The Unexpected Debut
Tuesday, June 30, 2020, 11:30am
One of the greatest conducting careers in history began by accident. It came about when a 19-year-old cellist was called upon to lead a performance of Aida. The cellist was no ordinary musicisan though. He performed every opera by memory. His name-- Arturo Toscanini. In 1886 Toscanini was...
Villa-Lobos Plays the Guitar for Segovia
Monday, June 29, 2020, 11:30am
It was only natural that Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos would write for the guitar. And maybe it was inevitable that he would meet the world's greatest guitarist, Andres Segovia. But exactly what happened at that first meeting is not so certain because Villa-Lobos and Segovia gave sharply...
Upstaged at the White House
Friday, June 26, 2020, 11:30pm
The playing was some of the finest in the world. But on this particular occasion in 1986, Vladimir Horowitz was to be upstaged by the President and first lady of the United States. The East Room of the White House was packed with musicians and political figures. Horowitz was being honored for his...
Scottish Novel, Italian Opera
Thursday, June 25, 2020, 11:30am
The 38-year-old composer was gambling that his new opera would succeed where others were failing. Gaetano Donizetti was pinning his hopes on a hastily written opera based not on an Italian subject but on a Scottish novel.
At Odds with Interlochen
Wednesday, June 24, 2020, 11:30am
An inspired composer and performer does not necessarily make an inspired teacher even at a great teaching facility. Percy Grainger was a square peg in a round hole during his years at the National Music Camp at Interlochen, Michigan. Grainger had traveled far from his native Australia, gathering...
Bull of the Frontier
Tuesday, June 23, 2020, 11:30am
What he lacked in musical training the Norwegian violinist Ole Bull made up for in power and enthusiasm. In the mid-nineteenth century Bull spent a good deal of time in the United States. One day he was traveling down the Mississippi on a steamboat. As he sat reading a newspaper, a frontiersman...
Mahler's Appointment with Freud
Monday, June 22, 2020, 11:30am
It was to be a meeting of minds. The great symphonist Gustav Mahler had an appointment with the founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud. Although he initiated it, Mahler was clearly uneasy about the meeting. He canceled three times before finally coming face to face with Freud in 1910. By the time...
A Dangerous Homecoming
Friday, June 19, 2020, 11:30pm
In 1866 Mily Balakirev was asked to go to Prague to arrange a production of Mikhail Glinka's opera A Life for the Czar. He was to have the greatest adventure of his life--getting home. Balakirev set out in June and had just arrived in Prague when war broke out between Austria and Prussia. Balakirev...
Engrave This in Your Head
Thursday, June 18, 2020, 11:30pm
Vincenzo Bellini had strong ideas about what an opera should do. And he could be very forceful in trying to get his ideas across to others. For example, he wrote to a librettist in June 1834:
Satie the Ardent Suitor
Wednesday, June 17, 2020, 11:30am
Eric Satie is known for the eccentricity of his music. That eccentricity was only a reflection of the odd way in which the composer conducted his life--including his love life. Satie is known to have had an affair with only one woman--and it's possible that he could not have survived--or had time...
The Dynamic Hugo Wolf
Tuesday, June 16, 2020, 11:30am
The Austrian composer Hugo Wolf was brilliant if erratic. A letter he wrote to a friend on June 16th, 1890 shows that he was dynamic, whether he was talking about music or the weather: “The publisher skips over the proposal to share profits as if it were unimportant. He enlarges his first...
An Improviser Par Excellence
Monday, June 15, 2020, 11:30am
By 1740, when Carl Philip Emanuel Bach went to Pottsdam to work for King Frederick the Great, his father, Johann Sebastian Bach, was famous throughout Europe, and King Frederick grew increasingly eager to meet the man known as "the Old Bach." In 1747 Johann Sebastian Bach, age 62, finally left...
The Rhapsody that Wouldn't Let Go
Friday, June 12, 2020, 11:30am
Composers have various reasons for writing--inspiration, pleasure, and money. In the case of Claude Debussy's Saxophone Rhapsody the motivation was provided by money and a persistent music-lover named Mrs. Elise Hall. Mrs. Hall was a wealthy Boston matron who had taken up the saxophone. In 1895 she...
More Than You Deserve
Thursday, June 11, 2020, 11:30am
Ludwig van Beethoven was very dependent upon the good will of his publishers, but he was blunt by nature, and in a letter to Breitkopf and Hertel in June 1810, Beethoven minced no words...
Chemistry versus Opera
Wednesday, June 10, 2020, 11:30am
Composer Alexander Borodin was a chemistry professor by profession and so he had a slightly detached view of making music. He had to do justice to two careers--one for his students, the other for the public. He wrote to a friend on June 10th, 1876: “As a composer trying to remain anonymous I am...
Monday, June 8, 2020, 11:30am
Pianist and composer Stephen Heller had gotten to know violinist Joseph Joachim during a concert tour in England. When a friend needed a favor, Heller wrote to the influential Joachim from Paris on June 8th, 1862: “Besides the quiet sincerity and simple manners of the good men of the country I miss...
That Useless Company
Friday, June 5, 2020, 11:30am
Sometimes even the greatest composers have to distinguish between just and unjust criticisms of their work. After a bad performance of his opera Un Ballo in Maschera , Giuseppe Verdi wrote to the producer on June 5, 1859: You were wrong to defend Un Ballo in Maschera against the attacks in the...
Thursday, June 4, 2020, 11:30am
Hector Berlioz and Niccolo Paganini. The passion, the extravagance, and the eccentricity of their music was a reflection of the way they lived. Berlioz wrote one of his greatest works, Harold in Italy , for Paganini, and it brought the two composers together in an extraordinary way. Paganini was...
Weber & the Wrong Bottle
Wednesday, June 3, 2020, 11:30am
In 1804 Carl Maria von Weber was a 17-year-old composer and singer with little conducting experience. He was invited to lead the theater orchestra in Breslau, and accepted the position in part because he hoped that its modest salary would enable him to support his father, an unsuccessful engraver...
Weber's Conducting Ordeal
Tuesday, June 2, 2020, 11:30am
In the spring of 1804 Carl Maria von Weber was not yet 18 years old. But he already had some distinguished compositions to his credit, and though he had little conducting experience, he was invited to lead the theater orchestra in Breslau. The salary was small and the position modest, but it would...