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April Fools! And the winner is…

By Anna-Lise Santella

This is no April fool. The results of the contest to write the best spoof of a Grove Music article are really in! We received many excellent submissions and thank all contributors for providing us with entertainment, hysterical laughter, and frequent groans of recognition. Our choice was extremely difficult.

Our contest judges included:

  •  Deane Root, editor in chief of Grove Music Online, Professor of Music, and Director and Fletcher Hodges, Jr. Curator of the Center for American Music, University of Pittsburgh, has been immersed in Grove style since he worked under Stanley Sadie on the first New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. (Read what Deane has to say about the history of Grove Music)
  • Charles Hiroshi Garrett, Associate Professor of Musicology at the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance serves as editor in chief for The Grove Dictionary of American Music, second edition.  He is currently working on Joking Matters, a book that explores music, humor, and contemporary culture.
  • Anna-Lise Santella edits Grove Music/Oxford Music Online and Oxford’s other reference music publications.

The judges selected the three finalists whose articles appear below for their superior deployment of Grove style and excellent senses of humor. Deane Root has put the judges’ evaluations into words:

The bronze medal (though, on name alone, I was tempted to award the silver):  “Silberstraum, Aurelia.” Author Jane Peppercorn (more commonly known as Susan Barbour) has created a spicy account of a subject who, we are told, spread herself around. While we appreciate the word play and the accompanying image, the photographs that Grove attaches to biographies are customarily those of the biographees. Moreover, we try to avoid devoting as much as a third of an entry to the subject’s love life. The judges especially enjoyed the many references to the Lord Peter Wimsey novels of Dorothy Sayers.

Richard Tauber (c1928-1939)
Photo: New York Public Library Digital Gallery

Silberstraum, Aurelia (b Linz, c 14 Feb 1893; dSalzburg, 21 June 1967). Austrian operatic soprano. She was also acclaimed for her interpretations of lieder and sacred music, especially Roman Catholic mass settings. The oldest of five daughters, she alone was born out of wedlock. Her parents, touring actors, placed her at a local convent. Hearing her unusually mature voice, the sisters encouraged her to sing in their services. Linz native Richard Anton Tauber heard her and offered to help her to a career. She suffered unrequited love for his son, tenor Richard Tauber, at one point following him to Vienna. Her subsequent liaison with a wealthy, musical English nobleman was said to have been engendered by his resemblance to Tauber.

In Vienna, Silberstraum reveled in violent, erotic roles including Donizetti’s Lucia, Strauss’s Salome and Elektra, and Verdi’s Desdemona, whose body on stage famously made a beautiful, if unnatural, death.

While Silberstraum was raised Catholic, her mother was of Jewish background; in 1936 the British Foreign Office smuggled her and her family out of Austria. Silberstraum’s first performance in London created a sensation: clouds of journalistic witnesses gathered to hear her sing Franck’s Panis Angelicus for a wedding at St. James’s Church, Piccadilly. One guest wrote of Silberstraum’s singing: “thought entire church would lift off the ground and float into the Empirean [sic]”; another noblewoman, however, objected to “operatic stars singing church music” as “indecent”.

Silberstraum intended to settle in New York City but was recruited by Howard Hansen of the Eastman School of Music upstate. After a quiet recital and teaching career, she retired to Salzburg.

H.L. Delagardie Wimsey: Diary. Lbl MS 451211 (1936)
D.L. Sayers and  J.P. Walsh: Thrones, Dominations (NY, 1998)



The silver medal: “Grundy, Donald.” Author Jonatan Ausrufer (better known by the English translation of his pseudonym, Jonathan Bellman) cries out for recognition of composers richly grounded in rural ethnicity, and knows his American-music, Pennsylvania German, and church history. Points are awarded for giving us the birds in so colorful a fashion; however, we strive to keep our language clean and clear of construable innuendo. Chuck Garrett adds that he liked this one because it was “creative and silly” and we were all particular fond of “the Heinrich of Allentown.” 

Grundy, Donald [Dietrich Grundig] (b ?Lebanon, Penn., 1829; d Allentown, Penn., 30 February 1886).  Pennsylvanian composer and choirmaster of German descent. Little is known of his youth in Pennsylvania German communities beyond his being a precocious boy intended for a career in church music. His nickname, “the Heinrich of Allentown,” resulted from the success of a youthful composition (Vogelkrieg: The Distelfink of Lehighton and the Bläßhuhn of Mauch Chunk, for wind band). He is also the originator of the “Whig theory” of American composition, wherein composers’ artistic vision is subject to and limited by the musical visions of their church consistories and (especially) the members’ spouses. This may have been a reaction to the Yoder Schism of 1856, from which his home church (St. Eberhard’s Lutheran) never really recovered, but the records of this period are fragmentary.

His most famous surviving work was the whimsically titled collection Amerikan Lider for Ril Amerikan Yugnt, the most popular of which was the “Haeli, Haeli hinkle dreck/Bis morey frii geht alles weck” rhyme. (A cantata for double choir and soloists based on this same text was left unfinished at his death.)  Many of his hymns share the characteristic of bass interjections on the word Fedumsei! after soprano entrances. Grundy’s works are still occasionally heard in the churches of Lehigh County, though the rough humor of the original texts is usually softened.



