Composer full Name: Hugo Emil Alfvén Date of Birth: 01 May 1872 Date of Death: 08 May 1960 Nationality: Swedish Period/Era/Style: Romantic / 20th century Contribution(s): Alfvén was a Swedish composer, conductor, violinist, and painter.
Biography: Alfvén was born in Stockholm, Sweden, and studied at the Royal College of Music (Kungliga Musikhögskolan) from 1887 to 1891 with the violin as his main instrument while receiving lessons from Lars Zetterquist. He also took private composition lessons from Johan Lindegren, a leading counterpoint expert. He earned a living by playing the violin at the Royal Opera in Stockholm. He also played the violin in the Royal Swedish Orchestra.
Starting in 1897, Alfvén travelled much of the next ten years in Europe. He studied violin technique in Brussels with César Thomson and learned conducting in Dresden as sub-conductor under Hermann Ludwig Kutzschbach. In 1903-4 he was professor of composition at the Royal Conservatory, Stockholm. From 1910 Alfvén was Director musices (music director) at the University of Uppsala (a post he held until 1939). There he also directed the male voice choir Orphei Drängar (or ‘O.D.’) (until 1947). He conducted in festivals at Dortmund (1912), Stuttgart (1913), Gothenburg (1915), and Copenhagen (1918–1919). He toured Europe as a conductor throughout his life. He received a Ph.D. honoris causa from Uppsala in 1917 and became a member of the Royal Academy of Music in Stockholm in 1908. Alfvén recorded some of his orchestral music in stereo late in 1954 (the first classical stereo recordings made in Sweden); the recordings were issued on LP in the U.S. by Westminster Records. A three-CD collection of Alfvén’s recordings as a conductor has been issued.
Music: Alfvén became known as one of Sweden’s principal composers of his time, together with his contemporary Wilhelm Stenhammar. Alfvén’s music is in a late-Romantic idiom. His orchestration is skillful and colorful, reminiscent of that of Richard Strauss. Like Strauss, Alfvén wrote a considerable amount of program music. Some of Alfvén’s music evokes the landscape of Sweden.
Among his works are a large number of pieces for male voice choir, five symphonies and three orchestral “Swedish Rhapsodies.” The first of these rhapsodies, Midsommarvaka is his best known piece.
Alfvén’s five symphonies, the first four of them now several-times recorded (with another cycle in progress), give a picture of the composer’s musical progress. The first, in F minor, his Op. 7 from 1897, is an early work, tuneful in a standard four movements. The second, in D major (1898–99), his Op. 11 (and in a way his graduation piece, as interestingly recounted) concludes with a substantial, even powerful chorale-prelude and fugue in D minor. The third symphony in E major, Op. 23 (1905), also in four movements, more mature in technique though light in manner was inspired by a trip to Italy. The fourth symphony in C minor, Op. 39, of 1918–9 “From the Outermost Skerries” (there is also a tone-poem, A Legend of the Skerries) is a symphony in one forty-five-minute movement using wordless voices, inspired by Carl Nielsen’s Sinfonia Espansiva. The 5th in A minor, begun 1942, is one of the composer’s last works, and has only been recorded twice in full (recordings and performances of the 5th, while rare enough, are usually of its quarter-hour first movement).
Naxos Records and BIS Records among others have either collections or groups of individual recordings covering all of his symphonies and a range of his works. Brilliant Classics has licensed and re-issued the 5-CD set from BIS devoted to Alfvén that includes the symphonies and other orchestral works.
Swedish Rhapsody No. 1: The first rhapsody – Swedish Rhapsody No. 1, also known as Midsommarvaka (Midsummer Vigil) – was written in 1903 and is often simply called the “Swedish Rhapsody.” It is the best-known piece composed by Alfvén, and also one of the best-known pieces of music in Sweden.
Composer’s full name: Albert Charles Paul Marie Roussel Date of Birth: 05 April 1869 Date of Death: 23 August 1937 Nationality: French Period/Era/Style: 20th Century, Impressionism, Neo=Classical Contribution(s): Roussel was a French composer. He spent seven years as a midshipman, turned to music as an adult, and became one of the most prominent French composers of the interwar period. His early works were strongly influenced by the impressionism of Debussy and Ravel, while he later turned toward neoclassicism.
