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
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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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Nikolai Medtner

Composer: Nikolai Karlovich Medtner
Date of Birth: 05 January 1880 [O.S. 24 December 1879] Date of Death: 13 November 1951
Nationality: Russian
Period/Era/Style: Romantic 20th Century
Contribution(s): Medner was a Russian composer and pianist. After a period of comparative obscurity in the twenty-five years immediately after his death, he is now becoming recognized as one of the most significant Russian composers for the piano.

A younger contemporary of Sergei Rachmaninoff and Alexander Scriabin, he wrote a substantial number of compositions, all of which include the piano. His works include fourteen piano sonatas, three violin sonatas, three piano concerti, a piano quintet, two works for two pianos, many shorter piano pieces, a few shorter works for violin and piano, and 108 songs including two substantial works for vocalise. His 38 Skazki (generally known as “Fairy Tales” in English but more correctly translated as “Tales”) for piano solo contain some of his most original music.

Biography: The youngest of five children, Nikolai Medtner was born in Moscow on Christmas Eve 1879, according to the Julian calendar then in use in Russia. The Gregorian calendar, in use in the West at the time, and by which all dates are calculated today, gives his date of birth as 5 January 1880.

Medtner first took piano lessons from his mother until the age of ten. He also had lessons from his mother’s brother Fyodor Goedicke (the father of his more famous cousin Alexander Goedicke).[1][2] Then he entered the Moscow Conservatory. He graduated in 1900 at the age of 20, taking the Anton Rubinstein prize, having studied under Pavel PabstWassily SapellnikoffVasily Safonov and Sergei Taneyev among others. Despite his conservative musical tastes, Medtner’s compositions and his pianism were highly regarded by his contemporaries. To the consternation of his family, but with the support of his former teacher Taneyev, he soon rejected a career as a performer and turned to composition, partly inspired by the intellectual challenge of Ludwig van Beethoven‘s late piano sonatas and string quartets. Among his students in this period was Alexander Vasilyevich Alexandrov.

During the years leading up to the 1917 Russian Revolution, Medtner lived at home with his parents. During this time Medtner fell in love with Anna Mikhaylovna Bratenskaya (1877–1965), a respected violinist and the young wife of his older brother Emil. Later, when World War I broke out, Emil was interned in Germany where he had been studying. He generously gave Anna the freedom to marry his brother. Medtner and Anna were married in 1918.

Unlike his friend Rachmaninoff, Medtner did not leave Russia until well after the Revolution. Rachmaninoff secured Medtner a tour of the United States and Canada in 1924; his recitals were often all-Medtner evenings consisting of sonatas interspersed with songs and shorter pieces. Medtner never adapted himself to the commercial aspects of touring and his concerts became infrequent. Esteemed in England, he and Anna settled in London in 1936, modestly teaching, playing and composing to a strict daily routine.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, Medtner’s income from German publishers disappeared, and during this hardship ill-health became an increasing problem. His devoted pupil Edna Iles gave him shelter in Warwickshire where he completed his Third Piano Concerto, first performed in 1944.

In 1949 a Medtner Society was founded in London by His Highness Jayachamarajendra Wadiyar Bahadur, the Maharajah of Mysore (the princely state in southern India). The Maharajah was an honorary Fellow of Trinity College of Music, London, in 1945 and also the first president of the Philharmonia Concert Society, London. He founded the Medtner Society to record all of Medtner’s works. Medtner, already in declining health, recorded his three Piano Concertos and some sonatas, chamber music, numerous songs and shorter works before his death in London in 1951. In one of these recordings he partnered Benno Moiseiwitsch in his two-piano work entitled “Russian Round-Dance”, Op 58, No. 1; in another he accompanied Elisabeth Schwarzkopf in several of his lieder, including The Muse, a Pushkin setting from 1913. In gratitude to his patron, Medtner dedicated his Third Piano Concerto to the Maharajah of Mysore.

Medtner died at his home, 69 Wentworth Road, Golders Green, London in 1951, and is buried alongside his brother Emil in Hendon Cemetery.

More Info on Wikipedea:  Piano sonatas   |   Other works   |   Legacy

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$2.99 – The Romantic Piano Concerto, Vol. 02
$2.99 – The Romantic Piano Concerto, Vol. 08

Michael Tippett

Composer: Sir Michael Kemp Tippett OM CH CBE
Date of Birth: 02 January 1905
Date of Death: 08 January 1998
Nationality: English
Period/Era/Style: 20th Century
Contribution(s): Tippett was an English composer who rose to prominence during and immediately after the Second World War. In his lifetime he was sometimes ranked with his contemporary Benjamin Britten as one of the leading British composers of the 20th century. Among his best-known works are the oratorio A Child of Our Time, the orchestral Fantasia Concertante on a Theme of Corelli, and the opera The Midsummer Marriage.

