Happy Birthday George Frideric Handel

George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) Born the same year as Johann Sebastian Bach and Domenico Scarlatti, Handel is regarded as one of the greatest composers of the Baroque era, with works such as Messiah, Water Music, and Music for the Royal Fireworks remaining steadfastly popular.

He is consistently acknowledged as one of the greatest composers of his age. He contributed to virtually every vocal and instrumental genre in his time, and decisively invented and shaped the evolution of the English oratorio. Handel consolidated the main European styles of his day, always relying on his extraordinary gift for melody. There is mysterious simplicity in Handel’s music, one that marries sensuousness and the spiritual. Frequently probing “the human response to the divine,” his music is illuminated with a great sense of humanity. For Ludwig van Beethoven, “Handel was the greatest composer that ever lived.” As such it is hardly surprising that Beethoven would pour his veneration into a set of variations based on one of Handel’s most famous tunes.

The Harmonious Blacksmith is the popular name of the final movement, Air and variations, of George Frideric Handel's Suite No. 5 in E major, HWV 430, for harpsichord. This instrumental air was one of the first works for harpsichord published by Handel. One of the enduring mysteries of classical music as to why and how the final movement of Handel’s Suite No. 5 for harpsichord acquired the nickname “The Harmonious Blacksmith.” The name certainly did not originate with Handel, and seems to have been first recorded in the early 19th century. One popular legend suggests that Handel once took refuge from a thunderstorm in a smithy, and upon hearing the hammer on the anvil was inspired to write the tune. It’s a good story, but sadly, it originated almost 75 years after Handel’s death. And then there is William Lintern, a blacksmith’s apprentice from Bath who later took up music and published the work under his own nickname, “The Harmonious Blacksmith.” This inspirational story also runs into some authentication problems, but the tune certainly achieved a high degree of popularity.  Read more

In August 1750, on a journey back from Germany to London, Handel was seriously injured in a carriage accident between The Hague and Haarlem in the Netherlands. In 1751 one eye started to fail. The cause was a cataract which was operated on by the great charlatan Chevalier Taylor. This did not improve his eyesight, but possibly made it worse. He was completely blind by 1752. He died in 1759 at home in Brook Street, at age 74. The last performance he attended was of Messiah. Handel was buried in Westminster Abbey. More than three thousand mourners attended his funeral, which was given full state hon ours.  Read more

NPR Revisits The The Pioneering Composer Florence Price

In 1933, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra gave the world premiere of Symphony No. 1 by a then little-known composer named Florence Price. The performance marked the first time a major orchestra played music by an African-American woman. Price's First Symphony, along with her Fourth, has just been released on an album featuring the Fort Smith Symphony, conducted by John Jeter. Fans of Price, especially in the African-American community, may argue that her music has never really been forgotten. But some of it has been lost. Not long ago, a couple bought a fixer-upper, south of Chicago, and discovered nearly 30 boxes of manuscripts and papers. Among the discoveries in what turned out to be Price's abandoned summer home was her Fourth Symphony, composed in 1945. This world-premiere recording is another new piece of the puzzle to understanding the life and music of Price, and a particular time in America's cultural history.

Price was born in 1887 in Little Rock, Ark. Her mother gave her music lessons since none of the leading white teachers in town would take her. In 1904, Price enrolled at the New England Conservatory in Boston, one of the few music schools to accept black students at the time. After earning two diplomas, she returned to Little Rock, where she taught, got married, and began raising a family. But racial tensions were on the rise, and a downtown public lynching in 1927 triggered a move to Chicago.

There, Price blossomed as a composer. Her First Symphony won a composing prize, which caught the attention of conductor Frederick Stock, who led the premiere of the piece with his Chicago Symphony Orchestra. The music is a blend of two traditions — African-American and European. The opening movement is reminiscent of Dvorak's "New World" Symphony, with its portentous sweep and lyrical melodies.

Price might be searching for her own voice in her First Symphony, but she adds distinctive touches. Cathedral chimes glisten in the serene slow movement, where a brass choir converses with delicate winds. In the third movement, African drums accompany a syncopated "Juba Dance," a folk tradition that originated in Angola and moved, with slaves, to American plantations.

