• A conductor once tried to use poetic language to describe how some music should sound: “The music should sound as if you were playing on top of a high mountain, overlooking a bank of clouds. You are fanned by the winds ….” The concertmaster, however, thought that this was nonsense and said, “Look, just tell us whether you want the music played loud or soft.” By the way, Walter Damrosch once conducted at a benefit concert that featured sixteen different pianists. Before he started conducting, he turned to the audience and joked, “What they need here is not a conductor, but a traffic cop.”
• Occasionally, Sir Thomas Beecham conducted music in which he had little interest. Viola virtuoso Lionel Tertis once speculated that Sir Thomas had given an entire program of “weak, sentimental French music” simply to prove that he could fill the concert hall no matter what program he conducted. Once, during a rehearsal of a piece of music in which Sir Thomas had no interest whatsoever, he continued to conduct after the piece had ended. When orchestra leader Albert Sammons whispered, “Sir Thomas, we have finished the work,” Sir Thomas replied, “Thank God for that!”
• In 1713, Giuseppe Tartini had a dream in a monastery where he was staying. In the dream, the Devil offered to buy Tartini’s soul for whatever price he wanted. Mr. Tartini made request after request, all of which the Devil granted, then, being a composer, Mr. Tartini requested that the Devil provide him with a sonata. The devil played a beautiful sonata on a violin, and Mr. Tartini fainted. In the morning, he did his best to recreate the Devil’s sonata, but felt as if he had recreated only part of it. Because of the inspiration he had received, Mr. Tartini called the sonata The Devil’s Trill.
• George Frideric Handel’s father wanted him to be a lawyer, not a composer, so he was against his son’s learning to play musical instruments. Fortunately, Handel’s mother was sympathetic to his love of music, and she smuggled a clavichord into the attic for him to practice on while his father was asleep. By the way, after hearing Mr. Handel’s Messiah in London, Thomas Hay, Lord Kinnoull, told the composer that Messiah is “a fine entertainment.” Handel replied, “I should be sorry if I only entertained them. I wish to make them better.”
• Fritz Kreisler was playing his violin before the Sultan and his Court in Turkey when the Sultan began to clap his hands. Feeling immensely flattered, Mr. Kreisler played on, and the more he played, the harder the Sultan clapped his hands. Finally, the Grand Vizier said urgently to Mr. Kreisler, “Do you wish to lose your head? Don’t you hear His Majesty clapping his hands?” Mr. Kreisler replied that indeed he had heard the clapping, but what of it? The Grand Vizier exclaimed, “What of it? Why, the Sultan is giving you the signal to stop!”
• Famous pianist Moritz Rosenthal had a sharp tongue. While visiting the home of a Viennese composer (not named), he saw several scores by such notabilities as Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart. Mr. Rosenthal exclaimed, “My goodness! I always thought you composed by ear.” By the way, after listening to a premiere of a work by Johannes Brahms, a Viennese composer said, “A splendid work, your new symphony, only sometimes it reminds me of some other music.” Insulted, Mr. Brahms snapped, “What other music—your next symphony?”
• Oscar Levant studied piano for several years under Sigismund Stojowski. Once Mr. Stojowski asked him what he was going to play for a certain program. Mr. Levant replied, I think I’ll play Debussy’s ‘Reflets dans L’Eau’ or ‘Poissons d’Or.’” Mr. Stojowski then said, “Your piano playing is not improving, but your French is.” By the way, Mr. Levant and George Gershwin were friends for many years. In fact, a chapter in Mr. Levant’s book A Smattering of Ignorance is titled “My Life, or the Story of George Gershwin.”
• Gioacchino Rossini’s mother wondered how one of his operas had been received. He sent her a drawing of an Italian straw-covered bottle—the kind called “fiasco.” By the way, when Mr. Rossini was 70 years old, his friends collected 20,000 francs so they could make a statue of Mr. Rossini and put it on a pedestal. Mr. Rossini joked that he would stand on the pedestal if his friends would give him the money.
Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved
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