Jacques Ibert and “Escales”

Jacques François Antoine Ibert (August 15, 1890–February 5, 1962) was a French composer who was born in Paris on Aug. 15, 1890. His father was a successful businessman and his mother was a talented pianist who had studied with Antoine François Marmontel and encouraged the young Ibert’s musical interests. From the age of four, he began studying music, first learning the violin and then the piano. After leaving school, he earned a living as a private teacher, as an accompanist, and as a cinema pianist. He also started composing songs, sometimes under the pen name William Berty. In 1910 he became a student at the Paris Conservatoire, studying with Emile Pessard (harmony), André Gedalge (counterpoint) and Paul Vidal (composition). Gédalge also gave him private lessons in orchestration. Ibert’s fellow-students at these private classes included Arthur Honegger and Darius Milhaud. Ibert’s musical studies were interrupted by the outbreak of World War I, in which he served as a naval officer. After the war he married Rosette Veber, daughter of the painter Jean Veber.

Resuming his studies, Ibert won the Conservatoire’s top prize, the Prix de Rome for his cantata Le Poète et la fée (“The Poet and the Fairy”) at his first attempt, in 1919. The prize gave him the opportunity to pursue further musical studies in Rome. In the course of these, Ibert composed his first opera, Persée et Andromède (1921), a concise, gently satirical piece, to a libretto by his brother-in-law, the author Michel Veber, writing under the pen name “Nino.” Among Ibert’s early orchestral compositions while in Rome were La Ballade de la geôle de Reading (1920), inspired by Oscar Wilde’s poem, and Escales (Ports of Call, 1922), a ripely romantic work for large orchestra inspired by his experiences of Mediterranean ports while he was serving in the navy. The first of these works was played at the Concerts Colonne in October 1922, conducted by Gabriel Pierné; the second was performed in January 1924 with Paul Paray conducting the Orchestre Lamoureux. The two works made Ibert an early reputation both at home and abroad. His publisher Alphonse Leduc commissioned two collections of piano music from him, Histoires and Les Rencontres, which enhanced his popularity.

In 1927 Ibert’s opéra-bouffe Angélique was produced; it was the most successful of his operas, a musical farce, displaying eclectic style and flair. His first work composed expressly for the ballet was a waltz for L’éventail de Jeanne (1929) to which he was one of ten contributors, others of whom were Ravel and Poulenc. He is probably best remembered for his orchestral works such as Divertissement for small orchestra (1930) fashioned from the composer’s incidental score to Labiche’s The Italian Straw Hat. The Flute Concerto by Ibert, written in 1934, is a useful addition to solo repertoire for an instrument whose possibilities the composer well understood. Among Ibert’s other works, the Concerto da camera (1935) for alto saxophone and 11 instruments stands out as one of a handful of genuine mainstays of the saxophone repertoire. In addition to composing, Ibert was active as a conductor and in musical administration. He was a member of professional committees, and in 1937 he was appointed director of the Académie de France at the Villa Medici in Rome. Ibert, with the enthusiastic support of his wife threw himself wholeheartedly into his administrative role and proved an excellent ambassador of French culture in Italy.” He held the post until the end of 1960, except for an enforced break while France and Italy were at war during World War II.

The war years were difficult for Ibert. In 1940 the Vichy government banned his music and he retreated to Antibes, in the south of France, and later to Switzerland and the Haute-Savoie. In August 1944, he was readmitted to the musical life of the country when General de Gaulle recalled him to Paris. Like a number of his “serious” contemporaries, Ibert also ventured from time to time into film scoring. His most conspicuous efforts in this realm include music for Orson Welles’ 1948 version of Macbeth and the “Circus” sequence from Gene Kelly’s Invitation to the Dance (1952). In 1955 Ibert was appointed administrator of the Réunion des Théâtres Lyriques Nationaux, which ran both the Paris Opera and the Opéra-Comique. After less than a year, his health obliged him to retire. Shortly afterwards he was elected to the Académie des Beaux-Arts. Ibert died at Paris on Feb. 5, 1962, aged 71, and is buried at Passy Cemetery in the city’s 16th arrondissement.

As a composer, Ibert did not attach himself to any of the prevalent genres of music of his time, refusing to ally himself to any particular musical fashion or school and maintaining that “all systems are valid.” As a result, many commentators have categorized him as an “eclectic.” His music is admired for its colorful, technically polished, and often witty neoclassical style. Though best remembered for a handful of orchestral bonbons, he was versatile and prolific, writing for almost every genre including seven operas, four ballets, and music for the theatre, cinema and radio in addition to vocal and instrumental works, chamber and piano music, all equally beautifully crafted, with particularly idiomatic handling of wind instruments.

The following works by Jacques Ibert are included in my collection:

Bacchanale, Scherzo for Orchestra (1956).
Divertissement for chamber orchestra (1930; suite from Un Chapeau de paille d’Italie, 1929).
Escales, orchestral suite in three parts (1922).
Ouverture de fete (1940).
Symphonie Marine (1931; from the film S.O.S. Foch).

—material selected, adapted, and edited from several different sources

Johann Nepomuk Hummel and his piano concerti

Johann Nepomuk Hummel (November 14, 1778–October 17, 1837) was an Austrian composer and virtuoso pianist whose music reflects the transition from the Classical to the Romantic musical era. Hummel was born in Pressburg, Kingdom of Hungary, then a part of the Austrian Habsburg Monarchy, now Bratislava in Slovakia. Young Johann’s first musical studies came on the violin at the behest of his father, a player of string instruments himself, and by the age of five Hummel could play the violin with proficiency. The family moved to Vienna in 1786. His father, Johannes Hummel, was the director of the Imperial School of Military Music in Vienna and the conductor there of Emanuel Schikaneder’s theatre orchestra at the Theater auf der Wieden. His mother, Margarethe Sommer Hummel, was the widow of the wigmaker Josef Ludwig. He was named after St. John of Nepomuk. At the age of eight, he was offered music lessons by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who was impressed with his ability. Hummel was taught and housed by Mozart for two years free of charge and made his first concert appearance at the age of nine at one of Mozart’s concerts.

