June 21. Pavel Haas’ Birthday: A Study For Strings

Another victim of the goddamned Holocaust.  Czech composer, Pavel Haas, was one of the most successful of Leoš Janáček‘s pupils.  This piece was written in Theresienstadt, a concentration camp located in former Czechoslovakia where he wrote the piece.  This camp was the one that was dressed up for a visit from the International Red Cross to prove that no Jews were suffering.  A film was made of this by a director hired by the camp’s commandant.  It showed a children’s choir singing one of Haas’ works.  After the film was finished, 18,000 inmates were transferred to Auschwitz where they were gassed in 1944.

It is hard to believe that 72 years later, acts of terrorism, hate crimes against gays, and murder of people of color, and massacres by one religious faction of another, still have not abated.  No lessons learned from WWII?

Here’s his wikipedia entry.

Advertisements

June 15. Edvard Grieg’s Birthday: Holberg Suite

Today is the birthday of the Norwegian composer, Edvard Grieg (15 June 1843 – 4 September 1907). Most people know his Piano Concerto in A and Peer Gynt Suite. I had heard snippets of the Holberg from time to time on the local classical channel over the years, not knowing what it was. It wasn’t until about 20 years ago when my daughter was studying violin that at a concert of the National Symphony Orchestra that I heard it in its full for the first time. A late Romantic and contemporary of Dvorak and Tchaikowski, Grieg’s Holberg reminds me of their Serenades for Strings. It’s lush and warm at times it has a classical feel and at others reminds me of Britten’s Simple Symphony based on English folksongs.

Here’s his wikipedia entry.

Edvard Grieg: Piano Concerto in A Minor

Musically, the 19th century went through amazing upheavals. It started out with Beethoven at the height of his powers reinventing the symphony. He changed it from the sweet pleasant “sounding together” of what in Handel’s time was a sonata for orchestra, into a great momentous format for working out the turbulence of the times. Hot on his heels came Brahms ushering in the Romantic movement with the struggles of the passionate artist finding order and creating beauty out of this chaos. The idea of the Romantic artist, laboring alone in his garret, pouring out his soul seems to match the ascendancy of the concerto as a form for giving air to the creative process. By the end of the century, Europe was in the midst of such a cultural revolution–think of Wagner and Brahms, Monet and Van Gogh, Hardy and Tolstoy–the likes of which I dare say we might not see in a long while. They were humans imitating gods, while during our century we’ve been trying to get machines to do that for us.

Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A Minor is one of those wonderfully gushingly Romantic works from the late 1800s. He wrote it when he was 25. When he premiered it at one of his concerts, for he was a gifted pianist, it garnered him instant acclaim and established his reputation as a major composer. His output was modest–no symphonies, no operas and no other concertos. His best known work is Peer Gynt but his Holberg Suite gets a fair amount of air play. Maybe this was due to having to run his family’s business after his father went bust trying to corner the lobster market.

Here is an interesting anecdote about Grieg and two other “noteworthy composers” that gives a little of the flavor of what the cultural life was like in fin de siecle Europe:

“At the home of Adolf Brodsky, who had launced his Violin Concerto five years earlier, Tchaikovsky inadvertently walked in on a rehearsal of Brahms’s Piano Trio in C minor, with the great man himself at the piano. When Tchaikovsky grew ‘uneasy’, evidently reluctant to pay Brahms the compliments expected of him, their hostess feared ‘a difficult scene’ until the day was saved by the arrival of the short, frail figure of Edvard Grieg, to whom Tchaikovsky quickly warmed. At lunch Grieg’s wife Nina, finding herself seated between Brahms and Tchaikovsky, sprang from her seat after only a few minutes, exclaiming: “I can’t sit between these two. It makes me too nervous.” “I have the courage,” said Grieg, promptly taking her place. “So the three composers sat there together, all in high spirits,” recalled Mrs Brodsky. “Brahms grabbed a dish of strawberry jam, insisting that he wanted to eat it all himself, and that no-one else could have any… It was more like a children’s party than a gathering of great composers.” (From Tchaikovsky,by Anthony Holden).

Who among our artists, composers, and writers would we place in the same Pantheon as those who were alive 100 years ago? Frankly I’m at a loss right now, so if anyone is out there with someone they’d like to nominate, please email me. Or even nominate yourself: you’ve probably got a lot more going for you than Lady Gaga or Miley Cyrus.

Edvard Grieg: Peer Gynt Suite Number 1

Growing up in Indiana in the 1960s, I lived across the street from my elementary school. Beside it stood the junior high school, which was a big red brick monstrosity that my mother, who was born in 1915, also attended. One day, in first or second grade, our teacher marched us from our classroom into the old gymnasium of the junior high school to watch a puppet show. It was a production of “Jason and the Golden Fleece.” Puppets always unnerved me, and these were just as grotesque as any I’ve ever seen, but the production had one saving grace–the music.

