View Full Version : Just for fun

01-26-2001, 03:32 AM
(To cheer up Chris. You know what? Chris(tian) is my real name and I adopted a Beethovenesque one after things didn't worked out with a girl called Anabel http://www.gyrix.com/~cgraye/ubb/frown.gif So I kind of understand you...)

WELL...Look what a funny reading I've found in a Mozart Forum. http://www.gyrix.com/~cgraye/ubb/wink.gif

(Introduction from the guy who posted it)

The following story (and it was designed to be funny) was an attempt to contrast Beethoven's 9th with Yes, We Have No Bananas. Since WQXR has rated Beethoven's 9th as higher than anything else, it is somewhat relevant to this list where the question of this being better than that comes up constantly. The story is currently required reading for a class in music appreciation at Harvard. I thought you might enjoy the irony of it. It attempts to show the futility of classifying any work as better than any other.

I wouldn't say it really does this properly (although you know I think likewise about the "greateness" of music and stuff...) but you'll have a great fun reading it, what the hell!!! (Luis)

Daniel N. Leeson

Music makes for strong emotional responses. We wouldn't spend so much time with it if it didn't. But some perceive their particular response as an absolute and universal truth, and this leads to assertions about one work being "better" than another. Is Beethoven's Archduke trio a better composition than "Pass the Biscuits, Mirandy"? Was Ezio Pinza a greater artist than Meatloaf, Vladimir Horowitz a more distinguished player than Liberace, or Andres Segovia a superior performer to Leadbelly?

The problem here is that some music lovers make proclamations about the preeminence of this work, this artist, or this interpretation over that one, and then become contemptuous of those who hold a different opinion. Nowhere is this more true than on the classical music bulletin boards of the internet where personal opinions are asserted with the same authority as Euclidian postulates.

For music lovers, one of the great pleasures of the internet are the assorted forums where one can hear informed opinions on the various specialties of classical music, with a dozen or more such lists addressing distinctive arenas of specialization. Some very knowledgeable people are prepared to share their views with others and, in general, most involved have a good time.

But there are exceptions, and these occur when a view is presented as technical gospel. Composition x (or performance y or interpretation z) is asserted to be "infinitely superior" to composition/performance/interpretation w. Authority for these proclamations is said to be the expertise of the person making them; i.e., that s/he knows these things to be true by virtue of repeated hearings, broad experience, and intimate familiarity with the domain under discussion, to say nothing of good taste, superior breeding and a terrific fashion sense for the coordination of accessories. Should you hold a
different view, you are likely to be told that you are wrong, pigheaded, have a tin ear, and are ignorant of the matter. Once so declared, license is given to insult by the peculiar cyberspace mechanism known as flaming.

A proclamation was offered a few weeks ago when a poster suggested that "Beethoven's Ninth Symphony is, without doubt [italics mine], the finest composition ever created and nothing can possibly compare with it." I don't know how you feel about expressions of opinion containing the words "without doubt," but, for me, they sound an alarm. It soon became clear from responses to this particular proclamation that others felt differently. It wasn't a dislike of Beethoven's Ninth that caused the responses, but rather suggestions that other works were their personal favorites.

The original poster then escalated the earlier assertion from that of an expression of fact (which was pretty strong to begin with), to a universal and ubiquitous truth, obvious to all but a mental defective. I decided to get involved and chose to do so using what is sometimes called, "The Godfather Strategy" (in which one employs a "Shucks! I'm just a simple country boy" attitude). The tactic is designed to lull the opponent into a false sense of security at which time large clamps come down, encapsulate the head, and squeeze until a green liquid comes out of the navel.

However, the technique requires care: if not executed well, one can, metaphorically speaking, wind up standing naked, without cover, on a large, uninhabited, and sun-drenched plain. The argumentation has to be presented in a style that simulates an incompetent grovelling at the feet of the worthy.

"Judging from the high quality of your postings," I began, with as much of an Uriah Heep tone of voice as can be contained in electronic dialogue, "it is clear that both your taste and expertise is, without doubt, superior to mine. So I look to you for help in enabling me to have a better understanding of this matter, and respectfully ask for your opinion on the validity of your statement when contrasting Beethoven's Ninth with non-classical repertoire?"

