Eugene d’Albert: Concerto for Cello and Orchestra in C major, op. 20
Eugen d‘Albert was a kind of “superstar” in the Gewandhaus history of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. For more than four decades, he felt at home in the Gewandhaus, appearing there as composer, pianist and conductor of his own works. People loved his “volcanic temperament as a spiritual and musical creator”, as music commentator Walter Riemann wrote in Die Leipziger Neuesten Nachrichten.
On the occasion of Johannes Brahms‘s last visit, the reverence in which d‘Albert was held climaxed with the concert on January 31, 1895, when he played both of Brahms‘s Piano Concertos under the baton of the composer. This was despite the fact that at that time, d‘Albert openly demonstrated sympathy for and commitment to the New German school of Wagner and Liszt.
As a pianist he gave a great number of performances in Leipzig concert venues. Since he was a pupil of Liszt, he began not in the Gewandhaus, but in the rival Liszt Society, an “alliance providing protection and shelter against the conservative rigidity and offensive negativity with which the Gewandhaus and its conductor Carl Reinecke resisted all new music, especially if it was by any of Liszt‘s followers”, as music commentator Ferdinand Pfohl described the “most conservative Gewandhaus era”.
Something had to be done fast in order to rejuvenate the Gewandhaus and its audience and save the orchestra‘s artistic reputation. The appointment of Arthur Nikisch in 1895 brought a conductor who was open to the music of the new age. Like d‘Albert, he had regularly appeared at the Liszt Society and was perfectly familiar with the music of the post-Wagnerians, of whom d‘Albert was one …
Many of d‘Albert‘s works now had their premiere or first Leipzig performance at the Gewandhaus, the Cello Concerto of 1902 among them.
Eugen d‘Albert lived not far from Leipzig. Since 1891 he had owned an impressive villa in Coswig near Dresden, named after his second wife, the Venezuelan pianist Teresa Carreño. Because of its proximity to Coswig station on the Dresden-Leipzig line, the house was ideal for the couple, with all their travel commitments. That was also true for the family‘s artist friends, who frequently paid visits; Johannes Brahms, Richard Strauss, Carl Bechstein, Edvard Grieg, the great Dresden opera singers and Ernst von Schuch, the general music director of the Dresden Royal Court Opera, were all very welcome guests at the Villa Teresa.
The couple‘s good connections with the opera scene in Dresden and with Arthur Nikisch, the Gewandhaus cellist Julius Klengel and Richard Strauss in Leipzig probably explain the increasing number of guest performances given by celebrated Dresden opera singers at the Gewandhaus at times that more or less coincided with d‘Albert‘s concerts. Erika Wedekind (Gretel at the premiere of Hansel and Gretel in Weimar), Minnie Nast, Eva von der Osten and Karl Scheidemantel (who sang Sophie, Octavian and Faninal at the Dresden premiere of Rosenkavalier) were among those celebrities.
While the Latin-spirited Carreño and d‘Albert were still being acclaimed at the Gewandhaus in January 1894 (Eugen conducting his E major Piano Concerto op. 12 with Teresa as soloist), their marriage very soon went from one crisis to the next. The marriage probably failed due to their impulsive temperaments, professional rivalry and d‘Albert‘s affair with Hermine Finck, a singer at the Weimar Court Opera.
D‘Albert had met the young singer through his friendship with Richard Strauss, who was the same age as him and who premiered Humperdinck‘s Hansel and Gretel in Weimar at that time. Hermine Finck sang the part of the Witch – and suddenly became famous.
Deeply in love with her and wanting to be near her, d‘Albert now became court conductor in Weimar and entered his third marriage with her; three more marriages and a firm but extra-marital partnership were still to come. To this day, the Villa Teresa in Coswig stands as a monument to a spirit of musical change that rapidly spread to Leipzig and the Gewandhaus, where it was greeted with enthusiasm.
Dr. Steffen Lieberwirth
© Text from the Booklet