14 February 2017
“—On Saturday evening Mr. Carl Bergmann gave a brilliant concert, assisted by most of the performers of the Philharmonic Society, Mr. Mills, and others. The special novelty of the evening was Liszt’s symphony Faust. The original printer-devil has been variously blackened in musical notation. Herr Spohr put him in an opera, with a noble overture, and many fine things, a little wanting, however, in melodic genius. Hector Berlioz next thrusts the Doctor into an infernal vocal and instrumental symphony, hideously dull and ugly. But we think if Faust is to be represented by the anti-melodic school, Liszt has succeeded; for anything more ghastly and uninteresting it is not possible to conceive. Liszt is magnificent as a pianist,—as a transcriber of opera-pieces for the piano—but as a melodist he is worse than bad. Poeta nascitur non fit. The ambitious character of the music does not save it from being disjointed, and empty. Melody is the soul of music: the orchestra is but a large voice—for all instrumental music derives its charm from its likeness to the human voice, and not to the grunt of a pig or the chirrup of a bird; and when this philosophy of music is over-looked, we have the new ‘broken-crockery’ school as it is aptly termed.”
“New York, May 25.—The most interesting concert of the past two weeks was that given by Mr. Carl Bergmann on Saturday evening last, at Irving Hall. The programme consisted almost exclusively of what old people call ‘future music’—that is, music by composers yet living, or not yet cold enough in their graves to have become ‘classic.’
Liszt’s ‘Faust’ Symphony was the feature, performed here for the first time. The whole work is too ‘long drawn out,’ not always in ‘linked sweetness’; it consists of three movements, 1 Faust [sic, no period after 1] (Allegro). 2. Gretchen (Andante). 3. Mephistopheles (Scherzo and Finale). In programme music, one naturally expects to hear the poetic subject very clearly presented; but although Liszt has successfully embodied Mephisto in the closing movement, which is malicious, witty, diabolic with a will,—the musical Faust is uncharacterized—and as to Gretchen! Liszt brings her before us from the cradle to the grave, apparently, yet his Gretchen is but an insipid servant maid. The other orchestra numbers were Berlioz’s fanciful ‘Carneval Romain’ overture, and the introduction to Wagner’s ‘Lohengrin,’ which sounded knightly, pure, poetic, as it always does:
‘Aus alten Mährchen winkt es
Hervor mit weisser Hand.’
Mr. Mills played Schumann’s A minor piano-forte Concerto—fine music! And finely rendered; also a transcription by Liszt from ‘Sonnambula,’ which proved Liszt’s appreciation of what is fine in other composers. Mme. Johannsen sang Schubert’s song ‘Liebes-Cotschaft,’ and that Wanderlied by Schumann, which sounds as though Schumann had not written it.”
Different review from above; part of longer review of multiple performances.
“…On Saturday evening last Carl Bergmann gave a concert and introduced Liszt’s ‘Faust’ Symphony. This was the first performance of this composition in America, and, judging from the universal on-dit, its repetition will not be solicited save from mere curiosity. It is divided into three parts:
1. Faust [Allegro.]
2. Gretchen [Andante.]
3. Mephistopheles [Scherzo and Finale.]
Even the most enthusiastic of the German school pronounced it wild, disjointed, unsatisfactory. A succession of broken, angular sounds; a sort of chaotic mass, no melody distinguishable; a labored seeking but never finding—in fact bewildering and beyond description. How much sweeter and how charming was the Schumann Concerto in A minor, and Wagner’s ‘Lohengrin’ with Berlioz’s ‘Carneval Romain’ as a finale! Mme. Johannsen sang a couple of happy German songs: ‘Liebesbotschaft’ by Fr. Schubert, and ‘Wanderlied’ by Schumann; and S. B. Mills played a fantasia on ‘Sonnambula’, and in the Schumann Concerto.”
“A glance at this programme will be sufficient to indicate the kind of music which was offered on this occasion. The romantic school, from its beginning to its latest phase, was presented to us, and the disciples and admirers of this school had certainly a feast, perhaps never experienced in one single night. It was well to initiate us at once into the very latest mysteries of the new school. After we had once overcome the difficulties of the symphony by List, the balance of the programme was comparatively easy to digest. We can imagine, that Liszt was longing to have his say about the everlasting theme of Faust. He had only to look back to his own inner life to find a stimulant for such a purpose. He, too, had been searching after truth, and had tried to find it by all possible means; he too had plunged himself deeply into life and its excesses, always searching, and never grasping that ideal, for which his soul was longing. Is it this, which made him speak with so much earnestness, and occasionally with so much power and truth in the first part of his symphony, called ‘Faust?’ Was it the consciousness of the fact, that he had but to illustrate his own life, which inspired him with so much better thoughts than we find in the two other parts of the same work? No doubt, this first part is full of splendid traits of originality, with regard to treatment in general as well as in particular to instrumentation.
The principal motive, which often returns in manifold clothing and form, throughout the symphony, is characteristic and good; the workmanship of the whole is thoroughly excellent and worthy of the best artist, but the ideas are not always forthcoming with that freshness and felicity which is the sure indication of a really musical nature. One of the chief melodies of the second movement, for instance, which is intended to illustrate the feelings the character of ‘Gretchen’ in Goethe’s ‘Faust,’ is apt to cause in us, is not entirely original; on the other hand this very movement, which with regard to modulations is as daring and novel as anything Liszt ever wrote, is not without characteristic coloring, and well apt to recall in us the lovely figure of ‘Gretchen.’ As to the last part, illustration of Mephisto’s tricky character, we must confess that after having listened to the two first movements very attentively, we were a little fatigued, and consequently not up to the appreciation of its merits.
The performance of the symphony lasted over an hour, and although under the circumstances (only two rehearsals had been made,) it was highly satisfactory; yet it was by no means such as to help a listener who had never heard a note of the whole thing, in at once fathoming its very intricate mysteries. We hope, the symphony will be performed again. Let our Philharmonic Society give it to us next winter; the work deserves it, for in plan, in conception, and partially in treatment it is one of the grandest efforts made in instrumental music during the last thirty years.
The other pieces performed on this occasion were well-known, and have been repeated noticed in these columns. Schumann’s poetical and deep-felt concerto in A minor, sounded on a new and powerful Grand of Steinway’s, and under the masterhands of Mr. Mills, as deliciously attractive as ever. Wagner’s richly colored introduction to ‘Lohengrin’ met again with warm appreciation, but best of all pleased the overture to ‘Le Carneval Romain’ by Berlioz, with which the concert was concluded. It is undoubtedly the best work of the French composer.
Mr. Bergmann has done well to let us hear this music of the present, which will certainly furnish some of the materials out of which the music of the future will be formed.”