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Music History Monday: The Best of Intentions or With Friends Like These…

On December 10, 1896 (or November 28 in the old-style Russian Julian calendar) – 122 years ago today – Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s rewritten and re-orchestrated version of Modest Mussorgsky’s greatest masterwork, the opera Boris Godunov, received its premiere in St. Petersburg Russia at the Great Hall of the St. Petersburg Conservatory. Rimsky-Korsakov’s version of Boris – which presumably corrected all sorts of technical errors and flaws real or imagined in Mussorgsky’s original – held the...


Music History Monday: A Concerto, by George!

On December 3, 1925 – 93 years ago today – George Gershwin’s Concerto in F for piano and orchestra received its world premiere at Carnegie Hall, with Gershwin at the piano and the New York Symphony Society Orchestra under the baton of Walter Damrosch. Statement: George Gershwin is among the handful of greatest composers the United States has ever produced, and his death at the age of 38 (of a brain tumor) should be considered an artistic tragedy equal to the premature deaths of Schubert (at...


Music History Monday: That Infernal Beast!

We mark today the 258th anniversary of the marriage of Joseph Haydn to Maria Anna Aloysia Apollonia Keller in St. Stephen’s Cathedral in the great city of Vienna. The groom was 28 years old and his blushing bride 31. We contemplate the institution of marriage. Marriage is like swinging a golf club: it looks so easy on TV. But when we actually pick up a golf club and/or get married, we learn soon enough how very, very, very challenging marital reality can be. I know of what I speak. I am in...


Music History Monday: Schubert’s Death

November 19 is a sad day for us all. On November 19, 1828 – 190 years ago today – Franz Schubert died in Vienna at his brother Ferdinand’s third floor flat at Kettenbrückengasse 6 (in Schubert’s day, the address was Firmiansgasse 694). The building looks almost exactly the same today as it did when Schubert died there; the red and white flags in front of the building today surround a tablet that reads “Schubert Gedenktafel”: “Schubert Memorial Plaque.” On the facing directly below the bust...


Music History Monday: A Birthday, Some Critters, and a Fern!

On November 12, 1945 – 73 years ago today – the singer, songwriter, guitarist, pianist, producer, director, screenwriter, humanitarian, entrepreneur, inventor and environmentalist Neil Percival Young was born in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Upfront: I would tell you that Maestro Neil Young has been part of my life since my coming of age (which I count to 1966, when I was 12 years old). His songs, his voice, his guitar work and the bands in which he has played helped to define my teenage years...


Music History Monday: A Life Well Lived

We mark the death of the American Composer Elliott Carter, who died six years ago today – on November 5, 2012 – one month shy of his 104th birthday. When Elliott Carter was born on December 11, 1908, Theodore Roosevelt was President; an Indian’s head was on the obverse of a United States penny; Gustav Mahler was the conductor of the New York Philharmonic; and the United States was just beginning its run as a dominant nation on the world’s stage. If the twentieth century was “America’s...


Music History Monday: The First Rock Star

Party hats and noisemakers at the ready, today we celebrate the birth of Ferencz (that’s Hungarian; Franz in German) Liszt. (Woohoo! Let’s make some noise!) He was born on October 22, 1811 – 207 years ago today – in the market town of Doborján in the Kingdom of Hungary. (Today the town is known as Raiding and it is located in Austria.) Here’s something we read/hear with tiresome frequency: “Like, yah, Mozart was the first ROCK STAR!” No, he wasn’t. He was an intense, brilliantly schooled...


Music History Monday: You’re the Top!

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 Nazis....


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. 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 Republic. Mahler’s was...


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...


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...