Sunday, February 15, 2015

Richard Strauss in Kansas City

"Tonight the most Discussed Music Writer Will Go Through His "Forest of Sharps and Flats" in the Convention Hall" 

"Composer Desires a Walk Here, Choosing Swope Park"

"He had just come from St. Louis where he encountered a rather keen disappointment, although he smiled when he told why he had not been permitted to conduct the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra in some of his own works. 'The board of directors, he said, decided against it'. He smiled again, as if there was no accounting for the things that happen. 'But tell me how would the people of Kansas City receive Till Eulenspiegel'?"

On Wednesday, February 23, 1921, Richard Strauss made a stop in Kansas City on his tour of the United States, and gave a concert at Convention Hall with soprano Claire Dux. Strauss played the piano for the entire concert, which consisted of 16 of his songs. I get such a charge out of the fact that one of the greatest composers in history visited our city. I found a "coming soon" write up in the KC Star, (the quotes above are taken from that) and a review of the performance in the KC Post. The orchestral works of Strauss are very well known, including Till Eulenspiegel, An Alpine Symphony, Death and Transfiguration, Metamorphosen, and Also Sprach Zarathustra. But he is also well known for writing many operas and songs. 
Here is the review as it appeared in the Kansas City Post the next day.

Famous Pianist and Young Continental Singer Stir Thousands by Exquisite Renditions at Convention Hall.
By Frances Davis

A tall man with long arms, sensitive hands and shoulders that drooped a trifle, stepped onto the concert stage in Convention Hall Wednesday night.
The man was Dr. Richard Strauss, modern master of musical compositions, beloved friend of the iconoclastic Nietsche, accused of being the bitter enemy of the dramatic and ethical Wagner, the creator of exquisite music in all forms and cadences. His hair is white, but his eyes hold a magnetic message.
Those in the audience were not absorbed in the personality of Richard Strauss, gratified themselves with an inspection of Claire Dux, the young, continental singer selected to voice words for the beautiful nuances of the composer's songs.
It was all done very quietly. Mme. Dux, a fair haired young woman with a voice like the mellow stir of summer winds in leafy reaches, was gowned in a pale lavender tinted satin dress.
Nothing in her appearance suggested the Blase.
She appeared to sing to please and even her mannerisms, which were many, bore the mark of sincerity of feeling.
The concert was unusual in many respects.
No great demonstration occurred when Dr. Strauss appeared. The only flutter came after the singing of three songs in the fourth group. Miss Dux forgot the fourth song (there were four songs in each of the four groups) and grew most humanly red at the omission, which apparently amused the scholarly Dr. Strauss. He smiled.
At any rate, the austerity of the occasion was broken and Miss Dux came back and sang the songs she had omitted, "Freundliche Vision". This ended the group which, it had been planned, would be ended with "Standchen". But what mattered that? The audience showed no desire to leave, and Miss Dux returned to sing that serenade again, making five songs in the group.
Approximately 5,500 persons attended the concert. The young singer received sincere tribute. Applause called her back five times after the conclusion of the second group.She also was obliged to repeat the exquisite, lulling melody of "Wiegenlied", a lullaby, for the second time.
The music of this was played by the composer with scarcely an appearance of touching the piano. He has none of the heralded "technique"of the music schools, that begs the piano student to hold the finger up from the second joint and strike a direct movement.
His hands slide over the keys, striking with but little distance. The piano he used was a Knabe. The songs carolled forth in sheer rhythmic resonance, with no hint of pyrotechnics.
An aged musician sitting down in front shook his head devoutly at the close of the lullaby. "That's singing," he said, "and music".
The Strauss songs were all on the general theme of devotion. One was a barcarole, the English version by Alice Mattuiath, swaying with the rythm of the usual boat song music, a trifle more adequately voiced, a bit more delicately balanced, a hint of the ineffable in the midst of "yearning to rise, there, where the stars in the heavens are thronging," as the English version reads.
Miss Dux has a voice that carries along the singing quality of the Strauss music. Emotionally, her renditions were alive. She sang almost dramatically on occasions. One of the most perfectly balanced evidence of her control of staccato tone was in the final song, the serenade, and again "Mein Auge"-My Vision, English words by John Bernoff - and "Longing Hearts".
The songs played  by Dr. Strauss offer musical variety. He plays with tone as a boy plays with grains of sand in a sieve in Ich Schwebe. (I soar). The "angels through the ether winging" go sailing up, up the treble cleff, to the last note on the keyboard.
It was difficult to divide oneself between the dramatic tonal emanitions of Miss Dux and the singing, arpeggio arrangements of Dr. Strauss. Lightly as a breath, he shaded into pianissimo tones and gracefully as the piling of waves on a beach, he sent forth accentuations for the heavier demands, never outdistancing the voice of the young woman singer.
There was plenty of space to spare in the hall and those who hoped against hope to hear something more from Dr. Strauss than as an accompanist, were disappointed, but the concert was one of the most successful of may seasons, according to many opinions expressed.
When a young woman sings 16 love songs, repeating two of them, written to more or less difficult music, and when the composer who wrote them accompanies her, there is bound to be music. That's what it was.

Convention Hall was built in 1899. It burned down in 1900, but was rebuilt in 90 days. It was at the corner of 13th and Central. The Hall was torn down in 1936 when Municipal Auditorium was opened. Distant Kansas City memories......

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