April Fools'! Five Musical Jokes
Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Serious music need not always be taken so seriously. After all, scherzo means joke, instruments perform impressions and attentive listeners can recognize puns and parodies woven into plenty of works.
Some composers have taken humor even farther. In honor of April Fools' Day, here are our Top 5 @ 105 classical music jokes:
1. Papa Haydn mastered the art of inserting wit into music. His best known prank comes in Symphony No. 94, appropriately nicknamed the "Surprise" Symphony. The surprise comes in the second movement when a lulling pianissimo suddenly explodes into a great bang.
2. An entire orchestra seems to fall out of tune at the end of Mozart’s Ein Musikalischer Spass, but a quick translation of the work's title “A Musical Joke” shows that the composer was having a little fun, perhaps at the expense of less-talented contemporaries.
3. Leonard Bernstein said that Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony was the only piece to make him laugh out loud. “I remember lying on the floor and laughing 'til I was crying,” he said during one of his Young People’s Concerts. Prokofiev satires Haydn, but also keeps listeners interested with sudden key changes and dissonances.
4. Richard Strauss doesn’t play the prankster, but orchestrates the story of one in his tone poem, Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks. The work famously begins with “Once upon a time” before launching into the 14th century figure’s series of hi-jinks. Even though the protagonist succumbs to the gallows, Strauss gives him the last laugh in the score.
5. Maurice Ravel described his Boléro as merely a long crescendo without contrast or invention. However, audiences have embraced the 17-minute repetition of a singular theme. Perhaps the joke was on the composer. “I have written only one masterpiece,” he said. “That is the Boléro. Unfortunately, it contains no music.”
What pieces of music make you laugh? Leave your choices below.