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Thursday Evening Classics

Thursday Evening Classics
Composer Capsules for
November and December 2008
November 6
John Philip Sousa
Birth: November 6, 1854 in Washington, DC
Death: March 6, 1932 in Reading, PA
John Philip Sousa, “The March King”, enjoyed a long and successful career as bandmaster and composer and did more than anyone to elevate the reputation of the military wind band. He wrote his marches with beautiful melody and unusual harmonies, raising them beyond mere parade music. He was also a founder of ASCAP and helped develop the sousaphone, a large tuba which features in parade bands. As a youth growing up amidst the American Civil War, sounds of military bands were constantly in the air. His first musical training was on the violin, and his father instructed him on several wind instruments. At 13 he nearly ran off with a visiting circus, however, his astute father, himself a bandsman, caught wind of the scheme and arranged an apprenticeship in the Marine Corps Band for his son. Young John honed his skills in that musical organization called the "President's Own." He composed his first march, Salutation, at age 16. At 18, Sousa began to play violin in various theater orchestras. In 1880, Sousa was appointed leader of the Marine Corps Band, which he would serve for 12 years under five presidents. During the next 2 decades, he composed some of America’s most famous marches – Semper Fidelis, The Washington Post, The Thunderer, High School Cadets, El Capitan, The Liberty Bell, King Cotton, Hands Across the Sea and, most notably, The Stars and Stripes Forever. In 1892 Sousa, resigned his position with the Marine Corps and organized his own band, known simply as Sousa's Band. Through national and national tours, the band's success was nothing short of phenomenal, Sousa receiving many honors and decorations from the royal families of Great Britain and Europe. With the outbreak of World War I, however, Sousa put aside civilian activity and assumed command of all naval bands. In 1920, he reorganized his band and resumed touring. Sousa died while en route to conduct a high school band in Reading, PA.
 
Ignace Jan Paderewski
Birth: November 6, 1860 in Kurylowka, Poland
Death: June 29, 1941 in New York, NY
Born to a well-off, cultivated family, Paderewski received piano lessons from an early age and entered the Warsaw Music Institute before he was 12 to study piano, harmony, and counterpoint. His progress on the piano was not rapid, and his teacher advised him to study another instrument. He tried the flute, clarinet, bassoon, horn, and finally the trombone, which he played in the conservatory orchestra. Upon graduation, the Institute engaged him as a piano teacher. By 1880 he was married and a year later found himself a widower and father of a son. Forsaking Warsaw for cosmopolitan Berlin, Paderewski pursued composition studies between 1881 – 1883 while moving in the social circles of the greatest musicians of the day, including Anton Rubinstein and a young Richard Strauss. In Berlin he again was advised that his talent was insufficient for a career, but undaunted, he went to Vienna to study with Theodor Leschetizky, the most famous teacher of the time. Here too he found little encouragement because the teacher felt that it was too late for the 24-year-old pianist to develop a dependable technique. However, during three intensive years with Leschetizky, Paderewski persisted and practiced prodigiously and transformed his mediocre ability into a world-class technique. Finally, his highly successful debut in Vienna launched a career that made him for the next 50 years the best-known and highest-paid pianist of all time. But well before his Vienna debut, Paderewski possessed the hypnotic, leonine, compelling presence that typified his playing and brought him world fame. He made appearances in London and began his first North American tour in 1891, giving over 100 concerts in the U.S. and Canada — a grueling schedule that was annually repeated. Other tours took him to South America, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, as well as the greater and lesser cities of Europe. He developed a tremendous following and amassed a fortune estimated at $10 million. His success was due in part to his personal magnetism. He was strikingly handsome, tall, and gracious, crowned with a mane of golden-reddish hair. His grand scale of living also made him a glamorous figure. He traveled all over America in his private railway car.. Besides his piano, his entourage consisted of his piano tuner, secretary, valet, doctor, and chef, as well as his wife, her attendants, and dog. He maintained princely establishments in Switzerland and California, where he entertained continually and lavishly. Box office success was translated into good deeds, sponsorship of competitions, and during World War I, the Polish Victims Relief Fund. In 1919, he was elected prime minister of an independent Poland and represented his country at the Paris Peace Conference, where he successfully convinced the other statesmen that a united Poland was necessary. He attended the signing of the Treaty of Versailles and the opening sessions of the League of Nations. He proved to be a masterful orator in French and English, as well as in Polish and German. He resumed his concert career in 1922, touring into old age and frailty to raise funds for the Polish cause in the wake of the Nazi invasion in 1939. He died in New York in 1941, and was given a hero's burial in Arlington National Cemetery. In 1992, his body was brought to Warsaw and placed in St. John's Cathedral..
 
