December 6, 1885
If one could persuade the Philharmonic's subscribers -- that is, if one could persuade them that it is fashionable -- to subscribe to concerts hitherto provided gratis by nature and without endorsement of an enthusiastic impresario -- an eclipse of the moon, for example, or a thunderstorm, or a prairie fire, a sunrise, a sunset, a splendid rainbow, an earthquake, a fata morgana, the eruption of a volcano, or some other of nature's spectacles, either awful or lovely -- what do you suppose would be the first reaction of these amiable people? Would it be horror, admiration, reverence, terror, bliss, anxiety, pleasure, contrition, exaltation or any other powerful sensation that sets the pulse racing, or stops it altogether, that sends a shudder through the soul, beguiles the spirit, shatters the mind or stirs up passion? Nothing of the sort. Their first reaction would find expression in a characteristic itch in the palms of their hands, to rid themselves of which they would decide forthwith to give the good Lord a round of applause for having staged such a splendid show. It is maddening.
Must then, in the name of heaven and all the angels and archangels, the incendiary lightning of enthusiasm always travel to the hands and feet? Must there be clapping and stamping? Must our hands and feet function as portable lightning rods for the electrified spirit? Is applause, I ask, appropriate under all circumstances? Is it a law of nature? Or is it only a foolish, iniquitous habit characteristic of universal thoughtlessness?
When a French soldier, at the victorious sounds of the last movement during a performance of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, impulsively shouted "Vive L'empereur!" this music must have awakened in him the sensation that the eagles of the victorious legions were swirling about his head, and that it behooved him forthwith to advance with fluttering standards to die for the emperor. The sanguine Frenchman showed that he had grasped this music correctly. It had, in any case, made a powerful impression on him. Something similar, according to Richard Wagner, occurred in Leipzig when, during a performance of Liszt's "Dante" Symphony, at a climactic passage in the first