A History of Classical Music (The Women-Only Version)


A composer with a desire for an audience has to be in possession of skills that have, on their surface, very little to do with music. He (it was almost always a he) needs to be capable of self-promotion, of fund-raising, of a kind of confidence that makes others follow instructions. Arguably, it’s these adjacent abilities that have been least encouraged in female composers. Then there is the notion, intractable for centuries, that women could perhaps be talented of body — with nimble fingers and a bell-like voice — but never of mind, which is, of course, where composition originates.

Even if they’ve hardly ended up household names, the women in this alternative history of composing are, quite frankly, anomalies: people for whom ambition and talent coincided with privilege and pedigree. Many had musically influential or well-connected fathers and husbands; others had the support of powerful nobles. Changes in geopolitics played a role in their success, as did quirks of history. As Anna Beer writes in “Sounds and Sweet Airs: The Forgotten Women of Classical Music”: “They did not seek out, or seek to create, a female tradition, nor did they wait for a female teacher or mentor. They invariably worked with, and within, a male-dominated musical culture.”

To read about their lives, and to listen to their music, is to mentally catalog everything that went right for them — and to imagine all the forgotten women for whom it must have gone wrong.

 Check out this  playlist of  female composers, who are often overlooked.


The Soul’s Struggle

Hildegard of Bingen, circa 1151




Hulton Archive/Getty Images

By the natural light from a single window, Hildegard of Bingen wrote books on medicine, botany and theology, and corresponded with penitents and popes. Born around 1098 and one of the first known composers in the Western tradition, she spent most of her life sequestered in a remote Rhineland monastery. Dozens of her compositions survive, all with original text, along with her magnum opus: a hypnotic liturgical drama called “Ordo Virtutum,” which tells the story of a struggle for a human soul between the Virtues and the Devil.




Hildegard experienced visions from the time she was a young girl — Oliver Sacks speculated that she suffered from blinding migraines — and people across medieval Europe knew her as a prophet, “the Sibyl of the Rhine.” She claimed to have been uneducated, and her letters suggest a compositional practice inspired only by faith. “Hearing earthly music,” she wrote, “enables humans to to recall their former state.” Her work remained cloistered, though; it’s believed that none of it was ever heard outside her convent in her lifetime.

 

For a Court of Women

Francesca Caccini, 1625

 



February in Florence was Carnival season, and in 1625 the Medici court was celebrating a recent victory against the overextended Ottoman Empire, welcoming a visit from the Crown Prince Wladyslaw IV Vasa of Poland with opulent feasts and extravagant ceremonies. Francesca Caccini, a 36-year-old composer, was the architect of the day’s signature entertainment: “La Liberazione di Ruggiero Dall’isola d’Alcina,” a comic opera in four scenes, complete with dancing horses and other visual pyrotechnics and a fantastical plot involving warring and seductive sorceresses.

With its juxtaposed arias, canzonets and madrigals, the gynocentric and multifarious opera was the product of a historically exceptional period at the court, dominated first by Caccini’s original patron, Christine de Lorraine, the wife of Ferdinando I de’ Medici, and then by her daughter-in-law, Maria Magdalena of Austria. The original audience for “La Liberazione” was, as the musicologist Suzanne Cusick has written, well prepared to welcome the “representation of a fictional world ruled by exceptional women.”

 

The Composing Coquette

Barbara Strozzi, 1650s

 


Like that of many if not most female composers throughout history, Barbara Strozzi’s career was engineered by a man. Her adoptive father, the poet Giulio Strozzi — many assumed Barbara was his illegitimate daughter — organized salons at his Venice home, where he would invite important men to debate philosophical and often prurient topics. Between discussions, the teenage Barbara would perform suggestive musical interludes.

It wasn’t until her 30s that she began to seriously and consistently compose her own music, a professional pivot that can be read as an assertion of autonomy after a lifetime of sexualized manipulation. The music she wrote could be overtly erotic — voices interweaving to a sonic climax — and sometimes misogynistic in its lyrics. It remains uncertain as to whether or not she was ever a courtesan or even a concubine.


Private Performances
and Public Humiliations

Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre, 1694

Baptized Élisabeth-Claude Jacquet, the composer now known as Élisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre was born in Paris in 1665 to a family of artisans (her father was a master harpsichord maker) whose craft allowed them access to the French nobility. She was accepted into the court of Louis XIV as a teenager, and her education and musical practice was overseen by Madame de Montespan, the king’s most adored mistress.



As was common with many musicians at the time, Jacquet’s career depended on the whims of her patrons, for whom she performed in mostly private settings. Being at the mercy of a mistress was even more precarious. And by 1694, when Jacquet staged “Céphale et Procris,” her first opera, Madame de Montespan had been replaced by a new, more religious mistress whose conservatism was already influencing the court’s taste. Though Jacquet took the trouble to publish the work, the production itself was performed only five or six times in Paris, to a wan reception. Jacquet’s husband, himself a composer, is said to have met with attendees the day after the premiere, telling them to stifle any criticism. But she never composed another opera.

They Prefer Song

Marianna Martines, 1772

DeAgostini/Getty Images

The English music historian Charles Burney visited Vienna in 1772, and on a Sunday afternoon in September was greeted in a grand home by the Italian librettist Pietro Metastasio. Letters were read aloud, compliments paid to mutual friends; the conversation was pleasant and intriguing.