When the boy was ten, Hummel’s father then took him on a European tour, arriving in London where he received instruction from Muzio Clementi and where he stayed for four years before returning to Vienna. In 1791 Joseph Haydn, who was in London at the same time as young Hummel, composed a sonata in A-flat major for Hummel, who gave its first performance in the Hanover Square Rooms in Haydn’s presence. When Hummel finished, Haydn reportedly thanked the young man and gave him a guinea. The outbreak of the French Revolution and the following Reign of Terror caused Hummel to cancel a planned tour through Spain and France. Instead, he returned to Vienna in 1793, giving concerts along his route. Upon his return to Vienna he was taught by Johann Georg Albrechtsberger, Joseph Haydn, and Antonio Salieri.

At about this time, young Ludwig van Beethoven arrived in Vienna and himself took lessons from Haydn and Albrechtsberger, thus becoming a fellow student and a friend. The two men’s friendship was marked by ups and downs, but developed into mutual respect. Hummel visited Beethoven in Vienna on several occasions with his wife Elisabeth and pupil Ferdinand Hiller. At Beethoven’s wish, Hummel improvised at the great man’s memorial concert. It was at this event that he made friends with Franz Schubert, who dedicated his last three piano sonatas to Hummel. However, since both composers had died by the time of the sonatas’ first publication, the publishers changed the dedication to Robert Schumann, who was still active at the time. Now 14, the young composer largely turned away from the concert stage, in favor of teaching and composing. Among his works were a set of variations for piano in 1794, and, four years later, two sonatas for piano and violin, and one for piano and viola. But he struggled with opera: Il viaggiator ridicolo (1797), and Don Anchise (c. 1800) were left incomplete. He did, however, finish Dankgefühl einer Geretten (1799). He completed another opera Le vicende d’amore in 1804.

His first major appointment came in April, 1804, when Hummel became Konzertmeister to Prince Esterházy’s establishment at Eisenstadt. His 1806 Missa solemnis was written for the marriage of his patron Prince Nicolaus Esterházy II’s daughter. Although he had taken over many of the duties of Kapellmeister because Haydn’s health did not permit him to perform them himself, he continued to be known simply as the Concertmeister out of respect to Haydn, receiving the title of Kapellmeister, or music director, to the Eisenstadt court only after the older composer died in May 1809. He then remained in the service of Prince Esterházy for seven years before being dismissed in May 1811. He then returned to Vienna where, after spending two years composing, he married the opera singer Elisabeth Röckel in 1813. The following year was at her request spent touring Russia and the rest of Europe. The couple had two sons.

Hummel later held the positions of Kapellmeister in Stuttgart from 1816 to 1819 and in Weimar from 1819 to 1837, where he formed a close friendship with Goethe. This was a most productive period for him, as many of his best works appeared, including the Trio for Piano, Violin, and Cello, Op. 83 (1819), the Sonata in A Flat, for piano four hands, Op. 92 (1820), and two “birthday” cantatas for the Duke (1823 and 1827). During Hummel’s stay in Weimar he made the city into a European musical capital, inviting the best musicians of the day to visit and make music there. He brought one of the first musicians’ pension schemes into existence, giving benefit concert tours when the retirement fund ran low. Hummel was one of the first to agitate for musical copyright to combat intellectual piracy. While in Germany, Hummel published A Complete Theoretical and Practical Course of Instruction on the Art of Playing the Piano Forte (1828), which sold thousands of copies within days of its publication and brought about a new style of fingering and of playing ornaments. However, toward the end of his life, Hummel saw the rise of a new school of young composers and virtuosi, and found his own music slowly going out of fashion. In 1832, at the age of 54 and in failing health, Hummel began to devote less energy to his duties as music director at Weimar. As a result, he found himself in partial retirement from 1832 until his death. Hummel died peacefully in Weimar on October 17, 1837.

Hummel’s influence can be seen in the early works of Frédéric Chopin and Robert Schumann. Carl Czerny, Friedrich Silcher, Ferdinand Hiller, Sigismond Thalberg, and Adolf von Henselt were among Hummel’s most prominent students. He also briefly gave some lessons to Felix Mendelssohn. Hummel’s main work is for the piano, on which instrument he was one of the great virtuosi of his day. He wrote eight piano concertos, ten piano sonatas, eight piano trios, a piano quartet, a piano quintet, a wind octet, a cello sonata, two piano septets, a mandolin concerto, a mandolin sonata, a Trumpet Concerto in E major, a “Grand Bassoon Concerto” in F, a quartet for clarinet, violin, viola, and cello, four hand piano music, 22 operas and Singspiels, masses, celebratory cantatas, compositions for the guitar, many songs,, and much more, including a set of variations on a theme supplied by Anton Diabelli for Part II of Vaterländischer Künstlerverein. Hummel’s output is marked by the conspicuous lack of a symphony.

My collection contains the following works by Johann Nepomunk Hummel:

Concerto for Piano and Orchestra in bm, op. 89 (1819).
Concerto for Piano and Orchestra in am, op. 85 (1816).

—material selected, adapted, and edited from several different sources

Alan Hovhaness and “Mysterious Mountain”


Alan Hovhaness (March 8, 1911 – June 21, 2000) was an American composer of Armenian descent and one of America’s most idiosyncratic musical pioneers who sought a musical reconciliation between East and West. He was born as Alan Scott Vaness Chakmakjian in Somerville, MA, to Haroutioun Hovanes Chakmakjian, an Armenian chemistry professor at Tufts College who had been born in Adana, Turkey, and Madeleine Scott, an American woman of Scottish descent who had graduated from Wellesley College. When he was five, his family moved from Somerville to Arlington, MA. After his mother’s death on October 3, 1930, he began to use the surname “Hovaness” in honor of his paternal grandfather, and changed it to “Hovhaness” around 1944. Hovhaness was interested in music from a very early age, writing his first composition at the age of four after being inspired by hearing a song of Franz Schubert. His family was concerned after this first attempt at composition, a cantata in the early Italian style, for his late-night hours spent composing and possibly for his financial future as an artist. He decided for a short time to pursue astronomy, another of his early loves.

