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2020 – the year of Beethoven?

December 2020 marks the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth.

The event seems to have split the Classical Music community. Some individuals and organisations see the occasion as an opportunity to celebrate Beethoven’s musical achievements. Others suggest that Beethoven’s music is popular enough and performances and recordings of it are already so plentiful that audiences should be exploring new repertoire and lesser known composers, and particularly work by underrepresented groups.

Beethoven is one of a group of composers from the Western Classical tradition who is often given the title ‘genius’. He was a prolific composer, writing 722 works, including 9 Symphonies, 16 overtures and incidental pieces, 16 string quartets, 32 piano sonatas, 20 sets of variations for piano, 10 works for chorus and orchestra, hundreds of songs, operas, piano trios, works for wind ensembles and concertos for violin, piano and a lost work for oboe. His development of musical forms such as the symphony, string quartet and piano sonata are seen as revolutionary, and his influence on later composers is often cited.

If you want to take 2020 as the year to explore Beethoven’s works further, check out #TheCompleteBeethoven on Twitter for advice from The Symphonist or follow the hashtag #Beethoven2020.

Beethoven led an interesting life. His father was abusive, he struggled with his health, he lived in politically turbulent times, his romantic life was complicated and he suffered hearing loss. However there are stories of his bad temper and of his poor treatment of his sister-in-law and nephew. All these elements add to the image of a tortured genius, a persona that has appealed to audiences and, it could be argued, has helped keep his music popular over the past 200 years. 

As Beethoven’s work is frequently performed, recorded and broadcast on radio, should we take his 250th anniversary as an opportunity to enjoy ever popular works such as his 9th Symphony and 5th Piano Concerto, or should we explore some of his lesser known works, such as his works for military band…

or his songs…

Or should we be exploring more obscure composers? As William Gibbons states on Twitter:

Every time I listen to Beethoven, I’m not listening to something else.

Inspired by some of the discussion around exploring a wider range of composers, Musicology Duck’s blog influenced by Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge, has suggested a hashtag of #ListenWider. Rather than recommending specific books or pieces, both challenges give categories, allowing readers and listeners to find works that appeal to them. Musicology Duck gives 30 categories of pieces to listen to including a composition of 60 minutes or more in length by a woman or non-binary composer, a miniature composition under 90 seconds long, a top hit from the year you were born or from a country other than your own, and a concerto for tuba, bassoon or double bass. 

You could take the opportunity to explore works by other composers and performers who have key anniversaries in 2020, such as:

Dave Brubeck – 100th anniversary of his birth

Dorothea Anne Franchi – 100th anniversary of her birth

Ravi Shankar – 100th anniversary of his birth

Del Woods – 100th anniversary of her birth

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO) – 100th anniversary

John Rutter – 75th Birthday

Of course, there is a happy medium for those who love Beethoven’s music but still want to discover new repertoire. Ensembles such as the English Symphony Orchestra are taking the opportunity to partner Beethoven’s works with lesser known composers such as Ruth Gipps and Adrian Williams.

So how will you approach your year of listening to music? Let us know what you think in the comments!

Leopold Mozart: Composition and Controversy

November 2019 marks the 300th anniversary of the birth of Leopold Mozart (November 14, 1719 – May 28, 1787). Perhaps often primarily known as the father of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Leopold is an almost mythical figure, equated, perhaps partly thanks to the blockbuster film Amadeus, with a stern and conflicted father/son relationship. 

Another interpretation is that Leopold, who had supported his child prodigy son for many years, was concerned as Wolfgang pushed for more independence that his son was unfit to look after himself – a worry which proved to be grounded in reality.

Leopold and his wife Anna Maria had seven children, but only his daughter Maria Anna (Nannerl) and his youngest son Wolfgang survived past infancy. His parenting of his adult children is largely the subject that causes controversy, but it seems possible that his over-involvement was motivated by love rather than any negative emotion. Being guardian to such precocious children must have been a huge responsibility.

Although he expended huge amounts of energy promoting his son Wolfgang and his daughter Nannerl, gradually making this the focus of his life, Leopold Mozart was an extraordinary and well-respected musician himself. His 1756 treatise on violin playing ranks alongside those of Flesch and Galamian in the history of violin pedagogy. His skill and influence as a violinist and violin teacher is evident through the work of his son, in particular the violin concertos, and Leopold’s book is a valuable resource for understanding the both development of violin technique and historic musical ornamentation.

His own career as a court musician and composer was somewhat hampered by the amount of time he spent travelling with his children, and his most significant contribution is considered to be his teaching. From 1743 he worked as fourth violinist in the musical establishment of Count Leopold Anton von Firmian, the ruling Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg. In 1758 he was promoted to second violinist, and in 1763 to deputy Kapellmeister, but numerous others were promoted over him to the position of Kapellmeister. His compositions were widely circulated, but biographers describe them with adjectives such as, “undistinguished.”

It’s fair to say that the discovery of his children’s talent transformed his life. He once referred to his son as, “The miracle which God let be born in Salzburg.” He began touring with the children in 1762, travelling to cities including Paris, London, Munich and Vienna to perform for both public and aristocracy. It’s unclear whether these tours generated much income. Whist the audience was extensive, costs must have been high, and Leopold was unable to continue his own work for the duration of the trips.

According to the Grove Dictionary, Nannerl later claimed that he “entirely gave up both violin instruction and composition in order to direct that time not claimed in service to the prince to the education of his two children.” After 1762 he seemed to limit his writing to revising his earlier compositions and he composed nothing after 1771.

Leopold’s support for Nannerl was significant. After her marriage, her father would still take care of shopping and the engagement of servants, send her news from Salzburg, Munich, and Vienna to divert her, organise the maintenance of her fortepiano, pay for Wolfgang’s music to be copied and arranged for her to receive it, look after her health, and, according to Halliwell, encouraged her to stand up to her husband when he was being unreasonable. Nannerl’s marriage involved her looking after five step children, and her own son (born in 1785) was initially raised by entirely by Leopold. It is possible that Leopold had hoped to train another child prodigy, but he died in 1787 when little Leopold was not quite two years old.

Scholars are still conflicted over his role as father. Some see him as misrepresented, and frustrated in being unable to guide his son into the sort of role his talent deserved. Others feel he was unable to give his adult children independence, which resulted in considerable problems for them.

As a composer, his contribution is less controversial. He willingly sacrificed his own career for that of his son, but some work survives.

But Leopold’s Cassation in G for Orchestra and Toys (Toy Symphony) is still popular, and there are a number of symphonies, a trumpet concerto, and some other works.

According to Grove, a contemporary report described what Leopold had composed prior to 1757 thus:

“many contrapuntal and other church items; further a great number of symphonies, some only à 4 but others with all the customary instruments; likewise more than 30 large serenades in which solos for various instruments appear. In addition he has brought forth many concertos, in particular for the transverse flute, oboe, bassoon, Waldhorn, trumpet etc.: countless trios and divertimentos for various instruments; 12 oratorios and a number of theatrical items, even pantomimes, and especially certain occasional pieces such as martial music … Turkish music, music with ‘steel keyboard’ and lastly a musical sleigh ride; not to speak of marches, so-called ‘Nachtstücke’ and many hundreds of minuets, opera dances and similar items.

