Gounod's "Faust":
The opening of Edith Wharton’s novel “The Age of Innocence” takes place at New York’s old Academy of Music in the early 1870s, during a performance of Charles Gounod’s “Faust,” a French grand opera based on the classic German play by Goethe. At the time specified in Wharton’s novel, Gounod’s opera was still “new” music, having premiered about a dozen years earlier in Paris on today’s date in 1859. Gounod’s “Faust” became a worldwide success, and was quickly translated into many languages. In Wharton’s fictional New York performance, for example, the real-life Swedish diva Christine Nilsson sang the role of Marguerite, the pure German maiden seduced and abandoned by Faust. As Wharton puts it: “She sang, of course, ‘m’ama!” and not “he loves me,’ since an unalterable and unquestioned law of the musical world required that the German text of French operas sung by Swedish artists should be translated into Italian for the clearer understanding of English-speaking audiences.” Nilsson, again singing in Italian, sang Marguerite at the 1883 gala opening night performance of “Faust” at New York’s newly built Metropolitan Opera House. “Faust” was performed so often there that the building was soon dubbed the “Faust-spielhaus,” a pun on Wagner’s German “Festpielhaus” or “Festival Theater” in Bayreuth. Despite its good tunes, Gounod’s sentimental opera fell out of favor around the time of the First World War, but soon bounced back into the core repertory of opera houses worldwide—only these days, more often than not, it’s sung in French.

Mobberley's Piano Concerto:
All artists, including composers, are frequently urged to “write what they know.” Well, if that’s the case, then any new and sleep-deprived parent can probably relate to music which supposedly depicts a late-night session with a new-born baby. It’s the middle movement of a Piano Concerto that was given its premiere on today’s date in 1994 by the Kansas City Symphony, with Bill McGlaughlin conducting and Richard Cass the piano soloist. This new Concerto was by the Kansas City composer James Mobberley, who writes: “The piece is in three movements, each of which reflects a different emotional side of parenthood. The first movement represents the excitement and hysteria of forthcoming childbirth. The middle movement begins with amazingly soft moments following childbirth but leads into the period of sleeplessness and total chaos that inevitably follows. The final movement represents the wonderful fun and unpredictable interactions that start to happen, beginning with the child’s first smile.” Composer James Mobberley was born in Iowa in 1954, raised in Pennsylvania, and earned music degrees from the University of North Carolina and the Cleveland Institute of Music. Since 1983 he’s taught at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, balancing his teaching duties there with his composition work, which includes a wide range of concert and theatrical pieces, some combining electronic and live performing elements.

Loeffler and Anderson in Boston:
Today we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in Boston (where else?), noting two musical premieres in that Celtic city. The first was in March of 1922, when Pierre Monteux conducted the Boston Symphony in the premiere of three of the “Five Irish Fantasies” by the German-born American composer Charles Martin Loeffler. These were settings for solo voice and orchestra of poetry by William Butler Yeats, and, for their Boston premiere, the vocalist was none other than THE great Irish tenor, John McCormack. In 1947, the Eire Society of Boston commissioned another American composer, Leroy Anderson, to write an “Irish Suite” for its annual Irish night at the Boston Pops. Anderson used six popular Irish tunes, ranging from the sentimental to the exuberant, for his suite… skillfully arranging them into an immediate hit and lasting success. Arthur Fiedler conducted the premiere during the Pops’ summer season that year.

Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco:
On today’s date in 1968, a 72-year old Italian-born American composer named Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco died in Beverley Hills, California. As a young man, Castelnuovo-Tedesco was already known as a rising composer, concert pianist, music critic and essayist. In 1939 he left Mussolini’s Italy and came to America, and like a lot of European musicians of the time, he found work writing film scores for major Hollywood studios. Castelnuovo-Tedesco became an American citizen, and eventually taught at the Los Angeles Conservatory, where his pupils included many famous names from the next generation of film composers, including Jerry Goldsmith, Henry Mancini, Andre Previn, Nelson Riddle and John Williams. In addition to film scores, Castelnuovo-Tedesco composed a signifigant body of concert music, including concertos for the likes of Heifetz and Sergovia. One high point in the composer’s post-war career occurred in the 1960s, when his Shakespearean opera “The Merchant of Venice” was staged in both Italy and Los Angeles. A number of Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s works are directly related to his Jewish faith, including a choral work from 1947, entitled “Naomi and Ruth.” The composer’s mother was named Naomi, and he claimed the faithful Ruth in the Biblical story reminded him of his own wife, Clara. “In a certain sense,” he wrote, “it was really my symbolic autobiography, existing before I decided to write—to open my heart—in these pages.”

Dohnanyi’s Second Symphony:
Ernest von Dohnanyi’s Second Symphony was written during the closing years of World War II, begun during the German occupation of his native Hungary in early 1944, and finished after his flight to Vienna later that same year as Soviet troops advanced from the east. According to his wife, Dohannyi was so focused on the composition of this work, that on one occasion she had to tear him away from his desk to seek shelter during an Allied air raid. Dohnanyi was wrongly accused of being a Nazi sympathizer, even though he had resigned from the Liszt Music Academy and disbanded the Budapest Philharmonic rather than dismiss any Jewish musicians. His strong anti-Soviet views also made him persona non grata with the post-war Communist government in Hungary. Dohnanyi eventually found a new home in America, where he taught at Florida State University in Tallahassee. He and his wife became American citizens in 1955. Dohnanyi’s Second Symphony received its first performance by a semi-professional orchestra in London in 1948, but he revised it substantially for its American premiere on today’s date in 1957 by the Minneapolis Symphony under Antal Dorati. In its final movement, Dohnanyi quotes the Bach chorale, “Komm, Susser Tod” (Come, Sweet Death), and in program notes for the Minneapolis performance, quotes the Hungarian playwright Imre Madach: “The goal is death. Life is a struggle.”