“Sonata non grata,” by Jason Abdelhadi

Jan 25th, 2012 | By | Category: Fake Nonfiction, Prose

The term “barbarian” is bandied about a lot these days. Of course, everyone knows it comes from the Greek term “bararoi”, which originally referred to a species of talking pumpkin. Only gradually and through the sedimentation of linguistic geology did the term come to embrace its modern idiom; that is, anybody who, coming across in a thrift store the Collected Works of Geoffrey Chaucer on the one hand, and, on the other, a questionably pasty stack of Busty magazines, picks up the latter, in a full, though erroneous, confidence that he has made the dirtier choice. Real culture knows the juicy bits.

This same savoir vivre applies to music. Oh sure, the young slackjaw of thinks he or she has got hold of the Devil by his cojones. Picking the most salacious, or the most violent, the most non-sequitured or even the most depressing popular Tonkünstlers they can find, they think they have got to a place so vilely sacrosanct that no human has ever peeked into before. Silly, silly cods. What is Lady Gagoo? Hushler? Or even the debonair Maurice Chevalier? Do you think these playthings can teach you the innermost depths of human depravity and moral turpitude?

How often have I heard the wistful sigh of a barbaric young heart, knowing full well it will never be satisfied with Kleinigkeiten, wheezing, wishing they could but begin to plumb the depths of the Classical maestros? But where to start! It’s all so complicated, so overwhelming. Which composer? Which orchestra? Why is a fiddle called a violin all of a sudden? Fear not, young browbeater! Yes, I, head of the vanguard, have prepared for all the young marrow guzzlers out there a little slice of salvation. Though no mere player, I am an expert in my own amateurish and obsessive way. I have spent a lifetime collecting names, dates, and plagiarized impressions for just such an occasion. Swallow then, the following catalogue of idée reçues concerning the greatest composers, in full knowledge that the gulp you are about to take will launch you from dribbling barbarism to full-fledged bourgeois philistinism!

The Greats

Monteverdi, Claudio. Italian Renaissance man. In 1492, sailed with Columbus as cook. Accidentally discovered Opera, and consequently, all of modern western music, while trying to perfect the “rat-meatball”, a favourite aboard the Santa Maria. His music was polyphonic, that is, very, very funny.

Vivaldi, Antonio. A real sympatico character. Enjoyed his spaghetti in all weather. Worked in an all-girls atmosphere, which no doubt led to the stormy and dramatic allegro openings of his concerti; these tend to draw out in the middle with a limp largo, but happily finish off with another allegro, much to the chagrin of the ladies. You could say he was basso continuo himself. Spent the last 200 years of his life hiding in music libraries throughout Europe, until he was rediscovered in the 20th century by a gang of elite Fascist poets; has since become a favourite among Kindergarten teachers.

Bach, J.S. Famous German organ grinder. Had a monkey named “Fugue” which was his inspiration, and the love of his life. Dedicated all of his music to said monkey, including the unfinished documentary/bio-pic “The Art of Fugue”. Never wrote a bad piece of music. Is perfectly listenable today, provided you are equipped with an abacus and a six-pack of premium high-octane. Style was Baroque (pronounced BAR-OAK), which means composed in frills and powdered wigs. Also contrapunctal, which is a latinate term for “com-pli-muh-cated”.

Bach, C.P.E, and E.T.C.  The monstrous offspring of J.S. and his monkey. A clan of about a thousand sibling composers, all half-simian, scratching ticks, as well as notes, onto music sheets in the hopes of inventing the Classical style. Succeeded.

Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus. A genius. Also a Wunderkind, which is a type of German chocolate given out at Easter. The first composer to successfully die young and miserable in a ditch. Style was Classical (pronounced CLASS-ICK-AL), which means composed in frills, powdered wigs, and a smattering of rouge. Made masterful use of the Sonata-Allegro form, a simple sequential structure that consists merely of introduction, exposition, synthetic proposition, diachronic recapitulation, modulation, parabolic hyperbole, squash, functional analysis, and finally, the coda-cola.

Beethoven, Ludwig van. Another genius. His father was originally from the low-lands, and his mother was a bull-dog. Decided in his youth that he didn’t much care for music and went deaf to make the job easier. Famous for his elegant table manners. Once kicked Goethe in the shins. Style was the germ of the Romantic (pronounced BLARGH), which did away with frills, powdered wigs, and all such sartorial nonsense; made due instead with a beaver top-hat and chamberpot.

Schubert, Schumann, Shoeshine etc. A series of stand-up comedians who perfected the KunstLieder, a kind of musical limerick. “There once was a chap from Gesundheit…”

Mussorgsky, Modeste. Russian composer whom the classicists allowed into the party only on the condition that he not touch the silverware. Part of the “Mighty Handful”, a Russian temperance movement that enforced alchohol and consumption. Composed Pictures at An Exhibition, a celebration of seedy pornographic cinemas, and A Night on Bald Mountain, a musical exposition on hair-tonic and vodka. Once kneed Dostoyevsky right in the samovar. His Opera, Boris Godunov, wasn’t.

Wagner, Richard. Contrary to popular belief, did not found the S.S., only occasionally sent them fawning love notes and locks of hair sprayed with the scent of Teutonic perfume (Sauerkraut). Believed in German Opera at a time when the world considered the Germans to be fatuous, long-winded, anti-semitic, violent, and bland. He sure showed them. His sixteen hour masterpiece, Der Ring des Nibelungen or How I Met Your Mother, has never been successfully staged with sock-puppets.

Mahler, Gustav. Composed while sitting in a tub of custard.

Bel Canto Italian Opera. Stereotypically presented as a gang of fat, bearded Italian clowns belching for hours with the backing of a tuba. In actuality, however, the costumes have a few variants.

Schoenberg, Webern, Berg, and Grover. The original cast of Sesame Street. Changed music forever by inventing Twelve-Tone Atonal composition, and the Sing-a-Long. Music has since reverted to being pleasant.


Jason is a librarian from Ottawa, Ontario who has not yet figured out how to separate business from pleasure. He hopes to learn. He enjoys checking out the stacks and—once in a while—a book or two. (http://super-grammaticam.blogspot.com)

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