Antonin Dvorak and his “New World Symphony”

Antonín Leopold Dvořák (September 8, 1841 – May 1, 1904) was a Czech composer who followed the nationalist example of Bedřich Smetana and frequently employed features of the folk music of Moravia and his native Bohemia. Dvořák was born in Nelahozeves, near Prague, then part of Bohemia in the Austrian Empire, now in Czech Republic, the eldest son of František Dvořák (1814–1894) and his wife Anna, née Zdeňková (1820–1882). František was an innkeeper, professional player of the zither, and a butcher. Anna was the daughter of Josef Zdeněk, the bailiff of Prince Lobkowitz. Anna and František had married on November 17, 1840. Anton was the first of fourteen children, eight of whom survived infancy and was baptized as a Roman Catholic in the church of St. Andrew in the village. Dvořák’s years in Nelahozeves nurtured the strong Christian faith and love for his Bohemian heritage that so strongly influenced his music.

In 1847, Dvořák entered primary school and learned to play violin from his teacher Joseph Spitz. František was pleased with his son’s gifts. At the age of 13, through the influence of his father, Dvořák was sent to Zlonice to live with his uncle Antonín Zdenĕk, working as an apprentice butcher, studying the German language, and eventually graduating to become a journeyman on November 1, 1856. Dvořák took organ, piano and violin lessons from his German language teacher Anton Liehmann. Liehmann also taught the young boy music theory and was introduced to the composers of the time, for whom Dvořák gave much regard. Dvořák took further organ and music theory lessons with Franz Hanke at Česká Kamenice, who encouraged his musical talents even further. At the age of 16, through the urging of Liehmann and Zdenĕk, Dvořák was allowed by František to become a musician, on the condition that the young boy must build a career as an organist.

After leaving for Prague in September 1857, Dvořàk entered the city’s Organ School, studying organ with Josef Foerster, singing with Josef Zvonař and theory with František Blažek. He also took an additional language course to improve his German and worked as an “extra” in numerous bands and orchestras as a violist, including the orchestra of the St. Cecilia Society. Dvořák graduated from the Organ School in 1859. After unsuccessfully applying as an organist at St. Henry’s Church, he decided to support himself financially. During this time, Dvořák was a full-time musician. In 1858, he joined Karel Komzák’s orchestra, with whom he performed in Prague’s restaurants and at balls. The high professional level of the ensemble attracted the attention of Jan Nepomuk Maýr, who engaged the whole orchestra in the Bohemian Provisional Theater Orchestra. Dvořák played viola in this orchestra beginning 1862. In July 1863, Dvořák played in a program devoted to the German composer Richard Wagner, who conducted the orchestra.

At the time, Dvořák began composing his first two string quartets. In 1864, Dvořák agreed to share a rent of a flat located in Prague’s Žižkov district with five other people, which also included violinist Mořic Anger and Karel Čech, who later became a singer. In 1866, Maýr was replaced as chief conductor by Bedřich Smetana. The constant need to supplement his income pushed Dvorak to give piano lessons, and it was through these piano lessons that he met his wife. He originally fell in love with his pupil and colleague from the Provisional Theater, Josefína Čermáková, for whom he apparently composed the song cycle “Cypress Trees”. However, she never returned his love and ended up marrying another man. However, in 1873 Dvořák married Josefina’s younger sister, Anna Čermáková (1854–1931). They had nine children together, three of whom died in infancy.

Dvořák’s composing career is first documented in the String Quintet in A Minor (1861) and in his First String Quartet (1862). In the early 1860s, he also made his first symphonic attempts, some of which he self-critically burned. In 1870, he composed his first opera, Alfred, over the course of five months from May to October, but it was quickly forgotten. The first press mention of Antonín Dvořák appeared in the Hudební listy journal in June 1871, and the first publicly performed composition was the song Vzpomínání (October 1871, musical evenings of L. Procházka). The performance of his cantata Hymnus in 1873 (conducted by his friend and supporter Karel Bendl) brought him first success; however, the opera King and Charcoal Burner was returned to Dvořák from the Provisional Theatre, saying it was unperformable. Dvořák later reworked it.

On leaving the National Theater Orchestra after his marriage, Dvořák secured the job of organist at St. Adalbert’s Church in Prague under Josef Förster, the father of the composer Josef Bohuslav Foerster. This provided him with financial security, higher social status, and enough free time to focus on composing. Dvořák composed his second string quintet in 1875, the same year that his first son was born. It was during this year that he produced a multitude of works, including his 5th Symphony, String Quintet No. 2, Piano Trio No. 1 and Serenade for Strings in E. In 1877, the year in which Dvořák wrote the Symphonic Variations and Ludevít Procházka conducted its premiere in Prague, the music critic Eduard Hanslick informed him that his music had attracted the attention of the famous Johannes Brahms, whom Dvořák admired greatly.

Brahms had a great influence over Dvořák’s work; clear examples are the latter’s Slavonic Dances, opp. 46 and 72 (1878 and 1886), on the model of Brahms’s Hungarian Dances. Brahms contacted the major European musical publisher Simrock, advising him to contract with Dvořák. Dvořák’s Stabat Mater (1880) was performed abroad, and after a successful performance in London in 1883, Dvořák was invited to visit England where he appeared to great acclaim in 1884. The conductor Hans Richter asked to compose his Symphony No. 6 for the Vienna Philharmonic intending to premiere it in December 1880. However, Adolf Čech conducted the premiere of the symphony at a concert of the Philharmonia society, predecessor of the Czech Philharmonic) on March 25, 1881, in Prague.

