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.