Thursday Evening Classics
Composer Capsules for
Clara Wieck Schumann
Birth: September 13, 1819 in Leipzig, Germany
Death: May 20, 1896 in Frankfurt am Main, Germany
An outstanding pianist and accomplished composer, Clara Wieck Schumann is more often regarded simply as the wife of composer Robert Schumann. More recently, however, her stature as a composer has become more widely recognized. Had she been able to devote more time to composition — she raised eight children — she might have rivaled the artistic stature of her husband. She began studying the piano with her domineering and obstinate father, whom her mother, a talented singer, later divorced. Clara gave her debut concert in Leipzig at age 7 playing Kalkbrenner's duet, Variations on a March from Moses, with the composer. In 1830, Robert Schumann began study with Mr. Wieck, at which time he first met Clara. At 12, Clara toured Europe with her father, achieving great success in Paris and throughout Germany. By 1837 she was recognized as one of the leading virtuosos in Europe, and her career as a composer was developing as well. In 1837, she and Schumann became engaged, amidst vehement objections from her father. Clara seems to have escaped from her father's influence when she toured Paris alone in 1839. The break e following year she married Schumann. They would have eight children, and Clara would slowly witness her sensitive husband lose his sanity. The couple at first lived in Leipzig, where both taught at the University. Clara did not write much in the early years of her marriage. In 1853, the Schumanns moved to Düsseldorf, and Clara had a very productive summer, producing several significant works, including her Op. 20 Variations on a theme of Robert Schumann. In 1854, Robert Schumann suffered a mental collapse and attempted suicide, after which he was committed to an asylum where he lived for the rest of his life. He passed away in 1856. Johannes Brahms, who had been introduced to the Schumanns in 1853, became an increasingly important figure in Clara's life. While the nature of their relationship is unclear, it is possible that they had an affair. Brahms was 14 years younger than Clara, and perhaps felt their age difference too great an impediment to marriage. Clara composed little in the years following Robert's death, even after her children were grown. She lived in Berlin and briefly in Baden-Baden. She later took a teaching post at the Frankfurt Hoch Conservatory and continued to concertize until 1891. She died of a stroke on May 20, 1896.
Birth: September 13, 1874 in Vienna, Austria
Death: July 13, 1951 in Los Angeles, CA
Arnold Schoenberg remains one of the most controversial figures in the history of music. For half a century, Schoenberg produced music of great stylistic diversity, inspiring fanatical devotion from students, admiration from peers like Mahler, Strauss, and Busoni, riotous anger from conservative Viennese audiences, and unmitigated hatred from his many detractors. Born into a family that was not particularly musical, Schoenberg was largely self-taught as a musician. An amateur cellist, he demonstrated from an early age a particular aptitude for composition. He received rudimentary instruction in harmony and counterpoint, and studied composition briefly with Alexander Zemlinsky, his eventual brother-in-law. Early in his career, Schoenberg found work orchestrating operettas, but most of his life was spent teaching and composing. His early works bear the unmistakable stamp of high German Romanticism, perhaps nowhere more evident than in his first important composition, Verklärte Nacht, Op. 4. With works like the Five Orchestral Pieces and Pierrot Lunaire, Schoenberg embarked upon one of the most influential phases of his career. Critics reviled this "atonal" (Schoenberg preferred "pantonal") music, whose structure did not follow traditional tonality. However, the high drama and novel expressive means of Schoenberg's music inspired a faithful and active following. Most notable among Schoenberg's disciples were Alban Berg and Anton Webern, both of whom eventually attained stature equal to that of their famous mentor. These three composers — the principal figures of the so-called Second Viennese School — were the central force in the development of atonal and 12-tone music in the first half of the 20th century and beyond. Though the 12-tone technique represents only a single, and by no means predominant, aspect of Schoenberg’s style, it remains the single characteristic mostly closely associated with his music. Schoenberg made repeated, though varied, use of the technique across the spectrum of genres, from chamber to orchestral to choral works. Schoenberg fled the turbulent political atmosphere of Europe in 1933 and spent the remainder of his life primarily in the United States, becoming a naturalized citizen in 1941. During this stage of his career, he occasionally returned to tonality, reaffirming his connection to the great German musical heritage that extended back to Bach. For Schoenberg, the dissolution of tonality was a logical and inevitable step in the evolution of Western music. Despite a steady stream of criticism throughout his entire career, he persisted in his aims, insisting that his music was the result of an overwhelming creative impulse. Though debate over the man and his music rages on, Schoenberg is today acknowledged as one of the most significant figures in music history.
