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Thursday Evening Classics
Composer Capsules for
January/February 2009

January 22

Charles Arnold Tournemire
Birth: January 22, 1870 in Bordeaux, France
Death: November 4, 1939 in Arcachon, France
A precocious child, Tournemire was appointed organist of the church of St. Pierre in Bordeaux at the age of 11. He studied at the Conservatoire de Paris with César Franck and Charles-Marie Widor, winning in 1891 the first prize in organ. He also studied with d'Indy at the Schola Cantorum. In 1898, Tournemire succeeded Gabriel Pierné as organist in St. Clotilde, a post he held for the rest of his life. As organist, Tournemire toured Germany, Holland, and Russia before the Great War. Between 1900 and 1914 he composed his first five symphonies, all of which were performed at the time. During this time, his style began to give way to a more complex harmonic texture that incorporated some degree of impressionistic harmony. This style began to deepen in 1908 after Tournemire married the sister of the wife of Josephin "Sâr" Péladan, a French mystic who was the founder of the Ordre de Rose-Croix in Paris. Tournemire's distinct "mystical" organ idiom had a decisive impact on the French organ school, exemplified by such figures as Olivier Messaien, Jehan Alain, Maurice Duruflé and Jean Langlais. As he aged, Tournemire became more inflexible in his views about spiritual matters and later repudiated his colleagues who had expressed admiration for him or depended on his counsel. The First World War interrupted Tournemire's creative life. He was mobilized and, although he had projected a Sixth Symphony in 1915, he could only start work on it in 1917. This symphony, in addition to two more that followed, was never performed in his lifetime. In 1919, he was appointed a professor at the Paris Conservatoire, but the Great War had brought about a cultural and musical change of style and Tournemire found himself out of step with the tastes of “Les Six” and Stravinsky. From 1921 he devoted his best compositional efforts to the church, which included his great oratorios, La Quête du Saint-Graal, l'Apocalypse de Saint-Jean and La douloureuse Passion du Christ. Between 1927 and 1932 he worked on the colossal L'orgue mystique, a work comprising 51 Offices, sets of five pieces for the Holy Mass, for every Sunday of the year. Tournemire was highly valued as an improviser on the organ and in 1930 he recorded five improvisations at St. Clotilde on phonograph records that were later painstakingly transcribed by Duruflé. The circumstances of Tournemire's death are among the most mysterious and controversial of any classical composer. He left his home to take a walk on October 31, 1939 and never returned. Four days later his body was found in a bog outside of Archachon, quite some distance from where he started out. The suggestion that he may have committed suicide seemed impossible for such a staunchly Catholic mystic, and the latest information suggests that Tournemire may have become disoriented, lost his way and drowned by accident. A series of documents that are expected to clear up this matter are sealed until 2015.

Henri Dutilleux
Birth: January 22, 1916 in Angers, France
Dutilleux was the grandson of organist and composer Julien Koszul, who was onetime director of the Roubaix Conservatoire, a close friend of Gabriel Fauré, and a champion of Albert Roussel. As a young man, Dutilleux studied harmony, composition, counterpoint, music history and piano at the Douai Conservatory and the Paris Conservatoire.  Dutilleux won the Prix de Rome in 1938 for his cantata L'Anneau du Roi but did not complete the entire 2-year residency in Rome due to the outbreak of World War II. He worked for a year as a medical orderly in the army and then came back to Paris in 1940 where he worked as a pianist, arranger and music teacher and in 1942, conductor of the Paris Opera. It was during the war that Dutilleux began to establish his reputation as a composer. That recognition came in 1951with his Symphony #1, which led to interest in Dutilleux, particularly among performers who have since kept a stream of commissions coming his way. Ever conscious of the quality of his small work list, Dutilleux has renounced all of the pieces that predate his Piano Sonata, written for his new bride, pianist Genevieve Joy. Dutilleux worked as Head of Music Production for the ORTF (French public radio) from 1945 to 1963. He served as Professor of Composition at the École Normale de Musique de Paris from 1961 to 1970. He was appointed to the staff of the Paris Conservatoire in 1970 and was composer in residence at Tanglewood in 1995 and 1998. As a composer, Dutilleux emphasizes quality over quantity, shuns systems of formal organization, and writes unpretentious music tailored to the needs of specific ensembles. Dutilleux' independence of spirit sets him apart from many of his French colleagues. His concern for instrumental color, spatial relationships among instrumental groups, and heterodox sense of spirituality maintains the French lineage of modernism that stems from the music of Debussy through the work of Messiaen. Dutilleux is deeply inspired by visual art, his orchestral work Timbres, espace, mouvement being directly inspired by Vincent van Gogh's painting The Starry Night. Among the artists who have had works written for them by Dutilleux are cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, the Juilliard String Quartet, violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and Swiss conductor Paul Sacher. Many of these works, such as the string quartet Ainsi le nuit, the orchestral pieces The Shadows of Time, and Métaboles, are already regarded as masterworks of Western literature.

