Musical Meanderings

Musical Meanderings

filed under Humour


Tales of the Riverbank presents:

thawing out Hammy (in a microwave)


anyway why does a hamster live on a riverbank in presumably the UK or somewhere in Western Europe? They’re native to Syria and other places in the Middle East. *it’s a Canadian programme. No excuse though.



(but who’s keeping score?)


1. ERDFUSS, Johann Sebastian 1788-1849



Johann Sebastian Erdfuss was born in the little German town of Monchengladbach in 1788. His father was a cheap tailor and refused to allow the young Johann to fulfil his musical ambitions, even to the extent of burning live cats outside the 14-year-old boy’s window whenever Johann played on his homemade violin. At the age of 16 Erdfuss left home to take up with Joachim Moltke, the near-contemporary of J.S. Bach who was Kapellmeister of the Hamburg Sinfonietta. Recognising talent and a cute backside when he saw them, Moltke kept Erdfuss close to him and encouraged him in his already wayward and experimental style of music-making, which included the repeated banging of iron bars and rattling of chains.

In his Weihnachts-oratorium (Christmas Oratorio), written for Christmas 1805 and dedicated to Napoleon getting hives from too much sitting in the saddle, Erdfuss made use of two orchestras whose members would randomly get up and pick fights with one another. The following Easter in his St Mark Passion he arranged for two fourteen-year-old boys to be suspended from crosses above the stage and for a horse to be strung up and bled between them. The agonised cries of the boys and the horse would provide a counterpoint to sixteen intentionally detuned fiddles (Erdfuss was one of the first to recognise the unintentional beauty of the tuning-up process) and a sheet of tin six feet by four.

Ludwig van Beethoven, at the premiere of the St Mark Passion, decried Erdfuss as “a talentless shitwick and a pervert to boot.” Erdfuss went on to write the Symphony for Six Large Ladies and an Umbrella Stand, an operatic symphony which premiered in a field outside Stockhausen (the town, not the composer) in April 1808. This involved among other things a group of nine blue-clad youths chasing a cow in circles while singing a folk rhyme called the Hou Lou Vou. To quote the Napoleonischer Beobachter of April 11 1808, “As it rained on cue, the rather damp instruments gave off a weird and pleasing variety of sounds.” The piece was punctuated by false endings after each of which the lead tenor came forward and intoned, Bevor die Grosse Dame singt ist der Spiele nicht auf: “Before the Fat Lady sings is the Show not over.” Any members of the audience inadvertently leaving during these false endings were carried back to their seat by two men dressed in orange and yellow motley with the backsides open. During the finale during which not one, but all six fat ladies of the title, sang, these yellowmen (Gelbemänner) farted loudly and copiously, having been fed beans and pork before the concert.

This marked the beginning of the next stage in Erdfuss’s strange career: his interest in flatalmusik or “fart music”. Inspired by 18th-century Italian composer Niccolo’ Giacometti’s dictum that “the lower voice is as sweet as the higher” (n.b. not what Giacometti meant – at the time falsetti and soprani and the higher registers were overvalued, as he saw it. He was speaking up for the alto, the baritone and the bass), he began to orchestrate pieces for string instruments and the Back Door Bugle. On October 1 1808 he premiered a five-minute chamber piece called Das Heimatswind (“Heavenly Wind”), for violin, viola, cello, viola da gamba and three backsides. The piece was well received, especially by those of the audience who had brought noseplugs. Princess Theresa von Arnhem was so entranced by the piece that she wrote Erdfuss a letter in which she offered the composer the delights of her body for as long as he should require them. Erdfuss tactfully declined, enquiring in the same letter whether her husband Prince Frederick might be interested in making a similar offer as Erdfuss was not really, you know, turned on by women. There was no reply, and the von Arnhem household made fewer visits to Erdfuss’s pieces in future. 

Unfortunately in 1811 there came a split with Moltke whose friendship with Bavarian mystic and Aryan supremacist Helmut Rogg had led to a growing antisemitism on Moltke’s part. Erdfuss, who was of partly Jewish descent, distanced himself from Moltke and moved to Paris where he moved in with transvestite dancer “Millie” (Jean-Luc Leclerq) and continued his researches into La Musique Flatale.

Shortly afterwards Moltke and Rogg died in bloody and mysterious circumstances, bludgeoned to death in Moltke’s drawing room. Erdfuss was placed under immediate suspicion even though it was widely reported that he had been seen in Paris; a warrant was put out for his arrest and he turned himself over to the Napoleonic police immediately. Jailed without trial in the Chambord prison, he was eventually released in 1814 due to lack of evidence. Moltke and Rogg’s murderer was never found, but there is every reason to suppose that, despite his later crimes, Erdfuss was entirely innocent.

