Category Archives: Audience reception

Steering the audience’s taste

The following advice appeared in the British Journal the Musical Times in January 1879:

A young student wishes us to tell him what to do under the following circumstances: He has been carefully educated in music, for which he has considerable aptitude and an intense love; he is an efficient pianist, and knows most of the classical works; but when he goes amongst his friends and plays what he has studied, he is requested to "give them something pretty", as they have no desire to be made miserable or to be sent to sleep … We should counsel him to make the best of it, and by all means rather to assert his own intellectual musical position than to suffer himself to be brought down to the level of theirs.  We remember hearing of a very clever, but firm and resolute man who said that whenever he found that anything did not agree with him, he continued taking it until it did.  Some such principle as this has guided the directors of the Monday Popular Concerts.  At first, we can vouch from our own experience, many of the audience went to sleep; then they began to be a little ashamed of this; because so many of their friends kept awake; gradually they succeeded not only in keeping their eyes but their ears open; and this point gained, victory was certain, for those who were not conquered were taken prisoners.  Let our student profit by this example, and remembering that he has a mission rather to instruct than amuse, select such pieces for performance as will lead his audience by degrees to appreciation of the best works. He will find that only two or three will listen at first; but if he persevere, and, above all, have patience to wait, he may rest satisfied that the rest will follow their example.

Cited in: Scholes, Percy (1947) The Mirror of Music: 1844-1944London: Novello, p. 307.