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Thread: The Musical Humor Thread

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    Senior Member Chi_townPhilly's Avatar
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    Talking The Musical Humor Thread

    I thought about this topic as a result of introspection, i.e.: I noticed that I valued Mahler Symphony 4 less than seemed to be characteristic of the general run. (See "Mahler Symphony poll" for details.) So... I thought... maybe I have an underdeveloped sense of musical humor. Imagine what it must be like to be (for instance) the young Simon Rattle and (so the story goes) be able to chuckle while viewing a Stravinsky study score in pre-adolescence. I "get" Beethoven's 8th, and I'm currently making an effort in Mahler's 4th and 7th.

    Unfortunately, though, my idea of good musical humor is the "boogie-woogie" piano that accompanies "Veni, veni, venias" (seemingly as much a double-entendre in Latin as in the translations to English or other languages) in Carmina Burana. I have to sheepishly conclude that this passage is to musical humor what a limerick about somebody-or-other from Nantucket is to verse satire

    So... with that observation behind me, I thought I'd open the floor to others on the topic of "examples of musical humor in the Classics."
    The hardest knife ill us'd doth lose his edge. Shakespeare- Sonnet 95

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    Senior Member Kurkikohtaus's Avatar
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    I enjoy orchestrational humour, places where composers poke fun at common orchestral problems by intentionally writing awkward things for the wrong instrument in the strange places.

    Related to this are "intentional early entries".

    Beethoven is not necessarily seen as a "funny" composer, but he may have the best example of this ever, the famous "early horn entrance" before the recapitulation of the 1st mvmt of Eroica. He even writes it piano, to make the player sound tentative, as if he's not sure whether or not to play. Legend has it that a critic criticized the player after the premiere... I'm not sure I believe that, I can't imagine that critics would be that much on-the-ball at a premiere of a new and very difficult work.

    Another brutally cruel horn entrance is in Britten's Serenade, near the end of the light-skippy-fairy mvmt. The horn plays a few notes, stops, and then restarts the idea and continues to play the phrase. This always sounds like a corrected mistake, but it's in the part.

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    There is a concerto by CPE Bach for piano, trumpet and strings in which the 1st movement is almost completely dominated by a solo trumpet playing very loudly while the pianist struggles to get any sort of start. It's hilarious and was no doubt meant to be. Its slow movement gives the trumpeter a rest - the keyboard plays with string accompaniment and then keyboard and trumpet both compete and finally complement each other in the third movement rondo.

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    Beethoven had a wicked sense of humor. Just look at that opening to the seventh. It's one long tease. And when the main theme appears, after about five minutes of Mr. B toying with us, is it a big, triumphant "AT LAST"?

    Naw. It's a quiet little tentative thing, very shy at first.

    Mostly it's in the transitions that Beethoven exhibits the humor--same kind of thing, though. Some noodling. A "wrong" modulation. Maybe even another "wrong" modulation. Then the new theme or the next movement or whatever.

    I think it's a structural thing. Schubert, who could out-modulate anyone, before or since, never seems funny the way Beethoven often does.

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    Senior Member Handel's Avatar
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    Haydn symphonies, especially the later one, are full of humour.
    At first, I discovered the wonders of classical music through the marvels of its baroque period and especially those from Mr. Handel, which explain my forum nickname. About 10 years ago, my interest leaned over classical period and Herr Haydn's production. The music bus recently drove me to the early 1800s. Where will it end?

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    Senior Member Kurkikohtaus's Avatar
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    robert newman, I dare ask...

    Did Mozart write Ein Musikalischer Spass KV 522?

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    Senior Member Morigan's Avatar
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    I suppose Mr Newman will reply that Mozart actually wrote it and that it wasn't meant to be a joke!!

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    Senior Member Handel's Avatar
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    I read somewhere that work was a way by Mozart to commemorate his father who died a few times before.
    At first, I discovered the wonders of classical music through the marvels of its baroque period and especially those from Mr. Handel, which explain my forum nickname. About 10 years ago, my interest leaned over classical period and Herr Haydn's production. The music bus recently drove me to the early 1800s. Where will it end?

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    Hi Kurkikhotaus,

    Thanks for the question. I strongly suspect Mozart did not compose KV522. Though I haven't looked at KV522 in detail (from the historical/publication/performance side) there are reasons why I believe as I do. Not least, that in order for a composer to deliberately write wrongly in this way one must of course know clearly what IS right. I am not convinced Mozart was nearly as well schooled, musically, as is widely assumed. (The musical joke IS Mozart).

    This idea of deliberate foolery in music was, in fact, not new - it was well established as a technique among truly highly talented composers. A great early example, the hugely talented Orlando di Lasso (1532-1594) in his cantata 'Super flumina Babylonis' introduces example after example of musical stuttering, false stopping and starting, and general musical foolery/confusion that was famous enough to have been known to music theorists even in 18th century Europe - described by some as 'related in concept if not in style to 'Mozart's' Musical Joke'.

    The astonishing thing, frankly, is that the closer one examines works by the mature 'Mozart' the more the cracks appear in automatically attributing to him musical genius. In some cases even published editions of his 'mature' works are riddled with harmonic errors in their first edition. In other cases copyists are blamed for copies of 'Mozart' works so full of errors that it surely begs the question of who, actually, was incompetent.

    Joking or not, KV522 is a fascinating work and I think it will be interesting to examine it in detail.

    It (like Eine Kleine Nachtmusik) does not appear to have been commissioned.
    Last edited by robert newman; Jun-28-2007 at 22:05.

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    Senior Member zlya's Avatar
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    Ok, to me the funniest piece of music ever is Monteverdi's Deus in Adjutorum. He probably didn't mean for it to be funny, but I find it hilarious. It's all one note! The horns play a fanfare, the choir comes in, in unison, singing a very strong phrase (with the horns fanfaring in the background), all on one note. Horns again, same fanfare. Choir again, same phrase, same note. More horns, same. More choir, same. Ok, in explanation it doesn't seem that funny, but when I listen to it, and get to the third and fourth repetition of exactly the same thing, on exactly the same note, I can't help laughing. It's almost ridiculously pompous.

    Note that this is not a criticism of Monteverdi. Who else could write such a fun piece?

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    Junior Member StephenTC's Avatar
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    Not classical but when I first heard it, it was the funniest thing I had come across in a long while: - parodying beginning players...


    Ode to Mel Bay



    ps: I'm ready to sign autographs...if any one should ask
    Last edited by StephenTC; Dec-22-2014 at 13:28.
    So much music - so little time...
    People can be decadent, music cannot.

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    Junior Member StephenTC's Avatar
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    Default Joke in Beethoven Grosse Fugue

    I think Beethoven is joking with us here at 7:05 here where he keeps us waiting forever for the resolution of the cadence:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xjUh11EPGcM#t=421
    Last edited by StephenTC; Dec-29-2014 at 10:29.
    So much music - so little time...
    People can be decadent, music cannot.

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    Senior Member Cosmos's Avatar
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    The Ladaumus Te from Poulenc's Gloria is an unexpected toe-tapper. I find it funny just because it's in a sacred work

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    Wow! Listen to any of Beethoven's 32 piano sonatas. They are full of incredible musical wit from unexpected rests to playing certain passages softly and then loudly. Some of the music is deliberately rough and hence, funny. I could go on and on...but I have a pithy reputation to protect.
    Last edited by hpowders; Dec-30-2014 at 17:43.
    Facts don't care about your feelings.

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