He was interested in creating a naturalistic feel in is work. His Jagdsinfonie (or Sinfonia da Caccia for four horns and strings) requires the use of shotguns, and his Bauernhochzeit (Peasant Wedding) includes dulcimer, bagpipes, hurdy-gurdy, ‘whoops and whistles’ (ad. lib.) and pistol shots.

Much of his work is now lost, and scholars are only now beginning to assess the extent and quality of his compositions. Some of the work was wrongly attributed to Wolfgang, and vice versa. Much of what survives is light music, and it’s is not known how representitive this is of his output. There is some more substantial work in the Sacramental Litany in D major (1762) and three fortepiano sonatas, all of which were published in his lifetime, and Cliff Eisen describes in his doctoral dissertation on Leopold Mozart’s symphonies, that the G major symphony “compares favourably with those of virtually any of Mozart’s immediate contemporaries”.

Sources and further reading:

http://www.mozart.com/en/timeline/life/mozart-and-his-father/

https://commons.lib.jmu.edu/diss201019/92/

50 Years Since Woodstock

August 2019 marks 50 years since Woodstock ’69, the ‘most popular event in music history.’

Held between August 15 and 19 1969, Woodstock took place at Max Yasgur’s 600-acre dairy farm in Bethel, New York. The festival, which was billed as ‘An Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace & Music’ drew crowds of more than 400,000 people who heard 32 acts performing open-air gigs, sometimes playing through the rain.

Image: Derek Redmond and Paul Campbell

Described by singer songwriter, Joni Mitchell as, “A spark of beauty” where half-a-million kids “saw that they were part of a greater organism”, Woodstock has long been regarded as a pivotal movement in both popular music history and within the larger counterculture generation. Rolling Stone listed the festival as number 19 of ‘50 Moments That Changed the History of Rock and Roll,’ and in 2017, the festival site was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. While it wasn’t the first music festival, it was certainly the biggest of its time, and quickly assumed almost mythological status.

The event was recorded via the 1970 Academy Award-winning documentary film Woodstock (and its accompanying soundtrack album), and encapsulated in Joni Mitchell’s song of the same name which became a major hit for both Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and Matthews Southern Comfort. 

Performers included Richie Havens, Ravi Shankar, Joe Cocker, Joan Baez, Santana, Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, Sly & the Family Stone, The Who, Jefferson Airplane and Jimi Hendrix.

The Effect on Music and Musicians

Woodstock had a powerful impact on rock musicians, folk musicians and those invested in counterculture. This was a transformative time in music. The Beatles broke up in September 1969, though John Lennon’s departure from the group wasn’t announced until April 1970. Janis Joplin died in October 1970 of a heroin overdose, Hendrix in September of the same year of a barbiturate overdose – two of the most influential counterculture musicians gone shortly after the festival where perhaps their fame had peaked.  

The festival advanced the popularity of many budding musicians too, and helped solidify lasting careers. Carlos Santana, now considered to be one of the greatest guitar players alive, has released 25 studio albums since appearing at Woodstock.

The former promoter of Humphreys Concerts by the Bay, Kenny Weissberg, reflects in his 2013 memoir, Off My Rocker:

The music, the sharing, and the collective zeitgeist were all life-changing…Even though I was only 21, I came away from that weekend profoundly aware that anything was possible. From Woodstock on, I embraced the idea of taking chances and following all of my musical dreams. Three days at Woodstock crystallized my life’s path.

However, Pete Townshend of The Who presented an alternate opinion. Despite the fact his band played a career-changing performance at Woodstock, Townshend’s assessment was:

The dream and ideology of rock ’n’ roll was rooted in the idea that this generation, the ‘Woodstock generation,’ were super-luminaries, but I’ve never agreed with that. I always thought that was the biggest crock of s— America has ever come up with.

The Who’s set at Woodstock was interrupted by an anti-war activist, Abbie Hoffman, who grabbed a microphone and launched, mid-song, into a political rant. Townshend hit Hoffman with his electric guitar, pushing him off stage and dispelling any idea of ‘peace and love.’

While the spirit of the festival was very much anti-materialism, and due to ineptitude it took the promoters nearly a decade to recoup their losses, Woodstock was essentially created to make money for its promoters. In the aftermath, the success of Woodstock became a capitalist goldmine. It was immediately apparent to corporate America that this young audience represented a huge untapped market.

The music may have been seminal, and the event undoubtedly changed the way live music developed as an industry, but the overriding nostalgic image of peace, love and freely available drugs certainly wasn’t for everyone. Commenting on a 45thAnniversary feature in the San Diego Union Tribune, singer Billy Joel said:

I went to Woodstock and I hated it. I think a lot of that `community spirit’ was based on the fact that everybody was so wasted. Because everybody was stoned — everybody was passing around pot and acid — and I wasn’t into it… I was there for a night and a day, and then I left just before The Who went on. I really wanted to see them, but it was very hard to because everybody was hopping up and down and banging into you. So I walked out and hitched a ride home.

Woodstock’s place in culture

This was also a transformative time culturally. Barely four months after Woodstock, the utopian bubble burst at the Altamont free music festival near San Francisco. Fans arrived in their hundreds of thousands to hear the Rolling Stones and Woodstock veterans including Jefferson Airplane, Santana and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Things took a turn for the worse – the Stones had arranged security for themselves, provided by members of the Hells Angels, leading to some festival goers being beaten, and a young African-American man, Meredith Hunter, who waved a gun, was stabbed and beaten to death. While Woodstock attracted a peaceful, multiracial audience, Hunter’s death stood in stark contrast.

Woodstock presented a place for people who embraced hippie culture to find a sense of deeper community – in that sense the festival became a flagship for counterculture ideals such as equality of race and sex. It was also a place where LSD use peaked – drug taking was seen as a way to protest, to make a political and cultural statement against society, and to have fun whilst doing so.

Issues surrounding Vietnam were very present at the time, and Woodstock was followed in October 1969 by Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam – a massive demonstration and teach-in across the United States against the United States involvement in the Vietnam War.

Image: Derek Redmond and Paul Campbell

Woodstock 2019

Fifty years have passed since Woodstock, and society is still struggling with issues of equality, war and community. Under the banner of the utopian nostalgia around the festival, promoters were planning a huge Woodstock 50 event to commemorate.

One of the main investors was Japanese international advertising and public relations joint stock company Dentsu, the fifth largest advertising agency in the world in terms of worldwide revenues (932,680 yen in 2018).

Dentsu explained its involvement, underlining how commercial the music industry has become:

It’s a dream for agencies to work with iconic brands and to be associated with meaningful movements. We have a strong history of producing experiences that bring people together around common interests and causes which is why we chose to be a part of the Woodstock 50th Anniversary Festival.

However, Woodstock 50 has been cancelled because investors “don’t believe the production of the festival can be executed as an event worthy of the Woodstock Brand”. 

50 years on, what has been called a “spark of beauty” and remembered an iconic event that centred on community, social justice and love of music has been relegated to the status of ‘brand’.

Woodstock’s impact on live music has been phenomenal – in terms of musical influence and maybe even more so in terms of the money that non-musicians can now draw from the industry. But the music and political hope that this gathering promised live on.

As, perhaps, does the ideal described by Kenny Weissberg: That anything is possible when enough people believe.

