Musicians who can walk and chew gum

Musicians who can walk and chew gum


norman lebrecht

November 20, 2017

The LSO has a little list.

Far too short, we think.

What about Borodin the chemist, John Cage the mycologist, Gieseking the lepidopterist, Paderewski the prime minister, Hershel and Saint-Saens the astronomers, Xenakis the architect, Gershwin and Schoenberg the painters?

Any more?




  • Ruben Greenberg says:

    Charles Ives, the CEO of an insurance company. Berlioz, the writer. The little-known but wonderful composer Jean Cras, ship- captain of the French navy.

    • clarrieu says:

      Actually three great french composers were navy officers: Albert Roussel, the above-mentioned Jean Cras and Antoine Mariotte (composer of the first Wilde-inspired Salomé).

  • Pianofortissimo says:

    Conductor & composer Giuseppe Sinopoli was also medicine doctor and archeologist.

  • Alex Davies says:

    Penderecki the arboriculturist.

  • William Osborne says:

    George Crumb liked chemistry. He once showed me a small lab he had in his house, not too much bigger than a closet. Lots of largish bottles full of chemicals. He had a penchant for making small bombs which he would blow up in the forest. Fortunately, he was very apolitical.

  • Rick M. says:

    Bruce Hungerford – respected Egyptologist
    Josef Hofmann – inventor
    Emil von Sauer – degree in classical languages
    Charles Rosen – doctorate in French literature
    Benno Moiseiwitsch – card sharp
    Ignace Jan Paderewski – prime minister of Poland

    • Vincent D’Mello says:

      Mostly B and C grade composers in the above list.

      None of the Crown Jewels of Western composers (Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Chopin etc.) had a second career since they were all busy composing immortal masterpieces. Easier to have a second career when you are not very good at your first love.

    • Simon Scott says:

      Benno Moiseiwitsch- card sharp.
      I would be interested to know of your source of information.

      • Rick M. says:

        Vincent – I was shifting the focus a bit – great pianists have always had side gigs and interests, which as a pianist, I find interesting. Of the folks I named, only Hofmann, Paderewski, and Sauer were also composers, and although they may have taken it seriously, they knew that their real focus was the piano. Paderewski did manage to write some excellent music – his piano concerto, the piano sonata, and the opera “Manru” indicate that he was no slouch. Even the hackneyed “Minuet in G” is actually a beautiful piece of music.

        Simon – Moiseiwitsch belonged to the Savage Club (along with Mark Hambourg and several other well-known pianists), and spent most of his time offstage playing cards, usually poker. It’s documented in a number of period sources including several of Hambourg’s books, and if I remember correctly, Moiseiwitsch always came out on top in his games with other musicians. I don’t mean to imply that he was a cheat – he was just very good!

    • Robert Hairgrove says:

      Josef Hofmann invented shock absorbers and windshield wipers for automobiles:

      “As an inventor, Hofmann had over 70 patents, and his invention of pneumatic shock absorbers for cars and airplanes was commercially successful from 1905 to 1928. Other inventions included a windscreen wiper, a furnace that burned crude oil, a house that revolved with the sun, a device to record dynamics (U.S. patent number 1614984[8]) in reproducing piano rolls that he perfected just as the roll companies went out of business, and piano action improvements adopted by the Steinway Company (U.S. patent number 2263088[9]).”
      (source: Wikipedia,

      Josef Hofmann, having somewhat smallish hands compared to some of his contemporaries, had about four grands made specially for him by Steinway which had slightly narrower white keys than usual, making it easier for him to play octaves and chordal passages.

      Malcom Frager, another well-known pianist, was a scholar of Russian language and literature, graduating magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Columbia University in that major.

      Amongst younger musicians, Kit Armstrong is also a composer, and he has degrees in advanced mathematics. In one YouTube clip, he is shown tuning the oldish piano he was playing on (a craft presumably picked up from Alfred Brendel, who is known for sometimes voicing and regulating the pianos on which he performs).

      My own teacher, John Perry, could tune, regulate and repair, and voice a piano, probably in the dark! Thanks to him, and fellow pianist Dean C. Shank who was a doctoral student while I was studying with Mr. Perry at Univ. of Texas at Austin, we had wonderful pianos to play on in his studio as well as on the stage of Butler Hall.

      After I moved to Switzerland, I took two summer courses of two weeks each in piano regulating for pianists with Franz Rudolf Dietz, who was Arturo Benedetti-Michelangeli’s personal tuner and technician and toured with him all over Europe. Even if one doesn’t end up doing a lot of one’s own regulating, etc., it is such a valuable asset to know what effect some kinds of regulation and voicing can have, and what is possible to get out of a piano sound-wise.

  • Robert Roy says:

    George Lloyd grew mushrooms and carnations.

  • Alex Davies says:

    Of course, when you begin to look at singers, perhaps especially in Britain, many of them have an academic training in something other than music, although I’m not sure that that really counts as having a second field of expertise any more than an accountant who read Greats would be considered an authority on Homer. Elin Manahan Thomas read ASNAC (Cambridge), Christine Rice read Physics (Oxford), Emma Kirkby read Greats (Oxford), Iestyn Davies read Arch & Anth (Cambridge), James Bowman read Modern History (Oxford), Simon Keenlyside read Zoology (Cambridge), James Gilchrist read Medicine (Cambridge). Breaking the mould somewhat Elizabeth Watts took a first in Archaeology at Sheffield and Felicity Lott read French and Latin at Royal Holloway. I wonder whether this career model for singers is peculiarly British, mainly due to the training model provided by cathedral choirs followed by choral scholarships at Oxbridge colleges.

