The reason we do this.
César Franck was first and foremost a brilliant organist. If he had never composed a note of music, we still might know him as one of the best organists of the 19th century. Here is a photograph (I think slightly re-touched as they did then) of him at the organ, and he looks all in command.
Emmanuel Chabrier was employed by the government of France for about 20 years in the Ministry of Interior, basically as a lawyer. But in that time, he realized he could not socialize with fellow workers. He was friends with the likes of the poet Paul Verlaine, and the composers Gabriel Fauré, Ernest Chausson, and Vincent d’Indy. But wait, we’re not done. He was also close to painters such as Auguste Renoir, Claude Monet, and Édouard Manet. As a matter of fact, Manet literally died in his arms. I have a painting of Chabrier by his friend Manet that I put in Quicklinks, under Classical.
A television appearence by David Oistrakh in 1962, accompanied by Frieda Bauer. They play Debussy’s Claire de lune.
The famous portrait of Mussorgsky by Ilya Repin was painted literally just a few days before the composer died. It says a lot about Mussorgsky’s condition, completely overtaken by alcoholism. You will even see that he is wearing a robe – after having a rough night.
Bach looked a lot like this before we knew it. In other words, I’ll bet you won’t be surprised when you see this – he looks a lot like the paintings we’ve seen of the man for over 250 years.
Just a bunch of black and whites or sepia tone photos of one of the most colorful musicians who lived in the 19th century…Hector Berlioz
I found a photo in Wikipedia and stuffed it here for you to see. It was taken when Maurice Ravel was on a tour of America in 1928 (the exact date of the photo was March 7th). He’s the one with the cigarette, playing the piano. Sitting next to him was Éva Gauthier, the famous Canadian mezzo-soprano of the time. But there was someone else in that photo who was then perhaps more famous than even Ravel. Among the 8 people standing behind them, almost unnoticeable, is George Gershwin. He was the one on the very right. It’s in WKSU.org.
He started composing early, but ended early as well, retiring at the age of 37. When he died at the age of 76 in 1868, he was the most famous person in most of the western world (except for maybe the US because we were still remembering Abraham Lincoln), even though he had been retired for 39 years! In this photo, the way he spent his retirement is obvious. Rossini loved to cook and eat, and his doctor was worried about his obesity.
A series of photos of Clara Schumann (and her husband, Robert)
Text to the folksong also known as Rosebud in June, collected in Somerset by Cecil Sharp. Holst used its tune in his Somerset Rhapsody.
Debussy is playing the piano surrounded by some admirers, including Ernest Chausson. Chausson is the one with the grey beard sitting almost behind him.
Mikhail Ivanovich Glinka lived from 1804 to 1857, and though the science of photography had been around for a good two decades, until December, 2007, I had never seen a photo of the man. I thought he had missed his chance to pose in front of the camera.
You may have read that Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier was written for an instrument in equal temperament. That’s not quite accurate. This document explains the difference, and what “well tempered” really means.
The history of La Folia, widely used as a theme for variations by generations of composers from the 17th century to the present.
Percy Grainger was one of the most brilliant people ever to compose music, with many interests beyond music. One was the “Kangaroo Pouch Free Music Machine.” Read what led to this invention and see a detailed diagram of the machine here.
If you want to see something rather out of the ordinary, this is it. It’s a photo of Edvard Grieg’s tomb and it’s cut out of the side of a stone mountain, seemingly by itself. It fits with his last words when he died in 1907 at the age of 64. Supposedly he said, “Well, if it must be so.”
When someone once asked Jean Sibelius what he should do if a critic was particularly malicious in an attack toward his music, Sibelius said, “Pay no attention to what critics say. No statue has ever been put up to a critic.” Here is a Sibelius “statue” of sorts.
A New York Times review of Dinnerstein’s November 2005 New York recital in which she played the Bach Goldberg Variations. Note: Free registration required to view article.
Simone Dinnerstein recorded the Bach Goldberg Variations over 2 years ago. She did it on her own, without any recording contract, covering the $15,000 cost with the help of friends. In a development unusual for artists and for the company, Telarc has licensed the recording and recently released it.
Dinnerstein’s path to this stage in her career has been atypical, to say the least.
Her start was a bit rocky. At 4, she wanted piano lessons; her parents gave her a recorder. When she was 15, they refused to let her study in London. They made her turn down a chance to attend the Curtis Institute.
Yet, in the long run, her muse has prevailed.
This New York Times article traces the path from her childhood dreams to the Goldberg recording – and a full engagement calendar. Note: free registration is required to view the article.
The natural trumpet could play only the harmonic series in its lowest register. In the highest register it could play other notes of the scale, but only the most capable players could reliably produce these notes. Even then, the pitch and timbre were inconsistent. Composers had to “write around” the natural trumpet’s limitations.
Already by the late renaissance, the cornetto had provided some of the trumpet’s timbre with the versatility of fingered notes. But although it used a small trumpet-like mouthpiece, the cornetto was made of leather covered wood and didn’t have the same effect as the brass trumpet.
