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EVERY year witnesses the return of old favorites or the advent of new ones. As regards the former, interest usually attaches to the possible improvement of style in the performance of the artist: we look forward to a possible degree of greater maturity. We expect the performer, like the composer, to develop constantly. Americans are especially inclined to follow the career of distinguished European artists in this way; for these do not visit us quite as often as they do their neighbors on the Continent. When, therefore, after the lapse of several years, men like Hoffmann, Isaye, and d'Albert return to us, we eagerly look forward to their appearance.
In the case of d'Albert, it must be conceded that the intellectual gifts of that celebrated pianist have broadened. D'Albert possesses what so many of our pianists unfortunately lack - virility. No one more readily acknowledges the value of the emotional element in musical performances than the present writer. Unfortunately, however, this element is too frequently unaccompanied by other requisites. On the other hand, it is a matter of doubt whether the extent to which the intellectual element the fantasy, or whatever we are willing to call it—entered into the playing of such pianistic giants as Rubinstein is even today fully realized. Imagination and poetic fantasy are undoubtedly possessed by many of our public performers; but they are too frequently overshadowed by a lyricism which often becomes insufferably monotonous and tedious. In this regard the playing of a d'Albert comes as a relief after listening to that host of pianists who everlastingly offer the same emotional mush. The playing of the Beethoven Concerto in E flat by d'Albert was, from this point of view, worthy of real praise, and furnished one of the most enjoyable events of an animated musical sea
A combination of such distinguished artists as d'Albert and Isaye in one concert, though not an infrequent occurrence abroad, is comparatively rare with us. It is to be hoped that the time may come when we shall have more of these happy combinations of artistic talent; for only under such conditions is it possible to produce masterpieces like
the Kreutzer Sonata — a work which, however, might have been more advantageously heard in a smaller hall.
De Pachmann, the unique, has also done us the honor to visit us again in order to regale us with his music and its unfailing accessories. To observe M. de Pachmann at the piano has long been regarded as a treat in itself. The playing of de Pachmann, as compared with that of the more robust order of pianists, vividly recalls the well-known passage from Sir Walter Scott's novel, "The Talisman," where Richard the Lionhearted and Saladin are vying with each other in feats of strength and skill. Richard cleaves a heavy piece of armor with one blow of his sword; whereupon Saladin throws a fine silk fabric into the air and cuts. it in two with one deft stroke of his scimitar. It is this skill, finesse, and delicacy of stroke which stamp de Pachmann's playing as unique. As was once said of a distinguished writer, he is a master of the infinitely little; and with his ultimate disappearance from the pianistic stage, we may again be justified in asking, "When shall we look upon his like again?"
Whenever Joseph Hoffmann appears among us, we think of the little prodigy who years ago visited our shores for the first time, and involuntarily we compare the extraordinary promise of "the little wonder" with the actual fulfilment of the mature artist. The so-called "prodigy" takes the world by storm; but he usually arouses such extravagant hopes that unless he turns out in later life to be a Liszt or a Joachim, the world is disappointed. Although it is a "far cry " to the childhood days of Mozart, it must be admitted that the still somewhat prevalent rage for musical prodigies may be traced back to that early period.
It may be said that the genius of Mozart was the most unique in the annals of music. In contrast to the slow and regular development of Beethoven, and more especially of Wagner, Mozart may be likened to a marvellous instrument capable of producing the eternal harmonies independently of effort or of will. He was a phenomenon unique in the history of music; but, alas! how many sins have been committed in his name by that host of infant prodigies which has succeeded him! Our well-known literary acquaintance, entitled "Anecdotes of Wonderful Musical Children," evidently designed with the unkind purpose of stimulating to still greater exertions the pianistic enemies of our peaceful slumbers, always begins with a little sketch of Wolfgang Amadeus and his sister. The question arises to-day: Will the case of Josef Hoffmann, who, though an artist of distinction, has by no means fulfilled the extravagant promise of his early youth, be repeated in that of our
little friend, Franz von Veczey? Although a most extraordinary violinist for his years, it does not appear that the young Hungarian, whose astonishing successes abroad have been followed with such keen interest in this country, has actually succeeded in completely upsetting all records here, as it was expected he would. After all, times have changed somewhat since the début of the ill-fated Maurice Dengremont many years ago, and the public is not so easily carried away by musical novelties, whatever they may be.
Even "Parsifal," which was transferred to our shores last year with all the triumph and splendor attending the transportation of the great "Cleopatra's Needle" twenty-five years ago, has lost its grip upon the public. The plain fact is that "Parsifal," the most wonderful of all the Wagnerian music-dramas, is not here in its proper environment; nor is it interpreted at all adequately. The extraordinary demands which the proper rendering of such a masterpiece makes upon conductor, orchestra, and singers are they really recognized to-day? The scenic, and especially the light, effects at the Metropolitan are worthy of high commendation; and this applies not only to "Parsifal," but also to many other operatic works brought out during the régime of Mr. Conried, whose ability as a stage manager is well in evidence. As regards the impersonation of the several characters in "Parsifal," however, it must be said, first and foremost, that Nordica as Kundry is simply impossible. Neither her figure, her voice, nor her acting is suited to the part.
