25 Bizarre Facts About Classical Music
Today’s generation often writes off classical music as being haughty, pompous, and even boring. While at times that can certainly be true, t...
Today’s generation often writes off classical music as being haughty, pompous, and even boring. While at times that can certainly be true, the genre has definitely had its fair share of weird over the centuries. Here are 25 Bizarre Facts About Classical Music that will shatter your perception of the genre.
If you think outrageous and obsessive fans are only a product of the 20th and 21st centuries, then you are sorely mistaken. Hungarian composer Franz Liszt had so many fans begging for his hair clippings that he kept a dog whose fur he would shear off and send in place of his own.
The Helicopter Quartet was written in 1993 by controversial composer Karlheinz Stockhausen. It involves sending four members of a string quartet into the sky in four separate helicopters and having each musician play their individual part. Meanwhile, they are recorded and broadcasted into an auditorium where they are all played simultaneously for an audience. Stockhausen reportedly composed the piece after a series of unusual dreams involving helicopters and a swarm of bees.
When John Philip Sousa was young and the American civil war was at its peak, his parents exposed him to a military band. Although it awakened Sousa’s passion for music, his first attempt to learn an instrument failed spectacularly, ending with him swearing off music forever and declaring that he would become a baker. After 3 days apprenticing at a local bakery, however, John Philip decided the trade wasn’t for him and returned to practicing music.
Many people have heard of John Cage’s Four Minutes and Thirty-Three Seconds after it gained notoriety for being approximately four minutes and thirty-three seconds of dead silence. A similar composition took it a step further; Yves Klein’s Monotone Silence Symphony consists of twenty straight minutes of a single prolonged note followed by a second twenty minutes of complete silence.
Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky suffered from extreme hypochondria. It was so bad he would always hold his chin with one hand while conducting his orchestra. His reasoning was that if he were to let go his head might fall off. He also refused to drink anything not bottled out of fear of catching a disease. Ironically, in 1893 he was diagnosed with Cholera and died one day later.
Gioachino Rossini’s Duetto Buffo di due Gatti consists of just one word – meow. The duet tells the story of two arguing cats and the melody is typically left mostly to the singer’s discretion.
Paul Wittgenstein was an Austrian concert pianist who was called into military service following the outbreak of World War I. Despite sustaining serious injury to his right arm that resulted in amputation, Wittgenstein never gave up playing Piano, and in the years following the war, he worked with many celebrated composers to commission new piano concerti and playing techniques that allowed one-handed musicians more possibilities.
William Havergal Brian’s Symphony No. 1 is among the longest symphonies ever composed, coming in at a little under two hours. It is also intended to employ an orchestra of over 1000 performers, including 200 musicians and 800 singers.
In his later years, Johann Sebastian Bach developed severe cataracts and opted to find an eye surgeon to restore his sight. Unfortunately, he instead found a man named John Taylor. Taylor performed a primitive type of eye surgery called “couching,” which involved dislocating the lens of the eye and pushing it back. After the surgery, Bach reported extreme pain in his eyes and, a week later, was operated on by Taylor a second time. The second surgery left Bach completely blind and likely resulted in his death a couple months later. Coincidentally, German composer George Frideric Handel had a similar operation at the hands of John Taylor and, unsurprisingly, was left completely blind as well.
Franz Schubert’s Symphony No. 8 is often referred to as the Unfinished Symphony because only the first two movements were ever completed. Despite many theories, the actual reason the piece was never finished remains a mystery although a popular belief is that Schubert abandoned the symphony after being diagnosed with syphilis.
While on a tour of England, Benjamin Franklin created a new kind of instrument that consists of a series of differently sized glass bowls that produce a sound when a finger is placed on them. Franklin’s “glass armonica” caught the attention of many 18th century composers including Strauss, Mozart, and Beethoven.
If you love classical music, you might also be interested in checking out 25 of the Most Celebrated Composers in History.
Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring seems like a perfectly normal and exceptionally beautiful piece of musical literature by today’s standards; however, when it was released in 1913, it was so unexpected and different that it caused audience members to riot and throw things into the orchestra. The press also attacked Stravinsky, calling his piece “puerile barbarity.”
Although Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture has been used to commemorate the United States Independence Day for over 30 years, it was originally composed to celebrate the Russian victory over France following Napoleon’s failed invasion of Moscow. Complete with real fireworks, church bells, and even sixteen shots from real cannon artillery, Tchaikovsky’s overture was musical and theatrical genius. Unfortunately, Tchaikovsky himself despised the piece and went on to describe it as “loud and noisy” and “obviously written without warmth or love.”
Richard Wagner was notoriously hard to work with due to his less than amiable personality and no-nonsense attitude; however, he was apparently quite in-touch with his feminine side. He reportedly would only wear silk or satin underwear, and letters addressed to wealthy dressmakers reveal he had a very keen interest in women’s clothing.
The Fugue in G minor by Domenico Scarlatti is popularly known as “Cat’s Fugue” because Scarlatti was allegedly inspired to compose the piece based on the melody created by his cat walking across his piano.
Austrian composer Gustav Mahler spent 3 secluded years in a tiny one-room cottage on the shore of the Attersee Lake in North Austria. He enjoyed the absolute peace and quiet that the location offered and also drew much of the inspiration for his music from the sights and sounds of nature around him. The cottage has since been refurbished and can still be visited today.
The second half of the 19th century saw lots of friction between the supporters of two opposing musical ideologies: program music which upheld that music could portray a story or a piece of artwork, and absolute music which was adamantly against the idea that music should be associated with any non-musical inspiration. This disagreement came to be known as the "War of the Romantics." It was fought through musical compositions and slander rather than conventional weapons.
John Cage’s piece As Slow As Possible is currently being performed at the St. Burchardi church, and you’re going to be dead long before it finishes; the musical project began in 2001 and is scheduled to conclude in 2640, thus making the piece 639 years long. The last note change was in 2013, and the next won’t be heard until the end of 2020.
When Antonio Vivaldi was writing his famous violin concerto, The Four Seasons, he wrote notes into the musical score asking the musicians to mimic the sounds of barking dogs or falling rain. He also composed a sonnet for each of the four seasons to tell the story behind his music.
Ludwig Van Beethoven’s iconic 5th Symphony is sometimes known as the "Victory Symphony" due to its roll in the second World War. Because the distinctive four notes of the opening motif had the same “short-short-short-long” pattern as the Morse code for V, the Allied Powers used Beethoven's piece as a symbol for victory in the propaganda campaign V for Victory.
Although German composer Felix Mendelssohn was widely considered to be a child prodigy, he wasn't the only one in his family; his older sister Fanny Mendelssohn was every bit the musician and composer her brother was. Unfortunately, Fanny was not permitted to pursue her love of music due to the public attitude towards women of the period. Felix even admitted at one point that he had published some of her compositions under his own name so that she would not face retaliation for it.
Celebrated pianist La Monte Young’s Piano Piece for David Tudor #1 isn’t actually a song at all; it’s a theatrical text composition in which the performer brings a bale of hay and a bucket of water with them to “feed” the piano. The piece ends when the piano is finished eating, or when it decides it’s not hungry.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is extremely well known for his beautiful operas and symphonies, but few are aware of his unusual obsession with scat humor, or in other words, poop jokes. One of his more infamous pieces is even titled Leck Mich Im Arsch which very literally translates to “lick me on the butt.”