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Bach meets The Beatles – “Golden Slumbers – You Never Give Me Your Money” – Improvised by John Bayless, piano.
John Bayless is one of the top classical cross-over recording and concert performing artists, best known for his top-selling albums, “Bach Meets the Beatles,” “The Puccini Album” and “Circle of Life: Songs by Elton John in the Style of Bach.” He has appeared at Carnegie Hall in a performance of his own West Side Story Concert Variations for solo piano and orchestra, made his Tanglewood debut playing Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue with the Boston Pops, opened the San Francisco Summer Pops season with the same work and appeared in three sold-out concerts at the Hollywood Bowl with John Mauceri and the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra.
He performed his West Side Story Concert Variations and his Bach Meets the Beatles repertoire with the Philadelphia Orchestra. Bayless is Artistic Director for the Waring International Piano Competition. For more information, visit http://www.vwipc.org/John-Bayless-Bio.
Show was directed by Stewart Schulman. Singer actress Jean Kauffman has a cameo. Bayless had a stroke in 2008 which left him paralyzed on his right side. Bayless shares his road to recovery, and his return to composing and performing with one hand. This story of resiliency and hope has something for everyone.
Woody Guthrie: the 100 most inspiring musicians of all time
The songs of prolific American folksinger and songwriter Woodrow (“Woody”) Wilson Guthrie (b. July 14, 1912, Okemah, Okla., U.S.—d. Oct. 3, 1967, New York, N.Y.) chronicled the plight of common people, especially during the Great Depression.
Woody Guthrie, the third of five children, was the son of a onetime cowboy, land speculator, and local Democratic politician who named him after Pres. Woodrow Wilson. His mother, who introduced her children to a wide variety of music, was thought to be mentally ill and was institutionalized when Guthrie was a teenager. Her erratic behavior was actually caused by Huntington’s disease, a hereditary neurological disorder about which little was known at the time and which would later afflict Guthrie too. The family lived near the relocated Creek nation in Okemah, Okla., a small agricultural and railroad town that boomed in the 1920s when oil was discovered in the area. The effect on the town and its people of the decline that followed the boom sensitized the young Guthrie to others’ suffering, which he had also experienced firsthand through the calamities that befell his splintering family. (Guthrie paid particular attention to this period of his life in his autobiographical novel Bound for Glory .)
Soon after his mother’s institutionalization, Guthrie began “rambling” for the first time, coming to love life on the road. Though he often left Okemah to travel during his teens, he always returned to continue his high school education. At age 19 he relocated to Pampa, Texas, where he married Mary Jennings, with whom he had three children. When the Great Depression deepened and drought turned a large section of the Great Plains into the Dust Bowl, making it impossible for Guthrie to support his family, he again took to the road. Like so many other displaced people from the region (collectively called “Okies” regardless of whether they were Oklahomans), he headed for California, playing his guitar and harmonica and singing in taverns, taking odd jobs, and visiting hobo camps as he traveled by freight train, hitchhiked, or simply walked westward.
In Los Angeles in 1937, he landed a spot performing on the radio, first with his cousin, Jack Guthrie, then with Maxine Crissman, who called herself Lefty Lou. At that time Guthrie began songwriting in earnest, giving voice to the struggles of the dispossessed and downtrodden while celebrating their indomitable spirit in songs such as “Do Re Mi,” “Pretty Boy Floyd,” and “Dust Bowl Refugee.”
Guthrie’s politics became increasingly leftist, and by the time he moved to New York City in 1940 he had become an important musical spokesman for labor and populist sentiments, embraced by left-leaning intellectuals and courted by communists. In New York, to which he had brought his family, Guthrie became one of the principal songwriters for the Almanac Singers, a group of activist performers—including Leadbelly, Pete Seeger, Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee, and Cisco Houston—who used their music to attack fascism and support humanitarian and leftist causes.
In 1941 Guthrie made his first recordings, with folklorist Alan Lomax, and traveled to the Pacific Northwest, where a commission to write songs in support of federal dam building and electrification projects produced such well-known compositions as “Grand Coulee Dam” and “Roll On Columbia.” Back in New York after serving as a merchant marine during World War II, his first marriage having ended in divorce, Guthrie married Marjorie (Greenblatt) Mazia, a Martha Graham Dance Company dancer with whom he would have four children (including son Arlo, who would become an important singer-songwriter in his own right in the 1960s).
As the political tide in the United States turned conservative and then reactionary during the 1950s, Guthrie and his folksinger friends in New York kept alive the flame of activist music making. He continued writing and performing politically charged songs that inspired the American folk revival of the 1960s, at the head of which were performers such as Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and Phil Ochs, who came to pay homage to Guthrie in his hospital room in New Jersey, to which he was confined beginning in 1954, after his increasingly erratic actions were finally and correctly diagnosed as the result of Huntington’s disease.
Among the more than 1,000 songs that Guthrie wrote were a number of remarkable children’s songs written in the language and from the perspective of childhood, as well as some of the most lasting and influential songs in the canon of American music, not least “So Long (It’s Been Good to Know Yuh)”, “Hard Traveling,” “Blowing Down This Old Dusty Road, ” “Union Maid,” and (inspired by John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath) “Tom Joad .” Probably the most famous of his works is “This Land Is Your Land, ” which became a pillar of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.
At the time of his death in 1967, Guthrie had already begun to assume legendary stature as a folk figure, and his influence on such pivotal singer-songwriters as Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen was immense. A film version of his book Bound for Glory appeared in 1976, and in 1998 Billy Bragg and alternative rockers Wilco released the critically acclaimed Mermaid Avenue , a collection of previously unrecorded lyrics by Guthrie that they had set to music; Mermaid Avenue Vol. II followed in 2000.
Robert Johnson: the 100 most inspiring musicians of all time
Robert Johnson (b. c. 1911, Hazlehurst, Miss., U.S.—d. Aug. 16, 1938, near Greenwood, Miss.) was an American blues composer, guitarist, and singer whose eerie falsetto singing voice and masterful, rhythmic slide guitar influenced both his contemporaries and many later blues and rock musicians.
Robert Johnson was the product of a confusing childhood, with three men serving as his father before he reached age seven. Little is known about his biological father (Noah Johnson, whom his mother never married), and the boy and his mother lived on various plantations in the Mississippi Delta region before settling briefly in Memphis, Tenn., with her first husband (Robert Dodds, who had changed his surname to Spencer).
The bulk of Johnson’s youth, however, was spent in Robinsonville, Miss., with his mother and her second husband (Dusty Willis). There, Johnson learned to play the Jew’s harp and harmonica before taking up the guitar. In 1929, he married 16-year-old Virginia Travis, whose death in childbirth (along with that of their baby) in April 1930 devastated Johnson.
In Robinsonville he came in contact with well-known Mississippi Delta bluesmen Willie Brown, Charley Patton, and Son House—all of whom influenced his playing and none of whom was particularly impressed by his talent. They were dazzled by his musical ability, however, when he returned to town after spending as much as a year away. That time away is central to Johnson’s mythic status.
According to legend, during that period Johnson made a deal with Satan at a crossroads, acquiring his prodigious talent as a guitarist, singer, and songwriter in exchange for the stipulation that he would have only eight more years to live. (A similar story circulated in regard to another Mississippi bluesman, Tommy Johnson.)
Music historian Robert Palmer, in is highly regarded book Deep Blues (1981), instead ascribes Robert Johnson’s remarkable musical attainments to the time he had to hone his skills as a guitarist under the instruction of Ike Zinneman as a result of the financial support he received from the older woman he married near Hazlehurst, Miss. (Johnson’s birthplace), and to the wide variety of music to which he was exposed during his hiatus from Robinsonville, including the singlestring picking styles of Lonnie Johnson and Scrapper Blackwell.
After returning briefly to Robinsonville, Johnson settled in Helena, Ark., where he played with Elmore James, Robert Nighthawk, and Howlin’ Wolf, among others. He also became involved with Estella Coleman and informally adopted her son, Robert Lockwood, Jr., who later became a notable blues musician under the name Robert Jr. Lockwood. Johnson traveled widely throughout Mississippi, Arkansas, Texas, and Tennessee and as far north as Chicago and New York, playing at house parties, juke joints, and lumber camps and on the street.
In 1936–37 he made a series of recordings in a hotel room in San Antonio, Texas, and a warehouse in Dallas. His repertoire included several blues songs by House and others, but Johnson’s original numbers, such as “Me and the Devil Blues,” “Hellhound on My Trail,” “Sweet Home Chicago,” “I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom,” “Ramblin’ on My Mind,” and “Love in Vain” are his most compelling pieces. Unlike the songs of many of his contemporaries—which tended to unspool loosely, employing combinations of traditional and improvised lyrics—Johnson’s songs were tightly composed, and his song structure and lyrics were praised by Bob Dylan.
Despite the limited number of his recordings, Johnson had a major impact on other musicians, including Muddy Waters, Elmore James, Eric Clapton, and the Rolling Stones. Johnson died of poisoning after drinking strychnine-laced whiskey in a juke joint.
00:00 “I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom” Robert Johnson 02:58 “Phonograph Blues” Robert Johnson 05:33 “Phonograph Blues (Alt. Version – Take 2)” Robert Johnson 08:08 “Ramblin’ On My Mind” Robert Johnson 11:01 “Ramblin’ On My Mind (Alt. Version – Take 2)” Robert Johnson 13:23 “Kindhearted Woman Blues” Robert Johnson 16:14 “Kindhearted Woman Blues (Alt. Version Take 2)” Robert Johnson 18:46 “Terraplane Blues” Robert Johnson
21:46 “I’m A Steady Rollin’ Man” Robert Johnson 24:24 “Walking Blues” Robert Johnson 26:53 “Last Fair Deal Gone Down” Robert Johnson 29:32 “Dead Shrimp Blues” Robert Johnson 32:09 “Sweet Home Chicago” Robert Johnson 35:11 “32-20 Blues” Robert Johnson 38:02 “Come On In My Kitchen” Robert Johnson 40:52 “Come On In My Kitchen (Alt. Version – Take 2)” Robert Johnson
43:30 “If I Had Possession Over Judgement Day” Robert Johnson 46:04 “Me And The Devil Blues” Robert Johnson 48:36 “Me And The Devil Blues (Alt. Version – Take 1)” Robert Johnson 51:12 “Preaching Blues (Up Jumped The Devil)” Robert Johnson 54:05 “Stones In My Passway” Robert Johnson
Mahalia Jackson: the 100 most inspiring musicians of all time
American gospel music singer Mahalia Jackson
(b. Oct. 26, 1911, New Orleans, La., U.S.—d. Jan. 27, 1972, Evergreen Park, near Chicago, Ill.) is known as the “Queen of Gospel Song.
Jackson was brought up in a strict religious atmosphere. Her father’s family included several entertainers, but she was forced to confine her own musical activities to singing in the church choir and listening—surreptitiously—to recordings of Bessie Smith and Ida Cox as well as of Enrico Caruso. When she was 16 she went to Chicago and joined the Greater Salem Baptist Church choir, where her remarkable contralto voice, soon led to her selection as a soloist.
Jackson first came to wide public attention in the 1930s, when she participated in a cross-country gospel tour, singing such songs as “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” and “I Can Put My Trust in Jesus.” In 1934 her first recording, “God Gonna Separate the Wheat from the Tares,” was a success, leading to a series of other recordings.
Jackson’s first great hit, “Move on Up a Little Higher,” appeared in 1945; it was especially important for its use of the “vamp,” an indefinitely repeated phrase (or chord pattern) that provides a foundation for solo improvisation.
