Sunday, 26 February 2017


Today’s Quote of the Day comes to us from 18th century Austrian Classical composer Franz Joseph Haydn, in honor of the 233rd anniversary of the premiere of his opera Armida, which held it’s debut this 26th day of February in 1784 at the Opera House of Esterháza:


“It is the melody which is the charm of music, and it is that which is most difficult to produce. The invention of a fine melody is a work of genius.”

- Joseph Haydn
Did You Know?

Herr Haydn’s beautifully melodic Armida would be written and premiered during the composers’ lengthy tenure as Kapellmeister to the royal Esterházy court, specifically for the Opera House at the rural Palace of Esterháza (of which Haydn became a resident, as a “house officer;” located some 40 km (25 mi) outside of the Esterházy primary home (Schloss Esterházy) in Eisenstadt.

Haydn, who considered Armida to be his finest work (justly so: it would serve as the most successful of the composer’s operas to have been staged at the theater), would have undoubtedly attached much sentimental value to the work, as it would be the last opera he would pen for the Opera House of Esterháza.

Armida was notable for both theater and composer as it would be Haydn’s first venture into the genre of opera seria at the palace opera house – a genre first introduced at Esterháza by the Italian composer Giuseppe Sarti in 1783 with the wildly successful production of Giulio Sabino. Within a month of Giulio’s… premiere at the theater, Haydn was already informing his publisher of his intent to compose in the genre (perhaps driven by the immense popularity of Sarti’s opera, or due to possible pressure from reigning Prince Nikolaus Esterházy, Haydn’s most important patron). Sarti himself would attend a performance of Armida in 1784, during which the Italian musician reportedly befell so overcome with a feeling of exquisite bliss, he could barely contain himself: allegedly

“jump[ing] over the benches that separated him from the orchestra, and leap[ing] to embrace the astonished maestro,” exclaiming, "It's Sarti who embraces you! Sarti, who wanted to see the great Haydn, to admire his beautiful works, but who had no hope of admiring anything so beautiful as this!" [1]

Apparently, Sarti was not the only one to have been bewitched by Haydn’s Armida: the opera would boast an unprecedented run of 54 performances over a short time span of just four years (from 1784 – 1788). 

Listen below to a moving rendition of "Se pietade avete, oh Numi" (If you feel pity) from Act I of Franz Joseph Haydn's Armida. Italian mezzo-soprano Cecila Bartoli performs under late maestro Nikolaus Harnoncourt:


[1](Source of Quoted text): 18th century music critic and theorist Nicolas-Étienne Framery of Rouen.


Thursday, 23 February 2017


Portrait of a young Händel
Today's Quote of the Day is brought to us by 18th century Baroque composer George Frederick Handel, who was born at Halle in Germany 332 years ago today:

“Whether I was in my body or out of my body as I wrote it I know not…”

- George Frederick Handel

Enjoy below Handel’s ethereal secular cantata “Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne” (HWV 74), otherwise known as “Eternal Source of Light Divine" as performed by soprano Elin Manahan Thomas:

Did You Know?

Much of the history of Handel’s Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne has been assumed by musicologists by careful study of the movements of not only the composer himself, but also of the House of Stuart and the Hanoverian court: specifically, of Prince George, Elector of Hanover (the future King George I of Great Britain), and Queen Anne, who was presently Queen of England, Scotland and Ireland.

German-born Handel, who had aspirations to continue his life’s work in England, would pledge his allegiance to Britain by composing the cantata to celebrate the birth of the English Queen.[1] Whether or not Queen Anne - who was severely ill (her mobility hindered by gout), and, to be frank, was knocking on death’s door (something of which Handel was both well informed and ready to take advantage of) actually heard the work premiere live at London’s St. James Cathedral on occasion of her 48th birthday (February 6th, 1713) is a matter of much debate. In fact, whether the cantata was performed on the occasion of Anne’s birthday at all is a question yet to receive a solid answer. According to legend, the Queen had indeed heard the performance (by all accounts, she was at the very least aware of it’s existence), and was reportedly so bowled over by the honor bestowed upon her by Händel that she granted the composer an annual generous allowance of £200 to be paid until her death.

Of one fact music historians are certain: the Elector of Hanover, long rumored to become successor to Queen Anne (and therefore founder of the Hanoverian court in Great Britain), was well aware of the many talents of Handel (then Georg Friedrich Händel): the wildly successful premieres of Händel’s operas Rinaldo (1711) and Il pastor Fido (1713) and Teseo (1713) had placed the composer on the world’s cultural map -  and no doubt into the Electors good graces – so much so that Händel was awarded with an aristocratic post as Kapellmeister to the Prince.

Queen Anne would die of a massive stroke a little over a year after Handel’s Ode had premiered (somewhere – at some previous time) in England; at which point the German Electorate, George of the House of Hanover succeeded the throne of Great Britain. Händel would immediately take a position at court as director of music to James Brydges, 1st duke of Chandos, becoming ‘Composer of Musik for his Majesty’s Chapel Royal’ in 1723.

Georg Friedrich Händel, former citizen of Halle, would become George Frederick Handel, naturalized citizen of Great Britain on the 20th of February in 1727. He would reside at what is now the Handel House Museum - a modest house in Lower Brook Street, London, from the time of his appointment as Composer of Musik for his Majesty’s Chapel Royal until his death in 1759.

[1] The librettist for Handel’s royal cantata, one Ambrose Philips, is also a matter of debate. The attribution to Philips was hastily scrawled in the margins of a biography penned by John Mainwaring (who, as it turns out, was Handel’s first biographer) by the composer’s librettist, Charles Jennens, who asserted that the text was written by “Ambr [ose] Philips.” Jennens’ attribution of Philips to Handel’s work must be digested with a side of caution: according to Mainwaring, the Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne held only one performance, and the music was later lost by the composer as he moved into his London lodgings. Jennen, whose attribution to Philips cannot be backed by any other sources, would later claim that the score was not in fact lost, but rather, had been in his sole possession the entire time.