 Price and her music were well received in Chicago. The great contralto Marian Anderson closed her legendary 1939 Lincoln Memorial concert with a piece arranged by Price. Still, she scraped to make ends meet, writing pop tunes and accompanying silent films. In 1943, she sent a letter to Serge Koussevitzky, conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, acknowledging what she was up against. "I have two handicaps," she wrote: "I am a woman and I have some Negro blood in my veins."

 But Price pushed on. Two years later, she wrote her final symphony, the newly resurrected Fourth. In the opening movement, she quotes one of the most famous spirituals, "Wade in the Water." Price adds another "Juba Dance" for the third movement, and concludes with a bustling Scherzo that alternates serious and lighthearted episodes, ending with a bang.

Florence Price was celebrated in her day. But her untimely death in 1953, and the amount of music she composed but was never heard, helped dim her reputation over the years — until now. Tucked away in those 30 recently discovered boxes are some 200 compositions, which librarians and scholars are currently poring over. Clearly, Florence Price's story is far from over.

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Five black composers whose works you should know.

In the past 200 years, dozens of prominent black composers from America and other parts of the African diaspora have fought to be recognized by the western classical tradition. The earliest example is Chevalier de Saint-Georges (1745-99). Born in Guadeloupe, the son of a wealthy plantation owner and a female slave, Saint-George was brought to France at a young age. As well as being a champion fencer, a violin teacher to Marie Antoinette and a colonel in the republican army, his prodigious musical talents led to him being dubbed “le Mozart noir”. He was a prolific composer (with several operas, 15 violin concertos, symphonies and numerous chamber works to his name) and a rare French exponent of early classical violin composition.

George Bridgetower aka Bridgewater (1778-1860), a violinist of African origin
born inpresent-day Poland. By the age of nine, his father (who was probably born in Barbados) had taken him to London, where he was shown off as a child prodigy, performing in front of the likes of Thomas Jefferson and George IV. Several of Bridgewater’s compositions survive, although few have been recorded. His story was also the basis for a 2007 opera, written by Julian Joseph.

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912) was born in Croydon, the son of a white English mother and a Creole man from Sierra Leone. As a violin scholar at the Royal College of Music, he was taught composition under Charles Villiers Stanford and soon developed a reputation as a composer, with Edward Elgar recommending him to the Three Choirs festival in 1896. By the time he died of pneumonia – aged only 37 – he had already toured America three times and performed for Theodore Roosevelt at the White House.

Compositions such as Coleridge-Taylor’s African Suite attempted to incorporate African influences in the same way that, say, Dvorák used Hungarian folk themes, but much more successful is Hiawatha’s Wedding, which is occasionally performed today. Even better are Coleridge-Taylor’s works for violin and orchestra, which are elegant pieces of fin de siècle romanticism.

Harry Lawrence Freeman (1869-1954) founded Harlem’s Negro Grand Opera Company, but his two all-black Wagnerian operas are barely staged.

An opera composer, conductor, impresario and teacher. He was the first African-American to write an opera (Epthalia, 1891) that was successfully produced. Freeman founded the Freeman School of Music and the Freeman School of Grand Opera, as well as several short-lived opera companies which gave first performances of his own compositions. During his life, he was known as "the black Wagner."

William Grant Still (1895-1978) studied with Edgard Varèse, an American composer, who composed more than 150 works, including five symphonies and eight operas.

Often referred to as "the Dean" of African-American composers, Still was the first American composer to have an opera produced by the New York City Opera. Still is known most for his first symphony, which was until the 1950s the most widely performed symphony composed by an American.

 In 1955, he conducted the New Orleans Philharmonic Orchestra; he was the first African American to conduct a major orchestra in the Deep South. Still's works were performed internationally by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, the London Symphony Orchestra, the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra, and the BBC Orchestra.

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5 ways music can improve your health

Staying fit can have lasting benefits throughout your life, but physical fitness is only part of the goal. Keeping your brain active and healthy can pay dividends in old age as well. Listening to, dancing to, or performing music can give your brain a good workout without you realizing it.

Music has been shown to be good for your brain in a variety of ways. It can help people process information while also soothing and relaxing them. Here are five ways music can improve your health.

