Category Archives: Music

Johannes Brahms 5.7.14 Thought of the Day

Johannes Brahms

Johannes Brahms (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

“Without craftsmanship, inspiration is a mere reed shaken in the wind”

 

“It is not hard to compose, but what is fabulously hard is to leave the superfluous notes under the table.”

 

“If there is anyone here whom I have not insulted, I beg his pardon.”

 

–Johannes Brahms

 

 

 

 

Johannes Brahms was born on this day in Hamburg, Germany in 1833. Today is the 181st anniversary of his birth.

 

The second of three children born to Johanna Henrika Christiane Nissen and Johann Jakob Brahms, Johannes’ love of music came from his father who played horn and double bass. Little Johannes was playing piano by age seven and earning money as a musician “at local inns, in brothels and along the city’s docks” [Biography.com] by the time he was a teenager.At age 20 he met German composer Robert Schumann. Schumann help his career, and Brahms quickly became friends with Schumann and his wife Clara, a pianist and composer in her own right.  When Schumann attempted suicide  and had to be confined to a sanitarium, Brahms helped out the desperate (and very pregnant) Clara, by moving into the apartment above the family and acting as go between from the Schumann household and  the hospital. Schumann died in the sanitarium a few years later, but Brahm’s friendship with Clara continued. He relied on her to review his compositions and valued her opinions.

 

Brahms in 1853

Brahms in 1853 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While in Hamburg he “held several different posts, including conductor of a women’s choir in Hamburg” [Ibid]. His compositions from this period include:

 

  • String Sextet in B-flat Major
  • Piano Concerto No. 1 in D Minor

Here’s his String Sextet in B-Flat Major as performed by the Berlin Philharmonic:

 

He moved to Vienna in 1850 and in 1863 took the post of Director of the Singakademie, an a cappella group that focused on historical and modern works.

 

Brahms, for the most part, enjoyed steady success in Vienna. By the early 1870s he was principal conductor of the Society of Friends of Music. He also directed the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra for three seasons…. In 1868, following the death of his mother, he finished “A German Requiem,” a composition based on Biblical texts and often cited as one of the most important pieces of choral music created in the 19th century. The multi-layered piece brings together mixed chorus, solo voices and a complete orchestra. [Ibid]

 

He’d found his home in Vienna and lived there for the rest of his life. He traveled in summer, touring Europe for concerts and for pleasure.

 

These later years for the composer saw him living a comfortable life. His music, since 1860 anyway, had sold well, and Brahms, far from flamboyant or excessive, lived a frugal life in his simple apartment. A shrewd investor, Brahms did well in the stock market. His wealth, however, was rivaled by his generosity, as Brahms often gave money to friends and young musical students. [Ibid]

 

Brahms was rather famous in his old age for being sarcastic and rude to adults, but he loved children (and would often give them candy when he saw them in the street.) His music was popular and sold well, and he lived comfortably and with in his means. He was generous to his friends and his students.

 

English: Johannes Brahms (1833–1897), German c...

 

Brahms contracted Liver (or perhaps Pancreatic) Cancer and died at the age of 63 on April 3, 1897.

 

 

 

He wrote in a variety of genres for a number of instruments, and his works include:

 

  • Fugues
  • Cadenzas
  • Choral Pieces
  • Folk Dances
  • Folk Songs
  • Symphonies
  • Concertos
  • Canons
  • Sonatas
  • Masses

 

 

 

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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart 1.27.14 Thought of the Day

“My great-grandfather used to say to his wife, my great-grandmother, who in turn told her daughter, my grandmother, who repeated it to her daughter, my mother, who used to remind her daughter, my own sister, that to talk well and eloquently was a very great art, but that an equally great one was to know the right moment to stop.”–Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Painting of Mozart by Barbara Krafft (1764–1825) (Image courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Painting of Mozart by Barbara Krafft (1764–1825) (Image courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born on this day in Salzberg, Austria in 1756. Today is the 258 anniversary of his birth.

