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Composers Datebook

American Public Media

10
Followers
11
Plays
Composers Datebook

Composers Datebook

American Public Media

10
Followers
11
Plays
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About Us

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 Henry Fry

On today’s date in 1813, William Henry Fry was born in Philadelphia. As a journalist, he was one of the most vociferous champions of American concert music, and put his money where his mouth was by becoming a composer himself, creating a number of programmatic works, including a “Niagara” symphony and another titled “Santa Claus.” Above all else, Fry was passionate about opera, and wrote several of his own. Fry was a colorful—if understandably biased—music critic. Here’s an excerpt from his 1862 review of a New York performance of Verdi’s “Il Trovatore”—an opera only 9 years old at that time: “Trovatore … has a wonderful plot, beyond human comprehension; though finally we learn in the last scene that [the tenor] is made into soup by the order of his brother [the baritone], who then expresses his emotion and surprise on learning of the transaction as the curtain falls. As to the music—there are some charming, popular, ingenious, artistic … points; [but] there are others egregiously vulgar and rowdy. The Anvil Chorus, for example, is about the equal to a scene of mending a sewer set to music; or repairing a pair of cast-off leather breeches.”

1 MIN6 h ago
Comments
William Henry Fry

Morning Revisited by Raksin

OK, if your dad wrote music for silent movies and you want to write music yourself, does that increase the odds you’ll end up a film composer, too? That was the case with David Raksin, who was born in Philadelphia in 1912, and who died in Los Angeles on today’s date in 2004. When he was 23, Raksin moved to Hollywood to help Charlie Chaplin arrange Chaplin’s own music for the film, ''Modern Times,'' and stayed on in Hollywood, working without credit on dozens of B-rated films. A big break came in 1944 with the tremendous success of Raksin’s haunting score for the 1944 film noir classic, “Laura.” By the time of his death, Raksin had written scores for hundreds of films and TV shows. In 1960, for the Horn Club of Los Angeles, Raksin wrote “Morning Revisited.” Raksin explained the odd title as follows: “They needed a piece [for] their entire ensemble … two antiphonal groups of six French horns, four Wagner tubas, a baritone horn, two contrabass tubas, and seven timpani. I was ...

1 MIN1 d ago
Comments
Morning Revisited by Raksin

Poulenc's "Model Animals"

Just about ANY time is a good time to be in Paris, but chances are, given your druthers, you wouldn’t have chosen to be there in 1942. The city was occupied by German troops, and World War II had several more dismal years to grind on. But if you WERE in Paris on today’s date in 1942, you could have visited the Paris Opera for the premiere of a new ballet by the French composer Francis Poulenc called “Les Animaux modeles” or “The Model Animals,” with a scenario based on animal fables by the French writer La Fontaine. Some 20 years earlier, in happier times, Poulenc had made his name with another one-act ballet. That 1924 work was titled “Les biches” or “The Does” and was written for the Ballets Russes of Monte Carlo. That work’s scenario described the flirtations and seductions of some bright young things at a house party in the country. “Everything was simple and carefree, sunshine and good humor,” as Poulenc himself put it. Not surprisingly, Poulenc’s 1942 ballet was ...

1 MIN2 d ago
Comments
Poulenc's "Model Animals"

Ellen Taaffe Zwilich's Quintet

Performers need composers and composers need performers. And some performers really like composers–and vice versa. That seems to be the case with the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio, comprised of Joseph Kalichstein, piano; Jaime Laredo, violin; and Sharon Robinson, cello, and the Pulitzer Prize-winning American composer Ellen Taaffe Zwilich. On today’s date in 2011, at a La Jolla Music Society concert in San Diego, California, the Trio premiered the fourth work they had commissioned from Zwilch. She created a blues-y piano quintet, scored for the same ensemble as Schubert’s famous “Trout” Quintet, so for this “blue trout” Quintet, the Trio were joined by violist Michael Tree and double-bassist Harold Robinson. In notes for her new piece, Zwilich wrote: "My Quintet is in three movements, the second of which has the title ‘Die Launische Forelle' (roughly translated: ‘The Moody Trout'). I couldn't resist using a very small quote from the Schubert song on which his Quintet is ...

