On this day in classical music: Paul Hindemith’s ballet “St. Francis” was given its premiere at London’s Covent Garden in 1938. The composer would later create a three-movement suite from the ballet which he titled “Nobilissima Visione.” Like the opera “Mathis der Maler” before it, “Nobilissima Visione” was inspired by art, in this case, the Giotto frescoes in Florence that depicted the life of St. Francis of Assisi. Listen to Herbert Blomstedt and the Berlin Philharmonic perform an excerpt from ”Nobilissima Visione.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1wAKnzkqOUshttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=plY0ALzsz8E
On this day in the musical theatre: The British production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Follies” opened in London in 1987, 16 years after its Broadway premiere. The occasion prompted the composer/lyricist to revise his musical. James Goldman tweaked his original book, making it more lighthearted in tone. Sondheim wrote four new songs for the British premiere: “Country House,” which replaced “The Road You Didn’t Take,” “Ah, But Underneath” replacing “The Story of Lucy and Jessie,” “Make the Most of Your Music” replacing “Live, Laugh, Love” and a revised “Loveland.” Listen to Julia McKenzie sing “Losing My Mind” from the London production of “Follies.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ERQTfcCANY0
Musical musings: In response to producer Cameron Mackintosh’s request to make changes, Sondheim said, “I was reluctantly happy to comply, my only serious balk being at his request that I cut ‘The Road You Didn’t Take’ … I saw no reason not to try new things, knowing we could always revert to the original (which we eventually did). The net result was four new songs. For reasons which I’ve forgotten, I rewrote ‘Loveland’ for the London production. There were only four showgirls in this version, and each one carried a shepherd’s crook with a letter of the alphabet on it.”
On this day in classical music: Arnold Schoenberg’s “Serenade” received its premiere in 1924 in Donaueschingen, Germany. Written for baritone voice and seven instruments, the “Serenade” illustrates Schoenberg’s explorations with twelve-tone composition. Such works were a departure from traditional tonality in that all 12 pitches are of equal importance. Listen to the opening “March” from Schoenberg’s “Serenade.” Listen to the opening “March” from the “Serenade.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qNLQ2jDAkWo&feature=results_video&playnext=1&list=PL02AED9B5C96BB72C
On this day in the musical theatre: The British musical “Stop the World — I Want to Get Off” opened in London in 1961. Littlechap, who has fathered a child out of wedlock, decides to marry the child’s mother (his boss’ daughter). Soon dissatisfied with the responsibilities of marriage, Littlechap has affairs with three women, a Russian, a German and an American. Ultimately, he realizes that the love of his wife was what made him the happiest. Just before the show’s final curtain comes down, Littlechap gets to welcome the birth of his grandson. “Stop the World” featured book, music and lyrics by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse. The collaborators would also write “The Roar of the Greasepaint — The Smell of the Crowd” for the stage and “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” for film. “Stop the World” made hits of “Once In a Lifetime” and “What Kind of Fool Am I?” Listen to Newley sing “Gonna Build a Mountain” from “Stop the World.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RUUVguTKw-w
Musical musings: David Merrick imported this curious conversation piece featuring “new style” entertainer Anthony Newley and his enormously popular song hit “What Kind of Fool Am I?,” and cannily spun it into a top money-maker. Due to its minimal production expense — $75,000, compared to $250,000 for “Carnival” (1961) and $350,000 for “Gypsy” (1959) — and relatively minuscule operating costs, “Stop the World” boasts Merrick’s third highest profit/investment ratio (after “Hello, Dolly!” and “42nd Street.” – from Opening Night on Broadway by Steven Suskin
On this day in classical music: Scottish percussionist Evelyn Glennie was born in Aberdeen in 1965. She graduated from London’s Royal Academy of Music in 1985 and quickly launched a career as a solo percussionist. While pianists, violinists and cellists have a wealth of solo repertoire, percussionists had little written for them by composers of note. Glennie set out to rectify that issue by commissioning works by many of the world’s best known composers. Among the works written for Glennie are John Corigliano’s “Conjuror,” James Macmillan’s “Veni, veni emmanuel,” Ned Rorem’s “Concerto for Mallet Instruments,” Bright Sheng’s “Colours of Crimson” and Christopher Rouse’s “Der Gerettete Alberich.” Glennie is profoundly deaf, which means that while she has some hearing, what she is able to discern is considerably different from what a hearing person could perceive. She often performs barefooted which allows her to feel the vibrations of the sounds she makes and those from the musicians accompanying her. Glennie was named Dame Commander of the British Empire in 2007. Listen to Glennie perform and discuss her music. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P_rO8tPJaBE
On this day in the musical theatre: Following the success of their musical “Brigadoon,” Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe introduced “Paint Your Wagon.” While the former was couched in the mystical world of a Scottish town that materializes once every 100 years, “Paint Your Wagon” explored the rugged outdoors in a California gold mining camp. The tuneful musical ran for just 289 performances, about half that of “Brigadoon.” It closed on today’s date in 1951. Among its musical highlights were “I’m On My Way,” “I Talk to the Trees,” “Wand’rin’ Sky” and the rousing “They Call the Wind Maria.” Listen to Harve Presnell sing “They Call the Wind Maria” in a clip from the 1969 soundtrack. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3DrOqRQQ9mg
Musical musings: “My hearing is something that bothers other people far more than it bothers me,” Glennie wrote on her website, www.evelyn.co.uk. “There are a couple of inconveniences but in general it doesn’t affect my life much. For me, my deafness is no more important than the fact I am female with brown eyes. Sure, I sometimes have to find solutions to problems related to my hearing and music but so do all musicians. Most of us know very little about hearing, even though we do it all the time. Likewise, I don’t know very much about deafness, what’s more I’m not particularly interested. I remember one occasion when uncharacteristically I became upset with a reporter for constantly asking questions only about my deafness. I said: ‘If you want to know about deafness, you should interview an audiologist. My specialty is music.”
