Composers Datebook®

Bolcom's "Sonata Stramba"

Composer's Datebook - July 12, 2023


The Third Sonata for Violin and Piano written by American composer William Bolcom had its premiere on today’s date in 1993 at the Aspen Music Festival in Colorado. The work was commissioned to honor the 75th birthday of Dorothy Delay, a legendary violin teacher who taught at Juilliard for many years.

Now, the violin is a strange animal for composers to master, especially if they aren’t violinists already, and Bolcom subtitled his Third Violin Sonata “Sonata Stramba” –“stramba” being the Italian word for “strange” or “odd.”

Bolcom confessed to being fascinated by two musical sounds more than any other: the voice and the violin. “When I was about ten,” Bolcom recalls, “we trundled out my maternal grandfather’s imitation Stradivarius, made in Czechoslovakia, and I took a few not-very-successful lessons. When the violin was stolen out of the back seat of my father’s Buick that was the end of my studies of the instrument.”

Bolcom did become a very talented pianist, however, and befriended a violinist named Gene Nastri, who initiated the young composer into the mysteries of the instrument by performing Mozart and Beethoven Violin Sonatas with him, as well as the fledgling violin works written by the young composer.

Music Played in Today's Program

William Bolcom (b. 1938) Violin Sonata No. 3 (Irina Muresanu, vln; Michael Lewis, p.) Centaur 2910

On This Day


  • 1885 - German-born American composer Werner Josten, in Elbereld;

  • 1897 - Polish-born French composer Alexandre Tansman, in Lodz;

  • 1914 - French composer Maurice Ohana, in Casablanca;

  • 1941 - American jazz pianist and composer, Chick (Armando Anthony) Corea in Chelsea, Mass.;

  • 1952 - Scottish composer and conductor Oliver Knussen, in Glasgow;


  • 1917 - Venezuelan composer, pianist, conductor and singer, (Maria) Teresa Carreño, (Maria) Teresa, age 63, in New York City;

  • 1962 - British composer John Ireland, age 82, in Rock Mill, Washington (Sussex), England;


  • 1913 - Florent Schmitt: ballet "La Tragédie de Salomé" (The Tragedy of Salome), at the Théâtre des Champes-Elysées" by the Ballet Russe, Pierre Monteux conducting;

  • 1917 - Pfitzner: opera "Palestrina," in Munich at the Prinzregententheater, with Bruno Walter conducting;

  • 1926 - Szymanowski: opera "King Roger," in Warsaw at the Teatr Wielki;

  • 1928 - European premiere of Stravinsky: ballet "Apollon musagete," at the Sarah Bernhardt Theater in Paris, choreographed by Georges Balanchine; The world premiere performance of this work had occurred in Washington, D.C., on April 27, 1928, choreographed by Adolf Bohm;

  • 1938 - Leonard Bernstein's first public performance as composer-pianist in Brookline, Mass., performing his "Music for the Dance" Nos. 1 and 2 and "Music for Two Pianos" with Mildred Spiegel;

  • 1946 - Prokofiev: opera "War and Peace" (1st version), in Leningrad;

  • 1952 - Bernstein: chamber opera "Trouble in Tahiti," at Brandeis University as part of the first Festival of the Creative Arts, with composer conducting;

  • 1961 - Martinu: opera "The Greek Passion," in Zürich at the Stadttheater;

  • 1962 - Mayzumi: symphonic poem "Samsara," in Tokyo;

  • 1964 - Britten: church opera "Curlew River," in Orford Church, near Aldeburgh;

  • 1974 - Elie Siegmeister: String Quartet No. 3 ("on Hebrew Themes"), at Elkins Park, Pa., by the Vieuxtemps Quartet;

  • 1987 - Morton Feldman: "For Samuel Beckett," for chamber ensemble, in Amsterdam;

  • 2002 - Jennifer Higdon: "Concerto for Orchestra," in Philadelphia at the American Symphony Orchestra League National Convention, by the Philadelphia Orchestra, Wolfgang Sawallisch conducting;


  • 1933 - The first "concert" performance of the Duke Ellington Orchestra takes place at the London Palladium during the ensemble's first visit to England; Previously the orchestra had only performed at night clubs, dance halls, hotels and other "informal" entertainment venues; It would be ten years before Ellington would present a concert performance at Carnegie Hall in New York (on January 23, 1943).

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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®