written by Irene Gomez, specially written for the Strings By Mail Articles
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Last year when we commemorated 400 years of the deaths of Shakespeare and Cervantes, the cultural world had a great opportunity to approach with new perspectives the work and lives of these two magnificent writers. Academic and cultural institutions had a terrific occasion to celebrate. For example, my students and I studied the 16th century laud and vihuela repertoire and we created concerts where the music of Pisador, Valderrabano, Milan, and Dowland alternated with the reading of sonnets and excerpts from both writers. This was a very enriching experience for all of us.
Also during 2016, the music world commemorated the death of Enrique Granados (1867-1916), who left an output of subtle Spanish music, mainly for piano and orchestra. Fortunately for guitar players, some music has been transcribed, bringing out even more the essence of the sounds of Spain and providing some of the most respected and memorable pieces in the guitar repertoire.
The year 2017 is already running in quick steps, but we can still give a glance to meaningful facts and amazing people, learning from them and their times.
500 Years of Luther’s Reform
In the middle of the Renaissance era, the Catholic Church was the head of power and the Pope was the representative of God on earth. In October 1517 in Wittenberg, Martin Luther (1483-1546) questioned this extreme power in his “95 Theses.” Luther addressed many topics in this document, but he primarily criticized the practice of selling indulgences to people seeking salvation.
Luther’s writings spread very quickly in Europe, setting in motion a social and cultural revolution known as the Protestant Reformation.
Some of Luther´s ideas influenced the history of music. Besides translating the Bible from Latin to German, Luther also defended the idea that the congregation should participate in the liturgy by singing chorales, some of them based on established Latin melodies, which they could recognize and understand by singing in their own language. Most of the texts therefore were taken from the Bible. These changes became the new traditions and opened a new Church, influencing ways of thinking and functioning. His ideas were implemented, with some variations, in countries such as France, Switzerland, and England.
Johann Sebastian Bach is perhaps the most prominent example of a composer who related his own life and music to the principles of the Protestant Church. His vocal works (sacred and secular) and instrumental music are pervaded by the chorales and hymns from his faith. To discover the sources of his music is an interesting challenge for any musician who wishes to interpret Bach’s music.
Gioseffo Zarlino Birth Anniversary (1517-1590)
The 500th anniversary of the birth of Gioseffo Zarlino, a Venetian theoretician, composer, and organist known mainly for his book “Le Institutioni Harmoniche,” can help to personify a musician contemporary of the Reformist movement who remained on the Catholic side.
For the Catholic Church, music remained a critical aspect of devotion. Flemish composers such as Adrian Willaert (1490-1562) and Cypriano de Rore (1515-1565), both musicians at the Basilica of Saint Mark in Venice, became representatives of this religious esthetic. Together with Palestrina (1525-1595) in Rome, they created magnificent masses and motets. In Italy the inclusion of splendid paintings and sculptures by artists such as Michelangelo became a powerful distinctive trait. In Spain, Cristobal de Morales (1500-1553), Francisco Guerrero (1528-1599), and Tomas Luis de Victoria (1548-1611) also expressed in their music the highly devotional religious spirit of their time.
Scott Joplin 100th Anniversary (1868-1917)
On the 100th anniversary of his death, it’s very special to remember Scott Joplin, the great African-American composer who was pivotal in the history of American music and passed away on April 1, 1917, in New York.
Born in Texas just after the Civil War, he showed great musical talent at a very early age, studying and composing for the piano. Named “The King of Ragtime,” he created a new style of playing and through his hundreds of piano compositions (“Maple Leaf Rag” and “The Entertainer” among many others) he created a new American authentic identity. He was interested as well in “big formats” of music, composing the opera Treemonisha (1910) that was not fully staged until 1972. Joplin’s original orchestration for the opera was lost, and composers such as Gunther Schuller and Rick Benjamin have produced orchestrations.
To conclude this summary of anniversaries for this year, we must include the 200th anniversary of the death of writer Jane Austin (1775-1817), whose novels depict the English society of the so called Georgian period, including the music and dances of those years. She grew up in a very supportive family, and started to write in childhood. She obtained recognition during her lifetime and her novels (especially “Pride and Prejudice”) continue to be printed and have been represented in TV and movie productions. Musically this was a time of great composers for the guitar, including Mauro Giuliani and Fernando Sor, who spent some of his most successful years in England. He arrived during the latter years of Jane Austin’s life, becoming a prominent member of English society of the time.
I hope that noting these anniversaries will motivate you to learn more about these thrilling people and events that left indelible marks on our cultural life.
Classical guitarist Irene Gómez regularly contributes to Strings By Mail through her teaching and performance videos as well as articles. She is a Strings By Mail Sponsored Artist, teaches guitar at the National University in Bogotá, Colombia, and performs worldwide.