Composers Datebook®

Humperdinck and Vivaldi on NBC

Composers Datebook - Dec. 25, 2023


In the 1930s, many Americans had a hard time making ends meet. During the Great Depression, opera and concert tickets didn’t always figure into most family’s budgets, but thanks to live radio broadcasts, American families enjoyed a veritable Golden Age of operatic and symphonic music in the comfort of their homes.

On Christmas Day in 1931, NBC made radio history when it broadcast a matinee performance of Engelbert Humperdinck’s opera Hansel und Gretel live from the stage of the old Metropolitan Opera House in New York City to radio listeners coast to coast. The on-air host was American composer Deems Taylor, whose opera Peter Ibbetson would be included in a live Met broadcast the following spring.

And on Christmas Day in 1937, music of Antonio Vivaldi opened the first live NBC Symphony broadcast conducted by legendary Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini. Live NBC Symphony broadcasts under Toscanini would continue until the conductor’s retirement in 1954. Along with Bach, Beethoven and Brahms, Toscanini included a handful of American works in his programs and, in 1938, conducted the broadcast premiere of Samuel Barber’s well-known Adagio for Strings.

Music Played in Today's Program

Englebert Humperdinck (1854-1921) Hansel and Gretel Overture; Bamberg Symphony; Karl Anton Rickenbacher, cond. Virgin 61128

Antonio Vivaldi (1674-1741) Concerto Grosso in D; Moscow Virtuosi; Vladimir Spivakov, cond. BMG 60240

On This Day


  • 1583 - Baptism of English composer and organist Orlando Gibbons, in Oxford;


  • 1845 - German composer Wilhelm Friedrich Ernst Bach, age 86, in Berlin; His father was the "Buckeburg" Bach, Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach (The last of J.S. Bach's composer-children);

  • 1871 - Russian composer Alexander Scriabin (Gregorian date: Jan. 6, 1872);


  • 1723 - Bach: Sacred Cantata No. 63 ("Christen, ätzet diesen Tag") and "Magnificat" in E-flat, (S. 243a) performed on the 1st Day of Christmas as part of Bach's first annual Sacred Cantata cycle in Leipzig (1723/24);

  • 1724 - Bach: Sacred Cantata No. 91 ("Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ") performed Christmas Day as part of Bach's second annual Sacred Cantata cycle in Leipzig (1724/25);

  • 1725 - Bach: Sacred Cantata No. 110 ("Unser Mund sei voll Lachens") performed on Christmas Day as part of Bach's third annual Sacred Cantata cycle in Leipzig (1725/27);

  • 1728 - Bach: Sacred Cantata No. 197a ("Ehre sei Gott in der Höhe") probably performed in Leipzig on Christmas Day as part of Bach's fourth annual Sacred Cantata cycle (to texts by Christian Friedrich Henrici, a.k.a. "Picander") during 1728/29;

  • 1734 - Bach: Part 1 ("Jauchzet, frohlocket") of the 6-part "Christmas Oratorio," S. 248, in Leipzig;

  • 1815 - Beethoven: cantata "Meeresstille und Glückliche Fahrt" (Sea Calm and Prosperous Voyage) and the "Namensfeier" (Name Day Fest) Overture, Op. 115, at the Redoutensaal in Vienna, conducted by Beethoven, at a benefit for the Citizens' Hospital Fund;

  • 1818 - Franz Gruber: "Silent Night," in St. Nicholas Church, Obendorf, Germany, composed the night before (Christmas eve);

  • 1870 - Wagner: "Siegfried Idyll," at his villa in Switzerland as a combined birthday and Christmas gift to his 33-year old wife, Cosima (she was born on Dec. 24, 1837), Hans Richter playing trumpet and Wagner conducting an ensemble from the top of the staircase; The work is named for their son Siegfried who was six months old on that Christmas morning, and who later also became a composer;

  • 1902 - Rimsky-Korsakov: opera "Kashchey the Immortal," in Moscow, Ippolitov-Ivanov conducting (Julian date: Dec. 12);

  • 1934 - Shostakovich: Cello Sonata, in Leningrad, by cellist Viktor Kubatsky, with the composer at the piano;


  • 1821 - Beethoven finishes his "Hammerklavier" Piano Sonata (No. 29;

  • 1931 - First national radio broadcast of a complete opera, Humperdinck's "Hänsel und Gretel," from the stage of the Metropolitan Opera, New York City;

  • 1937 - Arturo Toscanini conducts his first radio concert by the NBC Symphony Orchestra, consisting of a Vivaldi concerto in D minor; Mozart Symphony No. 40; and Brahms Symphony No. 1;

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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.

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