Symphony No. 1 in D Major by Gustav Mahler

Gustav Mahler wrote very long symphonies. Only the First and the Fourth can be played in less than an hour. The symphonies also call for far larger orchestras than those of other composers. Some even require vocal soloists and/or chorus. By Mahler’s time, the symphony had already come a long way from the first symphonic masterpieces. Haydn and Mozart wrote symphonies that established the expectation of a four-movement work Sonata form, fast with or without a slow introduction Slow movement Minuet Fast movement They made sure that the structure of each movement could be clearly heard. Their sonata forms had … Continue reading

Thomas Gschlatt, the Mozarts’ trombonist

Trombonists know the name Thomas Gschlatt because he worked in Salzburg at the same time the Mozart’s did. Besides playing the trombone solos in works by now-forgotten composers, he participated in works by both Mozarts, including Wolfgang’s youthful Die Schuldigkeit des ersten Gebots (KV 35, 1767). If that title isn’t familiar, the story of its composition is: Prince–Archbishop Sigmund Schrattenbach was not persuaded that an 11-year-old boy could write such excellent music as he in fact did. He suspected that the boy must have at least gotten considerable help from his father. So Wolfgang wrote that cantata locked up in … Continue reading

Women trombonists of the late Renaissance

Professional women musicians in the Renaissance were usually singers, not instrumentalists. Usually. Women who learned to play instruments—especially aristocratic woman—usually didn’t take up trombone. Not usually. Here and there, fascinating exceptions turn up. Including perhaps the Queen of England? The illustration, by the way, is a detail from a 19th-century engraving made from an embroidered tablecloth, which was made in the 1560s. Portraits of a German count and his wife occupy the center of the tablecloth (no longer extant, but a photograph exists). This woman is among 9 very aristocratic-looking men and women depicted with various instruments encircling the count … Continue reading

Up from disgrace: two and a half beloved dances that no longer shock

Have you ever noticed how many of our cherished cultural traditions were considered disreputable and shocking when they were first introduced? Here are three dance forms from three different countries that had to overcome strong objections before they became respectable. Two of them remain as staples of ballroom dancing. Waltz The German verb waltzen appeared long before the waltz as a specific dance. It refers to the whirling movements of various dances that arose among the peasants of the German-speaking regions of Bavaria, Austria, and Bohemia. These dances were known in Vienna and throughout Europe simply as German dances. Besides … Continue reading

Antoine Dieppo, French trombone virtuoso and teacher

Antoine Dieppo’s name is familiar as the first professor of trombone at the Paris Conservatory upon the trombone class’ official formation in 1836. He deserves to be known as more than a name on a list, however. As it turns out, he obtained that position, and also that of principal trombonist of Paris’ principal orchestra by displacing established incumbents. He wrote a method book, which was the required text for his students. It has not maintained its place in the modern teaching literature, however. Thompson and Lemke note only a volume of nine etudes still readily available. I have a … Continue reading

Brahms, Bruckner and critics

At the end of the nineteenth century, everyone in the world who cared about modern German music (who were a lot more than just Germans) got into a free for all about the relative merits of Johannes Brahms and Richard Wagner. Anton Bruckner, a rather timid symphonist, got caught in the middle. After all, Brahms wrote no operas and Wagner wrote no symphonies. Bruckner, who wrote symphonies and liked Wagner’s operas found himself an easy target for people who disliked Wagner. It took a generation after the chief antagonists died before anyone could publicly admit to liking both Brahms and … Continue reading

Unlikely greatness: Joseph Haydn as a child

In the middle of the eighteenth century, peasant boys born in villages tended to remain peasant villagers for the rest of their lives. Musicians of any social class usually came from musical families. Joseph Haydn, born to a wheelwright and a cook in the Austrian village of Rohrau, seems an unlikely candidate to become a musician at all, let alone become wealthy and internationally famous. His father, Mathias, could not read music, but learned to play the harp by ear. Singing songs while playing the harp, or playing harp while the family sang, was a favorite pastime. Visitors might also … Continue reading

The Garcìa family and a century of great singing

Spanish tenor Manuel Garcìa was the patriarch of four generations of singers. He and his children greatly influenced opera and singing in four countries for more than a century. In fact, his son lived for more than a century! Manuel Garcìa (1775-1832) Manuel Garcìa was born in Seville, Spain and educated in music in the choir school of the cathedral. He was a well-known singer, composer, and operatic conductor in Spain before his 18th birthday. His operetta El poeta calculista(1805) was successful not only in Spain, but in other countries as well. At the time, Spain was not a musically … Continue reading

A pre-history of orchestra conductors

Long ago, the leader of the instrumental ensemble at a court or large church was called the concert master. Orchestras came later. Nowadays, orchestras have a concert master. The public notices this person mostly because he or she is the last member of the orchestra to come on stage. The conductor comes next. The earliest orchestras had no conductor the way we think of conductors. Conducting as we know it, was well known by the fairly small choirs of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. In fact, some choirmasters held a rolled up sheaf of paper in their hand (or in … Continue reading

Orphans and music education in Italy

Probably everyone who listens to classical music radio knows that Antonio Vivaldi wrote a lot of music as part of his duties at an orphanage for girls in Venice. What might not be quite as well known is similar institutions had trained Italian musicians for about a century before Vivaldi was born. Florence The earliest I know of started in Florence. A wind player at the Tuscan court named Bernardo Pagani began to teach orphans at the Spedale degli Innocenti (the orphanage of the SS. Annunziata). They became known as the Franciosini. Spedale, by the way, is Italian for “hospital.” … Continue reading