Classic Mornings

RVs, Ds And Snow Up To The Knees


A couple of weeks ago, I suddenly felt like Ralphie. He’s the main character in the film A Christmas Story. I was reminded of the scene in which he finally gets his Little Orphan Annie decoder pin in the mail and uses it to decipher a message presented in numbers during the legendary radio program. After all the anticipation, he’s disappointed when the message turns out to be – in his words: “a crumby commercial.”

You almost need a decoder when you look up works by some classical music composers, including Antonio Vivaldi. There are three or four different catalogs of his music. I’m grateful that the New Grove Encyclopedia of Music and Musicians has a sort of decoder at the end of the Vivaldi section. It helps you find the corresponding number of the work in each of the catalogs.

That probably was more useful in the past. These days, most Vivaldi compositions are listed with an RV (Ryom Verzeichnis) number, which refers to the catalog of Peter Ryom, the Danish musicologist. It sometimes makes me think of Vivaldi’s works as “recreational vehicles,” which they are, in a certain sense. And I imagine a typical radio commercial that begins with the boast: “He has more RVs than anyone!”

I understand that there are ongoing attempts at all sorts of cross-referencing for Vivaldi’s music, including tunes that he re-used in more than one composition. That would be an interesting index. My reason for visiting the catalog was to verify that one of his oboe concertos was based on a concerto he’d written for bassoon. It was exciting to use the information and recordings to verify that. I’m not sure Ralphie would have been amused.

It just so happened that the morning I was thinking about that film, it was the 75th birthday of Irish pianist John O’Conor. And just as Ralphie had been warned by most of the elders he encountered about the dangers connected with his Christmas gift wish, O’Conor had been given a warning about his dream of becoming a pianist. 

He told Jenny Lee of Irish News a couple of years ago that he began to play the piano at a young age.  But his mother insisted that he earn a degree in music at the university so that he would “have something to fall back on when this piano playing rubbish didn’t work out.” She refused to pay his fees. He said he ended up playing for ballet classes, every kid’s violin examination and lots of awful gigs in awful places just to keep some money coming in.

He received a scholarship to study in Vienna. And in 1973, at age 24, the Dublin-born pianist won the International Beethoven Piano Competition. Years later, he recorded the complete Beethoven piano sonatas and, more recently, the complete concertos. He’s considered a Beethoven expert.

January 30 marked the 325th birthday anniversary of flutist/composer Johann Joachim Quantz. You’ll need more than a decoder to keep track of the Quantz works, since most haven’t been published. Quantz was the flute teacher of the Prussian King Frederick II and wrote works for him as well. According to flutist Rachel Brown, the numbers currently attached to Quantz concertos and sonatas are those from Frederick’s numbered collection.

On January 31, we celebrated the 225th anniversary of Franz Schubert’s birth. I once joked that being one of the most honored composers of all time and a one-time teacher, he ended up getting Ds for all of his works. That’s because the Schubert catalog which seems to be most often used is that of Otto Deutsch. So, there are “Ds” or D numbers for the Schubert compositions. Pianists have the most to choose from, considering the hundreds of songs with piano accompaniment, the works for solo piano or piano four-hands and the chamber music with piano.

There certainly was enough snow around last week for anybody looking forward to it. Knowing that many were at home because of the weather, and because it wasn’t all that difficult for me to get to Campbell Hall, I decided there was a better way to spend the mornings than waiting for the snowfall stats as if they were sports scores or market figures. We were going to have a good time, almost like an extension of the recent holiday season, only this time with snow! I did pass along the relevant weather info. But I wanted listeners to say: “This was fun! I wish I didn’t have to go back to work. Maybe we’ll get another storm.”

Just so you know: we have fun with classical music and the stories and celebrations that are a part of that music every weekday morning. So, join us for Classic Mornings, Monday through Friday from 9-noon on FM 90.9 or online at!