Coping with the embarrassment of riches

As I continue to compile my list of the 1000 or so concerts from 1907, I have been lingering on the month of January and imagining time-traveling to the concerts that interest me the most. At first it seems like it would be an ideal situation, but then I start to wonder: could anyone even have been able to appreciate this embarrassment of riches? For example, on the 7th, there were three pianists who had been students of Liszt (Sauer, Burmeister, da Motta) giving performances. Then, on the 10th, the historically significant event of the Berlin premiere of Sibelius’s Symphony No. 1, conducted by Weingartner, was happening at the same time as the Berlin debut of the great pianist Ignaz Friedman (pictured above).

Today, of course, we have an overwhelming amount of choices when deciding what to listen to. But the dilemma back then, while different, was not necessarily less profound. On January 10, 1907, there was surely an awareness that historic events were taking place that would vanish as soon as they had happened. Critics couldn’t press “rewind” and watch both concerts, or realize one was more important than the other after the fact. No wonder they were anxious about the seemingly infinite expansion of musical life. How would anyone be able to sift constantly through all that was being offered? How would there be time to process and write about Mahler conducting the Berlin premiere of his Symphony on the 14th when there were six concerts the next evening warranting attention, and the same again for most of the following days for the next three months? How was one supposed to get through a recital of seven Beethoven piano sonatas by d’Albert and then go hear Lamond play seven different piano works by Beethoven the following evening? If I wanted to hear Beethoven’s Quartet Op. 127, should I go to the Bohemian Quartet on the 29th? Or wait until the next day and go to the Klingler Quartet’s performance? Schumann’s Carnaval is on Godowsky’s program on the 30th. But it’s also on d’Albert’s concert the following evening!

Update 12 December 2018: I just came across the following item by “Harmonica” in the Musical Courier which expresses the predicament of too many choices described above, but in January of 1902:

I am in a quandary to-night. Shall I go to the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church and hear the Emperor’s chorus sing works by Palestrina, Bach, Mozart etc.; shall I go to the Philharmonic “Pop” and hear Hekking, the golden toned violoncellist, play D’Albert’s Concerto; shall I go to Bechstein Hall and hear Tilly Koenen sing songs; shall I go to the Singakademie and hear Anna Stephan try to eclipse the reputation of Tilly Koenen; shall I go to Beethoven Hall and hear the Bohemian Quartet play works by Tchaikovsky, Brahms and Beethoven, or shall I go to Kroll’s Theater and hear Richard Strauss lead Elgar’s “Cockaigne” and Liszt’s “Orpheus”? Please note, you complaining New York critics.


I think I’ll go to the Circus Busch and see a one legged American ride a wheel along a 2-inch plank suspended from the roof, and then plunge into a tank of water, several million feet below. 

Harmonica. Musical Courier (1902): 20.
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3 thoughts on “Coping with the embarrassment of riches

  1. wow, I thought that FOMO was a millennial characteristic…but perhaps it was a feature of live around 1900 as well!

  2. First of all, talk about canon formation! Secondly, of course I get your point about overload, but consider how different life was just a century ago: no internet, no tv, no radio, no recordings (as you mentioned). What was life like with no permanent distractions, no permanent noise? When you sat at your desk, you either worked or daydreamed… no quick glances at Facebook or YouTube. When I was a child, the only thing to distract me from my homework was my canary. I think people’s capacity, even need, for performances was probably very different from our own.

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