Thomas Tallis: Fading into History

Historical Period: Renaissance
Nationality: English
Born: c. 1505
Died: November 23, 1585
Contemporaries: William Byrd, Giovanni Pierluigi de Palastrina, Orlande de Lassus, Andrea Gabrielli, Robert White

Work: Puer Natus Est Nobis, Lutheren chants, Mass for Four Voices
What's Happening in History:
Henry VIII is the king in England, Martin Luther posts his Ninety-Five Theses on the door of Castle Church in Germany, Copernicus publishes his theory that the earth orbits the sun.


     Much of Thomas Tallis' early life is hidden from us, but he was one of the greatest composers of his time. Thomas Tallis was born circa (around) 1505 toward the end of the reign of Henry VII. It is thought that Tallis was part of the Chapel Royal St. James' Palace, because he joined it later as a man. The first place music took him was in 1532 when he became an organist of a Benedictine priory called Dover Priory in Kent, England. Tallis then went to London to an Augustinian monastery in Essex, England. 

When the monastery broke up in 1540, Tallis went to Canterbury Cathedral, and then to the English royal Court, where he composed and performed for the monarchs Henry VIII, Edward VI, Queen Mary, and Queen Elizabeth I. As the monarchs changed, the country was torn between Catholic and Protestant monarchs seeking to force their religion on the rest of the nation while persecuting those on the other side. Tallis avoided the mess, even though both he and his friend/student William Byrd were ardent Roman Catholics. In these tumultuous years Tallis was able to switch his music style to fit the different monarchs' demands, showing his creativity and brilliance. 
Tallis was not only a composer, but as many musicians of his time, he was a music teacher as well. Two of his most renowned students include William Byrd, who was a composer, and Elway Bevin, who was an organist.

Amidst all his work, Tallis married Joan around 1552, who outlived him by four years. Unfortunately, Thomas and Joan were never able to have any children, so they did not experience the joys of parenthood. But this sadness did free Tallis up to focus on his music.  

Work and Music

Thomas Tallis is often called "the Father of English church music" because he was the first well-known composer to write substantially for the Anglican church.

The earliest works we have by Tallis are songs to the Virgin Mary, a very important figure in Roman Catholicism.  When England became more of a Protestant country, Tallis' style changed - he wrote most of his music set to the liturgy, which is basically a church service written down. Through this phase in his life, Tallis was among the first church musicians to write anthems set to English words, even though Latin continued to be used as the primary language. Then, when the Catholic monarch Queen Mary rose to the throne, so Tallis switched his style back to the Roman Catholic way. After that, Queen Elizabeth I came to power, starting a more Protestant puritanical mood and so Tallis went back to writing in the Protestant style.

Through the years Tallis did a lot of work with William Byrd, one of his students. Queen Elizabeth granted them a patent to print and publish music and exclusive rights to print any music in any language, if it was for the church. But since they were both strong Roman Catholics in a Protestant country, thier music didn't sell very well. However, Tallis kept the respect of others through the religious upheaval.

Tallis didn't like the more modern style of his young students like William Byrd. Tallis was content to write music just for the liturgy of the church. He composed during a difficult time of struggle between Catholicism and Protestantism, and his music often shows that struggle.

Thomas Tallis died in 1585 in Greenwich, England and was buried in the parish of St. Alfege Church.Though little is know about him, Thomas Tallis is still considered by many as one of the greatest composers of English sacred music! Spem in Alium and If Ye Love Me are two of his most famous pieces that are well known and still sung today. This is a little poem about Thomas Tallis that has been found:

 “Entered here doth ly a worthy wyght,
Who for long tyme in musick bore the bell:
His name to shew, was THOMAS TALLYS hyght,
In honest virtuous lyff he dyd excell.

“He serv’d long tyme in chappel with grete prayse
Fower sovereygnes reygnes (a thing not often seen);
I meane Kyng Henry and Prynce Edward’s dayes,
Quene Mary, and Elizabeth oure Quene.

“He mary’d was, though children he had none,
And lyv’d in love full thre and thirty yeres
Wyth loyal spowse, whose name yclypt was JONE,
Who here entomb’d him company now beares.

“As he dyd lyve, so also did he dy,
In myld and quyet sort (O happy man!)
To God ful oft for mercy did he cry,
Wherefore he lyves, let deth do what he can.”

*Written by Rachel, Suzuki book 3 student


Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina

Period: Renaissance
Nationality: Italian
Born: Palestrina, Italy; 3 February 1525 A.D.
Died: Rome, Italy; 2 February 1594 A.D.
Family: Lucrezia and three sons: Rudolfo, Angelo, Iginio.
Specialist Genres: Church (sacred) music.
Major Works: 140 madrigals, 104 masses,
and 250 motets.

     It is the 1500s, when Leonardo Da Vinici created his masterworks, William Shakespeare composed his plays and sonnets, Italy and France fought one another, the Ottomans fought the Shiites, and Martin Luther wrote his famous 95 Theses to bring change in the Catholic Church, music was flourishing.  Around this time, sacred music, music written to be sung in church services, was written mostly by composers in France, Spain and Portugal (the Low Countries). Giovanni Pierluigi from Palestrina, Italy, started composing sacred music and was one of the first from his country to be influential in sacred music. He became so famous that people just call him Palestrina, by the name of the city he was from. His music was very polyphonic, which means that the song has many melodies  going at the same time and harmonize beautifully. Giovanni was very disciplined to keep to his own style, which is described as smooth, flowing and leads you to spend time thinking about the words of the song. It is incredible to think what a man from a small town can do when he works hard and does not give up!

         Giovanni Pierluigi was born on February 3rd, 1525 A.D.,  but there is not much about his early years. We know that his family moved to Rome, Italy in 1537 A.D.  and while there the choirmaster of Santa Maria Maggiore church heard him singing one day, the choirmaster liked it so much that he started giving Giovanni musical training. As Palestrina grew up, he learned to play the organ and was given a job as the organist at St. Agapito and also taught music lessons from 1544-1551. He then became the maestro di cappella in St. Peter's papal choir. This choir sang at the church where the Pope of the Catholic church would go. 

      In 1547, Palestrina had the great joy of marrying  Lucrezia Gori. They had three sons together, Angelo, Rudolfo and Iginio. There was a lot of happiness in the family when the children were born and Giovanni kept writing music.

      Giovanni published his first book of Masses before he was 30 years old. Masses are songs for the church service of the Catholic Church. When Pope Julius III heard these beautiful songs that Giovanni composed he was so impressed that he offered him the position of music director of the Julian Chapel. These songs that he wrote for the church services were sung by a men's choir with no instruments, which is very different from a lot of the music that we listen to today. 

      Giovanni was the director of music at other churches as well and we know that he was picky about the kind of job he worked. In 1568, Giovanni was offered the job as choirmaster for the imperial court in Vienna, so he would be working for the emperor. But Giovanni did not take the job because he did not like what the job was all about. He wrote many other pieces of music, such as motets, hymns, offerories, and lamentations. 

      Among all the success and happiness, Palestrina also experienced great loss when his wife and two of his sons died in the Plague by 1580. Iginio, his son, was the only one in the family to survive the Plague with Palestrina. It was because of these painful experiences that Giovanni considered becoming a priest of the church. A priest is a man that gives up his life to serve in the Catholic church, so does not own anything and will not get married because he has dedicated himself completely for Jesus Christ. But Palestrina did not do it, in 1581 he married a widow, a woman whose husband died. 

      Palestrina left this earth leaving behind a lasting influence on the development of church music, his work being seen as the culmination of Renaissance polyphony. What are you working on?

William Byrd

Historical Period: Renaissance
Nationality:  English
Born: c. 1543 A.D. in Lincoln, England.
Died:  1623 A.D. in Stonden Massey
Contemporaries: Claudio Monteverdi, Thomas Tallis, Thomas Morley, Tomas Luis de Victoria, and Carlo Gesualdo.
Specialist Genres: sacred music, keyboard works, madrigals, consort pieces for viols.
Major Works: Three Latin and one English Mass; Cantiones sacrae; 140 keyboard pieces. 

