Georg Philipp Telemann and his Trumpet Concerto

     Georg Philipp Telemann (March 14, 1681 –June 25, 1767) was a German Baroque composer and multi-instrumentalist, who was born in Magdeburg, the capital of the Duchy of Magdeburg, Brandenburg-Prussia, into an upper-middle-class family. His parents were Heinrich Telemann, deacon at the Church of the Holy Spirit in Magdeburg, and Maria Haltmeier, daughter of a clergyman from Regensburg. The composer, who was almost completely self-taught in music, himself claimed that he inherited the talent for music from his mother.  Heinrich Telemann died in 1685, leaving Maria to raise the children and oversee their education. Georg studied at the Altstädtisches Gymnasium and at the Domschule. At age ten he took singing lessons and studied keyboard playing for two weeks with a local organist, but this was enough to inspire the boy to teach himself other instruments such as recorder, violin, and zither, and start composing. His first pieces were arias, motets, and instrumental works, and at age 12 he composed his first opera, Sigismundus.

     Neither Maria nor her advisers were supportive of these endeavors, however, confiscated all of the boy’s instruments, and forbade him any musical activities, yet Telemann continued composing, in secret. His mother sent him to a school in Zellerfeld, hoping that this would convince her son to choose a different career, but the superintendent of the school, Caspar Calvoer, recognized Telemann’s talents and even introduced him to musical theory; Telemann continued composing and playing various instruments, taught himself thoroughbass. and regularly supplied music for the church choir and the town musicians.  In 1697 Telemann left for Hildesheim, where he entered the famous Gymnasium Andreanum. Here too his talents were recognized and in demand: the rector himself commissioned music from Telemann. The young composer frequently travelled to courts at Hanover and Brunswick where he could hear and study the latest musical styles.

     Telemann continued studying various instruments, and eventually became an accomplished multi-instrumentalist.  At Hildesheim he taught himself flute, oboe, chalumeau, viola da gamba, double bass, and bass trombone. After graduating from Gymnasium Andreanum, Telemann went to Leipzig in late 1701 to become a student at the Leipzig University, where he intended to study law. In his 1718 autobiography Telemann explained that this decision was taken because of his mother’s urging. However, in his 1740 autobiography, he claimed that he was motivated by his desire for university education. This was not to be because a setting of Psalm 6 by him inexplicably found its way into his luggage and was found by his roommate at the university. The work was subsequently performed and so impressed those who heard it that the mayor of Leipzig himself approached Telemann and commissioned him to regularly compose works for the city’s two main churches.

    Once he established himself as a professional musician in Leipzig, Telemann became increasingly active in organizing the city’s musical life.  The very first ensemble he founded was a student collegium musicum that had some forty members. In 1702 Telemann became director of the opera house Opernhaus auf dem Brühl. Between 1702 and 1705 Telemann composed at least eight operas, four of which went to the Leipzig operahouse and four to the Weissenfels court. In 1704 Telemann received an invitation to become Kapellmeister for the court of Count Erdmann II of Promnitz at Sorau (now Żary, in Poland). Leipzig authorities granted him resignation in early 1705, however, and he arrived in Sorau in June.  Telemann was as prolific as in Leipzig, composing at least 200 ouvertures, by his own recollection, and other works. Unfortunately, the Great Northern War put an end to Telemann’s career at Sorau. In late January or early February 1706 he was forced to flee from the invading troops of the Swedish King Charles XII. He spent some time in Frankfurt an der Oder before returning to Sorau in the summer.

     Around 1707–1708 Telemann entered the service of Duke Johann Wilhelm of Saxe-Eisenach, becoming Konzertmeister in 1708 and Kapellmeister in 1709. Thus began one of the most productive periods in Telemann’s life.  During his tenure at Eisenach he composed a wealth of instrumental sonatas and concertos; numerous sacred works, which included four or five complete annual cycles of church cantatas; fifty German and Italian cantatas; and some twenty serenatas. In 1709 he made a short trip to Sorau to marry Amalie Louise Juliane Eberlin. They went back to Eisenach, where in January of 1711 Amalie Louise gave birth to a daughter. Unfortunately, the mother died soon afterwards; Telemann’s marriage lasted only for fifteen months.   The event had a profound effect on the composer: he later recounted experiencing a religious awakening,

     By the end of that year Telemann was frustrated with court life and started seeking another appointment.  Sometime between late December of 1711 and early January of 1712 he applied for the newly vacant Frankfurt post of city director of music and Kapellmeister at the Barfüsserkirche. The application was successful and Telemann arrived in Frankfurt on March 18,1712.  Telemann’s new duties were similar to those he had in Leipzig. He provided various music for two churches, composing, among other pieces, more annual cycles of cantatas, as well as for civic ceremonies; he also revived the city’s collegium musicum.  On August 28, 1714, he married his second wife, Maria Catharina Textor. The couple had nine children. The following year he began publishing his music; four collections of instrumental pieces appeared within the next three years, and many more publications would follow.

     In 1721 Telemann was invited to work in Hamburg as Kantor of the Johanneum Lateinschule and musical director of the city’s five largest churches. The composer accepted and remained in Hamburg for the rest of his life. The years spent in the city were the most productive period of his life. Once again he was required to compose numerous cantatas, not only for the churches but also for civic ceremonies.  He also gave public concerts, led another collegium musicum, and assumed the directorship of the opera house Gänsemarktoper.   In Hamburg Telemann started actively publishing his music as well, engraving and advertising the editions himself. More than 40 volumes of music appeared between 1725 and 1740 and these were widely distributed across Europe, owing to Telemann’s numerous contacts in various countries. All this publishing activity, however, was in part driven by the need for money. Telemann’s wife Maria Catherina amassed a very large gambling debt, and she was also publicly rumored to be having an affair with a Swedish military officer. Telemann’s friends in Hamburg organized a collection to save the composer’s finances, and eventually he was saved from bankruptcy.  By 1736 Maria had left Telemann’s home.

