Art al Fresco: Musical Musings
Learn about different musical instruments, along with the musicians who became famous for playing them! These featured instruments are amplified throughout the gardens Tuesday – Saturday from 12 PM – 2 PM!
The first ancestor to the modern 88-key piano, called the pianoforte, was created around 1700 by Bartolomeo Cristofori of Padua, Italy. Hired to care for the harpsichords (and eventually all the instruments) belonging to Grand Prince Fedinando de’ Medici, Cristofori was inspired by his work, and began creating instruments of his own. In 1711, journalist and poet Scipione Maffei describes the instrument as “’gravicembalo col piano e forte’ which translates to ‘harpsichord with soft and loud.’” The instrument underwent numerous design transformations throughout the 18th century before becoming a more widely accessible and well-known instrument. Arguably the most versatile instrument, the piano can mimic the melodies of another instrument, is compatible with nearly every musical genre, and carries enough volume to be heard through ensembles and orchestras. Because it uses both strings and a row of felt-covered mallets, modern pianos can be considered both string and percussion instruments.
Powers, Wendy. “The Piano: The Pianofortes of Bartolomeo Cristofori (1655–1731).” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/cris/hd_cris.htm (October 2003)
Margaret Bonds (1913-1972) gained recognition in the United States as “the first African American soloist to appear with the Chicago Symphony.” Born in Chicago, Bonds took an early interest in music, composing her first song by the time she was five. This interest was encouraged by her mother, Estella C. Bonds, who was also a musician and supporter of the arts. Estelle hosted numerous artists, musicians, and writers in her home, ever inspiring Margaret to pursue music as she grew. Margaret received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Music from Northwestern university, continuing her success as a musician. Bonds established the Allied Arts Academy in 1936, which was “an institution for talented African American children in Chicago.” Margaret Bonds is most well-known for the musical piece she wrote to accompany the poem “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” by Langston Hughes in 1941. Margaret passed away in 1972 at the age of 59.
Gaspaire, B. (2013, January 28). Margaret Bonds (1913-1972). BlackPast.org. https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/bonds-margaret-1913-1972/
Edwin Kennedy Ellington
Born in the nation’s capital in 1899, Edwin Kennedy Ellington was an American composer, pianist, and the long-time leader of a jazz orchestra. Later dubbed ‘Duke’, Ellington became enamored with the piano when he was young, and as he grew he quickly made a name for himself as a pianist in Washington, D.C, playing professionally by age 17. Ellington moved to New York in 1923 and formed his own band, and in 1927 booked a performance at the Cotton Club in Harlem. Because this performance was filmed and broadcast on radio, it offered Ellington and his bandmates access to a wider audience and put them on the map as performers. Duke Ellington’s success grew from there, securing national tours, performing at festivals, and collaborating with other greats like Billy Strayhorn and John Coltrane. Ellington passed in 1974, leaving behind a legacy as one of the greatest jazz composers of all time.
Duke Ellington ~ Duke ELLINGTON BIOGRAPHY. (2020, March 31). Retrieved April 16, 2021, from https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/duke-ellington-about-duke-ellington/586/
The saxophone is a wind instrument, and it was invented in Paris by Antoíne-Joseph Sax in Paris in 1846. Saxophones are typically made from brass, and are easily recognizable by their curved, conical tube shape with a reed mouthpiece at one end and 24 padded finger-keys. The instrument was created for military bands and orchestras, and was quickly adopted by the French army. Its international prevalence spread rapidly, and saxophone became a common instrument in swing, big band, and jazz ensembles, rising in popularity in the United States around the time of World War I. The bold sound of the saxophone lends itself to melodies and improvisation, allowing it to blend well with brass and woodwinds, or stand out in small ensembles.
Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Saxophone”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 4 Nov. 2019, https://www.britannica.com/art/saxophone. Accessed 16 April 2021.
