Saturday, May 19, 2012

Charles Ives

Charles Edward Ives, an American composer of European classical music was born on October 20, 1874 and died on May 19, 1954. He is widely regarded as one of the first American classical composers of international significance. Ives's music was largely ignored during his life, and many of his works went unperformed for many years. As happens historically, Ives, as other musicians throughout history, would following his death. Ives’ was regarded as one of the "American Originals," a composer working in a uniquely American style, with American tunes found throughout his music, and a progressive sense of the possibilities in music.

Ives', upbringing with religious music, he would often attend revival meetings in which Christian hymns were central to the worship service, which would influence much of his music. Many of these early American tunes would find their way into his compositions and he often wrote music based on inherently Christian themes. The influence of one's personal faith on one's creative endeavors can be found throughout music history. Ives was not unlike Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frederic Handel, Ludwig van Beethoven, Anton Bruckner and a many other composers music, in that he was influenced his personal religious convictions.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Gustav Mahler

Mahler was born July 7, 1860, in Kalischt, Bohemia; and died in Vienna May 18, 1911. He studied at the Vienna Conservatory with R. Fuchs and attended lectures given by Bruckner at the University of Vienna. Mahler held conducting positions at the Prague Opera, 1885-1886; the Royal Opera in Budapest, from 1888-(unknown);  the Hamburg Municipal Opera, 1891-1897;  the Vienna Court Opera, 1897-1907; the metropolitan Opera in New York, from 1907; and with the New York Philharmonic Society, 1909-1911.

The music of Gustav Mahler was placed into obscurity, as was the case with the music of many of the worlds great composers following their deaths.  It has only been in the last few decades that the music of Mahler has become a part of regular concert seasons the world over.  Mahler’s music is very German and very Jewish due in part to his concept of nationalism.  These two ideas can be clearly seen in each of his Symphonies, each an individual work of genius. 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Sandro Botticelli

Sandro Botticelli (Alessandro di Mariano di Vanni Filipepi) was born March 1, 1445 and died May 17, 1510. He was an Italian painter of the Florentine school during the Early Renaissance. 

Less than a hundred years later, this movement, under the patronage of Lorenzo de' Medici, was characterized by Giorgio Vasari as a "golden age", a thought, suitably enough, he expressed at the head of his Vita of Botticelli. 

It wasn't until the late 19th century that his works were acknowledged; since then his work has been seen to represent that ofEarly Renaissance painting, and The Birth of Venus and Primavera rank now among the most familiar masterpieces of Florentine art.

Birth of Venus


Wednesday, May 16, 2012


Born Wladziu Valentino Liberace, 16 May 1919, West Allis, Wisconsin, USA, d. 4 February 1987, Palm Springs, Florida, USA. This larger-than-life pianist had no major chart hits - but had an indefinable charm and talent that gave delight to multitudes of fans across the globe. Of Polish-Italian extraction, he was raised in a household where there was always music - particularly from father Salvatore who played French horn in both John Philip Sousa's Concert Band and the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. Young Wladziu was eager to become a professional player and his piano skills were praised by no less than Paderewski, and he won a place at Wisconsin College of Music at the age of seven.

During his 17-year scholarship - the longest ever awarded by the academy - he made his concert debut as a soloist at the age of 11 and was fronting renowned symphony orchestras while still an adolescent. A fulfilling career of classical recitals and university master classes might have beckoned but for the artist's innate sense of humour and flair for self-promotion. After service in an overseas entertainments unit during World War II, he played and sang in club dance bands and it was during a residency at the Wunderbar in Warsaw, Wisconsin, that he was first introduced as "Liberace". At New York's Persian Rooms, an experiment whereby he performed counterpoints to records - including his own one-shot single for the Signature label - played on the venue's sound system, was curtailed by a Musicians Union ban. A happier season in a Californian hotel resulted in a Decca Records contract, for which he was visualized as a second Frankie Carle. However, wishing to develop a more personal style, he moved to Columbia Records where, supervised by Mitch Miller, he recorded a flamboyant version of "September Song" which, supplemented by an in-concert album, brought Liberace to the attention of a national audience.

By the early 50s, his repertoire embraced George Gershwin favourites, cocktail jazz, film themes ("Unchained Melody"), boogie-woogie and self-composed pieces ("Rhapsody By Candlelight"), as well as adaptations of light classics such as "The Story Of Three Loves" - borrowed from a Rachmaninov variation on a tune by Paganini. Nevertheless, Liberace struck the most popular chord with his encores, in which doggerel such as "Maizy Doats" or "Three Little Fishies" were dressed in arrangements littered with twee arpeggios and trills. He also started garbing himself from a wardrobe that stretched to rhinestone, white mink, sequins, gold lam‚ and similar razzle-dazzle. Crowned with a carefully waved coiffeur, he oozed charm and extravagant gesture, with a candelabra-lit piano as the focal point of the epic vulgarity that was The Liberace Show, televised coast-to-coast from Los Angeles; the show established a public image that he later tried in vain to modify. His fame was such that he was name-checked in "Mr. Sandman", a 1954 million-seller by the Chordettes, and a year later, starred (as a deaf concert pianist) in a film, Sincerely Yours, with brother George (future administrator of the Liberace Museum in Las Vegas) as musical director. Another spin-off was the publication of a Liberace cookbook.

