When Mitro Met Metro
May you have a 550th on your 500th someday! That means you have to do something extraordinary on your 50th birthday, so that on the 500th anniversary of your passing, it’ll work out that way.
Unfortunately, the German composer, organist, and theorist Michael Praetorius (1571-1621) died on his 50th. Some scholars have pointed to evidence that he died on his 49th birthday. But others insist he died on his 50th. So, we celebrated his 550th birthday anniversary when we commemorated his 500th death anniversary on February 15.
Praetorius wrote more than 1000 compositions – mostly sacred. He’s the one credited with harmonizing the melody of the famous Christmas carol known in English as “Lo, how a rose er blooming” (“Es ist ein Ros entsprungen”). And he edited a collection of dances titled Terpsichore, named for the muse of dance.
Gil Shaham seemed to make his 50th memorable. I checked to see how the Urbana-born violinist was celebrating. According to his website, he was sharing the celebration. He performed the Violin Concerto of Felix Mendelssohn just a couple of days after the composer’s birthday anniversary (February 3) with the Philharmonie de Paris led by Christoph Eschenbach, whose 81st birthday was last Saturday (February 20). He played it several more times with the Lucerne Symphony Orchestra in Lucerne (Switzerland), Lugano (Switzerland) and Udine (Italy) in the days leading up to his own birthday: February 19. And this past Sunday, he performed the Beethoven Violin Concerto in Florida with the Brooklyn-based ensemble The Knights as a bit of a belated Beethoven 250th birthday celebration.
For a 125th birthday anniversary, I came up with what I thought was a fun quiz question. This is how I presented it on Classic Mornings: how well do you know your New York Philharmonic music directors? The conductor succeeded Leopold Stokowski, with whom he shared the position. And he preceded Leonard Bernstein. If that doesn’t help, try this: His family name sounds ever so similar to the type of community in which he conducted during those years.
On the radio, Mitropoulos (as in Dimitri) is very similar to metropolis (which also is a word with a Greek origin and an appropriate name for New York City). They’re very different words, as the former means son of Dimitri and the other literally “mother city.” Nevertheless, Dimitri Mitropoulos’s name – particularly with an Americanized pronunciation - sounds just like metropolis. And I’m guessing that when some people hear his name being said, they think about the famous 1927 German film Metropolis, directed by Fritz Lang, or the city where Clark Kent (aka Superman) lived.
While he served as the New York Philharmonic’s music director, Mitropoulos also was the principal conductor of the Met from 1954 until 1960. So, it was Mitropoulos in the metropolis and at the Metropolitan Opera. He died too early to have been a fan of the Mets (a shortened version of the team’s corporate name: The New York Metropolitan Baseball Club and a late 19th century ancestral namesake team in New York known as the Metropolitans. The Mets came along in 1962.
Just as Mitropoulos might bring to mind the title of a film, the word “godfather” certainly would. So, when I introduced a piece from the most recent recording by the British-based ensemble La Serenissima titled: The Godfather (Signum 602), I knew I’d get the attention of listeners. The title caught my eye when it came into the Friends of WILL Library.
No, it’s not what you think. And the recording is subtitled: “Masters of the German and Italian Baroque.” That wouldn’t have raised eyebrows. Their previous release was titled: The Italian Job – and subtitled: “Baroque Instrumental Music from the Italian States,” which isn’t very catchy either. So now you know why they borrowed film titles to get you inside the door.
Anyway, the more recent recording is named for Georg Philipp Telemann, a contemporary of Johann Sebastian Bach. Telemann’s music opens the recording. And he was the godfather of Bach’s son Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach – that’s it. On Classic Mornings, I played a selection from the recording that captured my attention, even without any film titles: It’s a concerto by Johann Friedrich Fasch, a Bach and Telemann contemporary, for violin, 2 oboes, bassoon, 3 trumpets, timpani, strings and continuo.
It made me wonder whether I too am guilty of conjuring up some fun ways to keep listeners tuned in to Classic Mornings. Actually, I am. But I hope that it makes for lots of enjoyable listening. And it never really gets in the way of the music – just as it doesn’t for the ensemble La Serenissima. So, join us Monday through Friday from 9-noon on WILL-FM 90.9 or online at will.illinois.edu.