The Female Trailblazers : Women in Electronic Music

Electronic music is music that employs electronic and digital musical instruments and circuitry-based music technology. Pure electronic instruments like synthesisers, computers and the theremin have no sound producing mechanisms like strings or hammers, but electronic compositions also include electro-acoustic elements.

A little history

Electronic music began as early as 1913 with Luigi Russolo’s conceptualisation of the genre and development of prototype synthesisers. While the 1920s and 30s saw the introduction of more electronic instruments and compositions for them, historians credit Russolo with redirecting the development of music, redefining what music could be and how it could be produced. 

Alongside the liberating emergence of jazz, the ideas in electronic music affected the way technology was uses to mix noise and sound. These concepts subsequently fed through the work of composers like Stockhausen and Cage, and into popular music, making ‘electronic’ one of the single biggest influences on 20th century music. 

As the genre developed, artists such as Kraftwerk, Brian Eno, Depeche Mode, Tiësto and Armin Van Buuren have all come to be considered as its pioneers. However, despite its modernity, electronic music seems to share an age-old and anachronistic characteristic with both its classical counterpart and with the tech industries: There’s very little acknowledgement of the contribution of female composers and performers. 

In an otherwise fairly thorough discussion of the genre, Wikipedia explains how electronic instruments offered expansions in pitch resources that were exploited by advocates of microtonal music. Examples include Charles Ives, Dimitrios Levidis, Olivier Messiaen and Edgard Varèse. Percy Grainger used the theremin to abandon fixed tonation, and Russian composers such as Gavriil Popov treated the instrument as a source of noise in otherwise-acoustic noise music.

But where are the women?

Improving the profile of women

As in classical music, much has been done in recent decades to redress the balance, and to give a voice to women composers and musicians, and this work continues.

In 1998, Austrian music producer, Techno DJ and feminist, Susanne Kirchmayr aka Electric Indigo (born 1965) launched the web-based database Female:Pressure. Female:Pressure provides an international platform for female DJs, producers and artists involved in electronic music and was created to promote mutual support and communication, and to provide a source of information about artists. The database contains links to all kinds of electronic musicians, ranging from noise, free, electro-acoustic, contemporary new and beat orientated to soundscapes, field recordings and installations.

Female:Pressure has also undertaken three studies (in 2013, 2015, 2017 and with a fourth in 2019) of electronic music festivals around the world. This research looks at numbers regarding gender and clearly demonstrates the disconnect between talent and gender equality. In 2012, only 9.2% of acts performing at festivals were female. By 2017 this had increased to 18.9% – a notable improvement, but nonetheless far short of the 75.4% representing male performers.  

Image: https://femalepressure.wordpress.com
Image: https://femalepressure.wordpress.com

As well as Female:Pressure, a number of UK websites are developing and increasing their activities. These include:

Yorkshire Sound Women Network

This website includes resources such as a lesson plan on the history of women in electronic music

Women in sound/women on sound network 

Sounding the Feminists– an Irish-based, voluntary-led collective of composers, sound artists, performers, musicologists, critics, promoters, industry professionals, organisations, and individuals, committed to promoting and publicising the creative work of female musicians.

Symposiums and events are also looking more closely at equality whilst still focusing on electronic music, art, installation work and research. In particular, the research centres at Middlesex and Goldsmiths Universities are doing important work in this area.

Some Great Women Pioneers of Electronic Music

Lituanian-born Clara Rockmore was instrumental in the development of the theremin. Mainly performing on violin and theremin, she worked alongside Léon Theremin. As she had absolute pitch – the ability to identify any note on hearing it- she helped the inventor to refine his instrument for performance use. Rockwell’s recommendations, which translated into actual modifications, included increasing the sensitivity of the pitch antenna and lowering the instrument to make the player more visible. 

The German-American pianist, Johanna M. Beyer (1888 – 1944) was the brains behind Music of the Spheres, the first known score written by a female composer entirely for electronic instruments. 

Daphne Oram (1925 – 2003) was a British composer who was involved in early experimentation with ‘musique concrete’ – a type a type of music composition that uses recorded sounds such as sounds from nature, the human voice and digitally produced noise as raw material. In this genre, sounds are often altered using audio effects and tape manipulation techniques.

Oram was also the first woman to direct an electronic music studio. She co-founded the BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop Sound Effects Studio with Desmond Briscoe in 1958. And she was the first woman to design and construct an electronic musical instrument.

Wendy Carlos, born in 1939, was one of the earliest composers to promote the use of the synthesiser. Now overused, the instrument initially provided an important step in introducing electronic music to audiences. Carlos’s work can be heard in many popular movie scores including Tron, The Shining, and A Clockwork Orange. 

Delia Derbyshire (1937 – 2001) was another British musician and composer who was a pioneer at the BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop. She is most noted for composing the original theme for Dr. Who in 1963 – one of the first tracks ever to be produced entirely using electronic instruments. 

Suzanne Ciani (b. 1946) is an American musician, sound designer, composer, and record label executive. Initially trained as a classical pianist, she studied masters in composition, as well as taking evening classes in acoustics, the psychology of acoustics, and computer music. Before she found success as a composer, she spent some time living on the floor of Philip Glass’s basement. In the 1970’s she worked on advertisements for Coca-Cola, Merrill Lynch, AT&T and General Electric. Few people at the time understood what the Buchla synthesiser could do as it lacked a keyboard and this gave her creative freedom. The sound of a bottle of Coca-Cola being opened and poured was one of Ciani’s most widely recognised works and was used in radio and tv commercials in the late 1970s. She continued to pioneer electronic music and in June 2018, Ciani and producer KamranV released LIVE Quadraphonic, a live album documenting her first solo performance on a Buchla synthesiser in 40 years.

Pauline Oliveros (1932-2016) was an American composer and accordionist. She was central to the development of experimental and post-war electronic art music. A founding member of the San Francisco Tape Music Centre, she also served as its director, and taught music at Mills College, the University of California San Diego (UCSD), Oberlin Conservatory of Music, and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Oliveros formulated new music theories, wrote books and explored new ways to focus attention on music including her concepts of “deep listening” and “sonic awareness”.

Other women of note include Éliane Radigue, Laurie Spiegel, Laurel Halo, Maryanne Amacher and Laetitia Sonama. Their achievements are too many to list here.

Musicians current in International Electronic Music by Country:

Ireland: Dr Ann Cleare, a composer using electroacoustics

Belgrade, Serbia: Svetlana Maras, who runs Electronic Studio Radio Belgrade

U.S.: 

Sister (electronic music composer and DJ) 

Kinds of kings– electroacoustic new music composers – 

Germany: Luz Diaz, who runs Room for Resistance, a Berlin-based queer femme forward collective focused on community-building and creating safer space & visibility for underrepresented artists in dance music.

Holland: New Emergences

Further reading:

https://mixmag.net/feature/the-women-whove-shaped-electronic-music

https://thevinylfactory.com/features/the-pioneering-women-of-electronic-music-an-interactive-timeline/

Wikipedia’s list of female electronic musicians, composers, and sound artists who work in the various genres of electronic music, and the musical groups of which they are members: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_female_electronic_musicians

This blog is written with thanks to Semay Wu for much of the information about the current position of women in electronic music.

