The American singer, actor and civil rights activist Paul LeRoy Robeson was born on 9 April 1898 in Princeton, New Jersey. He died in Philadelphia on 23 January 1976. April 2023 marks the 125th anniversary of his birth.
The son of a former slave, Robeson studied at Rutgers University and Columbia University, where, in addition to musical and academic success, he made a name for himself as a football player. From 1927 to 1939 he lived in London, where he became a convinced socialist under the influence of George Bernard Shaw, among others, and later a protagonist of the African-American civil rights movement.
Paul Robeson received his first role in a silent film as early as 1924. On Broadway he played “Othello” and with his bass singing voice he also made his breakthrough as a singer in the
Broadway musical “Show Boat” in 1932. Because of his political views, Paul Robeson’s passport was revoked during the McCarthy era, his records disappeared from the shops and his name was blacklisted, which was tantamount to a ban on performing in the United States. International committees then demanded freedom of travel for Robeson and organised “transnational concerts” over the telephone between the US and Europe. It was not until 1958 that he was allowed to leave the country again. He was celebrated at his performances in England and in the GDR and received several awards as the “embodiment of the ‘other’ America”.
One of Robeson’s most famous roles was the dock worker “Joe” in the musical “Show Boat”. He performed the role on stage and in the 1936 film version. Robeson’s rendition of the song “Ol’ Man River” is one of the most famous ever performed on Broadway.
50 years ago, on 24 March 1973, the British rock band Pink Floyd released the album “The Dark Side Of The Moon”. With more than 50 million copies sold, the concept album is one of the world’s best-selling music albums and became a long-running hit in the international album charts.
The German composer, organist, pianist and conductor Johann Baptist Joseph Maximilian Reger was born on 19 March 1873 in Brand in the Upper Palatinate. He died in Leipzig on 11 May 1916 at the age of 43. March 2023 marks the 150th anniversary of his birth.
Max Reger received music lessons at an early age and decided to become a musician in 1888 after attending the Bayreuth Festival. He studied in Sondershausen and Wiesbaden and obtained a position at the conservatory there as a teacher of piano and organ. In 1901 he moved to Munich, where he was very active as a composer and pianist and was appointed to the Royal Academy of Music in 1905. In 1907 he became university music director and professor at the Royal Conservatory in Leipzig. In addition to teaching in Leipzig, he was court conductor at the famous Meininger Hofkapelle from 1911 to 1914.
As a composer, Max Reger made significant achievements in the fields of chamber music, lied, choral and orchestral music. However, he became most famous for his compositions for the organ. His organ works were described by himself as technically very difficult and often require the use of all the technical possibilities of an organ. However, he is also considered the perfector of “chromatic polyphony”, which was once cultivated by his role model Johann Sebastian Bach.
The video shows the Polish organist Agnieszka Tarnawska in 2013 at the Great Organ of the St. Jakobi Church in Lübeck with Max Reger’s Choral Fantasy Op. 27 on Luther’s hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”.
The Italian opera singer Enrico Caruso was born in Naples on 25 February 1873. He died in his hometown on 2 August 1921 at the age of only 48. February 2023 marks the 150th anniversary of his birth.
Caruso, whose voice was already noticed as a boy in the church choir, made his opera debut at the age of 19. His breakthrough came five years later with the role of Federico in the world premiere of Francesco Cilea’s opera “L’Arlesiana” at the Teatro Lirico in Milan. Later he also took part in the world premieres of Umberto Giordano’s opera “Fedora”
and Giacomo Puccini’s “La fanciulla del West”. His repertoire comprised 67 roles including the most famous, Canio in Leoncavallo’s “Pagliacci” and “Radames” in Verdi’s “Aida”. He sang in Milan, Naples and London, but above all in New York City, where he still holds the record at the Metropolitan Opera with 863 appearances in 18 seasons.
In addition to his stage presence, Enrico Caruso’s work for the Victor Talking Machine Company was one of the decisive factors in the triumph of the record. Caruso recorded a total of 498 titles. These include opera arias as well as many popular songs such as Eduardo Di Capua’s song “O sole mio”, which he helped to make it world famous. The aria “Vesti la giubba” from the opera “Pagliacci”, recorded on 1 February 1904, was the recording industry’s first million-seller.
The video shows a shellac record with Enrico Caruso’s very first recording “E Lucevan Le Stelle” from Puccini’s opera “Tosca”. The recording was made on 11 April 1902 in Milan for G&T Records, a subsidiary of RCA Victor. At this first recording session, 10 titles were recorded, of which only one master each was made. Because of the unexpected success, the masters wore out very quickly, so that new masters had to be created from the records that were made. The record in the video is based on such a repressing, which was produced by G&T Records for the European market in the late 1940s.
The Spanish singer, flamenco dancer and actress María Dolores Flores Ruiz, who became known by her stage name Lola Flores, was born in Jerez de la Frontera on 21 January 1923. She died in Madrid on 16 May 1995. January 2023 will be the 100th anniversary of her birth.
Lola Flores began singing as a child at private parties and in small shows. She studied dance in Seville and got her first role in a show at the theatre in Jerez de la Frontera in 1939. A few years later she was successful in a casting for a film role. She subsequently perfected her “gypsy image”, with which she was successful until the 1950s. Together with the guitarist and singer Manolo Caracol and the businessman Adolfo Arenaza, she started the show “Zambra” in 1943 with Copla (Andalusian folklore) and Flamenco, which became a great theatrical and musical event and was performed for several years at the Teatro de la Zarzuela in Madrid. Until the 1970s, Lola Flores staged several more successful shows with which she also toured in Latin America and in Europe. By the 1980s, she had released 20 albums, appeared in around 30 films and was a guest on numerous television shows.
The video shows Lola Flores singing “La Zarzamora”, one of the hits from the show “Zambra”.
“Shchedryk” is a Ukrainian shchedrivka, or New Year’s song, known in English as “The Little Swallow”. It was arranged by composer and teacher Mykola Leontovych in 1916, and tells a story of a swallow flying into a household to sing of wealth that will come with the following spring. “Shchedryk” was originally sung on the night of January 13, New Year’s Eve in the Julian Calendar (December 31 Old Style), which is Shchedry Vechir. Early performances of the piece were made by students at Kyiv University.
“Shchedryk” was later adapted as an English Christmas carol, “Carol of the Bells”, by Peter J. Wilhousky following a performance of the original song by Alexander Koshetz’s Ukrainian National Chorus at Carnegie Hall on October 5, 1922. Wilhousky copyrighted and published his new lyrics (which were not based on the Ukrainian lyrics) in 1936, and the song became popular in the United States and Canada, where it became strongly associated with Christmas.
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.