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Arts Quotes: Leonard Bernstein
"Music can name the unnamable and communicate the unknowable."
Music, Composers, Music Legends

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Arts Quotes: Benjamin Britten
"Composing is like driving down a foggy road..."
Composers, Music Legends, Music

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Arts Quotes: Ludwig Van Beethoven
"Art! Who comprehends her? With whom can one consult concerning this great goddess."
Composers, Music, Music Legends, Orchestra

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Arts Quotes: Frederic Chopin
"Nothing is more beautiful than a guitar, except, possibly, two."
Musical Instruments, Music, Music Legends, Composers, Europe

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Arts Quotes: Bela Bartok
"A nation creates music - the composer only arranges it."
Composers, Music Legends, Music, Europe

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Arts Quotes: Vladimir Ashkenazy
"I believe that interpretation should be like a transparent glass, a window for the composer's music."
Music, Composers, Orchestra, Music Legends

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Arts Quotes: Paul Hindemith
"People who make music together cannot be enemies, at least while the music lasts."
Europe, Composers, Musical Instruments, Music, Music Legends

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Arts Quotes: Oscar Hammerstein
"All the sounds of the earth are like music."
Broadway, Composers, Music, Music Legends, Musicals, Theater

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Arts Quotes: Duke Ellington
"Playing "bop" is like playing Scrabble with all the vowels missing."
Jazz, Music, Music Legends, Composers, America

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Arts Quotes: Duke Ellington
"Music is my mistress, and she plays second fiddle to no one."
Jazz, Music, Music Legends, Composers, America

Chuck Berry

Arts Days: October 18, 1926: The Father of Rock and Roll
There’s good reason why Chuck Berry was the very first inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Berry not only defined the rock and roll sound, he created it. His 1955 song “Maybellene” was, in many ways, the first song of this musical genre, and its debut proved a pivotal moment in music history. Like many of his contemporaries, Berry began by playing the blues.

But audiences responded most enthusiastically when he played what was at the time considered “hillbilly” music: the rollicking infectious rhythms born of bluegrass. Berry added his own twists, like electrifying guitar playing, clever wordplay, and, above all, a vitality that made his audiences want to get up and dance. The resulting music was irresistible to young people and caught on like wildfire.
Composers, Music Legends, Blues, Music, Rock & Roll, Innovators & Pioneers

Charles-Camille Saint-Saëns

Arts Days: October 09, 1835: A Prolific Talent
Composer and organist, conductor and pianist, Saint- Saëns composed numerous works including Carnival of the Animals and Danse macabre. Among his contemporaries, the music he composed and performed was typically regarded as technically flawless.

He was famous for sitting stock-still at his keyboard during performances and playing every note perfectly. That calm demeanor earned him some criticism for his apparent lack of feeling. But to collectively consider the hundreds of pieces of music he composed in his lifetime, Saint- Saëns’ music shows much emotion and beauty.
Composers, Music, Music Legends, Orchestra, Europe

Giuseppe Verdi

Arts Days: October 10, 1813: Viva Verdi
Don't think you know any opera? Bet you do. Several pieces by Giuseppe Verdi have taken such deep root in worldwide arts culture that you've probably heard them—and could even hum them with a little effort. “La donna e mobile,” written by this Italian Romantic composer, is one such recognizable piece from his opera Rigoletto, based on a play by Victor Hugo.

Verdi broke some standard “rules” of opera; for example, his Macbeth was the first Italian opera that did not include a love story, and is considered a truly original piece for that reason. Verdi’s incredible range of operatic works can be heard in La Traviata, Aida, Il Trovatore, and Falstaff. Think opera. Think Verdi.
Composers, Opera, Europe, Music, Music Legends

West Side Story

Arts Days: September 26, 1957: Tonight, Tonight
Behind the hit musical about the rival white “Jets” and the Puerto Rican “Sharks” is an updated, urban retelling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The inspiration and innovation was provided by a boatload of talent; Stephen Sondheim wrote the sophisticated lyrics, Leonard Bernstein the historic music.

