Theodore Thomas [see also Thomas Orchestra]
8 July 2019
“There was a rumor, which unfortunately seems to have died away, that Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony would be heard yet this season under this gentleman’s direction. But, quien sabe?”
Program. “[A]n evening not only of real pleasure, but of instruction in a style of music that is not easily appreciated, but richly rewarding its students.”
“The programme is very varied in its interest and character, and should attract every lover of good music to the last of a series of performances which have afforded much intellectual excitement and pleasure to a large, but too small, a circle of music-loving subscribers.”
The concert “should attract those who have sufficient musical knowledge to appreciate the more elaborate works of the great German masters.”
The program is “the best, we think, that has ever been presented at any single concert.”
“The orchestra will consist of 60 performers directed by Mr. Theo. Thomas.”
Due to the busy theater season at this time, this concert had the lowest attendance of all of Thomas’ soirees of the last season. The performance was not necessarily the best of the cycle. The orchestra works of Beethoven, Schumann and Berlioz were performed with excellence. Lizzie Eckhardt’s aria “Wie nahte mir der Schlummer” was very slow and tiring to listen to. In Schubert’s songs, she sang with “awkward” German pronunciation.
“The last of Mr. Thomas’ concerts for the present season took place last night at Irving Hall, and was well attended. Beethoven has become a necessary spirit to infuse in every concert, and no programme is at present considered complete without him. Mr. Thomas chose one of his most characteristic overtures last night, namely, the Consecration of the House. It is a work that defines analyzation or the programme-like description that may be applied to the music of Berlioz. It displays some of the grandest qualities of the composer, but it is written in part in a strikingly contrasted manner. At one borne along in a rushing torrent of polyphonic harmony; again, like a laughing, bubbling rill in the meadows, with the cheerful scherzo; now plaintive to a heart-touching degree, and breathing the very essence of romance and sentiment, and immediately after capricious, overstrained and boisterous, the great soul of Beethoven reigns as a despot over the hearts of his hearers. Schumann’s work was the most unsatisfactory piece on the programme. In the overture and finale he displays more skill in orchestral massing than he has generally been accredited with, and approaches nearer to his grand model than ever we heard him before. The scherzo was a disastrous failure, as it was rendered at least last night. It seemed but ridiculous pomposity and a sorry compromise between gaiety and misanthropy, and reminded us of a certain rustic clown, alternately laughing and crying. The concert concluded with one of Berlioz’s sensation pieces, Harold in Italy, to describe which a considerable part of the programme was filled with silly nonsense. This work is similar in construction to the Dream of the Artist, played by the Philharmonic Society some time since, and if the titles of both were exchanged before hand very few would be the wiser as to which was the pure simon pure Childe Harold or which was the mad artist. Berlioz is particularly successful in dramatic effects and bringing round a denoument [sic] of crashing unisons with trumpets, trombones, bass tubae [sic], tympani, cymbals, &c. He also introduces some quaint march movements in his descriptive scenes, and some beautiful finales, representing the approach of evening and silence. It would have been well if Mr. Thomas had either rehearsed more thoroughly and procured all the necessary instruments for the wild, frantic movement that closes the career of Harold. Berlioz intended all such pieces for a full orchestra, and not that some of the most necessary instruments should be left out. The violas monody of the hero certainly ‘lost all individuality, and showed the meaningless ideas of a wandering brain’ with a vengeance, but we doubt very much if Hector Berlioz ever conceived such a chaos of unnatural and unmusical passages as closed poor Harold’s career last night. We don’t wonder that it broke the hero’s heart, and relieved us of his monody. Still it is cheering to see what calibre of music the New York public demand at the present day, and how taste has been improved and cultivated to the enjoyment and appreciation of classical music. If Mr. Thomas had only left the vocal part of the programme out of the shortcomings of his orchestra in Harold might have been to some degree excused.”
Beethoven’s overture opened the concert and deserves to be heard more often.
Schumann’s “Overture Scherzo und Finale” is a friendly and popular composition and no other orchestral work of this composer is more appropriate to be played publicly.
Berlioz’ Harold Symphony is a difficult piece to perform which would require many rehearsals for the orchestra. Unfortunately rehearsals cost money and if the audience would like to enjoy more flawless performances, there has to be more financial support.
The American singer, who had stayed in Germany for several years and therefore learned German, was only moderately skillful.
