Site Map


I've acquired a fair number of quotes over the years, many musical ones, and a few non-music besides. Here's my favorites... hope you enjoy them as much as I have!


General music quotes

"Why do you always insist on playing while I'm trying to conduct?"

~Eugene Ormandy, to the Philadelphia Orchestra~

"The one thing I hate at the Met is the note in the program that the public is requested not to interrupt the music with applause."

~Placido Domingo~

"In an English orchestra recently, when a player's note didn't speak, the conductor said, 'Sir, you must attack the note.' On which the player answered, 'Sir, I did, but it defended itself."

~anecdote related by Sir Andrew Davis~

"You know, the critics never change; I'm still getting the same notices I used to get as a child. They tell me I play very well for my age."

~Mischa Elman, when he was in his seventies~

"Some people tell me they saw me conduct somewhere. Apparently they listen with their eyes rather than their ears."

~Leopold Stokowski~

"The flute is not an instrument which has a good moral effect. It is too exciting."


"Sir Landon Ronald...was on tour with an orchestra [and had to substitute the Tannhauser of Wagner's in place of the Mendelssohn Midsummer Night's Dream Overture]. Unfortunately, on the evening of the concert, he forgot about the change, with the result that, when he started the piece, he was greeted not by the delicate woodwind chords of Mendelssohn but by the very different voice of Wagner. He fainted on the rostrum."

~from The Wit of Music, by Leslie Ayre~

"In opera, there is always too much singing."

~Claude Debussy~

"Show me an orchestra that likes its conductor and I'll show you a lousy conductor."

~Goddard Lieberson~

"During the rests -- pray. "

~Eugene Ormandy, to the Philadelphia Orchestra~

"It is common practice among cafe musicians in seaboard localities where semilegal characters congregate, to warn the entering acquaintances of any danger by playing discordant notes. But modern music being what it is, this method no longer seems effective. The New Yorker of October 26, 1946 observed melancholically: 'Under such circumstances, the outlaws only say, 'Ah, Hindemith,' and sit there placidly enjoying the music until the cops come in."

~from A Thing or Two About Music by Nicolas Slonimsky~

"Harpists spend ninety percent of their lives tuning their harps and ten percent playing out of tune."

~Igor Stravinsky~

"God tells me how the music should sound, but you stand in the way."

~Arturo Toscanini, to a trumpet player~

"Music is the only noise for which one is obliged to pay."

~Alexandre Dumas~

"Swans sing before they die - 'twere no bad thing should certain persons die before they sing."

~Samuel Taylor Coleridge~

"Accelerando means in tempo. Don't rush."

~Eugene Ormandy, to the Philadelphia Orchestra~

"Anton Rubinstein was such a late sleeper that he often missed his appointments in the morning. His wife hit upon a device to rouse him by musical means. The Rubinsteins had a piano upstairs, on which Mme. Rubinstein would play an unresolved chord when it was time for her husband to get up. Rubinstein could not stand unresolved dissonances, and he would run up the stairs in his nightshirt to resolve the chord into a perfect triad. In the meantime, Mme Rubinstein would remove the blankets from the bed, thus preventing his going to sleep again. Whether true or not, the story at least fits into the known character of Rubinstein."

~from A Thing or Two About Music by Nicolas Slonimsky~

"The man who disparages music as a luxury and non-essential is doing the nation an injury. Music now, more than ever before, is a national need."

~Woodrow Wilson~

"You ask my opinion about taking the young Salzburg musician into your service. I do not know where you can place him, since I feel that you do not require a composer, or other useless people...It gives one's service a bad name when such types run around like beggars; besides, he has a large family."

~Archduke Ferdinand's mother, excerpt from a letter to her son upon learning of his interest in Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart~

"I purposely didn't do anything and you were all behind. "

~Eugene Ormandy, to the Philadelphia Orchestra~

"A conductor should reconcile himself to the realization that regardless of his approach or temperament, the eventual result is the same - the orchestra will hate him."

~Oscar Levant~

"Even when you are not playing, you are holding me back."

