October 28, birthday of Agnes Caroline Thaarup Obel (b. 1980)

Agnes Caroline Thaarup Obel is a Berlin-based Danish singer/songwriter. Since Wikipedia doesn’t list many women composers, I also search it for singer-songwriters on any given day. Agnes grew up in a musical household. Her mother played Bartok and Chopin and she learned to play piano at a very early age. Her piano teacher told her to only play things she liked, which is probably why she stayed with it. This piece is nice and atmospheric, which is usually what I listen for first in any new piece of music. I found two versions of it on Youtube, one really trippy and the other a bit more poppy. I like them both. How about you?

Fuel to Fire

Fuel to Fire (Official Video)

October 20, birthday of Sandra Dickinson

Today’s composer should bring a few smiles to the faces of my British readers.  The composer Sandra Dickinson, a British-American actress, born in Washington, DC, grew up near here in Maryland, and moved to England where she has had an interesting career.  Fans of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” will recognize her as Trillian, the earth woman Zaphod Beeblebrox picks up on earth, stealing her away from Dent, Arthur Dent.

For her second marriage, she married the fifth Doctor Who, Peter Davidson.  After their divorce, she married Mark Osmond, another British singer/actor.

Before “Hitchhiker’s” she made her debut on British television in a commercial for Bird’s Eye Beefburgers, directed by Alan Parker (who later did Pink Floyd’s “The Wall.”)  In the 1980s, she and Davidson composed the theme to a children’s television show named “Button Moon.”

Birdseye Beef Burger: “Ganster 1970”

Theme from Button Moon

October 19, birthday of Yoko Shimomura

Today feature is Sinfonia Drammatica Yoko Shimomura, a Japanese composer, most noted for her compositions for videogames.  She has been described as “the most famous female video game music composer in the world,” and her works have been performed by symphony orchestras in Paris and Mexico City.

“Legend of Mana : Title Theme”

Dearly Beloved from Kingdom Hearts

October 18, birthday of Lotte Lenya


Today I feature Lotte Lenya, whom I believe I first saw in the role of Rosa Klebb, in the James Bond movie, Dr. No From Russia With Love” (Thanks Marie Marshall!).  It might have been my brother Bob, who said, “That’s Lotte Lenya.  She was the wife of Kurt Weill.”  Now Weill I knew because my father was Hungarian.  The connection is Ernie Kovacs a Hungarian-American, who seized on the power of the new medium, television, and created absurdist and surrealistic sketches that must have inspired the crew of Monty Python.  So, what’s the connection to Weill?  A running gag on Kovac’s show was his blackout sight gags which appeared periodically on the screen that had an oscilloscope streaming a  version of Weill’ “Die Moritat von Mackie Messer” (Mack the Knife) from Die Dreigroschenoper (3 Penny Opera) sung in a very exaggerated manner by a German comedian named Wolfgan Neuss.  Here is an example:

Lenya married Weill in the 1920s in Germany after starring in the 3 Penny Opera in the role of Pirate Jenny. After that she became a famous stage and film star until she and Weill fled Germany after the National Socialists (i.e., Nazis) came to power. They settled in New York and lived for a time in Connecticut. After Weill died, she reprised a number of his songs, but my favorites is still Pirate Jenny’s song.

“Seeräuber Jenny” (Pirate Jenny)

A tribute to my brother, Bob Nemes. Frank Zappa: “Status Back Baby” from Absolutely Free

Dear Gentle Readers.

Did you know that fundraising, giving, and receiving gifts improves our health, makes us happy, and is good for our communities?  Today I’m reaching out to you to ask you to be happy and give a gift to my brother Bob, who’s battling stage 4 colon cancer.  Bob is the big-hearted guy in the line up of us Nemes siblings below.  Please take a moment to read about his campaign and please consider making a contribution, no matter how small.  Your gift will directly improve the quality of his life, I guarantee.



Bob has been a great inspiration to me, exposing me to art, music and culture when I was a kid, being a hard-working father who raised two amazing daughters and a son, and always striving for self-awareness and spiritual growth.  He introduced me to today’s piece which I originally wrote back in 2000.  Love you Bob and all who follow The Musical Almanac

Frank Zappa: “Status Back Baby” from Absolutely Free

Die-hard classical purists would say “Frank Zappa didn’t write classical music.” Or “He’s a performer, not a composer.” Zappa claimed in his autobiography that the reason he became a rock musician was so that he could bankroll his classical aspirations. In his last years, he focused less on rock concerts and spent his time writing pieces that saw performances by the London Symphony Orchestra, Pierre Boulez, and the German group, Ensemble Modern. The reason he is the subject today is because as a boy, I heard the second album he ever released and recently, as an adult, the last recorded during his lifetime. What strikes me now comparing the two is how he good a musician he really was, and in my mind, I put him in the category of Kurt Weill.

