musical tales

In this lovely old book about musicians and food, Charles Nielsen Gattey relates some interesting anecdotes.

“In his impoverished youth, Irving Berlin was employed as a waiter cum pianist in a shabby Bowery restaurant. Visitors would later be taken there during tours of New York, and guides would point at an ancient, ill-treated piano in a corner and allege that Berlin had composed some of his best tunes there.


Drawn to the place by a fit of nostalgia one evening when he had become famous, the composer sat at the piano and began to play. Just then, a coach arrived and unloaded its sightseers. “This historic place is where Berlin wrote his immortal melodies on that very piano. Listen, the song that Bowery bum is playing is one of his, though if he heard how he’s murdering it he’d turn in his grave.”


The pianist Paderewski displayed his sense of the ridiculous when replying to an invitation to perform after a dinner party being given for King George V and Queen Mary. He had asked for a fat fee which she agreed to pay, adding in her letter

“Please accept my regrets for not inviting you to the dinner. As a professional artist, you will be more at ease in a nice room where you can rest before the concert.”

The great pianist wrote back: “Dear Duchess, Thank you for your letter. As you so kindly inform me that I am not obliged to be present at your dinner, I shall be satisfied with half my fee.”


Yet another clueless member of high society issued a thoughtless invitation to the Spanish violinist Pablo Sarasate

“Dearest Maestro, how lovely to have you back in town. Can you dine with us tomorrow? P.S. Please don’t forget to bring your Stradivarius!”

Sarasate replied “Delighted to see you. I most certainly accept your invitation to dinner tomorrow. P.S. My Strad does not dine.”


Published in: on September 4, 2010 at 7:01 am  Comments (48)  
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all but the disgusting dinner

When Verdi’s Aida was first performed, not everyone in the audience was enthralled….


Dear Signor Verdi,

On the second of this month, attracted by the sensation which your opera Aida was making, I went to Parma. I admired the scenery, listened with great pleasure to the excellent singers, and took pains to let nothing escape me. After the performance was over, I asked myself whether I was satisfied. The answer was “No.”


I returned to Reggio, and on the way back in the railroad carriage, I listened to the verdicts of my fellow travelers. Nearly all of them agreed that Aida was a work of the highest rank.

Thereupon I conceived a desire to hear it again, and on the 4th returned to Parma. I made the most desperate effort to obtain a reserved seat, and there was such a crowd that I was obliged to throw away five lire to see the performance in comfort.

I arrived at this decision: it is an opera in which there is absolutely nothing which causes any enthusiasm or excitement, and without the pomp of the spectacle, the public would not stand it to the end. When it has filled the house two or three times, it will be banished to the dust of the archives.

Now, my dear Signor Verdi, you can imagine my regret at having spent on two occasions 32 lire for these two performances. Add to this the aggravating circumstance that I am dependent on my family, and you will understand that this money troubles my rest like a terrible spectre. Therefore I address myself frankly so that you may send me the amount.


Here is the account:

Railroad: One way 2.60 lire

Railroad: Return trip 3.30 lire

Theater 8.00 lire

Detestable dinner at the station 2.00 lire


=15.90 lire Multiplied by 2= 31.80 lire

In the hope that you will extricate me from this embarrassment, I salute you from the bottom of my heart


Verdi’s reply, addressed to his publisher Ricordi May, 1872

As you may readily imagine, in order to save this scion of his family from the spectres that pursue him, I shall gladly pay the little bill he sends me. Be so kind, therefore, as to have one of your agents send the sum of 27 lire, 80 centesimi to this Signor Bertani. True, that isn’t the whole sum he demands, but for me to pay his dinner too would be wearing the joke a bit thin. He could perfectly well have eaten at home. Naturally, he must send you a receipt, as well as a written declaration that he promises never to hear another one of my new operas, so that he won’t expose himself again to the danger of being pursued by spectres, and that he may spare me further travel expenses!

Published in: on August 8, 2010 at 5:56 am  Comments (53)  
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a night in ER

When you’ve just returned from an overseas jaunt and are suffering with jet lag, there are better places to spend a night than the casualty department of the nearest hospital. But when your adult son is crying with pain and making serious inroads into your emergency stash of legally prescribed opiates then you don’t really have a choice.

Things improved once those opiates kicked in. Perhaps I was a little over zealous when I was dispensing them but there were certainly some laughs to be had when we both caught each other admiring the same male triage nurse. I guess my son’s gaydar is better than mine but I could have sworn that wink was aimed at me.

image found here

Australia has a fantastic health care system, we only had to wait a couple of hours and a decision was made to admit J for the night. Explanations were offered before every procedure…

Doctor: “We’re going to take a swab from the back of your throat, it may make you gag slightly”

Opiate affected gay son: “Oh that’s ok, I don’t really have a gag reflex. I was lucky enough to inherit that trait from my mother.”

image found here

Doctor: “As soon as we get your temperature down we’ll move you from the acute section to QE2 Ward”

OAG son: “Well I hadn’t intended cruising tonight but if you insist. Does the triage nurse double as a purser?”


I’ve been back in to see him this morning and he’s looking a lot brighter. The canula was removed while I was there and the usual blood pressure and temperature checks were performed.

Nurse: “The treatment appears to be working, judging by these obs you’re just about normal now.”

OAG Son: “Oh no! I was perfectly happy as a homosexual!”

Then his doctor explained she would be starting him on oral antibiotics combined with Larry’s Fluids shortly.

OAG Son: “But I don’t know Larry, will we be introduced before he gives me his fluids? Wait a minute….. is Larry the triage nurse….?”

image of Larry Johnson found here

Published in: on July 5, 2010 at 6:08 am  Comments (41)  
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