     The 1500's was full of good and bad. The first black slaves were sent to America, the Turks conquer Egypt, Verrazano explores America, Nicolaus Copernicus comes out with the book On the Revolution of Heavenly Bodies explaining how the earth revolves around the sun, Shakespeare writes wonderful sonnets and plays, the Gregorian calender is adopted, but probably the biggest even was The Protestant Reformation that swept up Europe bringing many changes in countries, including England. The Reformation was sparked  by Martin Luther who continued to bring reform to the church until he died, but three years before he died William Byrd was born. In 1543, William Byrd was born in England and grew up to be a Catholic Christian in times when there was much fighting between Catholic and Protestant Christians in England. 

     By 1611, Byrd composed and published three Masses in Latin, which is music for the Catholic church service, the Gradualia (a big collection of music for use in the church service), three collections of Psalmes, Songs and Sonnets, English anthems, secular partsongs, madrigals and pieces for viol consort. Byrd wrote such beautiful that even Queen Elizabeth loved his keyboard music.



Claudio Monteverdi

Period: Baroque
Nationality: Italian
Born: 1567; Cremona, Italy
Died: 1643; Venice, Italy
Family: married, one daughter and two sons, only the sons survived.
Contemporaries: Heinrich Schutz
Specialty: Nine books of Madrigals, Vespro della beata vergine (1610); La favola d'Orfeo (1607); Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria (1640); L'incoronazione di Poppea (1642)

       Have you ever heard someone say “keeping up with the times”? Well Claudio Monteverdi was a composer that had the consistent capacity to re-invent and adapt his musical style as needs arose where he was living.

     What’s Happening in History?

    Around this time, England and Spain start fighting (1568); William Harvey figured out that the heart pumps the blood throughout the entire human body; Galileo Galelei discovered that the planets revolve around the Sun; Robert Hooke makes up the word "cell" for those small things found in our bodies; Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn started to dominate the art world with his extraordinary paintings; and Miquel de Cervantes wrote Don Quixote. It was in these remarkable times that Claudio Monteverdi lived and wrote lots of music!

Early Years

       Monteverdi grew up singing in the cathedral choir of his hometown, Cremona, in the country of Italy. By age 16, he became an accomplished instrumentalist, had published a volume of three-part motets and an entire book of sacred madrigals. Motets and madrigals are songs written to be sung in church.

Mantua, Madrigals, Motets, & Marriage

     In 1587, Claudio composed his first volume of secular madrigals and then his second volume in 1590. It was also around this time that Monteverdi got a job as a string player at the ducal court in Mantua. By 1592, Monteverdi had composed his third madrigal collection and his fame as a composer was spreading around. 
    In 1599, something really important happened: Claudio made the important decision to get married. He was given the joy of having three children, unfortunately only his two sons survived. The eldest son became a musician like him and his younger son became a doctor. 
    Two years later, in 1601, Claudio took a big step becoming the maestro di cappella at the Mantuan court, and over the next four years he finished two more madrigal collections. In 1607, Claudio took another step to challenge himself musically, he started composing his first opera, called L’Orfeo, which was performed in February in Mantua.


     After all this joy and success, Monteverdi’s wife died after a long sickness. Monteverdi had to deal with a lot of sadness and grief, take care of his sons, and work at the same time; it was a very difficult period for him. This however did not keep him from finishing a second opera, L’Arianna, and had it performed as part of the marriage of the Gonzaga heir, Francesco, to Margaret of Savoy in May 1608. It must have been a painful and happy occasion to have his opera performed at the wedding.  Unfortunately, all but one aria of the opera has survived and, even worse, the principal singer of the opera died during rehearsal. In 1610, Claudio Monteverdi wrote Vespro della beata vergine, performed by voices and instruments.

Venice & the End

     In 1613, Monteverdi moved to Venice, where he became maestro di cappella at St. Mark’s Cathedral. This was the place that Monteverdi remained for the rest of his life. It was here that Claudio wrote more operas and ballets. Twenty-seven years later, in 1630, many of Monteverdi’s pieces were destroyed when Austrian troops conquered the palace where he worked.  After this, Monteverdi made another major decision taking holy orders, deciding to become a priest in the Catholic Church.  In the remaining years of his life Monteverdi still wrote more operas and madrigals.

     Claudio Monteverdi never gave through all the hardships in his life, how are you dealing with the hard stuff in your life? We live in a beautiful and broken world, do not be surprised by the bad things that happen in life, none of us have control over that. What we are responsible for is how we act in the tough times and the good times. What will you choose?

George Friedrich Handel

Period: Baroque 
Born: Germany on February 23, 1685
Died: England on April 14, 1759 
Specialist: operas, oratorios, anthems and organ concertos.

Handel is one of the greatest composer of the Baroque era, born the same year as Johann Sebastian Bach and Domenico ScarlattiHandel studied in Halle, Hamburg and Italy before settling in London (1712). He was influenced by Italian Baroque and Middle German Polyphonic Choral tradition. Handel  made a transition to English choral works after Alexander's Feast was well received, which was written in 1736. The Coronation Anthems were composed for George II of Great Britain and is still used for British Coronation today. He also composed over 40 operas in 30 years and The Messiah in 1742. Handel lived in England for nearly 50 years and was a respected, rich man. Handel's funeral was given full state honours and he was buried in Westminster Abbey (church founded in 960)

by a Suzuki Violin Book 1 elementary school student

Domenico Scarlatti

Historical Period: Baroque
Nationality: Italian
Born: October 26, 1685 A.D. in Naples, Italy.
Died:  July 23, 1757 A.D. in Madrid, Spain.
Parents: Alessandro Scarlatti and Antonia Anzalone.
Contemporaries: Johann Sebastian Bach, Arcangelo Corelli, George Friedrich Handel. 
Specialist Genres: Harpsichord Sonatas
Major Works: 550 harpsichord sonatas, Stabat Mater a Dieci Voci e Basso Continuo, cantatas, oratorio, and operas.

            On October 26, 1685, in the city of Naples where classical music was a big deal, the Scarlatti family had their sixth child, it was a son! Mr. Scarlatti named his son Giuseppe Domenico; and just like his father and many other family members, Domenico would one day become an incredible musician. 

                It is a little bit of a mystery how Domenico started learning music. Some people believe that he learned from his father, others say that he learned from his uncles, but there is not much that we can go on. However, we do know that Domenico heard lots of great music, since lots of musicians passed through Naples.
           On September 13, 1701 at the age of 16, Domenico was appointed organist and composer of the Naples royal chapel, the same place that his father was maestro. A year later, Domenico and his father left for Florence where it is possible that they met the man that invented the first piano, Bartolomeo Cristofori. I say possible, because we do not know for sure, since neither Domenico nor Cristofori left us a diary or anything else of the sort.
            Domenico started working for Maria Casimira, the exiled Polish queen, that lived in Rome. Once Domenico started working for Casimira, he was given the opportunity to write at least one cantata, one oratorio and seven operas. Domenico also got to meet other cool composers, like Arcangelo Corelli, George Friedrich Handel, and Thomas Roseingrave. Scarlatti and Handel challenged each other to see who was more talented at the organ and harpsichord. Who do you think won? They both did! Handel was better on the organ and Scarlatti was better on the harpsichord. Scarlatti kept practicing and perfecting himself until he was one of the best  harpsichordists in all of Italy.

