Who is Peter Warlock? The name is probably not familiar to you, even if you are a self-proclaimed classical music buff. The short answer is Peter Warlock is Philip Heseltine.
Born in London in 1894, Heseltine was a music critic (and a combative one at that), editor, and founder of the musical journal The Sackbut. His critical writings were all listed with his given name, but he took on the pseudonym Peter Warlock for his music compositions.
Keep reading and you’ll also see, this wasn’t his only pseudonym!
Why the name Peter Warlock?
As a music critic, Heseltine had become known as a controversial figure, regarded with suspicion and hostility in the London music circle. So in 1918 when he sent seven recently composed songs to a publisher, he used the pseudonym Peter Warlock. The name is said to have originated from his involvement and interest in the occult.
Peter Warlock’s Music
Unlike many well-known composers, Peter Warlock was not formally trained in the area of music composition. He was largely self-taught, but he received encouragement from fellow English composers like Frederick Delius. His body of work consists mainly of songs for solo voice and piano and song cycles (150 of them) like The Curlew and Candlelight, but his Capriol Suite, in particular, stands out and remains his most popular composition.
The Capriol Suite is a set of dances originally written for piano duet. Warlock later scored it for both string and full orchestras. Written in 1926, it was based on tunes in Renaissance dances and in today’s world would be recognized as a sort of “throwback” piece with a few modern harmonies incorporated. It isn’t surprising that he would be inspired to write in an early English music form. Over his lifetime, he made well over 500 transcriptions of early works including compositions from Henry Purcell, John Dowland, and Thomas Ravenscroft. Though the work has six movements, it only takes about 10 minutes to perform. Be sure to check out our performance of it on February 23!
Warlock’s music generally well-received by the public and critics. Ralph Vaughan Williams was reportedly “delighted” with the reception of Warlock’s Three Carols which Vaughan Williams conductor in 1923. Heseltine/Warlock conducted a performance of the Capriol Suite in August 1929 – the only public conducting engagement of his life. The audience recalled him four times after that performance.
Peter Warlock’s Legend
The legend of Peter Warlock is surrounded by controversy and rumor. In addition to his combative and argumentative nature and his interest in the occult, he was said to have experimented with a variety of unconventional practices including cannabis tincture and flagellation. He was also said to enjoy composing obscene limericks and he even edited an anthology in praise of drinking under a new pseudonym, “Rab Noolas” which is “Saloon Bar” backwards.
Although the early 1920’s, particularly 1925-1929, were a fruitful time for Warlock, he found his creativity waning in 1929. Life became even bleaker in 1930 when there was little demand for his songs and he turned to music criticism and transcription again to support himself. He suffered from severe depression and in December 1930, he was found dead in his flat from gas poisoning. The coroner determined that there was insufficient evidence on whether it was suicide or an accident.
His life has inspired numerous characters in both literature and film. D.H. Lawrence based his character, Julius Halliday, on Warlock in the novel Women in Love. Warlock also inspired characters in Aldous Huxley’s Antic Hay and Jean Rhys’ short story “Till September Petronella”. His life was depicted in the films Voices From a Locked Room and Peter Warlock, Some Little Joy, although it was highly fictionalized in the former.
In 1963, the Peter Warlock Society was created and interest in his works began to increase. While some music experts acknowledge that his music today is often regarded as “programme filler” and encore items, his Capriol Suite is still performed frequently to this day. In fact, you can hear the Parker Symphony Orchestra perform it on February 23.
Chances are you’ve never heard the name Kalinnikov. Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, Rimsky-Korsakov…of course. But Kalinnikov’s name should be among these other Russian giants. It is estimated that had he lived longer, he most certainly would have had a very successful career and, as a result, would be more well-known internationally today. Unfortunately, he died at a very young age from tuberculosis and we’ll never know what amazing music could have been. Still, he left the classical music world with some beautiful melodic pieces, including two symphonies with obvious Russian character and several piano, vocal, choir, and orchestral pieces.
Kalinnikov was born in 1866 in Voina to a police officer. His father, who played the guitar and sang in the local choir, encouraged him to pursue music. He started violin lessons at an early age. The family moved to Oryol and thanks to his family’s ecclesiastic ties, he attended seminary, becoming the director of the seminary choir at the age of 14.
