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Thread: Humor in Music (Besides Opera)

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    Default Humor in Music (Besides Opera)

    I've recently seen numerous mentions of humor in music. I often see people refer to Haydn's humor and wit. I'm aware of Haydn's "Bassoon Fart", but besides something this obvious, how exactly does one portray humor in classical music? Today I saw someone refer to Beethoven's piano sonatas as having "a lot of quirky humor". Unfortunately, I just don't see it and can't really think of anything humorous in the works I'm familiar with. I imagine those familiar with music theory could possibly find witty examples of musical "trickery" in certain works but I'm just not on that level. Can anyone provide examples of pieces or excerpts they find to be comedic, humorous, or witty? (Outside of Operas or theatrical performances intended to be funny)

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    Senior Member Chronochromie's Avatar
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    Erik Satie was a master in this. See for example this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=stv1KJwfsVY
    And wait for the finale (at 6:10).

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    Leopold Mozart's Toy Symphony!


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    Senior Member Simon Moon's Avatar
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    I find humor in Stravinsky's "Histoire du Soldat".

    It is witty and clever.

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    I'm listening to the Stravinsky now. I guess I just don't hear it. Granted, I'm not expecting something to knock me out of my chair with laughter. I guess for me, there's a much larger gap in what's clever and what's humorous in music, as opposed to other things.

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    Humor is a pretty complex concept so it may not be laughable. For example irony is a type of humor. Mahler Symphonies are humorous in a subtly wry way.

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    Senior Member Dustin's Avatar
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    I doubt I've ever laughed out loud upon hearing something in music but I'll occasionally crack a smile from hearing something that sounds really quirky or distinct. Can't think of any examples at the moment but I may come back to this. I used to not understand how music could be "funny" but now I've come to understand it better. Just like comedy in language boils down to defying one's expectations of what is going to happen, it makes sense that music could fit that same mold.

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    A couple more:

    The Finale of Beethoven´s 2nd symphony, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c79Dp_dqVmk

    the beginning of Penderecki´s 1st Symphony, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vXJsvmxPA_w

    Shostakovich´s 1st Piano Concerto, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JrBN7TVF6Fs

    Hindemith´s Ouverture der Fliegende Holländer, "creative" arrangement for string quartet, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kok-dZbOqUg "As played at sight by a second-rate Concert Orchestra at the Village Well at 7 o'clock in the morning"

    Mozart Ein Musikalischer Spass, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wzaQixVGoQg

    Nielsen´s 2nd Symphony, the Finale https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bImzwIBh8tg
    Last edited by joen_cph; Dec-03-2014 at 20:07.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Der Leiermann View Post
    Erik Satie was a master in this. See for example this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=stv1KJwfsVY
    And wait for the finale (at 6:10).
    That's even more fun if you see the notes that satie wrote on the score
    http://imslp.org/wiki/Embryons_dess%...Satie,_Erik%29
    I have nothing to say and I am saying it and that is poetry." - John Cage

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    I've found certain pieces funny through taking unexpected turns, like in Beethoven's sonata #18 first movement in the opening bars he builds up suspense and seriousness through those diminished chords and then suddenly ends it with this playful, lightweight melody that makes the previous section seem unimportant.

    Then there's Mozart's piece "A Musical Joke" which is actually full of many jokes that were, I guess, supposed to poke fun at the poor technique of some of his contemporaries with asymmetrical phrasing, unexpected chord intervals, discords, whole tone scales on the violins, and polytonality at the climax, in which only the horns play in the “correct” key: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wFPoRmsiFzc Oh, you know Mahlerian went into more detail on this piece in one of his blogs. Then there's humor through dialogue/call and response between different instruments. With Mozart's second piano quartet k.493 in the last movement there's this section where the violinist and piano play these ornamented little notes one after the other trying to get the last word in.

    There are a bunch of examples with Haydn, but his humor's also based more on surprises. There's the Joke quartet where it sounds like it ends suddenly, then it begins again and when people finally think it's over he plays the opening phrase again. The surprise symphony has the sudden loud chords after the soft opening theme(it sounds almost like a lullaby melody). Symphony 61 after the catchy hunting theme is played it's always followed by this banal 2 note melody played on the oboe, like annoying side commentary. The farewell symphony in the finale where the musicians leave one by one until there are only two violins left to finish the piece. I know there are many more examples, but those are just off the top of my head.
    Last edited by trazom; Dec-03-2014 at 20:32.

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    Exactly as per the title of your thread, only by Turnabout Vox (the label, not our friend in this board. Not that he doesn't have a sense of humor, but...anyways...) will revive my thread soon.

    Attachment 57710

    Quote from Mozart's biographer Abert: "seldom in the spheres of music has so much intelligente been employed to give the impression of stupidity"

    For me humor for the sake of humor doesn't really work. Mostly it is trying too hard, similar to my feeling towards stand up comedy.
    I find the trumpetpart in Shostakovitch' 1st pianoconcerto a great example of humor in music, intentionally or not. Whenever I hear it I smile from early to ear
    Last edited by Jos; Dec-03-2014 at 20:27. Reason: Humorous concerto mixup...

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    I find the trumpetpart in Shostakovitch' 2nd pianoconcerto a great example of humor in music, intentionally or nor. Whenever I hear it I smile from early to ear
    `

    Maybe you mean the 1st Concerto, with a prominent solo part?
    Last edited by joen_cph; Dec-03-2014 at 20:22.

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    Joen, you are absolutely correct !! Thnx, will edit to save me from embarrasments
    Glad I'm not alone in the impression of humor in this piece, just clicked your link and I'm still laughing !

    Cheers,
    Jos

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    "These two themes walk into bar one..."

    I think by "humor," most of the time it turns out to be "witty."

    "Oh, how charmingly clever! I expected a V-I and he went to a flatted submediant! Ha ha ha!"

    I always thought Frank Zappa did some funny stuff, like this (the ridiculous saxophone at 1:11):

    http://youtu.be/L1iVLEELtqE

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    Quote Originally Posted by millionrainbows View Post
    "These two themes walk into bar one..."

    I think by "humor," most of the time it turns out to be "witty."

    "Oh, how charmingly clever! I expected a V-I and he went to a flatted submediant! Ha ha ha!"

    I always thought Frank Zappa did some funny stuff, like this (the ridiculous saxophone at 1:11):

    http://youtu.be/L1iVLEELtqE
    I agree that most musical humor isn't the sort that induces laughter. Rossini has made me laugh with his musical clowning, and Haydn's music is full of fun and witty turns (but I've always thought Mozart's Musical Joke was trying too hard). Most musical humor, like humor in life, is based on surprise; we're forced by some unanticipated occurence or incongruity to shift our mental perspective, and when things seem to go awry and then quickly come out right we smile or laugh.

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