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Classics in The Parlor, Part 1

 





Overture To "Egmont"

ca. 1900


Music by: Ludwig Van Beethoven
Lyrics by: piano solo
Cover artist: Unknown

 

As with most classical concerts, we will begin with a large scale overture, and perhaps one that is the most pianistically demanding work this month , a Beethoven overture. Of course, this work was originally scored for a full orchestra so is a musically dense piece. To reduce it to a piano score requires great skill and to play it requires an almost prodigious professional talent. Amazingly, if you are familiar with this work, you will see that the piano version is very much true to the orchestral work. Of course Beethoven wrote some of the greatest music in history so as you would expect, this is an incredible masterwork. . Beethoven's Egmont Overture, Op. 84, depicts the Dutch nobleman Egmont and his struggle against the Spanish repression of his countrymen. Because he could not support either side without sacrificing his moral convictions, he was captured as a traitor and beheaded.


In most cases, Beethoven's overtures are mostly for operas. In this case, the overture (and some additional music) was written as incidental music for a play of the same name by Goethe which premiered in 1810. Unfortunately, Beethoven did not have the music ready for the premiere and it was not till the fourth performance on June 15, 1810, in the Court Theater in the Hofburg, Vienna, that this imposing music was heard for the first time. Though not a particularly long work for orchestra, it is a challenge for piano as it requires a great deal of energy to play. Sit back and enjoy it, it runs for over six minutes but is well worth it!

 

Ludwig van Beethoven ( born Bonn, Germany 1770- died, Vienna, Austria 1827), the second-oldest child of a court musician and tenor singer; Johann van Beethoven. Ludwig's father trained him with the ambition of showcasing him as a child prodigy. Ludwig gave his first public performance as a pianist when he was eight years old. By eleven he had received training in piano performance and composition from Christian Neefe, organist and court musician in Bonn. He was employed in the early years as a court musician and actually studied under Mozart for a short period.

 

In 1792 he moved to Vienna and studied with Haydn, Albrechtsberger, Schenck and Salieri. By 1795 he had earned a name for himself as an accomplished pianist and was admired for his brilliant playing. The nobility took notice and provided Beethoven their patronage. Beethoven was acutely interested in the development of the piano as much of what he conceived to compose went beyond the capability of current instruments. He kept close contact with the leading piano building firms in Vienna and London and helped pave the way for the modern concert grand piano.

 

Around the year 1798 Beethoven noticed that he was suffering from a hearing disorder. He withdrew into increasing seclusion for the public and from his few friends and was eventually left completely deaf. By 1820 he was able to communicate with visitors and trusted friends only in writing, availing himself of "conversation notebooks".

 

In his final years his life was complicated severe illness and by the struggle over the guardianship of his nephew Karl, and his efforts to shape the boy in his own image. Beethoven died March 26, 1827, and it was said that about thirty thousand mourners were present at the funeral procession.


Enjoy this Beethoven overture now (SCORCH format)

listen to MIDI version


 


Hope In The Lord

1877


Music by: Georg Frideric Handel, arr Mason
Lyrics by: Wm. Mason, Psalms
Cover artist: unknown

 

A common practice during the late 19th century (and today in some cases) was to take a popular classical melody and set words to it or arrange it for another setting. We have seen many examples of that such as the transcription of the melody from Tchaikovsky's piano concerto into a popular song.


One of the most sublime and beautiful melodies from the classics is one of the musical themes from Handel's opera Xerxes, first performed in 1738. The Italian word largo, broad and wide as much as it is slow, is often associated with the opening aria from Xerxes. The aria, specifically titled Ombra Mai Fu is sung by the Emperor Xerxes in praise of a plane-tree, to the amusement of hidden onlookers, has been subject to much arrangement and although marked by Handel as larghetto is well known as Handel's Largo. The melody is still loved and heard often. The arranger, William Mason has taken the theme and arranged it to accompany the 31st Psalm. This work would have been much less taxing on the pianist and I am sure, it found much popularity in the home, especially on Sundays.

