On this day in classical music: Franz Joseph Haydn was born in Austria in 1732. Known as the “Father of the Symphony,” Haydn composed 104 symphonies, the last dozen referred to as the “London” symphonies. Haydn is also considered the “Father of the String Quartet” with more than 60 examples composed over a 40-year span. Haydn’s “Symphony No. 100,” known as the “Military” received its premiere on this date in 1794. Often mentioned in the same breath with Mozart — they were the best known composers from music’s Classical period — Haydn outlived his younger counterpart by 18 years.
On this day in the musical theatre: The musical “Oklahoma!” opened on Broadway in 1943. After a long partnership with Lorenz Hart, Richard Rodgers began collaborating with Oscar Hammerstein II. Together, they were responsible for writing five of the musical theater’s best known classics: “Oklahoma!,” “Carousel,” “South Pacific,” “The King and I” and “The Sound of Music.” The tremendous popularity of “Oklahoma!” resulted in a record-setting run of 2,212 performances. “Oklahoma!” wouldn’t lose its No. 1 spot until its run was surpassed by “My Fair Lady” in 1961. Rodgers and Hammerstein visited Oklahoma when the national tour played Oklahoma City in 1946. “Oklahoma!” became the official state song in 1953.
Musical musings: It is bemusing that classical music is so often characterized as conventional, conservative and formulaic, and yet the moment it becomes audibly not so — in Schoenberg or Stravinsky — it is dismissed for being incomprehensible. – from “Who Needs Classical Music?” by Julian Johnson
On this day in classical music: Antal Dorati conducted the world premiere of Walter Piston’s “Symphony No. 4” in 1951. Commissioned by the University of Minnesota, the Fourth is arguably the most popular of Piston’s eight symphonies. His Third and Seventh both won Pulitzer Prizes. Piston taught at Harvard from 1926 to 1960. Among his students are Samuel Adler, Leroy Anderson, Leonard Bernstein, Elliott Carter, John Harbison, Gail Kubik and Daniel Pinkham.
On this day in the musical theatre: “Applause” opened on Broadway on today’s date in 1970. Based on the screenplay “All About Eve,” “Applause” earned Lauren Bacall the first of two Tony Awards. The second, for “Woman of the Year,” came in 1981. Listen to Bacall sing the Charles Strouse/Lee Adams hit “Welcome to the Theatre” here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b84FOkAY1hE&feature=results_main&playnext=1&list=PL2F4C588BB308D0C2
The four most dramatic words in the English language: “Act One, Scene One.” – Moss Hart (The noted playwright collaborated with George S. Kaufman on the hits “The Man Who Came to Dinner” and “You Can’t Take It With You.” Hart directed and won a Tony Award for Lerner and Loewe’s “My Fair Lady.”
On this day in classical music: British composer William Walton was born in 1902. He composed works in a wide variety of forms, including concerto (viola, violin), film (Henry V, Hamlet), choral (Belshazzar’s Feast, Te Deum) and orchestral (Orb and Sceptre, Crown Imperial). But Walton is probably best known for “Facade,” a 1922 work for speaker and chamber ensemble. Set to poems by Edith Sitwell, this “entertainment” was celebrated for its offbeat, occasionally outrageous humor.
Tchaikovsky’s opera “Eugene Onegin” premiered on this date in 1879. The polonaise and waltz quickly found their way into the orchestral repertoire.
On this day in the musical theatre: For “The King and I,” which opened on Broadway in 1951, Rodgers and Hammerstein adapted Margaret Landon’s 1944 novel “Anna and the King of Siam.” Starring Gertrude Lawrence and Yul Brynner, the musical adaptation overflows with melodic riches, including “Getting to Know You,” “Hello, Young Lovers,” “I Have Dreamed” and “Shall We Dance?” Lawrence and Brynner both won Tony Awards and the show took the Best Musical award.
Musical musings: The frustrating thing is that while I’m perfectly capable of making a decision by myself on most subjects, I can’t remove my ears from my body and place them in the back of the room for a vocal check. What we hear while we’re singing just isn’t true, so we are always dependent on someone we trust to take the role of our “outside ears.” – “The Inner Voice: The Making of a Singer” by Renee Fleming.
