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620 Greensboro Avenue
Tuscaloosa, AL, 35401
United States

(205) 752-5515

The mission of the Tuscaloosa Symphony Orchestra is to foster and encourage the appreciation of music through live concert performances and educational programs that are diverse, enriching and of the highest quality.

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Season Further Education

The Tuscaloosa Symphony Orchestra presents our 2017-2018 Season Brilliance: A Celebration of Masters and Masterpieces.  Each concert brings the work of a great master composers to life with a new perspective.  In addition to our orchestral masterworks we will feature many master performers throughout the season in a series of collaborations that will leave you in awe.  Join us for a brilliant season of music as we celebrate some of the greatest masters of past and present!

The Tuscaloosa Symphony Orchestra presents our 2017-2018 Season Brilliance: A Celebration of Masters and Masterpieces.  Each concert brings the work of a great master composers to life with a new perspective.  In addition to our orchestral masterworks we will feature many master performers throughout the season in a series of collaborations that will leave you in awe.  Join us for a brilliant season of music as we celebrate some of the greatest masters of past and present!

 
 
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THE MAJESTY OF BEETHOVEN

MONDAY, September 25, 2017

Beethoven short biography

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) is considered to be one of the most important and prolific composers in Western music, and his name is often synonymous with “legend” or “genius.” The opening notes of his Fifth Symphony and the “Ode to Joy” theme from his Ninth Symphony are recognizable across generations and demographics. To summarize his life and creative output is a tremendous task, but we will touch on some key points here.

Beethoven was born on or around December 16, 1770 in Bonn, Germany. His father, Johann van Beethoven, was a prominent bass singer and eventual Kapellmeister of the Court of the Electorate of Cologne, and also served as young Ludwig’s first music teacher. Johann was a “stage father” of sorts; he saw the success that Leopold Mozart had with his children, including Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and hoped to find the same notoriety with his son. Beethoven’s first public performance on the piano was in 1778.

Soon after this, around 1779, Beethoven found his first true teacher, Christian Gottlob Neefe, the Court’s organist, who taught him the basics of musical composition. In the early to mid-1780s, Beethoven wrote his first works – piano sonatas and keyboard variations. After the death of his mother in 1787, Beethoven’s father descended into alcoholism, and Ludwig was left to look after the family finances. To earn extra money, he played viola in the Court orchestra.

In 1792, Beethoven moved to Vienna to study with the revered composer Franz Joseph Haydn – and he spent the rest of his life in Austria. He found success in Vienna, and completed his first set of string quartets and first symphonies – all of which showed notable influence of Haydn and Mozart - between 1798 and 1802. This compositional era is known as his “Early Period.” It was also around this time that he began to lose his hearing, which he lost completely by the age of 44.

The cause of Beethoven’s deafness remains unknown. It has been attributed to many things, including autoimmune disease, lead poisoning, and even his habit of immersing his head in frigid water in order to stay awake. When he began to lose his hearing around 1802, Beethoven moved to a small town outside Vienna called Heiligenstadt, where he explored coping mechanisms for his deafness and attempted to come to terms with this great change to his livelihood.

He returned to Vienna from Heiligenstadt the next year, and he brought with him a significant change to his compositional style. Most musicologists consider this change indicative of the start of his “Middle Period,” and also a bridge to a more Romantic idiom. His well-known Third Symphony (also called “Eroica”) and only opera, Fidelio, were composed during this period.

Beethoven had many personal difficulties from 1811-1817. His brother, Kasper, died in 1815, and Beethoven started a custody battle with his sister-in-law over his then 9-year-old nephew, Karl. Beethoven eventually got custody after a seemingly endless back-and-forth, but his relationship with Karl was never easy. Almost a decade later, in 1826, Karl attempted suicide. He survived, but soon after left home to join the army, and never saw Beethoven again.

Beethoven’s so-called “Late Period” began around this time, in 1815. Works from this period include the Missa Solemnis, the late string quartets, and his Ninth Symphony. Beethoven’s pieces from this era are known for their depth of emotional intensity and formal innovations. He struggled through many health challenges during the composition of these great works – especially the late string quartets.

After months of being bedridden, Beethoven died on March 26, 1827 at the age of 56. His funeral procession in Vienna three days later was attended by close to 20,000 people.

 

ABOUT THE WORKS

Both works featured in this concert – Symphony no. 4 in B-flat Major and Symphony no. 7 in A Major – are from Beethoven’s Middle Period. This was a time in which Beethoven found himself as a composer, and during which his deafness steadily progressed.

