Venue: Estates Theatre
Event type: Art music culture
Date: 29/03/1860 7pm
Keywords: Public performance events, Aesthetics, debates and currents in, Genres - Orchestral music, Genres - Solo and concertante instrumental music, Annual events and regular series, Instrument makers and repositories, Foreign musicians in Prague, Genres - music theatre and entr'acte music, Audience attendance
This third annual Conservatory concert of the 1859/1860 season was extensively reported in the Prague German-language newspapers, the appearance of the composer and then Prussian court pianist Hans von Bülow undoubtedly constituting a major event in the city’s musical calender. Initial announcements reporting the time, date and venue of the concert as well as noting that Bülow was to take part, were published by Bohemia, Prager Morgenpost and Der Tagesbote 26/3/1860, and in Prager Zeitung 27/3/1860 (Tuesday 27/3/1860 issue, the newspaper was not published on Mondays). Identical reports providing full details of the concert, listing the complete programme and specifying the soloists were published in the daily news sections of all four of these German sources on 28/3/1860. In specifying the performance of Beethoven’s ‘Pastoral-Symphonie’ in the first half of the programme the text listed the tempi of the separate movements followed by their descriptive epithets as originally applied by the composer. All of the soloists in the event (excepting of course Bülow himself), were pupils of the Conservatory.
A large, extravagantly descriptive and spacious theatre-bill advertisement was published by Prager Morgenpost 29/03/1860, announcing:
No preliminary news of this concert was forthcoming from the Czech periodical Dalibor. However, the source did publish an extensive but unsigned review spread over two issues, beginning on 1/4/1860 and concluding on 10/4/1860. The text began by criticizing the Conservatory and its parent society, the Society for the Advancement of Musical Art in Bohemia, for inviting foreign virtuosi such as von Bülow to appear as soloists in the Conservatory’s annual season of concerts. Not only was this thought to represent an unnecessary expense, the correspondent citing the recent payment of an honorarium totalling 20 louis d’or, but also effectively deprived Conservatory pupils of the valuable experience of performing in public in a solo rôle. The report then questioned the participation in recent concerts of visiting virtuoso pianists when the Conservatory itself did not teach solo piano, and wondered why no bassoonist or double bass player had appeared as a soloist in one of the school’s concerts during the last four years.
Whereas the initial Dalibor text primarily comprised a critique of the Conservatory itself, the continuation of the review discussed the works given in the concert in order of their performance. Thus, a commentary upon the perceived extra-musical content and effect of Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony was followed by a brief description of A.W. Ambros’ early Overture Il magico prodigioso. The Overture was praised warmly, the critic noting that the music effectively portrayed the struggle of the play’s main characters against demonic magic. Specific mention was made of the composer’s use of a characteristic ‘Credo in unum Deum’ motive, and also of his conclusion of the work in a manner considered reminiscent of the scene in the wolf’s glen from C.M. von Weber’s opera Der Freischütz. These two orchestral works were performed by the ‘fiery and youthful orchestra with nuance and with great precision, it was only a pity that the tuning of the woodwind instruments was not in agreement with the strings.’ Concerning the solo playing of von Bülow, the Dalibor correspondent remarked that ‘he is a solid virtuoso; his playing is thoughtful, delicately nuanced and elevated (vzlet u plna), but not at all manly. His touch resembles Klaus [Klausová?] or [Clara] Schumann, consequently he excels himself more in the dreamy compositions of Chopin and Field rather than in the pithy works of Beethoven, in which he is not the equal of our [countryman] Alexander Dreyschock.’
The Dalibor review also commented upon the playing of the two Conservatory students who participated in this concert. Of these, the ’cellist Popper received an enthusiastic although qualified critique; he ‘has a pretty tone, great technical capability and considerable clarity; only octaves seem to be his Achilles heel. Nevertheless he performed his part very successfully and was [curtain-]called.’ However, ‘the greatest sensation was aroused by the young genius Jan Hřímalý, who performed a difficult piece for violin with great artistic ardour. His command of the strings is bold, energetic and individual, his technical capability so great that it seemed as though all the difficulties of the piece were only trifles... In Hřímalý is manifest pure Czech spirit and we have no doubt, that this young man... in a short time will shine among the world’s foremost violinists.’
Reviews of the concert were forthcoming from each of the Prague German-language newspapers. These varied in length and detail from a single, concise paragraph appearing in Prager Morgenpost 30/3/1860 to two separate articles signed ‘V.’ published in Bohemia 30/3/1860 and 31/3/1860. The first of these Bohemia texts comprised a summary of the general success of the concert and of the works performed, and a brief and enthusiastic description of Bülow’s playing. It began by noting that ‘The present custom [Der jetzigen Usance] of attracting foreign notabilities confers a special brilliance upon the concerts of the Conservatory.’ The choice of the noun ‘Usance’ and not a noun more unambiguously associated with custom or regular use was perhaps a notable and very subtle commentary upon the evident policy of the Director of the Conservatory Kittl at this time to pay foreign virtuosi to appear in the institution’s annual concerts. Usance, besides meaning ‘use’ also refers to periods of indebtedness for payment of foreign bills. Ultimately money owing to such artists contributed to the Kittl’s later dismissal from his post at the Conservatory. The visiting artist on this occasion was Hans von Bülow; he was, the Bohemia critic reported, the first representative of the Weimar School to appear in one of these concerts. He showed himself to be as much an artist as a vituoso, celebrating a true triumph not from any ostentatious display of his ability but from his great artistry. Particularly striking was thought to be his ethereal piano and pianissimo dynamic. The text also reported that he performed as an encore the ‘Paraphrase des Doppelduettes’ from Verdi’s Rigoletto. Concerning the other soloists participating in this concert the correspondent noted that they achieved a favourable success and briefly mentioned with praise Popper and Hřímalý.
