18 November 2006

Where have all the Flemings gone?: A Sarcastic Commentary on Klara's Top 75

(Note the distinctly musicologist-y title above. Too much research ...)

Even in these darkening days of late autumn I look forward to waking up in the morning. I have a kind of routine that gets me started on the right foot: I roll out of bed, put on the kettle for a cup of instant coffee, get the computer going for a look at the New Yorks Times or NPR online, and flip on the radio for a listen to what is rapidly becoming my favorite classical music radio station. There are actually two popular classical music stations in Belgium, one Flemish (Klara) and one French (Music 3). Maybe it's the inner Fleming in me, but I prefer Klara. Klara has the best evening jazz program (complete with smokey-voiced radio announcer sounding quite cool in Dutch), the best news reports (I think), the least amount of annoying announcements, and, of course, the best selection of early music which can be heard often throughout the day rather than relegated to early Sunday mornings as it might generally be in the States.

So imagine my surprise when I flip on the radio at 8:00 AM and hear Puccini's "Nessun Dorma" wailing forth from my little boombox. No one would argue that is it a beautiful piece of music, but not quite so early in the morning. I turn the radio off, patiently go about my routine and wait it out, hoping for a little Willaert or Monteverdi to clear the air. I flip the radio back on to hear some wild and bizarre jazzy symphonic thingy. What the ... ?

Today is the airing of the "Top 75 Classical Pieces" on Klara (www.klara.be). Ok, now it's all becoming clear. Puccini, yes of course. And the jazz thingy? The Jazzsuite by Shostokovich. On the Klara website the list is nicely displayed, and I am curious to see what the Flemings, the descendents of some of the most brilliant early-music composers EVER, consider to be the greatest pieces of all time. Gombert? Du Fay? Surely Josquin. Certainly this will be no ordinary list but one that aptly reflects the rich musical and cultural heritage of the country. (You must know what is coming ...)
Alas, it is not to be. This "Top 75" list is saturated with the usual suspects: Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Mozart, Brahms, Haydn, etc. There are some nice surprises--more Monteverdi than I would have thought, the Psalmen Davids by Schutz, and something called Vlaamse Dansen by one Jan Blockx--but only a smattering of early music that includes Josquin's Stabat Mater and Tallis's Spem in alium. Not to mention an almost non-existant showing of American composers, Gershwin and Barber being the sole contributors. And, please, I must say (strictly for the benefit of Z): Vivaldi's Gloria??

My Flemish friends would probably say that this is Klara's attempt to glamourize the classical music industry. Klara is already peppered with call-in quiz shows and name-that-tune competitions. And let's have a look at today's announcers (see above): Vincent Verelst and Thomas Vandervecken. Now, let's be honest, these are not your typical classical radio music announcers. Leather jackets, brilliant white smiles, expensive hair gel that is clearly NOT Brylcream. I mean, are they even Belgian? Perhaps we should call them "Vinny and Tommy" and put them in the judging corner of Project Runway.

But perhaps I am being unfair. In fact, even as I sit here they are playing the Sibelius Violin Concerto, not exactly Flemish is origin but a brilliant piece nonetheless. But I'm sure if I wait long enough I will hear the call-in questions: "How can you NOT know in what year Sibelius wrote this piece?" Wait, here it comes ...

No comments: