Did you know that there’s a Wikipedia entry for Classical Music Riot?

I knew about the Rite of Spring, but there were others? I got all excited, until I discovered that:

The usual respectful and sedate manner of classical music audiences means that any sort of rough behavior, ranging from catcalls to shoving, can be seen as a comparative ‘riot’.

How can I put this? No it can’t. I’ve played in bars where that counts as a warm reception. That might be a sign that I need to join a better band, but it’s not a riot until an angry mob starts throwing things.

Still. There’s probably something we can learn from this. Of 12 instances of unrest in a 180 year period (one every 15 years), two thirds happened in the 21-year period between 1905 and 1926 (a frequency of one every two and a half years).

This was the period in which modernist music entered the concert hall – a period in which major arts presenters staged concerts that they knew would seriously upset a large part of their core audience.

This was when concerts were interesting. I don’t know about anybody else, but I’d much rather worry about whether or not the seats are adequately screwed down than wonder what we are going to do when the last member of the audience dies.

Big thanks to Denise, who keeps Wikipedia open all time and appears to know everything when you talk to her on the phone.



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  1. Gary Bachlund #
    April 8, 2010

    In my undergraduate days when attendance at avant garde concerts was required, we had a lecture of sorts from one instructor who said concerts should create controversy and be upsetting to the audience to have any real, subversive effect. The angry responses from audiences would be proof of the subversive credentials of the new works. So together with some student co-conspirators of mine (as we were not enrolled in that instructor’s class anymore) we went to a concert and booed a rather average piece by said instructor who had stated that concert audiences’ angry reactions were proof of the “value” in said avant garde work. We agreed between ourselves that if the piece did not please us, we would boo. We booed. All that happened is that we were asked by ushers to “please” leave the hall. It seems the angry audience stuff wasn’t really expected nor wanted by this “angry audience” bluff. Rather he wanted simple and enforceable approval for being supposedly subversive. It was a wonderful lesson in the double standards of modern pseudo-aesthetics. The “authority” gets to trash others, while the others are not supposed to trash the authority. No riot. Not even a reprimand from the department, as the end of the story was that this instructor’s contract was not renewed. That was no riot either; just a yawn from the system.

    And the seats in that hall remain screwed down, last time I checked. We wouldn’t have thrown them anyway. Who wants to be arrested for an aesthetic disagreement?

    Fast forward, when Stockhausen said he hoped his works would have an effect as great as “9-11,” the system yawned slightly and cancelled his old age retrospective. No riot, just a cancellation. Sometimes posing as subversive isn’t being subversive; it’s just showing that old double standard all over again.

  2. April 8, 2010

    How many of these riots were in France?

    • properdiscord #
      April 8, 2010

      Excellent point. Almost all of them. I think that’s partly because Paris was where the entire musical avant-garde were hanging out between the wars, and also partly because of the French.

  3. April 9, 2010

    I can’t even get a “sh*t” or a “f*ck” printed in program notes unless I threaten to cancel a performance. The last disc I produced split a 20 year partnership because my partner couldn’t talk me out of the back cover (thank god I own everything 100% and have the last say). If we can’t even work with Classical concert presenters and/or fellow musicians to assimilate PRESENT DAY LANGUAGE into our milieu how can we expect an audience to have a strong reaction?

  4. April 9, 2010

    The riots in the first decades of the 20th century weren’t only in Paris. In São Paulo during the Semana de Arte Moderna (Week of Modern Art) in February 1922, works of Villa-Lobos caused a sensation. There was lots of booing, and things were thrown, and I think there were fisticuffs as well. Harold Lewis provides this story from his research into the “Presença de Villa-Lobos” memoirs at the Museu Villa-Lobos in Rio:

    “In an essay printed in PVL no. 11, Andrade Bello recalled the sensation Villa-Lobos caused at a concert given as part of the 1922 Week of Modern Art in São Paulo, by coming onto the platform in tails but wearing a carpet slipper on his left foot. This apparition was greeted with boos from the conservative sections of the audience and with a roar of delighted approval from others who had come to the concert expecting outrageous novelties. Years later, Villa-Lobos commented, “There’s been a lot of nonsense talked about that. People exaggerated and thought up innumerable reasons for my ‘provocative gesture’. That same afternoon, I’d bought some patent leather shoes to wear for the concert, but they were a bad buy because they hurt my toes unbearably. While the orchestra were tuning up, I sought the only remedy to hand – the comfortable slippers my mother had given me.”

    • properdiscord #
      April 9, 2010

      Thanks for adding this contribution to the history of riotousness. If a carpet slipper could incite civil unrest, the people of São Paulo may very well be crazier than the French.

  5. April 9, 2010

    Great picture from The Simpsons Movie, by the way. Note that Mr. Largo, the band teacher, is right up front, next to Super-Nintendo Chalmers.

    • properdiscord #
      April 9, 2010

      I think this week marks the turning point where the comments became my favorite part of this blog.

  6. Gary Bachlund #
    April 10, 2010

    I was in a bar in Las Cruces many years ago, and overheard a couple of real range-riding cowboys in conversation. At one point, one wizened red-necked fellow observed to his friend, “Ah… My give a shit’s busted.”

    With some much experimentation in the avant garde accompanied by so much academic blather over the last century, I come to think that a growing share of potential audiences share this view. When voting with one’s feet rather than fisticuffs, all that happens is people who would otherwise buy tickets and recordings drift “up, up and away.”

    So maybe the riots of today are “suppose somebody gave a concert and nobody came?” “Expecting a strong audience reaction” as Ms. Choban hopes for may be going on after all — expresed by strong absenteeism.

    Storming out in a huff is perhaps now rather permanently replaced with not bothering to show up in the first place. If true, the history of music has turned a new corner, and the old avant garde is now the new “garde au retard?” A yawn can be as more destructive than a yell.

  7. April 11, 2010

    I don’t want to have to give a shit. I don’t want to attend my friend’s string quartet performance because I’m there to show support. I don’t want to go hear Carter Pann’s concerto because I’m supposedly supposed to be part of the hipsters aware of Carter Pann. I don’t want to go anywhere because it’s good for me, because I’m the reason this art form is dying so I ought to show my support and go down with the ship. THIS IS THE ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY. What about this is so hard to understand? So ENTERTAIN me. I’m not saying I want total blithering snot thrown at me. Really, I do not want to be subjected to Lang Lang for the rest of my life even though he is the most entertaining pianist out there now (in my own not so humble estimation). I saw a Classical concert about 3 years ago – a trio from Germany. 2 singers, alto and soprano and a pianist. I was enthralled from beginning to end (2 plus hours). One of the singers had us clapping to songs of Mahler which they had pastiched with German Caberet numbers. f*cking brilliant. The ringleader (alto) had a sense of entertainment and arc/flow which carried the entire show. This ain’t rocket science. Good music, good musicians, entertaining……….PROFIT. eh…..thanks for listening to my rant.

  8. April 12, 2010

    1) I’m appropriating “My give-a-shit’s busted” from here on out.
    2) Hipsters are aware of outdated-ten-years-ago Carter Pann?

    • April 12, 2010

      seriously? he looks like he’s only about 20. good to know. thanks.

  9. August 23, 2010

    The premiere of Delius’s music for the play “The Council of the People” created a riot, so says the liner notes of the Records International recording of the suite. I can’t confirm it on-line, though, so I must be wrong. 🙂

    • properdiscord #
      August 23, 2010

      If a tree falls in the forest and nobody mentions it on Wikipedia, did it really happen?

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