Academy of Music
12 June 2017
“The glorious musical even took place on Feb. 1st at the Academy of Music, New York, before another splendid audience. The orchestral selections were Beethoven’s 9th Symphony and Spohr’s Overture to Jessonda.
Both were rendered with a nicety of accent and delicacy of expression which were a marvel when it is remembered that 100 musicians, and of course the same number of individual minds were engaged in the delicious work, namely that of interpreting the thoughts of these two great and mighty dead, they who ‘although dead’ yet spoke to that throng of rapt listeners.
The perfection to which Mr. Carl Bergman, the conductor, has brought the nuances in so large an orchestra commands our highest respect. It is simply amazing and seems the more remarkable when we remember that when Eisfield conducted, it was actually impossible for even an accompaniment to be played without drowning the singer. The thousand and one little bits of imitation, counterpoint and fugue with which Beethoven’s great No. 9 abounds were never before so clearly presented to our ears, and we must acknowledge that the entire performance of this unequaled orchestra was an intellectual feast of the highest order. Mr. S. B. Mills was the solist [sic] at this concert, and as usual acquitted himself in a manner at once irreproachable and unapproachable by any of his compeers, excepting only Mr. Richard Hoffman, who is the only pianist in the country of that school, who can be mentioned with Mr. Mills without insulting the latter.
The Steinway Grand used by Mr. Mills was highly complimented by the audience, and the most delicate shades of tone were not lost in the remotest corners of the large auditorium. The ‘100 musicians’ so sneered at by our versatile cotemporary [sic] of the Weekly Review, have cause to feel pround, not only of the Concert, but—also of the sneers, sneers which have made and ruined so many Artists and artistic enterprises. Oh dear!”
“Philharmonic Concert. House most uncommonly full. Every standing place occupied. We went very early and experimented on the Amphitheatre, or top gallery, which is apt to be almost empty. Being early we got good front seats there, but its whole area was flooded with people a few minutes later. Our experiment was successful. It’s the best place in the house. The music comes up from the orchestra through free space, clear and sharp, instead of being muffled & deadened by passing over bales of [illeg.] & velvet and broadcloth, as it has to do before reaching the balcony or the rear parquette seats. The difference is like that between looking at a landscape with one’s nearsighted eyes, and with an eyeglass. The crash of the orchestra is not so heavy in the Amphitheatre, the object seems smaller, as it were, but it is better defined, and all its details can be followed. There is a little less noise and a great deal more music.
Only three pieces were produced. Spohr’s Jessonda Overture—Schumann’s piano concerto, op. 54 Mills at the piano (excellently played but inane and longwinded as it seemed to me) and the Ninth Symphony. The chorus did its ungrateful work fairly, but the quartette was clearly insufficient, and broke down a little once or twice. There are great points in this symphony—especially its noble saintly Adagio—but as a whole it is unequal to the others. If spasms and oddities foreshadow the degradation Beethoven’s peculiarities have undergone at the hands of those who thinks themselves his scholars and successors.”
“The general and increased interest awakened during the present season in the concerts of the Philharmonic Society speaks well for the new administration of its affairs, and gives a very encouraging token of the advancement of musical culture in New York. On the occasions of the first and second concerts the Academy of Music was crowded, but on Saturday evening the house was inconveniently jammed.
This was the case although the programme was apparently far less calculated to draw a large attendance than those of the first two concerts. Perhaps the announcement that a grand choral performance would be given called out many of those who would not have cared to attend a purely instrumental concert. The programme certainly was not much varied, including only three pieces: Spohr’s overture to ‘Jessonda;’ a concerto for the piano in A minor, op. 54, by Schumann, and Beethoven’s ninth or choral symphony. The first-named work is but little known here; the second has been familiar here of late years, mainly from the previous performance of it by Mr. S. B. Mills, who won new honors by his manner of interpreting its trying music on Saturday evening, and the last is much talked of, but little understood.