Biography: Life: Albert (Charles Paul Marie) Roussel was an outstanding French composer and teacher. Orphaned as a child, he was educated by his grandfather, mayor of his native town, and after the grandfather’s death, by his aunt. He studied academic subjects at the College Stanislas in Paris and music with the organist Stoltz; then studied mathematics in preparation for entering the Naval Academy; at the age of 18, he began his training in the navy; from 1889 to August 1890 he was a member of the crew of the frigate Iphigénie, sailing to Indochina. This voyage was of great importance to Roussel, since it opened for him a world of oriental culture and art, which became one of the chief sources of his musical inspiration. He later sailed on the cruiser Devastation; received a leave of absence for reasons of health, and spent some time in Tunis; was then stationed in Cherbourg, and began to compose there. In 1893 he was sent once more to Indochina.
Albert Roussel resigned from the navy in 1894 and went to Paris, where he began to study music seriously with Eugène Gigout. In 1898 he entered the Schola Cantorum in Paris as a pupil of Vincent d’Indy; continued this study until 1907, when he was already 38 years old, but at the same time he was entrusted with a class in counterpoint, which he conducted at the Schola Cantorum from 1902 to 1914; among his students were Satie, Golestan, Le Flem, Roland-Manuel, Lioncourt, and the young Edgard Varèse. In 1909 Roussel and his wife, Blanche Preisach-Roussel, undertook a voyage to India, where he became acquainted with the legend of the queen Padmavati, which he selected as a subject for his famous opera-ballet. His choral symphony Les Evocations was also inspired by this tour.
At the outbreak of World War I in 1914, Albert Roussel applied for active service in the navy but was rejected, and volunteered as an ambulance driver. After the Armistice of 1918, he settled in Normandy and devoted himself to composition. In the autumn of 1930 he visited the USA. Another student of Roussel’s was Bohuslav Martinů (after the war and his own apprenticeship, and starting in 1923). Roussel died in the town of Royan, (Charente-Maritime department), in western France, in 1937, the same year that his countrymen Maurice Ravel and Gabriel Pierné died.
Music: Albert Roussel began his work under the influence of French Impressionism, with its dependence on exotic moods and poetic association. He eventually found a personal style which was more formal in design, with a strong rhythmic drive, and with a more distinct liking for functional tonality than is evident in the work of his more famous contemporaries (for instance Debussy, Ravel, Satie, and Igor Stravinsky). The sense of formal design asserted itself in his symphonic works; his Suite (1926) signalizes a transition toward neo-Classicism; the thematic development is vigorous, and the rhythms are clearly delineated, despite some asymmetrical progressions; the orchestration, too, is in the Classical tradition. Roussel possessed a keen sense of the theater; he was capable of fine characterization of exotic or mythological subjects, but also knew how to depict humorous sitUations in lighter works.
Albert Roussel’s training at the Schola Cantorum, with its emphasis on rigorous academic models such as Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina and J.S. Bach, left its mark on his mature style, which is characterized by contrapuntal textures. In comparison with the subtle and nuanced style of other French composers like Gabriel Fauré or Claude Debussy, Roussel’s orchestration is rather heavy. While the stylistic and orchestral aesthetic of so-called “French” music was one which Roussel did not fully share, it is nevertheless true that Roussel was never a mere copyist of Teutonic models. Certainly, in contrast with the sound of the German romantic orchestral tradition (such as Anton Bruckner or Gustav Mahler), Roussel’s manner could hardly be called heavy at all.
Roussel was also interested in jazz, and wrote a piano-vocal composition entitled Jazz dans la nuit, similar in its inspiration to other jazz-inspired works such as “Blues” second movement of Maurice Ravel’s Violin Sonata, or Darius Milhaud’s La Création du Monde).
Roussel’s most important works are the ballets Le festin de l’araignée, Bacchus et Ariane, and Aeneas and the four symphonies (of which the Third, in G minor, and the Fourth, in A major, are highly regarded and epitomize his mature neoclassical style). His other works include numerous ballets, orchestral suites, a piano concerto, a concertino for cello and orchestra, a psalm setting for chorus and orchestra, incidental music for the theatre, and much chamber music, solo piano music, and songs.
Arturo Toscanini included the suite from the ballet Le festin de l’araignée in one of his broadcast concerts with the NBC Symphony Orchestra. René Leibowitz recorded this suite in 1952 with the Paris Philharmonic, and Georges Prêtre recorded this same music with the Orchestre National de France for EMI in 1984.
