• Lynn Peril, publisher of the zine Mystery Date, loves books. Her parents read to her frequently when she was very young. Ms. Peril says, “I was never taught to read; I simply woke up one day and discovered I could. I remember going downstairs and telling my mother, ‘Hey, Mom—I can read!’” Her uncle lived surrounded by books. After he died, and when her aunt moved out of the house, her aunt let all the nephews and nieces take the books they wanted. Ms. Peril got a lot of first editions in excellent condition, often with dust jackets, because whenever an author such as Vladimir Nabokov, Flannery O’Connor, or Eugene O’Neill came out with a new book, her uncle would quickly buy a copy and read it. She reads the books, and she enjoys going to an antiquarian bookseller near where she lives, looking at the shelves, and saying, “Hey, I have that book.”
• J. Paul Getty once bought a Raphael-like painting for £38 simply because he liked it. Later, the Raphael-like painting was discovered to be a genuine Raphael and not an imitation. Of course, this gratified Mr. Getty—not so much for the excellent investment he had made, but because the purchase had validated his artistic judgment.
• Gertrude Stein and her older brother Leo made many wise acquisitions in art, and soon their house was besieged by visitors who had come to look at their collection. Eventually, to gain some privacy for themselves, they announced that they would show off their collection to visitors only on Saturday evenings.
• Adelina Patti and Etelka Gerster were rivals for the prima donna position in Colonel James H. Mapleson’s traveling opera company. In Chicago, both singers appeared in Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots, with Ms. Patti singing the role of Valentine and Ms. Gerster the role of the Queen. At the end of Act 1, huge bouquets of flowers were brought to Ms. Patti, even though she had had little to do in the first act, with most of the singing being done by Ms. Gerster. Finally, a small basket of posies was presented to Ms. Gerster—and the crowd went wild with excitement and applause. That evening, Ms. Patti swore that she would never again sing with Ms. Gerster.
• Opera/lieder singer Kathleen Ferrier started out as a pianist, but decided to take singing lessons after hearing a singing class and thinking, “I could make nicer noises than those.” A friend bet her that she wouldn’t have the courage to enter a singing contest, so she entered and won the prestigious award called the Blue Bowl. By the way, Ms. Ferrier once acquired what she called a “half-crown piano.” While very young, she had entered a singing contest whose entry fee was half a crown and she had won the prize: a piano.
• Some music trivia: 1) Many towering geniuses were short. Franz Schubert was 5-foot-2, Igor Stravinsky was 5-foot-3, and Ludwig van Beethoven, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Arnold Schoenberg were 5-foot-4. 2) John Taylor was a physician who operated on the eyes of the historian Edward Gibbon and the composers George Frideric Handel and Johann Sebastian Bach. In each case, he ruined their eyesight. 3) As a 14-year-old, Richard Wagner wrote a play titled Leubaldin which 42 characters had died by the fourth act. Many of them reappeared as ghosts in the final act. 4) Ludwig van Beethoven knew that he was a musical genius. To Prince Lichnowsky he once said, “There are and there will be thousands of princes. There is only one Beethoven.” 5) You can’t always trust signs. George Frideric Handel was born in Halle, Germany. A sign announces that a certain house was his birthplace, but according to composer and music historian David W. Barber, Handel was actually born in the house next door.
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