The Music Criticism of Hugo Wolf

By Henry Pleasants; Hugo Wolf | Go to book overview

60. Unanimously: No!

October 23, 1885

Music?

Hardly anything can be more depressing than to be denied the fulfillment of a wish, even a modest one. And yet nothing preoccupies a man more than anxiety or confidence about the fulfillment of his hopes and wishes. One is driven to lunacy, drunkenness, misanthropy, astrology, starvation, treasure‐ hunting, indebtedness, exorcism, the penning of lyric poetry, loitering, unhappy love affairs, yes, even to music criticism (as in my own case, for example), and to God knows what other useful and pleasurable pursuits.

Indeed, one should, in order to evade such evil circumstances, place oneself on the coolest footing with one's wishes and aspirations, and pay them as little heed as possible. One should set office hours for such importunate guests, and then observe those hours as unpunctually as may be compatible with the self‐ esteem that every scoundrel entertains of himself. He comes off best, of course, who can shake off these radical agitators of the human heart as we shake off a bad habit, once and forever. The surprise, then, when something good, something welcome, comes along is the more agreeable, the anger the more moderate when the opposite occurs. When I offered a piece of my chamber music1 to the Rosé Quartet, I was reckless enough, unfortunately, to entertain the wish that they might play it. This estimable ensemble thought better of it (as one says), and voted "unanimously"(according to an authoritative communication) to forgo a performance of my composition.

(When I think about this awesome "No!," and how it was uttered by four powerful male voices in the purist unisono so that the very walls trembled, then a similar passage in Gluck's Orfeo strikes me as truly feeble by comparison. That this distinguished quartet could rise to such dramatic accents in the field of vocal music I would never have thought possible. Such versatility excites admiration and awe, however grudging, and the realization of how superior this enterprising quartet is to all competitors even in this respect can bring us only quiet joy, to the quartet itself, however, honor and glory.)

I do not, I hasten to add, hold it in any way against this admirable quartet that they, probably acting on a sudden inspiration, should decide against my poor piece unanimously. A two-voiced rejection, to be sure, in gentle thirds, a third voice associating itself with the others in decorous contrapuntal turns ("coils" might be the more appropriate term in this case) with the fourth, a

-158-

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