Cocteau and Glass:
Jean Cocteau was a French novelist, playwright, stage and film director, poet, essayist, painter, set designer, and actor. And if that wasn’t enough, at the end of the First World War, Cocteau also became the unofficial spokesperson for “Les Six,” or “The Six,” a group of young composers that included Darius Milhaud, Francis Poulenc, Arthur Honegger, Louis Durey, Germaine Tailleferre, and Georges Auric. In 1945, Cocteau directed his own cinematic adaptation of the classic fairytale “Beauty and the Beast,” and in 1950, a modern-dress retelling of the ancient Greek myth of “Orpheus.” Decades after Cocteau’s death in 1963, the American composer Philip Glass prepared new musical accompaniments to both these classic films. In an interview Glass said, "For me, Cocteau has always been an artist whose work was central to the 'modern' art movement of the 20th century. More than any artist of his time, he again and again addressed questions of art, immortality and the creative process.” This music is from Glass’s version of Cocteau’s “Beauty and the Beast,” which debuted in Gibellina, Italy on today’s date in 1994. The original soundtrack for Cocteau’s film was replaced by synchronized live performances by the singers and instrumentalists of the Philip Glass ensemble, who accompanied a screening of Cocteau’s uncut 95-minute film during a series of live performances. TIME magazine called this new version of “Beauty and the Beast” (quote), "An exhilarating and original ride... Remarkable not only in conception but also in execution, brimming with freshets of melody and surging with Wagnerian power in conjuring up a magic kingdom."

Anderson and Golijov for the record:
It’s a mark of unusual success when a new musical work is recorded shortly after its premiere, and even more unusual when the recording session itself IS the premiere. But that was the case with many of the works written by the American composer Leroy Anderson, whose short and tuneful compositions from the 1940s, 50s and 60s proved enormously popular during his lifetime—many still are today. On June 20, 1962, Anderson was at New York’s Manhattan Center, conducting for Decca Records the premiere of his “Clarinet Candy.” By recording in the summer months, when many of New York’s best symphonic players were available for studio work, Anderson was able to round up top-notch musicians for his recording sessions. The contemporary Argentinean-born composer Osvaldo Golijov has also proved popular enough to have many of his brand-new works recorded either at their premieres or shortly thereafter. This Klezmer-style clarinet piece is entitled “Rocketekya,” and was written for the 20th anniversary of New York’s Merkin Hall. Golijov explained: “I thought it would be interesting to write a different sort of celebratory piece, and I had an idea of a shofar blasting inside a rocket—an ancient sound propelled toward the future.”

A Monster Concert for Peace:
On today’s date in 1869, a visitor to Boston’s Back Bay could have marveled at a huge, new wooden structure sporting American flags and surrounded by a mini-village of peanut vendors and lemonade stands. Inside, an orchestra of 1000 sat surrounded by a chorus of 10,000. Over the stage hung giant portraits of Handel and Beethoven, and higher yet depictions of two angels gazing heavenwards by a banner reading “Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward Men.” “Christmas in June, you ask?” No, the audience of 12,000 had assembled for what was billed as a “Great National Peace Jubilee” organized by bandmaster Patrick Gilmore. The June 19th concert marked the end of a 5-day festival of music and reconciliation, as America tried to mend the wounds caused by its recent Civil War. Former Union General and current President Ulysses S. Grant was on hand, and the New York Times opined that the Jubilee offered proof that, “our people can think of something beyond mechanical inventions and the almighty dollar.” During the Jubilee, the massive orchestra and chorus performed selections ranging from “classical” works by Bach and Mozart to more recent works by Meyerbeer and Verdi. A musical assessment of the Peace Jubilee appeared on today’s date that year from the pen of John S. Dwight, Boston’s leading music critic of that day, who found the great chorus “glorious and inspiring” and the huge orchestra “splendid but hard to hear.” However, he dismissed a performance of Verdi’s “Anvil Chorus,” accompanied by 100 real anvils, as a “childish, trivial thing for such a grand occasion.”

Pleyel in the Old World (and the New):
Drop the name “Pleyel” among a group of classical music aficionados and one of them might say, “Oh, yeah, Pleyel. He was a French piano maker. I think Chopin liked Pleyel pianos.” Another might add, “He was a composer, too, but... I don’t think he was really French…” Another might add, “Didn’t he have something to do with Haydn?” Well, they’re ALL right. Ignace Joseph Pleyel was born near Vienna on today’s date in 1757. As a teenager, he became a pupil of Haydn, and in 1791, ended up in London, where, for a time, Pleyel’s orchestral concerts even competed with Haydn’s. The two remained friends, however, dined together and even attended each other’s programs. In 1795, Pleyel set up shop in Paris, where he founded a publishing house and piano factory. His own compositions remained enormously popular. In 1805, Pleyel travelled to Vienna, visited the aging Haydn and heard that young upstart Beethoven improvising at the piano. In 1822, the small town of Nantucket, Massachusetts, then still a whaling port, formed a Pleyel Society ‘to chasten the taste of listeners,’ in the words of a local newspaper. According to the New Grove Dictionary of Music, “The most telling evidence of the appeal of Pleyel’s music lies in the thousands of manuscript copies that filled the shelves of archives, libraries, churches, castles and private homes, and in the thousands of editions of his music produced in Europe and North America.” Pleyel died at his estate near Paris in 1831.

Bach and Mattheson:
Back in 1714, today’s date fell on a Sunday, and, if you had happened to be attending a church service at the German Court of the Duke of Weimar, you might have heard some new music by the Duke’s court composer and organist, Johann Sebastian Bach. It’s possible that Bach’s Cantata No. 21 was first performance that day: its first part performed before the sermon, its second part right afterwards. The opening text, which Bach sets as a fugue, begins “Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis” or, in English, I had much affliction.” Now even in Bach’s day, composers were afflicted with critics, including snide remarks in print from fellow composers. In 1725, a then-famous composer—and critic—Johann Mattheson took Bach to task for the way in which he had set his text by quoting exactly what is being sung: "I, I, I, I had much affliction, I had much affliction, in my heart, in my heart. I had much affliction, in my heart…” etc… Mattheson’s point, apparently, was that vocal music should not stutter, but flow gracefully in the “gallant” style that was becoming more fashionable and trendy back then. Even so, Mattheson knew that Bach was the real deal, and earlier had praised Bach in print for church and keyboard music so well written that (quote), “we must certainly rate this man highly.”