Composers DatebookAuthor: American Public Media
19 Feb 2019

Composers Datebook

Download, listen or watch all podcasts

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.

  • Listen

    Haydn and Asia Symphonies

    In February of 1794, the Austrian composer Franz Joseph Haydn arrived in England for his second visit, and the premiere performances of some of his newest symphonies, beginning with one in E-flat Major that we know as his Symphony No. 99. Haydn would write 104 symphonies in all—an astonishing accomplishment, considering both their quantity and quality. In typically modest fashion, Haydn once commented: “I compose music so that the weary and worn, or the man burdened with affairs, may enjoy a few moments of solace and refreshment. I know that God has bestowed a talent upon me, and I thank Him for it. I think I have done my duty and been of use in my generation by my works. Let others do the same.” Well, these days, as in Haydn’s, to write a symphony one needs talent and an orchestra willing to perform it. The American composer Daniel Asia has a way to go before matching Haydn’s output, but has composed at least five symphonies to date. The first was commissioned by the American Composers Orchestra and the Seattle Symphony, and received its premiere performance in Seattle, Asia’s hometown, on today’s date in 1990. This music is from the finale of Asia’s Fourth Symphony, a commission from the Phoenix Symphony. And, perhaps thinking of Haydn’s creations of some two centuries earlier, Asia writes: “This Fourth Symphony is my most 'classical’ in structure and sound... in this piece I was rediscovering old formal ideas.”

  • Posted on 19 Feb 2019

    download
  • Listen

    Hanson's Fifth

    In a creative life that spanned over 60 years, the American composer Howard Hanson never wavered in his belief that music should be tonal in nature and fundamentally Romantic in style, with strong and clear melodic lines. By the mid-1950s, many other European and American composers were espousing a far different approach to music, favoring an abstract and often densely complex style, more in harmony with the non-representational canvases of the painter Jackson Pollack than the meticulous realism of, say, Norman Rockwell. On today’s date in 1955, this music, Hanson’s Symphony No. 5, had its premiere performance by the Philadelphia Orchestra under Eugene Ormandy. It’s the most compact of Hanson’s seven symphonies, a single-movement work in three sections lasting just 15 minutes. Hanson titled the work “Sinfonia Sacra” or “A Sacred Symphony,” and suggested it was inspired by the account of Christ’s resurrection in the Gospel of St. John. “The Sinfonia Sacra does not attempt programmatically to tell the story of the first Easter,” wrote Hanson, “but does attempt to invoke some of the atmosphere of tragedy and triumph, mysticism and affirmation of this story, which is the essential symbol of the Christian faith.” For many decades Hanson, along with other “unfashionably traditional” symphonists like Walter Piston and David Diamond, were neglected by most American orchestras, but more recently are making something of a comeback in concert halls and on compact discs.

  • Posted on 18 Feb 2019

    download
  • Listen

    Carter times Three

    The American composer Elliott Carter has a reputation for writing some of the thorniest, most abstract and most technically difficult orchestral scores of the 20th century. But for a few moments at least, during the opening of Carter’s “Symphony of Three Orchestras,” which had its premiere performance on today’s date in 1977 at a New York Philharmonic concert conducted by Pierre Boulez, audiences must have been surprised by an impressionistic, almost Romantic tone. In notes for the new piece, Carter admitted the opening of the new work was inspired by the poetry of Hart Crane, specifically Crane’s description of the New York harbor and the Brooklyn Bridge. Both those New York landmarks were a short walk away from Carter’s lower Manhattan apartment in 1977. Carter’s 15-minute “Symphony of Three Orchestras” quickly shifts into his more recognizably dense style, however, and, as the title indicates, employs three orchestras on one stage, playing with and against each other at various points. As the New York Times reviewer wrote: “Mr. Carter has never made concessions to his listeners. The dissonances are Ivesian, with everything coming together in the end in smashing volleys of shrieking sound. It will take many hearings for the relationships of the score to assert themselves, though one can be confident that Mr. Carter, one of the most accomplished constructionists of the age, has assembled everything with pin-point logic.”

  • Posted on 17 Feb 2019

    download
  • Listen

    Corigliano at the Circus Maximus

    Today’s date marks the birthday in 1938 of the American composer John Corigliano, and also, in 2005, of the premiere performance of his Symphony No. 3, a work scored for large wind ensemble. The premiere performance was given in Austin, Texas, by the University of Texas Wind Ensemble led by Jerry F. Junkin. Coriglian titled his new symphony “Circus Maximus,” and offered this explanation: “The Circus Maximus of ancient Rome was a real place. The largest arena in the world, it entertained over 300,000 spectators daily for nearly a thousand years. Chariot races, hunts and battles satisfied the Roman public’s need for grander and wilder amusements as the Empire declined. The parallels between the high decadence of Rome and our present time are obvious. Entertainment dominates our culture, and ever-more-extreme ‘reality’ shows dominate our entertainment. Many of us have become as bemused by the violence and humiliation that flood the 500-plus channels of our television screens as those mobs of imperial Rome who considered the devouring of human beings by starving lions just another Sunday show.” In performance, Corigliano asks that a huge array of brass, wind, and percussion surround the audience on all sides. As brass instruments roar and cheer all around them, the audience is meant to feel more like the watched than the watchers, and Corigliano ends the work with a bang—literally—as a shotgun blast provides the symphony’s final exclamation point!

  • Posted on 16 Feb 2019

    download
  • Listen

    Miaskovsky and Brooks for band

    Between 1908 and 1950, the Russian composer Nikolai Miaskovsky composed 27 symphonies. One of them his Symphony No. 19 for military wind band, premiered on today’s date in 1939 at the Cominterm Radio Station in Moscow, and was dedicated to the Red Army. The Red Army’s bandmaster had asked Miaskovsky to write something, and at first the composer was rather reluctant. “The difficulties of this unusual task oppressed and discouraged me,” he wrote, “but I was anxious to keep my promise and soon mustered a fair spurt of energy, with the result that instead of a simple piece in one movement, I was able to send him a complete symphony in four movements.” The resulting work was, in fact, one of the normally melancholic Miaskovky’s most upbeat works. These days, American audiences are most likely to encounter concert works for symphonic winds at colleges and universities. This piece from 1997, entitled “Dreadnought,” is by the American composer Jeffrey Brooks, who wrote it for the University of Minnesota Symphonic Wind Ensemble, who recorded the piece. The title “Dreadnought,” says Brooks, means a total absence of fear, and was also a name given to a class of heavily armed battleships of the early 20th century. Brooks notes he wrote the piece while contemplating his two small childrens’ contrasting natures: “Ronan had no fears,” writes Brooks, “and would happily get in a cage with a tiger. Adelle was inventing new fears daily, trying them on, discarding some while keeping others.”

  • Posted on 15 Feb 2019

    download

Follow Playlisto