Ironies in Rossini’s life and works: humorous anecdotes




The ironies in Rossini’s life and career are many: By the time he composed his last opera, William Tell, in 1829, he had long been the most popular operatic composer all over Europe. Then he stopped writing operas entirely. He composed 38 operas by the time he retired–at age 38–and yet he has an abiding reputation for laziness. While today we think of opera as a part of “classical” music, during his lifetime lovers of classical music uniformly despised Rossini. Although he had some formal study, he did not complete it, and his part-writing and counterpoint were full of errors. … Continue reading

Fun classical music trivia: a tabloid view of famous composers




How can I prove that we call classical music isn’t stuffy and highbrow? Composers and performers of earlier generations were every bit as nutty as anyone the tabloids write about today. George Frederick Handel The composer of Messiah loved to eat. At one tavern he ordered way more food than any one person would normally eat–that is, at least before today’s super-sized restaurant portions. Then he waited. And waited. After a very long time, he demanded to know why he had to wait so long. The host told him the cook was waiting until his company arrived. Handel responded, “Then … Continue reading

Christmas posts on Musicology for Everyone




Now that we have finished observing Thanksgiving, it’s the right time to start thinking forward to Christmas. I have some more posts planned for the coming month, but here are things I have published over the last two years. I switched from Blogger to WordPress in the mean time, so chances are that bookmarks and any existing links to these posts won’t work. The following, of course, are up to date. Beloved Christmas Carols Chanticleer sings “In the bleak midwinter” The Christmas song  Good Christian men rejoice  O come all ye faithful  O come o come Emmanuel O holy night  … Continue reading

Reprise: five early posts




I started this blog more than two years ago. Since then, I have learned a lot about blogging and what kinds of articles work best. Several of my early posts are way too short to deserve any attention, but I think you’ll still enjoy several of them. Here is a batch: In preparation of my latest book on the history of the trombone, I had to look at a lot of the Times of London. Before the book appeared, I posted some interesting selections verbatim. I did not use all of the quoted material in my book, so people who … Continue reading

Quotations about music: unspeakable until recently.




Plato wrote, “Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything.” Other people have made similar comments in the millennia since then. Nowadays, people well versed in intellectual and social history can read comments about music and, without knowing who said them first, can discern approximately when they were made. Most of us can’t do that, but here are some quotations about music that probably wouldn’t puzzle anyone. Even if I had left out who said what, could anyone have made … Continue reading

The selling of Gounod’s Faust




Who can think of Charles Gounod without thinking of Faust, one of the most successful operas of the entire nineteenth century? And yet it looked for a while like its London premiere would be a dismal failure. Impresario James Henry Mapleson learned a few days before it was scheduled that only 30 pounds worth of seats had been sold. The cashier told him that there was no sense in performing it four successive nights as scheduled, because it had attracted no interest from the public. Mapleson had another idea. No tickets to the first three performances would be offered for … Continue reading

Schnabel the mathematician




Have you ever heard people at a restaurant trying to figure out how much each owes when they couldn’t get separate checks? Opinions can become quite heated. The same thing might very well happen to a group of musicians trying to decide how to split a single fee for a concert among themselves. It helps to have someone  very good at math and very persuasive that his or her solution is fair to everyone. Pianist Artur Schnabel, violinist Bronislaw Hubermann, violist Paul Hindemith, and cellist Gregor Piatagorsky faced just that situation in 1933. Johannes Brahms would have been 100 years … Continue reading

10 quotations by jazz masters




No particular music makes me feel nostalgic. If it’s great, it just keeps me in the present moment. That level of music is like a classic story, like the Iliad–something so perfect it can never be old. ~ Wynton Marsalis You can study orchestration, you can study harmony and theory and everything else, but melodies come straight from God. ~ Quincy Jones We all do “do, re, mi,” but you have to find the other notes yourself. ~ Louis Armstrong Music is your own experience, your own thoughts, your wisdom. If you don’t live it, it won’t come out of … Continue reading

Louis Moreau Gottschalk and thirteen and a half pianists




American pianist and composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk grew up in New Orleans and made such an excellent reputation there that he decided to try his hand at a European tour. There, he joined the traveling virtuoso circuit and conquered France, Switzerland and Spain. Critics compared him as a pianist to Chopin. His compositions more nearly resemble what I have described in earlier posts as “high-status popular music”—brilliant displays of bravura playing coupled with the novelty of his Creole background. At the same time Gottschalk was in France, Pierre Musard and his various rivals put on “monster concerts,” which featured a … Continue reading

Johann Strauss, Jr.: Tales of his first orchestra tour




Johann Strauss, Sr., one of the most successful dance composers of his generation, famously did not want his son to follow in his footsteps. Johann Strauss, Jr. eventually eclipsed his father’s fame—despite the near disaster of the first of his  orchestra tours. When he was 19, Strauss Jr. enlisted 33 other young musicians and set out with high hopes and very little money. In Pancsova, a town in Lower Banat, they had run out completely. Strauss decided they would play an impromptu concert under the window of the town’s mayor. The mayor agreed to lend Strauss and his orchestra some … Continue reading