Saturday, 30 April 2016



The average present-day classical music enthusiast is almost certain to have a favorite genre, period, language and composer that stands exceedingly tall amongst all others in their personal catalogue of collected works of Classical Music.

The never-ending argument over which nation produced the "best," most impacting and effective music is a debate as old as the history of Western Classical Music itself. From composer to fanatic, royal patron to chastising critic, it seems everyone had a dog in the fight to have their respective nations considered at the forefront of musical ingenuity.

In a new segment I am calling “A Europe Divided,” I will take the reader back in time, re-visiting 17th to 20th century musical Europe, taking a peek at the real feelings of composers regarding their contemporary neighbors across the continent as each nation competes to make their own unique style known and claim their home country[1] the Mecca of Classical Music.

Each entry is in the form of extracted portions from the private correspondence of each maestro.
Today’s inaugural post pits Italy against France, with Italy taking the victory.

*Words highlighted in brown are reflective of the composers' own inflections contained within their respective letters.

Stay tuned to to read France’s expert rebuttal!


Our first extract comes from 19th century Romantic composer Giuseppe Verdi. Written at Genoa in December of 1869, the Italian master of the Opera offers to the director of the Paris Opéra, Camille du Locle, his two cents on the possibility of residing in and composing for France:

“I know perfectly well that success is impossible for me if I cannot write as my heart dictates, free of any outside influence whatsoever, without having to keep in mind I am writing for Paris and not for the inhabitants of, say, the moon…I’m no composer for Paris…my ideas of art are too different from those held in your country. I believe in inspiration: you people believe in construction…I desire the enthusiasm you lack, in feeling and judging. I strive for art, in whatever form it may appear, but never for the amusement, artifice, or system you prefer…I have reason enough to say that my ideas are completely different from yours, and still more: my backbone isn’t pliable enough for me to give way and deny my convictions, which are profound and deeply rooted in me.”

-Giuseppe Verdi, Dec 7, 1869 Genoa to French librettist and director of the Paris Opéra regarding the French style, and composing for France.

Bella Figlia dell’amore, Rigoletto; Giuseppe Verdi

Our second extract comes from the pen of 18th century Classical era Composer Christoph Willibald Gluck, and is interpreted from a modern perspective. At first glance, Gluck's letter appears to praise the French style over that of Italy, however from the hindsight offered by that most revealing of all perspectives, posterity, we will soon discover a possible motive for the composer's otherwise feigned praise.*

Wednesday, 27 April 2016


The highly erudite "Other
Inquisitions 1937-1952"
Today's very apt Quote of the Day comes to us from one of my all-time favorite writers, the Argentine poet, short-story writer and essayist Jorge Luis Borges, from his essay The Wall and the Books, published in the excellent compilation Other Inquistions 1937-1952:

"Music, states of happiness, mythology, faces belabored by time, certain twilights and certain places try to tell us something, or have said something we should not have missed, or are about to say something; this imminence of a revelation which does not occur is, perhaps, the aesthetic phenomenon."

-Jorge Luis Borges, The Wall and Books, 1950; Otras Inquisiciones, 1937-1952

Suggested Reading:


    Louis Niedermeyer
    Today’s featured "aria" comes to us from 19th century Swiss-born French composer Louis Niedermeyer, who was born 214 years ago today on April 27, 1802.

    Niedermeyer was known as a sometime-opera, full time church music composer who doubled as maestro of the École Choron (which he would rebrand after his surname) – a school specializing in the study and practice of church music.

    Niedermeyer’s chief success would come in the form of composing both sacred and secular music after several attempts at seeking fame through the composition of operas, which, with the exception of his inaugural work Il reo per amore, staged at Naples in 1820 failed to yield any significant profit or critical praise.[1]

    Listen below to the sacred aria di chiesa (church song) Pietà, Signore, a merciful plea of sinner to Lord commonly thought by modern classical music scholars to be the work of Louis Niedermeyer.

    Sung by tenor Luciano Pavarotti:

    Also sharing a birthday today is the 19th century German composer Friedrich von Flowtow of Martha fame, who was born the 27th of April 1812:

    Ach, so Fromm, from Friedrich von Flowtow's opera Martha. Sung by tenor Jonas Kaufmann.

    [1]Niedermeyer’s brief foray into the world of opera composition was spurned on by one Gioachino Rossini. The Swiss-born Frenchman would later contribute to Rossini’s pastiche Robert Bruce by way of providing to the Italian composer the French libretto for the work.


    Tuesday, 26 April 2016


    The "missing leaf" - University of Cambridge Archives
    Formerly elusive music from the Middle Ages has recently experienced a “rebirth” at England’s University of Cambridge. The three-piece early music ensemble Sequentia, alongside the University’s Senior Lecturer of Music Dr. Sam Barrett performed before a group of lucky patrons and music fans Saturday at Pembroke College Chapel a selection of songs set to the poetic verses of the Roman philosopher Anicius Manlius Severinus Boëthius (Boethius, c. 480–524 AD)’s Consolation of Philosophy.