On this day in classical music: Czech composer Julius Fucik was born in 1872 in Prague. During his career, which was mostly spent conducting military bands, Fucik held posts in Sarajevo, Budapest and Theresienstadt. Fucik formed his own band in 1913 and regularly gave concerts in Berlin and Prague. Although he composed scores of marches, Fucik is best known for his masterpiece, the well-known “Entry of the Gladiators.” In the context of the circus, it’s better known by its alternate title, “Thunder and Blazes.” Listen to Antonio Henrique Seixas and the Banda Filarmônica do Rio de Janeiro perform Fucik’s most popular march. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6yawCNmMgMo
On this day in the musical theatre: The 1970 revival of “The Boy Friend” closed on Broadway in 1970. The original 1954 production, which was a British import, marked the Broadway debut of Julie Andrews. “Laugh-In” alumna Judy Carne headed the revival cast, which also starred Sandy Duncan. Set in the Roaring Twenties on the French Riviera, “The Boy Friend” was a lighthearted romp that spoofed the musicals of the 1920s. Listen to Julie Andrews and the cast of the 1954 production sing the title song. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XmOYnO7AheU
Musical musings: Carne came to national fame as the “Sock-It-To-Me Girl” on TV’s “Laugh-In.” Carne’s fame came from dancing with her body covered with humorous tattoos, while she was continually doused with buckets of water and the like. She also earned a certain amount of notoriety as the ex-wife of Burt Reynolds. Carne was, presumably, the element that allowed the producers to raise the money; and it should be admitted that she gave a satisfactory performance in the Julie Andrews role. But her lack of star quality was spotlighted every time Maisie, the heroine’s best friend, stepped on stage. Here was Sandy Duncan, as bright and bubbly and attractive and endearing as — well, the young Gwen Verdon. Duncan monopolized the show, giving the proceedings an ovation-worthy lift in her two big solos (“Won’t You Charleston With Me?” and “Safety in Numbers”). The general feeling around town was that Duncan was the clear star of the show, and “The Boy Friend” would have been a winner if only Sandy had been playing the lead. (This is a somewhat faulty hypothesis; if Duncan had been playing Polly, she would have lost her exuberant dance numbers). In any event, we were left with a pleasant “Boy Friend,” buoyed by a knockout featured performance. – Steven Suskin
On this day in classical music: George Frideric Handel’s “Water Music” was premiered in 1717. Written to be played by musicians on a barge in the river Thames, the “Water Music” is a collection of mostly brief orchestral movements. Handel employed a variety of dance forms, including minuets, bourrees, hornpipes and a rigaudon. Listen to Alexis Hauser and the Montreal Symphony Orchestra perform an Allegro from the first suite. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IqKEA73DXoA
On this day in the musical theatre: “Irma La Douce,” a musical about a French prostitute and the cavalier young man who devises a plan to rescue her from her demeaning profession, opened in London in 1958. While British and American musicals regularly cross the Atlantic and enjoy success in both countries, “Irma La Douce” is the rare musical that got its start in Paris. Opening there in 1956, the French production ran for four years. American producer David Merrick was responsible for both its London and New York productions, both of which starred Elizabeth Seal in the title role. Seal won a Best Actress Tony Award in 1961. Marguerite Monnot’s delectable score made hits of “The Bridge of Caulaincourt,” “Our Language of Love” and “Dis-Donc,” the latter a showstopper for the company. Listen to Colette Renard sing the title song from “Irma La Douce” in French. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fYz1McbeXsM
Musical musings: David Merrick’s romance with French shows — “Fanny” (1954), “La Plume de Ma Tante” (1958), “Becket” (1960) — brought forth this giddily Parisian musical. Intimate, inventive and endearing, “Irma” was a jewel of a show. And that British gamin Elizabeth Seal (born in Genoa, Italy, actually) received the best set of notices since Gwen Verdon swept into town doing a “Can-Can” (1953). – From Opening Nights on Broadway by Steven Suskin.