January 29

Frederick Delius
Birth: January 29, 1862 in Bradford, England
Death: June 10, 1934 in Grez-sur-Loing, France
Delius’ father owned a wool company and hoped that his son would follow a career in business. Frederick, however, wanted to study music, and though his father did not approve of music as a profession, he did not discourage music-making as a pastime. As a boy, Delius was allowed to study the violin and the piano. To his father's dismay, he also spent much of his youth sneaking away from school to attend concerts and opera performances. When he completed school, he went to work for his father in the family business. In 1884, he left England for Florida, where he worked on a plantation as an orange grower. Delius proved to be a failure as an orange grower, and began supporting himself as a musician. In 1886, his father arranged for him to spend a year and a half studying music in Germany at the Leipzig Conservatory. Though Delius would later insist that he learned very little of importance during his stay in Leipzig, it was there that he met Grieg, with whom he forged a lifelong friendship. Grieg convinced Delius' father to allow the young man to become a composer, and Delius, with the support of his formerly reluctant father, soon moved to Paris and began living the life of an artist. Once in Paris, Delius began composing in earnest, and towards the end of the 19th century had already completed two operas, Irmelin and The Magic Fountain. In the first decade of the 20th century, Delius married the painter Jelka Rosen and produced a number of important works, including the opera A Village Romeo and Juliet, the large-scale choral works Appalachia and A Mass of Life, a piano concerto, and a number of songs and chamber pieces. His music was well-received throughout Europe, and Delius was quite successful up until World War I, when he was forced to leave France for England. Despite his renown in continental Europe, Delius was virtually unknown in his native England, and his stay there was marred by financial difficulties. After the war, Delius returned to France, where the syphilis he had contracted in Florida gradually caused him to become paralyzed and blind. Ironically, as Delius became increasingly infirm, his fame began to spread. This was due in large part to the efforts of English conductor Sir Thomas Beecham, who championed Delius' music and organized a Delius Festival in 1929. Though terribly ill, Delius nonetheless still wanted to compose, and in 1928 enlisted the services of English musician Eric Fenby, to whom he dictated music. Before his death, Delius was able to hear his music over the radio and on record, but these accomplishments paled before the terrible deterioration of his health, and he died in seclusion.

