A Royal Pain


An invitation to perform for a king. Most musicians would see it as a grand opportunity. Louis Spohr found it a royal pain.

In 1807 Spohr and his bride Dorette were touring Germany. Spohr was one of the best-known violinists in Europe and his wife a splendid harpist. In Stuttgart a representative of the king invited the young couple to give a concert. But Spohr had heard that the king and court liked to play cards during concerts and so he agreed to play only if the king agreed not to.

“You presume to give orders to my most serene master?” the king’s representative asked. “I would never dare to give him a message like that.”

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“Then I must forego the honor of being heard in court,” Spohr replied.

Yet the representative did bring himself to convey the message. The king agreed. but only on condition that the pieces be peformed in one series so that his card playing would be interrupted only once.

So the concert was on. The members of the court seated themselves at their card tables. The concert began with performances by local musicians–an overture, followed by an aria. During these “preliminaries” the servants clattered around and the card-players called out “I bid” and “I pass” so loudly that nobody could hear much of the music. Then the king’s representative came over and told Spohr to get ready to play. King and court listened attentively but the only acknowledgement of the music was the king’s gracious nod at the end of each piece. No one else in the audience dared to applaud.

Then the card-playing continued with the music of the locals in the background, but when the king finished his game and pushed his chair back, the concert was over–in the middle of an aria. The musicians, accustomed to the king’s abruptness, obediently put away their instruments, while Louis Spohr quietly held his temper, none the happier for having the honor of playing for royalty.

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