December 14 may just appear to be a day that means you have only ten days to finish your Christmas shopping. Usually that day is when procrastinators like me actually begin to start their shopping.
Thirty years ago I was still grieving over the assassination of one of rock and roll music’s greatest songwriters, John Lennon. Other songwriters deserve recognition on that day as well, since no fewer than six popular composers were born on that day of the year. Among them are Mariano Rodriguez de Ledesma (1779), Johann Christoph Kienlen (1783), Maria Agata Szymanowska (1789), Richard Batka (1868), Joaquin Zamacois Soler (1894) and Dobi Khristov (1875).
Anyone who appreciates music should acknowledge December 14 as “Classical Composers Day.” I am not suggesting that the day be recognized as a holiday, but perhaps schools and radio stations could plan some sort of activity to enhance student knowledge of composers.
Assuming that most teenagers would prefer modern pop music over classical, I have created a playlist of rock and pop songs that reference classical composers. Schools, stores and radio stations could actually work some of these tunes into their schedules that day. These tunes, mixed in with some of the more famous compositions, would even be q welcome reprieve from some of the Christmas music one hears in those locations.
10. “Brahms’ Lullaby” by Celine Dion: The pop diva’s strong vocal on this track from These Are Special Times underscores what is truly a beautiful song.
9. “Handel’s Messiah” by Relient K: These rockers from Canton, Ohio bring energy to this “Hallelujah” anthem on the cleverly titled Let It Snow . . . Let It Reindeer.
8. “A Fifth of Beethoven” by Walter Murphy: One of Ludwig’s most famous compositions is transformed into a disco instrumental on this track that reached number one in 1976.
7. “Dinner with Gershwin” by Donna Summer: The lyrics never specify which, Ira or George, but the disco diva’s approach makes the distinction unnecessary. Her quest for culture also includes watching Rembrandt sketch, talking theory with Curie, and singing hymns with Mahalia.
6. “Roll over Beethoven” by Chuck Berry: Many artists have covered this classic about the takeover of rock and roll, but Chuck Berry was the first to hit chart success with it. The song also features a reference to the underrated Tschaikowsky, composer of classics such as “Swan Lake,” “The Nutcracker,” and “The 1812 Overture.”
5. “Bach, Beethoven, Mozart and Me” by Phil Ochs: This track, describing the daily routines of various housemates, was recorded after Ochs had turned away from writing anti-war songs. His voice is a hushed tenor lightly dancing over a piano melody, and the result is one of the best tracks on the Greatest Hits album.
4. “Rock Me Amadeus” by Falco: The lyrics imply that because of his excessive lifestyle, Mozart was a rock star. The most popular recording from the Falco 3 album, the single hit number one in 1986.
3. “Litzsomania” by Phoenix: The lyrics on this track from Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix seem to concern the Hungarian’s relationship with the princess more than his actual musical creations. Nevertheless, the indie band has made a catchy pop tribute to the classical composer.
2. “Rockaria” by the Electric Light Orchestra: Jeff Lynne makes numerous references to classical composers on this rocking track from A New World Record. In the chorus he sings not only about Beethoven, but also Wagner, Puccini, and Verdi.
1. “Danse with Me, George (Chopin’s Plea)” by Ambrosia: The musical highlight of Somewhere I’ve Never Traveled is about the composer’s relationship with female author George Sand, who according to the lyrics dressed like a man and smoked cigars.