4/7 Today in Weird Music History: 1763. Double Bass virtuoso Domenico Carlo Maria Dragonetti was born on this date in Venice. A respected soloist and bassist throughout his life, it was a meeting in Vienna that would change the course of symphonic writing. Dragonetti’s meeting with Ludwig van Beethoven was indeed a game changer. As related by Thayer:
“Beethoven and he soon met and they were mutually pleased with each other. Many years afterwards Dragonetti related the following anecdote to Samuel Appleby, Esq., of Brighton, England: “Beethoven had been told that his new friend could execute violoncello music upon his huge instrument and one morning, when Dragonetti called at his room, he expressed the desire to hear a sonata. The contrabass was sent for, and the Sonata No. 2, Op. 5 was selected. Beethoven played his part, with his eyes immovably fixed upon his companion, and, in the finale, where the arpeggios occur, was so delighted and excited that at the close he sprang up and threw his arms around both player and instrument”. The unlucky contrabassists of orchestras had frequent occasions during the next few years to know that this new revelation of the powers and possibilities of their instrument to Beethoven was not forgotten.” (Life of Beethoven. p. 208).
So, while string bass players occasionally curse Beethoven for writing such challenging parts, they can also thank Dragonetti for opening up the realm of possibilities!
4/5 Today in Weird Music History: 1947. Charles Ives wins the Pulitzer Prize in Music for his Symphony No. 3, thirty-six years after he finished the piece. Ives, ever the filled with gruff sensibility said this of the award: “Prizes are for boys, and I am all grown up.” He gave the money that accompanied the award away, half of it to Lou Harrison, an early editor and champion of his music.
4/4 Today in Weird Music History: 1877. A New York audience takes a long distance call and listens to a piano played from Philadelphia. Pianist Frederic Boskovitz played through Alexander Graham Bell’s recently patented telephone. It was an event not all that different from the streamed performances of today such as HD Met broadcasts, except for the sound quality, perhaps!
4/3 Today in Weird Music History: 1955. Fred Astaire appeared on television for the first time on “The Toast of the Town,” with host, Ed Sullivan. Astaire’s performing career had begun 50 years earlier in and would continue until 1981; a 76 year career run spanning vaudeville, Broadway, radio, recordings, defining the American dance movie musical, television, animation, and dramatic acting. While he is remembered for all of his many contributions, many will remember him as the postman for the Rankin & Bass Christmas program, Santa Claus is Coming to Town.
4/2 Today in Weird Music History: 1974. The music of Scott Joplin had passed into obscurity when film director George Roy Hill heard a recording he liked. Partially thanks to the music, Hill’s next film. The Sting, won seven total Oscars on this date in 1974, including Best Picture and Best Song Score and/or Adaptation. A seemingly small revival started by musicologist/pianist Joshua Rifkin was now big business. Marvin Hamlisch’s rescoring of Joplin’s The Entertainer soon hit #3 on the Billboard pop charts; the soundtrack got to #1 spot on the album chart. Marvin Hamlisch’s work on the movie score also propelled him to win the “Best New Artist” at the following year’s Grammys. An interesting footnote: After Joplin’s death in 1917, he was buried in an unmarked pauper’s grave. His grave was finally given a marker in 1974, after as his music regained popularity.
4/1 Today in Weird Music History: 1831. While traveling home from Italy, French composer Hector Berlioz has second thoughts and scraps his plan to murder his fiancée…and her new beau…and her mother. He had purchased a dress and wig to disguise himself as a woman, stolen a set of pistols to carry out the triple murder, and purchased several vials of poison as a backup. So by changing his mind, he probably avoided meeting the guillotine he so aptly described just 1 year earlier in his Symphonie Fantastique.