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Orchestral Conducting in the Nineteenth Century.

Orchestral Conducting in the Nineteenth Century. Edited by Roberto Illiano and Michela Niccolai. (Speculum Musicae, 23.) Turnhout: Brepols, 2014. [xiv, 441 p. ISBN 9782503552477. 110. [euro]] Music examples, illustrations, index.

As stated in the foreword, "the purpose of this volume is to study orchestral direction during the period of its greatest transformation," which the editors consider "a phenomenon of the early nineteenth century" (p. xi). The volume contains eighteen out of twenty-six papers "presented at the international conference held in La Spezia, Italy, 14-16 July 2011, organized by the Centro Studi Opera Omnia Luigi Boccherini (Lucca) and the Societa dei Concerti della Spezia in collaboration with Palazzetto Bru Zane--Centre de musique romantique francaise (Venice)" (pp. xiii-xiv).

A word on languages: the publisher and editors apparently believe that the educated reader would have a working knowledge of English, French, and Italian. While lengthy quotes in German have Italian translations in the footnotes, French quotes in English and Italian papers or Italian quotes in French papers do not. The footnotes refer freely to works in these languages, normally without translations. Further, the book would have been enhanced considerably if the editors had insisted that the authors provide abstracts of their articles, as required in the Journal of the American Musicological Society (JAMS) and Journal of the Society for American Music (JSAM). This would have been particularly helpful for those articles in French, Italian, and Spanish, especially if the abstracts were in English, the language implied by the book's title. (Translations throughout this review are my own.)

The papers are divided into five sections. The first four papers concern "Conductors and Conducting in Nineteenth-Century Europe." Fiona M. Palmer, in "Conductors and Conducting in 19th-Century Britain: The Liverpool Philharmonic Society (1840-1895)," describes the work of five conductors, Jacob Zeugheer Herrmann, Alfred Mellon, Sir Julius Benedict, Max Bruch, and Charles Halle, in developing the role of the conductor and raising that orchestra from a gentleman's amateur ensemble to a fully professional one. Naomi Matsumoto, in "Michael Costa at the Haymarket: The Establishment of the Modern Role of 'The Director of Music,' " recounts how Costa was able to take on many administrative and musical functions at the King's Theater (later Her Majesty's Theater), Haymarket, thereby "establishing the essential tasks of the modern 'Director of Music,'" which "became indispensable to the musical and theatrical achievement of opera as a modern art form" (p. 49). Costa's activities at the Haymarket (1830-47) included assuming some of the work of the impresario, engaging composers and performers, and the selection of repertoire, in addition to conducting performances, duties traditionally split between the keyboard player and the first violinist. Four tables include the duties and personnel of the King's Theater, a list of the concerts Costa conducted between 1830 and 1845 when he moved to Covent Garden, and surviving autograph letters to or from Costa from 1829 through 1884. Etienne Jardin, in "Les chefs d'orchestre dans les concerts parisiens de 1794 a 1815" ("Conductors in Parisian concerts 1794-1815"), found that in that brief period there were many terms for those in charge of instrumental concerts in newspaper announcements--chef, conducteur, directeur, "a la tete de l'orchestre"--and that the terms were basically synonymous, sometimes even carrying contradictory meanings. He includes a table of forty-five musicians designated as "dir." in the papers, the most important being Jean-Jacques Grasset, Rodolphe Kreutzer, Pierre-Nicolas Le Houssaye, and Theodore Lefevre. All were violinists, so presumably directed while playing (pp. 66-67). Jardin admits the limitations of his study: there is no identifiable leader for a quarter of the concerts held in Paris between 1794 and 1815, and the names in his table may be misleading, in that the conductors and soloists of the major opera houses are not represented. He suggests that the conductor at the beginning of the nineteenth century was a professor whose sole purpose was the progress of art (and not favoring a particular student), an event organizer attuned to the taste of the Parisian elite, and a technician who could guarantee compliance with the nuances and tempos of the orchestra (p. 81). Rudolf Rasch, in "From Collegium musicum to City Concert: The Professionalisation of Ensemble and Orchestral Music Making in Utrecht," uses the Utrecht ensemble "to present a short sketch of how an ensemble can grow from small to large, and how it was directed or conducted, to use the modern term, throughout history" (p. 83). The Collegium began in 1631 as an ensemble of gentlemen amateurs from the local nobility or upper class who paid for membership and then engaged professional musicians to aid in their performances. The position of first violinist was created in 1767. In addition to leading the orchestra, he was required to play a solo at every concert. Political upheavals affected the orchestra, and middleclass and bourgeois elements became dominant. The Collegium continued to grow in size with fewer amateurs and more professionals, and in 1830 Johann Hermann Kufferath was engaged to conduct the Collegium orchestra, the theater orchestra, and teach at the newly-established music school.

