Monday, April 6, 2020

Passover and Easter Music

Some of the most beautiful music ever written was composed for holidays. As we enter the Passover and Easter seasons, WGUC will bring you four specials featuring some of that beautiful music and magnificent performances. We know many services will be cancelled this year due to our current health emergency, so we hope these will bring you some comfort and a bit of the tradition.

Remember, these specials can be heard anywhere thanks to our website, our mobile app, or your smart speakers (Play WGUC). All times are EDT. Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 7, 6:30 p.m.
The Music of Passover: Our annual celebration in music and word with Naomi Lewin.

Wednesday, April 8, 7:00 p.m.
A Musical Feast for Passover with Itzhak Perlman: The springtime Jewish holiday of Passover is about liberation from slavery in ancient Egypt. In this one-hour special, superstar violinist Itzhak Perlman shares Passover music from many traditions, plus songs and memories from his childhood in Israel. The program draws its shape from the Passover Seder and, like that ancient family ritual, the music gets progressively giddier as the show moves along.

Friday, April 10, 6:00 p.m.
Bach’s St. Matthew Passion: A complete performance by the English Baroque Soloists and Monteverdi Choir under the direction of John Eliot Gardiner.

Sunday, April 12, 11:00 p.m.
Handel’s Messiah: A performance of the Easter portion of Handel’s beloved work by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the Cambridge Singers and Soloists under the direction of John Rutter.

Monday, March 30, 2020

April Fools Day Playlist

At times like this, with so much uncertainty swirling around us, it’s good to step away from the news now and then to clear your head.

WGUC’s late midday host, Frank Johnson, was always good for an off-handed comment or unique perspective at times like these, so in his honor, we present you with his personally created April Fools’ Day playlist.

It’s a quirky collection of some of Frank’s favorite variations on the classical music he loved. Pop over to our website at April Fool’s Day Playlist and enjoy!

Monday, March 23, 2020

Missy Mazzoli

Missy Mazzoli is a successful composer whose music has been performed by many major artists including the Kronos Quartet, eighth blackbird, Emanuel Ax, the New York City Opera, the LA Philharmonic, and many more. She recently founded Luna Lab, a mentorship program for young female composers. You may recognize her work if you've seen the Amazon TV series Mozart in the Jungle - she wrote and performed some of the music for this series! That's right, Missy is also a performer. She plays piano and often performs with Victoire, a band she founded in 2008 that focuses on performing her works.

Did you have the opportunity to see Missy's Song from the Uproar several seasons ago when Cincinnati Opera performed it? Did you enjoy it?

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Rebecca Clarke's Viola Sonata

Clef Notes is currently looking at women composers. This week, we're focusing on composer and violist Rebecca Clarke, an English musician from the early twentieth century.

Though her gender made a career in music difficult, Rebecca did not lose her drive to compose and perform. She was known primarily for her songs, choral works, chamber music, and solo piano pieces. She wrote around 100 pieces, however only a handful were published during her lifetime and later forgotten about.

Today, let's listen to Rebecca's Viola Sonata. This work tied for first prize in a competition in 1919, but the prize ended up going to Ernest Bloch. Sadly, following the competition, a reporter commented that it was impossible for a piece like the Viola Sonata to be written by a woman! Her knowledge of the viola is evident as this is a beautiful addition to its repertoire. What do you think?

Monday, March 16, 2020

Rebecca Clarke

Rebecca Clarke (1886–1979) was an English composer and performer who lived during the early twentieth century, and our next woman to spotlight in Clef Notes. She began her music studies early, being forced along with her siblings to perform on demand for their father. She received her first formal education from the Royal Academy of Music, but her father forced her to withdraw after he received word that one of her teachers proposed marriage.

After withdrawing from the Royal Academy of Music, Rebecca went on to become Charles Stanford's first female student at the Royal College of Music. He encouraged her to switch her instrument from violin to viola, which she would later go on and tour internationally.

Though Rebecca was thrown out of her home in her twenties, she did not despair. Instead, she used the opportunity to focus more on her musical studies and performance schedule. Some of her notable accomplishments include becoming the first female to play with the Queen's Hall Orchestra as well as founding her own female ensemble – the English Ensemble piano quartet.

