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
    • 4.7 • 9 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.

    Brahms and Rzewski for amateurs

    Brahms and Rzewski for amateurs

    Synopsis
    The first performance of the “Liebeslieder” – or the “Love Song” Waltzes – for piano four-hands by Johannes Brahms took place on today’s date in 1869. The performers were two distinguished soloists: Clara Schumann, widow of composer Robert Schumann, and Hermann Levi, a famous conductor of his day. But in fact, the “Liebeslieder Waltzes” were intended for amateur musicians to play. These popular scores provided Brahms with some steady income, certainly more than he earned from performances of his symphonies, which some of his contemporaries considered difficult “new” music.

    Brahms wrote to his publisher: “I must admit that, for the first time, I grinned at the sight of a work of mine in print. Moreover, I gladly risk being called an ass if our ‘Liebeslieder’ don’t give more than a few people pleasure.”

    Some much more recent piano music designed for amateur performers was collected into a volume titled “Carnegie Hall Millennium Piano Book.” This volume was conceived by composer Ellen Taaffe Zwilich and the artistic director of Carnegie Hall, Judith Arron. They were concerned about the lack of contemporary piano works that intermediate-level piano students could perform, so commissioned ten composers to write suitable piano pieces from composers ranging from Milton Babbitt and Elliott Carte to Chen Yi and Tan Dun.

    Music Played in Today's Program
    Johannes Brahms (1833-1897): Liebeslieder Waltz No. 18, Op.52a –Silke-Thora Matthies and Christian Köhn, piano (Naxos 553140)

    Frederic Rzewski (1938-2021): The Days Fly By –Ursula Oppens, piano (Companion CD to Boosey and Hawkes "The Carnegie Hall Millennium Piano Book" ASIN: B003AG8IUK)

    • 2 min
    Timely Argento and Takemitsu

    Timely Argento and Takemitsu

    Synopsis
    It was on this day in 1972 that “A Ring of Time” by American composer Dominick Argento was premiered by the Minnesota Orchestra in Minneapolis. The work was commissioned to celebrate that orchestra’s 70th anniversary. “A Ring of Time” is subtitled “Preludes and Pageants for Orchestra and Bells,” and evokes the hours of the day, from dawn to midnight, and the seasons of the year.

    Though born in York, Pennsylvania, Argento was of Italian heritage, and after spending a year studying in Italy, returned there often to reflect and compose. Argento said: “On one level the title of ‘A Ring of Time’ refers to the predominant role assigned to bells... those aural signals of time’s passing. But it should also be mentioned the work was wholly composed in Florence where the hourly ringing of church bells is inescapable.”

    Bells figured prominently in another 20th-century work by the Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu entitled “From Me Flows What You Call Time,” which was premiered by the Boston Symphony in 1990, in New York City, as a commission to celebrate the centennial of Carnegie Hall. Again, bells play a significant role, and Takemitsu directs that at the end of his piece, a series of small bells be rung gently from the balcony above and around the audience.

    Music Played in Today's Program
    Dominick Argento (1927-2019): A Ring of Time –Minnesota Orchestra; Eiji Oue, cond. (Reference 91)

    Toru Takemitsu (1930-1996): From Me Flows What You Call Time –Pacific Symphony; Carl St. Clair, cond. (Sony 63044)

    • 2 min
    How to win friends and influence Shostakovich

    How to win friends and influence Shostakovich

    Synopsis
    In 1939, Dale Carnegie published a self-help book entitled How to Win Friends and Influence People, suggesting you could change people's behavior to you by changing YOUR behavior toward them. We’re not sure if Carnegie’s book was ever translated into Russian, but we’d like to cite the case of the famous Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich as an example of one way to influence a particular composer.

    In Rostropovich’s day, the greatest living Soviet composers were Sergei Prokofiev and Dmitri Shostakovich. In 1949 Prokofiev wrote a Cello Sonata for the 22-year old Rostropovich, and also dedicated his 1952 Sinfonia Concertante for cello and orchestra to him.

    Not surprisingly, Rostropovich hoped Shostakovich might write something for him, too, and so asked that composer’s wife, Nina, how to ask him. She replied the best way was NEVER to mention the idea in the presence of her husband. She knew Shostakovich was following the cellist’s career with interest, and if the idea of writing something for Rostropovich was his own, rather than somebody else’s, it stood a better chance of becoming reality.

    Rostropovich followed her advice, and – surprise surprise – on today’s date in 1959, gave the premiere performance with the Leningrad Philharmonic of a brand-new cello concerto specially-written for him by Dmitri Shostakovich.

