Classic Mornings

Another Disc In The Wall


It was a different sort of a surprise party. I had intended only to celebrate a tricentennial. That’s special enough.  But as it turned out, there was more.

November 14th marked the 300th anniversary of the birth of Leopold Mozart, who was a violinist, composer and the father of Wolfgang Amadeus. Leopold was his son’s first teacher. So it was a welcome surprise to learn that November 14th was also the birthday of Wolfgang Amadeus’s one time pupil Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778-1837). The story is told of the young Hummel being taken in by Mozart and given free lessons and lodging. Hummel went on to become a famous pianist/composer and teacher himself.

Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel (1805-1847) was born on November 14th as well. She, like her younger brother Felix, was a composer. And the two were very close, even collaborating musically.  That served as a reminder of Mozart’s sister Maria Anna (Nannerl). She too had been guided in her music education by her father. He praised her abilities as a pianist, and her brother complimented her on her compositions, though none of those survive.  Wolfgang wrote works for her, sent her compositions and letters. And it was she who helped sort out his works after his death.

I played Tchaikvosky’s Suite for Orchestra No. 4 on that day. Basically, it’s a 19th century orchestration of 3 piano works by Mozart and of Franz Liszt’s piano version of Mozart’s motet Ave Verum Corpus. Though it’s not a milestone year for the Suite, it was a November tribute to Mozart back in 1887.

So the November 14th program turned out to be a Mozart family celebration with special guests like Hummel, Fanny Mendelssohn and Tchaikovsky all making appearances.  And it was Aaron Copland’s birthday anniversary too. 

Several days before - November 9th - marked the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.  A lot more international attention was given to that event than to the tricentennial of Papa Mozart’s birth.  News reports were sure to include reminders of remnants of the wall. Though I had been on both sides of the wall as a visitor, I also have seen one of those tiny souvenir pieces of the wall mounted in clear plastic, which someone at WILL brought back years ago.

We already had souvenirs from the years of the divided Germany in the Friends of WILL Library. For one thing, many recordings bear the words: “Made in West Germany” or have references to the DDR (Deutsche Demokratische Republik or GDR – German Democratic Republic, as the East German regime was known in English).

We also have recordings by an orchestra called the RIAS Symphony Orchestra. RIAS stands for “Radio im amerikanischen Sektor” (Radio in the American Sector).  Berlin had been divided into 4 occupation zones after the Second World War by the Allies. The other 3 were the British, French and Soviet sectors. The U.S. established RIAS to provide news, information and entertainment programming via radio to those living in and around Berlin. It also was meant to counterbalance the programming that was being provided by the Soviets.

As a part of that radio network, an orchestra, chamber choir, dance orchestra and jazz band were formed and were featured on broadcasts.  After German reunification, RIAS’s operations were taken over by other German public broadcasting organizations.  By 1956, the orchestra already had come to be known as the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra and in 1993, was renamed the German Symphony Orchestra of Berlin (Deutsche Symphonie-Orchester Berlin). Though it performs in the concert hall of the Berlin Philharmonic, it still is a broadcast orchestra. The chamber chorus has retained the name RIAS Kammerchor. There also is a RIAS Youth Symphony Orchestra with players from conservatories around the world.  And the U.S. and Germany have continued to support an organization with the name RIAS, which provides exchange opportunities for young American and German journalists.

Recently, it was fun to play a selection from another Berlin recording in the Friends of WILL Library. It’s from an outdoor concert that took place at the outset of the first summer after the “fall.”  Daniel Barenboim conducted the Berlin Philharmonic with a spirited crowd on hand – a crowd surely made up of music listeners from all points east and west.

It’s interesting that those Berlin recordings are housed in plastic – like the tiny souvenirs. They’re remnants of the wall too. If anything, they serve as a reminder that there was music making on both sides, some of which managed to find its way to the other side in one way or another. That was facilitated by the fact that the music was a part of their common cultural heritage. It wasn’t the music that divided them. And it must have done it’s part in bringing them together again.