Academy of Music
7 August 2019
“We do not recollect a musical or dramatic occasion for years past at the Academy of Music, we refer to both the old and new buildings, on which a more brilliant and thoroughly fashionable audience was assembled together to do homage to the twin Muses of Thalia and Melpomene. To say simply that the building was crowded would give a very inadequate idea of the mass of people that filled every seat, aisle, lobby and even the family circle. It was a just acknowledgment of the public appreciation of the efforts made by the Philharmonic Society for true art under the direction of their entertaining and energetic president, Dr. Doremus, and their painstaking conscientious and talented chef d’orchestre, Carl Bergmann. The programme was also one of rare attraction, every work being of a first class nature. Gluck’s overture to ‘Iphigenia’ and Weber’s ‘Oberon’ overture formed a brilliant introduction and finale to the sublime poem of ‘Manfred,’ to which Schumann has given some master touches of orchestration and song, and one of Beethoven’s greatest piano works, the concerto in G major.
The New York Liederkranz Society sang the choruses of ‘Manfred’ in superb style, although the voices, 150 in number, were heavily overweighted by the immense orchestra. The most attractive feature about the poem was the little waifs of melody, chords and descriptive musical passages, which accompanied the reading of the poem. The connecting text in the form of prologues was very cleverly translated from the German of Richard Polil by Mr. J. H. Cornell. The translator throughout endeavored, and we think successfully, to infuse some of the spirit of the poem into those narrative passages. Mr. Edwin Booth was the reader on the occasion, and also evinced a desire to render the sublime passages in a spirit worthy of them. His peculiar intonation, however, and want of real dramatic fire, marred the effect which his careful and scholarly recitation would otherwise have commanded. The reading was to a considerable degree monotonous, and the inflections of voice for each of the characters in the poem so limited, and the intonation so precise and deliberate, that the burning passages which light up this, the greatest of Byron’s works, fell coldly on the ear. The concerto was very badly played by Mr. Charles Jarvis, who in a parlor or small concert hall might be acceptable for his neat and clean execution, but who is exceedingly small when placed against the background of an orchestra with such a work as that of Beethoven before him. To the orchestra all praise must be given. We never heard them play with more spirit, unanimity and expression. After the concert a very neat and eloquent address was made to Mr. Booth by Dr. Doremus, thanking him in behalf of the society, and then the worthy Doctor was presented by the society with a piece of plate which Mr. Hill accompanied with some engrossed resolutions of thanks.”
“At the Philharmonic concert on Saturday night Mr. Booth’s reading of the text of Byron’s ‘Manfred,’ as adapted by Messrs. Pohl and Cornell to Schumann’s music, was the absorbing attraction. Mr. Booth read with taste, avoiding, perhaps, too carefully, anything that would recall his vocation on the stage. The only complaint that could be made of his reading was that it became somewhat monotonous—that there was scarcely enough dramatic variety in it to define with distinctness the various characters who are supposed to speak. In the longer soliloquies Mr. Booth was, however, effective, and the rapturous applause of the audience showed that they were thoroughly pleased with every word that fell from the lips of the most admired of American actors. The music of Schumann generally found favor too; and the other selections on the programme twinkled around ‘Manfred’ like little stars around some great central luminary. After the performance a handsome presentation was made to Mr. Booth by the directors of the Philharmonic Society.”
