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Music History Monday: You’re the Top!

Cole Porter Today we mark the death of the songwriter and bon vivant par excellence Cole Albert Porter. He was born on June 9, 1891, and died at the age of 73 on October 15, 1964: 54 years ago today. We begin with what is, I think, is a great story. In September of 1939, Igor Stravinsky travelled from his home in Paris to Cambridge Massachusetts, there to be the Norton professor at Harvard for the school year. By the time his residency ended in June of 1940, France was being overrun by the...


Music History Monday: “Ma: I got the Job!”

On October 8, 1897 – 121 years ago today – Emperor Franz Joseph I of the Dual Monarchy of Austria and Hungary officially named Gustav Mahler Director of the Vienna Court Opera. Mahler in 1865-66 For the 37 year-old Mahler, it was the culminating moment in what had been (and sadly, what would continue to be) a very difficult life. He was born on July 7, 1860 in the village of Kalischt, in central Bohemia, in what was then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and is today part of the Czech...


Music History Monday: Whoa

When it comes to a date-oriented blog like this one, there are days and then there are days. Over the two-plus years since I began this post, I have found that most days offer up one or two major (or semi-major) events in music history. These are the good days, the easy days to write about. Some days are harder as events of any note are few and far between. There are days – more frequent than you might think – during which virtually nothing of interest occurred; when that happens I’ve either...


Music History Monday: The Colonel

Let us contemplate the word “colonel.” No, we’re not talking about a discreet unit of corn, “k-e-r-n-a-l”; rather, we’re talking about the military rank and honorific of “colonel”: “c-o-l-o-n-e-l.” The word itself is of Italian origin; its root is the word colonna, which means “column”; in this case, as in a “column of soldiers”. By the sixteenth century, the word “colonello” was employed as a high military rank – someone who commanded a “column of soldiers” – in the various armies of the...


Music History Monday: I Don’t Know About You But I’ve Always Wondered About That

The Savoy Plaza Hotel in 1937 Today we mark a technological event that came and went with hardly a murmur. It was 87 years ago today – on September 17, 1931 – that the RCA Victor Company demonstrated the first long-playing (or “LP”) record to rotate at 33-1/3 rpm (or “rounds per minute”). The demonstration took place at the Savoy Plaza Hotel in New York City. (Because we need to know: the 33-story Savoy Plaza was located at 767 Fifth Avenue. It overlooked Central park at Fifth Avenue and...


Music History Monday: Still Number One in Our Hearts

The Beatles during the Sgt. Pepper’s cover shoot. I was just two years old – and therefore too young to notice or remember – when Elvis Presley made his first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show on September 9, 1956. More that sixty million people tuned in to watch, a number that dazzles to this day. (In fact, they saw neither Elvis nor Ed Sullivan in Sullivan’s New York Studio. Presley was filming his first movie in Hollywood, so he performed from a local CBS studio. Ed Sullivan was on...


Music History Monday: One of a Kind!

The phrase “one of a kind” would seem fairly useless when applied to the arts in general or music specifically. Really, aren’t all great musical artists – by definition – “one of a kind?” Monteverdi, Purcell, Sebastian Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Wagner, Stravinsky, Springsteen, Weird Al? Yes: these good folks (and many, many, MANY more) are indeed all “one of a kind.” But then But then there are those very few who are SO truly weird (sorry Maestro Yankovic; you are not really that weird), SO...


Music History Monday: Joaquin and Lester

Today we recognize the birth and the death of two musical masters from entirely different times and places who nevertheless, by the most extraordinary of coincidences, share the same nickname: the jazz tenor saxophonist Lester “Prez” Young and the Franco-Flemish composer Josquin “des Prez” Lebloitte. Lester “Prez” Young Lester “Prez” Young Lester Willis Young was born on August 27, 1909 – 109 years ago today – in Woodland, Mississippi. He was the consummate jazz hipster, who played “cool”...


Music History Monday: My Favorite Things!

A little inside information about me. Since I was a kid, I have loved architecture and home design magazines: house porn, to be honest. The one constant in my reading has been Architectural Digest, to which I’ve been addicted since I was a teenager. Other mags have floated in and out of my consciousness over the years, including one called “Metropolitan Home”, to which I subscribed for many years (but no more; there’ just so much time for mags, I’m afraid). “Is this going somewhere” you ask?...


