Henry Purcell

Purcell1England’s greatest composer of the Baroque era, Henry Purcell (1659-95) was dubbed the “Orpheus Britannicus” for his ability to combine powerful English counterpoint with expressive, flexible, and dramatic word settings. Purcell was born in 1659 to Henry Purcell, master of choristers at Westminster Abbey, and his wife Elizabeth. On September 10, 1677, Purcell was given the Court position of composer-in-ordinary for the violins. Purcell, a great keyboard virtuoso by his late teens, received a second important post in 1679, this one succeeding Blow as organist at Westminster Abbey, a position he would retain all his life. Purcell was appointed one of three organists at the Chapel Royal in the summer of 1682, his most prestigious post yet. Purcell composed his first ode for St Cecilia’s Day in 1683. The following month, upon Hingeston’s death, he was named Royal Instrument Keeper while retaining his other posts. In 1685 the new King, James II, introduced many changes at Court, one of which was to make Purcell the Court harpsichordist and Blow the Court composer. With the ascension of William and Mary to the throne on April 11, 1689, Purcell retained his post as Royal Instrument Keeper, and he, along with Blow and Alexander Damazene, shared the duties of Court composers. One of Purcell’s greatest successes came in 1689 with the production of Dido and Aeneas. He then collaborated with John Dryden on King Arthur in 1691, and also composed the music for The Fairy-Queen (1692), based on Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, both productions also scoring triumphs.

Clara Schumann

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?”

Born on September 13, 1819 in Leipzig, Clara Schumann was a virtuosic pianist by the age of 9 and become one of the finest performers of the time. She was regarded as one of the most distinguished pianists of the Romantic era, she exerted her influence over a 61-year concert career, changing the format and repertoire of the piano recital from displays of virtuosity to programs of serious works. 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.”

Modern music

john_williams_billboard.com_michaelkovacphotoModernism in music was about being radical and different. For the first time, musicians and audiences realised that music didn’t have to be confined to tradition, but by 1960 this idea had run out of steam. The next generation of ‘serious’ composers relaxed and had a wider palette of musical colours to work with – influences from other cultures, popular music, ancient music and the experiments of modernism. Steve Reich, Philip Glass, Michael Nyman and John Adams championed Minimalism, breaking musical boundaries and winning them huge popularity. Their music reflects advances in music and technology – sometimes including elements of jazz and rock. A group of composers who met while studying in Manchester have become the main exponents of ‘post-modern’ music in Britain. While music written by Peter Maxwell Davies, Harrison Birtwistle and Alexander Goehr isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, it can be profoundly powerful and stimulating. Film music and video game music increased in popularity towards the end of the century with the soundtracks to E.T., Star Wars, Harry Potter and Jurassic Park from John Williams, making their mark on classical music. 

Photo: billboard.com/ Michael Kovac

Georges Bizet

Georges_BizetThe French author was most famous for his operas. He was one of the most gifted musicians of the 19th century, yet only towards the end of his life did he discover his true creative voice. Born in Paris, the son of professional musicians, Bizet was just a few days short of his 10th birthday when he entered the Paris Conservatoire. At the age of 17 he produced his spontaneously assured C major Symphony. Bizet’s studenthood was littered with prizes, including the Prix de Rome. As a result, he was based in the Italian capital from 1857-60, where he completed a two-act opera buffa, Don Procopio (not heard until 1906), and a Te Deum. In 1861 he produced an overture, La Chasse d’Ossian (which remains officially ‘lost’ – possibly destroyed by Bizet himself), and the following year a one-act opera, La Guzla de l’Emir, which he promptly withdrew and destroyed before it could go into production. Brilliant with melody and colour, Bizet instinctively composed with the dramatic conciseness of his idols, Beethoven, Mozart and Mendelssohn. In 1863, Bizet produced one of his finest efforts the opera Les Pecheurs de Perles (The Pearl Fishers), but made little impression on the music world. He achieved popular success with Carmen, although full recognition of its greatness was to follow only after his premature death. Bizet died from a massive heart attack three months after the premiere of Carmen, at the age of 36. His prediction that “in order to succeed today you have to be either German or dead” turned out, in one respect, to be tragically prophetic. Liszt declared Bizet as one of the three greatest pianists in Europe.

Mahler: born in July

gustav-mahler-das-lied-von-der-erde_d_jpg_720x405_crop_upscale_q95The great musician, Gustav Mahler was born on 7 July in 1860, but in his life he was better known as a conductor rather than a composer. He is considered to be one of the most passionate and greatest conductors in music history. Mahler was reportedly difficult to work with. He had a nasal, high-pitched voice, was authoritarian and prone to anger, and he was a stickler for even minor details. Though he got results professionally, he also made enemies. While in Vienna, Mahler was surrounded by younger composers including Schönberg, Berg, Webern and Zemlinsky. He often supported and encouraged their work. As for his working habits, Mahler composed during the early morning and later in the day he swam, ran and cycled. He especially loved the outdoors and alpine trails. He once told a visitor to his summer cottage, “Don’t bother looking at the view, I have already composed it.”