The Royal Philharmonic Society of London commissioned Dvořák to conduct concerts in London, and his performances were well received there. In response to the commission, Dvořák wrote his Symphony No. 7 and conducted the premiere of the symphony at St. James’s Hall on April 22, 1885. In 1890, influenced by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Dvořák also visited Russia, and conducted the orchestras in Moscow and in St. Petersburg. In 1891, Dvořák received an honorary degree from the University of Cambridge, and was offered a position at the Prague Conservatory as professor of composition and instrumentation. At first he refused the offer, but then later accepted; this change of mind was seemingly a result of a quarrel with his publisher, Simrock, over payment for his Eighth Symphony. His Requiem premiered later that year in Birmingham at the Triennial Music Festival.

From 1892 to 1895, Dvořák was the director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York City, at a then-staggering $15,000 annual salary. The Conservatory had been founded by a wealthy and philanthropic socialite, Jeannette Thurber. Dvořák’s main goal in America was to discover “American Music” and engage in it, much as he had used Czech folk idioms within his music. Here Dvořák met Harry Burleigh, his pupil at the time and one of the earliest African-American composers. Burleigh introduced Dvořák to traditional American spirituals. In the winter and spring of 1893, Dvořák was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic to write Symphony No.9, “From the New World”, which was premiered under the baton of Anton Seidl. He spent the summer of 1893 with his family in the Czech-speaking community of Spillville, Iowa, to which some of his cousins had earlier immigrated. While there he composed the String Quartet in F (the “American”), and the String Quintet in E flat, as well as a Sonatina for violin and piano. He also conducted a performance of his Eighth Symphony at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago that same year.

Over the course of three months in 1895, Dvořák wrote his Cello Concerto in B minor. However, problems with Thurber about his salary, together with increasing recognition in Europe as he had been made an honorary member of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna and a remarkable amount of homesickness made him decide to return to Bohemia. Dvořák, his wife and Otakar left the United States on April 27, 1895. During his final years, he concentrated on composing opera and chamber music. In October 1895, he resumed his professorship at the Prague Conservatory. Between 1895 to 1897, he completed his string quartets in A-flat major and G major, and also worked on the cycle of symphonic poems inspired by the collection Kytice by Karel Jaromír Erben. His chamber works directly influenced the establishment of the Czech Quartet (1891). In his last artistic period, from 1898 to 1904, he focused mainly on opera. He created some of his most valuable operatic works, such as The Devil and Kate (1898/99), Rusalka (1900) and Armida (1902/3).

In 1896 Dvorak visited London for the last time to hear the premiere of his Cello Concerto in B minor. In 1897 his daughter Otilie married his student, the composer Josef Suk. In the same year, Dvořák was appointed a member of the jury for the Viennese Artist’s Stipendium, and was later honored with a medal. In April 1901, he became a member of the Austro-Hungarian House of Lords, along with writer Jaroslav Vrchlický. He also succeeded Antonín Bennewitz as director of the Prague Conservatory from November 1901 until his death. His 60th birthday was celebrated as a national event, with concerts and a banquet organized in his honor. His final performance as conductor with the Czech Philharmonic took place on April 4, 1900. Due to illness, he missed the performances of his oratorio Saint Ludmila, the violin concerto with the solo part played by František Ondříček, and the New World Symphony at the ‘First Czech Music Festival’ held in April 1904 in Prague. Dvořák died from a stroke on May 1, 1904, following five weeks of illness, at the age of 62, leaving many unfinished works.

The following works by Dvorak are included in my collection:

Carnival, Overture, op. 92 (1891).
(Cello) Concerto for Cello and Orchestra in bm, op. 104 (1895).
Concerto for Piano and Orchestra in gm, op. 33 (Piano Concerto, 1876).
Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in am, op. 53 (1883).
In Nature’s Realm, Overture, op. 91 (1891).
My Home, Overture, op. 62.
Nocturne for Strings in BM, op. 40, B. 47 (1883).
Othello, Overture, op. 93.
Romance in fm, op. 11 (for violin and orchestra).
Rondo in gm for Cello and Orchestra, op. 94 (1891).
Scherzo Capriccioso in Db M, op. 66 (1883).
Serenade for Strings in EM, op. 22 (1875).
Silent Woods for Cello and Orchestra, op. 68 (1884/1893),
Slavonic Dances, op. 46 (nos. 1-8).
Slavonic Dances, op. 82 (nos. 9-16).
Symphony No. 7 in dm, op. 70 (1885).
Symphony No. 8 in GM, op. 88 (1892).
Symphony No. 9 in em, op. 95, From the New World (1893).
Two Waltzes for Strings, op. 54 (1880), no. 1 in AM, no. 4 in dbm.
Vanda, Overture, op. 25.

Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf and his symphonias on Ovid’s Metamorphoses

August Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf (November 2, 1739–October 24, 1799) was an Austrian composer and violinist. Dittersdorf was born in the Laimgrube (now Mariahilf) district of Vienna, Austria, as August Carl Ditters. His father was a military tailor in the Austrian Imperial Army of Charles VI, for a number of German-speaking regiments. After retiring honorably from his military obligation, Ditters was provided with royal letters of reference and a sinecure with the Imperial Theatre. In 1745, the six-year-old August Carl was introduced to the violin and his father’s moderate financial position allowed him not only a good general education at a Jesuit school, but private tutelage in music, violin, French and religion. After leaving his first teacher, Carl studied violin with J. Ziegler, who by 1750, through his influence, secured his pupil’s appointment as a violinist in the orchestra of the Benedictine church on the Freyung.

