Tag Archives: Composers

Philip Glass, Composer

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Intricate photographic thread tapestry portrait of Philip Glass by his friend, Chuck Close; Phoenix Art Museum

In the 1970s when I was a young woman hearing Philip Glass’ music for the first time, I didn’t like it. The repetitiveness of it bored me, then bothered me.

That all changed on June 4, 2016, when a friend and I went to a Phoenix Symphony concert where Glass’ The Secret Agent was performed. I didn’t expect to like it. Instead, it was my favorite piece on the program, one that I frequently now seek out.

In researching today’s post, I read a fascinating and detailed article on Wikipedia. Rather than try to paraphrase it, I have pulled out a few interesting segments; if you want more information on Philip Glass, I direct you to that link above.

Philip Glass was born January 31, 1937. He is an accomplished pianist and one of the most influential American composers of the late 20th century through today. Glass’s work has been described as minimalism, being built up from repetitive phrases and shifting layers.

Glass founded the Philip Glass Ensemble, with which he still performs on keyboards.

You may just want this music playing in the background as you work today:

He was the son of Lithuanian-Jewish emigrants. His father owned a record store and his mother was a librarian. At the end of World War II his mother aided Jewish Holocaust survivors, inviting recent arrivals to America to stay at their home until they could find a job and a place to live.  She developed a plan to help them learn English and acquire skills they would need for work.

Glass inherited his appreciation of music from his father, who often received promotional copies of new recordings at his music store. He spent many hours listening to them, developing his knowledge and taste in music. This openness to modern sounds affected Glass at an early age. He wrote in his memoir, “My father was self-taught, but he ended up having a very refined and rich knowledge of classical, chamber, and contemporary music. Typically he would come home and have dinner, and then sit in his armchair and listen to music until almost midnight. I caught on to this very early, and I would go and listen with him.”

Glass built a sizable record collection from the unsold records in his father’s store, including modern classical music such as Hindemith, Bartók, Schoenberg, Shostakovich and Western classical music including Beethoven’s string quartets and Schubert’s B♭ Piano Trio. Glass cites Schubert as a “big influence” growing up, his favorite composer, and by coincidence, shares his birthday with him.

At the age of 15, he entered an accelerated college program at the University of Chicago where he studied mathematics and philosophy. In Chicago he discovered the serialism of Anton Webern and composed a twelve-tone string trio. In 1954 Glass traveled to Paris, where he encountered the films of Jean Cocteau, which made a lasting impression on him. He visited artists’ studios and saw their work; he said, “the bohemian life you see in [Cocteau’s] Orphée was the life I … was attracted to, and those were the people I hung out with.”

Glass studied at the Juilliard School of Music where the keyboard was his main instrument. One of his fellow students was another favorite composer of mine, musical satirist Peter Schickele (aka PDQ Bach).

In 1964, Glass received a Fulbright Scholarship; his studies in Paris with the eminent composition teacher Nadia Boulanger, from autumn of 1964 to summer of 1966, influenced his work throughout his life, as the composer admitted in 1979: “The composers I studied with Boulanger are the people I still think about most—Bach and Mozart.”

His distinctive style arose in part from Ravi Shankar’s perception of rhythm in Indian music as being entirely additive. Glass renounced all his compositions in a moderately modern style resembling Milhaud’s, Aaron Copland’s, and Samuel Barber’s, and began writing pieces based on repetitive structures of Indian music and a sense of time influenced by Samuel Beckett.

Despite being an accomplished musician and composer, in the early years he did not completely support himself from his art. In addition to his music career, Glass had a moving company with his cousin, the sculptor Jene Highstein, and also worked as a plumber and cab driver (during 1973 to 1978). He remembers installing a dishwasher and looking up from his work to see an astonished Robert Hughes, Time magazine’s art critic, staring at him.

Though he finds the term minimalist inaccurate to describe his later work, Glass does accept this term for pieces up to and including Music in 12 Parts, excepting this last part which “was the end of minimalism” for Glass. As he pointed out: “I had worked for eight or nine years inventing a system, and now I’d written through it and come out the other end.” He now prefers to describe himself as a composer of “music with repetitive structures”.

Here is more music to run in the background as you work:

Glass composed his first violin concerto with his father in mind: “His favorite form was the violin concerto, and so I grew up listening to the Mendelssohn, the Paganini, the Brahms concertos. … So when I decided to write a violin concerto, I wanted to write one that my father would have liked.”

