Composers Datebook 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.
Composers Datebook

Composers Datebook

From American Public Media

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.

Most Recent Episodes

Shostakovich's 60th

Synopsis On today's date in 1966, the 60th birthday of composer Dimitri Shostakovich was celebrated at the Moscow Conservatory with a gala orchestral concert of his music. Cellist Mstislav Rostropovich gave the premiere performance of Shostakovich's brand-new Second Cello Concerto, and the composer's son, Maxim, conducted his father's youthful Symphony No. 1 from 1926. On the morning of the concert, it was announced that, for his outstanding services in the development of Soviet musical culture, the Central Committee had awarded Shostakovich the title "Hero of Socialist Labor," along with the Order of Lenin and the gold medal "Hammer and Sickle." Ironically, earlier that year, Shostakovich had composed a self-deprecating parody piece for voice and piano titled "Preface to the Complete Edition of My Works and a Brief Reflection apropos of This Preface," whose text included a deadpan recitation of just a small portion of the many honorific titles he had received and the imposing but meaningless official posts with which he had been honored — and now, he found, he had been awarded several more to boot! All that must have seemed grimly comic to Shostakovich, who, some 30th years earlier, had written an opera which had so offended Joseph Stalin that the composer had come perilously close to disappearing without a trace into the Soviet prison system. Music Played in Today's Program Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975): Symphony No. 1, Op. 10 –St. Petersburg Philharmonic; Yuri Temikanov, cond. (BMG 68844) Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975): Cello concerto No. 2. Op. 126 –Msistislav Rostropovich, cello; Boston Symphony; Seiji Ozawa, cond. (DG 437 952)

Bach and Hoover "double their pleasure, double their fun"

Synopsis In the age of the Baroque, Double Concertos were quite common: there were concertos written for two flutes, two trumpets, or, like the famous concerto by J.S. Bach, for two violins. These Double Concertos represented a civilized give-and-take between the two soloists, a sense of balance or decorum perhaps typical of 18th century society in general. In the 19th century, however, the concept of the solitary artist as hero — or rebel — helped make the virtuosic solo concerto much more typical of the Romantic age. In our time, the Double Concerto occasionally makes a civilized comeback, and, on today's date in 1989, one for two violins was premiered in Pittsburgh, Kansas. It's by the American composer Katherine Hoover, who offered this explanation: "When two violinists get together to perform with an orchestra, its usually a friendly celebration, a chance for colleagues who value each other's talents and skills to enjoy making music together... So I began to think: If I were one of the players, I would want the piece to be grateful and warm, with lyricism and a sense of playfulness. This is what I have attempted to write." Katherine Hoover's 1989 Double Concerto was commissioned and premiered by the Southeastern Kansas Orchestra. Music Played in Today's Program J.S. Bach (1685-1750): Double Concerto in d, S. 1043 –Vladimir Spivakov, Arkady Futer, violins; Moscow Virtuosi; Vladimir Spivakov, cond. (RCA 7991) Katherine Hoover (1937-2018): Double Concerto –David Perry, Suzanne Beia, violins; Wisconsin Philomusic; Vartan Manoogian, cond. (Parnasus 96019)

A Mass in Time of Terror?

Synopsis If you were a member of the European nobility, the summer of 1798 was a scary time. That revolutionary wild man Napoleon Bonaparte had crushed your armies on land and now word had it his fleet had escaped a British blockade. The possibility that Napoleon would control both land and sea struck terror in many a nobleman's breast. During this anxious time Prince Nicholas Esterhazy the Second's favorite composer Joseph Haydn composed a Latin mass titled "Missa in angustiis" or "Mass in Time of Fear." It opens in the key of d minor, the key employed by Mozart for the spookiest scenes in "Don Giovanni," an opera that had made a big impression on Haydn at its premiere in Vienna ten years earlier. As Haydn scholar H. C. Robbins Landon puts it, in 'Don Giovanni,' 18th century listeners were presented with "the presence of real fear – nay terror." So, when word reached the rattled princes of Europe that the British Admiral Nelson had destroyed the French fleet, everyone breathed a huge sigh of relief, and, coincidentally, Haydn ends his Mass in the more optimistic key of D Major. First performed on today's date in 1798, Haydn's work soon came to be known as the "Lord Nelson Mass," and in Robbins Landon's view stands as "arguably Haydn's greatest single composition." Music Played in Today's Program Franz Joseph Haydn: Missa in angustiis (Lord Nelson Mass)

