August 5, Birthday of Betsy Jolas (b. 1928)

Born in Paris between WWI and WWII, Betsy Jolas grew up in an enviable milieu. Her mother was a well-known translator and her father founded the literary magazine, “transition,” which published James Joyce’ Finnegan’s Wake as a “Work in Progress.” Her studies at the Paris Conservatory were interrupted by WWII and she and her family decamped to the US, where she completed her studies at Bennington. After the War, in 1946, her family returned to Paris, where Jolas continued her studies at the conservatoire with Darius Milhaud, Simone Plé-Caussade and Olivier Messiaen. She replaced Olivier Messiaen at the conservatory and has been on the faculty there since 1975. She has won many prizes and is both a Chevalier in the French Légion d’Honneurand and is also a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Points d’aube

String Quartet No. 3

D’un opéra de voyage (1967)

Quatuor II for soprano, violin, viola & cello


POINTS D`OR concerto for saxophone(s) & 15 instruments

April 25, Birthday of Szőnyi Erzsébet (b. 1924)

There is scant information on Wikipedia about Hungarian composer, Szőnyi Erzsébet except to say she has composed a lot including 8 operas. More information can be found on the website for the International (Zoltán Kodály) Society. Many of her works appear on Youtube, however, and maybe her music represents the evolution of classical music that Zoltán Kodály and Béla Bartók. This ranges from transcriptions of folk melodies into quite complex chamber music. Enjoy.

Hárfás kvintett
Zeneiskola koncertje
Trio Concertino
koncert II. rész

Aaron Copland: Rodeo.

Earlier I wrote about Copland’s Appalachian Spring. After that piece and Fanfare for the common man, one of his most performed works is probably Rodeo, specifically the four dances that come from it: “Buckaroo Holiday,” “Corral Nocturne”, “Saturday Night Waltz”, and “Hoe-Down”.

Listen to these four dances today, especially “Hoe-Down,” and you’ll be reminded of any western movie that had a dance in it. This music just sounds so American and is linked so strongly to the 20th century popular consciousness of the old West that one would scarcely imagine that Copland was the son of a Lithuanian immigrant and actually grew up in Brooklyn. More surprising still is that after studying music, composition and counterpoint in New York, he scraped up enough money to move to Paris and actually studied for four years with Nadia Boulanger from 1921-1925.

Now everyone knows that Paris dominated the art world for most of the 20th century. And it also gave birth to as many literary movements as painting styles. As the century drew to a close however its influence seemed to wane in those areas, being eclipsed, starting in the 1960s, by New York City.

But in the musical arena, Paris never lost its superiority. Indeed, it leads the world today in the area of so-called “World Music,” which has absorbed the indigenous music from its former colonies–Algeria, Cote d’Ivoire, The Congo, Benin, Senegal–and married it with the classical, jazz, pop, and other musical styles that have flourished there for the past 500 years. The jazz musician, Ornette Coleman said back in 1999 that in Paris, there is now only one type of music that everyone is making; something new and distinct had emerged from this melting pot.

In Paris the period from the turn of the century until the second world war was similar, and in the area of classical music, the city served as a similar kind of incubator. Imagine all the composers there at that time: Stravinsky, Cocteau, Ravel, Milhaud, Albeniz, Faure, and “Les Six.” This was the amalgam into which Copland jumped.

Composers like Bartok and Kodaly were discovering, like now, that the folk and indigenous rhythms were even more complex than the ones that they’d learned to copy an imitate in the academies. Milhaud and Stravinsky experimented with jazz; Albeniz took Spanish folk melodies and turned them into wonderful evocative soundscapes. All were inspired by the great innovator, Debussy who had been bowled over by the strange music from the Orient, especially the five-tone and cyclical music of the Gamelan.

When Copland returned to the States after his time in Paris, he, too, sought out the unique music that had been growing, absorbing and morphing with each new wave of immigrants that showed up on America’s shores. These he wove with his own visionary music to create what is considered the first really American serious music. Though he continued to experiment and write in the constantly changing 20th century styles until his death in 1990.

And his influence is great. Countless are the times I’ve heard something that I could have sworn was by Copland, only to find out it was Bernstein.

What makes great music differ from merely good, is how, even when it has been played so much, it still resists becoming a cliché. And to me, Copland’s work, especially pieces like Rodeo, never lose their uniqueness, which is both timeless and timely.

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