Gimme an “L” - 50 of ‘em!
Something was missing at this year’s Super Bowl. Maybe there was enough going on that you didn’t notice. In naming the event over the years, Roman numerals were used. The letter “I” had the spotlight all to itself in Super Bowl 1, so did “V” in Super Bowl 5 and “X” in Super Bowl 10. Well, now that “L” was to have had its turn after a decade of sharing the top billing with a mix of “I”s, “X”s & and “V,” the Super Bowl decided to discontinue numbering its games with Roman numerals. Go ahead. Check ‘em out. 1-49 are numbered with those big, bold letters. Number 50 is not.
Yes, I understand that “I”s look like sturdy columns, “V” is victory and “X”s have this mysterious and masked appearance. But what’s wrong with “L” or “quinquaginta” as it’s known in Latin? Were they afraid the game would be referred to jokingly as the lazy, lax or lesser Super Bowl? OK, it’s an aesthetic thing. But aesthetic is a part of art. So is music. It seems only right that music should come to the rescue in this case.
Can you imagine if they had decided not only to use the letter “L” but to call it Super Bowl Quinquaginta? Not only would it have sounded exotic and musical, but it would have given a lesson in Latin to millions of people. What an educational service! But it wasn’t to be. In the end, “L” and the rest of the Roman numeral empire was sent into exile. Maybe those letter/numbers still can find a wanted place among the copyright dates displayed at the end of films.
Anyway, it inspired me to present 50 legendary classical music “L”s on the Classic Morning Prelude last Friday, beginning with: love. For centuries, it has been the single greatest inspiration for music, sacred and secular. Liebe is love’s German cousin. It’s the German word for love. And there are at least 3 pieces of music with Liebe in the title that merit separate mention among the 50 “L”s. Liebestraum or “dream of love” is the name given to piano miniatures by composer Franz Liszt. And yes, he’s another of the 50 “L”s . Liszt’s Liebestraum no. 3 is as well. So are Fritz Kreisler’s 2 pieces for violin and piano: Liebesleid (which means Love’s Sorrow) and Liebesfreud (Love’s Joy).
Lullabies are what many heard as their first music. La is what many young people learn as the name for the musical pitch that corresponds to the letter A. Thanks to Rodgers & Hammerstein, la is “I know to follow so.” La La La serves as a default lyric when you don’t know the words. Speaking of which, lyric is the word for the words of songs, as well as a description of song-like pieces. The Lyric Pieces of Edvard Grieg are a separate “L” among the 50. So is the Lyric Opera of Chicago.
There’s libretto - the word for the texts of operas. Lucia di Lammermoor by Donizetti is a famous “L” opera. Ruggero Leoncavallo is a composer of operas and songs and Franz Lehár wrote perhaps the most famous operetta of all time: The Merry Widow. The operetta Light Cavalry by Franz von Suppé has a memorable overture. Mario Lanza sang in operettas and James Levine conducts operas and all sorts of instrumental and stage works. He’s a pianist too – like Lang Lang, Radu Lupu and the Labeque sisters.
Among the “L” words are some of those that composers have provided to guide performers in the tempo of a piece of music such as lively and 3 terms that mean slow: lent, largo and langsam.
Lied is the German word for song (Lieder for plural) You’ll see it used often in classical music. Liturgical music, light music and Latin-American music are all specialties. Ländlers are German and Austrian dances in waltz tempo and they’ve made their way into lots of classical pieces.
The lute – that plucked string instrument – has been around for centuries. So have musical cities like London and Leipzig where lutes have been played. Tunes like the Londonderry Air and the Last Rose of Summer have been heard in classical compositions over the centuries too. And over the years we’ve celebrated music by composers from Jean-Baptiste Lully and Pietro Locatelli to Édouard Lalo.
Audiences have come to enjoy works like The Lark Ascending and the Lieutenant Kije Suite. Among the well-known performers are harpsichordist Wanda Landowska, guitarist Alexandre Lagoya and violinists Jaime Laredo, Tasmin Little and Cho-Liang Lin. The "L" conductors include Jesus López-Cobos and Andrew Litton.
It’s in music libraries, big and small that classical music can be found. And let’s not forget about listeners. Without them, all the compositions ever written down on former trees that have fallen or have been felled in the forest never would be heard.
That’s 50. See how inspiring just a sampling of the “L”s in classical music can be! But it wasn’t to be in Super Bowl 50. Upset? Send them a “letter.” And just for fun, address it to: The NF50.
Join me for Classic Mornings Monday through Friday from 9 to noon and the Classic Morning Prelude at 8:50 on FM 90.9 and online at will.illinois.edu.