Andrei Strizek

Music | Musings

Filtering by Tag: classical music

Ottorino Respighi, 1879-1936

Continuing with birthday celebrations, Italian composer Ottorino Respighi was born July 9, 1879, in Bologna, Italy. He's probably best known his "Roman Trilogy" for orchestra, and for also being a musicologist and writing a number of pieces based on music from the 16th-18th centuries. He hasn't been favored by standard music history texts. Much like composers Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov, he wasn't enough of a revolutionary to warrant much space in a Western music history text, but he remains a favorite of musicians and audiences alike.

My favorite Respighi piece, aside from the bombastic finale to The Pines of Rome (which speaks clearly to the low brass player inside me and was used to great effect in Fantasia 2000), is his Trittico Botticelliano (Three Botticelli Pictures). (I adore the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra recording, but this version on YouTube is pretty good.)

I had the extreme fortune of visiting Florence, Italy, my junior year of college (when I studied abroad just outside of Edinburgh, Scotland). I took it upon myself to visit the Uffizi Gallery, where 2 of the 3 Botticelli paintings hang. I was aware of this, and purposely brought my Discman (this was pre-MP3 player) with my Orpheus CD and listened to those movements whilst standing in front of the paintings. Looking back, I probably wouldn't do that if I were to visit the museum today (for the first time), but it was a moving experience, nonetheless.

I remain in awe with Respighi's scoring in the third movement, especially, with how the piece seems to float through the air almost aimlessly. In my mind, its a perfect description of "The Birth of Venus." The double-reed writing in the second movement, based on "O Come, O Come Emmanuel," is also fantastic.

Respighi is even lesser-known for his piano music, but his Nocturne is a wonderful piece.

Happy birthday, Signore Respighi! Know that your music is still played, heard and enjoyed today, 132 years after your birth.

Happy Birthday, Percy Grainger!

via Wikimedia CommonsAustralian-born composer Percy Aldridge Grainger was born on July 8, 1882. For a composer, performer and folk-song collector who had a place of importance and popularity during his lifetime, his stature has lessened in the intervening years.

Unless, that is, you're in the field of wind bands. Grainger holds a special place in the hearts of wind band conductors and performers. I was first introduced to him, as are many people, at a young age by playing his Irish Tune from County Derry (commonly known as "Danny Boy" or "Londonderry Air"). (The history on this tune is long and still somewhat mysterious, but the words for "Danny Boy" were written after Grainger first found this folk song and starting writing is multitude of settings of it.) As a euphonium player (now on hiatus), how could I not love this piece? The euphonium part has the great melody in the beginning and the countermelody towards the end. Finally: a piece that is more than just boom-chicks!

His compositions span from original lyrical tunes to highly chromatic melodies and harmonies, from simple folk-song settings to the creation of new folk songs. His Lincolnshire Posy is widely regarded as one of the top 5 pieces ever composed for wind bands. He made concert piano settings of several Gershwin tunes. He was friends with Grieg and Delius, toured the globe as a concert pianists, and was a pioneer with using electronics in music and with "free" music. Ever the oddball, much as been written about his non-musical life, including his relationship with his mother.

Personality and quirks aside, I enjoy so much of Grainger's music. His folk song settings are unique and inventive. And though the popular setting of Irish Tune holds a special place in my heart, my favorite setting is his highly chromatic version, heard below in a version for wind band (performed by the Cincinatti Conservatory of Music):

Related links:

Grainger on Grieg and Gershwin

By Central News Photo Service, via Wikimedia Commons

"'The Man I Love' is one of the great songs of all time, taking its place in immortality beside the finest love-songs by Dowland, Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Grieg, Tchaikovsky, Gabriel Fauré, Henri du Parc, Hatton, Maude Valerie White, Cyril Scott, Roger Quilter, Debussy and John Alden Carpenter.

... Such similarities (to Grieg) amounts to almost identicalness! But none of this detracts from Gershwin's immense and indisputable originality. It only shows what a life-giving inspiration Grieg's startling innovations provided for almost all truly progressive composers that cam after him: Debussy, Ravel, Delius, Cyril Scot, Albeniz, Stravinsky, MacDowell, Gershwin. And it goes to prove how deeply Gershwin's genius (whatever inspiration it also drew from popular and local sources) was rooted in the traditions of classical cosmopolitan music. So much of Gershwin's unique and subtle greatness lies in his humanistic universalism - in his effortless ability to reconcile hitherto unreconciled contrasts and seemingly opposing tendencies."

-Percy Aldridge Grainger, June 22, 1994 (forward to his concert version of The Man I Love)

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