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Thursday Evening Classics
Composer Capsules for January / February 2008

Presented by Steve Petke

January 3
Boris Lyatoshinsky
Birth: January 3 in 1895 in Zhitmoir
Death: April 15, 1968 in Kiev

Boris Lyatoshinsky, regarded as the father of modern Ukrainian music, left his hometown of Zhitomir to study law at Kiev. While at the University, he also took compositions lessons from Reinhold Glière, leading to a lifelong friendship. Lyatoshinsky earned his law degree in 1918 and graduated from the Kiev Conservatory in 1919. After graduating, he joined the faculty of the Conservatory and remained there until his death. He also taught at the Moscow Conservatory. He joined the Kiev Association for Contemporary Music in the early 1920s and was on the board of directors of the Ukrainian Composers' Union in the late '30s and early '40s. He also served on the board of directors of the Composers' Union of the U.S.S.R. from the late '40s until his death. While his First Symphony was written under the influence of Wagner, Tchaikovsky, and especially Scriabin, his works of the '20s reflect his growing enthusiasm for the music of the Ukraine in works like Overture on Four Ukrainian Themes and his opera The Golden Ring. After several centuries of political and cultural domination by Czarist Russia, the Ukraine was now an autonomous republic within the U.S.S.R. and Lyatoshinsky and other composers believed it was critically important to create a distinctively Ukrainian music. Lyatoshinsky's Second Symphony was conceived and executed on a massive scale, but rooted in the folk music of his country, embodying his own highest intellectual and spiritual aspirations in harsh and angular music of both great complexity and appeal. When he submitted it to the Composer's Union for performance, however, he discovered that it ran counter to the Soviet requirements of Socialist Realism in the arts and he was forced to thoroughly revise the entire work. This did not "rehabilitate" the symphony and it was not permitted to be performed until 1964.  His Third Symphony, is considered the greatest Ukrainian symphony of the last century. But, as was the case with the Second, the Party once again demanded Lyatoshinsky revise the work, including composing an entirely new fourth movement. In this case, however, it received its premiere in 1955 by Evgeny Mravinsky and the Leningrad Philharmonic. From that point onward Lyatoshinsky was able to compose more or less as he wished and the 13 years between the premiere of the Third Symphony and his death were the most productive and successful of his life. Lyatoshinsky is a composer of great personal and intellectual strength who fervently believed that his music should embody the music of his country in its loftiest form, while remaining comprehensible to an educated audience.

January 17
Francois-Joseph Gossec
Birth: January 17, 1734 in Vergnies, Netherlands
Death: February 16, 1829 in Passy, France

One of the leading figures of 18th century French music, Gossec was a versatile and prolific composer, as typified by his symphonies and string quartets. He enlarged the expressive capabilities of the orchestra, relying on his harmonic imagination, and in many ways his experiments foreshadow the works of Haydn and Beethoven. His choral music is also significant. His Te Deum, written for 300 instrumentalists and a choir of more than 1,000 singers, foreshadows the later works of Berlioz. Born in the historic Hainaut region, Gossec started his musical studies on the violin and in 1741 he joined the choir of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Antwerp. In 1751, Gossec went to Paris, prepared with a letter of introduction to Rameau. The composer was so impressed by Gossec that he found him a position as violinist and bass player in the famous orchestra of La Pouplinière, conducted by Johann Stamitz. During this period, he produced large quantities of symphonic and chamber music, which display an extraordinary range of form and orchestration. In 1762 Louis-Joseph de Bourbon, Prince of Conde, appointed Gossec director of his private theater. Despite some success, Gossec's operas did not show the same promise as his instrumental works. Gossec founded a new orchestra, the Concert des Amateurs, in 1769. This extraordinary ensemble attracted the best musicians of the time and performed many of Gossec's own symphonies, including his immensely popular La Chasse. In 1773, Gossec left the Concert des Amateurs, assuming the leadership of the Concert Spirituel. In addition, he worked for the Opéra, supervising the production of contemporary works. In 1774, Gossec's oratorio La Nativité was performed at the Concert Spirituel. Among its innovations was a choir of angels, which Gossec put offstage, a device which Berlioz used in his oratorio L'Enfance de Christ. In 1784, Gossec obtained the post of directeur of the newly founded Ecole Royale de Chant, which was under the Opéra's administrative control. Unlike Cherubini, Gossec quickly adapted to the new cultural climate in the wake of the French Revolution. In 1789, he severed all his ties with the Opéra, which the revolutionary government regarded as a royalist institution. In addition, he placed his talent as a composer in the service of the new regime, composing popular pieces and organizing musical events to celebrate the Revolution. Because of his enthusiastic support for the Revolution, Gossec was not treated well by the restored French monarchy. In 1816, King Louis XVIII dissolved the Conservatoire, which he doubtless perceived as an institution created by the Revolution, and Gossec was left without employment. He eventually moved to Passy, then a suburb of Paris, where he spent his remaining years.


