By Daniel Hathaway
IN THIS EDITION:
. Only one concert is scheduled for this weekend
. A selection of music for Memorial Day, formerly Decoration Day (pictured)
. Remembering William Bolcom, Niccolò Paganini, and Nikolai Sokoloff, and mentioning the births of Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Iannis Zenakis, Helmut Rilling and the losses of William S. Gilbert, Josef Suk, and George Rochberg
HAPPENING THIS WEEKEND:
On Saturday, May 27 at 8:00 pm, Carl Topilow leads the Cleveland Pops Orchestra and Chorus in Summon the Heroes: American Salute. The concert pays tribute to our Armed Forces, as well as the police and fire departments, and our first responders. Severance Music Center, 11001 Euclid Ave, Cleveland, 44106. Tickets available online.
MUSIC FOR MEMORIAL DAY WEEKEND:
Monday of this weekend was officially declared Memorial Day only in 1971, although commemorations of those who had perished in the U.S. Civil War had been organized within a few months of the cessation of hostilities in 1865. Among the first to hold such a memorial was a group of formerly enslaved people in Charleston, South Carolina.
The event, when graves were traditionally adorned with flowers, was known as Decoration Day well into the 20th century, the name Charles Ives used for the second movement of his Holiday Symphony, discussed here in an episode of Keeping Score, created by Michael Tilson Thomas with the San Francisco Symphony (the other holidays are Washington’s Birthday, The Fourth of July, and Thanksgiving Day.)
We’ll suggest below some music that seems particularly appropriate to this weekend’s tributes to those who have died in the course of wars and conflicts too numerous to mention.
Gerald Finzi: A Farewell to Arms. The English composer sets a lyric poem by the 16th century poet George Peele, written for the retirement ceremony in 1590 of Queen Elizabeth I’’s champion knight in which he pledges undying loyalty to his queen. It later served as the title of a novel by Ernest Hemingway. Hear it in a performance by James Gilchrist and the Bournemouth Symphony, directed by David Hill.
Paul Hindemith: When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d: Requiem for Those We Love. This video follows conductor Robert Shaw from his initial meeting with the musicians, through the rehearsal process, to the final performance of Hindemith’s setting of words by Walt Whitman in Carnegie Hall’s Isaac Stern Auditorium.
Benjamin Britten: War Requiem. Composed for the consecration of the new Coventry Cathedral after its destruction in World War II, the work makes sensitive use of the poetry of Wilfrid Owen. Marin Alsop conducts a performance at London’s Southbank Centre commemorating the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I that features hundreds of young performers.
Karl Jenkins: The Armed Man. Composed in 1999 and drawing on the mysterious Renaissance song “L’Homme Armé,” Welsh composer Karl Jenkins’s work is subtitled ‘A Mass for Peace’. Commissioned by the Royal Armouries Museum for the Millennium celebrations, to mark the museum’s move from London to Leeds, the mass was dedicated to victims of the Kosovo crisis. Listen here to a live performance in Sweden.
William Grant Still: In Memoriam —the Colored Soldiers Who Died for Democracy. Written in 1943, the work was first performed by Artur Rodzinski and the New York Philharmonic on January 5, 1944, and George Szell programmed it on The Cleveland Orchestra’s groundbreaking tour to Russia in 1965. Listen here.
Ralph Vaughan Williams: Dona Nobis Pacem. Commissioned to mark the centenary of the Huddersfield Choral Society, the cantata was composed in 1936 when a second World War was brewing. Listen to a performance from December 7, 2012 by the Eastman-Rochester Chorus and the Eastman School of Music Symphony Orchestra, with Michaela Anthony, soprano, Siddharth Dubey, baritone, and Yunn-Shan Ma, conducting.
Edward Elgar: Sospiri (“Sighs”), Op. 70, adagio for string orchestra, harp (or piano), and organ (or harmonium), was written just before the beginning of World War I. The work was performed by BlueWater Chamber Orchestra last season. Listen to a performance here by Sir John Barbirolli and the New Philharmonia Orchestra.
Herbert Howells: Requiem. Performed by Downtown Voices, led by Stephen Sands on the Trinity Wall Street series in New York (full concert video here).
John Adams: Wound Dresser. Words by Walt Whitman. Performed here in October, 2018 by the University of North Carolina Symphony, Tonu Kalam, conducting.
Maurice Ravel: Le Tombeau de Couperin. Although structured like a keyboard suite written by a 17th century claveciniste and dedicated to the memory of François Couperin, each of the six movements remembers one of Ravel’s friends who didn’t make it home from World War I. Jean-Yves Thibaudet plays the work here.
Gustav Holst: Dirge for Two Veterans. This is the same Whitman text Vaughan Williams set in his Dona Nobis Pacem. The U.S. Army Chorus performs the work on a Naxos Memorial Day Tribute.
