Saturday, 23 April 2016

TRIVIA & HUMOR (Fun Opera Facts part IV) Feat. DID YOU KNOW?

It’s time for another installment of Mayhem Behind the Music: TRIVIA & HUMOR!

Let’s dive right in with a delightfully drôle exchange between 19th century Italian Composer Giuseppe Verdi and his publisher, one Giulio Riccordi after having received a chastising note from one very disgruntled fan.


It would be following two performances of Verdi’s Aida in 1872 that an outraged musical connoisseur by the name of Prospero Bertani would pen a scathing letter to the composer, professing his distaste for the work and demanding the proprietor of such filth reimburse him - not only for the value of the ticket – but also for his traveling expenses and a self-described “disgustingly bad dinner!"

Apparently, Verdi found this reaction rather comical,[1] as we will see in this humorous exchange between composer and publisher Giulio Riccordi (to whom Verdi had forwarded the hate-mail):

Verdi’s Instructions to his publisher:

"St. Agata, 10 May 1872

Dear Giulio,

Yesterday I received from Reggio a letter which is so amusing that I am sending it to you, asking you to carry out the commission I am about to give you. Here is the letter:

Reggio, 7 May 1872

Much honored Signor Verdi,

On the second of this month, attracted by the sensation your opera Aida was making, I went to Parma. Half an hour before the performance began I was already in my seat, No. 120. I admired the scenery, listened with great pleasure to the excellent singers, and took great pains to let nothing escape me. After the performance was over, I asked myself whether I was satisfied. The answer was in the negative. I returned to Reggio and, on the way back in the railroad carriage, I listened to the verdicts of my fellow travelers. Nearly all of them agreed that Aida was a work of the highest rank.

Thereupon I conceived a desire to hear it again, and so on the forth I returned to Parma. I made the most desperate efforts to obtain a reserved seat, and there was such a crowd that I had to spend 5 lire to see the performance in comfort.

I came to the following conclusion: the opera contains absolutely nothing thrilling or electrifying, and if it were not for the magnificent scenery, the audience would not sit through it to the end. It will fill the theatre a few more times and then gather dust in the archives. Now, my dear Signor Verdi, you can imagine my regret at having spent 32 lire for these two performances. Add to this the aggravating circumstance that I am dependent on my family, and you will understand that his money preys on my mind like a terrible specter. Therefore I address myself frankly and openly to you so that you may send me this sum. Here is the account:

Railroad, going: 2.60
Railroad, returning: 3.30
Theatre: 8.00
Disgustingly bad dinner: 2.00

Twice: 15.90

Total: 31.80

In the hope that you will extricate me from this dilemma,

I am yours sincerely,


My address: Bertani, Prospero; Via St. Domenico, No. 5.

Imagine, if to protect a child of a family from the horrible specters that disturb his peace, I should not be disposed to pay that little bill he has brought to my attention! Therefore by means of your representative or a bank, please reimburse 27.80 lire in my name to this Signor Prospero Bertani, 5 Via St. Domenico. This isn't the entire sum for which asks me, but... to pay for his dinner too! No. He could very well have eaten at home!!! Of course he will send you a receipt for that sum and a note, by which he promises never again to go to hear my new operas, to avoid for himself the danger of other specters and for me the farce of paying him for another trip [...]”
The hilarious back-and-forth continues between composer and publisher as Riccordi, also very much amused, sends for a “correspondent” to pay the sum “owed” to the disgruntled fan. Riccordi happily informs Verdi of a delightful exchange between correspondent and Mr. Bertani in which the comical critic informs the messenger:
“If Maestro Verdi reimburses me, this means that he has found what I wrote him to be correct...”
The whimsical communiqué concludes with a promissory contract by Bertani to Verdi, in which he agrees to
“…undertake no trip to hear any of the Maestro's new operas in the future, unless he takes all the expenses upon himself, whatever my opinion of his work may be.”

Now that is what I call comedy gold!


