Bow hairs aside, it is not a very likely combination, yet somehow, this violinist has been unable to avoid horses as a recurring theme.
Random musing while mulling over a possible topic for this space led me to realize that, in looking back on a rich and colorful log of musical experiences, I could not deny that horses have been present with a certain unmistakable regularity, like some sort of leitmotif. This is somewhat of a surprise to me, as I would have thought that a life in classical music would not have much to do with those four-legged creatures, excepting — as mentioned above — the matter of having violin bows rehaired. It is merely my own private catalog, I am aware, and an odd one it is.
Onstage horses impressive but problematic
An excitedly anticipated performance at the Metropolitan Opera (not long before the original hall, which I am so happy to have visited, was demolished) began with pre-teen thrills and awe at the grandeur of the venue, giving way to enraptured enjoyment of Puccini’s incomparable La Fanciulla Del West unfolding on the huge stage — so close, so overwhelming — and then becoming the most unrelenting attack of frenzied sneezing, choking airways, and streaming eyes. We wondered what on earth my problem could be. Was the theatre really that dusty? Ah, at last it dawned upon me: those twelve magnificent horses, only several rows of seats and an orchestra pit away, were the culprits. I had not given my horrific allergy a thought in connection with this cultural excursion; that the Met, in its attention to detail and use of lifelike settings, could have this effect upon me was not something I could ever have imagined.
My kingdom for no horses
Then there was the time, many years later, when the orchestra in which I was playing, in Lisbon, had been invited to provide the musical accompaniment to a reception for Prince Charles of the United Kingdom. It was some sort of celebration of the long-lasting historical bonds between Portugal and the U.K., to be a very grand event. I cared nothing about the guest of honor but was pleased to have the opportunity to see from the inside a beautiful old palace that was not otherwise open to public viewing. The balcony on which the orchestra was assembled was so deep that we could not see out into the courtyard where festivities were taking place, and thus, the mystery — again — of whatever could suddenly be ailing me. I could not have guessed that just below, past the immense stone balustrade which blocked our view, a stunning show was being put on by the Lipizzaner horses of the renowned Spanish Riding School of Vienna for the pleasure of His Royal Highness.
Since then, in other lands and with other orchestras, horses have been lurking here and there, unbeknownst to me (my attempts to research the venue beforehand do not always yield sufficient information) and waiting to remind me that, yes, I am still quite allergic to them. I see now that I should have known that each new incident would not be the last. As if to remind me, I discovered upon my arrival in Lisbon that the Portuguese musicians had a very fond nickname for the artists’ entrance found in every theatre and concert hall. It is porta do cavalo, which translates as “the horse’s door”.
To round off this little rhapsody, I give you a discussion among classical musicians in which they mention all the references in music to horses that they can envision.