Academy of Music
14 June 2016
“The third concert of the season takes place at the Academy of Music tomorrow evening. Mr. Wehli is the solo pianist of the occasion, and will play a capriccio by Mendelssohn, and his own excellent Fantasia on ‘Faust.’ The orchestral pieces are Symphony in D, by Mozart; overture to ‘Melusine,’ by Mendelssohn; and Berlioz’s symphony, ‘An Episode in the Life of an Artist.’”
“The third concert of the present season takes place this evening at the Academy of Music, when an unusually interesting programme will be discoursed by the fine orchestra of the society. The principal novelty is Berlioz’s ‘Symphonie fantastique; une episode de la vie d’un artiste.’ Two standard works will also be played, Mozart’s Symphony in D, and Mendelssohn’s overture to ‘Melusine.’ Mr. James M. Wehli, the popular pianist, will execute Mendelssohn’s Capriccio and his own arrangement of themes from ‘Faust.’”
“Mozart’s Symphony No. 1 in D. The Melusina overture was delightful. Mr. Wehli’s piano was very good. But for finale we had Berlioz’s overture or symphony entitled ‘Episode in the Life of an Artist’ with a page of printed programme setting forth that the artist must be supposed to have fallen in love--to have become much worried, nervous and bothered hereby--to have taken a narcotic--to have passed a restless night and to have dreamed that he saw the beloved object at a ball--(2nd movement)--that he went into the country and heard shepherds tootle pastoral melodies (3rd movement)--that he murdered the beloved object and was about to be hanged (4th movement)--(I hope his dream came true and that he was hanged).
‘S’death, this would make a man Spew!’ Mr. Smith, in ‘The Rehearsal’
Such a commentary or series of explanatory annotations would alienate one from the finest music. Even Beethoven’s noble Pastoral Symphony loses by the brief phrases prefixed to its several movements. They lower the work. No picture but must be degraded by notes that this is a Tree or This a House--and a ‘Pastoral Symphony’ is equally degraded by a prologue that designates its 1st movement as expressive of ‘cheerful feelings on an excursion into the country’ and its third of a ‘jolly gathering o country folk.’--But Berlioz’s music was utter rubbish, labored and tiresome and leaden. Scharfenberg, etc. should be ashamed to inflict such trash on Philharmonic subscribers.”
“It is certainly a relief to turn from the tawdry and flimsy salon music of the present day and enjoy such a treat as Mozart, Mendelssohn and Berlioz, rendered by the above society, can afford. [sic] No parodied and widely puffed opera ever drew within the auditorium of the Academy of Music such a large and fashionable audience as did the concert given by the Philharmonic Society last night. Before the orchestra had taken their places, every seat in the parquetted, boxes and two first tiers was occupied, and a few adventurous individuals even ascended to the family circle. The programme consisted of Mozart’s Symphony No. 1 in D, Mendelssohn’s overture to Melusine, and The Dream of an Artist, by Berlioz. Mr. James M. Wehli played a Caprice Brillante, by Mendelssohn, and a fantasia on Faust. The symphony is one of the most exquisite and popular of the works of the great German master. It consists of four movements, the most beautiful of which is the third, an andante. There is but little of the massiveness of the genius of Mozart shown in this work, but a delicacy of sentiment and coloring which will render it ever popular. The overture, as we heard it last night, confirms us in the opinion that nothing—even the filmy web and charming melody of the Midsummer’s Night Dream—was every [sic] composed by Mendelssohn superior to it. The story of the fair Melusine is told in a plaintive and touching manner. Wedded to the renowned knight, Lusignan, and exacting from him a promise that on a certain day each year she should be alone, she is discovered by him on the sea shore in the form of a mermaid. He is shocked at the sight and leaves her. The overture opens with a wave-like figure in A flat, and thence modulates through G to C. The effect of the B flat of the trumpet near the opening, forming the diminished seventh, is very beautiful. The syncopated rythm [sic of the knight theme, in F minor, represents his indignation and offended pride, and one of Mendelssohn’s choicest themes illustrates the plaintive ramonstrance [sic] of the lady. The great work of the Director of the Conservatoire of Paris has been fully described in the Herald. We were surprised to find such versatility on Berlioz. The artist’s reveries and passions are delineated by him with the volcanic power of a Liszt, the tenderness of a Schumann, and the consistency of a Wagner. The tempo di valse in the ball scene never loses its character while being made a medium for the most violent contrasts and changes.
In addition to the eighty instruments of the orchestra, there was Chickering grand piano, and a master spirit, like the genie of Aladdin’s lamp, to unlock the boundless treasures of harmony which it contained. It is unnecessary to say with what extraordinary grace, ease and power the ‘Capriccio’ was performed by Mr. Wehli. His unrivaled technique and grandeur of conception have been already tested and acknowledged at his matinees. In the Faust fantasia, he has interwoven in the well known waltz the most delightful passages that music could supply, and in the Brindisi a new spirit which astonished those who are familiar with that air. The loud and repeated applause of the immense audience was an unmistakable sign of their appreciation of the entire concert. Such artistes as the Philharmonic Society is composed of will do much towards fostering in New York a taste and love for classic music, and correcting the false trash which is sometimes palmed off on us for music.”
