Academy of Music
5 June 2021
“The programme was far more interesting last night at the second concert of the Philharmonic Society than at the preceding one. There were two soloists, unsurpassed in their line in their best selections, and a new symphony by a composer who on this occasion stamped himself as the first at present in Europe. This symphony in C, by Raff, reveals a mine of heretofore hidden talent which his other works did not lead us to suppose had any existence. It is original, entirely so, in treatment, if not in themes, orchestrated in such a manner as to combine constant variety with homogeneity and fresh and flowing with ideas. There is not a dull phrase in the four movements, long though they may be. Its main charm is the utter absence of straining after effect, like the soi-disant symphonic works of many of Raff’s contemporaries. There is a spontaneity and naturalness about it even when the composer makes dangerous experiments and combinations with the instruments at his command which renders it delightful to the musical ear. The scherzo and finale, in particular, are strikingly original in their treatment and varied as the changes of a kaleidoscope, yet underneath all these vagaries there is a distinct idea and subject never lost sight of for a moment. Raff has not always written so; some of his pious works, for instance, are very like trash, but he can point to this symphony with pride as an evidence of genius. It was superbly played, all the delicate nuances and effects of light and shade being brought out with artistic distinctness and power. Ole Bull played the first movement of Mozart’s violin concerto in D major exquisitely. The work is delicious; thoroughly Mozart, and Mozart at his best. The beautiful melodies, of a nature which, alas, is never thought of nowadays, with their characteristic little trill at the end of each phrase, came from the magic violin of the great virtuoso like echoes of the past, and the beautifully rounded allegro passages were like diamond drops in sparkling brilliancy and sharply defined outlines. We did not think so much of the fantasia from Bellini’s ‘Romeo,’ although it gave the artist full scope to display his wonderful mastery over the violin. The themes, with one exception, were not of the melodious character which rendered Bellini famous in his other works. But the magic tones of the violin, now organ-like in the harmony of a quartet, and anon almost human in their pleading tenderness, rose above the suppressed murmur of the orchestral accompaniment.
“The only blot on the programme was the incomprehensible and chaotic overture to ‘King Lear’ by Hector Berlioz. Whatever the merits of this composer may be in his intimate knowledge of the resources of the orchestra, and his power of producing any effects he pleases therein, it is nevertheless certain that few of his works show either grandeur of conception or capability to carry out a fixed idea. There are some striking effects in ‘King Lear,’ but we doubt very much if even the accomplished director, Carl Bergmann, knew last night what on earth the composer was driving at. A chaotic mass of irreconcilable phrases and scraps of themes was all we could distinguish. S. B. Mills played Chopin’s magnificent concerto in F minor in faultless style. It is a true poem in every sense of the word. The opening Maestoso movement alone is a great work. The scintillating tones of the piano in those ever varying and ever modulating passages which extend through its entire compass flash out with startling brilliancy from the dark background of the orchestra. The Larghetto is tender and pleasing as an idyl. Mr. Mills infused warmth and passion into every phrase and in the recitative, beneath which one hears the murmur-like sobbing of the orchestra, there was boldness, energy and intensity of feeling. The finale, so eminently Polish in spirit, consisting of reminiscences of those national mazurkas which Chopin has fashioned into spirits of light and beauty, was given with that pearly distinctness in which every note, even in the most rapid passages, preserved its individuality. The clear, ringing tones of the grand piano, so equal throughout their entire register, leaped forth at the touch of the pianist like a shower of pearls and fashioned many strange fancies in the brain of the listener. A work like this would entitle the composer to the position, the fame, of poet laureate of the piano for all ages. Weber’s well known and ever welcome Jubilee overture, with its fantastic coloring of the English national anthem, concluded a concert from which the immense audience went away with musical impressions which should drive dull care and sorrow away for some time.”
“At the second concert of the season, given on Saturday night at the Academy of Music, there was the usual crowd of delighted visitors. The violin solos of Ole Bull—a Mozart concerto and a fantasia on themes from Bellini—were probably the most popular features of the programme, and they proved that the great violinist fully retains all the masterly skill and personal magnetism that have made him so widely celebrated. Mr. S. B. Mills played on the piano-forte, in a style well worthy of his reputation, a concerto by Chopin. The orchestral selections included Raff’s Symphony in C, and Berlioz’s ‘Lear’ and Weber’s ‘Jubilee’ overtures.”
