21122620/1.-sir-georg-solti-yousuf-karsh-photo-811x1024.jpg class="RSSimage" style="width:100%;margin-bottom:16px;" "border="0" tabindex="0" />We mark the birth, on October 21, 1912 – 107 years ago today - of the Hungarian-born pianist and conductor György Stern (better known as Sir Georg Solti) in Budapest, Hungary. Considered one of the greatest conductors to have ever lived, Solti is the Michael Phelps, the Simone Biles of the musical world, having received a record 31(!) GRAMMY® Awards.
Georg Solti (1912-1997)
Georg Solti (1912-1997)

We mark the birth, on October 21, 1912 – 107 years ago today – of the Hungarian-born pianist and conductor György Stern (better known as Sir Georg Solti) in Budapest, Hungary. Considered one of the greatest conductors to have ever lived, Solti is the Michael Phelps, the Simone Biles of the musical world, having received a record 31(!) GRAMMY® Awards.

We contemplate, for a nonce (or even two nonces), “disproportionate numbers”: why and how certain relatively small populations produce large numbers of great performers. 

For example.

The Dominican Republic, the Caribbean nation that shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti. In 2017, the World Bank put the Dominican Republic’s population at 10.77 million people, making it equal to the population of North Carolina. Yet, incredibly, over 10% of the active players in Major League Baseball are of Dominican origin. Even a partial list of past and present Dominican baseball players reads like a catalog of the very best and brightest, a catalog that should make any baseball fan shiver with gratitude: the Alou brother, Felipe, Matty, and Jesus; Juan Marichal; Pedro Martinez; Vladimir Guerrero; Rico Carty; George Bell; Manny Mota; César Cedeño; Tony Peña; Sammy Sosa; David Ortiz; Manny Ramirez; Robinson Canó; Albert Pujols; Miguel Tejada; Bartolo Colón; José Bautista; Julio Franco; Melky Cabrera; Francisco Liriano; Edwin Encarnación; and Johnny Cueto (to name but a few!). 

Why are there so many great Dominican baseball players? With 40% of the Dominican population living in poverty, baseball is perceived as the “field of dreams”: a ticket out into wealth and stardom. But that’s all it would be – a “dream” – if there wasn’t a Dominican culture that worships baseball perhaps to a fault, a player development infrastructure in place to teach and train these young athletes, and a climate that allows that training to go on 12 months of the year. 

Disproportionate numbers. 

Eliud Kipchoge (b. 1984)
Eliud Kipchoge (b. 1984)

Nine days ago, on October 12, the Kenyan long-distance runner Eliud Kipchoge did the once unthinkable when he ran a sub-two-hour marathon, clocking in at 1:59:40 (Kipchoge already held the “official” world record for a marathon, 2:01:39, set in Berlin in 2018. In doing so, he broke a record set by his fellow Kenyan Dennis Kipruto Kimetto in 2014. In setting his record, Kimetto broke a record set by his fellow Kenyan Patrick Makau Musyoki. Are we seeing a pattern here?). 

Kenyan women marathoners are hardly less dominant than the men. 

Why are so many of the world’s greatest marathoners from the Western Rift Valley highlands of Kenya (and, for that matter, the adjacent highlands of Ethiopia?) 

Various explanations have been put forth. Once again, poverty plays a role: competitive running offers a way out for a successful athlete. The distances between villages, schools, and stores and a lack of ready transportation requires that children in these regions walk (and run) barefoot for considerable distances on a daily basis. Living and working and running at the high altitudes in which they live has given these Kenyans (and neighboring Ethiopians) an almost off-the-charts VO2 max, meaning the maximum amount of oxygen an individual can utilize during intense exercise. Put these good people down at sea level and they can – as they have proven over and over again – run circles around most of their competitors. 

Disproportionate numbers.

In 2017, the population of the nation of Hungary sat at under 10 million people, making it less populous than the Dominican Republic. And yet this relatively small nation produced a large proportion of the greatest conductors of the twentieth century, all of whom were born into Jewish families in the Hungarian capital city of Budapest: Frederick Martin “Fritz” Reiner (born Frigyes Reiner, 1888-1962); George Szell (born György Endre Szél, 1897-1970); Eugene Ormandy (born Jenő Blau; 1899-1985); Antal Doráti (1906-1988); Ferenc Fricsay (1914-1963); and Georg Solti (born György Stern, October 21, 1912-September 5, 1997). 

By any measure, this is an astonishing group of conductors. 

I would suggest that as members of an ethnic and religious minority, born just a generation or two off the shtetl, the drive for excellence and success was inculcated in these dudes by their upwardly mobile families from the youngest age. Given prevailing American values, had they been born in Philadelphia, or New York, or Boston they might have grown up to be doctors, or lawyers, or businesspeople. But they were born in Budapest at a time when many professions were still, for all intents and purposes, off-limits to Jews. But music was not off-limits, and to a degree that many Americans would find difficult to fathom, concert music was considered a singularly noble pursuit. And it just so happened that Budapest was one of the most musical cities on the planet with a musical educational infrastructure that was second-to-none.

