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Thursday Evening Classics
Composer Capsules for July / August 2007

Presented by Steve Petke

July 12
Anton Stepanovich Arensky
Birth: July 12, 1861 in Novgorod, Russia
Death: February 25, 1906 in Terioki, Russia

Anton Arensky was born to a pair of devoted amateur musicians under whose guidance he began his training. After private piano and composition studies in St. Petersburg, Arensky entered that city's conservatory in 1879, taking lessons from Rimsky-Korsakov. After graduation, Arensky became one of the youngest professors ever hired by the Moscow Conservatory. Arensky's years at Moscow were fruitful.  Between 1882 and 1895 he completed most of his larger works, including the early Piano Concerto and both Symphonies. In 1891 his first opera, A Dream on the Volga, was successfully premiered in Moscow. His next operatic endeavor, Rafael, however, was an immediate failure at its 1894 premiere. The following year Arensky returned to St. Petersburg to replace Balakirev as director of the imperial chapel, where he remained for the rest of his life. After decades of hard living and overindulgence, Arensky succumbed to tuberculosis in 1906. Except for the well-known Variations on a Theme of Tchaikovsky, little of Arensky's substantial output has maintained a place in the repertoire. He was chiefly a miniaturist, and his finest music is to be found in the shorter works for solo piano and his songs. His influence as a teacher, to such future luminaries as Rachmaninov and Scriabin, has earned him a place of distinction in the history of Russian music.

George Butterworth
Birth: Jul 12, 1885 in London, England
Death: August 5, 1916 in Pozières, France

George Butterworth was the best-known of a generation of prominent musicians whose careers or lives were cut short by the hostilities of World War I. He was the son of Julia Wigan, a talented singer, and Sir Alexander Kaye Butterworth, a prominent railway executive. His mother gave him his first musical instruction as a child and by the time Butterworth was a schoolboy at Eton, the school orchestra had given a performance of his Barcarolle. Nevertheless, George was being groomed as a solicitor and he began the requisite study of law at Trinity College, Oxford. While at Trinity, Butterworth encountered the folk song collector and editor Cecil Sharp and the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams. They encouraged his musical pursuits, and soon Butterworth was accompanying Vaughan Williams on folk song-collecting excursions into the English countryside. As might be expected, law was quickly abandoned for music.  Leaving Oxford for London, Butterworth studied for a short time at the Royal College of Music, teaching, writing music criticism for the Times, and composing. His friendship with Vaughan Williams, meantime, had deepened both personally and professionally, and it was in the latter realm that Butterworth performed an invaluable service for the older composer when he helped reconstruct, from assembled orchestral parts, the full score of Vaughan Williams' A London Symphony, the autograph of which had been sent to conductor Fritz Busch in Dresden in 1914 and had been lost at the outbreak of war.  Despite his successes, Butterworth was plagued throughout his life by a sense of purposelessness. The eruption of war in 1914, however, seems to have inspired him. He enlisted immediately in the Duke of Cornwall's Durham Light Infantry, and his audacious valor in battle soon brought him a lieutenant's rank. Butterworth was posthumously awarded the Military Cross for his bold defense of a strategically important trench network, which was later named for him. He was killed at Pozieres leading a raid during the Battle of the Somme. George Butterworth's musical reputation rests on a handful of exquisitely fashioned small-scale works which were strongly influenced by his studies in English folk song. His most famous work is his orchestral rhapsody A Shropshire Lad, inspired by A.E. Housman's poetry and thematically related to his earlier Housman song cycle of the same name. The slim catalog of Butterworth's music was reduced further when the composer, just before leaving England for the trenches in 1915, destroyed those manuscripts which he deemed unworthy of performance.

