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Thursday Evening Classics
Composer Capsules for March/April 2006

Presented by Steve Petke

(Note: See "Music Mountain" Broadcast Information Listed Below)

March 2
Bedrich Smetana
Birth: March 2, 1824 in Leitomischl, Czechoslovakia
Death: May 12, 1884 in Prague, Czechoslovakia

Smetana was one of the leaders of the movement toward musical nationalism. His father was a violin teacher who gave Bedrich his first lessons and referred him to keyboard, harmony, and composition lessons when the boy requested them. His father tried to get Bedrich to apply himself to academics, but Bedrich was too focused on music. In 1844, Smetana found a job as a music teacher to the family of Count Leopold Thun, while continuing music studies. Although he established a strong local reputation as a pianist, his piano works did not earn him any distinction as a composer. In 1862-63, Smetana composed The Brandenburgers in Bohemia, his first opera, which was a success at its premiere. His next opera was The Bartered Bride, his most famous and enduring opera today, but a failure when it premiered. His next opera, Dalibor, was criticized for its Wagnerian elements, but in 1874, he had a large success with a light opera, The Two Widows. A severe whistling in his ears led to deafness by the end of that year, symptoms of tertiary syphilis. He continued to compose and wrote his orchestral masterpiece Ma Vlast (My Country) from 1874-1879. By 1882, Smetana was seriously ill. The brain damage from syphilis led to madness and he was confined to an asylum where he died. National mourning was proclaimed and he was buried at the Vyshehrad, one of the national sites depicted in Ma Vlast.

March 9
Samuel Barber
Birth: March 9, 1910 in West Chester, PA
Death: January 23, 1981 in New York, NY

An unapologetic yet tough romantic, Barber was one of the few 20th century American composers whose music was dominated by lyricism. In particular, his Violin Concerto and Adagio for Strings have gained great popularity. Barber entered the Curtis Institute of Music in 1924, where he met future opera composer Gian Carlo Menotti; the two would become lifelong lovers. Barber was a competent pianist and respectable baritone, but he was an even more gifted composer. His 1933 Curtis graduation piece, the lively School for Scandal Overture, has become a favorite concert opener. Barber developed into America's most enduring composer of art songs; most popular is his setting for soprano and chamber orchestra of James Agee's Knoxville: Summer of 1915. Barber had unerring taste in texts, and his literary interests led him to compose some allusive short orchestral pieces. Yet he was particularly adept at writing abstract works, such as Music for a Scene from Shelley, his three Essays for Orchestra, two symphonies, one string quartet (from which was drawn the Adagio), a piano sonata, and one concerto each for violin, cello, and piano. Barber would have seemed an ideal composer for the stage, but he had limited success in that genre. Medea, a 1947 dance score for Martha Graham, has found greater longevity in its orchestral excerpts. His 1958 Vanessa garnered him the first of two Pulitzer Prizes, but, like most other American operas, it quickly dropped out of the repertoire. Barber wrote Anthony and Cleopatra to open the new Metropolitan Opera House in 1966, but critical reaction was so hostile that he produced very little during his remaining 15 years.

March 23
Franz Schreker
Birth: March 23, 1878 in Monaco
Death: March 21, 1934 in Berlin, Germany

Even in Germany and Austria, where he enjoyed his greatest triumphs, Schreker remains an obscure figure, only now being rediscovered. Like several others born in the wake of Richard Strauss, Schreker conducted and taught as well as composed. Just before World War I, and briefly after, he became a musical celebrity, but without the controversy that surrounded his lifelong friend, Arnold Schoenberg. The operas that made Schreker's reputation - Die ferne Klang (Distant Chiming), Das Spielwerk und die Prinzessin (The Music Box and the Princess), Die Gezeichneten (The Stigmatized), and Der Schatzgräber (The Treasure Digger) - were all premiered between 1912 and 1920. The last two were outstanding successes. After the war, both Schoenberg and Schreker taught in Berlin until the Nazis assailed them for being Jews. Forced to resign, Schreker was given a small consolation position at the Prussische Kunstakademie, from which he and Schoenberg were dismissed after Hitler came to power in 1933. Schoenberg managed to leave Germany, but Schreker suffered a heart attack and died the next year. By that time he had been stigmatized as a creator of Entartete Musik (along with Mendelssohn, Mahler, Schoenberg, Berg, Weill, Eisler and others). Moreover, he faded creatively, refusing to embrace Schoenberg's "free tonality. The last four of his operas manifest this decline. At the same time, his luridly erotic librettos were going out of style, replaced by Expressionism, parody, satire, Freudian Angst and everything else that both scandalized and titillated the Weimar-Republicans.