Havergal Brian
Birth: January 29, 1876 in Dresden, Staffordshire, England
Death: November 28, 1972 in Shoreham-on-Sea, Sussex., England
Over the course of a creative life of 80 years, Havergal Brian composed big and ambitious works, including 32 symphonies and several operas, most of which went unperformed in his lifetime. Since his death, he has moved from near total obscurity to recognition as one of 20th century England's most significant composers. Both of Brian's parents sang in a choir, and his earliest musical experiences were of singing and playing organ in the local church. He took some rudimentary music lessons, but was largely self-taught through studying scores and taking part in local amateur performances. After supporting himself for a time as a carpenter's assistant and working for a coal mine and a timber firm, Brian decided to devote himself to music. His first successes as a composer were part-songs and choral works for various British music festivals. Through those experiences he befriended Sir Edward Elgar and Sir Henry Wood. The latter's performance of Brian's English Suite #1 inspired an anonymous patron to help Brian get his music published. In 1912, Brian moved to London. Over time, he became very poor, his works weren't being performed, and at one time he contemplated suicide. He served briefly in World War I and after the war, worked as a freelance music copyist and a writer and editor work for musical publications. All the while, he was composing huge pieces of music, such as the comic opera The Tigers and the Gothic Symphony which for years was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the "Largest Symphony." Close to two hours in length, the work calls for a vast orchestra (supplemented by four brass bands and organ), four soloists, two choirs, and children's choir. The symphony only received its first commercial recording in 1990. After completing his four-hour long opera Prometheus Unbound, Brian stopped composing for a few years. In 1948, he embarked on the most prolific period of his career. From 1948 to 1968 he completed 27 symphonies, four operas, and various other instrumental works. Twenty-two of those 27 symphonies were written after Brian had turned 80, and seven were written after his 90th birthday. Brian was 78 years old before he heard one of his symphonies performed, in a 1954 BBC concert. Performances of his works have remained fairly rare, though the pace picked up with the formation of the Havergal Brian Society.

February 12

Jan Ladislav Dussek
Birth: February 12, 1760 in Tschaslau, Czechoslovakia
Death: March 20, 1812 in St.-Germain-en-Laye, France
Jan Ladislav Dussek was the first truly important touring piano virtuoso and a highly popular composer. He was the first pianist to turn the piano sideways on the stage, so that his right profile was presented to the audience, allowing the piano lid to be opened to reflect and project the sound outward. In addition to having remarkable finger dexterity and power, Dussek was able to create a singing, legato tone out of what is essentially a percussion instrument. The secret was his meticulous use of the sustaining pedals of the piano, unprecedented at the time. Apart from his own music, Dussek is important because of his friendship with John Broadwood, the developer of the "English Action" piano. Because his own music demanded strength and range not available in early pianos, he coaxed Broadwood into several extensions of the range and sonority of the instrument. Jan Ladislav Dussek was the son of Jan Dussek, a well-known local musician. Jan Ladislav’s mother was a harpist, and he composed much music for the harp as well as for the piano. He studied piano from the age of five, and began playing the organ at nine. He also had a fine voice and joined the boy choir of the Minorite church in Iglau. After early studies in Bohemia, Dussek went to the Netherlands and Germany, where he met C. P. E. Bach. From there, he moved to St. Petersburg, where he was, for a time, a favorite of Catherine the Great. However, he fled St. Petersburg, having been accused of involvement in a plot to assassinate Catherine. Given Dussek's lifelong royalist sympathies, his well-attested personal good looks, and Catherine's proclivity for beautiful young men, a different explanation seems more probable. He then toured Germany and France, playing glass harmonica as well as piano, and again making a huge impression with his virtuoso playing. Later he went to France where he became a favorite of Marie Antoinette, who tried to dissuade him from taking a performing tour to Milan in 1788. At the outbreak of the Revolution in 1789, Dussek fled France for London, taking with him the harpist wife of the composer Jean-Baptiste Krumpholtz, who drowned himself in the Seine as a consequence. In London, Dussek joined forces with a music publisher named Domenico Corri. Dussek soon abandoned Madame Krumpholtz in favor of Corri's young daughter, Sophia, whom he married. She was a singer, pianist, and harpist who later became known in her own right. Together, they had a daughter, but the marriage was not happy. Dussek and his father-in-law failed spectacularly as music publishers. Corri was thrown into debtors’ prison, and Dussek fled the country, leaving his wife and daughter behind. He resumed his European concert career and in 1804, was appointed Kapellmeister by Prince Louis Ferdinand of Prussia, who loved music so much, he took his musicians with him to the battlefields. In 1807, Dussek accepted a position with the French minister Talleyrand and remained in that job until death. Contemporary accounts suggest that his powers were in no way diminished until the final months of his life, when he was bedridden, suffering from gout and other ailments, including excessive drinking and morbid obesity.