~Eugene Ormandy, to the Philadelphia Orchestra~

"At a recording session of the Philharmonia Orchestra, the violas, not being required for a particular section, retired to another part of the studio. In due course, [Otto] Klemperer called out: 'Violas, please!' They did not hear him. Then, imperiously, 'Come back, violas!' No response. At last he pleaded, 'Come back, violas. All is forgiven."

~anecdote from The Wit of Music by Leslie Ayre~

"Fortissimo at last!"

~Gustav Mahler, on seeing Niagara Falls~

"What can you do with it? It's like a lot of yaks jumping about."

~Sir Thomas Beecham, on Beethoven's 7th symphony~

"I took it apart, and put it together again but had two pieces left over. I managed to play the instrument, but it was a little higher in pitch than normal.""

~Irving Berlin, on what he did when his piano broke when he was in the West Indies~

"As a boy I remember how terribly real the statues of the saints would seem at 7 o'clock Mass - before I'd had breakfast. From that I learned always to conduct hungry."

~Leopold Stokowski~

"I find piano practicing a great effort, yet one dare not ignore it. It's like an animal whose heads are continually growing again, however many one cuts off."

~Ferruccio Busoni~

"Of all the wrong tempi, I like my own the best."

~Serge Koussevitzky~

"Beethoven's last quartets were written by a deaf man and should only be listened to by a deaf man."

~Sir Thomas Beecham~

"It happened that, when someone spoke to me, I did not always understand his words but I did understand the melodic cadences of his speech... Sometimes, during a most ordinary conversation, I felt and indeed heard that my companion was inwardly weeping. The inflections of human speech - and indeed of the voices of all living creatures - became to me a source of profound truth, a life-necessity, as it were. Speech-motives are my windows into the soul."

~Leos Janacek~

"I have wept only three times in my life: the first when my earliest opera failed, the second when, with a boating party, a truffled turkey fell in the water, and the third time when I heard Paganini play."

~G. Rossini~

"I would like to thank Beethoven, Brahms, Wagner, Strauss, Rimsky-Korsakov..."

~Dimitri Tiomkin, accepting an Academy Award for best original dramatic musical score for the motion picture "The High and the Mighty"~

"Stop talking!"

~Sir Thomas Beecham, to a noisy audience at Covent Garden~

"The theater is not the place for the musician. When the curtain is up the music interrupts the actor, and when it is down the music interrupts the audience.""

~Sir Arthur Sullivan~

"Don't ever follow me because I am difficult. "

~Eugene Ormandy, to the Philadelphia Orchestra~

"I guess you thought I was conducting, but I wasnít."

~Eugene Ormandy, to the Philadelphia Orchestra~

"For you, morons, maniacs, you dogs, you Guildensterns and Rosencrantzes, Iagos, Osrics, gadflies, crawling worms of every kind: farewell, my friends. I scorn you, and trust to have forgotten you before I die."

~Hector Berlioz, at the end of his Memoirs~

"On arrival on a visit to the United States, Ralph Vaughan Williams was met by a crowd of reporters. One of them seized him by the arm and said, 'Tell me, Dr Vaughan Williams, what do you think about music?' The old man peered quizzically in his face and made the solemn announcement, 'It's a Rum Go!'"

~from The Wit of Music, by Leslie Ayre~

"I once gave a heavyweight boxer a baton weighing only half an ounce. 'Wave that about and see how long you can keep it up,' I told him. He did it for nine minutes and could not go on any longer."

~Sir Thomas Beecham~

"Pay no attention to what the critics say; a statue has never been set up in honor of a critic."

~Jean Sibelius~

"A painter paints his pictures on canvas. But musicians paint their pictures on silence. We provide the music, and you provide the silence."

~Leopold Stokowski~

"Competitions are for horses, not artists."

~Bela Bartok~

"Music was chaste and modest so long as it was played on simpler instruments, but since it has come to be played in a variety of manners and confusedly, it has lost the mode of gravity and virtue and fallen almost to baseness."


"I was trying to help you so I was beating wrong."

