Composers on music: 10 quotations

Many musicians have observed that if everything could be expressed with words, music would be unnecessary. That doesn’t mean that musicians can’t use words. Composers have talked or written about music for centuries. They have had opinions about their own music and musical abilities, praise or disdain for other composers, and philosophical musings about the nature and importance of music in general. Here are some interesting quotations. Give me a laundry list and I’ll set it to music. — Gioacchino Antonio Rossini My music is best understood by children and animals. — Igor Stravinsky Truly there would be reason to … Continue reading

Miserere, by Henryk Górecki

In 1994, when I was living and teaching in the Chicago area, one of my graduate students, a member of the Lira Chamber Chorus, invited me to one of the group’s concerts at St. Mary of the Angels Church on the northwest side of Chicago. The entire concert would be devoted to new choral works by Henryk Górecki. I had never heard of him and found it intriguing that an entire concert would consist of the works of one living foreign composer. For most of the program, the Lira Chamber Chorus made up only part of a massed choir, collaborating … Continue reading

Pending trombone legislation

I saw this on Trombone-L some time ago, chuckled, and deleted it. Now it has just come across another list, and it seems worth sharing. If you like it, you can bookmark it here. Surely that will make finding it again easier than hunting through old emails! []]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]] WASHINGTON, D.C. – Each year thousands are people are killed, maimed or annoyed by trombones. The statistics of head, neck and even shoulder injuries sustained by reed players, french horn and string sections seated within reach of the deadly seventh position are truly shocking…not to mention forced early retirement due to ever-increasing … Continue reading

Jeux de cartes by Igor Stravinsky


After beginning his career as a very Russian composer, Igor Stravinsky became an international composer in at least two very different ways. First, he decided never to return to Russia after the Revolution of 1917. Although he lived in France, he traveled a lot. By the time he moved to the United States in 1939, he had already made numerous contacts. Second, he opened himself to influences from all over the world. Despite the French title, Stravinsky wrote Jeux de cartes (Card Game) on commission from American choreographer George Balanchine and the newly formed American Ballet in 1936. By that … Continue reading

Brass Bands of the American Civil War

I like to look around on YouTube from time to time. I recently typed “brass band” into the search engine, and a video called “Brass Bands of the Civil War” came up on the first page of results. I wondered how that subject could possibly work in a video. I have seen “videos” with a single photograph and music playing in the background. This one has a collage of wonderful photos and drawings while the Federal City Brass Band plays on period instruments. At the time of the Civil War, brass bands ruled. Few bands included woodwinds. As the photographs … Continue reading

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