The music of Mikalojus Čiurlionis, the multi-talented artist who embodied the Lithuanian fin de siècle

Throughout history, many renowned composers have dedicated significant time to other occupations; Borodin discovered the aldol reaction in his day job as a chemist, Charles Ives was a successful insurance agent, and Paderewski doubled as the prime minister of Poland. Yet few combined their musical and non-musical pursuits as today’s subject, the Lithuanian composer, painter, and writer Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis.

A portrait of Čiurlionis (Wikipedia)

Although now known as an advocate of Lithuanian nationalism, Čiurlionis began his life in rather different circumstances. He was born in Senoji Varėna, a town now in southeastern Lithuania but then part of the Russian Empire; as was customary for educated Lithuanians at the time, his family spoke only Polish. At the age of three, his family moved to the nearby town of Druskininkai, where his father had taken up a position as the town’s organist. By that time, Čiurlionis’s musical talent was already being recognized – at the age of three, he began playing music by ear, and he could sight-read easily by the time he turned seven. In 1889, three years after completing primary school, he enrolled in a music school run by a Polish prince in the city of Plungė, learning to play several instruments and graduating in 1893.

Supported by the same Polish prince, Čiurlionis spent the years 1894 to 1899 at the Warsaw Conservatory; it was here that his late Romantic style first began to crystallize, writing a number of works for solo piano, string quartet, and choir, in addition to a now lost sonata for violin and piano. In 1896, with the guidance of the prominent Polish composer Zygmunt Noszkowski, he completed his first major work, the cantata for mixed choir and orchestra De profundis. A richly orchestrated and powerful composition, unquestionably Romantic in quality, De profundis has much in common with Čiurlionis’s more mature works.

Čiurlionis continued his education at the Leipzig Conservatory from 1901 to 1902. The richer musical environment in Leipzig, more attuned to contemporary trends in music, brought further advancements in his compositional career; studies in counterpoint and composition with noted figures like Solomon Jadassohn and Carl Reinecke also played their part. During his time in Leipzig, he composed preludes and fugues for piano, fugues for organ, a string quartet, an overture for full orchestra, and his first (unfortunately unfinished) symphony.

There is no better illustration of the evolution of his musical language in this period than this compilation of piano preludes and a fugue for organ; even through the durations of these short pieces, the tendencies of the music toward less functional and more chromatic harmony are audible.

At the conclusion of his studies in Leipzig, Čiurlionis began exploring other mediums of artistic impression; he took up painting for the first time, and from 1904 to 1906 he studied drawing at the Warsaw School of Fine Arts with the Polish symbolist painter Kazimierz Stabrowski. I don’t wish to spend too much time on his paintings and sketches, as I have no qualifications whatsoever to do so, but his artistic career was equally as successful as his musical one; in six years, he turned out a staggering three hundred(!) pieces of artwork and remains one of the most beloved painters of his time from Eastern Europe. His synthesthesia greatly connected his art and music, and many of his paintings are titled after musical forms like sonatas or fugues. During this time, he also began identifying as Lithuanian when laws passed following the 1905 Russian Revolution removed restrictions on minorities.

Musically, Čiurlionis’s style underwent a significant shift in this period; while many of his works retained a late Romantic idiom, he began experimenting with pitch sets, foreshadowing the atonal music composed by Hauer and Schoenberg a decade and a half later. Some of these ideas, and the overall movement of his music away from standard Western tonal harmony, can be heard in his piano works from the mid-to-late 1900s, including the 1904 “Sefaa Esec” variations, the Four Preludes of 1906, and his 1908 work “The Sea.”

In his orchestral works from this period, Čiurlionis was slightly more conservative in his choices of harmony, but he nevertheless created dazzling universes of sound and color. His masterpiece, Jūra or “The Sea” (not to be confused with the aforementioned piano composition), is by far his most played work – by turns grandiose, expansive, and delicately beautiful.

In 1907, Čiurlionis befriended the art critic Sofija Kymantaitė, who taught him Lithuanian and whom he married two years later; near the end of 1909, he exhibited some of his paintings in St. Petersburg. However, just as he seemed to have the world at his feet, tragedy befell him. When his wife visited him on New Year’s Eve, she found him in deep depression. In 1910, Čiurlionis was brought to a sanatorium near Warsaw, and the following year he passed away of pneumonia at the age of 35.

In 1907, Čiurlionis befriended the art critic Sofija Kymantaitė, who taught him Lithuanian and whom he married two years later; near the end of 1909, he exhibited some of his paintings in St. Petersburg. However, just as he seemed to have the world at his feet, tragedy befell him. When his wife visited him on New Year’s Eve, she found him in deep depression, one from which he never recovered. In 1910, Čiurlionis was brought to a sanatorium near Warsaw, and the following year he passed away of pneumonia at the age of 35. He never saw his daughter Danutė, who at the time was just a year old.

Although his career was tragically cut short in his prime, Čiurlionis was a prolific composer and left more than four hundred works, not counting those that are lost or of which only fragments can be found. We will never know what more might have come from this creative genius – sketches of several orchestral works and even a partially complete opera were found after his death. However, his surviving compositions, especially his later works, display singular harmonic ideas and striking striking originality, not dissimilar in that respect from his contemporary Alexander Scriabin. Who knows – had he lived even as long as Scriabin, perhaps his music would have far greater appreciation today…

I’ll leave you with that thought, and with two more wonderful collections of piano music by Čiurlionis: his “Three Pieces” of 1905 and two enchanting nocturnes!

All the information in this post was derived from Wikipedia and from Ciurlionis’s “official website” at

Ljubica Marić: an influential Serbian composer who brought together medieval music and the avant-garde

When asked about composers who combined early music and minimalist contemporary idioms, those who are well versed in late 20th-century music might point to the “holy minimalism” of Arvo Pärt and John Tavener. However, such a synthesis had been achieved two or three decades earlier by today’s subject, the Serbian composer Ljubica Marić.

Ljubica Marić 2009 Serbian stamp.jpg
Marić on a 2009 Serbian stamp (Wikipedia)

Marić was born in 1909 in Kragujevac, a Serbian city that was then part of Yugoslavia. Like many others, her compositional journey began from playing an instrument – she began studying violin at the age of eleven and started composing shortly afterward. In her late teens, she began formally studying composition with Josip Slavenski and Miloje Milojević, two influential Serbian composers who taught at the Belgrade School of Music. Even in her very early career, Marić showed great promise – in 1929, at the age of 20, she became the first ever Serbian to obtain a diploma in composition. Her studies continued at the State Conservatory in Prague where she studied both violin and composition, the latter with the renowned Czech composer Josef Suk and the great experimenter of microtonal music, Alois Hába.

