This week in 1971, WFIU Director Don Glass started a classical music quiz show that would become one of the station's most enduring programs. We say Happy Fifty Years to Ether Game this week with a playlist of classical pieces that have been featured on the program during the last six decades.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) Concertone in C for 2 Violins and Orchestra, K. 190 1. Allegro spiritoso The “sinfonia concertante” was a musical form that flourished between 1770 and 1830. It featured multiple soloists, usually two violins. Related terms included “concertino” and “concertone.” The concertino was a small concerto, while the concertone was a large concerto. The form was especially popular in France. When Mozart composed his Concertone K.190 in 1774, his father Leopold called it “just the thing for Paris.” Any trip to Paris would have to wait, however. With his father Leopold already Vice-Kapellmeister at Salzburg, Wolfgang was formally named Konzertmeister in 1772. In the next two years he wrote three masses, two litanies, three divertimenti, a serenade, a quintet, and a keyboard concerto, in addition to the Concertone. So for a time both Leopold and Wolfgang Mozart were employed by Archbishop Hieronymus Colloredo of Salzburg.
Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) Simple Symphony, Op. 4 1. Boisterous Bouree, IV. Frolicsome Finale Benjamin Britten completed the Simple Symphony when he was only 20 years old, a fresh-faced graduate of the Royal College of Music in London, but the melodies are all derived from compositions from his youth which he wrote as a prep-school boy. Britten also looked 200 years past his youth to dance suites of the Baroque era with this work, characterizing several of the movements through traditional dance forms. Each dance has an appealing and alliterative appellation, including a “Boisterous Bourée,” a “Playful Pizzicato,” a “Sentimental Sarabande,” and a “Frolicsome Finale.” Britten was one of many composers to return to childhood compositions for inspiration. Others include Barber, Prokofiev and Paganini, and another Englishman, Edward Elgar.
Richard Strauss (1864-1949) Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks, Op. 28 Till Eulenspiegel was a 14th-century prankster whose last name derived from the German words for owl and mirror—which would qualify him as a wise prankster who used his merry pranks to reflect the foolishness of those around him. Modern historians believe that the Till we know today was not a real person, but instead represents a number of different real-life pranksters all rolled into one. The town of MÖLLIN in north Germany, however, begs to differ. The town has designated itself as the Eulenspiegel town, believing that he lived there late is his life, and perished from the plague there in 1350. He’s supposedly buried there too, and even has a gravestone replete with a carved image of the prankster. Perhaps this is the best prank of all—MÖLLIN has been profiting off of the Till tourism industry for years!
Alexander Borodin (1833-1887) Prince Igor: Polovtsian Dances Borodin’s compositional output, although small, appears incredible when one considers that music was not his primary profession. A researcher and professor of chemistry, his main area of interest was molecular construction. He published numerous studies on his research, and even has a chemical reaction, “The Borodin effect” named after him. Somehow, Borodin also found time to devote to a side-career as a composer. Understandably, then, his larger works took a great deal of time to complete. “Prince Igor,” his only fully composed opera, took nearly twenty years, and was never finished. After Borodin’s death in 1887, the opera was completed and edited by his friends and fellow-composers Rimsky-Korsakov and Glazunov..
Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921) Symphony No. 3 in c, Op. 78 'Organ:' Maestoso Saint-Saens gave his first formal concert at only ten years old, and his audience was so impressed by his skill at an early age that they dubbed him the “French Mozart.” He could have spent his youth focused only on music, but Saint-Saens showed an active interest in his general education, particularly in science and astronomy. Though he acquired his first professional position as a church organist, Saint-Saens would use his free time to seek out telescopes throughout Paris where he could observe the recently discovered Donati's Comet. Finally, he decided he needed his own telescope. After selling the publishing rights to six piano duets, he bought a telescope in 1858. Saint-Saens maintained a lifelong interest in astronomy; thirty years later, when he completed his Third Symphony, he was also member of the Société Astronomique de France, and a close friend of the eminent French astronomer Camille Flammrion
Richard Wagner (1813-1883) Tannhäuser: Overture and Bacchanale In Richard Wagner’s opera Tannhäuser, history and myth are blended together through the filter of nineteenth-century German nationalism. The story is of the titular master singer who returns to the historic castle of The Wartberg to participate in the famed singing competition, or Sängerkrieg, that took place there during the middle ages. On his way there, he is delayed by an erotic sojourn in the grotto of Venus, the goddess of love. In German mythology, Venus's underground kingdom is situated between Gotha and Eisenach, in a giant mountain called the Venusberg. Unfortunately, this amourouse experience damns Tannhauser’s soul, and when even the Pope can’t help him, Tannhauser’s soul is ransomed by the life and love of the pure Elizabeth.
Bedrich Smetana (1824-1884) Festive Symphony in E, Op. 6 1. Allegro vivace Bedrich Smetana wrote his only formal symphony at a time when Czech nationalism was on the rise. He asked permission to dedicate the work to Emperor Franz Joseph I, of the Hapsburg Empire, for the occasion of his wedding to Elisabeth of Bavaria. There were high hopes that Franz Joseph would crown himself King of Bohemia on his wedding day thereby ending years of dissention from the Austrian and Eastern constituencies. The ring of patriotism is heard throughout the entire symphony. Three of its four movements quote the Austrian National Hymn, which was composed by Joseph Haydn. Unfortunately though, Smetana never received an answer from Emperor Joseph, but that did not stop him from showcasing the symphony, which became popular simply as a concert piece rather than a patriotic work.
Böhm, Georg (1661-1733) Suite No. 8 in F minor: I. Allemagne IV. Ciaccona We may not have the playlist still from the very first Ether Game,, but we DO have a playlist from that very first year - June 1, 1971. Along side some of the pieces we have already heard tonight, Selections included Milhaud’s “A Frenchman in New York,” a Weber clarinet concerto, a Bach concerto, Liszt’s “Rigoletto Paraphrase,” and this piece - Georg Böhm’s Suite No. 8 in f minor, for solo harpsichord. This piece was almost certainly the early Ether Game equivalent of a super stumper, and it hasn’t become much more popular over the past 50 years. Georg Böhm, who was a German Baroque organist and composer, is mostly notable nowadays for his influence on the young J. S. Bach, but he left behind a number of lovely keyboard works, including this beautiful suite.
Pablo Luna (1879-1942) EL NIÑO JUDÍO: De España vengol While there is an extant repertoire of Spanish opera, a separate genre of staged musical drama known as the zarzuela flourished in Spain with much more success, especially in Madrid. While its character changed slightly throughout the centuries, the main feature of the zarzuela is that it is a mixture or hybrid of vernacular songs, art music, and dances with spoken dialogue and some recitatives, often with many parts for female voices. Early zarzuelas were usually about rustic and pastoral themes, which later developed into comic stories about the lower and middle classes. Originally composed for royal entertainment, they became highly popular for the theatre-going middle class in the 18th century, and incorporated influences from Italian opera as well. When Pablo Luna began composing zarzuelas in 1905, he made his own contribution to the genre by including a patriotic song in every composition. This aria De España vengo is his most well known work.
Alban Berg (1885-1935) Lulu' Suite 1904 was a rough year for this Aquarian. Berg’s girlfriend dumped him, he failed his final exams, and his idol, composer Hugo Wolf, passed away at the age of 43. Overwhelmed, Berg attempted to commit suicide. He recovered, and fortune seemed to smile on him for a while. He got over the girl and re-took his exams, and soon afterwards fell under the sway of another composer and his music—Arnold Schoenberg. The influence of Austrian song composer Hugo Wolf still remained an important one for Berg, especially when composing vocal music, and Lulu became the masterpiece of Berg’s oeuvre. Unfortunately, he died before completing the 3rd act, resulting in performances of the incomplete work until 1979.
