What to Expect in 2013

Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) and Peter Pears (1910-1986) buried side by side in the Aldeburgh Parish Cemetery. A marriage begun in 1933.(Photo: Photo Courtsey of Photo the Aldeburgh Festival)
Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) and Peter Pears (1910-1986) buried side by side in the Aldeburgh Parish Cemetery. A marriage begun in 1933.(Photo: Photo Courtsey of Photo the Aldeburgh Festival)

A lot of concerts. A lot of operas. A lot of new recordings and videos on the market. A lot of celebration.

I was born in 1956 so I don’t remember anything of the Mozart bicentennial celebrations of that year. I looked it up and saw Figaro this and Don Giovanni that and Haffner this other. I’m sorry to have missed it all.

I remember 1991 or course, the 200th anniversary of Amadeus’s death. For some people the world-wide concerts 200 years later produced burnout for some by Halloween. Not me.

Brace yourselves for 2013. Giuseppe Verdi, the Italian patriot and peerless composer of Italian and French language opera, would have been 200. He was born in his father’s tavern at Le Roncole near Busetto and died rich and lionized in 1901.

Verdi left us La traviata, Rigoletto, Aida, Un ballo in maschera, Nabucco. There are 20 more besides these, every one from Shakespeare Macbeth, Otello, Falstaff to Joan of Arc, Giovanna d’Arco.

Want a challenge? Describe Wagner in 50 words or less. The old saw goes that Richard Wagner (1813-1883) is the subject of more books than anyone but Jesus Christ-and its a close shave. I imagine the composer would have liked that. 

Wagner fancied himself an aesthetic, a philosopher and a writer. His anti-Semitic rants were adopted by pure evil in Germany two generations later. He wanted to be more than a composer who smashed all the rules of harmony and reinvented, well, music with his term gestamtkunstwerken which translates to works of total art. Mozart and Verdi called their operas — operas.

I find Wagner impossible to love and impossible to resist. The music is simply too rich and too invasive. The Opera Tristan und Isolde is about delayed gratification. Wagner’s chromaticism here is a greater art than any concubine’s. The Ring Cycle, all 19 hours of it is unlike any thing else in the world. But I come back to Tristan, a brave knight and a proud Irish princess fall in love, with desperate consequences.

And then there is Benjamin Britten. His 100th birthday would have been in 2013 — he died in 1976. The Queen Mother attended his funeral. Not bad for a nice choir boy from middle class family.

Britten, like Mozart excelled everywhere: chamber music, opera and especially sacred music. Rostropovich, Dennis Brain and Fischer-Dieskau were among those for whom he wrote music. Peter Grimes was completed in 1945, and is the first notable British opera since Henry Purcell’s death in 1695. Britten expanded on Purcell for his Young Persons Guide to the Orchestra.

His forty-year marriage to Peter Pears in every sense, but the legal dared the public criticism. Pears died 10 years after Britten. They are buried side-by-side in the church yard at Aldeburgh on the English coast.

On to 2013 then. Here on Classical 101, at the Columbus Symphony, ProMusica, Chamber Music Columbus, Ballet Met, Opera Columbus, there will never a dull moment. I promise.

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