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Thursday Evening Classics
Composer Capsules for September and October 2004

September 30

Johann Svendsen
Birth: September 30, 1840 in Christiana, Norway
Death: June 14, 1911 in Copenhagen, Denmark
Svendsen was the son of a military bandsman who instructed him on a number of wind instruments and the violin. This led him, while still a boy, to perform in both a regimental band and dance orchestras, as well as him composing music for both. His exposure to symphonic classics came with his appointment as first violinist in the Norwegian Theatre Orchestra and the discovery of Beethoven's music. Svendsen originally aimed for violin virtuosity, but shifted to composition due to nervous disorders in his left hand. He left the Leipzig Conservatory with honors in 1867, having completed his Symphony #1 and string quintet. Svendsen returned to Norway where a concert of his music drew praise from Grieg. Local response, however, was tepid and Svendsen, another stipend in hand, traveled back to Leipzig and then Paris, the latter the scene of increasing performances of his works. The Franco-Prussian War in 1870 aborted a conducting position in Leipzig, but a successful performance of his Symphony #1, as well as his betrothal to an American woman named Sara whom he had met in Paris, seemed ample compensation. Svendsen returned to Norway in 1872 to share directorship of the Christiana Music Society concerts with Grieg. He traveled widely, working with Pasdeloup, Saint-Saëns, Sarasate, and even cultivating a friendship with Wagner. Sadly, his marriage had deteriorated to a point where his wife jealously flung the completed manuscript of a third symphony into a fire in 1882. Whether this was a catalyst or not, Svendsen's creativity severely tapered off at this point. His international reputation continued until illness forced him to cease performing in 1908.

Charles Villiers Stanford
Birth: September 30, 1852 in Dublin, Ireland
Death: March 29, 1924 in London, England
Born to a prominent Irish lawyer and amateur musician, Stanford manifested his musical talents early in life. Whether the stories that he was actively composing songs by age of four and giving full-length recitals by age nine are true or not, Stanford was certainly the recipient of a thorough musical and academic education, studying at Henry Tilney Bassett's school in Dublin and taking private lessons in piano, organ and composition. After graduating from Queen's College, Cambridge, Stanford traveled to the continent for further studies, working with composer Carl Reinecke in Leipzig for almost two years and later (having met and impressed Joseph Joachim) with Joachim's associate Friedrich Kiel in Berlin. By the time of Stanford's return to London in the late 1870s his reputation as one of the leading British composers of the day was secure, and a number of his large compositions were premiered during the following ten years. He was knighted in 1902, and remained a prominent feature of the musical landscape of Great Britain until his death in 1924. Stanford's lifelong service to British music earned his ashes a place of distinction next to Henry Purcell's in Westminster Abbey. Although accounts of Stanford's life have tended to focus on his impact as a teacher (understandably, with such notables as Vaughan Williams, Holst, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, John Ireland, Frank Bridge, and Arthur Bliss among his many pupils), his merit as a composer deserve as much mention. He is, without a doubt, the greatest British composer of sacred music since Henry Purcell. His orchestral output includes seven symphonies and three piano concertos, and, although only one of his operas (Shamus O'Brien, 1896) achieved any kind of success, Stanford's interest in a new kind of British opera cleared a path for one of that country's most notable twentieth-century composers, Benjamin Britten.

October 14

Alexander Von Zemlinsky
Birth: October 14, 1871 in Vienna, Austria
Death: March 15, 1942 in Larchmont, NY
Although he was a highly gifted composer, Austrian-born Alexander Zemlinsky is today better remembered as the man who taught both Arnold Schoenberg and Erich Wolfgang Korngold than for his own creations. Zemlinsky was born to a Vienna-based Polish family in 1871. After attending the Vienna Conservatory from 1887 to 1892, he joined the Vienna Composer's Society in 1893. He made the acquaintance of Arnold Schoenberg in 1895, teaching him counterpoint for many months, and thus becoming that remarkable musician's only formal teacher. Zemlinsky's Piano Trio op.3 had already received the approval of Johannes Brahms, who recommended the work to Simrock for publication, and his Viennese reputation was furthered by the successful premiere of his Symphony #2 in 1897 and by Mahler's presentation of his opera Es war einmal in 1900. Zemlinsky served as Kapellmeister at the Carltheater in Vienna from 1899 until his appointment as Kapellmeister at the Volksoper in 1906. From 1911 until 1927 he worked in Prague as opera conductor of the Deutsches Landestheater. Moving from Prague to Berlin at the end of his tenure with the Landestheater, Zemlinsky served first as Kapellmeister at the Kroll Opera where he worked under Otto Klemperer, and later as professor at the city's Hochschule für Musik. Fearful of the frightening state of politics in Berlin, Zemlinsky returned to Vienna in 1933, devoting himself to composition full-time (while still making occasional appearances as a conductor), before relocating to the United States in 1938.

October 21

Sir Malcolm Arnold
Birth: October 21, 1921 in Northampton, England
Sir Malcolm Arnold's 60-year career has shown him to be perhaps the most versatile and prolific of the many British composers who emerged in post-World War II era. Arnold was trained as a composer and trumpeter at the Royal College of Music from 1938 to 1941, after which he won a trumpet position with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. After a promotion to principal trumpet in 1942, Arnold's career there was interrupted by two years of military service (1944 - 1945) and a year with Adrian Boult and the BBC Symphony. Arnold returned to the London Philharmonic in 1946, but soon resigned from the orchestra to devote himself to composition (and, later, conducting) on a full-time basis. Arnold's output over the next 50 years was prodigious: nine symphonies, 20 concertos, five ballets, and a seemingly inexhaustible supply of smaller pieces for all kinds of ensembles. A successful secondary career as a film composer resulted in over 80 scores, including the Academy Award-winning Bridge on the River Kwai. Named Commander of the British Empire in 1970, he was further honored in 1993 when his name appeared among those selected as Knights of the British Empire.

Copyright©WWUH: September/October Program Guide, 2004

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