Ottorino Respighi

Ottorino Respighi (9 July 1879 – 18 April 1936) was an Italian violinist, composer and musicologist, best known for his three orchestral tone poems Fountains of Rome (1916), Pines of Rome (1924), and Roman Festivals (1928). His musicological interest in 16th-, 17th- and 18th-century music led him to compose pieces based on the music of these periods. He also wrote several operas, the most famous being La fiamma.

Respighi’s Career

Composer full Name: Ottorino Respighi
Date of Birth: 09 July 1879
Date of Death: 18 April 1936
Nationality: Italian
Period/Era/Style: 20th century, impressionism
Biography: Early life: Ottorino Respighi was born on 9 July 1879 in an apartment inside Palazzo Fantuzzi on Via Guido Reni in Bologna, Italy, into a musical family. His father, a local piano teacher, encouraged his son’s musical inclinations and taught him basic piano and violin at an early age. Not long into his violin lessons, however, Respighi suddenly quit after his teacher whacked him on the hand with a ruler when he had played a passage incorrectly. He resumed lessons several weeks later with a more patient teacher. His piano skills too, were a hit and miss affair, but his father arrived home one day surprised to find his son reciting Symphonic Studies by Robert Schumannon the family piano, revealing that he had learned it by himself in secret.

Respighi studied the violin and viola with Federico Sarti at the Liceo Musicale in Bologna, composition with Giuseppe Martucci, and historical studies with Luigi Torchi, a scholar of early music. Respighi passed his exams and received a diploma in the violin, in 1899. By the time his studies had finished, he had acquired a large book collection, the majority of which were atlases and dictionaries due to his interest in languages.


Playlists: 

Orchestral Works
Concertante
Ballet Music
Chamber Works
Piano Works
Vocal & Choral Works

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Percy Grainger

Percy Grainger (08 July 1882 – 20 February 1961) was an Australian-born composer, arranger and pianist. In the course of a long and innovative career, he played a prominent role in the revival of interest in British folk music in the early years of the 20th century. Although much of his work was experimental and unusual, the piece with which he is most generally associated is his piano arrangement of the folk-dance tune “Country Gardens”.

Grainger left Australia at the age of 13 to attend the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt. Between 1901 and 1914 he was based in London, where he established himself first as a society pianist and later as a concert performer, composer and collector of original folk melodies. As his reputation grew he met many of the significant figures in European music, forming important friendships with Frederick Delius and Edvard Grieg. He became a champion of Nordic music and culture, his enthusiasm for which he often expressed in private letters, sometimes in crudely racial or anti-Semitic terms.

In 1914, Grainger moved to the United States, where he lived for the rest of his life, though he travelled widely in Europe and in Australia. He served briefly as a bandsman in the United States Army during 1917–18, and took American citizenship in 1918. After his mother’s suicide in 1922 he became increasingly involved in educational work. He also experimented with music machines that he hoped would supersede human interpretation. In the 1930s he set up the Grainger Museum in Melbourne, his birthplace, as a monument to his life and works and as a future research archive. As he grew older he continued to give concerts and to revise and rearrange his own compositions, while writing little new music. After the Second World War, ill health reduced his levels of activity, and he considered his career a failure. He gave his last concert in 1960, less than a year before his death

Composer full Name: George Percy Aldridge Grainger
Date of Birth: 08 July 1882
Date of Death: 20 February 1961
Nationality: Australian/American in 1918
Period/Era/Style: 20th century
Biography: Early life: Family background   |   Childhood   |   Frankfurt
London years: Concert pianist   |   Emergent composer
Career maturity:   Departure for America   |   Career zenith
Inter-war years:   Traveller   |   Educator   |   Innovator
Later career:   Second World War   |   Postwar decline   |   Last years


Playlists: 

Band Music
Choral Works
Piano Works

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Igor Stravinsky

Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) was a Russian-born composer, pianist, and conductor. He is widely considered one of the most important and influential composers of the 20th century.

Composer full Name: Igor Fyodorovich Stravinsky
Date of Birth: 17 June [O.S. 5 June] 1882
Date of Death: 06 April 1971
Nationality: Russian-born, Naturalized American in 1945
Period/Era/Style: 20th century
Contribution(s): Stravinsky’s compositional career was notable for its stylistic diversity. He first achieved international fame with three ballets commissioned by the impresario Serge Diaghilev and first performed in Paris by Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes: The Firebird(1910), Petrushka (1911), and The Rite of Spring (1913). The last of these transformed the way in which subsequent composers thought about rhythmic structure and was largely responsible for Stravinsky’s enduring reputation as a musical revolutionary who pushed the boundaries of musical design. His “Russian phase” which continued with works such as Renard, the Soldier’s Tale and Les Noces, was followed in the 1920s by a period in which he turned to neoclassical music. The works from this period tended to make use of traditional musical forms (concerto grosso, fugue and symphony), drawing on earlier styles, especially from the 18th century. In the 1950s, Stravinsky adopted serial procedures. His compositions of this period shared traits with examples of his earlier output: rhythmic energy, the construction of extended melodic ideas out of a few two- or three-note cells and clarity of form, and of instrumentation.

