First and foremost a very happy and healthy 2018 to all our devoted followers! It falls to me once again to look ahead and pick out some of the anniversaries which I am particularly looking forward to. The last few weeks have been spent working steadily through all the books in Hans Keller’s library (eh? Where is she going with this? I hear you think. Fear not, all will become clear) – that’s a different post of course, so watch this space…but, in amongst the many, many volumes was Volume 9 of the Fifth Edition of Grove’s Dictionary (Eric Blom’s masterpiece) [MR410.c.95.22]. Flicking through and noting the annotations alongside the entry for Webern, I came, at last, to Appendix I which to my delight provides a chronology of who was born and who died when. So, I have taken this as the basis for my choices. Here goes:
Way back in 1418 Henry Abygdon was born. His particular claim to fame, for those of us here in Cambridge is that on 22 February 1463 he was the first person to be awarded the degree of Bachelor of Music (or at least, the first to be recorded). So for that reason alone, he must be included, although sadly, as far as we know, none of his music has survived. Fifty years later came William Cornysh the younger (although, it must be said that the date of his birth is far from certain and the current Grove doesn’t give one) – some of whose music most definitely has survived in the Eton Choirbook, [M200.a.30.5-6] and glorious stuff it is too.
For my next choice we must cross the channel and fast-forward to 1818, where we celebrate the birth of Parisian Charles Gounod whose Ave Maria – a re-imagination of the first of Bach’s 48 preludes and Fugues – is his signature tune. Back this side of La Manche, and in the same year, pianist and composer Henry Litolff was also born. He is best known for “that” scherzo from his Fourth Concerto Symphonique, op.102 in D minor, to which my father always used to sing the words “get your hair cut” (whether a reminder to himself, or an admonition to me, I have no idea, but as a result, the melody is well and truly rooted in my memory). The poor man did actually compose a great deal of music as this eye-wateringly long list shows https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_compositions_by_Henry_Litolff. Perhaps 2018 will bring some of it back into the repertoire…
1868 seems to have been a bumper year for anniversaries with the birth of Bantock and Hamish MacCunn (another one-hit-wonder man with his 1887 concert overture Land of the Mountain and the Flood) and the deaths of the Swedish composer Berwald and Rossini. Opera houses are no doubt gearing up all over the world, dusting down their sets and costumes of Barber of Seville, Semiramide, La Cenerenola, William Tell and The Thieving Magpie (h’mm, maybe there should be a comma or two in there somewhere as I don’t think Rossini told that particular tale…). Coloratura sopranos and tenors will be madly exercising their vocal chords for the challenges to come – and what fun it will be!
I am very much looking forward to seeing what is done to mark the death of Debussy in 1918: LSO St. Luke’s, for example, has a whole BBC lunchtime series devoted to Debussy and Pizzetti which will be fascinating. I hope also that Cesar Cui and Hubert Parry are remembered.
So much for my Grove V selection, but that, of course, is not the end of the story – other birth anniversaries of note include Leonard Bernstein (which again, the LSO will be celebrating, especially given their close connection with him), the violinists Ruggiero Ricci (whose recording of the Beethoven concerto was my very first LP) and Henryk Szeryng and that most celebrated of Wagnerian sopranos Birgit Nillson.
Finally, we cannot avoid the fact that 1918 also marked the end of the First World War – but I am sure we will look at that more closely as the year unfolds.
So for now, Prosit Neujahr!