Academy of Music
7 October 2014
“The Philharmonic concert on Saturday night was not such a success as the previous concerts of the society. The programme was heavy and wearisome, and appeared to give but little satisfaction to the audience. The novelty of the evening was Liszt’s ‘Faust’ symphony, divided into three parts, named respectively Faust, Marguerite and Mephistopheles. It is a remarkably vigorous work, not melodic, though including a solo for tenor and a quartette for male voices, and demanding more than one hearing for an appreciative criticism. The audience did not seem to take to it very favorably.”
“The Philharmonic Concert on Saturday night was under the direction of Mr. Carl Bergmann, who true to the Weimar Propaganda, introduced another work of its high priest—Franz Liszt—namely, the ‘Faust’ Symphony. Weber’s overture to ‘Euyanthe’—the extremest point of the old school, and Wagner’s Introduction to the opera of ‘Lohengrin,’ one of the extreme points of the new—were also on the programme. The restlessness of the audience under this rather heavy infliction of extremes manifested itself in a gentle sibilation during the performance of the ‘Faust’ Symphony—a slight and genteel intimation of weariness. Many works have been played at the Philharmonic—and applauded, too—that better deserved this hard reception. Liszt presents himself in so many aspects to the art-world that his weakest trifle is worthy of consideration. So far, however, from being weak or trifling, this symphony is important, and decidedly the most meritorious orchestral work that has proceeded from his pen. Mr. Bergmann did not err in producing it, but in making the other features of the programme too similar in character. We can account in no other way for the temper of the audience. The symphony is in three movements, corresponding with and named after the three principal personages of Goethe’s poem—namely, Faust, Marguerite and Mephistophiles. Although a separate number is devoted to each of these actors, there is a further and accumulative interest as the work proceeds. We received frequent and remarkable intimations, by means of certain strongly-marked phrases, of the presence of one or all of the characters. In this way a true and consistent love poem—with something which we may call action—is presented to the mind, sufficient, if it have any knowledge of Goethe, to suggest the intensities of a remarkable drama. There is nothing absolutely novel in this. Weber, in opera, has done the same thing, but the application of the principle is new to the symphony. The internal structure of Liszt’s work is at first exceedingly repellant, but it will, we think, repay a close and conscientious study. There are affectations of a rhythm that make it rough traveling for the inexperienced, and the harmonic tissue is frequently overstrained. But reviewing the work as a whole, we know of no modern production that is so truly consistent, so thoroughly of a piece, so completely dramatic, so amazingly vigorous. Nor is it destitute of melody. The Andan[t]e, barring some mystic vagueness in the manner of treatment—which we are willing to believe a better knowledge might make clear to us—is thoroughly tuneful and beautiful. The third movement, to say the least, is bizarre. Granted that Mephistophiles was a mocking fiend, is it necessary to have the whole orchestra chattering to a forest of Brazilian monkeys! The composer seems to have aimed here for mere instrumental effect, and the performance of this particular movement, down to the part where Margaret’s phrase occurs, was so poor, that we are unable to say if he has secured it. A male chorus is introduced in the end without leading to any particular culmination. A number of good fellows, in black coats and white gloves, walk on, deliver themselves a few sententious and apparently painful remarks, and then retire. There is also a knotty solo for the tenor, which Mr. Quint wrestled with in so gallant a spirit, that we are pained to state he was thrown. To our fancy, the best portions of the work are the first and second movements—the third being more a matter of treatment than of creation. Everywhere, however, there are abundant indications of an intense mind, thoroughly imbued with a dramatic idea. The orchestral parts are extremely difficult, but they repay all the labor that can be bestowed on them. Mr. Bergmann conducted with an ability that left nothing to be desired. Before leaving this subject, we would recommend our readers, if they desire to ‘pony’ through the work, to procure from Schuberth & Co., of Spring-street, a copy of a very perfect and admirable four-handed piano-forte arrangement, of it which that house has just published. It supplies the place of the score, and for general readers is quite as good. Mr. Joseph Herrmans, of the German Opera, sang a lied with much effect, and was encored. It was, perhaps, from motives of benevolence that he again came forward and sang—a comic song! We have nothing to say against the humoresque narration of a drunken priest’s mishaps, except that we should prefer hearing the subject treated in another place. Mr. Hermanns was accompanied by Mr. H.C. Timm on a square piano.”