 

Biography: Early life in the Russian Empire   |   Stravinsky and Ukraine   |   Life in Switzerland   |   Life in France   |   Life in the United States   |   Innovation and influence   |   Personality   |   Religion   |   Reception   |   Awards   |   Recordings and publications

Music: Russian period (c. 1907–1919)   |   Neoclassical period (c. 1920–1954)   |   Serial period (1954–1968)


Playlists: 

Orchestral Works
Ballet
Concertante
Piano Works
Chamber Works
Choral & Vocal Works
Opera & Overtures
The Best of Stravinsky

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Aram Khachaturian

Composer full Name: Aram Il’yich Khachaturian
Date of Birth: Soviet Armenian
Date of Death: 06 June [O.S. 24 May] 1903
Nationality: 01 May 1978
Period/Era/Style: 20th century
Contribution(s): Khachaturian was a Soviet Armenian composer and conductor. He is considered to have been one of the leading Soviet composers.

Born and raised in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, Khachaturian moved to Moscow in 1921 following the Sovietization of the Caucasus. Without prior music training, he enrolled in the Gnessin Musical Institute, subsequently studying at the Moscow Conservatory in the class of Nikolai Myaskovsky, among others. His first major work, the Piano Concerto (1936), popularized his name within and outside the Soviet Union. It was followed by the Violin Concerto (1940) and the Cello Concerto (1946). His other significant compositions include the Masquerade Suite (1941), the Anthem of the Armenian SSR (1944), three symphonies (1935, 1943, 1947), and around 25 film scores. Khachaturian is best known for his ballet music—Gayane (1942) and Spartacus (1954). His most popular piece, the “Sabre Dance” from Gayane, has been used extensively in popular culture and has been covered by a number of musicians worldwide. His style is “characterized by colorful harmonies, captivating rhythms, virtuosity, improvisations, and sensuous melodies”.

During most of his career, Khachaturian was approved by the Soviet government and held several high posts in the Union of Soviet Composers from the late 1930s, although he joined the Communist Party only in 1943. Along with Sergei Prokofiev and Dmitri Shostakovich, he was officially denounced as a “formalist”, and his music dubbed “anti-people” in 1948, but was restored later that year. After 1950 he taught at the Gnessin Institute and the Moscow Conservatory, and turned to conducting. He traveled to Europe, Latin America and the United States with concerts of his own works. In 1957 Khachaturian became the Secretary of the Union of Soviet Composers, a position he held until his death.

Khachaturian, who created the first Armenian ballet music, symphony, concerto, and film score, is considered the most renowned Armenian composer of the 20th century. While following the established musical traditions of Russia, he broadly used Armenian and, to lesser extent, Caucasian, Eastern and Central European, and Middle Eastern peoples’ folk music in his works. He is highly regarded in Armenia, where he is considered a “national treasure”.

Biography: Background and early life (1903–21)   |   Education (1922–36)   |   Early career (1936–48)   |   Denunciation and restoration (1948)   |   Later life (1950–78)


Playlists: 

Anniversary Album
Orchestral Works
Choral Works
Chamber Works

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Randall Thompson

Composer full Name: Randall Thompson
Date of Birth: April 21, 1899
Date of Death: July 9, 1984
Nationality: American
Period/Era/Style: 20th-century
Contribution(s): Thompson was an American composer, particularly noted for his choral works.

Biography: Randall attended The Lawrenceville School, where his father was an English teacher. He then attended Harvard University, became assistant professor of music and choir director at Wellesley College, and received a doctorate in music from the University of Rochester’s Eastman School of Music. He went on to teach at the Curtis Institute of Music (serving as its Director 1941/1942), at the University of Virginia, and at Harvard University. He is particularly noted for his choral works. He was an honorary member of the Rho Tau chapter of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia Fraternity at Appalachian State University.

Thompson composed three symphonies and numerous vocal works including AmericanaThe Testament of FreedomFrostiana, and The Peaceable Kingdom, inspired by Edward Hicks’s painting. His most popular and recognizable choral work is his anthem, Alleluia, commissioned by Serge Koussevitzky for the opening of the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood. He also wrote the operas Solomon and Balkis and The Nativity According to St. Luke.