Melody Amongst the Cacophony

June 11 2019 marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of composer Helen Tobias-Duesberg. 

Helen Tobias-Duesberg

Tobias-Duesberg produced a large and varied body of work. She was respected by her contemporaries and her work was regularly performed, yet few recordings exist and her name is not familiar.

It would be easy to draw the obvious conclusion that this is because of her gender. The contribution of so many talented and successful women in the Arts has been marginalised. However the promotion of female composers ‘for the sake of it’ seems unhelpful in redressing the balance. It could also be argued that her origins in the former Soviet Union might play a part, though she spent most of her working life in the US. With those considerations in mind, the reason for this blog is that June 2019 marks the centenary of the birth of an interesting composer.

Born in Suure-Jaani, Estonia, then part of the Soviet Union, Helen Tobias was the youngest daughter of the composer Rudolf Tobias. She never knew her father, except through his music, as he had died from pneumonia in October 1918.

Whilst his may not be a familiar name outside of Estonia, Rudolf Tobias was noted as the first Estonian professional composer. After his death his achievements were celebrated by the erection of monuments in Haapsalu and Kullamaa, the renaming of a street in Tallinn, and his name was given to the Children’s Music School in Kärdla. In 1973, the centenary of his birth, a museum was opened in Selja, Käina Parish in the house where he was born.

Helen Tobias studied music composition at the Tallinn Conservatoire (now known as the Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre). Her teachers were Artur Kapp and Heino Eller. She graduated in 1943 as an organist, and went on to further study at the Berlin University of Music.

During World War II she met Wilhelm Duesberg, a journalist who was to become her husband. He was imprisoned on numerous occasions for writing stories critical of Adolf Hitler, and died of a heart attack shortly after the war. At the time of his death he was in a Stuttgart courtroom preparing to testify against several Nazi war criminals.

In 1951, Tobias-Duesberg moved to the United States. Sources describe that it was then that she began composing music, although her training had been as a composer as well as an organist. The music she wrote was a far cry from much of the contemporary work at the time. In fact, in a swipe at the direction of classical music in the 1960’s and 70’s, Leonard Bernstein described her as a female composer who,

…dares to be original and musical at the same time, while all the men run around writing intellectual cacophony.”

He had a point. Her Requiem is described by allmusic.com thus:

A hybrid of the neo-Baroque and neo-Classical styles she absorbed in the middle decades of the twentieth century, though some aspects of Romanticism are evident in her instrumentation and presentation. Bach’s cantatas are the most pronounced influences, though Duesberg’s forays into fugue seem at times closer to Beethoven’s forceful counterpoint in his Missa Solemnis. But because this Requiem seems designed for practical use — specifically for the Estonian Bethany Church of New York — Duesberg’s use of traditional techniques is perhaps intended more for the congregation’s spiritual comfort than as a clever pastiche.

The writer also describes her shorter chamber works as “intellectually stimulating,” mentioning the “darkly chromatic Sonata No. 1 for violin and piano and the comical Suite for woodwind quintet, both of which reveal more of Duesberg’s character, since imitation of past models is replaced by her own ingenuity and craft.”


“Blessings” from Requiem:

Little is recorded about her personal life or feelings about political issues, other than the connection with her husband, but notably, during the Civil Rights Movement, she played the organ at Friendship Baptist Church in Harlem, the church where the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. served as a guest preacher.

The full list of her works is extensive, and the comment from Bernstein indicates a relatively high profile, yet as previously mentioned few recordings exist. Although her work has been performed on major concert stages in the United States, Canada, and Europe as well as the Aspen, Ravinia and Spoleto festivals, her online discography reveals only two CDs; Through the Seasons, made a year after her death, and the album containing Requiem,Sonata No. 1 for Violin and Piano, and Suite for Woodwind Quintet, recorded in 2005. Compositions include violin and cello sonatas, string quartets, song cycles, concertos, and a wide range of choral works. She also reworked and edited some of her father’s work.

Helen Tobias-Duesberg died on February 4th in the US. She was laid to rest alongside her father and grandfather in her native Estonia.


Image of the composer used as featured image is taken from: https://www.emic.ee/helen-tobias-duesberg

Movers and Shakers: Sir Charles Hallé and Sir Henry Wood

March 2019 is the 150th ‘birthday’ of Henry Wood, and April 2019 marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Hallé. Both men left a lasting musical legacy integral to the orchestral world in the UK. But where did they come from and what inspired their achievements?  In this ‘double bill’ we celebrate the lives of two great musicians…

Sir Henry Wood

Sir Henry Wood, described in an interview in the Guardian from October 1938 as the ‘busiest and most versatile of Britain’s musicians,’ began his career conducting at a church choral society in 1888 where he earned ‘the enormous sum’ of two guineas.

Born within a stone’s throw of Oxford Street, Wood’s interest in music was encouraged by an intensely musical engineer father. Trained in the UK (he studied composition and voice at the Royal Academy of Music from 1886) he travelled widely to see and learn from great international musicians.

Often credited with founding the Proms, Henry Wood was instrumental in bringing the summer music series to London. He did so in partnership with the entrepreneur, Robert Newman who became manager and lessee of the newly opened Queen’s Hall in 1894, and Harley Street throat specialist, Dr. George Cathcart, who funded the first season. The vision was a series of classical concerts that anyone could attend, regardless of income. In 1895, Promming tickets cost one shilling, the equivalent of around 60p today.

It was Newman who devised the idea of Promenade concerts on the French model and who took on Wood as the sole conductor. However, while Newman and Cathcart’s input was essential, it was short lived. Newman went bust in 1902, and the main backer withdrew in 1926 leaving the Proms without support until the BBC took over in 1927, yet Henry Wood continued.

Drawing of the inside of Queens Hall

The first ever ‘First Night of the Proms’ was on August 10th 1895. 2,500 people gathered for the concert, which opened with the National Anthem. The programme featured popular works by Saint-Saëns, Haydn and Liszt, as well as London premieres of works by Chopin and Bizet. By the time of the 1938 interview, Wood was in his 44th season at Queen’s Hall, and had conducted nearly 3,000 Promenade Concerts, nearly 1,000 Sunday concerts and 600 symphony concerts.

The 1939 Proms season was abandoned after only 3 weeks following the declaration of war: The season, which had opened during the Battle of Britain, was forced to close early due to the Blitz. The concert on September 7th 1939 was the last Prom concert to take place at the Queen’s Hall, as the building was destroyed when a bomb hit the roof on 10th May 1941. In its 50th season, now at the Royal Albert Hall (RAH), the Proms again finished early because of the war, but concerts scheduled for broadcasting continued from the BBC’s Bedford wartime studios.

Wood was a charismatic presence on stage, embracing a new German style of conducting where the conductor’s role was much more expressive, not confined to keeping time. And he had a voracious appetite for music of all kinds. He and Newman had been determined to introduce a broad range of music to a wider audience, working to democratise the genre. The concert atmosphere was informal, with eating and drinking allowed during the performance, and the music had to be popular.

As the seasons progressed, Wood developed an enterprising, challenging and entertaining selection of music, always programming new works. He conducted an astonishing list of premieres during his career: 716 works by 356 composers, including Debussy’s L’Apres-midi d’un Faun. In fact, he was responsible for introducing many of the leading composers of the day to the Proms audiences, including Richard Strauss, Debussy, Rachmaninov, Ravel and Vaughan Williams. He was also passionate about promoting young and talented performers, and worked to raise the standard of orchestral playing.