Though he entered the Moscow Conservatory in 1884, he was forced to quit after a few months due to his inability to pay tuition. However, he did win a scholarship as a bassoon player for the Moscow Philharmonic Music School where he studied bassoon and composition.
Poverty throughout his life caused Kalinnikov to find work as much as he could. He played violin, bassoon, and timpani with theater orchestras. He also worked as a copyist and his teacher, Kruglikov, also provided financial help.
His talent, however, did not go unnoticed. Tchaikovsky recognized his potential and in 1892, recommended him as conductor for the Maly Theater and, later, the Moscow Italian Theater. Unfortunately, his health took a turn for the worse just a year later in 1893 and he had to resign. He had contracted tuberculosis.
Kalinnikov moved to the warmth of South Crimea in search for a cure and it was there that he completed both of his symphonies and a variety of instrumental works. Through his music, he strove to portray rural Russian life and its scenery. He created colorful orchestrations and relied on melodies and rhythm to evoke traditional folk songs. His symphonies, in particular, show influence of the Russian masters like Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov, but his Second Symphony also includes sudden and obscure modulations reminiscent of Borodin.
The Symphony No. 1 (written between 1894-1895) was dedicated to Kruglikov, his teacher who also helped him financially. Kruglikov was thoroughly impressed by the score and sent it to leading conductors in Russia. The work was premiered at the Russian Musical Society in Kiev in 1897 to an audience that gave both the second and third movements an encore. If you’re curious why, come hear the Parker Symphony Orchestra perform the second movement in February!
Unfortunately, Kalinnikov would spend his remaining days in Crimea. He received some financial relief from Rachmaninoff who visited and saw his poor living conditions. Rachmaninoff also contacted his publisher who paid for three of Kalinnikov’s songs and offered to publish the Second Symphony. Rachmaninoff also arranged for the publication of the piano arrangement of his First Symphony.
Sadly, Kalinnikov died before he was able to benefit from most of these arrangements, around the time of his 35th birthday. The publisher offered Kalinnikov’s widow an unexpectedly high payment for the remaining manuscripts because the composer’s death multiplied the value of his works by ten.
In Russia, his First Symphony remains in the repertory and his place in Russian musical history is secure. And hopefully with more performances in the US and elsewhere, his name will become more familiar with music fans worldwide.
If you’re like me, when you heard the name Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, you thought, “Isn’t that the guy who wrote Rime of the Ancient Mariner? The English poet?” Nope, that’s Samuel Taylor Coleridge. However, Coleridge-Taylor’s mother did name him after the famous poet (he was born only 41 years after the poet died).
No, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was an English composer of numerous works including his most celebrated cantata, Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast, a piano quintet, a symphony, a once missing opera named Thelma, and his festive Christmas Overture which we will be performing in December.
Here are some other interesting facts about this British composer:
1. He earned the nickname the “African Mahler”. Coleridge-Taylor’s mother was English and his father was Dr. Daniel Peter Hughes Taylor, a Creole from Sierra Leone. His father descended from African-American slaves who were freed by the British and evacuated from the colonies at the end of the Revolutionary War.
2. He met President Theodore Roosevelt. On his first tour of the US, the composer was received by President Roosevelt at the White House which was a rare event for anyone of African descent.
3. He died young. Coleridge-Taylor was only 37 when he died from pneumonia. King George V granted his widow an annual pension which was considered evidence that he held the composer in high regard.
4. He wrote a work inspired by his near-namesake. Coleridge-Taylor wrote a piece called The Legend of Kubla Khan after the poem “Kubla Khan, Or, A Vision in a Dream: A Fragment”.
5. He almost didn’t attend college. The Royal College of Music hesitated over Coleridge-Taylor’s race, apparently worried that other students might object. Ultimately, he did admit Samuel at age 15 as a violin student. After 2 years, Samuel swapped violin for composition.