In "Parsifal" the union between word and music is closer than in any other Wagnerian drama; indeed, the text itself is so melodious by reason of the play of vowel-sounds that it would seem as if this element, in combination with the rhyme and metre, should alone suffice to suggest the proper musical rendering. But all this falls greatly short of the effect intended when rendered with arbitrary stops in the midst of words and phrases, whether these be disguised as sighs or accompanied by useless and superfluous dramatic gestures. Whether the quite unnecessary and arbitrary breaks be introduced through lack of dramatic insight, insufficiency of preparation, or a desire to spare the voice, the fact remains that they distort the meaning and render nil the significance of one of the most beautiful parts ever written. When, after such long, tedious, and laborious love-making as that between Nordica and Burgstaller, we hear the last verse, in which the flaming passion of the woman sweeps away all barriers, fairly drawled, but little remains of that beautiful yet simple rhyme which ought alone to suggest the rapidity and intensity required for its utterance:
Nur eine Stunde mein,
Sollst du geleitet sein!
Here we have but one instance of many to show how, through faulty interpretation, simplicity may be converted into heaviness and complexity.
A prominent theatrical manager in New York recently stated that he aims to gratify the public taste. In other words, he gives the public what it wants. But does the public always know what it wants? As regards opera, our repertory, as compared with that of European cities, is very limited. A multitude of operas of all styles are annually presented in the great musical centres abroad, especially in Germany; and each style has its votaries. With the exception of those who have spent some time abroad, how many persons among our Metropolitan audiences are familiar with "Der Freischütz," one of the first operas ever produced in New York (i.e., about as early as 1825), and still regarded as one of the masterpieces of all time? To turn to another genre, how many are familiar with the charming music of Gluck, Cherubini, Boieldieu, and Auber?
Among the operas revived this season was "Lucrezia Borgia," brought out again after the lapse of twenty-five years. If our operatic repertory were very extensive, the production of this veritable farrago of one of the weakest, if most prolific, of Italian composers might find some justification. The public frequently expresses the belief that the critic, after all, merely voices his own individual opinion, and that, even where many critics concur in condemning a work, they may be mistaken; public opinion being, after all, the final arbiter. In New York, however, where the revival of an old opera is a comparatively rare occurrence, some care should be exercised in the selection of the work to be performed. Even so admirable a singer as Signor Caruso could not make the rôle of Gennaro acceptable to a public with which our visitor is an acknowledged favorite. In Germany, the opera, like the theatre, is regarded as an educational institution. Only recently Mr. White, our former ambassador to Berlin, has pointed out, in his "Reminiscences," now being published by the Century Company, with what zeal the German Emperor encourages the theatrical and musical institutions throughout the country. They are regarded by him as a means of cultivating the public taste, and to this end the production of sound and healthy works is, upon the whole, encouraged.
In place of such productions as "Lucrezia Borgia," "La Gioconda," and "Die Fledermaus," why not offer our New York public, occasionally at least, one of the sterling works of the old-time French and German composers, such as Boieldieu, Auber, Weber, Kreutzer, or even Lortzing? It should not be forgotten that the German element has contributed very largely to the splendid development of music in this country a fact vividly recalled this year by the lamented death of Theodore Thomas; and it was especially to Mr. Conried that German opera-goers in this city were justified in looking for a fuller recognition of composers whose works may be found in the operatic repertory of every large city abroad. Had the men of the fifties and sixties sought to gratify the taste of a certain element of the community only, we should never have had the musical institutions we now possess.
There are many operas of high merit which afford brilliant opportunities for the presentation of the ballet. They may be found both in the field of what is usually designated as "grand opera" and in that of the "opera comique." For the presentation of works like "Die Fledermaus," which may be said to fall within the genre of the "operetta," a special theatre is usually set apart abroad. The singers and actors devoted to this branch of dramatic art require special qualifications; and, once identified with this genre, they usually remain in it. In New York, however, we have this year seen singers like Mmes. Fritzi Scheff and Schumann-Heink leave the stage of legitimate grand opera to devote themselves to a wholly different genre with what results our journals have already reported. The individual singer has this privilege. It is wholly different, however, as regards the introduction of this element upon the stage of the Metropolitan itself. That stage was not designed for, nor is it adapted to, the presentation of the "operetta."
Apart from the improvements in stage-effects already mentioned, it must be conceded that Mr. Conried has brought out some admirable singers, and that there is an evident desire on his part to reform such evils as were manifest, for instance, in the former unsatisfactory costuming and grouping of choruses. Although the writer could not attend the performance of Verdi's "Un Ballo in Maschera" this year, he vividly recalls the ludicrous impression produced by the appearance of the chorus of that opera two years ago. It was then almost impossible to tell whether the audience was confronted by Russian mujiks, French peasants, Italian "marinari," or American cowboys. Every one who has witnessed the entrance of the knights in "Parsifal" must admit that much incongruity and shiftlessness in the grouping and action of masses