The French composer and organist César Auguste Jean Guillaume Hubert Franck was born on December 10, 1822 in Liège, then part of the Kingdom of the United Netherlands. He died in Paris on November 8, 1890. December 2022 will be his 200th birthday.
After the family moved to Paris, César Franck received music lessons there and was admitted to the Paris Conservatory in 1837. In 1846 he got a job as organist at the church of Notre-Dame-de-Lorette and from 1851 to 1858 at Saint-Jean-Saint-François. In 1857 he first became “maître de chapelle” and in 1858 finally titular organist at Ste-Clotilde. In 1872 he was appointed professor of organ at the Paris Conservatory, where his students included Vincent d’Indy, Henri Duparc and Guillaume Lekeu.
César Franck was a co-founder of the Société Nationale de Musique in 1871 and was later elected its president. In 1885 he became a Knight of the Legion of Honour.
As a composer, César Franck initially wrote piano music with little success. It was only when he took up his position at the church of Ste-Clotilde that he began to write music for the organ. Above all, he had the “simple organists” in mind, who had to arrange the service Sunday after Sunday. For them he composed numerous shorter pieces, which were published in two anthologies entitled “L’Organiste”. He only wrote his best-known works today in the last years of his life.
The video shows the cathedral organist Matthias Maierhofer on the choir organ of the Freiburg Minster, performing César Franck’s “Prélude, Fugue et Variation op. 18”.
The Italian composer Gaetano Donizetti was born on November 29, 1797 in Bergamo, in what was then the Cisalpine Republic. When he died in his native town on April 8, 1848, it was part of the Austrian Empire. November 2022 will mark the 225th anniversary of his birth.
San Marino 12.2.1999
Gaetano Donizetti was one of the most successful opera composers of the 19th century and, along with Gioacchino Rossini and Vincenzo Bellini, is one of the most important masters of the so-called Bel canto opera. In addition to his around 70 operas, ten of which are still performed regularly today, he also composed sacred music, instrumental music and numerous works for voice and piano.
Since its premiere on September 26, 1835 at the Teatro San Carlo in Naples, the opera “Lucia di Lammermoor” depicted on the stamp has had an unbroken tradition of performances and is part of the standard repertoire of opera houses worldwide. Salvadore Cammarano wrote the libretto for the work, known as “dramma lirico”, in two parts and three acts, based on the novel “The Bride of Lammermoor” by Walter Scott. The opera is about two lovers from feuding noble families who are only united in death. The opera is considered one of the highlights of the Bel canto era and a milestone in Italian romantic opera, with Lucia’s “mad scene” (Il dolce suono) as the highlight.
The video shows the Australian soprano Dame Joan Sutherland performing ‘Eccola!’ (The Mad Scene) from Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor in the Australian Opera’s 1986 production at the Sydney Opera House.
American rock ‘n’ roll and country musician Jerry Lee Lewis died on October 28, 2022 at the age of 87 in DeSoto County, Mississippi.
Jerry Lee Lewis was born on September 29, 1935 in Ferriday, Louisiana. At the age of 21 he moved to Memphis, Tennessee, where he got a job as a pianist in a bar. In 1956 he auditioned for Sun Records, which had signed rockabilly musicians such as Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison.
In December of the same year he was invited for a session for Carl Perkins, which later went down in music history as the “Million Dollar Quartet” (Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley).
His first hit “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” (1957) was followed by “Great Balls of Fire” and “Breathless”. His stage performances also became more and more legendary: he played the piano with hands and feet, pushed away the stool and danced around the piano or even set it on fire.
In 1963 Lewis moved to the record company Smash Records and dedicated himself more and more to country music. In the early 1970s he landed some hits in this genre as well, such as “Me and Bobby McGee” and “Chantilly Lace”.
Between 1958 and 2014, Jerry Lee Lewis released 41 albums. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986 and the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2022. In 2005 he received the “Lifetime Achievement Award” for his life’s work.
The video features Jerry Lee Lewis performing the hit “Great Balls Of Fire!” from 1957.
The Brazilian pianist and composer Francisca Edwiges Neves Gonzages (stage name: “Chiquinha”) was born on October 17, 1847 in Rio de Janeiro. She died on February 18, 1935. October 2022 will mark the 175th anniversary of her birth.
