In the 19th century, the German spa town of Baden-Baden was the place to be in the summer. Wealthy international tourists could bathe in artesian wells by day, and by night, gamble at the casino or attend performances at a splendid theater modeled on the Paris Opera.
That theater opened on today’s date in 1862 with the premiere of a new comic opera by the French composer Hector Berlioz, based closely on Shakespeare's comedy ‘Much Ado About Nothing', and titled “Beatrice and Benedict” after the witty pair of lovers in the play. The composer himself conducted.
“A great success,” Berlioz wrote the next day. “…applauded from beginning to end. I was recalled to the stage I don’t know how many times.” Despite the success, Berlioz confessed, “My infernal neuralgia was so bad that I mounted the podium …without feeling the slightest emotion. This bizarre indifference meant I conducted better than usual!”
Despite making light of his increasing illness, possibly Crohn’s Disease, this opera proved to be his last work, and Berlioz had only a few more years to live. His biographer David Cairns writes: "Listening to the score's exuberant gaiety, only momentarily touched by sadness, one would never guess that its composer was in pain when he wrote it and impatient for death.”
Music Played in Today's Program
Hector Berlioz (1803–1869) –”Beatrice and Benedict” Overture (Boston Symphony; Charles Munch, cond.) RCA Victor Gold Seal 61400
On This Day
1781 - Austrian composer, violinist, and conductor Michael Umlauff, in Vienna; He conducted the orchestra, chorus, and soloists assembled for the premiere performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony at Vienna's Kärtnertor Theater on May 7, 1824; After the totally deaf Beethoven set the initial tempos for each movement, the performers were instructed to ignore Beethoven if he continued to beat time, and to follow Umlauf;
1874 - Venezuelan-born French composer, conductor and music critic Reynaldo Hahn, in Caracas;
1875 - English light music composer Albert William Ketèlbey, in Aston;
1919 - Italian composer Ruggero Leoncavallo, age 62, in Montecatini;
1975 - Soviet composer Dmitri Shostakovich, age 68, in Moscow;
1988 - Italian composer Giacinto Scelsi, age 83, in Rome;
1862 - Berlioz: opera "Beatrice and Benedick," in Baden-Baden at the Neues Theater, with the composer conducting; The libretto (by Berlioz himself) is based on Shakespeare's comedy "Much Ado About Nothing";
1949 - Orff: opera "Antigone," in Salzburg at the Felsenreitschile;
1972 - London premiere of Andrew Lloyd-Webber: musical "Jesus Christ Superstar";
1978 - Dave Brubeck: oratorio “Beloved Son,” at the American Lutheran Women’s Convention in Minneapolis, Minn., with Richard Sieber conducting;
1979 - Hanson: ballet "Nymph and Satyr" in Chautauqua, Tennessee;
1988 - Peter Maxwell Davies: Symphony No. 5, during a BBC Proms Concert at London's Royal Albert Hall, by the Philharmonia Orchestra, with the composer conducting;
1703 - J.S. Bach appointed organist at Neuekirche, Arnstadt (see also: August 4 and 14)
1928 - Australian-born American composer Percy Grainger marries Swedish poet and painter Ella Viola Strom at the Hollywood Bowl in front of an audience of 22,000 concert-goers; Grainger conducted the LA Philharmonic Orchestra in a performance of his "To a Nordic Princess," dedicated to his bride.
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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.