Saturday, 18 June 2016

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

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

Today’s entry features a sizeable entrée of paranoia with a side of superstition for starters:

Good luck charms and trinkets, rituals, and an occasional dabbling in the occult has long been associated with the great operas and masters of classical music: from famed tenor Luciano Pavarotti’s famous handkerchief, which the dynamic singer employed as a good-luck charm; to Tchaikovsky’s fear over losing his head and his compulsive ritual of conducting with one hand clasped about his baton, and the other relegated to supporting his chin – to the desperate and depraved measures of Scriabin and 16th–17th century murderer-prince Carlo Gesualdo’s involvement with witchcraft, the history of Western Classical Music carries with it a motley brew of magumbo and sorcery.

Gustav Mahler
Superstition was the name of the game at the dawn of the twentieth century for famed Austrian composer Gustav Mahler. It was the year 1909, and Mahler had just put the finishing touches on his final [1] symphony Das Lied von der Erde.

The composer, ecstatic at completing his monumental work, sat for a tête-à-tête with his beloved spouse, Alma. His opus was complete, he informed his wife, and, in a manner most unusual for the stalwart composer, would be recorded in his books as a composition without a numerical assignation. The reason for Mahler’s reluctance to number his symphony (which was structured as such, with the integration of song) as No. 9 lay in the composer’s superstition and very real fear of the number as it related to music: 19th century composers Ludwig van Beethoven and Anton Bruckner, after all, had both perished upon penning their ninth symphonies,[2]  with the latter composer failing to complete the work’s final movement before passing. Mahler, fearful of succumbing to the fates of his predecessors, subtitled his work as simply “Eine Symphonie für eine Tenor- und eine Alt- (oder Bariton-) Stimme und Orchester" ("A Symphony for Tenor, Alto and Large Orchestra”).

Fellow 20th century composer and triskaidekaphobic Arnold Schoenberg described for the public Mahler’s fear of the so-called “curse of the ninth” folklore in an essay on the superstitious composer:
“It seems that the Ninth is a limit. He who wants to go beyond it must pass away. It seems as if something might be imparted to us in the Tenth which we ought not yet to know, for which we are not ready. Those who have written a Ninth stood too close to the hereafter.”

Listen below to Das Lied von der Erde with mezzo-soprano Christa Ludwig & tenor René Kollo and the
Israel Philharmonic Orchestra under maestro Bernstein:

[1] Completed.
[2] The so-called "Curse of the Ninth" was heavily based in folklore and highly problematic. Discover more at the following link: Curse of the Ninth (at Wikipedia)

Giuseppe Verdi
Speaking of curses popular in the world of western classical music, 19th century composer Giuseppe Verdi, himself a suspected target of malocchio, and the focal point for overzealous protection by an obsessed mob following a disastrous premiere of the composer’s early opera, Alzira, would find not only his own person and works assailed by a sinister invisible culprit during the composer’s lifetime, but would also fall victim to such subterfuge even in the many years following his death by stroke in late January of 1901. La Forza del Destino, Verdi’s famous 1862 Italian opera, would fall victim to superstition by chanteurs following an unfortunate incident at New York’s Metropolitan Opera House involving American baritone Leonard Warren in March of 1960, wherein the singer, upon readying himself to perform the cabaletta “Morir, tremenda cosa” (“To die, a momentous thing”) in the opera’s third act, abruptly broke out into a fit of coughing and gasping for air, before allegedly uttering a cry for help before collapsing dead to the floor.

Warren’s early death (he was 48 at the time of demise) by cerebral hemorrhage, prompted many a opera singer to conclude Verdi’s Forza to have been cursed, with tenor Luciano Pavarotti refusing the role of Don Alvaro altogether, and with others resorting to ritualistic 'means of protection:' famed Italian tenor Franco Corelli was said to have seized his genitals on an occasional performance (why that particular part of his anatomy was especially designated for protection remains unknown) as a means of warding off any bad magumbo.

Listen below to the aria that formed the basis of the Forza Curse, Morir, Tremenda Cosa, as performed by
baritone Renato Bruson:

Did you know?

Galileo Galilei
...that the celebrated 16th century Italian composer, lutenist and music theorist Vincenzo Galilei, master of the late Renaissance and revered as a revolutionary pioneer of the Baroque period had an even more famous, more venerated offspring? Galilei’s first-born son, sired in February in the year 1564, would grow up to become none other than world-renowned astronomer, physicist and household name Galileo Galilei – better known in the present era as simply “Galileo!”

Enjoy below Vincenzo Galilei's Contrappunto 24, Qual Miracolo Amore:

Orlando di Lasso

...that in spite of becoming the oracle of the mature polyphonic style of the so-named Franco-Flemish school and revered master musician of the late 16th century musical Europe, Netherlandish composer Orlando di Lasso (Roland/e de Lassus) endured very tempestuous first beginnings in the composer’s foray into the world of classical music?

Although much music and the unblemished reputation as an innovator survive into the present era, details of the early life of di Lasso remain somewhat obscure.

What is known to scholars of this period is that the late Renaissance composer suffered much indignity in his everyday life both on account of his many gifts and in spite of them. Entering into the realm of music at an early age,  Orlando di Lasso was encouraged by elders to join the choir of a local church. So polished was the young Orlando’s voice, it is said that the juvenile singer was twice kidnapped on account of it – perhaps to serenade those in whom he was held hostage, or to provide the criminals with an outlet to make a lucrative living as a performing act!

Things seemed to take a turn for the better when, by the age of 18, a teenage Orlando took up a post as maestro of music at Naples, which provided for the now young man a bridge to a more lucrative teaching position in Rome. His joy was however, short lived: shortly after arrival in the Italian capital Lasso was made aware of the poorly state his parents, who were both said to have been in ill health back in the Netherlands. Lasso set off for home immediately upon hearing the concerning news, but it was, alas, too late to bid his parents a fare thee well: both mother and father were discovered deceased on arrival.

Enjoy below the gorgeous Pslami Poenitentialis by late Renaissance master Orlando di Lasso:

Suggested Reading (External link): 


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