We would recall that from 1867 until 1918, the “Austrian Empire” was, in fact, the “Austro-Hungarian Empire”, the so-called Dual Monarchy, with two capital cities: Vienna and Budapest. Because of its long and glorious musical history, we take for granted that Vienna was the musical capital of central Europe in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. But in fact, Budapest was not far behind, and when it came to music educational institutions, Budapest was, if anything, ahead of Vienna. Chief among those institutions was the “Royal National Hungarian Academy of Music” which was founded in 1875 and which in 1925 was renamed the “Franz Liszt Academy.” (It has also been known as/referred to as the “Budapest Academy of Music” and the “Budapest Conservatory.”)

During the 19-teens, 20s, and 30s, the faculty at the academy included such luminaries as Béla Bartók, Zoltan Kodály, and Ernő Dohnányi. Indeed, if we are to judge an educational institution by the accomplishments of its graduates, the Franz Liszt Academy must be judged as one of the greatest and most important music schools ever! Check it out: 

Fritz Reiner and Béla Bartók in 1942
Fritz Reiner (on right; 1888-1962) and Béla Bartók (1881-1945) in 1942

Fritz Reiner studied piano, piano pedagogy and conducting at the Academy; during his last two years, his principal piano teacher was Béla Bartók. 

Eugene Ormandy began studying violin at the Academy in 1904, when he was five years old (when the school was still called the Royal National Hungarian Academy of Music). He graduated with a master’s degree in violin at the tender age of 14! (For our information: Ormandy moved to the United States in 1921 at the age of 22 where, along with his bud and fellow Academy graduate Erno Rapee, he joined the 77-member orchestra of the Capitol Theater in New York City as a violinist, where he accompanied silent movies; four shows a day; seven days a week.)

Antal Doráti attended the Liszt Academy as well, where he studied piano with Bartók and composition with Kodály.

Ferenc Fricsay cut a broad path at the Liszt Academy, where he studied piano, violin, clarinet, trombone, percussion, composition and conducting with, among others, Béla Bartók, Zoltan Kodály, and Ernő Dohnányi. Whoa.

Georg Solti at age 15
Georg Solti ca. 1927, age 15

Georg Solti took up the piano early on, though by his own admission he was not a diligent student. In his memoirs, he wrote:

“My mother kept telling me to practice, but what ten-year-old wants to play the piano when he could be out playing football?”

(It’s a very good question.)

Solti must have practiced enough, though, because at the age of 12 he entered the Franz Liszt Academy, where he studied piano with Béla Bartók and composition with Ernő Dohnányi.

(The only one of the Hungarian Hebrew conductorial Mafiosi born in Budapest that did not study at the Franz Liszt Academy was George Szell, who though born in Budapest to Hungarian parents, grew up in Vienna.)

Eugene Ormandy in 1936
Eugene Ormandy (1899-1985) in 1936

Bless them, every one of these conductors survived World War Two. For Fritz Reiner and Eugene Ormandy, no particular hardships were involved. Reiner moved to the United States in 1922 and became a naturalized American citizen in 1928. As we’ve already observed, Ormandy came to the United States in 1921. Within a year of his arrival he applied for citizenship, which he was granted soon after. For our info, in 1970 Ormandy received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. 

George Szell in 1956
George Szell in (1897-1970) in 1956

When World War Two began in Europe on September 1, 1939, George Szell serendipitously found himself in the United States; he was on his way back to Europe after a tour of Australia. He and his family stayed, settling in New York, where Szell taught at the Mannes School of Music. In 1946, Szell became both a naturalized citizen of the United States and Music Director of the Cleveland Symphony, a position he held until his death in 1970. 

Antal Doráti in 1965
Antal Doráti (1906-1988) in 1965

In 1929, at the age of 23, Antal Doráti became the music director at the opera house in the German city of Münster in North Rhine-Westfalia, Germany. Doráti resigned his position when Hitler came to power in 1933 and in 1941 became the Music Director of the American Ballet Theater in New York. He became a naturalized American citizen in 1947.

Ferenc Fricsay ca. 1960
Ferenc Fricsay (1914-1963), ca. 1960

Ferenc Fricsay remained in Hungary which was almost his undoing. Nazi Germany occupied Hungary on March 19, 1944 in order to compel their presumed ally, the Hungarian strong-man Miklós Horthy, to ship Hungary’s sizable Jewish population to the deathcamp at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Fricsay received advanced warning that he was to be arrested, and he and his wife Marta and their three children managed to go underground in Budapest, and thus they survived the war.

When Hitler came to power in 1933, Georg Solti was working as an assistant to the conductor Joseph Krips in Karlsruhe, Germany. Krips told Solti that he was no longer safe in Germany, and insisted that Solti return to Budapest, which he did. Given Hungary’s friendship pact with Hitler’s Germany, Solti eventually decided that Hungary was no safer a place for him than Germany, and he waited out the war years in Switzerland. With Hungary under Soviet control after the war, Solti refused to return and became stateless. Rather ironically, then, Solti found post-War employment in Germany, and became a West German citizen in 1953. In 1972 he became a British citizen, and so he remained until his death in 1997. 

A tidbit. Solti was what might euphemistically be called a “very demanding conductor.” In translation, that means that he yelled a lot. That “demanding conducting style” combined with his bald head earned him the rather Halloweenish nickname “The Screaming Skull.”

He might have been a pill, but dang if he wasn’t a great conductor. So happy birthday, Maestro Screaming Skull!

For lots more on the impact of current events on the development of music, I would humbly suggest you check out my Great Courses/Teaching Company survey, Music as a Mirror of History at RobertGreenbergMusic.com and to subscribe on Patreon.