Thus, some 18th century instrument makers tried to improve the brass trumpet’s flexibility and consistency of tone by adding keywork. Here‘s the story of the most famous and successful attempt, the instrument for which the Haydn and Hummel concertos were composed.
Medieval reformer Jan Hus used Ye who are God’s warriors as his battle hymn. Dvorak took phrases from it as themes in his Hussite Overture, and also used the chorale St Wenceslaus. He thought of them as patriotic emblems of his nation’s history. Religious partisans saw it differently. Scroll to the bottom of this page for more information.
Here are some pictures and a bit of history of Vysehrad, the 10th century castle which inspired Smetana’s tone poem of the same name.
Theo discusses the founding of the Brook Street Band, playing the cello in Baroque music, her interest in Handel, and her introduction to the Oxford Water Music.
Hugo Alfven’s Swedish Rhapsody bears the subtitle “Midsommarvaka” – usually translated as “Midsummer Night Vigil,” but probably more accurately rendered as “Midsummer All-Nighter.” Here’s a brief description of the ways Scandiavia celebrates the longest day of the year – on which, for them, daylight lasts until 3am!
The first page of the 13th century manuscript from the Benediktbeuern Monastery, from which Carl Orff took his texts for the scenic cantata Carmina Burana. The Canton Symphony performed Carmina Burana during In Performance, Sunday 13 May 2007.
The modern orchestral harp has a mechanical lever action to create the sharps and flats of the chromatic scale. The 17th century harp builders used a different approach – they added more rows of strings. Here’s a description and photo of a Baroque chromatic triple harp.
A brief analysis of one of Bach’s most heartfelt compositions, the final movement from his d minor violin partita, S1004.
JOSH BELL, BUSKER – Noted violinist Joshua Bell plays a 45 minute mini-concert in a DC subway station. How much of a crowd does he draw? (From Washington Post Magazine – registration may be required)
Have you ever wanted to know the real words to Brahms’s famous lullaby? Here they are.
A painting that Emmanuel Chabrier bought from his dearest friend, Édouard Manet, when it was newly painted, just before Manet died. Manet actually died in Chabrier’s arms.
Many composers at least dabbled in painting, from Arnold Schoenberg to Mendelssohn. One of the most talented was Hugo Alfven. Here are some samples of his work.
A very well done personal website for a great performer.
In 1874 Modest Mussorgsky lost a friend and was deeply moved. The painter and architect Victor Hartmann left behind a small body of works. They were to be viewed in a show, and Mussorgsky composed Pictures at an Exhibition to accompany the viewing. Sadly, most of the paintings or drawings that inpired Mussorgsky are now lost. Here are the images that still exist.
A very well thought out web page about one of the twentieth-century’s best-known British composers.
An introduction to the medieval concept of l’amour courtois.
Georges Sand, famous for her relationships with Franz Liszt and Frédéric Chopin, was a feminist before the term was invented. In a day when it was unthinkable, she proudly wore men’s clothes, because they were more comfortable. (And, yes, maybe she enjoyed shocking men and women of polite Parisian society.) This photo shows her as she was seen on more formal occasions.
A dream come true for artists who want to grow and need a nurturing environment. The Colony was founded by Edward MacDowell not long before he passed away, and has existed for nearly a century because of support from those committed to the arts.
Claude Debussy was called an Impressionist, after a style of painting made famous by Renoir, Cezanne and others. The name came from Monet’s painting, Sunrise – an Impression. An art critic of the time thought the Monet work appeared sketchy and unfinished. Maybe that’s one of the reasons Debussy hated being called an impressionist. Here is a photo of Monet’s painting.
In 1747 J S Bach, by then old and in deteriorating health, paid a visit to Frederick the Great of Prussia. The result of that visit was The Art of Fugue. Many tales have been spun of his meeting with the flute-playing monarch. This page tries to determine what’s verifiable fact and what’s legend.
George Gershwin was going to call his new piece American Rhapsody. However, his brother Ira suggested Rhapsody in Blue after seeing an exhibtion of Whistler’s paintings, with such titles as Harmony in Gray and Green and Nocturne in Blue and Green.
On top of everything else, Mozart was an inventor of sorts, creating a musical dice game in 1787. By throwing the dice and correlating the numbers with the notes they represented, one could actually compose a piece of music. The little game was published in London several years after he died, and was a hit. You can play it now by clicking on this link.
The top picture shows a sackbut. It looks very much like a modern trombone.
In the late Renaissance and early Baroque, many composers created works called “In Nomine.” This page explains the origins of the form and its name.
The chaos in Helsinki in 1917 greatly affected Jean Sibelius, who was working on at least 2 and probably 3 of his symphonies at the time. This page describes the background of the conflict.
How and when Haydn composed the tune which became the Austrian (and later German) national anthem. It’s the theme he used for the second movement of his “Emperor” quartet (Opus 76 #3). From Vienna Online.
Maybe the best web page I have ever seen on Handel.
The history of Fingal’s Cave, and photos of the landmark that inspired the Mendelssohn work.