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Classical Composer Biography Series
Bizet has been described as having been a lively, energetic man, with a sense of humor, and a temper – but not a very reflective or philosophical character. This can be seen in his music, which is always full of color and rhythm, beautifully orchestrated, dramatic even, but not often moving or thoughtful. Until Carmen.
Born in 1833 in St Petesburg, Alexander Borodin was the illegitimate son of the Russian Prince Gedianov and his 24 year old mistress Madame Antonova, and although a very talented child, he was not, it seems, a musical prodigy.
The young Johannes was expected to pay his way, and so, at the age of thirteen, he was sent to earn money by playing the piano late at night in Hamburg’s dockside taverns and brothels.
Many composers of the period, Beethoven, Schumann, Mendelssohn and Liszt, regarded the piano as their favourite instrument. But nobody understood it better than Chopin. He could make the piano sound more truly romantic and poetic than anybody else.
Music has this over painting Debussy is said to have declared in 1906, it can bring together all manner of variations of colour and light, and of course is always in motion as opposed to static as a painting can only be.
Elgar’s father ran a music shop in Worcester, and eventually the whole family moved to live above it. Elgar later recalled the experience as giving him the chance to ‘read everything, play everything, hear everything’.
Listening to Grieg’s famous ‘Piano Concerto in A minor’ as I am now, I have to agree with those who say that it is deservedly recognized as one of the finest specimens of the piano concerto repertoire.
Franz Joseph Haydn
‘The Emperor’s Hymn’ became the theme of the German National anthem, which was to become one of his most popular songs, and certainly the composer’s favorite.
Lehar’s operettas cleverly tuned in to the traditional Viennese spirit of sweetness and charm, which was by then increasingly tempered with a nostalgia for a happier past following its collapse in 1918 at the end of the First World War.
Many of his compositions reflect his phenomenal technique, and still tax the best of pianists. His contemporary, Anton Rubenstein, also a virtuoso pianist, observed that, compared with Liszt all other pianists were ‘children’.
In Vienna of 1897, most government and other important public posts were open only to Roman Catholics. Mahler was born a Jew, so in order to secure the coveted post he became a convert.
The sound of the sea has intrigued many composers with its wide variety of orchestral possibilities. It is a recurring theme in several overtures composed by Mendelssohn, even before his visit to Scotland in 1829.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
His work belongs to the Classical period which came about in the latter half of the 18th century. It was a time of order, simplicity, and refinement, and in marked contrast to the extravagant Baroque era that went before it.
Offenbach was the main founder of ‘operetta’ (light opera with dialogue). This was a genre which led toward the musical theatre of the 20th century, and a distinctly separate world of popular music.
Listening to Paganin’s violin concertos, I can see his ecstatic glee in the music he produced from his instrument, the blazing eyes, and the demonic energy which audiences the world over found so hypnotic.
From the din and dissonance of a work such as ‘The Steel Step’, and the drama and excitement of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ (both ballets) to the innocent charm of the fairy tale ‘Peter and the Wolf’, Prokofiev has emerged as one of the most powerful and popular composers of the 20th century.
In the realm of opera, few composers can compare with Puccini in his ability to match a theme to a dramatic situation and touch the hearts of his listeners.
With its relentless, pulsating rhythm, ‘Bolero’ a bravura piece for orchestra, is probably Maurice Ravel’s best known work.
In July 1871, although still a naval lieutenant and without formal training in composition, he accepted a post at the St. Petersburg Conservatory, teaching himself in secret to stay ahead of his pupils.
In his lifetime Saint-Saens composed over three hundred works, including 13 operas, and was the first major composer to write music specifically for the cinema.
Robert Schumann’s ‘Opus 54, Third Movement’ starts off in what I can only describe as a blaze of color with a solo piano taking center stage.Johann Strauss II
Johann’s success was immediate as he was able to develop his father’s dance forms, including not only waltzes, but gallops, quadrilles, and polkas with richer harmonies and more ambitious structures.
Many who would not claim to be fond of classical music would nevertheless be familiar with Tchaikovsky’s most famous of overtures – the 1812 – which recalls Napoleon’s invasion of Russia and his defeat in 1812.
Ludwig van Beethoven
Gifted or goaded? When his son began to show signs of exceptional musical talent, Johann van Beethoven sought to exploit it in the way Mozart’s father had done so successfully twenty years earlier.
The Italians liked the common touch Verdi never lost, and the way many of his operas echoed the patriotic feelings of his day, so that for them he became a national hero.
For many years Vivaldi’s work was largely forgotten, but in the mid 20th century the discovery of a large number of manuscripts, combined with the revival of interest in the Baroque period, produced a Vivaldi renaissance.