IN THE HISTORY of the orchestral repertoire, the duration of the musical life of a composer’s works presents about the same diversity as the duration of the personal life of individuals. There is a high early mortality, many live an average and uneventful life, and to only a few is granted a long and venerable career. The life of a composition as well as of a human being is determined by two factors, the environmental circumstances to which it is subjected in the course of its existence, and the initial vitality of the subject itself. These produce in both cases a characteristic biography or life history. The performance of a composition, which is obviously the principal reason for its existence, is the best evidence of both its initial vitality and of a favorable environment.
Since it is quite impossible to comprehend the multiplicity of details in the performance records of several scores of composers individually, these composers are classified into type-groups made up of those whose careers approximately coincide in length of time span, volume of repertoire, and historical pattern of popularity. Although aesthetic, musicological, and other considerations would often dictate alternative groupings, the historical analysis here contemplated is greatly facilitated by momentarily ignoring rival considerations. Accordingly, beginning with 1875 when symphony orchestras were on the eve of their expansionist period, most prominent composers are grouped into six major divisions:
(1)Six eminent composers who have maintained their pre-eminence: Beethoven, Brahms, Wagner, Tschaikowsky, Mozart, and Bach.
(2)A small group with high traditional prestige, who are maintaining a low but fairly stable popularity without significant fluctuations: Haydn, Handel, Weber, and Gluck.
(3)Composers in the ascending phases of their life cycles:
(a)Apparently at or near their peak: Strauss, Sibelius, Franck, Stravinsky, Debussy, Rachmaninoff and Shostakovitch.
(b)Recent composers: Mahler, Prokofieff, Schoenberg, Copland, Vaughan Williams, Hindemith, Milhaud, Bartok, and Walton.
(4)Composers who once enjoyed great vogue but whose life cycles have long been in the descending phase: Schumann, Schubert, Berlioz, Liszt, Mendelssohn, and Rubinstein.
(5)Composers who display a full life cycle in various stages of completion: Dvorak, Saint-Saens, Smetana, Grieg, Goldmark, and McDowell; Rimsky-Korsakoff, Elgar, d’Indy, Glazounoff, and Scriabh; Respighi, Bloch, Falla.
(6)Composers who were once quite prominent but are now totally forgotten: Spohr, Raff, Kalliwoda, Lindpaintner, Gade, and Hummel.
LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN Beethoven has been the dominant figure in the history of orchestral music throughout the past and present century. Analysis of the repertoire solidly supports the prestige of his name, which has become synonymous with everything classic in music in the minds of both the connoisseur and the untutored layman. Although his music introduced novelties in form, instrumentation, and harmonic structure that startled some of the hearers who were accustomed to Mozart and Haydn, and shocked those patrons in France whose standards, were measured in operatic terms, his world-wide eminence was never questioned even in his own lifetime. He is the clearest refutation of the cliche, commonly quoted in defense of modern trends, that “great” music requires a long apprenticeship on the part of the musical public before it can be appreciated. The Handel and Haydn Society of Boston, founded in 1815, placed with him an unfulfilled commission for an oratorio, and the London Philharmonic purchased directly from Beethoven himself several overtures and the Ninth Symphony. Britain, grown wealthy in its early industrial revolution, was then what America was soon to be: a country proud to adorn itself with the borrowed trappings of the aesthetically mature but less opulent continent, and to pay fabulously for it. Accordingly Beethoven, like Haydn, was invited to visit London to conduct his Ninth Symphony but was understandably prevented by his afflictions from realizing his ambition. In America there had been scattered performances of several Beethoven compositions since 1817,1 and by 1842, only fifteen years after his death, the New York Philharmonic Society testified to his established fame by inaugurating its first series with what was then, as now, the world’s most famous piece: Beethoven’s Fifth. Today it is still a common practice to include all nine symphonies in the season’s offerings.
This resplendent adulation, enduring for nearly 150 years, was never anticipated by Beethoven himself, though it could hardly be said that his temperament was marked by modesty or diffidence. In textbook homage, perhaps Bach exceeds him, but for actual performance popularity, the case of Beethoven is unique in its duration, volume, and general aesthetic luster. His career is not easily explained short of the eulogistic but inarticulate explanation that he simply wrote “good music.”
On the other hand, Beethoven’s margin of popularity over his competitors in the American repertoire has been constantly dwindling. Beginning with the founding of the New York Philharmonic in 1842, the Beethoven trend line may be conveniently divided into two periods, with the division point about 1890. The first period is characterized by a decline from the Olympian peak of over thirty per cent of the repertoire in 1842-45^0 a position of less than fifteen per cent; the second period displays a gentler recession during which he at times rubs shoulders democratically with the rest of the composer population.
The first high popularity and his subsequent sharp decline in American orchestras may be ascribed to several factors. In this early period there was only one orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, later to be joined by the New York Symphony (1878) and the Boston orchestra (1881). The New York orchestras usually performed only four to six pairs of concerts annually, and the rehearsal periods were extremely limited. Repertoires were consequently small and lacked the variety of today. Nor was this circumstance psychologically too inappropriate. Hearing less music in those days, audiences still had much to learn from Beethoven, who was a relative novelty to them, although to conductors he was the very cornerstone of musical culture. And as the prolific Beethoven had produced nine symphonies of greatly diversified design, as well as overtures and other miscellaneous works, it was possible to maintain the necessary variety in numerous performances/During this period Haydn and Mozart, who had been equally and even more fertile, but whose melodic creations seemed more obvious and lighthearted, lost ground to the more dramatic Beethoven.
Such splendid isolation could not, of course, endure. Musicians and audiences were ultimately satiated, new geniuses appeared whose works were pressing for recognition, and new conductors—Henschel, Nikisch, Seidl, Muck, Safonoff, Stokowski, and Koussevitzky—were imported who were disciples of new romantic cults. Thus the combined gains of Wagner, Brahms, and Tschaikowsky were practically equivalent to the losses of Beethoven during the last two decades of the century.
These changes were further accelerated by the new conditions of orchestral organization. Paced by Boston and philanthropist Higginson, who imparted to other communities their new ambitions, seasons were lengthened, concerts became more numerous, and financial guarantees permitted compensation for rehearsals which were usually considered unprofitable, and therefore shunned, by cooperative orchestras. All of these forces were reflected in more experimental repertoires. Wagner became a public issue, Dvorak and Tschaikowsky gained extraordinary popular acclaim, and Strauss and Brahms enthusiastic partisans. The new romanticists as “well “as the older Thomas developed a new musical conscience and proclaimed their duty to keep their audiences abreast of current trends.
Although Beethoven was by no means smothered in these trends, his symphonies began to play a different aesthetic role in the repertoire. The battle for Beethoven and “complete symphonies” (rather than excerpts) had been won and it was now the Wagner-Strauss axis which was fighting for a place in the sun. But tastes slowly acquired are never lightly relinquished. Beethoven was no longer on the frontier of taste, but actually popular with the larger public who began to enjoy the pleasant relaxation of the familiar. It was his adaptability to both roles—the difficult and the exalted as well as the familiar and accepted—that perpetuated his name among the leaders of the repertoire. Beethoven is still holding his own; only Brahms, whose music gained adherents after a still greater struggle, also meets the challenge of the dual role.
The stability of the Beethoven offerings in recent decades is attested by the fact that he suffered no losses during World War I, when the works of other Germans, including Wagner, were very much reduced in the repertoire; and that there was no significant increase at the time of the centenary of his death (1927). Naturally great publicity was given this anniversary. The journals rehearsed the pathetic love life of the lonely bachelor, published photographs of a few of his many domiciles, pictured his ear trumpet and the spoon from which he took medicine during his last illness. They reassessed his place in the history of music, and exhumed his forgotten overtures and played practically all his compositions except the Battle Symphony, which had been ironically among his most popular numbers during his lifetime. Most orchestras, however, compensated for this orgy of Beethoveniana by sharply reducing their offerings the following season, thereby leaving the long-run trend unaffected.
During the war against fascism, the prestige of the familiar Third and Fifth of the liberty-loving Beethoven were hailed as the very apotheosis of freedom. Especially the Fifth, whose terse theme duplicated the rhythm of the Morse code letter “V,” was frequently played to revitalize our faith in victory, and subsequently to celebrate its achievement.
The Fifth Symphony has for a century been conventionally accepted as the most famous symphonic composition ever written. It is compact in structure, displays a dash of sentiment in the second movement to alleviate the abrupt and strident opening, achieves a triumphal, dramatic, almost demagogic climax, and is of average length—all of which contribute to the explanation of its pre-eminence. Its nearest competitors are the Seventh and the Third. The sharp rise in national popularity of the Fifth after the beginning of the century is the result of its use by the conductors of the younger orchestras in converting the newer audiences to the enjoyment of their symphonic offerings.
The decline of the Ninth, from fourth place to a poor last place in the course of seventy years, is undoubtedly owing to the decline of choral music itself. In the earlier days most cities boasted flourishing amateur choral organizations, which eagerly collaborated with instrumental groups. But such organizations have almost disappeared. It is possible, also, that the Ninth Symphony, glorified by Schumann and Wagner, has lost some of its glamour for us, not only because of certain aesthetic misgivings, but also because it must share the sparse program time allotted to choral music with other works of interest and merit.
The various orchestras manifest different degrees of allegiance to Beethoven. Chance alone accounts for some of the minor differences. Temporary major variations in conductor and audience tastes are not however without significance. Verbrugghen was known for his partiality to Beethoven; W. Damrosch, Mahler, and others instituted Beethoven cycles. But no conductor of recent years has deviated so far from the general trend as did the conservative Toscanini during his tenure with the New York Philharmonic, where he offered Beethoven in twice the volume of the national average.
Although Beethoven’s prime position is quite independent of a few such passionate enthusiasts, it has not remained unchallenged either by the inexorable rise of Brahms—the composer of the “Tenth” symphony—or by the occasional fanatic such as Safonoff with his Tschaikowsky, or the enterprising Thomas with his Wagner. At times Beethoven has even been conspicuously avoided. Chicago under Stock pursued other tastes, and Stransky, intent on balancing the budget, tickled the popular palate by nudging Beethoven just a little to one side to allow more room for Liszt, Wagner, Dvorak, and other more colorful favorites. At various times, and in some cities, Beethoven has consequently fallen below the general average of ten per cent of the repertoire and been topped by Wagner, Tschaikowsky, and Brahms for short intervals.
JOHANNES BRAHMS The austere and often ponderous Brahms has been gradually inching his way into favor, and is today the only composer who is in a position to dispute the primacy of Beethoven. Catering to the more literate and thoughtful, Brahms’ First has been carried on the crest of the sophisticated taste to the kind of popular acclaim accorded formerly only to the symphonies of Beethoven. At least for the American audience, it vindicates, decades after it was made, the famous quip of Biilow who had dubbed it the “Tenth.”
About forty per cent of the repertoire of the American orchestras is devoted to the top half-dozen composers, and about seventy per cent of the repertoire is built on the compositions of the twenty-three composers from Beethoven to Franck. The remaining thirty per cent is divided among several hundred composers.
Brahms’ ascent has been slow and his acceptance tentative. Heralded as the exponent of the classic tradition, he ran counter to the more sensational trends of the Berlioz-Liszt-Wagner-Strauss circle, whose audacious instrumentation, garish harmonies, and dynamic rhythms implemented the anecdotal and literary titles of their dramatic masterpieces. Their more extrovert qualities catapulted them over and beyond the sedate, contemplative, and unadorned Brahms, whose bag of symphonic tricks seemed to be limited to the variegated patterns of syncopation, his asymmetrical and polyrhythmical forms, his widely spread broken chords, his frequently interrupted melodic lines, and his chronic evasion of the obvious progressiontraits which are responsible for the sense of elusiveness which many auditors still experience when listening to his symphonic works.
The violent personal controversy churned up among the followers of Brahms and Wagner in Germany did not touch America. For America was geographically remote and not bound by the academic and cultural traditions that gripped the European partisans. The German-American musicians who dominated the American scene had left their academic biases at home, or had never heard of them in the first place. Consequently both Brahms and Wagner were welcomed with equal enthusiasm without the rival emotional overtones that often characterized their reception in Berlin, Leipzig, and Vienna.
Brahms’ American orchestral debut, with the Serenade No. 2, was made with the New York Philharmonic, February 1, 1862, Carl Bergmann, conductor. All readers of program notes will also recall the famous clash in 1877 between the elder Damrosch, victorious by one week, and Theodore Thomas, in their race to perform the premiere of Brahms’ First in the United States. But the most potent initial force in giving Brahms an early major position in our repertoire was Georg Henschel, the first Boston conductor, who was his personal friend, and who had frequently sung to the accompaniment of the composer himself. In spite of the hostility of some critics toward his prosy compositions, the Boston conductors, Gericke, Nikisch, and Paur, continued to give Brahms about eight to ten per cent of the repertoire, certainly a very high percentage for any single composer. A diet so laden with what must have seemed to the audience like potatoes without salt—nourishing enough but tasteless—would in retrospect legitimize its protests against the conductors who unwisely served so unbalanced a ration.
It is amazing to observe in contemporary records the small spread in the relative popularity of the four symphonies. The First, Second, and Fourth cluster together rather closely and each represents during the ten-year period 1940-50 roughly about sixteen per cent of the total Brahms repertoire. The Third Symphony, the Haydn Variations, and the Academic Festival Overture follow in that order. The increasing prominence of the two piano concertos is at the expense of the diminishing attractiveness of the old favorites, especially those of Grieg, Rubinstein, and Saint-Saens. The smaller numbers, the Serenades and Hungarian Dances, have practically disappeared from the serious repertoire.
What sustains Brahms in his competition with Beethoven is the almost uniform strength of four long symphonies, while Beethoven over the decades actually can offer only four or five of comparable popularity: the Third, Fifth, Seventh, and Eighth. The piano concertos compete very well with the Fourth and Fifth of Beethoven, while the single violin concerto is among the leaders.
It is hardly evident that both composers are being pressed to maintain their historical advantage against the collective assault of the “moderns.” It is said that the younger members of the audience have reached a stage of surfeit with the thrice familiar Brahms classics. Eric Blom, prominent British critic, suggested that “it is almost as old-fashioned to enjoy Brahms as to be thrilled by a valentine.”2 Although that sentiment is by no means absent in the United States, there are evidently many “old-fashioned” people in our audiences.
RICHARD WAGNER In 1891 Mark Twain, who had joined the throng of American intellectuals at the Bayreuth Festival, reported in the New York Sun that in his humble opinion, the Wagner operas would be fine music if the singing could be left out.3
This facetious quip actually did epitomize the judgment of many a competent musical critic, and was pointedly prophetic of the destiny of many of Wagner’s synthetic creations. Although Wagner entertained the theory that instrumental (absolute) music had exhausted its intrinsic potentialities, and that it could further realize itself only in an alliance with the other arts, the irony of fate would have it that Wagner has gained his most widespread prestige with symphonic excerpts from his operas with the “singing left out.” His music thereby outlasted and contradicted the very theories which allegedly formed it!
