Sunday, 25 December 2016


Unraveling Musical Myths extends today heartfelt condolences to it’s large Russian readership as major news outlets report that all passengers aboard the flight carrying the Alexandrov (formerly The Red Army) Ensemble to a scheduled ‘liberation’ concert in Aleppo have perished after the plane carrying 92 members of the ensemble crashed into the Black Sea on Christmas Day.

According to independent Russian news agencies, the iconic troupe had been traveling to the ravaged Syrian city at the behest of Russian President Vladimir Putin – other media outlets report the ensemble was actually headed to the Hmeymim airbase outside of the city to perform for troops stationed there on the occasion of the New Year.

On board the doomed flight were 62 singers of the Ensemble’s 70 member choir - virtually eliminating the troupes' choral section - in addition to it's instrumentalists, dancers and the nationally revered conductor and General Valery Khalilov.

The cause of the crash is currently under investigation.

Read more about the tragedy below:

  • "Wing flap fault main theory behind crash" at Reuters 


Tuesday, 20 December 2016


Portrait of Mozart (debated) c. 1790
It was on this December day in 1790 at Berlin’s Theater an der Wien that Mozart’s 19th opera, Don Giovanni made its premiere in the German capital (the opera’s world premiere having been held in Prague at the Teatro di Praga in October of 1787) to unanimously tepid reviews.  The Journal of Fashion called it “too artificial…overloaded with instruments” - a sentiment that seemed to make the rounds among the critical press: the Monthly Musical Journal expressed disbelief at the backlash Herr Mozart received for the performance – a very rare occurrence indeed for the composer - yet does nothing to repudiate it, simply claiming  

“until now I have not heard him considered by any thorough musician as a correct, less a perfect artist, and still less with regard to poetry, as a correct and fine composer…”

No review, however, was quite as scathing as the following critique, which not only lambasts Don Giovanni, but predicts a life spent in obscurity and a legacy ultimately left unrealized by its composer (extracted from a local newspaper in 1790 Berlin):

“If ever an opera was anxiously expected, if ever there was a work by Mozart raised to the skies before it’s performance, it was this ‘Don Juan.’ The composer must not speak to us by overloading the instruments, but with heart-feelings and passions; then he writes grandly, then his name will go down to future generations, and a perennial laurel will blossom for him in the Temple of Immortality…”

Strange commentary, indeed: Mozart’s Don Giovanni is today, far from an obscure work, proudly boasting a status as one of the top ten most frequently performed (and beloved) operas in theaters across the globe. It’s composer has long been considered one of - if not the - most influential and leading masters of Western Classical Music – an accolade that sees no hint of contest anytime in the foreseeable future.

From both a contemporary and industry standpoint, several major composers, from Franz Liszt and Frédéric Chopin to Herrs Beethoven and Offenbach - even Rossini - have borrowed music from the opera and/or made arrangements for it – Gounod called it a opera that "stands highest among all classic works;" Tchaikovsky famously praised both the opera and its composer in a privately written exchange with his confidante and benefactress Nadezhda von Meck in which he states

“I not only like Mozart, I worship him… I am quite incapable of describing to you what I felt on hearing Don Giovanni… nothing in opera has impressed me so deeply... I could cry out and weep from the overpowering strain on the emotions… I love the music of Don Giovanni so much that even as I write you, I could shed tears of agitation and emotion... Mozart is responsible for my having dedicated my life to music... how could I not want my dear, best, incomparable friend to worship the one I worship over all musicians? How could I not try to make you feel moved and carried away by that music which makes me tremble with indescribable bliss?”

Praise for Don Giovanni wasn’t limited only to Herr Mozart’s musical peers – many icons of literary intelligentsia would praise the opera, from the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, who writes (through a character in his novel Enten-Eller) that Don Giovanni is "a work without blemish, of uninterrupted perfection;" Gustave Flaubert called Don Giovanni one of the “finest things God has ever made” Whilst E.T.A Hoffman and George Bernard Shaw included scenes from the opera in their published works. Praise for the opera at it’s October 27 premiere in Prague in 1787 was swiftly lauded on the work and it’s composer, with one periodical claiming "Connoisseurs and musicians say that Prague has never heard the like…" - yet Don Giovanni’s disastrous premiere in Berlin and later in Milan (where it was received with a round of audience hissing) present an entirely different critical perspective. So what happened? What lessons, if any, are we to draw from such polar opposite viewpoints?

Contemporary poster for Mozart's Don Giovanni
I would posit that it was the challenging of classical music’s rigid rules in Berlin and in Italy by Herr Mozart that led to such criticism: the presentation of something new - setting sail upon formerly uncharted waters – combined with the composers' perceived placement on opera's royal throne – situated at the top of a finely gilded musical pedestal – that ultimately led to Don Giovanni's demise in the German capital.

A pack mentality – and Mozart’s own crushing celebrity combined with the over-saturation of the composer in local periodicals, I believe, played a large role in the attempt to dethrone the King of Opera. This destructive formula is nothing new. It persists even to this day, living on in full force in all genres of music and even stage. We recognize this trend most noticeably when a modern-day icon of music or screen dies – the previously ignored composer or actor is suddenly exalted to heroic status – his or her works and performances given new life - tagged with the sobriquet of perfectionism. We see it in the start-up soprano or tenor – whose physical appearance is given more importance than ever before required to help “sell” an opera’s romantic or tragic story – almost all of whom are roundly chastised by armchair critics, loathsome of the up-and-comer with the “full package”...beloved only when the popular perception of sex appeal is lost – when the artist ages, or puts on weight. Like Herr Mozart, they too are panned by their musical peers – in lieu of hopes for immortality, given a death sentence instead.

If we are to extract any lessons from the (now comical) crude “predictions” of the late 18th century Berlin press, it is this - draw your own conclusions. Listen to and enjoy thoroughly the music that moves you.

And, most importantly:

pay no attention to the critics. 

Enjoy below one of my favorite arias from Don Giovanni – Zerlina’s “Vedrai Carino” sung here by Slovak soprano Lucia Popp:


Friday, 16 December 2016


Beethoven as he would have appeared in 1812
Today’s Quote of the Day comes to us courtesy of 19th century German composer Ludwig van Beethoven in the form of a letter written to a certain “Emily M. at H.”thought to be a young pianist and admirer of the maestro, of around eight or nine years of age – in which the celebrated composer proffers to the girl a poetic verse of musical insight and perspective:

“Do not merely practice your art, but force your way into its secrets; it deserves that, for only art and science can exalt man to divinity.”

(Fahre fort, übe nicht allein die Kunst, sondern dringe auch in ihr Inneres; sie verdient es, denn nur die Kunst und die Wissenschaft erhöhen den Menschen bis zur Gottheit) -Ludwig van Beethoven, Toplitz, July 17, 1812.

This letter (published in an alternate translation on page 259 in the compilation below) by Herr Beethoven - whose date of birth is undocumented, but believed by scholars to have originated on this 16th day on December in 1770 at Bonn – and more letters penned by the iconic maestro can be read in their entirety by perusing the pages in the book embedded below (provided courtesy of the public domain archive at

Enjoy a gorgeous rendition of Beethoven’s “Mir ist so wunderbar” (A wondrous feeling fills me), the famous quartet from Ludwig’s only opera, Fidelio. Sung by Lucia Popp, Gundula Janowitz, Manfred Jungwirth and Adolf Dallapozza under Leonard Bernstein:

A note on Herr Beethoven's "birthday" (from Wikipedia):

"There is no authentic record of the date of [Beethoven's] birth; however, the registry of his baptism, in a Catholic service at the Parish of St. Regius on 17 December 1770, survives. As children of that era were traditionally baptised the day after birth in the Catholic Rhine country, and it is known that Beethoven's family and his teacher Johann Albrechtsberger celebrated his birthday on 16 December, most scholars accept 16 December 1770 as Beethoven's date of birth."

To learn more about the life and exploits of this famous composer, visit the Beethoven Archives here at Unraveling Musical Myths. 


Thursday, 15 December 2016


Today’s installment of Inspirations draws not from external sources of muse-ical influence - such as through the lives and exploits of famous monarchs or through nail-biting moments in revolutionary history – but rather from the musicians themselves.

From composers to conductors and celebrated chanteurs, to musicians and musically gifted veterans of war, this inspirational edition presents to the reader a cornucopia of malady and misery, ultimately triumphed by an indomitable sense of passion and an optimistic perspective.

Without further ado, Unraveling Musical Myths presents some of Western Classical Music’s most gifted and perseverant masters of the musical arts:


We all know Beethoven first began to experience the symptoms auditory paracusia whilst still in his productive years – a pre-cursor to a total loss of hearing which left the composer entirely deaf by the time he expired in late March of 1827.

What few remember is that two more famous composers of iconic stature – both Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frederick Händel – both fell victim to total sensory deprivation – in the form of blindness. In fact, Bach would tragically lose his eyesight – and his life - shortly after the master of the baroque attempted to remedy his failing vision by allowing the Quack “eye surgeon” (the Chevalier John Taylor) to operate on him – twice. Taylor's questionable methods left Bach completely blind after the first “surgery.” Four months after the second ‘operation’ the composer was dead – the victim of a stroke - allegedly directly caused by the botched operation and complications experienced during a very much delayed period of healing. Shockingly, Taylor would perform the exact same procedure in 1791 on Handel…who he also blinded.

