The week past has actually been a productive one, although you wouldn’t know it by looking at my blog. Most of my writing time has been spent preparing program notes for the next concerts of the Reno Philharmonic Orchestra and my employer, the Reno Chamber Orchestra. These sorts of notes, if you haven’t seen them before, provide some biographical information about the people who wrote the music, and background, both historical and musical, about their compositions. With classical music not, unfortunately, being a common, integral part of our education anymore, giving listeners a little information before they hear these works at concerts might make their listening experience a little more fulfilling. That’s the hope, anyway.
In doing research for these notes, I always happen on what I call “fun facts,” bits of history that aren’t necessarily important to the music, but might spur the imagination or curiosity of the reader, or just give them a laugh. For this last set of notes, for instance, I was reading about Franz Josef Haydn’s trips to London in 1791-2 and 1794-5, during which he wrote and premiered his twelve “London” Symphonies, Nos. 93-104, to an adoring public and sold-out houses. The most popular of these twelve at the time was the Symphony No. 100, the “Military,” which was the specific piece I was writing about and which became perhaps the most popular symphonic work in England for years after its 1794 first performance. Anyway, one of the “fun facts” that I came across was that Haydn received many, many gifts from his fans during these London trips. Among his favorites was a red parrot that talked, with a repertoire of words in both English and German. It pleases me somehow to know that the great Haydn owned a talking parrot. One thing I was not able to find in my research, however, was the parrot’s name. I shall not rest until I solve this mystery. Although I have no evidence at all to support this, I’m thinking that the parrot might have been called Bob. If I had a parrot, I’d name it Bob. Or perhaps Theophrastus*. Or Ziggy.
Those program notes will be appearing at the Orchestras’ respective websites before very long. As far as my blog is concerned, my only entries this week pertained to the fourth annual Astronomy Photographer of the Year contest, sponsored by the Royal Observatory Greenwich. If you haven’t seen the winning photographs yet, you really should check them out. I put a few on the blog, and all the winners are now up at the Royal Observatory’s website.
As for the coming week, I’m still working on Thomas Christensen’s book 1616: The World in Motion, and hope to have a review soon. A couple of other blog entries are in the works, but I’ve managed to distract myself a bit reading about the relationship, over many years, between Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Franz Anton Mesmer (of “mesmerism,” “mesmerize,” and “animal magnetism” fame). It’s an odd and interesting story that also involves a musical instrument, one of whose names is “hydrodaktulopsychicharmonica.” Be looking for that blog entry in the next few days.
I must add a final shout-out to the 2012 National League West winning San Francisco Giants, who wrapped up the division win last night. Anchor Porter, my favorite beer, brewed of course in San Francisco, was part of the celebration.
Until next Sunday, Go Giants!
*Theophrastus, by the way, is in honor of the alchemist and physician Paracelsus (1490 or 1493-1541), whose birth name is one of the most sonorous of all time: Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim. Try fitting that on a driver’s license.