     In late September or early October of 1737 Telemann took an extended leave from Hamburg and went to Paris but returned to Hamburg by the end of May of 1738. Around 1740 his musical output fell sharply, even though he continued fulfilling his duties as Hamburg music director. He became more interested in music theory and completed a treatise on the subject, Neues musicalisches System (1742/3, published 1752). He also took up gardening and cultivating rare plants, a popular Hamburg hobby, but still followed European musical life, and throughout the 1740s and the 1750s he exchanged letters and compositions with younger composers such as C.P.E. Bach, Franz Benda, Johann Friedrich Agricola, and others.

     After Telemann’s eldest son Andreas died in 1755, he assumed the responsibility of raising Andreas’ son Georg Michael Telemann, who eventually became a composer. In his later years, Telemann’s eyesight began to deteriorate, and he was increasingly troubled by health problems. This led to a further decline in his output around 1762.  However, he was still capable of composing music of highest quality, and continued to write until his death on the evening of June 25, 1767.  The cause of death was a “chest ailment.”  He was buried on June 29, and succeeded at his Hamburg post by Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach.  Telemann was one of the most prolific composers in history, at least in terms of surviving music, comprising more than 3,000 pieces, and was considered by his contemporaries to be one of the leading German composers of the time.   His music incorporates several national styles, including both French and Italian, and is even at times influenced by Polish popular music. He remained at the forefront of all new musical tendencies, and his music is an important link between the late Baroque and early Classical styles.

     The following pieces by Telemann appear in my collection.

                Concerto for trumpet in DM.

                Concerto for Violin and Strings in BbM, “Pisendel.” 

                Concerto for Four Violins in GM.  

                Concerto for Viola and String Orchestra.

                Excerpts from Heldenmusik (Hero Music, 1730). 

                Music de Table: Suite No. 3 in BbM. 

                Ouverture joing d’une suite tragi-comique, TWV 55:D22.  

                Ouverture in DM, Jubeloratorium fur die Hamburger Admiralitat, TWV 23:1. 

                Suite Alster in FM, Orchestersuite mit Horn Quartett, TWV 55:F11.  

                Suite La Chasse in FM, TWV 55:F9.  

                Suite La Musette in gm, VI Ouvertures a 4 ou 6, No. 2, TWV 55:g1.  

                Suite in am for Flute and Strings.  

                Suite for Violin and Strings in AM.

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Peter Tchaikovsky and “The Nutcracker” Ballet Suite

     Peter Ilyich (Pyotr Ilyich) Tchaikovsky (May 7, 1840 –November 6, 1893) was a Russian composer whose works included symphonies, concertos, operas, ballets, chamber music, and a choral setting of The Russian Orthodox Divine Liturgy, some of which are among the most popular music in the classical repertoire.  Tchaikovsky was born in Votkinsk, a small town in present-day Udmurtia, a former province of Vyatka in the Russian Empire. His family had a long line of military service. His father, Ilya Petrovich Tchaikovsky, was an engineer of mostly of Russian ethnicity, though his ancestors were Ukrainian Cossacks, who served as a lieutenant colonel in the Department of Mines.   His mother, Alexandra Andreyevna née d’Assier was 18 years her husband’s junior and of French ancestry on her father’s side.  Both of Tchaikovsky’s parents were trained in the arts, including music.

     Tchaikovsky had four brothers, Nikolai, Ippolit, and twins Anatoly and Modest, a sister, Alexandra and a half-sister Zinaida from his father’s first marriage.  In 1843 the family hired Fanny Dürbach, a 22-year-old French governess, to look after the children and teach Tchaikovsky’s elder brother Nikolai and a niece of the family.  While Tchaikovsky, at four and a half, was initially considered too young to begin studies, his insistence convinced Dürbach otherwise.  Dürbach proved an excellent teacher, teaching Pyotr Tchaikovsky to be fluent in French and German by the age of six. Tchaikovsky also took piano lessons from the age of five. A precocious pupil, he could read music as adeptly as his teacher within three years. Dürbach saved much of Tchaikovsky’s work from this period, which includes his earliest known compositions. 

     Tchaikovsky’s parents were initially supportive of his music studies, hiring a tutor, buying an orchestrion, a form of barrel organ that could imitate elaborate orchestral effects, and encouraging his study of the piano. Nevertheless, the family decided in 1850 to send Tchaikovsky to the Imperial School of Jurisprudence in Saint Petersburg.  Tchaikovsky’s separation from his mother to attend boarding school caused an emotional trauma that tormented him throughout his life.   Her death from cholera in 1854 further devastated him.  Tchaikovsky’s father, who also contracted cholera at this time but fully recovered, immediately sent him back to school, hoping that classwork would occupy the boy’s mind. Fond of works by Rossini, Bellini, Verdi and Mozart, he would improvise for his friends at the school’s harmonium on themes they had sung during choir practice.  He also continued his piano studies through Franz Becker, an instrument manufacturer who made occasional visits to the school.

