November 13

The Musical Press Laments the Death of Rossini

L’Illustration, Vol. L (5 October 1867): 212, published in Les Gravures Musicales dans L’Illustration, Vol. 1  (Quebec: Presses del’Université Laval, 1982): 603

A portrait by Adolphe Mouilleron of Rossini, one year before his passing

 

On today’s date in 1868, 149 years ago, Gioachino Rossini—composer of more than three dozen operas, including the ever-popular opera buffa, The Barber of Seville—died in Paris at the age of seventy-six.  Though retiring from opera composition in 1829, nearly four decades before his passing, the success of Rossini’s prolific early years made him a widely renowned public figure.  This popularity is reflected in the attention given to his death in the musical press, with many journals reporting the news on their front pages. Here are some examples.

L’Art musical, Vol. 8 No. 51 (19 November 1868): 401.
The Musical Standard, Vol. 9 No. 225 (21 November 1868): 197.
Gazzetta musicale di Milano, Vol. 23 No. 47 (22 November 1868): 377.
Neue Berliner Musikzeitung, Vol. 22 No. 47 (18 November 1868): 373.

 

As eulogies of the composer appeared in the press, the Parisian illustrated newsweekly, L’Illustration, visually documented Rossini’s funeral proceedings.  As indicative of his widespread adoration, much of Paris attended.

L’Illustration, Vol. LII (28 November 1868): 340, published in Les Gravures Musicales dans L’Illustration, Vol. 1 (Quebec: Presses de l’Université Laval, 1982): 619.

The sprinkling of holy water in the Church of the Holy Trinity

 

L’Illustration, Vol. LII (28 November 1868): 341, published in Les Gravures Musicales dans L’Illustration, Vol. 1 (Quebec: Presses de l’Université Laval, 1982): 620.

The funeral procession leaving Church of the Holy Trinity

 

L’Illustration, Vol. LII (28 November 1868): 344, published in Les Gravures Musicales dans L’Illustration, Vol. 1 (Quebec: Presses de l’Université Laval, 1982): 620.

Lowering of the coffin into  the vault of the city, in Père-Lachaise Cemetery

 

Rossini was sought out and courted, not merely on account of his fame as a composer, but for his wit, his humour, his amiability, and general goodness. With him has departed one of the most remarkable geniuses and one of the kindliest spirits of the nineteenth century.

The Musical World, Vol. 46 No. 47 (21 November 1868): 789.

 

RIPM search tip: For more on Rossini’s death, first, in both RIPM’s Retrospective Index and e-Library of Music Periodicals, set the span of years in the “Date” field from “1868 to 1869”.  This limits one’s search to the year of his death and one year following.  Then, search “Rossini” as a keyword.

Click here to subscribe to RIPM’s Curios, News, and Chronicles! 

When is our next posting? To find out, follow us on Twitter and Facebook!

Category: Curios and Chronicles | Comments Off on The Musical Press Laments the Death of Rossini
November 6

Adolphe Sax:
Building a Business in 19th-Century Paris

Adolphe Sax—the Belgian musician, instrument maker, and inventor—was born on today’s date in 1814.  While known primarily for creating the saxophone, he also invented a large number of other instruments bearing his name, and developed a clever strategy for creating his brand.

La Revue et Gazette musicale de Paris, Vol. 39 No. 17 (28 April 1872): 136.

An advertisement featuring images of Adolphe Sax’s many instruments

 

In recognition of his birth, we highlight the manner in which the press reflected his successful business enterprise in 1840s Paris.

Jules Worm, “Adolphe Sax. —D’après une photographie de MM Mayer et Pierson,” L’Illustration, Vol. XLII (5 September 1863): 175, published in H. Robert Cohen, Les Gravures Musicales dans L’Illustration, Vol. 1  (Quebec: Presses de l’Université Laval, 1982): 518.

Soon after arriving in Paris in the spring of 1841, Sax received much attention in the press and the strong advocacy of critics, composers, and performers.  For example, Hector Berlioz championed Sax, hailing him in the 12 June 1842 issue of the Journal des débats, as a leading figure in the development of woodwind and brass instruments.

Mr. Adolphe Sax of Brussels, whose work we have just examined, has without doubt made a powerful contribution to the revolution which is about to take place.  He is a clever, far-sighted man, of penetrating and clear intelligence, self-willed with a persevering spirit able to withstand all trials, enormously skilled, always ready to replace even specialist workmen incapable of understanding and realizing his plans.  At the same time, he is a shrewd man, an acoustician, and when necessary, a smelter, a turner and chiseler.