The tenor of the room shifted with the entrance of a young woman, whom Burney would later describe as “well dressed,” “graceful” and “very elegant.” It was the composer and harpsichordist Marianna Martines, Metastasio’s pupil and protégée, who even as a child was deemed skilled enough to play at the imperial court. The group of men greeted her with great respect, and she proceeded to sing two airs of her own composition. Her performance, Burney would write, surpassed all that he “had been made to expect.”

In his account of the visit, Burney praises Martines’s voice, her timing, her self-presentation. But he expressed concern that the physical demands of composition — the sitting, the neck craning — might mitigate her other talents. “It is a pity,” he wrote, “that her writing should affect her voice.”


Backstage Grandeur

Louise Farrenc, 1850


In the middle of the 19th century, Paris audiences vastly preferred opera to instrumental music. But when Louise Farrenc’s Nonet in E-flat major had its premiere in 1850 — with Joseph Joachim, not yet 20 years old and not yet quite world famous, leading on the violin — the performance was met with ecstatic excitement. Alternating between winds and strings, the work is lively and bright; listeners enjoyed the way in which each instrument is given its own moment to shine.


Eight years earlier, Farrenc had been appointed professor of piano at the Paris Conservatory — one of the first female instrumental professors in Europe — and Farrenc parlayed her newfound public success into a pay raise, demanding that her wages be equal to those of her male colleagues. Her employers agreed, and Farrenc kept the post for another quarter-century. In addition to composing and teaching, she helped her husband, a music scholar and publisher, to research and edit books, including a 23-volume anthology of keyboard masterpieces. She continued the work after he died, organizing talks and concerts to coincide with various publications. Her strategic scholarship — intent on reviving and publicizing works of the past — was unusual at the time, but such behind-the-scenes labor has in fact been a large part of the work women have contributed over the centuries.


Touring and Torment

Clara Schumann, 1837

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In the winter of 1837, Clara Wieck, a German piano prodigy turned teenage touring virtuoso, came to Vienna to give a series of concerts that lasted through the spring. The shows often sold out; excited crowds grew so congested that the police were called upon; and a torte was named after her.


She was a celebrity. In addition to her work on the piano, she composed music that she would play at each recital — a rarity for both men and women at the time. The fact that she toured at all was in itself somewhat novel. By the 19th century, musicians who once performed privately for their noble employers now gave public concerts to larger, more diverse and more distant audiences, but it was not a tradition friendly to women, for whom a life onstage and constant transit were considered inappropriate if not impossible. Wieck was an exception.
By the time she married her husband, the composer Robert Schumann, and took his name, she was already world famous — and only 20. She continued to perform for decades, through relentless pregnancies and multiple miscarriages. And despite Robert’s nervous breakdowns and possible syphilis infection, she believed his opinion that she should retreat from composing.

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



The Composer and His Muse: Ludwig Van Beethoven 's Fur Elise and Therese Malfatti



In 1810, Beethoven’s life was marked by an event that caused him much suffering. In the spring of 1809, the forty-year-old composer fell in love with a student – the beautiful eighteen-year-old Therese Malfatti. The composer considered the esteem and devotion Tereza held for him to be love. So confident in his future with this young girl, Beethoven even thought of marriage (in a letter to his good friend Wegeler, he asked for his birth certificate from Bonn required for marriage).

In the spring of 1810 he was invited to the Malfatti household in the Kärntnerstrasse for a soirée being thrown by Therese's father for all the family's friends and business acquaintances.

Beethoven had composed a short piano piece - Bagatelle WoO 59 - for Therese. His plan seems to have been to play it for her in front of the guests and propose marriage to her.

According to Gleichenstein in a letter home to his parents in Freiburg, Signore Malfatti served an exceedingly strong punch at the soirée - and Beethoven drank huge quantities of it.

So drunk was he that he was unable to play the piece, and in no condition to propose anything to anyone. It seems that Therese made him instead write her name on the title page.

He wrote, in almost illegible writing, "Für Therese".



On her death, the original manuscript was found in her effects. It was taken to a music publisher, who immediately recognized the notation as being in Beethoven's hand and decided to publish it posthumously

He published it under the title Bagatelle, but apparently misread the dedication.

"Für Elise" appeared on the top of the title page, and the piece - quite possibly the most famous piano music Beethoven ever composed, probably because practically anyone can play it - has been known by that name ever since.


Listen to the Dr. Fuddle Anthem!

One Note Can Make a Difference!

 


Lyrics by Warren Woodruff based on the final movement of Beethoven's Waldstein Sonata, Op. 53, arranged by Warren Woodruff and Brianna Spottsville. Performed by Ellie Coe, piano, Carley Vogel, soprano with the Roswell High School Orchestra and the Atlanta Academy of Vocal Arts.


Bach's Forgotten Aria

In May 2005 the Leipzig-based musicologist Michael Maul made a sensational discovery in Weimar. While sifting through the Hergozin Anna Amalia Library, he unearthed the manuscript of a sacred aria by Johann Sebastian Bach which was previously completely unknown. It is the first time since 1935 that a new Bach vocal work has been discovered.

The discovery astonished music scholars. On two nearly forgotten pages of a pile of birthday notes given to an 18th century duke, a young Johann Sebastian Bach wrote an aria in his own hand. Until now, nobody knew that this existed.

There was no previous record of the music, a two-page handwritten aria dated October 1713, when Bach was 28. But the archive has now verified the piece, which had been stashed in a box of birthday cards, as the work of Bach. According to the archive, the composer wrote the work for soprano, strings and basso continuo in honor of the 52nd birthday of Duke Wilhelm Ernst of Saxe-Weimar, whom Bach served as court organist. It is likely that he performed it, and that the duke was pleased: Soon after, Bach became Ernst's concertmaster, and received a raise.



