Academic journal article Southern Cultures

"Hot Music on the Half-Shell for Two"

Academic journal article Southern Cultures

"Hot Music on the Half-Shell for Two"

Article excerpt

Anton Rubinstein's Southern Fan

With that, some several p'licemen run up, and I had to simmer down. But I would a fit any fool that laid hands on me, for I was bound to hear Ruby out or die.

--George William Bagby

In 1913 a stalwart group of music lovers in Atlanta braved a January evening and made their way downtown to Taft Hall. They had no trouble finding seats. Only weeks before, their evening's entertainment had unceremoniously evaporated when lackluster ticket sales convinced the featured soprano to cancel her performance. The city's embarrassment momentarily subsided, however, on this winter night. The work of Smetana and Chopin soothed the enraptured, if somewhat sparse, audience, and generally drowned out the dull thuds of men exercising on the gym floor directly above the recital hall. Having effectively rendered the touching "Bedouin Love Song," the featured basso, Myron W. Whitney, began "Ah, Love But a Day." Only a few short measures into the piece, however, a resounding crash on the upper floor sent a large chunk of ceiling plaster plummeting onto the stage, barely missing the soloist. Whitney manfully continued, but the spell was broken. After a few minutes, the concert's organizers called a halt to the remaining program before additional plaster missiles caused greater harm than merely crushing the audience's dignity.

The South has long suffered under the perception that it could not appreciate music. For Atlantans, the Taft Hall debacle sadly symbolized their valiant but futile attempt to counter this image. Of course, southerners have always liked good music, but concert-going Atlantans saw a difference between Music Appreciation and appreciating music. Rarely has the clash between the two been explored with more loving glee than in George William Bagby's humorous sketch, "How Rubenstein [sic] Played." Bagby was born in 1828 halfway between Charlottesville and Lynchburg, and initially trained in medicine before taking up the pen. Over the years he edited a number of Virginia newspapers including the Southern Literary Messenger, and he gained renown, particularly in his native state, for his lectures and comical writings. …

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