The First Week of the Concert Season

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The First Week of the Concert Season (Первая неделя концертного сезона) (TH 286 ; ČW 551) was Tchaikovsky's twenty-second music-review article for the Moscow journal Russian Register (Русские ведомости), in which it was published on 1 March 1874 [O.S.], signed only with the initials "B.L.".

This article contains criticisms of the frivolous attitude of a large proportion of the Muscovite public; a spirited defence of Yevlaliya Kadmina against those who denied her promise as a singer and saw in her only an actress, whilst at the same time detailed advice addressed to her on how she needed to work on her technique and correct her faults; an enthusiastic review of the virtuosity of Adolph Brodsky (the future dedicatee of Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto after Leopold Auer rejected it); a sympathetic appraisal of Karl Klindworth's talent as a composer, as well as his achievements in transcribing orchestral works for the piano, including the operas of Wagner, whom Tchaikovsky here unambiguously calls a "musical genius" and "the most renowned composer of our times"; a tribute to Nikolay Rubinstein's musicality and stamina as a performer; and praise for Karl Davydov's ability to draw the best out of Schumann's Cello Concerto, which Tchaikovsky considered to be one of the German composer's weakest works.


Completed by 1/13 March 1874 (date of publication). Tchaikovsky reviewed the following events:

  • "A Grand Vocal and Instrumental Concert (for the relief of victims of the famine caused by crop failure in Samara Province) with the participation of Madames N. A. Nevedomskaya-du Nord and Ye. P. Kadmina, Messrs Hřímalý and Fitzenhagen, the pianist Decrescenzio, and an orchestra conducted by Mr N. G. Rubinstein", which took place in the Hall of the Moscow Assembly of the Nobility on 18 February/1 March 1874 and featured, amongst other works, Glinka's Kamarinskaya and the overture to A Life for the Tsar;
  • "A Concert by Messrs Naudin and Bezekirsky, with the participation of Madame Kadmina, Messrs Rubinstein, Hřímalý, Brodsky, Eser, as well as the Orchestra of the Imperial Theatres" which took place at the Moscow Bolshoi Theatre on 19 February/2 March 1874 and featured Ludwig Maurer's Symphonie concertantein A major for four violins, Op. 55, as well as Rossini's duet for soprano, tenor, and piano Mira la bianca luna (sung by Yevlaliya Kadmina and Emilio Naudin);
  • "A Musical and Literary Soirée with the participation of Madames Fedotova, du Nord, Zograf, Kadmina and Messrs Ostrovsky, Samarin, Musil, Basistov, and Brodsky", which took place at the Moscow Assembly of the Nobility on 21 February/4 March 1874 and featured Karl Goldmark's Suite for Violin and Piano in D major, Op. 11 (Aleksandra Zograf, piano; Adolph Brodsky, violin), Liszt's transcription of the Wedding March and Dance of the Elves from Mendelssohn's A Midsummer Night's Dream (1850) played by Zograf, Ferdinand Laub's Concert-Polonaise, Op. 8 (1861) played by Brodsky, and Glikeriya Fedotova's declamation of a German ballad to the accompaniment of music by Schumann;
  • A special Russian Musical Society symphony concert for the benefit of Nikolay Rubinstein, which took place in Moscow on 22 February/5 March 1874 and featured the beneficiary himself playing Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major, Op. 58, Hummels Grand Septuor, Op. 74, Tchaikovsky's Rêverie du soir—No. 1 of the Six Pieces, Op. 19—performed here for the first time, the Concert-Polonaise by Karl Klindworth, Anton Rubinstein's Barcarolle, Op. 30:1, and Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 10 in E major;
  • "A concert by K. Yu. Davydov, with the participation of Madames Kamenskaya and Belyayeva, as well as N. G. Rubinstein" which took place in Moscow on 24 February/7 March 1874 and featured Schumann's Cello Concerto in A minor, Op. 129 (soloist Karl Davydov) and Lyudmila's Cavatina from Act I of Glinka's Ruslan and Lyudmila (sung by Madame Belyayeva).

English translation

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This year's Lenten musical season began with a whole series of concerts which are worth recording in my chronicle.

Following chronological order, I shall start with the concert which took place on Monday, 18th of February, and was intended to raise funds for the relief of the inhabitants of Samara Province which has been struck by famine [1]. I should first of all remark that although the audience it attracted may certainly have been select, it was by no means numerous. The organisers of this concert wrongly assumed that its charitable purpose would interest and draw a sufficiently large multitude to cover the considerable expenses and, furthermore, to provide an opportunity of coming to the aid of suffering mankind. The public which generally makes up the rank and file of concert audiences never lets itself be caught with the bait of philanthropy unless the charitable aim is combined with the certainty that it will be able to enjoy itself.