The orchestral work, under the able and conscientious direction of Mr. Bergmann, as usual, at these concerts, was more thoroughly and conscientiously done, leaving scarcely anything to be desired in the full and well-balanced rendering of Spohr’s often involved and obscure composition. The concerto was admirably suited to Mr. Mills’s clear and fluent style. The great symphony of Beethoven’s which closed the performance, is a work which can never be understood from description, although it has provoked more transcendental theories as to its inner significance than any other modern work. When we shall have had here a regular school for chorus singers, long enough to have trained together, and thoroughly a chorus of from two to five hundred singers, for two or three successive years, we have no doubt that a leader can be found here able to direct performances of the Ninth Symphony which will need no [?] or explanation of its meaning. The actual performance of Saturday evening was perhaps the best we ought, in the present state of affairs, to expect. It was, however, uneven, deficient in comprehension and unsatisfactory, the quartet forming no exception. It left those who heard it at entire liberty to accept almost any of the many ingenious theories as to what Beethoven really meant. Still, it was well to attempt the task, if only to remind us how much there is of the grandest in music that is yet awaiting adequate interpretation.”
“The third concert of the twenty-sixth season of this Society took place at the Academy of Music on Saturday evening. The attendance was overwhelming. There was no standing room, and it would be barely an exaggeration to say that there was no breathing room. Such a dense, compact and orderly crowd has never before been seen in the Academy. The programme justified this unusual demonstration. There were but three pieces in it, but they were three master pieces. The first was the overture to ‘Jessonda,’ by SPOHR—short, delicate and melodious; the second the concerto in A minor, by Schumann; and the third the Choral (or Ninth) Symphony by Beethoven. Mr. S. B. Mills took the piano in the concerto, and it was a piano worthy of having the orchestra for a consort. Such magnificence and purity of tone, such delicate perfection of mechanism, enabling the performer to produce any quality of tone that he desired, we have never before found so happily combined, even in the pianos of Messrs. Steinway. And with a performer like Mr. Mills it told Schumann's dual story with extraordinary decision and brilliancy. It is really a dual story more than a concerto in the ordinary acceptation of the word. The parts, although welded together with the strength of a giant, are in themselves perfect, and might, from their intrinsic merits, be played separately. Ordinarily in a concerto the orchestra is either overwhelming or insignificant, rising or sinking with the relative importance given to the piano. Here it is of equal value and interest, and helps not merely by suggestion, but by learned controversy, the effort of the soloist. It is a manly and intimate conversation between the piano and the orchestra; not a thing of mere coquetry.
Mr. Mills was the first, if we remember rightly, to introduce this work to our public, and the way in which he played it years ago gave him at once the leading position. Since then he has so vastly improved that he is no longer the same artist. His reading of the concerto, always well considered and conscientiously studied, is the same. In other words, it is as Schumann wrote it. But Mr. Mills’ power; his clear articulation of scale passages; his command of all the nuances of touch; his utter abnegation of everything vulgar; and his absolute certainty, even in the most difficult passages, have vastly increased. With a vivid recollection of his former performances of this splendid work, we are certain that he has never before done it or himself such justice. The applause was hearty and general—the orchestra taking part in it quite as warmly as any other part of the house. Mr. Mills was called twice before the curtain, and deserved every hand raised in his honor.
