Classic Mornings

Out Standing in His Field


It seems like a silly question. But the sound of his name sort of invites it.

I’m guessing he’s been asked about it “a few times” over the years. I decided to go digging for an answer on the occasion of his 75th birthday on April 20th. I have to be honest. I was expecting to come up empty-handed. But it turns out that Sir John Eliot Gardiner isn’t just a gardener. He’s a farmer with 500 acres, including woodlands!

In a 2017 article by Laura Battle in The Financial Times, I learned that the English Gardiner lives in a home that was built by converting a number of barns on the family estate he inherited. He raises cattle, is interested in organic certification and has plans for a tree nursery. He also has built a study using wood from the trees on his land in Dorset County in southwest England.

Before I came upon that article, I only joked about the musical Gardiner having raised his own ensembles over the years. You could call his ongoing interest in authentic performance of early music a sort of organic music-making. In 1964, he formed the Monteverdi Choir, named for composer Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643), whose Vespers he conducted at King’s College, Cambridge back then. Four years later, he formed the Monteverdi Orchestra for a performance of Handel’s opera Hercules.

In 1978 he founded the English Baroque Soloists to perform music of Bach, Handel, Haydn and Mozart. And in 1990 he branched out to include authentic performances of 19th century music with the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique.

Gardiner doesn’t limit his musical activities to his homegrown ensembles. In fact, we celebrated his 75th birthday on Classic Mornings with a selection form a recording he made of Felix Mendelssohn’s music with the Vienna Philharmonic. It was released 20 years ago and was the first ever of the revised version of the composer’s famous Symphony No. 4, known as the “Italian.” (Deutsche Grammophon 459156)

Have all the fun you’d like with his name, but be careful. There’s an English composer named John Gardner, who died at age 94 back in 2011. He’s best remembered for his adaptation of the English  Christmas carol Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day. And yes, I did check. He doesn’t seem to have had any connection with gardening.

I’m guessing that John Eliot Gardiner has read the English translation of a recent Scandinavian bestseller.  I’ve heard a couple of public radio interviews with author Lars Mytting about his book titled Norwegian Wood, which has nothing to do with the famous Beatles song, but which is all about Norwegian wood. In fact, the full title is Norwegian Wood: Chopping, Stacking and Drying Wood the Scandinavian Way. Both interviews began with a variation on the obvious sort of opener: “You’ve got to be kidding!” But he isn’t. And his appearances on radio, dressed in a light Norwegian accent, may have kindled a little interest either in Norwegian culture, the qualities of wood, or both.

Mytting came to mind with the arrival of a new release that could be called “Norwegian Woodwinds”. It’s a recording by the Oslo Chamber Academy (Oslo Kammerakademi), which features music for winds by Mozart, including 2 serenades and selections from Mozart’s opera La Clemenza di Tito arranged by the composer’s contemporary Joseph Triebensee (LAWO Classics 1141).

One thing that might be confusing to listeners who are new to classical music terminology is the word “woodwind.”  It generally refers to flutes, oboes, clarinets and bassoons. Yet the classic “wind quintet” or “woodwind quintet” consists of those instruments joined by a French horn, which is a brass instrument.

If that’s not confusing enough, a rather famous English classical music composer named for Franz Joseph Haydn, namely Haydn Wood (1882-1959), pronounced his name with the sound of the word “hay” rather than with the sound of “high,” which is how Franz Joseph Haydn’s family name is pronounced. I was informed of that years ago by our colleagues at the BBC in response to an inquiry I sent them. I’m guessing that it’s not only how someone in Britain would pronounce the name, but also how a Norwegian would.