Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) was an Austrian composer. He has often been referred to as the the “Father of the Symphony” and the “Father of the String Quartet.” Haydn wrote about 104 symphonies and 80 string quartets. He also wrote music for the church, large scale works for orchestra, soloists, and choruses (such as masses and oratorios), and around 50 piano sonatas. It has been said that when he had an idea for a composition (whatever the instrumentation) he would sit down at the keyboard and improvise and work out musical ideas.
For over 30 years Haydn worked for the Esterhazy family. In 1790, Prince Nicolaus Esterhazy died. Haydn was invited to go to London, England by the impresario J.P. Salomon. It was only once he was out of the Esterhazy court and in London that Haydn received his first real recognition, and gratitude from people for all the fruits of his labour.
Works by Joseph Haydn and his brother Michael Haydn (also a composer) have been unjustly neglected and overshadowed by other composers such as W.A. Mozart.
Some of the music by Joseph Haydn and Michael Haydn is very interesting and in some ways better than some of W.A. Mozart’s music.
Here is a recording of two movements of a Haydn Piano Sonata played by the famous Russian pianist Vladimir Horowitz live in Carnegie Hall in 1966.
Horowitz plays Haydn (1):
Horowitz plays Haydn (2):
John Dowland (1563-1626) was an English composer and virtuoso lute player. During his lifetime he was known for his lute playing and singing voice.
Dowland was a prolific composer of great talent and originality. He wrote about 70 pieces for the solo lute and about 84 songs with lute accompaniment.
Dowland raised up the level of English song. In his best songs the mood and emotion of the verse is perfectly matched by the music. The intensity of the lute accompaniment to the melody, and the skill and virtuosity of the writing in the lute accompaniment is ahead of its time. In his best songs there are some wonderful biting discords in the harmony that Dowland uses to express profound emotion. Another interesting characteristic of Dowland’s music is that some of his songs are in major keys (people sometimes associate major keys with music that is happy) but they have a tinge of a melancholic mood to them.
Paul Agnew is a Scottish operatic tenor. He has worked with many early music ensembles such as the Tallis Scholars, Les Arts Florrisants, and the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir. In the early 1990s he decided to embark on a solo career. Paul Agnew has made many recordings for different labels.
Christopher Wilson is a well known British lutenist. He has made many recordings and has performed throughout Britain and around the world. Christopher has performed as a soloist, and collaborated with other musicians and ensembles such as Michael Chance, the viol ensemble Fretwork, and The HIlliard Ensemble.
Here is a YouTube link to a recording of Paul Agnew and Christopher Wilson performing John Dowland’s “Weep You No More Sad Fountains.”
Guillaume Lekeu (1870-1894) Was a Belgian composer. He was born in Heusy, Belgium (a small village in Belgium). It was there that Guillaume took his first music lessons in piano from the conductor of the local conservatory brass band, Alphonse Voss.
Lekeu’s family moved to Poitiers, France in 1879 and he continued to study music with his physics teacher. Under this teacher he learnt about the music of J.S. Bach and Beethoven.
He wrote his first composition when he was 15 years old.
Lekeu studied music composition with Cesar Franck and Vincent d’Indy (two very important composers).
Lekeu composed about 50 compositions. Unfortunately most of his works are incomplete. Among his most important compositions are a violin sonata (commissioned by the great violinist Eugene Ysaye), and an orchestral Fantasy. He also composed several works for piano.
Here is a beautiful recording of Lekeu’s Violin Sonata played by Jonathan Morton on violin, and Carole Presland on the piano. Enjoy!
The harp is a beautiful instrument that for some strange reason does not have much of a repertoire. Most pieces I have heard played on the harp were arrangements of piano music (Debussy’s Claire de Lune played on the harp is an example).
Here is a concerto written for the harp by the German composer, conductor, and pianist Carl Reinecke (1824-1910). It is quite a robust and joyful piece and the orchestral part supports the harp very well without overpowering it.