Tippett’s talent developed slowly. He withdrew or destroyed his earliest compositions, and was 30 before any of his works were published. Until the mid-to-late 1950s his music was broadly lyrical in character, before changing to a more astringent and experimental style. New influences, including those of jazzand blues after his first visit to America in 1965, became increasingly evident in his compositions. While Tippett’s stature with the public continued to grow, not all critics approved of these changes in style, some believing that the quality of his work suffered as a consequence. From around 1976 Tippett’s late works began to reflect the works of his youth through a return to lyricism. Although he was much honoured in his lifetime, critical judgement on Tippett’s legacy has been uneven, the greatest praise being generally reserved for his earlier works. His centenary in 2005 was a muted affair; apart from the few best-known works, his music has been performed infrequently in the 21st century.

Having briefly embraced communism in the 1930s, Tippett avoided identifying with any political party. A pacifist after 1940, he was imprisoned in 1943 for refusing to carry out war-related duties required by his military exemption. His initial difficulties in accepting his homosexuality led him in 1939 to Jungian psychoanalysis; the Jungian dichotomy of “shadow” and “light” remained a recurring factor in his music. He was a strong advocate of music education, and was active for much of his life as a radio broadcaster and writer on music.

Biography: 

Life: Family background   |   Childhood and schooling   |   Royal College of Music

Early career: False start   |   Friendships, politics and music

Towards maturity: Personal crisis   |   A Child of Our Time   |   Morley, war, imprisonment   |   Recognition and controversy

International acclaim: King Priam and after   |   Wider horizons

Later life: Music   |   General character   |   Compositional process   |   Influences

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Viktor Ullmann

Composer: Viktor Ullmann
Date of Birth: 01 January 1898
Date of Death: 18 October 1944
Nationality: Silesia-born Austrian
Period/Era/Style: 20th Century
Contribution(s): composer, conductor and pianist.

Biography: Viktor Ullmann was born on 1 January 1898 in Těšín (Teschen), modern Český Těšín / Cieszyn. It belonged then to Silesia in the Austro-Hungarian Empire and is now divided between Cieszyn in Poland and Český Těšín in The Czech Republic. Both his parents were from families of Jewish descent, but had converted to Roman Catholicism before Viktor’s birth. As an assimilated Jew, his father, Maximilian, was able to pursue a career as a professional officer in the army of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In World War I he was promoted to colonel and ennobled.

One writer has described Ullman’s milieu in these terms: “Like such other assimilated German-speaking Czech Jews as Kafka and Mahler, Ullmann lived a life of multiple estrangements, cut off from Czech nationalism, German anti-Semitism and Jewish orthodoxy”.

Beginning in 1909 Viktor attended a grammar school (Gymnasium) in Vienna. His musical talents and inclinations soon gave him access to Arnold Schönberg and his circle of pupils. Upon finishing school, he volunteered for military service.

After deployment on the Italian Front at Isonzo, he was granted study leave, which he used to start studying law at Vienna University. There he also attended the lectures of Wilhelm Jerusalem. At the beginning of 1918 he was accepted in Schönberg’s composition seminar. With Schönberg he studied the theory of form, counterpoint and orchestration. Ullmann was an excellent pianist, although he had no ambitions for a career as a soloist.

In May 1919, he broke off both courses of study and left Vienna in order to devote himself fully to music in Prague. His mentor was now Alexander von Zemlinsky, under whose direction he served as a conductor at the New German Theatre of Prague (now the Prague State Opera) until 1927. In the following season, 1927–28, he was appointed head of the opera company in Aussig an der Elbe (Ústí nad Labem), but his repertoire, including operas by Richard StraussKrenek and others, was too advanced for local tastes, and his appointment was terminated.

In 1923 with the Sieben Lieder mit Klavier (7 Songs with Piano) he witnessed a series of successful performances of his works, which lasted until the beginning of the 1930s (Sieben Serenaden). At the Geneva music festival of the International Society for New Music in 1929, his Schönberg Variations, a piano cycle on a theme by his teacher in Vienna, caused something of a stir. Five years later, for the orchestral arrangement of this work, he was awarded the Hertzka Prize, named in honor of the former director of Universal Editions. In the meantime he had been appointed conductor in Zürich for two years. As a result of his interest in anthroposophy, a movement founded by Rudolf Steiner, he spent another two years as a bookseller in Stuttgart, but was forced to flee Germany in mid-1933 and returned to Prague as a music teacher and journalist.

