1889 Speculation on Future of Music

The conversation is between a man from 1887 and a woman of 2000. Taken from Edward Bellamy’s 1889 Novel, “Looking Backward 2000-1887.”

“Please look at to-day’s music,” she said, handing me a card, “and tell me what you would prefer. It is now five o’clock, you will remember. “

The card bore the date “September 12, 2000,” and contained the largest programme of music I had ever seen. It was as various as it was long, including a most extraordinary range of vocal and instrumental solos, duets, quartettes, and various orchestral combinations. 

I remained bewildered by the prodigious list until Edith’s pink finger-tip indicated a particular section of it, where several selections were bracketed, with the words “5 p.m.” against them ; then I observed that this prodigious programme was an all day one, divided into twenty-four sections answering to the hours. There were but a few pieces of music in the “5 p.m.” section, and I indicated an organ piece as my preference.

“I am so glad you like the organ,” said she.

” I think there is scarcely any music that suits my mood oftener.”

She made me sit down comfortably, and crossing the room, so far as I could see, merely touched one or two screws, and at once the room was filled with the music of a grand organ anthem ; filled, not flooded, for, by some means, the volume of melody had been perfectly graduate to the size of the apartment.

I listened, scarcely breathing, to the close. Such music, so perfectly rendered, I had never expected to hear.

” Grand ! ” I cried, as the last great wave of sound broke and ebbed away into silence.

” Bach must be at the keys of that organ; but where is the organ ? “

 ”Wait a moment, please,” said Edith; “I want to have you listen to this waltz before you ask any questions. I think it is perfectly charming,” and as she spoke the sound of violins filled the room with the witchery of a summer night. When this had also ceased, she said : There is nothing in the least mysterious about the music, as you seem to imagine. It is not made by fairies or genii, but by good, honest, and exceedingly clever human hands. We have simply carried the idea of labor-saving by co-operation into our musical service as into everything else.

There are a number of music rooms in the city, perfectly adapted acoustically to the different sorts of music. These halls are connected by telephone with all the houses of the city whose people care to pay the small fee, and there are none, you may be sure, who do not. The corps of musicians attached to each hall is so large that, although no individual performer, or group of performers, has more than a brief part, each day’s programme lasts through the twenty-four hours. There are on that card for to-day, as you will see if you observe closely, distinct programmes of four of these concerts, each of a different order of music from the others, being now simultaneously performed, and any one of the four pieces now going on that you prefer, you can hear by merely pressing the button which will connect your house wire with the hall where it is being rendered. The programmes are so coordinated that the pieces at any one time simultaneously proceeding in the different halls, usually offer a choice, not only between instrumental and vocal, and between different sorts of instruments; but also between different motives from grave to gay, so that all tastes and moods can be suited.”

“It appears to me, Miss Leete,” I said, “that if we could have devised an arrangement for providing everybody with music in their homes, perfect in quality, unlimited in quantity, suited to every mood, and beginning and ceasing at will, we should have considered the limit of human felicity already attained, and ceased to strive for further improvements.”

“I am sure I never could imagine how those among you who depended at all on music managed to endure the old fashioned system for providing it,” replied Edith. Music really worth hearing must have been, I suppose, wholly out of the reach of the masses, and attainable by the most favored only occasionally at great trouble, prodigious expense, and then for brief periods, arbitrarily fixed by somebody else and in connection with all sorts of undesirable circumstances. Your concerts, for instance, and operas ! How perfectly exasperating it must have been, for the sake of a piece or two of music that suited you, to have to sit for hours listening to what you did not care for! Now, at a dinner one can skip the courses one does not care for. Who would ever dine, however hungry, if required to eat everything brought on the table? and I am sure one’s hearing is quite as sensitive as one’s taste. I suppose it was these difficulties in the way of commanding really good music which made you endure so much playing and singing in your homes by people who had only the rudiments of the art.”

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