Looking for love in all the wrong places

By Lawrence Toppman

Remember the 1994 movie “Immortal Beloved”? Its poster showed an improbably dashing Beethoven sitting in a chair, with the arms of an otherwise unseen female wrapped affectionately around him.

That fanciful biography took its title from a letter Beethoven wrote in July 1812 to a woman who has never been identified. The letter began “My angel, my all, my self” and ended “The gods must send what must and what should be for us – Your faithful Ludwig.”

The two likeliest candidates seem to be Antonie Brentano, an affectionate married woman to whom he was drawn, or Bettina Brentano, her sister-in-law by marriage and a younger muse to many men, including Goethe. (She introduced Beethoven to him at the composer’s request; he’d hoped to coax the old man into writing an opera libretto, but that came to nothing.)

Because Beethoven had a profound respect for wedlock, and because Bettina soon became a wife after he met her, he probably didn’t sleep with either. His lifelong bad fortune consistently drew him to women who were married, too young, too flighty, uninterested in him physically or too highly placed socially to accept him as a suitor.

In fact, lasting love of all kinds eluded him after the death of his mother when he was 16. His father beat, humiliated and exploited him. His brothers, neither of whom had any interest in his work except when hawking it to music publishers, went their own ways. He considered one sister-in-law no better than a prostitute and fought her in the courts for custody of her son, Karl. That four-year struggle ended with him gaining guardianship over the 14-year-old in 1820.

As his father had done with him, Beethoven attempted to squeeze music out of his nephew. Karl, uninspired as both a pianist and a composer, reasonably tried to fight free of his uncle’s grasp. He set his mother and uncle against each other, led an unambitious academic life, unsuccessfully attempted suicide in 1826, entered military service the following year and never saw his uncle again.

As this would-be-paternal relationship fell apart, Beethoven stopped seeking loving connections with family members and the opposite sex. Instead, he poured his feelings into music.

When the Missa Solemnis premiered in 1824, he dedicated it to Archduke Rudolf of Austria, his main patron as well as a former pupil and friend. He inscribed Rudolf’s copy “Von Herzen—Möge es wieder—Zu Herzen gehn!” That is, “From the heart – may it return to the heart!” If no individuals loved him deeply, he could still reach out to the heart of the entire world.

Holidays of Classical Music Legend

By Mary Lathem

We’ve enjoyed their festive masterpieces all season long – but what were history’s most famous classical artists really up to around this time of year? These stories from classical music lore are the perfect complement to your holiday listening. 

Leonard Bernstein Celebrates Hanukkah at the White House
Leonard Bernstein By Jack Mitchell, CC BY-SA 4.0.

When Leonard Bernstein received the Kennedy Center Honors award in 1980, he and his family were invited to the White House as guests of the Carters (on what also happened to be the first day of Hanukkah).

The family was invited to rest in the Lincoln Bedroom, where they set up a small menorah that had been packed especially for the trip.

After lighting the first candle, singing the Hebrew blessing, and stowing the burning candles in a bathroom sink, Bernstein and his guests headed to the Kennedy Center for the ceremony. Because the event was being taped for national TV, President Carter needed to be the last person to enter – but Bernstein’s group arrived late, requiring Carter to make a second presidential entrance! 

Source: Working with Bernstein: A Memoir, Jack Gottlieb
Photo by Jack Mitchell, CC BY-SA 4.0

Fanny Mendelssohn’s Roman Holiday
Fanny Mendelssohn

Visiting Italy may have been Fanny Mendelssohn’s lifelong dream, but based on a series of letters to brother Felix (dated New Year’s Day, 1840), the music she encountered there during a year-long visit with her husband and son left much to be desired:

“I haven’t experienced anything edifying since I’ve been in Italy… I heard the Papal singers three times – once in the Sistine Chapel on the first Sunday in Advent, once in the same place on Christmas Eve, and once in St. Peter’s basilica on Christmas Day – and I have to report that I was astounded that the performances were far from perfect. Right now they seem to lack good voices and sing completely out of tune.” 

In a later letter, Felix encouraged Fanny to “pay attention to the horrendous fifths the Papal singers make when all four voices are ornamented with coloratura at the same time” – to which she responded, “I already received a clear impression of Papal fifths at Christmas.” Luckily, Fanny’s Italian vacation would tremendously improve in the coming weeks.

At a Sunday evening dinner party, Fanny crossed paths with a young Charles Gounod, who had recently won the Prix de Rome. Gounod became a beloved companion to Fanny during her time in Rome (and garnered some of his earliest musical influences through the Mendelssohn siblings). 

Source: The Letters of Fanny Hensel to Felix Mendelssohn

Margaret Bonds and Langston Hughes’ Christmas Collaboration

Margaret Bonds fell in love with the poetry of Langston Hughes in 1929 while studying at Northwestern University, but it would be several years before the pair’s close friendship (and strong collaborative relationship) began.

After meeting at a mutual friend’s house, Hughes was invited to a Sunday afternoon musicale at Bonds’ family home. Bonds remembered this as the day the pair became “like brother and sister, like blood relatives.”

Both prominent figures in the Harlem Renaissance and outspoken advocates for Black artists, Bonds and Hughes constantly took inspiration from one another. Bonds went on to become a prolific composer, setting a massive amount of Hughes’ poetry to music. The most successful of their collaborations, the Christmas cantata The Ballad of the Brown King (1954), focuses on the story of the African king Balthazar – traditionally considered to be one of the Magi from the story of the Nativity

Originally conceived as a work for voice and piano, the premiere of a longer, orchestrated version was televised as part of the 1960 CBS Christmas special “Christmas U.S.A.” Hughes wasn’t able to make it to the initial rehearsals for the performance, but he expressed his excitement in a letter to Bonds: “Dear Margaret, George tells me our Ballad of the Brown King is be-au-ti-FUL!… I’ll be back in time for the performance of the Ballad, which I hear tell the CBS lady liked very much.” 

Video: The Dessoff Choirs: The Ballad Of The Brown King: IV. Mary Had A Little Baby (Bonds-Hughes)

Source: Margaret Bonds and Langston Hughes: A Musical Friendship, Georgetown University Library

Mozart’s Christmas Eve Duel with Muzio Clementi

At 25, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was confident that he was “the greatest pianist and composer in the world,” and he wouldn’t shy away from a chance to prove it. When Italian pianist Muzio Clementi happened to be in Vienna around Christmastime in 1781, Emperor Joseph II invited Mozart and Clementi to duke it out as part of the court’s Christmas Eve entertainment.

Clementi made the first move by playing his Sonata in B-flat Major, which Mozart followed with improvised variations on a march from André Grétry’s opera The Samnite Marriage (a theme provided to him on the spot). After an evening of stiff competition, no winner was declared, and both participants received an equal cash prize (though the Emperor later collected on a private wager in favor of Mozart with the Grand Duchess Maria Luisa).

After the duel, Clementi marveled over Mozart’s ability, later writing that he had “never heard anyone play with so much spirit and grace.” Mozart’s assessment of Clementi wasn’t quite so nice: “Clementi doesn’t have a Kreutzer’s worth of taste or feeling.” Ah, well. You can’t win them all.

Source: Music History Monday: The Mozart/Clementi Duel, Robert Greenberg

Sing We Joyous, All Together: Warm Holiday Concert Memories from the WDAV Staff

Though the holidays have slowed down significantly in 2020, we can’t help but smile when we think of the concerts that usually fill our calendars to the brim this time of year. Members of our staff share memories of holiday concerts past to warm our hearts until we can safely gather together again. 



Kendra Intihar

Kendra Intihar
Assistant General Manager & Director of Community Outreach

“I’ve seen some gorgeous holiday concerts, many of which were sponsored or hosted by WDAV, but my very favorite holiday concert was the 2019 Davidson College Holiday Gala because it was the first year my daughter was invited to dance to the orchestra and choir’s incredible performance of the Twelve Days of Christmas.

The Davidson College Holiday Gala is always a spectacular and moving production, and for many of us, it has become a tradition that makes the season really feel like Christmas.

I love Christmas music, I love ballet, and of course my daughter is the apple of my eye – to see those three loves mesh at the Gala last year is a memory that still brings me to joyful tears.

The arts make life so beautiful. I’m eagerly waiting for the 2021 Davidson College Holiday Gala when the world will hopefully be mended a little and we can enjoy performances like this one again!”



Mary Lathem

Mary Lathem
Marketing & Digital Communications Specialist

“One of the most familiar sounds of my childhood is the hum of my Dad’s favorite record, the 1959 Philadelphia Orchestra and Mormon Tabernacle Choir recording of Handel’s Messiah, wafting downstairs from his office (usually around Christmastime, but sometimes just because).