Symphony no. 4 was composed in 1806 and premiered in 1807. It was dedicated to Count Franz von Oppersdorf, who was related to Beethoven’s longtime patron, Prince Lichnowsky. French composer Hector Berlioz, a successor of Beethoven, called the second movement of Symphony no. 4 “the work of the Archangel Michael.” Despite this high praise, the Fourth Symphony is often overshadowed by the symphonies that came before and after it – Symphony no. 3 (Eroica) and Symphony no. 5. In comparison to these heavy, intense works, the Fourth Symphony is light, and even joyful; it is often thought to be more closely related to his first two symphonies.

Symphony no. 7 was composed in 1811-1812, and was premiered in Vienna in late 1813 with Beethoven himself at the podium. The concert was a charity performance for soldiers wounded in the Battle of Hanau (part of the War of the Sixth Coalition). The symphony’s second movement was encored immediately. The entire piece is noted for rhythmic devices throughout that are suggestive of dance, such as dotted rhythms. Richard Wagner once called the piece the “apotheosis of dance.” Beethoven himself supposedly referred to the symphony as “one of my best works,” and critics have mostly revered it, too.

 

BEETHOVEN IN POP CULTURE

Beethoven’s status as a legend and musical genius has made him a popular subject of films, books, and plays – to various degrees of dramatization.

British actor Peter Ustinov wrote and starred in the 1983 play Beethoven’s Tenth, which is often compared to Amadeus – though it did not find even half the level of success.

Beethoven has been a subject of films since the early era of moviemaking, starting with the Life of Beethoven, a 1927 Austrian silent film. 1992’s Beethoven Lives Upstairs, a Canadian made-for-TV movie, won the Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Children’s Program. One of the most well-known films about Beethoven is Immortal Beloved from 1994. Starring Gary Oldman, the biopic deals with determining the identity of a mystery woman – a so-called “immortal beloved” – to whom Beethoven allegedly left his estate, music, and all his affairs in his last will and testament. Most recently, Ed Harris starred in Copying Beethoven in 2006, which dramatizes the final years of Beethoven’s life and focuses on the composition of his Ninth Symphony.

 

CHURCH OF BEETHOVEN

Beethoven and his music continue to inspire people around the globe. Some, like Albuquerque’s Felix Wurman, were inspired spiritually. Wurman was a cellist in the New Mexico Symphony, and he wanted to provide a spiritual and creative outlet for people in the community who did not have a church home. The “Church of Beethoven” had its premiere “service” on February 10, 2008 in the Filling Station, an old Albuquerque gas station that was converted into a theater.

The Church of Beethoven is described as a Sunday variety show of sorts, with poetry readings, group singing, silence, and – of course – musical performance. Admission is free, as churches do not charge admission, either. Performances do not always include Beethoven or even classical music, but they center on what Wurman feels to be the great composer’s spirit. Wurman says, “[Beethoven] poured all that spirituality that he couldn’t find a place for in the traditional church, he poured it straight into his art. And that’s what most of the great creators did. And so I can just go and grab that incredible crystallized piece of beauty and present it to the people.”

Since its beginnings in 2008, the Church of Beethoven now has branches in Tucson, Arizona, Durham, North Carolina, Chicago, Illinois, and Santa Monica, California.

Wurman and his project were featured in an 2008 NPR article: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=97010881&sc=emaf


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SHOUT FOR JOY - Winds and Voice with Chamber Orchestra

MONDAY, November 20, 2017

Hovhaness short biography

Alan Hovhaness (1911-2000) was an American composer who lived and worked during most of the 20th century. His musical output was enormous: he has 67 numbered symphonies and 434 opus numbers.

He was born Alan Vaness Chakmakjian in Somerville, Massachusetts to Haroutioun Hovanes Chakmakjian, an Armenian-born chemistry professor at Tufts University, and Madeleine Scott, an American of Scottish heritage. He legally changed his last name in 1930 after his mother’s death because no one could spell or say “Chakmakjian” correctly.

Young Hovhaness wrote his first piece – a cantata – at age 4. His parents saw his interest in music, and found him piano lessons. He studied piano through his teenage years, but at the age of 14, he decided to focus more on composition. After he graduated high school, he studied composition in Boston at both Tufts University and the New England Conservatory of Music (NEC). He was mostly successful in college, and even piqued the interest of composer Roger Sessions.

In the 1930s and 1940s, Hovhaness burned many of his early works; at least 1000 pieces were destroyed. He attributes this early sense of failure to Sessions’s criticism of his work. This insecurity persisted through the years. In 1942, he won a scholarship to the Tanglewood Festival to study with Czech composer Bohuslav Martinů. There, Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein critiqued his work harshly. Distraught, he left Tanglewood early.