 

Georg Frideric Handel (born Halle, Germany, 23 February 1685; died London, 14 April 1759). He was the son of a barber-surgeon who intended him to be a lawyer. He was much more interested in music and though he tried to study law, he practiced music clandestinely. He eventually dropped out of law school and he became a pupil of Zachow, the principal organist in Halle. When he was 17 he was appointed organist of the Calvinist Cathedral, but a year later he left for Hamburg. There he played the violin and harpsichord in the opera house, where his operas Almira and Nero were performed in 1705. The next year he accepted an invitation to Italy, where he spent more than three years, in Florence, Rome, Naples and Venice. He had operas or other dramatic works given in all these cities including the oratorio La resurrezione in Rome.

 

He left Italy early in 1710 and went to Hanover, where he was appointed Kapellmeister. But he left almost immediately to go to London, where his opera Rinaldo was produced in 1711. Four more operas followed in 1712-15, with mixed success; he also wrote music for the church and for court and was awarded a royal pension. It was in 1717 that he wrote the famed Water Music to serenade George I at a river-party on the Thames. In 1717 he entered the service of the Earl of Carnarvon.

 

Opera remained his central interest, and he continued to write and produce operas and oratorios. Later Handel moved between Italian opera and English oratorio. After a journey to Dublin in 1741, where Messiah had its premiere (in aid of charities), he put opera behind him and for most of the remainder of his life gave oratorio performances, mostly at the new Covent Garden theater, usually at or close to the Lent season. Handel died in 1759 and was buried in Westminster Abbey, recognized in England and by many in Germany as the greatest composer of his day.


Listen to this beautiful melody (scorch format only)

Listen to MIDI version


 

Spring Song

1902


Music by: Felix Mendelssohn
Lyrics by: none
Cover artist: Starmer

 

As we have already seen, the majority of "classical" covers were rather plain and nondescript; very businesslike with little artwork. Of course there were exceptions and this cover is one of the nicer classical covers, with artwork by one of the more prolific cover artists of the time. In 1829 Felix Mendelssohn wrote 48 short piano pieces under the collective title Lieder ohne Worte (´Songs without Words´). The strange title reflects Mendelssohn´s conviction that ideas inspired by poetry and emotions can be transformed into music, because music can express feelings which are impossible to put into words.( I happen to agree with him) He composed them for a new but growing market: amateur pianists who wanted music that was of good quality, yet not too difficult to perform. Among the pieces are several that became quite popular and the Spring Song is arguably the most popular. Regardless of the idea that the music was not too difficult, this piece and many others in the group demand quite a bit of pianistic ability to play them. You will see that this one requires a great deal of dexterity and skill that in my opinion, certainly demands a well versed amateur. Most of you will immediately recognize the melody.

 

Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (born Hamburg, 3 February 1809; died Leipzig, 4 November 1847). Born into a prominent family in Berlin, he grew up in a privileged environment (the family converted from Judaism to Christianity in 1816, taking the additional name 'Bartholdy'). He studied the piano with Ludwig Berger and theory and composition with Zelter, producing his first piece in 1820; thereafter, a profusion of sonatas, concertos, string symphonies, and piano quartets revealed his increasing mastery of counterpoint and form.

 

A period of travel and concert-giving introduced Mendelssohn to England, Scotland (1829) and Italy (1830-31); after return visits to Paris (1831) and London (1832, 1833) he took up a conducting post at Düsseldorf (1833-5), concentrating on Handel's oratorios. During this period he composed a number of excellent works that reflected the influence of his travels.

 

With its emphasis on clarity and adherence to classical ideals, Mendelssohn's music shows alike the influences of Bach (fugal technique), Handel (rhythms, harmonic progressions), Mozart (dramatic characterization, forms, textures) and Beethoven (instrumental technique), though from 1825 he developed a characteristic style of his own.

