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The Criminal Lives of 5 Classical Musicians

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Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day was once kicked off an airplane for wearing sagging pants, which is pretty much everything you need to know about musicians of the last 30 years. As with everything else, if you want to see the right way to stick it to the man, you’ve got to look at the greats of classical music. Here are five classical composers with criminal histories.

1. Ludwig van Beethoven

Charge: Vagrancy

Beethoven tended to get so engrossed in his work that things like housekeeping, grooming, and laundry fell by the wayside. While out for a walk one day in 1820, he found himself lost on the streets of Weiner Neustadt, and began peering in windows to get his bearings. Because he looked like a bum, a policeman picked him up for vagrancy.

“I am Beethoven!” he told the Five-O.

Sure you are, came the response.

Beethoven cooled his heels in the lockup until Herr Herzog, the city’s musical director, could spring him. For the record, Beethoven didn’t take his incarceration well. A constable reportedly went to the police commissioner for help in dealing with the enraged composer. “Herr Commissioner,” he said, “We have arrested a man who gives us no rest, and yells all the time that he is Beethoven.” (Emphasis mine.)

Given enough time, he probably would have started a prison riot.

2. Igor Stravinsky

Charge: Defaming the National Anthem

In 1944, Igor Stravinsky left the doughnut commandos in Boston outraged for his arrangement of the Star Spangled Banner. (Nobody should have been surprised; when he composed “The Rite” his stated purpose was to “send them all to hell”—them being European civilization itself.) How outraged were the cops? They showed up the next day “to make sure he didn’t play it again.”

If you can find a way to stir up the police for a major minor seventh chord, you are not a man to be trifled with.

3. Franz Schubert

Charge: Revolutionary activity

Heads of state weren’t exactly relaxed in 1820. As Johann Senn wrote at the time, “The German struggles for liberation, from 1813 to 1815, had left in their wake a significant spiritual upheaval in Austria too.” Likewise in the wake of the Napoleonic Wars and the earlier French Revolution, students with crazy ideas about liberty were not to be trusted. So when Austrian secret police observed Franz Schubert and his four droogs “inveighing against [officials] with insulting and opprobrious language,” the young artists were rounded up and arrested. Senn, one of the five, spent 14 months in prison. It’s likely that Schubert was saved by his burgeoning reputation as a great composer, though he was severely reprimanded, and in a society where the police had to approve everything from publication to marriage, a police record could cause no end of troubles.

4. Richard Wagner

Charge: Revolutionary activity

While living in Dresden, composer Richard Wagner spent six years writing operas and throwing in with leftist radicals. In the pages of Volksblätter, he incited revolution, and during the May Uprising of 1849 made hand grenades and stood watch for students at the barricades. (If there ever were a time when songs from Les Misèrables might spontaneously occur, this was it.)

When the uprising failed, Wagner found himself wanted by the government, and absconded to Zurich where he lived as a fugitive. (Again, Les Misèrables.) The charges kept him out of Germany until 1862.

5. Johann Sebastian Bach

Charge: “Too stubbornly forcing the issue of his dismissal.”

In 1708, Johann Sebastian Bach took a job as a chamber musician in the Court of the Duke of Sachsen-Weimar. Within five years, he was head of the chamber orchestra and eyeing the position of capellmeister, or director of music. He was pretty much doing the job for the incumbent, who was decrepit and moribund, and ascending to the position itself was a formality awaiting only the capellmeister’s death. Imagine his frustration when the job went to the capellmeister’s idiot son.

The rival Court of Anhalt-Cöthen saw what a terrible decision this was, and asked Bach to join them and serve as its own capellmeister. Bach said yes, and the Duke of Sachsen-Weimar retaliated by having Bach thrown in jail for 30 days, which is a sentence 30 times longer than Johnny Cash ever served, no matter what he’d have you believe.

While in the gray bar hotel, Bach did what any self-respecting master musician would do: he wrote chorale preludes for organ, later published as part of Orgelbüchlein, his first organ masterwork.

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10 Fab Facts About George Harrison
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You probably know George Harrison as a Beatle, the lead guitarist of the most famous band in the world. We’re guessing that there’s a lot you don’t know about the youngest of The Fab Four, who was born on this day in 1943.

1. HE WAS ONLY 27 WHEN THE BEATLES BROKE UP.


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George Harrison turned 27 on February 25, 1970, less than two months before Paul McCartney told the world he had no future plans to work with the Beatles. It had been 12 years since Harrison had joined John Lennon’s band, The Quarrymen—shortly after McCartney, his Liverpool schoolmate—in 1958.