In 1940, he became the organist of St. James Armenian Apostolic Church in Watertown, MA – a position he held for ten years. It was during this time – since he was surrounded by Armenian people and customs – that he became interested in Armenian culture and traditional music. Although he earned the respect of composer John Cage and ballet dancer Martha Graham, his music was sometimes dismissed as being simply “Armenian” or “modern.”

Lousadzak, a concerto for piano and string orchestra that premiered in 1944, was the first of Hovhaness’s pieces to use aleatoric music, or music in which some element is left to chance. Hovhaness himself called this effect “spirit murmuring,” and it became a characteristic of many of his pieces from here forward.

Also around the mid-1940s, Hovhaness took an interest in Indian classical music, and brought many well-known Indian musicians to teach and perform in Boston. He himself learned to play the sitar. He began to develop his philosophy of musical creation, which he expressed in a 1940 application for a Guggenheim fellowship:

“I propose to create a heroic, monumental style of composition simple enough to inspire all people, completely free of fads, artificial mannerisms and false sophistications, direct, forceful, sincere, always original but never unnatural. Music must be freed from decadence and stagnation. There has been too much emphasis on small things while the great truths have been overlooked. The superficial must be dispensed with. Music must become virile to express big things. It is not my purpose to supply a few pseudo-intellectual musicians and critics with more food for brilliant argumentation, but rather to inspire all mankind with new heroism and spiritual nobility.” 

In 1948, Hovhaness joined the faculty of the Boston Conservatory of Music, and taught there until 1951, when he relocated to New York City to focus on being a full-time composer. While in New York, he worked for the U.S. government-sponsored news source Voice of America as a scriptwriter for the Armenian section and director of music for the Near East section. He received a Guggenheim Fellowship in composition in both 1953 and 1954. Between 1951 and 1955, he wrote the score for two NBC documentaries, a ballet for Martha Graham, and the score for the Broadway play The Flowering Peach. His biggest break came in 1955, when the Houston Symphony premiered his Second Symphony (“Mysterious Mountain”), and MGM released recordings of his works.

Between 1959 and 1963, Hovhaness took research trips to India, Hawai’i, Japan, and South Korea in order to expand his knowledge of different kinds of traditional music, including Japanese gagaku music. In 1965, he went to Russia, Georgia, and Armenia on a U.S. government-sponsored tour – which ended up being the only time he ever visited Armenia.

In the early 1970s, Hovhaness relocated to Seattle and stayed there until he died in 2000. Between 1973 and 1992, he stayed very musically active, writing 37 new symphonies and many other symphonic and chamber works.

 

About Prayer of St. Gregory

Hovahness’s “Prayer of St. Gregory” was written during his early years in Boston, before he worked at the Boston Conservatory, but after he solidified his musical style with the concerto Lousadzak in 1944. Some scholars have called this era his “Armenian” period. It was premiered in New York City in October of 1946. Originally, it was an interlude from his opera Etchmiadzin. Hovhaness called it a “prayer in darkness.”

The subject is St. Gregory “The Illuminator,” the patron saint of the Armenian Apostolic Church, who was imprisoned for twelve years while trying to bring Christianity to Armenia in the early 4th century. It is modal, dark, and chorale-like. The gentle trumpet melody unfolds over understated string chords. The piece makes use of silence for dramatic effect, as Gregory’s cries fade into darkness.

 

About Siegfried Idyll and Wagner’s aesthetic

Richard Wagner (1813-1883) was a German composer best known for his operatic works. Wagner was unique among composers of his time because he also wrote the libretti, or lyrics, to his operas. He became associated with a German term called Gesamtkunstwerk, or “total work of art,” which is what he aspired to in his compositions. The Gesamtkunstwerk aimed to synthesize visual, poetic, musical, and dramatic arts. He is best known for his 4-opera set, the Ring Cycle (Der Ring des Nibelungen), and for building his own opera house at Bayreuth in Germany. The Bayreuth Festival, which Wagner began at the end of his life to showcase his own works, continues annually to this day.

Siegfried Idyll is a symphonic poem originally conceived for 13 musicians. Wagner composed it as a birthday present for his second wife, Cosima, after their son, Siegfried, was born in 1869. It premiered privately in Wagner’s villa, Triebschen, in Lucerne, Switzerland, on Christmas morning in 1870. He set up the musicians on the staircase leading up to Cosima’s bedroom. Cosima herself wrote in her diary about the performance:

“When I woke up I heard a sound, it grew even louder, I could no longer imagine myself in a dream, music was sounding, and what music! After it had died away, Richard came to me with the five children and put into my hands the score of his ‘symphonic birthday greeting.’ I was in tears, but so, too, was the whole household; Richard had set up his orchestra on the stairs and thus consecrated our Tribschen forever! The Tribschen Idyll – so the work is called…”

Wagner intended the work to remain private. Its original title is Tribschen Idyll with Fidi’s birdsong and the orange sunrise, as symphonic birthday greeting. (Fidi was the nickname for their son, Siegfried.) However, he, to Cosima’s dismay, sold the piece to Schott for in 1878. In order to make it more marketable, he expanded it from 13 to 35 players.

