Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing

Haiku Wednesday: “Got your nose!” Shostakovich’s The Nose

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Bust of physicist Robert Millikan at Caltech with shiny nose

This is a bust of physicist Robert Millikan at Caltech.  Students rub his nose for good luck.

Schnozz, schnozzola, beak,
Proboscis, snout, bill, honker,
Elephant trunk, snoot.

In a candy store,
A nose by any other
Name would smell a sweet.1

“Got your nose!” is a game you can play with little kids—once.  You lightly pinch their nose, and show them the tip of your thumb between your fingers (I hope that wasn’t a spoiler for anyone).  You can play it once because they either a) reach for their nose and realize it’s still there, then give you a look, sometimes playing along with the joke; or b) reach for their nose, then start crying and screaming, “Give me back my nose!”  In either event, the game is rapidly over.  Chess it’s not.

But what if “got your nose!” actually happened?2  Shostakovich wrote an opera, The Nose, based on a story by Gogol about a man who wakes one morning to find his nose is missing and the absurdities that ensue, especially when the authorities get involved.  I can picture the American version of the story:

Emergency telephone operator:  “911, what is the nature of your emergency?”
Man:  “My nose is missing; someone stole my nose!”
Operator:  “…Sir, how old are you?”

However, in Shostakovich’s version, the nose remains at large, and attempts a daring escape.  This seems like a fitting spot for the finale of a PDQ Bach cantata.

You can see Shostakovich’s surreal masterpiece in English translation on The Opera Platform beginning November 9, 2016 at 2:30PM (19:30 GMT/UTC).  Click the Opera Platform link for more details on the performance.  It is a production of the Royal Opera House.

I hope you’ll get a chance to watch—this is nothing to sniff at.

_____

1With apologies to William Shakespeare, and, well, everybody.

2Not quite “got your nose,” but astronomer Tycho Brahe lost his nose in a duel.  He wore a gold and silver one to replace it.

Non-musical references
(which I found after writing the haiku, and thinking about how many nose-related English words contain schn or sn, and wondering how many other people had already used “a nose by any other name”)

  1. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/speaking-of-science/wp/2016/09/12/a-nose-by-any-other-name-biology-may-affect-the-way-we-invent-words/
  2. Blasi, Damian, et al., “Sound-meaning association biases evidenced across thousands of languages,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, Vol 113 No 39, September 27, 2016 pp 10818-10823. Preprint viewable at https://www.bioinf.uni-leipzig.de/Publications/PREPRINTS/16-017.pdf
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2 thoughts on “Haiku Wednesday: “Got your nose!” Shostakovich’s The Nose

  1. Can hardly wait. Reminiscent of Sleeper, no?

    Tom

    Like

    • Yes! I had forgotten about the nose cloning scene. The first thing I thought of was the instant pudding scene (and the police getting The Nose‘s nose back to its proper size). Must watch that movie again soon.

      Like

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