Category Archives: Composers

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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Antonín Dvořák

Antonín Leopold Dvořák was born in 1841 to František and Anna Dvořák.  František was an innkeeper, butcher, and professional zither player.  Antonín was their eldest child and showed an aptitude for music at a young age.  At the age of six, he was learning to play the violin.  He went on to study the organ and piano as well as music theory.

In his late teens, Dvořák lived in Prague and studied at the Organ School.  After graduating second in his class, he applied for an organist position but was unsuccessful in securing the job.  He remained in Prague and performed with the orchestras there during his twenties.  At this time, he also started composing and was teaching on the side to supplement his income.

He married Anna Čermáková in 1873.  Shortly after his marriage, Dvořák became the organist at St. Vojtěch Church in Prague.

In 1874, he won the Austrian State Prize for composition.  This prize was intended to give some additional financial support to composers in need.  Dvořák applied again in 1877 and was once again awarded the prize.  Brahms was on both juries that awarded the prize and he was much impressed by the talent and volume of Dvořák compositions.  So much so that Brahms recommended Dvořák to his own publisher, Simrock.  After the successful publication of Dvořák’s Moravian Duets, Simrock commissioned him for a series of dance pieces, published as the Slavonic Dances.  This helped launch his international career.

Tonight the Prazak Quartet will bring us one of Dvořák’s better known chamber music pieces.  Join us to hear Quartet in F Major, Op. 96, “American”.  http://music-toronto.com/quartets/prazak.htm

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Samuel Feinberg

March 23, 2017 brings Marc-André Hamelin to our stage once again.  He will be playing a selection of piano sonatas including works by Beethoven, Haydn, Scriabin, and Chopin.  The evening will also include two sonatas by Samuel Feinberg.

Feinberg was a Russian composer and pianist.  Born in 1890, he was raised in Moscow and studied at the Moscow Conservatory.  He graduated in 1911 and started performing as a solo pianist.  However, WWI was soon upon us and he was sent to fight for Russia.  He became ill, was discharged, and spent a long period of time recovering in Moscow.

He became a faculty member at the Moscow Conservatory in 1922.  With his piano career revived, he performed in Russia and toured parts of Europe in the 1920s.  However, by the 1930s, under Stalin’s rule, Feinberg, a Jew, was no longer allowed to leave the country with the exception of two brief trips (1936 and 1938) to be a competition jury member.  This time period also meant a return to a more conservative composition style for Feinberg.  He felt it unwise to publish some of his progressive works written in the 1920s.  For example, his Seventh Sonata was written in 1924/25 but not in print until the 1970s.

In 1951, he became ill and by 1956 he had stopped performing in public.  He continued to compose and to play up until his death and made a number of recordings, especially when he could no longer perform in public.  Feinberg was a respected member of the faculty at the Moscow Conservatory until his death in 1962 at the age of 72.

Marc-André Hamelin will perform Feinberg’s Sonata No. 2 in A minor, Op. 2 and Sonata No. 1 in A major, Op. 1 at his Toronto recital on March 23rdhttp://music-toronto.com/piano/Hamelin.htm

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Franz Asplmayr

Franz Asplmayr was born in 1728 and lived to be 58 years old.  Born in Linz, Austria, he studied violin with his father initially and was mainly self-taught in composition.  He was a prolific composer of ballets, symphonies, chamber music.  Influenced by composers of the Mannheim School, Asplmayer combined techniques with the developing Viennese style.  During his life time he met both Haydn (in 1760) and Mozart (in the 1780s).

He moved to Vienna in the late 1740s.  In 1759 he started serving in the Imperial court.  He started as a secretary and violinist and eventually took over the duties of Christoph Willibald Gluck, the ballet composer for the Kärntnertortheater.  When this position finished, Asplmayr composed for Jean Georges Noverre’s ballet troupe.

We will be treated to one of his quartets with the Eybler Quartet on February 16, 2017 in Toronto.  Join us to hear Quartet in D Major, Op.2 No.2 by Franz Asplmayr.

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Jonathan Berger

Jonathan Berger is an American composer born in New York in 1954.  He obtained a Master of Fine Arts from the California Institute of the Arts and a Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA) in Composition from Stanford University.  He currently holds the position of Denning Family Provostial Professorship in Music at Stanford University in California.