Scholars say the score was something of a departure for Bach, a light strophic aria in which lyrics — in this case, a 12-stanza poem — are sung over fairly constant playing. It is the first vocal music by the Baroque master to be discovered in 70 years. And it missed being destroyed by only months. A fire ravaged the Anna Amalia Library, where Bach's music had been stored in a box along with other birthday wishes for the duke. While many artifacts and documents were lost in the fire, the box had been sent to Leipzig for restoration months earlier.





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"After Michael and I had identified it as Bach's, we opened a very expensive bottle of champagne," Peter Wollny, the archive's head of research, told the Guardian on Monday. "Michael came back from Weimar two weeks ago and said he had found something interesting. We got the microfilm of the score last week. We compared it with Bach's known compositions -- and bingo.

"The last time anything by Bach was discovered was 80 years ago. So far we've only heard it on the computer. But it's a charming little work, written for one singer -- a soprano -- and a harpsichord. There's a little postlude at the end for a string ensemble -- two violins, a viola and a cello. It takes just four or five minutes to play."

The archive has asked British conductor John Eliot Gardiner to present the world premiere and record the aria. Gardiner said that he thought the aria likely came from a longer cantata.

"It is absolutely beautiful," Gardiner told the Guardian on Monday. "So many of Bach's cantatas went missing after he died. His son Wilhelm Friedemann Bach was pretty profligate with his father's stuff. He sold manuscripts off, lost them, used them as firelighters. So when something like this turns up, it is wonderful."

Gardiner described it as "a reflective, meditative, soothing piece, as Bach's church music so often is. It's not going to set the world alight -- enough of Bach's music from this early-to-mid period has survived to give us a sense of his musical personality at that time -- but it's just great to have this, because every one of his cantatas and arias is on a completely different level from all of his contemporaries."

British music critic Tom Service, who has examined the score, wrote in yesterday's Guardian that it is "a charming tune in C major, full of a natural pastoral joy, an appropriate gift for the birthday of his patron in Weimar."

"There's none of the contrapuntal seriousness that you associate with Bach's most involved music," he added. "Instead, this piece reveals an intimate side to the composer."

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10 reasons why making music is good for your brain

It doesn't matter if you've always played or just started, playing music makes your brain better.



Turns out Mom and Dad were right. Those piano lessons you despised and those endless hours in school band practice truly were good for you. From making you smarter, to diminishing the effects of brain aging, to improving emotional stability, it seems that playing an instrument has a hand in reconfiguring your brain and enhancing it. Permanently. And let's be clear: Just listening to music doesn't cut it. It's the active work of bringing sounds to life that delivers the biggest benefit.

Researchers are still discovering all the ways that making music enriches your brain, but the impact is undeniable. So dust off that old guitar from college. Unpack your grade-school clarinet. Join a neighborhood jam or kick back at home, just you and your favorite instrument. And by all means encourage your kids to play, too. The younger they start, the better . Here are 10 reasons why you'll be glad you did.

1. Enriches connections between the left and right brain

Studies show that music makers have more white matter in their corpus callosum, the bundle of neural wires connecting the brain's two hemispheres. This means greater communication between the brain's creative right side and its analytic left side, which in turn may translate into numerous cerebral benefits, including faster communication within the brain and greater creative problem-solving abilities. However, not all instrumentalists reap these cognitive advantages equally. Both age and amount of play time matter. Research shows that kids who practice more seem to build a greater bridge between the two sides of the brain. Plus, those who start earlier— around age 7 is ideal — benefit more than later starters.

2. Boosts executive brain function

More white matter may be why people with musical training are also better at making decisions, processing and retaining information, and adjusting course based on changing mental demands. That's good news for musicians because these executive brain functions likely contribute more to academic success than IQ. Some researchers even speculate that playing an instrument could prove beneficial in helping kids with neurological problems that involve executive functioning, including ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).


3. Strengthens speech processing

It's no surprise that making music helps your brain process musical sounds. But tickling the ivories or strumming guitar strings also aids in processing consonant and vowel sounds in speech. In a new study from Northwestern University, researchers measured brain performance in low-income kids who attended Harmony Project, an after-school music program in Los Angeles. Kids who had two years of music instruction were able to process many more speech sounds — and with greater precision — than those who only had one year of instruction. Researchers speculate that music and speech share common characteristics — pitch, timing and timbre — and that the brain relies on the same neural pathways to process both. Sharper language skills, including reading, may in turn help kids learn better in all subjects, from math to social studies. A case in point is Harmony Project itself: More than 90 percent of its graduates have gone on to college since 2008, while the drop-out rate in the neighborhoods the children come from is 50 percent or higher.

4. Magnifies memory

Related to speech processing, those with musical training are also better at remembering spoken words (verbal memory). A study from Germany recently found that second-graders who spent 45 minutes a week learning a musical instrument recalled more words recited to them than kids who received no musical training or those who spent the same amount of time in science class. Music-making also seems to boost working memory — the ability to temporarily store and use information that helps you reason, learn or complete a complex task.

5. Promotes empathy

Musical training doesn't just upgrade your brain's sound-processing centers; it also lifts its capacity to detect emotions in sound . That is, musicians may be better at reading subtle emotional cues in conversation. In turn, this could equip them for smoother, more emotionally rich relationships. If true, musical training also bodes well for helping kids with emotional-perception problems, such as autism.


