Music Is the Most Unpleasant and the Most Expensive of All Noises

Théophile Gautier? Molière? Alphonse Karr? Alexander Dumas père? A Mathematician? Prince Albert? Joseph Coyne? Honoré de Balzac? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Operas and orchestra concerts are quite expensive productions. A deprecatory wit once grumbled about the outlays. Here are three versions:

  • Of all the noises known to man, opera is the most expensive.
  • Opera is the most expensive variety of noise.
  • Music is the most expensive of all noises.

This thought has been attributed to the prominent French playwright Molière, but I have been unable to find a good citation. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in the 1845 book “Zigzags” by Théophile Gautier, a French dramatist, novelist, and critic; however, Gautier disclaimed credit and ascribed the barb to an unnamed “géomètre” (“mathematician”). Here is an excerpt in French followed by one possible English translation. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Un soir, j’étais à Drury-Lane. On jouait la Favorite, accommodée au goût britannique, et traduite dans la langue de l’île, ce qui produisait un vacarme difficile à qualifier, et justifiait parfaitement le mot d’un géomètre, qui n’était pas mélomane assurément. — La musique est le plus désagréable et le plus cher de tous les bruits. — Aussi j’écoutais peu, et j’avais le dos tourné au théâtre.

One night I was at Drury Lane. The opera was La Favorite, adapted to the British taste and translated into the language of the island. This produced a din that is difficult to categorize, and perfectly justified the quip of a mathematician, who was certainly not a music lover. — Music is the most unpleasant and the most expensive of all noises. — So I listened little, and my back was turned to the theater.

Molière (pen name of Jean-Baptiste Poquelin) died in 1673, and the earliest linkage of the playwright to the saying found by QI appeared many years later in 1956. Details are given further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Music Is the Most Unpleasant and the Most Expensive of All Noises

Notes:

  1. 1845, Zigzags par Théophile Gautier, Chapter VI: Têtes d’anges, Quote Page 243 and 244, Victor Magen, Éditeur, Paris. (Google Books Full View) link

I Did It For My Own Pleasure. Then I Did It For My Friends. Now I Do It For Money

Virginia Woolf? Molière? Ferenc Molnár? Philippe Halsman? Ad Reinhardt?

Dear Quote Investigator: Recently I was invited to conduct a workshop about writing and creativity. While reviewing materials on this topic I repeatedly came across a humorous quotation that pertains to commercialism. Here is one version:

Writing is like sex. First you do it for love, then you do it for your friends, and then you do it for money.

These words were credited to Virginia Woolf which frankly I found very unlikely. While trying to track down a credible origin the most intriguing attributions I found were to two playwrights: the French master of comedy Molière and the Hungarian dramatist Ferenc Molnár, but I was unable to locate an authoritative answer. Now that I’ve discovered your blog I was hoping that you might like to tackle this.

Quote Investigator: Congratulations on your sleuthing skills. I think that one of the names you give belongs to the true originator of this quip. Different versions of this quotation have been used by creative artists in multiple disciplines.

The Abstract Expressionist painter Ad Reinhardt, famous for his uncompromising philosophy of art that led to canvases covered with shades of black, used a version of the saying in the 1960s. But he did not originate the saying, and he placed quotation marks around it. Reinhardt used the saying to condemn commercial artists who believed that “painting is like prostitution”.

An anecdote set in the 1960s about the acclaimed photographer Philippe Halsman contained a version of the quotation. Halsman famously collaborated with the surrealist artist Salvador Dalí to produce the book “Dali’s Mustache”. He also created many of the cover shots for Life magazine. In the anecdote Halsman said “I drifted into photography like one drifts into prostitution” and then he recited a version of the saying.

But QI believes that the primary locus of origination occurred during a conversation between the prominent drama critic George Jean Nathan and the playwright Ferenc Molnár. The words of Molnár were recorded in a 1932 book “The Intimate Notebooks of George Jean Nathan” as follows [NGN]:

We were sitting one morning two Summers ago, Ferenc Molnár, Dr. Rudolf Kommer and I, in the little garden of a coffee-house in the Austrian Tyrol. “Your writing?” we asked him. “How do you regard it?” Languidly he readjusted the inevitable monocle to his eye. “Like a whore,” he blandly ventured. “First, I did it for my own pleasure. Then I did it for the pleasure of my friends. And now—I do it for money.”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading I Did It For My Own Pleasure. Then I Did It For My Friends. Now I Do It For Money