“The Philharmonic Society gave its second concert of the season on Saturday evening, at the Academy of Music. There was the usual large attendance. A new symphony by Raff, a composer better known to pianists than to the concert room, was performed. The composition gave proof that Raff is a musician of much learning, and not disposed to yield too far to the vagaries of the extreme men of the German school. His symphony is founded upon the old and well-considered formulas, and is worked out in a careful and scholarly manner. The andante movement is full of devotional spirit and ideality, the scherzo is bright, jocose, and very eccentric in rhythm and accent, and the finale buoyant, spirited, and interesting.
“Mr. Mills played the best, though not the most popular of Chopin’s Concertos—that in F minor—a work replete with poetic sensibility and ideality, too subtle for ordinary concert-goers, and of deeper meaning than can be possibly caught in the transient listening of a single hearing. Mr. Mills interpreted the delicate and spiritual thought of the composer in a most finished and artistic manner.
“The veteran musician, Ole Bull, more elastic, vigorous, and graceful in his years than most men in their youth, played a movement from a violin concerto to Mozart, and also a fantasie of his own on themes from Bellini’s ‘Montecchi e Capuletti.’ While recognizing this artist’s many great merits as a violinist, especially the wonderfully beautiful tone that he draws from his fine instrument, we certainly do not find his style in keeping with the music that one expects to hear at a Philharmonic concert. These were not, as we have always understood the matter, intended to be popular concerts in the ordinary sense of that term, of which there is a sufficiency already, but classical ones, and, at such, the embellishment of Italian operatic melodies with all the tricks of the Paganini school of violinists seems entirely out of place. Not that Mr. Ole Bull did not play these embellishments well (barring his descending scales, the intervals of which are to be found in no mode, major or minor, Phyrgian, Dorian or Lydian that we know of), but they were best not played at all.
“Berlioz, ‘King Lear’ overture was the only remaining work on the programme that calls for special notice. Schumann said that he was always at a loss whether to consider Berlioz a genius or a charlatan, and certainly his ‘Lear’ is a work that eminently conduces to that doubtful state of mind. Lear was a mad old king, and this is a mad old overture—so far so good; the music aptly illustrates the monarch; but Lear was at times something other than mad, and into these moods Berlioz fails to follow him. The overture is fragmentary; an idea is no sooner taken fairly in hand than it is dropped for another; The brass instruments are in a constant fever of climax and trouble. The work is boldly instrumented, however, and serves to bring out the wealth of resources of the noble orchestra. The unison recitative passages for strings, however feeble in themselves, are made rich and sonorous by the combination upon them of such an army of instruments.” [Reprinted in DJM 01/15/70, p. 176]
“The one hundred and twenty-third concert of the Philharmonic Society, and the second of the present season, was given at the Academy of Music on Saturday night, when, with commendable fidelity, the following programme was submitted: [see above]. To this chaste and, classically speaking, almost unexceptionable entertainment, a numerous audience gave close attention and moderate applause. The house was in most parts uncomfortably full; although some private boxes remained empty. The heat was excessive—a state of things charming no doubt to bloodless and fleshless people, but not so delightful to unfortunates of average healthy condition. The problem of ventilating our theatres and public halls has yet to be solved. An atmosphere which resembles neither that of an ice-well nor an oven should somehow be made possible. In a climate of violent extremes this, of course, is not easy, but it is the American fashion to conquer difficulties, and that of steadily combining agreeable warmth with a fair share of oxygen may, we trust, be classed ere long among our achievements.
“Repeated hearings are essential to the formation of an intelligent opinion of Herr Raff’s symphony. It was played at this concert for the first time in America, and played remarkably well. The Philharmonic orchestra was heard, as we think, to better advantage in it than in any previous work of the season. The symphony is full of talent, of profound learning, of quaint and sparkling turns of expression, but it is not the production of a man of decided originality or genius. It reminds one too often and too unmistakably of the composer’s teachers and exemplars. Familiarity will doubtless lead to a recognition of beauties that escape us now. At present our impression is that of a paucity and attenuation of melodic effect, in spite of the easy and flowing character that pervades nearly the whole of the composition. There are judges whose views are entitled to respect, who credit Raff with first-rate powers. We do not think this symphony, admirable as in parts it is, justifies so exalted an estimate. Whatever the scale of his merits, he could not well have been better interpreted than he was on this occasion. The orchestra did themselves abundant credit by the delicacy, feeling and sympathetic accord with which they described the various movements.
