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Clef Notes

Clef Notes is a musical discussion with WGUC Music Director Jessica Lorey.
For more musical explorations, visit Clef Notes.

April Fools!
Mon, 01 Apr 2019

April Fools’ Day (also known as All Fools’ Day) has been around for several hundred years. Although it’s not clear exactly where and how the tradition began, many historians believe the fun all started back in the sixteenth century when France switched from using the Julian calendar that observed New Year’s Day on April 1st, to the Gregorian calendar, which recognized January 1stas the start of the new year. Many folks apparently missed the memo on this change, so they became victims of practical jokes. The rest is history.

When many people think of classical music, they think of something very high-brow and serious – not true! Let’s have some fun with a few of our favorite composers who enjoyed a little humor.

Let’s start with Mozart. Did you know he wrote a piece that he called “A Musical Joke”? That’s right – the musical genius of the eighteenth century decided to have a little fun with his Divertimento for two horns and string quartet, K. 522. In it, it seems Mozart is making fun of less-adept composers of his time. He pokes fun at the rules of composition strictly adhered to during the classical era by using odd instrumentation, horrible counterpoint, and writing in a way that makes the performers sound as if they are messing up. If you only listen to part of the piece, skip to the final measures – yikes! Polytonality was NOT a common compositional device during Mozart’s time!

What about the Academic Festival Overtureby Brahms? He wrote it at the request of the University of Breslau after they gave him an honorary doctorate in 1880. They asked for a symphony, and he responded with an arrangement of student drinking songs. Now that’s funny!

If I had to choose one composer who stands out as the best practical jokester, it would by Haydn. Where to begin in talking about the humor he slips into many of his works? Well let’s start with his String Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 33/#2, also known as “The Joke.” During the final movement of the quartet, Haydn leads the listener into believing the piece has finished. He does this several times until the audience has no idea when to applaud! Finally, he concludes with a final appearance of the opening phrase of the main theme. You can’t help but giggle when you listen to “The Joke”!

Have you heard Haydn’s Farewell Symphony? He wrote his Symphony #45 as a hint to Prince Nikolaus Esterházy to allow his orchestra members to return home to see their families after an extended stay at the prince’s summer home. During the final part of the symphony, members of the orchestra gradually begin to put their instrument down and walk off the stage, leaving only two violins at the end!

Haydn’s Symphony #94 is known as the “Surprise” symphony. Do you know why? Give it a listen and let me know what you think in the comments below!

What other funny classical pieces do you enjoy? Let us know! And be sure to check out WGUC’s April Fools content on our website, posted in memory host Frank Johnson, who passed away in March 2019.

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