Grand Symphony Concerts
( Originally Published 1915 )
Although it was an urgent matter that young French composers should unite to withstand the general indifference of the public, it was more urgent still that that indifference should be attacked, and that music should be brought within reach of ordinary people. It was a matter of taking up and completing Pasdeloup's work in a more artistic and more modern spirit.
A publisher of music, Georges Hartmann, feeling the forces that were drawing together in French art, gathered about him the greater part of the talented men of the young school—Franck, Bizet, Saint-Saëns, Massenet, Delibes, Lalo, A. de Castillon, Th. Dubois, Guiraud, Godard, Paladilhe, and Joncières—and undertook to produce their works in public. He rented the Odéon theatre, and got together an orchestra, the conductorship of which he entrusted to M. Édouard Colonne. And on 2 March, 1873, the Concert National was inaugurated in a musical matinée, where M. Saint-Saëns played his Concerto in G minor and Mme. Viardot sang Schubert's Roi des Aulnes. In the first year six ordinary concerts were given, and, besides that, two sacred concerts with choirs, at which César Franck's Rédemption and Massenet's Marie-Magdeleine were performed. In 1874 the Odéon was abandoned for the Châtelet. This venture attracted some attention, and the concerts were patronised by the public ; but the financial results were not great. Hartmann was discouraged and wished to give the whole thing up. But M. Édouard Colonne conceived the idea of turning his orchestra into a society, and of continuing the work under the name of Association Artistique. Among the artist-founders were MM. Bruneau, Benjamin Godard, and Paul Hillemacher. Its early days were full of struggle ; but owing to the perseverance of the Association all obstacles were finally overcome. In 1903 a festival was held to celebrate its thirtieth anniversary. During these thirty years it had given more than eight hundred concerts, and had performed the works of about three hundred composers, of which half were French. The four composers most frequently heard at the Châtelet were Saint-Saëns, Wagner, Beethoven, and Berlioz.
Berlioz is almost the exclusive property of the Châtelet. Not only have they performed his works there more frequently than anywhere else, but they are better understood there than in other places. The Colonne orchestra and its conductor, gifted with great warmth of spirit,—though it is sometimes a little intemperate—are rather bothered by works of a classic nature and by those that show contemplative feeling ; but they give wonderful expression to Berlioz's tumultuous romanticism, his poetic enthusiasm, and the bright and delicate colouring of his paintings and his musical landscapes. Although Berlioz has his place at the Chevillard and Conservatoire concerts, it is to the Châtelet that his followers flock ; and their enthusiasm has not been affected by the campaign that for several years has been directed against Berlioz by some French critics under the influence of the younger musical party—the followers of d'Indy and Debussy.
It is also at the Châtelet that the keenest musical passion has been preserved in the public, even to this day. Thanks to the size of the theatre, which is one of the largest in Paris, and to the great number of cheap seats, you may always find there a number of young students who make the most interested kind of public possible. And the music is some-thing more than a pleasure to them—it is a necessity. There are some that make great sacrifices in order to have a seat at the Sunday concerts. And many of these young men and women live all the week on the thought of forgetting the world for a few hours in musical enjoyment. Such a public did not exist in France before 187o. It is to the honour of the Châtelet and the Pasdeloup concerts to have created it.
Edouard Colonne has done more than educate musical taste in France for no one has worked harder than he to break down the barriers that separated the French public from the art of other lands ; and, at the same time, he has himself helped to make French art known to foreigners. When he himself was conducting concerts all over Europe he entrusted the conductorship at the Châtelet to the great German Kapellmeister and to foreign composers—to Richard Strauss, Grieg, Tschaikowsky, Hans Richter, Hermann Levi, Mottl, Nikisch, Mengelberg, Siegfried Wagner, and many others. No other conductor has done so much for Parisian music during the last thirty years ; and we must not forget it.
