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Thursday Evening Classics

July 1

Hans Werner Henze

Birth: July 1, 1926 in Gütersloh, Westfalen, Germany

Hans Werner Henze has composed extensively in all the major genres including symphony, concerto, opera, and song, in a wide variety of styles. At first he composed in a neo-classical manner, but later adopted 12-tone serialism. Henze began composing at age 12, even before his formal music education began at the Braunschweig State Music School. He served in the German army in World War II and was briefly held as a prisoner-of-war. After the war, he continued his studies at the Institute for Church Music in Heidelberg, where he worked with Wolfgang Fortner, and at Darmstadt, where he studied with Schoenberg disciple René Leibowitz. His earliest recognized compositions date from the mid-1940s.  His first full-length opera, Boulevard Solitude, was completed in 1951. Henze was chiefly identified with the post-Arnold Schoenberg serial composers for several years. With his move to Italy in 1953, Henze sought to change that perception and brought to his music a new lyricism. In the mid-1960s Henze took his first teaching post, as director of master classes in composition at the Salzburg Mozarteum. From an early age, he was interested in political and social issues. His rejection of the bourgeois values of his upbringing and the Nazism that he encountered probably had a large influence on his later political thinking. The notorious premiere of the oratorio Das Floss der Medusa (The Raft of Medusa, a requiem for Che Guevara) in 1968, at which the work's librettist and others were arrested, brought Henze further notoriety musically and politically. Interactions with German students and Italian intellectuals had motivated Henze to bring to his work an increasing political consciousness. Socialism and the New Left were very appealing to him, even more so after a year of teaching in Cuba in 1969-70, during which he led the Cuban National Symphony in the premiere of his Symphony #6.  Voices, a song cycle with texts by Ho Chi Minh, Bertold Brecht and others, reflects Henze's political commitment and his musical eclecticism. In his later works, Henze has incorporated such disparate elements as rock and popular music, electronics, taped sounds, microtones, and extended vocal and instrumental techniques. But he has also continued the exploration of an expressionist orchestral sumptuousness in such works as Heliogabalus imperator and Tristan, and an enjoyment in reinterpreting old musical models.