The youngest of seven children, only Wolfgang and he sister Maria Anna (whose nickname was Nannerl) survived infancy. His father, Leopold Mozart was a composer, teacher and violinist. Leopold began teaching Nannerl to play the keyboard. Little Wolfgang looked on and was soon absorbing the basics of the instrument. By four years old Leopold would play a game with his son, teaching him a minuet  which Wolfgang would play back “faultlessly and with the greatest delicacy, and keeping exactly in time… At the age of five, he was already composing little piece, which he played to his father who wrote them down.” [Mozart: a Documentary Biography]

 

 

Portrait de Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Salzbourg, 1756-Vienne, 1791) jouant à Paris avec son père Jean-Georg-Léopold et sa sœur Maria-Anna [Image courtesy: Wikimedia Commons]

Portrait de Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Salzbourg, 1756-Vienne, 1791) jouant à Paris avec son père Jean-Georg-Léopold et sa sœur Maria-Anna [Image courtesy: Wikimedia Commons]

 

 

Starting in 1762 the Mozarts began to tour Europe. At first Leopold, Nannerl and Wolfgang all performed, but by 1769 Nannerl was left at home, and Leopold focused his efforts exclusively on Wolfgang.  The purpose of the tours was to showcase the talents of the family and to try to get a position as a court composer. In March  of 1773, at 17 years of age,  Mozart was appointed as assistant concert master for the Royal Court of  Salzburg. Wolfgang was prolific in composing a number of instrumental pieces (string quartets, symphonies, sonatas) and vocal works (masses minor operas). Most notable works from this time period were his violin concertos (espeically K. 216, 218 and 219) and his breakthrough Piano Concerto  in E-flat (K. 271). But Salzburg offered him neither the salary nor the opportunity to write operas that he desired and he began to look elsewhere.

Here’s Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 4 in D, K. 218

He resigned from his post and traveled to Augsburg, Mannheim, Paris, and Munich touring, and looking for a new position. Eventually he wound up in Vienna as an independent composer and performer.

The year 1784, proved the most prolific in Mozart’s performance life. During one five-week period, he appeared in 22 concerts, including five he produced and performed as the soloist. In a typical concert, he would play a selection of existing and improvisational pieces and his various piano concertos. Other times he would conduct performances of his symphonies. The concerts were very well attended as Mozart enjoyed a unique connection with his audiences who were, in the words of Mozart biographer Maynard Solomon, “given the opportunity of witnessing the transformation and perfection of a major musical genre.” [Biography.com]

In 1776 and 1777 he had back to back operatic successes when he joined forces with librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte for  The Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni.

Circa 1780: Family portrait: Maria Anna ("Nannerl") Mozart, her brother Wolfgang, their mother Anna Maria (medallion) and father, Leopold Mozart, by artist: Johann Nepomuk della Croce [Image courtesy: Wikimedia Commons]

Circa 1780: Family portrait: Maria Anna (“Nannerl”) Mozart, her brother Wolfgang, their mother Anna Maria (medallion) and father, Leopold Mozart, by artist: Johann Nepomuk della Croce [Image courtesy: Wikimedia Commons]

Emperor Joseph II appointed him “Chamber Composer” a decade later.

It was a part-time appointment with low pay, but it required Mozart only to compose dances for the annual balls. The modest income was a welcome windfall for Mozart, who was struggling with debt, and provided him the freedom to explore more of his personal musical ambitions. [Ibid]

His financial problems continued, due in part to his lavish spending, and in part to the fact that Austria was at war. The composer sank into depression.

The two-year period of 1788-1789 was a low point for Mozart, experiencing in his own words “black thoughts” and deep depression. Historians believe he may have had a cyclothymiacs personality with manic-depressive tendencies, which might explain the periods of hysteria coupled with spells of hectic creativity. [Ibid]

He rallied in 1791 (his final year). He composed The Magic Flute, one of his most beloved Operas, along with piano and clarinet concertos, a string quintet in E-Flat and his Ave Verum Corpus . All the while he was working on his Requiem.

Here’s Mozart’s Ave Verum:

Mozart died at the age of 35 on December 5 1791. The cause of death is unclear. While his death certificate list  “Military Fever” as the final cause, there have been over 100 theories on how he died (including mercury poisoning and rheumatic fever.)
He composed more than 600 works in his short life. “Works that are widely acknowledged as pinnacles of symphonic, chamber, piano, operatic, and choral music.” [The New World Enclyclopedia]


Joan Baez 1.9.13 Thought of the Day

Joan+Baez+5505300

“I generally like to get to the point. — Joan Baez

Joan Baez was born on this day in Staten Island, New York in 1941. She is 72 years old. She is the middle of a trio of girls born to Albert and “Big Joan”  Baez.

Joan’s father worked for UNESCO and the family moved through out the US, Europe and the Middle East through out her childhood.

