|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.
(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.
(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.
Advertiser (26 January 1876), 3:2
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."
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
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!"
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
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."
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."
Bülow and Madeleine Vinton Dahlgren
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.)