And finally, the gold medal goes to Maurizio Papa (a.k.a. Keith Clifton) for his article, “Del Marinar, Stella.” In this entry on what would appear to be a compass-like figure, author Maurizio Papa has sired a veritable likeness of Grove’s 19th-century opera-singers’ bios, incorporating sly references to real musicians and compositions with altered realities, in sum a travesty of travesties. (We would, however, incorporate the bibliographical citation into the article’s text.)  

Del Marinar, Stella (b Faenza, 2 March 1824; d Rome, 26 July 1886). Italian soprano, librettist, and teacher. Following lessons in solfeggio, organ, and voice from her stepfather, Marcello Alvarado, Del Marinar studied briefly with Luigi Fagioli (a protégé of Senesino) before traveling to Venice in 1843, where she came to the attention of Giuseppe Baldi-Gallucci, impresario of the Teatro degli Angeli, who cast her in the title role of Rodolfo Minghella’s Amore per tutti (1845). She later achieved success in a wide variety of roles for Italian and French theaters, including the Théâtre Italien (Bellini’s Amina and Wagner’s Isolde), Teatro San Carlo (the title role of Mozart’s Figaro sung en travesti, down an octave), and La Scala (Gilda and Maddalena in Verdi’s Rigoletto on alternate evenings). Vocal trouble after 1870 led to a second career as a librettist. Working in collaboration with composer Carlo Barilla, she specialized in gender-bending adaptations of popular operas. Among their fifteen efforts, L’Italiano in Algieri (Covent Garden, 1872), Le garçon du régiment (Opéra-Comique, 1873), and Nabucca (La Fenice, 1875) proved the most durable, remaining in the repertoires of their respective houses—with appropriately revised casting—for over a decade.

Hoping to revive her singing career after a second period of vocal distress, Del Marinar married conductor Riccardo Nucci in 1880, who led her final stage performances in the title role of Patrizio Ciofi’s Il gatto della luna (La Scala, 1881). A three-volume autobiography was penned in the year before her death. One of most gifted vocal stylists of her generation, she influenced several generations of singers while charming the surly Italian press, who dubbed her “la Marinissima.”

S. Del Marinar: Ma Vie douce en musique (Baden-Baden, 1885).



The judges also wish to confer an honorable mention to Helena Manchariot, better known as Helen Arney, for her hilarious article, “Ohrwurm, Grimwald.” While we didn’t think this article could have escaped detection by the editors — one of the requirements of the contest — we did want to acknowledge this display of musical humor. The Grove Music staff has recently been heard singing “C ist für Canon” to the tune of a song from Sesame Street. One of our judges did, however, suggest that the author might have done better with the pseudonym Helena Handbasket.

Ohrwurm, Grimwald (b Cuxhaven c1702; d Cuxhaven, 4 Nov 1769)

German composer, keyboardist and trombone player, famous for lengthy works of unchallenging technical nature.

Eldest son of a piemaker, Ohrwurn taught himself to play when the complete works of Pachelbel were donated by local merchant and loyal customer, Baldur Liebekuchen. Encouraged by Ohrwurm’s after-hours improvisations at the bakery, Liebekuchen paid for the 21 year old to study with JS Bach in Leipzig. Letters to his patron show little respect for learning, writing that the great master’s music was “just too fiddly”.

Back in Saxony, Ohrwurm took over the family business but continued to compose. Of many works, mostly written for local musicians, he is most distinctly remembered for his contribution to the Canon canon.

Usually focusing on a single ostinato bass pattern, his style of repetitive composition varied minutely over time and is said to have inspired later minimalists Satie, Reich, Glass and Nyman. In the late 1990s it seemed mysterious that Ohrwurm was not more well known, until analysis of recent works including Riley’s “In C” revealed intimate connections with Ohrwurm’s “C ist für Canon” of 1738 (Prof Rauchenfeuer et al, 2007). It would perhaps have been scandalous for any twentieth century figure to have championed this obscure composer whose inspiration so clearly manifests itself in their own work.

For Ohrwurm, life reflected art, and his personal circumstances were as circular as his music. Married five times, it has been suggested that he suffered an undiagnosed form of obsessive compulsive disorder (Verrückt wie ein Frosch, Garboy et al, 1985) which may have contributed to the downfall of each of his marriages as well as the stagnation of his musical talent.

His cause of death was recorded as copper poisoning, from repeated polishing of his beloved trombone.



Congratulations, Keith! We’ll be contacting you soon about obtaining your prize: a year’s subscription to Grove Music Online and $100 in OUP books. Thanks to all of our contributors and a happy April Fool’s Day to all!

Anna-Lise Santella is the Editor of Grove Music/Oxford Music Online. When she’s not reading Grove articles, or writing about women’s orchestras — her article, “Modeling Music: Early Organizational Structures of American Women’s Orchestras” was recently published in American Orchestras in the Nineteenth Century, edited by John Spitzer (U. Chicago, 2012) — you can find her on twitter as @annalisep.

Oxford Music Online is the gateway offering users the ability to access and cross-search multiple music reference resources in one location. With Grove Music Online as its cornerstone, Oxford Music Online also contains The Oxford Companion to Music, The Oxford Dictionary of Music, and The Encyclopedia of Popular Music.

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  1. […] year’s contest brought us many outstanding entries, the top four of which were published on the OUPblog. Keith Clifton’s winning entry on spurious soprano, Stella Del Marinar, may also be found on its […]

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