Her first instrument was the ukulele, one she borrowed from her father. She started out playing rhythm and blues, but switched to folk after attending a Pete Seeger concert with her aunt when she was 13. She began singing around Boston and put together a self-produced album, Folksingers ‘Round Harvard Squarewith some friends. A year later she was invited to perform at the  Newport Folk Festival where she sang two songs.

In 1960 she released her first album. (Self Titled). She has put out an additional 33 solo albums in the interceding have century plus.

Here’s her iconic Diamonds and Rust (1975)…

 

Joan_Baez_2012


Seasonal Music Pick 5

Let’s kick it up a notch with a little puck Christmas… Here’s Bad Religion’s version of White Christmas

and their rather brilliant O Come All Ye Faithful…


Seasonal Music Pick 3

Another pick from the fabulous Beverly. This one features the USAF Band at the Air and Space Museum in DC for a little Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring and Joy to the World. I wish I had been there!


Seasonal Music Pick 2

This was suggested by two friends, and it is an awesome example of a modern a cappella  twist on a classic Christmas song… Pentatonix Little Drummer Boy…

Thanks for Karole Lynn and Beverly for the suggestion.


Music Break on RitaLOVEStoWRITE

You may or may not know this, but I’m a bit of a music nerd.

I’ve been singing since, well, forever. One of my earliest memories is running around our neighbors back yard playing with my brother and sisters in the leaves of her massive oak tree. We had the best neighbor and she loved when we came over, so we totally had permission. Anyway she and my mom were at the fence drinking coffee and chatting and we are all jumping in the leaves, singing and screaming with joy… and Ms. Bess, the neighbor lady, said “You know I think Rita is going to be a Soprano.”

Yup.

This is me circa 1968. If I ever made a CD I'd use this pic and call it "When Girls Ruled Everything."

This is me circa 1968. Should I ever make a Jazz CD I’d like to use this pic and call it “When Girls Ruled Everything.”

I’ve always loved to sing. And the best advice my mom ever gave me was to “Go ahead and sing out!” Don’t be intimidated by all the Negative Nellies out there that might look at you oddly, or say you don’t know the words, or think that you are doing it wrong. Just do your best and sing.

A more modern photo of me singing the part of the Voice of God 2 in "Can You Hear Me Now?" with the Our Lady of Grace music group in 2011.

A more modern photo of me singing the part of the Voice of God 2 in “Can You Hear Me Now?” with the Our Lady of Grace music group in 2011.

To this day standing in front of an audience and singing is infinitely easier than standing in front of one and doing anything else (like talking).

So as we put a wrap on the Thanksgiving Season I’ll go on record as saying I’m very thankful for my instrument …  and for my family’s encouragement in using it. Thanks to for the lessons and the piano, guitar, bass and, most recently, the cutest little ukulele ever.

Me in a rather interpretive illustration by my daughter  when she was in early elementary school.

Me in a rather interpretive illustration by my daughter when she was in early elementary school.

I know I’m a few days late to start an Advent Calendar, but I thought it might be nice to bring a little music to the blog this Holiday Season. So on days where I don’t have a Muffin Recipe or a Secondary Character Profile (or something else I really REALLY want to write about) I’m going to exercise my power as a BLOGstress and treat y’all to sounds of the Season.

Here’s one my friend Jane turned me on to, Angels We Have Heard On High by the Piano Guys:

I’d love to hear your favorites (songs of all faiths — and secular tunes — are welcome). Send me a link.

Cheers,
Rita


Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky 11.6.13 Thought of the Day

“Truly there would be reason to go mad were it not for music.” — Tchiakovsky

Deutsch: Pjotr I. Tschaikowski

Deutsch: Pjotr I. Tschaikowski (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky died on this day in St. Petersburg, Russia, at age 53.

He was born Pyotr Tchaikovsky in Votkinsk, Vyatka Guberniya, Russia on April 23, 1840.

His father, Ilya Petrovich Tchaikovsky, was a mining engineer who was the manager of the Kamsko-Votkinsk Ironworks. His mother, Alexandra, was Ilya Petrovich’s second wife.  She was Russian of French descent. Alexandra was 18  years  younger than Ilya Petrovich.  Both his parents were artistic and musical.

He received piano lessons from a freed serf, beginning at the age of five, and within a few months he was already proficient in Friedrich Kalkbrenner’s composition Le Fou. [New World Encylopedia.org]

The Tchiakovskys moved to St. Petersburg In 1850 and Peter attended the School of Jurisprudence. He continued to study piano. His mother’s death (from cholera) while his was away at school was one of the most devastating events of his life. He wrote one of his first real compositions, a waltz, in her memory.