July 8

Percy Aldrich Grainger

Birth: July 8, 1882 in Melbourne, Australia

Death: February 21, 1961 in White Plains, NY

George Percy Aldridge Grainger, was born to an architect father and a mother, Rose, who was the daughter of hoteliers from Adelaide, South Australia. His father was an alcoholic and when Grainger was 11, his parents separated. Grainger's mother was domineering and possessive. But, she recognized his musical abilities, and in 1895 took him to study at the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt. There he displayed his talents as a musical experimenter, using irregular and unusual meters. From 1901 to 1914 Grainger lived in London, where he befriended and was influenced by Edvard Grieg. Grieg had a longstanding interest in the folk songs of his native Norway, and Grainger developed a particular interest in recording the folk songs of rural England. During this period, Grainger also wrote and performed piano compositions that anticipated the forthcoming popularization of the tone cluster by Leo Ornstein and Henry Cowell. Grainger moved to the USA at the outbreak of World War I in 1914. His 1916 piano composition In a Nutshell was the first by a classical music professional in the Western tradition to require direct, non-keyed sounding of the strings - in this case, with a mallet - which would come to be known as a "string piano" technique. When the USA entered the war in 1917, he enlisted in a United States Army band playing the oboe and soprano saxophone, and spent the duration of the war giving dozens of concerts in aid of War Bonds and Liberty Loans. In 1918, he became a naturalized citizen of the USA. His piano solo CountryGardens became a smash hit, securing his reputation, although Grainger grew to detest the piece. With his newfound wealth, Grainger and his mother settled in White Plains, NY after the war. Rose Grainger's health, however, both mental and physical, was in decline. She committed suicide in 1922 by jumping from the building where her son's manager, Antonia Sawyer, had her office. In the same year, he traveled to Denmark, his first folk-music collecting trip to Scandinavia, and the orchestration of the music of the region would shape much of his finest output. In 1926 Percy Grainger met the Swedish artist and poet Ella Viola Ström and, freed from his mother's domination, fell in love at first sight. Their wedding was one of the most remarkable on record. It took place on August 9, 1928 on the stage of the Hollywood Bowl, following a concert before an audience of 20,000, with an orchestra of 126 musicians and an a cappella choir, which sang his new composition, To a Nordic Princess, dedicated to Ella. In 1929 Grainger established himself as a musical innovator with a style of orchestration or arranging that he called "Elastic Scoring". In 1932 he became Dean of Music at New York University, and emphasized his reputation as an experimenter by including jazz on the syllabus and inviting Duke Ellington as a guest lecturer. In 1940, the Graingers moved to Springfield, Missouri, from which base Grainger again toured to give a series of army concerts during World War II. However, after the war, poor health, declining ability as a pianist and the gradual decline in popularity of classical music discouraged Grainger. His last public appearance was at Dartmouth College in 1960. In his last years, working in collaboration with Burnett Cross, Percy Grainger invented the "Free Music Machine" which was the forerunner of the electric synthesizer. He died in White Plains and he was buried in Adelaide, Australia. Percy Grainger was known during his lifetime as a virtuoso pianist and arranger of popular English folk song. His primary contribution to music, however, was as a composer of expert and highly original works. Early in his life, Grainger rejected the central European tradition of Western classical music, seeking instead a "democratic" music that was more closely related to natural sounds, speech, and world music. In his quest to assimilate as much unique musical culture as possible, Grainger became one of the first ethnomusicologists to use the wax cylinder phonograph in the collection and transcription of indigenous music. His arrangements of many of these are among the best ever done, capturing not only the melodies and harmonies, but also the timbres, inflections, and performance styles of each individual piece. In his own compositions, Grainger experimented with nontraditional rhythms, forms, and instrumental combinations in an attempt to create what he called "free music." He was a champion of physical fitness, and stayed in top condition throughout his life.

August 5

Guillaume Dufay

Birth: August 5, 1397 in Bersele, Brabant, France

Death November 27, 1474 in Cambrai, France

Dufay was one of the most highly regarded composers of his generation, and one of those principally responsible for inaugurating the Renaissance in music. Before his death, Dufay would lead the papal chapel, socialize with popes and dukes, and collaborate with Donatello and Brunelleschi. Dufay lived in the Duchy of Burgundy – one of the primary musical hubs of the era, and a highly significant center for the structural principles of the high Renaissance. He spent a considerable portion of his life in Italy, in various cities, and so not only contributed to the refinement of musical life of Italy, but also disseminated Italian ideas to the intellectual centers of Northern Europe. Dufay was one of the most cosmopolitan composers of his or any age, and his large musical output contains many masterpieces, from cyclic masses to isorhythmic motets to simply ornamented hymns and dramatic cycles. Dufay's music flows more smoothly than the characteristically complex rhythmic textures of the late Medieval period, and is marked by graceful melodies and a compelling sense of direction. As his career progressed and his fame grew, Dufay increasingly took up the four-voice vocal texture which was to be characteristic of the early Renaissance as a whole. His four cantus firmus masses Se la face ay pale, L'homme arme, Ecce ancilla domini, and Ave regina caelorum are landmarks in what was to become the dominant style of mass composition. At his death in 1474, Dufay left a sizable fortune (including cash, jewelry, furniture, and books), as well as musical provisions for his own memorial services. He also left an outstanding musical reputation and a powerful influence upon generations of composers to follow.