6. He was a pioneer in integrating African music in his music. He sought to do what Brahms had done with Hungarian music and Dvorak with Bohemian music by integrating African and traditions of the African diaspora into his compositions. Examples of this include his Four African Dances, Concert Overture, Toussaint L’Ouverture, and the Symphonic Variations on an African Air.
7. His Christmas Overture appeared posthumously. In 1925, Sydney Baynes arranged the work which features “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”, “Good King Wenceslaus”, and “Hark The Herald Angels Sing” and is thought to have been derived from Coleridge-Taylor’s The Forest of Wild Thyme, a fairy drama for children.
8. Both of his children also had distinguished careers as conductors and composers. His son, Hiawatha, adapted his father’s works. His daughter, Gwendolyn, became a conductor and composer using the professional name Avril Coleridge-Taylor.
Depending on the instrument you play or your passion for classical music, you may have heard the works of one or a few female composers. Pianists, for example, may know of or even have played Clara Schumann. However, the vast majority of the world has never heard of the likes of Amy Beach, Fanny Mendelssohn, or Florence Price, and that is quite unfortunate.
Women have actually made significant contributions to the classical music world. However, they remain on unequal footing with their male counterparts. So for International Women’s Day, here’s a look at some notable and some forgotten women composers throughout history.
Clara Schumann (1819-1896): Clara Schumann was not only the wife of composer Robert Schumann, but also one of the most distinguished pianists of the Romantic era. Her career began at a young age. At age 11, she went on a concert tour of various European cities and gave her first solo concert in Leipzig. Later, during her marriage to Robert, she met Johannes Brahms and not only helped encourage his career, but also was the first to perform publicly any Brahms work. She premiered several of his works during her career including the Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel.
She also began composing at a young age. In fact, she wrote her piano concerto when she was just fourteen and performed it at age sixteen (with Mendelssohn conducting). As she grew older and focused on other responsibilities, she found it difficult to find time to compose. Her output decreased greatly when she reached 36 years old. Her works include piano pieces, the aforementioned piano concerto, a piano trio, choral pieces, songs, and three Romances for violin and piano.
Fanny Mendelssohn (1805-1847): Like Clara Schumann, Fanny Mendelssohn was a pianist and composer. She was Felix Mendelssohn’s sister and the pair shared a deep love of music. Felix arranged to have some of Fanny’s songs published under his name, due to prevailing attitudes toward women publishing music, which actually led to an embarrassing moment. Queen Victoria received Felix at Buckingham Palace and expressed her intention of singing her favorite of his songs. He confessed it was actually by Fanny.
Fanny Mendelssohn was very prolific. She composed over 460 pieces including a piano trio, books of piano solo pieces and songs, and a cycle of pieces depicting the months of the year titled Das Jahr. This last work was written on colored sheets of paper with illustrations by her husband, Wilhelm.
Fanny passed away after suffering a stroke while rehearsing one of her brother Felix’s oratorios. Felix completed his String Quartet No. 6 in F minor in memory of her.
Louise Farrenc (1804-1875): Louise Farrenc is undoubtedly France’s first female composer. Born into a family of sculptors, she showed early talent in music and studied under such masters as Ignaz Moscheles and Johann Hummel. She married a flute student and together they gave concerts throughout France. The couple opened a publishing house together, Éditions Farrenc, which became one of France’s leading music publishers for 40 years.
Like other female composers around her time, she was a pianist from a young age and wrote many works for the instrument. However, while she wrote exclusively for piano until 1830, she expanded her range and wrote works for orchestra starting in 1834. She wrote 3 symphonies, a wind sextet, vocal works, choral works, and chamber music in addition to music for piano. Unlike Schumann and Mendelssohn, Farrenc’s works remained largely forgotten until the late 20th century during a surge in interest in women composers. In December 2013, Farrenc was the subject of the BBC Radio Three “Composer of the Week” program.
Rachel Portman (1960-present): Rachel Portman is best known as a composer of film scores and, unlike our previous composers, is still writing today. She was born in Surrey, England and became interested in music at a young age. She started composing at the age of 14 and subsequently studied music at Worcester College, Oxford. During her time in school, she started experimenting with writing music for student films and theater productions. After that, she wrote music for drama in BBC and Channel 4 films.
