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This Day in Music History - 16 January 1910

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Carnegie Hall, New York , 16 January 1910: In a memorable evening, Sergey Rakhmaninov gives the third performance of his Piano Concerto no.3, with the New York Philharmonic under its new music director, Gustav Mahler.

Rachmaninov appeared as soloist in the world premiere of his Third Piano Concerto on November 28, 1909, which took place at the New Theater in New York City. Walter Damrosch conducting the Symphony Society of New York.

Rachmaninov deemed Mahler “the only conductor whom I considered worthy to be classed with (Arthur) Nikisch. He touched my composer’s heart straight away by devoting himself to my Concerto until the ccompaniment, which is rather complicated, had been practiced to the point of perfection, although he had already gone through another long rehearsal. According to Mahler, every detail of the score was important—an attitude which is unfortunately rare amongst conductors.”

In Professional sports, we use the expression “player’s coach” to label coaches that are flexible and player-friendly. Rachmaninov goes on to tell a derailed account of the rehearsal, showing Mahler to be – shall we say – not exactly a “musician’s conductor”:

The rehearsal began at ten o’clock. I was to join it at eleven, and arrived in good time. But we did not begin to work until twelve, when there was only a half hour left, during which I did my utmost to play through a
composition that usually lasts thirty-six minutes. We played and played…Half an hour was long passed, but Mahler did not pay the slightest attention to this fact…

Forty-five minutes later Mahler announced: “Now we will repeat the first movement.”

My heart froze within me. I expected a dreadful row, or at least a heated protest from the orchestra. This would certainly have happened in any other orchestra, but here I did not notice a single sign of displeasure. The
musicians played the first movement with a keen or perhaps even closer appreciation than the previous time. At last we had finished. I went up to the conductor’s desk, and together we examined the score. The musicians
in the back seats began quietly to pack up their instruments and disappear.

Mahler blew up: “What is the meaning of this?”
The leader (i.e., concertmaster): “It is half-past one, Master.”
“That makes no difference! As long as I am sitting, no musician has a right to get up!”
The New York Herald reported the following day:

The impression made at the earlier performances of the essential dignity and beauty of the music and the composer’s playing was deepened, and the audience was quite as enthusiastic in its expression of appreciation as
at the performance at The New Theater on 28 November last and at the Carnegie Hall two days later.
Then, the New York Herald critic offered this prophetic commentary about the Rachmaninov Third:

The work grows in impressiveness upon acquaintance and will doubtless rank among the most interesting piano concertos of recent years, although its great length and extreme difficulties bar it from performances by any
but pianists of exceptional technical powers.
Pianists consider the concerto to be one of the most difficult of its kind, not just in terms of its technical demands, but because of its length. Rachmaninov's personal style remained faithful to the musical language of romanticism. Although from 1918 he lived abroad, his works display many distinctive elements of Russian music and a grandeur of form and pathos that draws on the legacy of Tchaikovsky. The opening theme of the concerto is one such example of a typical "Russian" theme, recalling a folk song or according to some biographers an Old Russian church song. So too is the nostalgic theme of the second movement, followed by the fire and temperament of the finale. The piece is internally unified by a central idea that runs through all the movements, and at the climax of the finale the secondary theme from the introduction is heard again; the way that the ideas constantly return gives the impression, so characteristic of Rachmaninov, of improvisation at the level of genius.

In addition to works by Smetana and Wagner, the Philharmonic also premiered an orchestration by Mahler of selections of Bach’s 2nd and 3rd Suites for Orchestra. Compared to the hyper-romantic arrangements of Bach organ music turned out in the first few decades of the twentieth century (by the likes of Schoenberg, Elgar, and Stokowski) Mahler's version of music from Bach suites is surprising forward-looking and restrained.

Unlike the other arrangements mentioned above, Mahler was working from a piece whose original version already was an orchestral score. His purpose was to transfer Bach's original sound, as he understood it, to the medium of the orchestra of his own time. The sound of the orchestration is recognizably based on Bach's original orchestration - Mahler does use some orchestral procedures that are quire alien to Bach's style, as we now understand it. These include use of pizzicato in the strings, octave doublings for reinforcement and alterations of orchestral color, and a complete written realization of the keyboard continuo part. (The organ is used only in the first movement, which is the Ouverture from Suite No. 2..)

This was the complete programme:

16 January 1910

New York Philharmonic
Gustav Mahler, conductor
Sergei Rachmaninov, piano

Bedrich SMETANA (1824-1884)
Overture to Prodaná nevesta (The Bartered Bride), JB 1:100

(Performed here by the McGill University Symnphiny Orchestra under Alexis Hauser)

Sergey RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Piano Concerto No.3 in D Minor, Op.30

(Video clip is of the final section of the Third movement by Emil Gilels, with l'Orchestre de la Societe de Concerts du Concervatoire conducted by Andre Cluytens - complete performance here)

Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Suite for Orchestra, Harpsichord, and Organ (after J.S. Bach) (1910)

(Video clip is of the Rondeau and Badinerie performed by the Concertgebouw Orchestra under Riccardo Chailly - complete performance here)

Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
“Prelude and Liebestod” from Tristan und Isolde, WWV 90

(Video clip is of the Overture, performed by the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra under Daniel Barenboim - complete performance here)

Happy Listening!

January 20, 2012, "I Think You Will Love This Music Too" will be adding a new montage "Beethoven & Schönberg" to its Pod-O-Matic Podcast. Read our English and French commentary January 20th on the ITYWLTMT Blogspot blog.

Updated Jan-16-2012 at 11:32 by itywltmt

Classical Music , Concerts , Composers , Conductors