Classic Mornings

Life Over Antsiness?


I’m not sure the category has made it in the game shows. But how well do you know your Van Cliburn Competition winners?

I asked that question during Classic Mornings last Friday for a reason. Then I mentioned only the gold medalists of the first 3 competitions. In 1962, it was Ralph Votapek. Radu Lupu won the second competition in 1966. And the third competition winner was the Brazilian pianist Christina Ortiz, who was 19 at the time. She turned 70 last Friday. You may well have heard me play some of her performances of the music of Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos.

While I was looking into the competition’s history, I was curious about how often it takes place. The answer is: every 4 years, except for the year in which Christina Ortiz won, which was 1969. At that point, it was decided that the competition would take place every 4 years in the year after a presidential election. That was not the case with the first 2 competitions, even though they were held 4 years apart. The third competition was held only 3 years after the second, presumably to accommodate the new schedule.

Maybe you’re better at Olympics trivia. When did Venice host the games?

The quick answer is: never. Oh, but don’t stop there. I didn’t. And as a result, I have some fun things to share with you.

Now perhaps it was the postponement of the 2020 Olympics until 2021 that inspired me to play the overture (sinfonia) to Antonio Vivaldi’s opera L’Olimpiade last week. It’s a love story that takes place at the Olympics, And it had its premiere in Vivaldi’s home town – Venice - back in February of 1734.

Just for fun, I searched online for “Venice” and “Olympics.” There was a bid for the 2020 Summer Olympics by Venice – not just the city, but the entire region of Veneto, of which Venice is a part. I read an amusing article by someone who suggested that given certain weather conditions and the difficulties of getting around in that city, it can be like Olympic games year-round.  I also noticed a reference to the 2028 games in Los Angeles that will feature some events at Venice Beach. And Italy will host the 2026 Winter games – though nowhere near Venice or Rome, which has hosted the Summer games.

Nobody in the 18th Century imagined that a 14-year old visitor to the Sistine Chapel in Rome would run off with one of its musical treasures. But the story is told that the young Mozart, who was there with his father, memorized the famous musical setting of Psalm 51 – the Miserere – by Gregorio Allegri. Until that time, publishing the work, or even making copies, was not permitted. Nobody said anything about a genius recalling it and writing it down from memory. That’s what the young Mozart did. His father, Leopold, wrote home about it.  April 11th marked the 250th anniversary of that Mozart family visit to the Chapel.

During the 19th century, Franz Liszt visited the Chapel a number of times. He heard 2 famous motets there. (A motet is a vocal work with interweaving parts for the singers of different voice ranges.)  He heard Allegri’s Miserere sung there as well as Mozart’s Ave verum corpus. Liszt wrote a piano piece titled: À la Chapelle Sixtine (In the Sistine Chapel) to preserve the memory of those visits. Basically, he transcribed the motet by Allegri along with the work by Mozart.

In 2015, the Sistine Chapel Choir invited a sound crew to record their performance of the work there for the very first time. That sort of completed what Mozart had begun back in 1770.

Leif Ove Andsnes and a filming crew transported a piano to a mountain top in Norway for Andsnes to perform a piano work by Edvard Grieg. That happened a dozen years ago. Andsnes just celebrated his 50th birthday on April 7th.

I still imagine some listeners hearing all sorts of things when the Norwegian pianist’s name is said, particularly since it’s mispronounced in different ways. He provided a pronunciation in an interview with Stephen Wigler of the Baltimore Sun in 1996: "It's 'LAYff oo-VAY ANS-ness'," he says.  But I’ve heard other pronunciations by native Norwegian speakers. Somehow I don’t think it’s made him any less celebrated a performer.

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