Composers of the music we perform

Posted on Oct 6, 2011 in Our Concerts | 0 comments

Here’s some information about the composers we feature, listed by program:

Welcome, Yulës Day

Hugo Wolf (also written about in Serenata) composed his Spanisches Liederbuch to poems translated from Spanish into German by Emanuel Geibel and Paul Heyse.  The original poets were variously very famous (like Cervantes or Lope de Vega) or anonymous, and the book is divided into two sections: Sacred or Worldly poems.  The two songs on this program, Nun wandre Maria and Führ mich, Kind, nach Bethlehem, hail from the sacred portion.

Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957) was considered one of the fathers of modern film music.  In his youth in Vienna, he was considered a star of serious music, writing opera, orchestral and chamber music.  His Schneeglöckchen (Snowdrops) comes from his op. 9, Einfache Lieder (‘Simple Songs’).  Korngold emigrated to America in 1938, shortly before the Nazi Anschluss; he died in Hollywood in 1957.

We also featured music from medieval England and early America on this program, drawing from early Christmas carols and the shape-note traditions.



Orlando di Lasso was one of the most famous composers of his day and is still one of the most prominent musical names of the Renaissance.  Born in Belgium around 1530, he became a prominent composer and teacher (Andrea Gabrieli was one of his pupils).  He was granted nobility by an emperor, knighted by a pope, and sought after by many of the courts of Europe.

Di Lasso was prolific, composing over 2000 vocal works in Latin, French, German, Dutch and Italian.  Like Luca Marenzio, his style and technique spanned a broad range to suit the needs of the occasion.  The piece on the upcoming program, Matona mia cara, is in fairly simple style and comes from his collection of vilanesche and moresche–lighter works.  Its text satirizes the speech and manners of German immigrants (and hired hands) in Italian-speaking countries, known in Italian as lanzichenecchi (Landsknechts); in contrast to tedesco, the Italian word for German, the mangled syntax and vocabulary of the interlopers was known as todesche.  Little could be farther from the gracefulness of maniera than the conduct of the lanzichenecchi depicted in this ‘serenade!’


Luca Marenzio was a giant of the late flowering of the madrigal.  Roughly contemporary with Claudio Monteverdi, he presided with him of the end of the madrigal’s dominance and life as a contemporary Italian art form.

Marenzio (ca. 1553-1599) came from a poor family near Brescia, but he climbed into courtly life through musical ability.  He lived and worked principally in the service of the Este family, and traveled as far as Poland.  He died not long after returning to Rome.

Marenzio explored many options in setting words to music, using counterpoint, homophony, simplicity or complex chromaticism as need arose.  He was called “the sweetest swan” by later composers, and his influence was felt as far away as England.



Marc’Antonio Mazzone (1556-1626) was a cleric and composer from Miglionico who live and worked in the papal court and that of the Gonzaga family in Mantua.  Some of his works were of sacred character, but he also composed secular pieces found in a collection of canzoni in four voices published in Venice in 1569.  Canzoni were of a more popular character than madrigals, generally contained multiple verses and were set strophically.  Sometimes these compositions took less care to follow formal rules.  Mazzone is also known to have edited a collection of “Neapolitan songs” in 3 and 4 voices, published in Venice in 1570 by the notable firm of Girolamo Scotto.



W.A. Mozart (1756-1791) needs almost no introduction, and full biographies have been written about him already.  Rather than fill up this website with info best found elsewhere, we’ll confine this write-up to a bit about the pieces on the Serenata program.

Mozart wrote his Notturni for 3 solo voices and 3 solo instruments, but they are often performed in a piano transcription.  The texts are taken from the works of Pietro Metastasio, the noted author of many baroque opera seria libretti.


Pomponio Nenna (1556-1608) was a Neapolitan composer of sacred and popular music of the late Renaissance.  Born into a noble family in Bari, he was a contemporary and friend of Carlo Gesualdo who shared with him an interest in intensely descriptive, chromatic music.  His father earned a title for his political activity on behalf of the dominant Spanish regime and served in the court of Bona Sforza in Bari.  Pomponio inherited both the title and the propensity for public service.

The younger Nenna published eight books of madrigals for five voices, several villanelle for three voices, and a number of madrigals for four voices.  While Nenna used a passionate musical language similar to Gesualdo’s, he lived a much more restrained and prudent life.  Nenna managed to be friends with Fabrizio Carafa (Duke of Andria), Carafa’s wife, and Gesualdo’s second wife; Gesualdo famously murdered his first wife and Carafa when he found them together in flagrante delicto.


Robert (1810-1856) and Clara Wieck (1819-1896) Schumann hold an unmatched place in the history of Romantic music.  Both accomplished pianists, both fine composers, they took very different paths though they walked side by side.  In a time when women were considered incapable of serious thought, let alone musical composition, Robert first discouraged Clara’s work (though he later relented).  Indeed, he couldn’t bear the interruption of hearing Clara practice piano.  Yet, he eventually requested that she write a setting of a poem he placed in front of her–perhaps understanding that he needed to help rebuild her confidence after subverting it for a while.  Clara contributed 3 songs to Schumann’s opus 12, and went on to compose more works in her own right.

Robert himself came late to songwriting after considering it unworthy of serious composers.  Once he did, he had a creative outpouring of some of the most loved and influential lieder in the repertoire.  In addition to his many solo lieder, Robert composed several collections containing numerous duets and other ensemble works.


Hugo Wolf was born in Windischgrätz, Slovenia, in 1860, in the Austrian Empire of the Hapsburgs.  He spent most of his life in their capital city, Vienna.  He was devoted to music from a young age, and became an ardent partisan of Wagner.  Chromatic musical language and emotional intensity became hallmarks of his mature style, but Wolf brought a concision of form to his music.  He was most suited to composing miniatures, and thus his Lieder are his most remembered works.

Italienisches Liederbuch was written in two stages, in 1890-1 and in 1896, all to Italian poems translated into German by Paul von Heyse.  The work followed on the success of Wolf’s Spanisches Liederbuch, but Wolf claimed he made no attempt to capture local flavor in the music of the new collections.  What we get is a collection that displays Wolf’s mature style, his emotional intensity, and his humor.  The full collection consists of 46 songs, our selection includes 19 of them.

There are also selected songs Wolf composed on poetry of Joseph von Eichendorff, in 1889.  Wolf tended to select a poet and set his poetry in one period of sustained creativity.  The Eichendorff settings include what is considered to be one of Wolf’s best, Das Ständchen.