31 episodes

Composers Datebook™ is a daily two-minute program designed to inform, engage, and entertain listeners with timely information about composers of the past and present. Each program notes significant or intriguing musical events involving composers of the past and present, with appropriate and accessible music related to each.

Composers Datebook American Public Media

    • Music

Composers Datebook™ is a daily two-minute program designed to inform, engage, and entertain listeners with timely information about composers of the past and present. Each program notes significant or intriguing musical events involving composers of the past and present, with appropriate and accessible music related to each.

    Wagner gets a Ride in New York

    Wagner gets a Ride in New York

    Synopsis
    In 1871, one year after the premiere in Munich of Richard Wagner’s opera “Die Walküre,” a German-born American conductor named Theodore Thomas wrote Wagner asking if he might perform excerpts of this new work in the United States. Wagner turned him down, worried that loose American copyright laws might not protect his new music.

    Undeterred, Thomas turned for advice to the famous German conductor Hans von Bulow, who suggested Thomas try to arrange a face-to-face meeting with Wagner to plead his case. After all, Bulow told Thomas, Wagner was actually quite interested in America. The meeting never took place, but somehow Thomas secured a manuscript of what would become the most popular orchestral excerpt from “Die Walküre” its famous “Ride of the Valkyries.”

    No one knows how Thomas managed it. Some speculate von Bulow himself provided the music. Others suggest the American conductor got his copy from Franz Liszt.

    In any case, on today’s date in 1872, the “Ride of the Valkyries” was performed for the first time in America at one of Theodore Thomas’s concerts in Central Park.

    It proved to be a smash hit with Manhattanites. As Thomas recounted in his memoirs, “the people jumped up on their chairs and cheered.”

    Music Played in Today's Program
    Richard Wagner (1813 – 1883) — Ride of the Valkyries, fr Die Walküre (Berlin Philharmonic; Claudio Abbado, cond.) DG 471 627

    • 2 min
    Barber at the Met

    Barber at the Met

    Synopsis
    There’s a book entitled “Great Operatic Disasters” which chronicles the sometime humorous – and sometimes harrowing – mishaps that have befallen opera singers and productions over the last few centuries. According to that book, September 16th seems to have been a particularly unlucky day.

    Consider that on today’s date in 1782, the Italian castrato Farinelli, one of the most celebrated opera stars of the 18th century, died in Bologna after his dismissal from the Spanish court; on September 16th in 1920, the great Italian tenor Enrico Caruso would make his last records in Camden, New Jersey; and in 1977, opera diva Maria Callas dropped dead of a heart attack in Paris.

    And on today’s date in 1966 the new Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center opened with a gala production of a brand-new opera specially commissioned from the American composer Samuel Barber. Despite an all-star cast headed by Leontyne Price and a lavish stage production designed by Franco Zefferelli – you guessed it – the opera was a flop.

    Maybe everyone expected too much, or perhaps the lavish sets were too distracting. Whatever the reason, despite its gorgeous music, even today Barber’s “Anthony and Cleopatra,” has never found a lasting place in the repertory.

    Music Played in Today's Program
    Samuel Barber (1910 – 1981) — Anthony and Cleopatra (Spoleto Festival soloists and orchestra; Christian Badea, cond.) New World 322

    • 2 min
    Ives at Yaddo

    Ives at Yaddo

    Synopsis
    On today’s date in 1946, at the Yaddo Music Festival in Saratoga Springs, New York, the Walden Quartet gave the first professional performance of the String Quartet No. 2 by the American composer Charles Ives.

    Ives’ String Quartet No. 1 was his first major work – its manuscript is dated 1896, back when Ives was a 21-year old student at Yale. While Ives’ First Quartet was written under the watchful eye and conservatively tonal ear of the Yale music professor Horatio Parker, Ives’ Second, composed between 1907 and 1913, is more often than not a wildly atonal work that would have given poor Professor Parker a heart attack.

    On the first page of its score, Ives provided a kind of program. It reads: “String Quartet for four men who converse, discuss, argue politics, fight, shake hands, shut up, and then walk up the mountainside to view the firmament.”

    Judging from some musical quotations in the first movement of Ives’ Quartet, it seems the American Civil War was one of the political topics fought over by the four men mentioned by Ives, and Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” is quoted, along with Ives’ perennial favorite, “Columbia, Gem of the Ocean.”