Hector Berlioz, “Instrumens de musique—M. Ad. Sax,” Journal des débats politiques et littéraires (12 June 1842): 3.

In his 1844 Grand traité d’instrumentation et d’orchestration modernes, Berlioz featured the saxophone in a section devoted to new instruments.  This text was later translated and reprinted in the Musical Review and Musical World.

The Musical Review and Musical World, Vol. 11 No. 24 (24 November 1860): 339.

The well-known critic and conductor François-Joseph Fétis also wrote favorably of Sax’s instruments.  In a translated review of Halévy’s opera, Le Juif errant, Fétis remarked on the dramatic effects of the newly-invented saxtuba, as well as the “sympathetic sonorousness” of the saxophone.

The Musical World, Vol. 30 No. 31 (31 July 1852): 490-91.

Internationally acclaimed performers were also advocates for his instruments.  While in Paris in 1844, the Distins—a family quintet of British brass musicians—acquired the first saxhorns.  Soon after, La Revue et Gazette musicale de Paris mentions in a brief concert report the relationship between Sax and the traveling performers.

The next morning Mr. Distin and his family, also from the United Kingdom of Great Britain, performed on Adolphe Sax’s excellent instruments, in the hall of Mr. Herz, and produced their accustomed effect. The pieces:  “Robert, you whom I love,” the finale of Lucia, and especially God Save the King, delighted the almost all English audience, who also had the pleasure of applauding an English pianist, Mr. Julien Adams, who performed a Weber piano concerto quite well.

La Revue et Gazette musicale de Paris, Vol. 11 No. 13 (31 March 1844): 116.

By 1843 Adolphe Sax had established his workshop, building an impressive range of both woodwind and brass instruments.  But more than variety, it was the quality of production that underlay Sax’s manufacturing.  As Horwood states, “he intended to produce each part of every instrument under his personal strict supervision so that any instrument bearing his name as an indication of its quality would have been wholly and completely made in the Sax workshop.”[1] By 1844, his workshop on rue Saint-Georges was, as these engravings indicate, already efficient, successful and bursting with activity.

The ground floor of Sax’s workshop

 

Édouard Renard et Henri Valentin, “Fabrique d’instruments de musique de M. Sax,” L’Illustration, Vol. X (5 February 1848): 357, published in H. Robert Cohen, Les Gravures Musicales dans L’Illustration, Vol. 1 (Quebec: Presses de l’Université Laval, 1982): 148.

The workshop’s second floor

 

With the creation of his workshop and backing of the musical elite, Adolphe Sax began marketing his products to the masses.  While touring musicians like the Distins promoted his instruments internationally, concerts at the Salle Sax, rue Saint-Georges, depicted below, allowed the public to experience the design and sound of Sax’s latest creations.

Jules Gaildrau, “Audition des instruments récemment inventés par M. Adolphe Sax,” L’Illustration, Vol. XLIV (16 July 1864): 48,  published in H. Robert Cohen, Les Gravures Musicales dans L’Illustration, Vol. 2 (Quebec: Presses de l’Université Laval, 1982): 535.

Sax also extensively promoted his creations with advertisements such as the first illustration above, and the following two.

La Revue et Gazette musicale de Paris, Vol. 31 No. 16 (17 April 1864): 128.
La Revue et Gazette musicale de Paris, Vol. 30 No. 31 (2 August 1863): 248.

In celebration of the bicentennial of his birth, saxophone professor and researcher José-Modesto Diago Ortega produced an interesting video that cleverly permits one to view the engravings of Sax’s workshop (depicted above) from within.  It’s well worth viewing.

Lest we think that he has been forgotten, Google recently spotlighted Adolphe Sax both in a search engine “doodle” and in an excellent presentation of his instruments by the Google Cultural Institute, in collaboration with the National Music Museum at the University of South Dakota.

 

RIPM Search Tip: For more information on Adolphe Sax, search for “Sax” in the Retrospective Index and e-Library of Music Periodicals.  For more focused results, select a specific language before searching!

 

[1] Wally Horwood, Adolphe Sax 1814-1894—His Life and Legacy (Hertfordshire, UK: Egon Publishers, 1983), 44.

Category: Curios and Chronicles | Comments Off on Adolphe Sax:
Building a Business in 19th-Century Paris
October 25

100 Years Ago This Week,
Jascha Heifetz Made His American Debut

National Public Radio in the United States recently commemorated the centennial anniversary of Jascha Heifetz’s American debut at Carnegie Hall.  Here are some related images from our archives.

 

Heifetz in 1913 at the age of twelve.

Musical America, Vol. 25 No. 19 (10 March 1917): 11.

