Classical Net has details on the guy with the greatest first name in music history. For an instant, I thought it was a nickname:
Along with Piotr Ilyitch Tchaikovsky, the greatest Russian composer of the Nineteenth Century, Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky (March 9, 1839 – March 16, 1881) was born into a wealthy rural, landowning family. He began by picking out on the piano the tunes he heard from the serfs on his family’s estate. At the age of six, he began to study piano with his mother. His parents initially set him out on the career of military officer. He became a cadet and finally commissioned in an elite imperial regiment. Two years later, in 1858, he resigned his commission. During this time, he met a musically-inclined army doctor: Alexander Borodin. The two became friends. In 1861, with Russia’s emancipation of the serfs, his family lost significant income, and he was forced to earn a living. In 1863, he began a spotty career in the civil service, which dismissed him at least twice. (Continue Reading…)
Below, The Berlin Philharmonic performs “The Great Gate of Kiev,” which is from ”Pictures at an Exhibition.” Emerson, Lake and Palmer, of course, offered a version of the piece with an emphasis on volume. Modest probably would have liked that about as much as the Gershwins would like Janis Joplin’s version of “Summertime.” Above is “Night on Bald Mountain,” which is performed by the Ural Philharmonic.
Classical FM offers some handy bullet points:
- Mussorgsky was one of music’s great originals. Everything he composed was conceived in terms of natural rhythms, melodies and harmonies of Slavonic folk music. He constantly railed against tradition, honing his music in order to make it, in his words, “an artistic reproduction of human speech in all its finest shades”.
- Mussorgsky’s natural talent was obvious from the start. Initially taught by his mother he became a pianist prodigy, making his debut at nine years old. Four years later, in 1852, he enrolled at the Imperial Guard’s cadet school and composed the Porte-en-seigne polka, a surprisingly cheery piano miniature.
- In 1863, a shortage of funds forced Mussorgsky to take a job as a clerk in the civil service. Though brimful of startlingly original ideas, the pieces he composed in his spare time often lacked any musical logic and he abandoned many works out of sheer frustration. Indeed, if it hadn’t been for Rimsky-Korsakov’s later kindness and support, Mussorgsky, and his music, might have fallen by the wayside.
- Throughout the 1870s, Mussorgsky became increasingly prone to epileptic seizures, and his predilection for alcohol quickly developed into full-blown dependency.
- Mussorgsky’s most famous work is Pictures at an Exhibition. It departs from convention at almost every turn. By way of a series of interludes, the composer himself regularly appears in the form of a recurring ‘Promenade’ theme. As he strolls around the gallery, stopping at each new stage design or watercolour by his friend Viktor Hartmann, the ‘Promenade’ transforms; sometimes settling us down for the next picture, occasionally creating a startling change of atmosphere. (Continue Reading…)
Lloyds Pharmacy group released a survey this week that said more than 40 percent of respondents reported that music eased their physical pain.
Raw Story reports that the survey, which was conducted in the U.K., found that two-thirds of respondents from 16 to 24 years of age said that music helped. Genres were evenly split in their usefulness: Respondents said that pop music (21 percent of people responding), classical (17 percent) and rock and indie (16 percent) helped.
The five most helpful songs, in order: Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” Robbie William’s “Angel,” Fleetwood Mac’s “Albatross,” Elton John’s “Candle in the Wind” and The Commodores’ “Easy.”
Vladimir Horowitz was a towering figure in classical piano. The descriptions suggest that he ran at full tilt, but never lost control. The clip above — Carmen Fantasie — is amazing for the obvious virtuosity. Many experts say that his interpretation of the music was world class as well, though his approach was not universally lauded.
This is from The New York Times’ obituary, which ran on November 6, 1989:
Reached in Tokyo today, another prominent American pianist, Emanuel Ax, said: “I knew people who worshiped Horowitz, as I did, and I knew people who hated him. But no one was indifferent. He brought the idea of excitement in piano playing to a higher pitch than anyone I’ve ever heard. For me the fascinating thing was a sense of complete control, and on the other hand, the feeling that everything was just on the verge of going haywire. It never did go over that line, but there was the sense of an unbelievable energy being harnessed, and the felling that if he ever let it go, it would burn up the hall.” (Continue Reading…)
The Bach Contatas Website provides more:
Vladimir Samoylovych Horowitz [Ukrainian: Володимир Самійлович Горовиць, Russian: Владимир Самойлович Горовиц] was a Ukrainian-born, American classical pianist. In his prime, he was considered one of the most brilliant pianists of his time. His use of tone color, technique and the excitement of his playing are thought by many to be unrivaled, and his performances of works as diverse as those of Domenico Scarlatti and Alexander Scriabin were equally legendary. Though sometimes criticized for being overly mannered, he has a huge and passionate following and is widely considered one of the greatest pianists of the 20th century. (Continue Reading…)
Here is the beginning of Wikipedia’s profile of Alexander Borodin, who seems to have been an interesting fellow:
Alexander Porfiryevich Borodin (12 November 1833 – 27 February 1887) was a Russian Romantic composer, doctor and chemist. He was a member of the group of composers called The Five (or “The Mighty Handful”), who were dedicated to producing a specifically Russian kind of art music. He is best known for his symphonies, his two string quartets, In the Steppes of Central Asia and his opera Prince Igor. Music from Prince Igor and his string quartets was later adapted for the US musical Kismet.