Needless to say, finding a live performance of the Messiah to attend has always been on the top of his to-do list around the holidays.

When he found out my community choir in Indiana was putting on a singalong version of the Messiah two years ago, he flew in from Georgia just to participate and spend the weekend with me, bringing along a copy of the score I had given him for Christmas the year before.

I couldn’t stop watching his face while he sang ‘Ev’ry Valley’ with the tenor section – pure joy! That day will always be one of my favorite Christmas memories, and one of my best memories in general.”



Frank Dominguez

Frank Dominguez
General Manager,
Host and Producer of Night Music and Concíerto

“My favorite holiday concert memory is of an event I helped WDAV produce back in 2009. A Carolina Christmas from Biltmore Estate with Kathy Mattea featured the Grammy-winning country singer for crossover appeal, but was also our first collaboration with David Tang and his chorus VOX, an association that continues to this day.

What made it most memorable for me, apart from the festive blend of musical styles, was that I got to work with my eldest child, Torie. She wrangled the more than fifty performers involved with the recording, which was made in the Banquet Hall before a live audience – all of it on a fairly warm, early September evening so that we would have plenty of time to mix and edit the audio for broadcast in December!”



Myelita Melton

Myelita Melton
Associate Producer of Concierto & Afternoon Host, Symphony at 6

“Several years ago I attended a New Year’s Eve concert with the Winston-Salem Symphony featuring Rhiannon Giddens. Watching her and Maestro Robert Moody improv while she sang and danced barefoot made for a magnificent holiday show.

When the balloons dropped at the stroke of midnight, the audience was all singing Auld Lang Syne, laughing, and hugging uncontrollably. Unforgettable!”



Jay Ahuja

Jay Ahuja
Corporate Sponsorship Representative

“In July of 2007, I was at a Public Radio conference in Reno, Nevada. I met two women who ran a business that arranged VIP concerts for radio station executives and contest winners. They mentioned that their next one was in November with Led Zeppelin in London. I jokingly said, ‘If you get a cancelation, let me know.’

Well, guitarist Jimmy Page broke his hand, so the concert was postponed to December and they had two seats come available. They gave me 24 hours to respond before they would move on to another prospect. I arranged to stay with friends in London, called a buddy who was single and had his own business, so he was able to quickly say yes, and found a reasonable, albeit cramped flight to London. Christmas in London: Harrod’s, Borough Market, the West End, the landmarks, pubs and museums – all are incredible.

Tickets came with transportation, a nice sit down dinner with an open bar in a VIP room at O2 Arena, and an after party with the opening bands, including Bill Wyman, Alan White, Keith Emerson, Chris Squire and Paolo Nutini. When the show started, Lenny Kravitz, Marilyn Manson and other musicians were seated a few rows behind us. Not only was it my favorite holiday concert, it remains my favorite concert of all time.”


The greatest composer? Perhaps. The unhealthiest? Indisputably.

By Lawrence Toppman

Plenty of noteworthy classical composers died young: Juan Arriaga at 19, Lili Boulanger at 24, Pergolesi at 26, Schubert at 31 (the year after he escorted Beethoven’s coffin to the cemetery), Mozart at 35, Purcell at 36, Mendelssohn at 38, Chopin at 39.

But of all those who lived a reasonably full span for their eras, none suffered like Beethoven. Even if you set aside his hearing loss, an extraordinary handicap for a musician, his life seems like a nearly uninterrupted arc of physical misery.

Stomach pains and diarrhea racked him from his teens, possibly because lead leached out of cooking utensils or cheap wines. (Lead had been added to wine to thicken it since Roman times.) For the next 40 years, until he died at 56, these agonies never left him for long.

Friends who knew Beethoven best tolerated his emotional attacks and outbursts – often followed by apologies and repentance – because they knew his melancholy and depression sprang at least partly from pain. Others merely wrote him off wrongly as a misanthrope.

He ultimately endured colic, pancreatitis, what seems to have been an inflammatory bowel disorder, respiratory problems, joint pain, eye inflammation, chronic headaches, tinnitus and cirrhosis of the liver, aggravated by alcohol abuse. Meanwhile, useless treatments for his deafness included the application of leeches and the tourniquet-like fastening of bark from the Daphne mezereum plant to his forearms, which caused them to blister and burn.

Beethoven remained bedridden for months before his death in March 1827, which has been attributed by various sources to liver and kidney failure, peritonitis (inflammation of the fluid lining the abdomen) and encephalopathy, which would explain his disordered mental state.