However, Hovhaness’s parents still supported their son’s precocious composing, and set up his first piano lessons with a neighborhood teacher. Hovhaness continued his piano studies with Adelaide Proctor and then Heinrich Gebhard. By age fourteenn he decided to devote himself to composition. Among his early musical experiences were Baptist hymns and recordings of Gomidas Vartabed, an eminent Armenian composer. He composed two operas, Daniel and Lotus Blossom, during his teenage years which were performed at Arlington High School, and the composer Roger Sessions took an interest in his music during this time. Following his graduation from high school in 1929, he studied with Leo Rich Lewis at Tufts and then under Frederick Converse at the New England Conservatory of Music. In 1932, he won the Conservatory’s Samuel Endicott prize for composition with a symphonic work entitled Sunset Symphony (elsewhere entitled Sunset Saga).

In July 1934, with his wife, Martha Mott Davis, Hovhaness traveled to Finland to meet the great composer, Jean Sibelius, whose music he had greatly admired since childhood. The two continued to correspond for the next twenty years. This marriage produced his only child, a daughter born in 1935 named Jean Christina Hovhaness after Jean Christian Sibelius, her godfather. In 1936, Hovhaness attended a performance in Boston by the Indian dance troupe of Uday Shankar with orchestra led by Vishnudas Shirali, which inspired his lifelong interest in the music of India. During the 1930s, until 1939, he worked in FDR’s federal WPA’s Federal Music Project. During the 1930s and 1940s, Hovhaness destroyed many of his early works, claiming to have burned anywhere from 500 to 1000 different pieces.

Hovhaness became interested in Armenian culture and music in 1940 as organist for the St. James Armenian Apostolic Church in Watertown, MA, remaining in this position for about ten years. In 1942, he won a scholarship at Tanglewood to study in Czech composer Bohuslav Martinů’s master class. During a seminar in composition, a recording of Hovhaness’s first symphony was being played. The next year he devoted himself to Armenian subject matter, in particular using modes distinctive to Armenian music, and continued in this vein for several years, achieving some renown and the support of other musicians, including radical experimentalist composer John Cage and choreographer Martha Graham, all the while continuing as church organist.

Beginning in the mid-1940s, Hovhaness and two artist friends, Hyman Bloom and Hermon di Giovanno, met frequently to discuss musical matters. All three had a strong interest in Indian classical music, and brought many well known Indian musicians to Boston to perform. During this period, Hovhaness learned to play the sitar, studying with amateur Indian musicians living in the Boston area. Around 1942, Bloom introduced Hovhaness to Yenovk Der Hagopian, a fine singer of Armenian and Kurdish troubadour songs, whose singing inspired Hovhaness. Lou Harrison reviewed a 1945 concert of Hovhaness’ music which included his 1944 concerto for piano and strings, entitled Lousadzak. In the mid-1940s, Hovhaness’ stature in New York was helped considerably by members of the immigrant Armenian community who sponsored several high-profile concerts of his music. This organization, the Friends of Armenian Music Committee, was led by Hovhaness’s friends Dr. Elizabeth A. Gregory, the Armenian American piano/violin duo Maro Ajemian and Anahid Ajemian, and later Anahid’s husband, pioneering record producer and subsequent Columbia Records executive George Avakian. Their help led directly to many recordings of Hovhaness’ music appearing in the 1950s on MGM and Mercury records, placing him firmly on the American musical landscape.

In May and June 1946, while staying with an Armenian family, Hovhaness composed Etchmiadzin, an opera on an Armenian theme. In 1948 he joined the faculty of the Boston Conservatory, teaching there until 1951. His students there included the jazz musicians Sam Rivers and Gigi Gryce. In 1951 Hovhaness moved to New York City, where he became a full-time composer. Also that year, starting on August 1, he worked for the Voice of America, first as a script writer for the Armenian section, then as director of music, composer, and musical consultant for the Near East and Transcaucasian sections, but lost his job in 1953. From this time on, he branched out from Armenian music, adopting styles and material from a wide variety of sources. In 1953 and again in1954, he received Guggenheim Fellowships in composition. He wrote the score for the Broadway play The Flowering Peach by Clifford Odets in 1954, a ballet for Martha Graham (Ardent Song, also in 1954), and two scores for NBC documentaries on India and Southeast Asia (1955 and 1957). Also during the 1950s, he composed for productions at The Living Theatre.

Hovhaness’s biggest breakthrough to date came in 1955, when his Symphony No. 2, Mysterious Mountain, was premiered by Leopold Stokowski in his debut with the Houston Symphony. That same year, MGM Records released recordings of a number of his works. Between 1956 and 1958, at the urging of Howard Hanson, an admirer of his music, he taught summer sessions at the Eastman School of Music long presided over by Hanson. From 1959 through 1963 Hovhaness conducted a series of research trips to India, Hawaii, Japan and South Korea, investigating the ancient traditional music of these nations and eventually integrating elements of these into his own compositions. His study of Carnatic music in Madras, India (1959–60), during which he collected over 300 ragas, was sponsored by a Fulbright fellowship. While in Madras, he learned to play the veena and composed a work for Carnatic orchestra entitled Nagooran, inspired by a visit to the dargah at Nagore, which was performed by the South Indian Orchestra of All India Radio Madras and broadcast on All-India Radio on February 3, 1960. He compiled a large amount of material on Carnatic ragas in preparation for a book on the subject, but never completed it.