[Image by: Ed g2s/wikicommons images]

Wood passed away on 19 August 1944 aged 75. He had conducted at the Proms for nearly 50 years. After his death, the concerts were renamed the “Henry Wood Promenade Concerts”, and the Proms continues as the longest running series of orchestral concerts in the world. Henry Wood is remembered every year, by the placing of a bronze bust (borrowed from the Royal Academy of Music) at the back of the RAH stage. His legacy is celebrated at the Last Night concert when a member of the audience drapes a wreath around the neck of the bust and the conductor leads ‘three cheers’ for Henry Wood.


Pianist and conductor Charles Hallé was born Karl Hallé on April 11th 1819 in Hagen, Westphalia. His father, a choirmaster and organist, first introduced him to music, and he quickly excelled. He was a child prodigy, first performing a sonatina in public at the age of 4, and in 1828 he played in a concert where he attracted the attention of the virtuoso violinist (and inventor of the violin chin rest) Louis Spohr.

Aged 16, he studied at Darmstadt with the organist and composer Rinck, and at 17 he went to Paris, where he stayed for 12 years. Whilst in Paris, he knew everybody worth knowing, counting musical greats including Cherubini, Chopin, Lisz and Wagner among his friends.

His time in the French capital ended with the February Revolution of 1848. Hallé had begun a series of chamber concerts in a small room at the Conservatoire, but the third series was cut short by the revolution and finding musical life in Paris had suffered after the revolution, he left for England.

His first appearance in his new home country was as soloist in an orchestral concert at Covent Garden, May 12th, 1848, where he performed Beethoven’s Concerto in E flat. In fact, the familiarity of the Beethoven piano sonatas in England is largely due to Hallé, who was the first pianist to play the complete series here.

He was also the inventor of a mechanical page-turning device for pianists. The pages were set into the mechanism, which was operated by means of a foot pedal. According to Harold C Schonberg’s 1963 book, The Great Pianists: “People would go to his concerts just to see the spectacle of leaf after leaf turning over, ghostlike, without the intervention of human hands.” 

But Hallé didn’t much like London, and in 1853 he accepted an offer to run Manchester’s Gentleman’s Concerts, which had its own orchestra. This orchestra was apparently so bad that Hallé considered returning to Paris, but he was industrious and meticulous. Being the type of person who would not open a letter until he had answered all previous correspondence, he taught himself English every morning on the way to work, and he stuck with the orchestra.

In May 1857, Hallé was asked to put together a small orchestra to play for Prince Albert at the opening ceremony of the Art Treasures of Great Britain. This was the biggest single exhibition Manchester had ever hosted. Hallé accepted the challenge and was so happy with the results that he kept the group together until October. This was the beginning of the Hallé Orchestra, now one of the oldest professional orchestras in England.

Hallé went on to start his own concert series, raising the orchestra to a standard far higher than normal for English music at that time. He decided to keep working with the musicians on a more formal basis, and on January 30th, 1858, the Hallé gave its first concert.

He conducted almost every concert and performed as piano soloist at many, until his death in 1895. He excited the public about music, raising standards and expectations, and introducing new concepts and works including premieres of Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique and The Damnation of Faust.

A passage in the 1890 publication Manchester Faces and Places describes the change in attitude to music during Hallé’s time in Manchester:

… he declares his conviction that the progress of music in England has been greater during that time than in any other country.

This remark is illustrated by several anecdotes including this:

At that period [Hallé] discovered that if he asked a gentleman in society, ‘Do you play an instrument?’ this appeared to be considered an insult. Did not Lord Chesterfield indeed warn his son not ‘to fiddle,’ on pain of forfeiting his claim to rank as a gentleman? But since then how great is the change! A love of music is now becoming the common passion uniting all classes. A few years ago Sir Charles Hallé was waiting for the train at Derby, when a railway porter who recognised him said, ‘Can you tell me, Mr. Halle, when the ‘Elijah’ will be next performed in Manchester, because I can have leave to take my missus there?’ Only the other day a music-seller in Sheffield, who is in a position to know, assured Sir Charles that there are in that town alone between five hundred and six hundred artisans who play the violin.

Hallé’s death on October 25th, 1895, shook Manchester and the wider musical world, and his funeral procession brought the city to a standstill. Three of his closest friends, Henry Simon, Gustav Behrens and James Forsyth, immediately set about securing the future of the Orchestra, guaranteeing the 1895-96 season against loss. This commitment was renewed for a further three years whilst the Hallé Concerts Society was formed. Under the guidance of such distinguished conductors as Hans Richter, Sir Hamilton Harty and Sir John Barbirolli the Orchestra continued to thrive and develop.

In an interview for the Telegraph, Mark Elder, current music director of the Hallé since 2000 (seen in the image above with the orchestra in 2011), explains the driving force in the success of the orchestra both then and now:

One way in which Hallé was ahead of his time was his understanding that education is absolutely key to an orchestra’s success. When you understand something, you enjoy it. That’s why he was so keen to bring the latest music to England, and why he was the first person to play a complete cycle of Beethoven piano sonatas.

He also understood that to reach a public you have to make the effort to go out to them. Part of the secret, I feel, is to link the orchestra to its community in a way that goes beyond concert-going.



Both Hallé and Wood were passionate, not only about their own musical careers, but about sharing their love and excitement for music with the wider community. The legacy of these two historic artists centres around what is now a formal body of classical music but one which, in the case of both the Hallé and the Proms, still works to engage the wider community in as many ways as possible, staying true to its original intent. It is almost impossible to quantify the value of those musicians who work so hard to share their gifts, except in the enjoyment of the opportunities and organisations they leave behind, whatever the challenges they faced. In a time when the future of music in education is unclear, it is encouraging to understand how much difference one person with talent and vision can make.

Welsh Dance – A Living Tradition

Music holds an important place in Welsh national identity – so much so that Wales is traditionally referred to as the ‘Land of Song’. However, despite the positive implications this moniker has in terms of the Welsh affinity with music, this is actually a modern stereotype based on the importance of 19th century choral music and 20th century male voice choirs, and in some ways it clouds a long and unique musical and social history. 

[Image: National Assembly for Wales]

Like Ireland and Scotland, Wales has its own history of folk music, its own cultures and its own dances. The music has distinctive instrumentation and song types. It can traditionally be heard at a twmpath (folk dance session), gŵyl werin (folk festival) or noon lawen (traditional party similar to the Gaelic ceilidh). The fact that Welsh music is less familiar than that of England, Scotland and Ireland is simply due to many years of suppression.

The main reasons for this effectual annihilation of Welsh history were politics and religion. Various Acts of Union, and in particular the 1707 Act that formed the Kingdom of Great Britain, promoted the English language and the eradication of Welsh culture, and the rise of the Methodist Church in the 18th and 19th century further silenced Welsh voices. 

The fervent zeal of the religious revival of the latter part of the last century and the early years of the present century, persecuted and exiled old traditionally Welsh dances.

