Anton Arensky and the Variations on a Theme of Tchaikovsky

arensky
Anton Stepanovich Arensky (July 12,1861–February 25, 1906), was a Russian composer of Romantic classical music, a pianist and a professor of music who was born at Novgorod, Russia, in 1861 to a pair of devoted amateur musicians under whose guidance he began his training. He was musically precocious and had composed a number of songs and piano pieces by the age of nine. With his mother and father, he moved to Saint Petersburg in 1879. After private studies in piano and composition with Zikke in St. Petersburg, Arensky entered that city’s conservatory in 1879, where he studied composition taking lessons from Rimsky-Korsakov.

Arensky scored consistently high marks with conservatory faculty during his three years as a student, eventually graduating with a gold medal. Upon the completion of his studies and graduating from the Saint Petersburg Conservatory in 1882, Arensky became became a professor at the Moscow Conservatory, one of the youngest professors ever hired by the Conservatory. Among his students there were such future luminaries as Alexander Scriabin, Sergei Rachmaninoff and Alexander Gretchaninov. His influence as a teacher has earned him a place of distinction in the history of Russian music.

Arensky’s years at Moscow were fruitful. Between 1882 and his resignation from the Conservatory’s faculty in 1895 he completed most of his larger works, including the early Piano Concerto of 1882 and both Symphonies: B minor 1883; A major 1889. In 1891 his first opera, Son na Volge (A Dream on the Volga) — which he had worked on intermittently since his student days — was successfully premiered in Moscow. His next operatic endeavor, however, fared rather worse than the first; Rafael was an immediate failure at its 1894 premiere.

Having served as director of the Russian Choral Society from 1888 to 1895 during his Moscow days, Arensky returned to his home city of Saint Petersburg in 1895 as the director of the Imperial Chapel Choir, a post for which he had been recommended by his predecessor there, composer Mily Balakirev. Save for occasional national and international tours, he remained there for the rest of his life. By the mid-1890s Arensky’s somewhat diminished stature as a composer was replaced by an increased public awareness of his gifts at the keyboard and on the podium. Arensky retired in 1901 from his position at the imperial chapel to pursue a fuller schedule of conducting and performing appearances, spending his remaining time as a pianist, conductor, and composer.

Little known today, Anton Arensky was one of the brightest stars of the late nineteenth century Russian music scene. He was essentially a miniaturist, and his finest music is to be found in the shorter works for solo piano and his melodious songs (which seem to have influenced Rachmaninov’s conception of Russian song). Arensky was perhaps at his best in chamber music, in which he wrote two string quartets, two piano trios, and a piano quintet.

Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky was the greatest influence on Arensky’s musical compositions. Especially popular are the Variations on a Theme of Tchaikovsky for string orchestra, Op. 35a, based on one of Tchaikovsky’s Songs for Children, Op. 54. Save for this, little of Arensky’s substantial output has maintained a place on contemporary concert programs. After decades of hard living and overindulgence, Arensky succumbed to tuberculosis and was sent to a sanatorium in Perkjärvi, Finland. It is alleged that drinking and gambling undermined his health and brought about his untimely death in 1906 at Terioki, Russia.

My collection contains one work by Arensky:

Variations on a Theme of Tchaikovsky, op. 35a.

Carl W. Stalling and A Corny Concerto

carl-w.-stalling
Carl W. Stalling (November 10, 1891—November 29, 1972) was an American composer and arranger for music in animated films who is most closely associated with the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies shorts produced by Warner Bros., where he averaged one complete score each week, for 22 years. Stalling was born to Ernest and Sophia C. Stalling. His parents were from Germany, his father arriving in the United States in 1883. The family settled in Lexington, Missouri where his father was a carpenter and Carl was born. Carl started playing piano at six. By the age of 12, he was the principal piano accompanist in his hometown’s silent movie house. For a short period, he was also the theatre organist at the St. Louis Theatre, which eventually became Powell Symphony Hall.

By the time he was in his early 20s, Stalling was conducting his own orchestra and improvising on the organ at the Isis Movie Theatre in Kansas City. During that time, he met and befriended a young Walt Disney who was producing animated comedy shorts in Kansas City. Stalling composed several early cartoon scores for Walt Disney, including Plane Crazy and The Gallopin’ Gaucho in 1928. Early discussions with Disney about whether the animation or the musical score should come first led to Disney creating the Silly Symphonies series of cartoons. These cartoons allowed Stalling to create a score that Disney handed to his animators. While there, Stalling pioneered the use of “bar sheets,” which allowed musical rhythms to be sketched out simultaneously with storyboards for the animation.

Stalling left Disney after two years, at the same time as animator Ub Iwerks. Finding few outlets in New York, Stalling rejoined Iwerks at his studio in California, while freelancing for Disney and others. In 1936, when Leon Schlesinger—under contract to produce animated shorts for Warner Bros.—hired Iwerks, Stalling went with him to become a full-time cartoon music composer, with full access to the expansive Warner Bros. catalog and musicians. He remained with Warner Bros. until he retired in 1958. His last cartoon was To Itch His Own, directed by Chuck Jones. Although Stalling’s composing technique followed the conventions of music accompaniment from the silent film era that were based on improvisation and compilation of musical cues from catalogs and cue-sheets, he was also an innovator.

