May 6, 1916
Page 1

Dr. Kunwald and His Men Win Distinction Over Philadelphia Orchestra by the Measure of Three Days, Ending a Spirited Contest for the Privilege—Strauss’s Monumental Work Called a Splendid Revelation of Spiritual Beauty as Well as a Wonderful Piece of Program Music

CINCINNATI won the day in the race to determine which American symphony orchestra should have the distinction of being the first to perform Richard Strauss’s new “Alpine” Symphony in this country. There were· three orchestras in the field. Josef Stransky, conductor of the New York Philharmonic Society, was the first to announce the work, but later abandoned the idea of performing it this season, because, he explained, some of the parts in the score had been held up by British officials in transit from Germany. Then the Cincinnati Orchestra issued the announcement a few weeks ago that it had obtained the complete score and would give the work its American premiere, and finally the Philadelphia Orchestra made the same claim with the statement that it had obtained the rights for this performance before the beginning of the present season.
Whatever the merits in the various claims, Dr. Kunwald and the Cincinnati Orchestra gained their point, for their production of the work on April 25 preceded by three days that of the Philadelphia Orchestra, under Leopold Stokowski. An account of the Philadelphia performance will be found in another column of this issue and the report of the Cincinnati premiere follows:
CINCINNATI, OHIO, April 25.—The American premiere of Strauss’s “Alpine” Symphony was given here at noon to-day in Music Hall before an immense audience, which, eager and enthusiastic, crowded the vast edifice to hear the much discussed work. Dr. Ernst Kunwald, who is not only a personal friend of Strauss but a particularly sympathetic interpreter of him, has given our public excellent training in the works of this composer, and consequently the announcement of the American premiere of his latest and perhaps greatest work aroused the widest interest. The demand for tickets was enormous.
An unwritten law prevails in Cincinnati that a Festival work, no matter how successfully performed, shall not be repeated after the Festival, the first performance of Pierné’s “Children’s Crusade” eight years ago being an example of this. Again it has always been customary for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra to give all novelties the regulation two performances accorded important works the usual symphony pair. With these precedents in mind, as well as anticipating the success which the Strauss symphony was bound to achieve and eager to give as large a section of the public as possible an opportunity to hear the work, the May Festival Board advanced the first performance by just one week, and it was thus given its American premiere to-day and with tremendous success.
The first performance was indeed remarkable in every way. Conductor, orchestra and audience alike entered into the spirit of the great occasion, and the result was a truly epoch-making event in the musical annals of Cincinnati. When Dr. Kunwald emerged from the left of the stage, deafening applause burst from the auditorium, and it was many moments before it subsided so that the performance could begin.
Nothing which Dr. Kunwald has done in Cincinnati has so completely demonstrated his superb ability as a conductor and as an interpreter as his reading of the Strauss Symphony. After but one week’s rehearsals, he conducted the score, difficult and complicated as it is, entirely from memory, and the orchestra in its turn responded with absolute fidelity and understanding. The virtuosity of the organization was apparent in every phrase, from the subtle whispers of the pastoral scenes to the overwhelming crescendos of the storm in the mountain tops. Complex as the writing is the conductor’s reading was absolutely lucid, while the phrasing and the balancing of the orchestral masses were clear-cut and logical.
At the conclusion of the symphony, fairly thunderous applause swept Music Hall from pit to dome. It persisted with unabated intensity, recalling Dr. Kunwald to the box again and again. Not satisfied with this, the audience continued the uproar until the orchestra was brought to its feet and, even after this amenity had been properly recognized, the crowd still lingered with continuous applauding, persistent handclapping being mingled with hurrahs and bravos. Hardly ever before has Cincinnati seen an artistic undertaking crowned with so pre-eminent a degree of success.
More Than Mere Program Music
Like all similar works, the Strauss symphony will require repeated hearings in order that its many-sided beauties and its full power may be grasped. Its first performance demonstrated indisputably, however, that it is not merely the work of an orchestral craftsman but of a thinker and a poet who uses a magnificent tonal medium by which to express the faith that is in him.
Strauss has sent his symphony into the world with all the credentials of program music—one should rather call it a symphonic poem as it is not written in the conventional symphonic form, but played without a break. Many annotations on the score furnish a guide to those who require an objective scheme, “Night,” “The Ascent into the Forest,” “Wandering by the Brook,” “At the Waterfall,” “Apparition,” “In Flowery Meadows,” “On the Aim,” “Lost in the Thicket,” “On the Glacier,” “Dangerous Moments,” “On the Summit,” “Vision,” “Elegy,” “Calm before the Storm,” “Thunder Storm,” “The Descent,” “Sunset.” In each case the orchestra delineates the picture with astonishing ingenuity and a marvelously literal effect. The song of the birds, the rushing of the wind, the fall of the rain, the roar and reverberation of thunder, followed by sharp cracking detonations fairly transport one to Alpine heights.
However, Strauss is no mere painter of objective musical pictures, but rather a prophet announcing a confession of faith in his delineation of two contrasted moods, the one embodied in rich and radiantly lovely melodies supported by ravishingly beautiful harmonies and the other, symbolized by the-storm, a passage full of crashing dissonance, typifying upheavals, the strife and terror of spiritual as well as of elemental forces.
Spiritual Beauty
The first is developed at length through various phases so compelling in their beauty that the mind of the listener quite disregards the indicated scheme and is lost in wonder at this rich and varied musical expression. Here is the Strauss of the glowing inspiration of the tone poems and of the earlier songs pouring out a mood of spiritual beauty and exalted faith.
Imperceptibly this mood gives place to that indicated in the mighty climaxes of the storm. Not only is every instrument—one hundred and thirty-five in all—called upon to contribute its utmost of power but various new groups are added to this stupendous outburst of sound so suggestive of some inner cosmic upheaval. This, shattering as it is, gives place once more to the seraphic beauty of the former mood with all its spiritual exaltation. The work closes in a mood of serene tranquility and of elevation.
The “Alpine” Symphony is not only a remarkable composition considered as a piece of orchestral writing but compelling in its power as a great spiritual poem. The splendid success of its first performance will make its second performance, that of May 4, the most conspicuous event of the entire Cincinnati Festival. —A. K. HILLHOUSE.


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