William Grant Still (1895-1978)
African American Composer, Arranger, Conductor & Oboist
Dean of African American Composers
On this date in 1895, William Grant Still was born. He was an African American musician and composer.
Still was the first African American to conduct a major symphony orchestra, the first African-American to have an opera, “Troubled Island” (1949) performed by a major opera company, and the first to have an opera, “A Bayou Legend,” performed on national television (1981).
The period from 1926 to the early 1940s was Still’s most prolific. During this time he wrote “Levee Land” (1925), a suite for orchestra and soprano that combines traditional western musical elements with jazz; “From the Black Belt” (1926), a work for chamber orchestra based on seven short character sketches; “Sahdji” (1930), a choral ballet based on an African story, and “Afro-American Symphony.”
Composer Amilcare Ponchielli was born in Italy in 1834. He started composing operas while still a student at the Milan Conservatory. After graduating in 1854, he held various positions over the years, including professor of composition at the Conservatory; his pupils included Giacomo Puccini and Pietro Mascagni. His most famous opera is “La Gioconda”, written in 1876. It is mainly remembered for its ballet, Dance of the Hours.
Dance of the Hours stands out as the only operatic ballet from this genre to have established a life of its own both inside the concert hall and in pop culture…Perhaps the most iconic use of this music is in Disney’s 1940 film “Fantasia”, where it underscores the questionable talents of a dance company comprised of hippos, ostriches, and alligators. Later it surfaced again as a number two hit on the pop charts in 1963, this time with words by parodist Alan Sherman. It may be difficult now to listen to this music without remembering the opening words of an alarmist child’s letter to his parents from summer camp: “Hello Mudda, Hello Fadda…”.
Ponchielli’s biography~ http://www.allmusic.com/artist/amilcare-ponchielli-mn0000496351/biography
Synopsis of “La Gioconda“~ https://www.thoughtco.com/la-sonnambula-synopsis-724264
Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky (March 21 [O.S. March 9] 1839 – March 28 [O.S. March 16] 1881) was born into a wealthy rural, landowning family. He began by picking out on the piano the tunes he heard from the serfs on his family’s estate. At the age of six, he began to study piano with his mother. His parents initially set him out on the career of military officer. He became a cadet and finally commissioned in an elite imperial regiment. Two years later, in 1858, he resigned his commission. During this time, he met a musically-inclined army doctor: Alexander Borodin. The two became friends. In 1861, with Russia’s emancipation of the serfs, his family lost significant income, and he was forced to earn a living. In 1863, he began a spotty career in the civil service…In 1856, he met the composer Dargomïzhsky, who in turn introduced him to Cesar Cui, Mily Balakirev, and a critic named Victor Stasov. Gradually, Borodin and Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakoff joined to form a loose group known as the “Moguchaya Kuchka” (“the mighty handful” or “the mighty bunch”).
See also: https://schristywolfe.com/2015/05/05/viktor-hartmann-born-may-5-1834/