Manager / Director:
Lafayette F. Harrison
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20 December 2017
“I went to Steinway Hall for a ‘Miscellaneous’ Concert of the ‘Musical Festival’ series. Cherubini’s Introduction to 3rd Act of Medea was very good. Thereafter I sat thro’ a symphony in A by F. L. Ritter, conducted by that Malitio [?] in person. It was well enough, but who is F. L. Ritter that we should have to hear his commonplace compilations, while so many orchestral works of great composers are but half known to us, or wholly unknown? I also underwent a merciless never ending piano concerto by Henselt (whoever he may be) and sundry rubbish besides, including a threadbare old rag from Trovatore (!) I submitted to all of this for the sake of Beethoven’s ‘Symphony’ the ‘Battle of Victoria’ which I heard many years ago at the old B’dway Tabernacle and wanted to hear again. It was brought out this time with it’s virginal clap-trap accessories of a drumcorps B two Military Bands, (out of tune), and four Pipers in the garb of the Gael who shrieked the ‘Campbells are coming’ on their national implements of torture. The orchestral work is flashy and as a whole unworthy of Beethoven though there are striking passages in it.”
“No concert has been previously given in Steinway Hall equal to that of last night. The programme speaks for itself—orchestra, introduction to third act of Medea,’ Ritter’s symphony, ‘Wellington’s Victory,’ with full military band and drum corps, by Beethoven; Seventh regiment band, overture to ‘Semiramide’ and a selection from ‘Robert le Diable;’ piano, the Henselt concerto, played by J. N. Pattison; the ‘Marseillaise,’ sung by Hill; two solos by Rossini and Hoffman, beautifully sung by Mrs. Jenny Kempton, and the opening aria of her ‘Miserere’ scene from the ‘Trovatore,’ sung in superb style, with orchestral accompaniment; by Mrs. Marie Abbott. Of all these pieces we may select three for special remark—namely, the Henselt concerto, the symphony and the Marseillaise. We heard Mr. Pattison last night play this work for the second time and must say, for the sake of justice, that we do not remember hearing an artist in Steinway Hall since its opening make such a genuine sensation. The concerto is enormously difficult and requires wrists and fingers of iron for its mere technical difficulties and fire and passion for an effective rendering. The introduction by the orchestra resembles Mendelssohn in its poetical flow of thought, and the manner in which the piano is introduced is very peculiar. An impetuous outburst of some four measures on the piano breaks in abruptly on the Mendelssohnian strains of the orchestra and is followed by a melody which catches the ear at once. This theme is woven into passages of thirds, fourths and sixths, combined for one and two hands, which form a rich frame for it and are like brilliants in a diadem. There is one feature about the entire concerto which distinguishes it particularly from all others. The piano is not made a part of the orchestra, but the latter, without losing its characteristic efficiency is made subservient to the piano. The piano is the speaker on the occasion; the orchestra is the assenting audience. Hence the greater demand on the powers of the pianist than in any of the concertos of Chopin, Liszt, Beethoven or Mendelssohn. There is, within our experience, no work written for the piano and orchestra on a broader and more trying scale for the pianist than this Henselt concerto. The second movement, larghetto, is one of the most beautiful works for the piano that can be brought into the concert hall. An interesting, yet supple, unpretending theme is worked up with a spray of harp-like accompaniments and strongly chorded passages, so that it becomes a ‘thing of beauty.’ The finale of this movement is delicious in its every varying outlines, like a beautiful picture on which the shifting sunbeams fall. The last movement, allegro agitato, is a bold, comprehensive conception of the trails and perplexities of the human mind when thrown into the battle of life and the hearer feels relieved when the fingers of the pianist and the wand of the conductor glide off into a joyous, popular strain, where the liquid notes of the grand piano chime strangely, yet pleasingly, with the plaintive tones of the violoncello. The climax is at length reached in a whirlwind of piano and orchestral acclamation. It is worthy of remark also that even in this music the piano is still in the foreground, and that the orchestra only throws it into stronger relief. Mr. Pattison played the magnificent work not only with clockwork accuracy and unsurpassed technique, but with spirit, fire and elan—qualities which are seldom to be found with many of our leading pianists. When the brain’s throbbing impulse is communicated to the fingers and the tones leap out from the superb grand, giving the true singing quality in the melody, the sparkle, as of fountain drops, to the decorating passages, and the firm, solid tone to the accompanying bass, then we gladly recognize a pianist of the highest order. Such we accredit to Mr. Pattison last night. The ‘Marseillaise’ was sung by Mr. Hill, with orchestral accompaniment, in a spirited style, which would have procured his instant arrest in France as a revolutionist. The symphony was very good, but might be profitably curtailed. ‘Wellington’s Victory’ is said to have been written by Beethoven, but it must have been before he left his pinafore, for it may be called the Barnum of symphonies. All the wonderful effects, in our opinion are nothing but clap-trap, and are distasteful to any true musician. Mr. Grafulla’s band were [sic] splendid in the rendering of their selections and received well deserved applause.”
