Lawrence Wall

World Cup of Classical Music

As we head into the Round of 16 of the 2014 World Cup, learn about notable compositions from each of the countries in our World Cup of Classical Music. The first games begin Saturday, June 28 with Brazil vs. Chile and go through Tuesday, July 1 with Belgium vs. The United States. The round features composers of great international fame, and others of lesser notoriety. Just like the teams themselves, however, the composers are the pride  of their respective countries. Take a look and see the composer and composition of each Round of 16 country:

Saturday, June 28, 2014 | 12:00 p.m. ET

BrazilHeitor Villa-Lobos
Bachianas brasileiras
Bachianas brasileiras is a set of nine pieces for various instrumental and vocal groups, in which a contrapuntal technique in the manner of Bach is applied to themes of Brazilian origin. Each of his twelve symphonies alludes to a historic event or place.


ChilePedro Humberto Allende
La Voz de las Calles
La Voz de las Calles is a symphonic poem inspired by local merchants’ yells throughout the streets. The work is considered a national exaltation of Chile through music and it premiered at El Teatro Unión Central de Santiago.

Saturday, June 28, 2014 | 5:00 p.m ET

ColombiaGuillermo Uribe Holguín 
Tres Danzas (Three Dances)
Born in Bogotá in 1880, Holguín is perhaps one of Colombia’s most important cultural figures of his time. He composed in many genres and founded the National Symphony Orchestra of Colombia. His Tres Danzas represents one of his finest orchestral works.


UruguayPedro Ipuche Riva
Concierto para piano y orquesta
This concierto for piano and orchestra is one of Riva’s most well-known works. Perhaps one of the most famous Uruguayan composers, Riva became instrumental in establishment of classical music in Uruguay throughout the twentieth century.

Sunday, June 29, 2014 | 12:00 p.m. ET

NetherlandsLouis Andriessen
De Staat
De Staat is a large choral work based on Plato’s Republic, sung in the original Greek.


MexicoCarlos Chávez 
Sinfonia No. 2, “Sinfonía india” 
“Chávez’s music is unmistakably Mexican in its melodic patterns and rhythmic inflections. From indigenous Mexican music he took the uses of percussion, straightforward rhythms, and old forms of harmony and melody.” (Britannica Online)

Sunday, June 29, 2014 | 4:00 p.m. ET
Costa Rica

Costa RicaLuis Diego Herra
Pieza para Teclado
Luis Diego Herra, a modern Costa Rican composer, represents the recent revitalization of classical music in Costa Rica. His “Pieza para Teclado” is a piano composition.


GreeceManolis Kalomiris 
Greek Folk Dance
Manolis Kalomiris founded the Greek National School of Music and was one of the most prominent Greek composers of his time. He admired the likes of Richard Wagner and Rimsky-Korsakoff, and he used Greek fold rhythms throughout his compositions. His “Greek Folk Dance” is an example of this trend.

Monday, June 30, 2014 | 12:00 p.m. ET

FranceGabriel Faure
The best known of Fauré’s large works, the Requiem contains the famous soprano aria Pie Jesu. Most of the text is in Latin and the composer follows a French Baroque tradition. While only slightly altering the texts of the Introit, Kyrie, Pie Jesu, Agnus Dei, and In Paradisum, Faure dramatically changed the text of the Offertory.


NigeriaFela Sowande 
Considered the “father of modern Nigerian art music,” Sowande is the most famous African composer of works in the classical genre. His “Akinla” is a work for chamber orchestra and shows his prowess in composition.

Monday, June 30, 2014 | 4:00 p.m. ET

GermanyRichard Wagner 
Die Walküre 
An opera in three acts, Die Walküre is the second of the four operas that form Wagner’s cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen. The opera is based on Norse mythology and it’s most popular excerpt is the famous “Ride of the Vakyries.”


AlgeriaEl Hadj M’Hamed El Anka
Lahmam Li Rabito
Perhaps the most popular Algerian composers and musicians of classical music, El Hadj became known as “The Grand Master of Andalusian classical music.” “Lahmam Li Rabito” is one of his most popular works and clearly shows Andalusian influences.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014 | 12:00 p.m. ET

ArgentinaAlberto Ginastera 
Don Rodrigo 
Don Rodrigo is an opera in three acts to an original Spanish libretto by Alejandro Casona. Plácido Domingo had his international breakthrough by singing the title role at the US premiere of the opera by the New York City Opera.


SwitzerlandFrank Martin
Le Vin herbe
Le Vin herbe is an oratorio based on transcendent erotic themes. Finished in 1940, Frank Martin relates in music the Tristan and Isolde story as told in Joseph Bedier’s novel.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014 | 4:00 p.m. ET

BelgiumCésar Franck 
Symphony in D minor
The most famous orchestral work composed by the 19th century Belgian César Franck, the work took two years to complete and premiered at the Paris Conservatory in 1889, just a year before the composer’s death.

