Anniversaries of 2011

The year 2011 is not quite as rich in musical anniversaries as was 2010, but delving a little deeper and more obscurely, there are a number of interesting ones.

The reason they are of interest is the way in which, at least for those with a certain sort of mental condition, they lead one to follow paths that look curious, that ring bells of recognition in a lateral sense.

The following, starting in the Renaissance, might lead you to follow up by reading or by seeking out recordings that will enrich the depth and range of your cultural equipment. We include a number of non-musical anniversaries, perhaps guided by personal interests in other spheres.

We begin in 1511 with the publication of Erasmus’s In Praise of Folly. (1511)

Then in 1561, again in the realm of thinkers/writers – seminonacentennial (450th) of the birth of the English philosopher and scientist Francis Bacon (1561-1626), one of the claimants, by the weird race of Shakespeare-deniers, as author of the plays and poems.

1611 saw the death of great Spanish Renaissance polyphonic composer Tomás Luis de Victoria (born in 1548).

It was the year of publication of a collection of keyboard music by Bull, Byrd and Gibbons called Parthenia.

It was also the year of the publication of the King James Bible, the year’s most famous event in the English-speaking world, and arguably the most powerful influence on English prose style.


In 1661 we encounter the first musical anniversaries with the death of Louis Couperin, not quite as gifted as his nephew François Couperin (who was born in 1668).

Georg Böhm was born in 1661.

Opera was flourishing by now. Cavalli was the most important figure around 1661 – his Ercole amante premiered in 1662.

But his lesser contemporary, Cesti, produced his La Dori in Florence in 1661.


A very important opera premiere took place in 1711: Handel’s Rinaldo, his first in London.

William Boyce was born in 1711: the greatest English composer, with Arne, of the 18th century.

And the slightly less known Jean-Joseph Cassanea de Mondonville, violinist and opera composer.

David Hume, Scottish philosopher and historian was also born in 1711.


1761 saw the start of Haydn’s career, with his appointment in this year to the Esterhazy court.

The last phase of Gluck’s career, his association with librettist Calzabigi, was about to start, though this year he produced his famous ballet, Don Juan. His first reform opera, Orfeo ed Euridice, came in 1762.

However, another Armida was premiered in 1761 – by Tommaso Traetta, one of the most important composers of the period. (Gluck’s Armide was not till 1777, in Paris)

Artaserse – not the one by Arne of 1762 that has recently become famous – but by J C Bach, was first performed in Turin.

Novelist Samuel Richardson (Pamela) died in 1761.


1811 yields a fairly interesting collection with the birth of Liszt and of Ambroise Thomas, whose Hamlet has been seen recently in the Metropolitan Opera HD in cinemas. (Hamlet was staged in 1868).

Ferdinand Hiller was born. Perhaps he’s more famous for Reger’s ‘Hiller Variations’ for orchestra.

Rossini’s second opera, L’equivoco stravagante, was produced in Bologna.

And Weber’s Abu Hassan. in Munich.

Novelist William Thackeray was born in 1811.

And so was poet, music critic and Romanticist par excellence Théophile Gautier (Berlioz set his poems in his Les nuits d’été).


1861 just misses important births on either side – Mahler, Albeniz, Delius, Debussy.

There were three lesser figures:

Charles Loeffler, violinist and composer, born in Alsace in 1861.

Marco Bossi was born at Lake Garda, one of the chief Italian composers seeking to revive non-operatic music after a century of opera domination of Italy.

And Anton Arensky, born at Novgorod, and much influenced by Tchaikovsky, best known for a fine Piano Trio and Variations on a Theme of Tchaikovsky.

Notable operas seem scarce in 1861, though there are important ones on either side such as Ballo in maschera, Faust, La forza del destino.

However, Offenbach was riding high; he produced five operas-bouffes in the year, including M. Choufleuri restera chez lui and Le pont des soupirs.

1861 was the year of Melba’s birth.

Brahms wrote his Op 24 (Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel), and the two piano quartets, Opp 25 and 26.


Great Expectations was published 1861 and poetess Elizabeth Barrett Browning (Robert’s wife), born in 1806, died.


1911 saw most famously, the death of Mahler.

It was also the year of the births of Menotti, Armenian-American composer Hovhaness and film composer Bernard Hermann.

Also, for francophile organ-afficionados – the brilliant French composer/organist Jehan-Ariste Alain was born; he was killed in the war in 1940.

That links major interests for this reviewer. Please forgive this quote from Wikipedia:

“Alain became a dispatch rider in the Eighth Motorised Armour Division of the French Army. On 20 June 1940, he was assigned to reconnoitre the German advance on the eastern side of Saumur, and encountered a group of German soldiers at Le Petit-Puy. Coming around a curve, and hearing the approaching tread of the Germans, he abandoned his motorcycle and engaged the enemy troops with his carbine, killing 16 of them before being killed himself. He was posthumously awarded the Croix de Guerre for his bravery, and according to [musicologist] Nicolas Slonimsky was buried, by the Germans, with full military honours.”

Jehan was the brother of distinguished organist Marie-Claire Alain. He received musical tributes from admiring contemporaries Dutilleux and Duruflé.

1911 is famous for the premieres of Der Rosenkavalier and the ballert Petrushka.

There were a few other opera centenaries: Saint-Saëns’s Déjanire, Ravel’s L’heure Espagnole, Debussy’s Le martyre de Saint Sébastien, Mascagni’s Isabeau, Zandonai’s Conchita, Wolf-Ferrari’s The Jewels of the Madonna. Most are awaiting modern revivals.

There were three significant deaths in 1911.

I encountered the Lithuanian composer, Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis, on a visit to Vilnius ten years ago, and was quite impressed by his music. He was born in 1875; he was also an important painter whose works can be seen in the M. K. Čiurlionis National Art Museum in Kaunas. He was a ’synesthete’; that is, he perceived colors and music simultaneously. Many of his paintings bear the names of musical pieces: sonatas, fugues, and preludes.

The notable organ organist and composer Félix-Alexandre Guilmant, born in 1837, died in 1911.

So did Norwegian composer Johan Svendsen (born in 1840).


Percy Grainger (born in 1882) died 1961. So did Thomas Beecham (born 1869).

Ernest Hemingway, born in 1899, died in 1961.

Shostakovich’s Tenth Symphony was premiered.

The only opera I can see premiered that year was Hindemith’s The Long Christmas Dinner, based on a short story by Thornton Wilder, written in English; but it had its premiere in Mannheim in German translation in 1961. It was performed some years ago by the then Wellington Conservatorium of Music.

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