What’s in a name?
Portrait of Haydn by Thomas Hardy (1791).
So asked the teenage Juliet before coming out with another
immortal line, “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as
sweet…” Anyway, the phrase sprang to mind the other day when I was looking
through a list of classical works best-known by their nicknames. Maybe I
composers gave their works sub-titles such as Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique
Symphony and Beethoven’s Eroica and Pastoral symphonies but
these don’t count as nicknames because a nickname is not given by the
composer. Mozart’s Symphony No 41 was probably nicknamed Jupiter by
the impresario Johann Salomon. Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No 14 became known
as The Moonlight Sonata from comments made after the composer’s death
by the German music critic and poet Ludwig Rellstab. Subsequent
publications of the work used this catchy nickname and it stuck.
Incidentally, the word “nickname” can be traced back to 1303 and to the word
ekename which derives from an Old English phrase meaning “to
increase”. By the fifteenth century the word had evolved into nekename.
Piano Quintet in A major was dubbed The Trout because the fourth
movement is a set of variations on his song of the same name. A surprising
number of Haydn’s symphonies have acquired nicknames, probably because he
wrote so many and a nickname makes a useful mnemonic. So for example, we
have Haydn symphonies known as The Bear, The Hen, The Clock,
The Military, The Philosopher, and so on. Some of the
nicknames have little musical significance but one of them has an
interesting story behind it, told by Haydn himself in his old age to his
biographers Albert Christoph Dies and Georg August Griesinger.
Joseph Haydn (1732-1809): Symphony No. 45 in F sharp minor
Stanislaw Moniuszko School of Music Symphony Orchestra in Bielsko Biala
(Poland) cond. Andrzej Kucybala (Duration: 30:07; Video 1080p HD)
know the story already. At the time, Haydn was employed as Kapellmeister to
the fabulously wealthy Prince Nikolaus Esterházy. The family’s main palace
was Schloss Esterházy in Eisenstadt in Eastern Austria. The family also had
a sumptuous summer palace in Esterhaza, about a day’s journey away to which
the entire court - together with Haydn and the orchestra - would go every
In 1772 the
summer retreat was longer than expected and by October many wanted to get
home to their families in Eisenstadt. The musicians asked Haydn to appeal
to Prince Esterházy on their behalf and preferring diplomacy to
confrontation, Haydn put his request in the form of a symphony which was
subsequently performed for the Prince and the court. In the last movement,
groups of musicians stop playing, snuff out the candles on their music
stands and leave the stage. In the end there are just two violinists left.
In the original performance these were Haydn himself and the orchestra’s
leader Luigi Tomasini. Fortunately, Prince Esterházy took the hint and the
following day the entire court returned to Eisenstadt.
Incidentally, it’s thought that this is the only eighteenth century symphony
written in the key of F sharp minor. It’s probably the only classical
symphony that has a second slow movement at the end. But this might have
been necessary for Haydn’s trick to work and must have come as a surprise to
the Prince who at first probably wondered what was going on.
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827): Piano Trio in D Major Op.70, No.1
Emanuel Ax (pno), Isaac Stern (vln), Yo-Yo Ma (vlc) (Duration: 23:12; Video:
This is one
of Beethoven’s most brilliant works from his so-called middle-period, a time
when he wrote some of his most famous works, including the fifth and sixth
was published in 1808 and represents the composer’s venturing into new
musical territories. The nickname “Ghost” comes from the oddly scored and
eerie-sounding slow movement which even two hundred years later seems
remarkably ominous at times. Interestingly at about the same time,
Beethoven had begun sketching ideas for an opera based on Shakespeare’s
supernaturally-charged play Macbeth but the librettist Heinrich
Joachim von Collin eventually gave up work on the text because he found the
whole story too depressing. Or perhaps he was overtly superstitious.
outer movements are in complete contrast to the ghostly goings-on, with
lively rhythms, expansive melodies and an exuberant drive that never runs
out of energy. The musicians are about as good as you’ll get and include a
comparatively young Yo-Yo Ma performing with the incomparable Isaac Stern,
thirty-five years his senior. Watching these splendid musicians is an
education in itself and you can see the close eye they keep on each other.
It’s well worth enduring the rather poor video quality for such a superb
Touching in its majesty
Percy Grainger in 1922.
