A-Z of Composers
Isaac Manuel Francisco Albéniz y, more commonly known as Isaac Albéniz, was born on 29th May 1860 in Camprodon, Catalonia, Spain and died on 18th May 1909 in France.
To classical guitarists the world over, he is known for his quintessential Spanish guitar repertoire. My younger brother, who is a professional guitarist himself, has been playing his pieces since childhood. Few realise that he was not actually a guitarist at all, but was in fact a virtuoso pianist, composer, and conductor. He is best known for his piano works often based on Spanish folk music.
Despite composing mostly for the piano, it is his transcriptions for guitar that are most well known today – particularly works such as Asturias (Leyenda), Granada, Sevilla, Cadiz, Córdoba, Cataluña, Mallorca, and Tango in D.
Johann Sebastian Bach
Johann Sebastian Bach was a German composer and musician who was born in March 1685 and died in July 1750. This was a period of musical history known as the Baroque. He is perhaps the most well-known of the famous Bach family of musicians:
Johann Christoph Bach (1642–1703), Johann Michael Bach (1648–1694), Maria Barbara Bach (1684–1720), Wilhelm Friedemann Bach (1710–1784), Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714–1788) to name just a few.
He is known for instrumental compositions such as the Art of Fugue, the Brandenburg Concertos, and the Goldberg Variations, and for vocal music such as the St Matthew Passion and the Mass in B minor. A master of the keyboard, Bach gifted the world such gems as The Well-Tempered Clavier and organ works too numerous to name individually. Since the 19th-century Bach Revival he has been generally regarded as one of the greatest composers of the Western art musical canon.
Here are links to some of these great pieces.
Mr Baker Sept 2019
Cream (Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker & Jack Bruce)
The great drummer Ginger Baker died on 6th October this year aged 80 and so it seemed fitting to continue the musical A-Z with the group he was perhaps most famous for being in – Cream.
Cream were a British rock band formed in London in 1966. The group consisted of bassist Jack Bruce, guitarist Eric Clapton, and drummer Ginger Baker. Bruce was the main songwriter and vocalist, although Clapton and Baker also sang and contributed songs. Formed from members of previously successful bands, they are widely regarded as the world's first supergroup as each player was considered to a master of their instrument.
Their music spanned many genres of rock music, including blues rock, psychedelic rock,
and hard rock. In their career, they sold more than 15 million records worldwide.
The group's third album, Wheels of Fire (1968), is the world's first platinum-selling double album.
In 1993, Cream were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Here are links to three of their more famous songs.
Mr Baker Sept 2019
Claude Debussy was born 22 August 1862 and died aged just 55 on 25 March 1918. He is regarded as one of the greatest French composers of all time. He is sometimes seen as the first Impressionist composer, seeking to paint pictures in the mind of his listeners by the quality of the sounds they hear.
Despite being born to a family of modest means and little cultural involvement, Debussy showed enough musical talent to be admitted at the age of ten to France's leading music college, the Conservatoire de Paris. He originally studied the piano, but found his vocation in innovative composition, despite the disapproval of the Conservatoire's conservative professors.
Debussy is responsible for some of the most recognisable piano and orchestral music of the twentieth century. He himself was influenced by Russian and far-eastern musical styles and he in his turn was to be a great influence on later composers such as Bartok, Messiaen and George Benjamin.
All his music is easy to listen to but here are some links to some of my favourites.
Mr Baker January 2020
Sir Edward William Elgar was born 2 June 1857 and died 23 February 1934.
He was an English composer who many consider to be one of our greatest. Many of his works have entered the British and international classical concert repertoire. Among his best-known compositions are orchestral works including the Enigma Variations (including the world famous ‘Nimrod’ often played during remembrance services), the Pomp and Circumstance Marches (including ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ – played every year at the Last Night of the Proms), concertos for violin and cello, and two symphonies. He also composed choral works, including The Dream of Gerontius (based on a poem by Birmingham’s Saint John Henry Newman and first performed in Birmingham’s Town Hall in the year 1900), chamber music and songs. He was appointed Master of the King's Musick in 1924.
Although Elgar is often regarded as a typically English composer, most of his musical influences were not from England but from continental Europe. He felt himself to be an outsider. It is worth noting that this self-taught composer was openly Catholic in a Protestant Britain where his Roman Catholicism was regarded with suspicion in some quarters. He never forgot his humble beginnings even when he became successful and achieved recognition for his music.
Elgar has been described as the first composer to take the gramophone and recorded music seriously. Between 1914 and 1925, he conducted a series of acoustic recordings of his works. The introduction of the moving-coil microphone in 1923 made far more accurate sound reproduction possible, and Elgar made new recordings of most of his major orchestral works and excerpts from The Dream of Gerontius.
Mr Baker February 2020
Gabriel Urbain Fauré was born on 12th May 1845 and died on 4th November 1924 in Pamiers, Ariège, in the south of France. He was a composer, organist, pianist and teacher. He was one of the most important French composers of his generation, and his musical style influenced many 20th-century composers such as Ravel.
Fauré’s was not an especially musical family, but his talent became clear when he was just a small boy. Aged nine, he was sent to the Ecole Niedermeyer music college in Paris, where he was trained to be a church organist and choirmaster. Among his teachers was Camille Saint-Saëns (himself a famous composer of such works as ‘The Swan’ ), who became a lifelong friend. After graduating from the college in 1865, he made his living as an organist and teacher, leaving him little time for composition, so he didn’t become a successful composer until his middle age years.
Towards the end of his life, Fauré was recognised in France as the leading French composer of his day and a national musical tribute was held for him in Paris in 1922. Outside France, Fauré's music took many years to become widely accepted, except in Britain, where his work was greatly admired during his lifetime.
Fauré's earlier works are among his most accessible and below are some YouTube links to his more famous pieces
Mr Baker August 2020
Percy Grainger was born on the 8 July 1882 and died on 20 February 1961. He was an Australian-born composer, arranger and pianist who, in his adult years, lived in America and became an American citizen in 1918.
During his career, he played an important role in reviving the public’s interest in British folk music in the early years of the 20th century. It is highly likely that many will be familiar with his piano and orchestral arrangements such as the folk-dance tune "Country Gardens" among others.
It is these well-known folk gems and stylistically similar compositions that I will link to here.
Mr Baker August 2020
With Olympics and Paralympics having taken place in Tokyo this year, I thought it would be a good idea to feature a modern Japanese composer this September.
Joe Hisaishi was born Mamoru Fujisawa on 6th December 1950 in Nagano – Japan. He is most well known for his film music, especially the classic anime films of Hayao Miyazaki such as Howl’s Moving Castle, Spirited Away, Kiki’s Delivery Service, My Neighbour Totoro and Princess Mononoke among others from the Studio Ghibli company.
He started learning the violin and the age of just four and he knew then that music would be central to his life. He also watched about 300 movies a year with his father. These two passions naturally saw him become a film composer after attending the Kunitachi College of Music in 1969 to major in music composition.
He enjoyed his first success in 1974 when he composed music for the anime series called Gyatoruzu and he has never looked back.
Why does he go by the name Joe Hisaishi when he was born Mamoru Fujisawa? Well it comes down to his admiration for the work of American musician and producer, Quincy Jones. Retranscribed in Japanese, "Quincy Jones" became "Joe Hisaishi". ("Quincy", pronounced "Kuinshī” in Japanese, can be written using the same kanji in "Hisaishi"; "Joe" comes from "Jones".)
Below are some links to some of his film music. There is much more to find as he has produced quite a lot!
Mr Baker September 2021
From the film – Howl’s Moving Castle
From the film – Spirited Away
From the film – Kiki’s Delivery Service
From the film – My Neighbour Totoro
From the film – Princess Mononoke
Other pieces –
Jacques François Antoine Marie Ibert was born on 15th August 1890 and died on 5 February 1962. He was a French composer of classical music. Ibert took to music from a very early age and eventually studied at the Paris Conservatoire where he excelled winning its top prize, the Prix de Rome, at his first attempt- despite his studies being interrupted by his service in World War I.
Ibert would go on to pursue a successful composing career, writing several operas, five ballets, incidental music for plays and films, works for piano solo, choral works, and chamber music. He is probably best remembered for his orchestral works including Divertissement (1928) and Escales (1922) – links to these and other works listed below.
Mr Baker October 2021
Sir Karl William Pamp Jenkins CBE, who was born on the 17th of February 1944, is a Welsh multi-instrumentalist and composer, best known for works that include the song "Adiemus" (once used to advertise Delta Airlines), Benedictus and Requiem.
Jenkins was educated in music at Cardiff University and the Royal Academy of Music. He joined the jazz-rock band Soft Machine in 1972 and became the group's lead songwriter in 1974. Jenkins continued to work with Soft Machine up to 1984. Jenkins has won the industry prize twice. Something of a musical trademark is his notable use of ‘Vocalise’ where singers sing not words, but sounds.
Mr Baker November 2021