Classical Music Timeline: 1900s

This is one of a series of postings of important classical music dates, from the 17th century to the present. Included are the date and location of the birth and death of composers, and the premiere date and location of the first public performance of works. When the premiere date and location is unknown, the date or year of completion of the work is given. Though reasonably comprehensive, this is a subjective list, so the choice of composers and works is mine. If you find any errors, or if you can offer a premiere date and location for a work where only the completion date or year is listed, please post a comment here.

1900
Jean Sibelius (1865-1957) completed the final version of The Swan of Tuonela, op. 22, no. 3

March 2 – Kurt Weill (1900-1950) was born in Dessau, Germany

April 7 – Piano Concerto in C♯ minor, op. 45, by Amy Beach (1867-1944) was first performed in Boston, Massachusetts

July 1 – Symphony No. 1 in E minor, op. 39, by Jean Sibelius (1865-1957) was first performed in Berlin, Germany

July 2Finlandia, op. 26, by Jean Sibelius (1865-1957) was first performed in Helsinki, Finland

July 12 – Requiem in D minor, op. 48, by Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924) was first performed in Paris, France

November 3The Tale of Tsar Saltan, opera, by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908) was first performed in Moscow, Russia

November 14 – Aaron Copland (1900-1990) was born in Brooklyn, New York

1901
Jean Sibelius (1865-1957) completed The Snow is Falling, op. 1, no. 5, for children’s chorus and organ

January 27 – Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901) died in Milan, Italy

February 3 – Pelléas et Mélisande Suite, op. 80, by Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924) was first performed in Paris, France

February 7Pohádka (Fairy Tale), op. 16, by Josef Suk (1874-1935) was first performed in Prague, Czech Republic

September 14Chanson de Nuit, in G major, op. 15, no. 1, and Chanson de Matin, in G major, op. 15, no. 2 by Edward Elgar (1857-1934) were first performed in London, England

October 19 – Pomp and Circumstance, March No. 1 and March No. 2, by Edward Elgar (1857-1934) were first performed in Liverpool, England

October 27Three Nocturnes, CD 98, by Claude Debussy (1862-1918) was first performed in Paris, France

November 9 – Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, op. 18, by Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943) was first performed in Moscow, Russia

November 22 – Joaquín Rodrigo (1901-1999) was born in Sagunto, Valencia, Spain

1902
Josef Suk (1874-1935) completed Elegie (Under the Impression of Zeyer’s Vyšehrad), op. 23

March 29 – William Walton (1902-1983) was born in Oldham, England

June 28 – Richard Rodgers (1902-1979) was born in New York, New York

September 10 – The Witch of Atlas, Tone Poem for Orchestra No. 5, by Granville Bantock (1868-1946), was first performed in Worcester, England

1903
June 6 – Aram Khachaturian (1903-1978) was born in Kojori, Georgia

October 8 – Helios Overture, op. 17, by Carl Nielsen (1865-1931) was first performed in Copenhagen, Denmark

October 19 – Vittorio Giannini (1903-1966) was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

November 10 – Symphony No. 2 in D major, op. 43, by Jean Sibelius (1865-1957) was first performed in Stockholm, Sweden

1904
January 13 – Richard Addinsell (1904-1977) was born in London, England

March 16In the South (Alassio), op. 50, by Edward Elgar (1857-1934) was first performed in London, England

March 30Koanga, opera, by Frederick Delius (1862-1934) was first performed in Wuppertal, Germany

May 1 – Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904) died in Prague, Czech Republic

October 18 – Symphony No. 5 in C♯ minor by Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) was first performed in Cologne, Germany

December 2Songs of Travel by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) was first performed in London, England

December 30 – Dmitry Kabalevsky (1904-1987) was born in Saint Petersburg, Russia

1905
Claude Debussy (1862-1918) completed Suite bergamasque, CD 82

Ernst von Dohnányi (1877-1960) completed Winterreigen, op. 13

August 23 – Constant Lambert (1905-1951) was born in London, England

October 15La Mer, CD 111, by Claude Debussy (1862-1918) was first performed in Paris, France

October 19 – Violin Concerto in D minor, op. 47, by Jean Sibelius (1865-1957) was first performed in Berlin, Germany

November 7 – William Alwyn (1905-1985) was born in Northampton, England

December 9 – Dance of the Seven Veils, from Salome, opera by Richard Strauss (1864-1949) was first performed in Dresden, Germany

1906
Aita Donostia (1886-1956) completed Rapsodia Baskongada [Basque Rhapsody]

Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) completed the orchestration of “Une barque sur l’océan” from Miroirs

March 7 – Konzertstück in D major, for cello and orchestra, op. 12, by Ernst von Dohnányi (1877-1960) was first performed in Budapest, Hungary

May 9 – Iberia, Book 1, by Isaac Albéniz (1860-1909) was first performed in Paris, France

