HUMOR AND ICONICITY IN CLASSICAL MUSIC by Don L. F. Nilsen and Alleen Pace Nilsen 26 1 HISTORY OF HUMOR IN MUSIC In the 1600s, the Italians developed their Opera Buffa, leading the way to comic opera, which in France became the Comedie
Franaise and in Germany the Komische Oper. Karl Haas says that in England it led to John Gays The Beggars Opera, (1728), and in the 1850s and 1860s to Offenbachs satirical masterpieces. 26 2 In the 1870s through the 1890s this led to Gilbert and Sullivans operas which include: The Gondoliers, H.M.S. Pinafore,
Iolanthe, The Mikado, Patience, The Pirates of Penzance, Prince Ida, Ruddigore, The Sorcerer, Trial by Jury, and The Yeoman of the Guard. (Nilsen & Nilsen 213) 26 3 A MUSICAL CIGARETTE HOLDER
Phyllis Diller chose her signature prop of a cigarette in a long holder to portray a certain type of woman. But she soon found that she felt comfortable using it in much the same way that a conductor uses a baton: She could signal for attention, puncte the end of a joke, point at someone, express hostility, and control the audience in general. (Nilsen & Nilsen 215) 26 4 SHOOTING THE KEYS When Chico Marx played an arpeggio on the piano,
he would play all of the notes but one, and then would point to that key with his index finger and using his thumb as a trigger he would shoot the key. Harpo Marx would also shoot the keys, but he was famous for playing glissandos (sliding music), and for getting his finger stuck between the keys. (Nilsen & Nilsen 215) 26 5 GETTING LOST IN THE MUSIC
In the middle of one of Victor Borges piano concertos, the conductor lost his place in the musical score. Borge stood up from his piano bench, walked over to the conductors stand, pointed to the right place in the score, and then returned to his piano bench to finish the concerto. 26 6 One of Borges musical gags was to look befuddled as he examined a musical score and tried to play it. After
some false starts and pondering, he realized that it is upside down, so he turned it over and played it masterfully. Another musical trick of Borge was to shift slyly from a piece of classical into a piece of popular music. 26 7 Borge also liked to play pop culture music pieces like Happy Birthday to You as it would have been composed by Bach or Brahms. He also engaged in much wordplay. For example, he said that a particular piece he was playing by
Rachmaninoff was written in four flats. This was because the composer kept moving while he was working on it. Another piece was written by Bach, but he couldnt remember whether it was Johann Sebastian, or Jacques Offen. (Nilsen & Nilsen 216-217) 26 8 MUSICAL PARODIES & SATIRES Tom Lehrer is a Harvard Professor who has written more than forty musical parodies and satires. He
has written songs about poisoning pigeons in the park, hometown perverts, and charred bodies in a nuclear holocaust. But his most controversial piece is The Vatican Rag with its bow your head with great respect and genuflect! genuflect! genuflect! (Nilsen & Nilsen 217) 26 9 Mark Russell also writes musical parodies and satires. During Reagans presidency, he took the tune of My Bonnie Lies over the Ocean
and changed it to: My ship of states practically grounded for want of a policy plan. I deny all the chargesunfounded since the state of my ship hit the fan. Bring back. Bring back. Oh bring back my Teflon to me, to me. (Nilsen & Nilsen 217) 26
10 P. D. Q. Bach is another composer who writes musical parodies and satires. He is purported to be the last of Johann Sebastian Bachs 20-odd children. He was discovered by Peter Schickele, the first person to occupy the General Electric Chair at the University of Southern North Dakota at Huppel. 26 11
Peter Schickele keeps unearthing various P.D.Q. Bach schleptetas and pervertimentos. When people hear the music of Mozart or Beethoven they get an inferiority complex, so Schickele reasons that P.D.Q. Bach has a wider appeal than these other classical musicians because they feel they are capable of writing something just as good. (Nilsen & Nilsen 217) 26 12
Spike Jones and his City Slickers also did musical parodies. For example he did a parody with Humer and Jethro called PAL-YAT-CHEE. http://www.themadmusicarchive.com/son g_details.aspx?SongID=8092 26 13 ICONICITY IN MUSIC Examples of composers making their music match the plot are the popping staccatos of Mozarts
Popagano-Popagana duet in The Magic Flute, the flourishes and strikes in Rossinis The Thieving Magpie, the bump de bump de bump de dadada of Grofs Grand Canyon Suite, and the expressively cross-sensory sounds of The Painted Desert in Antonin Dvoraks New World Symphony. Ogden Nash added words to Saint Saenss iconic Carnival of the Animals. 26 14 IRONY IN MUSIC
