Sir Arthur Sullivan on Recorded Music


Sullivan’s speech after hearing a demonstration of Edison’s phonograph for the first time:

I can only say that I am astonished and somewhat terrified at the result of this evening’s experiments: astonished at the wonderful power you have developed, and terrified at the thought that so much hideous and bad music may be put on record forever.



Music! it is the breath of second Birth,
The Saints Employment and the Angels Mirth;
The Rhetorick of Seraphims; a Gem
in the Kings Crown of new Jerusalem:
They sing continually; the Exposition
must needs infer, there is no Intermission.
I hear, some Men hate
Music; Let them show
holy Writ what else the Angels do:
Then those that do despise such sacred Mirth
Are neither fit for Heaven, nor for Earth.

—”To All Lovers of Harmony,” prefixed to A Compendium: or, Introduction to Practical Music, by Christopher Sympson.

The Ropes and Pulleys of Music


I’ve been defending myself from the charge of “not knowing what music is.” Perhaps I don’t know. But when I go to a fashionable concert, and the lady “artiste,” I believe that is the regulation-word, comes out in her best bib and tucker, with a gilt battle-axe in her back hair, and a sun-flower in her bosom, led by the tips of her white gloves, by the light of a gleaming bracelet, and stands there twiddling a sheet of music, preparatory to the initiatory scream, I feel like screaming myself. Now if she would just trot on, in her morning gown, darning a pair of stockings, and sit naturally down in her old rocking-chair, and give me “Auld Robin Gray,” instead of running her voice up and down the scales for an hour to show me how high and how low she can go without dropping down in a fit, I’d like it. One trial of her voice that way, to test its capacity, satisfies me. It is as good as a dozen, and a great deal better. I don’t want to listen to it a whole evening. I will persist, that running up and down the scales that way isn’t “music.” Then if you only knew the agony I’m in, when drawing near the end of one of her musical gymnastics, she essays to wind up with one of those swift, deafening don’t-stop-to-breathe finales, you would pity me. I get hysterical. I wish she would split her throat at once, or stop. I want to be let out. I want the roof lifted; I feel a cold perspiration breaking out on my forehead. I know that presently she will catch up that blue-gauze skirt and skim out that side-door, only to come and do it all over again, in obedience to that dead-head encore. You see all this machinery disenchants me. It takes away my appetite, like telling me at dinner how much beef is a pound. I had rather the ropes and pulleys of music would keep behind the curtain.

——Fanny Fern, Caper-Sauce.

The Reward of the Artist


A man labors and fumes for a whole year to write a symphony in G minor. He puts enormous diligence into it, and much talent, and maybe no little downright genius. It draws his blood and wrings his soul. He dies in it that he may live again…. Nevertheless, its final value, in the open market of the world, is a great deal less than that of a fur overcoat, half a Rolls-Royce automobile, or a handful of authentic hair from the whiskers of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

——H. L. Mencken, Damn! A Book of Calumny