November 13
George Whitefield Chadwick
Birth: November 13, 1854 in Lowell, MA
Death: April 4, 1931 in Boston, MA
Composer, conductor and director of the New England Conservatory of Music, Chadwick left a rich musical legacy for America. In a home where both his parents were amateur musicians, Chadwick received his first instruction in piano and harmony from his brother. He continued formal studies at the New England Conservatory in 1872. However, he didn't have enough money to complete his degree, so he worked in his father's insurance business for about three years. At age 21 he decided to pursue a career as a music educator and composer. After teaching at Olivet College, he traveled to Germany to attend the Leipzig Conservatory where he studied with Carl Reinecke and with Josef Rheinberger in Munich. His graduation piece from the Leipzig Conservatory was the Rip Van Winkle Overture, which was premiered at the Conservatory and later became his first composition performed in America. Returning to the United States in 1880, Chadwick set up a private teaching studio in Boston. Two years later he took a post as instructor in harmony and composition at the New England Conservatory. He also became the organist at Boston's South Congregational Church, a post he held for 17 years. In his years at the New England Conservatory, Chadwick instructed many of the most important of the next generation of American composers, such as Horatio Parker, William Grant Still, Henry Hadley, E. B. Hill, Daniel Gregory Mason, and Frederick Converse. As director of the Conservatory from 1897 until his death in 1931, Chadwick instituted some noteworthy changes, reforming the curriculum and organizing an opera workshop and a student orchestra. Chadwick was much in demand as a conductor, appearing frequently with U.S. orchestras. He also directed music festivals in Springfield and Worcester. Even with all this activity, he still managed to compose, writing five operas, three symphonies, five string quartets, and a variety of other orchestral and chamber works. The conservatism of his music, however, led to its falling out of favor, as musical tastes changed dramatically in the early 20th century. Chadwick was much honored during his lifetime. As early as 1897 he received an honorary degree from Yale University and eight years later he received another from Tufts College. His Symphony #3 won him a prize from the National Conservatory in New York In 1928, he was presented a gold medal by the Academy of Arts and Letters. In 1930 a pair of music festivals (at the New England Conservatory and the Eastman School) marked the 50th anniversary of his return to the United States from his European studies.
 
 
November 27
Franz Krommer
Birth: November 27, 1759 in Kamenice, Moravia
Death: January 8, 1831 in Vienna, Austria
Although highly regarded by his contemporaries, Krommer’s reputation has largely been overshadowed by the great Beethoven. A rival of Beethoven in the early 19th century, Krommer’s string quartets were compared favorably with those of Haydn. Krommer showed unusual talent early in his life and began violin and organ studies in 1774 with his uncle, Anton Matthias Krommer, composer and choirmaster at Turan. Through his uncle, Krommer became the temporary organist at Turan. Franz also spent a decade teaching himself theory and composition. After failing to find employment in Vienna, he obtained a post as a violinist in the Court orchestra of the Duke of Styrum in 1786. In 1788, Krommer was appointed music director of the Duke's orchestra, but he left the post in 1790 to become concertmaster at the Pecs Cathedral. He returned to Vienna in 1795, where as a composer with a growing reputation, he is thought to have taught composition for the next three years. In 1798, he was appointed concertmaster at the court of Duke Ignaz Fuchs, where he remained until 1810. This dozen-year period would prove a fertile one for Krommer, with the publication of his earliest symphonies, concertos, and nearly 50 of his more than 70 string quartets. In 1811, Krommer was appointed ballet concertmaster at the Vienna Hoftheater. Four years later, he accepted a post with Emperor Franz I, which required much travel. Krommer accompanied the Hapsburg ruler to France and Italy over the next two years. In 1818, Krommer was promoted to the rank of court composer and director of chamber music under Franz I, succeeding Leopold Kozeluch. He served in this post until his death in 1831.
 
