Musical Quotes

"There are more bad musicians than there is bad music."
--Isaac Stern

After playing the violin for the cellist Gregor Piatgorsky, Albert Einstein asked, "Did I play well?" "You played relatively well," replied Piatgorsky.

"The chromatic scale is what you use to give the effect of drinking a quinine martini and having an enema simultaneously."
--Philip Larkin

"The sound of a harpsichord - two skeletons copulating on a tin roof in a thunderstorm."
--Sir Thomas Beecham

"Harpists spend ninety percent of their lives tuning their harps and ten percent playing out of tune."
--Igor Stravinsky

"Mozart died too late rather than too soon."
--Glenn Gould

"Beethoven always sounds to me like the upsetting of a bag of nails, with here and there also a dropped hammer."
--John Ruskin

"Art is long and life is short; here is evidently the explanation of a Brahms symphony."
--Edward Lorne

"I love Wagner, but the music I prefer is that of a cat hung up by its tail outside a window and trying to stick to the panes of glass with its claws."
--Charles Baudelaire

"If the reader were so rash as to purchase any of Bela Bartok's compositions, he would find that they each and all consist of unmeaning bunches of notes, apparently representing the composer promenading the keyboard in his boots. Some can be played better with the elbows, others with the flat of the hand. None require fingers to perform or ears to listen too."
--Frederick Corder

"In the first movement alone, I took note of six pregnancies and at least four miscarriages."
--Sir Thomas Beecham on Bruckner's Seventh Symphony

"What can you do with it? It's like a lot of yaks jumping about."
--Sir Thomas Beecham on Beethoven's Seventh Symphony

Sir Thomas Beecham was once asked if he had played any Stockhausen. "No," he replied, "but I have trodden in some."

"Rossini would have been a great composer if his teacher had spanked him enough on his backside."
--Ludwig van Beethoven

"Anton Bruckner wrote the same symphony nine times, trying to get it just right. He failed."
--Edward Abbey

"Schoenberg is too melodious for me, too sweet."
--Bertolt Brecht

"He'd be better off shoveling snow."
--Richard Strauss on Arnold Schoenberg.

When told that a soloist would need six fingers to perform his concerto, Arnold Schoenberg replied, "I can wait."

"I would like to hear Elliot Carter's Fourth String Quartet, if only to discover what a cranky prostate does to one's polyphony."
--James Sellars

"Exit in case of Brahms."
--Philip Hale's proposed inscription over the doors of Boston Symphony Hall

"Why is it that whenever I hear a piece of music I don't like, it's always by Villa-Lobos?"
--Igor Stravinsky

"His music used to be original. Now it's aboriginal."
--Sir Ernest Newman on Igor Stravinsky

"If he'd been making shell-cases during the war it might have been better for music."
--Maurice Ravel on Camille Saint-Saens

"He has an enormously wide repertory. He can conduct anything, provided it's by Beethoven, Brahms or Wagner. He tried Debussy's La Mer once. It came out as Das Merde."
--Anonymous Orchestra Member on George Szell

Someone commented to Rudolph Bing, manager of the Metropolitan Opera, that "George Szell is his own worst enemy." "Not while I'm alive, he isn't!" said Bing.

"Madam, you have between your legs an instrument capable of giving pleasure to thousands and all you can do is scratch it."
--Sir Thomas Beecham to a lady cellist.

"After I die, I shall return to earth as a gatekeeper of a bordello and I won't let any of you enter."
--Arturo Toscanini to the NBC Orchestra

"We cannot expect you to be with us all the time, but perhaps you could be good enough to keep in touch now and again."
--Sir Thomas Beecham to a musician during a rehearsal

"Jack Benny played Mendelssohn last night. Mendelssohn lost."

The great German conductor Hans von Bülow detested two members of an orchestra, who were named Schultz and Schmidt. Upon being told the Schmidt had died, von Bülow immediately asked, "Und Schultz?"

"Her voice sounded like an eagle being goosed."
--Ralph Novak on Yoko Ono

"Parsifal - the kind of opera that starts at six o'clock and after it has been going three hours, you look at your watch and it says 6:20."
--David Randolph

"One can't judge Wagner's opera Lohengrin after a first hearing, and I certainly don't intend hearing it a second time."
--Gioacchino Rossini

"I liked the opera very much. Everything but the music."
--Benjamin Britten on Stravinsky's The Rakes's Progress

"Her singing reminds me of a cart coming downhill with the brake on."
--Sir Thomas Beecham on an unidentified soprano in Die Walküre

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