October 2013 - Posts
When we think about composers , we usually think of men . Why are there no female Beethovens , Mozarts , and Bachs ?
Why do we almost always hear music by men alone at concerts ? The reasons cannot be explained by sexism alone , although sexism certainly has played a role in this .
There have been women composers from the very beginning of what we call western classical music , centuries ago . And far more than most people realize . After googling a list of them , I found a list of hundrends of them going back nearly a thousand years ago to the present day . Women composers from every corner of Europe , plus Americans ,Candians and Asians etc . None of them household names , but some with some reputation and familiar to died in the wool classical music buffs .
Pauline Viardot , Dame Ethyl Smyth , Amy Beach, Cecile Chaminade , Lili Boulanger , Germaine Tailleferre , Louise Farrenc, Grazyna Bacewicz , Ruth Crawford Seeger , Elisabeth Lutyens , ? You've probably never heard of any of these women composers , but they all had some reputation in the past , and music by all of them has been recorded . And numerous other women composers .
Clara Schumann ( 1819 - 1896 ) was the wife of the great Robert Schumann , and survived him by 40 years . She was a renowned pianist and a composer in her own wright . Felix Mendelssohn's sister Fanny showed considerable musical talent, and also composed . But unfortunately , her very proper family did not think it appropriate for a young lady to compose, and some of her works were actually published under her much more famous brother's name !
Ethyl Smyth of England was probably the best known woman composer of the late 19th and early 20th centuries , and she was actually awarded the title of Dame Ethyl Smyth . Her opera "The Wreckers", her best known work , was successfully performed all over Europe and England , and a recording of it was made in London some years ago . She also has the distinction of be9ing the only women composer to have have an opera performed by the Metropolitan opera , about a century ago . It was in German and called "Der Wald " (the forest ), but hs faded into oblivion since , like so mny other operas whether the composer was male or female .
But in recent years , barriers to to women making successful careers have been receding , and the glass ceiling is being shattered . There are now more women composers than ever before , and more young aspring women composers studying in music schools everywhere . It's no longer even news when an orchestra plays a work by a woman composer any more or an opera house does an opera by one .
Kaaia Saariaho of Finland (1952 -) is one of today's most widely performed composers , male or female , and her music has been championed by such eminent conductors as her countryman Esa-Pekka Salonen , Kent Nagano and others , and recorded . Her opera "L'Amour de Loin " (love from afar ) , set toa libretto in French, is the story of medieval love mong the troubadors , has had international acclain and has been available both on CD and DVD .
Jennifer Higdon (1962 - ) has written numerous orchestrl works which have been performed by leading orchestras all over America and elsewhere . South Korea's Unsuk Chin hs written a highly etertaining opera based on Alice in Wonderland , which can be found on DVD .
Sofia Gubaidullina , (1931 -) is Russia's best known woman composer , and her music has been performed all over the world and has been championed by many eminent composers and instrumentalists . Judith Weir (1954 -) is proably England's best known living woman composer .
This list barely scratches the surface . But one thing is certain ; it's a better time to be a woman composer than ever before .
The great Italian opera composer Giuseppe Verdi was born 200 years ago today , to humbe parents in a small town in northern Italy near Parma . He grew up to become the foremost Italian opera composer of his day , a national hero in Italy , and many of his 26 operas are beloved fixtures of the operatic repertoire all over the world . When he died a venerated old man in Milan in 1901 , his funeral was a national event attended by thousands .
Everyone knows the so-called "Anvil chorus " and "La Donna e Mobile ", even people who have never been inside an opera house , but these are only a couple of the greatest hits from his operas . Verdi's operas are stirring, melodious , full of action and vivid characters such as the bitter , hunchbacked court jester Rigoletto , Violetta , the doomed consumptive Parisian courtesan in La Traviata , Azucena , the Spanish gypsy woman who is consumed with lust for vengance , Aida , the Ethiopian handmaid to the daughter of the Egyptian Pharaoh who is desperately in love with her betrothed, the commander of the Egyptian army but cannot hve him , the fat , drunken English rogue Falstaff , and others ,
So it's no wonder these operas have been so popular at opera houses everywhere since the mid 19th century . Verdi gave audiences what they wanted , and more . And they still speak to us today . He was a practical man of the theater who used the conventions of Italian opera as a tool for realizing his genius , but ws never afraid to be innovative . In this , he was vastly different from his great German contemporary Richard Wagner, born in the same year , 1813 in Leipzig , who was a visionary and revolutionary whose musical goals were sometimes extravagant,impractical and quixotic , and who caused so miuch controversy both in his day and long after . They are apples and oranges . Both towering figures in the history of opera .
Many of the greatest opera singers of the 19th and 20th centuries have achieved world renown singing the operas of Verdi , as well as recording them . Maria Callas, Enrico Caruso , Rosa Ponselle, Renata Tebaldi , Renata Scotto , Luciano Pavarotti , Placido Domingo , Tito Gobbi , Mario Del Monaco , Sherrill Milnes , Nicolai Ghiaurov , Richard Tucker , Zinka Milanov , Leontyne Price , to name only handful .
And they have been conducted by such legendary maestros as Arturo Toscanini , who knew him personally and learned from him , Tullio Serafin , Victor De Sabata , Claudio Abbado , Carlo Maria Giulini, Riccardo Muti , as well as non-italian conductors Herbert von Karajan , Sir Georg Solti , James Levine , and others .