Siegfried Idyll is unique in Wagner’s output. It remains one of his only purely orchestra works that is regularly played today. Additionally, Wagner used some of the material from Idyll in his 1876 Ring Cycle operas Siegfried and Götterdämmerung (in the “Siegfried’s Rhine Journey” section).

The TSO will present the chamber orchestra version of Siegfried Idyll.

 

About Bach cantatas and “Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen”

Cantata, which means “sung” in Italian, is typically a multi-movement vocal work with instrumental accompaniment, and often involves choir. Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) is the best-known composer of cantatas. He wrote hundreds of them – and at least 209 of them have survived. The earliest known Bach cantata was written in 1707, but most of them are from the years he spent as cantor of the main churches in Leipzig, Germany – Thomaskirche and Nikolaikirche – starting in 1723. Sometimes, Bach would complete a full cantata every week, as the works were related to the cycle of the liturgical calendar.

Generally, Bach’s cantatas followed a 6-movement structure: Opening chorus – Recitative – Aria – Recitative or Arioso – Aria – Chorale. However, he did not always follow a specific structure. His main goal was to set the texts in the most expressive way possible.

“Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen” (“Shout for joy to God in all lands”) is Bach’s only cantata scored for solo soprano and trumpet, and is one of only four cantatas involving solo soprano voice. It is unique because it was, according to Bach’s own inscription, written for general use and not necessarily for a specific day in the liturgical calendar. He himself used it for the 15th Sunday after Trinity, and it premiered on September 17, 1730 in Leipzig. The text is from an unknown poet, but it uses various Biblical books, especially the book of Psalms. It is in 5 movements: Aria – Recitative – Aria – Chorale – Final Chorus.

 

About Concerto Grosso and Corelli

“Concerto grosso” means “ big concerto” in Italian, and is an orchestral piece consisting of musical material passed between a group of soloists (“concertino”) and orchestra (“ripieno” or “concerto grosso”). It was developed in the late 17th century. The first major composer to use the term was Archangelo Corelli. Corelli (1653-1713) was also a very well-known violinist who was active in Rome.

Op. 6, which includes the “Christmas Concerto,” is a set of 12 concerti grossi, arranged for publication after Corelli’s death in 1714. The first eight were composed for the church (including the Christmas Concerto) and the second four were intended as concert pieces. The Christmas Concerto was intended for a Christmas Eve service, and may have had its premiere in 1690. It is in six movements.

 

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ANNUAL TSO CHRISTMAS CELEBRATION

MONDAY, December 18, 2017

 


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DIAMONDS ARE A GIRL’S BEST FRIEND

MONDAY, February 12, 2018

Puccini short biography

Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924) was one of the foremost opera composers of the Romantic and modern periods, and is widely considered to be the greatest opera composer after Verdi. He was born in Lucca, Italy in 1858 as “Giacomo Antonio Domenica Michele Secondo Maria Puccini.” He came from a long line of important musicians in Lucca. His great-great grandfather was maestro di cappella of the Cathedral of San Martina, and all the generations who followed him studied music at Bologna in order to compose music for the church. His great-grandfather, grandfather, and father all served as maestro di cappella, and his father wrote one opera. His father died when Puccini was only six years old, so he was too young to take over the maestro role.

Puccini received general and musical training at the seminary of San Michele in Lucca, and received a diploma from the Pacini School of Music in 1880. He received a scholarship to complete his studies at the Milan Conservatory, where he was roommates with fellow opera composer Pietro Mascagni. He wrote the instrumental Capriccio Sinfonica in 1883 as a thesis composition at the Conservatory. One of his professors, Amilcare Ponchielli, upon noting the vocal style of the piece, suggested that his next work be an opera. Ponchielli introduced him to a young librettist, Fernando Fontana, who collaborated with Puccini on his first opera, Le Villa, which was first performed in 1883.

Giulio Ricordi, who was the head of the prominent Ricordi music publishers, was impressed with Le Villa and commissioned Puccini to write another opera. This was Edgar, also written with Fontana, and was premiered in 1889. Reviews were mixed – mostly due to the libretto – and Puccini revised it several times (a practice he continued throughout his career). For his next work, Manon Lescaut, Puccini vowed to write his own libretto. Ricordi persuaded him to collaborate with someone and Puccini agreed – but remained very selective. Five librettists ended up contributing to Manon, which premiered in 1893. It was very successful. George Bernard Shaw noted that Puccini looked like “an heir to Verdi.”