Next time, let's look closer at one of Rebecca's compositions – the Viola Sonata!

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Ethel Smyth's The Wreckers

Clef Notes is looking at music by women composers and this week, we explore the life and work of English composer Ethel Smyth. Known for her chamber music, orchestral works, vocal scores, and opera, Ethel Smyth was a strong woman who advocated for women's rights and pursued a career in music during a time when such a task wasn't so easy for a woman. Today, let's look at one of her most successful operas, The Wreckers.

Known as Strandrecht at the time of its premiere in Leipzig in 1906, The Wreckers contained a libretto originally written in French and later translated for its German premiere. The production was well-received but after the conductor refused to compromise on the cuts he made to Ethel's score, she took her score and left Leipzig. The opera was later performed in London. It is said that Smyth used Wagner and Sullivan as inspiration for her work. What do you think?

Monday, March 9, 2020

Ethel Smyth

It's possible that you have not heard the name Ethel Smyth (1858–1944), although she was a respected English composer of her time known for her chamber music, orchestral works, vocal scores, and opera.

Ethel was born into a successful family who didn't understand why she sought to follow her ambitions to become a composer. At that time, it was uncommon for women to pursue a career in this way. She studied for a period at the Leipzig Conservatory and then left to study privately. Her work met the approval of big-name composers of her time including Brahms, Clara Schumann, Grieg, and Tchaikovsky. An advocate for women's rights, Ethel sometimes would allow her political views to seep into her work. She lost her hearing later in life, and at that point devoted herself to writing prose.

Though Ethel Smyth is respected as a woman who fought to obtain her desired career, some scholars admit that she never really found her own personal voice in her composition. Her powerful Mass in D of 1893, for instance, is said to be reminiscent of Beethoven. Her opera The Wreckers of 1906 is said to find inspiration from Wagner and Sullivan. What do you think? Join me next time as we dig a little deeper into Ethel's successful opera.

Monday, March 2, 2020

Lili Boulanger

You may have heard of Nadia Boulanger (1887–1979), legendary teacher to Aaron Copland, Philip Glass, Astor Piazzolla, and many more. But did you know that Nadia had a younger sister, Lili (1893–1918), who was a talented composer?

The talented Boulanger sisters were born into privileged circumstances near the end of the nineteenth century. Musical talent ran in their blood, their grandmother was a celebrated singer and their father, a former winner of the Prix de Rome. It is no wonder that both girls decided to pursue music as a career. Nadia, feeling pressure to financially sustain her family following their aged father's death, attempted several times to win the Prix de Rome to no avail. While the Paris Conservatoire allowed women to enter the competition at the time, it made it nearly impossible for them to win. Despite this, Lili got the idea to attempt the competition herself and, in 1913, became the first woman to win with her cantata Faust et Helene.

After winning this prestigious competition, Lili was launched into the musical world, having her works performed alongside the masters and quickly obtaining a contract with a music publishing company, who promised a steady income.

Having struggled with health problems since she was a child, Lili's health began to deteriorate shortly thereafter. She passed away at the age 24, leaving the world to wonder what musical masterpieces could have been if she had lived a full life.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Chaminade's Concertino for Flute and Piano

Are you familiar with any works by Cecile Chaminade (1857–1944)? Born in the nineteenth century, Chaminade was a gifted pianist and composer who, unlike some of her female contemporaries, did not struggle to make a name for herself during her lifetime. Last time we looked at her life as a musician. Today, let's listen to one of her compositions.

Chaminade was quite prolific, having over 350 works to her credit including a comic opera, ballet, choral symphony, chamber and orchestral works, songs, and piano pieces. She became popular during her day because many of her pieces were perfect for trendy domestic music-making. Due to this popularity, many of her works were actually published within her lifetime.

Chaminade's Concertino for Flute and Piano, op. 107 is one popular work that you may hear now and then on 90.9 WGUC. This work was written for the Conservatoire's annual flute contest in 1902. Today, the piece has made it into the standard flute repertoire. Listen to James Galway perform this delightful work.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Cecile Chaminade

Cecile Chaminade (1857–1944) was a gifted pianist and composer who, unlike some of her female contemporaries, did not struggle to make a name for herself during her lifetime. She began writing for her church at eight. Recognized by Georges Bizet as a true talent, she was encouraged to begin private music studies from prominent musicians of the day. This was in lieu of attending the Conservatoire, which was prohibited because of her gender.

