Happy Birthday Pablo Casals

Pau Casals i Defilló was born 29 December 1876, usually known in English as Pablo Casals, was a cellist, composer, and conductor from Catalonia, Spain. He is generally regarded as the pre-eminent cellist of the first half of the 20th century, and one of the greatest cellists of all time. He made many recordings throughout his career, of solo, chamber, and orchestral music, also as conductor, but he is perhaps best remembered for the recordings of the Bach Cello Suites he made from 1936 to 1939. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1963 by President John F. Kennedy (though the ceremony was presided over by Lyndon B. Johnson).





The man who would become the world's greatest cellist never heard one until age 11. By then he was an accomplished singer, pianist, violinist and (once his feet could reach the pedals) organist.

Three years earlier, when he had been enthralled by a street performer on a makeshift upright bass consisting of a bent broom handle with a single string, his father made him a crude replica from a gourd. (As a reminder of his humble origins, Casals kept it displayed in his home all his life). When Casals finally heard a cello in a trio visiting his remote Catalan village, its sound stirred him as human and profound.

Until then, the cello was deemed unsuitable for sensitive displays of emotion and was typically relegated to a role of accompaniment (as when chugging along with Baroque music). "Proper" technique of the time stemmed from strict training in which a student was made to hold a book under his bowing arm to restrict movement and to produce an unvarying tone. From his earliest lessons, Casals rebelled and resolved to liberate the cello from its chaste subordinate chore. Casals revolutionized bowing technique by using only portions rather than the entire expanse of the bow, lifting it from the strings and shading the tonal quality to emphasize the musical essence. He also pioneered percussive fingering (stopping the strings decisively rather than sliding the whole hand between notes),One of Casals' first Columbia 78s expressive intonation (varying the tuning according to harmonic demands), rhythmic vigor, varied attacks and decisive accentuation. His innovations bred interpretations having a compelling inner logic and an instinctive feeling for structure and meaning. Casals created a sense of style.

Throughout his career, Casals never forgot his roots and remained immersed in his deep abiding love of mankind. Rather than cater to the elite, Casals believed that the people who had produced a country's wealth should share its cultural riches. With his Barcelona orchestra, he launched wildly popular concert series to which only low-paid workers were eligible to subscribe (for six pesetas – about $1 – for an entire season) and insisted that their acclaim "meant more to me than any applause I had ever received."

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How World War I made Beethoven’s Ninth a Japanese New Year’s tradition

German soldiers, taken to Japan as POWs during WWI, played Beethoven’s Ninth to pass the time — decades later, it’s become a beloved Japanese New Year tradition.




 Since 1999, the Seattle Symphony has made a tradition of playing Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 on New Year’s Eve. But a fondness for ringing in the new year with the Ninth began decades before that in an unexpected corner of the world: Japan.

Seattle Symphony principal trombonist Ko-ichiro Yamamoto recalls playing the Ninth nearly a dozen times in late 2003 while freelancing with Tokyo’s famed NHK Symphony, as well as another major Japanese orchestra.

A second-generation professional trombone player, Yamamoto said his father, Tatsuo, recalled performing the Ninth with the Japan Philharmonic Orchestra on more than one occasion. “I’m sure that right now,” Yamamoto said, “some orchestra is playing Beethoven’s Ninth in Tokyo.”

In Japan, the German composer’s last symphony is nicknamed “Daiku” or “Big Nine.” According to The Japan Times, in December of 2009 there were 55 performances of the Ninth in Tokyo; on some occasions, the chorus has ranged from 6,000 to 10,000 voices for the famed “Ode to Joy” in the final movement. “Daiku” is the last scheduled performance for three of Tokyo’s most prestigious orchestras this year.

Japan wasn’t introduced to Western classical music until the late 19th century but didn’t waste time catching up — Tokyo, Japan’s largest city, has more professional symphonies than Berlin. But how did Beethoven’s Ninth become a national favorite?

In 1914, a colony of German soldiers living in Tsingtao, a city on the eastern shore of China, was captured by Japanese soldiers. World War I had erupted and Japan sided with Great Britain and the rest of the Allies. At the time, Tsingtao was a major German military base and Japan demanded its surrender. When Germany refused, Japan invaded and detained almost 4,000 soldiers as prisoners of war.

About 1,000 of those German soldiers were sent to Bando, a POW camp in Naruto, located in Japan’s Tokushima Prefecture. The soldiers occupied their time in a variety of ways, from printing a camp newspaper to supervised jaunts to local sights, as well as forming an orchestra.

The Ninth was a favorite among the POWs and the so-called “Bando orchestra” performed the piece inside the camp on a makeshift stage. After the war ended, the former POWs performed the Ninth outside Bando’s walls for an audience in Naruto; in 1927, the piece was performed in its entirety by the Shin Kokyo Gakudan (or New Symphony Orchestra), now known as the NHK Symphony Orchestra.

The Ninth continued to grow in popularity. On Dec. 31, 1940, a Polish conductor led a Japanese ensemble in a live radio performance of the Ninth to commemorate the creation of Japan. By the 1960s, the Ninth sold out concert halls across Japan as more musicians and choristers tried to tackle the difficult notes and German lyrics.

Using verse from a popular German poem titled “Ode to Joy,” Beethoven completed the Ninth in 1824. At its premiere in Vienna that same year, the composer’s health was worsening by the day — most scholars agree he was suffering from cirrhosis of the liver — and he was almost completely deaf. A performer onstage had to turn Beethoven around to see the standing ovation from the crowd.

Simon Woods, president of the Seattle Symphony, said the composition is especially fitting for the end of the year with its broody, dark first movement and its exuberant finale.

“I think the journey that the piece is on, from the first movement to the last movement, is a symbolic journey,” Woods said. “I think that’s why it often plays a transitional role. It carries you through.”

Lynnsay Maynard: @lynnsaymaynard

Tales of Classical Christmas

The great composers of classical music celebrated Christmas just like us: they visited family, they reconnected with friends, they gave presents. While their Christmas stories might involve fewer gift receipts than ours, you might recognize some of your holiday experiences in these stories. Read on for tales of lavish meals, awkward moments and creative ways of getting over the holiday blues.

Bonn, 1790: Haydn Meets Beethoven for the First Time


Portrait of Ludwig van Beethoven.

