Sergei Rachmaninoff ~April 01, 1873 - March 28, 1943 ~ Romantic Period
Sergei Rachmaninoff was one of the most important composers in Russia in the early 20th century. He was a wonderful pianist, and some of his most important compositions were written for that instrument.
Despite fine training and encouragement from Tchaikovsky, who was Russia's most famous composer at the time, Rachmaninoff’s career moved slowly. When his first symphony was performed, absolutely nobody liked it. He lost confidence and found himself unable to compose. He finally went to a hypnotist, who repeated over and over to him, "You will write your Concerto. You will write your Concerto."
And Rachmaninoff did, producing his famous Piano Concerto in C minor, which is his most popular work. He went on to compose several other concerti plus symphonies, piano works and songs.
In 1917, Rachmaninoff left his home country, moving first to Switzerland and then to the United States.
He toured often, conducting and performing. His astounding abilities on the piano won him high praise and great fame. He had a phenomenal memory and could hear a piece of music and play it back not only the next day but years afterward. Fortunately, Rachmaninoff recorded much of his own music, so we can still hear his performances today. He died in California at the age of 69.
Hey, Kids! Meet Béla Bartók!
born in Hungary on March 25, 1881
died in New York City on September 26, 1945
His Music: Bela Bartok was a famous Hungarian composer and pianist. He is mostly known for his piano music but also composed string quartets and several pieces for orchestra including one called Concerto for Orchestra and an opera titled Bluebeard’s Castle. Bartók’s harmonies and lively rhythms were sometimes quite new to classical music and some audiences found them difficult to understand at first.
Bartók’s music has many modern techniques such atonality, bitonality and modern harmonies. He often uses different kinds of scales (not just major and minor ones), and very complicated rhythms. A lot of these are inspired by the folk music he heard when he and one of his teachers traveled through Hungary’s countryside to collect and study folk music. At the time it was considered gypsy music, but Bartok felt differently and brought these melodies and rhythms into his own compositions.
He wrote a lot of piano music, including some easy pieces for people who are learning the piano. This includes a collection of pieces in six volumes called Mikrokosmos which are very popular with young musicians today.
His Life: Bartok was often ill as a child but he showed great musical talent. His mother taught him piano and he also began composing. He gave his first public concert at age 11 which included some of his own compositions.
Bartok was married and had two sons. He emigrated to the United States in 1942 and became a US citizen, living and performing in New York City until his death in 1945.
A favorite Bartok piece of Betsy's is Diary of a Fly which she prepared for her senior recital. Here is a recording of the piece played by Bartok himself: https://safeshare.tv/submit?url=https%3A%2F%2Fyoutu.be%2FHj3kkdwiGdA
Our February composer is Felix Mendelssohn
Born: February 3, 1809 in Hamburg, Germany
Died: November 4, 1847 in Leipzig, Germany
Felix Mendelssohn was a German composer, conductor, pianist, and organist. Felix and his elder sister, Fanny, received their early piano instruction from their mother. As a child, Mendelssohn took a keen interest in drawing and painting and took lessons in foreign languages.
Mendelssohn had his first public concert when he was only 9 years old. Famous musicians gave concerts every Sunday at his father's house; in addition to broadening the musical horizons of the gifted boy, they enabled him, as a budding composer, to test many of his works as he wrote them.
At the age of 10 he entered a music academy, and from that time on compositions flowed steadily from his pen. By age 11 he had produced two piano sonatas, a violin sonata, songs, a quartet for men's voices, a cantata, and a short opera.
On March 11, 1829, a great musical event occurred: Mendelssohn conducted the first complete performance of Johann Sebastian Bach's (1685–1750) St. Matthew Passion since the composer's death. The work was a huge success, and the performance was of great importance to all later German composers for it marked the beginning of the revival of Bach's works.
At the age of only 26 Mendelssohn became director of the Gewandhaus concerts in Leipzig, Germany. He made Leipzig into a musical center of European significance because of his gifts as conductor, his creativity, and his broad musical education. A year later he met Cécile Jeanrenaud, whom he married in 1837. Five children were born of this marriage.
In 1843 Mendelssohn founded the Leipzig Conservatory of Music, the first of its kind in Germany. He completed the Scottish Symphony, the Violin Concerto, and other major works of his maturity in Leipzig. His main job was still as conductor of the Gewandhaus concerts, but he also functioned as director of the Leipzig Conservatory, teaching piano and composition as part of his duties.
Mendelssohn's health began to fail in the following year. Three years later he was broken-hearted by the death of his beloved sister, Fanny. From then on he grew more ill and he died only 6 months later at the age of 38.
Here is a link to a performance of one (of many) of Mendelssohn's gorgeous Song without Words, Opus 19, number 1.
Meet January's composer, Muzio Clementi!
Muzio Clementi was an Italian composer who lived from 1752 to 1832. He was born in Rome, Italy. He was the first composer to write music for the pianoforte which made use of the instrument's special features. He was also the first virtuoso performer on the instrument. As a composer, performer, and maker of pianos, he is known as the "father of the pianoforte.
Clementi was born in Rome on January 23, 1752. He was the eldest child of Nicolo Clementi, a silversmith, and Magdalena Kaiser. Clementi began to learn music from Antonio Baroni (1738-1792), who was a relative. Baroni was in charge of the choir at St. Peter's Basilica. He also had lessons from the organists at the Basilica.