Philip Glass’ body of work includes numerous operas and musical theatre works, twelve symphonies, eleven concertos, eight string quartets and various other chamber music, and film scores. Three of his film scores, Kundun (1997), The Hours (2002), and Notes on a Scandal (2006), were nominated for Academy Awards; in 1998 he won the Golden Globe for best original score for The Truman Show.

Fun fact: Glass is the first cousin once removed of Ira Glass, host of the radio show This American Life.

Tchaikovsky

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TchaikovskyPyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (May 7, 1840—November 6, 1893) was the first Russian composer to achieve international recognition.

Though musical from a young age, his parents encouraged him to study law so that he could enter the more lucrative profession of civil service. To please them, he spent nine years at the Imperial School of Jurisprudence, and worked in the Ministry of Justice for four years while studying music on the side. In 1863, he resigned from civil service and became a professor of harmony at the Moscow Conservatory.

Tchaikovsky was greatly influenced by Russian folk music, but also by the Western music he studied while at the St. Petersburg Conservatory.

In 1876, Nadezhda von Meck, the widow of a wealthy railroad magnate and an admirer of Tchaikovsky’s music, offered to become his patron. She provided him with a monthly stipend which allowed him to resign from his professorship in 1878 and pursue composition full time. Her only requirement was that they never meet in person. They did, however, maintain an extensive intellectual correspondence that documents their views on topics from religion to politics to creativity.

Tchaikovsky’s body of work includes 169 pieces, including 7 symphonies, 11 operas, 3 ballets, 5 suites, 3 piano concertos, a violin concerto, 11 overtures and single-movement orchestral works, 4 cantatas, 20 choral works, 3 string quartets, a string sextet, and more than 100 songs and piano pieces. Among his most beloved works are his three ballets (Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, and Sleeping Beauty), his Piano Concerto No. 1, the opera Eugene Onegin, and the 1812 Overture.

 

This sweet little hymn for piano is one of my favorites:

You can learn more about Tchaikovsky at Encyclopaedia Britannica and Biography.

Carl Czerny: Pianist, Composer, and Piano Teacher

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Carl Czerny was born in Vienna, Austria, on February 21, 1791, to parents of Czech heritage. His father was an oboist, organist, and pianist. Carl showed musical talent early, beginning to play piano at age three and starting to compose at seven. His father was his first teacher. His first performance, at age nine, was the Mozart Piano Concerto No. 24.

When Czerny was ten, the Czech composer and violinist Wenzel Krumpholz arranged for the boy to meet Ludwig van Beethoven, who asked him to play the Pathetique sonata and Adelaide. He was impressed with the boy’s playing and agreed to take him on as a student. Czerny premiered Beethoven’s first and fifth piano concertos and maintained a friendship with him for the rest of his life.

At age fifteen, Czerny began teaching piano, basing his method on those of Beethoven and Muzio Clementi. His best-known pupil was Franz Liszt, who came to him with weird technique and awkward movements, but also with obvious talent.

After 1840, Czerny worked exclusively on composition, producing many books of piano exercises in addition to solo piano pieces, chamber music, sacred choral music, and symphonic works.

What Lang Lang says about Czerny’s exercises:

Vladimir Horowitz plays Czerny: Rode Variations

Grand Concerto in A minor:

Information for this article came from Wikipedia.

J is for Scott Joplin

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J is for Scott Joplin

Scott Joplin was born on November 24, 1868 into a musical African-American family of railway laborers in Texarkana, Arkansas. Studious and ambitious, he received most of his music education from Julius Weiss, a German-born American Jewish music professor who immigrated to Texas in the late 1860s and was employed as music tutor to a prominent local business family. Impressed by Joplin’s talent, and realizing his family’s dire straits, Weiss taught him from ages 11 to 16, pro bono. Weiss introduced him to folk and classical music, including opera, and helped his mother acquire a used piano. According to Weiss’ wife, Lottie, Joplin never forgot Weiss. In his later years, after achieving fame as a composer, Joplin sent his former teacher “…gifts of money when he was old and ill.”

While in Texarkana, Texas, Joplin formed a vocal quartet and taught mandolin and guitar. During the late 1880s he left his job as a railroad laborer and travelled the American South as an itinerant musician. He soon discovered that there were few opportunities for black pianists. Churches and brothels were among the few options for steady work.

