Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Music History Monday: Isaac Albéniz

Isaac Albéniz (1860-1909) in 1901
Isaac Albéniz (1860-1909) in 1901

On May 29, 1860 – 163 years ago today – the composer and pianist Isaac Albéniz was born in Camprodón, Spain.  Albéniz was a brilliant pianist and, as evidenced by his 12-movement suite for piano entitled Iberia (written between 1905-1909), a composer of genius.  

However, before we can get to Maestro Albéniz, I would beg your indulgence while we celebrate this remarkable day in music history!

Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1893-1957) in 1934
Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1893-1957) in 1934

Also born on this date was the Austrian-American composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold, who came into this world in 1893 in Brno, in what today is the Czech Republic; he died in Los Angeles in 1957.  The Romanian-born Greek composer Iannis Xenakis was born on this day in 1922 in Brâila, Romania; he died in Paris in 2001.  The American singer, songwriter, and composer Danny Elfman was born on this day in 1953; the singer LaToya Jackson in 1956; and the Academy Award and Grammy Award winning singer and songwriter Melissa Etheridge in 1961.

Sadly but not unexpectedly, notable people from the world of music passed away on this date as well.  

Mily Balakirev (1837-1910) circa 1908
Mily Balakirev (1837-1910) circa 1908

May 29,1910, saw the death of Mily Balakirev in St. Petersburg;he was 73 years old.

On this day in 1911, the poet and librettist William S. Gilbert (of Gilbert and Sullivan fame) left this vale of tears at the age of 74.  On this day in 1935, the Czech violinist and composer Joseph Suk died at the age of 61; and on May 29, 2005, the American composer George Rochberg died at 86.

Philip Kramer (1952-1995)
Philip Kramer (1952-1995)

Here’s a particularly grim date-related item.  On May 29, 1999 – 24 years ago today – a group of photographers looking for old car wrecks to photograph at the bottom of Decker Canyon near Malibu, California, found a bit more than they bargained for: a wrecked car tricked out with its own skeletal remains still inside.  Those remains belonged to Philip Kramer, the former bassist with Iron Butterfly, who had disappeared four years before, on February 12, 1995.  His death was eventually ruled a suicide.  

Sticking with grim, May 29 also marks the 326th anniversary of the assassination of the 44-year-old Italian castrato Giovanni Grossi (known popularly as “Siface”).  One of the most famous singers of the entire Baroque era, Siface met his end on May 29, 1697, on the road between Bologna and Ferrara at the hands of “bravi” (meaning thugs/muscle) in the employ of a nobleman with whose wife Siface had had a . . . liaison. So much for the erroneous perception that those without balls cannot have a ball.  (A crude statement, yes, but physiologically accurate).

And still May 29 is a gift that keeps on giving!

On May 29, 1942, Bing Crosby recorded Irving Berlin’s White Christmas.  Crosby’s recording won an Oscar for “Best Song” and sold over 50 million copies world-wide.  The link provided transits to Der Bingle and Marjorie Reynolds introducing White Christmas inthe movie Holiday Inn (1942).

But wait!  There’s more!  Because on May 29, 1913, 110 years ago today, the most famous riot in Western music history broke out during the first performance of Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring at Paris’ Théâtre des Champs-Élysées.  (The riot was the topic of Music History Monday on May 29, 2017.)

Okay; deep, cleansing breath.  It is time to talk about Isaac Albéniz and his supreme masterwork, his 12-movement suite for solo piano entitled Iberia.  As happens not infrequently here on these august pages, our exploration of Albéniz’ life, his Spanish heritage, and the impact of that heritage on the creation and content of Iberia will take us through both today’s Music History Monday and tomorrow’s Dr. Bob Prescribes post.…

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