1815 saw the defeat of Napoleon, and the premiere of Erdfuss’s triumphant Liberté, chéri, which despite its experimental form and persistent use of the Vox ani, was brilliantly received at the Conservatoire and led to a grumpy but genuine effort at reconciliation by Erdfuss’s old foe, Ludwig van Beethoven, whose own Eroica had originally been dedicated to Napoleon but the dedication revoked when Napoleon declared himself Emperor. Liberté, chéri was dedicated to the Duke of Wellington; “et pourquoi pas?” as Erdfuss, who was now using French for all purposes, declared. It included the line “Fouts-toi donc a Elbe, fais voir si on s’en fout”: “Fuck off to Elba then, see if anyone gives a fuck”.

Erdfuss was better received in France than he had been in Germany, where the musical establishment had frowned upon experimentalism and populist appeal. He set about the construction of popular operatic works and in 1820 popular subscription began to set up an Opéra Populaire near Notre Dame de Lorette in Paris, for the performance of advanced work such as his. His motto, “La Musique pour Tous” - “Music for Everyone” - scandalised the establishment but made him a popular hero. Roger Aubuisson, the Savoyard composer, arrived in Paris in 1821 and declared “L’anti-musique” along with Erdfuss and the Belgian Willem van der Schelde. That not one of this trio was Parisian simply increased their ability to capture the popular imagination. “We had,” van der Schelde wrote, “a vision, if you like, of the way Paris ought to be, that was undamaged by having had to live there since childhood and through poverty.” In September 1822 the Opera Populaire (the “Op.Pop.”) opened its doors with a performance of Erdfuss’s La Dame d’Antibes, a simple story of opium and transvestitism on the Cote d’Azur. The German composer was still only 34.

17-year-old André Desmarais is known to have been both Erdfuss’s lover and that of the composer’s cleaner, 29-year-old Helene Chavallier. In 1825 Desmarais and Chavallier absconded with large amounts of the Op. Pop.’s funds. They were found in Antibes (logically), but Desmarais shot Chavallier and himself dead before they could be brought to trial. The money was never recovered, and the Op. Pop. went through hard times before popular subscription once again brought it back to life.

In 1829 the Opera Populaire reopened to much popular acclaim. Erdfuss and his friends Aubuisson and van der Schelde celebrated the opening by going to the very popular Cafe aux Amis on the Champs Elysees and ordering lots of champagne. Then when the admiring crowd had gathered round and were feting the reopening, Erdfuss stood on the table (a feat in itself, considering his once-broken legs still made him walk with difficulty), lowered his trousers and defecated on the table. In the ensuing uproar the three composers wrecked the cafe, savaged its owner, bit the throat out of his dog, and were finally arrested and flung in jail.

It was while in jail, where he served six weeks for malicious damage and unseemly behaviour, that Erdfuss began sketches for his mightiest work to date: the massive opera “The Sun King”. Based on the life and times of Louis XIV, this seminal masterwork was to last nine hours and require a cast of hundreds. (Upon which Wagner’s friends go “Pah! Intermezzo! Chamber work!”)

Upon his release, Erdfuss bought himself a dog to further his image as one of the strangest of composers. The dog he bought was a hybrid of Boxer and Assyrian Smun; it was a huge animal looking less like a dog than a carnivorous pig, with a bristly brown coat that always looked like it needed a bath, and an ugly face composed mainly of jaws that were incapable of closing completely, such were their crowding of teeth and fangs. He called it Theophile. He would go for walks in the Bois de Boulogne with this dog and cherish the look of disgust and horror on people’s faces when this obscene waddling monster (the dog, not Erdfuss) approached them slavering at the mouth. The story is told of how it savagely attacked the wire-haired terrier of Mme Valentine de Monclour: Theophile picked the terrier up in his mouth and crunched it up as if it had been a small bone, then swallowed it whole before looking appraisingly at Mme de Monclour herself, who screamed and ran. Erdfuss was visited by the police who threatened him with the dog being destroyed and Erdfuss being jailed again for keeping a dangerous animal, but Erdfuss simply listened politely and once the police had gone, went for another walk with the foul creature, this time down the Champs Elysées where he called in on the Café aux Amis and threatened the proprietor with a ‘dogging’ if he so much as complained about the composer’s presence in the Cafe he had so horribly trashed before.

