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Composers Datebook

American Public Media

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Composers Datebook
Composers Datebook

Composers Datebook

American Public Media

7
Followers
1
Plays
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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.

Latest Episodes

William Schuman writes a "Symphony for Strings"

On today’s date in 1943, the Boston Symphony and conductor Serge Koussevitzky gave the first performance of a “Symphony for Strings” by the American composer William Schuman. Schuman was just 33 years old at the time, but Koussevitzky had already been programming and commissioning Schuman’s music for about 5 years. Koussevitzky had already given the premiere performances of his popular “American Festival Overture” and the Third Symphony. Schuman’s “Symphony for Strings” is dedicated to the memory of Koussevitzky’s wife, Natalie, whose family fortune that enabled Serge Koussevitzky to establish himself as a conductor, found a publishing house, and commission many of the 20th century’s most significant works, including Stravinsky’s “Symphony of Psalms” and Bartok’s “Concerto for Orchestra.” In Russia, the Koussevitzkys championed Russian music. In France, they supported French composers. And, beginning in 1924, when Koussevitzky became the music director of the Boston Symphony, many American composers benefited from this remarkable couple’s enthusiasm for new music. Schuman’s “Symphony for Strings” is just one of a long list of the Koussevitzkys’ American commissions, which includes works by Aaron Copland, Roy Harris, Samuel Barber, Walter Piston, and Leonard Bernstein. Taken as a whole, the concert music commissioned by Serge and Natalie Koussevitzky remains one of the most remarkable musical legacies of the 20th century.

1 MIN1 d ago
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William Schuman writes a "Symphony for Strings"

Hannibal Lokumbe's "African Portraits”

At Carnegie Hall in New York City on today’s date in 1990, a new work by the American composer and jazz trumpeter Hannibal Lokumbe had its premiere performance by the American Composers Orchestra. November 11th also happens to be the birthday of its composer, who was born Marvin Peterson, in Smithville, Texas, in 1948, but now goes by the name Hannibal. The new work was an oratorio titled “African Portraits,” which traces the story of slavery in America and black culture's contributions to American music. It’s scored for orchestra, jazz quartet, blues guitar, chorus, gospel singer, plus African storyteller and African instruments. In composing this work, which in Biblical terms he calls his personal “burning bush,” Hannibal drew inspiration from a variety of sources, ranging from the spirituals he listened to while working in the cotton fields of Texas to the drums of the Masai people in Africa, with whom he lived for a time. A critic for the Washington Post described the work...

1 MIN2 d ago
Comments
Hannibal Lokumbe's "African Portraits”

A cold welcome for Verdi?

On today’s date in 1862, Giuseppe Verdi’s opera “La Forza del Destino” or “The Force of Destiny” had its premiere at the Imperial Theater in St. Petersburg, Russia. Verdi and his wife, Giuseppina, were present for the opening night. We’re not sure what the outdoor temperature was in St. Petersburg that November evening, but it was something that the Verdis carefully considered before agreeing to attend. Responding to a friend’s letter describing a Russian winter, Giuseppina wrote: “If I were not afraid of committing forgery, I would alter that imposing figure of 22 below zero which will make Verdi open his eyes wide in fright… As for myself, I took refuge under the stove… In any case, I shall try and persuade him to expose his nose to the danger of freezing in Russia.” Perhaps in artistic compensation, the story of “Forza” is set in sultry Spain—and after the premiere in St. Petersburg, the Verdis did indeed set off for warmer climates of Rome and Madrid, where the ne...

1 MIN3 d ago
Comments
A cold welcome for Verdi?

Senor Rodrigo's popular Concierto

The world’s most popular classical guitar concerto, the “Concierto de Aranjuez” by Joaquin Rodrigo, had its first performance on today’s date in 1940, in Barcelona. Joaquin Rodrigo was born in Spain in 1901 and lost his sight at the age of three. He wrote all of his music on a Braille music typewriter. The “Concierto de Aranjuez,” inspired by a small town of that name thirty miles south of Madrid, remains his signature piece, though he wrote a number of other successful works. Rodrigo died on July 6th, 1999, at the age of 97. In 1959, a friend had played a recording of Rodrigo’s concerto for the American jazz trumpeter Miles Davis. Miles Davis said, “After listening to it for a couple of weeks, I couldn’t get it out of my mind.” So, Miles Davis played it for his friend, jazz composer and arranger Gil Evans, and in short order the two collaborated on their own 16-minute version of Rodrigo’s score. Their collaboration was included on their classic 1960 Columbia LP entitled ...