“On Saturday evening the New York Philharmonic Society’s third concert of the season was held at the Academy of Music. As in the two previous concerts given by this Society, the concert was well attended by an elegant audience, despite the bad weather which prevailed. Bergmann’s influence probably resulted in the integration of the so-called ‘future music’ with noble music into tonight’s program. In addition to the introduction to Wagner’s ‘Lohengrin,’ and the overture to Weber’s ‘Euryanthe,’ Liszt’s ‘Faust’ Symphony was played. Its Allegro (Faust) and Scherzo (Mephisto) movements received an extensive review after the performance in Irving Hall earlier this season. The latter movement is absolutely the best part of the so-called symphony. It is only proper that we accord the same regard to the second part, the Andante (Gretchen). Using the material of Goethe’s immortal poetry, the Faust legend has stimulated creativity in many of our poets and composers: Schumann; Wagner wrote his ‘Faust Overture;’ Gounod based his opera on Goethe’s work; and finally, Liszt, who undertook depicting the three main characters, or, as the future-music people would say, painting the characters. Certainly it is a daring endeavor in and of itself to collapse someone’s whole life with all its secret depths and moods, its sunlight and dark night, into the narrow confines of a symphony. Feelings and sympathies notwithstanding, for which music is an accommodating interpreter, still, Mr. Liszt had to be satisfied with depicting only some of the main traits of the characters. Most likely that is the reason the number of motifs is limited. The second part of the symphony is certainly the weakest; the steady Andante (actually, Adagio), the ‘Gretchen’ movement, prevents his climbing to his passion’s highest point. A symphony movement’s narrow dimensions don’t allow for the drama to be fully accommodated. Sculpture was more aware of all these impediments than music; it dared to portray just a single moment in Gretchen’s life, the cathedral scene in which she meets Faust for the first time. The inner flaws in this piece are so numerous that we are seriously entertaining the doubt that Liszt was ever ‘called’ to clothe the Faust epic in symphonic garb. Despite the plethora of instrumental effects in the Andante, we feel the lack of any traces of Gretchen’s true nature. Liszt’s Gretchen is a bland lovesick creature who has read novels, and pines after her adoring lover who knows how to dance and play the guitar. Her ardor is somewhat artificial and coquettish, and the dictum for her actions, with its clashing of cymbals, transports our thoughts to imagining the turmoil and commotion at a grand ball, rather than in the region of the ‘eternally feminine’. Liszt’s pictures in this tone poem are essentially the ‘wavering forms that shown themselves to clouded gaze,’ but, by far, it is not the genuine, true poetic forms of Faust Part I which radiate towards us. The symphony and all other musical pieces were performed with verve and precision, as we are used to with the Philharmonic. The Arion Choir sang one chorus and was excellent. Mr. Herrmans, the German opera’s beloved bass, performed Ever’s [sic] ‘To the Tempest.’ Mr. Hermanns was so captivating and sang so beautifully that he had to sing another song, against the rules of the company.”
Gives program. “The subject of ‘Faust’ has been treated by poets, painters and musicians. Of course, the poets came first; if it was not for poetry, we would have neither painters, architects, nor musicians. A number of German poets have sung the well-known tale of Faust and the Devil, and their victim Margarethe. Although one of them (Lenau) was gifted with uncommon powers, he could not grasp the subject with that firm hand, which is evidence, that it has been entirely conquered in all its details by the author.
The man who tries to faithfully reproduce the human world with all its passions, its joys and sorrows, must have lived through all them with a clear head, and his powers of observation and judgment unimpaired.
The Faust story is the mirror of the world, and the poem, in which the world is reflected in all its truthfulness, in all its objectivity, is the one by Goethe.
There have been several composers who have not been able to withstand the charm of attractiveness this subject has for old and young, for the learned and experienced, as well as for those who know little or nothing of this world. All these men have met with more or less success. Spohr’s illustration was once greeted in Germany with the same sympathy as is now bestowed upon Gounod’s by far more dramatic version. Even Prince Radziwell’s conception meets still with admirers, who find means to have brought, from time to time, before the public. Of Schumann’s version we know little; but from a criticism by a Vienna writer, which we reproduce in another part of this paper, it appears that his work is worthy of the genius of its author, and that it at least partially made a very deep impression. Liszt’s symphonic illustration has been but seldom performed; but it seems that at a late rendering of the second part, ‘Gretchen,’ in Vienna, it was very favorably received by the competent judges; one of whom acknowledges it to be the most musical piece of Liszt he had yet heard.
We believe the majority of those who listened to the music in the last concert, after having become more familiar with it in the rehearsals, will willingly corroborate the above opinion. For our part, at least, we do not now of any of the larger instrumental compositions by Liszt, in which every requisite of form has been so entirely satisfied, as in this symphony. Although the plan of the work is laid out on the largest scale, it represents a oneness, a unity of style, which, in our opinion, is unique in the whole literature of symphonies. [Analysis of the work with musical examples.]
…The performance of this very difficult tone-poem was highly creditable to the orchestra of the Philharmonic Society, as well as to the intelligence, energy, and skill of its able leader, Mr. Carl Bergmann.
The other pieces of the programme offered the usual interest.”
“New York.—The third Philharmonic Concert wore a very ‘future’ or ‘new school’ complexion, Liszt’s ‘Faust’ Symphony occupied the first part, being given here for the first time. It consists of three movements [lists movements]…The ‘Arion Society’ sang the chorus, and Herr Quint (Sig. Quinto) the tenor solo. The work had the advantage of Carl Bergmann’s able direction, as did the rest of the concert, and seems to have pleased many; the Musical Review is even enthusiastic about it and thinks the motive that portrays Gretchen as beautiful as any of the melodies in Beethoven’s Adagios! Part II comprised [lists pieces]. ‘Mr. H.C. Timm presided at the organ,’ whatever that may mean.”