A Welsh Folk Dancing Handbook by A E Williams

Wales is a small country. It stretches only 130 miles from north to south with a population of around 3 million. Its initial loss of independence came with the fall of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd during the 13th century. In 1536 Wales was brought under the laws and customs of the English crown and the Welsh language was outlawed. The nationalism prevalent during the 18th century went some way to encourage Welsh patriotism, which slowly grew throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. St David’s Day celebrations became common, the red dragon (the royal badge of Wales since 1807) and an unofficial national anthem (Hen Wlad fy nhadau or Land of My Fathers has been used since around 1905) returned a sense of national identity and pride. But much of what could be interpreted as Welsh patriotism was a tourist-orientated and romanticised ‘Victorian’ version of the country’s genuine culture.

In recent decades much work has been done to advance the Welsh language and the customs of Wales. Radio and television channels transmit in Welsh, the country has an increasing presence in parliament from members of Plaid Cymru, and in September 1997 a national referendum furnished Wales with its own elected assembly. Thanks to the work of individuals and societies like the Welsh Folk Dance Society (formed in 1949) there is an abundance of Welsh folk dancing today. 

About the dances

Welsh folk dancing encompasses several forms of dance – set dance (couple dancing), Morris dance and clog (or step) dance.

Clog dancers create rhythmic sounds by the placing and timing of their steps, manipulated with foot, ankle and shoe, a wooden-soled clog. Clog dancing differs from tap dancing in that it relies on the use of the whole foot rather than the ball of the foot, but like other forms of dance it includes the use of improvisation. Male dancers would often perform solo step dances in the local village pubs, competitive displays of virility, strength and agility. Women’s solo step dances were generally more controlled and portray aspects of folklore such as the ‘Mother of Wales’ and local customs such as courting rituals.

Set dancing is a kind of dance where everyone can join in and the dance can often be learned quickly. If you have ever learned a ceilidh dance at a wedding or party this will be a familiar concept. Folk dances are social by nature. This can be seen in the Children Festival, Gwyl y Plant, where children from all over Wales come together to dance the simple twmpath dances.

Some dances, including court dances, are much better suited for display and are most often seen at Eisteddfods where the dance itself and the skill of the dancers is important. In fact, these competitions have helped to raise the standard of dancing. Dance performances must be based on traditional patterns and steps, though it is argued by some participants that this hinders the natural development of a living tradition.

Morris dancing also exists in Wales. Dances are associated with important festivals and days including Christmas and the New Year.

Welsh folk dancing only saw a revival in the early 20thcentury, making it a relatively young tradition. Its survival and progression relies on its popularity with younger generations. The tradition was suppressed for over a century, and there is no way of fully knowing what a folk dance looked like. The music and dance styles from other countries and regions within the British Isles will have influenced Welsh dance in the meantime, and these influences are as integral to the tradition as they have been to the history that built it. Old manuscripts, notations and visual recollections provide clues but no absolute points of reference that a dance was ‘exactly’ one way or another. In some ways this gives the opportunity to look at where Welsh dance fits in Wales today, rather than holding onto an authentic version of its steps, styles and meaning, opening the way for the true continuation of a living tradition. 

Welsh folk dancing only saw a revival in the early 20th century, making it a relatively young tradition. Its survival and progression relies on its popularity with younger generations. Dancing in Wales was suppressed for over a century, and there is no way of fully knowing what a folk dance looked like. The music and dance styles from other countries and regions within the British Isles will have influenced Welsh dance in the meantime, and these influences are as integral to the tradition as they have been to the history that built it. Old manuscripts, notations and visual recollections provide clues but no absolute points of reference that a dance was ‘exactly’ one way or another. In some ways this gives the opportunity to look at where Welsh dance fits in Wales today, rather than holding onto an authentic version of its steps, styles and meaning, opening the way for the true continuation of a living tradition. 




Nationalism in Music: A Grand Expression of Political Turbulence

The Eduqas A-level music syllabus includes study of Western Classical music of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

The syllabus asks students to explore this era, which “witnessed a fading romanticism and looked forward to new directions and musical challenges”.

This was a period of change and emancipation. No single composer led the way in terms of style, and artistic creativity was expressed with compositional devices including explorations in instrumental sonority and harmony, including increased use of dissonance and chromaticism. Nationalism, the use of cultural and patriotic references including the integration of elements of folk songs and folklore (often as programmatic forms and ideas) became an important feature.

However, alongside the stylistic emancipation, which has to some extent become romanticised in itself in the music history texts, this was a period of significant upheaval and in some areas of the world, restriction, dictatorship and death camps.

What Prompted the Rise of Nationalism?

Nationalism in music did not exist out of context. Rather topically to today’s political events, it was an ideological movement that provided an important factor in the development of Europe. In the late 19th century (1871), both Germany and Italy were newly unified, created from their various regional states and given a common ‘national identity’. Other countries, including Serbia, Poland, Greece, Bulgaria and Romania, were formed in uprisings against the Ottoman Empire and Russia. At a time of social and political upheaval, romantic nationalism purportedly represented a general optimism for self-determined rule by newly formed government in place of the traditional monarchies and foreign control of territories. 

The Dark Side of Nationalism

It is common for nationalism in music to be superficially explained as the patriotic exploration of a nation’s folk music in the high cultural field, which makes sense in light of the new feeling of identity. However, if nationalism can be described as calling on people “to identify with the interests of their national group and to support the creation of a state – a nation-state – to support those interests,” (Professor Leon Baradat) music could also be used as a propaganda tool. It is interesting that when current politics demonstrate the dangers of nationalism, or of strong national identity without inclusion or integration, this element is often romanticised as a positive expression in the context of classical music

The truth is, composers were not always exploring nationalist ideas out of sheer creative and patriotic inspiration. This was demonstrated with the discovery of a Suite on Finnish Themesby Dmitri Shostakovich, which was written in 1939 but only discovered in 2001. The composer had never claimed authorship of the suite, it was never performed in his lifetime, and only one reference is made to it in his letters. Why?

The Winter War began on November 30th 1939, when the Red Army invaded Finland. Research shows that the Soviet government commissioned Shostakovich to write a suite based on Finnish melodies. The commission was instigated between November 23rd and 25th 1939, with a completion date of December 2nd, representing the timeframe of the invasion and the proposed date of occupation. 

A Finnish machine gun station during the Winter War

This was a propaganda tool. If the invasion had succeeded, Shostakovich’s suite would have been performed by Red Army marching bands in the streets of Helsinki, either with the intention to demonstrate the Soviet commitment to nurturing Finnish culture and prevent dissent, or to further humiliate the Finnish people after their defeat.

Shostakovich had a notably difficult relationship with the Soviet state throughout his life. He was one of the few composers who did not flee Russia when the revolution took place, and he was kept under close scrutiny. The Finnish commission of 1939 came some time after the composer’s first denouncement by the Communist Party, and these condemnations of Shostakovich’s music were not insignificant.

In fear for his life, Shostakovic was forced to take a more conservative and patriotic approach, as heard in particular in his 1937 Fifth Symphony. His acceptance of the commission to write the Suite on Finnish Themes demonstrates this forced patriotism. Shostakovich needed to escape the Communist Party backlash and return to Stalin’s favour. His alternative, the consequence for dissention, the Gulags. 