“The Philharmonic Society made amends for the remarkably bad concert that it gave four weeks ago by the remarkably good one of last evening. We do not remember any more thoroughly interesting programme. It was blessed by the most fortunate absence of any works by Liszt or any of his brethren of the mad school of musicians. The interest centered in a work of a kind that is seldom heard in our concert halls. Mr. Edwin Booth read Byron’s tragic poem ‘Manfred,’ to which Schumann, has composed the incidental and descriptive music, as Mendelssohn has to the ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream.’ It was a most rare and happy combination of the intellectual and spiritual elements. The music wove about every line of the poem an exquisite arabesque of tone that with consummate art developed and intensified the author’s meaning while the poem in its turn gave form and purpose to the musicians’ delicate fancies and infused life and meaning into his unsubstantial thought. Mr. Booth read with most subtle and refined appreciation of the poem. His elocution never seemed more clear and scholarly. The modulations of his voice were sweet and musical, and in beautiful accord with the accompanying orchestral harmonies. The dramatic parts were read with intense feeling and expression, and with appropriate gesture, yet never for an instant becoming extravagant or forgetful of the fact that he stood at the reading desk and not upon the stage. He was listened to with intense interest by the large audience. Among them were many of the clergy, upon whom the lesson in elocution that they received will, we hope, not be altogether thrown away.”
“The Philharmonic programme on Saturday night was a strong one, being provided with two pièces de résistance. The first of these was the Beethoven [sic, no small caps] ‘Concerto, in G major.’ The piano part was rendered by Mr. Charles H. Jarvis, of Philadelphia, a gentleman who has a high reputation in that city as a thorough scientific musician, a successful instructor, and a favorite public performer. He showed a very clear and intelligent comprehension of this beautiful Concerto, rendering its peculiarly exacting passages most admirably. His touch is clean and crisp, his ideas of interpretation well defined, and, although lacking somewhat in warmth of expression, his accentuation is unusually musician-like and satisfactory. We think the gentleman’s choice of a piano was not a fortunate one. It lacked the fullness and sonority needed in so large a house as the Academy, and to that extent, lessened the effect of his excellent performance.
The most considerable undertaking of the evening was Schumann’s ‘Manfred,’ a kind of adaptation of Byron’s wild drama condensed, the main dramatic scenes being preserved almost entire. Mr. Edwin Booth read the drama, the declamatory portions being sometime prefaced, sometimes accompanied, sometimes interrupted by orchestral or choral music, the latter being rendered by the Liederkranz Society. The idea is of itself a strange one, and well calculated for illustration by Schumann’s singular genius, of which the work is quite characteristic; although the broken and disjointed progress of it is not favorable to a well-developed unity of design. The overture, enriched with the somber coloring of violoncellos and horns, which Schumann seems to have especially delighted in, is a most appropriate prelude to the sad story. After this, Mr. Booth read the prologue, and introduced the melancholy and desperate, but still fearless Manfred, who invokes demons, parleys with spirits, attempts to fling himself from the giddy heights, is prevented, still more and more daringly and despairingly calls beings of the other world to his counsels, and at last compels the shade of his lost love to appear, from whom he learns that his earthly trials are over, and that his death is near. Finally, receiving no assurance of forgiveness from God, and defying with his latest breath the demons who have been his slaves, he dies.
The music is throughout descriptive; sometimes, as in representations of the spirit of the Alpine waterfall, it is most exquisite and fairy-like; at others, as in the entr’acte introducing the interview of Manfred with the Witch, it is wild and weird; and the orchestral breathings which accompany his address to the dead Astarte and her brief awful replies, are the embodied tones of profoundest grief, agony and despair. The latter portions, setting forth the defiant death of Manfred, are stronger and occasionally very impressive; while the final ‘Dirge’ fitly concludes the tragedy with a Requiescat which is not restful, but perturbed, unsatisfied, troublous.
The theme at best is but melodramatic; it gives no scope for real grandeur of composition, but the musician has certainly evoked from it all the power it was capable of yielding.
Mr. Booth’s penetrating, resonant voice and beautifully clear articulation were peculiarly well adapted to the combination of recital with orchestral accompaniment. No word, no sound, however fine or purposely suppressed, escaped the ear. His general appearance, too, and power of emotive expression, gave significant effect to the more passionate declamations. There, however, we must stop. Mr. Booth is not an intelligent reader; his tones, emphases, accents, are entirely artificial; not natural, nor yet rational. And when he has to convey an idea, instead of an emotion, he passes his limit. The audience, however, were abundantly satisfied, for he had rendered to them the feeling of the drama, and called him back to the stage to express their appreciation of that fact.