Ever since Liszt declared that it was not necessary to know the drama to appreciate the music of Tannhauser, there have been many critics who have maintained by one argument or another, that Wagner remains essentially a symphonic composer with the drama and vocal elements optional or even superfluous. In contradistinction to the Italian opera, which relegated the orchestra to a rhythmic accompaniment, a kind of tonal backdrop against which the vocal line was conspicuously featured, the Wagnerian music-drama elevated the orchestra to a status coordinate with the drama. Wagner took his technical cues from orchestral composers and strengthened the instrumental resources by following the most advanced models of Berlioz and Liszt in the chromatic melodic line, idiomatically developing each instrument to virtuoso proportions, featuring the brasses, and introducing polyphonic complexity.
Small wonder, then, that the orchestral “accompaniment” was to traditional ears a loud and noisy intrusion rather than a reinforcement of the vocal action; and that the “endless melody,” which was preoccupied in furthering the dramatic action, was not recognized as a melody at all, and therefore easily dispensed with by the enriched orchestra. Like a symphonic poem, it was found that the orchestral “accompaniment” could stand alone as an autonomous composition; so that in time it constituted a major element in every repertoire of the symphony orchestras. It is true that, in opera performance, the Wagnerian orchestra was hidden under cover of the stage where it was less likely to obtrude and overpower in volume and interest. But this does not in any way weaken the aesthetic justification, once its symphonic virtues had been discovered; for lifting it from the pit and granting it a solo position on the stage commensurable with its symphonic content. The dramatic and vocal personnel of the musical drama, like the victims of the well-known Lord High Executioner, “never will be missed.”
But operatic enthusiasts will flatly dispute the above symphonically biased assertions. Among these protestants would be included Wagner himself, who repeatedly refused permission to fragment his works. “In this he is right,” says his disciple, Biilow, in a letter to Theodore Thomas, “for what is written for the stage, and in Germany is performed there, the composer does not wish to find its way to the concert Hall.”4 But even the unbending Wagner could make profitable compromises. He himself conducted orchestral excerpts in concert form in Berlin, Vienna, and other centers when financial necessity dictated and other circumstances made it prudent to do so. When Metropolitan conductor Anton Seidl found that the busy American daily schedule did not permit the staging of his operas in the uncut version, he unhesitatingly pruned them. While still in Germany, Seidl had explained the necessity of this procedure to the composer who, in an exchange of telegrams, gave his pointed assent in the laconic order “Schiessen Sie los/”5
The first performance of Wagner by the orchestras here under review occurred April 21, 1855, when the New York Philharmonic, under the direction of Carl Bergmann, presented the Overture to Tannhduser. This progressive conductor, who had immigrated to the United States in 1850, joined the Germania orchestra as cellist, and later became its leader, had already offered a taste of Wagner to an American audience. In 1852 the Germania orchestra had performed the Finale from Tannhduser in Boston, which the critic for Dwighfs Journal (December 4, 1852) described as an “agreeable disappointment; it was less strange than we had been led to believe.” In December, 1853, the same orchestra presented a “Wagner Night” in Boston “to gratify the public curiosity about Wagner.”
With such devoted disciples as Bergmann and Thomas in America, Wagner at once became a fixture in the American repertoire. From the first concert he conducted in 1862, when he gave the American premiere of the Overture to the Flying Dutchman, throughout his career on his famous “highway,” Thomas made Wagner popular, As early as 1872 he scheduled a “Wagner Night” at the Central Park Garden Concerts, and the same evening launched the New York Wagner-Verein, which was committed to the promulgation of the cult and the construction of the Bayreuth Theatre.
The first real vogue for Wagner appeared in the early nineties when, amid an unprecedented controversy in both this country and Germany, he forged ahead to claim an average of ten per cent of the repertoire. Of the four orchestras existing at that time (the New York Philharmonic, the New York Symphony, Boston, and Chicago), the New York Symphony under Damrosch and the Chicago orchestra under Thomas were primarily responsible for his vogue. Wagner remained at this extraordinarily high level of popularity for several decades, in part because of the practice of feature concerts of individual composers, in part because of an occasional opera in concert form; and because Wagner’s music was available to vocal soloists with orchestral “accompaniment.”
With the upsurge of interest in Tschaikowsky and Brahms, the volume of Wagner was already shrinking before the patriotic onslaughts of World War I forced him into partial retirement. Although he returned when the stage was again safe for him, he never fully recovered. The long-time trend has been unmistakably downward (now at about three per cent) toward a gradual “WagnerdarrnnerungP Such is the fickleness of taste that the “music of the future” sooner or later becomes the music of the past. Even so, the actual frequency in appearance of his name does not differ essentially from some who outrank him. In playing time devoted to him, his excerpts are usually shorter than the thirty-to-forty-minute symphonies of Brahms and Beethoven, which require an allotment of at least one-third of a ninety-minute program.
Although the trends are fairly uniform in all orchestras, fluctuations do of course appear and may be attributed to both personal and social factors. One of the most drastic of these forces was the first World War, which swept the Metropolitan Opera stage entirely clear of Wagner music-dramas and reduced the Wagnerian cascade to a mere trickle in the symphony programs. Although Wagner was not then living, he was nevertheless the target of anti-German sentiment. The intensity of this totalitarian attitude toward the prosecution of the war differed among the cities. It affected least of all the New York Philharmonic under Stransky, an Austrian-Czech, who was periodically free from political suspicion and continued to cultivate a repertoire that would bring tangible returns at the box office. These benefits seemed not to have been endangered by orchestral excerpts from Parsifal, Tannhauser, Lohengrin, and Die Walkilre on the last program of the season 1917-18 and the Bacchanale from Tannhauser on the program of December 15, 19.18, approximately one month after the Armistice. Whatever other factors might have been operating, this is at least not inconsistent with the general policy, announced by some conductors, that only the music of living Germans (in effect the music of Richard Strauss) would be eliminated during the war period.
Of all the cities, Boston has remained most aloof from the Wagner cult, being consistently in the lowest rank throughout the history of the orchestras. On the other hand, Stokowski reveled in the grandiloquent phrases of the German postromanticist and pieced together what was perhaps the most comprehensive Wagner repertoire in America. The non-Teutonic Rodzinski, Golschmann, Monteux, Mitropoulos and Toscanini, like Koussevitzky, have paid only token respect to the music-dramatist, although Toscanini, like Muck, had gained distinction and acclaim for his direction of Wagner’s music-dramas. This is not to imply that their non-Germanic cultural heritage alone precludes the cultivation of the German repertoire, but rather that most of these conductors appeared on the scene after the Wagner fever had waned, when the primitive excitement of controversy had spent itself, and a certain aesthetic satiety had already set in. After all, there were other causes to be espoused, among the French and Russian composers, which relegated Wagner to the category of a solved problem. He was still listened to with genuine satisfaction but did not enjoy the extra patronage which has its source in unsatisfied intellectual curiosity.
Of all the orchestral works of Wagner, the Overture to Tannhauser was one of the earliest and the most frequently performed. It is the “William Tell” of the subscription repertoire. Almost every opera has supplied one or more excerpts that are now standard, and only a few of the earlier works, originally and specifically written for the orchestra, now survive. Prominent among them are, of course, the Siegfried Idyll (actually an adaptation of opera material) and the Faust Overture. But none has dropped as definitively to merited oblivion as has the Centennial March, written at the invitation of v Theodore Thomas for the celebration of the birth of the American nation—the Philadelphia Exposition of 1876. This negotiation represents the most intimate point of contact of Richard Wagner with the American scene. A political revolutionary himself in his younger days, who had made inquiries into the possibilities of emigrating to the New World, he gave some grounds for hope that the occasion might inspire him. But never has the Muse failed so egregiously to heed the call of a suppliant artist. To some aestheticians it is undoubted confirmation of the theory that she cannot be bribed, not even with $5,000 cash in advance. For them it will go down in history as the most tragic example of the futility of commissioned music. For the disillusioned Thomas who had fought the valiant fight, who had hoped for another Tannhduser March, or at least a Kaisermarsch, which would advance the causes of art and freedom, it was a bitter blow. The humiliating story has been repeatedly told.6 Even the hero-worshipping Henry T. Finck, the New York critic, was pushed to the limit in explaining Wagner’s failure and quotes the composer: “The best thing about that composition was the money I got for it.” It is now, of course, a museum piece known only to the musical antiquarian. The American idolater may find consolation in the circumstance that the money was applied to ease the financially harassed artist and thus release his energy for greater things. Rose Fay Thomas states that it was applied on the debt of the Bayreuth Theatre, while Ernest Newman avers that it was used to finance a trip to Italy—all of which may reflect merely a problem of bookkeeping.
The second World War differed from the first in that none of its battles were fought on the concert stage. Although it propelled Wagner into a still more intense limelight, it had no appreciable effect on his already diminishing role in the American orchestra. We had, it appears, become accustomed to wars, were concentrating all our efforts on that disagreeable business, not allowing attitudes to run riot into sentimental bypaths. The recession in Wagner’s popularity was therefore no greater than would normally be expected if the war had not occurred at all. That is not to say that Wagner was not again a subject of even more heated controversy. By some he was labeled the archvillain in German nationalism for supplying the artistic rationalization for the fantastic glorification of Teutonism that ultimately culminated in totalitarian Nazi ideology.7 Wagner’s granddaughter, Friedelind, now living in the United States, endeavored to clear him of this historical taint of the Nazi spirit.8 But this issue cannot be arbitrated here.
PETER ILICH TSCHAIKOWSKY In his essay on Classicism (1850) the literary critic Sainte-Beuve proclaimed an important psychological truth when he stated, “77 rfest pas bon de paraitre trop vite . . . classique a ses contemporains; on a grande chance alors de ne pas rester tel pour la posterite This observation applies to the fortunes of Tschaikowsky in the American orchestral repertoire. The tuneful symphonist, with his luscious harmonies and effortless progressions, found ready comprehension. Where Wagner aroused violent partisanship, and Brahms created puzzlement or apathy, Tschaikowsky kindled enthusiasm. In fact, decades ago, before a significant decline could have been noted, sophisticated critics doubted his sticking powers because enjoyment came too easily. He was the victim of critical slurs, and invidious comparisons: “Brahms is better than he sounds, and Tschaikowsky sounds better than he is.” It is quite “the thing” to snub a composer whose music is enjoyed by the multitude.
Since the spring of 1876, when Tschaikowsky was introduced by Carl Bergmann in orchestral form with the Fantasie-Overture, Romeo and Juliet, his rise was brilliantly dramatic. Within twenty years he outpaced the pedestrian Brahms and was competing with Wagner, having garnered eight per cent of the composite repertoire. At times, this essentially European composer, with an exotic admixture of Russian flavors, outstripped both Wagner and Beethoven. He appealed to the general audience rather than to the connoisseur, and gave the conductors an outlet for their most romantic effusions. Safonoff, of the New York Philharmonic, won his job oh the strength of his exciting performance of the Pathetique. During his several years of tenure he filled an unprecedented twenty per cent of the repertoire with the works of his compatriot. Walter Damrosch and Stransky in New York; Stokowski in Cincinnati (fifteen per cent) and in Philadelphia (ten per cent, 1920-25); and Fiedler in Boston were also conspicuous among their colleagues at one time or another for their cultivation of the romantic Russian.
The composer’s triumphant visit to the United States in 1891 was naturally both cause and result of his high popularity/ At the invitation of Walter Damrosch, who presided over the dedicatory concerts of Carnegie Hall, he appeared as guest conductor on that solemn occasion, as well as for concerts in Philadelphia, Washington, and Baltimore.
The New York Symphony, the New York Philharmonic, and the St. Louis Symphony under Zach contributed palpably toward the building up of the peak of interest. After that time, his decline was rapid, reaching its lowest ebb (about five per cent) in the 1930’s. From this low but still respectable position, however, a definite recovery seems to have been shaping, partly stimulated, no doubt, by the centenary of his birth (1940). Whether this revival—which has already given way to a slight recession—is permanent will depend on such factors as the urgency to cater to popular taste, a possible reversal of the derogatory attitude of the sophisticates toward an unashamed enjoyment of the lyrical genius, the fate of the piano and violin concertos among the soloists, together with, as always, the competition of other available music, old and modern.
Although a prolific composer, Tschaikowsky’s representation has shaken down to a rather stable remnant which will probably remain, in spite of Sainte-Beuve, “classique pour la posterite It includes the following items: Symphonies Five, Six, and Four, roughly in that order according to performances in recent years, the (First) piano and violin concertos, and the concert overtures Romeo and Juliet and Francesca da Rimini.
His well-worn Piano Concerto in B-flat Minor is probably the only standard concerto to have had its world premiere in America. Dedicated to Biilow, after the composer’s famous altercation with Nicholas Rubinstein, the copy reached him shortly before the pianist was to leave on his American concert tour. It was first presented in Boston, October 25, 1875. Critical opinion was divided, although the Finale was encored. It has for years been the most popular of all piano concertos, in the “popular” sense of the term, having been abundantly recorded, and its principal theme cribbed for both song and dance. In fact, in symphonic circles, this concerto, with the Sixth Symphony, has achieved the status of a “warhorse.”
Many other items are given periodic performances, but the works with which he gained his early successes—Marche Slave, Overture 1812, Nutcracker Suite— have slipped out of the subscription concerts to a more popular level.
WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART In 1800 Mozart, Handel, and Haydn were considered the ultimate in musical evolution. Their works were abundantly represented, together with such now forgotten names as Pleyel and Gyrowetz, on early American programs.
It was the “tutti frutti” nature of the conventional programs of the day, made up of music of all genres, which contributed much to the attainment of Mozart’s exalted position. This circumstance tends to inflate the volume of the versatile composer, whose operatic arias, orchestral numbers, string quartets, and small ensembles magnified his “symphonic” importance. Since, however, Haydn, Cherubim, Rossini, Beethoven, as well as the many minor composers, were similarly prolific, his versatility alone cannot account for his great popularity in these early decades.
A glance at the London Philharmonic,9 founded in 1813, will permit us to reconstruct the era of Mozart’s pre-eminence much more confidently than an analysis of American orchestras which had 110 continuous series of programs at that time. Occupying practically twenty-five per cent of the London repertoire, he contributed more than any other single composer during the period of the infancy of that orchestra. However, neither in his symphonic works, nor in the operatic arias, could Mozart withstand the competition of the more romantic Beethoven and the more brilliant Rossini. By 1830 his star had faded to mingle with those of second magnitude.
Thus, by the time the New York Philharmonic was founded, the Mozart tradition had partially subsided. Against Rossini and Beethoven, he was beginning to sound obvious, and even a little trivial. Later, when the romantic influence had run its course, the delicate, unpretentious beauties of his music would come as a welcome relief to the thicker orchestration of Wagner and the labyrinthian polytonality of the later Strauss. Orchestral conductors, profiting by the increased technical proficiency of the instrumentalists, vied with one another in etching the clear, crisp Mozartian passages, which to Emperor Joseph II contained “too many notes,” but by this time were generally described as “made up of not many notes, but just the right ones.” Still later, Sir Thomas Beecham, Bruno Walter, and Richard Strauss were to make a specialty of Mozart.