    Music Played in Today's Program
    Charles Ives (1874 – 1954) String Quartet No. 2 (Emerson Quartet) DG 435 864

    • 2 min
    María Joaquina de la Portilla Torres

    María Joaquina de la Portilla Torres

    Synopsis
    Today’s date marks the birthday in 1885 of María Joaquina de la Portilla Torres, in the Mexican state of Guanajuato. Under her married name of Maria Grever, she became the first female Mexican composer to achieve international fame. She composed her first song at age four, studied in France with Claude Debussy among others, and at 18, one of her songs sold 3 million copies.

    At age 22, she married Leo A. Grever, an American oil company executive, moved to New York City, and by the 1930s was composing for Paramount and 20th Century Fox films. Her best-known song is probably "What A Difference A Day Makes" (originally "Cuando vuelva a tu lado"), written in 1934. Her songs have been recorded by singers ranging from the Andrews Sisters and Frank Sinatra to Dinah Washington and Aretha Franklin to Plácido Domingo and Juan Diego Flórez.

    “I am interested in Jazz and Modern Rhythms,” said Grever, “but above all, in Mexican Music … There is such a cultural richness in Mexican Music, its Hispanic and indigenous origins ... It is my wish and yearning to present these native rhythms and tunes from a real perspective, but with the necessary flexibility to appeal to a universal audience."

    Music Played in Today's Program
    María Grever (1885 – 1951) – Júrame (Juan Diego Flórez, tenor; Fort Worth Symphony; Miguel Harth-Bedoya, cond.) Decca 4757576

    On This Day
    Births

    1737 - Austrian composer Johann Michael Haydn, in Rohrau; He was the younger brother of Franz Joseph Haydn (b. 1732);

    1760 - Italian composer Luigi Cherubini, in Florence (although August 14 is occasionally cited as his birthdate);

    1910 - American composer and eminent theatrical conductor Lehman Engel, in Jackson, Miss.;

    1910 - Swiss composer Rolf Liebermann, in Zurich;




    Premieres

    1854 - Bruckner: Mass in Bb ("Missa Solemnis") in St. Florian, Austria;

    1952 - Frank Martin: Concerto for Harpsichord, in Venice;

    1954 - Britten: opera "The Turn of the Screw," in Venice at the Teatro La Fenice;

    1968 - Shostakovich: String Quartet No. 12, in Moscow, by the Beethoven Quartet;

    1978 - Barber: Third Essay for Orchestra, by the New York Philharmonic conducted by Zubin Mehta;

    1994 - Richard Danielpour: Cello Concerto, commissioned and performed by San Francisco Symphony conducted by Herbert Blomstedt, with soloist Yo-Yo Ma;

    1996 - Stockhausen: "Freitag aus Licht" (Friday from Light), at the Leipzig Opera;

    1997 - Saariaho: "Graal Théâtre" (chamber version), in Helsinki, by the Avanti Ensemble and violinist John Storgards.

    2002 - David Amram: Flute Concerto ("Giants of the Night"), in New Orleans by the Louisiana Philharmonic conducted by Klauspeter Seibel, with James Galway the soloist;

    2002 - Colin Matthews, Judith Weir, Poul Ruders, David Sower, Michael Torke, Anthony Payne, and Magnus Linberg: "Bright Cecilia: Variations on a Theme by Purcell," at Royal Albert Hall in London, with the BBC Symphony, Leonard Slatkin conducting; This set of orchestral variations on a Purcell theme was commissioned by BBC Music magazine to celebrate its 10th anniversary;




    Others

    1731 - J.S. Bach performs organ recitals in Dresden on Sept. 14-21;

    1741 - Handel finishes scoring his famous oratorio, "Messiah," begun on August 22 (The entire work was composed in a period of 24 days); These dates are according to the Julian "Old Style" calendar (Gregorian dates: Sept 2 to Sept. 25);

    1914 - W. C. Handy copyrights his most famous song, "The St. Louis Blues";

    1973 - The Philadelphia Orchestra gives a concert in Beijing, the first American orchestra to perform in Red China; Eugene Ormandy conducts symphonies by Mozart (No. 35), Brahms (No. 1) and the American composer Roy Harris (No. 3).

