Composers and other interesting people

Mr. Rogers 

from an article on  –  “15 reasons Mr. Rogers was best neighbor ever”

[regarding Mr. Rogers’ daily routine:]  waking up at 5 a.m.; praying for a few hours for all of his friends and family; studying; writing, making calls and reaching out to every fan who took the time to write him; going for a morning swim; getting on a scale; then really starting his day […]

He didn’t smoke, didn’t drink, didn’t eat the flesh of any animals, and was extremely disciplined in his daily routine.  […]

Mister Rogers seems to have been almost exactly the same off-screen as he was onscreen. As an ordained Presbyterian minister, and a man of tremendous faith, Mister Rogers preached tolerance first.  Whenever he was asked to castigate non-Christians or gays for their differing beliefs, he would instead face them and say, with sincerity, “God loves you just the way you are.” Often this provoked ire from fundamentalists.  […]

Mister Rogers was known as one of the toughest interviews because he’d often befriend reporters, asking them tons of questions, taking pictures of them, compiling an album for them at the end of their time together, and calling them after to check in on them and hear about their families. He wasn’t concerned with himself, and genuinely loved hearing the life stories of others.

And it wasn’t just with reporters. Once, on a fancy trip up to a PBS exec’s house, he heard the limo driver was going to wait outside for 2 hours, so he insisted the driver come in and join them (which flustered the host).

On the way back, Rogers sat up front, and when he learned that they were passing the driver’s home on the way, he asked if they could stop in to meet his family. According to the driver, it was one of the best nights of his life the house supposedly lit up when Rogers arrived, and he played jazz piano and bantered with them late into the night. Further, like with the reporters, Rogers sent him notes and kept in touch with the driver for the rest of his life.

Please read the rest of the article here.

 And for those interested in urban legend, check out what snopes has to say about rumors regarding Mr. Rogers.


Claudius Conrad


Published: May 20, 2008

For Claudius Conrad, a 30-year-old surgeon who has played the piano seriously since he was 5, music and medicine are entwined — from the academic realm down to the level of the fine-fingered dexterity required at the piano bench and the operating table. 

“If I don’t play for a couple of days,” said Dr. Conrad, a third-year surgical resident at Harvard Medical School who also holds doctorates in stem cell biology and music philosophy, “I cannot feel things as well in surgery. My hands are not as tender with the tissue. They are not as sensitive to the feedback that the tissue gives you.”

Like many surgeons, Dr. Conrad says he works better when he listens to music. And he cites studies, including some of his own, showing that music is helpful to patients as well — bringing relaxation and reducing blood pressure, heart rate, stress hormones, pain and the need for pain medication.

But to the extent that music heals, how does it heal? The physiological pathways responsible have remained obscure, and the search for an underlying mechanism has moved slowly.

Now Dr. Conrad is trying to change that. He recently published a provocative paper suggesting that music may exert healing and sedative effects partly through a paradoxical stimulation of a growth hormone generally associated with stress rather than healing.

Please read the rest of this very intriguing article here.


Jill Bolte Taylor

(posted March 16, 2008) 

Neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor had an opportunity few brain scientists would wish for: One morning, she realized she was having a massive stroke. As it happened — as she felt her brain functions slip away one by one, speech, movement, understanding — she studied and remembered every moment. This is a powerful story of recovery and awareness — of how our brains define us and connect us to the world and to one another.

This video was recorded February 2008 in Monterey, California. (Duration: 18:44).  Here is a link  to the page with the video; it also contains a transcript.


Henry Charles Litolff

(Posted February 6, 2008)

190 years ago, Henry Litolff was born in London.  According to Jeffrey Engel (who used to write for the Arts and Amusements section in The Voice News), as well as Wikipedia, Litolff’s birthday is today; both The Grove Dictionary and The Dictionary of Composers and Their Music put his birthday on August 7, 1818.  

Litolff’s life was far from boring as an article by Jeffrey Engel points out.

Because his parents disapproved of their now seventeen-year-old son’s intention to marry a girl of sixteen, the young lovers eloped to France. An extended stay in Paris enabled him to interact with numerous influential musicians. One, the Belgian music critic and historian Fétis, advised him to go to Brussels. He concertized there for two years and also left his wife. A visit to Warsaw came next, where he turned to conducting before moving on to Germany. In Dresden he befriended the Von Bulows and taught their young son Hans, the future great pianist, conductor and first husband of Cosima Wagner.

Litolff was lured back to London in 1845 by his in-laws, who promised him a divorce. Instead, he was slapped with a lawsuit, lost the litigation and was obliged to pay an enormous sum of money. Unable to do so, Litolff was hauled off to debtor’s prison, languishing in it for several months. He managed to escape, thanks to the jailer’s daughter, and fled to Holland.

