Saturday, 16 January 2016

TRIVIA & HUMOR: Did you know? (Fun Opera Facts)

Disaster Averted


A young Arturo Toscanini
Arturo Toscanini, former director of an elite selection of the world’s finest orchestras, most notably his 17 year tenure with the NBC Symphony Orchestra was widely recognized as one of the 19th and even 20th centuries Greatest Conductors. By the sheer force of indecision (although some would argue it to be of providence), this Italian maestro narrowly missed utter disaster and an almost certain untimely death when he, in May of 1915, after abruptly cutting short his concert series at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York, nixed his pre-scheduled plans to board the ill-fated Cunard Ocean Liner RMS Lusitania and opted to return home a week earlier than planned aboard the Italian Duca Degli Abruzzi instead. Had he idled around in New York for just one more week, Toscanini would have taken his pre-scheduled route back to Europe aboard the infamously unlucky vessel as planned, and would have undoubedtly joined the nearly 1,200 lost or dead at sea following an unexepected torpedo attack by German U-Boat SMU-20 that would strike the RMS Lusitania and sink the liner in a mere 18 minutes, shortly after the beginning of the First World War.

Antonio Vivaldi's Crimson Rage and Georg Friedrich flying off the Händel (I had to!)


Georg Friedrich Händel
Georg Friedrich Händel was known as one of the Baroque era’s founding fathers. From Germany to England and back, this beloved composer’s reputation as a master of composition preceeded him any and everywhere he went, from civilians to Kings. Unfortunately for students of the German born maestro (and for his contemporary musicians and fellow composers), that reputation would soon play second fiddle to the hushed whispers about the alleged violent moods of the megalomanic composer. Apparently, Händel often found his ego to be a tad too big for his britches and could commonly be found raging over his pupils and quarreling with fellow compositional competitors, and was known to possess a dictatorial teaching style among upcoming musicians, whom he taught and ‘ruled’ with an iron fist.

Antonio Vivaldi, the 'Red Priest'
Antonio Vivaldi, the 18th centuries' most beloved virtuoso of the violin and baroque composer, was also known for his fiery temper amongst his students. What made Vivaldi’s foul moods somewhat more controversial than German contemporary Händel over to the west in England, was the fact that the victims on the opposing end of Antonio’s rage were notoriously all female, all young, and all of whom had already led lives filled with tragedy as abandoned orphans (many of whom were given up as products of bastardy or had lost their parents through untimely deaths). They resided in the Venetian convent and orphanage  L' Ospedale della Pietà, where
"Il Prete Rosso" (“The Red Priest” as Vivaldi was known about town - alluding to the color of his hair, not his fiery temper, although such a moniker would be entirely justified) would take up teaching in 1703, composing many vocal compositions for the all-female ensemble.

By all accounts, the violin and vocal coach was a professor of the top tier, and had accomplished much success for the girls and for the Pietà itself during his tenure as maestro - so he was absolutely dumbfounded when he found himself at the short end of the annual electoral vote in 1709 and let go. It was a requirement in those days at the L' Ospedale della Pietà for any and all teaching positions to go trough a period of review at the commencement of each calendar year. Although the board did note the many accomplishments of the fiery Italian, they failed to secure for him the required 2/3 of the majority vote - effectively releasing him from his six year tenure with the convent. It is believed the reason Vivaldi failed to make the cut was due to his frequent outburts of anger, opinionated personality, and genrally disagreeable nature. His own father, Giovanni Battista Vivaldi was known to intervene on his son’s behalf with employers who found Antonio’s personality too brash for their comforts. It was a noble gesture, yet almost always one that was made in vain.

The Antonio Vivaldi Smile

Vivaldi or Corelli? The mystery
While we are on the subject of Antonio Vivaldi, did you know? This portrait, frequently used as a point of reference to the likeness of the late virtuoso, is in all likelihood not Vivaldi at all, and instead a depiction of fellow violinist Arcangelo Corelli.

Vivaldi is only known with certainty to have sat for one portrait, the so-called ‘engraved portrait’ by François Morellon de La Cave, in 1725. The likeness of Corelli is said to have been originally mistaken for Antonio by more modern musical scholars living in the late 18th to early 19th century due to a ‘tuft of red hair, peeking’ out from under the musician’s wig, and as such lives on as the product of anecdotal, not factual evidence related to the likeness in question. Today, although the (alleged) ‘Corelli’ image still abounds, many modern scholars of this period agree the portrait in question is most likely a misattribution, however it continues to exist as a likeness of Vivaldi as this is the image most well known and popular historically, and one commonly associated with the 18th century Venetian composer.

Ladies! What a Drag..

