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Thursday Evening Classics
Composer Capsules for May / June 2008

Presented by Steve Petke

May 1

Hugo Alfvén
Birth: May 1, 1872 in Stockholm, Sweden
Death: May 8, 1960 in Falun, Sweden
Regarded by some as a “one-hit wonder,” Alfvén was a pivotal figure in the history of Swedish music. He skillfully blended his essentially Romantic style with Swedish folk songs and dances. His 5 symphonies, 3 Swedish Rhapsodies, and numerous cantatas and patriotic works evoke the imagery of his homeland. Alfvén was a painter as well as a composer.  After studies at the Stockholm Conservatory, Alfvén played violin in the Swedish court orchestra, from 1890 to 1897. His first compositions date from those years. The success of his Symphony #2, led to Alfvén's being awarded the Jenny Lind stipend, which allowed him to study in France and Germany for 3 years. Shortly after his return, he wrote his best-known work, the Swedish Rhapsody #1. Subtitled Midsommarvaka (Midsummer Vigil), this portrait of a Swedish summer employs several Swedish folk songs. Two further Swedish Rhapsodies, equally tuneful works, followed in 1907 and 1937, respectively.  In 1908, Alfvén was elected to Sweden's Royal Academy of Music. Two years later he became the music director of the Royal University of Uppsala, where he conducted the student choir. He was also the conductor of the Siljan Choir for over 50 years, and directed the Initiates of Orpheus, a choral group with which Alfvén toured Europe more than 20 times during the century. A significant number of Alfvén's 225 compositions are, in fact, for chorus, many of them designed for amateur groups. Apart from his 5 symphonies, his other well-known pieces are the incidental music for Ludwig Nordstrom's play Gustav Adolf II, the Elegy and one of his last works, the 1957 ballet The Prodigal Son.

May 8

Carl Stamitz
Birth: May 8, 1745 in Mannheim, Germany
Death: November 9, 1801 in Jena, Germany
The career of Carl Stamitz is closely associated with the Mannheim school, whose distinguished members included Carl's father Johann and brother Anton, and Ignaz Holzbauer, Franz Xaver Richter, and Christian Cannabich. Carl Stamitz is generally considered to be the leading figure of the second generation of these composers.  Carl received his first music lessons from his father, then a member — but soon to be leader — of the Mannheim Orchestra, an ensemble connected with the Court of the Elector Palatine. Johann died when Carl was only 11, leaving the boy's further music education to Holzbauer, Richter, and Cannabich. In 1762, young Carl became a member of the Mannheim Orchestra, serving as a second violinist throughout his eight-year tenure there. Some of his earliest works date to this period, including the Three Symphonies, Op. 2. Shortly after his departure from the Mannheim Orchestra in 1770, Carl and his brother traveled to Paris, where he accepted the dual post of court composer and conductor for the Duke Louis of Noailles. Stamitz wrote a number of works during his French years, including several programmatic symphonies, numerous quartets for various instruments and other symphonic and chamber compositions. He also toured regularly as a violinist during the 1770s, making visits to Vienna, Frankfurt, Augsburg, Strasbourg, and back to Vienna. Along with playing in concerts on these tours, he sometimes delivered new works, as he did on the Strasbourg visit, to satisfy a commission from Prince Kraft Ernst of Oettingen-Wallerstein. In 1777, Stamitz went to London, where he lived for two years. He found less success there, though he apparently received substantial fees for the publication of numerous works, including many instrumental duos and trios. In about 1780, Stamitz settled in the Hague. There he began performing as a violist at the Court of William V of Orange, appearing in one concert with the 12-year-old Beethoven, who accompanied on fortepiano. Throughout the 1780s, Stamitz toured abroad, generally as a violist, visiting Hamburg, Leipzig. Berlin, Dresden and Prague. Later in his life, Stamitz married Maria Josepha Pilz, who was 19 years his junior. The couple settled in Greiz, Germany. Maria was in frail health after the birth of a son in 1790 and a daughter two years later, and Stamitz thus had to curtail his travels. He made a meager living selling his compositions to the King of Prussia and to royalty at smaller courts. He returned to Mannheim in 1795 and secured several commissions. That same year, he accepted the post of concertmaster at Jena, where he then moved his family. He also taught at the university there, but both positions yielded him only a modest income. He began to sink deeply into debt and made heroic efforts at arranging tours and concerts, but could not bring them off. Stamitz's wife died in January 1801 and he passed away later that year.