As might be expected, time has dealt heavily with the six hundred miscellaneous compositions of this fantastically fertile genius. Never writing “for the future,” Mozart himself would have been surprised to find that any of his compositions survived at all 150 years after they were so unostentatiously dashed off. In his own day he was known primarily as a pianist, improviser, and as a composer of operas. His instrumental works were almost exclusively “occasional” works, written not in spontaneous self-expression but for the hardpressed, urgent, and definite purpose of pleasing his public, in the hope—too often pathetically unrealized—of a fitting financial testimonial. Shadowed by the glamour of Beethoven, Mozart nevertheless retained many admirers throughout the nineteenth century: E. T. A. Hoffmann, the conservative Spohr, Brahms, Tschaikowsky, and others revered his later symphonies. At the close of the century Mozart enjoyed a kind of mild renaissance, which prompted the usual archeological diggings, with the result that during recent decades many of the earlier symphonies are appearing for the first time in America.
Previous to 1900, the Mozart repertoire in the American orchestras was divided principally between the large number of operatic arias and overtures, and the late symphonies in G Minor, C Major, E-flat Major, and D Major (Haffner). The diminishing popularity of vocal numbers and the corresponding strengthening of the orchestra led to their gradual abandonment. In their place, however, were added violin and piano concertos, which had hitherto enjoyed only sparse performances, the serenades, and many newly unearthed symphonies—all of which produced a gentle but unmistakable rise in the Mozart slope.
Of the forty-one symphonies, the G Minor (K 550) has been the most frequently played throughout the history of the orchestras, while the C Major (Jupiter, K 551) runs a safe second. Several others receive more than periodic performances: K 385 in D Major (Haffner), K 543 in E-flat Major, K 338 in C Major, K 504 in D Major (Prague). In addition, the New York Philharmonic and the Boston orchestras have played K 201, K 425, K 200, and K 183, making a total of about a dozen symphonies that may be said to be in the current American repertoires. In terms of cold statistics, this may not seem to be a very impressive survival rate. However, if one considers that about half of the forty-one symphonies were immature and casual compositions, certainly not worthy of symphonic designation in the modern sense of that term, their durability is astounding. Add to these the overtures to half-a-dozen of the operas, a few serenades such as Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, several piano and violin concertos, and a host of minor numbers that are likely to turn up almost any time, and the result is a composite six per cent of the current repertoire, which shows no signs of declining, at present outpointing even Wagner and Bach.
JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH There is often a wide discrepancy between the academic prestige of a composer and his actual cultivation by conductors and performers. Mozart, Haydn, and Bach are among the most revered names in music, but their representation in actual performances is often relatively meager. Just as there are books that everybody talks about but nobody reads, there are composers that everybody reads about but few listen to. Allowing for the usual exaggeration in such a quip, fame is still a blend of many factors, some of them so purely adventitious that they have little relation to a composer’s place in the repertoire.
Bach is, of course, supreme in the organ repertoire, and his clavier works possess incomparable aesthetic and pedagogical virtues. But he is a relatively unknown figure—grand but aloof—to the lay audience. He may be compared to a retired executive, scholar, or statesman whose past services are memorialized on every possible occasion, but who could not be expected to participate very actively in current affairs. Johann Sebastian Bach is the “composer emeritus” who is today best known by transcriptions and by his historical influence.
To a musicologist steeped in textbook lore, and to many a practical musician, this judgment of Bach as an antiquarian will seem harsh. To some aestheticians with a philosophical bent, the music of Bach epitomizes the Eternal Pattern, an ill-defined concept, but one that nevertheless affords a high degree of satisfaction. For a century after his death he commanded only esoteric appreciation, but in more recent decades he has had a slightly more substantial following.
This Bach renaissance is conventionally traced to the revival of the St. Matthew Passion, which was performed under the direction of the twenty-year-old Mendelssohn at the Singakademie in Berlin in March, 1829, for the first time since the death of Bach and exactly a century after its premiere in the St. Thomaskirche in Leipzig. According to Eduard Devrient, who san g Christus on that memorable occasion the “new cult of Bach dates from March 11, 1829.”10
Now, the sprouting of new aesthetic tastes does not differ in principle from the successful cultivation of fine vegetables. Remote as they may seem, they have this in common, that neither can be conjured forth by the enthusiasm of the cultivator alone. Certain preconditions must obtain before the fervor of the gardener can translate the picture on the seed package into the luscious salad bowl. There are no gaps in history. Bach’s popularity did not leap the century but its growth may be retraced in its successive steps.
Although the performance of the St. Matthew Passion delivered a fresh impulse to the comprehension of Bach, he had really never dropped from sight. The first issue of the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung (1798), published by Breitkopf and Haertel, carried a copper engraving of his portrait. In 1800, in the same influential journal, Bach was likened to Michelangelo and Newton, while Mozart, dead seven years, was analogously coupled with Raphael. In 1803 he was labeled “the greatest contrapuntist in the world”—a judgment not noticeably at variance with that of the twentieth century. There was naturally some disagreement: in a review of some of his works, a critic declared that they “contradict the frequently expressed opinion of the unlearned that Bach was the greatest mathematical music master, but nothing more.” As early as 1804—five years before Mendelssohn was born—we read in the same journal:
In the musical world now is the time of the awakening of the Dead; and fortunately this resurrection includes only the Just. Seb. Bach, Handel and Emanuel Bach . . . and other great men of the past only ten years ago considered among the departed, of whom one spoke reverentially, but whose association we 110 longer enjoyed.
Beethoven, born only twenty years after Bach’s death, had been thoroughly schooled in The Well Tempered Clavier which he included in his repertoire for the Viennese nobility, and he hailed with delight the (premature) announcement of a project to publish Bach complete. Mozart wrote to his father in 1782 that he was making a collection of the Bach fugues. Since commercial publication was not so general as it is today, the memory of Bach had been kept green by his pupils, who were scattered throughout Germany, and by his sons, who used the library which they had inherited. In April, 1828, one year before revival of the Passion, Spontini offered the Berlin premiere of the Credo from the B Minor Mass at one of his symphonic soirees. The Thomaskirche performed some of his motets and cantatas; and manuscript copies—a not unusual form of circulation in that day—of his works enjoyed a surprising circulation between the time of his death and the “renaissance” of 1829.11 Indeed, a Leipzig critic, his civic pride apparently piqued at the publicity the Berlin papers gave the revival of the Passion, expressed his amazement at the fuss stirred up in that northern city, for “Bach had never been forgotten in Leipzig.”
This is not to say that he had gained great popularity. Musical style had undergone great changes. Bach had expressed himself in a contrapuntal idiom that was dying, while the melodic style of writing had been gaining adherents even during his own lifetime. Sociological factors conspired to accelerate this tendency. The public theater was replacing the church as a source of musical delight, and the rising bourgeoisie, with its light secular tastes, turned away from complicated polyphony to rococo relaxation. Protestant religious services were themselves undergoing important alterations, rendering the older forms obsolete. Bach had simply experienced the personal tragedy of outliving the style that he himself had brought to perfection.
If Bach lost whatever popular audience he had ever had, he gained and retained professional adherents. In that sense Bach became the musician’s musician. A new concept of the function of music, unknown to Mozart and to the rococo period, was being born. Rochlitz (a former pnpil in the Thomasschule) the progressive editor of the Allgemeine Musikalische Zmrag, accordingly declared in 1802 that, though Bach was not popular, he was “elevating.” In keeping with Schiller’s system of aesthetics, which he apparently embraced, he declared (1803) that “Kunst istfreilich ein Spiel, aber Keine Spielerei” (Art is indeed a form of play, but not trivial).
Mendelssohn and Devrient undertook the performance of the Passion in an effort to enlarge the public following for the “halfforgotten” Bach—a project in which they were indispensably aided by a constellation of social and political forces. For the Bach revival in Protestant Prussia was as much a religious and political revival as a musical renaissance. Historical research, always an essential concomitant to a wave of nationalism such as inundated the Germany of that day, had dug up the German past and featured Bach as one of whom “all Germans should be proud.”12 Protestant zeal, which was shared by the Lutheran Mendelssohn, had adopted Bach as the father of its musical heritage. An editorial in the Berliner Allgemeine Musik Zeitung (1830) hailed the Passion as a counterirritant to irreligion. It is difficult for an American, who listens to the oratorios and operas essentially as concert performances, to realize the textual interest of the European audience. Berlioz was similarly astounded at a performance of the Passion in Berlin (1841):
One must witness the respect, the attention, and the piety with which a German audience listens to such a composition, to believe it. Everyone follows the words of the text with his eyes; not a movement in the house, not a murmur of approbation or blame, not the least applause; they are listening to a sermon, hearing the gospel sung; they are attending not a concert, but a divine service.13
Thus Bach was not French, not Catholic, but German and Protestant!
There were still other compelling factors. The growing popularity of the piano in the homes of the rising middle class naturally enhanced the significance of the music which served as such exemplary pedagogical training for that instrument. The increasing musical sophistication of musicians and public found an intellectual challenge in the complexities of the polyphonic idiom, so that a Bach fugue now became the apex of aesthetic achievement. Under the influence of literary musicians like Schumann, and the Idealist philosophers like Hegel, there was finally established an aesthetic ideology that elevated music into the moral sphere, designated it as Truth Incarnate, which relieved it of the eighteenth-century requirements of entertainment and relaxation. It became a member of the triune epiphenomenon comprising Religion, Philosophy, and Art. It was on this philosophical tide that Bach and Beethoven were lifted into the secure harbor of prestige and deification.
Even so, the present-day glorification of Bach has been slow to mature. Friedrich Zelter, who was the director of the. Berlin Singakademic in 1829—a “pedagogical grandson” through Kirnberger, of Bach himself—and who had originally infected Mendelssohn with his own adoration for the contrapuntist, had been very doubtful of the wisdom of offering the Passion to the general public. Devrient relates that
Felix and I had frequent meetings to consider how the work could be shortened. ... It necessarily contained much that belonged to a former age. . . . Most of the arias would have to be omitted . . . the part of die Evangelist would have to be shorn of all that was not essential to the recital of the Passion ...
That some American critics also should consider the music of Bach partially antiquated is evidenced by the comment of such a Bach “idolater” as the Boston annotator William Apthorp, who complained in 1894 that Paur, the Boston conductor, had omitted only one of the seven movements of the Bach B Minor Suite:
With all that is great and immortal in the master’s works, there are also some things in them which Time has thrown into obsolescence, and even the sincerest Bach lover . . . ought to wish these things wholly obsolete and buried for good and all.14
At that time historical scholarship had not yet begotten the fundamentalism of the purist. On the other hand, much more recently, the completely evolved purist appears in Bruno Walter, who does public penance for having violated the integrity of these two-hundred-year-old works.
I hereby confess that I transgressed in Munich against the St. Matthew Passion. For ten years ... I performed Bach’s works with cuts. This was unjustifiable.15
An interested observer of this reversal in aesthetic judgments Can only speculate on the next shift in enthusiasm that will emerge from the still greater erudition of subsequent decades and centuries.
During the period of obscurity it was Bach’s vocal works (motets and cantatas) and some clavier works (Inventions and Well-Tempered Clavier) that were kept alive. His instrumental ensembles, which should have been of all his works the most easily absorbed by the new orchestral bodies of the nineteenth century, were the last to be revived. The first performance of Bach in modern orchestral version was that of the Suite in D (then still referred to as “Overture”) given by the Gewandhaus orchestra February 15, 1838. Mendelssohn was, of course, the conductor. Bach made his orchestral debut in London with the same composition, under the same conductor, with the London Philharmonic on June 24, 1844.
It was not until March 6, 1869, forty years after the initial performance in Leipzig, that the New York Philharmonic introduced the classic master in orchestral dress—the same suite—to its New York audience, Carl Bergmann conducting. In the meantime Theodore Thomas had already achieved the distinction of the initial Bach orchestral performance in America, with the Esser arrangements of the Toccata in F (January 7, 1865), the Passacaglia (April 8, 1865), and the familiar D Major Suite (October 26, 1867). Thomas’ personal espousal of the new movement antedates even these orchestral performances. The Chaconne was in his violin solo repertoire at least as early as 1858, and the Mason-Thomas chamber concerts included arrangements of Bach as staple items from their first season, in 1855. The very first appearance of Bach in any form on the New York Philharmonic programs (December 20, 1862) was a Prelude and Fugue for piano (which was not to be considered incongruous with orchestral concerts for many years to come), performed by J. N. Pattison, who had acquired his musical training in Germany.
Although the London Philharmonic Society, founded in has a longer history, the New York Philharmonic repertoire comprises more concerts, with a consequently fuller repertoire. Note the decline of Beethoven in relative importance, the increase in number of composers in the longer seasons of later years, and the “forgotten” names of the early years.
The tardy recognition of Bach’s orchestral works lies in the circumstance, among others, that vocal organizations, like Zelter’s Singakademie, were then more prevalent, had more prestige, and were much more maturely developed, than was the orchestra. Consequently, Bach was not yet “discovered” as an orchestral composer. Nor were his instrumental works adapted even to the instrumental ensembles which did exist. Orchestral color and instrumentation, as today conceived, were of course unstandardized in the early eighteenth century. Suites and concertos were usually custommade for the available combinations of instruments, many of which, like the high valveless trumpet and the viola d’amore, are now obsolete. As a result all Bach’s works had to be edited and arranged in terms of the modern idiom.
Today, clavier, organ, vocal and other works have all been transcribed freely for the modern orchestra by Bach enthusiasts, and constitute a substantial portion—probably seventy-five per cent—of the current Bach “orchestral” repertoire. Although some of these transcriptions have had rather wide currency, most of them have been prepared by the conductor, or by a member of the orchestra whose local reputation had contributed a personal touch to the vogue of that music. Such manipulation should not be a new experience for Bach works, for the great composer himself, according to the exigencies of the day, frequently reshuffled his own creations and, at times, appropriated the themes of others. Zelter transcribed some of the clavier works for string quartet and renovated others in order to eradicate from the German Bach the “French froth” and thereby lay bare the “true elegance” of the master.16
Although to many scholars transcriptions are a species of aesthetic sin, Bach has been transcribed—and, of course, edited—ever since he came to the notice of German conductors. In the early years of the American repertoire the conductors availed themselves of transcriptions made by German musicians, J. J. Abert, Heinrich Esser, Bachrich, Raff, and Hellmesberger. Gericke, Seidl, and Mottl, conducting in the United States for a period, and Theodore Thomas and George Bristow likewise adapted Bach for their own purposes. Today such well-known composers and conductors, representing all leading nations, as Bantock, Elgar, Respighi, Schoenberg, Pick-Mangiagalli, Siloti, Tansman, Honegger, Weiner, Mitropoulos, Barbirolli, Stock, Stokowski, Ormandy, Boessenroth (Minneapolis Orchestra) and Caillet (Philadelphia Orchestra), Goossens, Sir Henry Wood (“Paul Klenovsky”) have made Bach available in modern tonal flavors, have expanded his repertoire and nourished the taste for his music.
