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The University of Hartford

Thursday Evening Classics
Composer Capsules for
January/February 2009

March 5

Heitor Villa-Lobos
Birth: March 5, 1887 in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil
Death: November 17, 1959 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Villa-Lobos received his first music lessons in cello, viola, and guitar from his father, an amateur musician who worked at the National Library. Although he intended to study medicine, Villa-Lobos preferred spending time with the local popular musicians, becoming familiar with the indigenous musical styles of Rio de Janeiro's street and night life. As a youth, he traveled extensively throughout Brazil and the African-influenced Caribbean nations, collecting themes and contemplating the styles of the local music. It was also during this time that Villa-Lobos composed his first major compositions, most notably his Piano Trio #1.  When he returned to Rio de Janeiro in 1912, Villa-Lobos briefly pursued a more formal education, but his personality was ill-suited for the academic establishment and, although he made important connections with the faculty, he soon left school. He spent the next ten years composing and playing freelance cello in cafes and cinemas to earn a living. He gained national recognition and government funding with the premiere of his Third Symphony, "A Guerra," the first part of a symphonic trilogy commissioned by the Brazilian government to commemorate World War I.  From 1923 to 1930, Villa-Lobos lived in Paris, where he was a huge success. He eventually returned to Brazil, however, becoming one of the most esteemed artists of the new Nationalist regime. During the 1930s, Villa-Lobos became involved with public music education, once again traveling throughout Brazil to offer his services as a teacher and school coordinator. In 1945, his work culminated with the founding of the Brazilian Academy of Music. He spent the last ten years of his life traveling and conducting, primarily in New York and Paris.  His diverse output includes stage-works, choral and instrumental compositions, chamber music, songs and piano music. His instrumental works include a series of Bachianas brasileiras and Chôros, the latter derived from the traditional street-music of Rio de Janeiro.

March 12

Thomas Augustine Arne
Birth: March 12, 1710 in London, England
Death: March 5, 1778 in London, England
Arne attended Eton College to study law, but also undertook violin with Michael Festing against the objections of his father. His disobedience was uncovered, but Arne's father eventually allowed his son to pursue a musical career. Arne began by giving singing lessons to his brother Richard and sister Susannah, and the three of them would present Thomas's first masque, Rosamond, at Lincoln's Inn Fields in 1733. Arne married singer Cecelia Young in 1736 and established himself as house composer at Drury Lane. In 1737, Arne produced another masque Comus, followed by the masque Alfred in 1740. The latter included "Rule, Britannia!", which became one of England's most popular patriotic songs. In 1745, Arne wrote his arrangement of the English tune "God Save our Noble King". As "God Save the King," Arne's setting would be adopted as the national anthem of Britain. Following a salary dispute, Arne left Drury Lane for Covent Garden. This led to a bitter competitive battle between the two theaters. In 1755, Arne left for Dublin with his wife and a student, Charlotte Brent. Arne became involved romantically with Brent, and returned to London, leaving his wife behind in Dublin. Arne took up residence at Covent Garden and produced four works that would set stylistic standards in English theater for generations. First, a revamping of Gay's The Beggar's Opera, and in 1760, Thomas and Sally, the first English comic opera modeled on Italian comic opera. Artaxerxes, a grand opera and Arne's crowning artistic achievement, followed in 1762, as did his greatest commercial success, Love in a Village. However, a revival of Artaxerxes in 1768 failed against a competing production and Arne's fortunes suffered a reversal. Arne would continue to write and produce a few more stage works, including his lost valedictory effort Caractacus. By 1770, his wife was petitioning for support and after two decades of separation, Arne and Cecilia reconciled in 1777.  But, by then, his health was failing, and he died the following March at age 67. Apart from Thomas and Sally, the patriotic tunes and some songs, Arne's music fell into total obscurity for two centuries, and much of it was lost in the Drury Lane fire of 1809. Of Arne's more than 100 stage works, only 14 survive. In his songs and cantatas, Arne achieved an exquisitely light transparency of texture, while his orchestration is striking in its boldness and color. His vocal writing flows naturally. It is orderly and direct, and difficult but not showy. He also left some odes, the oratorio Judith, sacred music, four symphonies, several overtures, six keyboard concerti, chamber music, and many fine songs, particularly those on texts of Shakespeare.