             Years pass by and Scarlatii wrote more music, played more music, and traveled around a little bit. It is in 1728 that Domenico Scarlatti did something that he never did before, something very beautiful, fun, and serious at the same time: he got married! 
            Domenico married Maria Catarina Gentili and they had five children together. Life was good, Domenico is married, has children and he gets to teach King John V's talented daughter  the Infanta Maria Barbara, and King John's younger brother Don Antonio. It was in the years of teaching the Infanta Maria Barbara that Scarlatti wrote some of his most significant and exciting pieces, 500 sonatas for the harpsichord. Scarlatti eventually traveled all the way to Madrid, Spain, where he finished his life and died on July 23, 1757. 

Scarlatti was a composer that pushed himself to be as creative as possible, from making the harpsichord to sound like the guitars he heard in Spain to making sure that his music had surprises for whoever approached it. Some people say that his music was witty and even sinister. Do not ever be content with playing your pieces of music one way, always push yourself to play it in the most creative way possible!


Christoph Willibald von Gluck

Christoph Willibald Gluck became a reformer of opera in what is now called the early classical period.

Period: Classical
Country: Germany
Born: 2 July, 1714 in Erasbach, Germany
15 Nov, 1787 in Vienna, Austria
Family: Alexander Gluck (father), Marianne Pergin (wife), Marianne (his niece, adopted as his daughter)
Contemporaries: J.S. Bach, L.v. Beethoven, G.F. Handel, Joseph Haydn, W.F.A. Mozart, Domenico Scarlatti, Antonio Vivaldi.  
Specialist Genre: Opera in Italian and French

What's Happening in History? 

It is the 1700's; the First Copyright Act has been passed in Britain (1709); in North America there is fighting with the Tuscarora Indians; Jean Jacques Rousseau, the French philosopher, dies (1712); the same year that the Shawnee Indians established themselves in Ohio. The United States of America is not a country yet, just colonies (more world history during the 1700's here). 

Gluck's Life

It was around this time that Christoph Gluck was born to Alexander and Marianne Gluck on July 2, 1714 in the country of Germany. Alexander Gluck worked for Prince Lobkowitz as a gamekeeper, took care of animals, to take care of his family. Marianne, his mother, took care of the house and helped Alexander. Alexander's job for Prince Lobkowitz made it possible for Christoph to get a good education at the Jesuit School of Kommotau from twelve to eighteen years of age (a Jesuit is a Catholic monk). This is where Christoph received music lessons alongside his general education. At eighteen years of age, Christoph went to Prague, Austria, to continue studying music with Czernohorsky.

Working. As Christoph was studying in Prague, he had to work to pay for food, clothes, a place to live, and other necessities. At first, Christoph worked playing the violin at county fairs and dances. After a while, with the help of Prince Lobkowitz, Christoph was able to meet some richer families, which in turn helped him get a better job teaching music. It is good to ask others for help. In 1736, Christoph went to work in the city of Vienna and then moved to Milan, Italy to study with a famous teacher named Giovanni Battista San Martini. It was here that Gluck decided that he would be an opera composer.

From 1741-1745, that Gluck started writing operas, and Italians loved going to watch operas. Operas are like plays with singing and orchestra. People liked Gluck's operas so much that he was invited to London, England  to write more operas there; the first one is called La Caduta dei giganti. Gluck not only wrote operas, he also performed on musical glasses, which is kind of interesting! It was also in London that Christoph became friends with George Friedrich Handel, another famous composer. Gluck admired Handel so much that he kept a picture of Handel in his bedroom to be inspired by it.

Reforming. In 1762, with the help and encouragement of his friend, Raniero da Calzabigi, Christoph made some big changes to the way opera was performed. It was his opera Orfeo ed Euridice that showed off these changes. The overture started the opera to introduce the drama and mood; instead of having singers show off their singing skills, the opera now told the story simply. Poetry and music were now bound together to show the emotion of the story and dramatic continuity.

     Christoph Gluck was the opera man, that's what he focused on in his life and he did not give up. Gluck's perseverance and openness made a big difference in the musical world. Do not give up on your music, keep pushing yourself!


Franz Joseph Haydn

Historical Period: Classical
Nationality: Austrian
Born: March 31, 1732 A.D. in Rohrau, Austria.
Died: May 31, 1809 A.D. in Vienna, Austria
Contemporaries: Johann Sebastian Bach, Ludwig van Beethoven, George Friedrich Handel, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
Specialist Genres: symphony, string quartet, concerto.
Major Works: chamber music and songs, cantatas, violin and keyboard concertos, harpsichord sonatas, 12 masses, oratorio, 15 surviving operas, keyboard sonatas, Stabat Mater, string quartets, and 104 symphonies.

What's the Big Deal with Haydn?
If someone would ask you what you know about Franz Joseph Haydn, what would you tell them? Here are a few things that you could tell them. Franz Joseph Haydn is the forgotten master of classical music. Franz Joseph Haydn taught Ludwig van Beethoven and was close friends with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and pretty much invented the musical form of the concerto, string quartet, sonata and symphony in the Classical period.[1] But not many people know about Haydn’s achievements, that is why he is the forgotten master of classical music.

The Early Years 

In the time of the Enlightenment, America revolted against Great Britain becoming its own country (1776);  Adam Smith had written about his ideas of capitalism; Jean-Jacques Rousseau had written Emile on the innate goodness of man and how people just need a good education; it was not well-received); John Wesley and George Whitefield were preaching to multitudes in America about the need to be born again. This brought the First Great Awakening in America where many people turned to God. It was during this time that Franz Joseph Haydn came on the scene in Europe bringing with him many new musical ideas.

         Franz was one of 12 children in the Haydn family, at age 8 he was recruited to the sing in the choir at St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna because of his beautiful singing voice just like Palestrina and Monteverdi.  It was at St. Stephen's that Franz went on to learn to play violin and keyboard. Some scholars think that Haydn even learned the organ during these years, so we can see that Haydn has something in common  with Scarlatti; they both played the harpsichord and organ. After a few years, Haydn’s voice changed (just like any boy), so he could not sing in the choir anymore. He then left the choir and started working as a music teacher and playing violin, while studying counterpoint and harmony in his spare time. This was a difficult time in Haydn's life because he did not make much money, and during this time in history parents did not help out their children very much after they finished school.

The Esterházs

        In 1761 Joseph Haydn was named Kapellmeister, or "court musician," at the palace of the influential Esterházy family after Prince Paul Anton heard one of his symphonies. It was his job to train the choir and orchestra, and take care of the instruments and music at Eisenstadt where the Esterházys lived. Haydn worked for the Esterházy family for 30 years writing symphonies, concertos, string quartets, trios, and even music for the viola d'amore; the instrument that his boss played. After Haydn finished working for the Esterházy family he was able to go throughout Europe to write and perform more music. 

Coming Into His Prime
At 18, Muzio was freed from his duties to Sir Peter and moved to London. There he performed the harpsichord and conducted (from the keyboard) at King's Theatre in Haymarket, around London.

In 1780, he toured Europe. In Paris, he played for Queen Marie Antoinette. He went to Munich, Germany, and Salzburg, Austria. In Vienna, Austria, he agreed to compete with Mozart on the keyboard in front of the Holy Roman Emperor, Joseph II. Guess who won? The emperor declared a tie, very nice guy.

Mozart doesn't seem to have liked young Signour Clementi. He wrote to his own father, "Clementi is a charlatan, like all Italians. He marks a piece presto and plays only allegro." But Muzio was quite impressed with Mozart and, later on, Mozart came to respect Muzio. They influenced each others' style and borrowed from each others' music. In fact, Mozart used the opening motif of Muzio's B-flat Major Sonata in his overture for "The Magic Flute".

From 1783-1803, Muzio stayed in London and taught music. In 1798, he added more to his work by taking over a music publishing firm in London. Perhaps Jane Austen, the famous authoress of the Regency era, bought music from 'Clementi & Co' at their warehouse in Cheapside or Tottenham Court Road. At this time, Muzio also began a piano manufacturing buisness. Sadly, one of his manufacturing warehouses burnt down and he lost about 40,000 pounds.

