Frederic Chopin
Famous Composers: Frederic Chopin

Frederic Chopin was born at the village of Zelazowa Wola, near Warsaw; whether the date was 1809 (as some authorities maintain) or 1810 (officially accepted) matters little. What does matter is that his father, although bred in Lorraine (which had close historic ties with Poland), had been a Polish citizen since 1787 and earned a fair living as private tutor to the sons and daughters of the nobility; that his mother, gentle and well educated, was one hundred per cent Polish; that he himself was Polish not only by birth and upbringing but also by outlook and temperament.

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Gioacchino Rossini
Famous Composers: Gioacchino Rossini

Gioacchino Rossini was born on 29th February 1792. One doubts whether his parents deliberately planned that their first and only child should be a leap-year baby and therefore able to celebrate his birthday only once in every four years - or, indeed, whether they wanted a baby at all. (Five months previously there had been what is nowadays called a shotgun wedding.) They lived in Pesaro, occupying two small rooms in the house numbered 334 via del Duomo (later renamed via Rossini1).

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Ludwig van Beethoven
Famous Composers: Ludwig van Beethoven

When I was a small boy the master who had to correct my fortnightly ‘essays’ used to insist that they should stress only the best features of the subject under discussion, skirt round any defects and avoid deleterious comparisons. But I think I was unconvinced then as I am now that an essayist should necessarily be an advocate. The putting forward of all points pro to the exclusion of those con has a proper function in any mutual exchange of views between the knowledgeable few, but when standing alone is liable to produce a false impression on the uninitiated many, who may never hear the other side of the argument and cannot be expected to read between the lines or recognize the significance of what counsel for the defence has (purposely) left unsaid. The reputations of many painters, poets, authors and composers have on balance lost more than they have gained through such well-intentioned but unthinking advocacy, often misinterpreted as implying adulation and thereby laying itself open to superficial counter-attack.

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Johann Sebastian Bach
Famous Composers: Johann Sebastian Bach

During the second half of the sixteenth century and the whole of the seventeenth and eighteenth, the musical life of Thuringia (an area of central Germany roughly bordered by the rivers Werra, Unstrut and Saale) was dominated by the Bach family. No fewer than thirty-eight of the clan - the eldest born in 1520 and the youngest in 1759 - have earned separate articles in Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians', the first 60,000 or so words of Philip Spitta’s standard but unwieldy biography of Johann Sebastian Bach (published in 1880) were devoted to the achievements of his great-grandfather, grandfather, father, uncles and other senior relatives; three of Sebastian’s own sons (Wilhelm Friedemann, Carl Philip Emmanuel and Johann Christian) distinguished themselves as composers and all-round musicians.

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Joseph Haydn
Famous Composers: Joseph Haydn

JOSEPH HAYDN was born on 31st March, 1732 at the village of Rohrau, thirty miles east of Vienna on the verge of that low-lying region round the Neusiedlersee (Ferto Tava) which has always been a bone of political contention between Austria and Hungary. Rohrau, although typically Hungarian in lay-out (single-storied cottages set far back from the grass-lined road), was - and is - on Austrian territory, but the border was not far away and the inhabitants were of mixed racial descent; nor were the elements exclusively Austrian and Magyar, for during the seventeenth century there had been a surge of immigrants to this indeterminate no-man’s-land

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Antonin Dvořák
Famous Composers: Antonin Dvořák

Observant tourists with a bent for sociology may have noticed that in many continental countries the village pub is often combined with a retail shop of some sort: in Italy one finds perhaps an osteria/alimentari, in central Europe more likely a Gasthaus/Metzgerei - or a hostinec/feznicky. Giuseppe Verdi was the son of the innkeeper-grocer of Roncole; Antonin Dvořák was born on 8th September 1841 to the innkeeper-butcher of Nelahozeves on the banks of the river Vltava - by trunk road no. 8 about eighteen miles north of Prague. He showed early promise in music but when the family moved to Zlonice, a nearby mining village, he was obliged to work as assistant butcher-cum-bartender, since his father (despite musical inclinations) did not take his artistic aspirations very seriously.