(Joseph Willibrord Mähler / Wikimedia Commons)

When Ludwig van Beethoven was 20 years old, Santa Claus brought him the chance to meet one of his musical idols. Franz Joseph Haydn was passing through Beethoven’s hometown, Bonn, on his way to London. On the day after Christmas, Bonn’s Elector, Max Franz, invited Haydn to a party in his honor with local musicians. While no records indicate the dinner party’s precise guest list — there was no Evite back then — Beethoven, considered Bonn’s best pianist and emerging composer, was almost definitely there. 

Whatever impression the young Ludwig might have made on the exalted master that Christmas, a year and a half passed before Haydn, stopping again in Bonn, concluded that Beethoven’s unprecedented talent demanded the cultivation of none other than Haydn himself. In November of 1792, Beethoven, his luggage full of scores and sketches, arrived in Vienna as Haydn’s newest pupil, beginning the most significant chapter yet of his instruction.



Mannheim, 1798: Aloysia Weber Swipes Left on Mozart


Aloysia Weber as Zémire in André Grétry's opera “Zémire et Azor,” circa 1784.



The theater singer Aloysia Weber was 17 when she started taking lessons with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in Mannheim, Germany. The 21-year-old composer was soon smitten and wrote her an aria to showcase her talents. But his father Leopold didn’t want this growing infatuation to slow his son’s career and insisted that he leave for the bright lights of Paris.

Mozart returned on Christmas Day the following year for a brief stay at the Weber family home. But the thrill, as they say, was gone.  To Mozart’s dismay, Aloysia pretended not to recognize him! Not one to pout or cry on Christmas, the undeterred composer set his sights on Aloysia’s younger sister, Constanze, and the two eventually married.



Tribschen, 1870: Richard Wagner Nails the Whole Secret Santa Thing

Richard Wagner would never win Husband of the Year, but every once in a while he could bring his “A” game. After his wife Cosima gave birth to the couple’s son Siegfried in 1869, Wagner started working on a new composition. He kept it secret and made elaborate plans to surprise her on her birthday, December 25. That Christmas morning, Cosima Wagner awoke to the sound of a small ensemble on her staircase, playing her husband’s new piece called “Siegfried Idyll.”





Helsinki, 1911: Sibelius Beats the Christmas Blues With Song 

Though Jean Sibelius was not religious, he made an exception once per year for Christmas observances. But the composer wasn’t exactly a sweater-wearing and gingerbread-baking Christmas superfan. In fact, the holiday seemed to put him a remarkable funk: “Immediately after Christmas is over, things improve and life is fun once more,” he told his secretary. Nevertheless, Christmas brought the Sibelius family together: the children would sing songs their father had composed just for the occasion. His carols, which remain an important part of the Finnish holiday tradition, offer no hints of the composer’s dark mood.






Johannes Brahms drinking it up with family in Fellinger, 1896. (UNESCO)
If you wanted to find a composer who looked like Santa Claus, then look no further than Johannes Brahms. Not only did he have the beard, but he also had a joyful and generous spirit every Christmas. Christmas Eve for Brahms found him dining with friends, including an occasional celebration with Clara Schumann alone. Christmas Day, however, brought with it an ironclad tradition. It began with a lunchtime appointment at a tavern called The Red Hedgehog, followed by naptime at a nearby coffeeshop (why is that not still a thing?), and then packing for the annual festival held in his honor by the Duchy of Saxe-Meiningen. Brahms kept this Christmas schedule — and Santa beard — until his death.

Leipzig, 1723: The New Guy Makes a Big Impression




There are some people who can vacation and unplug during the Christmas holiday and then there was Johann Sebastian Bach. In 1723, Bach arrived in Leipzig as the new choirmaster of the city’s St. Thomas Church. Determined to make a great first impression during the busiest time of the church year, Bach worked avidly to unveil his first major liturgical composition, his Magnificat, as well as four bonus hymns for that Christmas. Bach hadn’t been the first choice for the Leipzig job (Georg Philipp Telemann was the church’s first pick) but he more than beat expectations and remained happily in Leipzig until the end of his life.

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The Composer and His Muse: Harriet Smithson and Hector Berlioz



In 1827, Berlioz attended a performance of Shakespeare’s Hamlet given by a troupe of British actors at the Odéon Theatre in Paris. There, the 24-year-old composer became infatuated with the Ophelia of the production, an Irishwoman named Harriet Smithson. 

The composer had to find an outlet for his obsessive love – naturally, that was music. He formed the idea of a “fantastic symphony” portraying an episode in the life of an artist who is constantly haunted by the vision of the perfect, unattainable woman.  




In Symphonie fantastique Berlioz imagines himself, the lovelorn artist, attempting suicide by opium poisoning. He doesn’t administer a lethal dose as intended, but instead succumbs to a deranged, drug-fueled dream in which he has killed his beloved and faces execution for the crime.
Marie Moke

By now recoiling from his obsession with Smithson, Berlioz fell in love with a nineteen-year-old pianist, Marie ("Camille") Moke. His feelings were reciprocated, and the couple planned to be married. In December Berlioz organised a concert at which the Symphonie fantastique was premiered. Protracted applause followed the performance, and the press reviews expressed both the shock and the pleasure the work had given. Berlioz's biographer David Cairns calls the concert a landmark not only in the composer's career but in the evolution of the modern orchestra. Franz Liszt was among those attending the concert; this was the beginning of a long friendship. Liszt later transcribed the entire Symphonie fantastique for piano to enable more people to hear it.


Shortly after the concert Berlioz set off for Italy: under the terms of the Prix de Rome, winners studied for two years at the Villa Medici, the French Academy in Rome. Within three weeks of his arrival he went absent without leave: he had learnt that Marie had broken off their engagement and was to marry an older and richer suitor, Camille Pleyel, the heir to the Pleyel piano manufacturing company. Berlioz made an elaborate plan to kill them both (and her mother, known to him as "l'hippopotame"), and acquired poisons, pistols and a disguise for the purpose. But by the time he reached Nice on his journey to Paris he thought better of the scheme, abandoned the idea of revenge, and successfully sought permission to return to the Villa Medici. He stayed for a few weeks in Nice and wrote his King Lear overture.


