Tuesday, 31 January 2017


On this January day some 220 years ago, a bouncing baby boy would be welcomed into the awaiting arms of the Schuberts.

The father of the future young prodigy, a violinist and teacher, no doubt anxious to pass on his musical acuity unto his son. Should this new bundle of joy survive into adulthood, the couple could consider themselves dually blessed: this special delivery, after all, would arrive during medicine's primitive era, wherein the only inoculation to prevent against disease was the newly introduced smallpox vaccine, developed only one year earlier by an Englishman in 1796 – the combating of disease, much like the Schubert’s newly born son, still in it’s infancy stage. The father Schubert knew the risks of early infant mortality all to well – of the couple’s 14 children – one of them illegitimate – only five would survive past infancy. Luckily enough for the couple -  and for posterity - their newborn son would live into the relative mid-stages of adulthood. The beaming parents named the child Franz, after the child’s father, of course.

The world outside of young Franz’ inner circle – that is, those outside of his own kin – would come to know the young Austrian as the prodigy: the musically gifted instrumentalist and young composer Franz Schubert. Posterity would remember him as simply “Schubert” – one of the great icons and leading influential musicians of the classical era – and yet another gifted export of that ever-so-musical Mecca known as Austria; the same country that churned out such pre-eminent and enigmatic composers as Joseph Haydn, Ludwig van Beethoven, Johannes Brahms, and the Strauss dynasty just to name a few…and of course the unparalleled maestro of Western Classical Music himself: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – the one time wunderkind who had famously mesmerized Europe’s Royal elite almost since his birth some 41 years prior to Schubert’s own entry into the world.

It is this last mentioned composer in whom Schubert would share an uncanny likeness, in both personal and professional aspects. Unraveling Musical Myths explores the many similarities between these two highly captivating figures in the comparison below:


Both composers were born at the end of January – Mozart on the 27th, and Schubert on the 31st. Coincidentally, both composers were also born in the 18th century (Mozart in 1756, and Schubert in 1797) – they were also both born in Austria.


Both Mozart and Schubert would receive lessons from their fathers, both of whom were violinists, and both of whom would teach their sons the instrument. Both young prodigies would be assisted in lessons on the piano by a sibling – for Mozart, it was his sister “Nannerl,” and for Schubert, it was his brother, Ignaz.

A young Mozart plays the harpsichord, flanked by father Leopold and sister
Maria Anna (Nannerl) in this family portrait


Schubert had yet another thing in common with Mozart: both composers would be "miracle children” – the surviving minority of a large family of siblings. Of the Mozart family’s seven offspring, only two would survive past infancy. As for the Schubert’s fourteen children (one illegitimate), only nine would survive past this stage (which, if you are doing the math, means a total of five sibling deaths for the Mozart kin, and  five sibling deaths for the Schubert kin).


Mozart knew Salieri as a contemporary ‘rival’ and musical collaborator at the Habsburg court, while Schubert knew the composer as a teacher of composition and music theory.


In fact, both Mozart and Schubert not only revered the composer Haydn – they would both also credit the works of the composer as having been a source of influence in creating their own compositions.


Both musicians would create a stir at the tender age of sixteen: Mozart would arrive in Vienna as a keyboard prodigy at this age. It would be a fortuitous visit for the young musician - during which the composer is believed to have met with Haydn, and following this meeting, would further hone his skills as a composer - eventually establishing for himself a name that would exceed the rather secluded confines of a master pianist. Within 7 months of his return to the Austrian capital in 1782 (when Mozart was then 10 years older) the man formerly known as the “finest keyboard player in all of Vienna” would establish himself in the city and across Europe as a composer, after his opera Die Entführung aus dem Serail ("The Abduction from the Seraglio") opened to rave reviews. It is probably safe to assume that the 26 year old Mozart had absorbed much influence from his pubescent visit to Vienna and his meeting with Herr Haydn in 1772.
Cristina Deutekom performs the stunning aria "Martern Aller Arten" from Mozart's Die Entführung aus dem Serail:

Schubert, on the other hand, could also claim his sixteenth year as having been a pivitol moment in his career, and the city of Vienna as the backdrop in which he too, would establish himself* as a composer – it would be here that the pubescent composer would launch his first Symphony (no. I in D major, D. 82):


Schubert, a late-classical era composer, can also lay claim to the early romantic era.


According to modern accounts (the Köchel catalogue), Mozart boasts an excess of 600 works, his oeuvre consisting of symphonic, concertante, chamber, operatic, and choral music. 