Prince Joseph of Saxe-Hildburghausen soon noticed young Ditters, and on March 1,1751, hired him for his court orchestra. Under princely auspices he studied violin with Francesco Trani who, impressed with the ability of his pupil in composition, commended him to Giuseppe Bonno who instructed him in Fuxian counterpoint and free composition. After a few years Prince Joseph disbanded the orchestra, since he had to leave Vienna to assume the regency in Hildburghausen, and the Austrian Empress hired Dittersdorf for her own orchestra through Count Durazzo, Theatre Director at the Imperial Court. In 1761 Carl was engaged as violinist in the Imperial Theatre orchestra, and in 1762 its conductor. It was during this period that he became acquainted with Christoph Willibald Gluck, who had just achieved greatness as an opera composer with the Vienna première of his Orfeo ed Euridice. In 1763 he traveled to Bologna with Gluck to see the opera Il trionfo di Clelia. In 1764 he traveled to Paris. Back in Vienna in 1764, his contract with Count Durazzo expired that winter, but he met the great Joseph Haydn and became one of his closest friends.

In 1764, Ditters assumed the post of Kapellmeister at the court of Ádám Patachich, Hungarian nobleman and Bishop of Nagyvárad (Oradea, Romania). The following year he was introduced to Philipp Gotthard von Schaffgotsch, the Prince-Bishop of Breslau, who was in the process of creating a cultural center around his court based at Château Jánský vrch (Johannesberg) in Javorník (today part of the Czech Republic). He accepted the post of Hofkomponist (court composer) in 1771, and it was during his tenure at Johannesberg that most of his creative output was produced. Over the next twenty years he wrote symphonies, string quartets and other chamber music, and opere buffe. In 1773 the prince-bishop appointed him Amtshauptmann of nearby Jeseník (Freiwaldau), one of several measures to help entice the cosmopolitan composer to remain at isolated Johannesberg. Since this new post required a noble title, Ditters was sent to Vienna and given the noble title of von Dittersdorf. His full surname thus became “Ditters von Dittersdorf”, but he is usually referred to simply as “Dittersdorf”.

Johann Baptist Wanhal was perhaps Dittersdorf’s most eminent pupil. About 1785, Haydn, Dittersdorf, Mozart and Wanhal played string quartets together, Dittersdorf taking first violin, Haydn second violin, Mozart viola and Wanhal cello. In 1794, after twenty-four years at Johannesberg, Dittersdorf, after a serious clash with von Schaffgotsch, was expelled from his palace. Sometime the following year, he was invited by Baron Ignaz von Stillfried to live in his spare castle known as Červená Lhota in southern Bohemia. His final decade was occupied with overseeing operatic productions in addition to compiling and editing his own music for publication. He died at Nový Dvůr (Neuhof, or “New Court”) where Château Červená Lhota stood, and was buried in the town of Deštná. He finished his autobiography just three days before his death.

Dittersdorf’s early work laid the groundwork for his later more important compositions. His symphonic and chamber compositions greatly emphasize Italo-Austrian melody over motivic development. Dittersdorf was an important composer of the Classical era. After some early Italian opere buffe, he turned to writing German Singspiele instead, with Der Apotheker und der Doktor (1786, generally known today as Doktor und Apotheker) in particular being a tremendous success in his lifetime, playing in houses all over Europe and recorded almost two centuries later. Besides his operas, among his 120-or-so symphonies are twelve programmatic ones based on Ovid’s Metamorphoses, although only six have survived. He also wrote oratorios, cantatas, and concertos (among which are two for double bass and one for viola), string quartets, other chamber music, piano pieces, some sacred music, and other miscellaneous works.

The following works by Dittersdorf are found in my collection:

Harp Concerto in AM (1779).
Sinfonia No. 1 in CM, The Four Ages of the World (1783).
Sinfonia No. 2 in DM, The Fall of Phaeton (1783).
Sinfonia No. 3 in GM, Transformation of Actaeon into a Stag (1783).

David Diamond and “Psalm”


David Leo Diamond (July 9, 1915 – June 13, 2005) was an American composer who was born was born on July 9, 1915, in Rochester, NY. By the age of seven he was playing a violin borrowed from a family friend and writing original tunes in his own system of musical notation. In 1927 the Diamond family moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where David’s talent finally came to the attention of Andre de Ribaupierre, a Swiss musician teaching in Cleveland, who arranged for him to receive his first formal training at the Cleveland Institute of Music. In 1930 the family returned to Rochester where Diamond continued his studies at the Eastman School or Music with Bernard Rogers in composition and Effie Knauss in violin. In the fall of 1934 Diamond went to New York City on a scholarship from the New Music School and Dalcroze Institute, studying with Paul Boepple and Roger Sessions until the spring of 1936.

That summer, Diamond was commissioned to compose the music for a ballet entitled TOM, to a scenario by E.E. Cummings based on “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”, to be choreographed by Leonide Massine. Massine was near Paris, and Diamond was sent there to be near the choreographer. Although, due to financial problems, the work was never performed, Diamond did establish contacts with Darius Milhaud, Albert Roussel, and the composer he revered above all others, Maurice Ravel. On Diamond’s second visit to Paris in 1937, he joined the class of Nadia Boulanger at Fontainebleau. He was introduced to Igor Stravinsky, who listened to a four-hand piano version of Diamond’s just-written Psalm for orchestra. With a few revisions based on Stravinsky’s appraisal, Psalm won the 1937 Juilliard Publication Award, and was among the compositions influencing his receipt of a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1938. The San Francisco Symphony Orchestra performed the Psalm under Pierre Monteux.

