Grace Notes


September 2nd
“The English Musical Detectives ”

The two Englishmen were musical detectives. One of them, Sir George Grove, had taken a fancy to a rather obscure Viennese composer named Franz Schubert, and had conducted what few Schubert works were in print, much to the delight of London audiences. A beautiful fragment of Schubertís music called Rosamunde fascinated Grove.

In 1867 Grove and a young friend set out for the Continent to look for the rest of the Rosamunde manuscript. Their search led them to Vienna to the publishing house run by a Herr Spina. Spina was a cordial host. He kept the two Englishmen well supplied with cigars, plus paper and pens for copying any manuscript that struck their fancy. He also gave them a letter of introduction to a relative of Schubertís, a doctor, in whose house they found a Schubert overture and two symphonies.

But the beautiful Rosamunde continued to elude them. Herr Spina turned the publishing house upside down, opening half-forgotten drawers and musty cupboards, stacking up bundles of old manuscripts without success. Discouraged, the Englishmen concluded that a complete score to Rosamnde might never have existed or that Schubert had lost it. Reluctantly they decided to leave Vienna.

They went to say good-bye to the doctor. The subject of the elusive Rosamunde came up. The doctor thought that at one time he had owned a copy of the entire music. The young Englishman asked if he might go into the cupboard for one last search. The doctor said, by all means, if you donít mind being choked with dust. As he dug into the farthest corner of the cupboard, the young man found a bundle of music books nearly two feet high and practically black from almost half a century of dust. It was the long-lost Rosamunde, wrapped up after the second performance of December 1823 and untouched since.

The discovery was a major accomplishment for the twenty-five-year-old Englishman, but within a decade he would become far better known for something else--his collaborations with a poet named William S. Gilbert. And few would remember that the discoverer of Schubert masterpieces was Sir Arthur Sullivan.


September 3rd
“Salieri & the Poisoning of Mozart”

He taught great composersóBeethoven, Hummel, Schubert, Lisztóand many others. But today Antonio Salieri is best remembered for something he probably didnít do. Heís remembered for poisoning Mozart.

Peter Shafferís play and Milos Formanís film Amadeus treat the poisoning story metaphorically, suggesting that the mediocre, jealous Salieri conspired to break the childlike genius Mozart physically and emotionally. Yet the rumor that Salieri literally poisoned Mozart persisted in Salieriís own time and long after.

The first reports of Mozartís death speculated that he had been poisoned but did not mention Salieri, though as early as 1803 Carl Maria von Weber learned of the accusations when he visited Salieri. From then on, Weberówho was related to Mozartís wifeóavoided all contact with Salieri. In the summer of 1822 when Rossini visited Vienna, he discussed the rumors jokingly with Salieri.

The next year, Salieriís health took a turn for the worse, and with it, his reputation. Salieri suffered a physical and mental breakdown in the autumn of 1823, was admitted to the Vienna general hospital, and in a deranged state of mind, accused himself of having killed Mozart. Quickly rumors spread throughout Vienna. References to them appear in Beethovenís conversation books of the time.

In a lucid moment Salieri defended himself against the rumors, saying to composer Ignaz Moscheles: ďAlthough this is my final illness, I can say in good faith that there is no truth to the absurd rumor that I poisoned Mozart. Itís nothing but spite to tell the world that.Ē

Nonetheless, the poisoning rumor quickly got its biggest boost--in Russia. In 1830, five years after Salieriís death, Alexander Pushkin wrote a miniature tragedy called Mozart and Salieri in which Salieri openly slips poison into Mozartís glass. In 1898, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov used Pushkinís drama as the basis for an opera of the same name. All the while, Mozartís reputation continued to rise, while Salieri fell into obscurity. When Salieriís music finally began to be performed again, it was inevitably linked with a legend that had gotten too big to stop. In the long run it was not Mozart, but Antonio Salieri who had been poisoned.


September 4th
“How To Beat a Deadline”

Gioacchino Rossini shared some of his trade secrets in a letter that shows his boisterous sense of humor:

Wait until the evening before the performance. Nothing stirs up a person’s enthusiasm so much as pure necessity, a copyist waiting for your work and the pleadings of an impresario at the end of his rope, tearing out his hair by the handful. In my day in Italy all impresarios were bald by the age of thirty.

