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Thursday Evening Classics
Composer Capsules for May/June 2006

Presented by Steve Petke

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

May 11
William Grant Still
Birth: May 11, 1895 in Woodville, MS
Death: December 3, 1978 in Los Angeles, CA

  William Grant Still, "the Dean of African American composers", was only three months old when his father, the town bandmaster, died. Soon after, his family moved to Little Rock, AR. His mother, grandmother and stepfather influenced his character, instilling in him a love for the arts. Still's formal education began at age 16 at Wilberforce University and continued at the Oberlin Conservatory, where he studied theory and composition. After serving in the U.S. Navy in 1918, he wrote arrangements for W. C. Handy and Paul Whiteman, played oboe in the famous Noble Sissle-Eubie Blake revue Shuffle Along, and began a long association with radio, arranging and producing programs for the Mutual and Columbia networks. His early compositions were quite dissonant and complex, but he made a major breakthrough when he started incorporating African American and popular musical styles into his works. His first big triumph, and his best-known work to this day, is his Symphony #1 "Afro-American", which was premiered in Rochester, NY in 1931, and was soon performed worldwide. After moving to Los Angeles in 1934, Still turned his attention to film, providing the scores for Lost Horizon and the original Pennies From Heaven. Later he also scored a number of television shows, including Perry Mason and Gunsmoke. Still wrote politically and racially conscious works throughout his life, such as the narrated work And They Lynched Him on a Tree, and In Memoriam: The Colored Soldiers Who Died for Democracy. In 1981, Still's opera A Bayou Legend was the first by an African American composer to be performed on national television. He was also the first African American to conduct a major U.S. orchestra (the Los Angeles Philharmonic in a Hollywood Bowl concert of his own music), and the first African American composer to have his works performed by major American orchestras and opera companies.

May 18
Karl Goldmark
Birth: May 18, 1830 in Keszthely, Hungary
Death: January 2, 1915 in Vienna, Austria

One of 21 children, Karl was born into an affluent Jewish family. The family moved to the outskirts of Ödenburg in 1834, and 7 years later Goldmark began to study the violin. After two years at the local music school the talented but untrained 14 year-old went to Vienna for serious violin training. For monetary reasons, he discontinued the lessons after a little over a year, but still gained admittance to the Vienna technical school and, in 1847, to the city's conservatory. Political turmoil in 1848, which closed many Viennese schools, forced Goldmark to abandon further studies after just a year. Working as a theater violinist and music teacher, Goldmark began composing, and in 1858 relocated to Budapest, where he immersed himself in the music of Bach, Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven. On his return to Vienna, Goldmark found considerable and immediate success, and by the 1870s a series of successful works, including the opera The Queen of Saba and the Rustic Wedding Symphony, had placed Goldmark at the forefront of Austro-German composers. Goldmark's musical influences were many and varied, beginning with his exposure to local folk dances while a child in Hungary, and later moving through Wagner towards a blend of German classicism and impressionism. Despite the objections of many leading musicians, who considered him to be just another second-rate Wagnerian, Goldmark remained an honored and very visible part of Viennese musical life until his death in 1915.

June 8
Robert Schumann
Birth: June 8, 1810 in Zwickau, Germany
Death: July 29, 1856 in Endenich, Germany

Schumann's father was a bookseller who encouraged Robert¹s musical and literary talents. Robert began piano studies at the relatively late age of ten. In 1828, he enrolled at the University of Leipzig as a law student, although he found music, philosophy, and Leipzig's taverns more intriguing than the law. He also began studies with a prominent Leipzig piano teacher, Friedrich Wieck. There was serious mental illness in Schumann's family, and Robert most likely suffered from a manic-depressive condition. A compulsive womanizer and a heavy drinker, Schumann led a life that aggravated his psychological problems. He failed as a concert pianist after he developed partial paralysis of his right hand. According to legend, the injury resulted from Schumann's obsessive use of a finger-strengthening device, but more recent research suggests mercury poisoning due to treatment for syphilis. Schumann settled on a career as a composer and musical writer, co-founding the influential Neue Zeitschrift für Musik. Wieck's highly talented pianist daughter, Clara, grew up and fell in love with Schumann, to her father's dismay. Despite the father's opposition, Clara and Robert gained the legal right to marry in 1840, a day before Clara's twenty-first birthday. During this period Schumann composed feverishly. Spellbound by a musical thought, he would work himself to exhaustion. He was among the first to create the short, poetic, descriptive Romantic piano work, and produced a multitude of such works in the late 1830s. Schumann tackled larger forms in the 1840s, partly at Clara's urging and his four numbered symphonies remain in the standard repertoire. He held several jobs - teacher at the Leipzig Conservatory and music director in Düsseldorf - but without great success. In February 1854, he threw himself into the freezing waters of the Rhine. After his rescue, he voluntarily entered an asylum. Although he had periods of lucidity, his condition deteriorated, and he died there in 1856, probably of tertiary syphilis. One of the great composers of the nineteenth century, Schumann was the quintessential artist whose life and work embody the idea of Romanticism.

