08-17: Jean Barraqué Roger Woodward - Wild Bill Davis - Bach Musical Offering Kuijken - Carlos Salzedo Christmas Carols in Hi Fi

Ordered chronologically. Tagged image here.
1730 – Mauritius Vogt (German composer, music theorist & lexicographer)
1731 – Johann Augustin Kobelius (German composer & Kapellmeister at Fürstenhaus, Weißenfels)
1777 – Giuseppe Scarlatti (Italian composer, relative of Alessandro & Domenico)
1786 – Frederick the Great (Prussian monarch, flutist & composer)
1792 – Jan Jáchym Kopřiva (Czech composer & teacher)
1838 – Lorenzo Da Ponte (Italian librettist, Mozart's Don Giovanni, Nozze di Figaro & Così fan tutte)
1865 – Johann Nepomuk Freiherr von Poißl (German composer & opera theater manager)
1870 – Perucho Figueredo (Cuban poet, musician & freedom fighter, Cuban National Anthem)
1880 – Ole Bull (Norwegian violinist & composer)
1887 – Franz Commer (German musicologist, music editor & composer)
1889 – Ernst Franck (German conductor & composer, friend of Brahms)
1898 – Carl Zeller (Austrian operetta composer)
1901 – Edmond Audran (French composer)
1909 – Richard Hoffman (English-born American pianist & composer)
1936 – Pierre-Octave Ferroud (French composer & biographer of Florent Schmitt)
1945 – Gino Marinuzzi (Italian conductor & composer)
1954 – Billy Murray (American pop recording artist)
1958 – Florent Schmitt (French composer & music critic)
1959 – Pedro Humberto Allende Sarón (Chilean composer)
1961 – Carlos Salzedo (French-born virtuoso harpist, composer, pianist & conductor)
1973 – Jean Barraqué (French composer & music journalist)
1973 – Paul Williams (American R&B baritone, The Temptations)
1981 – Robert Russell Bennett (American Broadway & Hollywood arranger, composer & conductor)
1983 – Ira Gershwin (American popular lyricist)
1987 – Gary Chester [Cesario Gurciullo] (Italian studio drummer)
1990 – Pearl Bailey (American pop & jazz singer & actress)
1995 – Wild Bill Davis (American jazz organist, pianist & arranger)
2004 – Gérard Souzay (French operatic & art song baritone)

Here's an interesting little wrinkle for August 17th. Florent Schmitt, although he isn't quite a household name these days, was a very well-known French composer and music critic in the early 20th century, and had a number of pupils and disciples. One of them, Pierre-Octave Ferroud, wrote a biography of Schmitt, which was published in 1927. In 1936, Ferroud died suddenly, in an auto accident in Hungary. Francis Poulenc, for one, had been friends with Ferroud and was quite distressed about his death. Schmitt, who was 30 years older than his biographer, was to live for a further 31 years after Ferroud's book appeared. But get this: The day Schmitt died (at age 87) was August 17th, 1958, the 22nd anniversary of the day Ferroud was killed!

And I guess I should mention that while lyricists and librettists aren't normally within the purview of this blog, we occasionally do remember people who weren't musicians (or whose significance didn't rest on being one) but who made an important contribution to how music was made, desseminated, or received. So when you're a Lorenzo Da Ponte, who wrote the libretti for three of Mozart's greatest operas (that's to say, three of the greatest operas ever written), or when you're an Ira Gershwin, who wrote the lyrics to most of his brother George's best popular songs (that's to say, some of the best popular songs ever written), then we'll make an exception for you!

King Frederick II of Prussia wasn't known so much for being a musician either. He was known mostly for... well, conquering a heckuva lot of Poland, mainly. This allowed him to consolidate his realm by connecting the Duchy of Prussia with the Margravate of Brandenburg. But he was very interested in the arts, especially music, and was a fine amateur player of the flute. Really, he wasn't interested in those huge... tracks of land at all, he just wanted to SING. In fact, at the age of 18, when he was still Crown Prince, he tried to escape from his authoritarian father, King Frederick William, by fleeing to Great Britain with his gay lover, 26-year-old Hans Hermann von Katte, a Lieutenant in the Prussian army. But the two were apprehended before their escape could be made, and as punishment for his desertion, the king ordered von Katte to be beheaded, and forced his son to watch the execution of his boyfriend.

