The evening was fair; the apartment at Castle Garden, full of light, wore the most joyous air; the orchestral platform, when full, had the appearance of a small, but crowded Mount Parnassus; and the nondescript deities, or whatever they were, on the curtain that overhung it, seemed ready to skip and jump with pleasure. All was right, except the audience, which, though good-looking, well-behaved, and quite large enough to make the atmosphere oppressive in the latter part of the evening, was not, alas! satisfactory, viewed in regard to dollars. We fear not more than three or four thousand of those little ‘almighties’ could have been added to the fund. We suppose the calculation was injudicious and that, in taking so large a hall, the tickets should have been put at a lower rate, for it is well known that the economies of our people lead them to prefer paying eight quarters of a dollar eight times for eight bad books, rather than two whole dollars, all at once, for one good book; and it follows they would prefer paying four half dollars for four ordinary entertainments, rather than two dollars for an excellent one. As for expecting them to act in reference to the future, that can be looked for only from the smallest minority.
The size of the room was a benefit to those who were well seated. Music cannot be equally heard in it, and the more delicate parts are much swallowed up and wasted by its construction. But the grand bursts of sound, the full passages, had, this time, sufficient perspective to give them effect.
The first overture was well performed. Miss Northall followed, but either she was agitated, or did not know how to proportion her voice to the building. Her singing was in efficient, and she fell into her old lachrymose style, from which we hoped she had finally energed. Perhaps it was straining her voice that destroyed its firmness of tone. We regretted this, as she is becoming, justly, a favorite with the public. An overture of Mozart followed, to which due effect was not given. Then came Madam Otto. She showed skill and practice in making use of her position. We never heard her sing so well, and she was much applauded. But her total want of fire and spontaneity makes her always wearisome to ourselves. We cannot do without the presence of the electric spark of soul in music; mere words do not suffice us.
The came Mendelssohn’s concerto, Mr. Timm at the piano, a truly delightful performance. Mr. Timm’s calm elegance and purity of tone are always refreshing. “He is,” said one present, “like a rill of pure water,” and he was well sustained.
Then came Pico,—dear, honest, generous soul as she seems, in her singing at least; that is all we know of her. She is one of Nature’s good ones, and her voice flows forth as the true breath of her being; there is no taught twittering there. Her song was encored, and we were willing, long as the evening necessarily was.
Beethoven’s Symphony then came to entrance us. At this first time of hearing, it overshadowed like a tower the wandering mind; we could only feel it, and should need long acquaintance to disentangle our impression. We understood it sufficiently to feel the want in the musicians of a similar apprenticeship to a true and thorough comprehension and rendering of its sense; we felt all along inadequacy, a want of the proper light and shade. This is no disparagement to them; profound study and devotion, no less than capacity, being requisite both for leader and auxiliaries with such a great work. As it was, the impression was almost overpowering, at least to some—not, indeed, to the ladies and gentlemen, who thought that the best time to secure their omnibuses, and who, we do believe, if admitted to the heavenly courts, could not be beguiled from ringing the bell in the midst of Hallelujah to ask if luncheon was ready. Never, never shall we forget one night when Braham was giving forth the sublime remains of his great voice, such tones as none of us will hear again, in Luther’s Judgment Hymn, while he was calling upon the trumpets to answer and the dead to arise, the ladies and gentlemen arose instead and began shawling and cloaking lest they should lose the best moment for going out. That was in Boston. Might but such people go out for a permanence, and bear in mind that they have no sense for such things. The ill-breeding that disturbs others is bad enough, but oh the unutterable stupidity! But to return to the symphony. The Ode to Joy was an entire failure owing to the want of voices fitted to sustain such words and such music; still it was very obvious what it must be when adequately given. It was, indeed, a pity to hear such a screeching, shrilling, and jarring, when a worldwide gush of soul, equally magnificent in the poet and the musician, demanded the noblest tones, in the most perfect unison of which human nature is capable, still we are glad to have heard it, even so. We mourned to see the weak translation affixed, giving to those who could not read German such a distorted image of the great original where every word is fraught with the inmost fires of the heart. If any were endurable, it would be one verbally exact; it is wicked for common rhymsters to meddle with such things.
We departed at a late hour, fatigued, but grateful for much and high pleasure, and in the opinion that, considering the defects of the apartment and the great number of performers who had to be moulded to a common object with slight and hasty preparation, the success was surprising and the result a great boon.*
“The Grand Festival Concert at Castle Garden,” New-York Daily Tribune, 22 May 1846, p. 2.