Sunday, 19 March 2017


Whilst my taste in music is varied it could never be described as eclectic - incidentally this is number two on my list of least favourite words, albeit a considerable way behind the P-word. But I digress. My mentioning music came after I was recently sent a list of classical composers, these were to be included in a quiz-style crossword. Followers of my blog will not be surprised to discover some of the clues were based on the etymologies of their names.Thus this time a look at the origins of a selection of the names of composers which many will infinitely better acquainted than I - and yes, 'a selection' means I have only included those I could define.

Bach - being German he took his name from the word for a stream, rivulet, brook, or creek.

Bartok - this Hungarian takes the pet form of a the Christian name Bartalan or Bertalan, itself a form of Bartholomew.

Beethoven - another of German origins where beeth, meaning 'beet', and hofen, the plural of hof, meaning 'farms', tell us this most famous of deaf people had ancestors who farmed beetroot.

Bellini - Italian operatic composer Vincenzo has a surname translating as 'the little beautiful one'.

Borodin - the Russian translation is, quite literally, 'well height' and understood to as 'tall'.

Brahms - a German name which is ultimately of Hebrew origin in Bram where it meant 'high or good father'.

Bruckner - a topographical name, the earliest meaning being for a person who lived on or near a causeway or bridge. However it is more commonly applied to those who worked at such a location, gathering tolls and/or maintaining a bridge.

Chopin - a French surname derived from an old liquid imperial measurement. In France it would be seen as roughly equal to a quart but in Scotland became corrupted to refer to a half pint.

Debussy - a French surname taken from any of several Norman place names all of which mean 'mouth' and of which there is even an example of a Norman landholder in Domesday, this being Robert de Buci.

Delius - a name of Greek origin meaning 'from Delos', a Greek island of 1.32 square miles and a population at the 2001 census of 14.

Dvorak - a common Czech surname referring to a rich landowner in a manor house.

Elgar - a name of Germanic origins, it literally means 'shining spear'.

Faure - an Occitan name, a Romance language, meaning simply 'blacksmith'.

Franck - comes from the French reference to those Germanic peoples living around the Rhine during the times of the Roman Empire, the Franks.

Glinka - a Polish name, one referring to those who came from Glinki.

Gluck - is taken from a Yiddish word glik meaning 'luck'.

Grieg - is ultimately from the Greek gregorein 'be awake, watchful'.

Handel - a Germanic name meaning 'trade' or 'commerce'.

Haydn - a Welsh name derived from the Celtic Aidan, itself meaning 'little fire'.

Holst - refers to someone from Holstein, the German town having a name coming from the people who lived here the Holcetae or 'dwellers in the wood'.

Liszt - a Hungarian name which literally translates as 'flour'.

Mahler - is a German surname and, like the above, is a trade name. Whilst it is derived from the word for 'painter', the name is very specifically used to refer to those who painted stained glass.

Mozart - derived from the Latin, this meaning 'the love of God'.

Purcell - another of Norman origin where the literal translation is 'piglet', however it would have been used a nickname or to refer to a swineherd.

Rossini - an Italian name derived from rosso meaning 'red' and originally applied to one with red hair or ruddy complexion.

Schoenberg - is another topographical name, here German scoene berg refers to 'a beautiful hill'.

Schubert - is a trade name of German origin where schuoch wurhte meant 'shoemaker, cobbler'.

Schumann - has an identical meaning, albeit here the German schuoh mann refers literally to 'a shoe man'.

Smetana - a name of Czech and/or Ukranian Jewish origins. The origin is undoubtedly smetana meaning 'cream', although whether it was a nickname, perhaps for someone who liked cream (or ironically one who did not) or a trader in this and other dairy products is unknown.

Sousa - a name of Portuguese origins, being particularly common in former Portuguese colonies. Archaically it refers to a place, any place where the people came from for it describes them as being 'of the rocks'.

Strauss - a Germanic surname which has at least three equally plausible origins. It may be the family lived in a place named Straus, itself referring to 'the ostrich'. Here this may point to a place where the feathers of this bird were used in heraldry or, and this an alternative origin, as a nickname for those who habitually wore same as an adornment. Alternatively this may also be a nickname for someone known for arguing or confrontation, for the German struz means 'quarrel, belligerent'.

Tchaikovsky - a Russian composer whose name comes from the Russian for a bird, specifically the gull.

Verdi - an Italian composer with an Italian name meaning 'green'.

Vivaldi - another Italian composer whose name is derived from vita or 'life'.

Wagner - a German name from waganari meaning either 'wagon maker' or 'wagon driver'.

Walton - an English place name, where wahl tun means 'the farmstead of the foreigners' (Britons).

Weber - a German name and another representing a trade for this translates as 'weaver'.

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