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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.
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.
It’s not entirely clear when Vladimir Horowitz was born, or where. The date was October 1 (in the ‘new’, Gregorian style), but the year isn’t certain. He was once thought to have been born in 1904, but it seems that his passport was doctored in 1925—the year he left the Soviet Union—so that it said he was a year younger than he really was.
In her book Shostakovich: A Life, Laurel E. Fay describes the memorable first lesson Dmitri received from his piano teacher mother, Sofya. “Within minutes,” Fay writes, “she recognized that she was dealing with a youngster of precocious musical ability, possessing perfect pitch and a phenomenal memory.” He progressed on the piano with ridiculous ease, and also started composing from the age of nine.
A journalist who attended his rehearsal asked him why he ended the programme with Parsifal since the music was more difficult for a broad audience than Tristan. He replied: "What can be done after redemption?"
"What does a conductor do, anyway?" Most classical musicians have likely fielded this question from well-meaning but perplexed family and friends. To help you flesh out your answer, we're pulling back the curtain and diving into a world many music lovers rarely get the opportunity to explore: the rehearsal.
Next week, we'll be celebrating Evgeny Svetlanov's birthday and streaming the last two rounds of the 4th Evgeny Svetlanov International Conducting Competition. We're kicking off our special Svetlanov in the Spotlight series with a fun list of things you may not know about the legendary Russian conductor...
A central figure of the New York scene during much of the twentieth century, Leonard Bernstein led a truly fascinating life. A known charmer with a passion for entertaining, he was often the life of any party he attended. What better way to celebrate the magnetic maestro than a list of fun facts to whip out at your next dinner party?
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