1 MIN4 d ago
Comments
Senor Rodrigo's popular Concierto

Musical tales from Stravinsky and Marsalis

On today’s date in 1919, a concert suite from Igor Stravinsky’s “The Soldier’s Tale” had its premiere in Lausanne, Switzerland—the same city in which the original theatrical version of Stravinsky’s score was first presented in 1918. In that original form, “The Soldier’s Tale” was a kind of musical morality play scored for narrator and small chamber ensemble. Stravinsky incorporated elements of American jazz, although what he knew of jazz was derived entirely from looking at sheet music rather than any firsthand experience of actually hearing American jazz. Eighty years later, for the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, the American jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis composed “A Fiddler’s Tale”—a companion piece to Stravinsky’s work, scored for the same configuration of instruments. Wynton Marsalis said, ''No matter what I do, I'm not going to compare myself to Stravinsky. That would be ridiculous. You have to accept who he is and do what you can do, and hope that wha...

1 MIN5 d ago
Comments
Musical tales from Stravinsky and Marsalis

"Starry Night" variations by McLean and Dutilleux

In 1971, after reading a book about the Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh, the American pop singer Don McLean wrote a song he titled “Vincent,” which became a big hit the following year. The song is better known by its opening line, “Starry, starry night,” a reference to one of Van Gogh’s best-known paintings, entitled “The Starry Night.” But McLean wasn’t the only composer inspired by that painting. On today’s date in 1978, a new orchestral work by the French composer Henri Dutilleux was premiered at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., by the National Symphony Orchestra under Mstislav Rostropovich. Dutilleux titled his new work “Timbre, space, movement,” but added a subtitle, “The Starry Night,” in acknowledgement of the painting’s influence, and said he wanted to translate into music the (quote) "almost cosmic whirling effect which [the painting] produces". Now, painting and music are very different art forms, but the energy, pulsation, and whirling qualities of Van...

1 MIN6 d ago
Comments
"Starry Night" variations by McLean and Dutilleux

Mr. Sax's instrument and Ms. Perry's Quartet

The saxophone—whose flashing serpentine figure is now virtually synonymous with jazz clubs and wind bands—was the brainchild of woodwind craftsman Adolphe Sax, born in Belgium on this date in 1814, to a family of prominent instrument makers. Sax moved to Paris in his late 20’s, where he proved himself a restless and prolific inventor of new instruments. Yet only a few of these lived on, of which the saxophone is by far the most popular. John Philip Sousa’s band gave many audiences in this country their first taste of the saxophone, and its important role in jazz can hardly be overestimated—that’s a development that neither Sax nor Sousa could have foreseen. In the symphonic repertory, saxophones are still just occasional visitors to the concert hall, but in the world of chamber music, saxophone quartets have become quite popular. In America alone there are dozens of professional saxophone quartets who commission and perform new works. Take, for example, the “Quartet for Saxop...

1 MIN1 w ago
Comments
Mr. Sax's instrument and Ms. Perry's Quartet

Barber offers "two for the price of one"

On today’s date in 1938, two works by the American composer Samuel Barber received their very high-profile premiere performances on a live, coast-to-coast broadcast by the NBC Symphony conducted by Arturo Toscanini. Toscanini was impressed by Barber’s First Symphony, which was performed at the 1937 Salzburg Festival, so Toscanini asked the 25-year old composer for a short orchestral piece, which Toscanini might perform with the newly-formed NBC Symphony. Barber offered Toscanini his pick of two short pieces, and must have been surprised when Toscanini agreed to perform BOTH of them: a newly-composed “Essay for Orchestra” and Barber’s arrangement for full string orchestra of a movement from a String Quartet he had written in 1936. Retitled “Adagio for Strings,” it was destined to become Barber’s best-known work. Barber’s “Adagio” acquired a special resonance during World War Two, as a threnody for America’s war dead. It was also performed at the funeral of wartime Preside...