Composer full Name: Sergei Vasilievich Rachmaninoff Date of Birth: 01 April [O.S. 20 March] 1873 Date of Death: 28 March 1943 Nationality: Russian Period/Era/Style: Romantic / 20th Century Contribution(s): Rachmaninov was a Russian pianist, composer, and conductor of the late Romantic period, some of whose works are among the most popular in the Romantic repertoire.
Born into a musical family, Rachmaninoff took up the piano at age four. He graduated from the Moscow Conservatory in 1892 having already composed several piano and orchestral pieces. In 1897, following the negative critical reaction to his Symphony No. 1, Rachmaninoff entered a four-year depression and composed little until successful therapy allowed him to complete his enthusiastically received Piano Concerto No. 2 in 1901. For the next sixteen years, Rachmaninoff conducted at the Bolshoi Theatre, relocated to Dresden, Germany, and toured the United States for the first time.
Following the Russian Revolution, Rachmaninoff and his family left Russia; in 1918, they settled in the United States, first in New York City. With his main source of income coming from piano and conducting performances, demanding tour schedules led to a reduction in his time for composition; between 1918 and 1943, he completed just six works, including Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Symphony No. 3, and Symphonic Dances. By 1942, his ailing health led to his relocation to Beverly Hills, California. One month before his death from advanced melanoma, Rachmaninoff was granted American citizenship.
In Rachmaninoff’s work, early influences of Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Balakirev, Mussorgsky, and other Russian composers gave way to a personal style notable for its song-like melodicism, expressiveness and rich orchestral colors.Rachmaninoff often featured the piano in his compositions, and he explored the expressive possibilities of the instrument through his own skills as a pianist.
Composer: Joseph Maurice Ravel Date of Birth: 07 March 1875 Date of Death: 28 December 1937 Nationality: French Period/Era/Style: Romantic / 20th Century Contribution(s): Ravel was a French composer, pianist and conductor. He is often associated with impressionism along with his elder contemporary Claude Debussy, although both composers rejected the term. In the 1920s and 1930s Ravel was internationally regarded as France’s greatest living composer.
Born to a music-loving family, Ravel attended France’s premier music college, the Paris Conservatoire; he was not well regarded by its conservative establishment, whose biased treatment of him caused a scandal. After leaving the Conservatoire, Ravel found his own way as a composer, developing a style of great clarity, incorporating elements of baroque, neoclassicism and, in his later works, jazz. He liked to experiment with musical form, as in his best-known work, Boléro (1928), in which repetition takes the place of development. He made some orchestral arrangements of other composers’ music, of which his 1922 version of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition is the best known.
As a slow and painstaking worker, Ravel composed fewer pieces than did many of his contemporaries. Among his works to enter the repertoire are pieces for piano, chamber music, two piano concertos, ballet music, two operas (each less than an hour long), and eight song cycles; he wrote no symphonies and only one religious work (“Kaddish” ). Many of his works exist in two versions: first, a piano score and later an orchestration. Some of his piano music, such as Gaspard de la nuit(1908), is exceptionally difficult to play, and his complex orchestral works such as Daphnis et Chloé (1912) require skillful balance in performance.
Ravel was among the first composers to recognize the potential of recording to bring their music to a wider public. From the 1920s, despite limited technique as a pianist or conductor, he took part in recordings of several of his works; others were made under his supervision.
Composer: Carl Wilhelm Eugen Stenhammar Date of Birth: February 7, 1871 Date of Death: November 20, 1927 Nationality: Swedish Period/Era/Style: Romantic / 20th Century Transition Contribution(s): Stenhammar was a Swedish composer, conductor and pianist.
Biography: Stenhammar was born in Stockholm, and was the brother of architect Ernst Stenhammar. He received his first musical education in Stockholm. He then went to Berlin to further his studies in music. He became a glowing admirer of German music, particularly that of Richard Wagner and Anton Bruckner. Stenhammar himself described the style of his First Symphony in F major as “idyllic Bruckner”. He subsequently sought to emancipate himself and write in a more “Nordic” style, looking to Carl Nielsen and Jean Sibelius for guidance. The latter’s Symphony No. 2, especially, had a great effect on him, leading him to change his style and refuse to refer to his First Symphony as anything but a trivial piece.