Mozart's gorgeous aria "Dove Sono i Momenti" from opera Le Nozze di Figaro, Gundula Janowitz performs:

Schubert also boasts an excess of 600 secular vocal works (lieder), in addition to several symphonic, chamber, operatic, sacred, incidental and piano music. 

One of the many gorgeous lieder of Schubert - Barbara Hendricks sings "Du Bist Die Ruh":



Mozart would perish December 5th in Vienna in 1791, at the relatively young age (from a modern perspective) of 35 years, by what was believed at the time to have been the acute stages of miliary fever. Schubert would perish at just 31 years in November of 1828, also in Vienna, believed to have been taken from the world by yet another fever-related malady – not miliary, but rather allegedly by typhoid fever.

(and both shared the same STD)...

Both ‘causes of death’ were hotly contested by the public at the time of both musician’s departures from the musical sphere, a trend that persists to this day. One theory that still makes the rounds is a premature death for both Mozart and Schubert by the tertiary (late) stages of Syphilis and/or it’s treatment. Both composers were known to have been afflicted by the very same sexually transmitted disease.

Like Mozart, who was so financially poor toward the end of his life that his widow Constanze could scarcely afford to bury him (the funeral would end up being funded by one of Mozart's former patrons, the
Baron Gottfried van Swieten), Schubert, too, would die penniless.



Both Mozart and Schubert are undisputedly two of the most instantly recognizable names in Western Classical Music. While both boasted undeniable, seemingly unearthly talents, both composers owe a large portion of their persisting infamy to the high praise and championship of some pretty heavy hitters in classical music history.

While there is undoubtedly a discrepancy between both composers in terms of performance history – Mozart having toured extensively and performed before Emperors, kings and other members of nobility in addition to the greater public; whilst Schubert held many private, invitee performances in his private salon (musical meetups he called "Schubertiade")* before an intimate circle of contemporary musicians, both composers were widely esteemed, praised, and viewed as a source of invaluable influence for some of Western Classical Music (and Eastern Europe's) most famous names: Mozart counted among his admirers Felix Mendelssohn, Johannes Brahms, Antonín Dvořák, Joseph Haydn, Richard Wagner,  Frédéric Chopin, Camille Saint-Saëns, Gioachino Rossini, Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky, Richard Strauss  - even Schubert himself.

Some of Schubert’s famous championers throughout posterity have been Felix Mendelssohn, Johannes Brahms, Antonín Dvořák, Franz Liszt,  Robert Schumann,  Hector Berlioz, Anton Bruckner, Anton Webern, Benjamin Britten and Richard Strauss.

For both Mozart and Schubert, the above lists of admirers are far from exhaustive. Both composers continue to bewilder, astonish, and inspire composers and musicians living in the 21st century – and, it is due to our exalted privilege of listening to masterfully rendered recreations of the music of these maestri – their scores having been tediously and meticulously preserved thought many centuries - that we have come to share the same conclusion of unrivalled excellence in these two enigmatic and ingenious composers as have our more musically inclined ancestors.


Friday, 27 January 2017


A young portrait of Mozart by Joseph-Siffred Duplessis
It would be on this January day 261 years ago that miracle child Joannes Chrisostomus Wolfgang Gottlieb Mozart (later baptized on the 28th of January as Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart – known to the musical sphere as Wolfgang Amadé* Mozart) would make his grand entrance into this world – and into his father’s private flat – at 8 o’clock in the evening at No. 9, Getreidegasse, the Mozart family home in Salzburg.

It would be the seventh time violinist Leopold Mozart and his wife Maria Anna introduced into the world a potential future prodigy – although little Joannes Chrisostomus would be the only male offspring of the couple to survive. He would join the Mozart clan as brother to big sister Maria Anna (Nannerl), who was then 4 (and the couple's only surviving daugther).

Young Mozart’s very existence and survival into adulthood would prove to be a miracle in every sense of the word: the young wunderkind is reported to have already been able to pick out small chords on the harpsichord by the age of three, and, according to the private writings of his father Leopold, was able to sight-read a complicated piece of music - “mastering” the composition at his keyboard in just “thirty minutes” - by the age of four. By five, little Amadeus (the Latin form of the French Amadé – Mozart’s preferred spelling* – from the Greek Theophilus, which, translated into English, reads quite aptly [one] “loved by God”) was performing before the prestigious University of Salzburg, his father’s alma mater, no less.

Today, Unraveling Musical Myths - and the greater musical sphere - celebrates the birth and the life of Western Classical Music’s foremost icon, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Herr Mozart is an undisputed composer favorite of the author of Unraveling Musical Myths, and as such, has been featured extensively on this blog.

To find out where the young musical wunderkind went from here, feel free to peruse the Mozart Archives, which covers the life, times, exploits, triumphs, and heartaches of this most gifted composer - from his humble birth on the 3rd floor of his parents home to his final repose at his marital residence in Vienna 35 years later in December 1791 - and discover along the way his most majestic oeuvre:

Alleluia*, from Mozart’s Regina Coeli, K. 185; Emma Kirkby and the Westminster Cathedral Boys Choir under maestro Christopher Hogwood (accompanied by The Academy of Ancient Music) *Queued at 10:43:

Fun Fact!

Name breakdown:

Portrait of a Young Boy believed to be Mozart.
Joannes Chrisostomus Wolfgang Gottlieb Mozart was so named after the child was born on the ‘feast’ day of St. John Chrysostom – and it is from this ‘saint’ the boy acquired the Johannes (John) Chrisostomus/Chrysostomus…

the name Wolfgang (or, “Wolfrl” as he was lovingly called by his family), was given to the newborn babe by Leopold, after his father-in-law, Wolfgang Nikolaus.

“Gottlieb,” German for loved [by] God, took the place of the Greek “Theophilus” form. According to extensive amounts of correspondence penned by Mozart which survives, it would become apparent to fans of the composer that Mozart in fact preferred the French translation (Amadè) of the Latin form of Theophilus – Amadeus – however Mozart is known to have also referred to himself by the Latin spelling.

“Mozart,” is, of course, the family patronymic.

Did You Know?

The home in which Mozart was born, located at No. 9, Getreidegasse in Salzburg, Austria - now a shrine and monument to the composer - today serves as one of the most patronized museums in the world.

For more information on admission fees, and for a virtual peek into the home, visit mozarteum.at. 


Monday, 23 January 2017


Today’s Quote of the Day comes to us courtesy of the 18th century French writer and music critic known mononymously as Stendhal (born Marie-Henri Beyle) in honor of the 234th anniversary of his birth - observed by both the literary and musical spheres on this 23rd day of January - and is extracted from the iconic author’s exquisitely poetic biography Vie de Rossini (Life of Rossini, published 1824):

“Take any young Italian, whose whole being is preoccupied with some imperious passion: he may, while it is still at fever-heat, reflect upon it for a time in silence; but sooner or later he will start to sing, softly, perhaps some tune by Rossini; and quite unconsciously he will have selected, among all the tunes he knows, the one which seems most aptly to echo his own mood. Then, a little later, instead of singing softly to himself, he will begin to sing out loud; and, still unsuspecting, his singing will begin to answer, in subtle shapes and shadings, the peculiar quality of the passion which is raging in his heart. His soul, as it were, has found an echo, and the echo is itself a consolation; his singing is like a mirror in which he can observe his own reflection; previously, he had been exasperated by the unkindness of fate, and his spirit was filled with anger; but now he can see himself…”

Take a deep breath, and slowly exhale to the gorgeous stylings of Gioachino Rossini: enjoy below the sublime quintetto “Celeste man placata” from the 18th century romantic composer’s opera Mosè in Egitto:

Did You Know?

Although Stendhal’s music-related literary output may not have exactly been superfluous, the writer's early biographies on composer favorites Franz Joseph Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and famed 18th century librettist Pietro Metastasio (Vies de Haydn, de Mozart et de Métastase, published in 1814), and his biography on Rossini in particular (Stendhal holds the distinction of being the latter composers’ first biographer) remain a popular source of reference for modern scholars seeking first-hand, contemporary accounts of critical dissection and analysis (including the psycho-analysis) of the leading composers of the author’s era.

Of the favorite composers of the writer mentioned above, Stendhal would appear to harness the lion’s share of his adulation on Rossini: in Vie de Rossini, he introduces the biography thusly:

“Napoleon is dead; but a new conqueror has already shown himself to the world; and from Moscow to Naples, from London to Vienna, from Paris to Calcutta, his name is constantly on every tongue. The fame of this hero knows no bounds save those of civilization itself.” 