The lauded La boheme (based on the 1851 novel by French writer Henri Murger) was Puccini’s next work, premiering in 1896 with Toscanini conducting/ It remains one of the most frequently performed operas of all times. However, Puccini struggled financially during its composition, and noted that his situation at the time of its creation mirrored the struggles of some of the characters in the story.

Tosca, which premiered in 1900, is considered to be his first opera in the verismo style – or an opera that aims to depict life realistically, including violence. Tosca is more through-composed (instead of set pieces and arias) than some of his earlier works, and uses Wagner-like musical signatures (“leitmotivs”) to weave sections together.

On February 25, 1903, Puccini, along with his wife and son, was in a horrific car accident. He barely survived, and his progress on his next work, Madama Butterfly, was significantly impaired. It eventually premiered almost a year later in 1904 at La Scala. Typical of Puccini, it went through many revisions, and the fifth version is what is most often heard today.

After 1904, Puccini composed and published much less often. His longtime librettist and friend, Giuseppe Giacosa, died, his wife accused him of having an affair, and his longtime supporter and publisher, Ricordi, died as well. However, he still completed several large works up until his death. In 1910, La fanciulla del West premiered. 1916’s La rondine was originally conceived as an operetta, but Puccini ended up ridding the work of spoken words parts. In 1918, Il trittico premiered, which was a set of three one-act operas: a horrific happening (Il tabarro), a tragedy (Suor Angelica), and a comedy (Gianni Schicchi). His final opera, Turandot, was left unfinished at the time of his death. It was finished by composer Franco Alfano, and premiered at La Scala in 1926.

Throughout his life, Puccini remained indifferent to politics (he did not take a stance during World War I, for instance), and preferred to stay out of the public eye. From 1891 onward, he spent most of his time in a small town outside of Lucca called Torre del Lago. He had a love of cars and hunting, and he could indulge his interests there without disturbance from the public. He built a residence in Torre del Lago in 1900 called Villa Musea Puccini, where he and his family lived until 1921.

Puccini was diagnosed with throat cancer in 1923, and died in November of 1924. News of his death reached Rome during a performance of La boheme, which was halted in his honor.

 

Puccini’s style/about Verismo opera

Puccini is generally considered to be a composer of the late Romantic style. He is often grouped into what is called the giovane scuola (“young school”) with other post-Verdi Italian composers who graduated from the Milan Conservatory around the same time, such as Pietro Mascagni, Ruggero Leoncavallo, and Umberto Giordano. However, Puccini was always trying to refresh his style, both over time and within specific works; he was known to update and revise his operas many times. He also often used outside music in his operas – such as his integration of Chinese folk themes in Turandot.

Most of his operas have at least one set piece that can work as a stand-alone aria in concert performances. As his career progressed, though, he moved away from this “set piece” style of writing and worked toward a more through-composed style. This coincided with the verismo opera movement.

Verismo is a style of Italian opera that began around 1890 with Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticano; it reached its height in the early 1900s, and stretched into the 1920s. Other composers from the giovane scuola also wrote in this style. Verismo opera has its roots in the Italian verismo literary movement, which itself is an extension of the international Naturalism movement. Composers of verismo works attempt to portray a more realistic version of life, including the violent events and struggles experienced by the lower classes. It rejects the mythical subjects common to Romanticism.

Musically, verismo operas do not follow a recitative-set piece structure, and are generally more through-composed. Arias do exist, but arise naturally from the dramatic surroundings and do not stand alone as well as arias from earlier operas.

Puccini’s career fell right into the time when verismo was most popular in Italian opera, as only two of his operas were premiered before Cavalleria rusticano. Some musicologists consider him to be a purely verismo composer, starting with Tosca in 1900, but others believe he followed more of a hybrid model. Generally, though, Puccini is considered to be part of the movement, and perhaps even the prime example of a verismo composer.

 

About Baubles, Bangles, and Beads

“Baubles, Bangles, and Beads” is a song from the 1953 musical Kismet, which was adapted from the music of Russian Romantic composer Alexander Borodin. It won the Tony Award for Best Musical in 1954. The music and lyrics were co-written/adapted by Robert Wright and George Forrest.

“Baubles” is adapted from a theme in the second movement of Borodin’s famous String Quartet in D (1881). Peggy Lee released the most well-known and best-selling version in 1954. The song has also been recorded by Frank Sinatra, the Kirby Stone Four, Julie Andrews, Marlene Dietrich, and Tuscaloosa’s own Dinah Washington.