 

A young Heifetz with Professor Auer and his violin students at summer school in Dresden.

Musical America, Vol. 21 No. 1 (7 November 1914): 25.

 

Heifetz, a young man, with Professor Auer and his violin students in Petrograd (St. Petersburg).

Musical America, Vol. 24 No. 22 (30 September 1916): 11.

 

One month before the arrival of Heifetz in America

Musical America, Vol. 26 No. 18 (1 September 1917): 2.

 

The announcement of Heifetz’s debut.

Musical America, Vol. 26 No. 25 (20 October 1917): 33.

 

A compilation of reviews in several newspapers from his debut

                Musical America, Vol. 27 No. 1 (3 November 1917): 18.  

He has a technic which must make him the admiration and the despair of all the other violinists.  His finger work is almost unerring, whether in rapid flights or in intricate passages of double stopping.  But better than this is the exquisite finish, elasticity and resource of his bowing, which gives him a supreme command of all the tonal nuances essential to style and interpretation.

Above, The New York World (28 October 1917).

Genius is a big word for which there seldom is use.  Comparatively few persons are qualified to have it applied to them.  Yet one such–a seventeen-year-old Russian youth–stood upon the Carnegie Hall stage yesterday afternoon and before his musical task was half completed an audience numbering more than 2,000, that knew, pronounced him the greatest violinist heard here in years.

Above, The New York Sun (28 October 1917)

 

Musical America, Vol. 27 No. 2 (10 November 1917): 3.

He quickly settled in New York City …

… and traveled the country.

Musical America, Vol. 27 No. 9 (29 December 1917): 47.

 

A rare photo of a playful Heifetz.

Musical America, Vol. 29 No. 15 (8 February 1919): 48.

A telling commentary, one month after his American debut.

“Mephistos Musings,” Musical America, Vol. 27 No. 2 (10 November 1917): 8.

 

Finally, Heifetz with his beloved Professor Aurer.

 

RIPM search tip:  A search for “Heifetz” in RIPM’s e-Library of Music Periodicals reveals that his name appears at least once on 1,545 pages!

 

Category: Curios and Chronicles | Comments Off on 100 Years Ago This Week,
Jascha Heifetz Made His American Debut
October 11

“Study Under Caruso”:
Selling Recordings in the Early 20th-Century

A series of focused advertisements by the Victor Talking Machine Company of Camden, NJ began appearing in Musical America in late 1905.  Along with promoting the sale of recordings for the pleasure of listening, the company’s advertisements also promoted their “Red Seal” records as a tool for individual instruction for singers. By securing exclusive contracts with the most revered opera stars of the day, Victor offered people the chance to “study” with their vocal idols.  All one had to do was purchase a Victor Talking Machine, a handful of records, and, listen.

 

Are you interested in “making great strides forward in you musical education”
… and improving your sense of expression, diction and breathing?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RmR1h5B5Thk

[Musical America, Vol. 4 No. 24 (27 October 1906): 18

 

Do you want to improve your phrasing?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HCrbs0OtmJ0

[Musical America, Vol. 5 No. 2 (24 November 1906): 18]

 

Did you miss that magic moment from the back row of the opera hall?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t936rzOt3Zc

[Musical America, Vol. 4 No. 13 (11 August 1906): 14]

 

Tired of all the painstaking hours of practicing with little to no improvement?
Then take a more leisurely approach.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QbQSrDTrVnE

[Musical America, Vol. 9 No. 16 (27 February 1909): 31]

 

Do you even need a teacher when you can study with the best vocal instructors at home?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G98hlUfue54

[Musical America, Vol. 10 No. 6 (19 June 1909): 27]

 

And, of course, learning is a life-long undertaking and
there is always room for improvement.

[Musical America, Vol. 16 No. 10 (13 July 1912): 15]

Caruso listening to Caruso

 

RIPM search tip:  Select Musical America in the periodical title field of RIPM’s e-Library of Music Periodicals, and search for  “talking machine.” This yields over one-thousand pages of pertinent content.  For more focused results, restrict your search to a span of years.

Category: Curios and Chronicles | Comments Off on “Study Under Caruso”:
Selling Recordings in the Early 20th-Century
October 5

Want to become a better pianist?
Grow your hands!

A transcript printed in Musical America of an address to the 1909 New York State Teacher’s Convention claims that certain people were at a distinct physiological disadvantage when playing the piano, so much so, that they should have their own separate literature.

[Kate S. Chittenden, “Piano Repertoire for Small-Handed Performers,” Musical America, Vol. 10 No. 9 (10 July 1909): 18.]