[1] So amused were Verdi and Riccordi at this most unusual exchange, composer and publisher would forward the letter to the local newspapers, wherein fan and foe alike could regale upon the fate of Aida as according to Mr Bertani in a true exchange of rag-piece for rag-piece!


This 19th century German composer left behind a remarkable legacy as one of the greatest composers to have ever walked the face of the earth. Revered even in contemporary times as an innovative genius (renowned conductor Hans von Bülow would famously “create” the group of the "Three Bs" - a collective gathering of composers par excellence for the classical enthusiast - which also included Johann Sebastian Bach and Ludwig van Beethoven).

What Brahms didn’t leave behind was a legal will.  It was Brahms’ intention to donate his fortune to societies that would aid indigent musicians, however this was never documented in any official format. 

It seems an aging Brahms (he was 63 when he died) was surrounded by some rather shady individuals in his final years:

it had been reported shortly after the composers death that a fatal case of cancer of the liver - although known to very close companions of the musician, including, shockingly, several physicians who had attended to him - was kept a closely guarded secret within Brahms inner circle. So well guarded, in fact, was this secret that those closest to the composer (including his physician) failed to inform Brahms of the serious nature of his illness, preferring the composer continue to create revenue by composing - whilst completely in the dark about his own mortality - until the very end.



We have all heard of the vast and varied and very infamous stories relating to Beethoven and his alleged fiery temper: from turning over his apartment in a crazed “Rage over a Lost Penny” to the over-bearing composer forcing the marriage of his brother Johann to the latter’s employee, Therese Obermayer on the threat of arrest (the pair had been illegally shacking up together) - but who among us hasn’t been known to let off a little steam from time to time?

For Beethoven, particularly in his later years, sudden explosions of rage would become synonymous with the ailing composer, who only grew more temperamental as he began to experience the onset of deafness midway though a most exemplary career.

In one rather humorous instance (although one can be sure it was not very funny to the composer or his ‘victim’ at the time), Beethoven took out his frustrations on a household cook who had the misfortune of bringing to the composer stale eggs, which an angry Beethoven proceeded to pelt him with! This one sided-food fight was not an isolated occurrence: the composer would soak a waiter in a bowl of soup by pouring it over the unfortunate servers head after he accidentally brought the perfecting musician a consommé that was too cool on the tongue.

As outrageous as Beethoven’s angry exploits may have been, at least they didn’t involve human to human combat – much unlike 17th century Italian composer Jean-Baptiste Lully, who once befell so outraged at an inept performance by a member of his orchestra, he ripped the fiddle from the unfortunate musician’s hands, and smashed him over the head with it, shattering the instrument to pieces!



In the year 1808, just one year shy of the death of this 19th century master of the Classical Era, Austrian composer Joseph Haydn would attend a concert given in his honor at Vienna. On the day’s billing would be Haydn’s own oratorio “The Creation.”

During a most seminal moment in the oratorio’s performance in which the words “Let there be light – and there was light…” was sung, the day that “had been overcast…with skies [above] lowering and threatening…” was suddenly broken by the sun, which “burst forth in full splendor and flooded the hall with light…” at which point the entire attending audience, awestruck, turned to face the composer, who at once leapt from his seat, pointed to the heavens and cried out “It came from there!”

Did You Know?

Not all of our most beloved composers of yore started out their careers on a silver platter.

It is a well known fact that many a composer died in poverty, but did you know that just as many were born and/or discovered as paupers?

Jean-Baptiste Lully was just one such case. The French Baroque musician would rise to astronomical proportions within the court of Louis XIV of France, even securing for himself the much coveted position as Secrétaire Du Roi (Royal Secretary) and Surintendant de sa Musique (Superintendent of Music for the King’s Chamber) in the mid-17th century. Such placements and honorifics were a far cry from Lully’s most humble beginnings as a servant in the kitchen of one Mademoiselle de Montpensier, niece of the Chevalier de Guise, Roger de Lorraine.

Discover even more Trivia and Humor from the Mayhem Behind the Music: Trivia & Humor archives!


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