May 27 – Symphony No. 6 in A minor by Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) was first performed in Essen, Germany

July 24 – Alfredo Casella (1883-1947) completed Symphony No. 1 in B minor, op. 5

September 25 – Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) was born in Saint Petersburg, Russia

December 6 – Orchestral version of Dolly Suite, op. 56 by Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924) was first performed in Monte Carlo, Monaco [orchestrated by Henri Rabaud (1873-1949)]

1907
February 3 – Symphony No. 2 in C minor, “Asrael Symphony”, op. 27, by Josef Suk (1874-1935) was first performed in Prague, Czech Republic

February 16 – Alec Wilder (1907-1980) was born in Rochester, New York

February 21 – “The Walk to the Paradise Garden”, from the opera A Village Romeo and Juliet, by Frederick Delius (1862-1934) was first performed in Berlin, Germany

February 22 – Introduction and Allegro for Harp, Flute, Clarinet, and Strings by Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) was first performed in Paris, France

September 4 – Edvard Grieg (1843-1907) died in Bergen, Norway

September 11 – Iberia, Book 2, by Isaac Albéniz (1860-1909) was first performed in Saint-Jean-de-Luz, France

November 17 – James Moody (1907-1995) was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland

1908
Sigfrid Karg-Elert (1877-1933) completed Marche triomphale, “Nun danket alle Gott” op. 65, no. 59 (for organ)

January 2 – Iberia, Book 3, by Isaac Albéniz (1860-1909) was first performed in Paris, France

January 23 – Edward MacDowell (1860-1908) died in New York, New York

January 26 – Symphony No. 2 in E minor, op. 27, by Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943) was first performed in Saint Petersburg, Russia

February 18 – Brigg Fair, An English Rhapsody, by Frederick Delius (1862-1934) was first performed in London, England

March 15Rapsodie espagnole, M. 54, by Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) was first performed in Paris, France

May 15 – Lars-Erik Larsson (1908-1986) was born in Åkarp, Sweden

June 21 – Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908) died near Luga, Leningrad Oblast, Russia

June 29 – Leroy Anderson (1908-1975) was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts

September 20 – Pablo de Sarasate (1844-1908) died in Biarritz, France

October 18 – Drapa, op. 27, for Large Orchestra by Hugo Alfvén (1872-1960) was first performed in Stockholm, Sweden

October 19 – Geirr Tveitt (1908-1981) was born in Bergen, Norway

November 19 – Jean-Yves Daniel-Lesur (1908-2002) was born in Paris, France

December 10 – Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992) was born in Avignon, France

1909
January 9Gaspard de la nuit, M. 55, by Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) was first performed in Paris, France

February 9 – Iberia, Book 4, by Isaac Albéniz (1860-1909) was first performed in Paris, France

February 21 – The Enchanted Lake, op. 62, by Anatoly Lyadov (1855-1914) was first performed in Saint Petersburg, Russia

February 22In the Fen Country, tone poem by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) was first performed in London, England

May 1 – Isle of the Dead in A minor, op. 29, symphonic poem by Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943) was first performed in Moscow, Russia

May 1 – George Melachrino (1909-1965) was born in London, England

May 18 – Isaac Albéniz (1860-1909) died in Cambo-les-Bains, France

June 23 – Clive Richardson (1909-1998) was born in Paris, France

October 7Le Coq d’Or, opera by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908) was first performed in Moscow, Russia

November 28 – Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor, op. 30, by Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943) was first performed in New York, New York

December 12Kikimora, op. 63, tone poem by Anatoly Lyadov (1855-1914) was first performed in Saint Petersburg, Russia

December 15 – Francisco Tárrega (1852-1909) died in Barcelona, Spain

December 18 – Octet for Double String Quartet in C major, op. 7, by George Enescu (1881-1955) was first performed in Paris, France

1890s

1910s

Sibelius Violin Concerto

The Finnish composer Jean Sibelius (1865-1957) aspired to be a virtuoso violinist, but abandoned that career because he felt that he had begun his “training for the exacting career of a virtuoso too late.” But it must have been some consolation that his violin concerto of 1904/1905—his only concerto—is one of the most inspired works of that genre in the repertoire.

There are many fine recordings of the Sibelius Violin Concerto, but one I am especially fond of is a 1951 recording with Isaac Stern and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham.

Here’s the conclusion of the work, nicely illustrating the passion and energy of this performance by Stern and Beecham’s Royal Philharmonic despite the primitive recording technology available at the time. Just goes to show that there were some remarkable recordings made more than 70 years ago!

Conclusion of the 1951 recording of Isaac Stern playing the Sibelius Violin Concerto with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Sir Thomas Beecham, conducting

While we’re on the topic of violin concertos, here are the best I’ve heard, in chronological order of their composition. Seek them out and enjoy!

