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Classics In The Parlor, Part 2

 




Flower Song from Faust

1902

 

Music by: Charles Gounod, arr. Engelmann
Lyrics by: Harris
Cover artist: Starmer

 

Arias and excerpts from opera's were quite popular during this period and one of the more popular songs to come from an opera was the Flower Song and the Jewel Song from Gounod's Faust. Faust was based on a poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), the same writer whose work upon which Beethoven's Egmont was based. Goethe wrote the work in two parts, one in 1808 (though he worked on it for almost 20 years before its final publication.) and the other in 1833. An epic work, it is based on the old legend of the scholar who makes a pact with the devil Mephistopheles: his Faust seeks not power through knowledge but access to transcendent knowledge denied to the human mind. Faust seduces Margarete, an innocent young girl who embodies for him the transcendent ideal that he seeks; she is condemned to death for killing their infant, but at the last moment, as Faust and Mephistopheles abandon her in prison, a voice from above declares that she is saved.

 

It is much more complex than that and suffice it to say that many composers over the years have written operas based on the Faust legend. However, it is the love story of Margarete, that had captured the imagination of a majority of composers and Gonoud was no exception. However, Gounod took the story and made it a much more human tale. He used his great lyrical skill and defined the characters in a way that departed from previous models. Premiering in 1859, Faust established Gounod as a composer of note and opened many doors for him. The work continues to be performed and the arias, including the Flower Song are still often performed and recorded.


Charles François Gounod ( b. Paris, 1818 - d. Paris, 1893) was the son of a talented painter who had won some acclaim but died when Gounod was four. Gounod's mother was a pianist who gave young Charles his early musical education. He learned classical studies at the Lycée St. Louis and studied music under Anton Reicha when in 1836 he entered the prestigious Paris Conservatoire. There he received instruction from some of the greatest musicians of the times. Gounod won the coveted Prix de Rome three years later. In 1839, he traveled to Rome where he was deeply impressed by the polyphonic music he heard sung in the Sistine Chapel.. He then began a serious study of 16th century sacred music. It was in the area of liturgical music that Gounod excelled throughout his life. Arguably, his greatest work is the Messe solennelle de Saint Cècile, first performed in 1855. Considered a masterpiece, it established his successful style of ornate and elaborate work that was in contrast to his earlier, more austere work.

 

In 1842 he traveled to Vienna and then on to Berlin where he was exposed to the music of the area and also received a commission to compose two masses. His experience there made him unique among French composers in that he had a deep knowledge of music, past and present that went beyond the current French traditions and operatic style. Gounod returned to Paris in 1843 to accept his first position as organist at the Missions Etrangères and soon was at odds with a congregation who disliked his steady diet of Bach and 16th century music. Gounod seemed to understand that opera was a key to success for a French composer. As such, he turned to composing opera and his first, Sapho premièred in 1851. Unfortunately, in spite of compliments from renowned composers such as Berlioz, it was a failure. He followed Sapho with several other works that fared no better.

 

Thereafter followed a period of opera production where Gounod met with much better success than he had earlier. Gounod produced Le Medecin malgré lui in 1858 and then Philémon in 1860. These successes, combined with Faust in 1859, earned Gounod a place as perhaps the most acclaimed composer in France. Like Mascagni (see Ave Maria on page one of this feature) Gounod was to spend the rest of his life in pursuit of an opera as well received as Faust . Though he produced many more, none enjoyed the popularity of Faust .

 

In the last years of his life, Gounod returned to religious music. He became very successful in England and as such, he had a strong influence on choral music there. It was Gounod's belief that France was a country of

"precision, neatness and taste, that is to say, the opposite of excess, pretentiousness, disproportion and longwindedness"

It is in this sense, a master of a refined and precisely restricted style, that he is now regarded.

