The German Of The Bard

November 17, 2016

Maybe it’s a good thing that his name isn’t attached to all such stories. Otherwise it might just seem as if Mozart was the only extraordinary person in the history of music. But know that that there are other musicians, whose names are much less-known than Mozart’s, with some amazing and amusing tales as well.

German Edward Jones grew up in a musical household. But musicologist Tim McDonald tells the story of the young boy slipping out of the house to hear the local brass band, coming home to attempt to recreate the experience at the piano and even forming a band with his friends using toy instruments and primitive percussion. He was the same young boy who built his own miniature stage after he was inspired by a travelling theatre troupe.

Before long, Edward German, as he called himself, became the music director of the Globe Theatre in London – writing music for productions of Shakespearean and non-Shakespearean plays. When Sir Arthur Sullivan – of Gilbert and Sullivan operetta fame – died at age 58 with an unfinished operetta The Emerald Isle, German, whom Sullivan had once referred to as his successor, completed it to enthusiastic critical acclaim. November 11th marked the 80th anniversary of the death of Sir Edward German, who was born in 1863.

November 3rd marked the 215th anniversary of the birth of opera composer Vincenzo Bellini. He was born in Catania, Sicily. Stories of his earliest years would make for a great film – or opera, for that matter. They all come from an anonymous manuscript that’s in the Bellini Museum in Catania. Highlights include the child at 18 months singing an aria with no formal training, conducting at a church service when he was 3 years old – actually, taking over for his grandfather – and proficient at the piano by age 5. It’s at least some consolation that he was so close to music so early in his life, since he died some 6 weeks before his 34th birthday. 

You don’t have to be a kid to enjoy a trip to the zoo, musical or otherwise. The Hamburg-based quartet known as Salutsalon uses Camille Saint-Saëns’ famous Carnival of the Animals as an inspirational starting point for a new recording titled Carnival Fantasy (Warner 825646930760). In between the familiar animals of Saint-Saëns famous work are Rimsky-Korsakov’s bumblebee, sharks by John Williams and Astor Piazzolla, pieces about a donkey, a python, a jellyfish and Bach’s famous Sheep May Safely Graze.

In order to capture some of the creatures – musically, that is – this quartet of 2 violinists, cellist and pianist lend some additional instruments to the cause, making even the most familiar of the Saint-Saëns animals sound a bit exotic. “The Swan” from that famous work features a musical saw as the solo instrument rather than a cello. It’s played by one of the founders and violinists of the ensemble, Angelika Bachmann. She and her colleague, violinist Iris Siegfried, are involved in a number of activities that have let children loose into the world of classical music.

I always thought that the Hungarian pianist Zoltán Kocsis looked like a teenager in the cover photo for a recording he made at age 31. And with that image in my head from all the times I’ve played it for listeners, I was shocked to hear that he passed away on November 6th at age 64.

Kocsis became a respected conductor and music director of the Hungarian National Philharmonic Orchestra. Over the years, his Debussy recording and another titled Children’s Corner have pretty much shaped his image on our airwaves. In the latter, Kocsis dashes through Mozart’s 16th piano sonata – the one for beginners – as you might imagine Mozart might have. And he managed to get me to attach Mozart’s name to yet another story.


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