Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Benjamin Godard

Several works by Godard are included in my piano channel - for the very good reason that he was an excellent composer.  I thought I would reproduce this interesting 1899 biography by Charles Leonard-Stuart (editor of 'Everybody's Cyclopaedia') that appears at the head of a Schirmer collection of 18 of his piano works:

"GODARD, BENJAMIN-LOUIS-PAUL, one of the most prolific of modern French composers, and a brilliant violinist, was born in Paris on the eighteenth of August, 1849. His father, a well-known and successful business man of Paris, possessed strong musical tastes, and his mother also was a talented musician. Irish blood flowed in Godard's veins, his great-grandmother having been an Irish lady.  From an early age he commenced the study of the violin under the direction of Richard Hammer, and at the age of nine he played in public. In 1863 he entered the Paris Conservatory as a pupil in Reber's harmony class, and also continued his violin studies under Vieuxtemps. One of his youthful ambitions was to become laureate of the Grand Prix de Rome, and he took part in the annual competitions of 1866 and 1867, but was unsuccessful. In the latter year he quitted the Conservatory, and thenceforward devoted himself to composition. An incentive to this course had been given him during two concert-tours he made through Germany with Vieuxtemps, while still a pupil of that eminent virtuoso. At sixteen he had published his first work, a Sonata for violin and piano. This was followed by a number of mélodies set to words of ancient classical poems, a  Berceuse, Je ne veux pas d'autres choses. Chanson de Florian, Ni- non, Viens, Automne, Chanson du Berger, Fille à la blonde chevelure, Suis-je belle?, Printemps, Menuet, Vaudeville, Chanson de Malherbe, J'ai perdu ma tourterelle, etc. Compositions for the pianoforte succeeded. Première Mazurka, Première Valse, and he became better known by a Violin Concerto and a.Concerto romantique, Op. 35 with orchestral accompaniment, performed at the Concerts Populaires by Mademoiselle Marie Tayau. The Prix Chartier for merit in the department of chamber-music was bestowed upon him by the Institut de France for a series of chamber works, violin sonatas, a trio for pianoforte, violin and violoncello, and quartets for stringed instruments. These compositions exhibited qualities of a more serious and highly develeloped character, which were further exemplified in his symphonies.  Amongst these may be mentioned Le Tasse (Tasso), Op. 39, a dramatic symphony with soli and chorus which was awarded the prize of the city of Paris in 1878, and the Symphonic orientale, Op. 84, performed under the personal conductorship of the composer at a Pasdeloup concert on the twenty-fourth of February, 1884. This consisted of five parts, Les Éléphants, Chinoiseries, Sarah la baigneuse, Le Rêve de la Nikia, et Marche turque, having for themes poems of Leconte de Lisle, Victor Hugo, and verses by the composer himself.

With his dramatic taste and symphonic aptitude, Godard subsequently turned to the theatre, and encount- ered the usual difficulties which beset most young composers. For years he essayed in vain to find a theatre in Paris to accept his principal works. He had already produced the one-act opera Les Bijoux de Jeannette at the Théâtre de la Renaissance in 1878, but he was compelled to seek a foreign stage for the production of his first important dramatic work. This was Pedro de Zalamea, an opera in four acts, to the libretto of Detroyat and P. A. Silvestre, produced at the Théâtre Royal, Antwerp, on the thirty-first of January, 1884.   For Jocelyn, an opera in four acts, to a libretto by P. A. Silvestre and Capoul, founded on a poem of Lamartine's, he again found a fatherland in Belgium, where it appeared on the twenty-fifth of February, 1888, at the Théâtre de la Monnaie, Brussels. It was transferred to the Théâtre du Château d'Eau, Paris, on the eighteenth of October following. Later, on May 28th, 1890, the French Institut awarded Godard the Prix Monbine of 3000 francs for this opera. He also received the decoration of Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur. The first representation of Le Dante, a lyrical drama in four acts and six scenes, libretto by Edouard Blau, he succeeded in bringing out at the Opéra-Comique, Paris, on the twelfth of May, 1890, "mais il a tenu peu de temps l'affiche" (it figured but a short time on the notice board).

The future promised the brilliant harvest of a matured and ripened experience, but while in the plenitude of his powers, he contracted a serious malady of the lungs by passing suddenly from a heated atmosphere to a cold. Excessive bicycling, of which sport he was inordinately fond, aggravated the disease, which was accompanied by an irritating cough. Lingering consumption supervened, and in 1894, kv the advice of his physicians, he went to Cannes to seek the benefits of a southern climate. He was unmarried, and at the end of the year, his sister, who was nursing him, wrote: "No one can have any idea of the strength of will put forth by the sick man to finish his work. He says that in all his life he never had such a facility of musical writing. His Christmas effort was an additional solo, for which Eugère had expressed a wish." Although in failing health, he had worked indefatigably at his new opera La Vivandière. He completed the three acts, and had already sent in the orchestration of the first act, when, on the ninth of January, 1895, he died. 

