Music History Monday

Music History Monday

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February 22, 2021 22 min

We mark the premiere on February 22, 1878 – 143 years ago today – of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 in F minor in a concert of the Russian Musical Society in Moscow, under the baton of Nicolai Rubinstein. The story of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 and the two women that inspired it is a fascinating one, a story that desperately wants to be told in some detail. Therefore, I am stretching it across two posts: today’s Music ...

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February 15, 2021 17 min

February 15 is one of those crazy days during which so much happened in the world of music that we are de facto forced to wonder if there is some metaphysical explanation for why this date should be a nexus of musical-historical activity! In an attempt to answer that question, I have probed. Ouch. Here is some of what I have found. February 15 is the 46th day of the year in the Gregorian calendar. As of today, 319 days remain until...

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February 8, 2021 19 min

We celebrate the birth on February 8, 1932 – 89 years ago today – of the American composer, conductor, pianist and trombonist John Towner Williams, in the neighborhood of Flushing, in the New York City borough of Queens. Williams must be regarded as among the greatest film composers of all time and is without a doubt the most successful in terms of awards garnered and dollars earned. Let’s do the numbers, if only to get them out of...

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There are times I crave spicy – I mean really spicy – food. (Speaking of which: I knew a guy at university from San Antonio – we belonged to the same “eating club’ which was our version of fraternities – who put Tabasco Sauce on everything: cereal, peanut butter sandwiches, vanilla ice cream, I kid you not; everything. Next to Berto, who was a professional-grade consumer of capsaicin, I am merely a hobbyist. Then again, I never saw...

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We mark the world premiere – on January 25, 1909 – 112 years ago today – of Ricard Strauss’ opera Elektra at the Semperoper, the opera house of the Sächsische Staatsoper – the Saxon State Opera – in Dresden. Today acknowledged as one of the masterworks of the operatic repertoire, the premiere of Elektra uncorked a degree of critical controversy equaled only by Strauss’ own opera Salome in 1905 and Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spri...

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January is usually a concert-heavy month, following, as it does, the holiday-heavy month of December. In a non-COVID environment, theaters thrive in the cold and early darkness of January, as folks look for something to do while they wait out the winter in anticipation of warmer, longer days and baseball season.  January 18th is particularly notable for concerts that have taken place on this date, concerts that with one glaring exc...

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We mark the first performance of Sergei Prokofiev’s ballet Romeo and Juliet on January 11, 1940 – 81 years ago today – by the Kirov Ballet in Leningrad, what today is St. Petersburg. Prokofiev was born on April 23, 1891 in Ukraine. He attended the St. Petersburg Conservatory as both a pianist and composer and graduated in 1914, first in his class. His rise to fame as both a pianist and composer was meteoric, and by 1917, the 26-yea...

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January 4, 2021 22 min

What July 4th is for Americans; what Bastille Day on July 14th is for the French; what St. Patrick’s Day on March 17th is for the Irish, and what the Black-Necked Crane Festival on November 11th is for the Bhutanese, so January 4th is for fans of rock ‘n’ roll: a day when so much stuff happened as to enshrine it as a major, rock ‘n’ roll holiday! What, pray tell, happened on this day? Thank you for asking. Elvis Presley and Sam Phi...

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December 28, 2020 21 min

We mark the death on December 28, 1937 – 83 years ago today – of the French composer and pianist Maurice Ravel, in Paris, at the age of 62. We will get to the magnifique and formidable Monsieur Ravel in a moment, but first, we’ve a birthday to acknowledge. We mark the birth on December 28, 1896 – 124 years ago today – of the American composer and teacher Roger Huntingdon Sessions, in Brooklyn New York. He died, at the age of 88, on...

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We mark and celebrate two composers born on this date. Zdeněk Fibich was born on December 21, 1850; 170 years ago today. Frank Zappa was born on December 21, 1940, 80 years ago today. The two had more in common with each other than just a name that started with the letter “z”. They were both eclectic composers, who brought to bear in their music a wide variety of influences, influences that were deemed “incompatible” by their criti...