Only a year earlier, he had composed the serene String Quartet in F, his 16th and last in that form. In his final months, though, he merely jotted notes for a piano piece that never took shape because he lacked the stamina to finish it.

Miraculously, like Mozart writing “The Magic Flute” in ill health months before his death, Beethoven produced some of his happiest music during his unhappiest times. His liver problems intensified as he finished the Ninth Symphony in 1824, yet the final “Ode to Joy” remains the most thrilling 15 minutes he composed. He separated physical agonies from the uplifting beauty he left to the world.

Audio: The Life and Times of Beethoven

Learn what shaped Beethoven’s music through a series of short audio anecdotes from Lawrence Toppman’s collection of posts marking 250 years since Ludwig van Beethoven’s birth. Topics include how he composed some of his greatest works as his hearing declined, why his greatest opera Fidelio had no memorable tunes, how he bombarded audiences with his genius to prove a point, and more.

What the Deaf Man Heard
Most think Beethoven went deaf relatively early, but new evidence suggests Beethoven might have retained partial hearing up to a year before his death.

Read more

The Grim Beethoven?
After studying 46 images online of Beethoven, every painting, sculpture and drawing has one thing in common: He’s never smiling.

Read more

A Disastrous Outpouring of Genius
“One can easily have too much of a good thing – and still more of a loud.”

Read more

The Greatest Opera with No Tunes
How can the most brilliant of Beethoven’s operas not have more memorable tunes?

Read more

The Journey that Saved Beethoven’s Life
Beethoven poured his thoughts into a document that starts with a plea for understanding and ends in his commitment to art

Read more


The Holidays at Home: Your 2020 guide to local, streamable, festive fun

Though we’re all missing the warmth of in-person festive events this year, there’s no shortage of holiday magic here in the Carolinas! The local organizations and ensembles you love have worked tirelessly to bring you streamable options for a holiday season like no other, including newly imagined annual traditions, concerts and events for all tastes, and laid-back activities for the whole family. Use this listing as your day-by-day guide to spirited holiday offerings from the community to your living room (pajamas and hot cocoa not included). 

Visit our Events Calendar for even more exciting options. Are you hosting a local, streamable, holiday-themed event? Email us to inquire about adding your event to this listing! 

Ongoing Events

12 Days of Christmas in Davidson
(now through December 12)
“Support local businesses and enjoy a socially distanced, hometown holiday!” 12 days of streamable and socially distanced events. Visit the Christmas in Davidson website for more information. 

Winston Salem Symphony’s A Carolina Christmas: UNWRAPPED! 
“Join us as we unwrap Christmas one carol at a time! Celebrate the holidays with your cherished Symphony family and with a jazz band fronted by star vocalist Martha Bassett of The Martha Bassett Show!” This concert is available on demand through December 28.
This is a ticketed event. Find tickets here

Thursday, December 10

Western Piedmont Symphony Watch Party: Home for the Holidays
FREE | 7:30 PM
“Maestro Matthew Troy dives into the history of some of your favorite holiday tunes! Get cozy with a cup of hot chocolate and enjoy some seasonal favorites.” Register here

Blumenthal Performing Arts: Home for the Holidays
FREE | 6:00 PM
“Join us via live stream for an engaging discussion featuring four artists who pursued their Broadway and professional theater dreams! Learn about their unique paths in the industry, what it typically feels like to work in professional theatre during the holidays, and what each is doing while theatres are dark.”

Friday, December 11

Temple Solel presents The Hanukkah Experience with The Ruach
FREE | 7:00 PM
“Well, no matter how you spell it, you won’t want to miss this modern celebration of the Festival of Lights. We are very excited to be hosting an online musical Chanukah service with the fantastic band, The Ruach.” Watch on YouTube

The Choir School at St. Peter’s: Sing We Christmas
7:30 PM
“A beloved Charlotte holiday tradition comes directly to your living room this December. Streaming on-demand starting December 11, Sing We Christmas features familiar Christmas favorites and new repertoire from The Choir School that are sure to put you in the holiday spirit.”
This is an on-demand ticketed event. Pre-order here

Saturday, December 12

Mint Museum: A Family Christmas with Criss Cross Mangosauce
FREE | 11:00 AM
“Criss Cross Mangosauce uses a combination of Spanish and English to teach young children the joys of reading and making music.This December, celebrate Christmas and Día de las Velitas (Day of the Little Candles), a Colombian celebration that marks the beginning of the Christmas season! This event will premiere live on our Facebook page and Youtube channel.”