6. Slows brain aging

Brain gains made from playing an instrument apparently don't wane as you age either. Studies show that speech-processing and memory benefits extend well into your golden years — even if your musical training stopped after childhood. A new Canadian study found that older people who had musical training when they were young could identify speech 20 percent faster than those with no training. In another study , people aged 60 to 83 who'd studied music for at least 10 years remembered more sensory information, including auditory, visual and tactile data, than those who'd studied for one to nine years. Both groups scored higher than people who'd never learned an instrument.

7. Fosters math and science ability

Musical notes, chords, octaves, rhythm, and meter can all be understood mathematically. So playing music should raise your math game, right? The research is mixed, but there seems to be an underlying correlation between music-making and better math skills. For instance, a recent study found that preschoolers who got keyboard lessons performed better on a test of spatial-temporal reasoning (the ability to mentally envision spatial patterns and understand how they fit together) than kids who got computer instruction or those who didn't participate in either activity. Researchers believe that elevated spatial-temporal reasoning leads to better math and science performance.


8. Improves motor skills

No doubt about it, playing an instrument requires stellar hand-eye-ear coordination (getting hands and fingers to translate musical notes on a page into sound). And for music-makers who start young enough, those heightened musical motor skills seem to translate into other areas of life as well. Researchers in Canada found that adult musicians who started playing before age 7 had better timing on a non-music motor-skill task than those who started music lessons later. What's more, their superior motor abilities actually showed up in their brains. Scans revealed stronger neural connections in motor regions that help with imagining and carrying out physical movements.

9. Elevates mental health

Studies show that fiddlers, saxophonists, keyboardists and other instrumentalists are more focused and less prone to aggression, depression and anger than non-musicians. In fact, creating music seems to prime their brains for heightened emotional control and concentration. In one study, researchers examined brain scans of kids aged 6 to 18. Those who played an instrument had a thicker brain cortex in regions that regulate emotions, anxiety levels, and the capacity to pay attention (meaning they had superior abilities in these areas). Other studies show that making music also relieves stress . In other words, musicians may suffer from fewer stress-related psychological and physical symptoms, including burnout, headaches, high blood pressure and lower immune function.

10. Sharpens self-esteem

Not surprisingly, mental-health gains from musical mastery (and maybe the camaraderie of playing with others) transfers into greater feelings of self-worth. In one study kids who received three years of weekly piano lessons scored higher on a measure of self-esteem than kids who got no musical instruction. And another study found that at-risk kids who participated in a music-performance group at school felt less alienated and more successful.

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More Greatest Pianists!



There are so many issues involved in choosing the top classical pianists. Should it be based on their technical ability, their reputation or following, the breadth of their repertoire or their improvisation talents? Then there’s the question of whether those pianists who played before we had recording equipment can legitimately be considered since we can’t actually hear their playing to compare it with others. On this last point, it seems entirely justified to do so, particularly in cases where an individual stands out in a period in which we know there were a great number of incredible talents, and if they gained an international reputation long before the time of modern media and communication. Read more

Here are some of the greatest piano icons that ever played!

Vladimir Ashkenazy (1937-)

Ashkenazy is one of the heavyweights of the classical music world. Having been born in Russia he now holds both Icelandic and Swiss citizenship and is still performing as a pianist and conductor around the world. In 1962 he was a joint winner of the International Tchaikovsky Competition (with John Ogden, see below) and the following year he left the USSR to live in London. His vast catalogue of recordings includes the complete piano works of Rachmaninov and Chopin, the complete sonatas of Beethoven, Mozart's piano concertos as well as works by Scriabin, Prokfiev and Brahms. He's worked with all the biggest names of the 20th century including conductors Georg Solti, Zubin Mehta and Bernard Haitink.




Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849) Poland’s most famous composer was also one of the great piano virtuosos of his day. The vast majority of his work was for solo piano and though there are no recordings of him playing (the earliest sound recordings are from the 1860s), one contemporary said: “One may say that Chopin is the creator of a school of piano and a school of composition. In truth, nothing equals the lightness, the sweetness with which the composer preludes on the piano; moreover nothing may be compared to his works full of originality, distinction and grace.”



Myra Hess (1890-1965)

Dame Myra Hess, as she eventually became, is famous not so much for winning a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music at the age of 12, nor of performing with the legendary conductor Sir Thomas Beecham when she was 17 – but for the series of concerts she gave at the National Gallery during WWII. During the war, London’s music venues were closed to avoid mass casualties if any were hit by bombs. Hess had the idea of using the Gallery to host lunchtime concerts. The series ran for six and a half years and Hess herself performed in 150 of them.



Franz Liszt (1811-1886)

Vying with Chopin for the crown of greatest 19th-century-virtuoso was Franz Liszt, the Hungarian composer, teacher and pianist. Among his best known works are his fiendishly difficult Années de pèlerinage, the Piano Sonata in B minor and his Mephisto Waltz. And as a performer his fame was legendary – there was even a word coined for the frenzy he inspired: Lisztomania.  All eye-witness accounts of Liszt’s playing put him in the very first rank of classical pianists. Over an eight-year period of touring Europe in the early 1840s, he is estimated to have given over 1,000 performances. Part of the reason for his legendary status could be that he retired from performing at the relatively young age of 35 to concentrate on composing.

franz liszt and his women



Clara Schumann (1819-1896)

One of the few female pianists to compete in the largely male world of 19th-century music, Clara was a superstar of her day. Her talents far outshone those of her composer husband Robert. She wrote her own music as well – you can hear an example in the video below.

