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

Creole Band




The first jazz band to tour the vaudeville circuit, and therefore gain recognition outside of New Orleans, was the Creole Band (James Palao, violin; Fred Keppard, cornet; George Baquet, clarinet; Eddie Vincent, trombone; Ollie”Dink” Johnson, drums; Norwood Williams, guitar; and Bill Johnson, bass). They declined an offer to make commercial recordings, therefore giving the prestige and fame of making the first recorded jazz to the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, a white band. The Creole Band virtually disappeared from jazz history until Lawrence Gushee published  his Pioneers of Jazz: The Story of the Creole Band in 2005. … 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

When “classical”; music was “popular”–Part 1




Everyone knows that Rossini’s operas are part of “classical music,” but it hasn’t always been that way. During Rossini’s lifetime, he was widely reviled by lovers of “classical” music, as were many other operatic composers. One writer in a French journal proclaimed that there were only two kinds of musicians: classicists and Rossinists. Like nearly everyone else who wrote for the major journals, he was a Rossini-disdaining classicist. I have put “classical” in quotation marks, but when that French critic used it, it meant something very specific. For one brief, shining moment in music history (the late eighteenth century), everyone … 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

What music is proper for church?




August is “Camp Meeting Month” at my church. People are urged to dress casually, and we sing old hymns. For the prelude, our keyboard player played a ragtime hymn arrangement on the piano. Back in the days when camp meetings were actually held in camps, a piano would never be heard in church and ragtime was probably considered sinful! I remember reading an essay that attempted to prove, with multiple scriptural references, that any music with a back beat was inspired by the devil and out of place in church. I read all of those references about the role of … Continue reading