Stendhal remained an ardent admirer of music for the remainder of his life; and, in a manner most coincidental, the author would perish by the same illusive hand that claimed the lives of so many 18th century composers (excluding the above mentioned composers - save for speculation surrounding Herr Mozart): complications from the treatment of Syphilis would inevitably lead to the writer succumbing to a fatal seizure whilst walking the streets of Paris on the 23rd of March, 1842.

Read Vie de Rossini in English (translated by Richard N. Coe) for free at archive.org:


Sunday, 22 January 2017


Purchase this title on Amazon
I have finally finished reading composer/writer Jan Swafford's massive tome of a biography on Ludwig van Beethoven (at 1077 pages this was no quick or easy feat!)

This 2014 title published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt could stand toe-to-toe with Otto Jahn/Hermann Abert's scholarly biographical account of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in terms of minutiae and intricate attention to detail regarding the lives and times of two of the classical era's foremost masters of the musical arts.

I award "Beethoven: Anguish and Triumph" 5/5 stars.




"A meticulously researched and up-to-date account of the life and times of Herr Beethoven. So often, when reading about Ludwig, precedence is given to the composer's struggles with his temperament - a likely by-product of the onset of auditory paracusia experienced by Beethoven whilst still in his productive years - and, equally as often, too much emphasis is placed on the contrast between this inner turmoil and the (oddly) productive aftermath thrust upon the composer as he and his fans/dissenters dealt with his complete loss of hearing later in life.

Don't let the title of Swafford's latest opus fool you: the "Anguish" of which this scholarly biographer regales begins with the subject's birth, ushering the reader through pubescence, adulthood and final repose - detailing not only this most troublesome period of Beethoven's life, but also of the many "triumphs" and "anguishes" experienced within the composers personal and professional spheres - and of the hopes, dreams, successes and failings of the society in which Beethoven lived: this 'background' information reads like a discourse on 18th century social triumph and unrest, and is as thrilling as Beethoven's life itself.

Part biography, part history/political science, and part musical dissection, this biographical tome will undoubtedly serve as the definitive Beethoven biography for years to come."

Enjoy below Herr Beethoven's setting of Kyrie, from his Missa Solemnis in D major, Op. 123 under the baton of maestro Bernstein:

For more music-related book reviews, check out Reviews by Rose here on Unraveling Musical Myths, or, for these and unrelated/semi-related subject matter, visit my profile on Goodreads.


Tuesday, 17 January 2017


Newly discovered photograph of Frédéric Chopin
The Institut Polonais in Paris has announced the exciting arrival of a c.1847 daguerreotype featuring the likeness of famed 19th century Polish Romantic composer Frédéric Chopin, which was recently discovered by Swiss physicist and “Chopin connoisseur” Alain Kohler in what the Institute’s website claims was a “private home.”

The photograph – only one of three known live portraits of the composer in existence – displays a pensive – perhaps even somber–looking Chopin, and is believed to have been captured at the studio of French photographer Louis-Auguste Bisson, the very same cameraman who shot the iconic seated (and weathered-looking) portrait of the composer [fig. II] in 1849, just months shy of Chopin’s death in October of that year to what physicians at the time believed was consumption (tuberculosis) - a diagnosis and cause of death that has since been ruled inconclusive. The newly discovered portrait was authenticated as a true likeness of the composer following what the Institute describes as a “thorough investigation,” one which was co-headed by musician Gilles Bencimon of Radio France International.

According to the Institute’s newsfeed, the historic discovery of a previously unknown artifact by Kohler was not an isolated incident. The scientist is lauded with discovering, in 2015, a grand piano in Germany, which, coincidentally, is also linked to Chopin - and on which the composer himself had performed (the Pleyel Grand Piano no 11265), and the very instrument on which Chopin used to teach his aristocratic students from the confines of his living room in apt #9, 80 rue Taitbout, at Paris’ Square d'Orléans during the winter-spring stretch in 1844/45. It is believed Chopin may have worked on preliminary sketches for his Sonata for cello and piano, his 65th opus, on the instrument.

View the now three-strong photographs of Chopin below: 

Further reading (external links):

Chopin's Sonata for Cello in Piano in G Minor, Op. 65,  movement III (Largo); Jacqueline du Pré /Daniel Barenboim:

Did You Know?
A (different) third photograph (alleged), said to showcase the likeness of Chopin in post-mortem repose, “surfaced” in March 2011 courtesy of Polish photographer and collector Wladyslaw Zuchowski, who claimed to have purchased the daguerreotype from the hands of a private collector in Scotland in December of that year.

