Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Cincinnati Musical Festival & Sir Edward Elgar: May 1906

I was recently investigating Edward Elgar’s Overture: In the South and I came across a citation in Stewart R. Craggs Edward Elgar Source book to a review in the Musical Times, June 1906. This refers to the attendance of the composer at the The Seventeenth Biennial Festival of the Cincinnati Music Festival Association. The article is worth posting – with a few footnotes.

The seventeenth biennial festival of the Cincinnati Music Festival Association held in this city on the first five days of the month was made notable by the presence of Sir Edward Elgar who came from England to conduct several of his works ; by the memorial character of the first concert, which was a tribute to the memory of Theodore Thomas (1835-1905) who established the festivals in 1873 and conducted all the predecessors of the present meeting ; and by an artistic and financial success which saved the enterprise from threatened dissolution and made a remarkable disclosure of the city's choral resources.
Dissensions between the Choir maintained for years by the Festival Association and the Directors of the Association culminated a year ago in the withdrawal of the Choir in a body. Pitiable and pathetic was the fact that the quarrel grew out of an amiable desire on the part of the choristers to give a memorial concert in honour of their dead leader. Mr. Thomas's memory was as dear to the hearts of the Directors as to the singers, but the former preferred to couple the memorial service with the approaching festival and refused to sanction the plan of the Choir. The differences were discussed in an unwise spirit, and after a year had been spent in preparing for the seventeenth festival the Choir seceded. This made necessary a new enlistment of choral forces.
Meanwhile Mr. Frank Van der Stucken (1858-1929) conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra had been elected as Mr. Thomas's successor. He began his labours in October last and within six months accomplished the surprising feat of training the new choir of 350 voices till all were letter perfect in The Apostles, The Dream of Gerontius, Brahms's German Requiem, Bach's Actus Tragicus [1] and the choral portion of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. A supplementary choir of 1,000 children from the public schools was also trained to sing Benoit's cantata Into the world [2]. The little people acquitted themselves so bravely that the performance of the cantata was one of the red-letter features of the festival from a purely artistic point of view.
Sir Edward Elgar was on the scene a fortnight before the festival began and took upon himself the induction of choristers and instrumentalists into his conception of his two oratorios and the two orchestral works of his composition which were on the festival scheme. They were the overture In the South and the Introduction and Allegro for strings, dedicated to Prof. Sanford, of Yale University [3]. Sir Edward's methods of conducting differed radically from the incisive ones of Mr. Van der Stucken, but the singers were firm in the saddle, and Sir Edward did not find it difficult to imbue them with the spirit of his music. As a result the two oratorios-the first of which was wholly new to the festival audience-received the most impressive performance that they have had in America. The rendering of The Dream of Gerontius was spiritually much more uplifting than at the performance here under Mr. Thomas two years ago, when much more attention was paid to the externals and less to the tender, mystical mood of the composition.
Amongst the musicians gathered to hear Sir Edward's reading of the oratorios were Dr. Frank Damrosch [4] who had been the first in the American field with both The Apostles and The Dream [of Gerontius], giving both with his New York Oratorio Society before the echoes of their first English performances had died away-and Mr. Harrison Wild, of Chicago, who performed The Apostles with his Apollo Club [5] on the Monday of festival week. Sir Edward found seclusion at the Country Club where, amid scenes of great natural beauty, he spent most of his spare time reading proofs of the work which is to be the sequel [6] to The Apostles and working on its orchestration. He had already withdrawn himself from most of the social attentions which the people of Cincinnati wished to show him when the mournful intelligence of the death of his father reached him. His manner toward the choristers had won their affection for him and his music before the performances were reached, and the feeling seemed to be reciprocated.
On the afternoon of the last day, when The Dream of Gerontius was to be given in the evening, he sent to each member of the chorus a copy of the following letter: - I wish to express my gratitude to each member of the chorus for the fine singing in The Apostles. At the public concert tonight it is of course not possible for me to say anything, so I take this opportunity to write that the performance was in every way satisfactory and in many points supreme. I look for the same care and enthusiasm in Gerontius this evening, and feel assured that a great performance will be given. This word of thanks must also be my adieu, an adieu regretfully written to my many friends in the Cincinnati chorus. Farewell, and God bless you. (Signed) Edward Elgar.
The Musical Times June 1906 (from our own music correspondent, May 06)

[1] Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit (God's Time is the very best Time), BWV106, also known as Actus Tragicus, is a sacred cantata composed by Johann Sebastian Bach in Mühlhausen, intended for a funeral.
[2] Petrus Leonardus Leopoldus "Peter" Benoit, Flemish composer (August 17, 1834, Harelbeke, Flanders – March 8, 1901)
[3] Samuel Simons Sanford (1849–1910) was an American pianist and educator. Sanford joined the Yale Music Faculty as Professor of Applied Music in 1894, along with Horatio Parker as Professor of Theory. During the sixteen years he worked at Yale, he refused to be paid any salary as he was independently wealthy (Wikipedia)
[4] Frank Heino Damrosch (1859 -1937) was a German-born American music conductor and educator.
[5] The 33-member men's chorus of the Apollo Musical Club was founded in 1872. It is now called the Apollo Chorus of Chicago and as still among the largest American volunteer choirs.
[6] The Kingdom, Op.51 Oratorio for soprano, contralto, tenor and bass soloists, mixed chorus and orchestra. (1906)


Anonymous said...

106 years later the May Festival is a Cincinnati institution.

Paul from Dayton

John France said...

Wow! Thanks for that Paul...great news...


Anonymous said...

This year's schedule: