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It's Forgotten Masterpiece Friday!

For St. Paddy's, we have -- what else? -- a piece by an Irish composer. Born in County Down, in modern-day Northern Ireland, Hamilton Harty (1879-1941) spent most of his career in England as the music director of first the Hallé Orchestra and then the London Symphony Orchestra. He was best known for conducting the English premieres of many works by Mahler, Sibelius, and Richard Strauss, as well as Shostakovich's early symphonies, but was also an accomplished composer in his own right.

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It's Forgotten Masterpiece Friday!

Dora Pejačević (1885-1923) was arguably Croatia's first accomplished composer -- many Croatians like to claim Haydn due to his (alleged) partial Croatian descent, but Pejačević was the first of unquestionably Croatian nationality to achieve any significant recognition. In her short life, she left a considerable catalogue of orchestral, chamber, and vocal music; she was best known for her orchestral songs (songs for solo vocalist and orchestra). Her symphony and her piano concerto were both the first Croatian works in those genres.

Pejačević's one symphony -- again, the first symphony by a Croatian composer -- was composed in 1916-17 and first performed in 1920 after the end of the First World War. A powerful late Romantic symphony, it pushes the limits of the tonal palette and explores some of the synthetic scales and chords of Russian mysticism. This symphony was successful in its premiere, but fell into obscurity after the unexpected death of Arthur Nikisch, the conductor who championed the work, before being revived only in the 1980s.

drplacebo: (Neuro notes)
Almost caught up on past Forgotten Masterpiece Friday posts from Facebook. This one was from January 6, and I thought International Women's Day would be a good time to repost it here.

This week's composer is Alice Mary Smith (1839-1884), who in 1863 became the first British woman to have a symphony performed, and went on to be only the second woman elected to honorary membership in the Royal Academy of Music. Aside from being a woman, Smith also suffers from the relative neglect of Victorian British music in the concert hall; although the operettas of Gilbert & Sullivan are well known, few concert works by British composers of that era are performed with any regularity.

This is Smith's second symphony, composed in 1875-76. It shows the influence of Mendelssohn and Schumann, but also has a distinctly English sound, especially in the final movement. (Note, too, that this symphony was composed the year before W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan began to collaborate regularly!) Don't miss the second movement, which starts out rather understated but blossoms as the orchestration fills out and the melody itself become more expansive.

The recording is by the London Mozart Players, from a disc that also includes Smith's first symphony and a charming Andante for clarinet and orchestra (an orchestration by the composer of the slow movement from her clarinet sonata).

Recording below the cut... )
drplacebo: (Neuro notes)
It's Forgotten Masterpiece Friday!

It's not really clear where Ludwig Thuille (1861-1907) was from, or how his name was supposed to be pronounced. Some sources say he was born in Bozen, then in Austria but now known as the Italian town of Bolzano; others claim he was born in France or Switzerland and moved to Bozen as an infant. And there's further debate over whether his name would have been pronounced in the French manner (one syllable, silent final e), or the German manner (two syllables). In any case, Thuille lost both of his parents at a young age, ended up in Innsbruck where he met and became lifelong friends with a young Richard Strauss, and then went on to study music in Munich where he remained for the rest of his life.

Thuille's other distinction is that he was one of the few German-speaking composers who focused on chamber music in the post-Wagner era, while the trend around him was toward orchestral works that grew ever-larger in scale. His best-known work is his Sextet for Winds and Piano, which begins in Brahmsian form but ends with surprisingly modern flair.
Video under the cut! )
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Since I'm up really late, I might as well throw in another Forgotten Masterpiece Friday repost. This one was my second on Facebook, posted December 23, 2016. And like my most recent post, it also happens to be Scandinavian music in the vein of Mendelssohn.

Niels Gade (1817-1890) was Mendelssohn's assistant for three years before succeeded him as music director of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. Gade is perhaps the reason Mendelssohn had such an influence on the Scandinavian composers of the mid-to-late 19th century: he founded the Royal Danish Academy of Music, and his pupils included virtually every Scandinavian composer of note for several decades, including Edvard Grieg and Carl Nielsen. Gade's string octet, composed in 1848 shortly after Mendelssohn's death, lacks an express dedication but was clearly a homage to his mentor. It follows the form of Mendelssohn's octet almost exactly, with closely matched tempo markings, and like Mendelssohn's octet leans toward an orchestral treatment of the ensemble.

But Gade's piece is a mature masterwork in itself. Composed 23 years after Mendelssohn's, displays the denser, more elaborate harmonies that had become typical by then. It shows a sunnier, more extroverted bent than its predecessor, especially in its light, charming scherzo. The finale begins more lyrically, but gradually builds momentum and finishes with roof-raising energy.

This performance is split into two videos right at the 15-minute mark, so unfortunately the cut is right in the middle of the second movement. There's another performance on YouTube broken more conventionally by movement, but I prefer this interpretation.

I highly recommend the recording I have in my CD collection, which takes similar tempi to this performance on YouTube: the Deutsche Grammophon recording of this piece along with Gade's sextet, by string players from the Berlin Philharmonic.

