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Thursday 31 Jul 2014

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Radio 3: Composers Of The Year 2009 –
Did you know?

Henry Purcell (1659-1695)

  • Purcell's Funeral Music for Queen Mary was used in the soundtrack to the film A Clockwork Orange.
  • Pete Townshend of The Who cites Purcell as a seminal influence. The opening of Pinball Wizard from his rock opera Tommy is inspired by Purcell's Fantasia Upon One Note for five viols.
  • At his gigs, cult vocal artist Klaus Nomi (1944-83) regularly sang Purcell's The Cold Song from King Arthur and Dido's Lament from Dido And Aeneas, usually extrovertly dressed and in heavy make-up.
  • Michael Ball starred as Purcell and Simon Callow as King Charles in a 1995 film about Purcell entitled England, My England, with a screenplay by playwright John Osborne.
  • Handel once said at a performance of his own oratorio Jephtha: "If Purcell had lived, he'd have composed better music than this".
  • Purcell has an asteroid named after him: 4040 Purcell, discovered in 1987 by Edward Bowell.
  • Purcell died aged only 36 at home in Dean's Yard, Westminster, allegedly from pneumonia after returning home late one evening and finding himself locked out by his wife. In his hastily drawn-up will he declares himself "dangerously ill as to the constitution of my body, but in good and perfect mind and memory".
  • We know little about Purcell's relationship with his wife, but he composed a catch called My Wife Has A Tongue As Good As E'er Twanged.

George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)

  • In the Sixties, Jimi Hendrix lived in the house adjoining Handel's (Hendrix at No. 23 and Handel at No. 25 Brook Street in London). On learning that Handel had lived next door Hendrix went out and bought a collection of Handel LPs.
  • Handel's anthem Zadok The Priest was composed for the coronation of King George II in 1727 and has been sung at every subsequent British coronation.
  • Handel is said to have once ordered dinner for three at a tavern. After waiting for some time for the food to arrive he summoned the innkeeper who explained that they would serve the meal when his company arrived. Handel replied: "I am the company".
  • Part of Handel's Water Music, arranged by Sir Malcolm Sargent, accompanied the short clip of a revolving silver knight on horseback that preceded Anglia television programmes for many years.
  • Handel has an asteroid named after him: 3826 Handel, discovered in 1973 by Freimut Börngen.
  • Bach apparently said that Handel "is the only person I would wish to see before I die, and the only person I would wish to be, were I not Bach".
  • The earliest known recording of classical music is an excerpt of Handel's oratorio Israel In Egypt sung by 4,000 voices in the old Crystal Palace in London in June 1888. It was recorded onto a paraffin cylinder by a phonograph placed over 100 yards away by a foreign sales agent for Thomas Edison.
  • In a TV special featuring the nine lives of Garfield, the orange comic-strip cat invented by Jim Davis and brought to the screen as an animated feature, he is shown as living one of his past lives as Handel's cat.

Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)

  • Shortly after Haydn's death, his head was cut off and removed by amateur phrenologists who then reburied the body. The theft went unrecognised for some years and it took nearly 150 years for Haydn's skull to be reunited with his body.
  • The Haydn Quartet was one of America's earliest and most successful barbershop quartets. Formed in 1896 they made early recordings for Edison, scoring hits with numbers such as By The Light Of The Silvery Moon (1910).
  • Haydn said that his brother Michael's religious works were better than his own.
  • The final movement of his "Joke" Quartet Op 33 No. 2 features a theme that can sound like an opening or closing phrase: it is played in phrases separated by long pauses, leaving the audience unsure of whether the music is over or not.
  • Haydn's "Farewell" Symphony was written when he and his fellow musicians of the Esterházy court had been kept at his employer's summer residence for too long, away from their wives and families who were back at the Prince's main residence in Eisenstadt. In the final movement each musician finishes playing, snuffs out his candle and leaves in turn until just two violins are left playing. The Prince took the hint and all were allowed to return home soon after.
  • In 1791 Haydn was so impressed with the massive Handel celebration in Westminster Abbey, marking 50 years since the premiere of Messiah, that it inspired him to compose The Creation and The Seasons.
  • While in England in 1792 Haydn visited the astronomer and amateur composer William Herschel (who discovered the planet Uranus) at his observatory in Slough.
  • Haydn has an asteroid named after him: 3941 Haydn, discovered in 1973 by Freimut Börngen.

Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)

  • The tune to Hark, The Herald Angels Sing is adapted from the second movement of Mendelssohn's 1840 cantata Festgesang An Die Künstler
  • The wedding march Here Comes The Bride comes from the incidental music Mendelssohn composed for A Midsummer Night's Dream. It became popular at weddings in England after Queen Victoria requested it at the wedding of her daughter in 1858.
  • In 1829 Mendelssohn conducted, aged just 20, the first performance of the St Matthew Passion since Bach's death in 1750 and rekindled interest in the music of Bach.
  • Mendelssohn founded the Leipzig Conservatory in 1843 and raised the standard of playing in the Gewandhaus Orchestra to new heights during his tenure as conductor.
  • Mendelssohn has an asteroid named after him: 3954 Mendelssohn, discovered in 1987 by Freimut Börngen.
  • Mendelssohn was a talented artist who produced highly accomplished drawings and sketches of places he visited.
  • Despite the Mendelssohn family embracing Christianity, the Nazis banned Mendelssohn's music on account of his Jewish origins. In Nazi Germany performances of A Midsummer Night's Dream were substituted by incidental music by Carl Orff instead.
  • When Mendelssohn first visited Queen Victoria she claimed that her favourite song of his was Italy. He had to admit it was composed by his sister Fanny.
  • Felix's son Paul co-founded Agfa, the company now best known for manufacturing photographic film.
  • Choirboy Ernest Lough's recording of Mendelssohn's Hear My Prayer (O For The Wings Of A Dove) was HMV's best-selling disc of 1927. In 1962 it became EMI's first "gold disc", selling over 1 million copies.

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