In fact, Diamond won a number of awards including three Guggenheim Fellowships, and is considered one of the preeminent American composers of his generation. Many of his works are tonal or modestly modal. His early compositions are typically triadic, often with widely spaced harmonies, giving them a distinctly American tone, but some of his works are consciously French in style. His later style became more chromatic. Upon Ravel’s death in 1937, Diamond wrote an Elegy for brass, percussion and harps (later arranged for strings and percussion), dedicated to the memory of the composer who had been his ideal. Diamond spent 1938-39 in Paris on his Guggenheim Fellowship, returning to the U.S. at the start of the Second World War.

In the 1940s Diamonds received a second Guggenheim Fellowship, the Prix de Rome, a commission from Dimitri Mitropoulos, resulting in the popular Diamond’s most popular piece Rounds for String Orchestra (1944), a commission from the Koussevitzky Foundation for his Symphony No. 4, and a National Academy of Arts and Letters grant. Among his other works are eleven symphonies (the last in 1993), other orchestral works, several concertos including three for violin, eleven string quartets, music for wind ensemble, other chamber music, piano pieces and vocal music. The String Quartet No. 4 from 1951 was nominated for a Grammy award in 1965, as recorded on Epic Records by the Beaux Arts Quartet. Diamond also composed the musical theme heard on the CBS Radio Network broadcast “Hear It Now” (1950–51) and its TV successor, “See It Now” (1951–58), both featuring the noted broadcast journalist, Edward R. Murrow.

In 1951 Diamond returned to Europe as Fulbright Professor. Peermusic Classical signed him to an exclusive contract in 1952, which enabled him to remain in Europe, eventually settling in Florence, Italy. Except for brief visits to the United States, such as the occasion of his appointment as Slee Professor at the University of Buffalo in 1961 and again in 1963, he remained in Italy until 1965. On his return to the U.S., Diamond was greeted by a series of country-wide concerts commemorating his fiftieth birthday. The New York Philharmonic performed two of his major orchestral works, the Symphony No. 5, with Leonard Bernstein conducting, and the Piano Concerto, conducted by Mr. Diamond himself. From 1965 to 1967 Diamond taught at the Manhattan School of Music. During these two years he was the recipient of several awards, among them the Rheta Sosland Chamber Music prize for his String Quartet No. 8, the Stravinsky ASCAP award, and election to the National Institute of Arts and Letters.

Diamond enjoyed enormous success in the 1940s and early ’50s with champions that included Koussevitzky, Bernstein, Munch, Ormandy and Mitropoulos but, in the 1960s and ’70s, the serial and modernist schools pushed him into the shadows. He was part of what some considered a forgotten generation of great American symphonists, including Howard Hanson, Roy Harris, William Schuman, Walter Piston, and Peter Mennin, whose work was eclipsed by the dominance of atonal music. Diamond was named honorary composer-in-residence of the Seattle Symphony. He was a longtime member of the Juilliard School faculty for some 25 years, starting in 1973, and is credited with advising Glenn Gould on his mid-career work, most notably his String Quartet, Op. 1.

In 1986, Diamond received the William Schuman Lifetime Achievement Award. In 1991 he was awarded the Gold Medal of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the Edward MacDowell Gold Medal for Lifetime Achievement. In 1995, Diamond was awarded the National Medal of Arts by the National Endowment of the Arts in Washington D.C. In 1998 he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Music degree by Julliard. Just three weeks before he died, Diamond was honored with the Juilliard Medal at the 100th commencement ceremony of The Juilliard School. In 2005, Diamond died at the age of 89 at his home at Brighton in Monroe County, NY, from heart failure.

My collection includes the following works by Diamond:

Kaddish for Cello and Orchestra (1987).
Psalm (1936).
Symphony No. 3 (1945).

Leo Delibes and “Sylvia”

Clément Philibert Léo Delibes (February 21, 1836–January 16, 1891) was a French composer of ballets, operas, and other works for the stage who was the first to write music of high quality for the ballet. Delibes was born in Saint-Germain-du-Val, now part of La Flèche (Sarthe), France, in 1836. His father was a mailman, his mother a talented amateur musician. His grandfather had been an opera singer. He was raised mainly by his mother and uncle following his father’s early death. His brother Michel Delibes migrated to Spain. Starting in 1847, Delibes studied composition at the Paris Conservatoire as a student of Adolphe Adam. A year later he began taking voice lessons, though he would end up a much better organ player than singer. He held positions as a rehearsal accompanist and chorus master at the Théâtre Lyrique beginning in 1852, as second chorus master at the Paris Opéra in 1863 and 1864, and as organist at Saint-Pierre-de-Chaillot from 1865 to 1871. The first of his many operettas was Deux sous de charbon, ou Le suicide de Bigorneau (“Two sous-worth of coal”), written in 1856 for the Folies-Nouvelles.

His first produced works were a series of amusing operettas, parodies, and farces in which Delibes was associated with Jacques Offenbach and other light-opera composers. A ceremonial cantata, Algers, for Napoleon III on the theme of Algiers, brought him to official attention; a collaboration with Léon Minkus resulted, in which his contribution of an act’s worth of musical numbers for a ballet La source (1866) brought him into the milieu of ballet. In 1867 Delibes composed the divertissement Le jardin animé for a revival of the Joseph Mazilier/Adolphe Adam ballet Le corsaire. He wrote a mass, his Messe brève, and composed operettas almost yearly and occasional music for the theater, such as dances and antique airs for Victor Hugo’s Le roi s’amuse, the play that Verdi turned into Rigoletto. Delibes achieved true fame in 1870 with the success of his ballet Coppélia based on a story of E.T.A. Hoffmann; its title referred to a mechanical dancing doll that distracts a village swain from his beloved and appears to come to life. His other ballet is Sylvia (1876) ), based on a mythological theme.

In 1871, at the age of 35, Delibes married Léontine Estelle Denain. The composer was made professor of composition at the Conservatoire in 1881, and a member of the French Institute in 1884. He also composed various operas. The opéra comique Le Roi l’a dit (1873; The King Said So) was followed by the serious operas Jean de Nivelle (1880) and the lush orientalizing Lakmé (1883), the last of which contains, among many dazzling numbers, the famous coloratura showpiece known as the Légende du Paria or Bell Song (“Où va la jeune Indoue?”) and The Flower Duet (“Sous le dôme épais”), a barcarolle. Lakmé also contains “Oriental” scenes illustrated with music of a novel, exotic character. A t the time, his operas impressed Tchaikovsky enough for the composer to rate Delibes more highly than Brahms. Delibes also wrote church music, having worked as a church organist, and some picturesque songs, among which “Les Filles de Cadiz” (“The Girls of Cadiz”) suggests the style of Georges Bizet.

Delibes pioneering symphonic work for the ballet opened up a field for serious composers, and his influence can be traced in the work of Tchaikovsky and others who wrote for the dance. His own music—light, graceful, elegant, with a tendency toward exoticism—reflects the spirit of the Second Empire in France. His work is known to have been a great influence on composers such as Tchaikovsky, Saint-Saëns, and Debussy. Some musicologists believe that the ballet in Gounod’s Faust was actually composed by Delibes. He died in Paris from natural causes on January 16, 1891, at the age of 54. He was buried in the Cimetière de Montmartre in Paris.

My collection includes the following pieces by Delibes:

Coppelia (1870): complete ballet, Acts 1, 2, and 3, including the Ballet Suite and Waltz.
Kassya (1891): Trepak.
La Roi S’Amuse (1882): Airs de danse dans le style ancient.
Lakme (1883): Airs de danse.
La Source (1866): Ballet Suite.
Sylvia (1876): Ballet Suite.

Claude Debussy and “Prelude

Achille Claude Debussy (August 22, 1862–March 25, 1918) was a French composer, who, along with Maurice Ravel, was one of the most prominent figures associated with Impressionist music, though he himself intensely disliked the term when applied to his compositions. Debussy was born in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, France, 22 August 1862, the eldest of five children. His father, Manuel-Achille Debussy, owned a shop where he sold china and crockery; his mother, Victorine Manoury Debussy, was a seamstress. The family moved to Paris in 1867, but in 1870 Debussy’s pregnant mother sought refuge from the Franco-Prussian war with a paternal aunt of Claude’s in Cannes. Debussy began piano lessons there at the age of seven years with an Italian violinist in his early forties named Cerutti; his lessons were paid for by his aunt.

In 1871 Debussy drew the attention of Marie Mauté de Fleurville, who claimed to have been a pupil of Frédéric Chopin. Debussy always believed her, although there is no independent evidence of her claim. His talents soon became evident, and in 1872, at age ten, Debussy entered the Paris Conservatoire, where he spent eleven years. During his time there he studied composition with Ernest Guiraud, music history/theory with Louis-Albert Bourgault-Ducoudray, harmony with Émile Durand, piano with Antoine François Marmontel, organ with César Franck, and solfège with Albert Lavignac, as well as other significant figures of the era. He also became a lifelong friend of fellow student and noted pianist Isidor Philipp.

From the start, though clearly talented, Debussy was argumentative and experimental. He challenged the rigid teaching of the Academy, favoring instead dissonances and intervals that were frowned upon. Like Georges Bizet, he was a brilliant pianist and an outstanding sight reader, who could have had a professional career had he so wished.[9] The pieces he played in public at this time included sonata movements by Beethoven, Schumann and Weber; and Chopin—the Ballade No. 2, a movement from the Piano Concerto No. 1, and the Allegro de concert, a relatively little-known piece but one requiring an advanced technique; it was originally intended to be the opening movement of a third piano concerto. During the summers of 1880, 1881, and 1882 Debussy accompanied the wealthy patroness of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Nadezhda von Meck, as she travelled with her family in Europe and Russia. The young composer’s many musical activities during these vacations included playing four-hand pieces with von Meck at the piano, giving music lessons to her children, and performing in private concerts with some of her musician friends.

In September 1880 von Meck she sent Debussy’s Danse bohémienne for Tchaikovsky’s perusal. A month later Tchaikovsky wrote back to her, “It is a very pretty piece, but it is much too short. Not a single idea is expressed fully, the form is terribly shriveled, and it lacks unity.” Debussy did not publish the piece; the manuscript remained in the von Meck family, and it was sold to B. Schott’s Sohne in Mainz, and published by them in 1932. A greater influence was Debussy’s close friendship with Madame Vasnier, a singer he met when he began working as an accompanist to earn some money. She and her husband gave Debussy emotional and professional support. Monsieur Vasnier introduced him to the writings of influential French writers of the time, which gave rise to his first songs, settings of poems by Paul Verlaine, the son-in-law of his former teacher, Mme. Mauté de Fleurville.

