May 14, Maria de Lourdes Martins (1926-2009)

 
Maria de Lourdes Martins gets about two lines in Wikipedia but this biography is more complete. She was quite established as an avante garde composer, working with Stockhausen, but then she went to Munich and studied with Carl Orff and brought his musical teaching method to Portugal. The following pieces are all that I can find of her work on Youtube, but you can definitely hear the influence of Kodaly, with whom she also studied.

Sonorita

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May 14, Birthday of Emilie Mayer (1812-1883)

 

Emilie Mayer was born in 1812 in the town of Friedland, Germany, and died in Berlin at the age of 70. Considered the female Beethoven of the time, she enjoyed great popularity during her life, but lapsed into obscurity after her death. The first recording of any of works took place in 2001 as a result of a conference in Berlin on 19th century women composer. Since then quite a few of her works have been rediscovered and recorded.

She was the musically precocious daughter of a fairly wealthy pharmacist, whose mother died shortly after her birth. When she was taking piano lessons, she had a tendency to improvise, and her music teacher encouraged her to compose her own pieces–which she did starting at the ripe age of 7.

Around the age of 28, her father committed suicide, and distraught, she moved to Poland to restart her life. There she studied composition, and after her work started to gain attention, she moved to Berlin to continue her studies.

Over the next 42 years, she composed over 70 works including 8 symphonies, chamber music, lieder, and an opera.

In 2012, during which was the 200th anniversary of her birth, many more pieces were performed, however Amazon (even in Germany) lists only three CDs. Youtube turned up quite a few. I enjoyed her string quartet, and the symphonies, violin sonatas, and other works I’m sure will be a delight to listen to.

String Quartet in E minor

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May 7, Birthday of Alison Bauld (b. 1944)

Alison Bauld is an Australian composer and novelist who lives in London.  Most of her work consist of passages from Shakespeare’s plays set to music.  Wish I could have found more about her.  The longest bio is on her own website linked at the beginning of this paragraph.

Titania’s Song

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May 6, Birthday of Victoria Bond (b. 1945)

Victoria Bond is a contemporary composer and conductor. She studied conducting at Julliard under Herbert von Karajan and composition with Roger Sessions.

“Bridges” Mvt. 4 The Brooklyn Bridge

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May 5, Birthday of Delia Derbyshire (1937 – 2001)

Delia Derbyshire had quite an amazing life. The daughter of a sheet metal worker from Coventry, she was evacuated during WWII to Lancashire at the age of 3. Very precocious, at the age of 4 she taught others in her class to read and write. At the age of 8, her parent bought her a piano, but she excelled in Maths and got a scholarship to Cambridge to study at a time when only 1 in 10 students there were women. He got her BA in math and music, specializing in medieval music. After graduating, she told career counselors she wanted to work with sound, and they suggested she work with the deaf. She sodded off to Geneva, where she taught piano to the children of the British Consul-General and maths to the children of the South American and Canadian diplomats. After returning to England, she worked first for Decca Records as an assistant sound engineer and then heard about the BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop, where she learned the art of tape splicing and looping and with the newly invented magnetic tape recorders, she recorded the sound of objects and through manipulation turned them into musique concrète.  She came to fame after composing the opening music to the series Dr. Who in 1963 based on a theme by Ron Grainer.

I wonder where Steven Reich, Philip Glass, the Who, the Talking Heads, and others would have been without her. At the bottom of these videos, there’s a documentary about her called “The Delian Mode.”

First

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April 30, Birthday of Ellen Taaffe Zwilich (b. 1939)

Ellen Taaffe Zwilich has the distinction of being the first female composer to win the Pulitzer prize for music in 1983. Let that sink in for a moment. THE PULITZER PRIZE WAS ESTABLISHED IN 1943.

She got her bachelor’s in music from Florida State (my second alma mater) in 1960 then went to Julliard and in 1975 became the FIRST WOMAN TO EARN DOCTOR OF MUSICAL ARTS in composition.

I’m really sorry for shouting.  It’s just that it’s outrageous that so many wonderful composers are unknown to the world simply for being women.  Men usually give the lame excuse that they always do (for racism, sexism, and most other -ism), that there’s no bias and that if there were really good female composers, they would rise to the top being recognized and rewarded as they are.  Here’s Ellen Zwilich’s perspective on the matter:

‘Why have there been so few women composers? It’s simple: We were, for the most part, denied access. Still, we’re finding out that there were some women who continued to compose, knowing full well that they’d never hear their music. It’s an incredible testimony to the creative spirit.