Concerto for 2 Violins in D minor, BWV 1043 – Johann Sebastian Bach (c. 1730)

Violin Concerto in D major, op. 61 – Ludwig van Beethoven (1806)

Violin Concerto in E minor, op. 64 – Felix Mendelssohn (1844)

Violin Concerto No. 8 in D major, op. 99 – Charles-Auguste de Bériot (c. 1845)

Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor, op. 26 – Max Bruch (1867)

Violin Concerto in D major, op. 77 – Johannes Brahms (1878)

Violin Concerto in D major, op. 35 – Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1878)

Violin Concerto in A minor, op. 53 – Antonín Dvořák (1879)

Violin Concerto in D minor, op. 47 – Jean Sibelius (1905)

Violin Concerto No. 1 in D major, op. 19 – Sergei Prokofiev (1917)

Violin Concerto No. 2 in G minor, op. 63 – Sergei Prokofiev (1935)

Violin Concerto, op. 14 – Samuel Barber (1939)

Violin Concerto in D minor – Aram Khachaturian (1940)

Violin Concerto in D major, op. 35 – Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1945)

Violin Concerto in C major, op. 48 – Dmitry Kabalevsky (1948)

And, outstanding violin concerto movements:

Intermezzo (Poco adagio) [2nd & final movement] from Violin Concerto, op. 33 – Carl Nielsen (1911)

Sicilienne (Andantino) [2nd movement] from Concierto de estío, for violin and orchestra – Joaquín Rodrigo (1943)

Curious as to why so many violin concertos are written in the key of D major? I was.

“D major is well-suited to violin music because of the structure of the instrument, which is tuned G D A E. The open strings resonate sympathetically with the D string, producing a sound that is especially brilliant. This is also the case with all other orchestral strings.” – Wikipedia entry for D major

Prokofiev’s Last Symphony

Photograph of Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953) Russian composer, pianist, and conductor. Dated 1950.

Sergei Prokofiev was truly one of the most remarkable composers of the 20th century. His signature disjunct melodies and quirky, perky compositional style is so interesting and unique that his music is instantly recognizable, even today. When critics complain that the wellspring of current musical idioms has become exhausted or derivative, along comes a composer like Prokofiev who surprises everyone and does something completely different. That is why I believe that even within established musical forms it is possible to invent something completely new and exciting—it just doesn’t happen very often.

Regrettably, no English-language documentary about the life and music of Prokofiev has ever been produced. While we wait for someone to do that, perhaps Robert Greenberg might add another excellent installment to his “Great Masters” series for The Great Courses by profiling Sergei Prokofiev in eight 30-minute episodes as he did for Shostakovich, Brahms, and others.

Sergei Prokofiev composed his last completed work, the Symphony No. 7, between December 1951 and July 1952 at the age of 60-61. Its first public performance in Moscow on October 11, 1952 would be the last public performance Prokofiev would attend. He died less than five months later.

Dmitri Shostakovich attended the premiere, and quickly sent a letter of congratulations to Prokofiev, “I wish you at least another hundred years to live and create. Listening to such works as your Seventh Symphony makes it much easier and more joyful to live.” Shostakovich would attend Prokofiev’s funeral in March 1953.

Iconic photo of the three greatest 20th-century Soviet composers, together. Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953), Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975), and Aram Khachaturian (1903-1978). Dated 1940.

The most inspired recording I have ever heard of Prokofiev’s Seventh Symphony is by the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra with Andrew Litton conducting. Even though I was already familiar with this work, listening to this performance was like hearing the work for the first time. This interpretation is intimate and compelling.

BIS-2134

The last years of Prokofiev’s life were difficult ones. His health was deteriorating and Stalin’s terrible regime was a constant threat and source of anxiety. Official disapproval had led to a life of poverty for Prokofiev.

With that as a backdrop, Prokofiev was eager that his new symphony would be well received by the authorities as well as the public, hoping that it would earn him a First Class Stalin Prize—he needed the money. But like Shostakovich, Prokofiev took his symphonies seriously, pouring his heart and soul into them while cleverly embedding what he wanted to say musically in a way that would elude the authorities with their limited musical sophistication and intelligence.

Prokofiev even wrote two endings for the symphony. The “real” ending and a contrived ending to please the authorities and help him win the prize. (He did not win the hoped for Stalin Prize, but he was posthumously awarded the Lenin Prize for this symphony in 1957.)

Prokofiev told his friend, the young cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, “Slava, you will live much longer than me, and you must take care that this new ending never exists after me.” As Andrew Huth writes in the liner notes, “Both versions of the ending are included on this disc so that listeners can judge the very different effect each makes.” Track 9 is the final movement of Symphony No. 7 played again with the alternative ending that Prokofiev wrote to please the authorities.

Mstislav Rostropovich (1927-2007) with Sergei Prokofiev