By the end of her time in Prague, Marić’s music had already begun achieving recognition abroad, including at festivals in France and the Netherlands; furthermore, her work was promoted by the well-known German conductor Hermann Scherchen, a champion of then-contemporary music. One of her first works to achieve great prominence was the 1931 Wind Quintet, which premiered in Amsterdam at a festival of the International Society for Contemporary Music. A lively piece written in the prevailing musical language of the time, the quintet is a worthy addition to what remains a small selection of repertoire for that ensemble.

During the 1930s, Marić also conducted in Prague and Belgrade; she was even offered an associate professorship at the Prague State Conservatory by Hába but instead chose to return to Belgrade, taking up a position at the respected Stanković School of Music in 1938. For reasons I cannot find, practically all of her works from this period are lost, and the advent of the Second World War derailed performances of her compositions abroad.

Nevertheless, Marić continued to compose with equal fervor after the war; after landing a professorship at the Belgrade Music Academy, she wrote a number of piano pieces, songs, and an enchanting violin sonata. Containing colorful harmonies and a highly lyrical violin part, the violin sonata is, in my view, a true forgotten gem of the violin and piano repertoire.

The music that Marić wrote after the war is undoubtedly of very high quality, but it was not until the mid-1950s that she wrote some of her most memorable works. One work from this period that achieved major renown was the 1957 Passacaglia for orchestra, a haunting set of variations on a rather dissonant theme.

Another such piece is the 1959 “Byzantine Concerto” for piano and orchestra, which established her reputation as a composer who could fuse the old and the new; its unusual use of ideas from Byzantine church music would become a hallmark of Marić’s later work.

In 1967, Marić retired from the Belgrade academy and turned out relatively few pieces over the succeeding fifteen years. However, she began composing regularly again in 1983 with the piece “Invocation” for double bass and piano, continuing to write and revise music until a few years before her death in Belgrade in September 2003.

From Marić’s later period, two works in particular stand out: her 1986 minimalist masterpiece “Asymptote” for violin and strings, which explores both microtonality and more traditional harmony, and the 1996 work “Torso” for piano trio, inspired by two medieval Serbian texts.

During her lifetime, Marić was championed by a number of influential musical figures, from Scherchen to Bartok and Lutoslawski to conductor and author Nicolas Slonimsky to Shostakovich, who said of her music: “Ljubica Marić has used en entire arsenal of contemporary music in order to achieve a high goal. She speaks from the depth of her soul with clear and impressive language…” Despite such recognition, however, Marić remains almost completely unknown and unperformed outside her native Serbia, a fate that the quality and originality of her work do not deserve.

I’ve mentioned this already on the blog’s Facebook page, but if you liked my article and/or the music, I would really, really appreciate if any musicians could get in touch with other people about playing these works! If you know a wind quintet looking to perform music by women composers, if you’re a violinist looking for violin and piano repertoire, if you’re a conductor searching for new orchestral music to program…please get in touch with people you know or try buying some scores and parts yourself! The only way to rescue these wonderful composers from obscurity is by performing their music.

All my information in this post comes from a Wikipedia article on Marić and a short article from the Composers’ Association of Serbia. I’ll leave you with some more of her excellent music, in the form of the 1956 cantata “Songs of Space!”

Ahmet Adnan Saygun: a pioneer who brought together Romanticism, Western modernism, and Turkish folk song

After a very hectic few months of quarantine, things have settled down a little – I’m very excited to be able to write again. I’m hoping to be able to return to a normal schedule from this point on!

From Jean Sibelius in Finland to Béla Bartók in Hungary, there are countless composers who have come to personify the music of their countries throughout the world. However, there are many others who are hailed as national symbols in their home countries but sadly neglected elsewhere. Fikret Amirov of Azerbaijan, whom I profiled earlier, is one such composer – today, I’ll be covering another forgotten colossus, Turkish composer Ahmet Adnan Saygun.

Ahmet Adnan Saygun - Wikipedia
Ahmet Adnan Saygun (Wikipedia)

Saygun was born in in 1907 in Izmir, a port on the Aegean Sea. Unlike many of the composers I’ve written about in the past, he did not grow up in a musical family; Instead, he developed a strong interest in music after hearing performances of European music and concerts by Ottoman military bands.

In elementary school, Saygun began learning instruments including the piano and oud (a short-necked lute common throughout the Arab world.) By the age of fourteen, he had begun studying composition and theory; around this time, he translated the entire music section of the French Grande Encyclopédie after learning the language from his father, a mathematics teacher and linguistic scholar. His studies continued in high school with a private tutor and music theory books. Just two years after graduating, he began teaching music at another high school in Izmir.

In 1928, the 21-year-old composer was given a grant from the Turkish state to study in France; his experiences there would have a formative influence on his musical idiom. Studying at the Schola Cantorum with the renowned composer Vincent d’Indy, among others, furthered Saygun’s interests in late Romanticism and Impressionism. These influences are audible in the atmospheric textures and sometimes highly chromatic harmony of his 1930 Divertimento, written for large orchestra plus saxophone and darbuka, a type of goblet drum found throughout the Middle East. The work proved an instant success, winning Saygun a 1931 prize in Paris and subsequently being performed in Poland and the Soviet Union.

Later the same year, Saygun returned to Turkey, where he was already being recognized as the foremost Western classical composer in the country. He soon became part of a new musical system devised by the reformist prime minister Mustafa Kemal Atatürk which aimed to orient Turkey more toward European musical standards. His newly formed relationship with Atatürk, of whom Saygun was a great admirer, proved fruitful – the former commissioned him to write Özsoy and Taşbebek, the first two Turkish operas.

During the year 1934, possibly the most important of his career, Saygun completed much more than just operatic music; for instance, he also finished composing the piano work Inci’s Book. A collection of short pieces that can be delightfully whimsical at times and quietly beautiful at others, Inci’s Book is to me one the most underappreciated works in the piano literature.

Over the next few years, Saygun’s fame continued to grow both in Turkey and abroad. He initially began teaching at the Ankara State Conservatory, which was being supported at the time by Paul Hindemith and his associates, but left shortly afterward to take up a position at the Istanbul Municipal Conservatory. In 1936, Saygun accompanied Bartók when the latter arrived in Turkey to collect and transcribe folk music; the two composers quickly became good friends. Three years later, he formed the organization Ses ve Tel Birliği, which aimed to increase awareness of Western classical music in Turkey through recitals and concerts.