1 MIN3 d ago
Comments
Ellen Taaffe Zwilich's Quintet

Rebecca Clarke

In 1942, the 19th Festival of the International Society for Contemporary Music was held in Berkeley, California. Over 30 composers from 13 nations were represented. All of them were male–with one exception. On today’s date, the “Prelude, Allegro, and Pastorale” for clarinet and viola written by Rebecca Clarke was premiered at the Festival. Clarke was born in England, in 1886, to an American father and a German mother. She grew up a British citizen, studied music in London, and became one of the U.K.’s first female professional orchestral violists. She was stranded in the United States at the outbreak of World War II and settled permanently in New York City. In notes for the 1942 Festival, Clarke modestly described her “Prelude, Allegro, and Pastorale” as (quote): “ … very unpretentious: a short, unassuming little prelude… The second movement should sound very spirited… The third movement, Pastorale, is rather melancholy and nostalgic…” This work, and much of Clarke’s m...

1 MIN4 d ago
Comments
Rebecca Clarke

Musgrave's Postcard

On today’s date in 2012, at the Royal Albert Hall in London, the BBC’s SCOTTISH Symphony, under the direction of SCOTTISH conductor Donald Runnicles, gave the world premiere of a new orchestral piece by the SCOTTISH composer Thea Musgrave. You might be forgiven for asking, “Were any bagpipes involved?” No, but the piece did involve the next best thing¬–¬if you’re Scottish that is–namely the Loch Ness monster. The new piece was entitled “Loch Ness – A Postcard from Scotland” and here’s how Thea Musgrave described her new work: “This Scottish loch is famous for its monster - only very occasionally seen. In this lighthearted work he, the monster (a tuba), emerges from the depths (E flat) to find the sun (A major) coming out from a thick mist (string clusters). “As he plays he is warmed by the sparkling sun (trumpets) and by the strains of an ancient Scottish melody. As the sun goes down, he dives back into the deep waters with a big splash. Then a cool moon rises, a ligh...

1 MIN5 d ago
Comments
Musgrave's Postcard

William Schuman, Chairman of the Board

By the time of his death in 1998, pop singer Frank Sinatra was such a domineering figure in his field that he was known as “The Chairman of the Board.” By the time of HIS death in 1992, the same nickname might have applied to the American composer William Schuman, who was, at various times, director of publications for G. Schirmer, president of the Juilliard School, president of Lincoln Center, and on the board of many other important American musical institutions. William Schuman even LOOKED the part of a distinguished, well-dressed CEO. Oddly enough, he came rather late to classical music. Schuman was born on today’s date in 1910, and, as a teenager in New York City, was more interested in baseball than music, even though his dance band was the rage of Washington High School. It was with some reluctance that 19-year old Billy Schuman was dragged to a New York Philharmonic concert conducted by Arturo Toscanini. The program included a symphony by someone named ROBERT Schumann, an...

1 MIN6 d ago
Comments
William Schuman, Chairman of the Board

Salieri opens La Scala

On today’s date in 1778, Italy’s most famous opera house opened with a performance of “L’Europa riconosciuta,” or “Europa revealed,” a work written specially for the occasion by Antonio Salieri. The new theater took its name from its location, previously occupied by the church of Santa Maria della Scala, which in turn was named after a Milanese nobelman’s wife, Beatrice della Scala. These days Milan’s Teatro alla Scala—or “La Scala” for short—is still in operation, although today performances of Salieri operas are not as common as those of his 18th century rival, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. In the 19th century, La Scala was at the center of the golden age of Italian opera, which boasted the greatest works of Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti, and Verdi. In August of 1943, 165 years after it opened, La Scala was damaged by Allied bombers as World War II drew to a close. The theater was repaired and reopened in 1946 with a series of gala concerts conducted by Arturo Toscanini. Som...