But... it gets better? By the time he ascended to the throne in 1740, Frederick had already begun to hire some of the finest musicians in Europe to be in his royal orchestra, which included harpsichordist Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, violinist Franz Benda, flutist Johann Joachim Quantz, and singer Carl Heinrich Graun, whom he appointed Kapellmeister. All four of these musicians, as well as others, also composed much music for Frederick's court - operas, symphonies, chamber music, serenades and divertissements for entertaining, and of course, LOTS of flute music for Frederick himself to play. One summer, in 1747, when Frederick was at Sanssouci, his summer residence in Potsdam, his keyboard player's dad dropped by for a visit. Frederick wanted to meet the elder Bach, who was a pretty legendary musician by this point. Bach checked out the place, played some of Frederick's instruments - Fred even had the latest thing, a few of Silbermann's fortepianos, and Bach thought they were pretty darned cool. Then they got down to business. The king wanted to see if Johann Sebastian was as great an improviser as everybody said he was. So he went to a harpsichord and played a theme - a dour little minor-key thing that has a chromatic descent in it...

... and asked Bach if he could play a 3-voice fugue with that theme as its subject. Bach did, right there on the spot, and Frederick was very impressed. Then he asked Bach if he could improvise a 6-voice fugue on it. Well, the public in attendance thought the king was joking, or else wanted to humiliate the old man, but Bach answered that he would need to work out the score and send it to the king later. And that is how The Musical Offering, BWV 1079, which along with The Art of Fugue, BWV 1080, represents the very pinnacle of Bach's achievement as a contrapuntist, came to be. In it, the Thema Regium - the Royal Theme - is the basis of not only a 3-voice fugue, and a 6-voice fugue, but of 10 canons, each one treating the theme imitatively in a different way: in contrary motion, in inversion, in augmentation and diminution, and so forth. Two of the canons are in perpetual motion, meaning they wrap back around upon themselves so that they could be played endlessly; in one of those, the music quite ingeniously keeps modulating up a whole step, so that by the time you're done you're exactly an octave higher than you began. Then to cap off the work there's a trio sonata, for violin, basso continuo (usually realized by harpsichord plus cello or viola da gamba), and of course, flute, for the king to play.

It's not known how well Frederick the Great received this masterpiece. He may not have appreciated its complexity. Some of the canons are written as "riddles" - only one melodic line is given, and you have to figure out from instructions in Latin how the parts go together. That's actually what "canon" means, by the way. It originally referred to a rule or law (as it does in the sense of an ecclesiastical code) that tells you how to put a piece of music together, rather than to the piece itself. At least maybe he got something out of the the trio sonata, which is written pretty straightforwardly. The Royal Theme appears in it, too, but only every now and then.

The Basque-born Carlos Salzedo was a pioneer of the harp, much like Wanda Landowska, from yesterday's edition, was of the harpsichord. The difference is that Landowska was reviving an instrument that had long fallen into disuse, whereas Salzedo was exploring the possibilities of an instrument - the double-action pedal concert harp - whose construction was only just being perfected by the time of his birth in 1885. Aside from the sundry playing techniques that are a part of most harpists' repertoire, Salzedo invented many of his own extended techniques, which he gave exotic names such as "falling hail effects," "thunder effects," the "xyloflux," "xylharmonic sounds," "xylophonic sounds," "timpanic sounds," "fluidic sounds," "esoteric sounds," etc....


  1. Barraque is yet another serialist who has escaped my attention. I love the discipline, but I don't have the theory know how to compose it myself. Aurally I can usually pick up on it. Every now and then I try to improvise 12 tone rows using a simple, "only play a note that you have not yet played" structure. The result sounds like an alzheimer's patient looking for their keys. (Get the pun?)

  2. Yeah Barraqué is pretty under-the-radar in general. The theory on 12-tone music is immense, and seems to be continually expanding. I haven't kept up with it in years, and honestly, have no desire to! You have issues such as derived rows (originating with Webern - a segment from the original row is used to generate a new row) and combinatoriality (originating with Schoenberg - 2 rows of the same class are combined so that beginning of the 2nd row doesn't repeat pitches from the end of the 1st row). But it goes on from there. If you're really serious about it, some good places to start are George Perle's Serial Composition and Atonality: An Introduction to the Music of Schoenberg, Berg, and Webern and Robert Morris's Class Notes for Atonal Music Theory, from Frog Peak Press. Reginald Smith Brindle also wrote a more basic introduction to the subject. And a great little introduction to total serialism is Simple Composition by Charles Wuorinen.

  3. Yeah, first I'd have to learn regular diatonic theory. I have only taken a single Theory 1 class. It took me 2 hours to complete a page of homework. I wound up getting an A, but I think that that was because the teacher was impressed with how hard I worked. I still can barely read music. As much as I love the logic of tonality I don't see myself studying it any time soon. Sticking to rock. :-D

  4. Probably a wise choice! Rule No. 1 in music is make sure you're having a good time! And the literature on diatonic/tonal theory is far more vast than it is for atonal theory, of course. I never could manage to do a Schenckerian analysis worth a damn...

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