Symphonie Fantastique was premiered in 1830 but Smithson did not hear the work until 1832, when she realised she might be the inspiration for it. Intrigued, she agreed to meet the composer and was blown away by the force of his emotion.

Despite neither speaking the other’s language, Harriet and Hector married on October 3, 1833. Happy ever after? Sadly, no – the obsession faded and they divorced seven years later.  Symphonie Fantastique has an enduring popularity and gives us a musical memoir of Berlioz’s infatuation with Smithson. 'Love cannot express the idea of music, while music may give an idea of love,' wrote the composer.


Sources: Limelight Magazine
Classic FM
Classic Music.com
Wikipedia


Pianist Alexander Melnikov on Playing Historic Instruments




The Russian pianist Alexander Melnikov has made several recordings using period instruments, and his latest disc features music by Schubert, Chopin, Liszt and Stravinsky on instruments from the 1830 and 1875, and a modern concert Steinway (he has also performed this programme on similar instruments), offering listeners and audiences the chance to experience four great works of the piano repertoire interpreted in their original instrumental environment. It’s a fascinating exploration of familiar repertoire through the medium of different pianos and how the composers responded to them. Meanwhile, the organisers of the International Chopin Competition have launched a new competition in which participants will perform on period instruments. The inaugural competition takes place in September this year and I sincerely hope this competition will offer competitors and audiences something more than a novelty or “living museum recital” and will cultivate sensitivities and sensibilities in pianists, who can appreciate and respond to what period pianos provide.

Albert Einstein: The Violinist




Einstein's mother, Pauline, was an accomplished pianist and wanted her son to love music too, so she started him on violin lessons when he was six years old. Unfortunately, at first, Einstein hated playing the violin. He would much rather build houses of cards, which he was really good at (he once built one 14 stories high!), or do just about anything else. When Einstein was 13-years old, he suddenly changed his mind about the violin when he heard the music of Mozart. With a new passion for playing, Einstein continued to play the violin until the last few years of his life. For nearly seven decades, Einstein would not only use the violin to relax when he became stuck in his thinking process, he would play socially at local recitals or join in impromptu groups such as Christmas carolers who stopped at his home.

Music for fun and physics

Einstein with Bronislaw Huberman
Music was not only a relaxation to Einstein, it also helped him in his work. His second wife, Elsa, gives a rare glimpse of their home life in Berlin. “As a little girl, I fell in love with Albert because he played Mozart so beautifully on the violin,” she once wrote. “He also plays the piano. Music helps him when he is thinking about his theories. He goes to his study, comes back, strikes a few chords on the piano, jots something down, returns to his study.”

In later life, his fame as a physicist often led to invitations to perform at benefit concerts, which he generally accepted eagerly. At one such event, a critic – unaware of Einstein’s real claim to fame as a physicist – wrote, “Einstein plays excellently. However,his world-wide fame is undeserved. There are many violinists who are just as good”.

One wag, on leaving another concert in which Einstein had played, commented, “I suppose now [the Austrian violinist] Fritz Kreisler is going to start giving physics lectures”.

There are nevertheless conflicting accounts of his musical abilities. Probably the least generous come from great artists, of whom Einstein counted many as personal friends as well as chamber-music partners. These included the pianist Artur Rubinstein, the cellist Gregor Piatigorski, and Bronislaw Huberman, one of the most remarkable and idiosyncratic violin virtuosos of the 20th century.

In 1936 Huberman visited Einstein in Princeton to discuss his plans to found the orchestra that eventually became the Israel Philharmonic, of which Einstein was a prominent supporter. Probably the summary of Einstein the violinist that comes nearest to the mark comes from his friend Janos Plesch, who wrote, “There are many musicians with much better technique, but none, I believe, who ever played with more sincerity or deeper feeling”.




Fascinating Stories Behind Classical Music Compositions

Beethoven’s 3rd Symphony

Dubbed the Eroica symphony, which means “heroic” in Italian (not “erotic”), Beethoven’s 3rd Symphony was initially his tribute to Napoleon, whom he admired. But when Napoleon crowned himself emperor in 1804, Beethoven angrily declared that Napoleon had become a tyrant and tore out the score’s title page dedicating the symphony to the general-turned-emperor. The Eroica was the first work of Beethoven’s in which he finally arrived at the peak of his composing abilities.



Mozart’s Requiem

If you believe the fantastic 1984 movie “Amadeus,” then Mozart’s rival, Salieri, plotted to kill Mozart while helping the younger artist compose the Requiem, as Mozart lay dying. The truth is somewhat different, and the Salieri plot is a creative fiction. The youthful genius apparently completed only the first movement sometime before his death, while the remaining outlines were completed by others. How much Mozart actually did before he died is still subject to much debate.



Beethoven’s 9th symphony

As you may know, Beethoven eventually lost his hearing. The maestro composed some of his later pieces while literally pounding the piano with his ear close to the keys. When he premiered his magnificent 9th Symphony, he conducted it without hearing a single note. Because of his deafness—and perhaps the fact that he had not conducted in public for 12 years—Beethoven’s conducting was sporadic and unsynchronized with the orchestra. A member of the orchestra even had to turn him around so that he could see the enthusiastic approval of the audience.




Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring

People with a passing knowledge of classical music would know this one: Igor Stravinsky’s ballet of pagan springtime rituals sounded, and looked, so bizarre to early 1900s audiences that during its first public performance the audience rioted. It didn’t help matters that the composer and his choreographer came to despise one another. The dance steps, costumes and intricate music didn’t sit well with some in the audience. Soon, supporters and detractors started fistfights, which degenerated into a riot—even though many could no longer hear the music. Musicians were even assaulted. Think about that the next time you hear of an audience going crazy at a rock or rap concert.




Liszt’s Les Preludes

The Nazis used parts of Les Preludes to be the official theme song for the propagandistic German Weekly Newsreel service, circa 1940-1945. (Can you imagine watching news footage of Luftwaffe Stukas dive-bombing Soviet troops and towns with The Prelude blaring, just like Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries was used during the helicopter attack in the movie Apocalypse Now?)


Reposted from Listverse.com

5 Reasons Listening to Classical Music Could Be Good for Your Health



Classical music can be a wonderful thing to experience, with its varying moods and tones, and science actually shows us that classical music in particular can have the power to improve our health. Here are five ways you might benefit from listening to classical music.

