Happy Birthday to Felix Mendelssohn

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Felix Bartholdy Mendelssohn lived between 1809 and 1847. He is considered to be a romantic composer and pianist best known for his symphonies and concert overtures. Mendelssohn played the piano in public by the age of nine, so he was often compared to Mozart.

He composed works for solo instruments and orchestra, and German songs. Some of his better known works are the Wedding March, Elijah and Fingal’s Cave. Felix Mendelssohn, along with Hector Berlioz was one of the first conductors of a large orchestra.

Mendelssohn harmonized the works of other composers, including Johann Crüger. Listen to Mendelssohn’s harmonization of Now Thank We All our God:

One of my favorites, Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in g minor, op. 25:

     Read more about Mendelssohn in the Baroque section

     Mendelssohn’s birthday

     Listen to Mendelssohn’s music.

     Read information about Mendelssohn’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”

     First performance date of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” as the Wedding March

     Read information about a Mendelssohn family Stradivari violin.

 

Happy Birthday to Franz Schubert!

Franz Peter SchubertFranz Peter Schubert lived between 1797 and 1828. He is considered to be a romantic composer. He was an Austrian composer who was one of the greatest creators of melody and foremost writer of ‘lieder’ (German songs).

Although he only lived for 31 years, Schubert composed more than 600 songs, 22 piano sonatas and many short piano pieces. This melodic output has never been equaled either in quantity of quality. He was one of the first musicians to earn a living from the sale of his music.

Schubert’s Ave Maria was featured in the Walt Disney movie Fantasia.


This is from Amazon.com’s Get Started in Classical.

Schubert’s musical genius went well beyond his incomparable gift for melody

During Beethoven’s funeral in 1827, one of the torchbearers was a young composer who would himself die the following year. There’s a poignant irony in this image of Franz Schubert (1797-1828) paying homage to the master, for the extent of Schubert’s own accomplishment was to remain one of music’s best-kept secrets for decades after his death. He had indeed struck out on a uniquely personal creative path, however intense his hero worship of Beethoven was. As often happens in such periods of transition–in this case, the evolution in style and attitude from classical balance toward romantic experimentation–Schubert simply slipped through the cracks, not easily fitting into his contemporaries’ sense of the direction music was taking.

Yet the fact that the only recognition that came his way was mostly confined to a tight-knit circle of musical friends didn’t deter Schubert from pursuing his inspiration. Even though an astonishing number of compositions were never performed during his short lifetime, the prolific composer produced a wide body of material, all with a seemingly effortless swiftness reminiscent of Mozart (another of the composer’s idols). His style is most frequently associated with an uncanny gift for melody, but that’s a shortsighted view of the true nature of Schubert’s genius.

The selections on our featured disc represent two key but divergent aspects of his music: the gemlike miniaturism of his songwriting and his preoccupation with large-scale forms from the classical period. “Die Forelle” (“The Trout”)–sung here with a silvery, seductive grace by Barbara Bonney–is an example of how Schubert elevated the art of song to an opera in miniature, rich in evocative scene-painting. Pay attention not just to the beguiling melody but to how perfectly Schubert mirrors the text’s images in the details of the burbling piano accompaniment.

The cheerful quintet that takes its name from the song makes an excellent introduction to the composer’s longer works. Most of these belong to the realm of “chamber music”; that is, pieces written for small groups of musicians to be performed in people’s homes. From the high-spirited interplay of the ensemble gathered here–all virtuosos on their respective instruments but clearly merging their voices into a common goal–it’s easy to imagine a typical evening of Schubert making music with his friends. There’s a flowing sense of conversation in the music, and just as you think you’ve heard one untoppable melody, Schubert obliges with another, taking it down an unexpected course with a sudden harmonic surprise–another of the composer’s trademarks–and spinning it out as it suits his fancy. Schumann once characterized the composer’s tendency to make us want the music to last, following its multiple digressions, as Schubert’s “heavenly lengths.”