1 MIN1 w ago
Comments
Barber offers "two for the price of one"

A second wind for Reicha and Ward-Steinman?

Take one flute, one oboe, and mix well with one each of a clarinet, bassoon and French horn —and you have the recipe for the traditional wind quintet. In the 19th century, this tasty musical mix was perfected by Europeans like the Czech composer Anton Reicha, who produced 24 wind quintets in his lifetime. In the 20th century, American composers like Samuel Barber, Elliott Carter, and John Harbison have all written one wind quintet each—matching Reicha’s in quality, if not in quantity. But other American composers HAVE returned to the wind quintet for a second helping. On today’s date in 1993, the Wind Quintet No. 2 of the Californian composer David Ward-Steinman received its premiere in Sacramento by the Arioso Quintet. Ward-Steinman titled his second quintet “Night Winds,” and asked his five players to occasionally double on some non-traditional instruments such as bamboo or clay flutes, a train-whistle, and even the traditional wind instrument of Indigenous Australians, the ...

1 MIN1 w ago
Comments
A second wind for Reicha and Ward-Steinman?

Middle-Eastern sounds from Rimsky-Korsakov and Reza Vali

On this day* in 1888, the orchestral suite “Scheherazade,” the most famous work of the Russian composer Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov, was first performed in St. Petersburg. The suite evokes episodes from “The Arabian Nights.” Though Rimsky-Korsakov was Russian, and most often concentrated on operas based on RUSSIAN history and fable, it’s ironic that his most popular work was inspired by folklore and fables from the Middle East. Until recently, Western knowledge of the Middle Eastern music was mostly limited to such second-hand accounts. But today, we’re discovering first-hand both the traditional music of the Middle East and new works by contemporary composers from that part of the world. One of these is Iranian-born American composer Reza Vali, who was born in Ghazvin, Iran in 1952 and began his musical studies at the Teheran Conservatory. In 1972, he moved to Vienna and studied at the Academy of Music, and then came to America to study at University of Pittsburgh. Despite his tr...

1 MIN1 w ago
Comments
Middle-Eastern sounds from Rimsky-Korsakov and Reza Vali

Latest Episodes

William Schuman writes a "Symphony for Strings"

On today’s date in 1943, the Boston Symphony and conductor Serge Koussevitzky gave the first performance of a “Symphony for Strings” by the American composer William Schuman. Schuman was just 33 years old at the time, but Koussevitzky had already been programming and commissioning Schuman’s music for about 5 years. Koussevitzky had already given the premiere performances of his popular “American Festival Overture” and the Third Symphony. Schuman’s “Symphony for Strings” is dedicated to the memory of Koussevitzky’s wife, Natalie, whose family fortune that enabled Serge Koussevitzky to establish himself as a conductor, found a publishing house, and commission many of the 20th century’s most significant works, including Stravinsky’s “Symphony of Psalms” and Bartok’s “Concerto for Orchestra.” In Russia, the Koussevitzkys championed Russian music. In France, they supported French composers. And, beginning in 1924, when Koussevitzky became the music director of the Boston Symphony, many American composers benefited from this remarkable couple’s enthusiasm for new music. Schuman’s “Symphony for Strings” is just one of a long list of the Koussevitzkys’ American commissions, which includes works by Aaron Copland, Roy Harris, Samuel Barber, Walter Piston, and Leonard Bernstein. Taken as a whole, the concert music commissioned by Serge and Natalie Koussevitzky remains one of the most remarkable musical legacies of the 20th century.

1 MIN1 d ago
Comments
William Schuman writes a "Symphony for Strings"

Hannibal Lokumbe's "African Portraits”

At Carnegie Hall in New York City on today’s date in 1990, a new work by the American composer and jazz trumpeter Hannibal Lokumbe had its premiere performance by the American Composers Orchestra. November 11th also happens to be the birthday of its composer, who was born Marvin Peterson, in Smithville, Texas, in 1948, but now goes by the name Hannibal. The new work was an oratorio titled “African Portraits,” which traces the story of slavery in America and black culture's contributions to American music. It’s scored for orchestra, jazz quartet, blues guitar, chorus, gospel singer, plus African storyteller and African instruments. In composing this work, which in Biblical terms he calls his personal “burning bush,” Hannibal drew inspiration from a variety of sources, ranging from the spirituals he listened to while working in the cotton fields of Texas to the drums of the Masai people in Africa, with whom he lived for a time. A critic for the Washington Post described the work...

