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One of the most emotional pieces of radio ever recorded
November 17, 2013 2:26 PM   Subscribe

Friday November 22, 1963, at the Boston Symphony Orchestra: "Ladies and gentlemen, we have a press report over the wireless. We hope that it is unconfirmed, but we have to doubt it. That the president of the United States has been the victim of an assassination. We will play the funeral march from Beethoven’s Third Symphony."
posted by showbiz_liz (24 comments total) 43 users marked this as a favorite

 
Literal chills at that recording.
So fine and dignified a response.
posted by Countess Elena at 2:34 PM on November 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


What a world that could have been, one change and the fates turn and twist, what might have been if LBJ was never president, the events and schemes for good or ill left or right. The only thing sure is changes unforeseen.
posted by Freedomboy at 2:37 PM on November 17, 2013


Wow, thank you for posting this. I was thrown off by the fact that they had a Friday afternoon concert, something that's not really done these days. Great find.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 2:39 PM on November 17, 2013


That was amazing.
posted by paper chromatographologist at 3:21 PM on November 17, 2013


Wow.

.
posted by trip and a half at 3:50 PM on November 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Listening to this made me realize how rare it is to hear an actual recording of people immediately reacting to the news -- not after they've had a few minutes to start digesting it. We've seen still pictures and usually silent news footage for the most part. On their way to the concert, it's entirely possible that most if not all of the audience knew absolutely nothing about the previous hour's events.

It was a perfect call by Leinsdorf. Notice that his announcement of the piece seemed to upset people almost as much as the news itself, probably because that piece so appropriately communicated to music lovers that yes, this is real.

Thanks.
posted by pmurray63 at 4:01 PM on November 17, 2013 [6 favorites]


I was a an usher at the New York Philharmonic concerts at the time. Each program was played 4 times, starting on Friday afternoon, which we referred to as 'the old lady concert', because that was most of the audience.

That day, the patrons were muttering something about the president as they filled the hall. The program started and played for about 10 minutes, when the orchestra stopped with that dropped-bagpipe sound an orchestra makes when it stops unexpectedly, and then the audience gasp as on the BSO recording. I was standing outside the hall, and when I heard that, I ran inside.

A man was center-stage and speaking. I asked the nearest old lady what happened, and she tearfully told me the president was dead.

The rest of the concert was cancelled, and everyone just left. In the locker room, one of the usherettes was saying 'President Johnson', trying to get used to it. It had the same resonance 'President Palin' would have today, less one election and one heart attack.

The other three concerts of that program were played with the funeral march from Beethoven's third substituted for the first piece on the program, his Leonore Overture. Here's the program
posted by hexatron at 4:15 PM on November 17, 2013 [61 favorites]


What a fascinating article and recording. Thanks.
posted by ob1quixote at 4:27 PM on November 17, 2013


Hexatron, are you saying the article is bogus?
posted by paper chromatographologist at 4:33 PM on November 17, 2013


Different concert hall, paper chromatographologist.
posted by _paegan_ at 4:36 PM on November 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


Dear paper chromatographologist:
Article: Boston Symphony Orchestra.
Hexatron: New York Philharmonic
bogosity: none.
posted by hexatron at 4:36 PM on November 17, 2013 [10 favorites]


pmurray63: It was a perfect call by Leinsdorf. Notice that his announcement of the piece seemed to upset people almost as much as the news itself, probably because that piece so appropriately communicated to music lovers that yes, this is real.

Alternatively, it took the audience longer than the space of one sentence for them to fully grasp the emotional importance of the news, and their second wave of reaction was still to the first sentence, not the music choice.
posted by IAmBroom at 4:55 PM on November 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


The show must go on!!
posted by Renoroc at 5:10 PM on November 17, 2013


Was there a reason why the funeral march from Beethoven's third was chosen as the tribute piece for JFK's death by two different orchestras, perhaps more? It is beautiful music, of course, but did it have some special connection with JFK? Or was that the music of choice in the 60's when someone of note died? Why not, for example, Chopin's funeral march or Bach's Prelude No. 1?
posted by Bokmakierie at 6:04 PM on November 17, 2013