Having become acquainted with some of the most notable names in contemporary music of the time, Saygun had his big break when his oratorio Yunus Emre, completed in 1942, received its first performances in 1946-47. The oratorio, which set poetry by the titular 13th-century Turkish mystic, is largely written in a late Romantic or post-Romantic idiom, but as with many of Saygun’s works, contains modal harmonies and melodies based on his country’s folk music. Yunus Emre was translated into five languages and received multiple performances worldwide, from a 1958 rendition in English by Leopold Stokowski and the NBC Symphony to a performance in the Vatican in 1991!

With the success of Yunus Emre, Saygun was encouraged to continue writing larger-scale works. The 1950s proved to be a fruitful period for him in this regard, as he completed three operas, his first and second symphonies, and a piano concerto (the latter two of which are linked below.) These works, while retaining the harmonic ideas of his earlier music, are somewhat darker in mood, perhaps owing to Saygun’s long association with the music of Bartok.

Despite his penchant for orchestral music during the 1950s, chamber music was an equally important form of expression for Saygun; indeed, it was performances of his first two string quartets by the internationally renowned Juilliard Quartet that cast him further into the musical limelight. His colorful first string quartet (the four movements of which are linked individually below) merits many more performances; it would be a welcome addition to a literature where a select few twentieth-century composers predominate.

Saygun was not only a renowned composer, but also a musicologist who taught ethnomusicology at the Istanbul Municipal Conservatory from 1972 until his death. Furthermore, he published several books on music teaching and helped found a number of conservatories across the country. Despite all these commitments, Saygun kept writing almost continuously until he passed away on January 6, 1991; in his later period, he completed, among other things, three more symphonies, concerti for the violin, viola, and cello, and a third string quartet. In particular, I’d like to single out a few of his works for varying instrumentations – the singular 10 Etudes on Aksak Rhythms, his virtuosic cello concerto, and his viola concerto, which I find to be one of the most compelling ever written in its genre.

During his lifetime, Saygun’s music circulated widely, and his works were performed by ensembles as prestigious as the Juilliard String Quartet and Vienna Philharmonic. While his music is still being recorded in some quarters today, performances of his orchestral and chamber works are unfortunately few and far between.

On that note I appreciate everyone who’s been reading all of my blog posts, but it would mean even more if those of you who are performers or conductors could go beyond the blog and find works by these composers you might be interested in performing. (In Saygun’s case, scores and parts for one or two of the string quartets can be easily found, and there are piano reductions available for several of the concerti.) In the long-term, that is the only way that the music I write about here can reach a larger audience!

Thank you so much for reading once again, and I hope to be back with a new blog post next week!

(All my information from this post came from a quite comprehensive Wikipedia entry, although the phrasing descriptions of Saygun’s music are of course mine.)

From ovations to obscurity – the life and career of Franz Schreker

March 21 is a fairly famous day in the history of music – many of you might know it as the birthday of J.S. Bach, one of the most renowned and prolific composers ever. However, it was also the day in 1934 when Franz Schreker, formerly lauded as one of the greatest opera composers of the 20th century, passed away in obscurity in Berlin at the age of 55.

Schreker, once the sensation of the Weimar Republic, had his music almost totally erased by the Nazis in less than ten years – he is one of many composers from this time who suffered tragic fates and whose places in music history are still being rediscovered. Today, I’ll endeavor to bring to light the details surrounding Schreker’s rise and fall – but, above all, I hope to share with you his singular and unquestionably beautiful music.

Schreker ca. 1911 (Wikipedia)

Of Austrian descent, Franz Schreker was born in 1878 in Monaco to the Jewish court photographer Ignaz Schrecker and his wife, the aristocrat Eleonore von Clossmann. He grew up around Europe, settling in Vienna after the sudden death of his father in 1888. Four years later, Schreker won a scholarship to the Vienna Conservatory, initially studying violin with Sigismund Bachrich and Arnold Rosé before becoming a student in Robert Fuchs’s composition class.

The highly expressive Intermezzo for strings, composed shortly after Schreker’s graduation from the Conservatory in 1900, was his first success, winning a notable prize sponsored by the Neue musikaliche Presse the following year.


In 1902, Schreker completed his first opera, Flammen. Although his work in the same medium medium. would catapult him to the height of his fame two decades later, Flammen failed to receive a staged production.

In addition to developing his compositional craft in the early 1900s, Schreker was also heavily involved in conducting. In 1907, he formed the Vienna Philharmonic Chorus and would go on to premiere such pioneering works like Schoenberg’s Gurre-Lieder with them.

While these early flourishes first established Schreker’s reputation as a composer, his mature operas were the works which elevated him to the height of his fame. In 1909, the orchestral interlude Nachtstück from his opera Der ferne Klang was performed for the first time, and the full opera was premiered to great success three years later – recordings of both are linked below. I myself have not yet seen the whole of Der ferne Klang, but the Nachtstück contains all the delicate sensibilities that make Schreker’s music so easily identifiable; as Wikipedia puts it, his “conception of total music theatre in the narrative of 20th-century music” set him apart from his contemporaries.



Opportunities began to open up for Schreker shortly afterward; in late 1912, he was given a provisional teaching appointment at the Vienna Conservatory, and he became a full professor the following year. During this particularly productive period of his career, Schreker continued to concentrate on opera but also gave plenty of thought to his instrumental music. In fact, it was during the mid-1910s that he wrote what is probably his most famous work, the Chamber Symphony.


Schreker’s work is now overshadowed by many pieces with the same name, such as the famous examples by Schoenberg. However, it is by no means inferior to any of the more renowned works that surround it. Lushly orchestrated despite its minimal instrumentation and full of incredibly compelling moments throughout its 24 minutes, it would not be amiss to call Schreker’s Chamber Symphony a forgotten masterpiece of the 20th century.

Despite seeing less success with his third opera, Das Spielwerk und die Prinzessin, and seeing his career interrupted by World War I, Franz Schreker’s reputation continued to grow. His operas Die Gezeichneten (linked below) and Der Schatzgräber – premiered in 1918 and 1920, respectively, by the Frankfurt Opera House – brought him to the forefront of contemporary German opera. Between 1925 and 1932, Der Schatzgräber alone was performed almost 400 times in fifty different opera houses and theaters!