“Mr. Bull delighted the public by his masterly performance of Mozart’s Concerto. The magnetism of this violinist’s presence seems to do nearly as much for him as his professional skill. We do not think this occasion was among his most inspired ones. Yet the old charm was never lacking—the charm wherewith he binds together wondrous execution with dreamy poetic feeling, and his bow was as ever with his audience an enchanter’s wand. The subsequent fantasia from Bellini’s ‘Romeo,’ the most ‘popular’ number of the evening, was received with great approbation, and Mr. Bull, was of course recalled after each of his selections. The exquisitely symmetrical concerto in F minor of Chopin was played by Mr. S. B. Mills in a manner worthy of itself—praise which no hyperbole could surpass. The passion and imagination of this splendid composition can only be felt and depicted by a kindred spirit, and we have scarcely heard Mr. Mills sustain his claim to the highest position in his sphere so clearly and undeniably as he did on Saturday. The second part of the programme was ushered in by the ‘King Lear’ overture of Berlioz. We can conceive what a composer must almost inevitably try to indicate in an attempt of this sort, but the meaning of Berlioz hardly comports with this or aught else that is intelligible. The music of madness must have method in it, or at least coherence enough to retain attention and interest. Mere power over instruments no more than mere power over words implies capacity for the grandest reaches of art. Either are but the counters or representatives of ideas, and not the ideas themselves. The orchestration of ‘King Lear,’ scientifically fine as it is, cannot alone make it a great work. Its general effect is confused and disappointing—teaching us nothing and reminding us of nothing unless, indeed, it be the German metaphysician’s definition of the universe, which, according to him is: ‘Nothing, smashed up.’
“The second concert for the season of the Philharmonic Society, must be set down as decidedly a better one than the first. It was, that is to say, of a higher grade and presented features less obnoxious to question. On the other hand it was, as a whole, duller than its predecessor, and offered fewer points of interest and variety. These elements are required in a measure that the directors apparently fail to perceive, in order to make the Philharmonic Concerts in all respects what they should be.”
“The second concert of the Philharmonic Society was given at the Academy of Music on Saturday evening. The following was the programme [see above].
“This was, upon the whole, a good selection, but not a strong one, for it included no music of the highest class, and as all the three solos were encored, the share of Mr. Bergmann’s fine orchestra of 100 pieces was subordinate to the exhibition of individual proficiency. We depend upon the Philharmonic Society for the production of grand orchestral works which require the combined skill and enthusiasm of many players; and we are always sorry to see them lower the high standard of their art-mission in deference to the popular preference for music which, however excellent in its way, belongs properly to the ordinary concert room. Perhaps we have no right to complain; the Society must meet its expenses, and the multitude prefer what the uninspired ear can easily comprehend; last Saturday the three orchestral pieces were received with great coldness, and the six solos were applauded with rapture.
“Raff, whose Symphony in C was presented at this concert for the first time in America, is little known in New York. He is a pupil of Mendelssohn, and exhibits some of the characteristics of his master’s method, though he has caught little of the true Mendelssohn spirit. His work is admirable for its correct treatment, its broad and effective style, and the richness and variety of its combinations. Yet the score is more remarkable for careful writing and good instrumentation than originality of thought or even a judicious appropriation of borrowed beauties. Raff draws upon his memory for his inspiration. He is not a plagiarist, but his symphony is full of reminiscences of Schumann, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, and, toward the end, even the stately figure of Father Handel himself rises for a moment from the grave, with a few swinging measures, which sound like the prelude to a gigantic chorus. The new symphony, in fact, is the work of a thorough scholar, who just lacks the divine spark which would have made him a genius.
“The Berlioz overture is less extravagant than most of [the] compositions of the great French prophet, and is consequently endurable; although to one who recognizes beauty as the goal of art we do not understand how it can ever be agreeable. It is best described perhaps as solid chunks of sound, and although it seems every instant on the point of falling into confusion, its form is sternly kept and chaos at the end is conquered. To the manner of its performance, and indeed to all the work done under Mr. Bergmann’s direction last Saturday, we owe nothing but praise.
