[Preamble: For those who have visited my earlier post (Feb Fabs Top Ten – Part One) you will know the basis of this compilation of Part Two, namely, it will list the remaining five world class musicians who were born in the month of February and who I consider worthy of consideration.]
Just two of them in Part Two are more contemporary compared to my Part One list of notables – they were born in the 1900’s and more or less about the same time as I was.
1) John Williams
One of the most popular and successful American orchestral composers of the modern age, John Williams is the winner of five Academy Awards, 17 Grammys, three Golden Globes, two Emmys and five BAFTA Awards from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts. Best known for his film scores and ceremonial music, Williams is also a noted composer of concert works and a renowned conductor. John was born on February 8, 1932 in New York and moved to Los Angeles with his family in 1948. There he attended UCLA and studied composition privately with Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco. After service in the Air Force, Mr. Williams returned to New York to attend the Juilliard School, where he studied piano with Madame Rosina Lhevinne. While in New York, he also worked as a jazz pianist, both in clubs and on recordings. He then returned to Los Angeles, where he began his career in the film industry, working with such composers as Bernard Herrmann, Alfred Newman, and Franz Waxman. He went on to write music for many television programs in the 1960s, winning two Emmy Awards for his work
In January 1980, Williams was named nineteenth Conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra since its founding in 1885. He assumed the title of Boston Pops Laureate Conductor, following his retirement in December 1993, and currently holds the title of Artist-in-Residence at Tanglewood. Williams has written many concert pieces, including a symphony, a sinfonietta for wind ensemble, a cello concerto premiered by Yo-Yo Ma and the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood in 1994, concertos for the flute and violin recorded by the London Symphony Orchestra, concertos for the clarinet and tuba, and a trumpet concerto, which was premiered by the Cleveland Orchestra and their principal trumpet Michael Sachs in September 1996.
His bassoon concerto, The Five Sacred Trees, which was premiered by the New York Philharmonic and principal bassoon player Judith LeClair in 1995, was recorded for Sony Classical by Williams with LeClair and the London Symphony. In addition, Mr. Williams has composed the well-known NBC News theme “The Mission,” “Liberty Fanfare” composed for the re-dedication of the Statue of Liberty, “We’re Lookin’ Good!,” composed for the Special Olympics in celebration of the 1987 International Summer Games, and themes for the 1984, 1988, and 1996 Summer Olympic games. His most recent concert work Seven for Luck – for soprano and orchestra – is a seven-piece song cycle based on the texts of former U.S. Poet Laureate Rita Dove. Seven for Luck was given its world premiere by the Boston Symphony under Mr. Williams with soprano Cynthia Haymon.
John Williams has led the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra on United States Tours in 1985, 1989 and 1992 and on a tour of Japan in 1987. He led the Boston Pops Orchestra on tours of Japan in 1990 and 1993. In addition to leading the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Symphony Hall and at Tanglewood, Williams has appeared as guest conductor with a number of major orchestras, including the London Symphony, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Chicago Symphony, the Pittsburgh Symphony, the Dallas Symphony, the San Francisco Symphony and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Williams holds honorary degrees from fourteen American universities, including Berklee College of Music in Boston, Boston College, Northeastern University, Tufts University, Boston University, the New England Conservatory of Music and the University of Massachusetts at Boston. On June 23, 2000, he became the first inductee into the Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame.
2) Lazar Berman
Berman was born on February 26, 1930 to Jewish parents in Leningrad. His mother, Anna Lazarevna Makhover, had played the piano herself until prevented by hearing problems. She introduced her son to the piano, he entered his first competition at the age of three, and recorded a Mozart fantasia and a mazurka that he had composed himself at the age of seven, before he could even read music. Emil Gilels described him as a “phenomenon of the musical world”.
When Berman was nine, the family moved to Moscow so that he could study with Aleksandr Goldenweiser at the Conservatoire. The following year he made his formal debut playing Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 25 with the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra.
In 1941, students, pupils and parents were evacuated to Kuibishev, a city on the Volga, because of World War II. Living conditions were so poor that his mother had to cut the fingers from a pair of gloves to allow him to continue to practise without freezing his hands.