Hovhaness then studied Japanese gagaku music (learning the wind instruments hichiriki, shō, and ryūteki) in the spring of 1962 with Masatoshi Shamoto in Hawaii, and a Rockefeller Foundation grant allowed him further gagaku studies with Masataro Togi in Japan (1962–63). Also while in Japan, he studied and played the nagauta (kabuki) shamisen and the jōruri (bunraku) shamisen. In recognition of the musical styles he studied in Japan, he wrote Fantasy on Japanese Woodprints, Op. 211 (1965), a concerto for xylophone and orchestra. In 1963 he composed his second ballet score for Martha Graham, entitled Circe. He then set up a record label devoted to the release of his own works, Poseidon Society. Its first release was in 1963, with around 15 discs following over the next decade. In 1965, as part of a U.S. government-sponsored delegation, he visited Russia as well as Soviet-controlled Georgia and Armenia, the only time he visited his paternal ancestral homeland. While there, he donated his handwritten manuscripts of harmonized Armenian liturgical music to the Yeghishe Charents State Museum of Arts and Literature in Yerevan. In the mid-1960s he spent several summers touring Europe, living and working much of the time in Switzerland.

Hovhaness was inducted into the National Institute of Arts and Letters (1951), and received honorary D.Mus. degrees from the University of Rochester (1958), Bates College (1959), and the Boston Conservatory (1987). He moved to Seattle in the early 1970s, where he lived for the rest of his life. A 1970 work inspired by nature and which acquired some fame was his orchestral work And God Created Great Whales where pre-recorded whale songs were fitted within an impressionistic-sounding orchestral tone poem. In 1973, he composed his third and final ballet score for Martha Graham, Myth of a Voyage, and over the next twenty years (between 1973 and 1992) he produced no fewer than 37 new symphonies. As a tribute to Hovhaness’ unswerving vision, he was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1977. Continuing his interest in composing for Asian instruments, in 1981, at the request of Lou Harrison, he composed two works for Indonesian gamelan orchestra which were premiered by the gamelan at Lewis and Clark College, under the direction of Vincent McDermott. In 1991, the American Composers Orchestra, in conjunction with the Armenian Apostolic Church of America, presented the Alan Hovhaness 80th Birthday Gala Celebration at Carnegie Hall. He died June 21, 2000, survived by his wife, the coloratura soprano Hinako Fujihara Hovhaness, who administers the Hovhaness-Fujihara music publishing company, as well as his daughter, harpsichordist Jean Nandi.

Alan Hovhaness, who was one of the twentith century’s most prolific composers, ranks among the most intrepid of musical explorers in twentieth century classical music. He spearheaded quasi-aleatoric textural music as early as the 1940s, a technique which became known as ‘ad libitum’ in the 1960s. During the 1940s and 50s he was firmly entrenched within that maverick group of American composers such as Henry Cowell, John Cage and Lou Harrison, who spearheaded one of the great shifts in twentieth century American music, that of looking to non-Western cultures for creative renewal in art music. He was a widely recorded and lauded American composer in the 1950s and 60s, and has, since the 1990s, enjoyed something of a revival on CD and radio. The composer’s huge output of more than 500-odd works, including more than 60 symphonies, over 20 concertos, numerous choral works, ballets, and operas, and all manner of chamber music, was unusually diverse.

The following works by Alan Hovhaness are included in my collection:

Alleluia and Fugue for String Orchestra, op. 40b (1941).
And God Created Great Whales (1970).
Celestial Fantasy (1935/1944).
Meditation on Orpheus, op. 155 (1958)/
The Prayer of St. Gregory.
Prelude and Quadruple Fugue (1936).
(Second) Symphony No. 2, Mysterious Mountain (1955).
Symphony No. 50, Mt. St. Helens, op. 360 (1983).
Symphony No. 53, Star Dawn, op. 377.

—material selected, adapted, and edited from several different sources

Gustav Holst and “The Planets”

Gustav Theodore Holst (September 21, 1874–May 25, 1934) was an English composer, arranger and teacher, who composed a large number of works across a range of genres but is best known for his orchestral suite The Planets. Holst was born on September 21, 1874, in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, the first of two children of Adolph von Holst, a professional musician, and his wife, Clara Cox, née Lediard, a talented singer and pianist. She was of mostly British descent, daughter of a respected Cirencester solicitor. The Holst side of the family was of mixed Swedish, Latvian and German ancestry, with at least one professional musician in each of the previous three generations. Holst’s great-grandfather, Matthias Holst, born in Riga, Latvia, was of German origin; and served as composer and harp-teacher to the Imperial Russian Court in St Petersburg. Matthias’s son Gustavus, who moved to England with his parents as a child in 1802, was a composer of salon-style music and a well-known harp teacher. Holst’s father became organist and choirmaster at All Saints’ Church, Cheltenham. He also taught, and gave piano recitals.

Adolph and Clara, a former pupil, had two sons, Gustav and his younger brother Emil Gottfried, who became known as Ernest Cossart, a successful actor in the West End, New York and Hollywood. Clara died in February 1882, and the family moved to another house in Cheltenham, where Adolph recruited his sister Nina to help raise the boys. In 1885 Adolph married Mary Thorley Stone, another of his pupils. They had two sons, Matthias (known as “Max”) and Evelyn (“Thorley”). As a child, Gustav was characterize by both weak sight and a weak chest. He was taught to play the piano and the violin, enjoying the former very much more than the latter. At the age of twelve he took up the trombone at Adolph’s suggestion, thinking that playing a brass instrument might improve his asthma. Educated at Cheltenham Grammar School between 1886 and 1891, he started composing in or about 1886. Inspired by Macaulay’s poem Horatius he began, but soon abandoned, an ambitious setting of the work for chorus and orchestra.

Holst’s early compositions included piano pieces, organ voluntaries, songs, anthems and a symphony (from 1892). His main influences at this stage were Mendelssohn, Chopin, Grieg and above all Sullivan. Adolph tried to steer his son away from composition, hoping that he would have a career as a pianist. However, Holst’s health played a decisive part in his musical future. He had never been strong, and in addition to his asthma and poor eyesight he suffered from neuritis, which made playing the piano difficult. After Holst left school in 1891, Adolph paid for him to spend four months in Oxford studying counterpoint with George Frederick Sims, organist of Merton College. On his return Holst obtained his first professional appointment, aged seventeen, as organist and choirmaster at Wyck Rissington, Gloucestershire. The post brought with it the conductorship of the Bourton-on-the-Water Choral Society, which offered no extra remuneration but provided valuable experience that enabled him to hone his conducting skills. In November 1891 Holst gave what was perhaps his first public performance as a pianist. He and his father played the Brahms Hungarian Dances at a concert in Cheltenham.

