Saturday, June 9, 2007

More Composers: G

We continue our survey of the semi-great composers with a generous selection of names beginning with G. And what a sordid bunch they are...

Gabrieli (Giovanni, left) was a Venetian composer of the 16th and 17th centuries, the transition between the Renaissance and Baroque periods in music. His church music, written to fill the unique space of the cathedral of San Marco in Venice, pioneered in the polychoral technique of having two, three, or even four separate groups of singers and instruments answering each other from various locations in space - sort of a stereo effect! Mention should also be made of Giovanni's uncle Andrea Gabrieli (right), another composer-in-residence at St. Mark's who contributed to the development of Baroque music, including an early experiment (1585) in a new form of music that came to be known as opera!

Gade (Niels) was a 19th century Danish violinist, organist, conductor, teacher, and composer. Let this be a hint that it isn't easy to make a living in music: so many of these guys worked multiple jobs! But seriously, Gade was a disciple of Schumann and Mendelssohn, whose notable works include 8 symphonies and a violin concerto.

Galuppi (Baldassare) wrote mainly comic operas in the 18th century; for example, Il filosofo di campagna. He was also the head of the musical establishment at St. Mark's in Venice, which partly explains why certain sacred pieces are in dispute as to whether Galuppi or Vivaldi wrote them. So if you're into Vivaldi, you'll probably run across Galuppi's name from time to time. Plus, Galuppi is immortalized in a Robert Browning poem about Venice ("A Toccata of Galuppi's").

Gershwin (George) wrote mainly for the Broadway theatre, but he also wrote some music that "crosses over" into the fine-art realm, such as two Rhapsodies for piano and orchestra, a piano concerto, the tone poem An American in Paris, and the folk-opera Porgy and Bess. One of the most interesting recordings I ever heard was "Gershwin: The Piano Rolls," based either on Gershwin himself playing his music into a player-piano, or on a very peculiar musical genius "arranging" Gershwin's music on piano-roll paper, freehand, with a pen-knife!

Gesualdo (Carlo) was not only one of the most flamboyantly original composers of the late Renaissance period, but also a bona fide prince and a notorious murderer! His music is tortured, experimental, and way ahead of its time. Long neglected, it came to light again in the 20th century and inspired other composers, such as Stravinsky. There is even an opera by Schnittke based on Gesualdo's life. Not many composers have become musical subjects in their own right!

Gibbons (Orlando) was a leading English composer in the early 17th century. He wrote sacred anthems, secular madrigals, and music for keyboards and viols. Some of his songs have passed into modern-day hymnals; I can think of five examples off the top of my head, including a tune wedded to the hymn "Holy Spirit, light divine."

Ginastera (Alberto) was an Argentinian composer of piano and chamber music, opera and ballet, and concertos for piano (2), violin, cello (2), and harp. One of his pieces was "covered" by the rock band Emerson, Lake & Palmer, whose rendition (titled "Toccata") was in turn used as the theme of the TV program "Creature Double Feature."

Giordano (Umberto) was an opera composer of the verismo school of the late 19th and early 20th century. Like certain operas of Leoncavallo, Mascagni, and Puccini, Giordano's operas depicted common, contemporary life, often featuring shocking or scandalous behavior. His best-known works are Andrea Chénier and Fedora.

Giuliani (Mauro, not Rudy) was a 19th century composer who specialized in the guitar. He wrote three concertos for that instrument, as well as transcriptions of orchestral works for one or two guitars, a guitar sonata, and guitar variations and fantasias on other composers' themes (including the six Rossinianas). Giuliani's work is really the cornerstone of classical-era music for the virtuoso guitarist.

Glass (Philip), once a leading apostle of minimalist music, has developed into a composer of more traditional, classical music, though he is also influenced by Asian music. Many people have heard his work in such films as Koyaanisqatsi, The Hours, Candyman, The Illusionist, and Notes on a Scandal. Glass has been nominated for three Oscars. He also writes symphonies, concertos, operas, and choral works.

