The Swedish Nightingale Meets Barnum
Friday, April 3, 2020, 11:30am
The famed soprano Jenny Lind had plenty of talent and determination. And when she came to America in 1850 she had more than enough publicity. Her promoter was the biggest showman of them all—PT Barnum. Eager to rise above his reputation as a promoter of sideshows and freaks, Barnum had risked his...
Fed-Up in Rome
Thursday, April 2, 2020, 11:30am
Love, politics, and music. In April 1831 Hector Berlioz was in Florence, Italy, and he was disgusted with all three. He wrote to a friend: “You speak to me of music and of love! What do you have in mind? I don't get it. Is there something on earth called music and love? I thought I'd heard those...
Wednesday, April 1, 2020, 11:30am
Niccoló Paganini was the most famous violinist in Europe. He was also more versatile than anyone would have guessed--at work and play. And he loved a practical joke.
Schubert Down on His Luck
Tuesday, March 31, 2020, 11:30am
Franz Schubert writing from Vienna to a friend in Rome, March 31st, 1824.
Cherubini Takes on Napoleon
Monday, March 30, 2020, 11:30am
He was a strange man, a macabre man, the composer of the "Funeral March for a Papagallo." Everything about Charles-Valentin Alkan seemed eccentric—even his death on March 29th, 1888.
The Modest Virtuoso
Friday, March 27, 2020, 11:30am
On March 27 th , 1830 a twenty-year-old Polish pianist, Frederic Chopin, was concertizing in Warsaw and he wrote to a friend in a nearby town: “About the first concert: The hall was full, and all the boxes and stage seats were sold out three days in advance, but most of the audience didn't get the...
The Presidential Performer
Thursday, March 26, 2020, 11:30am
It was a time when a president of the United States was in sore need of soothing music, and Woodrow Wilson brought some of the best performers into the White House. He had the added advantage of being a pretty fair musician himself. As a young man Wilson had played the violin. He sang tenor in the...
A Royal Pain
Wednesday, March 25, 2020, 11:30am
An invitation to perform for a king. Most musicians would see it as a grand opportunity. Louis Spohr found it a royal pain.
Tuesday, March 24, 2020, 11:30am
Waldstein. The name is best remembered because Beethoven wrote one of his best piano sonatas for his friend and patron.
Good and Bad Advice
Monday, March 23, 2020, 11:30am
John Ireland became one of England’s great twentieth-century composers. As a young man he received advice from another major composer--Edward Elgar. Fortunately for English music, Ireland ignored some of it.
The Dazzling Liszt
Friday, March 20, 2020, 11:30am
At the age of 30 Robert Schumann was one of many pianist composers who was dazzled by the virtuosity and personality of the 29-year-old Franz Liszt. He reported to his fiancée Clara Wieck, from Leipzig in March 1840: “I wish you could have been with me this morning to see Liszt. He is quite...
The Italian Marine Band
Thursday, March 19, 2020, 11:30am
. The group of sixteen Italian musicians didn’t know what to think. Their leader, Gaetano Carusi, had brought them to America, the land of promise. But when they arrived in Washington their first thought must have been to go back home. The year was 1805 and Carusi himself described the capital city...
Brutally Frank Advice
Wednesday, March 18, 2020, 11:30am
How direct should an established composer be when appraising the work of an up-and-comer? Vincent d'Indy would've had two answers to the question -- one before and one after getting advice from Cesar Franck. D'Indy recalled: "Once I had played a movement of my string quartet for him -- which I...
The Cold Irish Pianist
Tuesday, March 17, 2020, 11:30am
He was traveling with one of the most famous and successful composers of the day, but the young Irish pianist was not having a good time. His name was John Field and he was touring Europe demonstrating Muzio Clementi's new pianos. Soon he would become known as one of the great teachers and...
Gershwin's Early Setbacks
Monday, March 16, 2020, 11:30am
Recognition came early to George Gershwin, but first came some humbling moments. At 21, Gershwin wrote a piano piece called “Swanee.” It debuted in a band arrangement at the Capitol Theater in New York where sixty chorus girls with electric lights on their slippers danced to it. Gershwin hung...
Offenbach's Short Comeback
Friday, March 13, 2020, 11:30am
Eighteen-seventy-one. It was the end of an epic in France. Years of opulence and gaiety had been blasted by the grim, disastrous Franco-Prussian War. One of the less obvious casualties was a musician huddled in an oversized coat. He was Jacques Offenbach, composer of buoyant operettas that must've...
An Honest Opinion
Thursday, March 12, 2020, 11:30am
Johannes Brahms disliked insincere flattery. But he sometimes went to great lengths to get an honest opinion of his composing and his playing. In his autobiography, composer Karl Goldmark mentions receiving an invitation to a house where two new Brahms compositions were to be performed for the...
Concert at Gunpoint
Wednesday, March 11, 2020, 11:30am
Pianist George Antheil got used to his concerts turning into riots. After all, he made a habit of ending each evening with a set of ultra-modern pieces. But he wanted his music to be heard, and he started taking dangerous measures to see that it was. Like many young American artists in the 1920's,...
Weber's Hopes & Fears
Tuesday, March 10, 2020, 11:30am
Carl Maria von Weber was 31 years old and beginning to settle down professionally and socially. On March 10th, 1817 he wrote from Dresden to a friend: “I should have written to you long ago to tell you about my appointment as Kapellmeister to the King of Saxony and Director of the German Opera here...
The Rabble Rouser
Monday, March 9, 2020, 11:30am
"With this opera it is fair to say my artistic career began." So wrote Giuseppi Verdi of Nabucco , a masterpiece that also did much to launch his reputation as a political rabble-rouser. The opera is based on the story of Nebuchadnezzar--given the more musical name Nabucco--who defeats the Jews at...