Rameau was secretive about the first half of his life: it seems that he never imparted any detail of it to his friends or even to his wife. We know he was born in a family of musicians, that his father was his first teacher and that he worked as an organist in some churches, including the one in the Jesuit College where Voltaire was a pupil – a few years later he became the librettist of some of Rameau’s operas.
Himself: Despite his innate musical ability (he began studying music at the age of three), Verdi’s application for the Milan Conservatory was rejected due to his lack of piano technique and discipline. In 1839, he moved to Milan and he had his first success with Nabucco and also his first failure, with the comedy Un giorno di negro. He only composed one other comedy in his career: Falstaff, his last opera.Read More
Antonio Lucio Vivaldi was born in Venice. He was baptized immediately after his birth by the midwife, which led many people to believe his life was somehow in danger. The real reason is still not known for sure, some argue it was due to ill health while others state that an earthquake the same day led his mother to be in constant fear for her son’s life. As a result, Vivaldi’s mother dedicated him to the Priesthood.
Ahead of our two concerts this week at the City of London and Hythe Festivals, we caught up with composer Judith Bingham whose new piece, The Hythe, will be given its world premiere with us on 4 July as part of the City of London Festival and again in Hythe itself on 6 July.Read More
Her times: Composers of our own time are freer than they have ever been before; free to pursue whatever stylistic paths they like and by whichever means – and largely without fear of discrimination due to race, gender or age. But that comes with its own complications, notably the increased need to write music that serves a purpose and punches through (live or through speakers and headphones) in an age full of noise where much creativity is built on commercial imperatives.Read More
Her times: For the generation of composers who have come to creative maturity since the turn of the millennium, there are no longer any rules and the idea of musical ‘genres’ is eroding fast too. A composer can write on paper, on an instrument or on a computer. The act of composition might be one and the same as the act of performance. You might have trained at a music college or in a rock band.Read More
His times: Fauré lived through a changing France, born into an entrenched tradition but witnessing the arrival of new trends and the shifting of the creative vanguard from Vienna to Paris. Though these changes were largely realised by the generation after Fauré, in a sense he paved the way for them by radically overhauling the country’s musical education system as director of the influential Paris Conservatoire.Read More
His times: Like his colleague and compatriot Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel was active at a time when the epicentre of musical activity in Europe was moving from the Austro-German cities of Vienna and Berlin to the French capital. Led by a Paris on the cusp of Modernism, musical priorities were changing too. Suddenly beauty was a priority and the ‘development’ of musical themes wasn’t.Read More
His times: Debussy’s career straddled one of the most fascinating periods in music history: the dusk of Romanticism and the emergence of Modernism. Music was becoming less a harmonious, evolving journey of mutual learning and agreement and more an outright battle between opposing ideologies.Read More
This Friday, we’re very excited to be premiering a brand new commission by award winning composer Sally Beamish as part of PRS for Music Foundation’s New Music 20×12.
Spinal Chords is a piece of music set to a text written by Melanie Reid, a columnist on The Times who broke her neck and back following a horse riding accident, and we’ll be giving its London premiere on Friday 10 February at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre.
We caught up with Sally to ask her a few questions…Read More
His times: Handel’s Europe was ruled by what must have seemed like a clique of wealthy cronies, especially as the composer’s one-time boss the Elector of Hanover later became his new boss as King of England. It was to this land that Handel committed the greatest part of his life, settling here in 1712 and taking English citizenship in 1727.Read More
His times: In Beethoven’s late twenties, France overthrew its monarchy and a wave of rebellion spread through Europe. The composer, a devout Republican, was presented with an opportunity not only to change music, but to change the social standing of ‘the artist’. He did both: from the early 1800s, music would never be the same again, and historians increasingly concur that with Beethoven an era of the artist-hero was born that arguably still holds sway today.Read More
When Joseph Haydn’s patron, Prince Nikolaus Esterházy died in 1790, Haydn was relieved of his musical duties at court (although he maintained his court salary!) and decided to leave Hungary for Vienna. Hearing of his departure from the court, a German musician named Johann Peter Salomon made it his business to find Haydn, in the hope of luring him to London.Read More
His times: Weber’s Germany was shaped by war and upheavals both social and intellectual. In that context, Weber had to chart a careful course between the demands of emerging middle class audiences, existing aristocratic patrons and influential musical theorists. One result of that was the composer’s quest to educate the former by including vernacular styles including waltzes and folksongs in his music.Read More
His times: Felix Mendelssohn was born into a privileged family at a time when creativity was in vogue: young, talented men were encouraged to travel and drink in the inspiration of foreign climes. Mendelssohn’s ‘grand tour’ prompted his links with the UK; he was a frequent visitor here (he had a particular penchant for Birmingham) and became well acquainted with society figures including Queen Victoria and Isambard Kingdom Brunel.Read More
His times: The central change in Joseph Haydn’s career prophesised the big transformation in store for composers in the 19th century. He spent nearly three decades in the service of one aristocratic Austro-Hungarian family, while building a reputation abroad via the distribution of published works. When his services at court were suddenly dispensed with, Haydn found himself working freelance – and it turned out rather well.Read More
His times: Or perhaps ‘his place’ would be a better starting point, because Franz Schubert is the only leading19th-century composer stylistically associated with the city of Vienna who was actually born there. But he wasn’t part of the city’s cultural elite; he struggled with poverty and was physically weak, dogged by illness until his untimely death aged just 31. Mercifully, from 1817 onwards – the year he quit his inherited teaching profession to concentrate on composition – Schubert was nothing short of prolific.Read More
His times: In Mozart’s Austria, musicians were servants – usually employed in the service of an aristocratic family for the performance and provision of music for aristocratic consumption. Mozart’s impulsive creativity famously jarred against this feudal order, and in the long term he arguably helped to destroy it. For all its perfection, Mozart’s music would become increasingly complex, outspoken and restless as his life progressed; his late symphonies paved the way for Beethoven’s social and musical upheavals while his last opera, The Magic Flute, was written not for the court opera but a suburban pay-on-the-door theatre on the outskirts of Vienna.Read More