left hand side border If music be the food of love, play on right
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The following pages contain some brief notes on some of my favourite composers and their music.

George Frideric Handel Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Gioachino Rossini
Gaetano Donizetti Frédéric François Chopin Giuseppe Verdi
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov Gabriel Fauré Giacomo Puccini
Arthur Oscar Honegger
left hand side border George Frideric Handel right
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born Halle 1685 - died London 1759

The wide recognition gained by Handel in his later years, together with the range and quality of his music arguably place him with Bach as the greatest composer of his time.

Handel's father was a barber-surgeon and valet to the Prince of Saxe-Magdeburg. He was in his mid-sixties when his son was born, and he hated music. But Handel managed to learn the organ and spinet, and despite initial opposition from his father, he studied music with Fridrich Zachow, the organist of the Lutheran church in Halle, who soon realized he had a genius on his hands. In 1702 matriculated at the university there to read law. In 1702 he moved to Hamburg and went to Italy 1706-09 where he composed opera in Florence and Venice and oratorio in Rome. He visited the principal cities and met the leading composers such as Corelli, Alessandro Scarlatti and Domencio Scarlatti with whom Handel had a celebrated keyboard 'duel'.

With the support of Steffani he was appointed to succeed the latter as Kapellmeister to the Elector of Hanover in 1710, but left almost immediately on leave of absence for London, where the opera Rinaldo was given with great success the next year. Again in London on leave in 1712, he settled there, never returning to his post in Hanover. With the founding of the Royal Academy of Music in London (RAM) in 1720 began Handel's most prolific period as an opera composer, and over the next 20 years he wrote more than 30 works. Very little is known about his private life, he was almost obsessively secret, but he was said to be gruff, curt and certainly had a violent temper. Handel experienced difficulties with the formation of partisan factions round himself and his rival Giovanni Bononcini, the popular success of The Beggar's Opera in 1728 made matters worse, and in that year the RAM went bankrupt. Handel's health deteriorated with bankruptcy and debtors prison looming, rheumatism set in and he suffered a paralytic stroke, he had some sort of breakdown and then… he changed course. He turned back to the oratorio in the 1730s. His last opera was produced 1741, after which he devoted his time chiefly to oratorio, Messiah being performed in Dublin in 1742. This was the summation of his life's work. He continued to appear in public as conductor and organist, playing concertos between the parts of his oratorios, but his health declined and he spent his last years in blindness. His last major public success came in 1749 with the suite for wind instruments, to accompany the Royal Fireworks in Green Park. 3000 people attended his funeral at Westminster Abbey.

Music for the Flute Alcina

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left hand side border Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart right
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born Salzburg 1756 - died Vienna 1791

Mozart's father Leopald was a composer and violinist in the service of the Prince Archbishop of Salzburg hoping to become Kapellmeister. Wolfgang (born Johannes Chrysostomus Wulfgangus Theophilus Mozart) and his sister Anna Maria were the only two of Leopald's seven children to survive infancy. Both children were musically talented and when, at the age of four, Wolfgang could not only memorize a piece in an hour, but could also play it faultlessly; Leopald realized in Wolfgang he had a child prodigy. Mozart's first compositions were published in Paris in 1763 and his first symphonies were written in the following year.

In 1781 Mozart decided to make Vienna his home and it remained his base for the rest of his life; the move marks the beginning of his golden years as a mature composer. In 1787 his father died and Mozart secured an appointment as Kammermusicus in Vienna in succession to Gluck. In 1791 he composed the Clarinet Concerto, Piano Concerto No.27 in B flat, Die Zauberflöte (the Magic Flute), La clemenza di Tito and the Requiem. Mozart did not live long enough to complete the Requiem Mass, commissioned by eccentric nobleman Count Franz von Walsegg, he died a few weeks before his 36th birthday from the streptococcal infection Schönlein-Henoch Syndrome and renal failure on 5th December 1791. Mozart was arguably the most naturally talented musician in history. His inspiration is often described as "divine" but he worked assiduously to become the greatest composer of his day, the finest conductor, pianist and organist in Europe and a good violinist.

Music for the Flute Selected operas

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left hand side border Gioachino Rossini right
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born Pesaro 1792 - died Paris 1868

Rossini's father was the town trumpeter for Pesaro and played brass instruments in various theatres as well as doubling as municipal inspector of slaughterhouses; his mother was a small time opera singer. Rossini's gifts were noted at an early age and by teh time he reached his teens he could not only play the piano, the viola and the horn, but was also much in demand as a boy soprano. He was actually born in a leap year and took great pleasure in celebrating his nineteenth birthday in 1868. Like many Italians, Rossini was extremely supersticious and was terrified of Friday 13th. He died on Novemeber 13th - a friday, and there were 6000 mourners in his funeral procession, four military bands and a chorus of 399 that sang the Prayer from his Mosè in Egitto

La Cenerentola

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left hand side border Gaetano Donizetti right
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born Bergamo 1797 - died Bergamo 1848

Born Gaetano Domenico Maria Donizetti, his father, a weaver and later a pawnbroker, would not countenance a musical career for his son at first, but eventually he reluctantly allowed him to go to the Bergamo School of Music. Here Donizetti devoured the scores of his idol Rossini, who was only five years his senior, and determined that he would be an opera composer in the same mould. He composed over twenty operas (some of which were highly sucessful at the time) before he found his own way of doing things. His finest operas were produced after 1830, after Rossini had retired from writing operas. He was wonderfully prolific and could turn out as many as three or four a year. When asked if it was true that Rossini had written The Barber of Seville in a fortnight he answered "Oh, I quite believe it. He was always such a lazy fellow!".

