Music Education: More Than Just Music!



Whether your child is the next Beyonce or more likely to sing her solos in the shower, she is bound to benefit from some form of music education. Research shows that learning the do-re-mis can help children excel in ways beyond the basic ABCs.

More Than Just Music


Research has found that learning music facilitates learning other subjects and enhances skills that children inevitably use in other areas. “A music-rich experience for children of singing, listening and moving is really bringing a very serious benefit to children as they progress into more formal learning,” says Mary Luehrisen, executive director of the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) Foundation, a not-for-profit association that promotes the benefits of making music.

Making music involves more than the voice or fingers playing an instrument; a child learning about music has to tap into multiple skill sets, often simultaneously. For instance, people use their ears and eyes, as well as large and small muscles, says Kenneth Guilmartin, cofounder of Music Together, an early childhood music development program for infants through kindergarteners that involves parents or caregivers in the classes.

“Music learning supports all learning. Not that Mozart makes you smarter, but it’s a very integrating, stimulating pastime or activity,” Guilmartin says.

Language Development


“When you look at children ages two to nine, one of the breakthroughs in that area is music’s benefit for language development, which is so important at that stage,” says Luehrisen. While children come into the world ready to decode sounds and words, music education helps enhance those natural abilities. “Growing up in a musically rich environment is often advantageous for children’s language development,” she says. But Luehrisen adds that those inborn capacities need to be “reinforced, practiced, celebrated,” which can be done at home or in a more formal music education setting.

According to the Children’s Music Workshop, the effect of music education on language development can be seen in the brain. “Recent studies have clearly indicated that musical training physically develops the part of the left side of the brain known to be involved with processing language, and can actually wire the brain’s circuits in specific ways. Linking familiar songs to new information can also help imprint information on young minds,” the group claims.

This relationship between music and language development is also socially advantageous to young children. “The development of language over time tends to enhance parts of the brain that help process music,” says Dr. Kyle Pruett, clinical professor of child psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine and a practicing musician. “Language competence is at the root of social competence. Musical experience strengthens the capacity to be verbally competent.”

Increased IQ


A study by E. Glenn Schellenberg at the University of Toronto at Mississauga, as published in a 2004 issue of Psychological Science, found a small increase in the IQs of six-year-olds who were given weekly voice and piano lessons. Schellenberg provided nine months of piano and voice lessons to a dozen six-year-olds, drama lessons (to see if exposure to arts in general versus just music had an effect) to a second group of six-year-olds, and no lessons to a third group. The children’s IQs were tested before entering the first grade, then again before entering the second grade.

Surprisingly, the children who were given music lessons over the school year tested on average three IQ points higher than the other groups. The drama group didn’t have the same increase in IQ, but did experience increased social behavior benefits not seen in the music-only group.

The Brain Works Harder

 
Research indicates the brain of a musician, even a young one, works differently than that of a nonmusician. “There’s some good neuroscience research that children involved in music have larger growth of neural activity than people not in music training. When you’re a musician and you’re playing an instrument, you have to be using more of your brain,” says Dr. Eric Rasmussen, chair of the Early Childhood Music Department at the Peabody Preparatory of The Johns Hopkins University, where he teaches a specialized music curriculum for children aged two months to nine years.

In fact, a study led by Ellen Winner, professor of psychology at Boston College, and Gottfried Schlaug, professor of neurology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School, found changes in the brain images of children who underwent 15 months of weekly music instruction and practice. The students in the study who received music instruction had improved sound discrimination and fine motor tasks, and brain imaging showed changes to the networks in the brain associated with those abilities, according to the Dana Foundation, a private philanthropic organization that supports brain research.

Spatial-Temporal Skills


Research has also found a causal link between music and spatial intelligence, which means that understanding music can help children visualize various elements that should go together, like they would do when solving a math problem.

“We have some pretty good data that music instruction does reliably improve spatial-temporal skills in children over time,” explains Pruett, who helped found the Performing Arts Medicine Association. These skills come into play in solving multistep problems one would encounter in architecture, engineering, math, art, gaming, and especially working with computers.

Improved Test Scores


A study published in 2007 by Christopher Johnson, professor of music education and music therapy at the University of Kansas, revealed that students in elementary schools with superior music education programs scored around 22 percent higher in English and 20 percent higher in math scores on standardized tests, compared to schools with low-quality music programs, regardless of socioeconomic disparities among the schools or school districts. Johnson compares the concentration that music training requires to the focus needed to perform well on a standardized test.

Aside from test score results, Johnson’s study highlights the positive effects that a quality music education can have on a young child’s success. Luehrisen explains this psychological phenomenon in two sentences: “Schools that have rigorous programs and high-quality music and arts teachers probably have high-quality teachers in other areas. If you have an environment where there are a lot of people doing creative, smart, great things, joyful things, even people who aren’t doing that have a tendency to go up and do better.”

And it doesn’t end there: along with better performance results on concentration-based tasks, music training can help with basic memory recall. “Formal training in music is also associated with other cognitive strengths such as verbal recall proficiency,” Pruett says. “People who have had formal musical training tend to be pretty good at remembering verbal information stored in memory.”

Being Musical


Music can improve your child’ abilities in learning and other nonmusic tasks, but it’s important to understand that music does not make one smarter. As Pruett explains, the many intrinsic benefits to music education include being disciplined, learning a skill, being part of the music world, managing performance, being part of something you can be proud of, and even struggling with a less than perfect teacher.

“It’s important not to oversell how smart music can make you,” Pruett says. “Music makes your kid interesting and happy, and smart will come later. It enriches his or her appetite for things that bring you pleasure and for the friends you meet.”
While parents may hope that enrolling their child in a music program will make her a better student, the primary reasons to provide your child with a musical education should be to help them become more musical, to appreciate all aspects of music, and to respect the process of learning an instrument or learning to sing, which is valuable on its own merit.

“There is a massive benefit from being musical that we don’t understand, but it’s individual. Music is for music’s sake,” Rasmussen says. “The benefit of music education for me is about being musical. It gives you have a better understanding of yourself. The horizons are higher when you are involved in music,” he adds. “Your understanding of art and the world, and how you can think and express yourself, are enhanced.”
 


Laura Lewis Brown caught the writing bug as soon as she could hold a pen. For several years, she wrote a national online column on relationships, and she now teaches writing as an adjunct professor. She lives in Baltimore with her husband and three young children, who give her a lot of material for her blog, EarlyMorningMom.com.

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Thomas Jefferson as a Violinist and Advocate for Music Education



Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States, was also a violinist and strong advocate for music education. Family and holiday gatherings, solo performances, or as a way to have some time alone, the violin was important to him throughout his life.

