Biographies

All About Bach: Part 1 (Attack of the Germanes)
Our dubiously-researched look at the greatest composer ever named Johann. (Sorry, Strauss.)

When you think of the name Bach, you probably think of that hard candy your grandma kept in the dish by the breadbox that you couldn’t have until after dinner, but that’s called Brach’s, which of course isn’t germane to our story. But, speaking of Germanes, did you know that the Jackson Five never recorded a single Bach song? And that Bach was actually BORN a Germane? Well, now that you’re totally confused, you’re in the right mode for a musical adventure we’re calling “Bach To The Future”, because we really want to get hammered in the comments section.

Early Life, Including a Gardening Metaphor

[su_pullquote align=”right”]They instructed Bach at an early age in the fundamentals of music, such as how to trick your bass player into buying a van for your gigs, and where to get the cheapest band t-shirts printed.[/pullquote]Johann Sebastian Bach, like most composers, was born. His particular birth area was called Eisenach, Germany, known mostly for the very poor Italian joke involving its name (“Luigi, Eisenach, butta you no ansa the door”) which we just made up. He was born the youngest of 8 children into a very musical family; his father was the town director and all of his uncles were musicians, and they instructed Bach at an early age in the fundamentals of music, such as how to trick your bass player into buying a van for your gigs, and where to get the cheapest band t-shirts printed. His uncle, Johann Christoph Bach, was already a noted composer, and he also had a cousin, Johann Ludwig Bach, who was also a Johann as well as a renowned violinist. Apparently there was a law in Liepzig that you needed to be named Johann if your name was Bach, as all of his brothers were named Johann, his sister was named Johanna and we suspect his dog was named Johann Dog Bach, and probably barked in counterpoint. Bach flourished in this hothouse of fertile, loamy, musical dirt, reaching rhapsodic roots deep into rich cultural heritage and bursting forth blossoms of notational beauty, to be plucked by, um, the… okay, what were we saying?

Johann, Johann, & Johann

Both of his parents died when he was young, and so he had to move in with his oldest brother, Johann Christoph Bach — say, can someone get a us a Bach genealogy chart, please? Thank you. Good grief; they’re all named Johann. Anyway, his older brother taught him to play the clavichord, kind of a prehistoric piano, and he received training in theology, Latin, Greek, French, and Italian at the local gymnasium, which apparently was staffed with some well-educated boxers. J. C. Bach also introduced him to composers such as Johann Pachelbel, who also founded a German taco restaurant chain, Johann (of course) Jakob Froberger, a bunch of Frenchmen, and the Italian clavieronimist… clavichordalissimo… clavi… clavierist Girolamo Frescobaldi, whose name we will not make a joke about at this time. And from here it was overnight stardom, champagne-filled claviers, screaming courtesans with those weird fake moles on their cheeks, and the knowledge that at least your son won’t be named Johann. Ohwait. Never mind.

High-Jinks and Blue Öyster Cult

Actually, no, like most composers, Bach was not an overnight success, and achieved no real fame during his lifetime, except for maybe having devilish good looks and a righteous wig. He first had to follow what his biography was telling him happened and go to St. Michael’s School in Lüneburg, which, despite the name, has no insane asylums, because we checked. Like most students, he spent his time involved not only with his music studies, but in spirited high-jinks; filling the organ pipes with baby powder, tying the KapellMeister’s wig onto his cat, and taunting rival schools with barbed cheers of Unsere orgel ist viel mehr verfeinert und majestätischer als das Organ, das Ihre Schule besitzt . Und Sie riechen schlecht. (“Our organ is much more refined and majestic than the organ which your school possesses. And you smell bad.”) It was in this rich musical atmosphere that his talent for playing the organ evolved, with all of the double-entendre possibilities this naturally entailed. His next challenge was what to do after graduation. Where would he find work? How would he pay off his student loans? Would he have to live in his parent’s basement and play clavier on weekends in a Blue Öyster Cult tribute band? Find out next time, if we ever finish it.