The founding co-director of Stanford Institute for Creativity and the Arts (SICA, now the Stanford Arts Institute) and founding director of Yale University’s Center for Studies in Music Technology, Berger composes for a wide variety of styles – opera, chamber, orchestral, vocal, to name a few.  His work has been performed world-wide and he has been commissioned by several music foundations and ensembles over the years.

Along with composing and teaching, Berger is a researcher in areas related to music, science, and technology with over 60 publications.

Read more about Berger and his works on his website at http://jonathanberger.net/bio/.  You can listen to some of his pieces on his site as well.  This link will take you directly to his music page – http://jonathanberger.net/all-music/

Join us with the St. Lawrence String Quartet on January 26th to hear his piece “Swallow”, written in 2014 for the SLSQ.  http://music-toronto.com/quartets/STLQ.htm

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Hayden, Bartok and Beethoven

By guest writer Julie Berridge

On November 10, we will be enriched by the music of Hayden, Bartok and Beethoven, played by The Quatuor Arthur-LeBlanc.  Read more about the concert here – http://music-toronto.com/quartets/arthur_Leblanc.htm

Hayden

The evening opens with Haydn’s Quartet in G Major, Op. 77, No.1.  Commissioned by Prince Joseph Lobkowitz and composed in 1799, it is one of Haydn’s most modern quartets.  It’s a relaxed and light-hearted work. Sometimes unadorned. Sometimes embellished.  And from start to finish, catchy and playful.

 

Bartok

Like Many of Bartok’s pieces, Quartet No. 4 has an archlike structure.  The first and fifth movements share related themes, as do the second and fourth.  The third movement stands alone.  Movements I, III and V are approximately six minutes long, and movements II and IV are about 3 minutes long.  The first movement transitions from clusters of notes to full cords.  The second movement is quick.  Full of trills, fast scales, and vibrato.  In the third movement, we hear elements of the folk and night music that Bartok is so well-known for.  Bartok’s pizzicato, the slapping sounds of the strings against the fingerboard, resulting from the aggressive plucking of the strings can be heard in the fourth movement.  The final movement features a recast of many of the themes in the first movement.

 

Beethoven

Beethoven’s Quartet in C Major, Op. 59, No. 3, “Rasumovsky”, opens in the first movement with an aura of mystery but soon transitions into what has been described as “party music accompanied by fireworks”.  A playground frolic with notes tossing back and forth.  The second movement is composed in the style of a Venetian boat song.  The third is delicate and beautifully intertwined, leading us to the final movement, a fast and vigorous fugue.

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Beethoven and Bartok

by guest blogger Julie Berridge

On Thursday, October 13 2016, The Juilliard Quartet performs Beethoven and Bartok.

The evening opens with Beethoven’s String Quartet in F minor, Op.95, written in 1810.

The quartet was written soon after Napoleon invaded Vienna for the second time in 1809, occupying and bombarding the city for one night. Beethoven reportedly hid in the cellar, and covered his head with pillows, during that night.

The first 8 bars of Opus 95 include tempestuous and dotted rhythms, and a chorale.  In the first movement, instruments are assigned highly changeable roles.  The second movement provides a hymn like lyrical pause between movements, and the third and fourth movements are a return to the hectic tumultuous mood of the first.

Bartok – Quartet No. 1

This quartet which actually consists of three movements has been described as one of Bartok’s “tamest” string quartets.  He composed the piece for Stefi Geyer, a violinist with whom he fell in love.  Around the same time, Bartok had rejected the Catholicism he was brought up in, and declared himself an atheist.  The opening movement is slow and somewhat subdued at the start, and then it rises to a grand climax and then ends quietly.  The second movement is energetic, though at times ethereal.  It, also ends quietly.  Not so the third movement which is fiery, even to its ending.

 

Ludwig van Beethoven

String Quartet No. 7 in F major (“Rasumovsky No. 1”), Op. 59/1

Beethoven wrote these quartets in 1806 for Count Rasumovsky.  Initially, they were not well received.

The quartet begins in an amiable manner but soon fragments into sudden shifts of mood and colour. When first written, they were described by violinist Felix Radicati as “not music”.  The cellist Bernhard Romberg is said to have thrown the music on the ground and stomped on it.

In February 27, 1807, a piece in the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung was a bit kinder.  It read,

“Three new, very long and difficult Beethoven string quartets … are attracting the attention of all connoisseurs. The conception is profound and the construction excellent, but they are not easily comprehended.”

Of the quartets, Beethoven presciently said to his critics, “They are not for you, but for a later age”.  For us, they may be perfect.