In 1892 Holst wrote the music for an operetta in the style of Gilbert and Sullivan, Lansdowne Castle, or The Sorcerer of Tewkesbury. The piece was performed at Cheltenham Corn Exchange in February 1893; it was well received and its success encouraged him to persevere with composing. He applied to the Royal College of Music (RCM) in London and left Cheltenham for London in May 1893. It was soon after accepting the scholarship to the Royal College of Music that Holst wrote his first opera. Under the guidance of his composition professor, Charles Stanford, Holst set to music a libretto written by Fritz Hart based on a card game episode in Beau Brummel. He called it The Revoke and gave it his Opus 1. Holst’s professors at the RCM were Frederick Sharpe (piano), William Stephenson Hoyte (organ), George Case (trombone), George Jacobi (instrumentation) and the director of the college, Hubert Parry (history). After preliminary lessons with W. S. Rockstro and Frederick Bridge, Holst was granted his wish to study composition with Charles Villiers Stanford. To support himself during his studies Holst played the trombone professionally, at seaside resorts in the summer and in London theatres in the winter. He secured an occasional engagement in symphony concerts, playing in 1897 under the baton of Richard Strauss at the Queen’s Hall. One of Gustav Holst’s early student works dating from 1897 was the Winter Idyll.

In 1895, shortly after celebrating his twenty-first birthday, Holst met Ralph Vaughan Williams, who became a lifelong friend and had more influence on Holst’s music than anybody else. Another influence was William Morris of Hammersmith. Holst was invited to conduct the Hammersmith Choir, teaching them madrigals by Thomas Morley, choruses by Purcell, and works by Mozart, Wagner, and himself. One of his choristers was (Emily) Isobel Harrison (1876–1969), a beautiful soprano two years his junior. He fell in love with her. In 1898 the RCM offered Holst a further year’s scholarship, but he felt that he had learned as much as he could there and that it was time, as he put it, to learn by doing. He took posts as organist at various London churches, and continued playing the trombone in theatre orchestras. In 1898 he was appointed first trombonist and répétiteur with the Carl Rosa Opera Company and toured with the Scottish Orchestra. Though a capable rather than a virtuoso player he won the praise of the leading conductor Hans Richter, for whom he played at Covent Garden. He also played in a popular orchestra called the “White Viennese Band”, conducted by Stanislas Wurm. With a modest income secured, Holst was able to marry Isobel in June of 1901. Their marriage lasted until his death, and there was one child, Imogen, born in 1907. In 1902 Dan Godfrey and the Bournemouth Municipal Orchestra premiered Holst’s Cotswold Symphony. Holst also completed his Ave Maria, which was his first published piece. In 1903 he also wrote a symphonic poem titled Indra, which was a vivid portrait of the god, Indra, and his battle with the drought. In 1903 Adolph von Holst died, leaving a small legacy.

While on holiday in Germany, Holst reappraised his professional life, and in 1903 he decided to abandon orchestral playing to concentrate on composition. However, his earnings as a composer were too little to live on, and two years later he accepted the offer of a teaching post at James Allen’s Girls’ School, Dulwich, which he held until 1921. He also taught at the Passmore Edwards Settlement. The two teaching posts for which he is probably best known were director of music at St Paul’s Girls’ School, Hammersmith, from 1905 until his death, and director of music at Morley College from 1907 to 1924. As a composer Holst was frequently inspired by literature. He set poetry by Thomas Hardy and Robert Bridges and, a particular influence, Walt Whitman, whose words he set in “Dirge for Two Veterans” and The Mystic Trumpeter (1904). He wrote an orchestral Walt Whitman Overture in 1899. The Somerset Rhapsody (1906–07), was written at the suggestion of the folk-song collector Cecil Sharp and made use of three tunes that Sharp had noted down. His settings of translations of Sanskrit texts included Sita (1899–1906), a three-act opera based on an episode in the Ramayana (which he eventually entered for a competition for English opera set by the Milan music publisher Tito Ricordi); Savitri (1908), a chamber opera based on a tale from the Mahabharata; four groups of Hymns from the Rig Veda (1908–14); and two texts originally by Kālidāsa: Two Eastern Pictures (1909–10) and The Cloud Messenger (1913).

Holst was a keen rambler. He walked extensively in England, Italy, France and Algeria. In 1908 he travelled to Algeria on medical advice as a treatment for asthma. This trip inspired the suite Beni Mora, which incorporated music he heard in the Algerian streets. In June 1911 Holst and his Morley College students gave the first performance since the seventeenth century of Purcell’s The Fairy-Queen. In 1913, St Paul’s Girls’ School opened a new music wing, and Holst composed St Paul’s Suite for the occasion. In 1917 Holst and his family moved to a house in the center of the town of Thaxted, Essex, where they stayed until 1925. Holst became an occasional organist and choirmaster at Thaxted Parish Church and also developed an interest in bell-ringing. He started an annual music festival at Whitsuntide in 1916; students from Morley College and St Paul’s Girls’ School performed together with local participants works such as Holst’s carol, “This Have I Done For My True Love.” At the outbreak of the First World War, Holst tried to enlist but was rejected as unfit for military service. He continued to teach and compose; he worked on The Planets and prepared his chamber opera Savitri for performance. In 1917 he wrote The Hymn of Jesus for chorus and orchestra, which remained unperformed until after the war.

