“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.
Franz Liszt had a number of worldly vices, and alcohol, cigars, and cognac ranked high on that list. Mealtime with Franz Liszt invariably meant getting hammered! When he attended a banquet in Prague in 1846, Hector Berlioz was in attendance
The Brazilian composer Camargo Guarnieri (1907-1993) met the poet and musicologist Mário de Andrade in 1928. The student was already a composer and the poet was working on a theory, encapsulated in his book Ensaio sopra la Música Brasiliera (Essay
Although his piece is the most famous, 4’33” by John Cage wasn’t the first silent piece to be written. There are at least two earlier works that also take up the sound of silence. Alphonse Allais (1854-1905) wasn’t a composer
Einojuhani Rautavaara (1928-2016) was one of the new Finnish composers who followed after Sibelius. He wrote using both 12-tone serial techniques and in a neo-romantic style. He started his music education with his father, an opera singer and cantor, but
Anton Bruckner (1824-1896) is known for his 9 symphonies. No. 1 falls into his early style; Nos. 2-5 are his middle style, culminating in the consummate mastery evident in the Fifth; Nos. 6-8 and the incomplete 9th form the last
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.