    The concert is a result of 20 years of extensive research headed by Barrett to uncover the complex melodies and techniques employed by classical musicians over a millennium ago, who relied on “aural traditions” of music and an ancient notation system known as “neumes” (symbols representing notation, used in the middle ages)[1] and is notable because the music presented to the public had been previously thought un-interpretable due to the generational tradition of aural coachings on how to correctly structure the melodies for such early music died out over time.

    Roman Philosopher Boethius
    It would not be until late in the 20th century that a chance discovery by historian Margaret Gibson, who stumbled upon a “single leaf” of a Boethius manuscript contained within the collected archives of a library at Frankfurt in 1982, that researchers discovered the excerpt to have been the missing piece of a puzzle of ancient Latin texts known as “The Cambridge Songs” – an anthology dating from the first half of the 11th century AD – that had been rendered incomplete following an unfortunate “accidental theft” by a Germanic scholar who had torn out a single leaf  from the manuscript in the mid 19th century.

    Barrett, one of the chief researchers who worked on securing for the University the lost relic, has, alongside various experts in the field of early music, spent the last two decades drawing on important notations marked on the formerly elusive leaf alongside extensive study of known traditions of early music and has ‘reconstructed’ for the modern-day melophile what is believed to be the closest interpretation of this hitherto most ambiguous music of the middle ages.

    Listen below to two excerpts from Saturday (April 23rd’s) historic performance:

    Carmina qui quondam - Boethius, Consolation of Philosophy I:1               Heu quam praecipiti - Boethius, Consolation of Philosophy I:2                  

    Learn more about this discovery:

    • Roman Philosopher Boethius: Life and Works (Wikipedia)
    • The Consolation of Philosophy as it relates to this performance: (Smithsonian)


    [1]Today, neumatic notation is employed solely for Gregorian plainchant for the liturgical purposes of the Roman Catholic Church.


    Monday, 25 April 2016


    Today’s Quote of the Day comes to us from 19th century German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer:

    “The inexpressible depth of all music, by virtue of which it floats past us as a paradise quite familiar and yet eternally remote, and is so easy to understand and yet so inexplicable, is due to the fact that it reproduces all the emotions of our innermost being, but entirely without reality and remote from it’s pain…”

    -Arthur Schopenhauer, from "The World as Will and Representation"




    Listen below to my most beloved of
    all arias, Liebestod
    Enjoy below the very much Schopenhauer-inspired masterpiece "Liebestod" ("Love-Death"), by 19th century Romantic composer and maestro, Richard Wagner, from his epic opera Tristan und Isolde (Tristan and Isolde), as sung by soprano Margaret Price under the perfected baton of conductor Carlos Kleiber.

    The breathtakingly exquisite, highly emotionally charged "Liebestod," in particular Price's version under my most beloved maestro Carlos Kleiber is this author's hands down, all time favorite aria. It simply doesn't get more beautiful, more sensual - more perfect - than this:

    Did you know?

    Welsh soprano Dame Margaret Price offered a fresh
    take on the role of Isolde, historically reserved for a
    more dramatic soprano. Maestro Carlos Kleiber took
    a chance with casting Price for the role and what
    resulted from this most glorious collaboration was
    the most perfect album of all time:* Richard Wagner's
    "Tristan und Isolde" as conducted by maestro Carlos
    Kleiber; Deutsche Grammophon,1982 (*according to
    the author of this blog!)
    As ethereally gorgeous as Kleiber's recording of Tristan is (if you ask me, even more so than the conductors' much lauded performance in 1974 at Bayreuth with Swedish dramatic soprano Catarina Ligendza in the role of Isolde), the finished product - in it's current state - was never supposed to see the light of day had Kleiber gotten his way.

    The ever selective perfectionist Carlos Kleiber was not at all thrilled with the release by record label Deutsche Grammophon of his in-studio recording of Tristan, which was gifted unto the fans of the conductor entirely without the maestro’s endorsement.

    Although to my taste, and to the taste of very many an admirer of Kleiber (and Price), the recording is unfalteringly sublime - the opera, which in this instance was not performed on stage but rather within the confines of a recording studio - was pieced together by musical engineers who selected only the best “cuts” to make the appearance of a seamless whole.

    Kleiber was reportedly so outraged at the release of the album - which, from the perspective of Carlos was little more than a selection of rehearsal audio - he threatened in 1982 to never again set foot in a recording studio!



    “Qui finisce l'opera, perché a questo punto il maestro è morto."

    ("Here the opera ends, for it is at this point the maestro died.")


    -Arturo Toscanini, 25th of April, 1926, Teatro alla Scala, Milan

    Exactly 90 years ago today at the La Scala Theater in Milan, Italy, world renowned conductor Arturo Toscanini mournfully and abruptly lowered his baton mid-stroke at the 1926 premiere of Italian composer Giacomo Puccini’s tragic[1] opera Turandot, turned to face the audience, and informed the well manicured patrons that here the opera – and in effect the evening itself – would conclude, for it was here that the "maestro” Puccini “laid down his pen.”

    The entire attending audience, of course, knew whereof Toscanini spoke. The fans and patrons of Puccini knew of the close relationship between conductor and composer, and knew of the beloved musicians death only less than two years prior in November of 1924 of a massive heart attack – a complication of the radiation therapy the composer had undergone to treat his throat cancer.

    Instead of a jeering mob or full-blown riot at having been shafted for the full priced fare for less than a full performance, the mournful conductor – and indeed the spirit of Puccini himself - was met first with a very emotional silence – perhaps in reflection of their beloved departed musician, or perhaps in a bewildered showing of sympathy for the friend left behind now towering over the crowd from his exalted place at the podium. The emotionally wracked conductor was then met with a showering of encouragemental praise: shouts of “Viva Puccini!” (“long live Puccini!”) echoed though the theater amongst the vibrating current of thunderous applause.

    Giacomo Puccini
    Puccini’s three-act opera, set in distant Peking, China, had been all but composed save for a final duet in the third act, in which Princess Turandot, the seductive vigilante responsible for massacring any and all potential suitors to her heart relents to a rather macabre wedding pact and the marriage of a princely victor named “Love."

    Throughout the opera's first and second acts, the audience is introduced to the vengeful princess, who we soon learn believes herself to be possessed of a murdered ancestress, Lo-u-Ling, who ruled as Princess until being sexually violated and made slain by a “foreign prince.” Seeking to avenge her relative’s violent end, the Princess Turandot declares an oath upon potential suitors – all of them foreign princes - seeking her hand in marriage: either answer correctly from three riddles presented by the Princess, or lose your head. As the opera progresses, we learn that up until the present moment, no prince had ever escaped the chopping block. Unbeknownst to Turandot, a young prince (Calaf) espies the princesses’ great beauty from his place in the crowd, all of whom had gathered to witness the execution of the Prince of Persia, Turandot’s latest victim. Instead of feeling a sense of vitriol at the cruel nature of the Princess, who shuns even the protestations of her father (who wants nothing to do with the oath or the executions), Prince Calaf falls hopelessly in love with the royal femme fatale.

    After several failed attempts at dissuading the courtly advances of the Prince - not only by the Emperor’s ministers, but also by Timur, a dispossessed and deposed former King (who just so happens to be the estranged father of the prince) and his slave, a young lady by the name of Liu (both of whom also happen to be present in the crowd to witness the execution), Calaf rushes by those warning him of a certain death, picks up a hammer, and bangs the royal gong three times – signaling to the Princess that he was ready, willing and able to take on Turandot’s three-riddle challenge in a most confident attempt to make her an honest woman.

    The prince is met with three puzzling “enigmas:”

    • What is born each night, only to perish in the day?

      To which the Prince correctly answers “it is Hope!”

    • What flickers like a flame - yet is not a flame?
    To which the Prince correctly answers “it is Blood!”

    And finally,
    • What is like ice, yet casts off fire?
    Which, to the astonishment of the Princess and the crowd, who had assembled to witness fresh blood, the Prince answers correctly with the name of his innamorata:


    Horrified, the Princess begs her father to null and void her very own pact without avail. In the crowd, the slave-girl Liu bursts into hysterics, for, after professing her love for the prince in a failed attempt to foil his plans to take on the challenge begin with, the broken hearted servant must reconcile the fact that the object of her affection would be fixed permanently outside of her grasp - one way or the other.

    Moved by the fear instilled in Turandot, and spurned on by a sense of confidence, Calaf offers the princess an out – having kept his identity a secret as he sought exile due to his father’s throne being usurped, the Prince issues a challenge of his own: guess my name before dawn, and I will die. The princess reluctantly agrees, certain her efforts to uncover her mysterious Romeo’s identity will prove fruitful. All of the commotion becomes too much for the mournful Liu, who grabs a dagger from the waist of a guard and stabs herself to death before he prince and princess – but not before informing Turandot that she will soon “learn of love.” Believing Liu had sacrificed herself so that Turandot could “find love” in the prince, Calaf turns to the Princess, and, after having admonished her for her cruelty, engages her in a passionate kiss.

    It is here that the composer Puccini “set down his pen” – that is, he expired: dying before completing the orchestrations for the finale in the third act. This is also where Toscanini laid down his baton and where the occupants of La Scala exited the theater 90 years ago today.

    Composer Franco Alfano
    Puccini was well aware that he would pass before completing the orchestrations for the remainder of the third act. A plan was devised to have fellow composer Franco Alfano complete the work by drawing on the many sketches Puccini had left behind.

    In Alfano’s version, Calaf, after having kissed Turandot and confessed his identity to the Princess, awaits his fate. Suddenly finding herself overcome with emotion and humbled by the prince’s fateful admission, Turandot confesses her affection for the prince before her father, and informs him that she has indeed “learned of love,” informing the emperor she had discovered the identity of the evasive prince: “his name is Love.” This scene alone creates for Puccini’s Turandot an entirely different genre: an otherwise morbid opera with a happy ending.

    Perhaps Puccini had an instinctive foresight into the most impacting, emotionally charged ending for Turandot – for where both pen and baton stop, the tragedy of Liu, the rage of the princess, and the uncertainty of the prince culminate to create for the viewer a feeling of unfinished business and of loss – a mournful ending to echo the tragic finale of a master composer.