In 1918, as the war neared its end, Holst finally had the prospect of a job that offered him the chance to serve. The music section of the YMCA’s education department needed volunteers to work with British troops stationed in Europe awaiting demobilization. Morley College and St Paul’s Girls’ School offered him a year’s leave of absence. He was appointed as the YMCA’s musical organizer for the Near East, based in Salonica. He returned to England in June 1919 to resume his teaching and composing. In addition to his existing work he accepted a lectureship in composition at Reading University and joined Vaughan Williams in teaching composition at their alma mater the RCM. In his soundproof room at St Paul’s Girls’ School he composed the Ode to Death, a setting of a poem by Whitman, which according to Vaughan Williams is considered by many to be Holst’s most beautiful choral work. Holst, in his forties, suddenly found himself in demand. His comic opera The Perfect Fool (1923) was widely seen as a satire of Parsifal. At a concert at University College in Reading in 1923, Holst slipped and fell, suffering concussion. He seemed to make a good recovery, and he felt up to accepting an invitation to the US, lecturing and conducting at the University of Michigan. During the voyage, he scored his Fugal Concerto for flute, oboe, and strings. However, the damage from his fall was more serious than Holst realized at the time, and it was many years before he recovered from the after effects of the accident.

After he returned Holst found himself more and more in demand, to conduct, prepare his earlier works for publication, and, as before, to teach. The strain caused by these demands on him was too great; on doctor’s orders he cancelled all professional engagements during 1924, and retreated to Thaxted. In 1925 he resumed his work at St Paul’s Girls’ School, but did not return to any of his other posts. Holst’s productivity as a composer benefited almost at once from his release from other work. His works from this period include the First Choral Symphony to words by Keats (a Second Choral Symphony to words by George Meredith exists only in fragments). A short Shakespearian opera, At the Boar’s Head, followed; as well as A Moorside Suite for brass band of 1928. In 1927 Holst was commissioned by the New York Symphony Orchestra to write a symphony. Instead, he wrote an orchestral piece Egdon Heath, inspired by Thomas Hardy’s Wessex. It was first performed in February 1928. Towards the end of his life Holst wrote the Choral Fantasia (1930) and he was commissioned by the BBC to write a piece for military band; the resulting prelude and scherzo Hammersmith was a tribute to the place where he had spent most of his life. Holst wrote a score for a 1931 British film, The Bells, and a “jazz band piece” that Imogen later arranged for orchestra as Capriccio.

Having composed operas throughout his life with varying success, Holst found for his last opera, The Wandering Scholar, the right medium for his oblique sense of humor. Harvard University offered Holst a lectureship for the first six months of 1932. Arriving via New York he was pleased to be reunited with his brother, whose acting career had taken him to Broadway. He enjoyed his time at Harvard, but was taken ill while there: a duodenal ulcer prostrated him for some weeks. He returned to England, joined briefly by his brother for a holiday together in the Cotswolds. His health declined, and he withdrew further from musical activities. One of his last efforts was to guide the young players of the St Paul’s Girls’ School orchestra through one of his final compositions, the Brook Green Suite, in March 1934. Holst died in London on May 25, 1934, at the age of 59, of heart failure following an operation on his ulcer. His ashes were interred at Chichester Cathedral in Sussex, close to the memorial to Thomas Weelkes, his favorite Tudor composer.

My collection contains the following works by Gustav Holst:

Brook Green Suite (1933).
First Suite for Military Band in E-flat Major, op. 28, no. 1: March (Movt. 3).
The Planets, op. 32 (1918).

—material selected, adapted, and edited from several different sources

Vagn Holmboe and his chamber concerti

Vagn Gylding Holmboe (December 20, 1909–September 1, 1996) was a Danish composer and teacher who wrote largely in a neo-classical style. Born in 1909 at Horsens in Jutland, Denmark, Holmboe, at the age of sixteen, began formal music training as a violinist at the Royal Danish Academy of Music in Copenhagen on the recommendation of composer Carl Nielsen. The earliest works by Holmboe known today were written the next year, and these include a string quartet. This was the first of no fewer than ten quartets that Holmboe wrote before the age of forty. He studied theory under Knud Jeppesen and composition with Finn Høffding. The years at the Academy were typified by studies of the classics and polyphony, and this colored Holmboe’s music throughout his life. One of his great models was Haydn, whose vitality, elegance, humor, and economy with his resources are reflected in his own works. After finishing his studies in 1929 Holmboe moved to Berlin, Germany, where, for a short period, Ernst Toch became his teacher. At the beginning of the 1930s, during a study trip to Paris, Holmboe met the Romanian pianist Meta May Graf, whom he married in 1933. She introduced him to the folk music of the Balkans.

After moving back to Denmark in 1934, he continued to work as a composer and critic while teaching at various institutions. By the beginning of the 1930s Holmboe had already composed a large number of works, but had given very few of them the seal of an opus number. The First Symphony (1935) is a work of chamber proportions. His breakthrough came in 1939, when he won the Royal Danish Orchestra’s composition competition with his Symphony No 2. With the money prize he bought a country property by the lake Arresø in northern Zealand, where he built his home and lived until his death. The next two symphonies, his third and fourth, a choral work, respectively subtitled “Sinfonia rustica” and “Sinfonia sacra,” are precursors of a later, darker style. International attention came when his Fifth Symphony was performed at the International Society for Contemporary Music Festival in Copenhagen in 1947. Prior to 1950 he taught at the Danish Institute for the Blind, and then he was engaged by the Royal Danish Academy of Music’s Conservatory in Copenhagen as professor of composition and theory from 1950 to 1965, when he retired to devote all his time to composing. His students included Per Nørgård, Ib Nørholm, Bent Lorentzen, Arne Nordheim, Egil Hovland and Alan Stout.

Holmboe composed about 370 works, including 13 symphonies, three chamber symphonies, four symphonies for strings, 20 string quartets, 13 chamber concertos, numerous other concertos, three operas, and the late series of preludes for chamber orchestra, as well as much choral and other music, including Epilogue (1962) and Requiem for Nietzsche (1964), in addition to some early works that never received opus numbers. His earlier works show the influence of European composers such as Béla Bartók, Igor Stravinsky, Carl Nielsen, Jean Sibelius, and Dmitri Shostakovich. He is considered to be the most important Danish symphonist after Carl Nielsen. His music is characteristically tonal, and musical metamorphosis of thematic or motivic fragments characterize most of his works between the years 1950 and 1970. Holmboe wrote several books, including Danish Street Cries: a study of their musical structure and a complete edition of tunes with words collected before 1960. Another is Experiencing Music. His last work, the 21st string quartet, Quartetto sereno, was completed by his pupil Per Nørgård. He died at Ramløse, Denmark, in 1996.