I wrote the overture to Otello in a little room in the Palazzo Barbaja where the baldest and fiercest of the directors had shut me in by force with nothing but a plateful of macaroni, owing not to let me out until I had written the last note.

I wrote the overture to La Gazza Ladra on the very day of the premiere, beneath the roof of La Scala, where I had been imprisoned by the director and put under guard by four tage carpenters who were under orders to throw my manuscript out the window, page by page to the copyists, who were down below waiting to copy it out. If the pages of music failed to come out, their orders were to throw me out.

For The Barber of Seville I did better. I didn’t write any overture at all. I just borrowed one I had designated for a semi-serious opera called Elisabetta. The public was perfectly satisfied. I wrote the overture to Le Compte Ory while standing with my feet in the water, fishing, in the company of Signor Aguado, who was talking about Spanish finance. I wrote the William Tell Overture under similar circumstances. For Moise I didn’t write one at all.


May 4th
“The Judas Biographer”

May 4th 1908. Sixty-four-year-old Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov was telling a friend about a music treatise he had begun and laid aside. They spoke about the details of composing but, as the evening progressed, the composer and his friend became increasingly reflective.

As a rule, Rimsky-Korsakov said, it must always be remembered that a melody in octaves should be scored for instruments of the same timber, otherwise the octaves will not sound good. "And yet," he continued, "a melody in octaves given to the top register of the flutes and the bottom register of the oboes and violins doesn't sound bad."

It was after midnight by the time the evening of music talk came to an end. His friend moved solemnly toward Rimsky-Korsakov and said, "And now accept this kiss from me--the kiss of Judas, according to Oscar Wilde. For I am your future biographer, and in Wilde's opinion, the biography of a great man is always written by a Judas."

"Don't believe him, my dear friend," Rimsky-Korsakov replied. "They're all fools."

Less than a month later Rimsky-Korsakov was dead. His friend's biography, in the form of journal entries, began publication in 1917. But only about a quarter of the memoir had seen print when the Russian Revolution cut it short. It was not until 1959 that the entire biography finally was published.

Ironically, the only issue on which Rimsky-Korsakov and his friend had not seen eye-to-eye was the politics of revolution. In 1905 Rimsky-Korsakov had sided with the students and workers opposing the Czar's policies. His friend had been a moderate, while Rimsky-Korsakov came to describe his own politics as "vivid red."


May 5th
“Winning Over the Master”

When the young American composer Daniel Gregory Mason came to Boston to interview the
great pianist and composer Ignacy Jan Paderweski, there was trouble from the start.

Because of a misunderstanding Mason was two-and-a-half hours late for his meeting with the great pianist. Mason was waiting in the hotel lobby while Paderweski was upstairs, getting more and more aggravated by Mason's tardiness. Finally Mason went up to see Paderewski and found him cordial enough, but Paderweski’s wife was cold and standoffish. Mason felt awkward and self-conscious. He complimented Paderewski on his "Variations and Fugue on an Original Theme." Then he added: "Just so you don't think that's empty flattery, I'll tell you frankly that I do not care so much for some of your early pieces."

Paderewski's wife gave Mason a stony look. "What pieces? What do you not care for?"

Mason got in deeper. "Well, for example, I do not care so much for the A minor Concerto."

Her gaze was unwavering. "The concerto is one of my favorites among my husband's compositions. I love it more and more."

Valiantly, Mason complimented Paderewski’s use of French impressionism.

Now Paderewski himself spoke. "I utterly repudiate any debt to French impressionism. I do not believe in the modern French school, because it is not founded in tradition. It is erratic, bizarre, wayward."

At last Mason ventured to show Paderewski a movement of his new violin sonata. Paderewski shook hands with him about eight times as he read through the sonata, singing the melody and exclaiming 'beautiful!' Finally, with his music, Daniel Gregory Mason had won over the master.

May 6th
“Chopin in Vienna”

In 1831 a young pianist and composer named Frederic Chopin left his native land, Poland in order to establish himself in European musical circles. He was a popular success as a concert performer, but at times he was lonely in a crowd. In Vienna in the spring of 1831 Chopin wrote in his journal:

Today it was beautiful on the thoroughfare. Crowds of people but I had nothing to do with them. I admired the foliage. The spring aromas and that innocence of nature brought back the feelings of my childhood. A storm was looming so I went in, but no storm developed--except for melancholy.

