Top unfortunate musical departures:
Death by bookcase? – Charles-Valentin Alkan. For many years it was popularly believed that Alkan had met his death when a bookcase, on which he had been climbing to grab a copy of the Torah, collapsed on him. The truth is, if anything, slightly odder – trapped under a heavy umbrella stand in his kitchen, it was 24 hours before Alkan was rescued, tragically too late for the composer. Ironically there are only 2 known photos of Alkan; one of which features an umbrella…
Death by ham sandwich? – A case of an urban legend outlasting the reality. Cass Elliot, singer with The Mamas and the Papas, is popularly supposed to have died after choking on a ham sandwich. In fact she died of a heart attack in her sleep.
Death by tram – Cesar Franck was knocked down by a horse-drawn tram. His death however wasn’t quite as dramatic as this might suggest. He still managed to complete his Three chorales for organ before expiring.
Death by baton – Jean-Baptiste Lully died after he struck his toe with his conductor’s baton. The toe became gangrenous, Lully refused to have it amputated, and died two months later from blood poisoning.
Some happier musical farewells :
The unfortunate case of the bouncing diva – There is a wonderful story that after infuriating the stage-hands of the Lyric Opera of Chicago by her rudeness, they got their revenge by inserting a trampoline instead of a mattress for the diva to land on at the climax of Tosca. She reputedly bounced many times! Sadly there appears to be no foundation to this story. The British soprano, Dame Eva Turner, claimed in an interview that she was the bouncing Tosca, however there is no mention of this in Linda Gray’s recent biography of the singer A life on the high C’s, although Turner does recall an early performance of Tosca in Huddersfield in which she misjudged the height of the stage, and bounced back up to the delight of the audience. Perhaps this was where the legend started…
Missing home – Haydn’s “Farewell symphony” (Symphony no. 45 in F# minor) was composed during a stay at Haydn’s patron’s summer palace in Esterhaza. The stay was longer than expected, and the musicians were longing to return home. The “Farewell symphony” in which the orchestra gradually remove themselves from the stage leaving only two muted violins at the end of the final movement appears to have got their point across. The household returned home the following day.
A farewell and a change of heart – Peter Maxwell Davies’ Farewell to Stromness is part of his Yellow Cake Revue, written in protest at plans to mine uranium ore in Orkney. The slow ground bass line mirrors the tread of islanders forced to leave their homes – Stromness would have been less than 2 miles from the mine. First performed at the St. Magnus Festival in Orkney in June 1980 the mining project was cancelled later that year.