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Music History Monday


Speaker, Composer, Author, Professor, Historian

Speaker, Composer, Author, Professor, Historian


United States


Speaker, Composer, Author, Professor, Historian




Music History Monday: Mozart’s “Jupiter” Symphony and the Summer of 1788

We mark the completion, on August 10, 1788 – 232 years ago today – of Mozart’s Symphony in C major, catalogued by Ludwig Köchel as K. 551 and nicknamed the “Jupiter”. It was Mozart’s final symphony, a towering, innovative masterwork, the greatest symphony ever composed to its time and by any standard of measure one of a handful of greatest symphonies ever composed. That it took Mozart all of 16 days to commit it to paper defies our imaginations. That it was composed back-to-back with the...


Music History Monday: The Grandmother of them all: the Teatro alla Scala

We mark the opening on August 3, 1778 – 242 years today – of the grandmother of all opera houses, the Teatro alla Scala, or simply “La Scala.” The inaugural performance was the premiere of Antonio Salieri’s opera Europa Riconosciuta, or “Europe Rewarded”. I trust we’re all aware that something being touted as “baseball season” has begun. Ordinarily, the return of professional baseball in the first week of April is a cause for celebration in my house, a seasonal marker as sure as the turning...


Music History Monday: Ferruccio Busoni

We mark the death on July 27, 1924 – 96 years ago today – of the composer and pianist Ferruccio Busoni, who great fame rests on having invented the ice-smoothing machine popularized by none-other-than Charles Schulz’s Snoopy. Nah, I’m just messing with you: it was Frank Zamboni, 1901-1988, who invented the ice-thing in 1949. We’re here to talk about Ferruccio Busoni, who was born in Empoli, Italy – a suburb of Florence – on April 1, 1866 and died on this day at the age of 58 in Berlin. But...


Music History Monday: Shostakovich: Time magazine, a String Quartet, and a Symphony!

July 20th was a very important date in the life of the Soviet composer Dmitri Dmitriyevich Shostakovich. On July 20, 1942 – 78 years ago today – he appeared on the cover of Time magazine, wearing his Leningrad firefighter’s helmet and becoming, all at once, an international symbol for the Soviet struggle against the invading German horde. On this date in 1962 – 58 years ago today – Shostakovich completed his Symphony No. 13, subtitled “Babi Yar”, itself a stunning indictment of Soviet...


Music History Monday: Musicians and Paint

Two seemingly disparate events on this date provide the framework for today’s post. Here they are: On July 13, 1951 – 69 years ago today – the composer Arnold Schoenberg died in Los Angeles. Born in Vienna on September 13, 1874, the date and timing of Schoenberg’s death could not possibly have been more ironic. You see, for most of his life, Schoenberg suffered from a fear of the number “13”, something called “triskaidekaphobia” after the ancient Greek word for the number thirteen. He...


Music History Monday: Pops: The Indispensable Man

We mark the death on July 6, 1971 – 49 years ago today – of the jazz trumpet-player, singer, bandleader, and American icon Louis Armstrong. (For our information, Armstrong pronounced his first name as “Lewis”, as shall we.) Known alternately as Louis (as in LOO-wee), “Satchmo”, “Satch”, or simply “Pops”, Armstrong was the “indispensable” man of jazz. One brief but, I think, most worthy item of date appropriate business to mention before moving on to Maestro Armstrong, an event that occurred...


Music History Monday: I Left My Heart in Doylestown, Pennsylvania

On June 29, 1941 – 79 years ago today – the Polish pianist, composer, philanthropist, vintner, and statesman Ignacy Jan Paderewski died in New York City. He was 80 years old. Before moving on to the story of that truly remarkable man’s life, we would grudgingly allot 230 words to a story so wonderfully ridiculous that I’d wager not a one of us could have made it up. On this day in 2000, Marshall Bruce Mathers III (born 1972) – better known by his stage name of “Eminem” – was sued for $10...


Music History Monday: The Damrosch Dynasty: Where Would We Be Without Them?

We mark the birth on June 22, 1859 – 161 years ago today – of the German-born American conductor and educator Frank Heino Damrosch. Permit me, please, a personal reminiscence before moving on to establish why Frank Damrosch, his father Leopold, his brother Walter and his sister Clara were nothing less than the first family of American music from the 1870s through the 1920s. It was one of those days I will never forget. We all have them – a wedding; a graduation; the birth of a child; heaven...


Music History Monday: Ella Fitzgerald: Singer and Musician

We mark the death on June 15, 1996 – 24 years ago today – of the singer and musician – the First Lady of Song, the Queen of Jazz, Lady Ella – Ella Jane Fitzgerald at the age of 78. We contemplate singers. I would begin by making a couple of distinctions, distinctions that might trouble any number singers. My apologies, then, in advance (though, frankly, if I was worried about upsetting singers I would never have become a composer in the first place). Distinction one: in the world of music,...


Music History Monday: The One Who Doesn’t Want Me Can Lick My [expletive deleted]

We note the death on June 8, 1839 – 181 years ago today – of the German soprano Aloysia Weber Lange. Don’t know who she is? You will soon enough. Our story begins in March of 1777, in the city of Salzburg, in the spacious 8-room apartment at No. 8 Markartplatz that the Mozart family called home. It was there and then that it was decided that Salzburg was no place for someone as talented as the 21 year-old Wolfgang, and that a job commensurate with his great talents could only be found in...


