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Musical Quotes

  • A critic is like a eunuch: he knows exactly how it ought to be done.
  • A drummer is a musician's best friend.
  • A good composer does not imitate; he steals. -- Igor Stravinsky
  • A good composer is slowly discovered; a bad composer is slowly found out. -- Ernest Newman
  • A jazz musician is a juggler who uses harmonies instead of oranges. -- Benny Green
  • A lot of people are singing about how screwed up the world is, and I don't think that everybody wants to hear about that all the time. -- Mariah Carey
  • A musicologist is a man who can read music but can't hear it. -- Sir Thomas Beecham
  • A ponderous orchestral absurdity. -- Frank Zappa on his rock symphony debuted by the Los Angeles Philharmonic
  • After I die, I shall return to earth as a gatekeeper of a bordello and I won't let any of you enter. --Arturo Toscanini to the NBC Orchestra
  • After playing the violin for the cellist Gregor Piatgorsky, Albert Einstein asked, "Did I play well?" You played relatively well," replied Piatigorsky.
  • All music's folk music: leastways I never heard of no horse making it. -- Louis Armstrong
  • All my concerts had no sounds in them; they were completely silent. People had to make up their own music in their minds! -- Yoko Ono
  • Already too loud! -- Bruno Walter at his first rehearsal with an American orchestra, on seeing the players reaching for their instruments.
  • Americans want grungy people, stabbing themselves in the head on stage. They get a bright bunch like us, with deodorant on, they don't get it. -- Liam Gallagher
  • An exotic and irrational entertainment. -- Samuel Johnson's definition of opera
  • An oboe is an ill-wind that nobody blows good. -- Bennet Cerf
  • Anton Bruckner wrote the same symphony nine times, trying to get it just right. He failed. -- Edward Abbey
  • Art is long and life is short; here is evidently the explanation of a Brahms symphony. -- Edward Lorne
  • At the playing of Rossini's William Tell Overture (at the Albert Hall) an American lady said, "Back home this is known as The Lone Ranger."
  • Beethoven always sounds to me like the upsetting of a bag of nails, with here and there also a dropped hammer. -- John Ruskin
  • Beethoven can write music, thank God, but he can do nothing else on earth. -- Ludwig Van Beethoven
  • Beethoven had an ear for music.
  • Berlioz says nothing in his music, but he says it magnificently. -- James Gibbons Hunekar
  • Brass bands are all very well in their place - outdoors and several miles away. -- Sir Thomas Beecham
  • By melody is implied a series of sounds more fixed, and generally more lengthened, than those of common speech; arranged with grace, and, with respect to time, of proportional lengths, such as the mind can easily measure, and the voice express. -- Burney
  • Chaos is a friend of mine. -- Bob Dylan
  • Classical music is the kind we keep thinking will turn into a tune. -- Kin Hubbard
  • Composers shouldn't think too much - it interferes with their plagiarism. -- Howard Dietz
  • Conductors must give unmistakable and suggestive signals to the orchestra, not choreography to the audience. -- George Szell
  • Country music is three chords and the truth. -- Harlan Howard
  • Critics can't even make music by rubbing their back legs together. -- Mel Brooks
  • Dissonances are generally played more loudly and consonances more softly, because the former stimulate and exacerbate the emotions, while the latter calm them. -- CPE Bach
  • Don't bother to look, I've composed all this already. -- Gustav Mahler, to Bruno Walter who had stopped to admire mountain scenery in rural Austria.
  • Education in music is most sovereign, because more than anything else, rhythm and harmony find their way to the inmost soul and take strongest hold upon it, bringing with them and imparting grace, if one is rightly trained. -- Plato
  • Exit in case of Brahms. -- Philip Hale's proposed inscription over the doors of Boston Symphony Hall
  • Extraordinary how potent cheap music is. -- Noel Coward
  • Flint must be an extremely wealthy town: I see that each of you bought two or three seats. -- Victor Borge, playing to a half-filled house in Flint, Michigan.