~Eugene Ormandy, to the Philadelphia Orchestra~

"From here on, the bassoon may play anything at all."

~Charles Ives, written in the bassoon part of one of his orchestral works~

"Mr Hoyland, are you producing as much sound as possible from the quaint and antique drainage system you are applying to your face?"

~Sir Thomas Beecham, to a bass trombonist

The Chicago Symphony once gave alarm clocks as gifts to patrons of the symphony at a pre-concert dinner. During the performance that night, four hundred alarm clocks began going off at four hundred different times... Eventually, they had to stop the concert and take the clocks outside before the performance could continue.

~anecdote about the Chicago Symphony~

"When I hear (alas, so often) somebody stating with great rectitude that he never changes an iota in the printed score, I know by that statement that I am listening to a person ignorant of the relativity in music notation."

~Erich Leinsdorf~

"At every concert I've sensed a certain insecurity about the tempo. It's clearly marked quarter note = 80, uhh, 69."

~Eugene Ormandy, to the Philadelphia Orchestra~

"These prefatory essays were written by the composer for those who can't stand his music - and the music for those who can't stand his essays; to those who can't stand either, the whole is respectfully dedicated."

~Charles Ives, dedication from his book Essays Before a Sonata, which is about his notoriously difficult and long Concord piano sonata~

"It sounds silly, but if you all do it, you'll all sound silly together."

~what a conductor once told a group I was in~

"I'm conducting slowly because I don't know the tempo."

~Eugene Ormandy, to the Philadelphia Orchestra~

Musician logic and advice

"You can't possibly hear the last movement of Beethoven's Seventh and go slow."

~Oscar Levant, trying to explain his way out of a speeding ticket~

"I always make sure that the lid over the keyboard is open before I start to play."

~Arthur Schnabel, his secret of piano-playing~

"Never look encouragingly at the brass, except with a brief glance to give an important cue."

~Richard Strauss, from his Top Ten Rules for Conductors~

"You just have to press the right keys and the right pedals at the right time and the music plays itself."

~Johann Sebastian Bach~

"Never compose anything unless the not composing of it becomes a positive nuisance to you."

~Gustav Holst~

"To achieve great things, two things are needed; a plan, and not quite enough time."

~Leonard Bernstein~


Composers on their music

"Firebird has been a mainstay in my life as a conductor. I made my debut with it in 1915 in Paris, and since then I have performed it nearly a thousand times, though ten thousand would not erase the memory of the terror I suffered that first time."

~Igor Stravinsky~

"My music is best understood by children and animals."

~Igor Stravinsky~

"I realize now it is not as boring as I thought it was."

~Ralph Vaughan Williams, on his London Symphony~


Composers about composing

"Lesser artists borrow, great artists steal.""

~Igor Stravinsky~

"The world can offer no adventure greater than being a composer. You are always at the frontier of your own possibilities, you are always traveling into the unknown future you are creating. The hazard of performers, publishers, critics, friends, and the public surrounds you and makes every forward step a new peril. You achieve nothing if you do not dare to lay your life on the line with every new undertaking. When you dare to take a long voyage into the unknown, you may discover a new continent. But even if you do not, the journey itself is the greatest of rewards."

~John La Montaine~

"I am interested in extremes. I am not interested in writing pieces of music about a plate of ham and eggs."

~Christopher Rouse~

"Give me a laundry list and I'll set it to music."

~Gioacchino Rossini~

"I wrote the overture to the Gazza Ladra, on the very day of the performance of the opera, in the wings of the La Scala Theater in Milan. The manager had put me under the guard of four stage hands who were ordered to throw down the music pages, sheet by sheet, to copyists seated below. If I failed to keep the production going fast enough, my guards were instructed to throw me in person to the copyists.""

~Gioacchino Rossini, advice to a young composer: the second way of composing overtures~

"People would compose music skillfully enough if only there were no professors in the world."

~George Bernard Shaw~

"Composers shouldn't think too much - it interferes with their plagiarism."