Such enjoyment it only expects to find in concerts which feature some celebrity or during which it is known that something unusual will happen—something which awakens people's curiosity not because of any intrinsic artistic merit as such, but rather precisely on the strength of its unusualness. If you announce a concert programme which is devoid of anything that might appeal to those who are looking for purely musical pleasures, but add that at the end of the concert the conductor will dance a cachucha [2], and you can be sure that in the auditorium there won't be room to swing a cat. However, if you announce a concert consisting of excerpts from the very highest works of art, to be performed by excellent, albeit not particularly famous, artists, then all this splendid music will of course be played splendidly—but, alas, in front of empty rows of chairs. It is to this category of concerts that the one I am referring to belonged.

Its programme comprised three marvellous symphonic works: the overtures to A Life for the Tsar and to Mendelssohn's A Midsummer Night's Dream, and Glinka's Kamarinskaya [3]. There were also a number of splendid vocal performances, sung by Madame Nevedomskaya, who has a strong and beautiful voice (which testifies to the doubtlessly excellent training she has received), and by the talented Madame Kadmina [4], who in such a short time has already managed to become a favourite with the public. As instrumentalists we also heard Messrs Hřímalý and Fitzenhagen, two musicians who enjoy a very solid reputation in our city. In short, this concert combined many qualities which would more than suffice to qualify it as an extremely good one—the only thing that was missing was an audience to take cognizance of these qualities, even just by the mere fact of its presence.

It is not unintentionally that from my listing of the splendid artists who took part in this concert I omitted the name of the pianist Mr Decrescenzio, who was in fact making his concert début that evening. Before ranking this young man amongst this or that category of artists, it is necessary that he should first prove himself to be one. For at the moment Mr Decrescenzio comes across as an inexperienced and rather clumsy pupil from one of those Italian conservatoires in which, as everyone knows, the art of piano playing is not exactly flourishing. Nevertheless, one cannot deny this débutant's natural abilities, which I very much hope he will be able to develop further. Likewise, I hope that he will also cultivate his artistic taste, so that in future he is proof against that unseemly and ridiculous chopping at the piano as if he were making a cutlet which he wished to serve to the listeners under the guise of an Étude by Gottschalk [5].

I will now move on to the concert of Messrs Naudin [6] and Bezekirsky [7], which from a financial point of view, was much more successful than the earlier one. Apart from these two performers, on that evening we also heard N. G. Rubinstein and Madame Kadmina, as well as Messrs Hřímalý, Brodsky, and Sual, who, together with Mr Bezekirsky, performed a very effective piece for four violins by L. Maurer [8]. I didn't like Mr Bezekirsky's playing that evening as much as I normally do. This musician was, so to speak, not in good form: the indisputable virtuoso qualities of his violin-playing did not come sufficiently to the fore this time, as a result of a certain bustling restlessness, which had a very unfavourable effect on his intonation especially.

With regard to Madame Kadmina's participation in this concert, I would like to make the following observation. There are many people who ascribe this artiste's success on the stage to her dramatic talent: that is, they see in her just a future great actress in the making, but are sceptical about her aptitude for a singer's career. I cannot agree with such an opinion at all, and I believe I may confidently state that everyone who attended the three concerts last week in which she successfully took part would wholeheartedly side with me in this matter. Madame Kadmina's voice is not phenomenal, but we have after all heard many celebrated singers who cannot be said to surpass our young artiste in terms of the volume and beauty of their voices.

Her voice is at any rate both sufficiently strong and beautiful to ensure that, given also her remarkable musical talent, there can be no doubt that she has the capacity to develop into a splendid singer. Madame Kadmina possesses a quality which is rarely found amongst today's generation of singers—male and female—namely, the ability to modulate one's voice and give it this or that inflexion, this or that expression, depending on the inner meaning of what is being sung. And this is an ability which she employs with that artistic flair which constitutes the most valuable attribute of her appealing talent.

