OMG Moments in Classical Music


What are the greatest moments in classical music history? The bits that make you immediately rewind and play them again? Simply, the most surprising, shocking, beautiful or weird bits in classical music? Here are 10 moments that will make you say 'OMG'…


The top C in Allegri's Miserere 

There you are, just chilling out with a bit of 17th century choral music like any self-respecting person would do, and then all of a sudden, BAM! High C! Emotional overload! Skip straight to it by pressing play below…



The climax of Beethoven's 9th Symphony Everyone sing along! 

"Freude, schöner Götterfunken, Tochter aus Elysium!" This is such a fist-pumping moment. How fist-pumping? Well, it's supposed to encapsulate the joy of humanity, of being alive, Germanic might, the brotherhood of man and basically all worldly positivity, which is a pretty tall order. Does Beethoven manage it? Take a listen… (the answer's 'yes', by the way.)



The opening chords of Elgar's Cello Concerto, played by Jacqueline Du Pré 

Few pieces are so iconic that they can be defined by a few chords alone, and few musicians are so iconic that they can be defined by one piece. In a word, 'whoompf'.




The Tristan Chord

How can one chord redefine the way we think about music? Well, it's simple. All Wagner did when he plonked this gorgeous little progression into the opening of his opera Tristan und Isolde was use an augmented fourth, an augmented sixth and an augmented ninth above the root to imply a completely different harmonic relation. Easy, yeah? Oh, just listen to it…






Don Giovanni is dragged to hell 

Much of Mozart's Don Giovanni is actually quite humorous, with amorous japes and farce aplenty, but things take an incredibly sinister turn right at the end when the Don himself (think of him as a folkloric version of Russell Brand with comparable dress-sense) is finally forced to atone for his sins. There's a slow knock at the door, Giovanni opens it and is confronted with a stone statue of the Commendatore, who drags the screaming Don into the fiery netherworld. Yikes!



See More at Classic Fm.com


James P. Johnson's 'Yamekraw, A Negro Rhapsody'


James P. Johnson is one of those great unsung American creators who, for various reasons, led a life under the radar. He suffered several strokes during his lifetime and was a quiet, retiring personality in a field of extroverts. But his talent, both as pianist and as composer, was bigger than life. He essentially invented what we today call stride piano style, whereby the pianist's left hand jumps absurd distances to cover the entire lower half of the piano. 

Johnson's piano roll of his hit tune "Carolina Shout" became the measuring stick for every up-and-coming piano player. Duke Ellington learned his fingerings from feeling along as Johnson's piano roll played in slow motion, and Johnson himself blew everyone away in "cutting contests" (the virtuosic piano-playing marathons) up until Art Tatum emerged on the scene.

After his friend George Gershwin had such success with "Rhapsody in Blue," James P. Johnson thought he'd try his hand at writing a piece for jazz piano and orchestra. Johnson's piece is called "Yamekraw, A Negro Rhapsody." It has some of the same exuberent bubble and bounce you might know from the Gershwin and it makes a fascinating counterpoint to "Rhapsody in Blue."

Concert performance by pianist Gary Hammond, with Richard Rosenberg conducting the Hot Springs Festival Chamber Orchestra from Hot Springs, Ark.

Treasures In The Attic: Finding A Jazz Master's Lost Orchestral Music

In addition to composing the singular piece of music that came to symbolize the 1920s in America, "The Charleston," Johnson aspired to compose music for symphony orchestra and had actually written several orchestral pieces that were premiered at Carnegie Hall in the early 1940s.

This was the long-lost music from that Carnegie Hall concert!

Robert Lee Watt: 'The Black Horn'


Robert Lee Watt fell in love with the French horn at an early age. He met a lot of resistance from people who thought his background and his race made a career with the instrument unlikely — but he went on to become the first African-American French hornist hired by a major symphony in the United States.

He became the assistant first French horn for the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1970, and stayed with the orchestra for 37 years. His memoir, The Black Horn, tells how he got there.

Watt grew up in New Jersey with a mother who played piano by ear and a father who played the trumpet. His dad was keen to have Watt follow in his footsteps and play popular music and jazz on the trumpet.

But then Watt discovered a French horn in the basement of the local community center, and asked his father what it was.

"He says, 'French horn — that's a middle instrument, it never gets the melody. And besides, it's for thin-lipped white boys. Your lips are too thick,' " Watt remembers.

Despite his father's dismissal of the French horn, Watt was drawn to the instrument.