Listen on the Music History Monday Podcast

Robert Greenberg Courses On Sale Now

]]>
We mark the birth, on October 21, 1912 – 107 years ago today - of the Hungarian-born pianist and conductor György Stern (better known as Sir Georg Solti) in Budapest, Hungary. Considered one of the greatest conductors to have ever lived, Georg Solti (1912-1997)



We mark the birth, on October 21, 1912 – 107 years ago today – of the Hungarian-born pianist and conductor György Stern (better known as Sir Georg Solti) in Budapest, Hungary. Considered one of the greatest conductors to have ever lived, Solti is the Michael Phelps, the Simone Biles of the musical world, having received a record 31(!) GRAMMY® Awards.



We contemplate, for a nonce (or even two nonces), “disproportionate numbers”: why and how certain relatively small populations produce large numbers of great performers. 



For example.



The Dominican Republic, the Caribbean nation that shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti. In 2017, the World Bank put the Dominican Republic’s population at 10.77 million people, making it equal to the population of North Carolina. Yet, incredibly, over 10% of the active players in Major League Baseball are of Dominican origin. Even a partial list of past and present Dominican baseball players reads like a catalog of the very best and brightest, a catalog that should make any baseball fan shiver with gratitude: the Alou brother, Felipe, Matty, and Jesus; Juan Marichal; Pedro Martinez; Vladimir Guerrero; Rico Carty; George Bell; Manny Mota; César Cedeño; Tony Peña; Sammy Sosa; David Ortiz; Manny Ramirez; Robinson Canó; Albert Pujols; Miguel Tejada; Bartolo Colón; José Bautista; Julio Franco; Melky Cabrera; Francisco Liriano; Edwin Encarnación; and Johnny Cueto (to name but a few!). 



Why are there so many great Dominican baseball players? With 40% of the Dominican population living in poverty, baseball is perceived as the “field of dreams”: a ticket out into wealth and stardom. But that’s all it would be – a “dream” – if there wasn’t a Dominican culture that worships baseball perhaps to a fault, a player development infrastructure in place to teach and train these young athletes, and a climate that allows that training to go on 12 months of the year. 



Disproportionate numbers. 



Eliud Kipchoge (b. 1984)



Nine days ago, on October 12, the Kenyan long-distance runner Eliud Kipchoge did the once unthinkable when he ran a sub-two-hour marathon, clocking in at 1:59:40 (Kipchoge already held the “official” world record for a marathon, 2:01:39, set in Berlin in 2018. In doing so, he broke a record set by his fellow Kenyan Dennis Kipruto Kimetto in 2014. In setting his record, Kimetto broke a record set by his fellow Kenyan Patrick Makau Musyoki. Are we seeing a pattern here?). 



Kenyan women marathoners are hardly less dominant than the men. 



Why are so many of the world’s greatest marathoners from the Western Rift Valley highlands of Kenya (and, for that matter, the adjacent highlands of Ethiopia?) 



Various explanations have been put forth. Once again, poverty plays a role: competitive running offers a way out for a successful athlete. The distances between villages, schools, and stores and a lack of ready transportation requires that children in these regions walk (and run) barefoot for considerable distances on a daily basis. Living and working and running at the high altitudes in which they live has given these Kenyans (and neighboring Ethiopians) an almost off-the-charts VO2 max, meaning the maximum amount of oxygen an individual can utilize during intense exercise. Put these good people down at sea level and they can – as they have proven over and over again – run circles around most of their competitors. 



Disproportionate numbers.



In 2017, the population of the nation of Hungary sat at under 10 million people, making it less populous than the Dominican Republic.]]>
Music History Monday 14:58
Music History Monday: Der Bingle https://robertgreenbergmusic.com/music-history-monday-der-bingle/ Mon, 14 Oct 2019 14:59:34 +0000 https://robertgreenbergmusic.com/?p=5839 https://robertgreenbergmusic.com/music-history-monday-der-bingle/#respond https://robertgreenbergmusic.com/music-history-monday-der-bingle/feed/ 0 <img src=https://d3fr1q02b1tb0i.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/14075143/1.-Bing-Crosby-pictures-bing-crosby-27121633-1105-1290-877x1024.jpg class="RSSimage" style="width:100%;margin-bottom:16px;" "border="0" tabindex="0" />We mark the death on October 14, 1977 – 42 years ago today – of the American singer and actor Harry Lillis “Bing” Crosby of a so-called “widow maker”: a massive, dead-before-he-hit-the-ground heart attack. We sense that he went out the way he would have chosen to go out.
Harry Lillis “Bing” Crosby
Harry Lillis “Bing” (Der Bingle) Crosby (1903-1977)

We mark the death on October 14, 1977 – 42 years ago today – of the American singer and actor Harry Lillis “Bing” Crosby of a so-called “widow maker”: a massive, dead-before-he-hit-the-ground heart attack. We sense that he went out the way he would have chosen to go out. An avid golfer and member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, he flew to Spain on October 13, 1977 to hunt partridge and play golf. The next day, on October 14, having finished an 18-hole round at the La Moraleja Golf Course near Madrid, Crosby and his golfing partners were walking back the clubhouse. Crosby then uttered his last works, “That was a great game of golf, fellas. Let’s get a Coke.” Moments later, at about 6:30 pm, about 20 yards from the clubhouse, Crosby dropped dead.

