Classic Mornings

Pronounced Listening


They can be tricky. And don’t feel as though they’re only out to get you. 

I too have been fooled by the pronunciations of classical music names from my earliest years of sitting in front of a microphone.  I’m still learning how to say names all the time.

It’s a fun sort of challenge.  And passing those names along to listeners sometimes seems like a public service, knowing that they won't have to struggle to search for them.  They can spend more time enjoying the music and getting to know more about the composers and musicians once they’ve gotten past the names.

There’s something that can be so misleading about it all. Though it might be easy to guess the cultural background of a name, does that really point to the way it’s pronounced? The names of musicians who have emigrated may have taken on a spelling or pronunciation more in line with the languages of their new homelands. I’m constantly fooled by anglicized pronunciations that musicians have indeed embraced. But then I realize that even my own on-air pronunciations are somewhat anglicized for the sake of clarity.

There have been times when I’ve had to make a well-informed guess – and have been wrong. Yet my “batting average” has improved over the years. I do go to great lengths to track down pronunciations. I’ve contacted embassies, orchestra front offices and artist management agencies.  And I have to admit that online tools have made searching much easier than in decades past.

I’ve always liked the name of the Bach and Handel contemporary Leonardo Leo (1694-1744), wanting to call him  “Leo Leo.”  In Italian, the family name is pronounced “LAY oh.” October 31st marked the 275th anniversary of his passing.

Johann Helmich Roman (1694-1758) was not a Roman, but a Swede. And so that makes the pronunciation of his name “ROO mahn.”  We celebrated the 325th anniversary of his birth on October 26th. He’s sometimes called the “Swedish Handel.”  And he may have gotten to know Handel in his travels to England. He did introduce some of Handel’s music in Sweden.

Roman became the director of the Queen’s orchestra in Stockholm. His most famous work: Drottningholm Music is the suite he arranged from the music he wrote for a royal wedding 275 years ago. It lasted several days and took place on the grounds of the Royal Palace known as Drottningholm, which is located on the outskirts of Stockholm. Roman stepped down from his post the year after the wedding, at which time his deafness became rather severe.

British conductor Raymond Leppard died on October 22nd at age 92.  When I heard the network announcement of his passing, it was hard to believe that after all these years, many are still pronouncing his name as if it rhymes with Peppard (as in George Peppard, the American actor who died 25 years ago). Basically, it’s the word leopard and rhymes with bard, hard, or yard.

Leppard served as the music director of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra from 1987-2001. Indianapolis became his home as well.

Three music directors of the Los Angeles Philharmonic were on hand to conduct when that orchestra celebrated its centennial on October 24th. Current music director Gustavo Dudamel shared the podium with Zubin Mehta and Esa-Pekka Salonen that evening. It’s interesting that Zubin Mehta, who was the conductor for the famous “3 Tenors” concert, got to be a participant in what turned out to be a “3 Music Directors” concert.

I’ve read stories about the L.A. Phil hiring players away from East Coast orchestras at the outset. And they had just 11 days to rehearse before the first concert in 1919.

Aaron Copland borrowed a Shaker hymn tune for the music he wrote for the ballet Appalachian Spring, which premiered 75 years ago on October 30th. But he paid it back with interest, you could say. He popularized the tune “Simple Gifts” with his variations that are featured near the conclusion of the work.

That 75th anniversary was on the same day as the 125th anniversary of the birth of composer Peter Warlock (the pseudonym of Philip Heseltine). Warlock, who died in 1930, is best know for his 20th century suite known as Capriol, which borrowed tunes from a dance manual of several centuries before.  October 30th was also British conductor James Judd’s 70th birthday and the 85th anniversary of the birth of the late flute & recorder virtuoso/conductor Frans Brüggen.

If you celebrated all of those events, you must be a Classic Mornings regular! We welcome the rest of you as well, Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to noon on FM 90.9 and online.