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Thursday Evening Classics
Composer Capsules for January / February 2007

Presented by Steve Petke


January 4

Josef Suk
Birth: January 4, 1874 in Krecovice, Czechoslovakia
Death: May 29, 1935 in Benesov, Czechoslovakia
Suk’s father was a choral director who taught his son to play the piano, violin, and organ. At age 11, Suk entered the Prague Conservatory. He received his degree in 1891, with what became the Op. 1 piano quartet as his thesis. When Dvorák became a professor at the Conservatory, Suk stayed an extra year to study with him. They became close friends and in 1898, Suk married Dvorák's daughter Otýlie.  Suk's early works are written in a late Romantic style that carried on his mentor’s tradition. Compared with Dvorák, Suk wrote fewer chamber works and songs, and never approached opera, concentrating mainly on orchestral music. In 1892, he wrote the Serenade for Strings, which furthered his career when Brahms promoted it. In 1897 and 1898, he composed incidental music for the play Radúz a Mahulena, one of his most popular works and one that reflected his own happy marriage.  In 1904, Suk's father-in-law and teacher Dvorák died, and fourteen months later, his beloved wife Otýlie passed away. Their deaths had a devastating impact on Suk. His compositions became more introspective, complex, and emotional. The massive symphony Asrael, considered by many the summit of his achievement, exemplifies this new phase. Suk began to experiment with polytonality, notably in his symphonic poem Ripening of 1917. He later expanded upon the structure and language of Ripening in his symphony with soloists and chorus, Epilog. Unlike his Czech contemporaries, Suk did not incorporate folk or literary motifs into his compositions. Suk made a living largely as a performer and teacher, composing around his daily responsibilities. He served as second violinist of the Czech Quartet, which enjoyed international success for 40 years. In later years Suk became a professor of composition at the Prague Conservatory, where he tutored future Czech composers such as Martinu, Jezek and Borkovec.

January 11

Christian Sinding
Birth: January 11, 1856 in Kongsberg, Norway
Death: December 3, 1941 in Oslo, Norway
Sinding took music and violin lessons throughout his youth. In 1874 he followed the path of his famous countryman Edvard Grieg by going to Leipzig to study. He gave up his violin studies when it became obvious that his major talent was in composition.  He remained primarily in Germany for 40 years, but retained Norwegian elements in his music. He taught at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY, in the 1920-21 academic year. After that he settled in Oslo and remained centered in Norway for the rest of his long life.  As with Grieg, the Norwegian government granted him an annual pension. He formed his basic style during his studies in Germany, adopting the language of Schumann, Liszt, Strauss, and Wagner. He tended to use cyclical forms and other techniques of the Romantic era to the end of his life, by which time the general opinion of his music declined due to an increasing anti-Romantic sentiment. He wrote four symphonies of which the First, a work with remarkably violent crescendos, is the most striking. He also wrote about 250 songs, and is considered one of the greatest Scandinavian creators of art songs. Among his smaller pieces, the Romances for Violin, and his Rustles of Spring have permanent places in the international repertoire.

Reinhold Gliere
Birth: January 11, 1875 in Kiev, Russia
Death: June 23, 1956 in Moscow, Russia
Although all of his important compositions came during the first half of the 20th century, the style of his work place Glière solidly at the end of the 19th century. Having studied at both the Kiev and Moscow conservatories, he was infused with Russian Romanticism. Nothing he wrote sounded either modern or un-Russian. He studied composition and harmony at the Moscow Conservatory with Arensky, Taneyev, and Ippolitov-Ivanov. In 1900 he was awarded the gold medal in composition, the school's highest prize. His monumental third symphony "Ilya Murometz", which premiered in Moscow in 1912, propelled his career forward. The following year he was named director of the Kiev Conservatory, a position he held through the Russian Revolution.  In 1920 he became professor of music at the Moscow Conservatory. While in Moscow, he taught Serge Prokofiev, Aram Khachaturian, and Alexander Mossolov, the leading lights of "Soviet realism."  Glière also became a political figure in Russia during the Stalin years, serving as chairman of the organizing committee of the Soviet Composers' Union from 1938 to 1948. His conventional, utterly Russian music found favor with Stalin and his cultural ministers. Glière received many honors during this era, including the title of People's Artist of the Soviet Union.  Glière's body of work is extensive. Besides his three symphonies, four string quartets, two complete operas, two ballets, and two concertos, he produced hundreds of songs, piano works, and chamber pieces. He is considered, along with his more famous predecessor, Tchaikovsky, to have been seminal in the development of Russian ballet, though little of his music is heard outside Russia today. Glière's music is comfortably Romantic, invariably nationalistic, and skillfully crafted, often managing to combine beautiful melodies, inventive orchestration, and eye-popping bombast to great effect.