Learn More (external link):

  • " Style and Politics in the Philips-Handel Ode for Queen Anne's Birthday, 1713" (Oxford University Press) at JSTOR* (subscription)


A posthumous painting of King James Stewart I of Scotland
Exciting news out of Scotland this week as archeologists in Perth seek to locate the tomb and unearth the bones of 15th century Stewart (Stuart) King James I, who was brutally assassinated in 1437 by his own kinsmen as he cowered in a filthy latrine underneath the floorboards of Perth’s Blackfriars monastery.

It would be a violent end for a man who, according to rivaling noble factions in medieval Scotland, was barely fit to be King – and who ultimately seemed destined for failure by fate itself. After allegedly narrowly dodging assassination by his power-hungry Uncle, Robert Stewart, Duke of Albany, (who was vindicated of killing James’s elder brother, the heir apparent David Stewart, Duke of Rothesay after the latter starved to death whilst held prisoner in Albany’s own Falkland Castle - for reasons that were undoubtedly political[1]), James too would find himself imprisoned – at the English court of Henry IV [2] after pirates captured the 12 year old Scottish heir off the coast of England and delivered him to the King. The boy had been caught at Flamborough Head attempting to seek exile in France to escape the wrath of his Uncle and other members of the Scottish nobility that sought to assassinate him (in an effort to gain for themselves the throne of Scotland).

An instrument of Kings: King David plays the lyre in this
13th century illustration.  Called an "Orpheus"  of music
by his captors, King James I of Scotland would perfect
his skills on the instrument (and many others) during his
captivity at the court of English King Henry IV.
Much like the fate of James’ third great grand-daughter, Mary Stuart, who, in the mid/late 16th century returned to her birthplace and rightful throne on Scotland after an extended period spent abroad (little Mary was only 5 when she escaped to France and into the protection of French King Henri II after a period of violent unrest in Scotland by frequently warring neighbor England as King Henry VIII sought to kidnap the young Queen and force a betrothal to his only son and male heir, Edward VI), James too, would return to his homeland as a most unwelcome, uninvited guest – his royal crown meant naught to a country known for governing itself by it’s frequently quarreling noble factions. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, James’ murderous uncle, the aforementioned Robert, Duke of Albany, had ruled over Scotland during the King’s imprisonment at the English court. Repeated demands by the English to procure a ransom from Albany for the safe return of his nephew were all rebuffed - a fact James never forgot as he whittled his days away in his otherwise lax incarceration in England. Although James had been imprisoned as a Scottish King in the enemy state, he would be made allowed to pursue princely studies (philosophy, theology, the arts and law) – which he would take up most enthusiastically, always remaining optimistic that he would one day escape from his captors and rule over Scotland as he believed he was so destined. It would be during this period that James’ honed in on his writing and music skills, penning several poems and earning for himself the moniker of an “Orpheus” of music (a title later attributed to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart by the Verona press as a traveling young Wunderkind), even developing ‘master level' skills on the lyre, flute, organ and drum.*

Far from avuncular: Robert Stewart, duplicitous
Uncle to King James, probably murdered - or at least
contributed - to the death of James' elder brother, the
heir apparent David, Duke of Rothesay. He would
usurp the throne of Scotland as Regent during the
fallout and capture of James by English pirates at
Flamborough Head off the coast of England.
As was the case in regard to his hereditary crown, King James would soon find out these carefully honed skills would come to naught when he secured for himself release from English imprisonment in 1424 (some four years after his duplicitous Uncle died, and his ransom was unexpectedly paid). James would return to a country that was anything but ready to celebrate his arrival back on Scottish soil.

James did not waste any time avenging the death of his brother (or his betrayal by his Uncle) upon his return to Scotland. A usurper currently sat on the throne – that of the Dukes son, Murdoch Stewart. Shortly after James arrival on Scottish soil, he had Murdoch (now also styled the new Duke of Albany), along with his two sons (James’ cousins and potential heirs to the throne) arrested on the charge of treason and promptly executed – virtually wiping the Albany line of Stewarts off of the royal map.

This bold and fastidious move by the rightful and newly crowned King did not sit well with former cohorts of the Duke – the throne that had been so unceremoniously taken by Albany some 18 years prior had set-stage a scene of nationwide corruption and greed. Now, it seemed the nobility had to face the loss of properties, titles, and, most important to men about town: face. James had to be stopped – by any means necessary.

The Sins of the Father: ladies man and
grandfather to James, King Robert II
would sire an impressive amount
of potential heirs-and-spares during his
reign. His son, the future Robert III
would be the result of his first of two
marriages, to Elizabeth Mure.
The problem? Little Robert was sired
whilst Mure was still mistress - not yet
Queen - to the King. The couple would
marry more than a decade later, at
which time the King legitimized his
son. James I is a descendant of this
marital union.
The plan for King James’ demise would begin with scandalous innuendo: 'the King is a bastard child,' the rumor began: the illegitimate spawn of a line of illegitimate Kings – starting with James’ grandfather, Robert II, who scandalously bred a small army of children between two wives – notably Robert III – father to James, whose birth occurred eleven years before his parents were wed (Robert would be legitimatized in 1348 following the royal nuptials). 

The plan worked beautifully: word of James’ possible illegitimacy spread across Scotland like wildfire, prompting an outright rebellion against the King.

Soon a plan would be hatched to capture and assassinate the King. No trials were to be had – James was to be executed upon discovery.