One critic of the time said: “The appearance of this artist can be regarded as epoch-making… In her creative hands, the most ordinary passage, the most routine motive acquires a significant meaning, a colour, which only those with the most consummate artistry can give.”



Claudio Arrau (1903-1991)

It’s said that this great Chilean pianist could read music before he could read words. It wasn’t long before he was playing works like the virtuosic Transcendental Etudes by Liszt. He’s perhaps best-known for his interpretations of the music of Beethoven. The legendary conductor Colin Davis said of Arrau: “His sound is amazing, and it is entirely his own… His devotion to Liszt is extraordinary. He ennobles that music in a way no one else in the world can.”




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The Composer and His Muse: Beethoven, Julie Guicciardi and Moonlight Sonata

Wood engraving after a painting by Lorenz Vogel (1846-1902).
"Die Entstehung von Beethovens "Mondschein-Sonate" 1896.
Beethoven-Haus Bonn, Bonn © 2016 Beethoven-Haus Bonn)

Julie Guicciardi, as she was named by her family, was born in Przemysl, Galicia in 1782. She arrived in Vienna with her parents from Trieste in June 1800, and her beauty caused her to be noticed by high society.

Beethoven became acquainted with Guicciardi through the Brunsvik family. In late 1801, he became Guicciardi's piano teacher, and apparently became infatuated with her. She is probably the "enchanting girl", about whom he wrote on 16 November 1801 to his friend Franz Gerhard Wegeler: "My life is once more a little more pleasant, I'm out and about again, among people – you can hardly believe how desolate, how sad my life has been since these last two years; this change was caused by a sweet, enchanting girl, who loves me and whom I love. After two years, I am again enjoying some moments of bliss, and it is the first time that – I feel that marriage could make me happy, but unfortunately she is not of my station – and now – I certainly could not marry now." 

In 1852, four years before her death, Julie told the scholar Otto Jahn that he had originally given her the manuscript of the Rondo in G Major, Opus 51, no. 2, but asked her to return it because he needed to dedicate that work to Countess Lichnowsky.



Ultimately Beethoven dedicated what has become the most famous piano sonata ever composed to Julie, thereby assuring her a place in music history. He simply called it Piano Sonata No. 14, and it wasn’t given its poetic nickname until 1832, five years after Beethoven’s death. German poet Ludwig Rellstab, (Rellstab had considerable influence as a music critic), said the first movement sounded like moonlight shining upon Lake Lucerne, and the name stuck.

In 1823, Beethoven confessed to his then-secretary and later biographer Anton Schindler, that he was indeed in love with her at the time.

It is certain that Beethoven proposed marriage to Giulietta, and that she was inclined to accept. One of her parents was in favor of the match. But the other - probably her father - forbade her to marry a man "without rank, fortune or permanent engagement; a man, too, of character and temperament so peculiar, and afflicted with the incipient stages of an infirmity which, if not arrested and cured, must deprive him of all hope of obtaining any high and remunerative official appointment and at length compel him to abandon his career as the great pianoforte virtuoso". (Thayer's Life of Beethoven)



Giulietta married instead Count Wenzel Robert Gallenberg, a prolific composer of ballet and occasional music, on 3rd November 1803. The newly married couple left for Italy and were in Naples in the spring of 1806 - there Gallenberg composed music for the fête celebrating Joseph Bonaparte's assumption of the crown of the two Sicilies. In late 1821 he was made an associate director of the Royal Imperial Opera in Vienna, and the couple returned to Vienna, but there is no evidence that Beethoven renewed his friendship with his old flame.

The Composer and His Muse: Salieri, Mozart and Nancy Storace


Did Salieri plot Mozart's demise to the point of actually poisoning him? Or is it just as fanciful as all those serpents and magic bells in the younger composer's opera The Magic Flute?

Antonio Salieri was a hugely influential composer of opera and a much in-demand teacher who taught Schubert, Beethoven and Liszt. The chances are, however, that you've only ever heard of Salieri because he happened to be the arch-rival of the irrepressible Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Or was he?

The rise of the poisoning tale

Mozart's rivalry with Salieri could have originated with an incident in 1781, when Mozart applied to be the music teacher of Princess Elisabeth of Württemberg, and Salieri was selected instead because of his reputation as a singing teacher. In the following year Mozart once again failed to be selected as the Princess' piano teacher.

In addition, when Lorenzo Da Ponte was in Prague preparing the production of Mozart's setting of his Don Giovanni, the poet was ordered back to Vienna for a royal wedding for which Salieri's Axur, re d'Ormus would be performed. Obviously, Mozart was not pleased by this.

Within six years of Salieri's death, the Russian writer Pushkin wrote a play, Mozart and Salieri , which portrayed the danger of envy. In 1898, Rimsky-Korsakov turned Pushkin's play into an opera. In both, it's suggested that Salieri's jealousy of Mozart led him to poison the younger composer.

However, even with Mozart and Salieri's rivalry for certain jobs, there is very little evidence that the relationship between the two composers was at all acrimonious beyond this, especially after 1785 or so, when Mozart had become established in Vienna. Rather, they appeared to usually see each other as friends and colleagues, and supported each other's work. In several of Mozart’s letters, there is evidence that the Italians (supposedly lead by Salieri) in Emperor Joseph’s court did get in the way of several attempts to advance Mozart's career, and some of these are portrayed in the film Amadeus. There is, however, no clear proof that Salieri hated Mozart or plotted against him or planned his death, although those ideas made for a much more exciting story.

