Welcome to the new Program Notes Database! Below find writings on more than 300 compositions, grouped by composer and sorted by last name, Aho to Zemlinsky. Use the navigation above to skip to a particular letter or press "More" for additional notes sorted by concert title. Hashtags located at the top right corner of every box will take you to MusicCentral blog posts which discuss that composer or topic. Tip: Linked PDFs often include notes for more than one composition; scroll through the document until you reach the desired composition.
Aho, Kalevi (*1949)
Kalevi Aho is regarded as one of Finland’s foremost contemporary composers. Like his teacher Einojuhani Rautavaara, Aho has written a number of largescale operas, symphonies, and concerti throughout the course of his career; in the case of the latter two genres, Aho has actually been more prolific than his teacher. So far, there have been sixteen symphonies, and, since the dawn of the new millennium, it has been a goal of Aho to write a concerto for every instrument in the symphony orchestra.
Amram, David (*1930)
The music of prolific American composer David Amram spans the classical, jazz, folk, and world music traditions. His composition Blues and Variations for Monk for solo horn was written in honor of the legendary modern jazz pianist Thelonious Monk whom Amram worshiped as a young man and whom later became a personal friend of his.
Arnold, Malcolm (1921-2006)
With Benjamin Britten and Michael Tippett, Sir Malcolm Arnold is generally regarded as one of Great Britain’s key symphonic composers of the mid-twentieth century. Although these three were certainly aware of their Modernist contemporaries and occasionally benefited from their ideas, their interests were mostly tonal. More often they found common ground with the music of composers like Berlioz, Mahler, and Shostakovich or earlier models, specifically those connected to their British heritage.
Babbitt, Milton (1916-2011)
The American composer Milton Babbitt was one of the chief innovators within musical Modernism. Babbitt sought to extend the organizational principles of twelve-tone serialism as conceived by Arnold Schoenberg to elements other than pitch, in the process becoming one of the originators of integral serialism. He also made notable contributions to electronic music as evidenced by his 1964 work Philomel for soprano and tape.
Bach, Johann Sebastian (1685-1750)
Today the German Baroque composer Johann Sebastian Bach is regarded by many listeners, performers, and music scholars as the greatest of all composers. Yet during his lifetime, that was not the case. For the majority of his career, Bach was employed as a music director, cantor, and school teacher who was only occasionally hired-out as an organ tuner and who only occasionally had the chance to demonstrate his technical skills on the organ and harpsichord. Among his best-known works are the Mass in B minor, St. Matthew Passion, The Well-Tempered Clavier, Brandenburg Concerti, and The Art of Fugue.
The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I: Prelude and Fugue in C minor, BWV 847
The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book II: Prelude and Fugue in C-sharp minor, BWV 873
Bartók, Béla (1881-1945)
Accompanied by his friend and colleague Zoltán Kodály, the composer and pianist Béla Bartók regularly made expeditions into the Hungarian countryside to record and transcribe the folksongs of their people. These expeditions mark some of the earliest research in the discipline of ethnomusicology, and jointly Bartók and Kodály published several collections of authentic folksongs as well as arrangements. Folk material also found its way into their compositions where, especially in the case of Bartók, it partnered with Modernist devices to give his music its characteristic effect.
Bax, Arnold (1883-1953)
Sir Arnold Bax has been called the most Celtic of British composers. Although born in London, Bax found his inspiration in the landscape, folklore, and literature of Ireland and the elements of Celtic culture that still endured on that neighboring island. And, while many other composers in the early twentieth century were intent on breaking with the Romantic past, Bax was content for his music to remain lush in its orchestrations and driven in its harmonies.
Cello Sonata in E-flat major
Beach, Amy (1867-1944)
The American composer and pianist Amy Beach was among the first women to gain recognition for her compositions. This achievement did not come without struggle, however, for she too was discouraged from a life dedicated to music. Although she found acclaim in Europe in the years immediately preceding World War I, there has recently been renewed interest in her music, especially since the 1990s, and the majority of her compositions have now been recorded.
