The Music Criticism of Hugo Wolf

By Henry Pleasants; Hugo Wolf | Go to book overview

93. Discovering Smetana

November 28, 1886

Theobald Kretschmann and his orchestra, as if determined to affirm their will to live, work with the utterly appalling indefatigability of a machine. The timetable of the enterprise, proceeding now at half steam, now at full, is held to with a precision already bordering on the uncanny. For superstitious music critics ominous Friday has lost its terrors, since now on Wednesday, if not on Saturday, the inevitable takes place in the Bösendorfersaal. This awful punctuality disturbs us. There is something inhuman about it. As with many a jour fixe, it is unshakable; it allows of no flexibility, and Wednesday, of all days, fits the bill best. Herr Kretschmann should have thought of this in good time. But to the point —

Of the five concerts given thus far, the third was outstanding as concerns both the program and the artistic performance. A Haydn Symphony in E minor,1 sounding very like a symphony by Mozart, was splendidly played, as were two symphonic poems, "Vys̆ehrad" and "Vltava," [ Moldau]2 by Smetana. Since the composer uses Slavic airs in both works, we cannot speak of his powers of invention. But the treatment of the themes discloses so much intelligence and musico-poetic sensibility that we were sheerly astonished to be meeting so extraordinarily gifted a composer in the concert hall for the first time. His command of form, moreover, is amazing, and his instrumentation on the order of Berlioz. In short, we have here two masterpieces. That is enough to restrain the Philharmonie from concerning itself with works of such a kind, and since Dvor̆ák and Brahms are most generous in the provision of fuel, many another burnt offering will have to be sacrificed to the Philharmonic audience before the sickly vapors will have evaporated that, under the prevailing circumstances, threaten to stifle every deeper artistic breath.

Wagner's "Siegfried-Idyll" suffered not a little under the brutality of the woodwinds. The conductor, too, in the matter of tempo, had much to answer for. The beginning, for example, was conspicuously dragged, the ending rushed. Herr Kretschmann overestimated the ability of his orchestra in reckoning it ready for so delicate a task. There are few pieces so challenging to an orchestra as the "Siegfried-Idyll." The colors are applied so tenderly, light and

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