Louis Moreau Gottschalk
Birth: May 8, 1829 in New Orleans, LA
Death: December 18, 1869 in Tijuca, Brazil
The color and exoticism of Gottschalk’s music was matched by his unconventional life. He was born to a Jewish-English real estate speculator and his French-descended bride. Louis’s exposure to Creole melody likely came through his own household, as his mother had grown up in Haiti and fled to Louisiana after that island's slave uprising. He began piano study and at age 11 Gottschalk was sent to Paris. Denied entrance to the Conservatoire, he continued lessons with a trio of private teachers. His Paris debut at the Salle Pleyel in 1845 was praised by Chopin. By the end of the 1840s, Gottschalk's first works, such as Bamboula, appeared. These syncopated pieces based on popular Creole melodies rapidly gained popularity worldwide. Gottschalk left Paris in 1852 to join his father in New York, only to encounter stiff competition from touring foreign artists. With his father's death the following year, Gottschalk assumed support of his mother and 6 younger siblings. In 1855, he signed a contract with publisher William Hall to issue several pieces, including The Banjo and The Last Hope. The latter became wildly popular and Gottschalk found himself obliged to repeat it at every concert. With an appearance at Dodsworth Hall in December 1855, Gottschalk finally found his audience. For the first time he was solvent, and at his mother's death in 1857, Gottschalk was released from his familial obligations. He embarked on a tour of the Caribbean and didn't return for five years. By then, America was in the midst of Civil War. Gottschalk supported the north, touring Union states until 1864. Gottschalk wearied of the horrors surrounding him and became an avid proponent of education, playing benefit concerts for public schools and libraries. During a tour of California in 1865, Gottschalk became involved with a young woman attending a seminary school in Oakland, and the press berated him. He escaped on a steamer bound for Panama City. But, instead of returning to New York, he pressed on to Peru, Chile, Uruguay, and Argentina, staying one step ahead of revolutions, rioting, and cholera epidemics. Gottschalk contracted malaria in Brazil in August 1869. Still recovering, he was hit in the abdomen by a sandbag thrown by a student in São Paolo. In a concert at Rio de Janeiro on November 25, Gottschalk collapsed at the keyboard. He had appendicitis, which led to peritonitis. On December 18, 1869, Gottschalk died at the age of 40. By the 1940s, Gottschalk’s music was condemned as hopelessly old-fashioned, and it would take decades of work by scholars to improve his critical fortunes. In his best music, Gottschalk was an American original. Masterpieces like Souvenir de Porto Rico, Union, and O ma charmant, épargnez-moi! transcend time through their emotional power, technical mastery, audacity, wit, and charm.

May 15

Claudio Monteverdi
Birth: May 15, 1567 in Cremona, Italy
Death: November 29, 1643 in Venice, Italy
Monteverdi is regarded as the seminal transitional composer between the Renaissance and the Baroque. The path from his earliest canzonettas and madrigals to his last operatic works illustrates the shifts in musical style that took place in the last decades of the 16th century and the beginning of the 17th. As a youth his musical talent was already manifested. His first works were issued by a prominent Venetian publishing house when he was 15, and by the time he was 20 a variety of his works had gone to print. His first book of five-voice madrigals succeeded in establishing his reputation outside of his provincial hometown, and helped him find work in the court of the Duke Gonzaga of Mantua. His Mantuan compositions show the influence of Giaches de Wert, who Monteverdi eventually succeeded as the maestro di cappella. It was around this time that Monteverdi's name became widely known, due largely to the criticism levied at him by G.M. Artusi in his famous 1600 treatise "on the imperfection of modern music." Artusi found Monteverdi's contrapuntal unorthodoxies unacceptable and cited several excerpts from his madrigals as examples of modern musical decadence. In 1607, Monteverdi's first opera L’Orfeo was performed in Mantua. This was followed in 1608 by L'Arianna, which, despite its popularity at the time, no longer survives except in libretti, and in the title character's famous lament. Disagreements with the Gonzaga court led him to seek work elsewhere, and finally in 1612 he was appointed maestro di cappella at St. Mark's Cathedral in Venice. His earliest years at Venice were a rebuilding period for the cappella, and it was some time before Monteverdi was free to accept commissions outside his duties at the cathedral. In 1616 he composed the ballet Tirsi i Clori for Ferdinand of Mantua, the more-favored brother of his deceased and disliked ex-employer. The 1630s were lean musical years for Monteverdi. Political battles and an outbreak of the plague left him without commissions from either Mantua or Venice. However, with the opening of Venetian opera houses in 1637, Monteverdi's operatic career was revived. A new production of L'Arianna was staged in 1640, and three new operas appeared within two years: Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria, Le nozze d'Enea con Lavinia, and L'incoronazione di Poppea. This resurgence preceded his death in 1643 by just a few years.