 

Enjoy this famous opera song now (SCORCH format)

listen to MIDI version


 

As Thro' The Street, from La Bohemé

1907

 

Music by: Giacomo Puccini
Lyrics by: Giuseppe Giacosa / Puccini
Cover artist: unknown

 

One cannot speak of popular opera in the late 19th century without speaking of Puccini, and his masterwork, La Bohemé, one of operas "greatest hits." La Bohemé was first presented at Turin in February of 1896 under the direction of Toscanini. It was not immediately successful as the audience were expecting a work more like Puccini's earlier romantic tragedies. Though romantic, and a tragedy, La Bohemé was more lighthearted and sentimental and relied more on conversational scenes that was more like operetta. In addition, his music took on a more impressionistic feature that used some startling modern harmonics that the audience found uncomfortable. Today, it is considered by many to be Puccini's masterpiece and is certainly performed regularly. Of late it has been used as the basis for a rather common Broadway production which in my opinion is an insult to Puccini's genius.

 

This aria is one you will immediately recognize as it has been popularized and recorded as a popular song Don't You Know that was recorded by Della Reese on RCA in 1959. Also known as Musetta's Waltz, it is a warm and lovely melody that stays with you. The lyrics are quite humorous (at least to me) and you should be sure you have obtained your Scorch plug-in to fully enjoy this song.

 

Giacomo Antonio Domenico Michele Secondo Maria Puccini, (b. Lucca, Italy, 22 Dec. 1858 d. Brussels, Belgium, 29 Nov. 1924 ) After studying music with his uncle, Fortunato Magi, and with the director of the Istituto Musicale Pacini, Carlo Angeloni, he started his career at the age of 14 as an organist at St. Martino and St. Michele, Lucca, and at other local churches. However, a performance of Verdi's Aida at Pisa in 1876 made such an impact on him that he decided to focus on operatic composition. With a scholarship and financial support from an uncle, he was able to enter the Milan Conservatory in 1880. While still a student, Puccini entered a competition for a one-act opera announced in 1882 by the publishing firm of Sonzogno. He and his librettist (the one who writes the words to an opera), Ferdinando Fontana, failed to win, but their opera Le villi came to the attention of the publisher Giulio Ricordi, who arranged a successful production at a theater in Milan and commissioned a second opera. Fontana's libretto, Edgar, was seemed to conflict with Puccini's dramatic tendencies and the opera was not well received when performed at La Scala in April 1889. It did, however, establish Puccini's lifelong association with the publisher Ricordi.

 

The first opera for which Puccini himself chose the subject was Manon Lescaut. Produced at Turin in 1893, it achieved a success such as Puccini was never to repeat and made him well known outside Italy. Among the writers who worked on its libretto were Luigi IlIica and Giuseppe Giacosa, who provided the librettos for Puccini's next three operas. Though the next opera La Bohemé was not an immediate success, Tosca, Puccini's first verismo opera, was more enthusiastically received by the audience at the Teatro Costanzi in 1900. Later that year Puccini visited London and saw David Belasco's one-act play Madam Butterfly. This he took as the basis for his next opera which he personally considered the best opera he had written. He was unprepared for the fiasco attending its first performance in February 1904, when the La Scala audience was urged into hostility by the composer's jealous rivals. Later performances established it as another lasting popular work.

 

In his early 60s Puccini was determined to 'strike out on new paths' and started work on Turandot, based on a play which was based on a fantastic, fairy-tale atmosphere, but flesh-and-blood characters. During its composition he moved to Viareggio and in 1923 developed cancer of the throat. Treatment at a Brussels clinic seemed successful, but his heart could not stand the strain and he died, leaving Turandot unfinished. It was later completed by Franco Alfano and it is that version that is most often performed today. On his death, Italy went into mourning and two years later his remains were interred at his house at Torre del Lago which, after his wife's death in 1930, was turned into a museum.

 

Puccini's choral, orchestral and instrumental works, dating mainly from his early years, are mostly considered as unimportant, though the Mass in A-flat (1880) is still performed occasionally. His operas are full of erotic passion, sensuality, tenderness, sadness and despair. His melodic gift and harmonic sensibility, his skill in orchestration and sense of theater combined to create a style that was original and is still unique after a century of performance.

