Saturday, January 11, 2014

In which the author learns that not all ideas are good ones

This being my 1300th post and all, and fancying myself to be a musician of sorts, I thought I’d try to elevate the tone of the blog by incorporating quotations from classical composers.

Boy, was that a bad idea.

Shakespeare put these words into the mouth of Lady Macbeth:

“Glamis thou art, and Cawdor, and shalt be
What thou art promis’d. Yet do I fear thy nature,
It is too full o’ th’ milk of human kindness
To catch the nearest way.”
--from Macbeth, Act I, scene V

Lady Macbeth was wasting her time hanging around with the thane of Cawdor. If she had been married to a classical composer instead, she wouldn’t have had to worry about his nature being too full of the milk of human kindness.

Here are a few examples of things classical composers have said about one another:

1. “Listening to the Fifth Symphony of Ralph Vaughan Williams is like staring at a cow for 45 minutes.” --Copland

2. “I like your opera -- I think I will set it to music.” --Beethoven

3. “What a good thing this isn’t music.” --Rossini on Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique

4. “He was a six and a half foot scowl.” --Stravinsky on Rachmaninov

5. “All you need to write like him is a large bottle of ink.” --Stravinsky on Messiaen

6. “It is the most insipid and base parody on music.” --Tchaikovsky on Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov

7. “It’s beautiful and boring. Too many pieces finish too long after the end.” --Stravinsky on Handel’s Theodora

8. “The musical equivalent of St. Pancras Station.” --Sir Thomas Beecham on Elgar

9. “Wagner has beautiful moments, but awful quarters of an hour.” --Rossini on Wagner

10. “A tub of pork and beer.” --Berlioz on Handel

11. “The audience expected the ocean. Something big, something colossal, but they were served instead with some agitated water in a saucer.” --Louis Schneider on Debussy’s La Mer

12. “He likes what is coarse, unpolished, and ugly.” --Tchaikovsky on Mussorgsky

13. “A composer for one right hand.” --Wagner on Chopin

14. "He gives me the impression of being a spoilt child.” --Clara Schumann on Liszt

15. “All Bach’s last movements are like the running of a sewing machine.” --Bax on Bach

16. “What a giftless bastard!” --Tchaikovsky on Brahms

17. “Handel is only fourth rate. He is not even interesting.” --Tchaikovsky on Handel

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

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

20. “He’d be better off shoveling snow than scribbling on manuscript paper.” --Richard Strauss on Schoenberg

21. “Bach on the wrong notes.” --Prokofiev on Stravinsky

I’m really surprised at how these classical composers attack and devour one another. It’s almost enough to make me take up rock and roll.

I’m joking.

So much for attempting to elevate the tone of the blog.

Something certainly creeps in this petty pace from day to day, but it is not the milk of human kindness. That seems to have curdled long ago.

(Photo of St. Pancras Railway Station, London, 2012 copyright by User:Colin / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0)


  1. Dear Sir Robert ~ you have armed us all with a bunch of new insults to draw upon.
    Perhaps these composers were a bit like divas ~ jealous of each other.

  2. A good insult is always worth reading/listening to. And I think Carol has nailed it. The curse of jealousy has inked their pens...

  3. Love 'em! They were a jealous/envious/highly critical lot, were they not?

  4. Carol, it was not at all my intention to "have armed [you] all with a bunch of new insults to draw upon" but merely to entertain you with some insults from the past.

    Elephant's Child, read 'em and forget 'em, that's what I say!

    Pat, highly critical, yes! But the jury is out on jealous/envious.

    Special note to YP: just because you stumble across some famous insults in a blogpost doesn't mean you should should feel free to insult the blogger.

  5. My dearest Mr Brague,
    Please forgive me. I am still striving hard to master the complex Braguish moral code. Is there an on-line course I can take to assist my development?
    Your humble servant,

  6. Yorkshire Pudding, you do seem properly contrite, unless it is merely a pose. Nevertheless, all is forgiven. Go and sin no more.

  7. This made me laugh, and I need a laugh at the moment so thank you. I'd not have thought it were so mind, they sound like a bag full of bitches. Sharp cuts all round, but then rivalry can do that whether it be men or women involved.

  8. Hilltophomesteader, your comment also got deleted by mistake. To answer your question about why the comparison to "the beautiful building" was an insult -- perhaps it is a bit over the top with too much ornamentation, architecturally speaking? I'm not really sure. Somebody from Jolly Olde Englande should chime in here regarding St. Pancras Station.

  9. I think it's a beautiful building, in particular this photograph shows it's fine lines through clever angles of perspective, and it is handsomely to the eye in many ways. If you've been compared to this building rhymes, you should be pleased as the proverbial punch.

  10. "Never shake thy gory locks at me!"

  11. YP, thank you for making my job so easy. It's from Act III, Scene IV, but you stopped too soon:

    ROSS: His highness is not well.

    LADY MACBETH: Sit, worthy friends, my lord is often thus, and hath been from his youth: pray you, keep seat; the fit is momentary; upon a thought he will again be well: if much you note him, you shall offend him and extend his passion: feed, and regard him not.