The Music Criticism of Hugo Wolf

By Henry Pleasants; Hugo Wolf | Go to book overview

swamp whose foul odors our most recent "jubilarean elder" 2 inhales with such reverence and pleasure as a youth-bringing elixir of life.

1.
Felix Marie Massé ( 1822-1884), who wrote a long series of operas for the Opéra-Comique all now forgotten became a professor of composition at the conservatoire, and was elected to succeed Auber at the Académie.
2.
"Jubelgreis," presumably Hanslick, whose sixtieth birthday had been celebrated in September of 1885.

99. Brahms Lays an Egg

January 9, 1887

Something took place at the most recent Philharmonic concert for which no one immediately concerned with our cultural life was prepared. Our public, on that day, came of age. It shed the critical diapers in which Herr Hanslick had wrapped it, and stood on its own feet. Tired of Hanslick's chaperonage, the audience sought finally to see the mysterious X Brahms with its own eyes. Now see what happened! This X Brahms looked like any other X. Indeed, the audience saw clearly and distinctly only a little insignificant x, far different from the immoderately blown up X drawn by Hanslick and his consorts, and saw it, moreover, become an uncommonly gross and horribly inflated U. The prestidigitator's trick was discovered, the deception failed. 1

Brahms Symphony No. 4, given a second performance at this last Philharmonic concert, experienced a failure [ Durchfall, which also means diarrhea] (a notable characteristic of Brahmsian music) as quiet as can hardly ever have been suffered by any other work. Softly, silently, as if nothing had happened — and, indeed, nothing did happen except the playing of the Symphony in E minor — the audience left its cherished seats. Its bearing during this general retreat was in no way cowed, nor was it provocative or convulsive. One could see in the facial expressions neither mortal fear nor anger nor resignation. The corners of its mouths disclosed nothing of that impertinent, supercilious grin that always greets the misfortunes of extraordinary creations such as, for example, the symphonies of Bruckner, and which so becomes all blockheads. No! Its bearing and demeanor expressed cheerful repose, with a slight suggestion of irony. It seemed impelled in its astonishment at the symphony, so blown up by the critics, to cry out with wry amusement like Faust at the spirit, first bloated to hippopotamus and elephant, then reduced to an itinerent scholar: "So that's what's at the bottom of it all!" 2 And with that it hit the nail on the head.

-249-

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