He journeyed to Chicago for the World’s Fair of 1893, which played a major part in making ragtime a national craze.

Joplin moved to Sedalia, Missouri, in 1894 and earned a living there as a piano teacher. Two businessmen from New York published Joplin’s first two works, the songs “Please Say You Will”, and “A Picture of her Face” in 1895. On a visit to Temple, Texas in 1896, three of his pieces were published, including the “Great Crush Collision March”, which commemorated a planned train crash on the Missouri–Kansas–Texas Railroad on September 15 that he may have witnessed. The March was described as an “early essay in ragtime.”

Publication of his “Maple Leaf Rag” in 1899 made him well-known. This piece had a enormous influence on writers of ragtime, a unique style marked by syncopation. It also brought Joplin a steady income for life, though he did not reach this level of success again and frequently had financial problems.

In 1901 Joplin moved to St. Louis, where he continued to compose and regularly performed. He created an opera company of 30 people and produced his first opera, A Guest of Honor, for a national tour. It is not known how many productions were staged, or if this was an all-black production. During the tour, either in Springfield, Illinois, or Pittsburg, Kansas, someone associated with the company stole the box office receipts. Joplin could not meet the company’s payroll or pay for its lodgings at a boarding house.

In 1907, Joplin moved to New York City to find a producer for a new opera. His second opera, Treemonisha, was never fully staged during his lifetime.  In 1911, unable to find a publisher, Joplin undertook the financial burden of publishing Treemonisha himself in piano-vocal format. In 1915, as a last-ditch effort to see it performed, he invited a small audience to hear it at a rehearsal hall in Harlem. Poorly staged and with only Joplin on piano as accompaniment, it was a dismal failure to a public expecting the grand opera popular at that time. The audience, including potential backers, walked out. Afterward, Joplin suffered a breakdown. He was bankrupt, discouraged, and exhausted. Treemonisha went unnoticed and unreviewed.

By 1916, Joplin was suffering from syphilis. In January 1917, he was admitted to Manhattan State Hospital, a mental institution. He died there on April 1 of syphilitic dementia at the age of 48 and was buried in a pauper’s grave that remained unmarked for 57 years.

Joplin’s death marked the end of ragtime per se; over the next several years, it evolved with other styles into jazz and swing.

Joplin first entered my notice when The Sting came out. The movie starred Robert Redford and Paul Newman, and featured Joplin’s rag, “The Entertainer.” His grave at Saint Michaels Cemetery in East Elmhurst was finally given a marker in 1974, the year The Sting won the Oscar for Best Picture.

In 1976, Joplin was posthumously awarded a Pulitzer Prize for his contributions to American music.

Scott Joplin earned the title of the King of Ragtime. During his brief career, he wrote over 100 original ragtime pieces, one ragtime ballet, and two operas.

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Information for this article came from Wikipedia.

Franz Schubert

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Franz Schubert

Franz Peter Schubert (January 31, 1797 –November 19, 1828) was an Austrian composer of the late Classical and early Romantic eras.

Schubert’s gift for music was evident from an early age. His father gave him his first violin lessons and his older brother gave him piano lessons, but Schubert soon exceeded their abilities. In 1808, at the age of eleven, he became a pupil at the Stadtkonvikt school, where he became acquainted with the orchestral music of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. He left the Stadtkonvikt at the end of 1813, and returned home to live with his father, where he began studying to become a schoolteacher; despite this, he continued his studies in composition with Antonio Salieri.

One of Schubert’s most famous lieder (art songs), Der Erlkönig, as a shadow puppet animation, with English translation:

In 1814, Schubert met a young soprano named Therese Grob, daughter of a local silk manufacturer, and wrote several of his liturgical works (including a “Salve Regina” and a “Tantum Ergo”) for her; she was also a soloist in the premiere of his Mass No. 1 (D. 105) in September 1814. Schubert wanted to marry her, but was hindered by the harsh marriage-consent law of 1815 requiring an aspiring bridegroom to show he had the means to support a family.

During the early 1820s, Schubert was part of a close-knit circle of artists and students who had social gatherings together that became known as Schubertiads.