His violin studies as a young man paid off during his courtship of his future wife, Martha Skelton. While she sang and played the harpsichord at parties, he would often join in, playing his violin and singing. Christmas celebrations at the White House and in his home, Monticello, included him playing the violin for family and guests.

According to Jefferson family tradition, as recorded by biographer Henry S. Randall, Jefferson’s musical ability dispelled the hopes of other suitors:

Two of Mr. Jefferson's rivals happened to meet on Mrs. Skelton's door-stone. They were shown into a room from which they heard her harpsichord and voice, accompanied by Mr. Jefferson's violin and voice, in the passages of a touching song. They listened for a stanza or two. Whether something in the words, or in the tones of the singers appeared suggestive to them, tradition does not say, but it does state that they took their hats and retired, to return no more on the same errand!

Jefferson and Martha Skelton were wed on January 1, 1772.


When time permitted, Jefferson played at least three hours a day. While he was a law student, he gave weekly concerts with other musicians. His music library at his home, Monticello, contained violin works by Corelli, Handel, Vivaldi, and other composers. His selected works by Corelli required an advanced level of skill due to advanced bowings and techniques for the left hand. He also had a violin technique book by Francesco Geminiani (1680-1762), The Art of Playing on the Violin, which further indicated his level of proficiency.


Jefferson’s Music Technique Book




Francesco Geminiani (1680–1762). Rules for Playing in a True Taste on the Violin German, Flute, Violoncello, and Harpsicord. . . .  London: J. Johnson, 1751. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (S. 4255) (40.00.00)

Music, according to Jefferson, was his “favorite passion” and the violin his preferred instrument. Jefferson was schooled in music at an early age and cultivated his love of music throughout his life. As an accomplished violinist and music aficionado, Jefferson owned four violins, including a so-called “kit,” an instrument small enough to fit neatly into a coat pocket. He was known to take his kit along on his travels to practice while away.

The instrument's body is very small, but its fingerboard is made long relative to the instrument's overall size in order to preserve as much of the instrument's melodic range as possible.

Many violinists in the eighteenth century used kits because of their portability. Thomas Jefferson owned at least two kits.

At home, he could play his other instruments as well as consult his personal copies of contemporary musical treatises such as this one by Francesco Geminiani. Jefferson rarely wrote in his books, but this book includes Jefferson’s inscription of Charles Burney’s discussion of violin technique.

Jefferson insisted that his daughters and granddaughters learn to play the violin. He hired Frances Alberti, an Italian immigrant, as a music tutor. Jefferson felt that a music education was “invaluable,” especially pertaining to young women, and that it provided “recreation” and “respite” from the concerns of the day, which would last through the rest of one’s life.

Monticello has several instruments on display that reflect the Jefferson household. In addition to violins, daughter, Martha, played harpsichord, and his other daughter, Maria, played guitar. He encouraged them not to neglect their music.



A violin owned by Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States

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The composer and his muse: Richard Strass and Pauline de Ahna



It is often said that behind every great man there is a great woman; but not every great composer can claim to have achieved a long and happy – if somewhat tempestuous – marriage to his muse. The soprano Pauline de Ahna was the powerful presence behind Richard Strauss: his wife, his inspiration and a diva in every sense. Over his many decades he drew on plenty of different spurs to musical action, but none more consistently or more powerfully than the soprano voice.

Strauss’s operas remain arguably his finest achievements and the Royal Opera House is marked the 150th anniversary of his birth with a new production of Die Frau ohne Schatten (1918), the most complex, symbolic and magical of his collaborations with the playwright Hugo von Hofmannsthal. Despite its baffling fairytale premise – for example, the woman without a shadow is an Empress who is a transformed gazelle – it deals at heart with the human and domestic.

Richard Strauss enjoyed an impressive female following, particularly in the gallery of heroines that he brought to the stage as a composer. Yet by the time of his 37th birthday he was still a bachelor with no scandalous love affairs to his name. And so it came as a complete surprise when Richard proposed to his former student and operatic soprano Pauline Maria de Ahna in the middle of a turbulent rehearsal for his opera “Guntram” in 1894. Apparently, his student Heinrich Zeller was unable to master the insanely taxing vocal part and Strauss had to repeatedly interrupt the rehearsal. Then came the time for Pauline’s scene in Act III, which she knew well. In spite of this, she did not feel sure and envied Zeller because he had
Pauline in Richard Strauss' now obscure early opera "Guntram
been given so many chances of repeating. Suddenly she stopped singing and asked Richard, to whom she had been secretly engaged since March 1894, why he was not interrupting her. Richard replied, that she knew her part well. Pauline retorted, “but I want to be interrupted” and threw the piano score at Richard’s head, but to the delight of the orchestra it landed on the desk of the second violinist. Having thus made her point, she stormed off the stage and locked herself in the dressing room, with Richard hurriedly following her. Once Richard returned to rehearsal the orchestral musicians enquired as to what kind of reprimand he had in mind for the temperamental soprano, to which Richard replied, “I am going to marry her”! And so he did, with the wedding taking place in a small chapel adjacent to the castle in Marquartstein on 10 September 1894.

Richard Strauss composed “Cäcilie”, the second song of his Op. 27, as a wedding present for his future wife one day before their nuptial ceremony. Their marriage, which can properly be filed under the category of opposites attract, lasted almost fifty-five years. Although Pauline became the perfect housewife and mother, she really never lost her high-strung temperament. And Richard, who liked to have a couple of beers in the local brewery and play cards with his friends remarked, “my wife is often extremely harsh, but, you know, I need that”.


Anecdotes aside, their relationship was highly complex and based on a mutual passion for music. When he traveled without his wife, he wrote her long love letters nearly every day. And Pauline was entirely devoted to her husband’s well being. She made him concentrate on his work, provided regular meals, and the couple went for long nature walks every single day. In addition, she inspired and musically featured in a variety of his compositions. When Richard composed his autobiographical tone poem “Ein Heldenleben”, the Hero’s companion is clearly modeled after Pauline. Strauss writes, “It’s my wife I wanted to portray. She is very complex, very much a woman, a little depraved, something of a flirt, never twice alike, every minute different to what she was the minute before”.