The next four papers fall under the heading "Historical, Aesthetic and Sociological Aspects." In a very lengthy and erudite paper, "Virtuosismo violinistico e direzione orchestrale: rapporti storici e scissione dei ruoli" ("Violin Virtuosity and Orchestral Conducting: Historical Relations and the Division of Roles"), Renato Ricco analyzes the gradual development of the orchestral director/conductor as separate from the first violinist or keyboard player. Following a general summary of the European scene, he concentrates on Italy. He describes how the violin virtuoso at first functioned as soloist and conductor, and how a clear separation of functions slowly developed due to many factors, not the least being the increasing difficulty of the operatic and symphonic repertoire. He comments that reconstructing the history of the division of roles is difficult since the sources differ depending on country and context. He notes that many of the primary sources are German, but that they are mainly designed for the orchestral violinist, not the soloist. Gilles Demonet, in "Naissance, epanouissement et subordination du directeur musical" ("Birth, Blossoming and Subordination of the Music Director"), begins by defining the differences between the guest conductor and the musical director. While the former is an occasional visitor to the orchestra or opera, the latter is more permanent and normally has administrative, managerial, and programming as well as musical duties. He credits Francois Antoine Habeneck for creating the modern symphony orchestra with his Societe des concerts du Conservatoire (1828-48). He also notes that Habeneck was the first true conductor who was not a composer. Demonet then discusses Gustav Mahler (creator of the modern Vienna Staatsoper, 1898-1907) and Arturo Toscanini (remaker of the Teatro alla Scala, Milan, 1898-1908). By way of contrast, Demonet then discusses the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, an autonomous and self-directed ensemble whose music director ranks no higher than that of the musicians. Claudia Colombati, in "La figura del direttore d'orchestra nella dimensione storico-estetica dell'Ottocento" ("The Image of the Orchestral Director in the Historic-Aesthetic Dimension of the Nineteenth Century"), covers much the same ground as Ricco, concentrating on the profound aesthetic, social, and political change from kapellmeister/concertmaster to music director in the early nineteenth century. In discussing the development of the conductor in Germany, she concentrates on Weber in Dresden, Meyerbeer in Berlin, Stamitz in Mannheim, Liszt in Weimar, and Mendelssohn and Schumann in Leipzig. Wagner's views on conducting and Bayreuth are briefly discussed, and the article ends with comments on how conductors and composers could continue to work together professionally in spite of personal "rivalries and jealousies," using the Wagner-von Bulow and Verdi-Mariani rivalries as examples. Ruben Vernazza, in "II direttore d'orchestra nel sistema produttivo del teatro d'opera italiano di fine Ottocento. Un caso eloquente: Emilio Usiglio a Firenze nel 1892" ("The Orchestral Conductor in the Production System of the Italian Opera of the Late Nineteenth Century. An Eloquent Case: Emilio Usiglio in Florence in 1892"), approaches the changing status of the orchestral director from a new perspective: that of the Italian opera director. He notes that the impresario dominated the performance of opera, with the conductor/first violinist responsible only for selecting the instrumentalists and disciplining the orchestra while the maestro concertatore prepared the singers. By the end of the century, however, the situation had changed radically, and Vernazza focuses on the organization of two parallel opera seasons in Florence in 1892. He shows how Emilio Usiglio had become artistic director with great powers over all aspects of opera production, even to the point that impresarios were subject to his decisions. Another important aspect is the rise of the music publisher, Giulio Ricordi, who basically assumed the role of impresario, working closely with Usiglio. Vernazza ends his article with a discussion of Arturo Toscanini's appointment at La Scala, Milan, in 1898 as artistic director, which gave him complete freedom of action in the choice of works, singers, musicians, chorus members, and designers and in the determination of the number of rehearsals and performances, and suggests that Usiglio's situation in Florence was the precursor.

