The Irish tenor John McCormack was born on June 14, 1884 in Athlone, Ireland; he died on September 16, 1945 in Dublin. September 2020 will mark the 75th anniversary of his death.
John McCormack received his first musical training as a member of the Palestrina Choir of Dublin Cathedral. He studied in Milan and made his debut in Savona in 1906 in the opera “L’Amico Fritz” by Pietro Mascagni. In 1907 he received an engagement at the Royal Opera Covent Garden in London, where he triumphed
in 15 different roles until 1914. Guest appearances took him to the Manhattan Opera House in 1909 and to Chicago, Philadelphia and the Metropolitan Opera in New York in 1910, where he was also engaged in 1912–1914 and 1917–1918. In 1911 he went on a tour of Australia with the world-famous Australian soprano Nellie Melba. Due to the huge success at his concerts, he withdrew from the opera stage in 1923 and only sang in concerts in which he also performed Irish folk songs. In 1938 he gave his farewell concert at London’s Royal Albert Hall, but still appeared occasionally at charity concerts during World War II.
Alongside Enrico Caruso and Beniamino Gigli, John McCormack was considered the most important tenor of his time. Caruso held him in high esteem and saw him as his greatest rival. The great popularity made John McCormack one of the best-earning classical stars of his time. His recordings were real sales hits.
“O Danny Boy”, written by Frederic Weatherly in 1910, is sung to the old Irish folk tune “A Londonderry Air”. The song was part of the standard repertoire at the concerts of John McCormac.
The Italian composer Pietro Mascagni was born in Livorno on December 7, 1863. He died in Rome on August 2, 1945. August 2020 marks the 75th anniversary of his death.
Mascagni broke off his music studies with Amilcare Ponchielli because it was too dry for him. Instead he initially joined a traveling opera company and in 1885 he became conductor
of the municipal orchestra in Cerignola. This engagement left him enough time to compose. For his first major opera “Guglielmo Ratcliff” (1888) he did not find an opera house that wanted to perform the work. In 1889 he took part in an one-act opera competition by the Italian music publisher Sonzogno with “Cavalleria rusticana”. The opera received first prize and when it premiered was one of the greatest successes in music history. Overnight Mascagni became the star of the Italian opera scene and with the royalties for “Cavalleria rusticana” he had no financial worries until the end of his life. He composed several other operas that were highly valued by connoisseurs and he also was able to premiere “Guglielmo Ratcliff” with great success in 1895, but for the general public and posterity “Cavalleria rusticana” remained the composer’s unreached stroke of a genius.
Alongside Ruggero Leoncavallo and Giacomo Puccini, Pietro Mascagni is one of the most important representatives of verismo.
The Portuguese singer Amália da Piedade Re-bordão Rodrigues was born in Lisbon on July 23, 1920. She died on October 6, 1999 in her hometown. In July 2020, her birthday turns 100.
Amália was one of ten children of a poor green-
grocer. As a young girl, she helped to sell fruits in the Alcântara docks. In 1939 she started her career as a Fado singer in the nightclub “Retiro da Severa”.
In 1944 and 1945 she was on tour in Brazil, where the first of her more than 170 recordings took place. Her international breakthrough came in the 1950s with the song “Coimbra”, written by Raul Ferrao in the late 1930s. The song later became a worldwide success under the title “April in Portugal”. In the 1940s and 50s, Amália Rodrigues also starred in about a dozen films.
Amália Rodrigues, the “Queen of Fados”, is considered the most important Fado singer. Through her worldwide tours and numerous television appearances all over the world, she shaped the international image of this genre like no other.
The video shows Amália Rodrigues at her last concert in Lisbon. A week before her death in September 1999, she reinterpreted the song “Coimbra”, with which she achieved her international breakthrough in the 1950s.
The Estonian composer and music educator Heino Eller was born on March 7, 1887 in Tartu. He died 50 years ago on June 16, 1970 in Tallin.
Heino Eller received violin lessons as a child. From 1907 he studied violin, composition, music theory and law in Saint Petersburg. From 1920 to 1940 he taught composition and music theory at the higher music school in Tartu and shaped the so-called “Tartu composition school” during
this time. From 1940 until his death, Heino Eller was a lecturer at the State Conservatory in Tallinn, today’s Estonian Music and Theater Academy. The focus of Eller’s compositional work was on instrumental music. He is considered the co-founder of Estonian symphony and chamber
Soviet Union 7.3.1987
music.In his work, he was inspired by traditional Estonian folk tunes as well as impressionism, expressionism and other music trends of the 20th century. Frédéric Chopin, Edvard Grieg and Jean Sibelius also influenced his work. Eller’s oeuvre comprises three symphonies, several symphonic pieces, a violin concerto, five string quartets, four piano sonatas, two violin sonatas and over 200 smaller pieces.
The video shows the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra conducted by Risto Joost with Heino Eller’s orchestral piece “Kodumaine viis” (homeland melody). Soloist: Age Juurikas (piano), recorded at the Laulupidu (Song Festival) 2019 in Tallinn.