"It gives me chills," Watt says. "It just really touched me."

Today, symphony auditions are "blind," featuring screens between musicians and the committee judging them. That wasn't the case back when Watt started his career, and he wasn't sure that, given his race, he'd even have a chance in auditions.

He tells NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates how one teacher encouraged him to audition anyway, and how he overcame skepticism within and outside the world of classical music.



Interview Highlights

On continuing his French horn career after attending the elite New England Conservatory of Music

I think it was toward the end of the third year, my teacher came to me and said "I think it's time for you to start looking for a job." And I said, "Doing what?" And he says, "Playing your horn, dummy." And so my teacher — who just passed away a few months ago, by the way, at age 100 — was very paternal for me.
Robert Lee Watt was a member of the Los Angeles Philharmonic for more than three decades. i

On racial tensions he faced in the Los Angeles Philharmonic

Most people were fine. They just — there were things that [were] what James Baldwin would call ignorant and innocent at the same time. ... I do remember meeting a concert pianist and he says he almost fainted when he saw me sitting there. He says, "You're so starkly black [against all the orchestra's white faces], there you were in the LA Philharmonic." ...

I had a nickname ... Boston Blackie. No one had ever called me that personally but many people came to tell me that that's how I was referred to.

And then there was a Chinese guy, very young, came up to me and he said, "Welcome. Bob, now that you're here, try and get as many black people where you are." He says, "That's how things change." And he became my first friend in the orchestra.

On what he wants people to take away from the book

One of the things that I think ... we're not honest enough about is, we tell young people that, "You can do anything you want, just put your mind to it." But that lofty paradigm defaults to: "You can do anything if we're comfortable with it."

In my hometown people would say things like, "You wanna play French horn, I see. Have you seen anyone else doing it?" I said, "No." ... That was the mentality in my hometown. If it's different, right away, you're going to get resistance.

Or, in the case of my father, it was fear. Because my father, I found out just before I went to conservatory, that he actually auditioned for Juilliard. He bolted out of the audition because he ... could play bands, he could read Sousa marches and he could play in the jazz band, but ... he wasn't classically trained trumpet. So it created a fear and a stigma, so when I come along a generation later saying, "I want to play French horn," he thought, "You think they're gonna take you?
 You'll see."


Read more





The lost Genuis of Mozart's Sister

Maria Anna Mozart was a child prodigy like her brother Wolfgang Amadeus, but her musical career came to an end when she was 18.

Wolfgang and Nannerl Mozart, c. 1763, by Eusebius Johann Alphen (1741–1772)

When Mozart was a toddler, Nannerl (four and a half years older) was his idol. According to Maynard Solomon, "at three, Mozart was inspired to study music by observing his father's instruction of Marianne; he wanted to be like her." The two children were very close, and they invented a secret language and an imaginary "Kingdom of Back" of which they were king and queen. Mozart's early correspondence with Marianne is affectionate. Occasionally Wolfgang wrote entries in Marianne's diary, referring to himself in the third person.

“I am writing to you with an erection on my head and I am very much afraid of burning my hair”, wrote Nannerl Mozart to her brother Wolfgang Amadeus. What was being erected was a large hairdo on top of Nannerl’s head, as she prepared to pose for the Mozart family portrait.

Mozart Family Portrait

The children toured most of Europe (including an 18-month stay in London in 1764-5) performing together as “wunderkinder.” Far from being in her brother’s shadow, Nanner actually shone as the more talented youngster. There are contemporaneous reviews praising Nannerl, and she was even billed first.

In a letter, Leopold Mozart (their father, pictured above) wrote: “My little girl plays the most difficult works which we have… with incredible precision and so excellently. What it all amounts to is this, that my little girl, although she is only 12 years old, is one of the most skillful players in Europe.”

Nannerl copied down some of Wolfgang’s compositions when he was too young to write them down. So, it’s possible some of Wolfgang’s compositions are hers. We also know when he was in London working on his first symphony, she wrote it all down and orchestrated it for him. It’s unclear how big their collaboration was, but she was an extremely talented musician.






In contrast to her brother, who quarreled with their father and eventually disobeyed his wishes with respect to career path and choice of spouse, Marianne remained entirely subordinate to her father.

When Nannerl reached the age when she could get married, her father stopped taking her on the road – A little girl could perform and tour, but a woman doing so risked her reputation. And so she was left behind in Salzburg, and her father only took Wolfgang on their next journeys around the courts of Europe. Nannerl never toured again.but she carried on composing until her marriage in 1784.

Portrait of Maria Anna Mozart, c. 1785
The society was as such that, of course, there were women composers, but the ones that could show their work were nobility. Women had to play for nothing. If they made money off their music, they were thought of as prostitutes.

Wolfgang wrote a number of works for Marianne to perform, including the Prelude and Fugue in C, K. 394 (1782). Until 1785, he sent her copies of his piano concertos (up to No. 21) in St. Gilgen. 






There is evidence that Marianne wrote musical compositions, as there are letters from Wolfgang praising her work, but the voluminous correspondence of her father never mentions any of her compositions, and none have survived.


The Composer and his Muse: Beethoven’s Immortal Beloved: Countess Josephine von Brunsvik



Probably the most important woman in the life of Ludwig van Beethoven, as documented by at least 15 love letters he wrote her where he called her his “only beloved”, being “eternally devoted” to her and “forever faithful” was  Countess Josephine von Brunsvik. Given that there is no other similar evidence that he might have been in love with any other woman, she is generally considered to be the most likely recipient of the mysterious “Letter to the Immortal Beloved”

Josephine came from an aristocratic family of amateur musicians who lived in a magnificent castle near Budapest. She and her sister Therese were brought to Vienna in 1799 for private piano lessons with Beethoven. His feelings for her are documented in at least 15 love letters penned over a long period. Although she appears to have been attracted to the great composer and moved by his devotion, the surviving correspondence indicates that things never progressed beyond close friendship – family pressure and her suitor’s lack of title and social graces may have had something to do with it.

Josephine married twice: first to the much older Joseph Count Deym, with whom she had four children. When he died in 1804 Beethoven resumed his advances, seeing the young widow far more frequently than decorum permitted. At this most intense period in their relationship, the composer was writing the jubilant finale of his opera Leonore (later revised as Fidelio), a work exalting a virtuous wife and the power of married love. The most tempestuous sonata of his middle period, the Appassionata, was written during this time and dedicated to Josephine’s brother Count Franz von Brunsvik.




By 1810 Josephine had re-married, and her union with Baron von Stackelberg proved an unhappy one.

Beethoven composed the song An die Hoffnung (To Hope) and the piano piece Andante favori as musical declarations of love. He seems to have carried the torch for a long time: it is widely thought that Josephine is the subject of his famous, tormented letter to The Immortal Beloved, written in 1812: “…you know my faithfulness to you, never can another own my heart, never – never – never…”




Beethoven's women: class differences, the immortal beloved and a possible love child

Composer Ludwig van Beethoven didn't pour all his passion into his music, as proven by the many loves in his life. The most important woman, however, may forever remain a mystery.

Maria Magdalena Beethoven




A boy's mother is his first love, but little is known about Beethoven's. Her union with Beethoven's father, court singer Johann, was her second marriage. She bore him seven children, but only three survived infancy. Her life wasn't easy: Her alcoholic husband was physically abusive, and she died of tuberculosis in 1787 shortly after Ludwig had returned to Bonn after a studying in Vienna.


Maria Anna Wilhelmine von und zu Westerholt-Gysenberg



Franz Gerhard Wegeler, a friend from Beethoven's youth, referred to a certain "beautiful and gracious mannered Fräulein v.W.," to whom Beethoven was "most lovingly attracted." And although Wegeler described it as a "Werther love" - in reference to Goethe's tragic novel "The Sorrows of Young Werther" - it seems that Miss v.W. didn't leave any particularly enduring mark on the composer's life.


Countess Josephine Brunsvik



In 14 love letters between 1804 and 1809, the composer called his recently widowed piano student "angel," "my everything" and his "only love." But their letters have a tone of desperation; had they married, she would have lost custody of her four young children. She married someone else in 1810, while Josephine's sister Therese claimed that Beethoven and the countess were made for each other.


Countess Giulietta Guicciardi




In 1801 or 1802, the Brunsvik sisters introduced Beethoven to their cousin, also a countess. It was love at first sight, but it was clear to both that due to their differing social status, marriage was out of the question - and Giulietta was already engaged. It seems Beethoven was drawn to impossible romances. But the composer did dedicate his "Moonlight Sonata" to Giulietta.




Therese von Malfatti




After Josephine Brunsvick remarried in 1810, Beethoven seriously entertained thoughts of proposing marriage to Therese von Malfatti, even writing back home in Bonn for a copy of his baptisim certificate. Both Therese and her family were against the union due to class differences, however. Beethoven seems to have gotten over it rather quickly, and they remained friends.