After a brief pause the orchestra proceeded to the ‘Choral Symphony,’ the last of the immortal nine, and by universal consent regarded as the greatest of Beethoven's creations. It was written when the composer was stone deaf. His fertile mind had exhausted most of the forms of instrumental music, and was consuming itself with a desire for a new mode of expression. He determined, therefore, to repeat an experiment which he had already made, namely, to introduce the voice as the culmination of a symphonic story. All instruments fail where human expression is wanted, and this is precisely what the great master felt. There are a dozen different legends connected with the ‘G’ symphony, but the vocal part indicates its purpose with distinctness. The words are from Scheller's [sic] ‘Hymn to Joy,’ and the nations represented by the various voices of man and woman, and the various tones of the orchestra, take up the glad strain until it prevails entirely. The three movements which precede the chorale are clearly intended to represent the unrest of worldly life, the yearnings, the despair, the glimmering hope, the utter desperation which pursue the burdened wayfarer. He reaches, at length, the calm of the Adagio, and from that pathetic, religious point, steps readily to realms of joy and happiness. The work in itself is consistent in theory, and its elaboration is wonderful. Perhaps (and we whisper this because it is rank heresy) it is too wonderful. After listening to it one feels draggled and besmeared, ‘not like a human being, but like the fag end of a mob.’ It is stupendous in its emotions, and there can be no sort of question about its being overwhelming. Nor can there be a doubt about its greatness. Although it is played but seldom, it is talked about much, and it is the under-currents of the world that keep it moving, not the ephemera that are on its surface. Still, the work gains nothing by the choral part except consistency, and that might be secured instrumentally quite as well as chorally. In truth, the solos, quartettes and choruses are almost impossible. They are written with absolute disregard to the capacities of singers, and provoke disaster even with reliable artists. The quartette on Saturday evening was a lamentable failure, and the chorus of the Mendelssohn Union, our best and most painstaking society, although generally good, sometimes scattered. Nevertheless it is our duty and pleasure to record that the symphony was rendered generally in a way to reflect the highest credit upon Mr. Bergmann whose steady bâton, indeed is always reliable. The orchestra in this and in the other pieces to which we have referred played magnificently. The soloists (vocal) were Mrs. H. M. Smith, (of Boston,), Miss Ella J. Mayer, Mr. W. J. Hill and Mr. M. Duschnitz.”
“The programme for the third Philharmonic concert on Saturday evening was a more than usually interesting one and at least three thousand persons must have assembled in the Academy to hear it. The first part was short, consisting only of the overture to Spohr’s ‘Jessonda’ and Schumann’s piano concerto in A minor, played by Mr. S. B. Mills and orchestra. This was admirably done. Mr. Mills‘s chaste style and delicate touch, and the intelligence and feeling of his performance won a hearty appreciation. The great feature of the evening, however, was the production of Beethoven’s colossal Choral Symphony by the joint efforts of the Philharmonic and Harmonic Societies. The first three movements, for orchestra alone, were exceedingly well played. The allegro, with its tremendous sweep of harmonies, and the delicious scherzo, spirited, vivacious, and instinct with the grand master’s happiest spirit, were especially good, and, being quite within the comprehension of ordinary listeners, were received with a good deal of applause. The difficulties of the symphony commence with the third movement (adagio cantabile alternating with andante moderato), and thence forward the harmonies grow more intricate until they culminate in the grand and awful labyrinth of the choral. The instrumental performance throughout was almost unexceptionable. In judging of the vocal part it will be charitable to remember the tremendous difficulties of the composition, which tax every quality of voice and of artistic culture to the utmost. But the plain truth must be told; the attempt to produce the Choral Symphony has been a failure. It should not have been attempted without better material than the New York Harmonic Society affords. The grand effects were all missed; the time was often missed; the tone was sometimes at fault; the singers appeared to be overpowered by the magnitude of the task they had undertaken, and uncertain whether they were going right or wrong. Moreover, the chorus was not large enough. Instead of the 250 voices promised in the advertisement, only about 150 were actually present, and those seemed weak. The quartette, composed of Mrs. Smith, Miss Mayer, Mr. Hill and Mr. Duschutz [Duschnitz], was tolerable. The general effect of the whole performance was but of a large party of well-meaning persons struggling with an understanding which was altogether too much for them. For the first time in our experience the Philharmonic Society has given a positively bad concert.”
