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

What they say about the piano




Life is like a piano… What you get out of it depends on how you play it. ~Author Unknown The piano is the social instrument par excellence… drawing-room furniture, a sign of bourgeois prosperity, the most massive of the devices by which the young are tortured in the name of education and the grown-up in the name of entertainment. ~Jacques Barzun PIANO, n. A parlor utensil for subduing the impenitent visitor. It is operated by pressing the keys of the machine and the spirits of the audience. ~Ambrose Bierce Life can’t be all bad when for ten dollars you can … Continue reading

Theodore von La Hache: a leading composer of Confederate songs




I had never heard of Theodore von La Hache until recently, but he is a fascinating figure in American musical history who deserves to be better known. One of the many German musicians who moved to the United States, he settled in New Orleans in about 1842. There he served as organist and choirmaster at St. Theresa of Avila Church, co-founded the New Orleans Philharmonic Society, and composed prolifically. During the Civil War, La Hache wrote his Missa Pro Pache (op. 644) in response to its horrors. He also wrote many songs and piano pieces related to the war. Having … Continue reading

Louis Moreau Gottschalk and thirteen and a half pianists




American pianist and composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk grew up in New Orleans and made such an excellent reputation there that he decided to try his hand at a European tour. There, he joined the traveling virtuoso circuit and conquered France, Switzerland and Spain. Critics compared him as a pianist to Chopin. His compositions more nearly resemble what I have described in earlier posts as “high-status popular music”—brilliant displays of bravura playing coupled with the novelty of his Creole background. At the same time Gottschalk was in France, Pierre Musard and his various rivals put on “monster concerts,” which featured a … Continue reading

Trois gymnopédies by Erik Satie




Erik Satie, an eccentric composer of minor talent but great imagination, exercised enormous influence on twentieth-century musical thought. Above all a musical humorist, he issued his first published composition as op. 62. His longest work, Vexations, consists of just over a minute’s worth of music played 840 times without pause. The Gymnopédies, composed in 1888 for piano solo, exhibit a different kind of humor, based on Satie’s conscious and deliberate antagonism to verifiable facts. In ancient Greece, the gymnopedia, or festival of naked youth, was celebrated every year in Sparta to honor Apollo, Pythaeus, Artemis, and Ledo. The days-long festival … Continue reading