Some listeners from Mint Hill happened to be in Davidson the other day and decided on an impulse to drop by the station with a burning question: what the heck is the Academy of St. Martin-in -the-Fields? They knew it was an orchestra, of course, but were mystified by the name – as well as by how often they hear it on WDAV. Just how many recordings has the orchestra made, anyway?
The question took me by surprise at first, and then I remembered how I’d had a similar thought hearing their recordings played on the radio as a young listener. I also had a completely inaccurate mental image of conductor Neville Marriner that was influenced by my love of comic books – the only other “mariner” I’d ever heard of was Marvel’s Namor, The Submariner, who lived under the sea wearing nothing but scaly trunks and wings on his ankles. Wings under water? But that’s a question for comic book legend Stan Lee, not this blog.
So anyway I told the visitors what I had frankly only learned after already being a classical announcer: that “academy” was used occasionally in the 18th century to mean orchestra, and that this particular orchestra used it because it originally specialized in 18th century music. And it was founded at the London church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields. Hence the name.
They were delighted to know and went on their way. But I got to thinking: how many other “mystifying” ensemble names, composition titles and musical terms are there that we radio pros throw around carelessly, but which listeners might well have questions about? So I started a list of some possibilities:
- Philharmonic, Symphony, Sinfonia (what’s the difference?)
- Orchestre de la Suisse Romande (sounds like a French pastry!)
- RIAS Sinfonietta (where is RIAS, and just what is a “sinfonietta,” anyway?
- Couperin’s The Mysterious Barricades (what’s so mysterious about this little Baroque ditty, besides the title?)
- Satie’s Gymnopedies (Something to do with the Olympics, perhaps?)
- The Rare Fruits Council (my personal favorite in recent years)
What about you? Is there a classical term, title or ensemble that you wanted to know about, but were afraid to ask? This blog is the perfect place, and no one need be ashamed.
We look forward to hearing from you.
(Image by Br. Lawrence Lew, O.D. used through the Creative Commons license.)
3 thoughts on “The Mysterious Barricades in Classical Music”
Surely every serious classical music listener knows of ‘The Academy’. It’s worth a trip to Trafalgar Square just to view and walk St Martins-in-the-Fields. Dating from the 1720s, its classic columned portico surmounted by a spire was the inspiration for countless New England churches and elsewhere in the USA and world for that matter. The ‘Academy’ is a very recent attraction by comparison…
That’s just the point, though: not all of our listeners are “serious,” i.e., extremely knowledgable listeners. We care about all our listeners, to be sure, and value each and every one of them, whatever category they fit. I’m just intrigued by how some of these terms might sound to the uninitiated.
It has been my experience that the attitude of so-called “serious” classical music fans can be far more mystifying than terminology to casual listeners. I listen to WDAV online at work, at the front desk in a medical office. “Serious” listeners occasionally come in and start spouting about composers and style and technical details about the piece that’s playing. Basically showing off. Then they condescendingly ask if I know much about music, at which point I inform them that I have a master’s degree in trumpet performance. This is one of my pet peeves, as I think the elitist attitude behind this behavior alienates more people from classical music than all the French titles, Russian composers’ names, and technical jargon combined. It is music, people! It’s for everyone!
As far as strange names go, however, Bach’s Wachet Auf never fails to elicit a giggle.