THE TRAILBLAZERS

Musical fashion never stops churning out ever new styles, genres and forms. We will focus on the people at the forefront of musical progress, always breaking new ground and venturing onto unchartered territory… The learned encyclopedias all say that music is one of the ancient-most art forms that emerged at the very dawn of human civilization. But who can sing the hits once vocalized by Adam and Eve? Or strum melodies that once were popular among ancient Greeks and Romans? The earliest tunes on record are the so-called Gregorian chorals. In the 6th century AD Pope Gregory I ordered all religious chants to be allocated to certain days of the church calendar thus preserving their musical and performing manner more or less intact… Next to come along was medieval music committed to paper with the aid of notational symbols invented by Guido d’Arezzo, an Italian. What followed is something we call classical music… In Germany the countdown traditionally starts from the iconic Johann Sebastian Bach who, summing up his forerunners’ musical effort, moved way further becoming the best of the best, the greatest of the greats… Music was something that very much ran in J.S. Bach’s family. At the turn of the 18th century, the whole of Thuringia was literally teeming with organists, composers and violinist of that very same name. Bach’s sons were professional musicians too. Two of them, unlike their father, were hailed as “great” and “inimitable” already during their lifetime, while Johann Sebastian’s music drifted into a nearly centurylong oblivion only to make such a big comeback later on spreading all across the world and inspiring composers ever since… In Italy, finding such an undisputed point of departure is way harder. Looking at the opera department we could mention here Jacopo Peri whose 1601 effort, Daphne, revolutionized the genre. Unfortunately, Daphne didn’t live to this day, but Peri’s second opera, Eurydice, gained international acclaim, including here in Russia… Good as he was, however, Jacopo Peri still pales next to the seminal J.S. Bach. And also to his fellow countryman Claudio Monteverdi who made Italian opera a universally loved musical genre, his Coronation of Poppea and other operas are still touted as super classics today… As far as Italian instrumental music goes, Arcangelo Corelli is by far and without a doubt a major driving force, the author of a raft of dazzling music for violin and orchestra and the man who wrote the book on the technique of violin playing… Corelli spent most of his life in Rome at the service of some of the country’s most affluent and influential families which held him in very high esteem. Hailed by contemporaries as a “new Orpheus”, Corelli’s musical profusion inspired a wealth of suites, including The Apotheosis of Corelli French composer Francois Couperin wrote in 1724… In 1725 Francois Couperin penned The Apotheosis of Sully - a similar musical tribute to his famed countryman Jean-Batiste Lully who also features prominently on our “trailblazers” list. Jean-Batiste Lully, originally Giovanni Battista Lulli was an Italian-born French composer, who spent most of his life working in the court of Louis XIV of France. Born in Florence, either the son of a miller or a nobleman as Lully himself claimed, Lully had little education, musical or otherwise, but he had a natural talent to play the guitar and violin and to dance. In 1646, he was discovered by the Duke of Guise and taken to France by him, where he entered the services of Mademoiselle de Montpensier as a scullery-boy. With the help of this lady his musical talents were cultivated. Enlisting the assistance of his high-born patrons Lully then landed the job of a royal conductor and eventually moved on to become Louis XIV chief composer. The founding father of French opera and the unique synthetic genre of opera-ballet, the author of a plethora of choir music and symphonies, Jean Batiste Lully, who also pioneered the use of kettledrums in orchestra, a rare case of a classic hailed as such already during his lifetime, represents France in our “trailblazers” list…