1. Classical Music Might Lower Our Blood Pressure


Researchers from the University of Oxford presented findings at the British Cardiovascular Society Conference in Manchester recently that certain genres of music appear to lower blood pressure. The researchers believe that the key may be the 10-second repeated rhythm that is found in many classical works such as Va Pensiero, Nessun Dorma, and Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. Classical music that had a faster rhythm, such as Verdi’s Four Seasons, did not produce this effect.

The researchers caution that their findings need more extensive testing, but this may be the underlying reason why classical music has been shown to have various other benefits, and so has been greeted with cautious optimism by other researchers.

2. Can’t Sleep? Try Some Sebelius

Research has shown that stress-related insomnia can be tough to beat if we don’t resort to medication, however controlled studies have shown that students who listen to classical music tend to sleep better and sometimes for longer (in terms of unbroken sleep) than those who listen to things like audiobooks or nothing at all. It’s unlikely that classical music alone will cure a chronic case of insomnia, but it might be that if you’re just having a rough patch, classical music could form part of an improved sleep routine.

3. Classical Music May Help Calm Your Road Rage (But There’s a Catch)

Due to the fact that classical music is calming, some therapists have recommended classical music as part of a stress reduction program for people who experience what’s often termed “road rage.” Interestingly, a recent study actually showed that music by popstars like Adele might offer even more of a calming effect, and other studies show that soft-rock may have a similar impact.

However, being too relaxed on the road can be a bad thing. One study has shown that classical music might actually be too soothing and could put the average driver in danger of becoming complacent, so if you do listen to classical music while driving, try to go for lively pieces that will keep you engaged.

4. Classical Music Won’t Improve Your Memory But it Could Help You Study Better

The idea that listening to certain kinds of music can help improve your memory or even raise your intelligence has actually been disproved. Researchers have repeatedly tested the so-called Mozart effect, and found that it doesn’t hold true–or, at least, not in the way that we traditionally perceive improved brain performance. However, what the research does show is that well-chosen background music can help to make for a better study experience which in turn might lead to better fact retention and cognitive performance. It doesn’t have to be Mozart or even classical music though, as genres like soft jazz and other mostly instrumental music with a gentle tempo tend to aid concentration.

5. Classical Music May Help Boost Your Mood


It’s not going to be a substitute for medical help if you have a mental health condition, but incorporating music as part of your own wellness strategy might be a good idea. Some studies have shown that classical music and other, so called softer music, might be good for helping to ease depressive states. The reason why that might be isn’t fully understood, but some researchers think it’s because it helps us to regulate our breathing better and generally relaxes us in ways that other interventions can’t. As above, classical music also improves sleep quality, and this in turn is a known benefit for combating mood disorders. Other studies have shown that music in general helps to elevate our moods.

This is not to say that other musical genres don’t have their worth. In fact, science shows that rap music and heavy rock may be particularly good if you are working out because its tempo can help you keep your heart rate up which, if safely managed, can ensure you’re getting the maximum benefits from a fat burning workout.

Read more: Care2.com

Bizarre Musical Instruments



Since the advent of electronic instruments and the need by composers to produce unique and new sounds, many unusual instruments have been invented or restored to life. This is a list of the ten most bizarre instruments.

Aeolian Harp

The Aeolian Harp is a musical instrument that is “played” by the wind. It is named for Aeolus, the ancient Greek god of the wind. Aeolian harps were very popular as household instruments during the Romantic Era, and are still hand-crafted today. Some are now made in the form of monumental metal sound sculptures located on the roof of a building or a windy hilltop. The clip is a contemporary version – with a wind turbine provided the rhythm. The constant unchanging sound in the background is the Aeolian harp.




Ondes Martenot

The Ondes Martenot is an early electronic musical instrument with a keyboard and slide, invented in 1928 by Maurice Martenot and originally very similar in sound to the Theremin. The sonic capabilities of the instrument were subsequently expanded by the addition of filter banks and switchable loudspeakers. The instrument is especially known for its eerie wavering notes produced by the thermionic valves that produce oscillating frequencies. The ondes Martenot has been used by many composers, most notably Olivier Messiaen.

 


Theremin

The Theremin is one of the earliest fully electronic musical instruments. It was invented by Russian inventor Léon Theremin in 1919, and it is unique in that it was the first musical instrument designed to be played without being touched. It consists of two radio frequency oscillators and two metal antennas. The electric signals from the theremin are amplified and sent to a loudspeaker.

 

The Glass Armonica

The glass harmonica, also known as glass armonica, ‘”hydrocrystalophone” or simply armonica (derived from “armonia”, the Italian word for harmony) is a type of musical instrument that uses a series of glass bowls or goblets graduated in size to produce musical tones by means of friction, making it both a crystallophone and a friction idiophone). This mechanical version was invented by Benjamin Franklin.

 

Gravikord

The gravikord is an electric double harp invented and patented by Robert Grawi in 1986. It is modeled after the 21 string West African kora. It is made of welded stainless steel tubing, with 24 nylon strings but no resonating gourd or skin. The bridge is a synthetic material designed very differently from the kora and the range of pitches is greater. While the hands are in a more ergonomic and natural position to the strings, the playing technique is similar to that of the kora: the player plucks the strings with the thumb and index finger of each hand.



Read more at Listverse


Music makes everything better!

New research says singing daily reduces stress, clears sinuses, and helps you live longer 

Music makes everything better! It can relieve pain, reduces stress, makes you work harder, and helps you relax. Music is one of life's most beautiful gifts.

To quote Jimi Hendrix:
Music doesn't lie. If there is something to be changed in this world, then it can only happen through music.
One of the best ways to capture the benefits of music is through singing. It allows you to truly feel the song with your mind, body, and soul.

Research has shown singing can improve your health, increase happiness and even extend your life!


No matter who or where you are, you can reap the many benefits of music by singing along to some tunes! Sing wherever you are.

Singing is even good for your brain and can make you feel high. It releases endorphins, hormones that produce pleasure, simultaneous to oxytocin, hormones that diminish stress and anxiety.

Oxytocin also decreases feelings of depression and loneliness, making us feel more connected with the world, which is precisely why singing with other people feels even better!



A study done by scientists at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden found people who sing together become so connected they exhibit synchronized heartbeats.


