Theodore Thomas [see also Thomas Orchestra]
Price: $1.50; $5 complete series subscription; $12 complete series subscription for three persons
3 October 2017
"the thomas symphony soirees.
Turning from country to town, a glance at the concert attractions for the coming season shows an unusual variety. Next to the regular Philharmonics, the most important concerts of the season will be the series of 'Symphonie Soirees' announced by Theodore Thomas and intended to combine the finest vocal and instrumental features. The orchestra will consist of upwards of sixty picked musicians, selected with especial regard to individual merit, and the programme will include the most interesting works of modern and classical composers. The subscription price to the five soirees has been fixed at five dollars, or for three persons at twelve dollars."
Provides program information for each concert in series.
“Mr. Theodore Thomas announces that he will shortly give a series of five grand orchestral concerts, the first to come off on the 3d of December, and all to take place at Irving Hall—the best establishment for acoustical effect in the country. The intention is to present to the public some of the most interesting and least hackneyed works of modern and classical composers. This he will do through the media of an orchestra of sixty picked performers and several of the best soloists in the country. [Lists some of the novelties of the series program.] In addition to these novelties, Mr. Thomas presents some of the rarest works of the old masters. The Symphonic Soirées promise in every respect to be interesting and acceptable.”
“Mr. Thomas has spared no labor in the preparation of his orchestra, which will comprise upward of sixty first-rate musicians, or the careful selection of such music as may best meet and encourage the rising artistic sentiment of the community.”
"Concerts.--Theodore Thomas will give the first of his Symphonic soirees at Irving Hall to-morrow night, a series which will be continued to the infinite enjoyment of those who appreciate the highest order of classical music interpreted with unsurpassed excellence."
“Orchestral Concert.—The first of Mr. Theodore Thomas’ symphony-soirées takes place at Irving Hall to-night. They are the most important entertainments of the season, not even excepting the Philharmonic concerts. Mr. Thomas intends giving five of these evenings, and will be assisted on each occasion by a picked orchestra of sixty performers, and such leading soloists as may be needed. The programme to-night is unusually attractive. [Gives program.] These entertainments are conceived in a liberal spirit, and with the intention of presenting classical novelties to the public. They are eminently worthy of the patronage of the public.”
“The program is a most attractive one to amateurs.”
“The first soiree of this series, which is to be continued monthly until April next, took place at Irving Hall last night. The audience was very large, and comprised the most critical and music-loving portion of the community, promising an appreciation of Mr. Thomas’ enterprise to which it is eminently entitled. The orchestral pieces included Beethoven’s eighth symphony, in f major, a work which, with the exception of the second part—the favorite allegretto—is seldom performed. It differs from the composer’s other symphonies in the lightness and brilliancy of its manner. It shows him in his most cheerful mood. The third part was played last night, perhaps not quite as slow as it is usually given, and thus varied somewhat from the spirit of that portion of the work. The ‘suite’ of Franz Lachner, musical director of the Bavarian Court, known as his work number one hundred and thirteen, in D, was excellently rendered, the variations and march calling forth decided applause. This work has been performed several times in Europe lately, but never in America until last night. A “suite,” we may add, though in form strictly symphonic, allows the composer more license than a symphony, as it is properly a collection of movements not necessarily connected. The second movement of Berlioz’s Romeo and Juliet completed the orchestral performances. It was never given before in this country. It represents in lyric language, very finely interpreted instrumentally, the grief of Romeo upon discovering that his love was a scion of a hostile house, while the sounds of festivity reach him from the halls of the Capulets. The whole orchestra, which consisted of sixty performers, was completely under the control of Mr. Thomas, and did ample justice to the splendid works of the composers.
Mr. S. B. Mills executed a concerto from Chopin on the piano in a style which confirmed his reputation as an eminent artist. Miss Fanny Raymond, a young lady with great power of voice—which, with a little cultivation, particularly in the higher register, may be made available in concert—made her debut with some favor. She was unfortunate, however, in selecting a very difficult aria of Mozart.
The works selected by Mr. Thomas have a decided merit in being entirely fresh to our public as well as highly classic, and he is entitled to great credit for producing them in so admirable a manner. It would be well if our Philharmonic societies took example by his enterprise, instead of giving us the same old works, excellent though they be, over and over again.”
