David Bruce: The Funniest People in Music, Volume 2 — Dance, Death


• Choreographer George Balanchine was known for his even temper; he declined to get upset over most things. He once presented “Sixteen Delightful Balanchine Girls” at the London Coliseum; unfortunately, at the first rehearsal he learned that the orchestra could not play satisfactorily the modern music he had written dance steps for. No problem. The orchestra’s conductor was Dennis Stoll, the son of Sir Oswald. Mr. Balanchine simply asked, “Sir Stoll! What tunes does your little boy know?” He then wrote dance steps for the new tune.

• Lev Ivanov, the assistant of Marius Petipa, choreographed the swan dances in Swan Lake. As a young man, he demonstrated remarkable musical abilities. Pianist Anton Rubinstein once played through the ballet The Grapevine in a rehearsal hall. Listening to the music for the first time was Mr. Ivanov. After Mr. Rubinstein had finished, Mr. Ivanov sat at the piano and played much of the music back by ear — Mr. Rubinstein was delighted and astonished.


• Ramones bass player Dee Dee Ramone had a rough life. He started taking illegal drugs as a child, and he eventually died from a heroin overdose. (He did write some very good songs during his life, and he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame before he died.) He remembers that when he got his driver license the female police officer didn’t even give him a driving test; instead, she simply gave him a driver license and told him, “Have a nice day, kid!” Years later, he talked to her in a bar. Both were drinking heavily, and according to Dee Dee, she admitted that she had given him the driver license simply because she had hoped that he would end his miserable life quickly in a car accident. When he left, she told him, “Boy, it’s too bad you’re still around.”

• When Fanny Mendelssohn, the sister of Felix, was born, her mother looked at her hands and announced that she had “Bach fugue fingers.” Sure enough, Fanny played much of Bach’s difficult piano music during her lifetime. She and Felix were close during their childhood, though they saw much less of each other during adulthood. However, Felix kept his final promise to her. He had promised to be with her on her next birthday — November 14, 1847 — and although she died on May 14, he was with her on her next birthday. Felix died on November 4, and he was quickly buried by his sister’s side in a Berlin churchyard.

• Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla once created a new kind of tango music by combining jazz and classical music with traditional tango music. Some people did not like the result, and Mr. Piazzolla even received death threats as a result of his new music — people threatened to kill him if he ever again wrote that kind of music. Cellist Yo-Yo Ma, however, is able to look at the positive side of this story. He exclaims, “Imagine people caring so much about music!”

• When Lotte Lehmann’s mother died, Lotte was devastated. However, she was scheduled to sing at an important premiere, Richard Strauss’ Arabella, and no one was able to take over for her. Ms. Lehmann sang the part, and afterwards she wrote, “It seemed impossible, but the great blessing was granted me of becoming for a few hours a different person, of being able to forget for a few hours what had been taken from me.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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