Thursday Evening Classics - Steve Petke
Carl Maria von Weber
Birth: November 18, 1786 in Eutin, Oldenburg, Germany
Death: June 5, 1826 in London, England
Weber was the son of a musician and theatre manager. While his education was sporadic, he was fortunate to study with Michael Haydn and Abbé Vogler. Appointed Kappelmeister at Breslau in 1804, he left under unpleasant circumstances to become music director to Duke Eugen of Württemberg in Carlsruhe, where he wrote his only two symphonies. He then moved on to an appointment at the court of the duke's brother Ludwig in Stuttgart, then returned to Württemberg only to be dismissed for a minor offence. Weber spent some time traveling, including to Frankfurt for the production of Silvana. He also began making a reputation as one of the great keyboard virtuosos of the day, touring with clarinetist Heinrich Bärmann, for whom he wrote some of his finest concertante works. Weber gained fame as an opera composer with the 1811 production of Abu Hassan. Weber had progressively championed operatic reforms and the development of a German operatic tradition. Although there were capable German-speaking composers, the idea of a German opera generated opposition, as the public regarded it as primarily an Italian art form. In 1813, Weber became director of the Prague Opera, where he remained until 1816. There he was able to establish reforms that included greater prominence of the orchestra, more careful rehearsal of the singers as dramatic artists, and increased emphasis on scenery and costume. Moving to Dresden as director of the German Opera in 1817, he was able to further develop his ideas. The successful staging of Der Freischütz in 1821 made Weber the most famous musician in Germany. Here, finally, was a work whose plot, rustic characters and dramatic folk-inspired melodies were recognizably Germanic. Although Weber's next opera, Euryanthe was less successful it did introduce the technique of recurring musical themes throughout the entire opera, which would become essential in the stage works of Wagner. By this time, Weber had also written concert music including solo piano pieces, the Piano Quartet, Clarinet Quintet, two piano concertos and a Konzertstück for piano and orchestra. In 1825, Weber was invited to London to conduct Oberon, which had been commissioned for Covent Garden. Though suffering from tuberculosis, he conducted concerts and played in aristocratic houses to accumulate all the money he could. He knew he was dying and was determined to provide for his family. Despite a convoluted libretto and wayward stage direction, the opening of Oberon was a triumph, and Weber was given a rapturous welcome by audiences. Weber died in the English capital in 1826, shortly after the premiere of Oberon at Covent Garden.
Ignace Jan Paderewski
Birth: November 18, 1860 in Kurylowka, Poland
Death: June 29, 1941 in New York, NY
Paderewski was born into an affluent, cultured family and received piano lessons from an early age. He entered the Warsaw Music Institute before he was 12 to study piano, harmony, and counterpoint. Upon graduation in 1878 the Institute hired him as a piano teacher. By 1880 he was married and a year later found himself a widower and father of a disabled son. Forsaking Warsaw for cosmopolitan Berlin, Paderewski pursued composition studies between 1881 and 1883 and made the acquaintance of Moritz Moszkowski, Richard Strauss and Anton Rubinstein. Feeling the need for further piano study, Paderewski sought out the great Polish pianist and pedagogue Theodor Leschetizky. Despite raw talent, Paderewski lacked technique. Applying himself rigorously during three years of intense study with Leschetizky, he transformed his mediocre ability into a world-class technique. His Vienna debut in 1888, followed by enormous success at a concert in Paris launched his international career. He appeared in London and went on to New York. In the U.S. and Canada he gave over 100 concerts, a punishing schedule that was repeated annually. For his North American tour he traveled in his own private railway carriage, with a chef and valet. Other tours took him to South America, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, as well as the greater and lesser cities of Europe. From this point Paderewski became something of a cult figure, but he drove himself without respite, and the cost to his health and compositional output was considerable, especially as he suffered badly from nerves and endured an exhausting regime of daily practice when preparing a concert. At his height, he was the most famous and highest paid pianist in the world. His appeal to audiences was undoubtedly partly due to his striking, leonine appearance and hypnotic stage presence. But box office success was translated into philanthropy, sponsorship of competitions, and in 1915, the Polish Victims Relief Fund. In 1919 he was chosen independent Poland's first Prime Minister, in which capacity he signed the Treaty of Versailles. He had, however, little interest or ability in politics and soon resigned, preferring to be regarded simply as an elder statesman. 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. As a composer Paderewski wrote the celebrated Minuet in G, the Nocturne in B, a Piano Concerto, the opera Manru, a Piano Sonata, and a Symphony and a handful of other works.
Birth: November 25, 1856 in Vladimir, Russia
Death: June 19, 1915 in Dyudkovo, Russia
Taneyev was born into a prosperous and aristocratic family and received an outstanding education. At the Moscow Conservatory he studied piano with Nikolay Rubinstein and composition with Tchaikovsky, who became a close friend. Taneyev received gold medals in both at his graduation in 1875. Taneyev made his first impact as a pianist, giving the first Russian performance of Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto #1 and the Russian premieres of all of Tchaikovsky's other works for piano and orchestra. After touring as a pianist for three years, Taneyev reluctantly took a position in 1878 at the conservatory, where he would later become director. After four more years, he resigned, becoming once again a private instructor, in order to concentrate on composition. In 1905, Taneyev stopped teaching completely and resumed his career as a pianist. Taneyev composed four symphonies, six string quartets, a Piano Quintet, a Piano Trio, other chamber works, songs, and piano music. Taneyev's most ambitious work was his remarkable three-act opera Oresteya, which, because of its length and weight, he called a trilogy. Although he wrote a large quantity of keyboard, orchestral, vocal, and chamber music, he is known today primarily as the teacher of Scriabin, Rachmaninov, and Glière. He is also remembered as an important theorist for his rigorous studies of counterpoint and canon.
Birth: November 25, 1896 in Kansas City, MO
Death: September 30, 1989 in New York, NY
Thomson started playing piano at age 5 and began taking lessons with local teachers at age 12. He studied organ from 1909 and worked as an organist in his family's church of Calvary Baptist, as well as in other churches in Kansas City. He enlisted in the Army and served during World War I in a field artillery unit. He also received training in radio telephony at Columbia University and in aviation in Texas. The war ended shortly before Thomson was to leave for France. After the war, Thomson enrolled at Harvard University, where he first began to compose. It was at Harvard that Thompson developed his appreciation of choral music, modern French music and the writings of Gertrude Stein. Thomson spent the summer of 1921 touring Europe with the Harvard Glee Club. After the tour, he remained behind to study organ with Nadia Boulanger, under a John Knowles Paine Traveling Fellowship. Upon his return the U.S., Thomson returned to Harvard and became organist and choirmaster at King's Chapel in Boston. After his graduation from Harvard in 1923, a grant from the Juilliard School allowed him to go to New York, where he studied conducting and counterpoint. From 1925 to 1940, Thomson resided in Paris. It was there, that he met and collaborated with Gertrude Stein on the opera, Four Saints in Three Acts, perhaps Thomson's most famous work. After a period exploring the realm of "pure" music, Thomson returned during the late 1930s to a more nationalistic vein with scores to documentary two films, The Plow That Broke the Plain and The River, and a ballet, Filling Station. In October of 1940, Thomson became music critic for The New York Herald Tribune. Although he continued to compose during his 14 years at the post, Thomson established himself as one of the foremost critical writers of the era. His writings were unpretentious, cleverly witty, at times deeply provocative, but always highly opinionated. They provided material for three anthologies: The Musical Scene, The Art of Judging Music and Music, andRight and Left. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Thomson traveled extensively as a guest lecturer, or a conference participant, all the while continuing to conduct, write articles, and compose.