Ludwig van Beethoven: Opferlied (Song of Sacrifice), Op. 121b. The composer worked on settings of a text by Friedrich von Matthisson from 1794 to 1825. Two versions are performed here.
ALMANAC FOR MAY 26 – 29:
by Daniel Hathaway
American composer and pianist William Bolcom was born in Seattle on May 26 in 1938. During his long career on the faculty of the University of Michigan (1973-2008) he effortlessly navigated his way between the worlds of concert music and cabaret, writing nine symphonies, a dozen string quartets, four volumes each of Gospel Preludes for organ and cabaret songs, and four major operas for Lyric Opera Chicago.
Here’s a selection of cabaret songs performed by mezzo-soprano Joan Morris (Bolcom’s wife), pianist Logan Skelton, drummer Andrew Grossman, and the University of Michigan Symphony Band. And here’s an example of his piano rags — Spencer Myer plays his Graceful Ghost.
Bolcom appears in this profile, along with Morris, to talk about being an American composer, and an episode of “Laughter at the Happy Hour” featuring both musicians celebrates Morris’s birthday with a gift to their audience. Morris explained, “One thing I loved about the Hobbit books is that on their birthdays, hobbits give presents to other people instead. So that’s what this program will be.”
A long-term project, Bolcom’s desire to set the complete texts of William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience, was 25 years in the making. In 2004, Naxos Records produced a recording made in Hill Auditorium featuring almost the entire music department of the University of Michigan, led by Leonard Slatkin. It won four Grammy Awards in 2006. Listen here.
by Mike Telin
Why are the deaths of rock stars so often shrouded in mystery, making the circumstances of their passing fodder for the check-out line tabloids? Is Elvis really dead? What was happening during Prince’s final days?
On May 27, 1840, Italian violinist, violist, guitarist, and composer Niccolò Paganini died of larynx cancer in Nice, France at age 57. Interestingly, he was born on October 27 — Born and died on the 27th — uhmmmm?
During his life Paganini achieved rock star status as the most celebrated violin virtuoso of his generation. In fact, his talent was so far beyond his peers, rumors flourished that he had made a pact with the devil.
A child prodigy, he had a breakdown while on tour at age 15. He was a heavy drinker, gambler, and womaniser. Physically, he was tall and thin, with hollow cheeks, pale skin and thin lips, and long, thin fingers. During performances he often flailed about on stage — his nickname was ‘Rubber man.’ And since he died without receiving the last rites, and because of his rumored association with the devil, he was denied a Catholic burial in Genoa. Did Paganini make a pact with the devil? Click here to read the story behind the music and here to listen to Augustin Hadelich play the Caprice No. 17 accompanying the video Fantasia dei Gatti.
by Daniel Hathaway
Russian American conductor Nikolai Sokoloff, born in Kiev on this date in 1886, was tapped by Adella Prentiss Hughes to be the first conductor of The Cleveland Orchestra. At 13, Sokoloff moved to the U.S. with his family, studied at Yale and in Paris, and joined the Boston Symphony as a violinist at 17. He had returned from conducting the Manchester Orchestra in England in 1918 when he met Hugues in Cincinnati, “and was persuaded to accept a position from the Musical Arts Association to make a survey in Cleveland’s public schools and outline an instrumental music program. He accepted the position on the condition that he would be able to organize and conduct his own orchestra.” (Encyclopedia of Cleveland History)
And organize and conduct he did for the next 14 years, taking The Cleveland Orchestra on important national and international tours, developing educational programs, and initiating the recording and broadcasting of its concerts. The orchestra’s first commercial recording, made in New York on January 23, 1924 featured Tchaikovsky’s “1812” Overture in a much trimmed version that allowed engineers to fit the music onto 78 rpm discs.
His tenure was not without controversy. On April 29, 1926, the New York Times reported an incident that took place while the Orchestra was on tour to Dayton.
“The trouble began yesterday when Frank Venezzie, first trumpeter, was dismissed by the conductor.
“When I told Venezzie to play not so loud, he played three times louder,” Sokoloff explained. “I told him to play right or leave. He left.” …
Among those at practice was Morris Kirschner, first bassoonist, who said that Sokoloff insulted him. “He called me a dummy,” Kirschner said. “Is that any way to talk to an artist?”
“They think they will get me excited,” the conductor said today. “Do I look excited? I am as calm as a clam. There will be a concert if I have to go out and direct a program alone.”
Sokolowski’s influence on Cleveland continued even after he left town to direct the Federal Music Project in 1935, “channeling money into Cleveland for unemployed musicians, and providing the city with more opera and orchestral music than it had in many years.” (Encyclopedia of Cleveland History).
by Daniel Hathaway
Born on May 29: American-German-Bohemian composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897), Greek-French composer Iannis Zenakis (1922), German organist and conductor Helmut Rilling (1933).
Those we lost on May 29 include British lyricist William S. Gilbert (1911), Czech composer Josef Suk (1935), and American composer George Rochberg (2005).