We have to thank William Wordsworth for the title. It’s a
phrase from one of his sonnets and refers - surprisingly perhaps - to
London. In July 1802, Wordsworth travelled from his home in the Lake
District to the French seaside town of Calais. The journey necessitated
passing through London and while there, Wordsworth sketched out his sonnet
Composed upon Westminster Bridge which describes London and the River
Thames in the early morning. In case you’d forgotten (or possibly never
knew) it’s the poem that begins “Earth has not anything to show more fair…”
referring to the misty view of London’s river. But of course, this was
London in the early years of the nineteenth century. At the time,
Wordsworth was thirty-two and already an established poet. He was almost
exactly the same age as Beethoven.
He was one of many
poets, painters and composers who found inspiration from London and if not
from the town itself then from (to quote Wordsworth again) the “ships,
towers, domes, theatres and temples” that brought character to the vibrant
city. In 1901, Edward Elgar wrote his concert overture Cockaigne (In
London Town) which was a lively musical portrait of Edwardian London.
Gustav Holst of The Planets fame also wrote music inspired by
familiar places in West London, notably Hammersmith and Brook Green. John
Ireland composed A London Overture which at one point famously
imitates the cry of a London bus conductor calling out the name
“Piccadilly”. Eric Coates wrote two orchestral suites about London, one of
which contained a march entitled Knightsbridge. This achieved
national fame as the theme tune for the BBC Radio programme In Town
Tonight which ran for nearly thirty years.
Percy Grainger (1882-1961):
Handel in the Strand. Melbourne Symphony Orchestra cond. Sir Andrew
Davis (Duration: 04:18; Video 720p HD)
Every Londoner knows
the old music hall song Let’s all go Down the Strand. The locals
usually shout the improvised line “Have a banana” into the chorus, though no
one seems to know quite why. The Strand is one of London’s most interesting
streets though it’s less than a mile long. It was popular for centuries and
many important mansions were built between the Strand and the nearby River
Thames. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries The Strand became
well-known for its coffee shops, taverns and restaurants and it was
certainly a thriving street when Handel lived in London during the first
half of the eighteenth century. He must have wandered along The Strand many
times, possibly even with a banana.
Australian pianist and composer Percy Grainger initially called this piece,
perhaps somewhat unimaginatively, Clog Dance but later he changed the
name to Handel in the Strand which seems to have a better ring to
it. It is typical Grainger; light-hearted and slightly folksy with some
catchy melodies. In his day he was considered an outstanding pianist but as
a composer he didn’t produce any symphonies or concertos. This led some
critics to assume that he probably couldn’t. Most of his compositions were
less than seven or eight minutes in length. However, modesty was not
Grainger’s strong point and he pronounced his own music superior to that of
both Mozart and Tchaikovsky. He’s usually associated with the English
folksong Country Gardens which he arranged in 1918 for piano and
Vaughan Williams (1872-1958):
Symphony No. 2: A London Symphony. Spanish Radio and Television
Orchestra cond. Carlos Kalmar (Duration: 48:59; Video 480p)
Vaughan Williams began
writing this symphony in 1908; the score was completed in 1914 and the work
was first performed in London the same year. The composer then sent the
manuscript to the conductor Fritz Busch in Germany for his consideration but
the score was accidentally destroyed, giving the symphony the dubious honour
of being one the first casualties of the First World War. In 1920 the score
was reconstructed from the instrumental parts but the composer took the
opportunity to revise it. It was later revised yet again with about twenty
minutes’ worth of music hacked out of the original.
Williams originally claimed that the music was not programmatic, he seems to
have later changed his mind. The atmospheric day-break music at the start
echoes the sentiments of Wordsworth’s sonnet and we even hear (at 03:03) the
Westminster chimes on the harp. Vaughan Williams said that the second slow
movement is intended to evoke Bloomsbury Square on a November afternoon and
to appreciate the third movement he suggested that “the listener should
imagine himself standing on Westminster Embankment at night, surrounded by
the distant sounds of The Strand, with its great hotels… crowded streets and
flaring lights.” The rich and powerful last movement depicts the Thames
passing, and along with it London’s Edwardian days of glory. As the
excitement dies down the Westminster chimes are heard again (at 43:45) and
the mood returns to that of the beginning, drawing this great symphony to a
reflective and melancholy conclusion.