(As last words go, well, had Crosby the opportunity, he probably would have taken a Mulligan on “let’s get a Coke.” We would recall the last words of his friend, performing partner, and golfing chum Bob Hope, who when asked where he wanted to be buried, replied “surprise me.”)

Anyway, Crosby went out with his cleats on.

Rarely would it seem that someone’s public persona was so different from his private persona. On stage, Crosby’s chocolaty bass-baritone voice virtually defined the sobriquet “crooner”. His on-screen persona was that of a pipe-smoking, smooth-as-a-peeled-onion gentleman: preternaturally calm, wise, and loving: everyone’s favorite uncle or priest (that would be Father O’Malley in the movie Going My Way of 1944). 

In reality, Crosby was a sharp, calculating, entrepreneurial, sometimes ruthless perfectionist and businessman with a propensity for drink. He was also a harsh disciplinarian whose four sons from his first marriage (he was to have three more children from his second marriage) not-infrequently felt the bite of a special, metal-studded belt with which Crosby beat them. 

(After Crosby died, his son Gary – the eldest – wrote a tell-all memoir called Going My Own Way, in which he depicted his father as “cruel, cold, remote, and physically and psychologically abusive.” Gary Crosby wrote:

Crosby as Father O’Malley in Going My Way
Crosby as Father O’Malley in Going My Way (1944), NOT beating two recalcitrant teenagers

“When I saw Going My Way I was as moved as they [the audience] were by the character he played. Then the lights came on and the movie was over. All the way back to the house I thought about the difference between the person up there on the screen and the one I knew at home.”

Bing Crosby’s son Phillip took his brother Gary to task for his description of their father, claiming that:

“Gary is a whining, bitching crybaby, walking around with a two-by-four on his shoulder and just daring people to nudge it off. . . My dad was not the monster my lying brother said he was.”

However, Bing’s other two sons by his first marriage – Dennis and Lindsay Crosby – confirmed that Crosby was indeed abusive. In reference to his brother Gary’s tell-all, Lindsay Crosby said:

“I’m glad [Gary] did it. I hope it clears up a lot of old lies and rumors.”

Crosby’s treatment of his first-born sons after his death cannot be disputed. His will created a blind trust that stipulated his sons only receive their inheritance when they reached the age of 65. Only one of the four boys lived so long. Lindsay Crosby died in 1989 at the age of 51 of a self-inflicted gunshot. Dennis Crosby died in 1991 at the age of 56 of a self-inflicted gunshot. Gary Crosby died in 1995 at 62 of lung cancer. Only Phillip Crosby lived to see his inheritance; he died in 2004 at the age of 69 of a heart attack.

Two suicides out of the four sons from Bing Crosby’s first marriage. It sounds as if something was seriously amiss in the Crosby house.)

Having gotten the controversial stuff out of the way, it is time, now, to praise Crosby for the far-sighted, entrepreneur and techno-prophet that he was: someone who single-handedly revolutionized the radio and nascent television industries!

During the so-called “golden age of radio” – from roughly 1930 to 1950 – almost all radio shows were broadcast live. This necessitated that performers like Bing Crosby had to do the same show twice in one day: once for East Coast audiences and then, three hours later, for broadcast to West Coast audiences. 

By 1945, Der Bingle had had enough of the two-shows-a-day regimen. There was a technology available for pre-recording shows, which involved cutting 16-inch records (which were also called “lacquer discs” or “shellacs”) that held ten minutes of programming per side when played at 33 1/3 rpm.

But NBC, which broadcast Crosby’s show, would not hear of recording it. John Dunning, writing in his book On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio, explains NBC’s attitude:

“[Crosby saw] an enormous advantage in prerecording his radio shows. The scheduling could now be done at the star’s convenience. But the networks and sponsors were adamantly opposed. The public wouldn’t stand for ‘canned’ radio, the networks argued. There was something magic for listeners in the fact that what they were hearing was being performed and heard everywhere, at that precise instant. Some of the best moments in comedy came when a line was blown and the star had to rely on wit to rescue a bad situation. Fred Allen, Jack Benny, Phil Harris, and also Crosby were masters at this, and the networks weren’t about to give it up easily.”

But the networks could not be collective pimples of the arse of progress forever, and it was Crosby who made the breakthrough. 

Major John Thomas - “Jack” Mullin
Major John Thomas. “Jack” Mullin (1913-1999) in 1945

We momentarily shift our attention to Germany, in early 1945. With World War Two drawing towards its conclusion, a Major in the United States Army Signal Corps named Jack Mullin was tasked with investigating German radio and electronic technology and experimentation. On a trip to Radio Frankfurt, Mullin encountered so-called Magnetophons – tape recorders – built by the German firm of AEG, their fidelity so great that “even those well acquainted with the industry could not tell the recordings from live play.” Mullin was floored: there was no such technology in the United States, and he had no idea such a machine even existed (he later joked that “the reason we didn’t know about the Magnetophon was that the Germans never bothered to classify it as top-secret.”)

AEG Magnetophon type K4 sp
AEG Magnetophon type K4 sp

Mullin managed to “acquire” (to the victors go the spoils . . .) two Magnetophons and 50 reels of oxide-coated PVC recording tape manufactured by BASF and brought them back to the United States. As German patents and copyrights registered during the war (1939-1945) were declared null and void after the war (to the victors. . .), Mullin was free to do whatever he wanted to do with his new toys. 