    Listen below to "Tu che di gel sei cinta" (“You! Who are enclosed in ice”), the slave-girl Piu’s final aria sung to the princess Turandot, in which the brokenhearted servant and object of the princes unrequited love informs the Princess she will soon “learn of Love” as she offers to Turandot the “sacrifice” of her affections by committing suicide. It would be after this shocking scene that the maestro Puccini “laid down his pen” and died, and here that Toscanini lowered his baton. Sung by Greek-American soprano Maria Callas:

    [1] Puccini’s unfinished version. The completed version of Turandot, by composer Franco Alfano in 1926 presents to the audience an opera with a happy ending.

    Did you know?

    Turandot’s most famous aria, the tenor show-off piece “Nessun Dorma!” from the operas third act (scene I) has become somewhat of a standalone piece in the West and has quite recently seen a resurgence of popularity thanks to present-day vocal contests, such as Fremantle Media's popular series “Britain's / America's Got Talent.”

    While many a classical layman felt themselves moved to tears by the beautifully melodic piece, the aria’s foreboding and rather macabre subject matter would continue to be ignored by the contestants introducing the lugubrious show-off piece to the audience and judges, many of whom were hearing Nessun Dorma! for the first time.

    The backstory of this most popular piece depicts a pensive Prince Calaf, who, while hopeful of a successful outcome come dawn, remains highly aware of his own mortality as he repeats the murderous Princesses' demand “No one sleeps!” – not until the Princess and her goons torture the Prince’s aging father and his slave into revealing the identity of Calaf, which would secure for Turandot his head on the chopping block. Failing to uncover the mystery of the Prince's given name will result in the slaughter of those in the Princesses' inner circle and indeed, the entire city of Peking, whose inhabitants - forced to spend the night awake as sleuths in the service of the Princess - face the prospect of paying for their incompetence with their lives in what could only be described as a potential bloodbath of epic proportions.

    The prince belts out this highly emotive tune as all of the citizens of Peking band together to uncover Calaf’s secret identity to ensure for him a speedy execution (as per his pact with the Princess).

    Listen below to “Nessun Dorma!’ (No One Sleeps!”) from Act III, Scene I of Giacomo Puccini’s Turandot, as sung by tenor Plácido Domingo:


    Sunday, 24 April 2016

    QUOTE OF THE DAY: April 24, 2016

    Today’s Quote of the Day comes to us from 19th century German Romantic composer Felix Mendelssohn in the form of an excerpt from a private correspondence of the composer to French dilettante Marc-André Souchay, dated the 15th of October, 1841 at Berlin:

    “…there is so much talk about music, and yet so little is said.
    For my part, I believe that words do not suffice for such a purpose,
    and if I found they did suffice I would finally have nothing more to do with music.”

    -Felix Mendelssohn

    Enjoy below the beautifully melodic catavina "Sei getreu bis in den Tod" (“Be Thou Faithful Unto Death”) from Felix Mendelssohn’s 36th Opus (No. 40): the 1836 oratorio Paulus, which borrows text from the Biblical Book of Revelation verse 2:10 "Sei getreu bis in den Tod, so will ich dir die krone des lebens geben” (“be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.”) For full text and sheet music click here.  Sung by tenor Peter Schreier.


    Saturday, 23 April 2016

    TRIVIA & HUMOR (Fun Opera Facts part IV) Feat. DID YOU KNOW?

    It’s time for another installment of Mayhem Behind the Music: TRIVIA & HUMOR!

    Let’s dive right in with a delightfully drôle exchange between 19th century Italian Composer Giuseppe Verdi and his publisher, one Giulio Riccordi after having received a chastising note from one very disgruntled fan.


    It would be following two performances of Verdi’s Aida in 1872 that an outraged musical connoisseur by the name of Prospero Bertani would pen a scathing letter to the composer, professing his distaste for the work and demanding the proprietor of such filth reimburse him - not only for the value of the ticket – but also for his traveling expenses and a self-described “disgustingly bad dinner!"

    Apparently, Verdi found this reaction rather comical,[1] as we will see in this humorous exchange between composer and publisher Giulio Riccordi (to whom Verdi had forwarded the hate-mail):

    Verdi’s Instructions to his publisher:

    "St. Agata, 10 May 1872

    Dear Giulio,

    Yesterday I received from Reggio a letter which is so amusing that I am sending it to you, asking you to carry out the commission I am about to give you. Here is the letter:

    Reggio, 7 May 1872

    Much honored Signor Verdi,

    On the second of this month, attracted by the sensation your opera Aida was making, I went to Parma. Half an hour before the performance began I was already in my seat, No. 120. I admired the scenery, listened with great pleasure to the excellent singers, and took great pains to let nothing escape me. After the performance was over, I asked myself whether I was satisfied. The answer was in the negative. I returned to Reggio and, on the way back in the railroad carriage, I listened to the verdicts of my fellow travelers. Nearly all of them agreed that Aida was a work of the highest rank.

    Thereupon I conceived a desire to hear it again, and so on the forth I returned to Parma. I made the most desperate efforts to obtain a reserved seat, and there was such a crowd that I had to spend 5 lire to see the performance in comfort.