Maria Stuarda

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left hand side border Frédéric François Chopin right
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born Zelazowa Wola 1810 - died Paris 1849

Few composers command such universal love as Chopin; even less have such a high proportion of their output still remaining in the active repertoire. He is the only great composer whose every work involves the piano - no symphonies, operas or choral works and only a handful of compositions involving other instruments. He wrote just under 200 works; 169 of these are for solo piano. Along with that of Liszt, his music was the most important of the 19th century in the development and perfection of the Romantic style. It is entirely original, with an apparent melodic simplicity that usually masks a variety of more complex undercurrents of harmony and rhythm. Chopin was a Polish composer of French descent.

Chopin's father was a professor of French in Warslaw. Chopin took piano lessons at the age of six, played at a musical evening at seven and in public at eight; He made great progress in composition and improvisation under the tutelage of Elsner from 1822, Chopin's first published work was a Polonaise in G minor which he produced at the age of seven. He left Poland in 1830 and finally went to Paris in October 1831 and decided to remain there. He suffered from tuberculosis of the throat and gave his last public concert in February 1848, but continued to teach and play at private houses. His pupil Jane Stirling took him to Scotland in August 1848. He subsequently played at Manchester, Glasgow, Edinburgh, and returned to London in November. In January 1849 he was back in Paris in a critical state of health and finance, but was supported by wealthy friends until his death.

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left hand side border Giuseppe Verdi right
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born Le Roncole 1813 - died Milan 1901

The greatest of Italian opera composers was the son of a village innkeeper and began his long musical career as an organist, taking over duties at the local church when still a small child. His father sent him to Busseto for formal music studies, thence, in 1821, to the home of Antonio Barezzi, a local merchant and patron of music. Baressi supplied funds for Verdi to progress to the Milan Conservatory but his protégé failed the entrance due to 'lack of piano technique and technical knowledge' according to some sources, 'over-age and insufficiently gifted' according to others. Despite this Verdi took private lessons and persevered in his ambitions.

Selected Operas

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left hand side border Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov right
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born Tikhvin 1844 - died Liubensk 1908

Naval officer turned composer turned teacher, Rimsky-Korsakov was among the most colourful of the Russians, a brilliant orchastrator and conductor who numbered among his students Glazunov, Stravinsky and Prokofiev. He repeatedly emphasized the need for developing "good technique," lamenting the fact that so many of his compatriots had not tried harder.

Flight of the Bumble Bee

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left hand side border Gabriel Fauré right
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born Pamiers 1845 - died Paris 1924

Fauré was a French composer; he studied at Niedermeyer's school of music in Paris, 1854-66, and became church organist at Rennes in the latter year. Returned to Paris in 1870, became organist first at Saint-Sulpice and then at Saint-Honoré, and choirmaster at the Madeleine in 1877, being appointed organist there in 1896, a post he held until 1905, when he became director of the Paris Conservatoire, where he had been professor since 1896. He resigned 1920. He had many distinguished composition pupils, including Ravel, Enescu and Koechlin. His early music, notably the song cycle La Bonne Chanson, 1st violin sonata and 1st piano quartet, was lyrical and contemplative in nature. His best-known work, the Requiem, also dates from this period. He adopted a terser, more rigorous style at the turn of the century, with the opera Prométhée, and continued in this style with the piano quintets and cello sonatas.

Music for the Flute

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left hand side border Giacomo Puccini right
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born Lucca 1858 - died Brussels 1924

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left hand side border Arthur Oscar Honegger right
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born Le Havre 1892 - died Paris 1955

Honegger is a difficult composer to define because his large corpus of compositions contains a wide variety of styles that leave the listener wondering what his musical voice sounds like. He vacillated between modern conservatism and advanced polytonal dissonance.

Born in France of Swiss parents the Swiss composer spent most of his life in France and much of his music reflects this Franco-Teutonin background. He was first taught by the organist R. C. Martin at his birthplace, then sent to the Zurich Conservatory, 1909-11, and studied at the Paris Conservatoire 1911-13. After that he became a private pupil of Widor and d'Indy and in 1914 began to compose. Prolific as he was adventurous, Honegger composed his first music for the cinema as early as 1923 for La Route. Though always in touch with Switzerland, he belonged mainly to the French school, and he joined the group which c 1920 became known as 'Les Six'. He married the composer Andrée Vaurabourg, who was also attached to it, though not as a member. During the Nazi occupation of Paris, he lied as a virtual recluse in the capital but was allowed to continue to compose, and through an oversight, act for the French Resistance. After the War he was invited to teach at the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood, where he developed angina, the disease he eventually died from in Paris.

Danse de la Chèvre

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