As the winner of the 1884 Prix de Rome with his composition L’enfant prodigue, Debussy received a scholarship to the Académie des Beaux-Arts, which included a four-year residence at the Villa Medici, the French Academy in Rome, to further his studies (1885–1887). He did not delight in the pleasures of the “Eternal City”, finding the Italian opera of Donizetti and Verdi not to his taste. Debussy was often depressed and unable to compose, but he was inspired by Franz Liszt, whose command of the keyboard he found admirable. Debussy finally composed four pieces that were sent to the Academy: the symphonic ode Zuleima, based on a text by Heinrich Heine; the orchestral piece Printemps; the cantata La damoiselle élue (1887–1888), which was criticized by the Academy as “bizarre”; and the Fantaisie for piano and orchestra.

During his visits to Bayreuth in 1888-9, Debussy was exposed to Wagnerian opera, which had a lasting impact on his work. Richard Wagner had died in 1883 and the cult of Wagnerism was still in full swing. Debussy, like many young musicians of the time, responded positively to Wagner’s sensuousness, mastery of form, and striking harmonies. Wagner’s extroverted emotionalism was not to be Debussy’s way, but the German composer’s influence is evident in La damoiselle élue and the 1889 piece Cinq poèmes de Charles Baudelaire. Other songs of the period, notably the settings of Verlaine—Ariettes oubliées, Trois mélodies, and Fêtes galantes—are all in a more capricious style. Around this time, Debussy met Erik Satie, who proved a kindred spirit in his experimental approach to composition and to naming his pieces.

In 1889, at the Exposition Universelle in Paris, Debussy heard Javanese gamelan music. Although direct citations of gamelan scales, melodies, rhythms, or ensemble textures have not been identified in any of Debussy’s compositions, the equal-tempered pentatonic scale appears in his music of this time and afterward. Beginning in the 1890s, Debussy developed his own musical language largely independent of Wagner’s style, collared in part from the dreamy, sometimes morbid romanticism of the Symbolist movement. The Deux Arabesques is an example of one of Debussy’s earliest works, already developing his musical language. Suite bergamasque (1890) recalls rococo decorousness with a modern cynicism and puzzlement. This suite contains one of Debussy’s most popular pieces, Clair de Lune. Debussy’s String Quartet in G minor (1893) paved the way for his later, more daring harmonic exploration.

Debussy became a frequent participant at Stéphane Mallarmé’s Symbolist gatherings. Influenced by Mallarmé, Debussy wrote one of his most famous works, the revolutionary Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune, truly original in form and execution. He married Rosalie (‘Lilly’) Texier, a fashion model, in 1899. The three Nocturnes (1899), include characteristic studies in veiled harmony and texture as demonstrated in Nuages; exuberance in Fêtes; and whole-tones in Sirènes. Contrasting sharply with Wagnerian opera, Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande, based on the play by Maurice Maeterlinck, premiered in 1902, after ten years of work. It would be his only complete opera. In France, he was made Chevalier of the Legion of Honour in 1903.

During this period Debussy wrote much for the piano, including the set of pieces entitled Pour le piano (1901); the evocative Estampes for piano (1903); and the first volume of Images pour piano (1904–1905). In the spring of 1905 Debussy made a trip to England where he corrected proofs to his symphonic suite La mer. Following his divorce from Texier he returned to Paris and eventually married Emma Bardac in 1908. They had a daughter, the composer’s only child, named Claude-Emma, affectionately known as ‘Chouchou’. Debussy wrote his famous Children’s Corner Suite (1908) for his beloved daughter.

During this period, as Debussy gained more popularity, he was engaged as a conductor throughout Europe. Larger scaled works included his orchestral piece Iberia (1907). The first book of Préludes (1910), twelve in total, proved to be Debussy’s most successful work for piano. The music for Gabriele d’Annunzio’s mystery play Le martyre de Saint Sébastien (1911) is a lush and dramatic work, written in only two months. The last orchestral work by Debussy was the ballet Jeux (1912), written for Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. Other late stage works, including the ballets Khamma (1912) and La boîte à joujoux (1913) were left with the orchestration incomplete. His last set of songs was the Trois poèmes de Mallarmé (1913). The second set of Préludes for piano (1913) features Debussy at his most avant-garde. His last two volumes of works for the piano were the Études (1915) and the suite En blanc et noir for two pianos (1915).

Debussy’s Sonata for flute, viola and harp (1915) recaptures the inquisitive Verlainian classicism. With the sonatas of 1915–1917, there is a sudden shift in the style. These works recall Debussy’s earlier music, in part, but also look forward, with leaner, simpler structures. Despite the thinner textures of the Violin Sonata (1917) there remains an undeniable richness in the chords themselves. Debussy planned a set of six sonatas, but this plan was cut short by his death in 1918 so that he only completed three, for cello, flute-viola-harp, and violin. Further plans, such as an American tour, more ballet scores, and revisions of Chopin and Bach works for re-publication, were all cut short by the outbreak of World War I and his poor health. Debussy was diagnosed with the cancer in 1909 after experiencing hemorrhaging, and in 1916 underwent one of the earliest colostomy operations ever performed. The operation achieved only a temporary respite and died of rectal cancer at his Paris home on March 25, 1918, in the midst of the aerial and artillery bombardment of Paris during the German Spring Offensive of World War I.

