The Music Criticism of Hugo Wolf

By Henry Pleasants; Hugo Wolf | Go to book overview
1.
Hans Makart ( 1840-1884), Austrian painter famed for his rich and vivid coloring, and Wagner's favorite painter. The Makartplatz in Salzburg commemorates his birth in that city.
2.
A curious observation, as Wolf himself had just completed the first draft of a tone poem based on Heinrich Kleist's "Penthesilea." Was this an admission of doubt as to his own ability to bring it off? In any case, he persisted, and his score was read at a rehearsal of the Philharmonic on October 15, 1886. Unbeknownst to Hans Richter, Wolf was present. The reading, according to Wolf, was a travesty. It was greeted by the orchestra with laughter, whereupon Richter said: "Gentlemen, I should not have let this piece be played to the end, but I wanted to see for myself the man who dares to write in such a way about Meister Brahms."
3.
Theobald Kretschmann ( 1850-1929), Bohemian cellist, conductor and composer. At the time of writing he was first cellist of the orchestra of the Court Opera and organizer of a series of concerts with an orchestra of his own.

26. Billow and the Meiningen
Court Orchestra

November 9, 1884

We have had frequent occasion to admire Bülow as a piano virtuoso, almost none to give him his due as a conductor. I remember him conducting his own "Des Sängers Fluch 1 several years ago. What impressed me then, however, was something purely superficial, namely the vigor and security with which he commanded his forces. It should be different this time, for he will be conducting a considerable number of Beethoven's compositions at the head of his own orchestra. 2

We will thus be in a position to appraise Bülow from two points of view: that of the theoretical musician (artist) in his conception of the works themselves, and that of the practical musician (virtuoso) in the extent to which he succeeds in communicating his conception as urgently and as intelligibly as possible to the orchestra. As a pianist, Bülow has solved brilliantly this problem of uniting artist and virtuoso. Encountering him now as conductor, we shall be concerned only with the virtuoso, the practical musician, and then we must give some attention to this other instrument, the orchestra, both as such, and in its relationship to the conductor.

One can be an excellent conductor and still not establish the intimate relationship with a strange orchestra that the virtuoso has with his instrument, and for a simple reason: the instrument is a soulless mechanism, the orchestra an organic body, made up of the greatest variety of individuals. It may matter little to the piano virtuoso whether he plays a Bösendorfer, a Blüthner, a Bechstein or a Steinway, assuming the instrument itself to be good and in

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