June 1st 1967: Sgt. Pepper released

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The final version of the Sgt. Pepper album cover – which has now become famous

On this day in the 1967 the British band The Beatles released their iconic album ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’. Their eighth album, Sgt. Pepper was an experimental piece as one of the world’s first concept albums, and represented a marked break from the Beatles’ earlier work. The concept of the album came from bassist Paul McCartney and is that the album is being performed by a fictional band – the titular ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’. Each Beatle took on a new persona in the band, most prominently drummer Ringo Starr as Billy Shears.

 

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The picture of the band in the album (from left: Ringo Starr, John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison)

 

Having decided to stop touring in 1966, the band were freer to write songs that would be difficult to play live, including the famous ‘A Day In The Life’. Other songs on the album have acquired equally legendary status, including ‘With a Little Help from My Friends’, ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ and ‘When I’m Sixty-Four’. The album cover was designed by artists Peter Blake and Jann Haworth based on a sketch by McCartney, and featured cut-outs of famous figures. The figures depicted include Bob Dylan, Edgar Allan Poe, Marilyn Monroe, Robert Peel, Stuart Sutcliffe, Laurel and Hardy, Karl Marx, Oscar Wilde and wax versions of the Beatles themselves; John Lennon was denied his request to feature Adolf Hitler and Jesus Christ. This article gives a great account of the reasoning behind some of the choices and includes a handy chart to help identity the figures behind the band. Sgt. Pepper was an instant success, spending 22 weeks at the top of the UK album chart and winning four Grammy Awards; it is still considered one of the band’s best albums and one of the greatest albums of all time.

 

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Outtakes from Sgt. Pepper cover shoot (source, and for more of the alternate covers: http://www.thatericalper.com/2014/02/24/outtakes-from-the-beatles-sgt-pepper-cover-shoot/)

 

April 27th 1810: Beethoven composes Für Elise

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Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

 

On this day in 1810, the famous German composer Ludwig van Beethoven composed his piano piece Für Elise. Over the course of his life the deaf musician composed nine symphonies, five piano concertos, thirty-two piano sonatas and sixteen string quartets. This piece was not published until 1867, long after Beethoven’s death, as the manuscript had been lost. However when it was recovered, Beethoven’s manuscript for the composition was dated 27th April 1810. Für Elise translates as ‘For Elise’, and scholars have long debated the identity of the woman who inspired Beethoven to write this beautiful piece.

 

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Opening lines of Für Elise

 

 

It is now one of the most famous piano pieces of all time and one of Beethoven’s best known works. Every adult or child who begins to learn how to play the piano remembers this tune and hopes that a way down the line they will be able to play Für Elise. This piece is also particularly remarkable as it came towards the end of Beethoven’s life when he was almost certainly completely deaf, or at least heavily impaired. It is a true testament to his genius that he could compose such a piece without ever being able to hear it out loud; that is what makes Beethoven one of the greats.

April 14th 1759: Handel dies

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On this day in 1759, the German composer George Frederic Handel died aged 74. Famous for his Baroque pieces, Handel was born in Germany in 1685 but moved to Britain later in life. He gained a reputation there for his Italian operas, and some of his works were performed for Queen Anne and her successors on the British throne. Handel enjoyed royal patronage, and his music is regularly played at royal coronations even to this day. However he is perhaps best known for his biblical choral masterpiece: Messiah.

 

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The monument to Handel in Westminster Abbey

 

Handel died in 1759, and was honoured with a state funeral and burial in Westminster Abbey. Alongside his grave is a monument (pictured above), sculpted by Louis Francois Roubiliac, which was unveiled in 1762 and features a statue of Handel which supposedly has the exact likeness of his death mask.

March 7th 1875: Ravel born

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Maurice Ravel (1875 – 1937)

 

On this day in 1875 the French composer Maurice Ravel was born in Ciboure, France, not far from the Spanish border. He was born into a Catholic household to a Swiss father and Basque mother. Ravel’s father imparted onto his son his love of music, which shaped the young Maurice’s future. His musical talents led him to the Paris Conservatoire, and whilst he was not academically successful there he was acknowledged as a gifted musician.