Stalling is among the first music directors to extensively use the metronome to time film scores. He was one of three composers, along with Max Steiner and Scott Bradley, credited with the invention of the click track, a series of audio cues used to synchronize sound recordings, sometimes for synchronization to a moving image. His stock-in-trade was the “musical pun,” where he used references to popular songs, or even classical pieces, to add a dimension of humor to the action on the screen. Working with legendary directors Tex Avery, Bob Clampett, Friz Freleng, Robert McKimson, and Chuck Jones, he developed the “Looney Tunes” style of very rapid and tightly coordinated musical cues, punctuated with both instrumental and recorded sound effects, and occasionally reaching into full blown musical fantasies such as The Rabbit of Seville and A Corny Concerto.

Stalling was a master at quickly changing musical styles based on the action in the cartoon. His arrangements were complicated and technically demanding. The music itself served both as a background for the cartoon, and provided musical sound effects. The titles of the music often described the action, sometimes forming jokes for those familiar with the tunes. Stalling made extensive use of the many works of Raymond Scott, whose music was licensed by Warner Bros. in the early 1940s. Jones and the other Looney Tunes directors sometimes complained about Stalling’s proclivity for musical quotation and punning. In an interview, Jones complained: Nevertheless, Stalling is remembered today for setting music to cartoons that remain popular, and are often remembered for their musicality. His scores are heard constantly, both in re-runs of classic cartoons, and recycled in new Looney Tunes compilations and features such as Looney Tunes: Back in Action.

Noted film critic Leonard Maltin, on one of the special segments of the DVD series Looney Tunes Golden Collection, pointed out that listening to the soundtracks of the Warner cartoons was an important part of his musical education; and the use of the full Warner Bros. Orchestra resulted in a richness of sound that is often lacking in more modern cartoons. It is undeniable that Stalling subtly introduced the babyboom generation to classical music and much of the Great American Songbook. After Stalling retired in 1958, he was succeeded by Milt Franklyn, who had assisted Stalling as an arranger since the late 1930s. Stalling died on November 29, 1972, near Los Angeles. One recording that included some of Stalling’s arrangements is Bugs Bunny on Broadway, a Broadway Cast Album conducted by George Daugherty for Warner Bros. in 1990.

My collection includes the following arrangements by Stalling:

A Corny Concerto, after Strauss and Tchaikovsky.
Jumpin’ Jupiter.
Long Haired Hare, after Wagner, Donizetti, Rossini, and Von Suppe, among others.
The Rabbit of Seville, after Gioacchino Rossini.
What’s Up Doc?

Anton Bruckner and his Fourth Symphony, the “Romantic”

Bruckner_Anton
Anton Bruckner (September 4, 1824–October 11, 1896) was an Austrian composer known for his symphonies, masses, and motets. Bruckner was born in Ansfelden, then a village, now a suburb of Linz, Austria, on September 4, 1824. The ancestors of Bruckner’s family were farmers and craftsmen. Bruckner’s grandfather had gained the schoolmaster position in Ansfelden in 1776; this position was inherited by Bruckner’s father, Anton Bruckner senior in 1823. Music belonged to the school curriculum, and Bruckner’s father was his first music teacher. Bruckner learned to play the organ early as a child. He entered school when he was six, proved to be a hard-working student, and was promoted to upper class early. While studying, Bruckner also helped his father in teaching the other children. After Bruckner received his confirmation in 1833, Bruckner’s father sent him to another school in Hörsching. The schoolmaster, Johann Baptist Weiß, was a music enthusiast and respected organist. Here, Bruckner completed his school education and learned to play the organ excellently. He also wrote his first composition, Vier Präludien in Es-Dur für Orgel for the organ. When his father became ill, Anton returned to Ansfelden to help him in his work.

Bruckner’s father died in 1837, when Bruckner was 13 years old. The teacher’s position and house were given to a successor, and Bruckner was sent to the Augustinian monastery in St. Florian to become a choirboy. In addition to choir practice, his education included violin and organ lessons. Bruckner was in awe of the monastery’s great organ, which was built during the late baroque era and rebuilt in 1837. Despite his musical abilities, Bruckner’s mother sent her son to a teacher seminar in Linz. After completing the seminar with an excellent grade, he was sent as a teacher’s assistant to a school in Windhaag. Prelate Michael Arneth noticed Bruckner’s bad situation in Windhaag and awarded him a teacher’s assistant position in St. Florian, sending him to Kronstorf an der Enns for two years. Compared to the few works he wrote in Windhaag, the Kronstorf compositions from 1843–1845 show a significantly improved artistic ability. Among the Kronstorf works is the vocal piece Asperges (WAB 4).

