Monday, August 19, 2019, 11:30am
As a critic, Michel Calvocoressi appreciated an analytical mind, so he particularly admired composer Vincent d’Indy, the author of Treatise of Composition. One of the things he liked most about d’Indy was the apparent contradictions in his thinking. Calvocoressi found it intriguing that within the space of just four years, d’Indy could have written both the sensuous, unabashed Symphony on a French Mountain Air and the cerebral, constrained First String Quartet. Similarly, he said, at times d’Indy endorsed the headlong, emotionally charged music of Liszt, and at others he seemed to disapprove of it. Calvocoressi concluded that d’Indy was having trouble making up his mind between feeling and reason. Hearing d’Indy talking about Claude Debussy’s Pelléas and Mélisande, Calvocoressi determined that what he was saying didn’t tally with what he had written about the work. He pressed d’Indy about the apparent inconsistency and was surprised by the answer. “Oh! You see, two very different points of view are possible,” d’Indy said. “The first time I heard Pelléas and Mélisande , I listened to it as to ‘music’ in the ordinary sense of the word, to ‘music’ as I conceive it. As such, it meant very little to me.” He went on to say that, after thinking about it some more, he concluded that he had been wrong, and should have listened to Debussy’s work as something completely different and new. “So I went to hear it again,” he continued, “and in that new light I was able to admire it.” In his article, d’Indy had written that Pelléas and Mélisande was neither an opera nor a lyric drama because music played a subordinate role in it, much the way illuminations in medieval manuscripts enhance the all-important text. Calvocoressi deduced that d’Indy’s reason had led him to approve of Pelléas and Mélisande , and that his feelings were the source of his appreciation for the music of Liszt.
Friday, August 16, 2019, 11:30am
In 1841 Anglo-Irish composer Michael Balfe was down on his luck. He was in Paris, about to finish an opera tailor-made for soprano Giulia Grisi, when arrangements fell through, leaving him with little but his music and his optimism to sustain him. Pierre Erard of the piano manufacturing firm offered to lend his salon for a benefit concert devoted entirely to Balfe’s music. He went on to say that he would invite various influential personages from the Paris musical establishment. The “Grande Concert Balfe” attracted a full house of those expecting to be entertained by the failure of an Englishman rash enough to put together an entire program of his own works. As Balfe played the piano and sang in his light baritone with an ensemble of volunteer musicians, one piece after another provoked encores. “His music was sparkling,” wrote one audience member, “and flashed like a splendid brilliant that gives out radiant colors from a thousand facets, and astonishes and captivates by its beauty.” At breakfast the next morning Balfe was interrupted by a mysterious visitor cloaked and wrapped as if for winter. He refused to give his name, but refused to leave until Balfe had seen him. “You are Balfe,” he said. “I am Scribe, and I’ve come to ask you to write an opera with me.” Eugène Scribe, the librettist for operas by Rossini, Auber, Meyerbeer, Cherubini, and other major composers, had attended Balfe’s concert the previous night. Balfe agreed at once. As he worked, his wife made sure that he saw none of the sarcastic journal speculations about the Englishman who was writing an opera for Parisian audiences. Although it has since been forgotten, the opera, called The Wellsprings of Love , suited the tastes of the time. It was so successful that some of the doubters were quick to point out the French elements of Balfe’s musical training, and King Louis Philippe had a special gold medal struck in his honor.
