excerpt from 'Thirty Years of Musical Life in London, 1870-1900' pp. 79-84 (536 words)

excerpt from 'Thirty Years of Musical Life in London, 1870-1900' pp. 79-84 (536 words)

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Thirty Years of Musical Life in London

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Early in 1877, the University of Cambridge decided to confer the degree of "Mus. Doc.," honoris causa, upon two of the world's greatest musicians, Johannes Brahms and Joseph Joachim. The distinguished violinist readily accepted this invitation...To Brahms the intended compliment involved a good deal more. It meant a long journey to a country that he had never visited, and, as he afterward bluntly admitted, had never had the smallest desire to visit. He looked upon England as probably the least musical of European countries, and set no store whatever upon honorary degrees, even when bestowed by such an ancient university as Cambridge. He therefore declined the invitation to be present, but expressed his willingness to receive the degree if it could be conferred in absentia; and he offered as his doctor's " exercise " the new symphony in C minor, No. 1, which had been performed for the first time in the previous November at Karlsruhe. After some consideration the offer was accepted, and March 8, 1877, was the day fixed for the ceremony to take place at Cambridge...If the "Deutsches Requiem" opened the eyes of German music-lovers, it was assuredly the symphony in C minor that awakened English ears to a just and worthy estimate of the gifts of the Hamburg composer. The impression created at Cambridge was to spread within a few years over the entire kingdom. "What a masterpiece for a first symphony!" exclaimed Garcia, as we listened to the rehearsal by the Cambridge University Musical Society under Villiers Stanford. What a masterpiece indeed! And what patience for such a musician to have waited before writing it until he was forty-three years old and could inscribe "Op. 68" upon the score of his symphony No. 1! Of course we all smiled when the opening theme of the finale suggested that unmistakable resemblance to the corresponding subject in the last movement of Beethoven's "Ninth," which Brahms always protested he could not perceive. But the trifling similarity mattered naught unless to lend the new work a greater charm; for Brahms was nothing if not original, and the soul of honesty itself. His beautiful "Schicksalslied" was also performed at this concert, and it helped to confirm the deep impression created by the symphony. Alas, that he should not have been there himself! But the personal tribute paid that day to his beloved friend, Joseph Joachim, was in every way remarkable. Well-known musicians came from distant parts of the country to be present. It 'was to do honor to the illustrious violinist whom he had known long years that my own venerable master made the journey from the metropolis to witness the bestowal upon him of a distinction similar to that which had already been conferred upon himself as the inventor of the laryngoscope. And never has the Public Orator of Cambridge University employed terms more felicitous or more eulogistic than he contrived to put into his Latin speech in this instance. Dr. Joachim's "exercise" consisted of his fine overture in memory of the celebrated poet Heinrich von Kleist, which was played under his own direction. He also gave a superb performance of the Beethoven violin concerto, of which work he is, by common consent, admitted to be the greatest of all interpreters.

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excerpt from 'Thirty Years of Musical Life in London, 1870-1900' pp. 79-84 (536 words)


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