And when the celebrated diva Lotte Lehmann visited the couple in Garmisch, she reports “I often caught a glance or a smile passing between her and her husband, touching in its love and happiness, and I began to sense something of a profound affection between these two human beings, a tie so elemental in strength that none of Pauline’s shrewish truculence could ever trouble it seriously. In fact, I rather suspect that they were always putting on a kind of act for their own benefit as well as for that of outsiders”. If we want to know about their sex life, we once again have to turn to Richard’s music. The “Symphonia Domestica”, portrays daily worries and joys, their son Bubi splashing around in the bathtub, a domestic argument between the couple and a passionate and all-consuming reconciliation. There has never been any suggestion or evidence that Richard was unfaithful to Pauline or vise versa. In fact, Pauline was intensely jealous of her husband. At the tender age of eighty, she told a friend “I would still scratch the eyes out of any hussy who was after my Richard”. When Richard died on 12 September 1949 Pauline’s will to live was also broken, and she died only a couple months later in May of 1950.

Beethoven and Napoleon: Beethoven's Eroica

 Beethoven in 1804 by Horneman (L); Napoleon in coronation costume by Robert Lefebvre1807.


Beethoven called his Third Symphony Eroica (“Heroic”). The Eroica is two hundred years old yet still seems modern.

In this symphony Beethoven began to use broad strokes of sound to tell us how he felt, and what being alive meant to him. The piece caused a sensation and changed the idea of what a symphony could be.

When Beethoven called this piece “heroic,” he wasn’t kidding. It’s bigger, longer than a symphony had ever been. It’s confessional, even confrontational.

Just the scale of it was huge, unprecedented—and daunting for its first listeners. It foreshadowed the world that Wagner and, ultimately, Sigmund Freud would explore—the realm of the unconscious. That’s what was so revolutionary.


By late 1803, Beethoven had sketched out his new epic symphony, the Eroica. It was inspired by the ideals of the French Revolution and dedicated to its hero, who then seemed to be the great liberator of the people: Napoleon.

Beethoven thought of himself as a free spirit, and he admired the principles of freedom and equality embodied by the French Revolution. He thought he recognized in Napoleon a hero of the people and a champion of freedom, which was why he intended to dedicate a huge new symphony to him.

But when Beethoven heard the news in late 1804 that Napoleon had crowned himself Emperor of France, he
was disgusted. “He’s just a rascal like all the others,” he exclaimed.Beethoven violently erased Napoleon’s name from his manuscript—so forcefully, in fact, that he erased his way right through the paper, leaving holes in the title page.

So this revolutionary piece of music that was originally to be The Bonaparte Symphony became simply Eroica—the heroic.

But if the hero of the music was no longer Napoleon, who was it? The Eroica explores what it means to be human. In facing his own demons and choosing to continue making music, to continue living, Beethoven embraced the heroic in everyman and, ultimately, in himself.

Beethoven said that this symphony was his favorite. In it, he envisioned where his music was going and in fact where the music of the future was going.

All the works that followed it—by Schumann, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Mahler—would have been impossible without the pathfinding steps that Beethoven took in this symphony
.

Read more about the movements of Beethoven's Eroica


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

7 Famous Classical Piano Duels

Abbe Gelinek vs. Ludwig van Beethoven

It wouldn’t have made it onto this list were it not for the comment Gelinek made, when asked if he thought he could beat Beethoven in a piano duel. “I’ll make mincemeat of him!”

Well, it was the other way around. Gelinek turned out not to be all that formidable an opponent, although his nerves may have gotten the best of him. After the first round, in which both played their own best, and most difficult works, Gelinek looked a little paler to the audience, probably because Beethoven chose his Sonata 19 in G minor, Op. 49.

Once the improvisations began, Gelinek couldn’t seem to get his head in the game, and Beethoven walked all over him. Gelinek simply left the room when Beethoven began the third round.



Josef Lhevinne vs. Alexander Scriabin

This one never actually took place. But it would have, had Scriabin not strained several of the tendons of his right hand while preparing for the duel. He was practicing Liszt’s Reminiscences de Don Juan, after Mozart’s Don Giovanni, and also Islamey, by Mili Balakirev. Either of these works has a fair claim to the title of most difficult piano piece ever composed.

Lhevinne, however, went down in history as one of the finest pianists ever, having made several recordings of piano rolls, which have left other great pianists, Josef Hofmann and Vladimir Horowitz among them, in awe. You can find some of these on YouTube.

It’s for the best that Scriabin hurt himself, because he wrote his F minor Sonata as a sort of elegy for his right hand. His right hand did however make a full recovery, but he never challenged Lhevinne again.


Daniel Steibelt vs. Beethoven

Is Beethoven less than 31 years old? Then he can still hear himself play. Don’t challenge him. If only Steibelt’s foresight had been as clear as our hindsight. He is referred to as “a most unvirtuous virtuoso,” well-known during his day for spreading false rumors, cheating, stealing money from concert receipts, sleeping with married women, and, among other things, telling everyone he met, even announcing before and after his concert recitals, that Beethoven was a hack performer and scared of him.

Beethoven, for his part, really didn’t care what Steibelt had to say, until Steibelt finally worked up the nerve to challenge him to a duel. This happened in May 1800, when Steibelt traveled to Vienna for the sole purpose of beating Beethoven at his own game. The question most often asked in history class is, “What the hell was he thinking?!”

They met at the house of the Count von Fries, who was a patron and fan of the arts, especially music, and liked Beethoven’s irascible nature. He therefore favored him over Steibelt, but rooted for both fairly as did the rest of the audience, about 100 people, mostly the Count’s entourage.

The duel took place according to traditional conventions: the first round was whatever piece the performer wanted to play, by anyone, and thus the performers chose the most technically difficult piece they knew. Beethoven played a sonata by Mozart. Steibelt played one by Haydn.

The second round was a two-piano contest of alternating improvisations on themes each performer would give the other, making the themes up on the spot. Beethoven soundly won this round.

The third and final round was the most important for testing the true genius of a performer. Each performer would sight-read a new piece written by the other performer. Steibelt went first, playing Beethoven’s brand new Piano Sonata in B Flat Major, Op. 22. He did well enough, garnering a good amount of applause after his improvisations. The Count claims to have seen Beethoven roll his eyes at the applause.

Then Steinbelt tried to trip Beethoven up by giving him a new cello sonata, for cello and piano. This is a breach of the rules, technically, but Beethoven wasn’t about to win on a technicality. He took the score, turned it upside-down on the music rack, and sight-read it backward, then improvised on one of its themes for about 30 minutes.

Steibelt was thoroughly destroyed, and didn’t wait for Beethoven to finish. He walked out and never met with Beethoven again.



Louis Marchand vs. Johann Sebastian Bach


This story has been recounted by most of Bach’s biographers, and told and retold with more and more embellishments. The most authoritative biography of him is by Phillip Spitta, who tells the story as follows.

