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Thursday Evening Classics
Composer Capsules for Sept/Oct 2005

Presented by Steve Petke

September 8
Antonin Dvorak
Birth: September 8, 1841 in Mühlhausen, Germany
Death: May 1, 1904 in Prague

The son of a butcher and occasional zither player, Dvorįk studied the organ in Prague as a young man and worked as a café violist and church organist during the 1860s and 1870s while creating a growing body of symphonies, chamber music, and Czech-language opera. Brahms obtained for Dvorįk a contract with his own publisher, Simrock, in 1877. In the 1880s and 1890s Dvorįk's reputation became international in scope thanks to a series of major masterpieces that included the Seventh, Eighth, and "New World" symphonies. These works made use of folk influences, which he expertly combined with Classical forms in works of all genres. Dvorįk displayed special skill in writing for chamber ensembles, producing dozens of such works. Dvorįk's "American" and "New World" works arose during the composer's visit to the United States in the early 1890s. He was uneasy with American high society and retreated to the small, predominantly Czech town of Spillville, Iowa for summer vacations. However, he did make the acquaintance of the pioneering African-American baritone H.T. Burleigh, who may have influenced the seemingly spiritual-like melodies in the "New World" symphony and other works. By that time, Dvorįk was among the most celebrated of European composers, seen by many as the heir to Brahms, who had championed Dvorįk during the younger composer's long climb to prominence. At the end of his life he turned to opera once again. Rusalka incorporates Wagnerian influences into the musical telling of its legend-based story, and remains the most frequently performed of the composer's vocal works. Dvorįk, a professor at Prague University from 1891 on, exerted a deep influence on Czech music of the twentieth century; among his students was Josef Suk, who also became his son-in-law.

October 20
Charles Ives
Birth: October 20, 1874 in Danbury, CT
Death: May 19, 1954 in New York, NY

Charles Ives was the son of George Ives, a bandmaster and a musical experimenter whose approach heavily influenced his son. Charles Ives' musical skills quickly developed; he was playing organ services at the local Presbyterian church from the age of 12 and began to compose at 13. Ives' rural, rough-and-tumble childhood was revisited vividly and repeatedly in the music he composed as an adult. In 1894 Ives entered Yale to study music, but Professor Horatio T. Parker was not at all interested in encouraging Ives' experimental style. Ives dutifully learned the basics, creating an interesting but conventional Symphony No. 1 as his graduation thesis in 1898. After barely managing to earn his diploma, Ives moved with a couple of his fraternity buddies to an apartment in New York City. He became organist at Central Presbyterian Church and composed his first large-scale attempt to reflect the spirit of America, the Symphony No. 2. In off hours Ives worked on his wild, highly dissonant and ragtime-influenced Piano Sonata No. 1, making a din that his roommates described as "resident disturbances." In 1902 a friend introduced Ives to the insurance agent Julian Myrick. They co-founded the first Mutual Life Insurance office in Manhattan. Through his hard work and easy ability to communicate with customers, Ives would become a very wealthy insurance executive. In 1906 he married Harmony Twichell, a woman from a prominent New England family. Ives continued to compose his music on commuter trains, in the evening, and on weekends, writing what pleased him without worrying what the outside world might think of it. In order to check details of orchestration, Ives hired out theater orchestras to rehearse his scores. With the beginning of America's involvement in World War I, Ives raised funds for the war effort, supported an unsuccessful constitutional amendment prohibiting a declaration of war without the support of two-thirds of the populace, published a manual (Surveying the Prospect) that for years served as a bible for the insurance industry, and composed at an astounding pace. Soon Ives' music began to appear on concert programs, and when Henry Cowell launched his New Music Quarterly in 1927, Ives helped back the project financially. In 1930 Ives and Myrick both decided to retire, and from this time forward Ives concerned himself with revising existing works. Ives' early works expertly channel European influences into totally fresh constructs; mature works make use of quotation, collage techniques, spatial redistribution of instrumental groups and soloists, metric modulation, homegrown forms of pitch organization and dense, massed blocks of clustered chords. The difficult idiom of many of his pieces has denied Ives the mass appeal of Copland and Gershwin, and he can be an acquired taste. Some critics and conductors, mainly European, discount the value of his innovations, concluding that Ives was an amateur who didn't know what he was doing. By the turn of the twenty-first century renewed researches into Ives' theoretical approach revealed that he certainly did know what he was doing, and he has much to teach us yet today in terms of fresh ideas and techniques.

October 27
Niccolo Paganini
Birth: October 27, 1782 in Genoa, Italy
Death: May 27, 1840 in Nice, France

Paganini received his first musical instruction from his father, a devoted amateur musician. Niccolo's rapid progress on the violin, however, was such that his father was soon compelled to send his son to Giacomo Costa, maestro di capella of the Cathedral at San Lorenzo, for further study. Although he quickly gained some local fame and even embarked on a minor tour of Italy in 1797, it would be many years before Paganini consented to perform outside his native land. Paganini began composing seriously after his initial tour of Italy in 1797. He performed little during the initial years of the nineteenth century, preferring instead to devote his time to composition and romance. In 1805 he resumed his active musical career, accepting the directorship of the orchestra at Lucca, and in 1813 he embarked on a series of concert tours throughout the Italy. In 1825, after nearly 30 years of intensive practice and self-scrutiny, Paganini felt he had developed his skills sufficiently to put them on display for all of Europe, and he left Italy for an extensive European tour. His astounding technical prowess amazed audiences of the day, and many fanciful legends arose to explain his remarkable abilities (one of the more popular held that he was in league with the Devil, a legend rather supported by his gaunt, pale features). He died in 1840 from cancer of the larynx, having all but ended his concert career in 1834. Paganini's impact on nineteenth century music cannot be overestimated. He set a new standard of technical virtuosity; he was among the first musicians to champion the music of Berlioz, and the inspirational effect that his works would have on the young Franz Liszt would alter both the course of music and the life of the young Liszt forever.

WWUH: September/October 2005 Program Guide ©

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