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Concert Program for a piano recital by Hans von Blow New Haven

November 4, 1875

New Haven Concert Programs
Gilmore Music Library

Hans von Bülow New Haven November 4, 1875

  Chopin’s music has been a staple of concert programs since the nineteenth century. Hans von Bülow’s 1875 New Haven recital is a typical example. It included three works by Chopin: a nocturne, a waltz, and a polonaise. (The “Valse Brillante, Op. 43” listed in the program was a typographical error for Op. 42; Chopin’s Op. 43 is actually the Tarantella.)
Hans von Bülow (1830–1894) ranked among Europe’s leading musicians, both as a pianist and as a conductor. He led the first performances of Brahms’s Symphony No. 4 and Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde and Die Meistersinger, and he was the soloist in the premiere of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1. (The last mentioned of these events took place in Boston, a week before the New Haven concert.) Bülow was famous for his musical acumen, his formidable intellect, his cantankerous personality, and his unhappy role in one of the most notorious scandals of the era: he married Cosima Liszt, the daughter of Franz Liszt, but she later abandoned him for Wagner. Despite his personal disappointment, he continued to perform Wagner’s music.

In addition to Chopin, Bülow’s New Haven program featured works by Bach (played on the piano, of course), Beethoven, Mendelssohn, and Liszt. Modern observers might be surprised to see that the concert also included vocal numbers by Rossini and Bellini, sung by Miss Lizzie Cronyn (1852–1921). For much of the nineteenth century, concerts often resembled variety shows, with a broad range of vocal and instrumental performers; a concert with nothing but solo piano music by the great masters would have seemed forbiddingly austere. By 1875, unabashedly serious solo recitals were no longer unusual, but Cronyn sang in most of Bülow’s concerts in the United States.

The day after this concert, the New Haven Morning Journal and Courier published an unsigned review, which described Bülow as “one of the very greatest pianists of this or any other age and generation,” but while praising his technique and intelligence, lamented that “he does not draw tears or kindle the passions with a Promethean spark of genius.” The critic mentioned all three Chopin works on the program, quibbling with aspects of Bülow’s performance of the polonaise, while admiring his rendition of the nocturne and the especially the waltz: “the Valse was the gem; and it provoked a hearty encore.” Those in attendance may have responded heartily, but there were not enough of them, for the critic complained about “the rows of empty benches,” and added that “it seems very strange that a city the size of New Haven cannot muster an audience of at least decent size on such an occasion as that of last evening. We confess that we do not understand how our New Haven public can be so apathetic in regard to musical matters.”

This concert took place in Music Hall, one of New Haven’s principal venues. Music Hall was located on Crown Street, on the block between Temple Street and Church Street. It should not be confused with a later building by the same name, at 115–121 Court Street.