 

Mendelssohn found inspiration in art, nature and history for his orchestral music. The energy, clarity and tunefulness of the Italian have made it his most popular symphony. In his best overtures, essentially one-movement symphonic poems, the sea appears as a recurring image, from Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage and The Hebrides to The Lovely Melusine. Less dependent on programmatic elements and at the same time formally innovatory, the concertos, notably that for violin, and the chamber music, especially some of the string quartets, the Octet and the two late piano trios, beautifully reconcile classical principles with personal feeling; these are among his most striking compositions. Of the solo instrumental works, the partly lyric, partly virtuoso Lieder ohne Worte for piano are elegantly written and often touching.

 


Hear this lilting song without words(scorch format)

listen to MIDI version


 

Wedding March

1907


Music by: Felix Mendelssohn
Lyrics by: none
Cover artist: Frew

 

Another of Mendelssohn's "blockbuster" pieces was and continues to be his celebrated Wedding March. Of course just about every bride and groom in the universe have walked down the aisle after their marriage to this familiar melody but most have never heard the entire piece. Fewer still know the origins of the work and who wrote it. The work comes from Mendelssohn's incidental music to the Shakespeare play Midsummer Night's Dream (1843). The fashion for playing the Wedding March recessional at weddings originates from a performance of this piece at the wedding of the English Royal Princess after Mendelssohn's death in 1858.

 

The idea for the work began as early as 1826. When Mendelssohn was still living at his parents' home in Berlin he composed an Overture to Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. He and his sister Fanny had loved the play since their earliest childhood. Seventeen years later, the Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm IV commissioned incidental music to Shakespeare's comedy from the composer. After the premiere in 1843, Fanny noted in a letter to their sister Rebecka after the premiere of the entire incidental music in October 1843:

"Yesterday we were thinking about how the Midsummer Night's Dream has always been such an inseparable part of our household, how we read all the different roles at various ages, from Peaseblossom to Hermia and Helena… We have really grown up together with the Midsummer Night's Dream, and Felix, in particular, has made it his own."
Today, the Overture to A Midsummer Night's Dream remains one of Mendelssohn's most popular works, whereas the Incidental Music Op. 61 is rarely performed in its entirety. For those of you who may not know it, the famous "here comes the bride" theme is also from a larger classical work; Wagner's opera, Lohengrin.

 


Hear this eternally beautiful march (scorch)

Listen to MIDI version


 



Invitation To The Dance

1899


Music by: Carl Maria Von Weber
Lyrics by: None
Cover artist: unknown

 

Though Weber is best known for his operatic and chamber works, his piano music is nothing to be ignored. Composed in 1819, Aufforderung zum Tanz (Invitation to the Dance) is Weber's most famous work for piano. The work is a charming program piece that follows the progress of an invitation to dance, as a young man escorts his partner to the dance-floor and engages in polite conversation and at the end of the dance, takes courteous leave of her. The work was scored for orchestra by Berlioz in 1841 and since, has become more widely known in its orchestral form. In spite of that, it is more a bravura piano work in Weber's most elegant manner. As a member of a local orchestra, we often played the orchestral version and it was always well received. A 1956 film starring Gene Kelly used this same title but was unrelated to the music.

 

Carl Maria Von Weber (born Eutin 18 November 1786; died London, 5 June 1826). Carl Maria von Weber, was a cousin of Mozart's wife Constanze. As the son of a versatile musician who had founded his own traveling theater company, Weber was trained as a musician from his childhood, . He made a favorable impression as a pianist and then as a music director, notably in the opera-houses of Prague and Dresden. Here he introduced various reforms and was a pioneer in the art of conducting without the use of violin or keyboard instrument. As a composer he won a lasting reputation with the first important Romantic German opera, Der Freischütz.