Four of Schubert’s brilliant piano impromptus, opus 90, played by Alfred Brendel:

In 1821, Schubert was granted admission to the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde as a performing member, which helped establish his reputation in Vienna. He gave a concert of his own works to critical acclaim in March 1828, his only such concert in his lifetime. He died eight months later at the age of 31, the cause officially attributed to typhoid fever, but believed by some historians to be syphilis.

Schubert was remarkably prolific, writing over 1,500 works in his short career. The largest number of his compositions are songs for solo voice and piano (roughly 630). He completed seven symphonies, and a large body of music for solo piano.

One of Schubert’s most famous symphonies is No. 8, known as The Unfinished Symphony:

Information for this article came from Wikipedia.

Muzio Clementi

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Muzio Clementi

I know of Clementi mostly because of his piano sonatinas, which are among the classical repertoire for piano students.

But his contributions to the field of music are so much more than just the sonatinas.

Born on January 23, 1752, in Rome, the firstborn of seven children. His father recognized his musical talent early and arranged for music lessons for him. By the time he was 14, he was the parish organist.

Around that time, Sir Peter Beckford of Dorset, England, traveled to Rome, and he heard the young Clementi play. He persuaded Muzio’s parents to allow the boy to come live with him in England to continue his musical studies until he turned 21. During that seven-year period, Clementi practiced harpsichord eight hours a day, learning the works of J.S. Bach, C.P.E. Bach, Handel, Domenico and Allesandro Scarlotti, and Bernardo Pasquini. In 1774, he moved to London.

In 1780 he began a three-year tour of Europe. In Paris, he played for Marie Antoinette. On Christmas Eve of 1781, he participated in a competition with Mozart for the entertainment of Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II and his guests, improvising and playing selections from their own compositions. (The emperor declared it a tie.) Clementi expressed enthusiastic respect for Mozart’s brilliance; Mozart responded with less enthusiasm about Clementi, yet imitated Clementi’s style in a set of variations and borrowed one of Clementi’s themes for the overture for The Magic Flute.

Clementi

Muzio Clementi

Clementi returned to England, and, except for a couple other forays around Europe, spent the rest of his life there, performing on piano, composing, and conducting. In 1798, he took over a music publishing house, and won a contract as sole publisher of Beethoven’s work in England. He also started building pianos, making innovative improvements that are still used today.

Beethoven was a great fan of Clementi’s piano compositions, recommending them to his nephew for study. Clementi was also a piano teacher, and one of his students was John Field, who became a well-known composer in his own right.

Clementi wrote over 100 sonatas for the piano. But I didn’t know he also wrote 20 symphonic works. His most famous, No. 3, is nicknamed The Great National Symphony, because it uses God Save the King as one of its themes.

The Red Priest

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The Red Priest

On March 4, 1678, in Venice, Italy, a little red-headed boy was born, and was immediately baptized by his midwife, though the exact reason for the haste is no longer remembered. It could have been because he was such a sickly little infant; or it could have been due to the earthquake that shook Venice that day.

It’s likely that the condition which afflicted him was asthma, but it didn’t prevent him from exercising his gifts, particularly his musical ones. Fortunately for us, he learned to play the violin and to compose music, because he was Antonio Vivaldi.Vivaldi; the Red Priest

He also studied for the priesthood (possibly the result of a deal made by his mother with God during the ordeal of delivering him in the midst of the earthquake) and he was ordained in 1703. He became known as the Red Priest because of his vivid hair, which ran in his family.

Vivaldi was granted a dispensation from saying daily Mass because of his ill health. Instead of parish work, he accepted the position of Master of violin at an orphanage, Ospedale della Pietá (Devout Hospital of Mercy). The boys at the orphanage learned a trade; the girls studied music, and the most talented were invited to perform with the orphanage’s famous orchestra and chorus. Over the years he was assigned additional musical duties at the orphanage. He was devoted to the girls and composed a large body of work for them, including sacred music, such as this Gloria:

His relationship with the board of directors of the orphanage was often contentious. His contract had to be reviewed and renewed every year, and one year the board voted 7 to 6 against him. Vivaldi freelanced for the year, and the next year the board voted unanimously to hire him back, apparently recognizing his valuable contributions to the girls’ education. Again, lucky for us, because he continued to compose beautiful music for them.

Perhaps Vivaldi’s most famous work is The Four Seasons, a group of four violin concertos. Here is Summer, with soloist Mari Silje Samuelsen:

At the height of his career, Vivaldi received commissions from various European royalty. In addition to more than 60 pieces of sacred music, he also wrote over 500 concertos, 46 operas, 90 sonatas, and assorted sinfonias and chamber music.