On this day in classical music: Scottish composer James MacMillan was born in 1959. His work “The Confession of Isobel Gowdie” earned praise when it was premiered at the London Proms in 1990. Gowdie was one of many women executed for witchcraft in 17th century Scotland. The success of that work resulted in numerous commissions, including “Veni, Veni Emmanuel,” a percussion concerto written for Evelyn Glennie. Premiered in 1992, the concerto has become MacMillan’s most frequently performed work. Listen to percussion soloist Ben Runkel perform an excerpt from the concerto with the Northern Illinois University Philharmonic conducted by Timothy Semanik. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VjTb1SXYxVk
On this day in the musical theatre: The Broadway production of “Half a Sixpence,” a musical based on the H.G. Wells novel “Kipps: The Story of a Simple Soul,” closed in 1965 after a 15-month run. A transfer from the London stage, “Half a Sixpence” starred the irrepressible Tommy Steele as Arthur Kipps, an orphan whose unexpected inheritance allowed him to climbs the social ladder before realizing that you can’t buy happiness. Listen to Steele and costar Marti Webb discuss and reminisce about the popular “Half a Sixpence.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KgAyFsvkFi0
Musical musings: “Veni, Veni, Emmanuel,” a concerto for percussion and orchestra, is … based on the Advent plainsong of the same name. Soloist and orchestra converse throughout as two equal partners and a wide range of percussion instruments are used, covering tuned, untuned, skin, metal and wood sounds. Much of the music is fast and, although seamless, can be divided into a five-sectioned arch. It begins with a bold, fanfare-like overture in which the soloist presents all the instrument-types used throughout. At the very end of the piece, the music takes a liturgical detour from Advent to Easter — right into the Gloria of the Easter Vigil in fact — as if the proclamation of liberation finds embodiment in the Risen Christ. – From the composer’s program notes.
On this day in classical music: The Swiss-born American composer Ernest Bloch died at age 78 in Portland, Oregon. After completing his studies in Europe, Bloch settled in the United States in 1916 and became an American citizen eight years later. He held several teaching posts at various universities and taught George Antheil and Roger Sessions. Among his most notable works are “Schelomo, Rhapsodie Hebraique” for cello and orchestra, “Baal Shem” for violin and orchestra, and two concerto grossos for string orchestra. Bloch was the first musical director of the Cleveland Institute of Music and later became director of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Listen to Aram Gharabekian and the National Chamber Orchestra of Armenia perform the opening prelude of the “Concerto Grosso No. 1” for string orchestra with piano obbligato. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qiW9AQyEOsg
On this day in the musical theatre: A star-studded production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Pirates of Penzance” opened in New York’s Central Park in 1980. The production, which remained fairly true to Gilbert’s original script, featured new orchestrations and borrowed songs from “Ruddigore” and “H.M.S. Pinafore.” Heading the cast of Joe Papp’s Shakespeare in the Park production were Linda Ronstadt as Mabel, Rex Smith as Frederic, Kevin Kline as the Pirate King, Patricia Routledge as Ruth George Rose as the Major-General and Tony Azito as the Sergeant of Police. After 35 performances, the production transferred to Broadway where it ran for nearly two years. A century after its New York premiere, “The Pirates of Penzance” earned three Tony Awards, for Kline, director Wilford Leach and Best Revival. “Pirates” remains one of Gilbert and Sullivan’s most popular operettas, thanks to standout tunes such as “Poor wand’ring one,” “I am the very model of a modern Major-General,” “When the foeman bares his steel,” “When a felon’s not engaged in his employment” and “With cat-like tread.” Watch the classic “With Cat-Like Tread” from the Central Park production. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ov4RMQQRRnw
Musical musings: This may not be a perfect Penzance or a purist’s Penzance or a D’Oyly Carte Penzance, but it delivers a dizzying amount of pleasure. The euphoria begins with the first arrival of the pirates’ ship, complete with trompe l’oeil fireworks, and rarely subsides until the celebratory, waltz-happy finale. – From Frank Rich’s New York Times review, reprinted in his book “Hot Seat.”
