Saturday, June 23, 2007

More Composers: V

Vanhal (Johann Baptist) was a contemporary of Haydn who wrote 73 symphonies, 100 quartets, and numerous other sacred and secular works. Many of his symphonies have been released on CD and bear witness that quality music in the classical period wasn't restricted to Haydn and Mozart. It is said that Vanhal's best music was written during bouts of mental illness.

Varèse (Edgard) was a French-American composer who experimented with electronic music and the possibilities of rhythm and tone-color. His most famous works include Ionisation (a piece for 13 percussionists) and Density 21.5 (a flute solo written specifically for a platinum flute). His Poème électronique, an eight-minute electronic piece combining a variety of musical and non-musical sounds and played repeatedly on over 400 speakers, was heard by over 2 million visitors to the Philips Pavilion at the 1958 World's Fair in Brussels.

Victoria (Tomás Luis de) was the leading Spanish composer of the 16th century. He wrote poignantly expressive sacred vocal music, including motets, lamentations, and a Requiem. He was also a Jesuit priest, which should make him a big hit in St. Louis!

Vierne (Louis) was a virtually blind, French organist who wrote six organ symphonies, dozens of "fantasy-pieces" and "pieces in a free style," and other organ works, plus chamber music, sonatas, sacred vocal works, and an orchestral symphony. A legendary improviser, some of his improvisations were recorded and are said to sound like composed works. At one point Vierne nearly lost his leg in a traffic accident, but recovered enough to continue playing the organ - even until, toward the end of his life, he had to be carried up the stairs to the console. He died while playing a recital at Notre-Dame de Paris, musical to the very end. What a way to go!

Vieuxtemps (Henri) was a Belgian concert violinist and composer. Unlike Paganini and Sarasate, however, he did not specialize in writing or playing pieces that were merely a showcase for technical brilliance. He was an early champion of the more musically rich concertos of, for example, Beethoven and Mendelssohn, which many virtuosi of the time snubbed because they didn't spotlight the soloist enough. History has chosen in Vieuxtemps' favor. His own compositions include seven important violin concertos, as well as two cello concertos and three string quartets.

Villa-Lobos (Heitor) was a Brazilian composer who created a fusion of Latin American folk music and European fine-art music. His best known pieces are the nine suites of Bachianas brasileiras, written for different performing ensembles ranging from solo piano to full orchestra (the fifth, and most popular, is scored for soprano and 8 cellos). He also wrote numerous concertos, 12 symphonies, 17 string quartets, operas, guitar and piano music, an assortment of pieces called Chôros inspired by Brazilian street musicians, and tons of orchestral and chamber music. An extremely prolific composer, for a while Villa-Lobos acted as a kind of dictator over the musical culture of Brazil.

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