Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming: a last rose in the snow in Skandia (photographer’s title and description) / yooperann via Flickr
No one knows who wrote either the German text or the tune of “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming.” According to legend, a monk near the Rhineland city of Trier found a rose blooming one Christmas Eve, plucked it, and put it in a vase on an altar devoted to the Virgin Mary. The poem “Es is ein Ros entsprungen” may have been written as early as the 15th century, but the earliest extant version appeared in the late 16th century.
At the time, the Protestant Reformation roiled Europe in general and Germany in particular. Catholic and Lutheran publishers issued slightly different versions of the text, paired with the tune we know and love today. I say slightly different, but the change of two lines clearly shows a theological gulf. Just whom does the rose symbolize? Continue reading →
Till Eulenspiegel / Karlheinz Goedtke (Mölin, Schleswig-Holstein, 1951). Wikimedia Commons
Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche, or in English, Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks, is one of the most popular orchestral compositions of Richard Strauss. It is a symphonic tone poem, a piece intended to tell a story. The story concerns the antics of a rebel against society and propriety.
Like others of his works, it is something of a self-portrait. Behind his steely self-control lay an outlaw spirit. At least up through Elektra, he delighted in making heroes and heroines of disreputable characters, thumbing his nose at moral norms, and pushing the envelope of acceptable dissonance.
In its own odd way, Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks subverts the very musical traditions Strauss himself espoused. Continue reading →
Title page of Galilei’s Dialogo . . . della musica . . . (1581)
This year marks the 500th anniversary of the birth of Vincenzo Galilei. His name is unknown to the average music lover, but his work laid the foundation both for the early Baroque style of music and modern experimental science.
He taught his much more famous son Galileo Galilei both music and an interest in carrying out experiments.
Vincenzo Galilei was apparently born in 1520 in the Tuscan village of Santa Maria a Monte. (Some scholars believe he was born later in the decade.) At a very young age, his musical talent became apparent. He became a well-respected lutenist. Sometime before 1562 he moved to Pisa and married a woman from a Pisan noble family.
The couple had seven children. Galileo was the eldest. Despite his claim to nobility, Vincenzo never acquired wealth. He made his living as a cloth merchant. Music, however, remained his passion. He published a textbook on playing and composing for the lute and two influential works on music theory. Continue reading →
The hype surrounding the 450th anniversary of Claudio Monteverdi’s birth shows leftovers of the hype that greeted his operas more than a hundred years ago, culminating with the 300th anniversary of his death.
By this time, gushing about his operas to the exclusion of his most important work is simply sloppy history.
Monteverdi (1567-1643) is not the “first modern composer.” He did not single-handedly rescue opera from the work of academic hacks and make it into an art form. Continue reading →
Rossini / Le Hanneton, July 4, 1867. Definitely considered lowbrow in his lifetime
“I’d hate this to get out, but I really like opera,” said former Commissioner of Baseball Ford Frick.
What is it about opera that would make anyone hesitant to admit that they like it? It seems to have this reputation as highbrow culture, an entertainment only for the rich, the old, the white, and the snobbish.
Two hundred years ago Italian opera had a reputation as mindless entertainment for lowbrows who didn’t appreciate good music.
Enraged Neighbor, a lithograph by Bourdin after an image by Robert William Buss (1838)
Trombonists, who have been mostly human, have always had lives. Some of them have commanded great personal and professional respect, but not others.
The trombone itself has had its ups and downs. In fact, the high points in the reputations of the trombone and trombonists have not necessarily coincided.
Sometimes playing trombone has been their principal profession, more often, though, not. In fact, most musicians throughout history have had to earn money from something besides music in order to survive. Continue reading →