A. von Winterfeld has gathered a number of anecdotes relating to prominent composers and musicians who were as much distinguished for their absent-mindedness as for their musical talent. There was in the past century Friedemann Bach, the most talented of the sons of the great Johann Sebastian Bach, whose distraction was simply incredible. When Friedemann Bach was organist at Halle, a position which required punctuality, it was expected that he would have trouble as a result of the muddled state of his thoughts. It was nothing unusual for him to stop playing the piano when called for church duties by the people he lived with and to walk to the church, entering on one side and leaving it by the opposite door, going straight home again to his piano. His blower kept the key to the organ and an organist handy to take Bach’s place when these slips of memory occurred.
One Easter Sunday things went wrong. Bach went to church early and sat down in a chair on the women’s side, awaiting the gathering of the devout. He sat there deep in reverie, with the organ key in his pocket, while the crowd gathered, the bells tolled, and when it was past the time for the prelude to be played, everybody looked toward him, winked at him, and shook their heads. He also shook his head, looked around, and quietly remarked: “I wonder who will play the organ to-day!”
One day Bach called on the future Musical Director Rust, at that time studying at Halle and attending to Bach’s correspondence in gratitude for the lessons he received from the master. “Look, dear Rust,” Friedemann said to him, pulling out of his pocket a letter which he gave him, “here I have received quite a good offer from Rudolstadt for the position of Kapellmeister; reply at once that I will accept.” Rust read the letter and was happy to note the favorable points of the offer to his teacher, and then happened to look at the date. “But this letter is over a year old!” he cried. “Indeed!” said Friedemann, surprised; “then I must have had the letter in my pocket ever since and forgot to give it to you to answer.”
Among the absent-minded artists of later times the celebrated singer Lablanche was the most notable. While he resided at Naples the King often sent for him, as he enjoyed the singer’s pleasant disposition. One day he called at the palace, having received an invitation, and waiting in the general hall for the King to send for him, talked meanwhile with the people of the court, and asking permission to keep on his hat, as he was suffering from catarrh. Suddenly a lackey called out: “His Majesty desires the presence of Signor Lablanche!”
Hastily the singer arose, and forgetting that he had his hat on his head, picked up another, which he carried in his hand to the presence of the King. He was received with a hearty laugh, which disconcerted Lablanche somewhat. But he quickly recovered and asked what had occasioned his Majesty’s hilarity. “My dear Lablanche,” the King said, “tell me, which of the two hats is yours—the one you have on your head or the one in your hand; or do you carry two because you fear you may forget one?”
“Ah! Maledetto!” cried Lablanche, seeing now what was the trouble. “Two hats are indeed too much for a man without a head.”—Musical Courier.