Music History Monday: Chubby Checker, Dick Clark, and the Power of the Tube!

On this day 58 years ago – August 6, 1960 – the 18 year-old singer and dancer Chubby Checker performed The Twist on American TV for the first time on the rock ‘n’ roll variety show American Bandstand. Dick Clark in 1961, looking young For reasons we will discuss, American Bandstand was, both artistically and socially, one of the most important programs ever broadcast on television. It aired for an incredible 37 seasons, from October 7, 1952 (when Harry Truman was President of the United...


Music History Monday: The Other Mozart Kid

Today we mark the birth – 267 years ago, on July 30, 1751 – of the “other” surviving Mozart child. Four-and-a-half years older than her brother Wolfgang, her full name was Maria Anna Walburga Ignatia Mozart; she was known as “Marianne” and went by the nickname of “Nannerl.” Nannerl was something of a musical prodigy herself, and by an early age she had become a formidable harpsichordist and pianist, to the degree that in the earliest of the Mozart family musical tours, she often received top...


Music History Monday: Domenico Scarlatti

We mark the death of the composer Domenico Scarlatti 261 years ago today, on July 23, 1757 in the Spanish capital of Madrid. The year 1685 was something of an annus mirabilis – a “miraculous year” – in the history of Western music as it saw the births of three of the greatest composers ever to grace our planet. On February 23, 1685, George Frederick Handel was born in the central German city of Halle. Thirty-six days later, on March 31, Johann Sebastian Bach was born some 60 miles away, in...


Music History Monday: Émigrés

We mark the birth – on July 16, 1901, 117 years ago today – of the Austrian composer and conductor Fritz Mahler. While we might not recognize his first name, we surely recognize his surname, and Fritz’ father was indeed a cousin of the great composer and conductor Gustav Mahler. His present obscurity aside, Fritz Mahler was a well-known musician in his time. He studied composition with Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg, and Anton Webern. He emigrated to America in 1936, where he taught at...


Music History Monday: A Decidedly Politically-Incorrect Rant

As events in music history go, July 9 is definitely on the lighter side. (Although, for me – personally – it is an important day, and I would use this opportunity to wish the happiest of birthdays to my beautiful daughter Rachel Amy, who was born in Berkeley, California 32 years ago today!) But back to musical business. We will indeed recognize the birth on July 9, 1879 – 139 years ago today – of the Italian composer, musicologist, and violinist Ottorino Respighi in Bologna, the city of...


Music History Monday: Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Enlightened Opera

240 years ago today – on July 2, 1778 – the Swiss-born philosopher, novelist, educator, music theorist and critic, and composer Jean-Jacques Rousseau died at age 66 in the township of Ermenonville, roughly 25 miles north-east of Paris. Rousseau was one of the greatest and most significant thinkers ever born to our species. According to Will and Ariel Durant, writing in their book Rousseau and Revolution, Rousseau: “transformed education, elevated the morals of France[!], inspired the...


Music History Monday: The Firebird

On June 25, 1910 – 108 years ago today – Igor Stravinsky’s The Firebird received its premiere at the Paris Opera House, in a ballet performance produced by Serge Diaghilev, staged by the Ballets Russes, and conducted by Gabriel Pierné. With choreography by Michel Fokine and the Firebird herself danced by the great Tamara Karsavina,… Continue Reading…


Music History Monday: There’s No Software Without the Hardware!

Today we celebrate the birthday of the piano builder and composer Ignaz Joseph Pleyel, who was born in Ruppertsthal, Austria on June 18, 1757: 261 years ago today. It’s entirely understandable if you’ve never heard of Pleyel or his music, because his music – despite being extremely attractive and technically sound – has fallen into… Continue Reading…


Music History Monday: Richard Strauss

We celebrate the birth of the composer Richard Strauss, who was born on June 11, 1864, 154 years ago today. I will pull no punches here: in my humble (but happily expressed) opinion, Richard Strauss was one the greatest composers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. He was a melodist and musical dramatist on near… Continue Reading…


Music History Monday: Leopold Mozart

On this day in 1787 – 231 years ago – Leopold Mozart, the father of Wolfgang Mozart, died in Salzburg at the age of 67. For all of his talents as a violinist, violin teacher, conductor and composer, history would have forgotten Johann Georg Leopold Mozart almost entirely had he not fathered and trained one… Continue Reading…