Jack Mullin and Murdo Mackenzie with Mullin’s modified AEG Magnetophon
Jack Mullin (left) and Murdo Mackenzie with Mullin’s modified AEG Magnetophon K4’s, circa 1947

Mullin modified the technology and demonstrated his new-and-improved tape recorders to the Institute of Radio Engineers in San Francisco on May 16, 1946. In June of 1947, while pitching his tape recorders to the Hollywood studios, Murdo MacKenzie of Bing Crosby Enterprises saw a demonstration. Crosby was immediately informed and the idea light over his head went into full shine. Here was the technology he had dreamt about: not only could he pre-record his shows and lose nothing in the fidelity of the playback, but he could edit those shows simply by cutting and splicing the tape!

Crosby wrote in his autobiography:

“By using tape, I could do a thirty-five or forty-minute show, then edit it down to the twenty-six or twenty-seven minutes the program ran. In that way, we could take out jokes, gags, or situations that didn’t play well and finish with only the prime meat of the show; the solid stuff that played big. We could also take out the songs that didn’t sound good. It gave us a chance to first try a recording of the songs in the afternoon without an audience, then another one in front of a studio audience. We’d dub the one that came off best into the final transcription. It gave us a chance to ad lib as much as we wanted, knowing that excess ad-libbing could be sliced from the final product. If I made a mistake in singing a song or in the script, I could have some fun with it, then retain any of the fun that sounded amusing.”

Crosby immediately hired the now-former Signal Corps Major Jack Mullin as his chief engineer, and together they recorded a “test” show using the German recording tape Mullin had “liberated” in 1945. 

Working with Mullin, Crosby turned to what was then a six-person startup in San Carlos, California (just south of San Francisco). He invested $50,000 in the company and instructed it to perfect and manufacture the tape recorder. The company, created in 1944, was called “Ampex”, the name being based on that of its Russian-American founder, Alexander M. Poniatoff excellence.

Bing Crosby with his newly delivered Ampex Model 200 tape recorders, 1948
Bing Crosby with his newly delivered Ampex Model 200 tape recorders, 1948

The first tape recorder Ampex built was the Model 200, and the first two Model 200s were shipped in April of 1948. Those two machines – bearing the serial numbers “1” and “2” – were shipped to Bing Crosby Enterprises and were used to record Crosby’s show, now being broadcast on the newly founded American Broadcasting Company, ABC. 

Because Bing Crosby, under the umbrella of “Bing Crosby Enterprises”, now produced, recorded and edited his own shows, he could determine what equipment he wanted to use and where he put the microphones. He no longer had to wear a toupee, as NBC had required he do for his live audience shows, and simply wore a hat instead. And he was able to record and incorporate into his show short advertisements for one of his latest ventures: the world’s first frozen orange juice, a product that was sold under the brand name “Minute Maid.”

In his memoir, written in 1976, Jack Mullin recalled how Crosby’s Ampex tape recorders were used to invent what became an enduring broadcasting technique:

“One time, Bob Burns, the hillbilly comic, was on the show, and he threw in a few of his folksy farm stories, which were not in the script. They got enormous laughs, which just went on and on. We couldn’t use the jokes, but [we saved] the laughs. A couple of weeks later he had a show that wasn’t very funny, [so] we put in the salvaged laughs. Thus the laugh-track was born.”

It is no exaggeration to say that Bing Crosby and the Ampex tape recorder revolutionized the radio and recording industries. The Crosby Research Foundation – yet another part of Bing Crosby’s media empire – held tape recording patents and developed equipment and recording techniques (such as the laugh-track) that are still in use today, 70+ years later.

But wait! There’s more!

Maestro Crosby wanted to be able to record and edit video with the same ease as audio. As such, he financed the development of videotape recording. On November 11, 1951, Bing Crosby Enterprises gave the world’s first demonstration of videotape recording in Los Angeles, using a modified Ampex 200 tape recorder and standard, quarter-inch tape moving at an astonishing 360 inches (30 feet!) per second.

We can only imagine what fun Bing Crosby would have had with digital.

For lots more on pretty much anything musical, go to my website and buy a course. Or buy two courses! Three courses! (That was my “Minute Maid” moment.) And make sure to subscribe on Patreon.

Listen on the Music History Monday Podcast

Robert Greenberg Courses On Sale Now

]]>
We mark the death on October 14, 1977 – 42 years ago today – of the American singer and actor Harry Lillis “Bing” Crosby of a so-called “widow maker”: a massive, dead-before-he-hit-the-ground heart attack. We sense that he went out the way he would hav... Harry Lillis “Bing” (Der Bingle) Crosby (1903-1977)



We mark the death on October 14, 1977 – 42 years ago today – of the American singer and actor Harry Lillis “Bing” Crosby of a so-called “widow maker”: a massive, dead-before-he-hit-the-ground heart attack. We sense that he went out the way he would have chosen to go out. An avid golfer and member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, he flew to Spain on October 13, 1977 to hunt partridge and play golf. The next day, on October 14, having finished an 18-hole round at the La Moraleja Golf Course near Madrid, Crosby and his golfing partners were walking back the clubhouse. Crosby then uttered his last works, “That was a great game of golf, fellas. Let’s get a Coke.” Moments later, at about 6:30 pm, about 20 yards from the clubhouse, Crosby dropped dead.



(As last words go, well, had Crosby the opportunity, he probably would have taken a Mulligan on “let’s get a Coke.” We would recall the last words of his friend, performing partner, and golfing chum Bob Hope, who when asked where he wanted to be buried, replied “surprise me.”)