Thursday, August 15, 2019, 11:30am
During his sojourn in Paris in the 1920s, composer George Antheil decided to investigate a claim made by his teacher back in Philadelphia. It alleged that Debussy, Ravel, and Satie had stolen their impressionistic technique from a largely forgotten Italian composer named Ernest Fanelli. Antheil tracked down the composer’s widow and grown son and daughter. Posing as a critic eager to write an article about the composer’s “true worth,” he received the family’s cordial invitation to have a good look at Fanelli’s music. He discovered that the claim was true—Fanelli had anticipated the technique of Debussy, Ravel, and Satie by many years. On the other hand, Fanelli’s work wasn’t as polished as those of his three more famous contemporaries. Antheil asked Fanelli’s widow if the three composers had ever visited Fanelli and borrowed his scores. “Oh, yes,” was the answer. Young Debussy had been very enthusiastic about her husband’s work. Antheil faced a dilemma. He felt obligated to write the promised article, but who in Paris would want to read that the city’s most beloved composers had borrowed from a foreigner? And was touting the less-inspired music of Fanelli worth incurring the wrath of Parisians? He wrote a wishy-washy article about Fanelli without mentioning the borrowed scores. A few days after it came out, he found at his hotel room door a calling card wrapped in a handbill advertising a cure for sexual impotency. The card was from Fanelli’s son and, in French terms, the insult implied by the handbill was a challenge to a duel. Antheil felt his temper boil, and, being an expert marksman, he decided to go out and fight. As he passed the concierge, she asked if he had gotten the card, and went on to explain that to keep it clean, she had wrapped it in the first thing at hand. As he thought about the “true worth” of Ernest Fanelli, a relieved George Antheil concluded that “art is not a matter of precedence, but of excellence.”
Wednesday, August 14, 2019, 11:30am
In the early twentieth century, many Spanish composers traveled to France for training, and a fair number of French composers went to Spain for inspiration. The friendship of Manuel de Falla and Claude Debussy is a prime example. When Falla arrived in Paris from Madrid in 1907, he soon met a host of celebrated musicians from various countries. The most renowned of them all was Claude Debussy, whom Falla failed to recognize at first because he was dressed more like a sailor than a famous composer, but it didn’t take long for the Frenchman’s well-known sardonic sense of humor to manifest itself. “It is I,” Debussy assured the Spaniard. “It is I myself.” In an effort to get a conversation going, Falla said that he had always liked French music. “Well, I haven’t,” said Debussy. Having been notified by composer Paul Dukas that “a little Spaniard dressed all in black” was coming to see him, Debussy asked Falla to play his opera La vide breve on the piano. Debussy listened attentively to the whole thing and had good things to say about it. The two became good friends. After seven years in Paris, Falla returned to Spain and entered the most productive stage of his composing career. In 1920, not long after Debussy’s death, Falla wrote an article for the Revue Musicale in Paris in which he alluded to a reciprocal relationship between the music of Spain and France, saying that Debussy Unquestionably, I venture to say, unconsciously, created Spanish music the likes of which aroused the envy of many who knew her all too well. He crossed the border only once, and stayed for a few hours in San Sebastian to attend a bullfight—little enough experience indeed. But he retained a vivid memory of the unique light in the bullring, the amazing contrast between the side flooded by sunlight and the one in shadow… “He has paid us back so generously,” Falla concluded, “that it is Spain who is today the debtor.”
Tuesday, August 13, 2019, 11:30am
Even during his career as a civil servant in the French Ministry of the Interior, Emmanuel Chabrier was never far from thoughts of music. He wrote piano pieces and entertained his friends with playing so wild that he reminded one witness of an enraged bull. And yet there was a deeply serious side to Chabrier that became apparent in 1880 when he attended a Wagner opera at Bayreuth. Composer Henri Duparc recalled: You can scarcely imagine how much it meant to him to be hearing Tristan, which he didn’t know then, and was almost afraid to get to know, as if some inner voice was warning that it was going to transform his entire life. There had been some excellent performances in Munich, and I had gone to hear the first; it was on a Sunday, and I was so excited that I went back to Paris to persuade a few friends to come for the second performance the next Sunday. One of those friends was Chabrier, whom I went to see at the Ministry. He hesitated for quite a while, and raised a lot of objections; but apparently I was able to convince him, and at last he promised to come along with us. Everyone was delighted, because that meant that the journey would be entertaining...He was so overcome by the opera that, although he was usually so gay and chipper, he left us after the performance and shut himself up in his room. You know, until then he didn’t intend to devote himself entirely to music; Tristan made him realize his true vocation, and by the time he returned from Munich he had made his decision. Although Wagner inspired Chabrier to quit his civil service job and devote himself to music, Chabrier soon joined a growing line of French composers determined to break away from Wagner’s influence and write music that was inherently Gallic.