The only thing that marred the performance of ‘Manfred’ was the inconsiderate, senseless rustling of a thousand librettos, every time their readers had to turn over a leaf. People ought to be able to comprehend a performance in their own language without librettos, and the Society ought not to risk such ridiculous and irritating blemishes upon some of the finest potions of such a work by furnishing those thoughtless rustlers with such utterly needless instruments of noise.
The concert opened with Gluck’s delicate and suggestive ‘Iphigenia’ Overture, and closed with the ever-delightful ‘Oberon’ of Weber. Through the whole of the difficult and varied programme, Mr. Bergmann held sway over his orchestra with his accustomed precision. It was a very complete concert, and the Academy was simply packed, from bottom to top.”
“The sixth and last of the season’s Philharmonic Concerts took place at the Academy of Music on Saturday evening. The programme was musically the weakest of the series, but the crowd was something awful even to remember. Three quarters of an hour before the performance began every seat was occupied, and thence forward until 8 o’clock the jam in the aisles and lobbies grew every minute, thicker and thicker. The following was the programme:
Concerto for piano, G major…..Beethoven
Mr. Charles H. Jarvis
Soliloquy by Mr. Edwin Booth
Chorus, quartet and solos by the Liederkranz Society
The Gluck overture is the greatest but the least popular of these four pieces. Grand in style and charmingly compact in treatment, it leaves upon the mind a feeling of delicious repose and satisfaction. There are no loose ends of thought imperfectly woven into the texture; no scraps of melody left hanging to tantalize the memory; but the theme is simple and direct, and its elaboration perfect. It was performed with great delicacy and intelligence, yet we cannot say that it produced a very deep effect, for upon a miscellaneous audience such music rarely makes its due impression.
Mr. Jarvis, who made in the Beethoven concerto his first appearance in New-York, is a Philadelphia pianist of high repute. He has a clean, bright touch and a good technique, and in a small room we dare any would be heard to much better advantage than in the Academy of Music. It must be very remarkable piano playing indeed which does not suffer by contrast with an orchestra such as that of the Philharmonic Society. Mr. Jarvis’s playing is not very remarkable; it lacks character and force. Moreover, there are very few pianists who can grasp the subtile [sic] spirit of Beethoven, and Mr. Jarvis is not one of them.”
The chief feature of the evening was the interpretation of Schumann’s ‘Manfred’ by Mr. Edwin Booth, the Liederkranz Society, and the orchestra. This work, as our readers probably know, is an illustration of Byron’s poem. Schumann wrote for it an overture (which was played at the first Philharmonic Concert last season), and some incidental vocal and instrumental music, and Richard Pohl of Leipzig condensed it by recasting parts of the poem into narrative prologues, and leaving what he supposed to be the finest portions to be declaimed as a soliloquy. It has never before been performed in America, and to fit it for the use of the Philharmonic Society Mr. J. H. Cornell has turned the prologues into English, taking, as he assures us, a great many liberties with Herr Pohl, and keeping as near to Byron as possible. His task was an ungrateful one, and we are not disposed to criticize the execution of it, albeit the double dilution of the bard by both Cornell and Pohl has produced some curious effects. Indeed, we may say that the whole performance was more valuable as a curiosity than as a work of art. Music and declamation are very apt to kill each other, and except in three or four passages we found the ‘Manfred’ tame. The overture is by far the best of it. The choruses are few and short; the principal one is a ‘Hymn of the Demons,’ wonderful for its strange fire and its wild effects; and there are two quartettes—one for male voices only—which need much better interpretation than they received on Saturday to be fairly appreciated. A good deal of the soliloquy is accompanied by soft music, and in the passage where Manfred is saved from suicide by the chamois hunter, a beautiful effect is produced by the introduction of a shepherd’s pipe in the distance playing a simple rustic air, which contrasts singularly with passion of the poem. Mr. Booth read with rather more than his usual mannerism, and less than his usual fire. His Manfred is a melancholy soul, with a tendency to deprecation—consumed with the sadness of disappointment, not as Byron painted him, with the fierce, proud grief of a fallen spirit. Contemplating perpetually his own wretchedness, pitying his own sorrows, listening to his own moans, he loses the dignity with which the poet invested his creation, and the awe which ought to be inspired by sin, and mental torture, and the presence of spirits of the unseen world. Yet in several places Mr. Booth’s declamation was superb. The dialogue between Manfred and the Watch of the Alps was excellent, and the farewell to Astarte produced a very deep impression. The reader, of course, was greeted with a tumult of applause, both at the opening and the close, and was several times, rather inopportunely interrupted by the course of the piece by similar demonstrations.
