Prague Concert Life, 1850-1881

Event title:

First annual Cecilia Society concert

Venue: Žofín Island (Žofín Hall)

Event type: Art music culture

Date: 06/12/1862 4.30pm

Season: Advent

Benefactor: Cecilia Society

Programme comprising:

General participants:
  • Cecilia Society: participating institution, vv, orch
SCHUMANN, Robert Alexander : parts 1 and 2 from oratorio Szenen aus Goethes Faust, solo vv, chorus, orch, WoO3
     • Ehrenbergů, Eleonora z : Gretschen Eilers, Albert : Faust Krén, J. : Mephistopheles Bernard, Joseph Karl : Ariel Schmidt-Procházková, Josefa : v Pisařovicová, Marie : v Pechová, ? : v


Národní listy 14/10/1862 and Dalibor 20/10/1862 both published a similar report noting that the Cecilia Society, comprising ‘all friends of music’ who for 22 years had performed the ‘most interesting musical compositions’, was about to embark upon a new season of concerts. Rehearsals for the first concert, which comprised Schumann’s music to Faust, were to commence on 16/10/1862 for singers and on 20/10/1862 for the orchestra. The date of the concert was unspecified at that time. Amateurs who wished to take part in this production as participating members of the Society, were to apply to the office of the Society at ‘U města Jerusalema’, no.308 Bartolomějská ulice. The Czech-language music periodical Slavoj 15/10/1862 also published advance news of this concert, noting this would be the first performance of Faust in Prague.

Detailed advance news of this event appeared in the German-language newspaper Prager Morgenpost on 4/12/1862. The source, evidently relating passed-on information from the Cecilia Society, reported: ‘From the Cäcilien-Society. The first concert of the Cecilian Society, which takes place on Saturday, 6th December at 4.30pm in the Hall of Žofín Island, presents for performance, as already related, Szenen aus Göthe’s
„Faust“ for solo voices, chorus and orchestra by Robert Schumann. The work contains: Ouverture. Part I: 1. Szene im Garten, 2. Gretchen vor dem Bilde der Mater dolorosa, 3. Szene im Dom. – Part II.: 4. Ariel – Sonnenausgang, 5. Die Vier grauen Weiber, Faust’s Erblindung, 6. Faust’s Tod. – The 3rd part: Faust’s Verklärung, is brought for performance in the third concert [of the society]. – The solo parts have with particular kindness been taken by Miss von Ehrenberg [z Ehrenbergů], Mrs Procháska [Schmidt-Procházková], Schmid [i.e. Schmidt-Procházková], Miss Pisařovic [Pisařovicová], Miss Pech [Pechová], as well as Messrs Bernard, Eilers and Kren [Krén].’ Prager Morgenpost did not review this concert.

Bohemia 6/12/1862 published in its Tagesprogramm list of daily Prague events: ‘4.30pm in the Žofín Island Hall: Concert of the Cecilian Society.’ A brief review, signed ‘V.’, appeared in the following day’s issue of Bohemia, on 7/12/1862. Titled ‘1. Concert of the Cäcilien Society.’, the correspondent reported that ‘The first concert given yesterday by the Cäcilien Society was also the first [concert] of the [Prague autumn concert] season that presented a significant programme. Namely it was R. Schumann’s Faust music, specifically the first two parts as of the composer’s arrangement. The participants were, as is usual in the concerts of this Society, seemingly numerous, as plentiful in vocalists as instrumentalists. R. Schumann’s writing made extraordinary demands not only upon the ensemble but also upon the singers of the solo parts, requiring the greatest surety of technique, in particular an ability to express the words with the most full expression. The solo parts here were sung by Miss Ehrenberg (Gretschen), Messrs Eilers (Faust) and Krén (Mephisto), followed by Mr Bernard (Ariel), then the ladies Prochaska-Schmidt [Schmidt-Procházková], Pisařowitz [Pisařovicová] and Pech [Pechová].’ The critic eschewed remarking in this review upon the ‘extraordinary [merwürdig - extraordinary/remarkable, but could also mean strange/odd]’ work, writing in depth on the piece over two issues of Bohemia on 11/12/1862 and 12/12/1862. However, in this early 7/12/1862 review the correspondent remarked that the thanks of all friends of music should be due to the director Mr Apt for the opportunity to have become acquainted with ‘this interesting composition’. The Žofín Hall was said to be full.  

