Make a note and you can quote me

Not everyone loves piano music. Case in point: Agnes, who attended my performances for years, demanding all the while that I go away. You can read my post about her here.

Historian Jacques Barzun called the piano “… the most massive of the devices by which the young are tortured in the name of education and the grown-up in the name of entertainment.”

In The Devil’s Dictionary (1911), satirist Ambrose Bierce offers this definition: Piano, n. A parlor utensil for subduing the impenitent visitor. It is operated by depressing the keys of the machine and the spirits of the audience.

Playwright George Bernard Shaw didn’t play favorites over music instruments. While dining at a posh London restaurant, he was asked by the orchestra leader what he would like the group to play next. Shaw’s reply: “Dominoes.”

Shaw had particularly harsh words for amateurs: “Hell is full of musical amateurs: music is the brandy of the damned. May not one lost soul be permitted to abstain?” (Man and Superman, 1903)

American writer and artist Oliver Herford (1863-1935), too, disdained amateur musicians. He wrote, “Perhaps it was because Nero played the fiddle, they burned Rome.”

Charlie Chaplin, though, put things into perspective: “That’s all any of us are: amateurs. We don’t live long enough to be anything else. ”

Classical composer Richard Wagner seems to receive more than his share of quotable abuse:

  • Fellow composer Gioachino Rossini famously declared, “Wagner is a composer who has beautiful moments but awful quarter hours.”
  • In The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891), Oscar Wilde wrote, “I like Wagner’s music better than anybody’s. It’s so loud that one can talk the whole time without other people hearing what one says.”
  • Often attributed to Mark Twain, although he himself gave credit to American humorist Edgar Nye, is this gem: “I have been told that Wagner’s music is better than it sounds.”

On the general topic of music, loftier quotes abound:

  • If I should ever die … let this be my epitaph. The only proof he needed for the existence of God was music. (Kurt Vonnegut)
  • Music … can name the unnamable and communicate the unknowable. (Leonard Bernstein)
  • Where words fail, music speaks. (Hans Christian Andersen)
  • Without music, life would be a mistake. (Friedrich Nietzsche)

A final word from Bob Marley: “One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.

Copyright © 2014 by Paulette Bochnig Sharkey
All rights reserved.

This entry was posted in Music and emotion, Music history. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Make a note and you can quote me

  1. Roger Wise says:

    Ah yes… Agnes. Definitely not a music lover. Thankfully she’s the only one in the crowd who doesn’t appreciate your music. It makes you wonder why she attends your performances in the first place. Hopefully she can find something else to soothe her soul like music does for the rest of us.

  2. Mary Arndt says:

    When I gave a speech at my high school orchestra reunion I made up a definition for our orchestra teachers last name, Seaboldt: “One who tortures small children with stringed musical instruments.” …and I’ve never heard of the historian Jacques Barzun…but he needs to stop borrowing my quotes, hee-hee.

  3. Anne Baillie says:

    I ‘laughed out loud’….and will have to see if I can come up with some. Thanks, Paulette.

  4. So glad you were able to leave a comment this time!

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