My Favorites: An Unknown Romeo and Juliet

By Brian Bell

For the week of Valentine's Day, we'll be playing the music you love most, and in that spirit, here is the next in a series of what a few of us here at 99.5 All Classical love most.

Brian Bell is the long-time producer of our live Boston Symphony Orchestra broadcasts, as well as Sunday Concert.  Be sure to check out the archive of features and interviews Brian has produced at Backstage with Brian Bell.

We hope these ideas prompt you to think through your favorites, which you can submit here!

Feb. 12

I'll be honest with you. I'm not a big fan of choosing one piece of music over countless others. To me, there's an exclusionary tone to it. After all, Wanda Landowska once said, and I fully concur, that "masterpieces are not wolves that devour each other." Sometimes making choices like this does a disservice to the thousands upon thousands of works that deserve to be heard.

I would prefer such exercises along the lines of "music to listen to when you are in a grumpy mood", or "great music by composers who died of unnatural causes" (Stumped? What about Granados, Berg, Lully, Chausson, and we mustn't forget Stephen Albert*) or "the greatest pieces by composers you've never heard of" or, well, you get the idea.

Frequently, when asked such a question, I tend to gravitate to pieces that are relatively unknown. I still hold the established favorite works of music in high esteem and love them as much as anyone. But I like to think of classical music as a very large world, and a world that not only accepts a wide variety of tastes, but embraces them.

And here we are with Valentine's Day, so perhaps we can find something off the beaten path that implies a romantic tinge. A very large realm, and one that has emptied many a pen. Romeo and Juliet, for example, has inspired Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev, Berlioz, Bernstein ("West Side Story," right?) and Gounod for starters.

But an opera that I believe has never been staged in Boston (and please correct me with a comment below if I'm wrong!) is A Village Romeo & Juliet by Frederick Delius. There's an orchestral interlude called "A Walk to Paradise Garden" that says those things that only music can say.

Sir Thomas Beecham conducted the first performance in 1910, and made the first recording in less than ideal circumstances.  But if you'd like a great recording, look for the one by the BBC Symphony, conducted by Sir Andrew Davis.

(image:  Ernst Würtenberger's "Sali and Verena by the River")

*Enrique Granados died when the Sussex was torpedoed by a German U-boat on 24 March 1916. He saw his wife go overboard, and though unable to swim, he dove in after her. They both drowned, though the portion of the ship he was on was later towed into port.

Alban Berg died when he underwent emergency surgery on Christmas Day, 1935. The surgeon was inebriated and opened a major artery by mistake.

Lully died when he was beating time with a staff and hit his foot, which became infected. He died after refusing amputation.

Chausson died on June 10, 1899, when his bicycle crashed into a wall.

And Stephen Albert died December 27th, 1992, in an automobile accident on Cape Cod.

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