25 August 2011

Lexicon of Musical Invective

As a follow-up to my last post (don't worry, there'll be a new music post soon as well) I decided to post some quotes from my favourite funny classical music book: Nicolas Slonimsky's Lexicon of Musical Invective. It is basically a collection of all sorts of negative reviews composers have gotten over the ages, but it's not just any negative reviews, it's the most hilarious ones! To illustrate this point, have a look at part of the first page of the index:

It's the kind of book you'll pick up when you're feeling sad, and within a minute you'll be rolling on the floor laughing. Some of my personal favourites:

"I can compare Le Carnavel Romain by Berlioz to nothing but the caperings and gibberings of a big baboon, over-excited by a dose of alcoholic stimulus."
(p.59, from George Templeton Strong's diary).
"[...]The violinists are always capering and scraping nearly up to the bridge, where the tone is apt to resemble the forlorn wail of an amorous cat upon the tiles at midnight. If he has a passage for the bassoon, it is where the tone reminds one most naturally of the sigh of a prize pig at a cattle show."
(p. 117, from Era, about Lizst)
"In Elektra Strauss let loose an orchestral riot that suggest a murder scene in a Chinese theater. He has a constitutional aversion to what sounds beautiful... If the reader who has not heard Elektra desires to witness something that looks as its orchestral score sounds, let him, next summer, poke a stick into an ant hill and watch the black insects darting, angry and bewildered, biting and clawing, in a thousand directions at once. [...]"
(p.194/4, H.T. Finck in the New York Post)
"Ravel's Bolero I submit as the most insolent monstrosity ever perpetrated in the history of music. From the beginning to the end of its 339 measures it is simply the incredible repetition of the same rhythm... and above it the blatant recurrence of an overwhelmingly vulgar cabaret tune that is little removed, in every essential of character, from the wail of an obstreperous back-alley cat... Although Ravel's official biography does not mention it, I feel sure that at the age of three he swallowed a musical snuff-box, and at nine he must have been frightened by a bear.[...]"
(p.138, Edward Robinson in The American Mercury)
"Siegried was abominable. Not a trace of coherent melodies. It would kill a cat and would turn rocks intro scrambled eggs from fear of these hideous discords. My ears buzzed from these abortions of chords, if one can call them such. The opening of the third act made enough noise to split the ears. The whole crap could be reduced to 100 measures, for it is always the same thing, and always equally tedious."
(p.241, Richard Strauss in a letter, about Wagner)

See what I mean? I recommend anyone who likes classical music to get this book for much-needed lolzy times.

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