The last of an extinct art: Original recording of
Castrato Alessandro Moreschi, singing Bach's
setting of 'Ave Maria' in the early 20 century.
Did you know? A papal edict issued in the mid 16th century strictly prohibited females from singing on the Roman stage! For nearly 300 years, the roles we know and love today as female soprano roles were sung by castrati (castrated males), usually quite young, who would perform in full drag to packed audiences across Rome.
 The uniquely high-pitched castrati were much beloved and celebrated in Italy for the crispness and purity found in what we would call in modern times the treble voice (and for adult males, the closest relation would be the modern ‘countertenor’, although neither are the same as that of a castrated young male).

It is believed the edict stemmed from two biblical passages of note from the apostle Paul: Corinthians I, 14:34 which states:  "Let your women keep silence in the churches,"  and Timothy I, 2:11-12 which reads "Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over men, but to be in silence." It wasn’t until the unification of Italy and the Papacy’s loss of the Papal States centuries later that this ban was lifted, and women were allowed not only to sing on stage as sopranos, mezzos, and everything in between, they would soon find themselves with the freedom to don male attire and sing in the masculine roles of Glück, Bellini, and even in the operas of Mozart in what we now know as the modern “Breeches” or “Trouser” roles;[1] while you can still find ‘soprano-esque’ males, some in female attire - in many of the baroque period roles sung by the intoxicatingly beautiful vocal agilities of the castrati’s modern counterpart, the countertenor.  

Thankfully for the modern countertenor's..ahem.."livelihood" (and frankly, for our modern ears), our current versions of castrati work within far less physical parameters than that of their predecessors to achieve their unique sound (and by no means does that imply less work - the ranges reached by the countertenor are notoriously taxing and singing well is an immensely laborious feat). Although today's -able bodied- version of a Castrato may not be the ‘real thing’ ('south of the border' wise), they nevertheless remain quite a glorious spectacle to behold.

Classical Music, Modern Times

Did you know?

New discoveries of very old works of our most celebrated classical composers of yore are being made everyday!

Findings made in 2014 - 2015 alone (two of which were discovered in a mere three month span in two countries spread out across the globe), featured the "earliest known example of Polyphony" which was discovered "tucked away in a British Library manuscript" in London, England in December, 2014. (Read about the discovery by clicking on this external link: University of Cambridge; Research)

Three months prior, over in Budapest, Hungary, a scholar of the 18th century composer Joseph Hadyn, while perusing relative material at the countries' National Szechenyi Library, would discover, tucked away in it's archives, a "substan[tial] part" of the original manuscript of Mozart's massively popular "Turkish March" (the Piano Sonata in A Major), long believed to have been lost. This finding is considered to be one of the greatest discoveries of the 21st century by Mozart scholars and admirers alike. (Read article by clicking this external link: The Guardian)

The year 2015 was fruitful as well for conductor and musicologist Federico Maria Sardelli, when he scoured over 'anonymous' manuscripts his musician wife had acquired during her travels in Europe, and immediately recognized the penmanship of a Vivaldi 'copyist'. Sardelli set out to have the work authenticated (which indeed, proved it to be an original Vivaldi composition) and would catalog the piece as RV 820, and premiere it to modern audiences on Monday, February the second, 2015. (Read more about this discovery by clicking this External Link: BBC News)

Requiem Mass in D minor, by Count von Walsegg??

Requiem K.626 (Mozart autograph)
Had 18th century aristrocrat-turned-conman Count Franz von Walsegg gotten his way following the untimely demise of contemporary genius composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in December of 1791, the world may have come to know Mozart’s masterwork, his Requiem Mass in d-minor - which Walsegg had commissioned from him prior to his death - as the brainchild of the Count's.

The nefarious Count Walsegg was known in Austria to have been a plagiarizing con man, often stealing works from other, more talented musicians and passing them off as his own for profit and notoriety.

This was his plan with Mozart, when, following the death of Count Walsegg’s beloved wife, Anna, the deeply grieved Count decided to commission from the dying musician what would be his final, unfinished work. Walsegg’s plan was not only to pass off Mozart’s masterpiece as his own, but to have the Biblical composition performed at the memorial he had built for his late wife on the annual anniversary of her passing.

Thankfully for Mozart’s legacy, and for his admirers, Walsegg’s plan failed miserably (although, appallingly, he did have a somewhat successful period of attempting to pass the work off as his own) and we now know the beauty, the yearning and the many triumphs of the Requiem - Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Requiem, thank you very much.

I will close this post with yet another dirty ditty, courtesy of our beloved Mozart since they seem to be so popular with fans of the enigmatic composer’s raunchy personality:

Did you know?

