There has been an awful lot of anguished moaning, of late, from the throats of classical music lovers over the threatened elimination of their baby by the ruthless rockers and rappers. Where have all the operas gone, the symphonies, the concertos, the preludes, the overtures, the undertures and the rest of the joyful noises?
From once-mightly classical radio stations now comes little but the sound of silence. In place of thundering organ tones, there is only the plaintive piping of the piccolo. Is there no shame? Are there no independent cultural counsels to investigate this matter?
I was all set to join the mournful chorus, when a strange thing occurred. There I was one evening, lounging in front of the TV, watching yet another challenging sitcom, when the action was about to be interrupted by a commercial. As is my fiendish habit, I reached for my trusty remote control. Now, usually my trigger finger hits the right button dead-on. This time, perhaps deflected by a higher power, it missed.
The commercial, created by a major hotel chain, showed a gang of happily smiling carpenters, plumbers, welders and painters renovating the hotel's facilities.
And egging them on were the celestial strains of "Ode to Joy," by none other than Ludwig van Beethoven. Really.
Naturally, I was transfixed. And then, inexorably, I was transformed. Just like that - cold turkey - I stopped blotting out commercials.
My attention was well-rewarded. Sure, some of the frantic samples of the genre assaulted my senses down to the nerve ends. But the others cuddled my soul.
One time, the portentous opening chords of Richard Strauss' "Thus Spake Zarathustra" heralded the appearance of a brass polishing agent. Another time, gleaming automobiles careened across the screen to the racy accompaniment of Khachaturian's "Saber Dance." Next, an investment company cajoled clients with a Mozart piano concerto.
And so it went. Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" commanded us to buy a certain brand of air filters, as if to say, "Show us the money or Brunhilde will get you." In a softer vein, the same composer's overture to "Lohengrin" sought to encourage the purchase of plump chickens. (This one seemed a trifle out of tune, considering the only fowl in that opera is a swan, but who cares?)
A computer outfit presented its peerless wares to the lilt of Tchaikovsky's "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy." And just as I was wondering what happened to Beethoven, up he popped again, this time hawking a fine wine with the victory-promising opening bars of his Fifth Symphony. You know - da-da-da-dah.
I was beginning to worry lest I'd somehow missed a bit of Mozart while listening to Rossini's "Barber of Seville" pushing a new brand of lawn fertilizer, when the irrepressible Wolfgang chimed in once more, selling some foreign car with the aid of Papageno's aria from "The Magic Flute."
A modest amount of channel-surfing offered a nice change of LTC mood. An electronics firm was ushering in its countless gadgets to the ominous advance of the evil gnomes in Grieg's "Hall of the Mountain King."
I had not been aware that New York's canals rivaled those of Venice until a tourist commercial enlightened me with a romantic couple boating ecstatically to the passionate sound of Puccini's "Vissi D'Arte" from "Tosca." But my cup did not run over until I chanced upon the silvery surge of the "Marriage of Figaro" overture. In his wildest dreams, could Mozart ever have imagined himself as a pitchman for frozen fish cakes? With him, we can't be sure.
The point is, classical music is far from dead. It is alive and well, thanks to the culturally beneficent corporations of America. They should be saluted with all kinds of fanfares. There is one minor catch, though - I have trouble remembering the names of the products while I am suffused with all that great music.
I hope to recall them as time goes by.
Meanwhile, I'm going out to buy a sackful of CDs. You can never have enough of a good thing.
Hans Knight is a former reporter for the Philadelphia Bulletin and editorial writer for the Harrisburg Patriot News. His free-lance writing is widely published in the New York Times, The Sun and other publications.
Pub Date: 4/19/98