The following work by Vagn Holmboe are included in my collection:

Chamber Concerto No. 4, for piano trio and chamber orchestra, op. 30 (1942).
Chamber Concerto No. 5, for viola and chamber orchestra, op. 31 (1943).
Chamber Concerto No. 6, for violin and chamber orchestra, op. 33 (1943).

—material selected, adapted, and edited from several different sources

Max Steiner and “Gone With the Wind”


Maximilian “Max” Raoul Steiner (May 10, 1888 – December 28, 1971) was an Austrian-born American composer of music for theatre and films. Steiner was born on May 10, 1888, in Austria-Hungary, the only child of a wealthy business and theatrical family of Jewish heritage. He was named after his paternal grandfather, Maximilian Steiner (1830–1880), the influential manager of Vienna’s historic Theater an der Wien, recognized for staging celebrated works of theatre, opera and symphony since 1801, who is credited with first persuading Johann Strauss, Jr. to write for the theater. Max’s father was Gabor Steiner (1858–1944), Viennese impresario, carnival exposition manager, and inventor, responsible for building the giant Ferris wheel in the Prater, known as the Wiener Riesenrad. Steiner’s mother was a dancer in stage productions put on by his grandfather and owned three of Vienna’s favorite restaurants. His parents sent Steiner to the Vienna University of Technology, but he expressed little interest in scholastic subjects. He then enrolled in the Imperial Academy of Music, where, due to his precocious musical talents and private tutoring by Robert Fuchs, Johannes Brahms, and Gustav Mahler, he completed a four-year course in only one year. He studied various instruments including piano, organ, violin, double bass, and trumpet. He also had courses in harmony, counterpoint, and composition. For his early achievement he was awarded a gold medal by the academy

When Steiner was twelve his father let him conduct an American operetta, The Belle of New York, by Gustave Kerker. Steiner first entered the world of professional music when he was fifteen, writing and conducting the operetta, ”The Beautiful Greek Girl.” This first opera led to other shows in other countries, which took him to Moscow and Hamburg and eventually to London in 1906 to conduct Lehar’s The Merry Widow, and that was the start of eight years in England. During his years in England Steiner wrote and conducted both theater productions and symphonies. But in 1914 World War I started and he was interned as an enemy alien then given exit papers to go to America. Steiner soon acquired employment and worked in New York for the next fifteen years as a musical director, arranger, orchestrator, and conductor of Broadway productions. They included operettas and musicals written by Victor Herbert, Jerome Kern, Vincent Youmans, and George Gershwin, among others, augmenting his earlier classical training with American popular music. Steiner’s credits include George White’s Scandals (1922), Lady, Be Good (1924), and Rosalie (1928). His final production on Broadway was in 1929, Sons O’ Guns. He also began experimenting with composing and conducting music to silent films such as The Bondman (1915);

During this period, when orchestrating and conducting Harry Tierney’s Rio Rito in 1927, Tierney himself requested that RKO Pictures in Hollywood hire Steiner to work in their music production departments. William LeBaron, RKO’s head of production, traveled to New York to watch Steiner conduct and was “greatly impressed.” Steiner accepted their offer and moved to California in 1929, remaining in Hollywood for 42 years. Soon after arriving, he orchestrated the film version of the musical Rio Rita and another musical, Dixiana (1930), for which he received his first screen credit as an orchestrator. Later that year LeBaron made him director of RKO’s new music production department. Steiner’s next film was a Western, Cimarron (1931), the first film for which he wrote an original composition. He then worked on Bird of Paradise, putting to music almost the entire 85-minute film. In 1932 Steiner was asked by a new producer at RKO, David O. Selznick, to try to improve a film he had just completed, but was still not satisfied with, Symphony of Six Million (1932). The film became a career turning point. Beginning with 1932’s The Most Dangerous Game, Steiner’s music for these films achieved something entirely unprecedented.

The score for King Kong (1933) became Steiner’s breakthrough and brought his name to everyone’s attention and made Steiner one of the most respected names in Hollywood. He continued on as RKOs music director for two more years, until 1936, during which time he composed, arranged and conducted another 55 films, from dramas to musicals. Among those were most of the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dance musicals. He wrote a sonata used in Katharine Hepburn’s first film, Bill of Divorcement (1932). Steiner was asked to compose a needed score for Of Human Bondage (1934), which originally lacked music. Director John Ford then called on him to score his film, “The Lost Patrol (1934).” Steiner’s composition was nominated for an Academy Award. Having now witnessed the value of music to films, Ford again hired Steiner to compose his next film, ‘’The Informer” (1935). The work paid off, as the film was nominated for six Academy Awards and won four, including Steiner’s first. Producer David O. Selznick had set up his own production company in 1936 and the only composer he wanted was Steiner. Steiner wrote the scores for Selznick’s next three films.

In April 1937, Steiner left RKO and signed a long-term contract with Warner Bros., but could continue to work for Selznick. The first of 140 films he would score for Warners was The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936). The film starred Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland, and over the coming years, Steiner would score fourteen more of Flynn’s pictures. Steiner also scored most of Bette Davis’s romantic dramas, eighteen in all. By the middle-late 1930’s, every studio wanted its own Max Steiner. Steiner became a mainstay at Warner Bros., scoring 140 of their films over the next 30 years. He remained with Warners longer than any of his contemporaries. In 1939, Steiner was borrowed from Warner Bros. by Selznick to compose the score for his next film, Gone with the Wind (1939), which became one of Steiner’s most notable successes. Steiner was the only composer Selznick would consider for scoring the film. Despite 1939 being Steiner’s peak year for the number of scores he composed—twelve films in all—he was given only three months to do it. When the film was released, it was the longest film score ever composed, at nearly three hours. The composition consisted of 16 main themes and almost 300 musical segments. The film’s theme song, “Tara’s Theme,” is currently one of the most easily recognizable motifs in the history of film music.