All the songs with which she was identified—including “I Believe,” “Just over the Hill,” “When I Wake Up in Glory,” and “Just a Little While to Stay Here”—were gospel songs, with texts drawn from biblical themes and strongly influenced by the harmonies, rhythms, and emotional force of blues. Jackson refused to sing any but religious songs, or indeed to sing at all in surroundings that she considered inappropriate. But she sang on the radio and on television and, starting in 1950, performed to overflow audiences in annual concerts at Carnegie Hall in New York City. Eight of Jackson’s records sold more than a million copies each.
Jackson was enormously popular abroad; her version of “Silent Night,” for example, was one of the all-time bestselling records in Denmark. She made a notable appearance at the Newport (Rhode Island) Jazz Festival in 1957—in a program devoted entirely, at her request, to gospel songs— and she sang at the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy in January 1961. In the 1950s and ’60s she was active in the civil rights movement; in 1963 she sang the old African American spiritual “I Been ’Buked and I Been Scorned” for a crowd of more than 200,000 in Washington, D.C., just before Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.
Antonín Dvořák and his Symphony No. 9 in E minor Op. 95 (New World Symphony) Piano arrangement
During the last years of his life the Czech composer Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904) was considered by many throughout the Western world to be the greatest of all living composers. And his popularity has never waned: his music still speaks to us today and occupies a conspicuous position in performance repertoire.
In part this merely reflects the fact that his oeuvre is extraordinarily large and varied. He was one of the most prolific of all great composers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and left substantial outputs in practically all major genres from short piano pieces to operas. Even within genres, moreover, we find an astonishingly broad range of style – in string quartets ♫, for instance, from the mind-boggling chromatic intensity of some passages in early and middle-period works to the Finale of the “American” Quartet ♫ with its down-home, rollicking barn dance.
However, the quantity and diversity of Dvořák’s output are complemented by its generally very high quality, with many of his works holding a place among the greatest musical achievements of their time – or perhaps any time. His music probes the depths and all the nooks and crannies of our emotions, making us cringe in agony and weep with sorrow, but also laugh and smile through tears of rapture. Further adding to his appeal is his life’s story as a ”self-made” man who, through talent, hard work, and indefatigable determination overcame poverty and low social standing to become an artist admired (and well compensated financially) all over the Western world.
1841-57: CHILDHOOD AND ADOLESCENCE IN NORTHERN BOHEMIA
Oldest known photo (1888) of the house where Dvořák was born. Standing third from left: the composer.
Dvořák was born on 8 September 1841 in the Czech village of Nelahozeves, in the region called Bohemia – one of the two main Czech lands (together with Moravia to its east) in the Austrian (from 1867 called Austro-Hungarian) Empire of central and east-central Europe, having its main capital in Vienna. In Nelahozeves, lying on the Vltava River just thirteen miles to the north-northwest from the Bohemian capital of Prague, he spent the first twelve years of his life. For much of that time his parents operated a tavern in premises they had on lease which also included minimal space for their own living quarters.
It was in those premises (today housing the Antonín Dvořák Memorial in Nelahozeves) that the composer came into the world. But his father also ran a butcher’s business, mainly in a building upstream along the Vltava no longer standing today with an apartment which was the family’s residence for much of this period. Neither of these businesses thrived. Reportedly the father devoted more time and attention to his passion for music – mainly as a zither player – than to his enterprises.
The dance hall found in the tavern provided the young Antonín with vivid experiences of village dance bands and musical merriment. One should not imagine, however, that he was exposed only to music indigenous to rural Bohemia. His father had apparently learned to play the zither while wandering around the Empire from 1832 to 1840, spending most of that time in Hungary. Meanwhile in the village church in Nelahozeves the boy heard frequent performances of music by Mozart, and Italian workers brought in to dig a tunnel for the new railroad in 1847-48 liked to gather in the evenings around the Dvořák butcher shop where they would sing their favorite songs from home – one can imagine the famous chorus of the Hebrews from Nabucco, which was just then all the rage in Italy. Construction of the railroad – the first link between Prague and Dresden – may have planted the seed for Dvořák’s passionate interest in railways and locomotives, well-documented for the last two decades of his life.
From 1846 to 1853 Dvořák attended the one-room elementary school in Nelahozeves – a type of school for which the law of the Austrian Empire on education prescribed a curriculum for the lower classes, expected to remain in their social place and have no higher ambitions. But the teacher Josef Spitz was a very skilled musician, like most school teachers in Bohemia in those days; he gave the boy instruction in violin (starting around the age of six, apparently) and singing.
In 1853 young Antonín moved about nine miles to the west to the somewhat larger town of Zlonice, where he lived with his uncle and aunt. Here again he attended an elementary school, but of a somewhat higher caliber, with instruction given in the German language as was almost always the case in better schools in Bohemia at that time. It appears that he dropped out of school there early on, perhaps because of insufficient knowledge of German. But he remained in Zlonice a total of three years and bettered his musical skills there mainly under the tutelage of Antonín Liehmann, adding organ and piano to his abilities as a performer and undertaking his first attempts at composition, including a simple polka for piano (B. 1 – the first item in Jarmil Burghauser’s thematic catalogue of Dvořák’s works) and at least one other polka for instrumental ensemble now lost but described by the composer in later recollections.
Common in the Dvořák literature is the assertion that he worked as a butcher’s apprentice in Zlonice and received a journeyman’s certificate. This has proven to be erroneous, but apparently after the boy’s parents and siblings themselves moved to Zlonice in 1855 he did help his father in the butcher’s business he established there.
A brief but important phase in the budding composer’s adolescence was the 1856-57 school year, when he lived with a German family in the small city of Böhmisch Kamnitz (today called Česká Kamenice), fifty-three miles north of Prague near the Bohemian border with Saxony in an area then inhabited almost entirely by ethnic Germans. Apparently his parents sent him there for him to learn the German language, which was essential for anyone in the Austrian Empire needing to communicate regularly with persons above the lower social strata. Here he also attended a purely-German school, where his marks in all subjects were ‘sehr gut’ – the highest possible grade. And he continued his training in music with the local church music director, Franz Hanke.
1857-71: YEARS OF STRUGGLE IN PRAGUE, COMPOSING IN A VACUUM
In 1857 at the age of sixteen Dvořák enrolled as a pupil in the Institute for Church Music in Prague, which city remained his principal residence for the rest of his life. (Even while in America from 1892 to 1895 he maintained his apartment in Prague.) After Vienna, Prague was the second-largest city in the Austro-Hungarian Empire (bumped down one notch in 1872 by the union of Buda and Pest). Prague was cosmopolitan and thoroughly multi-cultural, with ethnic Czechs constituting the majority of the population but a large minority of Germans and a substantial population of (mostly German-speaking) Jews as well. Dvořák maintained friendly relations with all, but was strongly affected by the fervent nationalistic ambitions of his fellow Czechs – a Slavic people struggling to assert its cultural identity and accomplishments after centuries of forced ”Germanization” by the emperors of the ruling Hapsburg dynasty. To some extent Dvořák sympathized with Czech nationalist aims – certainly he was proud of his Czech heritage, and sometimes offended by German attitudes of superiority – but he also saw the positions taken by many of his compatriots in these matters as being fanatical and intolerant.
The curriculum at the Institute for Church Music included all skills needed by a proper church musician at that time including composition. While a student there Dvořák composed several preserved organ preludes and fugues (B. 302) and also at least one mass (B. 2), which, however – like many more works he wrote through 1873 – he himself later consigned to the flames. He graduated in 1859 ranking second in his class of fourteen after one Sigmund Glanz (whose subsequent career was thoroughly undistinguished).
During his first year in Prague Dvořák attended concurrently a general school associated with the Church of Mary of the Snows. There, with German again as the language of instruction, he once more received high marks. But attendance at this school, still at an elementary level and for Dvořák essentially ”remedial,” marked the end of his formal education outside music.
One of Dvořák’s fellow students at the Institute for Church Music, a year ahead of him in the curriculum, was Karel Bendl (1838-97) who became his close friend. Bendl soon emerged as a highly esteemed composer – until 1878 much more so than Dvořák. Bendl had relatively wealthy parents and, unlike his impoverished friend, could afford a piano as well as an extensive library of scores. He allowed use of both to Dvořák, who continued his musical education during the 1860s by studying the scores of works by great (mostly German) masters.
After graduating from the Institute Dvořák applied for a position as church organist but was rejected. Around that time he became violist in an entertainment orchestra playing in coffee houses and restaurants, which in 1862 was hired as the core of the orchestra for the newly opened Provisional Czech Theater. There Dvořák served as principal violist for nine years, playing in performances nearly every evening year-round. In this position he experienced, for example, the first performances of the first three operas of Bedřich Smetana under the composer’s baton along with many other new works by other Czech compatriots. Most of the repertoire, however, was Italian, French, and German.
To supplement his low salary as an orchestra member, Dvořák gave private piano lessons. Starting in 1864 two of his pupils were the sisters Josefina and Anna Čermáková, fifteen and ten years old at that time. Long after Dvořák’s death his composition pupil and son-in-law Josef Suk (1874-1935) reported that the young composer had fallen in love with Josefina, a beautiful and very popular actress in the theater where he played, but, sensing no interest on her part, did not even tell her of his feelings. This was apparently around 1865, during which year he composed a cycle of eighteen songs to texts by Gustav Pfleger-Moravský about frustrated love known as Cypresses (B. 11).
In 1873 he married Josefina’s younger sister Anna, a talented singer with whom by all indications he enjoyed a very happy marriage for the rest of his life. The couple maintained close contact with Josefina and her later husband Count Václav Kounic, and according to Suk the extensive passage of poignant nostalgia at the conclusion of Dvořák’s Cello Concerto in B minor (B. 191), completed in 1895, was composed as a memorial to Josefina who died just at that time. This passage includes a quotation of Dvořák’s own song Leave Me Alone (B. 157, No. 1), which according to his biographer Otakar Šourek (perhaps also based on information from Suk) was a special favorite of Josefina.
For his first sixteen years in Prague, Dvořák lived with relatives, save only a period in 1864-65 when he shared a single room with four other men, reportedly for the reason that one of them had a piano there. Paradoxically it was precisely while living in those cramped quarters, during the year 1865, that he produced an especially copious outpouring of music – besides the mentioned songs also his first two symphonies (B. 9 and 12) and a Cello Concerto in A major (B. 10) with piano accompaniment .
Throughout the 1860s and on through most of 1871 Dvořák composed prolifically – orchestral and chamber works, songs, and two operas – but without receiving a single performance to our knowledge, let alone a publication. He probably lacked the connections and the social skills to promote himself successfully, but another factor was undoubtedly the difficulty of his works for the performers and their often highly original, experimental style. For example, the style of his String Quartet in E minor / B minor from 1870 or earlier (B. 19) reminds one of nothing so much as Arnold Schoenberg’s chromatic and tonally nebulous Transfigured Night – composed thirty years later!
Perhaps the biggest obstacle to Dvořák’s success, though, was the fact that by comparison with Smetana, and even his friend Bendl, he made practically no attempt to satisfy the appetite of the Czechs for music they could consider distinctively their own. In recalling later what composers had influenced him he mentioned mainly German names: Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Schumann – and above all in the 1860s and early 1870s he was ”perfectly crazy” about Wagner (though we must discount as undocumented and unlikely the frequent assertion that he played in an orchestra under Wagner’s baton). His first opera Alfred (B. 16), composed in 1870, is symptomatically to a text in German (with a story set in England) – and was never performed during his lifetime.
