This is from a blog entry I wrote two years ago on the centenary of Armistice/Veterans Day.
Today is the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day — Veterans Day in the U.S. — commemorating the end of WWI, which ended on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11 month of the year. It was a devastating war and the world of classical music suffered greatly from this incredibly barbaric conflict.
It was not too long ago that every schoolchild in the U.S. recited John McCrae’s, In Flanders Fields, for Veteran’s Day:
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below. …
Known as the “brother of the Marsellaise,” Méhul’s Chant du départ (Song of Departure) was the anthem of the First Empire. The song was first performed on July 14, 1794 and 18,000 copies were quickly printed and given to the Republican army. It remains in the repertoire of the French Army to this day.
The seven stanzas of this remarkable song take the point of view of seven entirely points of view, from a mother’s to three warriors —
Un député du Peuple
La victoire en chantant
Nous ouvre la barrière.
La Liberté guide nos pas.
Et du Nord au Midi
La trompette guerrière
A sonné l’heure des combats.
Tremblez ennemis de la France
Rois ivres de sang et d’orgueil. …
This week I’ll be focusing on great works of art that began life as political commentary and I can’t think of a more appropriate piece than Mozart’s opera, Le nozze di Figaro. There are many who consider this to be the most perfect of operas, containing in equal measure entertainment, social commentary, and music of the highest order. While I’m not one for hyperbole, I’m not going to disagree!
It is based on a Pierre Beaumarchais play, La folle journée, ou le Mariage de Figaro, which had been banned just two years prior in Vienna by the Austrian Censor. Emperor Franz Joseph said of the play that, “since the piece contains much that is objectionable, I therefore expect that the Censor shall either reject it altogether, or at any rate have such alterations made in it that he shall be responsible for the performance of this play and for the impression it may make.” …
This past week saw the Las Vegas Philharmonic come together for the first time since March to make music. We gathered in a large television studio at Vegas PBS and recorded one of our very effective youth concert programs that I helped create for the San Francisco Symphony and refined for the Las Vegas Philharmonic.
Out of the ashes and rubble of the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906, the San Francisco Symphony emerged. It’s first concert in 1911 wasn’t a star-studded gala, but a concert held for the workers and artisans who were still rebuilding the city, and it’s second concert was a family concert. It should not go unnoticed that the first project the Las Vegas Philharmonic chose to undertake since the lockdown began was an educational concert, to be made available for classrooms and streaming in the near future. …
Charles Ives was born on this day in 1874. Born to abolitionists and civic leaders, Mary Elizabeth and George Ives, in Danbury, Connecticut, Charles had what seemed a very traditional New England upbringing. He attended the Hopkins School and Yale University, was a very popular student who excelled in all sports — he played baseball and football for Yale — and went into the insurance business. He would eventually start his own insurance company and is widely considered the father of what is now known as estate planning. …
We celebrated the birthday a few days ago of one of my favorite composers, Ralph Vaughan Williams. And while I love all of his symphonies, I most often come back to his Symphony №5.
Vaughan Williams spent the majority of WWII working on this symphony, beginning in 1938 and finishing it in 1943. It is a ‘war symphony’ unlike any other. Compared to the two other fifth symphonies written during WWII — Prokofiev’s and Shostakovich’s — it’s character and content is dramatically different. It is music of serenity, solemnity, and fortitude. …
Together with the great pianist, Chucho Valdés, the composer and multi-instrumentalist Paquito D’Rivera helped to bring Afro-Cuban jazz to a world-wide audience. In 1967, they helped found the groundbreaking Orquesta Cubana de Música Moderna, and in 1973, Irakere, which would achieve international fame.
Orquesta Cubana de Música Moderna achieved such a beautiful blend of styles! The combination of the Hammond B3, electric guitar, afro-cuban percussion and the traditional instruments of the big band achieves an intriguing and exciting synthesis of what was popular music in the 50’s and 60’s, including classical music! …
The Chilean folklorist, visual artist, composer and singer-songwriter, Violeta Parra was born in October 1917. Parra helped establish a Chilean musical identity through her tireless championing of the folk songs she collected throughout the country. This movement, known as the Nueva Canción Chilena (The Chilean New Song), would eventually reach throughout the continent and for this Parra is justifiably called the “Mother of Latin American folk.”
One of nine children, the entire Parra family is an artistic and cultural force. Winner of the Cervantes Prize in 2011 Violeta’s brother, Nicanor (1914–2018), is considered alongside Pablo Neruda as one of the most important poets in the Spanish language. His collection Poemas y Antipoemas from 1954 isone of the most influential Spanish poetry collections of the twentieth century. …
On September 12, 1973, the theater director, teacher, poet, and singer-songwriter, Victor Jara was taken prisoner at the university where he taught in Santiago, Chile, by soldiers of General Pinochet’s regime, who had staged a coup d’etat the day before by overthrowing the democratically elected government of president Salvador Allende. For the next four days, Jara was tortured in front of thousands of other prisoners in the Chile Stadium. The torture included smashing his hands with a hammer and then asking him to play the guitar. On September 16,1973, Jara was shot in the head by one of the guards and for many days his body was hung at the entrance of the stadium for other prisoners to see as they entered. …
The Mexican composer, Silvestre Revueltas, is a composer for whom I have had a fascination with for many years. In fact, it is his music that helped me begin to exploration of my Mexican heritage. Sensemayá is one of his most famous compositions and is the first piece that I conducted of his music.
Sensemayá is based on a poem written by the Cuban poet, Nicolás Guillén, which reenacts an Afro-Caribbean chant that is performed while killing a snake. Listen to Guillén recite the poem and pay particular attention to rhythm of his recitation.
Sensemayá, Canto Para Matar una…