 

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Ravel’s grave in Paris

 

Ravel went on to enjoy an illustrious career as a composer, especially known for his piano pieces like ‘Gaspard de la nuit’ and ‘Jeux d’eau’. However Ravel’s most famous work is probably the orchestral piece ‘Boléro’ which premiered in 1928. In the spirit of the recent Winter Olympics in Sochi, here is a link to Torvill and Dean’s gold medal winning ice dancing performance at the 1984 Sarajevo Winter Olympic Games. This performance is how I first heard of Ravel, and I think it may be the same for many others. ‘Boléro’ is often considered synonymous with Torvill and Dean, but we must remember the man behind the music: Maurice Ravel. 

March 4th 1678: Vivaldi born

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Antonio Vivaldi (1678 – 1741)

On this day in 1678, the Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi was born in Venice. He was baptised immediately after birth, a very rare event, most likely because he seemed to be in poor health and his mother wanted him baptised in case he died. Vivaldi is often considered one of the greatest Baroque musicians. Perhaps his most famous work is the series of violin concertos ‘The Four Seasons’.

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Monument to Vivaldi in Vienna

His red hair and position as a Catholic priest earned him the nickname ‘il Prete Rosso’ or ‘The Red Priest’. During his lifetime Vivaldi was active in his community, helping in a local orphanage where he supported their music programmes for the children. Antonio Vivaldi died in Vienna in 1741 aged 63, after moving there hoping for employment by Emperor Charles VI. Whilst he died impoverished, his music is now widely considered some of the greatest from his era. ‘Spring’ from his Four Seasons has especially enjoyed popularity, and is arguably his most well known piece beyond usual classical music fans.

March 3rd 1931: ‘Star-Spangled Banner’ adopted

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The original ‘Star-Spangled Banner’ which inspired Key

 

On this day in 1931, the United States formally adopted ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ as its national anthem. The song was written by Francis Scott Key, who was inspired after witnessing the defence of Fort McHenry during the War of 1812. He was particularly moved by the sight of an American flag being raised over the fort in defiance of the British; this image inspired the poem which provides the lyrics to ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’.

 

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Francis Scott Key (1779 – 1843)

 

The tune came from a well-known 18th century British song. The anthem was a popular patriotic American song for many years, and was commonly used by the armed forces prior to its official adoption. In 1931, at the urging of many patriotic organisations, a congressional resolution was signed by President Hoover which affirmed Key’s song as America’s national anthem.

 

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The earliest known manuscript of Key’s song

 

I have always personally enjoyed listening to the national anthems of countries around the world, and recently wrote about the Indian national anthem, Jana Gana Mana. My country’s national anthem is fairly dull and monotonous (God Save the Queen), so maybe that’s why I enjoy more tuneful songs like La Marseillaise, Deutschland Uber Alles and Advance Australia Fair. The Star-Spangled Banner is a wonderful song, and does truly conjure up the imagery that is often (whether erroneously or not) associated with America: freedom, liberty etc. etc. The musicality of Key’s prose vaguely reminds one of his distant relative and namesake Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald (F. Scott Fitzgerald) who wrote ‘The Great Gatsbsy’, a classic American novel. At any rate, today is a good day to have an explore of YouTube and check out the national anthems around the world; ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ has a great deal of competition!

February 9th 1964: Beatles on Ed Sullivan

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The Beatles with Ed Sullivan (from left: Ringo Starr, George Harrison, Ed Sullivan, John Lennon and Paul McCartney)

On this day in 1964, the British band the Beatles made their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in the USA. This performance, watched by a record 73 million (around 40% of the American population), began the so-called ‘British Invasion’. On February 7th the Beatles had arrived at New York’s John F. Kennedy airport to a crowd of over 4,000. They were beginning to take off in America, with their hit ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ having risen to number 1 in the charts.