1 MIN1 w ago
Comments
Salieri opens La Scala

Harbison's "Three City Blocks"

The American composer John Harbison was born in 1938, and so, as a young lad, grew up at the tail end of the Golden Age of radio and the big band Era of Count Basie, Duke Ellington, the Dorsey Brothers, and Benny Goodman. “Over the radio,” writes Harbison, “came sounds played by bands in hotels and ballrooms, now distant memories that seemed to a seventh-grade, small town, late-night listener like the pulse of giant imagined cities.” Decades later, John Harbison translated those early musical memories into a three-movement composition for a big band orchestra. “These sounds,” he recalled, “layered with real experience of some of their places of origin, magnified, distorted, idealized, and destabilized, came into contact with other sounds, some of recent origin, and resulted in a celebratory, menacing suite I titled ‘Three City Blocks.’” The U.S. Air Force Band gave the premiere performance of “Three City Blocks” on today’s date in 1993. And, keeping in the spirit of the...

1 MIN1 w ago
Comments
Harbison's "Three City Blocks"

Invocation and Remembrance

At 6:05 p.m. on today’s date in 2007, the Interstate 35W Bridge in Minneapolis collapsed, plunging dozens of cars and trucks into the Mississippi River. Thirteen people died. Investigators said a design flaw was to blame, and the event served as a wake-up call about America’s crumbling infrastructure. It also inspired a new piece of music. In 2007 Minnesota composer Linda Tutas Haugen had been commissioned to write a piece for solo instrument and organ for performance at the next American Guild of Organists’ national convention. Haugen had been looking at various hymn tunes for inspiration when the I-35 bridge collapsed. As she recalled, “I had family members who’d been over the bridge a day before. Many were feeling, ‘It could have been me.’ I reread texts of the hymns I had been considering, and there was one that talks about ‘God of hill and plain, o’er which our traffic runs’ and ‘wherever God your people go, protect them by your guarding hand.’ That inspired my writ...

1 MIN1 w ago
Comments
Invocation and Remembrance

Latest Episodes

William Henry Fry

On today’s date in 1813, William Henry Fry was born in Philadelphia. As a journalist, he was one of the most vociferous champions of American concert music, and put his money where his mouth was by becoming a composer himself, creating a number of programmatic works, including a “Niagara” symphony and another titled “Santa Claus.” Above all else, Fry was passionate about opera, and wrote several of his own. Fry was a colorful—if understandably biased—music critic. Here’s an excerpt from his 1862 review of a New York performance of Verdi’s “Il Trovatore”—an opera only 9 years old at that time: “Trovatore … has a wonderful plot, beyond human comprehension; though finally we learn in the last scene that [the tenor] is made into soup by the order of his brother [the baritone], who then expresses his emotion and surprise on learning of the transaction as the curtain falls. As to the music—there are some charming, popular, ingenious, artistic … points; [but] there are others egregiously vulgar and rowdy. The Anvil Chorus, for example, is about the equal to a scene of mending a sewer set to music; or repairing a pair of cast-off leather breeches.”

1 MIN6 h ago
Comments
William Henry Fry

Morning Revisited by Raksin

OK, if your dad wrote music for silent movies and you want to write music yourself, does that increase the odds you’ll end up a film composer, too? That was the case with David Raksin, who was born in Philadelphia in 1912, and who died in Los Angeles on today’s date in 2004. When he was 23, Raksin moved to Hollywood to help Charlie Chaplin arrange Chaplin’s own music for the film, ''Modern Times,'' and stayed on in Hollywood, working without credit on dozens of B-rated films. A big break came in 1944 with the tremendous success of Raksin’s haunting score for the 1944 film noir classic, “Laura.” By the time of his death, Raksin had written scores for hundreds of films and TV shows. In 1960, for the Horn Club of Los Angeles, Raksin wrote “Morning Revisited.” Raksin explained the odd title as follows: “They needed a piece [for] their entire ensemble … two antiphonal groups of six French horns, four Wagner tubas, a baritone horn, two contrabass tubas, and seven timpani. I was ...

