“Anecdotes and maxims are rich treasures to the man of the world.”
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
The universe of classical music is jam-packed with musical anecdotes. Frequently these short narratives delineate subtle stories that highlight specific traits of a classical composer or a performer. Often humorous, anecdotes of classical composers don’t simply provoke laughter but can reveal a more general and subtle truth. We find Sophia Corri escaping her inattentive husband in an empty harp case, Beethoven being thrown in jail for vagrancy, and Rossini and Pavarotti both cooking their favorite meals. Napoleon gave free reign to his infatuation with an opera singer, Bach was challenged to a duel, and Frederick the Great had not only a great passion for music but also for a handsome Lieutenant in the Royal Guard. A musical anecdote is part of the process of telling a story, but it means sharing an experience with someone and not simply supplying him or her with information. And don’t worry, embellishment, exaggeration or fictitious invention are all part of the process. Anecdotes of classical composers impart the sense of a lived experience, as they usually involve real people in recognizable places and locations. In fact, musical anecdotes exhibit a special kind of realism and an identifiable historical dimension. Check back with us for more insightful and delightful musical anecdotes.
By the time Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868) had penned his final opera at the tender age of 37, he had become one of the wealthiest and most influential musicians in Europe. Coming from very humble beginnings indeed, he composed up to
Dr. J. Clarence Chambers (1910–2006), in his studies at Amherst College, became the rehearsal pianist for the music department’s operetta performances. He graduated in 1934 from Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons and did his internship at Harlem Hospital.
George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) was one of the all-time great composers. Restless and resourceful, Handel was a workaholic musician of great charisma with a genius for invention. For most of his life—at least during his time in London—Handel operated as
Some called him a glutton, while others considered him a gourmet. However you look at it, Gioachino Rossini was the undisputed king of the dinner table, and he knew it. Apparently, he cried only three times in his entire life.
The Russian–Italian–French composer Igor Markevitch (1912-1983) was a discovery of the choreographer-impresario Serge Diaghilev who commissioned a piano concerto from him when he was only 17. Markevitch had studied in Paris with Alfred Cortot for piano and with Nadia Boulanger
The Italian composer Luigi Boccherini made his name in Spain at the Royal Court, and then, unfortunately, got caught there when his patron was side-lined and sent to the countryside. New rulers come in and the old ruler’s family gets
Johannes Brahms (1833-1896) essentially grew up in the slums of Hamburg. And although the famous “Herr Doktor Brahms” would later rub shoulders with Viennese high society, his eating habits apparently never changed. “I live in Vienna as if I were