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Lucky for some

February 13, 2015

Michael Daugherty

Today’s 24 hours form an interesting axis in time. While in some parts of the world people will be surfacing to Valentine’s Day, lush emotions coursing through their veins, and anaemic wallets drained by roses, chocolates and candlelight dinner bookings, others will be dealing with sweaty palms, cancellation of travel plans and a meticulous avoidance of ladders propped against walls. For today is Friday the 13th. In Western superstition, this is the day when catastrophe will indiscriminately dish out its calling card. For many of a nervous disposition the number 13 on its own is a harbinger of doom, 24/7, on Fridays or any other day of the week. There are occasions, however, when events give the lie to such qualms.

Anyone on the Naxos team will be nodding in agreement at this point, as we find our feet again after the annual roller-coaster of hopefulness known as the Grammy Awards. This year, the awards ceremony was held on February 8, but in 2011 the 53rd Grammy Awards were presented in Los Angeles on February 13. This proved a bumper Harvest Day for Naxos, with the label scooping six awards—for Best Orchestral Performance, Best Instrumental Soloist, Best Chamber Music Performance, Best Engineered Classical Album, Producer of the Year (Classical) and Best Classical Contemporary Composition. That last accolade went to Deus Ex Machina (8.559635) by the American composer Michael Daugherty. It’s a piano concerto inspired by trains. To whet your whistle, here’s the opening of the last movement

Didgeridoo
Source: Wikimedia Commons
Aboriginal art
Source: art-educ4kids.weebly.com

February 13, 2008 was another propitious day, this time for certain residents of Australia, when the country’s then Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, made an historic apology to the Indigenous Australians and the Stolen Generations, a salve for the mistreatment of the country’s Aboriginal people. Their traditional art and music is far from being set in cultural aspic, with contemporary visual artworks receiving international attention and traditional music being fused with vibrant European styles. The didgeridoo is the Aboriginal musical instrument that first springs to most people’s minds. I last heard one being played alongside the Australian Chamber Orchestra, when the performer’s circular breathing delivered a 15-minute, non-stop kaleidoscope of improbable sounds from the unsophisticated looking instrument. ‘One-breath’ performances can go on for much longer. Here’s a snatch of such artistry on the instrument (8.558022).

Gioachino Rossini

Admittedly, Friday 13 November, 1868 wasn’t so lucky for Gioachino Rossini, who died on that date. I’ve heard of famous conductors clutching their favourite scores at their moment of departure, but I wonder what was going through Rossini’s mind at that fateful moment. Long retired from opera by that stage, maybe it was a snatch from his Sins of Old Age, jolly collections of piano pieces in which flippancy is often close to the surface. Perhaps he died wearing a half-smile, staring death in the face while recalling imitating a parrot during Les raisins: A ma petite perruche (8.573107).

A suffragette
Source: newmanchesterwalks.com

February 13, 1883 was the date Richard Wagner died of a heart attack in Venice; February 13, 1968 saw the demise of the Italian composer Ildebrando Pizzetti; in contrast, February 13, 1907 witnessed a momentous occasion in central London that eventually led to a significant birth. It was the day when several hundred suffragettes marched on Parliament, scuffled repeatedly with police officers and managed to funnel a handful of determined ladies into the lobby of the Houses of Parliament. Their aim was to secure the vote for women, which they partially delivered eleven years later.

Let’s end today’s post, therefore, by spotlighting one particular woman composer who was already coming of age on that tumultuous day in British history and doing her bit to help create passports for other women to enter the male-dominated scene of classical composers.

Lou Koster
Source: Composer’s estate

Lou Koster (1889–1973) was a Luxembourgian composer and pianist whose scores suffered the unfortunate and all-too-usual banishment to the attic after her death. Happily, the majority of her work has now been restored to daylight. Here’s the opening of Lore-Lore (8.573330), a waltz dedicated to her sister Lore. Curiously, if not spookily, it was the only work to which Koster ever attached an opus number. You’ve probably already guessed it: Op. 13.

 

 

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