Four composers at the court of Louis XIV

A quick look at those who brought music to the Sun King’s palace


Louis XIV was crowned King of France in 1654. His reign of 72 years and 110 days is the longest recorded of any monarch in European history, and he is often seen as the echt example of an absolute monarch – his power, so he perceived, came directly from God. His enthusiasm for the arts brought about musical riches that were the envy of Europe, and influenced composers for years to come.

While the French court was aware of Italian operatic practices, the musical styles that developed there in the late 17th century were considerably different. Castrati were not a common sight in France, and there was a significant emphasis on vocal and instrumental technique rather than the acrobatic, virtuosic performances seen in Italy. Here, we introduce four of the composers present at Louis XIV's court, as well as our recommended works.


Lully

The Italian born Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-87) – composer, dancer, violinist and comedian – was the architect of the French national style. He became the most powerful musician in France, a true Troubadour of the era, and held a virtual monopoly over court music. His music is known for its power and vivacity: lively in the fast movements, deep and emotional in the slower. He is also credited with the invention of the French overture, a musical form used extensively in the Baroque and Classical eras, particularly by Handel and Bach. He died from gangrene after driving a conducting stick through his foot.





Lalande

Michel-Richard de Lalande (1657-1726) was head of music in the Chapel Royal for longer than any other composer. In this capacity he brought the grand motet – a sacred work pleasing to Louis XIV because of its pomp and grandeur – to its zenith. He delighted in contrasting solo airs with homophonic (all parts moving together like a hymn) semi-choirs, and large choruses using many voices moving independently.






Hotteterre Family

The Hotteterres were a multitalented family of woodwind players, composers and makers, who in about 1670 did a makeover on the flute, oboe and bassoon. This greatly improved the tuning and tone, and enabled players to perform in an increased range of keys. The family’s most celebrated member was Jacques-Martin Hotteterre, whose first published work, Principes de la Flute Traversière (1707) is the first known essay on flute-playing. The Hotteterres wrote lots of tuneful suites and sonatas for wind instruments.






Couperin Le Grand

François Couperin (1668-1733) was the greatest French composer between Lully and Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764) and the finest composer of chamber music. His exquisite works, likened in their detail to the paintings of Watteau, combine highly ornamented refined melodies with sumptuous harmony. He was known as Couperin ‘the Great’, with the inclusion of the epithet to distinguish him from other members of the musically talented Couperin family.




This article first appeared in the August 2008 issue of the BBC Music Magazine
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Classical music inspired by the Jazz Age:


Gershwin, Rhapsody in Blue

When it comes to jazzy classical music, Gershwin's your guy. His Rhapsody in Blue from 1924 is one of the most famous examples of his unique style, from the boozy opening clarinet tune to the virtuosic piano solos throughout. It encapsulates the spirit of the Jazz Age - so much so, that Baz Lurhmann uses the piece to accompany the decadent party scene in his film adaptation of The Great Gatsby.



 

Copland, Piano Concerto 

"The slow blues and the snappy number". That's how Copland described the two sections of his impressive Piano Concerto, and it sums up the 1926 piece pretty perfectly. It's the ultimate example of jazz-classical fusion, both indulgent and refined in equal measure.




Gershwin, An American in Paris

Strolling through the streets of Paris in 1920s, this piece attempts to capture the sights and sounds of the city. Gershwin even brought back a few horns from Parisian taxis to add some authentic Parisian noise to the New York premier.




Weill, The Threepenny Opera

European swing, American jazz, and opera. It's all there in Weill's 1928 opera, set, unexpectedly, in Victorian London. The opening song, The Ballad of Mackie Messer, translated into English as Mack the Knife, has now become a jazz standard in its own right.

Songs from The Threepenny Opera have been widely covered and become standards, most notably "Die Moritat von Mackie Messer" ("The Ballad of Mack the Knife") and "Seeräuberjenny" ("Pirate Jenny").






Stravinsky, Piano-Rag Music

Stravinsky proved himself in the field of angular tunes and stabbing rhythms in his 1910 ballet, The Firebird. It was only a matter of time before the quirky rag-time dance got its own treatment by the composer, and the results are remarkable - it's jazzy and jarring all at once, with a menacing sense of fun.