In Mozarts The Abduction from the Seraglio, Rossinis The Barber of Seville, and Offenbachs Orpheus in the Underworld, dramatic irony comes into play as characters become victims of Tricksters and suffer from misidentifications and misunderstood events. An extra irony in relation to Offenbachs Orpheus is that one of its musical sequences was so lively that it became famous throughout Paris and the world as The Can Can. (Nilsen & Nilsen 212) 26
15 HUMOR IN CLASSICAL MUSIC Humor in classical music has a long tradition as shown by such playful vocabulary items as the French gavotte, which like the Irish and English gigue or jig is music for a fast-moving dance. 26 16
A scherzo is a musical joke. A cappricio is a composition that is irregular in form and usually lively and whimsical. A divertimento is a light and entertaining instrumental composition. And a rondo is a composition whose principal theme is repeated three or more times in the same key, interspersed with subordinate themes. (Nilsen & Nilsen 211) 26 17
Here are some classical composers who are famous for their humorous musical compositions: 26 18 JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH In his Pulitzer-Prize-winning Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, Douglas Hofstadter compares artist M. C. Eschers fascination with visual
loops in which a waterfall, for example appears to become its own source to Johann Sebastian Bachs fascination with acoustic loops. 26 19 In his Endlessly Rising Canon, Bach seems to be drawing to a conclusion but instead slips out of the key of C-minor and into D-minor. This false ending ties smoothly into a new beginning where Bach repeats the process and returns in the key of E, only to start over again. Hofstadter says that these successive modulations
lead the ear to increasingly remote provinces on tonality, so that after several of them, one would expect to be hopelessly far away from the starting key. And yet, magically, after exactly six such modulations, the original key of C-minor has been restored? (Nilsen & Nilsen 211-212) 26 20 LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN Beethoven satirized local musicians in his Pastoral Symphony where he portrayed a sleepy village in which the musicians doze off, wake
up, play a few notes, and then doze off again. BEETHOVENS PASTORAL SYMPHONY: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EM8RlCZP0KQ (Nilsen & Nilsen 211) 26 21 FRANZ JOSEPH HAYDN Franz Joseph Haydn was distressed by the number of people who fell asleep while listening to his chamber pieces. So he wrote Symphony Number 94 (The Surprise Symphony) in the key of C using a
slow tempo and soft and repetitive sequences. 26 22 At the end of each stanza, he modulated the music to the key of G and ended with a resounding fortissimo chord guaranteed to wake up anyone who might be dozing. HAYDNS SURPRISE SYMPHONY: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZJDWh9F3Vig 26
23 Haydns Farewell Symphony is another example of Haydns humor. Haydn wanted to tell the audience that musicians were lonely for their wives and wanted to go home for the summer. As the symphony draws to its end, various musicians put out the lights on their music stands and depart from the stage. Haydns audiences were amused at the gradual diminishing of the performing force, but they also got his other message. This same technique of a diminishing number of performers was later used in The Sound of Music as the von Trapps left the stage and were smuggled out of the theater past the Nazi guards. HAYDN FAREWELL SYMPHONY: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RXY4DaF9d9Y&feature=related (Nilsen & Nilsen 211)
26 24 JOSEPH HAYDNS MUSICAL JOKE: Joseph Haydns String Quartet Opus 33, Number 2 is called The Joke. This is because it has so many false endings: PRESTO MOVEMENT FROM JOSEPH HAYDNS THE JOKE http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LDkWBzH6dkE 26 25
!WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART Mozart was a contemporary of Haydn, and his The Village Musicians, also known as A Musical Joke, burlesqued the nonprofessional playing that was done by amateur community bands of his day. (Nilsen & Nilsen 211) 26 26 CAMILLE SAINT-SANS:
In his Carnival of the Animals, Saint-Sans parodies the can can melody from Jacques Offenbachs Orpheus in the Underworld. The can-can is normally performed at breakneck tempo, but in the Tortoises parody it is played painfully slowly by low-register strings. TORTOISES: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AHvqaRaDzQE 26 27 !!RICHARD WAGNER Even in the most serious operas, composers include
