...were better men than we are.
Here's a video I uploaded to youtube a while ago, but never posted here, before:
The music is from the 3rd movement (Adagio) of Sir Edward Elgar's 1st Symphony.
The visuals are pieced together from various photos of the Malvern hills, where Elgar lived.
So here's the thing:
This symphony was an absolutely sensational success, at its World Premiere in Manchester, and at it's repeat, a few days later, in London, in 1908.
People were climbing over chairs & standing on shoulders to get a view of the composer, when he came out to acknowledge the thunderous applause.
But it wasn't the simple grandeur of the opening march...
...nor even the concluding apotheosis of that march, assaulted by wave after wave of escalating orchestral violence...
...that roused them to their greatest enthusiasm.
No. It was the Adagio - the infinitely sensitive Adagio - that brought them to tears, and to their feet.
* * * * *
It was the work of centuries to build an audience capable of such a response to such music.
All gone, now. All gone.
If only I could have been there.
But I was born too late.
* * * * *
Sorry - I should have noted that what I find most remarkable about the audience reaction at the premiere of Elgar's First Symphony is that this was brand new music - and music in a very advanced idiom - at the time.
Hundreds of grown men sitting still for an hour's worth of abstract art - and then going wild with ethusiasm at the end? Now that is amazing. Where else in all of human history does one see the like?
But in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the audience for "classical" music didn't just accept new music - it demanded it. New works by composers like Brahms and Tchaikovsky and Dvorak and Richard Strauss and Jan Sibelius (not to mention Edward Elgar) were hotly anticipated, and their premieres were major public events.
Old stuff by composers like Bach and Mozart was brought out for an airing, now and then, and the writers of program notes begged listeners to give such stuff a chance. But it was an uphill struggle: what the audience really wanted was the latest thing.
Flash forward a few short decades, and all that had changed - utterly and, it seems, irrevocably. The concert hall had become a museum where patrons dozed comfortably to the familiar masterpieces of the past, and dreaded new music like the plague. The only way to get the audience to sit still for the premiere of a new work was to schedule it for the middle of the program - between, say, a Rossini Overture and a Tchaikovsky Symphony - so that they couldn't get out of it by arriving late or leaving early.
So what had changed? Was it the audience? Or was it the music on offer?