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Thursday Evening Classics
Composer Capsules for July / August 2008

Presented by Steve Petke

July 3

Leos Janacek
Birth: July 3, 1854 in Hukvaldy, Moravia
Death: August 12, 1928 in Moravská Ostrava, Czechoslovakia

Janáček was the son of a schoolmaster and sang as a boy in the choir of the Abbey of St. Thomas in Brno. He later went to Prague to study music and made a living as a music teacher. He also conducted various amateur choirs. In 1881, he moved back to Brno, and founded the Organ School there, which was later to become the Brno Conservatory. As a young man Janáček befriended Antonín Dvořák, and began composing in a relatively traditional romantic style, but after his opera Šárka, his style began to change. He studied Moravian and Slovak folk music and used elements of it in his own works. He especially focused on reproducing the rhythm and the pitch contour and inflections of normal Czech speech, which produced the very distinctive vocal melodies in his opera Jenůfa. Anticipating the later work of Béla Bartók in such styles, Janáček made this a distinguishing feature of his vocal writing. When Jenůfa was staged in Prague in 1916 it was a great success, and brought Janáček real acclaim for the first time. A year later he met Kamila Stösslová, a young married woman who was a profound inspiration to him for the remaining years of his life, and with whom he conducted an obsessive correspondence. Much of Janáček's work displays great originality and individuality. His work is tonal, although it employs a vastly expanded view of tonality. He also uses unorthodox chord spacings and structures, often making use of modality. Janáček belongs to a wave of 20th century composers who were seeking greater realism and greater connection to everyday life, combined with a more all-encompassing use of musical resources. Many regard the operas Káťa Kabanová, The Cunning Little Vixen, The Makropulos Affair and From the House of the Dead as his finest works. His two string quartets, #1 "Kreutzer" and #2 "Intimate Letters" are generally considered part of the standard repertory. Other well known pieces by Janáček include the Sinfonietta, the Glagolitic Mass, Lachian Dances, and the rhapsody Taras Bulba.

July 10

Henryk Wieniawski
Birth: July 10, 1835 in Lublin, Poland
Died: March 31, 1880 in Moscow, Russia

Henryk Wieniawski was born into a Polish-Jewish family, whose father, Tobiasz Pietruszka, converted to Catholicism. Henryk’s talent for playing the violin was recognized early on, and in 1843 he entered the Paris Conservatoire. After graduation, Wieniawski toured extensively, giving many recitals in which he was often accompanied by his brother Józef on piano. In 1847 Wieniawski published his first piece, a Grand Caprice Fantastique, the start of a modest but important catalog of 24 works.  When his engagement to Isabella Hampton was opposed by her parents, Wieniawski wrote the Légende, Opus 17. This work helped the parents to reconsider and the couple married in 1860.  At the invitation of Anton Rubinstein, Wieniawski moved to St. Petersburg, where he lived from 1860 to 1872, teaching many violin students at the newly-founded Conservatory and leading the orchestra and string quartet of the Russian Musical Society. Wieniawski taught his students a very unusual  bowing technique, with a stiff wrist and raised elbow, which later became a trademark of Russian violinists. From 1872 to 1874 Wieniawski toured the United States with Rubinstein. In 1875 Wieniawski replaced Henri Vieuxtemps as violin professor at the conservatory at Brussels. During his residence in Brussels, Wieniawski's health declined, often stopping him in the middle of concerts. He gave a farewell concert in Odessa in April 1879 and died from a heart attack the following year in Moscow. Wieniawski was considered a violinist of genius and wrote some of the most important works in the violin repertoire, including two extremely difficult violin concertos. His L'Ecole Moderne, 10 Etudes-Caprices are very well-known and required work for aspiring violinists. His Scherzo-Tarantelle, Op. 16 and Légende, Op. 17 are also frequently performed works. Wieniawski has been given a number of posthumous honors. His portrait appeared on a postage stamp of Poland in 1952 and again in 1957. A 100 Złoty coin was issued in 1979 bearing his image.