In his later years, Vivaldi’s work fell out of fashion, and he fell on hard times. In 1740, he relocated to Vienna, hoping to receive financial support from Emperor Charles VI, but the Emperor died before that could happen. Vivaldi died in poverty on July 28, 1741.

“Cessate, omai cessate” performed by countertenor Andreas Scholl:

This is a “Best of Vivaldi” two-hour playlist. I have embedded it to start with his Concerto for Two Horns. (You can also watch it on Youtube navigating from the description below the screen; then you’ll be able to read the names of the selections. Click “Show More.”)

Franz Schubert

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Franz Schubert

Franz Schubert (January 31, 1797 – November 19,1828) was an Austrian composer of the late Classical and early Romantic eras. Despite his short lifetime, Schubert created a vast quantity of compositions, including more than 600 vocal works (mainly Lieder), seven complete symphonies, sacred music, operas, incidental music and a large body of piano and chamber music. His most famous works include the Piano Quintet in A major, D. 667 (Trout Quintet), the Symphony No. 8 in B minor, D. 759 (Unfinished Symphony), the three last piano sonatas (D. 958–960), the incidental music to the play Rosamunde (D. 797), and the song cycles Die schöne Müllerin (D. 795) and Winterreise (D. 911).

Born in the Himmelpfortgrund suburb of Vienna, Schubert’s musical gifts were evident from an early age. At the age of five, Schubert began to receive regular instruction from his father, and a year later was enrolled at his father’s school. Franz was given piano lessons by his brother Ignaz, but they lasted for a very short time as Franz surpassed him within a few months.

His father gave him his first violin lessons when he was eight years old, training him to the point where he could play easy duets proficiently. Soon after, Schubert became the student of Michael Holzer, organist and choirmaster of the local parish church, who did not give him any real instruction, as the boy already knew anything he tried to teach him. The boy seemed to gain more from an acquaintance with a carpenter’s apprentice who took him to a neighboring piano warehouse where Schubert could practice on better instruments. Franz also played viola in the family string quartet, with his brothers Ferdinand and Ignaz on first and second violin and his father on the cello. Schubert wrote his earliest string quartets for this ensemble.

Young Schubert first came to the attention of Antonio Salieri, then Vienna’s leading musical authority (and rival of Mozart), in 1804, when his vocal talent was recognized. In the meantime, Schubert’s genius began to show in his compositions; Salieri instructed him in music theory and composition.

In November 1808, he entered the Stadtkonvikt (Imperial Seminary) on a choir scholarship. There he was introduced to the overtures and symphonies of Mozart, the symphonies of Joseph Haydn, and the overtures and symphonies of Beethoven, a composer for whom he developed a special admiration.

At the end of 1813, Schubert left the Stadtkonvikt and returned home for teacher training at the St Anna Normal-hauptschule. In 1814, he entered his father’s school as teacher of the youngest pupils. For over two years young Schubert endured the teaching profession for which he cared little. He continued to take private lessons in composition from Salieri, who gave Schubert more actual technical training than any of his other teachers, before they parted ways in 1817. His teaching job and private musical lessons earned him enough money for only his basic needs. Schubert’s unhappiness contributed to his depression, from which he suffered throughout his life.

In 1821, Schubert was granted admission to the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde as a performing member, which helped establish his name among the Viennese citizenry. He gave a concert of his own works to critical acclaim in March 1828, the only time he did so in his career.

Schubert

Franz Schubert by Wilhelm August Rieder

In the midst of this creative activity, his health deteriorated; Schubert confided to some friends that he feared that he was near death. Some of his symptoms matched those of mercury poisoning (mercury was then a common treatment for syphilis, suggesting that Schubert suffered from it). At the beginning of November, he again fell ill, experiencing headaches, fever, swollen joints, and vomiting. He was unable to retain solid food and his condition worsened. Schubert was only 31 years old when he died.

Appreciation of Schubert’s music while he was alive was limited to a relatively small circle of admirers in Vienna, but interest in his work increased significantly in the decades following his death. Felix Mendelssohn, Robert Schumann, Franz Liszt, Johannes Brahms, and other 19th-century composers and performers discovered and championed his works. Today, Schubert is ranked among the greatest composers of the 19th century, and his music continues to be included in popular repertoire.

