Delle Citazioni dei Compositori alla Pellicola “Mean Girls”, op. 10 nos. 1-16

This is an extra-credit post, so anything goes. Therefore, I have hereby decided to produce something from one of my favorite hobbies – collecting snarky insults spoken by composers of composers. What follows are my favorites I have found.

Several notes:

  • I don’t necessarily agree with the insults enclosed. I just enjoy reading about composers throwing shade, and wanted to share that enjoyment with you. Please don’t complain in the comments.
  • The name of the insulter is a source for his (or Clara Schumann’s) quote. The other links can be musical examples, fun biographical facts, or (in one case) 45 minutes of cow footage. There will be a quiz later, so watch each video in its entirety.
  • The name of this post is my bad Italian for “Some Composers’ Quotes In the Manner of the Film “Mean Girls,” 10th Blog Post, Quotes 1-16.” If the Italian is bad, remember that the history of music is written in Italian by non-Italian speakers.
  • Yes, the only woman in the entire post is Clara Schumann. What can I say? Western musical history is full of Germans, and Germans sure love their Würste.

“He knows no more counterpoint than my cook!”

Baroque composer George Friedrich Handel, on creator of the modern operatic form Christoph Willibald Gluck

“A great tub of pork and beer.”
Romantic composer Hector Berlioz on George Friedrich Handel, famously caricatured here

“What an ungifted swine! It angers me that this conceited mediocrity is regarded as a genius… Brahms is just some chaotic and utterly empty wasteland.”

Russian Romantic composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky on the intellectual Johannes Brahms

“Rossini would have been a great composer if his teacher had spanked him enough on the backside.”

Master of the late Classical era Ludwig van Beethoven on opera buffa composer Gioachino Rossini

“One can’t judge Wagner’s opera Lohengrin after a first hearing… and I certainly don’t intend hearing it a second time.”

Great operatic composer Gioachino Rossini, on notorious narcissist with a composition habit Richard Wagner

“A man devoid of all talent.”

-Member of the famed Russian Five César Cui on deeply disturbed anti-Semite and all-around impossible human being Richard Wagner

“He does not know how to write four consecutive bars which are beautiful or even correct.”

Clara Schumann, on, Richard Wagner, who was such a jerk

“He gives me the impression of being a spoilt child… particularly in his compositions which I cannot qualify in any other term than ‘awful.’”
Clara Schumann, on subject of the most embarrassing historical film of all time Franz Liszt

“Listening to the fifth symphony of Ralph Vaughan Williams is like staring at a cow for 45 minutes.”

Americana composer Aaron Copland on (believe it or not) the fifth symphony of Ralph Vaugh Williams

“A very tolerable imitation of a composer.”
English composer Ralph Vaugh Williams on late Romantic composer Mahler (whose buddies, as Tom Lehrer teaches, all knew him as Gustav)

“If he had been making shell cases during the war, it might have been better for music.”

Romantic composer and bitter misanthrope Camille Saent-Saëns on French Impressionist Maurice Ravel

“He’d be better off shoveling snow than scribbling on manuscript paper.”

Early modernist composer and 2001: A Space Odyssey score writer Richard Strauss on twelve-tone pioneer Arnold Schoenberg

“The expressions he uses are as banal as a cheap song.”

Twelve-tone pioneer Arnold Schoenberg on early modernist composer and 2001: A Space Odyssey score writer Richard Strauss

“I play through all his music every so often to see if I am right about him. I usually find I underestimated last time how bad he was.”

English composer Benjamin Britten on listening to Johannes Brahms again.

“I liked the opera very much. Everything but the music.”

English composer Benjamin Britten on Igor Stravinsky’s opera The Rake’s Progress

“Why is it that whenever I hear a piece of music I don’t like, it’s always by Villa-Lobos?”

Polytonal composer Igor Stravinsky on Brazilian art composer Heitor Villa-Lobos

There wasn’t actually a quiz. Hope you enjoyed 45 minutes of cow footage. Thank you!

Get the Show On – Get Paid

Somebody once told me the world is gonna roll me – I ain’t the sharpest tool in the shed.” Thus began one of the most popular songs that alternative pop-punk-ska band Smash Mouth released. Smash Mouth, also known as “Guy Fieri in band form,” could easily be called the first toll of the bell announcing the death of 90s ska. But before they began to wither away into Twitter battles and pathetically misspelled pseudo-tributes to George Michael, Smash Mouth performed the soundtrack music for a certain film known as Shrek.

The Internet, it turned out, liked this film. It liked it so much, in fact, that its love for said film has its own Wikipedia page. And when the Internet loves something (see: DeviantArt, fanfiction.net) it loves it to an unsettling degree. Like Lennie from Of Mice and Men, the Internet has a bad habit of loving things so much it crushes them to death. For “All Star,” this came in the fashion of remixes after remixes.

It began with finding other characters from other series to create covers. From Disney animation to Steven Universe cartoons, many of these were from other kid-friendly sources. But the Internet doesn’t know “kid-friendly.” So as the election came up, we found ourselves listening to our current Dear Leader’s performance, and (through the Internet’s limitless talent to make things weird) a mash-up where every use of the word “the” is replaced with “China” and the recording speeds up 10%.

That’s a good junping off point to the next field of Youtube remixes. These changed the recording itself. Some replaced all the lyrics with one word, like “somebody,” or multiplied the number of “sheds.” Some reordered the notes by alphabetical order or by pitch, or removed any pitch alterations entirely. Some reversed the lyrics while keeping the rest of the song in order, while some removed all the lyrics entirely. These remixes didn’t stop coming, and things got really dank.

