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.


Anonymous said...

I must refute your hypothesis based on the following postulates: You are the source of The Traveling Lemon. The ever-in-play Lemon is magnificent. You are magnificent.

Alex C said...

If he's played Chopsticks might you have felt suitably admonished?

Of course anyone else would have been quietly pleased to have got away with a poor performance and a kindly audience, and given them something thy could hum on the way home by Mozart by way of a thank you.

Sounds like he was something of an arse frankly...

Eclectic Man said...

Would Johnson have preferred people to throw beer bottles at him?

Wittgenstein made major contributions to philosophy, you, however, not content with the magnificent 'Travelling Lemon", are also the inventor of the game 'Yellow Car!', and have re-defined, at least for me, the word "brilliant". (I've never read any Wittgenstein, so I ay be wrong about the philosophy bit.)

(Postscript: Some of Beethoven's violin sonatas were played beautifully last night and broadcast on BBC Radio 3, and should be available on the BBC iPlayer for about a month.)

Tealin said...

There seems to be little doubt Wittgenstein was cleverer than the vast majority of people ... but to pin an appraisal of intelligence on esoteric knowledge of classical music seems a little unfair; I mean, you could be a world-class expert on sketch comedy of the 1970s or the history of Disney animation and be just as objectively 'clever.' We tend to assume stuff perceived as high-brow requires more intelligence when often it's just a matter of exposure. Granted, the sort of cultural background that introduces you to Beethoven violin sonatas usually comes with access to higher education and enough disposable income and leisure time to pursue intellectual pastimes, but it's not necessarily an indicator of intelligence itself, rather the sort of environment where intelligence could flourish if present. I know someone who's passionate about classical music and believes everything Fox News tells him, so ... it's not a necessary association. Wittgenstein and Johnson shared a frame of reference which you do not, but that is just a frame of reference, not an IQ.

I wouldn't go fretting about your cleverness if I were you ... For all his reams of philosophy I bet Wittgenstein didn't get out anything so concisely observant as the Goats & Daffodils sketch ...

Anonymous said...

'Revenge is a Beethoven Sonata best served holed!'

Tabitha said...

"Well,since you ask me for an unconsidered solution.." might the audience have been in the know all along?
They politely applauded the bad performance and were ready to go home and remove their uncomfortable shoes/corsets, then bloody stupid Johnson played his "revenge" piece and the audience sat again and gritted their teeth.
If Johnson got hit by a ripe tomato directly after the performance, Wittgenstein is mum on the subject.

Lexi Revellian said...

When I'm wrestling with a particularly knotty bit of the WIP, I sometimes wish I was as brilliant as John Finnemore. I've never wished I was as brilliant as Wittgenstein.

The case rests, m'lud.

Valerie Conroy said...

I have listened to Cabin Pressure and JFSP repeatedly, as well as many of the interviews you have given. You always make me laugh and you know far more about literature and music than I ever will. I have never even heard of Wittgenstein until now. I would much rather laugh with you than be ridiculed by someone who obviously did not want my appreciation. As Arthur would say, "You are brilliant!" Cheer up Finnemore!

Laura said...

Thus it shall be inscribed upon your tombstone:
John Finnemore
Neither as clever nor as obnoxious as Ludwig Wittgenstein

Anonymous said...

What you forget is that Wittgenstein's brother Paul was a professional pianist [who incidentally lost his right arm in WWI] and that the family had a concert room, with many, many concerts from excellent musicians of all sorts,so he would have been very familiar with all that stuff.

Philippa Sidle said...

Never mind. Wittgenstein couldn't have written Cabin Pressure.

Rachel said...

This made me laugh, thank you! Also, not noticing other people's petulance is like apple throwing: the secret to a lot of happiness.

Tim said...

Well, since you asked me for a bit of meaningless twentieth century trivia, I believe I may now know something about the famous philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. Seriously, I am always looking for ways to work your humour and quotes into conversation, and apparently so are the people over at the Wolf359 podcast. Please check them out. Sometimes I think they're writing Cabin Pressure...in space. (cue cheesy science fiction music)

tuppence said...

As my cousin was fond of saying, "No one likes a clever dick."
You're clever, but not a dick - brilliant!

Triquii said...

Of course its perfectly possible that the only way Witty knew this to have been the case was because the insufferably smug Johnson told him about it later, and Witty omitted to mention this small but crucial fact to make himself seem more erudite and learned than his audience. Of course, would any academic ever consider presenting themselves in a favourable light solely for the massaging of their own ego?

If its any consolation Wittgenstein never did a good 'man walks into a shop' sketch either.

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Leslie Schramm said...


There you go, good to follow in the tradition.

Claire said...

I was just listening to the 2016 BBC Radio Comedy Awards at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival They had some fantastic entries this year, so you (and the other judges) all had your work cut out for you with regard to choosing a winner!

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Oofy P said...

Well Wittgenstein once tried to write a book of philosophy solely from jokes. He gave up because he didn't have a good enough sense of humour. After all, and I do apologise for the racial stereotype I'm about to refer to, he was German.

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