After the Kronstorf period, Bruckner returned to St Florian in 1845, where, for the next 10 years, he would work as a teacher and an organist. In May 1845, Bruckner passed an examination, which allowed him to begin work as an assistant teacher in one of the village schools of St. Florian. He continued to improve his education by taking further courses, passing an examination giving him the permission to also teach in higher education institutes, receiving the grade “very good” in all disciplines. In 1848 he was appointed an organist in St. Florian and in 1851 this was made a regular position. In 1855, Bruckner, aspiring to become a student of the famous Vienna music theorist Simon Sechter, showed the master his Missa solemnis (WAB 29), written a year earlier, and was accepted. The education, which included skills in music theory and counterpoint among others, took place mostly via correspondence, but also included long in-person sessions in Vienna. Sechter’s teaching would have a profound influence on Bruckner. Later, when Bruckner began teaching music himself, he would base his curriculum on Sechter’s book Die Grundsätze der musikalischen Komposition (Leipzig 1853/54).

In 1861, Bruckner studied further with Otto Kitzler, who was nine years younger than him and who introduced him to the music of Richard Wagner, which Bruckner studied extensively from 1863 onwards. Bruckner considered the earliest orchestral works, the three orchestral pieces, the March in D minor, and the Overture in G minor, which he composed in 1862-1863, to be mere school exercises, done under the supervision of Otto Kitzler. He continued his studies to the age of 40. Broad fame and acceptance did not come until he was over 60. A devout Catholic, Bruckner had already made the acquaintance of Franz Liszt who, like Bruckner, had a strong, Catholic religious faith and who first and foremost was a harmonic innovator, initiating the new German school together with Wagner. Soon after Bruckner had ended his studies under Sechter and Kitzler, he wrote his first mature work, the Mass in D Minor. In 1868, after Sechter had died, Bruckner hesitantly accepted Sechter’s post as a teacher of music theory at the Vienna Conservatory, during which time he concentrated most of his energy on writing symphonies. These symphonies, however, were poorly received, at times considered “wild” and “nonsensical”. He later accepted a post at the Vienna University in 1875, where he tried to make music theory a part of the curriculum.

In addition to his symphonies, Bruckner wrote masses, motets and other sacred choral works, and a few chamber works, including a string quintet. Unlike his romantic symphonies, some of Bruckner’s choral works are often conservative and contrapuntal in style; however, the Te Deum, Helgoland, Psalm 150 and at least one Mass demonstrate innovative and radical uses of chromaticism. Bruckner was a renowned organist in his day, impressing audiences in France in 1869, and England in 1871, giving six recitals on a new Henry Willis organ at Royal Albert Hall in London and five more at the Crystal Palace. Though he wrote no major works for the organ, his improvisation sessions sometimes yielded ideas for the symphonies. He taught organ performance at the Conservatory; among his students were Hans Rott and Franz Schmidt. Gustav Mahler, who called Bruckner his “forerunner”, attended the conservatory at this time. Bruckner was a lifelong bachelor who made numerous unsuccessful marriage proposals. One such was the daughter of a friend, called Louise; in his grief he is believed to have written the cantata “Entsagen” (Renunciation). In July 1886, the Emperor decorated him with the Order of Franz Joseph. Bruckner died in Vienna in 1896 at the age of 72. He is buried in the crypt of St. Florian monastery church, right below his favorite organ.

Bruckner’s nine symphonies are all in four movements, though he was unable to complete the finale of the Ninth). He also wrote an early Study Symphony in F Major which is occasionally listed as Symphony No. 00. The Symphony No. 2 in C minor of 1872 was revised in 1873, 1876, 1877 and 1892. It is sometimes called the Symphony of Pauses for its dramatic use of whole-orchestra rests, which accentuate the form of the piece. Bruckner’s first great success was his Symphony No. 4 in E flat major, more commonly known as the Romantic Symphony, the only epithet applied to a symphony by the composer himself. The final accomplishment of Bruckner’s life was to be his Symphony No. 9 in D minor which he started in August 1887, and which he dedicated “To God the Beloved.” The first three movements were completed by the end of 1894, the Adagio alone taking 18 months to complete. Bruckner suggested using his Te Deum as a Finale, which would complete the homage to Beethoven’s Ninth symphony (also in D minor).

Bruckner was a devoutly religious man, and composed numerous sacred works. He wrote a Te Deum, settings of five Psalms (including Psalm 150 in the 1890s), about forty motets (among them three settings of both Christus factus est pro nobis and Ave Maria), and at least seven Masses. His Requiem in D minor of 1849 is the earliest work Bruckner himself considered worthy of preservation. As a young man Bruckner sang in men’s choirs and wrote music for them. Bruckner’s secular choral music was mostly written for choral societies. The Overture in G minor of 1862 (revised in 1863) is occasionally included in recordings of the symphonies. A String Quartet in C minor Bruckner composed in 1862 was discovered decades after Bruckner’s death. The later String Quintet in F Major of 1879, contemporaneous with the Fifth and Sixth symphonies, has been frequently performed. Bruckner also wrote Lancer-Quadrille (c. 1850) and a few other small works for piano. Most of this music was written for teaching purposes. Bruckner never wrote an opera, though he thought about writing an opera called Astra based on a novel by Gertrud Bollé-Hellmund.

The following works by Bruckner are contained in my collection:

Symphony No. 2 in cm.
Symphony No. 4 in EbM, “Romantic.”
Symphony No. 9 in dm, “Dem Lieben Gott.”