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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.

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.






Was this man Beethoven’s ‘Salieri’?

Daniel Steibelt challenged the great composer to a duel.


The 1984 film Amadeus made Antonio Salieri practically a household word. After a couple of centuries of  relative obscurity, Salieri came to be known to moviegoers as the jealous confidant and rival of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Another musical great, Ludwig van Beethoven, also had a rival, though it’s unclear whether there is a filmmaker out there who is keen on telling his story on the silver screen.

The story of Daniel Steibelt came to light recently, thanks to an article at the website historycollection.co. Steibelt was “a German born classical pianist and composer“ who “apparently also had a huge ego because he challenged the one and only Beethoven to a musical duel in Vienna in 1800,” writes Lindsay Stidham.

Like Salieri, Steibelt achieved a modicum of success in his day. “He rose to great popularity with ‘La Coquette,’ a song he composed for Marie Antoinette,” Stidham writes. The young composer made his way to Vienna in 1800, where he first floated the idea of a duel with his fellow German composer, Beethoven, who accepted the challenge.

The city’s music patrons liked the idea of a duel between Steibelt and Beethoven. Each musician got a Prince to sponsor the idea.

The contest  took place at the home of Austrian nobleman Count Moritz von Fries. Steibelt brought along a string quintet, which performed a stormy composition, and with bravado, he improvised at the keyboard.

Beethoven, not to be outdone, picked up the sheet music from the string quintet, placed it on the piano upside down, and worked out his own improvisation on one of its themes, which he showed up to be overly simplistic. It was clearly the more inspired performance, and the gathering recognized it. Humiliated, Steibelt stormed out of the room while Beethoven was still playing, followed by his prince-benefactor.

Though Steibelt has been an obscure figure in recent years, he went on to have a fairly successful career, even writing music for Napoleon and Russian Czar Alexander I before his death in St. Petersburg in 1823.

But it’s the genius of Beethoven that has stood the test of time.



Daniel Steibelt (1765-1823) : Three Sonatas Op.51 - No.2

I. Allegro Moderato
II. Air Allemande avec Variations, Moderato

The second movement is variations on the well-known German air "Ach, du lieber Augustin".

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Seven of the best works by Rachmaninov



Rachmaninov's compositions were the last representations of the Romantic Style in Russia. Rachmaninov was born into a musical family and studied the piano at the Conservatoire in St Petersburg from the age of nine. Despite the enormous span of his hands, his technique was precise and clear. His incredible skills as a pianist make his compositions some of the most difficult for virtuoso pianists.


Prelude in C sharp minor Op. 3 No. 2 
Although less assertive than his later works, the Prelude in C sharp minor won Rachmaninov much of his early popularity and became a frequently requested encore in concert. With its attractive 'dark-hued' disposition, it is impressive that this work was composed even before his graduation from the Conservatoire in St Petersburg in 1891.





Piano Concerto Op. 18 No. 2
Rachmaninov composed his second piano concerto after a particularly low period, professionally and emotionally, spurred by the difficult reception of his first symphony. The piece is notoriously difficult to play (not everyone can span 12 piano keys with one hand!), and was dedicated to his therapist, Dr. Nicolai Dhal, who encouraged him to start composing again despite bouts of depression.





Prelude Op. 23 No. 5 
One of 24 movements in this cycle, No. 5 is a brief, melodic and delicate Prelude. The floating melody, which gradually gains momentum, shows something of Rachmaninov's idiomatic piano writing and perhaps even subtle evocations of Debussy's piano music.





'Bogoroditse devo' from his All-Night Vigil 
This painfully evocative movement is set to the well-known Ave Maria text taken from the Russian Orthodox All-Night Vigil ceremony. The texture is dense throughout and reaches an emotional climax.





Prelude Op. 32 No. 7
This prelude adopts a mysterious quality thanks to the recurring dotted rhythmic motif. Tonal ambiguity constantly asks the listener to interpret whether the piece leans more towards a major or minor tonal world.





The Isle of the Dead (1908) 
This atmospheric orchestral piece shows the ease with which Rachmaninov was able to evoke a sense of place via musical means (tone-painting). Inspired by a painting by Arnold Bocklin, the orchestral colours reflect the sounds of waves and oars as they meet the dark waters, in a characteristically late Romantic style.