The French composer Gabriel Fauré was born in Pamiers on May 12, 1845. He died in Paris on November 4, 1924. In May 2020, his birthday turns 175.
As the son of a school principal, Fauré received music lessons at an early age and was admitted to the church music school in Paris at the age of nine.
From 1861 he was taught by the 10 years older Camille Saint-Saëns, with whom he remained friends for the rest of his life. In 1870 he got an organist position in Paris and in 1871 he was one of the founding members of the Société Nationale de Musique. He gave piano lessons, worked with several choirs and in the evenings he was a brilliant piano improviser in the Parisian salons. In 1892 he was appointed “Inspector for Music Lessons” and in 1896 he became titular organist of the large organ on the Madeleine as well as professor of composition at the Paris Conservatory, which he headed from 1905 to 1920. His students included Nadia Boulanger, George Enescu and Maurice Ravel.
As a composer, Gabriel Fauré primarily created vocal, piano and chamber music. One of his greatest successes was the opera Pénélope, which was premiered on May 9, 1913 during the opening of the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées.
The video shows Gabriel Faure’s “Pavane” op. 50 arranged for the 12 cellists of the Berlin Philharmonic by Wilhelm Kaiser-Lindemann.
The Austrian-Hungarian composer Franz Lehár was born on April 30, 1870 in Komorn. He died on October 24, 1948 in Bad Ischl. In April 2020, his birthday turns 150.
As the son of a military bandmaster, Lehár early showed musical talent. From 1882, after attending the high, he studied violin, music theory and composition at the Prague Conservatory with Josef Foerster, Antonín Dvořák and Zdeněk Fibich among others. His musical career began as an orchestral musician in Barmen and Elberfeld. Afterwards he was a military bandmaster of the k.u.k. Army stationed in Trieste, Budapest and Vienna, among others. Thanks to some great successes, he was soon able to live solely on his compositional work.
Franz Lehár composed some vocal works, orchestral works, waltzes and even some operas. However, his main focus was on the operetta. Together with Oscar Straus, Emmerich Kálmán and Leo Fall, Lehár is one of the founders of the so-called “Silver Operetta Era”. His most famous works include “The Merry Widow”, “The Count of Luxembourg”, “Gypsy Love”, “The Tsarevich” and “Guiditta”.
The video shows Jonas Kaufmann and the Bavarian Radio Orchestra under the baton of Michael Guttler with the aria “Friends life is worth living” from the operetta “Guiditta”. The initial notes of the aria are also shown on the Hungarian stamp and the positive message of the text has not lost its validity even in these times of the Corona crisis.
Penderecki is one of the leading composers of the Polish avant-garde and has sometimes been referred to as a “late modern classic”. He was one of the few contemporary avant-garde composers who made a breakthrough to the general public.
On March 29, 2020, the Polish composer and conductor Krzysztof Penderecki died in Kraków at the age of 86. Penderecki was born in Debica on November 23, 1933. He received violin and piano lessons and later studied composition, philosophy, art and literary history in Kraków. In 1958 he took up a professorship in composition at the Kraków Music Academy, of which he was director from 1972 to 1987. In 1988 he was elected the first guest conductor of the NDR Symphony Orchestra in Hamburg.
Penderecki composed several operas as well as numerous orchestral and vocal works. He caused a sensation with his sound compositions, many of which were used in films. He also created some original film scores.
The video shows the Korean Chamber Orchestra conducted by Krzysztof Penderecki with Penderecki’s Violin Concerto No.2 “Metamorphoses”. Soloist: Juyoung Baek (violin)
The Austrian composer Oscar Straus (actually Oscar Nathan Strauss) was born on March 6, 1870 in Vienna. He died on January 11, 1954 in Bad Ischl. In March 2020, his birthday turns 150.
Oscar Straus first studied piano and composition in Vienna and later continued his studies with Max Bruch in Berlin. As a young conductor, he had engagements in Brüx and Teplitz and then at the Stadttheater Mainz. In Berlin he wrote the music for several programs of the cabaret “Überbrettl”.
His first operettas in the tradition of Jacques Offenbach were not very successful. The breakthrough came in 1907 when the operetta “A Waltz Dream” premiered in Vienna. This operetta at times even exceeded the performance figures of Franz Lehar’s operetta “The Merry Widow”. Until the early 1930s, almost 50 other stage works followed, including “The Brave Soldier”, “The Last Waltz” with Fritzi Massary in the lead role and the musical comedy “A Woman Who Knows What She Wants”. During the Third Reich Oscar Straus went to America, where he composed the music for several films. In 1950 he returned to Europe and composed the operettas “Her First Waltz” and “Bozena” as well as the music for the film “La Ronde” by Max Ophüls.
In the video, the Swiss journalist and amateur pianist Andy Faessler plays the waltz “Out there in the fragrant garden” from the operetta “A waltz dream”.