According to Zuchowski, the funereal photo, which the photographer believes was shot just moments after the composer’s untimely demise at age 39 in Paris, bears an imprint of the year 1849 – the year of Chopin’s death – and the name of the aforementioned photographer Louis-Auguste Bisson.

Zuchowski’s claim of possessing what would have been the third known live capture of the composer in existence was largely debunked by photography/Chopin experts and curators later that year.

View the purported photo, and read more about the ill-fated ‘discovery’ here (external link).


Tuesday, 10 January 2017


Today's Quote of the Day comes to us from Polish Romantic composer Frédéric Chopin.

This darling of 19th century eastern and western Europe may have (literally) left his heart in Poland and the soil of his native land in France, but as Chopin so eloquently states in the quote below, the composer ultimately bequeathed unto the greater world a timeless legacy of universal beauty:

“Music has no Fatherland;
it is the whole universe.”

- Frédéric Chopin

Enjoy below Chopin’s gorgeous Second Piano Concerto (the much beloved Larghetto) as performed by keyboard legend Arthur Rubenstein with the LSO under maestro André Previn. *The larghetto begins and is queued at 14:55 and ends at 24:08:

Did You Know?
Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2 - penned by the composer at the tender age of 20 whilst still engaged in musical study in Warsaw, Poland - owes it’s numerical designation not to the order in which the music was written, but rather to the date of the publication of the score. The composer’s Piano Concerto no. 1 in E minor, first performed some seven months after the premiere of the 2nd concerto (as part of a “farewell” series of concerts before Chopin departed Warsaw for Paris), would be the first of the concertos to be published, earning it the numerical designation of "1(st)" Piano Concerto – even though the composition itself was not penned by the composer until after the premiere of the 2nd, in March 1830.


Friday, 6 January 2017


It’s time for another installment of “From Obscurity into Light” – one in a series of featured profiles on composers of merit otherwise unknown to the casual listener (and sometimes even to the seasoned admirer).

Benedikt Schack (center)
Today’s composer of note is 18th century Czech composer, actor and tenor Benedikt Schack (pictured above-center).

Troupe leader Emanuel Schikaneder performs
as Papageno in Mozart's Die Zauberflöte.
Schikaneder would be instrumental in
Schack's composing/performing
career by introducing the tenor to
Mozart in 1786.
Born February 7 in 1758 Bohemia, this Classical era musician began honing in on his musical acuity first as a chorister for a cathedral in Prague at 15, followed by a lengthy period of vocal study under Haydn-trained singing coach (and tenor) Carl Friberth. Receiving lessons from Friberth – and inadvertently learning techniques passed down to the maestro from one of the most renowned and respected composers in Europe (in Herr Haydn) certainly paid off well for young Schack. By the time Benedikt reached 28, he had not only served a brief stint as Kapellmeister to Prince Heinrich von Schönaich-Carolath of Silesia, he would also join Europe’s most famous traveling theatrical troupe headed by the baritone, composer and impresario Emanuel Schikaneder (the very same Schikaneder who would pen the libretto for Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute – arguably one of Mozart’s most famous works). 

It would be through joining the iconic troupe as composer and vocalist in 1786 that Schack would meet and befriend Herr Mozart – who, along with sister Nannerl and father Leopold had become friendly with Schikaneder six years earlier, during the latter’s extended stay in Salzburg. The Mozart family were reportedly so enamored with the troupe’s productions, it is said they almost “never missed [their] shows,” and took it upon themselves to make the acquaintance of it’s leader by inviting Emanuel to a round of Bölzlschiessen (dart shooting). It would be through Schikaneder that Mozart would become introduced to Schack, whose vocal abilities were as much lauded as were his capabilities as a composer - especially by the Senior Mozart, Leopold, who raved over Benedikt's technique in a now famous letter to daughter Maria Anna (Nannerl), who would make his acquaintance later, alongside Wolfgang.

