Tuesday, April 12, 2005

"The Czar of All Conductors"

I was fascinated looking at the list of orchestra members who played under Louis Antoine Jullien, the famous French conductor, when he visited the US in 1853-54.* M.Jullien brought 25 or 26 leaders (sources differ) and 2 vocal soloists with him from London, and then hired New York musicians to create his orchestra of 80+ players. Jullien was a stern, demanding, disciplinarian and his performances stunned the NY critics, even the hard-nosed Bostonian John Dwight, writing for the New York Courier.

Jullien’s “great orchestra” included members who were, or would become, prominent in American musical life. Theodore Thomas would become the first conductor to program an entire concert of serious music, and who toured widely in America introducing audiences to German music, especially Wagner, (but not American music, thereby setting future musical menus with mainly central and northern European music)and to set high standards for American orchestras. Ureli Corelli Hill was the founder of the NY Philharmonic and was its first American conductor. George Bristow championed American music; was a composer of operas, symphonies, overtures, etc. with American themes; played in the NY Philharmonic and was on its board of directors; and was a supervisor of music in the NY Public schools. William Fry, a composer, was the first American to compose a publicly performed grand opera, and an early espouser of American oriented music and American composers.

These better-known names leaped out from the list, but a closer look could probably find other contributors to American music. The influence of Jullien’s discipline and leadership on Thomas, Hill, Bristow, Fry, and others, must surely have been enormous, and his impact on the development of American orchestras (and bands) and their repertoire is also worth investigating further. Bandsmen have long ago acknowledged Jullien as a guru.

Jullien conducted 214 concerts in 10 months in the U.S. The dictionaries often accuse him of being, at best, a showman. He was indeed. But he was first of all, a distinguished and portentous conductor and splendid musician. He led his orchestras in the latest compositions of Berlioz, Mendelssohn, and Wagner together with Beethoven and other older masters. He also performed contrasting light dance music and program music with sensationalism to entertain his audiences. His concerts were always sold out, while other New York concerts were poorly attended. (Hmmm! and this was 150+ years ago).

Jullien was among the first conductors to use a baton. He was the first conductor strong enough to expropriate the power and authority from the concertmaster; to insist on uniform bowing; to demand, and get, precision of attacks and releases, accents, and wide, controlled dynamics. Neither Berlioz nor Wagner equaled him as a conductor.

His life, alas, was one of heights and depths; of enormous successes and disappointments. He died a broken man.

*Much of what is in this post comes from Adam Carse’s The Life of Jullien (Cambridge, UK, Cambridge University Press, 1951). The rest is from my own research. Also, if you bought a copy of Jos. Horowitz (Classical Music in America, NY, W.W. Norton, 2005), he mentions Jullien with several citations.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

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12:43 AM  

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