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Balakirev, part two

By 1856, Balakirev was performing his own pieces and others at public concert.  Balakirev’s two main patrons died in 1857 and 1858 respectively leaving him without the support that comes with influential patrons.  He had 12 compositions published in 1859.  However, his main source of support still came from teaching piano (sometimes up to nine lessons in one day!) and from performing at private events.

He felt strongly that Russia should have its own school of music, free from other European influences.  In the late 1850s and early 1860s, he gathered a small following of like-minded musicians.  They eventually became known simply as The Five.  1862 found him helping to form the Free School of Music and he became the principal concert conductor there.

Balakirev is known for his tyrannical nature.  He felt that formal academic schooling for music was a hindrance to composing music.  His uncompromising personality did not gain him many friends and caused many issues with his co-workers and employers over the years.

After a bout of brain fever at the age of 21, he struggled with depression over the years.  By the early 1870’s, Balakirev had suffered a complete breakdown.  He withdrew more and more from music.  Friends found him lacking in his usual energy and drive.  In 1872, he took on a job as a clerk with the Warsaw railroad in order to make ends meet.

By 1876, he started to return to his music and went back to the Free School of Music in 1877.  However, many of his early unpleasant traits were even stronger now.  He resumed a series of musical Tuesday evenings at his house in the 1880’s.  And in 1883 he became the director of the Imperial Chapel.  He continued to compose throughout but worked more in isolation now as the younger generation of Russian composers found his style too old-fashioned.

He retired in 1895 and turned his focus more to composition in the final years of his life.  He passed away in 1910 at the age of 73.

We will hear one of Balakirev’s piano pieces (Nocturne No. 2 in B Minor) on November 15, 2016 when Danny Driver takes to our stage! http://music-toronto.com/piano/driver.htm

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Balakirev, part one

Mily Alexeyevich Balakirev was born in 1837 to a poor family.  He started learning the piano very early in life from his mother at home.  He started school at the Nizhny Novgorod Gymnasium.  When he was 10, his mother travelled with him to Moscow for a series of piano lessons during his summer vacation.

Upon the death of his mother, he was boarded, and continued his schooling, at the Alexandrovsky Institute.  Here his musical talents were noted by Alexander Ulybyshev.  He became Balakirev’s patron and Balakirev continued his musical studies with pianist Karl Eisrach at this point in his life.  With Eisrach, Balakirev’s music background was greatly expanded.  In addition to playing and reading music, he was allowed to lead the count’s personal orchestra in rehearsals and eventually in performance.

Balakirev started university in 1853 as a mathematics student.  He taught piano lessons to help bring in some extra money.  His school holidays were spent back in his home town or on the Ulybyshev estates playing the piano.  When he finished school in 1855, he was introduced to Glinka and encouraged to make music his career.

Come back next week to read our post on the rest of Balakirev’s life in music!

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Johann Baptist Wanhal (or Vanhal)

Johann Baptist Wanhal (or sometimes written as Vanhal) was born in 1739 and lived until 1813.  Born in Nechanice, Bohemia, he became a Czech composer of importance.  He was born into a peasant family and first learned violin and organ from local musicians.  He was eventually able to earn a living as a young man as a village choirmaster and organist.

Under the patronage of Countess Schaffgotsch, he left for Vienna in 1760.  Here he became a teacher of voice, violin, and piano to the nobility, and was invited to conduct symphonies for wealthy patrons as well.

From Vienna, he travelled to Italy in 1769, sponsored by Baron Riesch.  After his trip, Wanhal was to become the Baron’s Kapellmeister in Dresden.  In Italy, he met up with composers Gluck and Gassmann, visiting both Venice and Rome.  He was supposed to visit Naples as well but it seems like he never quite made it.  And he never made it to Dresden either.  He returned to Vienna instead after touring Italy.

Wanhal continued to compose and perform in Vienna.  He eventually shifted away from composing symphonies and string quartets to composing for piano, small ensembles, and more church music.  Writing music for the growing middle class, he was able to live independently.  While his lifestyle would have been modest on the income he made himself, he was able to stopping working for any patron for the last 30 years of his life.  He stopped performing publicly around 1787 but continued to compose until close to his death in 1813.

The Eybler Quartet will perform Vanhal’s Quartet in C Major, Op. 6, No. 3 on our stage on February 16, 2017.  http://music-toronto.com/

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