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Back to School with WCRB: Lesser-Known Composers A to Z

This Labor Day Weekend, WCRB is celebrating the alphabet of composers with an A to Z weekend - a piece by a composer whose name starts with A, then B, and so on through Z, more than 10 times throughout Labor Day Weekend.

Because the music is really what we're here for, here's a playlist featuring each of the composers mentioned below. Enjoy it while you find out which composer was encouraged by Dvorak to pursue composition, who Scarlatti joked that he should be taking lessons from, and who almost had their nose burned off by a doctor.

Albrechtsberger, Johann Georg (1736-1809): Studied philosophy as well as music theory, the latter of which earned him fame in Vienna. He taught Mozart's youngest son and Beethoven, among many others. Wrote concerti for many different instruments, including seven for jaw harp.

Blake, Howard (b. 1938): Unappreciated by his contemporaries at the Royal Academy of Music, Blake turned to pub and club shows as a pianist. After gaining the attention of the record label EMI, he became a session musician, then arranger/composer. You may recognize his most well-known work - the score for the 1982 film "The Snowman:"

Chadwick, George Whitefield (1854-1931): A member of the Second New England School of American composers, Chadwick played a large role in Boston's cultivation of leading American composers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He became Director of the New England Conservatory in 1897, and invited BSO members to teach private lessons there.

Delibes, Léo (1836-1981): Considered to be the first composer to write high-quality ballet music, he was an influence on Tchaikovsky. Best-known for this:

Ewald, Victor (1860-1935): Somehow had time to be both a professor of Civil Engineering in St. Petersburg AND the cellist for Beliaeff Quartet for a number of years. Best known for his brass quintets.

Farkas, Ferenc (1905-2000): His output includes musical contributions to film, theater plays, and radio plays. Farkas played a central role in Hungary's influence on modernist music.

German, Edward (1862-1936): Though his parents originally planned to send him to shipbuilding school, an illness delayed his application, which was then denied because he was too old. German later became a central figure in London's comic opera scene.

Hoffmeister, Franz Anton (1754-1812): Decided law school was not for him very quickly after enrollment. Known for his monumental music publishing business in Vienna, which included works by Mozart and Beethoven, among others.

Infante, Manuel (1883-1958): Hailing from Osuna, Spain, Infante spread Spanish musical traditions to his new home of Paris, where he presented concerts filled with Spanish music. Infante is best known for his piano works.

Jommelli, Niccolò (1714-1774): At only the age of 11, he enrolled at what is now the Naples Conservatory of Music. He remains an influential figure in early/mid-18th century opera.

Kalliwoda, Jan (1801-1866): At age 10, he began studying violin and composition at the Prague Conservatory. One of Prague's earliest classical claims-to-fame.

Lehár, Franz (1870-1948): While studying violin at the Prague Conservatory, an interest for composition quickly grew (Antonín Dvořák's recommendation to do so surely helped). The Conservatory did not allow studying both an instrument and composition, so he mostly taught himself composition. Best known for his operettas and waltzes.

Myslivecek, Josef (1737-1781): One of the first Czech composers to gain fame from opera. He accidentally got his nose burned off by a doctor who was trying to treat a mysterious illness (possibly syphilis). Though at one time he was friends with the Mozarts, they stopped speaking to him when he didn't follow through on his promise to help Wolfgang get an opera commission from a prominent Naples theater.

Negri, Cesare (1535-1605): The most famous dancing-master in Europe, he oversaw musical festivities in Milan. He also wrote detailed accounts of state events in Spain and in Italy, which give us one of the most complete pictures of his era's courtly entertainment that we have today.

Orff, Carl (1895–1982): Not just known for Carmina Burana, he was first published in 1911, at the ripe old age of 16 years. He also developed educational programs for teachers and music students, such as Schulwerk and Musik für Kinder. His teaching method combined movement, singing, playing, and improvisation.

Pugni, Cesare (1802–1870): One of the most prolific ballet composers ever. He wrote over 100 original scores, most of which were in collaboration with ballet master Jules Perrot. His best-known ballet is "Ondine, ou La Naïade."

Quentin, Jean-Baptiste (1690–1742): Played violin in the French Académie Royale de Musique. Was known as "le jeune," or "the younger," as he had an older brother named Bertin who was also a musician. Known for writing chamber music with demanding solo parts, using uncommon techniques for the time.

Reicha, Anton (1770-1836): A lifelong friend of Beethoven and teacher of Liszt, Berlioz, and Franck. Was in the same Bonn youth orchestra as Beethoven (who played viola there); later, against his family's wishes, he secretly studied music at the University of Bonn, which was attacked and captured by the French. He managed to escape to Hamburg, where he vowed never to perform in public again, and instead became a teacher, composer, and mathematician.

Seixas, Carlos (1704-1742): Harpsichordist/organist in the court of John V of Portugal. He was known for his elegance and agility with the keyboard and taught music to children of many noble families. One time, the king's brother arranged for Seixas to receive harpsichord lessons from Domenico Scarlatti, but when Scarlatti heard him play, he said, "You can give ME lessons." Unfortunately, much of Seixas's work was destroyed in the Lisbon earthquake of 1755.

Torroba, Federico Moreno (1891-1982): Proponent and prolific composer of zarzuelas, a type of Spanish light opera. A leading composer for classical guitar, he also ran a zarzuela company, the stars of which were Placido Domingo Ferrer and Pepita Embil, the future parents of celebrated tenor Placido Domingo. His most popular work is the zarzuela "Luisa Fernanda."

Uccellini, Marco (1603-1680): Was one of the first composers to write music explicitly for solo violin, and introduced new & difficult techniques that were necessary to play his pieces. Because of his compositional brilliance, we can assume he was also a brilliant violinist – although we don't know a whole lot else about him.

Vecchi, Orazio (1550-1605): Famous for his madrigal comedies, especially "L'amfiparnaso." He had a very high opinion of his own work - at the opening for "L'amfiparnaso," he reportedly said, "Everything new faces accusations and insults...It is unavoidable that the highest mountains are most likely to be struck by lightning."

Walton, William (1902-1983): His 60-year career spanned everything from film scores to operas. He was exempted from military service during World War II on the agreement that he would write music for British propaganda films and, apparently, drive ambulances, which he said he did very badly. He was a notoriously slow worker and continually revised his works; he said he always had an eraser handy. Famously wrote the score to Laurence Olivier's adaptation of Shakespeare's Henry V.

Xenakis, Iannis (1922-2001): An architect, engineer, music theorist, and composer who revolutionized modern music after World War II. One of his most interesting pieces is Concret PH, which consists of one-second fragments of the sound of charcoal burning, layered, modified, and transformed, over and over again.

York, Andrew (b. 1958): GRAMMY-winning classical guitarist, lutenist, and composer. He is the only alumnus in USC history to receive their Distinguished Alumni Award twice.

Zanetti, Gasparo (c. 1600-1660): Not much is known about his personal life. He wrote an important series of dances for violin, in which each one is named after a different noble family in Milan, with detailed notes as to the fingering and technique the musician should use.

Kendall Todd is the Content Manager for GBH Music.
Colin Brumley is the Music Director for CRB.