The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Which composers and performers would you invite for Thanksgiving dinner? Here are the names that NPR critic Miles Hoffman, along with his readers and listeners, suggests.

November 23, 2011

By Jacob Stockinger

Tomorrow, Thursday, Nov. 24, is Thanksgiving.

NPR recently featured classical musician and commentator Miles Hoffman on which composers – limited to dead composers — he would like to invite to his Thanksgiving Table.

Mozart was tempting, but his potty mouth and off-color humor proved off-putting for Hoffman. A little profanity goes a long way, especially at holiday time. But hey, fans of Louis Black like me appreciate the spice.

Beethoven was just too grumpy and plain rude. Genius is one thing; compatibility another.

Like Hoffman, I say, J.S. Bach (below) is tops because of his joy in his work as well as his taste for beer and his zest for life. He played in courts, churches and coffee houses. He toured and was much earthier than many people think. How anti-social could the prolific father of 20 children and more than a thousand musical works be?

The well-traveled and collaborative Handel would be another good choice. But for me, right after Bach comes Franz Schubert (below). He was by all accounts a friendly and outgoing man with great empathy who frequented taverns and loved to make music, including many four-hand piano works, with friends at the “Schubertiades.”

I would also invite Papa Haydn (below), who seemed both extremely inventive and extremely congenial, a charming and cosmopolitan man with highly developed courtly and social skills he exercised in Austria, France and England.

Maybe I would like Mendelssohn and Berlioz, whom Hoffman chooses, but I can think of others I prefer.

Chopin (below), though shy, was apparently a good salon and party guest, even if he tended to sneak off with just a couple of other guests and improvise at the piano until the wee hours.

I would take the manic Schumann over the taciturn Brahms. Better yet, I suspect, would be Dvorak (below), whose music exudes amiability.

Debussy (below), who was a sensualist and who had a reputation for tart replies and droll commentaries, could be fun – as long as you have a thick skin and like one-liners. And the sharp-tongued Frenchman generally appreciated good food, if not the religiosity surrounding the holiday.

And I think the cultivated Stravinsky would be a better guest than, say, Schoenberg or Bloch, whom Hoffman favors.

But best of all 20th century composers would be Francis Poulenc (below), another convivial Frenchman who loved jokes, the music hall and popular culture in general.

Hoffman hit the nail of the head by inviting Leonard Bernstein (below). Is there any doubt that menschy Lenny would be fun before, during and after the party?

And flirty George Gershwin is also a good choice, for that matter, since he also was a party boy who loved a good time.

But how about Scott Joplin (below)? I expect he and his great contagious ragtime music would add a lot of fun to the feast. I bet he would also have some great stories to tell.

We’re missing a woman or two. But that’s more a problem of history since there are plenty of living women composers who would be fun to entertain. And I just don’t know enough to guess about Fanny Mendelssohn or Hildegard von Bingen or Germaine Tailleferre or Amy Beach. Maybe Nadia Boulanger would be a fine guest.

Anyway, here is a link to Miles Hoffman’s story on NPR.

You can read the shorter version, but I urge you to listen to the longer 7-1/2 minute radio version (click on the loudspeaker icon). It is much more fun and thought-provoking, and it has music:

Which composers would you invite to your imaginary Thanksgiving dinner feast?

And let’s go beyond Hoffman: Which performers do you think it would be fun to have Thanksgiving with?

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music

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