Whilst enjoying the company of his royal spouse, Queen Joan Beaufort and her ladies-in-waiting at the Blackfriar’s Monastery in James’ favorite city of Perth, the rustling of hooves and the dull glare of distant torches permeated the royal lodgings, inciting fear in all who occupied the tight quarters. Some 300 nobles, all of them with murderous intentions, stormed the Monastery. Queen Joan fled to the door in a panic – her attempt to barricade entry into the lodgings whilst her husband planned an escape. Her attempt was futile: the Queen would quickly discover, to her horror, that the lock had been permanently jammed – the result of premeditated tampering at the hands of the enemy. James at once scanned the room, trying in vain to secure for himself a safe exit - first by attempting to open a lead-lined window, and, when it failed to budge, he took to the floorboards - ripping them up in a panicked frenzy to reveal the privy (sewer tunnel) below. He jumped in, and from below, hastily attempted to reassemble the planks above his head. The King had hoped he could make his escape through the privy itself – a hope that was so pitiably dashed when he glanced upon what would have served as an exit: a small hole he had only recently blockaded with rocks after losing one too many tennis balls during times of leisure. Panicked and with nowhere to go, the King sat among the foul waste in the latrine and waited in silence. As the brutes stormed the building, Queen Joan and her ladies scampered to the privy and door in a brave effort to protect the King. One of the ladies in waiting, Elizabeth Douglas, who ran to check on the King underground, slipped and fell into the privy with him. Above, Catherine Douglas single handedly strong-armed the door. The strength of a band of brutes against one woman would prove too much for Douglas – the would-be murderers hacked at the door with both fists and axes, shattering the bones in Douglas’ comparatively frail arm. The assassins then rushed the Queen: Joan would narrowly escape slaughter at the hands of the enemy after a short-lived debate between the brutes resulted in a decision to spare the Queen due to her status as "but a feeble woman." Joan did not wait to listen to the end of the debate, taking full advantage of the oddly juxtaposed humane distraction to slip out from the grip of her captor, and "not witting well what she did or should do for that fearful and terrible affray, fled in her kirtle [under dress], her mantle hanging about her..." [3]

Consort Queen and heroine of the
Stewart dynasty Joan Beaufort. Joan
successfully sought out - and duly
received, public outrage and ultimate
vengeance on the killers of king
James when she displayed his
mutilated corpse for all to see. The
ghastly display of violent overkill
would lead to a manhunt and the
ultimate apprehension - and
execution -  of all involved in the
brutal slaying. James would later
be declared a martyr by the
much aggrieved Papal envoy (who
reportedly "wept over the body" of
the murdered king.
The room soon fell silent. In fact, as the hitmen left the room and spread out to locate the hiding place of the King, it was assumed by James, still underneath the property, that the brutes had given up and left. In what would prove to be a fatal mistake, King James called out from below to the ladies, who had not fled with the Queen and thus remained (frozen in silent horror) in the room above, to let him out of the privy. That is when the assassins made their move – it would be three men with swords and knives against one bare-fisted King. James fought a respectable battle for his life, at one point choking out one of his assailants before slamming him down onto the filthy ground below – however the presence of weapons by numbers would ultimately overpower the King. James' three executors would completely butcher the person of the King – slashing his hands and wrists as he tried in vain to defend his life, and stabbing him over 28 times about his body (with at least "sixteen deadly wounds in his breast") until King James Stewart was no more.

No small redemption for the ill-fated King would occur after death: Queen Joan, who, as we recall, had escaped the Monastery during her husband’s slaughter, would hatch a cunning plan of her own: after stowing away her son for his own safety, the widow Stewart would publicly display the mutilated corpse of her husband in a strategic move to incite national outrage and illicit a response from those who were secretly hiding James' assassins from the long arm of the law. After a thoroughly executed manhunt for the killers of the king, all of the guilty parties were rounded up and executed – with at least two of the villains undergoing an extended bout of torture, for good measure.

As for the legacy of the King – the royal couple’s son, also named James, would continue the Stewart line of Monarchs when he was crowned King James Stewart II of Scotland at Holyrood Abbey on March 25, 1437.

King James Stewart II, son of James I and Joan
Beaufort would succeed his father on the Royal
Throne of Scotland. He would reign from March
25th, 1437 until his death at the age of 29 on
August 3rd, 1460.
The exact location of the body of King James, who was buried at the Perth Charterhouse (a monastic house of Carthusian monks) following his violent death (and the public display of his corpse) is presently unknown to historians of this period – the monastery in which he founded, funded, and was ultimately laid to rest had been destroyed by Protestant Reformers in the mid-16th century.

It has not been since the excavation of Yorkist King of England Richard III (who was found buried under a car park in Leicester in 2012) that medieval historians and history buffs could look forward to another thrilling unveiling. Like King James, the assumed location for the body of Richard was pinpointed to a location once occupied by a priory: The Greyfriars Priory.

We have since learned (through scientific examination of the skeletal remains) much about the actual life and violent death of Richard III – so much of what we thought we knew of the illusive ruler proven to be part and parcel of the propaganda set forth by the Tudor dynasty – proving the existence of that ages old rule that decrees history be written only by it’s victors.

What new discoveries – if any - are lurking underneath the soil of Perth – just waiting to be revealed?

Learn more:
  • "Search in Perth for remains of murdered James I" at BBC 
  • "Raiders of the lost Charterhouse: search for tomb of ancient king of Scotland begins" at the Scotland Herald

*Although none of King James' music remains, we still have an idea of the kind of music the monarch would have heard - and perhaps been influenced by - during his lengthy imprisonment at the English Court. Although the King existed in the late-Medieval period, musically, he lived in what is known as the Renaissance Era of Western Classical Music.

Polyphonic master and pioneer of the so-called "Burgundian School" John Dunstaple was the darling of English ears during the early 15th century. He also worked for the Duke of Bedford, third son of Henry IV (and brother to Henry’s son – and James’ future (successive) captor – Henry V) [see footnote 2]

Bedford wasn't the only son of Henry IV in whom Dunstaple was employed. Following Bedford's death and a stint in the service of the widow Dowager Queen Joan Beaufort, Dunstaple would serve as musician to the 
Duke of Gloucester, Henry's youngest surviving son.

