to an unknown music lover

Look at what I stumbled across: a flyer reprinting one of my father’s columns for the long-gone New York World-Telegram.

This is one of those old family papers I periodically lose, then find again, then lose again, then find again. I had actually found it and uploaded it to Facebook several years back, but not in high enough quality to actually read. And it deserves to be read. I am wholly, ludicrously biased, but still: If you care about music, if you care about words, and if you care about words crafted in service to music, you should read it. It’s posted at bottom.

The piece is an ode to the humble but impassioned concertgoer, one who lives and breathes classical music and reveres its practitioners. Yes, “his”; Louis penned this gem 63 years ago, in an age when writing and conversation defaulted to the masculine, so let’s just assume he meant “person” when he wrote “man.” He served as the World-Telegram’s classical music critic for nearly 40 years, from 1928 until 1966, cranking out multiple reviews a night until the paper folded in the wake of the New York City newspaper strike.

He was 59 then. I was 2 1/2. I have no memories of visiting Daddy in the newsroom, accompanying Daddy to concerts or hearing Daddy vent in our Queens apartment at the end of a long day. My sister Lucy did. She once overheard him using “fuckin’” on the phone with a copy editor, and for a week thereafter – at least, in Mama’s version of events – the squirt deployed this powerful new term as a frequent qualifier in everyday conversation. E.g.: “Please pass the fuckin’ milk.” (My parents stifled the urge to spit out their coffee and correct her, and the word faded from her vocabulary.)

No vulgarities made it into this column, of course. My father’s paean to “the little man of music” reads like a prayer. It’s beautiful, simply wrought and poignant in its sincerity, describing a common listener of uncommon musical devotion.  I believe he was writing about himself.

“He is the man who often goes without an amenity or two for a seat at the opera”: that was young Louis, a kid from the tenements in Little Italy, scraping together the funds to feed his addiction. “He is a man of simple but profound spiritual needs without whom there would be no concert halls and no orchestras to fill them”: Daddy often characterized music (or, if he felt like getting specific, Beethoven) as the one true god he worshiped. And I believed him. He loved music as much or more than anyone else I’ve ever known, and he wrote his criticism, his columns and his many books from that place of love.

So here it is: “To an Unknown Music Lover.” Louis Biancolli, New York World-Telegram, 1955. I’ve uploaded the image in all its fulsome jpeggish ginormity, so if you have any trouble reading it, just click on it and then click to magnify it. If you have any trouble with that, please shoot me an email, and I’ll send it to you.


5 thoughts on “to an unknown music lover

  1. Such a great piece. For whatever reason, it reminded me of a favorite passage from Bukowski: “I am for the small man who has not forgotten, for the man who loves his beer and his women and his sunlight but who is not quite wise enough (ever) to know where next month’s rent is coming from.”

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