The Fourth Week of the Concert Season

The Fourth Week of the Concert Season (Четвертая неделя концертного сезона) [1] (TH 306 ; ČW 571) was Tchaikovsky's forty-first music-review article for the Moscow journal Russian Register (Русские ведомости), in which it was published on 3 April 1875 [O.S.].

This article contains a further tribute to the musicianship of Leopold Auer; a remarkable discussion of Schumann's Piano Quintet and its "funeral march" second movement which juxtaposes "religious resignation" with the "protest" of the human soul against "the tragic fact of death"; enthusiastic remarks about Dargomzyshky's Kazachok and Serov's Varangian Ballad as sung by Yelizaveta Lavrovskaya; reminiscences about the concerts Wagner gave in Saint Petersburg in 1863; a spirited tribute to Nikolay Rubinstein's achievements as a conductor; enthusiastic praise for the "frenetic cavalcade" depicted by Wagner in the Ride of the Valkyries; criticisms of the young actress Mariya Yermolova for choosing to recite a poem by Thomas Hood denouncing social injustice merely, as Tchaikovsky argues, to curry favour with the "hypocritical, liberal posturing" of a majority of the public; great praise for the actor Sergey Shumsky's reading of a satirical sketch by Saltykov-Shchedrin; interesting reflections on sacred choral music in Russia; and yet another ironical barb at the Italian Opera Company's "anti-musical outrages"


Completed by 3/15 April 1875 (date of publication). Tchaikovsky reviewed the following events:

English translation

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I shall continue with my brief survey of the current season's concerts in chronological order:

1) Mr Auer's concert. Mr Auer, who had already produced a most favourable impression on the public at the Russian Musical Society's symphony concert [2], achieved this time, too, a success which was quite extraordinary. The predominating qualities of this virtuoso, his heartfelt and affecting delivery of the melodic line, and the gentle cantabile of his bowing, awakened the general enthusiasm of the small audience which attended this concert. The principal works on his programme were: Bruch's concerto and a Rhapsodie hongroise composed by the soloist himself.

With regard to the latter, Mr Auer has shown himself to be a musician who is certainly not lacking in compositional gifts either. In his exciting Rhapsodie there is a lot of fire, and occasionally also humour. Its instrumentation is remarkably brilliant. We must hope that Mr Auer has now created a solid basis for future successes in Moscow, and that, apart from his well-deserved tribute in terms of applause, he will subsequently also be able to count on a plentiful tribute of a more prosaic kind. Ovations and applause are very flattering and encouraging, but how unpleasant it is, though, to receive them from an audience whose numbers were hardly sufficient to cover the huge expenses required for a concert at the Bolshoi Theatre!

2) Mr Hřímalý's concert. One cannot but be grateful to Mr Hřímalý for having given us the opportunity at his concert to hear a splendid performance of Schumann's Piano Quintet (op. 44). As is well known, Schumann, despite his colossal creative gifts, suffered from a lack of flair when presenting his musical ideas in the medium of the orchestra or that of chamber music [3]. Like Chopin, he was above all a composer for the piano. Schumann not only loved the piano but understood its qualities and knew better than all other composers how to elicit from it an always beautiful and rich sound. In spite of the luxurious musical beauties which are scattered in his symphonic works, as far as roundedness and the fusion of form with content are concerned, we must nevertheless give preference both to his compositions for the piano alone and for those of his chamber music works in which the piano takes the leading role. Amongst the latter belongs precisely the magnificent E-flat major quintet which was played at Mr Hřímalý's concert.

The first movement, which is constructed on two very simple, but lush, beautiful, and contrasting themes, is full of vigorous inspiration, thrilling passion, and is suffused by a joyfully solemn mood. The Andante, where the style and rhythm of a funeral march are observed, presents within a narrow canvas a whole sombre tragedy. After the first exposition of the wondrous main theme, Schumann moves on to a subsidiary theme which has a religious and solemn tinge to it, and which expresses as it were calm submission to Providence, faith and readiness to endure selflessly the invincible blows of Fate. The sombre theme of the funeral march returns again but is suddenly interrupted by a stormy, seething episode where we can hear an echo of a passionate soul which has been shocked and angered by the tragic fact of a loved person's death. However, the strains of the funeral march irrupt again into this music which depicts the cries of a heart torn by grief, and little by little the religious mood prevails once more over all other feelings: the shocked soul calms down and strives to reconcile itself with the horrors of earthly existence by looking up to the eternally beautiful sky. The Andante ends with an ethereally transparent concluding tonic triad in the highest (flageolet) register of the string quartet.