Monday, August 12, 2019, 11:30am
Czech composer Bohuslav Martinů was in Paris in June 1940 when German armies entered the city. He left the city in a hurry, leaving behind his manuscripts and most of his personal possessions. He and his wife fled south to keep one step ahead of the Germans, and the experience made him feel that “a great vacuum had opened into which all humanity was being drawn.” In Aix-en-Province he tried to make up for lost time, composing a fantasia and a toccata for piano. When he applied for an American visa at the United States consulate, the consul asked him for proof that he was an artist, and Martinů was at a loss for words but blurted out, without any knowledge that it was true, that he was on a list of artists blacklisted by the Nazis. Calling his bluff, the consul pulled out a book and began searching for the composer’s name. As Martinů stood breathless, waiting for the worst, the consul nodded and said, “Yes, you are down here” and sent him straight to an office to receive his American visa. Arranging for transportation to America required almost daily travel to and from Marseilles. Martinů bought the last sheets of music paper available in the city and during the long train rides, sketched a sinfonia that he completed in November while bundled in his coat and gloves in an unheated room. While the French Vichy government dithered about granting crucial exit visas and the paperwork for a Spanish transit visa dragged, the Martinůs’ boat sailed from Lisbon. Martinů diverted himself by writing a cheerful sonata da camera and planned other works, and eventually his patience and perseverance paid off. Three months later, Bohuslav Martinů and his wife arrived at last in the New World--a place where he could compose in safety.
Friday, August 9, 2019, 11:30am
Having left Germany with his family in 1933, Otto Klemperer had landed a job as musical director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, only to have his eccentricities wreck his reputation in the city and force his resignation. An invitation to conduct a series of Bach concerts at the New School for Social Research offered him a chance to pull his career back together, but Klemperer made life difficult for everyone, including himself. Arriving only a few days before the first performance, he took out what appeared to be a revolver, actually a squirt gun, and put it on his desk. Then he ordered that all of the rehearsal conductor’s score markings be erased. Excepting only the cellists, he demanded that everyone stand to play. He chased an unsatisfactory musician all the way out to the street. The first performance went well, but at one point Klemperer walked among the orchestra members. He grabbed a forgetful cellist by the arm and yelled, “E-flat major!” The following three concerts came across hurried and heavy-handed. The New School did not invite him back. But the Federal Music Project, a Depression-era program for employing musicians, invited Klemperer to conduct the New York City Symphony Orchestra, which he whipped into shape for a favorable rendition of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, although their performance of Klemperer’s turgid choral work Trinity came across as a bewildering hodgepodge. Klemperer showed up for a second concert in stale dress clothes smeared with chocolate and read a long rambling defense against an accusation that he was programming works by anti-Semitic composers. Despite the incidents, the concert and the one to follow were successes, and Klemperer was engaged to conduct four more performances in Carnegie Hall. But his resistance to employing a full orchestra for a performance of Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll led Klemperer to boycott one of the concerts, and from then on, the discredited musical director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic was also unemployable in New York.
