Much like concerts today, recitals by pianist Sergei Rachmaninoff received coverage in the Duluth News Tribune before and after his 1920 performance.
While the Duluth News Tribune covered Rachmaninoff’s Jan. 20 performance and the New York Times covered his performance at Carnegie Hall on Jan. 29, each did so in ways quite different from what we might expect to see today in concert reviews.
Rachmaninoff was one of the most famous composers in the 20th century, performing both his own pieces as well as other famous pieces. However, the coverage for such a musician was both minimal and differently written compared to what we see today.
After a performance at the world famous Carnegie Hall in New York City, Rachmaninoff’s recital received only a short two paragraph write up in The New York Times the day after the concert. “A more sincere, more lyric piece of pianoforte writing is rarely to be found; only in such legitimate emotional and musical qualities was the Russian’s fine performance of it again ‘sensational,’” The New York Times article said.
While this quote was the core of the brief article, it also demonstrates a level of sophistication not often seen in music review writing today.
The Duluth News Tribune offered a more in-depth coverage of Rachmaninoff before and after his performance at the Duluth Armory.
“I play the way I think the masters intended their music should be played,” Rachmaninoff said in and interview before his recital. “It is of no consequence that others think their interpretations better. I play for the heart—the heart is all, everything.”
The next day the News Tribune ran a follow up story to his concert that was much larger than The New York Times story. The writer of the story, Edward Barr, wrote in such a way that you could almost feel the emotions taking place at the recital.
“There were some 3,500 of us there together, upon a moment, audience and player vanished—we were alone with the piano—the world apart; and suddenly we were all recalled to life and duty and the Ballade mounted in one splendid crescendo.” Barr said.
Shades of this style of writing still exist today, but the difference is clear in both the length and style of writing in each of these articles. Regardless of how it is written, Rachmaninoff clearly was a highly regarded musician as he played in famous venues and received tremendous respect in the reviews.
“The Valse was indescribably sweet and light,” Barr said. “Contrasting sharply with bits of the Gounod-Liszt Valse, which in its marvelous interpretation first impelled one’s feet to the dance, then left the audience aghast at the orchestral crescendos which seemingly demanded everything there is in pianoforte skill—and whose demands were ably met.