Summer storms

Rossini: Overture to William Tell

The overture to Rossini’s opera about the legendary apple-shooting Swiss hero contains one of music’s most vivid and violent storms. A serene, solo cello-led opening gives way to swirling strings and staccato woodwind depicting the onset of rain in a windy landscape. And then, within just a few seconds, the storm erupts in full force, trombones, timpani, descending scales of woodwind and more united in chromatic chaos. Suddenly, the storm passes and the sun appears from behind the clouds, courtesy of a beautiful passage for alternating solo oboe and flute. Then the real fun begins with that famous galloping theme as Rossini’s masterly overture hurtles towards the raised curtain and the opening scene set on the shore of the Lake Lucerne.

Debussy: Estampes: III. Jardins sous la pluie

The third movement of Debussy’s Estampes evokes a garden in Normandy during a particularly heavy rainstorm. In the opening, the racing intervals up and down the piano envelop the listener and really do shimmer in a way entirely reminiscent of the sound of rain on a roof. As the piano theme unravels and ebbs and flows, there are moments of thunder which rise up from the calm. You can almost hear the wind blowing.

Further enchanting musical storms can be enjoyed in Tchaikovsky’s The Tempest and Eine Alpensinfonie – Gewitter und Sturm by Richard Strauss.

Music always help

klasszikuszeneAs the world gradually begins the process of deconfinement, things may feel a little strange. You may not have used certain muscles or senses that you use when you go outside regularly. Listening to music is proven to reduce anxiety and neutralises negative emotions. Did you know that producing saliva is a sign of stress? In a study from 1994 in the Department of Surgery, Military Institute of Aviation Medicine, Poland, patients who were exposed to music had a marked reduction in saliva in comparison to those without. This playlist provides clinically appropriate music to help you de-stress.

GlassEchorus, Liszt: Consolations, Honegger: Pastorale d’étéRavel: MiroirsBarberExcursions

Discovering Béla Bartók

250px-Bartók_Béla_1927Bartók’s parents were teachers and amateur musicians. According to his mother Paula: “When he was four years old he could play with one finger on the piano the melodies of all the folk songs he knew; he knew 40 in all…” This signalled a childhood that saw young Béla actively composing by the age of nine. He gave his first public piano recital just two years later. At the age of 17 Bartók bevame pupil of the Budapest Royal Academy of Music. Such was his astonishing rate of progress that by the time he graduated in 1903 he was confidently composing in the Liszt/Richard Strauss orchestral mould. In 1905 he caused a sensation with a Budapest performance of Liszt’s fiendishly difficult Totentanz, the following year he toured Spain and Portugal with the brilliant young violinist Ferenc Vecsey, and in 1909 he conducted the Berlin Philharmonic in a performance of the Scherzo from his Second Suite. The next two years also saw him prepare critical editions of Beethoven and Mozart piano sonatas. Meanwhile he accepted a post at the Budapest Academy in 1907 and, although he loathed teaching, he stuck it out for more than a quarter of a century. Bartók’s immersion in the folk material he had collected from Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, Serbia, Croatia, Bulgaria, Transylvania, Turkey and North Africa was now combined with the harmonic and textural revolutions wrought by Debussy to produce a First String Quartet, whose uncompromising introspection and tonal unpredictability set the tone for the rest of his output.

(Magyar) Robert Schumann kvíz

Sorry, this entry is only available in Hungarian.

Robert Schumann

Robert_Schumann_1839Robert Schumann was born in June 1810. The composer was 10 before he began piano lessons and soon he exhibited increasing enthusiasm for composition and a passion for Romantic literature. Schumann co-founded one of the most influential musical publications, the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik. He wrote many of the articles himself, using the pseudonyms Florestan and Eusebius. After an ailment in his right hand proved incurable, he was forced to concentrate solely on composition. He produced a remarkable outpouring of more than 140 songs. Schumann then turned his attention to multi-instrumental composition, producing the Piano Concerto, Piano Quintet and Symphonies Nos. 1, 2 and 4. Following the Cello Concerto and Rhenish Symphony (both 1850), there was a marked decline in Schumann’s creative powers and his ability to keep a hold on reality. Following a paralytic attack, which left his speech impaired, his hallucinatory periods increased in intensity and he attempted to drown himself in the Rhine. He spent the last two years of his life in an asylum where his condition gradually worsened.


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