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


  1. Hm…. Interesting question… very interesting indeed. I think that although a happy and jolly Thanksgiving might be interesting, I would opt for a more drama-filled Thanksgiving.

    If I was given the choice to meet any composer and have Thanksgiving dinner with them I would love to meet: Liszt (a man who was very eccentric and who I would love to discuss technique with), Prokofiev (a man who thought that his playing was the right way and any other interpretation was bogus), Beethoven (an angry but brilliant man who I know was deaf but would gladly have him over), Mozart (a party enthusiast and another brilliant man who would surely give life to the party with his free-for-all attitude), Haydn (for the reasons that you stated), Rachmaninoff (don’t know much about his personality but he would be another great composer to talk about his concertos), Gershwin (an amazing man who I would like to discuss with him whether he would consider his compositions as classical, jazz, or a hybrid of the two among the reasons that you stated), Ravel (just because he’s Ravel!), Debussy (for the reasons that you stated), and Horowitz (would love to discuss his various arrangements for piano and his style).

    I love these posts! Thanks for making such a great blog, could you perhaps post more reviews on classical piano CD’s?

    Comment by 3mlee — November 27, 2011 @ 11:45 am

    • Hi 3mlee,
      You make a good case for almost all the guests you choose, though I don’t think Rachmaninoff, who was known for being stern and taciturn, would talk about his music much.
      I especially like your suggestions of Prokofiev and Liszt.
      Glad you enjoyed the post and that it got you thinking.
      And yes, there will be more reviews of piano Cds.
      So keep reading.
      And replying.

      Comment by welltemperedear — November 27, 2011 @ 5:20 pm

  2. Thanks for noting the obvious lack of women composers. While I was intrigued with the idea of inviting composers to Thanksgiving dinner, I became more and more irritated that not a single female composer made the list. That’s probably because the women were in the kitchen cooking the meal and minding the children! I would invite Clara Schumann (but not her husband), Fanny Mendelsohhn Hensel, and Agatha Backer Grøndahl. I would happily work in the kitchen preparing the meal while they played my piano. When we sat down for dinner, we would toast to great piano music composed by men and women.

    Comment by Emily W — November 23, 2011 @ 10:42 am

    • Hi Emily,
      Thank you for reading and replying thoughtfully and helpfully.
      Are you annoyed with Hoffman (which I share and add that he did not include any ethnic diversity) or with me?
      I noted several women composers I could include, but added that I just didn’t know enough about them and their history to choose among them.
      I agree with you, though I do not personally know of the third composer.
      I will take your word for y it and thank you for helping me.
      But women should definitely be playing music and at the table, not just in the kitchen.
      A happy holiday to you.
      My best,

      Comment by welltemperedear — November 23, 2011 @ 10:58 am

      • Hi Jake – not annoyed with you…annoyed with Hoffman. Agatha Backer Grøndahl went off to Berlin at age 18 (1865) to pursue music studies. Like most women composers she was told by her family to pursue more “womanly” endeavors, but she persisted. When she returned to Norway, she became a friend of the Griegs. As far as diversity, wouldn’t you love to have Henry “Harry” Burleigh sing the table blessing?

        Comment by Emily W — November 23, 2011 @ 11:35 am

      • Hi Emily,
        Glad it is Hoffman you’re annoyed at.
        Me too.
        I expect more, especially from NPR.
        Thanks for the background and yes, I think that would be a wonderful blessing.
        Happy Thanksgiving to you!

        Comment by welltemperedear — November 23, 2011 @ 11:42 am

  3. I’d add Giuseppe Verdi and Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, because it would be intriguing to meet them. And, expanding “classical” a bit more broadly, I’d invite Oscar Peterson, Cole Porter and Ella Fitzgerald, because they are classicists in their own way and I would be fascinated to meet them.

    Comment by Ann B. — November 23, 2011 @ 10:15 am

    • Hi Ann,
      I think Verdi is an excellent selection. Do you think Puccini would be good as a guest too?
      Lorraine Hunt Lieberson would be a wonderful performer guest. I heard and saw her at Token Creek and have heard much about her. Everything suggests she would be an ideal choice.
      I am more reluctant about your more non-cassical choices only because they opens up hundreds of other possibilities that I am not able to judge.
      Let’s invite them all and rent a big hall for this feat!
      As always, thank you for reading and then reply so thoughtfully and insightfully.
      Happy Thanksgiving.

      Comment by welltemperedear — November 23, 2011 @ 11:02 am

  4. That would be an awesome dinner! I wish this could actually happen! But imagining it, is also fun. 🙂

    Comment by taktgefuehle — November 23, 2011 @ 6:22 am

    • Hi,
      And thanks for reading and replying.
      I agree: It would be a awesome.
      I would love to attend it.
      Too bad it can’t happen except in the mind.
      Sort of conceptual art.
      Or conceptual socializing or maybe conceptual feasting.
      But it is fun to think about it.
      And to do one with your own preferences.
      I am glad you enjoyed it.
      Feast on!

      Comment by welltemperedear — November 23, 2011 @ 10:03 am

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