Pianists

 
Henri Herz
   
  Herz is emphatically a great performer; less dashing in manner than many of his predecessors, but great because with apparently little effort, he executes the most difficult passages with rapidity and neatness, with strength and the most precision. His delicacy of touch is remarkable, and from beneath his facile fingers each note comes forth clear, liquid, harmonious.
 
Boston Daily Evening Transcript (21 December 1846)
   
  He won't make such a sensation as De Meyer . . . for his playing is quiet, and you must listen for its beauties, instead of being rattled or thundered into a kind of bewildered admiration with Marches Marocaines and the like uproarious claptrappery. . . . There's no execution for execution's sake: it's all music and not sleight of hand—and beautiful, music, too.
 
George Templeton Strong (Diary, 29 October 1846) (1)
   
  In the piano performance of Herz, there is a tone—a sweetness—a chain of melody—that enraptures—unlike the hail-storm clatter of De Meyer.
 
Daily Cincinnati Commercial (5 July 1847)
   
  We were much pleased with the quiet and unassuming manner of Mr. Herz while performing, so different from that of De Meyer, who by his disgusting buffoonery, materially marred his performance in the eyes of all persons of taste.
 
Alta California (San Francisco) (3 April 1850)
   
  It was like a performer sitting down to amuse himself—there was no apparent effort to make a display, but the delicacy and softness of the execution, united with its vigor and correctness, were positively enchanting. De Meyer may break a piano, but Herz can break a heart.
 
Alabama Planter (Mobile) (15 February 1847)
   
 

1. Vera Brodsky Lawrence, Strong on Music: The New York Music Scene in the Days of George Templeton Strong, 1836–1875, Volume 1: Resonances, 1836–1850 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), 1:381.

 

 

 

 
Herz on De Meyer
 

 

In his book on his American travels, Herz never mentions De Meyer by name or alludes to his manager's skirmish in the newspaper with his rival. Yet it is hardly coincidental that in a chapter on Baltimore, where the clash occurred, he ridicules a pianist who could only be the "Lion":

Baltimore . . . appears to have the most beautiful women in the whole country. At my concerts I was carried away to see so many beautiful faces all at once. . . . I never did, however, get to the place reached by a pianist who toured America a little while after I did, and who always waved to them. This the gallant virtuoso did with his right hand, while his left hand went rippling over the keyboard of the instrument (consecrated style). What charms will do!

At his concerts he wore trousers with great stripes like those on mattress ticking, and when bouquets were thrown to him he always gathered them up and offered them to the most beautiful of his feminine listeners. Often he stopped in the middle of what he was playing in order to deliver a speech, after which he returned to the piano, throwing devastating glances at the ladies. I mention this, not as criticism of my most honorable colleague, but only because it is characteristic. No one found this conduct unbecoming, and the ladies were charmed by the dignified manners and bearing of this artist who was, indeed, so very commendable from every point of view.

   
  Henri Herz, My Travels in America, trans. Henry Bertram Hill (Madison: The State Historical Society of Wisconsin for the Department of History, University of Wisconsin, 1963), 53 (originally published as Mes voyages en Amérique [Paris: Achille Faure, 1866]). Some of the clues that Herz is describing De Meyer include the bouquets, the pianist's "devastating glances at the ladies," and his striped or plaid trousers.
 

 

 

 
Monster Concerts
 

 

Works arranged for multiple pianos, such as Rossini's overtures to William Tell and Semiramide arranged for sixteen pianists on eight pianos, were an occasional feature of Herz's concerts in the United States. Though generally well received, they also inspired the inevitable spoof, such as this one on a performance of the Semiramide Overture:

We were, we confess, delighted by the extraordinary combination of melody and the mixture of intervals, and consecutive eighteenths in the cantabile passages. But we are sorry to have to find fault with the weakness of the eighth gentleman's third finger—in the trill, this was evident—also the peddling of the fifth gent was a little shaky—the sixteenth gentleman's left arm was a little too strong, and his eyesight seemed defective—the thirteenth gentleman we caught looking over the twelfth gentleman's shoulder—this gentleman perspired a good deal towards the conclusion, and was the first we missed from the platform. We also thought the seventh gentleman's chords a little loose—he has a good left hand, though very red, but his intervals are not as marked and steady as we could wish. The eleventh gentleman, we regret to say, was so agitated that he kept thumping the floor with his foot, thinking he was striking the peddle; this marred his performance greatly. We certainly felt for the ninth gent; for, while in the act of gaining this seat, the stool being at the immediate end of the platform, slipped, and precipitated the wretched pianist a distance of several inches. . . .

