Thursday, August 8, 2013

Composers With Funny Names

As if Dvorak, Chopin and Puccini’s names didn’t already provide enough fodder for jokes, here are a few names that should tantalize your sense of humor.

 Arthur Frackenpohl (b.1924). I don’t know much about Mr. Frackenpohl, and neither does Wikipedia, but his Concertino for Tuba is a staple in the solo tuba literature. He is Professor Emeritus at SUNY, Potsdam, having studied with Milhaud and Nadia Boulanger. The All Music website has a lot more information about his compositions, which are quite varied in their instrumentation.

Václav Nelhýbel’s (1919-1996, pronounced “Nellie-bell”) name caught my eye in junior high school, when our school orchestra delved into one of his many student orchestra compositions, imaginatively entitled Music for Orchestra. A Czech-American composer, his life’s work seems to be invested as much in the scholarly investigation of compositional techniques as in actual composition.

Claude Balbastre (1724-1799), keyboard composer from Dijon, France. I am not going to give a pronunciation hint here, the constraints of polite company dictate as much. Use your imagination. Balbastre's fame was so great that the archbishop of Paris had to forbid him to play at Saint Roch during some of the services, because the churches were overcrowded when Balbastre played.

Balbastre. Guess he played lute also.

Marcel Bitsch (1921-2011, pronounced “Beesh).” Another Frenchman, he composed for just about every wind instrument there is. His Études are so melodious that they are sometimes performed as concert-pieces, and they are often studied by instruments other than those for which they are written.

Otar Taktakishvili (1924-1989, pronounced “Tock-ta-quiche-vee-lee”) was a Georgian composer, best known outside Georgia for his Sonata for Flute and Piano. While still a student at the Tbilisi State Conservatory, he penned the official anthem of the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic. I hope I don’t need to mention that Tbilisi is not a suburb of Atlanta.

Andrzej Panufnik (1914-1991) was arguably the most famous Polish composer after Chopin. His impromptu piano-duo concerts with fellow Polish composer Witold Lutoslawski in the Warsaw ghetto were undoubtedly welcome morsels of joy in that war-ravaged city. He had a very full musical life, about which Wikipedia provides a wealth of information that makes for fascinating reading. He was even knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1991.

Panufnik and Lutoslawski in 1990

Karl Ditters von Dittersdorf (1739-1799) was a Viennese contemporary and friend of both Haydn and Mozart, often playing quartets with them, and in those days considered an equally gifted composer. His concerti for viola and double bass are still standard repertoire pieces.



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