Performance Note

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This is bar 66 of Chopin’s Étude Op. 10, No. 5. The red F is noteworthy because it’s the only point in the whole composition where the right hand touches a white key — apart from that, it plays black keys exclusively.

Jascha Heifetz once asked Ayke Agus to close her eyes while he played the piece for her. “It sounded strange,” she wrote, “and when I peeked I saw that he was playing it with an orange.”

Domestic Harmony

The Musical World of London, Nov. 28, 1874, reports a surprising project — apparently a Massachusetts composer set the entire American constitution to music:

The authors of the Constitution of the Union thought more of reason than of rhyme, and their prose is not too well adapted to harmony, but the patriotic inspiration of Mr. Greeler, the Boston composer, overcomes every difficulty. He has made his score a genuine musical epopœia, and had it performed before a numerous public. The performance did not last less than six hours. The preamble of the Constitution forms a broad and majestic recitative, well sustained by altos and double basses. The first clause is written for a tenor; the other choruses are given to the bass, soprano, and baritone. The music of the clause treating of state’s rights is written in a minor key for bass and tenor. At the end of every clause, the recitative of the preamble is re-introduced and then repeated by the chorus. The constitutional amendments are treated as fugues and serve to introduce a formidable finale, in which the big drum and the gong play an important part. The general instrumentation is very scholarly, and the harmony surprising.

The music has been lost, but it would be out of date now anyway — we’ve added 12 amendments since then.

Rigor Mortis

http://www.flickr.com/photos/gyrus/2846291830/
Image: Flickr

When Victor Noir died in a Paris duel in 1870, sculptor Jules Dalou reproduced the fallen journalist in bronze — a bronze that seems unusually hard in the trousers, if you see what I mean.

That feature has made the statue a sort of fertility shrine for Parisian women. It’s said that kissing Noir’s lips, leaving flowers in his hat, or rubbing his, um, press credentials will bring a husband, enhance one’s sex life, or ensure fertility.

Whether that’s true is open to question, of course — but when the cemetery installed a fence around the statue in 2004, local women reportedly protested until it was removed again.

The Treachery of Images

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Picasso’s Guernica depicts the suffering wrought by a German bombing in 1937 during the Spanish Civil War.

Three years later, when the artist was living in Nazi-occupied Paris, a Gestapo officer saw a photo of the painting in his apartment. “Did you do that?” he asked.

“No,” Picasso said. “You did.”

Black and White

Marcel Duchamp, the French surrealist, was an accomplished chessplayer — in 1929 he defeated Belgian master George Koltanowski in 15 moves:

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 d6 4.e4 b6 5.f4 Bb7 6.Bd3 Nbd7 7.Nf3 e5 8.d5 g6 9.O-O exf4 10.Bxf4 Bg7 11.e5 dxe5 12.Nxe5 O-O 13.Qd2 Nxd5 14.Nxd7 Nxf4 15.Nxf8 Bd4+ 0-1

http://www.chessgames.com/perl/chessgame?gid=1080563

Koltanowski resigned in light of 16. Rf2 Qg5 17. Kf1 Bxf2 18. Qxf2 Bxg2+ 19. Ke1 Nxd3+.

“I am still a victim of chess,” wrote Duchamp. “It has all the beauty of art — and much more.”

See Screen King.

Error on the G String

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Fritz Kreisler had already gained immortality as a violin virtuoso when in 1935 he revealed that he was also a composer — for 30 years he had been performing his own compositions in concert but attributing them to Vivaldi, Couperin, Porpora, and Pugnani.

In the uproar that followed, Kreisler argued that as a young man he’d had no reputation; audiences would not have paid to hear the compositions of an unknown violinist. That was just the point, opined the Philadelphia Record: Fans had bought the pieces, and indeed other violinists had performed them, thinking them the work of established composers.

The Portland Oregonian agreed: “What if Fritz Kreisler had died without making confession that over a period of thirty years he had been composing music and signing to it the names of half-forgotten composers of former times? What if he had left no list of his works?”

Which raises an interesting question: How many such hoaxes have succeeded? How many of our great works of art are undiscovered forgeries?

Keeping Score

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That’s a caricature of Arturo Toscanini by Enrico Caruso.

There are many tales of the conductor’s astonishing musical memory. A clarinetist once approached him just before a performance and said that he would be unable to play because the E-natural key on his instrument was broken.

Toscanini concentrated for a short time and said, “It’s all right. You don’t have an E natural tonight.”