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.”
Usually, I feature two videos in a post. This post is an exception because of the great video above. In addition to Isaac Stern and Itzhak Perlman, the conductor is Seiji Ozawa. The three, and the rest of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, team on Antonio Vivaldi’s “Concerto in D Major for Two Violins and Orchestra.”
This is sort of Clapton and Page playing together, I guess. The comments are funny, because instead of talking about what guitars the stars are using — Stratocasters or Les Pauls — there is a bit of commentary on the violins. Apparently, Perlman is playing a Stradavarius (perhaps he calls it a Strad) and Stern a del Gesù.
It will probably get me kicked out of the bloggers union (now there’s a good idea…a bloggers union), but I am just going to link to information about each of the four principals, without any elaboration:
Stern helped to save Carnegie Hall. From his 1981 obit in The New York Times:
The American classical music world has produced few images as characteristic as that of Mr. Stern, a violin in his hand and a pair of horn-rimmed eyeglasses perched atop his head. It was the image of a musician at work — typically rehearsing and persuading rather than performing, casual rather than formal, engaged rather than passive. Countless photographs and caricatures, and miles of film and videotape, captured Mr. Stern preparing for concerts, coaching young ensembles during his master classes, or proclaiming the glories of Carnegie Hall, of which he was president. (Continue Reading…)
Perlman was born in Tel Aviv, then British Mandate of Palestine, now Israel. His parents, Chaim and Shoshana Perlman, were natives of Poland and had independently immigrated to Palestine in the mid-1930s before they met and got married. Perlman first became interested in the violin after hearing a classical music performance on the radio. At the age of three, he was denied entrance to the Shulamit Conservatory for being too small to hold a violin. He instead taught himself how to play the instrument using a toy fiddle until he was old enough to study with Rivka Goldgart at the Shulamit Conservatory and at the Academy of Music in Tel Aviv, where he gave his first recital at age 10, before moving to the United States to study at the Juilliard School with the violin pedagogue Ivan Galamian and his assistant Dorothy DeLay. Perlman contracted polio at age four. He made a good recovery, learning to walk with crutches. Today, he uses crutches or an electric Amigo scooter for mobility and plays the violin while seated. (Continue Reading…)
Antonio Lucio Vivaldi (Italian: [anˈtɔːnjo ˈluːtʃo viˈvaldi]; 4 March 1678 – 28 July 1741), nicknamed il Prete Rosso (“The Red Priest”) because of his red hair, was an Italian Baroque composer,Catholic priest, and virtuosoviolinist, born in Venice. Recognized as one of the greatest Baroque composers, his influence during his lifetime was widespread over Europe. Vivaldi is known mainly for composing instrumental concertos, especially for the violin, as well as sacred choral works and over forty operas. His best known work is a series of violin concertos known as The Four Seasons.(Continue Reading…)
Seiji Ozawa was born on September 1, 1935 to Japanese parents in the city of Mukden, Manchukuo (now Shenyang, China). When his family returned to Japan in 1944, he began studying piano with Noboru Toyomasu, heavily studying the works of Johann Sebastian Bach. After graduating from the Seijo Junior High School in 1950, Ozawa sprained his finger in a rugby game. Unable to continue studying the piano, his teacher at the Toho Gakuen School of Music (Hideo Saito), brought Ozawa to a life-changing performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5, which ultimately shifted his musical focus from piano performance to conducting. (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.
I struggled a bit with the names of the pieces. If anyone has more precise titles, please let me know.
The Music Academy Online discusses the importance of Béla Bartók:
Béla Bartók was without a doubt one of the most original and versatile musicians of the twentieth century. He performed as a pianist and had enormous impact as an educator. In addition, he collected folk music from most of Eastern Europe and beyond, making him one of the pioneers of ethnomusicology even though his methods are now seen as outdated. As a composer, Bartók incorporated distinctively Hungarian traits into his own modernist language. As a result, despite his enduring popularity and great significance for many other composers, including Olivier Messiaen, Benjamin Britten, and Aaron Copland, Bartók’s music remains inimitable. (Continue Reading…)
Bartók came to New York City during World War II. According to Wikipedia, he tried to write as much music as possible as he neared death, which came in 1945:
As his body slowly failed, Bartók found more creative energy, and he produced a final set of masterpieces, partly thanks to the violinist Joseph Szigeti and the conductor Fritz Reiner (Reiner had been Bartók’s friend and champion since his days as Bartók’s student at the Royal Academy). Bartók’s last work might well have been the String Quartet No. 6 but for Serge Koussevitzky’s commission for the Concerto for Orchestra. Koussevitsky’s Boston Symphony Orchestra premièred the work in December 1944 to highly positive reviews. Concerto for Orchestra quickly became Bartók’s most popular work, although he did not live to see its full impact. In 1944, he was also commissioned by Yehudi Menuhin to write a Sonata for Solo Violin. In 1945, Bartók composed his Piano Concerto No. 3, a graceful and almost neo-classical work, as a surprise 42nd birthday present for Ditta, but he died just over a month before her birthday, with the scoring not quite finished. He had sketched his Viola Concerto, but had barely started the scoring at his death. (Continue Reading…)
Orquesta Da Vinci plays ”Romanian Folk Dances” above. Below, The New Orchestra of Washington plays Music for Strings Percussion and Celesta, Movement II (Allegro).
An interesting quote from Jascha Heifetz–considered one of the greatest violinists ever–on the importance of rehearsing: “If I don’t practice one day, I know it; two days, the critics know it; three days, the public knows it.” Here is the beginning of the bio at his site:
Jascha Heifetz, widely regarded as one of the greatest performing artists of all time, was born in Vilnius, Lithuania, which was then occupied by Russia, on February 2, 1901.. He began playing the violin at the age of two. He took his first lessons from his father Ruvin, and entered the local music school in Vilna at the age of five where he studied with Ilya Malkin. He made his first public appearance in a student recital there in December 1906, and made his formal public debut at the age of seven in the nearby city of Kovno (now known as Kaunas, Lithuania). With only brief sabbaticals, he performed in public for the next 65 years, establishing an unparalleled standard to which violinists around the world still aspire.
Heifetz entered the St. Petersburg Conservatory in 1910. He studied first with I.R. Nalbandian, and then entered the class of Leopold Auer in 1911. By then his public performances were already creating a sensation. One outdoor concert in Odessa in the summer of 1911 reportedly drew as many as 8,000 people. The young Nathan Milstein, who was in the audience, recalled that the police surrounded the boy when he finished playing to protect him from the surging crowd. (Continue Reading…)
The site io9 details how a computer house at the University of Málaga in Spain is creating classical music. The story links to a video of one of those pieces, Nasciturus, which was written by Iamus in less than a second.
The story offers a quote from Gustavo Diaz-Jerez, who is a pianist, composer and a consultant to the Iamus project:
Each composition has a musical core that becomes ever more complex and evolves automatically. It starts with very complex structures inside the computer. It is very different from other computer-generated music. When people hear the phrase they imagine that you can hear the computer playing music. Iamus does something different, it projects the complexity we are growing in the computer into musical structures.
The story includes a link to more information at Diaz-Jerez’s site and the BBC.