England is very naturally represented by Henry Purcell, one of the leading names in baroque music. His earliest known compositions date back to the year 1680 when Purcell was only 20 years but his unique talent was already a hard fact no one could ignore. Nine years later he wrote Dido and Aeneas, a very important landmark in the history of English dramatic music that immortalized his name… There is another very important branch to be found on Europe’s musical tree – Franco-Flemish. This immediately brings to mind Josquin Despres who was one of the most influential and widely regarded composers in the history of Western music, so famous that he is known merely by his first name. All we know about this outstanding representative of the Dutch school of polyphony is that he lived between the 15th and 16th centuries, was a chorister in Milan and Rome, was a well traveled man and retired to Conde in Northeast France late in his life. Josquin’s influential contrapuntal experimentation and structural refinement lead many people to consider him the greatest composer in the history of Western music whose compositions are still a pleasure to listen to in the 21st century… And now let’s move to 18th century Austria to meet Joseph Haydn. The son of a carriage-maker, Haydn was endowed with a unique voice which won him a ticket to the enchanting world of music… A lifelong resident of Austria, Haydn spent most of his career as a court musician for the wealthy Esterhazy family on their remote estate where he conducted a house orchestra and composed just about everything his patron wanted to hear, from songs to operas and symphonies of which he had penned a staggering 104 and which made him so famous everywhere. Joseph Haydn revolutionized the entire genre of symphony music determining the exact number of parts and the orchestral lineup – blazing a new trail which was later treaded by the likes of Mozart, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and Mahler… The 19th century ushered in an all-new musical style – Romanticism, pioneered by Franz Schubert. The self-effacing schoolteacher-turned-composer would have surely been surprised to find himself so high up the world musical hierarchy… Franz Schubert had only one solo concert played in his whole life. When the audience went up to their feet applauding the author of those wonderful melodies, Schubert never ventured on stage because he didn’t think he was dressed well enough for the occasion… The era of Romanticism brought about a resurgence of European music with very loud folk overtones. “It is the people who write the music. We, composers, only arrange it,” said Mikhail Glinka, who is traditionally regarded as the father figure of Russian classical music. There were composers in Russia well before Mikhail Glinka came along of course, but none of them could speak the Russian musical language the way Glinka did. Moreover, Glinka created the Russian opera and the 1836 premiere of his opera “A Life for the Czar” went down in the history of Russian music… From Russia we are now moving west to Poland where Frederic Chopin ruled supreme… A refined Romantic famous for his poetic pianism, Chopin had spent many years in France where, rising to international stardom, he still craved the pristine melodic beauty of his native Poland, the refined rhythmic patterns of mazurka and the polonaise arranging these traditional Polish dances into piano pieces which were as elegant as they were nostalgic… Frederic Chopin left behind a slew of new musical genres and forms and his vast array of innovations in keyboard technique and overall development remain unrivalled. He made the commonplace etudes, once seen as just exercises in playing technique, into flashy concert pieces. And the preludes which had traditionally served as musical introductions - into complete musical miniatures… And now our focus shifts to Ferenz Liszt who is rightfully touted as the founding father of Hungarian classical music. The son of a steward in the service of the Esterh?zy family, patrons of Haydn, he displayed phenomenal musical abilities very early on and, just like Chopin, reflected in his music the folk traditions and the very soul of his native Hungarian people. His “Hungarian Rhapsodies” are probably the best thing Liszt ever wrote, a shining tribute to the classical pianistic idiom… A man of bubbling energy, Ferenz Liszt also laid the seeds for a series of national schools that would flourish in the near and distant future. He was always on the lookout for everything new and unordinary, helping young talents, including the much-talented Czech Bedrich Smetana… The son of a brewer and amateur musician, Smetana started playing the violin