January 31
Franz Peter Schubert
Birth: January 31, 1797 in Vienna, Austria
Death: November 19, 1828 in Vienna, Austria

Schubert was among the first of the true Romantics, and the composer who brought the art song to artistic maturity. During his short but prolific career, he produced masterpieces in nearly every genre, all characterized by rich harmonies, expansive treatment of classical forms, and a seemingly endless melody. Schubert began his earliest musical training with his father and brothers. Schubert enrolled at the Convict school that trained young vocalists to eventually sing at the chapel of The Imperial Court. Schubert began to explore composition and wrote a song that came to the attention of the institution's director, Antonio Salieri, who along with the school's professor of harmony, hailed young Schubert as a genius. In 1813, after Schubert's voice broke, he returned to live with his father, who urged him to follow in his footsteps and become a schoolteacher. Schubert begrudgingly complied and worked miserably in that capacity by day, while composing prolifically by night. He had written more than 100 songs as well as numerous symphonic, operatic, and chamber music scores, before the age of 20. Schubert finally left his teaching position to dedicate himself completely to music. During the summer of 1818, the young composer worked as a private music teacher to the aristocratic Esterházy family. When he left that post in the fall, Schubert lived a somewhat bohemian lifestyle, composing and spending time with a group of friends that acted as his personal support system. In 1820, Schubert was commissioned by two opera houses, the Karthnerthor Theatre and Theatre-an-der-Wein, to compose a pair of operas. He wrote Zwillingsbruden, and Zauberharfe, both of which were poorly received. Schubert failed to secure a contract with a publisher, as none were willing to take a chance on a relatively unknown composer who wrote untraditional music. Schubert, along with the support of his artistic friends, published his own work for a collection of roughly 100 subscribers. These efforts, however, were financially unrewarding, and Schubert struggled to sustain himself. His work garnered little attention and contemporary composers dismissed his music as presumptuous and immature. In 1823, Schubert was elected to the Musikverein of Graz, as an honorary member. Though this brought no financial reward and was an inconsequential appointment, Schubert relished its slight recognition, and to show his gratitude, composed his famous Unfinished Symphony. Five years later, Schubert's music was featured at a concert at Vienna's Musikverein. His work was received enthusiastically, and to much critical acclaim. This marked the only time during the composer's life that he enjoyed such success. This seemed to provide Schubert with a renewed sense of optimism, and despite illness, he continued to produce at an incredible rate. During the composer's last moments alive, he instructed his brother Ferdinand to ensure that he would be buried alongside Beethoven's grave. Despite his short life, Schubert produced a wealth of symphonies, operas, masses, chamber music pieces, and piano sonatas, most of which are well established in the standard repertoire. He is known primarily for hundreds of songs and he pioneered the song cycle with such works as Die Schöne Müllerin, and Die Winterreise, and greatly affected the vocal writing of Schumann and Mahler.


Philip Glass
Birth: January 31, 1937 in Baltimore, MD
Philip Glass is generally regarded as one of the most prominent composers associated with the minimalist school, along with Steve Reich, Terry Riley, and John Adams. His style is quite recognizable, owing to its seeming simplicity of repeated sounds, comprised of evolving patterns of rhythms, which are often quite complex. Many describe his music in the minimalist vein as mesmerizing; others hear it as numbingly repetitive and devoid of variety in its simplicity. However, Glass' mature style embraces more than just minimalism. His opera Einstein on the Beach was the first of an important trilogy of stage works, the other two being Satygraha and Akhnaten. Glass showed musical talent early on, both on violin and flute. He graduated from the University of Chicago at the age of 19. He enrolled at Juilliard, having by then rejected serial techniques in composition in favor of more conventional styles. Over the next four years he studied with Reich, Persichetti, Milhaud, and Bergsma. He later studied with Nadia Boulanger in Paris, and it was during this two-year period that he met and worked with sitar player Ravi Shankar, who introduced him to Indian music. He was intrigued by its sound and possibilities and attracted to Asian and Middle Eastern cultures. Eventually, he even converted to Buddhism. Glass later spoke of how greatly his 1966 visit to Tibet influenced his thinking, both musically and spiritually. After returning to New York in 1967, Glass struggled financially and had to work as a cab driver and plumber for a time. Eventually, he established the Glass Ensemble in the early '70s. Since the 1980s, Glass' popularity has grown with the successes of his Company, for string quartet or string orchestra, the Violin Concerto, and the film score, Kundun. Glass has received many awards, among which have been the Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 1995, from the French government. Glass continues to write music and is regarded as among the most important composers of his time.