Birth: September 27, 1879 in Oxton, Cheshire, England
Death: December 31, 1970 in Eastbourne, England
Cyril Scott was, at one time, widely credited as the composer who brought British music into the 20th century. Although that distinction merits consideration, his music has long been neglected. Recently, however, it appears that Scott’s work is emerging from the shadows of obscurity. The son of a Greek scholar, Scott was sent at age 12.to Frankfurt to study music with Engelbert Humperdinck His English classmates there, which included Percy Grainger, Roger Quilter, Norman O'Neill, and Balfour Gardiner, are sometimes referred to as "The Frankfurt Group," though throughout his life Scott remained close only to Grainger. Although Scott was a fine pianist, he decided that composition was his true calling. Scott's professional career began in 1901 when his first symphony was premiered in Darmstadt, though Scott later withdrew this work, along with many others dating from his German years, as immature. The manuscripts of these pieces were destroyed during World War II bombing raids. Henry Wood gave the premiere of Scott's Symphony No. 2 in 1903, and its positive reception earned Scott a publishing contract with Schott. However, in 1904 he also struck a deal for lesser works with the publisher Elkin, and the business of keeping to the terms of this agreement Scott later regarded as his own undoing. At this time, Scott also discovered the second great, all-consuming passion of his life, the study of theosophy and occult sciences. In 1905, Scott composed Lotus Land, a mystically atmospheric parlor piece for Elkin that became an enormous commercial success. For the remainder of his contract with Elkin, Scott felt obliged to follow it with something similarly lucrative, a goal that he never managed to attain. The 1914 premiere of Scott's Piano Concerto No. 1 was very well received and the piece itself proved influential among young composers in England. However, starting in the 1920s, British music shifted away from the highly atmospheric, impressionistic, and harmonically voluptuous idiom in which Scott specialized toward a tart, taut, tonally centered language similar to neo-Classicism. His books on mysticism and a trilogy of novels entitled The Initiate proved popular and helped keep Scott solvent during these years. Although he mainly played concerts of his own works, Scott began to perform the music of other composers at about this time, and in 1934 gave the British premiere of Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No. 3. The response to his new works, however, went from bad to worse, with his tone poem Disaster at Sea proving a disaster in every other way as well, and his third symphony, titled The Muses, remained unperformed until 2003. During World War II, Scott suffered a health crisis that evolved into a creative one. For several years he was unable to compose, and Percy Grainger offered him a house to move into when Scott was practically destitute. His fortunes improved after the war and Scott began to compose anew. In 1963, a group of friends founded a "Cyril Scott Society" to help him recover some part of his reputation as a musician. Developments were slow in coming, and not long after Scott died, the society ceased to operate. The Society did secure a performance of Scott’s Piano Concerto No. 1 by Moura Lympany in 1969 in honor of Scott's 90th birthday. The reception of the concerto in 1969 was far more favorable than anyone could have predicted, and although it did not lead to the immediate revival of Scott's music, it did ignite a small, slow-burning spark of interest in Scott's output of more than 400 works that would evolve into an explosion after the year 2000.
