Academy of Music
Price: $1; $1.50 box; .50 family circle; .25 amphitheatre
10 November 2016
“Tomorrow an opera more praised and more condemned than any other musical work, Wagner’s ‘Tannhäuser,’ will be performed with participation by the singing club, ‘Arion.’ The opera’s best cast members will [also] participate. Both the chorus and orchestra will be expanded, and the procession in the second act has been supplied with new costumes and sets.”
“A positive novelty is offered to-night at the Academy of Music. This Richard Wagner’s much-talked-of opera of the ‘Tannhauser.’ The following is a synopsis of the plot: [offers synopsis of each act].
In the performance of this opera, all the artists of Mr. Anschutz’s troupe will take part. The orchestra has been increased, and under the able bâton of Mr. Carl Bergmann, will interpret the instrumental par [sic] with brilliancy. The chorus has been reënforced with the Arion Society. There is every prospect of a remarkable performance.”
“As a benefit for Mr. Steinecke, for the first time tonight the German Opera will present ‘Tannhäuser,’ the magnum opus of the ‘composer of the future.’ The casting for the opera is very good, employing almost everyone in the company, with ‘Arion’ participating in the choruses. The huge procession in the second act is beautifully costumed. The opera has been very well rehearsed, and, judging from yesterday’s dress rehearsal, today’s performance of ‘Tannhäuser’ promises to be very good.”
“German Opera.—Wagner’s celebrated opera of the ‘Tannhauser’ was brought out at the Academy of Music, last evening, with complete success. The performance was generally of a very credibtale sort, but owing to the length of the opera, it did not terminate until an hour much too late for us to do justice to its merits. We shall, therefore, defer our remarks to another occasion, simply placing on record the favorable reception of the opera, and the general merit of the performance. ‘Tannhauser’ will be repeated on Wednesday.”
“The growth of Art is, in one sense, independent of artists. It has its laws of birth, progress, and development, subject to the great fiat which made and sustains the universe, and which fixes irrefragable canons of mathematical and asthetical [sic] truth. No artist if a painter, no matter what his genius, can improve on Raphael by originating a Virgin with two noses, and a Child with one eye in the middle of the forehead. No musician can improve on Mozart by beginning a piece at the end and finishing in the middle; or by jumping about from key to key as if all were detestable alike; or by putting excrescences—dissonances,—musical warts, so to speak—at every instant on the chords, lest they should be deemed commonplace and stale, because simple, natural, and beautiful; or, by substitution broken-backed, club-footed bodies of musical phrases for the Apollo-like proportions of classical form in music.
It is all very well for a man to call himself a reformer where reform is needed. It is very easy, likewise, to say, ‘Whatever is, is wrong’ in religion, morals, politics or art; but it is not an easy matter to prove this by creating new system. The person who disparages everything and attempts to prove in effect that all before him is wrong, is simply very indiscreet.
Mr. Richard Wagner, the writer of the words and music of the opera of Tannhäuser, played last night at the Academy by Mr. Anschutz’s German opera company, sets himself up as a great musical reformer, both of words and music for opera. He has issued, besides, a volume detailing this theory, his likes and dislikes, his opinions, his patronage of this, that and the other musical person and thing—and remembers to forget to mention the name of the man who, above all others, has added to the variety of musical forms in the opera, in the brilliancy and intensity of melody, and in the vital dash of spontaneous creation: we mean, of course, Rossini.
Under favor, we consider it is a beggarly mode for a composer to seek to interest the public, by so describing his musical ideas, and notions regarding the music and words for operas. If the musical ideas and words have the true ring of genius, they speak for themselves, One really would expect, after Mr. Wagner’s dissertations on words, that he had some secret to impart practically; but upon examining his metres, we find them of the most common-place description, and the most unsuggestive as regards melodic forms; and, as for the plot of the opera in question it is simply stupid and dreary. There was some meaning and wonderful charm in Von Weber, giving us an episodical set portraying the Demon of the Harts-Mountains, and his grim, ghastly and firey works, because the said devil is not obtrusive throughout the opera, and does not interfere with the passion and emotion of the leading characters so as to distort them. But we never recognized the sense or interest in M. Meyerbeer’s ‘Original Jacobs’ of a Devil, Bertram, Alice; because a human interest cannot be excited in such unnatural creatures. So, too, when Mr. R. Wagner parades with an indescribable fuss his legend of Tannhäuser’s love of Venus, our only feeling is that he does not know how to choose a fitting subject for operatic treatment; for, Venus is simply a dramatic bore as well as a musical bore. The subject itself is utterly incapable by any mode of musical treatment to excite our emotions or sympathies and when, added to this, we have Mr. Wagner’s theory and practice which ignore most of the established laws of musical beauty, and truth along with it, and set up in their place sheer ugliness, and melodies so-called which even the most acute and retentive ear finds it nearly impossible to apprehend or retain, we have a production which may be ‘the music of the future’ but which makes us thankful that it is only the exceptional music of the present.