Maurice Durufle
Birth: January 11, 1902 in Louviers, Eure, France
Death: June 16, 1986 in Paris, France
French organist Maurice Duruflé is known for a small number of extraordinary compositions, among which the Requiem is perhaps the finest and most often performed. At the age of 10, he entered the choir school at the Rouen cathedral, where he studied piano, organ and theory. It was during this time that Duruflé developed his affinity for Gregorian chant. Duruflé moved to Paris in 1919, where he studied with Charles Tournemire, organist at St. Clotilde, where Duruflé later became his assistant. He later became the assistant to Louis Vierne at Notre Dame.  In 1920, Duruflé entered the Paris Conservatoire to study organ, harmony, accompaniment, counterpoint, fugue, and composition, taking first prizes in all of these disciplines. In 1930, he was appointed organist at St. Etienne-du-Mont, a position he held for the rest of his life, sharing the post after 1953 with his wife. In 1943, he became professor of harmony and Dupré's assistant for the organ class at the Paris Conservatoire. Duruflé was also a highly esteemed performer, touring extensively throughout Europe and North America. His performing career was ended by an automobile accident in May 1975 that left him virtually bed ridden until his death in 1986.

January 18

Cesar Cui
Birth: January 18, 1835 in Vilnius, Russia
Death: March 26, 1918 in Petrograd, Russia
An engineer, military officer, and self-taught composer, Cui was also a perceptive critic. As a member of the “Mighty Handful” of composers, he did much to help shape Russian nationalist music in the 19th century.  He was the son of a Lithuanian mother and a French officer who had been trapped in Russia following Napoleon's defeat in 1812. Cui displayed precocious musical talent and was taught piano at an early age. He also received instruction in musical theory, but upon his graduation, he chose to enter the School of Military Engineering in Saint Petersburg. He became a sub-professor at the Artillery School and Staff College and was recognized as an authority on fortification, even instructing Emperor Nicholas II. He rose to the rank of lieutenant general and, as a collateral activity, took the post of president of the Imperial Russian Musical Society.  In 1857, Cui encountered Mily Balakirev. His musical enthusiasm was ignited and he became a disciple of Balakirev and an ardent champion of his Russian nationalism. As he did with most everyone else he met, Balakirev badgered Cui and made continual, insistent demands with regard to his compositions. Cui began to compose in earnest and in 1859 produced his first operetta, The Mandarin's Son. It was an early and lackluster effort, but Cui persevered, winning the prize of the Imperial Russian Music Society in 1860. Ten years elapsed before Cui produced another opera. It was an ambitious work, a drama in three acts based upon Heine's romantic tragedy William Ratcliff. It was premiered in Saint Petersburg in 1869, was well-received, and established Cui's reputation as a composer of Russian opera. He followed this in 1875 with another large-scale dramatic work based upon the play Angelo by Victor Hugo. Posterity has come to view this as possibly the finest work of Cui's maturity, but it did not garner the adulation nor the popular acceptance of the earlier work.  In the meantime, Cui began to write reviews and essays on musical subjects and became a frequent and respected critic and contributor to many leading Russian papers. As a critic, Cui was sharp and witty. His articles also appeared in both French and Belgian publications and he used these to call attention outside Russia to the growing nationalism of Russian music.  Though he produced many songs and other larger-scale vocal works, another 13 years passed before Cui produced another opera. Between 1899 and 1903, he wrote more operas, continued to produce a few orchestral works, larger numbers of vocal pieces, and solo works for piano. Although more competent and comfortable composing for voice, he studied and admired the music of Schumann, Chopin, and Liszt. While his talent was not great, he produced effective and interesting works and was at his best in the smaller forms, such as vocal solos and duets and solo works for piano.