light moments for comic relief. For example in his Ring Cycle, Richard Wagner has the young Siegfried turn the brown bear loose on Mime so that he and the audience can relish in the dwarfs fright. And one of the funniest lines in all of opera is the dramatic irony when Siegfried slices open Brunnhildes breastplate with his armor-piercing sword, and exclaims, Das ist kein Mann! (This is not a man?). (Nilsen & Nilsen 211) 26 28 !!!HUMOR IN CLASSICAL MUSIC
1812 OVERTURE WITH CANNONS: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w-4SRvGUtn8&feature=related 3-YEAR-OLD JONATHAN CONDUCTING BEETHOVENS 5th SYMPHONY: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0REJ-lCGiKU Ave Maria by The Dentist: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MCNHhrv_qzc&feature=related BLACK SWAN (FROM TCHAIKOWSKIS SWAN LAKE BALLET): http://www.imdb.com/video/imdb/vi3985807385/ DANSE MACABRE BY CAMILLE SAINT-SANS: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EcOZmtbLRP0&feature=related DOMINICK ARGENTO: MISS MANNERS ON MUSIC: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8OThlAi9ovk 26 29
BACHS ENDLESSLY RISING CANON: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nsgdZFIdmeo BALLET TROCADERO: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aIQyZo1PeFA BOB AND RAY & PETER SCHICKELE: CLASSICAL MUSIC AS COMPETITION: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f0vHpeUO5mw VICTOR BORGE: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BcV19rylSZc CLAUDE FRANK HAPPY BIRTHDAY MEDLEY: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RD8COH-7Bug HOEDOWN FROM AARON COPELANDS RODEO: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3M9e-IdKfyA&feature=related
26 30 ANTONIN DVORAKS NEW WORLD SYMPHONY: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yctfXIqugXc IGOODESMAN AND JOO: http://cartoonando.blogspot.com/2008/04/1000-posts.html SCOT JOPLINS PEACHERINE RAG ON RECYCLED BOTTLES: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k26nt3Y4cmg LAUGHING SONG (JOHANN STRAUSS DIE FLEDERMAUS): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=npLZNoRoH2M&NR=1 MARS: BRINGER OF WAR (from GUSTAV HOLSTS THE PLANETS: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L0bcRCCg01I
MozArt Group: Polish Music: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SLYgVbVRoqk&NR=1 26 31 PACHELBEL RANT: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JdxkVQy7QLM PAPAGANA/PAPAGENO (MOZARTS MAGIC FLUTE: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=87UE2GC5db0 PIANO JUGGLER # 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=07brW206D84 PIANO JUGGLER # 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fwgjw68TZWg ERIK SATIE: AIR DU RAT & AIR DU POTE:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fil1SngtOY 26 32 PETER SCHICKELE (PDQ BACH): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mY0CFaracVE POLISH MUSICIANS PLAYING CLASSICAL MUSIC: http://www.mozartgroup.org/video.htm SILENT MONKS SINGING HALLELULIA: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZCFCeJTEzNU&feature=related SLEIGHRIDE BY LEROY ANDERSON: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OATi34PKNPw&feature=related SNOWFLAKES (FROM THE NUTCRACKER SUITE BY Tchaikowski): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DBeUxXSNiFc
SORCERERS APPRENTICE: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XChxLGnIwCU 26 33 SPIKE JONES & HIS CITY SLICKERS: http://www.ilike.com/artist/Spike+Jones+%26+His+City+Slickers? src=onebox THREE LITTLE MAIDS FROM SCHOOL (GILBERT & SULLIVAN): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mXWkIZUPmDY TYPEWRITER BY LEROY ANDERSON: http://www.metacafe.com/watch/803796/the_typewriter_song/ AARON WILBURN (If My Nose Was Running Money):
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=egCeIwjIuZM WONDERFUL WORLD (SACHMO ARMSTRONG): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9WlbQPmXg08 26 34 References: Ellis, Iain. Resistance and Relief: The Wit and Woes of Early Twentieth Century Folk and Country Music. HUMOR: International Journal of Humor Research 23.2 (2010): 161-178. Haas, Karl. Inside Music. New York, NY: Bantam, Doubleday, Dell, 1984. Horowitz, Susan. Queens of Comedy: Lucille Ball, Phyllis Diller, Carol Burnett, Joan Rivers, and the New Generation of Funny Women. New
York, NY: Gordon and Breach, 1997. Nilsen, Alleen Pace, and Don L. F. Nilsen. Encyclopedia of 20th Century American Humor. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2000. Schrader, Valerie Lynn. Wicked Witch or Reformer?: Character Transformations Through the Use of Humor in the Musical Wicked Studies in American Humor New Series 3.23 (2011): 49-66. Secrest, Meryle. Stephen Sondheim: A Life. New York, NY: Knopf, 1988. 26 35
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