The Scherzo is full of manly resolution, strength, and enthusiastic verve. The Finale brings us back to the triumphant mood of the first Allegro, and here at the end, as he combines the principal themes of the first and last movements over a pedal point, Schumann displays his astonishing mastery of polyphonic technique and development. This is one of those mysterious manifestations of creative genius before which a professional musician can only bow down in veneration. As for the performance, I need only say that it was fully in keeping with the beauties of this music.

As a virtuoso musician, Mr Hřímalý showed himself, as always, to great advantage with an excellent rendition of Vieuxtemps's very difficult concerto and several shorter pieces. Madame Kadmina also performed a few vocal numbers in her usual fascinating manner.

3) The second concert of Madame Lavrovskaya. The programme of this concert was remarkable for the fact that it consisted entirely of works by Russian composers. Needless to say, this singer's appearance ensured a completely packed auditorium and elicited a veritable cascade of the most enthusiastic ovations. The orchestra, which performed several symphonic pieces—including Dargomyzhsky's delightful Kazachok[4], which had to be repeated after unanimous encore calls from the audience!—was the only other 'supporting player' at this concert and proved a worthy contender for Madame Lavrovskaya.

One cannot thank Madame Lavrovskaya sufficiently for her efforts, in her capacity as a sovereign ruler over the public's affections, to help the latter become acquainted with symphonic works by Russian composers. Of the vocal numbers performed by Madame Lavrovskaya, the one that had the greatest success was the Ballad from Serov's Rogneda. This chef d'oeuvre by the late master was sung by her with an ideal attention to all those nuances which were very likely in the composer's mind when he composed this passionate, ambitiously conceived, and profoundly gripping piece.

4) The extraordinary symphony concert of the Russian Musical Society in support of the fund for the widows and orphans of musicians. This was an extremely lively and interesting concert, attended by a numerous audience. The orchestra was twice as large as usual, and yet, strangely enough, it did not at all sound any louder or sharper than a normal symphony orchestra. However, it did have a more sumptuous, rounded, and fuller sound. Beethoven's famous Fifth Symphony, played with loving care and enthusiasm by this huge orchestral mass, produced a magically enchanting impression.

While observing N. G. Rubinstein as he conducted this symphony, I compared him with all the kapellmeister of orchestras whom I have had the chance to see so far, and inwardly I could not help placing him above all the others, with the exception perhaps of Wagner, although I could not really get a complete and unequivocal picture of the latter's abilities as a conductor just on the basis of his concerts in Saint Petersburg and Moscow [5]. For at the concerts he gave here Wagner just conducted his own works all the time, as well as two or three symphonies by Beethoven, which both he and the musicians were very familiar. How he copes with difficult, new works—that is something we do not know.

Mr Rubinstein, who is able to bring about performances of new and difficult works in just two rehearsals, and, what is more, performances which, even if they are not always faultless, always satisfy the aesthetic demands of a musically educated public, has more than amply demonstrated in the course of his work as a conductor over many years how wisely and skilfully he knows how to marshal the orchestral forces under his command. In terms of the enthusiasm, ardour, and artistry of his conducting, he is in this regard, too, an artist as remarkable as when he appears on the podium as a piano virtuoso.

Beethoven's symphony was played with a mastery which testifies to the powerful talent and great experience of Rubinstein. It was with no less poetic feeling and excitement that he conducted the two other symphonic pieces on the programme. Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries is one of the most successful works by this symphonist whose endeavours, though, are concentrated exclusively on the field of music drama. This wild picture of the frenetic cavalcade through the air of colossal and fantastic Amazons is conveyed by Wagner with an astonishingly real vividness [6]

Madame Lavrovskaya sang an aria from Ruslan and Lyudmila, as well as two songs, one of which, Schumann's "Ich grolle nicht" [7], in her highly inspired rendition, produced a truly staggering impression. Mr Mikhin gave a very successful performance of Susanin's aria from A Life for the Tsar. Once again Mr Taneyev showed himself to be an inordinately gifted virtuoso: this young débutant has all the makings of a great artist and performer.

5) The literary and musical soirée in support of needy students, which took place on Sunday at the Bolshoi Theatre, attracted a full-capacity audience. In the musical section we were treated to performances by Madames Kadmina and Terentyeva, as well as Messrs Decrescenzio, Brodsky, and Nikolayev. Both of the aforesaid artistes and Messrs Brodsky and Nikolayev, too, achieved a complete success. Indeed, Mr Brodsky even provoked a veritable storm of applause, followed by a struggle between one half of the audience, which kept calling for an encore, and the other half, which, realizing that Mr Brodsky was not sure as to whether he should repeat the long Andante he had just played, and that he didn't have another piece ready to hand, protested against this encoring and tried to restrain the over-enthusiastic members of the audience.

