« AnkstesnisTęsti »
good players of whom my father could not be sure from one concert to another. They were lured away by the Thomas orchestra, or by engagements at theaters, dances, even military parades. The substitutes they sent were often inexpert, in every way inferior.
Notwithstanding these handicaps and the fact that orchestral technique had not developed to the incredible proficiency of to-day, these concerts created a sensation among music lovers, and the Philharmonic Society began to regain its former prestige. Two programs stand out in my memory, one in which the first act of "Die Walküre" had its initial performance in America, and the second, a truly magnificent rendition of Beethoven's "Ninth Symphony." Theodore Thomas looked on this new development with growing disfavor and seemed to feel that some immediate action was necessary. He therefore made an offer to the members of the Philharmonic, in which he promised that if they would elect him conductor for the following year, he would use the entire personnel of the Philharmonic in his orchestra, and would so arrange his out-of-town engagements that they should not conflict with their regular New York dates. This bait proved too tempting to resist. Thomas was elected for the following year.
Out of this action the Symphony Society of New York was born. There was great indignation among a certain group of music lovers over the ousting of my father, and they called a meeting to consider the organization of another orchestra― one that should be on a different
financial basis. It was not to be cooperative, not to be managed by the musicians themselves. Instead the players were to be selected by the conductor and paid fixed salaries regularly, instead of running the risk of a problematical profit.
With the founding of the Symphony Society, the first blow was struck against the coöperative plan. I do not wholly condemn this system. In a new community it is probably the only way an orchestra can be started and kept going until a love and an understanding of good music are developed. The people of New York had to be educated before fine music became a necessity to them. They were neither ready nor willing to shoulder the responsibility of maintaining an orchestra.
Gradually and inevitably evil results began to manifest themselves from the coöperative method. Artistic interests were often sacrificed to financial-but the musicians should not be criticized too harshly. There was not enough to be gained from the production of good music to afford them a decent living. Only a few symphony concerts were given during a season. The players were obliged to fill in their time with outside "jobs."
The only solution seemed to lie in a group of music lovers who should furnish a fund to meet the cost of operating an orchestra, and in that way relieve the players of the fear of financial loss. In Boston Major Higginson founded and subsidized such an orchestra in 1879, but in New York progress was slow. During my father's lifetime he was never free from financial worry, never sure of his players. Again and again he
would sacrifice his own small salary to retain an essential musician. But money-matters did not prevent him from developing the orchestra into an important musical organization. He soon made of it a strong weapon with which to fight for the popularization of those great masters-then the new school-Liszt, Wagner and Berlioz, all of whom had been his devoted friends in Germany. In fact, it was largely because the movement, which these composers represented, received so little encouragement in Germany, that my father migrated to America.
I have already spoken of his performance of the first act of "Die Walküre." This was followed by a memorable presentation of Act III of "Siegfried," and still later by the cathedral scene from "Parsifal," the manuscript having been given to me by Wagner, in Bayreuth, as a greeting to my father. But perhaps the most sensational production, measured by popular acclaim, was the first performance in America of Berlioz' "Damnation of Faust," in 1879. This work necessitated the services of solo singers, the New York Symphony Orchestra, the chorus of the New York Oratorio Society, and the male chorus of the Arion Society. It was given five times in succession to crowded houses at the old Steinway Hall in Fourteenth Street, then the center of musical life, creating such excitement as was never known before in New York's concert life.
I played in those performances at the last stand of the second violins, as I had told my father some time before of my desire to become a musician, and a conductor, and he wanted me to learn something of the
orchestra from within. He began also to turn over to me some of the choruses for rehearsal, or a soloist who had to be coached in a difficult rôle. I had become rather clever in reading scores at sight and could be of service to him in training singers whose musical attainments balked at too intricate an orchestration.
Speaking of the "Damnation of Faust," I am reminded of a French singer, Ravelli, who was to sing the title rôle in English. As he could not speak the language, I had to teach him the words phonetically. The "th" sound always eluded him, and at the performance of the duet between Faust and Marguerita, instead of: "Oh, youthful maiden, so fair entrancing," he sang with great gusto, "Oh, useful maiden, so fair entrancing."
I had worked so hard over him that the humor of this did not strike me as vividly then as it does in retrospect.
There were some very fine artists in the orchestra of those days, although the average technique was infinitely lower than to-day. My father had to hold many extra rehearsals with small sections of the orchestra to perfect certain passages that seemed at first to present insurmountable difficulties. He even had to finger many passages for the violins, being himself a really great violin virtuoso. To-day there is scarcely a first violinist in our orchestras who is not able to give a creditable performance of a violin concerto by Bruch or even Brahms.
To a young musical student like myself as well as to the members of the orchestra, my father's rehearsals
were a revelation. He had an innate dignity that impressed itself on all who knew him. I think the players were always a little afraid of him, and in matters of good taste, phrasing and intense rhythmic clarity, he was inexorable until he got the desired results. Woe to the man who made a blunder through carelessness. My father's flashing eyes would annihilate him, if anything were left after his sarcastic comments. But when a successful performance was over, his happiness and words of praise were wonderfully touching. Sometimes the many anxieties that constantly beset him were too much even for his indomitable spirit, and he would succumb to moods of blackest melancholy, which often lasted several days, when he would hardly utter a word. As our household centered in him, we were all correspondingly unhappy, especially in our inability to do much to lighten his load. But when at last I heard his voice calling me to come play a Beethoven violin and piano sonata with him, I would rush pell-mell down the stairs to his music-room, for I knew that the dark spell had gone. He would then play with me in great good humor for an hour or so, and all would be well.