All About Mozart (Part 3: Figaro Has A Giant Schnoz)
Also, find out how many wigs 800 florins can buy.

PART THREE OF A SERIES (SEE PART TWO)

1785 saw the beginning of one of Mozart’s more prolific periods. During this time he composed the one act opera Der Schauspieldirektor, a tribute to director Steven Spielberg, after which came a string of his most famous operatic works, including Le nozze di Figaro (“Figaro Has A Giant Schnoz”), and Don Giovanni, based on the life of Miami Vice actor Don Johnson. Mozart found a part-time job in 1787, when he went to work for Emperor Joseph II (named after his father, Joseph I, except with another “I” added) as his chamber composer, which paid just 800 florins (approx. 5 wigs) per year. A young Beethoven traveled to Vienna in 1787 hoping to meet Mozart, and although no reliable records indicate they ever met, unreliable ones indicate they played pool at a bar on the Strauserfennighammerstrasse, where they exchanged hilarious jokes about how squeaky clarinets sound.

Troubled times

[su_pullquote align=”right”]He began to borrow money and suffer from depression, both sure signs that you are a highly successful composer.[/pullquote]Unfortunately, during his final decade, Mozart’s finances and circumstances took a turn for the worse. The onset of the Austro-Turkish War between Australia and bands of well-armed turkeys had affected prosperity in Vienna, and caused Mozart to move his family to the suburbs, next to a 7-Eleven. He began to borrow money and suffer from depression, both sure signs that you are a highly successful composer. Even so, he was able to compose his last 3 symphonies (38, 39 and 40) and one of his last and most famous operas, Cosi fan tutte (“Women be like that; am I right fellas?”) during this period. During the last year if his life he benefited from sales of some of his dance music composed during his time as chamber composer, including Steigen Sie Ihre Perücken und Tanz (“Get Off Your Wigs and Dance”), Tanz wie ein preußischer Taverne Schenke (“Dance Like A Prussian Bar Maid”), Aufstehen (ich fühle mich die win) 18. Jahrhundert Musik Machin (“Get Up [I Feel Like Being an] 18th Century Music Machine”) and Sag es laut – Ich bin ein produktivsten und einflussreichsten Komponisten der Klassik und ich bin stolz (“Say It Loud – I’m a Prolific and Influential Composer of the Classical Era and I’m Proud”). None of these pieces survive, so don’t go looking to prove us wrong.

Death and legacy

Mozart fell ill in late 1791 with what the official records described as “hitziges Frieselfieber”, or “severe miliary fever”, or “we have no idea what ‘miliary’ is”, and “we checked and it’s not supposed to be ‘military'”. Researchers have come up with 118 other possible causes of death, including acute rheumatic fever, streptococcal infection, wig powder poisoning, trichinosis, quatrinosis, and a rare ailment that causes you to die in a way that causes researchers to spend way too much time trying to figure out what it was. Mozart was very prolific in his short life, which is why he probably had so many possible diseases, and composed over 600 pieces of music, many acknowledged as the peak of symphonic, choral, polycarbonate, chamber, operatic and hyperbaric music. He received many awards in his brief lifetime, including the Order of the Golden Spur from Pope Clement XIVIIVX in 1770 for his work on the motion picture Gitem’ Up The Old Sante Fe Trail, and the Oscar for Best Picture (Amadeus) in 1984. Famed composer Joseph Haydn wrote that “posterity will not see such a talent again in 100 years.” However, due to an unfortunate English-to-German translation error, this was rendered as “My posterior has not seen a toilet in 100 years.” To this day, for some reason, no one uses padded piano benches in Salzburg.

Wait; what about Salieri?