     In 1855, Tchaikovsky’s father funded private lessons for his son with the teacher Rudolph Kündinger but told him to finish his course and then try for a post in the Ministry of Justice.   Even though he gave this practical advice, his father remained receptive about a career in music for Tchaikovsky.   In 1859, the 19-year-old Tchaikovsky graduated with the rank of titular counselor, a low rung on the civil service ladder. Appointed five days later to the Ministry of Justice, he became a junior assistant within six months and a senior assistant two months after that. He remained a senior assistant for the rest of his three-year civil service career.  In 1861, Tchaikovsky attended classes in music theory taught by Nikolai Zaremba at the Mikhailovsky Palace, now the Russian Museum, in Saint Petersburg.  The classes were a precursor to the Saint Petersburg Conservatory, which opened in 1862. Tchaikovsky enrolled at the Conservatory as part of its premiere class but held onto his Ministry post until the following year, wanting to make sure his course lay in music.  From 1862 to 1865 he studied harmony and counterpoint with Zaremba.  Anton Rubinstein, director and founder of the Conservatory, taught instrumentation and composition.

     Rubinstein and Zaremba clashed with Tchaikovsky when he submitted his First Symphony for performance by the RMS in Saint Petersburg. Rubinstein and Zaremba refused to consider the work unless substantial changes were made. Tchaikovsky complied but they still refused to perform the symphony.  Tchaikovsky withdrew the symphony, and it was given its first complete performance, minus the changes Rubinstein and Zaremba had requested, in Moscow in February of 1868.  After graduating from the Conservatory, Tchaikovsky briefly considered a return to public service due to pressing financial needs. However, Rubinstein’s brother Nikolai offered the post of Professor of Music Theory at the soon-to-open Moscow Conservatory.  He was further heartened by news of the first public performance of one of his works, his Characteristic Dances, conducted by Johann Strauss II at a concert in Pavlovsk Park.  Tchaikovsky later included this work, retitled Dances of the Hay Maidens, in his opera The Voyevoda).

     From 1867 to 1878, Tchaikovsky combined his professorial duties with music criticism while continuing to compose.   In 1869, he produced first recognized masterpiece, the fantasy-overture Romeo and Juliet, followed by his Second Symphony, subtitled the Little Russian, and his First Piano Concerto which was premiered by Hans von Bülow.  Tchaikovsky also began to compose operas. His first, The Voyevoda, based on a play by Alexander Ostrovsky, was premiered in 1869. Undina followed in 1870. The Oprichnik, premiered in 1874. The last of the early operas, Vakula the Smith (Opus 14), was composed in the second half of 1874.  Other works of this period include the Variations on a Rococo Theme for cello and orchestra, the Third and Fourth Symphonies, the ballet Swan Lake, and the opera Eugene Onegin.

     Tchaikovsky lived as a bachelor most of his life. In 1868, he met Belgian soprano Désirée Artôt and became engaged to be married, but in 1869, without any communication with Tchaikovsky, she married a Spanish baritone.  By the end of 1876, Tchaikovsky had fallen in love with Iosif Kotek, a former student from the Moscow Conservatory, but the composer distanced himself a few months later when Kotek proved to be unfaithful.  In 1877, at the age of 37, he wed a former student, Antonina Miliukova. The marriage was a disaster. Nadezhda von Meck, the widow of a railway magnate had begun contact with him not long before the marriage, and she also became his patroness for the next thirteen years, which allowed him to focus exclusively on composition.  Tchaikovsky remained abroad for a year after the disintegration of his marriage, during which he completed Eugene Onegin, orchestrated the Fourth Symphony and composed the Violin Concerto.

     Tchaikovsky returned to the Moscow Conservatory in the autumn of 1879 but only as a temporary move; he informed Nikolai Rubinstein on the day of his arrival that he would stay no longer than December.  Once his professorship had ended officially, he traveled incessantly throughout Europe and rural Russia.  Tchaikovsky’s foreign reputation grew rapidly.  In 1880, the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour neared completion in Moscow; the 25th anniversary of the coronation of Alexander II in 1881 was imminent; and the 1882 Moscow Arts and Industry Exhibition was in the planning stage. Nikolai Rubinstein suggested a grand commemorative piece for association with these related festivities. Tchaikovsky began the the 1812 Overture in October 1880, finishing it within six weeks.

     Now 44 years old, in 1884 Tchaikovsky began to shed his unsociability and restlessness. In March of that year, Tsar Alexander III conferred upon him the Order of St. Vladimir (fourth class), which carried with it hereditary nobility  This advance may have been cemented in the composer’s mind by the great success of his Orchestral Suite No. 3 at its January 1885 premiere in Saint Petersburg, under von Bülow’s direction.  Tchaikovsky also promoted Russian music as a conductor. In 1888 Tchaikovsky led the premiere of his Fifth Symphony in Saint Petersburg.  Conducting brought him to America in 1891, where he led the New York Music Society’s orchestra in his Festival Coronation March at the inaugural concert of the Carnegie Hall.  In 1892, Tchaikovsky was voted a member of the Académie des Beaux-Arts in France, only the second Russian subject to be honored so.  The following year, the University of Cambridge in England awarded Tchaikovsky an honorary Doctor of Music degree.

     On October 30, 1893, Tchaikovsky conducted the premiere of his Sixth Symphony, the Pathétique In Saint Petersburg. Nine days later, Tchaikovsky died there, aged 53.   Tchaikovsky’s death has traditionally been attributed to cholera, most probably contracted through drinking contaminated water several days earlier.  However, there is an ongoing debate as to whether it was accidental or self-inflicted.  Some have theorized that drinking the contaminated water was intentional and thus conclude that his death was a suicide.  Tchaikovsky was the first Russian composer whose music made a lasting impression internationally, and he bolstered that impression with appearances as a guest conductor later in his career in Europe and the United States.  His music has remained popular among audiences.

     Works by Tchaikovsky in my collection include the following:

                Cappricio Italien, op. 45. 

                Concert Fantasy for Piano and Orchestra, op. 56. 

                Eugene Onegin: Kuda, kuda, kuda vi udalilis (Lensky’s Aria, Act II).

                Fatum. 

                Francesca da Rimini, op. 32. 