Erwin Schulhoff
Birth: June 8, 1894 in Prague
Death: August 18, 1942 in Wülzbourg

Only since the turn of the 21st century has the music of Erwin Schulhoff begun to be recognized. One of many composers whose works the Nazi regime dubbed as "Entartete Musik" (degenerate music), he was essentially silenced by the brutal political and social devices of fascism in the 1930s and 1940s. Schulhoff held radical ideas, both political and musical, and was a founding member of the Dresden-based Werkstatt der Zeit (Workshop of the Time), but he is now known to be a composer of variety and invention whose works bridged the gap between the late romanticism of Reger and Scriabin and the experimental modernism of John Cage. During the thirty years of his active career he wrote sonatas, quartets, sextets, jazz piano pieces, stage music, an opera, eight symphonies, and at least one oratorio. Schulhoff's works divide roughly into four periods that manifest wildly different stylistic and ideological principles. His early works, composed after his studies at the Prague Conservatory, show a great debt to Reger, Dvorák, and Brahms, and are in a generally serious manner. Following his service in World War I, he embraced the ideas of the Second Viennese School, but soon adopted the emerging trend of Dadaism. This second period shows allegiance to these two influences, resulting in austere serial works as well as more vigorously anti-establishment works that included experimental notation systems and a sense of musical humor. By 1923 Schulhoff had entered into yet a third creative phase that was partly inspired by his exposure to American jazz. This new influence was woven into a maturing synthesis of European trends, combined with a renewed interest in the music of his native Czechoslovakia. During this time many of his works emerged in uncomplicated, almost Neo-classical sound. Schulhoff's final creative phase was precipitated by a visit to the Soviet Union in 1933, and his resulting political conversion to Stalinism. His late works communicate in plain, unpretentious ways to glorify the ideals of communism. Arrested during the German occupation of Czechoslovakia, Schulhoff was imprisoned in 1941 in the Wülzbourg concentration camp, where he died only months later of tuberculosis.

June 15
Franz Danzi
Birth: June 15, 1763 in Schwetzingen, Germany
Death: April 13, 1826 in Karlsruhe, Germany

  Franz Danzi was the third musical child of Innozenz Danzi, an Italian cellist and member of the famous Mannheim Orchestra. Franz took cello, keyboard, and singing lessons from his father and obtained a job as cellist himself at Mannheim when he was only 15. In 1778 the orchestra moved to Munich, but Franz stayed behind to become a member of the newly organized National Theater orchestra. The effort to establish a German theater meant work for talented composers, and Danzi was commissioned to write incidental music. In 1783 Danzi's father retired as cellist in the orchestra at Munich, and Franz went there to become his successor. With his previous theatrical experience, Danzi was asked to compose an opera in Munich, In the Midnight Hour, which became a great success. In 1790 Danzi married and he and his wife toured widely in Europe for several years. He would become Kapellmeister in Venice and she prima donna of the Guardasoni company. Danzi returned to Munich and in 1798 took a job managing German musical theater and church music at the court. In 1807 he was appointed Kapellmeister to the court of King Frederick II of Württemberg in Stuttgart. There he formed a close association with the young Carl Maria von Weber, who was the secretary to the King's brother. Although they were of different generations, Danzi and Weber became close personal and professional friends. Danzi championed Weber's early operas, Silvana and Abu Hassan. In 1812, after Weber fled Stuttgart to escape his father's debts, Danzi was given the additional duty teaching composition at the new Institute of Art. He concluded his career as Kapellmeister at the Baden court in Karlsruhe, continuing to promote and produce Weber's works. Danzi's operas were well known in his time and he also wrote many songs and orchestral and chamber works.