July 26
John Field
Birth: July 26, 1782 in Dublin, Ireland
Death: January 23, 1837 in Moscow, Russia

Field began his piano studies with his father and made his performing debut at age 9. The following year, Field and his family moved to London, where the young musician was apprenticed to the composer and piano manufacturer, Muzio Clementi. When his apprenticeship with Clementi expired, Field continued to perform as a soloist in London but also continued to work for Clementi. Their relationship continued through 1803, when Field chose to remain in St. Petersburg after his appearance there during a tour. Given the opportunity to establish an independent career, Field lived in Russia for the rest of his life, achieving rather remarkable success as both pianist and composer. As a performer, Field's playing was marked by a particular sweetness and delicacy and an emphasis on color and tasteful expressivity. As a composer, he developed a highly influential keyboard style that anticipated the music of Chopin. In contrast to his immediate predecessors, Field wrote music that calls for characteristically expressive and sensitive performance rather than virtuosic bravura. At a time when piano music was typified by forms and genres like the sonata, theme and variations, fantasia, rondo, and fugue, the development of an independent composition emphasizing mood rather than thematic development or embellishment was both original and important. The development of the keyboard character piece, paved the way for generations of Romantic composers, including Mendelssohn, Schumann, and Chopin. In addition to numerous nocturnes, Field also produced a significant amount of other music for piano solo or piano in combination with other instruments. The composer's many dances, rondos, and various other short works are slight, yet his seven piano concerti are wholly representative of the typical virtuoso concerti of the period. Shortly after his death, his works faded into obscurity. Today, however, his legacy as a seminal figure in Romantic piano composition is well established.

August 2
Sir Arthur Edward Drummond Bliss
Birth: August 2, 1891 in London, England
Death: March 27, 1975 in London, England

Educated at Pembroke College, Cambridge and at the Royal College of Music, Bliss' earliest music (all subsequently destroyed by the composer) shows a strong knowledge of and interest in the music of Edward Elgar. After service with the Royal Fusiliers and the Grenadier Guards during the First World War, however, Bliss' musical aesthetic changed dramatically, and he quickly became known as a thoroughly "modern" composer, owing more allegiance to the exciting happenings on the continent than to the musical life of his own country. His music from the 1920s is characterized by unusual vocal techniques, jazz influence, and striking harmonic progressions. Invited to compose a work for the Three Choirs Festival in 1922, Bliss created one of his best-known works, A Colour Symphony. An adventurous work, it nonetheless had the unwelcome side effect straining his relationship with Elgar, a dedicated conservative through whom the actual commission for the work had come. After two years in California with his brother and father, the composer returned to Great Britain and resumed his active composing career. Over the course of the 1920s Bliss began to re-evaluate his heritage as a composer and he moved away from the "modernist" tendencies of the post-War years in favor of a richer melodic approach. The first years of World War II were spent in the United States teaching at Berkeley, but Bliss returned to England to take over as director of music at the BBC from 1942 to 1944. Although outspoken in his support of the post-World War I Parisian avant-garde during his youth, Arthur Bliss ended his long career as a dedicated proponent of a more conservative, neo-Romantic musical aesthetic. Knighted for services to British music in 1950, Bliss served as Master of the Queen's Music from 1953 to until his death in 1975 at the age of 83.

August 9
Reynaldo Hahn
Birth: August 9, 1875 in Caracas, Venezuela
Death: January 28, 1947 in Paris, France