“In the evening, however, the poor fellows [the orchestra] had to work, and it is but right to say that they worked well. The introduction to the third act of ‘Medea,’ by CHERUBINI, has never been better played than on this occasion. It is not a work prodigal in ideas, but it is one which demands very delicate coloring, and complete unanimity among those who interpret it. Mr. THOMAS’ baton secured everything, and afforded the public a brief and delightful introduction to a fine evening’s entertainment. The second orchestral work was a new symphony composed for the festival by Mr. F. L. RITTER, a musician and writer of well-known ability. The piece is in four movements. Of these, the opening one impressed us as being the best sustained and carried out. The subject is well defined, and its elaboration is fluent and artistic. The minuetto and scherzando are also pleasantly treated, and were so acceptable to the ear that the public demanded an encore. The final movement gathers up the themes skillfully, and brings them to a fine and forcible culmination, and with particular felicity so far as the first theme is concerned. It is not proper to speak critically of a work of this importance from a single hearing. The smallest degree of attention, however, exhibits the fact that it has been well considered, and that the composer knows thoroughly the resources of the orchestra. He seems, at times, to draw too largely on these sources. The score is perhaps too full;—too full, at all events, for a hasty performance, such as that of Saturday evening. But it is quite certain that Mr. RITTER has produced a work of great and lasting merit, and in its largeness the most important work yet contributed to the limited repertoire of American classical music. We trust sincerely—in this instance again—that he may have another opportunity of presenting it to the public. Afterwards came the eternally talked about HENSELT concerto. The undercurrent of opinion about this work is the only reason why it is ever brought to the surface of public consideration. People insist in saying that the ‘Henselt concerto’ is one of the best ever written, and artists persist in not playing it. The demand is greater than the supply. Hence any one who can attack the real difficulties of the piece and overcome them is acceptable. This was certainly the case with Mr. J. N. PATTISON. The work is intricate, and peculiar—demanding not only force and intelligence, but quickness and feeling. It is nervous—so nervous that its author could not himself play it in public. Mr. PATTISON has appreciated the entire conditions of the work; and he rendered it with a skill and beauty, which, we frankly confess, we did not expect at his hands. The gentleman has improved rapidly, and has never shown his progress so completely as in this concerto. He played finely and merited every hand that was raised in his favor.
“The special feature of the concert was perhaps the BEETHOVEN Symphony called the ‘Battle of Vittoria,’ but the work was so inadequately—wretchedly, even ludicrously—done that it is waste of time to refer to it. At best it is trash. It depends on trivial effects, and these effects were, or seemed to be, ignored. On a large scale the work is capable of making a popular impression; but with a few people put in a staircase, representing the French army, and a few more people, representing the English army, placed in another staircase, it is impossible to give the idea that BEETHOVEN contemplated, even if four bare-legged Highlanders schreech [sic] their horrible pibroch in the doorway. So, the thing was a fizzle.”
“In the evening we had again a half-pennyworth of bread to an intolerable deal of sack. The orchestra opened with the Introduction to the Third Act of Cherubini’s ‘Medea,’ another beautiful classical work, for the knowledge of which we are indebted to the taste and industry of Mr. Theodore Thomas. It was played for the first time in New-York at one of his Symphony Soirees last Autumn. Simple and severe in style and thought, it admirably reveals the depth and majesty of the great composer’s conceptions, and the nobleness and chastity of his treatment, and would have redeemed a much worse programme than the one which followed it. Beethoven’s ‘Battle of Vittoria’ Symphony, produced at this festival for the first time in America, was welcome as a curiosity, but it is more interesting from its history and the ingenious manner in which the approach of hostile armies, the deploying of the lines, the rattle of musketry, the booming of cannon, the charge, the victory, the retreat, the triumph, and the alternation and commingling of the French and English national airs, are wrought up into an effective battle-piece, than from any intrinsic grandeur of the music. It does not rank as one of Beethoven’s great works; but, written as it was to celebrate Wellington’s famous victory over Joseph Bonaparte in Spain, and, at the same time, to convey the composer’s protest against the imperial usurpation of Napoleon, it must have produced when it was originally brought out a much more lively impression than it can produce now. The orchestra of 90 or 100 pieces forms, so to speak, the musical background of the work, and the military effects were well rendered on Saturday by Grafulla’s 7th Regiment band, stationed at the doors on either side of the platform, the pipers of the Caledonian Club, and Graham’s drum corps on the stairways back of the stage. The most genuine success of the evening was Mr. Pattison’s playing of Henselt’s piano-forte concerto in F minor, opus 16, the same, if we are not mistaken, which he