O du Cologne

September 04, 2014
 

Is there such a thing as a musical fragrance?  

French composer Claude Debussy gave one of his piano preludes the descriptive title: “Sounds and Perfumes Swirl in the Evening Air.” There’s a famous perfume that bears the name of the main character in a Puccini opera.  You probably can use fragrance as a metaphor to describe the captivating charm of a piece of music when it enters the room much like the scent of a flower or perfume.  (I have heard some people comment on disappointing musical performances the same way they might describe something with an awful odor, but usually not reach into the bag of finer olfactory adjectives to describe a performance they enjoyed.)

The idea of musical fragrance came to mind, believe it or not, because of a set of CDs that recently arrived in the Friends of WILL Library.  It wasn’t just the appearance of a charming little box. This particular little box contained hours of performances by one of the early music ensembles from Cologne: Concerto Köln.

For those who are not familiar with the word, “Köln” is Cologne.  It’s the German word for the German city, which leads to the story that just might help clear up some confusion. The famous perfume that bears the name of the city was the creation of the Italian-born perfume maker Johann (Giovanni) Maria Farina (1685-1766), who was born the same year as Johann Sebastian Bach.  There’s a famous quote by Farina: “I have found a fragrance that reminds me of an Italian spring morning, of mountain daffodils and orange blossoms after the rain.” He named his new fragrance “eau de Cologne” (water of Cologne) after his new home: Köln - though he used the French word for it, which has become the English word as well. In German the famous perfume is known as “kölnisch Wasser” and in Italian, “acqua di Colònia.” There’s a statue of Farina and a Farina fragrance museum in Cologne – in the city, that is.

Concerto Köln is only one of the Cologne-based ensembles specializing in early music. Others include Musica Antiqua Köln, Camerata Köln and La Stravaganze Köln. I feature them regularly on Classic Mornings.  Somehow, the generic word “cologne” has not extended to music ensembles. Nobody really refers to the many music ensembles in Cologne as “musical colognes,”  though it’s a fun thought. I once played with the idea on a Classic Morning Prelude, characterizing fragrances that might be inspired by the names of those ensembles.

It was in late Spring that I found myself, quite by accident, on the scent of this 2007 compilation of performances from 1994-2001 by Concerto Köln (Teldec 2564 69889), none of which had ever been a part of the Friends of WILL Library. It consists of concertos and symphonies by a variety of 18th Century composers.  The names may not be familiar, but that’s all the more reason to use the fragrance metaphor, where the exotic seems to be an attraction, including names. Here, try these names: Evaristo Felice Dall’Abaco, Anton Eberl, Christian Cannabich, Anton Fils, Johann Baptist Vanhal & Leopold Kozeluch. Just as you can’t judge a scent until you’ve opened the bottle, wait until you get a whiff of the music associated with those names in the charming little box (which, after all that discussion about Cologne, is perfumed with a photograph of the Trevi Fountain in Rome). Stay tuned!

Speaking of unfamiliar names, we’ve been listening to performances on Classic Mornings from recent recordings featuring pianists Racha Arodaky and Khatia Buntiashvili. Racha Arodaky is a French/Syrian pianist whose recording of sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti from 9 years ago was just re-issued (Rewind 507). We’re enjoying it for the very first time, thanks to the re-issue. Khatia Buntiashvili is from the Republic of Georgia. Her new recording titled Motherland (Sony 88883734622) features works by 17 different composers, including Bach, Debussy, Ravel and one from her homeland: Giya Kancheli.

St. Louis once was home for conductors Leonard Slatkin and Hans Vonk. It’s interesting that the 10th anniversary of Hans Vonk’s passing (August 29th) and Slatkin’s 70th birthday (September 1st ) were just a few days apart.  Vonk’s principal second violinist in St. Louis was Alison Harney.  At the time of his death, she recalled the little smile on his face when the orchestra was playing well. She said when that happened, he was in heaven. We heard him from the years when he was in Dresden, conducting the Staatskapelle Dresden. Hans Vonk succeeded Leonard Slaktin as Music Director. Slatkin had been an assistant conductor in St Louis from the late 1960s to the late 1970s. He returned to serve as Music Director from 1979 to 1996. It was during those years that the orchestra spent a bit of time in the recording studio. In case anybody forgot about those years, there are plenty of musical reminders which Slatkin and the orchestra left behind.

Please don’t forget to join us for Classic Mornings, Monday through Friday from 9-noon, with the Classic Morning Prelude just before at 8:50 on 90.9 FM or online at will.illinois.edu. You didn’t forget to check out the Classic Mornings blog. Thank you!


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