Wednesday, February 1, 2017

February 2017 - Featured Playlist: A Family Affair

For many composers, music was something that ran in the family. It was a skill and passion passed down from parent to child or shared between siblings, or it was the bond that drew two people together to make a new home. Sometimes that connection reached impressive proportions; at least TEN different members of the Bach family have works in NML, and five members of the Strauss clan produced an enormous volume of light dance music that all sounds exactly the same.

This month’s playlist honors the familial relationships shared between composers. We had mercy on you and left off the Strausses, but even without them we ended up with a double helping of works from musicians for whom composing was A Family Affair.

To hear the playlist, access NML as usual, go to the Playlists section, and select the Playlist of the Month folder under the Themed Playlists tab. If you are on your institution's premises, you may also be able to access it if you CLICK HERE.

1. Rodolfo, Ernesto, and Cristóbal Halffter – Rodolfo and Ernesto Halffter were brothers born at the beginning of the twentieth century to a German father and a Catalan mother, and both were part of a group of Spanish nationalist composers called Grupo de los Ocho, which of course was modeled after composer collectives Les Six (France) and The Five (Russia). Another brother was the father of Cristóbal, born in 1930. All three were natives of Madrid, and they drew influence from such luminary Spanish artists as Manuel de Falla and Salvador Dalí.

2. Richard and Siegfried Wagner – Siegfried Wagner was pretty much attempting the impossible in trying to live up to his father’s legacy as a composer, so despite possessing reasonable talent he is largely forgotten. The Wagners also had family ties to Franz Liszt; Liszt’s daughter Cosima carried on a lengthy affair with Richard Wagner (also married at the time) and had three children by him before eventually divorcing her husband, the conductor Hans von Bülow, to marry Wagner.

3. Josef Suk and Antonín Dvořák – Suk was a composer and violinist who is remembered as one of Dvořák’s favorite students; he had so much favor with Dvořák that he was permitted to marry his teacher’s daughter, Otilie. Suk’s music was primarily cheerful and optimistic until 1904-05, when he lost both his father-in-law and wife within about 14 months. His wife was only 27 at the time.

4. Gian Carlo Menotti and Samuel Barber – Menotti and Barber certainly have to be one of the most honored power couples in classical composer history, with each of them claiming two Pulitzer Prizes apiece. They met while students at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, and they later purchased a home in New York, which they shared for over forty years. They even collaborated on a couple of operas, with Barber composing the music and Menotti writing the libretto.

5. Lili and Nadia Boulanger – Lili Boulanger was one of the most promising composers of her time, but she passed away from Crohn’s disease at only 24 years of age. Her sister Nadia was also a skilled composer, but she felt her talents were best put toward teaching. Indeed, she was a significant figure in music pedagogy, having a profound influence on many of the greatest composers of the twentieth century. The two sisters achieved a large number of firsts for women in music.

6. Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears – Okay, so we’re cheating a little bit with this selection, as Peter Pears was not a composer. However, he was one of the more notable singers of the twentieth century, and his partner Benjamin Britten composed quite a bit of music for him, both for the opera stage and the recital hall. Included here is a spine-tingling performance of one of Britten’s songs, with Pears singing and the composer himself at the piano.

7. Alma Mahler-Werfel and Gustav Mahler – Alma and Gustav Mahler’s marriage was turbulent, with Gustav ordering Alma to stop composing so that she could focus on raising their children. However, when their first daughter died, Alma dealt with depression and had an affair, and after seeking advice from Sigmund Freud, Gustav finally permitted his wife to compose, even helping to edit and promote her songs. They remained married until his death.

8. Norbert and Johann Friedrich Franz Burgmüller – Friedrich Burgmüller was primarily a composer of salon music, most of it for the piano. He lived most of his adult life in Paris, and his younger brother Norbert had intended to join him there. However, Norbert suffered from seizures following a pair of broken engagements, and when he was twenty-six he drowned while having one of these seizures at a spa. Norbert left behind two very promising symphonies (the second of which was completed by Robert Schumann), among other works.

9. Clara and Robert Schumann – Clara and Robert Schumann were two of the most significant musical figures of their day, Robert as a composer and Clara as a pianist. She was the primary breadwinner for the family, and too proud to accept help even after her husband died. They had eight children together, four of which did not outlive her, and she even helped to raise some of her grandchildren. She was a prominent figure in the musical world then, though her excellent compositions were not fully appreciated until after her death.