However, the reader would be mistaken to suppose that my intention is to elevate Madame Kadmina at once onto the pedestal of a great artiste. She has still a long way to go, and it is imperative that she should pay serious attention to her faults and work hard to eradicate them, so that she may finally become a truly first-rate artiste—something that she can only achieve if she maintains a strict critical attitude towards herself. For she does have faults, and they are quite significant ones too. In particular, I would like to draw her attention to the rather subdued timbre of her voice, which is by no means due to the nature of her vocal means as such, but rather the consequence of an incorrect vocal technique from which she can no doubt wean herself if she turns for advice to her highly estimable and worthy singing teacher [9]. Indeed, whilst gaining laurels on the one hand, Madame Kadmina really ought to make sure that she also gains from the sensible advice and wise guidance of specialists.

Of the vocal numbers which she performed at these three concerts, I would like to single out Rossini's duet 'Mira la bianca luna', which she sang delightfully together with M. Naudin—so delightfully in fact, that she victoriously held her ground against the overwhelming experience and artistry of M. Naudin. Madame Kadmina also gave an equally inspired performance of the Barcarolle from Gounod's Roméo et Juliette and the romance 'Comme à vingt ans', which she sang with tremendous success at the concert in aid of the Society of Governesses. This is the concert which I shall now move on to.

As a matter of fact, it wasn't a concert as such, but rather a literary and musical soirée in the course of which we were treated to readings by Messrs Ostrovsky, Samarin [10], and Basistov, as well as by Madame Fedotova [11], interspersed with several interesting musical numbers which were sung and played by Madames Kadmina, Nevedomskaya, and Zograf [12], and Mr Brodsky.

I shall skip over the two singers whom I already mentioned when discussing the concert that was held in aid of the victims of famine in Samara Province, and say a word or two about the virtuoso instrumentalists who appeared before the public that evening and achieved a huge and fully deserved success. Madame Zograf is an old acquaintance of the Muscovite public: three years ago, whilst still a student at the Conservatory, she gave a public performance of a piano concerto by Litolff [13] at one of the symphony concerts of the Russian Musical Society, and immediately secured for herself the reputation of a very fine pianist [14]. Madame Zograf's playing is distinguished by a strong, decidedly manly technique, beauty of tone, and elegant expressivity which is far removed from any affectation.

Since her début this young pianist has gone on several important and highly successful concert tours in both Russia and abroad, thereby consolidating her position as one of the most brilliant exponents of virtuoso piano playing of her generation. Now performing again in front of a Muscovite audience, Madame Zograf was received very warmly, but in all fairness it must be said that since the start of her virtuoso career this talented pianist has not made any progress as an artist. In spite of all the fine qualities of her interpretation, one cannot fail to detect in her playing a certain immaturity, the lack of any distinct musical individuality, and the predominance of dazzling technique over artistic understanding.

Madame Zograf played, together with Mr Brodsky, a wishy-washy, boring, and empty Suite by the Viennese composer Goldmark [15]. She then also played a Barcarolle by Henselt [16], and a marvellous fantasia by Liszt on themes from Mendelssohn's A Midsummer Night's Dream. Mr Brodsky is, if I am not mistaken, still a very young man, who has come to us at the start of the current winter season all the way from Vienna, where he took violin lessons with the famous violinist and quartet primarius Hellmesberger. Without any hesitation one can prophesy that this young virtuoso, who is still only at the beginning of his career, will attain great glory. In addition to a strong attaca and well-developed articulation, he plays with such fire and fascinating expressivity that his performance of Laub's [17] effective Polonaise came very close indeed to the inimitable perfection with which this same piece is played by its highly gifted author. Mr Brodsky elicited a veritable storm of applause which took a long time to die down.

With regard to the concert in question, I should also mention the splendid ballad by Geibel [18] which was recited by Madame [Fedotova]], to accompanying music by Schumann [19]. It is impossible to convey in words the powerful impression caused by this marvellous musical illustration of the romantic poet's moving tale. Moreover, the piano accompaniment during the ballad's declamation was executed with extraordinary elegance and artistic sensitivity by the talented young pianist Mr Konev, who was entrusted with the difficult task of accompanist at this soirée.

The fourth musical highlight that week was a special symphony concert by the Russian Musical Society on behalf of N. G. Rubinstein. I have already spoken so frequently about the magnificent first-rate virtuosity of Mr Rubinstein, that I would merely be repeating myself were I to mention what everyone knows already anyway about the extraordinary qualities of his talent, which put him, together withA. G. Rubinstein, at the head of the great piano virtuosi of our times. The major works performed by him at this concert were Beethoven's Fourth Piano Concerto—of which I spoke in my last article with regard to its fabulous interpretation by Mr Rubinstein at one of the Musical Society's concerts [20] —and Hummels Septet [21], which he has also played before in the course of this season. The newer and lesser works played by Mr Rubinstein at this concert included a small piece by Mr Tchaikovsky, a Waltz and Barcarolle by A. Rubinstein [22], and a very difficult Polonaise by Mr Klindworth. I cannot fail to discuss this latter work with the sympathy it so fully deserves.