Max Bruch and his Violin Concerto No. 1

Max_bruch
Max Christian Friedrich Bruch (January 6, 1838–October 2, 1920), also known as Max Karl August Bruch, was a German Romantic composer and conductor who wrote over 200 works, including three violin concertos, the first of which has become a staple of the violin repertory. Bruch was born in Cologne, Rhine Province, where he received his early musical training under the composer and pianist Ferdinand Hiller, to whom Robert Schumann dedicated his piano concerto in A minor. Bohemian composer and piano virtuoso Ignaz Moscheles recognized his aptitude. Bruch had a long career as a teacher, conductor and composer, moving among musical posts in Germany: Mannheim (1862–1864), Koblenz (1865–1867), Sondershausen, (1867–1870), Berlin (1870–1872), and Bonn, where he spent 1873–78 working privately.

Bruch’s complex and well-structured works, in the German Romantic musical tradition, placed him in the camp of Romantic classicism exemplified by Johannes Brahms, rather than the opposing “New Music” of Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner. In his time he was known primarily as a choral composer. He wrote many pieces in the chamber music tradition, of which his Septet in E-flat major (1849) is noteworthy. His Violin Concerto No. 1, in G minor, Op. 26 (1866) is one of the most popular Romantic violin concertos. It uses several techniques from Felix Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor. These include the linking of movements, as well as omitting the Classical opening orchestral exposition and other conservative formal structural devices of earlier concertos.

Other works by Bruch include more two concerti for violin and orchestra, No. 2 in D minor (1878) and No. 3 in D minor (1891),and a lovely and melodic Concerto for Clarinet, Viola and Orchestra, along with many more pieces for violin, viola or cello and orchestra. His three symphonies, while devoid of originality in form or structure, still contain distinctive German Romantic melodic writing effectively orchestrated. Two other works of Bruch which are still widely played were also written for solo string instrument with orchestra. One is the Scottish Fantasy for violin and orchestra in E flat major, Op. 46 (Berlin, 1880), which includes arrangement of the tune “Hey Tuttie Tatie.” The other is Kol Nidrei for cello and orchestra, Op. 47 (Berlin, 1881), subtitled “Adagio on Hebrew Melodies for Violoncello and Orchestra,” which starts and ends with the solo cello’s setting of the Hebrew incantation Kol Nidre which begins the Jewish Yom Kippur service.

At the height of Bruch’s career he spent three seasons as conductor of the Liverpool Philharmonic Society (1880–83). His two string quartets, No. 1 in C minor, Op. 9, and No. 2 in E major, Op. 10, were written while conductor of the Liverpool Philharmonic Society. There he met his wife, Clara Tuczek. He taught composition at the Berlin Hochschule für Musik from 1890 until his retirement in 1910. In the realm of chamber music, Bruch is not as well known, although he is remembered for his “Eight Pieces for Clarinet, Viola and Piano,” Op. 83 (1910), that became part of the popular repertory due to the rare combination of instruments. To this triple output he added three orchestral suites in later life, Suite No. 1 on Russian Themes, Op. 79b (Berlin, 1903), Suite No. 2 on Swedish themes (Berlin, 1906), and Suite No. 3 for Orchestra and organ (Berlin, 1904-1915).

Violinists Joseph Joachim and Willy Hess advised Bruch on his writing for that instrument, and Hess premiered some of his works including the Concert Piece for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 84, which was composed for him. The Concerto in A-flat minor for Two Pianos and Orchestra, Op. 88a, was finished in 1912 for the American duo Sutro pianists Rose and Ottilie Sutro. Towards the end of his life, in 1918, he once more considered smaller ensembles with the composition of two string quintets, of which one served as the basis for a string octet, written in 1920 for four violins, two violas, cello and a double bass . Bruch died in his house in Berlin-Friedenau in 1920.

My collection includes the following works by Bruch:

Adagio after Celtic Themes in em, op. 56.
Ave Maria after a theme from the dramatic cantata “Das Feuerkreuz” (op. 52) for violincello and orchestra, op. 61.
Canzone in BM for Violincello and Orchestra, op. 55.
Double Concerto for Clarinet, Viola, and Orchestra, op. 88.
Kol Nidrei: Adagio for Violincello, Harp, and Orchestra after Hebrew Melodies, op. 47 (1880).
Scottish Fantasy for Violin with Orchestra and Harp, op. 46 (Fantasia for the Violin and Orchestra with Harp, freely using Scottish Folk Melodies, 1880).
Violin Concerto No. 1 in gm, op. 26 (1864).

Benjamin Britten and the Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Henry Purcell

britten
Edward Benjamin Britten (November 22, 1913–December 4. 1976) was an English composer, conductor, and pianist who was a central figure of 20th-century British classical music, and wrote music in many genres. Britten was born in the fishing port of Lowestoft in Suffolk, on the east coast of England, the youngest of the four children of Robert Victor Britten (1878–1934) and his wife Edith Rhoda, née Hockley (1874–1937). Edith Britten was a talented amateur musician and secretary of the Lowestoft Musical Society, and music was the principal means by which sge strove to maintain the family’s social standing, inviting the pillars of the local community to musical soirées at the house. When Britten was three months old he contracted pneumonia, from which he nearly died. The illness left him with a damaged heart. Doctors warned his parents that he would probably never be able to lead a normal life, but he recovered more fully than expected, and as a boy was a keen tennis player and cricketer.

