Classic Mornings

Queuing In Thought


Yes, I know what I said. A couple of blogs ago, I did admit that I wasn’t well versed in the details of royalty, either in the modern world or historically speaking.

I have to say, though, that over the past couple of weeks, I glanced regularly at the BBC homepage and found the tributes to the late Queen Elizabeth II to be quite moving. Just looking at the headlines and photos on the special page, which was added above the usual news home page, made me feel like I was a small part of it.

While many stood in line for hours to pay their last respects to the Queen, I recalled that I had the chance to meet, interview, and produce a program based on the music of a Master of the Queen’s Music: Sir Peter Maxwell Davies. Fortunately, I didn’t have to wait my turn to meet him. He came here – no, not to chat with me, but to conduct the BBC Philharmonic.

I was reminded of that on the occasion of the late Sir Peter’s birthday anniversary, which just happened to be the same day as the Queen’s passing: September 8. He served as Master of the Queen’s Music for 10 years, from 2004-2014. I had met him in 1995. He wasn’t the Queen’s Master yet, but he had been knighted before that – in 1987. 

His funeral in 2016 was a rather modest one, though in accordance with his wishes, he was buried on one of the Orkney Islands, where he lived for many years. According to Magnus Linklater of The Times of London, one of Sir Peter’s tractors was used to transport a trailer with his coffin to the burial site. A sonnet by Shakespeare was read. And a solo fiddle played his most famous work: Farewell to Stromness. The 100 guests then drank champagne, as he had requested.

Another Queen Elizabeth II story came to mind last Friday on the birthday anniversary of conductor Piero Gamba. While preparing to celebrate his birthday, I learned that he had passed away on January 30 at age 85. There was limited information about his passing, which may explain why I hadn’t heard about it. A Canadian website mentioned that during his tenure as Music Director of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra (1971-80), Gamba was a recipient of the Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal.

The young Gamba’s recording of the overture from Rossini’s opera The Thieving Magpie (La gazza ladra) reminded me of the story told by another Italian conductor, namely the late Claudio Abbado. When Abbado began his London debut concert with that overture, the audience, hearing the opening drumroll, stood up immediately. They thought the orchestra was starting to play God Save the Queen.

In the midst of all the tributes to the Queen, we celebrated the 285th anniversary of the birth of Michael Haydn, the younger brother of Franz Joseph. September 14 is actually the baptismal day of the composer, though it’s celebrated as his birthday. The occasion made me reflect on an interesting detail that relates to the way I announce works by the Haydn brothers on Classic Mornings

Many refer to composer Franz Joseph Haydn simply as Joseph Haydn, with an anglicized pronunciation of his first name. I, as well as others, have referred to him by his full name with a light German pronunciation. I haven’t heard anyone say Michael Haydn’s full name, which is Johann Michael Haydn. It’s generally just Michael, and anglicized, though I’m guessing that in German-speaking countries, they use the German pronunciation of Michael. I’m not sure how this situation came about. But I am aware of it and wanted listeners to know that.

I also wanted listeners to hear a selection from harpist Yolanda Kondonassis’s new recording. In 2020, she asked a number of composers if they would contribute a piece for solo harp of approximately five minutes in length that expresses a powerful experience inspired by Earth in one of its many conditions or atmospheres. It became part of a project known as “Five Minutes for Earth.” The recording from the project (Azica 71349) was released earlier this year. I recently played the piece titled Milonga para mi Tierra by Máximo Diego Pujol, who is from Buenos Aires. He uses a dance form known as a milonga – a dance from Argentina which predates the tango. The title of the work, according to Pujol, may be understood as “Milonga for my Earth” or “Milonga for my Homeland.” The dance has a simple and memorable tune.

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