    • 2 min
    Bernstein takes a chance

    Bernstein takes a chance

    Synopsis
    The Grove Dictionary of Music defines the word “aleatory” as follows: “music whose composition and/or performance is, to a greater or lesser extent, undetermined by the composer.”

    But isn’t music supposed to be organized, planned, determined sound? Isn’t “aleatoric music” a contradiction in terms? Well, not necessarily. Musicians throughout the ages have delighted in spontaneous, improvised sound, or musical games in which the results will be different with each performance.

    In the 20th century, American composers like Charles Ives and Henry Cowell often gave performers a great deal of freedom in the realization of their scores, and John Cage developed what he called “chance operations” into an art form all its own.

    On September 13, 1986, at Avery Fisher Hall in New York City, Leonard Bernstein conducted the Israel Philharmonic in the premiere of his new Concerto for Orchestra subtitled “Jubilee Games,” which incorporates some aleatoric elements.

    Bernstein explained, “Its first movement is musical athletics, with cheers and all. It is also charades, anagrams, and children’s counting games… therefore aleatoric, ranging from structured improvisation to totally free orchestral invention. It is thus inevitable that the movement will vary considerably from one performance to another, and even one rehearsal to another.”

    Music Played in Today's Program
    Leonard Bernstein (1900 –1990) Concerto for Orchestra (Jubilee Games) (Israel Philharmonic; Leonard Bernstein, cond.) DG 429 231

    On This Day
    Births

    1819 - German pianist, teacher and composer Clara Schumann (née Wieck), in Leipzig;

    1874 - Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg, in Vienna;

    1917 - American composer Robert Ward, in Cleveland;

    1924 - French film composer Maurice Jarre, in Lyons; He won an Academy Award in 1965 for his "Dr. Zhivago" film score;




    Deaths

    1894 - French composer Emmanuel Chabrier, age 53, in Paris;

    1977 - English-born American conductor, arranger and new music patron, Leopold Stokowski, age 95, in Nether Wallop, Hampshire (England);

    1985 - French-born American composer, painter and mystical philosopher Dane Rudhyar, age 90, in San Francisco;




    Premieres

    1948 - Cyril Scott: Oboe Concerto, at Royal Albert Hall in London;

    1956 - Stravinsky: "Canticum sacrum ad honorem Sancti Marci nomiminis," at St. Mark's in Venice, with the composer conducting;

    1967 - Copland: "Inscape" for Orchestra (commissioned by the New York Philharmonic for its 125th Anniversary Year), at Hill Auditorium in Ann Arbor, Michigan, by the New York Philharmonic conducted by Leonard Bernstein;

    1986 - Bernstein: Concerto for Orchestra ("Jubilee Games"), at Avery Fisher Hall in New York, by the Israel Philharmonic with composer conducting.





    Links and Resources




    On Leonard Bernstein

    • 2 min
    The Schumanns in love

    The Schumanns in love

    Synopsis
    In the year 1840, the immensely talented German pianist Clara Wieck was eagerly awaiting the eve of her 21st birthday, when she would be free to legally marry the 30-year-old composer and music critic Robert Schumann. The couple had hoped to wed years earlier, but the match was bitterly opposed by Clara’s father.

    Clara and Robert kept in touch by letters, which were sometimes intercepted by Papa Wieck.

    Early in 1840, Clara wrote, “Dear Robert, I love you so much it hurts my heart. Tell me what you’re writing. I would so love to know, oh please, please. A quartet, an overture – even perhaps a symphony? Might it by any chance be – a wedding present?”

    The marriage finally took place on today’s date in 1840. As she had guessed, Robert presented Clara with a musical wedding present: not a quartet, overture, or symphony, but a set of 26 songs, published as his Opus 25.

    The opening song, entitled “Dedication,” is a Rückert poem which contains this refrain: “You are my heart and soul, my bliss and pain, you are the world I live in and the heaven I aspire to, my good angel, my better self.”

    Music Played in Today's Program
    Robert Schumann (1810 – 1856) (transcribed by Franz Liszt) Widmung (Michael Ponti, piano) Marco Polo 223.127

    Robert Schumann Widmung, fr Op. 25 (Sophie Daneman, soprano; Julius Drake, piano) EMI 72828

    • 2 min

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