Brahms

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Brahms

Johannes Brahms was born in Hamburg, Germany, on May 7, 1833, the son of Johann Jakob Brahms, a musician. His father was his first music teacher, instructing him on violin and cello. He studied piano with Otto Friedrich Willibald Cossel, who complained that the boy “could be such a good player, but he will not stop his never-ending composing.” At age 10, Brahms made his debut as a performer in a private concert. Brahms’s parents disapproved of his early efforts as a composer, feeling that he had better career prospects as a performer.

From 1845 to 1848 Brahms studied with Cossel’s teacher, the pianist and composer Eduard Marxsen. Marxsen had been a personal acquaintance of Beethoven and Schubert, and admired the compositions of Mozart, Haydn, and J. S. Bach. Marxsen taught Brahms the works of these composers and ensured that Brahms’ own compositions were grounded in their musical traditions.

In 1850 Brahms met with the Hungarian violinist Ede Reményi and became his accompanist. Reményi introduced Brahms to “gypsy-style” music such as the czardas, which was later to prove the foundation of his most lucrative and popular compositions, the two sets of Hungarian Dances (1869 and 1880).

Johannes Brahms, composer, Romantic, music

Brahms at age 20

In 1853 Brahms and Reményi went on a concert tour. In late May the two visited the violinist and composer Joseph Joachim at Hanover, who had earlier impressed Brahms with his rendition of Beethoven’s violin concerto. Brahms played some of his own solo piano pieces for Joachim, who recalled fifty years later, “Never in the course of my artist’s life have I been more completely overwhelmed.” Thus began a lifelong friendship.

Brahms visited Düsseldorf in October 1853, and, with a letter of introduction from Joachim, was welcomed by Robert Schumann and his wife Clara. Schumann, greatly impressed and delighted by the 20-year-old’s talent, wrote an article entitled “Neue Bahnen” (“New Paths”) published in the October 28 issue of the journal Neue Zeitschrift für Musik citing Brahms as one who was “fated to give expression to the times in the highest and most ideal manner.” Schumann’s endorsement led to the first publication of Brahms’ works.

In February, 1854, Schumann attempted suicide by jumping off a bridge. He was rescued, but due to extreme psychiatric impairment, he was committed to a sanatorium near Bonn (where he died of pneumonia in 1856). To be of help to the family (including Robert and Clara’s seven children), Brahms moved to Düsseldorf, where he supported the household and dealt with business matters on Clara’s behalf. The doctors at the sanatorium would not allow Clara to visit Robert until two days before his death (due to his unstable condition), but Brahms was able to visit him and acted as a go-between, carrying notes and messages back and forth. Brahms developed deep feelings for Clara, who to him represented an ideal of womanhood. In June, 1854, Brahms dedicated to Clara his Op. 9, the Variations on a Theme of Schumann. Clara continued to support Brahms’s career by performing his music in her recitals. Their intensely emotional, though platonic, relationship lasted until Clara’s death.

His large choral work A German Requiem is not a setting of the Catholic Mass for the dead. An agnostic and a humanist, Brahms instead selected his text from Martin Luther’s translation of the Bible. An early version of the second movement was first composed in 1854, not long after Robert Schumann’s attempted suicide, and this was later used in his first piano concerto. The majority of the Requiem was composed after his mother’s death in 1865. The complete work successfully premiered in 1868 and went on to receive critical acclaim throughout Germany and elsewhere in Europe and Russia, essentially giving Brahms worldwide recognition.

Brahms’ life was marked by professional and personal drama. For example, the premiere of his First Piano Concerto in Hamburg on January 22, 1859, with the composer as soloist, flopped. Brahms wrote in a letter to Joachim that the performance was “a brilliant and decisive – failure…[I]t forces one to concentrate one’s thoughts and increases one’s courage…But the hissing was too much of a good thing…”  At a second performance, audience reaction was so hostile that Brahms had to be restrained from leaving the stage after the first movement.

In 1860, in the debate on the future of German music, Brahms attacked Liszt’s followers, the so-called “New German School” (although Brahms himself was sympathetic to the music of Richard Wagner, the School’s star). He objected to their rejection of traditional musical forms and to the “rank, miserable weeds growing from Liszt-like fantasias.” The Neue Zeitschrift für Musik ridiculed Brahms and his associates as backward-looking. Brahms henceforth avoided public musical controversy.