Further Examples of Nationalism in Music

Edvard Grieg – Norway

Grieg combined elements of traditional Norwegian folk songs with the Romantic style, often using poems by Norwegian poets such as Henrik Ibsen and Bjornstjerne Bjornson to set to his vocal songs.

His Opus 25, a set of six songs all set to poems by Ibsen, is a good example of his compositional style, demonstrating his feelings about nationalism through his synthesis of compositional elements and text. The form, harmony and melody of his works reflect his close relationship with the landscape of his home country. 

Bela Bartók – Hungary

Bartók is often painted as a highly nationalist composter, but study of his music shows how his idea of nationalism developed throughout his career and actually became diluted by social awareness.

In his late teens, in allegiance to the divisive politics of Hungarian nationalism he was attracted to what was known as the Hungarian popular music, often performed by Gypsy musicians. One of his early works, the 1903 symphonic poem Kossuth, tells the story of one of the heroes of the 1848-9 revolution.

This work employs characteristic features of the urban Gypsy music, which is also heard in the music of Franz Liszt. Musical devices include the use of a minor key scale with a sharpened fourth note, a short-long rhythmic figure (much like the Scotch-snap found in Scottish folk music) derived from the stress pattern of Hungarian speech, and the emulation of the performance style of indigenous instruments. These included the hammered dulcimer or cimbalom, the sound of which was later made famous in Anton Karas’s score for The Third Man.

However, through the influence of his friend Zoltán Kodály, Bartók was to discover a very different type of Hungarian popular music – music from the countryside. Much like Cecil Sharpe who built up the English folk song and dance collection, Bartók subsequently spent much of his life collecting, editing and cataloguing these folk songs, which he recorded in Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, Serbia, Croatia, North Africa, and Turkey. Along with 2700 Hungarian melodies, Bartók collected 3500 Romanian and 3400 Slovakian tunes, and 10,000 other melodies from field workers.

Gypsy musicians in Budapest, May 1946, image source: http://www.fortepan.hu

One notable aspect of Bartók’s research was that he attempted to be properly systematic and scientific, making use of the recently developed phonograph rather than transcribing by ear. He refined the approach thoughout his life, creating ever more detailed transcriptions and seeking out points of correspondence between the music he had sourced from people of different ethnic backgrounds.

Through this ethnomusicological study he effectively reorientated himself. What had begun in his youth as a narrow Hungarian nationalist outlook became a much broader and more inclusive view. He came to see an essential unity between the rural working people of Hungary and its neighbouring states. In compositional terms this led to a musical style with a firm base in Hungary but which was permeated by elements derived from other cultures.

Richard Rogers’ Oklahoma! The Story of a Game Changing Musical…

Musical Theatre, or ‘Music for Theatre’ is a diverse topic, and the variety and quality it offers ensures its place in the exam board syllabus. Both the AQA and Eduqas at A-Level curriculums give Musical Theatre equal weight to hefty genres like the western classical tradition and jazz.

One composer common to both syllabuses is Richard Rogers (June 28, 1902 – December 30, 1979). Rogers wrote 43 Broadway musicals and more than 900 songs, and is recognised as one of the most significant composers of 20th century American music. He is known in particular for his song-writing partnerships with the lyricists Lorenz Hart and Oscar Hammerstein II. His work has had a significant impact on musical theatre and popular music, and 2018 marks the 75thanniversary of the opening of his ground-breaking musical Oklahoma!

Rogers met Lorenz Hart, his first collaborator, at Columbia University, in 1919. Together they wrote 26 musicals, which were performed on Broadway, in London and recorded in Hollywood. Sadly the partnership ended in 1943 when Hart died. Their work together includes On Your Toes, Babes in Arms, The Boys from Syracuse (based on Shakespeare’s A Comedy of Errors) and Pal Joey.

In 1942 Rodgers began working with Oscar Hammerstein II who he had also met at Columbia University. Hammerstein had already made a name for himself working with Jerome Kern but the partnership of Rogers and Hammerstein took both to higher success. It could be argued that this musical partnership changed the American musical: Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals earned a total of 35 Tony Awards, 15 Academy Awards, two Pulitzer Prizes, two Grammy Awards, and two Emmy Awards.

Their first work was Oklahoma!. The musical was immediately popular and ran for an unprecedented 2,212 performances – 5 years and 9 months. This was a record that it held for 15 years, until My Fair Lady ran for 2,717 performances from March 1956.

The history of Oklahoma! provides its own interesting story. The musical is based on Lynn Riggs’s play of 1930, Green Grow the Lilacs the name of which is from an old American Civil War song. The play, set in ‘Indian territory’ in 1900, seven years before the State of Oklahoma was founded, was performed just 64 times on Broadway between January and March 1931. However, ten years later in 1941, Theresa Helburn, a producer at the Theatre Guild, saw a production of Green Grow the Lilacs which was supplemented with traditional folk songs and square dance. She saw that the play could be the basis of a musical good enough that it might revive the struggling Guild and approached Rogers and Hart about writing it. Rogers was interested in the project and bought the rights to the play.

Green Grow the Lilacs

Rogers had already started talking to Hammerstein about working together with Hart. Hammerstein had said he would be happy to work with Rogers if Hart were unable to work, and as Hart was struggling with alcoholism and finding it hard to write, it was suggested that Hammerstein would be an ideal new partner for Rogers.

Coincidentally, Hammerstein had already considered setting Green Grow the Lilacs to music, but his then collaborator, Kern was not interested, so when he heard that Rogers was looking for a partner to write the show, he jumped at the opportunity.

One of the reasons the Rogers and Hammerstein partnership worked so well was that the partnership allowed both collaborators to follow their preferred writing methods: Hammerstein preferred to write a complete lyrics before his libretto was set to music, and Rodgers preferred to set completed lyrics to music. It has been suggested that this permitted Hammerstein to build the lyrics into the story so that the songs could enhance the story instead of diverting it.

The work was originally called Away We Go! But following tryouts, it was re-named Oklahoma!for the Broadway run.

According to playwright and theatre writer Thomas Hischak,

Not only is Oklahoma!the most important of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals, it is also the single most influential work in the American musical theatre. … It is the first fully integrated musical play and its blending of song, character, plot and even dance would serve as the model for Broadway shows for decades.

However, initially it was expected that the show would bomb. According to theatrehistory.com

The saga of the trials and tribulations of Oklahoma!before it reached its premiere performance in New York to become one of the surpassing triumphs of the American theatre is now a twice-told tale. Virtually everybody connected with the production was convinced he was involved with a box-office disaster. Here was a musical without stars; without “gags” and humour; without the sex appeal of chorus girls in flimsy attire. Here was a musical that strayed into realism and grim tragedy, with Jud as one of the main characters, and his death as a climax of the story. Here, finally, was a musical which for the first time in Broadway history leaned heavily upon American folk-ballet–the choreography by Agnes De Mille, one of America’s foremost choreographers and ballet dancers. Oklahoma!might be fine art, was the general consensus of opinion before premiere time, but it was poison at the box-office. The effort to get the necessary financial backing proved to be a back-breaking operation, successfully consummated only because the Theatre Guild, which had undertaken the production, had many friends and allies. But there was hardly an investor anywhere who did not think he was throwing his money down a sewer.”

