Here is the second of my series of summer holiday posts, this week on piano-related humour – because we all need a bit of light relief from time to time.
I once saw Victor Borge at the Royal Albert Hall in London, and (like the rest of the audience) laughed until I cried. Before he turned his considerable talents to his comedy act, Borge had studied in Berlin with Frederic Lamond, a pupil of Liszt (and the most celebrated Beethoven pianist of his time) and later with Egon Petri.
Andre Previn on The Morecambe and Wise Show
When he appeared on The Morecambe and Wise Show, André Previn was a household name thanks to his regular TV appearances with the London Symphony Orchestra in his own show André Previn’s Music Night. I think he was a really good sport to agree to this, and he did it beautifully. Morecambe and Wise need no introduction to British readers (of a certain generation). They have been described as the most illustrious, and the best-loved, double-act that Britain has ever produced.
Chico Marx (of the Marx Brothers) was a talented pianist, whose technique was unorthodox (to say the least). Here he is entertaining us in clips from a Marx Brothers’ movie.
Laurel and Hardy: The Music Box
I have been an avid fan of Laurel and Hardy since I was a young boy. Their movies have made me laugh out loud throughout my life, and they still do. The Music Box is a short film comedy released in 1932. It was directed by James Parrott, produced by Hal Roach and distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. The film depicts the pair attempting to move a piano up a large flight of steps (above, as they appear today). It won the first Academy Award for Live Action Short Film (Comedy) in 1932, and n 1997 it was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
Tom and Jerry: The Cat Concerto
At the age of two, Lang Lang watched the Tom and Jerry’s The Cat Concerto which features Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2. According to Lang, this first contact with Western music is what motivated him to learn piano. Made my MGM in 1946, Cat Concerto won the 1946 Academy Award for Best Short Subject: Cartoons. In 1994 it was voted number 42 of the 50 greatest cartoons of all time.
Bugs Bunny: Rhapsody Rabbit
Made at around the same time, Bugs Bunny’s Rhapsody Rabbit is clearly in the same mold. For more on the controversy surrounding the actual pianists playing the soundtracks, click here.
I once attended one of Peter Schickele‘s riotous annual Christmas concerts in New York City, featuring “newly discovered” works of his alter ego, PDQ Bach. Here is Christopher O’Riley playing PDQ Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in C major (from The Short-Tempered Clavier and Other Dysfunctional Works for Keyboard)
Igudesman & Joo
Igudesman and Joo is a duo comprising pianists Aleksey Igudesman and Richard Hyung-ki Joo, whose shows combines comedy with classical music and popular culture. Here they are wreaking havoc with Rachmaninov’s Prelude in C sharp minor.
Although he is remembered as a talented comedian and actor, Dudley Moore was an accomplished pianist. His musical talent won him an organ scholarship to Magdalen College, Oxford. During his university years, Dudley Moore developed a love of jazz music and soon became an accomplished jazz pianist and composer. Here he is in a clip from the 1950’s-60s British comedy group “Beyond the Fringe,” in which he offers his clever parody on Colonel Bogey in the style of Beethoven.
The Muppet Show
Among the cast of The Muppet Show, Rowlf was a pianist dog first used in Purina Dog Chow commercials. Here he is in Beethoven’s “Pathétique”.
Cindy Elizondo: Chopin Scherzo no. 1
Here is 2000 Miss Texas Pageant Cindy Elizondo with her prize-winning performance of Chopin’s Scherzo No. 1 in B minor, op. 20. There really are no words.
This has nothing to do with the piano, but I just couldn’t leave this brilliant sketch out. No cue cards, no teleprompters, and no second takes – legendary funnyman Sid Caesar pioneered live television sketch comedy with his 1950s sitcoms Your Show of Shows and Caesar’s Hour. In this classic sketch Argument to Beethoven’s 5th, Sid Caesar and Nanette Fabray play a married couple in a argument inspired by the music.