Chamber (includes Solo)
15 September 2017
“On Monday next Blind Tom the pianist is to begin a series of Concerts at Irving Hall. He has played here before, so that his performances can hardly be termed novelties, though in a certain sense they are not only interesting but wonderful. He is a negro lad, almost totally blind, capable, we believe, of faintly discerning the forms of large objects, but seeing nothing clearly, and quite unable to distinguish musical notes, even if he had the requisite education to understand them. His mental condition is little if at all above that of an idiot; but his Maker has given him a passionate love and appreciation of music, a wonderful memory, and a marvelously correct ear. He has only to hear a piece of music once or twice, and he repeats it on the piano with a very near approach to perfect accuracy. An ordinary dance-tune, for instance, he catches at the first hearing; a more elaborate composition, such as a movement from a sonata, he may need to have repeated two or three times. We have seen musicians try him with pieces of their own which had never been played before. During the composer’s performance the lad listened at first in motionless attention; then his features, his limbs, and finally his whole body, went through a series of strange and horrible contortions. When the playing ceased he took his place at the instrument, and repeated the piece without an instant of hesitation. He rendered the melody exactly; in the harmonies he was sometimes at fault, though he gave them much more accurately than most amateurs would have given them with the notes before their eyes. We notice that the advertisements describe the Blind Tom as ‘the greatest musical genius living.’ That, of course, is very absurd. He is nothing of the kind. He is not a genius at all. He is simply a great curiosity. It is best always to speak the plain truth. His playing is extraordinary, not because it is very good, but because it is the playing of a blind, foolish, uneducated boy. He is not a great pianist, and never can be one, because he lacks intelligence; he has a quick perception of the sensuous charm of melody, but of course no comprehension of the meaning of a musical composition. Yet he is an astonishing freak of nature, and as such is well worth seeing.”
“On Monday evening that remarkable phenomenon known as ‘Blind Tom’ began a series of concerts at Irving Hall, which have been well attended and probably as much enjoyed as any entertainment lately given in the city. ‘Blind Tom’ is certainly a marvel in his way. He plays the piano with unusual felicity of execution, and with a sympathetic touch—if we may be permitted the expression—which imparts interest to all his performances. It is simply absurd to compare him with such players as Gottschalk, Mills and Hoffmann. Musical memory and the faculty of imitation can accomplish much, but cannot supply the place of intellect. No one can thoroughly express on the piano, any more than in speech, ideas which he does not possess, and ‘Blind Tim’ is no exception to the rule. He may be able to play after a single hearing one of Beethoven’s most difficult sonatas, although we are by no means certain of this, but it would be out of his power to interpret thoughts which he cannot comprehend.
“Having said this much, which would be entirely unnecessary but for the absurd claims of the admirers of ‘Blind Tom,’ we are entirely ready to admit that he is not only a marvel, but one of the most interesting marvels we ever saw. It is interesting even to see him assist his manager in the perpetration of frauds on audiences eager to be deceived. For instance, we may mention the idiotic motions of his hands and body, which at times seem to be beyond his control, while he has no difficulty in restraining himself at times when a proper demeanor is essential to the carrying-out of the programme. He can sing one tune while playing two others on the piano. He can play with his back to the keyboard. Almost anything that is absurd and eccentric he can accomplish. It only remains for him to play while standing on his head. This would cap the climax of his performances.
“It is this mixture of excellent playing, assumed idiocy and real cleverness which amuses audiences as we have not seen audiences amused for a long time. The entertainment is none the less enjoyable that we know it to be largely an attempt to humbug the public. Those who have not heard ‘Blind Tom’ should, by all means, visit Irving Hall, where he will perform every night this week.”
(in “Musical and dramatic notes,” p. 3, given as “peculiar entertainments”)
“This eccentric individual will continue for a week longer at Irving Hall. So far he has drawn excellent audiences, and indeed there is much to be amazed at in the boy and his performances. It is a success of curiosity, engineered by a gay audacity which we have never had excelled. TOM is now described by his happy manager as the ‘inspired negro-boy pianist,’ ‘the most wonderfully gifted musical genius the world has ever known,’ and as the ‘greatest musical prodigy of any age.’ Fine words indeed, but rather too strong. We have never disputed TOM’S claims as an idiot, and it is a melancholy fact that he can play upon the piano-forte, but his inspiration is another thing. He has certain powers of imitation which are curious and entertaining—and to these he owes his success. People are not so much amazed that he plays well as that he can play at all. There is, moreover, a natural feeling of sympathy for a smitten human creature and a desire to recognize him because he is black. Certainly the latter is no reason why he should be ignored, but it is also a bad one for extolling him extravagantly. If one thing has been established concerning TOM it is assuredly the fact that he lacks the somewhat vague quality so glibly called ‘inspiration.’ His own compositions are the veriest trash; and as a pianist he has no rank which any other player is likely to dispute with him. It would be better, we fancy, were he to speak less. The laugh which is excited by another’s infirmity is not pleasant in the end. The gawkey [sic] antics of TOM, and the manifold tricks which he has been taught to perform are saddening to most kindly natures. But it is a part of the show, as also is the advertisement which led to those remarks.”