Where the film rings true is in its portrayal of Mozart's uncanny improvisational ability, his computer memory and instant recall, his effortless skill at composition - "without setting down his billiard cue" - his talent for languages and his genius for musical and verbal mimicry. That the divine Mozart could also curse like a sailor, improvise obscene verses and even talk backwards was also true  though its doubtful Salieri and his faction would have been as offended by Mozart's language as he is in the film. The late 18th century was not noted for its delicacy of language. However - all quibbles aside - this moving and hugely entertaining film is still an excellent introduction to Mozart, his music and his world.


Lost cantata by Mozart and Salieri found in Prague



A long-lost composition co-written by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri has been rediscovered in the Czech National Museum in Prague. German musicologist and composer Timo Jouko Herrmann found the piece last month while doing research on Antonio Salieri in the collection of the Czech Museum of Music. It’s a libretto written by Lorenzo Da Ponte, a Venetian priest and poet who wrote the librettos for three of Mozarts most beloved operas — Don Giovanni, The Marriage of Figaro and Così fan tutte — and published by printer to the Imperial court in Vienna Joseph von Kurzböck. Very unusually for a libretto, this one includes the sheet music in a simple piano arrangement. Mozart and Salieri’s names do not appear anywhere in the pamphlet, only their initials in the musical notation identifying which measures were written by which composer. There is also a third composer credited, one Cornetti, who is unknown under that name.

The piece is entitled Per la Ricuperata Salute di Ofelia (“For the recovered health of Ophelia”) and was written in 1785. The Ophelia in question was Nancy Storace, an English coloratura soprano who was friends with and muse to both Mozart and Salieri.


Nancy was a musical prodigy from a very young age. She gave her first public performance when she was eight years old and debuted at London’s Haymarket Theatre the next year. Her older brother Stephen was also a child prodigy, taught by his father to play violin so expertly that by the age of 10 he was performing the most complex, difficult pieces of the time.

Nancy traveled to Venice to take voice lessons from composer Antonio Sacchini and began getting professional gigs, rapidly rising from minor parts to leads and becoming something of a sensation. While still a teenager in 1782 she performed the role of Dorina in the Milan premiere of Giuseppe Sarti’s opera Fra I Due Litiganti Il Terzo Gode, a part that Sarti wrote specifically for her, to great acclaim.

When in 1783 Austrian Emperor Joseph II decided to put together a company dedicated to performances of Italian opera buffa (comic opera), he snapped up the 18-year-old Nancy Storace for his prima donna.

The opera that Nancy premiered was Antonio Salieri's La scuola de gelosi (The School of Jealousy), in which she took the role of the Countess Bandiera.  The plot of the opera involves love intrigues, attempted seductions and provocations to jealousy between members of the three different social strata: the aristocracy, the bourgeoisie and the working class, which was typical for plots in the early to late 1780s.


Mozart had first seen Nancy when she made her Viennese debut in Salieri’s La Scuola De’ Gelosi. He immediately fell in love with her as an artist and, it was rumored, their relationship actually went much deeper. Certainly Nancy and Stephen became part of Mozart’s circle and were often at his house, while he frequently had dinner with them and their mother.


The role of Susanna in Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro was written for and first performed by her. it is possible that her lively acting style was the inspiration for the central character of Susanna.


When she was about to leave Vienna, Storace performed in a farewell concert on 23 February 1787. For this occasion Mozart wrote the concert recitative and aria "Ch'io mi scordi di te?

The rediscovery of Per la Ricuperata Salute di Ofelia underscores that Mozart and Salieri were on good terms in 1785, even though a few years earlier Mozart had written in letters to his father of his frustration with the Italian cabal at the Viennese court. He thought Salieri, Da Ponte and other Italians who had the ear of the Emperor were blocking his ascent, but by 1785 Mozart was well-established and was working closely with said Italians. Salieri would go out of his way to express approval of Mozart’s work, even directing performances of several of his compositions.

Vasiliy Shkafer as Mozart and Fyodor Shalyapin as Salieri
(Russian Private Opera, 1898)

Nonetheless, decades after Mozart’s premature death rumors were rife that Salieri had poisoned his rival. The rumor was immortalized in art when, six years after Salieri’s 1825 death, revered Russian poet Alexander Pushkin wrote a verse drama Mozart and Salieri that posited Salieri as the bitterly jealous poisoner of the greater man. Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov set the play to music in the opera Mozart and Salieri, and playwright Peter Shaffer based his 1979 play Amadeus on Pushkin’s drama. That in turn was adapted for film in the Oscar-winning movie of the same name directed by Miloš Forman. So now when people think of Mozart and Salieri they think of a rivalry unto the death, when in fact the two men were on quite good terms.

And now, possibly for the first time and certainly for the first time in centuries, here is Per la Ricuperata Salute di Ofelia by Wolfgang Mozart and Antonio Salieri, played on the harpsichord by Lukas Vendl.






Sources:  http://www.classicfm.com/composers/mozart/guides/did-salieri-murder-mozart-mythbuster/#yi3zSJWK2xaMF3wI.99http://www.classicfm.com/composers/mozart/guides/mozart-love/#dS2kjorX0xDfOkRh.97
http://www.thehistoryblog.com/archives/40680 https://reelrundown.com/movies/Historical-Inaccuracies-in-Amadeus

Five of the Greatest Pianists of all Time


Who are the greatest pianists who've ever lived? That's a question that no doubt is the cause much heated debate.  Nevertheless, these are a few of my favorites.

