Classical KUSC


Mozart's Bank Statements

Posted By: Bartel's Blog · 1/27/2016 1:29:00 AM

Among the many myths surrounding Mozart is the one that has him living hand to mouth in his final years and dying a pauper. But recent research and estimates made by scholars and economists reveal a different story. For instance, two such economists in New York, William and Hilda Baumol, estimate that Mozart’s income in the last decade of his life, when most wage earners lived at the edge of subsistence, was thoroughly middle class by today’s standards. Using the commonly held standard that the 1786 Austrian florin could buy roughly as much as $9 today, it can be estimated that Mozart earned $50,000-$60,000 in today’s money. Those figures look even better when one considers that the purchasing power of the average wage in Mozart’s Vienna was about one-seventh in America today, placing Mozart’s income solidly in Vienna’s upper middle class.

Mozartean scholar Volkmar Braunbehrens arrives at a similar conclusion, ...

The Magic Flute Without Myths

Posted By: Dennis Bartel · 1/26/2016 5:44:00 PM

This Saturday, at the Brand Library in Glendale, the L.A. Opera Speakers Bureau presents a discussion focused on The Magic Flute. This is a free event, 2:00 - 3:00 P.M. So I thought I'd toss these facts into the conversation in advance.


These things we know for certain. It is the spring of 1791 and Mozart is in desperate debt. He owes at least twelve of his brothers at the Benevolence Masonic Lodge, including thirty-thousand (in today's dollars) to one member, while his annual income has dwindled by half to about forty-thousand. His wife of nine years, Constanze, is pregnant again, for the sixth time, and ill; gone with their only child Karl to the spa at Baden for convalescence.

Faced with such straits, Mozart agrees to collaborate on a Singspiel (a German musical with comic patter) with an old acquaintance, Emanuel Schikaneder (pictured right), a longtime singer, actor ...

Boléro: A Perfect Ten

Posted By: Dennis Bartel · 1/24/2016 1:26:00 PM

1. The dancer Ida Rubinstein commissioned Boléro, originally asking for Ravel to orchestrate pieces from Albéniz's Iberia. Instead, Ravel composed an original piece, which received its premiere at the Paris Opéra, November 22, 1928 by Mme Rubinstein's troupe, Walther Straram conducting.

2. In an interview published in London's Evening Standard, February 24, 1932, Ravel said, "I love going over factories and seeing vast machinery at work. It is awe-inspiring and great. It was a factory which inspired my Boléro. I would like it always to be played with a vast factory in the background."

3. The first recording of Boléro, on four 78-rpm sides, was made in January 1930 at the Salle Pleyel, by a pick-up Paris orchestra under Piero Coppola, an Italian conductor and composer active in Paris in the 1920s and 30s who lived to sing the praises of Boléro into the 1970s. Ravel supervised the recording session, ...

Your Brain on Music

Posted By: Dennis Bartel · 12/30/2015 11:32:00 AM

Researchers at the University of Florida have developed a cool way for us to understand the psychology of music, how dozens of receptors in the brain respond to rhythm, tempo, tone, and other aspects of music. Take a look and see how your brain responds to music, the benefits of listening to music, and what your brain may derive from a music education.

The Nutcracker: Dark Spirits in the Christmas Lights

Posted By: Dennis Bartel · 12/15/2015 2:17:00 PM

Showing the rosy health of a ballet half its age, The Nutcracker, still comes around every Christmas, arriving in a flourish of pizzicato strings and tinkling triangles, exuding homey warmth, innocence, and sugary good cheer.  It proceeds to the holiday’s center stage and dances for audiences in the millions.  And yet -- kind reader, beware -- beneath its divertissement (shimmering!), beneath its perfumed pageantry, The Nutcracker also harbors a disconsolate spirit.

Before embarking on the ballet, Tchaikovsky was enjoying a rare period of fleeting happiness.  It was the summer of his fiftieth year.  Peter Ilyich told his friends he felt more at ease and sure of his talents than at any time in years.  His music, including five symphonies, was receiving praise across Europe.  Recently, Sleeping Beauty had scored a great success at the Imperial Theatre in St.  Petersburg.  He was flattered, as one is flattered by the praise of ...

Powerful Medicine

Posted By: Dennis Bartel · 12/2/2015 4:34:00 PM

In the 1880s, as a struggling musician in his twenties, Edward Elgar worked five years as "composer in ordinary" at the quaintly-named Worcester City & County Pauper & Lunatic Asylum at Powick. He conducted a motley band and glee club, and composed polkas and quadrilles for the entertainment of patients.

Personally, I've often found Elgar's Enigma Variations more soul-troubling than soothingly therapeutic, as great music often can be. Conversely, the great composer's ode to childhood, The Wand of Youth, is not so great but far more soothing. Judging from the repertoire at Powick (consisting of light fare), music's calming qualities were most sought at the asylum, the superintendent of which believed in the therapeutic powers of music, though he was backed by no official medical sanction at the time.

One-hundred thirty years later, music has been codified as a therapeutic tool. Doctors at hospitals and psychiatric facilities commonly encourage patients ...

Classical Dogs

Posted By: Dennis Bartel · 11/8/2015 1:24:00 PM

Listen closely and soon you will hear, coming from out back of the timpani, the sound of dogs in classical music. Many of the Great Composers kept dogs. Some put dogs into their music.

The Mozart family dog, a fox terrier, was named Bimbes, though the prodigy Wolfy changed her name to the southern German diminutive Bimperl. So pleased was he with this clever dog-eared ornamentation that he similarly re-christened his sister Anna to Nannerl.

Correspondence by the Mozart family is tracked with mentions of Bimberl. Whenever traveling, Wolfy seldom failed to send "a thousand kisses to Bimberl."

At twenty-one, Mozart went with his mother to Paris where the young genius hoped to land a job. But his was a long, dark stay in the City of Lights, and turned tragic when Frau Mozart died.

Back in Salzburg, Nannerl kept her brother informed as to his dear Bimberl, describing how ...

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