When he was not walking the dog, Erdfuss was busily working on the opera. The introductory aria introduced repetitive violin playing - a continuous series of eight 16th-notes per bar, varying only in pitch - and some fairly weird tunes and atonality. Once again Erdfuss was ahead of the pack. In August 1830 he was arrested again on suspicion of involvement with the death of the 16-year-old son of Government Minister Claude Chiffé; son Pierre had been discovered naked, burnt and mutilated in an attic room in Montmartre. Erdfuss was released under police surveillance but the suggestion that he had tortured the youth to death was still rife, especially so when he said, “We must be opposed to torture, as we know that it is unjust and an abrogation of basic human rights. The trouble is, it’s fun.” Violent blows to the hands received during police interrogation on this matter slowed down his keyboard playing, but he was able to dictate music to four secretaries.

“Louis XIV” is about Louis’s life as a rich degenerate, his sex with Madame de Pompadour, and his final death and descent into hell where he is made to lead the life of a farmworker in the Auvergne, complete with serial-sodomy by farmers and ritual sacrifice.

(1976 w)


Aubuisson, Erdfuss and Van Der Schelde


Erdfuss’ opera I Sodomiti was contemporaneous with Aubuisson’s I Dilettanti and van der Schelde’s ballet Les Syphilides. It is very noticeable that the Weird Three all were quite obsessed with syphilis; rather echoing current obsessions with AIDS, they discussed it ad nauseam and wrote copious music about it. I Sodomiti is nearly unperformable in its original form, at least as regards the singing: among other things it calls for a lyric soprano with a vocal range of five octaves. The usual range required for the soprano voice is two and a half octaves, though top performers manage as many as four.

The cast is not actually that large: three male voices and two female, and the orchestra is reasonably unremarkable if rather selective (i.e. Not the standard orchestra; this was written in the 1820s, when the in thing was to experiment with increasing the size of the orchestra, and Erdfuss simply wrote in whatever instruments he thought he needed). The Vox ani parts, as is usual these days, are scored for French horn.

Some day someone is going to perform Erdfuss as he originally wrote it with the proper use of Vox ani, but so far nobody’s dared. Either that or else quite simply Erdfuss is seen as being part of the canon and having people farting tunefully on stage would not be acceptable. This would have been lamentable to the Weird Three, as the last thing they wanted was to become part of the establishment. Dadaists before their time, they wanted expressly to annoy people and at the same time to make the cutting edge of new music available to the ordinary public.


Music and flatulence have long been linked in the popular mind, not least by the 19th century composer J-S Erdfuss (fl. 1800-30), who wrote pieces for Nether Wind and scored the Backside Bugle into his orchestral works. Before him the Greek Tadakis Theocaropoulos (1722-91) wrote of the joy of incidentals provided from the bowels of performers and audience alike. Indeed throughout 18th century Europe it seemed as though the fart could be elevated from its sniggering schoolboy status to an appreciated function of the human body. Dr Johnson wrote of going to dine, "where Mr Percy Winterbottom and his wife Matilda were afflicted with long and stertorous farts, which were much appreciated by those present. Virginia Bluetooth suggested that one should keep a Fart Diary in which to note down particularly splendid examples of the art."

The Bluetooths are all gone; there are none in the London telephone directory for 1998, and there were only a few in the 1950s. Many of the great London families are dispersed, unable to keep pace with the rate of rebuilding and immigration. Danny Bluetooth kept the Old Ship in Bermondsey up until 1987 when it was demolished to make way for an office complex. After this he retired to the South Coast where for all I know he is still alive.


By eschewing the rigours of conventional form they hoped to make the bourgeoisie’s corralling of musical knowledge and the canon irrelevant [cf. recent comments about ‘music theory is racist’], and bypass it with forms that would be accessible to everyone. This brought them such a shit-rain from the establishment, who accused them of philistinism and pandering to ignorance, that they revelled in every moment of it and went on to acts of higher weirdness. Aubuisson’s I Dilettanti, premiered in 1827, takes the form of a highly conventional opera, if a little screechy but the libretto and some of the depicted acts are strange indeed. Les Syphilides calls for bloodstained bandages to be strewn across the stage, and in the last scene barrels of pig’s blood are liberally thrown over the performers. The curtain goes down upon the dancers kneeling in blood, covered in blood, silent and cowed.


They were violent; they were brutal; they were drunken; and above all, They Were Weird. Later on Erdfuss built Rectal Flutes which could be played anally. However his insistence on weird trickery led in 1831 to the renowned music journalist Jean-Claude Cheveral noisily leaving the premiere of Erdfuss’s 2nd Violin Concerto with the words “messieurs, la musique n’est pas une cirque!” - “gentlemen, music is not a circus!”