Of all composers and conductors who have added their increment to the orchestral renaissance of the Leipzig cantor, none has been as enthusiastic and influential as Stokowski during his quarter-century with the Philadelphia orchestra. Stokowski had begun his musical career as an organist in London, continued it in the organ loft of the St. Bartholomew Church of New York, and has never relinquished his devotion to the master of organ composition. He has added about two score titles to the Bach heritage. This personal influence is evident in the gradual rise of the Bach volume to an unprecedented seven per cent during Stokowski’s tenure in Philadelphia, and its precipitous decline after his departure. A romantic rather than a classicist in stylistic predilections, Stokowski has often been vehemently criticized for the vibrant sensuousness of his transcriptions and for his supposed infidelity to the classic reserve of the original subject.
This of course strikes at the very root of the philosophy of transcriptions and inevitably raises a controversy whenever the old masters are included in the repertoire. Historical erudition seems to predispose some scholars to a museum-like preservation of the original artifact. Such a musico-archeological exponent recreates as far as possible the tonal balance of the archaic instrumentation. Theodore Thomas aspired to do just that.17 But to those who know how easily Handel and Bach transcribed the work of others, and who wish to incorporate old composers as living elements in contemporary musical life by profiting from the acoustical and aesthetic developments of the intervening period, some modernization would seem defensible. One may even be permitted to question the consistency of such critics. The St. Matthew Passion was originally designed for three-dozen performers, restricted instrumentation, and boy sopranos. Today it is staged with a hundred-piece orchestra and a well-trained adult mixed chorus of five-hundred vocalists. It is probable that this commonly accepted “transcription” violates the expectations of the original composer more than does the transference of a fugue from art organ, with its orchestral potentialities in its manifold registration, to the modern orchestra itself. Perhaps, after all, it is true that the Bach organ attains its ultimate realization in the Stokowski orchestra. Stokowski, like Zelter and Mendelssohn, “modernized” Bach; and all of them may be at least entitled to the claim that their arrangements were popular and successful. Without these transcriptions, the great Passacaglia, the Fantasia and Fugue in G Minor, and a dozen other significant works would be an absolutely closed book to a large block of sincere music lovers.
The composite trend line for Sebastian Bach—which includes the transcriptions—displays a continuous and almost uninterrupted rise from the very occasional appearances before 1875 in the New York Philharmonic to about 3.5 per cent of the national repertoire in 1930-35. After that, he receded to about 2.3 per cent in 1945-50. Although this trend is more or less parallel in all orchestras, Philadelphia and Chicago cultivated him most energetically. In Philadelphia Bach achieved a peak of seven per cent in 1930-35, a quantitative recognition otherwise reserved for Wagner and the symphonists Brahms and Tschaikowsky. In retrospect, a recession would seem inevitable with the passing of devotees of the stature of Stokowski and Stock. The celebration of the 250th anniversary of Bach’s birth (1935) and the bicentennial of his death (1950) could halt only temporarily his decline to a good two per cent of the composite repertoire.
The compositions most frequently programmed are the Suites, No. 3 and 2, the Brandenburg Concerto No. 3, Pastorale from the Christmas Oratorio, a large miscellaneous collection of preludes and fugues, choral preludes, and of course, the St. Matthew Passion. His relatively short numbers are not the stuff to create volume repertoire in a symphony orchestra. A statistical measure which is based on playing time may therefore not do complete justice to the frequency of his appearance.
FRANZ JOSEPH HAYDN Of all the standard composers in the present American repertoire, the names of Handel and Haydn appear earliest in the annals of the American orchestras. Of their contemporaries, Pleyel (Haydn’s greatest rival), Arne, Gyrowetz, Stamitz, Gossec, Gretry, Vanhal, Kozeluh, to say nothing of the scores of contemporary composer-performers who occupied a large segment of the colonial programs—all have vanished. With Sebastian Bach (whose name, of course, does not appear in the eighteenth-century American programs), Handel and Haydn display a life span of longest duration.
In the eighteenth century, colonial music was, in the main, an offspring of English musical life. The names on the musical programs, like the names of cities and streets, were brought in the bag and baggage of immigrants, the great bulk of whom came from England. It is amazing how quickly these conditions were reflected in the taste of this country. The reverence for both Handel and Haydn, who ruled public taste in England at the close of that century, is further incorporated in the name of one of America’s oldest choral societies, founded in Boston in 1815.
It was not English music that dominated the colonies, but rather English tastes. England was at that time a prosperous industrial and colonial empire, whose wealth attracted the continental musicians very much as does America’s in the twentieth century. Like her cotton, tea, and fruits, most of her composers and her music were importations. Thus Haydn’s pardonable urge for economic security overcame any disinclination to travel when he accepted Salomon’s invitations. It is understandable, therefore, that the continental aesthetic as well as material produce arrived in America in English bottoms.
As in England, the Haydn symphonies, or “Grand Overtures” as they were sometimes called, constituted one of the pillars of the informal American repertoires which enjoyed a transient existence in the theatres, gardens, and salons of the Eastern colonial seaboard. Most of these symphonies, which appeared as early as 1782 in New York (during the British occupation), in 1786 in Philadelphia, and some years later in Boston and Charleston, are unidentified except in a few instances through their sobriquets: La Chasse (No. 73) and La Reine (No. 85). They are representative of the compositions that fostered Haydn’s reputation throughout Europe and finally led to his triumphant appearances in England with the Salomon orchestra in 1791-92, 1794-95. In the forty-piece orchestra during Haydn’s first visit was the German oboist, Gottlieb Graupner, who subsequently emigrated to America and settled permanently in Boston, where he was influential in introducing the later symphonies, especially the Surprise and Military.
Some fifty years later, when the New York Philharmonic society was organized, the star of Haydn had been dimmed somewhat by the brilliance of the works of Beethoven. While three of the Beethoven symphonies were performed during the first Philharmonic season of three concerts, Haydn had to await the third and ninth seasons for the first two symphonic offerings. This marks his approximate pace down to the present day, almost always maintaining a sure and predictable position, but never crowding the leaders.
More precisely, this trend shows a recession between 1875 and 1900, when most of the present orchestras were founded, but then takes a definite upward turn which continues to the present day. In 1926, the editor of Musical America could state that Haydn was “no longer a musical mummy,” but had now again come to life.
This ascent, unambiguous but by no means dramatic, roughly coincides with the centennial of his death (1909); the observance of the bicentennial of his birth (1932); the launching of a project for republication of his “complete” works (never completed) by Breitkopf and Haertel (1907), which gave the symphonies a new, chronological numbering; and a growing archeological and scholarly interest in his life and works. As a result of this historical interest, nearly a dozen of his earlier symphonies have been performed for the first time in America.
No musician need, of course, be reminded that these symphonies of “Papa” Haydn are possessed of the utmost lucidity and elegance, that they manifest both zest and charm, and an integrity absolutely unmarred by any affectation, exaggeration, or bombast. In all these qualities, they speak directly to the twentieth-century era. To project these characteristics requires the most disciplined effort of the best symphonic ensembles. From the standpoint of program building and audience appeal, the Haydn works furnish scintillating relief from the congested orchestration of the late romantics, and melodic relaxation from the modern percussive styles.
The new Breitkopf and Haertel catalogue has set the number of “authentic” symphonies at 104, many of the earlier ones being, of course, in the modern sense “symphonic” by condescension only. Of the total, about thirty have been performed, and about ten of them may be said to be active in the repertoires here under review. The most frequently played is the G Major (No. 88), with No. 100 (Military), 101 (Clock), 102 and 104 attaining considerable vogue. Less frequent renditions are enjoyed by Nos. 92 (Oxford), 94 (Surprise), 95, 97, and 99. Among the almost two score symphonies with single appearances is found the short “Toy” symphony, not dignified by inclusion in the conventional numbering. This “symphony” was performed by the New York Philharmonic under Rodzinski, February, 1945, in celebration of the birth of his sontestimony to the whimsical miscellany of factors that may determine the ingredients of concert programs.
GEORGE FREDERICK HANDEL For more than a century after his death Handel’s prestige was limited to choral and religious music. Just as Beethoven and his satellites dominated the nineteenth century, so Handel, with Purcell, Corelli, and Pergolesi, swayed the taste of the eighteenth. His traditions dominated English musical life, and to a certain extent that of the continent, and pointedly influenced both Haydn and Mendelssohn in their oratorio creations.
His strictly instrumental compositions, especially the Concerti Grossi, could not compete with the “grand” symphonies of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven, which had rendered obsolete the preclassical, unstandardized orchestra. The exclusively orchestral music, occasionally demanded in concert programs of the day consisted of overtures to his oratorios. Then, as now, Handel’s greatest fame rested on Messiah which was presented (incomplete, seventeen out of fiftyseven numbers) for the first time in America in New York in 1770—one year before its premiere in Germany.
This choral orientation toward Handel still prevailed during the first decades C>f the New York Philharmonic, on whose programs Handel’s name was represented exclusively by arias, until an archeological interest uncovered his forgotten works in the same manner as was occurring with his contemporary, Sebastian Bach. Although it was not until the present century that the instrumental works were played with frequency, isolated performances dot the repertoires since October 21, 1868 when Thomas played the “celebrated music composed by Handel in the year 1749 for the Royal Fireworks. . . from the original score . . . for the first time in this country” in Castle Garden on his “Handel Night.”18 The London Philharmonic played its first Handel instrumental selection in 1872—an Oboe concerto. This was followed in 1874 by a Concerto Grosso (No. 11). But the Germans, who claimed Handel as their own and restored the Umlaut, which Handel had discarded, were perhaps more aggressive in this Handel renaissance than were the English, who had really never forgotten him.
From Germany were brought his various works in arrangements by Bachrich, Mottl, Kogler, and Franz Wiillner, and these were played frequently in Boston and Chicago; later came the arrangements of Harty, Beecham, Sir Henry Wood, and Elgar. Of all these, German or British, the arrangement of the Water Music by Hamilton Harty, late conductor of the Halle orchestra of Manchester, is the best known. As in the case of Haydn, new compositions are being uncovered. In addition to the Water Music, the Concerti Grossi Nos. 5, 6, 10, and 12 are frequently performed, and two score other compositions occasionally, The Messiah is today infrequently included in orchestral series, but the abrupt rise in the Handel composite curve in the beginning of this century is to be explained by its annual performance by the Minneapolis orchestra during its first six seasons. Handel has been running a steady course at about the one per cent level, and occasionally weaving into our concerts today, as two centuries ago, delightful episodes of refreshing music.
KARL MARIA VON WEBER If Handel and Haydn made their debuts on the American platform in the eighteenth century in an English atmosphere, that atmosphere has long since been transformed, through the processes of migration, to a German domination of the musical world in the nineteenth. More than Beethoven or any other composer, it was Weber, an ancestor of the German opera, through whom Germany began to sense its musical destiny. And if one work must be selected which epitomizes this transformation, it is Weber’s opera, Der Freischiltz, which marked the emancipation of German music from Italian rule. The dawning faith of German nationalism was emotionally nourished by these operas, a social task which Wagner was to carry on more dramatically later in the century.
Even without these nationalistic political overtones, Weber’s music possessed a brilliance that enthralled audiences. During the first fifteen years of the New York Philharmonic, Weber was among the leaders, with six to nine per cent of the repertoire, a total all the more remarkable because of the brevity of the compositions. The overtures to half-a-dozen operas, some chamber music, the Conzertstilek, several arias, and later the whirling Invitation to the Dance, were all frequently played. Since that time the inevitable decline has set in. But the short, compact overtures to Der Freischiltz, Oberon, and Euryanthe still open many a program. Weingartner, Berlioz, and Stokowski have arranged the Invitation to the Dance to startle the ear with a flash of virtuosity, but in the present decade this number has practically disappeared from the more formal subscription series. The old-fashioned Conzertstuck still turns up at intervals. Weber probably will remain indefinitely one of the “immortals,” his percentage hovering modestly around one-half of one per cent, which many a modern composer would be more than proud to claim.
CHRISTOPH WILLIBALD GLUCK Were it not for the historical significance of Gluck, his present position in the orchestral repertoire would scarcely be noted. It was he who started the chain reaction of romanticism through Weber, Berlioz, Liszt, and Wagner. For us he periodically adds the antique patina of a musical heirloom. Overtures to Alceste and Iphigenia in Aulis and excerpts from several operas, Mottl’s synthetic Ballet Suite, extracted from various sources, and an occasional aria exhaust his present representation. Quantitatively, this is not impressive, but insofar as the wellconstructed repertoire should recall for the intelligent listener the significant landmarks in our traditions, such tiny flashbacks serve an indispensable and pleasant educational function.
RICHARD STRAUSS The late Richard Strauss has been designated the greatest of recent composers, whose only possible rival is the much less versatile composer one year his junior, Sibelius. There is nothing in the American repertoire experience of these two contemporaries which is inconsistent with such high esteem. Both show a rapid ascent in popularity beginning in the 1890’s; but Strauss has maintained a leading position of from four to five per cent of the national repertoire, except during the hiatus of World War I. Only recently has he shown a slight decline, as the less worthy of his numbers are being dropped from the repertoire.
Strauss unloosed his garish symphonic creations upon an 1890 audience that was still reeling from the onslaught of Wagner. It was just beginning to relax to the less strenuous strains of Tschaikowsky when the new sensation was launched. This post-Wagnerian romantic never aroused the bitter controversy provoked by his predecessor, but he did evoke just enough bewilderment, it seems, to become accepted in the orchestral and operatic repertoires without too much delay. If he offended many aesthetic tastes, he was also an astute showman in composition, and an exceedingly calculating negotiator. From all sides one heard variations on the theme that “Strauss makes money even when his music does not.”
Like Berlioz, his romantic forebear, he often chose lawless and picturesque characters as the principal subjects for many of his symphonic poems and operas, and startled his listeners with tone pictures of grotesque form and splashing color. Musically, the early tone poems of “Richard II” (another Biilow quip) were an extrapolation of the trends begun by Wagner and Berlioz, with complex but enormously competent counterpoint, with snatches of beautiful melody, even reminiscent of the waltz king’s coloration and dramatic content. There were those who loved to take a crack at the derivative nature of his work, who were convinced that the old boys had done it better. Said they:
If it must be Richard—then let it be Wagner
If Strauss ... then Johann.
But people were rapidly attuning their ears, and Strauss was acclaimed.
The rise of the best known composers during the past seventy years. Note the decline of Richard Strauss during Wosld War 1. His complete disappearance fronz the repertoire in the season 1917-18 is concealed because the plotting is done on a five-year average.
It was not surprising that a composer, endowed with his commercial sagacity, should recognize the opportunities, both aesthetic and material, in a visit to America, of which he availed himself on two occasions. His first visit occurred in the early months of 1904. Appearing together with his wife, a singer, he conducted twenty-one concerts with almost as many orchestras. Most of his New York appearances were with the Hans Wetzler orchestra, a raw and untrained group (temporarily augmented to no) with difficult rehearsal conditions. He conducted the New York Philharmonic in the final pair of concerts\for the season in March, 1904. He had experienced some difficulty in concluding an agreement with Boston, where it has been said by some that his asking price was too high, and by others that Gericke was averse to vacating the podium for the distinguished guest. However, Strauss finally did conduct its Pension Fund concert. As a conductor he was described as undemonstrative, casual, and not in the least picturesque. A minor scandal occurred when he accepted an engagement to appear with the orchestra in the Wanamaker auditorium in New York, presumably for an appropriate consideration. Both in Europe and the United States, it was generally declared that he had degraded music by playing in the auditorium of a department store!
