Composers Datebook

Varese and Zappa

Edgar Varèse (1883 - 1965) Ionisation New York Philharmonic; Pierre Boulez, cond. Sony 45844 Frank Zappa (1940 – 1993) Dog Breath Variations Cincinnati Conservatory Wind Symphony; Eugene Corporon, cond. Mark 1116


Composers Datebook for November 7, 2020

2:00


November 07, 2020

Synopsis

The November 7th, 1950 issue of Look magazine included a record review of a new LP of music by the avant-garde composer Edgard Varèse. “Varèse is unlike anything else in music,” suggested the review, “and well worth knowing.”

A young Californian named Frank Zappa, just short of his 10th birthday, was fascinated by the Look magazine photo of Varèse accompanying the review, which made the composer look a little like a mad scientist in vintage horror films. The young Zappa felt compelled to hunt down the record and begin composing music himself. For his 15th birthday, Zappa chose to spend a $5 gift from his parents on a long-distance phone call to Varèse, who Zappa correctly guessed must live in New York’s Greenwich Village.

Today, Frank Zappa is best remembered as the head of the iconoclastic rock band of the 60s and 70s, The Mothers of Invention, but in 1983, Zappa also conducted works of Varèse at a San Francisco concert honoring the composer’s centenary, and always acknowledged Varèse as a major influence. One of Zappa’s final projects, recorded in 1993, the last year of his life, was an orchestral tribute to Varèse.

Music Played in Today's Program

Edgar Varèse (1883 - 1965) Ionisation New York Philharmonic; Pierre Boulez, cond. Sony 45844

Frank Zappa (1940 – 1993) Dog Breath Variations Cincinnati Conservatory Wind Symphony; Eugene Corporon, cond. Mark 1116

On This Day

Births

  • 1810 - Hungarian composer Ferenc (Franz) Erkel, in Gyula;

  • 1859 - Russian composer Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov, in Gatchina (Gregorian date: Nov. 19);

  • 1905 - English composer William Alwyn, in Northampton;

Deaths

  • 1983 - French composer Germaine Tailleferre, age 91, in Paris;

Premieres

  • 1723 - Bach: Sacred Cantata No. 60 ("O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort" I)performed on the 24th Sunday after Trinity as part of Bach's first annual Sacred Cantata cycle in Leipzig (1723/24);

  • 1867 - Liszt: "Dante Symphony" in Dresden;

  • 1875 - Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 3, in Moscow (Gregorian date: Nov. 19);

  • 1924 - American premiere of Mussorgsky (arr. Ravel): “Pictures at an Exhibition,” by the Boston Symphony, Serge Koussevitzky conducting;

  • 1934 - Rachmaninoff: "Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini," in Baltimore, by the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Leopold Stokowski, with the composer as soloist;

  • 1940 - Stravinsky: Symphony in C, by the Chicago Symphony, with the composer conducting; This work was commissioned by Mrs. R. Woods Bliss in honor of the Chicago Symphony's 50th Anniversary;

  • 1987 - Daniel Asia: "Scherzo Sonata" for piano, at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., by pianist Jonathan Shames (who commissioned the work);

  • 1988 - Leo Ornstein: Piano Sonata No. 7, at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, by pianist Marvin Tartak;

  • 1991 - Christopher Rouse: “Karolju” for chorus and orchestra, the Baltimore Symphony and Chorus, David Zinman conducting;

  • 1997 - Peter Maxwell Davies: Piano Concerto, in Nottingham, England, with soloist Kathryn Stott and the Royal Philharmonic, conducted by the composer;

Others

  • 1785 - The first American musical society founded at Stoughton, Massachusetts;

  • 1950 - A "Look" magazine feature on composer Edgar Varèse attracts the attention of 9-year old Frank Zappa and leads to a life-long fascination with the music of Varèse; Zappa would later found the unconventional rock band "The Mothers of Invention."