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

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

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

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

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

The Soul’s Struggle

Hildegard of Bingen, circa 1151

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

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


For a Court of Women

Francesca Caccini, 1625


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

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


The Composing Coquette

Barbara Strozzi, 1650s


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

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

Private Performances
and Public Humiliations

Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre, 1694

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

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

They Prefer Song

Marianna Martines, 1772

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

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

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

Backstage Grandeur

Louise Farrenc, 1850

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

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

Touring and Torment

Clara Schumann, 1837

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Listen to the Dr. Fuddle Anthem!

One Note Can Make a Difference!


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

Bach's Forgotten Aria

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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More Greatest Pianists!

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

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

Vladimir Ashkenazy (1937-)

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

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

Myra Hess (1890-1965)

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

Franz Liszt (1811-1886)

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

franz liszt and his women

Clara Schumann (1819-1896)

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

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

Claudio Arrau (1903-1991)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Five of the Greatest Pianists of all Time

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

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

Martha Argerich (1941-)

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

Lang Lang (1982-)

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

Glenn Gould (1932-1982)

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

Vladimir Horowitz (1903-1989)

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

Arthur Rubinstein (1887-1982)

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

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Can music make you a better athlete?

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

Photo by Ryan Edy and Getty Images

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

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

It uses the whole brain

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

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

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

It helps regulate your emotions

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

Music can also enhance mood and increase confidence.

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

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

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

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

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

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

It Makes You Want to Move

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

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

It Helps with Muscle Memory

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

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Classical Music Works Inextricably Linked to the Olympics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Verdi Requiem “Behind-the-Scenes”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Composer and His Muse: Giuseppe Verdi, Giuseppina Strepponiuse and Tereza Stolzová

Ritratto di Giuseppina Strepponi con lo spartito di Nabucco eseguito ad olio su tela, 1842 ca (Museo Teatrale alla Scala)Image 1 of 15
Clelia Maria Josepha Strepponi was an operatic soprano of great renown and the second wife of composer Giuseppe Verdi.

She is often credited with having contributed to Verdi's first successes, starring in a number of his early operas, including the role of Abigaille in the world premiere of Nabucco in 1842. A highly gifted singer, Strepponi excelled in the bel canto repertoire. Both her personal and professional life was complicated by overwork, by at least three known pregnancies, and by her vocal deterioration which caused her to retire from the stage by the age of 31, in 1846 when she moved to Paris to become a singing teacher.

She came out of her stage retirement briefly for one last opera appearance at the Comédie-Italienne which was not well received. Verdi, who was in England for the premiere of his opera I masnadieri in July 1847, returned via Paris and the two began a romantic relationship, with the composer remaining there for two years.

The couple returned to Italy by July 1849 and began living together in Busseto, Verdi's hometown where they first lived at the Palazzo Orlandi. The reaction of many of the people of Busseto towards Giuseppina, a woman of the theatre living openly with the composer in an unmarried state concerned Verdi, and as such, she was shunned in the town and at church.While Verdi could "treat the Bussetani with contempt Giuseppina, in the next few years, suffered greatly."

From May 1851 they moved to Verdi's house in Sant'Agata just outside the town, which today is known as the Villa Verdi.

Although unmarried until 1859, the marriage was a happy one and the couple remained together for the rest of their lives and she supported her husband in his career in many ways, her knowledge of French and English being especially useful. It is even thought that it was she who translated the original play by Antonio García Gutiérrez, El trovador of 1836, which became Il trovatore in 1853.

Having finally tied the knot, Peppe Verdi and Peppina Strepponi enjoyed an extended period of matrimonial peace. Whenever possible, they spent quality time at the Villa Verdi, located in the village of Sant’Agata.  As his fame and fortune grew, Verdi invested a considerable amount of money into expanding his estate, which eventually included various farms, extended forests and fisheries. When Peppe was once asked which of his operas he liked best, he replied “Rigoletto and Aida, because they bring in the money!” 

In other respects, she offered him much advice and, as Walker recalls from her account of being curled up in an armchair nearby, all the while offering comments and criticism while Verdi was composing, he speculates that "she must have sung many of these world-famous melodies for the first time from the manuscript sketches." At one point he took her advice not to have to compose on order by a certain date, but to find a suitable subject, then compose the music at his own convenience, and then find a suitable venue and suitable singers, and he so informed Corticelli, the theatrical agent from Bologna.

Verdi remained highly active in his musical career. In 1869 he supervised rehearsals for revisions to his opera La forza del destino (The Force of Destiny), which included a new overture and an alternate ending. It might have been fate and not necessarily destiny that the character of “Leonora” was sung by Teresa Stolz.  Read more

Tereza Stolzová
Born Tereza Stolzová in the Bohemian town of Kostelec, she became the “Verdian dramatic soprano par excellence, powerful, passionate in utterance, but dignified in manner and secure in tone and control.” Between 1865 and 1877, Teresa appeared in a number of significant premieres, including the first European performance of Aida in 1872. In 1869 she was the mistress of the conductor and composer Angelo Mariani. At that time, Mariani was also good friends with Peppe Verdi and Teresa enjoyed the attention of both men, although presumably not at the same time. Verdi kept a suite in the Grand Hotel in Milan, just minutes from Teresa’s home, and the relationship was frequently and regularly consummated.