As with Das Ferne Klang, I’ve also linked the most famous instrumental excerpt from Die Gezeichneten, the “Prelude to a Drama”.



Schreker’s influence on European music in the early 20th century was not limited to composition and conducting – he also transformed the renowned Hochschule für Musik in Berlin after becoming its director in 1920, appointing as teachers such luminaries as Busoni, Schoenberg, Schnabel, Flesch, Zemlinsky, and Hindemith.

Sadly for Schreker, things would soon take a turn for the worse; with the rise of atonality, his music was already too antiquated for the tastes of some. None of his operas of the mid- to late 1920s – IrreloheChristophorus, and Der singende Teufel – met with any real success.



This reversal in fortune was worsened by the rise of the Nazis and rapidly increasing anti-Semitism in Germany. In 1932, the first signs of trouble became evident for Schreker when his opera Das Schmied von Gent was canceled by the Nazi party after just five performances. Although he continued to partake in musical activities – including supervising the production of the first concert films – by July 1932 he was forced out of his position at the Hochschule, effectively ending his career.

Schreker desperately sought opportunities outside Germany but was unable to find a position. Concerns over his future and a battle over his retirement pension took a toll on his health; in November 1933, Schreker suffered a stroke, and he passed away in Berlin just four months later on March 21, 1934.

For years, Schreker’s suppression by the Nazis rendered him virtually forgotten in music history. However, in the 1960s and 1970s, revivals of his operas generated new interest in his work, and since that time performances of his instrumental and operatic music have been steadily increasing. Looking at recordings of Schreker’s work on YouTube, it’s been particularly pleasing to see his music taken up by ensembles ranging from the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin to high school string orchestras!

Despite the growing recognition of his work – which likely makes him more famous than some of the more obscure names I’ve covered before – Schreker remains an unknown to the vast majority of classical music listeners. I hope orchestras, opera houses and chamber ensembles around the world will continue to dazzle audiences with with the incredibly beautiful works of this forgotten master!

With that, I’ll leave you with two pieces for instrumentations Schreker used only sparingly: his early choral orchestral work Schwanengesang and the Impressionistic chamber work Der Wind for violin, cello, clarinet, horn, and piano.



Thank you for reading – I hope you’re staying safe and healthy! As usual, if you enjoyed this post, please leave a like, follow, and/or comment.

(The information in this post was derived from Wikipedia and an article from the OREL Foundation.)


Composer, administrator, teacher and pioneer: the life and works of Emilia Gubitosi

Unlike the home countries of many composers I’ve previously profiled, Italy in the 19th and early 20th centuries was teeming with musical activity – operatic works by Verdi, Puccini, Leoncavallo, Mascagni and Bellini have become standard repertoire around the world. However, until the mature works of Respighi written around 1920, Italian instrumental music was largely ignored. Today, I’ll be covering Emilia Gubitosi, an early 20th-century composer who not only exemplified the revival of instrumental music in Italy but also helped further music education in the country.

Gubitosi in 1958 (Wikipedia)

Gubitosi was born to an upper middle-class family in Naples on February 3, 1887. She showed exceptional talent in both piano and composition at a young age; as a teenager,  she enrolled in the Naples Conservatory, studying piano with Beriamino Cesi, Fromesco Simonetti and Costantino Palumbo and composition with Camillo De Nardis and Nicola D’Arienzo. As women were not usually allowed to attend classes at the conservatory, Gubitosi had to ask permission from a government minister. She graduated in piano at the age of just seventeen in 1904, and two years later, she became the first woman in all of Italy to earn a composition diploma.

After her graduation, Gubitosi worked as a concert pianist, and in 1914 (at just twenty-seven!) she was appointed chair of theory and solfege at the Naples Conservatory, where she would remain until 1957.

Three years into her tenure, Gubitosi wrote what is probably her best-known work, the delightful Concerto for Piano and Orchestra. In many ways, the concerto is highly representative of the time in which it was written – while the textures of the piano and the way it interacts with the orchestra are very much influenced by older 19th-century Romanticism, the highly chromatic harmony points toward the late Romantic era.

Although her work was part of a broad revival of Italian instrumental music, Gubitosi also wrote several songs, including the simple but pleasant “Canti infantili” of 1937:

Gubitosi’s merit as a composer was equaled by her importance as an educator and musical administrator in her native Naples. In addition to publishing a number of educational pieces and texts with her husband, the composer Franco Michele Napolitano, she established the Associazione Musicale A. Scarlatti in 1918 to promote the spread of Italian and foreign works. Along with another major Neapolitan musical venue, the Teatro San Carlo, the organization brought modernist music by Ravel, Stravinsky and Milhaud and luminaries like Benedetti Michelangeli, Milstein and Celibidache to Naples for the first time.

After retiring from her position at the Conservatory, Gubitosi continued to compose. Although only one recorded piece from this period of her career exists, the compelling harmonies and textures of the 1965 Theme and Variations for Piano suggests that more of Gubitosi’s late works deserve to be heard.

After a lifetime of service to Neapolitan music, Emilia Gubitosi passed away at her home in the city on January 18, 1972, at the age of 85. A room is named for her in the conservatory at which she taught for over forty years, but her achievements as a pioneering composer and music educator deserve far more credit within and outside the concert hall – both within Italy and worldwide.

As a final musical tribute, take a listen to this performance of Gubitosi’s Elegy for Cello and Strings, performed by the very same Nuova Orchestra Scarlatti that was her brainchild!

If you enjoyed this post, I’d appreciate if you could leave a like or follow – you can also stay up-to-date on new posts by liking the blog’s Facebook page!

(This post was written with English-language information from Grove Music Online and Google-translated Italian articles at and the Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani.)

Jānis Ivanovs: the preeminent Latvian symphonist of the 20th century

If you looked in a music history textbook for great European composers of the 20th century, you would find great geographical diversity – composers from Western Europe to the Czech Republic and Hungary to what is now Russia are all represented in the concert hall. However, perhaps due to their decreased importance within the Soviet Union, the Baltic states – Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania – were overlooked for decades as a hotbed of symphonic writing; it was not until the final quarter of the century that the minimalism of Arvo Pärt, Pēteris Vasks and Lepo Sumera came to prominence.

While Baltic composers from the mid-20th century are rarely mentioned in Western music history, this lack of recognition outside the USSR did not stop them from writing excellent music. The composers Heino Eller and Eduard Tubin became renowned national figures in Estonia; in Soviet-era Latvia, meanwhile, the main musical torchbearer was the subject of this post, Jānis Ivanovs.