1871-73: HOPES AROUSED AND DASHED
Charles Plaza in Prague 1870. Through most of the 1860’s until his marriage in 1873 Dvořák lived with relatives in a building at the upper right.
Composed in 1871, only a year after Alfred, Dvořák’s second opera King and Collier (Král a uhlíř, B. 21, translated by Burghauser as King and Charcoal Burner) has a story set in Bohemia and a text in Czech. Yet he admittedly modelled its music on the style of Wagner’s Die Meistersinger. Even so Smetana, now head of the Provisional Czech Theatre’s opera company, accepted it for performance. Apparently encouraged, Dvořák left his position in the theater orchestra sometime during 1871 to devote more time to composition, and as far as we know had no regular employment for a period of nearly three years. Rehearsals for the opera were postponed until late 1873, but in the meantime some other new works by Dvořák were performed, starting modestly in December 1871 with a song to a text by Eliška Krásnohorská (B. 23, No. 5). Most significant was a seventeen-minute Czech patriotic Ode (in Czech called Hymnus, B. 27) for chorus and orchestra with which he scored a triumph in March 1873.
That spring he also achieved his first publication, of six songs (B. 30) to texts from the Dvůr Králové Manuscript – texts that played an important role in the Czech national revival movement, set to music also by several of his contemporaries.
It was probably around the beginning of July 1873 that he and Anna Čermáková conceived a child (born 4 April 1874), and also that he completed his joyous Third Symphony in E flat (B. 34), a masterful work, though in a style quite different from the familiar music of his maturity and still showing, among other things, the influence of Wagner.
In August 1873 rehearsals finally began for King and Collier – and the opera was pronounced unperformable! Royalties therefrom would have been Dvořák’s only opportunity to earn income from his compositions; throughout this period, until 1878, he received no fees from publishers for works they issued. Merriment on the occasion of the wedding in November 1873, with a child already on the way, must have been dampened by great anxiety – as can perhaps be heard in the Fourth Symphony (B. 41), completed in March 1874. Later Dvořák recalled how during the early days of his marriage he was tempted to steal bread to feed his family.
1874-77: MODEST RECOGNITION AS A COMPOSER BY FITS AND STARTS, FAMILY TRAGEDY
In February 1874 Dvořák accepted a miserably-paid position as church organist, which he held for three years. The rejected opera King and Collier, like its predecessor Alfred, was never performed during his lifetime, but he took the extraordinary step of setting the same libretto to entirely new music (B. 42), not retaining a single motive from the first setting, and now employing a style that was simpler and more folk-like, which Czech audiences could accept as their own. This entirely new King and Collier (in the literature often called misleadingly a new version of the same opera) was performed four times from November 1874 to January 1875 and received enthusiastic reviews.
Dvořák followed it up immediately with the charming one-act opera The Stubborn Lovers (B. 46)–which, however, had to wait a full seven years for its premiere!
Meanwhile in July 1874 Dvořák applied for a grant offered by the Austrian government to talented but poor artists, and in February 1875 he received the first of five such annual grants. The jury was chaired by the influential Viennese music critic Eduard Hanslick, and starting with Dvořák’s second application another member was Johannes Brahms. Both would later become instrumental in promoting his works in Austria and Germany.
The grants were by no means sufficient to support a growing family – Anna helped to some extent by performing as a paid church singer – but they apparently gave encouragement to the ever-hopeful composer. In 1875, the most prolific year of his life, he composed many works in which he may be said to have ‘found his voice’, including the earliest of his pieces to become an immortal ‘hit’ – the String Serenade in E major (B. 52) ♫ – but also for example the grand opera Vanda (B. 55) ♫, presented on stage five times in 1876-77.
Many substantial and beautiful works from this period were not performed until years later, most notably the eighty-minute Stabat Mater ♫for chorus, vocal soloists, and orchestra (B. 71), composed 1876-77, premiered 1880 in Prague but without making any great impact.
The Stabat Mater was not really ‘discovered’ until its performance in London in 1883 – the first of innumerable presentations of this work during the composer’s lifetime in England where it was his most universally-admired composition.
Alas the first years of Dvořák’s family life proved tragic: by August 1876 Anna had born three children, but by September 1877 they were all dead. And while his reputation as a composer did grow somewhat by fits and starts, it remained limited mainly to Prague and entirely to the Czech lands, apart from the jury members in Vienna who evaluated his annual grant applications.
BREAKTHROUGH IN 1878
In December 1877 Brahms took the crucial step that opened the way to Dvořák’s international fame when he recommended to his own publisher, Fritz Simrock in Berlin, one of the works Dvořák had submitted with his grant application: a set of duets for soprano and alto with piano accompaniment to texts of Moravian folk songs (B. 60 and 62), composed at the request of a successful Moravian merchant in Prague, Jan Neff, whose children were Dvořák’s piano pupils.
Simrock issued them under the somewhat misleading but attractive title of Klänge aus Mähren(Sounds from Moravia, later known in English as Moravian Duets) ♫, and Germans were enchanted by their fresh, spontaneous-sounding music, relatively simple yet highly imaginative. Even more successful was a work Dvořák then wrote early in 1878 at Simrock’s behest: the first of his two sets of Slavonic Dances♫ for piano four-hands (B. 78), which he orchestrated later the same year (B. 83).
By October 1879 the orchestral version had been performed in Dresden, Hamburg, Berlin, Nice, London, and New York, assuring Dvořák an international reputation that has never dwindled to this day. Now more and more of his works, mostly new but also some from earlier years, were published not only by Simrock but by other publishers in Germany then, starting in 1884, by Novello in London. And for the first time he received payment from publishers. After decades of living in tight financial straights he now saw a marked and permanent improvement in his financial situation.
Worth noting is that Dvořák’s first two publications outside Prague both marketed him as a Slavic composer and displayed the traits Germans most admired in music of the Slavs: something fresh, spontaneous-sounding, and a bit exotic, with lively dance rhythms. The same was true of many more works that helped to establish his reputation. This was felt to be Dvořák’s niche – the type of music for which he supposedly had the greatest talent and felt the greatest affinity. It is also important to note, however, that almost all these works were composed not on his own initiative but at the request of somebody else, that their Czech or Slavic titles were usually not his own, and that they almost never use actual folk melodies: in the case of the Moravian Duets Dvořák explicitly rejected Neff’s request that he arrange the melodies of Moravian folk songs – he took only their texts. Dvořák proved to be extremely skilled at writing this kind of music, but it is certainly not hisonly style nor even the style to which he felt the greatest natural inclination. All the while he also composed, in fact mainly composed, works in a cosmopolitan style often of great sophistication and profundity, comparable in some cases with the works of the greatest German masters.
Another fact generally overlooked is that Dvořák’s international stardom launched by the Moravian Duets and Slavonic Dances came simultaneously with his first really penetrating and long-lasting success on the domestic front, which he achieved in the genre of opera: premiered in February 1878, The Peasant a Rogue (B. 67, Šelma sedlák, translated by Burghauser as The Cunning Peasant) was given fourteen times by the end of that year and more than eighty times within the composer’s lifetime.
This work, too, made a contribution to his international reputation to some extent, with performances in Dresden, Hamburg, and Vienna during the 1880s.
To make the turnabout in Dvořák’s fortunes in 1878 complete, Anna gave birth to the first of the couple’s remaining six children, all of whom outlived the composer. This was Otilie, who in 1898 would marry Dvořák’s composition pupil Josef Suk.
1878-86: GRAND PROJECTS OF A MAJOR PLAYER ON THE INTERNATIONAL SCENE
Over the course of the next few years after 1878, Dvořák’s biggest single project by far was the grand opera Dmitry ♫(B. 127), to a story that is a sequel to Boris Godunov.
Premiered in 1882, this work was given sixty-six performances during his lifetime. But he also composed numerous works on a more modest scale including many requested by well-known musicians outside the Czech lands, such as the Sixth Symphony in D major ♫ (B. 112) for Hans Richter, conductor of the Vienna Philharmonic, and the Gypsy Melodies ♫(or Gypsy Songs, B. 104, including as No. 4 the famous ”Songs My Mother Taught Me”) for the Viennese tenor Gustav Walter.
From April 1883 through the end of 1886 Dvořák devoted virtually all of his compositional efforts to satisfying various requests, which came mainly from abroad – from Simrock in Berlin, for example,for a second set of Slavonic Dances (B. 145, orchestral version B. 147) and the four songs In Folk Tone (B. 146) – but above all from England: mainly the eighty-two-minute cantata The Spectre’s Bride (B. 135), the Seventh Symphony in D minor (B. 141), and the two-and-a-half hour oratorio St. Ludmila (B. 144).
During the years 1884-86 he undertook five extended trips to England to conduct his works, spending a total of about a hundred days there during this period and reaping unprecedented ovations as one of the great composers of the time.
Some of Dvořák’s works composed from 1883 through 1885 including two of his greatest – the Piano Trio in F minor ♫ (B. 130) and above-mentioned Seventh Symphony – convey a mood of intense struggle and drama.
This has been ascribed in the literature to feelings of inner turmoil he allegedly experienced as he considered proposals from his supporters in Vienna that he resettle there and compose operas to German texts – either of which would supposedly have constituted a betrayal of his nation. Examination of the evidence shows that this inner turmoil was experienced by some of his Czech supporters, who feared their newfound national hero might thus abandon them as it were, but that Dvořák himself, far less fanatical, saw no “betrayal” in choice of language or place of residence and was influenced more by practical considerations. A letter written in October 1887 by Simrock to Brahms, not mentioned in any Dvořák biography, tells how during a recent visit by the Dvořáks to Berlin Anna had said her husband suffered from the quarrels over national issues in Prague and would indeed have liked to move to Vienna but for the problem of their “numerous children” (five of them by this time), perhaps referring to Vienna’s high cost of living. (Nine years later, in 1896, Brahms reportedly offered Dvořák financial support from his own personal resources if it would allow him to move to Vienna; we don’t know whether Dvořák considered accepting that offer.)
For at least several years now the Dvořáks had been paying frequent visits to the village of Vysoká, forty miles southwest of Prague, to visit Anna’s sister Josefina and her husband Count Václav Kounic at their chateau as well as another of the Čermák sisters, Klotilda, who also lived there with her husband. The composer was enchanted by the place – its peace and quiet and the beauty of the surrounding fields and forests – and in 1884 he bought a farmstead from the Count which he had transformed into a modest summer residence for his own family. Each year through the end of his life they spent much or most of their time there from May through September, and it was there that he composed part or all of numerous works.
1887-89: DVOŘÁK TAKES A LOOK BACK AT EARLIER WORKS; HIS OWN NEW PROJECTS, AND REQUESTS FROM FRIENDS AT HOME
In 1887 Dvořák quite abruptly ceased accepting commissions from abroad, and through the end of 1889 he composed mainly to satisfy his own inner urgings – e.g. the famous Piano Quintet ♫ (his second, B. 155, in A major as was also the first, B. 28 from 1872), the opera The Jacobin ♫(B. 159), and the Eighth Symphony (B. 163) – or at the request of personal friends as in the case of the Mass in D ♫ with organ accompaniment for the architect, builder, and philanthropist Josef Hlávka and his wife Zdenka (B. 153, later orchestral version B. 175).
During this same period he took a nostalgic look back at the many works from his early adulthood that lay unpublished and were performed only rarely if at all, several of which he now resuscitated in revised form and added to the canon of his works, most notably his magnificent Fifth Symphony ♫ from 1875 (B. 54).