Well, all things considered, putting Johnson in the same paragraph with Palin is an odd pairing. He was the most powerful man in the Congress in 1960 and could make things happen. Which he did; making Kennedy's programs actually into law. Palin should her death ever be memorialized with a performance at a concert would feature a medley of circus tunes and the wrap up fanfare to a WB cartoon.
posted by Freedomboy at 6:14 PM on November 17, 2013 [10 favorites]


Those aren't orchestral works, and most orchestras would have the Beethoven sheet music on hand.
posted by Coaticass at 6:15 PM on November 17, 2013 [6 favorites]


Freedomboy, you can't consider all things when, in 1963, all post-1963 events were unhappened. Before LBJ, all presidents for 100 years were more or less Presidential, they could make speeches that had sentences that began "Ask not", they appeared to represent the entire nation (well, the white entire nation, anyway), and they maintainted a certain gravitas in public. LBJ barely tried. He was a goon. A smart, largely good-hearted, and clever goon, (as we later came to learn), but nevertheless a goon.

That's most of what made his elevation so hard to imagine. If "President Palin" sticks in your craw, perhaps try "President Quale". Or "President GW Bush".

I will also recall the scene in Back to the Future when Fly is asked (in the 1950's) who the president is in the 1980s, and there's a poster advertising a movie with R. Reagan at his usual third billing, and Fly simply can't answer, because the true answer, in the 1950's, would have been less convincing than Groucho Marx or Hopalong Cassidy.

I hope this helps. Or shorter: 23Nov1963 ended the 1950s in the United States.
posted by hexatron at 6:46 PM on November 17, 2013 [5 favorites]


Talking about emotional music. On the 20th of Sep 2001 the New York Philharmonic performed Brahms' A German Requiem. A very moving performance. Music is very, very powerful. Thank you for posting this!
posted by nostrada at 6:49 PM on November 17, 2013


I will also recall the scene in Back to the Future when Fly is asked (in the 1950's) who the president is in the 1980s, and there's a poster advertising a movie with R. Reagan at his usual third billing, and Fly simply can't answer

Marty actually does answer the question in 1955, and Doc Brown immediately writes it off as ludicrous. "Reagan? The actor?! Who's Vice-President? Jerry Lewis? And I suppose Jane Wyman is First Lady, and Jack Benny is Secretary of the Treasury!"
posted by Spatch at 7:03 PM on November 17, 2013 [10 favorites]


Bokmakierie: "The second movement, a funeral march, is frequently performed on memorial occasions. Serge Koussevitzky performed it to commemorate the death of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Bruno Walter performed the entire symphony at the memorial concert for Arturo Toscanini. It was also performed at the funeral of Felix Mendelssohn in 1847." (Wikipedia)

Plus, what Coaticass said.
posted by pmurray63 at 7:11 PM on November 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


Goon??????????


posted by Freedomboy at 11:34 PM on November 17, 2013


Goon? Palin? Such remonstrance. Obviously Johnson was the first Southern President in a century. He was also famously, shall we say, down to earth. But he'd been Vice President for nearly three years, so it can't have been impossible to swallow. Really, this is just the shock of the assassination. I consider the person mouthing the name to have been considering the weight of that change, akin to the way I nearly instantly said, on the phone to my friend who had called me awake on 9/11, "We're at war." This is the new reality.

Similarly, I think the double gasp was probably spurred by the bargaining as people digested the declamation that he had been "the victim of an assassination", momentarily wishing it was an unsuccessful attempt, or that the report were erroneous or even a hoax, and the announcement of the funeral march underlining that the management considered this report credible, rather than something they'd heard in an orchestra hall, so to speak.

and Fly simply can't answer, because the true answer, in the 1950's, would have been less convincing than Groucho Marx or Hopalong Cassidy.

I am intrigued by your scenario positing an alternate, dramatic, and dark edit of the Marty McFly epic. For one thing, the silly name McFly would be dispensed with ....
posted by dhartung at 11:45 PM on November 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


I was thrown off by the fact that they had a Friday afternoon concert, something that's not really done these days.
The Boston Symphony Orchestra still does it.
posted by dfan at 8:26 PM on November 22, 2013


Freedomboy:Goon??????????

LBJ was fairly well known for physically intimidating and emotionally bullying other senators on the floor. He didn't outright physically attack them, but he would use his height and aggressive body language to subdue hedging votes.

Goon.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:02 PM on November 24, 2013


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