“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.
Eliza Emily Donnithorne (1821-1886) got engaged to George Cutherbertson, a clerk in a local shipping company in Sydney, Australia, or perhaps it was Stuart Donaldson, an aspiring politician in Sydney. Come the wedding day, the guests gather, the wedding breakfast
Do you know the joke about the Hollywood screen goddess and the bad boy of music collaborating to invent a remote-controlled torpedo? Funny enough, it actually isn’t a joke but a delightful anecdote from the pages of music and science
The Italian mezzo-soprano Faustina Bordoni (1697-1781) started her career in opera in Venice in 1716. She created dozens of roles as she moved around Italy: Milan, Modena, Bologna, Naples before moving north and creating a sensation in Munich and Vienna.
From Flow My Tears to Lachrimae, or Seven Tears The composer John Dowland (1563-1626) perfected the idea of the lute song. He also thought himself as suffering from melancholy, a known illness of his time. Melancholy was one of the
The Birth of Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony When he started work on his second symphony, Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) started with a funerary idea. After a performance of Carl Maria von Weber’s comic opera Die drei Pintos, which Mahler had completed from
The English composer John Dowland (1563-1626) wanted to be lutenist to the English court. Unfortunately, the difficulties in England between Protestants (the court) and Catholics, made Dowland’s desire difficult to achieve, as he had converted to Catholicism while traveling in
The American showman and businessman P.T. Barnum famously quipped, “Every crowd has a silver lining.” As the founder of the Barnum & Bailey Circus, an entertainment institution that ran for almost 150 years, he certainly knew how to draw in
Frederick Delius: Summer Night on the River and A Song Before Sunrise Two works written in close proximity give us two different times of day. Frederick Delius (1862-1934) was a quiet master of the tone poem. Summer Night on the