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Unit 37 – Orchestral Anecdotes

Difficulty: Easy

Time: 9 minutes


The passages below have been adapted from ‘Orchestra’, edited by Andre Previn


Passage I
We prepared for the Proms with Sir Henry Wood, he had everything planned out and timed to the minute. He had his big watch on the music-stand, and at 10 a.m. precisely his baton went down. You learnt things so thoroughly with him, but in the most economical time. Our Wagner nights, whole acts from the operas, we did that on just the morning rehearsal. Before I knew him he had the reputation for being a tartar. He took my teacher to lunch, which was always a bad sign, and she had her notice when she got home. But he changed. He met Lady Jessie and she changed him. He had been badly dressed, awful clothes. Jessie got him a new evening suit, instead of the mouldy green one, and he flourished yellow gloves and a cigar. She changed his clothes and he became human, and began to look after the orchestra. He began to give us a dinner after the last night of the Proms.


1. Which of the following is not implied by Passage 1?

  • A      Sir Henry Wood didn’t take people he likes to lunch
  • B      Sir Henry Wood fell in love with Lady Jessie
  • C      He was a tough and mean
  • D      He was a robot


Passage II

Arthur Fiedler is so old, it’s so difficult for him now. He gets himself up for special concerts, but day in day out his concerts are, oh, unbelievable. He’s very, very old. Sometimes for Pops concerts we go out to Fitchburg, Worcester, places like that, and there’s always a clause if Fiedler is sick, the concert is cancelled. He’s the star. The audience come for him, not for the music. Well, that sort of thing happens at Tanglewood also, say when Bernstein comes, then there’ll be 15,000 people at least. A lot of it is just a personality trip, and Fiedler it’s particularly upsetting because he is now so bad. If any of us in the orchestra played the way he conducts we’d be fired for sure. Yet nobody cares.


2. ‘Unbelievable’ (line 2) is closest in meaning to:

  • A      Inconceivable
  • B      Upsetting
  • C      Brilliant
  • D      Strange



Passage III
I had a heart attack in 1959. I was still recovering when Klemperer came as guest conductor. Well, the programme had a lot of oboe in it – a Brandenberg, Beethoven Eroica, Mozart 41, I think – and I felt I could only manage half the programme, so I went to ask Klemperer if that was all right. He simply said, ‘No’. I was rather surprised, but I thought perhaps he hadn’t quite got the circumstances, and knowing that he’d been through a heart attack himself, I thought I’d appeal to his feelings. ‘But Dr Klemperer, let me explain, I’m still recovering from a heart attack.’ The answer was still no. That made me blazing mad. I saw his daughter outside as I left the room, and I told her ‘so much for your father’s humanity.’ Half an hour later she came to find me and said, ‘My father has reconsidered.’ Yes, he was a good conductor, but nobody is that good.
The leader of the Philharmonia told me that when he was leaving the orchestra he went to see Klemperer. He’d done so much with the old man, even played his trio, and he felt some kind of relationship with Klemperer. He was sorry to be leaving. After his last concert he felt he should go and say something. He said, ‘Dr Klemperer, after all these years this is my last concert with you …’ And Klemperer replied. ‘What you want me to do, cry?’


3. Based on evidence from Passage III, we can infer that the writer:

  • A      Didn’t expect Klemperer to grant him time off
  • B      Played the oboe
  • C      Never played in Klemperer’s trio
  • D      Had a troubled relationship with Klemperer


Passage IV

One of the fellows in the Halle fell in love with a young woman – a singer – and they had quite the time together for a while. Then his wife heard of it, and there was a hell of a row. She went to see Barbirolli, hoping he could intervene, you see. She went to his room in the Free Trade Hall at the interval, and he was having his usual whisky. ‘What can I do for you, my dear?’ he said. ‘It’s my husband, he’s got this young woman, and I don’t know what to do.’ And there she was sobbing away. ‘You know,’ he said, trying to comfort her in his kindly way, ‘there’s nothing to worry about, he’s playing better than ever.’

Barbirolli was a lovable fellow, very human. He was always careful not to pick on anyone by name, give him a hard time. Once we were recording for Pye and a fiddle came in wrong. ‘Cretin,’ shouted Barbirolli, then immediately added, ‘some of you.’ He was lacking in confidence really, perhaps because of that bitter experience in New York. He liked to have all the band there, whether they were needed or not, in case he had to change a piece at short notice. He’d take the trombones all the way to Harrogate, just for the National Anthem. But he liked music – he really liked it.


4. Which of the following, if true, would be the most reassuring inferrence that the wife could make from Barbirolli’s statement that ‘there’s nothing to worry about, he’s playing better than ever’.

  • A      Her husband’s job in the orchestra is secure
  • B      Her husband is happier than he has ever been
  • C      Her husband’s affair is effecting his performance negatively
  • D      He’s playing so well that there will soon be no need for singers in the orchestra


Questions 5 and 6 refer to all of the above passages:


5. Which of the four conductors, described in the passages above, was the most famous during his time?

  • A      Barbirolli
  • B      Klemperer
  • C      Fiedler
  • D      Wood


6. Based on evidence from the passages, which conductor would have been least likely to say:

“Johnson, if you’re late for my rehearsals again you will be removed from this orchestra!”

  • A      Barbirolli
  • B      Klemperer
  • C      Fiedler
  • D      Wood


The sample questions on this site vary in difficulty in order to accommodate different levels of ability and to encourage learning among as many students as possible. Questions, such as those above, marked as ‘Easy’ or ‘Easy/Medium’ are designed to be easier than the average GAMSAT Section 1 unit. If you find these are not challenging you, it might be time to consider downloading a full Section 1 practice paper, and test yourself more thoroughly on questions that are representative of the difficulty of the actual GAMSAT exam. 


  • Answers:
    Q1: D
    ‘he became human’ is a figure of speech which is there to suggest that he became a nice man – he was previously inhumanely strict and mean. It does not mean he was a robot

    Q2: D
    The audience come for him, not for the music. He’s not good at conducting anymore because he is so old, but nobody cares. the concerts are not musically brilliant, or necessarily upsetting in any way

    Q3: B
    The writer was concerned that he would not be able to play the full show partly because there was so much oboe in it. A lot of oboe would only be an issue if the writer was the oboe player.
    His surprise when Klemperer said no shows that he expected to be given half the night off. We don’t know that he didn’t play n Klemperer’s trio, just that the former head of the orchestra did. His relationship was clearly not so troubled that he couldn’t go and make a case to have some time off playing. The second anecdote in the passage shows that Klemperer’s ruthlessness was not personal.

    Q4: D
    She went to see Barbirolli hoping he could intervene. What the wife wanted was to have her husband back, and him not to see the young singer anymore. D would assure her that the singer will soon be removed from the orchestra – this is similar to the result the wife could have hoped for from a Barbirollian intervention.

    Q5: C
    Fiedler. The passage is all about how famous he was. Even when he could no longer conduct people still came to see him.

    Q6: A
    Barbirolli lacked confidence and never singled anyone out or picked on anyone personally. He is therefore the least likely to say this.

    Gamsat Sample Questions

    June 17, 2012

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