On this day in classical music: Maurice Ravel’s piano four-hand version of “Ma Mere l’Oye” (Mother Goose) was premiered in 1910. Listen to frequent collaborators Martha Argerich and Nelson Friere perform the third of five movements, titled Laideronnette, Impératrice des Pagodes. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DdVZAkHac_Y
On this day in the musical theatre: Broadway added one more musical with a rock score to the record books when “American Idiot” opened in 2010. The show was based on the punk rock band Green Day and its concept album of the same name. The show, which won Tony Awards for scenic design and lighting design, managed to run just over a year.
Theatrical musings: Rage and love, those consuming emotions felt with a particularly acute pang in youth, all but burn up the stage in “American Idiot,” the thrillingly raucous and gorgeously wrought Broadway musical adapted from the blockbuster pop-punk album by Green Day. “American Idiot” jolts you right back to the dizzying roller coaster of young adulthood, that turbulent time when ecstasy and misery almost seem interchangeable states, flip sides of the coin of exaltation. It captures with a piercing intensity that moment in life when everything seems possible, and nothing seems worth doing, or maybe it’s the other way around. – Charles Isherwood writing in The New York Times.
On this day in classical music: Igor Stravinsky’s “Fanfare for a New Theatre,” composed for the opening of the New York State Theatre at Lincoln Center, received its premiere in 1964. Listen to trumpet players Reinhold Friedrich and Wolfgang Bauer perform the lively fanfare. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FfSZoOLfb38
On this day in the musical theatre: American musical theater history was rewritten when “The Producers” opened on Broadway in 2001. Based on the screenplay by Mel Brooks, the musical starred Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick as Broadway producers who hatch a scheme to bilk money out of wealthy old women and use it to mount what is certain to be a flop. The musical was nominated for 15 Tony Awards and won a dozen, two more than any musical in history. “The Producers” ran for more than five years.
Musical musings: I know that the twelve notes in each octave and the varieties of rhythm offer me opportunities that all of human genius will never exhaust. – Igor Stravinsky
On this day in classical music: Italian composer Ottorino Respighi died in Rome in 1936. A master orchestrator whose music is known for its brilliant use of color, Respighi is best remembered for his orchestral Roman trilogy: “The Pines of Rome,” “The Fountains of Rome” and “Roman Festivals.” Listen to the NHK Symphony Orchestra (of Tokyo) perform the final movement of “Roman Festivals,” titled “La Befana.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DXjxAFzdcAM
On this day in the musical theatre: “The Light in the Piazza,” a musical based on a short story by Elizabeth Spencer, opened on Broadway in 2005. Adam Guettel, grandson of Richard Rodgers, composed the Tony Award-winning score. Heading the cast was Oklahoman Kelli O’Hara as Clara, a mentally challenged but vivacious young woman who accompanies her mother to Florence, Italy. O’Hara was nominated for a Tony Award. Her co-star, Victoria Clark, won the Tony as Clara’s mother Margaret. Listen to O’Hara sing the musical’s title number. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hvVHEBPIuqY
Theatrical musings: (Kelli) O’Hara said another high point for her in this theatrical journey was the opportunity to meet (Elizabeth) Spencer. Now in her 80s, Spencer traveled to Seattle and Chicago to see the show before it moved to Broadway. At each step along the way, Spencer voiced her approval of the show and the cast.
“I met her in all the cities we played, but here in New York, she appeared to be very moved after seeing the opening night production,” O’Hara said. “Adam (Guettel) and Craig (Lucas) were very intent on making her feel like her story was being told.
“After seeing the New York opening, Spencer approached me and shared her impressions. She looked into my eyes and said, ‘You’re the one. You’re my Clara.’ That was such a relief, and it just made me feel fantastic.” – From Rick Rogers’ story about “The Light in the Piazza,” published Nov. 13, 2005 in The Oklahoman.