HIRSCH, Wolfgang. Frankfurt 1870 - Denton, Maryland 1954


No clowns or paste buckets for our next composer. Reaction to Wolfgang Hirsch might have been puzzled until you got what he was trying to do, but he was always serious about it. “What on Earth?” is the reaction, though given the subject matter of much of his music, “off Earth” is more likely. Hirsch fled Germany in 1930 and moved to New York where in his later years he became known for blues- and jazz-influenced avant-garde music. In the late 1940s he met the young John Kluge and was impressed by Kluge’s energy and enthusiasm; Kluge later said that meeting with Hirsch had turned him from ‘a directionless bundle of anger into an actual creator.’

Louis King cites Hirsch as his key influence, although in King’s case he was four years old when Hirsch died so unfortunately they never met.



KLUGE, John. Born 1923, Brixton, London


The excessive coloratura on Aubuisson’s songcycle “Kick the rich!” is intended as a joke, but all too many people take it seriously. His libretto was deliberately misspelt in order to undermine the French population’s faith in its language and to aim a kick at the education and culture of the bourgeoisie. More recent composers such as John Kluge have used this motif in order to mock the pretensions of the politically-correct ‘near left’: as Kluge describes them, the ‘left-whinge’, those people who are just enough on the left to complain about things but not far enough to actually have a programme for change [we didn’t have Twitter back then!].


John Kluge was born in 1923. With no formal education in music, he served five years in the Army during 1941-6, and upon his return home declared war upon all societal structures. He claimed that he had been expelled from the armed forces due to repeated sex with animals, but while his real reason was the general end-of-war demobilisation, this was typical of the “Kluge legend” that the composer set up around himself. His intention to become a musician was based precisely on what he called “Thundering ignorance” of formal musical composition.

Taking a cue from the Metaphysical Brutal poets he committed himself to ‘brutalising the whole in the name of the New’. He launched himself in 1947 with a ‘Winter Serenade’ that included a screechy parody called “Oh I do hate to be beside the Seaside” and suggested making seaside landladies boil up and eat their own pox-ridden furniture. In 1948 he published “Songs without hope” which deconstructed “Songs without words” into “a dreadful braying like a mule being sodomised”.


In 1952 he wrote an oratorio for the newly-enthroned Queen Elizabeth II: performed on dustbin lids and cheese-graters, it called upon the young Queen to ‘rip up the old world in pursuit of a new’. Although his early work was very much opposed to the monarchy, later he changed this stance, openly supporting monarchy during the 1970s and ‘80s and only recently returning to a fully Republican position. He has often declared that people should be allowed to change their political views according to what seems right to them at the time. Kluge has however been a consistent defender of the urban, and seen the general pining for the countryside as evidence of laziness and a backward-looking mentality, hence the ‘I do hate to be beside the seaside’ and a hideously overblown raucous piece of industrial music called ‘Down on the farm’ (1977), which he categorises as not industrial but agricultural.

In 1974 he taped his moans and screams as he was having chillis rubbed into his eyes, and cut this into the piece called ‘Dog Solitude’. In 1985 he started to starve himself to death but was persuaded to stop after six months by an alleged personal service performed by Miss J----- L-----. This would certainly seem to be the case given the photographs of her that appeared on the sleeve of his next album, “Dispatches from a Hollow Soul”.


In 1988 he premiered the massive “Hotspur”, based on Shakespeare’s Henry IV, at the Barbican, London. In 1989 his Year Zero provoked accusations of racism which the composer assiduously denied; the piece did however reinforce his reputation for despair. It included such items as a “Miserere” containing the words “Mercy me, fucking God, you don’t exist anyway,” and a skit on the track “The old bamboo” terminating in screams and wails of terror. As long ago as 1953 he had been asked if the bleakness of his work was a reaction to the events of recent years, such as the Nazi death camps and the American nuclear bombing of Japan; he replied that these were not the source but mere symptoms, that given his view of the world such horrors were simply to be expected.


Later he commissioned a computer program to ‘de-rezz’ English and in 1998 released an oratorio called “Hamburger Jones and the Lost Notochord”. It involves such things as weird wailing, detuned pianos, minutes of silence, farts (ah! Shade of J.S. Erdfuss!), bagpipes playing “Comin’ Through the Rye” at double speed, and surrealist poems.


The piper blows a giraffe.

Wet sleek ferrets in my garage;

Smith! Oh booze, oh trilogy, beggared and gutted with Cheshire!


Part of it is called The Bald Headed Hussar and equipment used was “anything to hand”, but heavy use of Korg and Roland synths is detected.


In 2010 he released an album called Unheimlich Manoeuvre which was performed in its entirety at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London by the Southwark Sinfonietta. In 2019, in collaboration with his granddaughter Caterina Yang-Kluge (b. 1980), he followed this up with an album of ‘AI-completed’ music called Aleatorchestration; this was released as four CDs but the streaming edition has additional material plus ‘seeds’ allowing the owner to create their own versions of the music.

15 March 2021

03 December 2018