Carolina Voices: The Singing Christmas Tree
FREE | 7:00 PM
“Not even a pandemic can put a damper on Charlotte’s hometown favorite holiday tradition as the 66th Annual Singing Christmas Tree goes virtual for 2020! There’s nothing ho hum about this hour-long spectacular as we put the HO HO HO in HOME for the HOLIDAYS!” Learn how to stream this event here

Charlotte Symphony: At Home for the Holidays
7:30 PM
“Deck the halls and trim the tree – your CSO is coming home for Christmas! This lively program is chock full of holiday cheer, streamed right to your living room.” This is a ticketed event. Find tickets here.

UNCSA: “The Nutcracker” Opening Night Scholarship Benefit
7:30 PM
“The timeless tale of ‘The Nutcracker’ steps into the present in the world premiere of the popular annual holiday tradition, newly created for film by the schools of Dance, Design & Production, Filmmaking and Music.” Learn more about the Opening Night Benefit and purchase an all access pass here. The event will be available to stream free of charge starting December 17. 

Sunday, December 13

Hickory Choral Society Virtual Christmas Concert
FREE | 3:00 PM
Enjoy beautiful Christmas music in the comfort and safety of your home! This free virtual choir concert will be available to stream on the Hickory Choral Society’s YouTube page

Reynolda House Virtual Event: Memories of A Christmas Memory
3:00 PM
“If not for COVID-19, 2020 would’ve been Robin Voiers’ 34th consecutive year of performing Christmas Memory at Reynolda. While we can’t join one another in the auditorium for a traditional one-woman performance, you can join Robin remotely to learn about her journey as an artist and educator. Phil Archer, deputy director, will share archival recording clips and moderate a discussion with Voiers as she shares her memories of Christmas Memory.” This is a ticketed event. Find tickets here

Catawba College Lessons & Carols Christmas Concert
FREE | 7:00 PM
“You are invited to begin your Christmas season by viewing Catawba College’s 33rd annual Service of Lessons and Carols in the beautifully decorated Omwake-Dearborn Chapel from the comfort of your home. The service will be livestreamed on Sunday, December 13 at 7pm, and the recording of the service will remain accessible at Catawba’s YouTube channel, website, and other social media platforms.”

Monday, December 14

CSO Healing Hands: Sounds of the Season
FREE | 11:00 AM
“Join the Healing Hands Laurel Trio for a selection of your Holiday favorites… a one-hour, interactive virtual performance that includes conversation from the musicians and the opportunity to ask questions.”
Registration is required. Register here

Wednesday, December 16

WDAV and Pamela Howland present Christmas with Beethoven
FREE | 7:00 PM
Pianist Pamela Howland joins WDAV for a special virtual concert celebrating both the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth and the beginning of the holiday season! Pamela will showcase selections from her new album “Christmas with Beethoven,” featuring her arrangements of classic Christmas carols – reimagined to represent how Beethoven might have played them. This concert will stream live on WDAV’s Facebook page.

Theatre Charlotte: A Christmas Carol
Times and dates vary (streaming available through 1/1/21, outdoor performances through 12/20/20)
“Theatre Charlotte’s holiday tradition for 14 years! Return to the streets of London this holiday season in the classic tale of hard-hearted Ebenezer Scrooge, visited by four ghosts: Jacob Marley and the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future. The spirits gradually warm old Scrooge’s heart, as well as ours.” This is a ticketed event. Find tickets here

Thursday, December 17

Charlotte Mecklenburg Library’s Family Storytime: Kwanzaa with Mother Minter
FREE | 11:00 AM
“Join us for Family Storytime on Thursday, December 17 at 11:00am. Today we will be learning about and celebrating Kwanzaa with special presenter, Mother Minter. Make & Takes will be provided at Hickory Grove Library for children to participate in the activities from home.” Registration is required by 10 AM on December 16. Register here

Davidson Village Network: December Stay at Home Live Holiday Zoom Concert 
FREE | 3:00 PM
“Gather around Zoom (or your phone) for Davidson Village Network’s December Stay at Home Live Holiday Zoom Concert featuring Bill Ward!” This concert features selections for Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa.”  Join via Zoom or by phone (limited): (781) 448-4805, PIN: 73153

Saturday, December 19

Carolina Pro Musica Christmas
FREE | 7:00 PM
“Our annual Holiday concert featuring 18th-century music with period instruments and voices, carol for all, and readings of the season featuring Bob Sweeten. Join us on YouTube for our holiday special.”

