Composers Datebook®

Da Ponte (and Mozart) in New York

Composers Datebook - May 23, 2024


In 1805, a 56-year-old Italian man of letters immigrated to America.

Now, there wasn’t much call for Italian men of letters in America in those days, so over the next twenty years, in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York, he was, by turns, a grocer, distiller, seller of patent medicines and owner of a dry goods shop. Eventually he was offered an honorary — that is to say unsalaried — position as Professor of Italian at Columbia University.

In 1825, a troupe of Italian opera singers visited New York, and our Italian professor friend attended their performances. He introduced himself to the head of the troupe, famous singer Manuel García, who was astonished to learn the elderly Italian gentleman was none other than Lorenzo da Ponte, the librettist of Mozart’s operas, The Marriage of Figaro, Cosi fan tutte and Don Giovanni.

And so it came about, that on today’s date in 1826, the American premiere of Mozart’s Don Giovanni was given in New York City, with García in the title role, in the presence of the man who had penned the opera’s libretto almost forty years earlier, a 77-year-old American citizen named Lorenzo da Ponte.

Music Played in Today's Program

Wolfgang Mozart (1756-1791) arr. Triebensee: Don Giovanni Suite; Amadeus Ensemble; Julius Rudel, conductor; MusicMasters 67118

On This Day


  • 1794 - Bohemian composer and pianist Ignaz Moscheles, in Prague;

  • 1864 - Danish composer Louis Glass, in Frederiksberg;

  • 1901 - English composer Edmund Rubbra, in Northhampton;

  • 1912 - French composer and pianist Jean Françaix, in Le Mans; The composer has written that his family name is pronounced with the final “x” sounded (as in “Aix”-en-Provence), although is commonly pronounced “Français” in both Europe and America

  • 1934 - American electronic engineer and inventor, Robert Moog (pronounced “Mohg”), inventor of the synthesizer bearing his name which was made famous by performers such as Wendy Carlos (of Switched-On Bach fame)


  • 1736 - Handel: opera Atalanta (Julian date: May 12)

  • 1814 - Beethoven: Fidelio Overture, in Vienna, as part of a third and final revision of the opera Fidelio, at the Kärntnertor Theater

  • 1876 - Brahms: String Quartet No. 3, in Berlin at the home of Clara Schumann by the Joachim Quartet. The work was subsequently performed for a small circle of friends at the Joachim home on June 4 that year, and given its first public performance in Berlin on October 30, 1876, again by the Joachim Quartet.

  • 1883 - Tchaikovsky: Festival Coronation March, in Moscow (Gregorian date June 4)

  • 1926 - Miaskovsky: Symphony No. 8, in Moscow

  • 1937 - William Grant Still: Lenox Avenue for narrator and orchestra, broadcast over the CBS radio network, with Howard Barlow conducting

  • 1943 - Barber: Commando March, in Atlantic City, New Jersey, with Army Air Force Technical Training Command Band, composer conducting

  • 1971 - Einem: Der Besuch der alten Damen (The Visit of the Old Lady), at the Vienna State Opera

  • 1971 - Sessions: cantata When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd (after Walt Whitman), in Berkley, California

  • 1993 - Daniel Pinkham: Nocturnes for flute and guitar, at the First and Second Church in Boston, by flutist Fenwick Smith and guitarist John Curtis


  • 1826 - American premiere of Mozart's opera Don Giovanni at New York City’s Park Theater, presented by members of the Garcia family with Lorenzo da Ponte (Mozart’s librettist) in the audience

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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®