A Beatles Concerto, by John Rutter, and More: Notes on a Music Podcast


A fan holds a poster of the Beatles outside a hotel in Lima, Peru, the day before Paul McCartney performed in Lima, in May 2011. (Pilar Olivares / Reuters)

Recently, a musician friend wrote me, “I just learned today that Rutter wrote a Beatles concerto. I need to go back to music school.”

I’ll be darned. John Rutter is the English composer best known for choral works of a spiritual nature. In the late 1970s, he wrote The Beatles Concerto, for two pianos and orchestra. Consisting of three movements, it incorporates Beatles songs. For instance, the first movement has “She Loves You,” “Eleanor Rigby,” “Yesterday,” “All My Loving,” and “Hey, Jude.” For good measure, it has some Rachmaninoff.

The concerto is very clever — practically ingenious. In the latest episode of my Music for a While, I play that first movement. (I should specify: I play a recording of it!)

A good deal of this episode responds to reader mail, or rather, listener mail. A listener put me on to Lee Wiley, who was born in Oklahoma in 1908 and died in New York City in 1975. “She is a now-forgotten torch singer,” said our listener. “If you have time for only one tune, give a listen to ‘Sugar.’ You will know heaven for a while.”

It is sweet indeed.

Another listener put me on to Anna Case, a soprano from New Jersey, who was an early star of the Metropolitan Opera. She was a composer, too — and in 1917 wrote Metropolitan Rag.

Incidentally, the fellow who wrote, or co-wrote, “Sugar”? He also co-wrote “Sweet Georgia Brown.” I am speaking of Maceo Pinkard (1897–1962). He was born in Bluefield, W.V. Graduated from the Bluefield Colored Institute. Died in New York City.

Is “Sweet Georgia Brown” the best song ever? It’s right up there. In my podcast, I say,

I know so many recordings of this classic, of so many different types. Vocal, instrumental; slow, fast. I love so many of these recordings. I’m going to play one of the best instrumental ones — starring Ed Hall, that amazing clarinetist.

Before I let you get on with it, I’d like to quote the beginning of my show:

Recently, I wanted to hear some Rodion Shchedrin. Shchedrin is the Russian composer born in 1932. He was married to the late Maya Plisetskaya, one of the greatest ballerinas in history. Specifically, I wanted to hear his Piano Concerto No. 1, written in 1954. More specifically than that, I wanted to hear its second movement — the Scherzo-Toccata, marked “Molto vivo.”

It sure is — “molto vivo,” very lively.

I happen to know Shchedrin a bit. And I sent him a note, telling him how much I loved listening to this music again. How happy it made me. Nice to be able to tell a composer that, you know? Wish I could tell, for example, Schubert.

Again, the latest Music for a While is here.


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