On this date in classical music: Modest Mussorgsky, a 19th century Russian composer who was a member of the Mighty Five (with Mily Balakirev, Cesar Cui, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Alexander Borodin), died in 1881. His best known work was a suite for solo piano titled “Pictures at an Exhibition.” Over the years, numerous musicians (Mikhail Tushmalov, Henry Wood, Leo Funtek, Lucien Cailliet, Leopold Stokowski and Vladimir Ashkenazy) orchestrated Mussorgsky’s work, but the most popular by far remains that by Maurice Ravel.
Umberto Giordano’s opera “Andrea Chenier” had its premiere in 1896 at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan. While the title character gets to tackle four arias, perhaps the most moving excerpt is sung by the soprano (Maddalena). Titled “La mamma morta,” this touching aria was featured prominently in the film “Philadelphia.” Listen to Maria Callas sing it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RgSB34QfKiw
On this date in the musical theatre: The stage musical “Titanic” closed in 1999 after a 23-month run. Two months after its June 1997 opening, “Titanic” won five Tony Awards including the top prize for Best Musical. Fifty years after the Tony Awards were established, a new category for orchestrations was added. Jonathan Tunick, one of Broadway’s most accomplished orchestrators, won the first award.
Musical musings: Claudia Cassidy, the longtime music critic at the Chicago Tribune, became well known for her caustic reviews. She often attacked Chicago Symphony Orchestra conductors Desire Defauw, Rafael Kubelik and Jean Martinon. Visiting conductors were not spared her sharp criticisms either. Her antipathy toward George Szell, music director of the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra, limited his Chicago appearances. She once wrote to Carlotta Reiner (wife of CSO music director Fritz Reiner) that Szell had come down with a raging fever and his temperature had “shot up to 89.” – from Philip Hart’s biography of Fritz Reiner
On this day in classical music: Ferde Grofe, a composer and arranger who catapulted to fame after orchestrating George Gershwin’s 1924 “Rhapsody in Blue,” was born in 1892. In 1931, Grofe completed his “Grand Canyon Suite,” an orchestral portrait of the spectacular scenic vistas in northern Arizona. The suite was cast in five movements: Sunrise, Painted Desert, On the Trail, Sunset and Cloudburst. In 1990, when record labels were eager to explore the sonic capabilities of the still relatively new compact disc medium, Erich Kunzel recorded Grofe’s suite with the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra. A bonus track of the Cloudburst movement incorporated the sounds of an actual thunderstorm. The United States Postal Service issued a stamp to honor Grofe’s contribution to American music in 1997.
In 1897, Alexander Glazunov conducted the premiere of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “Symphony No. 1.” Its disastrous reception plunged Rachmaninoff into a deep depression. During the subsequent three years, Rachmaninoff composed very little. Encouraged to seek professional help, Rachmaninoff slowly regained his confidence. As a gesture of appreciation, the composer dedicated his “Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor” to psychologist Nikolai Dahl. More than a century later, the Second remains a very popular staple of the concerto repertoire.
On this day in the musical theatre: Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Starlight Express” opened in London in 1984. The musical focuses on a race between a diesel train and a steam-operated engine. Actors in roller skates executed elaborate races on ramps and rotating bridges high above the stage. “Starlight Express” would run nearly 18 years and amassed an impressive 7,406 performances. The rock-influenced musical opened on Broadway in 1987 but its 761-performance run paled by comparison.
In 1996, a stage adaptation of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1945 film “State Fair” opened on Broadway. The score made hits of “It Might As Well Be Spring” and “It’s a Grand Night for Singing.” The stage musical closed after a brief run of 110 performances but producers did launch a national tour. Greg White, director of music theater at the University of Central Oklahoma, was a member of the touring cast.
“The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,” which had opened on Broadway in June 1978, closed on today’s date in 1982. Henderson Forsythe (as Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd) and Carlin Glynn (as Chicken Ranch proprietor Mona Stangley) both won Tony Awards. Hoping to capitalize on the original production’s success, a sequel, titled “The Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public,” opened on Broadway in May 1994. It shuttered less than two weeks later after only 15 performances.
Theatrical musings: I didn’t like the play, but then I saw it under adverse conditions — the curtain was up. – Groucho Marx
I wanted to include some information about Martha that was cut from the print edition.
