Saturday, June 9, 2007

More Composers: H

More than any other reason, I am rushing through all these composers so I can get rid of their pictures, which are filling up my art folder. The second-biggest reason is that it never hurts to have a visual aid, and maybe a few cunningly arranged factoids, to bear in mind when the names of obscure composers are dropped in the liner notes or biographies of their better-known contemporaries. The third-biggest reason is that, just maybe, you'll take an interest in them and discover their music for yourself. It is because of these last two reasons that I'm not limiting my selection to composers I particularly enjoy hearing myself.

And so I give you the H's, which is quite heavily populated, though not so much as the G's:

Halévy (Fromental, a.k.a. Jacques), a Romantic composer, is now mostly known for his grand opera La Juive, to which such composers as Berlioz, Wagner, and Mahler accorded extravagant praise. Apart from that triumph, however, Halévy has been regarded as an untalented musical bureaucrat.

Hanson (Howard) was a Nebraska-born conductor, music theorist, educator, and director of the Eastman School of Music in Rochester NY for 40 years. Besides all this, he was one of the most-honored American composers of his time, winning a Pulitzer prize for his 4th Symphony, and obtaining the most curtain-calls on record (50) for the Met premiere of his opera Merry Mount. His notable works include his second and third symphonies (the former being quoted in the movie Alien) and the popular band piece Chorale and Alleluia.

Harbison (John) is a Pulitzer- and Grammy-winning composer specializing in opera and choral music. He teaches music at M.I.T. Some of his notable works include the oratorio The Flight into Egypt and the opera The Great Gatsby.

Harris (Roy) was an American composer, best known for his Third Symphony. Harris composed on American subjects and is associated with the wide-spaced harmony often described as "the American sound." He wrote 13 numbered symphonies (though, out of superstition, he wanted the last one to be considered "No. 14"), plus symphonies for jazz band, military band, and chorus and orchestra. Other noteworthy works include Epilogue to Profiles in Courage (in memory of JFK), a violin concerto, and a concerto for string quartet, piano, and clarinet.

Harrison (Lou) was noted for incorporating instruments, rhythms, scales, and musical forms from the Eastern Hemisphere into his music. He is best known for his political activism, his open homosexuality, and his concertos in which a conventional solo instrument, such as a violin, is accompanied by percussion instruments, such as an Indonesian gamelan.

Hassler (Hans Leo) was a turn-of-the-17th-century composer who studied in Venice under Andrea Gabrieli. He then helped to spread the Venetian antiphonal style of music to Germany, sowing the seeds of the Baroque era in German music. Both Catholics and Lutherans claim him as an important composer (a Protestant himself, he often lived and worked among Catholics), writing masses, sacred motets, and madrigals. Hymn enthusiasts should note that the tune Herzlich tut mich verlangen (wedded to the hymn "O sacred Head, now wounded") is credited, at least in part, to Hassler.

Haydn (J. Michael) was F. Joseph's younger brother, and a notable composer in his own right. During his 43 years as Kapellmeister at Salzburg, Austria, Michael Haydn was personally acquainted with both Mozart and Weber. He is best known for his sacred choral music (including Masses and a Requiem), but he also wrote at least 8 concertos and over 40 symphonies, one of which was frequently performed when it was mistakenly thought to be by Mozart; several others were erroneously attributed to Joseph Haydn. I have heard some of this Haydn's music and I like it well enough. If it can be confused with the music of his brother and Mozart, how bad can it be?

Herbert (Victor) was an Irish-born, American composer mostly known for his operettas, such as Babes in Toyland and Naughty Marietta, from which such musical numbers as "March of the Toys" and "Ah! Sweet Mystery of Life" are often excerpted. His reputation as a "serious" composer stands mainly on his Second Cello Concerto. Herbert also founded ASCAP, an organization that protects composers' creative rights.

Hérold (Ferdinand) was an early-19th-century French composer now mainly remembered for his opera Zampa (still occasionally performed in Europe, though its overture is more widely played), and for the western version of the enduringly popular ballet La Fille Mal Gardée (for productions in Russia and Eastern Europe, another composer's music is used instead).

Herrmann (Bernard) was an Oscar-winning composer who wrote some of the most memorable film scores of his time, including Psycho, Cape Fear, Fahrenheit 451, Taxi Driver, and Citizen Kane. He experimented with electronic music in his score for The Birds, and with the use of unusual instruments such as the theremin in The Day the Earth Stood Still. On the "fine-art" side, Hermann also wrote a symphony, an opera, and a cantata.