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February 7
Wilhelm Stenhammar
Birth: February 7, 1871 in Stockholm, Sweden
Death: November 20, 1927 in Stockholm, Sweden

Stenhammar was a pianist and self-taught composer and conductor. His early years were spent surrounded by culture, although he never undertook formal studies except in piano. By 1900, he had established himself as a pianist, eventually giving over 1,000 concerts all over Sweden. He had also debuted as a conductor in 1897 with his own overture Excelsior!, and eventually went on to direct the Stockholm Philharmonic Society, the Royal Opera, the New Philharmonic Society, and the Göttesborgs Orkesterförening. His compositions began in typically late Romantic style but evolved through three periods. In the first, his primary influences were Liszt, Brahms, and Wagner, but the music is imbued with a Nordic sound. His early operas Gildet på Solhaug and Tirfing, although unsuccessful, were the high points of this period. During Stenhammar's second period he attempted to create a style modeled on the great classicists – Beethoven, Haydn, and Mozart. Nevertheless, the music of this period retains its Nordic color. His brilliant cantata Ett Folk and the Second Piano Concerto are the most representative. Beginning in 1909, Stenhammar engaged in a 9-year course in strict counterpoint. The fruit of this study resulted in his last period, where the music becomes more contrapuntally and modally oriented, particularly in the last two of his six string quartets. At the same time, his larger works, such as the orchestral Serenade and the Second Symphony, lose nothing of the earlier freshness and inspiration that make Stenhammar's music so attractive. Stenhammar eventually became one of the most important Scandinavian musicians of his era, and his compositions, including many songs, choral works, chamber and solo pieces, and theater and orchestral works represent the best music out of turn-of-the-century Sweden.


February 14
Francesco Cavalli
Birth: February 14, 1602 in Cremona, Italy
Death: January 14, 1676 in Venice, Italy

After Claudio Monteverdi's death, Francesco Cavalli became the leading opera composer in Venice. Tremendously popular during his lifetime, he was soon forgotten after his death, and his operas vanished from the stage until their resurrection toward the end of the 20th century. Cavalli's father, G.B. Caletti, was probably his first music teacher. Federico Cavalli, the Venetian governor of Cremona, whose name Cavalli eventually adopted, was taken with young Francesco's voice and brought him to Venice. During Cavalli's first 25 years at St. Mark's, he sang under the direction of Monteverdi, with whom he may have studied formally. Cavalli supplemented his income from St. Mark's by taking other positions in Venice, including that of organist at the church of Sts. Giovanni e Paolo. He also sang and played at numerous church festivals. His marriage to Maria Sozomeno brought the composer a substantial dowry and some measure of financial independence. Cavalli was appointed second organist at St. Marks in 1639. Around the same time, he invested in the Teatro San Cassiano, the first public opera house in Venice, and began writing operas for that theater. This proved to be a sound financial venture for Cavalli, since he earned far more money writing for the theater than he did from his position at St. Mark's. By 1670, he had composed 41 stage works, most for the San Cassiano. Cavalli visited Paris twice, and a modified version of his Serse was given there in 1660 as part of Louis XIV's wedding celebration. The most popular of Cavalli's operas was Giasone and it is a perfect example of Cavalli's stark division between recitative and aria. In comparison with the works of Monteverdi, the younger composer's recitatives are less passionate, less probing into the psyche of the character, and lacking in the variety of Monteverdi's. However, Cavalli's arias are more developed than Monteverdi's. It is in his sacred works that Cavalli most resembles Monteverdi. The conservative nature of Cavalli's sacred works suggest his desire to maintain the musical tradition of St. Mark's, developed in previous decades by Gabrieli and Monteverdi.


