Is 2020 really just the year of Beethoven? 10 other important birthdays we should celebrate this year!

Last year the classical music world was going nuts over Beethoven’s 250th birthday and this year is no different, still Beethoven 250.

In 2019 there were a lot of other important birthdays to celebrate, these I highlighted in my blog from July. This year there are also a lot of composers with big milestones we should be celebrating. Check these out!

  1. Isabella Leonarda’s 400th birthday

Isabella Leonarda (1620-1704) was an extraordinary Baroque composer, spending most of her life in an Italian convent she wrote 20 books of music, composing more than 200 pieces. The first woman to write violin and basso continuo concertos plus she was a music teacher and singer. Her music is just gorgeous.

 

2. William Grant Still’s 125th birthday

W.G. Still (1895-1978) – the Dean of Afro-American composers, a trailblazing black man in the world of composition. His 1st symphony – Afro-American was the 1st symphony written by an African-American and performed by a major orchestra. When Still conducted the LA Philharmonic in 1936 he became the 1st African-American composer to conduct a major American orchestra in a concert of his own work plus Still was the 1st African-American to have an opera performed on national television. He wrote over 200 works including symphonies and 9 operas. His music combines Western symphonic structure with blues progressions and Afro-American spirituals.

 

3. Henriette Bosmans’ 125th birthday

Henriette Bosmans (1895-1952) was probably the most important Dutch composer of the 1st half of the 20th century. She wrote a ton of awesome music, particularly for the cello. Her Cello Sonata is easily one of the most powerhouse pieces of classical music I’ve ever heard. She also wrote concertos for piano, flute and cello as well as a string quartet.

4. Jacqueline Fontyn’s 90th birthday

This contemporary Belgian composer, pianist, educator and Prix de Rome winner celebrates her 90th birthday this year.

5. Dorothy Rudd Moore’s 80th birthday

The amazing American composer is 80 this year. She is a co-founder of the Society of Black composers, influential educator at Harlem School of the Arts and New York University. Her work includes an opera, chamber music, piano music and song cycles. Like most black female composers way too few recordings of her music exist.

6. Libby Larsen’s 70th birthday

Another amazing American composer, Libby Larsen turns 70 this year.

 

7. Elena Firsova’s 70th birthday

Incredible Russian composer, written tons of music of various genres, including several cantatas.

 

8. 150th anniversary of Alice Mary Smith’s Clarinet Sonata

This wonderfully lyrical Romantic piece was written in 1870 by English composer Alice Mary Smith.

 

9. Germaine Tailleferre’s Ballade for Piano and Orchestra turns 100!

This total masterpiece is one of Germaine Tailleferre’s earliest popular works. Germaine Taileferre was a French composer and member of Les Six. Tailleferre had one of the longest compositional careers ever, starting in 1909 and writing until her death in 1983.

 

10. 200th anniversary of Maria Szymanowska’s Fantaisie in F Major

Maria Szymanowska (1789-1831) was a Polish composer and one the 1st virtuoso pianists in the 19th century. She toured all over Europe and was the first to perform from memory. Her compositions are almost all for solo piano and influenced her compatriot Chopin. Fantaisie in F Major is a beautiful piece for piano and a necessary addition to the repertoire and canon.

Is 2020 really just the year of Beethoven? 5 other important birthdays to celebrate this year

While the majority of the classical music world is losing their s**t over Beethoven’s upcoming 250th birthday, let’s remember there are 5 other very important birthdays we should be celebrating this year.

  1. Barbara Strozzi’s 400th birthday

Barbara Strozzi, baptised 6th August 1619, was one of the first women to publish under her own name. Strozzi was said to be the most prolific composer of secular vocal music in Venice at the time, she was also an accomplished singer. Her music is simply stunning, full of poise and precisely written.

 

2. Clara Schumann’s 200th birthday

The infinitely cooler member of the Schumann family turns 200 on 13th September 2019. Clara Schumann was a brilliant composer and one of the first virtuoso pianists in the world. She toured all over Europe, was at the very epicentre of the European music scene, knew anyone who was anyone and was hugely influential, Brahms was said to be madly in love with her. For much of her life she was the chief breadwinner in the Schumann family. She maintained a busy concert tour schedule all while being pregnant most of the time and caring for an increasingly ill husband. Her compositions, while comparatively few, are masterpieces of the Romantic era, full of drama and passion. Her output includes a piano concerto, piano sonata, tons of songs, trios and romances.

 

3. Galina Ustvolskaya’s 100th birthday

Russian composer Galina Ustvolskaya (17th June 1919 – 22nd December 2006) would be 100 this year. Dubbed ‘The Lady with the Hammer’ her music was said to have “the concentrated light of a laser beam that is capable of piercing metal.”  Ustvolskaya wrote immensely heartfelt pieces which initially seem brutal and harsh but are deeply moving. Her teacher Shostakovich said of her: “It is not you who are under my influence, it is I who am under yours.” She publicly acknowledged 21 pieces she wrote from 1944 to 1988, disregarding the Soviet patriotic pieces she was grudgingly forced to write. These 21 pieces include 6 piano sonatas, 5 symphonies and chamber music with various unusual but effective instrument combinations. This Composition No. 1 was written for piccolo, tuba and piano.

 

4. Rebecca Clarke’s Viola Sonata turns 100!

The poor viola is the middle child of the string family, stuck between the ever popular, (overused?) violin and the low, mellow cello, somewhat the hipster instrument of the orchestra. Rebecca Clarke was a violist though so it was only fitting for her that she write a true masterpiece for her instrument. I give you her Viola Sonata, premiered at the Berkshire Music Festival in 1919.

 

5. Dorothy Howell’s Lamia turns 100!

Dorothy Howell’s symphonic poem Lamia was premiered by Sir Henry Wood at the Proms on 10th September 1919, he liked it so much he conducted it at the Proms 4 times in the next 8 years. In this centenary year get down to the Proms on 22nd August to hear it performed live by CBSO and Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla.

 

So there you have it – 5 other important birthdays we should be celebrating this year.

And that’s just the historical composers. Groundbreaking film score and electronic composer Wendy Carlos turns 80 this year and Eleanor Alberga celebrates her 70th birthday.

One final note – celebrating means a special occasion, doing something out of the ordinary. Beethoven is the most performed composer every year, along with Mozart and Bach. Most concert seasons feature around 10% Beethoven. In 2017 out of 17,741 performances, 3,000 of those were Beethoven (according to Bachtrack, full stats here.) That’s 16%! Hundreds of incredible composers across the world and Beethoven makes up 16% of all performances! 2019 is the same boring percentage of Beethoven they trot out every year, hardly extraordinary.

It’s like when your parents take you to McDonalds for your birthday as a child. It’s such a rare treat and it tastes so good. Then when you leave home you get Maccy D’s every Friday night at 1 o’clock on the way back from the pub. Suddenly it doesn’t taste that good. It does the trick alright, I mean it fills you up but that lovely taste, that memorable connection just isn’t there anymore.

Let’s bring back that loving feeling. 8 months into The Daffodil Perspective radio show and I’ve played Beethoven once. There’s so much other awesome music out there. let’s celebrate it all.

 

Elizabeth de Brito

The Daffodil Perspective Producer