Happy Birthday, August Composers!

Did you know Leonard Bernstein’s birthday is this month? And Claude Debussy’s birthday as well? Let’s break out the cake and ice cream and celebrate a few of the classical greats!

Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber, August 12, 1644
Starting off with a composer from way back in the Baroque era, Biber was considered one of the best violin virtuosos of his day. After growing up in Bohemia, he skipped town to work for the archbishop of Salzburg and spent most of his life in that court. His works included many pieces for the violin, but also at least a couple of operas, only one of which has survived, unfortunately. Luckily, we do have plenty of his violin works, such as “Sonata No. 10.”

Antonio Salieri, August 18, 1750
If you’ve seen the movie “Amadeus,” you might be thinking that poor Antonio Salieri had a rough time as one of Mozart’s contemporaries. But did he? There’s actually no historical evidence of hatred between the two, although they were bound to compete at times. In truth, Salieri was well respected in his time, with his best-known work being “Tarare,” a French opera. In addition to his success as a noted composer, Salieri wielded influence as a teacher, with Beethoven, Schubert and Liszt among his students. Not bad, Tony.

Claude DeBussy, August 22, 1862
Highly influential in the musical world around the turn of the century, Debussy was a musical powerhouse who also seemed to attract drama. He jumped from the poverty of his youth to decadence. While travelling with a millionairess, he fell in love with a married singer. He was later linked with several women whose reputations were dubious. His first wife actually shot herself (thankfully, she lived), and he had an illegitimate daughter. Claude was a busy guy, but he left us some great music.

Leonard Bernstein, August 25, 1918
Our very own American composer, Bernstein might be best known for musicals like West Side Story, but he composed a number of classical pieces, including ballet scores and a movie that earned him an Academy Award nomination. You may also remember him as a rather flamboyant conductor – check out this fun snippet from a rehearsal showing his emphatic style (and featuring some tempo difficulties during a passage that’s “always impossible”). Enjoy the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra’s performance of his composition “Symphony No. 2, The Age of Anxiety” here.