ON THIS DAY in 1903, Sir Hereward Twiddle conducted the Royal Concert Orchestra in the first performance of the Symphonic Poem in E Major by Edgar de Range. The performance was, by all accounts, faithful and vigorous, and the audience appeared to be moderately pleased with the work until the very last bar, which ended the piece on a dominant seventh chord.
The orchestra fell silent, but no applause was heard. Turning to face the audience, Sir Hereward bowed deeply, hoping they would get the idea, but the audience stared back with baffled expressions. Apparently they were unable, or unwilling, to believe that the composition had ended.
Mortally embarrassed, Sir Hereward walked off the stage, and gradually the musicians began to follow him. Seeing the orchestra dispersing, the audience was even more baffled, and finally from somewhere in the second tier a shout of “Finish it!” rang out.
This outburst seemed to electrify the audience. At once the call of “Finish it!” was taken up by dozens and then by hundreds.
The management of the hall began to grow alarmed, and after much persuasion Sir Hereward agreed to step out on stage and address the audience directly.
The audience grew silent again when he appeared. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he announced, “you may depart. The concert is ended.”
At that moment a large cabbage flew from somewhere near the front and hit Sir Hereward square in the forehead.
The matter had passed beyond discontent into riot. Sir Hereward and the members of the orchestra managed to flee through the back exits, but by the time the constabulary arrived the audience had barricaded the doors. Through a hastily elected spokesman they declared that they would not leave the hall until the composition was finished.
The next day the papers were full of reports that were largely sympathetic to the audience. The discontent spread throughout the metropolis, and demonstrations in support of the besieged concert audience filled the streets. The incident was the subject of an early-day motion in Parliament stating “that this House condemns as a matter of taste and principle those unscrupulous composers of orchestral works who toy in a cruel and capricious manner with the musical expectations of the audience”; it was signed by more than four hundred members, a thing that would not happen again until the year 2005. Finally, after tense negotiations that lasted the better part of three days, the representatives of the audience agreed to allow the orchestra and conductor back into the hall. The orchestra assembled on stage; Sir Hereward lifted his baton, and when he brought it down the orchestra played a loud and long E-major chord. Thunderous applause rang out, and the crisis had come to an end.
Since that day the Symphonic Poem in E Major has, as far as research has been able to tell us, never been performed again. De Range’s own autograph manuscript of the work resides in the British Library, where it is kept in a locked vault to which only the Director has the key, kept closely guarded on his own person at all times.