Image result for janis ivanovs
Jānis Ivanovs (courtesy of Musica Baltica)

Ivanovs was born on October 9, 1906, in southeastern Latvia near the town of Preiļi; little is known about his early life. In 1931, he graduated from the Latvian State Conservatory, studying with the then-preeminent Latvian composer Jāzeps Vītols for a further two years and subsequently taking up work as an audio engineer. By the time of his graduation, Ivanovs had already begun to develop an individual style, fusing the folklore from which many of his contemporaries drew inspiration with the late Romanticism typified by Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff.

Important pieces from Ivanovs’ early period include his first string quartet, completed in 1932, and his first symphony, “Poema Sinfonia”, written in 1933. Although written for vastly different ensembles, both works show the lyricism and expressiveness which characterized the composer’s music throughout his career.

As with many composers who reached their maturity in times of war, Ivanovs was significantly affected by the outbreak of World War II. In 1940, the Soviets occupied  Latvia, and Nazi Germany invaded the country the following year – these events dramatically altered Ivanovs’ compositional style. From 1941 onward, his work, while retaining the influence of Latvian folk music, became imbued with influences of neoclassicism – a transition aided by his exposure to the music of Stravinsky, Honegger, Respighi, and Bartok while working for Latvian radio.

Ivanovs’ first major work in this new style was his monumental 52-minute-long fourth symphony of 1941, subtitled “Atlantis”. Riveting from the first minute, the symphony, inspired by the titular mythical island, takes you on a long and tortuous musical journey that features a prominent saxophone section and a female choir. Listening to “Atlantis”, one senses that Ivanovs himself might have felt the world he knew sinking around him, just as the island of Atlantis legendarily submerged into the ocean…

Unfortunately for Ivanovs, both his fourth symphony and his equally dramatic fifth, written in 1945 after his appointment to the Riga Conservatory’s faculty, fell victim to Andrei Zhdanov’s anti-formalism campaign in 1948 – the ban on performances of these works for many years likely contributed to the continuing neglect of his music. Like many composers and artists at the time, Ivanovs was forced to toe the Communist Party line, and his sixth symphony, which depicted his native Latgale region of Latvia, won the USSR State Prize in 1950. Soviet and Latvian reviewers were quick to praise Ivanovs’s new work; the Latvian composer and music critic Marģeris Zariņš remarked that “Jānis Ivanovs is like thunder and lightning cleansing the air with his Luciferic sounds. His symphonies are like ancient Greek tragedies, filled with ecstasy and purification.”

Unlike composers such as Gavriil Popov, whose music irrevocably changed as a result of Zhdanov’s denunciation, Ivanovs managed to recapture the intensity of his earlier work following Stalin’s death in 1953 – his ninth, tenth (included here) and eleventh symphonies follow this trend, and he also completed his twelfth and thirteenth works in the genre by the end the following decade.

Although Ivanovs was primarily renowned as a composer of symphonies, he also wrote several pieces of film music which merit performance in their own right; particularly attractive are his film scores from the 1950s, such as his music for the 1956 Soviet film “The Late Frost in Spring.”

In his orchestral works from the late 1960s onward, Ivanovs entered a third phase of his career, initially looking toward simpler forms and later combining his flair for the dramatic with more complex harmonies that utilized polytonality. The last fifteen years or so of Ivanovs’ life, as illustrated in his music, were years of self-reflection; as he himself wrote about his final completed symphony, his twentieth, “these are memories, if you are willing to know what you are today, you should remember what you have been and should know what road you have followed…”

On March 27, 1983, after a lifetime of contributions to Latvian music as a teacher and pedagogue, Jānis Ivanovs passed away at the age of 76. In addition to twenty-one symphonies (the last of which was left incomplete at his death), Ivanovs wrote five symphonic poems, three string quartets, concerti for piano, violin, and cello, and various vocal and piano works. Many of these wonderful pieces, including all of Ivanovs’s symphonies and concerti, can be found on the YouTube playlist I’ve created at the bottom of this post – I’m planning to continue making these playlists for every composer I cover from now on.

Thank you as usual for reading – if you haven’t already, please like, follow, and or comment if you enjoyed this or other posts on my blog. Until next week!

(The information in this post was derived from Ivanovs’ Wikipedia page, a Musica Baltica article, and a dissertation on the composer by Hyerim Jeon of the University of Kansas.)

Grace Williams: a 20th-century composer who embraced Welsh national identity

Apologies for the long hiatus in my blog – a very hectic semester, composed mostly of writing about music, has delayed me much longer than I had planned. Now that I have some time to breathe, I should be back to my regular schedule for the foreseeable future!

By the end of the 1930s, the focus of British music had moved away from the pastoral tradition of Vaughan Williams and Delius as the more eclectic approaches of Walton, Britten, and others began to hold sway. However, many of Vaughan Williams’s students, who composed well into the second half of the twentieth century, carried with them his pastoral spirit and melodic ideas, creating music that was highly personal and also retained elements of tonality. I’ve already profiled one such student, the New Zealander Douglas Lilburn, on this blog so far – today, I’ll be taking a look at one of the most influential Welsh composers of the twentieth century, Grace Williams.

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Grace Williams (Discover Welsh Music)

Williams was born on February 19, 1906 in Barry, Wales, near Cardiff. Her parents, both teachers, encouraged her to pursue music, and she became proficient in both piano and violin at a young age. Williams began to develop an interest in composition, and in 1923 she won the Morfydd Owen scholarship to study at Cardiff University under David Evans. (Owen was one of the most promising Welsh composers of the early 20th century, but she passed away from appendicitis at the age of just 26.)

In 1926, Williams began studies at the Royal College of Music – then (and now) a hotbed of British musical activity – with Gordon Jacob and Ralph Vaughan Williams. Her musical education was completed by a year in Vienna in 1930-31, during which she studied with Egon Wellesz and frequented the city’s opera houses; in 1932, Williams began teaching composition in London.

Although she did not develop a mature style until the following decade, Williams’s works of the late 1920s and 1930s bear hallmarks of her later compositions. Sadly, most of her music written during this time has yet to be recorded, although I was able to find recordings of her 1931 Sonatina for flute and piano and 1936 Elegy for string orchestra. These pieces exemplify Williams’s penchant for depicting contrasting emotions; the flute sonata is lively and colorful while the Elegy has stirring and deeply evocative character.

