The Music Criticism of Hugo Wolf

By Hugo Wolf; Henry Pleasants | Go to book overview

65. Opening with Berlioz

November 29, 1885

The Philharmonic concerts may well claim a place of honor in a chapter on the world's miseries. We are tolerant folk, not given to haggling. Let the concerts take their place of honor and, with the help of God, Brahms and Dvor̆ák, establish their right to it.

But to consort, for God knows what reason, with that devil Berlioz, that archfiend, Beelzebub, Belphegor, Astaroth and Mephisto, and thumb their noses at the critical Holy Trinity -- I withdraw that metaphor and substitute a three-headed hellhound standing guard, vainly to be sure, at the portals of musical misery, and granting admittance only to utter ruin, death and decay of good taste -- to wantonly tickle with a prickly Berlioz the snout of that monstrous creature, that allegorical horror, the friendly wagging of whose tail is their most fervent concern in their pursuit of that place of honor, and thrust into its jaws, instead of a mush compounded of Brahms and Dvor̆ák, an armor-clad Berlioz on whom it will rip out its teeth -- that, dear reader, I call either foolhardy or tactless or both. The Philharmonic, with this first concert of the new season, has brewed a dainty soup for the critics. I shall help them to lap it up, and I'll enjoy it, too, even if no one chooses to grace my repast by intoning a blessing.

The Philharmonic opened this first concert with the Overture to Benvenuto Cellini. Mentally and in lexicons I review the masterpieces of all ages and places, endeavoring to find a work better suited than this Berlioz overture to introduce the season of 1885 A. D. In vain. Had the Philharmonic enjoyed the privilege of being able to reflect for a thousand years upon the best possible choice, they would still have had to come up with this Cellini overture. Naturally. Just name me another overture that takes off more festively, more jubilantly, than the opening twenty-two measures of the Cellini overture -- including Weber's overtures, which are certainly not wanting in inflammatory matter. And then the sudden tension, entering with the theme of the Cardinal, pizzicato in the basses (what lies ahead?); and the way the woodwinds, later the violins, violas and cellos, intone the delicious melody which, in the course of the opera, lifts a grotesque farce far above its wonted lowly estate by its irresistible enchantment -- can this melody, so beautifully easing our tense

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