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Lars-Erik Larsson
Birth: Birth: May 15, 1908 in Åkarp, Sweden
Death: December 27, 1986 in Hälsingborg, Sweden
Lars-Erik Larsson led one of the busiest professional lives imaginable. He was a composer, theater director, critic, educator, and broadcasting producer and administrator. As a youth, he studied organ, composition and conducting. Larsson never settled on a single style of composition, switching easily among different approaches at various points in his life As a teenager he wrote En spelmans jordafaerd for violin and piano and the Symphony #1 in an accessible Nordic style reminiscent of Sibelius, and they garnered not only public and professional appreciation, but also a state composer's grant which allowed him to study with Alban Berg in Vienna and Fritz Reuter in Leipzig. Upon his return to Sweden, Larsson earned his living teaching in Malmö and Lund, writing music criticism for the Lund Dagblad and coaching at the Royal Theatre in Stockholm. Larsson's year on the Continent brought an awareness of recent developments in music. These were reflected in works written after his return, such as the Ten Two-Part Piano Pieces, which contained the first 12-tone music written in Sweden. But it was a bracing, somewhat athletic brand of neo-Classicism that blossomed most fully in Larsson's works, beginning with the Sinfonietta, which was premiered to acclaim in 1934. Other works in this style followed, including the Little Serenade for Strings, the Concert Overture #2, the Divertimento #2, and the Piano Sonatina. More adventurous but less immediately successful were Larsson's Symphony #2 and his opera Princessen av Cypern. In 1937, Larsson began his fruitful association with Swedish radio, composing, conducting, and producing programs for broadcast and thereby influencing the musical tastes of thousands of Swedish listeners. During this period Larsson also composed music for films and theater, and when the Second World War broke out, he wrote the Obligationsmarschen, which in a Norwegian version was taken up as music of inspiration by the Norwegian resistance movement. After World War II, Larsson embarked on another important musical mission as administrator of Sweden's state-run amateur orchestras, for which he wrote 12 attractive Concertinos, Op. 45. These works, with solo parts for all the major string instruments, as well as the major wind instruments and piano, were written for players of moderate ability. At the end of his life, Larsson ventured into distant stylistic realms with a handful of works written in a highly individual version of serialism, in which clusters of notes, or "interval piles," are arranged in groups.

May 22

Richard Wagner
Birth: May 22, 1813 in Leipzig, Germany
Death: February 13, 1883 in Venice, Italy
Richard Wagner was one of the most revolutionary figures in the history of music, a composer who made pivotal contributions to the development of harmony and musical drama that reverberate even today. Indeed, though Wagner occasionally produced successful music on a relatively modest scale, opera was clearly his musical vehicle, and his aesthetic is perhaps the most grandiose that Western music has ever known. Early in his career, Wagner learned both the elements and the practical, political realities of his craft by writing a handful of operas which were unenthusiastically, even angrily, received. Beginning with Rienzi and The Flying Dutchman, however, he enjoyed a string of successes that propelled him to immortality and changed the face of music. His monumental Ring cycle of four operas — Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, Siegfried and Götterdämmerung — remains the most ambitious and influential contribution by any composer to the opera literature. Tristan and Isolde is perhaps the most representative example of Wagner's musical style, which is characterized by a high degree of chromaticism, a restless, searching tonal instability, lush harmonies, and the association of specific musical elements (known as leitmotifs) with certain characters and plot points. Wagner wrote text as well as music for all his operas, which he referred to as "music dramas." Wagner's life matched his music for sheer drama. He began in the early 1830s to write prolifically on music and the arts in general. He often worked as a conductor in his early years. A conducting post took him to Riga, Latvia, in 1837, but he fled the country in the middle of the night two years later to elude creditors. Wagner as a young man sympathized with the revolutionary movements of the mid-19th century. In the Dresden uprisings of 1849 he apparently took up arms, and he had to leave Germany when the police restored order. Settling in Zurich, he wrote little for some years but evolved the framework for his towering mature masterpieces. Wagner returned to Germany in 1864 under the protection and patronage of King Ludwig II of Bavaria. It was in Bayreuth, near Munich, that he undertook the construction of an opera house built to his personal specifications and suited to the massive fusion of music, staging, text, and scene design that his later operas required. Bayreuth became a shrine for the fanatical Wagnerites who carried the torch after his death and it remains the goal of many a pilgrimage today.