Mr Klindworth enjoys wide renown in the music world and is considered to be one of the most accomplished pianists of the Liszt school, for, together with Bülow and Tausig, he studied under the great master in Weimar. At the same time he is also highly regarded as a musician of tremendous erudition and a comprehensive understanding of all the technical aspects of his art. By the way, Mr Klindworth is also famous for being the leading authority nowadays in making piano arrangements of orchestral works. To give the reader a sense of the esteem in which Mr Klindworth is held in this respect, suffice it to say that Wagner, the most renowned composer of our times, entrusts no one else apart from Mr Klindworth with the transcription for piano (Klavierauszug) of his operas, including the Nibelungen trilogy [23].

Thus, thanks to this singular coincidence of circumstances, all of Wagner's scores are sent off to Moscow straight from the composer's desk, and Mr Klindworth constantly gets to hold in his hands the precious manuscripts of this contemporary German musical genius. As a composer, though, Mr Klindworth has appeared but very few times before the public, which is all the more surprising in that, judging from the Polonaise which Mr Rubinstein played for us, this revered artist possesses, in addition to a complete mastery of musical form and structure, indisputable talent as a composer. His Polonaise is uncommonly elegant, if I may put it that way; it is full of proud solemnity and musical beauty, and as far as its technical polish, harmonic details, and the richness of its modulations are concerned, it can serve as a splendid example of a composition for piano and orchestra.

At this concert I was astonished by both Mr Rubinstein's indefatigable stamina and by his musical memory. The most remarkable thing about it all was that, the more he played, that is the closer the concert drew to its conclusion and the more natural it seemed that the performer should feel exhausted and that this would tell on his playing, the more fascinating and spirited his interpretation actually became. One had the impression that, were it not for the established custom that a concert is supposed to end once the last note of the final work on the programme has sounded, Mr Rubinstein would have been quite willing, without even getting up for a rest, to play through again everything he had performed that evening. The concert hall was crowded to overflowing, and at the end of the evening its hero was presented with a laurel crown and a valuable gift.

The final highlight of the week was a concert by the Saint Petersburg cellist K. Yu. Davydov. This renowned virtuoso is a Muscovite by birth and by training, but since, as we all know, no prophet is accepted in his own country, Mr Davydov has hitherto not enjoyed wide-ranging and firm popularity in his home town. Now, though, I hope that the foundation-stone of the future edifice of his glory in Moscow has been laid once and for all. Mr Davydov's concert drew a large audience, which enthusiastically cheered his masterly playing, so full of high artistry and poetic feeling.

The principal work on the programme was Schumann's concerto, which does not belong to his finest works and is rhapsodically incoherent and rather thankless from the point of view of virtuoso showmanship [24]. All the same, Mr Davydov managed to invest it with so much warmth, graceful expressiveness, and tastefulness, that the listeners were quite literally enchanted. As for the lesser works, the most successful was a very nice little piece by Mr Davydov himself which is entitled Am Springbrunnen [German: "By the Fountain"]. This concert also featured N. G. Rubinstein as the orchestra's conductor and Madame Belyayeva, who gave a delightful performance of Lyudmila's Cavatina from Ruslan and Lyudmila, as well as of a number of songs.

"B. L."

