2 October 2013
"To Philharm. concert to-night with Johnny and little Kate at Irving Hall, wh[ich] was overcrowded. Programme was the 7th Symphony and a piano concerto by Mendelssohn's in D (not very impressive on first acquaintance). Gade's 'Reminscences of Ossian Overture, which is generally melodic and suggestive, & in spots decidedly strong, but not worth much as a whole: some more piano (solo) by Rich. Hoffman— : Beethoven’s concerto for cornet-a-piston (real solid music in large chunks) & Hector Berlioz’s pyrotechnic Franc Juges Overture. . . .The music took me straight back to old times (1844-47). When C and I heard it at the ancient Apollo Rooms, Broadway below Canal St, & when my Miss Ellen (God bless her) & his Mrs Eleanor were severally young ladies wholly unknown to us both.
What ever has been written that’s more grand and impressive than the Introduction (larghetto) to this symphony? How stately and heroic is the great massive phrase of melody that begins it!—Then these two ascending sequences of chords each followed by its two dark notes from the horns. Are they not like some shuddering vague presentiment of some awful destiny, inevitably to be fulfilled? Then through the crash of the full orchestra working up this subject comes the noble, sharply-defined melody (in C, afterwards in F), so full of majestic lament, which culminates on the F, on which the Allegro is built. All this is the embodiment in music of “gorgeous tragedy—in scepter’d fall,” a fitting overture to Antigone or Oedipus. So is the D-major portion of the 3rd movement. I don’t know what to say about the beautiful, gorgeous inspiring music of the Allegro, because I do not comprehend the symphony as a whole. But its jollity, coming between the introduction and the eerie 2nd movement, seems that of one who is 'fey' and doomed. –Then that wonderful 2nd movement, the Allegretto, the most intense & virulent among all Beethoven’s intensities! What power in its opening chord alone—and in its fearful subject—enunciated first by the basses, then by the celli and the 2nd violins & at last by the full orchestra! An analogy in form and color would be a picture of grey shadowy forms floating hopelessly down towards Hades. But the orchestra slips somehow into the key of A major, and gives us a new subject, a melody without any form that I can get hold of, but somehow or other full of peace and rest for the weary. It is followed by distinct, well-defined melodic phrases that end in a very characteristic downward movement in unison. Then reappears the grisly conception on which the opening of this movement is built. But it is now a single voice of despairing supplication de profundis—a wail like that of Dante’s Francesca da Rimini—Then comes a stupid little fugue and a few bars of simple noble music terminate this greatest of all Beethoven’s works save for except the C-Minor Symphony.
“The last Philharmonic concert of the season took place, under Carl Bergmann’s conductorship, on Saturday evening. The Symphony was Beethoven’s No. 7. This noble creation—perhaps, after the Pastoral, the most generally popular of all the Symphonies, and which seems to have flowed from the soul of the composer in an hour of ‘peace and good will to all mankind,’ so full is it of joyous feeling and inspiration—was admirably played by the Society; indeed, we never heard them play with more finish and effectiveness. The other orchestral numbers were, Gade’s ‘Reminiscences of Ossian,’ in a certain sense a faithful Scotch—or Scandinavian—picture, which, however, will not stand the test of frequent hearings; and Berlioz’ overture, ‘Les frams [sic] juges’ noisy and unpleasing. Mr. Hoffman played Mendelssohn’s second piano forte concerto with much execution; the Keller study and Chopin’s polonaise, were less effective in Mr. Hoffmann’s very agile hands. Mr. Schreiber played a solo, arranged from Beethoven, on that favorite, but, we think vulgar-tonéd instrument, the cornet à-piston, with great facility.”
[Lists program and performers.]
“Beethoven’s joyful strains, which he so abundantly and in such various shades offers in his seventh symphony, as usual, electrified the audience. It is certainly the most popular symphony with the patrons of the Philharmonic, and deservedly so, for in no work of the great master does he appear to us in such a happy, satisfactory mood as in this. Even the second movement with its march-like sadness is but the undertone of that humor, which prevails in the whole symphony. The performers did their work with evident pleasure and enthusiasm, and the result was, of course,—general satisfaction.
Gade’s overture ‘Ossian’ too pleased much. It is undoubtedly his best work, mostly on account of the really fine and original melodies it contains. The character of the music is, however, not equal throughout, there occur twice some phrases which are of a melodramatic style and by no means in accordance with the spirit of the poetry illustrated. Something similar we see in the overture ‘Les Francs Juges,’ by Berlioz. The introduction is grand and noble, but the allegro movement in its chief melody is trivial, and the treatment occasionally of very bad taste.—Mr. Hoffman did not play as neatly and surely as he generally does. Besides he lacked spirit and tone. But perhaps this latter deficiency was caused by the Grand (one of Chickering’s) by no means a good instrument.—Mr. Schreiber performed with the usual finish and taste. A great many renowned singers at our Academy of Music can learn from this artist, how to phrase.”