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in 2022, classic birthdays

► Heinrich Schütz, died in Dresden on November 6, 1672

Born in Köstritz (Thuringia) in 1585, Schütz is considered the greatest German composer before Johann Sebastian Bach and even the most important musical figure of his time, comparable to Monteverdi alone. The talent of this innkeeper’s son was encouraged by the Landgrave Maurice of Hesse-Cassel who introduced him to the school of his court. From 1609 to 1612, Schütz studied in Venice with Giovanni Gabrielli. He would return to the City of the Doges twenty years later and perhaps received advice from Monteverdi… A fervent Lutheran, organist, he held the position of choirmaster in Dresden throughout his long life, sometimes prevented by the horrors of the war of Thirty years that brought him to Copenhagen. A moment very influenced by Italy and the richness of its polychorality, he returned to a more severe aesthetic marked by his deep faith.

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Of his abundant production – unfortunately nothing has been preserved of his organ creations which nevertheless marked all of Northern Germany – remains above all sacred vocal music: Cantiones sacraethree passions (according to Matthew, Luke and John), a requiem (Musikalische Exequien), oratorios (Weinhachts-History, Die Sieben Worte Jesus Christi am Kreuz).

► André Cardinal Destouches, born in Paris on April 6, 1672

Before being devoted to music, her life was one of the most adventurous. A pupil of the Jesuits, he followed a missionary expedition to Siam but, on his return, chose a military career! Seduced by war music, he then changed direction to receive the teaching of André Campra. His interpersonal skills allowed him to obtain gratifying functions as superintendent (1718) then master (1726) of the music of the King’s Chamber. Great provider of works for the Royal Academy of Music, he even administers it for a brief moment.

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In 1697, the success of his heroic pastoral Isse with Louis XIV and then with the Parisian public largely opened up a lyrical career to him, pursued with Omphale, The Carnival of Madness Where Callirohe which brought together some of the most important audiences in the hall of the Royal Palace. A resident of the Saint Roch Church district, he was buried there in February 1749. Long underestimated and regarded as an amateur, he is appreciated today for his use of surprising dissonances, of expressive melodic lines animating his lyrical declamation.

► César Franck, born in Liège on December 10, 1822

Franck was in his time a major figure in French musical life: virtuoso pianist and organist (holder of the organ of Sainte-Clotilde in Paris in 1859), professor at the Conservatory (from 1871, master of Vincent d’Indy, Ernest Chausson or Augusta Holmes), president of the National Music Society in 1886…

The beginnings of his career in Paris had however been difficult, hampered by the harsh ambition of his father and his status as a foreigner. But Franck could count on the support of Franz Liszt, of whom he always remained a fervent follower. Like this one, a prolific author in many fields, notably the oratorio (Ruth, The Beatitudes) and the program symphonic poem (The Djins, The Cursed Hunter), he is celebrated above all for his “pure music”. We see him as an heir to the Germanic tradition, through the absolute masterpieces that are his Sonata for violin and piano in A major (1886) and his Quintet for piano and strings in F minor (1879). He died in Paris on November 8, 1890.

► Alexander Nikolayevich Scriabin, born in Moscow on January 6, 1872 – according to the Gregorian calendar

After a rather erratic training, Scriabin entered the Moscow Conservatory in 1888 and followed there, like his classmate Rachmaninoff, training as a pianist and composer. He undertook a career as a virtuoso which took him all over Europe but, injured his right hand, would only resume it to play his own works. In Paris, after considerable success in 1896, he met Mikhail Morozov and his wife Margarita who became his patrons and supported him in an eventful personal and artistic life, in Europe and back in Russia in 1909.

As a composer, Scriabin was also a singular personality. Unlike his colleagues who asserted their national ties, he claimed an integral symbolism animated by a theosophical mysticism, centered on synesthesia or association of the senses of sight and hearing. He progressively abandoned the structure of classical forms: thus his last sonatas for the piano (he wrote 10 of them) only had a single movement and its ecstasy poem, a gigantic symphonic work composed between 1905 and 1908, progresses several motifs irregularly to an ecstatic finale. This is because, according to the artist, musical development is above all a spiritual journey. He died in Moscow in April 1915.

► Ralph Vaughan-Williams, born October 12, 1872 in Down Ampney (Gloucester County)

His father, a clergyman, died very quickly and he was brought up by his mother, a descendant of the Wedgwood family and related to Charles Darwin. At the Royal College of Music in London, Vaughan-Williams was a fellow student of the future conductor Leopold Stokowski who later conducted several of his symphonies, but also of the composer Gustav Holst. With the latter and Frederick Delius, he took part in the revival of English music that began at the end of the 19th century and deliberately entered into the British tradition, particularly folk. In 1906 he published The English Hymnal, combining new compositions with numerous arrangements of popular songs, and also participates in the publication of Purcell’s works. In 1910, he had his first public success with the Fantasy on a Tallis Theme which he conducts in Gloucester Cathedral and a real triumph with his first choral symphony A Sea Symphony.

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His long activity as a composer (he died in London in August 1958) was marked by eclecticism: symphonic, choral and religious pieces, stage and film music, ballets and operas… In addition to paying attention to the works of past, a very perceptible sensitivity to nature: it permeates in particular The Lark Ascending (1914) where a violin soloist embodies the flight of a bird in the calm of the sky painted by the orchestra.

► Iannis Xenakis, born May 29, 1922 in Brãila, Romania

Born into the Greek community of Romania, young Iannis was sent to Greece to pursue scientific studies. Bathed from childhood in a musical atmosphere, he was introduced to analysis, harmony and counterpoint and produced a geometric transcription of works by Bach! The Italian and then German occupation, his fight in the resistance, then the civil war and his commitment to the Communists, thwarted these studies and caused the wound with which his face would remain marked.

In September 1947 he left his country for France where he worked as an architect and engineer, collaborating with Le Corbusier, in particular for the Philips Pavilion at the Universal Exhibition in Brussels in 1958. At the same time, with the support of Olivier Messiaen, he continues its quest for new mathematical keys and new technological spaces for musical writing. In 1954 was thus created Metastasis, figurehead of “stochastic” music (integrating the statistical elements of chance). Anxious to bring together visual and sound arts, Xenakis created in 1967 the first of his Polytopesa sound and light show designed for a specific location, which he would develop and vary in Montreal (for the French Pavilion at the 1967 World’s Fair), Persépolis or Cluny… This “polyculture”, which sometimes earned him the underestimated by supporters of serialism, opened the admiration of a new public to him, especially around 1968. He died in Paris in February 2001.

► A hint of “light” music to finish

Finally, 2022 will allow two stars of so-called “light” music to be celebrated together. Here, for the café-concert of the Belle Époque, Félix Mayol (1872-1941): his song Come Poupoule! in 1905 had broken all the sales records for “small formats”, these cheap scores which preceded the disc in the diffusion of the successes of the song.

Here, for the music-hall revue of the Roaring Twenties, Maurice Chevalier (1888-1972). First asserted by Mistinguett, he became his rival with the successes of In life, don’t worry (1921) and especially Valentine (1925). As soon as he returned from the war in 1916, he adopted his stage outfit and his emblematic accessory, the boater. An archetype of Parisian banter, Maurice Chevalier enchanted Hollywood and made a career in the cinema. Worried about his equivocal attitude during the years of occupation, he owed his salvation to the support of Louis Aragon and Elsa Triolet.


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