The Lamoureux concerts have had from the be-ginning a very different character from the Colonne concerts. That difference lies partly in the personality of the two conductors, and partly in the fact that the Lamoureux concerts, although of later date than the Colonne concerts by less than ten years, represent a new generation in music. The progress of the musical public was singularly rapid : hardly had they explored the rich treasure-house of Berlioz's music than they were making discoveries in the world of Wagner. And in that world they needed a new guide, who had intimate knowledge of Wagner's art and of German art in general. Charles Lamoureux was that guide. In 1873 he conducted special performances of Bach and Händel, given by the Société de l'Harmonie sacrée. After leaving the conductorship of the Opera, he inaugurated, on 21 October, 1881, at the Château-d'Eau theatre, the Société des Nouveaux Concerts. These concerts had at first very comprehensive programmes of every kind of music and every kind of school. At the first concert there were works of Beethoven, Handel, Gluck, Sacchini, Cimarosa, and Berlioz. In the first year Lamoureux had Beethoven's Ninth Symphony performed, as well as a large part of Lohengrin, and numerous works of young French musicians. Various compositions of Lalo, Vincent d'Indy, and Chabrier, were performed there for the first time. But it was especially to the study of Wagner's works that Lamoureux most gladly devoted himself. It was he who gave the first hearings of Wagner in their entirety in France, such as the first and second act of Tristan, in 1884-1885. The Wagnerian battle was still going on at that time, as the notice printed at-the head of the programme of Tristan shows.
"The management of the Société des Nouveaux Concerts is desirous of avoiding any disturbance during the performance of the second act of Tristan, and urgently and respectfully begs that the audience will abstain from giving any mark of their approval or disapproval before the end of the act."
The same year, in the Eden theatre, to which the performance of Lohengrin at the Eden theatre. Disturbances in the streets prevented further performances. Lamoureux then established himself in the concert-room of the Cirque des Champs Élysées, where for eleven years he has given what are called the Concerts-Lamoureux. He continued to spread the knowledge of Wagner's works, and has sometimes had the help of some of the most celebrated of the Bayreuth artists, among others, that of Mme. Materna and Lilli Lehmann. At the end of the season of 1897 Lamoureux wished to disband his orchestra in order to conduct concerts abroad. But the members of the orchestra decided to remain together under the name of the Association des Concerts-Lamoureux, with Lamoureux's son-in-law, M. Camille Chevillard, as conductor. But Lamoureux was not long before he returned to the conductorship of the concerts, which had now returned to the Château-d'Eau theatre ; and a few months before his death, in 1899, he conducted the first performance of Tristan at the Nouveau theatre. And so he had the happiness of being present at the complete triumph of the cause for which he had fought so stubbornly for nearly twenty years.
Lamoureux's performances of Wagner's works-have been among the best that have ever been given. He had a regard for the work as a whole and a care forits details to which the Colonne orchestra did not quite attain. On the other hand Lamoureux's defect was the exuberant liveliness with which he interpreted compositions of a romantic nature. He did not fully understand these works ; and although he knew much more about classic art than his rival, he rendered its letter rather than its spirit, and paid such sedulous attention to detail that music like Beethoven's lost its intensity and its life. But both his talents and his defects fitted him to be an excellent interpreter of the young neo-Wagnerian school, the principal representatives of which in France were then M. Vincent d'Indy and M., Emmanuel Chabrier. Lamoureux had need, to a certain extent, to be himself directed either by the living traditions of Bayreuth, or by the thought of modern and living composers ; and the greatest service he rendered to French music was his creation, thanks to his extreme care for material perfection, of an orchestra that was marvellously equipped for symphonic music.
This seeking for perfection has been carried on by his successor, M. Camille Chevillard, whose orchestra is even more refined still. One may say, I think, that it is today the best in Paris. M. Chevillard is more attracted by pure music than Lamoureux was ; and he rightly finds that dramatic music has been occupying too. large a place in Parisian concerts. In a letter published by the Mercure de France, in January, 1903, he reproaches the educators of public taste with having fostered a liking for opera, and with not having awakened a respect for pure music : " Any four bars from one of Mozart's quartettes have," he says, a greater educational value than a showy scene from an opera." No one in Paris conducts classic works better than he, especially the works that possess clean, plastic beauty ; and in Germany itself it would be difficult to find anyone who would give a more delicate interpretation of some of Händel's and Mozart's symphonic works. His orchestra has kept, moreover, the superiority that it had already acquired in its repertory of Wagner's works. But M. Chevillard has communicated a warmth and energy of rhythm to it that it did not possess before. His interpretations of Beethoven, even if they are somewhat superficial, are very full of life. Like Lamoureux, he has hardly caught the spirit of French romantic works—of Berlioz, and still less of Franck and his school ; and he seems to have but lukewarm sympathy for the more recent developments of French music. But he understands well the German romantic composers, especially Schumann, for whom he has a marked liking ; and he tried, though without great success, to introduce Liszt and Brahms into France, and was the first among us to attract real attention to Russian music, whose brilliant and delicate colouring he excels in rendering. And, like M. Colonne, he has brought the great German Kapellmeister among us---Weingartner, Nikisch, and Richard Strauss, the last mentioned having directed the first performance in Paris of his symphonic poems, Zarathustra, Don Quixote, and Heldenleben, at the Lamoureux concerts.