The overture to ‘Oberon,’ with which the concert closed, was charmingly performed, but after the vagueness of ‘Manfred’ one hungered for rather stronger meat. The last two concerts of this season in fact have been strangely deficient in the highest kind of music which the Philharmonic Society is established especially to interpret. We fear it is getting too prosperous.”
“New York, May 10.—The musical season has virtually ended with the 6th Philharmonic Concert, which occurred on Saturday evening. I append the programme:
4th P.F. Concerto, G major….Beethoven
Mr. Jarvis (of Philadelphia)
Manfred (1st Time in America)….Schumann
Declamations and Prologue by Edwin Booth
Choruses by the Liederkranz Society
Overutre, ‘Oberon’….Von Weber
[Mendelssohn’s Italian Symphony had been performed at two rehearsals, and it was the general impression that it would be one of the attractions of the concert. It did not appear upon Saturday evening’s programme.].
The opening Overture, solid and firm, took us back to the old ‘square toed,’ bewigged and bepowdered days when musical ideas were the main points, and orchestral effects were merely subordinate; we moderns ‘have changed all that,’ but scarcely for the better.
Beethoven’s dreamy, romantic Concerto received full justice at the hands of Mr. Jarvis, who played the piano part with great smoothness and elegance, and with noteworthy attention to shading and phrasing. His crescendos were peculiarly excellent.
Schumann’s ‘Manfred’ was necessarily, by its magnitude, the feature of the evening, and was quite creditably done, considering that the rehearsals had been far too few for the preparation of such a work. The Overture has been played a few times in this country, but the incidental music has never before been heard by an American audience. The entire work bears the mark of Schumann’s wonderful genius; for unity of design and felicitous adaptation of music to the text, it can scarcely be equaled. The text is of course adapted from Byron’s fragmentary drama, and the soliloques—with connecting prologue—were superbly recited by Edwin Booth. Every tone and inflection of his rich and musical voice could be distinctly heard in every part of the immense building. As to the music itself, the Overture is a complete tone picture of the craggy solitudes and mental desolation in which Manfred is found by the prologue. The incidental music is also most admirable, especially the little gem which separates the first from the second act, and more especially the exquisite and aerial bit which symbolizes the ‘apparition of the Witch of the Alps.’ There is also a magnificent chorus of ‘Infernal Spirits,’ which was well done by the Liederkranz. The whole work was most carefully conducted by Carl Bergmann, to whom too much praise cannot be accorded for his promptitude and care in every detail.
I should like to give a word of praise to the orchestra, but my regard for truth forbids me, for I have never known this efficient organization to play so poorly. In the Gluck Overture the violins were uncertain and shaky, and in the Concerto more so.
The concert closed with an orthodox Von Weber Overture, and thus ended the 20th season of the New York Philharmonic Society.”
“The last Philharmonic concert of the season has been given, and is pronounced much superior to the preceding. The most noticeable part of the programme was Schumann’s ‘Manfred,’ the text of which is found in Byron, and which has been arranged for concert purposes. Some portions of it were of the most enjoyable description.”