Verdi's most popular operas include his final two masterpieces Otello , based on the Shakespeare play Othello , Falstaff , based on Shakespeare's Merry Wives Of Windsor , the earlier Aida , set in ancient Egypt , Il Trovatore , set in medieval Spain , Rigoletto , La Traviata (the woman who strayed ) , Don Carlo , the story of the 16th century Spanish king Philip and his rebellious son Carlos , Un Bllo in Maschera ( a masked ball ) , story of the assssination of the Swedish king Gustaf , and Macbeth , also based on the Shakespeare play .
The early operas of Verdi are not performed nearly as often , but they are sometimes revived , and include Nabucco , story of the Babylonian captivity of the Jews under king Nebachudnezzar (Nabucco is the Italian form of the name ) , Attila , somewhat fictionalized story of the king of the Huns , etc . The Italians pronounce Attila with the accent on the first syllable .
Among Verdi's non-operatic works are the beloved Requiem , a setting of the Roman Catholic mass for the dead , which he wrote despite the fact that he was an agnostic . Many other composers , including Mozart and Berlioz , have written settings of the requiem , but Verdi's is perhaps the most popular . It has been described as a somewhat operatic version of sacred music , but no one seems to object to this ! The Requiem was written around 1870 to honor the death of the once famous Italian novelist Alessndro Manzoni , whom Verdi and so many other Italians revered .
If you are new to Verdi's operas , there are an enormous number of complete recordings of them to choose from . You might start with Rigoletto,La Traviata , Il Trovatore , and Aida , and the recordings by such great singers as Pavarotti , Callas, Renata Scotto , Tito Gobbi , Leontyne Price , Robert Merrill etc on such presitigious record labels as Decca ,EMI, R.C.A., and Deutsche Grammophon , with such great conductors as Carlo Maria Giulini, Clauido Abbado, Riccardo Muti, Sir Georg Solti nd Herbert von Karajan .
There are also numerous live performances on DVD from the Metropolitan opera, La Scala ,Milan , the Royal opera in London , etc . You'll soon learn why Verdi's operas are so popular !
It's early October , and the world's symphony orchestras ,opera companies etc are back in business . The world's who knows how many orchestras and opera companies have been revving up . The classical music world is beset with troubles ; many performing arts organizations are struggling with finances and/ or labor disputes , and the risk of folding because of tough economic times is widespread . Some have indeed gone under , but the vast majority are alive and kicking .
There are threatened orchestras and opera companies as well as defunct ones in such American cities as Minneapolis , Boston , New York , Nashville, Louisville , San Antonio , St. Paul , to name only some . Many orchestral musicians have been forced to accept pay cuts . Nothing is certain except uncertainty .
But there is also good news . James Levine , the beloved longtime music director of the Metropolitan opera , has returned to the pit for the first time in two years after a long and painful struggle with severe back trouble and injuries , despite being confined to a wheelchair . The prestigious Philadelphia orchestra seems to be doing well under its gifted and charismatic music director Yannick Nezet-Seguin of Canada after a long search for a new music director , and has just issued a recording of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring under him on the prestigious Deutsche Grammophon label .
The Boston symphony orchestra is anticipating the arrival of the gifted young Latvian conductor Andris Nelsons as its new music director , replacing Levine , who was forced to resign because of his health problems .
But financial problems are now threatening Europe's orchestras and opera companies after decades of generous government subsidies . In Germany , even such prestigious orchestras as the Stuttgart radio orchestra and the South West German radio orchestra in the resort town of Baden Baden could go under .
There will still be enormous diversity of repertoire performed all over the world . Never in the centuries old tradition of western classical music has such wide variety of works by so many different composers ,living and dead , been performed . The beloved staples of the operatic, orchestral and chamber music repertoire re still very much with us - music by Mozart ,Beethoven, Bach , Schubert, Brahms, Tchaikovsky , Dvorak , Wagner, Verdi,Puccini , etc , but there is no lack of new music by a wide variety of living composers , and many interesting long neglected works from the past are being revived .
Dead White European Males have no monopoily on what is being heard . Among the very much alive are John Adams , Philip Glass , Christopher Rouse , Jennifer Higdon , Nico Muhly , of America , Osvaldo Golijov of Argentina , now living in America , Kaaia Saariaho and Magnus Lindberg of Finland , Wolfgang Rihm of Germany , Arvo Part of Estonia , Krzystof Penderecki of Poland , Peter Maxwell Davies and Harrison Birtwistle of England , and Unsuk Chin of South Korea . Saariaho , Higdon , and Chin are women . It's no longer even news when a work by a woman composers is performed any more .
A number of eminent conductors have passed away recently , including Wolfgang Sawallisch , Sir Colin Davis , Paavo Berglund ,Kurt Sanderling , and Bruno Bartoletti , but there are brilliant younger conductors beginning to achieve international prominence, such as Gustavo Dudamel , Andris Nelsons , Robin Ticciati and others , and such great maestros as Claudio Abbado , Riccrdo Muti, James Levine , Bernrd Haitink , Mriss Jansons , Daniel Barenboim , Leonard Slatkin , Simon Rattle , Lorin Maazel , Valery Gergiev , and others are still going strong .
There is still a galaxy of great opera singers , pianists , violinists and cellists etc , and there are more world class orchestras than ever before . Don't believe the hype - classical music is far from being dead or dying .