Compare writing a poem to creating a piece of music. Once you’ve got those words down on paper, they’re there forever, and don’t need any realization. But a staggering amount of people were involved in the creation of my Symphony No. 1 (Three Movements for Orchestra), for which I won the Pulitzer. There was the Guggenheim Foundation, which helped sponsor it; the MacDowell Colony, where I wrote the beginning, and, of course, the American Composer’s Orchestra, all of whom put their collective faith into my symphony and allowed me the time to complete it. Now, go back 100 years and compare the situation: nothing of the sort could possibly have happened, because society simply didn’t recognize female achievements. (New York Times, July 14, 1985).

While in grad school, her music was described as jagged and atonal–which was the style of the time.  However, after her husband, Joseph Zwilich–a well known violinist at the Metropolitan Opera–died of a heart attack while watching the Stuttgart Ballet perform at the Met in 1979, her music shifted and again in her own words, she described the change as a desire for “communicating more directly with performers and listeners.”   And it’s telling that you can’t find any of her pre-1979 works on Youtube.

To demonstrate her range, I’ve selected seven works from the over 50 videos of either her music or interviews with her on Youtube.  I hope you enjoy discovering her as much as I have.
First Movement from Symphony No. 1 (“Three Movements for Orchestra”) which won the Pulitzer Prize for Music, 1983)

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Summer Reruns–Gioacchino Rossini: Mi par d’esser con la testa from The Barber of Seville

This, aria from the Barber of Seville never ceases to amaze me. It did so when I first heard it about 40 years ago in high school, and did today when I gave listened to it on Youtube. It makes me think of a line from the movie, Amadeus. Mozart, speaking about his opera Le Nozze di Figaro says that opera is the only art form in which you can have four different people speaking at the same time, each presenting a different point of view or even having an argument. What’s wonderful though is that what in real life would appear pandemonium, in opera sounds heavenly.

The piece in which Rossini illustrates this fact, Mi par d’essere con la testa is a quintet for Rosina, Almaviva, Figaro, Basilio and Bartolo. Almaviva has succeeded in infiltrating Don Bartolo’s house by pretending he is a drunken soldier who has been billeted there. Don Bartolo won’t have any of it: he says he has a letter that exempts him receiving billets. As he goes to produce it, Almaviva slips Rosina a love note. Bartolo catches sight of it. Almaviva makes Bartolo drop his letter and Rosina drops hers. He then manages to mix them up handing back to Bartolo nothing more than a laundry list.

Rosina’s presence inflames Almaviva which makes Bartolo suspicious. Now angry, the doctor again tries to get the count to leave. Almaviva starts to threaten him with a sword, telling him he will kill him when Figaro arrives. The barber and Rosina try to calm the two suitors down, but they all become so loud that the local police come knocking at the door. They enter and demand to know what is going on as the din has attracted a crowd in front of the house.

Bartolo explains that he is affronted in his own house by a drunken soldier. The police chief is about to cart Almaviva away, when the count secretly shows him a letter that reveal his true identity–Count Almaviva, a nobleman. At this, the police chief is thunderstruck. Back then, nobles were inviolate. The others sing in wonderment at how something suddenly struck dumb the police chief. When he comes to his senses, he tells them to stop arguing. When Bartolo tries to get him to arrest Almaviva, the chief implies that if he doesn’t drop it, he might have to arrest him. That would have been within his powers.

This confuses everyone even more and they begin to sing:

Mi par d’esser con la testa
in un orrida fucina.
alternando questo e quello
pesantissimo martello
fa con un barbara armonia
mure e volte rimbombar, si
I feel as if I’ve stuck my head
into some dreadful smithy
Alternating one with the other
The heavy hammer blows
Make a barbarous harmony
That shakes the walls and rafters

To me this piece demonstrates once and for all Rossini’s mastery of matching his music to the words. Again, like La Calunnia it starts out soft. In the background the violins play quick triplets, punctuated by a triangle which imitates the sound of the crashing hammers. It is funny, clever, upbeat, and incredible as each voice surfaces for an instant and then is drowned out by another.

You know how the opera ends: After more intrigue and humorous scenes in which he and Figaro dupe Bartolo, Almaviva gets the girl. Not because his is any better a person, but because he could pay more than Bartolo. Maybe it’s more fitting that he is younger than Bartolo, but that’s not the main theme. The theme is that Figaro–a common barber–is clearly more clever than any of them, and idea that was revolutionary for Rossini’s day.

When you think about all the people in positions of power–US generals involved in sex scandals, corporate executives like those in Enron whose greed brought the company down, politicians who line their pockets while shafting the polity–have become our new nobility, maybe it’s time once again for some revolutionary action.

Here’s another protest song, that I’ve always liked, too.

[http://youtube=”https://youtu.be/64nCCjonKW0″%5D

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