In 1859 Brahms asked Agathe von Siebold for her hand in marriage. The engagement was stormy and soon dissolved, but even after Brahms wrote to her of his love and longing for her. Though they never saw one another again, Brahms later confirmed to a friend that Agathe was his “last love.”

In January, 1863, Brahms met Richard Wagner, for whom he played his Handel Variations Op. 24, which he had completed the previous year. Although the meeting was cordial, in later years Wagner made critical, even insulting, comments about Brahms’ music. Brahms still maintained a keen interest in Wagner’s music.

In 1880, the University of Breslau offered Brahms an honorary doctorate in philosophy. Hoping to avoid public fanfare, Brahms responded with a letter of acknowledgement. However, conductor Bernard Scholz, who had nominated him for the degree, informed him that protocol required a grander gesture of gratitude. “Compose a fine symphony for us!” he wrote.

Brahms, a well-known joker, orchestrated a medley of student drinking songs he called the Academic Festival Overture, which, along with Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance, is played for graduation ceremonies to this day, as well as in concert.

The commendation of Brahms by Breslau as “the leader in the art of serious music in Germany today” led to a harsh comment from Wagner: “I know of some famous composers who in their concert masquerades don the disguise of a street-singer one day, the hallelujah periwig of Handel the next, the dress of a Jewish Czardas-fiddler another time, and then again the guise of a highly respectable symphony dressed up as Number Ten”.

Brahms held a deep reverence for Beethoven; in his home, a marble bust of Beethoven looked down on the spot where he composed. Brahms’s First Symphony bears a strong resemblance to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. The main theme of the finale of the First Symphony is reminiscent of the main theme of the finale of Beethoven’s Ninth, a resemblance Brahms acknowledged. In 1876, when the work was premiered in Vienna, it was hailed as “Beethoven’s Tenth”.

In the summer of 1896 Brahms was diagnosed as having jaundice, but later that year his diagnosis was changed to cancer of the liver. He passed away on April 3, 1897.

JohannesBrahmsJohannes Brahms, both a traditionalist and an innovator, is considered one of the greatest composers of the Romantic period. A confirmed perfectionist, Brahms destroyed many of his works and left others unpublished. He wrote for symphony orchestra, chamber ensembles, piano, organ, and voice and chorus. A virtuoso pianist, he premiered many of his own works. Brahms wrote settings for piano and voice of 144 German folk songs, and many of his lieder reflect folk themes or depict scenes of rural life. Despite his mastery of large, complex musical structures, some of Brahms’s most popular compositions during his lifetime were small-scale works that were readily playable by amateur musicians at home, such as the Hungarian Dances, the Waltzes for piano duet (Op. 39), and the Liebeslieder Walzer, Op. 52. He worked with some of the leading performers of his day. Many of his works are staples of the modern concert repertoire.

Information for this article was taken from Wikipedia.

Click here to read about the correspondence between Johannes Brahms and Clara Schumann.

Mozart, the Boy Wonder

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Mozart, the Boy Wonder

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born on January 27, 1756. He was the youngest of seven children, five of whom died in infancy. His elder sister was Maria Anna Mozart, nicknamed “Nannerl”.

When Nannerl was 7, she began keyboard lessons with her father, Leopold, who was a composer and musician, while her three-year-old brother looked on. Though she was very talented, it was soon apparent that Wolfgang was even more so. Wolfgang quickly learned how to play and by the age of five was making up his own pieces, which his father wrote down for him. When he was eight years old, Mozart wrote his first symphony, most of which was probably transcribed by his father.

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Young Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

The Mozarts spent several years traveling around Europe. The child prodigies, Wolfgang and Nannerl, performed at multiple royal courts. During this trip, Wolfgang met a number of musicians and acquainted himself with the works of other composers. A particularly important influence was Johann Christian Bach, whom he visited in London in 1764 and 1765.

The Mozarts on Tour

The Mozarts on Tour

After returning with his father from Italy in March of 1773, Mozart acquired a position as a court musician by the ruler of Salzburg, Prince-Archbishop Hieronymus Colloredo. The composer had a great number of friends and admirers in Salzburg, and had opportunities to work in many genres, including symphonies, sonatas, string quartets, masses, serenades, and a few minor operas. Between April and December, 1775, Mozart developed an enthusiasm for violin concertos, producing a series of five (the only ones he ever wrote).