April 6
André Previn
Birth: April 6, 1929 in Berlin, Germany

Pianist, composer and conductor, André Previn has frequently bridged the gap between popular and so-called "serious" music, and in doing so expanded the appeal of both. His father, a lawyer by profession, was an adept pianist and determined that his son would follow in his musical footsteps. André received piano lessons at the Berlin Hochschule, and also in a less formal setting during the private recitals given in the Previn home. In the mid-1930s the Jewish family fled to France, where André continued as a student at the Paris Conservatoire. Leaving all their possessions and livelihood, the Previn family relocated to southern California in 1939. Barely 10 years old, André supplemented the family income by accompanying films at movie houses and playing in jazz clubs. At 14 he started working at MGM studios, orchestrating and arranging film music, and saved enough to study composition with Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco. Previn served in San Francisco during the Korean War, where he studied conducting with Pierre Monteux. Following discharge from the army, Previn left MGM, but continued to compose, conduct, and arrange film music throughout the 1950s. In 1963, having won four Academy Awards, Previn abandoned Hollywood to pursue his dream as a conductor. His big break came in 1967 when he was asked to succeed Sir John Barbirolli as music director of the Houston Symphony. In 1968, Previn accepted the job of principal conductor for the London Symphony Orchestra. During his 11 years with the LSO (1969-79) a series of BBC television productions - entitled André Previn's Music Hour - made the LSO (and Previn) a household name around the world. Other conducting appointments have included the Pittsburgh Symphony (1977-1985), Royal Philharmonic (1985-1986) and Los Angeles Philharmonic (1987-1989). He has composed a generous quantity of concert music, including a piano concerto for Vladimir Ashkenazy, a cello sonata for Yo-Yo Ma and a violin concerto for his wife, Anne Sophie Mutter.

Robert Volkmann
Birth: April 6, 1815 in Lommatzsch, Saxony, Germany
Death: October 29, 1883 in Budapest, Hungary

Volkmann's father was a church music director, who trained his son as a successor. Robert learned to play the organ and the piano with his father, as well as violin and cello, and by age 12, he was playing the cello part in string quartets by Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. He went on to study in Freiberg and Leipzig, where he met Robert Schumann, who encouraged Volkmann. When he finished his studies, Volkmann began working as voice teacher in Prague and in 1841 moved to Budapest, where he was employed as a piano teacher and a reporter for the Allgemeine Wiener Musik-Zeitung. In 1852, his Piano Trio caught the attention of Franz Liszt and Hans von Bülow, who proceeded to play it several times throughout Europe. In 1857 the publisher Gustav Heckenast bought the rights to publish all of Volkmann's works in exchange for a guaranteed income, allowing Volkmann to fully dedicate himself to composition. Almost all of Volkmann's orchestral works (two overtures and two symphonies) date from the time of his association with Heckenast. While visiting Vienna in 1864, Volkmann met Johannes Brahms, and they became close friends. During his stay in Vienna, Volkmann composed his Handel Variations, String Quartets 3 and 4, and Cello Concerto. From 1875 until his death, Volkmann was professor of harmony and counterpoint at the National Academy of Music in Budapest.

April 13
William Sterndale Bennett
Birth: April 13, 1816 in Sheffield, England
Death: February 1, 1875 in London, England

William was the son of Robert Bennett, an organist, who died while William was quite young. He was brought up in Cambridge by his grandfather, from whom he received his first musical education. He entered the choir of Kings College chapel in 1824 and the Royal Academy of Music in 1826, where he remained a piano pupil for the next ten years. He frequently visited Germany during the years 1836-1842 and it was during this time that he wrote several of his most popular works. At one of the musical festivals in Düsseldorf he made the acquaintance of Felix Mendelssohn, whose influence can be heard in many of Bennett's works. William performed his third Piano Concerto at one of the celebrated Gewandhaus concerts, attended by Robert Schumann, to great acclaim. His great success on the continent established his position on his return to England. His Overture to the Naiads impressed the firm of Broadwood so favorably in 1836 that they funded the composer a year in Leipzig. Bennett visited Leipzig a second time in 1840-1841, where he composed his Caprice for Piano and Orchestra and The Wood Nymphs Overture. He settled in London as a teacher and in 1844 married Mary Anne, daughter of naval Captain James Wood. He was appointed musical professor at Cambridge in 1856, the year in which he was engaged as permanent conductor of the Philharmonic Society. This latter post he held until 1866, when he became principal of the Royal Academy of Music. In 1870 the University of Oxford conferred upon him the honorary Doctor of Civil Law degree. A year later he was knighted, and in 1872 he received a public testimonial before a large audience at St. James Hall, the money subscribed being devoted to the foundation of a scholarship at the Royal Academy of Music.

