Composers Datebook®

David Wilde's "The Cellist of Sarajevo"

Composers Datebook for May 27, 2020


On today's date in 1992, during the bloody civil wars that shattered the former Yugoslavia, a hand grenade was thrown into the midst of a bread line in Sarajevo. Twenty-two people died. To most around the world it appeared to be just one more cruel and senseless act of violence amidst the thousands of such acts that had and would take place in that unhappy part of the world.

One Sarajevo resident thought otherwise. At four o'clock every day after the incident, Vedran Smailovic, a cellist with the orchestra of the Sarajevo Opera, went to the spot of the bombing in full evening dress and played his cello in memory of the dead, risking his own life amidst the continuing machine gun and mortar fire that surrounded him. A New York Times reporter wrote of the cellist's moving act of courage and faith in art and humanity—and the world took notice.

The English-born composer David Wilde read about the cellist while riding a train in Germany, where he lived and worked. "As I sat in the train, deeply moved," Wilde later recalled, "I listened; and somewhere deep within me a cello began to play a circular melody like a lament without end." That theme developed into a piece titled "The Cellist of Sarajevo," dedicated to Vedran Smailovic, and which cellist Yo-Yo Ma was soon performing around the world.

Music Played in Today's Program

David Wilde (b. 1935) The Cellist of Sarajevo Yo Yo Ma, cello Sony 64114

On This Day


  • 1799 - French opera composer Jacques-François-Fromental-Elie Halévy, in Paris;

  • 1822 - German composer Joseph Joachim Raff, in Lachen, near Zürich;

  • 1888 - French composer and member of "Les Six," Louis Durey, in Paris;

  • 1922 - German-born American composer Margaret Buechner, in Hannover;

  • 1928 - Scottish composer Thea Musgrave, in Edinburgh;


  • 1840 - Italian composer and violinist Nicollo Paganini, age 57, in Nice;


  • 1899 - Ravel: "Sh é h érazade (Fairy Overture)," at a Societe Nationale Concert at the Salle du Nouveau-Thèâtre in Paris;

  • 1906 - Mahler: Symphony No. 6, in Essen, with the composer conducting;

  • 1947 - Martinu: Symphony No. 5, in Prague;

  • 1976 - Dello Joio: "Colonial Variants" for orchestra, in Philadelphia;

  • 1981 - Bernstein: "Halil" for Flute and Orchestra, in Tel Aviv, with the Israel Philharmonic conducted by the composer, with Jean-Pierre Rampal the soloist;

  • 1995 - Libby Larsen: "Ring of Fire" for orchestra, by the Charlotte Symphony (N.C.), Peter McCoppin conducting;

  • 2001 - Saariaho: "Song for Betty," dedicated to the 80-year old music patron, Betty Freeman, by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting; See May 25 & 26 as well.

Love the music?

Donate by phone

Show your support by making a gift to YourClassical.

Each day, we’re here for you with thoughtful streams that set the tone for your day – not to mention the stories and programs that inspire you to new discovery and help you explore the music you love.

YourClassical is available for free, because we are listener-supported public media. Take a moment to make your gift today.

More Ways to Give

Your Donation


Latest Composers Datebook® Episodes


Latest Composers Datebook® Episodes


About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

About Composers Datebook®