already at age four and wrote his first composition as an 8-year-old boy. Those were mostly piano imitations of Chopin’s music though… Developing a strong interest in foreign music, Bedrich Smetana, already an acclaimed musician and conductor, spent much time popularizing Russian music, particularly that of Mikhail Glinka. Smetana is best known for his two masterpieces, “The Bartered Bride” opera and the symphonic poem “Vltava”, a stirring musical tribute to one of the Czech Republic’s most beautiful rivers the Czech capital Prague stands on… And we are now moving north to Norway where a very excellent music school came along in the mid-19th century fathered by Edvard Grieg… In 1865 Edvard Grieg, then 22, set up a union of young Scandinavian musicians in Copenhagen. It was only the beginning of a vast educational effort by the muchtalented Norwegian composer who later conducted the national symphony orchestra and presided over the Norwegian Music Society. Eventually becoming one of Europe’s leading music authorities, Edvard Grieg received a wealth of national and international distinctions including that of an Honorary Doctor of Cambridge University... Edvard Grieg drew much inspiration from the ancient legends and folk songs of his native Norway. “I was dipping deep into the treasure trove of Norwegian folk melodies trying to create national art from the crystal-clean water of our people’s soul…” he wrote. The 19th century witnessed the entry of a plethora of new schools of music composition with talented professionals coming along everywhere blending tried-andtrue European classical traditions with folk traditions of their own countries. After remembering the first classics of Russia, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Norway let’s broaden our perspective and move north to Finland… Finland has from time immemorial been known for its stirring Kalevala epic, the singing cantele and the beautiful and mostly sad, songs. And the first big composer to speak the Finnish musical language was Jean Sibelius. Born in 1865, Sibelius eventually became a symbol of his country, his name since given to numerous concert halls and music schools, an international competition and a music festival. A living legend, Sibelius was widely admired both in and out of his home country. In his later years he either presided over or participated in all major national and international music events, which left him little time to write music. “New music is absolutely out of the question. I work as a national classic, you know,” Sibelius joked. As a young man Sibelius tried his hand in many musical styles only to find out that symphonies were apparently his cup of tea, especially the enthrallingly beautiful Violin Concerto which has so much flash to it and has since been played by nearly each and every performing violinist everywhere… Well, while Jean Sibelius saw himself as a trailblazer, his Spanish contemporaries could just as well compare themselves to restorers of traditional Spanish music, one of the oldest in Europe and which gave the world such wonderful things as castanets, Flamenco, the Saraband, Chaconne, Habanera and Bolero… And still, up until the 19th century Spain didn’t have a single world class composer. The first to come along was Isaac Albenis who launched the so-called “Renacimiente” movement to bring back the half-forgotten traditions of authentic Spanish music. A musical wizkid from the start, Isaac Albenis stepped out on stage at the still tender age of four, and six years later he was already playing concerts all across the nation. Once, sick and tired of parental tutelage, he stowed away, aged 9, on a ship bound for Argentina. To buy himself a trip back home, Isaac had to spend days and nights playing piano at portside joints… Back in Europe Albenis went on to learn a lot of useful things from such big-time mentors as the great pianist and composer Ferenz Liszt who helped him find his way in music and open a new chapter in Spanish music focusing more on the beauty of his native land. From Europe we are now segueing to America where the iconic George Gershwin once crossed classical music with jazz which he called America’s lifeblood… George Gershwin never received any formal music education he dreamed about from an early age and, even a seasoned composer, he was never shy to ask for a bit of expert advice from such luminaries as Ravel and Stravinsky. Only to hear them chuckle and say it just made no sense emulating either by someone as unique as George Gershwin…” Gershwin was by right admired by many because he worked a miracle making jazz an art form and calling Cinderella a Princess… From the United States we are now moving down to Latin America, namely to Brazil,