United States

USAAaron Copland
Billy the Kid
Aaron Copeland composed the music for this ballet based on the legend of Billy the Kid. The music evokes the image of the American West and prairie life. The ballet was so popular when it debuted that Copland extracted a concert suite from the larger work. This is the form most frequently heard today.

Stay tuned for the next round of the 2014 World Cup of Classical Music and see who moves on!

Tchaikovsky 101, Part 1 of 4

 Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky


Born in 1840 in the Ural Mountain town of Votkinsk, Russian Empire, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky was the second of six children. From his early years he showed a different quality than his siblings. He maintained an unusual charm and sensitiveness, which caused a sense of vulnerability.

Musically, his talents became apparent during these formative years. When he was eight years old, he was known to reproduce on the piano arias from W. A. Mozart’s Don Giovanni that he had heard from an orchestration of the work. He became passionate about music, but his family, particularly his father Ilya Petrovich, did not believe music represented a respectful profession. Petrovich, went so far as to enroll his son in boarding-school in Saint Petersburg when they moved there following his Governmental appointment as a mine manager.

It is believed that the young Tchaikovsky, having received tender caring by his family, was treated more sternly by his teachers. This treatment supposedly created the low spirit that pervaded the composer throughout his life.[1]

Tchaikovsky's home

Tchaikovsky’s home in Klin, Russia, where he wrote his 6th Symphony and lived until his death in 1893. The home is now the Tchaikovsky Museum.

After his boarding-school education, his parents placed him in School of Jurisprudence in St. Petersburg. Soon thereafter, Peter’s mother passed away suddenly from a cholera attack. The event traumatized the young Peter. He responded to her death by attempting his first musical composition in her honor. The early portion of Peter’s life provides a glimpse into his later musical works. His melodies reflect his depression and pessimism that remained evident throughout his life.

An outwardly shy and reserved individual, Tchaikovsky became capable of strong inner strength and maintained a powerful conviction to compose masterful music.[2] He most likely would have provided a psychologist with a rather compelling subject and his distraught nature is reflected throughout his music.


Next week: In part 2 of Tchaikovsky 101, we will examine the opera Eugene Onegin and the turbulent stage of Tchaikovsky’s life that surrounded the work. The composer’s mental state around the time reflects a change in the opera’s tone compared to his earlier operas. Eugene Onegin represented a desire to escape from his depression.


[1] Alexander Poznansky. “Tchaikovsky: The Quest for the Inner Man” (New York: Maxwell Macmillan, 1991), 3-17.

[2] Edwin Evans. Tchaikovsky (London: Temple Press, 1935), 53.


Tchiakovsky 101:

Part 1: Tchiakovsky’s Life

Part 2: Eugene Onegin

Part 3: The Nutcracker

Part 4: Symphony No. 6


5 Things You May Not Know About Charles Gounod

Born in Paris in 1818, Charles Gounod was a French composer who became prominent through his operas. Most noted for Faust (1852), he also composed many others such as Roméo et Juliette (1867) and La Colombe (1860; The Dove).

While known primarily for these operas, he also composed cantatas, oratorios, and masses. Among one of his most famous non-operatic works is the “Ave Maria.” While these famous works are widely known, other facts about the French composer are not. Here are five things you may not know about Charles Gounod:

  1. His musical gifts were largely due to the teachings of his mother, who was a pianist. During his childhood and before he entered school, Gounod was taught music by his mother. When he was old enough to begin school, his musical talents became obvious.
  2. His first opera was Rossini’s Otello. Later in this same year, Gounod would attend Mozart’s Don Giovanni and become particularly influenced by the work. Mozart remained a constant admiration for Gounod throughout his life.
  3. While studying in Paris, he primarily studied theology, expecting to become a priest. Born in Saint-Cloud, a town near Paris, Gounod earned a degree in Philosophy. Afterwards he moved to Paris. He studied music with Anton Reicha, but spent most of his time in Paris studying theology and soon entered the seminary of Saint-Sulpice. He then decided a priestly lifestyle was not for him and returned to music, specifically to the composition of operas.
  4. Out of many operas based of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Gounod’s opera has become the most popular in the operatic repertory. Romeo and Juliet has influenced many different types of music, but Gounod’s opera became a hit like no other musical version of the story. (Listen to pieces from Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette from the Royal Wallonie Opera Orchestra and Chorus and .)
  5. In 1888, Gounod was made a grand officier of the Legion of Honour, France’s highest decoration of merit. Established by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802, the Legion of Honour is a merit-based order for persons of high qualifications. Gounod’s conferment into the order shows his stature as a musician and operatic composer. For more information, view Charles Gounod’s timeline.

Watch an excerpt of a performance of Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette from the Salzburg Festival:

Composer Spotlight: Richard Strauss

Born in Munich in 1864, Richard Strauss is a leading composer of the late Romantic and early modern eras. Many saw Strauss as the successor to Richard Wagner, and he became known for his advanced harmonic style. He met Alexander Ritter during his early professional years and was encouraged to abandon classical forms. As a result of this relationship, Strauss began to compose symphonic poems. The wide acceptance of his Don Juan (1889) started his ascendance to the musical elite.