Notes and References

  1. In the autumn of 1873 and subsequent winter months a severe famine struck Samara Province. Apart from this charity concert, many of Russia's leading writers also got together to publish a collection of stories and essays in support of the relief work—Skladchina (Складчина) (1874); the title means literally 'clubbing together, pooling resources'). It included contributions by Nekrasov, Polonsky, Turgenev, Ostrovsky, Dostoyevsky, Goncharov, and Saltykov-Shchedrin. Turgenev's contribution was one of his most moving huntsman's sketches: Living Relics (Живые мощи) — translator's note.
  2. The Cachucha is a graceful Andalusian folk dance in 3/4 or 3/8 time, often accompanied by castanet playing and rhythmic shoe tapping. It became especially popular during the middle of the 19th century when it was often danced by the great Austrian ballerina Fanny Elsler in her own arrangement. As Elsler made triumphant appearances in Russia in 1848–50, this lively dance caught the imagination of many people there — translator's note (based on information from The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Ballet).
  3. For earlier glowing remarks by Tchaikovsky on Glinka's A Life for the Tsar, see TH 264 and TH 263; for an enthusiastic discussion of the whole incidental music to A Midsummer Night's Dream, see TH 283. As for Glinka's Kamarinskaya, Tchaikovsky would famously write in his diary in 1888 that this short fantasy contained the whole of the Russian symphonic school "just as the whole oak is in the acorn". One of the pieces in his own Children's Album was also based on the Kamarinskaya folk-dance — translator's note.
  4. For more references on the mezzo-soprano and actress Yevlaliya Kadmina (1853–1881), as well as her tragic fate, see TH 280.
  5. Louis Moreau Gottschalk (1829–1869), American composer and pianist, made his début in Paris in 1845 and was highly esteemed by such luminaries of French music life as Chopin, Berlioz, Adolphe Adam, etc.; his piano compositions belong to the genre of more refined salon music — note by Ernst Kuhn.
  6. Emilio Naudin (1823–1890), Italian tenor of French origins, whom Tchaikovsky admired greatly..
  7. Vasily Vasilyevich Bezekirsky (1835–1919), well-known Russian violinist, leader of the Moscow Bolshoi Theatre orchestra from 1861 to 1891 — note by Ernst Kuhn.
  8. Ludwig Wilhelm Maurer (1789–1878), German composer and violinist, resided mainly in Russia from 1833 onwards. HisSymphonie concertante in A major for four violins, Op. 55, was one of his most successful and famous works, played by the leading violinists of the time — note by Ernst Kuhn.
  9. Yevlaliya Kadmina had studied with the soprano Aleksandra Aleksandrova-Kochetova. See TH 279 for Tchaikovsky's review of a concert which featured a number of her pupils, including Kadmina.
  10. Ivan Samarin(1817–1885), famous Russian actor, performed at the Moscow Maly Theatre from 1837 right up to his death — note by Ernst Kuhn.
  11. Glikeriya Fedotova (1846–1925), famous Russian actress, a pupil of Ivan Samarin, appeared at the Moscow Maly Theatre from 1858 until 1905 — note by Ernst Kuhn.
  12. Aleksandra Zograf-Dulova (1850–1919), a well-known Moscow pianist, studied with Nikolay Rubinstein, about whom she left some important memoirs — note by Ernst Kuhn.
  13. Henry Charles Litolff (1818–1891), French pianist and composer. Tchaikovsky discusses his musical development in TH 270.
  14. Aleksandra Zograf played Litolff's Concerto Symphonique No. 3 in E-flat major on Dutch folk-song themes for piano and orchestra, Op. 54, at the 7th RMS symphony concert in Moscow on 6/18 February 1870 — note by Ernst Kuhn.
  15. The Suite for Violin and Piano in D major, Op. 11 (1869) by the well-known Hungarian-Jewish composer Karl Goldmark (1830–1915) — note by Ernst Kuhn.
  16. Adolf von Henselt (1814–1889), German-Russian pianist and composer; moved to Russia in 1838, and became a professor at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory in 1887 — note by Ernst Kuhn.
  17. Ferdinand Laub (1832–1875), Czech violinist, conductor, and composer, taught at the Moscow Conservatory from 1866 to 1874 and was also chief conductor of the RMS symphony orchestra. Tchaikovsky, who greatly admired his virtuosity and artistry (see e.g. TH 259), dedicated his String Quartet No. 3 (1876) to Laub's memory.
  18. Emanuel Geibel (1815–1884), German poet and translator, one of the most popular poets of his time but now largely forgotten — translator's note.
  19. Evidently one of the four ballads by Geibel set to music by Schumann in Vom Pagen und der Königstochter, Op. 140 — note by Ernst Kuhn.
  20. See TH 285.
  21. The Grand Septuor, Op. 74, for piano, flute, oboe, French horn, viola, cello, and double bass, by Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778–1837). This work was first published in Vienna in 1816, and of all the chamber music compositions by Hummel it is the one which has maintained itself the longest in the active concert repertoire — note by Ernst Kuhn.
  22. Probably the pieces which were later included as Nos. 2 and 4 in Anton Rubinstein's Soirées musicales, Op. 109 — note by Ernst Kuhn.
  23. Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen (a tetralogy of course) had not yet been completed: the scoring was not finished until 1874 and the first complete performance of the cycle took place in 1876. See TH 314 for Tchaikovsky's invaluable impressions of this premiere of the Ring cycle in Bayreuth.
  24. See TH 274 for more detailed criticisms of Schumann's Cello Concerto.