Classic Name Play
You hear me say it quite a bit. The Classic Mornings playlist includes not only the composers, titles, performers, recording labels, and numbers. As a bonus, you get to see the spellings of all those names you hear on the program. A radio listener myself, I’ll admit that there have been times when I wished I could hear once again or see the transcript of words that went by quickly, just to reassure myself that the announcers didn’t say what I thought they said.
What I don’t tell you each day is that the playlist is a great source for classical music word play too. Just during the past couple of weeks, I was reminded of that.
On May 16, we celebrated the centennial of the birth of Austrian conductor Ottmar Suitner. He’s famous for having spent years conducting in the former East Germany and for recording what I understand is the first complete set of Beethoven symphonies on CD with the Staatskapelle Berlin. I’m not sure that many listeners have heard of him. But I’m guessing that some have wondered about the pronunciation of his family name. Actually, it’s rather simple. Just say the word “sweetener” with a “z” sound at the beginning. It would seem to be a compliment to call a conductor a musical sweetener. If nothing else, the thought might help you remember how to say his name.
Add Suitner’s name to the list of others with “pun potential,” including Sandor Végh. His family name is pronounced very much like the word “vague.” We celebrated the 110th anniversary of his birth on May 17.
Sandor Végh was a violinist, conductor, and music educator. He was a member of the Hungarian Trio and a founding member of the Hungarian String Quartet in 1935. He left that ensemble in 1940 to form the Végh Quartet, of which he was the leader (first violinist) until 1978. He even formed his own chamber orchestra in the late 1960s.
Végh taught at the Salzburg Mozarteum, which is a university dedicated to music and art in the Austrian city where Mozart was born. Camerata Salzburg is a chamber orchestra, established in 1952. Originally, it was made up of teachers and students of the Salzburg Mozarteum and known as the Camerata Academica of the Salzburg Mozarteum. Sandor Végh headed the ensemble from 1978 until his death 25 years ago in 1997.
Simon Preston passed away on May 13 at age 83. Preston was an organist, having served early in his career at Christ Church in Oxford and at Westminster Abbey, where he also was Master of the Choristers. He was a conductor and composer as well
I’ll admit that his name has always suggested two other Prestons. One is the fictional character Sergeant Preston, the Canadian Mountie in the radio series which dates back to 1939. For years, it was known as Challenge of the Yukon. In 1950, the title was changed to Sergeant Preston of the Yukon. That title was also used for the television version of the radio program
The other famous Preston that comes to mind is, like Simon Preston, a “music man.” Actually, he’s The Music Man. Actor Robert Preston starred in both the stage and film versions of Meredith Willson’s famous 1957 musical.
While Robert Preston dazzled many with his rendering of Professor Harold Hill’s depiction of “trouble” in River City, Simon Preston impressed audiences with his playing. At the time of his death, The Grammophon, reprinted a 2016 article by Marc Rochester, who recalled the 50th anniversary of a concert he heard when he was 12 years old at the Royal Albert Hall in London in September 1966. Describing Preston’s performance of a four-minute symphonic etude by organist/composer Enrico Bossi, he said that Preston’s legs moved about as if they were made of rubber, but his feet most accurately played the pedals. At the end of the piece, he remembered the roar of the crowd matching that which followed the winning goal of the World Cup final against West Germany just two months before.
I’ve already played with the phrase: “Name a Järvi,” which came to mind again on conductor Neeme Järvi’s 85th birthday this past Tuesday. That same day was the 125th birthday anniversary of conductor George Szell, whose name is pronounced like “sell” or “cell.” And last week, when I played a concerto by composer Johann Gottlieb Graun, which may have been written by his brother, I wondered whether a music historian who keeps an eye out for the details of that musical family might be called a Grauns-keeper.
I want to assure you that I present hours of “keepers” from centuries worth of classical music each weekday morning from 9-noon. Join us for Classic Mornings on FM 90.9 or online at will.illinois.edu.