It's Giving Tuesday, a charitable answer to the consumer-driven Black Friday and Cyber Monday! So this week, Ether Game is getting into the Giving Spirit, by exploring the crossover between Classical Music and Charity.
Spare a dime for our charitable playlist below:
- George Frideric Handel (1685–1759), Messiah – By February of 1741, Handel had given his last performance of an Italian opera in London. He then devoted himself to writing a pair of oratorios, one of which was his Messiah, with Biblical text compiled by Charles Jennens. Handel decided to go to Ireland to try his musical luck and went armed with his latest works. Since Messiah was completed, arrangements were made for its performance in Dublin in mid-April, 1741. Though Messiah is now associated with Christmas, Handel originally felt the work was more suitable for the Easter season. Perhaps its later popularity with the most charitable time of year had something to do with the purpose of the work’s premiere, which was a charity concert. The first performance of Messiah raised money for three Irish charities: prisoners' debt relief, the Mercer’s Hospital, and the Charitable Infirmary. It was recorded that 700 people attended the concert, resulting in the donation of four hundred pounds (that’s over 75,000 dollars today!), and 142 people released from debtors prison.
- Johann Strauss II (1825–1899), Vienna Bonbons – In 1866, Johann Strauss decided to turn over the spotlight to his younger brother Josef, and allowed him to conduct an important ball in Vienna for the Association of the Industrial Societies. The patron of the ball was Princess Pauline Metternich-Winneburg, the wife of the Austrian Ambassador in Paris, and the concert was set up as a benefit concert, using proceeds to construct a new German hospital within Paris. Josef wrote two works for the ball, but Johann couldn’t resist, writing this “sweet treat” which combined the French word for chocolate candy with the German language, becoming Wiener Bonbons. The title page of the work even included a twisted bonbon wrapper. Benefit concerts for charitable causes like this became the norm by the 19th century. But the first benefit concerts were actually to raise money not for charity, but for the performers. These started in England in the 17th century at a time when all of the profits for a successful concert series went to the patrons, not the artistic staff, necessitating the need for these “benefit” concerts.
- Giuseppe Verdi (1813–1901), Requiem: Offertory – On November 13, 1868, opera composer Gioachino Rossini passed away at the age of 66, and soon after, a group of prominent Italian composers, including Verdi, got together and planned to create a Requiem mass in Rossini’s memory, with each composer composing his own movement of the work. The project, however, fell through, but Verdi continued to tinker away at his section of the Requiem. Then in 1873, when Italian poet Alessandro Manzoni passed away, Verdi decided to go ahead and complete an entire Requiem mass himself. We just heard Verdi’s Offertory movement from that completed work, which in a normal liturgical setting would be the most charitable portion of the Catholic mass; the bread and wine of communion are processed to the altar along with contributions from the congregation to support the church. Verdi was himself a charitable man, and devoted the final years of his life to several philanthropic ventures rather than continue composing. In 1896, he planned, built and endowed a retirement home for musicians and opera singers which he named Casa di Riposo per Musicisti. The institution is still active to this day and was the setting of the 1984 documentary Tosca’s Kiss.
- Antonín Dvořák (1841–1904), Symphony No. 9 in E minor "From The New World" – Jeanette Thurber offered Antonin Dvořák the post of artistic director and professor of composition at the National Conservatory of Music of America in June of 1891. Dvořák was hesitant to accept the offer, but the $15,000 annual salary was 25 times more than what he was paid at the Prague Conservatory. His salary was funded in part by Thurber’s philanthropic influence. She had worked tirelessly to convince several prominent New York millionaires: her husband, Francis Thurber and Andrew Carnegie among them, to provide seed money for her music school. The conservatory was the first of its kind, a highschool devoted to the musical arts that accepted women, and people of color on full scholarships. Historians would later point to the National Conservatory as the place where the “American sound” in classical music composition was first developed, ironically, with the help of Dvořák. It’s worth noting that though the school was called the National Conservatory of Music of America, it was never supported by the US government. The three thousand students who were taught there over the twenty years of the school’s existence were entirely funded by Thurber and her charitable friends.
- Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields, Sweet Charity – The 1966 smash-hit musical Sweet Charity is mostly a story about people who take instead of give. It starred Gwen Verdon (VUR-din) as Charity Hope Valentine, a well-meaninged, optimistic dancer at a nightclub, who continuously falls for a series of low lifes and jerks. Finally, when she meets a mild-mannered accountant named Oscar in an elevator, Charity finds true love. The musical was based on the 1957 Fellini film Nights In Cabiria, and in the later musical, Charity’s occupation was elevated from prostitute to dancer. The show was a smash success, further elevating the profiles of star Gwen Verdon and choreographer Bob Fosse—as well as the songwriting team of Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields, who penned the hit songs from the show “Big Spender” and “If My Friends Could See Me Now.” Fosse won the Tony Award for Best Choreography for the show, and was asked to direct the subsequent film version three years later. However, Verdon was replaced in the film by the younger starlet Shirley MacClaine.
- Antonio Vivaldi (1678–1741), Concerto Grosso for 10 instruments, RV 562A – The abundance of concerto writing in Vivaldi's overall output is linked to his employment at the Conservatorio dell'Ospedale della Pietà, a combination convent, orphanage and music school where Vivaldi directed an orchestra for young women and girls. The students of the Ospedale were renowned for their musical skill, and performances featuring the orchestra were frequently scheduled to raise money for the conservatory. Between 1723 and 1733, Vivaldi was required to produce two concerti a month for the orchestra to help keep the charitable contributions to support the school flowing from the orchestra’s patrons. Most of these are traditional concertos, highlighting a solo instrument accompanied by the orchestra, but several are Concerto Grossi, meaning that a whole group of instruments is featured rather than a single soloist. This was because so many of the women and girls who played in Vivaldi’s orchestra were musically trained to the level of a virtuoso. In the Concerto Grosso for 10 Instruments, for example, we hear not only Vivaldi’s favorite, the violin, but also the natural horn. These would have been horns without valves, and among one of the most difficult instruments to play at a classical level.
- Charles Ives (1874–1954), General William Booth Enters Into Heaven – Ives’s song General William Booth Enters into Heaven is a setting of a fantastical poem written in 1912 by Vachel [rhymes with “Rachel”] Lindsay. If you know anything about Ives’s music, you can see why he was attracted to this poem. In the poem, Lindsay indicates that it is to be sung to the hymn tune The Blood of The Lamb, with quotations of the hymn text interspersed. He even indicates which instrument (bass drum, flute, banjo, etc) should accompany each section of the poem. Ives, who loved hymn tunes and odd instrumentation, generously accommodates Lindsay’s instructions. If you know the history of charitable organizations, you’ll understand the connection. William Booth, the subject of the poem, was a Methodist minister who founded The Salvation Army in 1865 in England with Catherine Booth. The Blood of The Lamb is the unofficial hymn of the organization. The group was originally called the East London Christian Mission. The name was changed to the Salvation Army in 1878, and it has since grown to become one of the largest charities in the world.
- Maurice Duruflé (1902–1986), Ubi Caritas, Op. 10, No. 1 – Durufle’s “Ubi Caritas” is one of the more frequently-performed pieces of 20th-century choral music. The reason it's part of our "charity" show has to do with the words. “Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est” translates to “Where charity and love are, there God is.” This charitable text comes from the Maundy Thursday service of the Roman Catholic Church, three days before Easter. It’s an antiphon, a call-and-response type of hymn that occurs during the foot-washing ritual on Maundy Thursday, recognizing and recreating the charitable act that Jesus performed on his disciples, recounted in the Book of John. Duruflé’s version was published in 1960 as part of a collection of liturgical motets. Several other composers have also set the “Ubi Caritas” text, including Paul Mealor, whose 2011 setting was used in the Royal Wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton.
- George Harrison (1943–2001), "Bangla Desh" – Before “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” “We Are The World,” and other mega-hit charity singles from the 1980s, there was “Bangla Desh,” the first modern charity single in pop music. Towards the end of Harrison’s time with The Beatles, he befriended the raga musician Ravi Shankar, who was from the Bengal region of the Indian Subcontinent. At the time, the Bengali people living in what was then called East Pakistan were in the middle of a humanitarian crisis brought on by a devastating cyclone that killed hundreds of thousands of people, as well as a struggle for independence from West Pakistan. Harrison used his fame to help raise both money and awareness for the cause. His song “Bangla Desh” helped to establish the new name of the country, “Bangladesh,” into the public consciousness. Harrison also organized a huge benefit concert called “The Concert For Bangladesh” in Madison Square Garden in 1971. The concert featured Eastern musicians like Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan teaming up with Western musicians like Bob Dylan and Eric Clapton. The song and concert were a success, and inspired future charity singles and benefit concerts like Band Aid and Live Aid a decade later.