Charlie “Yardbird” Parker
Charlie “Yardbird” Parker, considered a trailblazer for jazz music in the 20th century, was born in Kansas City, Kansas, on August 29, 1920. Encouraged to pursue a love of music at a young age, Parker began playing saxophone at the age of 11, and went on to join the school marching band. By age 12, he was playing for school functions and in area dance halls, where he got his first taste of jazz music. Charlie Parker spent as much time as he could at jazz clubs, inspired by artists such as Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, and Louis Armstrong. By age 20, Parker was an incredibly talented musician, but the music scene in his hometown had begun to decline, and he hadn’t been able to make a name for himself. With that, he left home for New York City where night life, bustling jazz clubs, and plentiful opportunities would await him. During this time, “modern jazz or ‘bebop’” were growing in popularity, and Charlie Parker made the style his own, composing and performing intricate flowing saxophone solos. That said, jazz music as a genre was not as popular in the United States as the culture associated with jazz music was during that time, and Parker did not receive much of any recognition until touring in Europe in 1949, where he was “greeted with an almost cult status.” Despite his new-found acclaim, Parker struggled with addiction, and he met an untimely end six years later on March 12, 1955 at the age of 34.
Celebrating Bird: The Triumph of Charlie Parker; Charlie Parker Biography. (2003, October 19). Retrieved April 21, 2021, from https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/charlie-parker-about-charlie-parker/678/
Born in Fort Worth, Texas, on March 9, 1930, Ornette Coleman was a noteworthy American jazz composer and musician, and is said to be the founder of the free jazz genre. By the age of 14, Coleman had begun to teach himself to play alto saxophone, and shortly after was performing at jazz clubs with local rhythm-and-blues bands becoming exposed to a wide variety of other instruments, musicians, and musical styles. At age 22, Ornette Coleman moved to Los Angeles honing in his modern style, but he was met with criticism for his unconventional chords and progressions. Coleman persevered, studying music theory during his day job as an elevator operator. By age 29. Coleman had signed a record deal with Atlantic Records, which was very significant for his career. While his approach, which he called, “harmolodics,” was still met with heavy criticism, he continued to push the boundaries of classic jazz. A life-long learner, Coleman continued to study music throughout his life, learning violin and trumpet in addition to alto and tenor saxophone. Eventually, the musician did gain the acceptance and even recognition he deserved, and was awarded numerous honors, including a MacArthur Grant, the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize, the Pulitzer Prize in Music, and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Ornette Coleman passed away on June 11, 2015 at the age of 85.
Ornette Coleman. (n.d.). Retrieved April 21, 2021, from https://www.arts.gov/honors/jazz/ornette-coleman
The harp is a grand, elegant instrument, most commonly with one side that is vertical, and the other curved, creating a bow shape with 47 perpendicular strings and 7 foot pedals. Early versions of the harp have been noted in the ancient Mediterranean and Middle East as early as 3000 BCE, but were not noted in Europe until the 9th century. Harp body shapes and methods of playing varied across cultures over the years, and strings were made from wire or animal intestine before modern nylon and metal strings were invented.
Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Harp”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 29 Jul. 2019, https://www.britannica.com/art/harp-musical-instrument. Accessed 16 April 2021.
Annie Sidonie Goossens
A trailblazer for female musicians in Europe, Annie Sidonie Goossens, or ‘Sid’ as she was fondly called, was born on October 19, 1899 in Cheshire, England. Born into a family of musicians, Sidonie was constantly surrounded by talent and inspiration. Her father, grandfather, and brother Eugene were conductors, and Eugene was also a renowned composer. Her brother Adolphe played the French horn, brother Léon played the oboe, and Sidonie and her sister Marie both took up the Harp. As a child, Sidonie aspired to be an actress and later an opera singer, but her father, ever immersed in music, declared that the harp would be her future. To quote Sidonie, “Daddy’s choice was the wise one: it gave me a career.” While her sister was also a distinguished harpist, Sidonie Goossens received worldwide acclaim as the first harpist to be broadcasted on radio in 1923, and later the first to be broadcasted on television in 1936. Sidonie was also a founding member of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, seated as Principal Harpist for their first public concert in 1930. After a career spanning seven decades, Sidonie Goossens performed for the final time at The Last Night of the Proms concert in 1991. She passed away on December 15, 2004 at the age of 105.