Antonio (“I Did Not Kill Mozart”) Salieri was popularized in the 1984 movie Amadeus as the man who may have poisoned Mozart out of jealously, rage or some other major emotion composers generally seem to have. However, history has proven this to be false, as history really hates it when it gets things made up about itself. In fact, Antonio (Look, I Really Didn’t Kill Him, It’s A Proven Fact, Look It Up On Wikipedia) Salieri once said, “first the music, then the words,” which, although it doesn’t have anything to do with Mozart, is still kind of a cool quote.

All About Mozart (Part 2: Romance Blossoms under the Potato Flake Plant)
Part two of our fact-dubious look at the greatest composer ever to be named Mozart.

PART TWO OF A SERIES (SEE PART ONE)

After returning to Austria in 1773, Mozart was hired as a court musician by the ruler of Salzburg, Prince-Archbishop Hieronymus Colloredo, so named because his parents apparently lost a bet. While most of his peers were having to take jobs working for wig telemarketers, Mozart was able to make a living as a musician and composer, had many fans, and over 10,000 likes on “GesichtBuch” (Facebook). He was able to compose in a variety of genres, including masses, conglomerations, symphonies, sonatas, elantras, serenades, and a few minor skirmishes (Music Historians: “We’re back. You stink.”). But he was dissatisfied with his career in Salzburg, as his pay was low (only 150 florins a year, equal to about 12 Kronenthalers, or 3 Flohrenkrosers, or one extremely well-powdered wig). He really wanted to compose operas, but with the court theatre closing in 1775 and the other local theater only showing “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” at midnight, his options were limited. He was able to produce some operas, such as his La finta giardiniera (“That’sa Fine-a Gardenia”), but had to leave Vienna in hopes of finding more permanent success elsewhere. His adventures led him to Munich, which is in Germany, which makes the Autobahn, as well as to Paris and Mannheim, which makes steamrollers. But he was unable to secure a position that satisfied him and paid for his wig powder habit, and had to dejectedly return once more to Salzburg in 1779 on an overnight Megabus (Music Historians: “NONONONONO!”).

More Vienna, plus romance, marriage and potato flake plants

[su_pullquote align=”right”]He soon established himself as a performer, and as the finest keyboard player in Vienna; even better than Klans Franzenheimer, who could play “Chopsticks” with his wig.[/pullquote]After disagreements with Count Arco (kind of a jerk; see above) over payment and whether wig powder is best kept in a tin or a jar, Mozart moved to Vienna, where he set up shop as a freelance composer and performer. He soon established himself as a performer, and as the finest keyboard player in Vienna; even better than Klans Franzenheimer, who could play “Chopsticks” with his wig. In 1782 he finished his famous opera on inter-European transportation, Die Entführung aus dem Serail (“The Future is in High-Speed Rail, People”), which was a huge success throughout German-speaking Europe, but not so big where they only spoke Yiddish. This was the work that finally established him as a successful composer, and got him on the coveted cover of Der Rolling Stein, a local beer aficionado magazine. It was at this time that his social life blossomed as well, as he pursued a relationship with Constanze Weber, a short, volatile, bald woman with glasses (Music Historians: “Really? A Seinfeld joke?”) who was the third of four daughters from the musical Weber family. The courtship did not go smoothly, however, as she was a Yankees fan and he liked the Mets, but even so, they were married on August 4 of 1782, which was, coincidentally, the same day the first potato flake plant was completed in Grand Forks, North Dakota, although 176 years later.

A career in full swing

At around 1784, Mozart met famed composer Joseph Haydn, and the two became best friends, exchanging composition ideas, trading baseball cards and skinny dipping in the local pond at midnight. Haydn was greatly impressed with Mozart, saying, “I have often been flattered by my friends with having some genius, but he was much my superior, except in Grand Theft Auto. I always smoked him in Grand Theft Auto.” Mozart was said to occasionally punch the older composer on the shoulder and call him a “big lug”, but this is either unsubstantiated, a rumor, or both. With the larger income attained from his performances and composition success, Mozart and his wife enjoyed a lavish lifestyle, complete with an expensive apartment, a custom piano, and an original “Amadeus” pinball machine in the rec room. He could now consider himself a successful composer with a rich social life, but, as the old Austrian saying goes, “So wie das Erröten Weide im Frühjahr müssen die schwärende Orange der Winter zu necken, so können Sie erwarten, dass der Teig zu verlieren” (“Just as the blushing willow in spring must tease the festering orange of winter, so may you expect to lose your dough), which may not make sense to us pedestrian Americans, but makes your average Austrian cry.