Mr. Wagner has disciples who affect to believe that he is ‘pregnant with celestial fire’; so had Johanna Southcote [sic] disciples during the last century who believed that she was in the same interesting situation with divinity itself. There is no folly too excessive not to have fanatical supporters. The chief priest of Mr. Wagner was, or is, Mr. Listz [sic]—a stupendous piano-forte player and superb arranger of dramatic airs of other people, for that instrument. Besides this, Mr. Listz [sic] aspires to be a composer; and, being like Mr. Wagner, destitute of melodic genius, he finds through sympathy perhaps an admiration for the school which seeks to substitute chaos for melody. Apropos, we heard lately a symphony for orchestra by Mr. Listz [sic] entitled Faust (ecce iterum Crispinus); and during the performance an eminent German gentleman well-known in musical circles sat behind us, and favored us with his opinion of the work to this effect:—This style of music has great advantages—it is not necessary for the orchestra players to tune their instruments, as it is impossible to tell whether they are in tune or not.
A noted wit in Paris when Tannhäuser was produced there, stated that at last the secret article in the Treaty of Solferino was made known: it was an article insisted upon by Austria, that France should submit to the infliction of hearing Tannhäuser in French at the Paris Grand Opera House.
The result of that performance is known. Paris is proverbially liberal to composers of every nation, provided they are lucky enough to get a hearing, and give evidence of high genius. Whether in conformity with that article of the Treaty or not, Tannhäuser certainly was placed upon the stage in Paris by the special order of the French Emperor, with carte blanche as to expense, and augmentation of the musical and show forces to whatever extent required by the composer—and if we may believe the descriptions of the Parisian critics, to whom the greatest stage-splendors are commonplace things, the mounting of this opera was supremely magnificent. As Listz [sic] was the high-priest, so the Princess Metternich was the high priestess of Mr. Wagner; and in fact the occasion was made an international affair. But the result was disastrous to ‘the music of the future.’ The great educated, enlightened musical public of Paris, were satisfied with music past and present. They hissed the opera down. They have a way there for hissing what disappoints them.
We shall not go into an extended analysis of this work, on account of the difficulties of criticising music without musical notation; and also because we feel assured that the Parisian judgment will be confirmed here by our audience, though in a different form. The mode of condemning a piece here is, for the people to stay away from the theatre.
There are, however, it is proper to state, a few very effective points in the opera. Preëminent is the March and Chorus, and it is so because it is in the Rossinian style—well rhythmed and marked: to this we expect the second four bars of the group of eight bars of positive melody where the sopranos begin. The main melody in the orchestra hero wabbles [sic], and repeats a climacteric note—the sol—which is not the work of inspiration in melody—and shows a clumsy hand.
But what shall we say to the solo melodies so called, of Tannhäuser and Venus in the first scene of the act first—written according to the new melodic theory of the author? After some dreary recitative between two impossible parties, we are helped to an air sung by Tannhäuser the troubadour, at the particular request of the enamoured goddess. She calls him a Poet—in terms, and begs him to chaunt [sic] with his harp.
If Tannhäuser was a poet or bard, Mr. Wagner is not, as shown in the air sung. It is bad, very bad; although the composer caresses it, to the extent of giving it again in another key.
Poeta nascitur non fit.
Bad as this is, the melody which Venus sings to allure Tannhäuser to love her again, and keep him in her toils, is worse. After hearing such a song from the Queen of Love, he was quite pardonable for deserting her.
Mr. Wagner is very ingenious, and often very inconsequential, in rushing from one key to another, because evidently he wants sustained ideas to hold him to a single key for any length of time, after the fashion of the great masters; and it is for this latter reason, that he is so feeble when called upon to produce great effects with simple means of melody.
