Tuesday, December 16, 2008

On This Day: Dec. 16

1770, Ludwig van Beethoven is born in Bonn, Germany. At his full adult height, the composer stood only 5'3". Yet he towers over the classical-music nearly 200 years after his death (1827).

Things I'll bet you never knew about Beethoven:

* He has his own listing on IMDB.com (Internet Movie Database) as the "soundtrack" composer of a half-dozen 20th-Century movies;

* And about his trademark four notes -- the famous duh-duh-duh-DAH motive he wrote to open his Fifth Symphony: The composer described the motive as "death knocking at the door." But the Beethoven signature would become the Allies' signature during World War II because the four notes are unintentionally immortalized as Morse Code for the letter "V" (for "Victory").

1773, the Boston Tea Party took place as American colonists boarded a British ship and dumped more than 300 chests of tea overboard to protest tea taxes.

1921, French composer Camille Saint-Saens died.

1944, American composer and bandleader Glenn Miller was presumed dead after his flight went missing over the English Channel.

1965, British novelist and playwright William Somerset Maugham died.

Monday, December 15, 2008

On This Day: Dec. 15

1928, renowned violinist Ida Haendel was born. A British musician of Polish descent, Dame Ida (CBE, 1991) is a longtime Miami resident.

I first heard her perform live in Toronto in the 1990s. It was amazing to hear such sympathetic musicianship and technique so steeped in Old World styling. Her concern for the composer's intentions while adding her own voice was evident throughout the concerto with the Toronto Symphony. It's a combination that wins fans to her stage and CD performances whether she was age 9 or just recently at age 77. (NOTE: Despite the debate about her birth year, Dame Ida was indeed born in Poland in 1928.)

Even if it didn't, Dame Ida is adamant. She is famously quoted declaring: "I am not there to please the audience. I am not an entertainer. I am there to serve the composer. I want people to listen."

Dame Ida never received as much fame as she deserved. Compared to her fellow award-winners -- or more specifically perhaps, her male contemporaries and colleagues, the likes of Isaac Stern, Nathan Milstein -- Dame Ida has worked more quietly. But, she's still working! Amazon.com lists her video from 2006, pictured here, a performance with award-winning Miami-based pianist Ilya Itin. The program includes Beethoven's Sonatas No. 8 in G Major and No. 9 in A Major; Chausson's Poème, Op 25; plus one of her signature works, Bach's Chaconne. (85-minute recital plus a bonus 32-minute interview).

Congratulations, Dame Ida, on a milestone birthday!