Americana, a song cycle, is written in a 20th-century musical art style known as “News Items”—compositions that parody newspaper layout and content, or whose lyrics are lifted from media of the day. The lyrics are lifted from the “Americana” section of H. L. Mencken’s American Mercury magazine, which would reprint quotes and stories from U.S. publications. The song cycle’s texts come from such publications as the Seattle, Washington, Post-Intelligencer, the Little Rock, Arkansas, Gazette, and a leaflet issued by the National Women’s Christian Temperance Union.

Leonard Bernstein was one of Thompson’s students both at Harvard and at Curtis, according to his own testimony in a speech he gave at Curtis Institute’s 75th Anniversary Banquet. Thompson’s other notable students include Samuel Adler, Leo Kraft, Juan Orrego-Salas, John Davison, Thomas Beveridge, Charles Edward Hamm, George Lynn, William P. Perry, Christopher King, Joel Cohen, Frederic Rzewski, Richard Edward Wilson and David Borden.

In honor of Thompson’s vast influence on male choral music, on May 2, 1964 he became the first recipient of the prestigious University of Pennsylvania Glee Club Award of Merit. Established in 1964, this award sought “to bring a declaration of appreciation to an individual each year that has made a significant contribution to the world of music and helped to create a climate in which our talents may find valid expression.” He was also a recipient of Yale University’s Sanford Medal.


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Samuel Barber

Composer full name: Samuel Osborne Barber II
Date of Birth: March 9, 1910
Date of Death: January 23, 1981
Nationality: American
Period/Era/Style: 20th Century
Contribution(s): Barber was an American composer of orchestral, opera, choral, and piano music. He is one of the most celebrated composers of the 20th century: music critic Donal Henahan stated that “Probably no other American composer has ever enjoyed such early, such persistent and such long-lasting acclaim.”

His Adagio for Strings (1936) has earned a permanent place in the concert repertory of orchestras. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Music twice: for his opera Vanessa (1956–57) and for the Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (1962). Also widely performed is his Knoxville: Summer of 1915 (1947), a setting for soprano and orchestra of a prose text by James Agee. At the time of his death, nearly all of his compositions had been recorded.

Biography:   Early years   |   Middle years   |   Later years   |   Achievements and awards


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Quincy Porter

Composer: Quincy Porter
Date of Birth: February 7, 1897
Date of Death: November 12, 1966
Nationality: American
Period/Era/Style: 20th Century
Contribution(s): Porter was an American composer and teacher of classical music.

Biography: Born in New Haven, Connecticut, he went to Yale University where his teachers included Horatio Parker and David Stanley Smith. Porter received two awards while studying music at Yale: the Osborne Prize for Fugue, and the Steinert Prize for orchestral composition. He performed the winning composition, a violin concerto, at graduation. Porter earned two degrees at Yale, an A.B. from Yale College and a Mus. B from the music school.

After graduation, he spent a year in Paris, studying at Schola Cantorum, then went to New York where he studied with Ernest Bloch and Vincent d’Indy. In 1923 Porter joined the faculty of the Cleveland Institute of Music where he was later appointed head of the Theory Department. He remained there until 1928 when he resigned to focus on composition. Returning to Paris on a Guggenheim Fellowship Porter began composing in earnest. During his 3 years in Paris, he composed Blues Lointains (1928), the Suite for Viola Alone (1930), his 3rd String Quartet (1930), 4th String Quartet (1931), his 2nd Violin Sonata (1929), and his Piano Sonata (1930). During the first trip, his daughter, Helen, was born.

In 1931 Porter returned to the United States, first rejoining the faculty at the Cleveland Institute of Music, then teaching at Vassar, where he was appointed a professor in 1932. In 1954, Porter’s 1953 Concerto Concertante, a concerto for two pianos and orchestra, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Music. Tawa calls the piece, “affectively compelling, orchestrally luminous, and contrapuntally active”; cooperative rather than competitive. In 1938 later Porter became dean (1938–42) and then director (1942–46) of the New England Conservatory of Music, and in 1946 returned to Yale, as professor, to teach until 1965. Porter also served, from 1958 until his death, as chairman of the board of directors of the American Music Center, which he had founded with Howard Hanson and Aaron Copland in 1939. He died in Bethany, Connecticut.

He wrote a substantial amount in the “absolute (established) forms”, including nine string quartets (1923–1953), several concertos (including one for harpsichord, one for viola, and one for two pianos, the latter work receiving the 1954 Pulitzer Prize for Music), and two symphonies. His later music—while tonal—is harmonicallyacerbic and dissonant.