Well attended, despite the bad weather. The audience was not merely interested but also musically educated. There were two New York debuts. Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony may not be the weakest of the nine symphonies, yet it ‘shrinks‘next to the grandious contours of the Ninth. The Allegretto Scherzando expresses the composers sense of humor in a gay and rejoicing way, and although we don’t necessarily agree with the choice of the conductor’s tempi in some parts, we nevertheless feel the performance of the orchestra and conductor were worthy of recognition. Lachner’s Suite opened the second part of the concert. We wonder why the composer chose to name this piece Suite, since it seems as if he followed Mozart’s and Händel’s, and later on, Beethoven’s, guidelines for symphonies. The work, by the way, suffers from slowness in parts, and it seems obvious that it is not free of borrowing from other composers’ pieces. The dramatic symphony Romeo and Juliet, by Berlioz, concluded the concert and was the second New York debut. It is difficult to evaluate a piece taken out of its context. Although there are always written descriptions in the programs about what was on the composer’s mind when writing his music pieces, this still does not mean the listener shares the same perception. The piece is supposed to express Romeo’s grief about the discovery that his chosen love belongs to his mortal enemy’s family, and it also expresses the sounds of the Capulet Festival. The latter aspect was achieved more easily than the first; musically the first part was flat and dull. Soloists were S. B. Mills on the piano, performing Chopin’s F minor concerto, and Miss Fanny Raymond, a strong mezzo-soprano with a pleasant appearance, making her debut in New York. Miss. Raymond’s performance was more confident than perfect, and she must have brought a lot of friends, because she received quite thunderous applause for the two pieces she sang.
“The first of Mr. Theodore Thomas’s series of ‘Symphony Soirées’ was given last Saturday evening at Irving Hall, with eminent success. The audience was large and notwithstanding the strict character of the music performed, was closely attentive and appeared unusually appreciative. The orchestra was of a magnitude that suited for the dimensions of the Hall, and as thoroughly well-proportioned as the present resources of the day will allow. Its effectiveness was remarkable, even in the expression of those finer and more delicate colorings which are apt to elude orchestras not prepared by long association and united training. Mr. Thomas has more than once proved that his rehearsals, limited in number though they may be, go much farther than those of most conductors toward securing completeness and unanimity. A note fell now and then last Saturday evening and irregularities of time were occasionally audible in the remoter part of the orchestra, but these accidents were few, and passed unnoticed by the audience.
The performance of Beethoven’s eighth symphony, which opened the concert, was the most symmetrical of the evening. The simple and genial, almost pastoral, feeling which pervades it, and which seems to wholly inspire every movement excepting the last, where the more familiar and bolder qualities of the composer are displayed, was so charmingly conveyed as to win the liveliest acknowledgements. But for the length of the programme and the importance of the works to follow, the allegretto would have not escaped the accustomed call for repetition. A suite, by Franz Lachner, was the second orchestral production. The interest of novelty secured it a considerate hearing, although the composer’s name holds only a good, not extraordinary, rank as an instrumental writer. The general theory of the work ‘suite’ appears to be that, while it retains to some extent the old symphonic form, it may be devoted to freer and less rigorous purposes. Neither the value of such a theory, if we are correct in supposing it to exist, nor the necessity for the application of a new title, is clear to us. The classical symphonic form is merely a tradition, and its imitation can have but one logical meaning now-a-days. The composer who adopts it, does so to testify his ability in the same directions and according to the same methods as those employed by the recognized masters of his art. Whether those methods are the most appropriate for modern demonstration, is not the question; they supply, up to the present time, the best standards of the highest order of orchestral composition, and are honestly supposed by many to represent the same supremacy in form as they do in matter. With this view we can sympathize in a certain degree; but not with avowedly inferior purpose, upon the same basis. The form of instrumental works in successive disconnected movements has really no importance, excepting so far as its accidental use by great composers has sanctioned it. But granting that it had such importance, the special value that its advocates [illeg.] would disappear if it were applied to less ambitious productions. This particular suite by Lachner is divided into four parts: a prelude, short, vigorous and emphatic; a minuet, which though fluent and clearly written is not memorable for extreme grace or originality; a series of ‘variations’ for numerous instruments—in which the time is changed with irritating frequency—terminated by a march which is vigorous, but certainly not distinguished by dignity or breadth; and an introduction and fugue, the latter of which shows thorough understanding of contrapuntal effect, but, like the rest of the composition, fails to exhibit positive individuality of character. We do not see any warrant for the establishment of a class of compositions of this kind. They could only occupy the questionable rank either of vitiated symphonies or magnified pot-pourris. We recognize Mr. Thomas’s enterprise in affording us this example; but, under ordinary circumstances, though a single part of such a work might diversify a musical entertainment agreeably enough, the entire performance would be considered a superfluity. It compels an amount of uninterrupted attention which its merit does not justify. The manner in which it was presented on Saturday evening was almost irreproachable. Some of the ‘variations,’ and especially a difficult passage for the violincellos, were brilliantly executed.