Edvard Grieg
Birth: June 15, 1843 in Bergen, Norway
Death: September 4, 1907 in Bergen, Norway

  The greatest Norwegian composer, Edvard Grieg left his home at age 15 to study at the Leipzig Conservatory with Ignaz Moscheles and Carl Reinecke. While in school, the composer witnessed the premiere of his first work, a String Quartet in d. Following graduation, Grieg relocated to Copenhagen to study with Niels Gade. In 1867 against his family's better judgment, Grieg married his cousin Nina Hagerup, a talented pianist, but whose vocal talents captivated the composer even more. Shortly after their wedding, the couple moved to Oslo, where Grieg supported them by teaching piano and conducting. He and his wife traveled extensively throughout Europe and it was in Denmark, the composer wrote his landmark opus, the Piano Concerto in a. The piece was received with an enthusiasm that secured the composer's reputation for the remainder of his career. Grieg admired his literary contemporaries and forged a productive partnership with Bjornstjerne Bjornson, playwright and poet. Grieg also met and befriended Henrik Ibsen. Their collaboration would prove fruitful for both, as Grieg would supply incidental music to Ibsen's Peer Gynt. As a result of the success of Peer Gynt, Grieg enjoyed tremendous celebrity and continued to travel extensively, often meeting internationally renowned composers including Tchaikovsky, Brahms, and Liszt. In addition to a State grant he was awarded in 1874, Grieg was able to earn the majority of his money from to a vigorous schedule of recital tours. In 1885, Grieg and his wife relocated once again, this time to his native Bergen, where he built their celebrated home, Troldhaugen. He and his wife summered in Norway and departed each fall for European tours that would last the remainder of the year. Grieg also conducted extensively throughout his country. Grieg was adored wherever he traveled and lived at a pace that would eventually catch up with him. Edvard Grieg died of chronic fatigue, exacerbated by to his lifelong health problems, in his hometown of Bergen.

June 22
Etienne-Nicola Méhul
Birth: June 22, 1763 in Givet, Ardennes, France
Death: October 18, 1817 in Paris, France

  Méhul was the greatest French symphonist before Berlioz and an important and prolific composer of operas comiques. His musical style was rooted in Gluck's tradition of opera and in Haydn's and Beethoven's tradition of choral and instrumental writing. His use of large forces and unusual and striking effects anticipated Berlioz. Méhul also developed the technique of the reminiscence-motif, which was to have a great influence on Weber and, later, Wagner. Méhul's primary teacher was Jean-Frédéric Edelmann, with whom he began studies in 1779. During the next decade, Etienne produced two sets of piano sonatas and taught keyboard for a living. His second opera, Euphrosine, however, literally made him famous overnight. Two other operas followed in the successive years. His comedy Le jeune sage et le vieux fou was Méhul's last opera for many years to be unaffected by the imminent political crisis in France. The remaining operas of the 1790s, all contain political overtones and a "republican" message. During this period, Méhul also composed many anthems and instrumental works for the Institut National de Musique. This activity eventually brought him to Napoleon's notice, for whom he composed several works after 1800, including the opera L'irato and the Chant national du 14 juillet 1800, an important forerunner of Berlioz's Requiem. Méhul turned to a series of minor comedies over the next years. The only important opera to emerge from this decade was Joseph, probably his greatest. After this, Méhul turned to symphonic composition for a brief time, producing two extraordinarily successful works in and a series of Napoleonic cantatas. Although his works are seldom performed, his influence on Berlioz, Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Weber was profound.

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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:

May 3
Bergonzi String Quartet; Melvin Chen, piano

Debussy: String Quartet in G Minor, Op. 10 Dvorak: Five Bagatelles, Op. 47 Hefty: Li'l Darlin' Espin-Yepez: Danza Equatoriana Franck: Piano Quintet in F Minor

May 10
St. Petersburg String Quartet; Sergei Roldugin, cello; Anton Jivaev, viola

Brahms: Viola Quintet in G Major, Op. 111 Brahms: Sextet in B-Flat Major, Op. 18

May 17
St. Petersburg String Quartet; Sergei Roldugin, cello

Natalia Medvedovskaya: String Quartet No. 1 (1992) Brahms: String Quartet in C Minor, Op. 51, No. 1 Schubert: Cello Quintet in C Major, Op. 163, D. 956

May 24
Raphael Trio

Haydn: Piano Trio in G Major, Op. 73, No. 2 Schubert: Piano Trio in B-Flat Major, Op. 99, D. 898 Beethoven: Piano Trio in B-Flat Major, Op. 97, Archduke

May 31
Arianna String Quartet; Anton Nell, piano

Mozart: String Quartet in B-Flat Major, K. 458 Beethoven: String Quartet in F Minor, Op. 95, Serioso Dvorak Piano Quintet in A Major, Op. 81

June 5
Bard Festival String Quartet
Beethoven: Quartet in C Minor, Op. 18, No. 4 Beethoven: Quartet in e Minor, Op. 59, No. 2 Beethoven: Quartet in E-Flat Major, Op. 127

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WWUH: Program Guide 2006 ©

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