In 1921—22 he paid a second visit to the United States. World War I, which we entered in the spring of 1917, had played havoc with German music in general and Strauss in particular. Not only the sentimental aversion of many patrons toward German music, and the disinclination of managers to risk public demonstrations and boycotts, but the accumulating royalties of enemy aliens argued the prudence of a general policy of excluding the music of contemporary enemy composers. The result was that Strauss was totally expunged from American programs during the war years.
Strauss himself had shrewdly endeavored to evade exactly such an eventuality. He had refrained from signing the Manifesto of German Intellectuals defending the invasion of Belgium, to which ninety-three Germans of international prominence had affixed their signatures. He was presumably motivated either by the conviction of the priority of art over politics or, as a colleague insisted, he was “too clever to ignore his royalties in London, Paris, Moscow and New York.”19 In his own country, he counselled tolerance toward enemy musicians, excepting those who had actually vilified German Kultur.20
However, his restoration was not long in coming. In October, 1921, this erstwhile enemy was officially received as reconciliation ambassador by Mayor Hylan of New York only a few days after the same official had waved a patriotic welcome to General Foch, the Generalissimo of Allied Forces. At his first concert in Carnegie Hall, America mixed politics and art beautifully by solemnly presenting the ex-enemy with a large wreath beribboned in the Black-Red-Yellow of the new German Republic. Appearing in more than forty concerts in nineteen cities as far ^yest as Kansas City, he was elaborately dined and feted everywhere. He complimented our orchestras, and demonstrated the authoritative readings of his works. Finally, as palpable evidence of the American appraisal of his achievements, he took with him to Germany an estimated $50,000,
As a composer, his maiden appearance on American programs occurred in December, 1884, when Theodore Thomas, conductor of the New York Philharmonic, who had met the youth in Munich, performed his Symphony in F Minor from manuscript, for its world premiere. But Thomas never repeated this number, written in the classic tradition. It was not until he adopted, and adapted, the romantic forms of the symphonic poem that Strauss found himself. His present strength in these concerts lies in Death and Transfiguration (introduced by Seidl, January 9, 1892), Till Eulenspiegel (by Thomas, November 15, 1895), and Don Juan (by Nikisch, October 30, 1891), the last-named an earlier work generally described by critics on the occasion of the composer’s first American visit as.”the most melodious and most easily accessible to the audience.” The fact that these compositions, together with several others, have endured for more than a half-century not only as staples but as thoroughly stimulating musical experiences, must justify ranking their composer among the great. No recent or contemporary composer has attained this rank.
However, unlike Beethoven and Wagner, who grew in stature in their later works, and unlike Mendelssohn and Schumann, whose works continued to find favor with the public even though they showed no significant development, the later orchestral works of Strauss have never enjoyed the critical esteem bestowed upon the products of his youth. The Alpensymphonie, the last of the larger symphonic works, for the premiere of which Stransky, Stokowski, and Kunwald contended, has had practically no repeats. In general his orchestral style has become more and more onomatopoetic (as in Symphonia Domestic a), more polyphonic and poly tonal, with an almost mechanical harmonic and contrapuntal complexity, a style for which Johann Quantz, the flutist of Frederick the Great, two centuries ago coined the term “AugenmusikP
In addition to his symphonic works, some orchestras, notably Philadelphia and Chicago, have featured excerpts from his operas. The, Dance of the Seven Veils from Salome, arid the Waltzes from Rosenkavalier, which were written in the style of his namesake, the waltz king, are very popular. Mitropoulos presented a concert version of Elektra in 1949-50.
Strauss has been so commonly accepted that no conductor can be said to ride him fanatically, or to avoid him unduly. Thomas and Stock in Chicago, Kunwald in Cincinnati, Hertz in San Francisco, Rodzinski, Stokowski, and Ormandy—these were somewhat conspicuous among their respective contemporaries for their hospitality toward Strauss.
During World War II Strauss suffered a decline because American and Russian composers were catapulted into the political limelight, rather than because of his identification with the enemy nations.
At home, in Germany, his Jewish librettist and his non-Aryan daughter-in-law placed him in an equivocal position. Nevertheless he straddled the issue of musico-political integrity with characteristic caution. As head of the Musikkammer he appeared to collaborate with the new regime, but soon resigned. In June, 1948, he was cleared by a de-Nazification board, after a two-year investigation.
Although his compositions will undoubtedly linger many years after his passing, he nevertheless will be remembered as the last of the German dynasty of musical titans which has held sway in the concert halls of the world for over a century. Strauss brings to a sputtering close the Golden Age of Teutonic music, an age whose grandeur has not yet found a new national home.
JAN SIBELIUS There has developed in America and England a reverence for the creations of Sibelius which critics in Germany and France (and some critics in this country) have difficulty in comprehending. During the first few years of this century, Theodore Thomas and Van der Stucken, both unfettered in their taste and with a flair for musical reconnaissance, welcomed his presymphonic works, while the Second Symphony (the first one to be imported), had its first American appearance in Chicago on January 2, 1904. From these small beginnings Sibelius continued for several decades with a modest two per cent of our repertoire, but in the thirties he forged ahead to double this figure—not a phenomenal, but nevertheless a very tangible, growth. This most decisive rise in his career coincides suggestively with the increasing interest in, and sympathy with, “gallant little Finland,” which had regained her independence from Russia after World War I and, alone among the sovereign nations and allies of Europe, recognized her international obligation by regular payments on her war debt to the United States. This impact of politics upon aesthetic taste, is nevertheless difficult to measure because of the presence of other factors with which it is blended.
Other circumstances also contrived to establish the Sibelius legend. For some reason, the northern geography of his homeland impressed itself upon some of the critics and wrapped his personality in a mystery of bleak grandeur that allegedly reflected itself in the tonal flavor of his compositions. It furnished some very fine metaphors, which commentators often find very useful and which the audience almost invariably takes to its heart. Actually, of course, such geographical determinism is entirely spurious, for Finland, like any other inhabited country, has a variety of weather, and with some discretion one could match almost any passage or movement of the Second Symphony (which was the special victim of this logical fallacy) with any desired meteorological phenomenon, and prove just about anything.
In 1914, when Valse Triste and Finlandia had attained a popular success, Sibelius visited America as guest of the Norfolk Festival in Connecticut, where he conducted several of his works and a new symphonic poem, The Oceanides, written for the occasion. In recognition of the distinguished guest, Yale University conferred upon him an honorary doctorate.
Although all orchestras shared to some extent in this popular rise of the Finnish symphonist, it was Koussevitzky and Stokowski who were the most energetic and consistent in their espousal of him, Koussevitzky gave him the f’cycle treatment,” 1932-33, as did Werner Janssen and his orchestra in Los Angeles. These cycles contributed materially to the six per cent level of Sibelius in that five-year period. The cordiality between the Master and the Maestro was reciprocated in an invitation to the Boston conductor, whose father-in-law was then living in Finland, to conduct the opening concert of the Sibelius Festival in Helsingfors on the occasion of the composer’s seventieth birthday (1935). Stokowski had displayed evidence of his esteem when he gave the American premiere of the Fifth (1921) and the Sixth and Seventh (1926) symphonies. Philadelphia continued cultivation of Sibelius until 1940, when general enthusiasm for him began to subside.
As measured by the American repertoire, recognition has come late to the composer whom some have been pleased to call the “Beethoven of the North.” In 1905, when Strauss occupied one of the major positions in the repertoire with a rank of four per cent, Sibelius was still struggling for a tentative hold on the program time. If slow growth presages a longer life, Sibelius should outlive his German rival, who has been touched by almost no adversity, except those attendant upon political involvements, and who has received every material and honorific consideration. But such good fortune is not apparent in his national proportion of two per cent, while Strauss enjoys more than twice that magnitude. Sibelius differs from his German colleague in another very material respect. Since Finland was Russian territory at the time when his compositions became available, and since America has no copyright treaty with Russia, Sibelius has no way of collecting on his genius from the country in which his compositions have been most admired.
The First, Second, and Fifth symphonies have become apparent fixtures in the American repertoire, while the Third, Fourth, and Sixth are rarely played. One unique distinction must be accorded Sibelius. He is the only twentieth-century composer who has written an established violin concerto (1903-05)—which was introduced to America in 1906 by Maud Powell. In this respect it shares a prestige analogous to Rachmaninoff’s Second (1901), similarly the only standard piano concerto born in this century. Unlike Richard Strauss, who continued to compose almost up to his last breath, Sibelius’ pen has been dry for a quarter of a century. The repeated promise of an Eighth Symphony was honored only in the breach. Although still vigorous for his eighty-five years, it now appears that his creative energy has been exhausted.
CÉSAR FRANCK Franck has long been the leader of the French school of the symphony, if for no other reason than that his Symphony in D Minor is the only French symphony of unquestioned rank, except, of course, the century-old Fantastic Symphony of Berlioz. Comparison with those of Saint-Saens, Chausson, and d’Indy only emphasizes this eminent isolation. Although much of the work of this fertile composer was mediocre, he has left two numbers which are still secure in the repertoire—the aforesaid symphony and the Symphonic Variations for piano and orchestra. The gradual fading of a dozen other compositions probably indicates that his present one and one-half per cent represents the peak of his popularity.
IGOR STRAVINSKY With the passing of Richard Strauss and the retirement of the aged Sibelius, Stravinsky remains the “dean” of the celebrated active composers. His neoclassical works have influenced, via Nadia Boulanger and Fontainebleau, many of the modern American composers, and constitute the bulwark of his current repertoire. The Firebird and Petrouchka suites are almost as standard as the Brahms and Beethoven symphonies, although the sensational Sacre du Printemps (191-3), one of the most revolutionary pieces of the last decades, seems less able to maintain itself. Many of his more recent compositions have had single performances, and as long as new works flow from his pen, Stravinsky may confidently expect a hearing for them.. However, none has earned general acceptance and, unless the standard few develop a still stronger attraction, it seems probable that Stravinsky has reached a statistical peak. Monteux, Koussevitzky, Stokowski, Klemperer, and Rodzinski have been among his more, fervent sponsors.
After his first American tour in 1925, he often appeared as guest conductor, and settled permanently in this country in 1940. Shortly afterward, he filed his application for citizenship and expressed his appreciation for that privilege in an arrangement of the Star-Spangled Banner, which customarily prefaced the symphony programs in those troublous times. In St. Louis he rehearsed the number, but the musicians did not react favorably to its unfamiliar dress. Only two weeks after Pearl Harbor it seemed unwise to tamper with people’s patriotic emotions, however much the new orchestration “came from the heart.” It was, however, presented in Boston in January, 1944, and was thus characterized by th t Christian Science Monitor: “harmonies have been acidulated, note values altered, and even the melodic line reshaped.”
CLAUDE DEBUSSY Walter Damrosch and the New York Symphony Society early bestowed their favor on Debussy. During the first decade of this century, Damrosch presented two all-Debussy programs, supplemented by soloists and chorus. His was the first established orchestra to present the Nocturnes in 1905; and in the same year he gave the first of many performances of UApres-midi d’un Faune which featured the newly imported flute virtuoso Georges Barrere.
With these performances Debussy opened in the New York Symphony with about two per cent of the repertoire, and this per cent became stabilized, as the composite national average. Not even during World War I, when the French repertoire was appreciably augmented, did Debussy profit from its sympathetic rise. The most probable reason for this was that his moderate orchestral output had already been fully exploited. Since the beginning of the century, UApres-midi d’un Faune, Nocturnes, Images, and La Mer, which constitute three-fourths of his orchestral legacy, together with some scattered offerings of solos and arrangements, comprise his contribution to the repertoire. He represents a significant break in the German front, both in the style of his orchestration, which is of open, texture rather than tonally overladen, and in national emphasis.
ANTON BRUCKNER Bruckner may be said to have developed a cult without a congregation. Like Mahler, he has had more prophets than followers, at least in his American experience. A Wagner devotee from the beginning of his career, Bruckner was fated to live in anti-Wagner Vienna. In the early years—in the seventies—this pious personage, so devout that he knelt in prayer backstage before every concert to gain the strength which he sorely needed, was so involved in partisanship that conductors hardly dared play him. That he could have had such unshakable faith in two diametrically antithetical characters as God and Wagner, for both of whom he suffered his quota of taunts, might seem astonishing. But this naive, simple-minded peasant continued his heavy investments in faith and devotion, as well as in lengthy improvisational scores, though neither paid him high dividends.
In Leipzig, where his pupil Nikisch presided, and in New York, where Damrosch and Thomas were the reigning influences, his Wagnerian leanings did not constitute such an obstacle as in Vienna, the protected domain of the anti-Wagnerian critic, Eduard Hanslick. This famous arbiter of taste—personifying the nineteenth-century conception of a critic—would at times dip his pen in a blend of ink and gall, and splatter it abusively on the sponsors of the neo-German school. Consequently Bruckner’s first real success did not occur until Arthur Nikisch brought out his Seventh Symphony in Leipzig in 1884. The following year Walter Damrosch introduced him to America with the Third Symphony. Theodore Thomas produced the Seventh in New York in 1886, and the Fourth in Chicago in 1897, and Gericke the Fifth in 1901 in Boston.
Bruckner, of course, has never been popular in this country, but rather the beneficiary of public curiosity. Famed for his dexterous extemporizations at the organ console, he seems to carry over this leisurely dawdling into his otherwise competent writing. Stories are told of his complete absorption in his public improvisations. On one occasion he consumed twice the allotted time so that the organ pumpers went on strike in fatigued despair. His symphonies often exceed the hour, and some one has unkindly observed that “in his Adagios the grass grows between the notes.” Hanslick’s verdict that Bruckner is “interesting in detail but distasteful in toto,” reflects the judgment of many an American listener as well.
All nine symphonies carrying opus numbers have been performed in the United States, though no one has ventured upon a cycle as did his devotee Nikisch of the Gewandhaus orchestra during the season 1920-21. Chicago has at some time performed all his symphonies; the New York Philharmonic, all but the First and Third; Boston, all but the First, Second and Sixth, and Cincinnati all but the First. The Seventh, Eighth, and Ninth are the most frequently played, if that adverb is appropriate to such occasional performances, and the First, Second, and Sixth the least. The i93o’s and 1940’s witnessed a favorable trend in the curve, owing largely to the coming of Bruno Walter, whose fidelity to both Bruckner and Mahler is well known, and secondarily to his cultivation by Koussevitzky in Boston. ‘
SERGEI RACHMANINOFF The personal influence of Rachmaninoff in the molding of his own repertoire trend was enormous, A concert soloist with a facile romantic style of composition and a picturesque and exploitable homeliness of figure, he found it very easy to arouse public interest in both himself and his music. Twice he had been offered the conductorship of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and twice he refused that musical crown, preferring to dedicate himself to composition and concertizing. Characterized by a prodigality of melody, his music does not surprise the listener with strange progressions, nor harass him with unresolved dissonances. The erudite critic might justifiably recall the cases of Raff and Spohr who became “classic” almost too soon to endure. The Symphony No. 2 and the Piano Concerto No. 2 still hold their own and these, together with more isolated performances of the Third Piano Concerto, the Rhapsodie on a Theme by Faganini, and other compositions, have pushed his curve continuously upward since 1904, when his name first appeared in Boston. His death in 1943 has already affected the fortunes of his music adversely and reduced slightly the 2.75 proportion in the repertoire, which he enjoyed at that time.
