WWUH Homepage

Public Affairs
Guide Articles
Station News
Benefit Concerts
WWUH Records
Contact WWUH
General Links

The University of Hartford

Thursday Evening Classics
Composer Capsules for
November and December 2009

November 12

Alexander Borodin
Birth: November 12, 1833 in St. Petersburg, Russia
Death:  February 27, 1887 in St. Petersburg, Russia
An accomplished scientist by trade, Borodin was an important Russian Nationalist composer. He had a particular gift for a distinctive exoticism, quite evident in his most frequently performed work, the Polovtsian Dances from the opera Prince Igor. The illegitimate son of a Georgian prince and a doctor's wife, Borodin enjoyed a comfortable upbringing. As a child he learned to play several instruments and tried his hand at composing. He studied chemistry at St. Petersburg's Medico-Surgical Academy, receiving his doctorate in 1858 and pursuing further studies in Europe for the next four years. Upon his return to Russia, he became a professor at his alma mater, but still maintained a devotion to music. Under the influence of Mily Balakirev, Borodin became interested in applying elements of Russian folk music to works for the concert hall and stage. He joined a circle of like-minded composers — Balakirev, Rimsky-Korsakov, Mussorgsky, and Cui — famously dubbed "The Five" or "The Mighty Handful." The influence of Balakirev is apparent in Borodin’s Symphony #1. Borodin began his Symphony #2 in 1869, the same year he started composing his most important work, the opulent four-act opera Prince Igor. While it took Borodin more than five years to complete the symphony, work on Prince Igor dragged on for decades. Borodin, who had in the meantime completed a number of other works, left the opera unfinished at the time of his death. It was completed posthumously by Rimsky-Korsakov, a skillful craftsman and a particularly good fit for Borodin's colorful musical character, and Alexander Glazunov. Glazunov also completed the Symphony #3, which the composer had been working on until the time of his death. Aside from teaching chemistry and conducting research, Borodin helped found a series of medical courses for women in 1872. These activities, as well as the poor health that plagued him in the 1880s, drained the energy that he might have devoted to composition. Still, as a part-time composer, Borodin left a significant body of works, including more than a dozen songs, miscellaneous piano pieces, two string quartets, and the popular tone poem In the Steppes of Central Asia.

December 3

Padre Antonio Soler
Birth: December 3, 1729 in Olot, Gerona, Spain
Death: December 20, 1783 in El Escorial, Spain
Antonio Francisco Javier Jose Soler was an 18th century Catalan composer, priest, monk, student, teacher, mathematician, inventor, and organist. His life was spent serving both the Catholic Church and music. He was a prolific composer with over 400 compositions credited to him. Soler spent most of his life at monasteries, particularly El Escorial, the magnificent royal palace, chapel, and monastery built by King Philip II outside of Madrid two centuries earlier. Soler came from a musical family. His brother, Mateu, played bassoon in the monastery of Las Descalzas Reales and then in the court of Carlos III, and finally in the Capilla Real. His musical training began at a very early age. In 1736, he became a student at the Benedictine monastery choir school at Montserrat where he learned organ and composition. Between 1752 and 1757, Soler studied with Domenico Scarlatti, the Italian composer who served the Spanish court of Ferdinand VI and Maria Barbara. Prior to going to El Escorial, where he spent the rest of his life, Soler was the maestro de capilla at Lerida and was ordained subdeacon in 1752. Later that same year, he joined the Hieronymite order of monks at El Escorial monastery. Soler became maestro de capilla at El Escorial in 1757. In addition, he performed as first organist, wrote much of the church music, and taught music. Perhaps his most prestigious student was the son of Carlos III, Don Gabriel de Bourbon. Soler taught the young Don Gabriel keyboard and many of the Soler's harpsichord sonatas were written for him. His musical compositions included over 120 sonatas for harpsichord, six quintets for organ and strings, six double organ concertos, 10 masses, five requiems, 132 villancicos, and many other works. His most famous was a sonata for harpsichord entitled Fandango. Soler also wrote a treatise on harmony, Llave de la Modulación whose concepts remain valid today. This treatise, however, caused considerable controversy and rebuke by some of his peers. He developed another treatise in 1771 that demonstrated his interest and skill in mathematics. This book was on Castilian and Catalan currency exchange and was published in honor of Carlos III. Soler was a man of other talents in addition to those mentioned. He invented a tuning box that was used to demonstrate differences between tones and semitones. He was also expert in organ design and construction. In 1776, he developed the specifications for an organ for the Malaga Cathedral.