“Mr. Theodore Thomas’ fifth and last Symphony Concert took place at Irving Hall, on Saturday evening. It warns us that the musical season is drawing rapidly to a close. Like Winter, it lingers uneasily in the lap of Spring. The attendance was good, but not great—as it ought to have been. Mr. Thomas has done excellent service in the cause of music. Young and energetic, he has torn himself from the grooves of custom, and has opened paths for us which we are only too glad to follow. The programme was unusually good. It opened with Beethoven's overture—seldom heard—called the ‘Consecration of the House.’ If Mr. Thomas had adopted the silly custom of the Philharmonic Society of putting after this work the words ‘first time’ he might—in all fairness—have done so. The work has not before been played by an ample orchestra, and Mr. Thomas has certainly as much right to put ‘first time’ after it as the Society which, following in his footsteps, performs it with a lofty ignorance of its former existence. There is not much to choose between the Philharmonic Society and Mr. Thomas. The orchestra is pretty much the same, and until this season the programmes have been entirely better with Mr. Thomas than with the Society. The public activity of the latter, indeed, is entirely owing to the energy of the private opposition of the former. Be this as it may, the overture—a large, grand square work—was played superbly. The ‘overture, scherzo and finale,’ by Schumann—a suite well known, and every day better appreciated—were given with remarkable élan. Mr. Thomas takes the tempi, in this and other works, a little slower than his cotemporaries [sic], but he does so with a clear intention, and with a conviction, earned by study, that he is right. Without discussing a thing, so impalpable as time, we think that in the scherzo he brought out effects which have never before been produced. It is a mistake to suppose that all scherzos must be light and fantastic. Schumann in this, and every other scherzo, exhibits a large, full-blooded, animal exuberance, sometimes boisterous, but always intellectual. Mr. Thomas accepts the subject in this light and he gave us therefore the most manly scherzo we have ever heard. The orchestra we need scarcely say was superb. Formed, as it is, of picked players, we cannot recall a concert where individual effort was so completely blended into a consistent whole. The second part of the concert was devoted entirely to Berlioz's symphony called ‘Harold in Italy.’ We had the pleasure of greeting this work on its first presentation to the public, and hail it again with renewed satisfaction. We find in it consistency of idea, steadiness of treatment, and dramatic coloring of the first order. Apart from any title, or programme, it tells a story which must be appreciated by all who connect active imagination with music. Even for those who do not, it is certainly a succession of the most powerful and effective sounds that have ever been offered to the ear. Mr. Thomas played this work with the greatest sense of its value. Every instrument that the composer indicated was in the orchestra, and the performers were the best that the country can produce. The last movement with its recurrent theme was played with absolute grandeur; with distinct placing of the orchestral groups; with overwhelming grandeur in the tuttis. Nothing could have been better. We are sorry that we cannot say the same of the vocal department. Mr. Thomas has had the best artists during the season, at great cost to himself. On this occasion he was not so fortunate.”
Includes program. “The last of Mr. Thomas’s fine Symphony Soirees took place at Irving Hall, on Saturday evening, before a very critical audience, though far less in numbers than such an occasion should have drawn together. The programme was the least interesting of the series, although great names were not omitted, the list comprising those of Beethoven, Schumann, Weber, Schubert, and Berlioz, the latter, the least deserving, monopolizing the chief place in the performance.”
The attendance was low. It was also not the best performed concert. Mrs. Eckardt sang her arias as if she intended to lull the audience to sleep. Her pronunciation in some parts was very confusing.
"New York. April 23 . . . The Soirées were less successful with the public this season than the last. We certainly cannot say wherefore! The programme offered were unquestionably interesting, and much care was taken to carry them out as well as possible; but it is a fact that the concerts did not ‘pay’ either, for their outlay or the work they necessitated. The press was most liberal and friendly in its endeavors so interesting the public in the undertaking, but neither the subscription lists nor the attendance fulfilled expectations. We shall regret to see Mr. Thomas compelled to discontinue his Symphony soirées in future seasons, but shall not be surprised to find him turning his energies in another direction. Can it be possible that New York is unable to support more than one series of orchestral concerts? We hardly think the city so devoid of liberality, and empty of music lovers; but there is a peculiarity about undertakings of the kind here, that should not be overlooked. Public performances by subscription, or of continuity here, must become either popular or fashionable. And they become so through private social influence. This prestige once established, then no matter how inimical the press, how inferior the performances, the public follows its leaders, and streams to listen.”