I heard this story on a classical music station while chauffeuring Dr. M someplace. (She was slightly incapacitated after a certain procedure.) I don’t regularly listen to classical music, but I needed something soothing to distract my beloved honey from my driving. The strategy was not totally successful, as, at a certain point, I distinctly recall a shrieking, “Look out for that truck!” emanating from the passenger seat. But the radio story stayed with me. And that story was this:
At the age of eighteen, Richard Strauss (1864-1949), who’d been writing music since he was six, brought his father, the principal horn player at the Court Opera in Munich, a concerto for French horn, which Richard had composed especially for his Dad. Looking it over, Strauss’s Dad announced that he could not play his son’s composition, because it was too hard.
Leave us imagine how this generous gift offering and its rejection might possibly have gone down.
RICHARD STRAUSS: Fahzah, are you busy?
STRAUSS SR: I’m practicing!
I’m sorry to interrupt you, but…
Make it snappy. Practicing is essential! The French horn doesn’t play itself, you know. One must work tirelessly to excel.
And excel you have, Fahzah. For you are the greatest French horn player in all of Germany.
And Austria as well, I would humbly venture to include.
Perhaps the best in all of Europe.
Perhaps. And if Europe, then the world as, from a French horn standpoint, Europe is the world.
My Fahzah. The finest French horn player in all the world. I am so proud.
You have every right to be. Now, may I return to my practicing, so that my hours of repetition will retain me at this exalted plateau?
A moment of your time, first, I beg of you.
All right. But macht schnell.
Yawohl. You know how I like to compose music.
Gott in Himmel. He’s written something new.
I know you are skeptical of my value as a composer. But I’ve been writing since I was six, and I now believe I have finally escaped the label you have repeatedly appended to my efforts.
And you were right. It was not first class composing. Not bad, perhaps, for a six year-old…
It is never too soon to apply strict standards.
I agree. But now, Fahzah, I believe I have written something you will genuinely appreciate. And as a bonus surprise, I have written it especially for you.
For me? What do you mean?
I have written – for my Fahzah – an original concerto for French horn.
Let me see it.
I am not saying ‘Thank you’ till I look at it. What if it’s terrible? What would I be thanking you for then?
The effort, perhaps? The gesture? The thoughtful intention?
I am not that kind of Fahzah.
No, you’re not. Well, here it is. And I hope you enjoy it.
(LOOKING OVER THE SCORE. THEN, HANDING IT BACK) I can’t play this.
It is simply impossible.
But I composed it especially for you. Pardon my grandiose thinking here, but I was hoping that, if you approved of it, you might show it to Herr Conductor and, who knows, perhaps he would agree to include it in the orchestra’s repertoire. Can you imagine? Franz Strauss, the French horn virtuoso, playing a concerto composed by his very own son?
It will never happen.
What is it, Fahzah? Do you fear the whispers of nepotism? Promoting the interests of the great horn player’s offspring?
It has nothing to do with nepotism. Richard. What you’ve written here? It is impossible to play.
You could play it.
You mean that the greatest horn player in the….
This concerto. As imagined by you. Cannot. Possibly. Be played.
Even by the greatest horn player in the world.
Which is you.
I know it’s me.
But I don’t understand. It was playable in my head.
It cannot. Be played.
Maybe if you just tried it…
But if you haven’t tried it, how do you…?
Because I played it in my head.
What if you played it slower?
Is it all impossible for you? Or just parts of it?
Listen to me. It’s not your fault; it’s a genetic failure. But you have to face facts. You have no talent for composing music. What you’ve written here is practical nonsense. You’d need twenty fingers and a number of pairs of lips. Now I know this hurts, but sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind. I think it would be wise for you to consider another line of work. For there is no value in composing something that nobody can play.
I thought my Fahzah could play anything.
I can play anything playable. But this? The intricate fingering. The sheer volume of the notes…
I could take a few out.
To make it easier for you.
This is unfathomable. My Fahzah. The greatest horn player in the world.
Defeated by a concerto written by an eighteen year-old boy.
Could it possibly be true? Could a son actually have written something that is too hard for his Fahzah?
A MUSIC STAND GOES FLYING PAST HIS HEAD
All right! I’m going!
RICHARD EXITS. MOMENTS LATER, HE RETURNS.
I was just thinking…
Since you, Fahzah, seem cool to the undertaking, I was wondering if you might recommend another horn player, someone younger perhaps, who might…
Go to your room!
But Fahzah, I’m eighteen!
I don’t care! Go to your room, and do not write anything again! At least not for the French horn.
What a terrible day! I had intended to honor my Fahzah with my concerto. And instead, I have embarrassed him in front of his own son, because he can’t play what I wrote.
How dare you say that in my presence!
I’m sorry, Fahzah. Sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind.