In the new issue of Gramophone, I chanced upon a "My Music" interview with songwriter and singer Neil Sedaka. The conceit behind this monthly staple is to talk to luminaries from outside the classical sphere about the music and musicians they love; a personal favorite of mine was when Alec Baldwin discussed his deep and abiding love of Mahler, but that might be in part because I was the one who did the interview. (I used to be the magazine's North America editor.)
At any rate, I did a double take when I read in the June 2011 issue about Sedaka's years at Juilliard, where he studied with both Adele Marcus and Rosina Lhévinne. Rosina Lhévinne! That makes Sedaka — creator of "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do" and "Calendar Girl" — part of an unbroken musical lineage that not only stretches back to Mozart and Salieri, but by extension encompasses such other titans as Beethoven, Schubert and Tchaikovsky as well. (By the way, the 16-year-old Sedaka also won a contest for best high-school pianist sponsored by WQXR. Artur Rubinstein was the judge.)
I realized that such a chain of teachers to students meant that Sedaka is a mere five "generations" away from none other than Mozart. Rather than trying to explain this tangled web, I made a handy little flowchart to explain these relationships. (You're welcome.)
Here's a little something about why Madame Lhévinne was so special, as told by artists ranging from James Levine to John Williams:
Do you know of any other similar relationships between pop artists and great classical composers? Tell us in the comments. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.