Classic Mornings

Musical Momsons


It’s pretty simple. In cultures with names like Andersson, Johnson and Nielsen, there was a time in history when you’d know that a fellow with a name like that attached to his given name was the son of Anders, John or Niels.  Eventually, those became family surnames, regardless of the first names of future fathers.

Recently, I became a bit curious about the name of the 16th century Dutch composer and keyboard player Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck. Yes, Jan was Pieter’s son. And he was named Jan Pieterszoon. But he’s best known by the name Sweelinck. So where did that come from?

It turns out that he chose his mother’s family name – Sweeling -  to be a part of his name. I wasn’t all that surprised. Over the years I have come across a number of musicians who have taken on their mother’s family name for one reason or another.

The 20th century composer Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari (1876-1948) was born Ermanno Wolf. He decided to add his Italian mother Emilia Ferrari’s family name to that of his German father, the painter August Wolf. Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari is best remembered for a number of operas including Il segreto di Susanna (Susanna’s Secret) and I gioielli della Madonna (The Jewels of the Madonna).

The Swiss-born conductor Oleg Caetani is the son of the Russian-born conductor Igor Markevich (1912-1983). His Italian mother, Topazia Caetani (1921-90), was the descendent of a noble family that traces its roots back to the 4th century. The conductor chose to extend the family lineage by taking his mother’s surname as his own.

The late Russian condcutor Yakov Kreizberg (1959-2011) was born Yakov Bychkov. Yes, he was the brother of the famous conductor Semyon Bychkov. The story is told that out of respect for his older brother, he changed his name to Kreizberg – his mother’s family name.

Another Russian conductor, the late Gennady Rozhdestvensky (1931-2018), was the son of conductor Nikolai Anosov (1900-1962). The story is told that in order to avoid the appearance of nepotism, he used the masculine form of his mother’s family name. She was soprano Natalya Rozhdestvenskaya (1900-1997).

Spanish Flamenco guitarist Paco de Lucia (1947-2014) was born Francisco Sánchez Gomez. His Spanish father was Flamenco guitarist Antonio Sánchez Pecino (1908-1994) and his Portuguese mother Lucia Gomes. (In that culture’s tradition, children are given the surnames of both father and mother, though the former is most often used. The second is generally reserved for official documents.) For his stage name, he chose his mother’s given name, calling himself Paco de Lucia.

And tenor Mario Lanza (1921-1959) was born Alfredo Arnold Cocozza in Philadelphia. He chose to use his mother Maria Lanza’s family name.

Sir Thomas Beecham never changed his name to Burnett - his mother’s family name. His grandfather, chemist Thomas Beecham, was famous for having established a laxative factory that sparked what became a successful pharmaceutical company. Sir Thomas would become famous for founding orchestras over the years including the Beecham Symphony Orchestra, the Beecham Opera Company, the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. April 29th marked the 140th anniversary of the birth of the English conductor, who died in 1961.

And we celebrated the 270th anniversary of fireworks just days before.  April 27th marked the 270th anniversary of the fireworks that were a part of the Treaty of Aix-la Chapelle, ending what’s known as the War of Austrian Succession. Those were the fireworks for which composer George Frideric Handel wrote his Music for the Royal Fireworks.

You know how they say to be careful when lighting fireworks? Well, it applies to royal fireworks too.

The story is told that it was a hot day in Green Park in London in 1749 with rain in the air, as well as the fireworks. Conductor Roger Hamilton has quoted a letter of the time in which a gentleman describes seeking shelter under a tree from both “watery” and “fiery” rain. It seems that those who were in charge of setting off the fireworks were challenged by the weather conditions that day. There were injuries and a fire as a result.

Handel had to proceed with caution even while writing the Music for the Royal Fireworks. It’s said that the king hoped there would be no fiddles. Indeed, there are none in the orchestration. Handel was careful not to ignite the displeasure of the king. But in a rehearsal the week before in Vauxhall Gardens, which drew some 12,000 people, the music touched off a bit of rowdiness.

As far as I know, Classic Mornings listeners haven’t gotten out of hand as we continue to celebrate the 10th year of the program. Join us, Monday through Friday from 9-noon on FM 90.9 or online at!