                Manfred Symphony, op. 58. 

                None but the Lonely Heart, op. 6, no. 6.  

                The Nutcracker, Fairy Ballet in 2 Acts, op. 71 (1892): Excerpts and Suite No. 1, op. 71a. 

                Overture solenelle 1812, op. 49. 

                Piano Concerto No. 1 in bm, op. 23. 

                Piano Concerto No. 2, op. 44. 

                Piano Concerto No. 3, op. 75. 

                Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture. 

                Serenade in CM for String Orchestra, op. 48.

                The Sleeping Beauty, Ballet in Prologue and Three Acts, op. 66 (1890) : Suite. 

                The Storm, op. 76.

                Swan Lake, Ballet in Four Acts, op. 20 (1876): Suite. 

                Symphony No. 1, op. 13, Winter Dreams. 

                Symphony No. 4 in fm, op. 36 (1878).

                Symphony No. 5 in em, op. 64. 

                Symphony No. 6 in bm, op. 74, Pathetique.

                Valse-Scherzo in CM, op. 34. 

                Violin Concerto in DM, op. 35. 

Deems Taylor and the “Through the Looking Glass” Suite

      Joseph Deems Taylor (December 22, 1885 – July 3, 1966) was an American composer, music critic, and promoter of classical music, born on December 22, 1885, in New York City, New York, to JoJo and Katherine Taylor.   He attended New York University and initially planned to become an architect.  However, despite minimal musical training he soon took to music composition. The result was a series of works for orchestra and/or voices. In 1916 he wrote the cantata The Chambered Nautilus, followed by Through the Looking-Glass, a suite for orchestra, in 1918, both of which earned him public praise and recognition.

     Taylor was a friend of the Algonquin Round Table, a group of writers, actors and critics that met almost daily from 1919-1929 at Manhattan’s Algonquin Hotel.  Nat Benchley, author of The Lost Algonquin Roundtable, referred to him as “the dean of American music.”  In 1921 he secured a job as music critic for the New York World, a post he held when approached by the Metropolitan Opera to suggest a composer to write a new opera. He put forth his own name and was accepted.  The result was The King’s Henchman, with the libretto by Edna St. Vincent Millay. Peter Ibbetson followed in 1929.   Taylor’s compositions were met with great initial enthusiasm. The number of Metropolitan Opera performances for The King’s Henchman and Peter Ibbetson is greater than any opera of any other American composer, and he had as many large-scale works published as any of his American-born contemporaries. 

     Taylor’s music is often witty, deftly formed, well-timed, and entertaining. The basic style of even his later works is essentially post-Romantic, resisting any influence of progressive trends except perhaps in orchestration. This conservatism may help to explain why his music was virtually forgotten soon afterward.  However, Taylor was a promoter of classical music throughout his life. Not only did he serve as music critic for the New York World beginning in 1921, he was also editor of Musical America from 1927 to 1929.  Among his friends were composers George Gershwin and Jerome Kern.  In addition, he worked extensively in broadcasting and as intermission commentator for the New York Philharmonic. He appeared in Walt Disney’s 1940 film Fantasia as the film’s Master of Ceremonies, and was instrumental in selecting the musical pieces that were used in the film, including Sacre du Printemps.

     Taylor provided the commentary of the technical story behind the recording of actual cannon fire and carillon for the famous recording by Mercury, in 1954 of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, which is still one of the most highly regarded recordings of that piece. He was also a frequent guest on the radio quiz program Information Please.  Taylor was the first president of ASCAP, and held the post for six years. The ASCAP Deems Taylor Award was established in 1967 to honor his memory as it “recognizes books, articles, broadcasts and websites on the subject of music selected for their excellence.”  He hosted and narrated several television music series and documentaries.  In the early 1950s, he was also a repeat panelist on the game shows, Who Said That? and What’s My Line?   He died on July 3, 1966, in New York City. 

     Taylor’s work as a broadcaster, critic, and commentator ultimately overshadowed his work as a composer.  Today, he is basically remembered for one orchestral work which I have in my collection:

                Through the Looking Glass, Orchestral Suite (1919).

Franz von Suppe and the “Poet and Peasant” Overture

      Franz von Suppé (April 18, 1819 – May 21, 1895) was an Austrian composer of light operas who was born Francesco Ezechiele Ermenegildo Cavaliere di Suppé-Demelli on April 18, 1819, at Split, Dalmatia, then part of the Austrian Empire in what is now Croatia during the time his father was working in this outpost of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  His Belgian ancestors may have emigrated there in the 18th century. His father, a man of Italian and Belgian ancestry,  was a civil servant in the service of the Austrian Empire, as was his father before him; Suppé’s mother was Viennese by birth.  Franz spent his childhood in Zadar, where he had his first music lessons and began to compose at an early age. As a boy he had no encouragement in music from his father, but was helped by a local bandmaster and by the Spalato cathedral choirmaster.  His Missa dalmatica dates from this early period. As a teenager in Cremona, Suppé studied flute and harmony. His first extant composition is a Roman Catholic Mass, which premiered at a Franciscan church in Zadar in 1832.

     At the age of 16, Franz moved to Padua to study law – a field of study not chosen by him – but continued to study music. He was also a singer, making his debut as a basso profundo in the role of Dulcamara in Gaetano Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore at the Sopron Theater in 1842.  Invited to Vienna by Franz Pokorny, the director of the Theater in der Josefstadt, he simplified and Germanized his name, changing “cavaliere di” to “von.”  In Vienna, after studying with Ignaz von Seyfried and Simon Sechter, he conducted in the theater, without pay at first, but with the opportunity to present his own operas there.  Eventually, Suppé wrote music for over a hundred productions at the Theater in der Josefstadt as well as the Carltheater in Leopoldstadt, at the Theater an der Wien. He also put on some landmark opera productions, such as the 1846 production of Giacomo Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots with Jenny Lind.

