Puccini, Hanslick, Christmas 2022
This Week in Classical Music: December 19, 2022. Puccini and Christmas. Giacomo Puccini was born this week, on December 12th of 1858. Not way back we got here throughout a narrative involving him, it’s attention-grabbing however moderately circuitous so bear with us for a second. It begins with Michael Haas, the writer of a really attention-grabbing e-book, The Forbidden Music, the story of Jewish composers and musicians banned by the Nazis – we extremely suggest it. Mr. Haas runs a weblog which we additionally discover attention-grabbing. One of many latest entries was dedicated to the 1903 article by Eduard Hanslick who reviewed the efficiency of Puccini’s La Bohème on the Vienna Hofoper, the court docket opera, carried out by Gustav Mahler. It’s fascinating, however we have to set the scene and attempt to put issues into perspective.
Eduard Hanslick was a well-known music critic (we had an entry about him a number of years in the past). He labored for a Viennese newspaper referred to as Die Neue Freie Presse (The New Free Press). The newspaper, in all probability probably the most influential within the Austrian Empire, was uncommon in that it employed numerous distinguished Jewish writers, together with Theodor Herzl, the founding father of Zionism. Julius Korngold, the daddy of the composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold, additionally Jewish, succeeded Hanslick because the chief music critic. Keep in mind that Austria at the moment was extremely antisemitic; Karl Lueger, the Mayor of Vienna on the time, was one of many main antisemites. Hanslick, who labored on the newspaper for 40 years, was enormously influential. He was a preeminent supporter of the music of Brahms and a critic of Wagner, Bruckner, and Hugo Wolf (he additionally disliked Tchaikovsky’s Violin concerto, saying that it “stinks to the ear”). This was the one who wrote a scathing overview of Puccini’s La Bohème, a manufacturing mounted below the supervision of the then Director of Hofoper, Gustav Mahler, who additionally carried out the premiere.
We all know La Bohème as one of the vital fashionable operas ever, and considered one of Puccini’s perfect; it’s being staged continuously on each continent. In 1903, although, it was fairly new: the premier was held in 1896 in Turin with the younger Arturo Toscanini conducting. Virtually on the identical time Ruggero Leoncavallo, the writer of Pagliacci, additionally wrote a La Bohème, now completely forgotten. It was primarily based on the identical e-book by Henri Murger and had a profitable premiere; again then it wasn’t that clear which one was higher (Hanslick, who hated each operas, didn’t hesitate to tell us which one he thought was worse). Then there may be one other side of the efficiency: in Austria, as in Germany, the UK, or Russia, operas have been staged within the native language. Although Hanslick preferred the singing, La Bohème in German would in all probability grate our ears in the present day. Lastly, concerning the type of the article. It’s introduced not as a quick overview we might anticipate in the present day however as a tremendously detailed, lengthy account of all points of the efficiency. Some articles again then, referred to as feuilleton, may run three-four pages – and other people learn them. This one can also be lengthy, so you might not wish to learn the entire thing, however skim it, it’s enjoyable and Mr. Haas has great pictures and musical snippets.
So right here is the article. And right here is O soave fanciulla from Act I, sung by Renata Tebaldi (Mimi) and Jussi Bjoerling (Rodolfo) in 1956. Onerous to think about that Hanslick didn’t prefer it.
And naturally, Merry Christmas to all!
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