The Music Criticism of Hugo Wolf

By Hugo Wolf; Henry Pleasants | Go to book overview

25. A Monologue
Recalled by Hugo Wolf

November 1. 1884

One thoroughly unpleasant night, not long ago, I spied a stranger standing before a kiosk, trying earnestly by the gaslight to decipher the Philharmonic prospectus. I step a little closer, and hear a monologue, now quiet, now agitated, which seemed to contain so much truth that, upon returning to my lodging, I wrote it all down, determined, on some suitable occasion, to publish it. I do so herewith:

"Philharmonic concerts", — so he began — "probably the same old hackneyed stuff. Let's see, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn — good, good. — The public loves classical music. It is very cultivated, very serious, very upright, very severe! Beethoven, Mozart, Haydn are actually already too familiar, too melodious, too intelligible. But Bach! Only a violin concerto this time, to be sure, but even if there are no double fugues, no twelve-voiced canons, one can still be sure of some masterly counterpoint" — here he mimicked derisively the public's rapture. "Ah, Bach! Yes, of course. That's music! Everything granite, bronze, everywhere deep, elemental, great, exalted, genius!" Then in his natural voice: "Goodness me! I do believe that the Philharmonic audience would rather flounder in the Pontine marshes than hear compositions of this esteemed master if they did not adorn the programs of the Philharmonic. But what does one not suffer for fashion? Bach has become fashionable with the Philharmonic audience, and it is thought good form to tick off all the Bach cantatas with one's fingers and, in the middle of a Mendelssohn Song Without Words, to exclaim: 'Very nice, charming, but why don't you play the St. Matthew Passion, or the St. John, or the Christmas Oratorio, or the Well‐ Tempered Clavier?'

" 'I'll play you the Italian Concerto.'

" 'That's nothing. Play the B minor Mass from memory, or at least from the score.'

" 'Good heavens, the man is cultivated!' —

"Innocent soul! — Don't believe a word of it. Play your 'Songs Without Words,' for your Bach enthusiast is already scared stiff that you may inadvertently lay out a dozen Bach cantatas on the music rack. He would as soon swallow vitriol as listen to a cantata from beginning to end.

-73-

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