Godard exhibited decided individuality in his works. At the same time, among native contemporaneous composers he was one of the most distinguished exponents of the high ideals and revolutionary orchestral methods of the modern French School, founded by Berlioz. Endowed with extraordinary facility of production, his talents were spread over a large area. He achieved great success in his choral writings, which were effective and brilliant. His dramatic poem Le Tasse, a work of considerable importance, reveals an undoubted personality. He was perhaps greater in small things than in large. There is an exquisite charm in his graceful songs, such as Ninon, and Te souviens-tu ?, while many of his pianoforte pieces possess a peculiar and distinctive fascination. His operas were less successful, but in his extremely clever chamber-music, such as the Concerto romantique for violin, the Symphonie legendaire, the piano trio among others, his talent found its highest expression. Besides the works already mentioned may be enumerated Les Guelfes (in MS.), Paris, 1888; Diane et Actéon, lyric scene; Symphonie gothique, op. 23; Symphonie legendaire (Le Châtelet, Paris, 1886-87), Scènes poétiques, suite for orchestra, op. 46; Solitude, for orchestra ; two valses for orchestra; pianoforte concerto with orchestra, op. 31 ; Introduction and Allegro, for orchestra, op. 49; two string-quartets, op. 33 and 37, two trios for pianoforte and strings, op. 72 ; four sonatas for pianoforte and violin, op. 1, 2, 9, 12; Légende et Scherzo for ditto, op, 3; 6 duettini for two violins with pianoforte, op. 18; Deux morceaux for violoncello with pianoforte, op. 36; Suite de trois morceaux for violin with pianoforte, op. 78; twenty-four Études artistiques for pianoforte ; Six Contes de la Veillée à quatre mains, op. 67; Nocturnes, op. 68; Premier Mai; Trois Scènes Italiennes, op. 126, and other pianoforte music and many songs."

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Daniel Steibelt

I am including in my YouTube channel one or two pieces by the German pianist-composer Daniel Steibelt (1765?-1823).  I thought it would be interesting, to supplement the excellent Wiki page on him - by reproducing here the preface by the New York music critic W.J. Henderson (1855-1937) to an 1890s compilation of sonatinas and rondos.

"Daniel Steibelt was at one time regarded as a rival of Beethoven as composer and pianist. He was born in Berlin, but the date of his birth is uncertain. It is generally said that he was born in 1755 or 1756, but the French historian Fétis says he knew Steibelt to be 36 years old in 1801. It will readily be understood from this uncertainty as to the date of his birth that little is known about his early life. His musical gifts reached the ear of the Crown Prince Frederick William, who became his patron and placed him under the instruction of Kirnberger. There is no record of the length of time during which young Steibelt studied under Kirnberger, and nothing is known of any other instruction which he may have received at this period. His studies were interrupted by a term of service in the army, and in 1784 he left Berlin.

In 1788 he was in Munich, and in 1789 he gave concerts in Saxony and Hanover, in 1790 he took up his residence in Paris, where he made his advent as a matured composer and performer. Hermann was the popular pianist of the day, in the French capital, but Steibelt speedily displaced him. Hermann was an old-fashioned harpsichordist, but Steibelt, whose father was a piano-maker, thoroughly understood the resources of the instrument of his day and wrote for it accordingly in a style far in advance of that of Hermann. The newcomer was in a short time the reigning virtuoso.   But of course no composer could be regarded as great in Paris, unless he wrote for the stage. So Steibelt wrote a "Romeo et Juliette", which was produced at the Theatre Feydeau, Sept. 10, 1793. The work pleased the public, and it was successfully performed outside of France. 

Steibelt's position in Paris was now assured, and his pupils were numerous and of high social position. But he sold to Boyer, the publisher, as new works, some sonatas previously published in Berlin, and the discovery of the fraud made it necessary for him to leave Paris. In 1796 he went to London, where he wrote his third concerto, containing the once famous "storm rondo", and where he learned to prefer the English piano. In 1799 he returned to Germany, where he met with a warm reception. He challenged Beethoven to a public competition in playing, and met with a sound defeat. He returned to Paris in 1800, and procured the first performance there of Haydn's "Creation". He produced a ballet of his own, but he was not comfortable in Paris, and in 1802 went again to London. For six years he oscillated between the two cities, producing works for the stage and piano music, including the two concertos in E-flat and several of his best sonatas. He also published his Method and his " Etude", a collection of 50 studies, probably his best piano-works. In 1809 he went to St. Petersburg, where he wrote additional works for the stage, and his sixth, seventh, and eighth piano-concertos. He died, after a lingering illness, on Sept. 30, 1823.