At eighteen, Chaminade gave her first public concert and from there, began touring France, Belgium, Britain, and eventually America performing her own works. In 1913, she was the first woman to receive the Legion of Honor from the French government. Despite her success, she went relatively unnoticed by scholars following her death. It wasn't until the late 20th-century when a newfound interest in women composers developed, that she gained proper attention.

Curious if you know a piece by Chaminade? Join me next time as we look at one of her works.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Barbara Strozzi's "Moralita amorosa"

Barbara Strozzi (1619–1677) was primarily recognized during her life as a singer, but she also was a talented composer. After writing her First Book of Madrigals in 1644, she feared what the community response would be, since she was a woman. Unfortunately, her first attempt did not establish her in the great musical canon. She did not lose hope, however, writing seven additional volumes, hoping to assert her own voice rather than that of the controlling men in her life.

Barbara was actually quite talented at composition; the music writer Charles Burney stating 100 years following her death that she may have originated the cantata form in Italy! Listen to "Moralita amorosa" from her opus 3. This piece attacks women who lure men in with their enticing fashion. Note the lovely melisma at the beginning that sounds improvisatory. In reality, Barbara carefully noted every detail!

Monday, February 17, 2020

Barbara Strozzi

This month, Clef Notes is looking at talented women composers throughout music history. Today, let's introduce Barbara Strozzi (1619–1677) to the discussion. Adopted daughter of the librettist and poet Giulio Strozzi, Barbara grew up surrounded by intellectuals in Giulio's Venetian group, the Academy of the Unknowns. Once he discovered that Barbara exhibited musical talent, he formed a subset of the group, the Academy of the Likeminded, in which he allowed Barbara to reside over, singing and suggesting topics for group discussion.

Barbara was declared a virtuoso by 15, and Giulio did his best to publicize her throughout his circles in Venice. He even wrote many texts himself, and then worked to get the accompanying music dedicated to her. He also gave her lessons from Francesco Cavalli, doing everything he could to cultivate her talent. Some scholars believe that, in addition to helping along Barbara's musical ambitions, Giulio also planned for her to be a courtesan. She ended up having several children with the already-married Giovanni Paolo Vidman.

In addition to being a celebrated singer, Barbara Strozzi also composed. Next time, we'll look at an example of her work.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

An Opera by Caccini

Francesca Caccini (1587–1640) was a singer, composer, and teacher who spent much of her life working for the court of the Grand-Duke of Tuscany. While many of her works were lost following her death, several are still known and loved today. Let's look at her opera La liberazione diRuggiero dall'isola d'Alcina, written in honor of the future Polish king's visit to Florence in 1625.

Opera was in an early, experimental form at this point in history, and it's impressive to see a woman composer tackling a new and complex genre! The future Polish king was so impressed by Caccini's work that he requested it be performed in Poland, making it the first Italian opera to be performed there!

Next week, we look at the talented singer and composer, Barbara Strozzi.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Francesca Caccini

Continuing our look at women composers, let's talk about Francesca Caccini (1587–1640). Singer, composer, and teacher, Caccini was born into a musical family, the daughter of famed composer Giulio Caccini. She made her singing debut at the wedding of Marie de' Medici and Henry IV, for whom her father composed wedding music. Henry IV was so impressed by her talent that he requested she come into his service. Her father claimed that she was not granted permission from her current family of service, the Grand Duke Ferdinando de' Medici of Tuscany. Some scholars, however, believe Giulio made a false claim, not wanting to lose control over his daughter.

In 1607, when Caccini was just 20, she was appointed to sing and compose for the court of the Grand-Duke of Tuscany by the Grand Duchess Christine de Lorraine, who controlled the court at the time. The fact that the court was controlled by a woman likely helped Caccini's career to blossom, giving her more opportunities than she may have experienced otherwise.

Caccini's talent was respected and she worked hard to establish her career—a difficult task for a woman in that era. That being said, she still held the status of a servant in the court. Sadly, many of her works were lost following her lifetime.

Join me next time as we look at one of her better-known operas!