In September 1717, Bach had become well known throughout Europe as the greatest keyboard performer in Germany. He was not well-known or admired for his compositions, as the Baroque movement was going the way of the Dodo and Bach wrote in an extremely heavy, robust, meat-and-potatoes Baroque style.

Louis Marchand was equally well-known throughout Europe as an outstanding French organist and keyboard performer, and when he heard the tales about Bach’s virtuosity, he traveled to Germany with the express purpose of meeting and defeating Bach.

Bach worked in Weimar at the time, and when they met, Frederick II, the King of Prussia, who was a huge fan of Bach’s music, organized a little harpsichord playoff. Bach arrived first, early in the morning before anyone else, to warm up and stretch his fingers. Marchand walked into the palace, heard these warm-up exercises, turned right around and walked out, got in his carriage and returned to France. He never went to Germany again.


Mozart vs. Muzio Clementi

On Christmas Eve, 1781, Clementi and Mozart met at the court of Franz Joseph II. They were amiable at that time, not bitter rivals, and Clementi’s skill at the keyboard was such that he was able to hold his own with Mozart, all the way to the end. The Emperor called it a draw. They were both required to improvise variations on a theme the Emperor devised on the spot, and Clementi managed to draw equal amounts of applause. They both improvised fugues, waltzes, variations in minor and major.

Mozart and Clementi both agreed afterward that Mozart had won, but these were dubious statements, since Clementi was just being polite, as was his nature, and Mozart did not like Italians, in general. He considered them terrible at music. He wrote to his father, “Clementi plays well, as far as execution with the right hand goes. His greatest strength lies in his passages in thirds. Apart from that, he doesn’t have a kreuzer’s worth of taste or feeling. In short, he is a mere mechanics [robot].” Mozart wrote later, “Clementi is a charlatan, like all Italians. He marks a piece presto but ‘plays’ only ‘allegro.’”

Clementi, for his part, had this to say about Mozart, “Until then I had never heard anyone play with such spirit and grace. I was particularly overwhelmed by an ‘adagio’ and by several of his extempore variations for which the Emperor had chosen the theme, and which we were to devise alternately.”


Joseph Wolfl vs. Ludwig van Beethoven


Beethoven had a bad habit of being good at what he did. That made him a bigger target for other performers trying to carve reputations out of his hide. Wolfl and Beethoven were friends at one time, both having dedicated various works to each other. But Wolfl apparently became malcontent with his status as second in pianistic greatness behind Beethoven, and thus challenged Beethoven to a piano duel, in 1799, at the home of Count Wetzlar, one of Beethoven’s admirers and patrons, and a patron of artists in general.

By the time the duel took place, Wolfl had made a point of playing many recitals and concerts all over Europe, especially in Germany and Austria, where Beethoven would catch wind of his rise, for the sole purpose of building the hype. It worked. Beethoven was informed by his friend, Aton Schindler, that he was no longer without performance competitors. Wolfl was about 6 feet tall and had gigantic hands that could stretch a thirteenth on the piano. Beethoven was only 5’3 and 3/4” and could just manage a tenth. He countered this as all good pianists must by using the pedal to sustain the first note and then quickly hitting the second note, if two notes of a tenth or more have to be spanned. Good pedaling technique renders the results nearly indistinguishable.

But the duel played out in much the same fashion as that of the next year, versus Steibelt. Beethoven and Wolfl were evenly matched after the first round, but in the second and third, Beethoven wiped the floor with Wolfl. When it came to improvisation and sight-reading, Beethoven had no equal during his life. Wolfl was much less spoken of in Austria after this encounter.


Franz Liszt vs. Sigismond Thalberg


The rivalry between Liszt and Thalberg lasted from 1836 to 1842, during which time Thalberg made as many concert tours of Europe as Liszt, playing in the same venues, immediately before or after Liszt, in order to show the musical world that he was the greatest pianist in the world.

The fact that their contest lasted as long as it did is a testament to Thalberg’s virtuosity, since every classical pianist of the 20th Century has agreed that none of them, not even Vladimir Horowitz, could hold a candle to Liszt.

Liszt and Thalberg did not follow the traditional duel format as described earlier. Instead they first tried to trounce each other’s popularity throughout Europe with their concert tours. Both were very well admired, and finally they agreed to meet and settle the score. It all came to a head on March 31, 1837. They had both prepared a new composition each, of the most extreme technical demands, neither knowing that the other was preparing a piece of music expressly for their showdown.

When they met and discovered this, they laughed and readied themselves for a heck of a fight. They were watched by about two-dozen close friends and admirers in the Paris salon of Princess Cristina Belgiojoso. They first played a few pieces each that they had played many times in concerts. Liszt played his Grand Galop Chromatique, which Thalberg countered with his fantasy variations on Bellini’s “Norma.”

They then played their grand finales, the new pieces. Thalberg’s was “Fantasy,” Op. 33, on melodies from Rossini’s “Moise.” Liszt’s was “Reminscences de Robert le Diable,” from Meyerbeer. Both pieces are still played today, although Liszt’s is more well-known, but the result of the duel was reported as a toss-up. Both received standing ovations, but, whereas Thalberg had for years been after Liszt’s crown of the greatest pianist in the world, he never again challenged Liszt to a face-to-face duel. They continued to perform throughout Europe enjoying success, but Liszt’s lasted longer.

Read more at Listverse



The True Story Behind Mozart’s Requiem


Mozart working on the Requiem on his deathbed

It’s one of the greatest pieces of music ever written, but the story behind Mozart’s Requiem is one of the strangest chapters in history

In 1791 Mozart was at his desk working on the music for what would become The Magic Flute.




He’s interrupted by a knock at the door.

When he opens the door, he’s met by a man dressed all in black. The man’s face is covered by a mask.

He tells the composer he’s here to commission a piece for his master. But there’s a condition: Mozart can never ask who his master is, and never try to find out.

Mozart accepts the commission – when he hears what the fee is he is unconcerned by the cloak-and-dagger small print.

But little did Mozart know that this Requiem would be the last thing he ever wrote.

Before the year was out, Mozart would be dead at the age of just 35. And the Requiem – the work that arguably brought about that death – would be left unfinished.

For many years it was believed that Mozart was poisoned.  These rumors started as early as New Year’s Eve, 1791.  An obituary in the Berlin’s Musikalische Wochenblatt reported Mozart is—dead.  He was sickly when he returned home from Prague and remained ailing since then . . . Because his body swelled up after his death, it is even believed that he was poisoned.

At times Mozart even believed this.  When he was working on the Requiem he told his wife,  “I feel it very acutely.  It won’t be long now: I’ve surely been given poison!  I can’t let go of that thought.” Constanze never believed it.