 

ANNUAL DISCOVERY DAY – DANCING MUSICAL CHARACTERS

ANNUAL FAMILY DISCOVERY CONCERT

FRIDAY, March 5, 2018

Britten short biography

Benjamin Britten (1913-1975) was an English composer, conductor, and pianist best known for his operatic and vocal works. He was born in Suffolk, England on November 22, 1913, and was the youngest of four children. He was born into a middle-class family, and was the only one of the family to show any musical prowess. His mother recognized his interest at a young age, and had him begin piano lessons at age 7, and viola lessons at age 10. She hoped that he would become “the fourth B” of great composers – the other three being Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms.

Britten went to prep school in the town of Lowestoft. While there, he witnessed a good deal of corporal punishment, and he believes that this influenced his later staunch pacifist philosophy. When he was a teenager, he began composition lessons with the prominent composer Frank Bridge. He won a scholarship to the Royal College of Music (RCM) in 1930, where he studied composition with John Ireland and piano with Arthur Benjamin until 1933. However, he continued to study privately with Bridge, as he was dissatisfied with the instruction he received there, despite winning many prizes in composition.

His first works to gain critical and public attention were his Sinfonietta (1932) and A Boy Was Born (1934), written for the BBC singers. In 1935, the BBC approached Britten to write a score to a film, The King’s Stamp. It was through this work in film that he met the writer W.H. Auden, who became a key collaborator in the coming years. They worked together on the song cycle Our Hunting Fathers (1936) and the operetta Paul Bunyan (1941) in addition to several BBC films. Auden helped Britten to expand his political and intellectual horizons, and introduced him to other young artists in England and beyond.

In 1937, Britten met the tenor Peter Pears, who would become his life and professional partner. Britten wrote a number of works for Pears, and they also gave many performances together throughout their lifetimes. In April of 1939, Britten and Pears moved to North America, eventually settling in New York City. Britten was against World War II, and had heard from Auden, who had moved to the U.S. earlier that year, that it was a better place for pacifists and artists. While in America, Britten wrote several key works, including the Violin Concerto and the Sinfonia da requiem, which was premiered by the New York Philharmonic.

In 1942, Britten read The Borough, a collection of poems by George Crabbe, and the images and content in the book made him homesick for England. So, he and Pears moved back, and registered as conscientious objectors to World War II. The content of Crabbe’s work inspired his first full-length opera, Peter Grimes, which premiered in 1945 to great critical acclaim, and positioned Britten as one of the most successful British opera composers since Henry Purcell (1659-1695).

Also in 1945, The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, arguably his most well-known and popular work, premiered. It was written for an educational film called The Instruments of the Orchestra. Shortly thereafter, he composed his second and third operas, The Rape of Lucretia (1946) and Albert Herring (1947). Around this time, Britten and Pears moved from London to Aldeburgh in East Suffolk, and began the preliminary work on starting a music festival. In 1948, the first annual Aldeburgh Festival occurred. It continues to this day, and focuses on the music of British composers.

During the 1950s, Britten composed even more operas: Billy Budd (1951), Gloriana (1953 – for the coronation of Elizabeth II), and The Turn of the Screw (1954). He took a trip to East Asia in 1956, where he was inspired by the traditional music he heard and observed. He used what he had learned from watching Japanese noh plays and from seeing a Balinese gamelan in his work throughout the 1960s.

In 1962, he was commissioned to write a work for the opening of a newly-built cathedral in Coventry, England. The original Coventry Cathedral was destroyed during World War II. The result was what is considered to be his watershed work: the War Requiem. It features the Latin Requiem Mass side-by-side with settings of English World War I poet Wilfred Owen, and is a plea for peace amid suffering.

In 1970, Britten began work on what was to be his final opera, Death in Venice, based on the novella by Thomas Mann. During the process, he learned that he had to have heart surgery to repair a defective valve. He completed the work in 1973 right before he entered the hospital. During surgery, he suffered a stroke, which greatly affected his right hand. It was now much more difficult for him to conduct, play the piano, and write music. Despite this setback, he continued to write music for the next two years, including his final String Quartet and Phaedra, both completed in 1975. Britten died of heart failure on December 4, 1975.

 

About The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra

Britten’s The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra is subtitled “Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Henry Purcell,” and is based on the second movement, “Rondeau,” of Purcell’s Abdelazer suite. It was commissioned for an educational film featuring the London Symphony Orchestra called The Instruments of the Orchestra in 1945. It was conducted by Malcolm Sargent and narrated by Britten’s longtime collaborator and librettist Eric Crozier.

The piece is scored for a full symphony orchestra, and is intended to show off the tone and unique qualities of the different families of instruments. The Purcell theme is played by the entire orchestra first, and then is broken down into the different instrument groups during the variations. The groups are then put back together, gradually, in a fugue.

