The Music Criticism of Hugo Wolf

By Henry Pleasants; Hugo Wolf | Go to book overview
2.
Wilhelm Bernhard Molique ( 1802-1869), a renowned German violinist, who settled in London in 1849 and remained there until shortly before his death, highly esteemed as virtuoso, chamber musician, composer and pedagogue. His compositions include six violin concertos and the single cello concerto referred to here.

44. Voice Alone Does Not
the Singer Make

March 15, 1885

Tannhäuser by Richard Wagner

Frau Papier sang Elisabeth for the first time 1 and, we hasten to add, with great success. The virtues, as also the shortcomings, of this highly gifted singer were more distinctly in evidence than ever before. They balanced each other out, so to speak, insofar as a compromise between the predominance of vocal expression on the one hand, and the reticence of dramatic expression on the other, may be regarded as possible without leaving an unsatisfactory impression upon the audience.

A notable defect, it seemed to us, was the curious sense of distraction conveyed by gaze and countenance at certain moments when Frau Papier was achieving the most moving projection of the musical expression. We must remark therein a considerable want of dramatic capability. As securely as Frau Papier was master of her role musically, just so insecurely did she command it dramatically. The effect of her singing upon anyone listening with eyes closed will be convincing. But one may also feel, at times, that he is enjoying a mere comedy. Since, in opera, we cannot separate the singer from the actor, nor give the former the slightest priority over the other, we can grant the voice itself, lovely, ample, bell-like, crystal clear (and all the other familiar descriptive adjectives) as it may be, only a secondary consideration in the assessment of an opera singer's qualifications. Thus, only those can enter a claim to perfection who are equally at home in the arts of singing and acting. Not that we have anything against lovely voices. -- Quite the contrary, so long as the lovely voice is used as a means of enhancing the musical expression, or to lend it a certain coloration. By and large, however, it is the lovely voice that counts, i.e., a means becomes the end. This turns a means into an end.

It is from this perverse point of view that public and critics alike assess the sing-song of Herr Sommer. The lovely voice means more to them than lovely song. And yet, how inferior are Herr Sommer's accomplishments to the largely ignored accomplishments of Herr Ley. Herr Ley has humor enough, in

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