The “standard” of three concertos on a concert

One feature of concert life in 1907 Berlin was the standard of three concertos for a concert given by a soloist. This would be unthinkable today because of the stamina required for both the performer and the audience, and because the lack of variety would be unappealing. After backtracking concerts by the Berlin Philharmonic to its beginning in 1882, I can observe some trends, at least for this venue.1Peter Muck’s Volume 3 of his history of the Berlin Philharmonic provides the programs of the first hundred years of their concerts. Some of the information is incomplete. Peter Muck, Einhundert Jahre Berliner Philharmonisches Orchester: Bd.3. Die Mitglieder des Orchesters, die Programme, die Konzertreisen, Erst- und Uraufführungen.(Berlin: H. Schneider, 1982.)

Several of the performers guilty of this inflationary programming were superstar pianists who could call Liszt their teacher, especially Bernhard Stavenhagen, Emil Sauer, and Frederic Lamond. In the 1880s the typical soloist would play one concerto and some solo piano pieces; the opening work was usually orchestral. On 29 January 1885 Stavenhagen gave a concert with two concertos: he began with a Mozart Concerto in D major, performed solo works by Schubert, Brahms, and Chopin, and then concluded with his own Piano Concerto in C major. On 22 November 1886 Emil Sauer also played two concertos (by Rubinstein and “Chopin-Nicodé”) and finished with a virtuoso showpiece, the Liszt Don Juan Fantasy. The following year (24 February 1888) Lamond opened with the Brahms B-flat Piano Concerto, played some solos, and concluded with the Henselt f minor Concerto. Two years later (14 November 1890) Sauer played solos in between two concertos and ended with a showpiece.

Felix Berber (1871-1930)

It was the violinist Felix Berber who made the jump to three concertos on 9 October 1896 (Tchaikovsky, Vieuxtemps d minor, and Beethoven). Ten days later he played another three-concerto concert of Dvorák, Paganini, and Lalo’s Symphonie espagnole. Two years later, on 4 February 1898, Otto Neitzel played the Beethoven Concertos 3, 4, and 5 in succession. Later than year Ferruccio Busoni raised the stakes with his series of four concerts illustrating the history of the piano concerto, with three or four concertos on each concert a week apart.

By 1900 relative unknowns were presenting three concertos on their instrument, presumably in order to become known.2For instance: Cellist Georg Schneevoigt, Volkmann, Saint-Saëns, Lalo on 7.10.1898, Sergius von Barteneff, Beethoven “Emperor,” Schumann, and Liszt E-flat on 25.11.1898; Marguerite Melville, Beethoven “Emperor,” Chopin g minor, Saint-Saëns g minor, 1.3.1900.

My deeply ingrained assumption was that female performers would not have the stamina to get through three war horses on a single concert. But the facts prove otherwise. The 13-year-old violinist Edith von Voigtländer played the Mendelssohn, Mozart E-flat and Saint-Saëns b minor Concertos on 22 November 1906. Pianist Elly Ney played the Brahms B-flat, Mozart C Major, and Beethoven “Emperor” on 26 October 1906. And the unheralded Elfriede Lippold outdid them all at that point by playing on 14 October 1898 the Beethoven “Emperor” and the Chopin e minor Piano Concertos, with the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in between. Female musicians who performed three concertos on a single concert with little or no fanfare in 1907: on piano: Gwendolyn Toms, Comtesse Helene Morsztyn, Gisela Springer, Marie Bergwein, Therese Slottko, Anna von Gabain, Suzanne Morvay, Elisabeth Bokemeyer, Evelyn Suart, Paula Stebel, Louise Clemens, and Else von Grave-Jonás. On violin: Margarethe Rowak, Betty Tennenbaum, Adila von Aranyi.

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2 comments

  1. …very interesting! So, can you let us know when they scheduled the intermission? I am assuming there was only one?

    1. It was up to the concert giver, I believe. The early (1880’s and ’90s) popular concerts of the Philharmonic were divided into thee parts with two intermissions. But those were longer and more informal. I will keep my eye out for this when I come across concert programs.

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