Category Archives: Composers

Appeal, imitation and inspiration

by guest blogger Julie Berridge

On November 7, Benjamin Grosvenor plays Mozart, Debussy, Brahms, Berg and Ravel.

Appeal, imitation and inspiration

Appeal

“Teeming with dissonances” is how Brahms described the first Intermezzo in Opus 119.  In a letter from May 1893 to Clara Schumann, Brahms wondered if the piece would please her palate. He wished “they would be less correct, but more appetizing and agreeable to your taste”.  Clara must have found it appealing because she wrote back, that the piece was “grey, pearl-veiled and very precious”

Imitation

Brahms’ appeal is timeless and not just for lovers of classical music.

While doing research for this post I came across a 2000 blog post about an article titled “Santana really should acknowledge Brahms”.  The writer points out the similarities between “Love of My Life,” played by Santana featuring Dave Matthews & Carter Beauford, from Santana’s 1999 album, Supernatural, and the third movement (III. Poco allegretto) from Johannes Brahms’ Symphony No. 3 in F major, Op. 90.  Here is a link to the article.  Scroll down to hear audio clips of the two pieces.  What do you think?  I tend to agree with the writer. It seems audibly obvious. And both are lovely. I wonder if Santana ever did acknowledge Brahms?

https://leleftovers.wordpress.com/2011/01/18/santana-really-should-acknowledge-brahms/

On a less lovely note, the first movement of Mozart’s Sonata in B-flat Major, K.333 was performed by Frank Zappa’s back up band, the Mothers of Invention at the Royal Albert Hall in 1969. The band members did what was described as a “grotesque parody of the art of ballet dancing” as part of the “performance”.

Inspiration

Debussy’s L’après midi d’un faune was inspired by and is a musical depiction of a Mallarmé poem. In the poem, a faun sleeping on a sunny slope awakes from a dream and tries to realize the dream by pursuing the nymphs that he dreamt about.  After playing a soliloquy on his flute he realizes that he is unable to bring the dream to life, and he goes back to sleep.  It’s been said that Debussy found a way to break with orthodoxy when he “passed into the symbolist domain of Stéphane Mallarmé”. To Mallarmé, then we are forever grateful.

Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit is based on a poem by Aloysius Bertrand which features a mermaid a monster and a corpse.  Ravel’s composition is in three movements.  Listen for the seductive whispers and cheerful laughter of Odine the mermaid, the slight swaying of the hanged man in the repeated B-flat and the frenzied appearances of the evil dwarf Scarbo, waiting to pounce and scare.  Gaspard de la Nuit was first published in 1842, one year after Bertrand’s death. The poem was reprinted in 1908 in the Mercure de France which was where Ravel may have first encountered it.

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Brett Dean

Australian Brett Dean is a contemporary composer. Born in Brisbane in 1961, he played violin from the age of eight and later moved to viola. He studied at the Queensland Conservatorium, graduating with the Conservatorium Medal for the highest achieving Student of the Year in 1982.

In 1985, he joined the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra as a violist. He played with them until 1999.  He returned to Australia in 2000, deciding to work as a freelance artist. He started composing in 1988, originally for film and radio.

His list of compositions and awards has grown greatly over the years and includes pieces for ballet, opera, orchestra, chamber music, solo instruments, and choral. In 2016, Dean became the inaugural Artist in Residence with Sydney Symphony Orchestra, a position which will last for three years and includes conducting, performing, and collaborating with creative programming. The world premier of his latest opera, Hamlet, took place this past summer at the Glyndebourne Festival Opera.

We will hear his piano piece Hommage à Brahms played by Benjamin Grosvenor at our November 7, 2017 concert. While this three movement piece can be played on its own, it was intended to be performed as interludes between the Four Pieces of Op. 119 by Johannes Brahms – Engelsflügel 1 placed between Brahms’ B-minor and E-minor Intermezzos, Hafenkneipenmusik between the E-minor and C-major Intermezzos, and Engelsflügel 2 between the C-major Intermezzo and the E-flat-major Rhapsody. It will be played this way by Grosvenor at our concert.

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Marjan Mozetick

Marjan Mozetich is a Canadian composer of Slovenian heritage. Born in Italy, he emigrated to Hamilton, Ontario with his family at the age of 4. He started his music studies with theory and piano in Hamilton at 9 years old. He graduated in 1972 from the University of Toronto with a Bachelor of Music and with a diploma in piano performance as an Associate of the Royal Conservatory of Toronto. He continued his studies abroad for the next two years, studying privately in Italy and the UK.

His new music works have been performed around the world by many prominent artists over the years. In 1971, he co-founded Arraymusic and he served as their artistic director from 1977 to 1979. He started teaching composition in 1991 at Queen’s University and continues to teach and reside in Kingston, Ontario.