The second, much longer Bohemia review, comprised a more descriptive account of Bülow’s style and ability as a pianist, contained slightly more detailed comment upon the playing of the other soloists, and briefly related the success of the two orchestral works performed. Concerning Bülow, the critic in essence noted that his performance was contrary to what might have been expected by those with preconceived ideas of this ‘Prince of Liszt’s Round Table’. His pianism displayed ‘tenderness over strength, stirring chaste artistry over the dazzle of thrilling effects, steely force and endurance [were] only incidental’. Appropriate expression was more important than any lightweight effect. In this respect the performance of Beethoven’s Concerto was especially distinguished; the correspondent enthused over the diverse nuance of dynamics, ethereal fading of tone colour and constant clarity. In particularly expressive moments the instrument, a Bösendorfer, was thought to be extremely grateful and in the higher registers displayed ‘a spotless beauty of tone.’ However, the middle register of the piano was less attractive and was thought not to have combined well with the sound of the orchestra, being better suited to the subsequent solo pieces. Of these Chopin’s Nocturne drew considerable praise, inspiring the comment that it might well have been the composer himself performing, such was the fragrant, delicate and feminine aura of its execution. Finally, the Paraphrase on vocal quartets by Verdi was reported as bringing the most exorbitant technical and virtuoso demands, but that still Bülow played with clarity, distinctiveness and characteristic positiveness, and without any ostentation.
Of the other soloists appearing in the concert the Bohemia 31/3/1860 review remarked that Popper and Hřimalj [Hřímalý] had ‘exceedingly brilliant success ... both were showered with applause and with their teachers were 4 or 5 times [curtain-]called.’ The ‘talented’ Popper played with ‘surprising security and virtuosity. ... An equal talent was on display in Joh. Hřimalj [Jan Hřímalý]’. Aside from his evident ‘proficiency of schooling, which we habitually find with this class’, the performance of the young violinist was deemed to be ‘astonishingly distinguished’ in every phrase and passage. The critic perceived in Hřímalý ‘a sign of manifest greatness, and in our well-proven artistic tradition a true national-Czech musical talent’ for whom there is the promise of a beautiful future. The opera school pupil Karolina Klettner [Klettnerova], who performed ‘for a novice artist the difficult... aria from Zweikampf, was reported to have been [curtain-]called. Finally, the review, after the long description of Bülow’s performance obviously left with little space to recount the orchestral items, noted the success of Ambros’s Overture and of Beethoven’s Symphony, briefly describing each work and ending with the note that after the Symphony Kittl was twice recalled.
Prager Morgenpost 30/3/1860 published a concise account of the concert. The event, the ‘last of this year’s Conservatory concerts, which yesterday took place in the theatre, had again particular interest through the participation of an excellent artist.’ Bülow, who the text related had appeared in Prague in the last ‘Medicinerconcert’ [Benefit concert in aid of poor medical students], performed ‘with accomplished technique and ingenious perception Beethoven’s E-flat major Concerto, then the charming Nocturne in D-flat of Chopin, and ended with Liszt’s „Tannhäuser-Marsches.“ His performances caused the great sensation and he was greeted with repeated applause.’ The other soloists were praised, the ‘young orchestra played with precision’, and the concert was noted to have been attended by a numerous audience.
The Der Tagesbote 30/3/1860 review also described in detail the concert, ‘the last of the year in the theatre’, and devoted much of the text to Bülow. However, unlike that of the Bohemia correspondent, the report indulged in no sideways references to the pianist’s style in the context of broad critical perceptions or expectations of such a proponent of the Weimar School. However, the same qualities of his pianism were identified by the critic as were mentioned by his newspaper colleagues, such as the ‘unpompous quality of [Bülow’s] artistic playing’, but the Tagesbote correspondent was slightly more focussed in describing the performances of the various pieces. In the concerto attention was drawn to Bülow’s subtle and sympathetic interpretation and mastery of touch. In the middle movement the critic was impressed by the aura of tone colour and expression, and in the Rondo noted that despite a bold tempo the movement was interestingly shaded and clearly executed. Besides reporting the ‘distinguished’ performances of the other soloists, this source also commented on more depth than other reports on the orchestral items in the concert. Beethoven’s symphony received a performance of which the ‘immortal masterpiece’ was ‘worthy... virtuoso in the wealth of details and so unified as a whole.’ Ambros’s overture, ‘very interesting... [with its] rich, often brilliant orchestration and profound texture’ had, it was observed, as its masterstroke the quotation of the Credo in unum Deum.