Classic Mornings

Kremer vs. Kraemer vs. Kraemer


Ha! They couldn’t do it! As hard as they tried, they couldn’t go beyond giving you printed pronunciations in their articles, much like dictionaries do. I’m referring to newspapers, which were the competition when radio began. 

As we approach the 100th anniversary of WILL-AM, it occurred to me that we, as well as our news colleagues, can say all of those names that newspapers can only print. Ever wonder how some of those names that you read in the paper are pronounced?

WILL-FM listeners get to hear not only classical music, but the names of so many classical music composers and performers. Without a doubt, it’s one of our strengths. If newspapers heavily seasoned their articles with phonetic pronunciations, readers might find the result distasteful.

Well, it’s not as simple as that. For those in radio, learning classical music pronunciations is an ongoing challenge. Even if you’re well-schooled in classical music, the family of famous names is constantly welcoming new neighbors.

Years ago, we used a patchwork of books that included phonetic pronunciations. If we actually heard someone say an unfamiliar musician’s name, we could only hope they were correct. Meeting or interviewing performers and learning the correct pronunciations of their names was the most reliable way.  Speaking with artist or record company representatives or the cultural section of foreign embassies was often helpful too.

Many of us have had some introduction to modern languages. That doesn’t necessarily help. Musicians come from so many different countries. And sometimes the way they prefer to say their names, especially if they’ve emigrated from their homeland, never could have been guessed. I have to admit that the internet has expanded the resources for dealing with this challenge.

Even with the most accurate pronunciations, there’s another problem. Last week, I played the finale of a horn concerto by a Bach contemporary: Christoph Förster. I have the background to be able to say Förster. But what if I then introduced a piece by a Bohemian composer named Foerster, a German composer named Forster, an English publisher named Forster or a singer named Forrester. Would the average listener hear the subtle differences?

Years ago, I presented a segment on the program which I called “Kremer vs. Kraemer vs. Kraemer,” having fun with the title of the 1979 film: Kramer vs.Kramer. I realized that there were at least three famous musicians with the similar-sounding family names featured regularly on Classic Mornings: violinist Gidon Kremer, violinist Manfredo Kraemer, and harpsichordist/conductor Nicholas Kraemer. That came to mind again with violinist Gidon Kremer’s 75th birthday on February 27. When you say the names of any of those musicians on the air, Kremer is Kraemer. And neither of those is spelled like the family name of the couple in the film.

Let’s stay with that film for a moment. It starred Meryl Streep and Dustin Hoffman. In classical music, there are lots of Hoffmans, though you’ll hear HOFE-mahn if it’s a German, Austrian, or Bohemian musician rather than HAUF-mun. And even with that pronunciation, there are various spellings. Some have one or two “f”s and some have one or two “t”s. 

There’s the late 18th/early 19th century writer and composer Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann, generally referred to as E.T.A. Hoffmann. He’s not so much remembered for his compositions as he is for works by other composers that were inspired by or which used his stories. Those include the ballet Copellia by Leo Delibes, Tchaikovsky’s ballet The Nutcracker, and Jacques Offenbach’s opera The Tales of Hoffmann.

There were many musical Hoffmanns and Hofmanns over the centuries, including Leopold Hofmann, an 18th century composer and violinist born in Vienna. Funny that his name was sometimes pronounced “Haydn” (as in Franz Joseph Haydn), when one of his flute concertos was attributed to Haydn.

The reason this is even an issue is because of the wonderful mosaic of names – centuries worth of names from so many cultures and places - that’s a part of classical music. And here, I’ve told you all about the subtle differences using a print medium, rather than radio, even though I’ve also taken this up on the air.

In the end, the media complement each other. I credit foreign newspaper sources for stories I share, which I found on their pages. Each day I ask those who have listened to the music to check out the printed playlist for the spellings of all the names. I even have to re-work the information and stories I’ve presented on the air when I incorporate them into my blog. It’s a matter of making the most of each medium.

I guess for best results, tune in for Classic Mornings as well as checking out the blog. Join us Monday through Friday from 9-noon of FM 90.9 or online at