David Bruce: 250 Music Anecdotes — Books, Children


• When Robert Louis Stevenson, author of Treasure Island, was sailing in the South Seas, he used to dictate stories to his stepson, who typed them. South Sea natives observed this procedure, then explained it by saying that Mr. Stevenson was singing and his stepson was accompanying him on a musical instrument. By the way, when Mr. Stevenson was sailing in the South Seas, he stopped at Sydney, Australia. He went to the Victoria Hotel, but because he was rudely treated there, he immediately switched to a different hotel. The next day, the newspapers ran front-page stories about the visit of famous author Robert Louis Stevenson, so the Victoria Hotel management visited him to ask him to move back into the Victoria Hotel. He declined to do so.

• Björk’s first boyfriend owned 10,000 books — and he read them. Because he was well read, he was always ready to help Björk find exactly what she wanted to read. For example, she would tell him, “Listen, I want to read something that’s kind of, like, hairy and dangerous with a nice female character.” And he would get a book, hand it to her, and say, “Here you go.” Björk has a collection of books, although it may not what you think it would be. When she enjoys reading a book, she gives it away. Then she buys another copy and gives that one away, too. She says, “So I haven’t got any books I like — only those I don’t.”


• Some famous composers had interesting experiences as children:

1) As a boy, Johann Sebastian Bach loved music and wanted to study a book of difficult music that his brother, the organist Johann Christoph, owned. Unfortunately, his brother would not allow him to borrow the book because he felt that it was too difficult for his young brother. Therefore, Johann Sebastian “borrowed” the book each night without permission, took it to his bedroom, and copied it.

2) Before he was seven years old, George Frederic Handel smuggled a clavichord into the attic so he could play it for hours at a time.

3) As a boy, Franz Joseph Haydn marched in a band in a parade. His job was to play the drum, but he was too small to carry it. To solve the problem, his teacher strapped the drum on the back of another person, and young Joseph walked behind him and played the drum. As an adult, he composed the Surprise Symphony, which contains a loud, unexpected chord during a period of quiet music. Why did he do this? He explained, “To make the ladies jump.”

4) As a boy, Franz Peter Schubert made things difficult — in a good way — for his music teacher Michael Holzer, who told Franz’ father, “Whenever I want to teach him something new, I find he already knows it.”

5) What is it like to be the son of a famous father and the father of a famous son? The father of Abraham Mendelssohn was Moses Mendelssohn, a famous philosopher; the son of Abraham Mendelssohnwas Felix Mendelssohn, a famous composer. People tended to refer to him in terms of his famousrelatives. Abraham Mendelssohn once said, “Formerly I was the son of my father; now I am the father of my son.” The young Felix Mendelssohnwas fortunate enough to be invited to spend two weeks at the home of the great poet Johann von Goethe. Fanny, Felix’ sister, was jealous and wrote him in a letter, “When you are with Goethe, open your eyes and ears wide; and after you come home, if you can’t repeat every word that fell from his mouth, I will have nothing more to do with you!” In a letter to Fanny, Felix wrote about Goethe, “The amount of sound in his voice is wonderful, and he can shout like ten thousand warriors.”

6) Before he was 15 years old, Richard Wagner wrote a tragedy that was influenced by Shakespeare. So many people died in the tragedy that in order to have a fifth act he had to bring the characters back as ghosts.

7) Edvard Grieg’s first teacher was his mother, who would listen to him play the piano as she cooked and would make comments as needed: “For shame, Edvard. F sharp, F sharp — not F.” People loved Edvard. As an adult composer, he had a studio — a cabin — built. Unfortunately, he discovered that it was too near the highway, and so he held a “moving bee.” Friends came over, picked up the cabin, and moved it deeper into the woods.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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