A Down-to-Earth Out of This World Spectacle

December 14, 2017

All that preparation and anticipation for an event that lasts just 2 or 3 minutes. The Kentucky Derby comes to mind and, more recently, the total eclipse of 2017.

It doesn’t keep the race fans away. And nobody seemed to be less than impressed with the short show in the late August sky.

So I’m grateful that I’d been given even more time than the duration of the longest possible eclipse (which is just over 7 minutes) on my most recent appearance on the public radio program Here and Now. Once again I was invited to share a little excitement about classical music selections with co-host Jeremy Hobson and the national audience.

For the occasion, I decided to introduce the classical music counterpart to the total eclipse of 2017, in which the sun, moon and earth were in just the right alignment.  In 2017 we celebrated major anniversaries of the premieres of several famous works of classical music. You might say that those anniversaries were so impressively aligned that together they probably eclipsed all other music celebrations this past year.

Since I already have passed along in earlier blog posts some lesser known and amusing facts about each of the works around the time of their anniversaries, I’ll just remind you of what they are. You may click on any one of them to read what I had to say about them: the 300th anniversary of the first performance of George Frideric Handel’s Water Music , the 200th anniversary of Gioachino Rossini’s opera La gazza ladra (The Thieving Magpie)  – best known for its memorable overture, the 150th anniversary of On the Beautiful Blue Danube (The Blue Danube Waltz) by Johann Strauss, Jr. and the 125th anniversary of the Nutcracker (both the suite and the ballet) by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.

It wasn’t until about a month ago that I realized that all of those major anniversaries came during the same year. I also recalled that Handel’s famous music was never published and that we have it only because of the copies that were made in his time. Rossini had to be pressured to write the famous overture close to the time of the premiere. Strauss’s grand waltz was a choral piece he finally got around to writing, adding an orchestral introduction and accompaniment at the last minute and the instrumental version a month later. And Tchaikovsky’s most famous ballet was his final one, written the year before he died. That’s cutting it close.

So it’s rather remarkable not only that these works are being celebrated during the same year. It’s just as amazing that they even were written or that they endured over the years. I thought that was a particularly fascinating story to share with the Here and Now listeners, just as I had shared each of the individual stories with the Classic Mornings audience. If you haven’t heard the Here and Now segment, here’s a link to it.

Now a bonus for the blog audience. Call them the outtakes. Handel’s oratorio Messiah had its first performance in Dublin, Ireland on April 13, 1742 – 275 years ago. Audiences experienced for the first time the “surprise” of Haydn’s 94th Symphony, which has come to be known as the “Surprise Symphony”  225 years ago on March 23, 1792. The first performance of Felix Mendelssohn’s 3rd Symphony – the “Scottish” – took place on March 3, 1842, 175 years ago.

2017 also marked the 225th anniversary of the birth of Gioachino Rossini, even though we didn’t have a birthday on which to celebrate it. He was born on February 29th in a leap year. Nevertheless, it was 225 years ago. Jules Massenet and Sir Arthur Sullivan were born a day apart on May 12th & 13th 175 years ago in 1842. The Vienna Philharmonic performed its first concert months before on March 28th and the New York Philharmonic wasn’t far behind with its inaugural program on December 8th of that year.

There are many more, but that sampling of some of the better known works and musicians should have dazzled you already. And there was only enough time on the Here and Now “DJ Session” to scratch the surface of the musical eclipse of several pieces. Ideally you should listen to each work separately and imagine how it has moved audiences over the centuries. Then suddenly bring all of those thoughts together and allow yourself to be overwhelmed - in a pleasant sort of way. That’s the spectacle!

It’s a lot like reflecting on how classical music on the radio is a part of your life and then realizing how important it is to thousands of others as well. If that’s a bit too lofty, know that the annual contributions of all those listeners make it possible for classical music to be heard on WILL-FM. It’s amazing how that seems to work out.

Thank you for your support during the past year. Many have contributed during the month of December. If you haven’t had the chance, know that you may do that at any time by calling 217-244-9455 or going online to willpledge.org. And enjoy the music you continue to make possible over the holidays and into the new year.


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