Dame Ethel Smyth (1854-1944) said, “I want women to turn their minds to big and difficult jobs, not just to go on hugging the shore, afraid to put out to sea.”
This is the story of a woman — in the long history of women stifled by important or influential men in their lives or eras — who did the big and difficult job over and over. Ethel Smyth, a strong-minded musician, fought against her father’s pontifical noise and ‘put out to sea’ (or at least crossed the channel) in 1877 at age 19 to study at the Conservatorium in Leipzig. One of the top Smyth scholars, Amy Zigler, has a brief biography available HERE. BMInt is happy to publish this preview in the context of a Cappella Clausura’s performance of Smyth’s Mass in D at Emmanuel Church at 4pm on March 3rd. Tickets HERE.
Smyth characterized herself as making “on average 12 intimate friends per annum” (letter to Henry Brewster, 1892). Her first core in Leipzig was the Herzogenbergs, a musical family whose young matriarch, Lisl (only 11 years her senior), took a maternal interest in Ethel, and a deep, life-changing relationship began. Lisl’s brother-in-law was Henry Brewster, who was also to become a deep and romantic partner, although married. Brewster, a poet, was the librettist for many of her operas. On her many trips to Germany, her friends introduced her to more friends, many of them the glitterati of the late 1800s: Brahms (her musical hero, along with Beethoven), Tchaikovsky, Grieg, Clara Schumann, Dvorak, and more.
On a Saturday evening some 70 years ago I heard the Boston Symphony Orchestra live for the first time. Melville Smith, then director of the Longy School, had given me two tickets he couldn’t use. Charles Munch conducted. Before the intermission came Honegger’s Symphony no. 1; the program notes mentioned harmony that “trends toward C major,” which amused me and my 9th-grade classmate George Nelson — it must have meant that the symphony was “modern.” After the intermission we heard Schubert’s “Great” Symphony in C Major, a work I had never heard before, but George knew it well. “This symphony begins with a solo horn,” he said. (Actually it turned out to be two in unison.) I was deeply impressed by the experience, and especially by the slow movement, but never imagined that I would write a book about this symphony a few years later (2011).
The renowned Takács Quartet has a zest for new music and unconventional partnerships. They’ve collaborated with bandoneon standout Julien Labro, composer and The National vocalist Bryce Dessner, vocalist Clarice Assad, and actors Philip Seymour Hoffman and Meryl Streep. For its February 16th Celebrity Series concert at Jordan Hall [tickets HERE], the foursome offers Nokuthula Ngwenyama’s Flow sandwiched between Haydn’s “Sunrise” quartet and the second of Beethoven’s Razumovskys.
In Flow, Harvard Divinity School graduate Ngwenyama embraces the cosmos…or lets it embrace her. BMInt spoke with her and and Takács violinist Harumi Rhodes.
FLE: We first met in 1999 when you gave a super viola recital at Harvard Musical Association. You probably don’t remember the event, but surely the baked beans, Welsh rabbit and ale must have traumatized you.
Seiji Ozawa just died in Tokyo at the age of 88. His durable career with the Boston Symphony, where he spent a major portion of his years as music director, spanned 1973 to 2002, the longest such term in the orchestra’s history. The BSO’s press release is HERE. And we embed a video tribute within.
A free concert resulting from the research of this writer along with the efforts of the Harvard Musical Association Library Committee takes place on March 3rd at 3:00, at St. John’s Church, 27 Devens Street, in Charlestown. Just show up (entry is free). Leave a comment below if you have questions.
Winsome duo-pianists Chi-Wei Lo and Xiaopei Xu, collectively known as Psychopomp Ensemble (guide of souls), who have been reinventing the recital, once brilliantly interpolated the Beatles’ “Imagine” into the Gottschalk’s “The Union” HERE at 52:40; they will preside in an acoustically warm sanctuary on a restored 1870 Chickering concert grand. A light reception will follow.
The Germania Musical Society deserves to emerge from the cocoon of writings by musicological specialists and reclaim the interest of a larger public.
Benjamin T. Rossen’s The Unknowable: An Operatic Ballet in Two Acts follows a young woman’s journey towards sincere curiosity in the face of a demoralizing reality, exploring themes of empathy, frustration, compassion, and inquisitiveness. Interweaving dancers and singers, the narrative is centered on the powerful musical experiences of ‘Les nuits d’été’ by Berlioz and ‘Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen’ by Mahler, carefully chosen for their rich soundworlds and allegorical relevance to the characters’ personal journeys. The Lowell House Opera production runs on February 10th and 11th in Sanders Theater at Harvard University. Tickets HERE.
“We believe that The Unknowable offers a relatable and relevant experience for a 21st-century audience, addressing universal themes of challenging decisions and the internal struggle to attain unequivocal answers.” Our Q and A with the composer follows.
This summer’s two months at Tanglewood offer a more varied and richer schedule than ever, on the fully equipped campus in Lenox that has abundances for every taste. The Boston Symphony shares the Shed and other halls with several other orchestras; recitals and chamber music abound, beginning with a String Quartet Marathon of three concerts on June 30th. The calendar is HERE. Tickets go on sale March 19th .
The listing that I received has some gaps (programs not yet determined), but Beethoven’s orchestral music appears on no fewer than six dates (July 5 and 21, August 4, 18, 24, and 25), including four symphonies (of course the 9th) and three concerti. Stravinsky appears on four dates (July 12 and 15, August 9 and 10). There’s an entire evening of Richard Strauss (July 7). Shostakovich’s 5th Symphony will be performed twice, by the TMC Orchestra on July 8 with Nelsons, and the National Children’s Symphony of Venezuela on August 8 with Dudamel.
BMInt presents a not-so-short history of Shostakovich’s The Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk District in connection with the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s first performances of the complete opera on January 25th and 27th. Tickets HERE
On January 26, 1936, Dmitri Shostakovich’s opera The Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk District was presented in Moscow. This was not breaking news. Lady Macbeth had enjoyed almost simultaneous premieres in 1934, at the Maly Opera Theatre in Leningrad on January 22 and then at the Nemirovich-Danchenko Music Theatre in Moscow two days later. The piece had elicited high praise from the February 1st edition of Soviet Art:
Peter Schickele died on January 16th, after increasing health problems that confined him to his home in Woodstock, New York. He was 88 years old. He had a long parallel career as a serious composer and a musical comedian, in which he was known all over as P. D. Q. Bach and made memorable recordings still in print. His parodies of learned styles and burlesques of well-known masterpieces endure for their educational value as much as for their unerring drollery — as in the Concerto for Horn and Hardart in which a quasi-Mozart appoggiatura is drawn out for 30 seconds before gasping to a resolution, and in the Quodlibet with tonic-dominant melodies from all nine of Beethoven’s symphonies accumulating, followed by a combination of Schoenberg’s Little Piano Piece, op. 19, no. 2, and Puccini’s Un bel di vedremo (who would have thought that one could work?). You can’t forget his Beethoven Fifth first movement as a down-on-the-farm sportscast, or the mini-opera The Abduction of Figaro. The NYTimes obit is HERE.
The augmented sixth chord tends to be a dreaded subject in harmony courses, because it comes near the end of the textbook (e.g., Chapter 27 of Piston-DeVoto Harmony, 5th edition) but it really isn’t that complicated. There are maybe six or seven different kinds in regular use, some with geographic names: the Italian, German, and French sixths are well known, and some writers recognize Swiss or even Polish sixths. (You might wonder about the famous Neapolitan sixth, as well as the Russian sixth that I have puffed about in these pages, but these are not augmented sixth chords.). All of them have in common the interval of augmented sixth, typically in the upper voice and bass: