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October 2013 - Posts

Why Aren't There More Women Composers ?

   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 .


Posted: Oct 29 2013, 09:40 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Today Is The 200th Anniversary Of The Birth Of Giuseppe Verdi

   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  !



Posted: Oct 09 2013, 04:30 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Despite Numerous Setbacks , A New Classical Season Has Begun

  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 . 



Posted: Oct 03 2013, 08:00 PM by the horn | with no comments
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