April 20
Nikolay Myaskovsky
Birth: August 20, 1881 in Novogeorgievsk, Poland
Death: August 8, 1950 in Moscow, Russia

The son of a Russian Army engineer who would attain the rank of general, Nikolay was expected to follow in his father's footsteps. But, after his mother's death in 1890, Nikolay was brought up by his aunt, a former singer, who encouraged his musical interests. In 1903, Myaskovsky took a course in harmony from Glière, which helped him choose a music career. He continued studies with Rimsky-Korsakov and Liadov at the St. Petersburg Conservatory, where his Symphony No. 1 won him a scholarship that allowed him to complete his education. During World War I, he served on the front, and then worked on military fortifications. Some of those experiences are reflected in his Symphonies Nos. 4 and 5, both of which were partially sketched on the front. In 1921, Myaskovsky became a professor of composition at the Moscow Conservatory, a position he held until his death. He also was appointed assistant director of the music department of the People's Commissariat and editor at the Music Publishing House. In later years, he would become a consultant for music broadcasts for the All-Union Radio Committee, and would hold an important post in the Union of Soviet Composers. In 1940, Myaskovsky received an honorary Doctor of Arts degree from the Moscow Conservatory. His Symphony No. 21 of that year, written for the 50th anniversary of the Chicago Symphony, earned him the first of his three Stalin Prizes. During World War II he was relocated to the Caucasus, later to Tbilisi and Kirghizia. The hardships he experienced didn't prevent him from composing, and he completed two symphonies, a Cello Concerto, and other works during those years. Despite the prominent place he held in Russian musical society and the title of People's Artist he received in 1946, Myaskovsky was one of the composers - along with Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Khachaturian, and others - denounced in 1948 by the Central Committee of the Communist Party for formalism, modernism, and ignoring the needs of the Soviet people and society. Myaskovsky was quite ill by this time, but was able to reply in part to the charges made against him with his Symphony No. 27, which won him his third, posthumous, Stalin Prize. Myaskovsky wrote 27 symphonies, 13 string quartets, nine piano sonatas, and a host of other works. Among his many students at the Moscow Conservatory were Aram Khachaturian and Dmitri Kabalevsky. On his death, just eighteen months after his denunciation, he was lauded by the Soviet Council of Ministers as an "outstanding Soviet musical worker and people's artist."

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  We are pleased to announce that we have arranged to broadcast recordings of live chamber music performances from the 2005 season at Music Mountain. These will be presented on Wednesday evenings, beginning March 8, from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m.

  Music Mountain, located in the scenic hills of northwest Connecticut (Falls Village), is the oldest continuing summer chamber music festival in the United States. It was founded in 1930 by Jacques Gordon as the permanent home of the Gordon String Quartet, a base from which it could tour and then return to teach, study, and perform in Gordon Hall. Each year, concerts present the great quartet and quintet masterpieces by leading performers before a public audience. Music Mountain's 2006 season will begin on Sunday, June 11, and chamber music concerts will continue on Sunday afternoons and occasional Saturday evenings through Sunday, September 3. The season also includes Friday evening choral concerts and Saturday evening jazz concerts. For more information, visit musicmountain.org. These broadcasts are made possible by the cooperation of Music Mountain and the WFMT Radio Network, and are underwritten by Edward R. Hamilton Bookseller, Falls Village, CT.

  The broadcasts on WWUH will include:

March 8 Eugenia Zukerman, flute; Ilya Itin, piano; Stefan Milenkovich, violin; Ani Aznavoorian, cello Haydn: Trio No. 3 in G Major for Flute, Violin and Cello, London Poulenc: Sonata for Flute and Piano Debussy: Syrinx for Solo Flute Bach: Trio in C Major for Flute, Violin and Cello Brahms: Piano Trio in B Major, Op. 8

March 15 Cuarteto Latinoamericano; Daniel Binelli, bandoneon Piazzola: Five Tango Sensations La Muerte del Angel Fuga 9 Four for Tango Milonga del Angel Divertimento 9 Oblivion Tango del Diablo

March 22 Cuarteto Latinoamericano; Daniel Binelli, bandoneon Villa-Lobos: String Quartet No. 6 Gershwin: Lullaby Piazzola: Fuga y Misterio Adios Nonino (solo bandoneon) Desarraitango Revirado Requiem (solo bandoneon) Tanguedia

March 29 Jacques Thibaud Trio; Tao Lin, piano Bach/arr. Sitkovetsky: Goldberg Variations, BWV 988 for String Trio Mozart: Piano Quartet in G Minor, K. 478

April 5 Blair String Quartet; William Ransom, piano Beethoven: String Quartet in E-Flat Major, Op. 74 Ravel: String Quartet in F Major Dohnanyi: Piano Quintet No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 1

April 12 Avalon String Quartet; Alexander Fiterstein, clarinet Mozart: Duo for Violin and Viola in G Major, K. 423 Mozart: Clarinet Quintet in A Major, K. 581 Brahms: Clarinet Quintet in B Minor, Op. 115

April 19 Amernet String Quartet; Alpin Hong, piano Haydn: String Quartet in F Minor, Op. 20, No. 5 Brahms: String Quartet in B-Flat Major, Op. 67 Schubert: Piano Quartet: Adagio and Rondo Concertante in F Major, D. 487 Wagner: Siegfried Idyll for Piano Quintet Granados: Piano Quintet in G Minor

April 26 T'ang String Quartet of Singapore; Pamela Mia Paul, piano Mozart: String Quartet in F Major, K. 590 Dvorak: String Quartet in A-Flat Major, Op. 105 Shostakovitch: Piano Quintet Op. 57

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WWUH: Program Guide 2006 ©

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