~Howard Dietz~

"Nothing is more wearisome or more futile than the most antiquated of all manias: the rage to be modern. With all the appreciation that one may reasonably bring to technical innovations, we should nevertheless minimize the word new in the term 'new art' and emphasize rather the word art."

~Paul Hindemith~

"Before writing a work, I go round it several times accompanied by myself."

~Erik Satie~

"That's the worst of my reputation as a modern composer - everyone must have thought I meant it."

~Igor Stravinsky, on finding a misprint in one of his scores~

"There is no doubt that the first requirement for a composer is to be dead."

~Arthur Honegger~

"My things really are written with an appalling lack of practicality!"

~Johannes Brahms~

"Every composer knows the anguish and despair occasioned by forgetting ideas which one had no time to write down."

~Hector Berlioz~

"The best ideas come to me when I polish my shoes early in the morning."

~Johannes Brahsm~

"My mother had to explain that one couldn't compose a Liszt rhapsody because it was a piece of music that Liszt himself had composed. Also, one could not write music on nine lines without bars, because music was, in fact, written on five lines with bars. All of this prompted Mother to give me a more systematic explanation of the principles of musical notation."

~Sergei Prokofiev, on his first composition at age five~

"The piece on which I am now working would have been already finished if it were not that my hand gets tired of setting the notes on paper. Why doesn't some ingenious person invent a machine which would enable the afflicted composers to write the notes faster and with less fatigue?"

~Franz Joseph Haydn~

"A creative artist works on his next composition because he was not satisfied with his previous one."

~Dimitri Shostakovich~

"The essence of the beautiful is unity in variety."

~Felix Mendelssohn~

"When I am...completely myself, entirely alone...or during the night when I cannot sleep, it is on such occasions that my ideas flow best and most abundantly. Whence and how these come I know not nor can I force them...Nor do I hear in my imagination the parts successively, but I hear them at the same time all together."

~W. A. Mozart~

"Inspiration is wonderful when it happens, but the writer must develop an approach for the rest of the time... The wait is simply too long."

~Leonard Bernstein~


Composers about composers

"Wonderful. I look forward to hearing new works from this gentleman."

~Igor Stravinsky, on John Cageís 4'33" of silence~

"Once Toscanini and Stravinsky were fellow passengers on a sea voyage, and Stravinsky remarked to him that Beethoven was a bluff, and as a result, Toscanini would not talk to him for the rest of the trip. 'Look at Cherubini,' he said later. 'He has instrumental efects one hundred years ahead of Stravinsky. Effects alone? Bah!'"

~from Conductors on Composers by John Holmes~

"Some years later, I asked [Debussy] what he really thought of The Firebird. He said, ĎWhat difference does it make? You had to begin with something.í Honest, but not flattering."

~Igor Stravinsky~

"He'd be better off shoveling snow."

~Richard Strauss, on Arnold Schoenberg~

"If he'd been making shellcases during the war it might have been better for music."

~Maurice Ravel, on Camille Saint-Saens~

"I was at the Opera, in the pit, for the first performance of [Cherubini's] Ali Baba - one of the feeblest things Cherubini ever wrote, as was generally agreed at the time. Towards the end of the first act, weary of hearing nothing of the slightest interest, I could not help exclaiming loudly enough to be heard by the people sitting near me, "Twenty francs for an idea!" In the middle of the second act, still pursuing the same chimera, I raised my bid: "Forty francs for an idea!" The finale commenced: "Eighty francs!" The finale reached its appointed end. I rose, calling out as I went, "I give up! I'm not rich enough!"

~Hector Berlioz, Memoirs~

""[Rachmaninoff] was the only pianist I have ever seen who did not grimace. That is a great deal."

~Igor Stravinsky~



"A concert is like a bullfight- the moment of truth."

~Arthur Rubenstein~

"Fritz Kreisler was strolling with a friend in a New York street when they happened to pass a fish shop. He waved a hand towards the rows of protruding eyes and gaping mouths on the slab. 'Ah,' he said. 'That reminds me - I have a concert tonight.'"