    Music Played in Today's Program
    Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975): Cello Concerto No. 1 in Eb, Op. 107 –Philadelphia Orchestra; Eugene Ormandy, cond. (Sony 7858322)

    • 2 min
    Ceremonial Beethoven and Schuman

    Ceremonial Beethoven and Schuman

    Synopsis
    If you had arrived early for the gala reopening celebration of Vienna’s Josephstadt Theater on today’s date in 1822, you might have heard the theater orchestra frantically rehearing a new overture by Beethoven. They had just received the score, and so at the last minute were getting their first look at the new piece they would perform that evening.

    Beethoven’s “Consecration of the House” Overture was a last-minute commission and interrupted Beethoven’s work on two bigger projects: his “Missa Solemnis” and the Ninth Symphony. This overture begins with a series of solemn chords, continues with a stately march, and closes with a fugue – a tribute to Handel, whose music was much on Beethoven’s mind at the time.

    One hundred forty-six years later to the day, another festive occasion was observed with new music, when, on October 3rd, 1968, the New York Philharmonic, as part of its 125th anniversary celebrations, premiered a new orchestral work by the American composer William Schuman. Leonard Bernstein conducted.

    Schuman’s piece was entitled “To Thee Old Cause,” and was scored for solo oboe and orchestra. Originally, Schumann planned an upbeat, celebratory work, but the 1968 assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy changed all that and more somber music, dedicated to their memory, was the result.

    Music Played in Today's Program
    Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827): Consecration of the House Overture –Berlin Philharmonic; Bernhard Klee, cond. (DG 453 713)

    Willliam Schuman (1910-1992): To Thee Old Cause –New York Philharmonic; Leonard Bernstein, cond. (Sony 63088)

    • 2 min
    Joan Tower's "Made in America"

    Joan Tower's "Made in America"

    Synopsis
    These days the cost of commissioning a major American composer to write a major orchestral work requires… well, a major amount of money.

    Back in 2001, a group of smaller-budget symphonies around the country decided to pool their resources and commission the American composer Joan Tower to write a new orchestral piece for them. What would have been cost-prohibitive individually proved very do-able when they all chipped in, aided by foundation grant or two. 65 orchestras from all 50 states participated, with the idea being each of them would get first performing rights to Tower's new work.

    "When they asked me to do this," Tower said, "they called the project ‘Made in America,’ and that became the work’s title. [Since] it was going across the U.S., this word 'America' kept popping up in my brain. Also, the tune 'America the Beautiful' started to come in, and I thought, 'I really love this tune. It's a beautiful tune, and I think I'll start with this.”

    Joan Tower’s “Made in America” received its first performance by the Glen Falls Symphony Orchestra in New York State on today’s date in 2005, then premiered in each of the remaining 49 states over the next two years, ending up in Alaska with the Juneau Symphony in June of 2007.

    Music Played in Today's Program
    Joan Tower (b. 1938): Made in America –Nashville Symphony/Leonard Slatkin (Naxos 8559328)

    • 2 min
    Flagg-waving in Colonial Boston?

    Flagg-waving in Colonial Boston?

    Synopsis
    On today’s date in 1768, two regiments of British redcoats marched into colonial Boston accompanied by martial music provided by their regimental wind band. It was that city’s introduction to the exotic sound of massed oboes, bassoons, and French horns.

    One Bostonian who was very impressed by these new sounds was Josiah Flagg, an engraver by trade, and a boyhood friend of the famous Boston silversmith, Paul Revere. Before long, Flagg had formed his own musical ensemble, which he called “The First Band of Boston.”

    Flagg organized that city’s first concert series, presenting music by J.C. Bach, Stamitz, and other European composers. Occasionally, the First Band of Boston was augmented by musicians from the same British regiment whose entry into town had inspired Flagg’s own musical ambitions.

    In October of 1773, Flagg presented a gala concert at Boston’s Faneuil Hall, which proved to be his last. He included music from Britain – excerpts from Handel’s “Messiah” – but closed with the “Song of Liberty,” the marching hymn of Boston’s patriots. We rather suspect the British troops did not participate in that concert.

    Soon after, Flagg moved to Providence, where he served as a colonel in the Rhode Island regiment during the American Revolution, and disappeared from our early musical history.

    Music Played in Today's Program
    Oliver Shaw (1779-1848): Gov. Arnold's March –Members of the Federal Music Society; John Baldon, cond. (New World 80299)

    • 2 min

Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5
9 Ratings

9 Ratings

nurse2003 ,

Excellent and enjoyable for beginning any morning!

Excellent and enjoyable for beginning --or ending-- any morning!
Not to be overlooked!

Jen's_Atari2600 ,

Lovely minus Aria Code

I love these small windows into music history. Unfortunately I am unsubscribing, at least until the Aria Code commercials go away, which eat up 30 seconds of this already brief 2-minute podcast.
Best wishes and thank you for the music history.

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