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Today in Music History
A Daily Look at Music History For Violin Students
A Look at What Happened on Today's Date
Long, Long Ago . . . Or Maybe Just Last Year
March 6
Can You Guess? John Philip Sousa began music study at age 6.  Can You Guess what was his first instrument?

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1808 - First college orchestra in US founded, at Harvard

1825 - Premiere of Beethoven's Quartet in Eb, Op 127, the Schuppanzigh Quartet, in Vienna.

1853 - Premiere of Verdi's opera La Traviata at the Teatro La Fenice in Venice.

1926 - Premiere of Paul Hindemith's Concerto for Orchestra by the Boston Symphony, Serge Koussevitzky conducting.

1932 - March King John Phillip Sousa died.

1934 - Premiere of Walter Piston's Concerto for Orchestra.

1944 - Mary Wilson, singer with the Supremes, was born.

1954 - Violinist Louis Zimmermann, concertmast of the Concertgebouw Orchestra, died.

1984 - Premiere of John Harbison's Ulysses' Raft. New Haven Symphony.

2003 - Premiere of Bright Sheng's The Song and Dance of Tears. Emanuel Ax, piano; Yo-Yo Ma, cello; Wu Man, pipa; Wu Tong Wu, sheng and suona. NY Philharmonic, David Zinman, conducting.
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Operas are wonderful things!  In operas anything is possible! Gods...goddesses...giants... dwarves...ghosts...ships...love... jealousy...hate...good...evil...magic rings and flutes...witches...heroes and heroines.  Entire worlds which only exist in the realm of music!

Today is the anniversary of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's completion of Flight of the Bumblebee from the opera (are you ready for this title?) The Tale of Tsar Saltan, of His Son the Famous and Mighty Prince Gvidon Saltanovich and of the Beautiful Swan Princess.

Click here to hear a MIDI version of the Flight of the Bumblebee.
Tsar Saltan (The Tale of Tsar Saltan, of his son the famous and mighty Prince Gvidon Saltanovich and of the beautiful Swan Princess to give the work its full title) was Rimsky’s tenth opera, first performed in Moscow on the 3rd of November 1900. It was based on one of Pushkin’s epic poems, the poem itself based on a tale Pushkin had heard from his old maidservant. In 1903 the composer drew a suite in three movements from the opera.

The suite opens with a fanfare, suggesting "Once upon a time. . ." In the first movement the Tsar takes leave of his young bride and marches off to war. While he is away a son, Prince Gvidon, is born to him, but his wife’s two malicious sisters send the Tsar a message that she has borne a monster, and he orders her and the baby to be cast into the sea in a barrel.

Again, the fanfare introduces the second movement, a sea picture depicting, as well as the rolling of the barrel on the waves, Gvidon’s miraculously quick growth "not only day by day, but hour by hour" (loud jerky phrases on the upper wood-wind and strings). Mother and son, now fully grown, land on an island. He rescues from the attack of a kite (actually a wizard in disguise) a swan who turns out to be a princess. She discloses a magnificent city which he will rule over.

Anxious to see his father’s court, he is changed into a bumblebee, and flies there. * The Tsar is eventually persuaded to cross the ocean to see the three wonders on Gvidon’s island. He discovers that Gvidon is his son and a reconciliation ends the opera.

After the fanfare, the third movement describes the three wonders: a squirrel that cracks golden nuts containing emerald kernels while whistling a folk song; thirty-three giant warriors who come out of the ocean onto the shore; and finally the Swan Princess herself, whose beauty outshines the sun. The suite ends with the fanfare, now suggesting "And they lived happily ever after."

Although Rimsky-Korsakov did not include "The Flight of the Bumblebee" as part of the Tsar Saltan Suite, it has become the most famous excerpt from the opera, often being the victim of transcriptions for any variety of instruments with and without orchestral accompaniment. In the original opera score there is also a vocal line for the soprano singing the role of the Swan Princess that has not been included in the orchestral excerpt.
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Too easy and too obvious.  John Philip Sousa studied the VIOLIN
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