Anyone who has ever been in choir can attest to this. When the magical sound of several people singing together is created, there is an unexplained unity between those singing.

Singing also requires deep concentration on breathing, which works major muscle groups in the upper body and is great for both lung and cardiovascular health.

Björn Vickhoff, the leader of the study, stated:

Song is a form of regular, controlled breathing, since breathing out occurs on the song phrases and inhaling takes place between these. It gives you pretty much the same effect as yoga breathing. It helps you relax, and there are indications that it does provide a heart benefit.

Therefore, one could make the argument that singing is better for you than doing yoga!

Research has also proven that singing produces lower levels of cortisol, reducing stress while improving our immune systems.

Lastly, a joint study from Harvard and Yale Universities in 2008 found singing increases life expectancy. If you want to feel less stressed, become happier, and live longer: Start singing!

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Happy Birthday Giuseppe Verdi the "King of Opera"

Image result for verdi


He might have been born 205 years ago (Oct. 10, 1813), but Verdi's box office brawn has never flagged. From Fairbanks and Philly to Seattle, Chicago, Miami and Minneapolis, Verdi productions — and concerts featuring his Requiem — have probably never been easier to find.

For being known as the "king of opera," Verdi was actually born in modest circumstances in the middle-of-nowhere northern Italy (near Busseto). He struggled for success and in 1842, at age 28, it finally came with his bold new opera Nabucco, about the fall of Jerusalem in 587 B.C. While the opera is justly famous for its moving chorus "Va, pensiero" — which became a rallying cry for Italy's struggle for independence and was sung spontaneously by a few hundred thousand people at Verdi's funeral in 1901 — it should be noted that the entire opera is a forward thrusting, rollicking affair. You would not be incorrect in describing it as "ass-kicking Verdi."





It's fun to trivialize Trovatore, Verdi's 18th opera, because of its outlandish plot. The Marx brothers spoofed it magnificently (but with a palpable appreciation) in their 1935 film A Night at the Opera. OK, so an old gypsy woman throws the wrong baby into the bonfire, setting off a string of unfortunate events. It could happen to anyone! Still, Trovatore is a treasure trove of some of Verdi's best and most hummable tunes, and they come lickety-split one after another. There's the crowd-pleasing "Anvil Chorus," plus "Di quella pira," with its brain-splitting high notes for the tenor, two gorgeous arias for soprano ("Tacea la notte" and "D'amor sull'ali rosee"), the exuberant "Stride la vampa" for the mezzo-soprano and "Il balen," a gorgeous moment of reflection for the baritone.



Verdi's operas act on deeply sociopolitical levels, and La Traviata is a perfect example. Here Verdi empowers the common individual. The opera stars a prostitute — something unheard of at the time — and she's the smartest, most sane and honest person in the opera. It takes very little imagination to see how this realistic story (nice boy falls in love with hooker, who breaks up with him to save his family's honor) dovetails with our contemporary concerns. La Traviata was also an act of daring for Verdi, a little jab at the conservatives of his native Parma who balked at the fact that he wasn't married to the woman he lived with. The lead soprano role is so multifaceted and difficult it almost requires three different types of sopranos to pull it off.


By the time Verdi wrote Simon Boccanegra, he was the king of opera. Even so, Boccanegra flopped at its 1857 premiere. (Verdi revised it successfully 24 years later.) It's not too nerdy to note that whatever one thinks of the convoluted plot (a 14th century doge, amid intense political maneuvering, manages to find his long-lost daughter), the work contains examples of two Verdi trademarks: The father-daughter duet and the "Verdi baritone." Verdi excelled at richly drawn, highly expressive roles for the baritone voice (Rigoletto, Falstaff, Macbeth, Iago, Nabucco) and Boccanegra is one of the most rewarding and detailed. He also focused on father-daughter relationships and the duet "Orfanella il tetto umile" from Boccanegra's first act, when he realizes Amelia is indeed his daughter, is a two-hankie affair.


Near the end of Verdi's incredible six decades in opera, he threatened to quit, but instead came up with one fresh work after another. Finally, after some two dozen serious operas, he capped it all off with a comedy. Falstaff is witty and furiously paced but with the autumnal warmth of an old man looking back on his life with a chuckle. Falstaff's Act 3 monologue is a slice of operatic heaven. Drenched from being dumped in the river (with the laundry), Falstaff muses on his fate in a cruel world. As the wine warms his immense belly in the late afternoon sun, he's revived, and the trill of a cricket (listen for it in the music!) brings a smile. Falstaff is one of three ingenious operas (with Macbeth and Otello) Verdi based on Shakespeare. The composer ends his final masterwork with a chorus of "Tutto nel mondo è burla" — everything in the world is a joke.

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The Relationship Between Music and Science


Music is both an art and a science, and music and science are closely related. Both use mathematical principles and logic, blended with creative thinking and inspiration to arrive at conclusions that are both enlightening and inspirational. It could be said that Science is the music of the intellect, and Music is the science of the heart. 


Music is Math


Music composition is basically a mathematical exercise. From a basic source of sounds, rhythms and tempos, an infinite variety of musical expressions and emotions can be produced. It is the interaction of sounds, tempo, and pitch that creates music, just as the interaction of known facts and knowledge coupled with imagination, conjecture and inspiration produces new scientific discoveries. Both Science and Music use “formulas” and “theories” to solve problems, and to explore the intangible mysteries of life.



Music is as complex and varied as any scientific principle or theory
There are a number of scientific theories that try to explain music. This is a clear indication that music is as complex and varied as any scientific principle or theory. As mathematics is both a science and an art, Music is both an art and a science.  In this way, the art of music and the science of mathematics are related.

Some have postulated that music is the father of mathematics. To make music, you must know how to break “sound” into elements of pitch, rhythm and tempo. Science teaches us that sound is vibration, and the frequency of vibration is what makes different sounds. Music then is the study of the sound created by those vibrations, and puts them into patterns that elicit emotion. Music is based on mathematics. And mathematicians view mathematics as “music for the intellect”. Their joy in a perfect mathematical solution or theorem is as inspiring to them as a Bach Cantata.



Music Makes Us Human

But music is not just an arranged set of noises pleasant to the ear. Music is a bridge that spans the gap between cultures and languages. Music is a means of finding compatibility within a society, as well as a link with other societies. Music has the ability to progress past science.