 

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The Beatles playing the Ed Sullivan Show

At the Ed Sullivan Show, the band performed hits such as ‘All My Loving’ and ‘She Loves You’. The Beatles were already popular in their native Britain, but their success in America forever established them as an internationally famous band. Thus the performance on the Ed Sullivan Show prompted the spread of ‘Beatlemania’ worldwide.

 

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The Beatles conclude a song with their famous bow.

 

As a self-professed Beatles nut it is hard to contain my glee at celebrating this 50 year milestone. One of the greatest things about the Beatles is their undeniable impact on the history of music. One need not be a fan to appreciate the importance of this anniversary. The Beatles were one of the first bands which, if you forgive me the flowery rhetoric, united the world. 4,000 fans waved them farewell at London’s Heathrow, and 4,000 welcomed them to New York. They had the same avid fanbase in Japan, Germany, India, Australia, the Philippines and many more. Little else had united the cultures of these countries before. I am not saying the Beatles were peacemakers; they were musicians. But music can unite people in its own way.

 

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Five years after Ed Sullivan, the Beatles play their final concert – an impromptu appearance on top of the Apple Corps headquarters in London

 

The Ed Sullivan appearance was 50 years ago today

February 3rd 1959: The Day the Music Died

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Big Bopper, Buddy Holly & Ritchie Valens

On this day in 1959 a plane crash in Iowa killed the musicians Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper and their pilot Roger Peterson. The three were American rock and roll pioneers and thus Don McLean in his 1971 song ‘American Pie’ referred to the day as ‘The Day the Music Died’. The crash was concluded to have been caused by poor weather conditions and pilot error, as the pilot was not fully qualified to fly the kind of plane it was.

 

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Wreck of the Beechcraft Bonanza plane

 


Buddy Holly & The Crickets – That’ll Be The Day

Big Bopper – Chantilly Lace

Ritchie Valens – La Bamba

 

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The memorial at the crash site

December 8th 1980: John Lennon killed

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John Lennon (1940 – 1980)

On this day in 1980, musician and peace activist John Winston Ono Lennon was shot outside the Dakota Building in New York City. He was killed by a deranged fan, Mark David Chapman, for whom Lennon had given an autograph just a few hours earlier.

 

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Lennon signs an autograph for Chapman

John Lennon is of course known for being a founding member of one of, if not the most, successful act in the world: The Beatles. His first band The Quarrymen later evolved into the Beatles, as eventually, the Fab Four came together. Paul McCartney joined after seeing the Quarrymen perform at a village fair, and George Harrison joined after being recommended by Paul and impressing John with his rendition of ‘Raunchy’ on the guitar. The final member was Ringo Starr, the drummer of Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. And thus John, Paul, George and Ringo came together. John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote many of the Beatles’ early hits, such as ‘Love Me Do’ and ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’, which catapulted them into worldwide fame and ‘Beatlemania’.

 

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The Beatles: Harrison, Starr, McCartney and Lennon

But on this day we do not just remember John Lennon the musician. We remember the man, and the message. Later in life, especially after having met Yoko, Lennon became very involved in peace and activism. He and Yoko staged their famous ‘bed-ins’ for peace, and expressed opposition to the Vietnam War. Lennon was an inspirational figure to millions of people, conveying his simple message of hope and peace. This message is exemplified in his song ‘Imagine’, with its peaceful simplicity and inspirational words.

 

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John and Yoko’s ‘bed-in’ for peace

Lennon lives on as a musical and artistic inspiration, an icon, and a symbol of peace. His poignant message has inspired generations:

 

“Give peace a chance”

 

November 25th 1984: Band-Aid recorded

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On this day in 1984, a group of prominent musicians recorded Band Aid’s ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’ to raise money to help famine victims in Ethiopia. The performers included George Michael, Sting, Bono, Phil Collins, Paul Weller and many more. The song was written by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure, and upon release on November 28th quickly became one of the best selling singles in UK history. It continues to be a popular Christmas song.

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