Music can fight depression

Along with cognitive benefits, music can also improve mental health. Elderly individuals with dementia saw improvement in both cognitive functions and depression after participating in music therapy sessions. Music therapy can involve writing music, singing, dancing, or even just listening to music. Playing happy, familiar music is an inexpensive, effective way to help fight depression.

New music challenges the brain

Music stimulates the brain, and it seems that new music may make the brain work even harder. Scientists say music gives your brain a workout because the brain has to make sense of the notes and sounds. While listening to familiar tunes from your youth is fun and good for your brain, keeping up with new songs and musical styles may give your brain an extra workout. Turn on the radio and listen to the latest hits, and you may find you like what you hear — once your brain gets used to the new sounds.

Music can help dementia patients

People with dementia or Alzheimer’s may have difficulty communicating and can feel anxiety with new situations. Playing familiar music can help a person recall words and communicate their needs with caregivers. Music can also help calm people and ease the transition to new activities or tasks. Dancing and singing together, or just listening to music, can help people with dementia connect with their family.

Kasey Bradburn, operations manager for Granite Mesa Health Center, said, “Music can have enormous benefits for a person with dementia or Alzheimer’s. The songs that a person knows and remembers can help bring back happy memories and ease anxiety.”

Create social connections through music involvement

Seniors often feel isolated and lonely as they move into a new phase of life that may have fewer connections to loved ones and friends. Getting involved in music can help give people new opportunities for social involvement. Join a choir or a band, or go dancing to meet new friends with similar interests.

Improve overall brain function

Music can improve several brain functions, such as memory and processing. Researchers found that older adults had better processing speed and memory when classical music was playing in the background. Listening to music that was more pleasing to the subject generated the most benefit, though any music at all led to better performance than no music. So, turn on your favorite tunes, and you may find you can think a bit better.

Giving your brain a workout can be easier and more fun than you might think if you give music a try. Turn on your favorite music, try out some of the new tunes, or join a band and reap the health rewards. Unlike a physical workout, it’s unlikely that you’ll pull any muscles in the endeavor, so this exercise is all benefit at no cost.

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To Save the Sound of a Stradivarius, a Whole City Must Keep Quiet

The “Vesuvius” violin, made by Antonio Stradivari in 1727, in the Museo del Violino in Cremona, Italy. The museum is assisting with an ambitious recording project to preserve the sound of Stradivarius instruments for future generations.

The people of Cremona are unusually sensitive to noise right now. The police have cordoned off streets in the usually bustling city center and traffic has been diverted. During a recent news conference, the city’s mayor, Gianluca Galimberti, implored Cremona’s citizens to avoid any sudden and unnecessary sounds. is home to the workshops of some of the world’s finest instrument makers, including Antonio Stradivari, who in the 17th and 18th centuries produced some of the finest violins and cellos ever made. 

The city is getting behind an ambitious project to digitally record the sounds of the Stradivarius instruments for posterity, as well as others by Amati and Guarneri del Gesù, two other famous Cremona craftsmen. And that means being quiet.

A Stradivarius violin, viola or cello represents the pinnacle of sound engineering, and nobody has been able to replicate their unique tones.

Fausto Cacciatori, the curator of Cremona’s Museo del Violino, a museum devoted to musical instruments that is assisting with the project, said that each Stradivarius had “its own personality.” But, he added, their distinctive sounds “will inevitably change,” and could even be lost within just a few decades.

“It’s part of their life cycle,” Mr. Cacciatori said. “We preserve and restore them, but after they reach a certain age, they become too fragile to be played and they ‘go to sleep,’ so to speak.”

The instruments at the Museo del Violino also include violins from the Amati and Guarneri del Gesù workshops.

The instruments at the Museo del Violino also include violins from the Amati and Guarneri del Gesù workshops.Credit Isabella de Maddalena for The New York Times

So that future generations won’t miss out on hearing the instruments, three sound engineers are producing the “Stradivarius Sound Bank” — a database storing all the possible tones that four instruments selected from the Museo del Violino’s collection can produce.

One of the engineers, Mattia Bersani, said that the sounds in the database could be manipulated with software to produce new recordings when the tone of the original instruments degraded. Musicians of the future would be able to “record a sonata with an instrument that will no longer function,” he said.