    • Robert King says:

      The great James Bowman will proudly tell you (and everyone else) that he got a fourth at Oxford, so would not claim his academic qualifications are quite those of, say, Dr Gilchrist (who was extremely useful on tour on occasion in his medical capacity whilst he still held his practising certificate). Almost any notable singer (such as James, Simon K, Iestyn, and many dozens more besides those) who emerged through the choral tradition before fledging out into world-class solo careers has a university training behind them – it’s still by far the best experience for choral singers. On a CV, reading “choral scholar at” [John’s, Trinity, Clare, King’s, New, Christ Church etc] always makes you read the application a second time, because those musicians are already many steps further along the professional road. It doesn’t stop with singers: the period instrument world is full not just of musicians who happened to go to Oxbridge (not necessarily because the training is especially notable, but more so because a lot of very bright people go there), along with a terrific seam over the last years from the universities of Birmingham (ie Carolyn Sampson et al) and York (where for several decades splendid Peter Seymour has been heroic in feeding the professional world with fine, intelligent, questioning musicians of the future).

      • Alex Davies says:

        Indeed. I once heard James Bowman on Radio 4 rather proudly recounting the tale of his viva with Hugh Trevor-Roper, and how he was having a bit of a laugh until Trevor-Roper advised him that the purpose of the viva was to determine whether or not he was actually going to get a degree at all! On one of the handful of occasions that I’ve happened to meet him it came up in conversation that I’d read for the same School at Oxford. He didn’t mention his degree classification, presumably considering the story sufficiently well known already!

        But dear oh dear, one knows that Mr King is a Cambridge man, for an Oxford man cannot bring himself, even for the sake of brevity, to detach the words ‘New’ and ‘College’. 😉

  • Tommy says:

    The list is of people who’ve ‘appeared with the LSO over the years’.
    I’m unaware of Schoenberg, Borodin or Gershwin appearing with the LSO, but maybe I’m wrong.

  • Larry says:

    (1) Carlos Miguel Prieto (conductor) has a Bachelors degree in electrical engineering from Princeton; (2) Burton Fine, former principal viola, Boston Symphony, was a research chemist for NASA; (3) Charles Kavaloski, former principal horn, Boston Symphony, had a Ph.D. in physics, did research at MIT and also taught;

  • Michael Smith says:

    Philidor was the best chess player of his day.

    • M2N2K says:

      Prokofiev, on the other hand, was more successful as a composer.

      • M2N2K says:

        By the way, Mark Taimanov who was a world-class chess grandmaster in his prime (mostly 1960s) was also an accomplished pianist who performed for many years in a piano duo with his wife Luba Bruk.

      • Saxon Broken says:

        Both Philidor and Taimanov are far better known as chess players than musicians. They are really chess players who also played music.

  • Chris says:

    Gesualdo – accomplished murderer

  • Jean says:

    Einojuhani Rautavaara wrote all his libretti, fair amount of poetry and also painted.

    Erkki Melartin was also a painter (with hundreds of paintings and several exhibitions to his credit – same as with Ciurlionis).

    Ture Rangström worked in the Swedish patent office.

    Elmer Diktonius, the Finnish-Swedish poet, had correspondance with Schönberg and aimed to become his private pupil before giving up to poetry.

    Friedrich Nietzsche is a composer known to have published some philosophical works as well.

    Charles-Valentin Alkan was a Bible translator.

  • Gaffney Feskoe says:

    Kurt Masur was the object of a draft campaign to become President of East Germany.

    Everett “Vic” Firth the late tympanist for the Boston Symphony was also a business tycoon having founded his eponymous company which started by manufacturing drum sticks and then branched into making and distributing other products made from wood to include salad bowls and salt and pepper mills. He made a considerable fortune at this enterprise.

  • Alexandra Ivanoff says:

    Flutist/composer Frederick the Great — King of Prussia

    • John Borstlap says:

      ….. who once invited Mannheim composer Joachim Alzheimer who was also a forerunner of phrenology, trying to detect musicians’ capabilities by measuring their skull, which idea was taken-up later-on by Franz Joseph Gall in 1796. Unfortunately Alzheimer forgot about the invitation which robbed him of the chance to meet Voltaire at the Potsdam court.

  • M2N2K says:

    Did a talented caricaturist named Enrico Caruso (who was, by all accounts, a rather decent singer when he wasn’t drawing) ever performed with LSO?

  • M2N2K says:

    How about a gifted artist Nathan Milstein and a rather witty poet Alfred Brendel?

  • Robert Hairgrove says:

    Rudolf Serkin was also passionate about farming; he was given a tractor as a gift after playing a benefit for the Philadelphia orchestra in 1951, and they lived on a farm in Vermont after emigrating to the USA.

    • Herbert Pauls says:

      Just before the Communist Revolution, Rachmaninoff had ordered a good tractor from America for his farm in Ivanovka and was looking forward to personally doing his own farm work with it. Alas, the events of the Revolution intervened and the eagerly awaited item never did arrive.

  • Richard says:

    Philip Glass:

    Cab Driver (NYC)
    Furniture Mover
    Crane Operator (Bethlehem Steel Sparrows Point MD)
    Movie Extra (Paris,France)
    Loader of Food into Airplanes (Midway Airport Chicago)

    • Ruben Greenberg says:

      His friend (and mine) the composer Gordon Sherwood, was a professional beggar. He used to refer to Philip Glass as: “Philip Glass- pain in the ass.” With friends like that, ….