1890-91: LOOKING ABROAD ONCE MORE, AND TEACHING
In 1890, however, Dvořák again turned major attention to admirers abroad, traveling to his most distant destination yet when he conducted orchestral works of his in Moscow and St. Petersburg at the invitation of Tchaikovsky, and composing for England the largest of all his liturgical works, the ninety-seven-minute Requiem for chorus, vocal soloists and orchestra (B. 165).
Dvořák in his graduation gown upon receipt of his honorary doctorate in Cambridge, 1891.
He also journeyed to England in April 1890 to conduct his Eighth Symphony , then twice in 1891: in June to receive an honorary doctorate at Cambridge and in October to conduct the Requiem in Birmingham in its world premiere.
Meanwhile a major change in Dvořák’s daily routine came when, for the first time since leaving his post as church organist in 1877, he took a regular position as an employee: effective January 1891 he became a teacher of composition, orchestration, and musical forms at the conservatory in Prague. He would continue in regular employment as a teacher through the end of his life. In Prague he trained such outstanding members of the upcoming generation of composers as Josef Suk, Oskar Nedbal, and Vítězslav Novák.
1892-95: THE AMERICAN ADVENTURE
Already in June 1891, however, a telegram arrived from Jeannette Thurber, President of the National Conservatory of Music of America, offering Dvořák a post as composition teacher and (nominal) director of that school in New York. Despite the fantastic offer of $15,000 per school year as salary (more than thirty times his pay at the conservatory in Prague!) he vacillated until early 1892 when – prodded apparently by his wife Anna who had a greater sense for material matters and the financial needs of their large family – he finally signed the contract. As though the impending adventure across the ocean was not exciting enough, from January through May 1892 Dvořák embarked on another unprecedented project: playing piano in more than forty concerts of his own chamber works in a ”farewell” tour of Czech towns in Bohemia and Moravia, with Ferdinand Lachner at the violin and Hanuš Wihan as cellist, always featuring his new trio Dumky (B. 166) and one or the other of his earlier trios for this combination of instruments.
Dvořák and family on the steps of their residence on East 17th St New York, 1893.
Surprisingly, neither this concert tour nor Dvořák’s regular teaching duties from January 1891 onward through many succeeding school years in Prague and New York had much effect on his fecundity as a composer: he continued turning out one major work after another including, especially in America, some of his best-known compositions such as the Ninth Symphony (B. 179, subtitled by Dvořák himself “From the New World”), the String Quartet in F and String Quintet in E flat (B. 180 and 181, both nicknamed by others, appropriately enough, “American”), the Biblical Songs (B. 185), and the Cello Concerto in B minor (B. 191) – perhaps the greatest concerto for cello ever composed by anyone.
Dvořák spent a total of about twenty-four months in America: three school years in New York from September 1892 through April 1895 plus one long summer vacation period in 1893 in the Czech village of Spillville, Iowa – birthplace of his constant companion throughout the American sojourn, the violinist Josef Kovařík (1870-1951) whom he had met in Prague where he was studying at the conservatory. According to Kovařík’s (perhaps slightly biased) testimony, Dvořák was so enamored of Spillville that he considered settling there permanently, dissuaded only by his wife’s objections (for family reasons) plus concern that his Czech compatriots would again regard him as having betrayed his nation. During the summer of 1893 Dvořák also visited Omaha, the twin cities in Minnesota, Chicago where he conducted a concert of his works at the World’s Columbian Exposition, and on his way back to New York also Niagara Falls.
Dvořák was fascinated by African-American spirituals, which he encountered in New York both in written form and as sung by the numerous Black students and faculty members at the conservatory (most notably Harry Burleigh). Also intriguing to him was Native American culture mainly as represented in Longfellow’s The Song of Hiawatha (which he had already known in Czech translation), and apparently to some extent the music of Native Americans as well, which he heard in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show in New York (timing unknown) and in Spillville. He himself pointed out the influence on some of his works composed in America of spirituals and of Hiawatha, as well as, according to three somewhat dubious articles in the New York Herald of 14-16 December 1893, Native American music.
He also stressed, however, that he never actually quoted American melodies in these works, but rather wrote his own themes imbued with their spirit. Reportedly he came very close to composing an opera based on Hiawatha, thwarted only by the lack of a suitable libretto.
In America, too, Dvořák’s composition pupils had an impact on the further development of music, in this case most remarkably via their pupils: his student Will Marion Cook became the teacher of Duke Ellington, Harry Rowe Shelley taught Charles Ives, and Rubin Goldmark taught both Aaron Copland and George Gershwin. More generally, Dvořák’s public declarations of appreciation for African American music may have given broad encouragement to the development of jazz.
Though enthusiastic about American music and the American way of life in general, Dvořák was intensely homesick during his last school year there, and his wife Anna even more so. It is unclear to what extent this was a matter of missing their children: during the first school year in New York they had had two of their children with them, then from June 1893 through May 1894 all six, then during the last school year (for reasons unknown) only one. Thurber wanted Dvořák to continue, and indeed he had signed a contract to teach in New York through the 1895-96 school year. However, in consequence of the financial ”Panic of 1893” in America Thurber was in arrears in paying his salary. While home in Bohemia during the summer of 1895 he and Anna decided not to return to America.
1896-1904: BACK IN BOHEMIA
Dvořák resumed his teaching duties at the conservatory in Prague, where in 1901 he was named artistic director. After completing his last two string quartets late in 1895 he abandoned forever the field of “absolute music” (instrumental music with no explicit extra-musical ”program”) which had figured so conspicuously in his output to date, now composing five symphonic poems and then focusing almost exclusively on opera. Already in 1894 he had drastically revised Dmitry. In 1897 he did the same for The Jacobin, then in 1899-1902 he composed three new works in this genre: The Devil and Kate (B. 201), Rusalka (meaning The Water Nymph, B. 203, one of his very greatest works), and finally Armida (B. 206) which became his last completed composition.
In 1901 came the highest of all the many official honors bestowed on Dvořák during his lifetime, when Emperor Franz Joseph appointed this graduate of the humble school in Nelahozeves, intended for members of the lower class who would never amount to anything, as a lifelong member of the Austrian House of Lords. Though he attended only one session, this honor bears eloquent testimony to the long path he had travelled.
AGORAPHOBIA, RELATIVE INACTIVITY IN FINAL YEARS
Many of those who knew Dvořák well recalled that during the last decades of his life he suffered from certain symptoms of neurosis; his close friend Jindřich Kàan (1852-1926) identified the disorder, accurately enough it seems, as agoraphobia – the experience of unreasonable anxiety in situations perceived as dangerous or uncomfortable, often in association with crowds. This condition may have first arisen in 1885-86 when he was composing St. Ludmila on commission for the English: he felt himself to be under almost unbearable pressure and, as he himself recalled, was nearly driven to insanity. In the last few years before his death in 1904, four months short of his sixty-third birthday, we observe a rather drastic and unexplained slowdown in all his activities. After Rusalka, completed in November 1900, his only work composed during the more than three years he had remaining was Armida.
He virtually ceased travelling. After conducting the world premiere of the Cello Concerto during his ninth and last visit to London in 1896 he never left continental Europe. After attending a concert in Berlin in 1899 he never left the Austro-Hungarian Empire. After appearances as conductor in Prague in the spring of 1900 he never again took up the baton in public. And after visits to Vienna in 1901, then possibly in May 1902, he never left Bohemia. Even his known correspondence becomes ever more sparse during his last few years. However his close friend Leoš Janáček, who saw him during the final months of his life, recalled that he was searching for a new opera libretto and predicted that had he lived he would have embarked on a new style.
AN IMMORTAL LEGACY OF STRONG CONVICTION AND AFFIRMATION OF LIFE
Dvořák suffered plenty during his life, mainly during his difficult first thirty-six years of poverty and professional frustration capped by the deaths of his first three children, and his psyche had its share of foibles. In his music we find no lack of passages that are emotionally complex and sometimes deeply painful. Yet at root he appears to have been a man of strong mental disposition and great optimism, with a positive attitude toward life, strengthened by his firm religious conviction – as a Roman Catholic or perhaps, as his son Otakar asserted, a man of a broader religious outlook almost akin to pantheism; certainly he can be said to have virtually worshipped the beauty of nature. And one of his special talents was to write music that ‘snatches victory from the jaws of defeat’ – that leaves one with the feeling that, whatever pain and tragedy one might experience, in the last analysis the world is a wonderful place.
Dvořák’s death on 1 May 1904 – of somewhat unclear causes, though apparently from a stroke due to complications of influenza and a kidney ailment – came as a shock to the musical world. But his rich legacy lived on and still lives today, provoking ever-new interpretations and insights.
EPILOGUE: DVOŘÁK’S IMAGE THEN AND NOW
Despite the extreme popularity of many of Dvořák’s works there are many more – including some perhaps equally as fine and others that, while imperfect, are fascinating – that have lain largely or totally neglected. In particular, he is often strangely overlooked, especially in America, as a composer of vocal music, which actually occupies about half his output in terms of performing time and which played a crucial role in the advancement of his career at several stages. And in the instrumental genres he is viewed too exclusively as a composer of “absolute music,” as opposed to “program music,” which makes explicit reference to something outside the music itself. Those who know his vocal music and his symphonic poems contend persuasively that their neglect cannot be ascribed to any lack of quality. The explanations are diverse; here let us mention only one. His compatriot Bedřich Smetana, seventeen years his senior, was and still is rightly considered the first great Czech composer of operas and instrumental program music.
By comparison, Smetana’s output during his mature years left “absolute” music almost untouched. Dvořák filled the gap with a large quantity of superb absolute music, mainly symphonic and chamber works. Always ready to plug composers into convenient pigeon holes, commentators identified absolute music as Dvořák’s specialty, overlooking such facts as that he actually composed more operas than Smetana, and the popularity of those operas in performing repertoire has never lagged far behind that of the older master. (Indeed, the boom in productions of Rusalka worldwide over the past few decades has probably now placed Dvořák ahead of Smetana.)
Another major misconception is that Dvořák’s significance lies mainly in his status as a representative of his nation. We must remember that he lived during a period of intense nationalism among the Czechs, struggling to assert the distinctive character and worth of their culture after centuries of domination by the culture of Germans. Naturally enough, when an artist like Dvořák who made no secret of his Czech ethnicity created something beautiful, Czech reviewers were eager to see it as being quintessentially Czech, or more broadly Slavic, as opposed to German or cosmopolitan. For different reasons a similar view of Dvořák’s music was taken by the Germans themselves, who tended to see their own music as “universal” – along with music from France and Italy whose role in the formation of German music could not be denied – and everything else as “national.” In Dvořák’s case the supposedly inherent ”Czechness” or ”Slavicness” of his music was conspicuously blurred by the important works of his American period, which he himself plausibly claimed were influenced by music indigenous to the United States.
Yet the brand of a Czech or Slavic “national” as opposed to a “universal” composer stuck. In reality Dvořák’s music was influenced almost from the beginning by, and indeed mainly by, works of the great French, Italian, and especially German masters. His approach was almost always cosmopolitan, and his music deserves to be measured against the standards of all Western culture, not only or even primarily those of his nation.
