Group report

Johann Sebastian Bach

After almost two years of being unable to meet, as Music Appreciation does not lend itself to Zoom, we had our first meeting on 22nd October when we had a presentation on Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750).

Born into a musical family, his father taught him the violin. When he lost both his parents at the age of ten, his older brother Johann Christoph Bach, taught him the organ. During his lifetime he was more famous as an organist than a composer, although he produced over 1,000 compositions including his well-known Brandenburg Concertos and the Well-Tempered Clavier, written as a collection of keyboard pieces to help students learn various keyboard techniques and methods. He is now considered to be the best composer of the Baroque era and one of the most important figures in classical music.

Johann Adolph Hasse

During our November meeting, we had a presentation on another composer of the Baroque era that of Johann Adolph Hasse (1699-1783) a German composer, singer and music teacher. During his lifetime he was immensely popular particularly for his Baroque Operas written in the Italian style. Apart from composing 63 Operas he produced 20 Masses and Requiems, 90 Cantatas, 80 Flute Sonatas and Concertos and hundreds of other Instrumental works totalling about 1,635 compositions.

In spite of his massive popularity during his lifetime, after his death, unlike Bach, his reputation quickly declined and his music lay relatively unperformed. The Group agreed Hasse’s music deserves far better recognition its chief characteristics being melodic beauty and formal balance.

Kiri Te Kanawa

In January, we looked at the life and work of the opera singer Kiri Te Kanawa. Born in Gisborne, New Zealand, to a Maori married butcher and an Irish waitress she was adopted by Nell and Thomas Te Kanawa. She received her initial formal training from her school singing teacher before enrolling at the London Opera Centre in 1966 without an audition. In 1970 she was awarded a three year contract as junior Principal at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

She started her singing career as a mezzo-soprano but developed into a full lyric soprano and is best known for her repertoire of works by Mozart and Richard Strauss. She sang Handel’s ‘Let The Bright Seraphim’ at Prince Charles' and Lady Diana’s wedding, and Happy Birthday to her Majesty the Queen at the opening of the Commonwealth Games in 2006.

Her recording of Strauss’s ‘Nuns’ Chorus’ was the first Gold record produced in New Zealand. She acquired a handful of prestigious honours and awards including the OBE, DBE, Order of New Zealand and Order of Australia. Now retired, she lives in New Zealand running a Foundation which supports young aspiring NZ singers and musicians.

Niccolo Paganini

In February, we examined the life and work of Niccolo Paganini (1782-1840) an Italian Violinist and Composer. He was the most celebrated Violin Virtuoso of his time and even regarded as one of the greatest violinists of all times. He was one of the first solo Violinists to perform publicly without sheet music, memorising everything.

On some occasions, he would also sever two strings and play the piece on the remaining strings. He had very long thin fingers, which allowed him to play three octaves in one hand span and this was due to Marfan Syndrome, a genetic disorder. He was also reputed to have the ability to play at incredible speeds i.e. 12 notes per second. This was attributed to Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, a disorder which causes increased flexibility and a lack of co-ordination. He was a sickly man for most of his life giving his last public performance at the age of 54, dying of larynx cancer at the age of 58. Of his many compositions his 24 Caprices are among the best known.

Maura Chapman

This article appeared in the Spring 2022 newsletter.

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