DMITRI SHOSTAKO VITCH If ever a composer was propelled into screaming prominence by political forces, Shostakovich was that composer. It all began peacefully enough. The First Symphony was given its American premiere by the alert Stokowski in November, 1928; the Fifth was given a similarly successful concert audition ten years later, though Rodzinski and the NBC orchestra had anticipated it with a radio premiere a month earlier. During the decade of the thirties, all Russian arts aroused an increasingly benevolent interest on the part of many American intellectuals. In the case of Shostakovitch, this interest was certainly not diminished by the first of several spectacular repudiations by his government in January, 1936. By 1940 this precocious youth, through both merit and circumstance, had earned the proportion of about one per cent of the American repertoire—a percentage of not inconsiderable magnitude for a contemporary composer. Within about five years, animated by war hysteria, he composed the Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, and Ninth symphonies which were made available with almost commercial promptitude.
It was in the dramatic episode of the production and presentation of the Seventh Symphony that the political overtones were first generally perceived in America. Professedly written during the siege of Leningrad, where the Muses spoke in thundering cannonades and during which Communist Russia inadvertently became the active ally of capitalist America (December 7, 1941), this Leningrad Symphony became the symbol of the binding tie between the new and strange political bedfellows. Stokowski, who was then under contract with NBC, Rodzinski of Cleveland, and Koussevitzky all vied for the prize of the first American performance. Actually, the National Broadcasting Company had already secured the rights for Toscanini, who agreed to conduct its radio debut in July 1942. Not since the Metropolitan Opera placed Parsifal on the boards in 1903 had there been such a buzz of anticipation over an American premiere. Photographed at Kuibyshev, then the temporary Soviet capital, the score arrived in the United States in the form of one hundred feet of microfilm after a journey which included a flight to Teheran, auto transportation to Cairo, and the final leg by air to New York.
Less than two years later, the Eighth was given its American premiere, on April 2, 1944, by the New York Philharmonic, Rodzinski conducting^ Political implications were again evident when this performance was prefaced by a grand eulogy of our Soviet ally, intoned by the Director of the Division of Soviet Supply of the Foreign Economic Administration. For the rights to this premiere the Columbia Broadcasting System, in this physically undamaged country, had paid to Shostakovitch, by now a highly publicized exfirefighter of war-ruined Leningrad, the sum of $10,000.
Among the more recent composers whose rise is pictured here are two Americans: Aaron Copland and Willinm Schwman.
This unprecedented enthusiasm for Shostakovitch not only reflected a kind of left-wing taste, but was augmented by, press agentry on an almost planetary scale. It was nourished in America by an understandable sympathy for a ravished country, by the glamour of the name of the composer, and, ironically enough, by the normal capitalistic competition between two national radio chains and the Eastern orchestras. There was not then, nor is there today, a genuine aesthetic acceptance of the later symphonies, and even the First and Fifth have been criticized for tonal oyerexpansion and derivative eclecticism.
Previously (1942), a totalitarian blend of musical and political interests, which is not without some potency even in a democracy, had motivated an invitation to the composer to visit New York to conduct his Seventh. Again, in 1946, Shostakovitch and Prokofieff had an opportunity to decline a cordial invitation to appear as guest conductors in Boston; for by this time Boston’s own emigre conductor had reversed his earlier political proscription of Shostakovitch and was even evincing a special cordiality toward his music. After having announced the acceptance of the American invitation, they sent their regrets in October, 1946 “until the conditions between the two nations become more settled.” With the rapid deterioration of these “conditions,” and the cessation of the erstwhile flow of new works, no search for concealed factors is needed to explain the headlong tumble of Shostakovitch in the American repertoire, from which there is obviously no immediate prospect of recovery.
GUSTAV MAHLER Gustav Mahler carried on the traditions of Teutonic length with which German composers have been periodically afflicted ever since Beethoven scored the fifty-five-minute Eroica. His music is abnormally protracted, it is imitative and often disjointed, and sometimes trite, and the choral supplements tend to restrict performance. With all their color and competent orchestration, his nine symphonies are certainly not strikingly novel and do not stir up the controversies—as did Wagner, Strauss, and Stravinsky—which inspire fanatics. In fact, they have often been labeled as “Kapellmeistermusik”— another neologism coined to describe the unoriginal concoctions of the coriductor-composer who secures his materials from the masterpieces which he conducts. Notable among Mahler’s disciples, who would, of course, question such harsh judgments, is Bruno Walter who has loyally dedicated himself to the task of “uncovering the sources of exaltation flowing from his music.”
Das Lied von der Erde, which is scaled down to more conventional proportions, employing only two solo voices, has won a place in the standard American repertoire; it has received its quota of performances ever since Stokowski gave the American premiere, December, 1916, in Philadelphia. All nine symphonies have been played by the major orchestras.
The most sensational production of any Mahler symphony was, of course, the performance under Stokowski of the Symphony No. 8, Symphony of a Thousand, in the Spring of 1916, which propelled the young conductor into national prominence, in spite of the mixed aesthetic feelings with which the production was received. Frederick Stock, of Chicago, followed with a performance the following year; the Cincinnati May Festivals of 1931 and-1939, and the Hollywood Bowl orchestra, with Ormandy, produced it during the Summer of 1948. As conductor of the New York Philharmonic, Stokowski repeated it in April, 1950. The ambitious task of presenting the complete cycle of the Mahler symphonies was undertaken by the Radio City Music Hall orchestra, Erno Rapee, conductor, which broadcast its program on successive Sundays during the season 1941-42* Because of the prohibitive length of most of the Mahler compositions, single movements are not uncommonly programmed, and long movements are cut—even as Mahler himself felt few compunctions in altering the works of any composer excepting Wagner. The curve of Mahler has been rising slightly and stands now at two and one-half per cent, with the New York Philharmonic, over which Mahler himself once presided, leading handsomely in the espousal of his music. The return of Bruno Walter was, of course, the most forceful personal factor in this renewed interest. Boston has been second to New York in hospitality toward Mahler.
SERGEI PROKOFIEFF Prokofieff has not been supported by the political ballyhoo accorded his colleague Shostakovitch, and his rank in the repertoire is consequently considerably lower, with the present record at one per cent. Koussevitzky, a friend in pre-Revolution days, has taken the lead in championing this modern Russian, with Philadelphia and St. Louis very close seconds. During several visits to this country between 1918 and 1939, he performed his own piano concertos and conducted his symphonic works. His First Symphony, Classical, is by far the most frequently played, and has indeed become a “classic.” The Suite from The Love of Three Oranges, and the Scythian Suite, have also been given repeated hearings, and about twenty other numbers have been played. The Children’s Fairy Tale, Peter and the Wolf, is enjoyed by adult sophisticates, but is not to be expected frequently on these subscription programs. His performance rank does scant justice to the reputation of the man whom many critics denominate one of the most distinguished composers in the whole musical world today—in view of which, the prognosis is excellent.
ARNOLD SCHOENBERG As in the case of Prokofieff (1Classical Symphony) and Hindemith (Mathis der Maler) and other innovators, the most accepted composition of Schoenberg is the one which does least violence to current styles. Verkldrte Nacht (1899), written while he was still under the influence of Wagner and previous to his deflection into “atonal” bypaths,21 has been consistently performed while practically none of a dozen other compositions have been played twice by the same orchestra. If the avant-garde has hailed him as the greatest contemporary genius, their verdict is not reflected in the active repertoire. For almost fifty years this celebrated musician and pedagogue has been more written about than played, and has produced nothing that has “caught on.” Whether his music is a natural evolution from the chromaticism of Tristan, as is contended by the Schoenberg school, with the public taste in a deplorable cultural lag; or whether the composer was deceived by his own clever contrivance of an aesthetic theory which is simply too unpsychological to gain adherence, is another of those temporarily insoluble questions which we so glibly pass on to a supposedly omniscient posterity to decide. The moral distinction between admirable aesthetic integrity and mere doctrinaire obstinacy cannot easily be resolved.
Stokowski valiantly espoused the cause of this unconventional Viennese by presenting at least a half-dozen of his creations during the 1920’s. For the performance of the controversial Five Orchestral Pieces, the conductor received as his reward a jumble of applause and hisses from his partially amused and partially offended audience. In London, Vienna, and Prague they were similarly greeted.
In July, 1951, Arnold Schoenberg died in Los Angeles.
AARON COPLAND Contrary to the uncompromising policy of Schoenberg, Copland was somewhat more amenable to the pressures of public taste. He has shifted styles, abandoned the brazen cacophony of his early experiments, and more recently displays evidence of a search for a congenial meeting ground, somewhat left-of-center, with his public.
As a twenty-four-year-old student of Nadia Boulanger—in fact the very first of a long migration of Americans to Fontainebleau—he made his orchestral debut with the New York Symphony, Walter Damrosch, conductor, in a performance of the Symphony for Organ and Orchestra, January 11, 1925, with Mile. Boulanger as organist. It was especially the dissonant finale that reportedly moved Damrosch to the famous remark that “a man who could write such music at twenty-four might some day be capable of murder.”
More important, of course, was the second performance of this number a month later under the baton of Koussevitzky in Boston. This was the very first of a long series of services not only to Copland, but also to American music, by the Boston conductor. It cannot be said that the audience received these “barbaric” and “brutal” cacophonies in a friendly spirit. Warren Story Smith, of the Boston Post, opined that “Copland not only looked into his heart, but also into the score of Stravinsky’s Sacre” which had caused such a scandalous riot in Paris in May, 1913.
Since that debut, however, Copland has become the most universally performed American composer in the serious repertoire. Performances of A Lincoln Portrait, Billy the Kid, Quiet City, and Appalachian Spring have been rather widespread, although Copland, too, suffers from the affliction of single renditions. His overall national average is approximately one per cent.
RALPH VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Vaughan Williams is one of the few English composers to have a modest but secure place in the American repertoire. The programmatic London Symphony and the Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis were first performed by the New York Symphony under Damrosch and Coates in 1920 and 1922 respectively, and since then have been regularly heard. His other compositions appear less frequently, although John Barbirolli leaned rather heavily on him in New York in 1936-40.
PAUL HINDEMITH Hindemith came to the attention of the public not only through his compositions but also because of his promotion of the idea of Gebrctuchsmusik. Mindful of the dilemma in which musicians found themselves by composing in a social vacuum, without reference to particular purposes, he proposed that music should be frankly utilitarian and thereby again close the gap between composer and consumer that was created during the nineteenth century. This constituted an admission of bankruptcy of the romantic theory of self-expression, and was a step toward the recognition of composing as a useful craft.
Since his name first appeared in the season 1924-25 on the Philadelphia programs, about a dozen of his compositions have been performed, but none with the frequency of his Mathis der Maler, one of his later, though more conservative, works. With his percentage at less than one per cent, future historians may have occasion to comment on the tardiness with which modern music is absorbed into the standard repertoire, for Hindemith is unquestionably one of the most respected of modern composers.
DARIUS MILHAUD Milhaud was one of the famous “Six” who sowed discords and reaped a whirlwind of notoriety in Paris during the riotous postwar twenties. He had absorbed various trends, including American jazz and the folk music of Brazil, where he had spent two years (1917—19) in the French Legation. Before 1940 his performances were scattered, but since his permanent residence in the United States, practically all the orchestras have programmed his compositions, although as yet almost none has been repeated. The less radical Suite Provengale has been-most generally played.
BELA BARTOK Of a dozen compositions of this Hungarian nationalist that have been included in the American repertoire, none of the strictly orchestral numbers has any circulation. On the other hand, certain soloists have espoused his piano and violin concertos. A mild revival occurred at the time of his death in 1945, part motivated by segmental impulses of the friends of the composer, who had died penniless in New York. But whether, as many had hoped, there would develop a demand for his nationalistic creations, it is too early to predict. His Concerto for Orchestra, commissioned by Koussevitzky, is one of about ten of his compositions on American programs, with the Hungarian Ormandy particularly hospitable.
WILLIAM SCHUMAN William Schuman owes his entry into the repertoire largely to the sponsorship of Koussevitzky, who has played at least a half-dozen of his works. His early American Festival Overture has been the most generally accepted.
WILLIAM WALTON William Walton, the young Englishman, is generally considered the most conspicuous prospect for the mantle of Vaughan Williams. He is a fixture in the repertoire, and his orchestral compositions have enjoyed repeated performances in New York and Boston. A Suite from Fa fade (to poems by Edith Sitwell), the concertos for violin and viola, Overture Portsmouth Pointy and Belshazzar’s Feast (chorus and orchestra) have been performed by several orchestras.
CHARLES IVES Charles Ives, the musical sage of Danbury, Connecticut, would normally not be counted in the family of active American composers who have earned a niche in the orchestral repertoire. But he has been the center of so much discussion among the musicians and critics of unconventional propensities, that his presence cannot be ignored. For six decades he has been a voice crying in the wilderness.
Not only has he utilized poly tonal and multirhythmic devices which have by no means yet become conventional, but his groping for expression which reflects the regional tunes, the local color of church and public square, marks him as the first to construct a genuine homespun New England idiom/Being a man of independent means, he personifies that “lunatic fringe” which cares not for audience, royalties, or recognition. As a result he has no audience, has received no money, and gained no general recognition. But in his old age, he is being sought out by the new musical generation.
Although some of his music has been recorded, he has had exactly three performances by the major orchestras of the country, but none by a regular conductor. Associate Conductor Burgin of Boston (1948) and guest conductor Slonimsky in Los Angeles (1933), have played his Three Places in New England; and Leonard Bernstein conducted the Second Symphony with the New York Philharmonic in February, 1951. This number turned out to be surprisingly melodious and conservative.
The Third Symphony, composed in 1904, revised in 1911, won for the ailing composer the Pulitzer Prize in 1946. Ives is an asocial individualist who writes as he pleases; but unlike Schoenberg, who has likewise enlisted the support of the liberal group, Ives has never buttressed his musical style with a thoroughgoing aesthetic philosophy.
ROBERT SCHUMANN In the early years of the New York Philharmonic Society, just after his death, Schumann enjoyed a vogue equivalent to that of Mozart, and was outstripped only by Beethoven himself. Under Theodore Thomas he sometimes exceeded ten per cent of the repertoire, but with the enrichment of the repertoire by the later romantics, he yielded ground. Today he occupies about two and one-half per cent of the composite repertoire.