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Hildegard von Bingen's The Virtues

Clef Notes is currently taking a look at women composers. This week, we are discussing Hildegard von Bingen (1098–1179), a German abbess and prophetess who also wrote religious texts, which were then set to music for the Mass and Office. Because people believed she was divinely inspired, she likely felt less prejudice for being a woman. That being said, her music's use didn't extend much outside her own community.

Today, let's listen to Hildegard's The Virtues (1151), a sacred music drama that was not attached to the liturgy. This morality play featured several figurative characters including Prophets, Virtues, Happy Soul, Unhappy Soul, and Penitent Soul. Each character has a singing role except the Devil, who cannot sing because he is separated from God. Listen to this beautiful, medieval work. Do you enjoy this type of music?

Monday, February 3, 2020

Hildegard von Bingen

Hildegard von Bingen (1098–1179) lived during an era when women were expected to remain silent in church. The only way to participate in any type of leadership role or in singing and composing was by joining a convent. Hildegard was born into a noble German family who gave her up to the church at a young age. As a result, she had many intellectual opportunities within the convent which women on the outside did not receive.

Hildegard was known for founding her own convent and also as a prophet. Because people believed she was divinely inspired, she likely felt less prejudice for being a woman. Perhaps this is why she is considered to be one of the Middle Age's most prominent composers.

Next time, join me as we look closer at one famous composition by Hildegard von Bingen.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Ruth Crawford Seeger

Continuing our look at women composers throughout history, today let's look at Ruth Crawford Seeger (1901–1953). Though born in Ohio, Ruth Crawford Seeger spent most of her childhood in Florida, receiving her early music training at the School of Musical Art. In 1920 she moved to Chicago to study at the American Conservatory with multiple teachers including theorist Adolf Weidig and pianist Djane Lavoie Herz. Ruth often attended social gatherings at the Herz home where she met many significant people including Henry Cowell, Dane Rudhyar, and Carl Sandburg. She later would use Sandburg’s poetry in her music.

In 1929, Ruth decided to move to New York where she studied with Charles Seeger, whom she later married. During this time, she became the first woman to win the Guggenheim Fellowship in music, giving her the opportunity to study in Berlin and Paris.

Ruth had a passion for preserving folk music, spending a large part of her life editing field recordings in the Archive of American Folk Song at the Library of Congress. She sought to be true to the original tune in all of her published transcriptions. Ruth also enjoyed spending her time teaching children about music.

Listen to Ruth’s String Quartet from 1931. She was known as a modernist composer, creating atonal, dissonant works.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Amy Beach's Gaelic Symphony

Last time we discussed Amy Beach and her impact on women composers to follow her lead. Living during a time when women were thought to be incapable of creating large-scale works, Amy sought to prove the theory wrong by writing many large scale works including one we will look at today, her Gaelic Symphony (1896).

Finding inspiration in Dvorak’s New World Symphony which used plantation songs and Native American melodies, Amy decided to write something drawing from her Celtic heritage. The Gaelic Symphony contains four traditional Irish tunes as themes. Can you hear them?

In total, Amy Beach wrote over 300 works, also including many songs and piano works. Do you have a favorite?

Monday, January 20, 2020

Amy Beach

Amy Beach (1867–1944) grew up in Boston during an era when women were just starting to gain a few rights including the right to attend college and hold a public job. That being said, it was still quite difficult for her to break through in the music world, despite her incredible talents.

Amy Beach was a child prodigy who studied privately early on and taught herself how to compose. By the time she turned 18, Amy was appearing with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and publishing her early compositions. After marrying a wealthy doctor, however, she gave up her concert appearances due to his view that it was not respectable for a woman to hold such a position. He did encourage her to focus her efforts on composition, which led to a period of many outstanding works. Following his death in 1910, Amy took up touring again, performing her own works.

At the time when Amy lived, women were thought to be incapable of composing larger works (such as symphonies or concertos). Amy decided to prove this theory wrong by writing quite a few major works including her Mass in E-flat, Gaelic Symphony, Piano Concerto, and Piano Quintet. She ended up being an inspiration for many women to follow in her footsteps. Next time, we’ll look at one of her major works, the Gaelic Symphony.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Clara Schumann's Piano Trio in G minor

Clara Wieck Schumann was a virtuosic pianist and talented woman composer during the nineteenth century. Unlike Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel, Clara was a public figure who also published her music during her lifetime. Why do you think Fanny faced more suppression than Clara when it came to their music pursuits?

