Secret Lives of Great Composers: What Your Teachers Never Told You about the World's Musical Masters
True tales of murder, riots, heartbreak, and great music.
With outrageous anecdotes about everyone from Gioachino Rossini (draft-dodging womanizer) to Johann Sebastian Bach (jailbird) to Richard Wagner (alleged cross-dresser), Secret Lives of Great Composers recounts the seamy, steamy, and gritty history behind the great masters of international music. You’ll learn that Edward Elgar dabbled with explosives; that John Cage was obsessed with fungus; that Berlioz plotted murder; and that Giacomo Puccini stole his church’s organ pipes and sold them as scrap metal so he could buy cigarettes. This is one music history lesson you’ll never forget!
and audience standards are higher for performers who abruptly cease to be unique. In reaction, some former prodigies decide to abandon performing in favor of a more normal existence. Pianist Marnen Laibow-Koser, for example, gave up a promising career to attend college, take up Web design, and learn Klingon. Others go through a period of self-doubt and then make a comeback with even greater success, such as violinist Julian Rachlin, who stopped performing in 1994 when he turned twenty but
pamphlets, and did sentry duty in a high tower lined with mattresses to absorb bullet fire. When the uprising collapsed, Wagner faced trial, imprisonment, and even execution. He fled to Weimar, where Franz Liszt arranged—and financed—passage out of Germany for Wagner, Minna, a dog named Peps, and a parrot. Minna was unable to pack Wagner’s library, which had been seized by creditors. Soon thereafter, Minna washed her hands of her husband. This might have come as a relief to Wagner, since it
1871. He also accepted a commission to write a ballet—an odd choice since first-rank composers then rarely bothered with ballet music. But Tchaikovsky remembered some amateur family theatrics he had organized several years earlier at his brother’s country house, a show with his nieces and nephews based on a Russian folktale. The result was Swan Lake, one of the most popular ballets of all time. Fate or Fatale? The stigma against homosexuality was so strong in Russian society that Tchaikovsky’s
Summer jobs included a stint working for Tchaikovsky’s patron Nadezhda von Meck. Von Meck tried to interest Tchaikovsky in Debussy’s compositions, but the older composer found their radical harmonics baffling. Debussy entered the Prix de Rome competition twice, but lost because his innovations irritated the faculty. On his third try in 1884, he won with a deliberately conservative composition. Friends were disappointed that Debussy hadn’t shocked the world, but Debussy’s parents were delighted
home. The perpetually broke Debussy came up with a strategy: He promised to write his coal merchant an original composition in exchange for valuable fuel. The merchant delivered the goods and went home with Debussy’s last composition, Le soirs illuminés par l’ardeur du Le Balcon (“Evenings Lighted by Burning Coals”—a line from Baudelaire’s poem Le Balcon). NIJINSKY’S HIGH-JINKS Around 1911, Debussy met the ballet impresario Serge Diaghilev, who convinced him to let his Ballets Russes create a