The third section presents "Techniques, Orchestral Dispositions, Treatises." Walter Kurt Kreyszig discusses "Hector Berlioz's Technique of Conducting in Theory and Practice: His Subdivision of the tactus in Le chef d'orchestre, theorie de son art and His Scores." He posits, "Berlioz focuses his attention on the venerable system of French mensural notation, as transmitted in the Ars nova (c1320) of Philippe de Vitry" (p. 219), something this reviewer finds absent in Berlioz's brief eleven-page chapter, translated by Theodore Front and published by Edwin F. Kalmus in 1948, which looks simply like a modern conducting textbook (Grand traite d'instrumentation et (l'orchestration modernes). This is one of the editions that Kreyszig's heavily footnoted article mentions, and while that would probably be the one most Americans would be familiar with, it is obviously not the only edition of Le chef d'orchestre. Unfortunately, Kreyszig's many references to examples in discussing Berlioz's interpretations refer to the French original and "English translation," but not this translation, and since he does not include any of the examples in his article, one must have a copy of one or the other in order to understand the points he is trying to make. Emmanuel Herve, in "The Orchestra of the Paris Opera: A Forgotten Plan of the 19th Century," calls attention to a neglected source by Alexandre Choron that he believes "generates a better knowledge of the orchestra, which is an essential element of the operatic art" (p. 250). He compares Choron's seating chart of ca. 1837 to that of Francois Debret, the architect of the Le Peletier auditorium, which was compiled in 1820. In spite of the enlargement of the wind sections of the later nineteenth-century operas, Choron's suggestions were basically ignored, and the musicians' positioning remained stable throughout the century. Interestingly, the position of the conductor, some conducting from the violin, did change over time, with some facing the audience, others facing the musicians.

It is encouraging to see an essay on bands, a subject too often ignored by musicologists, in this collection: Antonio Carlini's "Metamorfosi della direzione bandistica in Italia dall'Ottocento a Toscanini" ("The Metamorphosis of Band Direction in Italy from the Nineteenth Century to Toscanini"). In a long and well-documented article, Carlini begins by describing the wide variety of orchestral ensembles, and how a director became necessary to balance the various sections and enforce discipline. Unfortunately, conservatories did not as yet have permanent teachers of band instrumentation, so while the graduates may have been technically prepared, they had little practical knowledge, especially with regard to new instruments such as saxhorns, saxophones, and lower brass. Carlini describes four types of band organization: military bands, privately financed bands to protide music for popular festivals and liturgical events (bande di giro), and municipal bands (these first three all staffed by professionals), and amateur musical associations. He mentions fifteen band directors who by the end of the century had achieved a mythical aura similar to orchestral conductors such as Toscanini, the most important being Alessandro Vessella, head of the Municipal Band of Rome (1885-1925). Carlini credits Vessella and Alandro Giampieri for developing basic instrumentation for small, medium, and large Italian bands.

The fourth grouping concerns "Great Composer-Conductors." Maria Teresa Arfini begins her study of Felix Mendelssohn as a conductor, "Felix Mendelssohn direttore d'orchestra," with his great success reviving Bach's St, Matthew Passion in Berlin in 1829. She comments on Mendelssohn's use of the baton, a thin stick of whale bone covered with white leather, which apparently was not as yet common in Berlin at the time. She then discusses his many trips to England leading up to the great success of Elijah in 1846. Before that, however, Mendelssohn accepted the position of conductor in Dusseldorf in 1833. In 1835 he was offered the directorship of the Gewandhaus Orchestra in Leipzig, the choral society7 and the famous Thomasschule. Her many quotes (some in German with Italian translation) illustrate some of the problems he had with amateur and even professional groups at the time. While many of the statements are favorable, she also includes some negative ones, especially by Wagner, who felt that Mendelssohn's tempos for Beethoven were always too fast. Gesine Schroder, in "The Historical Theory of Rhythm as Instruction for Conducting or How Liszt Performed his Symphonic Poems," refers to the writings of Hugo Riemann as "a famous example of blending music theoretical comprehension and performance direction" (p. 311). She uses examples from Franz Liszt's Les preludes, as she believes "it was exactly Liszt's music that inspired Riemann to write his treatises" (p. 322). She includes some very interesting descriptions of Liszt's actual conducting style that may well surprise modern students of conducting techniques. Mariateresa Dellaborra, in "Alessandro Rolla direttore d'orchestra del Regio Teatro alla Scala" ("Allessandro Rolla Conductor of the Royal Theater La Scala [Milan]") covers the period 1802-33 when Rolla was primo violino, capo d 'orchestra at the famous Teatro alla Scala, commonly referred to as La Scala, Milan. Rolla, famous violinist, violist, and teacher of the young Nicolo Paganini, was commissioned in 1802 to engage the finest musicians and make the orchestra the finest in all of Italy. It is interesting to note that one of the attractions was that the musicians would continue to receive half-pay if they became incapacitated or too old to carry out their duties, something unusual for Europe at that time. Beginning with forty-five musicians, by 1810 the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung claimed that the orchestra of La Scala was the best in Italy. Rolla conducted many important Italian premieres at La Scala, including Don Giovanni, Cost fan tutte, Le nozze di Figaro, II turco in Italia, and La gazza ladra. It is interesting that throughout this entire period, Rolla was listed after Vincenzo Lavigna, maestro al cembalo, in the printed programs. Dellaborra also discusses Rolla's work at the Milan Conservatory and several musical societies. In "Dal virtuosismo strumentale alla direzione di "Aida": poliedricita artistica di Giovanni Bottesini (1821-1889), un direttore d'orchestra 'impeciato di quartettismo' ("From Instrumental Virtuosity to the Direction of Aida: Artistic Versatility of Giovanni Bottesini (1821-1889), a Conductor 'Steeped in quartettismo), Elisa Grossato makes a strong appeal for Giovanni Bottesini, known as the "Paganini of the double bass" since 1843, to be recognized as a major conductor and concert organizer as well as a soloist. She uses Verdi's choosing him to conduct the first performance of Aida in Cairo as one of many examples.

