Wednesday, March 05, 2014

How My Brain Works 2

Even after I revealed my secret (How My Brain Works), colleagues and friends still seem surprised with some of the discoveries I make in the nooks and crannies of classical music. Thanks to the Internet, it's easy to fall down a rat hole, going from link to link to link. For most people it's just a diversion. For me, it's a voyage of discovery.

Here's how I got from a conversation about basic repertoire to a radio special on Olympic music in five easy steps.

Hans Huber, Swiss composer.
Step One: The conversation
Ken Nail, who used to co-write this blog, and I were discussing classical music. Ken wants to refresh his knowledge of classical music and had found an old Reader's Digest wall chart of the 100 Greatest Compositions (probably from an LP collection). He was going to listen to every work and check it off the list.

As we talked, I pulled out my 1907 edition of "Stories of Symphonic Music" (mentioned in Re-evaluating Raff). The book outlines the stories behind works that were considered basic repertoire in 1907. My point was that the definition of basic repertoire changes over time. The book had an entry for Han Huber's Second Symphony. I'd neither heard of the work, nor the composer.

Step Two: YouTube
Ken went off to listen to some of the compositions on his checklist, and I decided to track down some info about Hans Huber, and his 2nd Symphony. Neither was hard to find. I discovered that Huber was a Swiss composer of some prominence at the turn of the 20th Century, and his Second Symphony (along with several other of his works) was posted on YouTube.

Step Three: The Recommendation
When a YouTube video plays, there's a list of recommended videos that appear in the right rail. One of them was a symphony by Rudolph Simonson. Another composer I never heard of! So I did a quick search. His Wikipedia entry read in full:
Rudolph Hermann Simonsen (April 30, 1889 – March 28, 1947) was a Danish composer who studied under Otto Malling. In 1928, he won a bronze medal in the art competitions of the Olympic Games for his Symphony No. 2: Hellas. From 1931 Simonsen headed Royal Danish Academy of Music.
Step Four: The Connection
Wait - what?! Simonsen's 2nd Symphony won a bronze medal at the Olympics? That lead me to research the Olympic arts competitions. You can read more about that in my post, Olympic Musical Gold - Part 1. So now I had a list of all the Olympic medals awarded for music compositions.

I,  of course,  had listened to Simonsen's 2nd Symphony and thought it was pretty good. But what did the other winning compositions sound like? Was there more Olympic medal-winning music available?

Step Five: Sharing the Results
As it turned out, four of the medal-winning compositions were available via YouTube. It translated out to be about 50 minutes worth of music. And so, while the Olympics were being held in Sochi, I presented a special edition of my radio program "Gamut," on WTJU featuring Olympic competition music (see: A Gamut of Olympic Music). My listeners got to hear the strange story of arts competition at the Olympics and hear the four medal-winning works that had been recorded.

And that's how it happened. Everyone says it's all about the journey. I think it's a little bit more than that. It's about paying attention to what happens on that journey. That's where the adventure lies.

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