  • Give me a laundry list and I'll set it to music. -- Gioacchino Antonio Rossini
  • God tells me how the music should sound, but you stand in the way. -- Arturo Toscanini to a trumpet player
  • Harmony alone can stir the emotions. It is the one source from which melody directly emanates, and draws its power. -- Rameau
  • Harpists spend ninety percent of their lives tuning their harps and ten percent playing out of tune. -- Igor Stravinsky
  • He has an enormously wide repertory. He can conduct anything, provided it's by Beethoven, Brahms or Wagner. He tried Debussy's La Mer once. It came out as Das Merde. --Anonymous Orchestra Member on George Szell
  • He'd be better off shoveling snow. -- Richard Strauss on Arnold Schoenberg.
  • Hell is full of musical amateurs. -- George Bernard Shaw
  • Her singing reminds me of a cart coming downhill with the brake on. --Sir Thomas Beecham on an unidentified soprano in Die Walküre
  • Her voice sounded like an eagle being goosed. --Ralph Novak on Yoko Ono
  • His music used to be original. Now it's aboriginal. --Sir Ernest Newman on Igor Stravinsky
  • How wonderful opera would be if there were no singers. -- Rossini
  • I am amazed at radio DJ's today. I am firmly convinced that AM on my radio stands for Absolute Moron. I will not begin to tell you what FM stands for. -- Jasper Carrott
  • I am not handsome, but when women hear me play, they come crawling to my feet. -- Niccola Paganini
  • I don't know anything about music. In my line you don't have to. -- Elvis Presley
  • I know only two tunes: one of them is "Yankee Doodle" and the other one isn't. -- Ulysses S. Grant
  • I liked the opera very much. Everything but the music. -- Benjamin Britten on Stravinsky's The Rakes's Progress
  • I love Beethoven, especially the poems. -- Ringo Starr
  • I love Wagner, but the music I prefer is that of a cat hung up by its tail outside a window and trying to stick to the panes of glass with its claws. -- Charles Baudelaire
  • I never use a score when conducting my orchestra... Does a lion tamer enter a cage with a book on how to tame a lion? -- Dimitri Mitropolous
  • I really don't know whether any place contains more pianists than Paris, or whether you can find more asses and virtuosos anywhere. -- Frederic Chopin
  • I think music in itself is healing. It's an explosive expression of humanity. It's something we are all touched by. No matter what culture we're from, everyone loves music. -- Billy Joel
  • I think my fans will follow me into our combined old age. Real musicians and real fans stay together for a long, long time. -- Bonnie Raitt
  • I think popular music in this country is one of the few things in the twentieth century that have made giant strides in reverse. -- Bing Crosby
  • I would advise you to keep your overhead down; avoid a major drug habit; play everyday, and take it in front of other people. They need to hear it, and you need them to hear it. -- James Taylor
  • I would like to hear Elliot Carter's Fourth String Quartet, if only to discover what a cranky prostate does to one's polyphony. -- James Sellars
  • I would rather play Chiquita Banana and have my swimming pool than play Bach and starve. -- Xavier Cugat
  • I write [music] as a sow piddles. -- Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
  • I wrote a song, but I can't read music so I don't know what it is. Every once in a while I'll be listening to the radio and I say, "I think I might have written that." -- Steven Wright
  • I'd hate for this to get out, but I really like opera. -- Ford Frick
  • If a literary man puts together two words about music, one of them will be wrong. -- A. Copland
  • If a thing isn't worth saying, you sing it. -- Pierre Beaumarchais, The Barber of Seville
  • If a young man at the age of twenty-three can write a symphony like that, in five years he will be ready to commit murder. -- Walter Damrosch on Aaron Copland
  • If anyone has conducted a Beethoven performance, and then doesn't have to go to an osteopath, then there's something wrong. -- Simon Rattle
  • If Beethoven had been killed in a plane crash at the age of 22, it would have changed the history of music... and of aviation. -- Tom Stoppard
  • If he'd been making shell-cases during the war it might have been better for music. --Maurice Ravel on Camille Saint-Saens
  • If one hears bad music it is one's duty to drown it by one's conversation. -- Oscar Wilde
  • If the reader were so rash as to purchase any of Bela Bartok's compositions, he would find that they each and all consist of unmeaning bunches of notes, apparently representing the composer promenading the keyboard in his boots. Some can be played better with the elbows, others with the flat of the hand. None require fingers to perform or ears to listen too. -- Frederick Corder
  • If you can walk you can dance. If you can talk you can sing. -- Zimbabwe Proverb
  • In opera, there is always too much singing. -- Claude Debussy
  • In pre-Bolshevik times, a Russian Grand Duke was shown the layout of the Imperial Orchestra. "'These are the first violins," explained the conductor, "and these are the second violins."'Second violins in the Imperial Orchestra?" exclaimed the Grand Duke."'All must be first!"
  • In the first movement alone, I took note of six pregnancies and at least four miscarriages. -- Sir Thomas Beecham on Bruckner's Seventh Symphony
  • Is it not strange that sheep's guts should hale souls out of men's bodies? -- William Shakespeare
  • It is cruel, you know, that music should be so beautiful. It has the beauty of loneliness and of pain: of strength and freedom. The beauty of disappointment and never-satisfied love. The cruel beauty of nature, and everlasting beauty of monotony. -- Benjamin Britten
  • It is from the blues that all that may be called American music derives it most distinctive characteristics. -- James Weldon Johnson
  • It's a marvelous feeling when someone says "I want to do this song of yours" because they've connected to it. That's what I'm after. -- Mary Chapin Carpenter
  • It's pretty clear now that what looked like it might have been some kind of counterculture is, in reality, just the plain old chaos of undifferentiated weirdness. -- Jerry Garcia
  • I've always felt rock and roll was very, very wholesome music. -- Aretha Franklin
  • I've outdone anyone you can name - Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, Strauss. Irving Berlin, he wrote 1,001 tunes. I wrote 5,500. -- James Brown
  • Jack Benny played Mendelssohn last night. Mendelssohn lost. -- Anonymous
  • Jazz came to America three hundred years ago in chains. -- Paul Whiteman
  • Jazz will endure just as long people hear it through their feet instead of their brains. -- John Philip Sousa
  • Just as certain selections of music will nourish your physical body and your emotional layer, so other musical works will bring greater health to your mind. -- Hal A. Lingerman
  • Life can't be all bad when for ten dollars you can buy all the Beethoven sonatas and listen to them for ten years. -- William F. Buckley, Jr.
  • Like everything else in nature, music is a becoming, and it becomes its full self, when its sounds and laws are used by intelligent man for the production of harmony, and so made the vehicle of emotion and thought. -- Theodore Mungers
  • Madam, you have between your legs an instrument capable of giving pleasure to thousands and all you can do is scratch it. --Sir Thomas Beecham to a lady cellist.
