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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Antonio Ghislanzoni (1824–1893)

On Musical Instruments

The Clarinet

THIS instrument consists of a severe cold in the head, contained in a tube of yellow wood.

The clarinet was not invented by the Conservatory, but by Fate.

A chiropodist may be produced by study and hard work; but the clarinet-player is born, not made.

The citizen predestined to the clarinet has an intelligence which is almost obtuse up to the age of eighteen—a period of incubation, when he begins to feel in his nose the first thrills of his fatal vocation.

After that his intellect—limited even then—ceases its development altogether; but his nasal organ, in revenge, assumes colossal dimensions.

At twenty he buys his first clarinet for fourteen francs; and three months later his landlord gives him notice. At twenty-five he is admitted into the band of the National Guard.

He dies of a broken heart on finding that not one of his three sons shows the slightest inclination for the instrument through which he has blown all his wits.

The Trombone

The man who plays on this instrument is always one who seeks oblivion in its society—oblivion of domestic troubles, or consolation for love betrayed.

The man who has held a metal tube in his mouth for six months finds himself proof against every illusion.

At the age of fifty he finds that, of all human passions and feelings, nothing is left him but an insatiable thirst.

Later on, if he wants to obtain the position of porter in a gentleman’s house, or aspires to the hand of a woman with a delicate ear, he tries to lay aside his instrument, but the taste for loud notes and strong liquors only leaves him with life.

The Harmoniflute

This instrument, on account of the nature of its monotonous sounds and its tremendous plaintiveness, acts on the nerves of those who hear it, and predisposes to melancholy those who play it.

The harmoniflautist is usually tender and lymphatic of constitution, with blue eyes, and eats only white meats and farinaceous food.

If a man, he is called Oscar; those of the other sex are named Adelaide.

At home, he or she is in the habit of bringing out the instrument at dessert, and dinner being over, and the spirits of the family therefore more or less cheerfully disposed, will entertain the company with the “Miserere” in Il Trovatore, or some similar melody.

The harmoniflautist weeps easily. After practising on the instrument for fifteen years or so, he or she dissolves altogether, and is converted into a brook.

The Organ

This complicated and majestic instrument is of a clerical character, and destined, by its great volume of sound, to drown the flat singing of clergy and congregation in church.

The organist is usually a person sent into the world for the purpose of making a great noise without undue expenditure of strength, one who wants to blow harder than others without wearing out his own bellows.

At forty he becomes the intimate friend of the parish priest, and the most influential person connected with the church. By dint of repeating the same refrains every day at matins and vespers, he acquires a knowledge of Latin, and gets all the anthems, hymns, and masses by heart. At fifty he marries a devout spinster recommended by the priest.

He makes a kind and good-tempered husband, his only defect in that capacity being his habit of dreaming out loud on the eve of every church festival. On Easter Eve, for instance, he nearly always awakens his wife by intoning, with the full force of his lungs, Resurrexit! The good woman, thus abruptly aroused, never fails to answer him with the orthodox Alleluia!

At the age of sixty he becomes deaf, and then begins to think his own playing perfection. At seventy he usually dies of a broken heart, because the new priest, who knows not Joseph, instead of asking him to dine at the principal table with the clergy and other church authorities, has relegated him to an inferior place, and the society of the sacristan and the grave-digger.

The Flute

The unhappy man who succumbs to the fascinations of this instrument is never one who has attained the full development of his intellectual faculties. He always has a pointed nose, marries a short-sighted woman, and dies run over by an omnibus.

The flute is the most deadly of all instruments. It requires a peculiar conformation and special culture of the thumb-nail, with a view to those holes which have to be only half closed.

The man who plays the flute frequently adds to his other infirmities a mania for keeping tame weasels, turtle-doves, or guinea-pigs.

The Violoncello

To play the ’cello, you require to have long, thin fingers; but it is still more indispensable to have very long hair falling over a greasy coat-collar.

In case of fire, the ’cellist who sees his wife and his ’cello in danger will save the latter first.

His greatest satisfaction, as a general thing, is that of “making the strings weep.” Sometimes, indeed, he succeeds in making his wife and family do the same thing in consequence of a diet of excessive frugality. Sometimes, too, he contrives to make people laugh or yawn, but this, according to him, is the result of atmospheric influences.

He can express, through his loftily attuned strings, all possible griefs and sorrows, except those of his audience and his creditors.

The Drum

An immense apparatus of wood and sheepskin, full of air and of sinister presages. In melodrama the roll of the drum serves to announce the arrival of a fatal personage, an agent of Destiny, in most cases an ill-used husband. Sometimes this funereal rumbling serves to describe silence—sometimes to indicate the depths of the operatic heroine’s despair.

The drummer is a serious man, possessed with the sense of his high dramatic mission. He is able, however, to conceal his conscious pride, and sleep on his instrument when the rest of the orchestra is making all the noise it can. In such cases he commissions the nearest of his colleagues to awaken him at the proper moment.

On awaking, he seizes the two drumsticks and begins to beat; but, should his neighbor forget to rouse him, he prolongs his slumbers till the fall of the curtain. Then he shakes himself, perceives that the opera is over, and rubs his eyes. If it happens that the conductor reprimands him for his remissness at the attack, he shrugs his shoulders and replies, “Never mind, the tenor died, all the same. A roll of the drum, more or less, what difference would it have made?”