In the opinion of General George Washington, a commanding plateau on the west bank of the Hudson River, about 40 miles north of New York City, was a key strategic position during America’s War for Independence. Washington selected Thaddeus Kosciuszko,* one of the heroes of the Battle of Saratoga, to design fortifications there in 1778, and transferred his headquarters to this “West Point” in 1779. In 1802, after America’s independence had been won, President Thomas Jefferson signed legislation establishing a United States Military Academy at West Point.
150 years later, in 1952, the West Point Military Band decided to observe the Academy’s Sesquicentennial by asking prominent composers to write celebratory works to mark the occasion. A number of composers responded, including the French composer Darius Milhaud. Milhaud’s “West Point Suite” was premiered by the West Point Band at Carnegie Hall on today’s date in 1952, with Captain Francis Resta conducting, and proved to be one of the most successful and oft-performed of these Sesquicentennial pieces.
The previous year, Milhaud had paid a visit to West Point to hear the band, as he wanted to assess both their size and ability. He was impressed by what he heard—and surprised as well when the band struck up “Happy Birthday” in his honor. It seems that both Milhaud and his wife had completely forgotten that their September 4th visit coincided with the composer’s 60th birthday!
Music Played in Today's Program
Darius Milhaud (1892 - 1974) — West Point Suite, Op. 313 (Liszt Academy Symphonic Band; Laszlo Marosi, cond) Hungaroton 32066
On This Day
1792 - American composer Peter Wolle, in New Herrnhut, St. Thomas, West Indies;
1871 - American composer Frederick Shepherd Converse, in Newton, Massachusetts;
1880 - Russian composer and pianist Nicolai Medtner, in Moscow (Julian date: Dec. 24, 1879);
1881 - Russian composer Nicolai Roslavetz, in Dushatino, Chernigov region, Ukraine (Julian date: Dec. 24, 1880);
1869 - Russian composer Alexander Dargomizhsky (Gregorian date: Jan. 17);
1970 - Catalan-born British composer Roberto Gerhard, age 73, in Cambridge, England;
1979 - American jazz composer and bassist Charles Mingus, age 56, in Mexico City;
1677 - Lully: opera "Isis," in Paris;
1727 - Bach: Sacred Cantata No. 58 ("Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid" II) performed on the Sunday after New Year's Day as part of Bach's third annual Sacred Cantata cycle in Leipzig (1725/27);
1745 - Handel: musical drama "Hercules" at the King's Theater in London (Gregorian date: Jan. 16);
1868 - Bruch: Violin Concerto in g, Op. 26 (final version), in Bremen, with Karl Martin Rheintahler conducting and Joseph Joachim the soloist; An earlier version of this work had been premiered on April 24, 1866, which Bruch substantially revised with the assistance of Joachim;
1884 - Gilbert & Sullivan: operetta, "Princess Ida," at the Savoy Theatre in London;
1932 - Ravel: Piano Concerto for the Left Hand, in Vienna, with Vienna Symphony conducted by Robert Heger, with Paul Wittgenstein (who commissioned the work) as soloist;
1941 - Mark Blitzstein: opera "No for an Answer," in New York City;
1949 - Henry Cowell: Symphony No. 5, at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C., by the National Symphony, Hans Kindler conducting;
1949 - Morton Gould: symphonic suite, "Fall River Legend," Pierre Monteux conducting San Francisco Symphony Orchestra;
1961 - Easley Blackwood: Symphony No. 2, in Cleveland (commissioned by music publisher G. Schirmer to celebrate its centenary);
1962 - Ross Lee Finney: Piano Quintet No. 2, in Los Angeles;
1973 - Pierre Boulez: ". . . explosante/fixe" at a concert by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center in New York City.
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About Composers Datebook®
Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.
He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.