     Suppe composed about 30 operettas and 180 farces, ballets, and other stage works. Although the bulk of Suppé’s operas have sunk into relative obscurity, the overtures, particularly Dichter und Bauer (Poet and Peasant, 1846) and Leichte Kavallerie (Light Cavalry, 1866), have survived and some of them have been used in all sorts of soundtracks for movies, cartoons, advertisements, and so on, in addition to being frequently played at symphonic “pops” concerts. Two of Suppé’s comic operas,  Boccaccio (1879) and Donna Juanita (1880), were performed at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, but failed to become repertoire works.  Some of Suppé’s operas are still regularly performed in Europe.  After retiring from conducting, Suppé continued to write operas, but shifted his focus to sacred music. He wrote a Requiem for theater director Franz Pokorny, three Masses, songs, symphonies, and concert overtures such as Morning, Noon, and Night in Vienna.   Franz von Suppé died in Vienna on May 21, 1895, and is buried in the Zentralfriedhof.

     Works by von Suppe included in my collection are as follows:

                The Beautiful Galatea: Overture. 

                Boccaccio: March. 

                Fatinitza: Overture. 

                Fortune’s Labyrinth: Overture. 

                Gay Blades: Overture. 

                Jolly Robbers: Overture. 

                The Light Cavalry (1866): Overture. 

                Morning, Noon, and Night in Vienna Overture (1844). 

                Poet and Peasant (1846): Overture. 

                Queen of Spades: Overture.

Arthur S. Sullivan and “H. M. S. Pinafore”

     Sir Arthur Seymour Sullivan (May 13, 1842 –November 22,1900) was an English composer who is best known for his series of fourteen operatta collaborations with the dramatist W. S. Gilbert, including such enduring works as H.M.S. Pinafore, The Pirates of Penzance and The Mikado.   Sullivan was born in Lambeth, London.  His parents were Thomas Sullivan (1805–1866), a military bandmaster, clarinettist and music teacher born in Ireland and raised in Chelsea, London, and Mary Clementina (née Coghlan, 1811–1882), English born, of Irish and Italian descent.  Thomas Sullivan was based from 1845 to 1857 at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, where he was the bandmaster and taught music privately to supplement his income.  Young Sullivan became proficient with many of the instruments in the band and had composed an anthem, “By the waters of Babylon”, by the age of eight.

     Despite the boy’s obvious musical talent, Thomas Sullivan knew the disappointments and insecurity of a musical career, and discouraged him from pursuing it.   While studying at a private school in Bayswater, Sullivan, then aged eleven, persuaded his parents and the headmaster, William Gordon Plees, to allow him to apply for membership in the choir of the Chapel Royal.   He was accepted and soon became a soloist and, by 1856, was promoted to “first boy”.  Sullivan flourished under the training of Thomas Helmore, master of the choristers, and began to compose anthems and songs.   Helmore encouraged the young Sullivan’s composing talent and arranged for one of his pieces, “O Israel”, to be published in 1855, Sullivan’s first published work.

     In 1856, the Royal Academy of Music awarded the first Mendelssohn Scholarship to the 14-year-old Sullivan, granting him a year’s training at the academy.   His principal teacher there was John Goss.  He studied piano with the head of the academy, William Sterndale Bennett.   Sullivan’s scholarship was extended to a second year, and in 1858 the scholarship committee extended his grant for a third year so that he could study in Germany, at the Leipzig Conservatoire.  While there, Sullivan studied composition with Julius Rietz and Carl Reinecke, counterpoint with Moritz Hauptmann and Ernst Richter and the piano with Louis Plaidy and Ignaz Moscheles.  Originally intended to spend a year in Leipzig, Sullivan stayed there for three years.  During his years in Germany, Sullivan became friendly with the impresario Carl Rosa and the violinist Joseph Joachim.  His graduation piece, completed in 1861, was a set of incidental music to Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

     Sullivan embarked on his composing career with a series of ambitious works, interspersed with hymns, parlor songs, and other light pieces in a more commercial vein. His compositions were not enough to support him financially, and from 1861 to 1872 he supplemented his income by working as an organist, which he enjoyed, and as a music teacher, sometimes at the Crystal Palace School.   He had an early chance to compose several pieces for royalty, in connection with the wedding of the Prince of Wales in 1863.  Sullivan’s long association with works for the voice began with The Masque at Kenilworth (Birmingham Festival, 1864).  During a spell as organist at Covent Garden, he composed his first ballet, L’Île Enchantée (1864).  In 1866, he premiered his Irish Symphony and Cello Concerto, his only works in each such genre.  In the same year, his Overture in C (In Memoriam), commemorating the recent death of his father, was a commission from the Norwich Festival. In 1867, his overture Marmion was premiered by the Philharmonic Society.

     Sullivan’s first attempt at opera, The Sapphire Necklace (1863–64) to a libretto by Henry F. Chorley, was not produced and is now lost, except for the overture and two songs from the work, which were separately published.   His first surviving opera, Cox and Box (1866), was originally written for a private performance.  This first Sullivan-Burnand collaboration led to a commission by Thomas German Reed for a two-act opera, The Contrabandista (1867; revised and expanded as The Chieftain in 1894.   Sullivan wrote a group of seven part songs in 1868, the best-known of which is “The Long Day Closes”.  His last major work of the 1860s was a short oratorio, The Prodigal Son, premiered in Worcester Cathedral as part of the 1869 Three Choirs Festival.

