A birthday Beatle

The Composer's Datebook from American Public Media
Wednesday, October 9, 2019

John Lennon was born on today’s date in the year 1940, in Liverpool, England — during a German air raid on that city, as it happened. With three other young lads from Liverpool, Lennon would eventually become world-famous, courtesy of the band he helped formed in 1959 called the Beatles.

The Beatles started out in a Liverpool nightclub called the Cavern, playing pop tunes of the day, but soon began performing original material of their own. Before disbanding in 1970, some recognizable elements of classical music were incorporated into some Beatles songs, including a string quartet, a Baroque trumpet, and even an orchestra.

And it wasn’t just a one-sided exchange: Leonard Bernstein played a Beatles song on one of his “Young People’s Concerts” to demonstrate sonata form. Arthur Fiedler performed symphonic arrangements of Beatles tunes at his Boston Pops concerts. And decades after the Beatles disbanded, former member Paul McCartney began composing original chamber works and big concert hall pieces, including a semi-autobiographical “Liverpool Oratorio.”

Not surprisingly, some young British and American composers coming of age in the 1960s and 70s credit the Beatles as an influence. One elegant set of solo guitar arrangements of Lennon-McCartney tunes even came from Japan, courtesy of the eminent Japanese composer (and Beatles fan) Toru Takemitsu.