September 23, birthday of Catherine van Rennes (Catharina van Rennes)

Since July, I have been concentrating solely on female composers.  You can read about that in my post from July 19.  If I can’t find one born on the calendar day, I won’t post.  On with today’s composer.

Catherine van Rennes (Catharina van Rennes) was a Dutch composer and music teacher who also composed a cantata for an international conference on women’s suffrage in Amsterdam in 1909.  Can’t find a recording of that, but here’s a nice lullaby.

Wiegeliedje – (Cradlesong) 

September 20, birthday of Laurie Spiegel

Since July, I have been concentrating solely on female composers.  You can read about that in my post from July 19.  If I can’t find one born on the calendar day, I won’t post.  On with today’s composer.

I’m sure the music of Laurie Spiegel (b. 1945) will delight a number of my friends who are into minimalism and the works of composers like Moondog, Glass, Reich and Reilly.  She taught herself the guitar, then studied lute, mandolin and banjo.  I don’t know how but she got into Bell Labs where she worked in computer graphics and she studied music composition with  Jacob Druckman and Vincent Persichetti at the Juilliard School.  She was big in the New Music scene of the 1970s but then got out of the limelight and has worked as a teacher and composer of soundtracks.  One of her works appears in one of the Hunger Games movies.

The Expanding Universe

September 18, birthday of Henriette Renié

Since July, I have been concentrating solely on female composers.  You can read about that in my post from July 19.  If I can’t find one born on the calendar day, I won’t post.  On with today’s composer.

I’m very excited to learn that Henriette Renié (18 September 1875 – 1 March 1956) has, unbeknownst to me, touched me through two what seem to be totally disparate interests of mine–a piece, “Danse sacrée et danse profane” by Claude Debussy and the comedian, Harpo Marx.

Renié was something of a prodigy:  at five she decided to give up the piano when she saw a performance by the harpist Alphonse Hasselmans, after which she declared that she was going to study with him.  However, it wasn’t until the age of 10 when she was tall enough that her feet could reach the pedals that she was allowed to study the harp.  She quickly became a virtuoso and was encouraged also to compose by other professors including Jules Massenet.  She started teaching but had a falling out with Hasselmans.  Though she tried to make it right, he would only recommend her to students he didn’t want–rich girls whose parent thought harp playing would make them more desirable as a wife!

I’ve written about Debussy’s Danse sacrée et danse profane elsewhere on this blog, and it remains one of my favorite pieces of music.  As a harpist in Paris at the turn of last century,Renié hung out with the great composers of the time–Debussy, Ravel, Massenet, Widor, etc.  What I found out was that Renie actually arrangedDanse sacrée et danse profane for harp for the composer!

After Hasselmans refused to let one of her private students to enroll in the Paris Conservatoire, the next year Renié succeeded and this student, Marcel Grandjany, brought her technique of playing to the United States.

Harpo Marx taught himself to play the harp when one came into his possession.  He didn’t know how to tune it, so he tuned it in a way that made sense to him (which was not standard tuning) and he learned how to hold it from a picture of an angel holding a harp!  After he became rich, he hired professional teachers so he could learn to play the right way, but they were more fascinated, it seems, with his technique.

According to Wikipedia, one of those teachers was Henriette Renié!  I can’t find any other reference to this fact.  Who cares?  It’s an interesting nexus of talents, no?  So below I’m featuring one of her first compositions, followed by Debussy’s piece, and finally Harpo destroying a piano playing Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C sharp Minor, and from the ruins creating a harp.  All of these pieces are sublime in their own way.

Concerto en ut mineur (C minor)

Anneleen Lenaerts plays Debussy’s Danse sacrée et danse profane

Harpo Marx (preceded by Chico playing the piano)

September 16, birthday of Nadia Boulanger

Since July, I have been concentrating solely on female composers.  You can read about that in my post from July 19.  If I can’t find one born on the calendar day, I won’t post.  On with today’s composer.

Nadia Boulanger is probably the greatest music educator who ever lived. Among her pupils:

Her piece below was written in 1912 some 20 years before Rachmaninoff’s “Rhapsody on a theme of Paganini.” Let me know if you hear any similarities.