Music is the common human denominator. All cultures have it. All cultures share it. There are many scientific theories about music and it’s origins, but a purely scientific explanation of music misses the point. Music is emotion. Music is an unexplainable manifestation that is uniquely human. Birds “sing”, but do they weep or cheer as they march to war at the sound of it?

Music is a force that can unite humans even as they are separated by distance and culture. Science can explain many things, but science alone cannot create them. Science can explain music, but only intellect and emotion can create it.


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Happy Birthday George Gershwin

George Gershwin wrote great songs and shows for the theatre, but he always fancied himself as a serious composer. And he was - in fact, one of the 20th century’s greatest.

George Gershwin piano composer


George Gershwin was born in New York City into a Russian Jewish immigrant family. As a boy, George frequented the local Yiddish theatres, ran errands for them and appeared onstage as an extra. Around the age of 10, he took to playing the piano his parents had bought for his older brother Ira.

Young George GershwinThe acclaimed piano teacher Charles Hambitzer took Gershwin on at the age of 14 and immediately realized the level of talent he had on his hands. ‘I have a new pupil who will make his mark if anybody will. The boy is a genius,’ Hambitzer wrote to his sister. Gershwin was sent off to concerts and given significant pieces by the great composers to learn for the piano. Hambitzer's efforts certainly paid off.

Gershwin began his career as a song plugger in New York’s Tin Pan Alley. To earn extra, he also worked as a rehearsal pianist for Broadway singers. In 1916, he composed his first published song, ‘When You Want ’Em You Can’t Get ’Em.’ His first big hit was 'Swanee', composed in 10 minutes on a bus. Not long afterwards, the singer Al Jolson heard it and recorded it. ‘Swanee’ sold a million sheet music copies, and an estimated two million records. It became the biggest-selling song of Gershwin’s career.


 
In his 20s, Gershwin started composing Broadway musical theatre works with his brother Ira writing the lyrics. They even created an experimental one-act jazz opera Blue Monday, set in Harlem – a pre-cursor to Porgy and Bess. In 1924, the brothers collaborated on the stage musical Lady Be Good, which included the classic song Fascinating Rhythm. 


 
Gershwin's most ambitious composition was Porgy and Bess, which he called a ‘folk opera’. The action takes place in the fictional neighbourhood of Catfish Row, South Carolina. The opera contains some of Gershwin's most sophisticated music and some huge hit arias – ‘Summertime’, ‘I Got Plenty o' Nuttin'’ and ‘It Ain't Necessarily So’. When it was first performed in 1935, it was a box office flop. It is now widely regarded as one of the most important American operas of the 20th century.

After the disappointing reception for Porgy and Bess, Gershwin moved to Hollywood and worked on many film scores. His music for Shall We Dance, starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, married ballet with jazz in a new way, and ran for more than an hour in length. It took Gershwin several months to write and orchestrate it.


 
Early in 1937, Gershwin began to complain of blinding headaches and there were signs he was suffering coordination problems. He was diagnosed with a brain tumour. An operation was unsuccessful, and Gershwin died on 11 July at the age of 38.

From the opening clarinet glissando of Rhapsody in Blue to such standards as 'Embraceable You' and 'Someone to Watch Over Me', Gershwin's music has been part of our world for almost a century. It evokes an era of glamour and sophistication and gave the United States its first authentic voice in the concert hall. The American singer Michael Feinstein has said, 'The Gershwin legacy is extraordinary because George Gershwin died in 1937, but his music is as fresh and vital today as when he originally created it.'

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Amazing Women in Classical Music History

All pioneering and inspiring in their stories and music.



Ethel Smyth


 

One of this country's greatest composers was an English composer from Sidcup, Kent in 1858. Her father was opposed to her pursuing a career in music, but Smyth was determined to make it as a composer and her studies led her all the way to the prestigious Leipzig Conservatory. Her compositions include works for voice, piano, chamber groups and orchestra. In 1910 she joined the women’s suffrage movement and her composition The March of the Women became the anthem of movement. Smyth was awarded Damehood in 1922 - the first female composer ever to receive such an honour.

Teresa Carreño



Teresa Carreño was a pianist, singer, composer and conductor born in Caracas, Venezuela in 1853. Her father was from a very musical family and gave her music lessons from an early age and was quite the prodigy. Over her life she became a world renowned pianist and composed around 75 pieces for voice, piano, choir, orchestra and instrumental ensemble. She also sang roles in operas like Don Giovanni, Les Huguenots and many more. What a star.


Marianna Martines

 

 

Let's go back to Vienna in 1744 where an exceptional pianist, singer and composer was born. Marianna Martines took keyboard lessons from none other than Joseph Haydn (you'd want to do you practise with a teacher like that). She soon began to show a talent for composition and took lessons with Imperial Court composer Giuseppe Bonno. As her music became more well known she joined the Accademia Filarmonica of Bologna in 1773 and really indulged in the Italian style (it was very fashionable at the time). Her compositions included two oratorios in Italian as well as a number of cantatas, motets and masses - and here's one of her sonatas.


Isabella Leonarda

 

 

Isabella Leonarda was a composer from Novara, Italy. She entered the Collegio di Sant'Orsola, an Ursuline convent, at the age of 16 and remained there for the rest of her life. Her compositions spanned almost every genre of sacred music, including psalms, responsories and Magnificats. She was also the first woman to publish sonatas, writing many in her lifetime. Listen to her 'Sonata duodecima' for violin solo and continuo - it's just stunning.

Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre



Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre was a French harpsichordist and composer, born in Paris in 1665, into a wonderful (and possibly quite noisy) family of musicians and instrument-makers. She received her music education as a child from her father, performing to King Louis XIV at a young age. As a teenager her education was overseen by the king’s mistress in the French court. After her marriage in 1684 she taught, performed around Paris and composed opera and ballet. Her opera Céphale et Procris was the first opera to be published by a woman in France.

Augusta Browne
This American composer and author was born in Dublin, Ireland in 1820 and crossed the Atlantic with family when she was a child. She gained fame in the mid-1800s as part of the first wave of female composers in the US. She liked to compose music that would be enjoyed by the masses, writing over 200 works for piano and voice in addition to numerous hymns and secular pieces. She was also a rather outspoken writer and music critic.

