In 1971, American film composer Bernard Herrmann confessed, "the only thing I ever did that was foolhardy was to write an opera." The opera was based on the 19th century novel Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. Herrmann began work on it in April of 1943, and didn't finish until today's date in 1951—at 3:45 p.m., as he noted in its score.
In those years, Herrmann was juggling three careers. He was conducting the CBS Orchestra, producing music for New York radio plays and occasional Hollywood films, and trying to write "serious" concert hall works. It's no wonder it took him eight years to finish a big opera score that clocked in at over three hours in length.
Now, writing an opera is hard enough, but getting it staged is even harder. Herrmann liked to quote Franz Liszt, that "to write an opera you have to have the soul of a hero—and the mentality of a lackey—to have it produced." Even if an opera company expressed interest, Herrmann refused to cut or alter his score. He felt Wuthering Heights was his masterpiece, and refused to compromise.
The opera was never staged during his lifetime, so Herrmann had to content himself with making his own studio recording of Wuthering Heights at his own expense. After Herrmann's death in 1975, the Portland Opera staged an edited-down version, and more recently, in 2011, the Minnesota Opera staged and filmed a critically acclaimed revival.
Music Played in Today's Program
Bernard Herrmann (1911 - 1975) Wuthering Heights soloists; Pro Arte Orch; Bernard Herrmann, conductor. Unicorn UKCD -2050/52
On This Day
1722 - Bohemian composer Georg Anton (Jirí Antonín) Benda, in Alt-Benatek, Bohemia;
1861 - Russian composer Anton Arensky, in Novgorod (Gregorian date: July 12);
1892 - Hungarian composer Laszlo Lajtha, in Budapest;
1958 - Finnish composer and conductor, Esa-Pekka Salonen, in Helsinki;
1987 - Spanish composer Federico Mompou, age 94, in Barcelona;
1924 - Gershwin: musical revue, "George White's Scandals of 1924," at the Apollo Theater in New York City; This show includes the classic Gershwin song "Somebody Loves Me" (lyrics by B.G. De Sylva and Ballard MacDonald).
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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.