Roy Harris
Birth: February 12, 1898 in Chandler, OK
Death: October 1, 1979 in Santa Monica, CA
Roy Harris became a renowned composer on the American scene in the 1940s, owing to the immense popularity of his Third Symphony. In all, Harris composed over 170 works, including many works for amateurs, but the backbone of his output was his series of symphonies. Harris wrote no operas, but otherwise covered all the main genres of orchestral, vocal, choral, chamber and instrumental music as well as a significant number of works for band. At age 5, the family moved from Oklahoma to the San Gabriel Valley, where Roy began showing talent on the piano. He quickly developed his keyboard skills and learned to play the clarinet in high school. By the time he was 18, his skills on the piano and clarinet were quite advanced. In 1919, he enrolled in the University of California at Berkelely to study sociology, philosophy, history, and economics. He had a short-lived marriage in 1922 to a woman named Davida, and two more unsuccessful marriages before 1936. Harris began studying composition in his college years, first with Charles Demarest and Ernest Douglas, and in 1924 with Arthur Farwell. While studying with Farwell, he wrote the Andante to a projected symphony titled, Our Heritage. It was premiered in 1926 by Howard Hanson and the Eastman School Orchestra and later that year performed by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. At the request of Aaron Copland, Harris went to France in 1926 to study with Nadia Boulanger. While there, he wrote the Concerto for Piano, Clarinet and String Quartet, his first major success. After suffering a serious back injury in 1929, he was forced to return for treatment to the United States, where Harris formed associations with Howard Hanson at the Eastman School of Music and, more importantly, with Serge Koussevitsky at the Boston Symphony Orchestra. These associations secured performance outlets for his large-scale works. In 1936, Harris married for the fourth and last time. His bride was Beulah Duffy, a pianist on the faculty at Juilliard. Harris' Third Symphony premiered in 1939 and became a sensation, receiving many performances and recordings. While Harris scored triumphs with succeeding symphonies and with other works, he would never again experience such overwhelming success. Harris' restless nature is underscored by his positions with a number of colleges and universities beginning in the late 1940s: Utah State, Peabody College, Chatham College, Indiana University, UCLA, and the University of the Pacific. In 1958, Harris, along with Peter Mennin, Roger Sessions, and Ulysses Kay, traveled to the Soviet Union on a cultural exchange mission for the State Department. There he conducted the Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra in his Fifth Symphony, and met prominent Soviet composers, including Dmitri Shostakovich. In the late 1950s, Harris' inspiration waned, and even when he experienced productive periods thereafter, the results were uneven at best.

February 19

Luigi Boccherini
Birth: February 19, 1743 in Lucca, Italy
Death: May 28, 1805 in Madrid, Spain
Boccherini wrote a massive amount of chamber music, including over 100 string quintets for two violins, viola and two cellos (a string quartet with a second cello, rather than a second viola), a dozen guitar quintets, nearly 100 string quartets, and a number of string trios and sonatas. His orchestral music includes 30 symphonies and 12 virtuoso cello concertos. Boccherini was the son of a professional musician who was the first double bassist to perform solo concerts. The elder Boccherini started to give his son cello lessons when the boy was five and Luigi continued his studies with Abbé Vanucci, music director of the cathedral at San Martino. When the boy made his first public appearance it was conceded that he had already surpassed his teacher's skills. He was sent to Rome, where he trained with G. B. Costanzi, music director of St. Peter's Basilica. After one year in Rome, Luigi and his father were summoned to Vienna, where they were hired by the Imperial Theater Orchestra. In 1765 Boccherini and his father went to Milan, which at the time was a magnet for talented musicians. After his father’s untimely death, Luigi formed a new partnership with the violinist Filippo Manfredi. They toured Italy in 1767 and made their way to Paris, where they became a sensation. In 1769 Boccherini and Manfredi journeyed to Spain, where the composer enjoyed further acclaim. It was in Spain that Boccherini began composing for a new genre, the string quintet. Boccherini married in 1771, but his wife died of a stroke in 1785. That year his Spanish patron, Archbishop Don Luis, also died, leaving Boccherini without a position. He petitioned King Charles and Charles granted him a pension and assigned him various musical duties. In 1796 Boccherini entered into an arrangement with publisher, composer, and piano manufacturer Ignaz Pleyel, who both praised and published Boccherini's works, while cheating him of income. In 1803, Boccherini was reported as living in "distress," but this was as likely from emotional depression as financial hardship, for in 1802 two of his daughters died from an epidemic within a few days of each other. In 1804 both his second wife and his only living daughter died. Boccherini died of what was described as "pulmonary suffocation." He was buried in the Church of San Justo in Madrid. In 1927 his remains were disinterred and he was reburied in the Basilica of San Francesco in his hometown of Lucca.