 

Playlist 1:

  • Symphony No. 1 (1934)
  • Symphony No. 2 (1962)
  • Poem and Dance (1932)
  • Viola Concerto (1948)
  • Ukrainian Suite – complete
  • Concerto for 2 pianos & orchestra (“Concerto concertante”)
  • In Monasterio, for string quartet
  • Our Lady Of Potchaiv (1923), for string quartet
  • Scherzo for String Quartet
  • Fugue for String Quartet
  • Suite for Viola Solo
Playlist 2:

  • String Quartet No. 1 in E minor (1923)
  • String Quartet No. 2 (1925)
  • String Quartet No. 3 (1930)
  • String Quartet No. 4 (1931)
  • String Quartet No. 5 (1935)
  • String Quartet No. 6 (1937)
  • String Quartet No. 7 (1943)
  • String Quartet No. 8 (1950) – complete
  • String Quartet No. 9 (1958)

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Witold Lutosławski

Composer: Witold Roman Lutosławski
Date of Birth: 25 January 1913
Date of Death: 07 February 1994
Nationality: Polish
Period/Era/Style: 20th century
Contribution(s): Lutosławski was a Polish composer and orchestral conductor. He was one of the major European composers of the 20th century, and one of the preeminent Polish musicians during his last three decades. He earned many international awards and prizes. His compositions (of which he was a notable conductor) include four symphonies, a Concerto for Orchestra, a string quartet, instrumental works, concertos, and orchestral song cycles.

During his youth, Lutosławski studied piano and composition in Warsaw. His early works were influenced by Polish folk music. His style demonstrates a wide range of rich atmospheric textures. He began developing his own characteristic composition techniques in the late 1950s. His music from this period onwards incorporates his own methods of building harmonies from small groups of musical intervals. It also uses aleatoric processes, in which the rhythmic coordination of parts is subject to an element of chance.

During World War II, after escaping German capture, Lutosławski made a living by playing the piano in Warsaw bars. After the war, Stalinist authorities banned his First Symphony for being “formalist”—allegedly accessible only to an elite. Lutosławski believed such anti-formalism was an unjustified retrograde step, and he resolutely strove to maintain his artistic integrity. In the 1980s, Lutosławski gave artistic support to the Solidarity movement. Near the end of his life, he was awarded the Order of the White Eagle, Poland’s highest honour.

Biography: World War II   |   Post-war years   |   Maturity   |   International renown   |   Final years

 Playlist of Examples:
 Playlist Tracklist:

  • Concerto for Cello and Orchestra
  • Variations on a Theme of Paganini for Two Pianos
  • Concerto for Piano and Orchestra
  • Symphony No. 1
  • Symphony No. 2
  • Concerto for Orchestra
  • Symphonic Variations
  • Double Concerto for Oboe & Harp

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Lutosławski: Orchestral Works 1: Symphonies
.99¢
Lutosławski: Orchestral Works: 2
.99¢
Lutosławski: Orchestral Works: 3
.99¢

 

Maurice Duruflé

Composer: Maurice Duruflé
Date of Birth: 11 January 1902
Date of Death: 16 June 1986
Nationality: French
Period/Era/Style:
Contribution(s): Duruflé was a French composer, organist, and teacher.

Biography: Life and career: Duruflé was born in Louviers, Eure in 1902. He became a chorister at the Rouen Cathedral Choir School from 1912 to 1918, where he studied piano and organ with Jules Haelling, a pupil of Alexandre Guilmant. The choral plainsong tradition at Rouen became a strong and lasting influence. At age 17, upon moving to Paris, he took private organ lessons with Charles Tournemire, whom he assisted at Basilique Ste-Clotilde, Paris until 1927. In 1920 Duruflé entered the Conservatoire de Paris, eventually graduating with first prizes in organ with Eugène Gigout (1922), harmony with Jean Gallon (1924), fugue with Georges Caussade (1924), piano accompaniment with César Abel Estyle (1926) and composition with Paul Dukas (1928).

In 1927, Louis Vierne nominated him as his assistant at Notre-Dame. Duruflé and Vierne remained lifelong friends, and Duruflé was at Vierne’s side acting as assistant when Vierne died at the console of the Notre-Dame organ on 2 June 1937, even though Duruflé had become titular organist of St-Étienne-du-Mont in Paris in 1929, a position he held for the rest of his life. In 1930 he won a prize for his Prélude, adagio et choral varié sur le “Veni Creator”, and in 1936 he won the Prix Blumenthal. In 1939, he premiered Francis Poulenc’s Organ Concerto (the Concerto for Organ, Strings and Timpani in G minor); he had advised Poulenc on the registrations of the organ part. In 1943 he became Professor of Harmony at the Conservatoire de Paris, where he worked until 1970; among his pupils were Pierre Cochereau, Jean Guillou and Marie-Claire Alain.

