What does the public want?

Joseph SzigetiJoseph Szigeti

During a recent American tour, I astonished and perhaps offended the musical highbrows by venturing to draw a parallel between the musician and the sportsman on the cricket field or in the boxing ring. My point was just this: that my experiences all over the world have made me increasingly conscious of a great democratic link binding all those among us who are trying to give the public something that they want to see or hear. I cannot recognise any fundamental difference between an audience's knowledgeable appreciation of perfection of form as shown by a first-class cricket 11; by a boxer whose every muscle seems to sing of victory; or by the skilled musician, interpreting with all the technical mastery at his command the soul-message of a great composer.

To my mind, the athlete's body is an instrument as perfect in its way as is my cherished Guarnerius violin. And, undoubtedly, a 'freemasonry of artists' must exist between all those who, whatever their medium, convey a message that alternately holds their audience spellbound and stirs it to excited response. To the artist, indeed, his public seems to share in this freemasonry, because anyone who listens responsively to great music is himself potentially an artist, in however slight a degree. This is what should give every musician a deep sense of responsibility. He is, indeed, the missionary of beauty, and never for a moment must he permit himself to imagine that his music may be over the heads of his hearers. The old days when a musician was stared at as an incomprehensible freak are, mercifully, gone forever. Today, the artist stands as a living link between the people and the great music which they are eager to hear and appreciate.

In my opinion, deliberately to play down to an audience is an unforgiveable artistic sin. The public deserves, and should be given, always the finest and best of which one is capable. I have found that listeners all over the world respond eagerly to really great music of every school and type. That is what the public wants, and the artist who turns a deaf ear to their unspoken demand in favour of programmes or works that may seem more profitable from the box office or 'sales' point of view is introducing a false note into his art that, sooner or later, must irreparably damage any beauty and sincerity it may possess.

I seem to remember, in this connection, an article by the movie magnate, Samuel Goldwyn. In substance, his theme was this: that in the last analysis it is the fault of the producers if the public indulges in films of a low-brow calibre. This, he declared, is a clear case of supply creating demand!...It is up to us, Goldwyn concluded, to make the public believe that what we offer them is precisely what they want!

How much more, then, is it 'up to' the 'producer' of music, the art possessing, perhaps, the most universal appeal of all, to give his public what they both want and need: the greatest music played with the utmost beauty and sincerity at his command.

I shall always remember a few words written in a book of mine by that supreme artist, Busoni. 'What matters most is not what people say, but the "censor" within you. You must aim to satisfy yourself – not your audience: if you do satisfy yourself, the other follows as night follows day.'

In other words, what the public wants is, actually, what the artist wants as well! And the public playing so vital a part in the great freemasonry of artists, we cannot and must not let it down.

Click here to find out more about subscribing to the Gramophone digital archive

Gramophone Subscriptions

From£64/year

Gramophone Print

Gramophone Print

no Digital Edition
no Digital Archive
no Reviews Database
no Events & Offers
From£64/year
Subscribe
From£64/year

Gramophone Reviews

Gramophone Reviews

no Print Edition
no Digital Edition
no Digital Archive
no Events & Offers
From£64/year
Subscribe
From£64/year

Gramophone Digital Edition

Gramophone Digital Edition

no Print Edition
no Reviews Database
no Events & Offers
From£64/year
Subscribe

If you are a library, university or other organisation that would be interested in an institutional subscription to Gramophone please click here for further information.

© MA Business and Leisure Ltd. 2017