 

Hear this great aria(scorch format)

listen to MIDI version

 



La Traviata - Prelude to Act 1

1890

Music by: Giuseppe Verdi
Lyrics by: none
Cover artist: unknown

 

It has been said that Giuseppe Verdi had a gift for melody that communicates emotion. That may be opinion, however, one fact remains, several of Verdi's operas have remained in the international repertory in a sustained way unmatched by any composer other than Mozart or Wagner. La Traviata, was written in 1853, during what Verdi called his " years in the galley." During this period, he produced no less than 14 operas.

 

La Traviata (The Wayward Woman) had its first performance at the Teatro la Fenice, Venice, 6 March 1853. Based on a Dumas story that was loosely based on personal experience, La Traviata is a sad tale of love and misunderstood intentions that ends in death and remorse. A not untypical Italian opera theme of the times. The opera is full of wonderful melodies and often has that lilting Italian operatic sound that enthralls an audience. This prelude is in that style. The works starts with an Adagio (slow) introduction and then bursts into a good humored and rhythmically difficult section that builds to the ending. The rhythm at one point is so complex that the score actually provides a simplified version for pianists who cannot deal with it. A relatively short piece, it is a fun and invigorating example of Verdi's skill.

 

Giuseppe Fortunino Francesco Verdi, ( b. Le Roncole, Italy, 1813 d. Milan, Italy, 1901 ) was born into a family of small landowners and taverners. When he was seven he was helping the local church organist; at 12 he was studying with the organist at the main church in nearby Busseto, and became assistant in 1829. In 1832 he was sent to Milan, but was refused enrollment at the conservatory and instead studied with Vincenzo Lavigna, composer and former La Scala musician. He might have taken a post as organist at Monza in 1835, but returned to Busseto where he was passed over as maestro di cappella but became town music master in 1836.

 

Verdi had begun an opera, and tried to arrange a performance in Parma or Milan; he was unsuccessful but had some songs published and decided to settle in Milan in 1839 where his Oberto was accepted at La Scala and further operas commissioned. It was well received but his next, Un giorno DI regno, failed. Verdi nearly gave up, but was inspired by the libretto of Nabucco and in 1842 saw its successful production, which launched his reputation as a master composer of opera. It was followed by another opera with similar political overtones, I lombardi alla prima crociata, which was also well received. Verdi's gift for stirring melody and tragic and heroic situations struck a chord in an Italy struggling for freedom and unity.

 

The period Verdi later called his 'years in the galleys' now began, with a long and demanding series of operas to compose and (usually) direct, in the main Italian centres and abroad: they include Ernani, Macbeth, Luisa Miller and several others in Paris and London as well as Rome, Milan, Naples, Venice, Florence and Trieste. Features of these works include strongly tragic stories, an orchestral style that gradually grew fuller and richer, forceful vocal writing including broad lines and above all a determination to convey the full force of the drama.

 

In 1853 he went to Paris, to prepare Les vêpres siciliennes for the opera, where it was given in 1855 with modest success. Verdi remained there for a time to defend his rights in face of the misuse of his works and to deal with translations of some of his operas. His next opera was the sombre Simon Boccanegra, a drama about love and politics in medieval Genoa, given in Venice. Plans for UN ballo in maschera, about the assassination of a Swedish king, in Naples were called off because of the censors and it was given instead in Rome (1859). Verdi was involved in political activity at this time, as representative of Busseto in the provincial parliament and then later he was elected to the national parliament, and ultimately he was a senator. In 1862 La forza del destino had its premiere at St. Petersburg.

 

Verdi returned to Italy, to live at Genoa. In 1870 he began work on Aida, given at the Cairo Opera House at the end of 1871 to mark the opening of the Suez Canal . By this time, Verdi had tired of opera and composed a few other works in different genres. Most notable among them were his string quartet and the Requiem in honor of the poet Manzoni. In 1879 the composer-poet Boito and the publisher Ricordi convinced Verdi to write another opera, Otello. Verdi agreed and completed it in 1886. In 1888 he began work on another Shakespeare based work, Falstaff, his first comedy since the beginning of his career, it was completed in 1893. Verdi spent his last years in Milan, a charitable man, much revered and honored.