I think perhaps you expected this pianist would be at the top of my list.

Martha Argerich (1941-)

The world woke up to the phenomenal talent of the Argentinian pianist Martha Argerich in 1964 when she won the International Chopin Piano Competition at the age of 24. She is now arguably the greatest living pianist and can sell out concerts in minutes.



Lang Lang (1982-)

Lang Lang changed the classical music world forever with his inimitable panache both on and off stage. Thousands of children in China took up the piano in what has become know as ‘the Lang-Lang effect’. So, like his style or not, there’s no denying the impact Lang Lang has had on the classical scene.



Glenn Gould (1932-1982)

If there were ever a pianist who divided classical music fans, Glenn Gould is it. The Canadian pianist is best-known for his performances of the music of J.S. Bach, and particularly The Goldberg Variations. But he's also famous for humming along while he played, performing on a tiny chair which he took to all his concerts and his exacting demands for recording and performing conditions.




Vladimir Horowitz (1903-1989)

There's a strong case to be made for Vladimir Horowitz to be crowned the greatest pianist of all time. He made his debut in 1920 in a solo recital in Kharkiv. In 1925 his fame had grown substantially and he crossed into the West, saying he wished to study with Artur Schnabel in Berlin – but he'd decided to leave for good and had stuffed American and British money into his shoes. He gave his debut in the US in 1928 at Carnegie Hall and he went on to become an American citizen. He is best known for his performances of Romantic works including music by Chopin, Rachmaninov and Schumann.




Arthur Rubinstein (1887-1982)

This Polish American pianist is often quoted as the best Chopin performer of all time. He was found to have perfect pitch at the age of two and he made his debut with the Berlin Philharmonic when he was just 13. He was taught by a pianist called Karl Heinrich Barth, who had been a pupil of Liszt, meaning that Rubinstein was part of a formidable pianistic tradition.




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Can music make you a better athlete?

Can boosting the volume on your favorite songs improve athletic performance.

Photo by Ryan Edy and Getty Images


Can music improve athletic performance?  Can running faster or working out harder be as simple as boosting the volume on your favorite songs?

Music can be a stimulant or a sedative.  It can enhance mood, improve muscle control and help the brain build key muscle memories. Here’s how:

It uses the whole brain

Listening to music activates several major brain areas at once, his research shows: the parietal lobe, which contains the motor cortex;  the occipital, or visual processing lobe, the brain’s center for  rhythm and coordination; the temporal lobe, which regulates pitch, tone and structure; and the frontal lobe and cerebellum, which regulate emotion.




These brain areas are critical to athletic performance. It is in the temporal lobe that cortisol — a stress hormone — is released. Music helps regulate stress by reducing cortisol levels. The motor cortex, which is located in the parietal lobe, regulates our body’s motor function, which helps determine how straight we throw a football or how well we coordinate our limbs when running, and allows us to fall into our own “rhythm” as we work.

Reyna Gordon, a neuroscientist with the Vanderbilt University Medical Center, says it’s unusual for so many parts of the brain to act in concert.

It helps regulate your emotions

The key is to use music to tap into the brain’s secretion of dopamine and natural opioids — two naturally occurring chemicals that help block our perception of fatigue and pain.

Music can also enhance mood and increase confidence.

Based on research, music can be like a performance-enhancing drug. It’s just that intoxicating.

For example, listening to Beyonce’s “Run the World” might send a positive message to the brain about performance, which might in turn boosts confidence. Conversely, the sad message in Pink’s “Sober” can help curb excess adrenaline and bring our anxiety levels back to neutral, post-workout or competition.

Nathan Keith Schrimsher, a 2016 Olympian competing for team USA in the modern pentathlon competition, listened to “One Day Too Late” during his last competition.

“It just put me into an attitude to not quit and to give everything I have to make my life matter,” he said.

Gordon’s research shows that music can also have a lasting effect on our emotions. When she exposed test subjects to sad music and then showed them a face expressing a certain emotion, the subjects were more likely to assume the face was frowning.

“Our brains want to make sense of the info coming in,” Gordon said. “People are able to recognize emotion in music from very short excerpts.”

It Makes You Want to Move

Rindings show that syncing the tempo of the music to an athlete’s heart rate can have powerful outcomes, such as improved stamina, speed and athletic performance.

Jessica Grahn, a cognitive neuroscientist at Western University in London, Ontario, said the body responds best to steady rhythms. She found that among patients with Parkinson’s Disease, for example, having a steady beat that matches their movements seemed to improve muscle control.

It Helps with Muscle Memory

Finally, listening to songs with lyrics that mimic physical movement can help an athlete’s brain form muscle memories. The Salt n’ Pepper song “Push it”, she said, is the perfect song for those practicing shot put, or any exercise that requires the athlete to physically push something. The brain forms pathways more effectively when it has a song to back up the physical goal.


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Classical Music Works Inextricably Linked to the Olympics


The Olympic Games haven't only inspired athletes to perform their best but artists as well.

Athletic feats take center stage at the Olympics, but classical music has always been an important element of the games. From the tradition of playing national anthems to larger-than-life performances at the opening and closing ceremonies to accompanying events such as gymnastics and figure skating, Olympic music captures the energy and grandeur of the event.