Glazunov (Alexander), a 19th- and 20th-century Russian/Soviet composer, was so unnerved by a superstition about the fatal ninth symphony that he stopped after eight, though he still had decades to live. He also wrote a saxophone concerto, the ballets Raymonda and The Seasons, concertos for piano (2), violin, and cello, and much else. He was also a teacher of Shostakovich, who in his memoirs described Glazunov as an alcoholic with such an "insatiable thirst" that he used to sneak sips of vodka from a bottle in his desk while listening to his music students perform. After a period of neglect, owing to his reputation as an "old-fashioned" composer, Glazunov is starting to make a comeback. Naxos has put out recordings of all his orchestral works; I have heard the symphonies from this set, and they are quite good. That's the nice thing about the passage of time - it corrects injustices caused by the accident of being born too early or too late!

Glière (Reinhold) was Ukrainian-born Soviet composer, descended from a German father and a Polish mother. A composer of attractive, nationalistic music, Glière avoided the persecution suffered by other Soviet composers for the politico-artistic crime of "formalism." All I have personally heard of his music is the programmatic symphony Ilya Muromets, but he also wrote three numbered symphonies, symphonic poems, ballets, operas, chamber music, and concertos for harp, cello, horn, violin, and coloratura soprano!

Glinka (Mikhail) was the first internationally-recognized Russian composer, and as it were, the musical father of his country. He is best known for his operas A Life for the Tsar (a.k.a. Ivan Susanin) and Ruslan and Lyudmila, or at least the overtures thereof, and the symphonic poems Kamarinskaya, A Night in Madrid, and Jota Aragonesa. One of his compositions served as the national anthem of Russia throughout the 1990s.

Gluck (Christoph Willibald) was a noted 18th-century opera composer who made major contributions to the development of the "classical" style and the dramatic form of opera. Several of his operas are still performed today, notably Orfeo ed Euridice and Iphigénie en Tauride. I have personally heard very little of his music, apart from the ballet Don Juan.

Górecki (Henryk) is a Polish minimalist composer whose popularity got a huge boost from a best-selling recording of his Third Symphony. Believe it or not, he has written other works, and I have heard several of them; but none of them are likely ever to be as famous as his "Symphony of Sorrowful Songs."

Gottschalk (Louis Moreau) was an American virtuoso pianist who specialized in playing his own, Romantic-sentimental compositions. These have been out of favor for some time, but being out of favor was one of Gottschalk's specialties, as a New Orleans native who supported the north during the U.S. Civil War, and a pederast who had to flee the U.S. over a scandal involving one of his female students. He spent his last years concertizing in Latin America, from which he drew inspiration for many of his works.

Gounod (Charles) was a Romantic composer whose reputation today stands on the operas Faust and Roméo et Juliette. He also wrote two little-performed symphonies, the Vatican national anthem, and a celebrated setting of Ave Maria based on one of J. S. Bach's harpsichord preludes.

Grainger (Percy) was an Australian-American composer, most famous for his piano-four-hands piece Country Gardens (which I have played). He was also a notorious sexual deviant and Aryan-race supremacist. But he was also an important educator and a champion of British, Irish, and Scandinavian folk music, the saxophone, and concert band music.

Granados (Enrique) was not only a Spanish nationalist composer, but also a gifted painter. He is best known for guitar transcriptions of his piano pieces, including Goyescas. He also wrote an opera by the same title and a tone poem titled Dante (based on the Divine Comedy).

Gubaidulina (Sofia) not only is one of the few world-class composers with two X chromosomes, but she also has a really fun-to-say name. An experimental, Russian composer of Tatar extraction, she suffered being politically blacklisted during the Soviet era. Her best-known works include the violin concerto Offertorium and the St. John Passion and St. John Easter diptych.

Guilmant (Alexandre) was an organist, music teacher, and composer at the turn of the 20th century. Many church organists are grateful for his books 60 Pieces in the Gregorian Tonality and the twelve-volume Liturgical Organist. He also wrote large-scale sonatas and symphonies for organ.

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