played at the festival last year. The composition combines in a rare degree the grace and clearness of melody demanded by the popular ear, with the scientific value appreciated only by musicians. The rhythm throughout is marked with admirable distinctness, and the orchestration, especially in the third movement (allegro agitato), is excellent. Though the work is rather long for a miscellaneous concert, it was so pleasing and so well executed that we believe few were tired of it. A great deal of interest attached to the performance of a new Symphony in A major by Mr. F. L. Ritter, conductor of the New-York Harmonic Society, a gentleman who is well known as an excellent scientific musician and a composer of some experience. The first movement begins with a larghetto, broad in conception and well treated, and quickens gradually to an allegro con spirito, in which we encounter several happy melodic phrases and a particularly fine handling of the violins. The second movement, Andante, is characterized by a good strong melody for the strings, with a very pretty accompaniment, staccato, for the reeds. The third movement, a lively minuet, is the most taking of the four; it was repeated. The Symphony concludes with a noisy allegro molto vivace. The composition undoubtedly contains several excellent passages, and is not without melodic inspiration, but it is coarse in texture and lacks concentration. he playing was entirely too strong. We dare say piano was sometimes marked on the score, but it never appeared in the execution. The only variation was from forte to fortissimo. The rest of the programme was made up of a number of vocal pieces by Mrs. Kepmton, Mrs. Marie Abbott, and Mr. W. J. Hill, and the overture to ‘Semiramide’ and selections from ‘Robert,’ by Grafulla’s band. This band was provided with a full set of the newly-improved brass instruments designed by Mr. Louis Schreiber, the well-known cornet player. We have heard a great deal recently about their merits, and they certainly produced on this occasion an admirable effect, their tones being peculiarly rich and round, and blending far better than those of the old style of instruments, a result which is due principally to their novel shape. In their construction, angles are carefully avoided, and the bell is turned upward, so that not only are the vibration and brilliancy improved, but the sound is at once united and diffused, instead of being driven in different directions according to the position of the instrument.”
“. . . Music, in the week just ended, was principally represented by classical and sacred concerts. It will remain in the memory of music lovers under the name of the Week of Oratorios. Steinway Hall was crowded with spectators every evening with the works of Haydn, Handel, Mendelssohn, etc.”
“Musical Festival in New York…The Festival (nominally) terminated with a grand orchestral concert on Saturday evening, of which these were the interesting features:
Introduction to 3d Act of Medea…..Cherubini
Symphony, A major…..F. L. Ritter
J. N. Pattison
Symphony, ‘Wellington’s Victory’…..Beethoven
Beethoven’s so-called ‘Symphony’ is interesting as a curiosity, but in no other way. Of course the combination of orchestra, two military bands (one playing ‘Rule Britannia,’ and the other ‘Marlborough se va-t-en guerre’ from which is taken the familiar song ‘We won’t go home till morning’), a drum corps and a squad of Caledonian piper,’ could not fail to please a general audience, but I could find no enjoyment in hearing it.
“Mr. Pattison displayed his great dexterity of finger and the good qualities of an exceedingly full-toned Steinway grand in his neat performance of Henselt’s extremely uninteresting and rambling Concert. Mrs. Abbott and Mr. Hill contributed tow solos each in a style seemingly acceptable to the audience. Mr. Hill made quite a ‘spread’ in the ‘Marseillaise Hymn’ which he evidently selected as his solo for the purpose of displaying a very good and praiseworthy B flat.
“And now for the best this in the programme, Mr. Ritter’s Symphony. Those orchestral works which he had already given to the world had not prepossessed me in his favor, and therefore I was the more agreeably surprised to find that this Symphony is a work of very great ability. There are, it is true, traces of Mendelssohn to be found in it; for instance the theme of the 1st movement reminds one of the same in the Italian Symphony; the Minuetto or rather its Trio is almost exactly similar in treatment to the ‘horn Trio’ in the ‘Italian,’ and the Andante (in its opening bars) very like the duet in ‘Elijah,’ ‘Bow down thine ear to our prayer.’ Therefore we do not find Mr. Ritter’s work a wholly and entirely original one; yet it is unquestionably the most complete and most thoroughly fine symphonic composition which has ever been written on this side of the Atlantic. the Minuetto with its Trio proved so attractive that it was encored; and throughout the whole work the applause was very general, emphatic and even demonstrative. Mr. Ritter has cut a deep notch high upon the pillar of Fame; it is for him to use it was a vantage ground for reaching higher; it is for us to acknowledge his undoubted merits and ability; it is not impossible that he may be the ‘coming composer,’ whose advent we so anxiously await.
“Notwithstanding the villainous weather which has prevailed during the week, the audiences have been encouragingly large, and Mr. Harrison is entirely to the warmest thanks of the music-loving public for furnishing so much good music for so reasonable a price [the tickets were $5 for the series of seven concerts].”