From 1906 to 1922 he was Artistic Director and chief conductor of the Gothenburg Symphony, the first full-time professional orchestra in Sweden. In this capacity, he organised many performances of music by contemporary Scandinavian composers. In 1909, he briefly held the position of director of music at Uppsala University, where he was succeeded the following year by Hugo Alfvén.
Wilhelm Stenhammar died of a stroke at 56 years of age in Jonsered in the historic province of Västergötland. He is buried in Gothenburg.
Works: His works were quite varied and included two completed symphonies, a substantial Serenade for Orchestra, two piano concertos, four piano sonatas, a violin sonata, six string quartets, many songs and other vocal works, including several large-scale works for chorus or voices and orchestra: the early ballad Florez och Blanzeflor, Op. 3, written around 1891, Ithaka, Op. 21, from 1904, the cantatas Ett folk (A people) from 1905 and Sången (The song), Op. 44, from 1921.
Writing in The Chamber Music Journal, R.H.R. Silvertrust notes that Stenhammar’s six string quartets are the most important written between those of Johannes Brahms and Béla Bartók. Whether or not this is so, there is no denying that Stenhammar’s quartets represent a very important development during the twenty-five years he was writing chamber music. Tonally, they range from the middle late Romantics to a style akin to mature Sibelius. Though not unknown by the Swedish chamber music public, his string quartets have been neglected elsewhere. In 2008 Musikaliska konstföreningen published the world premiere edition of his Allegro Brillante for piano quartet composed in 1891 and his Allegro non tanto for piano trio composed in 1895.
Stenhammar was considered the finest Swedish pianist of his time. Pianists who venture into the realm of the string quartet often wind up writing compositions which sound as though they were composed at, and are perhaps better played on, the piano. That Stenhammar’s works show no such trait is because for nearly half of his life, he worked intimately with the Aulin Quartet, the top Swedish string quartet of his day and one of the best then performing in Europe. In fact, he toured throughout Europe with them for many years and a piano quintet was nearly always featured on their programmes. Thus it is no accident that his quartets show a fine grasp of instrumental timbre and technique. The part writing is sure, always idiomatic and evenly distributed.
Stenhammar recorded five piano rolls for Welte-Mignon on 21 September 1905.
Piano Concerto No. 1 in B♭ minor, Op. 1 (1893)
Piano Concerto No. 2 in D minor, Op. 23 (1904–1907)
Symphony No. 1 in F major (1902–03, withdrawn)
Symphony No. 2 in G minor, Op. 34 (1911–1915)
Symphony No. 3 in C major (1918–19, fragment)
Excelsior! Concert Overture, Op. 13 (1896)
A Dream Play, Concert version of the incidental music Op. 36 (1916)
As You Like It, Selections from the incidental music (1920)
Choral Songs (3) – 1. September (Alle de voksende skygger)
Ett Folk (cantata), Op. 22 (1904–1905) – complete
Sången (symphonic cantata for soloists, mixed chorus, children’s choir and orchestra), Op. 44 (1921) – Intermezzo
Romances (2) for Violin & Piano, Op. 28 – complete
Violin Sonata in A minor, Op. 19 (1899–1900) – complete
Composer: Reinhold Moritzevich Glière born Reinhold Ernest Glier, which was later converted for standardization purposes Date of Birth: 11 January 1875 (O.S. 30 December 1874) Date of Death: 23 June 1956 Nationality: Russian Period/Era/Style: Contribution(s)/Biography: Glière was born in Kiev. He was the second son of the wind instrument maker Ernst Moritz Glier (1834–1896) from Saxony (Klingenthal), who emigrated to the Russian Empire and married Józefa (Josephine) Korczak (1849–1935), the daughter of his master, from Warsaw. His original name, as given in his baptism certificate, was Reinhold Ernest Glier. About 1900 he changed the spelling and pronunciation of his surname to Glière, which gave rise to the legend, stated by Leonid Sabaneyev for the first time (1927), of his French or Belgian descent.