Could James have heard his music whilst held at the Lancastrian court?

Listen below to a recording of Dunstaple's lusty "Quam pulchra es" (How fair art thee), performed by the Lumina Vocal Ensemble:


[1]To remove legitimate heirs to the Scottish throne in an effort to secure it for himself.

[2] James’ imprisonment as a Scottish King under Henry IV included the freedom of written communication with the outside world, personal visits from members of the Scottish nobility, and perhaps even admittance into the English royal household.

James would be prisoner to a whopping three English kings during his 18-year tenure as a royal hostage: Henry IV would perish 7 years after Stewarts’ capture; he would be succeeded by his son Henry V in 1413 until his death (from dysentery in August 1422), and finally, under the regency council of 9 month old king (and Henry V’s only heir), Henry VI.

Although the first Henry who held James prisoner treated the Scottish King with a modicum of princely reverence due a fellow monarch, his son (Henry V) would not be so accepting of the foreign ruler – immediately upon his father’s death, the English king would hole James up in the notorious Tower of London to sit and stew alongside the other Scottish captives. It would prove a triple slap in the in the face for James: not only was he imprisoned in the drafty, stinking tower – like a commoner no less – one of his fellow inmates was none other than Albany’s son – and future usurper to the Scottish throne Murdoch Stewart!

[3](Source of quoted text) extract: MURDER OF JAMES I, 20 February 1437 ? ONE OF QUEEN JOAN'S ATTENDANTS; SCOTLAND: THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY - 2,000 YEARS OF SCOTTISH HISTORY BY THOSE WHO SAW IT HAPPEN, Rosemary Goring, pp. 46, Penguin Books

Further Reading (assassins):
  • The Dethe of the Kynge of Scotis, translated from an unknown Latin source by 14/15th century scribe John Shirley, who lived in the time of King James Stewart I (c. 1366-1456) 

To learn more about King James Stewart I of Scotland and to follow the historic search for his bones, visit the link below (external site):


Wednesday, 22 February 2017


Stefan Zweig
Today's Quote of the Day comes to us from famed 20th century Austrian writer and librettist Stefan Zweig, and has been selected in honor of the 75th anniversary of his death, observed this 22nd day of February, 2017:

“Never can the innate power of a work be hidden or locked away. A work of art may be forgotten by time; it can be forbidden and rejected but the elemental will always prevail over the ephemeral.”

- Stefan Zweig

It has been some three quarters of a century since the literary and musical spheres lost one of their most influential champions – he who excelled in both arenas as a writer and as librettist – setting to parchment often sordid tales of the ever changing, frequently vitriolic world in which both song and prose routinely draw their influence.

Zweig's final farewell: his "Declaração"
(suicide note; Zweig titled the letter in
Portuguese in an effort to alert the Brazilian
authorities of the nature of his and his wife's
death upon discovery of the bodies; the rest of the
letter is in Zweig's favored tongue: German.
Read a translation of this note here.
It would be on a winter’s eve – the 22nd of February in 1942 – that author and librettist Stefan Zweig and second wife Elizabeth Charlotte “Lotte” Altmann sat together for what would be the couple’s final moments on earth. Zweig would pen his “Declaração” – his declaration – of intended suicide from his home just outside of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil (a place of exile for the couple, who had fled Salzburg following Hitler’s rise to power in 1934 and which would prove to be a most providential move for Zweig: following a rise in National Socialist sentiment, Austria would find itself annexed by the German Third Reich in 1938. For Zweig, who was born of Jewish parents, and therefore was himself, Jewish, the move would be a matter of life and death).

The couple would remain always one step ahead of Nazi troops, first by fleeing Salzburg for England, followed by a transatlantic move to New York City in the United States as German forces steadily crept westward. Finally, the couple would settle on the German-colonized town of Petrópolis just outside of Rio, where both husband and wife would ultimately meet their end. Zweig, would express in his (brief) handwritten final note (written in his favored language of German) his sorrow over his 'personal loss' and the “destruction”  of pre-Nazi Europe, calling it his “Spiritual Homeland;” his gratitude for the sanctuary offered him in Brazil, and of his ultimate yielding to hopelessness in what must have seemed to Zweig to be a most unfruitful – and relentlessly cruel – chase. He writes:

“…to start everything anew after a man’s 60th year requires special powers, and my own power has been expended after years of wandering homeless. I thus prefer to end my life at the right time, upright, as a man for whom cultural work has always been his purest happiness and personal freedom — the most precious of possessions on this earth.
I send greetings to all of my friends: May they live to see the dawn after this long night. I, who am most impatient, go before them.”

Stefan Zweig and wife Lotte
Both Zweig and Lotte would self-administer a lethal dose of Barbiturates, and, with hands entwined, would breathe their last breaths, succumbing to overdose on the very eve the ‘Declaração’ was written – 75 years ago today.

Zweig’s influence in the literary world during the mid-twentieth century (and later, during the latter twentieth and present century following the digitization of the writer’s works translated from their original German into English) is undeniable. His resulting fame allowed him to hobnob with many of the era’s most prominent thinkers and practitioners of the finer arts – enjoying relationships with the likes of famed psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud and dramatist Arthur Schnitzler to developing a close association with the composer Richard Strauss.

Zweig would also bequeath unto the musical sphere an impressive, and much coveted – collection of autographs (music manuscripts), featuring the works of many of Western Classical Music’s most beloved composers - of Bach, Haydn, Beethoven, Wagner and Mahler (just to name a few), including a thematic catalogue of Mozart’s works – penned in the composer’s own hand (Mozart's
 "Verzeichnüß aller meiner Werke"). This particular collection, aptly called “Stefan Zweig Collection” can presently be found at The British Library.

