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This is Your Lucky Day!

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"Horse Shoe Rag" by Julia Lee Niebergall. Indianapolis: J.H. Aufderheide & Co., 1911.

Summer means baseball, and baseball has a long history of superstition, but before you decide to stop bathing after your next no-hitter,  remember that the performing arts is far from immune to the allure of old wives’ tales. The most notable superstition in the repertoire may be that of theater professionals who refer to one of Shakespeare’s tragedies as “The Scottish Play” for fear that uttering its name inside a theater will mean certain doom.

So we are indeed lucky that generations of composers have resisted triskadekaphobia, or fear of the number thirteen, and took their chances using the cursed number to identify or even inspire their music.  The Performing Arts Encyclopedia has more than thirteen such pieces, including the manuscript score of  Johannes Brahms’ Begräbniss-Gesang: für Chor u. Blaseinstrumente, op. 13, Nicolò Paganini’s Quartetto 13, per violino, viola, chitarra, e violoncello, and a holograph, in ink, of the 2nd movement of Beethoven’s String quartet no. 13, op. 130.

Still, one wonders at the fate of  the Rochester institution to which Marie E.  Whiting dedicated her “Number 13 School Grand March, ” and one can only imagine the injuries sustained by those who dared to dance Carl Pieler’s  “Polka de la Cour, Op. 13” or Oscar Schmidt’s “Schottish, Op. 13, no. 2.” The Library of Congress can not be held responsible for what might happen if you to listen to Thelonious Monk‘s great composition  “Friday the Thirteenth,” from the album The Thelonious Monk Orchestra at Town Hall, or the late Alex Chilton’s wistful paean to growing up, “Thirteen,” from Big Star’s classic debut album No. 1 Record.

But just to be safe – the horse shoe can’t hurt.

In the Muse would also like to remind you that additional batches of photographs from the William P. Gottlieb Collection will be uploaded to Flickr every other friday for the next several months. This week’s set includes portraits of Louis Armstrong, Leonard Bernstein, Sidney Bechet, Mildred Bailey, and Cab Calloway.

And finally, a preview of the Music Division’s  2010-11 Concert Season, complete with ticket availability dates,  is now available online. Watch this space for more about this exciting season.

Comments (3)

  1. What is the history in the theatre when one wishes
    a performer “Break a leg,”
    lnstead of “Good Luck”?

  2. Theo,
    I apologize for not answering your question sooner. Reference Specialist Kevin Lavine compiled some of the available research for me:

    Curiously, there appears to be as many explanations (at least via electronic sources) offered for the origins of the phrase “break a leg!” as there are sources for these explanations!

    The major dictionaries that include etymological sources (i.e., the Oxford English Dictionary, the Webster’s New International Dictionary) don’t even touch the phrase in their substantial entries on these words (and with such a complicated linguistic issue, who could blame them?).

    The American Heritage Dictionary — the only print source that I found for this phrase’s origins — offers the following concise entry: “‘Break a leg!’ The origin of this imperative to a performer about to go onstage is unclear; it may have been a translation of the German Hals und Beinbruch… (‘Break your neck and leg’), also of unknown origin. Equally mysterious is the Italian equivalent, In bocca di lupe, ‘Into the mouth of the wolf.’ [c. 1900].”

    Other than this source, there are many more electronic sources that attempt to address the origins of this enigmatic phrase. Even Wikipedia devotes a page to listing possible sources for this phrase, which apparently has equivalents in many world cultures. The most interesting electronic sources follow. (While I can’t vouch for their level of scholarship, their research at least appears meticulous).

    “The Straight Dope” (a column regularly appearing in, among other syndicated publications, the Washington City Paper) : ( )

    “World Wide Words” : ( )

    “The Phrase Finder” : (

    It seems clear — at least to judge from the conclusions reached by the available sources — that the origins of this phrase are particularly obscure and fascinating ones!

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