 

Listen to this fascinating prelude (scorch format only)

Listen to MIDI version


 

Menuet

1902

Music by: Ignace Paderewski
Lyrics by: none
Cover artist: unknown

 

Paderewski's celebrated Minuet is a piece which has always been loved by amateur and professional pianists alike. It is a delicate yet virtuosic work that has a charm that few works attain. It's popularity reached into the White House in the late 1940's with Harry Truman. President Truman's mother, Martha Young Truman, saw that her son Harry had musical talent so she sent him to get professional piano lessons with a woman named Mrs. Edwin C. White. Everyone in his family thought that Harry would become a concert pianist, including Harry. Mrs. White had been a student of the great Polish pianist and composer, Ignacy Jan Paderewski . When Paderewski was having a concert in their town, Harry's teacher brought him to the concert and introduced the young boy to Paderewski, who showed Truman how to play his own famous composition, Minuet in G. Years later, President Truman played the Minuet for his mother in the White House. This work was often performed by Liberace and has also been transcribed for other instruments including a version for violin by the great Fritz Kreisler. The work is often fondly remembered (or not) by piano students.

 

Ignacy Jan Paderewski, Pol. nyäsyän päderefsk , ( b. Kurylowka, Poland 1860 - d. New York, 1941)

Paderewski was born in the village of Kurylowka, Padolia a former province of Poland. His father was the administrator of several large estates and was a cultured man with a great love of music. Paderewski's mother died soon after his birth and his father (a member of the minor nobility) was sent to prison as a result of the revolution and Paderewski and his sister were placed in the care of an aunt. A year or so later Paderewski's father was released but as the estates had been confiscated the family moved to Sandylkow. Paderewski showed a great deal of talent and his family fostered that interest at first with home schooling and tutors, then from 1872 at the Music Institute in Warsaw. At the age of twelve he performed in a charity concert with his sister and played solos at local venues. At this time his show piece was to play with a towel stretched above his hands so that he could not see the keyboard and this delighted his audiences.

 

Between 1881 and 83, Paderewski left Warsaw to study composition in Berlin. It was there he met Hugo Bock and Moritz Moszkowski who encouraged him to publish several of his works. During his time in Berlin, Paderewski became acquainted with a number of very prominent musicians of the period including Richard Strauss, Anton Rubinsten, Joachim and Sarasate. His growing reputation resulted in a concert in Krakow in 1884 and the proceeds from that allowed him to go to Vienna to further his studies. It was there that his teacher, Leschetizky expressed doubt as to Paderewski's ability to become a pianist due to many "deep rooted technical faults" and advised him to give up the idea of a career as a pianist. Paderewsky took this as a challenge and studied intensely so that later Leschetizky took him back into his classes. Later his brilliant, sensitive playing would win him worldwide popularity exceeding that of any performer since Franz Liszt.

 

Leschetizky arranged for him to appear at an important concert with the famous soprano Pauline Lucca. Encouraged by the success of this concert he returned to Paris and made his debut in the Salle Erard in 1888. The audience included Tschaikovsky, Colonne and Lamoureux. The concert was so well received that he played for an hour after the end of the announced program. After a second successful recital he returned to Vienna for another resounding success and in the same year completed the score of his Piano Concerto. He then settled in Paris where he made many friends and gave many successful concerts.

 

In 1891 Paderewski undertook a very strenuous but successful tour of America where he played to audiences of as many as 16,000 at a time. Whilst playing the 'Appassonata' (sonata, Beethoven) in New York he tore some of the tendons in his right arm and injured one of his fingers. A doctor advised him to stop playing for several months but Paderewski completed his tour although he could only play with three fingers of his right hand and required medical attention before each concert. He returned to England where he had to complete another two concerts before he could rest. His injured finger had become useless and specialists said there was no chance of a complete recovery. Gradually the strength of his right arm returned but the finger remained useless until Paderewski himself devised exercises for it. Eventually the finger became mobile but it was always much weaker than the others.

 

An ardent patriot, he briefly headed Polish governments in 1919 and 1940-41 (the latter in exile). He amassed a large fortune, most of which he donated to the service of Poland and the benefit of needy musicians and Jewish refugees. Paderewski died shortly after returning to the United States to plead Poland's cause once again. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery until 1992, when his body was returned to Poland. In addition to the famous Minuet in G for piano, his works include some orchestral music, an opera, a cantata, a violin sonata, and piano pieces and songs. In 1900 he established the Paderewski Fund to promote musical composition in the United States.