Extract from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's highly prized "Verzeichnüß aller meiner Werke,"
just one of many original autographs from the Stefan Zweig Collection currently held in the
possession of The British Library.

Perhaps most applicable to the sentiment provided by Zweig in the featured “Quote of the Day” above, is the writer-cum-librettist’s association with Richard Strauss – who was then serving as the first president of the Reichsmusikkammer (the Reich Chamber of Music, otherwise known as the "RMK") under Reich Chancellor Adolf Hitler and Reich Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels.

Strauss counted himself among several accomplished German conductors/composers to make the controversial decision to serve their ‘Fatherland’ from the podium, in what they considered (or claimed) to be an apolitical effort to preserve and glorify German artists and German music. Although the position of President of the RMK was formed only months after the Nazi’s seizure of power in 1933 (and thus could be considered still in its founding stages), Strauss’ decision to remain in Germany following a period of escalating National Socialist sentiment and during the first two years of Nazi rule remains a topic of hot debate.

Reich Chancellor Adolf Hitler and Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels
would briefly champion the works of Richard Strauss - going so far as to refer
to the German-born composer as "The Most Venerable Tone Master."
Zweig, who had provided the libretto for Strauss’ 1934 opera Die Schweigsame Frau (The Silent Woman), and later, incognito, for the composers' 1938 opera Friedenstag (Peace Day) following the death of Strauss' go-to librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal, was famously forgiving of Strauss, claiming necessity in the RMK for the composer:

“…to be co-operative with the national socialists was furthermore of vital interest to him, because in the national socialist sense he was very much in the red. His son had married a Jewess and thus he feared that his grandchildren, whom he loved above all else, would be excluded as scum from the schools; his earlier operas tainted through the half-Jew Hugo von Hofmannstahl; his publisher was a Jew. Therefore, to him it seemed more and more imperative to create support and security for himself, and he did it most perseveringly.” 

This sentiment would be repeated following a ‘Denazification Trial’ held against the composer after the war, during which time it was declared that Strauss was found to be “exonerated in his Denazification Trial as innocent of any ties to the Nazi State.”

Richard Strauss
The fact was, although Strauss once claimed of politics and of the war “I just sit here … and compose; everything else is irrelevant to me,” the composer made no qualms about his support for his newfound confidante and librettist in Zweig, following a seismic fallout with the Nazi-ran press, who lambasted the RMK President for his association with a “Jew.” (It didn’t help that several members of Strauss’ family were themselves Jewish).[see footnotes] According to Zweig’s own memoirs, Strauss defied societal convention by refusing to withdraw the opera and insisting on publicly crediting Zweig as the works librettist. Surprisingly, Reich Minister Goebbels – and, initially, even Hitler himself – were willing to placate Strauss (then an international sensation - and a German one at that), albeit temporarily, in an effort to promote German music and artistry. Such placitudes would prove to be short lived: following the interception by Gestapo Officials of correspondence exchanged between composer and librettist in which Strauss decried both the Nazi regime and his position within it (which was presented to the Reich Chancellor via Goebbels), Strauss was forced to resign from his post as president of the Reichsmusikkammer under the guise of “ill health.”

Die Schweigsame Frau would be banned by the Reich after only three performances, reemerging only after the close of the Second World War, some 12 years after it’s premiere at the Dresden Semperoper in June 1935. Its post war revival would be held at the very same venue in 1946.

Listen below to hear German Tenor Fritz Wunderlich &  Soprano Ingeborg Hallstein perform "Du süssester Engel"
from Richard Strauss' Die schweigsame Frau:


Although Strauss’ ‘involvement’ in the Third Reich – not to mention Zweig’s defense of the composer - remains a subject of much debate, it is worth noting that Richard would make use of ‘connections’ made whilst serving as RMK President in Nazi Germany, most notably appealing to Hitler Youth leader Baldur von Schirach for protection for himself and his daughter in law, who was Jewish, and for his grandchildren (who were identified as Jewish under Nazi Racial Law) during the infamously bloody Kristallnacht. He and his family were granted temporary protection by Schirach.

Zweig would cite Strauss’ intimate ties to Germans of Jewish faith as evidence of a thoughtfully manifested plan to serve the Reich in an effort to safeguard his relations from attacks by the Nazis.

Coming soon to Unraveling Musical Myths:


Thursday, 16 February 2017


A still-dapper Franz Liszt as he would have
appeared not long after Orpheus' premiere in
1854. This likeness of the composer dates
from 1860.
Today’s Quote of the Day comes to us from 19th century Hungarian composer (and certified “heart throb”) Franz Liszt in honor of the musician’s premiere performance of Orpheus - the fourth symphonic poem in a cycle of 12 - penned by the composer as individual musical character sketches of men of heroic legend, which made it’s debut 163 years ago today at Weimar in Germany:

“Music is the heart of life. She speaks love. Without it, there is no possible good. And with it, everything is beautiful.”

I, like so many, cannot imagine a life without music. It serves as a soundtrack to evolution itself – both individually and all-encompassing – it permeates the psyche; both conscious and unconscious; it infuses the soul with a unique and kinetic rhythm, and infiltrates the many stores of the memory with the most ultimate form of recall for the senses. It is history and the future itself: through enjoying a familiar tune, one recognizes a scent once smelled on the clothing of a beloved; one “sees” in his or her mind a last tender embrace, one yearns for a triumphant return to a site once before seen but still yet unseen – as he or she turns the pages in the Grand Opus of life.

"Everything is beautiful," indeed:  enjoy Liszt’s majestic Orpheus below:

Did You Know?

Princess Carolyne
Liszt’s Orpheus would be conducted by the composer himself to mark the Weimar premiere of Christoph Willibald Gluck’s opera Orfeo ed Euridice, and to celebrate the 68th birthday of the Grand Duchess of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach, Maria Pavlovna, who was herself an amateur musician and one of Liszt's many patrons.