The fifth and final section is "Performance and Musical Interpretation." Remy Campos, in "La repetition d'orchestre: d'un objet historique inedit a de nouvelles pratiques musicales" ("The Orchestral Rehearsal: From Unpublished Historical Archives to New Musical Practices"), takes issue widi those conductors specializing in baroque and classical music who have increasingly been recording symphonic and operatic romantic music with their period instrument ensembles, as if the music of 1830 was performed in the same manner as that of 1780. He specifically mentions recordings by John Eliot Gardiner, Philippe Herreweghe, Marc Minkowski, and Herve Niquet, and especially criticizes them for conducting with a baton or their hands, when, as clearly determined by articles in this book, the first violinist should have conducted the compositions. Through research in the archives of the Geneva Music Society (active 1823-42), Campos found musical practices to be considerably different from those later in the century. The musicians in that Society were mostly amateurs, and rehearsals were an occasion for sociability. Most likely, the music was read without drilling, tempos were slowed down to accommodate the less accomplished, bowing was left to the individual, and when there were concerts, audiences probably had a greater tolerance for imperfections. Campos tested his hypothesis with two student concerts and proved that historical accuracy need not prevent freedom of expression. He urges that the historian of orchestral practice be open to musical activity in its entirety, rather than just seeking the ideal performance. In "Elementos de concertacion en los conciertos para organo y orquesta de Gaetano Valeri" ("Elements of Agreement in the Concertos for Organ and Orchestra by Gaetano Valeri"), Fabrizio Ammetto briefly discusses the more than ninety instrumental compositions by the Italian composer, cathedral organist, and pianist Gaetano Valeri (1760-1822). Ammetto then concentrates on two of Valeri's concertos for organ and orchestra that he believes represent a valuable rarity in the Italian panorama of the time, the last decades of the eighteenth century and first twenty years of the next century. Paola Cannas, in "Sonata Forms in Performance," addresses the issue of how the underlying principle of sonata form, "the opposition between two contrasting groups within a definite structure" (p. 399) changed dramatically during the romantic period to include formal distortions and variations. She bases her argument on the writings of Richard Wagner, "the father of the modern school of Central European conductors, the man whose practices and principles have greatly influenced the interpretations of subsequent generations of conductors, especially between the late nineteenth- and mid-twentieth centuries" (p. 401). After discussing the form of Beethoven's "Eroica" Symphony, "often cited as the work which marks the beginning of the Romantic period in music" (p. 402), she analyzes the tempo, dynamics, and articulation of selected conductors of the "Central European school" (Abendroth, Barenboim, Furtwangler, Karajan, Kleiber, Klemperer, Mackerras, Solti, Toscanini, Walter, and Weingarten) and their interpretations of the first movement of Johannes Brahms's Fourth Symphony.

Admittedly, this is a very large topic to cover and it might be unfair to carp on minor details, but the title is Orchestral Conducting in the Nineteenth Century. One might wonder whether some of the eight papers from the conference not included in this collection discussed the situation in Russia, America, or other European capitals. Since a paper on Italian bands was included, it would have been interesting to recognize the importance of America at the time, especially the change from the director leading the band while playing E[flat] cornet to the all-encompassing directors like Patrick Gilmore, some twenty years before Mahler and Toscanini. These are minor points, however, and should not detract from the value of the compilation. The period discussed was indeed one of great transformation, with later performance practices completely replacing earlier traditions. Anyone studying this period should be aware of these changes, and, as pointed out in Campos's paper, this is especially important for those claiming to present historical performances with period instruments.


City University of New York (Emeritus)
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Author:Camus, Raoul F.
Article Type:Book review
Date:Dec 1, 2015
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