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Thursday Evening Classics
Composer Capsules for September / October 2006

Presented by Steve Petke


September 14

Johann Michael Haydn
Birth: September 14, 1737 in Rohrau, Austria
Death: August 10, 1806 in Salzburg, Austria
  Largely overshadowed by his older brother Franz Joseph, Michael Haydn was a prolific composer who was much admired. He influenced both Mozart and Schubert, and he was the teacher of such notable composers as Carl Maria von Weber and Anton Diabelli. Haydn was an extremely versatile composer who wrote in both the "stile antico" and in more modern styles. Although he wrote a great deal of secular music for use at court, Haydn's greatest contribution was to sacred music. Michael left home around 1745 to attend the choir school at St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna, where he received instruction in general subjects, singing, keyboard and violin. It was at St. Stephen's that Haydn gained a reputation for his remarkably clear and beautiful voice, as well as for its extremely wide range of three octaves. In 1757 Haydn was appointed Kapellmeister to the Bishop of Grosswardein in Hungary. He served the Bishop until 1763, when he accepted the position of court musician and Konzertmeister to Archbishop Sigismund Schrettenbach of Salzburg, who was renowned as a generous patron of the arts. This appointment put Haydn in a position to have a profound impact on the young Mozart, who spent his formative years in Salzburg. It was also through this appointment that Haydn met the woman he would marry, Maria Magdalena Lipp, a singer in the archbishop's court and daughter of the court organist Ignaz Lipp. Haydn was appointed as first organist at the Dreifaltigkeitskirche in 1777. During the last years of his life, Haydn was frequently ill. He died in 1806 and was buried at St. Peter's in Salzburg, where, in 1821, his friends erected a memorial in his honor.

Luigi Cherubini
Birth: September 14, 1760 in Florence, Italy
Death: March 15, 1842 in Paris, France

  Much admired by his fellow musicians, Cherubini was Beethoven's favorite contemporary composer. What Beethoven and many others admired was Cherubini's ability to blend his polyphonic virtuosity, Classical stylistic polish, and a truly Romantic sense of drama into music of extraordinary depth and dramatic power. Particularly in his later sacred works, Cherubini combined his tremendous skill as a contrapuntalist with a facility for expression, tempering his passionate dramatic impulse with the discipline of religious contemplation. Cherubini began studying music with his father. Luigi's his first work, a mass and Credo, was performed in 1773. Five years later, he went to study with Giuseppe Sarti, composing his first opera, Il Quinto Fabio, during this apprenticeship. In 1785, following a successful visit to London, Cherubini took up permanent residence in Paris. At the beginning of the French Revolution, Cherubini was named director of a new opera company, a venture initiated under the auspices of the future King XVIII. In 1792, however, the opera company, viewed by revolutionaries as a royalist relic, closed and Cherubini found refuge at a friend's country house in Normandy. Despite the volatile political situation, he returned to the capital in 1793, hoping to resume his career. The turning point in Cherubini's career was the 1797 production of Medée, based on the harrowing tragedy by Euripides. Cherubini's work, while conveying the sheer horror of Medea's actions, focuses on the chilling, sinister, yet profoundly human, nature of his protagonist's rage. In 1805, Cherubini traveled to Vienna, where he met Haydn, Beethoven, and Napoleon, who had come to Vienna as a conqueror. The French Emperor, who never fully appreciated Cherubini's music, urged the composer to return to Paris. After his return, Cherubini fell into a deep depression, lost all interest in music, retired to the chateau of the Prince of Chimay, and turned to painting and botany. Fortunately, he was asked to compose a mass for the church in Chimay, and this request prompted a return to music. His inspiration as powerful as ever, Cherubini devoted himself to composing music for the Church. In 1822, Cherubini became director of the Paris Conservatory, gaining the reputation as an excellent administrator. Although very busy at the Conservatory, Cherubini continued composing, writing, among other works, his great Requiem in D minor. First performed in 1836, Cherubini's Requiem was played at his funeral, according to his wishes.

