Leave it to Lemony Snicket to correct that little oversight.
In The Composer Is Dead, a deliciously morbid entertainment in the vein of his "Series of Unfortunate Events," the San Francisco writer whose real name is Daniel Handler teams up with composer Nathaniel Stookey to lead young audiences on an investigative stroll through the ranks of the orchestral instruments.
…when the piece begins, the composer is already moldering lifelessly or, as Snicket suggests, "decomposing" and has presumably been done in by a party or parties unknown. The perpetrator is probably lurking somewhere in the orchestra, and as the unnamed inspector interrogates each group of players in turn, Stookey takes the opportunity to range a musical spotlight across the entire ensemble.
So the violins twirl their way through a vivacious waltz while the cellos and basses provide oom-pah-pah accompaniments and the mournful violas sing their undervalued countermelodies. The flutes do bird imitations, the trombones tango and the tuba, in the piece's sweetest and funniest moment, enjoys a moment of quiet domesticity with his landlady, the harp.
But as the piece progresses, it emerges that not every corpse implies a murder mystery. In fact, just about any place you find an orchestra playing, there's a dead composer somewhere on hand.
…there's music education woven into the hilarious and frequently insulting instrumental descriptions. Flutes are wimpy, Snicket explains, the concertmaster is a show-off, and the first violins may have "trickier parts to play," but the second violins "are more fun at parties."
It's edgy and tartly funny, particularly when the narrator starts accusing the conductor of malice aforethought.
"Wherever there's a conductor, there's a dead composer," Snicket points out. "Beethoven dead! Bach dead! ... Schubert unfinished, but dead!"
True, the instruments reply, but it's conductors and orchestras who keep their music alive centuries later.
It's a wildly cheering audience that leaps to its feet at the close of Saturday's premiere, and the rest of the world will hear the irreverent work soon. Recording sessions start Monday and the whole "Composer is Dead" package new Snicket book and San Francisco Symphony CD will be published by HarperCollins later this year or next.