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Ghostwriter Honors Intelligencer


worthies-001cTo the esteemed editorial staff of the Boston Musical Intelligencer,

In the more than a century since my passing, not in my wildest dreams would I have contemplated a musical world that you now have in Boston. Some issues I do not comprehend, some fill me with great pride, some I note with concern. But overall, I must convey my deepest and heartfelt congratulations on Boston truly becoming what I sincerely hoped it would be, one of the most musical cities in the world.

From my distant place, far removed in space and time, I’m duly impressed by the passion and spirit of the auditors, the audiences of Boston. They are not enriched by the spectacle, by the cheap display, by the event that is poisoned by the desire of great remuneration. That this is so, even in your day where you have such access to music by so many means other than going to concert performances, speaks so well of how you have benefited from the many efforts of my and later generations.

Perhaps it is good that all of you don’t realize what it meant for even a good performance during my days on earth. We had orchestra concerts at the Boston Music Hall when there was only a single violoncello. Oh, how I wondered if we would ever see the day when a concert presented not just one, but two bassoons. By the same token, I continue to wonder about your historic ensembles of today; we wouldn’t think of presenting the great oratorios of Handel, Mendelssohn and Haydn with anything less than 200 voices, and didn’t do so after 1840. That, we saw as progress.

But I digress. What you routinely expect from your so-called Youth Orchestras would have driven my pen to declare a concert not unlike what I had heard in my lifetime. Add to this the wonderful renditions put forth by the many choruses, chamber ensembles and the like is something my colleagues during my day would have regarded as heaven.

And yet, after all this wonderment I hear from halls that were not even built when I was alive, I sense a deep foreboding and sense of concern from the Boston musical community. I will not tell you whether that concern is warranted, but only point out that it shows you the value of what you have, even though your music is so plentiful that it can be a constant companion (by means of your wireless and sound recordings) if you so desire.

Alas, your concern is that this value for music is not shared by all in Boston. That is your great challenge, as it was ours in my day. There will always be those that have ears of lead and cannot enjoy the great art that the musical community of Boston considers so essential. This should not unduly dishearten all of you. Over the decades, great music lovers have proven time and again that theirs is an art that flourishes in a manner that is difficult to quantify in that mundane financial sense.

Take for example that when I began my Journal, seldom did anyone report about the musical events in a city newspaper. By the time of my passing, some five newspapers had reporters devoted to the coverage of music, led by the wonderful Boston Transcript. At the beginning of your current century, Boston newspapers were down to two, and the sparse documentation of the events would not have been considered acceptable even during the 1870s. At your present moment, I see on your paper that I cannot hold, an varietal plethora of reports and reviews that one could not imagine even five years previous. For that you should be very proud. Such a outpouring cannot continue at this pace without some level of financial support for the endeavor. As it stands all of musical Boston is in your debt. Yours is a truly mellifluous journalistic organ.

Alas, I feel the rustlings of dawn and must depart. I hope to have the strength and spirit to appear among you again. May you take heart that those who proceeded you in the Boston musical community are proud of your current activities.

I remain,

John Sullivan Dwight

John Sullivan Dwight (1813-1893), Unitarian minister and member of the Transcendental Club, was noted for the music criticism he published in the Fourierist Harbinger and in his own Dwight’s Journal of Music. He based it on The Euterpiad, or Musical Intelligencer, published in Boston between 1820 and 1823, which is the inspiration for the Boston Musical Intelligencer.


5 Comments [leave a civil comment (others will be removed) and please disclose relevant affiliations]

  1. Fascinating article… LOVED it!

    Comment by ed burke — April 1, 2010 at 1:48 pm

  2. Onward, Bostonians, to ever greater heights of smug, fatuous self-satisfaction!


    As soon as he’s finished with his incontinent enthusing, Mr. Dwight might do well to look up “plethora” in the dictionary. It doesn’t mean what he thinks it does.

    Comment by Richard Buell — April 1, 2010 at 3:06 pm

  3. BRAVO! Richard..

    Smug, fatuous self-satisfaction is perhaps the reason why the BSO has failed to choose a vital, exciting Music Director in close to 50 years… The same smugness can be applied to WGBH..

    Comment by Ed Burke — April 1, 2010 at 8:16 pm

  4. We need Richard to warn us of our fatuity, but he also needs to note that April first comes every year….

    Comment by Lee Eiseman — April 1, 2010 at 9:42 pm

  5. Richard, regarding the misuse of “plethora,” it is probably hard to get ahold of a good Greek-English dictionary in Hades, and don’t even dream of wireless internet down there. . Also, I imagine that quite a lot of people would be incontinent at age 197. Give the poor shlub a break.

    Comment by Joel Cohen — April 1, 2010 at 9:56 pm

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