The Music Criticism of Hugo Wolf

By Hugo Wolf; Henry Pleasants | Go to book overview

82. A Hot Time at
the Philharmonic

April 25, 1886

Things got pretty rough at the last Philharmonic concert. A bitter battle broke out over Liszt's "Mephisto Waltz." It was the standees and a part of the gallery, resolved to give their all, against the parterre, the mountain against the marsh. On the one side we had youth, intelligence, idealism, good judgment, enthusiasm and conviction; on the other dullness, frivolity, debility, ignorance, arrogance, materialism. Such were the contending forces.

There was a lot of applause, but a lot of hissing, too. Since, as we all know, these Semitic hissing sounds traditionally served the "chosen people" as shibboleth [to distinguish Gileadites from Ephraimites] in combat with their neighbors, it was not hard to determine who it was that so emphatically proclaimed both their dissent and their identity. Indeed, these "chosen people" habitually make a great show of their exquisite taste. They are always ready to recognize in Beethoven a good composer. And yet there are those who see nothing heroic in the courage of such convictions. What, then, can we call courageous? Let it pass. These excellent and generous souls will surely enrich the National Guard with a doughty legion of tailors, and thus be of service to the state. You can take an oath on that.

To take seriously the ludicrous behavior of these worthy parterre subscribers toward the works of a genius such as Liszt would be like punishing children's bad manners with the rack. We are not so cruel. But it is well to look for what it is that causes the public to behave like an ill- mannered child and to think like a well-groomed cad. How is it, we ask, that Liszt's compositions are rejected by the majority of our degenerate public? The answer is made uncommonly easy for me, since it is contained in the question. But then why, someone could object, do Beethoven, Mozart. Haydn, etc., appeal to this same degenerate public? The objection is so banal, the answer so obvious, that any blockhead could handle it easily. But should someone choose to ask me what I mean by a degenerate public. I accept the challenge gladly, and am ready with the answer: a degenerate public is one that is content to be the ward of a degenerate press.

It is a public of newspaper readers. I hat is the source of all other evils. That is the source of the thoughtlessness, frivolity, dependence, distraction, insensibility and, above all, the bias against those works condemned to death by the

-208-

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