In August 1777, Mozart resigned his position at Salzburg and in September ventured out once more in search of employment, with visits to Augsburg, Mannheim, Paris, and Munich. While Mozart was in Paris, he wrote his A minor piano sonata and the “Paris” Symphony (No. 31). Meanwhile, his father hunted for new opportunities of employment for him in Salzburg. Mozart reluctantly returned to Salzburg in January 1779 and took up his new appointment.

In March, 1781, Mozart was summoned to Vienna, where his new employer, Archbishop Colloredo, was attending the celebrations for the accession of Joseph II to the Austrian throne. Colloredo simply wanted his musical servant to be at hand; but Mozart had a different agenda. He wanted to audition for the Emperor.

Mozart

Archbishop Colloredo refused to permit Mozart to take on outside jobs. Mozart attempted to resign as the Archbishop’s musical director and was refused. The following month, permission was granted, but in a grossly insulting way: the composer was dismissed literally “with a kick in the arse”, administered by the archbishop’s steward. Mozart moved to Vienna as a freelance performer and composer.

His new career in Vienna began well. He performed often as a pianist, notably in a competition before the Emperor with Muzio Clementi on December 24, 1781, and he soon established himself as the foremost keyboard player in Vienna. He also prospered as a composer, and in 1782 completed The Abduction from the Seraglio, which was a huge success. Performed throughout German-speaking Europe, the opera established Mozart’s reputation as a composer.

Mozart fell in love with Constanza Weber, and they were married August 4, 1782. The couple had six children, of whom only two survived infancy.

In 1784, Mozart met Joseph Haydn in Vienna, and the two composers became friends. When Haydn visited Vienna, they sometimes played together in an impromptu string quartet. Mozart dedicated six quartets to Haydn.

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From 1782 to 1785 Mozart mounted concerts with himself as soloist, presenting three or four new piano concertos in each season. The concerts were very popular, and the concertos he premiered at them are still performed regularly.

With substantial returns from his concerts and elsewhere, Mozart and his wife adopted a rather extravagant lifestyle. They moved to an expensive apartment, and Mozart bought himself a fine fortepiano and a billiard table. The Mozarts sent their son Karl Thomas to an expensive boarding school and kept servants. They saved nothing.

Around the end of 1785, Mozart moved away from keyboard writing and began an operatic collaboration with the librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte. 1786 saw the successful premiere of The Marriage of Figaro in Vienna. The opera Don Giovanni premiered in October 1787 to acclaim in Prague. The two are among Mozart’s most important works and are mainstays of the operatic repertoire today.

In December 1787, Mozart finally obtained a steady post under aristocratic patronage. Emperor Joseph II appointed him as his “chamber composer.” It was a part-time appointment, and required Mozart only to compose dances for the annual balls. This modest income became important to Mozart when hard times arrived.

Toward the end of the decade, the Austro-Turkish War caused the general level of prosperity to decline and the aristocracy could no longer support music. Mozart and the other musicians in Vienna found fewer performance opportunities and commissions. The arts struggled.

Mozart’s last year (until his final illness) was a time of great productivity. He composed a great deal, including some of his most admired works: the opera The Magic Flute; his final piano concerto (K. 595 in B♭); the Clarinet Concerto; the last in his great series of string quintets (K. 614 in E♭); the motet Ave verum corpus; and the unfinished Requiem.

Mozart's Deathbed

Mozart fell ill while in Prague for the September 6, 1791, premiere of his opera La clemenza di Tito, written in that same year on commission for the Emperor’s coronation festivities. He continued his professional functions for some time and conducted the premiere of The Magic Flute on September 30. His health deteriorated in November, at which point he became bedridden, suffering from swelling, pain, and vomiting.

Mozart was nursed in his final illness by his wife and her youngest sister, and was attended by the family doctor. He was mentally occupied with the task of finishing his Requiem. (Tradition claims it was completed by his student Franz Xaver Süssmayr. Despite the story suggested in the movie Amadeus, no foul play was suspected, and Mozart did not dictate passages to Antonio Salieri.)

Mozart died in his home on December 5, 1791, at age 35. In his brief lifetime he composed more than 600 works, many of which are acknowledged masterpieces of symphonic, chamber, choral and operatic music.