So the music nerds came in. Suddenly we had a Bach chorale following strict Common Practice contrapuntal rules. We had staggered remixes tripping you up with 7 beats per measure. We had remixes passing through ten different distinct musical genres. And we had this piece of musical genius here.

But now that the Baroque chorale has fallen upon the throne of Smash Mouth, where can we go? Fool! The Internet asks not “where”, yea – it does! After experimenting with adding the lyrics to “All Star” to other accompaniment tracks like Outkast’s “Hey Ya,” the Chainsmokers’ “Closer,” or Rick Astley’s notorious “Never Gonna Give You Up”, the assorted YouTube hordes found their true calling – autotuning the beautiful vocal stylings of Steve Hartwell to new melodies. We gained Smashified versions of Evanescense’s “Bring Me To Life,” David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” A-ha’s “Take On Me,” and Darude’s “Sandstorm.” I could go on… so I will. Thomas the Tank Engine’s theme song. Seinfeld’s theme song. A song from the Icelandic children’s show BNE Lazy Town. LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN’S DAMN FIFTH SYMPHONY! (At least we know why he went deaf now.) Perhaps the Internet asks not “where,” but perhaps it should consider asking “why not.”

So our larger question is – what made this shitty ska-pop song from 1999 the unofficial anthem of YouTube? I have two theories. First, it comes from the late 90s, the era much of the Internet grew up in. All the more so, it was featured in a popular children’s movie of the early 2000s (which is love and is life). If the 500 articles showing “you’re a ‘90s kid” show anything, it’s the enduring appeal of said decade. Second, the chorus’ refrain – “You’re an all star! All that glitters is gold!” is appealing to a generation that grew up surrounded by “high self esteem” advocates, and now is faced with a bunch of old jerks blaming us for everything, just like their parents did to them. The water’s getting warm, so you might as well swim.

A Long Time Coming

Who was Sam Cooke? Sam Cooke was myriads upon myriads. Sam Cooke was the King of Soul. Sam Cooke was the inventor of soul music. Sam Cooke was the Black Elvis. Sam Cooke was a founding inductee of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The world would say to Sam Cooke, “Honey, you can’t be beat!” Who was Sam Cooke? He was everything.

Sam Cooke was a devout man, a top-notch gospel singer. The fifth of eight children of a Baptist minister and his wife, he was a lead singer in a gospel group by the age of 14, and was the lead singer of the Soul Stirrersone of the biggest gospel groups in America – by 1950. Yet popular music at the time was often considered a sin – abhorrent to the Lord, to be avoided by any devout Christians, especially by gospel singers.

Sam Cooke was a rule-breaker. Sam didn’t want to be bound to solely perform gospel music for all his life. In 1956 he released the pop song ‘Lovable’ under the pseudonym “Dale Cook” to “test the waters.” But his voice was so recognizable that a pseudonym wasn’t enough to satisfy the Soul Stirrers. He found himself without a label.

Sam Cooke was a tenacious man. He found a new label, the independent “black music” label Keen Records, and released a new song under his own name – ‘You Send Me’ – a number one hit on both the ‘black music’ R&B chart and the ‘mainstream’ pop chart, generally reserved for white musicians! Sam Cooke went on to chart with more hits like ‘You Were Made for Me’, ‘Only Sixteen,’ ‘Everybody Loves to Cha Cha Cha,’ and ‘Wonderful World’ (NOT the Louis Armstrong record, you racists. And comparing their vocal stylings is like comparing this with this). But there were limitations in working for a small label like Keen, and the mega-label RCA Records was knocking on his door. All of a sudden…

Sam Cooke was a star. He had resources he couldn’t have dreamed of at a smaller label. And like many great artists who gain access, he expanded his musical styles, from straight dance tunes like ‘Twistin’ the Night Away’, to bluesy laments like ‘Sad Mood’ or ‘Bring It on Home to Me’, to bouncy proto-Motown odes to girlfriends like ‘Sugar Dumpling’, to socially-conscious pop anthems like ‘Chain Gang’. But Cooke wanted to do more.

Sam Cooke was woke. As the civil rights movement was picking up steam in the early 60s, he amassed an unprecedented amount of control over his work and his finances, more than any black performer had ever had before. And as he “was particularly entranced by” Peter, Paul and Mary’s performance of Bob Dylan’s glorious protest song ‘Blowin’ in the Wind,’ he decided to work on his masterpiece, a work called an “anthem of the civil rights era,” a fully orchestrated piece of genius on the level of Gershwin himself – ‘A Change is Gonna Come’. He was never to see it released.

Sam Cooke was murdered in a hotel in Los Angeles at age 33. The story behind it is confusing and full of holes. Some claim Cooke was abusing a woman named Elisa Boyer in his room, others claim Boyer was robbing him. Eyewitness accounts disagree about just about everything in the story, other than one thing – he ran out of his room in no pants and Bertha Franklin shot him in the heart. The case was closed far sooner than it should have been, and probably what actually happened in that hotel room will be a mystery forever.

But one thing we know is that Sam Cooke was a devout, rule-breaking, tenacious, talented, woke, musician, the likes of whom we will never see again. And considering the news, we should remember that no matter howlong the time has been coming, a change is gonna come, yes it will!