This song is an excerpt from a song called Largo, written by George Frideric Handel way back in 1738. And it took a hundred years for it to catch on. It just goes to show you, doesn’t it? What exactly that is I am not sure. I’m just saying.
This is the fifth song by Handel that I have posted while going through the Big Book of Classical Music. And I haven’t posted anything yet by Haydn, Strauss, Verdi, or Mozart. But they are coming up.
Learning about the history that goes along with this music has been a very informative experience. I had no idea that Handel had written an opera that failed. He handled the disappointment well.
According to wikipedia, Handel’s Largo” is the popular title for an ariacomposed by George Frideric Handel. He wrote it in 1738 for the operaSerse (English: Xerxes). The opera was a failure. It closed after only five performances. One hundred years later though the aria was resurrected. It became a big hit. It was performed at solemn occasions such as funerals and weddings. It was arranged for all sorts of instruments and voices. It is known by many people as “Ombra mai fu” because those words are the first words of the aria. The title is Italian and means “Never was a shade”. The aria is sung by the main character, Xerxes I of Persia. He is admiring the shade of a tree. The original tempo is larghetto (a little slow and solemn). The aria is short. It is only 52 bars long. It lasts about four minutes. In the opera, a string section accompanies the singer. These strings are first and second violins, viola, and basses. The key signature is F major. The time signature is 3/4 time.
We continue on our journey through the Big Book of Classical Music with song number 32.
Here are two versions of Meditation, from the opera “Thais” by Jules Massenet.
According to our good friends at brittanica.com, Jules Massenet, in full Jules-Émile-Frédéric Massenet, (born May 12, 1842, Montaud, near Saint-Étienne, France—died August 13, 1912, Paris), was a leading French opera composer, whose music is admired for its lyricism, sensuality, occasional sentimentality, and theatrical aptness.
The son of an ironmaster, Massenet entered the Paris Conservatoire at age 11, subsequently studying composition under the noted opera composer Ambroise Thomas. In 1863 he won the Prix de Rome with his cantataDavid Rizzio. With the production in 1867 of his opera La Grand’ Tante (The Great Aunt), he embarked on a career as a composer of operas and incidental music. His 24 operas are characterized by a graceful, thoroughly French melodic style. Manon (1884; after Antoine-François, Abbé Prévost d’Exiles) is considered by many to be his masterpiece. The opera, marked by sensuous melody and skilled personification, uses leitmotifs to identify and characterize the protagonists and their emotions. In the recitatives (dialogue) it employs the unusual device of spoken words over a light orchestral accompaniment. Also among his finest and most successful operas are Le Jongleur de Notre-Dame (1902), Werther (1892; after J.W. von Goethe), and Thaïs (1894). The famous “Méditation” for violin and orchestra from Thaïs remains part of the standard violin repertory.
Several of Massenet’s operas reflect the succession of contemporary operatic fashions. Thus, Le Cid (1885) has the characteristics of French grand opera; Le Roi de Lahore (1877; The King of Lahore) reflects the Orientalism—a fascination with Asian exotica—that was also prevalent in the 19th-century European and American art market; Esclarmonde (1889) shows the influence of Richard Wagner; and La Navarraise (1894; The Woman of Navarre) is influenced by the end-of-the-century style of verismo, or realism. Also prominent among Massenet’s operas are Hérodiade (1881) and Don Quichotte (1910).
Continuing our journey through the “Big Book of Classical Music,” here are a couple of versions of a song called Panis angelicus (Bread of Angels) by French Composer Cesar Franck:
According to Britannica.com, César Franck, in full César-auguste Franck, (born Dec. 10, 1822, Liège, Neth.—died Nov. 8, 1890, Paris, France), was a Belgian-French Romantic composer and organist who was the chief figure in a movement to give French music an emotional engagement, technical solidity, and seriousness comparable to that of German composers.
Franck was born of a Walloon father and a mother of German descent. He showed unmistakable musical gifts that enabled him to enter the Liège conservatory at the age of eight, and his progress as a pianist was so astonishing that in 1834 his father took him on tour and a year later dispatched him to Paris, where he worked with the Bohemian composer Anton Reicha, then professor at the Paris Conservatory. In 1836 the whole family, including the younger son Joseph, who played the violin, moved to Paris, and in 1837 César Franck entered the Paris Conservatory. Within a year he had won a Grand Prix d’Honneur by a feat of transposition in the sight-reading test, and this honour was followed by a first prize for fugue (1840) and second prize for organ (1841). Although the boy should now normally have prepared to compete for the Prix de Rome, a prize offered yearly in Paris for study in Rome, his father was determined on a virtuoso’s career for him and his violinist brother, with whom he gave concerts, and therefore removed him prematurely from the conservatory.
In order to please his father and earn much-needed money, Franck gave concerts, the programs of which were largely devoted to performing his own showy fantasias and operatic potpourris, popular at that time. After 1840, when he turned his attention increasingly to the organ, his compositions became noticeably more serious, and three trios written at this time were to impress favourably the Hungarian composer Franz Liszt. A more ambitious work was the cantataRuth, which had its first performance at the conservatory on Jan. 4, 1846.