Videos below the cut... )
drplacebo: (Neuro notes)
It's Forgotten Masterpiece Friday!

After a couple weeks of last-minute posts, I'm getting an early start this time. One of my friends, Jonathan Spatola-Knoll (fellow violist, composer, and soccer fanatic), seems to have been been heavily involved a revival of Elfrida Andrée's music lately. Jonathan has conducted US premieres of at least two of her orchestral works, and his edition of Andrée's 1st string quartet was recently published. So I felt like I had to highlight Andrée sooner or later.

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It's Forgotten Masterpiece Friday!

Black History Month continues with Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912), an English composer of Sierra Leone Krio descent known as the "African Mahler." It's easy to wonder what he might have done had he lived longer; he died of pneumonia at the height of his career, just as he was achieving widespread fame in the UK and the United States. Coleridge-Taylor's best known work, his secular cantata Hiawatha's Wedding Feast, remains somewhat widely performed, but his other music is well worth listening to as well.

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It's not Friday, but I did say I'd repost my past Forgotten Masterpiece Friday posts from Facebook, and Monday seems like a good time for it seeing as a bunch of other people post music on Mondays. So I'm starting from the beginning, with my first FMF post, appearing on Facebook on December 9, 2016.

Kunihiko Hashimoto (1904-1949) was probably Japan's leading composer in the 1930s and 1940s. His reputation has perhaps suffered because he spent much of the Second World War composing and conducting for Imperial Japanese propaganda films. However, he appears to have been apolitical and likely a reluctant nationalist, reverting to a conservative tonal idiom after previously studying under Egon Wellesz and Arnold Schoenberg and both composing and enthusiastically promoting serial, atonal, and microtonal music. (He eventually went on to compose music for a concert commemorating the adoption of Japan's postwar constitution in 1947.) Despite the severe restrictions placed on his artistic vision by the government that commissioned many of his works, he showed some real invention in fusing Japanese themes with the Western symphonic idiom -- "keeping the powers-that-be happy without selling himself out," as one reviewer noted. He has sometimes been described as a Japanese Kodály for his efforts to record and re-purpose folk songs.

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It's Forgotten Masterpiece Friday!

While obscure today, the Danish composer Asger Hamerik (1843-1923) was highly influential in the development of American music. For most of his career, he was director of the Peabody Institute (he was Peabody's second-ever director), and virtually all of his orchestral music was composed for the Peabody Institute orchestra during his time in Baltimore, including all seven of his symphonies. Before leaving Europe for America, he was the protégé of Hector Berlioz, and Berlioz's influence shows in Hamerik's use of Berlioz's idée fixe technique and the descriptive French subtitles of his symphonies.

This week's piece is Hamerik's second symphony, composed in 1882-83. Subtitled Symphonie Tragique, it loosely follows the structure of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, arcing from a mournful C minor into a triumphant C major coda. Unlike Beethoven, though, Hamerik builds the symphony around a single recurring theme or idée fixe, first heard as an oboe solo in the slow introduction to the first movement (2:11 of video). It returns most dramatically in the transition into the C major coda (40:50 of video), heard first in the low brass and passed around the orchestra in a slightly modified form.

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I just realized I'm in the middle of a whole string of consecutive music posts; I guess that's what happens in a concert week.

For the last two months, I've been making Forgotten Masterpiece Friday posts on Facebook. I have a lot of recordings of obscure classical music in my collection, and I've wanted to share some of the best with people who might be interested in looking beyond the beaten path. It's mostly Romantic and early modern, mostly obscure composers (though perhaps occasionally something underplayed by a better known composer)... and I'm trying not to make it all dead European men. It occurred to me that LJ is a better platform than Facebook for this kind of thing, so I'm going to start posting them here as well. I'm also going to try to post my past Forgotten Masterpiece Friday posts here on other days, if I'm too busy to post something else.

The composer for the first Friday of Black History Month is Florence Price (1887-1953). A child prodigy from Arkansas whose first compositions were published when she was 11 and who graduated from high school at 14, Price studied with at the New England Conservatory of Music and graduated with honors in 1906. While at the New England Conservatory, she initially pretended to be Mexican to escape negative social attitudes toward blacks at the time, but at the urging of her mentor George Chadwick, eventually began to incorporate elements from African-American folk music into her work.

Price actually composed very little until divorce made her a single mother in 1931. To make ends meet, she began working as an organist for silent films and composing music for radio ads under a pen name, while also developing larger concert works. Success as a composer came quickly: her first symphony won a major competition in 1932, and the following year the Chicago Symphony Orchestra performed it to positive reviews. It was the first symphony by an African-American woman to be performed by a major orchestra.

That symphony is tonight's piece. Inspired by Dvorak's 9th, Price's 1st Symphony is written in a late Romantic idiom, but makes extensive use of melodic and rhythmic elements drawn from spirituals and African-American and Native American dances in its three faster movements, surrounding a hymn-like slow movement.


YouTube recording below the cut. )