Jullien in America

Before the Civil War, at a time when the United States boasted only one financially stable concert orchestra and few native composers and solo performers of “classical” music, what taste there was for it had to be supplied by foreign visitors. In 1853 the conductor Jullien brought forty members of his London orchestra to the United States and hired sixty Americans to supplement them. Jullien had come at the invitation of P. T. Barnum, who had talents for promotion and marketing rivaling Jullien’s own. During the year, his orchestra gave 214 concerts. At least some of them were the “monster … Continue reading

Making sense of sonata form

Mozart piano sonata, KV 331

People today with little or no musical training somehow “get” a 12-measure blues chorus or the standard song forms of various modern styles. Even music majors taking theory classes have a hard time with sonata form. How is anyone else to understand it? Sonata form did not always cause confusion or seem to set up a barrier to understanding music. It actual started off as an attempt to simplify music. I have written several posts about the rise of the middle class, the popularity of what we call “classical” music, and the aftermath of the French Revolution, which destroyed public … Continue reading

An unexpected crossover: a rock guitarist plays opera

I will confess that I have never liked very much of the popular music of my lifetime. Once I got out of college, I stopped paying attention entirely. As I have studied the history of popular music, I noticed that from its beginnings at the end of the eighteenth century through the heyday of Tin Pan Alley, it was marketed to adults. Beginning with the rock music, marketers have sought to appeal to teenagers or even younger children. It appears that the audiences age along with the performers. Many people in their thirties and forties consider the Rolling Stones to … Continue reading

The beginnings of American concert music

Bristow trb. solo

The earliest American orchestras appear to have formed for a single concert. A little later, the larger cities saw the formation of rehearsal orchestras, where members got together to play through the symphonies of Haydn and similar music. Some of them presented occasional public performances. Beginning in the 1820s, musicians in several cities attempted to establish permanent concert orchestras. Every one of them failed until the founding of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in 1842. Shortly thereafter, Anthony Philip Heinrich, William Fry, and George Bristow attempted to establish a reputation as American composers of symphonic music and opera. They hoped … Continue reading

The vuvuzela: a new South African musical instrument (?!?)

With the World Cup taking place in South Africa, we can’t exactly say that soccer fever is sweeping the world. After all, it did that generations ago. But with the American team playing well and gaining an international following, it’s sweeping the US, at least for a while. Who of us have not seen news stories of a plastic trumpet made in South Africa called the vuvuzela? That’s actually nothing new, either. Cheap stadium horns were readily available for baseball games and other sporting events in this country fifty years ago. In any case, most people declare that it has … Continue reading

A good book gaudily bound: popular conductor Jullien

Jullien

Nowadays, we are accustomed to entertainers who go by only one name, but in the nineteenth century, there was only Jullien (1812-1860). LIke Madonna and so many others today, he was born with more than one name. In fact, his father conducted a French orchestra and every member became the young son’s godfather: he had 37 Christian  names! With a start in life like that, no wonder he became eccentric. His concert dress included a shirt front with diamond studs. When he conducted  Beethoven, he had a page bring him a special jeweled baton on a silver salver. He kept … Continue reading

Second symphony, in D major, op. 73, by Johannes Brahms

Johannes Brahms composed his second symphony during the summer of 1877, only a year after finishing his first. Although close in time, the two symphonies differ greatly in character. The stormy and dramatic first symphony took Brahms an agonizing 15 years to complete. The warm and lyrical second symphony flowed easily from  his pen. As he wrote to Eduard Hanslick, “So many melodies fly about that one must be careful not to step on them.” Brahms enjoyed teasing friends about the progress of his works with misleading comments, such as the following. The new symphony, too, is merely a Sinfonie, … Continue reading

The Unanswered Question, by Charles Ives

One thing Charles Ives learned at Yale: he had no chance of earning a living as a professional musician if he wanted to be true to his own ideals. Not only did his musical idiom confuse his teachers, it also confused his fellow students. He went into the insurance business and composed music as a hobby. After a long day at the office, he composed during the evening in his Manhattan apartment. He spent quiet weekends at a cabin in Connecticut, meditating, writing, and planning new compositions. Ives began two new works in 1906, both called Contemplation. In later years, … Continue reading

Nighttime dangers and the beginning of a musical tradition

Bologna 11th c

                                      The Towers of 11th-century Bologna Brass players know the term Stadtpfeifer mostly in reference to a group of municipal trombonists and cornettists in Leipzig, whose members included composers  Johann Pezel and Gottfried Reiche in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Other German towns sponsored similar bands. The first such bands (known in the literature as alta Bands) formed in the Middle Ages, and the last ones persisted into the nineteenth century. Bands started in other countries at about the same time (in England they were called waits), but the tradition did not last as long. These bands, and similar ones … Continue reading

Another musical reason to love New Orleans

Probably every big city has some kind of street music. I lived in the Chicago area for more than 20 years and heard quite a variety. Off hand, though, I only remember  one or two times that I encountered more than two musicians playing at once. I I’ve only been to New Orleans twice, and don’t particularly recall hearing larger groups there, either, but thanks to YouTube, I have come across some amazing things. Here’s a group playing “Summertime” by George Gershwin. The video opens and closes with a singer, who is not well recorded. In between, there is an … Continue reading