Thursday, August 14, 2008

From Bosley's Cyclopædia of Musical Anecdotes

Everybody knows that Jacques Offenbach wasn’t originally surnamed Offenbach, but few know the story behind his assumption of his famous nom de plume. It is as follows: In the early months of 1832, the young Jacques Eberst, then a promising if somewhat post-aurally humid violoncellist newly arrived in Paris, sought private tuition from the celebrated Yankee ’cello virtuoso Franklin van Vleet (father of the soon to be-even more celebrated double-bass virtuoso, van Buren van Vleet), then vleetingly—erm, fleetingly-- resident in the French capital. For Jacques’s first exercise, van Vleet assigned him the Prelude to J. S. Bach’s G Major solo ’cello suite. Now, it would be putting it very… how do you say?...charitably to say that in those days BWVs 1007 through 1012 were not held in particularly high esteem by either amateur or professional musicians; indeed, the most popular performing version of the suites was then Breitkopf & Härtel’s so-called double-duty edition, issued on rolls of perforated tissue paper with the aim of “facilitating the infant ’cellist’s elementary bowing and wiping techniques simultaneously.” Hence, it was only natural that young Eberst should, as it were, preemptively read between the scored lines of this assignment; that he should see in it an invitation to virtual co-compositiorial embellishment rather than as an exercise in mere interpretation. Little did he know what a staunchly cross-grained advocate of the Boss's recorded intentions he had met with in Mynheer--erm Mr.--van Vleet. So, anyway, young Eberst shows up for lesson number two, with liberally marked-up score in hand, and sits down to render unto his teacher not so much a straight performance of BWV 1007 I as a performance thereof with running commentary; for atop the familiar quaver arpeggios he has seen fit to lay out a lyrical legato melody composed of a languid succession of crotchets and semibreves--in short, a sort of Gounodian Ave Maria avant la lettre.

Van Vleet, suffice it to say, would have none of this. By bar five his legendarily short fuse was at its breaking point [sic]. Extracting his signature Emporia cheroot from betwixt his manifestly clenched bicuspids and stubbing it out in his equally signature Sèvres ashtray of exquisite Polish [sic] craftsmanship, he splutteringly ejaculated (in English),
“Cut...I say, cut...I say, cut that out now, son! There’s no call to jack off in Bach.” And the rest, as they say, is [makes farting noises in lieu of asterisks].

From Guisepe [sic] Verdini, Mya Life ina ze Muzic (Buenos Aires, 1896)

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