Entertainment | OBITUARY: Sidonie Goossens. (2004, December 15). Retrieved April 21, 2021, from http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/3393369.stm
Harpist Marcel Grandjany was born in Paris, France on September 3, 1891. By 1899, he had begun studying harp under well-known harpist Henriette Renié. Three short years later, Grandjany was accepted to the Paris Conservatoire studying under other established musicians, where he was awarded the Premier Prix in 1904 at age 13. Quick to gain recognition as a harpist, Marcel Grandjany performed his first solo recital at the age of 17. His show was met with immediate praise, and the musician went on to debut in London in 1922, and then in New York in 1924. After settling in New York, Grandjany began teaching, and in 1938 was offered the opportunity to lead the harp department at the Juilliard School of Music, where he would teach for the rest of his life. While teaching, Grandjany continued to perform internationally, networking with harpists from all over the world. He would go on to be a founding member of the American Harp Society in 1962, hosting the first meeting of the New York chapter in his home. Through the years, Grandjany served many roles in the AHS New York chapter, including regional director, chapter chairman, and president of the New York chapter, in addition to being a board member. While he would continue to teach, Grandjany’s final public performance took place at the 1967 American Harp Society conference. Marcel Grandjany passed away on February 5, 1975 at the age of 84.
Grandjany Centennial Fund. (2019). Retrieved April 22, 2021, from https://harpsociety.org/about/programs/grandjanyfund.html
The earliest known flute was discovered in Germany in 2007; the instrument is considered to be at least 35,000 years old. This tube-shaped relic was 8.5 inches long, and contained 5 finger holes used to change the pitch of the note being played. Like many early inventions, the flute underwent many iterations, made from various materials including bone, wood, and bamboo, using between four and six finger holes. Modern flutes are typically made from a variety of metal such as copper-nickel and silver, using 16 different tone holes. The playful whistle-like sound of the flute lends itself to small ensembles and orchestras alike, often playing a tune or melody that stands apart from the other instruments.
Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Flute”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 23 Jan. 2019, https://www.britannica.com/art/flute-musical-instrument. Accessed 16 April 2021.
Frances Blaisdell, renowned as one of the first female flutists, was born in Tennessee on January 5, 1912. Her father was in the lumber industry, but was a flute player himself, and began to teach his daughter, Frances, at age five. As she grew, so did her talent, and she hoped to study under Ernest Wagner, who was a flutist with the New York Philharmonic. She boldly wrote to Wagner, calling herself ‘Jim’ asking for a private lesson. When the two met in person, Wagner initially refused to train Frances, a woman, but after much persistence he agreed to a few lessons, and eventually more. She graduated high school early, at the age of 16, and convinced her father she should pursue her passion for music. She would go on to study at what is now Juilliard, and was awarded a scholarship. Greatly successful, she was first flute in the National Orchestral Association, New Opera Company, and New Friends of Music by age 20. In spite of her success, however, Blaisdell continued to be met with criticism, and was refused an audition with the Philharmonic in 1937 because she was a woman. Persevering against adversity, she would later become one of the first female woodwinds in the Philharmonic. In 1992, Chamber Music Magazine published an article, writing, “Every woman flute player in every major American Orchestra, every little girl who plays the flute in a school band, has Francs Blaisdell to thank. She was the first.” Frances Blaisdell passed away on March 11, 2009 at the age of 97.
Martin, D. (2009, March 31). Frances Blaisdell, ‘Girl Flutist’ who opened Doors, dies at 97. Retrieved April 22, 2021, from https://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/31/arts/music/31blaisdell.html
Flutist Julius Baker was born in Cleveland, Ohio, on September 23, 1915. Similar to the story of Frances Blaisdell, Baker’s father was an amateur flute player, who encouraged his child to play the instrument at a young age. Unlike Blaisdell, however, as a young man Baker was not met with opposition, and was given the opportunity to study at acclaimed music schools under established musicians like William Kincaid and Marcel Tabuteau. After studying at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, Baker would go on to become the principal flutist in several orchestras, including the Pittsburgh Symphony, Columbia Broadcasting Symphony, and the Chicago symphony. Julius Baker then went on to join the New York Philharmonic, who he performed with from 1965-1983. In addition to performing, Baker was an instructor, teaching at Juilliard, Curtis Institute of Music, and Carnegie Mellon University. Julius Baker continued to teach, and even judge flute competitions, until his passing on August 6, 2003 at the age of 87.
