Pianists
 
Hans von Bülow
 
He is afflicted with no special mannerisms, if we except the peculiarity of walking upon the stage with gloved hands and carrying his hat. Hitherto we have been accustomed to seeing a pianist come before his audience ready for action, without having to hunt a hat-rack or disrobe his hands.
Indianapolis Journal (29 February 1876), 2:2
 
He plays without apparent effort, and without any display, rarely raising his hand from the keyboard, and with the feeling of a true artist refraining from that swaying to and fro, that thumping, and that general demonstrativeness which the majority of performers seem to think such essential adjuncts of piano playing.
Hartford Daily Courant (1 November 1875), 1:9
 
In some lovely passage, his head turns slowly toward the audience, and a dreaming glance from under the heavily drooped lids seems to sympathize with his listeners in their moment of keenest pleasure.
Philadelphia Inquirer (13 March 1876), 4:5
 
At times the performer would raise his eyes from the instrument, throw his head back slightly and appear to forget just where he was and what he was doing.
St. Louis Republican (11 February 1876), 2:2
 
He has at times a caressing way with his instrument, as if he loved it—bending down to catch its faintest whisper; at others, in more stormy places, he throws his head up and glances around with the air of a general who has gained a victory.
Buffalo Commercial Advertiser (26 January 1876), 3:2

 

 

Bülow's Wit

 

Although the veracity of the following anecdotes cannot be verified (like many of the best stories about great musicians), they do seem to be representative of Bülow's temperament.

Being asked the other evening the conventional question of "how he liked America," Von Bülow replied that he thought it a country of wonderful liberties. "Indeed!" said his friend, inquiringly. "Yes," said the Doctor, "and I think all of them have been taken with me." (1)

Von Bülow was lately introduced to an amateur composer in Boston by a mutual friend, who said: "Dr. Von Bülow, this gentleman has written an opera and doesn't know anything about music." "Oh!" said Von Bülow, with an elevation of his shoulders, "I know a gentleman who has written several operas and doesn't know anything about music—Mr. Verdi." (2)

He abominated the practice of presenting flowers and wreaths to performers on the stage. He once refused a laurel wreath which was thus brought to him, with the words, "This is a mistake; I am not a vegetarian!" (3)

Once he stopped abruptly and demanded that the ushers turn the piano round. When his reason was asked he replied that a certain lady in the audience annoyed him unspeakably by fanning herself out of time. When it was suggested that it might be simpler to ask the lady to stop, he said he could not think of giving her so much trouble; and the piano was turned. (4)

After a concert in Boston's Music Hall, he was upset by the number of people who had sent to the artist's room for an autograph. "Confound it," he exclaimed, "where the devil is that man who signs my autographs for me? He should be here. There is a lady waiting down stairs for an autograph and she should be gratified at once. . . . I suppose I shall have to write one myself." And he proceeded to do so on the back of a card. "There! I think that is as much unlike my autograph as I can make it." (5)

 

1. Dwight's Journal of Music 35 (25 December 1875): 152.

2. Dexter Smith's 8 (December 1875): 167, and The Music Trade Review 1 (3 December 1875): 39.

3. Frederic S. Law, "Von Bülow's Letters," The Musician 14 (August 1909): 344.

4. Francis E. Regal, "Anecdotes of von Bülow," Music 5 (April 1894): 685.

5. Musical Courier 28 (28 February 1894): 7.

 

 

Bülow and Tchaikovsky (and Rubinstein)

 

After giving the world premiere of the Tchaikovsky First Piano Concerto in Boston, Bülow sent the first telegram ever from Boston to Moscow informing the composer that his work had been "immensely applauded." Tchaikovsky responded through the Chickering piano firm that the news had given him "great joy." The composer later wrote in greater detail to Bülow (1 December 1875):

Some of my printed scores and my two quartets are at this moment on their way to America. I strongly wish that they would have the enviable fate which, thanks to you, has happened to my concerto.

How I would like to be present at one of your concerts, and to enjoy the good fortune of hearing you play my concerto! While waiting, I heard it a few days ago in Petersburg, where it was miserably crippled, most of all because of the conductor, who did everything in the world to accompany in such a way that, instead of music, there was nothing but an atrocious cacophony. The pianist [Gustav] K[ross] interpreted it in a conscientious manner, but flat and denuded of taste and charm. The piece had no success whatsoever.

Another letter from Tchaikovsky (13 February 1876) thanked Bülow for arranging for a performance in Boston of his String Quartet in D Major, Op. 11.

I have just returned to Moscow . . . and I find here your good letter of 13 January, in which you announce once more an American success that I owe you. Receive, dear protector of my muse, my warmest thanks and the expression of the joy that I feel in considering the enormous step that the propagation of my music has made, thanks to your protection.

Isn't it strange to think that between the two most celebrated artists of our period, it is in you, who have only lately known me, and not in Anton Rubinstein, who meanwhile was my teacher, that my music has found a support so necessary and so beneficial. This god of Olympus has never shown towards my works anything but supreme contempt, and I'll confess to you in complete confidence that I have always been deeply wounded by this. Regarding the quartet whose success you report, let me tell you of a little incident that will make you understand how great is this contempt. When, some years ago, I approached the publisher Bessel (of St. Petersburg), offering him the quartet free of charge, he called upon R[ubinstein] to learn from him whether this work was worth publishing. "No," my former teacher replied, and thereupon (just like that!) Bessel sent me a rejection slip of the most formal and humiliating sort. And this is always the way in which this great artist has behaved towards my works. If I tell you that, dear sir, it is to make you understand the immensity of the recognition that I owe you, you who have not been my teacher and who are not even a compatriot.

As he confided to Nadezhda von Meck, Tchaikovsky was intensely disappointed that Rubinstein, who was in the best position to advance his career, always treated him with "lofty arrogance bordering on contempt"; nobody was better at "inflicting deep wounds on [his] self- respect." On the other hand, Bülow was "the only bigwig" who was "truly well disposed towards" him and had actively promoted his music: "I have him to thank for the fact that I am much better known in America and England than anywhere else, and I have a pile of articles about myself that he sent me, written in those two countries, in which he has been active recently."

 

Telegrams in Boston Evening Transcript, 1 November 1875, 1:4; Tchaikovsky's two letters to Bülow appear in Hans von Bülow: Briefe und Schriften, ed. Marie von Bülow, 8 vols. (Leipzig: Brietkopf und Härtel, 1895–1908), 6:297–98, partial trans. of the latter one in David Brown, Tchaikovsky: A Biographical and Critical Study, Volume II: The Crisis Years (1874–1878) (New York: W. W. Norton, 1983), 67; Tchaikovsky to Nadezhda von Meck, Clarens, 31 March 1878, in Galina von Meck, trans., "To my best friend": Correspondence between Tchaikovsky and Nadezhda von Meck, 1876–1878, ed. Edward Garden and Nigel Gotteri (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993), 225–26.

 


Bülow and Madeleine Vinton Dahlgren

 

View online Bülow's musical contribution to Madeleine Vinton Dahlgren's Etiquette of Social Life in Washington, 5th ed. (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1881), pp. 5-12, a setting for voice and piano of her preface, “If Order Is Heaven's First Law," as mentioned in From Paris to Peoria, p. 341, n.27. (Thanks to Sarah Meredith for informing me of the online version.)

 

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