Birth: October 18, 1706 in Burano Island, Italy
Death: January 3, 1785 in Venice, Italy
Baldassare Galuppi was a key figure in the history of Italian comic opera. Galuppi's father was a barber and violinist who gave his son elementary music lessons. By the age of 16 he had already composed an opera, La fede nell'incostanza ossia Gli amici rivali. It was a spectacular failure, so bad that the curtain had to be brought down before the audience rioted. The puzzled young man went to the composer Benedetto Marcello to understand why. Marcello took him to task for daring to write an opera before he was ready, and made him promise not to compose anything for three years and to undertake study with Antonio Lotti. Galuppi went to Florence to work as a harpsichord player in the orchestra of Teatro della Pergola in 1726. He returned to Venice and formed a partnership with a writer friend from school, G.B. Peschetti. His second attempt at opera, Dorinda, was a major success. For the rest of his life he averaged about two operas per year, and they were staged in Italy's major theaters. In 1740 the Ospedale dei Mendicanti hired him as music director, where he established a superb orchestra and composed church music for the institution. Galuppi went on to accept an offer in 1741 from the Earl of Middlesex to write opera seria for his theater in the Haymarket, London. His first effort was modestly well received, and each successive opera was more popular than the last. On returning to Italy in 1743 he took note of the emerging Neapolitan innovation, opera buffa, and tried his hand at it. After some initial failures, these comic operas, too, started to find favor. In 1748, he was appointed maestro of the cappella ducale at St. Mark's cathedral, and later was promoted to maestro di cappella, considered the foremost musical job in Venice. In 1751, the pressure of these positions led him to relinquish the position at the Mendicanti. His first comic success was L'Arcadia in Brenta, to a libretto by Carlo Goldoni, with whom Galuppi forged a partnership. Galuppi's best operas were played widely in Europe, and he was hired to go to Russia as music director of Catherine the Great's chapel. There he inaugurated an Italian dominance of Russian operatic life that lasted until Glinka's time. In addition, he introduced Western counterpoint into the music of the Russian Orthodox Church. Galuppi returned to Venice in 1768, resumed his duties at St. Mark's, and became chorus master at the Ospedale degli Incurabili. Later, he reduced his theatrical output, writing more keyboard music, sacred works, and oratorios. His comic operas are built of short, varied vocal phrases, with a strong melodic line and lively rhythms. He was adept at musical characterization and situational thinking. His orchestration was notable – woodwinds mark important moments, and in finales he allowed the flow of string writing to carry the main melodic material while the voices exchange dialogue realistically. Galuppi's keyboard music, including over 130 sonatas, shows a bright, idiomatic, and lively style of writing, and establishes him as a major Italian composer for harpsichord and piano after Domenico Scarlatti.
Johann Strauss II
Birth: October 25, 1825 in Vienna, Austria
Death: June 3, 1899 in Vienna, Austria
Johann Strauss, Jr. is the first truly well-known composer of music particular to his hometown, the Viennese waltz and Viennese operetta. The Blue Danube Waltz is not only the most popular of his works, but is among the most widely played and arranged pieces, known to the most casual listener today from many radio, film and television uses of it. He showed remarkable skills early in his childhood, despite his father's opposition to a career in music for any of his three sons. Johann, Sr. wanted him to become a banker, but the younger Strauss had his own ideas, taking violin lessons in secret from a player in his father's band. When Strauss was 17, his father left the family, thus allowing him to begin serious study unimpeded. His mother, an amateur violinist who had always encouraged him, remained supportive. Strauss studied theory and continued violin lessons. In 1844 young Johann led his first concert and a year later formed his own band, and in so doing competed with his father's own orchestra. He was also writing his own quadrilles, mazurkas, polkas, and waltzes for performance by his ensemble, even conducting works by his father, and receiving praise from the press. His real success began in 1849 after Johann Strauss, Sr. died. Johann, Jr. merged his father's orchestra with his own and assumed his father's contracts. His career moved along smoothly for the next several years, eventually gaining the respect of as Brahms, Wagner, and Verdi for his seemingly unlimited imagination for melody. Strauss married singer Henriette "Jetty" Treffz in August 1862, and they settled in Hietzing. Thereafter, she became his business manager and apparently a great inspiration, drawing him toward operetta, just as Viennese theater operators were becoming weary of the works of Offenbach. Strauss’ most famous, Die Fledermaus was staged in 1874 with great success. Eine Nacht in Venedig and Der Zigeunerbaron were his only other international operetta hits. In 1872, he traveled to the United States and led highly successful concerts in Boston and New York. For all the success that came in the 1870s for Strauss, there was also tragedy. His mother and brother Josef died in 1870, and his wife died suddenly of a heart attack in 1878. Her death devastated him, and the suddenly helpless composer unwisely married the much-younger actress Angelika Dittrich, just 6 weeks later. The marriage lasted only 4 years, though it may have saved the composer from personal disaster in the months following his wife's death. Strauss, a Roman Catholic, left the church and had to give up his Austrian citizenship to marry Adele Deutsch in 1887, owing to the Church's refusal to recognize his divorce. His new wife, with whom he had lived for a long period before their marriage, seemed to inspire him much like his first wife. In his last years, Strauss remained quite productive and active. He was working on a ballet, Cinderella, when he died on June 3, 1899.