After developing a relationship with Mozart, Muzio struck a deal with Ludwig van Beethoven and received the rights to print all of Beethoven's music. Muzio was criticised for "correcting" some of Beethoven's music - adjusting harmonies he thought were wrong, for example.

In 1810 Muzio stopped performing publicly so he could devote his time to composing and piano-making. Around this time, he and a group of other well-known musicians founded a music society that became the Royal Philharmonic Society. His piano-making buisness flourished, and he invented several improvements in piano construction, some of which are still used today.

At the end of 1816, Muzio made a trip to Europe, to present some of his new works in Paris and Frankfurt. Over the next eight years he made several trips throughout Europe. Perhaps he visited his family back in Italy. But he always came back to England.

Muzio's last public performance was at the opening concert of the Society he helped found. He retired form the Society in 1830 at seventy-eight years old.

He spent his final years in Evesham, a town in Worchester, England. On March 10, 1832, he doed after a short illness. He was eighty years old.

Muzio was buried at Westminster Abbey, attended by several of his students. He had been married three times and had five children. His gravestone reads:

"Muzio Clementi, called 'Faher of the Pianoforte'. His fame as a musician and composer, acknowleged throughout Europe, procured him the honour of a public interment in this cloister. Born at Rome, 1752; died at Evesham, 1812."

Muzio Clementi was the first to create keyboard works just for the pianoforte, or piano. He composed almost 110 piano sonatas, along with several symphonies and operas. His earlier, easier piano sonatas are called sonatinas. Later composers used his sonatas as models for keyboard compositions. Muzio's piano compositions are known for being delightful and, though difficult, good practice for young pianists.


Muzio Clementi: The Father of Pianoforte Playing

Historical Period: Classical - Romantic Nationality: Italian Born: January 23, 1752; Rome, Italy Died: March 10, 1832; Evesham, England Contemporaries: Ludwig van Beethoven, Carl Czerny, Franz Josef Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Work:110 piano sonatas, operas, and symphonies What's Happening in History?The British colonies in America declare their independence from England in 1776 and  Napoleon Bonaparte is rising to power in France as the country is going through a revolution killing many innocent people. At the same time, Jane Austen publishes her first novel, Sense and Sensibility, in 1811.

Life and Education

Muzio Filippo Vincenzo Francesco Saverio Clementi was born in Rome, Italy on January 23, 1752. His father Nicolo was a well-known silversmith who married a Swiss woman named Madalena. Little Muzio was the first of seven children in the family, which makes it all the more incredible that his parents had time for him.

Muzio's father soon realized that his little boy had musical talent, and he arranged for a relative to give Muzio private music instruction. At seven years old, Muzio was learning figured bass, a system of music notation where numbers stand for chords. At eleven or twelve years he learned counterpoint, and at 13 he had already composed an oratorio and a mass. When he was just fourteen years old, Muzio became an organist at the local parish. In this way, Clementi followed in the footsteps of Bach and Handel.

In 1766, a wealthy Englishman named Sir Peter Beckford visited Rome. He was very impressed with Muzio's talent at the keyboard and asked Signour Clementi to let his son move to England with Sir Peter. Muzio's father agreed, and so off they went to Sir Peter's estate in Dorset, England. Muzio must have been heartbroken to leave his family for a country so far away, but as a young man he was probably very excited as well. We can already see the growing commitment from Clementi's family to invest in music as a career.

Sir Peter Beckford promised he would pay for lessons until Muzio was twenty-one. In return, Muzio would perform for Sir Peter and his guests. During this time, it is said that Muzio practised 8 hours a day at the harpsichord. He practised music of J. S. Bach, Domenico Scarlatti, George Frederic Handel, and others. In 1770, Muzio gave his first public performance on the organ.



Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Historical Period: Classical
Nationality: Austrian
Born: January 27, 1756 in Salzburg
Died: December 5, 1791 in Vienna
Contemporaries: Carl Friedrich Abel, Johann Christian Bach, Ludwig v. Beethoven, Luigi Bocherini, Chritosph Gluck, Franz Josef Haydn, Johann Hummel, Atonio Salieri, Anton and Carl Stamitz.
Major Works: 23 piano concertos, five violin concertos, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, The Magic Flute, Don Giovanni, The Marriage of Figaro, and some church music, including 20 organ works

What's Happening in the World?

     It is the 1700's; the First Copyright Act has been passed in Britain (1709); in North America there is fighting with the Tuscarora Indians; Jean Jacques Rousseau, the French philosopher, dies (1712); the same year that the Shawnee Indians established themselves in Ohio. In this time period, which is called the Enlightenment, America revolted against Great Britain becoming its own country (1776);  Adam Smith had written about his ideas of capitalism; Jean-Jacques Rousseau had written Emile on the innate goodness of man and how people just need a good education; it was not well-received); John Wesley and George Whitefield were preaching to multitudes in America about the need to be born again. This brought the First Great Awakening in America where many people turned to God. And in the world of music composer Christoph Gluck was reaching the end of his life, Haydn was working hard at writing symphonies, William Billings was composing music for the church and as we have seen much more was going on. Then in the midst of all this, Mozart was born.

The Early Years

      On January 27, 1756, Leopold Mozart and his wife, Anna Maria, were very happy: God had given them a new baby! It was a boy, and he was baptized in the Catholic Church as Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Wolfgang Amadeus.

Leopold Mozart was the assistant music director and violinist in the archbishop's chapel in Salzburg. Not only that, but Leopold was a composer too and even wrote a treatise about violin playing. All the music in the air must have influenced young Wolfgang, since at age three he was picking out chords on the keyboard. At age four, he was memorizing short pieces, and at five he improvised little minuets. Soon after, he wrote out his first compositions (with his father's help). Now, keep in mind that Leopold would give little Wolfgang music lessons just about everyday, and they were way more than 30 minutes!

Wolfgang's father was very proud of him, so he decided to take his son and daughter, Nannerl, on a long trip to Munich, Germany, in 1762. This began several years of traveling around Europe, where young Mozart amazed his audiences with his performances, improvisations, and his sight-reading on the clavier, organ, and violin. After Germany, they visited Vienna where young Mozart was quite taken with Princess Marie Antoinette, and he asked her to marry him, but she couldn't because he was only six and a princess can't marry a musician. Next, they went to Paris, and they even got to perform for the king of France, King Louis XV, in Versailles. Afterwards, the Mozart family went to England to play for King George III. It was in England that the Mozart family met Carl Friedrich Abel and Johann Christian Bach. Lastly, they went to Holland, but they had to wait to play in the capital city of Amsterdam, because Mozart and Nannerl were sick. Eventually, they came back to Vienna, where Mozart composed his first operas and two symphonies. After Vienna, Mozart returned to Salzburg, but this time it was to be appointed Konzertmeister to the archbishop of the Catholic Church and began writing church music.

Mozart spent most of 1770-1773 in Italy. People liked him very much there, and several of his operas were produced in Milan. The pope even awarded him the Order of the Golden Spur! Between 1773 and 1781, Mozart spent most of his time in Salzburg. He was frustrated because he did not have many opportunities and because no one appreciated him, but he kept writing music. It was around this time that he became friends with Haydn.

The Middle Years

Now Mozart was 21, and he wanted to travel alone. But his father who always went with him, insisted that Mozart's mother go with him because he wasn't able to leave his work. Mozart and his mother left Salzburg in 1777, heading for Paris. They stopped in Mannheim, Germany, where Mozart met Christian Cannabich, a famous orchestra conductor at the time. Also in Mannheim, Mozart met and fell in love with Aloysia Weber. He wanted to stay in Mannheim with Aloysia, but Mozart's father urged him to go on to Paris, so Mozart and his mother left Mannheim. I'm sure Mozart was glad afterwards that he got to spend that time traveling with his mother, because she died in Paris in July 1778. Mozart soon returned to Salzburg, stopping in Munich on the way to visit the Webers (they had moved to Munich). He discovered that Aloysia was no longer interested in him. Mozart came back to Salzburg, very depressed over his mother's death, his disappointment in love, and his unfulfilled musical goals, but that however did not keep him from writing more music.

