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Classical Notes

Eine Kleine Billardmusik

Posted at 11:20 AM on October 9, 2006 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

October is Billiard Appreciation Month, and since this is the big Mozart 250 anniversary year, I thought we should clear up a little misconception. Many sources will tell you that Mozart was, among his many talents, an expert billiard player. Not really.

Mozart loved billiards. He owned a billiard table and 12 cues! He composed at the billiard table. He even sought out the great billiard players who came to town (Vienna) and played them for high stakes, but I doubt he went home with the money.

It was Mozart's friend, the Irish tenor Michael Kelly, who said he was good: 'Many and many a game have I played with him, but always came off second best.' Of course, Wolfie was playing him on his own table, and he knew all the funny rolls and dead spots in the rails.

There's a nice little piece about Mozart and Billiards on the Mozartforum.

There have been a number of musicians with a strong interest in billiards. Mendelssohn was said to be quite good at the game (he was good at everything!). A pianist-rival of Beethoven's, Joseph Wölfl, was also known for his “artistic” billiard playing, but he often lost a large portion of his concert fees playing the game (there's one born every minute!). Albert Ketèlbey, the English composer who made his name with In a Monastery Garden, retired to the Isle of Wight to spend time with his hobbies of writing and billiards. Years ago I also read somewhere that Heitor Villa-Lobos was once the billiard champion of Rio de Janeiro, but I haven't been able to find that since. This site says he loved "pool" but in the picture he's obviously shooting a massé shot in carom billiards.

My passion in the billiard world is 3-cushion billiards. It turns out that one of the foremost billiard authors alive today, Robert Byrne, has some pretty close connections to the world of music. He is a board member of the Dubuque Symphony, and used to be married to the daughter of Jascha Heifetz.

I'm happy to say that when Bob Byrne is in town, he plays with us at the Minneapolis Billiard Club.