On this day in classical music: Statesman, inventor, author, diplomat and founding father, Benjamin Franklin died in 1790. One of his many inventions was the glass armonica, a musical instrument that operates on the same principle as running one’s finger around the top of a wine glass. Listen to a performance of Tchaikovsky’s “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies” played on the glass armonica. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eQemvyyJ–g
On this day in the musical theatre: “High Spirits,” a musical based on Noel Coward’s “Blithe Spirit,” opened in 1964. Hugh Martin and Timothy Gray’s score was lively and humorous, as was the musical’s story about a man’s struggles with the spirit of his dead wife.
Theatrical musings: My characters speak before they think — just like in real life. – Noel Coward
On this day in classical music: Vincent Persichetti’s “Symphony No. 6” (“Symphony for Band”), was given its premiere in 1956. Persichetti was a prolific composer who was also a member of the Juilliard School faculty. The “Symphony for Band” quickly entered the repertoire and has remained one of his most popular works. The poignant second movement was taken from the composer’s “Hymns and Responses for the Church Year.” Listen to the Concordia College Band perform the second movement Adagio. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NICaBas-4jA
On this day in the musical theatre: “Grind,” a flop that opened in 1985, offered a lively portrait of a burlesque house in 1930’s Chicago. Despite a paltry run of 79 performances, Leilani Jones earned a Tony Award for her role as a black stripper named Satin.
Theatrical musings: “Grind” arrived on Broadway at the end of one of the worst musical seasons ever. “Grind” was a show so loaded with characters, ideas, themes and plots that it tended to bewilder and turn off a first-time viewer. It tried to do too much, and there were too many diverse elements … that did not easily fit together. “Grind” was an uncompromising show that attempted to say something; unfortunately, because of all that was going on, sympathy for and understanding of the characters was only possible with second or third viewings. The show’s seven Tony nominations kept the show open but “Grind” closed shortly after the awards were distributed, losing $4.75 million. – From Not Since Carrie: 40 Years of Broadway Musical Flops, by Ken Mandelbaum.
On this day in classical music: Serge Prokofiev’s “Visions Fugitives,” a collection of 20 brief works for piano, had its premiere in St. Petersburg in 1918. The composer, who was at the piano, also debuted his “Sonata for Piano No. 3.” The title comes from a poem by Konstantin Balmont: “In every fugitive vision I see worlds, full of the changing play of rainbow hues.” The works are known for their sparse textures and rhythmic interest. Listen to the composer perform excerpts from this popular suite. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gk0jJyUh0T4
On this day in the musical theatre: “Next to Normal,” a dark musical that explored one woman’s struggles with bipolar disease, opened in 2009. The musical also addressed issues ranging from suicide and drug abuse to psychiatric ethics and suburban life. Featuring a Tony Award-winning rock score by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey, this unusual musical divided critics. Many were surprised when it won a Pulitzer Prize in 2010, only the eighth musical to be so honored.
Musical musings: The soundboard is the soul of the piano. But not only the soundboard: The whole frame or “rim” of the piano is involved in producing the sound. It is all a part of the “sounding” body. One cannot determine beforehand how a given soundboard will react to pressure and tension of the strings — their tremendous “down-bearing” upon the bridge and soundboard. One piano can be extremely brilliant and also beautiful, while another has to be kept more mellow to give its best. If I take a piano and try to force it beyond its capacity, because the pianist wants it to soar over the sound of the orchestra — if it does not have this potential, my forcing it will give a tone that is extremely ugly, harsh and shattering. It would be more noise than tone. – Franz Mohr in “My Life With the Great Pianists.”
On this day in classical music: Russian pianist and composer Alexander Scriabin died in 1915. A prolific composer who is best known for his piano music, was a mystic whose music features unusual harmonies and textures. Listen to Vladimir Horowitz perform Scriabin’s Etude, Op. 8, No. 12. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ClDFmFmr0k&feature=fvst
On this day in the musical theatre: “Bye Bye Birdie” opened in 1960. Charles Strouse and Lee Adams provided a lively score for this satire on American society. Originally titled “Let’s Go Steady,” the satire on American society is set in 1958. The story was inspired by the phenomenon of popular singer Elvis Presley and his draft notice into the Army in 1957.