Hahn's parents were of German and Venezuelan extraction. When he was three years old, the family relocated to Paris, where Hahn later entered the Conservatoire. There he studied composition with Jules Massenet, harmony and piano. Massenet's influence is clear in one of Hahn's earliest, and most famous, songs, Si mes vers avaient des ailes, written when the composer was only 13. Massenet's advocacy on his behalf and Hahn's own fine singing voice helped to establish his reputation in the city. Early in his career, Hahn made the acquaintance of Sarah Bernhardt and Marcel Proust. Proust, especially, would instill in Hahn a deep appreciation and understanding of poetry, which had a profound effect on Hahn's approach to vocal composition. Hahn found himself seduced by the poetry of Victor Hugo, Théophile Gautier, and Paul Verlaine and created musical phrasing and rhythmic gestures that would allow the words to speak for themselves. Han also composed for the stage.  His most important ballet, Le dieu bleu, was composed in 1912 for Diaghilev's company. His most successful theater piece, his operetta Ciboulette was premiered to instant acclaim in Paris in 1923, and has received innumerable performances since. As a conductor and impresario at the Paris Opera, Hahn preferred the operas of Mozart. The fact that Hahn was not French-born has never diminished his reputation as an archetypal French composer even among the nationalistic French. Today, as he was during his life, he is best known for his vocal works, ranging from serious opera and operetta to solo songs.

August 16
Gabriel Pierné
Birth: August 16, 1863 in Metz, France
Death: July 17, 1937 in Ploujean, France

Pierné displayed great musical promise as a child and by 1871 he had entered the Paris Conservatoire to study composition with Massenet and organ with Franck. At age 11, Pierné earned a medal for his solfège skills, and he later went on to win top prizes in organ, composition, and piano, as well as the coveted Prix de Rome. In 1890 Pierné succeeded his teacher, Franck, as organist at St. Clotilde cathedral, a distinct honor for a young man of 27. In the late 1890s he abandoned his career as an organist and in 1903 made his debut as assistant conductor of the Concerts Colonne. In addition to his activities on the podium, Pierné served on the administration of the Paris Conservatoire and composed for the Ballet Russes. Pierné's output as a composer includes works in most of the standard genres. He blended a seriousness of purpose with a lighter, more popular flavor. In typically French style, he avoided symphonic form in favor of orchestral poems and character pieces. Pierné has been called the most complete French musician of the late Romantic/early twentieth century era. As a conductor, his dedication to the music of his contemporary French composers earned him a reputation of deep integrity.

August 23
Moritz Moszkowski
Birth: August 23, 1854 in Breslau, Germany
Death: March 4, 1925 in Paris, France

The Jewish pianist Moritz Moszkowski was German-born, but always claimed Polish nationality. A child prodigy, Moszkowski entered the Dresden conservatory at age 11, and from there moved on to Berlin where he studied piano with Eduard Frank and Theodore Kullak and composition with Friedrich Kiel. Kullak was so impressed by the teenaged Moszkowski that he made the latter an instructor at the Neue Akademie der Tonkunst. In 1873, Moszkowski made his performing debut in Berlin and swiftly rose through ranks to recognition among the great piano virtuosi in Europe. In 1875, Moszkowski premiered his First Piano Concerto and soon after, collaborated with Franz Liszt in a two-piano version. By the mid-1880s, Moszkowski was suffering from anxiety and began to curtail his recital activity in favor of composing, conducting and teaching. His many published compositions proved very popular in the era of salon pianism, and earned the composer a handsome income. Moszkowski's music for piano duet was especially popular, in particular the Spanish Dances. Early in his career Moszkowski had some success with orchestral music as well, but these pieces remained largely unpublished and most are now lost. Upon leaving the Neue Akademie der Tonkunst, Moszkowski settled in Paris with his wife, the sister of the composer Cecile Chaminade. In 1910 Moszkowski's wife left him for his best friend, taking their daughter with her. He never truly recovered from this personal tragedy. In the early years of the 20th century Moszkowski proved unable to adapt to changing musical styles, and sales of his works quickly declined. Having lost his considerable fortune during the tumult of the First World War, Moszkowski was living in poverty by the early 1920s. On December 21, 1921 a group of concerned colleagues arranged a benefit concert at Carnegie Hall on his behalf. Among the 14 pianists who played the event were Percy Grainger, Harold Bauer, Wilhelm Bachaus, Leo Ornstein, and Ignaz Freidman. The concert generated $10,000, however Moszkowski was unable to access this windfall of cash until mere weeks before his death in Paris at age 70.

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