Hildegard von Bingen, who like certain other composers (such as Josquin des Prez) gets alphabetized by her first name, is another member of the tiny sorority of noteworthy female composers. Very much a renaissance woman, Hildegard was an abbess, poet, artist, scientist, physician, and soothsayer, besides composing music that is still performed. Not only is she the earliest composer to be the subject of a biography, but she also has one of the largest surviving bodies of work of any Renaissance-era composer (80 pieces). Her music, generally written for a single voice with sparse accompaniment, is sometimes regarded as a precursor to opera. Also, she invented a whole language, including the alphabet!

Hindemith (Paul) was a viola player, violinist, conductor, teacher, author of a book on music theory, and subject of some controversy because of his on-again, off-again relationship with the Nazi authorities. (In 1938, he finally fled to Switzerland.) He helped to establish the modern system of musical education in Turkey. He also composed music with astounding ease, gravitating toward a style that combined elements of Baroque music with 20th-century techniques. I think he will be increasingly regarded as one of the great composers of the 20th century. His works include several symphonies, including one based on his opera Mathis der Maler; the Symphonic Metamorphoses of Themes of Carl Maria von Weber; a series of concertos titled Kammermusik; and an important symphony for concert band. Hindemith based his Requiem for those we love on the Walt Whitman poem "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd."

Honegger (Arthur) was a French-Swiss composer and member of the circle of avante-garde composers known as "Les Six," whose other members I will now name to save myself the trouble of posting on each of them: Georges Auric, Louis Durey, Darius Milhaud, Francis Poulenc, and the uniquely female Germaine Taillefaire. Honegger himself is best known for his five symphonies (of which I particularly like his second), the orchestral piece Pacific 231 (imiating the sound of a locomotive), a solo flute piece called Danse de la Chèvre, and the oratorio Joan of Arc at the Stake. I may put in a word or two about Poulenc and Milhaud, later; but the others are far too obscure to bother. If you're interested, WTS!

Hovhaness (Alan) was one of the 20th century's most prolific composers. Born to Scottish and Armenian parents (his birth name was Alan Vaness Chakmakjian), he wrote 67 symphonies, and left behind over 400 published works - and that is after destroying about 500 of his early works! Much of his music contains elements of Eastern mysticism, and many of his symphonies have programmatic titles, such as "Mysterious Mountain" (No. 2) and "Mount St. Helens" (No. 50). He combined tape recordings of whales with orchestral music in And God Created Great Whales. He also wrote a guitar concerto, a Magnificat, and pieces incorporating Asian instruments such as the gamelan. These H's stick together: Hovhaness enjoyed the friendship of both Harrison and Hanson!

Howells (Herbert) was an English composer whose religious music includes a very personal Requiem, written after his son's death and not performed until 15 years later, or published for over 30 years after that. He wrote a great deal of Anglican church music, including settings of the Mass, Magnificat, and Nunc dimittis; religious anthems for unaccompanied choir (including one in memory of JFK), and settings of the Morning and Evening services. He also wrote organ and piano music, songs and secular choral works, and hymn tunes, including a very beautiful one called "Michael," which has been turning up in quite a few hymnals (often wedded to the hymn "All my hope on God is founded").

Hummel (Johann Nepomuk) was an Austrian composer (born in what is now Slovakia), a student of Mozart and a friend of Beethoven. He succeeded Haydn as Kapellmeister at Eisenstadt. An often daring and forward-looking composer, he wrote tons of piano music (including eight concertos and ten sonatas), a mandolin concerto, a well-known trumpet concerto, and a lovely octet for wind instruments. His classically-balanced music fell into disregard during the Romantic era, and being overshadowed by Mozart and Beethoven it has been slow to recover a place in the repertoire...but it's getting there.

Humperdinck (Engelbert), not to be confused with the 1960s and -70s pop sensation from India (whose original name was Arnold Dorsey), was a Wagner-influenced, German composer now remembered mainly for his opera Hänsel und Gretel, a folksy Christmas tradition for many people from 1893 to this day. If for no other reason, it is noteworthy as the first opera to be broadcast on the radio (in 1923, from London's Covent Garden), and also the first opera broadcast from New York's Metropolitan Opera (1931).

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