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Musical Moments
Even an insect may catch the imagination of a composer.

Musical Moments

It was the perennial Schubert who created a series of Moments Musicaux ('musical moments') for piano, some of which most budding pianists have probably enjoyed trying to play ~ especially the little one in the key of F minor (no.3).

This Quiz on musical trivia invites you to concentrate on a variety of interesting 'moments' ~ intentional and otherwise ~ within the world of music.

The alternative title to Chopin's Waltz in D♭, op.64 no.1 is most often mispronounced in English to suggest that it can be played in 60 seconds (which it can't, decently, except at a totally garbled and un-waltzable tempo) ~ 'the Minute Waltz', when its intended title was 'minUte' (as in 'tiny / miniature'). A cogent but pacy rendering, including a brief repeat, usually takes about two minutes rather than one.
Apparently the idea for the motif of this piece came to Chopin after happening to see ... what?
The boiling water as eggs were being prepared for breakfast
A small dog chasing its own tail round in circles
A child's spinning top, or some other similar rotary toy which spun for many seconds
The flight of a flock of birds, taking off and wheeling
Chopin referred to the piece as his Little Dog Waltz
What did King George do when he first heard the Hallelujah Chorus in Handel's Messiah?
Coughed and sneezed
Began applauding too early, during the longish dramatic rest just before the the very final bars
Stood up
Started tapping his knees in rhythm to the music
It has since been the tradition that if even the King stood for this remarkable piece of music, so ought everyone else to do
Even an insect may catch the imagination of a composer: some of these works are on a much larger scale than others, but they are all genuine. One of them is attributed to the wrong composer: which one?
The Flight of the Bumble Bee by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
The Overture to The Wasps by Ralph Vaughan Williams
The opera Madama Butterfly by Giacomo Puccini
The Grasshopper's Dance by Leroy Anderson
This piece was by Ernest Bucalossi (1859-1933): credit where credit's due!
Answer 2 meanwhile refers to the staging of a classical drama by Aristophanes
Another 'musical moment' from nature would be the call of the cuckoo. Which of these composers is NOT known to have incorporated the distinctive call of this iconic (if instinctively immoral!) bird into a piece of his music?
Frederick Delius
Louis-Claude Daquin
Johann Strauss
(Pick this Answer if you believe that ALL the above composers used cuckoo-calls somewhere in their work)
There may well be plenty of others, but these are certainly all genuine: Delius' On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring (of course!); the charming harpsichord rondo Le Coucou by Daquin all those years ago (and which works comfortably well on the piano or indeed on the organ, if one can get away with it!); and Strauss's 'French Polka' by the somewhat disconcerting title Im Krapfenwald'l (the name of a forest somewhere near Vienna, presumably) ... which can be enjoyed on this link: Johann Straus: Im Krapfenwald'l. Polka Francaise
Another fairly universal natural observation comes in one of Chopin's Preludes Op.28 no.15 in D♭ major (1839), nicknamed by his partner Armantine Dupin (a.k.a. the writer George Sand) after something they had experienced during a holiday in Majorca. What is the subtitle of the piece?
The Storm
The Raindrop
The Shipwreck
The Hurricane
There is a repeated note (A♭/G♯) running as an eight-to-the-bar ostinato throughout the piece, like the incessant dripping of rain
When one is organising as major a music festival as the BBC Proms in London over several weeks, things are bound to go awry occasionally.
One evening in the late 1970s the first work on the programme was Mendelssohn's suite of incidental music to Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream (including the famous Wedding March). The overture begins with four slow chords, and the concert could not start because one of the relevant instrumentalists had been caught in a freak summer thunderstorm on her way to the Albert Hall. The entire concert therefore went up several minutes late for want of a few seconds' introductory ensemble playing, while she reached the venue and made herself presentable for the performance.
Which instrument was she playing?
The trumpet
The oboe
The flute
The kettledrums
She was a flautist.
(You will no doubt appreciate the subtle link to English 'midsummer' from Q.6 previously!)
No collection of 'musical moments' could aspire to be complete without some reference to the legendary British conductor Sir Thomas Beecham (1879-1961) whose career spanned from the earliest era of recorded music, through two World Wars to the coming of stereo 'LPs'. Alleged stories about him and his sharp wit are very numerous and probably, in many cases, unreliable or at best misattributed (though there is a whole book of them out there, if you are of that cast of mind).
He is reliably believed to have observed that 'A musicologist is a man who can read music but can't hear it'; and when, on the occasion of his 70th birthday, congratulatory telegrams were read out from a number of famous living composers (e.g. Stravinsky), he is reported to have asked: 'Nothing from ... [which composer]?'
(... Mozart having, by then, been dead for a little over a century-and-a-half!)
One might fairly claim that Haydn's music is full of surprises, but some are more surprising than others.
His Surprise Symphony (his 94th ... but then, he was the enthusiastic 'father' of the Symphony!) obviously contains something unexpected by the audience; but what is it?
A loud chord a few moments into the quiet slow movement of the symphony, to reawaken anyone that might have dozed off
Members of the orchestra walking on &/or off the stage during the performance
A movement in the then almost unthinkable metre of 5 beats to the bar
A movement in which the entire string section plays only pizzicato ( = without use of bows, by plucking the strings)
Answer 1 is correct, and there was a further development by Donald Swann in one of the Hoffnung Music Festivals in the 1950s. The allusion in Answer 2 is to Haydn's Farewell Symphony; Answer 3 refers to Tchaikovsky, and Answer 4 might be Tchaikovsky again or possibly Britten in his Simple Symphony. (Pizzicato is not, though, therefore, the exclusive preserve of mainstream composers who may happen also to be gay ... !)
It is only natural that even the best-prepared performer may have an occasional memory-lapse, particularly when delivering a piece in a recurring form (such as a rondo, or a ballad or 'catalogue song').
One notorious trap comes in the simple ballad The Salley Gardens (two simple verses of words by WB Yeats; settings by various composers, but probably most familiarly the Benjamin Britten version). A moment's lapse of concentration in one echoing phrase will result in what awkward 'moment'?
Down by the Salley Gardens my love and I did meet ...
And on my leaning shoulder she ... ...
... laid her snow-white feet
... offered me a seat
... laid her hand so sweet
... placed her hand so neat
The correct 2nd line of the first verse should be:
She passed the Salley Gardens with little snow-white feet
... but the 1st verse should have started:
Down by the Salley Gardens my love and I did stand,
And on my leaning shoulder she laid her snow-white hand.

The occasional singer has got himself, or his characters, into some interesting contortions over this!
The Polish pianist Krystian Zimerman no longer performs in the USA, partly since an incident in 2006 when he arrived at JFK airport with his custom-engineered Steinway instrument to discover, after clearing Customs himself, that he could not collect the piano as it had been destroyed on security grounds by the TSA.
What reason was established for the instrument's destruction?
There had appeared to be pockets of an unexplained substance tucked into various obscure parts of the mechanism
The chemical composition of one or more of the specialist glues in the soundboard had closely resembled the 'fingerprint' of certain forms of explosive, and the authorities could take no chances
There had been specific terrorist intelligence about an upcoming and unconventional form of bomb being sent from the Middle East via eastern Europe
Zimerman had been the victim of identity theft by anti-Zionists, with a point to make about the freedom of people of Jewish descent to travel while Palestinians and others are walled in and out of parts of the Holy Land, so any unusual freight consignment against his name was marked for automatic destruction
The perils of music-making in a paranoid age for the global village ... All the more need for the spread of soothing live Chopin and other music, one might have thought!


Author:  Ian Miles

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