By Connie Kim and Mary Lathem
What’s more satisfying than a good-natured prank? Whether you’re a born trickster or a first-time practical joker, these stories of classical music mayhem are sure to inspire you this April Fool’s Day.
- Sneaking Star Wars into Shakespeare
While rehearsing “Montagues and Capulets” from Sergei Prokofiev’s ballet Romeo and Juliet, a group of mischievous musicians surprised their conductor with a turn to the dark side! In a viral video, three trombonists and a tubist switched to Star Wars’ famous “Imperial March” theme at a climactic moment, sending the rest of the orchestra into fits of giggles. Note to musicians: this prank only works if your conductor is one with the force (and has a sense of humor).
- Brahms’ Sausage Stunt
A notorious wisecracker, Johannes Brahms was no stranger to a good (or bad) practical joke. His close friend Gustav Nottebohm, a leading Beethoven scholar of the time, was the target of one of his most devious pranks: Brahms sketched out a fake Beethoven manuscript and paid a street vendor to use it as wrapping paper the next time Nottebohm bought a sausage. From a distance, Brahms watched gleefully as his friend gasped in astonishment, reverently tucked the paper away to examine later, and finished eating the sausage from his bare hand.
- The Berlin Philharmonic’s Failed Fake-Out
Berlin Philharmonic concertmaster Daishin Kashimoto is proof that with enough practice, you can become unprankable. At a rehearsal under the baton of Sir Simon Rattle, Kashimoto was poised to play Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 1, unaware that the orchestra had conspired to surprise him with a vastly different piece: Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto No. 1. With seconds to react, Kashimoto surprised his colleagues right back, launching right into the Mendelssohn with note-perfect precision.
- A Chorister’s Quick Fix
In 2014, the world-famous King’s College Choir made a startling announcement: after 500 years of tradition, children would no longer be allowed to lend their high, pure voices to the choir due to webcasting regulations. The solution? “A very large tank of helium.” To demonstrate, a young singer took a deep breath from a balloon before tackling the top notes of Allegri’s Miserere. Of course, this was an April Fool’s Day prank – but that high C does sound glorious!
- The Rays’ Relaxing Rivalry
If you’re a WDAV listener, you know all about classical music’s calming properties – and, as it turns out, so do the Boston Red Sox sound engineers. When Tampa Bay Rays center fielder B.J. Upton brought an extension cord to play his own warmup music before an away game, Fenway Park’s sound booth workers responded with what one journalist described as “a deliciously catty bit of drama:” in hopes of lulling their rivals to sleep, they blared organ music and classical favorites like Für Elise.
- Mozart’s Chicken Dance
This article wouldn’t be complete without a piece of classical music that’s a prank in itself! While writing the libretto for W.A. Mozart’s opera Così fan tutte, Lorenzo Da Ponte created the role of Fiordiligi specifically for his mistress, soprano Adriana Ferrarese de Bene. There was just one glaring problem: Mozart despised de Bene, who had a reputation as an intolerable diva. De Bene was also known to throw her head back dramatically on high notes and drop her chin on low notes, which gave Mozart a vengeful idea: he reportedly filled the aria “Come scoglio” with dramatic leaps on purpose to watch de Bene’s head bob up and down like a chicken.
Orchestra interrupts Prokofiev with Star Wars ‘Imperial March’ in hilarious prank on conductor (Classic FM)
Classic Put-Downs: Was Brahms a wiseass? (Slate)
When You’re Trying to Prank Your Violinist and He Casually Turns the Tables on You (Joseph Susanka Blog)
VIDEO: King’s College Choir Announces Major Change
Boston’s music pranks amp up Rays rivalry (ESPN)
The Ingenious Prank Music Legend Mozart Played On Someone He Couldn’t Stand (Medium)