    I came to the following conclusion: the opera contains absolutely nothing thrilling or electrifying, and if it were not for the magnificent scenery, the audience would not sit through it to the end. It will fill the theatre a few more times and then gather dust in the archives. Now, my dear Signor Verdi, you can imagine my regret at having spent 32 lire for these two performances. Add to this the aggravating circumstance that I am dependent on my family, and you will understand that his money preys on my mind like a terrible specter. Therefore I address myself frankly and openly to you so that you may send me this sum. Here is the account:

    Railroad, going: 2.60
    Railroad, returning: 3.30
    Theatre: 8.00
    Disgustingly bad dinner: 2.00

    Twice: 15.90

    Total: 31.80

    In the hope that you will extricate me from this dilemma,

    I am yours sincerely,


    My address: Bertani, Prospero; Via St. Domenico, No. 5.

    Imagine, if to protect a child of a family from the horrible specters that disturb his peace, I should not be disposed to pay that little bill he has brought to my attention! Therefore by means of your representative or a bank, please reimburse 27.80 lire in my name to this Signor Prospero Bertani, 5 Via St. Domenico. This isn't the entire sum for which asks me, but... to pay for his dinner too! No. He could very well have eaten at home!!! Of course he will send you a receipt for that sum and a note, by which he promises never again to go to hear my new operas, to avoid for himself the danger of other specters and for me the farce of paying him for another trip [...]”
    The hilarious back-and-forth continues between composer and publisher as Riccordi, also very much amused, sends for a “correspondent” to pay the sum “owed” to the disgruntled fan. Riccordi happily informs Verdi of a delightful exchange between correspondent and Mr. Bertani in which the comical critic informs the messenger:
    “If Maestro Verdi reimburses me, this means that he has found what I wrote him to be correct...”
    The whimsical communiqué concludes with a promissory contract by Bertani to Verdi, in which he agrees to
    “…undertake no trip to hear any of the Maestro's new operas in the future, unless he takes all the expenses upon himself, whatever my opinion of his work may be.”

    Now that is what I call comedy gold!


    [1] So amused were Verdi and Riccordi at this most unusual exchange, composer and publisher would forward the letter to the local newspapers, wherein fan and foe alike could regale upon the fate of Aida as according to Mr Bertani in a true exchange of rag-piece for rag-piece!


    This 19th century German composer left behind a remarkable legacy as one of the greatest composers to have ever walked the face of the earth. Revered even in contemporary times as an innovative genius (renowned conductor Hans von Bülow would famously “create” the group of the "Three Bs" - a collective gathering of composers par excellence for the classical enthusiast - which also included Johann Sebastian Bach and Ludwig van Beethoven).

    What Brahms didn’t leave behind was a legal will.  It was Brahms’ intention to donate his fortune to societies that would aid indigent musicians, however this was never documented in any official format. 

    It seems an aging Brahms (he was 63 when he died) was surrounded by some rather shady individuals in his final years:

    it had been reported shortly after the composers death that a fatal case of cancer of the liver - although known to very close companions of the musician, including, shockingly, several physicians who had attended to him - was kept a closely guarded secret within Brahms inner circle. So well guarded, in fact, was this secret that those closest to the composer (including his physician) failed to inform Brahms of the serious nature of his illness, preferring the composer continue to create revenue by composing - whilst completely in the dark about his own mortality - until the very end.



    We have all heard of the vast and varied and very infamous stories relating to Beethoven and his alleged fiery temper: from turning over his apartment in a crazed “Rage over a Lost Penny” to the over-bearing composer forcing the marriage of his brother Johann to the latter’s employee, Therese Obermayer on the threat of arrest (the pair had been illegally shacking up together) - but who among us hasn’t been known to let off a little steam from time to time?

    For Beethoven, particularly in his later years, sudden explosions of rage would become synonymous with the ailing composer, who only grew more temperamental as he began to experience the onset of deafness midway though a most exemplary career.

    In one rather humorous instance (although one can be sure it was not very funny to the composer or his ‘victim’ at the time), Beethoven took out his frustrations on a household cook who had the misfortune of bringing to the composer stale eggs, which an angry Beethoven proceeded to pelt him with! This one sided-food fight was not an isolated occurrence: the composer would soak a waiter in a bowl of soup by pouring it over the unfortunate servers head after he accidentally brought the perfecting musician a consommé that was too cool on the tongue.

    As outrageous as Beethoven’s angry exploits may have been, at least they didn’t involve human to human combat – much unlike 17th century Italian composer Jean-Baptiste Lully, who once befell so outraged at an inept performance by a member of his orchestra, he ripped the fiddle from the unfortunate musician’s hands, and smashed him over the head with it, shattering the instrument to pieces!



    In the year 1808, just one year shy of the death of this 19th century master of the Classical Era, Austrian composer Joseph Haydn would attend a concert given in his honor at Vienna. On the day’s billing would be Haydn’s own oratorio “The Creation.”

    During a most seminal moment in the oratorio’s performance in which the words “Let there be light – and there was light…” was sung, the day that “had been overcast…with skies [above] lowering and threatening…” was suddenly broken by the sun, which “burst forth in full splendor and flooded the hall with light…” at which point the entire attending audience, awestruck, turned to face the composer, who at once leapt from his seat, pointed to the heavens and cried out “It came from there!”