An unfortunate corollary to the ”nationalist” misconception was the chauvinistic attitude of many Germans – who in turn influenced many in Britain and America – about what Slavic music was like. And here the story of Dvořák’s life comes into play: the chauvinistic attitude was reinforced by knowledge that he came from and generally felt most comfortable in rural environments, among ordinary people – he was the perfect “rustic,” which is to say one who conformed to the Germanic image of the Slav: one possessed of great musicality, but on a somewhat primitive level, with virtues consisting mainly in freshness, spontaneity, and a whiff of the exotic. Some of his most popular works would seem – if one doesn’t listen very closely – to support his conventional image as a happy-go-lucky rustic with an unfailingly sunny disposition. But the outline of his life’s story presented above shows clearly enough the error of this view, and listening to any of his numerous profound works of great emotional depth and complexity gives the lie to the notion that his music is shallow or unsophisticated.
Endlessly quoted – without the appropriate qualifications – is Dvořák’s characterization of himself in one letter as a “simple Czech musician.” This was the reaction of an appealingly unpretentious composer to an expression of exaggerated praise on the boundary of deification. He was indeed simple in some respects as a person – a ”man of the folk,” perhaps a bit of a “country bumpkin,” naïve in that when dealing with people he was always straightforward, sincere (his cousin Anna Dušková who lived in the same apartment or across the hall from him for almost his whole adult life said she thought he would suffer physically if he had to tell a lie), and he naïvely expected the same from others. However Janáček, for one, vehemently denied the often-heard opinion that Dvořák lacked intelligence. Nor, as mentioned above in our biographical outline, was his psyche free of mysterious “dark places.” But above all, the notion that Dvořák was simple in his music is – “simply” not true.
Lest we ourselves be accused of prejudices concerning the inclinations of certain nationalities, be it said that in recent decades German musicologists have taken a leading role in portraying Dvořák as the complex personality and sophisticated composer that he really was. And even more recently members of the Dvořák American Heritage Association, Michael Beckerman and Maurice Peress, have made major contributions toward the understanding of Dvořák in the full richness of his psyche and his cultural bequest. Old habits of thinking die hard, but with Dvořák we see a continuing trend toward ever-greater appreciation of his genius.
Symphony No. 9 in E minor, Op. 95, is also known by its subtitle, From the New World, or as the New World Symphony. Dvořák wrote it between January and May 1893, while he was in New York. At the time of its first performance, he claimed that he used elements from American music such as spirituals and Native American music in this work, but he later denied this. Neil Armstrong took a recording of the New World Symphony to the Moon during the Apollo 11 mission in 1969, and in 2009 it was voted the favourite symphony in a poll run by ABC Classic FM in Australia.
Adolf Čech premiered more of Dvořák’s symphonies than anyone else. He conducted the first performances of Nos. 2, 5 and 6; the composer premiered Nos. 7 and 8; Bedřich Smetana led Nos. 3 and 4; Anton Seidl conducted No. 9; and Milan Sachs premiered No. 1.
Dvořák Symphony No 9 in E minor (From the New World) for piano 1st mov sheet music
Dvořák – Symphony No 9 in E minor (From the New World) for piano – 2nd movement (Largo) sheet music
This monograph is an analysis of the first five pieces from an album by Chick Corea, Piano Improvisations, Volume One. The titles of the individual pieces are Noon Song, Song for Sally, Ballad for Anna, Song of the Wind, and Sometime Ago. These pieces, which form a suite of sorts, were chosen for a variety of reasons. High quality transcriptions are available, the pieces have never been dealt with in detail, and they embody an intriguing mixture of classical styles, jazz styles, improvisation, and composition.
Chick Corea: Lite and Works
Armando Anthony “Chick” Corea was born June 12, 1941, in Chelsea, Massachusetts. He became interested in music at an early age, beginning piano study at the age of four.
His first training came through his father Armando, a jazz trumpeter and bandleader in the Boston area. At age seven, Corea began lessons with Salvatore Sullo, a concert pianist in the Boston area. With Sullo, Corea studied traditional piano technique and repertoire, including Bach, Beethoven, and Chopin. Corea was also exposed to jazz from early on. His influences include Bud Powell, Joe Henderson, McCoy Tyner, Herbie Hancock, and Bill Evans.
He was particularly interested in the music of Horace Silver, transcribing many of Silver’s tunes and solos.3 After graduating from high school, Corea attended the Juilliard School of Music for a short time before leaving to pursue jazz as a full-time career. Some of Corea’s first significant professional engagements were with the Latin bands of Willie Bobo and Mongo Santamaria, and Corea has retained a strong affinity for Latin music throughout his career. Other musicians with whom Corea worked early in his career (ca. 1964-67) include trumpeter Blue Mitchell and saxophonist Stan Getz.
Corea joined Miles Davis’s band in 1968, replacing Herbie Hancock as the keyboardist. This was a major event in Corea’s career, giving an international reputation. At that time Miles Davis and his band played a form of free jazz that involved group improvisation, polytonality, and use of electronic instruments.
After playing with Davis for three years, Corea left to pursue his own nonelectronic approach to free jazz, forming a band called Circle in the early seventies. According to Ian Carr, Circle “went even more deeply into the European vein of abstraction. It created an acoustic music which often had no relation to Afro-American forms such as the blues or gospels, no coherent physical rhythmic grooves, but which featured much scurrying and chittering non-tonal improvisation.”
According to Corea, Circle was based on communication, both between players and with the audience. The group engaged in free improvisation with few limits and no pre-planning. Eventually the music seemed to be unrelated to anything, particularly the audience. Reflecting on his decision to leave, Corea said, “When I see an artist using his energies and technique to create a music way beyond the ability of people to connect with it, I see his abilities being wasted.” Corea’s departure from Circle coincided with his discovery of Scientology and the writings of L. Ron Hubbard. Corea was particularly interested in
Hubbard’s ideas on communication. Regarding communication with the listener, Corea said, “My own particular code as a performer is this: it’s up to me to do something for an audience.”
In musical terms, Corea’s desire for greater communication with the audience led to a more accessible, lyrical style. A direct result of this was the recording of two volumes of Piano Improvisations in 1971.11 Shortly thereafter, Corea formed a band called Return to Forever, which existed with various personnel throughout most of the seventies.
Return to Forever tended toward electric jazz rock or fusion, often combined with a Latin style. Corea also continued to play more traditional jazz on occasion. Return to Forever broke up in 1980. Since then, Corea has been involved in a wide variety of musical pursuits, including solo performances, duos, and ensembles. Musicians with whom he has collaborated include pianists Keith Jarrett, Herbie Hancock, and Friedrich Guida and vibraphonist Gary Burton. He has also recorded Mozart’s Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra and composed his own three movement piano concerto.
The most noticeable quality in Corea’s output is the wide variety of musical styles in which he has operated. It is noteworthy that this versatility has not come at the expense of quality. 1^ Ian Carr sums up the consensus of many writers: “Corea ranks with Herbie Hancock and Keith Jarrett as one of the leading keyboard virtuosi and composer-bandleaders since the late 1960s. He is one of the most original and gifted composers in jazz.” In addition to the general admiration for Corea’s work, the Piano Improvisations in particular were given a glowing review in Down Beat magazine. The review begins discussing Corea’s ensemble playing and then moves to the Piano Improvisations’.
“Chick is an original and a giant. His playing is total; his harmonic thinking, melodies and rhythmic phrasing are so interwoven that everything he plays is complete. That may be the reason why he has at long last recorded a solo album. Piano Improvisations Volume One, which happily implies that there will be a volume two. His work there is truly beyond words. This is one of the most important piano albums I have heard.”
The review goes on to praise Corea’s use of a variety of styles.
The variety of styles in Corea’s output is not surprising, given the diversity of his training and influences. Corea describes his earliest musical training with his father, where he learned “how to read and write music, which was all very important groundwork. He’d [i.e. Corea’s father] often write out arrangements of popular tunes that he played with his own band, but he’d write them for my level, so I learned notation in a very meaningful way.”
In addition to jazz and Latin music, Corea was also influenced by a wide variety of classicalmusic. Asked about his repertoire for piano practice, Corea replied, “Alban Berg’s Piano Sonata is one of myfavorite piano works. I’ll play anything by Bach, some ofChopin’s etudes, Mozart sonatas, or Messiaen’s pianomusic.”17 Corea’s more experimental music with Miles Davis’s band and Circle reflects the influence of otherpractitioners of free jazz, such as Ornette Coleman, andalso the influence of avant-garde composers like KarlheinzStockhausen and John Cage.18 Corea’a use of quartalharmonies could be linked to sources as diverse as Alban Berg,-McCoy Tyner,- Horace Silver, and Paul – H i n d e m i t h.
The eclectic nature of Corea’s style and output is reflected in his opinions on musical style. For Corea, barriers between styles are based not on genuine musical differences so much as they are on artificial social constructs. When asked whether certain fully notated music qualified as jazz, Corea replied, “You have one aspect of this backward, to my way of thinking. The user is the one who creates the style. I don’t ask myself, ‘does this work as jazz?’ I’ll create the music I need without thinking about style.” Corea is even more emphatic in a later interview:
“I’m trying to break down the barriers, actually, between jazz music and classical music. There’s such a rich tradition and a rich esthetic in both areas that I love to operate in. I see no barrier, myslef . …”
Certainly the Piano Improvisations are as much a manifestation of this philosophy as any of Corea’s works.
Piano Improvisations: General Comments
While the Piano Improvisations embody a wide varietyof styles, there are certain aspects that they all share. In the most basic sense, they all have the same texture: melody and accompaniment. Within that framework there is considerable variety.
One of the most striking features of the Piano Improvisations is the degree to which they make use of both classical and jazz styles. Though the line between jazz and classical styles is sometimes indistinct, many elements in the Piano Improvisations can be traced to one tradition or the other. Jazz Influences, There are many characteristics of jazz that occur frequently in the Piano Improvisations. The harmonies in jazz are extended or altered the majority of the time. It is very rare to have triads with no added tones. As a result, the extended tones are often omitted in the labeling. For example, a chord labeled as “II” can be assumed to contain a 7th and possibly a 9th without actually labeling the chord as “II7/9. ” The present study follows this convention, in that not every extended note is labeled. An attempt is made to provide as much detail as is necessary to understand the subject at hand.
The voicings reflect the importance of the extended chord tones. The 7 th, 9th, and 6th (or 13th) are prominent, while the 5th (unless it is altered) and even the root are often omitted. For example, the following would be a common jazz voicing of a C major chord:
This sonority could also be interpreted as a quartal harmony based on E. The context can clarify the role of a harmony; for example, the chord above might be preceded by a clear dominant harmony on G. There are cases in the Piano Improvisations in which there is no clear context, leading to a certain amount of ambiguity.
The practice of omitting the root is probably derived from playing in ensembles with a string bass. The piano often leaves out the root to avoid clashing with the line created by the bass player. In solo playing, rootless voicing may also be used for pragmatic reasons: it can be difficult to play a bass line, complex harmonies, and a melody simultaneously.
Rootless voicing of dominant 7th type harmonies leads to a peculiar ambiguity known in jazz as tritone substitution. Two of the main two notes of a dominant 7th chord, the 3rd and the 7th, are a tritone apart. Since the tritone does not change when inverted, it is impossible to tell which is the 3rd and which is the 7th in a rootless voicing. This implies two possible roots, a tritone apart: a rootless dominant 7th chord on V could just as easily be interpreted as a dominant 7 th chord built on flat II. The example below shows two different possibilities for the same pitches and their resolutions.
The unplayed root is shown in parentheses:
Even the additional extensions of the chord can fit into either interpretation. For example, A-sharp (the raised 9th of the G7 chord) becomes B-flat (the added sixth of the D-flat7 chord). The actual root of the chord cannot be determined and is, in fact, immaterial, since the resolution and voice-leading are identical in both cases.
