Names to watch out for in our musical New Year

Composer John Cage
Composer John Cage

1912 was good year for the births of conductors, singers, pianists, and longevity but a bad one for composers, John Cage and Xavier Montsalvatge being the only ones with any sort of name.

American avant-gardist Cage is easily the better known but although 2012 is also the 20th anniversary of his death in 1992, the likelihood of hearing anything by him by way of centenary celebration is infinitesimally remote, except maybe in a contemporary music environment.

Catalan composer Montsalvatge, meanwhile, if he is extremely lucky, might be remembered in his hometown of Girona (although he was resident in Barcelona from 1921), as it will be the 10th anniversary of his death in 2002.

Thinking about it, there is the possibility that his best-known piece outside Spain, the rather appealing Cinco Canciones Negras (Five Black Songs), may crop in a mezzo-soprano recital somewhere – it has considerably more chance of doing so than anything by Cage!

The signs are, though, that the most prominent birth anniversary being celebrated in 2012 will be the 150th of Debussy’s in 1862.

Two composers who died in 1912 and penned music eminently worth greater exposure in the year ahead are Massenet who wrote other sumptuous operas, apart from the fairly regularly heard Manon and Werther.

And there is Samuel Coleridge-Taylor who we know has at least one centenary special in the offing, the world premiere of his ‘lost’ opera Thelma after 100 years, which was discovered in the British Library by Catherine Carr who happens to be from Sheffield.

One of a handful of celebrated conductors born in 1912, Igor Markevitch, also composed a number of rarely heard works but his fame rests and rested firmly on his baton-wielding until 1983 when he died.

More famous still is Georg Solti who had managed to outlive the similarly follically challenged, somewhat undervalued Erich Leinsdorf by four years when he died in 1997.

The year before, the lesser-known Ferdinand Leitner but worthy of greater attention than he got and gets departed this mortal coil, while surviving the other four was Kurt Sanderling who died in September this year two days short of his 99th birthday.

Some household-name singers (perhaps not to the extent that were at on time) greeted the world for the first time with vastly different vocal sounds to the ones that would make them famous later.

Kathleen Ferrier remains the most famous of them 58 years after her tragic death from cancer in 1953 and there was Joan Hammond, who actually had a distinguished operatic career, despite a reputation built on the 78 rpm record of O my beloved father in everyone’s collection.

Dame Joan left us in 1996; 17 years after a sudden heart attack took Alfred Deller from our midst after re-introducing the now ubiquitous countertenor voice in Baroque music from the 1950s onwards.

Not having household-name status but famous in Richard Strauss and Wagnerian circles are two great German singers, Christel Goltz whose dramatic soprano exertions were not an impediment to surviving to the age of 96, and the cavernous-voiced bass Josef Greindl succumbed, aged 80, having been ‘killed off’ numerous times on stage as Fafner, Hunding and Hagen in Wagner’s Ring at the Bayreuth Festival.

At the other extreme, the two most regular creators of roles in Gilbert and Sullivan operas, George Grossmith and Richard Temple, both died in 1912.

Among a handful of noted pianists born in 1912, the most famous are Rudolf Firkusny who studied with Janácek, and Nikita Magaloff whose early friendship with Prokofiev and Ravel perhaps had something to do with him turning his hand to composing on occasion.

Both died within two years of each other, respectively, 1994 and 1992, while also departing this life in 1992 was Edith Vogel whose pianistic exploits, especially in Beethoven and Schubert, were regularly heard on BBC Radio.

These are some names that you may hear more of in 2012, then – and a good chance there will be another, Perry Como, who caught his final falling star and put in his pocket in 2001.