He studied in Salzburg, Munich and Vienna with musical luminaries of the day. He became Kapellmeister at Breslau in 1804. With help from Franz Danzi, and other prominent musicians and with concert and operatic successes in Munich under his belt in Prague and Berlin, he settled down as opera director in Prague (1813-16). There he reorganized the theater's operations and built up the core of a German company, concentrating on works, mostly French, that offered an example for the development of a German operatic tradition. But his innovations in scenery, lighting, orchestral seating, rehearsal schedules and salaries led to resentment. Not until his appointment as Royal Saxon Kapellmeister at Dresden (1817) and the triumph of Der Freischütz (1821) in Berlin and throughout Germany did his goal of a true German opera win popular support. His rapidly deteriorating health dictated otherwise but his desire to provide for his family forced him to accept the invitation to write an English opera for London; he produced Oberon at Covent Garden in April 1826. Despite an enthusiastic English reception and every care for his health, this last effort sapped his energy and he died from tuberculosis, at 39.

 

Weber's Romantic ideals can be seen in the emotional tone of his music and its relevance to German nationalism. He often referenced nature, literary and pictorial impressions. Weber also was an active music critic and continued to perform as a virtuoso pianist. It is his contribution to the development of opera though that has given him lasting fame.

 

Enjoy this great Von Weber piece (scorch)

Listen to MIDI version


 


Ave Maria

ca. 1900


Music by: Pietro Mascagni
Lyrics by: P. Mazzoni
Cover artist: unknown

 

The Mascagni opera Cavalleria Rusticana premiered on May 17, 1890 at the Teatro Costanzi, Rome. This opera is an example of verismo, operatic realism. Verismo is Italian for ``realism,'' and is a term applied to operas about real life. They're also operas about the more mundane side of life, perhaps even the worst life has to offer. Instead of the captains, kings, heroes and gods of operas from Monteverdi to Giuseppe Verdi, verismo operas often concern peasants, con men and itinerant actors and their dirty, petty lives.


The opera deals with a tale of love and jealousy in a Sicilian village, the drama ending in the death of Turiddu, the young Santuzza's faithless lover, whom she betrays to a man whom he has deceived. The Ave Maria, began, not as a song but as an interlude in the opera. The melody was so touching and memorable that it became a stand alone popular work and one that surely evokes the verismo emotion.

 

Pietro Mascagni (born Livorno, 7 December 1863, died, Rome, 2 August 1945.) is one of the most important Italian composers of the turn of the century primarily based on his contribution to verismo. The formidable success of his first masterpiece in 1890, Cavalleria Rusticana, unfortunately eluded many of his following works and as a result, his reputation is almost entirely based on this one work.

 

The son of a baker who wanted Pietro to follow in his footsteps, Pietro's life was changed by an uncle who helped him receive music lessons. He studied in Livorno and Milan where he was admitted to the conservatory in 1882. He was dismissed for "lack of application" in 1884 and thereafter made a meager living as a bassist at the Theatro dal Verme. Later, he toured with several third rate opera companies as conductor. He married and settled down as a music teacher in Cerignola where he also began composing. His first opera, Pinotta was set aside and misplaced by him for 50 years. In 1888 there was a contest for one act operas which he considered entering but failed to do so. However, behind his back, his wife submitted his score for Cavalleria Rusticana which he had composed several years earlier, and it won. The opera was enthusiastically received and virtually overnight, Mascagni was a star. In less than a year he became world famous.

 

Mascagni never again meet the standard he had set with Cavalleria. Though it would not be fair to call his later works failures, audience expectation was so high that none of his later works ever met with much success. His later years were spent conducting and touring. In 1929 he assumed the duties as conductor at La Scala when Toscanini departed in protest against the Fascist regime. As a result Mascagni's name became increasingly associated with the regime of Mussolini which did nothing to help his reputation. In 1940 he made one last tour of Cavalleria and enjoyed his last taste of public adulation. He died in a shabby hotel in Rome in 1945, discredited and disillusioned..

 


Listen to this touching song (scorch format only)

Listen to MIDI version


 

 

See our resources page for a complete listing of all resources used to research this and other articles in our series.

 


WAIT! There are more Parlor Classics masterpieces to see and hear. The second part of this issue features more rare and different works.

More classical music and covers in this month's issue, go to part B.



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