    Did You Know?

    Not all of our most beloved composers of yore started out their careers on a silver platter.

    It is a well known fact that many a composer died in poverty, but did you know that just as many were born and/or discovered as paupers?

    Jean-Baptiste Lully was just one such case. The French Baroque musician would rise to astronomical proportions within the court of Louis XIV of France, even securing for himself the much coveted position as Secrétaire Du Roi (Royal Secretary) and Surintendant de sa Musique (Superintendent of Music for the King’s Chamber) in the mid-17th century. Such placements and honorifics were a far cry from Lully’s most humble beginnings as a servant in the kitchen of one Mademoiselle de Montpensier, niece of the Chevalier de Guise, Roger de Lorraine.

    Discover even more Trivia and Humor from the Mayhem Behind the Music: Trivia & Humor archives!



    Scroll down to view my selections!


    As the literary and music world collectively commemorates the life of poet and playwright William Shakespeare, who left this earthly sphere 400 years ago today, unravelingmusicalmyths has selected for the reader 5 of the most beautiful and impacting arias and orchestral masterpieces inspired by the “Bard of Avon” from the world of classical music.[1]




    This 4-act opera based on Shakespeare’s “Othello” would be Verdi’s penultimate work in this arena. The musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s famous play would also be one of fellow composer Arigo Boito’s crowning achievements as librettist for the opera.

    I have selected for this aria an early recording from a young Anna Netrebko. I far prefer a more mature Netrebko with a richer, fuller voice, but in this recording, her lighter vocal lustre somehow seems to work for Desdemona as she begins to pray to the Holy Mother a tender lament:



    Friday, 22 April 2016


    Engraving of Don Quixote by Gustave Doré
    Today’s aria comes to us from French composer Jules Massenet’s “Don Quichotte,” a 5-act opera based on the stageplay by poet Jacques Le Lorrain "Le Chevalier de la Longue Figure," itself inspired by Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote.

    April 22nd marks the 400th anniversary of Cervantes’ death, who passed away from type-2 diabetes and cirrhosis of the liver at the age of 68 at Madrid. This entry is written in honor of Cervantes’s impressive impact on the world of classical music and fine arts.

    Cervantes was (and is) renowned by many members of literary and artistic circles as one of the greatest Spanish writers to have ever lived thanks in part to the publication of his groundbreaking tome Don Quixote in 1605 and 1615 (published in two volumes) – noted by many contemporary and modern writers as the first “novel” ever written. Don Quixote would go on to influence many a great artist, branching out from the literary world into theater, ballet, film and opera. It is not difficult to understand why Cervantes' magnum opus would inspire so many an artist: the works’ subject matter covers a wide range of emotion - from comical to plaintive, to adventurous and romantic, Don Quixote offers something for every mood. 

    The novels’ plotline consists of an aging hidalgo (a minor Spanish noble) who, after having immersed himself so thoroughly in reading books of chivalric romance, falls victim to madness as he begins to fancy himself a knight errant (a knight on horseback who roams the countryside seeking out honorable duels and other chivalric exploits) and who combats evil in the name of his ladyloveDulcinea del Toboso (Dulcinea, much like the many "duels" Quixote encounters throughout the novel are in fact a figment of the ailing noble’s imagination as he slowly begins sink further into the abyss of insanity).

    Of the many artistic interpretations of Cervantes’ work, the French Romantic composer Jules Massenet’s 1910 opera Don Quichotte would be perhaps the most well known musical adaptations of the novel.

    Miguel de Cervantes
    While Massenet’s Quichotte does not faithfully adhere to Cervantes’ plotline (in Quichotte, the lady Dulcinea is somewhat of a man-eater, who is courted not only by Don Quixote but rather the entire district: so mesmerized by her great beauty are the townsmen, Dulcinea finds herself breaking many a heart as she continues to be chased by one suitor to the next in the operas first and penultimate movements). The work’s second act preserves the famous “windmill” scene from the original novel, where, accompanied by his trusty and stout sidekick Sancho, Quixote and Rocinante (the name given by Quixote to his aging horse – who he “sees” as vibrant, and in the flower of his youth) ride upon a series of windmills, which appear before the delusional knight errant  as "giants," which he proceeds to engage in a foiled and very clumsy duel to the death. The characters and their origins are also kept intact, while Dulcinea's (Dulcinée’s) curious indifference to the adventures of her courter as presented in Cervantes’ novel is presented not with a sense of insouciance in Massenet’s version - instead the fickle-hearted object of Quichotte's affections is portrayed rather as a cohort of sorts: the lady Dulcinée seeks out her sire's noble duty as a knight errant to retrieve for her a stolen necklace, which spurns on the mad hero to take to his trusty Rocinante to engage in the first of his chivalric adventures: search and seizure, by any means necessary.