North Carolina Symphony: Holiday Pops with Jingles the Elf
7:00 PM
“Back by popular demand, the hilarious Jingles the Elf joins the Symphony for a family Christmas concert bringing joy, fun, and holiday spirit to everyone!” This is a ticketed event. Find tickets here

Charlotte Symphony: The Story of the Nutcracker
7:30 PM
“Gather the whole family as Tchaikovsky’s classic comes to life this holiday season! Join Resident Conductor Christopher James Lees and your CSO for the story of The Nutcracker paired with the beautiful music we all know and love. This one-hour program is perfect for families with young children!” This is a ticketed event. Find tickets here.

Sunday, December 20

Centenary United Methodist Church: Festival of Nine Lessons & Carols
FREE | 5:00 PM
“Centenary United Methodist Church in Winston-Salem invites you to their virtual ‘Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols.’ Music will be offered by the Centenary Chamber Singers, The Winston-Salem Girls Chorus, The Carillonnuers, The West End Ringers and chamber orchestra.” Stream here

Monday, December 21

Charlotte Children’s Choir at Arts+ Virtual Concert
7:00 PM
More information will be available soon at this link

Tuesday, December 29

Reynolda House Virtual Event: Toast to 2021
7:00 PM
“Clink — the holiday season isn’t over until you’ve enjoyed a special beverage to ring in the New Year. Join Reynolda and The Katharine Brasserie as we re-imagine champagne cocktails from Mary Reynolds Babcock’s own recipe book, A Lady of Good Taste. Log in from the comfort of your home, we’ll send the ingredient list in advance so you can play mixologist along with us.” This is a ticketed event. Find tickets here. 

Friday, January 1, 2021

Charlotte Symphony’s A Baroque Celebration: Old World / New Year
7:30 PM
“Join your CSO for a celebration of Baroque music, fit for the New Year! This program includes wonders from Vivaldi and Telemann, and features concertmaster Calin Lupanu performing Piazzolla’s Verano from The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires.” This is a ticketed event. Find tickets here.

Friday, January 8, 2021

Virtual Jazz at the Bechtler: Post-Holiday Blues
7:00 PM
“The best cure for the post-holiday blues is always the Ziad Jazz Quartet and Jazz at the Bechtler! All the merriment of the season is over and it’s back to the new normal. It’s hard not to get the blues, so why fight it? The Ziad Jazz Quartet will perform their annual post-holiday blues concert which will consist of songs that reflect the ‘many shades of blues’ in jazz.” More information to come here.

Photo by Kool Shooters from Pexels


Ten underrated pieces you should know

By Lawrence Toppman

I compiled a similar list last year for Mozart and enjoyed that journey of rediscovery so much that I’m revisiting the concept. It’s harder for Beethoven: No symphonies or concertos have been overlooked (he wrote too few), and he composed only one opera and one great church work, the Missa Solemnis. Still, treasures remain hidden to the casual fan. Check these out:

Piano trio No. 3 – How many pieces did Beethoven write before Op. 1? This sounds like a trick question, but the answer is dozens. He decided to call his first set of three piano trios Op. 1, because they represented the achievement of a composer ready to make his mark on the world. All are worth knowing, but this one in C minor has the most weight and drive.

“Ah, Perfido!” – For his first major attempt at dramatic vocal music, Beethoven wrote a concert aria of the type favored by Haydn and Mozart. Of course, he made this plaint of an abandoned yet still faithful lover nearly twice as long as theirs at 14 minutes. You hear glimmers of the nobly powerful emotions he would put into Leonore and Florestan’s outpourings in “Fidelio.”

Cello sonata No. 3 – The first piece by Beethoven I studied seriously 50 years ago sticks in my mind as one of his most beautiful, alternately serene and tumultuous. He never wrote a cello concerto, but this sonata – the middle one of five – shows he understood the instrument’s capacities. It’s also his first “with piano” sonata that gives an equal role to the keyboard.

Choral Fantasy – This odd hybrid has never found an audience, but I like it both as a kind of dry run for the Ninth Symphony and on its own wild merits. The long, virtuosic piano introduction leads into a vivid orchestral section and then an uplifting finale for a chorus, which sings about beauty, peace, divine grace and “life’s harmonies,” themes he revisited in his “Ode to Joy.”