Harriette Brower also wrote in Musical America about the value of octave studies at the keyboard for aiding students with small hands.

[Harriette Brower, “Value of Octave Study to the Piano Student,” Musical America, Vol. 17 No. 19 (15 March 1913): 26.]

For many, hand size, apparently, did matter.  Of course having small hands is a hindrance to performing certain repertoire with wide intervals.  But beyond anatomy, the perception that small-handed people were impeded from becoming virtuosos was linked to the large hands of master performers of the previous generation.

In a satirical piece entitled “Hands, Insanus omnis faere credit ceteros [Every madman thinks all others insane],” a certain Dr. Legs and Dr. Body praised the hand size and strength of Franz Liszt over the “sad” hands of Chopin.

Dr. Legs and Dr. Body, featured in The Musical World

[Anon., “Hands. Insanus omnis faere credit ceteros,” The Musical World, Vol. 56 No. 19 (11 May 1878): 318.]

Liszt’s “square, large hand” with “longer, knotted fingers” and “iron knuckles” was, according to the doctors, the preferred anatomy for the “command of learned music.”

Along with the hands of Liszt, those of Anton Rubinstein were also admired. A description of the latter was given in a translation of Eugen Zabel’s contribution to the Berlin National-Zeitung.

Zabel continued by declaring Rubinstein’s hands a rarity in size and strength, even bordering on animalistic.

[Rosa Newmarch, “Rubinstein’s Hand,” The Musician, Vol. 2 No. 28 (17 November 1897): 29-31.]

In fact, hands described as square, wide, and powerful, like those of Liszt and Rubinstein reinforced the benefits of having large hands at the piano. By contrast, this view implied that small hands could prevent one from attaining true piano mastery.

To remedy this limitation, physical exercises were often given by teachers and specialists. With consistent training, it was believed that small hands could in fact, grow. A 1912 advertisement from a “hand specialist” named Burnett Jordan visually demonstrated the benefits of such specialized training.

[Musical America, Vol. 16 No. 23 (12 October 1912): 99.]

Jordan’s teacher, the German hand-training specialist Woldemar Schnee, traveled to America for several extended residencies in 1914 and again, in 1922.  With looming Brahmsian features, Schnee reinforced the advantages of having large hands like Rubinstein and Liszt, and promised to enlarge the hands of those less pianistically endowed.

[Musical America, Vol. 37 No. 5 (25 November 1922): 44]

[H. F. P., “Lending Size and Strength to the Hands of the Pianist,” Musical America, Vol. 19 No. 17 (28 February 1914): 29.]

Schnee’s technique—“stretching the skin” by “pulling the thumb and the fifth finger in opposite directions”—was admittedly painful, but not enough to deter pianists from seeking out his services in hopes of, quite literally, expanding their abilities.

While prevalent historically, the idea of small hands as wholly detrimental to great piano playing is a generally outdated concept, thanks to artists like Alicia de Larrocha, Vladimir Ashkenazy, and Daniel Barenboim (maxing out his reach at the 9th).  Some artists, like the fantastic music-comedy duo Igudesman and Joo, have even found a way to satirize this stereotype.  (Don’t pass up viewing this…)

RIPM search tip: For more information on “small-hand” repertoire and articles discussing hand size and piano technique, search for “small hands” in both the Retrospective Index, and in the e-Library of Music Periodicals.

Category: Curios and Chronicles | Comments Off on Want to become a better pianist?
Grow your hands!
September 27

Today in 1892, The Musical Herald welcomed Dvořák as director of New York’s National Conservatory

Accompanied by his wife and children, Antonin Dvořák arrived in America on 27 September 1892 to assume the directorship of the National Conservatory of Music in New York City.  Soon after this much anticipated event, Boston’s Musical Herald reprinted a review of the composer’s welcome concert by music critic H. E Krehbiel, originally written for the New York Tribune.  At the concert, Dvořák’s compositions and conducting were featured.

 

An illustration of Dvořák at the time of his stay in America

[The Musical Herald, Vol. 13 No. 12 (October 1892): 191.]

 

[The Musical Herald, Vol. 14 No. 1 (November 1892): 30-31.]

 

For more on Boston’s The Musical Herald, click on this link! http://ripm.org/index.php?page=JournalInfo&ABB=MHE

For information about RIPM, click here! http://ripm.org/

Category: Curios and Chronicles | Comments Off on Today in 1892, The Musical Herald welcomed Dvořák as director of New York’s National Conservatory
September 25

Read London Musical World’s comments on the premiere of Wagner’s “absurd” Rheingold, published 148 years ago today.