Explore more about Marjan Mozetick and his music on his website at http://www.mozetich.com/

We will hear his piece Scales of Joy and Sorrow (2008) performed by the Gryphon Trio at our December 7, 2017 concert.

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Pavel Fischer

Over the past few weeks we have looked at a few different noted Czech composers. Today we take a brief look at a still living Czech composer!

Pavel Fischer was born in 1965 into a musical family. His mother sang in a sextet specializing in Moravian folk music. His father conducted. Fischer attended the Prague Conservatory and the Prague Academy of Music. He cofounded the Škampa Quartet in 1989 and performed as their first violinist until 2007.

In 2007, Fischer decided to devote more time to composing and teaching.  His first string quartet, Morava, premiered at Carnegie Hall in 2008. He was a visiting professor of chamber music at the Royal Academy in London. Since 2008 Fischer has been a tutor in violin at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester.

Fischer has also added conducting to his interests. In December 2016, he led the National Youth String Orchestra in Johannesburg, South Africa. You can learn more about the South African National Youth Orchestra on their website http://www.sanyo.org.za/about-us/our-orchestras-and-ensembles/

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Josef Suk, composer

Josef Suk was born in 1874. He was immersed in music from a young age and his father was his first teacher of piano, organ, and violin. At the age of 11, he entered the Prague Conservatory. While he received his degree in 1891, Suk studied at the conservatory until 1892. Antonín Dvořák had become a professor at the conservatory and Suk stayed an additional year to study with him.

Dvořák and Suk had a close relationship. In 1898, Suk married Dvořák’s daughter, Otilie. In 1902, their son was born. This was a very happy time in Suk’s life. Unfortunately, in 1904 Dvořák passed away and 14 months later in 1905, Otilie passed away as well. Both the happy times in his life and the passing of his mentor and his wife had large impacts on the style of music he composed.

Suk was a composer, a teacher, and a performer, it was the latter two that were his main income over the years. He and his fellow students formed the Czech Quartet in 1893. He was their second violinist for 40 years, retiring in 1933.

In 1922, Suk became a professor in composition at the Prague Conservatory. He was appointed the head of the conservatory from 1924 to 1926 and again from 1933 until 1935.

Suk died in 1935 and is the grandfather of famed violinist Josef Suk.

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Bedřich Smetana, part four

Bedřich passed away in 1884 but he kept working until close to the end of his life.  He returned to Prague in 1861 when a new home for Czech opera was being built.  Passed over for the position of conductor at the new theatre, he focussed on composing for opera competitions.

It is interesting to note that his command of the Czech language was not all that strong even though he was focusing on opera.  Due to the politics when Bedřich was young, he was raised speaking, reading, and writing primarily German.  So he studied the Czech language and focussed on writing and speaking it to obtain a better fluency.  By 1864 Bedřich had developed a solid handle on the language – enough to become the music critic at a main Czech language newspaper.

By this point, Bedřich and Bettina had a second daughter.  Bedřich had also made an attempt to be the Director of the Prague Conservatory.  He was passed over for the position.  He continued to compose and to conduct.  And in 1866 two of he most famous operas were both presented at the Provisional Theatre.  In January The Brandenburgers played to great success.  In May a two act version of The Bartered Bride was presented.  Due to the threat of invasion, it was poorly attended and the full three act version was performed finally in 1870 and well received.

In September of 1866, Bedřich was appointed principal conductor of the Provisional Theatre – the position he had hoped for back in 1861 when he had returned to Prague.  Over the next several years, he brought more and more works from Czech composers to the Provisional Theatre.

There was much controversy generated with Bedřich being in this position over the next few years.  He had much opposition and they made themselves known.  In 1872 a petition was brought forward calling for his resignation.  Support for Bedřich from the theatre and from well-known and respect musicians like Dvorak, ensured his reappointment in 1873 as Artistic Director with a change in title and an increase in responsibility.

In the summer of 1874, Bedřich fell ill.  Among other things, his hearing started to fail.  By the fall of 1874, he resigned his position.  Over the next several years he continued to compose and to make public appearances.  In 1876, he moved his family to the home of his eldest daughter in Jabkenice where he could compose undisturbed.  His health continued to decline and signs of possible dementia started to emerge.  He was still composing and making public appearances in the fall of 1883 but his outbursts worried his friends and family.  In the spring of 1884, he was no longer coherent and his family was having difficulty caring for him at home.  In April 1884 Bedřich was moved to an asylum in Prague and he passed away in May of that year.

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Bedřich Smetana, part three

We ended last time with a difficult number of years in Bedřich’s life.  Three of his four daughters died between 1854 and 1856, and Kateřina had been diagnosed with tuberculosis.  Professionally things were good but Bedřich was unhappy with how his career was progressing (or rather not progressing) in Prague.

