-Dong, Ding-Dong

October 22, 2020
 

I really hadn’t been following them very closely. Maybe they were following me. I began to notice that I was somewhat influenced by the recent sports playoffs when introducing pieces of music on Classic Mornings.

If ever there’s a “World Series of Minuets,” I said at the outset of a recent program. I was confident that the Minuetto pastorale by Muzio Clementi, which I play often, would be a contender. I did check online, finding not even a hint about such an event. I’m not really sure how something like that would play out anyway. But the idea had a fun ring to it.

While celebrating the 180th anniversary of the birth of composer Johan Svendsen on September 30, I suggested that in plans for the bicentennial in 20 years, Oslo and Copenhagen might indeed want to arm wrestle for the privilege of hosting the festivities. Svendsen was born in Norway, but spent some 30 years in the Danish capital.

There’s a similar situation with the upcoming 250th birthday anniversary of Ludwig van Beethoven on December 16. Not only does Bonn - Beethoven’s birthplace - claim him as a native son. All of Germany made plans to be a part of it. And at one point, simultaneous concerts were scheduled in Bonn and Vienna (Beethoven lived and worked in the Austrian city for some 35 years). I say “were” because things have been put on hold until 2021. In an attempt to make the best of the current worldwide situation, the 250th has been extended by 250 days. That works. It’ll have to work.

There are moments in hockey and soccer when you play without the full team due to penalties. Somehow you deal with the temporary situation, and the opponents learn how to take advantage of it. That thought came to me recently when I heard a carillon that didn’t sound one of its bells. The tune that plays each quarter hour had to settle for three notes instead of four. It made me want to hum the missing note every time it should have sounded but didn’t. Maybe that was the idea – to get people participating in the music making.

It’s interesting that my experience with the carillon coincided with a particular sesquicentennial celebration. October 8 marked the 150th anniversary of the birth of the French composer & organist Louis Vierne. I remembered the story about his musical fantasy on the tune played every quarter hour by the chimes on the clock tower of Westminster Palace (Carillon de Westminster). He never actually heard the tune. A friend hummed it for him. And it’s been said that Vierne got it wrong when he imitated the second quarter of the Westminster ringing (the second “ding-dong, ding-dong”). Was the tune incorrectly passed along or did he make changes to accommodate his composition? Either way, it’s a fun and exciting showpiece for the pipe organ. Vierne was the organist at the Cathedral of Notre Dame from 1900 until his death in 1937. He performed the work there for the first time in 1929.

Whether or not there are doves in the Westminster belfry, I encountered none on October 12. But the thought of doves crossed my mind that day. There are plenty of names and places that come from the Latin and Italian word “colomba” which means “dove.” In classical music, Ottorino Respighi orchestrated a harpsichord piece titled La colomba by Jacques de Gallot for use in his 20th century suite Gli uccelli (The Birds). Centuries ago, the famous Italian brand of comic theatre known as “commedia dell’arte” had a character named Colombina, who was a little dove. In addition to the piece by Gallot/Respighi, I played on that day a little siciliana from a suite titled Columbine (the French and English equivalent of Columbina) by the Icelandic composer Þorkell (Thorkell) Sigurbjörnnson. 

On October 12, the voice of the dove probably takes second to that of the late Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti, whose 85th birthday anniversary we celebrated this year. I’m so glad he was able to pack in the crowds in arenas and stadiums while he was around.

Gnats certainly find their way into every imaginable place. I had fun spelling the word aloud on the program, so as to distinguish it from “nats,” which is how many refer to the Washington Nationals baseball team. Although they were last year’s World Series champs, those “nats” have not been around – in the playoffs - this autumn. And once again, it’s a harpsichord piece: Le Moucheron (The Gnat) by François Couperin which brought those thoughts to mind. I didn’t even bother to check and see whether there are any French sports teams that are called Les Moucheron.

In case you wondered whether we have a good time listening to classical music, now you know. Join us for Classic Mornings Monday through Friday from 9 to noon on WILL-FM 90.9 or online at will.illinois.edu.


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These programs are partially sponsored by a grant from the Illinois Arts Council Agency.

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