Steiner received his next Oscar nomination for the 1940 film, The Letter, his first of several collaborations with legendary director William Wyler. A further nomination followed the next year for Sergeant York, and was also nominated for Casablanca (1942), which remains one of his most famous scores. He also composed two more Humphrey Bogart films besides Casablanca, which is considered among Bogart’s best: The Big Sleep (1946) and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948). In 1942, Steiner won his second Oscar for Now, Voyager (1942), one of his favorite scores, and received his third and final Oscar in 1944 with Since You Went Away (1944), set during World War II. Other famous Steiner scores over the years include period swashbucklers like The Three Musketeers (1933) and The Adventures of Don Juan (1948); Westerns like Dodge City (1939) and The Oklahoma Kid (1939); They Died with Their Boots On (1941), also starring Flynn and de Havilland; Mildred Pierce (1945); The Fountainhead (1949);The Glass Menagerie (1950); Cinerama (1952), with its natural settings such as the Grand Canyon; and Spencer’s Mountain (1963), the theme to which Steiner composed when he was 75-years of age, Steiner reunited with director John Ford in 1956 to score The Searchers, widely considered the greatest Western ever made. He returned to Warner-Bros in 1958 (although his contract had ended in 1953) and scored several films, in addition a rare venture into television. He continued to score films produced by Warner until the mid sixties.

Steiner’s pace slowed significantly in the mid-1950s, and he began freelancing, contributing scores to The Caine Mutiny (1954), The Searchers (1955), A Summer Place (1959) and many other films. In 1954, RCA Victor asked Steiner to prepare and conduct an orchestral suite of music from Gone with the Wind for a special LP, which was later issued on CD. In 1963, Steiner began writing his autobiography, which, although completed, was never published. Steiner, perhaps more so than any other iconic Hollywood film composer, remains universally acknowledged as the “father of film music” and is considered one of the greatest film score composers in the history of cinema. He was also the first recipient of the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score, which he won for his score to Life with Father. He established the Wagnerian leitmotif convention for cinema and pioneered the click track. Along with such composers as Dimitri Tiomkin, Franz Waxman, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Alfred Newman and Miklós Rózsa, Steiner played a major part in creating the tradition of writing music for films. He remained active until 1965. And one of his last films was Youngblood Hawke (1964). Steiner died on December 28, 1971, of congestive heart failure in Hollywood, Los Angeles, CA aged 83.

My collection contains the following work by Max Steiner:

Gone with the Wind (1939): Theme and Suite.

—material selected, adapted, and edited from several different sources

Leopold Hofmann and his symphonies


Leopold Ludwig Hofmann (August 14, 1738 – March 17, 1793) was an Austrian composer during the classical period who is best known today for his symphonies and concerti. Hofmann was born in 1738 at Vienna, the son of a senior and highly-educated civil servant. At the age of seven became a chorister in the chapel of the Empress Dowager Elisabeth Christine, where his choral director and teacher was very likely František Tůma. As a member of the chapel he received an extensive musical education studying the keyboard and later composition with Georg Christoph Wagenseil, one of the brightest stars in the Viennese musical firmament, and violin, possibly with Giuseppe Trani, Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf’s teacher. In 1758 Hofmann secured what may have been his first appointment, as “musicus” (probably violinist) at St. Michael’s. He is known to have become choral director at St. Peter’s Church in 1764 and, in 1766, kapellmeister. In 1769 he became a keyboard teacher to the royal family.

Leopold Hofmann was regarded by his contemporaries as one of the more gifted and influential composers of his generation. Although a church musician by profession, Hofmann was also an important and prolific composer of instrumental music. Hofmann’s earliest known compositions date from the late-1750s and include symphonies, flute concertos, and a number of small-scale sacred works. His symphonies, concertos, and chamber works were played all over Europe, and the large number of manuscript copies that have survived the ravages of time and fashion attests to the avidity with which they were collected. His reputation must have spread well beyond Vienna by 1760 since Sieber, the Parisian publisher, printed six of his symphonies that year, and a number of the great Austrian monastic houses, including Göettweig, began seeking out and collecting his music from around this time. The 1760s and early 1770s were the years of his greatest fame and productivity. In the area of concerti alone, he composed about sixty solo works in a twenty year span (1758-1778) for a variety of instruments, including thirteen for flute, a popular “amateurs” instrument, and eight for violoncello.

In his native Vienna, Hofmann was a figure of considerable consequence and acquired the position of Kapellmeister at the Cathedral of St. Stephan in 1772. At this time he declined the directorship of the Imperial Chapel, but did apply there two years later upon the death of Florian Leopold Gassmann in 1774 but failed in his application. Giuseppe Bonno became director of the Imperial Chapel instead. The politicking involved in the various court appointments may have soured Hofmann since he appears to have ceased composing on a regular basis shortly afterwards. Hofmann virtually withdrew from Viennese musical circles during the 1780s and little is known of his last few years. On the 9th of May 1791, at his own request, the young Wolfgang Mozart was appointed assistant-Kapellmeister of the Cathedral to Hofmann, an unpaid position. At the time Hofmann was ill and Mozart anticipated becoming Kapellmeister upon Hofmann’s death. However, the extremely wealthy Hofmann survived the financially strapped Mozart and kept his post as Cathedral Kapellmeister until he died in March of 1793.

The following works of Hoffman are included in my collection:

(Flute) Concerto for Flute in DM, Hob VIIf, no. D1 (formerly attributed to F. J. Haydn).
Sinfonia in BbM, Badley Bb1 (1763).
Sinfonia in FM, Badley F1 (1767).
Sinfonia in DM, Badley D4 (1762).
Sinfonia in FM, Badley F1 (1760).
Sinfonia in CM, Badley C8 (1759).

—material selected, adapted, and edited from several different sources