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
August 26
Did You Guess?
I was surprised to learn that Jimi Hendrix was a violist!
Can You Guess?
Sally Beamish plays the viola, but it's not just classical musicians who play this instrument. A famous rock n roll guitarist (renowned for his performance at Woodstock) also started his music studies on the viola.  Can You Guess who that guitarist might be?

The Answer is Found
Further Down the Page
What Else
1687 - William de Fesch, Dutch composer, was born.

1815 - Premiere of C. M. Von Weber's Clarinet Quintet in Bb, Op. 34, with clarinetist Heinrich Bärmann, in Munich.

1888 - Tchaikovsky finished his 5th Symphony.

1958 - Ralph Vaughan Williams, English composer, died in London.

1960 - Birth of American Saxophonist Branford Marsalis in New Orleans.

1967 - Jimi Hendrix's Purple Haze was released.

1978 - Frankie Valli went to No.1 on the US singles chart with the Barry Gibb song Grease.

2001 - First performance of André Previn's Tango, Song and Dance at the Lucerne Festival in Switzerland; with Previn's future wife, violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter and pianist Lambert Orkis.

2003 - First performance of John Harbison's Cucaraccia and Fugue for four violas.
Besides all the musical instruments in her home, Sally was also influenced by her father's job.  He worked for Philips Record Co. He brought home records for technical checks, and Sally listened to records over and over again.  She particularly remembers Primrose playing Walton's Viola Concerto.

Sally switched from the violin to the viola when she was 15, the same year she met Sir Lennox Berkley at a rehearsal for an opera in which her mother was playing, but returned to the violin during her first year attending the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, England.   While there she studied composition under Berkley and Anthony Gilbert.  She later went to Germany to study with the Italian violist Bruno Giuranna.

"I always knew composing was my true means of expression and I always intended to play the viola as a means to support myself while composing. But after studying viola with Bruno Giuranna in Germany I became much more interested in the viola and started doing very stimulating work, including the Raphael Ensemble, Academy of St Martins, and most importantly London Sinfonietta and Lontano, which was where I learnt a lot of compositional skill."

She said that playing in an orchestra taught her how important it was for music to be well prepared for the various instruments in the orchestra.  Her decision to concentrate on composing was firmed up when her viola was stolen.  She decided to make something good come from her misfortune.

Beamish's compositions include a wide range of influences.  Jazz, folk, and world music are all present in her classical works. Not only does she play and compose, she is also an accomplished painter and writes.  She has begun including some of her own texts in her pieces.

Beamish values working closely with the people who will play her compositions.  Violinist Anthony Marwood suggested that she base the violin concerto she was writing for him on Remarque's novel, All Quiet on the Western Front.  Receiving a request like that, Beamish plans out the piece in words, then invents the themes and the chords to describe what she is trying to communicate.  Then she is able to actually fill in the musical outline she has created with the colors of the individual notes of the composition.

Beamish's first large scale work was No, I'm Not Afraid which she completed in 1989.  Her violin concerto was completed in 1995.  Other works have included an opera, two symphonies (for the Iceland Symphony Orchestra and Royal Scottish National Orchestra/LPO respectively), as well as viola, oboe, cello, flute, trumpet and saxophone concertos.  Beamish has also composed scores for several films.  She has also composed a children's nativity musical. 

Beamish is very well regarded among musicians.  She has received many awards and prizes as well as having been awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Glasgow.

Asked which composers have had a major influence on her, Beamish points to Mark Anthony Turnage and Oliver Knussen, but says that there have been many others.

She seems excited with the freer forms that her more recent works have taken.  When she is asked what sort of works she would like to produce in the future, Beamish says that she hopes to get the opportunity to compose a ballet!

She currently lives in Scotland with her husband (cellist Robert Irvine), two sons, and a daughter.
Violinist, Violist and Composer Sally Beamish
Sally Beamish
1956 -   
Sally Beamish, the English violist and composer, was born August 26, 1956.

Her mother was a violinist and her father played the flute, so there was a lot of music in Sally's home.  By the time she was four her mother had taught her to read and write music, and she started composing.  She started piano lessons whe she was 5 and violin lessons at age 9, so the house echoed with singing and chamber music.
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