Anton Webern
Birth: December 3, 1883 in Vienna, Austria
Death: September 15, 1945 in Mittersill, Austria
Anton (von) Webern was one of the key figures in the Second Viennese School. A pupil of Schoenberg, he became known for his concise and highly individual atonal and serial compositions. In many ways he was more influential than his teacher. In the postwar years leading figures in the avant-garde like Boulez, Stockhausen, and Dallapiccola, found more substance in his music and forms than in those of Schoenberg. His mature style was relatively straightforward, with simple harmonies and transparent textures, silent pauses, and brevity of expression. Much of his music is viewed as difficult and intellectual by the public, though it is comparatively approachable, much less challenging than the works of Boulez, Cage, and others. Webern's family moved to Graz in 1890, then four years later to Klagenfurt, where he would attend the gymnasium for his general education. He showed talent early on and studied both piano and cello during his early years in Klagenfurt. He graduated from the gymnasium in 1902 and enrolled at the University of Vienna. There he studied under Graedener, Adler, and Navratil. In 1904, however, he began his most serious period of study, when he became a pupil of Schoenberg. Schoenberg was then, and remained for some time to come, one of the most progressive figures in musical composition, being among the first to write entirely atonal music, and then finalizing his serial technique in the 1920s. Webern also became a close friend of Alban Berg, another of Schoenberg's pupils. During these years of study, Webern began to focus on vocal composition, turning out several sets of songs. He also wrote some important chamber works, including the String Quartet. In 1908, Webern launched a career as a conductor, taking a position at Bad Ischl. He was not particularly successful in this new endeavor, but acquired subsequent posts at Teplitz, Danzig, Stettin, and Prague, this last assignment ending in 1918, when he returned to Vienna. During these years Webern had continued to write song collections as well as chamber music. After the war, Webern, along with Berg, took part in Schoenberg's Society for Private Musical Performances, an organization dedicated to the performance of modern works. After this, he returned to conducting, but for the most part garnered only secondary posts. He did manage, however, to obtain regular conducting appearances on Austrian Radio. In 1926, he took on a teaching post at the Jewish Cultural Institute for the Blind. After the Nazis came to power, Webern's work with the Vienna Workers' Chorus was ended, and four years later, his relationship with Austrian Radio was terminated. Webern's death nearly a half year after the end of the war in Europe occurred in a freak incident in Mittersill when an American soldier mistakenly shot him while he was on a visit to his daughter.

Nino Rota
Birth: December 3, 1911 in Milan, Italy
Death: April 10, 1979 in Rome, Italy
Like many other concert music composers, such as Prokofiev, Takemitsu, and Herrmann, Rota created a unique film soundtrack style for which he became known worldwide. Rota was born into a musical family. One of his grandfathers was the pianist-composer Giovanni Rinaldi and he studied the piano, on which he was to become known as a gifted improviser, with his mother. He also studied solfège and began to compose at age eight. His oratorio L'infanzia di S. Giovanni Battista was performed in Milan and Lille in 1923, when he was only 12. Rota entered the Milan Conservatory the same year and wrote his first opera Il principe porcaro in 1925, basing his original libretto on Hans Christian Andersen's tale. About this time he established a lifelong friendship with Igor Stravinsky. He studied privately with Pizzetti and Casella, and received his diploma at the Accademia di S. Cecilia in Rome in 1930. He studied at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia and received an arts degree at Milan University. During this time he composed several minor chamber works. He became a teacher of harmony, solfège, and composition at the Taranto music school and the Bari Conservatory where he became director. Rota's first film score was for Renato Castellani's Zazà in 1944. He then went on to create music for many classic films by Luchino Visconti, Franco Zeffirelli, Mario Monicelli, H. Cass, Francis Ford Coppola, and many other directors. His 80 scores for Federico Fellini extended from The White Sheik (1952) to The Orchestra Rehearsal (1979). He also composed the music for many theater productions by Visconti, Zeffirelli, and de Filippo. These film scores have a distinctive "Rota" sound made from clear, directly expressive melodies and rhythms, unusual progressions of tonal chords, and often an earthy humor. Of Rota's 10 operas, the exciting Il capello di paglia di Firenze and the philosophical allegory La visita meravigliosa were the most successful. Of his five choral works, the Mysterium and La vita di Maria are considered especially fine in compositional technique. He also composed five ballets, many chamber and piano works, several symphonies, and other orchestral works including the brilliant Harp Concerto.

