Readings — From the December 2018 issue

Box-Seat Drivers

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From complaint letters addressed to the New York Philharmonic and subsequent responses, stored in the orchestra’s archive. The letters are dated from 1952–1953. Dimitri Mitropoulos was the music director of the Philharmonic from 1949 to 1958. Barbara Haws, the Philharmonic’s archivist and historian for thirty-four years, who launched the online database, retired in August.

letter: Do you sincerely believe that you have a right to impose your personal whims from week to week upon an eager, music-wise public? What possible justification is there for such trash as that horrible Berg opus, a whole evening of Columbus, and other banal pieces which you appear to have selected chiefly by virtue of their obscurity?

response: It is certainly difficult to answer such an intelligent and forthright letter as you have addressed to Mr. Mitropoulos. We feel that in the long run the majority of our subscribers will stick it out.

response to response: I am sorry that Mr. Mitropoulos was unable to give this matter his attention. Is he aware that listeners make for the exits long before intermission, and that the lounge resounds with expressions of disgust? Please don’t feel obliged to continue this correspondence.

 

letter: Why, oh why and what, oh what is that awful screeching and squeaking and chaotic succession of noises called Violin Concerto Opus 36 (Schoenberg) which ruined the program that I look forward to so much every Sunday; and who, oh who can endure it without protest? How anyone can even make a pretense of understanding or appreciating such stuff is beyond me. My following criticism of Gertrude Stein expresses my feeling on all such trash:

With tongue in her cheek
She weaves words without pattern,
While idle fools seek to interpret her plan,
And as they relate these letters so slattern
News columns dilate with this folly of man.

And so through the land this senseless sensation
Creates a demand for the words without form,
So with tongue in her cheek she weaves for the nation
Enough words in a week to retire on a farm.

response: From time to time the musical director feels that it is right and necessary to present to the public compositions which reflect modern trends in music. Audiences all over the world will accept or reject for posterity what is being written today.

 

letter: Why must our worthy musical director do these things to us? I am referring to the Concerto for Violin and Orchestra of Schoenberg’s Opus 36. I have no technical musical training. If I were one of but a few who could not appreciate this composition, this letter would never have been written. However, the adverse comments I heard during the intermission lead me to believe that ninety-five percent, if not more, of the audience was in no better position to appreciate this type of thing than was I myself.

response: We would not, of course, deign to argue with your opinion because after all musical taste is a very personal matter.

 

letter: Why the N.Y. Philharmonic Orchestra and such an eminent violinist as Louis Krasner want to monkey with such a thing as this so-called concerto by Schoenberg, I’ll never know. But to foist it on the radio public is an absolute crime. Such a series of squeaks, squawls, and grunts has set back the cause of good symphonic music by ten years. I enclose $5 to help in a small way with your orchestra expenses.

response: Thank you for making the effort to write us a letter. If I speak personally as a concertgoer, I agree. As a fair-minded person, you will agree with me, however, that the majority of Mr. Mitropoulos’s decisions are good ones. I do not think that your ears will be tortured again this season.

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