Nothing could have better completed the musical education of the public than this continuous defile, for the past ten years, of Kapellmeister and foreign virtuosi, and the comparisons that their different styles and interpretations afforded. Nothing has better helped forward the improvement of Parisian orchestras than the emulation brought about by the meetings between Parisian conductors and those of other countries. At present our own conductors are worthy rivals of the best in Germany. The string instruments are good ; the wood has kept its old French superiority ; and though the brass is still the weakest part of our orchestras, it has made great progress. One may still criticise the grouping of orchestras at concerts, for it is often defective ; there is a disproportion between the different families of instruments and, in consequence, between their different sonorities, some of which are too thin and others too dull. But these defects are fairly common all over Europe to-day. Unhappily, more peculiar to France is the insufficiency or poor quality of the choirs, whose progress has been far from keeping pace with that of the orchestras. It is to this side of music that the directors of concerts must now bring their efforts to bear.
The Lamoureux Concerts have not had as stable a dwelling-place as the Châtelet Concerts. They have wandered about Paris from one room to another from the Cirque d'Hiver to the Cirque d'Été, and from the Château-d'Eau to the Nouveau Théâtre. At the present moment they are in the Salle Gaveau, which is much too small for them. In spite of .the progress of music and musical taste, Paris has not yet a concert-hall, as the smallest provincial towns in Germany have ; and this shameful indifference, unworthy of the artistic renown of Paris, obliges the symphonic societies to take refuge in circuses or theatres, which they share with other kinds of performers, though the acoustics of these places are not intended for concerts. And so it happens that for six years the Chevillard Concerts have been given at the back of a music-hall, which has the same entrance, and which is only separated from the concert-room by a small passage, so that the roaring choruses of a danse du ventre may mingle with an adagio of Beethoven's or a scene from the Tetralogy. Worse than this, the smallness of the place into which these concerts have been crammed has been a serious obstacle in the way of making them popular. Nevertheless, in the promenade and galleries of the Nouveau Théâtre, in later years, arose what may be called a little war over concertos. It was rather a curious episode in the history of the musical taste of Paris, and merits a few words here. In every country, but especially in those countries that are least musical, a virtuoso profits by public favour, often to the detriment of the work he is performing ; for what is most liked in music is the musician. The virtuoso—whose importance must not be underrated, and who is worthy of honour when he is a reverential and sympathetic interpreter of genius—has too often taken a lamentable part, especially in Latin countries, in the degrading of musical taste ; for empty virtuosity makes a desert of art. The fashion of inept fantasias and acrobatic variations has, it is true, gone by ; but of late years virtuosity has returned in an offensive way, and, sheltering itself under the solemn classical name of " concertos, it usurped a place of rather exaggerated importance in symphony concerts, and especially in M. Chevillard's concerts—a place which Lamoureux would never have given it. Then the younger and more enthusiastic part of the public began to revolt ; and very soon, with perfect impartiality and quite indiscriminately, began to hiss famous and obscure virtuosi alike in their performance of any concerto, whether it was splendid or detestable. Nothing found favour with them—neither the playing of Paderewski, nor the music of Saint-Saëns and the great masters. The management of the concerts went its own way and tried in vain to put out the disturbers, and to forbid them entry to the concert-room ; and the battle went on for a long time, and critics were drawn into it. But in spite of its ridiculous excesses, and the barbarism of the methods by which the parterre expressed its opinions, that quarrel is not without interest. It proved how a passion and enthusiasm for music had been roused in France ; and the passion, though unjust in its expression, was more fruitful and of far greater worth than indifference.