To Edith Britten’s great delight Benjamin was an outstandingly musical child, unlike his sisters, who inherited their father’s indifference to music, or his brother, who was musically talented but interested in ragtime rather than serious music. Edith gave the young Britten his first lessons in piano and notation. He made his first attempts at composition when he was five. He started piano lessons when he was seven years old, and viola lessons at the age of ten. When he was seven Britten was sent to a dame school, run by the Misses Astle. The younger sister, Ethel, gave him piano lessons. The following year he moved on to his prep school, South Lodge, Lowestoft, as a day boy. The school had no musical tradition, and Britten continued to study the piano with Ethel Astle, and from the age of ten he took viola lessons from a friend of Ethel Britten’s, Audrey Alston, who had been a professional player before her marriage. In any spare time he composed prolifically. Many of these youthful compositions were later used in his Simple Symphony.

Audrey Alston encouraged Britten to go to symphony concerts in Norwich. At one of these, during the triennial Norfolk and Norwich Festival in October 1924, he heard Frank Bridge’s orchestral poem The Sea, conducted by the composer. Audrey Alston was a friend of Bridge; when he returned to Norwich for the next festival in 1927 she brought her 13-year-old pupil to meet him. Bridge was impressed with the boy, and after they had gone through some of Britten’s compositions together he invited him to come to London to take lessons from him. A compromise was agreed by which Britten would, as planned, go on to his public school the following year but would make regular day-trips to London to study composition with Bridge and piano with his colleague Harold Samuel. The earliest substantial works Britten composed while studying with Bridge are the String Quartet in F, completed in April 1928, and the Quatre Chansons Françaises, a song-cycle for high voice and orchestra.

In September 1928 Britten went as a boarder to Gresham’s School, in Holt, Norfolk. He remained there for two years, and in 1930, he won a composition scholarship at the Royal College of Music (RCM) in London; his examiners were the composers John Ireland and Ralph Vaughan Williams and the college’s harmony and counterpoint teacher, S. P. Waddington. Britten was at the RCM from 1930 to 1933, studying composition with Ireland and piano with Arthur Benjamin. He won the Sullivan Prize for composition, the Cobbett Prize for chamber music, and was twice winner of the Ernest Farrar Prize for composition. The first of Britten’s compositions to attract wide attention were the Sinfonietta, Op. 1 (1932), and a set of choral variations A Boy was Born, written in 1933 for the BBC Singers, who first performed it the following year. In this same period he wrote Friday Afternoons, a collection of 12 songs mostly for unison singing, for the pupils of Clive House School, Prestatyn where his brother was headmaster.

In February 1935, at Bridge’s instigation, Britten was invited to a job interview by the BBC’s director of music Adrian Boult and his assistant Edward Clark. What came out of the interview was an invitation to write the score for a documentary film, The King’s Stamp, directed by Alberto Cavalcanti for the GPO Film Unit. Britten became a regular member of the unit’s small group of regular contributors, another of whom was W. H. Auden. Together they worked on the films Coal Face and Night Mail. They also collaborated on the song cycle Our Hunting Fathers (1936), and subsequently other works including Cabaret Songs, On This Island, Paul Bunyan and Hymn to St. Cecilia. Britten composed prolifically in this period. In the three years 1935–37 he wrote nearly 40 scores for the theatre, cinema and radio.

In 1937 there were two events of huge importance in Britten’s life: his mother died, and he met the tenor Peter Pears. Pears quickly became Britten’s musical inspiration and close friend. Britten’s first work for him was composed within weeks of their meeting, a setting of Emily Brontë’s poem “A thousand gleaming fires” for tenor and strings. In the same year Britten composed a Pacifist March to words by Ronald Duncan for the Peace Pledge Union. The best-known of his compositions from this period is probably Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge for string orchestra. In April 1939 Britten and Pears sailed to North America, going first to Canada and then to New York. When the Second World War began, Britten and Pears turned for advice to the British embassy in Washington, and were told that they should remain in the US as artistic ambassadors. In America in 1940, Britten composed Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo, the first of many song-cycles for Pears. Also hile in America Britten wrote his first music drama, Paul Bunyan, an operetta, to a libretto by Auden. Britten’s orchestral works from this period include the Violin Concerto, and Sinfonia da Requiem.

In 1942 Britten read the work of the poet George Crabbe for the first time. The Borough, set on the Suffolk coast, awakened in him such longings for England that he knew he must return. He also knew that he must write an opera based on Crabbe’s poem about the fisherman Peter Grimes. Before Britten left the US, Koussevitsky, always generous in encouraging new talent, offered him a $1,000 commission to write the opera. Britten and Pears returned to England in April 1942. During the long transatlantic sea crossing Britten completed the choral works A Ceremony of Carols and Hymn to St Cecilia. The latter was his last large-scale collaboration with Auden. Having arrived in Britain, Britten and Pears applied for recognition as conscientious objectors. He spent much of his time in 1944 working on the opera Peter Grimes which opened in June 1945 and was hailed by public and critics.