Theme and Variations, Op. 80 for flute and string quartet
Beethoven, Ludwig van (1770-1827)
Ludwig van Beethoven was still a young man when he arrived in Vienna in November 1792 prepared to study with the aged master Joseph Haydn. Although back in Bonn Haydn had praised Beethoven for the potential he saw in him, now as teacher and pupil, the two found little common ground. Whereas Haydn fervently upheld the rules of social etiquette and expected his student to do the same, Beethoven cared little for established values and frequently rebelled against them. Similarly in his compositions, Beethoven looked to the freedom of his imagination and saw music as a means for creative expression.
Benner, Al (*1955)
Al Benner is an award-winning composer with over 120 works to his credit. He is based in Natchitoches, Louisiana where he teaches at the Louisiana School for Math, Science, and the Arts. His Grace Variations for string duet was composed for the special occasion of he and his wife Lisa’s wedding in 1990 to be played by two of their good friends who were violinists.
Bogdanović, Dušan (*1955)
The Yugoslavian-born guitarist and composer Dušan Bogdanović takes inspiration from the classical, jazz, and world music idioms, all of which he is active in as a performer and recording artist. Bogdanović studied at the Geneva Conservatory where the celebrated Argentine composer Alberto Ginastera was among his teachers. His theoretical text Polyrhythmic and Polymetric Studies for Guitar is well-regarded for its insights into improvisation, a topic he has also discussed in relation to performance practice in the Renaissance.
Bolcom, William (*1938)
If Scott Joplin, the African-American composer of Maple Leaf Rag and The Entertainer, can be regarded as the most famous creator of piano rags, then the contemporary American composer William Bolcom has every claim to second place. Bolcom would make an important contribution to the ragtime revival of the 1970s by composing and performing new rags—something no one had done for probably fifty years prior.
The Serpent's Kiss for solo piano
Borodin, Alexander (1833-1887)
Professionally the Russian composer Alexander Borodin was known as a chemist. He wrote music only in his spare time which in retrospect severely limited his output. Music, however, was a lifelong passion for Borodin, and, ultimately, in works like his String Quartet No. 2 and others, he discovered a balance between the German tradition of chamber music and the new Russian Nationalism advocated by his mentor Mily Balakirev.
Brahms, Johannes (1833-1897)
The Austrian composer Johannes Brahms is sometimes considered a musical reactionary, a composer more interested in exploring past idioms than pursuing a music of the future. This assumption is not wholly untrue, for Brahms did, in fact, take inspiration from the past, looking to the music of Beethoven, Bach, and the German tradition for guidance, with more assuredness in this tradition than most of his contemporaries. Yet, what he borrowed from the past, he integrated into a personal and innovative aesthetic, if not as adamantly progressive in his stance as say Wagner or Liszt, his chief rivals.
Britten, Benjamin (1913-1976)
In the early 1940s while the world was at war, the young English composer Benjamin Britten was charting the seas, searching to find himself amidst a troubled world. He and his partner the tenor Peter Pears had set out for the United States, hoping to free themselves of the petty rivalries and groundless suspicions they faced in their own country. By June 1945, Britten had completed a new opera in which Pears would sing the title role—an opera called Peter Grimes with its many hints of autobiography.
Phantasy, Op. 2 for oboe quartet
Cage, John (1912-1992)
The music of American composer John Cage has remained as controversial as it is experimental. His numerous innovations include the creation of the prepared piano, a reevaluation of silence, an emphasis on chance elements, and a calling into question of the composition act itself. He was also a pioneer of electronic music, brought considerable attention to percussion instruments, and, with his partner Merce Cunningham, redefined the relationship between music and dance.
Cherubini, Luigi (1760-1842)
Italian composer Luigi Cherubini, if a lesser-known name today, was regarded by his contemporaries as one of Europe’s preeminent composers. In fact Beethoven considered him to be their era’s greatest living composer, and his operas were an inspiration to both Beethoven and Brahms. Cherubini was born in Florence, receiving his first musical training from his father who was a harpsichordist at the Teatro della Pergola. Indeed Cherubini had already gained international renown as a composer of opera while still in his twenties.
Chopin, Frédéric (1810-1849)
It was with some reluctance that the Polish-born pianist and composer Frédéric Chopin came to resettle in Paris in September 1831. Almost a year earlier in November 1830, he had left Warsaw hoping to make his career in Vienna, but had not found happiness there. Although at first he had similar difficulties establishing himself in Paris, Chopin was soon adopted by Parisian high society. Just as he excelled as a pianist in quieter settings, Chopin excelled as a composer when writing in smaller forms.
