Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Harry Partch

American composer Harry Partch was born in Oakland, California on June 24, 1901, and died in San Diego, California in 1974. As a musician and innovative composer, he stretched the boundaries of music and worked outside the mainstream of "classical music." He is best known for the creation of musical instruments that were capable of fractional differences in pitch and could play music based on the 43 tone scale he developed. Clips from a BBC program about Partch are available on YouTube.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Happy 90th birthday, Pete Seeger

American folk singer Pete Seeger turns 90 years old today. But he hasn't just sung the old folk songs, he's written songs that speak to the issues of the times -- like If I had a Hammer, and Where have all the Flowers Gone? and Turn! Turn! Turn! He was instrumental in the folk music revival of the 50's and 60's. In 1964, his version of Malvina Reynold's song, Little Boxes, made number one on the Billboard charts. Many of the songs he wrote were chart hits for other performers. Pete Seeger recognized that music is a powerful tool -- some might say, weapon -- and he used it in the fight for social justice. He normally performs with a banjo, helping to keep that traditional American instrument alive, too. Thanks, and Happy birthday, Pete.

To celebrate Pete's 90th birthday, watch Little Boxes or the many other video clips of Pete Seeger's performances made throughout his career.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Haydn's Later Years

Sunday, May 31, 2009, was the 200th anniversary of the death of Franz Joseph Haydn. The Austrian composer is frequently called the "father of the symphony," but he wrote much more than just those 100 or so symphonies.

Joseph Haydn lived to a ripe old age of 77. The last 15 years of his life were spent back at the Esterhazy court. From 1794 on, there was a new prince, Nikolaus, who wanted Haydn to focus on church music. Six of Haydn's masses come from this period. His Mass in the Time of War referred to Napoleon's march on Vienna. The Nelson Mass celebrated Lord Nelson's defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of the Nile. The Theresa Mass was written in honor of the Austrian Empress Maria Theresa. Haydn also composed his oratorios, The Creation and The Seasons in these years. In 1796, Haydn composed the Trumpet Concerto in E-flat Major, now a standard part of the trumpet repertoire. And then there was the hymn tune written to be the Austrian national anthem, which he then used in the Emperor Quartet.

Ill health forced Haydn to resign his court post in 1802. Haydn's health continued to deteriorate over the following years, but he is reputed to have joked about it. His last public appearance was at a concert in his honor in 1808, at which his friend Antonio Salieri conducted Haydn's The Creation. Haydn died May 31, 1809 in Vienna and buried there, later to be reinterred in 1820 at Eisenstadt somehow without his skull. The skull and body were finally reunited at Eisenstadt in 1954.