A hundred and still counting
You might be
interested to know that this is the one hundredth Classical Connections
column. On the other hand perhaps you couldn’t care less, but if you’re
going to take that sort of attitude you may as well go and read something
Of course, in
newspaper terms, a hundred articles is nothing special. The distinguished
British paper, The Times first appeared in 1785 as The Daily
Universal Register. The Netherlands paper Opregte Haarlemsche
Courant was first published in 1656 and it’s still going strong as the
Haarlems Dagblad. The prize for the world’s oldest newspaper must go
to the crisply-entitled Relation aller Fürnemmen und gedenckwürdigen
Historien, a weekly paper which first appeared in Strasbourg during
Compared to those
august periodicals, my hundred columns doesn’t seem particularly
significant. Even in this newspaper, Classical Connections is
something of a newcomer. Miss Hillary has been dispensing sage advice to
forlorn farangs since Mozart was a boy. Even so, by way of modest
celebration, I’ve been looking for classical works which have the number 100
somewhere in the title and this work by Haydn is an obvious choice.
Joseph Haydn (1732-1809): Symphony No. 100 in G Major
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra cond. Mariss Jansons (Duration: 25:53; Video:
You could claim quite
a bit of kudos by casually mentioning that you used to teach Beethoven.
When Haydn was travelling from Vienna to London in 1790, he met the
twenty-year-old Ludwig in his native city of Bonn and made arrangements to
teach him on his return. Haydn spent much of his life in Austria in the
service of the fabulously wealthy Esterházy family at their remote country
estate. Despite his relative isolation, by the end of his life he was one
of the most celebrated composers in Europe.
Haydn’s music was
hugely popular in London too and most concerts contained at least one of his
works. On the first of his two extended visits to London, Haydn arrived in
Calais on New Year’s Day 1791, hardly the most auspicious time of year to
cross the English Channel. He was fifty eight, at the top of his musical
career and in Calais he saw the sea for the first time.
The London visit was
an enormous success and extremely profitable, so much so that Haydn returned
in 1794. His Symphony No 100 dates from around the same year and it
acquired the nickname “Military” from a short and slightly unexpected
passage of trumpet fanfares towards the end of the second movement. This
bit also features the triangle, cymbals and bass drum which must have seemed
exotic at the time, though these instruments are now permanent residents of
almost every primary school music room in the country. Even so, it’s not
difficult to understand why British concert-goers fell in love with this
elegant and attractive music.
Francis Poulenc (1899-1963): Sextet for Piano and Wind Quintet, Op. 100.
Anastasiya Lukyanenko (pno) and members of National Philharmonic of Ukraine
(Duration: 17:52; Video: 1080p HD)
The word opus
incidentally, has Latin origins and means “work” or “labour”. During the
seventeenth century, some composers identified their works with an opus
number but by the eighteenth century, publishers usually assigned opus
numbers with the result that opus numbers were not necessarily in
chronological order. Unpublished compositions had no opus number, but from
about 1900 onwards many composers added opus numbers to their works whether
they were published or not.
three-movement sextet is scored for piano and wind quintet and was written
between 1932 and 1939. Poulenc was once described as “a musical clown of
the first order”, though whether the composer admired this back-handed
compliment I have no idea. He was certainly more interested in the
aesthetic ideals of people like Jean Cocteau and Erik Satie and less moved
by the esoteric approach of Debussy or Ravel. Poulenc’s inspiration came
from the theatre, the musical hall, the boulevard cafés and the streets of
Paris. Although he could evidently be moved to tears by the simplest
things, he liked a good drink and enjoyed the kind of jokes that you
wouldn’t tell your maiden aunt.
The first movement
begins with Stravinsky-like bustling and there’s a contrasting middle
section that contains that melancholy music that Poulenc was so good at
composing. The second movement opens in a pastoral mood before breaking
into a more playful spirit with a wealth of eloquent melodies and ending
with a curious little wistful moment. The final movement is a rondo with
hints of ragtime and popular song. It’s all great fun, with Poulenc’s
constant interplay of light and shade, comedy and sadness, brashness and
tenderness. But this is not music to be taken too seriously. It is not for
pontificating upon, which I have just been doing for the last two
Composer and TV presenter
Yasushi Akutagawa in 1952.