10. Felix Mendelssohn and Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel – Felix Mendelssohn is remembered as one of the greatest composers of his day, but when he was a child it was his sister Fanny who was regarded as the more gifted. However, due to the ridiculous gender expectations of their day and society, Fanny was largely restricted to parlor performances, and her compositional talent was never really given a chance to achieve its full potential. Still, she produced some of the finest piano and vocal music of her time.

11. Alfred and Thomas Newman – The Newmans are easily the most productive film music family, with nine members of the family gaining prominence as composers or music producers/editors. The family patriarch, Alfred, won nine Academy Awards (out of forty-three nominations) for his film scores, and his son Thomas has picked up fourteen nominations (so far) of his own, including a 2017 nomination for Passengers.

12. Nikolai and Alexander Tcherepnin – Nikolai Tcherepnin was raised by a strict, wealthy father who pushed him to get his law degree, but he went on to earn a second degree in composition under Rimsky-Korsakov. He established a career as a teacher—most notably of Prokofiev—and conductor, and he readily encouraged the musical ambitions of his own son, Alexander. The composing bug continued in the family, as two of Alexander’s sons and two of his grandsons also chose that career.

13. Zhou Long and Chen Yi – Chinese composers Zhou Long and Chen Yi were both forced to halt their musical studies by the Cultural Revolution of 1966, and the influence of the time spent in compulsory labor in the countryside can be heard in their music. Eventually they were able to resume their studies, and they met and married while at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing. Eventually they moved to the U.S., and in 2006 Chen Yi was nominated for a Pulitzer, a prize that was awarded to her husband five years later.

14. Michael and Thomas Augustine Arne – Thomas Arne and his son Michael were both prominent composers of opera in 18th-century England. Two of Thomas’s tunes remain universally known: Rule Britannia and A-Hunting We Will Go. His opera Artaxerxes was a huge hit, earning regular performance into the 1830s and is considered the most popular English opera before the 20th century. Joseph Haydn attended a performance once and declared he had no idea such an impressive opera existed in English.

15. Giuseppe Baldassare and Giovanni Battista Sammartini – One can be forgiven for getting the Sammartini brothers confused; besides having the same initials, they both played the oboe, were prolific composers, and were notable figures in the transition from the Baroque Era to the Classical Era. Giovanni was especially important in the development of the symphony, and his influence can be seen in the work of Joseph Haydn, even in Haydn denied it. He spent most of his career in Italy, while his brother lived and worked in England.

16. Franz Joseph and Michael Haydn – Joseph Haydn’s musical career began as a boy soprano, and his choirmaster was so captivated by his tone that he told his father he would accept any of his sons to his program. Younger brother Michael benefited from this, and once Joseph’s voice broke and Michael was able to step more into the spotlight, he was sometimes considered the better singer. The two remained close friends throughout their lives, and Joseph even considered his brother’s religious works to be better than his own.

17. Leopold, Wolfgang Amadeus, and Franz Xaver Mozart – W.A. Mozart, of course, is among the greatest composers to ever live, but his father Leopold and son Franz Xaver also composed. Leopold is better known, as his parenting—at times worshipful, and at other times demanding—was a major part of his son’s biography. He largely gave up composing after his son’s career began. Franz Xaver showed skill as a composer as well, but his output was minimal, and he no doubt felt lost in the shadow of a father who died when he was only five months old.

18. Johann Sebastian, Carl Philipp Emanuel, and Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach – No less than TEN members of the Bach family were considered for this playlist, all gifted composers. Johann Sebastian was of course THE Bach, but his son C.P.E. remains a respected figure from the late Baroque and early Classical Era. Included alongside them in this playlist is one of C.P.E.’s brothers, Johann Christoph Friedrich, a talent in his own right; sadly, many of his manuscripts fell victim to air raids in Berlin during WWII.

19. François and Armand-Louis Couperin – The Couperins were one of the best-known musical families of their day, with François earning the nickname Couperin le Grand and a reputation as one of the great composers of the Baroque Era. His cousin Armand-Louis is primarily remembered for his keyboard music and improvisational virtuosity, and he fittingly married the daughter of the greatest harpsichord maker in France in that day.

Each month, Naxos Music Library presents a themed playlist for our subscribers to enjoy. We know that a database of over 1.9 million tracks can be a bit daunting, so we'd like to highlight some of the amazing music that is available to you. Let it kickstart discovery! 

No comments:

Post a Comment