The Music Criticism of Hugo Wolf

By Henry Pleasants; Hugo Wolf | Go to book overview

4. A Spate of Chamber Music

February 8, 1884

On February 2 the cellist David Popper felt constrained by "popular demand" to give a matinee recital in the Bosendorfersaal and, capitulating to the urgent pressures of "popular demand," to include his "Spinning Song" in the program. Whether the ultimate cause of Herr Popper's conspicuous eagerness to oblige is to be sought in an inborn amiability or in an especially acute sense of the practical is a question to be asked of the box office. Still, the advertisement-like "'Spinning Song' by popular demand" may well have had an apologetic connotation, at the same time underlining the modesty of the composer in attributing the success of his feeble composition solely to the extraordinarily profound perception of his audiences. The perceptive audience immediately grasped the recitalist's deference. It applauded lustily and lengthily, and not a few of the listeners may have made the agreeable discovery, thanks to the recitalist's occasional lapses, that they were also deaf in both ears. Herr Popper and his audience, however, were mutually rewarded.

The violin virtuosa Teresina Tua, a day later, gave a farewell matinee without the supplementary "by popular demand,"to be sure — to a numerous audience that heard her titbits with visible pleasure. There were also piano offerings by Fräulein Paula Dürrnberger and songs sung by Fräulein Eugenia Senigaglia. Fräulein Dürrnberger's playing was smooth, clean, pure, brushed, combed and ironed. Fräulein Senigaglia would be well advised to cultivate a less mannered delivery. Her pretty voice would then be heard to better advantage.

We are truly encouraged by the zealous cultivation of chamber music and the public's enthusiastic participation in this category of the musical art. Even our contemporary composers, curiously, are producing their most tolerable music in this genre, the same composers whose piano pieces and songs, and especially their symphonies and even operas, expose the listener to tests of patience that would have driven Job right out of his mind. Why? An excellent painter once assured me that a water color is easier to do than an oil painting. Might one not compare the four-stringed instruments with the pale water color, the luxuriant coloring of the orchestra with the warm tone of oil?

From the musical point of view, the question is easily answered. It is the skillful exploitation of technic, not the compulsion to express a musical thought, that prompts our modern composers to write chamber music. That is why their adagios are so flat, so contrived, so labored — intellectual poverty

-10-

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