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A Swarm of B's
Not that sort of bee, although you may read stories about some composers and musicians who have a sting in their tails!

A Swarm of B's

Largely by coincidence, we needn't look far down the alphabet to find a huge number of characterful composers and musicians: all the (right!) answers in this Quiz involve people whose surnames begin with B.

British music enthusiasts will be well aware of Benjamin Britten, whose centenary we marked in 2013; but Bela Bartok (1881-1945) was a partial contemporary of Britten and who also specialised in collecting and using folk tunes from his native country.
From which country did he come?
Bartok later moved to the USA and indeed died there.
Incidentally, Czechoslovakia (as such) did not exist at the time of Bartok's birth
This Russian composer is remembered for his lush romantic writing for orchestra, voices and chamber instruments; but his original 'day-job' was as an international chemist and researcher: according to Wikipedia, his final piece of chemical research was on organic compounds in animal urine. But many people these days could probably still hum you some of his tunes which were turned into a stage musical Kismet in the early 1950s, around the time of West Side Story in the US and Salad Days and The Boy Friend back here.
Who was he?
Alexander Borodin was by all accounts a remarkable man, and his music is both accessible and lovely
West Side Story (as mentioned in our previous question) is an updated stage-musical version of the Romeo and Juliet story, written in the early 1950s by a then very much living composer and conductor: who was he?
Pierre Boulez
Anton Bruckner
Leonard Bernstein
Arnold Bax
Bernstein's sizzling and sweltering score is as atmospheric in its own way as Borodin's work; if by any mischance you haven't yet heard it, do try to!
This composer was one of the German Romantic 'heavyweights', although there is a telling anecdote from his younger years in Hamburg, where as a jobbing musician he used to play the piano in 'salons and taverns' (i.e. probably, 'dives' and brothels) along the waterfront. On one occasion he was playing a piece while looking at a book on the piano's music-stand, but this wasn't a copy of the music (which he was playing from memory), it was an anthology of literary verse that he was reading to pass his own time, with a potential view to setting some of the poems as songs later on.
This composer became a great symphonist and is perhaps best remembered for some concerti and the wonderful Ein Deutsches Requiem (German Requiem). Who was he?
Johannes Brahms
Anton Bruckner
Leon Boellmann
Ludwig van Beethoven
Johannes Brahms' piano pieces and songs are deserved classics within the repertoire
This man ~ originally a guitarist and who never learnt to play the piano ~ once became so infatuated with an Irish actress that he wrote an entire, and justly famous, symphony to explore his obsession. At one later point, he was all set to travel back from Rome to France to kill his former fiancee (another woman) and her family, disguising himself 'in drag' as a woman but armed with pistols and phials of poison.
This composer was a towering symphonist and opera writer, whose works also include a groundbreaking treatise on orchestration (the deployment of different instruments and tone colours by composers) and a monumental Grande Messe des Morts (Great Mass of/for the Dead) which, besides large choir/s and orchestra, calls for no fewer than four offstage brass bands.
France recognised his genius to the extent that his portrait appeared on its 10 Franc banknote (then worth about £1) until that national currency was superseded by the Euro.
Wow! Who was he?
Leon Boellmann
Gaston Berthier
Claude de Bussy
Hector Berlioz
Possibly the very largest-than-life of all our 'giant B's' in this Quiz!
By his two wives (not simultaneously) he had 20 children, many of whom followed him into the musical profession. Many people regard him as the first and foremost Western classical composer, though he saw himself as God's servant through his regular church work and was not widely known beyond his own region in his lifetime; his music was recognised and rescued from obscurity about 3/4 of a century after his death, by Felix Mendelssohn.
In his own younger days he had been known to take leave from his other duties and walk 200 miles to catch a recital in North Germany by an organist he admired. Who was this determined young man?
Dietrich Buxtehude
Johann Sebastian Bach
Anton Bruckner
Ludwig van Beethoven
Bach was, of course, and justly remains, famous for many other works and feats. Incidentally, it was Buxtehude (Answer 1) whom the young Bach trekked to hear play
He was born on 22 November, the feast-day of St Cecilia who is the patron saint of music and musicians ~ as had been Purcell, to whom this 20th-century composer felt he owed a great debt. His music included film-scores, church cantatas, chamber works, opera and a massive War Requiem whose premiere formed part of the commissioning of the new cathedral at Coventry, 20 years after the old one had been bombed almost out of existence during a Luftwaffe raid: he was also a committed pacifist.
He lived most of his adult life in an openly creative and homosexual relationship with his partner, the singer Peter Pears, at a time when such things were not formally allowed in this country.
Who was he?
Arthur Bliss
York Bowen
Benjamin Britten
George Thalben-Ball
If nothing else, you may well be familiar with his Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra, originally written for an educational film. But there are many other delights to discover!
A family of composers and musicians moved from Venice to London hundreds of years ago to form, at one stage, the backbone of the royal wind band: a direct descendant was recently Head of Brass at the Royal College of Music. Their name comes from a town near Venice; a character with a similar name appears in a key role in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, while a female member of the original family has also been put forward as the likely 'dark lady of the Sonnets'. What is the linking surname?
The living descendant is Peter Bassano, q.v.
Three of the composers listed below were handicapped, as their personal and professional lives wore on, by deafness; which is the only one, so far as we know, who did NOT suffer from this problem?
Ludwig van Beethoven
Johann Sebastian Bach
William Boyce
Luigi Boccherini
All three of the upper composers listed here went deaf; a surprising many (not listed here) were also blind, or went blind
When he died in 1975 he was a Knight of 25 years' standing and also Master of the Queen's Music (since 1953), though his own output is more remembered from earlier times in his life ~ such as his response, as a composer, to losing many musical and other friends in the Great War. Possibly his best-known single piece is the startling March he wrote for the score of the film of HG Wells' Things to Come.
Who was he?
Edgar Bainton
Arthur Benjamin
Arthur Bliss
Arnold Bax
Probably not quite a 'top-rank' composer as many of the others in this Quiz have been ... but certainly one whose output one should be aware of


Author:  Ian Miles

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