Steibelt was unquestionably a remarkable man. He was arrogant, vain, affected, and even dishonest; yet his abilities were so great that he was welcomed everywhere. It is not at all surprising to find that the best qualities of his piano-playing were those dependent upon dash, vigor, and brilliancy. He was a dazzling performer; but it is beyond doubt that he was deficient in the deeper and subtler power of art. He seems to have been aware of his own weakness, and seldom played an adagio, and even more seldom wrote one. Most of his sonatas consist of an allegro and a rondo. When he does write an andante or adagio, it is usually very brief, and often constructed on the theme of some popular song of the day. In his sonatas for violin and piano the melodies of the slow movements are given to the violin, while the piano generally has a facile tremolo accompaniment. 

Indeed, the critics of the day censured him for excessive use of the tremolo. It may be added that his technic was not fully developed, his left hand being weak. Pedals were just coming into use, and Steibelt studied their effects, which he was prone to exaggerate. It is generally conceded, however, that despite all its faults, Steibelt's playing had a good deal of originality and was very influential with audiences. His writing follows the general bent of his inclinations as a performer. The decline of the popularity of his works is inevitably attributed to their lack of high organization. One searches in vain among Steibelt's sonatas and concertos for the compact, closely knit, intellectually developed structure conspicuous in all Beethoven's compositions. Steibelt had the fatal gift of facility.  Many of his movements show a fine gift for melody, but the bulk of his composition seems to have been the product of the fancy of the moment, and not the result of careful thought.

The critics of his day declared that the "Etude" was his best work, and this judgment seems to have been well grounded. It has been noted as an interesting fact, that Nos. 3 and 8 are a close approach to the style of Mendelssohn's " Lieder ohne Worte". Like almost all other composers, Steibelt has been accused of a lack of originality. It appears, however, that his modulations were much more free than those of his predecessors. He is credited with the invention of the tremolo for piano, which he used to excess. He also made very free use of the pizzicato in chamber-music. He showed some boldness for his day in his orchestral writing, and in his eighth piano concerto he introduces vocal parts.  All that he did, however, bears the stamp of superficial brilliancy. There is nothing profound or moving in Steibelt ; but he made some steps in the progress of piano-playing. He wrote 81 sonatas and sonatinas, 117 rondos, 8 concertos, and a large number of other compositions.
W. J. Henderson.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Russian composer names

Owing to the generosity of the Eastman School of Music Sibley library online collection, I have had the opportunity recently to play lots of Russian music from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  However, it has been quite a task to research the little-known composers represented.  This arises from the fact that in the late 18th and early 19th century, the use of French language was pervasive amongst the Russian nobility and higher echelons of society - see http://www.languagehat.com/archives/003331.php for more on this.  Although the Russian language seems to have gained ground in the later 19th century, music publishers often used French nomenclature and titling in their scores (eg, Jurgenson, Beliaeff) - presumably because this was what their privileged clientele would have expected. 

Most information on Russian composers available on the Web is in Russian (from online editions of Russian encyclopedias etc., often originally compiled in the Soviet era).  Therefore, as a non-Russian speaker, I have to work hard to move from French transliterations to native Russian, and then to modern English transliterations for my video descriptions.

Here are two examples, which might be helpful to anyone else trying to research Russian music or literature.

1 - Léocadie Kaschperow

This is the composer name used by Jurgenson for some attractive pieces by a significant female composer.  However, if you search for that name on Google, you will find little information (eight entries in all, referring to German texts, mostly about another person with the same surname).  So what I did was to put the name into Google Translate (changing it on the way to Leocadia Kaschperov because that is more in line with modern transliteration of Russian names) and seek a version of that in Russian script.  I then searched Google with the derived name in Russian - леокадия кашперова, and found many hundreds of entries, including this one, which gave me the facts I needed: http://www.persons-info.com/index.php?p=2&v_ddb=16&v_mmb=5&res_mode=740&sort=yb&sord=d&pid=71914

