4 fun facts about classical music that you never knew

25 May 2015 / 1 year 5 months ago

Chen Jingwen

If you delve deeper into the amazing lives of classical music composers of the last few centuries, it may intrigue you further on this genre of music.

Some of them may come across as oddballs with strange tastes and behaviour but no one can deny that their great works deserve to be performed and appreciated forever.

Here are some unusual, fun facts about classical composers and their music:

1. Animals

What have animals done for classical music? A lot, in fact! Some notable masterpieces were inspired by their furry and feathered pals.

Italian composer Scarlatti created his ‘cat fugue’ after his kitty, Pulcinella, tip-toed across his keyboard. If that is not catty enough, the Cat Duet, which was attributed to Rossini, pits two sopranos in a humorous cat fight peppered with “meow” throughout.

Incidentally, the Italian composer’s opera, The Barber of Seville, was made even more famous by cartoon character Bugs Bunny playing a bogus barber.

And one example that general audiences may know is The Flight of The Bumblebee where Russian composer Rimsky-Korsakov used a high-pitched buzzing violin to depict the dramatic escape of a prince who had been turned into an insect.

2. Odd behaviour, eccentric characters

Master composers of classical music were geniuses indeed but a number were tormented souls with odd behaviour and eccentricity.

If rhine-stoned pianist Liberace was flamboyant, so was Richard Wagner, the German master of opera compositions. Suspected to be a cross-dresser, he loved graceful costumes with feminine, lace flourishes, and preferably, in pink. To inspire himself for the opera Parsifal, he surrounded himself with pink cushions scented with rose, and indulged in a bath replete with perfumes.

Austrian composer Bruckner had a bizarre obsession with the skulls of legendary classical masters Schubert and Beethoven, which he reportedly grasped when their corpses were revealed.

Hungarian composer and pianist Franz Liszt, who was regarded as one of the most handsome men during the Romantic-era of the 19th century, received so many requests for locks of his hair that he bought a dog and sent his admirers clippings of its fur instead.

3. Have food, will play music

Ever heard of the phrase “an Italian meal is like an opera”? Some famous composers are renowned gourmands and gluttons. And some, such as Rossini, even have culinary creations named after them. Like Tournedos Rossini – a French steak – and Eggs Rossini.

French composer and pianist Satie was more than just a fastidious eater who insisted only on white foods – egg white, sugar, animal fat, salt, coconut, rice, turnip, pastry, white cheese, fish with white meat. He would not be out of place in Diner en Blanc events nowadays.

If you think Puccini’s La Boheme opera is overloaded with food, you would not be surprised to learn that the Italian composer was instrumental in setting up Club Boheme, where he whipped up, for friends, pasta with eels, and roasted pheasants and partridges that he had hunted.

4. Rivalries and insults

When jealousies and rivalries spilled over from the stage to real life, barbs and insults were traded.

Composer Puccini and conductor Toscanini cultivated a bromance that was sometimes soured by feuds. One Christmas, Puccini reportedly sent Toscanini a panettone, not realising that their ties were not so endearing then.

He then followed up with a telegram that read: “Panettone sent by mistake. Puccini.” The fiery conductor shot back with his telegram: “Panettone eaten by mistake. Toscanini.”

Classical music composers were also the most severe critics of their counterparts.

English composer Arnold Bax thought all the last movements of Baroque composer Bach’s works “are like the running of a sewing machine”, while German composer Richard Strauss felt Schoenberg would be better off “shovelling snow than scribbling on manuscript paper”.

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