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A WAGNER opera begins at 7 p.m. Three hours later, you look down at your watch and it’s 7:25.
What’s the difference between a viola and an onion? Nobody cries when a viola is cut up.
If two trombonists are in a car, who’s driving? The cop.
Yes, music is fertile ground for humor. I especially delight in P.D.Q. Bach, the alter ego of composer Peter Schickele; see www.schickele.com) and in today’s subject, Gerard Hoffnung, cartoonist, BBC broadcaster, impresario—and tuba player.
Gerard was the only child of well-to-do German Jews who fled the Nazis. He began his career as a cartoonist while still at school. The fact that Hoffnung was expelled from Hornsey College of Art for “lack of gravity in the life class” explains a lot about his later life.
Hoffnung published a series of books poking gentle fun at the 1950s’ musical scene. In 1956, he brought together musicians for the first of his Hoffnung Music Festivals. Held in London’s Royal Festival Hall, all 3000+ seats sold out within two hours of the box office opening.
One of the works presented at the first festival was Concerto for Hose-pipe and Strings, composed by Leopold Mozart (Wolfgang’s father) and featuring horn virtuoso Dennis Brain (playing a length of garden hose fitted with a mouthpiece). Another was British composer Malcolm Arnold’s Grand Grand Overture, scored for orchestra, three vacuum cleaners, a floor polisher and four hunting rifles. A favorite of mine is the Concerto popolare (A Piano Concerto to End All Piano Concertos).
This musical traffic jam has the orchestra attempting Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor while the pianist is intent on performing Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor. The resulting chaos has bits of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, Addinsell’s Warsaw Concerto as well as occasional appearances of Pop Goes the Weasel and Roll Out the Barrel.
Speaking of barrels, I recall another wonderful bit of Hoffnung humor in “The Bricklayer’s Lament.” This commentary, originally arising in the 1930s and appearing in a 1940 Reader’s Digest, is brought to perfection with Hoffnung’s droll delivery. Enjoy it at http://goo.gl/KWpv4.
After Hoffnung’s death (from a cerebral hemorrhage at age 34), many of his cartoons were transformed into short films by British animators John Halas and Joy Batchelor. The accompanying music, arranged by Francis Chagrin, is very much in the Hoffnung spirit. “The Hoffnung Symphony Orchestra” was first seen on BBC TV in the 1960s; it’s at http://goo.gl/a3BcAm.
British colleague William Mann said the true Hoffnung spirit is “explosive, madly sane and irrepressible.” Don’t you agree? ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2014