Mozart’s crude humor wasn’t limited only to his private correspondence with family and friends.  Below you will find just one of a handful of ‘leaked’ (they were probably made for the enjoyment of a private circle of the composer-comedians’ friends) compositions, written from the filthy mind of one Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, composer to the Imperial court of Austria and Knight of the Golden Spur:

I now present to you, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s "Leck mich im Arsch” (I will leave it to the reader to do his or her own translation!):

[1]The "trouser role" carries with it a misogynistic history of it's own. The curious practice of 'cross-dressing' - vocalists donning themselves in the wardrobe of the opposite gender - in this instance, wasn't a practice amalgamated only amongst men - although the brawnier sex did rule supreme: the historic use of 'trouser' vocalists did indeed employ women at a period in which they were, as described above, banned from the stage. How then, were they included? Why, by dressing in drag, of course - in exclusively male roles. Several composers of note would modify this 'loophole' in the battle of the sexes even further by creating male roles specifically for female mezzo-sopranos in drag. German-turned-British composer Georg Friedrich Händel was one of many composers who exercised this practice, by shrewdly documenting the roles in question as that of the castrati, Händel would both appease the puritans of high art society and embrace the dawn of a new female-inclusive era by sneaking in the fairer sex disguised in male attire and performing in traditionally male roles at the premieres of his operas Giulio Cesare and Ariodante (just to mention a few).



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  2. Hello there! This is my 1st comment here so I just wanted to give a quick shout out and say I truly enjoy reading through your blog
    posts. Can you recommend any other blogs/websites/forums that cover the same subjects?
    Thanks a lot!

    1. Well, a lovely hello to you as well, Anonymous!

      Welcome to my blog and I am thrilled to read that you enjoy my content.

      *NOTE* I am re-posting this reply as I typed it whilst on the train and hadn't realized I had made so many typos. Apparently, blogger now also limits the amount of characters per comment so unlike my original reply, I will have to split this into two responses so I can make sure you get all of the information you need. :)

      To answer your question, it depends on the vibe you are looking for:

      Slippeddisc is a fantastic 'insider' site that quickly picks up the latest scoop in the industry. It is led by the much-respected critic and author Norman Lebrecht and is run as more of a breaking news format, although one can also contribute in forums. Some pretty heavy hitters in the industry occasionally drop in on conversations, which is always a delight.

      CMUSE is a little more laid back, while providing education, news and some fun along the way. Definitely check them out.

      I would try to steer clear of mass quiz sites and/or trivia sites that often carry rumor, false information and pass on many debunked legends and myths. They are still fun to peruse but if you are looking for serious study, they may not be your best bet.

      ClassicFM is another site which draws heavily on Slipped disc as most do, but are unique in that they utilize comedy, unique videos and even have an educational portion to the site that is also informative yet highly entertaining.

      A great blog you might want to check out is historian and Musicologist Michael Lorenz' blog. He has an uncanny knack for discovering previously unheard of / seemingly lost music and artifacts considered destroyed or otherwise lost in the annals of time. He has been known to piece together/discover works that for centuries have baffled music historians. From what I read in his profile, he is located in Austria - perfect for accessing archives. You will not want to miss his blog.

      You may also use (with caution) sites like Mental-Floss, which mostly get it right but usually include inaccurate / long-since debunked tidbits.

      /end of part I

  3. /part II:

    You may also use (with caution) sites like Mental-Floss, which mostly get it right but usually include inaccurate / long-since debunked tidbits.

    Hope that helps! I collect both vintage and up-to-date biographies of composes, conductors and on Western Classical Music in general, and that, to me, is important because they provide both a contemporary picture of the era and the personality of the subject which may or may not be 'enhanced/influenced' due to public pressures, political stakes/correctness, and/or outright bias or bribery - but we get a very strong idea of the strengths and weaknesses which harbored inside and drove these men and women of yore. But as you may already know, and have read on Unraveling Musical Myths, new manuscripts are being found everyday, sometimes severely altering what we thought we knew of our ancestors’ time and his or her art itself. Take Mozart for example, his Köchel catalogue had to be rearranged on several occasions, and not just because of new manuscripts being found, but what new information we have gathered over the years. Changing the Köchel numbers of a piece can dramatically alter where Mozart was from both a creative and emotional aspect of his life during those times - and, as such, forms a temporary re-write of the man we thought we knew in a biographical sense.

    Essentially, you require a mix of the old and the new. Good luck! And do stay posted. I am pretty busy with education and other external obligations but should have a break coming soon. Just posted a new Trivia Installment today. Hope you enjoy it!

    N.B. if you are looking for magazines or radio, I highly suggest WQXR (which you can listen to live by scrolling down my side panel and selecting the 'listen live' button) - they often discuss the piece being played and the life of the composer when he or she put it into production. They also have a website which is also linked on my blog.

    Last but certainly not least is one of my fave go-to's: Limelight: Australia's Classical Music & Art Magazine. They have so much fun with the music they choose to cover. Always an informative, very fun read.



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