1 MIN2 d ago
Comments
Hannibal Lokumbe's "African Portraits”

A cold welcome for Verdi?

On today’s date in 1862, Giuseppe Verdi’s opera “La Forza del Destino” or “The Force of Destiny” had its premiere at the Imperial Theater in St. Petersburg, Russia. Verdi and his wife, Giuseppina, were present for the opening night. We’re not sure what the outdoor temperature was in St. Petersburg that November evening, but it was something that the Verdis carefully considered before agreeing to attend. Responding to a friend’s letter describing a Russian winter, Giuseppina wrote: “If I were not afraid of committing forgery, I would alter that imposing figure of 22 below zero which will make Verdi open his eyes wide in fright… As for myself, I took refuge under the stove… In any case, I shall try and persuade him to expose his nose to the danger of freezing in Russia.” Perhaps in artistic compensation, the story of “Forza” is set in sultry Spain—and after the premiere in St. Petersburg, the Verdis did indeed set off for warmer climates of Rome and Madrid, where the ne...

1 MIN3 d ago
Comments
A cold welcome for Verdi?

Senor Rodrigo's popular Concierto

The world’s most popular classical guitar concerto, the “Concierto de Aranjuez” by Joaquin Rodrigo, had its first performance on today’s date in 1940, in Barcelona. Joaquin Rodrigo was born in Spain in 1901 and lost his sight at the age of three. He wrote all of his music on a Braille music typewriter. The “Concierto de Aranjuez,” inspired by a small town of that name thirty miles south of Madrid, remains his signature piece, though he wrote a number of other successful works. Rodrigo died on July 6th, 1999, at the age of 97. In 1959, a friend had played a recording of Rodrigo’s concerto for the American jazz trumpeter Miles Davis. Miles Davis said, “After listening to it for a couple of weeks, I couldn’t get it out of my mind.” So, Miles Davis played it for his friend, jazz composer and arranger Gil Evans, and in short order the two collaborated on their own 16-minute version of Rodrigo’s score. Their collaboration was included on their classic 1960 Columbia LP entitled ...

1 MIN4 d ago
Comments
Senor Rodrigo's popular Concierto

Musical tales from Stravinsky and Marsalis

On today’s date in 1919, a concert suite from Igor Stravinsky’s “The Soldier’s Tale” had its premiere in Lausanne, Switzerland—the same city in which the original theatrical version of Stravinsky’s score was first presented in 1918. In that original form, “The Soldier’s Tale” was a kind of musical morality play scored for narrator and small chamber ensemble. Stravinsky incorporated elements of American jazz, although what he knew of jazz was derived entirely from looking at sheet music rather than any firsthand experience of actually hearing American jazz. Eighty years later, for the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, the American jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis composed “A Fiddler’s Tale”—a companion piece to Stravinsky’s work, scored for the same configuration of instruments. Wynton Marsalis said, ''No matter what I do, I'm not going to compare myself to Stravinsky. That would be ridiculous. You have to accept who he is and do what you can do, and hope that wha...

1 MIN5 d ago
Comments
Musical tales from Stravinsky and Marsalis

"Starry Night" variations by McLean and Dutilleux

In 1971, after reading a book about the Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh, the American pop singer Don McLean wrote a song he titled “Vincent,” which became a big hit the following year. The song is better known by its opening line, “Starry, starry night,” a reference to one of Van Gogh’s best-known paintings, entitled “The Starry Night.” But McLean wasn’t the only composer inspired by that painting. On today’s date in 1978, a new orchestral work by the French composer Henri Dutilleux was premiered at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., by the National Symphony Orchestra under Mstislav Rostropovich. Dutilleux titled his new work “Timbre, space, movement,” but added a subtitle, “The Starry Night,” in acknowledgement of the painting’s influence, and said he wanted to translate into music the (quote) "almost cosmic whirling effect which [the painting] produces". Now, painting and music are very different art forms, but the energy, pulsation, and whirling qualities of Van...

