The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Mother’s Day turns 100 today. What piece of music would you play for your Mom on her holiday? And can you pass NPR’s Mother’s Day opera quiz? | May 11, 2014

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Mother’s Day, 2014.

That makes it the 100th anniversary of the national holiday that President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed in 1914, as World War I was beginning. The timing then seemed appropriate since the now festive and consumer-driven holiday was started in 1908 by Anna Jarvis as a way to honor fallen soldiers and to work for peace.

Here is a link to a story about the holiday’s history — with information about how Mother’s Day is celebrated in the Midwest and the Arab world — from National Geographic Society:

In past years I have asked: What is the best music you can think of to express Mother’s Day? ?Songs My Mother Taught Me” by Antonin Dvorak? The lovely and moving “mother” movement from the “German” Requiem by Johannes Brahms? The beautiful song cycle “Frauenliebe- und -leben” (A Woman’s Loves and Life) by Robert Schumann?

Mother and Child face to face

Here is a Top 10 list from Limelight Magazine:,top-10-classical-mothers-mothers-day-special.aspx/0

And here are the Top 5 classical choices by the famed classical music radio station WQXR-FM in New York City:!/story/208323-top-five-classical-pieces-about-moms/

Today I want to challenge to take a Mother’s Day quiz that appeared on the “Deceptive Cadence” blog on NPR.

Here is a link:

But this year my thoughts are more personal.

The Ear lost his Mom a year ago last March, but in the time since then I have had plenty of time to think about the loss and to see what music comes to mind when I think of her.

Now she was not a sophisticated listener of classical music.

But she loved a lot of fine music and had good taste.

She especially loved one piece in particular: Frederic Chopin’s Waltz in C-sharp Minor, Op. 64, No. 2. It is arguably Chopin’s finest waltz.

But it also embodies my Mom for two reasons.

One reason: When I was young she took to see Arthur Rubinstein  (below top) at Carnegie Hall (below bottom) – she even got STAGE sets — for his all-Chopin recital on Nov. 10, 1961. (I later found out that a young Emanuel Ax was also in the audience that evening, and was as impressed it as I was.) Rubinstein played that waltz, as I recall, perhaps as an encore.

artur rubinstein in moscow 1964


More importantly, she also liked the particular Chopin waltz because I played it. In fact she probably liked the way I played more than the way Rubinstein did.

I was her son, after all, and Rubinstein wasn’t.

So this one is for you, Mom, on your day:

Now, if you care to, please leave me a REPLY, with a link to YouTube video if possible, of the one piece of music -– instrumental, song or opera aria, whatever -– that you would like to play and dedicate to you Mom whether she is living or not.

The Ear wants to hear.

And so would your Mom.


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  1. I would play Felix Mendelssohn’s Songs Without Words, Op. 19, No. 1, Andante con moto ( In my edition (Mendelssohn Songs Without Words for the Piano, Edited by Maurice Hinson, Alfred, ISBN 0-7390-2089-7), this is entitled “Sweet Remembrances”, a bittersweet title for me as my mother slips more and more into the fog of dementia.


    Comment by Emily W — May 12, 2014 @ 8:06 pm

    • Hi Emily,
      Thank you for reading and replying with a fine and appropriate choice.
      I think that was also the Song Without Words by Felix Mendelssohn that was used in the movie version of William Styron’s “Sophie’s Choice” with Meryl Streep in the title role.


      Comment by welltemperedear — May 13, 2014 @ 1:16 pm

  2. My daughter, playing for her Mom (me):


    Comment by Marika Fischer Hoyt — May 11, 2014 @ 10:50 am

    • Hi Marika,
      Well, it is hard to top that!
      Congratulations to you and your daughter!
      Happy Mother’s Day!


      Comment by welltemperedear — May 11, 2014 @ 11:45 am

  3. I’d play Frank Sinatra singing “New York New York”

    Sent from my iPhone



    Comment by Julie Cornelius — May 11, 2014 @ 10:20 am

    • Hi Julie,
      Thanks for reading and replying.
      Not exactly classical, but certainly a classic.
      Happy Mother’s Day to you and to your mom.


      Comment by welltemperedear — May 11, 2014 @ 10:27 am

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