By all appearances, young Schack’s friendship with Herr Mozart superseded even that of the maestro's kinship with Schikaneder. Mozart was said to have routinely requested the company of Benedikt for his daily “strolls” – according to an 1811 account by the Bavarian historian Felix Joseph Lipowsky the king of opera may even have penned sections of music for his new friend whilst Schack readied himself for the excursions:
“Mozart often came to Schack to fetch him for a stroll; while Schack dressed he would sit at the writing desk and compose here and there a piece in Schack's operas. Thus several passages in Schack's operas derive from Mozart's own hand and genius.”
So close were two musical comrades that Constanze, Herr Mozart’s spouse, would pen a letter to Schack toward the end of his life in December of 1826. In the very personal exchange, the widow Mozart (now Nissen through her second marriage to the Danish diplomat Georg Nikolaus von Nissen) recalls the undeniable bond shared between the two friends:
“I could think of absolutely no one who knew him better or to whom he was more devoted than you...”
Schack would befriend
Herr Mozart
- a later collaborator -
in 1786.
The dynamic duo had collaborated not only on parchment but also on stage: in 1790, it would be for the singspiel Der Stein der Weisen ("The Philosopher's Stone"), a troupe-collective opera with libretto by Schikaneder and with each member of the group composing their own sections for the work, and with Herr Mozart contributing his own sections as honored guest. Der Stein... proved to be a success during Mozart’s lifetime – it would, however be overshadowed by the ravishing success of Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) which would hold its première one year later at Schikaneder’s Theater auf der Wieden (on September 30, 1791, just two months prior to Wolfgang’s death).

As with Der Stein der Weisen, Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte would also feature Schack and the Schikaneder troupe, with group leader Schikaneder penning the libretto for the work (and appearing onstage as the character Papageno), and with member Johann Baptist Henneberg as conductor, and with Franz Xavier Gerl and Schack as stage performers (as Sarastro and Tamino).

Schack, who retired from the stage 1813 after experiencing a decline in his vocal ability, would survive on a pension until his death on December 10 1826. An obituary published anonymously at the time of Schack's passing places the composer at Mozart's bedside on the "very eve" of his death. It reads:
“On the very eve of his death, Mozart had the score of the Requiem brought to his bed, and himself (it was two o'clock in the afternoon) sang the alto part; Schack, the family friend, sang the soprano line, as he had always previously done, Hofer, Mozart's brother-in-law, took the tenor, Gerl, later a bass singer at the Mannheim Theater, the bass. They were at the first bars of the Lacrimosa when Mozart began to weep bitterly, laid the score on one side, and eleven hours later, at one o'clock in the morning (of 5 December 1791, as is well known), departed this life.”

Listen below to the stunning aria “Welch fremde Stimme hörte ich?” (What Strange Voice Do I Hear?") from Der Stein der Weisen performed by the Boston Baroque under Martin Pearlman. This particular aria/section was composed by Herr Schack (it also happens to be among my personal list of top tenor arias!) *Aria begins (and is queued) at 32:16 mins:

More from this series:

Wednesday, 4 January 2017


Johannes Brahms: composer, conductor, comic
It was on this January day in 1881 that esteemed faculty and alumni at the University of Breslau in Wroclaw, Poland were first treated to a rousing performance of Herr Brahms’ so called “Academic Festival Overture,” a very tongue-in-cheek show of thanks from the composer for the rare privilege of having been nominated by the University for an honorary Doctorate of Philosophy.

The ever-so-humble Brahms, a noted dissenter of public displays of pomp and circumstance, first attempted to quietly thank the faculty via a postcard acknowledging his gratitude – a humble display of affection that was quickly dismissed as inadequate by the conductor Bernard Scholz (the man who had first nominated him for the degree). A “grander gesture” of thanks would be both required and expected from the nominee – no less than a freshly composed symphony would do to appease the honor! This was no altruistic endowment, that much was made surprisingly clear to the composer.

Brahms, more than a little miffed at the actions required to receive his “gift,” decided to turn the pretentious nature of the faculty on it’s head with a cleverly designed orchestration consisting of a mélange of student-favorite drinking songs and even a fraternity initiation ballad – intended to mock the ‘seriousness’ of the degree and those who bestowed upon him the honor – that elite sect of greedy bandits who gave with one hand and expected to take with the other. The premier of the overture was nothing less than a symphonic TKO.

It’s safe to say the faculty – who sat front and center at the premiere – were less than pleased with the performance.

What makes Brahms’ symphonic show of thanks even more delightfully crass lay in the dedication associated with the honorary degree – the University had dubbed the composer “the foremost composer of serious music in Germany today.”

Score one for Brahms! 

The Academic Overture:

The student 'initiation' ballad "Was kommt dort von der höh'?" (What comes there from on yonder?) was just one of the "very boisterous potpourri of student drinking songs à la Suppé" (the description given to the Overture by Brahms himself) - and is certainly one of the works' more raucous themes. Click here to read the lyrics to this rowdy gem (external link).