NEXT TIME: A RETURN TO… OPERA!

All About Mozart (Part 1: Gettin’ Wiggy Widdit)
Dubious knowledge about music from the Classical era, when men were men, except when they wore wigs.

[feature_headline type=”left” level=”h6″ looks_like=”h6″ icon=”asterisk”]PART ONE OF A SERIES (SEE PART TWO)[/feature_headline]

Most kids these days don’t understand what good music is, what with their “Rock and Roll” and loud hot rods and flouncy poodle skirts – HEY YOU KIDS! GET OFF MY LAWN! Anyway, let us see if we can enlighten all generations with some dubious knowledge about music from the Classical era, when men were men, except when they wore wigs, and composers wrote towering works of skilled majesty that your grandma listens to in the afternoon on NPR while she’s vacuuming.

What’s a “Chrysostomus” Anyway?

[pullquote type=”right”]Mozart’s full name was “Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart”, which he didn’t use often, as his inkwell would tend to run dry before he finished writing it.[/pullquote]Mozart’s full name was “Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart”, which he didn’t use often, as his inkwell would tend to run dry before he finished writing it. Rumor has it his name was used jokingly by the local high school boys, as in, “Boy, he sure came down with a sudden case of Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus after the party last night,” or “you better take the penicillin or you’ll get a Chrysostomus in your Wolfgangus and go blind!”. This is probably not true, as penicillin was not invented until reality TV became an epidemic, but it sure gets the music historians wound up. (Music Historians: “Does not!”) Also, despite having the name Wolfgang, he never played with Van Halen, although some sources claim he did play “Hot For Teacher” on a harpsichord at a Salzburg Junior High dance when he was 13. However, those sources are mostly us.

An Austrian Wig Prodigy

Regardless of his name, or irregardless, I can never remember which (Music Historians: “Regardless, you moron!”), he was born, in the city of Salzburg, which is in Austria, where the kangaroos live. (Music Historians: *sigh*). As Bach might have been before him and Beethoven was behind him but not anyone really beside him, he was a Child Prodigy, meaning he never got to go outside with the other kids and play football because he had to practice piano. But, on the upside, he got a lot of girls, or would have if he hadn’t been 6. Being a child prodigy had it’s perks, however, as you got your wigs for free from the Child Prodigy Society, but the downside was, again, the girls thing. His father was a minor composer himself, which meant he was busy writing songs while he toiled away deep in the Salzburg salt mines (Music Historians: “Please stop.”) He was also a successful teacher and violinist, having written the heavy metal violin instruction book  “Versuch einer gründlichen Violinschule” (“Verily, One Violin Licks the Ground”). As with many composers, Mozart’s father was his first teacher, and, having suspected his immense talent early on, hoped to someday get him on a reality music show, such as “Österreich talentiertesten Träger der Perücke” (“Austria’s Most Talented Wearer of Wigs”).