June 19

Johann Stamitz
Birth: June 19, 1717 in Nemecký, Bohemia
Death: March 27, 1757 in Mannheim, Germany
Although Joseph Haydn is regarded by many as the “Father of the Symphony,” Johann Stamitz may be considered the “Grandfather of the Symphony.” He produced at least 72 symphonies and also wrote ten orchestral trios, nine of which come from his mature period and nearly rank with his symphonies in significance. In addition, he wrote a number of concertos, chamber music, and sacred music. Stamitz was the first major composer to use four movements in the symphonic form. Moreover, he often used a third movement minuet with a trio, a form that many others, including Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, would adopt later on. His first movements often followed the structure of what would become the typical sonata form of first subject, second subject, development and reprise. Johann’s father was an organist and schoolmaster who gave him his first music lessons. In 1728, young Johann, already proficient on the violin, entered the Jesuit-run Gymnasium in Jihlava, known for its excellence in music education. He left school in 1734, and, after a brief period of study at Prague University, launched a career as a concert violinist. By 1742, he had become a respected violinist in Mannheim and the following year advanced from a lower-chair position in the Mannheim Court orchestra to the first chair post. He was eventually appointed leader of the ensemble. By the mid 1740s he had fashioned his Mannheim Court ensemble into one of the finest orchestras in Europe. As a conductor, he was known to be a perfectionist, able to achieve performances of the highest standards. He toured Germany with the group and both he and the players received lavish praise in every city where they performed. The orchestra became associated with a group of composers, the so-called Mannheim School, at the head of which stood Stamitz, and whose members included Ignaz Holzbauer, Franz Xaver Richter, and later on Christian Cannabich and Stamitz's son, Carl. In 1750, Stamitz was appointed director of chamber music at the Court. This was a newly-created post, probably given him as a result of the success of his compositions in this genre. By the early-1750s, Stamitz was turning out symphonies of greater sophistication. They were usually comprised of four movements now, and his handling of structure and thematic development was even more assured. In the summer of 1754, Stamitz departed for Paris, where he was already a celebrity owing to his widely performed compositions. The composer returned from Paris in 1755, and though still a young man, his health began to decline rapidly. He died at the age of 39.

June 26
Leopold Antonin Kozeluch
Birth: June 26, 1747 in Velvary, Bohemia
Death: May 7, 1818 in Vienna Austria
Leopold Antonin Kozeluch was a well-known composer and music pedagogue in his time who produced many concertos, chamber works and solo compositions. But his output also encompassed a substantial number of works for orchestra and for vocal or choral forces, as well as for the theater, though most of the scores for his operas and ballets have been lost. For about the last decade-and-a-half of his career, Kozeluch focused primarily on Court musical duties and the arrangement of folksongs of Welsh, Irish and Scottish origin. Kozeluch was born Jan Antonín Kozeluch but, to avoid confusion with an older cousin, adopted ‘Leopold' as his given name, dropping ‘Jan' altogether. He studied music in his childhood in Velvary and later in Prague with a cousin and with composer Franz Xavier Dussek. But Kozeluch's primary educational focus at this time was the study of law. Beginning in 1771 however, Kozeluch, already a virtuoso pianist, achieved his first successes in ballet and pantomimes. He soon abandoned plans for a law career while continuing to produce popular scores for the theater until 1778, when he relocated to Vienna. The Austrian capital proved quite hospitable to Kozeluch in the 1780s, as he found success with many of his symphonies, piano concertos and vocal works. He produced more than half of his 49 piano sonatas in the 1780s, many received with great enthusiasm. Kozeluch quickly became a highly respected teacher, as well, successful enough to decline the post of Court organist under the Archbishop of Salzburg, and financially secure enough to establish a publishing house. In 1792 he was appointed Royal Orchestra Master and Court composer under Austrian Emperor Franz II. In 1797 Scottish publisher George Thomson contracted the composer to provide—for quite handsome fees—arrangements of Irish, Welsh and Scottish folksongs. For the remainder of his life Kozeluch retained his Court posts, teaching and publishing activities, while composing relatively little original music. His last volume of folksong arrangements appeared in London, in 1809. He died a respected composer and musician, though his reputation faded over the next decades in the shadow of Beethoven.

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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