September 21

Gustav Theodore Holst
Birth: September 21, 1874 in Cheltenham, England
Death: May 25, 1934 in London, England
  Gustav Holst is well-known today as the composer of The Planets, which remains extremely popular, but for little else except perhaps his St. Paul's Suite. However, Holst was the creator of operas, chamber, band, vocal, and orchestral music of many different styles. He embraced a wide variety of musical models, from Arthur Sullivan, Edvard Grieg, and Wagner to the melodic simplicity of English folk music, Tudor music, Sanskrit literature, astrology, and contemporary poetry. His great interest in Eastern mysticism can be heard in his settings of Choral Hymns from the Rig Veda and his short opera Savitri. Gustav's grandfather, Gustavus von Holst of Riga, Latvia, a composer of elegant music for the harp, moved to England and became a fashionable harp teacher. Holst's father Adolph, a pianist, organist and choirmaster, taught piano lessons and gave recitals. Gustav's mother, who died when he was only eight, was a singer. A frail child whose first recollections were musical, Holst was taught to play the piano, violin and trombone, and began to compose when he was about twelve. Holst met Ralph Vaughan Williams in 1895 while they were students at the Royal College of Music, and the two remained lifelong friends, depending on one another for support and assistance, although there is little similarity in their music. Shortly after his arrival in London, Holst's neuritis in his right arm, which had afflicted him in his early youth, had worsened and now caused him to abandon ideas of a career as a concert pianist. In 1898, Holst left the RCM to take a position in the Carl Rosa Opera Company as rehearsal pianist and coach. He completed his Cotswold Symphony in 1900, and its premiere in April 1902 was a success. On June 22, 1901, Holst married Emily Isobel Harrison, whom he had met in a choir he had directed a few years before. In 1903 he was appointed Musical Director at St. Paul's Girls' School, Hammersmith, his biggest teaching post and one which he kept until his death. He added another teaching post at Morley College in 1907, bogging him down and leaving little time for composition. In 1914, Holst began work on what would become his most popular composition, The Planets. By 1924, Holst's health was clearly declining, and he thus lessened his workload. Beginning in late December 1928, Holst made a series of visits to France, Italy and the U.S. While In Boston he was diagnosed with a duodenal ulcer. On May 23, 1934, he underwent surgery for the ulcer, but died two days later.

September 28

Giovanni Punto (Jan Vaclav Stich, Johann Wenzel Stich)
Birth: September 28, 1746 in Bohemia
Death: February 16, 1803 in Prague

  Like many Bohemian musicians, Jan Vaclav Stich Germanized his name and the result was Johann Wenzel Stich. He then went a step further and Italianized it to Giovanni Punto. He was a violinist and one of the leading horn players of his time. As a composer, he wrote 11 concertos for horn and several other works with horn, as well as some other instrumental chamber music. He also published pedagogical works, a book of daily exercises for horn, and updatings of older horn methods. His music is accomplished and effectively written, particularly for the horn parts. As a youth, he was sent by Count Thun to study horn with Josef Matiegka in Prague, and then with Schindelarz in Munich. He finally went to Dresden, where he encountered other teachers: Hampel, who had introduced new hand-stopping techniques, and Haudek, who worked on the lad's high register. Virtually a serf, Stich ran away and escaped across the border into Austria, to get out of Count Thun's service. He adopted his Italian name to keep his true identity secret. He secured a permanent position from 1769 to 1774 at the court of Mainz, which also permitted him to tour extensively throughout Europe. Punto was in Paris in 1778 and while there, met the visiting Wolfgang Mozart, who wrote his Sinfonia Concertante with Punto in mind for the horn part. Punto specialized in the lower horn, playing a silver horn made by Lucian-Joseph Raoux of Paris. Commentators of the time accounted him the greatest horn player of his age, an opinion also expressed by Mozart and Beethoven. There are those who rank him as the greatest horn player of all time and he was a master of the practice of playing multi-phonics, or more than one note at a time from the horn, even extending to full chords. During 1781 and 1782, Punto was a member of the orchestra of the Prince Archbishop of Würzburg. In 1782, he went back to Paris in the service of the Count of Artois, the future Charles X. He was on tour when the French Revolution took place. Evidently he was not suspect when he returned to Revolutionary Paris, for he maintained the position of violinist/conductor at the Théâtre des Variétés Amusantes from 1789 through 1799, right through the Reign of Terror. In Vienna, he met Beethoven, who wrote his Horn Sonata for him and the two played the premiere together in 1800. His tour extended to Prague the next year and he and the Czech composer Jan Ladislav Dussek toured in 1802. After a brief stay in Paris, Punto returned to Prague in 1803, where he died after a five-month illness. He had a large funeral at which Mozart's Requiem was played.

