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Composers Datebook

American Public Media

Composers Datebook is a daily two-minute program designed to inform, engage, and entertain listeners with timely information about composers of the past and present. Each program notes significant or intriguing musical events involving composers of the past and present—with appropriate and accessible music related to each.

Composers Datebook is a daily two-minute program designed to inform, engage, and entertain listeners with timely information about composers of the past and present. Each program notes significant or intriguing musical events involving composers of the past and present—with appropriate and accessible music related to each.
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Location:

Saint Paul, MN

Description:

Composers Datebook is a daily two-minute program designed to inform, engage, and entertain listeners with timely information about composers of the past and present. Each program notes significant or intriguing musical events involving composers of the past and present—with appropriate and accessible music related to each.

Language:

English

Contact:

480 Cedar Street St. Paul, MN 55101 1-800-228-7123


Episodes

Beethoven, Bonaparte, and "Fidelio" in Vienna

11/20/2017
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On today’s date in 1805, Beethoven’s opera “Fidelio” had its premiere performance at the Theater an der Wien in Vienna. The premiere was to have taken place earlier, but there were the usual bureaucratic problems of getting the opera’s text passed by the Austrian government censors and having the orchestral parts copied in time. On top of that, there was the little matter of the Austrian capital being occupied by French troops, as the Napoleonic Wars were in progress at the time. The cream...

Duration: 00:01:58


Lou Harrison's "some assembly required" Concerto

11/19/2017
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The publisher of Lou Harrison’s Concerto for Violin and Percussion, which received its premiere performance on today’s date in 1961 at New York’s Carnegie Recital Hall, states with refreshing honesty that it is “not one of Harrison's most frequently performed works” and that “the highly rhythmic violin line is pleasantly contrasted by the exceptionally varied percussion ensemble.” Now, by an “exceptionally varied” percussion ensemble, they mean in addition to more conventional percussion...

Duration: 00:01:58


Strauss gets tossed in the deep end

11/18/2017
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In 1880, when Hans von Bülow was put in charge of the Meiningen Court Orchestra, exciting things happened. He quickly shaped it into one of Europe's elite ensembles, and invited the big guns of the day, Wagner and Brahms, for collaborations and premieres. Von Bülow also had an eye for emerging talent, and included a Serenade for Winds in E-Flat written by an 18-year-old composer named Richard Strauss in his orchestra’s repertory. Von Bülow asked Strauss to compose another serenade for winds,...

Duration: 00:01:58


Dvorak's Serenade for Winds

11/17/2017
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November 17, 1878, marked a milestone in the career of the 37-year old Czech composer Antonin Dvorak. For the first time Dvorak engaged and conducted the orchestra of the Provisional Theater in Prague in a concert entirely of his own works, including the premiere performance of a new Serenade for Winds. Earlier that year, Dvorak heard a performance of a Mozart wind serenade in Vienna, and was so taken by the sound of Mozart’s double-reeds and horns that he wrote a similar work of his own in...

Duration: 00:01:58


Coleridge-Taylor in Washington

11/16/2017
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On today’s date in 1904, the Washington Post’s headline read, “Hiawatha Tonight: Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s Masterpiece to be sung at Convention Center.” The 29-year old British composer himself, on his first visit to America, was to conduct the 200 members of the Coleridge-Taylor Choral Society of Washington DC, accompanied by the Marine Band orchestra. So who was this British composer and what had he done to inspire an American chorus to name itself after him? Coleridge-Taylor was born in...

Duration: 00:01:58


Shostakovich and his String Quartets

11/15/2017
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In 1974, St. Petersburg was still called “Leningrad” and still very much a part of what we now call the “former Soviet Union.” Back then, the most famous living Soviet composer was Dimtri Shostakovich, whose health was rapidly failing from the cancer that would claim his life the following year. On today’s date in 1974, Shostakovich’s final string quartet, his Fifteenth, was given its premiere performance by the Taneyev Quartet. The work was supposed to have been premiered by the Beethoven...

Duration: 00:01:58


Danielpour's "American Requiem"

11/14/2017
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On today’s date in the year 2001, the Pacific Symphony premiered a new choral work by the American composer Richard Danielpour. Titled “An American Requiem,” its text in part was based on the traditional Latin mass for the dead, but included as well excerpts from American writers such as Emerson and Whitman on themes of life and death. In 1995, the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II had prompted many Americans to reconsider the sacrifice of American veterans, the so-called “Greatest...

Duration: 00:01:58


Martinu's Symphony No. 1

11/13/2017
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The Czech composer Bohuslav Martinu had written around 300 works before he started on his first symphony in 1942. In fact, he had written pieces in just about every orchestral genre EXCEPT a full-blown symphony. At heart, Martinu was a cosmopolitan European composer, but with a deep link to the specifically Czech musical legacy of Smetana, Dvorak, and Janacek. In 1942, Martinu was experiencing a cultural mid-life crisis: both his native land of Czechslovakia and his adopted home of Paris had...

Duration: 00:01:58


Tchaikovsky and Brahms in New York

11/12/2017
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These days, at symphony concerts when a new piece of music is about to be played, it’s not uncommon to overhear someone mutter, “Why do they have to program all this new stuff, when there’s so much Brahms and Tchaikovsky we’d rather hear?” On today’s date back in 1881, conductor Theodore Thomas chose to open the 40th season of the New York Philharmonic Society’s concerts with a pair of brand-new works: an Overture and a Piano Concerto hot off the press—both published early that same year,...