Felix Alexandre Guilmant
Birth: March 12, 1837 in Boulogne-sur-Mer, France
Death: March 29, 1911 in Meudon, France
Guilmant was one of the first of a line of French organists who became associated with the development of  large, versatile symphonic pipe organs. Alexandre was the son of Jean-Baptiste Guilmant, organist of St. Nicolas Church in Boulogne. Jean-Baptiste gave his son his first instruction in music and organ playing and by age 12, he was able to substitute for his father as organist. By the age of 20, Alexandre was the church choir director and was teaching in the local conservatory, despite his shortage of any formal musical training. He went to Brussels to hone his technique with the great teacher Nicolas Lemmens and after that, settled in Paris. He was chosen to play at the inauguration of the new organ at Saint-Sulpice in Paris in 1862 and dazzled the audience. He began touring, creating an international vogue for organ recitals, which took him as far as Russia and the United States. He also frequently played at the organs of Notre Dame and Saint-Sulpice. Guilmant's initial organ recitals coincided with the period of creation of the greatest Cavaillé-Coll organs, instruments of remarkable range and power and very high quality which became the benchmark of the rich-voiced Romantic organ. In 1871, Guilmant took the position of organist at the Trinité Church in Paris, remaining in the post for 30 years. He co-founded the Schola Cantorum in Paris with Charles Bordes and Vincent d'Indy in 1894, and taught on its faculty. Two years later, he moved to the Conservatoire, taking the position on the organ faculty vacated by Charles-Marie Widor. Widor had created the French form called the symphony for organ – large-scale works of great power, often containing a toccata-like conclusion. Guilmant continued the development of these works, although he referred to his eight works in this form as sonatas. His other major works include three masses, other liturgical settings, and a cantata Ariane. He published about 40 volumes of organ pieces and also edited a 10-volume set of archives of the masters of the organ from the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries.

March 19

Max Reger
Birth: March 19, 1873 in Brand, Germany
Death: May 11, 1916 in Leipzig, Germany
Reger grew up in Weiden and studied organ and violin with his father, and piano with his mother. At 11, he began studies with organist Adalbert Lindner. In 1888, Reger traveled to Bayreuth and heard performances of Wagner's Parsifal and Die Meistersinger. The experience had a lasting effect on him, the harmonies and sounds of the latter opera profoundly affecting his musical consciousness. In 1890, he began studies in Wiesbaden and soon produced his Violin Sonata #1. Reger developed a friendship with pianist/composers Eugen d'Albert and Feruccio Busoni in the mid-1890s. During this time, he wrote several compositions for piano. After an unpleasant experience in the military that affected his physical and mental health, he returned to his parents' Weiden home to recuperate. During this period, he produced his chorale fantasia Ein Feste Burg is Unser Gott, and Fantasy & Fugue in c. Reger also earned a reputation as a brilliant pianist at this time, playing many concerts of wide-ranging repertoire, including his own works. In 1901, he had settled in Munich but found himself at odds with the more conservative musical establishment. By 1907 Reger had decided that the hostile climate in Munich was too difficult, and accepted a professorship at Leipzig University. His Violin Concerto and the Symphonic Prologue to a Tragedy were written during this period. In 1911, Reger was appointed conductor of the Meiningen Court Orchestra by Duke George II. He continued appearing as a pianist and always found time to compose. In February, 1914, he suffered a breakdown and eventually resigned his Meiningen post. In March 1915, the composer and his family settled in Jena, where he completed his Sonata #9 for violin and piano, declaring it his greatest work in the genre, and the first in his so-called "Jena style." Other important works came during his "Jena" period, including the Op. 131 chamber works for various string instruments. His concert schedule took him to Holland in May, 1916, where he died of a heart attack. Reger was an important composer whose artistic merit far surpasses his insufficient representation on the concert stages and in recordings. In his teen years, he fused a style influenced by Bach and Wagner, adding his own unique counterpoint, to fashion music that was both ahead of its time and linked to the past. His mature style melded Baroque structure with the luxurious harmonic palette of the late Romantic period. His organ compositions include masterworks like the Ein feste Burg is unser Gott, Fantasia and Fugue in c, and Fantasia and Fugue on B-A-C-H. His large chamber music output, consisting of nine sonatas for violin and piano, is a significant body of work.