A daughter of a marshal and a mulatto girl, Gonzaga received a good school education and took piano lessons at an early age. At the age of 11, she composed her first piece for a Christmas party. At the age of 16 she married an official of the Imperial Navy against her will, but left him in 1870 because he forbade her to perform any musical activity outside the family. After a second marriage also failed, the 29-year-old decided to live as a single mother and to work as an independent musician. She earned her income by working in a music store, also offering piano lessons to customers. In addition, she composed polkas, waltzes and tangos, which she performed at balls and meetings of choro musicians. There she met the flautist Joaquim Antônio da Silva Callado and soon became the first woman to play in his group “O Choro do Callado”. Chiquinha Gonzaga is regarded as the first pianist of the choro. Obliged to adapt the piano sound to popular taste, she became one of the first major composers of choro music. Her first commercial success was the polka “Atraente” in 1877. Over the years she wrote about two thousand works for various formations in such varied styles as waltz, polka, fado, quadrille, mazurka, Brazilian tango, habanera, choro, marca, dobrado, lundu, maxixe and modinha. In 1885 her first operetta “A Corte na Roça” premiered in Rio de Janeiro. The greatest success of her 77 stage works came in 1911 with the operetta “Forrobodó”, which after the premiere was performed another 1,500 times en suite – a record never since equalled in Brazil. The last work by the then 87-year-old Chiquinha Gonzaga was her first opera “Maria” in 1934.
What is less known is that Chiquinha Gonzaga composed the first carnival hit in the world with the song “Abre Alas” in 1899, thus laying the foundation for the annual carnival anthems of the samba schools at Rio Carnival. The text of the song “Abre Alas, que eu quero passar” (Clear the way, I want to pass through here) can almost be viewed as Gonzaga’s life motto, for despite her successes, she constantly had to defend herself as a publicly active woman against the criticism and hostility of a society dominated by men.
The video shows the Brazilian formation “Choronas”, founded in 1994, with the polka “Atraente” by Chiquinha Gonzaga at a concert in the Teatro Anchieta do Sesc Consolação in São Paulo (November 28, 2011).
The Hungarian conductor Georg Solti (real name György Stern) was born on October 21, 1912 in Budapest. He died 25 years ago, on September 5, 1997 in Antibes (France).
Solti studied at the Franz Liszt Music Academy in Budapest with Béla Bartók and Zoltán Kodály, among others. In 1930 he became répétiteur at the Budapest Opera and from 1935 assistant to Bruno Walter and Arturo Toscanini in Salzburg. He made his debut as an opera conductor in 1938 in a performance of The Marriage of Figaro in Budapest.
During World War II he was assistant to Toscanini in Lucerne. In 1946 he became General Music Director of the Bavarian State Opera in Munich, held the same position at the Frankfurt Opera from 1952-1961 and increasingly had guest appearances with major orchestras and opera houses worldwide. From 1961 he was ten years at the Royal Opera House in London.
A second major artistic period began for Georg Solti when he became chief conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (1969-1991). He was also musical director of the Orchester de Paris (1971-1975) and artistic director of the London Philharmonic Orchestra (1979-1983). In 1983 he conducted at the Bayreuth Festival, several times at the Salzburg Festival and, after Karajan’s death, took over as his successor at the Easter Festival for two years.
Georg Solti signed a contract with the Decca record company as early as 1947 and over the years he has recorded all the popular operas by Richard Wagner, Richard Strauss and Giuseppe Verdi for the label. The first complete studio recording of Wagner’s “Ring des Nibelungen” with the Vienna Philharmonic (1958-1965) is still considered a great moment in the history of recordings. Georg Solti has received 105 Grammy nominations and, with 31 awards, is the artist to have received the most awards with the coveted trophy.
In addition to numerous other honours, he was made Commander of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II in 1968 and Knight Commander in 1971 during his tenure in London.
The video shows Georg Solti and the London Symphony Orchestra perfoming the Coriolan Overture, Op. 62 by Ludwig van Beethoven, recorded in 1987 at the Barbican Center in London.
The British-Australian singer, songwriter and actress Olivia Newton-John died on August 8, 2022 in Santa Ynez Valley, California.
Newton-John was born on September 26, 1948 in Cambridge. In 1955 the family moved to Australia. Already as a schoolgirl she won several singing competitions, founded a girls group and got her first record deal in 1966. With her country, folk, pop and disco songs, she was one of the biggest stars of the 1970s and early 1980s. Between 1973 and 1983 she received 4 Grammys and 9 American Music Awards.
Over the course of her long career, Olivia Newton-John has sold more than 100 million records, making her one of the top-selling artists worldwide to date. Her most successful release is the soundtrack album for the musical film Grease, in which she starred alongside John Travolta.
In addition to numerous other awards, Olivia Newton John was made an officer by Queen Elizabeth II in 1979 and made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2020.