The Later Years

The prince-archbishop of Vienna summoned Mozart, so he moved to Vienna and lived with the Webers who also lived in Vienna at the time. Soon, he fell in love with Aloysia's sister, Constanze, whom he married in 1782. In the next nine years, some terrible things happened to Mozart: serious money troubles, the death of four of his children, the death of his father in 1787, and his wife's ill health. Out of all of this tragedy he wrote some of his best music.
One of the greatest influences in Mozart's life at this time was his friendship with Haydn. He and Haydn respected each other, and they studied together, which was a help to both of them.

Another great influence was Mozart's discovery of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, which helped him in his increasing use of counterpoint (counterpoint is combining different melodies in a piece of music).
Mozart continued to travel around. He traveled to Linz, Prague, Leipzig, Dresden, Berlin, and, in 1790, he went to Frankfurt to perform at the coronation of Emperor Leopold II. (In order to go to Frankfurt, Mozart had to pawn some of his possessions.)

In the autumn of 1791, Mozart became sicker, more depressed, and thought about death often. But he kept on writing. He was trying to finish the Requiem and he thought it would be for himself. Mozart never finished the Requiem. He died on December 5, 1791, at age 35, and he was buried in a pauper's grave.The Works 

     Mozart wrote hundreds of compositions in his 35 years. He, along with Haydn, transformed the light rococo style of music into the grand classical style of symphony, opera, and concerto. In some of his music, there is a foreshadowing of Romantic music, which came several years later.
I suppose one of the things we can learn from Mozart's life is that even if hard things are going on in your life, keep loving, playing, and composing music. You will play even better if you put those emotions into your music.
Also, if the girl you love isn't interested in you any more, take courage. You just might get to marry her sister.~

What interesting things do you know about Mozart?

Guest writer: Rachel Holbrook

Ludwig von Beethoven


Historical Period: Late Classical – Early Romantic                                             


Born: December 16, 1770, Bonn, Germany                                  

Died: March 26, 1827, Vienna, Austria                        

Contemporaries: Franz Josef Haydn, Christian Gottlob Neefe, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart                                                         

Works: Fur Elise, Ninth Symphony, Fidelio, Moonlight Sonata

What’s Happening in History?

In America, the colonists are fighting for liberty from Britain. Jane Austen publishes her first novel, Sense and Sensibility, in 1811. Napoleon Bonaparte conquers much of Europe. In France, the peasants revolt against King Louis, and thousands of people are murdered on the guillotine. Mozart is still giving concerts as a young man.

Early Life

     Ludwig van Beethoven was born in December 16, 1770 to Johann and Maria van Beethoven. (Maria’s father was a chef at the court of an archbishop.) Little Ludwig was first taught music by his father. Some people say that Ludwig’s father was a harsh teacher, but we don’t know that for a fact. What is true is that Johann van Beethoven tried to exploit his son’s talent perhaps for money, and make him famous like Mozart. Johann even pretended that Ludwig was six instead of seven in the advertisements for Ludwig’s concerts. Around that time, Ludwig was also taught by friends of the family and relatives.

Soon after, Ludwig had the opportunity to study composition with an important teacher in Bonn named Christian Gottleb Neefe. Even though Ludwig did not get much education besides music, he became very interested in philosophy and literature. His interest was spurred on by the fact that Bonn was a place where people discussed new ideas constantly.

In March 1783, Ludwig had one of his compositions published and began working for Christian Neefe as an assistant organist. The Variations in C Minor on a march by Earnst Christoph Dressler is the first works he composed and published. Around this time, Ludwig was introduced to several important people who liked his music and some of them became his patrons later. A few years later, in March 1787, Ludwig traveled to Vienna to take lessons with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. We do not know if they actually met, because after just two months in Vienna, Ludwig received the news that his mother was dying, so he rushed back to Bonn. 

Rise to Fame
After the death of his mother, Beethoven's father Johann turned to alcohol to find comfort in his sadness over his wife’s death. So eighteen-year-old Ludwig not only had to deal with his mother’s death and his father’s drinking problems, but he also took charge of his two younger brothers. As a result, Ludwig stayed in Bonn for the next five years, playing the viola in the court orchestra to earn money to support himself and his brothers.
A few years pass and in March 1792, at the age of 22 Ludwig left for Vienna to study and work on his counterpoint under Franz Josef Haydn and a few other teachers. It was around this time that he composed the Piano Trios. Soon after he arrived, he heard that his father had died. It was at this time that Ludwig started becoming popular and making a name for himself in Vienna over the next few years by improvising music for parties he was hired to play, performing many Bach pieces which he had memorized. During this time, Ludwig wrote pieces of music in the Classical style, like Mozart and Haydn. Soon, not only was Beethoven becoming popular for his extraordinary performance skills, but he was also slowly becoming famous for his compositions. Many rich and famous people paid him money for his musical work, even though he was known around Vienna as a rude and short-tempered man with a disdain for authority and high rank. He stopped playing if the audience whispered among themselves or made any noise and refused to perform if someone asked him to play without giving him previous warning. However, his rude behavior was always overlooked because of his great talent and passion.
 Big Changes
     In April 1800, Ludwig rented a concert hall and performed some of Mozart’s and Haydn’s pieces. He also played a few of his own newly composed. The concert didn’t really turn out well, mostly because the orchestra didn't follow the soloist.
Around this time, Ludwig began giving music lessons to the daughters of Countess Anna Brunsvik. He fell in love with the younger daughter, Josephine. But since she was the daughter of a countess, and he was only a poor composer, she married off to someone else soon after he began giving her lessons. Beethoven was  very picky about the students that he took on and, at the same time, very dedicated to those he accepted. One of the most famous were Carl Czerny who later taught Franz Lizst.

The next few years were a bit more prosperous for Ludwig mostly due to the fact that his brother came and helped him manage his money and sell his music.

But, at age 26, Ludwig tragically began to lose his hearing. He suffered from a ringing in his ears that eventually made him completely deaf. So little by little he could not hear the music he composed. Ludwig also suffered from stomach pain all his life. He moved to a small country town outside Vienna hoping that it  would help his health, which led him to become very depressed during this time. He didn’t want to keep on living, but he wrote a letter to his brothers saying that he would continue to live for and through music.

When Ludwig returned to Vienna, he began composing more heroic, grand pieces, like his Fifth Symphony. He was very ill at different times during this period. He was also nursing his brother through tuberculosis and taking care of his family, which took a great deal of his money.
His Final Years           
     When his brother died, he fought his nephew’s mother for guardianship of his nephew, because Ludwig thought he could take better care of him. (This nephew’s mother was, among other things, a convicted thief, so it’s no wonder Ludwig didn’t trust her.) During the last years of his life, he tried to control his nephew’s life, but it didn’t turn out very well.

He wrote his Ninth Symphony in those last years. At the time, he had begun studying older pieces of music in depth – mostly music by Handel and J. S. Bach. But his health was getting worse and worse, and on March 26, 1827, Ludwig died at age 56. The story goes that there was a huge clap of thunder, and the dying man sat up in bed and shook his fist at the thunder, defying nature even as he died.