The Národní listy 16/12/1862 review, signed ‘Zvř’, included a description of Schumann’s Faust music that not only reveals important insights into the aesthetic views of the review’s author, the influential Czech music pedagogue, writer and composer J.L. Zvonař, but also provides a useful signpost to the broad aesthetic tastes of Prague audiences during the early 1860s. Zvonař commented that ‘We were glad to become acquainted with at least a part of Schumann’s music to Goethe’s Faust; we were not glad that the public received this music indifferently. It seems that this music remained an insolvable puzzle to the greater part of the audience. The music inspired many [different] comments, which perhaps agree only on one thing, that Schumann set himself an immense task, perhaps unattainable in music, to compose scenes from Faust whose nature neither calls for music nor can support music. The scene in the garden, and [the scene] in the house before the picture of the Mater dolorosa, surely contain the greatest intrinsic musical substance; the dawn, midnight, the death of Faust, although [these are] poetic ideas that greatly inspire the mind of the musician with their abundantly rich content, as with all great pictures of magnificent and horrific apparitions, they tempt, in order that he [the composer] try his strength on them; [but] they are of such a nature for which all musical means are inadequate in order to set out their characteristics in sound. It is remarkable that Schumann did not choose also [to set] the scene in Auerbach’s cellar, or the ballad The King in Thule, or other scenes which afford much musical material.

Of the music itself it is possible to describe it as original, lofty and magnificent. The Overture immediately excites the attention and wholly prepares us for the following scenes. The naïvety and open-heartedness of Marguerite, her heart-furrowing grief, the unquiet yearning and eternally longing mind of Faust, the demonic enmity to humankind in the sneering character of Mephistopheles: all this is marked out with masterly strokes in the overture, but [the overture] particularly excels in [its depiction of] eternal longing and the disquiet mind, for which perhaps Schumann himself was a model. Schumann’s mind certainly found in the supreme longing of Goethe’s Faust something relative to himself.

The first part, which contains the scene in the garden, the scene in the dungeon before the picture of the Mater dolorosa, and the scene in the house, is on the whole clearer, more comprehensible and, we would say, the music is purer. If we are astonished in the first part at the true... musician, the second part compels us to marvel at the musical illustrator. In the first part he combines musician with poet, blending the music with the poem, whereas the second part is constructed more around the poem. Those knowledgeable of Schumann’s compositions are well aware that he particularly whips up all of his musical genius in decisive moments, so that it seems as if his strength is saved for single moments so as to flare up with a total blaze and to highlight completely [these points]. This we also find in the music to Faust, especially in such moments as where, according to the poet, Marguerite picks a little flower and inquires of it „Zdaliž ji muž, na kterého si myslí, miluje“ (He loves me, he loves me not . . . ). Plucking the last petal she arrives at ‘yes’ and she calls out in joyful rapture „on mě miluje“ (He loves me).

Three loathsome elements which we meet with here, namely the horrific presentation of Judgement Day, the despairing guilty girls, the sneering countenance of Mephistopheles, are expressed in music and combined into the whole in a masterly manner; we do not find in the literature of music a similar case, where the old sacred words „Dies irae“, „Judex ergo“, „Quid sum miser“ have been so loftily conceived and so musically expressive. Likewise, as original in conception as in execution is the chorus of four grey women, impersonating deficiency, guilt, penury and worry. Also here as well as in [the incidental music to] Manfred and in other places, in order to convey something ghastly Schumann employed the piccolo and, unusually as with no other composer, excluding perhaps C.M. von Weber, with [success]. However, if we wanted to enumerate and appreciate all the beauties and peculiarities of this work, we would need to write no less than a brochure about it. Therefore, observing the music to be true music to Faust, music over which the next generation will rack their brains as many times as over Goethe’s Faust [itself], we note that the performance by the forces of the Society was dignified’. The solo vocal parts were performed by Miss Eleonora z Ehrenbergů, Mrs Josefa Schmidt-Procházková, Albert Eilers, and ‘most successfully’ by J. Krén, who sang Mephistopheles. The review concluded by remarking that the audience was ‘very numerous’ and, after re-iterating that it seemed as though the listeners found the work to be an ‘incomprehensible puzzle’, ascribed the poor reception of the piece to the lack of musical awareness of the basic spirit of Schumann’s music among the public.

Summary of sources:

Národní listy (14/10/1862)
Slavoj (15/10/1862)
Dalibor, časopis pro hudbu, divadlo a umění vůbec (20/10/1862)
Prager Morgenpost (04/12/1862)
Bohemia (06/12/1862)
Bohemia (07/12/1862)
Bohemia (11/12/1862)
Národní listy (16/12/1862)