December 4
Sir Herbert Hamilton Harty
Birth: December 4, 1879 in Hillsborough, County Down, Ireland
Death: February 19, 1941 in Brighton, England
Harty was a well-respected church organist, composer, conductor, and piano accompanist who was knighted for his services to music. “Bertie” learned viola, piano, and counterpoint from his father, the local church organist. Still a teenager, Harty was engaged as organist in Bray, near Dublin. In 1897 Harty became the official accompanist at a national the Feis Ceoil competitive music festival, where he first accompanied and befriended John McCormack. Harty entered his own String Quartet #1 in the composition competition in 1900 and entered chamber or orchestral works annually after that, winning in 1904 with his Irish Symphony. Harty had moved to London in 1900 and became known for his skillful accompaniment of vocalists and instrumentalists, such as Joseph Szigeti and Fritz Kreisler. After the success of his conducting premiere, he began conducting in England, while his compositions continued to win prizes. He was named permanent conductor of the Hallé Orchestra in 1920. During his tenure, he introduced the music of Bax, Sibelius, Casella, Berlioz, Moeran, and Strauss to Manchester audiences and expanded the orchestra's reputation throughout the country. He also conducted the English premieres of Mahler's Symphony #9 and Shostakovich's Symphony #1, as well as the world premiere of Constant Lambert's The Rio Grande. His temperament was said to be somewhat unpredictable, which led to his acrimonious resignation in 1933. From 1932 to 1935, he was conductor-in-chief of the London Symphony Orchestra, but it was felt that his box-office appeal wasn't sufficient to keep him on, despite his efforts to raise the performance standards of the orchestra. He spent the remainder of his life guest conducting, despite the loss of his right eye from a brain tumor suffered in 1936. Harty’s works are similar in style to those of the late- and post-Romantics, infused with the rhythms and sounds of Irish folk tunes. The Irish Symphony and the Comedy Overture remain his most popular and more frequently recorded pieces.
 
December 11
Hector Berlioz
Birth: December 11, 1803 in Cote-Saint-Andre, France
Death: March 8, 1869 in Paris, France
Berlioz developed a profound affinity for music and literature as a child and would honor both in his passionate, original compositions. Sent to Paris at 17 to study medicine, he was enchanted by Gluck's operas, and decided instead to become a composer. With his father's reluctant consent, Berlioz entered the Paris Conservatoire in 1826. An obsessive artist, he entered the Prix de Rome competition each year until he won the in 1830. In 1827, he attended a performance of Hamlet that included Harriet Smithson as Ophelia. He immediately became infatuated with both actress and playwright. He began to send Harriet messages, but she considered Berlioz's letters so overly passionate that she refused his advances. In response, he composed the unconventional Symphonie Fantastique, a work which would bring Berlioz much fame and notoriety. He entered into a relationship with, and subsequently became engaged to, Camille Moke, despite the symphony being inspired by his fixation with Smithson. In 1832, Berlioz organized a concert, featuring his Symphonie Fantastique. Harriet Smithson was in the audience. They were introduced days later and married on October 3, 1833. Berlioz settled into a pattern which he maintained for more than a decade, writing reviews, organizing concerts, and composing a series of visionary masterpieces including Harold en Italie (for Paganini), the Requiem, and the opera, Benvenuto Cellini, which was a crushing fiasco. At year's end, the dying Paganini made Berlioz a gift of 20,000 francs, enabling him to devote nearly a year to the composition of his "dramatic symphony," Roméo et Juliette. Then, to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the July Revolution, came the Symphonie Funèbre et Triomphale and shortly thereafter,the exquisite Les Nuits d'été. The next decade would produce his La Damnation de Faust and the massive Te Deum. But this was a difficult time for Berlioz, as his marriage failed to bring him the happiness he desired. Despite concert tours throughout Europe, his expense situation was catastrophic, and only a successful concert tour to St. Petersburg saved him from financial ruin. Elected to the Institut de France in 1855, he started receiving a members' stipend, and this provided him with a degree of financial security. Consequently, Berlioz was able to devote himself to the summit of his career, his vast opera, Les Troyens, based on Virgil's Aeneid. Though his health began to fail late in his life, Berlioz went on to conduct his works in Vienna and Cologne in 1866, and St. Petersburg and Moscow in the winter of 1867-1868.
 