Piano Sonata No. 7 – You’ve probably heard the named sonatas – “Moonlight,” “Pathetique,” “Appassionata,” etc. – so I picked this one, though all 32 reward a hearing. Here Beethoven broke away from earlier models, writing four movements instead of three and experimenting with unusual key changes. The second section (largo) hints at tragic slow movements to come.

String quartet No. 10 (“Harp”) – Like the piano sonatas, all the string quartets command attention. I chose this one because it balances Beethoven’s romantic and classical sides so well: The heroic opening movement leads us to expect something other than the traditionally constructed theme and variations of the finale. You can’t pin Beethoven down by style or era.

“The Ruins of Athens” – Beethoven wrote more incidental music for plays and ballets than people realize, and this set – best heard in the revised version with the “Consecration of the House” overture — contains not only his famous Turkish March but a Chorus of Dervishes that’s astonishingly forward-looking. It would be at home in a Rimsky-Korsakov opera of the 1890s.

Serenade for strong trio, Op. 8 – He also wrote many pieces of occasional music to be played at social gatherings, which earned him lots of money (notably his early Septet) and which he later downplayed. This may be the best: elegant, dancelike (both a minuet and a polonaise), starting and ending with sweet-tempered marches. No masterwork, just polished craftsmanship.

“Rage Over a Lost Penny” – Beethoven’s rough, crude sense of humor in person occasionally popped up in his writing, frequently transformed into something more sophisticated: You can hear musical witticisms throughout the Diabelli Variations. “Rage” catches him at his most puckish, as the pianist merrily vents his frustration at being unable to locate a dropped coin.

Concerto for violin, cello and piano – OK, I picked a concerto, because this seldom gets played. It seems at first like a stunt – look how cleverly I weave three soloists into a pattern! – but it’s lively, charming, fun. No other 19th-century composer attempted one, but about 30 composers have taken a shot over the last 100 years. That’s Beethoven: perennially fresh and inspirational.

Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate, Chickasaw classical composer

Pictured: Jerod Impichchaachaaha Tate/©ALANAROTHSTEIN.COM

Friday, November 27 is Native American Heritage Day. In celebration, we’re highlighting the Chickasaw classical composer Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate, an acclaimed artist “dedicated to the development of American Indian classical composition.” Jerod is one of countless Native American, American Indian, and Indigenous artists to leave a lasting impact on the classical music art form. You can read more about these musicians and find additional resources at the end of this article. 

Are the terms “Native American” and “American Indian” interchangeable?
While both terms are frequently used, identity is personal, and no single term will work best for everyone. Though some identify with terms like Native American, American Indian, or Indigenous, many people identify with tribal names or traditional ways of referring to one another. Jerod Tate has expressed that his identity is American Indian, specifically a member of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma. Want to make sure you get someone’s identity right? Ask them! 

Video: Jerod Tate – Chickasaw Classical Composer
A Musical Upbringing

Chickasaw classical composer Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate’s earliest years were steeped in the arts. Born and raised in Oklahoma, Jerod was immediately immersed in theater and dance through his parents: his mother, a professional dancer and choreographer, often brought Jerod along to rehearsals, and his father, a Chickasaw tribal judge, lawyer, and classically trained baritone, introduced him to Bach and Rachmaninoff. 

In a National Endowment for the Arts feature, Jerod noted that he “was probably two or three months into piano lessons when I announced to my parents I was going to be a concert pianist.” Years later, Jerod earned a BM in Piano Performance from Northwestern University with the intention of doing just that. In fact, he never imagined a career in composition until after his undergraduate studies, when his mother asked him to write music for an original ballet based on American Indian stories

“It was the first time I actually thought of marrying the two very strong identities that I have,” Jerod recalled in an interview with Minnesota Public Radio. “One is being a Chickasaw Indian, and the other one is being a classical musician. My mother presented the perfect opportunity for me to express both of those together.” Jerod completed the ballet, Winter Moons, during the first semester of his MM studies at the Cleveland Institute of Music and took the next semester off to tour the work with his mother. Encouraged by an enthusiastic response from both his American Indian and classical music communities, Jerod explains that he “decided specifically to become an American Indian classical composer… everything that I compose is based on American Indian history and culture.”