Anyway, Crosby went out with his cleats on.



Rarely would it seem that someone’s public persona was so different from his private persona. On stage, Crosby’s chocolaty bass-baritone voice virtually defined the sobriquet “crooner”. His on-screen persona was that of a pipe-smoking, smooth-as-a-peeled-onion gentleman: preternaturally calm, wise, and loving: everyone’s favorite uncle or priest (that would be Father O’Malley in the movie Going My Way of 1944). 



In reality, Crosby was a sharp, calculating, entrepreneurial, sometimes ruthless perfectionist and businessman with a propensity for drink. He was also a harsh disciplinarian whose four sons from his first marriage (he was to have three more children from his second marriage) not-infrequently felt the bite of a special, metal-studded belt with which Crosby beat them. 



(After Crosby died, his son Gary – the eldest – wrote a tell-all memoir called Going My Own Way, in which he depicted his father as “cruel, cold, remote, and physically and psychologically abusive.” Gary Crosby wrote:



Crosby as Father O’Malley in Going My Way (1944), NOT beating two recalcitrant teenagers



“When I saw Going My Way I was as moved as they [the audience] were by the character he played. Then the lights came on and the movie was over. All the way back to the house I thought about the difference between the person up there on the screen and the one I knew at home.”



Bing Crosby’s son Phillip took his brother Gary to task for his description of their father, claiming that:



“Gary is a whining, bitching crybaby, walking around with a two-by-four on his shoulder and just daring people to nudge it off. . . My dad was not the monster my lying brother said he was.”



However, Bing’s other two sons by his first marriage – Dennis and Lindsay Crosby – confirmed that Crosby was indeed abusive. In reference to his brother Gary’s tell-all, Lindsay Crosby said:



“I’m glad [Gary] did it. I hope it clears up a lot of old lies and rumors.”



Crosby’s treatment of his first-born sons after his death cannot be disputed. His will created a blind trust that stipulated his sons only receive their inheritance when they reached the age of 65. Only one of the four boys lived so long. Lindsay Crosby died in 1989 at the age of 51 of a self-inflicted gunshot. Dennis Crosby died in 1991 at the age of 56 of a self-inflicted gunshot. Gary Crosby died in 1995 at 62 of lung cancer. Only Phillip Crosby lived to see his inheritance; he died in 2004 at the age of 69 of a heart attack.

]]>
Music History Monday 15:31
Music History Monday: The Bombs Bursting in Air: Bombing The Star-Spangled Banner https://robertgreenbergmusic.com/music-history-monday-the-bombs-bursting-in-air-bombing-the-star-spangled-banner/ Mon, 07 Oct 2019 18:47:14 +0000 https://robertgreenbergmusic.com/?p=5813 https://robertgreenbergmusic.com/music-history-monday-the-bombs-bursting-in-air-bombing-the-star-spangled-banner/#respond https://robertgreenbergmusic.com/music-history-monday-the-bombs-bursting-in-air-bombing-the-star-spangled-banner/feed/ 0 <img src=https://d3fr1q02b1tb0i.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/07113355/jose-feliciano-1024x686.jpg class="RSSimage" style="width:100%;margin-bottom:16px;" "border="0" tabindex="0" />On October 7, 1968 – 51 years ago today – the Puerto Rican-born singer and songwriter José Feliciano (b. 1945) performed the Star-Spangled Banner in Detroit, before the fifth game of the World Series between the Detroit Tigers and the St. Louis Cardinals. His rendition caused a firestorm of controversy, one that did serious damage to his career.
José Feliciano performing the Star-Spangled Banner on October 7, 1968
José Feliciano circa 1968
José Feliciano circa 1968

On October 7, 1968 – 51 years ago today – the Puerto Rican-born singer and songwriter José Feliciano (b. 1945) performed the Star-Spangled Banner in Detroit, before the fifth game of the World Series between the Detroit Tigers and the St. Louis Cardinals. His rendition caused a firestorm of controversy, one that did serious damage to his career.

The Star-Spangled Banner has been back in the news over the last few years, ever since the quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers – Colin Kaepernick – chose not to stand when it was played before an exhibition game against the Green Bay Packers on August 26, 2016. (I don’t know about you, but 2016 feels like a hundred years ago.) 

Depending upon where you stand, Kaepernick was either exercising his constitutional right of free speech or grossly insulting everything the national anthem stands for, including the right to free speech. We need not weigh in here on one side or the other, because the point is that the national anthem means many things to many people, and that many people will get very upset when they perceive that someone has messed with the Star-Spangled Banner.

Christina Aguilera at the Super Bowl
Christina Aguilera (b. 1980), howling and fumbling the words to the national anthem at Super Bowl XLV on February 6, 2011

Taking a knee is one thing but performing the anthem in a manner that can be perceived as a desecration is another thing altogether. I’m not referring to the canine ululations of such singers as Mariah Carey and Christina Aguilera, whose melisma-packed (or plagued) performances of the Star-Spangled Banner can run the length of Richard Wagner’s Parsifal. Neither am I referring to those brick-brained performers who, on national television, have managed to disgrace themselves (and their progeny, for generations to come) by forgetting its words: Michael Bolton, Keri Hillson, Sami Hagar, and once again, Christina Aguilera. Rather, I’m referring to performances that in their unique interpretive style have, for whatever reason, caused genuine controversy. 