  • Mathematics is music for the mind; music is mathematics for the soul. -- Anon
  • Men profess to be lovers of music, but for the most part they give no evidence of it in their opinions and lives that they have heard it. It would not leave them narrow-minded and bigoted. -- Thoreau
  • Military justice is to justice what military music is to music. -- Groucho Marx
  • Modern music is as dangerous as narcotics. -- Pietro Mascagni
  • Most owls seem to hoot exactly in B flat according to several pitch-pipes used in the tuning of harpsichords, and strictly at concert pitch. -- G. White
  • Most rock journalism is people who can not write interviewing people who can not talk. -- Frank Zappa
  • Most string quartets have a basement and an attic, and the lift is not working. -- N. Cardus
  • Movie music is noise. It's even more painful than my sciatica. -- Sir Thomas Beecham
  • Mozart died too late rather than too soon. -- Glenn Gould
  • Mozart has the classic purity of light and the blue ocean; Beethoven the romantic grandeur which belongs to the storms of air and sea, and while the soul of Mozart seems to dwell on the ethereal peaks of Olympus, that of Beethoven climbs shuddering the storm-beaten sides of a Sinai. Blessed be they both! Each represents a moment of the ideal life, each does us good. Our love is due to both. -- Henri Frederic Amiel
  • Mozart is sweet sunshine. -- Antonin Dvorak
  • Music and dancing (the more the pity) have become so closely associated with ideas of riot and debauchery among the less cultivated classes, that a taste for them, for their own sakes, can hardly be said to exist, and before they can be recommended as innocent or safe amusements, a very great change of ideas must take place. -- Sir John Herschel
  • Music begins to atrophy when it departs too far from the dance; ... poetry begins to atrophy when it gets too far from music. -- Pound
  • Music expresses that which can not be said and on which it is impossible to be silent. -- Victor Hugo
  • Music has the power of producing a certain effect on the moral character of the soul, and if it has the power to do this, it is clear that the young must be directed to music and must be educated in it. -- Aristotle
  • Music is a beautiful opiate, if you don't take it too seriously. -- Henry Miller
  • Music is a science that would have us laugh and sing and dance. -- Machaut
  • Music is essentially useless, as is life. -- George Santayana
  • Music is life, and, like it, inextinguishable. -- Carl Nielsen
  • Music is that skill consisting of performance in singing and playing, and it is threefold, namely harmonic, organal, and rhythmical. Harmonic music is that which is performed by the human voice. Organal music is that which is made by instruments which produce sound by wind. Rhythmical music is that which is made by instruments which render the sound by touch. -- Tinctoris
  • Music is the art of sounds in the movement of time. -- Busoni
  • Music is the best means we have of digesting time. -- W.H. Auden
  • Music is the key to the female heart. -- Johann G. Seume
  • Music is the moonlight in the gloomy night of life. -- Jean Paul
  • Music is the most disagreeable and the most widely beloved of all noises. -- T. Gautier
  • Music is the nearest at hand, the most orderly, the most delicate, and the most perfect, of all bodily pleasures; it is also the only one which is equally helpful to all the ages of man. -- Ruskin
  • Music is the only noise for which one is obliged to pay. -- Alexandre Dumas
  • Music is the vernacular of the human soul. -- Geoffrey Latham
  • Music is well said to be the speech of angels; in fact, nothing among the utterances allowed to man is felt to be so divine. It brings us near to the infinite. -- Thomas Carlyle
  • Music is your own experience, your own thoughts, your wisdom. If you don't live it, it won't come out of your horn. They teach you there's a boundary line to music. But, man, there's no boundary line to art. -- Charlie Parker
  • Music should never be harmless. -- Robbie Robertson
  • Music was invented to confirm human loneliness. -- Lawrence Durrell
  • Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life. -- Berthold Auerbach
  • Music with dinner is an insult both to the cook and the violinist. -- G. K. Chesterton
  • Music, the greatest good that mortals know, And all of heaven we have below. -- Joseph Addison
  • Musicians talk of nothing but money and jobs. Give me businessmen every time. They really are interested in music and art. -- Jean Sibelius, explaining why he rarely invited musicians to his home.
  • My sole inspiration is a telephone call from a producer. -- Cole Porter
  • Never look at the trombones, it only encourages them. -- Richard Strauss
  • No good opera plot can be sensible, for people do not sing when they are feeling sensible. -- W. H. Auden
  • Nothing is more odious than music without hidden meaning. -- Chopin.
