Oftentimes we celebrate the birthdays of some of the most well known composers, such as Beethoven, Mozart, and Bach. But sometimes observing the birthdays of lesser known composers is a fun way to expand our horizons. Below is a list of some notable February birthdays of various composers, some famous and some less well known. Have fun exploring some of the wonderful pieces composed by these February babies, and fall in love with some wonderful music you might never have heard!
February 2: Fritz Kreisler – born in Vienna, Austria, Fritz Kreisler was a composer of Jewish heritage who came to be one of the leading violinists of the first half of the twentieth century. Considered one of the greatest masters of the violin, he composed and performed many of his own pieces for the instrument, including the lovely “Liebeslied” (which means “love song”, perfect for Valentines Day!) -- which we are blessed to have recordings of Kreisler himself performing.
February 3: Felix Mendelssohn – born in Hamburg, Germany, Mendelssohn also came from a family of Jewish heritage, whose grandfather was the famous Jewish philosopher Moses Mendelssohn. At the age of 25, Mendelssohn was offered the position as director of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, where he championed the works of J.S. Bach, who had also lived in Leipzig, and befriended fellow composers Robert and Clara Schumann. Mendelssohn’s sister Fanny was also a skilled and very notable composer. Watch this phenomenal recording of an excerpt from Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto performed by Itzhak Perlman on the Ed Sullivan show at the age of thirteen!
February 8: John Williams – a living American composer, born in Queens, New York, John Williams is considered one of the leading contemporary composers of cinematic music, although he has written numerous other standalone pieces as well such as sonatas, symphonies, and concertos. His soundtracks are widely recognizable, from the music for the “Star Wars” films, Jaws, Jurassic Park, Indiana Jones, Harry Potter, etc. He has enjoyed a very close relationship with director Stephen Spielberg, out of which collaboration came the unparalleled soundtrack to Spielberg’s film “Schindler’s List” and its unforgettable theme, performed here by none other than Itzhak Perlman and Williams himself, together in concert.
February 8: André Grétry – born in Belgium, in the francophone city of Liege (also the birthplace of the great Cesar Franck), where the conservatory of music is named after him. Grétry became known as a prolific composer of comic French operas, his most famous being “Zémire et Azor” based on the plot of a play titled “La Belle et la Bête” which is none other than the story we would know by the title of Beauty and The Beast! Listen to the beautiful aria “La Fauvette” from that opera, sung by the legendary coloratura soprano Lily Pons.
February 12: James Scott – born in Missouri in 1865, the son of former slaves, James Scott is considered one of the most important African-American ragtime composers, along with the renowned Scott Joplin. James Scott met Joplin personally and worked with him, gaining valuable contacts in the publishing industry who went on to print Scott’s own works. Listen to Scott’s piano rag: “Summer Breeze” (much appreciated on a blustery winter’s day!)
February 15: Michael Praetorius – born in Germany, Praetorius was a very prolific early baroque composers and music theorists. Much of his compositions were sacred works for the church in the Lutheran liturgical tradition, although he wrote numerous secular works as well for various combinations of winds and strings. For a wonderful example of the music for brass choir written by Praetorius, which is rich in the polyphonic style of the early baroque, listen to the Passameze and Galliarde from his “Terpsichore” collection of dances.