Higdon welcomes Autumn

Synopsis As the season begins, we offer you this "Autumn Music" — a woodwind quintet by American composer Jennifer Higdon. Higdon says she wanted to write a companion piece to another famous woodwind quintet titled "Summer Music" by Samuel Barber. Higdon's "Autumn Music" was commissioned by Pi Kappa Lambda, the national music honorary society, and premiered at their 1994 national convention in Pittsburgh. "Autumn Music," says Higdon, "is a sonic picture of the season of brilliant colors. The music of the first part represents the explosion of leaves and the crispness of the air of fall. As the music progresses, it becomes more spare and introspective, moving into a more melancholy and resigned feeling." Jennifer Higdon was born in Brooklyn in 1962, and teaches at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. Her chamber and orchestral pieces have been performed by ensembles coast to coast. She's also active as a performer and, as she explains, as an enthusiastic member of the audience: "I love exploring new works — my own pieces and the music of others — in a general audience setting, just to feel a communal reaction to new sounds. Music speaks to all age levels and all kinds of experiences in our lives. I think it can express anything and everything." Music Played in Today's Program Jennifer Higdon (b. 1962): Autumn Music –Moran Woodwind Quintet (Crystal 754) On This Day Births 1875 - Lithuanian composer Mikolajus Ciurlionis, in Varena (then the Kaunas province of the Russian Empire; Julian date: Sept. 10); 1933 - Spanish composer Leonardo Balada, in Barcelona; 1961 - American composer Michael Torke, in Milwaukee, Wisc.; Deaths 1989 - American song composer Irving Berlin, age 101, in New York City; Premieres 1869 - Wagner: opera, "Das Rheingold," in Munich at the Hoftheater, Franz Wüllner conducting; The opera was performed at the Bavarian emperor Ludwig II's request, but against the composer's wishes; 1938 - Webern: String Quartet, Op. 28, at South Mountain, Pittsfield, Mass., during the Berkshire Chamber Music Festival; This work was commissioned for $750 by the American music patron, Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge; 1964 - Jerry Bock: musical "Fiddler On the Roof" opens on Broadway: It would run for 3,242 performances before closing; 1971 - Barber: "The Lovers" for solo voice and chorus (after a poem by Pablo Neruda), in Philadelphia; 1989 - Bernstein: "Arias and Barcarolles" (orchestrated version prepared by Bright Sheng), at the Tilles Center of Long Island University with the New York Chamber Symphony conducted by Gerard Schwarz and featuring vocalists Susan Graham and Kurt Ollmann; The first version of this work, for soloists and piano four-hands, premiered on May 9, 1988, at Equitable Center Auditorium in New York City; 1990 - James MacMillan: "The Beserking" (Piano Concerto), at Henry Wood Hall in Glasgow by pianist Peter Donohoue and the Royal Scottish Orchestra, Matthias Bamert conducting; 1990 - Christopher Rouse: "Jagannath" for orchestra, by the Houston Symphony Orchestra, Christoph Eschenbach conducting; 2000 - Philip Glass: "Tirol Concerto" for piano and orchestra, by Dennis Russell Davies (piano and conductor) with the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra, at the 7th annual Klangspuren Festival in Schwaz, Tirol (Austria); 2000 - Zwilich: "Millennium Fantasy" for piano and orchestra, by the Cincinnati Symphony, Jesús Lopez-Cobos conducting with soloist Jeffrey Biegel; Others 1937 - During the Spanish Civil War, Mexican composer Silvestre Revueltas conducts his 1935 composition "Homage to Federico Garcia Lorca" in Madrid while the city was under siege by Spanish fascist forces; The Spanish poet Lorca had been killed by the Falangists; Links and Resources On Jennifer Higdon On Barber's "Summer Music"