I would ask a rhetorical question: has there ever been a sweeter, gentler, less offensive performer than José Monserrate Feliciano García, best known simply as José Feliciano? Born blind due to congenital glaucoma, he took up the acoustic guitar at the age of nine. Blessed with a clean, flexible, extremely attractive voice, he began performing professionally in 1962, at the age of 17. In 1963 he was “discovered” while performing at Gerde’s Folk City in Greenwich Village and was immediately signed by RCA Victor, which released his first single (that is, a 45-rpm record) in 1964. He had his first million seller in 1968, when RCA released a 45-rpm of Feliciano singing Michelle and John Phillips’ California Dreamin’ on side “A” and the Doors’ Light My Fire on side “B”. 1968 was indeed a career year for Feliciano; he took home two Grammy Awards that year, one for Best New Artist and one for Best Pop Male Performance. He had, at the age of 23, achieved international stardom as “an innovative crossover artist with soul, folk and rock influences, infused with a substantial Latin flair.”

Ernie Harwell (1918-2010) in 1966
Ernie Harwell (1918-2010) in 1966

His fame peaking, Feliciano was invited to sing the national anthem by the Detroit Tigers’ broadcast announcer Ernie Harwell. Feliciano ventured out onto the field with his guide dog and an acoustic guitar. A video of his rendition that day – soulful, deeply expressive and to my ears very beautiful – can be found at the top of this post. No doubt: Feliciano took liberties with the Star-Spangled Banner, although compared to the screeching, cats-copulating-on-corrugated-metal-styled renditions we are accustomed to hearing today, Feliciano’s version is downright noble. But that’s not what many in the crowd and watching on TV across America thought that day 51 years ago, and the booing started before he was even finished.

In fact, the real problem wasn’t Feliciano’s interpretation of the national anthem; no, the real problem was that it was October of 1968, when, very much like today, the United States was at war with itself. 

Two weeks ago, in my Music History Monday post for September 23 entitled “Paul is Dead”, we observed just a few of the events that were tearing America apart at exactly that time: the disastrous progress of the war in Vietnam and the realization that President Lyndon Johnson had been lying to the American people about the war all along; the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy; an intensification of the shattering race riots that had started in 1963 in response to the Civil Rights Movement and now in response to King’s assassination; and the rise of the radical left culminating in the riots around the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Never was the generational divide more keenly felt; never before had so many people come to distrust the national government; perhaps not since the American Civil War had so many people come to distrust their fellow Americans.

What it all meant is that the more conservative elements in the crowd there in Detroit and watching on TV were not likely to appreciate José Feliciano’s presumably “unpatriotic” version of the national anthem. Add to it all Feliciano’s Latino heritage and, well, the merde hit the fan.

Within minutes the telephone switchboard at Tiger Stadium was jammed with hundreds of angry calls. The New York switchboard of NBC – which broadcast the game – likewise lit up like that proverbial Christmas tree with furious callers. The American Legion censured the Detroit Tigers, and the announcer who had hired Feliciano – Ernie Harwell – was, in the end, he lucky to keep his job. 

A Detroit Tigers fan named Arlene Raicevich told the Associated Press that Feliciano’s performance “was a disgrace, an insult. I’m going to write my senator about it.”

Another Detroit fan – dude named Bernie Gray – intelligently observed that: “It sounded like a hippie was singing it.” 

The slugger Roger Maris – who was in the process of finishing his major league career with the St. Louis Cardinals – told the Boston Globe that: “I don’t think it was the proper place for that kind of treatment. Maybe I’m a conservative.”

Tim McCarver (b. 1941) in 1969
Tim McCarver (b. 1941) in 1969

However, Maris’ teammate Tim McCarver had a different view: “Why not that way? People go through a routine when they play the anthem. They stand up and yawn and almost fall asleep. This way, at least they listened.”

Listen they did. And while Feliciano’s rendition did, for a number of years, damage his career, it is most satisfying to know that today, his recording of the Star-Spangled Banner is on permanent display at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.

Postscript

Two other controversial “interpretations” of the Star-Spangled Banner must be mentioned here, both of which make José Feliciano’s version sound like Mr. Rogers singing Good Morning to You.

Jimi Hendrix (1942-1970) at Woodstock, August 18, 1969
Jimi Hendrix (1942-1970) at Woodstock, August 18, 1969

On August 18, 1969 – some 10½ months after game five of the 1968 World Series – Jimi Hendricks closed out the Woodstock Festival with his new band, “Gypsy Sun and Rainbows.” About three-quarters of the way through that final set, Hendrix played a four-minute solo rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner on his Fender Stratocaster. It was – and remains – a stunning, wailing, distortion-filled improvisational performance, in which (it was said) that the feedback he generated was meant to depict bombs falling and exploding in Vietnam. Hendrix, who himself had served in the Army’s 101st Airborne Division, made his feelings clear: he was not anti-American; rather, he was anti-war.

Roseanne Barr grabbing her crotch after her scintillating performance of the Star-Spangled Banner on July 25, 1990
Roseanne Barr [b. 1952] grabbing her crotch after her scintillating performance of the Star-Spangled Banner on July 25, 1990

We’ve saved the best for last. It was on July 25, 1990 that Roseanne Barr attempted to sing the national anthem at San Diego’s Jack Murphy Stadium before a game between the San Diego Padres and the Cincinnati Reds. 

