Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Stanford and German in New York, 1907

I found this excellent review of Charles Villiers Stanford's Irish Symphony in Richard Aldrich, Concert Life in New York 1902–1923.  Little comment needs to be added save to point out that Walter Damrosch was born in Breslau in 1862 and died in New York in 1950. He was a composer of a wide variety of music, however it is in his capacity as conductor of the New York Symphony Orchestra that we are concerned here. Rudolph Ganz (1877-1972) was a Swiss pianist, conductor and composer. He claimed direct descent from Charlemagne. A note on Edward German's; fine Welsh Rhapsody is also included.

Nov. 18 1907 Mr. Damrosch is giving a special character to each of his Sunday afternoon programs played by the New York Symphony Orchestra in Carnegie Hall. Last week he made a Dvorak program. Yesterday he had one that was mentioned as a memorial to Grieg but might better have been called an exposition of "nationalism" in music. Grieg himself was a conspicuous exponent of that idea; his piano concerto that Mr. Rudolph Ganz played suggests the Norwegian coloring more than the Peer Gynt suite, which is devoted to other purposes, the illustration of action upon the stage. With these two compositions were consorted two others, an Irishman, Sir Charles Stanford's Irish Symphony, and a Welshman, Mr. Edward German's Welsh Rhapsody.

Of this music Stanford's is the most interesting and a welcome addition to program lists that are apt to become stereotyped. It still retains its freshness and spirit—not that it is very old in years, but music is the least immortal of artistic productions, and some modern symphonies have wrinkled with age in fifteen years. It is not great music nor wholly original in style, but it is charming, of sustained interest and made with much dexterity and skill in the manipulation of its material. The skill it shows would be challenged most easily, perhaps, upon the point that Sir Charles does not always quite know when to stop and that at least the first three movements are extended considerably beyond the point where his material yields him profitable results. That material consists of Irish folk-songs and themes strongly influenced by their spirit, both melodically and in the ancient "model" harmonies that are implied as their basis. Irish music affords an ample variety of mood for a composer so familiar with them as Stanford to work in, and it has been truly said that he has done more with this material in an artistic form than any one else. The tendency to prolixity is shown in his lingering fondness for the tender second theme of his first movement, which he can hardly let go, and again in the brilliant jiglike scherzo—very taking till it is prolonged to the point of monotony. The third has a rhapsodic character, as of an Irish lament; the harp of Erin is heard, there are flutings of plaintive fantasy, and the song, Lament of the sons of Usnach appears in it. In the last movement he also employs actual folk tunes, Remember the glories of Brian the Brave and Let Erin remember the days of old. These are skillfully used as real thematic material for symphonic development, not as in a potpourri of national airs, and in this the composer has shown a fine skill and a truly musical feeling. He writes skillfully, often charmingly, for orchestra.

Mr. German, who came from England to produce his new operetta, Tom Jones, conducted his Welsh Rhapsody. Mr. German also speaks with native authority when he is concerned with the Welsh national utterance. His rhapsody is a less highly organized development of national tunes than Stanford's symphony; his treatment is more obvious. He has founded the four sections of his work on five tunes, of which the last is the well-known March of the men of Harlech. There is good work in it and some stirring passages; and it is a composition well worth hearing. Mr. German conducted it with firmness and skill. Mr. Ganz's playing of Grieg's concerto was strong and virile rather than deeply poetical; it was emotionally rather self-contained. There was beauty in the slow movement and a clear incisiveness in the first. This composition does more honor to Grieg's memory than the inevitable Peer Gynt suite, which had been played from the same stage on the two preceding days by the Philharmonic Society.

Richard Aldrich, Concert Life in New York 1902–1923, ed. by Harold Johnson (Freeport, New York: Books for Libraries Press, 1941), 193–194.

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