Classic Mornings

A Few Of May’s Favorite Things


Remember the lessons Maria taught us in The Sound of Music? I’ll remind you of one of them: “When you read, you begin with A-B-C. When you sing, you begin with Do-Re-Mi.” Actually, it was Oscar Hammerstein II who gave Maria the poetic words for her lesson. Richard Rodgers provided the tune.

Well, what do you do if you’re asked to sing the original French language lyrics of the A-B-C Song, namely: “Ah, vous dirai-je mamam?” And what if it’s a challenging vocal arrangement inspired by Mozart’s piano variations on the tune? Maria shared some Hammerstein advice that might well apply to that as well: “When you know the notes to sing, you can sing most anything.”

And indeed, there’s a vocal clip online – not a video – of the 13 (going on 14) year-old Julie Andrews, who portrayed Maria in the film version of the musical, singing the arrangement of the French song along with an orchestra. It’s complete with some vocal fireworks. I found it amusing that after all the years of joking that listeners may sing along to the Mozart variations, my search to see if anybody had done that led me to the famous A-B-C / Do-Re-Mi teacher doing just that!

Last week I also went searching for Sullivans. There are lots of those online. I had only a few in mind, though all of them famous. It took three or four pages of listings before one of my Sullivans was even mentioned. Then I saw the first of them: Anne Sullivan, the teacher of Helen Keller. Eventually, there was a site for Ed Sullivan, the television variety show host. And, of course, there were listings for Sir Arthur Sullivan, the English composer who’s best known for the stage works that he and W. S. Gilbert wrote. In fact, that was the reason I went searching for Sullivans. May 13 marked the 180th anniversary of his birth. He died in 1900. And, by the way, Anne and Sir Arthur each topped at least one of the lists of most famous Sullivans that I came upon.

Just before Mother’s Day, I found some interesting bits of info about a few classical music moms. In anticipation of playing the finale of the Brahms “Double Concerto,” I learned that the mothers of the string soloists are keyboard players: violinist Julia Fischer studied piano with her mother after she began violin lessons. Since her brother was learning to play the piano, she decided to continue with the violin. And cellist Daniel Muller-Schott has said that his mother, a harpsichordist, introduced him to a wide variety of instruments.

If Mie Miki is the queen of the classical accordion, is her mother the queen mum of the instrument? The Japanese musician tells the story of having been with her mother in Tokyo at age four when a man opened a gray case with a green accordion inside. She said she already had learned to play a toy piano, which she received at age two. She remembers the man demonstrating the instrument and saying: “I think she’s still too little; it’s too early.” She said she thought deep inside that she could learn to play what he was playing, but she couldn’t say a word. She adds that her mother must have understood her, because when they returned home, the gray case with the green accordion came with them.

Just before Mother’s Day, and around the time of Cinco de Mayo, I came to learn a little bit more about Polish influences in Mexican classical music. I hadn’t been aware that conductor/pianist Enrique Bátiz, who celebrated his 80th birthday on May 4, has both Mexican and Polish ancestry. Born in Mexico City, he spent a few years studying in Poland in the late 1960s. During that time, he also toured there as a pianist and conductor.

In 1947, the year Bátiz was born, the Polish violinist Henryk Szeryng first came to Mexico to arrange for some 4,000 Polish-Jewish refugees, who were forced to leave their country, to find a home in Mexico. I had been aware of that and the fact that Szeryng himself became a Mexican citizen and that country’s cultural amba

It also turns out that May 5 is the birthday of the 19th century Polish composer Stanisław Moniuszko, whose most famous stage work is the opera Halka, which was written 175 years ago in 1847. All of those discoveries brought me to a most interesting musical intersection, which I couldn’t wait to share on the program.

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