Every one of the
countless number of Yamaha motorcycles sports the company’s famous logo. If
you look at it closely, it should be obvious that it’s an image of three
overlaid tuning forks. This might seem a curious choice for a motorbike but
it reminds us that when the Yamaha Company was established in 1887 it
produced pianos and reed organs. It wasn’t until the mid 1950s that it
started making electronic equipment and motor bikes.
The Yamaha story began
when a watchmaker named Torakusu Yamaha tried his hand at building a reed
organ in 1887. Unfortunately, the instrument was criticised for being out
of tune but undaunted, Torakusu went back to the drawing-board and began to
study music theory and tuning. After four months of endless daily labour,
he finally built a successful reed organ with the help of tuning forks,
which had been invented in England 170 years earlier by a British musician
named John Shore.
Oddly enough, the
tuning fork logo didn’t appear on Yamaha products until 1967 even though the
company had been producing pianos for years. Today, Yamaha also makes a
wide range of fine orchestral instruments and their brass and woodwind
instruments are especially popular. Japan has become the producer of
top-or-the-range instruments including saxophones from Yanagisawa and flutes
from Miyazawa and Nagahara. You may be interested to know that one of the
Nagahara professional flutes is made of 18K gold and comes at the
eye-watering price of $33,000.
For some reason, we
don’t seem to hear much music from Japanese composers, although there are
plenty of them. Since the latter half of the nineteenth century, Japanese
composers have looked towards western musical culture, often drawing on
elements from Japanese traditional music. Kômei Abe was one of the leading
Japanese composers of the last century. His First Symphony of 1957
is a good introduction although it’s a curious mix of musical styles. The
incredibly prolific Toshiro Mayuzumi composed more than a hundred film
scores and if you’d like an entertaining musical experience, seek out his
Concertino for Xylophone and Orchestra. Kunihico Hashimoto was one of
the leading Japanese composers in the twentieth century, whose music
reflects elements of late romanticism and impressionism, as well as of the
traditional music of Japan.
Yasushi Akutagawa (1925-1989): Triptyque for String
New Orchestra of Washington cond. Alejandro Hernandez-Valdez (Duration: c.
14:36; Video: 1080p HD)
Yasushi Akutagawa was
a student of Hashimoto at the Tokyo Conservatory of Music. His lucky break
came in 1954 when he illegally entered the Soviet Union and became friends
with Dmitri Shostakovich, Aram Khachaturian and Dmitri Kabalevsky. He was
the only Japanese composer whose music was officially published in the
Soviet Union at that time. His 1950 Music for Symphony Orchestra
certainly owes a debt to Shostakovich and the Triptyque is a spiky
work which shows influences of Stravinsky and Prokofiev. Incidentally,
Akutagawa was one of the few composers who was also a popular presenter of
Toru Takemitsu (1930-1996): From me flows what you call
La Jolla Symphony Orchestra cond. Steven Schick (Duration: 28:58; Video:
Takemitsu is currently
Japan’s best-known composer but his fame came about by someone else’s
mistake. When Stravinsky visited Japan in 1958, the Japan Broadcasting
Corporation NHK arranged for him to hear some of the latest Japanese music.
A recent recording of Takemitsu’s Requiem for String Orchestra was
played by mistake but Stravinsky insisted on hearing it to the end. He
greatly admired the work and later invited the young composer to lunch.
Takemitsu later received a commission from the Koussevitzky Foundation, no
doubt thanks to Stravinsky who must have put in a good word for him.
virtually self-taught and began to compose at the age of sixteen. He
gradually acquired orchestration skills and learned how to combine elements
of Japanese and Western ideas, creating a sound which was entirely his own.
This work was commissioned by Carnegie Hall in celebration of its 100th
anniversary. Although it is effectively a concerto for percussion it is not
intended as the composer explained, “to show off the virtuosity of the
soloists. The ruling emotion of the work is one of prayer.”
The title comes from a
poem by Makoto Ooka, a Japanese poet and friend of the composer. And
incidentally, you’ll need to give the piece some time to get going, but when
it does you’ll enter Takemitsu’s highly personal and evocative sound-world,
perhaps inspired by the music of Messiaen and Ligeti. He uses some exotic
instruments too but if so-called “modern music” isn’t normally your idea of
fun, do give this compelling work a try.
To return to Mr Yamaha
and his tuning forks, I sometimes wonder how many Yamaha motor bike owners
have the remotest idea what the logo represents. Not many, I suspect.