I’m guessing you don’t know his name. And you probably aren’t aware that it was his performance that helped make a Mozart concerto famous in the 20th century.
On the other hand, you might well have heard the title of a Swedish film associated with Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21. I often notice that it’s still referred to as the “Elvira Madigan” Concerto, because a portion of it was used in the 1967 film.
I haven’t seen the film. But I’ve read about it. In fact, I recently glanced at the 25-year-old Roger Ebert’s review of it online. He seemed to give it “thumbs up.” And just a couple of weeks ago, I came to learn how Mozart’s music was chosen for the film, which turns out to be somewhat amusing.
All of this came to mind because of the recent centennial of the birth of the Hungarian-born pianist Géza Anda on November 19. That was exactly two weeks after we celebrated the centennial of the Hungarian-born pianist Georges Cziffra. Cziffra inspired my previous blog post. I haven’t looked ahead to see if there’s yet another Hungarian pianist’s centennial in the upcoming weeks.
Géza Anda (GEH zah AHN dah) was born in Budapest in 1921. In 1940, he won the Franz Liszt Prize and made his concert debut in 1942. In 1943, he fled to Switzerland, eventually becoming a Swiss citizen. Anda recorded the complete Mozart concertos with the Camerata Academica of the Salzburg Mozarteum in the 1960s, conducting from the keyboard. As a part of that project, he recorded the Concerto No. 21 in 1962.
Elvira Madigan appeared in 1967. And the story is told that the film’s director Bo Widerberg, who had hired the Swedish composer and conductor Ulf Björlin to write original music, decided not to use that music. Instead, Mozart’s music was chosen.
The excerpt of the Mozart concerto used in the film is the second movement, which Mozart called “andante cantabile.” That means “at a walking pace and songlike.” That’s what Tchaikovsky called the famous 2nd movement of his String Quartet No. 1, which is better known in its version for solo cello and orchestra and by the title Andante cantabile.
By 1967, there must have been many recordings of the Mozart concerto. Somehow – and I’d love to know the story – Géza Anda’s recording was selected. I’ve seen suggestions that there was a scramble to come up with music. It makes me wonder if the director and members of the production staff were auditioning LPs from their personal collections. Perhaps one of them had grown fond of Anda’s performance and recommended it. Regardless of how it happened, the rest is history.
The original cover of the LP had a reproduction of a painted portrait of Mozart. After the film was released, the re-release of the recording featured a painted portrait of the film’s main character, as portrayed by actress Pia Degermark. That cover was used on the CD as well (Deutsche Grammophon 447436).
With Anda having made the Mozart “andante cantabile” famous, he put his name on it, so to speak. What’s interesting, though, is that he has his name on it in another way. His family name, “Anda” is a part of the word andante. So, if he hasn’t gotten the credit he deserved for his performance over the years, nobody can deny that Anda is a part of that andante in more ways than one. Call it the “Géza Andante.” Maybe that’ll help you remember it. I thought it might be a fitting tribute to him on his 100th birthday anniversary.
What do you get someone for a 300th wedding anniversary? I’m not sure what the traditional gift is. But in the case of the famous composer, whose 300th wedding anniversary was last Friday, maybe an arrangement of one of his pieces that’s been played at countless weddings in our time might be appropriate.
I opened last Friday’s program with Gustav Mahler’s orchestration of the famous Air in G major from the Orchestral Suite No. 2 by Johann Sebastian Bach. On December 3, 1721, Bach married Anna Magdalena Wilcke.
The wedding was Bach’s second. It took place a year or so after his first wife: Maria Barbara, to whom he had been married for 13 years, had passed away. Anna Magdalena was a singer and harpsichordist. Her name is best known from the collection of pieces Bach assembled for her: the so-called Anna Magdalena Bach Notebook.
All of this reminds me that listeners probably attach all sorts of names to pieces of classical music. Why not?! During the past year, many have added their own names to the growing list of those who support that music: the Friends of WILL. You may join them at willgive.org. And thank you very much!