Full Broken Circle

February 12, 2015
 

What do you get when you cross a centennial and a tricentennial celebration in music?  Mozart’s always a safe guess. And sure enough, Mozart was a part of both recent celebrations. If you were waiting for a fun punchline, hopefully a couple of amusing stories will make up for it.

Jack Brymer was an English clarinettist who was born on January 27,1915 – on Mozart’s 159th birthday! Although there’s no suggestion that he was a prodigy like Mozart, he began by teaching himself the instrument. The story is told by June Emerson of The Guardian that his first clarinet, which belonged to his father, had been sawed off a bit in a school wood working room. It served Brymer well for over a dozen years while he played in local bands and amateur orchestras, which is where he learned a lot about music.

Brymer became a school teacher, continuing to perform whenever he could. He served with the Royal Air Force during the Second World War. After the War he became the principal clarinet of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, co-principal clarinet of the BBC Symphony and principal clarinet of the London Symphony Orchestra. He was one of the most admired British clarinettists of the 20th century.  Not merely born on Mozart’s birthday, he played Mozart’s clarinet concerto throughout his career.  He recorded it 3 times.  Besides being an orchestral player, a soloist and a member of several chamber ensembles, Brymer also played with jazz and dance bands as a clarinettist and saxophonist. He even appeared on one of Paul McCartney’s albums (Tug of War). Brymer died in 2003.

Jack Brymer said in The Telegraph back in 2003: “The ability to play the clarinet is the ability to overcome the imperfections of the instrument. There's no such thing as a perfect clarinet, never was and never will be.” Not only did he have his start on a slightly sawed off clarinet. The story was told in The Times (London) that in 1962, at a tedious film recording session, he was nodding off – on the brink of “sawing logs” – when he leaned on his clarinet and snapped it in two.  It was a clarinet he had played for more than a quarter of a century.

Johann Georg Wagenseil, was born 300 years ago on January 29,1715.  Though he isn’t well known in our time, he once was the court composer and keyboard teacher of the Austrian Empress Maria Theresia.  According to the late 19th, early 20th century music historian Hermann Abert,  two young children – brother and sister – were taken by their father to visit the Empress in Vienna. The children already had a reputation for being prodigies. The young boy became bored with attempts to get him to play at the keyboard with one finger and with a cloth covering it. At one point, he called for the court composer. When Wagenseil arrived, the boy said to him: “I’m playing one of your concertos. You’ll have to turn pages for me.” You may have guessed by now that it was the young Mozart. He did, in fact, play one of Wagenseil’s keyboard concertos. The story goes on to tell how he fell on the polished floor and was helped up by the future queen of France, the Archduchess Marie Antoinette, and how he jumped up on the lap of the Empress and gave her a kiss. Though it was Wagenseil’s tricentennial celebration, we celebrated it with Mozart being the life of the party.

If you’re going to celebrate the anniversary of a symphony, it might be appropriate to explain why in the world it’s called a symphony.  In general, symphonies are works that feature the entire orchestra.  Concertos are works that from start to finish feature a solo instrumentalist in dialogue with the orchestra. February 7th marked the 140th  anniversary of the most famous piece of music by French composer Édouard Lalo. It’s called the Spanish Symphony or Symphonie espagnole. It’s like a symphony, but with a solo violinist throughout – like a concerto.   There were complaints from the outset.  You could say Lalo was accused of over-inflating the title with the suggestion of a symphony or under-inflating it with the suggestion of a concerto. Lalo responded to those allegations in his time. He said he kept the title Symphonie espagnole because it conveyed what he intended: a violin solo soaring above the rigid form an old symphony. He added that the title was less banal than those proposed to him. The cries and criticisms have died or will die down,” he said.  “The title will remain.”  By the way, Lalo was born on what would have been Mozart’s 67th birthday – in 1823.

We’d like nothing less than to celebrate 100 new Friends of WILL during the month of February. You’ve already heard some messages on the air. Friday, February 20th, we’ll remind you throughout the day about how important new contributors are in helping us to maintain a strong base of financial support. We’re only about 7 years away from the centennial celebration of the first broadcast on what was to become WILL. You’re supporting a resource which has served the community for nearly a century. It’s a circle of support that hasn’t been broken – and that Mozart has been a part of in many ways too!

Join me for Classic Mornings, Monday through Friday from 9 to noon, with the Classic Morning Prelude just before at 8:50 on 90.9 FM and online at will.illinois.edu.


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