   
  Unidentified New York newspaper, Henry C. Timm Scrapbook (Music Division, New York Public Library).
 

 

 

 
Pianos in California
 

 

Finding good pianos in California was truly no easy task. Although Herz claimed to have sent two of his own pianos ahead of him, (1) he seems never to have used them in his concerts but simply relied on whatever instrument was available. For his first San Francisco appearance, Alta California was "not at all satisfied with the piano" and was pleased to announce that "a very fine instrument [had] been kindly loaned Mr. H." for his second concert. In Sacramento, even though several citizens "kindly proffered to loan him their pianos" for his first concert, the Sacramento Transcript reported that "the piano, although a good one, still contained but six octaves, and we could see plainly, that the great master was cramped during the performance of his pieces." (2)

Anecdotes concerning Herz and pianos in California are numerous. One of them was still circulating almost two decades later:

When Herz, the celebrated pianist, was in California, he announced a concert in one of the new cities, and was obliged to send to San Francisco for a property very necessary to the entertainment—viz., a piano. At the hour announced for the concert, the tickets were all sold, the house was crowded, the artist was at his post, and everything was in readiness—except the piano. In consequence of an inexplicable delay, the instrument had not arrived. Herz looked at his rough and bearded auditory in very considerable trepidation. What if the gold-digging dilettanti should take it into their heads to give him a taste of revolver or bowie-knife, by way of filling up the time? Heavy drops of perspiration stood on the frightened pianist's brow, and he began to wish himself in China, in Kamschatka—anywhere but in California. The miners saw his alarm, and kindly comforted him. "Never mind the cussed pianer," said two or three of them soothingly; "we don't care for it; we came to see you. Make us a speech!" Herz, with restored serenity, did the best he could. The spoken entertainment seemed to please the audience; and everybody, except the artist, had quite forgotten all about the piano, when its arrival was announced. A number of stout men carried the instrument into the hall, and placed it on the platform. It was a three-cornered, or "grand" piano, and Herz, promising himself to astonish these simple and easily-satisfied inhabitants of the Pacific coast, seated himself on an empty whiskey keg (instead of the more civilized stool) and ran his fingers rapidly over the key-board. Blum! blum! splash! splash! not a sound did the piano utter, save that of keys striking in the water! The Californians who had brought the "box" from San Francisco, finding it very heavy, had floated it to town, and upon dragging it out upon the levee, had neglected to pour the water from the interior. (3)

   
 

1. P. A. Fiorentino, "Henri Herz: un concert en Californie." Le Constitutionnel, 21 September 1851; trans. in The Musical Times 4 (21 February 1852): 251–53.

2. Alta California, 3 and 6 April 1850; Sacramento Transcript, 8 and 18 April 1850.

3. Western Musical World 4 (February 1867): 19, and The New York Musical Gazette 1 (March 1867): 35.

 

 

 

 

Herz Tells the Truth

 

 

From Paris to Peoria generally takes a skeptical view of much Herz's American memoirs, which frequently do not agree with the historical record. However, a review of Herz's New York debut in the New York Evening Mirror, recently brought to our attention by Pacien Mazzagatti, a D.M.A. piano student at the Manhattan School of Music, confirms one of Herz's anecdotes involving a miracle salve (see From Paris to Peoria, p. 319, n. 33):

"By the way, it is but fair to mention that a day or two before the
concert, Mr. Herz in taking off a blower, burnt and blistered his finger so severely that he expected to be compelled to postpone his concert in consequence. He was, however, recommended to apply to the burn Dalley's Magic Pain Extractor, and in twenty-four hours his finger was perfectly cured, consequently to Mr. Dalley's admirable Extractor the New York public are [sic] indebted for the early opportunity of hearing Mr. Herz."

   

 

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