Since I worked the evening shift, standing in a small room with carpeting on the walls and talking to myself for hours at a time, I frequently found myself alone in the building after midnight while I pondered weak and weary over many a catalogue of mostly forgotten recordings, looking for just that slightly different inspiration. One of those nights gave rise to what became a not-quite-annual tradition for April Fools. Last week, I was going through some old papers on my desk and discovered a print-out of a playlist for its 2001 airing (it was Friday night, April Fool's Eve), and so decided to dig up the tradition and post it on-line.
Officially called “Music From Head to Toe,” everybody called it “The Body-Parts Hour.”
So, let's begin with Dennis Brain who was one of the greatest horn players in music history but who, unfortunately, died young in a car accident when he was 36. Here's some rare video of him introducing the horn and playing part of Beethoven's little-known Horn Sonata (Op.17), recorded in 1950. (I've begun the clip at the start of the performance, but if you want to watch the whole video, you're welcome to do so):
From Gilbert & Sullivan's The Gondoliers, here's the tenor aria, “Take a pair of sparkling eyes,” which includes a bonus pair of rosy lips and a tender little hand. My original recording was with Robert Tear who seemed somehow appropriate when singing about eyes.
While finding musical settings of Shakespearean body parts was one thing (I wonder if anyone ever set the “Pound of Flesh” speech from The Merchant of Venice?), I settled for a morsel of William Walton's incidental music for Laurence Olivier's 1944 war-time film on Henry V, and the beautiful sadness of “Touch her soft lips and part,” an interlude where “the English soldiers are departing for France and saying goodbye to their women.”
Claude Debussy's famous “Girl with the Flaxen Hair” (La Fille aux cheveux de lin), is one of the first set of twelve preludes for solo piano published in 1910 (the performance, here, is uncredited).
Thomas Weelkes was an English composer of madrigals from the Elizabethan Era. “Four Arms, Two Necks, One Wreathing” is performed here by the threesome of Ensemble Diapason.
Certainly some of the greatest melodies in opera come from the hand of Giaccomo Puccini whose La Boheme combines a heart-rending love-story with several marvelous tunes – like Che gelida manina (“what a cold little hand”), heard here in a live TV performance from 1965 with the legendary (and very young) Luciano Pavarotti (he was 29, here):
Gottfried [or Godfrey] Finger was born in Moravia in what is today the Czech Republic. He was a virtuoso player of the viol and was employed by the Court of the English king, James II (not a very long gig, as it turned out). Afterwards, he became a free-lance musician, working in England, then Germany and Denmark. He died in 1730. His Sonata in C for Trumpet, Oboe, Violin & Continuo is performed by musicians from Montclair State University.
Henri Herz was born in Austria but spent most of his career in Paris (the name Herz is German for “heart”). He was one of the foremost piano virtuosos in a golden age of such virtuosos. While the excerpt I originally programmed for the hour was tantalizingly brief, here's a more substantial example of his style – not for the faint of heart (or finger), his Variations on “Non piú mesta” from Rossini's La Cenerentola with Earl Wild tearing up the keyboard.
As a child, William Crotch was called “The English Mozart.” At the age of 2, he was already performing in public; and the following year, the boy was taken to London where he played the organ at the Chapel Royal for King George III. Initially, I programmed the finale from his 2nd Organ Concerto, written in 1805 (around the time Beethoven was working on his 5th Symphony). One year, due to some unforeseen breaking news coverage running into overtime, one of my colleagues, hosting the weekend music, had to make some last minute adjustments and told me he had to “scratch the Crotch”... Here is the whole concerto, if you want to start it from the top, but I've cued it up to begin with the Finale.
Rooting through the bowels of the station's music library late one night, I stumbled upon an old LP collection of “The History of Dutch Music” which, it turned out, included a sonata by Father Benedictus Buns –
and that was how the whole “Body-Parts Hour” came about. While not exactly the final piece in the hour (“bringing up the rear,” so to speak), Buns' Sonata finalis was from a collection of 13 short choral works and an instrumental sonata called Completoriale melos musicum, his Op. 5, published in Antwerp in 1678. I was unable to find that particular sonata, but here is a brief setting of the Magnificat from the same collection, performed by Holland Baroque this past January.
I notice they refer to him as “Benedictus á Sancte Josepho” (probably to spite people like me with a middle-school sense of humor). It turns out, he was born Buns (or “Buns Gelriensis” (“Buns of Geldern” in Latin, after the town where he was born near present-day Dusseldorf, Germany), and took the name “Blessed by St. Joseph” upon becoming a priest; his first name remains unknown. I have found reference to him in other sources as “Father Buns.” Aside from turning him into the butt of many jokes, I listen to this music and wonder why we don't know him or his music? And how much more quality music like this don't we know? (Not that I'm sure the world is ready for a Buns Renaissance...)
Originally, the hour ended with a brief “Oriental Dance” by the American composer, Arthur Foote, but since I've been unable to find a video of it I could post – and I liked the idea of a dance, if only because I could close with the Zen-like observation, "imagine the sound of one Foote dancing" – I chose this instead. While the “Gavotte” that ends his Suite in E Major for Strings, Op. 25, may not sound like something written by a composer living in Boston in 1891, it was not uncommon for composers of any age to look back on the past, intentionally or not, an example of what would be called a pastiche. And besides, composers in Paris after World War I would do the same thing, imitating Baroque music, and get credit for creating the “Neo-Classic” Style. So it may not be the right Foote to end with but it seems right for this hour-long hokey-pokey.
On the other hand – let's face it – why stop at an uneven 11? On-air, I was restricted to what could fit in about 54 minutes. But this is the internet where time is not a limitation. Now, I had promised my boss I would not go for any of the Naughty Bits (Benedictus Buns aside), but hey, this is – the internet... So a bonus composer to make it an uneven dozen: a German-born composer who landed a job at the court of Catherine the Great of Russia in 1771 and wrote this entertaining quartet in 1808, during the reign of her grandson, Tsar Alexander I. Here is the Rondo from the Quartet in B-flat Major, which hopefully, if not the icing on the cake, will put a smile on your face. I present to you the music of Anton Ferdinand Titz:
Wishing you a delightful April Fool's Day (I kid you not).
– Dick Strawser (to quote Anna Russell, "I'm not making this up, you know!")