“This will allow my grandchildren to hear what a Strad sounded like,” said Leonardo Tedeschi, a former D.J. who came up with the idea for the project. “We are making immortal the finest instrument ever crafted.”

Throughout January, four musicians playing two violins, a viola and a cello will work through hundreds of scales and arpeggios, using different techniques with their bows, or plucking the strings. Thirty-two ultrasensitive microphones set up in the museum’s auditorium will capture the sounds.

“It’ll be physically and mentally challenging for them,” said Thomas Koritke, a sound engineer from Hamburg, Germany, who is leading the project. “They’ll have to play hundreds of thousands of individual notes and transitions for eight hours a day, six days a week, for more than a month.”

Organizing the project had also taken a long time, Mr. Koritke added. “It took us a few years to convince the museum to let us use 500-year-old stringed instruments,” he said. Then they had to find top musicians who knew the instruments inside out. Then the acoustics of the auditorium, which was designed around the sound of the instruments, had to be studied, as well.

Gabriele Schiavi, 31, playing in Auditorium Giovanni Arvedi, the concert hall of the Museo del Violino, in a recording for the “Stradivarius Sound Bank.”Credit Isabella de Maddalena for The New York Times

In 2017, the engineers thought their project was finally ready to get underway. But a soundcheck revealed a major flaw.

“The streets around the auditorium are all made of cobblestone, an auditory nightmare,” Mr. Tedeschi said. The sound of a car engine, or a woman walking in high heels, produces vibrations that run underground and reverberate in the microphones, making the recording worthless, he explained. “It was either shutting down the entire area or having the project not seeing the light of day,” Mr. Tedeschi said.

Luckily for the engineers, Cremona’s mayor is also the president of the Stradivarius Foundation, the municipal body that owns the Museo del Violino. He allowed the streets around the museum to be closed for five weeks, and appealed to people in the city to keep it down.

“We are the only city in the world that preserves both the instruments and their voices,” Mr. Galimberti said. “This is an extraordinary project that looks at the future...

Giuseppe Tartini

“If Viotti is the father of modern violin playing, surely Tartini is its godfather.”

Tartini was born in Pirano, a town on the peninsula of Istria, in the Republic of Venice (now in Slovenia) to Gianantonio – native of Florence – and Caterina Zangrando, a descendant of one of the oldest aristocratic Piranese families.

It appears Tartini's parents intended him to become a Franciscan friar and, in this way, he received basic musical training. He studied law at the University of Padua, where he became skilled at fencing.

A secret marriage to Elizabetta Premazore, the niece of the Bishop of Padua, in 1710 when he was 18 necessitated his flight from the city some three years later when the marriage was discovered. He eventually found refuge at Assisi where there was a friar at the monastery with some family connections to him. In Assisi, he began to study the violin with Father Boemo—who was most likely the Czech musician Bohuslav Cernohorsky—and played in the convent orchestra. Cernohorsky was later an organist at St. Anthony’s in Padua and Tartini’s colleague. After about two years in Assisi, Tartini was recognized by some visitors from Padua while performing (a curtain blew aside during a performance and revealed him, went the tale). His seriousness and musical ability led to the successful outcome of reconciliation with the Bishop, and he and his wife moved to Venice in approximately 1715 or 1716.

Tartini’s playing was said to be remarkable for its combination of technical and poetic qualities. He was regarded with universal pride by the inhabitants of Padua. He was serious, contemplative, of a scientific turn of mind, and was esteemed as a philosopher and a great musician. He was proclaimed by the Italians “il Maestro delle Nazioni,” the finest musician in the world, while the French termed him “le legislateur de l’archet,” the lawgiver of the bow.

Tartini was the first known owner of a violin made by Antonio Stradivari in 1715, which Tartini bestowed upon his student Salvini, who in turn gave it to the Polish composer and virtuoso violinist Karol Lipiński upon hearing him perform: the instrument is thus known as the Lipinski Stradivarius. Tartini also owned and played the Antonio Stradivarius violin ex-Vogelweith from 1711.

In 1726, Tartini started a violin school which attracted students from all over Europe. Gradually, Tartini became more interested in the theory of harmony and acoustics, and from 1750 to the end of his life he published various treatises.

Sources: Wikipedia
A Violins Life