The Young Person’s Guide remains Britten’s most-performed work, and is one of the most popular pieces played on family and children’s concerts. It is also used in many film soundtracks. Most recently, it was prominently featured in Wes Anderson’s 2012 movie, Moonrise Kingdom alongside other works by Britten.

 

Benjamin Britten and music for children

Throughout his life, Britten dedicated himself to educating young people, and wrote a number of works intended to be heard and performed by children. Aside from his most famous Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, he wrote two operas intended for child performers: The Little Sweep (1949) and Noye’s Fludde (1958), which is based on the biblical story of Noah.

Many of his other works feature children’s or boys’ choir alongside the orchestra, traditional choir, or within an opera. Those pieces include: Spring Symphony (1949), Canticle II: Abraham and Isaac (1952), The Turn of the Screw (1954), Missa Brevis (1959), War Requiem (1962), Voices for Today (1965), and The Golden Vanity (1966). Britten was also drawn to operatic subject matter concerning the loss of innocence of children as they mature into adults. Child characters are also prominently featured in many of his operas and stage works.

 

About Theme and Variations form

Theme and Variations is a musical form in which original or borrowed material (the theme) is repeated in an altered form (variations). Composers can manipulate the theme in a number of ways. They can vary the rhythm, the melody, the tempo, and even the tonality (it can move from major to minor, for instance). Sometimes, the theme is original, as in Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations and sometimes it is a borrowed theme from another composer such as Johannes Brahms’s Variations on a Theme of Joseph Haydn or Britten’s Young Person’s Guide.

Examples of variation form date from before the Baroque period, and is thought to have first emerged in the 16th century in a piece by Luis de Narváez from 1538 called Diferencias. Later examples of variation form are Bach’s Goldberg Variations, the finale of Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet, and the final movement of Beethoven’s Third Symphony (“Eroica”). Franz Schubert was known to write variations on his own songs, most notably in the String Quartet “Death and the Maiden” and in the “Trout” String Quintet. It continues to be a popular form to this day.

 

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MUSICAL BRILLIANCE – THE PHENOMENAL STEWART GOODYEAR

MONDAY, May 7, 2018

Gunther Schuller short biography

Gunther Schuller (1925-2015) was an American composer, conductor, and French horn player who also had a career as a jazz musician, author, and arts administrator. He was born in Queens, New York City to German immigrant parents. His father was a violinist in the New York Philharmonic, so Gunther was exposed to classical music from a very young age. During his formative years, he studied French horn and flute in the precollege division at the Manhattan School of Music, but dropped out of high school to perform professionally. By the age of 15, he played horn with the American Ballet Theatre and soon thereafter, he won the principal horn position with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.

During his time at the Cincinnati Symphony in the 1940s, Schuller heard Duke Ellington in concert, and this sparked a keen and even obsessive interest in jazz music. In 1949-1950, he recorded with Miles Davis, and in 1959, he founded the Modern Jazz Society with pianist John Lewis. During a lecture at Brandeis University in 1957, he coined the term “Third Stream” to define a musical genre that combines classical and jazz idioms, including improvisation. This style was a key part of Schuller’s aesthetic throughout his career. Works utilizing the Third Stream philosophy include Transformation for jazz ensemble (1957), Abstraction for nine instruments (1959), Variations on a Theme of Thelonius Monk for 13 instruments (1960), and Seven Studies on Themes of Paul Klee (1959).

In 1959, Schuller gave up performing in order to devote his time to composition, teaching, and writing. During the 1960s and 1970s, he was President of the New England Conservatory of Music. From 1970-1984, he was Artistic Director of the Boston Symphony’s Tanglewood Center, and, while there, created the Tanglewood Festival of Contemporary Music. His interest in jazz continued, and he also served as Co-director of the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra and editor-in-chief of Jazz Masterworks Editions.

From 1993 until his death, he was Artistic Director of the Northwest Bach Festival in Spokane, Washington, and appeared as a guest conductor in cities around the country. He continued to compose until the end of his life. In 2009, the Boston Symphony Orchestra premiered his orchestral work, Where the World Ends. He died on June 21, 2015 at the age of 89.

Although he never earned any formal degree in his lifetime, Schuller was the recipient of ten honorary degrees from various institutions. He won the MacArthur Genius Grant in 1991, and won the 1994 Pulitzer Prize in composition for his piece, Of Reminiscences and Reflections for the Louisville Orchestra. He also won two Grammy Awards – for Best Album Notes (1976) and Best Chamber Music Performance, as conductor of the New England Conservatory Ragtime Ensemble (1974). He is the author of seven books, including works on conducting, horn technique, and jazz history.

