Alfonso X (“el Sabio”): The Wise King Who Loved Music – Nov. 23

Born: Nov. 23, 1221, Toledo, Spain Died: April 4, 1284, Seville, Spain Alfonso X, King of Castille, Leon, and Galicia, was appropriately nicknamed “El Sabio” (the Wise). His 32-year reign in Spain was a time of artistic and intellectual advances, in an atmosphere of religious tolerance and cooperation. Here are a four reasons why this … Read more

Jean-Baptiste Lully – Nov. 28

Born Nov. 28, 1632 in Florence, Italy Died March 22, 1687 in Paris, France Italian Composer Conquers (and scandalizes) Versailles Italian-born miller’s son of limited education and musical training, Lully rose to become master of French Baroque music and the favorite court composer of King Louis XIV. He endeared himself to the French public as … Read more

Paul Dukas – Oct. 1

Born Oct. 1, 1865 in Paris, France Died May 17, 1935 in Paris, France After attending the Paris Conservatory, Paul Dukas became a music critic and orchestrator. As a composer, he was a perfectionist and destroyed much more than he ever published. Among his few surviving works, the most famous  was The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (1897), … Read more

Antonin Dvorak–Sept. 8

Born Sept. 8, 1841 in Nelahozeves, Bohemia (now Czech Republic) Died May 1, 1904 in Prague, Austria-Hungary (now Czech Republic) For Dvorak, classical music was a vehicle to express the character of a nation, and native folk melodies were important in his works. A passionate proponent of his homeland, as was Smetana before him, he … Read more

George Gershwin – Sept. 26

True music must repeat the thought and inspirations of the people and the time. My people are Americans and my time is today.      – George Gershwin Born Sept. 26, 1898 in Brooklyn, New York Died July 11, 1937 in Hollywood, California George Gershwin, the son of Russian Jewish immigrants, is the quintessential American composer. … Read more

Dmitri Shostakovich – Sept. 25

Born Sept. 25, 1906 in St. Petersburg, Russia Died Aug. 9, 1975 in Moscow, Russia A product of the Bolshevik Revolution, Shostakovich was the most famous of all  Soviet composers. He led a politically and personally troubled life, yet produced some of the century’s most celebrated and frequently performed works even today . Born into … Read more

Jimmy Reed – Sept. 6

Born September 6, 1925 in Dunleith, Mississippi Died August 29, 1976 in Oakland, California Mathis James “Jimmy” Reed, musician and songwriter popular during the 1950’s and ‘60’s, was noted for his electric blues guitar sound, lowdown harmonica, and slack-voiced, twangy singing style (which was his charm and trademark sound which many musicians imitated). He composed … Read more

John Cage – Sept. 5

Born Sept. 5, 1912 in Los Angeles, California Died Aug. 11, 1992 in Manhattan, New York “There are two things that don’t have to mean anything; one is music, and the other is laughter.” – John Cage, paraphrasing Immanuel Kant. (Cage agreed with Kant that music and laughter don’t have to mean anything in order … Read more

Darius Milhaud – Sept. 4

Born Sept. 4, 1892 in Aix-en-Provence, France Died June 22, 1974 in Geneva, Switzerland   “Don’t be afraid of writing something people can remember and whistle. Don’t ever feel discomfited by a melody".  Milhaud to his student Burt Bacharach Milhaud was a student of Charles Widor, Vincent d’Indy, and Paul Dukas.  A member of Les … Read more

King Henry VIII: Better Musician Than Husband

King Henry VIII, famous for his marriages on the rocks (and the blocks), is lesser known for his talent as a musician and composer. Tall, handsome, and charming in his youth, he played several musical instruments, and was a skilled singer and dancer. Some of his musical compositions are still performed today.

Franz Liszt – Oct. 22

Born Oct. 22, 1811, Raiding, Hungary
Died July 31, 1886, Bayreuth, Germany

180px-Liszt_1858Liszt’s father was a cellist in the court of Esterhazy (where Haydn had also served as composer), and he instructed his son in piano. Franz was a child prodigy, and developed an early interest in both church and gypsy music. He began to compose at age 8, and by age 9 performed his first concert. His father then took him to Vienna, where he studied piano with Carl Czerny (a pupil of Beethoven) and composition with Antonio Salieri, music director of the Viennese court (and rival to Mozart). In 1923 Liszt moved with his family to Paris, where he was refused admittance to the Paris Conservatory because he was a foreigner. He made his sensational Paris debut in 1824 and traveled with his father throughout France, Germany, Switzerland, and England to rave reviews.

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Camille Saint-Säens – Oct. 9

Born Oct. 9, 1835 in Paris, France
Died Dec. 16, 1921 in Algiers, Algeria

SCamille Saint-Saenzaint-Säens was an eminent  French composer of operas, symphonies, symphonic tone poems, concertos, and numerous smaller works, as well as an organist and pianist of phenomenal ability.  As a prodigy, he first performed in public at age 5 when he accompanied a Beethoven violin sonata, and his first composition from age 4 is preserved at the Bibliotheque Nacionale.  At age 10 he played a major solo recital, formally launching a performance career which continued until 4 months before he died at the age of 86.  He appears to be the first pianist to perform publicly the complete cycle  of Mozart piano concertos. He is also the first major composer to write specifically for the cinema (The Assassination of the Duke of Guise, 1908).

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