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Felix Mendelssohn
Famous Composers: Felix Mendelssohn

Almost alone among famous composers Felix Mendelssohn underwent no struggle to achieve fame or fortune. Born in 1809 in the outskirts of Hamburg and brought up in Berlin, he was the son of Abraham Mendelssohn, a wealthy banker who was better placed than the impecunious Franz Weber to attend to the requirements of a child prodigy in the Mozart class. Whereas in boyhood Carl Maria von Weber had picked up hints from strolling musicians, young Felix Mendelssohn was sent to the most expensive teachers in Berlin and Paris - and moreover was supplied by his fond parents with a private orchestra which he could conduct whenever he wished; he was soon composing sonatas, symphonies, cantatas, operas even, some of which are still preserved in manuscript.

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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Famous Composers: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

In the 1750s when Joseph Haydn, expelled from school, was still a struggling Viennese street-busker, there lived a hundred and fifty miles away to the west at Salzburg (on the third floor of the house now numbered 9 Getreidegasse) a worthy musician named Leopold Mozart and his wife Anna Maria, nee Pertl. Of their six children only two survived for more than a few months: one was a girl, the other a boy. The girl, born in July 1751 and christened Maria Anna, was a clever child who had already learnt to play the harpsichord by the time her brother Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart joined the family circle on 27th January 1756.

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Camille Saint-Saëns
Famous Composers: Camille Saint-Saëns

Chronologically speaking CAMILLE SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921) was a ‘bridge figure’: he began to compose music during the lifetime of Luigi Cherubini - who was only five years younger than Mozart - and was still hard at it after the death of Claude Debussy in 1918. In no other sense, however, did he build a bridge or even venture to cross one, preferring to remain in a comfortable tent on his own side of the stream; he took careful note of the activities on the opposite bank of such eminent contemporaries as Hector Berlioz, Richard Wagner, Cesar Franck and Gabriel Faure (one of his own pupils), but he felt no inclination to join in them

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Please Support sonatica.fm
Please Support sonatica.fm

It's a challenge to maintain a listener supported radio station that’s free of the endless promotional messages and advertisements we usually endure.

At sonatica, we pride ourselves on our commercial free schedule so our listeners can enjoy great classical music without constant interruptions. Nevertheless, it’s a costly business keeping our broadcast on the air, which means we frequently only just perform above our operational budget. Since all of our revenue is provided by our listeners, we rely entirely on you to keep us broadcasting.

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George Frideric Handel
Famous Composers: George Frideric Handel

GEORGE FRIDERIC HANDEL (1685 - 1759), his own final choice of spelling, was born at Halle on 23rd February 1685; his father was a doctor (a ‘barber-surgeon’) and his mother, Dorothea nee Taust, the daughter of a Protestant priest. One is at liberty to shrug aside the romantic legend of a curly-headed six year-old being discovered late at night divinely playing the harpsichord by moonlight in a cold attic, but the fact remains that Handel was a child prodigy. His natural instincts were encouraged by his aunt Anna Taust rather than by his parents, but eventually his father consented to music lessons and even allowed him, at the age of eleven, to go by himself to Berlin (a week’s journey in those days) in order to attend the unconventional court of Electress Sophia Charlotte, to whom music was all that mattered.

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Antonio Vivaldi
Famous Composers: Antonio Vivaldi

During the late seventeenth century and the early eighteenth Italy was not only the land of opera but also the land of the violin, an instrument whose potentialities were developed to a hitherto undreamt-of degree by such exponents as Corelli (whose name was closely associated with the School of Rome), Torelli (Bologna), Vivaldi (Venice), Somis (Turin) and Tardni (Padua). As well as playing the violin they composed plenty of music for it: Vivaldi’s lay neglected for a century or so after his death, but began to attract attention when in 1829, during the revival of interest in J. S. Bach largely stimulated by Mendelssohn, it was found that the great man had based an organ piece upon one of Vivaldi’s concertos. Presently many other ‘lost’ works were rediscovered, and over the years they have been played with increasing frequency.

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