Classic Mornings

Echoes of Espresso


It can’t be! I remember thinking that while sitting in a coffee shop years ago. A familiar concerto by Vivaldi was being played on the sound system. Given the usual musical ”house blend,” I never expected to hear it there.

Nobody else seemed to be aware of the baroque aroma that suddenly filled the air. I wanted to turn to those sitting close by and say: “Do you hear this music? It’s by Antonio Vivaldi – you know, the guy who wrote the famous “4 Seasons” violin concertos! Well this is a violin concerto too, but there’s another violin that’s sort of off in the distance and acts like an echo. Listen to the way the 2 violinists engage in a bit of dialogue. In fact, Vivaldi made the echo player – actually a small group of players with a soloist - stand apart from the larger group of players. Hold on. I’ll ask the folks behind the counter to hush up the espresso maker and all that pounding so we can hear the effect much better!”

Somehow I’m glad I didn’t bring it up there. But I’m glad I brought it up at the outset of Classic Mornings on January 25th – along with serving up a performance of the “echo concerto” (Concerto in A major, RV 552). My little story might have made it easier for listeners to remember the concerto.

How do you undo an association with a piece of music that continues to echo in your memory? I ask because I know it won’t be easy to refrain from substituting the Italian word “allegretto” the next time I hear the expression “not so fast!” in a Bogart film or in real life.

It’s my fault. I recently used the famous expression when I introduced a piece by Franz Schubert that’s simply known as an allegretto. The word “allegretto” is used in music when a composer wants a piece of music played not so fast – slower than a piece marked “allegro.”

To be honest, I can’t imagine that substituting “allegretto” for “not so fast!” will catch on. And I have to say that while I was preparing that program and thinking about that introduction, I suddenly attached the word “allegretto” to the opening notes of the French-Canadian tune Alouette. For days I kept hearing “Allegretto, gentil allegretto” in my head. Though others have come up with parody lyrics to that tune, I didn’t go beyond that. Yet it was just enough to connect the word and the music with lasting effect.

The German cellist Alban Gerhardt linked a performance by the late Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich of David Popper’s Dance of the Elf (Elfentanz) to his alarm clock. And maybe that was part of his wake up call to record that piece and a host of other Rostropovich encores on a new CD with pianist Markus Becker (Hyperion 68136)

Gerhardt tells the story that as an 11 year old, his first teacher arranged for him to play for Rostropovich, who told him that he had no business playing Haydn’s difficult C major cello concerto. Gerhardt says he was heartbroken, but decided to prove Rostropovich wrong. And then at Christmas time, Rostropovich gave him a copy of Benjamin Britten’s cadenzas for the Haydn cello concerto (additional solo passages that Britten, like so many others in music history, wrote for a soloist to display virtuosity). If that wasn’t enough of a surprise, Gerhardt noticed that Rostropovich inscribed them: “For my colleague Alban, with all best wishes.”

Gerhardt says that as a teenager, he listened over and over to a recording of Rostropovich encores. His new CD seems like a fitting tribute.

Maybe the most enduring tribute to a composer is to name your children after them. February 1st marked the 110th anniversary of the birth of the Brazilian composer, conductor and teacher Mozart Camargo Guarnieri, who died in 1993. Born in São Paulo, he was the son of a Sicilian immigrant, who is said to have been related to the famous Guarneri instrument makers (somehow, the spelling of the name was changed over the years) and who himself was an amateur musician and opera lover. The composer was named Mozart Guarnieri. He decided to take his mother’s maiden name Camargo and call himself M. Camargo Guarnieri, so as not to seem pretentious. In later years, he took back the name Mozart and called himself Mozart Camargo Guarnieri – I should add that he had a brother who was named Rossini.  Another was given the name Verdi and yet another Bellini.

Mozart Camargo Guarnieri wrote hundreds of compositions. He’s considered one of most important 20th century Brazilian composers alongside Heitor Villa-Lobos. Over the years, we’ve enjoyed his Danza brasileira of 1928, which Leonard Bernstein recorded with the New York Philharmonic back in 1963 (Sony 47544). I haven’t been able to find out if Rossini, Verdi or Bellini even distantly echoed the musical lives of their namesakes.

Whether or not what you’ll hear will stay with you for days, weeks or generations, join me for classical music, stories and celebrations to make your morning. Tune in for Classic Mornings Monday through Friday from 9-noon on FM 90.9 and online at