Much of the pleasure here can also be heard in the way Schubert plays sonorities off each other, above all in the fourth movement. It offers a set of variations on the melody from the “Trout” song, presaging how Mahler would later incorporate material from his own songs into vast symphonic structures. You can notice this both in the interwoven yet contrasting timbres from the keyboard against four strings and in the opposition between double bass and sparkling passages high in the register. And within the spontaneity of the moment, there’s something else: emerging within all the joie de vivre are ambivalent shadows hinting at Schubert’s darker side, particularly in the intensity of the slow movement’s middle core. This is also apparent in the opening of the “Arpeggione” Sonata (nicknamed after a short-lived invention that was a sort of cross between a guitar and a cello), which unfolds a kind of aching, spun-out lyricism that could belong to no one but Schubert.

In his final decade, when intense poverty and a debilitating case of syphilis began to take their toll, Schubert would mine this vein of profound self-expression. His last quartets and piano sonatas, the String Quintet, and his despairing song cycle Winterreise, he touches in his own way on the inwardness probed by Beethoven’s late-period creations. Thomas May, Classical Editor

More Schubert can be found in Musical Information and Recommendations for Adults.

Schubert’s birthday

Schubert’s works were played in an Grammy Winning performance, Forty-Second Annual Awards

Listen to Schubert’s music.

     Read quotes by and about Schubert

     Guess what my li’l Chopin played today

     Information about Schubert’s Symphony in D

     Schubert MIDI Section

     Read Amazon.com’s Get Started in Classical feature

Happy Birthday, Gene Krupa

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Eugene Bertram “Gene” Krupa lived from January 15, 1909 to October 16, 1973.  He was an American jazz and big band drummer, actor and composer, known for his highly energetic and flamboyant style.

One of my all-time favorite non-piano songs is Sing Sing Sing. Krupa joined Benny Goodman’s band in 1934, where his featured drum work made him a national celebrity. His tom-tom interludes on their hit “Sing, Sing, Sing” were the first extended drum solos to be recorded commercially.

The Benny Goodman big band playing Sing Sing Sing, featuring Gene Krupa at the end. We get the added benefit of hearing Mr. Harry James play a trumpet solo.

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Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich: Famous Drum Battle

Happy Birthday, Alfred Brendel

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Alfred Brendel was born in 1931 in Wiesenberg, Czech Republic.

After World War II, Brendel composed music, as well as continuing to play the piano, to write and to paint. However, he never had more formal piano lessons and, although he attended master classes with Edwin Fischer and Eduard Steuermann, he was largely self-taught after the age of six.

He made his debut in Graz (1948), and has since performed widely throughout Austria, where he lives.

He is known for his interpretations of Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Liszt, and Schoenberg. He tours internationally, and has written many essays on music.

A short insight from Alfred Brendel on his recording career:

Happy Birthday, Victor Borge!

Victor BorgeVictor Borge was born in 1909 in Copenhagen, Denmark. He was an entertainer and pianist – a deliciously funny performer. He studied at the Royal Danish Academy of Music, Copenhagen, and in Vienna and Berlin.

He made his debut as a pianist in 1926, and as a revue actor in 1933. From 1940 until his death in 2000 he worked in the USA for radio, television, and theatre, and has performed with leading symphony orchestras on worldwide tours since 1956.

He was best known for his comedy sketches combining music and narrative. He used his classical training to skew serious music and performers.

From his obituary:

Pianist Victor Borge, died in his sleep Dec 23, 2000 at his Greenwich, Connecticut home, was known as the unmelancholy Dane of international show business. He would have turned 92 on Jan. 3, 2001.

“The cause of death was heart failure,” his daughter, Sanna Feirstein, told Reuters.

“He had just returned from a wonderfully successful trip to Copenhagen … and it was really heartwarming to see the love he experienced in his home country,” she said.

Borge was one of five performers selected for the Kennedy Center Honors in 1999.

“He went to sleep, and they went to wake him up this morning, and he was gone,” said his agent, Bernard Gurtman.

“He had so much on the table, and to the day he died he was creative, and practicing piano several hours a day,” Gurtman told Reuters. “He was just a great inspiration.”

Funeral services will be private, his daughter said.

Borge made a career of falling off piano stools, missing the keys with his hands and getting tangled up in the sheet music.

One of his inspirations was a pianist who played the first notes of the Grieg A Minor Concerto and then fell on the keys dead.

He said that the only time he got nervous on stage was when he had to play seriously and adds that if it had not been for Adolf Hitler he probably would never have pursued a career as a concert-hall comedian.