The More You Know: Jerod’s middle name, Impichchaachaaha’ (IM-pi-chuh-CHA-ha), is an inherited Chickasaw house name meaning “his high corncrib.” A corncrib is “a small hut used for the storage of corn and other vegetables.

Development and Notable Works

Though Jerod felt enormous pressure when he began to compose American Indian classical music, he was inspired by the way composers like Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky, and Bartók incorporated their identities into their music. Jerod was particularly influenced by Bartók, who he describes as “the first ethnomusicologist that was aware of his own folk music; he did it so naturally and so joyfully that I felt the same impulse to do the same thing from where I come from.” 

Though his music is written in Western classical forms and styles, Jerod weaves songs, dances, instrumentation, percussive patterns, and other musical traditions from American Indian cultures into everything he composes.  He is also passionate about the representation of American Indian languages and stories in the classical music realm: 

“I have incredible pride in bringing American Indian identity onto the classical stage, and I love bringing our languages into the same stage as Latin, Italian, French, Chinese, and Russian… I have written pieces in a lot of different tribal languages, and I am very, very on fire in my passion for bringing our language and culture to the concert stage. We belong there, just like we belong in a genetic engineering lab or in agriculture changing the world, just like we do being astronauts. We belong on the concert stage as well.”


In 2008, Jerod’s work Iholba’ made history as the first time the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra had performed a work in any Native American language. Recent works include Chokfi’ (2018), a character sketch for youth orchestra based on “an important trickster legend,” and Muscogee Hymn Suite (2017), “an orchestration of three traditional Muscogee (Creek) church hymns.” As a film composer, Jerod has scored numerous documentaries and feature films including “Searching for Sequoyah” (2020) and “To the Wonder” (2012). A full list of Jerod’s works can be found here

Describing identity as “the most important thing to every human alive,” Jerod is proud to represent his Chickasaw culture through his music.  “I encourage composers to find their personal identity,” Jerod explained in an interview with the Dallas Morning News. “I believe that human beings are born brilliant and creative. There are 8 billion people, and there are 8 billion ways to be creative.”

Video: Chokfi’, by Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate – Seattle Pacific University Orchestra
Awards, Acclaim, and Recent Projects

Earlier this year, Jerod premiered the commissioned work Ghost of the White Deer, a bassoon concerto based on the story of a young American Indian hunter, with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. In 2018, his music was selected to be featured on the hit HBO series Westworld.

A sought after artist, Jerod has received commissions from numerous symphony orchestras and organizations including the National Symphony Orchestra, the American Composers Forum, and Chamber Music America. He is the recipient of the Cleveland Institute of Music Alumni Achievement Award, an Emmy award winner for his work on the documentary “The Science of Composing,” and a governor-appointed Creativity Ambassador for the State of Oklahoma. 

Outside of his composition career, Jerod has performed with the Broadway national tours of Les Misérables and Miss Saigon as First Keyboard and has regularly served as a guest pianist and accompanist for ballet and dance companies. He is the founder and artistic director of the Chickasaw Chamber Music Festival and has been an adjunct instructor at OKlahoma City University since 2011. 

Jerod’s accomplishments as a composer are multifaceted and numerous, making it impossible to include every important detail in this article. A more complete list can be found at his official website.

Video: Standing Bear: A Ponca Indian Cantata in Eight Tableaux
Sources and Further Reading

Official Website – Jerod Tate

Art Talk with Composer Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate (National Endowment for the Arts)

Jerod Impichaachaaha Tate: Native Composer (New Music Box)

Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate (Wikipedia)

Composer Jerod Tate will bring American Indian legend to the Dallas Symphony (Dallas News)

Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate coloring page (WDAV’s Coloring Classical Music activity page)

Spotify playlist
  1. Tracing Mississippi: Shilombish Anompoli’ (Talking Spirits) – Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate, San Francisco Symphony
  2. Tracing Mississippi: IV. Hashi’ Hiloha (Sun Thunder) –  Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate, San Francisco Symphony
  3. Pisachi (You See) – Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate
  4. Iholba’ (The Vision): II. Iholba’ (The Vision) – Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate, San Francisco Symphony
Additional Resources

Native American classical composers charting new musical territory (The National Museum of the American Indian)

Teaching Appreciation and Understanding for Native American Music and Culture (Video)

Chickasaw Chamber Music Festival

Native American Composer Apprentice Project

Louis Wayne Ballard (1931 – 2007)

Raven Chacon

Dawn Avery, Mystic Cellist & Vocalist

Brent Michael Davids