During the Second World War, Williams, like many residents of London, was evacuated, composing a sinfonia concertante for piano and orchestra, her first symphony, and the string orchestral work Sea Sketches in the town of Grantham. Despite suffering from depression during and after the war (when she returned to her home town of Barry), Williams continued to break new ground – her first foray into cinematic music, for 1949’s Blue Scar, made her first British woman to score a feature film.

Although her career as a composer spanned over forty-five years, the orchestral works for which Williams is best known today were written in the 1950s and early 1960s. Several of her pieces from this point onward were significantly influenced by Welsh culture and history – Penillion, her most famous work, used characteristics of traditional Welsh penillion singing in an orchestral setting. Other important works from this period of Williams’s career include the imposing Second Symphony of 1956, revised near the end of her life, and her 1963 trumpet concerto.

Although she primarily composed instrumental music, Williams was equally at home with both small-scale and large-scale vocal writing; her Six Poems by Gerard Manley Hopkins for contralto and string sextet and Ave maris stella for unaccompanied SATB chorus provide ample evidence. In 1961, she also wrote a comic opera, The Parlour, based on a short story by Guy de Maupassant.

By the late 1960s, Williams had become a highly respected figure in the British classical music scene, turning down an OBE for her services to music in the 1967 New Year’s Honours. However, she continued to compose and revise works of immense scope into the 1970s – by far the highlight of her late works is the 1971 Mahler-length Missa cambrensis, which, in my opinion, deserves to be counted with the greatest masses of the 20th century.

In 1977, two years after completing the revision of her second symphony, Williams passed away in Barry at the age of 70.

Despite the number and quality of works that Williams wrote throughout her lifetime, her music went practically forgotten for almost three decades. Finally, in August 2006 (the centenary year of her birth), many of her large-scale works were revived and recorded as part of BBC Radio 3’s “Composer of the Week” segment, including the 1941 Sinfonia Concertante and her 1950 violin concerto. In 2016, the Missa cambrensis was finally premiered, resulting in the recording linked above.

With many works of forgotten women composers being revived over the past decade, I hope that Williams’s music will not only receive performances outside of the UK, but also assume a place in the musical canon that it rightly deserves.

Thank you again for reading, and please leave a like, follow and/or comment if you enjoyed this post. See you next week!

(Information for this article was taken from Wikipedia and from the composer’s page on Discover Welsh Music. Many thanks also go to the YouTube channel “Grace Mary Williams” for uploading several of Williams’s works that are unavailable anywhere else!)

Arthur Lourié: Stravinsky’s predecessor and a forgotten pioneer of Russian modernism

If you asked a music history professor to list the most influential Russian composers of the early 20th century, they would probably name Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, Scriabin, and Shostakovich, with perhaps a passing mention of Glazunov, Glière, Roslavets, Myaskovsky, or Kabalevsky. However, these composers were far from the only names who were integral in the development of Russian classical music; several lesser-known Russian and Soviet composers from this period produced works of great character and originality, only to fall into obscurity because of lack of support for their music or the apparatuses of the USSR. Today, we’ll be examining one of these forgotten composers, Arthur Lourié.

Lourié (Arthur Lourié Society)

Lourié was born on May 14, 1892 into a wealthy Jewish family in what is now Belarus. Little is known about his early life, although he was at one time a schoolmate of Prokofiev in St. Petersburg; at the age of 17, he began his studies in that city’s conservatory, studying piano with Maria Barinova and composition with Glazunov. However, Lourié left the conservatory in 1913 without graduating and, from that point on, was largely self-taught.

By the time he completed his studies, Lourié had already begun developing a distinctive style. Although musically influenced by Ravel and Debussy (as you can find in the 5 Préludes fragiles below) as well as the late works of Scriabin, Lourié frequently explored new musical avenues, especially in solo piano writing – his 1914 work Synthèses presages the dodecaphonic music which would attain popularity a decade later. He was also greatly influenced by contemporary art and literature, being one of the first composers to set the poetry of Anna Akhmatova and also developing a new Picasso-inspired approach to notation in his 1915 piano work Formes En L’air.

Lourié’s growing stature in Russian music at the time was significantly magnified after the 1917 Russian Revolution – he was almost immediately appointed director of the music section of the People’s Commissariat. However, he quickly became disillusioned with the direction of the new Soviet state and, after an official visit to Berlin in 1921, left his homeland permanently.

In 1922, the composer settled in Paris, where he was introduced to Stravinsky by the latter’s mistress, the dancer Vera de Bosset. Over the next ten years, he would become one of the most important champions of Stravinsky, not only writing articles about and creating piano reductions of Stravinsky’s work but also engaging in extensive creative dialogue with his older contemporary. Several sources have noted the similarities between Lourié’s 1924 work A Little Chamber Music and Stravinsky’s Apollon musagète of 1927, while the monumental Concerto spirituale for chorus, piano, and orchestra, written by Lourié in 1929, foreshadowed Stravinsky’s much more popular 1930 Symphony of Psalms.

Of the works by Lourié I have heard so far, the Concerto spirituale is by far the most compelling for me. Despite the less-than-ideal audio quality (according to the well-known music critic Alex Ross, this recording was taken from a 1995 Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin concert conducted by Gennady Rozhdestvensky), the emotion and almost otherworldly character of the piece still shine through. To me, it is simply astonishing that such a brilliant and original work is so rarely played and has yet to be recorded properly in any form – if any conductor or music director with the sufficient resources for such a piece reads this, I beg you to put it on one of your programs!

Alas, we will never know how much more brilliant music this collaboration could have produced, as Lourié’s friendship with Stravinsky ended after a disagreement with de Bosset in 1932. Eight years later, as the Germans occupied Paris, he left for the United States with the help of Serge Koussevitzky.

Forgotten by Russia, his former friend Stravinsky, and much of the compositional establishment, Lourié spent much of his time in America writing film scores, receiving almost no performances for his more ambitious works. Although he spent ten years writing a Pushkin-inspired opera titled The Blackamoor of Peter the Great, it remains unperformed today. Another of his notable works from this time, which has since been performed, is his 1959 setting of T.S. Eliot’s “Little Gidding” for tenor and ensemble, which, coincidentally, was also set by Stravinsky three years later.

Initially based in New York , Lourié moved to San Francisco and then to Princeton, living out the last years of life in virtual isolation. He passed away in Princeton on October 12, 1966, at the age of 74.

During his six-decade-long compositional career, Lourié wrote a over a hundred pieces comprising solo piano compositions, art songs, chamber works, and monumental orchestral music, yet the majority of his oeuvre is yet to be recorded or even performed. From the delicate simplicity of the 5 Préludes fragiles to the drama, rich harmonic content, and almost unbelievable anger of the Concerto spirituale, Lourié’s works deserve a far greater place in concert halls.

Thank you for reading, and as usual, please leave a like, follow, and/or comment if you enjoyed the article. Next week’s post will cover the Welsh composer Grace Williams!

(The information in this article comes from the biography on the Arthur Lourié Society website, an article on Lourié in Perspectives of New Music published shortly after his death, and a small blurb about the composer by Alex Ross.)

At the heart of the Mediterranean: the works of Charles Camilleri

Many of my blog posts thus far cover composers who have played very important roles in their countries’ musical history. However, few composers have written music that evokes their native land as convincingly as that of today’s subject, Maltese composer Charles Camilleri.

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Camilleri at work (The Independent)

Born into a musical family in the town of Hamrun on September 7, 1931, Camilleri showed talent in composition from an early age, writing a band march at the age of eleven. He continued to compose at a high level throughout his teenage years, writing a number of pieces based on a form of Maltese folk singing called ghana. While the very early works of most composers are practically never performed, perhaps with the exception of Mozart, Camilleri’s compositions from this time, including the “Malta Suite” for orchestra and his “Mediterranean” piano concerto (revised in 1978), are energetic and melodic and remain popular in Malta today. At the age of 17, he added to his already impressive oeuvre by writing Il-Weghda, the first-ever opera written in Maltese.

Despite impressing his teachers at the Lyceum High School, Camilleri instead opted to study law. However, his ambitions changed after his family immigrated to Australia in 1950; he left his studies, initially spending four years as a schoolteacher, before moving to London in 1954. It was there that he first earned his living through music, working as a composer, arranger, and conductor of light music and touring with the likes of Frank Sinatra and Hoagy Carmichael.

In 1959, Camilleri moved to Canada to study composition at the University of Toronto, spending much of his time continuing to write film scores and also being appointed conductor of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Six years later, he moved back to England with the goal of dedicating himself to composition once and for all.

The 1970s and 1980s were the most influential period in Camilleri’s career – during this time, many of his most important works were written and published. His output during this time includes his organ pieces Missa Mundi (1972) and Wine of Peace (1976), both important contributions to that instrument’s modern repertoire, as well as the first oratorio in the Maltese language, Pawlu ta’ Malta (1985), written in honor of the patron saint of the island of Malta. From 1977 to 1983, Camilleri also served as professor of music at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto.

From 1992 to 1996, Camilleri served as the first ever professor of music at the University of Malta, and he continued composing through the 2000s, writing his final major work (and his only symphony), the “New Idea Symphony,” on a commission from his countryman, the writer Edward de Bono in 2006. He passed away in 2009 in his beloved hometown of Naxxar, Malta, at the age of 77.

During Camilleri’s six-decades-long compositional career, he wrote in almost every genre, from oratorios to nationalistic light music to meditative organ works. Although Camilleri’s compositions are frequently performed in his native Malta and receive occasional performances elsewhere, particularly in the UK, he and his works are pratically forgotten among much of the classical community – it’s a shame that such a prolific and diverse composer is so rarely acknowledged.

As usual, if you enjoyed this or any of my other posts, please leave a like, follow, and/or comment. See you next week!

(Information in this post is derived from Wikipedia and two obituaries of Camilleri in The Guardian and The Independent.)

The “Grupo de los cuatro”: Four forgotten Mexican composers of the 20th century

Mexico is a country with a rich history in classical music, with composers from Carlos Chávez and Silvestre Revueltas in the early 20th century to Arturo Márquez and Javier Álvarez today. However, a number of classical composers who made important contributions to the history of Mexican music during this time have been forgotten or overlooked. Today, I’ll be focusing on four oft-overlooked Mexican composers of the mid-1900s who not only produced great works inspired by traditional Mexican music, but also played an important role in introducing 20th-century compositional innovations to their country.

In 1928, Chávez, one of Mexico’s most prominent composers at the time, assumed the leadership of the Conservatorio Nacional de Música, the main institution for Western art music in the country. Three years later, as part of his efforts to reform the conservatory’s curriculum, Chavez introduced an open-ended course titled “Composition Workshop” to encourage composers to write in a greater variety of styles. When the course was dropped in 1934 after Chávez’s departure largely due to political circumstances, four young students who had taken the class – Daniel Ayala, Salvador Contreras, José Pablo Moncayo, and Blas Galindo – sought to demonstrate its value by organizing a concert of their own compositions.

After the success of their first concert in November 1935, a review in the newspaper El Universal (in reference to the Russian “Five” and French “Les Six”) referred to the composers as the “Grupo de los cuatro”; the name stuck, and the group’s members would become the leading lights of the new generation of Mexican composers.

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José Pablo Moncayo (Wikipedia)

Perhaps the best-known representative of this group was José Pablo Moncayo, who, according to conductor and musicologist Armando Torres Chibrás, “represents one of the most important legacies of the Mexican nationalism in art music, after Silvestre Revueltas and Carlos Chávez.” Born in Guadalajara in 1912, Moncayo was first introduced to music by his brother Francisco. In 1926, at the age of fourteen, he became a student of the well-known composer and pianist Eduardo Hernández Moncada; three years later, he was admitted to the Conservatorio Nacional, studying composition with Candelario Huízar. In 1932, around the same time as his enrollment in Chávez’s composition course, he was admitted to the percussion section of the Symphony Orchestra of Mexico (OSM).

During his time at the conservatory (much of which has been described above), Moncayo wrote a number of solo and chamber works which were performed either at private concerts or at those organized by the Grupo de los cuatro. His early style is exemplified by “Amatzinac,” written for the unusual instrumentation of flute and string quartet; this work combines impressionist sections with more dissonant ideas and, like other early chamber works by Moncayo and his contemporaries, helped establish modernist music in Mexico.

Over the next several years, outside of the activities of the Grupo de los cuatro, Moncayo worked on arrangements of traditional melodies for orchestral concerts of the newly formed National Symphony Orchestra (created by the National Conservatory’s new director Estanislao Mejía) and the OSM conducted by Chávez; he also made his conducting debut at the age of 24 in September 1936.

In 1941, Chávez asked Moncayo to write a piece based on popular music from Mexico’s southeast coast for an OSM concert; the result was what is now Moncayo’s best-known orchestral work, Huapango. Based on popular music of Veracruz, for which he and his friend Blas Galindo pursued detailed field research, Huapango is a colorful, lively, and evocative work that is still held in high regard in the Mexican orchestral repertoire today – the influential Mexican-American conductor Alondra de la Parra certainly does it justice!

