To celebrate, to commemorate: 2017 anniversaries from ballet to jazz via a rocket.

Portrait of Monteverdi by Bernardo Strozzi

Portrait of Claudio Monteverdi (1567 – 1643) by Bernardo Strozzi

But first, may I on behalf of us all here at MusiCB3 wish all our readers a safe, happy and fulfilling 2017.  We will be here each week as always with a few words to delight and divert, exploring the extraordinary riches we have tucked away in unexpected corners of this magnificent building. Now then, to business: I know you cannot wait to see who/what I have chosen from the many, many musical anniversaries which fall this year.

Well, let’s start with the Big Names shall we? Monteverdi, Kodaly and Dizzy Gillespie. An interesting trio don’t you think? Claudio Monteverdi was born in Cremona in 1567 and I await what will be a delicious array of celebrations showcasing the music of this most inventive and original of composers. The Vespers [M200.a.272.36] and Orfeo [M260.a.95.190], I’m sure, but I hope also we shall hear many of his extraordinary madrigals [M200.a.170.3 et seq.]. Fast forward 400 years and we mark the passing of Zoltan Kodaly in 1967 – best remembered for ‘that’ cimbalom solo in Háry János [MRS.8.240], Kodaly also wrote the most hair-raisingly fabulous sonata for solo cello (some of which is, literally, off the end of the fingerboard) [ M370.a.95.78-79], those wonderful Dances from Galanta [M319.d.2.11] and of course many choral pieces and folk-song settings. Fifty years earlier, the man who would become one of the world’s most celebrated jazz trumpeters was born in Cheraw, South Carolina – Dizzy Gillespie. He put bebop on the map and is famous not only for the trumpet with the 45 degree ‘bent bell’, but also his trademark pouched cheeks when playing. The UL has numerous biographies as well as arrangements of some of his classics. [ A2007.191]

Whilst on the subject of trademarks, many of you will, I’m sure, remember the carnation in the buttonhole of the conductor Sir Malcolm Sargent who died in 1967. Synonymous with the Proms and snappy dressing (not for nothing was he affectionately dubbed ‘Flash Harry’), large-scale performances of Messiah [MR210.a.85.2, 3] and other choral favourites, to many he simply embodied the British classical music world after the Second World War.

Executing a quick, but graceful, enchaînement across the page, I see that Ludwig Minkus died in 1917. We remember him principally for the music for the ballet La Bayadère with magical choreography by Marius Petipa and that famous opium-induced spectacular for the corps de ballet ‘Kingdom of the Shades’ and its over-the-top ‘plot’ of betrayed love, sacrifice and transfiguration. Good stuff.

Now what about this rocket my title refers to? Nothing to do with Music for the Royal Fireworks [MR472.a.200.14], but attentive students of the History of the Symphony will no doubt remember the ‘Mannheim Rocket’ invented (if that’s the right word) by Johann Stamitz, who was born 300 years ago in Bohemia. This refers to the rapid upward scale or arpeggio passages, growing louder the higher they rose, he would often introduce in his many symphonies (58 in all) written during his time at the Mannheim court. More importantly, however, he was responsible for many of the developments which became what are now familiar to us as the building blocks of the symphony, and which Haydn picked up and took to new heights of perfection.

And finally –  reminding you on the way that harpsichordist George Malcolm was born 100 years ago (and whom I often had the great privilege of hearing in concert), Thomas Campion 450 years ago, Franz Waxman of many wonderful film scores and fiendishly difficult Carmen Fantasy fame died in 1967 – I take my leave to the strains of Lefébure-Wély’s (born 1817) Sortie in E flat [M350.a.95.248] for organ. Guaranteed to put a spring in your step and a sparkle in your eyes as you walk towards 2017…


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