     Ludwig van Beethoven is one of the most famous composers of all time. Some of his well-known pieces include the MoonlightSonata, the Ninth Symphony, Fur Elise, and the Pathetique sonata. He also wrote one opera, called Fidelio
Beethoven is an important composer because he helped usher music into its next stage, the Romantic era, by writing powerful, grand pieces. So, he is famous as both a classical and a romantic composer. His life was full of trouble and sickness, but he refused to let that stop him from writing his music. His music is sometimes grand and exciting, and at other times it is soft and sensitive. No one can deny that he is one of the best composers that has ever lived.
Guest author: Rachel,Suzuki Piano Book 3 student


Hector Berlioz: France's Romantic Composer

"Love cannot express the idea of music, while music may give an idea of love." - Hector Berlioz

 Historical Period: Romantic Era

Nationality: French

Born: December 11, 1803, La Côte Saint-André, France

Died: March 8,1869, Paris, France

Contemporaries: Frederic Chopin, Richard Wagner, Fromental Halévy,  Giacomo Meyerbeer, Gaspare Spontini

Early Life

Hector Berlioz was born in 1803 in a comfortable home in a villa north of Grenoble in France. His father was a respected physician and scholar. Because many schools were shutting down in the area, Hector received most of his education from his father at home. He showed interest in music at an early age, and despite being destined to become a physician like his father, he was encouraged to develop his musical skill. In 1816 he began to learn the flute and guitar and even began to compose many pieces which he saved and reused in later compositions. His earliest know composition is called the Pot-pourri, which is said to be lost. He also wrote a song for the voice and guitar which he would later use in his famous Symphonie Fantastique

In 1821 his father sent him to Paris to finish his medical studies. While he was there Berlioz also studied under Professor Jean-François Lesueur, who taught him Parisian music. It was also in Paris that Berlioz was exposed to opera and after being encouraged by his friend Jean-François Lesueur, Berlioz decided to fully give himself to music. After submitting to his father and attending medical school for a year Berlioz went home and declared his wish to pursue music full time. That was not good news to them, his parents were very upset. After failing to force him to abandon his passion for music, Berlioz broke away from his father and mother. That was very painful for Berlioz's parents, so they decided to remove all financial support for Berlioz.


Life as a Student          In Part 1 of this biography, we looked at the early life and musical experience of Hector Berlioz. Hector was expected to follow in the footsteps of his father and become a physician, however his passion for music took Berlioz in a different direction.
The Early Years
          In 1823, Hector Berlioz worked as a critic for the journal Le Corsaire in Paris and also composed his first big works, many of which are lost or destroyed by Berlioz himself. The Messe Solennelle (1824), Les Francs-Juges (1826), and the Waverley Overture (1827) are a few of his early compositions he failed to destroy so we can enjoy. His early works were not widely accepted at the time and ended in him failing to win the coveted Prix de Rome, a scholarship for arts students; though he tried again and again, submitting a new cantata each year. All of Berlioz's new works resulted in bad performances, but even with losing and failing so many times, Berlioz was still persistent and pushed himself to work hard. And in 1828, on his fourth attempt, Berlioz won second place in the Prix de Rome! This prize included a five year pension, which was badly needed for the struggling composer. 

          Berlioz was a lover and a learner, which was never so apparent then during these early years. During his long apprenticeship in Paris, Berlioz had exposure to great composers, like Ludwig van Beethoven and Carl Maria von Weber, and great poets like William Shakespeare and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Seeing the plays of Shakespeare motivated Berlioz to learn English, so he could read Shakespeare in the original. But Berlioz did not stop there. In 1827, Berlioz started singing in the chorus at Theatre des Nouveautes to grow his income. He was a great lover of the opera, which led Berlioz to begin writing musical criticism. This job helped him earn more money and support himself, while pursuing his passion for music and the arts.
Final Years and Legacy     After his extensive travels throughout Europe, Berlioz  returned to Paris incapacitated by illness and saddened by many deaths. His first wife died in 1854; his second wife, Maria Recio, who had been his companion for many years and whom he had married when he became a widower, died suddenly in 1862. His son, Louis,  on whom Berlioz concentrated the affection of his declining years, died at the age of 33 of yellow fever.
 These dramatic events did not stop Berlioz from composing more music and traveling. In 1861 Berlioz produced his work Beatrice et Benedict, and in 1863 Les Troyens.  In 1866 Berlioz journeyed to Vienna and Russia where his music was accepted with great enthusiasm.

Following those tours, a lonely Berlioz returned to Paris where he died on March 8, 1869.  He left behind him many innovative compositions that had set the tone for the romantic period. He was a great inspiration to composers such as Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner. Although some of his work was not well received during his life, his popularity increased after his death. Richard Wanger once said of Berlioz: “The reckless boldness and severe precision…took me by storm and impetuously fanned the flames of my personal feeling for music and poetry.”

 Frederic Chopin

"This exquisite, lofty and eminently aristocratic celebrity remains unattacked. A complete silence of criticism already reigns about him, as if posterity already had come." ~Franz Liszt

Period: Romantic
Nationality: Polish
Born: Zelazowa Wola (near Warsaw), Poland in 1810 A.D.
Died: Paris, France in 1849 A.D.
Family: French dad, Polish mother, 3 older sisters
Married: No, but he tried.
Contemporaries: Johannes Brahms, Robert Schumann, Felix Mendelssohn
Specialist Genres: solo piano music
Major Works: 4 ballades; 27 etudes; 56 mazurkas; 19 nocturnes; 2 piano concertos; 25 preludes; 4 scherzos; 3 sonatas; 44 waltzes. 


  •          Frederic Fracois Chopin (Polish spelling: Fryderyk Fraciszek Szopen) started writing music from when he was 6 and started learning to play the piano even earlier. He is famous for writing a lot of beautiful, passionate, fun, and really hard music for the piano. Some of the songs that he made up are called mazurkas and polonaises. These kinds of songs for the piano are from dances in his country Poland. This shows how much he really loved his country. Do you really like your country? Try composing a song to show your appreciation. Other composers learned from Chopin, like Claude Debussy and Robert Schumann.
        At around 20 years old, Chopin left Poland to visit and work in other cities of Europe. But, before he left Poland, Chopin took a little bit of dirt and put it in a tiny box to take with him wherever he went. 

Chopin never really liked to play for big crowds; he rarely did it. One time, Chopin went to England and play a recital under a different name. Even though he lied about his name, which is terrible, people who were at the recital knew it was him. Another famous composer, Mendelssohn, was there in the crowd and said that it was definitely Chopin because of how beautifully he played the piano. 

Most of the time, Chopin played for small groups, especially his friends. Some of his friends that were at these famous parties included Franz Liszt, Felix Mendelssohn, and Robert Schumann, who were also great composers and piano players.

So how did Chopin come up with so many great pieces of music? From what some of his students said, Chopin would start playing around on the piano and as he would play he would come up with a new piece. The interesting part is that after he composed the song as he was playing, Chopin would take many months to write it out, because he wanted to make sure it came out his best. As you play your instrument and as you compose music be ambitious to make sure your pieces come out your best.

Chopin was always getting sick, and at 39 years of age he died of tuberculosis. To honor his love for Poland, people brought dirt to put in the grave when they buried him in France.



Franz Liszt 

Period: Romantic
Country: Hungary
Born: 1811 in Raiding, Hungary
Died: 1886 in Bayreuth, Germany
Contemporaries: Beethoven, Berlioz, Borodin, Brahms, Chopin, Dvorak, Franck, Grieg, MoussorgskyRimsky-Korsakov, Rossini, Saint-Saens, Schumann, Sibelius, Smetana, J. Strauss, R. Strauss, Sullivan, Tchaikovsky, Verdi, Wagner
Specialist Genre: Tone-poems, programme symphonies, and piano works.

What's Happening in History?