The following works by Debussy are included in my collection:

Berceuse Heroique (1915).
Chanson de Bilitis (1897).
Children’s Corner (Suite; 1906, orch. Andre Caplet).
Danse (Tarentelle Styrienne, 1890; arr. Maurice Ravel).
Danses Sacree et Profane or Deux Danses for Chromatic Harp and Strings (Danse sacree et danse profane, 1904).
Douze Etudes (1915): Trois Etudes (#s 9, 10, 12; orch Michael Jarrell).
En Blanc et Noir (1915; orch. Robin Holloway).
(Three) Estampes (1903): Pagodes (#1), and La soiree dans Grenade (#2).
Fantasie for Piano and Orchestra (1890).
Images for Orchestra (1912) including Iberia.
Jeux, Poeme Danse (1913).
Khamma, legend dansee.
La Boite a Joujoux (The Toy Box, 1913), Ballet for Children.
La Mer (1905).
La Plus que Lente (Waltz; 1910/1912).
Le Martyre de Saint Sebastian (1911): Fragments Symphoniques.
L’enfant prodigue (cantata; 1884): Cortege et air de danse.
Le Roi Lear (King Lear; 1904): Fanfare d’ouverture and Le sommeil de Lear.
Le triomphe de Bacchus (1881; orch. Marius-Francois Gaillard).
L’Isle Joyeuse (1904; orch. Bernardino Molinari).
Marche Ecossaise sur un theme populare (Marche des Anciens Comtes de Ross; 1891/1908).
Nocturnes for orchestra (1899) , or Three Scenes at Twilight.
Pelleas et Melisande (1902): Symphonie (arr. Marius Constant).
Petite Suite (1889; orch. Henri Busser).
Pour le Piano Suite (1901): Sarabande (#2, Avec une elegance grave et lente; orch. Maurice Ravel).
Prelude a L’Apres Midi d’un Faune (1894).
Preludes, Book I (1910; orch. Colin Matthews).
Preludes Book 2 (1913; orch. Colin Matthews).
Premier Rhapsody for Orchestra with Principal Clarinet (1910).
Printemps, Symphonic Suite (1887).
Rhaspsodie for Alto Saxophone and Orchestra (1911).
Six Epigraphes Antiques (1900; orch. Ernest Ansermet).
Suite Bergamasque (1905), including Clair de Lune.
Symphony in bm (1880).

Victor Davies and his “Mennonite Piano Concerto”

Victor Albert Davies (born May 1, 1939) is an award winning Canadian composer, pianist, and conductor, who was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba. As a child and teenager, he studied the piano and violin, sang in church choirs, played in jazz and rock bands, and took courses with Ronald Gibson and Peggie Sampson at the University of Manitoba. In 1959 he became organist-choirmaster at Wesley United Church, Winnipeg where he served for many years. He studied composition at Indiana University where he graduated with a bachelor of music in 1964. He became the music director at the Manitoba Theatre Centre in 1964 and from 1966-1970 he worked as a composer, arranger, and conductor for CBC Radio and television. Between 1968 and 1970 he led and composed for a ‘third stream’ jazz ensemble and attended Pierre Boulez’s 1969 conducting class in Switzerland.

In 1970 Davies began to work as a freelance composer and arranger, and first came to public attention for his Mennonite Piano Concerto which was commissioned by the B.B. Fast Foundation. The concerto premiered on October 27, 1975, by the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Bill Baerg with pianist Irmgard Baerg. In 1977 Davies moved to Toronto where he still resides. He was president of the Canadian League of Composers 1979-82 As a composer, Davies’s music is fundamentally optimistic in disposition which critics have often described as “happy”, “cheerful”, and “uplifting”. Rhythmically vigorous, well orchestrated, and readily accessible, his music strives for simplicity and elegance while still using a wide range of historical and contemporary musical forms and techniques such as twelve-tone, aleatoric, jazz, and popular music elements.

Davies has written music for several commissions including Anerca (1969) for the Contemporary Dancers; numerous works for the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra including Celebrations (1969), From Harmony(1968), A Short Symphony (1974), and the Jazz Piano Concerto (2001); The Magic Trumpet (1969) and Reginald the Robot (1971) for the Manitoba Theatre Centre; Pulsations (1978) for the CBC; Fun For Four (1980) for the Orford String Quartet; The Musical Circus commissioned by Soundstage Canada in 1981; Animal Capers (1983) for the Famous People Players; The Big Top (1985) for the Royal Winnipeg Ballet; Yukon Scenes (1985/1997) for the Yukon Arts Council Jazz; and Concerto for Organ and Orchestra (2000) for Wayne Marshall. among other. In 2003 he received a Gemini for his score for “Honour Before Glory.” In 2008, Davies completed a tuba concerto entitled “Concerto for Tubameister” which received its piano premier in Vancouver, BC on September 26, 2008 performed by J. C. Sherman, for whom the work was composed.

Perhaps Davies’s most highly regarded work is his oratorio Revelation which uses texts from the Bible’s Book of Revelation. It premiered in February 1996 by the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra and the Mennonite Oratorio Choir under Bramwell Tovey. This was followed in 2007 by the opera Transit of Venus, commissioned by Manitoba Opera, possibly his best known work. Davies began to sit on the board of directors of SOCAN in 1997. He was honored with an honorary doctorate from the University of Manitoba in 2007. A pragmatist, Davies has criticized the trend within classical composition to reject popular music forms. He believes it is socially irresponsible to pursue the clever or different merely for the sake of academic approval. Davies says that “artists must have utility in the community, and their music must embody melodies that are memorable, something that is cherishable.”

