Classical Connections: And by the way…

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Martin Molin of Swedish band Detektivbyrån playing a modern Moog theremin. (Photo by Bengt Nyman)

A single violin is made from over seventy individual parts often using different varieties of wood. The design of the violin, which originated in Italy, is over 500 years old.

A grand piano has more than 12,000 separate parts, and the tension produced by the 230-odd strings exerts a combined force of twenty tons on the cast iron frame.



The largest musical instrument in the world is the organ in the Municipal Auditorium in Atlantic City. It was completed in 1930 and has 33,112 separate pipes.

The theremin is a rarely-heard musical instrument invented by Russian radio engineer Leon Theremin in 1920 and looks like a box with two metal antennas. It’s played without any physical contact.


The most expensive instrument in the world is the “Lady Blunt” Stradivarius violin made in 1720. It sold in 2011 for nearly 16 million US dollars.

The Nokia ring-tone is taken from a phrase in a 1902 composition for solo guitar, entitled Gran Vals, by the Spanish classical guitarist and composer Francisco Tárrega (1852-1909).

The 1st Symphony by English composer Havergal Brian (1876-1972) requires over eight hundred musicians to perform it. He wrote 32 symphonies though few have ever been performed.

The world’s longest piece of music is a work for organ entitled As Slow as Possible and composed in 1987 by John Cage. In 2001, a specially built organ at St. Burchardi church in the German town of Halberstadt began a performance that is due to end in the year 2640.



The London Symphony Orchestra was booked to travel to the USA on the Titanic’s ill-fated maiden voyage of 15 April 1912 but at the last minute, their travel agent booked the orchestra on another ship.

In Monaco there are more people in the principality’s symphony orchestra (Monte Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra) than there are in its army.




Numerous studies have shown that singing in a group provides physical and emotional benefit. It raises one’s spirits because the body releases feel-good hormones like oxytocin while reducing stress-causing ones like cortisol.

A study conducted at the University of Pavia in Italy showed that music promotes a healthy cardiovascular system by triggering physiological changes that modulate blood pressure, heart rate, and respiratory functions.



A 2001 study by psychologists at the University of Leicester suggested that cows that were played slow, soothing songs produced 3 percent more milk than a control group.

As a boy, the Renaissance composer Orlando de Lasso was kidnapped many times by various choir directors, because of his remarkably beautiful singing voice.

The Italian composer Carlo Gesualdo (1566-1613) once found his wife in a compromising situation with a cross-dressing duke. He killed them both on the spot.


The flamboyant Hungarian pianist and composer Franz Liszt received so many requests for locks of his hair that he eventually bought a dog and sent his fans fur clippings instead.

Norwegian composer and pianist Edvard Grieg (1843-1907) always kept a frog doll made from cloth in his pocket and at every concert he would pat the frog on the head for good luck.

American-Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg (1873-1951) had an irrational fear of the number thirteen. His fear was such that he deliberately misspelled his opera Moses und Aron (missing out a letter from “Aaron”) to ensure the title had twelve letters, not thirteen. Despite this precaution, the composer died on 13th July.



Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) wrote the overture to his opera, Don Giovanni, in three hours on the morning of the first performance while also suffering a hangover. The previous night he was out drinking with friends when someone reminded him that the overture had yet to be written. History does not record what Mozart said on realizing his unfortunate oversight.

Austrian composer Franz Schubert (1797-1828) was not particularly slim and only around five feet tall. His rotund appearance earned him the nickname Schwammerl, meaning “little mushroom” in German.



Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) was an enthusiastic coffee drinker and would meticulously count exactly sixty coffee beans to ensure that the beverage was to his liking.

Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632–1687) was the first musician to use a baton which took the form of a heavy, six-foot-long staff that he pounded on the floor to indicate the tempo. At a concert he accidently jammed the staff into his foot. He refused to have his leg amputated and the resulting gangrene eventually caused his death.




The German composer, Richard Wagner (1813-1883) was notoriously anti-Semitic. It is possible that his interests also included cross-dressing. Letters to his clothing supplier contain requests for “graceful costumes” trimmed with lacy flourishes and other feminine touches – usually in pink.