Bach and Handel aren’t the only famous icons of classical music to have been stricken with blindness. One of the modern era’s most famous musical figures to share the same affliction is a household name – even in homes whose inhabitants may be unfamiliar with the musical genre.

Crossover tenor Andrea Bocelli is slated to
perform at the 2017 Presidential Inauguration
of President-Elect Donald Trump alongside
former television vocal contest participant-
turned-recording artist Jackie Evancho.
UPDATE: As of December 19 2016, New
York Post's Page Six is reporting Bocelli to
have "pulled out" from the Inauguration due
to "backlash." [Article]
That notable figure is the Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli. About to be born into this world one 1958 eve at a hospital in Lajatico, Italy, young Bocelli would have been completely unaware of the unfolding life-and-death drama surrounding his very existence as he lay safely within the confines of his mothers womb. His doting mother would have to make the most important decision of her – and her child’s - life: suffering from an acute state of appendicitis and being treated with the application of ice at the site of inflammation, the mother Bocelli was warned by physicians that the child presently in utero would almost certainly be born bearing a congenital defect – they persisted in pressuring Ms. Bocelli to undergo an abortion procedure.

She refused.

Bocelli, who would grow up to become one of classical music’s most popular crossover artists of all time – and who was born with congenital glaucoma, leading to eventual blindness in 1970 (after he was hit in the head by a football) – famously thanked his mother during a live television performance in 2010, professing both her bravery and optimism before a crowd of his adoring fans - telling the audience:

"The doctors had to apply some ice on her stomach and when the treatments ended the doctors suggested that she abort her child.

They told her it was the best solution because the baby would be born with some disability..but the young brave wife decided not to abort, and the child was born.

That woman was my mother, and I was the child… maybe I'm partisan, but I can say that it was the right choice and I hope that this could encourage many mothers who sometimes might find themselves in difficult situations but want to save the life of their baby."

Then there is the case of the famous blind pianist who conquered 18th century musical Europe – and perhaps even the heart of a little known composer by the name of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Maria Theresia von Paradis
Her name was Maria Theresia von Paradis. She performed before such esteemed characters as King George III and the Prince of Wales, and even received tutelage from maestros Antonio Salieri, Abbé Vogler, and Vincenzo Righini (for singing).

After briefly meeting – and performing with – Herr Mozart at the premiere of the then-12 year old’s opera Bastien and Bastienne – held at the home of the noted (and sometimes reviled, depending on which 18th century notable you would have asked) physician Dr. Franz Anton Mesmer (who had developed a close relationship with the child Paradis, then only 14), a lasting friendship between the two pubescent musical wunderkinds had officially been struck.

Mesmer, who sought a hefty payday by introducing the talented young pianist to Mozart and who then attempted to “cure” Paradis of the affliction of blindness which he felt was “psychosomatic” in nature – or “dictated by the unconscious” as he called it - would be instrumental in launching the girls' meteoric rise to fame.

There remains some debate about the etiology – perhaps even the legitimacy – of young Maria Theresia’s blindness. Paradis herself would add to the rumor mill with a rather ominous portent of her own, when she claimed to experience flashbacks of some suffocating force when required to reminisce upon on the onset of her loss of eyesight.

In any event, Paradis’ blindness – alleged or real – did not deter the young virtuoso. Mozart remained an ardent admirer of the young pianist, composing a concerto for piano, pianoforte and orchestra – allegedly for Maria Theresia – in 1784, which he titled Piano Concerto No. 18 in B-flat major, KV. 456Listen to a performance of the concerto below, performed by the reverent Murray Perahia:


Israeli virtuosic sensation Itzhak Perlman – the modern era’s pre-eminent master of the violin, was destined for musical infamy – in spite of all odds that threatened to stack themselves against him...


Edison and his phonograph (shown without horn attachment)
It was on this day in 1877 that the application for American inventor Thomas Alva Edison’s “telephonic repeater” (the phonograph - a.k.a. the gramophone) was first executed.

Edison first announced his intention to create the primitive recording/playback device in July of that year whilst in the midst of developing a telephone transmitter – wouldn’t it be great, he thought, to somehow be able to capture, and save the human voice in the form of an audio message should there not be a party available to receive a phone call on the opposite end of the dialer?

After experimenting with a telephone diaphragm with an “embossing point” and some paraffin paper (see: Thomas A. Edison Papers at, and finding that he could not only record the sound of the human voice but also reproduce it via playback, Edison was well on his way to creating a device for the telephone that would inadvertently serve as the genesis of the music recording industry and which would introduce to the world the beauty of the operatic singing voice.