  • Of all noises, I think music is the least disagreeable. -- Samuel Johnson
  • Of course I'm ambitious. What's wrong with that? Otherwise you sleep all day. -- Ringo Starr
  • Of course the music is a great difficulty. You see, if one plays good music, people don't listen, and if one plays bad music people don't talk. -- Oscar Wilde
  • Oh how wonderful, really wonderful opera would be if there were no singers! -- Gioacchino Rossini
  • One can't judge Wagner's opera Lohengrin after a first hearing, and I certainly don't intend hearing it a second time. -- Gioacchino Rossini
  • One should try everything once, except incest and folk-dancing. -- Arnold Bax
  • Only become a musician if there is absolutely no other way you can make a living. -- Kirke Mecham, on his life as a composer
  • Only sick music makes money today. -- Nietzsche
  • Opera is where a guy gets stabbed in the back, and instead of dying, he sings. -- Robert Benchley
  • Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thoughts. -- Percy Shelley
  • Parsifal - the kind of opera that starts at six o'clock and after it has been going three hours, you look at your watch and it says 6:20. -- David Randolph
  • People who make music together cannot be enemies, at least while the music lasts. -- Paul Hindemith
  • People whose sensibility is destroyed by music in trains, airports, lifts, cannot concentrate on a Beethoven Quartet. -- Witold Lutoslawski
  • Plato defines melody to consist of harmony, number and words: harmony naked of itself, words the ornament of harmony, number the common friend and uniter of them both. -- J. Dowland
  • Please write music like Wagner, only louder. -- Sam Goldwyn, instructing a composer for a movie.
  • Rhythm, the primitive and predominating element of all Art. -- d'Indy
  • Richard Wagner wrote music which is better than it sounds. -- Mark Twain
  • Rossini would have been a great composer if his teacher had spanked him enough on his backside. -- Ludwig van Beethoven
  • Schoenberg is too melodious for me, too sweet. -- Bertolt Brecht
  • Sir Thomas Beecham was once asked if he had played any Stockhausen. "No", he replied, "but I have trodden in some".
  • Someone commented to Rudolph Bing, manager of the Metropolitan Opera, that "George Szell is his own worst enemy." "Not while I'm alive, he isn't!" said Bing.
  • Sounds like the blues are composed of feeling, finesse, and fear. -- Billy Gibbons
  • Stuffing birds or playing stringed instruments is an elegant pastime, and a resource to the idle, but it is not education. -- Cardinal Newman
  • The amount of money one needs is terrifying... -- Ludwig van Beethoven
  • The art of dramatic writing is to compose a melodic curve which will, as if by magic, reveal immediately a human being in one definite phase of his existence. -- Janacek
  • The chromatic scale is what you use to give the effect of drinking a quinine martini and having an enema simultaneously. -- Philip Larkin
  • The clarinet is a musical instrument the only thing worse than which is two. -- Ambrose Bierce
  • The effects of good music are not just because it's new; on the contrary music strikes us more the more familiar we are with it. -- Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe
  • The English do not like music but love the noise it makes. -- Sir Thomas Beecham
  • The great German conductor Hans von Buelow detested two members of an orchestra, who were named Schultz and Schmidt. Upon being told that Schmidt had died, von Buelow immediately asked, Und Schultz?
  • The high note is not the only thing. -- Placido Domingo
  • The history of a people is found in its songs. -- George Jellinek
  • The most perfect expression of human behavior is a string quartet. -- Jeffrey Tate
  • The most perfect melodic shapes are found in Mozart; he has the lightness of touch which is the true objective ... Listen to the remarkable expansion of a Mozart melody, to Cherubino's 'Voi che sapete', for instance. You think it is coming to an end, but it goes farther, even farther. -- R. Strauss
  • The music teacher came twice a week to bridge the awful gap between Dorothy and Chopin. -- G. Ade
  • The new sound-sphere is global. It ripples at great speed across languages, ideologies, frontiers and races. The economics of this musical Esperanto is staggering. Rock and pop breed concentric worlds of fashion, setting and lifestyle. Popular music has brought with it sociologies of private and public manner, of group solidarity. The politics of Eden come loud. -- George Steiner
  • The present day composer refuses to die. -- Edgar Varese
  • The purpose of music is to draw toward a total exaltation in which the individual mingles, losing his consciousness in a truth immediate. -- Xenakis
  • The sound of a harpsichord - two skeletons copulating on a tin roof in a thunderstorm. -- Sir Thomas Beecham