~anecdote from The Wit of Music by Leslie Ayre~

"In 1870 I was with the guard on the fortifications of Paris. I heard cannon shots without the slightest emotion. But when after the war I had to play my Second Concerto, my legs trembled so that I could scarcely touch the pedals."

~Camille Saint-Saens~

"It needs considerable courage and genuine love of music to go on singing after you have swallowed your false mustache. This happened to a tenor [Walter Midgley] in Rigoletto the other day, at Covent Garden."

~Beachcomber, Daily Express~

"[The first oboe] has a mania for inserting trills and gracenotes which outraged my deepest convictions...I expressed myself on the subject in vigorous terms at the second rehearsal. The sly dog refrained at the two subsequent rehearsals, but it was a feint. At the concert, knowing I would not stop the orchestra to arraign him personally in the presence of the court, he treacherously resumed his little tricks, eyeing me with a quizzical air the while. I nearly collapsed with indignation."

~Hector Berlioz, Memoirs~

"Ten million curses on all musicians who do not count their rests! In my score, the horn was supposed to give the cue to the timpani, the timpani to the cymbals, the cymbals to the bass drum; the first stroke of the bass drum was the signal for the final explosion. But the accursed horn-player failed to play his note. Without it, the timpanist was afraid to come in. In consequence, cymbals and bass drum also kept silent. Absolutely nothing happened. The violins and cellos went on with their futile tremolo; otherwise, not so much as a pop...Only a composer who has himself been through such an experience can conceive the fury that possessed me. I could hardly breathe. A cry of horror burst from me. I hurled my score into the middle of the orchestra and sent the two nearest desks flying...The whole place was in an uproar...Another musical catastrophe had overtaken me..."

~Hector Berlio, on when concerts go bad~

"I was in such a state at the end of the scene that there had to be a fairly lengthy interruption while they brought me punch and a change of clothes. There on the platform a miniature dressing-room was constructed out of a dozen harps, with their covers replaced; by stooping slightly I was able to undress and change my shirt in front of the audience without being seen."

~Hector Berlio, describing how he had to freshen up between pieces during a huge concert~

"My daughter, 12 years old, and my son of 7 years will execute the concertos of the greatest masters on several kinds of pianos, and my son the violin likewise. My son will cover the fingerboard with a cloth and play as if it were uncovered. He will guess, both standing near or at any distance, and name any sound on a piano, on a bell, or any other instrument. In conclusion, he will improvise as long as desired, both on the organ and the piano in all keys, even the most difficult, as anyone may choose."

~Leopold Mozart, from a 1764 Frankfort program in which he touted the talents of his two children, Wolfgang A. and Maria Anna ("Nannerl") Mozart~

"Especially in romantic music, you cannot do the same thing twice. Strive always to have something happening - color, sound, etc. In many ways youíre telling the listener, 'Listen to this Ė isnít it beautiful? Now, do you remember the last phrase? Listen to the next one because itís entirely different.'"

~Jorge Bolet~

"Of course, everybody complains that I donít smile, but Iím in the state of mind where I canít. Emotionally, I simply canít. Iím not Pavarotti. I simply cannot see how he can sing something so earthshaking, and the minute heís through, the teeth all flash."

~Jorge Bolet~

"If there isnít something always going on, the audience gets restless. The audience always needs to have something that captures their ear and holds their attention. Once you lose the attention of your audience, youíre through, forget it. You see, I can forgive a performer for a messed up passage, a clinker, or the hitting of wrong notes, a memory slip. I can forgive him for showing me that heís not a perfect computerized machine. The one thing I will not forgive a performer is for him or her to bore me to death. That to me is an absolutely unpardonable sin."

~Jorge Bolet~

"I often feel that practicing is really maybe 50% necessary, and 50% insurance. You insure, you over-prepare, so that if you are distracted during a concer, if youíre not feeling up to snuff, you have so much backlog of preparation that it will carry you through automatically."

