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Please share funny facts/stories about composers


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I am looking for some funny, interesting or unexpected

facts/stories about composers to tell my eleven year-old son hoping

that it  will interest him in each compose's life as he learns

their pieces.  I know Beethoven originally

composed Kruetzer sonata for someone else, but they had a dispute

over a woman so he decided to dedicate it to Kruezter.

 Anyone, do you have more?  

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I found this anecdote about Edward Elgar's piece Salut d'Amour interesting. (Copied from Elgar web site):

"In the Summer of 1888, Edward Elgar and Alice Roberts were heading towards marriage. Edward decided on a holiday with his long-standing friend, Dr Charles Buck of Settle, Yorkshire. As he left Worcester, Alice presented Edward with a poem she had written and entitled Love's Grace. While on holiday in Settle, Edward reciprocated by writing a short piece of music for her, which he called Liebesgruss (Love's Greeting). The work carried the dedication "To Carice", a contraction of his future wife's forenames Caroline Alice with which they subsequently christened their daughter. On his return from Settle, Elgar presented the work to his wife and proposed to her. They married at the Brompton Oratory in South Kensington, London in May the following year.

Towards the end of 1888, Edward submitted three arrangements of the work - for solo piano, for violin and piano, and an orchestral arrangement - to the music publishing firm of Schott who agreed to buy the work outright for a fee of two guineas. At first, the work sold slowly. Apparently with Elgar's approval, Schott's retitled the work Salut d'Amour and gave the composer's name as Ed. Elgar, believing that the French title and a less obviously English composer would help the work gain wider international approval. It did, much to the publisher's satisfaction but with no financial benefit to Elgar."

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Music can be hazardous to your health!

J-B Lully was the court composer for Louis XIV in the mid baroque period. On January 8, 1687, he was conducting a Te Deum in honor of Louis XIV's recent recovery from illness. He was beating time by banging a long staff (a precursor to the baton) against the floor, as was the common practice at the time, when he struck his toe, creating an abscess. The wound turned gangrenous, but Lully refused to have his toe amputated and the gangrene spread resulting in his death on 22 March.

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The "someone else" that Beethoven had originally written the

Kreutzer for, was George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower-There is

rumor that they had an altercation concerning a woman.

Beethoven had lot of curious habits many covered in the

biography written by his administrator, Anton Schindler. One

anecdote consisted in his demonstrating to his friend the proper

way to make a cup of coffee. He had a fanatical count of the number

of beans to be used.

 The death of Purcell is not well documented but

popular consensus was that he died from a cold after his wife

locked him out when returning from one of his drinking bouts. The

moral of the story being of course, always carry a spare house key

to the tavern. and back.

Did you know that Elgar and Borodin were also chemists?

Borodin was famous for coming home late only to find his house

completely populated by itinerate university students. Being quite

accommodating he and his wife often spent the evening sleeping on

the sofa.

 Handel once participated in a duel in which he

was saved from the tip of a sword by the large brass buttons

popular at that time. His biography is well worth the read-he led

an exciting life, punctuated with brawls at the opera, sword

fights, and if I recall, a wonderful fire caused by a mishap during

the premier for the Royal Fireworks-Handel held his ground and kept

on conducting.

Tartini would have been a good match with the foil, in

a contest with Handel-he so loved the sport of fencing (and

dueling) that his father "cut him off" from his funding at the

university. His life was equally interesting with elopements,

secret marriages and the like-well worth the read.

 Allegedly both Handel and his rival, Bach, were

spared the position of organist vacated by Buxtehude. The custom of

the time was that the successor would accept the retiree's

daughter's hand in marriage. The daughter in this case, although

gifted with a very talented father, was not gifted with feminine

charm to put it lightly-both contenders refused the post for this

reason and went on to fame.

Brahms when walking the streets or dining

with distinguished contemporaires  was often approached,

congenially, by ladies off ill-repute, inquiring as to his health

&c. It turns out he was one of their more beloved patrons.

Fritz Chrysler was predisposed to

gambling-thank you to his domineering wife he was saved the


This list could go on for several pages-composers, artists and

authors seem inclined to quirks of lifestyle and personality that

leads to their fascinating biographical material. Sadly little is

documented on them during their lives and much is lost.

Regards Fritz

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This is likely apocryphal but I read somewhere that Mozart's son used to tease his father by playing a melody on the piano but stopping before the resolution. This bothered Wolfgang so much that he would come running into the room from wherever he was in the house to play the final chord...

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My favorite Beethoven story is from the time around Napoleon declaring himself "emperor."

An eyewitness (an artist/painter) is quoted to have been with Beethoven at a grand reception for the nobility. He turned to Beethoven and said something to the effect that he was in awe of the regal aristocrats. To which Beethoven muttered "I'll show you true nobility!" and he promptly made his own entrance.

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Ecreivain -  

In a similar incident Beethoven was walking one of the

fashionable promenades in Germany with Goethe. They passed some

nobility and Goethe promptly stepped aside, yielding way. Beethoven

held his ground and walked through the group much to Goethe's

surprise. Beethoven made it clear to his companion that he was the

superior in this incident.

 Concerning Napoleon, Beethoven had in fact,

dedicated his 3rd symphony to Napoleon. Upon the latter's self

proclamation as emperor, Beethoven promptly scratched out

Napoleon's name on the dedication of his score.

Beethoven shared, with the artists and intellectuals of

that time, the disdain for the concept of nobility, and supported

 a democratic sense of equality among citizens that was to

prevail over Europe in time. Wagner, years later, uphelfd this

trend, and he was involved in an incident against the nobility that

was to affect his early years and require his exile.


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There is one famous story about Kreisler that always made me laugh. Kreisler was part Jewish (half, I think), but his wife was a raging anti-semite who would tell people that Kreisler did not have a drop of Jewish blood in his body. To which the painist Leopold Godowski responded, "Well Madam, he must be quite anemic."

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