     Sullivan’s most successful orchestral work, the Overture di Ballo, was composed for the Birmingham Festival in 1870.   1871 was a busy year for Sullivan. He published his only song cycle, The Window; or, The Songs of the Wrens (1871), to words by Tennyson.   In the same year, he wrote the first of a series of suites of incidental music for West End productions of Shakespeare plays.   Still in 1871, Sullivan composed a dramatic cantata, On Shore and Sea, for the opening of the London International Exhibition and the hymn tune for “Onward, Christian Soldiers,” with words by Sabine Baring-Gould.   At the end of 1871, the impresario John Hollingshead commissioned Sullivan to work with W. S. Gilbert to create the burlesque-style comic opera Thespis for the Gaiety Theatre.  After Thespis, Gilbert and Sullivan went their separate ways until they collaborated on three parlour ballads in late 1874 and early 1875.

     Sullivan’s large-scale works of the early 1870s were the Festival Te Deum (Crystal Palace, 1872); and the oratorio, The Light of the World (Birmingham Festival, 1873).   He provided suites of incidental music for a production of The Merry Wives of Windsor at the Gaiety in 1874 and Henry VIII at the Theatre Royal, Manchester in 1877.  In 1875, the manager of the Royalty Theatre, Richard D’Oyly Carte, needed a short piece to fill out a bill with Offenbach’s La Périchole.  Remembering Thespis, Carte reunited Gilbert and Sullivan, and the result was the one-act comic opera Trial by Jury.  Soon after its opening, Sullivan wrote The Zoo, another one-act comic opera, with a libretto by B. C. Stephenson.   But for the next fifteen years, Sullivan’s sole operatic collaborator was Gilbert; the two created an additional twelve operas together.

     Sullivan also turned out more than 80 popular songs and parlor ballads, most of them written before the end of the 1870s.   His first popular song was “Orpheus with his Lute” (1866).  The best known of his songs is “The Lost Chord” (1877, lyrics by Adelaide Anne Procter), written in sorrow at the death of his brother Frederic.  In this decade, Sullivan’s conducting appointments included the Glasgow Choral Union concerts, 1875–77 and the Royal Aquarium, London, 1876.   In addition to his appointment as Professor of Composition at the Royal Academy of Music, of which he was a Fellow, he was appointed as the first Principal of the National Training School for Music in 1876.   Sullivan’s next collaboration with Gilbert, The Sorcerer (1877), ran for 178 performances, a success by the standards of the day, but H.M.S. Pinafore (1878), which followed it, turned Gilbert and Sullivan into an international phenomenon.  This was followed by The Pirates of Penzance in 1879, another international success.

     In 1880, Sullivan was appointed director of the triennial Leeds Music Festival.   For his first festival he was commissioned to write a sacred choral work. He chose Henry Hart Milman’s 1822 dramatic poem based on the life and death of Saint Margaret the Virgin for its basis.   Gilbert adapted the libretto for Sullivan, abridging it, rearranging sections, reassigning lines, and making a few additions of his own.  The Martyr of Antioch premiered in October 1880.  D’Oyly Carte opened the next Gilbert and Sullivan piece, Patience, in April 1881 at London’s Opera Comique, where their past three operas had played, but in October, it transferred to the new, larger, state-of-the-art Savoy Theatre, built with the profits of the previous Gilbert and Sullivan works. The rest of the partnership’s collaborations were produced at the Savoy, as a result of which they are widely known as the “Savoy Operas”.   Iolanthe (1882), Gilbert and Sullivan’s fourth hit in a row, was the first of the operas to premiere at the new theatre.

     On  May 22, 1883, Sullivan was knighted by Queen Victoria.  The next opera, Princess Ida (1884, the duo’s only three-act, blank verse work), had a noticeably shorter run than its four predecessors, although Sullivan’s score was praised.   Gilbert had already started work on a new opera. The result was Gilbert and Sullivan’s most successful work, The Mikado (1885).   In 1886, Sullivan composed his second and last large-scale choral work of the decade. It was a cantata for the Leeds Festival, The Golden Legend, based on Longfellow’s poem of the same name.   Ruddigore followed The Mikado at the Savoy in 1887.   Gilbert finally proposed a comparatively serious opera, to which Sullivan agreed.  Although it was not a grand opera, The Yeomen of the Guard (1888) provided him with the opportunity to compose his most ambitious stage work to date.  After this, Sullivan turned once again to Shakespeare, composing incidental music for Henry Irving’s production of Macbeth (1888).

     Sullivan commissioned a grand opera libretto from Julian Sturgis (who was recommended by Gilbert), while suggesting to Gilbert that he revive an old idea for an opera set in colorful Venice.   The comic opera was completed first: The Gondoliers (1889).  It was the last great Gilbert and Sullivan success.  The relationship between Gilbert and Sullivan suffered its most serious breach in April 1890.   Sullivan’s only grand opera, Ivanhoe, based on Walter Scott’s novel, opened at D’Oyly Carte’s new Royal English Opera House on January 31, 1891. Later in 1891, Sullivan composed music for Tennyson’s The Foresters.  Sullivan returned to comic opera, but because of the fracture with Gilbert, he and D’Oyly Carte sought other collaborators. Sullivan’s next piece was Haddon Hall (1892), with a libretto by Sydney Grundy.  In 1895, Sullivan once more provided incidental music for the Lyceum, this time for J. Comyns Carr’s King Arthur.