Meanwhile, Peppina Verdi did not have to rely on woman’s intuition at all, as her husband Peppe simply forced her to accept Teresa Stolz as part of the domestic arrangement. He certainly wished for Peppina to be happy on his behalf, because after all, Teresa had brought happiness into his life. He once remarked to a friend, “how ridiculous that Peppina is jealous of Teresa! Every time she visits me, she brings vitality and big smiles!” Since Peppina was not inclined to confront the situation head on, she initially adopted a “wait and see” attitude in hopes that her rival would go away sooner rather than later.  For a while thing stayed relatively calm, and the uneasy threesome even went on summer holiday together. Peppina even suggested that Teresa buys a little villa near their home in Sant’Agata. That way, the affair between Teresa and Peppe could at least be carried on discreetly, and Peppina could keep a close eye on things.

Garden of the villa in Sant’Agata, (from left, seated) Maria Carrara Verdi, Barberina Strepponi, Giuseppe Verdi, Giuditta Ricordi, (from left, standing) Teresa Stolz, Umberto Campanari, Giulio Ricordi, Leopoldo Metlicovitz, late 19th century. (source: http://www.ricordicompany.com)

Things came to a head upon their return to Sant’Agata, however. Peppina ordered Peppe to send Teresea away, “let’s end this once and for all,” she wrote. “I think sometimes I, your wife am living à trios. I have the right at least to your respect, if not to your caresses.” Verdi heatedly responded by threatening to kill himself if Teresa left. In the end, it was Teresa who made the decision to leave, aided undoubtedly by a lucrative engagement in St. Petersburg. Twenty years past, and after Peppina Strepponi’s death in 1897 Teresa Stolz once more became Verdi’s constant companion. Unlike Aida, however, Verdi was buried next to his wife, and not his lover.  Read more

In those years, Strepponi frequently suffered from stomach problems and arthritis and during her last year of life she could barely move from her bed. In the autumn of 1897, when the couple was once again preparing to spend the winter in Genoa in a more salubrious climate with proximity to the sea, Verdi made the decision to stay in Sant'Agata because his wife was bedridden. Giuseppina Strepponi died after a long illness on 14 November that year at Sant'Agata, due to pneumonia. She was initially buried in Milan. With the death of Giuseppina, Verdi became a widower for the second time, and was once again tormented by the pain of losing one of the most important figures in his life.

When Verdi died in 1901 he left instructions in his will to be buried next to Giuseppina, but he was buried in the main cemetery of Milan. The desire to see the couple together in the afterlife eventually led on 26 February 1901 to the transfer of both of their the bodies to the oratory of the Casa di Riposo in Milan, the retirement home for musicians which Verdi had created. Arturo Toscanini directed a choir of 900 singers in the famous Va, pensiero from Nabucco.

A little traveling music, please!

It took a certain Mr. Shinoda, working with the Hokkaido Industrial Research Institute, to apply the sonic resonance theory in a unique way. Shinoda discovered that by varying the spacing between the cut grooves, the pitch of the sound would vary. It's somewhat similar to an old-fashioned music box that uses metal times and posts to play a tune when set in motion against one another. It might not be as soothing to the ear as your favorite CD, but considering it's being played by the "Goodyear Orchestra", it's really not all that bad!

Melody Roads are located in the provinces of Hokkaido, Wakayama and Gunma, and are well-marked by roadside signs and colorful painted "notes" on the roadbed itself. Drivers should be aware that the music, as it were, is ideally heard when drivers maintain a speed of just 28 mph - on a highway, yet.

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10 Positive Benefits Of Listening To Music, According to Science

Why do we live for live music? On the molecular level, research shows that listening to music improves our mental well-being and physical health.

How Music Can Be Used To Influence Different Mood Goals

Enjoyment goes far beyond the present moment, as it directly influences the outcome of our hormones and cognitive functioning. While research has suggested that people who play instruments are smarter, there are also plenty of benefits for the music enthusiasts.

Here is a list of 10 benefits to listening to music:

1. Music Increases Happiness

This might seem obvious, but the natural chemical reasoning is pretty incredible to think about. If you are ever in need of an emotional boost, let it be known that it only takes 15 minutes of listening to your favorite tunes to get a natural high. This is because your brain releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter that leads to increased feelings of happiness, excitement, and joy, when you listen to music you like.

2. Music Improves Performance in Running

If that's what you're into... Scientists found that runners who listened to fast or slow motivational music ran faster than runners who listened to calm music (or ran without any music at all) in an 800-meter dash. The key to enhancing your running performance lies in the choice of music, that being something that inspires you to move forward.

3. Music Decreases Stress, While Increasing Overall Health

Music has a direct effect on our hormones. If you listen to music you enjoy, it decreases levels of the hormone cortisol in your body, counteracting the effects of chronic stress. Stress causes 60% of all illnesses and diseases, so lower levels of stress mean higher chances of overall well-being.