“It was a great comfort to hear Ole Bull in such a good, honest composition as the first movement of Mozart’s D major concerto, and it is almost unnecessary to say that his performance was not only fine but extraordinary. Ole Bull has a strong sympathy for Mozart, as those who have heard him on the rare occasions when he indulges in classical luxuries well know. His Bellini fantasia we do not like, although he made it the occasion for some of the most pathetic and voice-like violin-playing we ever heard, even from him; but it was received with furious demonstrations, and, like the concerto, led to a recall. It was late in the evening, and many in the audience were impatient to be gone, but the majority insisted upon an encore. It mortifies us in the extreme to say that the malcontents so far forgot good manners and the respect due to an estimable gentleman, as to hiss when he came forward in obedience to a very persistent demand. This, of course, was the signal for such emphatic repetition of the recall, and such polite insistence from Mr. Bergmann and the orchestra, that Ole Bull was forced to proceed. No doubt the system of encores is radically a nuisance, and we should heartily rejoice to see it broken up; but artists have feelings to which well-bred people will always show deference, and though the hissing on this occasion was intended not for the performer, but for the applauders, it was nevertheless insulting to do it in the performer’s presence.
“Mr. S. B. Mills, in the Chopin concerto, was at his very best. The delicacy of this beautiful work was admirably brought out by his exquisite touch, and at the close of one movement his impassioned execution elicited the most intelligent and spontaneous applause of the evening.”
“New York, Jan. 11.—Our 2d Philharmonic concert occurred on Saturday evening at the Academy of Music. Messrs. S. B. Mills (piano) and Ole Bull (violin) were the solo artists. [Lists programme: see above]
“The Symphony is a work of very great ability and talent, and totally devoid of those strainings after effect which are generally characteristic of the school to which the author belongs. The first movement--an Allegro moderato—has a sort of pastoral character, and the second theme is of great beauty and sweetness; the melodic continuity of purpose is admirable in this as in the subsequent movements.
“The 2d movement—Andante con moto—is of quasi religious character and reminds one a little of the Larghetto in Schumann’s B-flat symphony. The 2d theme of this movement is particularly excellent, and this and the original theme are ‘pointed against’ each other in a masterly and most effective style. The movement closes with an exquisitely beautiful suspended chord in a remote key, and after a few measured drum taps, dies quickly away.
“The 3d movement—Allegro Vivace—is in G minor and apparently in 3-8 time. It is quite Mendelssohnian in character, both as regards theme and instrumentation. The trio is in C major and possesses numberless little runs for the wood wind instruments. This is really very neat, although the rhythm is greatly involved and it is difficult to catch the time. After the trio comes a delicious melodic phrase in A-flat, which is thoroughly Schumann-like in character and style, and which vanishes after a few bars, (far too quickly for one’s enjoyment) to be succeeded by the first theme in G minor.
“The 4th movement—an Allegro con brio—is preceded by a short Adagio in A flat, which prepares the way for a vigorous theme in C, taken first by the violas and soon afterwards by the other instruments. This movement is less original then the others, but is nevertheless strong and good; as a whole, the Symphony is a thoroughly interesting and eminently musical composition, in which the various themes are sufficiently original, while the orchestration is admirable. It was of course capitally played by the unrivalled orchestra under Bergmann’s careful and intelligent direction.
“Ole Bull, whose reception was much less enthusiastic than it was last season, played the movement from the Mozart Concerto in a very good style, and with measurably good intonation for him. His manner too, was less exaggerated than it normally is, and so the performance was quite enjoyable. Being encored, he played an arrangement of the Adagio from Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet; this he played in four parts—a remarkable feat, which is his only real excellence—and terminated with some very incomplete and unartistic ‘harmonies.’
“Chopin’s superb Concerto was admirably played by Mr. Mills; the orchestral performance was a little less excellent, but it would indeed be wonderful if everything were always done to perfection. Mr. Mills’s rendering of the exquisite Adagio was careful, artistic, and thoroughly imbued with the poetic sentiment so essential to a proper appreciation and interpretation of Chopin. For an encore Mr. M. played very neatly Chopin’s beautiful little valse in D flat, op. 64.”
The Philharmonic played one of Norway’s finest airs for Ole Bull after the audience had dispersed. They had intended to honor him with a serenade, but played indoors because of the severely cold weather. Bull requested that an American national air also be played.