(b London, England, Feb 1834; d New York, NY, April 11, 1905). American composer, theater orchestra director, and arranger. Born in London’s East End, Braham’s musical education was gained largely through his early education at the British Union School. He initially played the harp, but switched to the violin and became a skilled performer by the time he was 18. Rather than embarking on a career as a professional musician, Braham became a brass turner, making tubing for brass instruments, and supplemented his income by performing in theatrical orchestras in the evenings. In 1856, in the wake of a cholera epidemic that took his mother’s life, he emigrated to New York, where he quickly found employment in theater orchestras. By 1857 he was a regular member of the orchestra attached to Matt Peel’s Campbell Minstrels, and remained with this company, despite personnel conflicts and the reforming of the troupe under a modified name, until ...
Gillian M. Rodger
Ellen Marie Peck
(b New York, NY, Jan 28, 1880; d New York, Jan 4, 1928). American lyricist, librettist, and actress. Born into a theatrical family, she spent her entire life in the theater. A meticulous actress, Donnelly was particularly known for her ability to interpret a role with depth and sensitivity at a rather young age, as she demonstrated with title roles in Candida (1903) and Madame X (1909). However, chronic illness and years of touring took an early toll on Donnelly, forcing her to transition to a writing career in her late 30s. In 1916 Donnelly penned the libretto for an Americanized German operetta, Flora Bella. She soon teamed up with composer sigmund Romberg , with whom she wrote some of the most successful operettas of the 1920s. Donnelly and Romberg enjoyed a close friendship and a symbiotic collaborative process, which lay behind the overwhelming success of ...
Ronald J. Zank
(b Brooklyn, NY, June 6, 1954). American performer, playwright and librettist. Fierstein grew up in New York and worked as an actor; he also pursued his interest in painting and received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. He was both lead actor and playwright for Torch Song Trilogy, which originated off-off Broadway before transferring to off-Broadway and finally to Broadway (1982). He wrote the libretto for the musical adaptation of the French play and film La Cage Aux Folles (1983, music and lyrics by Jerry Herman), about a gay couple dealing with their son’s marriage into a conservative family. Fierstein also crafted the book for the short-lived Legs Diamond, a production that featured the songs and performance of Peter Allen as the title gangster. As a performer Fierstein originated the role of plus-sized mother Edna Turnblad in the musical ...
(b New York, NY, Dec 2, 1914; d New York, NY, Oct 24, 2002). American lyricist, librettist, and actor. He sustained a lifelong writing partnership with Betty Comden. Among their joint works were the musicals Wonderful Town (1953) and Bells Are Ringing (1956), and the film script ...
[Elizabeth Holzman ]
(b Cincinnati, OH, May 23, 1904; d Stamford, CT, June 18, 1971). American actress, singer, composer, and lyricist. Holman completed her college education before moving to New York where she began her theatrical career in 1924. Encouraged by the critic Channing Pollock, she appeared in revues, including the Garrick Gaieties (1925) and Merry-Go-Round (1927). Her most successful performance came in 1929 with The Little Show, where she introduced the song “Moanin’ Low” (by Ralph Rainger). This blues number became her signature tune, although she had another hit in Three’s a Crowd (1930) with “Body and Soul” (Heyman, Sour/Green). She appeared in other revues during the 1930s, including Revenge with Music (1934), and starred in Cole Porter’s You Never Know (1938). Holman produced her own one-woman show, Blues, Ballads, and Sin-Songs, in 1954. She took this opportunity to showcase her own compositions, including “Good Morning Blues” and “House of the Rising Sun.” Her music was deeply rooted in African American idioms, a connection she celebrated through her support of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s. Holman’s performances are preserved on 25 sides recorded for Brunswick from ...
Gillian M. Rodger
(b Columbus, OH, March 16, 1889; d Beverly Hills, CA, Feb 26, 1956). American actress, singer, songwriter, and entertainer. Her stage career began when she was just a child and was promoted tirelessly by her mother, Jennie Cockrell Bierbower, a woman whose own theatrical aspirations had been thwarted. Janis’s first roles on the stage were with the Ohio Valentine Stock Company in 1897. Her career in vaudeville lasted into the 1920s, and the format of her act varied little. She opened with a song and then moved through imitations of popular stars of the period; her imitations varied from year to year and included a wide range of celebrities including Weber and Fields, Lillian Russell, Pat Rooney, Anna Held, Ethel Barrymore, Alla Nazimova, Fanny Brice, and George M. Cohan. By the 1920s she had begun to move into musical comedy and revue.
Janis was a tireless supporter of the troops during World War I and traveled to France and England to entertain them. She found equal popularity with English and French audiences. After her mother’s death in ...
Callum Ross, John Snelson, and Margaret Campbell
Member of Lloyd Webber family
(b London, March 11, 1914; d London, Oct 29, 1982). Composer and organist. By the age of 14 he was well known as an organ recitalist. He won an organ scholarship to Mercer’s School and subsequently to the RCM (FRCO 1933), where his teachers included Vaughan Williams, among others. Although World War II interrupted his compositional development, the conclusion of the war marked the beginning of his most prolific years. His works from 1945 to the mid-1950s include the oratorio St Francis of Assisi (1948), the orchestral tone poem Aurora (1951) and the Sonatina for viola and piano (1951). Writing in a style firmly embedded in the Romanticism of such composers as Rachmaninoff, Sibelius and Franck, he became increasingly convinced that his music was ‘out of step’ with the prevailing climate of the time. Rather than compromise his approach, he virtually stopped composing, turning instead to academic music. He taught at the RCM and in ...
Mary Helen Still
(b Charleston, MA, Feb 24, 1858; d New York, NY, May 3, 1897). American composer and actor. Often working with the librettist J. Cheever Goodwin, he produced several scores for Broadway productions in the 1890s. He studied harmony at the Boston Conservatory, and following his graduation from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology he traveled to Paris and studied art under Jean-Léon Gérôme and Jean-Jacques Henner, among others. After returning to America, he began to compose musical plays and operettas. He convinced the producer Augustin Daly to underwrite his first musical play, Cinderella at School (1881), which, although a popular success, was not well received by critics. In 1884 he began to collaborate with Goodwin, and their partnership produced six crowd- and critic-pleasing operettas. His adaptation of Emmanuel Chabrier’s L’étoile (1890), produced by and starring the actor Francis Wilson, caught the attention of Richard D’Oyly Carte who engaged Ivan Caryll to further rework the operetta for the Savoy Theatre in ...
(b Bratislava, 16 Oct 1981). Slovak composer, saxophonist, and improviser. Studied composition at the University of Performing arts in Bratislava (VŠMU) (with Jevgenij Iršai and Vladimír Godár) and at the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague (with Michal Rataj), as well as musicology at the Comenius University in Bratislava.
He is unusual in the Czecho-Slovak context for the breadth of his musical and cultural interests – eclecticism and a Schnittkean polystylism are the only unifying elements of his work, perhaps together with relentless demands on the listener’s emotions (in one direction or another). His earlier works betray the influence of Schnittke in their rapid changes and distressed emotiveness interspersed with moments of (ironic?) grandeur, while at other times, his use of explosive improvisation and a range of stylistic contexts brings John Zorn to mind.
He has a close relationship with theatre, both in his operas and video-operas – often made in collaboration with the actor, director, and librettist Marek Kundlák – and in his instrumental music, which doesn’t shy away from theatricality and make-believe. He often treats musics as cultural phenomena, mindful of their history and current position, unafraid to appropriate and explore what he calls the emptied-out or sketched-out worlds that remain in music after the 20th century....