It would all start with opera – and with a previously unknown (to the general masses) operatic tenor by the name of Enrico Caruso. Watch in the video below a fascinating timeline of Edison’s invention – and his later improvements on his own device – and discover how one man’s majestic voice would turn the music industry on it’s head, bringing the performances heard predominately by the privileged few to the greater, all-inclusive masses, as narrated by French/Mexican tenor Rolando Villazón (clip also shows a working phonograph in action via the singing voice Villazón and composer Umberto Giordano's gorgeous aria "Amor Ti Vieta" from his 1898 opera Fedora):

Discover more (external links):

  • The Edison Papers (brief outline of invention) at
  • Review Edison’s appliacation for Patent #200, 521 (successfully patented February 19, 1878) also at (PDF)
  • A fascinating point-by-point timeline of Edison’s invention at

(internal links):


Tuesday, 13 December 2016


Heinrich Heine, poet, critic, ne'er-do-well.
The controversial poet, librettist and music/literary critic Heinrich Heine, born this 13th day of December at Düsseldorf in 1797 is perhaps best known in the English speaking world as the famous German poet whose work was once set on fire by the Nazis during the second world war due to their author and his political perspectives being a designated “degenerate” and made a nominee for the so-called forsaken sect of “Jewish cultural intelligentsia” - a group targeted by the Third Reich for anti-Semitic protest.

Heine is also known in the East as the famous German poet who is reviled by some modern-day Israeli critics for having been a Christian convert.

The classical music sphere knows him best as the famous German poet whose lyrics live on in the works of an impressive number of it’s most illustrious masters: Schubert adopted six of his poems for his wildly successful Schwanengesang ("Swan song"); both Schumanns honored him with music based on his verses - most notably Robert’s Liederkreis (Op. 24) - Beethoven and Grieg, too, set Heine’s poems to music, a trend followed by Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn, Johannes Brahms, Hugo Wolf, Richard Strauss, Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky, Carl Orff, César Cui, Pietro Mascagni and Richard Wagner – and that’s just to mention a few.

But what few know is the fact that Heine once selfishly tried to derail the highly glamorized career of famed Hungarian pianist and composer Franz Liszt by attempting to blackmail him out of what Heine referred to as “appreciation money.” Liszt wasn’t Heine’s only victim. In 1855, German romantic composer Giacomo Meyerbeer fell victim to a scathing – and very public – attack by Heine after the composer refused to top off the poet with an additional loan (Meyerbeer had already lent Heinrich a sizable sum, and was presently being propositioned for another 500 francs – which a still-un-reimbursed Meyerbeer refused). Heine then blasted the composer in a subsequent poetic work he had published, “Die Menge tut es” in which he referred to Meyerbeer as a “music corrupter.”

A Hungarian Heartthrob: Franz Liszt famously
made the ladies swoon.
As of late April 1844, it would be the world’s first documented “superstar” Franz Liszt who would be carefully positioned within Heine’s crosshairs. On this occasion, Heine would attack first - and attempt to procure payment after. His method of attack: a strategically organized arsenal of threats, blackmail and humiliation.

Liszt, who was appearing at Paris’ Théâtre-Italien for a whirlwind two-part concert series on April 16th and 25th of that year, was currently the toast of the town. The musical phenomenon from Hungary was on the lips of every upper-crust Parisian. It would be on this visit to the French capital that Heine - after witnessing Liszt’s famously frenzied following of female fanatics (the 19th century equivalent of the modern day rock-star groupie) - that the poet first coined the term “Lisztomania.”

He meant it as a pejorative.

Writing to the man of the hour, Franz Liszt himself, Heine warned the composer of a potentially imminent portent, should he fail to provide a handout to the poet – who was then moonlighting as a (rather notable) music critic. His letter, penned April 24 at Paris, on the evening prior to Liszt’s second concert in the French capital, Heine issued the following thinly veiled threat:

“I would like you, my dear, to visit me tomorrow between 2 and 3 o’clock. I have already written a first article that I would like to send off before your second concert, and there might be something in it that may not please you; for this reason it is quite appropriate that I first talk with you.

Your friend H. Heine.”

Liszt's adoring female fans throw flowers at their beloved idol. Note the
unconscious female being held up by her male companion located in the
center of this contemporary illustration. Spontaneous bouts of syncope were
a common occurrence at any concert in which Liszt appeared.
The general consensus is that Heine was attempting to blackmail the wildly successful pianist by threatening to publish a scathing attack on Liszt’s music, his celebrity, even the musician himself before the second concert even took place. Heine's threat was clear: either pay up, or face a very public humiliation.

Liszt received the letter in a hasteful fashion, and, just as Meyerbeer would ten years later when he too was threatened - promptly dismissed both the letter and it’s author and left Heine without a reply – and without largesse.

