Classic Mornings

Names and No Names


I thought it was a great question. I don’t know why it took so long before I finally asked it.

After all the times I had played selections from the music Georges Bizet wrote for the play L’Arlésienne (The Girl From Arles) by Alphonse Daudet, I wondered if the girl from Arles has a name – you know, like Carmen. That character, from Prosper Mérimée’s novella Carmen, became rather famous through Bizet’s music.

I went looking. And what did I learn? In the original short story by Daudet, as well as the play he created from the story, she doesn’t have a name. There have been at least three films based upon the story too. And she’s “the girl” in all three of those.

Not only does she not have a name. She doesn’t even appear on stage, even though she’s a main character, simply through the references to her.

I’d gotten all excited about finally learning the name of the young girl from Arles. In the end, I had to accept the fact that it’s still just “l’Arlésienne.”

But I didn’t stop there. Now I know you’ve heard me mention that the second of the two L’Arlesienne Suites, which features additional selections arranged from Bizet’s incidental music, was completed after the composer’s death by his friend Ernest Guiraud. Faced with a shortage of music for a second suite, he borrowed a selection that Bizet had orchestrated for a suite from his opera The Fair Maid of Perth.

After searching in vain for the name of the girl from Arles, I was curious about the name of the fair maid of Perth. The novel, on which the opera is based, is by Sir Walter Scott. And yes, the fair maid has a name: Catharine Glover, the glove maker’s daughter! That was far from being a discovery. I’m sure it’s common knowledge for those who have read the book. But now I can share the fact with those who aren’t familiar with Bizet’s opera or Sir Walter’s novel.

Five years ago, when we were introduced to the French early music ensemble Gli incogniti, I didn’t even imagine that a group called “the unknowns” or the “incognitos” would have been named for anybody. That would have seemed like a contradiction.

In the notes to their recording of music by Vivaldi back then, violinist Amandine Beyer, the founder and leader of the ensemble, talked about the joy of getting to know all the incognito musical elements - each note, each rhythm, etc. Vivaldi, she said, had a gift for letting flowers say their names and for letting us hear them.

The group was founded 15 years ago. And just recently, I learned that the name was inspired by a 17th century society of intellectuals in Venice known as the Accademia degli Incogniti, whose members met secretly, published anonymously, and influenced musical life in Venice.

I also came to understand that it’s the spirit of adventure and exploring the unknown – repertoire as well as ways of performing, that inspires Gli incogniti. What continues to be amusing is that the recording which introduced us to them five years ago featured guest violinist Giuliano Carmignola. He’s about as far from being an unknown in Baroque music as they come. He joined Amandine Beyer in concertos for two violins by Vivaldi on that recording (Harmonia Mundi 902249).

Have you heard the name Franz Lachner? I remembered that he was a part of Franz Schubert’s circle of friends in Vienna. Lachner was born in Bavaria – in a small town north of Augsburg. His mother was an organist and his father, a clockmaker, also served as a town organist. Five of his siblings became musicians. And all of them were able to play the organ, whether or not they were organists.

Franz Lachner ended up in Vienna as a composer, conductor, and organist. Before and after his time in Vienna, he also worked in Munich – which is in Bavaria – and was quite successful there.

A new CD features the Symphony No. 6 by Lachner. According to musicologist Bert Hagels, who wrote the recording notes, composer Robert Schumann changed his opinion of Lachner to one of admiration after he heard the symphony. On the recording, the Evergreen Symphony Orchestra of Taiwan, which was formed in 2001, is conducted by music director Gernot Schmalfuss, who is from Germany. (CPO 555210).

I’ll never learn the names of all the listeners who responded with contributions during our Fall Fund Drive a couple of weeks ago. I know that there were well over 300 of them. We did mention on the air some of the names or the towns of those who chose to be anonymous. We’re grateful to all of our supporters, whom we call The Friends of WILL.