Sing this: Maestro makes home improvements to Happy Birthday

Sing this: Maestro makes home improvements to Happy Birthday


norman lebrecht

August 07, 2016

The Budapest conductor Ivan Fischer deconstructs the horrible melody and offers an upgrade.

ivan fischer piano sleighbells


  • Olassus says:

    He doesn’t realize that the stress is twice missing on “you” in order to emphasize the actual name when sung on the third line: “DEAR IVÁN!”

    • Dan P. says:

      The thing about “Happy Birthday” (not the original words, by the way) like the American or French National anthems is that they are so deeply embedded in our consciousness that to change them is like fixing the Venus di Milo by putting arms on her. By the way, someone DID have their way with Happy Birthday: Stravinsky in his Greeting Prelude. Now THAT’S an improvement – not by conforming to certain compositional conventions to make it completely bland and unmemorable, but by deconstructing it and recreating an entirely new Stravinsky piece out of its parts. You listen to it and all you can’t help but smile.

  • M2N2K says:

    His objections to the first half don’t make sense: the stress is exactly where it should be because every “you” falls on the downbeat which is the strongest point of the rhythmical figure. But his suggestion for the third line is quite good, because it puts the name of the person being celebrated onto the very summit of the tune which is certainly better than in the original where the name is nearly a full octave lower than the top note.

  • Milka says:

    And one wonders why the so called “classical “music world is in trouble.
    Idiots such as this conductor full of ignorant pretentious babble rule the day .
    To call it a horrible melody considering its use is rather stupid .

    • Dan P. says:

      I’m not sure exactly what it means to call the community of people who love and are involved in classical music “so-called” but to consider some silly little skit a symptom of classical music’s demise is just as silly. Sometimes, one just needs to lighten up and smile and leave it at that. While I think Mr. Fischer’s exercise misfires, the truth is, as anyone who has ever heard his performances, he is a truly great musician. If you have to pick just one recording – just listen to the phrasing in his Dvorak 8th Symphony. And, if that isn’t impressive enough, among the languages he speaks fluently is Dutch! Now how many non-Dutch folk can speak Dutch? Now THAT’S something!.

  • Lulu says:

    I guess nobody of you understands Mr. Fischer’s sense of humour. Such a pitty! I worked very often with him and I am absolutely sure it is just a very intelligent “old-austrian-fashioned” joke!


    While acknowledging the humor intended, I can say unequivocally that he turned a more than perfectly serviceable tune that obeys well understood notions of sequence and variety into a bland mess of received notions of proper composition. It is actually a very characteristic and easily comprehended melody, which is why it is embraced around the world. Ivan merely proved that the original tune is in fact one that is timeless.

  • Cyril Blair says:

    My God, what strange things are going on at the Verbier Festival (and why)?

    Truly this is a horrible melody, so awful that it’s not even possible to upgrade it. Fischer’s version is maybe 0.003% better, but the song should just be obliterated from the musical landscape.

  • Rich Patina says:

    Yawwwwn…this failed attempt at humor (if that is what it is) falls flat and just stole 3 minutes and 7 seconds of my life that I will never get back.

    • Milka says:

      One might suggest that you get a good recording of practically anything conducted
      by Celibidache and whether you agree with him or not you will be rewarded
      ten fold for each lost minute inflicted by the likes of Ivan Fischer whose jokes
      if this is such, are as pedestrian as his so called serious work.

      • norman lebrecht says:

        Milka, you have just elected yourself the Florence Foster Jenkins of commenters.

        • Milka says:

          Just knew that the named Celibidache in comparison to pedestrian Fischer would
          get you out of your lair… it has ………….
          If you believe that the comparison to Florence Foster Jenkins is a put down it
          only shows you do not know what Ms. Jenkins was truly about .If there was a Callas
          award as against a Jenkins award true musicians would always pick the Jenkins .
          My time in NY with good musicians/composers who knew her ,( even after a good laugh)
          realized there was a certain truth to her work that was sadly lacking in the
          majority of stellar performers running around NY at the time .You might like to
          read the Henrahan obit . he does better than I can .
          Thanks anyway ………..

        • John Borstlap says:

          Maybe there should be a competition for that title.

          • Milka says:

            What would be your requirements for eligibility .We already have an idea what is the
            Lebrecht view ….and with the movie coming out there should be another .

  • Doug says:

    Correction: the BERLIN conductor Fischer. He uses his Hungarian heritage only to his advantage, otherwise ready to toss it aside at a moments notice.

    • Dan P. says:

      What exactly does that statement mean?

      • Milka says:

        It means he is Hungarian depending on which way the wind blows/

        • Dan P. says:

          So are you saying that on occasion Ivan Fischer has denied being Hungarian? Or that he tries to pass as being from somewhere else? Of is it that he speaks local languages when he is not in Hungary so he’s not Hungarian enough? Or that he doesn’t spend enough time in Hungary?

          I get the feeling that you have an axe to grand rather than have any real complaint. Is there anything about his entire existence that you don’t disapprove of?

          • Milka says:

            You seemed to have difficulty understanding the simple statement made by Doug ,so one sought to help you out in explaining its meaning to your seemingly limited ability. And as
            no deed goes etc. etc. you come back with a tedious litany of what you interpret to
            be my true response. Let me assure I have no axe to grind and I have no interest
            in his existence other than note his stupid Happy Birthday exercise .
            I wish him only the best in whatever career he chooses .

  • Dan P. says:

    The statement may be simple, but it’s meaning isn’t at all clear. What winds are you referring to when you say “depending upon which way the wind blows?” What I was asking is this: what situations have caused him to downplay or accentuate his national origin? And, how has he done this? I was just curious, that’s all. This is a simple question, to which you have only responded with an insult. Why do you react this way? Are you alright?

  • Milka says:

    Being brought up to be polite in most situations and so as not to leave you confused
    I explained to you what I thought the statement by Doug meant,but
    it seems you are quite determined to play stupid .If I misinterpreted the statement
    I will of course stand to be corrected.Go back and read the Doug observation then
    ask him to clarify the observation ,he might even tell you where the winds are blowing .

  • Dan P. says:

    Well, I give up. I can only assume that you have no answer to my question because instead of providing one you only come back to me with invective – which is your privilege, I suppose, but, let’s face it: you’re as polite as you think you are. That Doug has not responded only makes it seem that he, like everyone else, has moved on from this topic. And so have I. This leaves only you to fume and feel superior by yourself.

  • Jeroen says:

    I really wonder when an attempt to make you think about things (as mr Fisher does) can evoke these kind of responses. It is sad.