“The Academy of Music, usually transformed into a desert, saw its echoes disturbed Saturday night by the Philharmonic Society. Nearly four thousand people came to hear Beethoven’s great Choral Symphony. The masterpiece was executed by one hundred instrumentalists, under the direction of M. Bergmann, and a chorus of two hundred and fifty. The latter weren’t always up to their task, and one must say that the music of the great master presents some unequalled difficulties. They applauded M. Mills, who played a piano concerto by Schumann with chilliness and accuracy.”
The Academy was overcrowded for this event. This has not happened in the last several years. The new president was able to interest the fashionable high society to attend the event. The audience was very elegantly clothed, using the opportunity to show off their wardrobe and converse with their friends as in old times.
The vocal performance of Beethoven’s symphony was not as well done as in other concerts before, especially in the last movement. The first three movements were performed excellently by the orchestra. The Harmonie Society chorus presented only 100 members, which was completely sufficient. The rather difficult choral piece was performed to the audience’s satisfaction, except for the solo quartet. This time, the audience respected the composer of the concert’s finale by staying in their seats until the very last note. Usually people rush to the exits several minutes before the end of the last performance.
Mills performed Schumann’s A minor concert flawlessly. Since we heard him play this piece last several years ago, he added some more nuances, which seemed in alignment with the spirit of the composition.
We complement Bergmann for choosing Spohr’s Jessonda overture to the program… [Our copy cut off here.]
“New York, Feb. 3.—On Saturday Evening, in the 3d concert of the N. Y. Philharmonic Society at the Academy of Music, the following programme was performed:
P. F. Concerto, A minor, Op. 54…..Schumann.
9th Symphony, Op. 125, D minor…..Beethoven
The Overture has all the Spohr mannerisms, together with enough freshness and melody to make it agreeable; extremely pleasant is the fragmentary, episodical march for wind instruments which breaks in upon the quasi recitative character of the first portion of the work. It served like soup at a dinner—as an appetizer for the solid viands to follow.
Although the colossal Choral Symphony was the feature of the programme, the Schumann Concerto was far more attractive to me. It is not easy to say that this or that movement is better than another; whether one chooses the strong, self-contained Allegro affettuoso, with its beautiful little interpolated Nocturne in A flat, the charming Intermezzo with its ’cello solo, or the graceful, delightfully intricate Finale,--all are so dependent each upon the other, so homogenous, that one must be content to admire and love it as a complete work of exceptional and wonderful genius. It was played perfectly—the word is not too strong—by Mr. Mills. Anything neater or cleaner than his rendering of the last movement, particularly the fascinating episode in which the running, liquid theme coquets with the relative key of D and finally turns its back upon it—I have never heard. Mr. M. was deservedly encored.
Lastly came the Symphony. Is it too much to say [Yes.—ED.] that had any other man written it, it would never have stood upon the high pedestal which it now occupies? We have often heard objections raised against the length of the Schubert C major Symphony; compared with this it is short. Good as the Scherzo is—and it is unquestionably the best movement—it is interminable and tedious and grows absolutely insupportable before it reaches its termination. Repetition seemed to be Beethoven’s bête noire in this work. The theme of the last movement—taken in every manner of shape, form, and way, by instruments or voices—is abominably commonplace and unworthy of Beethoven’s genius. [Our readers know that this is far from our way of thinking. –Ed]
Mrs. Smith sang the ungrateful, strained soprano part, as effectively as possible. It is unfit for a human voice. The other soloists did fairly; the baritone, however, seemed insanely anxious to sing sharp, and succeeded in doing so in one or two instances. The whole performance may be called a good one and too much praise cannot be given to the orchestra for its promptitude and accuracy.
The audience was surprisingly large, the Academy filled from parquette to ceiling; many had to content themselves with ‘standing room only.’ Under its new management this society has unquestionably made a great advance in popular favor.
Why will not the stockholders of the Academy give orders for the removal of the unsightly and absurd chandelier which now disgraces it? Why not light the building after the Steinway Hall fashion? There no one’s eyes are blinded by the glare of a huge mass of gas burners.”