In 1955 the show was made into a feature film, in fact, the first feature film shot in 70mm widescreen. It was also unique in that Rodgers and Hammerstein, having held onto the rights until the stage run had finished, personally oversaw the making of the film to ensure that no changes were made. As a result, the film follows the stage version much more closely than any other Rodgers and Hammerstein. The film won Academy Awards for Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture and Best Sound, Recording.

Fact file:

  • One innovative feature of Oklahoma! is the dream ballet sequence which reveals the hidden fears and desires of the main characters: A device that was later used in many musicals including, famously An American in Paris: 
  • A key element of the story, following in the footsteps of Show Boat (also by Hammerstein) and Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, is the showcasing on Broadway of the pioneering men and women who had worked the land of the American Southwest. It has been suggested that harking back to the ‘good old days’ was timely as Americans fought in the Second World War. Roger and Hammerstein’s Carousel in 1945 also built on this theme.
  • Oklahoma!It opened at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane on April 30, 1947 to rave press reviews and sell-out houses, running for 1,543 performances. Its pre-London run opened a day late at the Manchester Opera House on April 18, 1947, because the ship carrying the cast, scenery, and costumes ran aground on a sandbank off Southampton.
  • The exclamation mark in the show’s title was in common use in musical titles in the 1930s and 1940s. As George Jean Nathan, an American drama critic and magazine editor stated “It seems that the moment anyone gets hold of an exclamation mark these days, he promptly writes a musical show around it”.
  • As the end of the musical celebrates the formation of the state of Oklahoma, the title song became the official state song of Oklahoma in 1953 and is the only state song from a Broadway musical.
  • Richard Rodgers was the first person to win all four top show business awards. He was awarded an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony, and also won a Pulitzer Prize.
The dream sequence from An American in Paris

Songs from the musical:

Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’

The Surrey with the Fringe on Top

Kansas City

I Cain’t Say No

Many a New Day

People Will Say We’re in Love

Pore Jud Is Daid

Out of My Dreams

The Farmer and the Cowman Annie, Laurey, Ike Skidmore, Cord Elam & Ensemble

All Er Nuthin’

Oklahoma

BBC Proms performances with the John Wilson Orchestra:

Kubrick and the Timelessness of Classical Music

2018 is the 50th anniversary of Stanley Kubrick’s groundbreaking science fiction film, 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The narrative follows a voyage to Jupiter with a sentient computer called HAL. It explores themes of human evolution, technology, existentialism, artificial intelligence and the possibility of extraterrestrial life. The film features scientifically accurate depictions of spaceflight, ambitious imagery and groundbreaking special effects.

However, the aspect that arguably makes the film so memorable is the use of sound. Dialogue is sparse – there are only 40 minutes of it in a two and a half hour movie – and rather than the constant underscoring to which film audiences have become accustomed, almost no music is used in scenes with dialogue.

When there is music, the choice and use of music is significant. Whilst two composers, first Frank Cordell, then leading Hollywood professional Alex North were engaged to score the film, Cordell never got off the starting blocks, and Kubrick abandoned North’s score, deciding instead to use a selection of pieces of classical music – pieces that have now become synonymous with the film – marrying music from an age with which we might feel detached with an exploration of an age we have not yet lived.

In 1968 the use of classical music in films was not new (for example, David Lean used Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto to great effect in his film Brief Encounter in 1945) it had been standard practice since the dawn of the ‘talkies’ to score music directly for each film. In fact, a major part of the appeal for movie audiences was the chance to hear new, original music.

And film music had been as original as it comes from the start. For the 1951 film, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Bernard Herrmann pioneered an early form of multi-track recording, laying down the sound of two Hammond organs, a vibraphone, an electrically-amplified violin and a pair of Theremins. ‘

Seven years later, in 1958, Louis and Bebe Barron generated the world’s first all-electronic film score for Forbidden Planet. The score was so modernist that the studio billed them as creators of “electronic tonalities” rather than as musicians.

Despite his very different approach, Kubrick’s use of music was breathtakingly innovative, both in the illustrative power of music to support visual effects and in the way he managed to create such originality with pre-existing music.

Take the “stargate” sequence near the end of the film. It’s nothing more than a mosaic of brilliant colours rushing past and would have been completely ineffective without the music of György Ligeti, yet the scene was not conceived around the music any more than the music was written for the scene.

In this scene, the vast loneliness of space is wonderfully expressed in Khachaturian’s Adagio from the Gayane Ballet Suite.

Ligeti was understandably shocked on attending the Vienna premiere of the film to discover that four of his compositions had been used without permission. He was later to receive a modest payment from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios (MGM) and substantial royalties. However, by acknowledging Ligeti’s work in the final credits, Kubrick made the composer world famous and the two became friends over subsequent collaborations. Alex North was equally shocked to discover that his score had been totally dropped.

Although MGM Studios were not advocates of the ‘unoriginal’ soundtrack, they were perhaps instrumental in its existence. In March 1966, the studio had become concerned about the progress of the film. Kubrick put together a show reel of footage to an ad hoc soundtrack of classical recordings. The studio bosses were delighted with the results, and Kubrick abandoned North’s score in favour of his ‘guide pieces’. 

Kubrick explained his reasoning in an interview with Michel Ciment:

However good our best film composers may be, they are not a Beethoven, a Mozart or a Brahms. Why use music which is less good when there is such a multitude of great orchestral music available from the past and from our own time? When you are editing a film, it’s very helpful to be able to try out different pieces of music to see how they work with the scene…Well, with a little more care and thought, these temporary tracks can become the final score.

The most easily recognised piece and the one perhaps most associated with 2001 is the opening theme from the Richard Strauss tone poem, Also sprach Zarathustra(Usually translated as “Thus Spake Zarathustra” or “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”.

The theme is used both at the start and the conclusion of the film.

While the end music credits do not list a conductor and orchestra for Also Sprach Zarathustra, Kubrick wanted the Herbert von Karajan/Vienna Philharmonic version. Decca executives did not want their recording ‘cheapened’ by association with the movie, and so gave permission for its use on the condition that the conductor and orchestra were not named. When the movie was a massive success, the label tried to rectify its blunder by re-releasing the recording with an “As Heard in 2001” flag printed on the album cover…

The full track listing comprises only six pieces of music:

  1. Also sprach Zarathustra by Richard Strauss         
  2. Requiem for Soprano, Mezzo-Soprano, 2 Mixed Choirs and Orchestra by György Ligeti
  3. Lux Aeterna by György Ligeti
  4. The Blue Danube by Johann Strauss II
  5. Gayane Ballet Suite (Adagio) by Aram Khachaturian
  6. Atmosphères by György Ligeti
  7. The Blue Danube by Johann Strauss II
  8. Also sprach Zarathustra by Richard Strauss

It’s notable that Kubrick’s spaceships waltzed to the Blue Danube by Johann Strauss II while NASA was girding its technological loins to put the first man on the moon.

2001: A Space Odysseyis widely considered to be one of the greatest and most influential films ever made. In 1991, the United States Library of Congress deemed it to be “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and selected the film for preservation in the National Film Registry. Sight & Soundmagazine ranked 2001: A Space Odysseysixth in the top ten films of all time in its 2002 and 2012 critics’ polls editions. It also won joint second place in the magazine’s 2012 directors’ poll. In 2010, it was named the greatest film of all time by The Moving Arts Film Journal (source Wikipedia).

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