Thursday, August 8, 2019, 11:30am
In August 1889, as the great Hungarian violinist Leopold Auer was on his way from St. Petersburg to Bayreuth to hear two Wagner operas for the first time, he came down with what was diagnosed as malaria. Not one to let illness get in his way, he continued on to Bayreuth. He and a friend began with Die Walküre, after which Auer’s illness flared up so much that he sent for a doctor, who prescribed several days of bed rest. Auer was reluctant to comply. Tristan and Isolde and Die Meistersinger were to be conducted by the foremost Wagner interpreters of the day–Hans Richter and Felix Mottl, who had personally set aside tickets for him. He decided to attend Tristan and Isolde, but the music seemed slow to him, and even key moments in the opera seemed to drag. The heat in the hall was stifling, and he felt a headache coming on. By the time the curtain finally came down, his chest and head seemed to be on fire. He hurried outside for fresh air and caught sight of a friend, cellist David Popper, who hailed the house doctor. After a cursory examination, he, too, recommended bed rest. But Auer felt compelled to go back for the second act, during which he felt even worse. “I was suffering such tortures,” he wrote in his memoirs, “that I felt like shouting to Tristan and Isolde to hurry up and finish their love duet as quickly as possible so that I could go home to bed.” After a second examination, the doctor said that Auer might have typhoid fever, and only after twelve days did he authorize Auer to get out of bed--to continue his cure at mineral baths in Bohemia. Before Auer departed, a rumor circulated through the hotel that “a dying Russian” in one of the rooms had made a killing on the sale of his tickets.
Wednesday, August 7, 2019, 11:30am
The burgeoning career of teenaged cellist Janos Starker had come to a rough halt when World War II broke out in Europe. As German and Russian troops vied for control of Budapest and American planes laid down a carpet of bombs, Starker’s music had lost priority to a fight for survival. In November 1945, a few months after the end of the war, when Starker was in Bucharest to perform, he was invited to visit composer Georges Enesco. Starker had never met Enesco, but he had heard Romanian musicians praising his violin virtuosity with something akin to reverence. The venerable composer lived in a grand house in the city. Bent and soft-spoken, he welcomed Starker into his studio, and after a few questions about Starker and his life, suggested that they play some Brahms together. The celebrated violinist brought out the score of the E minor cello sonata and sat at the piano, and they played through it. When they had finished, Enesco said, “I still remember hearing Brahms playing it.” Then, without music, he began the F major sonata and Starker joined in. At the end of the performance, Enesco remarked that he had played it with Pablo Casals twenty years ago. “His playing was stunning,” Enesco said. He invited Starker to come back the next day, when he’d be playing three Beethoven violin sonatas with some friends. Starker joined about a dozen elegantly-dressed guests for the occasion. After tuning, Enesco and his pianist began to play Beethoven’s Spring Sonata. Starker was shocked. As Enesco scratched and sawed, out of tune, the young cellist gritted his teeth and tried to put his mind somewhere else. Then, suddenly, as if some kind of inner conflict had ended, Enesco began playing like someone else entirely, a master with a beautiful tone and exquisite phrasing. In his memoirs, Starker wrote, “It was probably the only time in my life that listening to music has brought tears to my eyes.”
Tuesday, August 6, 2019, 11:30am
“The last thing on my mind was that it would have wide appeal.” So said Andrew Lloyd Webber of the requiem he wrote in 1984. The composer of wildly successful musicals wrote his requiem in response to several deeply-felt experiences. In 1978 the director of arts programs at the BBC had approached Lloyd Webber with the idea of writing a requiem for the victims of violence in Northern Ireland. His experience with requiems was limited but powerful: At the age of thirteen he had attended the first London performance of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, and three years before that, the Westminster Abbey memorial service for Ralph Vaughan Williams had left a lasting impression on him. In 1982, when his father died, Lloyd Webber returned to the idea of writing a requiem. Four months later a young journalist friend was killed by an IRA bomb in Harrods Department Store. The composer was further moved by a New York Times report about a Cambodian boy who had been forced by terrorists to kill his sister. The resulting requiem was described as “a rough barbaric score with moments of great tenderness.” The “Pie Jesu” from it hit the British Top Ten and became the only single issued by the HMV Classics department, prompting the astonished composer to remark, “When I wrote Starlight Express I really worked hard to produce something that would contain a collection of pop singles, and they all failed. This thing comes out in Latin and in ten days it’s at Number Three.” At the same time, Andrew Lloyd Webber said that the Requiem was the most personal of his scores, and for its world premiere in New York he insisted on flying in the same singers who had participated in the recording–his wife Sarah Brightman, boy treble Paul Miles-Kingston, Placido Domingo–and the entire Winchester Cathedral Choir.