Until he was forced to flee Denmark in 1940 he was a stage and screen idol in his native country.

Lampooned Hitler

But as a Jew who had lampooned Hitler, Borge — his real name was Boerge Rosenbaum — was in danger and fled first to Sweden and then to the United States, where he arrived penniless and unknown and by a fluke got booked on the Bing Crosby radio show. He was an instant success.

He became an American citizen in 1948, but thought of himself as Danish. It was obvious from the numerous affectionate tributes and standing ovations at his 80th birthday concert in Copenhagen in 1989 that Danes felt the same way.

In the concert at Copenhagen’s Tivoli gardens, Borge played variations on the theme of “Happy Birthday to You” in the styles of Mozart, BrahmsWagner and Beethoven — all executed with such wit that the orchestra was convulsed with laughter that a woman performing a piccolo solo was unable to draw breath to play.

“Playing music and making jokes are as natural to me as breathing,” Borge told Reuters in an interview after that concert.

“That’s why I’ve never thought of retiring because I do it all the time whether on the stage or off. I found that in a precarious situation, a smile is the shortest distance between people. When one needs to reach out for sympathy or a link with people, what better way is there?

“If I have to play something straight, without deviation in any respect, I still get very nervous. It’s the fact that you want to do your best, but you are not at your best because you are nervous and knowing that makes you even more nervous.”

His varied career included acting, composing for films and plays and writing but he was best known for his comic sketches based on musical quirks and oddities.

Unpredictable Routine

His routines were unpredictable, often improvised on stage as his quick wit responded to an unplanned event — a noise, a latecomer in the audience — or fixed on an unlikely prop — a fly, a shaky piano stool.

Borge was born in Denmark on January 3, 1909, son of a violinist in the Danish Royal Orchestra.

His parents encouraged him to become a concert pianist, arranging his first public recital when he was 10. In 1927 he made his official debut at the Tivoli Gardens.

Borge’s mischievous sense of humor was manifest from an early age. Asked as a child to play for his parent’s friends he would announce “a piece by the 85-year-old Mozart” and improvise something himself.

When his mother was dying in Denmark during the occupation, Borge visited her, disguised as a sailor.

“Churchill and I were the only ones who saw what was happening,” he said in later years. “He saved Europe and I saved myself.”

From 1953 to 1956, he appeared in New York in his own production “Comedy in Music,” a prelude to world tours that often took him to his native Scandinavia.

On radio and television, Borge developed the comedy techniques of the bungling pianist that won him worldwide fame.

Many of his skits were based on real-life events. One of his classics evolved from seeing a pianist playing a Tchaikovsky concerto fall off his seat.

Borge’s dog joined the show after it wandered on stage while he was at the keyboard — an entrance nobody would believe had been unplanned.

One incident could not be repeated. A large fly flew on to Borge’s nose while he was playing. “How did you get that fly to come on at the right time?” people asked. “Well, we train them,” Borge explained.

Borge’s book, “My Favorite Intervals”, published in 1974, detailed little-known facts of the private lives of composers describing Wagner’s pink underwear and the time Borodin left home in full military regalia but forgot his trousers.

In 1975, Borge was honored in recognition of the 35th anniversary of his arrival in the United States and his work as unofficial goodwill ambassador from Denmark to the United States. He celebrated his 75th birthday in 1984 with a series of concerts at Carnegie Hall and in Copenhagen.

Borge received a host of honors from all four Scandinavian countries for his contributions to music, humor and worthy causes.

Borge, who had lived in Greenwich since 1964, is survived by five children, nine grandchildren, and one great grandchild. His wife of many years, Sanna, died earlier that year.

Borge’s birthday

Anniversary of Borge’s death

 

December 31 ~ This Day in Music History

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Christmas Music, Conclusion ~Auld Lang Syne

• 1894 ~ Ernest John Moeran, English composer who had strong associations with Ireland.