He entered the Kiev school of music in 1891, where he was taught violin by Otakar Ševčík, among others. In 1894 Glière entered the Moscow Conservatory where he studied with Sergei Taneyev(counterpoint), Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov (composition), Jan Hřímalý (violin; he dedicated his Octet for Strings, Op. 5, to Hřímalý), Anton Arensky and Georgi Conus (both harmony). He graduated in 1900, having composed a one-act opera Earth and Heaven (after Lord Byron) and received a gold medal in composition. In the following year Glière accepted a teaching post at the Moscow Gnesin School of Music. Taneyev found two private pupils for him in 1902: Nikolai Myaskovsky and the eleven-year-old Sergei Prokofiev, whom Glière taught on Prokofiev’s parental estate Sontsovka. Glière studied conducting with Oskar Fried in Berlin from 1905 to 1908. One of his co-students was Serge Koussevitzky, who conducted the premiere of Glière’s Symphony No. 2, Op. 25, on 23 January 1908 in Berlin. Back in Moscow, Glière returned again to the Gnesin School. In the following years Glière composed the symphonic poem Sireny, Op. 33 (1908), the programme symphony Ilya Muromets, Op. 42 (1911) and the ballet-pantomime Chrizis, Op. 65 (1912). In 1913 he gained an appointment to the school of music in Kiev, which was raised to the status of conservatory shortly after, as Kiev Conservatory. A year later he was appointed director. In Kiev he taught among others Levko (Lev) Revoutski, Borys Lyatoshynsky and Vladimir Dukelsky (who became well known in the West as Vernon Duke).
In 1920 Glière moved to the Moscow Conservatory where he (intermittently) taught until 1941. Boris Alexandrov, Aram Khachaturian, Alexander Davidenko, Lev Knipper and Alexander Mosolovwere some of his pupils from the Moscow era. For some years he held positions in the organization Proletkul’t and worked with the People’s Commissariat for Education. The theatre was in the centre of his work now. In 1923 Glière was invited by the Azerbaijan People’s Commissariat of Education to come to Baku and compose the prototype of an Azerbaijani national opera. The result of his ethnographical research was the opera Shakh-Senem, now considered the cornerstone of the Soviet-Azerbaijan national opera tradition. Here the musical legacy of the Russian classics from Glinka to Scriabin is combined with folk song material and some symphonic orientalisms. In 1927, inspired by the ballerina Yekaterina Vasilyevna Geltzer (1876–1962), he wrote the music for the ballet Krasny mak (The Red Poppy), later revised, to avoid the connotation of opium, as Krasny tsvetok (The Red Flower, 1955). The Red Poppy was praised “as the first Soviet ballet on a revolutionary subject”. Perhaps this is his most famous work in Russia as well as abroad. One number from the score, his arrangement of a Russian folk chastushka song Yablochko (“little apple”) consists of an introduction, a basso statement of the theme, and a series of increasingly frenetic variations ending with a powerful orchestral climax. It is identified in the ballet score by its almost equally well-known name, the Russian Sailor’s Dance. It is probably his best-known single piece, and is still heard at symphony concerts around the world, frequently as an encore. The ballet-pantomime Chrizis was revised just after The Red Poppy, in the late 1920s, followed by the popular ballet Comedians after Lope de Vega (1931, later re-written and renamed The Daughter from Castile).
After 1917 Glière never visited the West as some other Soviet composers did. He gave concerts in Siberia and other remote areas of the Soviet Union instead. He was working in Uzbekistan as a “musical development helper” at the end of the 1930s. From this time emerged the “drama with music” Gyulsara and the opera Leyli va Medzhnun, both composed with the Uzbek Talib Sadykov(1907–1957). From 1938 to 1948 Glière was Chairman of the Organization Committee of the Soviet Composers Association. Before the revolution Glière had already been honoured three times with the Glinka prize. During his last few years he was very often awarded: Azerbaijan (1934), the Russian Soviet Republic (1936), Uzbekistan (1937) and the USSR (1938) appointed him Artist of the People. The title “Doctor of Art Sciences” was awarded to him in 1941. He won first degree Stalin Prizes: in 1946 (Concerto for Voice and Orchestra), 1948 (Fourth String Quartet), and 1950 (The Bronze Horseman).