Monday, August 5, 2019, 11:30am
When Soviet pianist Sviatoslav Richter came to America, his government took no chances on losing him. In 1960, when he arrived in New York for the first time, Richter was accompanied by a bodyguard named Anatoly, a young veteran of the NKVD, the Soviet security service. Anatoly was pleasant enough, but he was supervised by another bodyguard named Byelotserkovsky, who was always bossing him around. “Follow him; keep an eye on him,” Byelotserkovsky would say repeatedly to his young charge, “Listen to what he says. See who he meets,” One day when Richter was leaving the Art Institute of Chicago, he found Anatoly hiding behind the door. “It’s him,” said the flustered young bodyguard. “He’s the one who sent me. It was him!” And Byelotserkovsky didn’t stop at pestering Anatoly. He made a habit of saying to Richter, “Your job is to perform,” the implication being that to take in any of the American scenery or culture would be unacceptable. One day, at the end of a rehearsal of Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto with the Boston Orchestra, Richter was so moved by the orchestra’s playing that he kissed the hand of conductor Charles Munch. Afterward, Byelotserkovsky vented his disapproval. “How can a Soviet artist sink so low as to kiss the hand of a foreign conductor?” he complained. And when they were invited to the home of Russian émigré Efrem Zimbalist, Byelotserkovsky tried to persuade the aging violinist to return to Russia, where he’d be offered a fine apartment–and a lavish funeral. On a later trip to America, Richter’s escort was a former director of the Leningrad Philharmonic, who persuaded concert organizers to give expensive gifts to Richter which he would intercept and keep for himself. Richter put his foot down and, from then on, his “guardian angels” gave him no more trouble.
Friday, August 2, 2019, 11:30am
The two composers would be major forces in late nineteenth-century music and great friends, but not before some preliminary missteps. In 1857 Camille Saint-Saëns began seeing small notices announcing Paris performances by an unknown Russian named Anton Rubinstein. Rubinstein was unknown in Paris for a very good reason–he avoided press coverage. His Paris debut took place in an elegant hall–without a single paying listener in attendance. With power and artistry, Rubinstein wowed his first audience, and for his next performance the hall was, as Saint-Saëns put it, “crammed to suffocation.” In his memoirs, Saint-Saëns gushed, “I was bowled over, chained to the chariot of the conqueror!” Despite his admiration, Saint-Saëns avoided meeting the great pianist. The twenty-two-year-old was terrified at the prospect, despite Rubinstein’s reputation for kindness and gentility. For a year, mutual friends continued to invite Saint-Saëns to meet Rubinstein, but Saint-Saëns turned them down. The following year, though, during Rubinstein’s next visit to Paris, Saint-Saëns finally got up his courage for an introduction and the two hit if off at once. They got together often to play flamboyant piano duets. Saint-Saëns was taken not only with Rubinstein’s artistry, but also with his lack of jealousy when it came to his fellow musicians. Rubinstein invited Saint-Saëns to conduct some of his orchestral works with Rubinstein as the pianist. Again reluctant, Saint-Saëns eventually agreed, and found the experience to be his primary education as a conductor. It was a baptism by fire because Rubinstein paid no attention to the orchestra and sometimes drowned them out, forcing Saint-Saëns to follow him by watching his hands. And Rubinstein provided scores that were marked up beyond comprehension because he found it amusing to see Saint-Saëns conduct his way into and out of trouble. During later Paris visits, the bold, broad-shouldered Anton Rubinstein and the shy, delicate Camille Saint-Saëns became almost inseparable friends.