The puppeteer had chosen the incidental music from Peer Gynt. Over the years, I’ve heard “In the Hall of The Mountain King” so many times that it became almost hackneyed. Then one day, about 15 years ago, it came on the local classical station, and my two daughters perked up. Suddenly, I remembered the excitement that permeates that music and how masterfully it builds from a quiet dance into a thundering cataclysm. They loved the piece and were happy to learn I owned a copy of it. Though the Spanish Philosopher, Miguel de Unamuno said “to fall into a habit is to begin to cease to be,” some pieces of music you can listen to forever. Maybe a better quote is by the pre-Socratic Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, who said: “You can’t step into the same river twice.” Let this music wash over you.

Edvard Grieg: Piano Concerto in A Minor

Musically, the 19th century went through amazing upheavals. It started out with Beethoven at the height of his powers reinventing the symphony. He changed it from the sweet pleasant “sounding together” of what in Handel’s time was a sonata for orchestra, into a great momentous format for working out the turbulence of the times. Hot on his heels came Brahms ushering in the Romantic movement with the struggles of the passionate artist finding order and creating beauty out of this chaos. The idea of the Romantic artist, laboring alone in his garret, pouring out his soul seems to match the ascendancy of the concerto as a form for giving air to the creative process. By the end of the century, Europe was in the midst of such a cultural revolution–think of Wagner and Brahms, Monet and Van Gogh, Hardy and Tolstoy–the likes of which I dare say we might not see in a long while. They were humans imitating gods, while during our century we’ve been trying to get machines to do that for us.

Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A Minor is one of those wonderfully gushingly Romantic works from the late 1800s. He wrote it when he was 25 and when he premiered it at one of his concerts, for he was a gifted pianist, it garnered him instant acclaim and established his reputation as a major composer. His output was modest–no symphonies, no operas and no other concertos. His best known work is Peer Gynt and this Holberg Suitegets a fair amount of air play. Maybe this was due to having to run his family’s business after his father went bust trying to corner the lobster market.

Here is an interesting anecdote about Grieg and two other “noteworthy composers” that gives a little of the flavor of what the cultural life was like in fin de siecle Europe:

“At the home of Adolf Brodsky, who had launced his Violin Concerto five years earlier, Tchaikovsky inadvertently walked in on a rehearsal of Brahms’s Piano Trio in C minor, with the great man himself at the piano. When Tchaikovsky grew ‘uneasy’, evidently reluctant to pay Brahms the compliments expected of him, their hostess feared ‘a difficult scene’ until the day was saved by the arrival of the short, frail figure of Edvard Grieg, to whom Tchaikovsky quickly warmed. At lunch Grieg’s wife Nina, finding herself seated between Brahms and Tchaikovsky, sprang from her seat after only a few minutes, exclaiming: “I can’t sit between these two. It makes me too nervous.” “I have the courage,” said Grieg, promptly taking her place. “So the three composers sat there together, all in high spirits,” recalled Mrs Brodsky. “Brahms grabbed a dish of strawberry jam, insisting that he wanted to eat it all himself, and that no-one else could have any… It was more like a children’s party than a gathering of great composers.” (From Tchaikovsky,by Anthony Holden).

Who among our artists, composers, and writers would we place in the same Pantheon as those who were alive 100 years ago. Frankly I’m at a loss right now, so if anyone is out there with someone they’d like to nominate, please email me. Or even nominate yourself: you’ve probably got a lot more going for you than Lady Gaga.

Edvard Grieg: Music from Peer Gynt

I lived across the street from my elementary school. Beside it stood the junior high school, which was a big red brick monstrosity that my mother, who was born in 1915, also attended. One day, in first or second grade, our teacher marched us from our classroom into the old gymnasium of the junior high school to watch a puppet show. It was a production of “Jason and the Golden Fleece.” Puppets always unnerved me, and these were just as grotesque as any I’ve ever seen, but the production had one saving grace–the music. The puppeteer had chosen the incidental music from Peer Gynt. Over the years, I’ve heard “In the Hall of The Mountain King” so many times that it became almost hackneyed. Then one day, it came on the local classical station, and my two daughters perked up. Suddenly, I remembered the excitement that permeates that music and how masterfully it builds from a quiet dance into a thundering cataclysm. They loved the piece and were happy to learn I owned a copy of it. Though Unamuno said “to fall into a habit is to begin to cease to be,” some pieces of music you can listen to forever.

%d bloggers like this: