John Frayne Looks Back At 30 Years Of ‘Classics By Request’

September 25, 2015
John Frayne, seated at his desk at WILL-FM. Frayne is stepping down as host of "Classics by Request" after 30 years, but will continue with "Classics of the Phonograph".

John Frayne, seated at his desk at WILL-FM. Frayne is stepping down as host of "Classics by Request" after 30 years, but will continue with "Classics of the Phonograph".

Jim Meadows/Illinois Public Media

After 30 years, John Frayne is stepping down as the host of “Classics by Request”, the long-running Saturday morning program on WILL-FM 90.9, devoted to playing classical music requested by listeners.

“Classics by Requests” dates back to at least 1974 on WILL. For many years, it aired on weekday afternoons and Saturday mornings on WILL-AM 580, with various hosts. John Frayne, a professor of English (now emeritus) at the University of Illinois, began hosting the Saturday morning edition of the program in 1985. In 1986, WILL-AM went to an all-talk format, and John Frayne and the Saturday morning edition of “Classics By Request” moved to WILL-FM, where it’s been ever since, currently from 9 to 11 AM. (The weekday edition of the program was replaced on WILL-AM by “The Afternoon Magazine”, and more recently, “Here and Now”).

One reason listeners request music is to memorialize the death of a member of the family, or a beloved friend, or they’ll call in for national holidays.John Frayne

Frayne says most of the requests he received for the program are for the most popular “bread and butter” composers --- such as Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart, Tchaikovsky, and George Gershwin. He says the baroque revival of a few years ago has had a lasting impact, with continuing requests for music by baroque composers. But Frayne says requests have dropped off in the last year or two for the Canon in D, a composition by 17th century Johann Pachelbel that gained new popularity beginning in the 1970’s. He says he’s also seen a decline recently in requests for music by modern experimental music, such as works by Philip Glass and Arnold Schoenberg.

A lot of the music played on “Classics by Requests” is requested in memory of a family member or friend who has died, says Frayne. Other requests are for holidays, such as requests for Richard Roger’ “Victory at Sea” to be played for Memorial Day.

Frayne remembers one unusual request for the left-wing anthem, “The Internationale” to be played on May Day. “It so happens I have in my own personal library a rather odd Hungarian compact disc titled ‘The Best of Communism’,” says Frayne, “so I was able to comply”.

John Frayne says the overall volume of requests coming in to “Classics by Request” has declined over the years, but he’s not ready to attribute the decline to a declining interest in classical music. Although Frayne notes declines in classical CD sales as well, he also notes the increasing and easy availability of classical music through the Internet. “Everything seems to be available on YouTube”, he observes.

“Some things will come in that I’ve genuinely never heard of before, or they’re music by contemporary composers that I’ve never heard before. John Frayne

Frayne regularly reviews area concert performances for the News-Gazette, and says he doesn’t see any great decline in concert attendance, and he says the number of American symphony orchestras has grown in the last half-century, along with their levels of professionalism and the number of concerts they play.

“So in some ways, the situation invites optimism,” says Frayne. “And on the other hand, the distractions from other musical forms and other forms of entertainment suggest some pessimism.”

Meanwhile, “Classics by Request” will continue on WILL-FM, with Vincent Trauth as the new host. You can request a classical composition at classreq@illinois.edu or 217-300-4319.

John Frayne isn’t leaving WILL-FM entirely. He’ll continue to host and produce “Classics of the Phonograph”, featuring the best of earlier recordings of classical music. It airs on WILL-FM immediately following “Classics by Request”, Saturdays at 11 AM. Frayne also hosts "Afternoon at the Opera", at noon on Satrudays.

In addition to his work for Illinois Public Media, John Frayne's concert music reviews are a regular feature in the News-Gazette, and he is an instructor for courses through the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Illinois Urbana campus.

Here are some of the top requests received by John Frayne over the years on “Classics by Request”:

Ludwig van Beethoven: "Ode to Joy" from Symphony #9 (“Choral”) in D minor, Op. 25

Beethoven:  Piano Concerto #5 (“The Emperor Concerto”) in E-flat major, Op. 73

Antonio Vivaldi: The 4 Seasons (Le quattro stagioni)

George Frideric Handel: "Hallelujah" Chorus from the "Messiah" oratorio (HWV 56)

Pryotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: "Romeo and Juliet" Fantasy Overture

Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor, Op. 23

George Gershwin; Rhapsody in Blue

Gershwin: Concerto in F

Aaron Copland: "Appalachian Spring"

Samuel Barber: "Adagio for Strings"

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik” (Serenade #13 for strings in G major K. 525

Mozart:  Piano Concerto # 21 (“Elvira Madigan”) in C major, K. 467

Aram Khachaturian; Sabre Dance from "Gayane" Ballet

Ottorino Respighi: "Pines of Rome”

Respighi: “Fountains of Rome"

Wilhelm Richard Wagner: Overtures and Preludes

Top Requested Operatic Selections:Giacomo Puccini-- "O Mio Babbino Caro" from" Gianni Schicchi", and various arias from “La Boheme”.

Giuseppe Verdi: Arias, "La Donne e Mobile"

Leo Delibes: The Flower Duet from "Lakme"

Charles-Camille saint-Saens: "My Heart at Thy Sweet Voice" (Mon Coeur s’ouvre a ta voix) from "Samson et Delilah" Op. 47 (the Marilyn Horne version)

Top Requested Singers: Maria Callas, Jussi Bjorling, Jerry Hadley.

Story source: WILL