A recording of the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s live reaction (and audience reaction) to JFK’s assassination:
James Inverne captions:
As can be heard from the broadcast, after the radio announcer’s introduction to the first scheduled work, a suite from Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera Le coq d’or, Leinsdorf emerged and spoke just 53 words, his voice sounding a bit odd, as if taking care to clearly and a little unnaturally project every word. He falters slightly only once, in his second sentence. “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.”
Gasps and screams of shock can be heard after the statement of JFK’s death, and after the change of programme is announced there is a general panicked hubbub that takes its time to subside. Then, as the orchestra begins its funeral dirge more slowly than is usual, every note throbbing with pain, there is only a numbed quiet as the news, the awful reality, sinks in.
It’s a remarkable moment, one in which the audience reacts, but the music provides space for those who stayed to reflect on the dreadful news they’ve just heard. Sometimes, culture is directly engaged with politics. And sometimes culture dramatically removed from our political context can help us come to terms with a dreadful political reality.