Traveling in Europe Without Green M&M’s

Mozart traveled extensively in his youth, along with his sister Nannerl. With his main focus being a modicum of rock and roll and hers a smattering of country, they were billed as “Johanni & Marie”, but it soon became evident that Mozart’s talent was prodigious, and he had to get a shot before it became infectious. (Music Historians: “We’re done; our lawyer will be in touch.”) As an example of his great skill at such a young age, Mozart wrote his first opera when he was just 11. This was “Die Schuldigkeit des ersten Gebots” (“I Destroyed the School with Earnest Robots”), no doubt influenced by playing too much “Call of Duty” on his Game Boy. These travels spanned 3-1/2 years and allowed them to see most of the major cities in Europe: Munich, Rome, Milan, Mannheim, Steamroller, Zurich, London and France, but not someone’s underpants. (Music Historian’s Lawyer: “They said you were bad, but I didn’t expect this bad.”) But the traveling conditions were harsh, as in no shower on the tour bus and a less than adequate supply of green M & M’s for their dressing room. Although Mozart was popular, his father Leopold’s dream of him receiving professional employment abroad were not realized, and so they returned home to Austria to their humble kangaroo ranch (Sound Of Music Historian Lawyer Typing Up Injunction).

NEXT TIME: THE SALZBURG PERIOD (plus more wig wearing)

All About Beethoven: Part IV (The Part We Spell With an “I” and a “V”)
Our final installment about the Big B.

PART FOUR OF A SERIES (SEE PART THREE)

As Beethoven neared the end of his life, he was universally recognized as a master, even on Mars, because we said universally. Now moving into his “late period”, he began work on two of his most ambitious pieces, the Missa Solemnis (“A Big Mess”) and the 9th Symphony (“The One From the ‘Die Hard’ Soundtrack”). The 9th Symphony, which was performed on May 7, 1824 at the Kamtorten… Kamthertotenhamm… at a theater where they play music, was his last symphony, whose most notable feature was the incorporation of a choir, which most symphonies did not use, due to the fact that they usually fought with the orchestra over who got to use the wig powder first. Said the local newspaper Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung, “Gesundheit! What a great show!”. Rolling Stone raved, “It might have been good but we don’t speak German,” and Mother Earth News said “Whoa, we dig the hair, dude!”. Unlike his earlier concerts, this one did not make him much money, as he had forgotten to set up his merch table and sell T-shirts and busts of himself.

Deafness and Woolen Bloomers

By 1814 Beethoven was almost totally deaf; in fact, at the end of a performance of the Ninth Symphony he had to be turned around to see the thunderous applause of the audience, as his hearing loss prevented him from hearing it. Nonetheless, cheap, painted hussies still threw their large, woolen bloomers on stage, as, as we have mentioned before, Beethoven was a stud, even with that hair that stuck out all over. Regardless, or maybe regarding, we’re not sure which works better here, he resolved to continue to live for his music, which is good because otherwise we would have nothing to write about.

Death, Thunderstorms and Beiber

[pullquote type=”right”]His last compositions were his later string quartets, which were so ahead of their time that people wondered if he had gotten hold of some bad wig powder.[/pullquote]His last compositions were his later string quartets, which were so ahead of their time that people wondered if he had gotten hold of some bad wig powder. They are now generally seen as masterpieces, which means you’d better say you like them or you aren’t a real musician. He became bedridden his last few months, and died on March 26, 1827 as a thunderstorm raged, because even nature knew Beethoven rocked. His funeral was attended by 20,000 Viennese citizens, because that’s who was living in Vienna at the time. And, just as my fingers are when I mishandle Super Glue, his legacy was cemented as one of the giants of musical composition, frequently mentioned as one of the legendary “three B’s”: Bach, Beethoven, and Beiber.

Finally Free to Romp in the Meadow

And so our troubled musical bard was left to rest in peace, at least until people started to make busts out of his head and put them on the grand pianos of piano teachers where he could glare at cowering students who couldn’t remember “Every Good Boy Does Fine”. His music has been deemed so important that it is featured twice on the Voyager space probe’s golden record that will greet any extra-terrestrials who happen to find it. Unfortunately, one of these recordings was mislabeled as “The Hippy Hippy Shake” by The Swinging Blue Jeans, but since it will take approximately 3.8 billion years for the probe to be returned for correction, they just decided to let it go this time. And now we, bid adieu to Beethoven, as he romps in the meadow, finally free from the evil Dr. Varnick and oh wait that’s the dog again.