The other orchestral piece selected was a part of Hector Berlioz’s dramatic symphony, ‘Romeo and Juliet.’ Without at all questioning the propriety of Mr. Thomas’s programme, in the arrangement of which he doubtless had a definite purpose, we are disposed to believe that this composition, intact, in the place of Lachner’s suite, would have been more cordially welcomed by the audience. It represents a tangible and palpable musical idea, which the other does not. The direct illustration of human sentiment and emotion is the noblest purpose to which a composer can devote himself. To undervalue such music as ‘senstational’ and therefore unworthy the highest estimation, is the meanest and most ignorant of affectations. It is, of course, sensational—as music should ever be. That which is not has very little good intent, and fulfills no honorable end. If the sensation it conveys justly harmonizes with the subject it aims to represent, the best artistic result is achieved. Precisely as the tragedy of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is sensational, so should its musical counterpart be, and so throughout, to our mind, the symphony of Berlioz—more notably, perhaps, in other movements than in that with which Mr. Thomas closed his concert, but abundantly so here in the romantic portrayal of Romeo’s sad loneliness and the picturesque gleam and radiance of the Capulet festival, where, yet amid all the flush and clamor which toward the close are swelled to riotous proportions, the serious sentiment remains supreme, and a glow of ardor and aspiration seems to rise and crown the picture with the halo of young love, bright hope and tender faith. The disparagement of a work so truly poetic and so sympathetically inspired as this is the mere charlatanry of criticism, though we have seen it battered and torn by a hundred assailants. We hope Mr. Thomas may find the opportunity of offering it unabridged, or at least of giving that first part—we do not recall the number—which includes the vision of Queen Mab, and which is perhaps the most delicately conceived of all.
The chief subordinate incident of the concert was the performance by Mr. S. B. Mills of a part of Chopin’s concerto in F minor, for pianoforte and orchestra. The inevitable disparities which, in all similar compositions greatly interfere with and diminish the effects of the soloist, making his instrument, by contrast, more inadequate than ever to large and broad expression, are less distinguishable than usual in this work, where the orchestra is daintily employed, and seldom suffered to assert its ponderous superiority. The concerto, with its rare beauties, is already familiar to amateurs. It was played by Mr. Mills with singular purity and grace. The programme was furthermore amplified by vocal performances by Miss Fanny Raymond, a young lady who possesses a full and fresh mezzo-soprano voice, which, however, needs more than her present power of controlling it to be heard with satisfaction.”
Column by T. M. W. is dated November 28, 1864. Gives programs and dates of five soirees. “The antiquated, old fogyish New York Philharmonic Society, long since distanced by the Brooklyn society in the matter of novelty, variety and general excellence, will soon have another formidable, and I trust, successful rival in a series of “Symphonie Soirées,” under the vigorous management and leadership of Theo. Thomas, whose efforts in the cause of classical music have been so widely appreciated. The programme I annex its merit cannot fail to secure a very substantial support. The subscriptions already paid in; ensure its financial success, and there can be no doubt as to its being a most profitable and enjoyable enterprise. The first soirée will take place on the 3d December at Irving Hall, when Beethoven’s Symphony in F major, op. 93, Lachner’s “Suite” in D minor, and the second part af [sic] Berlioz’s “Romeo and Juliet” will be performed, together with vocal and violin solos.”
