Classic Mornings

Sweet Suite


What if you became more attached to the trailer than the film?  After all, they sometimes squeeze the best moments of a film, spoilers as well, into one-minute previews or trailers, as they’re commonly known (from an earlier time when previews were shown in theatres only after the featured film).  In fact, sometimes it turns out that the only good moments in a film were those that appeared in the trailer.

That thought came to mind with the recent celebration of probably the greatest trailer in history. 125 years ago a famous classical music composer presented a generous preview of the music he had written for a ballet 9 months before its premiere. Over the years, that “trailer” has become a favorite with audiences, who have flocked to the ballet as well. You might say the trailer did its job.

Unlike the typical trailer that lasts from 30 seconds to a minute, the celebrated one gave the material a little more breathing space – more than 20 minutes' worth!  If you think that’s ridiculously long for a trailer, imagine being limited to just a minute or so of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite.

Yes, the suite with which Tchaikovsky introduced music from his upcoming ballet The Nutcracker to a St. Petersburg audience was first presented on March 19,1892. Though it’s a holiday tradition for many to attend performances of the ballet, I’m guessing that most listeners associate The Nutcracker with the suite.

It’s like associating an orchestra with one of its legendary conductors.  I know I’ve told the story about the cartoon parrot in the living room of a music listener’s home. When the radio announcer mentions the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, the parrot has learned to say: “Sir Neville Marriner conducting.” That’s how closely connected the late Sir Neville was to that ensemble.

Well, it’s almost a cartoon response to that cartoon to startle the bird with an announcement that a music performance was conducted by a Parrott – Andrew Parrott, to be specific. No, he’s not a bird. But he is a conductor, who crosses two “t”s at the tail of his name.

In 1973, Andrew Parrott founded the Taverner Players, an ensemble named for the 16th century English composer John Taverner.  Parrott is an early music specialist and has written extensively about the music of Bach. But recently he recorded the piano concertos of Beethoven with Dutch pianist Ronald Brautigam and the Norrköping Symphony Orchestra from Sweden. And I understand that he has an ongoing interest in contemporary music. We celebrated his 70th birthday on March 10th.

As well-known as Parrott may be in classical music, I can’t imagine him overshadowing other, more famous parrots in popular culture. The same goes for a composer of the 18th century that might have a tough time taking on the title of a famous super hero, though he might at least qualify as a “spider man.”

Remember that song about the person that swallowed a fly (and we don’t know why)? Well, a spider was swallowed to catch the fly.  And that was just the beginning. You’re probably going to think about that song all day long now that I’ve brought it up.

The reason I mention the song is because I found myself caught up in a web of stories surrounding a Haydn contemporary by the name of Anton Fils, whose name is sometimes spelled Filz or Filtz. He was both a cellist and composer. The stories have to do with his eating spiders, which he said tasted like strawberries. The stories were told by Fils’s contemporary Christian Friedrich Schubart, who was a poet, organist and composer.  According to Schubart, Fils may well have died from the delicacy at age 26. In the song it was a possibility that the fly swallower, who then swallowed a spider (and later a cat, dog, goat, cow and horse), could die.

Fils may have a hard time wiggling his way out of the spider legacy. But it might be just enough to keep his name and music alive in our time, even if the story is a bit difficult for some to digest.

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