Florent Schmitt
Birth: September 28, 1870 in Blamont, Meurthe-et-Moselle, France
Death: August 17, 1958 in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France

  Schmitt was a prolific composer throughout his long life. He wrote in every genre except for opera, but the works he is remembered for were written in his youth. His music, characterized by rhythmic energy, refined orchestration, and tonal harmony, combines his admiration for impressionism and the beginning of the reaction against it. It contains echoes of Franck to anticipations of Stravinsky. Schmitt came to music during his teenage years, and studied in Nancy and later in Paris with Massenet and Fauré. He won the Prix de Rome in his fifth attempt at age 30 with his setting of Psalm 47. Three years later he wrote a ballet, later rearranged as symphonic poem, La tragédie de Salomé, whose violence was uncommon in French music and which became his most famous piece. Over the next three decades he was a member of the Societé Musicale Indépendante, director of the Conservatoire de Lyon, and music critic for Le Temps. In 1932, he appeared in Boston as soloist in his Symphonie Concertante for piano and orchestra. In 1938 he was appointed President of the Societé Nationale de Musique. Other important works were his Piano Quintet, a string quartet, the Sonata Libre for violin and piano, and two symphonies, the last of which was premiered only two months before his death.

October 12

Ralph Vaughan Williams
Birth: October 12, 1872 in Down Ampney, Gloucester, England
Death: August 26, 1958 in London, England

  Ralph Vaughan Williams left a varied output that includes orchestral works, songs, operas, and choral compositions. While primarily drawing on the rich tradition of English folksong and hymnody, Vaughan Williams produced well-loved works that fit into larger European traditions and gained worldwide popularity. Vaughan Williams, who lost his father early in life, was cared for by his mother. Related, through his mother, to both Charles Darwin and the Wedgwoods of pottery fame, he grew up without financial worries. He studied history and music at Trinity College, Cambridge, and finished up at the Royal College of Music, where he worked with Holst, Parry, Wood, and Stanford. In 1897, the year he married Adeline Fisher, Vaughan Williams traveled to Berlin to study with Max Bruch, also seeking Maurice Ravel as a teacher several years later, despite the fact that the French composer was three years his junior. In 1903, he started collecting English folksongs, which influenced his approach to composition. Vaughan Williams further developed his style while working as editor of the English Hymnal, which was completed in 1906. The composer's interest in and knowledge of traditional English music is vividly reflected in his song cycle On Wenlock Edge, based on selections from A.E. Housman's immensely popular volume of poetry A Shropshire Lad. In his Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis of 1910, Vaughan Williams introduced antiphonal effects within the context of modal tonality, juxtaposing consonant, but unrelated, triads. Composed in 1914, his Symphony #2 "A London Symphony", brings to life the sounds of the capital city from dawn to dusk. When World War I broke out, the 41-year-old composer enlisted as an orderly in the medical corps, becoming famous for organizing choral singing and other entertainment in the trenches. The war interrupted the composer's work but did not, it seems, disrupt the inner continuity of his creative development. The Symphony #3 "Pastoral", composed in 1922, conjures up a familiar world, incorporating folksong motives into sonorities created by sequential chords. While critics detected pessimistic moods and themes in the later symphonies, Vaughan Williams refused to attach any programmatic content to these works. However, the composer created a convincing musical description of a desolate world in his Symphony No. 7 "Sinfonia Antarctica" (1952), which was inspired by the request to write the music for the film Scott of the Antarctic. In addition to his nine symphonies, Vaughan Williams composed highly acclaimed religious music, as well as works inspired by English spiritual literature, culminating in his 1951 opera The Pilgrim's Progress, based on the spiritual classic by John Bunyan. An artist of untiring creative energy, Vaughan Williams continued composing with undiminished powers until his death at 87.