Mieczyslaw Karlowicz
Birth: December 11, 1876 in Wiszniew, Lithuania
Death: February 8, 1909 in the Tatra Mountains, Poland
Had it not been for his tragic premature death, Karlowicz would conceivably have played a major role in the development of music in Poland during the first half of the 20th century. His father, Jan, was a distinguished linguist and ethnologist as well as a musician who had published articles on Polish folk music and had composed some songs and minor piano pieces. MieczysÏaw, the youngest of four children, began his musical education in Heidelberg, where he received violin lessons after the family had left Lithuania in 1882. After spending five years traveling in Europe with some time in Dresden and Prague, the KarÏowicz family finally settled in Warsaw, where Mieczyslaw continued his violin studies. Karlowicz’s first works including several songs and short pieces for violin and piano, remained unpublished and were destroyed during the bombing of Warsaw in 1939. With Poland in political turmoil, KarÏowicz moved to Berlin in 1895 and concentrated on composition. KarÏowicz firmly sided with the progressive neo-romantics, including Wagner and Richard Strauss, against the classical conservatism of Brahms and his supporters. Aside from Strauss, KarÏowicz was also drawn to the music of Bruckner, Tchaikovsky and Grieg, but he was uncompromisingly dismissive of many others, including such classical masters as Beethoven. Karlowicz’s own compositions from his student days in Berlin included a Serenade for Strings Op 2, and The White Dove Op 6. He also started work on his Symphony in e ‘Rebirth’ Op 7, which was completed in Warsaw in 1902. Having returned to Warsaw in 1901, Karlowicz found himself at odds with the reactionary Polish musical establishment which was trying to reassert itself. KarÏowicz was insistent that more Polish music be programmed for the newly-formed Philharmonia, under the directorship of the composer and violinist Emil MÏynarski. After a dispute with MÏynarski, he refused to have his own works performed. Thus Karlowicz had to arrange and promote his own concerts. Berlin was the venue for the first performance of his symphony, together with the music for The White Dove, and his latest work to date, the Violin Concerto in A Op 8. Karlowicz’s reputation as a composer, however, rests with the six symphonic poems he produced between 1903 and 1909. In 1906 KarÏowicz visited Paris, and then spent the winter in Leipzig, where he was able to study conducting at Artur Nikisch’s rehearsals. In the summer months he moved to Zakopane, in the Polish Highlands, and he eventually made this his permanent home, preferring the lonely solitude and remote beauty of the Tatra Mountains, where he was able to pursue his other interests—walking, cycling, skiing and photography. It was while out skiing that he was killed by an avalanche on February 8, 1909.
 
Elliott Cook Carter
Birth: December 11, 1908 in New York City, NY
Carter studied at the Horace Mann School and at Harvard, where he obtained a B.A. in English and an M.A. in Music. From Harvard, he went to Paris, studying at the Ecole Normale de Musique and taking private lessons with Nadia Boulanger. Carter had an interest in modern music almost from the beginning, but he also sang in a madrigal group and conducted choral concerts in Paris, and has pursued interests in mathematics, literature, and languages. After his return to the U.S., he served as the musical director of the Ballet Caravan from 1937 to 1939. Throughout the next 4 decades, Carter held an impressive variety of teaching posts at, among others, the Peabody Conservatory, Columbia University, Yale University, the American Academy in Rome and the Juilliard School. Carter has also been the recipient of many honors and awards, including honorary doctorates from almost a dozen universities, many foundation grants, a Prix de Rome, two Guggenheim fellowships, and Pulitzer Prizes for his second and third string quartets. His ballet Pocahontas and the Holiday Overture are representative of Carter's early style, a fusion of Stravinsky's neo-Classicism and the American populism of Copland. Subsequent works, such as the Piano Sonata and the Cello Sonata, exhibit more dissonance and rhythmic complexity. Carter developed his notion of "metrical modulation," in which one tempo leads gradually to another by changing the note values in different voices of the ensemble. His String Quartet #1 and the Variations for Orchestra employ this processand the Double Concerto and the String Quartet #2 develop those ideas further. Carter has written five string quartets, along with a variety of symphonic works, concertos, chamber and solo pieces and, in the late '70s and early '80s, a handful of vocal works. Carter astounded the music world by creating his first opera, What Next?, at the age of 90. One of the most significant post-World War II American composers, Elliott Carter remains a forceful and eloquent voice at age 100.
 
