Musicians are fascinated by the work of other musicians, and none more so than composers, and it makes no difference whether the other musicians ply the same trade or some other corner of the musical universe.
In Hawaii, Jeff Peterson plays traditional Hawaiian slack-key guitar but he can also comp in a jazz band, and when Bernadette and I married he happily performed a solo guitar realization of the theme from Brahms’ “Variations on a Theme of Haydn.” Willie K delights his traditional Hawaiian fan base by belting out opera arias, and can also scat like Ella Fitzgerald, while singing outright blues on his most recent “Sunrise” appearance. Jake Shimabukuro has recorded one of the Bach inventions. Barry Flanagan of Hapa recorded a tune from Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue” album. The point is not so much that these musicians are fascinated by pieces despite their being in other genres, as that they are drawn to music in other genres, in the same way that a person with a car and some free time will turn down an unfamiliar road just to see where it goes.
Classical composers have a long history of stepping out of their comfort zones, sometimes by arranging pieces by other composers of very different temperament. This proclivity forms part, but only part, of this weekend’s edition of “Howard’s Day Off,” which is about famous musicians doing things they are not famous for.
Arnold Schoenberg, notorious for his 12-tone method of composition, always had mixed feelings about his reputation as a revolutionary. He sought it out, but, having gained it, spent the rest of his life protesting that his music was still just a logistical extension of the traditional classical music line. On several occasions he returned to tonal composition without apology, and for every time he worked out an original theme in this manner, there were several occasions on which he arranged the tonal music of others. In the first hour of the show this week I’ll play Schoenberg arrangements of music by Brahms and Handel.
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