2 - Etienne Mirzoeff

I was interested to find out something about this person, as he was the dedicatee of a set of studies by Leonid Knina.  A Google search on this name gives nothing at all other than the Sibley catalogue entry.  Knowing that Etienne is the French equivalent of the English name Stephen, and that the Russian version of that is often transliterated as Stepan, I entered into Google Translate Stepan Mirzoev (changing the two ff's to a v in accordance with current practice) and ended up with Степан Мирзоев .  Even that was not enough, as I came up with a present day person with the same name.  I then tinkered around, adding the word 'piano' in Russian, and eventually arrived at Степану Гавриловичу Мирзоеву, the name of the head of the Russian Musical Academy in Tbilisi at the turn of the last century.  I knew this was the right person, because I knew that Knina lived there.  The following web page gave me exactly what I needed to know: http://www.senar.ru/memoirs/Andrianova-Ryadnova/

Of course, having found the Russian web pages, Google Translate then does an excellent job of translating them back into English, and providing convincing English transliterations of the names, which I then use on the videos and descriptions!

Friday, May 4, 2012

MusicWeb International article

You can see an article I wrote in April 2012 about the genesis of my YouTube channel on MusicWeb International.  Click this link to read it.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Scanning music scores

I make big use of score-sharing websites - IMSLP and others - to get hold of public domain scores that I would never have found in the second-hand music shops or music libraries I used to visit in the UK.  Most have, alas, now closed down or restricted their activities.  However, although much music is now available from these sources, few people contribute new scores.  I encourage anyone who has old scores that are not already available online to scan and upload them before they crumble away.

My own technique for scanning music is:

Method 1 - best quality for A4 scores that will easily lie on a flatbed scanner:
  • Scan the plain title pages and music sheets with a setting of Black and White (not grayscale) at 300dpi - this gives a readable output, and keeps the file sizes down.  I use a standard A4 size scanner, but would use a larger one if I had one!  It can be difficult to position large-size sheets on the scanner to get all the content in - and for those, Method 2 is better.
  • If there is some good cover art, scan this and upload as a separate page in colour so that people have a choice of whether to view or download the larger file.  Note that one of the major score contributors, the Eastman School of Music Sibley Library does this, as here.  You can see from the stats on this this example page how many more people download the music than the cover art.
  • I have the excellent PaperPort software (an old version that came with the scanner) to manage the scanning process and process the scanned pages.  The features I use are:  
    • rotating the pages (sometimes you have to scan pages upside down); 
    • erasing marks on the scanned pages and black areas around the edges of your scans.  Remember that printing ink is one of the most expensive fluids on the planet.
    • aligning the pages vertically where they have been scanned crookedly.
    • putting the pages in the correct order (stacking them).
  • After doing this I end up with a stack of sheets on the Paperport desktop.  I then print this stack using a virtual PDF printer.  I use the free PDFCreator which will create a single PDF document out of the stack, that is ready for uploading.  Note that the printer settings should match the scans - so set the printer quality as  Black and White, 300dpi.  This is really important as you will otherwise end up with a far larger file than you (or the end user) need.
  • If you follow my suggestions, other than the colour cover art page(s) each black and white sheet should add no more than about 70Kb to the file size (eg, a recent scan of a six-page 19th century salon piece which I did resulted in a file of 384Kb).  Again this is important as making the files too big wastes bandwidth (for uploading) and space on servers and local storage media.
  • Finally, when naming files, put the composer's surname first, followed by the work and opus number if possible - eg.  'Grieg - Piano Sonata Op. 7.pdf' .  This will help anyone downloading the file to their digital collection to identify it.  File name lengths are not as restricted as they once were.
Method 2 - for large pages and scores bound in books which cannot fit a flatbed scanner:
  • Using wireless digital camera (or camera fitted with Eye-Fi card), photograph pages of score using text setting.
  • Upload to computer or tablet.  I use an Android tablet with the excellent MDScan app.
  • Import photos into scanner app and crop, then process as black on white.
  • Upload processed scores to cloud storage via wi-fi (if processing done on tablet)
  • Process using A-PDF to Black/White (see below) to reduce file size.
When handling scores scanned by others, you may find that they have not followed the above suggestions, and you may be forced to use a file that is much larger than it need be.  A particular problem is with scans done in colour where the background comes out as cream or yellow.  This makes them very hard to print in black and white.  I recommend processing the file before printing with the interesting A-PDF to Black/White software which will analyse the files and convert the backgrounds to white.  You will need to test each file out to get the right setting so that you do not lose any faint content or convert areas of scanned 'dirt' or shadow turned to black.  This software is also very useful for processing scanned manuscripts where the composer has written in pencil or a colour other than black.