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This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.
If this were a radio program, I’d play the first track and ask who you think composed it. As you’re all smart cookies, I imagine you’d say something along the lines of, “Well, it’s rather like Mozart, but not quite. Sort of Haydn, but again just misses. Maybe it’s one of their contemporaries – one of Bach’s sons or similar”. That’s certainly what went through my mind when the radio did just that.
We’re all wrong, of course, or they wouldn’t have asked. It was written by NIGEL WESTLAKE.
“Who?” I hear you ask. Nigel is a young Australian composer (well younger than us – he tuned 60 recently) and this work is nothing like all the others of his I’ve heard.
It sounds like a piano concerto and he calls it Diving with George. George was his uncle and a respected surgeon in Melbourne who liked diving (with scuba gear, not jumping off a board into a pool).
GIOVANNI VIOTTI was an Italian composer and violinist whose fame for playing the violin spread far and wide.
Gio was violin teacher to Marie Antoinette, but when the French revolution came he decided it was safer in London. He had some trouble there too, but that was resolved eventually and became a British citizen.
He’s best known for his compositions for violin, but he wrote works for other instruments as well. Going with his strength, here is the third movement of his Violin Concerto No. 2 in E major, G. 44.
JOHN FIELD was an Irish composer and pianist.
His father and grandfather were both musicians (violin and organ respectively) so he had a head start. The family moved to London when John was about 10 where he had lessons from Muzio Clementi. Later John and Muzio toured Europe playing piano to great acclaim.
John is regarded as the person who invented the nocturne. Chopin took notice of this and made it his own. Here’s one of John’s inventions, the Nocturne No. 1 in E flat major, H24.
I imagine if you’re going to be an opera singer, it might help to have a name that’s one of the most famous in the field; in this case the singer is AIDA GARIFULLINA. Look out for her folks, she’s wonderful.
We won’t have something from her namesake opera, instead it’s by NIKOLAI RIMSKY-KORSAKOV.
Nik wrote the opera “The Golden Cockerel”, but he knew it had no chance of being staged as it was an implied criticism of monarchy, and the Czar would have none of that.
It finally got staged a few years later, and even then he had to change it a bit to satisfy the censors. From that, Aida sings Hymn to the Sun.
These days, after J.S. Bach, ANTONIO VIVALDI is probably the best known baroque composer.
Tony had a considerable influence on J.S. who grabbed some of his compositions and created variations on them. I don’t know if this is one of those – probably not because he wrote a hell of a lot of music. Here is the second movement of Sonata for Oboe and Continuo RV 53 in C minor.
There is a story that Henry VIII wrote the tune Greensleeves. It’s possible, but the odds are stacked against that being true. The tune was certainly around during his time as you’ll hear.
DIEGO ORTIZ was a Spanish composer and writer on various musical subjects who lived in the sixteenth century.
His life coincided with Henry’s and one of his compositions is called Recercada No 7 sobre la Romanesca. To my ears this sounds like a first draft of Greensleeves. See what you think.
JOHANN HUMMEL was born in Pressburg, nowadays called Bratislava in Slovakia. Back then it was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Early on Jo caught the ear of Mozart who decided to take him on as a pupil, and also invited him to live with the Mozart family for a while (that turned into two years).
He was later a good friend of both Beethoven and Schubert and he taught Mendelssohn. The piano was his main instrument and today we have the third movement of his Piano Trio No. 1 in E-Flat Major, Op. 12.
ISABELLA LEONARDA was born in 1620 in Novara, Italy.
She was put into a convent when she was 16, and held many posts within that due to the influence of her prominent family. This allowed her to compose music, and she became the most productive woman composer of her era.
Not surprisingly, most of her music was for the church, including her Motet Op. 6 No 5, Ave suavis dilecto. This is sung by LOREDANA BACCHETTA.
JOSEPH-FRANÇOIS GARNIER was a French Composer and oboe player.
He was born into a family of modest circumstances – his father was a cobbler – but his uncle was in the music trade. Unc took young J.F. to Paris and got him a job playing the oboe in the Royal Academy of Music which became the Paris Opera after the revolution.
He was a whiz on his instrument and stayed there a long time. He became their main oboe player (and he occasionally played flute), later premiering some of his own compositions. One of those is his Symphonie Concertante No. 2 for 2 Oboes & Orchestra. This is the first movement.