    In the duet below, a desperate Don Quichotte, fresh from his chivalric exploits, presents to Dulcinée her necklace, which the knight errant had secured from the thieves by way of oration and sentiment over having engaged in physical battle. Filled to the brim with a sense of satisfaction from a job well done (with perhaps a soupçon of cockiness), the Don confidently walks through a crowd of suitors to reach Dulcinée, and, imagining the object of his affections will be so bowled over by the return of her property that she will have fallen in love with the hopeful noble, Quichotte begs for the hand of his ladylove in marriage.

    In a tender exchange between courter and courtee, the lady Dulcinée attempts to gently let down her admirer, which only makes the broken Quichotte fall more hopelessly in love after bearing witness to her sympathetic nature:

    Listen below to “Oui, je souffre votre tristesse” (“Yes, I suffer your sorrow”) from Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte, as sung by mezzo-soprano Régine Crespin and bass Nicolai Ghiaurov:

    Did You Know?
    • So well received was Cervantes’ Don Quixote, it actually spurned on the creation of a new word based on the titular character of the epic novel. The dictionary Merriam-Webster lists the adjective as such:

    Full Definition of quixotic

    1 : foolishly impractical especially in the pursuit of ideals; especially : marked by rash lofty romantic ideas or extravagantly chivalrous action

    2 : capricious, unpredictable
    • Miguel de Cervantes (full name Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra) worked with the infamous Spanish Armada as a requisition official until it’s defeat by the English under Queen Elizabeth I in 1588.


    Further Reading:



    Queen Christina of Sweden, whose death was
    commemorated on the 19th of April, on the 327th
    annual observance of the late Monarch.
    This month’s Patron Profile goes to Queen Christina of Sweden, who ruled from 6 November 1632 – 6 June 1654, with only four of her 22 years as Monarch without Regency (Christina was crowned in 1632 at the tender age of five following the death of her father and reigning king Gustavus Adolphus, who had been slain in battle during the Thirty Years' War).

    The Queen was shrouded in mystery, and, unsurprisingly for her sex, controversy and rumors of carnal sin seemed to precede the young Monarch at every turn. At best, Christina was a tomboy who shunned the “tight fitting” and “fussy clothes” of feminine dress in favor of swordplay, riding, studying the heavens (then seen as men’s work) and at worst, a hermaphrodite and the King’s worst kept secret.

    These scandalous rumors were not helped by King Gustavus, who had announced to the citizens of his nation the birth of a son when Christina was born, and who encouraged from an early age a masculine deportment in his daughter by donning her in exclusively male attire and teaching her the standard education of Kings: history, warfare, languages, literature, statecraft and politics.

    In fact, for most of her reign as Monarch of Sweden, Christina would be the subject one fiasco after another: if she wasn’t denouncing rumors of lesbianism (due to her continuing to don male attire even after her father’s death, and close relationship to a certain lady-in-waiting) or attending to the never-ending dispute over her correct gender, Christina was finding herself championing her right to defend the faith of her choosing in a period where much of Europe was or had recently been engaged in war over religion and it’s placehold in matters of state. Fully aware that converting from Lutheranism (then the official religion of Sweden) to her desired faith of Roman Catholicism would be illegal and therefore require the Queen to abdicate, Christina chose to follow her heart, and at once set off for Rome via Denmark, where the Queen would assume the identity of one Count Christophe Delphicus zu Dohna, a companion of the now ex-monarch, donning herself in male attire: ditching her dresses for trousers (complete with a sword sheathed at her waist), and by cutting off her hair to fully assume the role.

    Giacomo Carissimi. The ex-Queen Christina was this Italian
    composers most generous patron. Carissimi would serve
    as Kapellmeister under the former monarch following her
    abdication to Rome
    It would be in Rome where our most beneficent patron of the arts would find herself most welcomed: after having been received on arrival by the Pope, the ex-Queen would become one of the first females in history to be made allowed to spend the night within the precincts of the Vatican. So valued a convert was Christina, she would be immediately set up in the most luxurious of lodgings: The Palazzo Farnese – one of the most extravagant palaces in Rome, complete with a gallery painted in imitation of the ceiling of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. (Michelangelo himself was an early architect of the palazzo). 
     Here, Christina could shift her focus from defending her sex to continuing her studies, to which she had added astronomy and music theory. She would go on to become one of the most important figures in the legacy of the Italian baroque, employing and patronizing many of the period’s most influential composers in their musical endeavors - not the least of whom were Giacomo Carissimi (who recently had a birthday on Monday April 18), known by prosperity as a pioneer of the Latin oratorio, the Chamber cantata and the recitative; Alessandro Scarlatti – founder of the Neapolitan School of Opera (an academy for notable and influential composers of Naples) and Arcangelo Corelli,[1] renowned as one of the greatest - if not the greatest – violinists and composers for violin to have ever walked the face of the earth, and who pioneered both the sonata and concerto grosso genres to the musical masses.

    Many compositions authored by the above mentioned composers (and by many other contemporary musicians) were in fact written for the Queen, with Carissimi creating several secular arias in her honor.

    Christina would take her patronage one step further by founding an academy for the leading musicians and other intelligentsia to congregate to discuss matters of science, history, arts, politics and music known as the Arcadian Academy. It is said that at the conclusion of each meeting, a live musical performance would take place.