This is a recording done by Fabrice Pierre and the Swedish Chamber Orchestra conducted by Patrick Gallois. You can buy the recording on eMusic. Enjoy!
Ion Voicu (1923-1997) was a Romanian violinist and conductor. He is one of the world’s great violinists. In 1969 he founded the Bucharest Chamber Orchestra which is an internationally acclaimed ensemble. The list of conductors and musicians that Ion Voicu has performed with is incredible. Voicu was a very high level music pedagogue. He taught at many of the world’s leading music institutions. Ion Voicu made hundreds of recordings. Here is a recording of a piece played by Ion Voicu. This piece is quite a catchy tune. I was amazed how he played the piece as I am sure you will be as well.
Ion Voicu plays Hora mărțișorului.
Claude Debussy (1862-1918) was a French composer and pianist.
Debussy was an important figure in music history who broke away from the popular methods of musical composition in the 19th century. Debussy developed his own original concept of harmony and musical structure. According to Debussy, each piece of music was its own sound world and not something that should be bound by strict rules.
Here is a recording of a Nocturne for piano by Debussy.
If you like the recording of this piece you can buy it on eMusic or iTunes. You can also buy the complete cd which contains other piano works by Debussy including this piece.
Gerre Hancock (1934-2012) was an American organist, composer, and one of the great masters of improvisation on the organ.
Here is a recording of Gerre Hancock improvising on the organ. It is one of a series of nine improvisations that is part of a program called “Praise the Eternal Light.” The improvisations were inspired by the cathedral windows of the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Hartford Conneticut where Gerre played for these recordings.
The recording of the improvisations is available from the webstore at http://www.proorgano.com. Search for item #7233 and you will find it.
Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) was a Soviet Russian composer, pianist, and one of the most important musical figures of the 20th century. A lot of his music is dissonant, melancholy, and has elements of the grotesque about it. A lot of the grotesqueness in Shostakovich’s music is put in there on purpose to get back at Stalin and the communists which made Shostakovich’s life and millions of other people’s lives hell.
Despite all of the hardship that the composer experienced, he did compose some very beautiful music. The Prelude and Fugue in f sharp minor is quite beautiful.
Here is a recording of the Prelude and Fugue in f sharp minor by Dmitri Shostakovich. It is played by Tatiana Nikolayeva.
Here is a link to the website http://www.amazon.com where you can buy a recording of the complete preludes and fugues by Shostakovich played by Tatiana Nikoloyeva.
Willem de Fesch (1687-1761) was a Dutch composer and violone (a bass viol) virtuoso. He worked in Asterdam, was Kapellmeister (chapel master) of Antwerp Cathedral, and played the violone in Handel’s orchestra in London.
His works include oratorios, duets, trios, solo and trio sonatas, concertos and part songs.
Frans Brüggen is a recorder virtuoso, conductor, and early music specialist.
Gustave Leonhardt is a harpsichordist, organist, conductor and early music specialist.
Here is a clip of Frans Bruggen and Gustav Leonhardt playing a sonata by Willem de Fesch.
Eddie South (1904-1962) was a black American jazz violinist. He has been referred to as the “Black Angel” of the violin. Eddie was a child prodigy who was trained as a classical violinist. He later switched to jazz violin because there were more opportunities for black musicians in jazz than in classical music.
In the 1920s Eddie visited Europe and was influenced by Hungarian folk music and gypsy music that he heard. He later incorporated Hungarian music and gypsy music into his style of playing.
In the 1930s Eddie performed and made recordings with guitarist Django Reinhardt and violinist Stephane Grappelli of the Quintet of the Hot Club of France.
Here is a recording of Eddie South and Django Reinhardt playing “Somebody Loves Me.” The recording was made in Paris in 1937.
Eddie South (violin) and Django Reinhardt (guitar) :
You can find mp3 recordings of Django Reinhardt and Eddie South on the website http://www.Amazon.com. The piece ‘Somebody Loves Me’ is also on the cd Classics and Rarities: Django Reinhardt which can also be found on http://www.Amazon.com.