5 Brilliant Classical Works With Obscenities for Names
Our day job is as a clerk in a sheet music store, and in general it is a pretty sweet gig. We like being around music students, teachers, and people who just want to play. It truly is an invigorating thing to see.
Then again... there are things in the store that are as awkward to sell as extra-small condoms. Some composers have names that may sound perfectly reasonable in their home country, but here are fine-worthy utterances. Others, involve outdated expressions, and a very poor choice of term for a woodwind.
The thing is, some of these pieces are necessary. Most of them are on the UIL contest list, or have otherwise been selected for state wide competitions. So we have to sell them, and there's always a lot of foot-shuffling when someone needs...
Lillian Fuchs was a brilliant violist who was married to an equally brilliant violinist, and thus deserves some kind of award for not strangling him in his sleep if we can take our experiences watching how violinists treat violists as any kind of indicator. Her etudes are standard teaching repertoire, but that doesn't mean anything when some teenager with an overinflated sense of their own hilarity wanders in screaming "I need Fuchs Studies!"
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Weird thing? There are actually two composers whose names are synonyms for the big almighty American curse word. Johann Joseph Fux (pronounced "fooks" but seriously?), laid down rules that would inspire Haydn, who passed them onto Beethoven and Mozart. So without this one unfortunately named composer there would be some pretty big holes in the music world. You could say that the classical world wouldn't existence except for Fux sake.
Debussy's "Le Petit Negre" or "The Little Negro" transcribed for the clarinet is one of the most popular solos that we sale, and for the most part people deal with it just fine. Still, at least one out of every ten people who see it either chuckle uneasily or look vaguely affronted. The piece was originally part of his Children's Corner series of songs based around things in his daughter's room.
One of them was a popular black doll called a Golliwog, which as far as things go, yeah, was a pretty racist little thing. However, Debussy wrote another piece called "Golliwog's Cakewalk" that replaced "Le Petit Negre" and it became a standalone work. Give Debussy some credit, though. The piece was inspired by the rise of ragtime and its almost exclusively black composers.
Nothing reduces teenage boys to fits of brain damage faster than picking up any piece by Paul Gay. "Know how I can tell if you're gay?" That sort of thing. Gay was a well respected trombone player in the Boston Ballet Orchestra, as well as the conductor of the Indian Hill Symphony, the Boston University Wind Ensemble. His "Chorale" is a terrific piece, but not terrific enough to bypass all the meat in the heads of high school brass players.
Then again, bassoon players have it even worse. The German word for bassoon is fagott, which is in fact the original name of the instrument. Why exactly its called that is somewhat of a mystery, as the word "fagotto" meaning a bundle of sticks only comes into use years after the development of the bassoon. All we know if that any import edition of a bassoon piece is likely to have a very negative slur for homosexuals right on the cover. Although, we suppose it's no worse than being called a bassoon player.
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