Of froth and Friml

Synopsis Today's date marks the premiere in New York City, in 1925, of a classic operetta "The Vagabond King" by Rudolf Friml, the source of many once-popular sentimental tunes, including "Love Me Tonight," and "Only a Rose." Friml was born in Prague in 1879, and he studied composition there with no less a master than Antonin Dvorak. He started his career as a piano accompanist to the famous Czech violinist Jan Kubelik, then emigrated to the U.S. in 1906. In 1907, he appeared as a soloist in his own First Piano Concerto with the New York Symphony, and decided to make America his home. Friml wrote two piano concertos, a symphony, solo piano pieces — and three film scores for Hollywood. But he's remembered today chiefly for 24 stage works, beginning in 1912 with "The Firefire," his first big musical success, and continuing with many others, including the 1924 operetta "Rose Marie" – which in 1936 was made into a successful film starring Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy. Their rendition of Friml's "Indian Love Call" has become a campy cult classic. Even Friml was occasionally embarrassed by the success of some of his flufflier pop works, and would publish some of these under the pseudonym of Roderick Freeman. He died in Los Angeles in 1972, aged 92. Music Played in Today's Program Rudolf Friml (1879-1972): Song of the Vagabonds, from The Vagabond King –Eastman-Dryden Orchestra: Donald Hunsberger, cond. (Arabesque 6562) Rudolf Friml (1879-1972): Chanson "In Love" –New London Orchestra; Ronald Corp, cond. (Hyperion 67067)

Sibelius passes

Synopsis Today's date commemorates the death, in 1957, of the most famous Finnish composer of modern times, Jean Sibelius. Born in 1865, Sibelius studied at the University of Helsinki, developed a strong sense of nationalism in the 1890s, and achieved world fame in the first years of the 20th century. He wrote little after the First World War, however, and lived his last 30 years in almost complete seclusion. Even so, he was one of the most popular composers of his time. In 1938, a recording of his tone-poem "Finlandia" was selected as one of only three pieces of music to be deposited along with other artifacts of modern civilization in an indestructible time capsule buried on the site of the New York World's Fair. By 1957, the enormous acclaim that Sibelius enjoyed during his lifetime had faded somewhat, but these days his reputation seems on the rise once again, as does the influence of Finnish music in general. A remarkable number of talented composers are thriving in that tiny nation today, and operas, orchestral works, and chamber pieces by contemporary Finnish composers like Aulis Sallinen, Einojuhanni Rautavaara, Magnus Lindberg and Kaija Saariaho are increasingly finding worldwide audiences. Sibelius would have been very pleased. Music Played in Today's Program Jean Sibelius (1865-1957): Alla Marcia, from Karelia Suite –Finnish Radio Symphony; Jukka-Pekka Saraste, cond. (RCA 7765)

On the Transmigration of Souls

Synopsis On today's date in 2002, just a little over one year after two passenger jetliners had crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, the New York Philharmonic gave the premiere performance of a new work by the American composer John Adams. Entitled "On the Transmigration of Souls," this high-profile commission sought to address a nation still in shock and grief at the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001. "I realized right up front that the public didn't need any more reiteration of the narrative of that day," Adams said in an interview. "Certainly it didn't need some tasteless dramatization of the events... If I was going to do something meaningful, I was going to have to go in the opposite direction." Adams chose to set some of the words scribbled on posters plastered around Ground Zero by families searching for their loved ones. "They were a mixture of hope and a slowly dimming acceptance of reality," Adams said. "When people are deeply in shock... they don't express themselves in fancy language... they speak in the most simple of terms." Adams said he hoped his new piece would provide "memory space," a musical work that could be at once a platform for either communal or personal reflection. Music Played in Today's Program John Adams (b. 1947): On the Transmigration of Souls –New York Philharmonic; Lorin Maazel, cond. (Nonesuch CD 79816)

Prokofiev and Leifs agree: "There's no place like home!"

