The Music Criticism of Hugo Wolf

By Henry Pleasants; Hugo Wolf | Go to book overview
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Willi ( 1847-1911) and Louis ( 1848-1920) Thern, sons of Karl Thern ( 1817-1886), a Hungarian pianist and composer of Austrian parentage, would seem to have been the first proper virtuoso duo-piano team. There was nothing new about performance on two or more pianos, but public performance, prior to their time, had been a matter of ad hoc partnership for this or that occasion. Contemporary accounts of the Therns' concerts in Vienna, Leipzig, Paris and London suggest a hitherto unexampled refinement and homogeneity of style, concept and technique, sometimes exhibited in unison performance on two pianos of pieces originally written for solo performance on a single piano. Such was the unanimity of their playing that they became known as "the Siamese Twins of the Keyboard." Their father transcribed for them for two pianos the complete " Well-Tempered Clavier."

37. Lilli Lehmann
as Isolde and Leonore

January 25, 1885

Tristan und Isolde by Richard Wagner.

The Isolde was Fräulein Lilli Lehmann, from Berlin. 1

Both Materna and Sucher have achieved a far sounder characterization. Lehmann made of Isolde a virago, which is about as wrong as wrong can be. The poet's Isolde is all woman, passionately in love with Tristan, but rejected, denied, affronted and scorned by him. Yet a woman is never more feminine than when she is in love, and Isolde is in love from the first scene right through to the "Liebestod." She seethes, rages, storms, fumes and curses -- at whom? At her beloved. Why? Because she loves him. Isolde is, moreover, far too womanly a woman, i.e., she loves Tristan far too much to be able to so alter herself as to give the impression that he means absolutely nothing to her. The cold and scornful pronouncements are at odds with the pounding of her heart, with the impetuous longing for the reconciling potion, with the futile evasions and diplomatic dodges that she employs to shake Tristan's imperturbable composure. Yes, she loves him only too well. She is only too feminine.

Why, then, these magisterial, disdainful attitudes, these icy glances, these formal gestures? Why this unbending, austere creature altogether? Lehmann's Isolde seems ever to be asking herself: "Am I still a queen? Should I not be ashamed to be a queen and yet to love -- and not to be loved in return?" Whereupon she strikes a commanding attitude and announces with utter satisfaction: "Yes, I am a queen, every inch a queen!"

Granted, the real Isolde does, in fact, recall her royal blood from time to time, but how different her reasoning from Fräulein Lehmann's Isolde! It is not against her love for Tristan that the real Isolde's pride is set, but rather


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