Well attended event. [musical analysis of the Mozart piece (…)] Mozart’s work was played excellently by the orchestra. The orchestra presented itself with “his full strength” and intelligent conducting in the challenging “Symphonie Fantastique.” The “Melusinen Overture,” however, could have been performed better.
Mr. Wehli seemed very nervous while performing Mendelssohn’s capriccio which did not help his performance. Obviously he does not trust his talent with these kind of compositions. The “Faust arrangement,” however, was performed with his usual brilliance.
Mr. Wehli will return to Europe, because it was not possible for him to establish himself here. He is skillful, however, his technique seems too plain and he is also lacking the enthusiasm that every successful pianist has nowadays. Moreover, he is too pretentious as a personality. Musicians that are not among the big European artists will have a difficult time being successful in America.
“[I]n certain respects, one of the most successful concerts ever given by the society. The orchestral selections were interesting in themselves, and were performed admirably. Mr. Wehli, as the solo pianist, elicited far more enthusiasm than is usually manifested by a Philharmonic audience, and was encored in his ‘Faust’ fantasia, playing in response his ‘Trembling Leaves.’ This success at the Philharmonic sets the seal on the popularity of Wehli, who is now the most admired pianist in the country.”
The third concert of the twenty-third season took place at the Academy of Music on Saturday evening before the largest and most brilliant audience of the season. So immense an attendance proves the [exceptional?] popularity of this old and most excellent society. Its programme was as follows…
The symphony in D is one of Mozart’s happiest symphonies, each movement has its peculiar and characteristic beauties, all treated with so much delicacy of fancy and poetic imagination that it is difficult to indicate a preference. To the [unlearned?] in music [illegible], the Andante is most easily appreciable, from [illegible] flow of its [illegible] musical thought. Mozart’s feeling for and treatment of the orchestra can never be excelled. The expression may be [enlarged?] by some added [illegible phrase], but the principle is [in…?], as it is based upon the characteristic qualities of the instruments. The symphony was charmingly played in every respect; no shade of delicacy was slighted, no point of expression omitted. [Illegible] nothing was left to be [illegible].
Mendelssohn’s lovely overture ‘Melusine’ was very finely executed, but the interpretation lacked dramatic force. It is a simple story, plainly but passionately told, and gives scope for very strong coloring without which, though it is good music, it is to a certain extent meaningless. The reading was altogether too smooth to truly interpret the intention of the composer. Mr. Wehli’s performance of the E minor capriccio of Mendelssohn was admirable in its delicacy, brilliancy and perfection of manipulation. He read it very feelingly, but his interpretation lacked force; the coloring was too generally delicate—it was too low in tone, needing warmth of treatment to give vitality to the composition. As an executive display it was faultless, and was received most cordially by the audience. In his Faust piece he made an immense hit, and won a unanimous and enthusiastic encore. The programme announced that encores could not be allowed, so Mr. Wehli came forward and bowed once, returned and bowed a second time, and then obeyed the expressed will of the public and played his ‘Trembling Leaves,’ one of the most delicate and aerial of compositions. Considering the vast size of the Academy this would seem to be a bad selection, but Mr. Wehli’s touch is so pure and sensitive, that he made the exquisite tones of the piano, even in his softest whispers, heard distinctly in the remotest parts of the auditorium.
We think the Philharmonic Society wasted much valuable time in the vain endeavor to make Berlioz’s fantastic ravings intelligible to a sane audience. The selection of this work was a great error in taste, when the repertoire of the Society is so rich in better things. Rather give good old than bad new compositions. Why not give the ‘Pastorale’ of Beethoven, or the ‘Wiche der Tone’ of Spohr? Why is not Gade heard, or why not reproduce one of George F. Bristow’s Symphonies? Any one of these would be preferable to the mathematical, soulless calculations of Berlioz’s Fantasie, if we except the fourth movement, which is an exceptional and wonderful beauty amid the dreary platitudes of that master. The three first movements abound in difficulties, and have every essential of a great composition with the exception of rhythm, melody and consecutiveness of thought. Anything more dreary, passionless and soulless we have never heard. We recognize his thorough mastery of the Orchestra; we recognize genius in his method of his treatment, and we cannot but regret that he was denied the gifts of melody and of musical coherence.
The work was performed in a masterly manner, and to record the fact is due both to the Orchestra and the Conductor, but it is a pity to waste so much valuable time upon the study of a work which amounts to so little when produced. The grand piano used on this occasion was one of Chickering’s.”