During this period he worked with the department of music at Czechoslovak Radio, wrote book and music reviews for various magazines, wrote as a critic for the Bohemia newspaper, lectured to educational groups, gave private lessons, and was actively involved in the program of the Czechoslovak Society for Music Education. At about this time Ullmann made friends with the composer Alois Hába, whom he had known for some time. Ullmann enrolled in Hába’s department of quarter tone music at the Prague Conservatory, where he studied from 1935 to 1937.

While his works of the 1920s still clearly show the influence of Schönberg’s atonal period, especially the Chamber Symphony Op. 9, the George Songs Op. 15 and Pierrot Lunaire, Op. 21, Ullmann’s compositions from 1935 onwards, like the String Quartet No. 2 and Piano Sonata No. 1, are distinguished by his independent development of Schönberg’s inspirations. Similarly the opera Fall of the Antichrist develops the issues raised by Alban Berg’s opera Wozzeck. Dissonant harmonics, highly charged musical expression, and masterly control of formal structure are characteristic of Ullmann’s new and henceforth unmistakable personal style.

More Info: Theresienstadt concentration camp   |   Later works   |   Chronology   |   List of the Prague and Theresienstadt works   |   Prague works   |   Theresienstadt works

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Alfred Schnittke

Composer: Alfred Garrievich Schnittke
Date of Birth: November 24, 1934
Date of Death: August 3, 1998
Nationality: Soviet/German
Period/Era/Style: 20th Century, polystylism
Contribution(s): Schnittke’s early music shows the strong influence of Dmitri Shostakovich. He developed a polystylistic technique in works such as the epic Symphony No. 1 (1969–1972) and his first concerto grosso (1977). In the 1980s, Schnittke’s music began to become more widely known abroad with the publication of his second (1980) and third (1983) string quartets and the String Trio (1985); the ballet Peer Gynt (1985–1987); the third (1981), fourth(1984), and fifth (1988) symphonies; and the viola (1985) and first cello (1985–1986) concertos. As his health deteriorated, Schnittke’s music started to abandon much of the extroversion of his polystylism and retreated into a more withdrawn, bleak style.

Biography: Life and career: Schnittke’s father, Harry Viktorovich Schnittke (ru) (1914–1975), was Jewish and born in Frankfurt, He moved to the Soviet Union in 1927 and worked as a journalist and translator from the Russian language into German. His mother, Maria Iosifovna Schnittke (née Vogel, 1910–1972), was a Volga German born in Russia. Schnittke’s paternal grandmother, Tea Abramovna Katz (1889–1970), was a philologist, translator, and editor of German-language literature.

Alfred Schnittke was born in Engels in the Volga-German Republic of the Russian SFSR. He began his musical education in 1946 in Vienna, where his father had been posted. It was in Vienna, Schnittke’s biographer Alexander Ivashkin writes, where “he fell in love with music which is part of life, part of history and culture, part of the past which is still alive.” “I felt every moment there,” the composer wrote, “to be a link of the historical chain: all was multi-dimensional; the past represented a world of ever-present ghosts, and I was not a barbarian without any connections, but the conscious bearer of the task in my life. Schnittke’s experience in Vienna “gave him a certain spiritual experience and discipline for his future professional activities. It was Mozart and Schubert, not Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff, whom he kept in mind as a reference point in terms of taste, manner and style. This reference point was essentially Classical … but never too blatant.”

In 1948, the family moved to Moscow. Schnittke completed his graduate work in composition at the Moscow Conservatory in 1961 and taught there from 1962 to 1972. Evgeny Golubev was one of his composition teachers. Thereafter, he earned his living chiefly by composing film scores, producing nearly 70 scores in 30 years. Schnittke converted to Christianity and possessed deeply held mystic beliefs, which influenced his music.

Schnittke and his music were often viewed suspiciously by the Soviet bureaucracy. His First Symphony was effectively banned by the Composers’ Union. After he abstained from a Composers’ Union vote in 1980, he was banned from travelling outside of the USSR. In 1985, Schnittke suffered a stroke that left him in a coma. He was declared clinically dead on several occasions, but recovered and continued to compose.

In 1990, Schnittke left the Soviet Union and settled in Hamburg. His health remained poor, however. He suffered several more strokes before his death on August 3, 1998, in Hamburg, at the age of 63. He was buried, with state honors, at the Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow, where many other prominent Russian composers, including Dmitri Shostakovich, are interred.

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