December 10

Cesar Franck
Birth: December 10, 1822 in Liège, Belgium
Death: November 8, 1890 in Paris, France
César Franck is an important composer and teacher from the latter half of the 19th century, particularly in the realms of symphonic, chamber, organ and piano music. Born in Liège (in the French region which would become Belgium), he led a group of young composers, among them d'Indy, Duparc, and Dukas, who found much to admire in his highly individual post-Romantic style, with its rich, innovative harmonies, sometimes terse melodies, and skilled contrapuntal writing. This group, sometimes known as "la bande à Franck," guided French composition toward symphonic and chamber music, finally breaking the stranglehold of the more conservative French opera. Franck was a keyboard player of extraordinary ability who toured as a piano virtuoso before moving to Paris to study music. In addition, he was organist at several major churches during his career. His organ compositions stand at the apex of the Romantic organ repertoire. Franck was a man of strong religious convictions throughout his life, which often motivated him to compose works based on biblical texts or on other liturgical sources. For much of his life he was organist at the Paris churches of St.-Jean-St. François and then Ste.-Clothilde, and in 1872 he became a professor at the Paris Conservatoire. Individual and instantly recognizable though his music was, it owes a debt to Liszt and Wagner, especially to the latter's Tristan und Isolde and several other late works. He tended to use rather quick modulations, another inheritance from Wagner, and shifting harmonies. There is a Germanic ponderousness in some of his compositions, for example, the opening of the Symphony in D minor, probably Franck's most famous composition. In this symphony, Franck, adapts the Lisztian-Wagnerian tendency toward cyclical structure and melodic motto to an abstract symphonic form. Another characteristic of Franck's music is extended homophonic writing, as exemplified in his choral symphonic poem Psyché. By the turn of the century he had become the leading figure associated with the "Old School" in France, while Debussy came to represent the "progressive" forces.

Olivier Messiaen
Birth: December 10, 1908 in Avignon, France
Death: April 27, 1992 in Clichy, France
Messiaen was a composer, organist, teacher, and ornithologist whose music is distinguished by his deep devotion to Catholicism, exoticism, and nature. At the age of 11 he entered the Paris Conservatoire, studying organ and improvisation with Marcel Dupré and composition with Paul Dukas. In 1930, he became the principal organist at La Trinité Cathedral in Paris, a post he held for more than 40 years. His distinguished teaching career is marked by appointments in Darmstadt, his famous courses in harmony and analysis at the Paris Conservatoire beginning in 1947, and his appointment as professor of composition there in 1966. His impressive list of students includes Boulez, Stockhausen, and his second wife, keyboardist Yvonne Loriod, among many others. In synthesizing an individual style, Messiaen discovered in the music of Debussy the properties of "exotic" modes such as the whole-tone and diminished scales, calling them "modes of limited transposition." The inherent symetricalities of these modes enabled Messiaen to create progressions and melodies free of the tonic-dominant polarity of traditional tonal music, while remaining independent of the twelve-tone system as well. Messiaen was gifted with a strong sense of "synaesthesia" or hearing in colors. He often described his music in terms of "color progressions," also equating key signatures and sets of pitches with specific colors. At an early age, Messiaen developed a strong interest in rhythm, particularly influenced by Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring. His rhythmic investigations ranged from Gregorian chant, to ancient Greek poetic meters, to Indian raga, to gamelan music. He soon left regular metric divisions behind, although repetition remained an integral part of his rhythmic vocabulary. All of these elements are explained in great detail in his 1944 publication, Technique de mon langage musical. In 1940, while a prisoner of war of the Nazis, Messiaen composed Quatuor pour la fin du temps. The quartet's unique instrumentation of piano, clarinet, violin, and cello was written for and premiered by Messiaen and three fellow inmates while in detention. It became one of the great chamber works of the 20th century. Messiaen was one of the first composers to apply serial techniques to parameters other than pitch (such as duration, register, and dynamics) in Mode de valeurs et d'intensités for solo piano. His interest in plain chant and rhythm led him to the ancient Greeks and Hindus, where he discovered processes such as nonretrogradable, additive, and subtractive rhythms. The Turangalila-symphonie is the most synthetic of his early works. It features rich orchestration, imaginative use of tonal colors, Hindu rhythms, and a formal scheme that unfolds in large, block-like structures. It also includes one of the earliest uses of the Ondes Martenot, an electronic instrument capable of producing eerie glissandi, as well as monophonic melodies. Messiaen had a deep love of birdsong, and spent much time in the wild making extensive transcriptions, many of which would surface in his works, most notably in an arresting orchestral passage in Chronochromie and the monumental Catalogue d'oiseaux for solo piano. His large body of organ music, composed primarily during his tenure as organist at the Sainte Trinite Cathedral, is highly idiomatic, colorful in harmony and registration, and rhythmically ingenious. His only opera, St. Francis d'Assise, was completed in 1983.

