Every generation thinks it invented sex and scandal, but that's just isn't true. Musicians, even the classical ones, have always walked on the wilder side.
1. First Conductor Dies from Conducting!
Jean-Baptiste Lully [wiki] (1632-1687) was the first documented conductor. Before him, most musical groups followed their first violinist or their keyboard player. Lully was the first musician ever to use a baton. However, his "baton" was a heavy staff six feet long, which he pounded on the ground in time to the music.
Unfortunately, this staff proved to be his doing. One day, while merrily beating time (in a concert to celebrate the king's return to health), he stuck the staff into his foot by mistake. He developed gangrene and died. Not a good role model for conductors worldwide.
2. Haydn Nearly Castrated!
Franz Joseph Haydn [wiki] (1732-1809) was the father of the symphony as we know it. During more than 30 years of experimentation, he came up with the form that has influenced composers to this day.
But as a little boy, Haydn was known for something else - his beautiful voice. He was the star soprano in his church choir. As he got older and his voice was about to change, his choirmaster came to him with a little proposition. If he would consent to a small operation, he could keep his beautiful soprano voice forever. Haydn agreed and was just about to undergo the surgery when his father found out and put a stop to the whole thing.
3. Paganini Allegedly Sells Soul to Devil! (Fetches Good Price)
The Italian violinist and composer Niccolò Paganini [wiki] (1782-1840) was one of the most astounding virtuosos of all time. He had amazing technique and enormous passion. He also promoted himself shamelessly, doing tricks to astonish his audience.
Often before a concert he would saw partway through three of the four strings on his violin. In performance, those three strings broke, forcing him to play an entire piece on one string. Rumors flew that Paganini had sold his soul to the devil in order to play so well.
Sometimes Paganini would order the lights dimmed while he played particularly spooky music. Everyone fainted - when the candles were lit again, the room appeared to be full of dead bodies, sprawled everywhere. (It didn't take much to make an audience faint in those days.)
4. Cross-Dressing Berlioz Nearly Snuffs Out Rival!
The renowned French composer Hector Berlioz [wiki] (1803-1869) was, among other things, wacky. While away in Rome studying on a scholarship, he heard that his beloved girlfriend, Camille, back in Paris, had started seeing another guy. Furious, he resolved to kill his rival. But he needed to disguise himself. So he bought a gun, put on a dress, and boarded a train for Paris.
Halfway home, however, Berlioz chickened out and threw himself into the Mediterranean. Luckily for us, and for music, he was fished out (minus the gun).
5. Liszt's Lucky Fans Receive Canine Surprise!
There's a reason musicians give out only autographs these days. The Hungarian Franz Liszt [wiki] (1811-1886), a virtuoso in the tradition of Paganini, played the piano and created a sensation all throughout Europe. Everywhere he played, women swooned - and he sometimes swooned himself.
Liszt was one of the first rock stars, and the word Lisztomania was coined during his lifetime. He received so many requests for a lock of his hair that he finally bought a dog, snipping off patches of fur to send to his admirers - an unexpected use for your best friend.
6. Peter Tchaikovsky Nearly Loses Head!
The magnificent Russian composer Peter Tchaikovsky [wiki] (1840-1893) was yet another in the line of geniuses who sometimes came unhinged. Tchaikovsky loved to compose, but he hated to conduct. Unfortunately, conducting opportunities came up way too often for him - including the gala opening concert of Carnegie Hall in 1891.
Neurotic to the core, Tchaikovsky conducted with one hand firmly on top of his head, in the desperate belief that otherwise his head would fall off.
From mental_floss' book Condensed Knowledge: A deliciously Irreverent Guide to Feeling Smart Again, published in Neatorama with permission. Original article written by Bill Hauser, Ph.D., an assistant professor of marketing and an adjunct professor of sociology at the University of Akron, OH and Scott Speck, a conductor and coauthor of the world's best-selling books on the arts: Classical Music for Dummies, Opera for Dummies, and Ballet for Dummies.
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