Heine was incensed. The poet-turned-music-critic issued his attack in his periodical column (known as Feuilleton) lambasting the pianist, making mockery of his horde of fans – even going so far as to accuse Liszt of hyping up his own celebrity status by secretly purchasing his own bouquets and hiring flummoxed females to throw them on stage when he performed! 

Heine roundly finished off his vicious attack by predicting a spectacular fall from grace for Liszt - at one point, comparing what he viewed as the pianists' inevitable downfall to the expelled gas from the anus of a camel.

Yes. You read that correctly. 

A brutal excerpt of Heine’s March 1844 Feuilletons (published in the popular French periodical "Musikalische Berichte aus Paris") reads:

“When formerly I heard of the fainting spells which broke out in Germany and specially in Berlin, when Liszt showed himself there, I shrugged my shoulders pityingly and thought: quiet sabbatarian Germany does not wish to lose the opportunity of getting the little necessary exercise permitted it... In their case, thought I, it is a matter of the spectacle for the spectacle's sake...Thus I explained this Lisztomania… indeed, we must not examine too closely the homage which the famous virtuosos garner. After all, their day of vain celebrity is a very short one, and the hour soon strikes when the titan of tonal art may, perhaps, crumple into a town musician of very dwarfish stature, who, in the coffee-house which he frequents, tells the regular guests, on his word of honor, how bouquets of the most beautiful camelias were formerly flung at his feet, and how, once, two Hungarian countesses, in order to secure possession of his handkerchief, had cast themselves on the ground and fought until the blood ran. The day-long reputation of a virtuoso evaporates and dies away, empty, without a trace, like a camel's wind in the desert…"

Heine concluded his critique with a dose of cruel pessimism:

"The electrical action of a demoniac nature on a closely-crowded multitude, the infectious power of ecstasy, and, perhaps, the magnetism of music itself, this spiritual illness of the times, which vibrates in nearly all of us — these phenomena have never yet presented themselves to me in so clear and intimidating a manner as in Liszt's concert.”


Read Heine's full "pre-"view at (from page 456)

The music played at Liszt’s April concerts in Paris are now lost to the annals of anecdotal music history. Considering it was a solo recital for the pianist, Liszt may have performed his standard repertoire performed during his 1839-1847 series of concert tours. They included the maestro’s settings for piano the works of fellow composers, interspersed with some of Liszt’s own original compositions. Regular staples of this repertoire included (but were not limited to) the following transcriptions:
Chopin’s Etude; Rossini’s Guillame Tell Overture, Schubert’s Mélodies Hongroises;

original compositions usually included Liszt’s “rousing” encore favorite, his Grand Galop Chromatique in E-flat major, S.219 (performed below by the late Hungarian virtuoso pianist György Cziffra), his Fantasie on Robert le Diable (Meyerbeer); and his Réminiscences sur la Norma, a 1 one movement piano piece based on Bellini’s Norma.

Discover more about the life and exploits of Heinrich Heine (external link): 


Monday, 12 December 2016


Today’s Quote of the Day comes to us courtesy of 20th century German composer Carl Orff, on the true origin of music:

“Music begins inside human beings, and so must any instruction. Not at the instrument, not with the first finger, nor with the first position, not with this or that chord. The starting point is ones own stillness, listening to oneself, the “being ready for music..” listening to one’s own heartbeat and breathing.

- Carl Orff

In Trutina, Carmina Burana, soprano Kathleen Battle:



A young Beethoven, c. 1881
It was on this mid-December day in 1792 Vienna that two of Western Classical Music’s most iconic composing figures sat together for what would become, for one, a pivotal moment in an already burgeoning musical career and, for the other, a remarkably lucrative tutorship that would add to an already impressive professorial track record.

The two key players in this historical meet up of musical minds were Bonn native Ludwig van Beethoven, and 18th century Austrian composer Franz Joseph Haydn, Vice-Kapellmeister to the esteemed Esterházy family.

The pair had first met two years prior, in Bonn, when Herr Haydn, accompanied by the impresario Johann Peter Salomon had taken rest upon their journey to London where Haydn was scheduled to perform. By all accounts, it was a positive meeting of musical minds – for in 1792, a 22-year old Beethoven again met his contemporary Haydn, this time presenting the maestro with two recently written scores: his Cantatas on the Death of Emperor Joseph II (WoO 87) and the Elevation of Emperor Leopold II (WoO O88). Haydn was said to have been so impressed with the young German’s work, he offered Ludwig lessons in composition should Beethoven take it upon himself to relocate to Vienna – which he did, in November that same year.

