Classical Music & Laughter

Classical musicians fall off stages, run puffing after thieves who’ve stolen their music case, develop hiccups just before a solo, and lose their toupée to a gust of wind at an outdoor concert.

Classical music can be deadly serious — Górecki’s Symphony of Sorrowful Songs — but also pompous and ‘up itself.’ Classical musicians, especially those who’ve been told from age four that they’re geniuses, can be insufferable. That’s not an argument for dumbing down, classical crossover, or endless Vivaldi’s Four Seasons on Classic FM.

But it is possible, reasonable, even desirable, to laugh at, say, a puffed up operatic tenor, full of noise, wind, and a keen sense of his own importance, who falls, mid-aria, into the orchestra pit…. on condition only his pride is hurt. If laughter pops his ego, like a deflated balloon, where’s the harm in that? Indeed, a bit of laughter-induced humility might improve him as a musician.

Readers are cordially invited to submit articles, comments, tweets, facebook mentions etc describing humorous, even subversive, events in the classical music world.

One thought on “Classical Music & Laughter

  1. Although this gauntlet was thrown quite some time ago (and though nobody appears to have picket it up) I’d like to make a comment and illustrate with an example. Laughter in musical life does not have to originate in mishaps; no poor performer has to fall off stage for us to have a laugh (this kind of fun does not depend on music anyhow; it is just as funny (or not, depending on your taste) if a mediocre ham actor falls off stage while trying to show off.
    There is however music that is outrageously witty. Haydn is famous for his humor, probably too famous (to me the farewell symphony is serious, the last movement rather melancholy and not funny–though the implied threat of a strike is certainly original and has not been made in this way again. And the surprise in the surprise symphony is not really all that funny).
    Here is a very good example: Beethoven’s string quartet op. 18/6. The last movement has a slow introduction with the title “malinconia” which leads many writers of program booklets to suggest that the piece is dead serious. To me the introduction has never sounded tragic, hardly even melancholy. When the allegro gets underway it is clear that all “malinconia” is out the window. The movement is witty. At times it sounds as if the musicians have forgotten the key and are groping their way back to the correct harmony. The title “malinconia” is obviously ironic and part of the fun. Too bad very few quartets play it that way.
    Or: from another era: Bach’s d-minor double concerto: Witty again the last movement with its syncopated rhythms and its plaintive melodies that suddenly appear out of nowhere and end just as abruptly.
    Of course nobody laughs at concerts and few even hear the humor: We have been programmed to be serious in contemplation of such a piece of cultural heritage. Beethoven felt no such obligation apparently.

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