A month after the opening of Peter Grimes, Britten and Yehudi Menuhin went to Germany to give recitals to concentration camp survivors. What they saw, at Belsen most of all, so shocked Britten that he refused to talk about it until towards the end of his life, when he told Pears that it had coloured everything he had written since. The next two works Britten composed after his return, the song-cycle The Holy Sonnets of John Donne and the Second String Quartet, contrast strongly with earlier, lighter-hearted works such as Les Illuminations. Britten recovered his joie de vivre for The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, written for an educational film, Instruments of the Orchestra, directed by Muir Mathieson and featuring the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Malcolm Sargent.

Britten’s next opera, The Rape of Lucretia, was presented at the first post-war Glyndebourne Festival in 1946. Britten and his associates set up the English Opera Group; the librettist Eric Crozier and the designer John Piper joined Britten as artistic directors. Britten wrote the comic opera Albert Herring for the group in 1947. While on tour in the new work Pears came up with the idea of mounting a festival in the small Suffolk seaside town of Aldeburgh, where Britten had moved earlier in the year.

The Aldeburgh Festival was launched in June 1948, with Britten, Pears and Crozier directing it. Albert Herring played at the Jubilee Hall and Britten’s new cantata for tenor, chorus and orchestra, Saint Nicolas, in the Parish Church. New works by Britten featured in virtually every Festival until his death in 1976, including the premieres of his operas A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Jubilee Hall and Death in Venice at Snape Maltings Concert Hall. Unlike many leading English composers, Britten was not known as a teacher, but from 1949 to 1951 he had his only private pupil, Arthur Oldham. Throughout the 1950s Britten continued to write operas: Billy Budd (1951); Gloriana (1953); and The Turn of the Screw (1954). An increasingly important influence on Britten was the music of the East, an interest that was fostered by a tour with Pears in 1957, when Britten encountered the music of the Balinese gamelan, and saw for the first time Japanese Noh plays. These eastern influences were seen and heard in the ballet The Prince of the Pagodas (1957) and later in two of the three semi-operatic “Parables for Church Performance”: Curlew River (1964), and The Prodigal Son (1968). Britten composed his Cello Suites, Cello Symphony and Cello Sonata for Mstislav Rostropovich, who premiered them at the Aldeburgh Festival.

One of the best-known of Britten’s works, the War Requiem was premiered in 1962. In 1967 the BBC commissioned Britten to write an opera specially for television. Owen Wingrave was based, like The Turn of the Screw, on a ghost story by Henry James. He did not complete the score of the new opera until August 1970. The opera was first broadcast in Britain in May 1971, when it was also televised in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the USA and Yugoslavia. In September 1970 Britten asked Myfanwy Piper, who had adapted the two Henry James stories for him, to turn another prose story into a libretto. This was Thomas Mann’s novella Death in Venice, a subject he had been considering for some time. After the completion of the opera Britten went into the National Heart Hospital and was operated on in May 1973 to replace a failing heart valve. The replacement was successful, but he suffered a slight stroke, affecting his right hand. This brought his career as a performer to an end.

Britten’s last works include the Suite on English Folk Tunes “A Time There Was” (1974); the Third String Quartet (1975), which drew on material from Death in Venice; and the dramatic cantata Phaedra (1975), written for Janet Baker. Britten began writing Praise We Great Men, an unfinished composition for voices and orchestra based on a poem by Edith Sitwell. After the 1976 Aldeburgh Festival, Britten and Pears travelled to Norway. He returned to Aldeburgh in August, and wrote Welcome Ode for children’s choir and orchestra. In November, Britten realized that he could no longer compose. His health was never robust. He walked and swam regularly, and kept himself as fit as he could, but during his life he suffered from some 20 illnesses, a few of them minor but most fairly serious, before his final heart complaint developed. On his 63rd birthday, November 22, at his request Rita Thomson organized a party and invited his friends to say their goodbyes to the dying composer. When Rostropovich made his farewell visit a few days later, Britten gave him what he had written of Praise We Great Men. Britten died of congestive heart failure on December 4, 1976.

My collection contains the following works by Britten:

Lachrymae, Reflections on a Song of Dowland (1950) for string ensemble (1976).
Peter Grimes, op. 33 (1945): Four Sea Interludes and Passacaglia.
Prelude and Fugue for 18 part String Orchestra, op. 29 (1943).
A Simple Symphony, op. 4 (1934).
Sinfonia da Requiem, op. 20 (1940).
Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge, op. 10 (1937).
The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra: Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Purcell, op. 34 (1946), from The Instruments of the Orchestra.

Thomas Canning and the Fantasy on a Hymn Tune of Justin Morgan

CanningThomas
Thomas Canning (1911-1989) was a rather obscure American composer who was also a hymnist. He was born in Brookville, PA in 1911, receiving the Bachelor of Music degree from Oberlin College in 1936 and the Master of Music degree from the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester in 1940. At Oberlin he studied composition with Normand Lockwood and at Eastman with Howard Hanson and Bernard Rogers, all of whom were well-known American composers. From 1936 to 1941 Canning taught at Morningside College in Sioux City, IA, and in 1945 and 1946 he taught at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. He was on the music faculty of the Royal Conservatory of Music at the University of Toronto during the 1946-1947 academic season and from there went to Eastman School of Music where he taught until 1963. He was a Fulbright Scholar in England in 1961-1962.

