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Wishin’ And Hopin’: Hopes And Desires In Classical Music

An Ether Game in the subjunctive mood! We're exploring wishes, hopes, and desires in music.

We're making wishes, crossing our figures, and looking at wishes, hopes, and desires in classical music!

This week, the Ether Game Brain Trust is exploring music in the subjunctive mood! It’s a show all about wishes, hopes, and desires in classical music, that we’re calling “Wishin’ and Hopin’”! Check out our playlist below:


  • John Williams (b. 1932), Star Wars: A New Hope – John Williams has enjoyed a fantastic career as a film composer. His music accompanies some of the best-loved films of all time. Perhaps his best-known achievements in film scoring are the soundtracks for the Star Wars films. The iconic theme we just heard opened the first film in 1977, however the film’s subtitle: Episode IV-A New Hope, did not appear in the title sequence until subsequent re-releases in the 1980s. Director George Lucas has stated that he was initially discouraged by Twentieth Century Fox to use the subtitle because they thought audiences might find it confusing. Once it was certain that a second film would be produced, the first film was officially renamed. The American Film Institute lists the soundtrack to A New Hope as the best soundtrack in film history.

  • Antonín Dvořák (1841–1904), Rusalka – Antonín Dvořák is known especially for his vast output of orchestral works, but he is one of several Czech composers who helped bring opera to the Czech stage. His most successful and oft-performed opera is Rusalka, a magical story based on Czech folklore as well as Hans Christian Andersen’s classic fairy tale The Little Mermaid. In this famous aria, the “Song to the Moon” the water sprite Rusalka has fallen in love with a human prince and wishes to become human herself. Unfortunately, she cannot come out of the water to communicate with him, and therefore asks the moon to tell her love that she is thinking of him. The aria has become a go-to piece for every aspiring soprano, and the opera is frequently performed in Dvořák’s native homeland as well as abroad.

  • Franz Schubert (1797–1828), Sehnsucht – The German word sehnsucht translates to a deep emotional yearning or longing. It’s more than just an immediate want or desire, but something that is felt deep in your core, often accompanied by a sense of emptiness or loss. The German Romantics like Schubert, Beethoven, and Schumann were especially fond of writing pieces that ached with feelings of sehnsucht. Take this choral work called “Sehnsucht” by Franz Schubert. It’s based on a poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe called “Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt,” which translates to “Only those who know sehnsucht (or “longing”), know what I suffer.” The poem comes from Goethe’s novel Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahr, and was also set by Beethoven, Schumann, Hugo Wolf, five other times by Schubert, and Tchaikovsky in translation. It was even sung by Frank Sinatra in translation as the song “None But The Lonely Heart.”

  • Alex North (1910–1991), A Streetcar Named Desire – A student of Aaron Copland, Alex North began his film-scoring career with A Streetcar Named Desire. Most film scores at the time (this is 1951, mind you), were Wagner-esque, filled with lots of leitmoifs. North’s score for Streetcar however was jazz-based, one of the first of its kind. North had many more successes throughout the 1950s, included the main melody from the 1955 film Unchained, which you probably know today as the appropriately named hit song for the Righteous Brothers: the “Unchained Melody.” He scored Stanley Kubrick’s “Spartacus,” and was later asked to compose the score to one of Kubrick’s follow-ups, 2001: A Space Odyssey. Imagine North’s surprise when he saw the premier of 2001, but without any of his music! Unbeknownst to North, Kubrick had decided to use the working music for the film for the final version and to discard completely North’s score.

  • Carl Nielsen (1865–1931), Aladdin Suite – The tale of Aladdin—the impoverished young lad who is granted three wishes after discovering a genie in an oil lamp—is one of the most famous tales from the 1001 Arabian Nights, a collection of tales told by Scheherazade to the Sultan so that she may stay alive for one more night. The original version of Aladdin differed from the one we know today. For one, Aladdin was originally set in China—not the Arabian peninsula! Many of the familiar elements today—like the three wishes and the evil Jaffar—originated in the 1924 film The Thief of Baghdad. Composer Carl Nielsen was working from a 1919 Danish adaptation of the tale, for which he wrote the incidental music. Nielsen faced an unusual challenge when composing this piece—he was composing too much music! During the process, he apparently wrote 300 to 400 pages of a draft score.

  • Edward MacDowell (1860–1908), Lancelot and Elaine – Lancelot and Elaine is one of the famous stories of unrequited desire, based on a lesser known tale from Arthurian legend. After Lancelot is wounded in a tournament, he is nursed back to health by princess Elaine who is secretly in love with him. She finally reveals this long-kept desire to him when he recovers, but he’s then banished for his affair with Guinevere. Elaine eventually dies of a broken heart, though Lancelot returns to give her a rich funeral. American composer Edward MacDowell composed this Wagner-inspired adaptation of the tale in 1886. He was born in 1860 in New York City, the son of a milkman. He was educated in Germany, where he studied piano and composition. After a decade in Europe, he returned home to the states, where he became a professor at Columbia University.

  • Cliff Edwards, When You Wish Upon A Star – This song by Leigh Harline and Ned Washington first appeared in the 1940 animated film Pinocchio sung by the loveable Jiminy Cricket, and it’s since become the theme song to the entire Disney corporation. The voice of Jiminy Cricket was that of singer Cliff Edwards. Edwards (aka “Ukulele Ike”) was already a legend by 1940. In the 1920s and 1930s, he and he and his ukulele were stars of Broadway and the vaudeville circuit, performing a proto version of jazz. Edwards was even known for doing a form of scat singing, years before Louis Armstrong. Unfortunately for Edwards, he didn’t always follow the advice of Jiminy Cricket: “Let Your Conscience Be Your Guide.” He was a notorious alcoholic, drug addict, gambler, and womanizer. He squandered most of his fortune, and ended up dying in a home for indigent actors in Hollywood, with Disney footing the bill.

Music Heard On This Episode

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