In traditional jazz, as in classical music, there is a tendency toward root movement down a 5th or up a 4th. The most definitive chord progression in jazz is ii – V – I, very similar to IV – V – I in classical music. The rhythm in jazz tends to be more complex than is the norm in common practice classical music. Syncopation is used quite frequently. There is also a common occurrence known as “swing rhythm” or “swinging eighth notes.” When this occurs, the rhythm as notated below:
would be performed in approximately the following manner:
This is somewhat similar to the use of “nqtes inégalés” in French baroque music. The Piano Improvisations make some use of swing rhythm, but not to a great extent.
Another convention of jazz, found somewhat more frequently in the Piano Improvisations, is Latin rhythm or bossa nova. Latin rhythm uses straight, rather than swung eighth notes. In this convention the left hand establishes a groove or beat, possibly involving syncopation but still with a perfectly steady pulse. The right hand plays off the relative steadiness of the left hand, playing lines that are more syncopated. This often involves the superimposing of ternary figures on a duple meter, as demonstrated by Barry Kernfeld in the New Grove Dictionary of Jazz:
This blend of jazz and samba originated in Brazil and became popular in the USA in the 1960s.
Classical conventions are also an important influence in the Piano Improvisations. One of the most obvious manifestations of this is the approach to form. The typical jazz tune form of two verses, a bridge, and a repeat of the verse (AABA) is noticeably absent in the Piano Improvisations. The structures used are similar to traditional classical forms. Corea often uses forms that are conducive to improvisation, such as rondo form or variations on a repeated harmonic progression.
Some of the more complex harmonies, including altered chords, highly extended chords, polychords, and quartal harmonies, have their origins in late 19th- or 20thcentury classical music. This is also true of the use of a wide variety of scales and modes. Many of these traits began to be integrated into jazz before the Piano Improvisations. As a result, it is not always possible to determine whether these influences derive from 20thcentury classical music or from jazz that had already incorporated these elements. In Corea’s case there are indications, such as his familiarity with works of Berg and Messiaen, that he might have encountered this harmonic language in both idioms.
Individual Pieces: Noon Song
The tonic of Noon Song is D major, with some emphasis on P major as well. For the most part, the piece remains within the realm of traditional functional harmony. The form is driven by a series of variations on a repeated harmonic progression. This sectional form is cast in a large two-part structure. The texture is reminiscent of a Chopin Nocturne, in that the left hand plays an arpeggiated accompaniment with lots of pedal, while the right hand plays a florid melody. There are motives that appear throughout the piece, but there is little in the way of consistent “themes” or melodies.
Throughout most of the piece, there is no meter or sense of pulse, somewhat like the unmeasured preludes of the French clavecinists. There are what sound like downbeats, usually the low notes in the left hand, but in between, there is no consistent beat. The eighth notes are straight rather than in swing rhythm; the tempo is medium slow. There are some areas of the piece that depart from the general tendencies; these sections have more of a sense of meter, a faster tempo, and a different texture.
The title of Noon Song is appropriate: it is perhaps the brightest of the Piano Improvisations in mood and the only one in an unambiguous major key. Noon Song strikes the listener as an exuberant outpouring of spontaneous melody, but it is also based on a well defined formal structure.
At the most basic level. Noon Song is a continuous set of free variations, each based on the same chord progression. There is no melodic theme on which the variations are based; formal articulations are created by changes of tempo, rhythm, texture, and local harmonic activity. The piece contains eight variations, and is divided into two large sections of four variations each. This creates a structure in which two different formal approaches or levels exist simultaneously. The use of a repeated chord progression provides continuity and unity, while the two-part structure of the piece is based on contrast and division.
Though these two trends contrast with each other, they are not mutually exclusive. The coexistence of these two formal approaches is central to the nature of the piece. Virtually every element of the music helps to create this mixture, or is subject to it. This is true of
the form, harmonies and tonal areas used, motivic activity, rhythm, and texture. The following chart shows how this is manifested in the form and tonal areas used:
There are several formal elements that add to the unity of the piece. The most obvious of these is that every variation uses the standard chord progression and ends in the tonic key of D major. Furthermore, every variation, regardless of how it begins, eventually returns to the music of the opening section.
Other formal elements show the two-part nature of the piece. Part one never leaves the tonic key. Indeed, the F major chord at m. 13 (which is not tonicized) is the only harmony in part I that is foreign to D major. Part two, on the other hand, contains many departures from the tonic. These range from the unprepared F# major harmony at the beginning of the variation 5 to tonicizations F major and its dominant in variations 6-8. Though each variation in part two ends in D major, they all begin away from the tonic.
As the piece progresses, the variations depart more radically from the original harmonic progression. These departures, along with the tonal and harmonic elements, are the main factors that establish a binary division of the piece. Variation 1 presents the standard chord progression in its original form:
This is a very traditional, tonal harmonic progression which can easily be expressed in terms of functional harmony: I V7/vi vi V7/V V7 I. Other than the movement from D to P-sharp 7, the motion is guided by the circle of 5ths.
In addition to the chords themselves, the voicings generally remain the same throughout the piece as well. Note that even though the harmonies are tertian, the use of extended chords allows for quartal voicings. This is the case in the upper three notes in all the chords except those in m. 4. The areas of D major harmony in this variation, and indeed throughout the piece, are often prolonged using a neighbor chord (also voiced in 4ths) which alternates with the D major chord. In variation 1 this occurs in mm. 1 and 6:
The sound of this chord has the effect of not quite being either on or off the tonic, similar to a dominant chord over a tonic pedal. Variation 2 also adheres closely to the standard chord progression, though the full progression is preceded by a partial statement at mm. 7-10. The most noteworthy change is the appearance of an F major chord at m. 13:
Though F is not tonicized here, its appearance forecasts significant areas of F major later in the piece. The way in which the chord is used— as a neighbor chord between two F-sharp 7 chords— also foreshadows the manner in which other excursions from the tonic will be treated.
Variation 3 (mm. 18-24) proceeds through the progression normally until m. 21, where the usual dominant harmony is replaced by an A major seventh chord. After a prolongation of A major 7, the progression backtracks to the F-sharp chord at m. 22 and then ends in the usual way. In variation 4 several new chords are interposed into the standard progression (mm. 25-30):
G major (IV) appears at m. 26, between D major and F-sharp. When F-sharp arrives it is F-sharp minor, which is prolonged until m. 30 where it is converted to the standard F-sharp dominant sonority. The cadential area which is usually harmonized with V7 I, now contains the following progression (mm. 31-35):
Note that the E chord is now minor rather than major, hence no longer functioning as V/V. The following chord is not A (V), but G minor (borrowed iv). This is the chord preceding the tonic, resulting in a plagal cadence (with minor iv) rather than the standard authentic cadence. These changes, especially when combined with the crescendo in dynamics and the particularly long time spent on the tonic after its arrival, make for a more dramatic close for this section than for any so far. This is appropriate, as this variation brings part one to a close.
Variation 5 (nun. 36-43) is quite audibly different from that which comes before. One of the main reasons for this is the change in rhythm. Beginning at m. 36 the slow sensa misura feel gives way to a fast tempo with definite beats and a feeling of 5/4. The texture also changes, from florid melodies accompanied by arpeggiated chords with lots of pedal, to a jumpy staccato melody accompanied by staccato block chords. There is also a change in the treatment of the progression. Variation 5 goes through the standard progression twice, beginning each time on V7/vi rather than I. The overall effect of this is that even though the standard progression is in use, B minor rather than D is emphasized.
The main harmonic variation in variation 5 occurs at the beginning of the section; the end of the section returns to the tonic. This is the paradigm for variations 5 through 8.
In variation 6, beginning at m. 46, the tonality shifts towards F major (flat III). There has been some preparation for the key of F through the F major chord at m. 13 as well the use of a G minor harmony (ii in F) at m. 34. The move to F is accomplished by using the D major harmony at the end of m. 45 as a dominant. This sets off a progression through the circle of fifths, leading to a strong cadence on F at m. 49. There is a slight detour at m. 47: a “premature” arrival on P. (mm. 45-49):
At m. 50 F major slides up to F-sharp 7 (V/vi), returning to the standard progression. This half-step motion is identical to that which occurred where F first appeared at m. 13-14. The chromatic neighbor concept has been expanded from a single chord to an entire section. From m. 50 the progression continues in the usual manner, ending on the tonic at m. 53. Variation 7 also begins off the tonic, gravitating towards the dominant of F, C major. After beginning on a B-flat major 7th chord, the harmony descends a half step to A minor. At this point, a circle of fifths progression is initiated (reminiscent of the approach to F major in the variation 5), culminating in an ii V I cadence in C major at m. 57 (mm. 54-57).
At m. 58 C major slides down to B minor. This is similar to the manner in which the two F major sections were “resolved.” Though the movement is down rather than up, the chromatic neighbor concept definitely applies. When B minor (vi in D) is reached, the tonality returns to D major and the standard progression. The progression is completed from the point of return to B minor, and then repeated in its entirety. In the tonic cadences of both statements, A7 (V) has been replaced by G minor (iv).
This is identical to the plagal cadence used at the end of the fourth variation. It is also similar in that the dynamics are loud and there is a long denouement on the tonic. As in the previous case, this helps to provide a more dramatic close to the section. Again this is appropriate, as this section ends the main body of the piece.
The Coda or variation 8 is similar to variation 6. The left hand accompaniment in the two sections is nearly identical, (m. 46; m. 68):
The rhythm and contour of the melody are also similar. In terms of harmony, both sections begin on a version of the ii chord in F (ii? at m. 68, V/V at m. 46) and go on to strong cadences in F major.
At m. 71 F major descends to E minor, ii in D major. Once again a section outside of D major “resolves” by half-step to a chord in the diatonic progression. This time the motion is down to ii (similar to mm. 57-58) rather than the usual motion up to V/vi. The remainder of the section follows the standard progression.
While there is no secondary key area equal in significance to that of a sonata form, for example, F major fulfills a similar function in this piece. Rather than serving as the tonic of a large section, F major guides the tonality of several short sections of music. This creates a structure with several small departures from the tonic, rather than one main departure. These areas of tonal departure are also distinctive in other ways: motives used, texture, rhythm, etc.
One manifestation of the tension between D major and F major is the conflict between the pitches A# and B-flat. Though A# is not diatonic in the key of D, it is, of course, present in every P#7 chord (V7/vi). A-sharp is also present in almost every appearance of the V7/V chord, as an added sharp 4th (or 11th). B-flat, on the other hand, is crucial to the tonicization of F major, functioning as both the 7th in the dominant chord and the 3rd in the ii chord. In the case of the plagal cadences at the end of variations 4 and 7, G minor serves as the borrowed subdominant in D major. The appearance of B-flat in the context of D major, particularly at such important points in the form, helps to form a link between P major and D major.
The treatment of form and harmony/tonality plays a major role in creating the mixture of contrast and unity in Noon Song, but motivic elements are equally important in this regard. The same motives are used throughout the piece, but they are used differently in parts one and two.
