Classical music has a reputation for taking itself very seriously, but dig a little deeper and there’s plenty to chuckle about. To celebrate the launch of our new character, Beethwoven, we’re taking a look at some of the orchestra pit’s funniest moments. From cellists fighting with lightsabers to the comic effect of a sforzando, we’re building to a crescendo of laughter.
Music to get mad to
Next time you can’t find your car keys, think of Beethoven’s Rondo à Capriccio. Its alternative title, ‘Rage over a lost penny’, apparently alludes to a night Beethoven spent turning his house upside down in search of a gold coin. While the title is believed to have been written by the publisher (rather than Beethoven himself), next time you listen to the piano rondo, you can enjoy a giggle at the thought of Beethoven throwing a tantrum in his living room.
Rainer Hersch is perhaps the world’s most famous comic conductor, having shot to fame with his ‘Funniest classical orchestra ever’ act for Comic Relief. He transformed the role of the conductor into a stand-up comedy routine and now creates symphony-based skits on his YouTube channel. We loved his unique take on the Microsoft start-up music in the Microsoft Windows Waltz.
Hilarity with Haydn
Humour often lies in the unexpected. In Symphony No. 94 (which is aptly named ‘Surprise!’), Haydn uses a sforzando – a single loud note – to startle and amuse his audience. Classical music was the pop music of Haydn’s day and he wanted to create a memorable moment that would get people talking. Listen to the symphony for yourself, feel the tension build and be prepared to jump out of your seat.
A prankster in the pit
It’s not just composers that like to play pranks, sometimes the musicians get in on the act too. Composer Handel was known for his short temper and one of his pet peeves was listening to the orchestra tuning up. This meant that every instrument had to be tuned before he entered the building. One day, a prankster snuck in and fiddled with the instruments just before Handel arrived. The result was the most horrendously out of tune rehearsal and, we’ve read, a bit of a fist fight.
Play me a parody
Some classical tunes are so recognisable that they are destined to be parodied. Comedian Dudley Moore was at the helm of the British satire boom in the 1960s. His genius remixes weren’t just funny, they involved incredible skill – just watch his fingers elegantly dancing over the keys in this performance of ‘Beethoven’s Colonel Bogie’. Parody continues to captivate audiences today. In fact, two Youtubers earned millions of views with their Star Wars-themed cello parody, which included glowing lightsaber bows.
Conduct your own comedy
From cartoon capers to slapstick sketches, the beauty of classical music is that it can create a backdrop for so many new and funny stories, like this ‘Chariots of Fire’ sketch by the incredible Mr Bean at the London 2012 Olympics. Why not tune into Classic FM, throw on a pair of Beethwoven socks and conduct your very own comedy? We’d love to see your funny videos. Tweet us @ChattyFeet #SockSelfie.