      The 1800’s started with the Second Great Awakening in a Kentucky camp meeting presided by James McGready (1800-1809), Europe was taken with Romanticism, in Russia someone killed Tsar Paul I (1801), ultraviolet rays was discovered by the German physicist Johann Wilhelm Ritter (1801), Thomas Jefferson becomes the 3rd president of the United States of America (1801-1809), The Louisiana Purchase (1803), United Kingdom abolished the slave trade thanks in part to William Wilberforce (1807), War of 1812 between USA and England, Napoelon tried to take over the world, Guatemala, Panama, and Santo Domingo proclaim independence from Spain, the Greeks struggle for independence from Turkey and with the help of Russia, France and Britain gain independence (1829), Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints forms under Joseph Smith (1830), Charles Spurgeon the “Prince of Preachers” is born in England (1834-1892), Crawford Long uses ether as the first anesthetic (1842), U.S. Civil War (1861-1865), Queen Victoria becomes Empress of India (1877). So many things happening in the world and in the midst of all these things classical music was transforming. One man was very influential in this changing musical world because of his incredible piano playing, fantastic teaching, and constant support of new music. His name is Franz Liszt.


Johannes Brahms

Brahms having fun!
Historical Period: Romantic
Nationality: German
Born: May 7, 1833 A.D. Hamburg, Germany.
Died:  April 3, 1897 A.D. Vienna, Austria.
Contemporaries: Franz Liszt, Robert and Clara Schumann, Richard Wagner.
Specialist Genre: Symphonies and Sonatas.
Major Works: A German Requiem, Hungarian Dances, Symphonies, Sonatas, Academic Festival Overture.


Let’s go back about 200 years to a time of music before Katy Perry and Bruno Mars where a marvelous masterpiece of music lived who was born in 1833. This man of compositions more beautiful than a flower, more creative then art and more suspense and adventure then Tom and Jerry was named Johannes Brahms (Yo-han-ess Bram-s). He was born in Germany in the year 1833 and he was a composer and pianist. He wrote and composed many symphonies (orchestra music), concerto (solo instrument or an instrument accompanied my orchestra), chamber music (music held for small groups of people), piano work and choral compositions (compositions usually written for chorus or choir). So, what’s so important about an old dude playing piano? More than you can think up!

 The Beginning

     Johannes Brahms was born May 7, 1833 in Hamburg, Germany in the romantic era explaining the reason why some of his works were romantic. Brahms was the second born child, out of three, born to Johanna Henrika Christiane Nissen and Johann Jakob Brahms. At an early age Brahms was intrigued with music and began playing piano at the age of 7. As a teenager Brahms was already an accomplished musician, unlike most teenagers nowadays. He would play wherever he could to help provide his family with money. Brahms had quickly become famous when a close friend named Robert Schumann (renowned German composer) had talked about Johannes Brahms’ beautiful music in a famous article. Soon new sounds became popular leading Schumann and Brahms to indulge in this harmonic beauty and making many famous composers famous. Unexpectedly, Schumann fell ill in 1854 and died in 1856. Just as Dory would say, “just keep swimming” and that’s exactly what Brahms did after Schumann’s death, he moved on. Several years after the tragedy, Brahms played in many places and wrote famous pieces such as “String sextet in B-Major” and “Piano Concerto in No.1 in D Minor."

        A Change in a New Place

     In the early 1860’s Brahms made his way to Vienna (a city in Austria) where 3 years later was appointed director to a choral group named Singakademie. Brahms was delighted at how well life was in Vienna. I mean who wouldn’t like an opportunity to be conductor of “Society of Friends of Music”? Also, Brahms directed the “Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra” for three seasons. In 1868, Brahms’s mother died and it was tragic. But that year was also a year when he finished a piece called “A German Requiem” (which brought together chorus, solo voices and an orchestra), this was a very important composition in his time. In this time he also composed waltzes and two volumes of “Hungarian Dances” for piano which were very popular in his time.

Check back for part 2. What do you like about Johannes Brahms?

By a Suzuki Book 1 violin 7th grade student

     Johannes was born to Johann Jakob Brahms in 1833 A.D. in the country of Germany in a continent called Europe. His dad liked his own name very much, so he gave it to his son, Johannes, just that it has a little different ending, do you see you it? His dad played the double bass, that big string instrument in the orchestra you have to stand to play most of the time. Brahm's mother, Johanna Henrika Christiane Nissen, and dad had two children, the younger one was Brahms. By age six, his parents figured out that Brahms had perfect pitch. What is perfect pitch? It means that someone is born with the ability to tell the name of and sing any note that he or she hears. Some people say that it is a gift from God because it is so helpful in learning music. Other people say it is a curse, because you have to live hearing some many wrong notes being played.

Johannes started learning the piano at age 7 from a man named Eduard Marxsen and his father taught him how to play the violin. Marxsen taught Brahms a lot of Bach’s music. Later on, when he was about 13 years old, Brahms started studying composition? What does that mean? Brahms started learning to how to compose music from Eduard Marxsen. Brahms got better and better on the piano and the cool thing is that Brahms got good enough to play for people at restaurants and theaters. Brahms not only performed concerts, he even started teaching piano lessons to people. And do you know what he did with part of the money he earned? He helped his parents by paying some of the bills, cool stuff!

In 1853, Brahms went on a concert tour with the violinist Eduard Remenyi and on this concert tour he met another violinist, Joseph Joachim. Joachim helped Brahms make friends with other music composers, like Franz Liszt, Robert and Clara Schumann. So Brahms wrote music, performed music, and became friends with other composers. In 1856, Brahms became the piano teacher for Princess Friederike, who knew that princesses played piano. In 1857, Brahms also became the choral conductor at the court of Lippe‐Detmold, so he was very busy teaching and conducting the choir.[1] Unfortunately, Brahms never had the privilege or blessing to get married to a woman and have family. This helps me remember that no matter how passionate I am about something, I should not make it more important than my family.


     Brahm's favorite composer was Johann Sebastian Bach, here is what he says about Bach: "On a system for a small instrument, a man writes a whole world of the deepest thoughts and the most tremendous emotions. If I could imagine that I could have accomplished such a thing, could have conceived it within myself, I know surely that the excitement and the shock would have driven me insane."[2] What does that mean? Brahms thought Bach had such intense emotions that he could not handle to have such emotions. That was meant to be a compliment to his favorite composer. Brahms the kind of guy that did not want to write the newest kinds of classical music, but perfected the style of music that Beethoven and Mendelssohn were doing. Was Bach the only composer Brahms really liked? No, Brahms studied Beethoven’s music constantly. Both Bach and Beethoven influenced Brahms very much in how he composed music.


     Many people have been listening to Brahms’ music and there are many    
opionions about his music. Here is how one person described Brahms’ music:
He was content to work the way the old masters had worked, employing counterpoint, variation, and sonata form. He had a strong feling for German folksong and often used it, but his is not a nationalistic music. It is a music of immense weight and solidity, especially at the beginning of his career; a music marked with Schumannesque cross-rhythms, with a Beethovenian feeling for development, with a Bachian feeling for polyphony. Above all it is  essentially a serious music, even if Brahms could be as lyric as any Romantic composer when he wanted to be.[3]
Do you agree with how his music is described? What do you think of Brahms’ music? How would you describe it?

Here are some of the pieces that Brahms composed: 
4 symphonies, 2 piano concertos, 1 violin concerto, 2 serenades, A German Requiem for the choir and orchestra, 1 Double Concerto for Violin and Violoncello, 3 string quartets, 2 string quintets, 2 string sextets, 3 violin sonatas, 2 violoncello sonatas, 2 clarinet sonatas, piano sonatas and many others.

We do not even have all of Brahms' pieces because he was a perfectionist (very picky) about what he wrote, so some pieces he just burned up! One thing I learned from Johannes Brahms is to work hard, do my best, and be passionate about my music. You should too!

[1]Information from Oxford Music Dictionary online:
[2]From The Lives of the Great Composers, revised edition by Harold C. Schonberg (W.W. Norton: New York, 1981), p. 297.


Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky


Historical Period: Romantic
Nationality: Russian
Born: May 7, 1840 A.D. in Kamsko-Votkinsk, Vyatka
Died:  Nov. 6, 1893 A.D. in St. Petersburg
Contemporaries: Johannes Brahms, Camille Saint-Saens, Antonin Dvorak, Claude Debusey, Gustav Mahler, Edvard, Grieg, Frederic Chopin, Franz Liszt, Gabriel Faure, Robert Schumann, Richard Wagner, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Modest Mussrogsky, Cesar Cui, Alexander Borodin, Mily Balakirev
Specialist Genres: ballet music and symphonies
Major Works: The Nutcracker, Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, Violin Concerto, Piano Concertos, 6 symphonies, 1812 Overture.

     Have you ever heard of The Nutcracker? Or Sleeping Beauty? Or even Swan Lake? Most people have, but they may not know much about the man behind the music. The man is Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and he was born in Votkinsk, a small town in Russia’s Ural Mountains. Tchaikovsky lived during stirring times: the United States of America was in the Great Depression, Samuel Morse invented “Morse Code”, David Livingstone went as a missionary to Africa, lower and upper China united, Crawford Long uses first anesthetic (ether), Edgar Allen Poe came out with The Raven and Other Poems, and Charles H. Spurgeon impacted England and America with his great sermons from the Bible. 

It was in these tremendous times that Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky played the piano and wrote lots of cool classical music with a Russian twist. Alongside ballet music, Tchaikovsky wrote symphonies, the 1812 Overture, a violin concerto and piano concertos. Tchaikovsky had what many composers living in his time did not: “a sweet, inexhaustible, supersensuous fund of melody.”[1]

His Life & Music

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was born on May 7, 1840.  From a young age Tchaikovsky had an interest in music, but his parents wanted him to study law, just like G.F. Handel. Tchaikovsky was an obedient son and went to law school, but he also kept pursuing music. Eventually,  Tchaikovsky went to the St. Petersburg Conservatory to study music composition and the piano, which led him to be considered one of the most popular classical music composers of all time.

After the St. Petersburg Conservatory, Tchaikovsky was given the great gift of marriage, but he did not treasure marriage. Tchaikovsky divorced his wife a few weeks after they were married, choosing to run away from her and focused on his music. Music was more important to Tchaikovsky, too bad he did not choose to love both music and his wife. He did write a lot of beautiful music, symphonies and piano concertos and a violin concerto and ballet music and tone poems and more. In 1891, Tchaikovsky even came to America to conduct his music for people. And in 1884, Emperor Alexander III and even got a pension (money for retirement). People really like his ballet music, his symphonies and even the concertos for its beauty, deep emotion, lyricism in the Russian style.  As two historians put it, “The music which this unhappy man created was gorgeously colored, sometimes delicate and fairy-like, sometimes almost hysterical in its tragic passion.”[2]

[1]Harold C. Schonberg, The Lives of the Great Composers, revised edition (New York: Norton Company, 1981), p. 377.
[2]Katherine B. Shippen and Anca Seidlova, The Heritage of Music (New York: Viking Press, 1963), p. 204.

Sergei Rachmaninoff

Historical Period: Late Romantic-Early Contemporary
Nationality: Russian
Born: April 1, 1873
Died: March 28, 1943
Contemporaries: Bela Bartok, Antonin Dvorak Vladimir Horowitz, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Sergei Prokofiev, Arnold Schonberg, Alexander Scriabin, Igor Stravinski, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Works: Aleko, Prelude in C-Sharp Minor, Second Piano Concerto, Spring, Vocalise, Variations on a Theme of Chopin, The Isle of the Dead

What's Happening in History?

In America, the Civil War (1860-1865) has been over for more than eight years. The Russian Revolution (1917) is going to begin in several years and World War I (1914-1918) is beginning in Europe.


Sergei Vasilyevich Rachmaninoff was born to Vasily Arkadyevich and his wife Lyubov Petrovna Butakova, on their estate in Oneg, near the Novgorod district in Russia. Sergei's mother taught him a bit of piano when he was four, but his grandfather hired a teacher for him the next year. But she left when he was nine - Sergei's family moved to St. Petersburg, because his father was irresponsible and lost his estate. Young Sergei began taking preparatory classes at the St. Petersburg Conservatory, but when he was twelve, he transferred to the conservatory in Moscow. It was a hard life in the Moscow Conservatory. The students got up at 6:00 AM every morning, and they worked sixteen hours every day. They took language lessons and wore uniforms, because the school was in part seeking to train the students to be gentlemen. Sergei studied there with a group of well-known musicians, one of which also went on to be important in the music world was Alexander Scriabin. Alexander and Sergei became good friends. (When Alexander died, Sergei gave a piano recital in his honor. Alexander's students hated the way Sergei played Alexander's pieces. Sergei was offended, naturally.)

Sergei was still a student when he composed several pieces of music for the piano. One of those pieces was his First Piano Concerto. Now, at the Moscow Conservatory at that time, the conductor, Safonov, could change the students' pieces however he wanted to for a recital. But 18-year-old Sergei would not agree to the changes made to his piece. One of his fellow students, Mikhail Bukinik, said this about Sergei:

        "...Rachmaninoff's talent as a composer was so obvious, and his
          quiet self-assurance made such an impression on all, that even
          the omnipotent Safonov had to yield."


After years of hard work, in 1892 Sergei graduated with a gold medal. He was only 19 years old!

The gold medal was for his opera Aleko, which was first performed in 1893. It was admired by a great many people, including Pyotr Tchaikovsky. (Tchaikovsky even asked if Sergei's opera could be performed with one of Tchaikovsky's, which excited Sergei very much.) But Sergei's First Symphony was not so well received. In fact, nobody liked it. Sergei was so upset that he stopped composing for a while. He didn't write any more music for almost three years.

He did start writing again, though, and before World War I started, he had written three concertos, two more symphonies, a symphonic poem, many songs, and lots of piano music. The piano music was written partly for his own amazing hands, so the music is very difficult and full of wide stretches.

In 1902, Sergei finally married his fiancée and cousin Natalia Satina. In the beginning, Sergei was in love with her younger sister, Vera, but Vera and Natalia's mother would have none of that. So Sergei wrote back and forth with Natalia. By the time of their wedding, they had been engaged for three years.

In 1917, the Russian Revolution broke out. The Rachmaninoff family were aristocrats, and so the forty-four-year-old Sergei moved to Switzerland with his family (his wife and two daughters) and decided to focus more on the piano. Many people in the United States offered him work as a composer, and although he turned them down, he finally decided that moving to America would solve some of his financial problems. In 1935, he moved to the United States. He kept composing during this time, even though he was very sad to leave Russia. He and his family tried to make their house in America like their house in Russia.

Sergei became ill during a concert tour in late 1942 and was diagnosed with melanoma, a type of skin cancer (The doctors told his family, but not him). Soon after, he and his wife became American citizens, just two months before he died. He died in Beverly Hills, California, four days before his 70th birthday.


Sergei wrote a lot of music, including: Piano Concerto No. 4; the Variations on a Theme by Corelli, for solo piano; the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, for piano and orchestra; the Third Symphony; and the Symphonic Dances, as well as pieces like Vocalise, Variations on a Theme of Chopin, and The Isle of the Dead. Sergei Rachmaninoff has been somewhat forgotten, but his music is still popular. He was perhaps the best pianist of his lifetime. As part of his daily warm-up exercises, Sergei would play the difficult Étude in A flat, Op. 1, No. 2, by Paul de Schlozer. When performing, he would go up on stage, sit down at the piano, and wait for the audience to be quiet. When he played, it was perfect: he never made a mistake, and his playing could be heard in the back row of the music hall. And he remembered things - if he heard a piece of music just once, he could remember it for a long time, note by note. He could sit down the next day, or six months later, or ten years later, and play it on the piano. He was dedicated to music - he once said, "That is the most important thing for me in my interpretations, color. So you make music live. Without color it is dead." 

Guest Writer: Rachel Holbrook

No comments:

Post a Comment

Now it's your turn, what do you think?