Kozinn, A. (2003, August 08). Julius Baker, Principal FLUTIST Of Philharmonic, dies at 87. Retrieved April 22, 2021, from https://www.nytimes.com/2003/08/08/arts/julius-baker-principal-flutist-of-philharmonic-dies-at-87.html?auth=login-google
A member of the violin family, the cello is a bass musical instrument with 4 strings and stands on an endpin. While structurally it is very similar to the violin, its proportions provide richer, deeper tones. It can be played with a bow, or plucked like a guitar. The cello was first developed in Italy in the 16th century, serving only in bass-line ensembles, but became more prominent when composers like Mozart gave the instrument increased presence in instrumental ensembles.
Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Cello”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 23 Jan. 2020, https://www.britannica.com/art/cello. Accessed 16 April 2021.
Acclaimed cellist, composer and conductor Pablo Casals was born on December 29, 1876 in Vendrell, Spain. His father was a musician, playing organ at the local parish, and taught a growing Pablo to play piano, violin, and organ. At age 11, Pablo Casals first heard the cello, and decided to take a break from his other instruments to study it. By age 12, Casals was enrolled in la Escuela Municipal de Música in Barcelona, Spain. There he excelled at cello and piano, performing his first solo recital at the age of 14. Two years later, he graduated with honors. After hearing Casals play in a café, musician Isaac Albéniz wrote to the secretary of the Queen Regent in Madrid to tell of the talented cellist. Pablo Casals was then asked to perform at informal palace events, and later continued his studies at the Conservatorio de Música y Declamación in Madrid. He went to Paris for a time before returning to Barcelona, Spain, to teach at la Escuela Municipal de Música where he had first formally studied cello himself. While teaching, he continued to perform, playing at the Crystal Palace in London, at Queen Victoria’s summer home, and later toured worldwide gaining international acclaim. At age 43, he ventured into conducting and composition, and continued to be a virtuoso in the orchestral community as well as a political activist until his death in October 1973 at the age of 94.
Oron, A. (2002, March). Pablo Casals (conductor, CELLO) – short biography. . Retrieved April 22, 2021, from https://www.bach-cantatas.com/Bio/Casals-Pablo.htm
Chinese American cellist Yo-Yo Ma was born on October 7, 1955 in Paris, France. Ma was encouraged to study music by his parents, both musicians themselves, who began teaching him cello at age four. At age 7, the family moved to New York City, where Ma would go on to study cello at the Juilliard School and eventually Harvard, graduating in 1976. After receiving his undergraduate degree, Ma began performing with major orchestras, and performed with the New York Philharmonic for the 100th anniversary of the Statue of Liberty in 1986. Other significant Yo-Yo Ma performances include the September 11, 2002 tribute to those who had passed away in the attack on the World Trade Center, the inauguration of former president Barak Obama, and a 2013 tribute to those who died in the Boston Marathon bombing. In 1998, Ma founded an artist collective called the Silk Road Project, striving to bring together diverse musicians from around the world. He also composed the Crouching Tiger: Hidden Dragon film soundtrack, and was featured on television series such as: “Sesame Street, The Simpsons, West Wing, and Mister Roger’s Neighborhood.” Still performing and continuing to share his music with the world, Yo-Yo Ma has been awarded 19 Grammys in addition to other awards including the National Medal of Arts, the Dan David Prize, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Named one of Time Magazine’s Top 100 Influential People in 2020, Yo-Yo Ma is actively performing and teaching, and resides in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with his wife and two children.
C. (2017, October 05). Yo-Yo Ma Biography – Facts, Family, Childhood & Performance. Retrieved April 22, 2021, from https://www.cmuse.org/yo-yo-ma-biography/