Marie Bigot



Beethoven gave Marie the handwritten original of the "Appassionata" sonata, and their emotional connection is clear in his letters to her. In early March 1807, he invited her along on an excursion. But after her husband's jealous reaction, he wrote to the couple saying, "I would never be in a more than friendly relationship with another man's wife."




Ludwig van Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 23 in F minor, Op. 57 (colloquially known as the Appassionata, meaning "passionate" in Italian) is among the three famous piano sonatas of his middle period

One of his greatest and most technically challenging piano sonatas, the Appassionata was considered by Beethoven to be his most tempestuous piano sonata until the twenty-ninth piano sonata (known as the Hammerklavier). 1803 was the year Beethoven came to grips with the irreversibility of his progressively deteriorating hearing.


 Elisabeth Röckel



Beethoven met the 15-year-old in early 1808. In those days, a common nickname for "Elisabeth" was "Elise" - and the wistful little piano piece "Für Elise" is one of the best-known compositions ever. At Beethoven's request, she visited him on his death bed, where he gave her a lock of his hair and his last quill. Music researchers have concluded that Fräulein Röckel is the enigmatic "Elise."




Bagatelle No. 25 in A minor (WoO 59, Bia 515) for solo piano, commonly known as "Für Elise" or "Fuer Elise": "For Elise", is identified as a bagatelle, but it is also sometimes referred to as an Albumblatt. According to a 2010 study by Klaus Martin Kopitz (de), there is evidence that the piece was written for the German soprano singer Elisabeth Röckel."Elise", as she was called by a parish priest (she called herself "Betty" too), had been a friend of Beethoven's since 1808. The singer was the first who played the title role of Beethoven's opera Fidelio. In a letter to Elisabeth she called her indeed "Elise"


 Antonie Brentano





The sister-in-law of the poet Bettina Brentano wrote in 1811 that "dearest" Beethoven visited her "nearly daily." It was to Antonie that Beethoven gave the handwritten score of the song "An die Geliebte" (To the Beloved). It's also documented that Antonie once traveled from Prague to Karlsruhe on a critical date, which could be relevant for the next woman in Beethoven's life…





An die Geliebte  for Voice and Pianoforte or Guitar

This song was written for Beethoven's friend Antonie Brentano, who was among other things, a guitarist. This song is the only piece known to have been written by Beethoven for guitar. The fact that the poem set is entitled "To the Beloved" and is an intimate love poem is taken as evidence by some that Brentano was the "Immortal Beloved," but this implication is inconclusive at best.



Immortal Beloved



Dated July 6 and 7, 1812, and penned in the Bohemian spa town of Teplitz, the letter to an "Immortal Beloved" is addressed to a woman Beethoven had met with days earlier in Prague and who had then traveled on to "K." (possibly Karlsruhe). So was it Antonie Brentano? Or Josephine Brunsvik, whom he'd also just met and who gave birth to a daughter nine months later? Music researchers still disagree.



Read more

TEN Reasons to Read Dr. Fuddle and The Gold Baton!




10. Piano practice is more fun if you pretend that you have to turn evil monsters into harmless pets by resolving the scales.

9. You’ve memorized The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and you want another story about children being called into a magical land to save it.

8. The book explains what a glass harmonica is, something I’ve been curious about since listening to a particular version of the Carnival of the Animals which acknowledged a section that was meant to be played on a glass harmonica being played on a gluckenspiele instead.

7. You need some new creative names for foods, like Bellini Bread or Rossini Rolls.

6. Reading Dr. Fuddle and the Gold Baton can be a balance reminding us of the importance of music, when we otherwise read way too many novels about math and science.

5. The abundant references to musical concepts, to composers and songs can help normalize the importance of musical knowledge. It encourages a child to say “I’ve heard of that!” It raises the bar for what is seen as normal everyday knowledge.

4 . The book contains a glossary of music terms a child can refer back to.

3. The book provides positive role models. The children within it are struggling with different challenges – wanting to figure out who they are, and what they want in life. They deal with both guilt and forgiveness.

2.  The book reinforces the idea of practice, that it takes time and energy to improve one’s skills at an instrument, but at the same time that music is not just about developing technical skill and bored routine.

1.Most importantly: the book is fun. It is well written, reasonably fast paced and has a bit of a surprise at the ending.

 The book mentions many different songs, most of which one could find samples of on YouTube. If you read the book outloud with your kids, you can have a musical soundrtrack to go with it.