HOPEFULLY, I will update this site every month and put some interesting information about music or composers that we are studying, or something about current events in music that might relate to us, or who knows what! If you have ideas for me, let me know!
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This month's Tidbit page is a collection of musical oddities -- and a very miscellaneous collection at that!
I plan to do other "I Didn't Know That" collections, so if you have some interesting tidbits of information, let me know!

A Night in Vienna

Franz Joseph Haydn and a young Mozart were present at a social occasion in Vienna at which Haydn played through one of Mozart's keyboard compositions. At one point the piece called for the left hand to play very low chords while the right hand played very high notes, but there was a single note to be played in the middle of the keyboard. Haydn tried the passage several times, but soon declared that the passage was impossible and no pianist could stretch to reach the single note in the middle with either hand. Mozart sat down at the keyboard and played through the piece. At the awkward note in the middle, he simply bent at the waist and played the note with the tip of his nose.

-- As told by Obie Yadgar, WNIB Radio, Chicago

J.S. Bach in Jail!!

Johann Sebastian Bach spent a month in jail! Bach wanted to leave the job he was in, but the duke who was his employer didn't want him to leave. Ultimately their difference of opinion lead to the duke putting Bach in jail.

"But there is a difference between Bach and the average stubborn person: during the month he spent in jail, Bach wrote forty-six pieces of music -- music that we still listen to three hundred years later." (Krull, pg 15)

Clara Wieck Schumann & Robert Schumann

Clara's piano concerts were very popular and she often played to a sold out house. Today we know more about her husband, Robert Schumann, but during their lifetime she was known as "Queen of the Piano," while he was known as Clara Wieck's husband! Robert wrote much of his music thinking of her -- she was his inspiration. During their first year of marriage he composed more than 130 songs!

In general, Clara felt that composing was part of the man's world and not, "women's work" and dedicated most of her time to her family and to taking care of Robert (he had many mental breakdowns and eventually died in an insane asylum) and to editing his works after his death.

Crotchety Note Names!

We generally refer to the notes below as: a half note, two quarter notes, two eighth notes, fours sixteenth notes and two quarter notes. If you were in a British music group the conductor would refer to them as: a minim, two crotchets, two quavers, four semi-quavers and two crotchets! A whole note is a semibreve, a thirty-second note is a demi-semi-quaver and a sixty-fourth note is (are you ready??) a hemi-demi-semi-quaver! Say that three times fast!

music example

Composer named after a ship!

Chevalier de Saint George really was named after a ship. The ship happened to be in port and I guess his parents were at a loss for a good name! St. George's father was the French governor of the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe and his mother was an island woman from Africa named Nanon. When St. George was 15, his family returned to Paris, his father's home. Young Chevalier knew the queen and was a favorite in the court. He was an excellent athlete and scholar and actually didn't turn to music seriously until he was about 26 years old! Then he dedicated his life to music.

He was part of a well known group of French musicians and when they needed another conductor for the Opera's Academie Royale, they asked St. George. But prejudice is everywhere and some of the important singers thought "their lives would be ruined if they had to obey the direction of a Black conductor." (Ottley, pg4) Despite the support of both the Queen and Louis XVI [to paraphrase the latter, "... ce sera Saint-George ou rien." ("... it will be Saint-George or nothing.")], Saint-George never became director of The Opera. (Peters)

St. George composed a number of pieces and was very influential in Paris society. When Franz Joseph Haydn needed help getting his Parisian Symphonies published, he turned to St. George for help. St. George died in 1799.

The Mouse   and the Organ...

We have just been exploring how the pipe organ works and how important the bellows are to having any sound produced, so here is a story to go along with our new knowledge about organs.

Franz Gruber was the organist at the Saint Nicholas church in Oberndorf, Austria (he was also the school master and the organist in the tiny village of Arnsdorf which was only a few miles away). The story goes that one Christmas eve a mouse had chewed through the bellows of the church organ. Now we know, that without the bellows to pump the air to the pipes, the organ can't produce any music. With Christmas eve service approaching, Franz Gruber was determined to have music so he took a poem written a few years earlier by his friend Joseph Mohr, who was the assistant pastor at the Saint Nicholas Church, and set it to music. Gruber borrowed Mohr's guitar and the two first lead the choir in the new Christmas song, "Stille Nacth" ("Silent Night") on Christmas eve, 1818.

Is this true? Some historians think not... click here for more information about the song. This link also has a picture of Mohr's guitar and the written music of the first know written version of the song and a midi file of that arrangement (research by Bill Egan).

Information for this page was taken from the following sources:
  • Krull, Kathleen. Lives of the Musicians: Good Times, Band Times (and What the Neighbors Thought) Harcourt Brace & Co, 1993.
  • Bellerophon Books Composers Coloring Book Series.
  • Ottley, Nevilla E. Coloring Story Book of Some Famous Black Composers Born Before 1850, Takoma Park, MD: Classics of Ebony Publishing, 1994.
  • Peters, Roger. Email correspondence of 12/26/2000 quoting http://www.netcomuk.co.uk/~rpeters1/wis8extr.htm

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