Sunday, May 29, 2011

TODAY IN OPERA HISTORY - May 29

Happy Birthday to little known opera composer, Isaac Albeniz, who was born in Spain on this day in 1860.

Today is also the birthday of one of the least known super-geniuses of music, Erich Korngold, who was born into a Jewish family in the old Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1897.  His most famous opera, Die Tote Stadt, was written when he was only 20 years old!  It was his third opera!  Anyway, it is beautiful, just listen to the first few minutes of the opera, can you believe how gorgeous it is?  This opera (The Dead City) was very popular in Germany after WWI, as it captured the feelings of deep grief as Germany lost millions and millions of people during the war.



The first of the "Russian Five", Mily Balakirev, died on this day in 1910.  He didn't compose any operas but he had a major influence on the other four of "The Five": Cesar Cui, Modest Mussorgsky, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, and Alexander Borodin - all of whom were prolific opera composers.  Balakirev brought the group together to try to make a new "Russian sound", one that was authentically Russian.  Balakirev hand picked "the Five" who in their own right are some of the greatest composers in history; he did not include Glinka nor Tchaikovsky - who in many ways were more famous and important to music history.  Glinka wasn't included because he was almost dead, and Tchaikovsky wasn't included because he favored the more traditional of Glinka's operas.  "The Five" generally liked Glinka's more radical operas.  And if you didn't already know, many people attribute the bad blood between Tchaikovsky and The Five to Tchaikovsky being gay...but there's not much evidence to this.  Nevertheless, Tchaikovsky got the last laugh, as his Nutcracker ballet and the 1812 overture are certainly two of the most famous pieces of music in all of music history.

The prolific teacher and little known opera composer, George Rochberg, died on this day in 2005.

Happy Birthday to Wisconsin (1848) and Rhode Island (1790).  Rhode Island has the distinction of being the only state in the US that hasn't had someone visit my blog!  That will surely change after I post this (fingers crossed).

Stravinsky's ballet, "The Rite of Spring" made its debut on this day in 1913.  It is likely the most famous music debut in all of history.  The sounds were so radical at the time that the crowd booed and stormed the stage.  Stravinsky escaped the riot unharmed, but this piece ended up being one of the most important pieces of music in all of history.  It lead the way to all kinds of crazy stuff in the 20th century.  Take a listen to the iconic beginning, I'm sure you've heard it before.  This was made famous in popular culture by Disney's Fantasia - make sure you at least watch several minutes until the iconic dance begins (you'll know it when you hear it - it's the volcano part in the film).



"White Christmas" was recorded on this day in 1940 by Bing Crosby.  It is the best-selling single of all time, selling over 50 million records.  Here is a clip of him singing it in the film "Holiday Inn", the film that the song was written for.



Famous French composer, Iannis Xenakis, was born on this day in 1922.  He didn't write any operas, but he's so famous that I had to mention him.

Happy Oak Apple Day to all the English!  It's a day of thanksgiving celebrating when the future Charles II of England escaped an invading army by hiding in an oak tree.  I suggest you all go out and break off a branch of oak to wear, in remembrance of Charles II heroic flight up the tree to hide, because if you don't, tradition says that kids will "pelt you with birds' eggs or thrash you with nettles".

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