“how do you say that again?”

While the most famous composers are spared from the indignities of name-butchering (most people know that it’s not “John Sebastian Batch” or “Frederic Choppin'”), there are still some composers whose exotic names easily lead to some pretty confusing, tongue-tangling, stutter-inducing renditions. Hopefully this post will clear some of the confusion out of the air!

Smetana (Czech)

Sometimes rendered incorrectly as “SMET-na” or “Shme-TA-na.” And the audio file linked above will clear up his even more confusing first name, “Bedřich.”

Schytte (Danish)
“SKÜ-de” or “SKU-de”

That mustache though.

I think you can imagine the many (often crude) possible variations for this name. The real thing is much less salacious, however; being Danish, the “y” is pronounced like the German ü, and the tt sound is softer, more like an English d.

Gade (Danish)

Who? Niels Gade (the last syllable, spelled “de,” is pronounced like the English word “the”) was the most important Danish composer of the 1800s. He conducted the premiere of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor, and when Mendelssohn died in 1847, was appointed to his place as conductor of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. He’s a relatively unknown composer, but many of his works have charm and merit:

Cui (Russian)
“KWEE” or “KYOO-ee”

Of the five composers that make up the Mighty Handful, Cui’s name is definitely the shortest–but definitely also the most confusing because of that ambiguous, enigmatic C. Is it a “k” or a “ss” sound? (Or, if you’re familiar with Chinese pinyin, a “ts” sound?) The answer: it’s a hard “k” sound. But the middle vowel is made more complicated by the fact that he is considered a Russian composer, but was of French and Lithuanian descent. If you’re in France, say “kwee”; if you’re sticking with the Russians, say “kyoo-ee” (just paste the Cyrillic form of his name, Кюи́, into Google Translate and click the “Listen” button to hear what it sounds like).

Poulenc (French)

Les Six, with Poulenc wearing the light gray suit and dark tie in the upper right corner.

Ha! This one is tricky. As refined as it may feel to say “Pou-lonk,” the actual French vowel is a nasal that’s closer to an English “ehng” sound. Have a listen.

Ginastera (Catalan)

Ginastera was an Argentinian composer with a Catalan father and an Italian mother. Many make the (educated) mistake of pronouncing the “G” in his name as a rough “h” sound, as one would in standard Spanish, but the composer himself preferred his name pronounced in the Catalan way, with the “G” pronounced as an English “j” (or the “g” sound in “gesture”).

Other helpful links:

Are there any other confusing names whose pronunciation you’d like cleared up?

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