This uproar would probably have carried on forever (people here do like to scream senselessly), hadn't Mr Shumsky [8] walked out onstage and, by the very fact of his appearance, forced the two hostile halves to fall silent. In addition to this actor, the literary section of the soirée also featured Madames Vasilyeva [9], Nikulina [10], Fedotova, and Yermolova, as well as Messrs Muzil [11] and Nikiforov [12]. Madame Yermolova was given such an ovation as can only be likened to the frenzy with which enthusiastic Muscovites reward Madames Patti and Nilsson.

Here I feel that I ought to make one critical observation, although I do realize that I am thereby making myself guilty of exceeding my authority, that is of arbitrarily overstepping the limits of my competence as a music critic. Madame Yermolova is of course very talented, and of course she is also very appealing. One cannot fail to be gladdened by the way in which our public so unanimously expresses its sympathy for her, and I was one of those who applauded her coming onstage with all my heart.

But why, though, does this rising star of the Maly Theatre have to resort to such unfair means in order to make herself popular? Why does she set about flattering in such a populistic manner the liberal blustering of the less sophisticated majority of the public by choosing for her public performance at this soirée texts which have no artistic value whatsoever, and which are crammed with lies and hypocrisy? Not to speak of their repulsively mendacious morality and their obtrusive, morosely sentimental pathos! [13]

In the first piece recited by Madame Yermolova, a poem by Thomas Hood [14], the author lambasts, in the person of a lady who has just startled up from her sleep, all finely dressed ladies. Indeed, he cruelly attacks all the adornments worn by ladies and justifies his indignation at the coquetry of the fair sex by arguing that everything that ladies put on, pin to their dresses, and attach to their ears, is obtained at the cost of slave-work, at the cost of all kinds of physical sufferings and the premature death of exhausted, emaciated, hungry, and consumptive female labourers.

All this is presented very beautifully, with a lot of feeling and bitter irony, but even if we assume that Thomas Hood's civic sorrow [15] is well-founded, and that Madame Yermolova's sympathy for this sorrow is sincere, I would still like to ask: was it really so opportune and consequential on the part of this sumptuously and very tastefully dressed young artiste to pour out, in front of a multitude of just as elegantly dressed ladies, her fiery indignation at silks, velvet, lace, rings, bracelets, and chignons? Why, when there would have been endless poems by Pushkin, Lermontov, Koltsov, Schiller, Heine, and Byron to choose from, why did Madame Yermolova have to pick out precisely this little diatribe in verse by Thomas Hood?

And my reply is this: that Madame Yermolova calculated very well that nothing is so apt to elicit applause from the majority of the public as tirades which are suffused with 'civic sorrow' (even if this sorrow happened to be false)! This subtle calculation in such an attractive and indisputably talented artiste as Madame Yermolova is something that displeases me very much.

Of course, she got what she wanted! Sitting on a chair not far from me was an immensely wealthy merchant who deals in ladies' toiletry and millinery. He would be quite ruined and reduced to begging if the ladies stopped buying his wares by the dozen. And yet this did not prevent him from feeling very moved by the verses recited by Madame Yermolova or from enthusiastically applauding her attacks against those very customers who so assiduously contribute to his enrichment.

The Russian bourgeois, like any other bourgeois, though he is at heart a callous exploiter, likes to sentimentalize and adopt a pose of democratic sympathy for his less fortunate brethren [16]. Now was it really in keeping with the dignity of a serious artiste to pander in this way to the Tartuffe-like hypocrisy of a significant majority of the public? Of course, that will guarantee her success always, but it is quite possible that it may eventually also undermine the rightly deserved sympathy which Madame Yermolova enjoys amongst those who truly do appreciate her attractive artistic personality.

Since I have spoken in such detail about Madame Yermolova, I would also like to take the liberty of describing the impression which Mr Shumsky made on me at this soirée. He read one of Shchedrin's [17] satirical sketches: "Farewell to thee, my angel!". Just as it does not really befit me to make critical remarks about Madame Fedotova, neither is it my business to give vent in the press to my enthusiasm about Mr Shumsky's mastery. However, I do not have the strength to restrain myself from the passionate desire to express my heartfelt gratitude for the half hour of profound aesthetic pleasure which he gave me and everyone else who was present at the theatre.