Clara Schumann (1819-1896) Three Songs, Op. 12: 1.Er ist gekommen in Sturm und Regen, 2.Liebst du um Schönheit Clara Schumann’s three songs, published as her op.12 were originally composed at Robert Schumann’s request. He had suggested the two newlyweds compose an intermingled group of songs, just as they had alternated writing in a diary in response to each other’s entries. The poetry they chose for these songs was selected from a collection called Love’s Springtime by Friedrich Rückert. Clara composed three of the songs in June 1841, while she was pregnant with their first child, Marie. Robert wrote an additional nine songs and had the collection secretly printed, giving the twelve songs in two volumes to Clara as a gift on their first wedding anniversary. Clara continued the tradition of writing songs as gifts for her husband throughout their marriage, especially as gifts for Robert’s birthday, June 8th.
Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (c. 1525-1594) Missa Papae Marcelli: Credo During the High Renaissance, sacred polyphonic music became increasingly complicated as composers wrote complex counterpoint for more than seven independent voice parts. Palestrina's masses however, with their simple, graceful melodies and easily understood texts were a welcome relief for the Catholic Church, so much so that Palestrina became a legendary figure. The story goes that Palestrina clashed with members of the Council of Trent. The council argued that polyphonic music should be banned from the mass for being unintelligible. During the debate, the members of the Council of Trent were given a performance of Palestrina’s Missa Papae Marcelli, based on a melody delivered to Palestrina from an angelic messenger. So convinced were they of the beauty and clarity of Palestrina’s music that the cardinals changed their minds, and Palestrina was hailed as the “savior of music.”
Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915) Two Pieces for Left Hand, OP. 9: No. 2, Nocturne in D-flat While he was a lazy pupil when it came to general education, Scriabin became one of the Moscow Conservatory’s finest piano students. Favored by his teachers, he quickly rose above fellow students Sergei Rachmaninoff and Josef Hoffman. Even so, Scriabin’s time at the conservatory was marked by bouts of personal drama. He often pushed himself to the edge of physical and mental breakdown, spurred on by the competitive nature of his musical education. This came to a head in 1891 when he became obsessed with mastering Franz Liszt’s Don Juan Fantasy. Scriabin overstrained his right hand and was forbidden to practice further by his doctor until his hand healed. Refusing to be hindered by his injury, Scriabin turned to developing a virtuosic left-hand technique while he recovered, and composed this work.
Silvestre Revueltas (1899-1940) Sensemayá Silvestre Revueltas came from a famously artistic family of painters, dancers and writers. Beginning violin at age eight and entering the Juarez Institute by age twelve, he would have a prolific performance and teaching career in Mexico, Spain, and the US and was appointed by Chavez to be assistant conductor of the Symphony Orchestra of Mexico. As a composer he wrote orchestral music, ballets, and film scores, most notably La Noche de los Mayas in 1939. This tone poem Sensemaya was inspired by a work of the same name by Afro-Cuban poet Nicolas Guillen which describes the ritual killing of a snake. That is easy to imagine in this music with its winding melodies and complex rhythms. The sometimes dissonant harmonies evoke an impending doom and the ending falls like the stroke of a knife.
Stevie Wonder (b. 1950) Happy Birthday The ubiquitous Happy Birthday Song did not enter public domain until 2010, leaving numerous musicians like the Beatles, Loretta Lynn, and Destiny’s Child to pen their own non-copyright-infringing versions of the song. Stevie Wonder’s Happy Birthday could just as well have worked for our Black History Month show. The song was written to honor Martin Luther King, as part of the 15 year-long campaign to make his birthday a national holiday. Stevie Wonder attended King’s funeral, and rallied with King’s wife Coretta for the appointment of the holiday. He had set out on a four-month tour to publicize the rally, appearing with poet and activist Gil Scott-Heron, who made an appearance in our February show. When Martin Luther King Day was first officially celebrated with a concert in 1986, Stevie Wonder was the headliner, leading a rapturous audience in a massive sing-a-long to this song.