The Beethoven of Bodybuilding

May 28, 2020
 

She must be ok with it. After all, it’s right on her homepage and at the outset of just about every bio of her that’s out there.

Jane Parker Smith has been called the “Martha Argerich of the organ” (Paul Driver, The Sunday Times). I learned that just recently. And when I featured a performance with the British organist and the late French trumpeter Maurice André on Classic Mornings, I had to admit she has the same sort of “fire” that one can hear in the playing of the Argentinian pianist.

The comparison reminded me of similar “pairings” in classical music. The 19th century harpist and composer Elias Parish Alvars was called the “Franz Liszt of the harp” (Liszt was a piano virtuoso). The late 19th/early 20th century oboist/composer Antonio Pasculli was known as the “Paganini of the oboe” (Nicolò Paganini was a violin virtuoso). In our time German trumpeter Ludwig Güttler has been called the "Pavarotti of the trumpet.”  I’m not sure if the late Italian tenor was aware of that.

I am aware that the German city Dresden has been called the “Florence of the Elbe” (the river on which it’s located).  And after a bit of searching, I came to learn that a number of universities consider themselves the “Harvard (or Princeton or Yale) of the Midwest.” I even saw a reference to the “Michael Jordan of Ping Pong.”

It would seem that the music pairings make their point only if the standard bearer is indeed legendary. That’s the case with all of those I mentioned. But there are instances when the comparisons are for reasons other than sharing a bit of the legendary glow with other worthy candidates. Joseph Martin Kraus, the German-born composer who became a part of the musical life of Stockholm, has been called the “Swedish Mozart,” simply because he lived during the same years as Mozart. And Juan Arriaga, who was born on the 50th anniversary of Mozart’s birth – 15 years after Mozart’s passing, has been called the “Spanish Mozart” or the “Basque Mozart.” He was a prodigy who lived just under 20 years and wrote a very modest number of compositions. Simply said, those composers were not as “connected” to Mozart as the nicknames might suggest.

The music that inspired Igor Stravinsky in writing his 1920 score for the ballet Pulcinella was not as connected to the early 18th century composer Giovanni Battista Pergolesi as the composer had thought. It was discovered years later that some of the pieces Stravinsky used were among many that came to be attributed to Pergolesi, but not written by him.  Scholars have suggested that the posthumous popularity of Pergolesi’s music after his short life of 26 years probably helped to bring about some of the misattributions. They have identified the actual composers of some of the pieces used by Stravinsky.  May 15th marked the centennial of the first performance of Pulcinella.

February 28th marked the centennial of the first performance of the orchestrated version of Maurice Ravel’s suite known as Le Tombeau de Couperin. The suite was inspired by the loss of several of the composer’s friends during the First World War. The 100th anniversary prompted me to get to know something about those friends.

The original version of the suite, for solo piano, consists of 6 pieces or movements. One of the pieces, which became the finale in the 4-movement orchestrated version, was dedicated to two brothers who joined the French army right at the beginning of the war and who were killed by the same shell the day they arrived at the front. The opening piece was dedicated to a friend who was related to Claude Debussy’s music publisher and who had become a lieutenant. The second movement was dedicated to Gabriel Deluc. He was a painter who entered the army as a nurse. He then joined the combat troops, rose to the rank of second lieutenant and made drawings from the trenches of some of the battles before he was killed. The minuet, which is the third movement, was dedicated to Jean Dreyfus, the stepson of another of Ravel’s friends. He had written some 50 letters to his stepmother about his wartime experiences.

Though the centennial of the first performance of the orchestrated suite was a few months ago, it’s often played around Memorial Day. It seemed more than appropriate to mention it again – and here for the first time.

Have you been joining us for Classic Mornings these days? If not, you’re missing lots of great classical music along with the stories and celebrations that are a part of that music. I invite you to tune in Monday through Friday from 9-noon on FM 90.9 and online at will.illinois.edu.


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