29 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 History
    • 4.6, 84 Ratings

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.

    Musgrave's Postcard

    Musgrave's Postcard

    On today’s date in 2012, at the Royal Albert Hall in London, the BBC’s SCOTTISH Symphony, under the direction of SCOTTISH conductor Donald Runnicles, gave the world premiere of a new orchestral piece by the SCOTTISH composer Thea Musgrave.

    You might be forgiven for asking, “Were any bagpipes involved?” No, but the piece did involve the next best thing¬–¬if you’re Scottish that is–namely the Loch Ness monster. The new piece was entitled “Loch Ness – A Postcard from Scotland” and here’s how Thea Musgrave described her new work:

    “This Scottish loch is famous for its monster - only very occasionally seen. In this lighthearted work he, the monster (a tuba), emerges from the depths (E flat) to find the sun (A major) coming out from a thick mist (string clusters).

    “As he plays he is warmed by the sparkling sun (trumpets) and by the strains of an ancient Scottish melody. As the sun goes down, he dives back into the deep waters with a big splash. Then a cool moon rises, a light breeze ruffles the surface of the waters, and all is at peace.”

    • 2 min
    William Schuman, Chairman of the Board

    William Schuman, Chairman of the Board

    By the time of his death in 1998, pop singer Frank Sinatra was such a domineering figure in his field that he was known as “The Chairman of the Board.” By the time of HIS death in 1992, the same nickname might have applied to the American composer William Schuman, who was, at various times, director of publications for G. Schirmer, president of the Juilliard School, president of Lincoln Center, and on the board of many other important American musical institutions. William Schuman even LOOKED the part of a distinguished, well-dressed CEO. Oddly enough, he came rather late to classical music.

    Schuman was born on today’s date in 1910, and, as a teenager in New York City, was more interested in baseball than music, even though his dance band was the rage of Washington High School. It was with some reluctance that 19-year old Billy Schuman was dragged to a New York Philharmonic concert conducted by Arturo Toscanini. The program included a symphony by someone named ROBERT Schumann, and Billy was pretty impressed. A few years later, in 1933, when he heard the First Symphony of the contemporary American composer Roy Harris, Schuman was hooked, and soon was writing concert music himself. By 1941, when his Third Symphony premiered, Schuman was recognized as a major talent, and in 1943 he was awarded the first Pulitzer Prize for Music.

    • 2 min
    Salieri opens La Scala

    Salieri opens La Scala

    On today’s date in 1778, Italy’s most famous opera house opened with a performance of “L’Europa riconosciuta,” or “Europa revealed,” a work written specially for the occasion by Antonio Salieri. The new theater took its name from its location, previously occupied by the church of Santa Maria della Scala, which in turn was named after a Milanese nobelman’s wife, Beatrice della Scala.

    These days Milan’s Teatro alla Scala—or “La Scala” for short—is still in operation, although today performances of Salieri operas are not as common as those of his 18th century rival, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

    In the 19th century, La Scala was at the center of the golden age of Italian opera, which boasted the greatest works of Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti, and Verdi.

    In August of 1943, 165 years after it opened, La Scala was damaged by Allied bombers as World War II drew to a close. The theater was repaired and reopened in 1946 with a series of gala concerts conducted by Arturo Toscanini.

    Some sixty years later, the theater was newly refurbished and re-opened in December of 2004 with a gala production of the same Salieri opera written for its original opening some 226 years earlier.

    • 2 min
    Harbison's "Three City Blocks"

    Harbison's "Three City Blocks"

    The American composer John Harbison was born in 1938, and so, as a young lad, grew up at the tail end of the Golden Age of radio and the big band Era of Count Basie, Duke Ellington, the Dorsey Brothers, and Benny Goodman.

    “Over the radio,” writes Harbison, “came sounds played by bands in hotels and ballrooms, now distant memories that seemed to a seventh-grade, small town, late-night listener like the pulse of giant imagined cities.”

    Decades later, John Harbison translated those early musical memories into a three-movement composition for a big band orchestra. “These sounds,” he recalled, “layered with real experience of some of their places of origin, magnified, distorted, idealized, and destabilized, came into contact with other sounds, some of recent origin, and resulted in a celebratory, menacing suite I titled ‘Three City Blocks.’”

    The U.S. Air Force Band gave the premiere performance of “Three City Blocks” on today’s date in 1993. And, keeping in the spirit of the old days when every major hotel could boast its own dance band, Harbison’s “Three City Blocks” premiered at the Hilton Hotel in Fort Smith, Arkansas.

    • 2 min
    Invocation and Remembrance

    Invocation and Remembrance

    At 6:05 p.m. on today’s date in 2007, the Interstate 35W Bridge in Minneapolis collapsed, plunging dozens of cars and trucks into the Mississippi River. Thirteen people died. Investigators said a design flaw was to blame, and the event served as a wake-up call about America’s crumbling infrastructure.

    It also inspired a new piece of music.

    In 2007 Minnesota composer Linda Tutas Haugen had been commissioned to write a piece for solo instrument and organ for performance at the next American Guild of Organists’ national convention. Haugen had been looking at various hymn tunes for inspiration when the I-35 bridge collapsed.

    As she recalled, “I had family members who’d been over the bridge a day before. Many were feeling, ‘It could have been me.’ I reread texts of the hymns I had been considering, and there was one that talks about ‘God of hill and plain, o’er which our traffic runs’ and ‘wherever God your people go, protect them by your guarding hand.’ That inspired my writing.”

    Haugen scored her new piece for trumpet and organ and titled it “Invocation and Remembrance.” “For me,” said Haugen, “it’s a prayer, an invocation for protection, and also a remembrance of what happened.”

    • 2 min
    Sousa leaves the Marine Band

    Sousa leaves the Marine Band

    On today's date in 1892, the Washington Post's headlines included one that read: "Sousa's Farewell Toot—Last Appearance of the Marine Band Under His Baton—Admirers of the Popular Conductor Crowd Forward for a Farewell Shake of the Hand at the Close of His Final Concert on the White House Grounds."

    In his 12-year tenure with the Marine Band, Sousa had made it one of the finest touring ensembles in his day. Sousa was famous coast-to-coast—but not all that well paid. While on tour early in 1892, Sousa had been approached in Chicago by an impresario with a business proposition: "Why not form your OWN band, Mr. Sousa? I can offer you four times your Marine Corps salary, plus a percentage of the new band's profits." Sousa thought it over, and upon his return to Washington, D.C., submitted his resignation effective July 31, 1892. His final concerts with the Marine Band took place on July 29th and 30th that year.

    The first was given indoors at the National Theater, with then-Vice President Levi P. Morton in attendance. The following day, on the White House grounds, an open-air concert attracted a huge audience that included President Benjamin Harrison. With that, one important chapter of Sousa's musical career had ended, but another was just beginning. Over the next four decades, the Sousa Band would go on to become famous worldwide.

    • 2 min

Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5
84 Ratings

84 Ratings

try again1 ,

My favorite podcast!

The short format introduces me to many composers. Sometimes I do further research on the ones that interest me.

fivespot after dark ,

Nicely done

This is a nicely done “on this day in classical music history” type of program. Although episodes are quite short (only a few minutes long) it helps to learn more about your favorite composers and be introduced to new names too. Bravo!

Bill Howard ,

Piano tuner, player, singer, and listener.

Very glad to have this wonderful service.

Top Podcasts In Music History

Listeners Also Subscribed To

More by American Public Media