~John Browning~

"I'm constantly practicing a work as if I were performing it. I donít mean, 'O, my goodness, in one week this is going to be on the program, and Iím nervous.' Nothing like that. I consciously recreate in the room, as close as I can, the mental impuses that will be going on, that have been going on since I learned the piece, that are going on that week before or the day before, and that will be going on during the concert. 'What am I thinking of right now?' If I stop concentrating on these things and start to be aware of extraneous things, I'll introduce nerves that are totally unnecessary. If Iíve built in this concentration, I never lose sight of that structure for a moment. And in the concert, I do not walk out thinking, 'Look, there are 3000 people here, and I hope I play well.' Thatís much too self-centered a thought. Itís 'What a wonderful piece. I think I really understand it now. Here we go. Letís try it.' "

~Mischa Dichter~

"I rarely get nervous, only when I'm unprepared. If I find myself getting nervous, then I find that Iím not thinking about what is essential, which is music. Because, as I said, being nervous is a very self-centered pursuit. Why is the person nervous? 'I am here. Youíre going to listen to me. I hope you like it.' Thatís a very shallow existance. So I think if you understand the piece and you put everything into transmitting that understanding to an audience, then youíre out of the picture and nerves play a minor role."

~Mischa Dichter~

"Technique is the ability to do what you want to do. Therefore, you must want something, not just to go to the instrument and put down levers in a certain succession at a certain speed. You must want a musical idea. You must have a certain intention, and the ability to do that is the index of your technique."

~Leon Fleischer~



"I understand my tests are popular reading in the teachers' lounge."

~Calvin, from the Calvin and Hobbes comics by Bill Watterson~

"Our biggest enemy is going space crazy through loneliness. The only thing that helps me maintain my slender grip on reality is the friendship I share with my collection of singing potatoes."

~Holly, ship's computer in Red Dwarf, a sci-fi comedy~

Rimmer: "We can't afford to take any chances. Jump up to red alert."
Kryten: "Are you sure, sir? It does mean changing the bulb. "

~from the Red Dwarf sci-fi comedy~

"There is a theory which states that if ever anybody discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable. There is another theory which states that this has already happened"

~Douglas Adams~

"The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not 'Eureka!' but 'That's funnyÖ'"

~Isaac Asimov~

"I have a mind to fill your boots with runny porridge again. That'll teach you a lesson about maturity."

~Lister, lecturing Rimmer for acting immaturely on the Red Dwarf sci-fi comedy~

"A common mistake that people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools."

~Douglas Adams~

Dramatic Movie Narrator: "There is one terrifying word in the world of nuclear physics."
Tom Servo (watching the movie): "Yeah - 'Oops.'"

~from Mystery Science Theater 3000~

"The major difference between a thing that might go wrong and a thing that cannot possibly go wrong is that when a thing that cannot possibly go wrong goes wrong it usually turns out to be impossible to get at and repair."

~Douglas Adams~

"Little survival tip, bud, never play your guitar in front of a man with a loaded gun."

~Cat, Red Dwarf sci-fi comedy~

"Kryten personal black box recording. Time: unknown. Location: unknown. Cause of accident: unknown. Should someone find this recording, perhaps it will shed light as to what happened here. My short-term memory has been erased. This, I ascribe to the proximity of the magnetic coils from Starbugīs rear engine. Secondly, due to the proximity of the magnetic coils, my short term memory appears to have been erased. This, combined with the erasure of my short-term memory, has left me a little disoriented, disoriented, disoriented."

~Kryten the robot, Red Dwarf sci-fi comedy~

Rimmer: "It's always the same when we meet girls. Put me down and make yourself look good."
Lister: "Like when?"
Rimmer: "Remember those two little brunettes from Supplies? I told them I worked in Stores and they were really interested and asked me exactly what I did there."
Lister: "And I said you were a shelf."
Rimmer: "Exactly! And then I suggested a little trip to Titan Zoo, and you said, 'Ooh, heīs taking you home to meet his Mum already.'"
Lister: "So? They laughed."
Rimmer: "Yes, at me! At my expense!"

~A typical Rimmer and Lister conversation, Red Dwarf sci-fi comedy~


Site created and maintained by Elisabeth Potthoff