Tuesday, August 04, 2009

The Piano Business

You know how some of us like to stand on the piano-in-every-middle-class-home as evidence of something about the status of classical music in the 19th century? Take a look at this, from a novel written in the 1890s about the year 1887; Joshua Kosman might recognize it off the top of his head:
He had no particular aptitude for trade, and that by which he lived (he had entered upon it thirty years ago rather by accident than choice) was thoroughly distasteful to him. As a dealer in pianofortes, he came into contact with a class of people who inspired him with a savage contempt, and of late years his business had suffered considerably from the competition of tradesmen who knew nothing of such conflicts between sentiment and interest. A majority of his customers obtained their pianos on the "hire-purchase system," and oftener than not, they were persons of very small or very precarious income, who, rabid in the pursuit of gentility signed agreements they had little chance of fulfilling; when in pecuniary straits, they either raised money upon the instruments, or allowed them to fall into the hands of distraining creditors. Inquiry into the cirumstances of a would-be customer sometimes had ludicrous results; a newly-married couple, for instance, would be found tenanting two top-floor rooms, the furnishing whereof seemd to them imcomplete without the piano of which their friends and relatives boasted. Not a few professional swindlers came to the office; confederate rogues, vouching for each other's respectability, got possession of pianos merely to pawn or sell them, having paid no more than the first month's charge. It was Mr. Lord's experience that year by year the recklessness of the vulgar became more glaring, and deliberate fraud more artful.
George Gissing, In the Year of Jubilee

4 comments:

Saint Russell said...

Must read, if you haven't already: Men, Women and Pianos: A Social History by Arthur Loesser. Who could afford pianos? Why did they buy them? What did they play on them, in public and in private? Fascinating. (But I still don't know if Arthur, or his brother Frank, was the evil of two Loessers.)

Lisa Hirsch said...

On the Internet, nobody knows you're speechless. :)

You're right, I do need to read that, along with a couple of books about music and the middle class in general.

Monty said...

I chanced upon to view your blog and found it very interesting. Great ... Keep it up!

Lisa Hirsch said...

Thanks!