The story strengthened when Salieri “confessed” that he poisoned Mozart. Salieri was delusional in the last years of his life.  But few of the people who heard his “confession” believed him.  Shortly before his death, Salieri put the record straight.  He said, although this is my last illness, I can assure you on my word of honor that there is no truth to that absurd rumor; you know that I am supposed to have poisoned Mozart.


The Russian dramatist Aleksander Pushkin must have believed the rumors.  In 1830, he wrote a short play in which Salieri does poison Mozart. It is aptly titled “Mozart and Salieri.”

If Mozart was not poisoned, then how did he die?  The cause of death was first thought to be  “feverish prickly heat.” Later it was thought to be a “liver condition with terminal uremia.”  Currently two theories exist.  A 1972 report suggests rheumatic fever.  A more recent study proposes that Mozart had the following sequence of illnesses in his final three weeks: streptococcal infection, Schönlein-Henoch Syndrome, renal failure, venesection(s), cerebral hemorrhage, terminal broncho-pneumonia.

Finally, let’s look at the Requiem.  Was the commission conceived by Salieri as a way to drive Mozart mad?  No.  Was it some malicious plot to make Mozart believe he was writing a requiem for himself?  No.  Was it commissioned by an anonymous messenger?  Yes, and that is where we need to begin.


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

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

Mozart had been suffering from rheumatism since childhood and his health was deteriorating. He suffered from loneliness and depression. This may have been the reason why he interpreted the mysterious commission for a requiem as a sign of impending doom. His deteriorating health convinced him that he was slowly being poisoned. “I know I have to die… I write (the requiem) for myself.”

To distract his mind from his delusions and fear of death for even a short period of time, Mozart composed the “Kleine Freimaurerkantate” – the “Freemasons Cantata”. The cantata premiered at the inauguration of a new masonic temple, with Mozart himself conducting. It was his last complete work.




Deception

Count Franz Walsegg-Stuppach was a music lover and wealthy landowner from Lower Austria.  Every Tuesday and Thursday Walsegg hosted concerts at Schloss Stuppach in which he and his musicians performed for his many friends . And this is where the strange, almost pathetic side of Walsegg emerges. For whatever reason, Walsegg would commission fresh compositions and pass them off as his own.

This harmless deception continued for years. At the conclusion of his soirees, he would challenge his guests to identify the composer of the piece they had just heard. Unknown to Walsegg, his friends were well aware of his artifice and calmly played along eventually naming the Count as the composer. As Herzog put it, "We were all young folk and considered that we were giving our master an innocent pleasure."

On February 14, 1791, his young wife died.  He came up an idea. Deeply affected by his loss, the Count resolved to honor her memory in two ways. He would build a magnificent memorial for her remains and he would commission a requiem mass to be performed every year on the anniversary of her passing. To this end, he charged his attorney, Dr. Johann Sortschan, with making the necessary arrangements stipulating that Mozart should provide the requiem. As usual, Walsegg intended to claim the requiem as his own.

Spooked by the commission, Mozart threw himself obsessively into the work. But it was all too much. He was only able to complete the Requiem and Kyrie movements, and managed to sketch the voice parts and bass lines for the Dies irae through  to the Hostias.

The composer had given detailed instructions about finishing it to his pupil Süssmayer. Süssmayer copied the entire completed score in his own hand - making it virtually impossible to determine who wrote what - and gave it to the stranger.

Even after Mozart’s death, the Walsegg-Stuppach persisted with his deception. He copied the music (which had been completed by Mozart’s students) into his own handwriting.  On December 11, 1793, he conducted it. It was entitled, “Requiem, composto del Conte Walsegg”!






Sources:
[1] http://www.classicfm.com/composers/mozart/guides/mozart-requiem-full-works-concert-highlight-week/
[2] http://www.classicfm.com/composers/mozart/case-notes-requiem/
[3] http://www.classical-music.com/article/story-behind-mozarts-reqiuem
[4] http://inmozartsfootsteps.com/380/the-real-story-of-mozart-salieri-and-amadeus-2/
[5]  http://www.mozart.com/en/timeline/life/la-clemenza-di-tito-magic-flute/

Five Classical Works for Memorial Day

The Memorial Day holiday is a time for quiet reflection in remembrance  of those who have given their lives to protect American ideals of freedom and justice. Each of these five classical works are inspired by the sacrifices made by Americans throughout history:

 1. Charles Ives – Variations on “America”



Charles Ives, Composer

Using the theme from the early American anthem, “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee,” Ives composed Variations on “America” in 1891 when he was only 17 years old. As the son of a Civil War era U.S. Army bandleader, Ives was well-versed in the patriotic music of the day, and it is likely that that early influence inspired him to write this work. Originally scored for organ, it remained unpublished for over 50 years, when it was rediscovered and finally published by renowned organist E. Power Biggs. The work remains to this day a satisfying piece of patriotic music from one of America’s finest composers.


2. Aaron Copland – Fanfare for the Common Man

 

Charles Ives, composer with baton

Written in direct response to America’s entry into World War II, Fanfare for the Common Man reflects on America’s growing role on the world stage. Rather than simply writing “a fanfare for soldiers,” as was requested by conductor Eugene Goossens who commissioned the piece, Copland drew inspiration from the then-vice president Henry A. Wallace’s speech, “Century for the Common Man,” where he proclaimed that individual rights and freedoms were essential components of democracy. In writing his Fanfare for the Common Man, Copland commemorated the great sacrifice American men and women made in World War II while celebrating the freedom that makes American ideals worth fighting for.


3. Britten – War Requiem

 

Benjamin Britten, Composer

Britten’s War Requiem is a non-liturgical Requiem mass that uses text from the traditional Latin Mass for the Dead along with nine poems on war by English poet Wilfred Owen. The work for combined choir, organ, and double-orchestra is dedicated to several of Britten’s friends who lost their lives in the course of World War II, and was commissioned for the consecration of the new Coventry Cathedral, which was rebuilt after the original was destroyed in a WWII bombing raid. Although not written by an American composer, Britten’s War Requiem commemorates those who gave their lives fighting in World War II, making it a work suited for Memorial Day listening.

4. John Adams – The Wound Dresser


John Adams, composer at desk with paper and pen

No conflict has been more deadly to American lives than our own Civil War, a tragedy which has inspired many artists to meditate on the absurdity of war and the futile loss of life it causes; John Adams’ The Wound Dresser is one such piece. Using excerpts from Walt Whitman’s poem of the same name, Adams composed a work for baritone soloist and chamber orchestra telling the story of Whitman’s time working as a Civil War hospital attendant and looking unflinchingly at the brutality of America’s bloodiest conflict. Though Whitman’s poem was written over 150 years ago, his words, along with Adams’ music, continue to resonate in the modern day, making this piece well worth a listen.