Jerome Robbins directed and choreographed the revolutionary dance sequences like the Shark Girls’ exuberant “America” and the Jets’ “Cool.” Audiences saw how violent gang warfare shattered the dreams of star-crossed lovers Maria and Tony. The musical drew big crowds, shocking them all with the death of two young men at the end of Act One and of Tony at the close of the play. As stunned viewers exited the theater, few doubted the universality of Shakespeare’s love story.
Broadway, Musicals, America, Choreographers, Composers, Controversial, Playwrights & Plays, Shakespeare, Popular Culture

John Cage

Arts Days: September 05, 1912: Pushing Music’s Boundaries
You might be confused the first time you hear an orchestra perform John Cage’s famous 1952 composition, 4’33” which refers to the length of time the piece lasts: four minutes, 33 seconds. During this time, no one will play their instrument; the concert hall will be completely silent.

Or will it? Cage, one of the most influential composers of the 20th century, believed in “found sound.” He thought that a whole other kind of music could be heard in the hundreds of small noises of a concert hall: someone shifting in her chair, someone coughing, someone else turning the page of a program. His experimental ideas about music and composition are still considered controversial by many.
America, Composers, Controversial, Innovators & Pioneers, Music, Music Legends

The John F. Kennedy Center

Arts Days: September 08, 1971: America’s Home for the Arts
In 1958, President Eisenhower signed legislation to build a national cultural center in Washington, D.C. Yet in the wake of President Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, Congress decided that the center would be a “living memorial” to our 35th president, who had worked tirelessly to elevate the role of the arts in America.

Opening night saw the debut performance of Leonard Bernstein’s Mass, written in memory of the fallen president; other performers included the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and the Berkshire Boys Choir. Since that night, the Center has welcomed and entertained millions as the finest performers from around the globe have graced its multiple stages. In addition, its Education Department touches more than 11 million young people, teachers, and parents each year.
Architecture, Art Venues, Backstage, Ballet, Choreographers, Composers, Dance, Dance Legends, America, Innovators & Pioneers, Music, Music Legends, Musicals, Opera, Theater

William “Count” Basie

Arts Days: August 21, 1906: The Count of Jazz
As a jazz bandleader, pianist, and composer, Count Basie had few peers. He learned to play piano as a youngster, making up music to go with the early silent films of the day.

Working in Harlem and Kansas City, Missouri, Basie absorbed the regional styles of jazz into his own signature “jumping” sound, which referred to his spare piano, pulsating rhythm section, and riffs—a series of notes that are repeated throughout a song—created by his horn players. His band was less formal than others, demonstrating a new lightness and solo originality.

This 1981 Kennedy Center Honoree made jazz history night after night in concert halls and clubs around the world.
America, Composers, Jazz, Music, Music Legends

Leonard Bernstein

Arts Days: August 25, 1918: Bernstein’s Bold Baton
You might find it odd that Leonard Bernstein was the first American-born and trained music director of the New York Philharmonic. But historically speaking, he was also the first American classical music conductor to earn worldwide acclaim.

Bernstein, who was awarded Kennedy Center Honors in 1980, was applauded for his ability to convey all the facets of a composer’s music and its meaning when he was conducting—or when he was teaching at his Young People’s Concerts. He also wrote orchestral pieces, ballet scores, choral and chamber music, the score for the film On the Waterfront; and of course, the music for Broadway’s Candide and West Side Story.

Held in extremely high regard by musical colleagues, Bernstein’s passion and intensity for conducting, writing, and playing music never ebbed over his lengthy career.
America, Composers, Broadway, Music, Music Legends, Musicals, Orchestra

Giacomo Puccini

Arts Days: December 22, 1858: For the Love of Opera
Are you surprised to learn that Giacomo Puccini was the latest in a long line of musicians in his family? For a while, he served as a church organist and choirmaster, but then he happened to enjoy a night at the opera: Verdi’s opera, Aida. Puccini was so inspired by what he heard and saw that he decided he, too, would compose operas.

He went on to create some of the world’s best-known ones, from La Boheme to Turandot. Over the next decade or so, Puccini composed what were arguably his three most successful operas in a row—Tosca, Madama Butterfly, and La Boheme. Influenced by composers from Verdi to Richard Wagner, Puccini’s operas contain scores of passionate beauty and intensity.
Composers, Opera, Music Legends, Music, Musicals, Europe

Scene from Aida

Arts Days: December 24, 1871: Love on the Nile
One of Giuseppe Verdi’s greatest operas, Aida, made its debut in Cairo, Egypt at the Khedivial Opera House. Why there? Well, an Egyptian prince named Ismail Pasha had commissioned Verdi to write the opera in the first place, paying him 150,000 francs to do so—equivalent to about $32,000 today.