2. HE INVENTED THE MEGASTAR ROCK BENEFIT CONCERT.

Before Harrison organized the 1971 Concert for Bangladesh, there were performances for charity, of course. But when his friend, the great Indian sitar player Ravi Shankar, told him about the plight of Bangladeshi refugees, victims of both war and a devastating cyclone who now faced starvation, Harrison felt compelled to devote himself to the cause. He recruited stars like Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Ringo Starr, Billy Preston, Badfinger, and Leon Russell, and together they played two sold-out shows at Madison Square Garden on August 1, 1971. Harrison then arranged for the release of a concert album and film. The ventures had raised more than $12 million by 1985, and profits from sales of the movie and soundtrack continue to benefit the George Harrison Fund for UNICEF.

3. HE WROTE “CRACKERBOX PALACE” ABOUT HIS QUIRKY MANSION.

Harrison nicknamed his 120-room Friar Park mansion “Crackerbox Palace” after a friend’s description of Lord Buckley’s tiny Los Angeles home. The 66-acre property, about 37 miles west of London, was first owned by Sir Frank Crisp, a lawyer who lived there from 1889 to 1919. Harrison bought the estate in 1970—and quickly penned “The Ballad Of Sir Frankie Crisp,” which appeared on his first solo album, All Things Must Pass, also in 1970.

Friar Park was a strange place, with gnomes, grottos, a miniature Matterhorn, and lavish gardens, which Harrison loved to tend. According to the Victoria County History website, the house itself “is an architectural fantasy in red brick, stone, and terracotta, mixing English, French and Flemish motifs in lavish, undisciplined profusion.”

4. HE LOVED HANGING OUT WITH BOB DYLAN AND THE BAND.

All four Beatles were Dylan fans, and first met him in 1964. But Harrison felt a special bond with him, and spent weeks at Dylan’s Woodstock, New York home in the fall of 1968. The Band was there, too, and Harrison loved the collaborative atmosphere. During this time Dylan and Harrison co-wrote “I’d Have You Anytime,” which appeared on 1970's All Things Must Pass. The two would become bandmates in the Traveling Wilburys, and maintained a close, lifelong friendship.

5. THE "QUIET BEATLE" WASN’T SO QUIET.

"He never shut up," friend and fellow Traveling Wilbury Tom Petty once said of Harrison. "He was the best hang you could imagine."

6. WHEN HE LOST HIS VIRGINITY, THE OTHER BEATLES CHEERED.

The Beatles at the EMI studios in Abbey Road, as they prepare for 'Our World', a world-wide live television show broadcasting to 24 countries with a potential audience of 400 million.
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During the band’s early years, they had extended runs as a house band in Hamburg, Germany, and were paid so poorly (and had to be on stage for so many hours) that they shared a small room in the club’s basement. Hence the witnesses to George’s deflowering, at age 17. "We were in bunkbeds," Harrison recalled. "They couldn't really see anything because I was under the covers, but after I'd finished they all applauded and cheered. At least they kept quiet whilst I was doing it."

7. WITHOUT HIM, THERE MAY NOT HAVE BEEN A MONTY PYTHON'S LIFE OF BRIAN.

EMI Films, Life of Brian’s original backer, withdrew funding for the Monty Python comedy classic just before filming began, scared that the religious subject matter would be too controversial. Harrison, a big fan and friend of the Pythons, set up his own production company—Handmade Films—to fund the project. Why? "Because I liked the script and I wanted to see the movie,” he explained. Harrison not only saw the film, he appeared in it, as Mr. Papadopolous, "owner of the Mount.” Monty Python’s Life of Brian, released in 1979, was a huge hit in both the UK and U.S., and was ranked as the 10th best comedy film of all time in 2010 by The Guardian.

8. HE WAS THE FIRST EX-BEATLE TO SIMULTANEOUSLY TOP BOTH THE SINGLES AND ALBUMS CHARTS.

Harrison began recording the songs that would comprise All Things Must Pass at Abbey Road on May 26, 1970, just weeks after the Beatles broke up. The triple album was released in late November, along with “My Sweet Lord,” the first single from the album. Both the record and the single spent weeks at the top of the Billboard and Melody Maker charts in early 1971, while receiving rave reviews.

9. THE FIRST SONG HE WROTE WAS INSPIRED BY A DESIRE TO TELL PEOPLE TO GET LOST.

Harrison wrote “Don’t Bother Me,” his first first solo composition, while sick in bed at the Palace Court Hotel in Bournemouth, England, in the summer of 1963. It “was an exercise to see if I could write a song,” Harrison said. “I don't think it's a particularly good song ... It mightn't even be a song at all, but at least it showed me that all I needed to do was keep on writing, and then maybe eventually I would write something good." “Don’t Bother Me” appeared on With The Beatles, their second studio album.

10. HE WAS THE FIRST BEATLE TO VISIT, AND PLAY IN, THE U.S.

In the fall of 1963, Harrison traveled to Benton, Illinois to visit his sister, Louise, and her husband, George Caldwell. During his 18-day stay, Harrison also became the first Beatle to play in the U.S.—appearing on stage with The Four Vests at the VFW Hall in Eldorado. He played the second set with the band, taking over lead guitar and singing "Roll Over Beethoven" and "Your Cheatin' Heart."

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