I have a feeling that getting through all 100 songs from the “Big Book of Classical Music” is going to take a lot longer than I thought. It’s the journey that is important, right?
Some of these composers I am familiar with, others not so much.
Song Number 30 is an excerpt from Gabriel Faure’s Requiem:
And here is a blast from the past:
According to Britannica.com, Gabriel Fauré, in full Gabriel-Urbain Fauré, (born May 12, 1845, Pamiers, Ariège, France—died Nov. 4, 1924, Paris), was a composer whose refined and gentle music influenced the course of modern French music.
Fauré’s musical abilities became apparent at an early age. When the Swiss composer and teacher Louis Niedermeyer heard the boy, he immediately accepted him as a pupil. Fauré studied piano with Camille Saint-Saëns, who introduced him to the music of Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner. While still a student, Fauré published his first composition, a work for piano, Trois romances sans paroles (1863). In 1896 he was appointed church organist at the church of La Madeleine in Paris and professor of composition at the Paris Conservatory. In 1905 he succeeded Théodore Dubois as director of the conservatory, and he remained in office until ill health and deafness forced him to resign in 1920. Among his students were Maurice Ravel, Georges Enesco, and Nadia Boulanger.
Fauré excelled not only as a songwriter of great refinement and sensitivity but also as a composer in every branch of chamber music. He wrote more than 100 songs, including “Après un rêve” (c. 1865) and “Les Roses d’Ispahan” (1884), and song cycles that included La Bonne Chanson (1891–92) and L’Horizon chimérique (1922). He enriched the literature of the piano with a number of highly original and exquisitely wrought works, of which his 13 nocturnes, 13 barcaroles, and 5 impromptus are perhaps the most representative and best known. Fauré’s Ballade for piano and orchestra (1881; originally arranged for solo piano, 1877–79), two sonatas for violin and piano, and Berceuse for violin and piano (1880) are among other popular works. Élégie for cello and piano (1880; arranged for orchestra, 1896), and two sonatas for cello and piano, as well as chamber pieces, are frequently performed and recorded.
From the opera “Messiah” here is “Hallelujah” written by George Frideric Handel 280 years ago, in 1741. Ludwig Von Beethoven was still 29 years away from being born.
Fun Fact: Bach and Handel were born in the same year, 1685. Handel was born on February 23rd, Bach was born 5 weeks later, on March 31st. I wonder if their Moms ever took them to the park together?
I experienced something similar to Handel’s “mania” while transcribing the music. I could not stop until it was finished!
It is number 26 on my list from “The Big Book of Classical Music.” There is something very powerful about this song. Like most of the songs here, it is just an excerpt from the original composition. (this song was updated in May 2023)
According to breakpoint.org, George Frideric Handel was mainly a composer of operas. In fact, he composed dozens of them. Though his productions were popular in 18th century London, Handel had his enemies — he was a foreigner, born in Germany, by many accounts not a very likeable fellow, and his rivals detested his style of opera. He was also kind of a large, awkward man, rough and hot-tempered enough to earn the nickname “The Great Bear.”
When his operas and his health began to fail, Handel sank into bankruptcy and despair, believing his career was over. In 1741, he was invited to Ireland to direct one of his works at a charity performance. Handel decided to write a new oratorio.
A deeply religious man, he turned away from the human foibles common to his operas and chose his text and themes from Scripture. It was then that something remarkable happened. He began composing with a super-human zeal and energy. People thought he was mad, or even under a spell. One servant reported that Handel seldom ate or slept and worked with such frenzy that his fingers could no longer grip his pen. He was, in fact, in the grip of divine inspiration. The result is one of the world’s great masterworks, Messiah.
Handel finished Part I in only six days. He finished Part II in nine days, and Part III in six days. The orchestration took him only a few days more. In other words, in all, two-and-a-half hours of the world’s most magnificent music was composed in less than twenty-five days. When he finished, he sobbed: “I think that I did see all heaven before me, and the great God Himself!”
Immediately, from its premiere in Dublin in 1742, Messiah was pronounced a masterpiece. Messiah recounts the prophecies of Christ and his triumphant birth, utilizing an amazing amount of Scripture including passages like, “For unto us a child is born . . . and the government shall be upon His shoulders.” And “His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God . . . the Prince of Peace.” In fact, Messiah pulls from the Psalms, Job, Isaiah, Lamentations, Haggai, Malachi, Zechariah, Matthew, Luke, John, Romans, 1 Corinthians, Hebrews, and Revelation.
At its London premiere, King George was so moved by the “Hallelujah Chorus” that he spontaneously rose from his seat. The entire audience followed his example and, for the past 250-plus years, audiences have continued to do the same.
After the success of Messiah, Handel continued to write religious music. Beethoven said: “To him I bend the knee, for Handel was the greatest, ablest composer that ever lived.” Even after his eyesight failed, Handel continued to perform until, at age 74, he collapsed while conducting a performance of Messiah. He was put to bed saying, “I should like to die on Good Friday.”
Instead, he died on Holy Saturday, April 14th, 1759. Handel’s grave, at Westminster Abbey, is marked by a statue of him with a score of Messiah opened on the table. The page that is visible is, “I Know That My Redeemer Liveth.”