Emmanuel Chabrier
Birth: January 18, 1841 in Ambert, Puy-de-Dôme, France
Death: September 13, 1894 in Paris, France
Although music seems to have been his passion all along, it was not until nearly the age of 40 that Chabrier turned to composition as his full time career. When he finally did this, he crafted works characterized by brilliance, wit, and vivid harmonic, rhythmic, and orchestral coloring.  As early as age 6, Chabrier began piano lessons and at 10 he attended the Lycée Impérial at Clermont Ferrand, where he continued his keyboard studies and began to try his hand at composition. Upon the insistence of his father, however, he abandoned music and began to study law. He continued also to take piano lessons and studied counterpoint and fugue, but when he took his law degree in 1862, he went to work for the Ministry of the Interior, where he worked for 18 years. During this time, he became acquainted with the painter Manet and the poet Verlaine and fellow musicians including Duparc, d'Indy, Fauré, and Messager. In 1879, he made his first visit to Germany, where a Munich a performance of Wagner's Tristan und Isolde so moved him that he resolved to quit the law and devote his life to music. Before this monumental step, Chabrier had produced only two significant works, these being the operettas L'Étoile and Une Éducation manqué. Now freed of his routine job, he produced in short order Dix Pièces pittoresques for piano, Habañera, and Bourrée fantasque in 1891. His finest short work, the brilliant España Rhapsody, came forth in 1883. In next two years he worked as chorus master at the Château d'Eau where, among other projects, he assisted with a production of Wagner's Tristan. This close association with Wagner's music both developed his skill in orchestration and instilled in him some elements of Germanic style. Arguably Chabrier's finest work, the comic opera Le Roi malgré lui was premiered at the Opéra Comique in1887. Considering his very late start and lack of substantial formal training, Chabrier was an overachiever. He greatly influenced Les Six, the group of young French composers who typified the emerging French nationalism in the generation following him. He also heavily influenced the work of Maurice Ravel.

January 25

Witold Lutoslawski
Birth: January 25, 1913 in Warsaw, Poland
Death: February 7, 1994 in Warsaw, Poland
Lutoslawski was the leading progressive figure in Polish music in the second half of the 20th century. He showed an exceptional musical talent at an early age, with his first compositions dating from 1922. He studied piano, violin and composition, graduating from the Warsaw Conservatory in 1937. Two years later, Poland was occupied by Nazi Germany. Lutoslawski survived the repressive war years as well as the subsequent Stalinist period by writing for radio, film, and theatre. In addition, he arranged folk-songs and composed music for children.  Considered too formalist, his concert music was rarely performed. His first substantial orchestral work, the Symphonic Variations was premiered in 1939. It is a work firmly rooted in tonality with a folk-like theme that is varied in a kaleidoscopic way. His first stylistic period culminated in the folk-influenced Concerto for Orchestra.  With the cultural thaw which began in the late 1950s, his reputation began to grow, at home and abroad, as did his compositional style, with 12-tone techniques appearing in Funeral Music of 1958. After hearing a performance of John Cage's Concerto for Piano in 1960 Lutoslawski took his first step into a "limited aleatory music". Most of his subsequent works were orchestral, fully chromatic, and in a manner suggestive of Debussy and Ravel, in which he developed an opposition between aleatory and metrical textures. Lutoslawski went on to compose nearly 20 major orchestral works, including Symphonies 3 and 4. He also composed works for distinguished soloists, such as Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Heinz and Ursula Holliger, Anne-Sophie Mutter, Mstislav Rostropovich, and Krystian Zimmerman. Lutoslawski's extensive experience conducting his own works helped him to refine his musical language, his later works becoming more lyrical and harmonically transparent.

