Sticking with WWII, it is an interesting intellectual exercise to dig down a bit and see if we can come up with the names of two individuals that were key to the way the Second World War ended. Who are they? Mikhail Koshkin and Frank Jack Fletcher. Huh?, I hear you expostulating! Who the heck are these guys? Of course the war was an immense struggle between tens if not hundreds of millions of individuals, but if you look closely at the details, these two men emerge as being at the core of the events. The Red Army was successful in resisting and finally defeating the enormous forces launched against them largely because they had the best tank in the first years of the war, the T-34. This had a powerful main gun and brilliantly designed armor that could not be penetrated by the Wehrmacht's standard anti-tank weapons. This came as a huge shock to the Germans who had become used to their Panzers simply rolling over everyone. The T-34 medium tank was designed by one Mikhail Koshkin (whose Wikipedia article is probably the smallest possible given his historic importance). The Russians built around 80,000 of the T-34 and that was pretty much what defeated the Nazis on the Eastern Front.
Frank Jack Fletcher is much better known. As Vice Admiral Fletcher he was in tactical command at both the Battle of the Coral Sea and the Battle of Midway, the crucial turning points in the Pacific war. Since these battles the US has been the dominant military power, not only in the Pacific, but globally. Sure, he had a lot of help, from Navy cryptologists who decoded the Japanese transmissions, and from the Navy Yard workers at Pearl Harbor that repaired the USS Yorktown in an astonishing 72 hours from damage suffered during the Battle of the Coral Sea. The Japanese estimated it would take three months and were very surprised to find her at Midway. But it was the decisions made by Fletcher during the battle that enabled the Americans to sink all four of the Japanese large aircraft carriers which pretty much meant that the war was lost in a mere two days, the 4th and 5th of June, 1942.
So we can see that it is often figures who are less or little known that are the most crucial in shaping events behind the scenes. Because I think that something similar is at work in music history. The two figures who are most responsible for creating or discovering the basic principles of the musical structures that have given us most of the great music of the last three centuries, while certainly not unknown, are actually less known than their importance warrants. Who are these people? Claudio Monteverdi and Joseph Haydn.
I devoted a large number of posts to Joseph Haydn from October 2013, largely focusing on his symphonies--over a hundred simply remarkable works. I have also written quite a lot about his string quartets. But the other important figure, Claudio Monteverdi, has been overlooked here at the Music Salon and my intention, over the next couple of months, is to devote enough posts to him to rectify this fault. I won't start immediately because I have to do some background research first, but I thought that today we might listen to the most formidable piece of religious music written before the great Passions (and Mass) of J. S. Bach. This is Monteverdi's Vespro della Beata Vergine dating from 1610. Taking an hour and a half to perform it is an astonishing work of compositional virtuosity with sections in nearly every style and genre available: there are even elements from Monteverdi's opera Orfeo appearing in the beginning.
John Eliot Gardiner directed a brilliant and creative performance of this filmed at Versailles with the English Concert, the Monteverdi choir and soloists. I love the three theorboes in the center.