The main motive, designated x, is a descending stepwise figure in one of the following rhythms:
The interval spanned by the motive varies, though it is usually a fourth or a major third. There is often a stepwise ascent over the dominant leading up to the motive, which occurs over the tonic. The first occurrence of this is at mm. 5-6:
This motive, or a version of it, appears at virtually every tonic arrival in the piece. While there are arrivals on the tonic within sections (mm. 11, 39, and 59), the most important cadences are at the ends of the sections (mm. 6, 18, 24, 35, 44, 53, 67, and 75). The treatment of the x motive at these points is another feature that supports the binary division of Noon Song. The cadence at the end of variation 1, seen in the previous example, uses a version of the motive that A A A A descends through 8 7 6 5. This version of the motive, designated xl, is used at the cadential points in all of part one: variations 1-4. The motive is varied slightly in variation 2 where the motive begins one step higher than usual, (m. 18):
The cadences in part two use the x motive, but in new versions. The end of variation 5, for example, uses the following version of the motive, designated x2 (m. 43):
Variation 8 also uses this version of the motive in the cadence at m. 75. The x2 motive covers a major third (3 2 1) rather than a fourth (8 7 6 5). The descent to 1 gives x2 a more final quality than does the movement from 8 to A 5 in xl. This corresponds logically with the placement of xl in the beginning of the piece and x2 at the end.
The version of the motive used in the cadences of the variations 6 and 7 is a hybrid of xl and x2. It spans a A A major third like x2, but uses scale steps 7 6 5 rather than 3 2 l–similar to a truncated xl. This version, designated x3, first appears at the end of the variation 6 section at m. 53.
It also appears at both tonic cadences of variation 7 at mm. 62 and 67. The chart below provides an overall view of the motives used relative to the form.
In this format, it is easy to see the motivic contribution to the binary division of Noon Song. Various versions of the x motive also appear at other, less important structural points, including tonic arrivals in the middle of sections (mm. 11, 39, and 62) and in various prolongations of final harmony (mm. 6, 44 and 45, and 67).
Other manifestations of the x motive play a lesser, though significant, role in the piece. One of these, designated x4, consists of two descending eighth notes, often a third or fourth apart: basically the skeleton of the other x motives. Considered in isolation, it would be difficult to hear a relationship between x4 and the other X motives. The context in which x4 appears makes the relationship much more viable. Like the other occurrences of X, x4 is used at points of climax— generally strong harmonic arrivals. The most striking example of this occurs at the first strong cadence on F major at mm. 48- 49.
This example, in which x4 is basically the skeleton of xl, also shows another contextual relation to xl. The stepwise ascent in the melody over a dominant harmony is the standard cadential formula throughout the piece. The ascent invariably leads to some form of the x motive. The other occurrences of x4 share these same attributes, though the harmonies involved are not necessarily a local dominant and tonic. The x4 motive also appears at mm. 13 and 15, and becomes the basis of an area of music from mm. 60 to 66.
The versions of the x motive are the most important motivic material of the piece. There is, however, another motive that plays a substantial role. This motive, designated y, consists of three notes: a beginning note descends to a repeated tone. The rhythm is generally even, often with the feel of a triplet. The lower notes are usually chord tones, while the first note is an upper neighbor. The y motive is first seen at the last note of the right hand of m. 1, and the first two notes of m. 2. It is seen below in a more basic form (without the intervening barline and in a lower register):
The y motive appears in several forms and contexts. It often occurs as part of the ornate melody in the right hand. It is also the origin of the theme at m. 7.
A small section of music in measure 21 is also based on y , this time in retrograde form.
At m. 5 the motive is heard in an inverted form which is then extended upwards. This generates a stepwise ascent which is part of the cadential formula used throughout the piece, (m. 5):
The melody at the beginning of variation 6 is a variant of the y motive in augmentation, (mm. 45-46):
The next section uses the y motive in a decorated version. This occurs at the cadence in C major and again at the return to the vi chord in the diatonic progression in D major (mm. 57-58).
The contour and rhythm provided by the added note create a hybrid of the x and y motives.
The discussion of the x and y motives has centered on their appearance at important points in the structure. They are also part of the melody in many other places of lesser importance, which are too numerous to mention.
The X and y motives are used throughout the piece. There is another theme that is important only in variation 5.It first appears at m. 36.
Though the contour and intervallic content vary, the rhythm and articulation are constant. This theme is repeated several times forming a consistent phrase structure from m. 36 to m. 40. This regularity, a quality lacking in variations 1-4, is a significant factor in creating contrast between parts one and two.
Rhythmic characteristics also play a role in distinguishing the two sections of the piece. The first section is in a moderately slow tempo, almost entirely without a regular pulse. There are what seem to be downbeats–the low notes of the left hand–but between them there is no consistent pulse. The second section contains a substantial amount of music that does have a regular beat. This contrast is especially evident at the beginning of the B section, which has a strong metric feel of 5/4, as well as a fast tempo.
Other areas with a regular beat are mm. 36-42, mm. 46-48, mm. 54-58, mm. 60- 66, and mm. 68-69.
Along with the contrast in rhythm, there is a corresponding difference in texture. In the non-metric sections of the first part, the left hand generally plays some sort of arpeggiated figure while the right hand plays a highly ornate melody. In the more metric sections of the second part, the left hand plays more bass notes followed by block chords in a regular metric pattern.
There are qualities of Noon Song, particularly the use of the theme-and-variation genre, that are typical of improvised music. However, in many ways Noon Song is extraordinary. The gradual introduction of a secondary key area is unusual, as are the subtle ways in which the contrast between the two key areas is played out. The economy of motivic materials provides coherence, while the variation of motives adds contrast and definition. The unusual aspects of Noon Song are not ends in themselves, but contribute to the creation of the two-part form. All these musical elements, common and uncommon, interact to form a balanced, multilevel, formal structure. This skillful layering of different formal approaches permeates the music and is the most fascinating quality of Noon Song.
Chick Corea, “Noon song“, album Piano improvisations vol. 1, 1971
Umm Kulthum: the 100 most inspiring musicians of all time
Egyptian singer Umm Kulthūm (b. May 4, 1904?, Tummāy al-Zahāyrah, Egypt—d. Feb. 3, 1975, Cairo) mesmerized Arab audiences from the Persian Gulf to Morocco for half a century. She was one of the most famous Arab singers and public personalities in the 20th century.
Umm Kulthūm’s father was a village imam who sang traditional religious songs at weddings and holidays to make ends meet. She learned to sing from him, and, when he noticed the strength of her voice, he began taking her with him, dressed as a boy to avoid the opprobrium of displaying a young daughter onstage.
Egyptian society during Umm Kulthūm’s youth held singing—even of the religious variety—to be a disreputable occupation, especially for a female. Umm Kulthūm made a name for herself singing in the towns and villages of the Egyptian delta (an area throughout which she retained a great following).
By the time she was a teenager, she had become the family star. Sometime about 1923 the family moved to Cairo, a major centre of the lucrative world of entertainment and emerging mass media production in the Middle East. There they were perceived as old-fashioned and countrified.
To improve her image and acquire sophistication, Umm Kulthūm studied music and poetry from accomplished performers and literati and copied the manners of the ladies of wealthy homes in which she was invited to sing. She soon made a name in the homes and salons of the wealthy as well as in public venues such as theatres and cabarets.
By the mid-1920s, she had made her first recordings and had achieved a more polished and sophisticated musical and personal style. By the end of the 1920s, she had become a sought-after performer and was one of the best-paid musicians in Cairo. Her extremely successful career in commercial recording eventually extended to radio, film, and television. In 1936, she made her first motion picture, Wedad, in which she played the title role. It was the first of six motion pictures in which she was to act.
Beginning in 1937, she regularly gave a performance on the first Thursday (which in most Islamic countries is the last day of the workweek) of every month. By this time she had moved from singing religious songs to performing popular tunes—often in the colloquial dialect and accompanied by a small traditional orchestra—and she became known for her emotive, passionate renditions of arrangements by the best composers, poets, and songwriters of the day.
These included the poets A mad Shawqī and Bayrām al-Tūnisī (who wrote many of the singer’s colloquial Egyptian songs) and, later, the noted composer Mu ammad ‘Abd al-Wahhāb, with whom she collaborated on 10 songs. The first of these tunes, “Inta ‘Umrī” (“You Are My Life”), remains a modern classic. Her strong and nuanced voice and her ability to fashion multiple iterations of single lines of text drew audiences into the emotion and meaning of the poetic lyrics and extended for hours what often had been written as relatively short compositions.
Known sometimes as Kawkab al-Sharq (“Star of the East”), Umm Kulthūm had an immense repertoire, which included religious, sentimental, and nationalistic songs. In the midst of the turmoil created by two world wars, the Great Depression of the 1930s, and the 1952 Egyptian revolution, she cultivated a public persona as a patriotic Egyptian and a devout Muslim. She sang songs in support of Egyptian independence (“Nashīd al-Jāmi‘ah” [“The University Anthem”], “Sa‘alu Qalbī” [“Ask My Heart”]) and in the 1950s sang many songs in support of Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser, with whom she developed a close friendship. One of her songs associated with Nasser—“Wallāhi Zamān, Yā Silā ī” (“It’s Been a Long Time, O Weapon of Mine”)—was adopted as the Egyptian national anthem from 1960 to 1979.
She served as president of the Musician’s Union for seven years and held positions on numerous government commissions on the arts. Her popularity was further enhanced by her generous donations to Arab causes. After Egypt’s defeat in the Six-Day War of June 1967, she toured Egypt and the broader Arab world, donating the proceeds of her concerts to the Egyptian government. Health problems plagued the singer most of her life.
During the late 1940s and early ’50s, she worked only on a limited basis, and on a number of occasions throughout her life she traveled to Europe and the United States for treatment of a variety of ailments. Most obviously, problems with her eyes (purportedly from years spent in front of stage lights) forced her to wear heavy sunglasses, which became a hallmark during her later life. Such was her popularity that news of her death provoked a spontaneous outpouring of hysterical grief, and millions of admirers lined the streets for her funeral procession.
She remained one of the Arab world’s best-selling singers even decades after her death. In 2001 the Egyptian government estaEnta Oumry (Concert) – Umm Kulthum انت عمرى (حفلة) – ام كلثومblished the Kawkab al-Sharq Museum in Cairo to celebrate the singer’s life and accomplishments.
Sheet Music download
Enta Oumry (Concert) – Umm Kulthum انت عمرى (حفلة) – ام كلثوم
Louis Armstrong: the 100 most inspiring musicians of all time
Louis Armstrong, (b. Aug. 4, 1901, New Orleans, La., U.S.—d. July 6, 1971, New York, N.Y.) or Satchmo (a truncation of “Satchel Mouth”), was the leading trumpeter and one of the most influential artists in jazz history. Armstrong grew up in dire poverty in New Orleans, La., when jazz was very young. As a child, he worked at odd jobs and sang in a boys’ quartet.
In 1913, he was sent to the Colored Waifs Home as a juvenile delinquent. There he learned to play cornet in the home’s band, and playing music quickly became a passion. Armstrong developed rapidly: he played in marching and jazz bands, becoming skillful enough to replace New Orleans jazz cornetist King Oliver in the important Kid Ory band in about 1918, and in the early 1920s he played in Mississippi riverboat dance bands.
Fame beckoned in 1922 when Oliver, then leading a band in Chicago, sent for Armstrong to play second cornet. Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band was the apex of the early, contrapuntal New Orleans ensemble style, and it included musicians such as the brothers Johnny and Baby Dodds and pianist Lil Hardin, who married Armstrong in 1924. The young Armstrong became popular through his ingenious ensemble lead and second cornet lines, his cornet duet passages (called “breaks”) with Oliver, and his solos. He recorded his first solos as a member of the Oliver band in such pieces as “Chimes Blues” and “Tears.”
Encouraged by his wife, Armstrong quit Oliver’s band to seek further fame. He played for a year in New York City in Fletcher Henderson’s band and on many recordings with others before returning to Chicago and playing in large orchestras.