He was a notable advocate of women’s rights and a proponent of education in Russia and was a founder of the School of Medicine for Women in St. Petersburg. (Continue Reading…)
I bet many folks of a certain age– 50 years old or so — will remember this commercial, featuring Borodin. The host, a classy looking English guy, wastes no time in making the rabble feel worthless:
“I am sure you recognize this lovely melody, a Stranger in Paradise. But did you know that the original theme is from the Polovtsian Dance Number 2 by Borodin? So many of the melodies of well known popular songs were actually written by the great masters, like these familiar themes…”
I half expect the guy to say, “I can’t believe w lost the Revolution to you uncultured swine.” In any case, here’s a bit more about Borodin, who had nothing to do with trying to shame us crass Americans into buying records:
Alexander Porfir’yevich Borodin (November 12, 1833 – February 27, 1887) was a genius in several fields. The illegitimate son of a nobleman and a peasant, his aristocratic connection allowed him to receive a better education than almost any other serf of his time. His father, at his death in 1843, freed Borodin from serfdom. (Continue Reading….)
“Polovtsian Dances,” above, was performed by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and “In the Steppes of Central Asia” by the York University Symphony Orchestra. Both performances were last year.
Note: I cross-post The Daily Music Break at DailyKos. A commenter there, DrPlacebo, offered some very interesting information on Borodin which he/she game me permission to share here:
Interestingly, many scientists are aware of Borodin as one of the pioneers of organic synthesis, but have no idea that he was also a composer. Those included both of my parents; my direct ancestors include someone who studied chemistry under Borodin.
Borodin’s chamber music is highly underrated. I’m not just referring to his frequently-performed String Quartet No. 2; there’s also a piano quintet, a string quintet, and a cello sonata from his earlier years. The cello sonata is especially interesting because it’s a homage to both Bach and Boccherini. (Borodin was a cellist himself, and it shows.)
There are a surprisingly large number of scientist-composers out there. William Herschel, the astronomer who discovered Uranus, was also a prolific composer with 24 symphonies to his name. Swedish Romantic composer Franz Berwald was also a pioneering orthopedic surgeon. Another Swede, Kurt Atterberg, an electrical engineer by training, won prestigious prizes over full-time composers and completed nine symphonies while working as a patent examiner. Richard Bing, a research cardiologist who helped invent the heart-lung bypass that made heart transplants possible, also wrote thirteen masses, two symphonies, and numerous choral works. And Elaine Bearer, currently a professor at the University of New Mexico medical school, was one of Nadia Boulanger’s last composition students and at one time held concurrent faculty positions in the medical school and the music school at Brown University.
Antonin Leopold Dvořák, according to Virginia Tech, was born in the village of Nelahozeves in Bohemian, which now is in the Czech Republic. Here is the beginning of the bio at ClassicalNet:
Contrary to legend, Antonín Dvořák (September 8, 1841 – May 1, 1904) was not born in poverty. His father was an innkeeper and butcher, as well as an amateur musician. The father not only put no obstacles in the way of his son’s pursuit of a musical career, he and his wife positively encouraged the boy. He learned the violin and finally was sent to the Prague Organ School, from which he emerged at age 18 as a trained organist and immediately plunged into the life of a working musician. He played in various dance bands, usually as a violist. One of his groups became the core of the Provisional Theater orchestra, the first Czech-language theater in Prague, and Dvořák was appointed principal violist. Around this time, he also began giving private piano lessons, eventually marrying one of his students. (Continue Reading…)
Above is the Slavonic Dance No. 2 in E Minor Op. 72 performed by an all star lineup: Violinist Itzhak Perlman and cellist Yo-Yo Ma are conducted by Seiji Ozawa. The only information on the Largo video that I can understand is that it is being played by the New York Philharmonic.
[Editor's note: I cross-post The Daily Music Break at Daily Kos. A commentor there was kind enough to provide more information. He wrote that this presentation of the Largo movement--from Dvorak's New World Symphony--is from the New York Philharmonic's visit to Pyongyang, North Korea, 26 February 2008. The conductor is Lorin Maazel.]
Both the music and the text of Peter and the Wolf, which was an effort to teach children about orchestras and instill a love of music, were written by Sergei Prokofiev. It was released in the Soviet Union in 1936. This version, narrated by actor Sterling Holloway, is perhaps the most famous of many because it was produced and released as a Disney cartoon. It was part of the 1946 animated feature Make Mine Music.
Here is more on Prokofiev:
In breathing new life into the symphony, sonata, and concerto, Sergey Prokofiev emerged as one of the truly original musical voices of the twentieth century. Bridging the worlds of pre-revolutionary Russia and the Stalinist Soviet Union, Prokofiev enjoyed a successful worldwide career as composer and pianist. As in the case of most other Soviet-era composers, his creative life and his music came to suffer under the duress of official Party strictures. Still, despite the detrimental personal and professional effects of such outside influences, Prokofiev continued until the end of his career to produce music marked by a singular skill, inventiveness, and élan. (Continue Reading…)
Prokofiev died on March 5, 1953 — the same day as Josef Stalin. Part I of Peter and the Wolf is above and part II is below.