The Concert from Hell


Call it the concert from hell. In his autobiography, Louis Spohr tells of a performance that got off to a bad start and hit the skids to disaster.

It happened during a German tour in 1811. Before the concert a wealthy amateur treated the musicians to a lavish evening of dinner and champagne. The musicians grew so merry that they forgot all about the concert and rushed to the hall at the last minute.

The concert began with an overture by a composer named Romberg, who overreacted to criticism that he conducted too slowly. He conducted so fast that the local orchestra couldn’t keep up.

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Spohr and his wife Dorette were next with a sonata for violin and harp. The usually poised Dorette gave Spohr a worried look and whispered, “For heaven’s sake, Louis, I can’t remember which sonata we’re supposed to play or how it begins.” Spohr hummed the beginning and husband and wife got through their sonata with ample applause.

Now the soprano came onstage to sing her aria. Suddenly she ran into the wings. Dorette went after her and found her hastily loosening her clothes, which–after the big dinner–were so tight that the singer was short of breath.

The clarinetist, proud of a new mouthpiece and emboldened by champagne, showed off with louder and louder notes, astounding the audience until he pushed a little too hard and let out an enormous squawk.

The worst came last. The violist was unaware that he had broken his belt buckle. As he stood up to play his solo, his trousers started to fall. Not wanting to miss a single note, he pulled up his drooping pants only during the rests, much to audience’s amusement. Then, during a virtuoso passage his breeches dropped decisively and the concert collapsed in laughter.

It may not have been the best music, but it wasn’t bad comedy as described in the autobiography of Louis Spohr.

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