Today, I’ll be posting on musical oddities. There are a great variety of things out there, but I’ll be covering composers and some interesting pieces. For more information, I’d suggest reading up on Erik Satie, because I would say he’s in a definite 1st place of all the strange composers. (Just wait until you hear what sort of pieces he wrote!)
So, let’s get started.
1. Here’s a little info on Erik Satie: He owned 12 identical gray, velvet suits. He would wear nothing else but a gray velvet suit, and when one wore out, he would begin wearing another. When he died, his followers found in his house, among other oddities, over 100 umbrellas and numerous letters – most of which were written to himself. One of these letters outlined his diet, which consisted of only white foods: eggs, sugar, shredded bones, rice, pasta, coconuts, white cheese, etc.
2. Arnold Schoenberg, the creator of 12-tone music, suffered from triskaidekaphobia, the fear of the number 13. He was born on September 13th, and considered it an evil omen. According to his friend Katia Mann, he believed he would die during a year that was a multiple of 13. He was so obsessive that when he noticed his title “Moses und Aaron” contained 13 letters, he changed it to “Moses und Aron”. Schoenberg feared the 76th year of his life when it was pointed out to him that 7 and 6 add to equal 13. Actually, he did end up dying at 76, on Friday the 13th of July, just before midnight.
3. The Austrian composer Anton Bruckner suffered from obsessive-compulsive disorder, though in his days they called it numeromania, an obsession with counting objects. He actually composed his symphonies so that every single measure of music satisfied a hidden numerical pattern.
4. Some composers had a form of synesthesia, called chromesthesia. People with this gift associate colors or shapes with certain musical pitches. Alexander Scriabin and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov liked to talk together because they both had chromesthesia and saw the same colors for some notes. Mozart, too, is said to have chromesthesia. He once said that the key of D major had an “orangey” sound to it, while B-flat minor was blackish. Other forms of synesthesia make people associate colors with letters or numbers, or associate noises in response to motion.
5. One cannot talk of musical people and their quirks without giving Ludwig van Beethoven a mention. He lost all his hearing by age 44, and through necessity had his friends write in blank books he carried with him to be able to talk to them. We see this as something of a blessing in disguise today, because many of his opinions about his music were written to his friends in these books. Another interesting fact is that Beethoven liked to pour cold water over his head when he composed.
Beethoven’s date of birth is unknown, but I’d like to mention that he was baptized on the 17th of December – two days ago (but also 245 years ago).
Now, let’s move on to the strangest pieces in music, whether they be the titles or the music itself – or lack thereof (as #1 demonstrates)!
1. John Cage “composed” what he thought his most important work in 1952, titling it 4’33”. To perform it, the performer(s) performs absolutely nothing for 4 minutes and 33 seconds. The idea is that the audience listens to its surroundings for all that time – making music of everyday life. It’s very interesting to me because (1) in composing it, Cage evidently considered any sound to be its own kind of music, (2) the performance will be quite different every time it is performed, and (3) the audience itself is a main performer.
2. Gyorgy Ligeti wrote the Poeme Symphonique For 100 Metronomes. Yes, much as though you’d wish otherwise, the title is self-explanatory. The piece is literally 100 metronomes set off at the same time—but at different tempos—until they stop.
I don’t know about you, but I think that would be a little hard to take.
3. Erik Satie makes a reappearance for his strange titles. 3 Pieces in the Shape of a Pear, which is a collection of piano piece for four hands. He also wrote Authentic Flabby Preludes (For a Dog). But then, it was for a humoristic suite. Satie’s Vexations is not quite so funny. It consists of a piece of music that repeats itself 840 times. Its first performance was in 1963, and it was played by more than a dozen people, like a relay. (The entire performance lasted 18 hours in total.) Satie also wrote Unpleasant Glimpses, Sketches and the Attentions of a big wooden snowman (rough translation), and Tunes to Make You Run Away.
4. You would have to listen to this to fully appreciate the perfection of the title, but I’ll put it here anyway: The Unanswered Question, by Charles Ives. In this piece, the brass and woodwinds sections are supposed to be placed so one cannot see the other – and the strings section performs offstage entirely. Each section plays its own independent tempo. The piece begins with strings playing ppp, creating a shimmering background. After 13 bars of the strings, a solo trumpet enters with a melodic motif that comes to no resolution, like a question. The woodwinds try to answer this question throughout the piece, each reply louder than the last. Each one fails to answer the trumpet’s query, and after it repeats itself a few times, the woodwinds seem to grow tired of the question and begin to mock it. The piece ends with the trumpet asking one last time, to no reply.
5. Let’s end it on a funny one. The Duetto Buffo di Due Gatti, roughly translated to “Humorous Duet for Two Cats” is the story of two cats meeting, fighting, and eventually making friends. The only word within the whole song is meow as the “cats” sing replies to each other. It’s operatically styled, and if there had been any other word than “meow” inserted it would be a beautiful duet.
Well, that’s musical humor for you.
And that concludes my post of musical oddities. Thanks for reading!