The great majority of the musicians of that day were of German birth, and some of the brass windinstruments were of exceptionally fine quality. But the woodwinds did not compare in nobility of tone or finger technique with the present day French and Belgian players in our orchestras. Not many of those who played with my father during that memorable first year are still living, but among them are two who have
attained real distinction. One is Emil Mollenhauer, then a slender, dark and handsome young man of perhaps eighteen or nineteen years. He had a Byronic expression of romantic and aristocratic aloofness, and he used his bow with great elegance. The women in the audience, young and old, admired him greatly. He afterward went to Boston, where until this year, he was conductor of the famous old Handel and Haydn Society. The other is our distinguished composer, Charles Martin Loeffler, then very blond, good looking and sixteen. He had been first violin at Nice in the private orchestra of a Russian grand-duke. On his arrival in America he immediately won my father's heart not only by his extraordinary musical attainments, but by a charm of manner that was irresistible. Both of these qualities and many others mark him to-day as one of our most distinguished musicians.
I think the audiences of fifty years ago were no less musical than those of to-day. There are simply more of them, and they are perhaps more sophisticated. There are now SO many concerts, so many orchestras, conductors, pianists, violinists and singers of distinction who crowd our concert-halls daily, that a large portion of our concert-goers have become musical gourmets, who pick and choose, a little here and a little there.
In New York we now have an average of seven orchestral concerts a week. In those early days a symphonic concert was so rare as to be an event looked forward to eagerly. Many in the audience prepared themselves for the concert by pur
chasing four-handed piano arrangements of the symphonies to be performed, playing them at home with some equally enthusiastic companion. It would be interesting to find out from the music dealers how much four-handed music is sold to-day. Such arrangements of the classics or of the symphonies of Raff, who was a tremendous favorite in those days, or of Wagnerian excerpts, were to be found in every musical family. Many an evening in my boyhood did I pass playing these symphonies with some friend.
It is hardly necessary to point out the enormous development that symphonic music has had in America during the past two score years. In place of the two struggling organizations, my father's and Theodore Thomas's, we now have fourteen great orchestras supported by wealthy patrons of music. Each costs from $150,000 to $350,000 a year over the amount received from the sale of tickets. Without such subsidies the orchestras could not exist, for even with the houses crowded to capacity, the expenditures are greater than any possible receipts.
All this came long after my father's time and years after I had become conductor of the New York Symphony. Originally in establishing the Symphony as a permanent orchestra, I had got together a small fund to subsidize the principal players. Later the directors increased the fund to take care of the rest of the orchestra. These improved conditions made it possible for me to carry out a number of artistic plans I had had in mind for some time, notably the Beethoven Cycle of 1909. During that winter
we gave not only the nine symphonies in chronological order, but also a number of other compositions which had not been performed in New York. But business difficulties were not entirely eliminated until 1914. Since then, with the exception of two years, the entire financial responsibility for the orchestra has been assumed by Harry Harkness Flagler. His bountiful gift has freed the Society of all financial worries, enabling it to concentrate wholly on its artistic needs.
The activities of the Symphony Society of New York have now extended to the point where a hundred concerts are given each season in New York and on tour. The tours have carried the orchestra from coast to coast, from Canada to Havana and through five European countries. It was again the generosity of Mr. Flagler that made possible this European tour of 1920, the only one made thus far by an American orchestra. It was undertaken at the special invitation of the Governments of Belgium, France, Holland and Italy. Five years later Cuba extended a similar invitation, and we gave a series of concerts in Havana.
Together with our other great orchestras, we have been making musical history, yet I am not entirely at ease about the future of symphonic orchestras. It seems increasingly doubtful whether the proper equilibrium can be maintained between the constantly growing demands of the of the musicians through their unions and the willingness of well-to-do citizens to shoulder the huge and ever increasing deficiencies.
Another and more important question seems to be: Where are the great new composers to come from, composers to stir the public of the future as we have been stirred by the composers of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries? We have been blessed, in that these great men expressed and idealized the emotional needs of our generation. Now we seem to be at an intermediate period in the creation of music. I can see no great light making bright a path that we can follow eagerly. This is not as it should be. We cannot live entirely in the past; art should not only keep pace with us, but should run far in advance, that it may show us the way. Recent emanations have not given me much encouragement. There is a dearth of first-class musical composition. A stagnation period of a hundred or two hundred years, however, is as nothing in the world of progress. Two centuries from now the greatest of all composers may be writing his masterpieces. I should be happy to be alive in 2127, to hear how the musicians of that day express their artistic yearnings, and how the conductors and orchestras interpret them.
But though this is a period of poverty as far as the creation of music is concerned, it is one of richness in performance. While we cannot lay claim to serious rivalry with the composers of the old-world, we can truthfully assert that the American orchestras of to-day are the greatest the world has ever known. That they are superior to those in Europe is partly due to the fact that we are not yet bound by racial or nationalistic considerations in the choice of our players. During the
The chief reason for the superiority of American orchestras, however, lies in the opportunity for constant rehearsal, which the endowments make possible. The financial resources of European orchestras are not sufficient to allow as frequent rehearsals. Most of them have to be content with one, or at the best, three for each performance, whereas we have four and often five. Another factor which works to our advantage is that we are not bound to retain a player after he has passed his days of usefulness. Age is no respecter of artists, and as the lips of the woodwind player become less flexible, and the fingers of the violinist stiffen, the quality of tone deteriorates. In the European orchestras-many are still run on the coöperative system—the members naturally will not give up their places so long as they have voting power. If the orchestra is maintained by the Government, the members' hold on their positions is even more secure, as a Government employee keeps his job indefinitely, if it is not dependent on party-control. Our players, when they reach the age of retirement or when they are ill,