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Classical Notes

Signatures

Posted at 3:32 AM on March 13, 2006 by Valerie Kahler
Filed under: Musical philosophy

Ever wonder what occupies the mind of a radio host at 3 in the morning? Read on:

Alfred Hitchcock made a cameo appearance in almost all of his movies, and after the birth of his daughter Nina in 1945, caricaturist Al Hirschfeld began hiding her name in each of his drawings.

But - even without these obvious and characteristic insertions, we would still recognize the stamp of these artists. You’d probably know a Hitchcock film from his camera angles or the way he used shadow. The fluid, spare lines of this illustration spell out Hirschfeld clearly enough.

What about Sergei Rachmaninov? He worked the Dies Irae into a surprising number of his compositions...but what about when he didn't? Can you recognize a Rachmaninov from its angles, shadows, lines?

I’ll never mistake a Stokowski transcription for anyone else's. I know Tchaikovsky when I hear him. Same for Satie and Vivaldi and Bach. Beethoven? Does he have a “signature,” or have I just learned which stuff is his?