These quotes, almost all from the world of classical music, were collected by my father, Hugh Aitken, over many years.
"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 shellcases during the war it might have been better for music."--Maurice Ravel on Camille SaintSaens
"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.
"After I die, I shall return to earth as a gatekeeper of a bordello and I won't let any of you in."--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."--Anonymous
The great German conductor Hans von Bülow detested two members of an orchestra, who were named Schultz and Schmidt. Upon being told that Schmidt had died, von Bülow immediately asked, "Und Schultz?"
"Her voice sounded like an eagle being goosed."--Ralph Novak on Yoko Ono
"Parsifal is 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 Rake'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
"My sole inspiration is a telephone call from a producer." - Cole Porter
"Don't bother to look, I've composed that already."--Gustav Mahler to Bruno Walter, who had stopped to admire mountain scenery in rural Austria.
"I would rather play 'Chiquita Banana' and have my swimming pool than play Bach and starve."--Xavier Cugat
"(Musicians) talk of nothing but money and jobs. Give me businessmen every time. They really are interested in music and art." - Jean Sibelius, explaining why he rarely invited musicians to his home.
"The amount of money one needs is terrifying."--Ludwig Van Beethoven
"I am not handsome, but when women hear me play, they come crawling to my feet."--Niccolo Paganini
"Flint must be an extremely wealthy town: I see that each of you bought two or three seats."--Victor Borge, playing to a half-filled house in Flint, Mich.
"If one hears bad music it is one's duty to drown it out by one's conversation."--Oscar Wilde
"Critics can't even make music by rubbing their back legs together."--Mel Brooks
"Life can't be all bad when for 10 dollars you can buy all the Beethoven sonatas and listen to them for 10 years."--William F. Buckley Jr.
"You can't possibly hear the last movement of Beethoven's Seventh and go slow."--Oscar Levant, explaining his way out of a speeding ticket
"Wagner's music is better than it sounds."--Mark Twain
"I love Beethoven, especially the poems."--Ringo Starr
"If a young man at the age of 23 can write a symphony like that, in five years he will be ready to commit murder."--Walter Damrosch on Aaron Copland
"There are still so many beautiful things to be said in C major."--Sergei Prokofiev
"I never use a score when conducting my orchestra. Does a lion tamer enter a cage with a book on how to tame a lion?"--Dimitri Mitropoulos
"God tells me how the music should sound, but you stand in the way."--Arturo Toscanini to a trumpet player
"Already too loud!" - Bruno Walter at his first rehearsal with an American orchestra, as the players reached for their instruments
"I really don't know whether any place contains more pianists than Paris, or whether you can find more asses and virtuosos anywhere."--Frederic Chopin
"When she started to play, Steinway himself came down personally and rubbed his name off the piano."--Bob Hope, on comedienne Phyllis Diller
"Never look at the trombones; it only encourages them." - Richard Strauss
"In opera, there is always too much singing."--Claude Debussy
"Very nice, but tell me frankly, don't you think it would have been better if it had been you who had died, and your uncle who had written the Funeral March" - Gioacchino Rossini, on being shown funeral music for Giacomo Meyerbeer, composed by Meyerbeer's nephew.