Although Moncayo’s responsibilities as a conductor would increase over the succeeding decade – he was appointed conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra in 1949 – he continued to compose both chamber and orchestral works. Written in the same year as his conducting appointment, Moncayo’s orchestral piece Tierra de temporal is a prime example of his nationalistic yet lyrical mature style; from the opening melodies played by the English horn and strings to the loud, forceful sounds of the brass section, the piece holds one’s attention from start to finish and conveys a feeling of passion and grandiosity throughout.

Alas, Moncayo’s conducting and composing careers were both ultimately cut short. On February 1954, he conducted his final concert with the National Symphony Orchestra; four years later, on June 16, 1958, he passed away at his home on Mexico City, at the age of just 46.

Although his works are well-remembered and often played in his homeland, Moncayo’s compositions are rarely performed in other countries, bar the occasional performance of Huapango in the United States and Europe. The boldness, lyricism, and nationalistic spirit of his music – and of his orchestral works in particular – merit a greater place in the repertoire.

Far less well-known than Moncayo, the works of Daniel Ayala also form an important part of the Mexican nationalist tradition. Ayala was born in Abalá, located in the state of Yucatán, on July 21, 1906. At the age of ten, against his father’s wishes, he began his musical studies with Alfonso Aguilar Reyes. As a teenager, he attended a music school in Mérida, the capital of Yucatán, working as a street vendor and shoe cleaner to support his education.

In 1927, Ayala entered the Conservatorio Nacional, studying violin with Revueltas and composition with Chávez, Manuel Ponce, Huízar and Julián Carrillo, among others. Four years later, he took up a position as second violinist in the OSM, before departing Mexico City in 1940 to conduct a police band in Mérida. During this period, Ayala was most prolific as a composer, although he produced relatively few works during his career. Perhaps the best-known of Ayala’s compositions is the 1934 symphonic poem Tribu, premiered by Chávez with the OSM the following year, which was inspired by images of Chichen Itza and his own Mayan roots.

Following his return to Yucatán, Ayala did much to advance music in his home state in the second half of the 20th century. In 1942, he founded the Orquesta Típica Yukalpetén, which performs works by Yucatecan composers; in 1944, he was appointed conductor of the Mérida Symphony Orchestra and director of the Yucatán Conservatory, which led to a significant decrease in his compositional output. In 1955, he became the director of the school of music in Veracruz, where he would spend the last twenty years of his life; he passed away in Xalapa, Veracruz, on June 20, 1975.

Despite writing relatively few compositions after leaving Mexico City, Ayala did produce one notable work in the years before his death, a 1974 concertino for piano and orchestra which displays much more of a “conventional” neoclassical style than his earlier compositional output.

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Salvador Contreras

Like that of Ayala, the music of Salvador Contreras changed significantly over the course of his several-decades-long career. Born in the town of Cuerámaro on November 10, 1910, he, like Ayala, studied violin with Revueltas and composition with Chávez, joining the OSM in 1932. In 1947, he gained his first notable success as a composer, winning the OSM composition prize for his Suite for orchestra. Over the next few decades, Contreras held several administrative positions and professorships at the National Institute for Fine Arts in Mexico city. He also continued to compose for most of his career – his last work, Simbolos, was completed in 1979.

Although his style, like that of all four composers of the “Grupo de los cuatro,” was initially impressionistic and nationalistic in nature – frequently incorporating folk tunes and syncopated rhythms – Contreras eventually turned to serialism in the 1960s and 1970s. Although I’m not able to find information on the later phases of Contreras’s career, this progression can be broadly seen through works like his 1936 second string quartet, his 1940 Música para orquesta sinfónica, and his 1971 collection Siete Preludios para Piano. (If you enjoyed the recordings and would like to hear more of Contreras, check out the channel that uploaded them, simply called “Salvador Contreras”.)

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Blas Galindo (Musicalics)

Blas Galindo, the final member of the “Grupo de los cuatro,” was another important contributor to the Mexican nationalist compositional movement. Galindo, who was born in San Gabriel in Jalisco on February 3, 1910, entered school at the age of nine; his family fled the town for several years after the overthrow of Porfirio Díaz, but he returned in 1928, completing his studies and organizing a municipal band. At the age of 21, he moved to Mexico City to enter the Conservatorio Nacional, studying with Carlos Chávez for composition and Manuel Rodriguez Vizcarra for piano; attending the conservatory intermittently, he did not formally graduate for over a decade. In 1941 and 1942, he studied with Aaron Copland at the Berkshire Music Center (now Tanglewood), where his orchestral suite Arroyos was performed. During this time, Galindo wrote perhaps his most famous work, the colorful orchestral suite Sones de Mariachi, which evokes the melodies played by Mexico’s famous mariachi ensembles.

Galindo returned to Mexico as a composition professor at the national conservatory in late 1942 and was named director of the conservatory five years later. By the end of the 1940s, his compositions and performances as a pianist had reached global ears, and in 1949 he was invited to judge the  fourth Chopin piano competition in Warsaw.

In 1960, Galindo was finally given the opportunity to focus on composition thanks to a stipend from Mexico’s Secretary of Public Education, and he retired five years later to dedicate himself exclusively to his composing; he would continue to write through the late 1980s. One of Galindo’s most fascinating works for this period is a 1973 concerto for electric guitar and orchestra, the first ever concerto for the instrument by a classical composer.

Galindo continued composing through the late 1980s, writing over 150 works in total; he passed away on April 19, 1993, at the age of 83.

Overall, the “Grupo de los cuatro” are a fascinating set of composers, both in terms of the qualities of their works and their contributions to the trajectory of Mexican classical music. Although many of these works would likely be quite popular with concert-going audiences because of their fast-paced, colorful nature, only Moncayo’s Huapango is performed with any sort of regularity outside Mexico. I hope this will change in the next few decades!

If you enjoyed this article, please leave a like or a follow! I’ll be off to the Brevard Music Festival on Thursday, so I’m not sure when I’ll have time to write more posts, but I’m hoping to keep posting once every week or week and a half as I’m doing currently.

(For this article, I used both English and Spanish (Google translated) Wikipedia articles on each of the four composers profiled. I tried to look for other sources, but they seem to be few and far between – if anyone knows good places to find more information about Ayala and Contreras in particular, let me know!)