NPR logo

Turkey, Cranberries And Composers At The Table

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/142472836/142495011" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Turkey, Cranberries And Composers At The Table

Music Articles

Turkey, Cranberries And Composers At The Table

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/142472836/142495011" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Thanksgiving is less than a week away, and while it's a little early to start cooking, it's definitely time to finalize the guest list. We asked music commentator Miles Hoffman to come up with a musical guest list for the big dinner, a list of composers that he would like to have at the table with him.

Good morning, Miles.

MILES HOFFMAN: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: So OK. You've been thinking about this. Who would you like to have at your Thanksgiving dinner?

HOFFMAN: Well, there are so many possibilities and I decided that the best way to narrow it down would be to invite only composers who are dead.

MONTAGNE: Dead.

HOFFMAN: Dead, yes.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

HOFFMAN: And that narrows it down. And also, nobody can turn me down, so I can invite whoever I want.

MONTAGNE: OK, well, who is the first dead composer you would like to invite?

HOFFMAN: Here's a hint, Renee

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MONTAGNE: Aha, Johann Sebastian Bach.

HOFFMAN: You got it, Bach. Bach would be number one.

MONTAGNE: But, Miles, if he's the first person at your table I'm curious, because Bach looks like a stuffy old guy in a powdered wig.

HOFFMAN: That's absolutely right, he does. But that's because there's only one authenticated portrait of Bach, Renee. And that's a portrait of Bach in a powdered wig, when he was an old guy and looking very stuffy and dower or dower. And actually, he was quite handsome as a young man. There's another portrait that's probably real. It shows him very, very good looking.

He fathered 20 children. He got into a sword fight - very temperamental guy. And we know from letters that he drank a lot of beer. So I think that he was probably pretty jolly, actually. I'd just like to find out what he was really like.

MONTAGNE: Who would you put next to Mr. Bach?

HOFFMAN: Well, I would - ideally I would put Felix Mendelssohn next to Bach. And the first thing is it would give Bach a chance to thank Mendelssohn, who was born almost 60 years after Bach died, because Mendelssohn was a big, big Bach fan. And he was almost single-handedly responsible for the revival of interest in Bach's music, especially Bach's great choral works.

So, I'm sure Bach would be interested to hear some of Mendelssohn's music to. Why not?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

HOFFMAN: Renee, that's an excerpt from a piece, a piano quartet that Mendelssohn wrote when he was 15 years old. He was without question the greatest child prodigy composer ever. He was also generally brilliant. He was extremely well read. And by all accounts just an incredibly nice guy. Plus, he spoke English.

MONTAGNE: What about the superstars, Mozart, Beethoven? Wouldn't you want to invite them, as well?

HOFFMAN: You know, sure. And if it's a matter of inviting the greatest of the greats, it would be very hard to resist. And Mozart especially I think would be fun. The problem is we already know a lot about Mozart from his letters; what he thought about music, what he thought about other musicians, his sense of humor which actually was, I guess, off-color would be the mildest way to put it. It was really pretty filthy. So there's not a lot of mystery to clear up with Mozart.

And Beethoven, I think he was a little bit - there was a little bit too much of a tendency to be rude and crabby.

MONTAGNE: But you are saying that you'd go for it.

HOFFMAN: No, I would invite them for lunch. Turkey sandwiches on the weekend after.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MONTAGNE: Well then, who else then? Let's bring some more people to the table.

HOFFMAN: I have to invite Hector Berlioz.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "ORGY OF THE BRIGANDS")

HOFFMAN: That's the opening of the "Orgy of the Brigands," Renee, from the last movement of Berlioz's "Harold in Italy," which is kind of a concerto for viola and orchestra.

Berlioz was a great composer, Renee, A fascinating man in every possible way. He was clever. He was witty. He was a wonderful writer. And he was just filled with passion and personality. And to top it off, he and Mendelssohn were very good friends. So I think this is good dinner planning to have Berlioz and Mendelssohn together.

MONTAGNE: Well, there does seem to be room for more. So how about at least one more guest?

HOFFMAN: I think it would have to be Ernest Bloch.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

HOFFMAN: Bloch was a wonderful Swiss-Jewish composer; came to this country early in the 1900s. And after difficult times and a fair amount of uncertainty, he decided to become an American citizen. And he was - oh, goodness. He was the founding music director of the Cleveland Institute of music, the first director of the San Francisco Conservatory. And he lived the last 18 years of his life overlooking Agate Beach, Oregon, Renee. He used to go down to the beach and polish agates. I would really like to meet him.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "PIANO QUINTET NO. 1")

HOFFMAN: That's from the first piano quintet by Ernest Bloch. That's actually my group, the American Chamber Players. That's when the "Piano Quintet No. 1" by Ernest Bloch.

MONTAGNE: All right, Miles. This is a lovely notion to contemplate these composers around the table. If our listeners are looking for one musical guest to accompany their Thanksgiving feast, who would you suggest?

HOFFMAN: Well, it depends. I mean, I like the folks at it invited but it might be somebody who would like to play, and have a good time and entertain people too. I think of a guy like, say, Leonard Bernstein. I think Bernstein would be a lot of fun, too. You would probably take over the whole evening. Plus, he would sit down at the piano and play endlessly.

And if you've got Bernstein, maybe you should have Gershwin too, and the two of them could compete with who's going to sit down at the piano and play more of their own music. So that would be - I think that would be a pretty good suggestion - Bernstein and Gershwin.

MONTAGNE: That sounds wonderful.

HOFFMAN: I hope so, Renee. And don't forget you're invited.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MONTAGNE: Miles Hoffman is the violist of the American Chamber Players and author of the "NPR Classical Music Companion."

And, Miles, you have a very happy Thanksgiving, a little happy holiday in advance.

HOFFMAN: You, too. Thanks, Renee.

MONTAGNE: You can hear of full helping of music by Miles Thanksgiving dinner guests. Just go to our classical music blog, Deceptive Cadence at NPRMusic.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MONTAGNE: From NPR News, this is MORNING EDITION. I'm Renee Montagne.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.