David Bruce: Resist Psychic Death — Music


• Soprano Frances Alda gave many concerts throughout the United States during her life, and sometimes she ran into travel problems. Once, a blizzard kept her from reaching a destination in time for a concert, and since she knew she could not sing on the day she was scheduled, she telegraphed to say that she would sing the following day, which happened to be Sunday. This shocked a local clergyman, who wrote to the town newspaper that holding a concert on Sunday was a sin. Ms. Alda also wrote a letter to the town newspaper to say that she also preferred to rest one day out of seven. However, she added, if God had to choose between the singing at the clergyman’s church and the singing at her concert, there wouldn’t be much difference — unless God truly had a musical ear, in which case He was much more likely to choose her concert.

• Conductor Arturo Toscanini never gave encores. While giving the first performance of Euryantheby Carl Maria von Weber, Toscanini was at first pleased by the applause of the audience following the overture. However, the audience kept applauding and demanding an encore. For 10 minutes, Toscanini stood with his back to the audience, and he grew angrier and angrier because he wished to proceed with the performance. Finally, he turned around, screamed “No bis[encore]” to the audience, broke his baton and threw the pieces at the audience, then left the stage. The première was postponed until the following week.

• When Ignaz Joseph Pleyel came to Vienna from Paris, his newest string quartets were played at Prince Lobkowitz’s. Beethoven was in the audience, and after the string quartets were played, he was asked to play. After being coaxed for a long time, he finally consented angrily, and sat at the piano with the music from the second violin part of one of Pleyel’s quartets in front of him. He improvised for a long time, using the notes of the music of the second violin, and when he was finished, an astonished Pleyel kissed his hands.

• At one time, opera/lieder singer Kathleen Ferrier had trouble producing a top A note. Therefore, for one of her performances at Glyndebourne, Benjamin Britten wrote for her an F sharp instead of a top A. However, during her performance he was startled when she produced the top A. Later, she confessed that she had gotten excited and forgotten about the F sharp. After that performance, she continued to sing the top A.

• The night before the premiere of Don Giovanni, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was having a good time at a party when the conductor rushed in looking for him. “Where is the overture?” the conductor asked, anxious because so little time was left for rehearsing it. “Don’t worry,” Mozart said. “It’s all up here, in my head.” During the rest of the night, Mozart wrote out the overture and in the morning he gave it to the copyists. (Even so, the overture arrived at the theater only a half-hour before opening, and no time was left to rehearse it.)

• Leopold Stokowski once surprised his Philadelphia Orchestra by meticulously rehearsing Johann Strauss’ “Blue Danube” since it was not scheduled to be played at any concert that year. The mystery was explained when Maestro Stokowski was in the audience for a summer concert by the Philadelphia Orchestra, which was being guest conducted. Maestro Stokowski was asked to conduct something, and after making a pretense of reluctance, he conducted the orchestra in Strauss’ “Blue Danube.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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