Since then, she has written over 100 scores for film, TV, and theater including The Legend of Bagger Vance, Mona Lisa Smile, Emma, Benny and Joon, The Lake House, Oliver Twist, and The Duchess. Her most famous soundtrack compositions are for the movies Chocolat and The Cider House Rules which was used in the Pure Michigan commercials.
Rachel Portman was the first female composer to win an Academy Award for Best Musical or Comedy Score. She won for Emma in 1996. She has also won a Primetime Emmy Award for her work on Bessie.
Florence Price (1960-present): Florence Price was not only a female composer, but also the first African American woman to be recognized as a symphonic composer and the first to have a composition played by a major orchestra. Born in Little Rock, Arkansas, her mother was a music teacher who guided her early musical training. She had her first piano performance at the age of four and published her first composition at the age of 11. After graduating high school at 14, she enrolled in the New England Conservatory of Music. She graduated with honors in 1906.
After college, she moved back to Little Rock and was married. They moved to Chicago after a series of racial incidents. It was in Chicago where Florence entered her most fulfilling period of composition. She studied composition, orchestration, and organ with leading teachers and published four pieces for piano. Unfortunately, financial struggles led to a divorce and Florence became a single mother. To pay the bills, she worked as an organist for silent films and composed songs for radio ads (under a pen name). She submitted compositions for Wanamaker Foundation Awards and won first prize with her Symphony in E minor. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra premiered the symphony in 1933, making it the first composition by an African-American woman to be played by a major orchestra.
Florence Price’s music incorporates elements of African-American spirituals, Southern themes, and inspiration from blues, African-American church music, and modern urban sounds.
Amy Beach (1867-1944): Amy Beach was also a pianist as well as a composer. She is considered the first successful American female composer of art music. She was born a prodigy, able to sing 40 songs accurately by age one. She learned to sing counter-melody to her mother’s singing at age 2 and by age 3, she was reading. She composed simple waltzes at age 5. At age 14, Amy received a year of formal training in composition.
Her performance debut was when she was 16. She played until she was married at which time she agreed to limit her performance to two public recitals per year. She devoted herself to composition. However, her husband disapproved of her studying composition with a teacher. So other than her one year of formal training at 14, she was a self-taught composer. She collected every book she could find on theory, composition, and orchestration.
Her first success as a composer came with the performance of her Mass in E-flat major by the Handel and Haydn Society orchestra. It was the first piece the group performed composed by a woman. After that, she wrote many other works including her Piano Concerto, which she premiered as soloist with the Boston Symphony, and the Gaelic Symphony. Her compositions include symphonic works, choral works, chamber music, solo piano music, and songs (of which she wrote about 150).
Cécile Chaminade (1857-1944): Cécile Chaminade was a female composer in France whose music was largely financially successful. Born in Paris, she studied music with her mother at first and then piano, violin, and music composition later with other notable names. She began composing at a young age and when she was eight years old, she played some of her music for Georges Bizet who was impressed.
Cécile wrote character pieces for piano and salon songs – all of which were published. Many of her piano compositions received good reviews from critics and were favorites in Europe and America. In fact, when she traveled to the United States in 1908, she discovered that her Scarf Dance and the Ballet No. 1 were in the music libraries of many piano music lovers. Other notable compositions include her Concertstück in C sharp minor for piano and orchestra, ballet music for Callirhoë, and her Flute Concertino in D major. The latter remains one of the most popular of her works performed today.
In 1913, she was awarded the Légion d’Honneur, a first for a female composer.
We realize there are many other women we could list here. Follow the links below for more information on these and other women composers.
His family name is often misspelled as “Boulogne”. He is sometimes referred to as “The Black Mozart”.
Born: December 25, 1745
Occupations: Composer, champion fencer, virtuoso violinist, and conductor of the Concert des Amateurs, a leading symphony in Paris. Was also a colonel in the French Revolution.
Other Interests: Dancing and ladies. He was a fine dancer, being invited to numerous balls and salons (and boudoirs) of highborn ladies.