All About Beethoven: Part III (Possibly The Last Part, Unless We Come Up With More Jokes)
More funny stuff about the life of Beethoven.

PART THREE OF A SERIES (SEE PART TWO)

A common myth is that Beethoven was deaf when he starred in that movie where he was the dog, but in reality, he was just tired of being asked for his autograph over and over and wanted a little peace and quiet, so he would just say “eh?” with one of those ear trumpet things until people left him alone. But, as fate would have it, because fate is like that, the jerk, he actually did begin losing his hearing at about the age of 26. The cause was determined not to be from listening to music too loud in his iPod earbuds, BUT THAT COULD STILL HAPPEN KIDS. By 1814 Beethoven was almost totally deaf, but he still continued to compose music, because, basically, Beethoven was a stud. This is the non-musical equivalent of Michael Jordan having lead weights tied on his custom-made Air Jordans (#22 – Lead Version – Not For Sale) and having to use a bowling ball to dunk with. Or maybe he had bowling balls tied to his feet, and had to wear lead shorts, and the basketball was a cabbage, but you get the idea.

Vienna and the Brown-Wigged Pig

[pullquote type=”right”]When Beethoven returned to Vienna, his musical style took a noticeable turn, employing the use of synthesizers and a decidedly more pop feel – no, wait, that was Van Halen, sorry.[/pullquote]In the spring of 1802 Beethoven’s Second Symphony was performed at the “Theater an der Wein” (translation: “Theater And Some Wine”). The concert was a financial success, as Beethoven was able to charge more than three times the usual cost of a ticket, even though Ticketmaster still took 30% of the sales. He was also beginning to have more works published, which was great, because, back then, publishing was like getting a spot on “Ellen.”

When Beethoven returned to Vienna, his musical style took a noticeable turn, employing the use of synthesizers and a decidedly more pop feel – no, wait, that was Van Halen, sorry. This compositional period is sometimes called his “middle period”, or “the period of the middle”, and maybe “the period that is not the beginning or the end”, but never “noisy loud times.” It featured a more animated style, with Beethoven flying around on wires during concerts – sorry, Van Halen again. Actually, it featured larger and longer works, such as his 3rd Symphony, Eroica (Junior High Boy Translation: “Erotica”) which some listeners considered to be a masterpiece, while others were just dragged there by their wives and wanted to get to the Brown-Wigged Pig before it closed. This period defined Beethoven’s style, and he was prolific in composing not only symphonies, but piano sonatas, fermatas, string quartets, cantalopes, concertos, rubertos, clementes and operas.

Sturm, Drang and the 5th Symphony

Of course his most famous work was his 5th Symphony, composed when he was done with his 4th Symphony, and boy, is it loaded with angst and stuff. Music historians call this style “Sturm und Drang” (literally, “Storm and Drang”), which, coincidentally, were also the names of Beethoven’s guitarist and drummer in his band “The Velvet Wigz” in High School. Ha ha! Just kidding; Beethoven never went to High School; as far as we can tell he graduated from somewhere with the word Polytechnik in it, as in North Berlinischestiktechkckckchhhh Polytechnik, or Gunter’s House of Polytechnik and Pawn.

As for his love life, Beethoven rekindled his relationship with Josephine Brunsvik in 1809 after her husband Count (“Really, I’m Not A Vampire”) Joseph Deym died in a mysterious wooden stake in the heart accident. He reportedly wrote her 15 love letters, which is pretty good, as he didn’t have a WiFi connection to his office printer and had to do it by hand. But his status as a commoner prevented her from being able to reciprocate, which led him to write “Layla”; no, that was Eric Clapton doggone it. Well, mostly because of his status, Beethoven remained unmarried, and got to wear whatever he wanted his entire life without having to go back and change it.

NEXT TIME: The Next Period, The One After This One, Where He Writes That Symphony For “Die Hard”.