The response returned, literally, with the speed of light.

"There are no exceptions to my statement about the superiority of Beethoven's Ninth and this is especially true for non-classical music most of which is trash in any case."

"Ah! If only I had your taste," I replied, opening the trap a little wider, "but, as a piece of music, I always felt that `Yes! We Have No Bananas' was a very good composition. What am I doing wrong?"

The condescending riposte I got was too horrible to quote: how dare I even mention the two items in the same breath, the same conjunction, the same dimension, even the same universe? My opponent (though he did not yet realize he was such a thing) stated that one was the most sublime composition ever created by humankind while the other was the musical equivalent of road kill!

"But," I continued, making sure to use a sweet, goody-two-shoes writing style, "if, as you suggest, it is asserted that Beethoven's Ninth is a better composition than `Yes! We Have No Bananas,' then surely there must be some way to measure that contention. Would the gentleman from whom I am learning so very much" [gag, choke, retch] "object if I contrasted the two works by examining them within the context of the various possible meanings of the word `better'?"

My without-a-clue opponent, now content with the position into which he felt he had thrust me (but which I had spent considerable time and effort to get into), gave me his blessing and invited me to continue on what was, to him, an absurd and pointless task. I began by suggesting that one meaning of the word "better" dealt with universality or broad-scale acceptance.

By that definition, "Yes! We Have No Bananas," a song by Frank Silver and Irving Cohn, is, arguably, one of the best compositions ever written. First printed in March, 1923, the song languished for a short while until it was taken up by Eddie Cantor in the Broadway show, "Make It Snappy." The rest is history. Recordings, made by Cantor, Billy Murray, and Billy Jones, resulted in a hit, then a mega-hit, and, finally, a sales phenomenon. In England alone, more than a half million copies of the sheet music were sold in the first month of its availability, and, on the only known such occasion in the history of London's musical theatre, every one of the city's more than one dozen music halls had at least one act in which a performer sang that very song. The melody has never faded from popularity and is still one of the few songs that almost everyone knows.

On the other hand, Beethoven's Ninth isn't heard very frequently. The symphony orchestras of most major U.S. cities mount performances of the work only about every five years or so. Has there ever been a year in which 50 live performances were mounted in the U.S.? Even in Japan, where the work is enshrined and performed live annually at several locations almost simultaneously, nowhere have sales of a half million copies of the vocal score ever occurred, much less in one month.

I concluded this analysis by addressing my opponent directly, saying, "So if one dimension of `better' means universality and broad-scale acceptance, then Beethoven's Ninth is by no means the better composition."

The electronic response was almost immediate and it suggested that the views of the masses were never relevant to an appreciation of true greatness. Therefore, he concluded, popularity was not an inherently important factor. Matters such as the inner meaning of text had to be considered equally as important as popularity.

"OK," I said. "Let's look at the two sets of lyrics from the viewpoint of accessibility, comprehensibility, and hidden meaning."

"Yes! We have no bananas,
We have no bananas today.
We've string beans and onions,
Cabbages and scallions,
And all kinds of fruit, and say,
We have an old fashioned tomato,
A Long Island potato,
But yes! We have no bananas,
We have no bananas today!"

This appears to be accessible text. It's clear, simple, uncomplicated, and straightforward. As for hidden meaning, that's a tough road to hoe, but I don't think there is a lot of it, with the possible exception of lic references cum banana, possibly suggesting potency or a hidden allusion to the value of Viagra. What about Beethoven's Ninth?

"Joy, beautiful divine spark,
Daughter from Elysium,
We enter drunk with fire,
O heavenly one, your holy shrine.
Your magic once again bonds us together
What custom strictly separates;
All mankind become brothers,
Where your gentle wings hold sway.
He who has the great good fortune
To be a friend to a friend,
He who has won a dear wife,
Let him mix his rejoicing with ours!
Yes -- and whoever has but one soul
Somewhere in the world to call his own!
And he who cannot, let him steal away,
Weeping out of this company.
Joy is drunk by every creature
From nature's breast;
Every good one, every bad one
Follows her rosy pathway.
She gave us kisses and wine,
And one friend, tried unto death;
Even to the worm ecstasy is given,
and the cherub stands before God.
Gladly, as his suns fly through
The magnificent plan of the heavens,
Run, my brothers, your own course
Joyfully, like a hero off to conquest.
Let me embrace you, O millions!
This kiss is for the whole world!
Brothers, above the starry firmament
A loving father must surely dwell.
Do you fall down, O millions?
Are you aware of your creator, world?
See him above the starry firmament!
For above the stars he must dwell."

My opponent immediately countered by arguing that the original German text has greater subtlety than the stilted, clumsy, unpoetic, line-by-line English translation I provided. Furthermore, he continued, no English rendering can capture the poetic beauty of the original. To which, my riposte was that this same argument could apply to a German translation of "Yes! We Have No Bananas." There, because the words for the opposite of "Yes" are not the same words as for the opposite of "some," a literal translation is rendered impossible, so much so that the expected "Ja! Wir Haben Kein Bananen" is more suitably presented as "Ausgerechnet Bananen." And now, getting aggressive for the first time and throwing off the trappings of "Mr. Nice Guy," I suggested that he "stick that linguistic trifle in your ear."

By this time, my now angry opponent, was sinking fast. And when that happens, you can always bet that the antagonist will schlep in some experts to support the now less tenable position. Like clockwork it was suggested that "all great artists have made positive references to the inherent beauty of Beethoven's Ninth. Show me a positive reference for your ridiculous and trifling song."

To which I responded, "Glad to! Are you not aware of the fact that reference was made to `Yes! We Have No Bananas' in the 1928 German operetta, `Die Herzogin von Chicago'? This is objective proof of the composition's fame in Germany. Can you point out where Beethoven's Ninth was ever accorded a similar honor in, for example, a Stephen Sondheim or Frank Loesser musical?"

And then, sensing hesitation, perhaps even fear, I went on the attack! "Another way to judge success," I advanced, "is by the audience's ability to recall and hum the melody of a supposedly better work. As for the first movement of Beethoven's Ninth, did you ever hear anyone hum its main tune? Could Yma Sumac, even in her best five-octave days, hum that spastic melody? It's all over the place! And, for that matter, is there anyone alive who can hum the unhumable tune of the second movement? So an audience, on leaving a performance of Beethoven's Ninth, can't hum at least half of what they heard."

"But, as for the tune of `Bananas,'" I continued, "now that's a singable tune! It is, objectively, one of the most singable tunes ever written, or at least George Frederick Handel thought so because he used it in the Hallelujah Chorus from `Messiah.'

Halleluja! [Bananas]

"And while we're at it," I continued, "try this!!"

Halleluja! [Bananas]
O Bring Back My Bonnie to Me

"And versatile? You wouldn't believe it. One can find the tunes for both `I Dreamt that I Dwelt in Marble Halls,' and `I Was Seeing Nellie Home' in `Bananas.' I don't notice Beethoven's Ninth with all those cutesy tunes poking around in the interior of the music for ordinary people to pick up on."

There was a long internet silence from my opponent. I think he was looking for "Hut Sut Ralston," "Mairzy doats," or "I'm Just A Teen-ager In Love" in some inner voice of Beethoven's Ninth and, if he found any of them, I would have been lost. Not wishing to give him a chance for some kind of an intelligent riposte, I jumped back in to the fray.

"Let's talk about the practical issues of the resources needed to perform the two works. The Beethoven requires about 85 overdressed musicians, a conductor, by any standards a useless impediment whose sole purpose is the holding a stick that costs $1.49, a chorus of 200 singers, and four vocal soloists who need leather lungs, the breath capacity of a steam calliope, and the combined vocal strengths of the nine Walkyrie fat ladies. And then there is the audience intimidation factor; i.e., the public is not permitted to hum along should the spirit move them, even for the few sections that can be hummed. Its all too damn hoity-toity. If one, in a natural reaction of enjoyment, applauds in the wrong place, you get dirty looks from everyone, particularly the useless impediment with the stick."