 

Paderewski's composition brought him great joy and he believed that creative work - in any form - could bring total satisfaction. Though his output was not particularly prolific, it is nonetheless noteworthy for its craftsmanship and integrity, especially his works for piano. Those works, especially the concerto, Fantasie Polonaise and miniatures, have been cited as representing the best traditions of Romantic virtuosity and they continue to be retained in the modern concert repertory.

 

Hear this great menuet (scorch)

Listen to MIDI version



Roses From The South

1880

Music by: Johann Strauss, Jr.
Lyrics by: none
Cover artist: unknown

Our penultimate offering for this feature is one of the world's greatest and well known Viennese waltzes from the family Strauss, Roses From The South. This waltz, alongside The Blue Danube, represent the pinnacle of the Viennese waltz style introduced by Johann Strauss senior and developed by Johann Strauss, Jr. during the 19th century. This work was published in 1880, the 388th published by Strauss of a total output that exceeded nearly 500 works, most of which were dances (waltzes, quadrilles, polkas). The work was originally included in one of Strauss' stage works, Das Spitzentuch der Königen, a three act operetta performed in Vienna at the theater an der Wien. A quite long work, with many memorable melodies, it goes on for nearly eight minutes without the repeats observed. It represents quite a workout for the pianist and is rarely heard in this form, more often played in its orchestral form. Our scorch version includes the marked repeats, the midi does not. Sit back, and enjoy one of the greatest works of Viennese waltz ever composed..

 

Johann Baptist Strauss, ii, was the most famous, prolific and successful of nineteenth-century dance music composers. He was born in Vienna on 25 October 1825. His father, Johann Strauss the "Vater" (1804-49), was by that time well on his way to becoming Europe's king of dance music; indeed, it was only with Strauss senior's untimely death in 1849 that the younger man could advance his own musical standing in his native Vienna. Johann Sr., actually discouraged his son's musical ambitions. Despite these objections, Johann Jr. studied with Joseph Dreschler, and, at age 19, conducted a program which included his own compositions, as well as his father's. From 1841 on, Johann Strauss Jr. was a student of the Polytechnic school. He was not very interested in accounting and was expelled from the school for "misbehavior" two years after he joined the school. No one could help him not even a private teacher. Johann skipped the private lessons and spent all his time studying music. He still took violin lessons from his mother for a year, then he got a permit from the police that allowed him, as a juvenile, to play with an orchestra of 12-15 people in public houses. On October 15th 1844, he performed his first concert in Hietzing. Shortly afterwards his first compositions were published by Mechetti.

 

Strauss established an unrivalled reputation throughout the second half of the 19th century as a composer and composer of light Viennese music. Building upon the firm musical foundations laid by his father and Joseph Lanner (1801-43), Johann II (along with his brothers Josef and Eduard) developed the classical Viennese Waltz to the point where it became as much a feature of the concert hall as the dance floor. With his waltzes, polkas, quadrilles and marches, Johann II stirred the musical soul of Vienna, Europe and America for more than half a century. Strauss wrote some sixteen operettas between 1871 and 1897. Of these the best known is Die Fledermaus (The Bat), characteristic in plot and music of Vienna at its most lighthearted. Other operettas are more familiar from dances derived from them, although Der Zigeunerbaron (The Gypsy Baron) remains second in order of popularity to Die Fledermaus. Dance music by the younger Johann Strauss includes waltzes, polkas, quadrilles, marches and other works. Among these the most familiar remains An der schönen, blauen Donau (The Blue Danube), Op. 314. Strauss, like his father, was extremely prolific as a composer, writing several hundred dances in various forms. Johann continued to write music till the end of his life. He was in the process of writing a ballet (Aschenbroedel) when he was taken ill with a respiratory ailment, developed pnumonia and died on June 3, 1899 at the age of 73.

