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

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

August 29, birthday of Diamanda Galás

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.

 
Diamanda Galás is a Greek-American Avant-Garde composer, who was mad as hell during the 1980s AIDS epidemic that claimed the life of her brother. This shows in today’s work, which comes from “Plague Mass,” which she performed at St. John the Divine church in NYC. She wrote it to protest the Catholic Church’s “handling” of the AIDS crisis, which, among other things, forbids the use of condoms and the was against the teaching of sex education.
 

Plague Mass:  Cris d’Aveugle

August 27, birthday of Rebecca Clarke

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.

The biography of Rebecca Clarke (1886-1979) on Wikipedia made me wince and feel angry. Her father encouraged her to study music and she enrolled at the Royal Academy. When one of her teachers there proposed to her, the father withdrew her immediately from the school. Two years later she entered the Royal College of Music, where her composition professor encouraged her to switch from violin to viola. After complaining about her father’s extra-marital affairs, he turned her out of his house and cut off her funds. Luckily she had fallowed her professor’s advice and was able to support herself as a professional violist.

England didn’t seem ready for female composers in the early 20th century. As proof, she and a cellist gave a recital of new works by young composers. It included works by Anthony Trent as well as Clarke’s. While Trent’s works were well received, Clarke’s received little attention. The truth was that Clarke had submitted one her pieces under the pseudonym, “Anthony Trent.”

Later she entered a piece in a prestigious composition competition, where her piece tied one by Ernest Bloch. Judges awarded first prize to Bloch, and reporters:

“speculated that “Rebecca Clarke” was only a pseudonym for Bloch himself, or at least that it could not have been Clarke who wrote these pieces, as the idea that a woman could write such a work was socially inconceivable.”

She came to the US while on tour as a successful performer, but when WWII broke out, she couldn’t get a visa to return to the UK. She became a nanny in Connecticut and during the War composed a number of her most important works, like today’s, “Prelude.”

One day in Manhattan, she bumped into a fellow student from her days at the Royal College.  His name was James Frisking and he was one of the founding members of Julliard.  Both in their 50s, they married, and she lived until the ripe old age of 93.  Sadly, she suffered from depression and said she could not balance her personal life with the demands of being a composer, and only composed sporadically for the rest of her life.

Prelude, Allegro and Pastorale (1941)/b>

August 25, birthday of Ruby Keeler

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.

Ruby Keeler isn’t a composer, nor a songwriter, so I guess I’m getting a bit far away from my goal of writing first about classical music pieces and then female composers. But she was born today and I like this song.

42nd Street
 

 

August 24, birthday of Ronee Blakley

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.

Ronee Blakley (b. 1945) is a singer-songwriter and actress, probably best known for her performance in Robert Altman’s 1975 film, “Nashville.” Her first album was written, performed and produced by herself and featured this song with Linda Ronstandt backing. She was married to the German film maker, Wim Wenders.

“Bluebird”

August 23, birthday of Malvina Reynolds

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.

Malvina Reynolds (1900 – 1978) is probably best known for her song, “Little Boxes,” which she wrote as she and her husband were driving by a new housing development in California. The song was recorded by Pete Seegar, and I remember listening to it as a boy on the radio when it came out in 1963. It’s always made me feel a bit sad, being about middle America conformity and the shoddy construction of the buildings, “made out of ticky tacky.” Though everyone hates the suburbs, perhaps they made housing affordable for the first time for massive amounts of people.

“Little Boxes” performed by Peet Seegar

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