Birth: December 9, 1882 in Seville, Spain
Death: January 14, 1949 in Madrid, Spain
Turina was the son of a painter of Italian descent. He studied piano and theory in his hometown and made his debut there as a pianist at age 14. His success led him to Madrid, where he tried to get his opera La sulamita and his zarzuela Fea y con gracia performed. The latter was staged with no great success, but Turina gradually became well known in artistic circles and his friendship with Manuel de Falla influenced his ideas on the proper character of Spanish music.In 1902 he began to study the piano at the Real Conservatorio Superior de Música with José Tragó. In 1905 Turina moved to Paris, where he studied the piano with Moritz Moszkowski for a time and worked at composition at the Schola Cantorum. During his years in Paris he was encouraged by the great French composers of that time —Debussy, Ravel, Dukas, and his teacher d'Indy — and wrote a few works in the French style. In 1907 Turina appeared as pianist with the Parent Quartet, and they introduced his Piano Quintet Op.1. The work exhibited the influence of Cesar Frank, so Albéniz and Falla encouraged Turina to explore Spanish popular music. Turina accepted this guidance, and several more pieces were well received. Shortly after Turina's graduation from the Schola in 1913, the first major event of his compositional career took place with the première of La procesión del Rocio in Madrid. By the time he returned to Spain with Falla in 1914, he was already recognized as a leading Spanish composer. He conducted for the Ballets Russes and received a prize for his Sinfonía sevillana, introduced triumphantly by Arbós. Turina took a post as choirmaster at the Teatro Real, a position he held until the theater closed in 1925. He continued to be very active in Spain's musical life, serving as pianist of the Quinteto de Madrid, conducting opera and orchestral performances, and writing musical criticism for the newspaper El debate and the periodical Dígame. He also composed two books of Mujeres Españolas for piano, a series of portraits of Spanish women, and La oración del torero (The Bullfighter's Prayer). In 1926 his Piano Trio Op. 35 won the National Music Prize. He was appointed professor of composition at the Madrid Conservatory in 1930. He and his family suffered a certain amount of persecution by the Republicans during the Spanish Civil War, but Turina was able to carry on with his musical activities both during and after the war.He was elected to the Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, and appointed Comisario General de la Música in 1941. Turina received a national tribute and finally the Grand Cross of Alfonso the Wise. He died after a long and painful struggle with cancer.
Ludwig van Beethoven
Birth: December 16, 1770 in Bonn, Germany
Death: March 26, 1827 in Vienna, Austria
It is difficult to overstate the revolutionary impact that Beethoven had on every musical form in which he worked. A virtuoso pianist, he transported the piano sonata from the private drawing room to the public concert hall. His song cycle An die ferne Geliebte became the model for similar cycles by all the subsequent Romantic song composers. In the string quartet, Beethoven expanded the form to a vastly increase technical and expressive demands. Above all, through Beethoven the symphony emerged as the centerpiece of a composer's creative output. He was the first to use ‘motto themes’ as a consistent formal device. His slow movements displayed expressiveness that his predecessors had never approached. He transformed the minuet into the tempestuous scherzo. He enlarged the coda from a traditional conclusion to a dramatic, even ecstatic, climax. Beethoven received his early training from his father and other local musicians. As a teenager, he earned some money as an organist and assistant to his teacher, Christian Gottlob Neefe. Beethoven's father was a Court Singer in Bonn, but was an alcoholic and Ludwig was granted half of his father's salary as court musician from the Electorate of Cologne in order to care for his two younger brothers. Beethoven played viola in various orchestras, becoming friends with other players such as Reicha, Simrock, and Ries, and began taking on composition commissions. As a member of the court chapel orchestra, he was able to travel and meet members of the nobility, one of whom, Count Ferdinand Waldstein, would become a great friend and patron to him. His early fame was entirely that of a virtuoso improviser at the keyboard.In 1792, Haydn invited Beethoven to study with him in Vienna. Apart from occasional visits to the countryside Beethoven would spend the rest of his life in Vienna. A short time later, Beethovenwent to study theory with Schenk and then to Albrechtsberger and Salieri. In 1794, he began his career in earnest as a pianist and composer, taking advantage whenever he could of the patronage of others. His piano trios were published in 1795and had immediate success. However, his personal eccentricities and unpredictability were to grow, chiefly because of his discovery in 1798that he was going deaf. It was not until 1819that conversation with him was possible only by writing in a notebook, but in the intervening 20 years his affliction steadily worsened. Perhaps this is also why he never married, though he loved several women, in particular, the still unidentified ‘Immortal Beloved.’ Though his growing despondency intensified his antisocial tendencies, he began to produce a steady stream of ground-breaking masterpieces. His Symphony #3 “Eroica” of 1805 greatly extended the possibilities of symphonic form. It was also significant because it was originally dedicated to Napoleon Bonaparte. Beethoven erased the dedication when he heard that Napoleon had proclaimed himself emperor. In 1805Beethoven’s only opera Fidelio, originally called Leonore, was performed. His Symphony #5 was premiered in Vienna in 1808 at a marathon concert that included the Sixth Symphony (Pastoral), the Choral Fantasy, the Fourth Piano Concerto, and parts of the Mass in C. The Seventh and Eighth Symphonies appeared in 1813, and in 1817he began work on his Ninth Symphony, which set a new precedent by including a choral finale. From 1824to 1826he completed the last 5 of his 16 string quartets and the Grosse Fuge.When he died, his funeral at Währing was a national occasion. His grave is now in the Central Friedhof, Vienna.
