Music history is littered with some of the best and brightest minds in the history of the world – and some of the craziest stories to boot. From Berlioz to Schumann, here are five crazy (and true!) stories from music history.
The Premiere of Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring"
“The Rite of Spring” is one of the most famous ballets of all time – but when it first premiered, it was not at all well-received. The musicality of the ballet was incredibly different from the usual sounds of the day, and it made the audience so incredibly angry that they very nearly rioted. The audience eventually calmed itself and the ballet went on, but some of the critiques that followed the premiere mocked the avant-garde style of the music of the ballet and the unusual choreography that Nijinsky, the premier ballet choreographer of the day, had designed.
Schumann's Finger Stretching Device
Schumann was one of the most famous composers of the Romantic era, and his performance career was one of the most celebrated in Europe. Schumann, who was unhappy with the level of dexterity of his fingers, invented a strange finger stretching device that he used daily while practicing. Eventually, the device inflicted permanent injury on two of the fingers of his right hand, completely destroying his career in performance. Schumann continued to compose, but he never again played piano in public.
Mozart's “Don Giovanni”
Still one of today's most celebrated composers, Mozart was an immensely skillful composer that could dash off an overture in a single morning – literally. His opera, “Don Giovanni,” had its overture composed by a completely hung-over Mozart the very morning of its premiere. Most fortunately, the musicians made it through the overture at that evening's premiere without incident – no mean feat, as the score to the overture was extremely messy due to Mozart's hangover.
Some of the great Romantic composers were not only contemporaries, but friends. One day, Liszt, Chopin, Mendelssohn and Schumann – among several others – were gathered in a Parisian eatery discussing their craft among other subjects. Abruptly, Berlioz stomped through the door, announced that he was sick of life, and intended to kill himself immediately thereafter. He ran out the door before anyone could stop him, prompting a frantic search by both the composers and the city's police for Berlioz. Eventually, he was found in a haystack on the outskirts of Paris – and still very much alive.
The Faulty Memory of Scriabin
Scriabin, another brilliant Romantic era composer, wrote a work entitled “Fantasie in B,” which to date is still considered one of his most beautiful works of music. One day, while visiting friends, he overheard another musician playing the work on the piano in the other room. When he asked his host what the music was – remarking that the piece sounded very familiar – his host informed him that it was his fantasy for the piano. Scriabin had been so unthrilled with the work that he had entirely forgotten that he'd written it!
These are just a few of the bizarre – and sometimes hilarious – tales of composers throughout history. A huge variety of books on the lives of composers exist, so if you're keen for more crazy stories about some of the most brilliant minds in music, visit the library – and prepare to giggle.