Clara’s Piano Trio in G minor is written for violin, cello, and piano. It combines Baroque, Classical, and Romantic elements including song-like themes, development through fragmentation and imitation, fugue, and more. Despite Clara’s public success during her lifetime, her work was essentially forgotten until the late twentieth century when she was re-discovered by a generation that would come to value her undeniable talent.

Listen to Clara’s Piano Trio in G minor. What do you think?

Monday, January 13, 2020

Clara Wieck Schumann

Last week we looked at Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel, the talented sister of Felix Mendelssohn whose music was performed in private, domestic settings. Clara Wieck Schumann (1819–1896) was another woman musician during the nineteenth century only, unlike Fanny, Clara was a very public figure.

Clara Wieck Schumann was the daughter of Friedrich Wieck who may have been instrumental in his daughter's success, encouraging her as a virtuosic pianist from an early age. Her first public performance was at the age of nine and she was recognized as a leading pianist in Europe by the age of twenty. Unlike many performers at the time, Clara focused more on being true to the composer's work rather than simply giving a showy performance.

Robert Schumann met Clara when he began taking piano lessons from her father. Early on, she was actually the better known of the two! They were eventually married despite objections from Clara's father. Amazingly, the talented Clara was able to continue to perform and compose while managing her eight children. After Robert passed away, she quit composing and focused on teaching and performing, promoting her late husband's work.

Next time we'll take a look at one of Clara's famous works.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Fanny Mendelssohn's Piano Trio in D minor

This week we are looking at Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel, the lesser-known but equally talented sister to Felix Mendelssohn. Fanny has over 400 compositions to her credit, many of them written for small-group settings and ideal for the salon performances in her home. Because she never really received the opportunity to perform publically or publish during her lifetime, Fanny’s work did not gain a full appreciation until the late twentieth century when she was re-discovered.

Her Piano Trio in D minor, Op. 11 is a beautiful work composed in 1846 for her sister Rebecka’s birthday. It was not published until 1850. This piece shows Fanny’s skill and understanding of the piano, violin, and cello. She writes in an expressive manner, developing ideas and creating a conversation between the three instruments as they alternate taking the lead. You can listen to Fanny’s lovely piece here

Join me next time as we look at another musically-gifted woman of the nineteenth century, Clara Wieck Schumann.

Monday, January 6, 2020

Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel

It seems in music history that we often tend to hear about male composers and their work, but did you know there are many prominent women composers as well?

Some were known during their lifetime while others gained appreciation generations following their deaths. Over the next few months, let’s look at a few talented female composers.

Did you know that Felix Mendelssohn had a sister who was a skilled pianist and composer? Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel (1805–1847) studied piano, theory, and composition from a young age and was considered to be equal in ability to her more famous sibling, Felix. Because of the era in which she lived, Fanny was discouraged from a career in music by both her father and brother, who believed it inappropriate for a woman of her wealth and class to hold such a position. Felix even published some of her compositions under his own name in order to keep her name out of the public eye.

Painter Wilhelm Hensel supported Fanny’s musicality and, following their marriage, allowed her to hold a salon in their home. A salon is a domestic gathering of friends to hear performances. Fanny had a music room in her home that held up to 200 people and would often invite many well-to-do people to hear her present many of her own works and perform on piano. Fellow musicians were known to drop in including Franz Liszt and Clara Schumann (who we will look at next week!) Hensel supported the publication of his wife’s works but unfortunately, Fanny did not receive much of an opportunity to pursue this avenue. She died suddenly of a stroke right after the publication of her first opus.

Join me next time as we take a look at a famous work by Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel!

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year from Clef Notes and 90.9 WGUC, Cincinnati’s Classical Public Radio!

If you’re looking for great music to accompany your New Year’s Day morning, join us from 11am until 1pm for the annual New Year’s Day from Vienna.

As we close up 2019 and enter the new year, we need your help. First, what were some of your favorite posts/topics discussed on Clef Notes in 2019? Second, are there any specific topics you would like to learn more about in 2019?

Thanks for your input and have a wonderful holiday!