Viennese waltzes, polkas and marches were the Top 40 hits of the late 1800s. Classical composers were rock stars, and Belleville residents were lucky enough to have a hometown orchestra to play them.
The current Belleville Philharmonic Society orchestra and chorus will present 19 pieces from its early days at a concert Saturday night, continuing its 150th anniversary season.
The program includes “The Blue Danube,” a well-known waltz written by Austrian composer Johann Strauss II in 1866, the same year the orchestra was founded.
“It’s almost never done with a chorus (singing the lyrics),” said Robert Hart Baker, music director and conductor. “And it’s almost never performed in the United States in German.”
The Philharmonic will do both. Baker encourages people to give it a chance.
It’s almost never done with a chorus (singing the lyrics), and it’s almost never performed in the United States in German.
Robert Hart Baker on “The Blue Danube”
“The words are delightful, and it’s not that strange sounding,” he said. “It’s not like reading a German phone book. It’s beautiful and poetic and catchy, and the words fit the music perfectly, so it’s fun to hear.”
The concert is called “A Little Night Music.” It will take place at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Union United Methodist Church in Belleville.
The opening piece is Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik,” written in 1787. Its first and last movements are familiar in modern society because they’re often used in movies and commercials.
Also on the program is “Flotte Bursche Overture,” written by Austrian composer Franz von Suppé in 1863.
“Every melody or tune was a famous German student drinking song,” Baker said. “And one of those songs is used at graduation ceremonies today.”
A performance of “Sinfonietta, Op. 188” will have personal meaning for Baker. It was written in 1873 by Swiss-German composer Joseph Joachim Raff, who was famous in the 19th century but largely forgotten in the 20th century.
Every melody or tune was a famous German student drinking song, and one of those songs is used at graduation ceremonies today.
Robert Hart Baker on “Flotte Bursche Overture”
Baker stumbled on the “Sinfonietta” music and made a photocopy while attending Harvard University in the 1970s.
“I’ve been waiting 45 years to conduct that piece,” he said.
Baker also is proud that the Philharmonic will present two pieces by brothers Jacob and Charles Kunkel, German-born composers and music publishers in St. Louis.
That includes “Love in Spring,” written in 1872 by Jacob Kunkel, and “Vive la République,” written in 1879 by Charles Kunkel.
“They have incredible St. Louis and Illinois connections,” Baker said. “But I don’t know if I’ve ever seen their music on a program in this area. They are definitely hometown boys who made good.”
At a glance
- What: “A Little Night Music” concert
- Who: Belleville Philharmonic Society orchestra and chorus
- When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 18
- Where: Union United Methodist Church, 721 E. Main St. in Belleville
- Admission: $5 for students, $12 for seniors 55 and older and active military personnel or $15 for adults
- Tickets: At the door or online at www.bellevillephilharmonic.org
- Information: Call 618-235-5600 or email to firstname.lastname@example.org