Compositions: 3 sets of string quartets, 2 symphonies, 8 symphonie-concertantes, 6 operas comiques, three violin sonatas, 14 violin concertos, a sonata for harp and flute, a bassoon concerto, a clarinet concerto, a cello concerto, six violin duos, and a number of songs.
He is best remembered as the first classical composer of African ancestry. His father was a wealthy planter on the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe and his mother was an African slave. He was born on the island and moved to France as an early teenager.
Upon graduation from the Académie royale polytechnique des armes et de ‘l’équitation (fencing and horsemanship), he was made an officer of the king’s bodyguard which is where he acquired the title Chevalier de Saint-Georges.
He was such an amazing fencer that he was called “the god of arms”. At the age of 19, he had only suffered one defeat in a serious fencing match.
Not much is known of his early music training although several works were dedicated to or written for him including two Lolli concertos and Gossec’s six string trios. His first composition is a set of six string quartets inspired by Haydn.
He was a skilled violinist, but he also played the harpsichord.
He was an early Black Mason. He conducted the Concert des Amateurs, a top Paris orchestra, for years, but after the American Revolution, the organization suffered financial losses. The Masons helped him revive the orchestra as part of the Loge Olympique, renamed Le Concert Olympique, which was an exclusive Freemason Lodge.
He became fascinated by the stage, abandoning writing instrumental music in favor of opera around 1776. However, he suffered a serious setback when his nomination to be the next director of the Paris Opera was halted by a petition from three of its leading ladies. To avoid embarrassing the Queen, Marie-Antoinette, he withdrew his name. He went on to write operas and direct the Marquise de Montesson’s prestigious musical theater instead.
He volunteered to serve during the French Revolution. He joined the Garde Nationale, but even his duties couldn’t prevent him from giving concerts. He built an orchestra and reportedly gave concerts every week.
In 1794, he became colonel of the first cavalry brigade of “men of color” – the St. Georges’ Legion – which was also the first all black regiment in Europe. He lead 1,000 volunteers of color and halted what became known as “The Treason of Dumouriez”.
He was wrongfully imprisoned for 11 months and threatened with execution after returning from military duties in Sant-Domingue (now Haiti). He was released and lived in semi-retirement, unfortunately with health problems. He did, however, become even more devoted to his violin during this time saying, “Never before did I play it so well”. He died in 1799 in Paris aged 53.
President John Adams called him, “the most accomplished man in Europe”.
Below are some of his compositions you can listen to today.
When it comes to classical music, William Grant Still isn’t exactly a household name and that’s quite unfortunate because his music is truly captivating. I vividly remember the first time I heard his works. I had turned on CPR Classical one night a few years ago so my oldest daughter and I could play and listen to some good music.
Although I intended it to be in the background, I found myself really listening and wondering who wrote this amazing stuff. I could place the era – 20th century with some interesting jazz rhythms and influences – but I just couldn’t put my finger on the composer.
One check of the CPR site gave me the answer – Still.
And after further reading, I discovered there is much more to William Grant Still. He is much more than just a 20th century composer. He is also a man of many firsts who broke barriers.
He was the first African American to conduct a major American orchestra – the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1936.
He conducted the New Orleans Philharmonic Orchestra in 1955 becoming the first African American to conduct a major orchestra in the deep south.
His Symphony No. 1 “Afro-American” was the first symphony written by an African American for a leading US orchestra. It was first performed by the Rochester Philharmonic in 1931. Hear the PSO perform it in February.
His opera Troubled Island was the first by an African American that was performed by a major company – the New York City Opera
He was the first African American to have an opera performed on national US Television. His A Bayou Legend premiered on PBS in 1981.
Still was prolific, writing 8 operas and numerous symphonies and ballets. He worked as an arranger for W.C. Handy’s band and later as an arranger of music for radio and film including movies like Pennies from Heaven and Lost Horizon. When looking at his body of work, it’s not hard to see how he earned the nickname “Dean of Afro-American Composers”.
Despite the fact that he is not as well known as say Beethoven, his works live on in performances by everyone from the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra to the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra. The Parker Symphony Orchestra will be performing his 1st Symphony on February 25. Purchase tickets here.