Why? I don't even care about music today. It's late but I'm not sleepy. I don't know what's wrong with me. And I've begun my third decade! The papers and posters have announced my concert. It's in two days, and it's as if there were no such thing. It just doesn't seem to matter to me. I don't even listen to the compliments. They seem more and more stupid. I'd wish I were dead, except that I would like to see my parents.

Her image stands before my eyes. I think I don't love her anymore, and yet I can't get her out of my head. Everything I have seen abroad so far seems old and hateful to me and just makes me sigh for home, for those blessed moments that I undervalued. What used to seem magnificent today seems common. What I used to think common is now incomparable, too great, too lofty. The people here are not my people. They're kind, but kind from habit. They do everything too formally, flatly, moderately. I have no desire whatsoever to think about moderation.

I'm confused. I'm melancholy. I don't know what to do with myself. I wish I weren't alone!

At age 21 Chopin was soon to meet the great musicians of the day--Rossini, Liszt, Cherubini, and many others. He would never return to Poland.

May 7th
“The Money Back Guarantee”

The following letter to Giuseppe Verdi shows that to be a composer is to expose oneself to criticism from anyone and everyone:

May 7th, 1872. Much Honored Signor Verdi, on the second of this month I went to Padua, lured by the sensation caused by your opera Aida. I was so intrigued that I was in my seat— number 120--half an hour before the performance began. I admired the sets. I enjoyed hearing the excellent singers, and I did everything I could not to let a single thing slip by me.

When the opera ended I asked myself if I were satisfied and the answer was no! I started back toward Reggio and listened in the railroad car to the opinions about Aida. Just about everyone agreed that it was a first-rate work.

I was struck by the idea of hearing it again, and on the fourth I went back. Because the crowd was so huge, I went through unprecedented efforts to get a reserved seat. I had to throw away five lire to see the performance in comfort.

I came to this conclusion: It’s an opera that has nothing to stir up any enthusiasm or excitement, and if it weren’t for the pomp and spectacle, the public wouldn’t sit through it to the end. After it has filled the house for a night or two it will be consigned to the dust of the archives. So you can imagine, dear Signor Verdi, my regret at having twice spent thirty-two lire! Add to that the aggravation of depending upon my family and that this money troubles my sleep like a frightful host, and I sincerely address you so that you may send me that amount.

Enclosed was an itemized bill for train fare, opera tickets, and a “detestable supper.”

Verdi arranged to send the plaintiff a refund, minus five lire for the supper.


May 8th
“Richard Strauss & the Yanks”

May 8th, 1945--V.E. Day. Germany surrendered to the Allies, ending World War II in Europe. Composer Richard Strauss was among the many who were glad that the war was over regardless of who had won. He and his family had been suffering under the Nazi regime while living near the village of Garmisch in the Bavarian Alps.

Strauss was 81 years old. He and his wife had wanted to go to Switzerland to restore their health at a spa near Zurich but had been forbidden to do so by the highest authority—Hitler himself. There was an order to arrest Strauss/ daughter-in-law, but she had dared to remain with her family. Refugees had been billeted with the Strausses--a cabaret worker and his two starving children.

Garmish had fallen to the Allies without a shot being fired., and on the morning of April 30th American tanks rolled into the meadow beside Strauss' house. The composer's grandson, 18- year-old Richard, reported, "No one believes me, but I swear that there was a GI sitting on a tank, whistling the Don Juan theme!" The American army was requisitioning villas for its use, giving the occupants fifteen minutes to vacate. About eleven o'clock in the morning jeeps came up Strauss' driveway. Strauss' daughter-in-law began to pack food and valuables. Despite his family's protests, Strauss went out the front door to meet the Americans.

He spoke to a Major Kramer who sat in one of the jeeps. "I am Richard Strauss," he said, 'the composer of Rosenkavalier and Salome."

He had spoken to the right person. Major Kramer who was a music-lover. He ordered his men to show respect for Strauss, and the composer returned the compliment by inviting several of the Americans in for wine and venison stew. A sign that said “Off Limits” protected the house. In the days that followed, many American soldiers wanted to meet the famous Richard Strauss, even though some of them were under the mistaken impression that he had written “On the Beautiful Blue Danube.”


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