5. Hindemith – When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d: A Requiem for those we love


Hindemith, Composer conducting with baton

You might not expect the most significant classical work for Memorial Day to be written by a German composer, but that’s exactly what Hindemith accomplished with When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d: A Requiem for those we love

Hindemith, who emigrated to America in 1940, drew on Walt Whitman’s poem of the same name for the work, which was commissioned by conductor Robert Shaw after the death of president Franklin D. Roosevelt. The original poem was written in mourning of Abraham Lincoln, making Hindemith’s Requiem a powerful memorial to the leaders who represented the pinnacle of American values of liberty and equality.

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The Composer and His Muse: Liszt and The Countess d'Agoult




Liszt was in the bloom of youth and of rising fame when he made the acquaintance of the woman to whom his life was to be linked for ten years. The only love affair that produced children (Blandine, Cosima, Daniel). D’Agoult and Liszt met in 1833 at a musical gathering hosted by Marquise Le Vayer. The chemistry was unmistakable. Marie was six years older than the young enchanter, and by the early summer of 1833 their affair was in full bloom.

Liszt visited her in Croissy, and Marie came to Paris where they secretly met in a small apartment affectionately referred to as the “rat hole.” Such was the woman who, captivated by the youth and talent of the Hungarian virtuoso, abandoned for him husband and child, and, sacrificing position, reputation and fortune to her passion, was for ten years the faithful companion of his travels all over Europe.

Following the tragic death of her daughter Louise, Marie d’Agoult found herself pregnant with Franz Liszt’s child. Since she was still married to Charles d’Agoult, it was impossible to stay in Paris. She wrote her husband in May 1835, telling him that their marriage was over. In order to avoid the scandal, which was hardly possible, the lovers made secret arrangements to elope to Switzerland. Parisian society was dumbfounded that a very prominent and beautiful Comtesse should leave her husband for a traveling pianist, and in the public eye the whole affair was branded a flagrant case of abduction. Nevertheless, the couple left for Basle and since Charles d’Agoult had obtained a legal separation from his wife.

She became close to Liszt's circle of friends, including Frédéric Chopin, who dedicated his 12 Études, Op. 25 to her (his earlier set of 12 Études, Op. 10 had been dedicated to Liszt).



Liszt's "Die Lorelei," one of his very first songs, based on text by Heinrich Heine, was also dedicated to her. D'Agoult had three children with Liszt; however, she and Liszt did not marry, maintaining their independent views and other differences while Liszt was busy composing and touring throughout Europe.



The two left Paris for Switzerland in May of that year. Took a trip to Italy in 1837 as an established couple. Also visited George Sand at her home. Both Blandine and Cosima were quietly born out of the country under fabricated birth certificates. 1838, Suttoni claims is the beginning of the end of their relationship (on happy terms, anyway). Daniel was born in May 1839, in November of that year Liszt would embark on a series of performance tours throughout Europe. Touring and absences led to the final end of their relationship in 1844.

Besides many critical contributions on music, painting and sculpture, the Countess tried her hand at political economy and philosophy. In 1845, just about the time she broke off her liaison with Liszt, Madame d'Agoult entered the arena of politics.



Between 1835 and 1836, Liszt composed a collection of pieces entitled “Album d’un voyageur,” which was eventually published in 1842. After some major revisions, the majority of these compositions reappeared in a collection of three suites entitled “Années de pèlerinage.” And the first volume, entitled “Première année: Suisse,” contains a variety of musical, emotional and pictorial impressions from his time spend in Switzerland. Liszt suggested that in this collection “I have tried to portray in music a few of my strongest sensations and most lively impression.”



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The Composer and his Muse: Franz Liszt and Caroline de Saint-Cricq First Love



After Adam Liszt’s death in Bologne-sur-mer in 1827, Franz Liszt met his mother in Paris where they settled down. Liszt, at sixteen, was now the breadwinner of the Liszt family. In order to earn regular income for his mother and himself, Liszt became a piano teacher in Paris for the aristocracy.  was sixteen when she met Liszt. He became her piano teacher, and the two quickly fell in love.

Caroline’s lessons were supervised by her mother. Additionally, her mother approved of the relationship. After becoming ill quite quickly in 1828, she told the Count from her deathbed: “If she loves him, let her be happy." The Count likely thought these words were demented mutterings of a woman at death’s door. He probably did not take this comment seriously and therefore was not fully aware of the relationship blooming between Liszt and his student. Caroline’s mother died in June of 1828.

Though the lessons were postponed due to a period of mourning, Liszt continued to stop by the Saint-Cricq home to check on the grieving Caroline. Their lessons resumed, according to Sitwell, the death of Caroline’s mother may have been an excuse to continue lessons as a distraction.  The Count was often away on government business, and as such the young couple spent time together daily without supervision. Zsolt Harsányi in his book, Immortal Franz: the Life and Loves of Franz Liszt, mentions an aunt who supervised at first, but their gradually extending lessons tired her and she left the two young people alone.

On one fateful occasion, Liszt stayed conversing on topics such as music, poetry, and religion with Caroline past midnight. He had an encounter with the porter of the Saint-Cricq building when he needed to be let out. Adam Walker claims that Liszt was ignorant of the need to fill the porter’s purse in order to remain anonymous. Derek Watson, alternatively, says that Liszt failed to tip the butler who complained to the Count of the late hour. Either way, the servant in question informed Pierre de Saint-Cricq of this occurrence, and the Count met Liszt the next time the musician stopped by. After reminding Liszt of the difference in class between Caroline and himself, the Count ended the lessons and told Liszt that he was not to return to their household, nor see his daughter again. This class difference was already chafing at Liszt, so it was probably a heavy blow.



From the end of the affair in 1828 to about the time of the July Revolution of 1830, Liszt was depressed and ill. He was mistakenly pronounced dead in October of 1828 by an article published in Le Corsaire.

Liszt was certainly not dead, but his romantic relationship with Caroline de Saint-Cricq was over. Though she played an absent role in his life as the symbol of his first love, he only saw her once again in 1844, at her home in Pau, France. He wrote "Ich möchte hingehn" (I would like to go away), later, inspired by their reunion. According to Adrian Williams, she said that Liszt was the “single shining star” of her life.