Canning taught at West Virginia University from 1963 until his retirement in 1977 at which time he was named Professor Emeritus. As a teacher, he influenced other modern American composers such as Walter Hartley and Robert Schultz. Canning was a member of the American Composers Alliance, The Hymn Society of America, Pi Kappa Lambda (National Music Honorary Society), and in 1966 was named a National Honorary Member of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia. Most of his compositions were written for specific organizations and special occasions. His works include All Aboard for Ararat, a children’s opera in one act; some religious and choral music; a few chamber pieces; and his Symphony No. 1 (“Classical”). However, his best-known work is probably the Fantasy on a Hymn Tune of Justin Morgan, which was composed in 1944 and is patterned after English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a Tune of Thomas Tallis. It is a very pleasant piece for listening

Justin Morgan, whose hymn tune Canning uses in this fantasy was also a hymnist, but today he is probably most remembered as the owner of an unusual work horse raised in Vermont and originally known as “Little Bub” which became the sire of a famous American breed of horse named after its first owner, the Morgan horse. However, Justin Morgan was not really a horse breeder. He was an early American school teacher, singing master, and composer. The Fantasy for Double String Orchestra on a Hymn Tune of Justin Morgan by Canning is based on “Amanda,” a hymn tune composed by Morgan. The piece is very calm in mood and revolves around lush, beautiful harmonies that are typical of the ones that one hears from Aaron Copland and Howard Hanson. Canning died in 1989.

My collection contains one work by Canning:

Fantasy for Double String Orchestra on a Hymn Tune of Justin Morgan

Johannes Brahms and his Second Symphony

Brahms
Johannes Brahms (May 7, 1833 –April 3, 1897) was a German composer and pianist, born in Hamburg into a Lutheran family. His father, Johann Jakob Brahms (1806–72), came to Hamburg from Dithmarschen, seeking a career as a town musician. He was proficient in several instruments, but found employment mostly playing the horn and double bass. In 1830, he married Johanna Henrika Christiane Nissen (1789–1865), a seamstress never previously married, who was seventeen years older than he was. Johannes had an older sister and a younger brother. Initially, they lived near the city docks, in the Gängeviertel quarter of Hamburg, for six months, before moving to a small house on the Dammtorwall, a small city in the Inner Alster. Johann Jakob gave his son his first musical training. The youngster studied piano from the age of seven with Otto Friedrich Willibald Cossel. Owing to the family’s poverty, the adolescent Brahms had to contribute to the family’s income by playing the piano in dance halls.

For a time, Brahms also learned the cello. After his early piano lessons with Cossel, Brahms studied piano with Eduard Marxsen, who had studied in Vienna with Ignaz von Seyfried (a pupil of Mozart) and Carl Maria von Bocklet (a close friend of Schubert). The young Brahms gave a few public concerts in Hamburg, but did not become well known as a pianist until he made a concert tour at the age of nineteen. He conducted choirs from his early teens, and became a proficient choral and orchestral conductor. Also, he began to compose quite early in life, but later destroyed most copies of his first works. For instance, Louise Japha, a fellow-pupil of Marxsen, reported a piano sonata, that Brahms had played or improvised at the age of 11, had been destroyed. His compositions did not receive public acclaim until he went on a concert tour as accompanist to the Hungarian violinist Eduard Reményi in April and May 1853.

On this tour Brahms met Joseph Joachim at Hanover, and went on to the Court of Weimar where he met Franz Liszt, Peter Cornelius, and Joachim Raff. According to several witnesses of Brahms’s meeting with Liszt, Liszt performed Brahms’s Scherzo, Op. 4, on sight. Joachim gave Brahms a letter of introduction to Robert Schumann, and after a walking tour in the Rhineland, Brahms took the train to Düsseldorf, and was welcomed into the Schumann family on arrival there. Schumann, amazed by the 20-year-old’s talent, published an article entitled “Neue Bahnen” (New Paths) in the October 28, 1853 issue of the journal Neue Zeitschrift für Musik alerting the public to the young man, who, he claimed, was “destined to give ideal expression to the times.” While he was in Düsseldorf, Brahms participated with Schumann and Albert Dietrich in writing a sonata for Joachim; this is known as the “F–A–E Sonata – Free but Lonely” (German: Frei aber einsam).

After Schumann’s death at the sanatorium in 1856, Brahms divided his time between Hamburg, where he formed and conducted a ladies’ choir, and Detmold in the Principality of Lippe, where he was court music-teacher and conductor. He was the soloist at the premiere of his Piano Concerto No. 1 in 1859. Brahms never married, despite strong feelings for several women and despite entering into an engagement, soon broken off, with Agathe von Siebold in Göttingen in 1859. He first visited Vienna in 1862, staying there over the winter, and, in 1863, was appointed conductor of the Vienna Singakademie. Though he resigned the position the following year, and entertained the idea of taking up conducting posts elsewhere, he based himself increasingly in Vienna and soon made his home there. It was the premiere of A German Requiem, his largest choral work, in Bremen, in 1868, that confirmed Brahms’s European reputation. From 1872 to 1875, he was director of the concerts of the Vienna Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde; afterwards, he accepted no formal position.