December 17

Domenico Cimarosa
Birth: December 17, 1749 in Aversa, Italy
Death: January 11, 1801 in Venice, Italy
was the prolific creator of over 60 operas
Cimarosa was the son of a working class bricklayer. He studied music at the Conservatorio Santa Maria di Loreto from 1761 until 1772. Among his teachers was the famous Piccinni, Gluck’s operatic rival in France. Cimarosa’s first opera was Le stravaganza del conte, which premiered in Naples in 1772, and brought Cimarosa immediate recognition. Cimarosa spent the next several years in Rome and Naples, and composed over 20 operas for these two cities. His operas were performed internationally in Paris, Vienna, Dresden, and London. In 1787, Catherine II invited him to St. Petersburg. During his stay in Russia, Cimarosa continued to compose at a remarkable rate. Subsequently, Leopold II of Austria engaged him as court Kapellmeister in Vienna, to fill the position vacated by Salieri. Cimarosa's delightful comic opera Il matrimonio segreto was staged in Vienna and immensely pleased the Emperor. He gave the entire cast supper, and had them perform the entire opera again that same evening. Although lacking Mozart's depth, Cimarosa's music does possess some of Mozart's qualities, in particular, a gift for the comic, buffo style. After the death of the Emperor, Salieri was reappointed Kapellmeister, and Cimarosa was released. He left Vienna and returned to Naples where he entered the service of the King. He was hailed in Naples as a great operatic hero, and his Il matrimonio segreto was performed 57 times running. However, Cimarosa's last years were marked by misfortune. When the French Republican army marched into Naples, Cimarosa enthusiastically declared his support of the revolution. He was immediately thrown into prison and condemned to death. The King eventually released him, but banished him from Naples. Broken in spirit, Cimarosa attempted to return to Russia, but died in Venice in 1801. In addition to 60 operas, he wrote oratorios, masses, and cantatas, and instrumental works.

Dmitri Kabalevsky
Birth: December 17, 1904 in St. Petersburg, Russia
Death: February 14, 1987 in Moscow, Russia
Kabalevsky lived during a notoriously difficult time for composers in Russia. In 1918, Kabalevsky moved with his family to Moscow, where he studied at the Scriabin Music School. At the age of 18, Kabalevsky began to compose, primarily for the piano. His early pieces were studies for his young students. He entered the Moscow Conservatory in 1925, studying piano with Goldenweiser and composition with Miaskovsky. 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. His music would be hailed by Communist authorities as the finest incarnation of their artistic vision. At the same time, the charming Sonatina for piano brought him international acclaim. From his appointment to the composition faculty of the Moscow Conservatory in 1932 to his death in 1987, Kabalevsky produced a steady stream of works which sought to embody Soviet musical ideals through the use of diatonic tonality and accessible structural contours. 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 perhaps his finest purely musical achievement. A trio of concertos – Violin, Cello, and Piano for young players has greatly enriched the literature for student soloists. In addition to his compositional activities, Kabalevsky was a frequent contributor to educational magazines and he held positions at various State educational organizations. Kabalevsky joined the Communist Party in 1940 and by 1941 he received the Medal of Honor from the Soviet government for his musical prowess. During World War II, Kabalevsky wrote several inspirational songs and battle hymns. 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." Later in life, Kabalevsky became more involved in choral music. He was elected the head of the Commission of Musical Esthetic Education of Children in 1962, as well as being elected president of the Scientific Council of Educational Esthetics in the Academy of Pedagogical Sciences of the U.S.S.R. in 1969. Kabalevsky also received the honorary degree of president of the International Society of Musical Education.