1 MIN6 d ago
Comments
"Starry Night" variations by McLean and Dutilleux

Mr. Sax's instrument and Ms. Perry's Quartet

The saxophone—whose flashing serpentine figure is now virtually synonymous with jazz clubs and wind bands—was the brainchild of woodwind craftsman Adolphe Sax, born in Belgium on this date in 1814, to a family of prominent instrument makers. Sax moved to Paris in his late 20’s, where he proved himself a restless and prolific inventor of new instruments. Yet only a few of these lived on, of which the saxophone is by far the most popular. John Philip Sousa’s band gave many audiences in this country their first taste of the saxophone, and its important role in jazz can hardly be overestimated—that’s a development that neither Sax nor Sousa could have foreseen. In the symphonic repertory, saxophones are still just occasional visitors to the concert hall, but in the world of chamber music, saxophone quartets have become quite popular. In America alone there are dozens of professional saxophone quartets who commission and perform new works. Take, for example, the “Quartet for Saxop...

1 MIN1 w ago
Comments
Mr. Sax's instrument and Ms. Perry's Quartet

Barber offers "two for the price of one"

On today’s date in 1938, two works by the American composer Samuel Barber received their very high-profile premiere performances on a live, coast-to-coast broadcast by the NBC Symphony conducted by Arturo Toscanini. Toscanini was impressed by Barber’s First Symphony, which was performed at the 1937 Salzburg Festival, so Toscanini asked the 25-year old composer for a short orchestral piece, which Toscanini might perform with the newly-formed NBC Symphony. Barber offered Toscanini his pick of two short pieces, and must have been surprised when Toscanini agreed to perform BOTH of them: a newly-composed “Essay for Orchestra” and Barber’s arrangement for full string orchestra of a movement from a String Quartet he had written in 1936. Retitled “Adagio for Strings,” it was destined to become Barber’s best-known work. Barber’s “Adagio” acquired a special resonance during World War Two, as a threnody for America’s war dead. It was also performed at the funeral of wartime Preside...

1 MIN1 w ago
Comments
Barber offers "two for the price of one"

A second wind for Reicha and Ward-Steinman?

Take one flute, one oboe, and mix well with one each of a clarinet, bassoon and French horn —and you have the recipe for the traditional wind quintet. In the 19th century, this tasty musical mix was perfected by Europeans like the Czech composer Anton Reicha, who produced 24 wind quintets in his lifetime. In the 20th century, American composers like Samuel Barber, Elliott Carter, and John Harbison have all written one wind quintet each—matching Reicha’s in quality, if not in quantity. But other American composers HAVE returned to the wind quintet for a second helping. On today’s date in 1993, the Wind Quintet No. 2 of the Californian composer David Ward-Steinman received its premiere in Sacramento by the Arioso Quintet. Ward-Steinman titled his second quintet “Night Winds,” and asked his five players to occasionally double on some non-traditional instruments such as bamboo or clay flutes, a train-whistle, and even the traditional wind instrument of Indigenous Australians, the ...

1 MIN1 w ago
Comments
A second wind for Reicha and Ward-Steinman?

Middle-Eastern sounds from Rimsky-Korsakov and Reza Vali

On this day* in 1888, the orchestral suite “Scheherazade,” the most famous work of the Russian composer Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov, was first performed in St. Petersburg. The suite evokes episodes from “The Arabian Nights.” Though Rimsky-Korsakov was Russian, and most often concentrated on operas based on RUSSIAN history and fable, it’s ironic that his most popular work was inspired by folklore and fables from the Middle East. Until recently, Western knowledge of the Middle Eastern music was mostly limited to such second-hand accounts. But today, we’re discovering first-hand both the traditional music of the Middle East and new works by contemporary composers from that part of the world. One of these is Iranian-born American composer Reza Vali, who was born in Ghazvin, Iran in 1952 and began his musical studies at the Teheran Conservatory. In 1972, he moved to Vienna and studied at the Academy of Music, and then came to America to study at University of Pittsburgh. Despite his tr...

1 MIN1 w ago
Comments
Middle-Eastern sounds from Rimsky-Korsakov and Reza Vali
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