Strauss’s first operatic success came in 1905 when he debuted Salome, which was based on Oscar Wilde’s play of the same title. His other opera’s include Elektra (1909), Der Rosenkavalier (1911), and Arabella (1929). After his experimentation with symphonic poems and opera, the remaining years of his life were spent perfecting his craft in relative isolation. He composed some rather interesting symphonies as well. One in particular — Symphonia Domesticai (1903) — describes twenty-four hours within the Strauss family household. He maintained an unparalleled ability to describe and to show psychological detail.

During his life, Strauss witnessed two world wars and remained uninterested in politics. While Wagner remained a Nazi party favorite throughout his life, Strauss occupied the opposite end of the spectrum: the Nazi regime disliked his association with the Jewish librettist, Stefan Zweig. After the two worked on Die schweigsame Frau (The Silent Woman, 1935), the opera became banned. Shortly after this event, the composer received continued threats from the regime due to his daughter-in-law’s Jewish heritage. Known as a family man, Strauss took is family and lived in Vienna during World War II. He likely used his power as the most famous German composer alive to protect his family from the Nazi regime. He only moved back to Germany after the war when his name was cleared (Learn more about his life). Among the most memorable composers to come out of Germany, Richard Strauss maintained an interesting life and created music to match. 

You Know More Opera Than You Think

Not familiar with opera? You may know more opera tunes than you might think. Here are a few you may recognize:

Shawshank Redemption
“Duettino – Sull’aria” from Le Nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro) by W. A. Mozart

Shawshank RedemptionShawshank Redemption remains perhaps one cinema’s best and most famous movies of all time. The 1994 American drama film starring Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins tells the story of a banker (played by Tim Robbins) who, despite claiming his innocence, spends 19 years at Shawshank Prison for murdering his wife and her lover. The banker, named Andy Dufresne, befriends a fellow inmate, Ellis “Red” Redding (played by Morgan Freeman), and begins assisting the warden in a money laundering operation to gain protection from the prison guards against inmate violence towards him.

One of the most powerful scenes of the movie occurs when Andy, after locking a prison guard out of the warden’s office, plays Mozart’s “Sull’aria” from Le Nozze di Figaro over the prison public announcement system.

Occurring in Act Three, the aria is a duet between Contessa and Susanna. Contessa dictates a letter designed to expose the infidelity of her husband. The song reflects Dufresne’s wife’s affair, but at the same time provides hope and peace for the rest of the prisoners. Considered one of the greatest cinematic uses of opera, many people fail to recognize the power of opera not only in movies, but in society in general.


“La Mamma Morta” from Andrea Chénier by Umberto Giordano 

PhiladelphiaThe 1993 release of Philadelphia represented one of the first mainstream Hollywood movies to address HIV/AIDS. Tom Hanks, who won the Academy Award for Best Actor for the role, portrayed a successful Philadelphia lawyer who, unbeknownst to his law firm, has AIDS. Beckett is not open about his homosexuality or sickness around the office, but one day one of the firm’s partners discovers a lesion on Beckett’s forehead. He is soon fired, which Beckett believes is because of his illness.  Beckett decides to sue his law firm for discrimination. A poignant scene from the film shows Beckett and his soon to be attorney, Joe Miller (played by Denzel Washington), listening to one of Beckett’s favorite opera arias.

“La Mamma Morta” from Andrea Chénier, an aria sung by the character Maddalena di Coigny, tells the story of how her mother was killed protecting her during the French Revolution. Maddalena describes how she almost gave up on life after the events. After hearing the “voice of love,” however, she chooses to go on with her life. In the film, Beckett states this is his favorite opera. Miller, while watching Beckett react to the aria, comes finds a man who loves life and deserves more than discrimination. Through the aria, Miller learns what Beckett is truly feeling. The scene becomes a turning point for Miller’s involvement in Beckett’s lawsuit.


Apocalypse Now
“Ride of the Valküres” from Die Walküre by Richard Wagner

Apocalypse NowApocalypse Now, released in 1979, is an epic war film depicting the Vietnam War. One would not think that opera would appear in movie set during this time, but Wagner’s famous “Ride of the Valküres” appears very fittingly. The figure of the Valkyrie derives from Norse mythology. They are female figures who pick certain soldiers who have died on the battle field and take them to Valhalla, the afterlife hall of slain warriors. In Apocalypse Now, a group of soldiers attack a Vietnamese village on a beach and during the process blare Wagner’s famous operatic tune from their helicopters’ speakers to intimidate the enemy. The now famous battle scene perfectly utilizes the tune to show the soldiers’ heroic nature.

The song is triumphal and symbolizes riding into hell itself. (Watch this version from New York Metropolitan Opera’s production.) The song allows for the director to juxtapose the heroic nature of the American soldiers with the poor moral justifications of the character of Lt. Col. Bill Kilgore for being there in the first place: he wanted a nice surfing position.


Your Turn…

What are some other movies that have featured opera pieces? Tell us some of your favorite opera moments in film in the comments below.