Fantaisie pour piano et orchestre

A first for me: My essay “The Tao of Apples” published in an anthology called “How Does That Make You Feel”

hdtmyf Last year I took a writing course with author and teacher Susan Shapiro in NYC.  This is a great workshop in which the main assignment is to write a humiliation essay.  The only hard part of this  assignment for me was answering the question, “Where should I start?”  The year before, I had gone through depression, which was caused by some stress. One day I had found myself lying on the floor weeping, when my wife said to me, “Why don’t you call Larry,” so I did.  What led me to the floor and what happened when I called Larry became an essay entitle “The Tao of Apple.”

When I had finished it, Sue helped me find an editor, whom I hired.  He made it better.  Then I took it to my writer’s group and got feedback from my two fellow writers, Shelley Crocket and Allegra Chapman, who gave me even more feedback.

Then I sent it to the New York times, and pitched it to the editor of “The Couch.”  He never wrote back.  A few months later, Sue wrote to tell me a friend of hers, Sherry Amatenstein, a therapist and writer living in NYC, was compiling a collection of essays written by therapists and what I call “therapees,” i.e., people like me who’ve gone to a therapist.  Sue told me Sherry needed an essay and gave me advice on how to pitch it.  Sherry loved it, and suggested a few more edits and a different closing.  Rather than be discouraged, I got the old brain-box started again, and worked out a much stronger last paragraph.

My essay now appears in the final anthology, “How Does That Make You Feel?” that was just published by Seal Press. We had a book event at the Word bookstore in Brooklyn on Thursday night, where fellow essayists, Sherry, Beverly Donofrio, Pamela Grossman, Jenine Holmes, Amy Klein,  and I read from our essays, had a panel discussion, and then took questions and answers from the audience.  We hadn’t received our authors’ copies yet from the publisher, so this was the first time I got to see the completed book, but better still, I heard the powerful stories and beautiful prose of the others.

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Check out the bios of the other authors here.

You can read the gracious reviews and articles about the book at the following links:  The Washington Post, Tablet Mag, and on Atlas Wonders.  Also some great blurbs from readers of the advance copies. There are a number of events that Sherry has organized on the left and right coasts.  See if there’s one near you here.

I’m so grateful for having met Sue, who has been a wonderful teacher and mentor, Sherry, who’s a great editor and writer herself, and my writing group buddies.  With their wisdom, the time they took reading,  their gift of feedback, and guidance, I felt truly the power of community and friendship.  And I look forward to reading the rest of the essays in this unique anthology.

How Does That Make You Feel is available on Amazon and other bookstores.

September 9, birthday of Ai Otsuka (大塚 愛)

Since July, I have been concentrating solely on female composers.  You can read about that in my post from July 19.  If I can’t find one born on the calendar day, I won’t post.  On with today’s composer.
Ai Otsuka (大塚 愛) born 1982, is a Japanese pop singer-songwriter. I like the video of this song, “Smily,” because it objectifies men–as the polar opposite of all the “babes” you see in any music video, tv commercials, beer and car adverts.
Smily

August 31, birthday of Alma Mahler

Since July, I have been concentrating solely on female composers.  You can read about that in my post from July 19.  If I can’t find one born on the calendar day, I won’t post.  On with today’s composer.

Alma Maria Mahler Gropius Werfel (born Alma Maria Schindler 1879 – 1964) was born to a famous Austrian painter, and therefore grew up at the time when Vienna was the capital of the Austro-Hungarian empire and was awash in all the arts during a time of great upheavals in Western culture, not the least of was the revolution in classical music. She had relationships with Gustav Klimt and other artists or the time, and eventually married Gustav Mahler. Alma herself was classically trained in piano and began composing at an early age. Gustav, however, insisted she stop composing and devote herself to him, his music, and raising the family. This led to her falling into a state of depression (and had an affair with Walter Gropius of Bahaus–no not the musical group–fame) which Sigmund Freud said could be cured by Gustav allowing her to compose again. Which he did, even getting her songs into print by his publisher. After Mahler died, she had an affair with Oscar Kokoschka and then married Gropius, who eventually was sent to fight in WWI. She in 1917 then took up with a writer named Franz Werfel whom she married after divorcing Gropius in 1920. When Hitler took over Austria in 1938, the couple, being Jewish, fled to Southern France. When Hitler invaded France, they fled on foot over the Pyrenees, and eventually able to book passage on a ship to the US. They ended up in LA where Werfel had a successful career. After Werfel died in 1946, she moved to NYC and became a cultural icon (is there a school for that) and was worshiped by Leonard Bernstein, champion of Mahler’s works.

Complete Songs

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