Ms. Barr fondly recalled:

“I started too high. I knew about six notes in that I couldn’t hit the big note. So I just tried to get through it, but I couldn’t hear anything with 50,000 drunk a—holes booing, screaming ‘you fat [expletive],’ giving me the finger and throwing bottles at me during the song they ‘respect’ so much.”

Roseanne concluded her performance by grabbing her crotch, spitting on the field (to her right), and then marching off with her arms raised as if to further taunt the booing fans. 

(A parenthetical observation. The long departed but still greatly missed San Francisco-based entertainment critic John Wasserman once referred to John Belushi – unkindly but not inaccurately – as “a pig in a man’s body.” Might Roseanne Barr be Belushi’s natural female counterpart? Just askin’.)

Madame Barr’s performance was not well received by anyone. No one in the Padres front office was willing to own up to having invited Barr to sing. President George H. W. Bush condemned her performance as “disgraceful.” The conservative columnist George Will called her a “slob” and compared her performance to the attack on Pearl Harbor.

When she was later asked if she regretted showing up to the stadium that day, Roseanne replied:

 “Do I regret that the next day all of my projects were cancelled, and [that] I had to have LAPD stand on my roof and protect my life and my kids for two years? Do I regret not being able to go out in public for about one full year without being spit on in restaurants, [and at] 7-Eleven? Do I regret Rolling Stone selling t-shirts with my picture in the middle of a gun target? Do I regret that every ‘feminist’ in Hollywood ran the other way when they saw me at Hollywood functions, to avoid taking a picture with me? Do I regret President George Bush 1 calling me disgraceful on television as he unleashed Desert Storm? Do I regret not one person in Hollywood defending me? Do I regret the dozens of death threats I received?

“Actually, no, I don’t regret any of it.”

On this, we’ll just have to take Roseanne Barr at her word.

If you haven’t already, please join me on Patreon.

Listen to the Music History Monday Podcast

Robert Greenberg Courses On Sale Now

]]>
On October 7, 1968 – 51 years ago today – the Puerto Rican-born singer and songwriter José Feliciano (b. 1945) performed the Star-Spangled Banner in Detroit, before the fifth game of the World Series between the Detroit Tigers and the St.

José Feliciano performing the Star-Spangled Banner on October 7, 1968



José Feliciano circa 1968



On October 7, 1968 – 51 years ago today – the Puerto Rican-born singer and songwriter José Feliciano (b. 1945) performed the Star-Spangled Banner in Detroit, before the fifth game of the World Series between the Detroit Tigers and the St. Louis Cardinals. His rendition caused a firestorm of controversy, one that did serious damage to his career.



The Star-Spangled Banner has been back in the news over the last few years, ever since the quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers – Colin Kaepernick – chose not to stand when it was played before an exhibition game against the Green Bay Packers on August 26, 2016. (I don’t know about you, but 2016 feels like a hundred years ago.) 



Depending upon where you stand, Kaepernick was either exercising his constitutional right of free speech or grossly insulting everything the national anthem stands for, including the right to free speech. We need not weigh in here on one side or the other, because the point is that the national anthem means many things to many people, and that many people will get very upset when they perceive that someone has messed with the Star-Spangled Banner.



Christina Aguilera (b. 1980), howling and fumbling the words to the national anthem at Super Bowl XLV on February 6, 2011



Taking a knee is one thing but performing the anthem in a manner that can be perceived as a desecration is another thing altogether. I’m not referring to the canine ululations of such singers as Mariah Carey and Christina Aguilera, whose melisma-packed (or plagued) performances of the Star-Spangled Banner can run the length of Richard Wagner’s Parsifal. Neither am I referring to those brick-brained performers who, on national television, have managed to disgrace themselves (and their progeny, for generations to come) by forgetting its words: Michael Bolton, Keri Hillson, Sami Hagar, and once again, Christina Aguilera. Rather, I’m referring to performances that in their unique interpretive style have, for whatever reason, caused genuine controversy. 



I would ask a rhetorical question: has there ever been a sweeter, gentler, less offensive performer than José Monserrate Feliciano García, best known simply as José Feliciano? Born blind due to congenital glaucoma, he took up the acoustic guitar at the age of nine. Blessed with a clean, flexible, extremely attractive voice, he began performing professionally in 1962, at the age of 17. In 1963 he was “discovered” while performing at Gerde’s Folk City in Greenwich Village and was immediately signed by RCA Victor, which released his first single (that is, a 45-rpm record) in 1964. He had his first million seller in 1968, when RCA released a 45-rpm of Feliciano singing Michelle and John Phillips’ California Dreamin’ on side “A” and the Doors’ Light My Fire on side “B”. 1968 was indeed a career year for Feliciano; he took home two Grammy Awards that year, one for Best New Artist and one for Best Pop Male Performance. He had, at the age of 23, achieved international stardom as “an innovative crossover artist with soul, folk and rock influences, infused with a substantial Latin flair.”



Ernie Harwell (1918-2010) in 1966



His fame peaking, Feliciano was invited to sing the national anthem by the Detroit Tigers’ broadcast announcer Ernie Harwell. Feliciano ventured out onto the field with his guide dog and an acoustic guitar. A video of his rendition that day – soulful, deeply expressive and to my ears very beautiful – can be found at the top of this post. No doubt: Feliciano took liberties with the Star-Spangled Banner, although compared to the screeching,]]>
Music History Monday 13:31