     The partnership with Gilbert had been so profitable that D’Oyly Carte sought to reunite the author and composer.  Their next opera was Utopia Limited (1893).  Gilbert and Sullivan reunited one more time for The Grand Duke (1896).   In May 1897, Sullivan’s full-length ballet, Victoria and Merrie England, opened at the Alhambra Theatre to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.  The Beauty Stone (1898), with a libretto by Arthur Wing Pinero and J. Comyns Carr was based on mediaeval morality plays.   In 1899, to benefit “the wives and children of soldiers and sailors” on active service in the Boer War, Sullivan composed the music of a song, “The Absent-Minded Beggar”, to a text by Rudyard Kipling, which became an instant sensation.   In The Rose of Persia (1899), Sullivan returned to his comic roots, writing to a libretto by Basil Hood.   Another opera with Hood, The Emerald Isle, quickly went into preparation, but Sullivan died before it could be completed.  Having suffered from long-standing recurrent kidney disease that made it necessary, from the 1880s, for him to conduct sitting down, Sullivan died of heart failure, following an attack of bronchitis, at his flat in London on November 22.  1900.  The Emerald Isle was completed by Edward German and produced in 1901.  Sullivan’s Te Deum Laudamus, written to commemorate the end of the Boer War, was performed posthumously.

     Sullivan never married but was devoted to his parents and family, particularly his mother, with whom he corresponded regularly when away from London, until her death in 1882.   In all, Sullivan’s artistic output included 23 operas, 13 major orchestral works, eight choral works and oratorios, two ballets, one song cycle, incidental music to several plays, numerous hymns and other church pieces, and a large body of songs, parlor ballads, part songs, carols, and piano and chamber pieces.

     My collection includes the following works by Sullivan:

                Cox and Box: Overture. 

                The Gondoliers (1889): Overture and  Selections.  

                The Grand Duke: Overture. 

                HMS Pinafore (1878): Overture and Highlights. 

                Iolanthe (1882): Overture. 

                Macbeth (1888): Overture. 

                The Mikado (1885): Overture and Selections. 

                Overture di Ballo (1870). 

                Patience (1881): Overture. 

                The Pirates of Penzance (1879): Overture and Highlights. 

                Princess Ida: Overture. 

                Ruddigore: Overture. 

                The Sorcerer: Overture. 

                The Yeomen of the Guard (1888): Overture and Selections.

Josef Suk and the Serenade in E-flat Major

Josef Suk (January 4, 1874 –May 29, 1935) was a Czech composer and violinist.  Suk was taught organ, violin, and piano by his father, also named Josef Suk.  Though he did not start composing until 1891, he was trained further in violin by the Czech violinist Antonín Bennewitz, and his theory studies were conducted with several others including composers Josef Bohuslav Foerster, Karel Knittl, and Karel Stecker. He later focused his writing on chamber works under the teachings of Hanuš Wihan.  Though continuing his lessons with Wihan another year after his schooling was complete, one of Josef Suk’s largest inspirations was another one of his teachers, the very well-known Czech composer: Antonín Dvořák.

Suk was known as one of Dvořák’s favorite pupils, and the two became very close.  This was the result of Dvořák’s respect for Suk’s talent and expertise, and the fact that Suk  married Dvořák’s daughter, Otilie. This marked some of Suk’s happier times in his life and music.   Suk, alongside Vitezslav Novak and Otakar Ostrčil, was considered to be one of the leading composers in Czech Modernism, with much of this influence coming from Dvořák. Popular composers, such as Johannes Brahms and Eduard Hanslick, recognized Suk’s work during his time with the Czech Quartet.  Over time, other well-known Austrian composers, like Gustav Mahler and Alban Berg, also began to take notice of Suk.  Although he wrote mostly instrumental music, Suk occasionally branched out into other genres, but his orchestral music was his strong suit, the best known of which is probably the Serenade for Strings, Op. 6 (1892)

Suk’s musical style started off with a very heavy emphasis on what he experienced during his time with Dvořák.   However, the last portion of Suk’s life was stricken with tragedy, and the biggest change of Suk’s style came after a “dead end” in his musical life during 1897-1905.  Over the span of 14 months around 1905, not only did Suk’s mentor, Dvořák, die, but so did Otilie. These events inspired one of Suk’s greatest works, the Asrael Symphony.   Other works include Ripening, a symphonic poem (1917); the music he set to Julius Zeyer’s drama Radúz a Mahulena; Pohádka (‘Fairy Tale’); and music he wrote for the play Pod jabloní or ‘Beneath the Apple Tree’.  Suk retired in 1933.   His grandson, also named Josef Suk (1929–2011), was a Czech violinist and conductor.

Josef Suk is considered an obscure composer and his compositions are generally overshadowed by other major post-romantic composers, but though his name may still be unknown by many, he is not undeserving of recognition.  The only work by Suk included in my collection is:

Serenade in EbM, op. 6 (1892).

 

Igor Stravinsky and “The Rite of Spring”

Igor Fyodorovich Stravinsky (June 17, 1882 –April 6, 1971) was a Russian, composer, pianist and conductor who is widely considered to be one of the most important and influential composers of the twentieth century due to the fact that his compositional career was notable for its stylistic diversity.  Stravinsky was born on June 17, 1882 in the Russian resort town of Oranienbaum and was brought up in Saint Petersburg.  His parents were Fyodor Stravinsky, a bass singer at the Mariinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg, and Anna (née Kholodovsky).  Stravinsky began piano lessons as a young boy, studying music theory and attempting composition. In 1890, he saw a performance of Tchaikovsky’s ballet The Sleeping Beauty at the Mariinsky Theatre. By age fifteen, he had mastered Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto in G minor and finished a piano reduction of a string quartet by Glazunov.

