NIGHT at the SYMPHONY
Reprinted: Aug. 29, 1984
is the love of my life. So when a friend had an extra ticket to an all-Beethoven
concert I was happy to go. I hadn't been to the symphony in 20 years. I
explained why was that unlike tonight, the program is usually like
First is Beethoven, or some other popular composer. Then
Mozart (or some other popular composer) is put last. In the middle is the
obligatory Stravinsky, or Bartok - or one of those other
composers whose music is "atonal" (without any key) and
So, to get to hear Mozart and Beethoven, you have to
sit through the noise or else wait in the lobby (and risk being arrested
for looking sinister. Makes you feel like going "Bach into Haydn"
in order not to get into Treble. You might hear some musically-literate
guard place a hand on your shoulder and say "You are under a Rest!
-- For too much sax and violins").
tonight it was to be ALL Beethoven.
When we got to the concert hall, I was amazed to see
only half an orchestra sitting there! The ones I had seen years ago were
twice and three times the number of players. The decline of the financial
fortunes of the arts had become so intense that only the bare bones (or
trombones?) -- only a minimum of players able to fit the score were there.
I knew the players would, therefore, have to really be
good as every mistake would be noticed. In a larger orchestra, a violinist,
for example, who might be a bit off, would have the deviation hidden by
the mass of tone produced by all the other violinists. As the errors tend
to be "canceled out" this way, many orchestras sound better than
their players might individually. But tonight they had to be on the mark.
(But in other concerts with atonal compositions -- should I say
-- how would anyone ever know an "error" was
And I was impressed by the playing. There were a few
minor mistakes, but nothing major nor diminished.
So the talent was still there. It wasn't a full house,
but there were a lot of people.
Why have symphonies all over been losing support, favor
In the course of the evening, my suspicions about that
Many in the audience "liked" classical music,
but few understood it. A number of new people began clapping in between
the movements of the symphony. (But they only did it once, after
feeling the icy glares of those "in-the-know" burrowing past
the raised hairs on the backs of their necks, when they committed this
I smiled and clapped with them, so they wouldn't feel
lonely. But it came home to me again: The whole atmosphere of this kind
of event. Many are afraid, feeling there is a "wall" that separates
them from others who, stern as Mount Rushmore's visages, tap
one finger unerringly aware of every note, every beat, each
What does it all mean, these masses of notes? Much is
likeable on the surface especially Mozart, who always provides clear and
lyrical melodies for the uninitiated.
My friend, hearing this train of thought (as, boor that
I am. I was muttering and "dancing" in my seat throughout the
wonderful music), said, "What do I know? I'm just a dumb lawyer.
But I like classical music. Does it matter to know what is going on in
He read the program notes. But as these were a brief
orgiastic reverie of flowery nonsense about the "tempest-tossed innards
of Beethoven's soul," ad nauseam, they explained nothing.
I told him that to know what was "going on"
would increase the enjoyment 100 times. But, the way concerts were given
it was all archaic. No wonder there was only half an orchestra. Not only
for years have they had to play all that modern, atonal, arrhythmic noise
that has been foisted upon them by the modernists, through use of their
powerful perches in universities (and losing attendance at concerts from
that) but also, they are playing to untutored audiences who have no idea
what a sonata is, much less sonata-form.
We are taught virtually nothing in substance about the
arts in grade school (aside from dates, names and scandals: e.g., Van Gogh
cut off his ear and sent it to his lover., etc).
What the "benefactors" save in taxes (and
lose in revenue) by not funding education which really teaches the arts
is no doubt a greater sum than now given to the arts and symphonies and
These problems are contributing to the decline of the
arts. It's like watching the disappearance of Latin: Inexorable --
unless public policy is changed.
New policies could include tickets at a less
oriented price. If they can't fill the good seats anyway, why have those
attending sitting mostly in poor seats, rubbing it in to students, etc?
Subsidies could be given allowing conducters, artists
and performers to make paid visits to schools to explain their art and
Relax the formal "holy" atmosphere.
could make short remarks about works to be performed. Excerpts could be
played as examples of things to listen for. At the very least, program
notes could have better explanations, written in our native
For example, the Beethoven 5th Symphony was on this
Everyone (almost) knows the basic four-note theme (Da-Da-Da-Dummm
-- see picture above for the notes). Sticking only with this four-note
rhythm, Beethoven wrote the symphony based upon it, building a beautiful
architecture from the barest mud. Could you know this and fail to enjoy
the work all the more?
Why do we need the sanctified mystique surrounding the
"Symphony" (a word said with awe and dread) that keeps so many
away, and turns the arts, firstly, into dependency upon wealthier classes
and secondly, into a cloistered relic hidden away from the vitality of
daily public life as a result of that dependency?
It was all-Beethoven. Tonal music -- not atonal (as Henry
Pleasants wrote: "Modern music is neither modern nor music").
The crowds came. They were willing to hear it, novice and seasoned alike.
Surely there is a lesson there.
Link: A Night
All art © Greenwich/Bob Fink.
Dec.1999 -- TEL# (306) 244-0679 or (306) 931-2189
1829 Arlington Avenue, Saskatoon, Sask.,
1997 award-winning essay, Neanderthal Flute plays
of do, re, mi scale, internationally reknowned & featured in
such as: Scientific American, Science, Globe & Mail, London Times,
On the natural forces pushing diatonic (do re mi) scale into
existence across time & various cultures;
Essay "Evidence of Harmony In Ancient Music (and
Oldest Known Song)";
(Publicly available books on the origin of music, 1985,
(Book on Origin of Music -- Libraries only
(Amazing computer program composes music -- nominated by
Magazine editors for their 1996 awards meet. Explains evolution of
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