“The third Philharmonic concert, on Saturday night, was creditable to the society and to the public. The programme and attendance were alike excellent. Under Mr. Bergmann’s regular bâton, the society has entered on a new tenure of life. It will be its own fault if it does not permanently recover all the ground it so unhappily lost last season. The concert opened with Mozart’s Symphony No. 1, in D—a composition always fresh, graceful, and spontaneous. The counterpoints and imitations with which it is filled were delivered with delicacy by the stringed instruments, fifty-four in number, and the finale presto went as finely as we have ever heard it go. We need, in these days, music with more color in it; but those who are content with form must always admire the lovely proportions and delicate tinting of this symphony. It gave abundant pleasure to the audience. So also did Mendelssohn’s delicious overture to the story of the Beautiful Melusina—a work with which our readers are already familiar. Come we now to the piece de resistence. This was, in a fashion, Berlioz’s fantastic symphony, ‘An episode in the life of an artist.’ We have not entirely exhausted our amiability in the opening sentence about the society, and shall yet have occasion to praise a good performance of a very difficult work. But as in ordinary life we frequently curse the hackman only a moment before we smile on the host, so, now, we take the hasty opportunity of denouncing a society for the miserable way in which it has brought us to a feast. Any one who has a score of Berlioz’s symphony knows that it is in five parts. Four only were played, and the fifth, which is decidedly the most characteristic of the suite is dismissed airily with the remark that this ‘number is only of particular effect!’ The idea of omitting any portion of a work by Berlioz, on the ground that it is only of particular effect, strikes us as being at least amusing. Why not speak the truth; say openly we cannot get the special instruments here, and don’t like to encounter the expense of trying to get them elsewhere; or put it on the ordinary prudential grounds of the society, which, being interpreted, means penny wise and pound foolish. In this case the policy was lamentable, for the orchestra of the society is nearly all that Berlioz asks. There ought to be, to be sure, (at least,) four harps, instead of one; four bassoons instead of two. But we are not unmindful of the difficulty of getting these instruments. They are however, needed in the first four movements just as much as they are in the fifth movement, and the latter could be accommodated quite as easily as the former. Moreover, four bassoons could be got by sending to other cities for them. All that was needed for the fifth movement was one additional clarionet in E flat, and a couple of bells, or failing the latter, a few pianos. These details are tedious; but we must bore our readers for a moment more. Conscious of its own shortcomings and eager to justify them, the society says:
‘Berlioz’s composition, “An Episode in the Life of an Artist,” consists in its complete form, of a Fantastic Symphony for Orchestra, and a Lyric Monodrama, entitled Lelio, which latter is preceded by the former. In case of the separate performance of the Fantastic Symphony by an Orchestra, which the author approves, a portion only of the five pieces of which the Symphony consists, can be selected as circumstances may require.’Berlioz never said anything of the kind, and the society knows it. He says as plain as words can speak, that the programme published by the society is only necessary when the symphony is performed dramatically, with a speaker before the curtain and the orchestra behind it; in a concert all ‘that is necessary is to preserve the headings of the five movements—the work offering, as the author hopes, a sufficient musical interest independent of any dramatical intention.’ It is the programme, not the fifth movement, that can be dispensed with as circumstances may require. With singular liberality, the society gives us the former and not the movement.
Berlioz was a young man when this symphony was written. He is now well advanced on that final decade which completes the span of human life. All the jests it excited have gone home to roost like Arab curses; all the sneers have turned to smiles. A venerable man, honored in literature and art, of unflinching integrity, of clear insight and truthful expression, remains to smile at what was so false in prophecy, and so mean in human nature. He had written the overture to ‘Les Francs Juges’ before this symphony was ever thought of, and it had raised a howl, which found an echo every, [sic] where—even in that almost immaculate land, Germany. After such a reception, is it amazing that he should select an ‘episode in the life of an artist’ for illustration, and that that episode should be suicide? To us this work is in every way interesting. It is not, perhaps, equal to ‘Harold;’ but it is clear, and even popular. The fourth movement in its grand and urgent polyphony, and the suddenness of the supposed catastrophe, is worthy of any master. Even the waltz movement, which is not remarkable for largeness, is elaborated with exquisite taste and endless diversity of phrasal termination. The orchestra throughout played superbly. We have never seen Mr. Bergmann’s baton more steady than on this occasion. The many rapid transitions from pppp. to ffff. and pizzicato to bow passages were observed with the greatest precision. The reed instruments, however, might have been better. Nevertheless the symphony was a complete success.
Mr. J. M. Wehli was the solo pianist, and with the orchestra played Mendelssohn’s Capriccio and his own ‘Faust’ arrangement. Of the latter we have recently written. The former is threadbare. Mr. Wehli played superbly.”
“Mozart’s fresh, and throughout euphonious Symphony does not consist of four movments as the programme here says, but only of three; the first, Adagio, is not an independent movement, but only an introduction. Berlioz’s fantastic Symphony is a highly interesting work, abounding in fine melodic and harmonic passages, and most genially instrumented. We were sorry that the fifth part was not also performed. This difficult work, the programme of which, by the composer . . . sufficiently explains its plan, was on the whole, well performed. The pianist Wehli was, as you perceive, the soloist of the evening.”