Classic Mornings

Spinning Records And Legends


I was amused by an ad. Though I usually go out of my way to avoid them, I was anxious to listen to a three-minute ad for a new line of sound recordings. It promises to improve audio fidelity and appeal to listeners of many types of music.

The ad is 75 years old. It was made by a major record company to get people excited about 7‘’ records, which played at a speed of 45 revolutions per minute. Non-breakable, the announcer said.  And they can fit compactly on a bookshelf. The labels on the records were in different colors for the various kinds of music that would be available. Beginning with classical music – an excerpt from Tchaikovsky’s ballet The Sleeping Beauty, a few samples were played from various genres. I’m guessing the ad itself was presented on an actual 7” “45” record.

Many say that the first “45s” were released on February 1, 1949. I began my days in radio – in college radio - with ”45s.” There were no classical “45s” by that time. And though the 7” records may have been hard to break, their small size made them so easy to handle. Before long, they easily acquired smudges, scratches, and wear. College radio hosts back then never really placed them neatly on book shelves. Instead, they created stacks and piles, which took up quite a bit of space. A few decades later, the first CDs, smaller than 45s (and some even made to look like old “45’s” with retro labeling) would be even easier to handle and subject to smudges, scratches, and wear, not to mention digital disruptions. 

The maximum length of one side of a 7” “45” was five minutes. Many radio hits were shorter than that. But for classical music, a maximum time of 5 minutes rules out a lot of works. It should have brought about a renaissance of popularity for the sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti. So many of those could have been hits on ”45s.” And most of them are under 5 minutes.

“Classical 45s” suggests something else as well. There are classical music works with the number ”45” in their titles or in their catalog numbers, such as opus numbers, “K” numbers for Mozart, and “D” numbers for Schubert. 

A famous work by Haydn is his Symphony No. 45. It’s the one known as the “Farewell” Symphony, with the score directing orchestra members to gradually exit the stage during the finale. That was to protest not being able to leave Prince Esterhazy’s estate and spend time with their families. The finale wouldn’t fit on a “45” side. It’s too long, unless an orchestra would record it at a faster tempo with the players sort of jogging off the stage.

There are three marches for piano 4-hands by Beethoven, which are part of his op.45. I’ve played two of those regularly, and probably helped them to become at least local hits.

“45s” made great gifts in their time. On the eve of Mozart’s birthday, I felt bad about having to take something away from Mozart, rather than present him with a gift. Actually, I wasn’t the one taking it away.   I merely passed along the information.

Musicologists and music historians have weighed in on one of many legends related to the young Mozart. He probably has more legends about him than children of today have toys. “So, what’s one less toy - or legend?” some might ask.

Giambettino Cignaroli painted a portrait of the 13-year-old Mozart sitting at the piano. It was done at the time of Mozart’s first visit to the northern Italian city of Verona. In the portrait, there’s a music score displayed on the piano’s music stand. It’s marked “Molto allegro,” which means “very fast.” The piece has come to be known as the Veronese allegro, K. 72a. And the painting is the only existing source of that music.

After all these years of telling the story, I learned only recently that the experts have concluded it’s not Mozart’s composition. That’s because of the style of the work, given everything else Mozart wrote, and especially everything he composed at that age. Their best guess is that it was written by Baldassare Galuppi, who was born 50 years before Mozart. Galuppi already is famous from his name appearing in the title of a poem by Robert Browning. Now he gets to cash in on a bit more posthumous fame from the portrait of Mozart.

The legend about the only trace of a piece of music coming from it’s appearance in a painting continues to be amazing.  And it’s still connected with Mozart. It’s just that he has to share it with Galuppi. That’s something that children are taught to do with toys anyway. So why not with legends too?