Though there has been a contraction in volume, there has been no significant shift or replacement in the representative works. The four symphonies, the Manfred Overture and the thoroughly standard Piano Concerto, then as now, constitute the bulk of his legacy. In the meager cello literature, his concerto perseveres, while the season 1937-38 witnessed the revival of the Violin Concerto by Yehudi Menuhin. Inexpertly orchestrated, his symphonies have been “retouched” by Mahler, Weingartner, and Stock, whose versions take advantage of orchestral color unsuspected by the pianistically minded composer. In spite of the technical shortcomings in his nonidiomatic orchestral lines, Schumann has survived because of his striking melodic motifs, buoyant rhythms, and vivid harmonizations, which keep him always well above the level of the commonplace.
The old composers are constantly being crowded by the new entrants. Hence many of the famous nrnzes, while still being played in significant proportions, show a decline in relative importance in the repertoire. Liszt and Rubinstein have neared the vanishing point.
FRANZ SCHUBERT Overshadowed during his brief lifetime by Beethoven and Rossini, Schubert, who died at the age of thirty-one, achieved a posthumous renown in inverse proportion to his early failures. Numerous important factors militated against personal recognition. In the first place he was not a virtuoso on any instrument, being unable to do justice even to some of his own compositions. At a time when division of labor between executant and composer was not yet common, this avenue to public attention was closed to him. Although schooled in musical theory, his dramatic training was deficient, and in his early attempts to “sell” his operas, his lack of knowledge of stagecraft and his restricted range of musical expression killed all possibility of his being heard in the Rpssmi^mad Austrian capital. For several years of his life he was buried in school teaching—to escape the worse fate of military conscription—which siphoned off at least some of his energies from musical activities. Since public song recitals with piano accompaniment were almost unknown, his most successful vehicle of expression was limited to private soirees. Being pathologically shy in temperament, he was unable to profit by even such modest opportunities. Finally, his short life limited his chance for recognition, although his last few years were brightened by an improvement in his financial and personal fortunes. Within a very few years after his death, artists and publishers were picking up his works. If he had had a normal life span the believers in unrequited genius might very well have lost another test case.
The manuscripts of most of his more important orchestral works lay for years on the dust-laden shelves of friends and relatives until favorable coincidence brought them to light—all of which testifies to the dependence of fame on synchronization of merit and circumstance. The story of the recovery of the great C Major Symphony ten years after the composer’s death—he would have been only forty-one—and its first performance by Mendelssohn and the Gewandhaus orchestra in 1839 is the hackneyed stock in trade of the program annotators. The devotion of Liszt in proclaiming the lyric genius of Schubert throughout Europe by a half-hundred transcriptions of his Lieder further spread his fame.
In America, Schubert’s career was inaugurated with the rendition of the C Major Symphony by the New York Philharmonic in 1851 under Theodore Eisfeld, who had come to America in 1848. For some decades his proportion of the repertoire ranged from three to six per cent, until about the beginning of the new century, when the expansion of both repertoire and number of concerts seemed to settle Schubert on a safe plateau of about two per cent, which he still held in 1950.^
A change in concert convention, effected early in this century, which restricts soloists to numbers of orchestral character, wiped out the two score Lieder which had previously enjoyed occasional performances in New York, Chicago, and other cities where vocalists were frequently featured in mixed programs.
Only two compositions may be said to have a firmly established place in today’s repertoire—Symphonies No. 7 and No. 8. If Schumann had hailed the Seventh as a “masterpiece of heavenly length” the world has concurred in his judgment, but with some reservation as to the divine nature of its dimensions. At least Mendelssohn in 1840 and Mahler in 1910 (New York Philharmonic) played the fifty-minute symphony with cuts. Most critics would pronounce its redundancy as emanating not from any providential inspiration, but rather from the very human foible of a happy pen in the hand of an author who almost never perspired over a revised manuscript and whose first draft was usually his last. In the American repertoire it is played with almost the same frequency as the symphonies of Beethoven, Brahms, and the other masterpieces of hallowed tradition.
The Unfinished Symphony, more compact and utterly charming, was first performed in America by the Theodore Thomas orchestra in 1867. It is now often programmed in popular concerts. In recent years the Fifth in B-flat, a youthful work reminiscent of Mozart and Haydn, had gained some hearings, while many other works have been given isolated or infrequent performances. The Symphony in Ev of which only a sketch exists, was orchestrated by Weingartner, and was given its American premiere by the Cleveland orchestra in the year of the centennial of the composer’s death, (November) 1928.
In commemoration of this centennial, the Columbia Phonograph Company had announced a prize contest for the “completion” of the Unfinished Symphony. Although this work had been “completed” once before by one August Ludwig, a German critic and composer, and was thus performed by the Berlin Philharmonic in 1892, marly connoisseurs were not convinced that the symphony required grafting of a third movement—to say nothing of the impertinence of such a project even if it were desirable. The conditions of the contest were therefore rescinded in favor of a more general stipulation that compositions should be conceived as an “apotheosis of the lyrical genius of Schubert.” The $10,000 prize was won by Kurt Atterberg, well-known Swedish composer, with his Symphony No.6, which was performed in Paris, Cologne, London, New York, and Minneapolis. The competition was not without its scandal: in February, 1929, the Musical Digest brought out an article from the winning composer’s pen entitled “How I Fooled the Music World” in which he admitted having plagiarized, although “without malicious intent,” from various composers for the purpose of satirizing the would-be connoisseurs of the celebrant.
HECTOR BERLIOZ Berlioz had his greatest run in the New York Symphony Society under Leopold Damrosch, who joined forces with his own Oratorio Society in giving complete and repeated performances of Damnation of Faust, Romeo and Juliet, as well as the larger orchestral works, Harold in Italy and the Fantastic Symphony. A few productions of such dimensions were quite sufficient to inflate the Berlioz contingent to ten or fifteen per cent of the total offerings in 1880, especially since his total season embraced only a half-dozen concerts. As choral music declined in importance and new financial support of the orchestra made inevitable an expansion of the series and consequently the repertoire, this arch-romanticist was reduced to the more conservative proportions of about two per cent.. Although some of his once famous works are practically never played today, others have survived to retain their places in the approved library: Fantastic Symphony, the popular Roman Carnival Overture, Harold in Italy, for viola and orchestra, excerpts from the Damnation of Faust and from Romeo and Juliet. Historically he will be remembered as the founder of the virtuoso orchestra, insofar as such pat cliches are permitted, paving the way for Liszt, Wagner, and Strauss. When listening to the Fantastic Symphony, one would hardly suspect that it is separated from the Beethoven Ninth (1824) and the Schubert C Major (1828) by only a few years (1830). Although the continuity in musical heritage from Gluck and Beethoven has been reverently acknowledged by this composer, nevertheless his new twist in the permutations of melodic bits, the organic structure, the dramatic drive and the idiomatic exploitation of instruments and their juxtapositions, constitute a striking fulfilment of the past and a harbinger of the future.
FRANZ LISZT Liszt can at times be passionately melodious or furiously bombastic. Both qualities will almost guarantee instant appreciation and a relatively early oblivion. In the 1860’s Liszt was a “cause” to be espoused by pioneers such as Bergmann and Thomas. At the turn of the century, when ears had been attuned to more garish instrumentation, Liszt was an assured delight to any audience. He was therefore much played by Stransky, and any other conductor who was committed to enjoyable rather than to challenging programs. Today the record of all orchestras testifies to an ebbing interest. From five and six per cent in 1875, he has subsided to an average of one-half of one per cent of the 1950 repertoire. A few decades ago several of his Hungarian Rhapsodies were frequently played, but such transcriptions are now almost in ill repute. Ten or a dozen Symphonic Poems and the Faust Symphony had repeated performances in New York and Boston between i860 and 1925; today only Les Preludes remains, with apologetic, infrequent renditions. The two Piano Concertos, especially the first in E-flat, will apparently guarantee for some time a mathematically discernible spot for the arch-virtuoso. Nevertheless, historically his place in orchestral composition is of especial significance; for, in the evolution of the Tone Poem, he stands between Berlioz and Richard Strauss, anticipated by the first, and rendered fairly obsolete by the second. He has provoked the observation from the ubiquitous wag, who is always ready to pounce with brilliant hindsight on a poor creature about whom society has changed its mind, that “Liszt’s best work has been done by Wagner and Strauss.”
FELIX MENDELSSOHN When the orchestral scene opened in America, Mendelssohn was at the zenith of his career. He had initiated the Bach revival, was a brilliant virtuoso on piano and organ, a favorite conductor and composer in London, and had been conductor of the Leipzig Gewandhaus orchestra since 1835. He possessed all the qualifications, both primary and supplementary, for getting his things played: his inventions were melodious, he was a competent conductor and an educated and affable salon figure.
In the early years of the New York Philharmonic, the Mendelssohn repertoire was sufficiently extensive (about fifteen per cent at mid-century) to provide at least one title in practically every season, even in the short series of three or four concerts. The Third (Scotch) and Fourth (Italian) symphonies, several concert overtures, the two piano concertos, the violin concerto and the Midsummer Night’s Dream music were all in very active performance in 1850. By 1900 many of these numbers had become “popular” and lost their hold in the subscription concerts. In this manner, the piano concertos were lost and the overtures were sharply reduced in frequency. Until 1900 the now virtually extinct overture, The Lovely Melusine, rivaled the still pleasurable music of Midsummer Nighfs Dream in frequency of performance in New York, Chicago, and Boston. Only the -Violin Concerto has successfully resisted the normal aesthetic erosion and is still today one of the bulwarks of the violinist’s repertoire. It is not only one of the three or four “old reliables,” but it is also perhaps the oldest of the “reliables” in point of service actually on the boards. Composed in 1844, it was given its first American hearing in the programs of the New York Philharmonic, November 24, 1849, while the older Beethoven concerto was offered for the first time complete in that series on December 21, 1861, by the recently arrived Eduard Mollenhauer. Although in chronology it is antedated, of course, by those of Mozart and Beethoven, it was actually launched in the public domain about the same time as the Beethoven work. The latter had had few significant performances in Europe until Joachim and Vieuxtemps, about the middle of the century, gave it its currency.
During the last half-century, the Mendelssohn repertoire has been undergoing a general, and inevitable shrinkage. In 1900 his average stood between two and three per cent, but in the last few decades it has shriveled to half that size. Occasionally Mendelssohn, like any other composer, enjoys a brief spurt of popularity, perhaps only to give way to another composer for a similarly fleeting popular moment.
ANTON RUBINSTEIN Rubinstein’s pathetic ambition to become a great composer extended even to the neglect of his piano technique. Cheerfully would he have sacrificed the ephemeral fame of the concert artist for the more enduring role of a creator. In his own time he did enjoy the satisfaction of a certain prominence when, between 1880 and 1890, he occupied four per cent of the repertoire, a rank equal to that of Mozart, Mendelssohn, and Schubert. But his mimicry of German romanticism was not sufficiently sturdy to endure; and his Ocean Symphony, by far the most popular of all his orchestral works in its day, critics, resorting to an easy pun, thought too “watery” and unsubstantial for sustained musical fare. Conductors often took the liberty of fragmenting the hour-long work; but Paur played all seven movements in Boston, in December 1894, in memory of the composer whose death had just been announced. The Piano Concerto No. 4, played frequently and, during the last decades, almost exclusively by his pupil Josef Hofmann, is now much more likely to be performed by the conservatory graduate than by the concert artist. There is, of course, no guarantee that some capricious circumstance will not place his name on the program again for a very occasional performance, such as the golden anniversary of Hofmann’s career, on which occasion the Third Concerto was sentimentally exhumed. But for all practical purposes this fertile creator has faded from view.
Perhaps it requires a certain degree of audacity to forecast the completion of the life cycle of a composer, when ordinary experience testifies to the resiliency with which suspended animation may spring back into life. However, a large group of composers display that characteristic curve with a center peak, trailed by a slope that may not necessarily presage imminent oblivion, but does indicate that their appearances are thinning out.
There are many factors which enter into the determination of the “completion” of the life cycle. In some instances, the declining slope represents public satiety with a once accepted master. But often the decline simply runs concurrently with the composer’s active, professional life. His prominence may be the result of a genial tendency to perform his compositions as they become available, with a certain experimental prodigality. In the course of time, the composer dies, this personal favoritism gives way to a sense of critical discrimination, relatively few compositions survive, and the trend is stabilized at a low frequency. Or his reputation may be a derivative one, stemming primarily from his eminence as performer, conductor, teacher, and pedagogue, or personal association with conductors who are in a strategic position to incorporate their interests in the going repertoire. With the termination of this preferential relation, or with the death of the composer or conductor, his compositions find themselves in the open market where they must compete on their supposed merits while the new generation of composers presses for recognition.
ANTONIN DVOŘÁK The trend line of Dvořák shows to an uncommon degree the influence of personal factors. Although the maiden appearance of his music in these orchestras occurred in 1879-80 when the New York Symphony Society under the elder Damrosch played the Slavonic Rhapsody, No. 2 it was not until the, early nineties* after Dvorak had established himself in New York as Director of the American Conservatory, that his popularity rose precipitously to ten per cent in the New York Philharmonic—a proportion commonly reserved for the masters. That was the decade of the world premiere of the Neiv World Symphony, performed by Seidl with the composer himself in attendance (1893). ^ was the famous occasion on which the conductor revised the tempo of the slow movement, substituting with the composer’s approval a slower tempo, which has since become the well known Largo.
Dvořák’s prestige diminished somewhat after his return to Europe and his proportion of the repertoire took a sharp compensatory dip to two per cent. After 1911, however, his compatriot and pupil, Josef Stransky of the New York Philharmonic, renewed the public’s enthusiasm for the piquant rhythms and colorful instrumental palette. The other orchestras, under more remote control, rendered Dvořák only “normal” acclaim. There followed a general and parallel decline in all the orchestras until the year 1-941, when the centenary of his birth revived an interest in him. Chicago and Cleveland, the largest Czech communities outside of Prague, paced this trend; Cleveland and Cincinnati are the present leaders.
The New World Symphony is, of course, one of the standard symphonies. In addition to it, the Carnival Overture, the Scherzo Capriccioso and the Cello Concerto comprise the core of the current Dvořák repertoire.
CAMILLE SAINT-SAËNS Saint-Saens seemed determined to create a masterpiece in almost every conceivable standard category of-vocal and instrumental music, excepting the string quartet. He possessed a fantastic fluency in all idioms. He was a stylistic vagabond who roamed freely and without discomfiture in all musical realms. His music is impeccable in technique, idiomatic in expression, and utterly delightful. He wielded a “happy” pen. Such affable music has a certain stable following—it is still periodically performed—perhaps because no audience can too long endure the psychological strain of continuous cerebral challenge; everywhere there are listeners who hope to relax occasionally in a mildly emotional jag. Therein lies the indispensable programmatic function of Mendelssohn, Rimsky-Korsakoff, and Saint-Saens.
Beginning, of course, with relatively nothing in 1875, Saint-Saens climbed to a high point of over four per cent of the repertoire in 1900, lingered a few decades at that respectable height, and then descended simultaneously in all orchestras again to the vanishing point. He enjoyed a brief respite during World War I. If Allied music must be played, Saint-Saens was perfectly safe and appropriate: a great patriot whose music was delectable to many who in those times might not easily absorb Debussy and Ravel. His patriotism often led to literary excesses, as in his call to banish all German music, not excepting Wagner and Beethoven. But he was more conservative than patriotic, for he was unfriendly even to the liberal wing of his own native music. Perhaps this octogenarian was under the strain of political pressure when he thus exposed himself as a hopeless reactionary who had outlived his time, and who was naively contriving to obstruct the inevitable.