It would be a rather rocky affair for the tempestuous Beethoven – Herr Haydn, it seemed, was often absent from Vienna, or otherwise pre-occupied with projects of his own. This was not the one-on-one exclusive tutorship Beethoven had in mind when he left for the Austrian capital. As a matter of principle – though not so bold as to make it an open secret – a frustrated Beethoven would acquire the tutorship of other teachers in occulto when Haydn absconded from the classroom and the Esterházy court.

Franz Joseph Haydn
A major turning point in Beethoven’s formerly held reverence for his esteemed Tutor would occur in August of 1795, when an excited Ludwig performed at the salon of one Prince Lichnowsky his newly composed Piano Trios (Opus I) with Haydn listed as the evenings Guest of Honor. After the performance concluded, Beethoven, feeling quite proud of himself, requested of Herr Haydn his opinion on the work. Much to Ludwig’s unexpected horror, Haydn responded not with unadulterated praise for the Trio, but rather with a critique: the work was simply too long, he told a shocked Beethoven – and it needed a fair amount of work before it could even be published.

Beethoven – in typical Beethoven fashion - never forgot this betrayal by his former idol.

On one memorable occasion, when the begrudging composer was asked about the pair’s relationship, Beethoven famously quipped “I never learned anything from Haydn!”

Listen below the work that first brought together this dynamic pair – and which ultimately brought an unsuspecting Beethoven to Vienna and Haydn: Ludwig’s Cantata on the Death of the Emperor Joseph II. (Featuring the works sixth and penultimate movement "Hier schlummert seinen stillen Frieden" (Here the patient sufferer slumbers peacefully), sung by Kiwi soprano Kiri Te Kanawa under maestro Sir Colin Davis:

Fun Fact:
The Cantata on the Death of the Emperor Joseph II, written by Beethoven as a tribute to the recently deceased Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II of Austria on the occasion of the monarch's death in February of 1790 curiously would not be performed until 1884, for reasons that to date, still remain unclear. All that scholars of this period know with any certainty, is that the work was rejected by the minutes of the Literary Society in March of that year, who stated that “for various reasons the proposed cantata cannot be performed." Neither was the work ever published. All that survived of the cantata was Beethoven’s original manuscript, which was purchased at auction in 1813 by the composer Johann Nepomuk Hummel for a private collection, which was later sent, once more, to the auction block in 1884. It would receive its premiere performance in November of that year in Vienna, followed by a repeat performance and subsequent premiere in Beethoven’s hometown of Bonn in June of 1885 to much critical acclaim. The German composer Johannes Brahms famously praised the work, writing to music critic Eduard Hanslick in 1885 “Even if there were no name on the title page, none other could be conjectured—it is Beethoven through and through! The beautiful and noble pathos, sublime in its feeling and imagination, the intensity, perhaps violent in its expression; moreover, the voice-leading and declamation, and in the two outer sections all the characteristics which we may observe in and associate with his later works.”


Sunday, 11 December 2016


It’s time for another installment of MAYHEM BEHIND THE MUSIC: Trivia & Humor.

This edition examines some rather curious American inventions and humorous innovations, a famous father-son rivalry – and an even more famous little mutt by the name of Nipper.

Featuring a rowdy premiere that could stand toe-to-toe with Stravinsky’s infamous riot in Paris.


A "Yankee Doodle" - riding on a pony.
We begin in the good ole U.S. of A - in a little town named Lexington, in the “Bay State” of Massachusetts. It is the 19th day of April in the year 1775. As a band of British troops presently serving on North American soil march northwestward from Boston to Lexington and Concord, the high-pitched ring of a fife and the rat-a-tat-tat of drums can be heard playing most jovially through the temperate spring air. Rising over both flute and drum are the rousing voices of the Brits, singing a mocking air about the plight of the dandy – the Yankee Doodle Dandy to be precise. The crude lyric “stuck a feather in his cap and called it macaroni” a direct assault on the American colonials obsessed with dressing the part of a finely manicured - and most effeminate - Italian gentleman and foolishly attempting to adopt his perfecting aires. The Brits, it seemed, had a running joke - so uncouth was the American – so much of a refined wannabe was their innermost desire (running around spouting off catch Italian phrases in an effort to appear more cultured in addition to adopting their dress) – that the Brits began to refer to them as “Macaronis.”

When the Americans heard the offending satirical song rising up over the plains, they reacted not with a sense of vitriol, but rather turned the Brits - and their mocking joke - on its head, by repeating the song – mocking lyrics and all - back to the enemy amidst rebel fire. Proudly adopting the crude humor of the Brits in a charmingly self-deprecating manner, the Americans would again serenade the Europeans – when the Brits were forced to surrender at Saratoga and Yorktown.

Kind of makes the Yankee’s adoption of the crass "To Anacreon in Heav’n" seem all the less ironic in retrospect.