You may know Antonín Dvořák as the composer of the much-loved and often-played Symphony No.9 ‘From the New World’ (aka the New World Symphony), but there is more to the man than just his most famous work. Although his time in America is well-known thanks to the aforementioned symphony, he was actually born in a small village north of Prague and was very passionate about his homeland and its music, infusing the sounds in pieces like his Slavonic Dances.
Here are 10 others things you may not know about Dvořák.
1. He Apprenticed As a Butcher: Dvořák was the oldest of 14 children (8 who survived infancy). His father was a zither player, an innkeeper, and also a butcher. A young Antonin not only joined his father in the local band, but also in his business as an apprentice butcher. At the age of 13, he was inducted into the Butcher’s Guild of Zlonice.
2. His Grandmother Had a Pet Name For Him: Dvořák’s grandmother called him, “my little toothy” because he apparently had good teeth.
3. His First Compositions Went Unnoticed: Dvořák’s first compositions received no critical reception and no public performance. In fact, it wasn’t until Johannes Brahms’ efforts to boost his career that any of his music began to attract interest. It is said that Dvořák was so critical of himself that he burned his early works.
4. Sheet Music For The First Slavonic Dances Sold Out: In 1874, Brahms sat on a jury to award financial support to talented composers in need. It is then that he encountered Dvořák and was “visibly overcome” by his “mastery and talent”. Brahms recommended that his publisher, Simrock, publish a set of Slavonic Dances for piano duet. The sheet music for the 8 dances sold out in one day.
5. Dvořák Loved Trains: The composer was known to spend hours at the Franz Josef railway station in Prague, watching trains. He knew the timetable by heart and even asked his students to describe train journeys they had made. Later, when he visited America, he also took up pigeon raising and watching steamboats.
6. He Stole Pencils: In an effort to help calm Czech speakers in Austria who were upset over the banning of their language, Dvořák was appointed a member of the Austrian Senate. He came the first day in 1901, accepted the honor, stole all of the pencils at his desk because they were perfect for composing, and never showed up again.
7. He Was An Early Riser: Dvořák and his wife got up very early in the morning. When they stayed in Cambridge with composer and organist Charles Villiers Stanford, the host was surprised to find couple sitting under a tree in the garden at 6 AM.
8. A Ship Is Named For Dvořák: In 1943, an American Liberty ship in the U.S. Navy was named the USNS Antonín Dvořák in the composer’s honor.
9. There Is A Mural In His Honor In Iowa: Dvořák spent a few weeks living in Spillville, IA. It was a town of mostly Czech speaking immigrants at the time. It is there that he wrote his “American” String Quartet. Today, a mural is there in his honor.
10. He Is The Second Czech Composer To Achieve Worldwide Recognition: Dvořák is not the only Czech composer of note. Bedřich Smetana, of Má vlast and its The Moldau movement fame, first established a nationalist example during the 1848 Prague uprising.
Friendship comes in many forms. When it comes to your circle of friends, you may include everything from acquaintances to BFF’s. Or you may prefer something more intimate and keep your group limited to people you’ve known for years. Either way, friends play an important role in life.
The same is also true for classical music composers. In fact, some of the most famous composers, like Mozart and Haydn, were actually very close friends who inspired and challenged each other to reach new musical heights. Since today, June 8, is National Best Friend Day, we’re going to profile just a few of these classical music composer friendships.
Mozart and Haydn
Though he was far younger than Haydn, Mozart’s relationship with Haydn was one of mutual respect. They most likely first met in 1781 when Mozart moved to Vienna. Haydn was already a famous composer and Mozart’s reputation was on the rise. It is not well-documented, but they appear to have been friends that enjoyed each other’s company and work. Some music suggests that Haydn may have been somewhat of a mentor to Mozart. Haydn freely praised Mozart, once saying, “I have often been flattered by my friends with having some genius, but he was much my superior.” Mozart was documented as speaking very highly of Haydn. Mozart even wrote a series of string quartets dedicated to Haydn.
Haydn was distraught over Mozart’s death. He wrote, “for some time I was quite beside myself over his death, and could not believe that Providence should so quickly have called away an irreplaceable man into the next world.” Haydn also wrote to Constanze Mozart, the widow, offering musical instruction to her son when he reached the appropriate age, and later followed through on his offer.
Mahler and Strauss
Both Gustav Mahler and Richard Strauss were great conductors and composers during the 1890’s and 1900’s. Though Mahler once said, “Strauss and I come from different sides of a mountain. One day we shall meet,” they met in 1887 and remained friends until Mahler’s untimely death. Mahler conducted many of Strauss’ works and Strauss was a supported of Mahler’s music, conducting several of his symphonies. They challenged each other musically and despite personality differences (Strauss was cool and collected while Mahler was self-centered and neurotic), they enjoyed spending time together. According to Mahler’s wife, “They enjoyed talking to one another as they were never of one mind.”
It is said that upon Mahler’s death, Strauss was so devastated that he could barely speak. He considered Mahler a good friend and worthy adversary.
Holst and Vaughan Williams
Gustav Holst and Ralph Vaughan Williams are two of the best-known English composers and were lifelong friends. They met in 1895 just after Holst celebrated his 21st birthday. They served as each other’s chief critics. They would play their latest compositions to each other while still in the works to hear valuable feedback. They also enjoyed talking about a variety of subjects. Vaughan Williams once said they discussed, “every subject under the sun from the lowest note of the double bassoon to the philosophy of Jude the Obscure.”
At Holst’s funeral in 1934, Vaughan Williams conducted music by Holst and himself.
Brahms and Dvořák
The friendship between Brahms and Dvořák is actually quite an unlikely one. Brahms was not known as particularly encouraging of young and new talent. A couple of composers even became obsessed with his lack of appreciation for their work. In 1874, however, he reluctantly sat on a jury to award financial support to talented composers in need. He encountered a submission from an obscure Czech composer including two symphonies, several overtures, and a song cycle. He was reportedly “visibly overcome” by the “mastery and talent” of the individual who we would learn was Dvořák. He arranged for Dvořák’s work to be given to his own publisher, Simrock, who accepted it and even commissioned what became one of Dvořák’s most popular works, the Slavonic Dances.
Through the years, Dvořák never forgot that he owed a great deal to Brahms’ interest. He regularly kept in contact with Brahms, even dedicating his String Quartet no. 9 in D minor to him. Brahms not only served as Dvořák’s mentor, offering advice and support, but also even served as Dvořák’s copy editor and proofreader while Dvořák traveled to America. Dvořák said it was hard to understand why Brahms would “take on the very tedious job of proofreading. I don’t believe there is another musician of his stature in the whole world who would do such a thing.”
Copland and Bernstein
While Holst and Vaughan Williams were well-known in England, there was also a musical friendship of two greats in America – that of Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein. The two met in November 1937 on Copland’s birthday and remained friends for almost half a century. Copland was already an established composer. Bernstein recalled many years later in an article that he “was crazy about” Copland’s Piano Variations and when he was introduced to him at a dance recital in New York, he “almost fell out of the balcony”.
Copland was extremely influential on Bernstein’s career. He often offered constructive criticism for Bernstein’s music and even helped him get started in conducting studies, writing him letters of recommendation and guiding him to Curtis Institute. Copland, however, was less enthusiastic about Bernstein’s music than his role as a conductor and Bernstein was sharply critical about Copland’s music (particular his Third Symphony). Still, their friendship remained overwhelmingly positive. The two spent many summers together at Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony, and Copland’s rhythmic freshness and recognizable American style can be seen in some of Bernstein’s work.
Coffee and classical music have a lot of obvious similarities. They can be smooth at times, robust at others. There are connoisseurs of each and some of both. You might even listen to classical music while enjoying a latte or café au lait.
There are, however, other connections between these two worlds that may not be as well known, but are certainly more fascinating. Here are some our favorites.
Bach wrote a Coffee Cantata: J.S. Bach often held concerts at his favorite coffee house in Leipzig, “Zimmerman’s Coffee House”. During this time, he wrote a mini comic opera or dramma per musica called Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht (Be still, stop chattering) featuring a character addicted to coffee. It has come to be known as the Coffee Cantata.
