March 4, 2019. Plethora. Nine composers and a conductor were born this week. The farthest removed from us, but still sounding unorthodox and fresh is Carlo Gesualdo, a great composer, a nobleman and a murderer. Prince of Venosa, he was born in that southern Italian city on March 8th of 1566 (you can read more about this fascinating person here). His music is quite remarkable in its use of chromaticism, as you can hear in this recording of Itene, o miei sospiri, a madrigal from Book V, published in 1611. It’s performed by the Italian ensemble Delitiae Musicae under the direction of Marco Longhini.
Antonio Vivaldi was born more than 100 years later, on March 4th of 1678. While Gesualdo’s music bridges the late Renaissance with the early Baroque, Vivaldi was writing when the Italian Baroque was at its peak. We know him best for his concertos (the Four Seasons being by far the most popular), but he also wrote church music, as, for example, this Canta in prato, from Introduzione al Dixit. The Scottish soprano Margaret Marshall and the English Chamber Orchestra are conducted by Vittorio Negri.
In addition to the two above, five more composers were born in Europe: Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach on March 8th of 1714, Josef Mysliveček – on March 9th of 1737, Pablo de Sarasate – on March 10th of 1844, Maurice Ravel – on March 7th of 1875, and Arthur Honegger – on March 10th of 1892. CPE Bach and Mysliveček were fine representatives of the early Classical period; Sarasate was a Romantic, Ravel – an Impressionist, and Honegger – a member of Les Six, who were both influenced by and rejected Impressionism. By the end of the 19th century European classical music tradition spread over the American continents, and two of our composers were born there: Heitor Villa-Lobos, in Brazil, on March 5th of 1887, and Samuel Barber, in the US, on March 9th of 1910.
From Gesualdo to Barber – that’s a wonderful arc, and we could play hours of great music by these composers, but we’d like to celebrate a different milestone: Bernard Haitink will turn 90 today, March 4th. We had the pleasure of hearing him conduct the Chicago Symphony on many occasions; his interpretations of Mahler are superb, only Pierre Boulez (whose approach was very differen) could reach the same level of musicianship with his award-winning version of the Ninth Symphony. Haitink was born in Amsterdam. As a child he studied the violin; he joined the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra as a violinist. Soon after he started conducting with that orchestra and at the age of 27 became its principal conductor. In 1956 he got a chance to conduct the great Concertgebouw Orchestra, when Carlo Maria Giulini became indisposed and Haitink was asked to step in (Cherubini's Requiem was in the program). The concert went very well and soon Haitink was made a guest conductor. In 1961 he became Concertgebouw’s youngest ever principal conductor, a position he shared for two years with the famous German, Eugen Jochum; in 1963 Jochum left and Haitink remained as the only principal conductor. While at the Concertgebouw, in 1967, he became involved with the London Philharmonic Orchestra (there, he was also the principal conductor); he worked and toured with both. Haitink was a prolific opera conductor: in 1977 he became the musical director of the Glyndebourne Festival; he also worked at the Metropolitan Opera and the Covent Garden. With the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, he video-recorded the full Ring cycle. In 2006 Haitink was made the principal conductor of the Chicago Symphony and later was offered the position of the music director but declined citing his age. Here’s the Finale, of Mahler’s Symphony no. 6 (Allegro moderato - Allegro energico). The Chicago Symphony Orchestra is conducted by Bernard Haitink.