Knott befriended numerous local actors during her long theatrical career in Oklahoma City, including Suzanne Charney, Clyde Martin, Charlotte Franklin, Jane Hall and Billie Thrash. Their paths crossed frequently due to their mutual love of theater.
“Martha was not only a treasured friend, but also a treasure trove of theatrical knowledge and taught us all about comic timing,” said Billie Thrash. “Those of us who had the pleasure of sharing the stage with her always expanded on the W.C. Fields line and altered it to ‘Never perform with dogs, children or Martha Knott.’
“She’d steal the scene right out from under you, but never on purpose; she was just that endearing. From the tent shows of the long past with her theatrical parents to the modern day stage, she was always an audience favorite as well as a favorite of all who worked with her. I miss her terribly.”
Knott often used her quick wit to inform the many comedic roles she played. Even when talking about herself, Knott’s self-deprecating sense of humor was disarmingly pointed. “You’ve got to be a little bit of a ham to do this kind of thing,” Knott once said. “I guess with me, the ham just cured a little better.”
On this day in classical music: Musical titan Ludwig van Beethoven died at age 56 in 1827. Despite having spent more than half of his adult life completely deaf, Beethoven continued to compose. Many of his greatest works were produced during the final years of his life: the “Symphony No. 9,” “The Consecration of the House” overture, the last five string quartets and the “Grosse Fuge,” the last five piano sonatas and the “Missa Solemnis.” Nearly two centuries later, his works rank among the most often performed in nearly every area of the repertoire. French composer/conductor Pierre Boulez was born in 1925. Today, the octogenarian remains active as one of the industry’s most talented conductors. March 26 als0 marks the world premiere of American composer William Schuman’s cantata “A Free Song.” Based on works by Walt Whitman, the 1943 work won the first Pulitzer Prize for Music. Schuman also served as president of The Juilliard School from 1945 to 1961.
On this day in the musical theatre: “Funny Girl” opened in 1964 with Barbra Streisand recreating the life and career of vaudeville comedienne Fanny Brice. Despite its tremendous popularity, the show failed to win a single Tony Award. This was the season dominated by “Hello, Dolly!” which won 10 of the 11 awards for which it was nominated. Luckily, Streisand got to recreate her role in the 1968 film version of “Funny Girl” and took home an Oscar for her performance.
Musical musings: The story is told that when Vladimir Horowitz came to the doors of heaven, the angel in charge of music shouted to the harp-playing angels, “Put your harps away and roll out the Steinway. Horowitz is coming! – from “My Life With the Great Pianists” by Franz Mohr.
On this day in classical music: Arturo Toscanini, the legendary conductor of the NBC Symphony Orchestra from 1937 to 1954, was born in Parma, Italy in 1867. His tyrannical reign with this handpicked ensemble produced many of the 20th century’s most iconic recordings, from the complete cycle of Beethoven symphonies to the Roman trilogy composed by his fellow countryman Ottorino Respighi. Another Toscanini specialty, somewhat unexpectedly, was Debussy’s ”La Mer.” During his American tenure, Toscanini conducted more than 50 performances of this Impressionist masterpiece. Today, his recording with the NBC Symphony sounds dry (made in NBC’s acoustically problematic Studio 8-H) but one can still marvel at the vibrant color palette this orchestra produced. Curiously, Debussy died on today’s date in 1918. March 25 also marked the premiere of Heitor Villa-Lobos’ “Bachianas Brasilieras No. 5″ for soprano and eight cellos. Everyone from Victoria de los Angeles to Kiri Te Kanawa recorded it but Anna Moffo made it a repertory staple.
On this day in the musical theater: The original production of “Gypsy” closed in 1961 after 702 performances. The show was Ethel Merman’s last great hurrah. She was 57 when she appeared in the 1966 revival of “Annie Get Your Gun,” a production that was humorously dubbed “Granny Get Your Gun.” In 1970, Merman finally stepped into the role created with her in mind, the meddling Dolly Gallagher Levi in Jerry Herman’s “Hello, Dolly!” After Merman turned down the part in 1964, it became a Tony Award-winning vehicle for Carol Channing.
Musical musings: Music is but one of the arts, but it lives in all of them. Music is directed toward the ear but appeals indirectly to all the senses and their mental counterparts. Music is the art to which all other arts aspire. – from the book “Piano Pieces” by Russell Sherman