Études, Op. 25: No. 1 in A-flat major 'Aeolian Harp'
Fantaisie in F minor, Op. 49
Impromptu No. 1 in A-flat major, Op. 29
Clarke, Nigel (*1960)
It was as a trumpeter in military bands that English composer Nigel Clarke began his musical career. Spurred, however, by the music of New Polish School composers like Witold Lutosławski and Krzysztof Penderecki, Clarke began studies at the Royal Academy of Music where he won such prestigious awards as the Josiah Parker Prize and the Queen’s Commendation for Excellence. Clarke’s eagerness to collaborate and his creativity have made his concert hall works well worth the listen, even if many critics have yet to catch on.
Debussy, Claude (1862-1918)
The importance of Frenchman Claude Debussy as the first composer to break with traditional tonality is sometimes overlooked in light of the pure beauty and wonderful imagery of his music. For Debussy, the route away from tonality came through the usage of medieval modes, non-traditional scales, extended harmonies, parallel motion, and, more generally, a vocabulary chosen for the way it sounds rather than its conventional harmonic function.
Domeniconi, Carlo (*1947)
The music of Italian guitarist and composer Carlo Domeniconi, much like that of Dušan Bogdanović, has drawn inspirations from around the world. To this effect, he has insisted that classical guitarists look beyond what has traditionally been called “classical” and has sought to expand the palette available to these musicians through his own wide-ranging compositions. He has taken an international approach to his career as well, living in Berlin since 1969 with an influential stint from 1977 to 1980 in Istanbul.
Dowland, John (1563-1626)
Lutenist and composer John Dowland was the chief innovator of the English lute song. This genre synthesizes the popular ballad with instrumental dances like the pavan and galliard, the consort song, and the expressive text setting of the Italian madrigal. Trained in music at Oxford, Dowland integrated into his lute accompaniments all the complexities of learned counterpoint. Unlike his songs, his nearly one hundred solo lute works remained unpublished and many have survived in several different versions.
Songs and Lute Music II
Dvořák, Antonín (1841-1904)
Antonín Dvořák, the composer who had transformed Bohemian music into an internationally-respected art form, arrived in New York City on September 26, 1892. He had been brought to the United States to do the same for American music which he had done for the music of his own nation. Although the United States already possessed several impressive orchestras as Dvořák himself acknowledged, it lacked native composers of any great standing and those composers that had begun to emerge seemed to lack direction. American orchestras, therefore, played mostly the masterpieces of European music.
Elgar, Edward (1857-1934)
It was in 1898, when Edward Elgar was already in his forties, that he began work on the piece that would change his fortune as a composer. The Enigma Variations were written by a man who had long-dreamed of making his career as a composer, yet until then he found little public success. Through the Enigma Variations and the works which followed like The Dream of Gerontius, Pomp and Circumstance Marches, his two symphonies, and ultimately the Cello Concerto, Elgar became the first English-born composer of international stature since Henry Purcell some two centuries earlier.
Falla, Manuel de (1876-1946)
By the outbreak of World War I in 1914, the Spanish composer Manuel de Falla had spent seven years living in Paris, where he worked alongside the era’s leading innovators including composers Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel, and Igor Stravinsky as well as the impresario Serge Diaghilev. In his years abroad, the music of his homeland never became foreign to Falla and imitations of Spanish folk music often appeared in his compositions.
La vida breve: Danza Española No. 1
Fauré, Gabriel (1845-1924)
French composer Gabriel Fauré is best-remembered for his Requiem—an hour-long composition for chorus, two vocal soloists, organ, and orchestra. Yet Fauré was more often a practitioner of small forms as evidenced by his charming songs and delightful chamber music. In his own era, he was called a Modernist, although he never defied tonality like those composers of subsequent generations. His musical language instead was one of sensuous colors, subtle harmonies, and poetically-crafted melodies.
Feldman, Morton (1926-1987)
The American experimental composer Morton Feldman sought plasticity when he began designing graphic scores in the 1950s. Though his teachers had been professed serialists, Feldman found greater inspiration in the paintings of the abstract expressionists who were like he and his musical colleagues mainly active in New York City. Feldman, nevertheless, would not keep to graphic scores. Though his fundamentally soft and slow aesthetic would change little, he became more specific in his signification of sounds later in his career, returning to standard musical notation in many cases.