• 1904 ~ Nathan Milstein, Russian-born American violinist and composer

• 1908 ~ Jonah Jones (Robert Elliott Jones), Trumpeter, singer, played with Cab Calloway and threw spitball that got Dizzy Gillespie fired from a band

• 1922 ~ Rex Allen, ‘The Arizona Cowboy’, entertainer, rodeo star, singer, songwriter who published over 300 songs

• 1923 ~ Singer Eddie Cantor opened in the lead role of Kid Boots. Broadway critics called the production, “A smash musical hit!” Eddie made several of the songs from that show into smash hits also, like Alabamy Bound and If You Knew Susie. Three years later, If You Knew Susie became the title song for a movie starring Cantor.

• 1928 ~ Ross Barbour, Singer with The Four Freshmen

• 1929 ~ Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians played Auld Lang Syne as a New Year’s Eve song for the first time. Auld Lang Syne had been the band’s theme song long before 1929. However, this night was the start of a New Year’s Eve tradition as Lombardo’s famed orchestra played at the Hotel Roosevelt Grill in New York City to usher in the new year. Where did it Auld begin? Scottish poet Robert Burns said he heard an old man singing the words, and wrote them down; but Burns is considered the original author. The literal translation means “old long since”; less literal means “days gone by”. Auld Lang Syne and Happy New Year!

• 1930 ~ Odetta (Holmes Felious Gordon), American folk-blues singer, guitarist, songwriter and actress

• 1940 ~ As a result of a dispute between the radio networks and ASCAP (the American Society of Composers and Publishers), the radio industry was prevented from playing any ASCAP-licensed music. The ban lasted for ten months. An ASCAP competitor, BMI (Broadcast Music Incorporated) made giant strides, expanding to include 36,000 copyrights. Many radio stations had to resort to playing public domain songs, such as marches and operas, to keep their stations on the air. Even kids songs were played over and over again until the ban was lifted. One of the most popular songs to be played was Happy Birthday to You, which was performed in many different languages just to get past the ban. The original song is now, in fact, a copyrighted piece of music, though it wasn’t at the time.

• 1942 ~ Andy Summers (Somers), Guitarist, singer with The Police

• 1943 ~ John Denver (Deutschendorf), American singer and songwriter of popular music

• 1943 ~ Pete Quaife, Bass with The Kinks

• 1946 ~ Patti Smith, Songwriter, singer, playwright

• 1947 ~ Burton Cummings, Jr., Singer with The Guess Who

• 1947 ~ Roy Rogers, ‘the King of the Cowboys’, and Dale Evans were hitched in marriage. They rode off into that sunset together for over fifty years. (Roy died July 6, 1998.)

• 1948 ~ Donna Summer (LaDonna Gaines), Grammy Award-winning singer

• 1951 ~ Tom Hamilton, Bass with Aerosmith

• 1960 ~ After playing California nightclubs as The Pendletones, Kenny and the Cadets, and Carl and the Passions, a new group emerged this day: The Beach Boys. The group’s first national hit, Surfin’ Safari, was soon to be. They recorded for local (Los Angeles) Colpix Records and at the height of their popularity, Capitol Records. The Beach Boys also recorded under the Reprise Records banner. The revitalized group still tours and Capitol continues to reissue various greatest hits packages. The Beach Boys were inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988.

• 1972 ~ Joe McIntyre, Singer with New Kids on the Block

• 1975 ~ Elvis Presley performed before 60,000 fans at the Silverdome in Pontiac, MI. He earned $800,000 for the concert, a world record for a single concert by a single artist.

• 1985 ~ Over 54,500 people played kazoos in downtown Rochester, New York. The assembled multitude played A Bicycle Built for Two. Any idea why? Well, they felt it was appropriate for the last day of the year and it got the crowd listed in the Guiness Book of World Records for ‘Most Kazoo-ers’.

• 2000 ~ Tanaquil Le Clercq, the ballerina who dazzled the world in the 1940s and ’50s before her career was cut short by paralytic polio, died of pneumonia at the age of 71. Le Clercq contracted the disease, which left her paralyzed below the waist, in 1956. At the time, she was the fourth wife of George Balanchine and had attracted an adoring public because of her long-legged elegance. She later became a teacher at Dance Theater of Harlem, wrote two books and regularly attended dance performances. The New York City Ballet, of which Le Clercq was a charter member, paid tribute to her in 1988, when it opened its 50th-anniversary season. She acknowledged a thunderous New York State Theater ovation from her wheelchair. Le Clercq was blessed with an elongated physique that she used with refinement or humor. She epitomized the modernized look in classical dancing, which enthralled Balanchine, who once cast her as a dragonfly. As the first City Ballet ballerina trained since childhood by Balanchine, she was naturally identified with the roles he created for her in his major works, such as the ballets “Symphonie Concertante,” “Symphony in C” and “La Valse,” in which her doomed heroine danced herself to death. She was equally unforgettable in the ballets of Jerome Robbins and as the white-faced allegorical figure of Sacred Love in “Illuminations” in 1950.