October 19

Nils Geirr Tveitt
Birth: October 19 1908 in Kvam, Hardanger, Norway
Death: February 19, 1981 in Oslo, Norway

  Incorporating folk music into concert music was much in vogue during the early 20th century, and it seems like every major country had its native champion. Hungary had Béla Bartók and Zoltán Kodály; England had Ralph Vaughan Williams; the United States had Charles Ives; and Norway had a man named Geirr Tveitt. Tveitt was a composer, pianist, teacher, and folk music collector who never attained the fame of those other composers but who has, in recent years, been studied by Norse music lovers and scholars with ever-increasing interest. Efforts to paint a clear and accurate picture of the man's life and work have proven difficult, however: A fire ravaged his home in 1970, destroying most of his compositions and folk music collections. Tveitt grew up in the Hardanger region of Norway. He learned piano and violin from early childhood on, but he went to the Leipzig Conservatory for formal schooling from 1928-1932 to focus on composition. After visits to Vienna and Paris, where he took private lessons from Villa-Lobos and Honegger, he returned to Norway and supported himself writing criticism in Oslo and teaching privately. In 1941, he was awarded a Norwegian state pension and in 1942, he took up residence in the Tveitt family farm in Hardanger, devoting himself mainly to composition and to the collection and transcription of the region's folk music. A scandal involving the Nazis during the German occupation of Norway in World War II resulted in Tveitt having his state pension taken from him. It was reinstated in the late 1950s. Tveitt's musical style draws heavily on the folk music with which he was so familiar. His output was prolific, including some 29 piano sonatas, five operas, a half-dozen piano concertos, a violin concerto, several suites for orchestra, miscellaneous chamber music, and works for various other solo instruments, including harp and saxophone. There is also a large body of pseudo-folk vocal songs. His best-known works are those that rely most on folk music: One Hundred Folk Tunes, a series of orchestral suites; and a volume, famous in Norway, called 100 Hardanger Tunes.

October 26

Domenico Scarlatti
Birth: October 26, 1685 in Naples, Italy
Death: July 23, 1757 in Madrid, Spain

  Domenico Scarlatti began his compositional career following in the footsteps of his father Alessandro by writing operas, chamber cantatas, and other vocal music, but he is most remembered for his 555 keyboard sonatas, written between 1719 and 1757. Domenico probably received most of his musical training from family members, but his father was the dominant figure in his life. It was Alessandro who arranged Domenico's first appointment, as organist and composer for Naples' Cappella Reale, and wanted him to continue with vocal music despite the enormous talent he had shown for keyboard music. Domenico was sent to Venice in 1705, where he met Handel, and in 1708 to Rome to become maestro di cappella to the exiled queen of Poland, Maria Casimira, and later, head of the Cappella Giulia. In these positions, he composed his operas and serenatas, and some sacred vocal works. It was also in Rome where he developed a friendship with the Portuguese ambassador, the Marquis de Fontes, which eventually led to Scarlatti's being appointed master of the royal chapel by João V of Portugal in 1719. Scarlatti was also teacher to the royal family, particularly princess Maria Barbara. Scarlatti had already written approximately 50 keyboard pieces before coming to Lisbon, but wrote many more for his students. When Maria Barbara married Spanish prince Ferdinando, Scarlatti followed her to Spain. His first publication, 30 sonatas called "Essercizi," was issued in 1738 and sold throughout Europe. Scarlatti supported King and Queen in their private musical soirées, writing cantatas and working with singers such as the great castrato, Farinelli. Scarlatti also continued to teach, and, in the last six years of his life, concentrated on organizing his sonatas in manuscripts. These one-movement sonatas are recognized as cornerstones of the keyboard repertoire, a bridge between the Baroque and the galant styles of keyboard writing. They demonstrate his facility in adapting rhythms found in contemporary Iberian popular music and his inventiveness in creating themes and developing interesting harmonies.

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