“Mr. Theodore Thomas may be congratulated on the success of his first ‘Symphony Soirée.’ It took place on Saturday evening, and Irving Hall, notwithstanding the bad weather, was extremely well filled. We were glad to notice among the audience many habitués of the Philharmonic concerts. It is pleasant to find that the non-performing members of that drowsy society manifest an appetite for other music than that which constitutes their annual feast. Mr. Thomas’ soirée was manily instrumental. Out of six pieces, four were for the orchestra. The remaining two were vocal, and interpreted by a lady whose natural gifts are good enough, but whose artistic qualifications do not justify her in appearing before the public. The first number on the programme was Beethoven's Symphony No. 8, a work celebrated for a graceful and piquant scherzando, and the very powerful allegro vivace with which it ends. Otherwise it does not compare favorably with the third, the fifth, the seventh, or the ninth symphonies. These, however, are often played, and it was as much a matter of curiosity as of pleasure to find the eighth once more on the programme. A “suite” by Lachner was the next orchestral piece. The composer is well known, and he has displayed good taste in choosing a modest title for a pretentious work. There are many social places in Germany where this sort of music is appropriate, and we should be glad if there were many places here where no worse could be heard. It is a little graver than dance music and a great deal more trivial than that which bears the symphonic name. There are four movements, but, so far as we could detect, there is no sequential necessity for this number. The object of the author seems to have been to compose a series of strong pieces, popular and melodious in their subjects, and calculated to bring out the executive skill of the performers. In this he has succeeded, but his success does not cause us to desire another “suite” from his pen. Of a far different character is Berlioz’ dramatic symphony, opus 17, called “Romeo and Juliet.” The great French composer not only brings out all the skill of the performers, but he makes them skillful. This particular work abounds in peculiarities that demand the closest attention and the most resolute determination to conquer their meaning. We regard it as the best that we have yet heard from Berlioz. The picture is perfect, and the colors most vivid. One can tell how much the “school of the future” has borrowed from Berlioz in hearing this remarkable composition. The opening, descriptive of Romeo sadly straying in the garden of his beloved, is eminently in the style of the future; but the finale, with its massive treatment and broad, appreciable and splendid theme, is far beyond anything that Liszt or Wagner have yet accomplished. All these works were excellently played by the orchestra. We were glad to notice that Mr. Thomas had two harpists for the symphony just named. It is only the Philharmonic Society that refuses to employ the proper instruments in the performance of such works. We have saved for the last a notice of one of the most enjoyable features of the entire evening; the performance of the Larghetto and Finale, from Chopin’s Concerto in F minor, opus 21, by Mr. S. B. Mills. We have never heard a clearer, more intelleigent or admirable performance of this superb work. Mr. Mills was the first to introduce it to our public, and we shall be mistaken if he have [sic] a successor who can remove the impression he has created. He is without doubt the most perfect artist in America, and never demonstrated this fact more thoroughly than on Saturday evening. It is but just to add that the piano he played upon—Steinway Grand—responded to every suggestion of his masterly touch.”
“The first Symphonie Soirée of Mr. Theodore Thomas, at Irving Hall, was a decided success, as far as attendance went. The hall was nearly filled, and in spite of the bad weather the receipts at the door were uncommonly large. [Gives program.]
Beethoven’s humorous and jolly Eighth has not been heard here for some time. It is so full of life and joyful strains, that it has not even room for the so-called slow movement, which is one of the most characteristic features of all symphonies. It is all sunshine and laughter and merriment. How graceful, how coquettish is the opening of the second movement, the Allegretto Scherzerando, it is like the roguish smile of a young girl of sixteen! Beethoven has often spoken with more depth, but never does he appear to us so happy and so forgetful of his frightful fate, as when we listen to him in this eighth symphony of his.
Lachner’s Suite was new here, and seemed to find at least partly great favor with the public. This reviving of old forms on the part of a man like Lachner, shows that even the venerable Kapellmeisters in Germany are longing for a change from the general routine of their life. We have no objection to recalling the good old times, if it is done in such a way as to interest our modern feeling, in fact if it is bought to our modern understanding. To have four, or five, or six parts, each different in style and character without any leading idea connecting them, is against that law of unity in a work of art, which we deem now its condition sine qua non. Mr. Lachner gives us a beginning which has no reference to the middle, and a middle which has no reference to the end. In fact this end, a masterly fugue, might have been easily dispensed with, for its existence does not result from an inward necessity of character of the whole work. And as to effect, it seemed to spoil the favorable one, which the other parts had made. If it was not for this want of unity and for the rather too old-fogyish themes, we would not object to Mr. Lachner’s Suite; for the treatment is really interesting and modern. To give different instruments an opportunity of display, is in such a composition as this, quite appropriate and very suitable, not only to the performers but to the general public.
Miss Fanny Raymond, well known to our readers as a contributor to this journal, and certainly a lady of great mental accomplishments, made her debut as a singer. She has a very powerful voice, of the contralto timbre, although in its middle register rather weak, or perhaps not yet quite developed. She deserves credit for the selection of the aria from ‘Titus,’ which in spite of its age must interest by the power and truth of its expression. The accompaniment of the orchestra somewhat spoiled the effect of the highly dramatic recitative, and Mrs. Raymond evidently suffered from its inefficiency. But in spite of these unfavorable circumstances she gave proof of excellent musicianship and good execution.