As Taneyev’s pupil and an ‘associated’ member of the circle around the Petersburg publisher Mitrofan Belyayev, it appeared Glière was destined to be a chamber musician. In 1902 Arensky wrote about the Sextet, Op. 1, “one recognizes Taneyev easily as a model and this does praise Glière”. Unlike Taneyev, Glière felt more attracted to the national Russian tradition as he was taught by Rimsky-Korsakov’s pupil Ippolitov-Ivanov. Alexander Glazunov even certified an “obtrusively Russian style” to Glière’s 1st Symphony. The 3rd Symphony Ilya Muromets was a synthesis between national Russian tradition and impressionistic refinement. The premiere was in Moscow in 1912, and it resulted in the award of the Glinka Prize. The symphony depicts in four tableaux the adventures and death of the Russian hero Ilya Muromets. This work was widely performed, in Russia and abroad, and earned him worldwide renown. It became an item in the extensive repertoire of Leopold Stokowski, who made, with Glière’s approval, an abridged version, shortened to around the half the length of the original. Today’s cult status of Ilya Muromets is based not least on the pure dimensions of the original 80 minute work, but Ilya Muromets demonstrates the high level of Glière’s artistry. The work has a comparatively modern tonal language, massive Wagnerianinstrumentation and long lyrical lines.
Notwithstanding his political engagement after the October revolution Glière kept out of the ideological ditch war between the Association for Contemporary Music (ASM) and the Russian Association of Proletarian Musicians (RAPM) during the late 1920s. Glière concentrated primarily on composing monumental operas, ballets, and cantatas. His symphonic idiom, which combined broad Slavonic epics with cantabile lyricism, is governed by rich, colourful harmony, bright and well-balanced orchestral colours and perfect traditional forms. Obviously this secured his acceptance by Tsarist and Soviet authorities, at the same time creating resentment from many composers who suffered intensely under the Soviet regime. As the last genuine representative of the pre-revolutionary national Russian school, i.e. a ‘living classic’, Glière was immune to the standard reproach of “formalism” (mostly equivalent to “modernity” or “bourgeois decadence”). Thus the infamous events of 1936 and 1948 passed Glière by.
Gliere wrote concerti for harp (Op. 74, 1938), coloratura soprano (Op. 82, 1943), cello (Op. 87, 1946, dedicated to Sviatoslav Knushevitsky), horn (Op. 91, 1951, dedicated to Valery Polekh), and violin (Op. 100, 1956, unfinished, completed by Boris Lyatoshinsky). Nearly unexplored are Glière’s educational compositions, his chamber works, piano pieces and songs from his time at the Moscow Gnesin School of Music.
He died on 23 June 1956 in Moscow.
Playlist of Examples:
Symphony No 1 in E-flat major, Op. 8 (1900)
Symphony No 2 in C minor, Op. 25 (1907)
Symphony No 3 (Ilya Muromets) in B minor, Op. 42 (1911)
Romance for violin and piano in D major, Op. 3 (1902)
Horn Concerto in B-flat major, Op. 91 (1951)
Ballet Music – The Red Poppy, Op. 70
Overtute to Shakh-Senem, opera, Op. 69 (1923–25)
Harp Concerto in E-flat major, Op. 74 (1938)
Concerto for coloratura soprano and orchestra in F minor, Op. 82 (1943)
Ballade for Cello and Piano, Op. 4 (1902)
String Quartet No 1 in A major, Op. 2 (1899)
String Quartet No 2 in G minor, Op. 20 (1905)
Violin Concerto (Concerto-Allegro) in G minor, Op. 100 (1956), completed and orchestrated by Boris Lyatoshinsky
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Composer: William (Yeates) Hurlstone Date of Birth: 07 January 1876 Date of Death: 30 May 1906 Nationality: English Period/Era/Style: Romantic/20th Century Contribution(s) & Biography: Hurlstonewas an English composer who studied piano and composition at the Royal College of Music, after gaining a scholarship. His piano professors were Algernon Ashton and Edward Dannreuther. His composition teacher, Sir Charles Villiers Stanford, considered Hurlstone, among the many brilliant students whom he taught, to have been the most talented. In 1906, Hurlstone returned to the college as Professor of Counterpoint, but died later that year of bronchial asthma. He is buried in Croydon Cemetery with members of his family, though the monumental cross that surmounted the grave has been destroyed. The monumental cross that is in situ over William’s grave was designed as a broken cross to signify that William had died before reaching his peak.(T. Hurlstone)
Composer: Alexander Nikolayevich Scriabin Date of Birth: 06 January 1872 [O.S. 25 December 1871]
Date of Death: 27 April [O.S. 14 April] 1915 Nationality: Russian Period/Era/Style: Romantic/20th Century Contribution(s): Scriabin was a Russian composer and pianist. Scriabin, who was influenced early in his life by the works of Frédéric Chopin, composed works that are characterised by a highly tonal idiom (these works are associated with his “first stage” of compositional output). Later in his career, independently of Arnold Schoenberg, Scriabin developed a substantially atonal and much more dissonant musical system, which accorded with his personal brand of mysticism. Scriabin was influenced by synesthesia, and associated colours with the various harmonic tones of his atonal scale, while his colour-coded circle of fifths was also influenced by theosophy. He is considered by some to be the main Russian Symbolist composer.