On this day in classical music: William Schuman’s “Newsreel: In Five Shots” received its premiere in 1942. A five-movement suite, “Newsreel” was inspired by the brief clips that were shown at movie theaters. The work’s five movements are “Horse Race,” “Fashion Show,” “Tribal Dance,” “Monkeys in the Zoo” and “Parade.” Listen to Lukas Foss and the Milwaukee Symphony play Schuman’s “Newsreel.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j5q29KT5c-U
On this day in the musical theatre: Stage director Arthur Laurents was born in 1918. The New York native had a long, storied and often tumultuous career. He directed some of Broadway’s biggest hits, including “West Side Story” (1957), “Gypsy” (1959) and “La Cage Aux Folles” (1983). Laurents also directed the Broadway revivals of “Gypsy” starring Patti LuPone in 2008 and “West Side Story” a year later. He won Tony Awards for his direction of “Hallelujah, Baby! (1968) and “La Cage aux Folles.” Listen to Laurents discuss his work on the musical “Gypsy.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7_mHl3azhVM
On this day in classical music: Composer Arnold Schoenberg died at age 76 in Los Angeles in 1951. Schoenberg, together with Anton Webern and Alban Berg, took a radical approach to composition that disregarded tonality in favor of a system in which all notes of the chromatic scale were considered equal. These pioneers of what became known as the Second Viennese School believed that Wagner and Mahler had pushed the limits of the romantic era as far as they could. Much of Schoenberg’s music was sparse, brief, fragmented and brittle, an approach that alienated many listeners. Listen to Michel Beroff play the “Six Little Piano Pieces, Op. 19.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h0-4SZGCd_A
On this day in the musical theatre: American actress Didi Conn was born in New York in 1951. Wife of composer David Shire (“Baby,” “Big) since 1982, Conn is perhaps most recognized for her roles as Frenchie in the films “Grease” and “Grease 2.”
Musical musings: In 2001, British author and music critic Norman Lebrecht asked the question, “Who’s afraid of Arnold Schoenberg?” His answer: “Just about the whole of Western civilization.” It is a measure of the immensity of the man’s achievement that, 50 years after his death, he can still empty any hall on earth. Arnold Schoenberg is box office poison. In 1920, Schoenberg forsook atonality and prescribed a new method of composition. All 12 notes being equal, he said, it was up to a composer to arrange them in a scale or “series” of his own choosing before giving vent to inspiration. The harmonic relation between one note and the next was not what pleased the ear, but what a composer decided it should be for that particular work.
Schoenberg, more than any ruder or rowdier composer, was demonized as the bogeyman of music, the destroyer of tuneful recreation. He accepted antagonism as the price of iconoclasm but he lived in hope of popularity. “One day,” he sighed, “milkmen will whistle my tunes like Puccini’s.”
In a new century, Schoenberg takes his place beside Picasso and Joyce as a creator who altered the perception of art from innocent pleasure to an amalgam of celestial vision and cerebral struggle. In our age of vapid simplicity and dysfunctional irony, the music of Arnold Schoenberg becomes a refuge for the thinking listener, a place of principle and courage, of crossword-level complexity and, when you crack the code, of the deepest sensual satisfaction.
On this day in classical music: Paul Hindemith’s “Kleine Kammermusik, Op. 24, No. 2” was given its premiere in Frankfurt, Germany in 1922. The distinguished German composer devoted much of his output to chamber works, including sonatas for flute, oboe, bassoon, clarinet, horn, trumpet, English horn, trombone and tuba. The “Kleine Kammermusik,” scored for woodwind quintet, shows off Hindemith’s compositional mastery in presenting a distinctive sound through familiar forms. Listen to the Quintessence Wind Quintet perform the finale of this highly appealing work. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e37OgMHkoe4
On this day in the musical theatre: Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Sunset Boulevard” received its premiere in London in 1993. Inspired by Billy Wilder’s screenplay for the 1950 film, “Sunset Boulevard” focused on a forgotten silent film star (Norma Desmond) and her relationship with a struggling writer. Patti LuPone portrayed Desmond in the London production and was expected to star in the Broadway production. While the London production was still running, a second production in Los Angeles opened with Glenn Close in the lead. Close would play the role in New York and earned a Tony Award for her performance. Other notable Normas include Diahann Carroll (the Canadian production), Betty Buckley, Elaine Paige, Petula Clark and Rita Moreno. Listen to Glenn Close sing “With One Look” and “As If We Never Said Goodbyle” from “Sunset Boulevard.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LmodlGYbJTA&feature=related
Musical musings: Sunset Boulevard eventually found its theatrical life as a continuing story in the tabloids — as Lloyd Webber dropped LuPone for the Broadway production, replaced her with Glenn Close after Close go great reviews in L.A. and then fired Close’s L.A. successor, Fay Dunaway, in rehearsal. None of this hoopla, however, prevented Sunset Boulevard from achieving its final headlines as the costliest flop in Broadway history — the ultimate “hit” flop, since it ran more than two years. Given the financial settlements paid to LuPone and Dunaway, the extravagances of this production, and losses piled up by its road companies, Broadway hands estimated the total Sunset loss at a record $20 million. By Frank Rich in his book “Hot Seat.”