Thursday, August 1, 2019, 11:30am
Richard Strauss admired the music of Richard Wagner, and so he felt honored in 1893 when he received an invitation from Wagner’s widow Cosima to conduct during the consummate Wagnerian event, the Bayreuth Festival. But the honor would come with strings attached. Part of Cosima’s motive for the invitation came from the formation of a rival festival in nearby Munich. The director of the Munich festival put it into direct competition with Bayreuth by announcing a new production of Wagner’s Lohengrin, the same opera Bayreuth had presented on its season’s opening night. The Munich director also invited Strauss to conduct two of their operas. His willingness to work with the competition put Strauss at odds with Cosima’s increasingly resentful son Siegfried, a composer who also did some conducting. Strauss was not reluctant to voice his criticisms of Cosima and her family. He and Siegfried had a quarrel about artistic control that prompted Strauss to break off his association with the Wagners. Cosima asked that Strauss not return to Bayreuth as a conductor. In August 1896 he did return--as an audience member--to hear Siegfried conduct Wagner’s Ring Cycle for the first time, and he found the Wagners amiable, although he thought that Siegfried’s conducting was awful. Siegfried rekindled the animosity by publishing a letter in which he stated that the ultimate authority in the theater at Bayreuth was the stage director, who got to give orders to the director. Strauss took the letter as a personal insult. But despite his break with the Wagners and his condemnation of Bayreuth as “the ultimate pigsty,” Strauss remained steadfast in his admiration of Wagner’s music and saw the festival as its greatest safeguard, in fact, the consummate safeguard of all German art. And in 1933, after the deaths of Siegfried and Cosima, when the invitation came to conduct again at Bayreuth, neither the needs of his own music nor the grim Nazi politics of the times kept him from accepting it.
Wednesday, July 31, 2019, 11:30am
Many audience members at classical music concerts are not sure when to applaud. Even in the most sophisticated and controlled circumstances, premature applause can create an awkward break in a performance. One person who knew first-hand was President John F. Kennedy. According to Kennedy social secretary Letitia Baldrige, on more than one occasion during East Room concerts at the White House, Kennedy was uncertain as to whether a concert was over and found himself clapping at the wrong time. Even when he was following a printed program he had trouble keeping up with the procession of movements within a single work. The resourceful social secretary hit on a plan. The distinguished violinist Isaac Stern was scheduled to perform, and Baldrige worked out a code by which she could subtly inform the President that each piece was about to end. As the last piece of the Stern concert was about to end, she would open the central door to the East Room from the outside, about two inches, just enough for the president to glimpse Baldrige’s rather prominent nose. The code worked brilliantly during the Stern performance and the two used it for every other concert. As soon as Kennedy saw that the door was ajar, he knew that the last piece had begun. He would wait for the applause, join in enthusiastically, take Mrs. Kennedy by the arm, and escort the honored audience members to the stage to congratulate the musicians. Both John and Jackie Kennedy were very impressed with Baldrige’s musical knowledge and sophistication, but she had a secret. She knew even less about classical music than they did. During each concert she had one of the White House Social Aides stay with her at the door, an aide who was a capable musician and could cue her when it was time to cue the President.