After being diagnosed with breast cancer in 1992, Newton-John went public to share her cancer. She supported numerous charity projects and founded a foundation for cancer research, with the help of which the Olivia Newton-John Canver Wellness & Research Center was opened in Melbourne in 2012.
The video features Olivia Newton-John performing one of her biggest hit singles, “Physical.” This song spent ten weeks at number one in the US single charts in late 1981, making it the longest number one single of the 1980s.
The Ukrainian pianist Sviatoslav Teofilowitsch Richter was born on March 20, 1915 in Zhitomir (Russian Empire, today Ukraine). He died 25 years ago, on August 1, 1997 in Moscow.
Richter’s father was a German-born pianist who took a job as an organist and choirmaster in Odessa in 1916. From the age of three he ensured that his son received a solid musical education.
Aged 15, Richter became a répétiteur at the Odessa Opera House, 1935 he made his debut as a pianist. From 1937 he attended a piano master class at the Moscow Conservatory. In Moscow Sviatoslav Richter met Sergei Prokofiev, whose 6th Sonata he premiered in 1942. The world premieres of the 7th and 9th sonatas, dedicated to Richter, followed later. In 1960 Richter was allowed to travel to the West for the first time. The debut on October 19, 1960 in Carnegie Hall in New York was followed by a major US tour.
Richter’s recordings of the works of Tchaikovsky, Schubert, Schumann, Liszt and the Well-Tempered Clavier by Johann Sebastian Bach are legendary. His Préludes by Rachmaninoff are still considered a kind of reference recording today.
In addition to his solo activities, Sviatoslav Richter also played chamber music with, among others, David Oistrakh, Pierre Fournier, Mstislav Rostropovich and Benjamin Britten.
The video shows Sviatoslav Richter performing Mozart’s Piano Sonatas No.4 in E flat major (K282), No.16 in C major (K545) and No.8 in A minor (K310) live recorded at the Barbican Centre, London, 29 March 1989.
The Cuban pianist and composer Ignacio Cervantes Kawanag was born on July 31, 1847 in Havana. He died in his hometown on April 29, 1905. July 2022 will be his 175th birthday.
Cervantes was considered a child prodigy and was taught by the American composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk, among others. Gottschalk encouraged him to study at the Conservatoire de Paris (1866-1870), where he received first prizes for composition (1866) and harmony (1867) and gave concerts with Christina Nilsson and Adelina Patti.
Cervantes was one of the first musicians to emphasize the special character of the Central and South American peoples in their music.
As a supporter of the Cuban rebels, he had to leave the country temporarily in 1875 and lived in Mexico and the United States for several years. Ignacio Cervantes composed an opera, various pieces of chamber music, zarzuelas and the famous forty-one “Danzas Cubanas”. He wrote his “Fusión de Almas” for his daughter María Cervantes (1885-1981), who became a well-known pianist, composer and singer.
The video shows the Orquestra De Guiarres De Barcelona conducted by Sergi Vicente performing a medley of Ignacio Cervantes’ “Danzas Cubanas”. All members of the orchestra are teachers, graduates or master students of the Conservatorio Superior de Mùsica del Liceo in Barcelona.
The Icelandic composer Sveinbjörn Sveinbjörnsson was born on June 28, 1847 in Seltjarnarnes, he died on February 2, 1927 in Copenhagen. June 2022 will be his 175th birthday.
Sveinbjörnsson showed musical talent from an early age. However, since his father died early and a career as a professional musician in Iceland was practically impossible at the time, he trained as a pastor. In 1868 he decided to study music, majoring in piano and harmony. He was a member of the choir of Niels Gade’s music association and took piano lessons from Carl Reinecke in Leipzig in 1872/73. From 1873 to 1919 he lived in Edinburgh as a pianist and music teacher.
In addition to a number of choral works, Sveinbjörn Sveinbjörnsson’s compositional oeuvre mainly includes piano and chamber music, which reveals a clear connection to the British salon music of the time. As early as 1874 he composed the melody of the later Icelandic national anthem “Lofsöngur” to the text by the poet Matthías Jochumsson. Icelandic music is rarely found in his work, e.g. in the two “Icelandic Rhapsodies”, in which he combined melodies from Icelandic folklore into one piece of music.
The video shows the Icelandic pianist Nína Margrét Grímsdóttir (*1965) with Sveinbjörn Sveinbjörnsson’s “Minuet & Trio” from 1873, the first musical work composed by an Icelander. The recording was made in March 2011 at the Icelandic Music Museum in Kópavogur.