Composers Datebook®

Adams at the opera

Composers Datebook - October 22, 2023


Royalty was often flattered by the composers of the Baroque age. Handel wrote glorious ceremonial music for British monarchs, and Bach was not above working up an obsequiously complimentary cantata or two for some German prince. At the French Court of Versailles, King Louis XIV appeared on stage for cameo appearances during operas and ballets whose stories complemented Louis’ wisdom, talent and impeccable good taste.

On today’s date in 1987, at the Houston Grand Opera in Texas, Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger, and Chairman Mao didn’t come on stage in their own personas, but did appear as characters in the premiere of a new opera by American composer John Adams. Nixon in China was a somewhat surreal and not necessarily flattering dramatization of a real event: President Nixon’s ground-breaking trip to communist China in 1972.

One can only guess at the former president’s reaction to being portrayed on stage. Adams did report that Nixon’s lawyer, Leonard Garment, attended a performance of Nixon in China, most likely on the former president’s behalf. No lawsuit followed, and, Adams notes with some amusement, Garment even became something of a fan of his music!

Music Played in Today's Program

John Adams (b. 1947) Nixon in China - Orchestra of St. Luke's; Edo de Waart, cond. Nonesuch 794543

On This Day


  • 1811 - Hungarian composer and piano virtuoso Franz Liszt, in Raiding (near Oedenburg);


  • 1725 - Italian opera composer Alessandro Scarlatti, age 65, in Naples; He was the father of composer Domenico Scarlatti;

  • 1764 - French composer and violinist Jean Marie LeClair, age 67, in Paris, stabbed in his own home;

  • 1859 - German composer, violinist and conductor Ludwig Spohr, age 75, in Kassel;

  • 1973 - Spanish cellist (and occasional composer) Pablo (Pau) Casals, age 96, in San Juan, Puerto Rico;

  • 1979 - French composition teacher Nadia Boulanger, age 92, in Paris; She taught several generations of American composers, ranging from Aaron Copland to Philip Glass;


  • 1727 - Handel: "Coronation Anthems," in London at Westminster Abbey during the coronation of King George II and Queen Caroline (see Julian date: Oct. 11);

  • 1888 - Rimsky-Korsakov: "Scheherazade," in St. Petersburg by the Russian Symphony, with the composer conducting (Gregorian date: Nov. 3);

  • 1899 - Rimsky-Korsakov: opera "The Tsar's Bride," at the Solodovnikov Theatre in Moscow, Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov conducting (Gregorian date: Nov. 3);

  • 1920 - American premiere of Ravel: “Le Tombeau de Couperin,” by the Boston Symphony, Pierre Monteux conducting;

  • 1942 - John Alden Carpenter: Symphony No. 2 (original version), by New York Philharmonic, Bruno Walter conducting;

  • 1962 - Otto Luening: Trio for piano, cello and flute, at the inaugural concert of the Group for Contemporary Music at the McMillin (now Miller) Theater of Columbia University in New York City;

  • 1967 - Penderecki: "Capriccio" for violin and orchestra, at the Donaueschingen Festival in West Germany, with Wanda Wilkomriska as soloist;

  • 1987 - John Adams: opera "Nixon in China" at Houston Grand Opera;

  • 1990 - Michael Colgrass: "Snow Walker" for organ and orchestra, on a CBC radio broadcast during the Calgary Organ Festival Competition, with the competition winner, Jonathan Biggers, as soloist.

  • 1993 - John Harbison: "The Most Often Used Chords (Gli Accordi Piu Usati), in Los Angeles, by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Christopf Perick conducting;


  • 1739 - Handel completes in London his Concerto Grosso in d, Op. 6, no. 10 (Gregorian date: Nov. 2);

  • 1881 - First concert of the Boston Symphony Orchestra at the old Boston Music Hall, with George Herschel conducting; The program included Beethoven's "Consecration of the House" Overture, and works by Gluck, Haydn, Schubert, Bruch and Weber;

  • 1883 - Grand Opening of the original Metropolitan Opera House in New York City with performance of Gounod's "Faust" with Auguste Vianesi, conducting;

  • 1983 - Celebrating its 100th anniversary, the Metropolitan Opera presents a daylong concert with some of the world's greatest opera stars, including Joan Sutherland, Placido Domingo and Luciano Pavarotti and many others.

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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®