BBC Music Magazine

History just keeps on repeating itself…


Hot on the heels of accepting the post of music director of the Orchestre national de Lyon, Nikolaj Znaider has written an open letter to explain another decision that he has recently taken: namely, reverting to his original surname, Szepsznaid­er. Though using just ‘Znaider’ once seemed a sensible move, the violinist and conductor says that he now wants his name to reflect both sides of his family. He is, of course, by no means the first classical musician to have changed their names…

Many performers over the years have adopted a memorable name to make themselves more marketable. These include the sopranos Helen Porter Mitchell, who used an abbreviati­on of the Australian city of her birth to become Nellie Melba, and Belle Silverman, whose adopted name of Beverly Sills brought a touch of Hollywood. Among composers, Philip Heseltine used the name Peter Warlock when writing music, while Rebecca Clarke, sceptical over how women composers might be perceived, wrote her Morpheus for violin and piano under the pseudonym of Anthony Trent – as if to prove her point, it was reviewed more favourably than music bearing her real name. In recent years, violinists have shown a particular propensity to re-title. Midori, for instance, has previously performed as both Midori Goto and Mi Dori, Nigel Kennedy temporaril­y decided to drop the ‘Nigel’, and, in 2012, Hahn-bin announced that, from now on, he was to be known as the grander-sounding Amadeus Leopold – it made little difference to his disc sales, alas.

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