This may have given Brahms the confidence finally to complete a number of works that he had wrestled with over many years, such as the cantata Rinaldo, his first string quartet, third piano quartet, and most notably his first symphony. This appeared in 1876, though it had been begun, and a version of the first movement seen by some of his friends, in the early 1860s. The other three symphonies then followed in 1877, 1883, and 1885. He declined an honorary doctorate of music from University of Cambridge in 1877, but accepted one from the University of Breslau in 1879, and composed the Academic Festival Overture as a gesture of appreciation. From 1881, he was able to try out his new orchestral works with the court orchestra of the Duke of Meiningen, whose conductor was Hans von Bülow. He was the soloist at the premiere of his Piano Concerto No. 2 in 1881, in Pest.

In 1889, one Theo Wangemann, a representative of American inventor Thomas Edison, visited Brahms in Vienna and invited him to make an experimental recording. Brahms played an abbreviated version of his first Hungarian dance on the piano. The recording was later issued on an LP of early piano performances compiled by Gregor Benko. Although the spoken introduction to the short piece of music is quite clear, the piano playing is largely inaudible due to heavy surface noise. Nevertheless, this remains the earliest recording made by a major composer. In 1890, the 57-year-old Brahms resolved to give up composing. However, as it turned out, he was unable to abide by his decision, and in the years before his death he produced a number of acknowledged masterpieces. His admiration for Richard Mühlfeld, clarinetist with the Meiningen orchestra, moved him to compose the Clarinet Trio, Op. 114, Clarinet Quintet, Op. 115 (1891), and the two Clarinet Sonatas, Op. 120 (1894). He also wrote several cycles of piano pieces, Opp. 116–119, the Vier ernste Gesänge (Four Serious Songs), Op. 121 (1896), and the Eleven Chorale Preludes for organ, Op. 122 (1896). While completing the Op. 121 songs, Brahms developed cancer). His condition gradually worsened and he died on April 3, 1897, aged 63. Brahms is buried in the Zentralfriedhof in Vienna.

Brahms wrote a number of major works for orchestra, including two serenades, four symphonies, two piano concertos (No. 1 in D minor; No. 2 in B-flat major), a Violin Concerto, a Double Concerto for violin and cello, and two companion orchestral overtures, the Academic Festival Overture and the Tragic Overture. His large choral work A German Requiem is not a setting of the liturgical Missa pro defunctis but a setting of texts which Brahms selected from the Lutheran Bible. Brahms’s works in variation form include, among others, the Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel and the Paganini Variations, both for solo piano, and the Variations on a Theme by Haydn (now sometimes called the Saint Anthony Variations) in versions for two pianos and for orchestra. The final movement of the Fourth Symphony, Op. 98, is formally a passacaglia.

Brahms’s chamber works include three string quartets, two string quintets, two string sextets, a clarinet quintet, a clarinet trio, a horn trio, a piano quintet, three piano quartets, and four piano trios (the fourth being published posthumously). He composed several instrumental sonatas with piano, including three for violin, two for cello, and two for clarinet (which were subsequently arranged for viola by the composer). His solo piano works range from his early piano sonatas and ballades to his late sets of character pieces. Brahms was a significant lieder composer, who wrote over 200 songs. His chorale preludes for organ, Op. 122, which he wrote shortly before his death, have become an important part of the organ repertoire. Brahms was an extreme perfectionist. He destroyed many early works – including a Violin Sonata he had performed with Reményi and violinist Ferdinand David – and once claimed to have destroyed 20 string quartets before he issued his official First in 1873. Over the course of several years, he changed an original project for a symphony in D minor into his first piano concerto. In another instance of devotion to detail, he labored over the official First Symphony for almost fifteen years, from about 1861 to 1876.

Brahms wrote settings for piano and voice of 144 German folk songs, and many of his lieder reflect folk themes or depict scenes of rural life. His Hungarian Dances were among his most profitable compositions. Brahms maintained a Classical sense of form and order in his works – in contrast to the opulence of the music of many of his contemporaries. Brahms venerated Beethoven: in the composer’s home, a marble bust of Beethoven looked down on the spot where he composed, and some passages in his works are reminiscent of Beethoven’s style. Brahms loved the Classical composers Mozart and Haydn, but the early Romantic composers had a major influence on Brahms, particularly Schumann, who encouraged Brahms as a young composer. During his stay in Vienna in 1862–63, Brahms became particularly interested in the music of Franz Schubert.

The following works by Brahms are included in my collection:

Academic Festival Overture, op. 80.
Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in DM, op. 77.
Concerto for Violin, Cello, and Orchestra in am, op. 102, “Double Concerto.
Hungarian Dances, Nos. 1-21.
Piano Concerto No. 1 in dm, op. 15.
Piano Concerto No. 2 in BbM, op. 83.
Serenade No. 1 in DM, op. 11.
Serenade No. 2 in AM, op. 16.
Symphony No. 1 in cm, op. 68.
Symphony No. 2 in DM, op. 73.
Symphony No. 3 in FM, op. 90.
Symphony No. 4 in em, op. 98.
Tragic Overture, op. 81.
Variations on a Theme by Haydn, op. 56a, St. Anthony’s Chorale.