B is one of those letters that I had to make choices for. So many interesting composers to choose from.
Bernstein is known for a wide variety of musical styles in his composing but he is also known as a master conductor, a philanthropist, a pianist, a music educator, and more. I was able to play in the pit orchestra while in college for a production of his West Side Story musical. Such a fun and challenging piece to play. It was a great experience. This is a musical that our family enjoys but it was one we waited a bit to show the girls. It has some great musical complexity and variety, which is often evident in Bernstein’s music.
Bernstein’s family lived in the northeast. His family was not particularly musical but when the family was given a piano, Bernstein taught himself to play. He was 10. From there, his love and learning in music grew quickly. He attended university and studied music. When he was just 25 years old, he was made assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic. He spent much time traveling to conduct orchestras around the world.
He wrote pieces such as the operetta Candide, based on a libretto (lyrics) from Voltaire. He wrote symphonies, including Symphony No. 1: Jeremiah, in 1943 (some place this in 1942 and others in 1944). His symphonies were influenced by his Jewish heritage. He also worked with Jerome Robbins to create not only West Side Story but some ballets as well. His composing was prolific.
Bernstein was an advocate for American composers. He sought to help other composers, such as Copeland and Ives.
Probably one of the most important works he did was to embrace the Young People’s Concerts with the New York Philharmonic. These were live but also broadcast on television. This brought music to children and into homes, making it fun and accessible for everyone. Here is a sample of one of the Young People’s Concerts, introduced by Whoopi Goldberg.
This may be one you think you don’t recognize but I’ll bet you do. Take a listen to this piece.
This is Farandole from L’Arlésienne. This was dramatic music for a play. Very popular then and still well known today. I’ll bet you hummed along. 🙂
What about this piece?
This is the Overture to the opera Carmen, written by Bizet in 1875. It opened in Paris to terrible reviews. It was too real for too many of the critics. However, it was well accepted before too long. However, Bizet never knew it because he died shortly after the opening of the opera.
Bizet was another whose family encouraged him to pursue his musical ability. So much so that his family is said to have hidden his books so he would work more on music and less on reading stories. His musical ability brought some fabulous melodies to life for us.
These are two of my favorites to listen to and/or play from the letter B. I also looked at Bax. Sir Arnold Edward Trevor Bax, knighted in 1937, was a composer of symphonies but also an author, playwright, and poet. He was highly influenced by the sights, sounds, and culture of Ireland. The music of Russia and the music of English composer Ralph Vaughn Williams.
I didn’t know anything about this composer until my husband and I were putting the list of composers together to study. He had recently comes across a number of CDs of Bax’s music in the racks of Half Price Books, his favorite place to search out new music to explore. Bax’s music falls into the late Romantic/early 20th century realm. It is described as Romantic, for the most part. My husband really enjoyed the music and so now I am exploring this composer a bit, too. Here is a piece of his.
Lori, At Home.
Composer ABCs in this series:
A – Leroy Anderson