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The Composer and his Muse: Gabriel Faure, Emma Bardac, Adela Maddison and Marguerite Hasselmans


Gabriel Urbain Fauré was a French Romantic composer, organist, pianist and teacher. He was one of the foremost French composers of his generation, and his musical style influenced many 20th-century composers. Among his best-known works are his Pavane, Requiem, nocturnes for piano and the songs "Après un rêve" and "Clair de lune", ("Moonlight") Op. 46 No 2, a song composed in 1887 to words by Paul Verlaine. The lyric is from Verlaine's early collection Fêtes galantes (1869). It inspired not only Fauré but Claude Debussy, who set it in 1881 and wrote a well known piano piece inspired by it in 1891.



"Clair de lune", ("Moonlight") Op. 46 No 2, is a song by Gabriel Fauré, composed in 1887 to words by Paul Verlaine. The pianist Graham Johnson writes that it closes Fauré's second period and opens the doors into his third. Johnson notes that it is "for many people the quintessential French mélodie"


Though Faure lived well into the 20th century, he was born when Chopin was still alive and only eighteen years after Beethoven's death. Most of the Romantic era's composers were his contemporaries, he came to know many of them and outlived most of them.




A master of his craft and innovative in his work, his now classic Requiem was performed at the memorial service for singer Bing Crosby at New York's St. Bartholomew's Church (where the young Leopold Stokowski had been the organist). His music, now a staple of his country's literature, ultimately and perhaps even inevitably made him famous and respected by the musical world - and he was quite deaf toward the end of his life. Beethoven, whose deafness manifested itself relatively early, had lamented why he himself should be ". . . lacking in the sense in which I should be more perfect than others." It takes little effort to imagine the same thought in the mind of composer Gabriel Fauré.

In 1883 Fauré married Marie Fremiet, the daughter of a leading sculptor, Emmanuel Fremiet. The marriage was affectionate, but Marie became resentful of Fauré's frequent absences, his dislike of domestic life – "horreur du domicile" – and his love affairs, while she remained at home.

Emma Bardac
According to Grove's Dictionary of Music & Musicians, ". . . Although he always retained a great affection for his wife, her withdrawn, bitter and difficult character, coupled with Fauré's keen sensuality and desire to please, explain his infidelities." Fauré ultimately had significant liaisons with other (considerably younger) women, each of whom played an important role in his life. Among them were Winnaretta Singer (of Singer Sewing Machines), who commissioned works from him and offered practical assistance, and Emma Bardac, who inspired a song cycle.

Gabriel Fauré's liaison with Emma Bardac in Duchen's words, "began for the first time, in his late forties", he experienced a fulfilling, passionate relationship which extended over several years. His principal biographers all agree that this affair inspired burst of creativity and a new originality in his music, exemplified in the song cycle La bonne chanson. Fauré wrote the Dolly Suite for piano duet between 1894 and 1897 and dedicated it to Bardac's daughter Hélène, known as "Dolly". Some people suspected that Fauré was Dolly's father, but biographers including Nectoux and Duchen think it unlikely. Fauré's affair with Emma Bardac is thought to have begun after Dolly was born, though there is no conclusive evidence either way. Emma later divorced her husband in order to marry another composer - Claude Debussy, his second wife.





Adela Maddison in The Sketch, 1910
Adela Maddison, the beautiful brunette Irish wife of an English attorney who directed a small publishing entity, played the piano and even composed. Her relationship with Fauré initially involved the publication and promotion of Fauré's music in England, to which end she translated some of his songs into English.

From around 1894, Maddison and her husband played a major part in encouraging and facilitating Fauré's entry onto the London musical scene. She became Fauré's pupil, and he thought her a gifted composer. She composed a number of mélodies, setting the works of poets such as Sully Prudhomme, Coppée, Verlaine and Samain in 1900 Fauré told the latter that her treatment of his poem Hiver was masterly.

During 1898 – c. 1905, she lived in Paris without her husband; Fauré's biographer Robert Orledge believes there was a romantic liaison with Fauré, who dedicated his Nocturne No. 7, Op. 74, to her in 1898; this piece was expressive of his feelings towards her, according to Orledge.





Eventually she developed a passion for the admiration and advocacy of his music, and perhaps inevitably, for him as well: leaving her husband and two children in England, she moved to Paris to be near Fauré.

Gabriel Fauré and Marguerite Hasselmans
In August 1900 Fauré met the stunning Marguerite Hasselmans, 31 years his junior. He was 55, the same age as her father. She operatively became Fauré's mistress for the remaining 24 years of his life. She read Russian, conversed philosophically, was bold enough to smoke in public and wear makeup, and was a musician. Their union was a kind of second marriage: they were seldom apart. She taught piano at their Paris residence and took part in public performances of his work. Her presence at the inception of Fauré's music during this period gave her a special and perhaps even unique insight into these works and a first-hand perception of how they should be performed.

Fauré met Marguerite Long in 1903, a student pianist to whom he was introduced by her teacher. He was impressed enough with her skill and interpretation of his piano music to have her study with him. She ultimately promoted Fauré's work significantly by frequently playing it in public, but this became a mixed blessing for the composer. Marguerite Long associated herself with Fauré and his reputation with a zealous ambition that eventually irritated him and wore his patience thin. She proclaimed herself as being "the sole heiress to the Fauré tradition," which prompted him to describe her to an intimate as, "a shameless woman who uses my name to get on." It's still very much to her credit that she continued championing Fauré's music as long as she lived.

Gabriel Fauré suffered from poor health in his later years, brought on in part by heavy smoking. Despite this, he remained available to young composers, including members of Les Six, most of whom were devoted to him. Nectoux writes, "In old age he attained a kind of serenity, without losing any of his remarkable spiritual vitality, but rather removed from the sensualism and the passion of the works he wrote between 1875 and 1895."

In his last months, Gabriel Fauré struggled to complete a string quartet. Twenty years earlier he had been the dedicatee of Ravel's String Quartet. Ravel and others urged Fauré to compose one of his own. He refused for many years, on the grounds that it was too difficult. When he finally decided to write it, he did so in trepidation, telling his wife, "I've started a Quartet for strings, without piano. This is a genre which L.v. Beethoven in particular made famous, and causes all those who are not L.v. Beethoven to be terrified of it." He worked on the piece for a year, finishing it on September 11, 1924, less than two months before he died, working long hours towards the end to complete it. The quartet was premiered after his death; he declined an offer to have it performed privately for him in his last days, as his hearing had deteriorated to the point where musical sounds were horribly distorted in his ear.




Gabriel Fauré died in Paris from pneumonia on November 4, 1924 at the age of 79. He was given a state funeral at the Église de la Madeleine and is buried in the Passy Cemetery in Paris.



