The centennial of that other war and our national anthem




From last year through 2015, the United States is observing the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. Regular readers know that I have contributed several post here about the music of the Civil War. This year also marks the centennial of the War of 1812. That one gets lost in the shuffle. It had one important musical consequence, though: the words to our national anthem The war The War of 1812 is sort of the nineteenth-century equivalent of our wars in Korea or Vietnam. It did not end well. It created national divisions. It gave no one any particularly good … 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

America’s top ten musical Presidents




The current presidential election has already outstayed its welcome well before the primaries are even over. Perhaps I can offer some musical diversion. President Obama has broken into song on a couple of recent occasions, and Billboard ran a list of five other Presidents with varying levels of musical accomplishment. Some references to it say that Billboard put Obama at the top of the list. The list is in reverse chronological order, with the very musical but very early President Thomas Jefferson at the bottom. Still, at worst Obama fared better with his foray into music than Jimmy Carter did. … Continue reading

The first woman to compose operas: Francesca Caccini




Until very recently, music was a man’s career. Women could be singers, but rarely anything more. Francesca Caccini became well known as an operatic composer early in the history of opera. That fact testifies not only to her talent, but also the fame of her father and the untimely death of a Grand Duke of Tuscany, leaving his wife and his mother as co-regents. Francesca’s father Giulio practically invented opera. At least, that was his version. He and some like-minded friends in Florence (seat of the Medici family ruling as Grand Dukes of Tuscany) invented a new, declamatory style of … Continue reading

Guillaume de Machaut: the gaps in his biography




Our knowledge of history is limited by the accident of what kind of documentation exists. Even for recent people and events, historians cannot always find information about what they most want to learn. Given roughly equivalent fame and importance, the earlier a person lived, the sparser the documentation. The great medieval composer Guillaume de Machaut (ca. 1300-1377) provides a good illustration. No other fourteenth-century composer left behind as much music as Machaut, and possibly none other provided so much detail about his life and times. While many prolific composers over the course of history have produced vast quantities of music … Continue reading

When "classical" music was "popular"–Part 2




My first article on this topic explored how Rossini’s music was considered “popular” music in the sense of being somehow inferior to “classical” music, although it is now regarded as “classical” music. This one will explore the narrowing of gaps between social strata that resulted in a new style of music, which music history has come to regard as the Classical period. It was among the most truly popular music of all times, in the sense of appealing to audiences that crossed geographical and social boundaries (not to mention time!) At least from the late Middle Ages through the end … Continue reading

Trombone in the (old) news–part two




Here are some more gems from the Times of London: Dec 25, 1863. In the midst of the American Civil War, the Christy Minstrels, among the most important American entertainers of the time, went on an international tour and presented ten concerts in London during the week following Christmas 1863. The advertisement lists all of the music to be played on the two concerts on Saturday, the 26th, including a trombone solo performed by J. Randall. 1866. Two different horses named Trombone appear in the “Sporting Intelligence” column. One owned by Mr. Machell is mentioned on Sept. 29, and Oct. … Continue reading

Trombone in the (old) news–part one




I am in the process of preparing a book on the history of the trombone for publication. Scarecrow Press will publish it some time before the end of next year. There are a lot of interesting details that wouldn’t fit into the book and probably aren’t much good for any other formal, scholarly writing. That’s the great thing about blogs. From time to time I’ll share my wealth of interesting but not necessarily useful or important information. Every word of the Times of London from 1785 to 1985 is available in full text online (for anyone with access to a … Continue reading