Tuesday, July 30, 2019, 11:30am
On July 30, 1830, Robert Schumann wrote from Heidelberg to his mother in Zwickau about the crossroads he had reached: My entire life has been a twenty-year struggle between poetry and prose or, if you prefer, between music and law. In things practical my ideals were just as high as they were in art. My ideal was, in fact, to have a practical influence, and I hoped to wrestle in a broad arena. But what’s the likelihood of that, particularly in Saxony, for a commoner with no powerful patron or fortune and no real fondness for the begging and scraping that are part of a legal career! At Leipzig I was oblivious to plans for the future. I went m y merry way, dreaming and hanging around and really doing nothing of value. Since I got here I’ve done more work, but in both places my attachment to art just keeps getting deeper and deeper. Now I’ve come to the crossroads and I think with terror: Which way do I go now? If I follow my instinct it will lead me to art, and I believe that’s the right path. But, in fact–and don’t take this wrong, I say lovingly and in a whisper–it always seemed to me that you were blocking my way in that direction for worthy maternal reasons that are as clear to me as they are to you: the “uncertain future” and “unreliable livelihood” as we used to call it. But what’s going to happen now? The most tormenting thought a man can have is the prospect of an unhappy, lifeless, and superficial future of his own making. On the other hand, though, it’s not easy to choose a way of life that’s at odds with one’s early upbringing and disposition. It requires patience, confidence, and fast training. I’m still in the youth of my imagination, capable of being cultivated and ennobled by art, and I believe that with hard work, patience, and a good teacher, I’ll be the match of any pianist
Monday, July 29, 2019, 11:30am
Peter Tchaikovsky never met his patron Nadezhda von Meck, but in the summer of 1880 he stayed at her estate in Ukraine, and he wrote her a letter expressing his pleasure at two aspects of life there: At sunset I had tea and then wandered alone by the steep bank of the stream behind the deer park, and drank in all the deep delight of the forest at sundown and freshness of the evening air. Such moments, though, helped us to bear with patience the many minor grievances of existence. They make us in love with life. We are promised eternal happiness, immortal existence, but we do not realize it, nor shall we perhaps attain it. But if we are worthy of it, and if it is really eternal, we shall soon learn to enjoy it. Meanwhile, one wishes to live, in order to experience again such moments.... Today I intended to leave for Simaki, but as I write to you a terrific storm is raging, and it is evidently going to be a wet day, so perhaps I shall remain here.... Dear friend, today I have committed a kind of burglary in your house, and I will confess my crime. There was no key to the bookcase in the drawing room next to your bedroom, but I saw that it contained some new books which interested me greatly. Even Marcel could not find the key, so it occurred to me to try the one belonging to the cupboard near my room, and it opened the bookcase at once. I took out Byron, and Martinov’s Moscow. Don’t worry, all of your books and music remain untouched. To quiet Marcel’s conscience...I gave him a memorandum of what I have taken, and before I leave I will return to him the books and music to put back in their proper order.
Friday, July 26, 2019, 11:30am
After a heavy bombardment, Vienna had fallen to Napoleon’s army on May 10,1809, and life became difficult for the city’s residents. In a letter to Leipzig publisher Breitkopf and Hertel, Beethoven wrote on July 26: You are quite wrong to assume that things have been going well for me. The truth is, we’ve passed through a heavy concentration of misery. Since the fourth of May I’ve produced very little coherent work, no more than a fragment here and there. The entire course of events has affected me body and soul. Nor can I give myself over to the enjoyment of country life, which is so crucial for me. My position, only recently attained, rests on a shaky foundation. Even in the short time I’ve had it, not all of the promises made to me have been kept. From one of my patrons, Prince Kinsky , I have yet to receive a single farthing, just at a time when the money is most necessary. Heaven only knows what’s going to happen. I’ll probably have to change my residence. The confiscations are to begin today. What a disturbing, chaotic life I see all around me–nothing but drums, cannons, and human misery of all kinds. My present situation again forces me to bargain with you. So I am inclined to think that you could surely send me 250 gulden at the current rate for the three major works. Be assured that by no means do I consider this an excessive sum, and right now I really need it because I can’t count on what was promised me in my certificate of appointment. So write to me and let me know if you will accept this offer. For the Mass alone I could get a fee of 100 gulden at the current rate. You know that in matters of this kind I’m always forthright with you.
