Thursday, February 26, 2015

Two Diva Rivals Sing Puccini's "Un bel di vedremo"

Maria Callas and Renata Tebaldi: two twentieth-century opera stars who struggled with the competitive nature of their careers. Both divas held different artistic viewpoints that may have contributed to their rivalry. While Callas believed that singing was about reflecting the soul of a character, Tebaldi thought it was more important to create a beautiful vocal line. Below are two clips of “Un bel di vedremo” from Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. The first is performed by Callas and the second, Tebaldi. Do you find that you prefer one over the other?

Maria Callas:

Renata Tabaldi: 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Diva Rivalry in the 20th Century

This month Clef Notes is looking at how jealousy has played a significant part in the classical music world. So far we have focused our attention on composers and their work. Today, let's look at a different angle: diva rivalry in the twentieth century.

Two superstars in the opera world during the past century include Maria Callas and Renata Tebaldi. While early on in their careers the two women attended each other's performances when possible and supported each other, relations intensified over time as the competition grew fierce.

It seems the rivalry began naturally as the two divas vied for leading roles on the best of the world's stages. Once, when Tebaldi fell ill prior to a performance of Aida with La Scala, Callas was offered the position in her stead. Rather than feeling excitement toward such an opportunity, Callas was hurt that they did not consider her first. Following this, she demanded that if they ever decided to ask her back, she wanted to be their first choice for the lead. They ended up obliging, offering her three leading roles and thirty appearances during her first season at $500 per performance, quite a sum for that era!

According to Robert Levine in his book Maria Callas: A Musical Biography, the real relational problems began in 1950 when the two women were alternating performances of La Traviata in Rio de Janeiro. During a benefit concert, they both sang several arias but agreed ahead of time not to include any encores. Despite this, Tebaldi sang two. Not long after this, management favored Tebaldi over Callas who was alternately dismissed. Understandably, Callas did not take matters well and was noted as commenting "If the time comes when my dear friend Renata Tebaldi sings Norma or Lucia one night, then Violetta, La Gioconda, or Medea the next--then and only then will we be rivals. Otherwise it is like comparing champagne with cognac. No--with Coca Cola."

While Callas and Tebaldi had friction in their relation, the press only seemed to add fuel to the flames of diva rivalry. This then led to the public taking sides, some favoring Callas and others clinging to the Tebaldi camp.

Join me next time as we listen to the same aria sung by both talented divas and look at the subtle artistic differences.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

You Decide

On Tuesday we discussed the rivalry between two opposing music camps during the twentieth century headed by Schoenberg and Stravinsky. Today, let’s listen to a famous work by each composer. Do you have a preference or do you appreciate each opposing style?

Schoenberg, Fourth String Quartet, Op. 37:

Stravinsky, Symphony in C:

Did you know that, despite his great opposition to Schoenberg, Stravinsky ended up turning to the twelve-tone method later in life?

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Schoenberg vs. Stravinsky

Continuing our look at jealousies through music history, today let’s travel to the early twentieth century and look at two famous composers who represented opposing camps in contemporary music. Arnold Schoenberg stands at one end of the debate, viewing himself as the “inheritor of the great tradition of European music,” as stated in Weiss and Taruskin’s Music in the Western World: A History in Documents. Known for using the twelve-tone system of composition, Schoenberg considered his ideas a continuation of nineteenth-century aesthetics. Twelve tone is a type of composition in which the composer takes the twelve notes of the chromatic scale, places them in an order of his choice, and then uses this series as the basis for his work.

The second camp of contemporary music sides with Igor Stravinsky, a neo-classicist who reacted to Romanticism by denying music’s expressive nature. Supporters of neoclassicism tended to revive forms and styles common in music of the Baroque and Classical eras (ca. 1600–1800). This movement was a type of reaction against the dramatic, emotional, and romantic music of the nineteenth century and tended to focus more on form and order.

Scholars say that Schoenberg and Stravinsky were once amiable acquaintances however sometime in the 1920s, the divide seemed to become apparent. Journalists certainly did not help with matters as they quoted both composers in opposition to each other. Schoenberg is noted as calling Stravinsky’s music “chic, attention-grabbing” while Stravinsky found his opponent’s “music of the future” ridiculous.

I find it interesting how two successful composers could have such an intense rivalry! Do you tend to side with one camp of contemporary music over the other or do you appreciate both types of twentieth-century styles? On Thursday we will look at a piece composed by each composer and then it’s up to you to decide!

Friday, February 13, 2015

Valentine's Day Weekend Playlist

Valentine’s Day is tomorrow—don’t forget that special someone in your life! Tonight at 7:00 you can tune into 90.9 for special program, Love Greetings, hosted by Mark Perzel.  Here are a few of my favorite classical love songs for today. What are some of your favorites?

Liszt, Dream of Love

Elgar, Love’s Greeting

Puccini, Turandot: Nessun dorma (this is one of many great love arias by Puccini!)

Tchaikovsky: Romeo and Juliet

Prokofiev: Romeo and Juliet

Wagner: Tristan und Isolde: Liebestod

Ho Zhan Hao & Chen Kang: Butterfly Lover’s Violin Concerto

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Love and Despair in Mahler's Music

Last time we looked at Alma Mahler and the jealousy she may have caused the men in her life. Her first husband, Gustav Mahler, experienced both the joys of passionate love for his young bride, as well as moments of jealousy, rage, and despair. Many of these emotions are evident in his music.

Gustav’s Symphony No. 5 provides an excellent example of the love the composer felt for his soon-to-be bride. Composed in 1901 and 1902, this symphony contains an Adagietto movement that scholars believe to be the composer’s declaration of love to Alma though he gave it to her with no explanation. You can listen to the Adagietto below. Do you find it to express the love Gustav must have felt for his future bride?

