David Bruce: Create, Then Take a Break — Music

Music

• In 1929, Yehudi Menhuin made his debut at Carnegie Hall, where he played the violin brilliantly. In the audience were Mischa Elman, who was a violinist like Mr. Menhuin, and Alexander Brailowsky, a pianist. As Mr. Menhuin awed the audience with his virtuoso performance, Mr. Elman turned to Mr. Brailowsky and said, “Don’t you think it’s hot in here?” Mr. Brailowsky replied, “Not for pianists.”

• Early in his career, American dance pioneer Ted Shawn toured with a show that used local musicians to provide accompaniment for the dances. At one town, the local trombone player was so bad that the conductor pointed to him, then said, “Out!” The trombone player replied, “I’m mayor of this town. Either I play or there won’t be any show.”

• Writer Charles MacArthur once attended a party given by music critic Samuel Chotzinoff, who invited many of the world’s best classical musicians and asked them to perform. Mr. Chotzinoff became angry because many of his guests preferred to listen to Mr. MacArthur tell anecdotes in the kitchen instead of listening to the classical music.

• Hans von Bülow once made a notable joke and criticism when he appeared as pianist after a woman vocalist had poorly sung a solo. He sat down at the piano and warmed up by playing a passage from the finale of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony—the entrance of the baritone singing, “O brothers, no longer these sad tones!”

• Addison Mizner once snuck away from a musical entertainment at a party in order to play pinochle with his host in another room. His hostess, Mrs. E.T. Stotesbury, tracked him down and complained, “You sneak away when Rachmaninoff is playing!” Mr. Mizner replied, “I thought it was the piano tuner.”

• Ben Dorcy, a band boy who has worked with some of the most famous celebrities in country music, once was asked, “How do you get started in this business?” He replied, “There ain’t but one way. You start at the bottom and go right to the top. Don’t mess with that in-between sh*t.”

• Opera singer Enrico Caruso’s brother, Giovanni, once became so angry at their mother that he removed a straw hat she was wearing and bit a piece out of its brim.

Opera

• Colonel James H. Mapleson (1830-1901) once had to change the bill of an opera performance seven times in New York before he could find an opera that was playable. Originally, he had scheduled William Tell, but he had to cancel that because his prima donna fell ill. Next, he scheduled Lucia di Lammermoor; unfortunately, soprano Laura Zagury then informed him that she had never sung the role Colonel Mapleson wanted her to sing. Therefore, he changed the opera to Aida—but was informed that another prima donna had fallen ill. He then decided to schedule Rigoletto, but one of his principal singers told him that she was not prepared to sing her part. Next, Colonel Mapleson scheduled Les Huguenots, but discovered that one of his singers, believing that she would not called upon to sing that night, had taken some medicine that rendered her unable to perform. Colonel Mapleson then scheduled La Favorita, which was performed.

• Marietta Alboni (1823-1894), a contralto, once heard of a plot by some Italian patriots to have her hissed off the opera stage simply because she had been singing in foreign countries to foreigners. She learned that the conspirators were meeting at a certain tavern, so she put on men’s clothing, went to the tavern, and while pretending to be a man, joined the conspirators. They gave the new conspirator a whistle and said that it should be blown at a certain point in the performance, which would signal to everyone that the hissing should begin. After Ms. Alboni made her entrance on stage that night, wearing the whistle on a chain around her neck, a couple of conspirators began to hiss without waiting for the signal. Ms. Alboni walked to the front of the stage, held up the whistle, then said, “Gentlemen, are you not a little before your time?” Recognizing that they had been tricked, but being good sports, the conspirators gave her an ovation.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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