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NICOLAS SLONIMSKY SURE FOUND JOY in musicology. He has appeared several times here at SimanaitisSays. And I remember Nick fondly from the old days of Southern California classical radio KFAC, especially his interviews by the station’s Doug Ordunio.

Nikolai Leonidovich Slonimsky, 1894-1995, who called himself a “failed wunderkind.”

Nick came from what he described as a long line of “novelists, revolutionary poets, literary critics, university professors, translators, chessmasters, economists, mathematicians, inventors of useless languages, Hebrew scholars and speculative philosophers.” 

Lectionary of Music, by Nicolas Slonimsky, McGraw-Hill, 1989.

Here are Slonimsky tidbits, all the quoted material from his Lectionary. 

 Aida Trumpet. “A long trumpet specially constructed for use in Verdi’s opera Aida. The original, manufactured in France, was called trompette thébaine, ‘a trumpet of Thebes.’ It was capable of sounding four tones: A-flat, B-flat, B-natural, and C.”

An Aida trumpet. Image from Thein Brass.

Giuseppe Verdi’s Aida had its premiere on December 24, 1871, at the Khedivial Opera House in Cairo. It was celebrating the opening of the Suez Canal, November 17, 1869. Reasons for the delay were two-fold: At first Verdi declined. Then later, scenery and costumes were stuck in Paris with its siege during the Franco-Prussian War and Rigoletto was performed instead. 

What Rigoletto had to do with opening the Suez Canal is anyone’s guess.

Anvil. “A percussion instrument in the form of an actual anvil, consisting of a metal bar struck by a hammer. It was first used in an opera by Auber, Le Maçon, 1825, and was popularized in the famous Anvil Chorus in Verdi’s Il Travatore. In Das Rheingold Wagner introduces 18 anvils to illustrate the forging of the ring of the Nibelung. Varèse has a part for an anvil in Ionisation and Carl Orff employs it in his opera Antigony.”

Wagner anvilists at work. Image from

Pity the poor musician carting around a Rheingold anvil, or maybe just identifying which one of the 18 actually hits the requisite note.

Merely as an aside, I have a Rheingold anvil snippet as my “outsider” smart phone ring.

Claque. “French for ‘clapping.’ Mercenary applause hired by operatic stars, bosomy prima donnas, self-inflated tenors, and occasionally even seemingly normal pianists and some desperate violinists.” 

Don’t you love Slonimsky’s writing?

Claquers at work. Image from

“Occasionally,” he continued, “an ambitious opera star would engage an anticlaque to drown out a rival’s claque. A list of services circulating in Paris in the middle of the 19th century quoted the following prices: Applause sufficient for single curtain call… 150 francs. Overwhelming applause … 220 francs. Hissing a rival singer… 250 francs. Ovation after the last act, serenading before the window of the artist’s home… price by special arrangement.”

“The claquers were officially banned by the Metropolitan Opera House in New York in 1935 but apparently still prospered as late as 1960, at a cost of up to $100 for a group of vociferous young males on Saturday afternoons.”

Schandeflöte (Shame Flute). “A heavy vertical flute made of iron that was hung on a tight ring around the neck of a town fifer in medieval Germany who was condemned to public disgrace for the crime of playing too many wrong notes in the performance of his duties. A sign was placed on his jacket spelling out the extent of his inharmonious conduct.”

Image from Fine Art America.

Yuruparí. “A very long wooden trumpet used by the Brazilian Amazon Indians, who consider it to be taboo for women or strangers. Oscar Wilde mentions these primitive instruments in his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, speaking of exotic and dangerous hobbies of his hero in whose collection there are ‘mysterious yuruparís of the Rio Negro Indians, the women are not allowed to look at.’ ”

Image from hist.

Who am I to question Mr. Wilde’s syntax, but precisely what are women not allowed to view? ds 

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2023 

One comment on “TOOT THAT YURUPARÍ, MAN!

  1. John Jaksich
    April 8, 2023

    Touching commentary on the beauty of music—

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