Schuller and Miles Davis recording (Deception): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2F2suRc9iLU

 

About Seven Studies on Themes of Paul Klee

In 1959, Gunther Schuller quit performing to focus solely on composition and teaching. Seven Studies was one of the first works to come out of this period of new productivity. It was commissioned for the Minneapolis Symphony, and is an attempt to find musical equivalents for seven paintings by the Swiss modernist painter Paul Klee (1879-1940).

Schuller wrote, “Each of the seven pieces bears a slightly different relationship to the original Klee picture from which it stems. Some relate to actual design, shape, or color scheme of painting, while others take the general mode of the picture or its title as a point of departure.”

Schuller coined the term “Third Stream” in 1957 to describe a hybrid musical genre combining classical and jazz idioms. Seven Studies on Themes of Paul Klee is probably his most popular work in this style.

Interview with Schuller about Seven Studies: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p4yW_IcntYE

 

Classical music and visual arts

Visual artists have been inspiring composers for centuries. Aside from Gunther Schuller’s Seven Studies on Themes of Paul Klee, here are some examples of works written in response to paintings and other visual art.

Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 opera The Rake’s Progress was based on the story told in the William Hogarth (1697-1764) collection A Rake’s Progress. Franz Lizst’s 1857 symphonic poem Hunnenschlacht was inspired by a work of the same name by German muralist Wilhelm von Kaulbach (1805-1874). Paul Hindemith’s symphony Mathis der Maler (1934) was based on the tableau paintings of German Renaissance painter Matthias Grünewald (1470-1528). Perhaps most famous is Modest Mussorgsky’s 1874 piano work Pictures at an Exhibition (along with Ravel’s more well-known 1922 orchestration), which is inspired by a series of watercolors and sketches by Russian architect and painter Viktor Hartmann (1834-1873).

YouTube Links:

Hindemith: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kqVSuAcMahM

Schuller: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v7jpI-DQEXs

Mussorgsky: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CPnPJ9mcwWQ

 

About Debussy’s Ibéria

“Ibéria” is part of an orchestra triptych by French composer Claude Debussy (1862-1918) called Images pour orchestre, and was written between 1905 and 1912. It was intended to be a sequel to Images for solo piano (1901-1907), and Debussy originally conceived it for two pianos. However, he ultimately decided that the colors he wanted to express would be better suited for the orchestra.

Of the three pieces in the collection – Gigues, Ibéria, and Rondes des printemps – Ibéria is the most popular. Formally, it has three sections, and is a triptych within the larger triptych. The three sections are titled:

i. Par les rues et par les chemins (Through the streets and the paths)

ii. Les parfums de la nuit (The fragrance of the night)

iii. Le matin d’un jour de fête (The morning of a festival day)

Ibéria is inspired by impressions of Spain, but these impressions came purely from Debussy’s imagination; he had spent no more than a few hours in the country.

Debussy is often referred to as an “impressionist” composer. In this piece, though, Debussy said that he was “trying to achieve something different – an effect of reality.” Was he trying to move away from “impressionistic” images? Spanish composer Manuel de Falla seems to believe that impressionism prevailed: “The echoes from the villages, a kind of sevillana – the generic theme of the work – which seems to float in a clear atmosphere of scintillating light; the intoxicating spell of Andalusian mights, the festive gaiety of a people dancing to the joyous strains of a banda of guitars and bandurrias…all this whirls in the air, approaches and recedes, and our imagination is continually kept awake and dazzled by the power of an intensely expressive and richly varied music.”

 

About Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concert no. 2

This giant in the piano concerto repertoire was written by late Romantic Russian composer and pianist Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943) in 1901. It premiered with Rachmaninoff at the piano and his cousin, Alexander Siloti, conducting.

Critics panned his First Symphony in 1897, and Rachmaninoff fell into a deep depression as a result. He turned to daily hypnotherapy with a doctor named Nikolai Dahl and found it very effective. Afterwards, he traveled to the Mediterranean to recover for a few months, and returned to Russia with a collection of new musical creations – including the second piano concerto. Rachmaninoff dedicated the work to Dahl to show his gratitude.

The concerto was a huge critical success, and has been one of the staples of the Romantic piano repertoire ever since. In fact, it is so popular that non-classical musicians have used it in their work. Frank Sinatra’s 1945 song “Full Moon and Empty Arms” (written by Buddy Kaye) uses the last movement of the concerto, and Muse’s 2001 song “Space Dementia” takes themes from the first movement. Additionally, it has been used in a number of film scores, including Billy Wilder’s The Seven Year Itch (1955) and Clint Eastwood’s Hereafter (2010).

Sinatra: Full Moon and Empty Arms: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dKsdCtsRczY