Musicians Dissing Musicians

[I’ve seen a few of these attributed differently. As this posting has nothing whatever to do with scholarship, we’ll let the inaccuracies — if that’s what they are — ride. Ed.]

[March 2003.]

“He’d be better off shoveling snow.” — Richard Strauss on Arnold Schoenberg

When told that a soloist would need six fingers to perform his Violin Concerto, Arnold Schoenberg replied, “I can wait.”

“I would like to hear Elliott Carter’s Fourth String Quartet, if only to discover what a cranky prostate does to one’s polyphony.” — James Sellars

“Exit in case of Brahms.” — Philip Hale’s proposed inscription over the doors of Boston Symphony Hall

“Why is it that whenever I hear a piece of music I don’t like, it’s always by Villa-Lobos?” — Igor Stravinsky

“His music used to be original. Now it’s aboriginal.” — Sir Ernest Newman on Igor Stravinsky

“If he’d been making shell-cases during the war it might have been better for music.” — Maurice Ravel on Camille Saint-Saëns

“He has an enormously wide repertory. He can conduct anything, provided it’s by Beethoven, Brahms or Wagner. He tried La Mer once. It came out as Das Merde.” — Anonymous Orchestra Member on George Szell

Someone commented to Rudolph Bing, manager of the Metropolitan Opera, that George Szell is his own worst enemy. “Not while I’m alive, he isn’t!” said Bing.

“After I die, I shall return to earth as a gatekeeper of a bordello and I won’t let any of you enter.” — Arturo Toscanini to the NBC Orchestra

“We cannot expect you to be with us all the time, but perhaps you could be good enough to keep in touch now and again.” — Sir Thomas Beecham to a musician during a rehearsal

“Jack Benny played Mendelssohn last night. Mendelssohn lost.” — Anonymous

The conductor Hans von Bülow detested two orchestra members, Schultz and Schmidt. Upon being told that Schmidt had died, Bülow asked, “Und Schultz?”

“Her voice sounded like an eagle being goosed.” — Ralph Novak on Yoko Ono

Parsifal, the kind of opera that starts at six o’clock and after it has been going three hours, you look at your watch and it says 6:20.” — David Randolph

“One can’t judge Wagner’s Lohengrin after a first hearing, and I certainly don’t intend hearing it a second time.” — Gioacchino Rossini

“I liked the opera very much. Everything but the music.” — Benjamin Britten on Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress

“Never look at the trombones, it only encourages them.” — Richard Strauss

“You can’t possibly hear the last movement of Beethoven’s Seventh and go slow.” — Oscar Levant, explaining his way out of a speeding ticket

“Wagner’s music is better than it sounds.” — Mark Twain

“Already too loud!” — Bruno Walter at his first rehearsal with an American orchestra, on seeing the players reaching for their instruments

“I would rather play ‘Chiquita Banana’ and have my swimming pool than play Bach and starve.” — Xavier Cugat

“Musicians talk of nothing but money and jobs. Give me businessmen every time. They really are interested in music and art.” — Jean Sibelius, explaining why he rarely invited musicians to his home

“In opera, there is always too much singing.” — Claude Debussy

“Oh how wonderful, really wonderful, opera would be if there were no singers!” — Gioacchino Rossini

“I can’t remember whether it was Kurt Sanderling or Slatkin conducting Beethoven’s Ninth. I was part of the expanded version of the San Francisco Symphony Chorus. Anyway, the conductor admonished the trombones to play softer thus: ‘I know your parents are out there. Don’t worry, they’ll hear you.’” — Charlie Cockey, a sometime La Folia contributor

[Next Article: Mahler on the Radio]