He traveled widely in his heyday and was equally scintillating as piano and organ soloist, as conductor, composer, pamphleteer, and salon habitue. In October, 1906, he arrived in the United States, managed by the Knabe Piano Company, and appeared as pianist with the New York Symphony and other orchestras. In 1915, as a goodwill delegate from belligerent France, he visited the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco to which he had dedicated the Hymn to California, a gesture more appreciated for its sentiment than for its aesthetic excellence.
A number of important composers have “come and gone” during the last seventy-five years. The approximately complete life cycles of several of these, indicate their disappearance. Dvořák, however, is still quite active in the repertoire.
It is popular among many aesthetes of today to speak contemptuously of Saint-Saens. If he epitomized a kind of musical mid-Victorianism with manners that were immaculately correct and highly stylized, this type of musical experience is held in great value by many. His Symphony No. 3, with organ, is still played, as are also the Piano Concertos No. 2 and No. 4 arid the Violin Concerto No. 3. His Cello Concerto will probably never be permanently abandoned. His symphonic poems, including the Danse Macabre, have completed their popular run and are resurrected only infrequently, like the ghost in that eerie dance, only to fade away, at the light of a more modern day, into the oblivion from which they have temporarily emerged.
EDVARD GRIEG Grieg has been kept barely alive on the subscription programs by his Piano Concerto. Originally in the standard repertoire of all pianists, it has been linked since 1915 with Percy Grainger, who made his American debut at that time, and who had spent the summer of 1907 under the composer’s tutelage. This once popular work has been appearing with diminishing frequency on regular programs, and has now joined the concertos of Rubinstein and Saint-Saens as the warhorses of student recitals. A brief revival was occasioned by the centennial of the composer’s birth (1943) when several orchestras featured the number. His suites, symphonic dances, and other miniatures, which were pleasant enough in their day, now appear in only infinitesimal proportions. They have always been, and still are, standard items on lighter programs.
BËDRICH SMETANA Smetana, the first nationalist Czech composer, is known in this country today primarily by the Overture to The Bartered Bride and the Symphonic Poem, The Moldau, two numbers of overture length which do not accumulate an impressive volume. There is no symptom of their disappearance, and they will probably have periodic performances for some time. Stransky favored his fellow Czech with more than one per cent of his repertoire, but today the general average is considerably less than half that proportion. Recently George Szell, who had functioned for some years in Prague, introduced his American audiences to a revival of lesser-known works, including his own adaptation of Smetana’s first String Quartet for modern orchestra.
EDWARD ALEXANDER MACDOWELL For half a century it has been conventional to regard MacDowell as the most illustrious American composer. Traditional judgments change with reluctance, especially since the criteria of greatness are often nebulous and subjective. If reasonably objective criteria are desired, the volume of performance should partially serve that purpose. During the decennial period, 1940-50, only two offerings of MacDowell’s music—in each case the Piano Concerto No. 2--have appeared in the regular paired series of the ten major orchestras under observation.
In Boston, which was more friendly to American composers than any other city, he made his first tentative beginnings in 1889 when the same concerto was played. At the time of his death, in 1904, he had reached two per cent of the repertoire. Of all Mac-Dowell’s compositions, the Indian Suite, the Suite in A Minor, and especially the Second Concerto may be said to have enjoyed a public existence as measured by repeated performances. Single appearances have characterized a small number of others. However, among those orchestras which offer popular programs, the three named above, as well as transcriptions of several piano compositions, have had a fair following.
NICOLAS RIMSKY-KORSAKOFF Rimsky-Korsakoff, that master of kaleidoscopic instrumental coloration, may now be said almost to have “descended” to the popular level. His strident and vividly exuberant style of orchestration has never been either puzzling or offensive. Beginning with about one per cent in 1900, he is again resting at the same mathematical spot after fifty years of satisfying exhilaration for musical patrons. He reached his pinnacle in the early twenties with about four per cent in the Philadelphia Orchestra under Stokowski, but never exceeded a national average of about two per cent. The insatiable Stokowski endeavored to enhance the exotic twang of the Scheherazade by means of an experiment in synesthesia. In January, 1926, he performed this oriental work with Wilfred’s Clavilux, a “color organ” which projects its technicolor of abstract forms on a screen as “visual music.” At least one critic thought that the music was sufficient unto itself.
In addition to that brilliant 1001 Nights, the Spanish Caprice and the Russian Easter complete the standard repertoire of this most competent and disciplined, although not most original, member of the Russian nationalist “Five.” The Russian Easter has become a “seasonal” piece annually played in this country with naive disregard of the discrepancy between the Western and the Eastern calendars and the differences in tonal modalities in the divergent religions.
EDWARD ELGAR Elgar signalized the advent of England, “the land without music,” into the circle of creative countries. He was the first of a line of modern British composers (Delius, Vaughan Williams, Walton, Britten, and others) to gain serious attention and even prominence in foreign countries, including Germany. This international acclaim was first earned in 1889 by his oratorio, the Dream of Gerontius, and the following year by the still highly esteemed Enigma Variations. His success was soon reflected in American repertoires. In 1907 he served the New York Symphony Society as guest conductor in a joint concert with the Oratorio Society. On the occasion of this visit, Yale University conferred on him the degree of Doctor of Music. Damrosch played a dozen of his compositions during and following World War I. Stock, with the Chicago Orchestra, followed the pattern of his predecessor, Thomas, who had given Elgar several “first times” in America, and gave him two and a half per cent of the repertoire. The Minneapolis Orchestra, in 1905 and 1906, presented the Dream of Gerontius.
After several decades of neglect, Elgar recovered some lost ground in the early thirties with the appearance of British conductors Barbirolli and Goossens. His death in 1934 also added some small stimulation to the public consciousness. His Introduction and Allegro for Strings and the Cockaigne Overture have been repeatedly performed; Menuhin played his Violin Concerto in the late forties. But were it not for his Enigma Variations, the late musician laureate of England would now have vanished from the American scene. In the popular mind he will live for some time in the stately march theme of Fomp and Circumstance No. to which lyrics have been added (“Land of Hope and Glory”), thus making it both accessible and memorable to the masses and thereby insuring a destiny similar to that of Sibelius’ majestic Finlandia.
VINCENT D’INDY As founder of the Schola Cantorum in Paris, d’Indy wielded a great influence in the more conservative wing of French musical society. Already famous in France, he entered the American repertoire in 1899 with the still famous Istar Variations and the Medea Suite, played by Thomas and Gericke. His music did not flourish, however, until his visit to Boston and New York in the season, 1905-06. His next rise occurred during World War I when French composers became the beneficiaries of current patriotic sentiment. Although he had been dropped in Boston by Karl Muck for his cutting insinuations on the “Germanization of American music,” he was, of course, quickly restored by the French successors to the luckless German conductor. Interest in the famous pedagogue and composer mounted during his second visit, 1921-22, when he conducted his works in several cities. Although his tour was judged “successful,” the austerity of his music was far from arousing the feverish excitement touched off by his erstwhile enemy, Richard Strauss, who was touring the country during the selfsame season.
The compositions which have endured throughout his life cycle are the Istar Variations, the Symphony on a French Mountain Air, Symphony No. 2, and, to lesser degree, Wallenstein’s Camp. Stock in Chicago and the French conductors in Boston enlarged his repertoire by the inclusion of his other works, but none has gained general acceptance. At present his music has almost vanished from the repertoire.
ALEXANDER GLAZOUNOFF Glazounoff, ‘sometimes called the “Russian Mendelssohn,” created a sensation in the i88o’s. His music, influenced by both the German and Russian traditions of the day, soon swept him into international prominence, with the inevitable concomitants: honorary degrees from Oxford and Cambridge and a visit to the United States (1929). Both Chicago and Boston were hospitable to him at the turn of the century, but Stock especially perpetuated these sentiments during the next two decades by playing about twenty-five of his compositions. After a dip in his popularity, Albert Coates, born in Russia of English parentage and with a record of successful conducting there, contributed to an American revival, especially as guest conductor of the New York Symphony, 1920-23. Of his prolific output, his Violin Concerto, Symphonies No. 4, 5, and 6, the Symphonic Poem, Stenka Razine, have had the most constant appeal in the past. Today only the Concerto survives.
ALEXANDER SCRIABIN Alexander Scriabin was first introduced to an Americanaudience by Van der Stucken of Cincinnati with a performance of the youthful Reverie in 1900. Much more significant, however, were the American premieres by the Russian Symphony of New York of the First and Third (Divine Poem) Symphonies in 1907, and of the Fourth (Poem of Ecstasy) in the following year. The Third and Fourth achieved considerable vogue in the United States. His last and most pretentious work, Prometheus, a Poem of Fire, was designed to effect a mystic union of sound and color and was scored for orchestra, chorus, and color organ. The Russian Symphony and the Philadelphia Orchestra each gave it a complete performance. The dreamy theosophical creations of his fellow Russian also appealed to Koussevitzky who early befriended the composer, propagated his art, and remained loyal for some years after assuming his Boston post. More recently, however, his enthusiasm for Scriabin definitely waned, and he publicly declared himself satiated.
OTTORINO RESPIGHI The peak of Respighi’s popularity coincides with his visits to the United States in the period 1925-30. Of all Italians, none has contributed so much toward the advancement of orchestral music in his country as has this composer, who had succeeded in blending the classic ideal of form with romantic freedom and colorful orchestration. But the first excitement died down, and many of his dozen or more compositions were given isolated performances. Only the Pines of Rome, with the Fountains of Rome as runner-up, can claim inclusion in the charmed circle of the “standard” repertoire.
ERNEST BLOCH If one includes among the Americans those foreign-born who have achieved a considerable portion of their prestige while living in this country, then the Swiss-born Ernest Bloch has been the most abundantly played of all American composers. A prize-winner since 19.19, his most publicized success was the Musical America award for his Rhapsody, America, given its world premiere by the New York Philharmonic, December 20, 1928, under Walter Damrosch, guest conductor. Although his residence in Cleveland and San Francisco gave special local impetus to performances of his works, his compositions have appeared in all the orchestras. Among those programmed most frequently are the Concerto Grosso, Schelomo (Hebrew Rhapsody for Cello), Israel Symphony and Three Jewish Poems. In 1925-30 one and one-half per cent of the total repertoire was devoted to his music; by 1950 it had declined to one-third of one per cent.
MANUEL DE FALLA The Philadelphia and Boston orchestras introduced Manuel de Falla to their audiences during the season 1921-22 in excerpts from the ballets El Amor Brujo and The Three-Cornered Hat, respectively. Since then, these selections have continued to constitute the principal representation of this, the most distinguished of Spanish composers. His other compositions, sometimes found on programs—excerpts from La Vida Breve and Nights in the Gardens of Spam— are hardly sufficient to raise his present position to even as much as one percentage point of the total repertoire.
ROY HARRIS Ever since Koussevitzky encouraged him to write his first symphony, Harris has been productive in both musical and literary fields. Like Aaron Copland, he has energetically advocated the American cause and defended the music presumably written “in the spirit of the modern age.” Koussevitzky launched five of his six symphonies, of which the Third has had by far the most impressive career. In 1943, when the Soviet Union was linked with the United States, Harris dedicated the Fifth to that temporary ally; and at the latter’s request, it was short-waved by the NBC orchestra to that country. Harris has been played by practically every major orchestra, but with the reduction of the flow of new compositions has come the inevitable decline.
The judgment of time has been harsh on many once favorite composers. Formerly widely renowned not only for their compositions, but for many other significant contributions as educators, performers and conductors, they are now extinct specimens, interesting chiefly as exemplifying the ruthless processes of history. Some of these were not mere “morning glories” which flowered for the moment, but had achieved substantial places in competition with the “immortals” themselves before the ultimate segregation had begun. However, their compositions did not long survive the days of their personal activities; the author’s physical death was the usual signal for his disappearance from the repertoire.
Of these buried names, Ludwig Spohr was the most eminent. He was considered the greatest musical personage of his time, popular as orchestral conductor and violin soloist, as composer of operas, concertos, symphonies, oratorios, and chamber music, outranking even Beethoven in the eyes of some discerning critics. Students from foreign countries, including U. C. Hill, founder of the New York Philharmonic, sought him out as teacher, and to every violin pedagogue he is still known today for his Violinschule. He enjoyed an extraordinary vogue in London where, in 1820, he startled the members of the London Philharmonic, who had invited him as guest, with the innovation of the baton, a conductor’s device which had been known on the continent for some time. With the Symphony No. 4, the Overture to Jessonda, and the Violin Concerto No. 8, together with less popular works, he was liberally represented on the programs of the New York, Boston, and Chicago orchestras until the close of the century. The New York Philharmonic Society, which played him to the extent of ten per cent, 1850-55, now has a collection of Spohr scores, acquired a century ago, which constitute a mute monument to his vanished fame.
Joachim Raff, the teacher of MacDowell, was another composer whose efforts met with immediate success. Of his eleven symphonies, No. 3, Im Walde, was considered his most gratifying work. In 1896 Philip Hale still maintained that Raff was the composer of one beautiful symphony, Im Walde and in the eighties and nineties it enjoyed numerous performances. Today the Wagnerian second movement and its Mendelssohnian Scherzo sound shallow and derivative. During the season 1930-31 it was resurrected by Toscanini and more recently by the CBS orchestra, but has had no performances since. The programmatic Symphony No. 5, Lenore, was only less frequently presented, and its March movement never failed to arouse a popular audience. However, the appetite for melodious romanticism, with unsubtle programmatic coloring, seems to have been satiated, and Raff went out of the repertoire with the passing of that taste.
Peter Lindpaintner and Johann Kalliwoda are total strangers today to any but the musical archeologists. Lindpaintner was an excellent conductor, held in highest esteem both in England and Germany, and was considered for the post of the London Philharmonic in 1855 when Wagner was invited. The overtures to some of his operas were recognized as those of a disciplined musician. Kalliwoda, whose Fifth Symphony was praised by Schumann, who further showed his regard for Kalliwoda by dedicating to him his Opus was in Germany a somewhat less popular composer, but still influential and respected. The first decade of the New York Philharmonic coincided with the waning careers of these two men, and they soon quietly passed into history.
Because of the scintillating brilliance of the passage work in his piano concertos, Septet and other ensembles, which were well adapted to the light action and hard tone of the Viennese piano, the music of J. Nepomuk Hummel was still enjoyed for many years after the piano construction had been reformed. During its early years, the New York Philharmonic played his music frequently, and as late as 1893 de Pachmann performed the B Minor Concerto with the New York Symphony Society.
Never among the leaders, the Mendelssohnian Niels Gade still had a substantial number of performances during the first thirty-seasons of the New York Philharmonic and during the first decade of the Boston orchestra. His First and Fourth symphonies and several of his overtures were repeatedly performed.