A caricature of Richard Wagner by Charles Lyall

[The Musical World, Vol. 55 No. 21 (26 May 1877): 364]

Wagner’s Das Rheingold was performed for the first time in Munich on 22 September 1869. These comments appeared three days later in London’s Musical World.

[The Musical World, Vol. 47 No. 39 (25 September 1869): 672.]

For more on London’s The Musical World, click on this link! http://www.ripm.org/index.php?page=JournalInfo&ABB=MWO

For information about RIPM, click here! http://ripm.org/

 

Category: Curios and Chronicles | Comments Off on Read London Musical World’s comments on the premiere of Wagner’s “absurd” Rheingold, published 148 years ago today.
June 29

Humor in Nineteenth-Century Music Periodicals (1830-1859)

By Marten Noorduin

Music and humor are often a fruitful combination, as anyone who is familiar with the likes of Victor Borge  will attest, and there are plenty of pieces by major composers that contain jokes, such as Shostakovich’s satirical opera The Nose, or that are in a sense jokes themselves, such as Mozart’s Musical Joke, or PDQ Bach’s entire output. However, composers and professional comedians are not the only ones to populate the tradition of musical humor, which has also manifested itself in musical periodicals, particularly those written in English. As such, it is interesting to raise the question whether these jokes have another function besides attempting to make the reader laugh, and whether they still have value for anyone other than those interested in vintage humor. The following is a brief attempt to understand the functions of musical jokes breaking them down into three partly overlapping categories.

The first category constitutes those jokes that are very short, include a clear punch line at the end, and are as such easily remembered. Furthermore, the reliance on homophones in the first example below would seem to suggest that some of these might have been expected to be read out loud to reach their full effect. Their relative brevity, as well as their thematic disconnect from the surrounding material, could be a sign that some of these were primarily used to fill up otherwise unused space on the page.

(Anon., ‘[Miscellaneous section]’, Boston Musical Gazette, Vol. 1, No. 5 (27 June 1838): 40.)

(Anon., ‘Naïveté’, Saroni’s Musical Times, Vol. 1, No. 25 (16 March, 1850): 289.)

(Anon., ‘A Joke for the End of the Season’, The Musical Times, Vol. 3, No. 52 (September 1, 1848): 46.)

The second category includes those that are somewhat longer and presented in a more complicated fashion, but which are still clearly intended as humorous anecdotes or jokes, and have clear albeit fewer memorable punch lines. These often appear in groups of two or three with a common theme, and therefore take up much more of the page than those in the previous category.

(Anon., ‘Anecdotes’, Saroni’s Musical Times, Vol. 1, No. 43 (20 July, 1850): 505.)

(Anon., ‘A Critique upon Singing’, The Musical Journal, Vol. 1, No. 5 (February 4, 1840): 79.)

(Anon., ‘Musical Jokes’, Saroni’s Musical Times, Vol. 3, No. 3 (April 12, 1851): 28.)

(Anon., ‘Foreign Musical Report’, The Harmonicon, Vol. 8, No. 5 (May 1830): 219.)

(Anon, ‘Miscellaneous’, Boston Eoliad, Vol. 1, no. 2 (17 February 1841): 14.)

(Anon., ‘Miscellaneous’, The Musical World, Vol. 1, no. 11 (27 May 1836): 178.)

A third, somewhat less populated but important category contains longer stories or articles that use humor to make a particular point. These kinds of jokes are perhaps most valuable for researchers, as the humor is largely subservient to a different goal, and used as a rhetorical device in order to make a point about the contemporary musical culture.

The first example is from a New York periodical, which appears to ridicule an unnamed English publication that had published a rather dramatic description of the musical life in New York, supposedly written by a musician who had visited the city. The original English publication introduces the letter with bombastic language, which is the cause of significant mockery on the part of the New York author. Nevertheless, the author does not seem to disagree completely with the description of the state of music in the city.

 

 

 

(Anon., ‘A Curiosity’, The Message Bird, Vol. I, No. 2 (15 August, 1849): 26.)

Another example of a longer joke can be found in the German-language Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung, one of the most important periodicals of its time. This piece has something of a noteworthy genealogy, as it is titled Kreisleriana, after E.T.A Hoffman’s first novel about the hypochondriac genius Kapellmeister Johannes Kreisler, which would later go on to inspire Robert Schumann’s op. 16. Kreisler soon became a very popular character, and appeared in several other works by Hoffman, including the only relatively recently translated The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr together with a fragmentary Biography of Kapellmeister Johannes Kreisler on Random Sheets of Waste Paper.