1 MIN1 d ago
Comments
Morning Revisited by Raksin

Poulenc's "Model Animals"

Just about ANY time is a good time to be in Paris, but chances are, given your druthers, you wouldn’t have chosen to be there in 1942. The city was occupied by German troops, and World War II had several more dismal years to grind on. But if you WERE in Paris on today’s date in 1942, you could have visited the Paris Opera for the premiere of a new ballet by the French composer Francis Poulenc called “Les Animaux modeles” or “The Model Animals,” with a scenario based on animal fables by the French writer La Fontaine. Some 20 years earlier, in happier times, Poulenc had made his name with another one-act ballet. That 1924 work was titled “Les biches” or “The Does” and was written for the Ballets Russes of Monte Carlo. That work’s scenario described the flirtations and seductions of some bright young things at a house party in the country. “Everything was simple and carefree, sunshine and good humor,” as Poulenc himself put it. Not surprisingly, Poulenc’s 1942 ballet was ...

1 MIN2 d ago
Comments
Poulenc's "Model Animals"

Ellen Taaffe Zwilich's Quintet

Performers need composers and composers need performers. And some performers really like composers–and vice versa. That seems to be the case with the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio, comprised of Joseph Kalichstein, piano; Jaime Laredo, violin; and Sharon Robinson, cello, and the Pulitzer Prize-winning American composer Ellen Taaffe Zwilich. On today’s date in 2011, at a La Jolla Music Society concert in San Diego, California, the Trio premiered the fourth work they had commissioned from Zwilch. She created a blues-y piano quintet, scored for the same ensemble as Schubert’s famous “Trout” Quintet, so for this “blue trout” Quintet, the Trio were joined by violist Michael Tree and double-bassist Harold Robinson. In notes for her new piece, Zwilich wrote: "My Quintet is in three movements, the second of which has the title ‘Die Launische Forelle' (roughly translated: ‘The Moody Trout'). I couldn't resist using a very small quote from the Schubert song on which his Quintet is ...

1 MIN3 d ago
Comments
Ellen Taaffe Zwilich's Quintet

Rebecca Clarke

In 1942, the 19th Festival of the International Society for Contemporary Music was held in Berkeley, California. Over 30 composers from 13 nations were represented. All of them were male–with one exception. On today’s date, the “Prelude, Allegro, and Pastorale” for clarinet and viola written by Rebecca Clarke was premiered at the Festival. Clarke was born in England, in 1886, to an American father and a German mother. She grew up a British citizen, studied music in London, and became one of the U.K.’s first female professional orchestral violists. She was stranded in the United States at the outbreak of World War II and settled permanently in New York City. In notes for the 1942 Festival, Clarke modestly described her “Prelude, Allegro, and Pastorale” as (quote): “ … very unpretentious: a short, unassuming little prelude… The second movement should sound very spirited… The third movement, Pastorale, is rather melancholy and nostalgic…” This work, and much of Clarke’s m...

1 MIN4 d ago
Comments
Rebecca Clarke

Musgrave's Postcard

On today’s date in 2012, at the Royal Albert Hall in London, the BBC’s SCOTTISH Symphony, under the direction of SCOTTISH conductor Donald Runnicles, gave the world premiere of a new orchestral piece by the SCOTTISH composer Thea Musgrave. You might be forgiven for asking, “Were any bagpipes involved?” No, but the piece did involve the next best thing¬–¬if you’re Scottish that is–namely the Loch Ness monster. The new piece was entitled “Loch Ness – A Postcard from Scotland” and here’s how Thea Musgrave described her new work: “This Scottish loch is famous for its monster - only very occasionally seen. In this lighthearted work he, the monster (a tuba), emerges from the depths (E flat) to find the sun (A major) coming out from a thick mist (string clusters). “As he plays he is warmed by the sparkling sun (trumpets) and by the strains of an ancient Scottish melody. As the sun goes down, he dives back into the deep waters with a big splash. Then a cool moon rises, a ligh...

