Just Foolin’ Around
“All music is folk music. I ain’t never heard a horse sing a song.”
The art of practical joking isn’t lost on the world of musicians. Contrary to popular belief, classical musicians are not always as stodgy and serious as they may appear! We like to play April fools jokes just as much as everyone else, and several composers loved writing jokes into their works.
The classical composer Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) wrote two works in particular that have entertained audiences for centuries with their humorous nature. His famous “Surprise” symphony shocks drifting audience members to attention with his loud chord near the opening of the 2nd movement, so don’t fall asleep next time you attend an orchestra concert, or you might be rudely awakened! Haydn’s “Farewell Symphony,” written in 1772, is an 18th century equivalent of video production employee Marina Shifrin’s 2013 “I Quit” video. Haydn wrote the “Farewell Symphony” because he and his fellow musicians had been forced to play unexpected overtime at their patron’s summer home, providing him with entertainment for his extended stay. In order to make a statement about their unfair working conditions, towards the end of the symphony the musicians left one by one, blowing out their candles as they went, until no one remained on stage. Similarly, Shifrin “I Quit” complains that it was 4:30 a.m. and she, too, was never allowed to leave her job. As a protest to her video production boss, she made a video of herself dancing to Kanye West’s song “Gone” and ended the video by turning out the lights and quitting her job. Way to rip off Haydn, Shifrin!
Another work I personally find entertaining (as well as incredibly challenging to play) is Eugene Ysaÿe’s “Obsession” from Sonata for Solo Violin, Op. 27 #2. Ysaÿe wrote a collection of Six Sonatas for Solo Violin in 1923, dedicating each of the six sonatas to a different violinist friend. Ysaÿe dedicated the second sonata to French violinist Jacques Thibaud. The work begins just like Bach’s Preludio from Partita No. 3 in E Major, but then shifts to a 20th century improvisatory-sounding passage, followed by more Bach, and then more of the latter. This pattern happens several times throughout the movement. While learning this work, my violin teacher informed me that this shifting between Bach and Ysaÿe passages was a parody on Thibaud’s frequent memory slips. Apparently he always worried about forgetting his place when playing Bach, so his friend wrote him a piece in which the whole movement sounds like a series of flashy memory slips! Perhaps next time I play Bach I will just add my own improvisation every time I lose my place, and claim I am inspired by the genius of Ysaÿe!
For our jazz lovers, the lyrics to Ricky May’s song “Just Foolin’ Around” from the 1987 album Just Foolin Around! A Tribute to Louis Armstrong, speak of musicians’ love for “foolin’ around” with different melodies they already know, and in the process creating new songs of their own. In May’s works he built on the legacy of Louis Armstrong. Ysaÿe built on those of Bach. Shifrin unknowingly followed in the witty vein of Haydn. We all have our inspirations that help us become the kind of artist we are today. However, before deciding which artist to imitate, make sure you have the right training. Otherwise you might look like Brett Yang from TwoSetViolin imitating violinist/dancer Lindsey Stirling. Then you will really look like a fool!
1. Haydn’s “Surprise” Symphony: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tF5kr251BRs
2. Haydn’s “Farewell” Symphony: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kjFeDk6Kr3U
4. Bach’s “Preludio” from Partita No. 3 in E Major: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2KYRdRnnBYw
5. Ysaÿe’s “Obsession”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ut1H-3tE6jk
6. May’s “Just Foolin’ Around” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4i5KXAs-mFM
7. TwoSetViolin’s Lindsey Stirling imitation:
First Fridays with Uptown Violins is hosted by Ashley Rescot, Director of Public Relations. Ashley received her Bachelor of Music from Baylor University, as well as minors in French and English. She taught English as a Fulbright scholar in France for a year, and then obtained her Master’s Degree in French Literature at the University of Kansas. She has taught French to all ages, including a Maman et Moi baby French class, as well as collegiate French levels I-IV. She teaches her own private violin studio and performs throughout the Midwest. Research interests include the relationship between music education and language acquisition, as well as the connection between music and other forms of artistic expression.