When he was 13, he became the church organist at San Lorenzo in Damaso (Saint Lawrence in the House of Damascus), a parish church in Rome. He had also started writing music including an oratorio, Martirio de' gloriosi Santi Giuliano and a mass. In 1766, Sir Peter Beckford, heard him playing the harpsichord. He took Clementi back to England with him, so that he could provide the musical entertainment at Beckford's house in Dorset. He died in Evesham, Worcestershire, after a short illness.
At our January Performance Club gathering, I performed Clementi's Sonatina Op. 36, No. 1 while the kids finished their snacks. There is a simplified arrangement of the first movement in Piano Pronto Movement 1 which many students have played or will play during their studies. The original form is Clementi's most approachable Sonatina. Here is a link to Professor Alan Huckleberry from the University of Iowa performing the first movement in it's original form. Listen for scales and those rotating melodic octaves in the right hand that I was totally enamored with as a 3rd grader when I first learned this piece!
Our December featured composer is Dmitri Kabalevsky.
Dmitri Kabalevsky composed piano music for all ages and abilities, applying a sense of humor to many of his works. His most notable contribution to pedagogical repertoire is his "Twenty-four Little Pieces". Kabalevsky did also compose works for orchestra, as well as voice. In fact, in Russia he's best known for his vocal songs and operas. In the US his orchestral and keyboard works are better known.
Born in Russia on December 30, 1904, Kabalevsky was encouraged by his father to study mathematics. However Dmitri's interests were firmly planted in the arts - and not just music but he was also a poet and painter.
When he passed away in 1987, Kabalevsky had built a successful career as a musician and composer as well as educator. He brought music education to Russian classrooms and was passionate about connecting children to music.
Here's a video of Betsy's favorite Kabalevksy piece, Comedian's Galop. Originally composed for marimba and orchestra this piano solo arrangement is difficult to find in sheet music but so incredibly fun!
November's Composer of the Month is Jennifer Eklund.
Jennifer was born November 11, 1979 and began studying the piano at the age of six.
Her primary teacher encouraged her to start teaching beginning level students at the age of fourteen. Jennifer was a bit skeptical because of her age but decided to take the plunge. Her business started small and has continued to grow throughout the years along with her experience and understanding of a positive and effective teaching approach. During her college years Jennifer continued teaching as well as performing.
After graduation from college Jennifer continued teaching privately and spent many years developing and testing the Piano Pronto piano lesson books on students of all ages and levels. Her experience as a teacher played an integral role in the selection of material for the books as many of the pieces have been requested by her students. Arranging music has become a real passion of hers as she finds it extremely rewarding to write music that is both educational and enjoyable to play. In the fall of 2008 Jennifer returned to Cal State Long Beach and completed her Masters Degree in Musicology. This new pursuit combined her love for music history, research, and writing.
In 2014 Jennifer retired from teaching in order to run Piano Pronto Publishing on a full-time basis. While it was a difficult decision, Jennifer is truly living her dream now with 110% of her focus on creating new products to benefit students all over the world. When not packing orders, or networking with customers at workshops or online Jennifer spends her time writing and arranging new music and playing with her two border collies.
Our Composer of the Month for October is Franz Liszt. He was born in Hungary in 1811 and died in 1886. He was a composer during the Romantic era of music.
While Franz Liszt was a composer, conductor, critic and teacher, he was best known as a pianist. He was the first of the virtuoso performers. When Liszt walked onto the stage, he took over the hall, amazing the audience with his incredible technique and his awesome presence. He was a true showman and the man who invented the solo recital. Although some were annoyed by his personality, Liszt was one of the greatest pianists the world has ever known.
As a composer, Liszt, of course, wrote music primarily for the piano. He also transcribed popular orchestral works for this instrument. Many of his pieces are tremendously difficult and few pianists can perform them properly. Later in his life, he started writing music for the orchestra and composed wonderful melodies.
Liszt also wrote music criticism and was known as a conductor and teacher. He trained many of the performers of his time in his tradition.
Because of his ego and attitude, Liszt was always a controversial figure. However, he is recognized as one of the dominant personalities of 19th century Romantic music.
Un Sospiro and Liebestraum, are great examples of Liszt's composing skill. This video is another flamboyant performer, Lang Lang, performing Un Sospiro. And because I love playing Liebestraum, I've included a video of Evgeny Kissin performing this gorgeous piece.
Our Composer of the Month for September is Nadia Boulanger.
Nadia Boulanger was born to a Parisian family of prominence. Her father was a voice teacher and composer at the Paris Conservatory and her mother was a Russian princess!
By age 10, Nadia had successfully passed her entrance exams to the Paris Conservatory and began her study there. She excelled in solfege sight singing and aural (ear) skills. She studied composition with the famous composer Gabriel Faure.
Her younger sister, Lili, was also an excellent composer. She also had frail health and unfortunately passed away when in her teens in 1918. Nadia also stopped composing and turned her attention to teaching and conducting.
She was the first woman conductor of the Royal Philharmonic and taught noteable musicians such as Aaron Copland, Quincy Jones and Philip Glass in schools in the US and England.
While her compositions are not well-known, she did compose for voice, piano, organ, cello and orchestra. Her cantata, La Sirene, won a competition in France while she was still studying at the Paris Conservatory!
Hear a performance of one her organ compositions, Prelude in F minor.