Duration: 00:01:58


The indomitable Dame Ethel

11/11/2017
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In his autobiographical sketch, “A Mingled Chime,” the late British conductor Sir Thomas Beecham offered this assessment of the British composer Dame Ethel Smyth: “Ethel Smyth is without question the most remarkable of her sex that I have been privileged to know. I have been told that here and there in the world there have been observed a few examples of that same fiery energy and unrelenting fixity of purpose... It may be, but they have never come my way.” Born in 1858, Smyth became a...

Duration: 00:01:58


John Dowland, whistle-blower

11/10/2017
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On today’s date in 1595, in Nuremburg, the English composer and lutenist John Dowland wrote a long, agitated letter back home to London. The letter was addressed to Robert Cecil, one of the closest confidents of Queen Elizabeth. In 1595, Europe was split into rival Catholic and Protestant camps. Spies and double agents mixed with foreign travelers and foreign students. Both sides were guilty of assassination attempts and acts of terror. While in Italy, Dowland had fallen in with a group of...

Duration: 00:01:58


Takemitsu and Tanaka

11/9/2017
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On today’s date in 1967, the New York Philharmonic gave the premiere performance of a new piece entitled “November Steps” by the Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu, a work commissioned by the Philharmonic as part of its 125th anniversary celebrations. In addition to the usual instruments of the Western symphony orchestra, Takemitsu included in his score two traditional Japanese instruments: the shakuhachi flute and the biwa, a kind of Japanese lute. The New York Times reviewer wrote, “The...

Duration: 00:01:58


Schumann and Zaimont

11/8/2017
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On today’s date in 1830, an 11-year old piano virtuoso named Clara Wieck took the stage of the Leipzig Gewandhaus for her first solo recital. Her father was a piano teacher, who had groomed Clara for a solo career since infancy. This was the age of the great composer-pianists Franz Liszt and Frederic Chopin, and little Clara also wrote original works for her own use. Clara’s Op. 1, a set of four Polonaises, was published the following year. In 1840, over her father’s strenuous objections,...

Duration: 00:01:58


Varese and Zappa

11/7/2017
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Page 111 of the November 7th, 1950, issue of Look magazine contains a short record review column. One of the albums reviewed featured music by the avant-garde composer Edgar Varèse, including this piece entitled “Ionisation,” which premiered in 1933. “Varèse is unlike anything else in music,” suggested the Look magazine review, “and well worth knowing.” When that magazine first appeared, a young California resident named Frank Zappa was just short of his 10th birthday. So fascinated was...

Duration: 00:01:58


Florence Price

11/6/2017
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The American composer Florence Price wrote three symphonies in all. Her first symphony was premiered by The Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1933, and marked the first time a composition by an African-American woman was played by a major American orchestra. Her third symphony, commissioned by the Works Progress Administration's Federal Music Project shortly thereafter, was premiered on today’s date in 1940 by the Detroit Civic Orchestra. The score for her second symphony is lost. Florence...

Duration: 00:01:58


Sondheim in the Woods

11/5/2017
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“Into the Woods,” a new musical by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine, opened on Broadway at the Martin Beck Theater on today’s date in 1987. The show brought to the stage several familiar themes from the world of fairy-tales: Jack and the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, and not one, but two Prince Charmings. But in Lapine and Sondheim’s fairy tale, decidedly bad things do happen to mostly good people, and they make some morally questionable decisions in their quest to “live...

Duration: 00:01:58


Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge

11/4/2017
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Today we honor one of America’s greatest patrons of chamber music, Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, who died on this date in 1953. Born in 1864, Elizabeth was a daughter of Albert Arnold Sprague, the founder of a prosperous wholesale grocery. She put her inheritance to good use. In 1924, she proposed to the Library of Congress that an auditorium be constructed in Washington DC, which, as she put it, would be “planned for and dedicated to the performance of chamber music.” A year later it was...

Duration: 00:01:58


How to Pray

11/3/2017
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On today’s date in 2002, the American Composers Orchestra put on a concert at Carnegie Hall inspired by the Hebrew Psalms. The program included the premiere of a new work by the American composer David Lang entitled “How to Pray.” In his program note, Lang wrote: ““The reason why the Psalms are so central to religious experience is that they are a comprehensive catalogue of examples of how to talk to the Almighty, not by a prophet or a priest but in the voice of a single person… Of course,...

Duration: 00:01:58


Mozart and "Amadeus"

11/2/2017
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On today’s date in 1979 a new play titled “Amadeus” opened at the National Theatre in London. Peter Schaffer’s play retold the story of Mozart’s final years in Vienna, and the posthumous gossip that somehow it was the petty jealousy and back-stabbing intrigue of Mozart’s Italian contemporary Antonio Salieri that hastened Mozart’s untimely demise. There was even a Romantic legend that Salieri had actually poisoned Mozart, to which Shaffer gave his own psychological spin. Music historians...

Duration: 00:01:58


Chopin gets out of town

11/1/2017
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On today’s date in 1830, the Polish composer Frederic Chopin said farewell to his native land—for good, as it turned out, although no one knew it at the time. The occasion was a bon voyage dinner thrown by the composer’s friends in Warsaw. It was all quite jolly, with singing, dancing and drinking lasting well into the night. But on a more melancholy note, Romantic legend has it that someone presented Chopin with a vessel of Polish soil, which ended up being buried with him when he died in...

Duration: 00:01:58

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