Today’s generation often writes off classical music as being haughty, pompous, and even boring. While at times that can certainly be true, the genre has definitely had its fair share of weird over the centuries. Here are 25 Bizarre Facts About Classical Music that will shatter your perception of the genre.
If you think outrageous and obsessive fans are only a product of the 20th and 21st centuries, then you are sorely mistaken. Hungarian composer Franz Liszt had so many fans begging for his hair clippings that he kept a dog whose fur he would shear off and send in place of his own.
The Helicopter Quartet was written in 1993 by controversial composer Karlheinz Stockhausen. It involves sending four members of a string quartet into the sky in four separate helicopters and having each musician play their individual part. Meanwhile, they are recorded and broadcasted into an auditorium where they are all played simultaneously for an audience. Stockhausen reportedly composed the piece after a series of unusual dreams involving helicopters and a swarm of bees.
When John Philip Sousa was young and the American civil war was at its peak, his parents exposed him to a military band. Although it awakened Sousa’s passion for music, his first attempt to learn an instrument failed spectacularly, ending with him swearing off music forever and declaring that he would become a baker. After 3 days apprenticing at a local bakery, however, John Philip decided the trade wasn’t for him and returned to practicing music.
Many people have heard of John Cage’s Four Minutes and Thirty-Three Seconds after it gained notoriety for being approximately four minutes and thirty-three seconds of dead silence. A similar composition took it a step further; Yves Klein’s Monotone Silence Symphony consists of twenty straight minutes of a single prolonged note followed by a second twenty minutes of complete silence.
Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky suffered from extreme hypochondria. It was so bad he would always hold his chin with one hand while conducting his orchestra. His reasoning was that if he were to let go his head might fall off. He also refused to drink anything not bottled out of fear of catching a disease. Ironically, in 1893 he was diagnosed with Cholera and died one day later.
Gioachino Rossini’s Duetto Buffo di due Gatti consists of just one word – meow. The duet tells the story of two arguing cats and the melody is typically left mostly to the singer’s discretion.
Paul Wittgenstein was an Austrian concert pianist who was called into military service following the outbreak of World War I. Despite sustaining serious injury to his right arm that resulted in amputation, Wittgenstein never gave up playing Piano, and in the years following the war, he worked with many celebrated composers to commission new piano concerti and playing techniques that allowed one-handed musicians more possibilities.
William Havergal Brian’s Symphony No. 1 is among the longest symphonies ever composed, coming in at a little under two hours. It is also intended to employ an orchestra of over 1000 performers, including 200 musicians and 800 singers.
In his later years, Johann Sebastian Bach developed severe cataracts and opted to find an eye surgeon to restore his sight. Unfortunately, he instead found a man named John Taylor. Taylor performed a primitive type of eye surgery called “couching,” which involved dislocating the lens of the eye and pushing it back. After the surgery, Bach reported extreme pain in his eyes and, a week later, was operated on by Taylor a second time. The second surgery left Bach completely blind and likely resulted in his death a couple months later. Coincidentally, German composer George Frideric Handel had a similar operation at the hands of John Taylor and, unsurprisingly, was left completely blind as well.
Franz Schubert’s Symphony No. 8 is often referred to as the Unfinished Symphony because only the first two movements were ever completed. Despite many theories, the actual reason the piece was never finished remains a mystery although a popular belief is that Schubert abandoned the symphony after being diagnosed with syphilis.
While on a tour of England, Benjamin Franklin created a new kind of instrument that consists of a series of differently sized glass bowls that produce a sound when a finger is placed on them. Franklin’s “glass armonica” caught the attention of many 18th century composers including Strauss, Mozart, and Beethoven.
If you love classical music, you might also be interested in checking out 25 of the Most Celebrated Composers in History.