Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Over my head

Wittgenstein, enjoying a joke.

This is from a memoir of Ludwig Wittgenstein by his former pupil Maurice Drury:

'After tea Johnson played some of Bach's Forty-eight Preludes and Fugues. Wittgenstein told me he admired Johnson's playing. On the way back to Trinity he told me that at one of these afternoons Johnson had played badly, and he knew it himself, but the audience had applauded loudly. This annoyed Johnson, so by way of revenge he gave as an encore the accompaniment only of a Beethoven violin sonata, which of course was meaningless without the violin part. This gesture seemed to please and amuse Wittgenstein.'

Ways in which, had I been there, I would have failed to get the joke which pleased and amused Wittgenstein:

1) I wouldn't have noticed Johnson was playing badly.
2) I wouldn't have noticed the audience were applauding indiscriminatingly.
3) I might have noticed Johnson was annoyed, but I wouldn't have known why.
4) I wouldn't have recognised the Beethoven violin sonata.
5) I might have noticed the piece sounded odd, but I wouldn't have known why, or that it wasn't meant to sound that way.
6) Even if I had understood all of the above... I don't think I'd have realised the choice of the sonata was intended as a rebuke to the audience for clapping the player's previous poor performance too enthusiastically. That seems to me quite a... subtle point.

I suppose what's happening here is I'm coming to the shocking conclusion that Wittgenstein was a cleverer man than I am. And also that I slightly regret not living in a world in which people take their revenge through their selection of Beethoven sonatas. Though, of course, the above shows that quite possibly people around me are doing things like this all the time, and I have simply never had Wittgenstein around to explain them to me.