The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Do you hear “On, Wisconsin” in this piece of classical music? Do you know of others? | September 8, 2018

ALERT: In the era of #MeToo and #Time’sUp, it is hard to think of a better and more appropriate program than the FREE all-female concert at the UW on Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m. in Mills Hall.

That’s when the acclaimed UW faculty violinist Soh-Hyun Park Altino (below) and guest pianist Jeannie Yu will perform works by Amy Beach, Cecile Chaminade, Rebecca Clarke and Lili Boulanger. Sorry, but The Ear can find no mention of specific works on the program.

For more background and biographical information about the performers, go to:

By Jacob Stockinger

There he was.

On an ordinary afternoon, The Ear was just sitting at home listening to Wisconsin Public Radio.

On came the rarely heard Sonata for Clarinet by the French composer Camille Saint-Saens (below). It is a late work, Op. 167, written in 1921 and rarely performed.

And right away: BAM!!!

The neglected work sounded familiar.

That’s because the opening theme sure sounds like the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s fight song “On, Wisconsin!” which, with modified lyrics, is also the official state song of Wisconsin.

You can hear the familiar tune in the unfamiliar work’s first movement in the YouTube video at the bottom.

Is its appearance by accident or chance?

Is it a deliberate borrowing?

Today seems like an ideal day for asking the question, listening to the music and then deciding because it is a football Saturday. (The New Mexico Lobos and the Wisconsin Badgers will fight it out starting at 11 a.m. in Camp Randall Stadium (below, in a photo by Jeff Miller for the UW-Madison). It will be televised on BTN or the Big Ten Network).

Maybe history can help answer the question.

Here is the Wikipedia entry for “On, Wisconsin” with the history and lyrics of the song that was composed in 1909 — 11 years before the Saint-Saens clarinet sonata.,_Wisconsin!

The Ear could swear he has heard the same theme in other classical works, maybe even one by Mozart. But he can’t recall the name of that work or others.

Can you?

If you can, please leave the name of the composer and work, with a link to a YouTube video if possible, in the cOMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.


  1. The “There’s a Place for Us” segment is from the slow movement of the Beethoven “Emperor” Concerto.

    Comment by Steve Kurr — September 8, 2018 @ 3:06 pm

  2. Funny, yes! Should be required at all Badger games. Might boost classical music? Or Madison Symphony should program as every season opener?
    Reminds me of the time I was listening to perhaps Brahms and heard Bernstein’s There’s a Place for Us” from West Side Story.

    Comment by Ronnie — September 8, 2018 @ 3:00 pm

  3. Ruy Blas Overture by Mendelssohn. About 2:30 in. Almost note for note.

    Comment by Steve Kurr — September 8, 2018 @ 10:28 am

  4. On further thought, you may be correct.

    If you listen to the same composer’s “Carnival of the Animals”, the third section, generally referred to as “Hémiones (animaux véloces) or wild animals running, seems to have a reference to a fleet Badger, undoubtedly Bucky, but is commonly mistaken by hard of hearing critics for dziggetai, donkeys that come from Tibet. In a footrace, I ask you, who would you put your money on? A dziggetai from Tibet or Bucky Badger?

    On Wisconsin!

    Comment by fflambeau — September 8, 2018 @ 1:32 am

  5. Sorry, I listened to the Saint Saens as he is one of my favorite composers, and could not hear what you did.

    The closest to “On Wisconsin” seems to be the final two minutes of the piece, the Allegretto of the 4th movement , starting at about 15:27 of the following recording at YouTube. But that’s a stretch.

    Comment by fflambeau — September 8, 2018 @ 12:40 am

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