Despite his enthusiasm for music, his parents expected Igor to become a lawyer. Stravinsky enrolled to study law at the University of Saint Petersburg in 1901, but he attended fewer than fifty class sessions during his four years of study.  In the summer of 1902 Stravinsky stayed with the composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and his family in the German city of Heidelberg, where Rimsky-Korsakov, arguably the leading Russian composer at that time, suggested to Stravinsky that he should not enter the Saint Petersburg Conservatoire, but instead study composing by taking private lessons, in large part because of his age.  Stravinsky’s father died of cancer that year, by which time his son had already begun spending more time on his musical studies than on law.  Thereafter, he concentrated on studying music. In 1905, he began to take twice-weekly private lessons from Rimsky-Korsakov, whom he came to regard as a second father, and continued the lessons until Rimsky-Korsakov’s death in 1908.

Also in 1905 Stravinsky was betrothed to Yekaterina Gabrielovna Nossenko, whom he had known since early childhood.   The couple married on January 23, 1906: their first two children, Fyodor (Theodore) and Ludmila, were born in 1907 and 1908, respectively.  In February 1909, two orchestral works, the Scherzo fantastique and Feu d’artifice (Fireworks) were performed at a concert in Saint Petersburg, where they were heard by Sergei Diaghilev, who was at that time involved in planning to present Russian opera and ballet in Paris. Diaghilev was sufficiently impressed by Fireworks to commission Stravinsky to carry out some orchestrations and then to compose a full-length ballet score, The Firebird.  Stravinsky traveled to Paris in 1910 to attend the final rehearsals and the premiere of The Firebird. His family joined him before the end of the ballet season that year and they decided to remain in the West for a time, as his wife was expecting their third child. They moved to Switzerland, living in Clarens, and later Lausanne where, on September 23, 1910, their second son Sviatoslav Soulima was born.  A fourth child, Maria Milena, was born in 1913. While pregnant with Maria Milena, Yekaterina was found to have tuberculosis and was placed in a Swiss sanatorium in Leysin for her confinement.

Over the next four years, Stravinsky and his family lived in Russia during the summer months and spent each winter in Switzerland, which became a second home to them.   During this period, Stravinsky composed three further works for the Ballets Russes—Petrushka, a ballet in four scenes (1911), the two-part ballet The Rite of Spring (1913) and his ‘ballet with song’ in one act, Pulcinella (1920).   He briefly travelled to Russia in July 1914 to collect research materials for his dance cantata Les noces (The Wedding, 1923) before returning to Switzerland, just before the national borders closed following the outbreak of World War I. He was not to return to his homeland for almost half a century.   The family struggled financially during this period.  He approached the Swiss philanthropist Werner Reinhart for financial assistance during the time he was writing Histoire du soldat (The Soldier’s Tale, 1918).  Stravinsky was considered a family man and devoted to his children.  He was also a devout member of the Russian Orthodox Church during most of his life, remarking at one time that, “Music praises God. Music is well or better able to praise him than the building of the church and all its decoration.”

Stravinsky’s career as a composer may be divided roughly into three stylistic periods.  The Russian period was from c. 1908 to 1919.  Other pieces from the Russian period include: Le Rossignol (The Nightingale) and Renard (1916).  Stravinsky moved with his family to France in 1920.   He formed a business and musical relationship with the French piano manufacturing company Pleyel and agreed to compose works for the Pleyela, Pleyel’s brand of player piano.  Among the compositions that were issued on the Pleyela piano rolls is Song of the Nightingale.  The next phase of Stravinsky’s compositional style extends from the opera Mavra (1921–22), which is regarded as the start of his neo-classical period, until 1952, when he turned to serialism.

Other Stravinsky works from this period include Oedipus Rex (1927), Apollon musagète (1928), Persephone (1933), the Dumbarton Oaks Concerto (1937–38), Orpheus (1947), and the three symphonies– the Symphonie des Psaumes (Symphony of Psalms, 1930), Symphony in C (1940) and the Symphony in Three Movements (1945). In 1951, he completed his last neo-classical work, the opera The Rake’s Progress.  After living near Paris for a short while, the Stravinsky family moved to the south of France, becoming French citizens in 1934 and returning to Paris that year, to live at the rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré.   His wife’s tuberculosis infected both himself and his eldest daughter Ludmila, who died in 1938. Yekaterina, to whom he had been married for 33 years, died of tuberculosis a year later in 1939. During his later years in Paris, Stravinsky was already working on his Symphony in C.  A few months after World War II broke out in September of 1939, Stravinsky moved to the United States and married Vera de Bosset in Bedford, MA, on March 9, 1940.   Stravinsky settled in West Hollywood and spent more time living in Los Angeles than any other city.  He became a naturalized United States citizen in 1945.

In the 1950s, Stravinsky began using serial compositional techniques such as dodecaphony, the twelve-tone technique originally devised by Arnold Schoenberg.  Works from this period include such as the Cantata (1952), the Septet (1953), Three Songs from Shakespeare (1953), In Memoriam Dylan Thomas (1954), Agon (1954–57), Canticum Sacrum (1955), Threni (1958),  A Sermon, a Narrative, and a Prayer (1961), and The Flood (1962).  Stravinsky was on the lot of Paramount Pictures during the recording of his musical score to the 1956 film The Court Jester.  His professional life encompassed most of the twentieth century, including many of its modern classical music styles, and he influenced composers both during and after his lifetime. In 1959, he was awarded the Sonning Award, Denmark’s highest musical honour. In 1962, he accepted an invitation to return to Leningrad for a series of concerts. During his stay in the USSR, he visited Moscow and met several leading Soviet composers, including Dmitri Shostakovich and Aram Khachaturian.  In 1969, Stravinsky moved to the Essex House in New York, where he lived until his death in 1971 at age 88 of heart failure.

Works by Stravinsky that are found in my collection include the following:

The Firebird (1910): Suite No. 2 (1919).

Petrouchka, Burlesque in four pictures (1911).

The Rite of Spring (1913).

Symphony in 3 Movements.

Violin Concerto in DM: Capriccio.