• 2000 ~ José Greco, the famed flamenco dancer and choreographer who founded the José Greco Spanish Dance Company, of heart failure at the age of 82. Born in Montorio nei Frentani, Italy, of Spanish-Italian parents, he moved to Seville, Spain, at the age of 3, then was raised in Brooklyn from the age of 10. He began his career in 1937 and became known as the greatest Spanish dancer in the world. In 1941, the already famous Argentine-born dancer La Argentinita (known off the stage as Encarnacion Lopez) was preparing for an American tour when she saw Greco dance and asked him to perform as her partner and the featured male performer in her company until she died in 1945. After that, Greco danced with her sister Pilar Lopez. In 1951, Greco shared with Carol Channing the title of “New Broadway Personality of the Year.” The José Greco Dance Company, which helped integrate flamenco with mainstream ballet, toured extensively in North America, and six times worldwide, over the following two decades. In 1962, he Greco was knighted by the Spanish government. In 1971, Greco formed the Foundation for Hispanic Dance. His autobiography, “Gypsy in My Soul: The Autobiography of Jose Greco,” was published in 1977.

• 2000 ~ Eddy Shaver, a guitarist who performed with his father Billy Joe Shaver and Dwight Yoakam, died at the age of 38. Eddy Shaver grew up around music because of his father, a celebrated songwriter whose songs include I’m Just an Old Chuck of Coal (But I’m Gonna Be a Diamond Someday) and Georgia on a Fast Train. Dickie Betts of The Allman Brothers Band helped teach Eddy Shaver to play and gave him his two favorite guitars, one formerly owned by the late guitarist Duane Allman. Eddy Shaver began playing guitar with his father at 13, and gradually became Billy Joe Shaver’s musical partner and sometime co-writer. Billy Joe Shaver merged from country to a more rock-influenced sound because of his son. Albums by the band Shaver include “Tramp on Your Street,” the live “Shaver: Unshaven,” and “Electric Shaver.” A new album, “The Earth Rolls On,” was released on March 20, 2001.

• 2001 ~ Marie Hartford, a well-known businesswoman on Music Row and widow of the late songwriter and performer John Hartford, died of lung cancer. She was 67. Marie Hartford worked at Glaser Publishing, booking the studios at the Glaser Brothers’ Music Row operation, where country music’s Outlaw movement was bred. John Hartford, who wrote the standardGentle on My Mind, died June 4 after a decade-long battle with cancer. The song was recorded more than 300 times, most prominently by Glen Campbell in 1967 but also by Dean Martin, Elvis Presley and Aretha Franklin.

• 2003 ~ Renata Babak, an internationally known mezzo-soprano with the Bolshoi Opera who defected from the Soviet Union in 1973, died of pancreatic cancer. She was 69. Babak gave recitals until last year, singing in a sweet but powerful and well-controlled voice described by critics as among the best in the world. Her last opera was in 1997, when she performed in Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta with Opera Camerata of Washington. Babak was an international star with 10 years’ experience at the Bolshoi when she defected while the opera company was playing at La Scala in Milan, slipping out of a hotel lobby wearing a wig and dark glasses. She immigrated to Canada and went into hiding for two years. Babak’s U.S. debut at Carnegie Hall in 1975 was met with enthusiastic reviews. She moved to New York and then to Washington in the hopes of working with George London, then general director of the Washington Opera. Babak joined the faculty of the Washington Conservatory of Music when London was disabled by a stroke.

If composers had Facebook: Beethoven

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Happy Birthday, Beethoven!

He used the # in unusual places before Twitter… but how would Beethoven have used Facebook? And what would his profile look like? From his likes and dislikes to his friends and love interests, we’ve imagined what the composer might have posted online throughout his life.

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via If composers had Facebook: Beethoven’s profile.