Fleury, Hélène (1876-1957)
The career of Hélène Fleury followed the pattern of so many female composers in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries: after tremendous successes in their youths, these women found themselves unable to pursue composition as a fulltime profession and their prodigious outputs quickly fell into neglect. More often than not, this occurred as the result of the male-dominated society and not some objective, artistic standard these women could not meet. Fleury indeed was the first woman awarded the Prix de Rome, although after 1910 she published no additional works, instead becoming a piano teacher and eventually Professor of Harmony and Composition in Toulouse.
Gershwin, George (1898-1937)
The American composer, songwriter, and pianist, George Gershwin achieved a unique synthesis of the classical, popular, and jazz idioms that pervaded all his compositions whether written for the concert hall or Broadway stage. With the pivotal Rhapsody in Blue, we must remember that Gershwin actually crossed not from art music into folk tradition and the popular sphere, but the reverse. As of 1924, he was still an upstart Tin Pan Alley songwriter and Broadway tunesmith—only now did he begin to demonstrate his true genius as much more.
Ginastera, Alberto (1916-1983)
The leading Argentine composer of the twentieth century, Alberto Ginastera successfully combined the folk heritage of his native Argentina with the Western concert hall tradition. From the 1950s onward, this would also include the avant-garde elements which his colleagues in Europe and the United States were exploring. Although he would incorporate Modern elements as radical as serialism and indeterminacy into later works, Ginastera resolvedly dismissed his contemporaries’ fascination with purely-intellectual creation.
Glass, Philip (*1937)
The works of American composer Philip Glass shall forever be linked to minimalism, an artistic movement which favors the permutation of minute motivic fragments. Yet, from the mid-1970s, Glass has adapted this chosen aesthetic to impressively largescale projects including more than a dozen operas, twelve symphonies, fifteen concerti, and numerous film scores. Among his best-known works are the early Music in Twelve Parts, written for the Philip Glass Ensemble, and the trilogy of operas Einstein on the Beach, Satyagraha, and Akhnaten.
Glazunov, Alexander (1865-1936)
The most celebrated Russian composer of his era, Alexander Glazunov was the figure who finally reconciled the warring Russianist and Europeanist factions in his country’s emerging concert music tradition. From Balakirev and Borodin, he inherited the nationalistic traits of their idiom while from Rimsky-Korsakov and Tchaikovsky he gained a polished, professional approach resembling that of Western European composers. After the Russian Revolution, Glazunov served for ten years as Director of the Leningrad Conservatory, although in his final years he relocated to Paris.
Goltermann, Julius (1825-1876)
The German cellist Julius Goltermann was regarded as one of the most preeminent virtuosi of his era. From 1850 he was also a well-respected professor of cello at the Prague Conservatory where he taught among other students, David Popper, one of the foremost cellists of the next generation and a name still known today by all professional cellists and cello students. Goltermann, like most of the great virtuosi of the nineteenth century, wrote his own showpieces and often borrowed familiar melodies from popular operas when creating these compositions.
Grieg, Edvard (1843-1907)
Undoubtedly the Peer Gynt Suite No. 1 contains some of the world’s best-known and most-loved music. Ironically though when its creator, the Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg, completed the original incidental music, he had no idea the success it would be. Apparently he had so little confidence in this music that he refused to attend its premiere, and he only gradually came to value what he had created in light of its eager acceptance by the musical public. Today many consider the music-enhanced stage play the Norwegian national drama.
Haas, Pavel (1899-1944)
The Moravian composer Pavel Haas is regarded as the most important pupil of Leoš Janáček with whom he studied at the Brno Conservatory from 1920 to 1922. Haas followed his teacher’s example of creating a Moravian national idiom drawn from folksong as well as spoken language; like Janáček he also became a champion of stage music. Later Haas assimilated the rhythmic and harmonic traits of Modernism and jazz, while his cultural identity as a Jew encouraged him to integrate elements of Jewish chant and synagogue traditions into his idiom. He was murdered at Auschwitz.