August 12

Heinrich Ignaz Franz Von Biber

Birth: August 12, 1644 in Wartenberg, Bohemia

Death: May 3, 1704 in Salzburg, Austria

Biber was a violin virtuoso and one of the first great composers for that instrument. Little is known of his background or education, although he is believed to have studied in Vienna with the eminent German violinist Johann Heinrich Schmelzer. Biber began his career playing violin and gamba in the courts of Moravia, and is known to have assumed a post in the band belonging to Count Karl of Liechtenstein-Castelcorno at Kromeriz. In 1670, he abandoned this position without permission, and joined the Kapelle in Salzburg. His brilliance and virtuosity on the violin made Biber one of the most renowned soloists in Europe, and in 1690 Emperor Leopold I added the aristocratic prefix "von" to his name. His music was published extensively, though it was often idiosyncratic. Biber's manuscripts and publications illustrate violin improvisations in unprecedented detail. In his Sonata Representativa, one will find instrumental impressions of cuckoos, frogs, cats, and marching musketeers. These are supplied with a simple ground bass that provides plenty of room for the soloist to improvise, but are written at such a high level of difficulty that few violinists attempt to master them. In his "Mystery", or "Rosenkranz" sonatas, Biber makes extensive use of scordatura, violin re-tunings that change the tonal character of the instrument and make "impossible" figurations possible. Biber's music is strongly affective emotionally, and in works of a programmatic character, such as his orchestral piece Battalia. In Battalia, the orchestra is required to play simultaneous marching songs in different keys - in a manner similar to the music of Charles Ives - to indicate soldiers of various regiments going off to battle. A soft, hushed passage at the end of the work represents the result, a somber representation of battlefield dead. Especially in his later years, Biber also composed extensive choral music, operas, and sacred music such as the 15-part Requiem and theMissa Salisburgensis, a powerful polyphonic setting of the mass for 53 voices.

Aug 19

Georges Enescu

Birth: August 19, 1881 Liveni-Virnav, Romania

Death: May 4, 1955 in Paris, France

George Enescu is still considered the greatest of all Romanian composers. While he is widely known for one famous work, he was an imaginative, skilled composer of music with great depth and subtlety, as well as being one of the great concert violinists of his time. He was given a violin and lessons at the age of four.  He progressed rapidly and began to compose a year later. He entered the conservatory of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna in 1888. His primary violin teacher was Joseph Hellmesberger. He studied piano with Ernst Ludwig and harmony, theory, and composition with Robert Fuchs. He made his performing debut in 1889 and graduated before his 13th birthday, earning the silver medal. In 1895 he went to Paris to continue his training. He studied violin with Martin Pierre Marsick, harmony with André Gédalge, and composition with Jules Massenet and Gabriel Fauré. This mixture of late Romantic German and French training helped give his music its distinctive quality. The work he designated as his first mature piece, the Poème Roumaine, Op. 1, premiered in 1898. That same year he started conducting the Romanian Philharmonic Society in Bucharest. Enescu quickly established one of the most important solo and chamber music careers of the century. His recital partner was the great French pianist Alfred Cortot, and he formed a piano trio with Louis Fournier and Alfredo Casella in 1902, and in 1904 the Enescu Quartet. He joined the faculties of the École Normal and the American Conservatory in Paris. In the meantime, he took an active part in building a classical concert life in his native Romania. He formed a Philharmonic Orchestra in the town of Iasi, and a Composers' Society. He wrote his most famous works, the two Romanian Rhapsodies, Op. 11, for the Philharmonic. He also worked closely with the Conservatories in Bucharest and Iasi. In 1912 he funded a "George Enescu Prize" in composition, and played the world premieres of the winning works. He made his first appearances in the United States in 1923, as violinist and guest conductor with the Philadelphia Orchestra. He was also a noted violin teacher. Yehudi Menuhin, Christian Ferras, Ivry Gitlis, Arthur Grumiaux, and Ida Haendel were among his pupils. Through the 1930s he continued work as a violinist, conductor, teacher, musicologist, and organizer, while as a composer he labored over his powerful opera Oedipus. During World War II, he remained at his country estate in Romania. After the war, he went to New York, while a Soviet-backed government took over his country. He remained in New York, increasingly incapacitated by arthritis. He gave a farewell concert with Menuhin in 1950, then returned to Paris. He suffered a stroke in 1954 and as a result, spent ten months almost entirely paralyzed. On his death in 1955, George Enescu was interred in the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. Many of Enescu's works were influenced by Romanian folk music, his most popular compositions being the two Romanian Rhapsodies. He also wrote 5 symphonies, a symphonic poem Vox maris, and much chamber music including 3 sonatas for violin and piano, 2 for cello and piano, a piano trio, quartets with and without piano, a wind dixtuor, an octet for strings, a piano quintet, and a chamber symphony for twelve solo instruments.