To cite an example of the feverish uneasiness of Mr. Wagner as regards want of continuity in a given key, we have only to mention the first page of the opera, on the rise of the curtain. The piece is in mi: the first chord does not suggest the key at all, the second does; the third does not; the fourth does; the fifth jumps into the key of do; then comes the key of fa; then is there the chord of the augmented sixth on fa, suggesting, if it mean anything at all, a change into la or la minor: but this chord is knocked into chaos, and its sequence obliterated by the chord of the dominant of mi. The chapter in Reicha’s great work on composition on the chord of the augmented sixth is as profound and brilliant as the Pons Aeinorum, the 47th Problem of the first book of Euclid; and this most sensitive of all the chords because it is a sixth elongated a half-tone at both ends, until it becomes, according to the facts and temperament of the piano-forte and the system of musico-mathematics in practice the equivalent of the seventh dominant) [sic] is treated by Mr. Wagner as if it was one of the most robust and decisive chords, which have large affinities and which are not so restrained in their association. Such a sequence, or resolution, as it is technically called, of this augmented sixth, as given by Mr. Wagner is simply evidence of a naturally defective ear in harmony, in the same way that his crude and blundering melodies are evidences of a defective ear in the art of arranging symmetrically a succession of single notes, or melody. Almost at every turn, we find such examples of bad taste as this single one we have technically cited, and we might fill columns were we to proceed in the same way, to examine the score.
Originality is claimed for Mr. Wagner, and in the sense of his music not being open to charges of ordinary plagiarism, which the smallest of criticism habitually brings against all new composers, this is true. But it is only true because of the original falseness, ugliness and want of symmetry in what by courtesy in the school of ‘the music of the future’ are called melodies; while the melodies of the great masters, however different and marked their styles as composers may be, yet conform to certain common laws of beauty, and to this extent bear a family likeness. And more than this, too; for the employment of the notes of the scale in truly melodic successions which charm the ear and move the heart, is extremely limited as to the number of melodies in comparison with the entire number of variations or mathematical changes which those same notes are susceptible of when permutated without reference to melodic interest or the required ease of execution by the singer; just as in the use of letters, the proper positions of vowels among the consonants are necessary to the production of syllables and words and of language with beauty and sentiment.
We can only account for this want of style in melody especially, finding supporters and imitators, and dubbing itself a school, a reformation, a revelation, and promenade musically into the year 3064, by remembering the fable of the fox that had no tail. These composers have no melodic tails, and so they want those who have, to cut them off.”
“Past traditional composers believed that instrumental music reached its highest artistic value when written to accompany a singer. The music could add aspects that the human voice was not capable of conveying. The main task of traditional composers of a vocal score was to write music that is melodious, harmonious, and aligns with the meaning of the lyrics and the plot. They delighted in introducing sweet, caressing melodies with light, easily discernable rhythms that carried the sense of the texts. Musical embellishments were added gladly in order for the singers to show their vocal abilities; instrumental accompaniment was the fresh leafy adornment which lifted the blossoms of melody and allowed them to be brought out. The composers followed specific musical rules, which were altered as needed. Not so Mister Richard Wagner.
The microfilm cuts off in the first paragraph of the article. “Wagner’s opera, given some years ago by a small company in the very small Stadt-Theater in the Bowery, was revived last week by our German friends, and created no little commotion among critics, amateurs, and the musical public at large. We should have almost thought that Wagner was a new man, that ‘Tannhæuser’ had just come out, and that it remained but for the critics of New York to decide whether the work and its author should live or die, never to trouble the complacency of our opera judges any more. Of course, he had to die. With one or two honorable exceptions, they slaughtered him to their heart’s contents, and”
Part of review for “Merry Wives of Windsor.” “The German Company have at last started on their western tour. That their season was not successful, was simply owing to bad management. As everybody knows, the performance of ‘Faust,’ ‘Tannhæuser,’ and ‘Merry Wives of Windsor’ were [sic] witnessed by very crowded audiences. Had the troupe commenced with these operas, instead of giving ‘Stradella’ and ‘Martha,’ there would have been a surplus instead of a loss. ‘Tannhæuser’ might have been given six times, and saved the Company from entire loss.”