There he created his most important early works, the Armstrong Hot Five and Hot Seven recordings of 1925–28, on which he emerged as the first great jazz soloist. By then the New Orleans ensemble style, which allowed few solo opportunities, could no longer contain his explosive creativity. He retained vestiges of the style in such masterpieces as “Hotter Than That,” “Struttin’ with Some Barbecue,” “Wild Man Blues,” and “Potato Head Blues” but largely abandoned it while accompanied by pianist Earl Hines (“West End Blues” and “Weather Bird ”).
By that time Armstrong was playing trumpet, and his technique was superior to that of all competitors. Altogether, his immensely compelling swing, his brilliant technique, his sophisticated, daring sense of harmony, his ever-mobile, expressive attack, timbre, and inflections, his gift for creating vital melodies; his dramatic, often complex sense of solo design, and his outsized musical energy and genius made these recordings major innovations in jazz.
Armstrong was a famous musician by 1929, when he moved from Chicago to New York City and performed in the theater review Hot Chocolates. He toured America and Europe as a trumpet soloist accompanied by big bands; for several years beginning in 1935, Luis Russell’s big band served as the Louis Armstrong band. During this time he abandoned much of the material of his earlier years for popular songs by such composers as Hoagy Carmichael, Irving Berlin, and Duke Ellington. With his new repertoire came a new, simplified style: he created melodic paraphrases and variations as well as chord-change-based improvisations on these songs. His trumpet range continued to expand, as demonstrated in the high-note showpieces in his repertoire.
His beautiful tone and bravura solos with brilliant highnote climaxes led to such masterworks as “That’s My Home,” “Body and Soul,” and “Star Dust.” One of the inventors of scat singing, he began to sing lyrics on most of his recordings, varying melodies or decorating with scat phrases in a gravel voice that was immediately identifiable. Although he sang such humorous songs as “Hobo, You Can’t Ride This Train,” he also sang many standard songs, often with an intensity and creativity that equaled those of his trumpet playing.
Louis and Lil Armstrong separated in 1931. From 1935 to the end of his life, Armstrong’s career was managed by Joe Glaser, who hired Armstrong’s bands and guided his film career (beginning with Pennies from Heaven, 1936) and radio appearances. Armstrong was the dominant influence on the swing era, when most trumpeters attempted to emulate his inclination to dramatic structure, melody, or technical virtuosity.
Trombonists, too, appropriated Armstrong’s phrasing, and saxophonists as different as Coleman Hawkins and Bud Freeman modeled their styles on different aspects of Armstrong’s. Above all else, his swing-style trumpet playing influenced virtually all jazz horn players who followed him, and the swing of his vocal style was an important influence on singers from Billie Holiday to Bing Crosby.
In most of Armstrong’s movie, radio, and television appearances, he was featured as a good-humoured entertainer. He played a rare dramatic role in the film New Orleans (1947), in which he also performed in a Dixieland band. This prompted the formation of Louis Armstrong’s All-Stars, a Dixieland band that at first included such other jazz greats as Hines and trombonist Jack Teagarden.
For most of the rest of Armstrong’s life, he toured the world with changing All-Stars sextets. It was the period of his greatest popularity; he produced hit recordings such as “Mack the Knife” and “Hello, Dolly!” and outstanding albums such as his tributes to W.C. Handy and Fats Waller.
In his last years, ill health curtailed his trumpet playing, but he continued as a singer. His last film appearance was in Hello, Dolly! (1969), but his most memorable film role may well be as narrator of and bandleader in the 1956 hit musical High Society, also starring Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, and Grace Kelly.
More than a great trumpeter, Armstrong was a bandleader, singer, soloist, film star, and comedian. One of his most remarkable feats was his frequent conquest of the popular market. He nonetheless made his greatest impact on the evolution of jazz itself, which at the start of his career was popularly considered to be little more than a novelty. With his great sensitivity, technique, and capacity to express emotion, Armstrong not only ensured the survival of jazz but led in its development into a fine art.
Kurt Weill: the 100 most inspiring musicians of all time
German-born American composer Kurt Julian Weill (b. March 2, 1900, Dessau, Ger.—d. April 3, 1950, New York, N.Y., U.S.) created a revolutionary kind of opera of sharp social satire in collaboration with the writer Bertolt Brecht.
Weill studied privately with Albert Bing and at the Staatliche Hochschule für Musik in Berlin with Engelbert Humperdinck. He gained some experience as an opera coach and conductor in Dessau and Lüdenscheid (1919–20). Settling in Berlin, he studied (1921–24) under Ferruccio Busoni, beginning as a composer of instrumental works. His early music was expressionistic, experimental, and abstract.
His first two operas, Der Protagonist (one act, libretto by Georg Kaiser, 1926) and Royal Palace (1927), established his position, with Ernst Krenek and Paul Hindemith, as among Germany’s most promising young opera composers.
Weill’s first collaboration as composer with Bertolt Brecht was on the singspiel (or “songspiel,” as he called it) Mahagonny (1927), which was a succès de scandale at the Baden-Baden (Germany) Festival in 1927. This work sharply satirizes life in an imaginary America that is also Germany.
Weill then wrote the music and Brecht provided the libretto for Die Dreigroschenoper (1928; The Threepenny Opera), which was a transposition of John Gay’s Beggar’s Opera (1728) with the 18th-century thieves, highwaymen, jailers, and their women turned into typical characters in the Berlin underworld of the 1920s. This work established both the topical opera and the reputations of the composer and librettist.
Weill’s music for it was in turn harsh, mordant, jazzy, and hauntingly melancholy. Mahagonny was elaborated as a fulllength opera, Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny (composed 1927–29; “Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny”), and first presented in Leipzig in 1930. Widely considered Weill’s masterpiece, the opera’s music showed a skillful synthesis of American popular music, ragtime, and jazz.
Weill’s wife, the actress Lotte Lenya (married 1926), sang for the first time in Mahagonny and was a great success in it and in Die Dreigroschenoper. These works aroused much controversy, as did the students’ opera Der Jasager (1930; “The Yea-Sayer,” with Brecht) and the cantata Der Lindberghflug (1928; “Lindbergh’s Flight,” with Brecht and Hindemith). After the production of the opera Die Bürgschaft (1932; “Trust,” libretto by Caspar Neher), Weill’s political and musical ideas and his Jewish birth made him persona non grata to the Nazis, and he left Berlin for Paris and then for London. His music was banned in Germany until after World War II.
Weill and his wife divorced in 1933 but remarried in 1937 in New York City, where he resumed his career. He wrote music for plays, including Paul Green’s Johnny Johnson (1936) and Franz Werfel’s Eternal Road (1937). His operetta Knickerbocker Holiday appeared in 1938 with a libretto by Maxwell Anderson, followed by the musical play Lady in the Dark (1941; libretto and lyrics by Moss Hart and Ira Gershwin), the musical comedy One Touch of Venus (1943; with S.J. Perelman and Ogden Nash), the musical version of Elmer Rice’s Street Scene (1947), and the musical tragedy Lost in the Stars (1949; with Maxwell Anderson).
Weill’s American folk opera Down in the Valley (1948) was much performed. Two of his songs, the “Morität” (“Mack the Knife”) from Die Dreigroschenoper and “September Song” from Knickerbocker Holiday, have remained popular.
Weill’s Concerto for violin, woodwinds, double bass, and percussion (1924), Symphony No. 1 (1921; “Berliner Sinfonie”), and Symphony No. 2 (1934; “Pariser Symphonie”), works praised for their qualities of invention and compositional skill, were revived after his death.
“Introduction from Mahagonny-Songspiel” – Steve Weisberg – 00:00 “The Ballad of Mac The Knife” (from The Threepenny Opera) – Sting and Dominic Muldowney – 0:48 “The Cannon Song” (from The Threepenny Opera) – The Fowler Brothers and Stan Ridgway – 3:36 “Ballad of the Soldier’s Wife” – Marianne Faithfull and Chris Spedding – 5:49 “Johnny Johnson Medley” – Van Dyke Parks – 10:12 “The Great Hall” – Henry Threadgill – 15:52 “Alabama Song” (from Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny) – Ralph Schuckett with Richard Butler, Bob Dorough, Ellen Shipley and John Petersen –
19:30 “Youkali Tango” – Armadillo String Quartet – 23:57 “Der Kleine Leutnant Des Lieben Gottes” (The Little Lieutenant of the Loving God) (from Happy End) – John Zorn – 28:38 “Johnny’s Speech” – Van Dyke Parks – 34:01 “September Song” (from Knickerbocker Holiday) – Lou Reed – 35:45 “Lost in the Stars” – Carla Bley with Phil Woods – 40:03 “What Keeps Mankind Alive?” (from The Threepenny Opera) – Tom Waits – 46:16 “Klops Lied” (Meatball Song) – Elliott Sharp –
48:28 “Surabaya Johnny” (from Happy End) – Dagmar Krause – 49:16 “Oh Heavenly Salvation” (from Mahagonny) – Mark Bingham with Johnny Adams and Aaron Neville – 53:23 “Call From The Grave/Ballad In Which MacHeath Begs All Men For Forgiveness” (from The Threepenny Opera) – Todd Rundgren with Gary Windo – 56:58 “Speak Low” (from One Touch of Venus) – Charlie Haden and Sharon Freeman – 1:02:20 “In No Man’s Land” (from Johnny Johnson) – Van Dyke Parks – 1:06:42
“Someone to Watch Over Me” is a 1926 song composed by George Gershwin with lyrics by Ira Gershwin, assisted by Howard Dietz who penned the title. It was written for the musical Oh, Kay! (1926), with the part originally sung on Broadway by English actress Gertrude Lawrence while holding a rag doll in a sentimental solo scene. The musical ran for more than 200 performances in New York and then saw equivalent acclaim in London in 1927; all with the song as its centerpiece. Lawrence released the song as a medium-tempo single which rose to number 2 on the charts in 1927.
Initially, “Someone to Watch Over Me” was written by George Gershwin for the musical Oh, Kay! as a “fast and jazzy” up-tempo swing tune– marked scherzando (playful) in the sheet music – but in the 1930s and 1940s it was recorded by singers in a slower ballad form, which became the standard. The definitive slow torch song version was first released by Lee Wiley in 1939, followed by Margaret Whiting in 1944.
Howard Dietz, who was involved in composing other songs in Oh Kay! while Ira Gershwin was hospitalized for six weeks for a ruptured appendix, claimed he helped write the lyrics to “Someone to Watch Over Me”. He was not named in the song credits, and he was paid very little for his contribution. Dietz said in his 1974 memoir that the title of the song was his invention, a fact that was first revealed by Ira in his 1959 book Lyrics on Several Occasions.
Lawrence’s performances of the song in 1926 and 1927 were presented in a solo scene at the beginning of Act II, with Lawrence wearing a maid’s uniform and singing to a rag doll that she held in her hand. The rag doll was described in male gender terms by George Gershwin in 1934, saying “I don’t know where he is now… he certainly did his part well.” George said he found the doll in a toy shop in Philadelphia where the play was in development, and he thrust the doll upon Lawrence to use as a prop in the scene, to increase the sense of her character’s vulnerability. This late addition surprised the play’s director.
Jarrett started his career with Art Blakey, moving on to play with Charles Lloyd and Miles Davis. Since the early 1970s he has enjoyed a great deal of success as a group leader and a solo performer in jazz, jazz fusion, and classical music. His improvisations draw from the traditions of jazz and other genres, especially Western classical music, gospel, blues, and ethnic folk music.