A Season for Teasin’

December 17, 2015
 

I wouldn’t have gotten away with the trick question in print.  At the outset of a recent Classic Morning Prelude, I asked listeners how well they knew their four seasons. I went on to specify that I wasn’t just talking about spring, summer, fall and winter. I was sure that listeners are more than familiar with those, not to mention the sometimes blurred lines between them when each begins to act like the others. No, I went on to ask more specifically how well listeners knew Antonio Vivaldi’s 4 violin concertos that depict the four seasons. In print I would have had to refer to them right from the start with some upper case distinction, i.e. Four Seasons.

There was a timely inspiration in all of this. Those concertos are part of a larger collection of a dozen violin concertos published in Amsterdam on December 14,1725 - 290 years ago.  The collection of concertos has the title: Il cimento dell'armonia e dell'inventione (The Contest Between Harmony and Invention). That suggested at least a little guessing game if not a contest. Call it a game for all seasons.

Anyway, I asked if listeners knew Vivaldi’s Four Seasons well enough to know which one is missing if I played some excerpts. So what did I play? The finale of the Autumn Concerto, the finale of the Summer Concerto and the opening of the Spring Concerto. Yes, Winter was missing. But I reminded listeners that winter will be here sooner than they think and probably will be with us long after spring is reported to be lost.

The arrival of a Scandinavian composer’s sesquicentennial on December 8th inspired a bit of fun too.  I began the Classic Morning Prelude celebration that morning with a little polka, for which the composer is not al all known, nor is he known for waltzes, though he did study in Vienna and was fond of the Strauss waltz tradition. It is said that in his home country’s capital, he sometimes was serenaded with waltzes while dining in restaurants. The composer did write a number of little waltzes in his orchestral and piano music.

He is famous for his symphonies – there are 7 of them – and a violin concerto. He began his musical studies as a violinist before he began to concentrate on composing. He wrote other works for violin and orchestra including 6 humoresques. I played one of those next. I was doing my best to be somewhat vague. You can’t do that for long in a 9-minute segment. I did note that he was Finnish – with the given name of Johan Julius Christian. He came to be known as “Janne” before he called himself by the French version of his first name, which is how he came to be known. His uncle, a sea captain who died a year before the composer was born, had used that French name.

Up to that point, I had been teasing listeners. I could have saved time by playing the “give-away” selection right from the start. But they wouldn’t have had as much fun guessing. Then I played the Finlandia Hymn by Jean Sibelius (1865-1957). He created the hymn using the tune from the famous orchestral tone poem Finlandia, which he had written years before. I understand that the text that is sung today (by V.A. Koskenniemi) came to replace the original text that Sibelius had used.

It’s funny that even after carefully unleashing my clues, some may not have even thought of Sibelius during the hymn. Instead, they may have been thinking of the words to a church hymn they’ve come to know, without a clue that the tune was written by Finland’s best known and best loved composer. But even that would have been a tribute of sorts on the 150th anniversary of the birth of Sibelius.

A 50th anniversary inspired me to make the distinction between 2 pianists whose names are similar: Schroeder and Schroeter.  Somehow, I’m guessing that the pianist who comes to mind is the virtuoso of the toy piano, who manages to be most impressive in playing the music of his idol, Ludwig van Beethoven, and jazz composer Vince Guaraldi whenever he appears on television with his friends Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus, Snoopy and the other cartoon characters created by Charles Schulz. Indeed, Schroeder and friends just celebrated the 50th anniversary of A Charlie Brown Christmas, in which Schroeder makes some memorable appearances.

Johann Samuel Schroeter (originally Schröter) was a Polish-born pianist & composer admired by Mozart. It is said that his concertos and performances were well-received in England, where he took up residence in the 2nd half of the 18th century.  American pianist Murray Perahia once recorded a Schroeter concerto that Mozart liked as a part of Perahia’s recordings of the complete Mozart concertos.

So was he the inspiration for the Charles Schulz character Schroeder, who was born – that is, who first appeared in a Peanuts comic strip in 1951? I wondered too. Turns out he wasn’t. Thanks to popular culture and mass media, Schroeder certainly is more famous in our time than Johann Samuel Schroeter was in the time of Mozart. Knowing that, I borrowed the animated pianist’s reputation to get listeners’ attention just long enough to hear about the 18th century Schroeter and to hear Murray Perahia play the opening of a Schroeter concerto.  After that,  I guessed that Schroeder – Charlie Brown’s friend -  probably would have wanted us to hear a little Beethoven, and specifically Beethoven’s Für Elise. We did. That work, even in the short excerpt for which Schroeder is famous, is still immortalized in the Christmas special that just turned 50.

Sarah Chang just turned 35. I’m sure some listeners thought I was kidding again. I had checked a few sources to be sure it was just 35.  Then I remembered  that we listened to her as a very young person for many years. In fact, I played a selection from her debut album, which she made when she was 9 years old – on a quarter-size violin. Though they’ve updated the cover of the recording in recent years and possibly the CD booklet, you can still see the photo of the 6-year old Sarah Chang with the tiny violin that was in the booklet of the original release. It’s at her website.

Sarah was born in Philadelphia.  She first played in public at age 5 and made her professional debut at age 8 with the New York Philharmonic. She continues to have a busy concert schedule, but is making time to tweet – and to celebrate her birthday.

A number of listeners made a little time to make a pledge in support of the classical music on WILL-FM in our recent 3-day radio mini-drive. Thank you for taking the time – and for your contributions. We exceeded the 36,000 goal thanks to you!  Enjoy the music you helped support.  And may the joys of the holidays exceed your expectations!


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