Music History Monday: Elvis Presley’s Birth House

It was on June 1, 1971 – 49 years ago today – that the two-room shotgun house in Tupelo Mississippi in which Elvis Presley (1935-1977) was born was opened to the public as a tourist attraction. The house, located at 306 Old Satillo Drive (today 306 Elvis Presley Drive) was built by Presley’s father Vernon, his grandfather Jesse, and his uncle Vester in 1934 for $180. It was designated a State Historical Site by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History on January 8, 1978, on what...


Music History Monday: If a Building Could Speak, this One Would Sing: The Vienna State Opera House

We mark the opening on May 25, 1869 – 151 years ago today – of the Vienna Court Opera (or Wiener Hofoper), which has been known since 1921 as the Vienna State Opera (or Wiener Staatsoper). The opening was a gala event: a performance of Wolfgang Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni attended by, among many others, Emperor Franz Josef I and his bride, the Empress Elizabeth of Austria (know to her intimates as Sisi). Last week’s Music History Monday post noted the deaths of both the Spanish composer...


Music History Monday: Mahler’s Last Words

We mark the passing, on May 18, 1911 – 109 years ago today – of the composer and conductor Gustav Mahler. Mahler, who was born on July 7, 1860 in the Bohemian village of Kalischt, died all-too-young in Vienna, two months shy of his 51st birthday. But before moving on to the painful circumstances of Mahler’s death and his “last words”, we would mark the painful circumstances of the death of his exact contemporary, the Spanish-born composer and pianist Isaac Manuel Francisco Albéniz Y Pascual,...


Music History Monday: The Melody Lingers On: Irving Berlin

We mark the birth on May 11, 1888 – 132 years ago today – of the Russian-born American songwriter Irving Berlin (1888-1989). Berlin wrote the words and music to over 1500 songs across a 60-plus year career. He is an American institution, whose life was, according to his obituary in the New York Times, “a classic rags-to-riches story that he never forgot could have happened only in America.” Having emigrated from his native Russian Empire at the age of five, Berlin grew up dirt poor in...


Music History Monday: Bartolomeo Cristofori and the Invention of the Piano

We mark the birth on May 4, 1655 – 365 years ago today – of the inventor, musical instrument builder, and engineer extraordinaire Bartolomeo Cristofori. Though born in the northern Italian city of Padua in the Republic of Venice, Cristofori spent the bulk of his professional life in Florence, where he designed and then built the first piano sometime before the year 1700. No less than the inventions of Archimedes, Johannes Gutenberg, Karl Benz, Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, and the...


Music History Monday: This is What Heroism Looks Like

We mark the birth – on April 27, 1920, 100 years ago today – of the conductor Guido Cantelli, in Novara, Italy, some 30 miles west of Milan. Perhaps the most overused words in our top-ten culture of superlatives are “genius” and “hero”. We’ll contemplate the word “genius” (and the folly of its current usage) at another time. For now, I’d ask that we consider the word “hero”. Heaven knows, given the state of our world just now, we need heroes more than ever: people we can look up to and be...


Music History Monday: The Beloved Son Returns

We mark the solo piano recital on April 20, 1986 – 34 years ago today – that saw Vladimir Horowitz perform at the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory. Horowitz, who was 82 years old at the time, had not visited or performed in his native Russia for 61 years. Not since Franz Liszt (1811-1886) had a pianist routinely electrified audiences as did Horowitz (1903-1989). It wasn’t just his flawless technique: the amazing colors he could draw from the piano; the preternatural accuracy and clarity...


Music History Monday: Hallelujah!

We mark the first performance on April 13, 1742 – 278 years ago today – of George Frederick Handel’s Messiah in Dublin, Ireland. Messiah is not just Handel’s most famous work, but one of a handful of “most famous works” in the entire Western musical repertoire. According to the American musicologist Joseph Kerman, Messiah is: “the only composition from the Baroque Era that has been performed continuously – and frequently – since its first appearance.” (I typically take comments like that one...


Music History Monday: Defying the Odds

We mark the death on April 6, 1971 – 49 years ago today – of the composer Igor Stravinsky at the age of 88. To hear him tell it, Stravinsky fully intended to live to be 100 years old. Given the environment in which he grew up, his body, his genetics, and his lifestyle, it was a small miracle that he almost made it to 89. Stravinsky’s long life and remarkably long creative career are together a case of “defying the odds.” On the plus side, from his young adulthood to very near the end of his...


Music History Monday: Be Nice to the People You Meet On the Way Up, ‘Cause You’re Going to Meet Them Again on the Way Back Down

March 30 is a good day for birthdays in the world of pop and rock. Let’s acknowledge three of them before moving on to the fourth of our birthday babies, someone whose fascinating life and even more fascinating financial foibles will make up the bulk of today’s post. We gratefully mark the birth on March 30, 1945 – 75 years ago today – of the guitarist, singer, and songwriter Eric Patrick Clapton CBE (that’s “Order of Chivalry of the British Empire”) in the village of Ripley, in Surry,...