In 1947 he completed probably the most famous of his few pieces: the Requiem op. 9, for soloists, choir, organ, and orchestra. He had begun composing the work in 1941, following a commission from the Vichy regime. Also in 1947, Marie-Madeleine Chevalier became his assistant at St-Étienne-du-Mont. They married on 15 September 1953. (Duruflé’s first marriage to Lucette Bousquet, in 1932, ended in civil divorce in 1947 and was declared null by the Vatican on 23 June 1953.) The couple became a famous and popular organ duo, going on tour together several times throughout the sixties and early seventies.

He was made a Chevalier de la Legion d’honneur in 1954. He was promoted to an Officier de la Legion d’honneur in 1966.

Death: Duruflé suffered severe injuries in a car accident on 29 May 1975 and as a result he gave up performing; indeed he was largely confined to his apartment, leaving the service at St-Étienne-du-Mont to his wife Marie-Madeleine (who was also injured in the accident). He died in Louveciennes (near Paris) in 1986, aged 84.

Other: Duruflé was highly critical of his own compositions. He published only a handful of works and often continued to edit and change pieces after publication. For instance, the Toccata from Suite, op. 5 has a completely different ending in the first edition than in the more recent version, and the score to the Fugue sur le nom d’Alain originally indicated accelerando throughout. The result of this perfectionism is that his music, especially his organ music, tends to be well polished, and is still frequently performed in concerts by organists around the world.

Playlist of Examples:

Playlist Tracklist:

Choral Works

  • Requiem, Op. 9
  • Motets (4) on Gregorian Themes, Op. 10
  • Mass, Op. 11
  • Notre Pere, Op. 14

Organ Works

  • Scherzo, Op. 2
  • Prelude, Adagio & Choral Variant on “Veni Creator”, Op. 4
  • Organ Suite, Op. 5
  • Prelude and Fugue on the name A.L.A.I.N., for organ, Op. 7
  • Fugue sur le thème du carillon des heures de la cathédrale de Soissons, Op. 12
  • Méditation, Op. posth.
  • Chant donné – hommage à Jean Gallon
  • Prélude sur l’introït de l’Épiphanie, Op. 13

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Francis Poulenc

Composer: Francis Jean Marcel Poulenc
Date of Birth: 07 January 1899
Date of Death: 30 January 1963
Nationality: French
Period/Era/Style: 20th Century
Contribution(s): Poulenc was a French composer and pianist. His compositions include mélodies, solo piano works, chamber music, choral pieces, operas, ballets, and orchestral concert music. Among the best-known are the piano suite Trois mouvements perpétuels (1919), the ballet Les biches (1923), the Concert champêtre (1928) for harpsichord and orchestra, the Organ Concerto (1938), the opera Dialogues des Carmélites (1957), and the Gloria (1959) for soprano, choir and orchestra.

Poulenc’s wealthy parents intended him for a business career in Poulenc Frères, their family pharmaceutical company, and did not allow him to enrol at a music college. Largely self-educated musically, he studied with the pianist Ricardo Viñes, who became his mentor after the composer’s parents died. Poulenc soon came under the influence of Erik Satie, under whose tutelage he became one of a group of young composers known collectively as Les Six. In his early works Poulenc became known for his high spirits and irreverence. During the 1930s a much more serious side to his nature emerged, particularly in the religious music he composed from 1936 onwards, which he alternated with his more light-hearted works.

In addition to composing, Poulenc was an accomplished pianist. He was particularly celebrated for his performing partnerships with the baritone Pierre Bernac (who also advised him in vocal writing) and the soprano Denise Duval, touring in Europe and America with each, and making many recordings. He was among the first composers to see the importance of the gramophone, and he recorded extensively from 1928 onwards.

In his later years, and for decades after his death, Poulenc had a reputation, particularly in his native country, as a humorous, lightweight composer, and his religious music was often overlooked. During the 21st century more attention has been given to his serious works, with many new productions of Dialogues des Carmélites and La voix humaine worldwide, and numerous live and recorded performances of his songs and choral music.

Biography: Early years   |   First compositions and Les Six   |   1920s: increasing fame   |   1930s: new seriousness   |   1940s: war and post-war   |   1950–63: The Carmelites and last years

Composer Examples:

Poulenc: Concerto for 2 Pianos, FP 61
Poulenc: Les biches Suite, FP 36
Pieces for Piano
Poulanc: Gloria, FP 177 & Stabat Mater, FP 148

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