Composers Datebook®

An Italian western (for English horn)

Composer's Datebook - September 25, 2023


“Spaghetti western” is a nickname given to a genre of Italian films from the 1960s, most famously directed by Sergio Leone, and often starring Clint Eastwood as the taciturn, gun-toting anti-hero.

Spaghetti Western also is the title of a Concerto for English horn written by American composer Michael Daugherty that received its premiere performance on today’s date in 1998 at a Pittsburgh Symphony concert conducted by Mariss Jansons.

“Just as Leone’s films redefined the Western genre from an Italian perspective,” writes Michael Daugherty, “I redefine the European concerto … within an American context. In my ‘Spaghetti Western,’ the English horn soloist is the ‘Man with no Name,’ moving through a series of sun-drenched panoramas, barren deserts, and desolate towns of the Wild West, … [one of ] the gun-slinging characters who haunt the landscape.”

Daugherty gave Italian titles to his three-movement concerto: “Strade Vuote” (“Empty Streets”), “Assalto all’Oro” (“Gold Rush”) and “Mezzogiorno di Fuoco” (“Noon of Fire”). And since Eastwood was unable to play the English horn for the Pittsburgh Symphony premiere, Harold Smoliar removed the cigar from his parched, suntanned lips, adjusted his poncho and took up his English horn for the performance.

Music Played in Today's Program

Michael Daugherty (b. 1954) Spaghetti Western Harold Smoliar; University of Michigan Symphony; Kenneth Kiesler, cond. Equilibrium 63

On This Day


  • 1683 - French composer Jean-Philippe Rameau, in Dijon;

  • 1862 - French organist and composer Léon Boëllmann, in Ensisheim, Alsace;

  • 1896 - Catalonian-born British composer Roberto Gerhard, in Valls (near Tarragona, Spain);

  • 1906 - Soviet composer Dimitri Shostakovich, in St. Petersburg (Julian date: Sept. 12);

  • 1932 - Canadian pianist and occasional composer Glenn Gould, in Toronto;


  • 1849 - Austrian composer Johann Strauss, Sr., age 45, in Vienna;

  • 1916 - Czech band composer Julius Fucik, age 44, in Leitmeritz; He composed the famous "circus" march entitled "Entrance of the Gladiators";

  • 1997 - French composer and pianist Jean Françaix, age 85, in Paris; The composer himself has written that his family name is pronounced with the final "x" sounded (as in "Aix"-en-Provence), although it's commonly pronounced "Français" by many;


  • 1870 - Smetana: opera "The Bartered Bride" (4th version), in Prague at the Provisional Theater;

  • 1907 - Sibelius: Symphony No. 3, in Helsinki, with the composer conducting;

  • 1925 - Hindemith: "Kammermusik" No. 4, Op. 36, no. 3, in Dessau, Germany, conducted by Franz von Hoesslin, with Licco Amar the violin soloist;

  • 1936 - R. Vaughan Williams: choral suite "Five Tudor Portraits," in Norwich, England, conducted by the composer;

  • 1960 - Paul Ben-Haim: "Capriccio" for Piano and Orchestra, in Tel Aviv;

  • 1962 - Piston: "Lincoln Center Festival Overture," by the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Eugene Ormandy, at the third concert scheduled at the newly-opened "Philharmonic Hall" (now Avery Fisher Hall) at Lincoln Center in New York City;

  • 1966 - Shostakovich: Cello Concerto No. 2, in Moscow, by the USSR State Symphony, with Mstislav Rostropovich the soloist and the composer's son, Maxim, conducting;

  • 1980 - Bernstein: "Divertimento" for Orchestra, by the Boston Symphony conducted by Seiji Ozawa;

  • 1986 - Husa: Concerto for Orchestra, by the New York Philharmonic, conducted by Zubin Mehta;

  • 1997 - John Adams: Piano Concerto ("Century Rolls"), at Severance Hall, with pianist Emanuel Ax and the Cleveland Orchestra, conducted by Christoph von Dohnányi;


  • 1966 - On the occasion of his 60th birthday, Russian composer Dimitri Shostakovich is nominated as a "Hero of Socialist Labor" by the Soviet government.

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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®