Synopsis On this day in 1918, Russian composer Serge Prokofiev arrived in America to give a recital of his piano works in New York. He told interviewers that despite the revolution in his homeland and widespread conditions of famine, Russian musicians continued to work. Prokofiev himself, however, stayed away from his homeland for years. His opera "The Love for Three Oranges" and his Third Piano Concerto received their premieres in Chicago in 1921. From 1922 to 1932, Prokofiev lived mainly in Paris before eventually returning home for good. Another temporary expatriate composer, Jón Leifs of Iceland, also has an anniversary today, when in 1950, his "Saga-Symphony" was performed for the first time in Helsinki. Leifs was born in Iceland in 1899 and died there in 1968. He studied in Leipzig, where, in his words, he (quote) "began searching whether, like other countries, Iceland had some material that could be used as a starting-point for new music... some spark that could light the fire." Leif's years in Germany coincided with the rise of the Nazis, who at first found him a sympathetic Nordic composer. When Leifs married a Jewish woman, however, he soon fell out of favor and eventually fled to Sweden with his family. After the war he returned home and today is honored as Iceland's first great composer. Music Played in Today's Program Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953): Piano Concerto No. 3 in C, Op. 26 –Martha Argerich, piano; Montréal Symphony; Charles Dutoit, cond. (EMI Classics 56654) Jón Leifs (1899-1968): Saga Symphony –Iceland Symphony; Osmo Vänskä, cond. (BIS 730)

Ellington's "Money Jungle"

Synopsis In 1962, American jazz composer, performer, and bandleader "Duke" Ellington was 63 years old – an acknowledged master, but trends in American jazz were changing, and there were much younger figures emerging, with more challenging styles. Take, for example, the bassist Charles Mingus, Jr, a master of collective improvisation, and drummer Max Roach, a pioneer in the Be-Bop movement. Despite their age and stylistic differences, these three jazz titans went into a recording studio on today's date in 1962 and, while tape rolled, using bare-bones charts provided by Ellington of melodies and harmonies, the three jazz titans improvised. The results were issued the following year as a classic LP entitled, "Money Jungle." Despite his fame, Ellington did not have a recording contract in 1962, and, perhaps after decades experiencing the highs and lows of life as a Black jazz musician in a segregated society, "Money Jungle" reflects a certain bitterness. Along with the charts he gave Mingus and Roach, Ellington also provided poetic story lines for each track, like: "Crawling around on the streets are serpents who have their heads up; these are agents and people who have exploited artists. Play that along with the music." Music Played in Today's Program Duke Ellington (1899-1974), Charles Mingus (1922-1979), and Max Roach (1924-2007) –Money Jungle: Blue Note 31461

A concerto by Sally Beamish

Synopsis The British composer Sally Beamish was born in London and studied music there and in Germany, but more recently has come to be associated with both Scotland and Sweden due to successful composer residencies in those two countries. Her saxophone concerto, "The Imagined Sound of Sun on Stone," is a perfect example of this association. "The piece begins with a reference to a Swedish herding call," she explains, "a special high-pitched song which carries over long distances... after this the music becomes more fragmentary, half-heard glimpses, as if the shaft of light has somehow released sounds stored in stone for millennia, layers of music long forgotten... drawing on psalms and chants from different tradition celebrating the enlightenment of [Pentecost]." The work was a joint commission of the St. Magnus Festival which takes place at midsummer on the islands of Orkney off the north coast of mainland Scotland, a landscape of wind-swept cliffs, and the Swedish Chamber Orchestra. The premiere performance took place at the St. Magnus Festival in June of 1999, and on today's date that same year, the concerto's Swedish herding call was heard in that country at its Örebro premiere. Music Played in Today's Program Sally Beamish (b. 1956) –The Imagined Sound of Sun on Stone (John Harle, sax; Swedish Chamber Orchestra; Ola Rudner, cond.) BIS 1161