Beethoven was a coffee fiend: Beethoven started each day by drinking a cup of coffee brewed using exactly 60 coffee beans. Why 60? Some people who have studied the man theorize that Beethoven believed this to be the number required for the perfect cup of coffee. For reference, a cup of modern coffee contains 10 beans or less. Beethoven certainly enjoyed his joe on the much stronger side.
Glenn Gould drank gallons: Glenn Gould was more than just one of the most celebrated classical pianists of the 20th century. The Canadian was also a bit of an eccentric described as drinking “gallons of coffee”. Of course that could be because he enjoyed a “very nocturnal sort of existence” scheduling many of his errands at the latest hour possible – a lifestyle he described in a 1979 television documentary.
Mozart preferred his coffee black: About two months before he died, Mozart wrote to his wife about playing billiards after which he ordered black coffee and smoked a “wonderful pipe of tobacco”. Coffee even makes an appearance in Don Giovanni.
There’s a classical music themed coffeehouse in Portland, Oregon: The Rimsky-Korsakoffee House in Portland is a classical-music themed cafe in an old Craftsman-style house. One of the city’s first coffeehouses, it serves coffee and desserts and has hosted classical music events. Learn more about it on Wikipedia.
Rossini noticed that coffee’s effects wore off after constant use: A lover of many foods, Gioacchino Rossini was quoted as saying, “Coffee is a matter of fifteen or twenty days: luckily the time to make an opera”.
Many Viennese cafes frequented by famous composers are still standing: Café Landtmann, for example was established in 1873 and was a hangout for Gustav Mahler. Anton Bruckner frequented Hotel Imperial. Mozart reportedly liked Cafe Frauenhuber. Cafe Dommayer was the site of Johann Strauss Jr.’s first performance where he and his orchestra were an instant hit.
By Alec McNayr – Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15310134
John Williams. You probably know him best as the composer of some of the most famous film scores including Superman, the Star Wars Trilogy, ET, Jurassic Park, and the Indiana Jones Trilogy. However, his movie music work also includes the mysterious tunes of the Harry Potter movies, the stirring melodies of Schindler’s List, the haunting themes from Jaws, the expressive scores of Saving Private Ryan and Amistad, and the choral harmonies in Home Alone and Empire of the Sun. In fact, he has worked on more films and won more awards than we can name here.
While you may know all of this, there are probably some things about him and his work that will surprise you. For example, did you know that he wrote the music for the pilot episode of Gilligan’s Island? Even though the episode didn’t air, you can hear the theme on YouTube.
Here are 10 more things you probably don’t know about John Williams:
He was drafted in 1952 and arranged, played, and conducted music for military bands including the U.S. Air Force Band. After his time in the service, he moved to New York and studied at Julliard.
After Julliard, he worked as jazz pianist, playing in nightclubs. He was known as “Little Johnny Love” Williams when he was a bandleader for singer Frankie Laine.
He moved back to Los Angeles from New York and became a studio pianist on film scores. He can be heard playing the famous opening riff on Henry Mancini’s Peter Gun theme.
He composed music for various TV programs in the 1960’s where he was sometimes credited as “Johnny Williams” – a name he shares with his jazz percussionist father. In addition to Gilligan’s Island mentioned above, he also wrote for Lost In Space, Land of the Giants, and The Time Tunnel.
He met Spielberg on a blind lunch date in 1972 and, since then, has collaborated on all but one of his films. The Colour Purple was scored by Quincy Jones.
He holds the Academy Award record for the most nominations for a living person (50 nominations as of 2016).
His first Academy Award nomination came many years before he started collaborating with Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. It was for Valley of the Dolls (1967), though he didn’t win. He was nominated after that for Goodbye, Mr. Chips. His first actual Oscar win was for musical direction for Fiddler on the Roof.
He has composed numerous pieces for concert hall performance including a symphony and various concertos for horn, cello, clarinet, flute, violin, and bassoon.
He composes using a pencil and paper on a small writing desk next to his Steinway piano. He has never had time to learn to write music using a computer.
He was presented with the National Medal of Arts by President Obama for his achievements “as a pre-eminent composer and conductor [whose] scores have defined and inspired modern movie-going for decades.”