Carl Orff
Birth: July 10, 1895 in Munich, Germany
Death: March 29, 1982 in Andechs, Germany

Although his fame rests on the success of a single work, the famous and frequently commercially mutilated Carmina Burana, Carl Orff was in fact a multi-faceted musician and prolific composer who wrote in many styles before developing the primal, driving language that characterizes his most famous work. Orff achieved international renown as the world's pre-eminent authority on children's music education. Born into an old Bavarian family, Orff studied piano and cello while a young boy. He later studied at the Munich Academy of Music, graduating in 1914. His compositions during this period show the influence of Debussy and Richard Strauss. In 1914, Orff was appointed Kapellmeister at the Munich Kammerspiele, where he remained until joining the military in 1917. Discharged the following year, Orff continued to work as a conductor, accepting positions in Mannheim and Darmstadt during the 1918-1919 seasons. Returning to Munich in 1919, Orff studied composition while supporting himself as a teacher. In 1924, he founded the Güntherschule for music and dance, dedicating himself to making musical performance accessible to children. Under his guidance, an entire orchestra of special "Orff instruments" was designed, enabling children to play music without formal training. Orff became conductor of the Munich Bach society in 1930, a position he held until 1933. The experience of performing Baroque music, particularly sacred works for the stage, convinced Orff that an effective musical performance must fuse music, words and movement, a goal likely inspired by his work at the Güntherschule. Orff embodied his concept of music in the fabulously successful Carmina Burana, which in many ways defined him as a composer. It is the first of a trilogy that also includes Catulli Carmina and Trionfo di Afrodite. Based on an important collection of Latin and German Goliard poems found in the monastery of Benediktbeuren, Carmina Burana exemplifies Orff's desire to unleash the elemental power of music, allowing the listener to experience music as an overwhelming, primitive force. The perceived "primitivism" of Carmina Burana notwithstanding, Orff believed that the profound appeal of music was not merely physical. This belief is reflected in many other works, including Antigonae, Oedipus der Tyrann, and Prometheus. Orff died at the age of 86 and is buried in the Baroque church of the beer-brewing Benedictine priory of Andechs, south of Munich.

July 24

Adolphe Charles Adam
Birth: July 24, 1803 in Paris, France
Death: May 3, 1856 in Paris, France

Adolphe Adam, a prolific composer of operas and ballets, is best known today for his ballets Giselle and Le Corsaire, his operas Le postillon de Lonjumeau, Le toréador and Si j'étais roi, and his Christmas carol O Holy Night. Adam was also a noted teacher with Léo Delibes among his pupils.  His father, Louis Adam, was also a composer, as well a professor at the Paris Conservatoire. His mother was the daughter of a physician. As a child, Adolphe preferred to improvise music on his own rather than study music seriously. He entered the Conservatoire in 1821, where he studied organ and harmonium under the celebrated opera composer François-Adrien Boïeldieu. Adam also played the triangle in the orchestra of the Conservatoire; however, he did not win the Grand Prix de Rome and his father did not encourage him to pursue music as a career. By the age of 20, he was writing songs for Paris vaudeville houses and playing in the orchestra at the Gymnasie Dramatique, where he later became chorus master. Like many other French composers, he made a living largely by playing the organ. By 1830, he had completed twenty-eight works for the theatre. Adam is probably best remembered for the ballet Giselle. He wrote several other ballets and 39 operas. After quarreling with the director of the Opéra, Adam invested his money and borrowed heavily to open a third opera house in Paris, the Théâtre National. It opened in 1847, but closed because of the Revolution of 1848, leaving Adam with massive debts. His efforts to extricate himself from these debts included a brief turn to journalism. From 1849 to his death in Paris, he taught composition at the Paris Conservatoire.

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Ernest Bloch
Birth: July 24, 1880 in Geneva, Switzerland
Death: July 15, 1959 in Portland, Oregon

Bloch began playing the violin at age 9 and began composing soon afterwards. He studied music at the conservatory in Brussels, where his teachers included the celebrated violinist Eugène Ysaÿe. He then traveled around Europe, moving to Germany (where he studied at the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt), on to Paris in 1903 and back to Geneva before settling in the United States in 1916.  He became an American citizen in 1924. He held several teaching appointments in the U.S., with George Antheil, Frederick Jacobi, Bernard Rogers, and Roger Sessions among his pupils. In December 1920 he was appointed the first musical director of the newly formed Cleveland Institute of Music, a post he held until 1925. Following that, he spent most of the 1930s back in Switzerland before returning to the U. S.. In 1941 Bloch moved to the small coastal community of Agate Beach, Oregon and lived there the rest of his life. He died of cancer at the age of 78. Bloch's early works, including his opera Macbeth show the influence of both the Germanic school of Richard Strauss and the impressionism of Claude Debussy. Mature works, including his best-known pieces, often draw on Jewish liturgical and folk music. These works include Schelomo for cello and orchestra, the Israel Symphony, Baal Shem for violin and piano, the Jewish Life suite for cello and piano and Avodath Hakodesh for baritone, choir and orchestra. Other pieces from this period include a violin concerto written for Joseph Szigeti and the rhapsody America for chorus and orchestra. His pieces written after World War II are more varied in style, though Bloch's essentially Romantic idiom remains. Some, such as the Suite hébraïque continue the Jewish theme; others, such as the Concerto Grosso #2, display an interest in neo-classicism and others, including the late string quartets, include elements of atonality.