Zappa released Absolutely Free in 1967. I just happened to be in my brother Bob’s room one day when Tim Labuda, his best friend, burst in holding an album. Tim, who looked like a beat poet with a goatee (and I think he even wore a beret) said “You’ve got to listen to this.” They let me stay, and though I didn’t have a very highly developed sense of sarcasm back then, I was interested to hear lyrics making fun of high school cheer leaders along with quite interesting music that didn’t sound like your average pop record of the day.

As mentioned earlier, I used to sneak into Bob’s room when he wasn’t there and Absolutely Free was one of the albums I used to play again and again. One song became my favorite “Status Back Baby,” which lampooned vapid cheerleaders from the point of view of a boy who doesn’t fit in because he doesn’t care about high school spirit. At one point, the song breaks into an instrumental interlude, which sounded like nothing I’d ever heard before. Seven years later in college, when I first heard Stravinski’s “Petrushka” I realized Zappa had lifted the first movement from that ballet score. That made me return to Zappa and I casually followed his career from then on, buying just a few albums of the scores that he released. Another song on Absolutely Free, “Plastic People,” became the anthem of the “Velvet Revolution” in Czechoslovakia that brought an end to twenty years of communist rule.

During the 1980s, Zappa became interested in politics and free speech and even testified in hearings before congress against labeling rock albums with parental warning stickers. In the late ’80s he toured again, and I went to see him perform at the Warner Theatre in Washington, D.C. Though Zappa’s ensemble performed some rock standards, the concert seemed more like a cabaret show than anything else. At one point, they broke into a musical skit satirizing Ed Meese, head of the Justice Department, who had announced an additive that the federal government was going to start putting in prisoners’ food to keep them docile. Zappa saw this as fascistic, as he did censorship and big business.

Around this time, I read his autobiography, in which he described his early musical influences–Stravinski, Messiaen, and Varese. He bemoaned the fact that people writing serious music often couldn’t get their works performed. The reason is that new music is often difficult to play, which requires extra rehearsal time for orchestras and that makes the pieces prohibitively expensive to produce. Still at the end of his life, the Frankfurt Music Festival honored him, placing him in the same category as John Cage and Stockhausen. His last album Yellow Shark consists of a performance of his works by the Ensemble Modern at that festival. One of the pieces, “G spot Tornado” is so accessible that it could become part of the basic repertoire for orchestras.

Thinking about Zappa also makes me wonder what has happened to classical music. Before composers became cult figures, musicians often improvised. We’re told nowadays that renaissance musicians were kind of like modern jazz performers. They had a basic melody and some musical conventions, but they were free to do their own thing within that framework. Maybe that is why renaissance music has become popular of late: it is beautiful, but it also has a fresh spontaneity to it that you often don’t find in huge, ponderous, symphonic pieces.

European audiences and musicians took Frank Zappa more seriously than American, who didn’t quite know how to categorize him. Zappa was a kind of iconoclast, who never minced words when criticizing people he thought of as vain and stupid. Thus he angered just about everyone. For example, he referred to rock journalists as ”people who can’t write interviewing people who can’t talk for people who can’t read.” He also criticized what he thought of as stodgy classical musicians, orchestras, and conductors who didn’t perform his work. Still, he never seemed to compromise his principles, and he did get through to a number of people. Rarely do you get a chance to laugh at rock music; it takes itself so seriously. Even more rarely do you find popular musicians that aren’t a “product” targeted at a specific market segment, and who actually have talent. Rarest of all are “serious composers” who are also virtuoso performers, articulate champions of free speech, and who maintain a sense of the absurd. Among some people, me included, Zappa finally got his “Status Back Baby.”

October 10, birthday of Ellen Andrea Wang

Since July, I have featured only female composers.  Though one source lists over 6000 female composers, I can’t find the birthdays of even a fraction let alone their works.

Ellen Andrea Wang (b. 1986) is a Norwegian composer, singer and upright base player.

This is from Wikipedia:  “Raised in Søndre Land, Oppland, the vicar’s daughter is known for being front figure, vocalist and bass player in her own band Pixel, and for collaborations with pianist Dag Arnesen.


October 4, birthday of Violeta Parra

Since July, I have been concentrating solely on female composers.  You can read about that in my post from July 19.  If I can’t find one born on the calendar day, I won’t post.  On with today’s composer.

Violeta Parra was a Chilean was a friend of Pablo Neruda.  In 1970, he dedicated a poem,“Elegia para Cantar” to her after she committed suicide in 1967.

This is from Wikipedia:  Violeta del Carmen Parra Sandoval (4 October 1917 – 5 February 1967) was a Chilean composer, songwriter, folklorist,ethnomusicologist and visual artist. She pioneered the “Chilean’ New Song”, the Nueva canción chilena, a renewal and a reinvention of Chilean folk music which would extend its sphere of influence outside Chile, becoming acknowledged as “The Mother of Latin American folk”. In 2011 Andrés Wood directed a biopic about her, titled Violeta Went to Heaven.

“Run run se fue pal norte”

%d bloggers like this: