Thursday, 19 September 2019 00:00

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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Thursday, 15 August 2019 00:00

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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Wednesday, 31 July 2019 17:01

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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Wednesday, 12 June 2019 00:00

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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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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Thursday, 11 January 2018 12:05

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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Thursday, 10 August 2017 00:13

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Thursday, 13 July 2017 00:00

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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Friday, 19 May 2017 18:43

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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Wednesday, 08 February 2017 00:00

Famous Composers: Henry Purcell

The sixteenth century was extraordinarily productive of composers, among them such important figures as Palestrina and Monteverdi from Italy, Heinrich Schütz from Saxony, Orlande de Lassus from Flanders, Tomas Luis de Victoria from Spain and a crowd of Englishmen. By sad contrast the only composer of real historical significance born during the first half of the seventeenth was Jean Baptiste Lully (1632-87, Italian by birth and French by naturalization) whose ballets and operas earned him fame and favour at the court of King Louis XIV, established major/minor tonality on a sound basis, and helped to bridge the chronological gap between the death of Monteverdi in 1643 and the advent to maturity of Henry Purcell and Alessandro Scarlatti some forty years later.

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