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Happy Birthday Clara Schumann

 Composing gives me great pleasure... there is nothing that surpasses the joy of creation, if only because through it one wins hours of self-forgetfulness, when one lives in a world of sound.
— Clara Schumann

Clara Schumann was a German musician and composer, considered 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 and the tastes of the listening public. Her husband was the composer Robert Schumann. Together they encouraged Johannes Brahms. She was the first to perform publicly any work by Brahms.


Clara Schumann had a brilliant career as a pianist from the age of 13 up to her marriage. Her marriage to Schumann was opposed by her father. She continued to perform and compose after the marriage even as she raised seven children.

In the various tours on which she accompanied her husband, she extended her own reputation further than the outskirts of Germany, and it was thanks to her efforts that his compositions became generally known in Europe. Johannes Brahms, at age 20, met the couple in 1853 and his friendship with Clara Schumann lasted until her death. J. Brahms helped Clara Schumann through the illness of her husband with a caring that bordered on love. Later that year, she also met violinist Joseph Joachim who became one of her frequent performance partners. Clara Schumann is credited with refining the tastes of audiences through her presentation of works by earlier composers including those of Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven as well as those of Robert Schumann and J. Brahms.

Although for many years after her death Clara Schumann was not widely recognized as a composer, as a pianist she made an impression which lasts until today. She was one of the first pianists to perform from memory, making that the standard for concertizing. Trained by her father to play by ear and to memorize, she gave public performances from memory as early as age thirteen, a fact noted as something exceptional by her reviewers.

She was also instrumental in changing the kind of programs expected of concert pianists. In her early career, before her marriage to Robert, she played what was then customary, mainly bravura pieces designed to showcase the artist's technique, often in the form of arrangements or variations on popular themes from operas, written by virtuosos such as Thalberg, Herz, or Henselt. And, as it was also customary to play one's own compositions, she included at least one of her own works in every program, works such as her Variations on a Theme by Bellini (Op. 8) and her popular Scherzo (Op. 10). However, as she became a more independent artist, her repertoire contained mainly music by leading composers.


Clara Schumann, "one of the most soulful and famous pianists of the day", according to Edvard Grieg

Clara Schumann's influence also spread through her teaching, which emphasized a singing tone and expression, with technique entirely subordinated to the intentions of the composer. One of her students, Mathilde Verne, carried her teaching to England where she taught, among others, Solomon; while another of her students, Carl Friedberg, carried the tradition to the Juilliard School in America, where his students included Malcolm Frager and Bruce Hungerford.

Clara was also instrumental in getting the works of Robert Schumann recognized, appreciated and added to the repertoire. She promoted him tirelessly, beginning when his music was unknown or disliked, when the only other important figure in music to play Schumann occasionally was Liszt, and continuing until the end of her long career.

Happy Birthday John Cage!



An American composer and music theorist. A pioneer of indeterminacy in music, electroacoustic music, and non-standard use of musical instruments, Cage was one of the leading figures of the post-war avant-garde. Critics have lauded him as one of the most influential composers of the 20th century. He was also instrumental in the development of modern dance, mostly through his association with choreographer Merce Cunningham, who was also Cage's romantic partner for most of their lives.

Born in Los Angeles in 1912, Cage studied for a short time at Pamona College, and later at UCLA with classical composer Arthur Schoenberg. There he realized that the music he wanted to make was radically different from the music of his time. “I certainly had no feeling for harmony, and Schoenberg thought that that would make it impossible for me to write music. He said ‘You’ll come to a wall you won’t be able to get through.’ So I said, ‘I’ll beat my head against that wall.'” But it wasn’t long before Cage found that there were others equally interested in making art in ways that broke from the rigid forms of the past. Two of the most important of Cage’s early collaborators were the dancer Merce Cunningham and the painter Robert Rauschenberg.






The piece 4’33” written by John Cage, is possibly the most famous and important piece in twentieth century avant-garde. 4’33” was a distillation of years of working with found sound, noise, and alternative instruments. In one short piece, Cage broke from the history of classical composition and proposed that the primary act of musical performance was not making music, but listening.

A Musician's Brain is Different!

Aside from general pleasure, learning and playing music benefits your mind in a number of ways.

Happy Birthday Claude Debussy


Born in 1862, Claude-Achille Debussy was one of the most important French composers ever to sit at a piano, but he also boasted a romantic history to make even the most salacious tabloid journalist salivate.

Aged just 18 Debussy began an eight-year affair with Blanche Vasnier, wife of a wealthy Parisian lawyer. After Blanche, Debussy lived ‘in sin’ with Garielle Dupont, a tailor’s daughter from Lisieux. He cheated on Gaby with Thérèse Roger (to whom he was briefly engaged) before leaving her for her friend, fashion model Rosalie Texier, whom he did eventually marry. Rosalie clearly had the looks but not the brain to interest Debussy long-term, and she was soon packed back to her father’s home when Debussy met the captivating Emma Bardac, the mother of one of his students and wife of a Parisian banker. It’s something of an understatement to say that Rosalie did not take the rejection well. She shot herself in the chest while standing in the middle of Paris’s Place de la Concorde. Amazingly she survived this violent suicide attempt, but the bullet stayed lodged in her spine until her death 28 years later.

Claude Debussy at the home of Ernest Chausson

This was one scandal too many for Debussy. He and the now pregnant Emma found themselves so unpopular that they were forced to flee to England, before eventually returning to France for the birth of their eponymous daughter Claude- Emma.

When Parisians first heard Debussy’s music they didn’t know what to make of it. It was different to anything they had heard before, but they liked it. His visionary Préludeàl’après-midi d’unfaune premiered in 1894 and even now when you listen to the music, every note is surprising. It sounds incredibly earthy and sensuous, yet deliciously light. Predictably the work was not without its critics, but it got a standing ovation at its premiere and it is still popular today.

Inspired by Stephane Mallarmé’s poem ‘Afternoon of a Faun’, the work tells of a faun trying to seduce two nymphs. The poem is full of the sounds of nature and has a sultry, hazy atmosphere, all of which can be heard in the music. The faun tries to seduce his nymphs with sound by making a flute, an incident from the poem which can clearly be heard in the work. Just as Mallarmé’s Faun inspired Debussy, Debussy’s Faun inspired a ballet by the world renowned Vaslav Nijinsky in 1912.