Following the celebration of his quarter century in showbusiness with a Hollywood Bowl spectacular in 1956, Liberace crossed to England (where a vocal outing, "I Don't Care", was lodged in the Top 30) for the first of three Royal Command Performances. While in the UK, he instigated a High Court action, successfully suing the Daily Mirror, whose waspish columnist Cassandra had written an article on the star laced with sexual innuendo. During the next decade, a cameo in the film satire The Loved One was reviewed not unfavourably, as was one of his early albums for RCA Records in which he aimed more directly at the contemporary market. This, however, was a rare excursion, as his work generally maintained a certain steady consistency - or "squareness", in the words of his detractors - that deviated little from the commercial blueprint wrought in the 50s. Nonetheless, Liberace's mode of presentation left its mark on stars such as Gary Glitter, Elton John and Queen. Although attendant publicity boosted box office takings on a world tour, embarrassing tabloid newspaper allegations by a former employee placed his career in a darker perspective. When the singer died on 4 February 1987 at his Palm Springs mansion, the words "kidney complaint" were assumed to be a euphemism for an AIDS-related illness. For a 75th Birthday Celebration in 1994, fans from all over America gathered to pay their respects at Liberace Plaza in Las Vegas.

From The Encyclopedia of Popular Music

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Claudio Monteverdi

Claudio Monteverdi was born in Cremona, Italy in 1567 and died November 29, 1643 in Venice.  Monteverdi bridged the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.  His training and career has three parts; his early studies in Cremona, from 1590-1612 in Mantua. Monteverdi was not very happy with is job in Mantua because he was not paid well for his work. Soon after, he resigned from Mantua and took a very prestigious job as the music director at St. Mark's Cathedral in Venice, Italy. He worked at St. Mark's Cathedral in Venice from 1613-1643. 

Being a highly prolific composer, Monteverdi composed in both the sacred and secular genres, as well as opera.  His most celebrated work, Vespers of 1610, was part of a volume of sacred music published in 1610 entitled, Sanctissimae virgini missa senis vocibus as ecclesiarum chorus as Vespere pluribus decantandae-cum nonnullis sacris concentibus ad sacella sive principum cubicula accommodata. Monteverdi is especially known for his contributions to opera. One of his most famous opera compostions is L'Orfeo. Monteverdi wrote his last opera when he was 75 years old--just one year before he died!

Monday, May 14, 2012

José Iturbi (The Liberace of the 30's)

José Iturbi, b. November 28, 1895 (Valencia, Spain), d. June 28, 1980 (Beverly Hills, California, USA), was recognized as the world’s greatest classical pianist during the 1930’s – 1970’s. José Iturbi was the world’s most popular classical musician from the 1930’s until his death.

Iturbi’s talent was recognized at an early age. He started piano lessons at age 3, and graduated with first prize honors from the Valencia Music Conservatory at 14 years old. Iturbi received a scholarship to study at the Paris Music Conservatory where he spent his days as a serious student and his nights playing in a Paris café in return for one meal a day, a space to sleep in the café store room after hours, and a few francs. Iturbi always tried to find ways to make ends meet. No matter how difficult times were, Iturbi was determined to remain in the greatest cultural center of Europe – Paris.

Gene Kelly, José Iturbi, Frank Sinatra
Anchors Aweigh (1945)
In 1913, Iturbi graduated from the Paris Music Conservatory with the first of all first prize honors. He then held the chair of Professor of Piano Virtuosity at the Geneva Conservatory of Music in Switzerland (a post once held by Franz Liszt) for six years until his concert engagements became too numerous to permit his required teaching schedule.

Throughout his long career, José Iturbi concertized to adoring fans and sold-out audiences in every corner of the world. It was commonplace at Iturbi’s concerts for the overflow audience to be seated on stage. This remained his standard from the 1920’s and for the next five decades through the 1970’s! Excitement always accompanied Iturbi on his concert tours!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Gilbert and Sullivan

Sullivan               Gilbert
Sir William Schwenck Gilbert (1836-1911) and the composer Sir Arthur Sullivan (1842-1900), known as Gilbert and Sullivan were a theatrical partnership of a librettist (Gilbert), and a composer (Sullivan).  The two created fourteen comic operas during their twenty-five year partnership (1871-1896), of which H.M.S. Pinafore, The Pirates of Penzance and The Mikado are their best known works.

According to numerous online sources: “Gilbert, who wrote the words, created fanciful topsy-turvy worlds for these operas where each absurdity is taken to its logical conclusion fairies rub elbows with British lords, flirting is a capital offence, gondoliers ascend to the monarchy, and pirates turn out to be noblemen who have gone wrong. Sullivan, six years Gilbert's junior, composed the music, contributing memorable melodies that could convey both humor and pathos.”

Their operas seem to have an enduring success, unlike many creations of the Victorian Era, and continue to be performed. Gilbert and Sullivan introduced innovations in content and form that directly influenced the development of musical theatre through the 20th century. Their operas have also seemed to have an enduring effect on political discourse, literature, film and television and have been widely parodied by comics. If it weren’t for Producer Richard D'Oyly Carte, the team of Gilbert and Sullivan would not have been created as he nurtured their collaborations. Carte built the Savoy Theatre in 1881 to present their joint works and founded the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, which performed and promoted Gilbert and Sullivan's works for over a century.