This was a performance of such perfection, such unpretentious simplicity, with such an artistic sense of measure, such astonishing objectivity in the way he brought across the characters, always hitting upon the right tone, that I think the art of acting cannot go any further than this. The effect which his reading produced on me was exactly the same as that achieved by the playing of an outstanding virtuoso or by the singing of a first-rate artiste, i.e. it combined faultless technique with the very finest artistic polish in the details.

I would also be delighted to discuss Madame Vasilyeva's reading, which I liked very much, even though it did seem to me far too subjective and insufficiently thought through. Likewise, there is a lot I would like to say about the deeply felt declamations by Madames Fedotova and Nikulina, as well as about Messrs Muzil' and Nikiforov, but as it is, I have already stepped far beyond the very precisely marked limits which I am supposed to keep to in my capacity as a music chronicler.

The orchestra also played three overtures. By way of a conclusion, I would like to point out again how Mr Rubinstein took part in all five of the concerts I am reviewing today, both as a conductor and as a pianist. His indefatigability is truly astonishing.

During the Lenten fast there were also several concerts of so-called sacred music. I was only able to attend one of these—namely, the one which took place on Sunday, the 30th of March, and featured the Neshumov Choir conducted by Mr Alabushev. I shall not say anything about the music performed by this chorus—about this music which was so lacking in inventiveness, which corresponded so little to the spirit of the Orthodox Church and the national Russian style, which was so clumsy from the technical point of view, so monotonous, banal, and boring. This subject is too important and broad for me to just touch upon it lightly in the superficial format of a feuilleton article.

With regard to the singers' performance, I must, however, say that it deserves the most sincere praise. Mr Alabushev is evidently very well-versed in the choral music of our Church. Indeed, since Lomakin's [18] choirs I had not heard in Moscow such elegant, finely polished, and artistically accomplished choral singing. Led by Mr Alabushev, the basses did not bellow at the top of their voice as is normally the case with our choirs. Likewise, the soprano voices did not squeak out of tune, and the whole choir as such was free from conventional mannerisms and from that misguided striving after effects which manifests itself in a total disdain for the rhythm and in wilful changes to the tempo either way. The Neshumov Choir sings evenly, thoughtfully, simply, and observes the necessary nuances.

Spring is upon us. Nature is coming to life again and is already gradually beginning to smarten itself up a bit. Here and there, amidst the snow-covered plains, one can even see some little oases of lightly sprouting green. And yet, from the cavernous depths of the theatre management a stuffy sirocco has started to blow again, in the guise of bill-boards announcing the sale of season-tickets for the next season of the Italian Opera. My God! Can there really be people in Moscow who are so naïve, so inveterate in their fanatic love for the anti-musical outrage which is perpetrated in winter on the stage of the Bolshoi Theatre, that they are willing to condemn themselves so soon to having to listen to all kinds of nonsense for six months, and, moreover, nonsense that is badly performed?! Now it would surely seem incredible that one could come across such phenomena, wouldn't it?! But one does in Moscow! That's just the way this city is: the more punches in the head we get, the more diligently we make ourselves an open target for them. And our heads are pretty hard.