[Fun Fact] Now considered a patriotic air, "Yankee Doodle" can be heard most often in the northeastern state of Connecticut - where it serves as state anthem! Listen to a recording of the famous tune below:


Benjamin Franklin seated at his glass armonica
13 years earlier to the Southwest, American Founding Father and future President of Pennsylvania Benjamin Franklin was busy making music history with the creation of a new instrument similar in sound to the celesta which he would dub "the glass armonica" – a curious looking contraption consisting of thirty seven glass bowls attached to a spindle which could be spun via a foot pedal to produce an eerily crystalline resonance reminiscent of wet fingers circling the rims of various sized wineglasses (which is exactly how Franklin came up with the idea after first hearing a demonstration of this technique at a concert in 1761).

The glass armonica would win the praise of some notable physicians in the both the American medical sector and overseas who lauded it’s (alleged) soothing abilities for those stricken with melancholia (a supposition later proven to be false when the safety of the instrument was roundly bashed in it's own revised operating manual in 1788 - which would lead to the glass armonica becoming temporarily banned in Germany as a preventative precaution against potential madness - or even succumbing to an untimely death).   

Talk about a turnaround...

Whether friend or foe to the new instrument, one thing remained certain: the glass armonica created quite the stir in the musical sphere. Even major composers would express interest in Franklin's invention - a few even wrote music for it – the most famous of which can be heard below: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Adagio & Rondo for glass harmonica in C minor:


The Brits would once more leave an indelible mark on Western Americana – and indeed on the rest of the world – via a curious little mutt named Nipper – a Jack Russell mix who hailed from Bristol, England. When Nipper (named after his naughty penchant for ‘nipping’ at the heels of visitors to his masters home) unexpectedly died in 1895, just seven years after his owner Mark Henry Barraud passed, Baurrad's surviving brother Francis decided he would pay tribute to both master and mutt by painting a portrait of Nipper, his head curiously cocked to one side – sitting most intently before a wind-up Edison-Bell cylinder phonograph – a music player inherited from his late sibling.

The painting, completed in 1898, might also serve as a means to make a quick profit for the brother Barraud. Francis would present the portrait to James E. Hough, manager at the Edison-Bell Company in New Jersey USA, who promptly rejected it on the basis that “Dogs don't listen to phonographs.”

Undeterred, Francis took the portrait back to London, to the Maiden Lane offices of The Gramophone Company where he would be met with an unexpected surprise - Manager William Barry Owen would buy the painting – provided Barraud replace the portrait’s old-fashioned Edison cylinder phonograph with their brand new Berliner Disc Gramophone – the latest in musical technology. An astonished Francis readily obliged, painting a revised edition he dubbed “His Master’s Voice” in 1890 which he sold to Owen for 100 pounds sterling (50 pounds for the copyright and to grant Berliner leave to register the trademark phrase for use in the United States; and 50 pounds for the painting). The Victor Talking Machine Company would promptly adopt the now infamous logo that year, followed by HMV,  the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) and RCA Victor in 1929.

Today, you can find Nipper adorning the labels of the following brands: Victor Talking Machine Company, Gramophone Company, Berliner Gramophone, His Master's Voice, HMV, EMI, RCA, RCA Victor, Victrola, Electrola, Bluebird, Zonophone, JVC and Deutsche Grammophon.



On a hot summer’s eve in 1830’s Belgium, a riot was about to erupt at the Théâtre de la Monnaie that would rival Igor Stravinsky’s spectacularly rowdy première in early twentieth century Paris.

The opera produced for the evening was Daniel Auber’s La Muette de Portici – a patriotic tale of revolutionary spirit that depicted a poor man’s uprising against the powerful Spanish rulers occupying Naples. It was a curious choice of libretto for the French composer, who chose to stage it as an homage to the United Kingdom of the Netherlands' (to which Belgium then belonged) reigning King, William I during the King William I Festival launched in celebration of the 15th year of His Majesty's reign. Apparently Auber hadn’t received the memo that a pre-ordained revolt had been scheduled to take place on the eve of La Muette’s performance at the Theatre – nor did it appear that the Frenchman possessed any idea whatsoever that William was, to many of the citizens of Belgium, a tyrannical oppressor.

As La Muette sauntered into its second act – and right before the duet "Amour sacré de la patrie" could get it’s first notes off the ground, the theater abruptly erupted into chaos. One contemporary eyewitness account details the horror that unfolded that fateful evening:
"When Lafeuillade and Casscl began singing the celebrated duet. "Amour sacre de la patrie" enthusiasm exploded irresistibly and [the singers] found it necessary to start afresh in the midst of the cheering. Finally, when Masaniello (Lafeuillade) launched into his entreaty, the invocation "Aux Armes!," the public could no longer be restrained. They acclaimed aria and actor, they booed the fifth act in order to stop the performance, and the delirious crowd [hurled itself] out of the hall... welcomed by the other crowd which waited outside, it joined in the demonstrations which loosed the revolution of 1830."