Halvorsen, Johan (1864-1935)
With his friends and colleagues Edvard Grieg and Johan Svendsen, Johan Halvorsen is regarded as one of the leading figures in Norwegian music at the turn of the twentieth century. In his youth, Halvorsen was primarily known as a violinist: he frequently played as a soloist, served as concertmaster, and also taught violin. From the 1890s, however, he made his reputation as a conductor, directing the orchestra of the National Theatre in Christiania (Oslo). Composition was in some ways an afterthought, and Halvorsen only began composing after his appointment to the Helsinki Music Institute in 1889.
Handel, George Frideric (1685-1759)
German by birth, the composer George Frideric Handel studied in Italy, bringing with him Italian opera when he settled in Great Britain. In total Handel wrote thirty-six operas in Italian for the English stage before his audience lost interest and he switched to oratorio, this time in their own language. The opera Giulio Cesare was one of his most successful, premiered on February 20, 1724 and revived by Handel another three times.
Haydn, Joseph (1732-1809)
Austrian composer Joseph Haydn is often regarded as the “Father of the String Quartet.” Indeed it was Haydn who near single-handedly cultivated the string quartet from its most rudimentary form into the defining genre of chamber music. His sixty-eight quartets not only standardized such practices as the interdependency of all four instruments and a four-movement layout framed by a fast movement to either side, but they also demonstrated an impressively wide array of novel moods and characters which have spoken to every composer who has engaged with the genre since. His accomplishments in the symphony were of similar stature, thus he is also called the “Father of the Symphony.”
Hindemith, Paul (1895-1963)
In the years following World War I, objectivity was something sought by many composers who held the old culture and their music’s participation in it accountable for the atrocities of the war years. The German composer Paul Hindemith was no exception. The new objectivity of he and his colleagues purported that a work’s content had everything to do with its usage: “form follows function,” in other words. Indeed a piece only had relevance in the present and, like so many Baroque sonatas, could be discarded and replaced by something else after its usefulness was finished.
Hoffmann, Heinrich Anton (1770-1842)
The German violinist-composer Heinrich Anton Hoffmann was concertmaster in Frankfurt in the early nineteenth-century. Surrounded by towering figures like Mozart, Spohr, and Paganini, it is little surprise that Hoffmann’s compositions, although few in number, have sparked some interest of their own. In style and technique, the duos of Hoffmann resemble not Paganini but the earlier French manner of Pierre Rode in whose compositions virtuosity was mediated by an appeal to charm and taste.
Honegger, Arthur (1892-1955)
Of Swiss parentage, Arthur Honegger spent much of his life in France where he was considered one of his generation’s foremost composers. Following studies at the Paris Conservatoire, Honegger and several former classmates were dubbed Les Six in a newspaper article published by Henri Collet in 1920. Although Honegger shared with these colleagues a renewed interest in formal and harmonic clarity apart from the perceived excesses of impressionism, he never sympathized with the mocking wit and satire evidenced by Francis Poulenc and Darius Milhaud, especially in their initial works.
Sonatine, H. 80 for violin and cello
Hovhaness, Alan (1911-2000)
The Armenian-American composer Alan Hovhaness was one of the most original voices in twentieth-century music. Indeed his sense of self-reliance and freedom of vision made his music as American as anything by Copland or Bernstein—names we more readily associate with American symphonic music. Simultaneously his interests in modality, counterpoint, Eastern traditions, and mysticism lent his aesthetic a meditative quality which some have seen as foreshadowing the music of later composers like Arvo Pärt and John Tavener. Throughout his long career, Hovhaness created more than five hundred compositions and a staggering sixty-seven symphonies.
Ito, Yasuhide (*1960)
Japanese composer Yasuhide Ito is one of today’s most prolific composers with more than one thousand works to his credit. He is best-known for his pieces for wind band, including his Gloriosa and Festal Scenes, but he has also written orchestral, chamber, and piano music. His opera Mr. Cinderella received much acclaim from Japanese critics when it premiered in 2001; it has since been followed by a second opera, AMO, in 2015. He is a professor at Senzoku Gakuen College of Music in Kawasaki, Japan and is highly-respected as a conductor, making guest appearances across east Asia.
