Tag Archives: Beethoven

Beyond the Music: Fun Facts About Your Favorite Composers


By Jay Althouse

We sometimes forget that the great composers, whose music we know and love, were living, breathing people who led normal lives beyond their music. Well sometimes, as in the case of Beethoven, not so normal. After all, it’s difficult to be normal when you’re a genius. But just like the rest of us, composers had parents, went to school, grew up, sometimes married, and sometimes had children—Bach had more than 20! Their lives were filled sometimes with joy and sometimes with sorrow. Some, such as Giuseppe Verdi, achieved great financial success musically, while others, such as Charles Ives, rarely heard their music performed during their lifetimes.

For example, did you know that . . .

  • Hector Berlioz studied to become a doctor.
  • Igor Stravinsky, Edward Elgar, and George Frideric Handel studied law.
  • Charles Ives was a very successful insurance agent.
  • Antonio Vivaldi was a Catholic priest.
  • As a teenager, Duke Ellington received a scholarship to study art at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.
  • Much of Johann Sebastian Bach’s music was largely forgotten until it was revived, in the 1830s, by Felix Mendelssohn.
  • Giocomo Puccini’s hobbies were fast motorboats and faster cars.
  • Felix Mendelssohn was an excellent painter, artist, and author.
  • After the death of Robert Schumann, Clara Schumann and Johannes Brahms fell in love, though never married.
  • After graduating from preparatory school, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky became a clerk in the Russian Ministry of Justice.
  • Richard Wagner authored several books, including an autobiography. He even formed his own fan clubs, which he called “Wagner Societies.” Now that’s an ego!
  • In addition to composing music and directing a band, John Philip Sousa wrote three novels, and autobiography, a music instruction book, and hundreds of magazine articles.

It’s important for students to understand that the great composers were, for the most part, normal people with extraordinary talents. As a teacher, you should take every opportunity to humanize the great composers your students study.

Alfred Music has two fully reproducible publications (One-Page Composer Bios and Accent on Composers) designed to teach your students about the lives of the great composers. Both books feature one-page biographies and are filled with musical and personal facts about the great composers your students should know. They’re excellent classroom resources for any music teacher!

althouse_jayAs a composer of choral music, Jay Althouse has over 600 works in print for choirs of all levels. He is a member of ASCAP and is a recipient of the ASCAP Special Award for his compositions in the area of standard music. Jay has also co-written several songbooks, musicals, and cantatas with his wife, Sally K. Albrecht, and also compiled and arranged a number of highly regarded vocal solo collections.


Classics for Students: Bach, Mozart & Beethoven

By Jane Magrath

Book-1-CoverThe Bach, Mozart & Beethoven books in three progressive levels make up the first volumes in the new Classics for Students series.  They are designed to encourage students to bring new life to the music, as well as to provide core literature by the most important Baroque and Classical masters in one book. The selections are at the center of the standard repertoire at these levels, and the book format provides aids to help connect students with the composer.  Each volume includes spacious editions of the pieces, inviting composer biographies, and study guides that focus on three key teaching points for each piece.

Mozart-bio-1The Composer Biographies are divided into two parts. For example, the first section of the biography for Mozart in Book 1 provides a basic overview of his life and works.  In the second section, his life as a Child Prodigy and the difficulties related to this are discussed. This section explores how Leopold Mozart booked engagements haphazardly for Wolfgang.  He relied on word of mouth for concert promotion. Once, when the family was temporarily stranded in London, the children performed in a tavern to earn enough money to continue travelling.

Mozart-bio-2In Book 2 the same core overview of Mozart’s life is provided in the first half while the second section goes into detail about the Dueling Pianofortes in Mozart’s competition with Clementi. The discussion reviews the various stages of the contest, what they played, and how Mozart and Clementi were asked to sight-read and improvise in the competition.


The About the Music section provides three key points for students to consider when studying each piece.  For example, for the Mozart Minuet in F Major, K. 15oo in Book 1, the key points provide a concise and clear introduction to the piece.About-the-music

Students should play the melody with a light sound and slight emphaMinuet-F-Major-15oosis on first beat of each measure.  I often ask students to circle the two-note slurs throughout (11 in this one-page piece).  Writing in small diminuendo signs beneath each slur reminds the student to taper the slurs. Students can also locate the upbeats that seem to pull over the bar line toward downbeats of the next measure.  In these examples (marked with arrows), two eighth notes pull to the quarter note on beat one, helping to bring the music to life.

Bach-Polonaise-in-G-Minor-BWV-125With the Polonaise in G Minor, BWV 125 from the Notebook for Anna Magdalena in Book 2, students may want to listen to a recording and then divide it into practice sections. I have marked suggested practice sections with brackets. I like to help students discover the surprises (sudden stops on quarter notes) at the ends of the main motives (two sixteenth notes and an eighth note). These unpredictable surprise endings appear at the end of the declamatory gesture each time it appears (mm. 1, 2, 5, 6, 9, 10, 21, 22). For variety, I usually suggest that the sections beginning at measure 13 and measure 17 be played lighter.

Mozart-Viennese-Sonatina-No-1Some of Mozart’s most attractive writing for students appears in the Viennese Sonatinas that were originally composed as Wind Divertimenti, K. 439b for two bass horns and bassoon. They have become standards in the piano repertoire in these arranged versions.  Pianists can imagine the different sections of the orchestra playing different phrases, alternating in dialogue.  This can expand students’ abilities to “orchestrate” at the keyboard by studying the varying textures (thick and thin) within the examples.  The performer also learns to work with thick versus thin textures in voicing and inflecting the phrases. Both Books 2 and 3 contain a Viennese Sonatina.

A Suggested Order of Study is included in each book as a guideline for teachers. While most students will not study every piece in every book, these guides can aid teachers with repertoire selection. The Suggested Order of Study for each of the three volumes is included below.

Book 1:
Wynn-Anne Rossi





Book 2:
Book 2





Book 3:
Book 3





I hope teachers will enjoy working with students on these pieces and that the information in the books with help student find fresh and creative ways to bring them alive.