A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from May 24, 2011
“Wagner’s music is better than it sounds” (opera adage)

"The peculiar characteristic of classical music is that it is really so much better than it sounds,” wrote humorist Bill Nye (1850-1896) in September 1887. In November 1889, Nye wrote in a Philadelphia music lover’s autograph album, “Wagner’s music, I have been informed, is really much better than it sounds.”

The Wagner quotation became famous, but Nye’s humorous line has often been applied elsewhere. On May 24, 2011, on the MSNBC television network, a commentator referred to the quotation (often misattributed to Mark Twain) and said that the Republican presidential field of candidates was “much better than it looks.”


Wikipedia: Edgar Wilson Nye
Edgar Wilson “Bill” Nye (August 25, 1850 – February 22, 1896) was a distinguished American journalist, who later became widely known as a humorist. He was also the founder and editor of the Laramie Boomerang.

Biography
Nye was born in Shirley, Maine, and adopted the name “Bill Nye” after a character in a famous poem by Bret Harte.

The Boomerang was founded while Nye was the postmaster of Laramie City, Wyoming Territory. It launched him to national fame, gaining subscribers in every state and some foreign countries. His humor was uniquely American.

7 September 1887, Newark (OH) Daily Advocate, “Bill Nye’s Bureau,” pg. 2, col. 5:
The peculiar characteristic of classical music is that it is really so much better than it sounds.
(...)
-- New York World.

23 November 1889, Decatur (IL) Daily Despatch, pg. 2, col. 2:
BILL NYE on a recent visit to Philadelphia called upon a well known music lover, and while there was asked to write in an autograph album. He did so, and among other things he wrote: “Wagner’s music, I have been informed, is really much better than it sounds.”

24 November 1889, New York (NY) Times, “New Publications,” pg. 19: 
Mr. Henderson believes that the world will accept Wagner’s theories, but modify some details of his practice. He tacitly admits the truth of the assertion, by a contemporary humorist, that much of Wagner’s music is better than it sounds.

29 November 1889, Wisconsin State journal (Madison, WI), “Personalities,” pg. 2:
Bill Nye recently said of Wagner’s music: “I have been informed that it is really much better than it sounds.”

31 December 1889, Evening Repository (OH), pg. 6, col. 5:
Bill Nye, on a recent visit to Philadelphia, called upon a well known music lover, and while there was asked to write in an autograph album. He did so, and among other things wrote the following: “Wagner’s music, I have been informed, is really much better than it sounds.”

Google Books
More Tramps Abroad
By Mark Twain
London: Chatto & Windus
1897
Pg. 191:
William Nye’s remark about Wagner’s music is of that sort: “They say that Wagner’s music is better than it sounds.”

Google Books
Bill Nye, His Own Life Story
By Bill Nye
New York, NY: The Century Co.
1926
Pg. IX:
Wagner’s music continues to be better than it sounds.

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityMusic/Dance/Theatre/Film • (0) Comments • Tuesday, May 24, 2011 • Permalink