b Leipzig, 22 May 1813; d Venice, 13 Feb 1883
Richard Wilhelm Wagner was born in Leipzig. Karl Friedrich Wagner, a local police official, was married to Wagner's mother, Johanna, at the time, but there is much evidence that a close family friend, Ludwig Geyer, was in fact Richard's father. Karl Wagner died when Richard was six months old. Geyer married Johanna within the year, and six months later a daughter, C&aauml;cilie, was born. In addition to a letter written by Wagner to C&aauml;cilie in later years, referring to "our father, Geyer," Wagner's close physical likeness to Geyer and their mutual devotion and attachment lent credence to the Geyer paternity.
Geyer, an actor, writer, portrait painter and lover of great literature, had a profound influence on Wagner. Richard's formative years were spent in a household filled with love of culture and the arts. Literature, rather than music, was his first love. His interest in the Homeric epics caused him to study Greek in order to read them in the original. His love of Shakespeare induced him to learn English. At age eleven, he was writing poetic drama filled with characters that die and reappear as ghosts.
"Adoration of the Magi" by Hieronymus Bosch
A note about the inspiration for Amahl and the Night Visitors from Gian Carlo Menotti:
This is an opera for children because it tries to recapture my own childhood. You see, when I was a child I lived in Italy, and in Italy we have no Santa Claus. I suppose that Santa Claus is much too busy with American children to be able to handle Italian children as well. Our gifts were brought to us by the Three Kings, instead.
I actually never met the Three Kings—it didn't matter how hard my little brother and I tried to keep awake at night to catch a glimpse of the Three Royal Visitors, we would always fall asleep just before they arrived. But I do remember hearing them. I remember the weird cadence of their song in the dark distance; I remember the brittle sound of the camel's hooves crushing the frozen show; and I remember the mysterious tinkling of their silver bridles.
Gian Carlo Menotti was born on 7 July 1911, in Cadegliano, Italy. At the age of 7, under the guidance of his mother, he began to compose songs, and four years later he wrote the words and music of his first opera, The Death of Pierrot. In 1923 he began his formal musical training at the Verdi Conservatory in Milan. Following the death of his father, his mother took him to the United States, where he was enrolled at Philadelphia's Curtis Institute of Music. There he completed his musical studies, working in composition under Rosario Scalero.
His first mature work, the one-act opera buffa, Amelia Goes to the Ball, was premiered in 1937, a success that led to a commission from the National Broadcasting Company to write an opera especially for radio, The Old Maid and the Thief, the first such commission ever given. His first ballet, Sebastian, followed in 1944, and for this he wrote the scenario as well as the score. After the premiere of his Piano Concerto in 1945, Menotti returned to opera with The Medium, shortly joined by The Telephone, both enjoying international success.
Through his operas, his symphonies, his compositions for his own ensemble, and his wide-ranging collaborations with artists ranging from Twyla Tharp to Allen Ginsberg, Woody Allen to David Bowie, Philip Glass has had an extraordinary and unprecedented impact upon the musical and intellectual life of his times.
The operas – “Einstein on the Beach,” “Satyagraha,” “Akhnaten,” and “The Voyage,” among many others – play throughout the world’s leading houses, and rarely to an empty seat. Glass has written music for experimental theater and for Academy Award-winning motion pictures such as “The Hours” and Martin Scorsese’s “Kundun,” while “Koyaanisqatsi,” his initial filmic landscape with Godfrey Reggio and the Philip Glass Ensemble, may be the most radical and influential mating of sound and vision since “Fantasia.” His associations, personal and professional, with leading rock, pop and world music artists date back to the 1960s, including the beginning of his collaborative relationship with artist Robert Wilson. Indeed, Glass is the first composer to win a wide, multi-generational audience in the opera house, the concert hall, the dance world, in film and in popular music -- simultaneously.
b Paris, June 17, 1818; d St. Cloud, October 18, 1893
Charles-François Gounod emerged as one of the leading figures in French music during the latter part of the 19th century. Although the composer never achieved the titanic stature of Wagner or Verdi, his opera Faust once rivaled in popularity some of their most successful works.
The young Gounod showed early artistic talent, but his parents were determined that he study law. His preference for music eventually won, and at the age of 16, the rebellious teen began the official path of a typical 19th-century composer in France.
At the Paris Conservatoire Gounod studied with Halévy, Le Sueur and Reicha. Winning the Prix de Rome in 1839, he embarked upon a two-year study in Italy, during which time the composer first became familiar with the Faust legend.
Returning to France, Gounod quickly obtained a position in a mission church but was fortunate to befriend an influential soprano, Pauline Viardot, who maneuvered a commission for him from the Paris Opéra. Sapho, set to a libretto by Emile Augier, was a succès d’estime — but not a huge box-office draw. It was dropped after six performances.
b Lucca , December 22, 1858; d Brussels , November 29, 1924
Puccini was born into a family of court composers and organists in the historic city of Lucca , Italy. With a strong feeling of tradition in the Puccini family, it was expected that Giacomo would assume his deceased father’s position as maestro di cappella when he came of age — by 14 he already was playing organ in a number of the town’s churches. But at age 18 a performance of Verdi’s Aida inspired him to devote his life to opera. In 1880, Puccini began composition studies with Amilcare Ponchielli at the Milan Conservatory of Music. There he was introduced into the professional artists’ circle, to which he would belong for the rest of his life.
He was not a prolific composer. Unlike most of his contemporaries, there were long intervals between his operas, partly because of his fastidiousness in choosing subjects, several of which he took up only to abandon after several months, and partly because of his constant demands for modifications of the texts. Much of his time, too, was spent in hunting in the marshes around his home and in trips abroad to supervise revivals of his works.