30 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
    • 4.7 • 151 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.

    The 'Cockaigne' Overture

    The 'Cockaigne' Overture

    Synopsis
    On today’s date in 1901, English composer Edward Elgar conducted the first performance of his cheery, upbeat, and slightly rowdy Cockaigne Overture, a commission from the Royal Philharmonic Society dedicated to his many friends in British Orchestras.

    Now Cockaigne does not refer to the schedule two narcotic, but rather an old nickname for the City of London, originating in a very old poem about a utopian land where rivers flow with wine and houses are made of cake and barley sugar.

    Elgar said he wanted to come up with something “cheerful and London-y, stout and steak … honest, healthy, humorous and strong, but not vulgar."

    The new overture proved an instant hit, and critics of the day compared it favorably to the festive prelude to  Act I of  Wagner’s opera Die Meistersinger. Elgar made two recordings of the work, conducting the Royal Albert Hall Orchestra in 1926 and the BBC Symphony in 1933.

    By chance during that 1933 recording session, as a backup, some takes were cut simultaneously to two separate wax master recording machines from two separate microphones. This enabled engineers many decades later to blend the two simultaneous “takes” into an “accidental stereo” version of the old mono recording.

    Music Played in Today's Program
    Edward Elgar (1857-1934): Cockaigne Overture; BBC Symphony; Edward Elgar, conductor; 1933 ‘accidental stereo’; Naxos 8.111022

    • 2 min
    An Antheil premiere (or two)

    An Antheil premiere (or two)

    Synopsis
    On today’s date in 1926, avant-garde musical piece Ballet Mechanique, scored for multiple pianos and percussion, had its public premiere at the Theatre des Champs-Elysees in Paris. Its composer was a 25-year old American named George Antheil.

    Antheil’s piece had its private premiere earlier that year at the palatial Parisian home of a very beautiful — and very rich — young American who wanted to break into elite European society. He suggested the lure of cutting edge music and buckets of free champagne would win over her specially invited audience of Parisian blue bloods.

    Antheil described the scene as follows: “Eight grand pianos filled up the giant living room completely and without an extra inch of room, while the xylophones and percussion were located in the side room and on the giant staircase. [The conductor] stood at the top of the piano in the center. To this already jammed-packed house, add 200 guests!”

    Maybe it was the music, maybe it was the champagne, but it did the trick. “The last we saw of our beautiful young hostess that day,” Antheil recalled, “she was being thrown up and down in a blanket by two princesses, a duchess and three Italian marchesas.”

    Music Played in Today's Program
    George Antheil (1900-1959): Ballet Mecanique; Ensemble Modern; H.K. Gruber, conductor; RCA 68066

    • 2 min
    Paul Fetler's 'Capriccio'

    Paul Fetler's 'Capriccio'

    Synopsis
    On today’s date in 1985, a brand-new piece of music had its premiere in a brand-new concert hall in Minnesota. American composer Paul Fetler wrote his jaunty Capriccio to celebrate both the first concert of the seventh season of conductor Jay Fishman’s Minneapolis Chamber Symphony and the new Ordway Music Theater in St. Paul, which had opened its doors to the public that year.

    “When Jay Fishman commissioned me to compose a dedicatory work for their opening concert, I immediately thought of a composition which would be light-hearted, buoyant, and playful,” Felter wrote, “I felt for once that the ‘serious’ contemporary music scene (which I often find to be super serious) could stand a bit of contrast. Perhaps the time is ripe to have a few pieces which are less ‘profound,’ something with the flair of Rossini to divert the listener from the daily burdens of life.”

    He concluded: “There is no story behind the Capriccio, but the whimsy and playfulness are intended to suggest a musical caper of a kind. To bring this out, I made primary use of the woodwinds, in particular the flute and piccolo, with their skips, runs, and arpeggios.”

    Music Played in Today’s Program
    Paul Fetler (1920-2018): Capriccio; Ann Arbor Symphony; Arie Lipsky, conductor; Naxos 8.559606

    • 2 min
    Bach is back

    Bach is back

    Synopsis
    As Leipzig’s chief provider of both sacred and secular music, Johann Sebastian Bach probably gave a huge sigh of relief on today’s date in 1733.