Verdi composed the music for the story of Aida, an Ethiopian princess who is enslaved in Egypt, and her star-crossed relationship with Radames, an Egyptian soldier. Interestingly, Verdi was miffed that no members of the general public were in attendance at this premiere, so he considered the performance in Milan, Italy, the following year to be its true debut.
Musicals, Opera, Africa, Composers, Music, Folklore

Beethoven

Arts Days: December 16, 1770: Music’s Master
Young Ludwig van Beethoven was first given music lessons by his dad, performing his first concert at age seven. He stunned listeners with his technical abilities on the piano and organ, impressing them even more when he produced his first composition at nine. The father of this child who would become one of the greatest classical composers in history hoped his son would follow in the steps of Mozart himself, who died when Beethoven was 21.

Beethoven went on to write symphonies, like No. 9 in D Minor, the first symphony written by a prominent composer to include a choral portion. Though he eventually went completely deaf, Beethoven’s genius was such that he still composed and conducted even when he could not hear a single note. Beethoven was a brilliant improviser, rule-breaker, and master of dramatic music.
Composers, Innovators & Pioneers, Music Legends, Europe, Music, Orchestra

The Cotton Club

Arts Days: December 04, 1927: Setting Up Shop in Harlem
Go back to the corner of Lenox Avenue and 142nd Street in Harlem and the very night Duke Ellington and his orchestra first played for an adoring crowd at New York City’s Cotton Club. This evening marked the beginning of a tremendous four-year residency. Ellington and his musicians provided dance music for the club's performers, African American dancers in incredible costumes who performed songs, dances, and comedy routines for all-white, high-society audiences.

Ellington’s trumpet players, trombonists, and saxophonists—from Bubber Miley to Harry Carney—were each amazingly gifted in their own right; under Ellington’s direction, the orchestra melded into a rock-solid, jazz-playing unit. Soon enough, Ellington, his band, and their music were exposed to a national audience when these shows were broadcast weekly on WHN radio.
Art Venues, Jazz, Music, Composers, Music Legends, America

Pérez Prado

Arts Days: December 11, 1916: Mambo King
Of Mexican and Cuban heritage, Pérez Prado helped bring Latin music to whole new crowds of listeners around the globe. The “King of the Mambo” played piano and led bands throughout his career, including the Pérez Prado Orchestra—today led by his son, Perez Prado, Jr. in Mexico City. And, he wrote music for people to dance the mambo, better known today as salsa dancing.

Prado described his mambo as being “an Afro-Cuban rhythm with a dash of American swing.” Makes sense. Prado’s best-known pieces, like “Mambo No. 5” and “Mambo Jambo,” had American audiences dancing in the aisles of his concerts, which often sold out.
Composers, Innovators & Pioneers, Music Legends, Dance, Music, Latin America

W.C. Handy

Arts Days: November 16, 1873: Father of the Blues
William Christopher Handy, who composed “Beale Street Blues” and “St. Louis Blues,” among many others, was one of the first professional musicians to play the blues, a distinctly American musical genre. But he did more than most to elevate awareness of the blues; he helped popularize the sound beyond its traditional African American roots to a wider, commercial audience.

When Handy and his band moved to Memphis, Tennessee, his career took off, especially with the release of “Memphis Blues,” a tune he published in 1912 that many consider the first blues song. During the 1920s, Handy formed his own music publication company, a business that proved quite lucrative and also brought him great fame.
Composers, Innovators & Pioneers, Music Legends, Blues, America, Music

Scott Joplin

Arts Days: November 24, 1868: The Ragtime King
Pianist and composer Scott Joplin was undoubtedly the best-known composer of ragtime, or “ragged time,” music. Ragtime’s main hallmark is its syncopated rhythms—marked by a stress on what would normally be an unaccented beat in the music, or a rest where there would normally be an emphasis. Popular in 19th-century dance halls, ragtime captivated music fans for a couple of decades before jazz became all the rage.

Audiences clamored for Joplin’s many compositions, like “Maple Leaf Rag,” “Pineapple Rag,” and “The Entertainer.” He even wrote a ragtime opera called Treemonisha. By combining natural piano talent and classical European training with the rich sounds of African American gospel hymns, spirituals, blues, and plantation songs, Joplin created a new American sound.
Composers, Innovators & Pioneers, Music Legends, Music, America, Jazz

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