December 31

Ernest John Moeran
Birth: December 31, 1894 in Heston, Middlesex, England
Death: December 1, 1950 in Kenmare, County Kerry, Ireland
Moeran was born in Heston (in the London Borough of Hounslow), the son of an Irish clergyman. The family moved around for several years as the Rev. J. W. W. Moeran was appointed to various parishes but they eventually settled in Bacton, on the Norfolk coast. Moeran learned the violin and the piano as a child. He was educated from an early age at home, by a governess. At the age of ten, he was sent to Suffield Park Preparatory School in Cromer, North Norfolk. In 1908, he was enrolled at Uppingham School where he spent the next five years. On leaving Uppingham in 1913, he studied piano and composition at the Royal College of Music with Charles Villiers Stanford. Moeran spent most of World War I as a dispatch rider. He was severely wounded in the head and was posted to non-combatant duties. After the war he returned to the Royal College of Music to resume his composition studies, now with John Ireland, who had been a pupil of Moeran's earlier teacher Charles Villiers Stanford.  His first mature compositions, songs and chamber music, date from this time. He also began collecting and arranging folk music of Norfolk and other regions. By the mid-1920s, Moeran had become close friends with Peter Warlock (Philip Heseltine) and they lived for some years in Eynsford, Kent, notorious among the locals for their frequent drunken revelry. For the rest of his life, Moeran was to have problems with alcohol, later joined by mental instability.  There is some suggestion that these conditions were connected to his wartime injury. In the early '30s, he retired to the Cotswolds to reconsider his style. One of the first fruits of this introspective period was his only symphony. An increased sense of energy is typical of the music written after his stay in the Cotswolds. A more lean though not quite neo-Classical sound appears in his Sinfonietta. His next major work was a cello concerto, written for Peers Coetmore, whom he married in 1945. He died suddenly, probably from a heart attack or cerebral hemorrhage, in Kenmare at the age of 55. He was found in the River Kenmare and it was at first assumed he had drowned. However, an inquest later established that he had died before falling into the water. Moeran was one of the last major English composers to be heavily influenced by English folk-song and thus belongs to the lyrical tradition of Delius, Vaughan Williams and Ireland. The influence of the nature and landscapes of Norfolk and Ireland are also often evident in his music. Moeran was undoubtedly middle-class, but would be at ease in a pub surrounded by villagers from local farms. He was looked upon with affection by all who knew him, and his gauche, bumbling personality belied a very sharp-witted person who was quick to learn and take up new approaches to music. He also had an encyclopedic knowledge of trains and train timetables.

Silvestre Revueltas
Birth: December 31, 1899 in Santiago Papasquiaro, Mexico
Death: October 5, 1940 in Mexico City, Mexico
Silvestre Revueltas' music bursts with energy, instrumental color, and mocking humor. Revueltas began violin studies at age 8 and continued as a teenager in Mexico City. From there Revueltas headed north to Texas to study at St. Edward College in Austin and then to the Chicago Musical College. Revueltas returned to Mexico to give violin recitals in the capital and several states. But Chicago drew him back in 1922 for a four-year course of violin study. In the mid-1920s Revueltas made trips to Mexico for several series of recitals of modern music. His piano accompanist was the young Carlos Chávez. Ultimately, Chávez persuaded him to return to Mexico City to teach violin and chamber music at the National Conservatory and to serve as assistant conductor of Chávez's newly formed Orquesta Sinfónica de México. During this time, Revueltas also became active in the cause of artists' and workers' rights. Between 1931 and 1934, Revueltas wrote six "picture-postcard" pieces for orchestra, ten-minute tone poems usually inspired by Mexican scenes. After a disagreement with Chávez, Revueltas quit the Orquesta Sinfónica de México and, in the spring of 1936, formed the rival and short-lived Orquesta Sinfónica Nacionál. The failure of that ensemble left him free to tour Spain in 1937. He traveled there in his capacity as secretary general of the League of Revolutionary Writers and Artists, supporting the cultural activities of the Loyalist government, directing various concerts and presenting some of his own music. Revueltas returned to Mexico the following year, took up teaching again, and wrote a half-dozen scores for Mexican films. His first such effort, Redes, was released in 1935 as a social protest movie set in a poor fishing village. It became his most frequently played score, after the short, hypnotically brutal Sensemayá. Revueltas was hard-living and self-destructive. Although the official cause of his death was pneumonia, he essentially drank himself to death.

Copyright©WWUH: November/December Program Guide, 2009

 Copyright© 2000 WWUH and the University of Hartford
   E-Mail: wwuh@mail.hartford.edu   Webmaster: manolama@aol.com