In the fall of 1856, Bedřich decided to relocate to Sweden and he set out on his own for Gothenburg.  In the summer of 1857, he returned to Prague where Kateřina was very unwell.  That summer Bedřich’s father passed away. Bedřich returned to Gothenburg in the fall, this time with Kateřina and their daughter Žofie.

Kateřina’s health continued to worsen and in early 1859 she passed away while travelling back to Prague. Bedřich left Žofie in the care of his mother-in-law and spent time with Lizst in Weimer and then with his brother Karel. While visiting Karel, Bedřich met Barbora (Bettina) Ferdinandiová, Karel’s sister-in-law. He fell in love, proposed, and returned to Gothenburg an engaged man.  Bedřich and Bettina married in the summer of 1860.

Bettina was 16 years younger than Bedřich.  And in the fall of 1861, Bedřich became a father again to another daughter, Zdeňka.  While Bedřich and Bettina had returned to Gothenburg after their marriage, things had been changing in Prague.  In 1861, Bedřich decided to return to Prague.  Before returning, he once again tried to tour and establish his reputation as a pianist. And once again was unsuccessful.

Next week we will look at Bedřich’s final years in Prague.

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Bedřich Smetana, part two

When we left Bedřich last week it was the fall of 1843 and he was on his way to Prague to pursue a career in music.

While at school in Plzeň, he had reconnected with Kateřina Kolářová and her family.  Kateřina’s mother introduced him to the head of the Prague Music Institute, where Kateřina was studying.  By January of 1844, Bedřich was a pupil of Josef Proksch, the head of the music institute, and had a position as a music teacher for the family of Count Thun.

For three years he studied and taught.  In 1847, Bedřich decided to try to establish himself as a concert pianist.  He resigned from teaching the children of Count Thun, recommending Kateřina to take on the position.  And he left to tour Western Bohemia.  The tour was not a success and Bedřich cut it short and returned to Prague.  He taught private students and worked on his compositions.

In 1848, Bedřich contacted Liszt for the first time.  Bedřich asked Liszt to accept a dedication of Bedřich’s latest piano piece and to help him find a publisher.  Liszt accepted.  Bedřich had also asked for some financial assistance to start a school which Liszt did not do.  Bedřich was able to start his Piano Institue anyway and it gained popularity.  In 1849, the school was relocated to the home of Kateřina’s parents and Liszt made regular visits.

With some financial security and stability now established, Bedřich and Kateřina were able to get married in 1849.  As girls seem to be dominant in the Smetana family tree, Bedřich and Kateřina had four daughters between 1851 and 1855.

While his professional career was fairly stable, the next few years were difficult personally.  In 1854 his second oldest daughter died of tuberculosis.  1855 saw the death of his eldest daughter from scarlet fever. And while their fourth daughter was born shortly after their eldest daughter’s death, she too only survived briefly, dying in the summer of 1856.  At this point, Kateřina had also been diagnosed with tuberculosis.  All in all, a difficult several years.

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Bedřich Smetana, part one

Bedřich Smetana was born Friedrich Smetana in 1824.  His father was František Smetana and his mother, Barbora Lynková.  Barbora was František’s third wife.  Bedřich was František’s first son.  Bedřich had 5 older stepsisters and eventually had another 6 surviving siblings.

František was a brewer by trade and in 1823 became the brewer to Count Waldstein in Litomyšl.  Bedřich was introduced to music by his father.  František had a love of music and played in a string quartet.  Bedřich learned both the piano and the violin.

While František did speak Czech, at the time Bedřich was growing up and living in the area of Litomyšl, the primary language was German.  Bedřich attended school locally initially. After the family moved to a farm in the south-eastern region of Bohemia, there were no suitable schools near by and, at the age of 15, Bedřich was sent to Prague to attend the Academic Grammar School.  While Bedřich had wanted to go to Prague, he quickly found the school not to his liking.  He skipped classes in favour of music concerts and he played with a string quartet.

Initially František resisted Bedřich desire to pursue music as a career.  It was fine as a hobby but not as a profession.  Bedřich had been playing since the age of 6 and had been composing short pieces in his youth.  But František wanted Bedřich to finish his formal schooling.  Learning that his son was not attending classes, František got Bedřich out of Prague and back home.  Bedřich continued his formal schooling at the Premonstratensian School in Plzeň, where his older cousin was a teacher.  During this time he continued to play the piano at local social events and he continued to compose.  By the time his formal schooling was finished, his father agreed that he should pursue a career in music.  However, his father, now long retired, was unable to help him financially.  In the fall of 1843, Bedřich left for Prague once again to see what would happen.

And we will look at what happened in our blog post next week!

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Mothers

As we approach Mother’s Day here in Canada, here is a link to some of our previous posts about Mothers of Composers!

https://mtochambermusic.wordpress.com/category/composers/mothers-of-composers/

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