Winter experience in Northern Music

terje_isungsetYou can’t get more quintessentially wintry than playing music on instruments made from ice. Norwegian composer Terje Isungset makes a habit of playing on ice trumpets, ice drums, ice xylophones in his popular album Winter Songs.

Another northern composer, the Finnish Sibelius whose almost last piece for piano was composed in 1929. The Winter Scene of the Five Sketches begins with deceptive lightness, and then becomes huge. It’s as if the music first paints the frost on a twig, and then steps back to evoke a mighty, brooding forest.

The “second greatest” composer of Italian opera

Giacomo_PucciniGiacomo Antonio Domenico Michele Secondo Maria Puccini was an Italian composer whose operas, including La Bohème, Tosca, Madama Butterfly, and Turandot are among the most frequently performed. Judged by contemporary standards, Puccini was something of a conservative. He described Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring as “a creation of a madman”. In 1908 alone, Tosca was heard in 53 French opera houses, 12 in Spain, eight in both Austria and Germany and three in Switzerland. The last word should go to Puccini himself who, when working on his final opera Turandot, commented: “Almighty God touched me with his little finger and said: “Write for the theatre – mind, only for the theatre. And I have obeyed his supreme command”. 

(Magyar) A klasszikus zene 2019-ben

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(Magyar) Interjú
Boros Misivel

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(Magyar) Interjú
Miklósa Erikával

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Benjamin Britten: a militant pacifist

brittensum_2451119bAs an anti-militarist, Britten was adamant that he was not going to participate in the homefront efforts leading up to the Second World War. However, his pacifist claims were not formally recognised in the United Kingdom, and so he moved to the United States in April 1939. When he returned to the UK in 1942, he was finally granted the status of “Conscientious Objector” by Churchill’s government. In 1962, the new Coventry Cathedral was inaugurated after the original was bombed during the war in 1940.  For the inauguration of the cathedral Britten composed a powerful choral fresco, the War Requiem, which merged together traditional Latin masses and Wilfred Owen’s poetry in order to denounce the atrocities of war. It was performed with male soloists from a range of different countries who were implicated by the war. Behind them, a soprano delivered words of hope. Many today consider this piece to be Britten’s masterpiece.

The uniqueness of Boccherini

Luigi_BoccheriniBorn in Italy to a family of musicians, Luigi Boccherini spent the majority of his life composing in Spain for the court of Madrid. He became so at home there that he even signed certain documents “Luis”, a Spanish spelling of Luigi. He was a profound composer and a gifted cellist as he composed at least 19 sonatas and 12 concertos for the instrument! He is associated with the development of the cello. Known as the greatest cellist in Europe, Luigi Boccherini possessed probably the finest instruments of his time. The instruments of the Italian luthier Antonio Stradivari are today better known than they were in their day, one of them, however, a cello of 1709 is nicknamed the Boccherini. Sadly there is no written evidence suggesting this instrument belonged to the great cellist making it impossible to determine that, out of the hundreds of instrument makers of the time, Boccherini chose to play a Stradivarius.

Friendship: a source of inspiration

klimt_beethovenFriendship plays a key part in music, and has inspired some very well-known works. It brings artists together, but is also a major theme in composition. Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 is undoubtedly the best example of this. It’s based on a poem by Schiller that celebrates brotherhood and the coming together of humanity for a better world – themes that were very close to Beethoven’s heart. Gustav Klimt would later pay homage to this symphony in a fresco for an exhibition space in the Viennese Secession Building, a meeting place for this artistic movement that advocated the international exchange of ideas and the fight against rising nationalism in European countries.

The mysterious Barbara Strozzi

barbara strozziBarbara Strozzi was born in 1619 in her father, Giulio Strozzi’s house. He was a prominent Venetian poet and libretto editor for his operatic composer friends. Barbara was probably his illegitimate child, born from his union with one of his servants, Isabella Garzoni. At a very young age, Barbara demonstrated her musical skills with her remarkable voice. Perhaps not wanting to spoil her gifts by confining her to a convent, and unable to marry her for lack of a sufficient dowry, her father encouraged her to sing and then compose. Beginning in 1634, Giulio had her working with one of the most influential Venetian opera composers of the time, Francesco Cavalli. He organised private concerts so that Barbara’s works could be heard. Over her life, she composed more than 125 works. Most of her works were vocal: madrigals, cantatas, and duets which she often dedicated to potential patrons.


clara schumann“I once believed that I possessed creative talent, but I have given up this idea; a woman must not desire to compose—there has never yet been one able to do it. Should I expect to be the one?”

Clara Schumann was a virtuosic pianist by the age of 9 and become one of the finest performers of the time. Goethe and Liszt praised her playing and in her later life she was a great teacher, contributing much to modern piano technique. However, like her husband Robert, she had a passion for composition. She produced 40 works, many of which are performed and recorded today. As she grew older, she found it more difficult to compose. Instead she dedicated her energy to the care of her ailing husband, her eight children, and the promotion and editorial work on all of Robert’s works. Robert expressed his concern: “She cannot work at it regularly, and I am often disturbed to think how many profound ideas are lost because she cannot work them out.” .

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