Several years later, Gustav Mahler wrote his Symphony No. 6, which is known for “Alma’s theme,” a soaring melody found in the first movement. This composition fell still early on in their marriage, before Alma’s relationship formed with Walter Gropius. Listen here:

Gustav’s mood changed following the discovery that the young architect Walter Gropius was in pursuit of his wife. In despair, the composer found refuge in writing his Tenth Symphony, which he began in 1910 and left unfinished at his death in 1911. When Alma turned the score over to a publisher thirteen years after her husband’s death, written cries from his broken heart decorated the pages of the score. Phrases such as “Madness, seize me, the accursed! Negate me, so I forget that I exist, that I may cease to be!”, or “To live for you! To die for you!” provide a few examples of his cry for help. For more information on this symphony, you can check out my post from January 2015 on Mahler’s unfinished music.

Be sure to stop back this Friday for a Valentine’s Day weekend playlist!

Monday, February 9, 2015

Gustav and Alma Mahler's Love Story

In light of Valentine’s Day later this week, I thought it would be fun to steer our jealousy theme this month to a love story—the story of Gustav and Alma Mahler. Today let’s look at a brief overview of Alma and why jealousy may have been a problem for the men in her life and on Wednesday, we’ll delve more into Gustav’s music and how love and jealousy appear in his work.

Alma Mahler was known for her ability to conquer men. She had a way of causing the men in her life to fall passionately in love with her and then leaving them for another, thus toying with many hearts. Prior to her marriage to Gustav, Alma led on the famous painter Gustav Klimt as well as the composer and her personal music teacher, Alexander von Zemlinksy. Poor Zemlinsky was thrown aside after the young Alma laid eyes on the man who promised to attract greater recognition within the music world: Gustav Mahler. 

While it seems that Alma loved Gustav in her own way, she did have her struggles. Jealousy overcame her early on as, despite the fact that Gustav loved her completely in the present, she desired that he had never looked at another woman prior to their meeting—quite a lot to expect of anyone! She also struggled with Gustav’s request that she give up her own pursuits in composition upon their marriage. He once told her in a letter “From now on you have only one job: to make me happy!”

Later in her marriage to Gustav, Alma grew unhappy with the way her husband seemed to overlook her, spending too much time with his work. It was at that time that she met the young architect Walter Gropius who didn’t take long to fall under Alma’s spell. Gropius persistently pursued Alma, even writing her a letter of his love, accidentally addressed to Gustav! When the composer found out, he became enraged, fearful, and jealous of anyone who came in contact with his wife. Alma admitted in her Gustav Mahler: Memories and Letters that she could never see herself with anyone but Gustav: “I could never have imagined life without him, even though the feeling that my life was running to waste had often filled me with despair.” Gustav later came around and realized that he should have never kept his wife from composing. They remained together until his death in 1911 after which Alma had love affairs with various men—some whom she married and others whom she did not. Several of these men include Oskar Kokoschka the artist, Walter Gropius the architect, and Franz Werfel the novelist.

Jealously likely affected all of the men passing in and out of Alma’s life. Next time, let’s look closer at several of Gustav Mahler’s symphonies that show both the love and despair brought on by his marriage to Alma.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Gesualdo's Jealousy

Last time we introduced Carlo Gesualdo, a Renaissance composer who was also a prince. While some scholars say that he was ahead of his time in the way he dealt with harmonies, would he be as famous as he is if he wasn’t also associated with murder?

On October 16, 1590, Carlo Gesualdo committed a double murder after finding his wife in bed with Don Fabrizio Carafa, the Duke of Andria. The Duke was a handsome man and reports say that he was found wearing “a woman’s nightdress with fringes at the bottom, with ruffs of black silk.” The murder was bloody and gruesome, both bodies left in a horrific state. Eyewitnesses verified Gesualdo as the murderer however there were no consequences since he was a prince.

While Gesualdo may not have suffered the consequences of his actions during his lifetime, he has certainly paid for them after his death as musicologists for centuries have referred to him in negative ways, not being able to get past his jealousy that ended in murder. Can you blame them?

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Gesualdo's Fame: Music or Murder?

Welcome to February! Last year at this time, we looked at the topic “Jealousy in Music.” Because there are so many interesting stories in music history that relate to this topic, I thought it would be fun to dive into a second round and look at how jealousy played a part in the lives of several composers and performers. This week, let’s talk about Carlo Gesualdo.

Gesualdo was an interesting character, the Prince of Venosa and a well-known composer. During the Renaissance period in which he lived, aristocrats did not typically seek to publish their music as this trade was usually associated with those of lower classes. Gesualdo is known particularly for his madrigals. A madrigal during the sixteenth century was a short secular piece for any number of equally important voices that used free form poetry as its text. (The madrigal took on different forms depending on what time period it was written in so it is important to look at the century during which Gesualdo lived). One key feature of the madrigal was the use of music to enhance the meaning of the text. Many madrigal composers, including Gesualdo, would use word painting. This is a musical term used to describe music that literally represents a text. For instance, if a text talks about climbing stairs, the musical line will move up with the stairs.

Many scholars believe Gesulado was ahead of his time in the way he dealt with harmonies. Some believe his last two books of madrigals to be autobiographical in that they convey a sorrowful mood and the pain he likely experienced in life due to unhappy marriages and various ailments. His “Io parto” e non piu dissi from his Book VI of madrigals is a great example of this sorrow as it portrays a woman who mourns for her lover who is about to depart. When the text refers to the man “returning to life,” the music becomes faster and diatonic, exemplifying this concept of word painting. Can you hear this in this example?

Is Gesualdo famous more so for his music or for the horrific event that occurred in his life? Join me next time as we uncover how jealousy overtook this Renaissance composer, leading to tragedy.