Mr. S. B. Mills gave, as usual, a very brilliant and correct interpretation of Chopin’s concerto in F minor, upon one of the best Grands of Steinway’s we have yet heard.
The concert was concluded by the performance of the second movement of Berlioz’s symphony, ‘Romeo and Juliet.’ It is always a dangerous undertaking, to produce but one part of a large work of art, but it is much more so, when the composer is such an eminently modern one as Berlioz. The part in question is full of grand and demonstrative music, but the impression is only a partially favorable one, because it is neither prepared through the introduction of the first part, nor does it find a solution through the succeeding part. As to the plagiarism, which is said to exist between a certain phrase given to the bassos and the remarkable strain of a similar character found in ‘Lohengrin,’ we must say, that if Wagner borrowed his idea from Berlioz, he certainly did it in such a manner as to make the very best of it.
We were rejoiced to see the harps in the orchestra, especially when in such efficient hands, as on this occasion. We have had the piano taking their place long enough, a circumstance alike unjust to the composer as well as the public.”
Column by Lancelot dated 12/06/1864. “The first Soirée took place in Irving Hall on the 3rd December. The orchestra numbered some fifity or sixty of our best orchestral players. [Gives program.]
Beethoven’s 8th Symphony was a happy choice; every time I hear it, I am struck with the absurdity of Fétis’ divison of Beethoven’s works into three styles, or periods. As he already discovers traces of the third style in the 7th Symphony (op. 92), I presume that he classes the symphony in question as belonging to the third manner. [Short discussion of Beethoven’s periods.]
The orchestral execution was, on the whole, good, although a certain haste and uncertainty were perceptible, especially in the last two movements. It is to be regretted that only two rehearsals were had; and such rehearsals are rather a going through than a thorough study of a work; of course, in them an intelligent penetration of works in all their formal and orchestral details is not to be thought of; nor can the director do everything with his bâton.
The Suite, by Fr. Lachner, was played here for the first time. In a favorable sense, it is excellent capellmeister music; originality does not come out so strongly in it as the formal and contrapuntal cleverness of the composer; and the effective and thoughtful instrumentation bears witness to the experience of the master in the orchestra. The work pleased very much, and we hope soon to hear the second Suite, which lately appeared, by the same composer. The extract from Berlioz’s “Romeo and Juliet” Symphony pleased us better than most that we have heretofore heard by Berlioz. But in all his works we experience the feeling of “much ado about nothing.” If Berlioz had only as many happy ideas as orchestral effects, he would be a great master. Depth of conception, free contrapuntal handling of his motives, and their organic development into significant periods, is in a great measure wanting to him. This poverty is not to be ignored, in spite of the most refined orchestral effects.
Miss Raymond made her début in New York in this concert. The young lady in appearance is pleasing; her voice, a powerful and sonorous mezzo-soprano, exactly fitted for the execution of the broad dramatic cantilena. Her upper tones are superb; the medium, of softer timbre; and the lower, not yet compact enough. Her choice of the great Mozartean aria from La Clemenza di Tito, showed that she had no desire to tread the broad road, laid down with throat-flexibility, which is trodden by most of our concert singers; although in the aria by Mercadante, she gave signs of a desire to acquire the Italian style also—but only as means to an end—not with the selfish aim of satisfying personal vanity. How often has it not been regretted, both publicly and privately, that the choice of arias by our concert singers proves their musical poverty and ignorance! Always the same worn-out arias, the same stereotyped cadenzas, the same ear-breaking high tones, the same sentimental tremo-lizing! If our young singers would only search a little among the rich leaves of the seldom heard Italian, French, and German masters, they would not so soon go out of the “fashion,” and we would forgive them a little of their silly “execution.” Miss Raymond is at present in the right path, and will not, we trust, wander from it. The Mozart aria she sang finely, and with dramatic truth she gave the great recitative. In the last movement we could have wished for a little more fire; but the miserable accompaniment of the orchestra was anything but encouraging, and had she not been an excellent musician, she could not have carried the aria through in spite of it. In her second aria she was fortunate enough to be really supported by the piano-forte accompaniment of one of our best musicians, Mr. Mosenthal. Miss Raymond had every reason to be satisfied with her success, and the artistic position which she desires as a singer is certain to be hers. We hope to hear her as she is mistress of the German language, in the songs of Schubert, Schumann, and Robert Franz.”
COMMENT: Gives Otto Jahn’s commentary on “Non più di fiori”.