February 1

Francesco Maria Veracini
Birth: February 1, 1690 in Florence, Italy
Death: October 31, 1768 in Florence, Italy
One of the great violinists of early 18th century Italy, Veracini played so well that he intimidated even the great virtuoso Giuseppe Tartini. Notoriously arrogant, perhaps slightly insane, Veracini was nevertheless famed throughout Europe for his performances as well as his compositions. Although he was an instrumentalist, about half his output was vocal, and for a while he was Handel's great rival as an opera composer in London.  Veracini spent his youth in his native Florence, but established himself in Venice in 1711. There he played in various church orchestras. A 1712 performance of his so impressed Tartini that the latter withdrew in despair for months to study better bowing technique. In 1717, Veracini obtained a court position in Dresden at an impressive salary. In August 1722, though, he survived a fall from a third-floor window. Whether this was a suicide attempt or a bungled murder remains unclear, for Veracini was not entirely clear on the subject. Rumors of madness followed him on his subsequent journeys. Veracini returned to London in 1733, where he became a ubiquitous figure, performing everywhere and having his operas produced at the Opera of the Nobility, the chief rival of Handel's theater. Except for a brief period back in Italy, Veracini remained in London for years. Veracini returned to Italy for good by 1750, working primarily as a church musician in Florence, composing and conducting, but also occasionally playing the violin into his seventies.  As a composer, Veracini wrote concertos strongly influenced by Vivaldi.  His sonatas were influenced by Corelli and Tartini. Later, though, his music became more conservative, and he became more interested in canonic writing. Similarly, the arias of his London operas show the influence of Handel, a composer he would later denounce.

Victor Herbert
Birth: February 1, 1859 in Dublin, Ireland
Death: May 26, 1924 in New York, NY
Victor Herbert was one of the most versatile and important figures in American music at the turn of the 20th century. He was a busy conductor and one of the foremost cellists of his time, besides being a once-popular operetta composer. Herbert's music, tailored to the middle-class tastes of his era, now seems quaint, yet it is solidly crafted and durably melodic.  He was raised in Stuttgart, where he studied composition and cello. During his teens he was employed as a cellist in various European orchestras. In 1880 he joined the Eduard Strauss waltz orchestra in Vienna, but the following year he returned to Stuttgart to play in the court orchestra and study composition at the conservatory. In 1886 he went to New York with his new wife, Therese Förster, who had been recruited as a prima donna for the Metropolitan Opera. Herbert, too, got a job at the Met, playing in the orchestra. He played his first Cello Concerto with the New York Philharmonic Society in 1887, and premiered his Second Concerto there in 1894. Dvorák heard the latter work, and it inspired him to write his own cello concerto.  As a conductor, Herbert was affiliated with the Boston Festival Orchestra and the Worcester Festival. In 1893 he assumed leadership of the celebrated 22nd Regiment Band. From 1898-1904 he conducted the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, premiering several of his own pieces, including Hero and Leander. In 1904 Herbert organized the Victor Herbert New York Orchestra for programs of light music and high-profile benefit performances, leading more than 400 participants in concerts to raise money for the victims of the Galveston flood and later the San Francisco earthquake. He also led the fight for copyright legislation, passed in 1909, and he helped found the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) in 1914, serving as its vice president until his death.  Herbert's first operetta was Prince Ananias, written at the suggestion of the manager of the Boston Ideal Opera Company. It was followed by more than 40 others. Among the best are Babes in Toyland, Mlle. Modiste, The Red Mill, Naughty Marietta, Sweethearts, and Eileen. He also wrote two grand operas and produced the music for the motion picture The Fall of a Nation. Late in life he wrote for revues, notably the Ziegfeld Follies.

