Classic Mornings

When in Rome, Do As the Georgians Do


More often than not, I’m led astray - though in a fascinating sort of way - while searching for music and other items of interest for Classic Mornings.

In the end, I seem to come upon even more musical discoveries and stories to share with listeners than I originally had hoped. Sometimes the incidentals get put on a shelf, waiting for just the right time to be a part of the program. Or, given time constraints, they get only a brief mention.

That occurred during the past month or so when a new recording came into the Friends of WILL Library featuring the Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma – the Symphony Orchestra of Rome. The orchestra wasn’t familiar to me.  A quick online search resulted in a most amusing surprise: a different Rome Symphony Orchestra - of Rome, Georgia. I had to laugh, especially when I saw that their music director was named Richard Pryor – he’s a conductor/composer from England. The Rome Symphony Orchestra bills itself as the oldest orchestra in the South, founded in 1921. (By the way, according to legend, the Georgian city acquired its name 180 years ago by a drawing out of a hat from among 5 names submitted by the city’s founders. Rome was suggested by one of them because of the area’s hills and rivers, reminiscent of Rome, Italy.) It’s amusing that the Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma, from the ‘eternal” city which “wasn’t built in a day,” is only a dozen years old. Their new recording led by music director Francesco La Vecchia features symphonies and a piano concerto by the pianist and composer Muzio Clementi. Bruno Canino is the soloist in the concerto. (Naxos 8.573273)

Another little adventure was in store for me while preparing a Classic Morning Prelude to commemorate the 160th anniversary of the first performance of a work by Hector Berlioz on December 10th  -  his oratorio L’Enfance du Christ (The Childhood of Christ), which he called a “sacred trilogy.” One side note led to another and eventually to one of those “say it isn’t so” discoveries. It turns out that this work for vocal soloists, chorus and orchestra began life as a little sketch for the organ.  John Mangum, quoting Berlioz’ letters in program notes for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, related that Berlioz had been bored at a card game when he began jotting down the piece, which he turned into a little chorus. He titled it The Shepherds’ Farewell and had it performed in a concert of his music, though he attributed the piece to an imaginary 17th Century church music composer named Pierre Ducré. It was supposed to have been a joke of sorts. The joke was on Berlioz. It was well-received – as a work by the obscure composer. Mangum quotes a woman who attended the concert, remarking that Berlioz could never write a work as simple and charming as Ducré. Berlioz added an overture and some additional music to the original piece. He then called it The Flight Into Egypt. Over the years, he added two additional sections to form the work we know today as L’Enfance du Christ.

Were you aware that Nikolaus Harnoncourt, the Berlin-born Austrian cellist and conductor, got his name from St. Nicholas?  Harnoncourt, who was born on St. Nicholas Day (December 6th) celebrated his 85th birthday earlier this month. Harnoncourt’s work with authentic performance practices from the Renaissance to the Classical era has served as a model for many who have specialized in early music. The thought came to me that indeed Nikolaus Harnoncourt has some of the characteristics of his namesake. He’s been a champion of music from the Renaissance to contemporary.  That sort of makes it seem like he’s been around for centuries. He may not carry a large bag filled with gifts, but he has a discography of some 500 recordings, according to one website devoted to his music. So he probably has recorded something that’s on every classical music listener’s wish list. In many traditions, good behavior is rewarded by St. Nicholas. Those who tuned in to listen to the Classic Morning Prelude on the eve of Harnoncourt’s birthday earned a musical treat from one of Harnoncourt’s many recordings in the Friends of WILL Library.

We celebrated Sir James Galway’s 75th birthday on December 8th. It came as no surprise to me that we had so many of his recordings in our library. I noticed that recently a CD collection of some 70 discs had been re-issued along with some never before released material. Glancing at the covers of the re-issued recordings, I shouldn’t have been surprised that I recognized most, if not all of the covers. That made me feel as grateful as I always feel about the holdings of the Friends of WILL Library.

Last week I remembered that over the years I have come across a number of musical foxes in that library.  It’s not as though I actually went on a musical fox hunt. Nevertheless, I decided to acquaint listeners with some of those I have found hiding on the shelves over the years. First, I played music by the Austrian composer Johann Joseph Fux (pronounced FOOKS – rhymes with dukes). The name means fox – it’s one of two ways you’ll see the name in German, which is the origin of our English word fox. Fux was a contemporary of composers like Henry Purcell and Arcangelo Corelli. He was born some 25 years before Bach. Speaking of Bach, it was he who led me to another musical fox: American organist Virgil Fox. Then there was a performance of the tail end of one of Mozart’s violin concertos featuring the American violinist Joseph Fuchs (also pronounced FOOKS) – that’s the other spelling of the German word for fox. Joseph Fuchs died in 1997. I topped off the segment with one of the best known musical foxes of all time: the fanfare which Alfred Newman composed for the 20th Century Fox studios and which has been heard at the opening of countless films over the decades. I promised to let those musical foxes loose on the air from time to time.

All sorts of things seem to leap out at me in the Friends of WILL Library.  That library sparked so many programs this past year. I trust it will do the same in the upcoming year. Thank you for making it all possible, recently in our 36 hour mini-drive and over the years! Happy holidays!