The Music Criticism of Hugo Wolf

By Hugo Wolf; Henry Pleasants | Go to book overview

33. Bruckner on Two Pianos

December 28, 1884

Bruckner? Bruckner? Who is he? Where does he live? What can he do?

Such questions may be heard in Vienna today, and even from regular subscribers to the concerts of the Philharmonic Orchestra and the Society of Friends of Music. If you meet someone to whom the name is not wholly unfamiliar, he will actually recall that Bruckner is a professor of music theory at our Academy. Another might add that he is an organ virtuoso -- and fix the first half-educated informant with a triumphant look. A third will believe, a fourth may know, a fifth will assert and a sixth will swear that Bruckner is also a composer, nothing special, to be sure, not a classical composer. A connoisseur will shake his noble head sceptically, observing that he has no sense of form. A dilettente bemoans the confusion of musical ideas in his compositions. Another remarks his faulty instrumentation, and the critics find it all abominable, and let's hear no more about it!

One other remains to be heard from -- the conductor. He, in fact, has good words for this composer's works, and brings his influence to bear in their behalf despite the critics' slanderous opposition. He proposes to perform them. To whom does he make this proposition? To his subordinates, the orchestra. And here his trouble begins. If the tribunes of the orchestra veto the conductor's decision, the conductor may move heaven and earth - to no avail. Dictatorial power is not his to wield. He must abide by the orchestra's verdict.

(What can be expected from such a procedure is obvious, especially when these orchestra tribunes are as little able to grasp the deeper substance of a composition as they are capable of admirable accomplishment on their instruments. It does not follow that because a man is a good soldier he has the makings of a field commander. An orchestra musician can blow or fiddle a heavenly solo and still be far, far, very far from conceiving an expressively played solo within the context of the whole piece.)

Thus vanishes the last hope, and Bruckner, this Titan in conflict with the gods, must be content with trying to communicate his music to the public from the piano. It's a miserable business, but better than not being heard at all. And when our unlucky fellow has the good luck to find such enthusiastic interpreters as Löwe1 and Schalk,2 then we must count him at least partially compensated for the unjust procedure of our fashionable musical institutions.

-98-

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