Scarlavisons

February 14, 2019
 

It’s not a good thing to slip on the ice. But it is rather nice to stumble upon some fun musical items to pass along.

I once came up with an “in-house” word for 12 concertos published in 1744 by English composer Charles Avison. Since they basically were created by orchestrating keyboard sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti, I referred to them as “Scarlavisons.” I was reminded of that when I noticed that this year marks the 275th anniversary of the publication of the concertos. And it’s the 25th anniversary of the recording of the concertos featuring the Brandenburg Consort conducted by violinist Roy Goodman (Hyperion 22060).

Coming up with the name “Scarlavisons” was simple. It was a bit of a challenge years ago trying to find out whether Avison’s name was pronounced with the “a” as in “avid” or as in “aviator.” I recall coming upon an explanation that it’s aviator in London, but in northern England, where Avison was born and where he lived, it’s avid. Given that explanation, I pronounce it “avidly,” you might say.

Over the years, I’ve introduced the concertos with the explanation that Avison was responding to the popularity of Domenico Scarlatti’s sonatas in England at the time. So he turned some of those relatively short sonatas into movements of concertos. Basically that’s true. Recently I acquired a bit more insight into the concertos from Peter Holman and Mark Kroll. Both are harpsichordists and music scholars.

In our time, cutting and pasting is a rather common computer task. Constructing the concertos wasn’t as simple. In fact, the story is told by Mark Kroll that at the outset, Avison only arranged one concerto as a sample. He promised 12 if he first acquired at least 100 subscriptions for a complete set. Securing some 150, he proceeded.

Avison did quite a bit of editing of the sonatas he chose. Concertos have both slow and fast movements or sections. Avison found himself with a “shortage” of slow sonatas by Scarlatti to use for slow movements. So he slowed down the tempos of some sonatas. And because scholars haven’t been able to trace the origin of some of the movements to Scarlatti sonatas, they’ve concluded that he may have written some of them.

Avison and other musicians in England at the time were part of a so-called “Scarlatti sect.” He wasn’t the last to create concertos using Scarlatti sonatas. In recent times oboist Wolfgang Renz created a concerto, which appeared on oboist Christoph Hartmann’s recording Bella Napoli with Ensemble Berlin (EMI 14232).  Since he wrote only one, I haven’t felt compelled to come up with a catchy combination of Renz & Scarlatti’s names just yet.

Adolphe Sax’s family name is firmly attached to the instrument he invented –the saxophone. February 7th was the 125th anniversary of his passing. It’s funny that you never see the Belgian’s given name Adolphe attached to “sax.” Instead, you’re more likely to see alto, tenor, soprano, etc.

And the Waltons – that name recalls for many a television family. Recently I introduced Classic Mornings listeners to some members of another Walton family, namely the late Sir William Walton. The composer’s Music For Children was written for his niece Elizabeth, his brother Noel’s daughter. (The TV Waltons also had an Elizabeth.) Along came Elizabeth’s brother Michael. And Uncle William, perhaps knowing how kids are, then arranged the pieces for piano 4 hands so both children could join in playing them. At first I thought that sort of thing could only go so far. And then I remembered that there have been lots of arrangements for 5 pianos for the musical siblings known as The Five Browns.

It’s exciting to know that in addition to a family of 5 siblings playing instruments together, there are some musicians who play 5 different instruments. I just happened to look up a harpist whose performances I have featured for years: Jutta Zoff. She served as the principal harp of the Staatskapelle Dresden from 1967-1991. But besides being a harpist, she’s a pianist, clarinetist, saxophonist and accordionist. In fact, she acquired a bit of fame as an accordionist before she accepted her position with the Staatskapelle Dresden. She turned 91 on January 14, 2019.

Continue to be careful when you’re out walking with icy conditions outdoors. I’ll be careful to not let musical stories and celebrations slip by me! And I’ll continue to share them with you as a part of Classic Mornings, Monday through Friday from 9-noon on WILL-FM 90.9 and streaming online at will.illinois.edu.


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