June 17. Stravinsky and Gounod’s Birthday

Today is the birthday of the French composer Charles Gounod, (1818 – 1893) and Igor Stravinsky ( June 17, 1882 – April 6, 1971.)

The Funeral March is probably one of the first pieces of classical music I ever heard.  In the 1960s, when I grew up, the US was in still in the midst of the Golden Age of television.   It was still a fairly new medium, and it brought a whole world of art and culture into small, backwater towns like my own, Mishawaka, Indiana.  Shows like The Man From Uncle, The Ernie Kovacs Show, The Invaders, I-Spy, Westinghouse Theatre, Saturday Night at the Theatre, The Jackie Gleason Show, and The Twilight Zone let us experience, in our own living room, drama, comedy, music, dance,the supernatural and life in the old west and modern Manhattan.  Every night after dinner we gathered around the TV as a family and watched our favorite program chosen from only one of the three channels we received.  I remember sitting with my parents, watching Sing Along With Mitch (Miller), which commanded us to sing the lyrics that appeared on the screen in time to a white ball that hopped from syllable to syllable along with the music. I’m feeling a bit nostalgic now for that.  What family sings together any more?

One program we loved was “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” whose short murder mysteries were introduced by the director himself.  He performed his plummy, congested monologues in a perfect deadpan British accent while acting out absurd and macabre skits.  The theme music to the show was Gounod’s Funeral March of a Marionette.  We only knew it as the “Funeral March,” and as soon as we heard it, we’d come running to the living room to watch.  I still think of the pudgy director whenever i hear it.

Here’s his wikipedia entry.

Igor Stravinsky’s fascinates me more than just about any other composer.  I’ve written about him a lot on this blog, here, here, and here for example.  He wrote Tango for piano in 1940 and later participated in turning it into a chamber piece.

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.

Elgar, Edward: Serenade for Strings, Opus 20

This is day five of the A-toZ Challenge in which I attempt to blog every day (excepting Sundays) during the month of April. During this month, I am curating a collection of “classical” music pieces, which are lesser known or by lesser known composers.

Today’s letter is E which stands for Edward Elgar. Today’s piece is his Serenade for Strings, Opus 20. Elgar, was a British composer who lived from 1857 to 1934. A devout Catholic in Anglican Britain, he was regarded with suspicion in some quarters of Victorian. An early champion of the gramophone, he recorded a number of his works in the early 20th century.

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