Pavlovna was not the only royal to have been linked to this work: Liszt dedicated Orpheus to the Polish Princess Carolyne zu Sayn-Wittgenstein, a one time lover (and almost wife) of the composer. Princess Carolyne was very much dedicated to Franz - after several failed attempts at marriage (by Papal powers, no less) beginning in 1860, the couple would resign themselves to platonic companionship for the remainder of their lives. So enamored by Liszt was the Princess, it is rumored she died with a "broken heart" - just 8 months after her beloved - in March, 1887.

Orpheus could also be counted among contemporary classical music royalty as a composition favorite: 19th century Romantic composer Richard Wagner (Liszt’s son-in-law through his marriage to daughter Cosima) listed the symphonic poem as one of his most admired pieces of music.



A giant among men: the irreplaceable Carlos Kleiber
Classical music ‘insider’ website Slipped Disc posted today a letter written in the hand of late conductor (and undisputed Unraveling Musical Myths favorite) Carlos Kleiber to a presently unconfirmed “Ms. Wright.”

The short letter – seemingly a response to an inquiry/request for advice from a budding conductor – is dated June 29, 1999, and is not one of the preserved limited exchanges between Kleiber and conductor Charles Barber, who published the duo’s correspondence in a book entitled Corresponding with Carlos (a personal favorite read) in 2013, as it is addressed not to Barber, but to an illusive Ms. Wright. 

**UPDATE: MYSTERY SOLVED? - February 16, 2017

It appears the letter from Carlos to the ellusive "Ms. Wright" may have been penned to American based conductor and musician Elizabeth Wright. A copy of the letter made a quiet online debut in 2013 on the social media platform Twitter. BUT WAIT!  As of Friday February 17th, even this hypothesis is up in the on:

**LATEST UPDATE: - February 17, 2017

Unraveling Musical Myths posed an alternate potential "Ms. Wright" - that of American band conductor Gladys Stone Wright - to Slipped Disc author/classical music insider Norman Lebrecht, who has since responded that Gladys may indeed be a possibility.

Corresponding With Carlos author and accomplished conductor Charles Barber has also weighed in on the conversation, and has vouched for the document's authenticity.

Kleiber fans everywhere are anxiously awaiting confirmation on this most exciting development.

Here's my original post prior to this afternoon's update:

Unraveling Musical Myths wonders if the intended recipient of this mysterious exchange could be the American band conductor Gladys Stone Wright?

According to Ms. Wright’s biography (available online), the Oregon born conductor was highly accomplished as a band director (boasting the title of President of Women Band Directors), had an extensive teaching career and toured much of North America and Europe in her heyday. She would go on to become the recipient of numerous awards and honors - including an induction into the 
International Women Conductors Hall of Fame in 1995 (as the first living woman to receive the honor, no less) - many of which highlighted her accomplishments as a female conducting in what was then (and still is) a male-dominated arena.

The tone of Kleiber's letter certainly feels like a response to someone (who is already accomplished) looking to branch into symphonic/operatic work (note the use of quotation marks around the word “symphonies” in Kleiber's response (below).

Could Gladys fit that bill?

The original letter, which can be viewed on the Slipped Disc website reads (all emphases are Kleiber’s own): [click here to view letter]

" 29 VI 99
 Dear Ms. Wright,

I never do any teaching! (And I hardly conduct anywhere any more).

Judging by your CD, you aren’t a beginner, by any means!

Orchestras* will teach you all that you’re capable of learning about conducting.

Try as coach in some opera company in the US. When the conductor gets sick, there’s a chance to take over a performance. If you don’t blow it, you’re in. Symphonies can wait. Symphonic music means, mainly, rehearsal. Opera means technique, in the broader sense of the word. With a good technique, you can forget technique. It’s like with manners. If you know how to behave, you can misbehave. That’s fun! (At least, that’s my theory).

Good luck!

Yours sincerely

Carlos Kleiber

*and watching conductors – preferably lousy ones! – at work (They’re everywhere!)

PS. This letter is all I can do for you OK? "

Did You Know?

1999, the year in which the above letter was written, would prove to be the year during which Kleiber’s final concerts would take place (at the Festival de Música de Canarias in Tenerife in January and elsewhere in Spain (Valencia) and in Cagliari, Italy the following month) as the conductor began to show the deleterious effects of early stage prostate cancer which would severely limit Kleiber’s already selective appearances on the podium.

Despite much rumor and hopeful innuendo of a return to the dais that would ensue following Kleiber’s all-too-early ‘retirement,' it seemed the conductor had had his fill as undisputed master of the arena. He would hole himself high up in the hills of Slovenia to be close to the grave of his beloved spouse, the late ex-ballerina he lovingly called “Stanka” (Stanislava Brezovar), refusing any and all treatments for combative prostate cancer (then still in its treatable stages), and to ultimately meet his end – which he would, on July 13, 2004.

Kleiber would be buried alongside his beloved Stanka, just outside of the Kleiber family home in Konjšica

To learn more about Kleiber’s life and ultimate fate, peruse the Kleiber archives here at Unraveling Musical Myths by clicking on the relevant links below (posts +1 article):

Listen to a recording (playlist) of Kleibers' "Final Concert:" featuring Beethoven's 4th, 7th and Johann Strauss' (II) Die Fledermaus (Overture), 26 February 1999, Cagliari, Italy:


Monday, 13 February 2017


Postcard depicting a creative likeness of Herr Wagner
c. 1905
Today’s Quote of the Day comes to us from 19th century Romantic composer Richard Wagner, and is extracted from a private exchange with the music critic Eduard Hanslick (dated January I, 1847 at Dresden); and is selected in honor of the 134th observance of the death of the composer by heart attack at the Palazzo Vendramin Calergi (Ca' Vendramin Calergi palace) in Venice in 1883:


“As I create with ever heightened artistic consciousness I am more and more impelled to make a whole man. I want to create flesh and blood and limbs, a being who freely and truly lives and moves…”

It is hard to imagine, for any fellow ‘Wagnerian,’ a composer more adept at rushing the blood through the limbs, suffusing the flesh with goosebumps, or moving the very soul in such an exquisite and effortless fashion than Richard Wagner.