    The death of Imperial Elector Friedrich Augustus the First of Saxony earlier that year had resulted in a four-month period of official mourning, which meant NO elaborate sacred music at Bach’s Leipzig churches, and certainly no frivolous secular concerts with the Collegium Musicum, an orchestra of professionals and amateurs that Bach assembled periodically at Zimmermann’s coffee house in that city.

    Finally, Frederich’s successor said, “Enough was enough,” and this notice appeared in a Leipzig paper:

    “His Royal Highness and Electorial Grace, having given kind permission for the [resumption of] music, tomorrow, on June 17, a beginning will be made by Bach’s Collegium Musicum at Zimmermann’s Garden, at 4:00 in the afternoon, with a fine concert. The concerts will be weekly, with a new harpsichord, such as had not been heard there before, and lovers of music are expected to be present.”

    So it’s not hard to imagine Bach at Zimmermann’s giving the downbeat to put the new instrument through its paces in one of his own harpsichord concertos.

    Music Played in Today's Program
    J.S. Bach (1685-1750): Harpsichord Concerto No. 4; Gustav Leonhardt, harpsichord; Leonhardt Consort; Telefunken 97452

    • 2 min
    Francis Johnson

    Francis Johnson

    Synopsis
    Today we celebrate Francis Johnson, born in Martinque in the West Indies on today’s date in 1792. He emigrated to Philadelphia in 1809 at 17. As a teen, Johnson was a master of the violin and the keyed bugle, an early precursor of the trumpet. By his 20s, he was a popular bandleader around Philadelphia.

    Johnson experimented with various combinations of strings, winds and brass, and composed over 200 arrangements and original works in the popular forms of the day. In 1817, he became the first Black composer in America to have his music published.

    Johnson’s band toured here and abroad, and, in 1837, played before Queen Victoria at Buckingham Palace. The young queen was so impressed that she gave Johnson a silver bugle as a memento.

    Besides entertaining white audiences abroad, Johnson performed at African American churches in Philadelphia, Boston, and New York. In 1841 he organized a performance of Haydn’s Creation at the First African Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia.

    Francis Johnson died in 1844 in Philadelphia at 52. During his funeral march, hundreds of mourners, including his brass band, followed his casket, on which his silver bugle was placed.

    Music Played in Today's Program
    Francis B. Johnson (1792-1844): The Philadelphia Gray’s Quickstep; Symphony Orchestra of America; Matthew Phillips, conductor; Albany TROY-103

    • 2 min
    David Ward-Steinman's 'Cinnabar'

    David Ward-Steinman's 'Cinnabar'

    Synopsis
    “Listening to inner voices” is a phrase that can mean a lot of things.

    For violists, providing those inner voices, musically speaking, is their daily bread and butter. In the modern orchestra, the viola provides the alto voice in the string choir, filling in harmonies and musical lines between the violins on top and the cellos and double basses on the bottom.

    But (unfortunately) occasionally violists like to step forward, front and center, as soloists. And some composers have shown a special fondness for the viola’s distinctive dusky color.

    According to American composer David Ward-Steinman, that color might well be likened to cinnabar, the ore of mercury, a crystallized reddish-brown mineral with flashes of quicksilver. Asked to write a solo for the 19th Annual Viola Congress held at Ithaca, New York, Ward-Steinman’s Cinnabar for solo viola and piano premiered on today’s date in 1991. 

    David Ward-Steinman served as Composer-in-Residence at San Diego State University for many years. His own teachers included Wallingford Riegger, Darius Milhaud, Milton Babbitt, and Nadia Boulanger. Ward-Steinman’s catalog of original works ranges from solo pieces and chamber works like Cinnabar, to large-scale theatrical scores and ballets.

    Music Played in Today's Program
    David Ward-Steinman (1936-2015): Cinnabar; Karen Elaine, viola; David Ward-Steinman, piano; Fleur de Son 57935

    • 2 min

Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5
151 Ratings

151 Ratings

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