Top 5 Strange Possessions of Famous Composers

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Beethoven gives his ear trumpet a test drive Beethoven gives his ear trumpet a test drive (Artigus)

This week Q2 Music premiered its second season of Q2 Spaces, a tour of the studios and workspaces of contemporary composers. First up: Timo Andres and his Bedford-Stuyvesant pad.

Certainly, the fascination with the interiors of well-known artists' homes is nothing new, and possessions of long-deceased composers still captivate thousands of tourists who visit their former homes each year. As we tune into Spaces, we hope to discover items that are as equally interesting as these five unique belongings of composers that can be found at their former residences.

1. Beethoven's Ear Trumpets

The Beethoven Haus in Bonn is where the great composer was born, and since 1889, it’s housed a foundation dedicated to preserving his legacy.  Among the artifacts on display are a series of ear trumpets that the inventor Johann Nepomuk Maelzel (who created the metronome) made especially for the composer. Beethoven began using these devices in 1813, more than a decade after he realized he was going deaf. The trumpets only helped temporarily, as Beethoven’s hearing further deteriorated.


2. Wagner's Dog Whip

The lakeside house in Tribschen, Switzerland where Richard Wagner composed (and premiered) his Siegfried Idyll now contains a museum devoted to him. Among its collection of instruments, scores and other memorabilia is a dog whip that Wagner had for his beloved dog, a Newfoundland named Russ—who was buried at the feet of his master. The Guardian’s Tom Service came upon the curious item in its decorated case


3. Liszt's Bösendorfer Writing Desk

Throughout Franz Liszt’s career piano manufacturers competed for his favor, creating extra-sturdy and reinforced instruments to stand up to the virtuoso’s violent playing. A favorite manufacturer was Bösendorfer, and Ludwig Bösendorfer, son of the founder, befriended Liszt. One of the most unusual relics in the Franz Liszt Museum in Budapest is a custom-made Bösendorfer writing desk, which has three-octave keyboard embedded in its a top drawer to help him while writing his compositions.


4. Sibelius's Plumbing-Free Cabin

Jean Sibelius’s estate Ainola, about 25 miles north of Helsinki, is notable not for what it has but what it lacks. The silence-seeking composer was so intent on having quiet that he refused to install indoor plumbing in this wooden cabin overlooking Lake Tuusula. Pipes were finally installed after Sibelius’s death in 1957.


5. Bartok's Unlit Cigarette

Bela Bartok was another Hungarian with a fondness for Bösendorfer pianos. In 2006, the museum, which is based in Bartok’s final residence in Hungary, restored the instrument and during the process, found a cigarette inside of it. The unlit specimen is still on display along with the equipment he used to record folk songs, and an insect collection.

What other curious items of composers tell us something about their work or personalities? Please leave your suggestions below.

Photo credits 1. In Mozart’s Footsteps 2. Alex Ross


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Comments [5]

Heather Chapman from Falls Village CT

I visited Sibelius' home ten years ago. It was charming with a beautiful perennial garden outside.

Mar. 22 2014 02:00 PM
Alan Sperber from Manhattan

I'd like to see two composer's radios: 1)The maid's radio in the kitchen of his home in West Redding,Ct, on which Charles Ives heard the world premiere of his Second Symphony played on a Sunday afternoon broadcast by the New York Philharmonic under Leonard Bernstein in 1951, and 2) the radio on which Bela Bartok heard the Seventh Symphony of Dmitri Shostakovich while spending the summer of 1942 in Saranac Lake, NY, and he later parodied in the "intermezzo interrotto" movement of his "Concerto For Orchestra"

Mar. 20 2014 07:28 PM
Dr.Pesach Schindler from Jerusalem,Israel

My beloved teacher at Brooklyn College Prof.Benjamin Grosbayne shared the following with his class:When he was conducting the Victor Herbert Operetta orchestra on tour, he noted that one of his cellists-a superb musician- would gradually slip into false entries and careless intonation as the performance proceeded from Overture to the finale.
A subsequent investigation revealed:
The cellist had developed a drinking problem.He designed a leather pouch which was filled with his personal "bar."
This was attached to the rear of his instrument from which a rubber tube hidden along the finger board siphoned to him his favorite drink !

Mar. 20 2014 03:31 PM
jeff from Jerusalem, Israel

Given that Wagner was a virulent anti-semite and that he treated most people with disdain and even cruelly, I think his dog got off relatively easily!

Mar. 20 2014 05:27 AM

"Wagner's whip for his beloved Newfoundland dog ... The whip is mounted in a kitschy gilded frame ...

The idea of whipping dogs seems today just a trifle cruel, but Wagner was devoted to Russ ..."

*Seems* cruel? Only a *trifle* cruel? {{sigh}}


Mar. 20 2014 02:45 AM

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