Tchaikovsky left school in 1858 and received employment as an under-secretary at the Ministry of Justice at the time when the Ministry was drafting legislation for emancipation of the serfs and implementation of various reforms. [Ibid]

He longed to further his musical studies, but hesitated giving up his secure position at the Ministry. In 1862, with his father’s permission (and promise of financial support) he enrolled at the new St Petersburg Conservatory where he studied “harmony, counterpoint and the fugue… instrumentation and composition” [Ibid]

Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (184...

Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840–1893) as a young man – Picture from 1874. Italiano: Il compositore russo Piotr Ilič Čaikovskij (1840–1893) da giovane (1874). Deutsch: Der junge Tschaikowski – Bild um 1874 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 1865, after graduating from the Conservatory he secured a post as “professor of harmony, composition, and the history of music” at the Moscow Conservatory. Besides teaching he continued to compose and added music criticism to CV. Teaching proved to much for him and he suffered a nervous break down in 1877.

The next several years were spent recovering and “wandering” (he toured Italy and Switzerland) before he landed at his sister Alexandra’s estate near Kiev. There he began to write and conduct for the orchestra.

In 1891 he had a triumphant tour America which included his May 5 performance of “Marche Solennelle on the opening night of New York’s Carnegie Hall.” [Ibid]

Here’s his Serenade for Strings in C:

Tchaikovsky died, like his mother before him, of cholera. The composer drank “contaminated water in a restaurant, well aware of the risk of drinking unboiled water during a cholera epidemic” [Ibid] on this date in 1893. He was 53 years old.

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Notable works include:

  • Swan Lake (Ballet) 1875-1876
  • The Sleeping Beauty (Ballet) 1888-1889
  • The Nutcracker (Ballet) 1891-1892
  • Eugene Onegin (Opera) 1877-1878
  • The Maid of Orleans (Opera) 1878-1879
  • Iolanthe (Opera) 1891
  • Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture (Orchestral) 1869
  • 1812 Overture (Orchestral) 1880
  • Symphony  1- 7 and Concertos

Couldn’t do Tchaikovsky with out this…


Carly Simon 6.25.13 Thought of the Day

The Very Best of Carly Simon: Nobody Does It B...

The Very Best of Carly Simon: Nobody Does It Better (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Carly Elisabeth Simon was born on this day in New York City, New York, USA in 1945 She is 68 years old.

She was born into a musical family. Her father played piano (and was a co-founder of Simon and Schuster publishing house), her mom, Andrea, was a singer and civil rights activist. The family sang together in what Carly calls “the family choir” when the she and siblings Joanna, Lucy, and Joey were growing up in Riverdale, NY and Stamford, Connecticut.

Lucy & Carly – The Simon Sisters Sing for Children

Lucy & Carly – The Simon Sisters Sing for Children (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

She and sister Lucy formed the Simon Sisters and played at Greenwich Village clubs opening for the likes of “Woody Allen, Bill Cosby, Dick Cavett and other soon-to-be-famous people.” [Carlysimon.com/Biography.html] Those late nights and long train rides from the city meant overdue papers and raised eyebrows at Sarah Lawrence College, and Carly dropped out. She moved to the south of France with her boyfriend and pursued her music full-time.

Three albums and a hit (Wynken, Blinken and Nod) later The Simon Sisters collaboration came to an end after Carly had a nervous breakdown (brought on by a wine allergy) and Lucy got married.

She was signed by Elektra Records in 1970 and released her first, self titled album in 1971. The record featured her hit “That’s The Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be.”

Simon says making her second album, Anticipation, “was one of the best memories I shall ever have of recording. I had a band. The entire album was just that band… there were strings on a few songs, but on the whole it was sparse and I loved it.” [Ibid]

Twenty-four albums and  nine compilations followed. Simon won three Grammy Awards — in 1972 for Best New Artist; 1990 for Best Song Written for a Motion Picture for “Let the River Run” (Working Girl); and in 2004  when “You’re So Vain” was inducted to the Grammy Hall of Fame. “Let the River Run” also won an Academy Award and Golden Globe Award, making it the first song to win the Grammy, Oscar, Golden Globe trifecta. Simon was inducted to the songwriters Hall of Fame in 1994.

Here’s a smattering of Carly Simon’s best…

And my personal favorite…


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