Monday, 20 April 2009

Marion M. Scott: Concert Going & its Pitfalls

I recently found these two anecdotes in a copy of the Monthly Musical Record. They are written by the great critic Marion M. Scott.

My worst experience, however, was when I went to Queen's Hall to hear an important new work of a peculiarly sad and philosophic character by a British composer. The whole programme ran to Requiems. Also, an influenza epidemic was raging, and I had been unable to secure anyone to use my second ticket. I was punctual. Entering late came a strange lady and without a 'by your leave' appropriated my spare seat. Time went on, and ten minutes before the choral work drew to its close she began to prepare for the interval. Out came her powder box, mirror and puff-duly applied-then a comb with which she worked away for a considerable time, followed by a lipstick, till at length, all other resources exhausted, she polished her spectacles with deliberation. During a performance of ‘Fledermaus' these evolutions would not have much affected me, but the new work I was to criticize aimed at 'dis­banding its ego.' My own efforts at concentration were utterly disbanded. Worse, my neighbour showed every sign of remaining by me in preference to find­ing her own seat. Then the worm turned. It said: "Madam, I am glad to offer you the hospitality of my seat, but if you wish to sit there, may I ask that you will not do anything to disturb me during the performance?" She gazed at me in blank wonder. "Do anything?" she echoed. "Why, what have I done? I haven't done anything!"

Other types of ordeal are those by darkness, flood and fire. First for the darkness. Many concert givers hold nowadays that music is better heard in darkness than in light. I will not debate that question, but will confine myself to the philistine commonplace, that if there is not to be enough light by which to read the programme, why print it? Where the works performed are well known, the critic probably knows them backwards and forwards and can identify them at a moment's notice. But with a pro­gramme of modern music-especially of 'first per­formances '-this refuge is denied. Either the whole programme must be memorized beforehand, or the critic must come provided with an electric torch. I am beginning to think that (much as a blue pencil belongs to an editor) a torch should always form part of a critic's outfit. Besides being useful at ultra-aesthetic concerts, it is also a present help in trouble when the main fuse of a concert-hall goes (as hap­pened not long ago during a violin recital) or when a whole district, hall and street-approaches alike, are plunged into darkness (as also happened recently).
Marion Scott, Monthly Musical Record September 1935 p153
With thanks to Pamela Blevins for permission to use the photograph of Marion Scott

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