Musical musings: Scriabin’s “Divine Poem” is the work of a neurotic, a Fourth of July celebration in which every member of the orchestra has signed a Declaration of Independence and makes just as much noise as he possibly can. – From Musical America, March 23, 1907.
On this day in classical music: Randall Thompson’s “A Testament of Freedom,” a choral work inspired by the writings of Thomas Jefferson, received its premiere in 1943. Listen to an excerpt of the first movement, titled “The God Who Gave Us Life Gave Us Liberty.” The Dallas Wind Symphony and the Turtle Creek Chorale are featured. http://www.dws.org/audio/testament/track09.mp3
On this day in the musical theatre: Bob Merrill’s musical “Carnival” opened on today’s date in 1961. Based on the 1953 film “Lili,” the charming musical focused on a troupe of circus performers. Anna Maria Alberghetti won a Tony Award for her role as Lili.
Musical musings: Bob Merrill’s theme from “Carnival” became almost as popular as the movie’s “Hi Lili, Hi Lo.” It received the national attention under the more workable title of “Love Makes the World Go Round.” – From American Musical Theatre: A Chronicle, by Gerald Bordman
On this day in classical music: Jacques Offenbach’s opera bouffe “La Grande Duchesse de Gerolstein” was given its premiere in 1867 in Paris. It’s a satirical opera that focuses on a spoiled young Duchesse who learns she cannot always get her way. Listen to Arthur Fielder and the Boston Pops Orchestra perform the overture. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wCxVmTCO0BY
On this day in the musical theatre: Veteran performer Ann Miller was born on today’s date in 1923. In 1979, the popular entertainer teamed up with Mickey Rooney for “Sugar Babies,” a hit musical that paid tribute to the era of burlesque.
Theatrical musings: “Sugar Babies” featured a paunchy, graying Mickey Rooney and a still shapely Ann Miller cavorting through routines and songs from Minsky’s glory years. Double takes, double entendres, pratfalls, fright wigs, bumps and grinds and strip teases were combined in an irresistible entertainment whose slickness and glitter Minsky might have envied. Audiences were … busy having the sort of totally escapist good time that the musical theatre was providing all too rarely. – From American Musical Theatre: A Chronicle, by Gerald Bordman
On this day in classical music: French composer Jean-Joseph Mouret was born in 1682 in Avignon. A “Rondeau” from the composer’s “Symphonies and Fanfares for the King’s Supper” was chosen as the theme for PBS’ Masterpiece Theatre. Go here to listen to Mouret’s “Rondeau.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GZib08sHrwE
On this day in the musical theatre: Stephen Sondheim’s typical good luck didn’t extend to “Anyone Can Whistle,” a 1964 musical that closed on today’s date after a run of just nine performances. With a cast that featured Angela Lansbury and Lee Remick, neither of whom had appeared before in a musical, “Anyone Can Whistle” told the story of a group’s futile efforts to save a bankrupt town. A concert version of “Anyone Can Whistle” played Carnegie Hall in 1995.
Theatrical musings: “Anyone Can Whistle,” a satire on conformity and the insanity of the so-called sane, opened and closed on successive Saturday nights. Whatever its shortcomings, “Whistle” was one of a kind, not amusing enough to succeed but too fascinating to dismiss. Most of the score is wonderful, and except for Herbert Ross’ dazzling choreography, the cast album, recorded on the day after the show closed, preserves the best of the show. The mix of terrible and laudatory reviews was precisely what the show merited. “Whistle” is both wonderful and awful, unsatisfying in and of itself but glorious for its foolhardy thumbing of its nose at convention and its pointing the way toward the innovations of the next decade. – From Not Since Carrie: 40 Years of Broadway Musical Flops by Ken Mandelbaum.