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Ever wondered what life would be like if we did not have artists or musicians? There would be no art galleries to stroll into on slow summer days or concerts to look forward to, on hot summer nights. While we all have our favorites, there are some that have garnered universal appeal, probably because they were all pioneers in their respective art forms. Here are a handful that you have probably heard of, but may know very little about.
Mention the name Leonardo da Vinci and the first thing that comes to mind is Mona Lisa, the painting of the mysterious woman who appears to be harboring a secret. But while he is largely remembered as an artist today, Leonardo only painted a total of 13 pieces, of which only 10 were ever completed.
Instead, the brilliant man spent a large amount of time dreaming up new inventions. Among them was the first bicycle - complete with the chain just like the ones we use today, the first model of a parachute and even a flying machine with a blade at the top, similar to the modern day helicopter. His notebooks even mention testing out wings on the hills of Florence, and while nobody is sure that ever happened, this visionary had thought about humans flying, almost 400 years before the Wright brothers built the first airplane in 1903.
And if that is not impressive enough, how about this? He not only designed a robot but also built one that was a full-size knight in armor and could sit up, move its head and wave its arms! Leonardo da Vinci was a true example of a renaissance man - One who was good at everything he put his mind to!
Today, Impressionist art, one in which the artist captures the image of an object as would be seen by a person who just got a glimpse, is a popular art category for which fans pay millions of dollars. However, such was not the case in the mid-1800's - Back then, artists only painted portraits of models dressed as Greek gods or historical people. In fact, the term impressionists was coined after Monet exhibited his now famous 'Impressions: Sunrise' painting, and was meant as a mockery of his work and that of other similar artists like Alfred Sisley and Pierre-Auguste Renoir.
But Monet could not care less - He accepted the fact that he was different and continued painting what he loved, which in his case happened to be fleeting glimpses of everyday things like normal people on the beach or even a series of water lily or tree paintings, depicted in different lights and seasons.
Over his lifetime, he completed a total of 1,189 paintings not including the caricatures of his teachers that he did when he was 16 years old. And he truly did it for the love of the art, because till the day he died, people never really understood his talent and the artist often had to depend on family and friends for food and shelter. Things have of course changed since then - In 2007, just one of the series of water lily paintings he had done, sold for an astounding $36.7 million USD.
Mention modern art and cubism and the first person that comes to mind is Pablo Picasso, who is considered almost a pioneer in the art forms. The flamboyant Spanish artist stumbled upon this style of abstract art accidentally, while trying to paint a portrait of a rich American by the name of Gertrude Stein. When after 80 sittings he just could not get Gertrude's face right, the artist decided to take a break from the project. When he resumed a few months later, he completed the portrait from memory.
The artist incorporated some ideas from the African and Primitive art that he had observed in the portrait, and while others hated it, Gertrude loved it. From then on, Picasso decided that instead of painting exactly what he saw, he was going to paint what he imagined.
After that there was no stopping him - He along with an artist friend Georges Braque, came up with an even more abstract form of art - breaking up landscapes and portraits into cubes and geometric shapes. According to Picasso it was drawing objects as he thought them, not saw them - They called this new art form cubism, and though it shocked people at first, they soon fell in love with it.
But Picasso had a hard time sticking to a style. Over his lifetime, he created all kinds of masterpieces ranging from traditional to modern to cubism to collage and even sculptures. Picasso was also extremely emotional, and his art reflected his mood very vividly.
One of the most striking examples of this occurred in 1901 when the artist went through a 'blue period' - Saddened by the death of a dear friend, he spent three years painting depressing scenes of beggars and prisoners using only, blue and green. Not surprisingly, those were the least popular 50 paintings that he ever made. But that was rare - Unlike the other two artists most of the 50,000 pieces of art that Picasso completed during his lifetime, sold like hot cakes, making him a millionaire!
It is often said that geniuses are born not made - That was certainly true for Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart or Wolfie as he was affectionately called. For how else can you explain a three-year-old learning a musical instrument on his own and even figuring out how to write musical notes, before he could write words. Born to musician parents, Wolfie certainly had it in his blood, but as his father Leopold recognized very early on, he was many notches above everyone else.
When Wolfie and his sister who was also a good musician, were just seven and eleven respectively, Leopold decided to take them on a tour of Europe so that they could perform in front of royalty, hoping that it would make him rich. And while that may sound exciting, it was an unusual thing to do with young children in those days, because the roads were bad, and there was the constant danger of getting robbed.
While they were accepted with open arms and treated like royalty, Leopold, unfortunately, did not make much money, because people in high society were not as generous when it came to paying. With as many as three performances a day, it was also hard work for the two pint-sized musicians. But Wolfie loved every minute and it was during this tour at the tender age of nine, that he composed his first symphony.
The talented boy did not stop there - Driven by his ambitious father, he wrote his first opera at the age of 13. Unfortunately, this was not a very big success because the singers did not like taking orders from the young boy, and the production never saw the light of day. Once again, Leopold's dream of becoming rich was crushed.