the home country of one of the most celebrated South American composers in the history of music - Heitor Villa-Lobos. Taking his first cello lessons from his father, an amateur musician, Heitor later joined a traveling band as a 16-year-old guitarist. He learned composition himself and at the age of 35 came to Paris to hone his skills with the greats… Heitor Villa-Lobos is to Brazilians what Edvard Grieg is to Norwegians or Jean Sibelius is to the Finns. He set up a flurry of orchestras, choirs and music schools, inaugurated new concert halls and fathered a special system of music education for children. As a composer, Villa-Lobos is often compared to his beloved J.S. Bach – both of them left behind more than a thousand compositions! And we can’t but remember the prominent Argentine composer ?stor Piazzolla, touted far and wide as the most important tango composer of the 20th century. Upon introducing his new approach to the tango (nuevo tango), he became a controversial figure among Argentines both musically and politically. The Argentine saying "in Argentina everything may change - except the tango" suggests some of the resistance he found in his native land… However, his music gained acceptance in Europe and North America and his reworking of the tango was eventually embraced by some liberal segments of Argentine society. ?stor Piazzolla has since been one of the most played composers around… The 20th century ushered in a slew of musical genres and styles, the most refined of them all being Impressionism, a tell-all name which required no explanation really… It all started with the painters wishing to capture the fleeting moment, the soft semitones and melting colors. The term Impressionism was coined by French painter Auguste Renoir and was later taken up by composer Claude Debussy who was so good at weaving fancy musical tableaux of sunlight and air. Debussy is by right considered a father figure of musical Impressionism. Claude Debussy never liked the idea of being called such though. “I’m creating new realities and these stupid critics call me an Impressionist,” he fumed. But even a quick listen to his elaborate harmonies and blurred melodies will inevitably make you agree with the critics who compared Debussy with Monet, Renoir and Pissarro… The turn of the 20th century also witnessed the arrival of Expressionism – a trend directly opposite to Impressionism which is all about emotional overkill and exaltation… Richard Wagner once dabbled at this kind of music but the Expressionist style came to its full flower in the music written by Richard Strauss and Alexander Scriabin, the author of the famous Poem of Ecstasy. That was a powerful outburst of energy asserting the author’s right to exist! Expressionism struck a loud chord also in the prominent Austrian composer and painter Arnold Schonberg whose penchant for this style came from his painting background…. And still, Schoenberg has more to do with what came to be known as dodecaphony – an avant-garde Twelve-tone technique where all twelve notes of the chromatic scale are treated as equals and arranged in a particular order of the composer's choice, without repeating any of the notes. Here, unlike in classical music, the keynote was missing, along with all customary rules of melodic construction. Melody itself was seen here as something obsolete… Other composers then latched on, resulting in a whole new school dubbed as the New Vienna schools as opposed to the Old Vienna one Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven represented at the turn of the 19th century. The proponents of the New School had nothing to do with the high-brow classics in powdered wigs of old whose dictums they were out to destroy to blaze new trails and build something absolutely unheard of before… Tired by an era of dissonant chords and hard-to-memorize melodies musicians now craved for silence and harmony. Enter the era of Neoclassicism… Schoenberg and Debussy were trying their hand in the new style but certainly not so eagerly as the up-and-coming Sergei Prokofiev was in Russia… “If Haydn had lived to this day he would have retained his writing manner and, at the same time, would have acquired something new,” Prokofiev said shortly after his First Symphony came out. “That’s exactly the kind of a classical symphony I wanted to write. When I saw it was working out, I called it just that - “Classical”. First, because it’s easy and secondly, out of mischief, to have the bear by the tail in the hope that it would some day become a classic…” the composer added. Each of the musical styles dominant in the 20th century had its leaders and followers, but many of them kept moving from style to style eager to taste “all the summer’s pride” and leave a trace in musical history…

Above all Igor Stravinsky who was called a composer of a thousand styles. A true innovator, he was always a step ahead of the time blazing new trails and experimenting with sound, form and tone… A pinnacle of 20th century music, Stravinsky’s music is still going strong today because, apart from its experimental nature, it has such a powerful ethical impact… Igor Stravinsky is by right touted as an all-time classic and a trailblazer… In the late-20th century music was developing in several directions making maximum use of technological progress, venturing into the realm of electronics and tape-machine technology. Cinema with its quick changes of frames and views was having a strong impact on the composers... Pristine folk music was making a strong comeback against the general avant-garde backcloth. Rodion Shchedrin was at the forefront of this new trend in Russia

07.18.2006

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