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Composers Datebook®

with host John Birge

Saturday, April 4

The Gong Show

Synopsis

Today we offer a special "Gong Show" edition of The Composer's Datebook.

On today's date in 1791, at the height of the French Revolution, the Panthéon in Paris was converted into a mausoleum for national heroes, and the first to be interned there, with great pomp and ceremony, was Honoré Gabriel Riqueti, Comte de Mirabeau, a tremendously popular personage of the day. For dramatic effect during the Count's funeral procession through the streets of Paris, French composer François Joseph Gossec added an unusual percussion instrument to his funereal wind band: an exotic instrument someone had brought to Paris from the Far East, and known as—you guessed it—the gong.

It was reported that whenever the gong was struck during Mirabeau's funeral procession, cries of terror and fright were heard from the crowd that lined the Parisian streets as the cortège passed.

And so, in addition to being known as "father of the French symphony," Gossec can also be called "the father of the gong"—at least in Western classical music.

Now terror and fright are bread and butter in the world of grand opera, and so the gong soon was adopted by 19th century composers like Spontini, Meyerbeer, and Wagner, and in the 20th century, composers like Stravinsky, Stockhausen, and George Crumb have also used gongs to—forgive us—striking effect!

But today's Gong Prize goes to Giacomo Puccini for putting the instrument right on stage for all to see at a climactic moment at the end of Act One of the opera "Turandot," in which the tenor lead, mallet in hand, gets to deliver several gong strokes to accompany his own ringing high notes.

Music Played in Today's Program

François-Joseph Gossec (1734 – 1829) Marche lugubre The Wallace Collection; John Wallace, cond. Nimbus 5175

Additional Information

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