Composers Datebook®

Rehearsing Monteverdi and Reich

Composer's Datebook - Nov. 21, 2022


Today, a letter: written on this date in 1615 by the Italian composer Claudio Monteverdi to a friend at the court of the Duke of Mantua.

The letter accompanied a vocal score that Monteverdi hoped would convince the Duke to commission a much larger work. After detailed instructions regarding the positioning of the singers and the instruments Monteverdi adds—almost as an afterthought—this line: “If you could let the singers and players see the music for an hour before His Highness hears it, it would be a very good thing indeed.”

Talk about “authentic performance practice!”

It probably took more than an hour’s rehearsal for the U.S. premiere of American composer Steve Reich’s intricate setting of four Hebrew psalm fragments—titled “Tehillim”—which took place in Houston, Texas, on today’s date in 1981. Back then, Reich was already famous as one of America’s leading “minimalist” composers, but a search for fresh directions coincided with Reich’s rediscovery of his Jewish heritage, and “Tehillim” was the result.

“For me,” says Reich, ”the most important aspect of a piece of music, mine or someone else’s, is its emotional and intellectual effect on performers and audiences—I find it basically impossible to separate the emotional and intellectual aspects of a piece of music.“

Music Played in Today's Program

Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643) Orfeo Monteverdi Choir; English Baroque Soloists; John Eliot Gardiner, cond. Erato 88032

Steve Reich (b. 1936) Tehillim Schoenberg Ensemble; Percussion group The Hague; Reinbert De Leeuw, Cond. Nonesuch 79295

On This Day


  • 1852 - Spanish guitarist and composer Francisco Tárrega, in Villarreal, Castellon;

  • 1877 - German composer and organist Sigfrid Karg-Elert, in Oberndorf-am-Neckar;

  • 1931 - Australian composer Malcolm Williamson, in Sydney;


  • 1695 - English composer Henry Purcell, age 36, in Westminster, London;

  • 1710 - Italian composer Bernardo Pasquini, age 72, in Rome;

  • 1938 - Polish-born American piano virtuoso and composer Leopold Godowsky, age 68, in New York City;

  • 1974 - Swiss composer Frank Martin, age 84, in Naarden, Holland;


  • 1723 - Bach: Sacred Cantata No. 70 ("Wachet! Betet! Betet! Wachet!") performed on the 26th Sunday after Trinity as part of Bach's first annual Sacred Cantata cycle in Leipzig (1723/24);

  • 1831 - Meyerbeer: opera, "Robert le Diable," at the Paris Opéra;

  • 1896 - Dvorák: symphonic poem "The Noonday Witch," Op. 108, in London;

  • 1901 - R. Strauss: opera "Feuersnot" (Fire Famine), in Dresden at the Hofoper, conducted by Ernst von Schuch;

  • 1935 - Stravinsky: Concerto for Two Pianos, the composer and his son as soloists;

  • 1937 - Shostakovich: Symphony No. 5, by Leningrad Philharmonic, Yevgeny Mravinsky conducting;

  • 1939 - Shostakovich: Symphony No. 6, by Leningrad Philharmonic, Yevgeny Mravinsky conducting;

  • 1941 - Hindemith: Symphony in Eb, by the Minneapolis Symphony, Dimtri Mitropoulos conducting;

  • 1945 - Britten: String Quartet No. 2 in C, Op. 36, in London, by the Zorian Quartet;

  • 1947 - Persichetti: Symphony No. 3, by the Philadelphia Orchestra, Eugene Ormandy conducting;

  • 1974 - Peter Mennin: Symphony No. 8, Daniel Barenboim conducting New York Philharmonic;

  • 1984 - Gunther Schuller: "Concerto Quarterino" for flute, oboe, trumpet & orchestra, Zubin Mehta conducting New York Philharmonic, which commissioned it;

  • 1986 - John Harbison: cantata "The Flight into Egypt," at the New England Conservatory of Music, with soprano Lorraine Hunt, baritone John Osborne, and the Camerata Singers, David Hoose conducting; This work won the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 1987;

  • 1989 - Michael Torke: “Rust” for piano and winds, at the Huddersfield (U.K.) Contemporary Music Festival, by the Orkest de Volharding;

  • 1996 - George Perle: "Transcendental Modulations," Jahja Ling conducting New York Philharmonic, a 150th anniversary commission;

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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.

About Composers Datebook®