However, during the first half of the 20th century, arts was not just an accompaniment to the Olympic experience, medals were awarded for works of art in five categories — architecture, literature, painting, sculpture and music — and the panels of judges included esteemed composers, including Stravinsky, Ravel and Fauré.

In recognition of this tradition, here are of some well known pieces of classical music written for the Olympics:

A Greek composer known for his operas, Spyridon Samaras composed the Olympic Hymn, performed for the first time at the opening ceremonies of the 1896 Summer Olympics in Athens. The anthem — a choral cantata with lyrics by Greek poet Kostis Palamas — begat a tradition of hosting nations commissioning a special anthem for the event.




Danish composer Rudolph Simonsen won the bronze medal in the music competition during the 1928 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam for his Symphony No. 2: Hellas (he was the only composer awarded a medal by the jury that year). He later went on to head the Royal Danish Academy of Music.




Although not originally written for the Olympics, Josef Suk’s Toward a New Life was submitted for consideration at the 1932 Los Angeles Games. Suk first began writing this patriotic march in 1919, when the Czech army was called to protect the southern districts of Slovakia. He later extended the march and scored it for a symphony orchestra. It won the top prize in L.A. (silver).




Canadian composer Jean Weinzweig won silver during the 1948 Summer Olympics in London, the highest medal honored that year in the instrumental category, for his Divertimenti for Solo Flute and Strings. Weinzweig later joined the music faculty at the University of Toronto.




In addition to being America’s most iconic film composer, John Williams is also the most prolific Olympics composer, having created themes for four Olympic Games. His Olympic Fanfare and Theme, written for the 1984 Olympic Games in L.A., marked the first time a major American composer had contributed a lasting fanfare for the event.




In 1996, Williams's Olympic Fanfare was fused with Leo Arnaud’s equally recognizable Bugler’s Dream, a piece that was not initially written for the games but came to symbolize them when the Olympic telecasts adopted his stately tune in 1958.



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Verdi Requiem “Behind-the-Scenes”



Since the 1930’s, the Requiem has been a staple of the choral repertory on both sides of the Atlantic. Common wisdom would have us believe that the work requires the world from its performers, but also gives it back in return. When Verdi sat down to write it, he had specific soloists in mind and the score is reflective of their special gifts as technicians as well as interpreters. Because we can compare the earlier source, we know that Verdi re-wrote the music with the talents of a particular singer in mind.

Stolz as Aida, Parma, 1872
Her name was Teresa Stolz. She was born in Bohemia but she spent most of her career in Italy. Stolz was a powerful singer, both passionate and with exceptional technical control, and Verdi was enamored with her in more ways than one. She sang in several of his operas, including Don Carlo and Aida. Verdi wrote for her without concern for technical limitation. He enhanced the soprano part in a variety of ways. He added measures. He made her part higher and more virtuosic.

He also gave her music that was originally given to the choir. These changes tend to happen in prominent places, like the end.




It must have been impossible for Verdi not to have remembered Stolz’s extraordinary voice as he composed. This meant he also prepared for her presence in the score by saving the force of her dramatic impact for later.

In one instance, he examined an older passage featuring soprano and choir alone. He took the melody from the soloist, gave it to the orchestra, shortened it, and then placed this passage at the beginning of his new work. In the Libera me, you will hear something that sounds like the very opening of the Requiem but this time it is led by the soprano in its full poignancy.



The Requiem text also allowed Verdi to explore the voice in ways that he couldn’t in his operas. This may sound kind of surprising because we’re used to thinking of his operatic writing as a complete exploration of the voice. But here I don’t mean expressive range -- I mean “voice” in the poetic sense– in the sense of who is speaking. In opera, characters are delineated. Their relationships with others and with themselves are the tensions that push the drama forward. In this work, these roles aren’t so clear cut. In fact, they are often exchanged. The singers must ask themselves “am I telling a story about someone else?” or “Is this my voice, must I embody these words?” In this way, Verdi complicates the medieval poem and its spiritual meanings.

Sometimes the move from characters to story-telling is blatant, like the return of the Dies Irae music. You don’t need me to tell you when this gripping music returns. You can’t miss it. But why this music at those particular points? Why would Verdi go out of his way to break the flow of the story? The answer, at least in part, is that the Dies Irae music forcibly tears the soloists away from one role to another. At one point the soloists move from their role as narrators to fearful sinners who plead for their own salvation. “What can a wretch like me say?” But these are the obvious shifts in poetic voice. Verdi sometimes clouds the issue for everyone involved. This happens in the Rex tremendae, where the bass temporarily stops being a character and aligns himself with the narrative voice of the choir.

So we come full circle, back to the genesis of the Libera me. We can appreciate again the opening for its drama, but perhaps now we can also see its shifts in character. The soprano begins freely in a kind of monotone chanting. Suddenly, she releases herself and embodies her fearful predicament; her line becomes more articulated, more angular, more urgent. In a few short bars, Verdi has read musically against the grain of the text. He does this throughout the work – asking the singers to morph between worlds and sometimes to live between them.

This blurring of story-telling and embodiment makes this work richer and its paradoxes more immediate. We are about to experience an upbeat fugue for double chorus, and a gentle set of theme and variations in the Agnus Dei, but soon enough we come upon those questions again. The last movement ends with the soprano grounded in the dark regions of her voice, in steady prayer. We could say that all is resolved but the epic questioning that preceded this, makes it    an uneasy promise.



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