August 7

Sir Granville Bantock
Birth: August 7, 1868 in London, England
Death: October 16, 1946 in London, England

Bantock was intended by his parents for the Indian Civil Service but was compulsively drawn into the musical world. His first teacher was Dr Gordon Saunders at Trinity College of Music. Later he studied with Frederick Corder at the Royal Academy of Music, where Bantock won the MacFarren Prize in the first year of the RCM’s operation. Early conducting engagements took him around the world with a musical comedy troupe. Soon he became conductor at the New Brighton Tower concerts, where he pioneered the works of Holbrooke, Cowen, Steggall, German, Parry, Stanford, Corder and others, frequently devoting whole concerts to a single composer. He was also conductor of the Liverpool Orchestral Society with whom he premièred Delius's Brigg Fair. A close friend of fellow composer Havergal Brian, he was professor of music at the University of Birmingham from 1908 to 1934, having succeeded Sir Edward Elgar. He was influential in the founding of the City of Birmingham orchestra (later the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra), whose first performed work in September 1920 was of his Saul Overture. In 1934, he was elected Chairman of the Corporation of Trinity College of Music in London. He was knighted in 1930. His music was influenced by folk songs of the Hebrides and the works of Richard Wagner. Many of his pieces have an "exotic" element, including the choral epic Omar Khayyám. Among his other better-known works are the overture Pierrot of the Minute and the Pagan Symphony. Many of his works have been commercially recorded since the early 1990s. A Bantock Society was established shortly after the composer's death in London. Its first President was Jean Sibelius, a composer whose music was championed by Bantock during the early years of the century. Sibelius dedicated his third symphony to Bantock.

August 28

Ivor Gurney
Birth: August 28, 1890 in Gloucester, England
Death: December 26, 1937 in Dartford, England

Gurney sang as a chorister at Gloucester Cathedral from 1900 to 1906 when he met two important friends, composer Herbert Howells and the future poet F. W. Harvey. Gurney began composing music at the age of 14 and won a scholarship to the Royal College of Music in 1911. He studied there with Charles Villiers Stanford who also taught Ralph Vaughan Williams, John Ireland, Marion M. Scott, Rebecca Clarke, Frank Bridge, Herbert Howells, Arthur Bliss and many others. Stanford told Howells that Gurney was potentially "the biggest of them all", but he was "unteachable". Gurney's studies were interrupted by World War I as he enlisted as a soldier in the Gloucestershire Regiment. He was wounded in April 1917 and gassed in September the same year, and was subsequently posted to Seaton Delaval a mining village in Northumberland. Two volumes of poetry were published at this time: Severn and Somme and War's Embers. By March 1918 Gurney was in the Gallery Ward in Brancepeth Castle, County Durham, where he wrote several songs. After the war, Gurney returned to London to resume his music studies at the RCM with Vaughan Williams. Gurney suffered from bipolar disorder or manic-depressive illness, which showed symptoms during his mid-teens and led to his first documented breakdown in 1913, followed by a major breakdown in the spring of 1918 while he was still in uniform. He was never shell-shocked nor did he suffer from schizophrenia, the labels often used to describe his illness. The 1918 breakdown was triggered by the failure of his relationship with Annie Nelson Drummond whom he met when he was a patient at the Edinburgh War Hospital. The notion of Gurney as a victim of shell shock owes its existence to Marion Scott who wrote the initial press releases after Gurney's death suggesting that his illness was connected to the war. Although Gurney continued to compose after the war, his untreated bipolar illness continued to worsen. By 1922, his condition had deteriorated to the point where his family had him declared insane. He spent the last 15 years of his life in mental hospitals. Gurney died of tuberculosis in the City of London Mental Hospital at the age of 48. He was buried in Twigworth, a small village to the north of his beloved Gloucester. Gurney wrote hundreds of poems and more than 300 songs as well as instrumental music. He set only a handful of his own poems, the best known being Severn Meadows. His best-known compositions include his Five Elizabethan Songs and the song-cycles Ludlow and Teme and The Western Playland, both settings of poetry by A. E. Housman.

WWUH Classics Programming
Sunday Afternoon at the Opera: Sundays 1:00 - 4:30pm

Evening Classics: Weekdays 4:00 to 7:00/ 8:00pm
Drake's Village Brass Band: Mondays 7:00 - 8:00pm


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