Moment Musicaux (1829) 
This set of solo piano pieces are similar to miniatures: each moment musical features unique passage work, and sound like separate introspective worlds. The miniature size of these pieces show a more humble side to Rachmaninov's usual bravura virtuoso style.



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8 Reasons You Should Listen More To Classical Music


1. It makes your brain work better

At Northumbria University (UK), a research team performed some experiments on students’ brain functioning when doing tests while they listened to Vivaldi’s Spring concerto. They were answering faster and better than when they listened to the sadder Autumn concerto. The conclusion was that brain activity is improved when listening to pleasant and arousing stimuli. If you want to refresh your memory on the uplifting Vivaldi Spring concerto, you can listen to it here.

2. It helps people with dementia

If a loved one suffers from dementia or Alzheimer’s, it is well worth noting the studies showing how music can help them to regain memories and enormously improve their quality of life. Watch the video here of a man who was brought back to life by listening to music he loved in the past. If your loved one was particularly fond of any music, classical or non, they can be enormously helped by listening to the same music. The explanation is that because music affects many parts of the brain, it can reawaken those parts of the brain not affected by dementia. This is especially true when the music is linked to a particular event or memory. It is fascinating to read the book by the late neurologist Oliver Sacks called Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain which explains the phenomenon and recounts many moving stories.

“People with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias can respond to music when nothing else reaches them. Alzheimer’s can totally destroy the ability to remember family members or events from one’s own life—but musical memory somehow survives the ravages of disease, and even in people with advanced dementia, music can often reawaken personal memories and associations that are otherwise lost.”- Oliver Sacks

3. It can help you sleep better

There are many studies on the beneficial effects of classical music on sleep quality. One study shows that a group of students who listened to relaxing classical music were getting much better sleep quality than when they were exposed to an audio book, for example. Researchers are convinced that music is better than verbal stimuli for the purposes of relaxing body and mind before sleep.

4. It can calm you down when driving

Are you prone to road rage at times? The German government is worried about the high number of road accidents on the country’s motorways (2.4 million annually). Many of these accidents are caused by aggressive driving and road rage. To counteract this, the German Ministry of Transport has released a CD for drivers which features Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.21. played by the Minister himself! He hopes that the soothing effects of music will calm drivers down. (Fun fact: There is no word in German for road rage). Let us hope they will not need it now.

5. It can help reduce pain

Various studies show that listening to music can reduce post operative and chronic pain especially after surgery. It will never replace painkillers of course but will be a great help in reducing depression, disability and pain. The reason seems to be that it can help to tune out the pain by increasing the brain’s reward center, thereby alleviating the sensation of pain.

“One good thing about music, is when it hits you, you feel no pain.”- Bob Marley

6. It can help you express your emotions.

“If music be the food of love, play on, Give me excess of it.” – William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night

Music can express what we may never be capable of verbally and thank goodness for that. We may have to struggle with anger, love, depression and many other emotions and feelings. When we connect with music, we can begin to cope. It helps us to be more honest with ourselves. Research at The Southern Methodist University shows that when listening to classical music, undergraduate students were more communicative and open about their emotions. Everyone has their favorite playlist to help them when they feel romantic, lazy or exhausted. Listening to classical music helps you express your emotions in unique ways.

“Unexpressed emotions will never die. They are buried alive and will come forth later in uglier ways.” – Sigmund Freud

7. It can help blood pressure

It is fascinating to discover that cardiologists have found a connection between Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and our blood pressure levels. They found that this piece and many other classical music pieces are in natural sync with our own body’s natural rhythm and that helps to keep blood pressure at optimal levels. Professor Bernardi at the University of Pavia in Italy has done some interesting research on this.

8. It can help people on diets


You now how difficult it is to eat slowly, chew your food properly, and really enjoy it. Playing soft music and dimming lights in dining areas has been found to help people enjoy their food more and eat less! This is the main result of a study carried out at Cornell University. On the other hand, places like fast food joints use brighter lights to encourage fast eating and more profit for the business. You can improve the way you experience food by being more intentional in the way you eat, including playing soft music during meals.




Read more at Lifehack.com