February 21
Johann Wenzel Kalliwoda
Birth: February 21, 1801 in Prague, Czechoslovakia
Death: December 3, 1866 in Karlsruhe

Kalliwoda was a music director, violinist and composer in Germany during the first half of the 19th century. His given Czech name was Jan Krtitl Vaclav Kalivoda, but he adopted the more familiar Germanic version. He excelled at violin as a boy and with the help of the Prince of Thurn and Taxis was enrolled in the Prague Conservatory, then a brand-new institution. He graduated in 1816 and got a job in the orchestra of the Stavovske Theatre. At the time, its conductor was Carl Maria von Weber. It is not known if he had informal studies or consultations with Weber, but his music bears Weber's influence. Kalliwoda went to tour Germany, Holland, and Switzerland as a violinist. When he visited Munich, Prince Karl Egon II of Fürstenberg invited him to become music director of his musical establishment. He was hired to conduct the prince's orchestra in Donaueschingen, teach singing, play violin as a soloist, and supervise the music of the cathedral. However, he was given two or three months off every year to study, travel, and undertake concert tours. Donaueschingen was already known as one of the most cultured capitals among the many German states, and Kalliwoda elevated its musical life to rank with the finest in Germany. While there, he married Teresa Brunetti, who was one of the leading prima donnas of the day. Their son, Wilhelm, was a notable pianist and conductor who also composed. In 1848, revolution broke out in many parts of Europe and the Principality of Fürstenberg was not spared. The symphony orchestra disbanded and the theater burned down.  Kalliwoda moved to Karlsruhe in 1857 to live with Wilhelm and retired from concert touring in 1858. Kalliwoda published nearly 300 works and he left several dozen more in manuscript form. He was capable of considerable inventive power, with fresh melodies and well-executed counterpoint, with truly inspired ideas in his orchestration.


Leo Delibes
Birth: February 21, 1836 in St.-Germain-du-Val, Sarthe, France
Death: January 16, 1891 in Paris, France

Delibes was the first notable composer of ballet to emerge after the death of Rameau. Delibes was the first to craft a full-length ballet score with the care and distinction already common among the best opera composers. Not only could he produce buoyant, memorable tunes, but he delivered them in sparkling orchestrations. He also wrote several operas, of which Lakmé is the best known. His church music has fallen by the wayside, as have most of his colorful songs. Delibes studied at the Paris Conservatory under Adolphe Adam. In 1853, he became accompanist at the Théâtre-Lyrique, moving to the same position at the prestigious Paris Opéra ten years later. His great success as a composer of theater music in the 1870s and early 1880s gained him a professorship at the conservatory and membership in the French Institute. The French did not place much value on instrumental music during Delibes' youth, so the emerging composer concentrated on light-hearted operettas and farces in the manner of Offenbach. His first opportunity to work on a large ballet score came in 1866, when he collaborated with Ludwig Minkus on La Source. The success of this ballet led eventually to commissions for the two works that would again raise ballet music to its highest level: Coppélia, based on a story of E.T.A. Hoffmann, and Sylvia, based on a mythological theme. At the same time, Delibes honed his skill as an opera composer. Most notable are his opéra comique Le Roi l'a dit and his more serious, exotic Lakmé.


Charles-Marie Widor
Birth: February 21, 1844 in Lyon, France
Death: March 12, 1937 in Paris, France

With an active performing career spanning eight decades, and an impressive class of students that included Darius Milhaud, Albert Schweitzer, and Marcel Dupré, French organist and composer Charles-Marie Widor maintained a lifelong position as one of the country's most prominent and influential musicians. Widor was given his first lessons by his father, a well-known organ-builder and amateur performer. By age 11, the precocious Widor was able to successfully compete for the job of organist at the lycée in his hometown of Lyon. By 1870 Widor had earned a position as replacement organist at St. Sulpice Cathedral in Paris, a position that he held until the 1930s. During the 1870s Widor's career as a composer for media other than the organ began to take shape. Between the time of appointment at St. Sulpice and the turn of the century, he produced three symphonies, two ballets, a number of chamber works, and some sacred vocal music. Widor joined the organ faculty of the Paris Conservatoire in 1890, replacing César Franck, and by 1896 had also been appointed professor of composition. Widor's strength and dexterity on the organ remained fundamentally unimpaired until his retirement from St. Sulpice in 1933, at which time his student Marcel Dupré took over. Widor was one of the most formidable organists of the 19th and 20th centuries. His dedication to the music of Bach in particular, earned him the respect of several generations of musicians worldwide. Widor's student Albert Schweitzer, who helped Widor edit Bach's complete organ works, did much to publicize Widor's ideals. Widor was considered by many to be the greatest improviser after César Franck, and Widor's friend Gabriel Faure is known to have challenged Widor to improvisational "duels" on a number of occasions. Not surprisingly, Widor's compositions for organ have outlasted his other works. The ten Symphonies for organ are particularly powerful, especially the Symphonie Gothique and the Symphonie

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