February 26

Anton Reicha
Birth: February 26, 1770 in Prague, Czechoslovakia
Death: May 28, 1836 in Paris, France
Antoine Reicha was a French composer and theorist whose career spanned the late 18th and early 19th centuries. While his music for woodwind quintet is well known, he was also an opera composer and the author of several important texts on music theory. Reicha was not only a contemporary of Beethoven, but also the one-time teacher of Berlioz and Liszt. Reicha's earliest training was with his uncle Josef Reicha, and he later studied music in Bonn and Hamburg. When he moved to Vienna in 1801, Reicha studied with Albrechtsberger and also met the elderly Joseph Haydn and other important members of the musical community in that city. While in Vienna, Reicha composed a number of fugues for the keyboard and a large amount of chamber music. It was only when Reicha moved to Paris in 1808 that he composed music on a larger scale. Here he attempted to establish himself as a composer of opera. Of his three surviving completed operas, though, only Sappho achieved any degree of success. Nevertheless, by that time Reicha had a reputation as an excellent teacher of composition, and in this capacity he was respected by the musicians of his day. His treatise on composition, Cours de composition musicale became a standard text in the 19th century, and his Traité de haute composition musicale was one of the most important works of its kind. Reicha's Art du compositeur dramatique is a manual for composers of opera and is important for its insights into the approach to the genre. Reicha's musical style is relatively conservative and formal. His chamber music, for which he is best known, is strong melodically and structurally.

Frank Bridge
Birth: February 26, 1879 in Brighton, England
Death: January 10, 1941 in Eastbourne, England
A scholarship enabled Frank Bridge to study violin and composition with Charles Villiers Stanford at the Royal College of Music. Bridge quickly earned a reputation as a gifted violist and conductor. In 1906, he played with the Joachim Quartet, and he was a member of the English String Quartet through 1915. He conducted operas at the Savoy Theatre and Covent Garden, and when Sir Thomas Beecham organized his New Symphony Orchestra in 1906, he named Bridge as his assistant. Bridge also befriended Sir Henry Wood and occasionally substituted for him as conductor at Queen's Hall. Wood later became an important champion of Bridge's music. During this period, Bridge was writing mostly chamber music and songs. His few orchestral works of the time, most significantly The Sea, were influenced by the French Impressionists. After World War I, Bridge's next big work signaled a large shift in style. The Piano Sonata was written in memory of composer Ernest Farrar, who was killed in action in France, in 1917. In it, one hears considerably more dissonance, abrupt changes of mood and tempo, and a more angular and aggressive sound. This stylistic evolution continued in works like the third and fourth string quartets, which flirt with atonality. In his last two decades, Bridge composed, occasionally conducted, and traveled, including trips to the United States in 1923, 1934, and 1938. He also did some private teaching. Certainly his best-known pupil was Benjamin Britten, who was an 11-year-old prodigy when Bridge met him in 1924. Britten retained a great affection for his teacher, and paid tribute to him in the Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge, based on the second of the latter's Three Idylls for String Quartet. Britten was also partly responsible for the subsequent interest in Bridge's music. Among Bridge's later compositions were a lovely opera, The Christmas Rose, as well as several important chamber and orchestral works.

Copyright©WWUH: January/February Program Guide, 2009

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