I like that symphony. Who wrote it?




If you attend a lot of live classical music concerts (especially orchestra concerts), chances are you hear music by the same composers over and over. If you listen to classical music radio, you hear music by unfamiliar composers, but chances are it’s very nice music. Have you ever wondered who these composers are and why they’re not well known? Anton Bruckner Wait, you may say. Bruckner is hardly an unknown composer. He was one of the great symphonists of the late 19th century. Oh, and he also wrote some lovely choral music. But did it occur to you that probably … Continue reading

Civil War regimental bands: banned and disbanded?




At the outbreak of the Civil War, the United States had a standing army and many states had their own militia. Volunteer regiments formed on both sides of the war. No matter when or how they were organized, nearly every regiment had a band. After the war raged for a little over a year, the Union decided to abolish all its regimental bands. Does that mean that Union regiments had no bands for the rest of the war? Hardly. … Continue reading

5 great stories about great composers




It is quite possible to enjoy or appreciate music, or any other artform, without knowing anything about the person who created it. But in whatever form, art is a human creation. Real people composed classical music. Real people have personalities, and knowing something about those personalities can put a human face on the music and rescue it from being a mere object. Enjoy these glimpses into moments in the lives of the people whose music brings so much pleasure. Franz Schubert Between March 1811 and October 1828, Schubert wrote more than 600 songs, not to mention symphonies, church music, operas, … Continue reading

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

Shared songs of the Civil War




Although at war, the Union and Confederacy shared a common history, language, and at least partly, cultural heritage. By 1863, they also shared war weariness and the grief of lost loved ones. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that they shared at least two songs that year. A Northern and a Southern composer both set the poem that starts “All Quiet along the Potomac Tonight.” Northern and Southern publishers both issued “Who Will Care for Mother Now?” … Continue reading

Patrick Gilmore and the Massachusetts 24th regiment




Various army regiments on both sides of the US Civil War had bands. Some of them were quite good and enjoyed an excellent reputation. Only a few played under leaders who were famous before the war broke out. One of them, the Massachusetts 24th, played under Patrick Gilmore. Patrick Gilmore Irish-born Patrick Gilmore became well known as a cornet player in Boston. At 23, he became leader of the Boston Brass Band as successor to keyed bugle virtuoso Ned Kendall. Later, the Salem Brass Band offered him a considerable raise. In December 1856, he invited the popular Kendall to be … Continue reading

Four tangos by classical composers




The tango, in a sense, is to 20th-century music what the waltz was in the 19th century. It originated from the lower social classes of Argentina. Polite society found it scandalous (as respectable people had scorned the waltz in Bohemia, Austria, and Bavaria a century earlier). But like the waltz it became insanely popular in Paris and eventually embraced at home. Paris has long served as the launching pad for dances that, whatever their origin, become internationally popular. Just as classical composers of the 19th century embraced the waltz, so those of the 20th century (and at least one who … Continue reading

The musical warfare of Confederate ladies




During much of the nineteenth century, the piano in the parlor served as the home entertainment center. Families bonded around it by singing popular songs together. They entertained guests there, too. Women especially were expected to be accomplished musicians and performers entertaining whatever guests showed up. Americans also frequently serenaded outside each other’s homes, either singing or playing instruments, as a tribute or compliment. These practices became politicized during the Civil War. Publishers on both sides churned out patriotic songs. The homes that did not acquire and learn a significant quantity must have been a distinct minority. … 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

We Wait beneath the Furnace Blast: Civil War protest music




On January 17, 1862 the Hutchinson family intended to perform for the First New Jersey Regiment at Fairfax Courthouse, Virginia, but members of other units crowded into the room, too. The Hutchinsons were evangelical Christians with a passion for temperance, women’s rights, and the abolition of slavery. They did not sing merely to entertain and amuse. They sought to deter their audiences from sin and also influence their politics. A new, unpublished song That night in Fairfax they sang a setting of “We Wait beneath the Furnace Blast,” a recent abolitionist poem by John Greenleaf Whittier that he wrote to … Continue reading