The joke itself offers an interesting window into the opinions of its writer, who not only claimed that the achievements of classical opera were being squandered, but who also diagnoses the underlying conditions that are in his or her opinion the cause of this. Although it is clearly meant to be funny, the piece does provide us with valuable information of what some musicians thought of some of the musical developments of their time.

New Kreisleriana

(A short contribution for the promotion of good taste.)

Question: How can one most effectively ruin the audience’s listening experience of the so-called classic operas, while simultaneously making it fond of the creations by the newer French and Italian masters?

Answer 1: One rehearses the former poorly, and takes care that the pedantic connoisseurs get so up in arms by the many mistakes that stand out clearly, so that in the end they do not want to hear these works any more.

Answer 2: One rushes through the named operas, starting at the overtures, in forced tempos—with Adagio and Andante played as if in a strong gallop—as quickly as possible, and tries in this way to avoid every clear understanding of the composer’s intention, his voice leading, and instrumentation.

Answer 3: One carefully heeds the proper staging of said operas, and avoids the purchase of new and brilliant decorations. Also, one cannot allow the text to be adapted in contemporary or witty ways. If one absolutely has to make a change, ensure that this is done by the least capable hands.

Answer 4: One ensures that no literary rooster crows, when occasionally one of these operas is actually performed at a high standard.

Answer 5: Most importantly, and as is already common practice in many places with great success, in the case of French and Italian masterworks one does exactly the opposite.

Let’s put this into practice!

(D.S., ‘Neue Kreisleriana. (Ein Scherflein zur Beförderung des guten Geschmacks)’, Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung, Vol. 34, No. 38 (19 September 1832): 631.)

But perhaps the most curious example of all is a musical obelisk printed in a French journal in memory of the supposedly departed foreign artists ‘Violonsberg, Guitarros, Pianovitch, and Tromboni-pistonkoff’, and combines what a somewhat mocking tone with an interesting visual design.

Musical Obelisk

To the perishable memory of the German, Italian, Russian and Prussian artists Violonsberg, Guitarros, Pianovitch, and Tromboni-pistonkoff, the collectors have raised this monolith, which will not go down to posterity. While waiting for that sweet moment, REST IN PEACE.

Oh you amateurs, be aware of mornings, afternoons, and musical evenings, which every winter come to your ears and bewilder you. Read ‘AUJOUR’DHUI’, and tonight you will sleep the sleep of innocence.

(Anon., ‘Musical Obelisk’, Saroni’s Musical Times, Vol. 2, No. 13 (21 December 1850): 124.)

So in summary, although some of these are clearly identified as jokes or anecdotes by the publications in which they appear, this is not always the case, and several of the shorter examples above appear amidst more serious material. In general, humor in musical periodicals in this period seem to have two functions: the shorter and medium-length jokes and anecdotes appear to be straightforward attempts to make the reader laugh, and perhaps also fill space on the page. The much longer pieces, on the other hand, are used to make some sort of larger point about the musical culture of the time, and are as such valuable sources for research on musical practice and culture.

Search tip: RIPM’s Retrospective Index & Online Archive also allows you to search for a particular kind of content, such as reviews, advertisements, and a variety of other kinds of content. Try it out!

Category: Curios and Chronicles | Comments Off on Humor in Nineteenth-Century Music Periodicals (1830-1859)
April 4

Early Performances of Beethoven’s ‘Hammerklavier’ Sonata op. 106 in France and England

By Marten Noorduin

(Image: Beethoven in 1818. Pencil drawing by August von Kloeber. Beethoven-Haus Bonn)

Between late 1817 and early 1819, Beethoven wrote one of his most substantial works for piano: the Sonata op. 106 in B-flat major, now often known as the ‘Hammerklavier’ Sonata. Although it has now secured its place in the repertoire, it only acquired this position several decades after it was written, unlike some of Beethoven’s other works which were popular straight away, such as the Septet op. 20. This can be at least partially explained by the fact that throughout its lengthy playing time the performer of op. 106 is confronted with almost insurmountable technical challenges, often exacerbated by the rather fast tempo that Beethoven indicates. This is particularly clear at the beginning of the first movement. Here is Artur Schnabel’s admirable but by no means flawless attempt to tackle these difficulties, recorded in the 1930s:

Other pianists have delivered much more controlled performances, but have often done so by playing all four movements at a slower speed than indicated. A good example of such a pianist is Alfred Brendel, whose performance of the first movement in particular has a much less hurried feeling than Schnabel’s:

Of course, twentieth-century pianists were hardly the first to struggle with this sonata, as the piece was considered unusually difficult to understand in the first decades after publication. This can be seen in an article published on 5 January 1835 in the French periodical Le Pianiste, which discusses all of the opus numbers individually up to and including the sonata op. 101. The remaining sonatas (except op. 111, which the reviewer does not even mention) are described as almost impenetrable, a judgment that is applied to op. 106 in particular.