February 15

Michael Praetorius
Birth: February 15, 1571 in Creuzburg an der Werra, Germany
Death: February 15, 1621 in Wolfenbüttel, Germany
Michael Praetorius was not only one of the most versatile and prolific German composers of the early 17th century (only Heinrich Schütz is of comparable importance) but also the author of Syntagma musicum, a historically significant treatise on music. The exact year of Praetorius' birth remains unknown; February 15, 1571, is the generally accepted date, selected on the basis of two contemporary sources which claim that Praetorius died on his 50th birthday. After studies at the University of Frankfurt and at the Lateinschule at Zerbst, Praetorius was appointed organist of St. Marien Church in Frankfurt in 1587. Praetorius left this position after three years and in 1595 became organist for Duke Heinrich Julius of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel. After 1604, Praetorius combined his duties as organist with the more demanding position of Kapellmeister at the court, often traveling with the duke and his court musicians. The following several years were a very productive time during which most of the composer's published collections of music appeared.  After Julius' death in 1613 Praetorius, was invited to serve for two years at the court of Elector John Georg of Saxony, and he maintained a close relationship with the Saxony court even after the appointment ended. Indeed, from 1615 on, Praetorius spent more time away from Wolfenbüttel than he did attending to his duties as Kapellmeister, and by 1620 Praetorius' frequent absence and poor health had caused so drastic a decline in the quality of music at Wolfenbüttel that he was dismissed from the position. He died just one year later, leaving his sizeable fortune to charity.  Praetorius' father and grandfather were both Lutheran theologians, and the composer inherited their deep religious sentiment, composing over one thousand sacred compositions based on Protestant hymns and the Latin liturgy used in the Lutheran service. By comparison, only one small collection of secular compositions — a group of instrumental dances — survives. By the time of his Polyhymnia caduceatrix in 1619, Praetorius had embraced a remarkably forward-looking musical technique, employing a highly ornamented Italian vocal style of the times and a dense multi-voice scoring.

February 22

Niels Gade
Birth: February 22, 1817 in Copenhagen, Denmark
Death: December 21, 1890 in Copenhagen, Denmark

A multifaceted musician, Niels Wilhelm Gade was probably the most important figure in 19th century Danish music, making his mark as a composer, conductor, organist, violinist, teacher, and administrator. He furthered the careers of many important musicians, among them Edvard Grieg and Carl Nielsen, and played a major role in bringing Scandinavian music to the world's attention.  Both of Gade's parents were musical; his father was a cabinetmaker who turned to making musical instruments. As his family was poor, Gade received no formal music schooling until he was 15. He studied violin with F.T. Wexschall, and theory and composition with Andreas Peter Berggreen. Berggreen was also a noted folklorist and passed along to Gade an interest in Danish folk music and literature. Gade made his debut as a violinist in 1833, and the following year became a junior player in the Royal Orchestra.  His earliest compositions date from his teens. His Op. 1, Echoes of Ossian, was highly regarded and won Gade a Copenhagen Musical Society prize. In 1843, when his first Symphony was not accepted for performance in Denmark, Gade sent it to Felix Mendelssohn in Leipzig, who loved the work and programmed it. That same year, Gade was given a government grant that allowed him to travel to Leipzig. He met Mendelssohn, who engaged him as assistant conductor of the Gewandhaus Orchestra and as a teacher at the Leipzig Conservatory. Not surprisingly, many of Gade's compositions of the time show Mendelssohn's influence. After Mendelssohn's death in 1847, Gade became principal conductor of the Gewandhaus, but when war broke out between Prussia and Denmark in 1848, Gade returned to his native country.  Gade was very much engaged in Copenhagen's musical life: he conducted concerts, played the organ in churches, and wrote music for ceremonial occasions. He also founded an orchestra and choir that in later years gave many significant performances, including the premieres of many of his own compositions. In 1852 he married Emma Sophie Hartmann, the daughter of composer J.P.E. Hartmann, and wrote two works for her: the Spring Fantasy, and as a wedding present, the Symphony No. 5. She died just a few years later, however, and Gade remarried in 1857. In 1866, he became the director of the new Copenhagen Academy of Music, where for many years he taught composition and music history. His teaching and administrative schedules allowed him to compose only during the summer months.  Gade specialized in cantatas, many taking their themes from Danish folklore. Perhaps the most popular of these is Elverskud (The Elf-King's Daughter). He ultimately produced 8 symphonies, many chamber works and cantatas, and a variety of shorter character pieces and songs.

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