The tempo marking for the second movement of Brahms’ Symphony No. 2 is adagio non troppo – slow but not too slow. One member of the audience watching the Chicago Symphony Orchestra this week apparently thought it was marked furioso.
He got into a fistfight.
The Brahms Second is one of the mainstays of the Romantic repertoire, but the incident that erupted in Chicago brings to mind one of the more memorable — and violent — moments in 20th century music, the riot that broke out in Paris during the premiere of Igor Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” in 1913.
Like the debut of “Rite,” police were summoned Thursday night to Orchestra Hall. In this instance, however, the issue apparently was seating, not the spiky rhythms and daring harmonies that triggered fisticuffs at the Theatre des Champs-Elysees.
As the Chicago Sun-Times reported Friday night, the second movement of the Brahms was drawing to a sigh-like close when, up in the boxes, a man believed to be in his 30s began punching a 67-year-old man.
Steve Robinson, general manager of Chicago’s classical and folk music station 98.7 WFMT, was among those in the audience. He didn’t see the fight, but he knew something was amiss.
“We heard a rather loud thump,” Robinson told the newspaper.
The younger man fled before police arrived. The older man received a cut to the forehead.
Another person who heard the scuffle was orchestra conductor Riccardo Muti. As the Sun-Times reported, he kept conducting but looked over his shoulder at the combatants with “dagger eyes.”
Molto agitato, indeed.