Sources:
bach-cantatas.com
www.mfiles.co.uk/composers
 https://en.wikipedia.org

Yo-Yo Ma on His Breakthrough



Yo-Yo Ma as a child. 
(Photo: Adelaide de Menil)

I was kind of home-schooled until second grade. With music, I started so young, but it wasn’t till I was about 49 that I kind of realized that I was happy being a musician. Because through music, I could actually explore all the things I wanted to in terms of trying to understand people. I realized only then that my passion was people.

I started the violin when I was 3, and I think I screeched away and sounded horrible, so I gave it up. My parents thought I was not talented. So basically they left me alone. My big mistake came when we went to the Paris Conservatory — I was born in Paris — and there was a very large double bass. I saw this double bass and I said, “I want to play that.” The cello was a compromise because I couldn’t play the double bass at age 4. So they said, “Okay, but if you choose the cello, you have to promise that you’re not going to switch again.” So I kept my promise and I’m still playing the cello.

My first wedding gig, I was 15 years old, I was at some camp, and there was an older violinist and a violist and they said, “Hey, kid, you want to go play a wedding?” And I said, “Yeah, sure.” This was in upstate New York, Elizabethtown, and they were older, they drove, they had a car — oh my gosh, it was amazing. And then of course came a couple of $20 bills and I said, “Oh my gosh, we got paid for that? That’s amazing.” And same thing in college, people would ask me to do occasional things and I’d get some pizza money, right? I was like, “Wow, you can do that? Incredible.” And of course, money for pizza, this is golden stuff. I still love playing weddings — one of my favorite things to do.



The New York Times reported that on November 29, 1962, a benefit concert called "The American Pageant of the Arts" was to be held with "a cast of 100, including President and Mrs. Kennedy, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Leonard Bernstein (as master of ceremonies), Pablo Casals, Marian Anderson, Van Cliburn, Robert Frost, Fredric March, Benny Goodman, Bob Newhart and a 7-year-old Chinese cellist called Yo-yo Ma, who was brought to the program's attention by Casals."

As biographer Jim Whiting noted, "the article was noteworthy in two respects. First, it included Yo-Yo's name in the same sentence as those of two U.S. presidents and eight world-famous performers and writers. Second, Yo-Yo had been identified in a major newspaper for the first time. It would hardly be the last. In the years since then, the New York Times alone has written about him more than 1,000 times."

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The Composer and his Muse: George Gershwin and Kay Swift


Kay Swift was the first woman to compose an entire Broadway score. The show was Fine and Dandy, a confection tailored to the talents of a little remembered comic named Joe Cook. During the 1930-31 theater season, Fine and Dandy ran neck and neck with the Gershwins' hit Girl Crazy. Swift wrote a handful of songs (such as "Can This Be Love?," "Whistling in the Dark," and "Can't We Be Friends?") that are familiar from recordings, cabaret interpretations, and the waves of Muzak that form the soundtrack for contemporary urban life. Despite all of this, Kay Swift isn't a household name. For posterity, she's linked to the Gershwins, but the link isn't Girl Crazy or anything musical; it's her long love affair with the elusive bachelor George Gershwin.

Born into a well-educated family on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, Katharine Swift was surrounded from early childhood by artists and their art. Her father, a music critic, took her regularly to the concerts that he covered, and she prowled the backstage corridors of the old Metropolitan Opera House with a close comrade whose mother was one of the company's stars. At the Institute of Musical Art (subsequently Juilliard), Swift received a rigorous musical education and made contacts that would serve her well for years to come. Soon after graduation, she married James Paul Warburg, scion of the German-American banking family that controlled M.M. Warburg in Europe and Kuhn, Loeb in the United States. The newlyweds were conspicuous in Manhattan's Jazz Age society, socializing with the Irving Berlins, the Cole Porters, and the Algonquin wits. At their homes in New York City and Greenwich, Connecticut, Katharine and James threw Gatsby-scale parties that made them catnip for the gossip columns.

Defying social position and maternal obligations, Swift became a Broadway
Kay and George
rehearsal pianist and professional composer. She understood implicitly the conventions of both classical and popular music. Endlessly inventive, she had a knack for experimenting with rhythm, harmony, and melody that made all of her songs arresting and the best of them unpredictable. With her taste for leopard print clothes and zebra skin décor, Swift had personal flair, as well. If she was an anomaly in the Warburgs' world, her husband was, too; beneath a bland banker's exterior, James Paul Warburg concealed a poetic sensibility and a gift for rhyme. Using the nom de plume Paul James, he served his wife as lyricist on Fine and Dandy and a number of popular songs.

Both Swift's marriage to Warburg and her professional momentum appear to have been in jeopardy from the moment she crossed paths with George Gershwin; when the two met at a party in 1925, their attraction was, reportedly, immediate and evident to all in the room.

For Swift, Gershwin may have offered a jaunty, rough-edged contrast to Warburg's Harvard-honed suavity. She coached him in etiquette and how to dress for mixing with the upper crust. Because Gershwin's formal musical education had been modest, she tutored him in counterpoint and orchestration. Together, they studied advanced music theory. Adept at taking musical dictation, Kay notated Gershwin's compositions as they flowed from his exuberant imagination. To her this must have seemed like peeking into the inner reaches of his creativity. As though to suggest that they'd come to view the world from the same perspective, she gave him a watch fob shaped like a dove, with gems as its eyes -- one a sapphire, George's birthstone; the other a diamond, which was Kay's. Gershwin wore it as a talisman when he performed in public.



Kay and George Gershwin at Kay’s home, Bydale, in Greenwich, CT.

There are many ways in which one might assemble the puzzle pieces of this relationship. But, to quote a Paul James lyric from Swift's most famous song, "this is how the story ends": Swift subordinated her creativity to the service of Gershwin's genius, functioning as his amanuensis and writing little or nothing of her own for the four years that followed the premiere of Fine and Dandy. Despite the magnitude of that sacrifice, she didn't succeed in her apparent plan to meld her life to his. Oscar Levant, well-acquainted with Gershwin's wandering eye and his wariness to commit, quipped: "Ah, look! Here comes George Gershwin with the future Miss Kay Swift!" Gershwin was known to find married women safer bets than single ones. Perhaps Swift's availability after she divorced Warburg made her less attractive and more intimidating to him, or perhaps they both were astute enough to figure the lousy odds of Gershwin curbing his well-known yen for variety. Whatever the reason, Kay and George went their separate ways when the Gershwin brothers left for Hollywood in the summer of 1936. Less than a year later, at age 38, George died of a brain tumor.

After Gershwin's death in 1937, Ira Gershwin collaborated with Swift to complete and arrange some of his unpublished works. He said that she knew almost all of George's music, "had taken down sketches as he composed and had total musical recall."

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