Victor Davies’ music ranges from children’s songs for television to chamber music, symphonies, choral music, ballet, opera, musical theatre, and scores for radio, film and television. His works, heard live and on record, performed by acclaimed performers, have been broadcast and televised worldwide. The following works by Davies are found in my collection:

Good Times, Suite for Orchestra (1979).
Piano Concerto No. 1, Mennonite (1975).

Michael Praetorius and “Terpsichore”

Michael Praetorius (probably February 15, 1571 – February 15, 1621) was a German composer, organist, and music theorist, one of the most versatile composers of his age, being particularly significant in the development of musical forms based on Protestant hymns, many of which reflect an effort to improve the relationship between Protestants and Catholics. He was born Michael Schultze, the youngest son of a Lutheran pastor, in Creuzburg, in present-day Thuringia. His family name in German appears in various forms including Schultze, Schulte, Schultheiss, Schulz, and Schulteis. Praetorius was the conventional Latinized form of this family name.

After attending school in Torgau and Zerbst, Praetorius studied divinity and philosophy at the University of Frankfurt (Oder). After receiving his musical education, from 1587 he served as organist at the Marienkirche in Frankfurt. From 1592/3 he served at the court in Wolfenbüttel, under the employ of Henry Julius, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg. He served in the duke’s State Orchestra, first as organist and later (from 1604) as Kapellmeister. His first compositions appeared around 1602/3. Praetorius had begun writing some of them when Regensburg was the parliamentary seat of the Holy Roman Empire. Their publication primarily reflects the care for music at the court of Gröningen. The motets of this collection were the first in Germany to make use of the new Italian performance practices; as a result, they established him as a proficient composer. The familiar harmonization of Es ist ein Ros entsprungen (Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming) was written by Praetorius in 1609.

These “modern” pieces mark the end of Praetorius’s middle creative period. The nine parts of his Musae Sioniae (1605–10) and the 1611 published collections of liturgical music (masses, hymns, magnificats) follow the German Protestant chorale style. With these, at the behest of a circle of orthodox Lutherans, he followed the Duchess Elizabeth, who ruled the duchy in the duke’s absence. In place of popular music, one now expected religious music from Praetorius. When the duke died in 1613 and was succeeded by Frederick Ulrich, Praetorius retained his employment. From 1613 he also worked at the court of John George I, Elector of Saxony at Dresden, where he was responsible for festive music. He was exposed to the latest Italian music, including the polychoral works of the Venetian School. His subsequent development of the form of the chorale concerto, particularly the polychoral variety, resulted directly from his familiarity with the music of such Venetians as Giovanni Gabrieli. The solo-voice, polychoral, and instrumental compositions which Praetorius prepared for these events mark the high period of his artistic creativity.

Praetorius was the greatest musical academic of his day and the Germanic writer of music best known to other 17th-century musicians. Although his original theoretical contributions were relatively few, with nowhere near the long-range impact of other 17th-century German writers, like Johannes Lippius, Christoph Bernhard or Joachim Burmeister, he compiled an encyclopedic record of contemporary musical practices. While Praetorius made some refinements to figured-bass practice and to tuning practice, his importance to scholars of the 17th century derives from his discussions of the normal use of instruments and voices in ensembles, the standard pitch of the time, and the state of modal, metrical, and fugal theory. His meticulous documentation of 17th-century practice was of inestimable value to the early-music revival of the 20th century.

Praetorius’s expansive but incomplete treatise, Syntagma Musicum, appeared in three volumes (with appendix) between 1614 and 1620. The first volume (1614), titled Musicae Artis Analecta, was written mostly in Latin, and regarded the music of the ancients and of the church. The second (De Organographia, 1618) regarded the musical instruments of the day, especially the organ; it was one of the first theoretical treatises written in the vernacular. The third (Termini Musicali, 1618), also in German, regarded the genres of composition and the technical essentials for professional musicians. An appendix to the second volume (Theatrum Instrumentorum seu Sciagraphia, 1620) consisted of 42 beautifully drawn woodcuts, depicting instruments of the early 17th century, all grouped in families and shown to scale. A fourth volume on composition was planned, with the help of Baryphonus, but was left incomplete at his death.

Praetorius wrote in a florid style, replete with long asides, polemics, and word-puzzles – all typical of 17th-century scholarly prose. As a lifelong committed Christian, he often regretted not taking holy orders but did write several theological tracts, which are now lost. As a Lutheran from a militantly Protestant family, he contributed greatly to the development of the vernacular liturgy, but also favored Italian compositional methods, performance practice and figured-bass notation. Praetorius was a prolific composer; his compositions show the influence of Italian composers and his younger contemporary Heinrich Schütz. His works include the nine volume Musae Sioniae (1605–10), a collection of more than twelve hundred (ca. 1244) chorale and song arrangements; many other works for the Lutheran church; and Terpsichore (1612), a compendium of more than 300 instrumental dances, which is both his most widely known work, and his sole surviving secular work. Until his death, Praetorius stayed at the court in Dresden, where he was declared Kapellmeister von Haus aus and worked with Heinrich Schütz. Michael Praetorius died on his 50th birthday, in Wolfenbüttel, Germany and is entombed in a vault beneath the organ of St. Mary’s Church there.

My collection includes the following works by Praetorius:

Terpsichore Musarum Aoniarum Quinta (1612): Six Dances.
Two Galliards and a Reprinse.