Most listeners will have read programme notes for music that they are listening to at the opera, the concert hall and the recital room. However, not all notes are helpful. Sometimes too little is said, at other times the pages read like a chapter from a doctoral thesis using a technical analytical tool. Percy A. Scholes, in his compendium of writing from the Musical Times, The Mirror of music 1844-1944 has given a few excellent examples of bad, if not dire programme notes. I give to here with not footnotes and no apologies.
Beethoven’s Sonata in E, for Pianoforte
‘The theme is a connected flow, flowing back when it is varied. The second one is very delicate, but not flowing in one wave like the other. The allegretto is a bearable tragedy- not deep or painful: it comes to the surface with incisive notes, but not often. The second part is its relief, or sleep, and it ends in the same strain. The rondo follows. It has a slightly feverish life: its episodes and variations are of an unstable or capricious nature, except one in G, which is decided, but there is no return to that key.
Musical Times May 1881
An Unspecified Work
‘The last note is the low E in the basses, bass clarinet, harp and tam-tam. This note is based on material supplied by the composer.’
Musical Times July 1909