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Edward William Bok (1863–1930). The Americanization of Edward Bok. 1921.


A Bewildered Bok

ONE of the misfortunes of Edward Bok’s training, which he realized more clearly as time went on, was that music had little or no place in his life. His mother did not play; and aside from the fact that his father and mother were patrons of the opera during their residence in The Netherlands, the musical atmosphere was lacking in his home. He realized how welcome an outlet music might be in his now busy life. So what he lacked himself and realized as a distinct omission in his own life he decided to make possible for others.The Ladies’ Home Journal began to strike a definite musical note. It first caught the eye and ear of its public by presenting the popular new marches by John Philip Sousa; and when the comic opera of “Robin Hood” became the favorite of the day, it secured all the new compositions by Reginald de Koven. Following these, it introduced its readers to new compositions by Sir Arthur Sullivan, Tosti, Moscowski, Richard Strauss, Paderewski, Josef Hofmann, Edouard Strauss, and Mascagni. Bok induced Josef Hofmann to give a series of piano lessons in his magazine, and Madame Marchesi a series of vocal lessons. The Journal introduced its readers to all the great instrumental and vocal artists of the day through articles; it offered prizes for the best piano and vocal compositions; it had the leading critics of New York, Boston, and Chicago write articles explanatory of orchestral music and how to listen to music.Bok was early attracted by the abilities of Josef Hofmann. In 1898, he met the pianist, who was then twenty-two years old. Of his musical ability Bok could not judge, but he was much impressed by his unusual mentality, and soon both learned and felt that Hofmann’s art was deeply and firmly rooted. Hofmann had a wider knowledge of affairs than other musicians whom Bok had met; he had not narrowed his interests to his own art. He was striving to achieve a position in his art, and, finding that he had literary ability, Bok asked him to write a reminiscent article on his famous master, Rubinstein.This was followed by other articles; the publication of his new mazurka; still further articles; and then, in 1907, Bok offered him a regular department in the magazine and a salaried editorship on his staff.Bok’s musical friends and the music critics tried to convince the editor that Hofmann’s art lay not so deep as Bok imagined; that he had been a child prodigy, and would end where all child prodigies invariably end—opinions which make curious reading now in view of Hofmann’s commanding position in the world of music. But while Bok lacked musical knowledge, his instinct led him to adhere to his belief in Hofmann; and for twelve years, until Bok’s retirement as editor, the pianist was a regular contributor to the magazine. His success was, of course, unquestioned. He answered hundreds of questions sent him by his readers, and these answers furnished such valuable advice for piano students that two volumes were made in book form and are to-day used by piano teachers and students as authoritative guides.Meanwhile, Bok’s marriage had brought music directly into his domestic circle. Mrs. Bok loved music, was a pianist herself, and sought to acquaint her husband with what his former training had omitted. Hofmann and Bok had become strong friends outside of the editorial relation, and the pianist frequently visited the Bok home. But it was some time, even with these influences surrounding him, before music began to play any real part in Bok’s own life.He attended the opera occasionally; more or less under protest, because of its length, and because his mind was too practical for the indirect operatic form. He could not remain patient at a recital; the effort to listen to one performer for an hour and a half was too severe a tax upon his restless nature. The Philadelphia Orchestra gave a symphony concert each Saturday evening, and Bok dreaded the coming of that evening in each week for fear of being taken to hear music which he was convinced was “over his head.”Like many men of his practical nature, he had made up his mind on this point without ever having heard such a concert. The word “symphony” was enough; it conveyed to him a form of the highest music quite beyond his comprehension. Then, too, in the back of his mind there was the feeling that, while he was perfectly willing to offer the best that the musical world afforded in his magazine, his readers were primarily women, and the appeal of music, after all, he felt was largely, if not wholly, to the feminine nature. It was very satisfying to him to hear his wife play in the evening; but when it came to public concerts, they were not for his masculine nature. In other words, Bok shared the all too common masculine notion that music is for women and has little place in the lives of men.One day Josef Hofmann gave Bok an entirely new point of view. The artist was rehearsing in Philadelphia for an appearance with the orchestra, and the pianist was telling Bok and his wife of the desire of Leopold Stokowski, who had recently become conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra, to eliminate encores from his symphonic programmes; he wanted to begin the experiment with Hofmann’s appearance that week. This was a novel thought to Bok: why eliminate encores from any concert? If he liked the way any performer played, he had always done his share to secure an encore. Why should not the public have an encore if it desired it, and why should a conductor or a performer object? Hofmann explained to him the entity of a symphonic programme; that it was made up with one composition in relation to the others as a sympathetic unit, and that an encore was an intrusion, disturbing the harmony of the whole.