Though he rejected the term himself, Debussy is considered to be a central figure of the Impressionist movement by music historians.

When Debussy died in Paris in March 1918 after a long illness, Stravinsky honored his colleague with a musical tribute:

 “I was sincerely attached to him as a man, and I grieved not only at the loss of one whose great friendship had been marked with unfailing kindness towards myself and my work, but at the passing of an artist who, in spite of maturity and health already hopelessly undermined, had still been able to retain his creative powers to the full, and whose musical genius had been in no way impaired throughout the whole period of his activity.”

When the Parisian Revue Musicale published a memorial supplement to Debussy, Stravinsky submitted a chorale that would, a short while later, form the final section of his Symphonies of Wind Instruments, a single-movement piece for twenty-four woodwind and brass instruments dedicated to the memory of Claude Debussy.






5 Surprisingly deep benefits of listening to classical music

VIOLINS

Even for a country or rock fan, classical music can reduce stress and boost creativity, among other things.

Many of the greatest classical composers attributed their masterpieces to their worship of God. Johann Sebastian Bach once said, “The aim and final end of all music should be none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul.”

Classical music provides its listeners with a number of benefits, both physical and psychological.


1. It boosts brain power and creativity

Craig Ballantyne, editor of the self-improvement website Early to Rise, explains the “Mozart effect” as a mental result of listening to classical music, particularly Mozart’s. “In a controlled University of California study, students who listened to 10 minutes of Mozart before taking SATs had higher scores than students who didn’t,” explained Ballantyne. He also pointed to a study done by the University of Washington in which copyeditors who listened to classical music while editing caught 21 percent more errors than those who did not.

Author Cinda Yager raves about the psychological effect that classical music had on her. “Encouraged by the music, my imagination came out to play. It played through scenes in the novel I was working on, presenting solutions to problems, giving me ideas to flesh out characterizations, suggesting necessary edits I had not seen before. This was amazing to me.”


2. It deepens musical appreciation

The instrumentals contained in classical music are unlike those of any other genre in their ability to reach a person. Fittingly, Albert Einstein once said that Mozart’s music “was so pure that it seemed to have been ever-present in the universe, waiting to be discovered by the master.”


3. It has healing properties

If the sound of classical music results in water’s formation of elegant ice crystals, one has to wonder what it can do for our bodies, which are made up of 70 percent water. The man responsible for the study, Dr. Masaru Emoto, “sees energy as vibrations moving through matter.” These vibrations include the sound waves of music, which can affect us in various ways. Dr. Emoto refers to the vibrations as hado. He gives several examples of specific classical songs and their healing effects.


4. Acts as a stress reducer

PsychCentral reported that classical music “can have a beneficial effect on our physiological functions, slowing the pulse and heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and decreasing the levels of stress hormones.”


5. It aids in expressing one’s emotions


Southern Methodist University conducted a study in which 85 individuals were asked to verbally reflect upon their life’s most significant experience. The participants whose interview involved classical music playing in the background were found to be more expressive and detailed in their reports. This is because classical music is “cognitively and in turn emotionally arousing,” the report concluded.

Having trouble articulating your feelings? Try listening to some Mozart or Beethoven and see if it helps you express your deepest self.


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Lili Boulanger: the fragile, forgotten genius of classical music

Lili Boulanger was one of the most exciting composers of the early 20th century, until her tragically early death at the age of 24. 


 Lili Boulanger was a child prodigy 

Marie-Juliette Olga (Lili) Boulanger was born on 21 August 1893. When she was just two the great composer Gabriel Fauré – a friend of the family – spotted that she had perfect pitch. At the age of two she also contracted bronchial pneumonia. She survived, but the illness left her immune system weakened for the rest of her life. 

She came from musical – and royal – stock 

Her mother was a Russian princess who fell in love with, and eventually married, her Paris Conservatoire teacher Ernest Boulanger and both her grandparents (on the Boulanger side) had been musicians. Lili herself played (deep breath) piano, violin, cello, harp and organ. Oh and she sang. 

She was the first woman to win the Prix de Rome 


Photo: Lili with composers (L) Claude Delvincourt, Lili Boulanger, (R) Marc Delmas and Edouard Mignan.


The Prix de Rome was the most prestigious honour for artists. It was a prize, first awarded in the 17th century, that allowed the winner to live in Rome for three to five years, all expenses paid. In the 19th century it was awarded to a composer for the first time. In 1913 Lili Boulanger became the first woman to win the Prix de Rome… though the judges couldn’t quite bear to let her enjoy the honour on her own. So they also awarded first prize that year to Claude Delvincourt. 


She wrote her cantata Faust et Hélène in just 4 weeks



It’s the piece that gave the Prix de Rome judges no choice but to give her the award. The rules of the competition stated that the piece had to be written in four weeks. So that’s what the precocious 19-year-old Lili did. It’s 30 minutes long and is written for a full orchestra. It tells the story of Faust, the man seduced by the power offered by Mephistopheles. And the music Boulanger uses to tell the story sounds Wagnerian, with hints of Debussy. It’s no surprise it won the most prestigious prize of the day. 

She was famous for her use of harmony 

In her own time she was noted for her lush harmonies, instrumentation and elegant text setting. Try this eerie setting of Psalm 130, ‘Du fond de l’abime’ (also known as De Profundis, or in English ‘Out of the depths’) 




Her final work is a beautiful Pie Jesu 

Lili was 24 when she wrote this piece. She dictated the piece to her sister from her sick bed. The text asks Jesus to grant someone ‘everlasting rest’. She died shortly afterwards. 





Nadia found a new calling 



Her sister Nadia was so affected by Lili’s death that she stopped composing and turned her attention to teaching. She went on to become one of the most renowned teachers of the 20th century and taught composers including Aaron Copland, Elliott Carter, Thea Musgrave, Leonard Bernstein and Philip Glass. 

Here she is with Leonard Bernstein, composer of West Side Story and Candide. (Picture Getty) 

And Lili’s star lives on 

Lili may have only lived for 24 short years, but there are plenty who admire her music – including the jazz pianist Herbie Hancock, who calls her one of his favorite composers. This year marks the centenary death. Perhaps 2018 will be the year her genius gets the attention it truly deserves. 

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