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London Music in 1888-89 by Bernard Shaw

London Music in 1888-89 (1937)

by Bernard Shaw

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Shaw on music is endlessly readable because he is endlessly knowledgeable. He is also remarkably prophetic. Some of the things he was saying about music and musicians a century ago, eccentric in their time, are commonplaces today. As a Wagnerian, and a partisan of the 'music of the future', he was ready for Schonberg before Schonberg was born...

Non-musical Shavians have generally assumed that their idol was able to sustain so unstaunchable a flow of musical journalism through verbal trickery, egotistical bluff, and a background of domestic vocalism and scrambling through operatic scores at the piano. He had, in fact, a very thorough musical training, though he despised the academies. Like all of us musical autodidacts, he taught himself the elements with the Novello primers. He knew the entire terminology of the craft but took no pride in it.
added by SnootyBaronet | editThe Times Literary Supplement, Anthony Burgess
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When my maiden novel, called Immaturity, was printed fifty years after it was written, I prefaced it with some account of the un-happy-go-lucky way in which I was brought up, ending with the nine years of shabby genteel destitution during which my attempts to gain a footing in literature were a complete and apparently hopeless failure.
After the malediction, the valediction. I have now to make a ruinous, a desolating, an incredible announcement. This is the last column from the hand of Corno di Bassetto which will appear in The Star. Friday will no longer be looked forward to in a hundred thousand households as the day of the Feast of Light.
What we want is not music for the people, but bread for the people, rest for the people, immunity from robbery and scorn for the people, hope for them, enjoyment, equal respect and consideration, life and aspiration, instead of drudgery and despair. When we get that I imagine the people will make tolerable music for themselves, even if all Beethoven's scores perish in the interim.
I did with my ears what I do with my eyes when I stare. What followed was no more a mere diminuendo of sound than a beautiful sunset is a mere diminuendo of light.
It is infuriating to be misunderstood in this way, particularly as it is admitted in literary circles that I write the best English in the world.
Paris is, as usual, imposing on American greenhorns and British Philistines as a city artistic before everything, with specialities in cookery and well-dressed women. I am not an artistic novice, English or American; and I am not to be taken in. Paris is what it has always been: a pedant-ridden failure in everything that it pretends to lead. Mozart found it so more than a hundred years ago: Wagner found it so half a century ago: Corno di Bassetto regrets to say that he finds it so today.
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