 

Enjoy this Viennese waltz (scorch)

Listen to MIDI version

 



Selection From William Tell

ca. 1890

Music by: Gioacchino Rossini.
Lyrics by: none
Cover artist: unknown

As with any good concert of classical offerings, we end this one with an encore piece, one that is sure to please, a selection from the famous William Tell Overture for violin and piano. Not only were the music parlors of the past equipped with a piano but often everytone in the family played an instrument. Often, families could get together a nice ensemble among themselves and play together. Ther violin was certainly a common fixture in the music parlor and much music from the popular classics was published for violin and piano for use in the home. This delightful extract from William Tell uses a number of themes from the opera but ends with a rousing extract from the famous overture, the theme most often associated with the Lone Ranger. So, return with us now to those days of yore and enjoy this wonderful piece from Rossini's 1829 opera William Tell.

 

Gioacchino Rossini (1792-1868) Both his parents were musicians, his father a horn player, his mother a singer; he learnedboth from them and as a boy sang in at least one opera in Bologna, where the family lived. He studied there and began his operatic career when, at 18, he wrote a one-act comedy for Venice. Further commissions followed, from Bologna, Ferrara, Venice again and Milan, where La pietra del paragone was a success at La Scala in 1812. This was one of seven operas written in 16 months, all but one of them comic.

 

He continued to be a prolific composer of opera for years and produced nearly forty operas and numerous other vocal works including a great deal of sacred music. His first operas to win international acclaim come from 1813, written for different Venetian theatres: the serious Tancredi and the comic L'italiana in Algeri. Two operas for Milan were less successful. But in 1815 Rossini went to Naples as musical and artistic director of the Teatro San Carlo, which led to a concentration on serious opera. He was allowed to compose for other theatres, and from this time date two of his supreme comedies, written for Rome, Il barbiere di Siviglia and La Cenerentola. The former, is considered the greatest of all Italian comic operas, eternally fresh in its wit and its inventiveness. It dates from 1816; initially it was a failure, but it quickly became the most loved of his comic works, admired alike by Beethoven and Verdi. The next year saw La Cenerentola, a charmingly sentimental tale in which the heroine moves from a touching folksy ditty as the scullery maid to brilliant coloratura apt to a royal maiden.

 

Rossini's most important operas in the period that followed were for Naples. The third act of his Otello (1816), marks his maturity as a musical dramatist. The Neapolitan operas, even though much dependant on solo singing of a highly florid kind, show an enormous growth of musical ability, with more and longer ensembles, more dramatic recitative and the greater orchestral prominence. Rossini also abandoned traditional overtures in these works, probably in order to involve his audiences in the drama from the outset.

 

Among the masterpieces from this period are Maometto II (1820) and Semiramide (1823).By now married, Rossini and his wife returned to Bologna, then in 1823 left for London and Paris where he took on the directorship of the Théâtre-Italien, composing for that theatre and the Paris Opéra. Some of his Paris works are adaptations (Le siège de Corinthe and Moïse et Pharaon); the opéra comique Le Comte Ory is part-new, Guillaume Tell a completely new composition. Widely regarded as his masterpiece, Tell is a very long rich tapestry of his most inspired music, with elaborate orchestration, many ensembles, spectacular ballets and processions in the French tradition, opulent orchestral writing and showing a new harmonic boldness.

 

At 37, he retired from opera composition. He left Paris in 1837 to live in Italy, but suffered prolonged and painful illness there (mainly in Bologna, where he advised at the Liceo Musicale, and in Florence). Isabella died in 1845 and the next year he married Olympe Pélissier, with whom he had lived for 15 years and who tended him through his ill-health. He composed hardly at all during this period (the Stabat mater belongs to his Paris years); but he went back to Paris in 1855, and his health and humour returned, with his urge to compose, and he wrote a quantity of pieces for piano and voices, with wit and refinement that he called Péchés de vieillesse ('Sins of Old Age') including the graceful and economical Petite messe solennelle (1863). He died, universally acclaimed, in 1868.

 

Enjoy this encore now (scorch)

Listen to MIDI version

 


That's it for this month's feature, as always, we hope you have enjoyed the music and learned something from it. Next month we will feature the "greatest hits" of the golden age and explore what makes a song a hit in a unique essay from 1908.

If you would like to return to part A of this month's issue, click here.



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