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We mark the premiere performance on December 14, 1925 – 95 years ago today – of Alban Berg’s opera Wozzeck in Berlin, conducted by Erich Kleiber. That premiere performance was preceded by 137 rehearsals. Wozzeck was, and remains, one of the great masterworks of the twentieth century. Johann Franz Wozzeck, the title character of Berg’s opera, is described as being: “Thirty years and seven months old, militia man and fusilier in the ...

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Prince Josef Lobkowitz and Some Number One Songs That Will Live in Infamy! We have three items on our calendar-driven agenda today, which also happens to be the 79th anniversary of the Japanese surprise attack at Pearl Harbor, on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. One of these items is a birth; one of them is a recording session; and one of them notes some songs that will live in infamy! We begin with the recording session.  On December ...

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November 30, 2020 25 min

We mark the death on November 30, 1954 – 66 years ago today – of the German conductor and composer Gustav Heinrich Ernst Martin Wilhelm Furtwängler, who was one of the most important and controversial musicians of the twentieth century. We will talk all about Maestro Furtwängler in just a moment. But first: November 30 is a busy day in music history, and we have some important births and deaths to mark. We mark the birth on Novembe...

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Before getting on to our central topic for today’s post – naughty, naughty musicians – we need to give a shoutout to the great Spanish composer and conductor Manuel de Falla who was born on November 23, 1876 – 144 years ago today – in the Andalucían port city of Cadiz. We will celebrate de Falla tomorrow in my Dr. Bob Prescribes post, which will focus on his ballet El amor brujo (meaning “The Magician Love”) of 1915, and the Carlos...

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It was on November 16, 1848 – 172 years ago today – that Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849) performed his final concert. It was given at a benefit ball held in London’s Guildhall, staged to raise money for Polish exiles. Chopin, 38-years-old, was desperately ill. And although he lived another 11 months, he was never to perform again.  Frédéric François Chopin (born Fryderyk Franciszek Chopin) was a quintessential Romantic figure: a restle...

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We mark the first complete performance of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 on November 9, 1901 – 119 years ago today – in Moscow. Rachmaninoff (1873-1943) was the piano soloist. The performance was conducted by his cousin: the pianist, conductor and composer Alexander Siloti (1863-1945). Before moving on to Rachmaninoff’s second piano concerto and the compelling story behind it, we’ve an utterly irresistible anniversary t...

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I’m doing something today that I have never done before in Music History Monday and which, I hope, I will never have to do again. November 2 is not a day bereft of musical events. For example, November 2, 1739 saw the birth, in Vienna, of the composer and violinist Karl Ditters von Dittersdorf, who was a friend of Beethoven’s and who went on to become the concertmaster of the Esterhazy Orchestra. November 2, 1752 saw the birth of C...

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We mark the riot that occurred on October 26, 1958 – 62 years ago today – when Bill Haley and his Comets played a concert at Berlin’s Sportpalast to an audience of some 7000 people. Signs of trouble had occurred at Haley’s first two German concerts on the previous two evenings, the first one in Hamburg and the next in Essen. But no one could have anticipated the mayhem in Berlin, where some 500 rock ‘n’ rollers and police staged a ...

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On October 19, 1814 – 206 years ago today – Franz Schubert composed his first masterwork, the song Gretchen am Spinnrade – “Gretchen at the Spinning Wheel” – for solo voice and piano, on a text by Johann von Goethe. Schubert was 17 years old. It is an enduring and, in the end, unanswerable question: how many songs did Franz Schubert compose? It’s not that various sources haven’t tried to answer the question. For example, according ...

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We mark the birth on October 12, 1872 – 148 years ago today – of the English composer, conductor, folksong collector and teacher Ralph (R-A-L-P-H, pronounced “Rayf”) Vaughan Williams in the village of Down Ampney, in the Cotswold district of Gloucester, 75 miles west of London. He died in London at the age of 85, on August 26, 1958. A confession: I came to the music of Ralph Vaughan Williams fairly late in my life. Sure, like most ...

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