Thursday, July 25, 2019, 11:30am
Australian pianist and composer Percy Grainger grew up hearing the piano pieces of Edvard Grieg, and by the time he was in his twenties he had put the Norwegian “in the firmament of my compositional stars.” He had no idea that the admiration was mutual. A friend of Grieg’s had shown him Grainger’s settings of Irish and Welsh folksongs. Grieg liked them so much that he sent a signed photograph of himself inscribed “To Percy Grainger with thanks for your splendid choruses.” Two years later, in May 1906, Grieg was in London, where his wife Nina was to give two concerts of his music at Queen’s Hall. The Griegs were the guests of a financier, but the “Miniature Viking” as he was known, was not one to mingle lightly. He spent much of the time sitting in the hall wearing his hat and coat, not saying much of anything to anyone. When his host asked him if there was any musician in London he’d like to meet, Grieg said, “No, thank you, I feel so weak and sick that I just want to get the concerts over with and go home.” Then, as an afterthought, he added, “There is one person I’d like to meet–this young Australian composer Percy Grainger.” Grainger was invited over for dinner. The twenty-four-year-old and the sixty-three-year-old hit it off right away, partly because Grainger spoke Norwegian. He gave a sparkling performance of Grieg’s Peasant Dances, recent pieces unappreciated in Norway. Grieg invited the young Australian to visit him at his summer villa, Troldhaugen. On the evening of July 25,1907, Grainger arrived. Grieg had been laid low by asthma, sleeplessness, and hallucinations. Grainger’s presence brought him around. He proposed a grand concert tour for the next year. Grainger was the last guest at Troldhaugen. Three weeks after his departure, Grieg was on his way to England for the Leeds Festival when he became ill and died.
Wednesday, July 24, 2019, 11:30am
In July 1825 Franz Schubert was traveling through Upper Austria, enjoying mountain scenery and the company of friends. From the picturesque city of Steyr he wrote to his parents: In Steyreck we stayed with Countess Wiessenwolf, who is a great admirer of my humble self, owns everything I have written, and sings many of the things very beautifully too. The Walter Scott songs impressed her so favorably that she made it patently clear that she would not object at all if I were to dedicate them to her. But as far as they are concerned, I intend to break with the customary publishing procedure, which brings in so little profit. I feel that these songs, since they bear the celebrated name of Scott, are likely to pique more interest, and—if I add the English text—should make my name better known in England too. If any honest dealing were possible with these infernal publishers. But the wise an beneficent regulations of our Government have seen to it that the artist shall remain the eternal slave of these wretched money-grubbers…. I have come across my compositions all over Upper Austria, but especially in the monasteries at St. Florian and at Kremsmünster, where, with the assistance of an excellent pianist, I gave a very successful recital of my Variations and Marches fro four hands. The Variations from my new Sonata for two hands met with special enthusiasm. I played them alone and not without success, for several people assured me that under my fingers the keys were transformed into singing voices, which, if true, pleases me a good deal because I can’t stand the blasted hacking of the instrument to which even first-rate pianists are addicted. It pleases neither the ear nor the heart.
Tuesday, July 23, 2019, 11:30am
Sir Henry Wood was one of England’s most distinguished conductors of the early twentieth century. In 1888, though, he was a nineteen-year-old student whose departure from the Royal Academy of Music was anything but dignified. He told the story in his 1938 autobiography. During the Handel Festival at the Crystal Palace in London, Wood heard his ideal of the great organist–W.T. Best – play a newly-edited concerto in B-flat with an elaborate and complicated cadenza upon which Wood had been working for some weeks with the intention of playing it at one of the Royal Academy concerts. Wood’s performance of the concerto was scheduled for a Friday rehearsal . After the first few bars, the principal of the Academy turned to an organ student and said, “ You can conduct this. You are an organist and should know Handel’s concertos.” It turned out that the student had never conducted before . As a result the orchestra bogged down several times in the first movement–much to Wood’s disgust , because he had expected the principal to conduct, and thought that the merits or deficiencies of his playing would be judged by his performance under the direction of an expert . Getting angrier by the moment, he went through the first and second movements and began the third. In his wry way, Wood described what happened next: When we came to the finale, although the principal was doing his best in dumb-show to keep conductor and orchestra together, I completely lost my temper, jumped off the seat, and fled from the hall. It was not until I had gone some distance that I realized I had left my hat and coat behind. For all I knew, they are there now. Perhaps they kept them as a memento of my bad temper? Sir Henry remarked that he undoubtedly had completed his musical education by then anyway, and added that despite his desperate departure, he and the principal of the Academy remained lifelong friends.