To obtain a steady income, Leopold convinced Wolfie to move to Paris and work for the Duchess of Cabot. That did not work out so well, and the musician was resigned to giving lessons to support himself and his family - Something he did not like doing because it took away time from creating new music, which to him was as essential as breathing.
In fact, the only time that Wolfie had a steady income and the freedom to create music without a worry in the world was in 1787, when he was appointed Chamber Composer for Emperor Joseph II. Not surprisingly, it was during this time he created four of his most successful operas -The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni, Cosi fan Tutte (Everybody does it), and The Magic Flute.
But despite their success, money eluded this musical genius who wrote 41 symphonies, 22 operas, 27 piano concertos and countless other compositions, before he passed away at the young age of 35.
There are millions of artists that have their moment in the sun. However very few, leave a lasting impact like Elvis Presley AKA The King of Rock and Roll. Born in an era when popular music comprised of either cutesy love songs or Rhythm and Blues (R&B), which was considered the domain of African-Americans, young Elvis rocked the scene with his devilishly handsome looks, smooth dance moves and heart-thumping music that we now call Rock and Roll - which ironically, just happened to be Elvis's twist on R&B music.
Born dirt poor, Elvis was always a good singer, something his mother noticed and encouraged, by handing him his first guitar on his eleventh birthday.
His life changed when the family decided to move to Memphis, Tennessee in 1948. The shy eighth-grader blossomed in the bigger city that was already a haven for musicians and soon began performing at weddings, churches and parties. He got his first break at the age of 18 when Sun Studios gave him the opportunity to record a new kind of music that later became known as Rock and Roll. His first song 'That's All Right' was an instant hit, and a star was born!
Soon, a businessman by the name of Colonel Tom Parker came knocking at the door and the rest, as they say, is history. He convinced RCA records to not only accept the young singer, but also, pay him $35,000 USD, a record amount in those days. But young Elvis was worth every penny - His first single with them called 'Heartbreak Hotel,' became the most popular song in the country, almost instantaneously.
However, this was not enough for his ambitious manager who wanted Elvis to be The King and believed that the only way to do that was by turning him into a movie star. His timing was impeccable - James Dean, a popular young actor had just passed away, and studios were frantically searching for a replacement - Young Elvis fit the bill perfectly, and he soon began churning out hit after hit.
Except for a brief stint in the US Army, Elvis continued his winning streak until the 1960's. But then new groups like the Beatles and Rolling Stones started to gain popularity, and 32-year old Elvis was suddenly not The King anymore. Not one to give up, he replaced his manager and made a dramatic comeback in 1968.
There was, however, a steep price to pay for this popularity and insanely busy schedule - his health deteriorated thanks to all the junk food he was living off and his beloved wife Priscilla Presley, left him. Unfortunately he also became addicted to drugs and with no one to convince him to change his habits, Elvis overdosed on sleeping tablets and passed away, on August 16, 1977 - He was just 42!
While The King is gone, his memory still lives on strong. Graceland, his estate is visited by thousands of people each year and to this day, millions of fans gather in Memphis annually on his death anniversary. The best part is that his catchy tunes continue to attract young fans even today.
No article about famous musicians would be complete without a mention of The Beatles, the most famous music group in the world ever. Often dubbed the Fab Four, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and George Harrison, who all grew up idolizing Elvis Presley, burst onto the music scene in late 1962 and with their mop hair cut and collarless suits, won the hearts of every teenage girl that lived.
The surprising part is that none of them ever took professional vocal or instrument lessons - They were talented enough to learn it all on their own and able to hone their skills at their first steady job in Hamburg, Germany, where they played nonstop for eight hours on a daily basis. This is also the place where they decided to abandon the greasy hair look that was in vogue and adopt the mop-top for which they became famous.
The talented group first became popular in their home country of Britain following the release of their single 'Please Please Me'. Surprisingly, though, the U.S. audience was not as receptive, and they were such a flop that the local recording company decided to drop them.
Fortunately, Capitol Records signed them up and their next single 'I Want To Hold Your Hand' became a super hit. The group became so popular, that when they appeared on the Ed Sullivan show in 1964, over 73 million people or about half the population of the US, tuned in to watch. But stardom did not come easy - When they were not recording new songs, the group was constantly on the road, performing. Their popularity also robbed them the ability to live a normal life. Hence on August 29th, 1966, after performing in San Francisco, CA, the group announced that they would no longer go on tour.
But after a few years even that was not enough - In 1970, after recording their last album, Abbey Road, the Beatles made a decision to break up and go their separate ways.
They all went on to be successful musicians in their own rights. Unfortunately, in 1980, John Lennon was assassinated by a crazy fan and in 2001, George Harrison succumbed to cancer. Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr continue to perform and enjoy tremendous popularity till today. And though the Beatles stopped recording over 40 years ago, to this day, they remain the best-selling band in the United States.
Resources: Who was Leonardo da Vinci, Pablo Picasso, Claude Monet, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Elvis Presley, Who were The Beatles
Resources: Who was Leonardo da Vinci, Pablo Picasso, Claude Monet, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Elvis Presley, Who were The Beatles