As raised voices became lost in the calamitous fray and fists began to fly freely from man to man, newly formed mobs who were freshly energized by the riot in the theater took to the streets of Brussels, looting local businesses and laying waste to factories, destroying the machineries found inside. The uprising would quickly spread throughout the country.

If Stravinsky sought any form of comfort after the infamous riot at the rite in 1913, he needn’t have looked any further than Auber.. his predecessor in social outrage.

Speaking of outrage, Did You Know?

Composer-King Frederick the Great wasn’t the only musician to have been corporally punished by his father for daring to dream of a life spent making music.

The newly-crowned "King of the Waltz"
Johann Strauss.. Junior, thankyouverymuch.
Viennese "Waltz King" Johann Strauss the elder famously sparred with his son – also named Johann (the second) – when the boy had the audacity to take up the violin. No son of Strauss’ was going to dare try to take his father’s place – no, not for young Johann. The father Strauss demanded his son take up a “more respectable” vocation: in matters of law or in finance. Much like the King of Prussia, who was soundly cane-whipped across the arse by an enraged father when he was discovered practicing on his trusty flute in secret, a young Johann would receive regular beatings at the end of a three-tailed whip from Johann Sr. for his transgression of stealing away for private lessons on his violin. This cruel form of corporal punishment was immediately preceded by the elder Strauss warning his son that he would "beat the music" out of him.

Johann Jr., however, was undeterred by his fathers malevolence – by age 19, he bravely informed his father of his intent to not only compose, but also to publicly stage a waltz – to which his father unceremoniously scoffed “you have no idea how to write a waltz!”

The senior Strauss took matters even further, hiring a rowdy band of claquers to rise from the audience and hiss. He even rounded up a bunch of brutes to surround the casino where his sons concert was being held in order to incite a riot. Much like in the case of Stravinsky, police had to be called to disperse the crowds.

So much for blood being thicker than water.

Listen below to what is perhaps the most famous waltz of all time, Johann Strauss Junior's "Blue Danube":

Did you know?

...that the United States National Anthem “The Star Spangled Banner” has some salaciously scandalous, rather comical - and very British - roots?

Anacreontick's in full Song by caricaturist James Gillray.
Upon revisiting the powerful, testosterone fueled lyrics and melody that makes this Anthem truly one of the worlds most impacting and instantly memorable tunes, the average Partiot would feel quite the sense of irony upon discovering that the melody of the “Star-Spangled Banner” is not only English (and not American as most previously believed), and as for it’s lyrics...well..let's just say, they were less than patriotic. 

Originally titled “To Anacreon in Heav’n,” the true progenitor of what we now know as The Star Spangled Banner was in fact nothing more than a lewd drunkard's tune,  one that was so frequently sung by the often raucous and inebriated members of a special "Gentleman's Club," that it became the club's official drinking song! The name of the 15th century men's only pub? "The Anacreon" making the current anthem an Ode to Freedom and Democracy, and it's grandfather's an Ode to "Free Lovin' " and Drink! [Fun Fact]

The Anacreontic Song (Listen to the song below):

"To Anacreon in Heaven, where he sat in full glee,
A few sons of harmony sent a petition,
That he their inspirer and patron would be;
When this answer arrived from the jolly old Grecian:
Voice, fiddle, and flute, no longer be mute,
I'll lend you my name and inspire you to boot
And besides I'll instruct you like me to intwine
The myrtle of Venus with Bacchus's vine."

–Words by Ralph Tomlinson, music by John Stafford Smith, C.1775.

Read more history on the anthem here, including details on Stravinsky’s near arrest and Wagner’s Tannhäuser overture! (which I’ve always ‘heard’ –at least in similarity- to “ proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming…”)

Flag of the United States of America
[Fun Fact] Anacreon was an ancient Greek poet who was known to boast proudly as an advocate of drink and held a special penchant for sex in his -ahem - heart. In essence, "To Anacreon in Heaven" is actually a tribute, or an ode to a sex crazed, famous alcoholic! (Note the rather raunchy repetitive: "And besides I'll instruct you like me to intwine / The myrtle of Venus with Bacchus's vine," "Venus" being the goddess of love, and "Bacchus" the god of wine).

For the modern listener/reader, To Anacreon in Heaven's text may appear, at first listening, a rather chaste song paying homage to some ancient Greek gods. Digging a little deeper into the characters featured the music, and into the inspiration source of it's authors melody and lyrics and one will find a litany of lewd and lascivious innuendo that would make your mother blush. Read the full text of "To Anacreon in Heaven" here (external link).

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