“I wish you would let Stokowski come out and explain to you what he is trying to do,” said Hofmann. “He knows what he wants, and he is right in his efforts; but he doesn’t know how to educate the public. There is where you could help him.”But Bok had no desire to meet Stokowski. He mentally pictured the conductor: long hair; feet never touching the earth; temperament galore; he knew them! And he had no wish to introduce the type into his home life.Mrs. Bok, however, ably seconded Josef Hofmann, and endeavored to dissipate Bok’s preconceived notion, with the result that Stokowksi came to the Bok home.Bok was not slow to see that Stokowski was quite the reverse of his mental picture, and became intensely interested in the youthful conductor’s practical way of looking at things. It was agreed that the encore “bull” was to be taken by the horns that week; that no matter what the ovation to Hofmann might be, however the public might clamor, no encore was to be forthcoming; and Bok was to give the public an explanation during the following week. The next concert was to present Mischa Elman, and his co-operation was assured so that continuity of effort might be counted upon.In order to have first-hand information, Bok attended the concert that Saturday evening. The symphony, Dvo&brede;ák’s “New World Symphony,” amazed Bok by its beauty; he was more astonished that he could so easily grasp any music in symphonic form. He was equally surprised at the simple beauty of the other numbers on the programme, and wondered not a little at his own perfectly absorbed attention during Hofmann’s playing of a rather long concerto.The pianist’s performance was so beautiful that the audience was uproarious in its approval; it had calculated, of course, upon an encore, and recalled the pianist again and again until he had appeared and bowed his thanks several times. But there was no encore; the stage hands appeared and moved the piano to one side, and the audience relapsed into unsatisfied and rather bewildered silence.Then followed Bok’s publicity work in the newspapers, beginning the next day, exonerating Hofmann and explaining the situation. The following week, with Mischa Elman as soloist, the audience once more tried to have its way and its cherished encore, but again none was forthcoming. Once more the newspapers explained; the battle was won, and the no-encore rule has prevailed at the Philadelphia Orchestra concerts from that day to this, with the public entirely resigned to the idea and satisfied with the reason therefor.But the bewildered Bok could not make out exactly what had happened to his preconceived notion about symphonic music. He attended the following Saturday evening concert; listened to a Brahms symphony that pleased him even more than had “The New World,” and when, two weeks later, he heard the Tschaikowski “Pathetique” and later the “Unfinished” symphony, by Schubert, and a Beethoven symphony, attracted by each in turn, he realized that his prejudice against the whole question of symphonic music had been both wrongly conceived and baseless.He now began to see the possibility of a whole world of beauty which up to that time had been closed to him, and he made up his mind that he would enter it. Somehow or other, he found the appeal of music did not confine itself to women; it seemed to have a message for men. Then, too, instead of dreading the approach of Saturday evenings, he was looking forward to them, and invariably so arranged his engagements that they might not interfere with his attendance at the orchestra concerts.After a busy week, he discovered that nothing he had ever experienced served to quiet him so much as these end-of-the-week concerts. They were not too long, an hour and a half at the utmost; and, above all, except now and then, when the conductor would take a flight into the world of Bach, he found he followed him with at least a moderate degree of intelligence; certainly with personal pleasure and inner satisfaction.Bok concluded he would not read the articles he had published on the meaning of the different “sections” of a symphony orchestra, or the books issued on that subject. He would try to solve the mechanism of an orchestra for himself, and ascertain as he went along the relation that each portion bore to the other. When, therefore, in 1913, the president of the Philadelphia Orchestra Association asked him to become a member of its Board of Directors, his acceptance was a natural step in the gradual development of his interest in orchestral music.The public support given to orchestras now greatly interested Bok. He was surprised to find that every symphony orchestra had a yearly deficit. This he immediately attributed to faulty management; but on investigating the whole question he learned that a symphony orchestra could not possibly operate, at a profit or even on a self-sustaining basis, because of its weekly change of programme, the incessant rehearsals required, and the limited number of times it could actually play within a contracted season. An annual deficit was inevitable.He found that the Philadelphia Orchestra had a small but faithful group of guarantors who each year made good the deficit in addition to paying for its concert seats. This did not seem to Bok a sound business plan; it made of the orchestra a necessarily exclusive organization, maintained by a few; and it gave out this impression to the general public, which felt that it did not “belong,” whereas the true relation of public and orchestra was that of mutual dependence. Other orchestras, he found, as, for example, the Boston Symphony and the New York Philharmonic had their deficits met by one individual patron in each case. This, to Bok’s mind, was an even worse system, since it entirely excluded the public, making the orchestra dependent on the continued interest and life of a single man.In 1916 Bok sought Mr. Alexander Van Rensselaer, the president of the Philadelphia Orchestra Association, and proposed that he, himself, should guarantee the deficit of the orchestra for five years, provided that during that period an endowment fund should be raised, contributed by a large number of subscribers, and sufficient in amount to meet, from its interest, the annual deficit. It was agreed that the donor should remain in strict anonymity, an understanding which has been adhered to until the present writing.The offer from the “anonymous donor,” presented by the president, was accepted by the Orchestra Association. A subscription to an endowment fund was shortly afterward begun; and the amount had been brought to eight hundred thousand dollars when the Great War interrupted any further additions. In the autumn of 1919, however, a city-wide campaign for an addition of one million dollars to the endowment fund was launched. The amount was not only secured, but over-subscribed. Thus, instead of a guarantee fund, contributed by thirteen hundred subscribers, with the necessity for annual collection, an endowment fund of one million eight hundred thousand dollars, contributed by fourteen thousand subscribers, has been secured; and the Philadelphia Orchestra has been promoted from a privately maintained organization to a public institution in which fourteen thousand residents of Philadelphia feel a proprietary interest. It has become in fact, as well as in name, “our orchestra.”