Fiddlin’ With Page Nine Was Fine
Only years after the CD arrived in the Friends of WILL Library did I notice the performer’s dedication. It was 5 pages into the CD booklet, well beyond the detailed information about the music selections. So I didn’t feel so bad about not having seen it earlier. It read: “...to all the trumpet players who play church gigs every Sunday, and are always forced to play softer than the singers.” Given the performer and the repertoire, I read between the lines: Crank it up!
It was the middle of June, 1995. Trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and the English Chamber Orchestra, led by Anthony Newman, spent nearly a week in St. Giles Church, Cripplegate in London recording the collection titled In Gabriel’s Garden. According to the Wynton Marsalis website, John Milton, author of Paradise Lost, once was an organist at the church. We’re told the sessions were so exhiliarating that the players stayed up until well into the night to discuss each day’s work.
In Gabriel’s Garden includes familiar pieces like the Rondeau by Jean-Joseph Moret and Jeremiah Clarke’s Prince of Denmark’s March, as well as the 2nd Brandenburg Concerto by Johann Sebastian Bach. On Classic Mornings, we’ve continued to enjoy the fruits of the recording Marsalis and the English Chamber Orchestra “planted” 20 years ago. We celebrated the anniversary of their extended “church gig” on the June 4th Classic Morning Prelude by cranking up a selection or two. I’m glad the dedication was on page 5 instead of page 9. It may have taken a bit longer before I noticed it.
“Page 9” reminds me of a subtle classical music pun in one of the Three Stooges comedies of years ago. It was a spoof on Pygmalion titled Hoi Polloi. A professor named Richmond wagered that he could make gentlemen of any common person. The audience knew from the outset that he was about to lose money, but that’s what made it even more fun. Richmond proceeded to teach Moe, Larry and Curly how to read. At one point, Larry misreads “page nine” as “pa geh ninny.” It’s silly even if you don’t know the name of the 19th century violinist/composer. Larry Fine certainly did. He was a violinist too, and did appear with his instrument in some of the Three Stooges films.
We celebrated the 175th anniversary of the passing of Nicolò Paganini on May 27th with the ultimate selection that might “ring a bell” with audiences. The finale of Paganini’s 2nd violin concerto is sometimes known as “La campanella” or “The little bell,” because of the percussive bell Paganini included in the orchestral score. Some have suggested it may have been the name of the catchy tune of the finale, which Paganini may have borrowed. Whatever the case, the concerto was a hit from the time it first was performed. Paganini thought highly enough of the concerto to play it in his debut concert in Vienna back in 1828. There are reports from Paganini’s time that people from all walks of life were flocking to the concert hall to hear him perform. Even Franz Schubert is said to have attended one of the concerts.
If nothing else, music history would have had a slightly different ring if a famous composer had gone by any or all of his baptismal names: Alexandre, César & Léopold. I had a little fun substituting all 3 names for the composer’s own chosen name during the Classic Morning Prelude on June 3rd, the 140th anniversary of his death. It was a challenge to keep listeners guessing while avoiding the “C” word, which would have been an immediate give-away.
Besides being baptized with those names, the composer was immersed in a musical family from the time he was a child. There were 3 singing teachers who were a part of it. And that didn’t include his mother, who they say probably taught him to read music and to play the piano. He once expressed gratitude to composer Charles Gounod for giving him direction. Others have credited Gounod with having inspired Alexandre César Léopold to write a symphony when he was 17 years old. He had just finished making a 2 piano arrangement of Gounod’s first symphony and it led him to write his own. The first musical clue I provided that morning was the finale of the once obscure Symphony in C major by Alexandre César Léopold. Though it never was performed during the composer’s lifetime, it has come to be well known in our time. I was guessing that many listeners already had identified the composer at that point.
Following that music selection, I gave an additional clue: The composer went on to write stage works, several that were memorable. In fact, one is at or near the top of the all-time favorite opera lists. A scene from that opera seems to be somewhat autobiographical. It is said that as a child the composer would listen to the singing of his father’s students and imitate their songs. At that point I played the children’s chorus from the opera, in which the children mimic the sounds of the military bugle call. The moment the instrumental introduction to the chorus begins with the sound of a bugle call, I’m sure most knew that the composer was Alexandre César Léopold Bizet, who called himself Georges and who called his opera Carmen.
I may keep you guessing from time to time, but not for long. I will keep you company with classical music, celebrations and all the fun that’s a part of Classic Mornings Monday through Friday from 9-noon, with the Classic Morning Prelude at 8:50 on FM 90.9 and online at will.illinois.edu.