Birth: December 16, 1882 in Kecskemét, Hungary
Death: March 6, 1967 in Budapest, Hungary
Kodály was born into a musical family in which his father played the violin, and his mother the piano. He attended the Nagyszombat Gymnasium where his first orchestral work was played by the school orchestra. In 1900 he entered Budapest University and the Franz Liszt Academy of Music, where his teacher was Hans (János) Koessler, who also taught Bartók and Dohnányi. After his graduation in 1905, he met Bartók and went on the first of many journeys into rural Hungary to record and transcribe authentic folk music. Kodály's debut as a composer came in October 1906 with a successful performance of his orchestral poem Summer Evening at the Academy of Music. Two months later Kodály left Hungary for the first time for a period of study in Berlin and Paris. Upon his return in 1907 he was appointed to the faculty of the Academy, eventually succeeding his teacher Koessler as professor of composition. With the creation of the New Hungarian Music Society in 1911, Kodály firmly established himself alongside Bartók and Dohnányi as a primary influence in Hungary's developing musical culture. Kodály produced a steady stream of music throughout his life. His most famous works are the opera Háry János from 1927 and the orchestral suite from that opera, and the collection of educational works, which have become known as the Kodály method. In 1923, for the 50th anniversary of the unification of Buda and Pest as the capital, he composed Psalmus Hungaricus, which was soon performed throughout Europe and America under leading conductors such as Toscanini, Mengelberg, and Furtwängler. In response to two important commissions, he wrote the Variations on a Hungarian Folk Song “Peacock” for the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra's 50th anniversary and the Concerto for Orchestra for the 50th anniversary of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. These were in contrast to the dozens of works for children's voices which occupied him for the last 30 years of his life. In later years he made frequent concert tours during which he appeared as a conductor of his own music, though he never abandoned what he himself considered to be his primary work: the collection and systematization of Hungarian folk music and culture. In the years after the Second World War he was honored by countless academic, musical, and political organizations around the globe. In 1961 he served as president of the International Folk Music Council, and, in 1964, as honorary president of the International Society of Music Educators.
Birth: December 30, 1874 in Kiev, Ukraine
Death: June 23, 1956 in Moscow, Russia
Gliere was the son of a wind instrument maker and became an accomplished violinist while he was still a child. His father's house was a favorite gathering place for musicians, and Reinhold had a small but critical audience for whom he played some of his earliest attempts at composition. At age 16 he went to the Kiev School of Music for three years and then entered the Moscow Conservatoire to study the violin with Sokolovsky and Hřímalý, harmony with Arensky and Konyus, counterpoint with Taneyev, and composition under Ippolitov-Ivanov. Gliere's earliest works were chiefly chamber music, including a sextet dedicated to Taneyev. His First Symphony and the early Romanzas reveal his ties with the great traditions of Russian musical culture. He graduated with a one-act opera Earth and Heaven, and accepted a teaching post at the Gnessin School of Music in Moscow. It was not long before he produced his Second Symphony, which was dedicated to Koussevitsky, as well as various other orchestral works. His Third Symphony “Ilya Murometz,” was dedicated to Glazunov and first published in 1911. This monumental work earned him world-wide fame and in America it became a favorite of Leopold Stokowski. From 1913 to 1920 Gliere was the Director of the Kiev Conservatoire, and then he was invited by the Nationalist Policy of the Soviet Government to make a prolonged study of the folklore and folk music of Azerbaijan, so that he could revive the national music of that republic. He moved to Baku, its capital, and from there visited a large number of the towns and villages there. His efforts culminated in the Azerbaijanian opera, Shah-Senen, which blended Azerbaijanian folk-tunes and Iranian melodies. It was not performed in Moscow until 1938, when it was the centerpiece at the great Festival of Azerbaijanian Art. A similar period of research in Uzbekistan produced the musical drama Gulsara, and some years later the opera Leyli and Medjnum. For the choreographic poem Zaporozhstsy, he drew upon the national music of the Ukraine. Gliere worked predominantly on a grand scale in the large forms (opera, ballet, symphony, symphonic poem). The most important element in his style is the expressive melody. His ballet music is marked by particular sensitivity, color and beauty. The most popular of his ballets are The Red Poppy and The Bronze Horseman. From 1920 to 1941 he was a professor of composition at the Moscow Conservatory. He also taught for a while in Kiev. Prokofiev, Khachaturian, Davidenko, Novikov, Rakov, Lyatoshynsky, and Miaskovsky all studied with him. Besides his creative work, Gliere also appeared frequently as a conductor and pianist.