(Anon., ‘Notices: Luigi Van Beethoven, considéré comme pianist …’, Le Pianiste, Journal Spécial Pour le Piano, les Théâtres lyriques et les Concerts, 2e année, no. 5 (5 Janvier 1835), 33-34.)

Op. 106, 109, 110. In these three works, —106 in particular,—the musical sense is almost as clear as in a philosophical treatise of Kent, or a chapter of M. Cousin. There is no doubt that Beethoven—who was more deaf than ever at this time—did not understand himself what he wrote; but his infirmity, so fatal to a musician, had perhaps rendered his intuitive sense more delicate, and enabled him to see nebulae which we cannot distinguish. In general, his last works are imbued with a sort of mysticism that is impenetrable to the common people.

The next year, however, Franz Liszt played op. 106 in Paris, and Hector Berlioz reviewed it in some detail La Revue et Gazette musicale de Paris. According to the review, Liszt (consistently spelled Listz in this periodical!) had broken through the perceived impenetrability, resulting in what appears to be the first positive review of a performance of this sonata.

(H. Berlioz ‘Listz’, La Revue et Gazette musicale de Paris, 3e année, no 24 (12 juin 1836): 198-200.)

Liszt has explained the work in such a way that if the composer himself had returned from the grave, joy and pride would have swept over him. Not a note was left out, not one added (I followed the performance with the sheet music), not one alteration was made in the tempo that was not indicated in the text (….) It was the ideal performance of a work with the reputation of being unperformable. Liszt, in bringing back a work that was previously not understood has shown that he is a pianist of the future. Honor to him!

H. Berlioz

Whether or not Liszt actually followed the metronome mark in the score is difficult to say, but Berlioz’s article seems to suggest that Liszt’s performance was probably not far off.  Three years later, Moscheles played this sonata in England, and although the reviewer of his performance seems to have been less familiar with the work, Moscheles’s performance still left a good impression:

(Anon., ‘Musical Intelligence. Metropolitan’, The Musical World, New Series, Vol. IV, No. 64 — Vol. XI, No. 158 (March 21, 1839): 182-83.)

Although the reviewer is certainly not as dismissive of op. 106 as the author of the article in Le Pianiste mentioned above, the enthusiasm that characterized Berlioz’s writing on Liszt’s performance is not present, the reviewer’s praise for Moscheles’s technical abilities notwithstanding. Instead, the reviewer points out that there ‘is much to be developed by a full and perfect acquaintance with this work’, indicating that the piece was not as well understood. Perhaps indicative of this are the alterations that Moscheles made to the sonata in the Cramer edition, which he edited, apparently unbeknownst to this reviewer. One of the more noticeable and presumably impactful ones was changing the metronome mark for the first movement from half note=138 to ♩=138, since the former seemed unreasonably fast to him. Most recent scholarship, however, and many performers too have come down on the side of half note=138 as the intended speed.

The unusually slow metronome mark in Moscheles´s edition of op. 106 did attract skepticism, especially from pianists. In 1857, one correspondent, a certain R.A.M, wrote the following passionate letter to the editor of the Musical World, pointing out a particular problem with taking a speed of ♩=138 in performance:

(R. A. M., ‘The Metronome. To the Editor of the Musical World’, The Musical World, Vol. 35 — No. 34 (August 22, 1857): 532.)

Miss Goddard, who both the editor and R.A.M refer to, was a young pianist who had recently given several performances of op. 106 in England, and with great success. Provided that the editor did not misrepresent her interpretation, she seemed to have played the piece at a speed of around of half note=100. Despite this alteration—or perhaps because of it!—her performances appear to have constituted the emancipation of this work in the United Kingdom, as several reviews of the time show:

(Anon., ‘Miss Arabella Goddard (From the Morning Herald), The Musical World, Vol. XXXI, No. 17 (April 23, 1853): 253.)

(Anon., ‘Miss Arabella Goddard (From the Atheneum), The Musical World, Vol. XXXI, No. 17 (April 23, 1853): 254.)

It is of course unlikely that we can get a much clearer picture of how Liszt or Goddard played the sonata beyond these descriptions, considering the absence of recording technology and the scarceness of the evidence. Even the degree to which they followed the metronome mark of the first movement is difficult to assess, although it appears that both Goddard and Moscheles simply played the movement slower than indicated. Whether Liszt adhered to the speed is hard to say with certainty, but a recent performance by Stephan Möller shows that the indicated speed is at least within the realm of possibilities, even on a modern piano:

For a detailed discussion of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata op. 106, see András Schiff’s lecture from 2004 in the Wigmore Hall in London.