Scriabin was one of the most innovative and most controversial of early modern composers. The Great Soviet Encyclopedia said of Scriabin that “no composer has had more scorn heaped on him or greater love bestowed.” Leo Tolstoy described Scriabin’s music as “a sincere expression of genius.” Scriabin had a major impact on the music world over time, and influenced composers such as Igor Stravinsky, Sergei Prokofiev and Nikolai Roslavets. However Scriabin’s importance in the Russian and then Soviet musical scene, and internationally, drastically declined after his death. According to his biographer Bowers, “No one was more famous during their lifetime, and few were more quickly ignored after death.” Nevertheless, his musical aesthetics have been reevaluated, and his ten published sonatas for piano, which arguably provided the most consistent contribution to the genre since the time of Beethoven’s set, have been increasingly championed.
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). Then he entered the Moscow Conservatory. He graduated in 1900 at the age of 20, taking the Anton Rubinstein prize, having studied under Pavel Pabst, Wassily Sapellnikoff, Vasily 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.
Composer: Josef Suk Date of Birth: 04 January 1874 Date of Death: 29 May 1935 Nationality: Czech Period/Era/Style: Romantic / 20th century Contribution(s): Suk was a Czech composer and violinist. He studied under Antonín Dvořák, whose daughter he married.
Biography: From a young age, Josef Suk (born in Křečovice, Bohemia) was deeply involved and well-trained in music. He learned organ, violin, and piano from his father, Josef Suk senior, and was trained further in violin by the Czech violinist Antonín Bennewitz. His theory studies were conducted with several other composers including Josef Bohuslav Foerster, Karel Knittl, and Karel Stecker. He later focused his writing on chamber works under the teachings of Hanuš Wihan. Despite extensive musical training, his musical skill was often said to be largely inherited. Though he continued his lessons with Wihan another year after the completion of his schooling, Suk’s greatest inspiration came from another of his teachers, Czech composer Antonín Dvořák.
Known as one of Dvořák’s favorite pupils, Suk also became personally close to his mentor. Underlying this was Dvořák’s respect for Suk, reflected in Suk’s 1898 marriage to Dvořák’s daughter, Otilie, marking some of the happiest times in the composer’s life and music. However, the last portion of Suk’s life was punctuated with tragedy. Over the span of 14 months around 1905, not only did Suk’s mentor Dvořák die, but so did Otilie. These events inspired Suk’s Asrael Symphony.
Because of a shared heritage — and the coincidence of their dying within a few months of one another — Suk has been closely compared, in works and style, to fellow Czech composer Otakar Ostrčil. Suk, alongside Vitezslav Novak and Ostrčil, is considered one of the leading composers in Czech Modernism, with much shared influence among the three coming in turn from Dvořák.Eminent German figures such as composer Johannes Brahms and critic Eduard Hanslick recognized Suk’s work during his time with the Czech Quartet. Over time, well known Austrian composers such as Gustav Mahler and Alban Berg also began to take notice of Suk and his work.
Although he wrote mostly instrumental music, Suk occasionally branched out into other genres. Orchestral music was his strong suit, notably the Serenade for Strings, Op. 6 (1892). His time with the Czech Quartet, though performing successful concerts until his retirement, was not always met with public approval. Several anti-Dvořák campaigns came into prominence; criticism not only being directed at the quartet, but towards Suk specifically. The leftist critic Zdeněk Nejedlý accused the Czech Quartet of inappropriately playing concerts in the Czech lands during World War I. While these attacks diminished Suk’s spirits, they did not hinder his work. Suk retired in 1933, although he continued to be a valuable and inspirational public figure to the Czechs.