His playing of Chopin is well documented, in both a concert film and a DGG recording of the polonaises from the 1970s. He subsequently began to acquire a small international visibility. At the age of 12 he played Franz Liszt‘s La campanella to a British audience over the radio; in 1956 he won a prize at the Queen Elisabeth Music Competition in Belgium, with Vladimir Ashkenazy; and in 1958, he performed in London and recorded for Saga records.
Although he was known to international music aficionados who had heard the occasional recording on the Russian Melodiya record label, as well as those who visited the Soviet Union, he was not generally well known outside Russia before his 1975 American tour, organised by the impresario Jacques Leiser. His now legendary New York debut at the 92 Street Y, where he played Liszt’s Transcendental Études, struck the music world like lightning. He became an overnight sensation. Before that, he had been generally restricted to the Soviet concert circuit, playing on old and decrepit pianos to audiences of varied degrees of interest. Invitations to tour outside the Soviet Union were ignored by the Soviet state concert agency, Gosconcert. He lived in a tiny two-room apartment in Moscow, with a grand piano occupying an entire room. But after his 1975 tour, he was immediately in great demand, with Deutsche Grammophon, EMI, and CBS vying to record him. He recorded the Tchaikovsky First Piano Concerto with Herbert von Karajan, as well as broadcasting it on international television with Antal Doráti, to mark United Nations Day in 1976.
On a personal note, I had a long association with Lazar starting in 1956 and in a blog posted last year I remarked on our interrelationship musically speaking (see www.azimmayadas.com for article dated May 1, 2015.)
Lazar Berman died in 2005, survived by his third wife, Valentina Sedova, also a pianist, whom he had married in 1968, and a son, the talented violinist and conductor Pavel Berman.
3) Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy
Born on February 3, 1809 in Hamburg, Germany, Felix was three when his family moved to Berlin, where his musical training began. He was exceptionally precocious, making a public appearance as pianist on October 24, 1818.
By the time he was twelve he had written several symphonies, operas, and numerous other works, which were performed at Sunday morning musicales held at his home. When he was only 17, he wrote the Overture to a Midsummer Night’s Dream.
In Mendelssohn is found a synthesis of the Classic and Romantic movements. He was along a profound admirer of Johann Sebastian Bach and on March 11, 1829, in Berlin, he conducted the Passion According to St. Matthew, the first performance of that masterwork since Bach’s own day. That concert was repeated and it was instrumental in the revival of Bach throughout the world of music. A few weeks later Mendelssohn paid his first visit to England, where from that time on he would be regarded with a veneration that country had accorded to no foreign musician since Handel (see Part One for Handel’s particulars.) He led the premiere of his new Symphony in C minor and was elected honorary member of the Royal Philharmonic.
In 1835 Mendelssohn was appointed principal conductor of the Gewandhaus Orchestra in Leipzig, and during his five years there he lifted it to a preeminent position among Europe’s symphonic organizations. In 1843 he helped found the Leipzig Conservatory and created an outstanding faculty there that included Schumann and Ignaz Moscheles.
Always delicate in health, his many activities sapped his strength and he died in 1847 at the height of his creative powers.
Among his principal instrumental works I have always enjoyed listening to his later symphonies and violin concerto. Also, as a child pianist, I loved playing many of his Songs Without Words (Lieder ohne Worte); and later on in my concert career his Variations serieuses ; Rondo capriccioso and Prelude and Fugue in E minor, Op. 35, No. 1 (played here on YouTube by Rudolf Serkin.)
4) Niels Wilhelm Gade
Born on February 22, 1817 in Copenhagen, Denmark, Niels Gade was a Danish composer, conductor, violinist, organist and teacher. He was the creator of the modern school of Scandinavian composers.
Gade was the son of a joiner and instrument maker. He began his career as a violinist with the Royal Danish Orchestra, and saw his concert overture Efterklange af Ossian (“Echoes of Ossian“) premiered with them in 1841.