Search tip: Concert reviews are available in RIPM in many languages, and the database contains a wealth of information on the repertoires, venues, reception, and even performers themselves. As the above shows, searching for particular repertoires can bring to light the struggles of past musicians and the critical trajectories of certain repertoires, but entering the names of performers into the database can often provide interesting biographical information on prominent musicians of the time, many of whom have now been largely forgotten. Consider the following letter to the editor of the Musical World, dated 22 August 1857, on the popular Austrian bass singer Joseph Staudigl (1807-1861).

Category: Curios and Chronicles | Comments Off on Early Performances of Beethoven’s ‘Hammerklavier’ Sonata op. 106 in France and England
September 30

Portraits of Pianists and Pianist-Composers on the cover pages of Le Pianiste (1833-1835)

From November 10, 1833 to October 20, 1835, the Librarie J. Delacour in Meudon and Vaugirard published the French pedagogical music journal, Le Pianiste. In its first year of publication, the journal dealt only with subjects related to the piano. Thereafter, it began covering the musical world at large, with concert reviews, anecdotes, and information about musical archives. The pianist and pedagogue, Charles Chaulieu was the only contributor who signed articles and, although there is no official mention that he was the journal’s editor, it is generally considered that Chaulieu fulfilled that role.

One of the interesting features of the journal is a lovely series of portraits of well- and lesser-known pianists and pianist–composers.  These illustrations appeared on the cover of its issues. The portraits were often accompanied by studies, with biographical notes, offering insights into the individual’s compositions, talent, style, personality, qualities as a performer, and pedagogical exercises. In all there are twenty-four portraits, eight of which are reproduced below.  Each is followed with a quote from the journal, translated into English, that helps define the manner in which  the individual was viewed by his contemporaries.  We thought you might enjoy seeing them. 

humel

J. N. Hummel (of Vienna) [Lith. by J. Delacour in Vaugirard] (1, 2, December 1833)

“He is the founder of the modern school. He is today the greatest of composer pianists, which is not to be confused with the pianist composers.”

 

kalkbrenner

F. Kalkbrenner [Lith. by Benard, rue de l’Abbaye 4] (1, 3, January 1834)

“Look at Kalkbrenner, when he touches the piano… neither his body nor his face reflect the immense difficulties his fingers master. As a performer, Kalkbrenner stands as a model.”

 

cramer

J. B. Cramer [Lith. by Benard] (1, 4, February 1834)

“We can confidently give all of Cramer’s works to students; their fingers and ears will surely be well trained. This is a privilege not shared by many of today’s composers.”

 

steinbelt

D. Steibelt [Lith. by Benard] (1, 6, April 1834)

“[Steibelt] was truly a salon pianist: loved, adored by the women of society, he knew how to cater to their pleasures.”

 

herz

Henri Herz [Lith. by Benard] (1,7, May 1834)

“Germany sends you this malicious mockery, from the Gazette of Leipzig, namely: It is only the women without esprit and without talent that enjoy the music of H. Herz.”

 

dussek

J. L. Dussek [Lith. by Benard] (1, 10, August 1834)

“Today we select Dussek for our leaflet: the famous Dussek, so refined without softness, so educated without pedantry, and whose playing was, so to speak, as beautiful to watch as it was delightful to hear.”

 

handel

G. F. Handel, born in 1682, died in 1759 (1, 12, October 1834)

“The Italians who possessed him for years, called Handel il Sassone [the Saxon], and the English, with whom he remained for forty-seven years and for whom he composed all of his oratorios with English words, considered him a compatriot.”

 

haydn

J. Haydn [Impr. of J. Delacour in Vaugirard] (2, 16, 1835)

“With a physiognomy a bit gruff and a kind of terseness when speaking which would seem to indicate a coarse man, Haydn was cheerful, open minded and pleasant by nature. This vivacity was easily suppressed when he was in the company of strangers or of people of a superior rank.”

 

Search Tip: The full text of Le Pianiste  is available in the RIPM Online Archive. To explore the other portraits, select  Le Pianiste in journal title field and “illustrations “ in the record type field of the RIPM Retrospective Index.  Thereafter simply “click” through the results. You might also wish to use Browse Mode to explore this fascinating French perspective on pianists and pianist-composers in the 1830s.

Category: Curios and Chronicles | Comments Off on Portraits of Pianists and Pianist-Composers on the cover pages of Le Pianiste (1833-1835)