Composers Datebook®

Bach and the Beatles

Composers Datebook - Jan. 17, 2024


On today’s date in 1967, British orchestral trumpeter David Mason went to the famous Abbey Road Studios in London to record a high-flying solo for a pop recording.

A few days earlier, Paul McCartney had seen Mason on TV performing the Baroque piccolo trumpet part in Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 and decided on the spot that sound was exactly what he needed for a new Beatles tune he was working on called “Penny Lane.”

And so, George Martin, the Beatles’ producer, gave Mason a call.

“I took nine trumpets along and we tried various things, by a process of elimination settling on the B-flat piccolo trumpet,” Mason said. “We spent three hours working it out: Paul sang the parts he wanted; George Martin wrote them out; I tried them. But the actual recording was done quite quickly. They were jolly high notes, quite taxing, but with the tapes rolling we did two takes as overdubs on top of the existing song.”

Some Beatles fans not familiar with the sound of the Baroque trumpet assumed the tape was speeded up to make the trumpet sound so high, but Bach fans knew otherwise.

Music Played in Today's Program

J.S. Bach (1685-1750): Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 (David Moore, tpt; New Philharmonia; Raymond Leppard, cond). HMV SXLP-20110 (LP); the Beatles: "Penny Lane" Capitol Records SMAL-2835

On This Day


  • 1706 - American statesman, composer of string quartets, publisher and inventor of the glass harmonica Benjamin Franklin, in Boston (Gregorian date: Jan. 28);

  • 1712 - English composer John Stanley (Gregorian date: Jan. 28);

  • 1734 - Belgian composer François-Joseph Gossec, in Vergnies;

  • 1907 - Dutch composer Henk Badings, in Bandung, Java;

  • 1927 - American composer Donald Erb, in Youngstown, Ohio;

  • 1934 - Canadian-born American composer, conductor and clarinetist Sydney Hodkinson, in Winnipeg, Manitoba;


  • 1738 - French composer and organist Jean François Dandrieu, age c. 56, in Paris;

  • 1750 - Italian composer Tomaso Albinoni, age 78, in Venice;

  • 1826 - Spanish composer Juan Crisostomo Arriaga, age 19, in Paris;

  • 1869 - Russian composer Alexander Dargomizhsky, age 55, in St. Peterburg (Julian date: Jan. 5);

  • 1969 - Polish composer Grazyna Bacewicz, age 55, in Warsaw;


  • 1880 - Franck: Piano Quintet in f, in Paris, by the Marsick Quartet, with Camille Saints-Saëns at the piano;

  • 1901 - Mascagni: opera "Le Maschere" (The Masks), simultaneously in 6 cities;

  • 1944 - Copland: Violin Sonata, at Times Hall in New York, by violinist Ruth Posselt with the composer at the piano;

  • 1991 - Ellen Taaffe Zwilich: Oboe Concerto, by soloist John Mack, with the Cleveland Orchestra, Christoph von Dohnanyi conducting;


  • 1745 - Handel publishes a letter in the London ":Daily Advertiser" offering to return three-fourths money to the subscribers to his current series of concerts, then in progress, suggesting that his attempts to please the public have proved ineffectual; The letter prompts a flurry of support, and Handel resumes the concerts a week later; In all, 16 out of the promised 24 concerts would take place; The series closed on April 23, 1745, with a revival performance of ":Messiah." (Gregorian dates: Jan. 28 and May 4, respectively);

  • 1919 - Polish composer and pianist Ignaz Jan Paderewski becomes premiere of Poland.

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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®