Classic Mornings

Staged Crowds and Crowded Stages


In the 20th century, there were 7 composers who never could appear together on the same stage. In fact, not more than one of them could show up at any given time. A puzzle? Of sorts.

I presented that scenario to the Classic Morning Prelude audience on August 10th as an introduction to a piece of music by one of the composers. The idea was prompted by the recent appearance of 10 presidential candidates on one stage. The piece is titled: The Clock and the Dresden Figures. It was written by English composer Albert Ketèlby, who was born 140 years ago on August 9,1875. He died in 1959. Ketèlby is remembered as a composer of so-called “light music.” He also wrote for silent films. Some of his most famous works are: In a Monastery Garden, In a Persian Market and In a Chinese Temple Garden.

Albert Ketèlby published under the names Anton Vodorinski, Raoul Clifford, A. William Aston, Geoffrey Kaye, André de Basque and Dennis Charlton. That’s a total of 7 composers, who never could appear on stage together.  Only one could show up at any given time.  That would have to have been Ketèlby himself, either as himself or as one of his pseudo-name sakes. That’s the solution to my little puzzle of sorts. I didn’t expect many - or any - listeners to know the answer. It was a fun way of slowly telling the story, which I learned while reading about Ketèlby.

That in turn reminded me of an editorial page cartoon I saw in a Toronto newspaper from July,1980 following the death of actor Peter Sellers. Though Sellers did appear as different characters in a single film, the cartoon brought so many of Sellers’ memorable portrayals together in one room. The caption, as I recall, was based on the cliché line that we associate with mystery films: “The reason I invited all of you here…” The speaker may well have been Inspector Clouseau.

August 9th  also marked an anniversary involving a musician whose family name could have made him one of 3 different people, all musically talented.  Still in puzzle mode, I played a piece of music to which his name is attached. Yet it’s a piece that wasn’t written by him at all, with or without a pseudonym. It’s known as Tahiti Trot. It sounds like Tea For Two. Indeed, it’s an arrangement of Vincent Youmens’ famous Tea For Two.

The arrangement was completed in under an hour by Dmitri Shostakovich. He was responding to a challenge by one of his teachers. August 9th was the 40th anniversary of the death of Dmitri Shostakovich, who shares the family name with 2 other musicians: his son Maxim, the conductor, and his grandson Dmitri, the pianist.  The 3 once came together on a pair of recordings made about 30 years ago. Those featured Dmitri Shostakovich’s  piano concertos in performances conducted by Maxim with Dmitri Maximovich the soloist (Chandos 8357 & 8443).

When thousands of performers are on stage at once, it can be rather exciting – or dangerous. I came upon a recent report by Latvian Public Broadcasting (LSM) that some 12,500 young people were on stage at one time during the Youth Song and Dance Festival in Latvia this past July. If those numbers startle you, know that it’s fairly common to see thousands of singers on a single stage in song festivals in Baltic countries. Nevertheless, the planners had advised against more than 6,000 on stage at the same time. A number of young people required medical attention due to the crammed conditions.

The choral tradition of the Baltic countries came to mind recently as we celebrated the 85th birthday of Estonian composer Veljo Tormis on August 7th. Tormis may not as familiar to American audiences as his compatriot and contemporary Arvo Pärt. He certainly is well-known in Estonia. Tormis has written primarily for voices, especially choirs. In his catalog of works there are hundreds of songs, song cycles and larger works for choirs. He uses voices as if they were orchestral instruments. Even if you don’t understand the texts that are being sung, Tormis has a way of enticing you with his colorful and rhythmic songs.

Folk music has provided inspiration and the essence of folk music the building blocks for some of his choral works. More specifically, Tormis has been influenced by the centuries-old song heritage of Estonia and areas to the north including Karelia and parts of Finland. On Classic Mornings I played selections from a collection of song cycles known as Forgotten Peoples:The Ancient Songs of my Balto-Finnic Kinsfolk (ECM 434275). The recording dates back well over 20 years and features the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir led by its founder Tõnu Kaljuste. Around the time of the recording, the choir performed in central Illinois as a part of a U.S. tour.

All this talk about thousands appering on stage at one time made me anticipate a question: How many listeners can join me at one time for Classic Mornings? I sometimes imagine staggering numbers on both 90.9 FM and online at Indeed, we can safely accommodate such crowds. But I’m thrilled every time I hear just one or two listeners say that they tune in Monday through Friday from 9-noon, regularly or occasionally. I look forward to the next time you’re able to join me!