David Bruce: The Funniest People in Music: Volume 2 — Art, Audiences

Art

• Famed photographer Yousuf Karsh took cellist Pablo Casals’ portrait from the back, something he rarely did. Of course, Mr. Casals was playing the cello in the portrait. The portrait was once on exhibit at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, and an elderly man came into the museum and stood in front of the portrait for a long time each day. Curious, the curator of the exhibit asked the old man, “Sir, why do you come here day after day and stand in front of this portrait?” The old man replied, “Hush, young man, hush. Can’t you see? I am listening to the music.”

Audiences

• Riccardo Martin was hailed as a “second Caruso,” but he adored Enrico Caruso so much that he disliked the comparison. One night at the Metropolitan Opera, Mr. Martin was ill and could not sing, so Mr. Caruso took his place. Of course, the audience was delighted with their good luck in being able to hear the great tenor — all except one person, who demanded his money back because the singer who was scheduled to sing was not able to sing that night. When the ticket agent pointed out that he was able to hear the great Caruso instead, he insisted, “I paid my money to hear what you people said I was going to hear, and if I can’t hear what I paid for, I want my money back!” Mr. Caruso took great delight in telling the story of the man who wanted his money back because he was going to sing.

• Frances Langford sang with a big-band style, and she was popular on the radio, in movies, and on USO tours with Bob Hope. While performing with Mr. Hope in Salerno, Italy, Ms. Langford found the accommodations very primitive indeed. For example, her dressing room was constructed out in the open. A fence enclosed the dressing area, although it lacked a roof. However, while Ms. Langford was in the dressing room, she happened to look up, and she saw a hill on which were some trees; in every tree were guys. Ms. Langford says, “I think that was the biggest audience I ever had.”

• In 2009, the band known as the xx released their first album, a self-titled album that quickly became critically acclaimed. The xx’s early days were rough. They played gigs during which the audience talked all through their songs, which were mostly quiet. Madley Croft remembers, “If there were three people in the front row who were into it, that was a success.”

• As a young student in Italy, soprano Joan Hammond ran into a problem while attending operas. She could not afford the better seats, so she sat in the gallery. Often, while sitting there, she would feel a pinch from a man behind her. A reprimand worked, but only for a while, then she would feel another pinch. Moving didn’t help, either, for a different man would pinch her.

• Felix Mendelssohn wrote interesting letters as well as interesting music. He once wrote about an audience filled with ladies wearing brightly colored hats: While he played during the concert, he watched the audience and saw that the hat-wearing ladies were bobbing their heads in time with the music so that the scene looked like wind blowing over a bed of tulips.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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