Birth: December 30, 1904 in St. Petersburg, Russia
Death: February 16, 1987 in Moscow, Russia
In 1918, Kabalevsky moved with his family to Moscow, where he studied at the Scriabin Music School. At the age of 18, he began to compose, primarily for the piano. His first works for children appeared during these years, written for the pupils he taught while a student. He entered the Moscow Conservatory in 1925, studying piano with Goldenweiser and composition with Miaskovsky, the latter being particularly influential on Kabalevsky's evolving musical outlook. By the end of the 1920s Kabalevsky was gaining notoriety as a composer. In 1928, the premiere of his First Piano Concerto launched him into the forefront of Soviet composers, while the charming Sonatina for piano brought him international acclaim. His Second Symphony achieved considerable success and was conducted by Coates, Gauk, Golovanov, Sargent and Toscanini. During the 1930s Kabalevsky, like Prokofiev and Shostakovich, wrote a great deal of music for the emerging genre of film soundtrack. It was during this decade that Kabalevsky’s style was defined. Although Prokofiev served as a model to some extent, Kabalevsky was less adventurous, relying on the use of diatonic tonality and accessible structural contoursinterlaced with chromaticism and major-minor key interplay. He is perhaps best known for the overture to his opera Colas Breugnon which Arturo Toscanini conducted worldwide in the 1940s and 1950s. His suite The Comedians is another well-known work, while the Piano Concerto #2 is among his finest purely musical achievements. A series of concertos for young players – for Violin, for Cello, and the Third Piano Concerto – has greatly enriched the repertoire for student soloists. Kabalevskywas appointed senior lecturer at the Moscow Conservatory in 1932 and was made professor in 1939. During these years he also worked as a music critic. Later he would become an editor for the journal Sovetskaya muzïka and for the publishers Muzgiz. He also worked for the All-Union Radio as a critic. During World War II he wrote his 24 Preludes for piano based on Russian folksong, which he dedicated to Miaskovsky. These, along with the second and third sonatas, were taken up by a few Russian pianists. The appearance of the Fourth Symphony was a significant event; its tense and gloomy elegiac style is greatly at odds with the Kabalevsky of preceding years. This lyrical and dramatic vein continued in the Cello Sonata and the later song cycles. Kabalevsky's Requiem, Op. 72, completed in 1962, is a memorial to those who lost their lives during World War II.The last 20 years of Kabalevsky’s life saw a growing estrangement between him and his composer colleagues due to his unyielding rejection of new music. He concentrated instead on developing a program for music in schools, made appearances at concerts and lectures and, like Kodály and Orff before him, actually taught at a school. These experiences resulted in his two books about music for children which appeared in the 1970s and 1980s. Kabalevsky’s traditional stance as a composer and his strong sense of civic duty which found expression in his education work endeared him to the Soviet regime. The long list of honors and awards he received – including the Lenin Prize and Hero of Socialist Labor – demonstrate his ability to work as a creative artist in conditions under which many others had great difficulties.Kabalevsky was one of the few well-known Soviet composers who escaped the infamous 1948 condemnation of composers by the Central Committee of the Communist Party. The scapegoats, including Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Khachaturian, and Miaskovsky were censured for indulging in "decadent formalism."