The Demand For Condensed Music by Eugene Field

Story type: Literature

There is a general belief that the mistake made by the managers of the symphony concert in Central Music Hall night before last was in not opening the concert with Beethoven’s “Eroica,” instead of making it the last number on the programme. We incline to the opinion, however, that, in putting the symphony last, the managers complied with the very first requirement of dramatic composition. This requirement is to the effect that you must not kill all your people off in the first act.

There doubtless are a small number of worthy people who enjoy these old symphonies that are being dragged out of oblivion by glass-eyed Teutons from Boston. It may argue a very low grade of intellectuality, spirituality, or whatsoever you may be pleased to call it; but we must confess in all candor, that, much as we revere Mr. Beethoven’s memory, we do not fancy having fifty-five-minute chunks of his musty opi hurled at us.

It is a marvel to us, that, in these progressive times, such leaders as Thomas and Gericke do not respond to the popular demand by providing the public with symphonies in the nutshell. We have condensations in every line except music. Even literature is being boiled down; because in these busy times, people demand a literature which they can read while they run. We have condensed milk, condensed meats, condensed wines,–condensed everything but music. What a joyous shout would go up if Thomas or Gericke would only prepare and announce


What Chicago demands, and what every enterprising and intelligent community needs, is the highest class of music on the “all-the-news-for-two-cents” principle. Blanket-sheet concertizing must go!

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Now, here was this concert, night before last. Two hours and a half to five numbers! Suppose we figure a little on this subject:


Total number of minutes . . . . . . . . . . 150
Total number of pieces . . . . . . . . . . . 5
Minutes to each piece . . . . . . . . . . . 30


Total number of minutes . . . . . . . . . . 150
Hog-slaughtering capacity per minute . . . . 3
Total killing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 450

Figures will not lie, because (as was the reason with George) they cannot. And figures prove to us, that, in the time consumed by five symphonic numbers, the startling number of four hundred and fifty hogs could be (and are daily) slaughtered, scraped, disembowelled, hewn, and packed. While forty or fifty able-bodied musicians are discoursing Beethoven’s rambling “Eroica,” it were possible to dispatch and to dress a carload of as fine beeves as ever hailed from Texas; and the performance of the “Sakuntala” overture might be regarded as a virtual loss of as much time as would be required for the beheading, skinning, and dismembering of two hundred head of sheep.

These comparisons have probably never occurred to Mr. Thomas or to Mr. Gericke; but they are urged by the patrons of music in Chicago, and therefore they must needs be recognized by the caterers to popular tastes. Chicago society has been founded upon industry, and the culture which she now boasts is conserved only by the strictest attention to business. Nothing is more criminal hereabouts than a waste of time; and it is no wonder, then, that the creme de la creme of our elite lift up their hands, and groan, when they discover that it takes as long to play a classic symphony as it does to slaughter a carload of Missouri razor-backs, or an invoice of prairie-racers from Kansas.

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