One study even showed that a group of people playing various percussion instruments and singing had boosted immune systems compared to the people who were passively listening; while both groups' health was positively affected by music, the group playing instruments and/or singing had better results.

For maximum benefits on a stressful day, turn on some music and sing along. Don't be shy to break out the air-guitar!

4. Music Improves Sleep

Over 30% of Americans suffer from insomnia. A study showed that listening to classical or relaxing music within an hour of going to bed significantly improves sleep, compared to listening to an audiobook or doing nothing before bed. Since we know music can directly influence our hormones, it only makes sense to throw on some Beethoven (or Dark Side of The Moon?) before bed when in need of a good night's sleep.

5. Music Reduces Depression

Music has a direct effect on our hormones; it can even be considered a natural antidepressant. This is because certain tunes cause the release of serotonin and dopamine (neurotransmitters) in the brain that lead to increased feelings of happiness and well-being. It also releases norepinephrine, which is a hormone that invokes feelings of euphoria.

More than 350 million people suffer from depression around the world, and 90% of them also experience insomnia. The above research also found that symptoms of depression only decreased in the group that listened to classical or relaxing music before going to bed.

Another study demonstrated that certain types of music can be beneficial to patients with depressive symptoms. Interestingly, while classical and relaxing music increased positive moods, techno and heavy metal brought people down even more.

6. Music Helps You Eat Less

According to research, the combination of soft lighting and music leads people to consume less food (and enjoy it more). Music as the next trending diet? Sounds easy enough!

7. Music Elevates Your Mood While Driving

Who isn't guilty of blasting Phish on the highway? A study found that listening to music positively influences your mood while driving, which obviously leads to safer behavior and less road rage. So be sure to turn up the "Reba" jams!

8. Music Strengthens Learning And Memory

Listening to music can also help you learn and recall information more efficiently, researchers say. Though it depends on the degree to which you like the music and whether or not you play an instrument. A study showed that musicians actually learned better with neutral music, but tested better with music that they liked; whereas non-musicians learned better with positive music but tested better with neutral music. Therefore, the degree of performance differentiates between learning and memory for musicians and non-musicians.

9. Music Increases Verbal Intelligence

A study showed that 90% of children between the ages of 4 and 6 had significantly increased verbal intelligence after only a month of taking music lessons, where they learned about rhythm, pitch, melody, and voice. The results suggest that the music training had a "transfer effect" that increased the children's ability to comprehend words, and even more, explain their meaning.

Another study showed similar results in musically trained adult women and children that outperformed a group with no music training on verbal memory tests.

10. Music Raises IQ and Academic Performances

Research suggests that taking music lessons predetermines high academic performance and IQ scores in young children. The study surveyed a group of 6-year-olds who took keyboard or vocal lessons in small groups for 36 weeks. The results showed they had significantly larger increases in IQ and standardized educational test results over that time than children who took other extracurricular activities unrelated to music. The singing group showed the most improvement.

Read more at Live for Live Music

5 of the best symphonies of all time!

These are the greatest symphonies of all time - the biggest, most emotional, most impressive and plain-old flabbergasting works ever written.

Berlioz - Symphonie Fantastique

Is it even a symphony? Isn't it a symphonic fantasy or a tone poem? Does its five-movement structure actually take it a step away from the idiom? It doesn't matter. What matters is that Berlioz ingested a boatload of opium and wrote one of the most insane pieces of music to come out of the romantic period, while managing to make it a total hit and an artistically sound statement.

Mahler - Symphony No. 2 ('Resurrection')

Apart from the Eighth Symphony, this symphony was Mahler's most popular and successful work during his lifetime. It was his first major work that established his lifelong view of the beauty of afterlife and resurrection.

Brahms - Symphony No. 4

When the dust had settled from Brahms' first symphony (he was heavily touted in his day as the successor to Beethoven's top-dog status in symphony land), he set about creating one of the most consistent sets of symphonies in history. The fourth and final, composed up a mountain in 1884, has to be the best one though. It silenced critics who thought Brahms was too musically conservative, it proved to be one of his most emotionally daring works and it sealed his reputation as one of the great masters of the symphony.

Mozart - Symphony No. 41

It was the last symphony that he composed, and also the longest.The 41st Symphony is the last of a set of three that Mozart composed in rapid succession during the summer of 1788 and was also his best. It's no coincidence that it's subtitled 'Jupiter', either: it's a beast. Mozart threw absolutely everything at this epic. Marvel at the five-theme fugal ending! Gasp at the quotations of plainchant motifs! Recoil in wonder at the majesty of it all!

 Beethoven - Symphony No. 9 ('Choral')

Ludwig van Beethoven's final complete symphony. Completed in 1824, the symphony is one of the best-known works in classical music. Among critics, it is almost universally considered one of Beethoven's greatest works, and many consider it one of the greatest compositions in the western musical canon.

The symphony was the first example of a major composer using voices in a symphony, (thus making it a choral symphony). The words are sung during the final movement by four vocal soloists and a chorus. They were taken from the "Ode to Joy", a poem written by Friedrich Schiller in 1785 and revised in 1803, with additions made by the composer. Today, it stands as one of the most played symphonies in the world.

Read more at Classic FM