Evan's Reviews > The Well Tempered Listener

The Well Tempered Listener by Deems Taylor
Rate this book
Clear rating

We find no corollary to Deems Taylor in today's high or popular cultures.

If you read books, listened to the radio, watched films or read newspapers back in the 1930s and 1940s, you'd find his presence ubiquitous. The man made his living before the public as a jack-of-all-trades arbiter of cultural taste, struggling bravely and mightily to spread the news of high culture to the masses through all the available media of his time. His role as guru and popularizer of culture to the unwashed is commemorated and immortalized probably most obviously in his appearance with the orchestra at the beginning of Disney's 1940 classic, Fantasia, and in a parodic caricature of himself by none other than Elmer Fudd, doing the same thing, in the wonderful 1943 Warner Bros. cartoon, A Corny Concerto, which has probably been seen by practically everybody, most of whom have no idea who Fudd is mimicking.

It was perhaps easier for there to be a Deems Taylor in those days, a time when elite organizations still believed that noblesse olige served the interests of the larger body politic: that a better educated mass meant a better nation and world. That idea, of course, has been roundly jettisoned in this dumbed-down era, where the oligarchic elites now figure that the dumber we are, the more compliant and gullible we are, and for that, they seem to be correct. In Taylor's time, NBC actually had its own symphony orchestra, and hired the world's most famous conductor, Arturo Toscanini, to lead it for two decades. It definitely was a different era with a different attitude. Pandering existed, of course, but not to the defeatist levels of today.

Taylor wrote the first coffee table survey of the motion picture in 1943, A Pictorial History of the Movies , which, even now and even as dated as it is, remains one of the best of its type. It deeply influenced none less than Martin Scorsese, who cherished his copy of this book as a child in the 1950s.

But it was as a musical guru that Taylor enjoyed his greatest notoriety, and this book, The Well-Tempered Listener, from 1940, was his second and possibly best foray in the art of musical essay. In it, he makes observations that still resonate today, right from the opening paragraphs.

Interestingly, concert programs today in symphonic halls are pretty much the same as they were in 1940, yet here Taylor wonders why music that was then 100+ years old (now almost double that) remained the preference of concertgoers. In contemplating this, he makes the following piquant observation that remains true, and can be applied to a lot of other things in our technological age:

"The human mind progresses much more slowly than human ingenuity. I remember once hearing a professor of anthropology...say that the intelligence of the average member of the human race is, today, exactly what it was in the days of the Pharaohs."

It doesn't take but a few seconds of listening to the average politician or MAGA moron to see that this is not only true, but possibly too generous.

I am in the process of reading this, and will assign a general rating and possibly more review content when done...

KR@KY 2017
1 like · flag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read The Well Tempered Listener.
Sign In »

Reading Progress

August 28, 2017 – Shelved
August 28, 2017 – Shelved as: to-read
August 28, 2017 – Shelved as: music-non-reference
August 28, 2017 – Shelved as: essay
August 28, 2017 – Shelved as: pop-culture-misc
August 28, 2017 – Shelved as: antiquarian
August 28, 2017 – Shelved as: __in-my-collection
September 8, 2017 – Started Reading
September 11, 2017 –
page 40

Comments Showing 1-1 of 1 (1 new)

dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Evan (new) - added it

Evan 1940 very first edition. Scattershot Goodreads/Amazon has poor records/pictures on this title and unless obscenely wealthy Jeff Bezos wants to let loose of his pocket change I'm no longer giving librarian services away to fix this.

back to top