Herr Wagner remains to this day an Unraveling Musical Myths’ composer favorite – and, like fellow composer favorite Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, is featured extensively on this blog.

Visit the Wagner Archives below to learn more about this fascinating – and often misunderstood – composer:

Enjoy an incomparable rendition of Wagner’s “Im Treibhaus” (In the Greenhouse) from the composers’ gorgeous Wesendonck Lieder (WWV 91). The sensational ‘Wagnerian Soprano’ Kirsten Flagstad performs:



Question Submitted by Craig* (via email):

“Hello Rose…if you were planning a romantic evening with a new (or old) friend, and could pick only one piece of music, who/what would you pick and why?...”

Unraveling Musical Myths answers your
questions! To submit via e-mail, use the
contact form provided in the sidebar (bottom R).
Thank you for your inquiry, Craig. I imagine you are preparing for Valentine’s Day, yes? If I could only choose one piece of music (what a difficult choice to make!) for the occasion, it would be Gaetano Donizetti’s “Una Furtiva Lagrima” (A Furtive Tear) from the composer's 1832 opera L’Elisir D’Amore (The Elixir of Love) performed by French/Mexican tenor Rolando Villazón.

The aria is a classic romantic ballad – it’s back story delightfully charming: the peasant Nemorino (Villazón), hopelessly in love with Adina – a wealthy landowner – downs what he believes is a specially concocted “love potion” (which he receives from the village quack, a 'healer' named Dulcamara - and which is in reality not a love potion at all but rather a cheap Bordeaux wine) in a desperate attempt to gain his beloved’s affections. Unaware he has recently inherited a sizable fortune (from his recently deceased Uncle), Nemorino, filled to the brim with confidence thanks to his magic ‘elixir,’ walks into a room containing his ladylove (who is surrounded with a band of women). He is immediately enveloped by a flock of otherwise fickle females – all of whom have eyes only for his newfound fortune. Moved by an overzealous sense of ego, and more than a soupçon of cockiness, Nemorino plays hard-to-get and ignores everyone in his immediate sight  – including Adina, who swiftly exits the room in disappointment.

It is at this moment Nemorino realizes that the much-coveted object of his affection shares his feelings of love. Overcome with emotion, he can only sing of his  fortune:

“She loves me, that I see!...O God, I should die – I could not ask for more!”

Who among us hasn’t felt the anxiety of uncertainty, questioned the nature of our courtship, experienced the thrill of release? I would choose this aria for these reasons alone: its sentiment - as experienced and expressed through Nemorino - is a universal one.

Enjoy below Rolando Villazón’s incredibly moving rendition of this staple of romantic classical music (in a encore performance at Vienna’s Wiener Staatsoper):

Discover more (external link):

Read a translation into English (from the original Italian) at
*Reader's name used with permission.



Today Unraveling Musical Myths takes a look back at the surprisingly calamitous early history of Londons’ [The] Royal Opera House, and the riotous band of brutes and repeated fires that threatened to snuff out the theatre from the world’s cultural map.

[Fig. I] "Killing no Murder. as Performing at the Grand National Theatre" by caricaturist Issac Robert Cruikshank.

We know the Royal Opera House – or, more casually "Covent Garden" – today as one of the operatic sphere’s most esteemed theatres, Britain’s musical Mecca and the launching pad that would catapult into the stratosphere some of the world’s most beloved operatic talent – the likes of Joan Sutherland and Jon Vickers. The ROH is coveted by both singers and dancers across the globe as a "must-perform-at" venue; even so, it wasn’t always a bed of roses for the theatre’s managers (much less for it’s patrons) during it’s many years on British soil.

Originally named the “Theatre Royal,” the Opera House we know and patronize today is actually the third theatre to have been built in its location since the first theatre’s construction in 1732. The theatre that patrons of the arts knew then boasted a repertoire of predominately pantomime and other acting engagements. Ballet and Opera did indeed have a presence at the venue during this period, but they existed only in a minor role. The venue's most notable pioneer of the Operatic genre would be the composer George Frederick Handel – a recently made citizen and émigré from Halle in Germany.[1] Handel would open the theatre’s first season of operas in 1735, and would premiere many an opera and oratorio at the location, almost all of which the composer had written specifically for the theatre. The Theatre Royal, as it were, would gain much prominence as only one of two theatres (the other being Drury Lane, which opened its doors 69 years earlier, in 1663) to be granted permission to present spoken drama, operating under Patents Royal issued by then-reigning King Charles II* in 1662/63 ( *in the case of Drury Lane; the patent for the Theatre at Covent Garden having been issued prior to the building’s construction).*[see footnotes: learn more].

[Fig. II] Interior view of Covent Garden Theatre #1
By all accounts, the Theatre Royal seemed to be a thriving venue during its early reign. Popular performances of the day, however, would soon come to a most unwelcome halt in 1808, when, due to the extremely risky practice of employing candlelight to illuminate the theatre (a first resort for lighting during that era), the theatre, along with the costumes, scenery and manuscripts contained within, burned to the ground. The response was chaotic – the theatre must be rebuilt, and quickly, at that.

And quickly rebuilt it was: With an estimated damage of some £250,000, a plan had to be executed to recover the costs of rebuilding. The British nobility would swiftly step in to help facilitate the funding of such an enterprising endeavor. Acting under King George III, the Dukes of York and Northumberland would contribute a sizable donation to the pot (an amount of £76,000), whilst simultaneously introducing a “public subscription,” to be paid by visitors to the theatre until which time costs could be recouped.