When his first symphony was turned down for performance in Copenhagen, he sent it to Felix Mendelssohn. Mendelssohn received the work positively, and conducted it in Leipzig in March 1843, to enthusiastic public reaction. Supported by a fellowship from the Danish government, Gade himself moved to Leipzig, teaching at the Conservatory there, working as an assistant conductor of the Gewandhaus Orchestra, and befriending Mendelssohn, who had an important influence on his music. In 1845 he conducted the premiere performance of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor. He also became friends with Robert Schumann. In Copenhagen Niels Gade became acquainted with the composer Cornelius Gurlitt, and they remained friends until the latter’s death.
At Mendelssohn’s death in 1847, Gade was appointed to his position as chief conductor but was forced to return to Copenhagen in the spring of 1848 when war broke out between Prussia and Denmark. In Copenhagen Gade became director of the Copenhagen Musical Society (a post he retained until his death) and, establishing a new orchestra and chorus, settled in to a career as the most prominent musician in Denmark. Under his direction, the Music Society reached its peak. He also worked as an organist; though he lost the prestigious position of organist at Copenhagen Cathedral to J.P.E. Hartmann, he served in the Church of Holmen in Copenhagen from 1850 until his death. Gade was joint director of the Copenhagen Conservatory with Hartmann (whose daughter he married in 1852) and Holger Simon Paulli. An important influence on a number of later Scandinavian composers, he encouraged and taught both Edvard Grieg and Carl Nielsen. He died in Copenhagen.
Among Gade’s works are eight symphonies, a violin concerto, chamber music, organ and piano pieces and a number of large-scale cantatas, Comala (1846) and Elverskud (1853) amongst them, which he called koncertstykker (“concert pieces”). These products, embraced post-1848 as works of Romantic nationalism, are sometimes based on Danish folklore. Apparently Gade never rated “Brudevalsen” (The Bridal Waltz), and assigned it to the waste paper basket from where, it is rumoured, it was rescued by August Bournonville, to become an essential part of a Danish wedding. He married Emma Sophie Amalie Hartmann, daughter of J. P. E. Hartmann, in 1852. He remarried in 1857 after her death.
5) Andres Segovia
Born on February 21, 1893, Segovia, was a virtuoso Spanish classical guitarist from Linares, Spain. Regarded as one of the greatest guitarists of all time, he is seen as the grandfather of the classical guitar. Many professional classical guitarists today are students of Segovia, or students of his students.
Segovia’s contribution to the modern-romantic repertoire not only included commissions but also his own transcriptions of classical or baroque works. He is remembered for his expressive performances: his wide palette of tone, and his distinctive musical personality, phrasing and style.
His teaching style is a source of controversy among some of his former students, who considered it to be dogmatically authoritarian. One of Segovia’s most celebrated former students of the classical guitar, John Williams, has said that Segovia bullied students into playing only his style, stifling the development of their own styles. Williams has also said that Segovia was dismissive of music that did not have what Segovia considered the right classical origins, such as South American music with popular roots.
In recognition of his contributions to music and the arts, Segovia was ennobled on 24 June 1981 by King Juan Carlos I, who gave Segovia the hereditary title of Marqués de Salobreña[2(English: Marquis of Salobreña) in the nobility of Spain.
Andrés Segovia continued performing into his old age, living in semi-retirement during his 70s and 80s on the Costa del Sol. Two films were made of his life and work—one when he was 75 and the other, 84. They are available on DVD called Andrés Segovia — in Portrait. His final RCA LP record (ARL1-1602), Reveries, was recorded in Madrid in June 1977.
In 1984, Segovia was the subject of a thirteen part series broadcast on National Public Radio, entitled Segovia! The series was recorded on location in Spain, France, and the United States. Hosted by Oscar Brand, the series was produced by Jim Anderson, Robert Malesky, and Larry Snitzler.
Segovia died in Madrid of a heart attack at the age of 94. He is buried at Casa Museo de Linares, in Andalusia.
Wikipedia; Encyclopedia of Concert Music by David Ewen
Copyright © 2016 Azim Lewis Mayadas