April 9

Georg Matthias Monn
Birth: April 9, 1717 in Vienna, Austria
Death: October 3, 1750 in Vienna, Austria
Monn was highly regarded in Austria during his short lifetime, although his music was not widely circulated beyond German-speaking territories and was generally ignored during the first 250 years following his death. His was baptized as Johann Georg Mann, but called himself Georg Matthias to avoid confusion with his younger brother, Johann Christoph, also a composer. Johann Georg Monn was a child chorister, and in his early twenties he took a job as organist at the new Karlskirche in Vienna. Along with Wagenseil, he became one of the leading Viennese composers of the mid 18th century. His music was performed at the court of Emperor Joseph II, but none of it was published during his lifetime. He purportedly was the first to write a four-movement symphony with a third-movement minuet, which would become the model for the works of Haydn and Mozart. Monn also introduced the Mannheim “galant” style to Vienna. Monn’s orchestral music exhibits slender textures, more like chamber music than orchestral music. These works, especially the keyboard concertos, are cheerful and attractive, with a striking harmonic restlessness that anticipates the style of C.P.E. Bach. His works are conservative in structure. The concertos follow the Baroque ritornello form and the chamber and solo keyboard works are multi-movement partitas. Monn tended to write smaller motifs rather than full-fledged melodies and while this enabled the music's development, it limited its appeal.

April 23

Robert Fayrfax
Birth: April 23, 1464 in Deeping Gate, Lincolnshire, England
Death: October 24, 1521 in St. Alban, Hertfordshire, England
A contemporary of William Cornysh and John Taverner, Fayrfax was the most successful English Tudor composer. In 1511, he earned the very first doctor of music degree granted by Oxford University. Although he wrote in many genres, both vocal and instrumental, he is best remembered for his mass settings. Historical records first identify him in 1497 as a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal, a position he held until his death. He received two doctorates in music, the first at Cambridge University, for which he wrote the mass O quam glorifica, and the second from Oxford University. A favorite of Henry VIII, he accompanied the king as lead musician at the loftiest courtly functions, such as the funeral of Henry VII, the coronation of Henry VIII, and Henry VIII's famous meeting with Francis I of France. In addition to numerous monetary and honorary awards, in 1514 he was made Knight of the King's Alms, a position which guaranteed a lifetime annuity. Twenty-nine works survive, including six cyclic masses, votive antiphons, Magnificat settings, as well as secular part-songs and instrumental dances. Most of his religious music is scored for the typical English five-voice ensemble (soprano, alto, high tenor, tenor, and bass). His works are distinguished by textural and metrical contrasts, along with a restrained melodic style which avoids extravagant vocal displays in favor of a more balanced line. The mass O bone Jesu provides an early example of English “parody” technique, borrowing material from his antiphon of the same name. The other five are written in the time-honored cantus firmus design, meaning that free-composed voices are set in counterpoint to the plainchant, sung by the tenor in long sustained notes. His treatment of the cantus firmus varies greatly. The highly technical, Missa O quam glorifica, uses a very long cantus heard only once per movement. At the opposite extreme, the Missa Albanus has a nine-note cantus, repeated frequently in many clever variations, at times forwards, backwards, or upside-down. All the masses alternate full sections with passages for fewer voices, more vocally demanding, but never overtly brilliant.

Sergei Prokofiev
Birth: April 23, 1891 in Sontzovka, Ekaterinoslav, Ukraine
Death: March 5, 1953 in Moscow, Russia
Prokofiev was one of the truly original musical voices of the 20th century. Bridging the worlds of pre-revolutionary Russia and the Stalinist Soviet Union, Prokofiev enjoyed a successful worldwide career as composer and pianist. As in the case of most other Soviet-era composers, his creative life and his music suffered under the duress of official Party strictures. Still, despite the detrimental personal and professional effects of such pressure, Prokofiev continued until the end of his career to produce music of skill, inventiveness, and flair. As an only child, Prokofiev lived a comfortable, privileged life, which gave him a heightened sense of self-worth and an indifference to criticism, an attitude that would change as he matured. His mother taught him piano, and he began composing around the age of five. He eventually took piano, theory, and composition lessons from Reinhold Gliere, then enrolled at the St. Petersburg Conservatory when he was 13. He took theory with Lyadov, orchestration with Rimsky-Korsakov, and became lifelong friends with Nicolai Myaskovsky. After graduating, he began performing in St. Petersburg and in Moscow, then in Western Europe, all the while writing music. Prokofiev's earliest notoriety came as a result of both his formidable pianistic technique and the works he wrote to demonstrate it. He leapt onto the Russian musical scene with works like the Sarcasms and Visions fugitives, and his first piano sonatas. He also wrote orchestral works, concertos, and operas, and advised Diaghilev on producing ballets. The years immediately after the Revolution were spent in the U.S., where Prokofiev tried to follow Rachmaninov's success as a pianist/composer. His commission for The Love for Three Oranges came from the Chicago Opera, but Prokofiev was generally disappointed by his American reception, and he returned to Europe in 1922. He married singer Lina Llubera in 1923, and the couple moved to Paris. He continued to compose on commission, achieving varied success with both critics and the public. He had maintained contact with the Soviet Union, even toured there in 1927. The Love for Three Oranges was part of the repertory there, and the government commissioned the music for the film Lieutenant Kijé and other pieces from him. In 1936, he decided to return to the Soviet Union with his wife and two sons. Most of his compositions from just after his return, including many for children, were written to accommodate the political regime. One work which wasn’t was the ballet Romeo and Juliet, which became an international success. He attempted another opera in 1939, Semyon Kotko, but was met with hostility from cultural ideologues. During World War II, Prokofiev and other artists were evacuated from Moscow. He spent the time in various places within the U.S.S.R. and produced propaganda music, but also violin sonatas, his "War Sonatas" for piano, the String Quartet #2, the opera War and Peace, and the ballet Cinderella. In 1948, with the Party resolution that criticized almost all Soviet composers, several of Prokofiev's works were banned from performance. His health declined and he became more insecure. The composer's last creative efforts were largely "patriotic" and "national" works, typified by the cantata Flourish, Mighty Homeland, and yet Prokofiev also continued to produce worthy if lesser-known works like the wonderful ballet The Stone Flower. In a rather ironic coincidence, Prokofiev died on the same day as Joseph Stalin.  At Prokofiev's funeral there were barely 40 mourners, because all attention was directed to Stalin’s death. There were no flowers for Prokofiev. All had been gathered for Stalin. Three days passed before news of Prokofiev's death leaked to the West, three days more before it appeared in the Party newspaper, Pravda.

April 30

Franz Lehar
Birth: April 30, 1870 in Komaron, Hungary
Death: October 24, 1948 in Bad Ischl, Austria

The most prominent figure of the early 20th century Viennese operetta revival, Lehár ranks among the greatest composers in the genre. He was known above all for Die lustige Witwe (The Merry Widow), the work that started a vogue for Viennese operetta in Europe and America. Die lustige Witwe had the dubious honor of being Hitler's favorite stage work, but its merits transcend that distinction. Lehár was second choice as composer for the Merry Widow libretto, but the international success of that work established for him a permanent place on the world's stages. Dramatic and vigorous, full of life, it is original and full of melodic invention. The libretto is unusually good, and the story full of romance and wit. Lehar’s father was a composer, horn player, and bandmaster. Franz studied violin and entered the Prague Conservatory at age 12. He studied instrumental performance and composition, and in 1888 was hired as a violinist in a Rhineland theater orchestra. He was drafted into the military, beginning a long career as a military bandmaster, following in his father's and uncle's footsteps. Lehár composed marches, waltzes, and dances, and, after a new post brought him to Vienna from Budapest, tried his hand at operetta. He became music director of the Theater an der Wien in 1902, but his first operettas, with the exception of Der Rastelbinder (The Tinker), were not terribly successful. Der Mann mit den drei Frauen (The Man with Three Wives), Der Graf von Luxemburg (The Count of Luxembourg), and Zigeunerliebe (Gypsy Love) were all premiered in 1908 and secured Lehár's success. As Lehár became better known, his stage works became more ambitious, and he began to draw on the musical resources of grand opera, particularly the works of Puccini. During the First World War he again conducted music for the military. After the war, Viennese opera declined in popularity as new kinds of music came on the scene, including blues and American popular dance. Instead of capitulating, Lehár effectively incorporated these new elements into the Viennese genre. His success in the 1920s was also due to the famous tenor, Richard Tauber, who could negotiate Lehár's increasing challenging vocal roles. Two of Lehár's best operettas from the postwar period include Der Zarewitsch (The Tsarevitch) and Das Land des Lächelns (The Land of Smiles). Lehár also began composing film scores and producing filmed versions of his operettas. Giuditta, based upon the biblical story of Judith, was his final opera. Written for the Vienna Staatsoper, its dramatic content and music blurred the distinction between serious opera and the lighter genre, which was on the wane. An ambitious work, it was broadcast by 120 radio companies. Lehár remained in Vienna during the Second World War, even though his wife was Jewish. He remained detached from politics, and thus briefly attracted the attention of Allied anti-fascist investigators after the war.

Copyright©WWUH: March/April Program Guide, 2009

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