The week ahead moves between the Zodiac signs of Leo (ends August 22) and Virgo (starts August 23). No doubt there’s a gradual astrological change of character traits between people born under the respective signs, but this particular week of 19-25 August marks the anniversaries of the births of four people who all bear a notable similarity in musical achievement:
- Gerard Schwarz (b. 19 August, 1947)
- George Enescu (b. 19 August, 1881)
- Claude Debussy (b. 22 August,1862)
- Leonard Bernstein (b. 25 August, 1918)
All were, or are multi-talented, combining roles variously as composer/arranger, conductor, performer and teacher. It’s probably generally agreed that primus inter pares was George Enescu (1881–1955). It makes one dizzy just reading about his abilities—as violinist, composer, conductor, teacher, and musical ambassador for his native Romania—not to mention his accomplishments as a pianist. Here’s an archive recording of him playing music by J. S. Bach (9.80208-09), dating from 1949. It’s the Bourrée from the Violin Partita No. 3 in E major.
To give an idea of Enescu’s impact as a teacher and composer in one stroke, here’s one of his eminent students, Yehudi Menuhin, performing the opening of Enescu’s Violin Sonata No. 3, “dans le caractère populaire roumain” (8.111127). It was recorded in Paris in 1936, with the composer in attendance.
Finally, in the dual role of composer and conductor, here’s Enescu directing the Colonne Concerts Orchestra in the early 1950s in an extract from his Romanian Rhapsody No. 1 (9.81051).
Naxos Artist Gerard Schwarz’s bio entry on naxos.com splits his lengthy discography into four parts: classical artist, composer, arranger and conductor. It showcases just a part of his versatility and achievements for which he is held in high esteem—from his solo concerto performances as a trumpeter to being the first American named Conductor of the Year by Musical America. Non-musical citizens of Seattle will also be attuned to him, since the street alongside the city’s Benaroya Hall is named ‘Gerard Schwarz Place’. The hall is the home of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra; Schwarz was the orchestra’s music director for 26 years.
This first extract finds Schwarz in a dual role, conducting an extract from his own composition for wind band, Above and Beyond (8.573121).
For a second extract, I’ve chosen Schwarz’s latest disc for Naxos, released in April this year, which features Rimsky-Korsakov’s Symphonies Nos. 1 and 3 (8.573581). Here’s the end of the finale of the Third Symphony.
Claude Debussy (1862–1918) might well have pursued a career as a pianist but, fortunately for us, it was the attraction of becoming a composer that had the deciding pull. Debussy enjoyed an enormous stature, producing several seminal works that drove the course of western music history—Pelléas et Melisande (8.660047-49), Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune (8.570759)—and posterity has bolstered this greatness by naming both a main belt binary asteroid and an impact crater on Mercury after him, to cite just two recognitions! So it seems unjust that his life should have ended in less than grand circumstances, plagued by the distresses of World War I and assaulted by cancer. In 1915, he made a start on a projected set of six sonatas; the third was his Violin Sonata (8.550276), written in 1916-17, and one of the last pieces he composed. Here’s part of the second movement – Intermede: fantastique et leger.
Debussy died in Paris on March 25, 1918. Exactly six months later, Leonard Bernstein (1918–1990) was born in the United States. He went on to make a huge impression on the global music scene, as a pianist, composer, conductor and a teacher with an incredibly long reach. Naxos Artist Marin Alsop is always ready to acknowledge the influence he had on her as a mentor. Here she showcases Bernstein the composer, directing part of his Mass (8.559622-23): Confession: Trope, “I Don’t Know”.
Finally, two audio clips of Bernstein the conductor, the first featuring him in his own music, Dance of the Great Lover from the Ballet Music from On the Town (8.120889), delivered with his characteristic punch.
In more reflective mood, here’s Bernstein bringing this week’s blog to a close, again from the podium, directing a performance of part of the second movement of Beethoven’s Second Piano Concerto (8.111341), with Glenn Gould as the soloist.
1 thought on “A Fab Four”
Saw Leonard Bernstein conduct a concert with the New York Phil. in the mid 1980’s. Concert consisted of his own music & the Tchaikovsky 6th symphony which ended the concert. The most memorable concert experience of my life occurred as the symphony was in it’s final bars getting quieter & quieter & finally ending (no one is even daring to breath & disturb the moment) he held the baton raised for what seemed forever & then swiftly dropping it and all the tension was relieved immediately after having been so gradually built. Amazing!