Give Now  »

Noon Edition

Ether Game Playlist: Best, Better Than the Rest

This week, we explored musical rivalries, competitions and contests. Below you'll find stories of keyboard duels, composition contests, philosophical disagreements and more. 

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) Requiem in d, K. 626 Admirers of Mozart's music sometimes point to Antonio Salieri as the composer's arch-rival, although little evidence suggests that Salieri ever considered Mozart a threat to his career. Certainly the conditions were right for a serious feud. Salieri was well established as the premier composer in Vienna when Mozart arrived and began winning the hearts of the Viennese courtiers. The rumor that Salieri secretly harbored a deep jealousy for Mozart's success was popularized in a play by Alexander Pushkin, entitled Mozart and Salieri, in which Salieri causes Mozart's early death, murdering him by poison. The Academy-Award winning film Amadeus also pitted the two composers against each other, making the rivalry seem even more like a historical reality. In truth, the only evidence of tension between the two composers comes from letters between Mozart and his father in which Wolfgang complains that he suspects Salieri of using trickery to keep him from receiving any opera commissions from the Austrian court. 

Richard Wagner (1813-1883) Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg: 'Morgenlich leuchtend' (Prize Song) Wagner’s “Meistersinger” is unusual in a number of ways. It’s Wagner’s only opera with no supernatural element, and the only opera not based on a literary source—Wagner wrote the story himself. It is also Wagner’s only comedy—albeit a comedy with a deeply serious, philosophical streak. Wagner intended it to form a sort of companion-piece to “Tannhäuser.” Although “Tannhäuser” is a tragedy, both operas were conceived around the same time, both feature song contests, and both include historical characters. Meisteringers flourished from the fourteenth to seventeenth centuries in Germany, where they usually came from the artisan or citizen classes. Their predecessors, the Minnesingers, were usually from aristocracy. While minnesingers usually sang songs about courtly love, the songs of meistersingers were of a sacred nature. Every once in a while, meistersinger guilds would hold public contests., where contestants were judged on sacred content, prosody, rhyme, and melody. The winner of these contests would receive a necklace of chained coins, with the largest coin featuring the image of King David.

Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992) Street Tango (No. 1), Knife Fight With the help of a German accordion-like instrument called the Bandoneon, turn-of-the-century Argentineans seized upon their feelings of political unrest and hunger and produced a new style of music – the tango.  Originally a dueling dance for two men, the tango quickly evolved into a more sensual dance between a man and a woman.  Young Astor Piazzolla, himself a Bandoneon player, recognized the roots of the tango as well as its connection to American jazz and European classical music, and created a new form of the tango that was not meant to be danced, but heard.  The tango’s original purpose can still be heard in the rhythms of Piazzolla’s “new tangos” such as Knife Fight and Street Tango.  From 1950 until his death in 1992, Pizzaolla’s tangos spread across the world and have been performed by a variety of ensembles, from authentic Bandoneon groups to guitar duos and string trios.

Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-1687) Armide: Ouverture & Passacaille When Jean-Baptiste Lully became the court composer of Louis the Fourteenth, he was given a complete monopoly on the production of French opera. Luckily, Lully's operas were extremely popular among French audiences, especially for his ability to set the French language in recitative, a feat that had previously been thought impossible. The music of Lully's successor, Jean-Philippe Rameau, also excited many listeners but disgusted others for its revolutionary treatment of harmony. This split public taste into two rival factions, the ramists, who supported Rameau's innovations, and the lullistes. Who preferred the older style of Lully. No one was exempt from this conflict – ramist opera performers would refuse to participate in the works of  Lully, and several lullistes published satirical engravings of Rameau. Rameau and Lully managed to stay out of the scuffle for the most part, but an unflattering poem by Pierre-Charles Roy provoked Rameau to actually fight the author. Unfortunately, the outcome of the brawl is not known. 

Joan Tower (b.1938) String Force Inaugurated in 1982, the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis has become one of the crown jewels of classical music in Indiana and the US, and is one of the most prestigious awards for rising violin talent on the world stage. The competition occurs every four years, where, over the span of 17 days, competitors advance through three rounds of juried recitals and performances, which must include a Classical era concerto and a Romantic era concerto, as well as a contemporary work specially commissioned for the competition. Joan Tower was commissioned to write String Force for the Violin Competition in 2010. The work features many advanced technical challenges, particularly in the high, delicate register of the violin, and also allows for a broad range of interpretation. The top six competitors of the competition win cash prizes, and the top 3 additionally win career management for the next four years and are loaned a 1683 Stradivarius violin to play until the next competition.

Josquin Desprez (c.1440-1521) Miserere mei, Deus It must have been tough for Duke Ercole d’Este (Air-koh-lay DESS-tay) when he was deciding on a new court composer. One of his advisers recommended Heinrich Isaac, who was more personable, and would only cost 120 ducats per year. The other choice was Josquin Desprez. Josquin was considered to be the better composer, but he came at the price of 200 ducats per year and was a little less easy to get along with. Este’s adviser praised Isaac as one who would compose when told,not just when it suited him, which Josquin was prone to do. In the end, however, Josquin Desprez was awarded the position of court composer. Miserere Mei, Deus is a setting of the 51st Psalm, and was written after the death of Ercole d’Este’s friend and religious reformer, Girolamo Savonarola. 

Eugène Bozza (1905-1991) Jour d'été à la montagne Bozza won the Prix de Rome in 1934. The prize was originally established in the early 17th century by King Louis XIV of France to educate young French artists and bolster French culture. The first prize in music was awarded in 1803. Prize contestants were originally locked away in a room for a period of time and required to produce musical examples as requested by the competition committee. The committee consists of members of the Academy of Fine Arts. It has been said that the prize failed to recognize true talent. Although he attempted the prize five times for example, Maurice Ravel never won. The prize was abolished after student uprisings in the 1960s but has been rekindled by other countries, such as Belgium. 

George Tsontakis (b.1951) A Dream Within a Dream George Tsontakis received the prestigious Grawemeyer Award for composition in 2005. The University of Louisville has been giving out the Grawemeyer award in composition since 1985. The awards were started with an original endowment of $9 million from University of Louisville alum and businessman H. Charles Grawemeyer. The first person to receive the award was Witold Lutoslawski (VEE-tolt loo-toh-SWAFF-skee). Since then, The Grawemeyer Award has been extended to include separate awards in religion, psychology, education, and improving world order. In the world of composition, it is the most lucrative prize to win. The original prize was $150,000. Since the year 2000, the recipient has been awarded $200,000. Other winners have included Tan Dun, John Corigliano, and Pierre Boulez. 

Traditional English, The Skewbald The horse-racing ballad “The Skewbald” became popular both in Ireland and the US in the mid-19th century. Like many folk-songs, it’s origins are unclear, but it’s thought to describe an episode at the racetrack in Kildare where a “skewbald horse,” which means a horse with a blotchy brown and white coat and generally thought to be of little value, was brought from America and unexpectedly won the race against the favored gray mare. The underdog story caught the public imagination and the anonymous balladeer who penned the lyrics. The song became a favorite of British folksong revivalists such as Martin Carthy and Albert Lloyd, and was also recorded by Leadbelly in 1940, where it was attributed to Black chain gangs in the American South, who sang it as a worksong.

Music Heard On This Episode

Support For Indiana Public Media Comes From

About Ether Game