From a 2 Chainz track to “The Elements Song,”
the legacy of Tom A. Lehrer ’46
Tom A. Lehrer '46, the piano-playing musical comedian and the subject of this week's Arts cover, is also a Harvard man. Naturally, then, he likes a good highbrow reference—and he's especially fond of giving shout-outs to German-language composers. For those of you not primed on your lieder, here's a playlist of pieces for piano and voice by the composers Lehrer referenced.
Gustav Mahler—Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen ("Where the Beautiful Trumpets Blow")
Lehrer's song "Alma" is about Mahler's wife, who also married the architect Walter Gropius and the novelist Franz Werfel during her life. Thus, she ended up with the full title of Alma Maria Mahler Gropius Werfel. Talk about name-dropping.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart—Das Veilchen ("The Violet")
Did you know that potassium and cesium both show up as violet in flame tests? If you need a review of your chemical elements, Lehrer is here to help.
Franz Schubert—Die böse Farbe ("The Evil Color")
The "evil color" Schubert is talking about is Yale Blue. Fight fiercely, Harvard.
Franz Lehár—Da geh' ich in's Maxim ("You’ll Find Me At Maxim’s")
If you find "Maxim"—the magazine, that is, not the restaurant referenced by Lehár—a little tame, you'll definitely sympathize with the narrator of this Lehrer song.
Johann Strauss II— Als flotter Geist ("An Orphan From My Early Days")
Strauss is known as the "waltz king," and, hey, what do you know—Lehrer wrote one too.