Composers Datebook®

Argento in Italy

Composers Datebook - Jan. 26, 2024


On today’s date in 1966, a symphonic work by American composer Dominick Argento received its premiere performance by the Minneapolis Civic Orchestra at the St. Paul Campus Student Center of the University of Minnesota. The work was titled Variations for Orchestra (The Mask of Night) for orchestra and soprano soloist. For the premiere performances, the vocal soloist was Argento’s wife, soprano Carolyn Bailey.

The music was composed in Florence, Italy.

“I vividly remember the circumstances that inspired it,” Argento wrote. “Our seventh-floor apartment in the Piazza Pitti overlooked the Boboli Gardens and behind it, out of sight, was a military barracks. Every night at 10 o’clock, a bugle solemnly intoned the Italian equivalent of taps. The sound seemed to be the voice of the garden itself — moonlit, deserted, cypress-scented and mysterious. ... The trumpet theme is a 12-tone row whose first six notes, I later realized, form the opening phrase sung by the Queen of the Night in Mozart’s The Magic Flute, a role my wife had often performed.”

“Consequently,” Argento concluded, “these variations are much indebted to my favorite city, my favorite writer, my favorite composer and my favorite soprano.”

Music Played in Today's Program

Dominick Argento (1927-2019) Variations for Orchestra (The Mask of Night); Plymouth Music Series Orchestra; Philip Brunelle, cond. Virgin 91184

On This Day


  • 1924 - American composer Warren Benson, in Detroit, Michigan;


  • 1795 - German composer Johann Christioph Friedrich Bach, age 62, in Bückeburg

  • 1993 - American composer and teacher Kenneth Gaburo, age 66, in Iowa City;


  • 1732 - Handel: opera "Ezio" (Julian date: Jan.15);

  • 1790 - Mozart: opera, "Così fan tutte," in Vienna at the Burgtheater;

  • 1873 - Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 2, in Moscow (Gregorian date: Feb. 7);

  • 1882 - Borodin: String Quartet No. 2 in D, in St. Petersburg (Gregorian date: Feb. 7);

  • 1905 - Schoenberg: symphonic poem "Pelleas und Melisande," in Vienna, with the composer conducting;

  • 1908 - Rachmaninoff: Symphony No. 2 in St. Petersburg (Gregorian date: Feb. 8);

  • 1911 - Richard Strauss: opera, “Der Rosenkavalier,” in Dresden at the Hofoper, conducted by Ernst von Schuch, with vocal soloists Margarethe Siems (Marschallin), Eva von der Osten (Octavian), Minnie Nast (Sophie), Karl Perron (Baron Ochs), and Karl Scheidemantel (Faninal);

  • 1920 - Prokofiev: "Overture on Hebrew Themes," in New York by the Zimro Ensemble, with the composer at the piano;

  • 1922 - Vaughan Williams: Symphony No. 3 "Pastoral," by the Royal Philharmonic, London, Sir Adrian Boult conducting;

  • 1934 - Roy Harris: Symphony No. 1, by the Boston Symphony, Serge Koussevitzky conducting;

  • 1952 - Ernst von Dohnányi: Violin Concerto No. 2, in San Antonio, Texas;

  • 1957 - Bernstein: "Candide" Overture (concert version), by New York Philharmonic conducted by the composer; The musical "Candide" had opened at the Martin Beck Theater in New York City on December 1, 1956;

  • 1957 - Poulenc: opera, "Les dialogues des carmélites" (The Dialogues of the Carmelites) in Milan at the Teatro alla Scala, Nino Sanzogno conducting;

  • 1962 - Diamond: Symphony No. 7, by the Philadelphia Orchestra, Eugene Ormandy conducting;

  • 1966 - Dominick Argento: Variations for Orchestra and Soprano (The Masque of Night"), at the St. Paul Campus Student Center of the University of Minnesota, by the Minneapolis Civic Orchestra, Thomas Nee conducting, with soprano Carolyn Bailey; A second performance took place on Jan. 27th at Coffmann Memorial Union on the Minneapolis campus of the University of Minnesota;

  • 1967 - Frank Martin: Cello Concerto, in Basel, Switzerland;

  • 1994 - Elisabetta Brusa: “La Triade” for large orchestra, by the Tirana (Albania) Radio and Television Orchestra, Gilberto Serembe conducting;

  • 1994 - Christopher Rouse: Cello Concerto, by the Los Angeles Philharmonic conducted by David Zinman, with Yo-Yo Ma the soloist;

  • 1995 - Joan Tower: "Duets for Orchestra," by the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, Christoph Perick conducting.

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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.

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