Saturday, April 20, 2019
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Paul Kilbey

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Paul is a freelance classical music writer and editor who lives in Germany. Read more about him on http://paulkilbey.co.uk/.
“We must at least keep the fee secret,” wrote Verdi in June 1870, about his latest project: Aida.
Classical music has such a long, storied history, that it can be difficult to know where to start. Each week, we’ll be exploring an important event that left its mark. This week? The death of a man whose work is today the stuff of legend and whose...
Classical music has such a long, storied history, that it can be difficult to know where to start. Each week, we’ll be exploring an important event that left its mark. This week? A recognizably "American" work written by a Czech master...
Strauss’s opera Salome scandalized the musical world in 1905—and again in May 1906, when, as Ross vividly describes, the Austrian premiere in Graz drew together an astonishing array of musical luminaries, from Mahler to Schoenberg to Puccini. “Like a flash of lightning,” Ross writes, “it illuminated a musical world on the verge of traumatic change. Past and future were colliding; centuries were passing in the night.”
Hugely renowned in his native Europe, the young Béla Bartók can hardly have imagined that he would receive perhaps the most important commission of his life while languishing with an unknown disease on a hospital bed in New York, after several barren years. But the final chapter in Bartók’s life story was full of surprises.
Benjamin Britten was born on November 22, 1913—St Cecilia’s Day, the patron saint of music—in Lowestoft, Suffolk, overlooking the English east coast. Music and the English coast were the forces that would shape his life. These twin influences were combined in perhaps the most profound way a full century after Britten’s birth.
Early critics of Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony reacted differently to the different movements, but the finale repeatedly came in for criticism. Tchaikovsky even started to believe some of the more negative assessments himself: “I concluded that this symphony is unsuccessful,” he wrote after conducting it in Prague. “There is something repulsive about it.”
It’s a strange thought that the farcical Figaro would be followed up with an opera in which the protagonist—a compulsive womanizer, as well as a murderer—literally descends to hell, leaving behind a smattering of his victims to try and rebuild their shattered lives.
Franz Liszt was born in the Hungarian town of Raiding on October 22, 1811—a little more than a year after the births of Chopin and Schumann. Unlike those two composers, however, he reached old age: he died at 75, three years after his friend and son-in-law Richard Wagner. He’s one of very few composers whose life makes the 19th century look rather short.
Debussy began La mer in August 1903. Buoyed by the success of his opera Pelléas et Mélisande in 1902, the composer decided to embark on a set of “three symphonic sketches” inspired by the sea: his second tripartite work for orchestra, following the Nocturnes of 1899.