This new financial agenda, however, would prove to be most unfortuitous. Patrons of the theatre were incensed with building management for increasing the costs of seating (from six shillings to seven for the boxes and from 3 shillings and sixpence to four shillings for the pit), not to mention converting the theatre’s entire third tier into private boxes, which would be made accessible only by agreeing to pay a wage of £300 per annum in rent - a wage the middle class could scarcely afford, and which the wealthy - who intended to remain wealthy, thankyouverymuch - refused to pay.

So vitriolic was the public's reaction, theatre-goers attending opening night in September 1809 would erupt into an all-out riot during a performance of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, interrupting the performance by beating sticks on the back of seats, stomping the floor, and breaking out into a hysteria of excessive booing and hissing – at one point even engaging in a frenzied dance of mockery. Police had to be called in by theatre manager John Philip Kemble just to empty the venue as enraged patrons held fast to their seats, refusing to leave the theatre in a defiant act of protest.

[Fig. III] *CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE "Acting Magistrates" read "The Riot Act"
to an incensed crowd in this contemporary illustration.
The already escalating situation at The Theatre Royal would only continue to get worse for both manager and venue following the theatres' calamitous second debut: bands of attendees would purposely arrive mid-way through a performance in an effort to pay a half-priced fare – and they would not arrive quietly. The frustrated patrons continued to chide theatre management by a issuing a barrage of insults, boos, banging and hissing – and for good measure, took to defacing the theatre itself with the early 19th century’s form of graffiti – hanging placards and banners adorned with crass language. [see Fig III]  A coffin was even brought into the theatre with a not-inconspicuous threat attached proclaiming the “death” of the fare-hike by "whooping cough" [i.e. by loud - and violent - protest].

Kemble was not one to respond to threats. In retaliation, the theatre manager hired the English prizefighter Daniel Mendoza (alongside the boxer’s personally selected band of brutes) to use as an intimidation tactic in a bold effort to silence the rioters (who now had a name: the “Old Pricers” - or, the "OPs"). Rumor had it Mendoza and his ‘hitmen’ took the illusion of inexorability quite seriously - by taking to both clubs and fists upon the face of any demonstrator who dared voice his disapproval for the fare increase.

Contemporary caricaturist Isaac Robert Cruikshank would immortalize the theatre’s most disruptive period (which lasted some three months before Kemble finally relented, temporarily lowering the price of admission and issuing a formal apology to theatregoers) in a an etching he called “Killing No Murder as Performing at the Grand National Theatre.” Mendoza serves as the focal point of the image: dead center, with club in hand, he can be seen stomping on the chest of a bloodied protestor, whilst angrily shouting the words “Down down to [Hell] with all OPs & say ‘twas Dan that sent thee there.” [Fig I]

Kemble, it seems, did not learn very quickly. By the opening of the theatre’s next season, he attempted, in vain, to preserve half of the private boxes he had designated "rental" seats in the venues' most popular third tier during the OP riots, which only served to re-incense patrons and re-kindle the riots until such time as he came to his senses and once more yielded to public demand.

English Prizefighter Daniel Mendoza was famously
hired as a de-facto bouncer for the ROH during the
infamous "OP Riots." The boxer, in addition to his
hired band of brutes were alleged to have used both
threats and fists to temper the theatre's rowdy crowds.
Surprisingly, the events of 1808-1809 would not be the last series of calamities thrust upon the ROH. The theatre would again succumb to fire in 1856 – a common occurrence for theatres of this era who had to rely on the lighting and display of candles or the use of limelight (the latter introduced in 1837, which was comprised of a highly combustible mixture of quicklime, oxygen and hydrogen flame) to illuminate both theatre and stage. Both methods of lighting were notoriously risky for their venues (and for the people within it), not to mention highly flammable in their application. The third, and final theatre would be constructed in 1858. It would be converted into a furniture storehouse during the first world war and made into a dance hall during WWII, and would not host an opera or ballet until 1946, when it was reopened as The Royal Opera.[2] The newly established Royal Ballet marked the theatres' 3rd official debut with a production of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's The Sleeping Beauty, followed by a joint venture with the also freshly-established Covent Garden Opera Company for a production of English composer Henry Purcell’s The Fairy Queen in December of opening year - which would itself be followed by the theatres’ first full opera performance in the new year: with French composer Georges Bizet’s Carmen.

Enjoy below the beautiful aria “Lontan del mio tesoro” from George Frederick Handel’s 1734 opera Il Pastor Fido. The opera would be the first of many penned by the composer to be performed at the Theatre Royal. Il Pastor…would be followed by premiere performances of Operas Ariodante in 1735, followed by both Alcina, and Atalanta the following year, and a royal performance of Messiah in 1743.

[1]George Frederick Handel, formerly Georg Frideric Händel, would become a naturalized British citizen on the 20th of February, 1727 in accordance with immigration laws under Kings George I and II which required the German native obtain citizenship to continue on in his role as a composer of Britain and as Composer of the Chapel Royal. 
Read more about this pivotal event in Herr Handel’s history right here on Unraveling Musical Myths:
[2] The Royal Opera (second theatre) would, for a brief period, be known as the “Royal Italian Opera” following the dissolution in 1843 of the Letter Patent previously issued by King Charles II which had decreed the Theatre Royal* as just one of two theatres to have held a monopoly on the production of spoken and serious drama. During this period competitor venues would at last be made aloud to thrive. The theater scored a major boon in 1843 when the revered composer Michael Costa joined the venue, bringing with him a large band of singers. It would prove to be a fortuitous move for the theatre, and following a period of operatic performances sung only in the Italian tongue - from the 1847 performance of Gioachino Rossini’s Semiramide to the year 1892, when composer and conductor Gustav Mahler debuted Richard Wagner’s German language Ring Cycle, at which point the word “Italian” was dropped from the name.

* Learn more (external link):
To discover more about the Letters Patent issued by King Charles II, and to learn more about the process, visit