1 MIN5 d ago
Comments
Musgrave's Postcard

William Schuman, Chairman of the Board

By the time of his death in 1998, pop singer Frank Sinatra was such a domineering figure in his field that he was known as “The Chairman of the Board.” By the time of HIS death in 1992, the same nickname might have applied to the American composer William Schuman, who was, at various times, director of publications for G. Schirmer, president of the Juilliard School, president of Lincoln Center, and on the board of many other important American musical institutions. William Schuman even LOOKED the part of a distinguished, well-dressed CEO. Oddly enough, he came rather late to classical music. Schuman was born on today’s date in 1910, and, as a teenager in New York City, was more interested in baseball than music, even though his dance band was the rage of Washington High School. It was with some reluctance that 19-year old Billy Schuman was dragged to a New York Philharmonic concert conducted by Arturo Toscanini. The program included a symphony by someone named ROBERT Schumann, an...

1 MIN6 d ago
Comments
William Schuman, Chairman of the Board

Salieri opens La Scala

On today’s date in 1778, Italy’s most famous opera house opened with a performance of “L’Europa riconosciuta,” or “Europa revealed,” a work written specially for the occasion by Antonio Salieri. The new theater took its name from its location, previously occupied by the church of Santa Maria della Scala, which in turn was named after a Milanese nobelman’s wife, Beatrice della Scala. These days Milan’s Teatro alla Scala—or “La Scala” for short—is still in operation, although today performances of Salieri operas are not as common as those of his 18th century rival, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. In the 19th century, La Scala was at the center of the golden age of Italian opera, which boasted the greatest works of Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti, and Verdi. In August of 1943, 165 years after it opened, La Scala was damaged by Allied bombers as World War II drew to a close. The theater was repaired and reopened in 1946 with a series of gala concerts conducted by Arturo Toscanini. Som...

1 MIN1 w ago
Comments
Salieri opens La Scala

Harbison's "Three City Blocks"

The American composer John Harbison was born in 1938, and so, as a young lad, grew up at the tail end of the Golden Age of radio and the big band Era of Count Basie, Duke Ellington, the Dorsey Brothers, and Benny Goodman. “Over the radio,” writes Harbison, “came sounds played by bands in hotels and ballrooms, now distant memories that seemed to a seventh-grade, small town, late-night listener like the pulse of giant imagined cities.” Decades later, John Harbison translated those early musical memories into a three-movement composition for a big band orchestra. “These sounds,” he recalled, “layered with real experience of some of their places of origin, magnified, distorted, idealized, and destabilized, came into contact with other sounds, some of recent origin, and resulted in a celebratory, menacing suite I titled ‘Three City Blocks.’” The U.S. Air Force Band gave the premiere performance of “Three City Blocks” on today’s date in 1993. And, keeping in the spirit of the...

1 MIN1 w ago
Comments
Harbison's "Three City Blocks"

Invocation and Remembrance

At 6:05 p.m. on today’s date in 2007, the Interstate 35W Bridge in Minneapolis collapsed, plunging dozens of cars and trucks into the Mississippi River. Thirteen people died. Investigators said a design flaw was to blame, and the event served as a wake-up call about America’s crumbling infrastructure. It also inspired a new piece of music. In 2007 Minnesota composer Linda Tutas Haugen had been commissioned to write a piece for solo instrument and organ for performance at the next American Guild of Organists’ national convention. Haugen had been looking at various hymn tunes for inspiration when the I-35 bridge collapsed. As she recalled, “I had family members who’d been over the bridge a day before. Many were feeling, ‘It could have been me.’ I reread texts of the hymns I had been considering, and there was one that talks about ‘God of hill and plain, o’er which our traffic runs’ and ‘wherever God your people go, protect them by your guarding hand.’ That inspired my writ...

1 MIN1 w ago
Comments
Invocation and Remembrance
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