March 6 2017. Ravel and more. The ever popular Maurice Ravel was born on March 7th of 1875. He’s a favorite both with performers (in our library we have about 150 recordings) and with listeners (for the different interpretations of La Valse more so than for any other of Ravel’s compositions). He started as a younger contemporary of Debussy, 13 years his senior, and lived into the era dominated by Stravinsky and Schoenberg. One of Ravel’s first serious pieces was Pavane pour une infante défunte (Pavane for a dead princess), a piano composition written in 1899 while he was still studying at the Paris Conservatory (his composition teacher was Gabriel Fauré). Here it is, played by the American pianist Bill-John Newbrough. In 1910 Ravel created an orchestral version, which can be heard as often as the original piano work. One of the Ravel’s last compositions was a song cycle Don Quichotte à Dulcinée, from 1932-33. It was written on the texts by the writer Paul Morand. Morand, born in 1888, was a good friend of Marcel Proust. Proust was half-Jewish, some of his friend were Jewish but some – anti-Dreyfusards and anti-Semites; unfortunately, Morand belonged to the latter group. In the late 1930s Morand became close to the anti-Semitic Action française, and later, during the War, to the Vichy government. Speaking of Proust, it’s interesting that he admired Debussy (he heard Pelléas et Mélisande several times on his Théâtrophone, an ingenious device that allowed the owner to listen to live opera or theatrical performances over the phone) but practically never mentioned Ravel. One explanation may be that Reynaldo Hahn, a noted composer and one of Proust’s closest friends, was rather critical of Ravel’s work. Here’s Chanson Romanesque from Don Quichotte with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. Karl Engel is on the piano.
When Mozart said that "Bach is the father, we are the children,” he didn’t mean Johann Sebastian Bach, he meant his second son, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. It may be surprising to us, but during Mozart’s time, C.P.E. Bach’s reputation was held in higher esteem than his father’s. Carl Philipp Emanuel, whose second name came from his godfather, Georg Philipp Telemann, was born on March 8th of 1714 in Weimar, where his father served as the organist and Konzertmeister at the court of dukes of Saxe-Weimar. From 1738 and for the following 30 years, Emanuel, as he was known to his contemporaries, served in Berlin at the court of Crown Prince Frederick of Prussia, who in 1740 was crowned as King Frederick II (the Great). Emanuel was allowed to leave in 1768 to succeed his godfather Telemann as music director in Hamburg. In 1769 Emanuel wrote The Israelites in the Desert, an oratorio considered to be his masterpiece. Five years later he wrote another oratorio, Die Auferstehung und Himmelfahrt Jesu (The Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus). The libretto was by one Karl Wilhelm Ramler written in 1760, and that same year the prolific Telemann used it for an oratorio of his own. C.P.E. Bach’s oratorio is not well known, at least not as well as his Israelites, which is a pity, as it is a marvelous piece. Here are the first seven episodes of Part I, from the Introduction to the wonderful soprano aria “Wie bang hat dich mein Lied beweint!” (How anxiously my song mourned for you). The ensemble Rheinische Kantorei is directed by Hermann Max, Martina Lins is the soprano.
Don Carlo Gesualdo, the Czech composer Josef Mysliveček, who lived at approximately the same time as C.P.E. Bach, Samuel Barber and Arthur Honegger were also born this week. We’ll have to write about them another time.
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