December 18
Edward MacDowell
Birth: December 18, 1860 in Manhattan, NY
Death: January 23, 1908 in New York, NY
MacDowell was the son of a milkman and a musically inclined mother. At eight, MacDowell began piano lessons with a boarder in the home, Juan Buitrago. Through Buitrago, MacDowell met pianist and international concert star Teresa Carreño, who also provided him with instruction and encouragement. In the late 19th century, the avenue to a musical education was in Europe. Thus, MacDowell and his mother went to Paris in 1877 and MacDowell enrolled at the Paris Conservatoire. But a year later, MacDowell heard Nikolai Rubinstein play the first Tchaikovsky piano concerto, and with that, he decided to leave Paris and study in Germany. He went first to Stuttgart, then Wiesbaden, and finally to Frankfurt where he studied with Joachim Raff and concertized in the presence of Franz Liszt. MacDowell began to take in piano pupils of his own, and one of them, Margaret Nevins, became MacDowell's wife in 1884. At Liszt's insistence MacDowell began to pursue composition rather than performance, and his First and Second Modern Suites were widely successful on first publication. In 1888, MacDowell resettled in Boston, the emerging center of concert life in America. From this time until 1896 MacDowell enjoyed his greatest successes and patronage, and it is during this time that MacDowell wrote most of his music: the Second Piano Concerto, Indian Suite, Sonata Tragica, most of his songs, and the Woodland Sketches. In 1895, the MacDowells purchased a farm in Peterborough, New Hampshire, so that the fretful MacDowell could concentrate effectively on his work. In 1896, MacDowell was named head of the newly established music department at Columbia University, an important academic position at a major liberal arts college. MacDowell quickly won the admiration of his colleagues and students through his boundless energy and enthusiasm. However, in 1902 Columbia elected a new president, Nicholas Murray Butler, who did not share MacDowell's vision and sought to eliminate the music department altogether. This provoked a heated conflict between Butler and MacDowell that largely served to undermine the health of the short-tempered composer. That year, MacDowell resigned from Columbia, and afterward his health began to decline rapidly. He died on the Peterborough farm at age 47. In accordance with his own wishes, MacDowell's widow later converted the farm into an artist's colony, which has become the best-known and most respected environment of its kind in the United States.
 
December 25
Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges
Birth: December 25, 1739 in Basse-Terre, Guadeloupe
Death: June 10, 1799 in Paris, France
Joseph Boulogne, more commonly known as Saint-Georges, was the son a French Parliamentary councilor. Little is known about Boulogne's African-born mother and no records survive as to her early life. While he was young, his family moved to Saint Domingue (Haiti). It was there that he likely had his first violin lessons, under the direction of his father's plantation manager. When he was 10, the family moved again, this time to Paris. In Paris, Boulogne's life underwent an almost phenomenal change. He was introduced to a wide range of activities, including riding, dancing, swimming, skating, and fencing and he became a master swordsman, often regarded as the greatest in Europe during his prime. Before he turned 20, Boulogne took up violin studies under Leclair, and composition under Gossec. In 1769, Gossec appointed Boulogne as first violinist of the Concerts des Amateurs, the young composer's first professional post. But the real glory came in 1772, when he made his debut as soloist performing his own Op. 2 Violin Concerti. The audience was most impressed with the feeling and expression Boulogne put into performances of his technically demanding works. By 1773, Boulogne was a well-respected musician, and took over Gossec's post as director of the Concerts des Amateurs. His 1775 appointment as director of the Paris Opéra, unfortunately, was revoked after singers refused to work with him because of his race. However, he was largely responsible for the commissioning of Haydn's famous Paris Symphonies. When the Revolution broke out in 1789, the now-noble Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges, joined the newly formed Republic and assembled a new military force in northern France. In 1791, he left music completely and became the captain of the National Guard in Lille. However, Saint-Georges was wrongfully accused of misappropriation of funds intended for the troops, and he was stripped of his command and imprisoned. Upon his release, he left France for Saint Domingue, after hearing of the slave rebellion. Saint-Georges returned to Paris in 1797 to resume his musical career, directing a new musical organization, Le Cercle de l'Harmonie. After two dismal years, Saint-Georges died a pauper, having given up his wealth and life to the Revolution. Saint-Georges is remembered mainly for his quartets and violin concerti, but his musical style was naturally suited to operatic and theatrical music, and it is believed that some operatic works of his have been lost to time.