"On the other hand, `Yes! We Have No Bananas,' can be done by a single player accompanying him/herself on an accordion. Talk about cost effective performances!! Best of all, if the spirit moves a listener, you can even join in and sing, applaud, and laugh without getting ugly stares. So by almost any objective measurement, it would appear that `Yes! We Have No Bananas' is the better composition. It has universality, is more comprehensible, singable, and cost effective to perform. It has made a great deal of money for composers, musicians, and publishers, and can be sung in a variety of languages, unlike Beethoven's Ninth which, apparently, by international protocol, can only be sung in German, even when performed in Japan!"

It was at this point in the conversation that other participants began to express approval of "Yes, We Have No Bananas" even when contrasted with Don Giovanni, Mahler's Ninth, or Brahms' First. As such, I felt like Gandhi who said, on seeing his countrymen in a paroxysm of nonviolent behavior offer flowers to their British oppressors, "I think, perhaps, I've overdone it." Meanwhile, the Beethoven Ninth guru has stopped posting and my house now appears to be under surveillance. Guys built like cigarette machines are sitting in cars looking at my front porch or following me wherever I go. The Beethoven Society of America has put out a contract on me.

To be safe, I now play Beethoven's Ninth on my home speakers at a very loud volume. "O Freunde, Nicht diese töne!!"


Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce

K. Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon http://www.gyrix.com/~cgraye/ubb/wink.gif

[This message has been edited by Luis (edited 01-25-2001).]

01-26-2001, 12:24 PM
Someone has obviously had too much time on his hands...


"If I were but of noble birth..." - Rod Corkin

01-26-2001, 02:44 PM
whats the address for the Mozart forum?

01-26-2001, 09:18 PM
The address of the Mozart Forum is: http://mozart.composers.net/wwwboard/index.html

Someone is obviously angry... It wasn't my intention, though. Moreover, with this farce I was trying to overcome or at least to appeace the tragedy... I still hope some others have enjoyed it.

[This message has been edited by Luis (edited 01-26-2001).]

01-26-2001, 10:39 PM
It was a very witty and enjoyable article, Luis. Tongue in cheek, of course, but I think he was really having a go at all those who pay lip service to the great composers.


01-27-2001, 05:17 AM
That article was a hoot! You have all just read the internet embodiment of Rod Corkin, our one-note moderator! "Tongue-in-cheek"? I have yet to read a more truthful account of the sort of narrowmindedness that goes on with people who think they are the final word on anything. But judging by Rod's ascerbic response, I must assume his English humor doesn't process irony or that he's resisting the point. Oh, pardon me.

01-27-2001, 03:44 PM
Originally posted by Serge:
But judging by Rod's ascerbic response, I must assume his English humor doesn't process irony or that he's resisting the point. Oh, pardon me.

I appears you boys are not in my league when it comes to humour - my response was deliberately ambivalent. And thus all suspicions and paranoia are revealed!


"If I were but of noble birth..." - Rod Corkin

01-27-2001, 04:59 PM
And yet AGAIN, Rod manages to sideswipe the point of my posts. No surprise there.

01-28-2001, 01:10 AM
OH...STOP IT!!!!
Serge: Believe me, you are not going to change Rod!
Rod: Your last reply is almost childish! It was a joke for God’s sake!
Luis: You shouldn’t have posted that article!

01-28-2001, 09:58 AM

Well done, I haven't laughed so hard in ages. Thanks mate. Might I remind you all of the saying "many a true word is spoken in jest" !

01-28-2001, 02:00 PM
Originally posted by Serge:
And yet AGAIN, Rod manages to sideswipe the point of my posts.

On the contrary!


"If I were but of noble birth..." - Rod Corkin

01-28-2001, 02:01 PM
Originally posted by Luis:
OH...STOP IT!!!!
Rod: Your last reply is almost childish! It was a joke for God’s sake!

So who's being serious!?


"If I were but of noble birth..." - Rod Corkin