P. Tchaikovsky.

Notes and References

  1. Entitled 'Musical Chronicle (The Fourth Week of the Concert Season)' in ČW.
  2. See TH 305 for Tchaikovsky's review of this concert on 21 March/2 April 1875 at which Leopold Auer played Beethoven's Violin Concerto.
  3. See TH 269 and TH 297 for more extensive reflections on Schumann in this respect.
  4. Dargomyzhsky's 1864 orchestral fantasia Little-Russian Kazachok (Малороссийский казачок). Around 1868 Tchaikovsky had made an arrangement for piano solo of this piece (see TH 174).
  5. As a Conservatory student, Tchaikovsky had attended all six of Wagner's concerts in Saint Petersburg early in 1863 at which the maestro himself had conducted excerpts from Der fliegende Holländer (Sailors' Chorus, Senta's Ballad), Tannhäuser (Overture, Act II March and chorus, Wolfram's "Abendstern" aria, Elisabeth's aria, Tannhäuser and Elisabeth's duet), Lohengrin (Prelude, Elsa's lament, Prelude to Act III), Tristan und Isolde (Prelude, "Liebestod" scene), Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (Overture, the Meeting of the Meistersingers, Pogner's Address), Walküre (Siegmund's Love-Song, Ride of the Valkyries, Wotan's Farewell and Magic Fire Music), Siegfried (Forging Song, Hammer Song), as well as the Faust overture and some symphonies by Beethoven. According to Herman Laroche, it was not so much Wagner's music as such but his art of instrumentation that impressed the young Tchaikovsky at the time. At the inauguration of the Bayreuth Festival in 1876, which Tchaikovsky attended (see TH 314), it was not Wagner himself but his disciple Hans Richter who conducted the first complete performance of the Ring, so it seems that Tchaikovsky did not see Wagner conduct again after 1863 — translator's note (with references provided by Thomas Kohlhase, Čakovskijs Wagner-Rezeption. Daten und Texte (1998), pp. 300–301.
  6. Shortly after seeing of performance of Die Walküre in Vienna, Tchaikovsky wrote to Nadezhda von Meck on 26 November/8 December 1877 (letter 661) about his impressions, arguing yet again that Wagner was "a symphonist by nature" who had been led astray from his true vocation, and, after criticizing his treatment of the voice parts in this opera, he added: "But that he is a marvellous symphonist—that there can be no doubt of whatsoever. Let me give you an example of the extent to which the symphonist in him predominates over the vocal and indeed the operatic composer. You will probably have heard at concerts his famous "Walkürenritt" [Ride of the Valkyries]—what a grandiose, wonderful picture! One literally sees before one's eyes these wild gigantic figures, flying with roaring thunder across the clouds on their magic steeds. In concerts this piece always produces a tremendous impression" — translator's note.
  7. Lied No. 7 from Schumann's Dichterliebe cycle, to verses by Heinrich Heinenote by Ernst Kuhn.
  8. Sergey Vasilyevich Shumsky (real name: Chesnokov; 1820–1878), famous Russian actor —note by Ernst Kuhn.
  9. Yekaterina Nikolayevna Vasilyeva (née Lavrova; 1829–1877), famous Russian actress —note by Ernst Kuhn.
  10. Nadezhda Alekseyevna Nikulina (after marrying: Dmitryevna; 1845–1923), famous Russian actress, worked at the Moscow Maly Theatre from 1863 — note by Ernst Kuhn.
  11. Nikolay Ignatyevich Muzil (1839–1906), famous Russian actor, worked at the Moscow Maly Theatre from 1866 right up to his death —note by Ernst Kuhn..
  12. Nikolay Matveyevich Nikiforov (1805–1881), well-known Russian actor — note by Ernst Kuhn.
  13. This whole paragraph was omitted from the republication of this article in the Soviet collected edition of Tchaikovsky's writings— П. И. Чайковский. Полное собрание сочинений, том II (1953), edited by Vasily Yakovlev— but restored here by way of P. Tschaikowsky. Musikalische Essays und Erinnerungen (2000), edited by Ernst Kuhn. This is a very interesting passage which ties in with Tchaikovsky's professed antipathy to the way in which Nikolay Nekrasov (1821–1878) treated aspects of social injustice in his poetry with a "tearful sentimentality" that seemed "artificial" to him and calculated to pander to the liberal sympathies of the public. See his Letter 784 to Nadezhda von Meck, 12/24 March 1878 — translator's note.
  14. Thomas Hood (1799–1845), English poet, journalist, and caricaturist. He wrote mainly poems which denounced social injustices and abuses (e.g. "The Song of the Shirt"), and many of these were translated into foreign languages in the second half of the nineteenth century. The poem recited by Mariya Yermolova at this soirée was "The Lady's Dream" — note by Ernst Kuhn.
  15. The phrase Tchaikovsky uses here—«гражданская скорбь» ["civic sorrow"]—is one that is closely associated with Nikolay Nekrasov's poetry denouncing social injustice (see note 12 above) — translator's note.
  16. Tchaikovsky puts this phrase—«меньший брат» ["younger, smaller brother"]—into italics because it was often used by liberal publicists to refer to the peasantry and how it was the duty of the well-to-do and educated classes to help them. It inevitably acquired a certain ring of condescension and was attacked by such writers as Dostoyevsky as false, self-serving humaneness on the part of the liberal intelligentsia — translator's note.
  17. Mikhail Yevgrafovich Saltykov-Shchedrin (1826–1889), famous Russian satirical writer. The satirical sketch in question [in Russian: «Прощаюсь, ангел мой, с тобой!»] is the first part of the cycle of stories Messieurs et Mesdames Pompadours (Помпадуры и Помпадурши), written between 1863 and 1874 — note by Ernst Kuhn.
  18. Gavryl Ioakimovich Lomakin (1812–1885), Russian choirmaster and singing teacher; from 1862 to 1868 he was director of the Free Musical School which he had set up in Saint Petersburg together with Mily Balakirev; he also wrote textbooks on vocal technique and a valuable posthumously published autobiography — note by Ernst Kuhn.