    Following the completion of construction at the Academy, the ex-queen would found the Tor di Nona Theater, which doubled as an opera house (making it one of the premier opera houses to have been constructed in Rome) where a defiant Christina would allow her favorite actors and musicians to grace the stage and the orchestra pit.[2] In an age where actors and singers alike were viewed as prostitutes and gigolos, the former monarch was, in effect, forcing the hand of the Roman potentate to usher into Rome a more liberal way of life. The ruling Pope, Clement X and his successor Innocent XI were outraged, with Pope Innocent demanding the women off of the stage, and forbidding them from acting, singing and wearing low-cut dresses. Christina, however, was unmoved by the demands of the Holy See, and not only allowed the performances to continue from the private confines of the Palazzo Farnese, but publicly abandoned her male dress for very décolletage-friendly female attire.

    A cross-section of the Teatro Tor di Nona, from a blueprint of the theater.
    The Tor di Nona itself would see several shifts in management; almost immediately after banning Christina from hosting the facility as a mecca for the sinful arts of music and stage play, Pope Innocent XI would turn the theater into a storage hold for grain. The Tor di Nona would soon, however, become ravaged by fire and excessive restructuring before being rebuilt sometime in the 18th century and rebranded as the Teatro Apollo – a truly oxymoronic name, perhaps in a nod to Christina herself (the “teatro” or “theater” being representative of something sinful, ugly incarnate and a scourge on society itself, and “Apollo” being a glorious god). The building (as the Apollo) would see the Roman premieres of Giuseppe Verdi’s Il Trovatore and Un Ballo a Maschera in 1853, and in 1859, respectively.

    Today neither Queen nor theater remain, yet the legacy of both remain in abundance: by single-handedly forcing Papal rule into the future by patronizing and encouraging members of the arts (and by defying the status quo relating to gender and it's assumed roles and interests), the former Queen Christina would usher into Rome a new age of artistic expression and liberty, and promulgate the finer arts onto generations of the Roman public. 

    Even in spite of the Pope converting the Teatro into a storage hold, the Tor di Nona was not built in vain: in it, contemporary and future generations would be made aware of the majestic beauty of our ancestral classical masters of music and stage, and it's very presence on European soil would be a stepping stone – no matter how small, or how distant, or interrupted – in the chain of women’s rights and commercialism. The era would see the birth of the public concert and the vindication of the middle and lower classes, who, for so long had been shunned by Papal rule or by their respective monarchs from enjoying or learning the art of music and stage. 
     Each effort made toward exposing to the public this hidden world of beauty would be yet another link on that chain, banding together to create an impenetrable force of artistic liberty and expression. 

    Today, we can enjoy a good Broadway stage play or musical without obstruction or conflict, and we can continue to indulge in the majestic works of Scarlatti, Carissimi, Corelli (and even Verdi) thanks to those fearless, most generous and impassioned patrons like Queen Christina who helped clear the pathway toward artistic enlightenment.

    Enjoy below a soprano favorite aria, Carissimi's Vittoria, Mio Core! (Victorious is my heart!)


    [1]Corelli served as Kapellmeister under Christina and would publish his first opus under her patronage in 1681: 12 Trio sonatas, Opus 1.
    [2]The first opera to be performed at the Teatro Tor di Nona was composer Francesco Cavalli’s “Scipione Affricano.”


    Saturday, 16 April 2016


    German composer Robert Schumann
    Today's Quote of the Day comes to us from 19th century German Romantic composer Robert Schumann.

    "To send light into the darkness of men's hearts:

    Such is the duty of the artist."

    -Robert Schumann

    Did You Know?

    Music aficionados and concertgoers whom often patronized concert halls in 19th century Europe were less likely to hear any composition by Herr Schumann during the composers lifetime compared to what their modern counterparts would experience today.

    It's difficult to imagine a time in which this Icon of Western Classical Music was not likened as a master of the genre - much less recognized as a household name - but it was due to a lifetime of serious mental illness highlighted by the composer frequently taking up residence at institutions (which Schumann's family desperately tried to cover up, such was the public distaste for discussing such matters) combined with a public ignorance of matters of psychological well-being that caused any would-be patrons to shun the composer and his works.

    To compound the already disastrous issue, the then burgeoning "field" of psychiatry was arguably still in it's infancy stages which proved especially unfruitful for the relatively young composer (Schumann died at the age of 46), as, unaware of a correct diagnosis or treatment for the ailing musician, asylum officials effectively banned him from composing altogether, considering it a mental-health risk.

    It would not be until the advancement of the medical sector, particularly in the area of psychiatry, that melophiles in the 20th century would re-discover the works of the late composer, in spite of his 'handicap' (as mental illness had previously been considered).

    Today, Schumann's life of emotional instability exists as an after-fact, with many newcomers to the glorious world of Classical Music unaware the composer had even been ill to begin with, much less that he spent a lifetime in and out of institutions.

    Schumann died whilst still in asylum of neurosyphilis in July of 1856, having never officially known what it was that ailed him so, and having never known of the legacy he would leave behind.

    Enjoy below Schumann's "Mondnacht" ("Moonlit Night") from his song cycle Liederkreis (Op. 39, no. V)