  • The typical rock fan is not smart enough to know when he is being dumped on. -- Frank Zappa
  • The whole problem can be stated quite simply by asking, "Is there a meaning to music?" My answer would be, "Yes." And "Can you state in so many words what the meaning is?" My answer to that would be, "No." -- Aaron Copland
  • Theirs [the Beatles] is a happy, cocky, belligerently resourceless brand of harmonic primitivism... In the Liverpudlian repertoire, the indulgent amateurishness of the musical material, though closely rivaled by the indifference of the performing style, is actually surpassed only by the ineptitude of the studio production method. (Strawberry Fields suggests a chance encounter at a mountain wedding between Claudio Monteverdi and a jug band.) -- Glenn Gould
  • Theirs [the Beatles] is a happy, cocky, belligerently resourceless brand of harmonic primitivism... In the Liverpudlian repertoire, the indulgent amateurishness of the musical material, though closely rivaled by the indifference of the performing style, is actually surpassed only by the ineptitude of the studio production method. (Strawderry Fields suggests a chance encounter at a mountain wedding between Claudio Monteverdi an a jug band.) -- Glenn Gould
  • There are more bad musicians than there is bad music. -- Isaac Stern
  • There are more love songs than anything else. If songs could make you do something we'd all love one another. -- Frank Zappa
  • There are still so many beautiful things to be said in C major. -- Sergei Prokofiev
  • There are two golden rules for an orchestra: start together and finish together. The public doesn't give a damn what goes on in between. -- Sir Thomas Beecham
  • There are two instruments worse than a clarinet - two clarinets. -- Ambrose Bierce
  • There is no feeling, except the extremes of fear and grief, that does not find relief in music. -- George Eliot
  • There is nothing more difficult than talking about music. -- Camille Saint-Saens
  • There is something suspicious about music, gentlemen. I insist that she is, by her nature, equivocal. I shall not be going too far in saying at once that she is politically suspect. -- Thomas Mann
  • There's a basic rule which runs through all kinds of music, kind of an unwritten rule. I don't know what it is. But I've got it. -- Ron Wood
  • Today, music heralds... the establishment of a society of repetition in which nothing will happen anymore. -- Jacques Attali
  • Tonality is the perspective of harmony. -- Donald Tovey
  • Too many pieces of music finish too long after the end. -- Igor Stravinsky
  • True music must repeat the thought and inspirations of the people and the time. My people are Americans and my time is today. -- George Gershwin
  • Wagner's music has beautiful moments but some bad quarters of an hour. --Rossini
  • Wagner's music is better than it sounds. -- Mark Twain
  • We cannot expect you to be with us all the time, but perhaps you could be good enough to keep in touch now and again. --Sir Thomas Beecham to a musician during a rehearsal
  • What can you do with it? It's like a lot of yaks jumping about. -- Sir Thomas Beecham on Beethoven's Seventh Symphony
  • What is the voice of song, when the world lacks the ear of taste? -- Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • When Mozart was composing at the end of the eighteenth century, the city of Vienna was so quiet that fire alarms could be given verbally, by a shouting watchman mounted on top of St. Stefan's Cathedral. In twentieth-century society, the noise level is such that it keeps knocking our bodies out of tune and out of their natural rhythms. This ever-increasing assault of sound upon our ears, minds, and bodies adds to the stress load of civilized beings trying to live in a highly complex environment. -- Steven Halpern
  • When music fails to agree to the ear, to soothe the ear and the heart and the senses, then it had missed the point. -- Maria Callas
  • When she started to play, Steinway himself came down personally and rubbed his name off the piano. -- Bob Hope, on comedienne Phyllis Diller
  • When told that a soloist would need six fingers to perform his concerto, Arnold Schoenberg replied, "I can wait."
  • Why is it that whenever I hear a piece of music I don't like, it's always by Villa-Lobos? -- Igor Stravinsky
  • Without Elvis, none of us could have made it. -- Buddy Holly
  • Without music, life is a journey through a desert. -- Pat Conroy
  • Without music, life would be an error. The German imagines even God singing songs -- Friedrich Nietzsche
  • You are the music while the music lasts. -- T. S. Eliot
  • You can't possibly hear the last movement of Beethoven's Seventh and go slow. -- Oscar Levant, explaining his way out of a speeding ticket.