Joplin, Scott (c.1868-1917)
The self-proclaimed “King of the Ragtime Writers,” Scott Joplin was one of the most significant figures in American music at the turn of the twentieth century. Although Joplin’s music was largely forgotten for several decades after his death, the ragtime revival of the 1970s reaffirmed his position as the central figure in ragtime, especially after the 1973 film The Sting brought his music back into the public consciousness. Most people today will recognize the name Scott Joplin if you as much as hum the opening bars of his most famous piece, The Entertainer.
Kagel, Mauricio (1931-2008)
When the Argentine composer Mauricio Kagel arrived in Germany in 1957, the European avant-garde was in its heyday. It was the presence of Stockhausen which had drawn Kagel to Cologne as it had also drawn Ligeti and Cardew that same year. Yet, as far as aesthetics were concerned, Kagel refused to blindly accept integral serialism. Instead Kagel might be considered a true experimentalist in the manner of Cage and his followers. For Kagel, music was action, and the entire activities of composition and performance were the music, not merely the sounds created through these activities.
Con Voce for three mute players
Dressur for three percussionists
Schattenklänge for bass clarinet
Siegfriedp’ for solo cello
Klughardt, August (1847-1902)
The composer and opera conductor August Klughardt was part of the so-called New German School associated with Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner. Like them he emphasized opera and programmatic music, but apparently he was not ready to give up absolute forms or chamber music either. In his operas, he attempted to blend the Wagnerian reforms—the large orchestra and use of leitmotivs—with the aria-recitative format that had structured opera from its outset. Such attempts met with varying success, yet in his own era Klughardt was evidently regarded as a distinguished composer.
Kodály, Zoltán (1882-1967)
Zoltán Kodály is a seminal figure in the history of modern Hungary. A linguist as well as a composer, his doctoral thesis was entitled, “The Verse Structure of Hungarian Folksong.” Through recording expeditions with his friend Béla Bartók, the influences of folksong found their way into his compositions with the melodic attributes of this repertoire coming as particular inspiration. Kodály was furthermore committed to education, and he sought the elevation of the Hungarian people through music. His best-known compositions are his Psalmus hungaricus and Missa brevis—largescale, choral pieces of popular orientation.
Korngold, Erich Wolfgang (1897-1957)
Alongside Mozart and Mendelssohn, Erich Wolfgang Korngold is regarded as one of the great child prodigies of music history. So much of what Korngold accomplished was at so young an age that in fact his late Romantic aesthetic was already fully-formed before the outbreak of World War I. His early fame made it possible for him to become one of Hollywood’s leading composers in the 1930s and 1940s, yet after the war when he sought to return to the concert hall, his unchanged aesthetic was viewed as thoroughly outdated. In recent years, however, his music has found an increasing number of advocates.
Lansky, Paul (*1944)
American composer Paul Lansky has had a varied career as a composer and music theorist, engaging with serialism, computer music, and more recently a renewed appreciation for instrumental music. Studies George Perle and Milton Babbitt encouraged Lansky to explore serialism, developing in conjunction with Perle an approach they described as “twelve-tone tonality.” This concept followed Lansky into his computer music, a medium which he explored almost exclusively for two decades. In his return to instrumental music, Lansky has transplanted his interest in timbre and insistence on precision to the acoustic medium.
Liszt, Franz (1811-1886)
The Hungarian composer and pianist Franz Liszt was well-known for his otherworldly virtuosity. Even as a boy, Liszt was receiving the highest acclaim. His Viennese piano teacher, the respected Carl Czerny, refused to accept payment for lessons considering it too much of a privilege to teach the talented child; Beethoven also offered his praise and guidance. Liszt’s technique only improved though, and by the 1830s he had become a fixture of Parisian society. Later Liszt would relocate to Weimar and direct his energies toward composition, gathering around him what he considered a “New German School.”
Transcendental Étude No. 4 in D minor 'Mazeppa'
Loeffler, Charles Martin (1861-1935)
German by birth, the composer and violinist Charles Martin Loeffler moved to Paris and took on French mannerisms before finally emigrating to the United States where he served as assistant concertmaster to the Boston Symphony Orchestra for two decades. Loeffler was incredibly self-reliant as a composer, formulating his own aesthetic which merged German technical prowess with the rich harmonies of contemporary French music. With the exception of a few works which integrate jazz elements, his music does not appeal to an Americanist idiom as do works by native composers like Ives and Copland.