As was not unusual for composers, Litolff took an interest in music publishing:

Around 1846 Litolff became acquainted with Gottfried Meyer, a music publisher in Brunswick in north-central Germany. After finally obtaining a divorce he married the now-widow Meyer, took over her deceased husband’s business and changed its name to his own. The good musical contacts made over the years helped him to prosper as a publisher. In 1860 he handed over the firm to his adopted stepson Theodor, who turned it into an even greater success with his “Litolff’s Bibliothek Classischer Compositionen.” Inaugurated in 1864, these inexpensive and accurate editions of classical music served as a model for other publishers. The company was bought by Peters of Leipzig in 1940.

While in Brunswick, Litolff organized major music festivals, engaging friends like Berlioz, Liszt and Von Bulow. In 1858 he divorced the widow Meyer and settled permanently in Paris, ending nearly a quarter of a century of peregrinations. Two years later he wed Louise de La Rochefoucauld, the daughter of a count. Following her death in 1873, he married a seventeen-year-old who had nursed him through poor health the previous year.

During his itinerant years, Litolff concentrated on a virtuoso career playing primarily his own works.  […] His memory is kept alive by a single movement from the piano concerto symphonique #4 in d minor, op. 102.

Perhaps not as famous as the above mentioned single movement from his fourth Concerto Symphonique, but available to those who are lucky enough to find it – there exists a CD, The Romantic Piano Concerto, Vol. 2, with compositions by Ferdinand Hiller, Felix Mendelssohn, Ignaz Moscheles, Carl Reinecke, Joseph Rheinberger, and Henry Litolff.  On Amazon, you can listen to a sampler of Litolff’s Concerto Symphonique for Piano and Orchestra No. 3 in E flat, Op. 45.

James Stobart, conductor of the Norfolk Symphony Orchestra, suggests in one of his program notes:

If ever a musician lived the “Romantic” ideal to the full it was Henry Litolff. […] These tantalising glimpses of an eventful life make one wish for a good, juicy drama-documentary to reveal the detail. The plot seems good, certainly plenty of feminine interest, and the accompanying music would be excellent. Any takers?


Niels Gade

(Posted February 22, 2008)

Today is the birthday of Danish composer Niels Wilhelm Gade who was born in 1817.  Died December 21, 1890.  His name is pronounced Gah-day, with a long “a” (like in “father”).

Niels Gade was a composer, conductor, violinist, organist and teacher. He is considered the most important Danish musician of his day.  Supported by a fellowship from the Danish government, Gade moved to Leipzig, teaching at the Conservatory there, working as an assistant conductor of the Gewandhaus Orchestra, and befriending Mendelssohn, who had an important influence on his music. He also became friends with Robert Schumann.

At Mendelssohn’s death in 1847, Gade was appointed to his position as chief conductor but was forced to return to Copenhagen in the spring of 1848 when war broke out between Prussia and Denmark.

While his piano compositions may not be as famous as those of other Romantic composers, his name is nevertheless familiar to pianists.  All the letters of his last name, G-A-D-E, can be found in the musical alphabet.  Composers have often incorporated external, non-musical, ideas in their compositions.  Johann Sebastian Bach was famous for his use of numbers and mathematical patterns which influenced intervals and the structure of many of his compositions. 

Robert Schumann, in true Romantic fashion, used political events, poems, numbers, and, perhaps most pervasively, letters of names that were meaningful to him, in his compositions.  The subtitle of “Nordisches Lied” – Opus 68, No. 41, one of the pieces in his collection Album für die Jugend (Album for the Young) – is “Gruß an G.” (greeting to G.) which, even though Schumann does not explain nor elaborate, is a clear reference to Niels Gade.  How can one tell?  Look at the first four notes of the melody: G-A-D-E.  Schumann doesn’t leave it at that, though. These four notes become a melodic motive that is used in a sequence (measure 3-4), and then quoted again with one different note in the bass which changes the harmony ever so slightly (measures 5-6), inverted (measures 9-10), and harmonized differently (measures 13-14), before he quotes one last time measures 5-6.


Another composer whose name has been used for musical purposes (by himself, as well as others) is Johann Sebastian Bach. 

Using B-A-C-H in music doesn’t seem to make sense – the musical alphabet uses only the first seven letters of the alphabet, there’s no “H” – until you realize that German musicians use different letters.  The note that sounds like a “B” to Americans, is called ”H” in German.  The German “B” is the American “B flat”.  So, Bach’s name, if you play it correctly, sounds like  B flat – A – C – B (natural)  – a rather tense (because chromatic) motive that on top of everything else lends itself splendidly to sequencing.  But that’s a topic for another post. 


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