Four years ago, I was contracted by happenstance to play the Beethoven Horn sonata on a charity concert. The stance, as it happened, was that I was practicing for my Masters recital in the concert hall just before the pianist had booked some time and the rest, as they say, is history. The fee was an embarassingly modest Â£25 but had I known what was in store on concert day, I would have done it for free.
A rehearsal was hastily arranged and I turned up ready for a couple run throughs. As he sat down, the pianist opened his score the way bibliophiles do a new hardcover. Each page was painstakenly creased from the inside out to ensure the spine was broken in evenly. Since this was a charity concert, I threw a little his way an assumed that he had just bought a new edition.
Within 12 bars, it was clear that the piece was new to him in every possible way. A few bars later, I began to suspect that F major was as well. After three hours of assisted practicing, I finally extricated myself and proceed to the bar to try and quash the dread growing within like mold on week-old bread.
I wasn’t on til later but I arrived early to make sure everything was set up. After zipping the violinist into her dress, we settled in to wait our turn. It was then the gossip started to flow. The story was that this guy had setup an elaborate scheme to ensure that he always had audiences for his concerts. He would write regularly to a group of elderly ladies specially selected for their gullibility and loose purse strings. They, being so honoured to have an artist of his stature communicating with them personally would come to every concert he ever gave and willingly pay through the nose for it.
During the first half of the concert, he played a variety of small pieces and then settled in for the Moonlight Sonata. The triplets unravelled themselves in a fairly unspectacular manner until about the middle of the second page. Then, without warning the pianist stood up and announced that he could not continue playing while someone was rustling candy. He left the stage, saying he would come back when they were ready to listen properly. The violinist and I were watching all this from backstage, mouths hanging to the floor. After a few minutes, the pianist deigned it time to return AND THE AUDIENCE APPLAUDED HIM TO THE PIANO. It seems that one of the advantages of having an elderly audience is that they forget the rudeness and abuse hurled on them minutes earlier.
My turn to play came in the second half. The Beethoven Sonata starts with horn alone, which was just as well because I got the distinct feeling that he wouldn’t have thought twice about starting without me. Some practicing must have occurred between our rehearsal and the concert because he managed to get through with only a little bit of faking although his concentration was such that I would have been further ahead to play with a tape.
The sonata is only about 12 minutes long and is, for all intents and purposes, in F major the whole time. The last third of the third movement is a huge buildup to a fortissimo ensemble F major cadence.
He cadenced in B flat.
And then tried to cover it up before the coda started.
16 bars later we were afforded rapturous applause and I managed to make it safely backstage before giving in to the giggles.
He pretended nothing had happened.
On this day..