Tribute to Hugo Ulrich

On Friday night to hear Oleg Caetani conduct the SSO [not the Sydney Star Observer].

Oleg Caetani’s departure from the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra last year was a sorry spectacle. In one way or another, Harold Mitchell, a very rich man who has made a lot out of money out of advertising, had something to do with it as a new chairman of the MSO with presumably a determination to make a fresh start. If it was a question of making Caetani a scapegoat for declining box-office, that seems misguided.

Of course, I can’t comment about Caetani’s relationship with the Melbourne orchestra, but my memory of the reports is that it was only some players who were roped into focus groups which were mined for mutterings of discontent about him, and his departure came to many others as an unwelcome surprise.

I have enjoyed Caetani’s appearances with the SSO, and it was a relief to see that he returned for his SSO gigs, when my neighbour told me he had been too sick to fulfill engagements in Adelaide and Perth earlier this year. Fortunately, as my neighbour,Y, also informed me, he is presently in good health.

Shortly after Y told me this, I lost him by exchange to my neighbour-but-one (Z), who thereupon became my neighbour. I suspect that was the aftermath of a moment of concert rage in the last concert on the part of my (then and still) neighbour but two (and then Z’s and for the rest of Friday Y’s neighbour), X. Z enraged X by first leaning forward to speak to her friend in the row in front, and then being unable to turn off some kind of speaking device – I am presuming a clock radio – inside her handbag at a critically quiet section of a slow movement. X actually said something! After that, things had been a bit frosty in row T.

I boldly asked Z (she is a Hungarian lady of advanced years) “Did you bring your talking handbag?” After a short double take Z cheerfully reassured me that she hadn’t brought it this time, so X’s rebuke had not proven entirely fruitless.

And so to the music. The program was:

Haydn, “Farewell” Symphony [“I’ve never heard that before” I overheard someone say at interval]
Bruch, Violin Concerto No 1 [that’s the well-known one]
Schoenberg – Chamber Symphony No.1 [curdled late romanticism but still rhythmically quite orthodox]
Beethoven – Symphony No 8

The Bruch was probably the audience’s favourite. I found myself quite familiar with at least the first section as a result of my former life accompanying teenage violinists. Z’s favourite was the Beethoven, though she agreed with me that the last movement was a bit flat. She didn’t like the Schoenberg. I found it engrossing but a bit lost in the SOH Concert Hall. What I most enjoyed was the Haydn. Corny as the ending is, it is nonetheless effective, and the sturm-und-drangish first movement really captured my imagination.

On Saturday, I found my set of four-handed piano arrangements of the symphonies (well, 12 of them) purchased second-hand from Tyrrells in about 1979, and was pleased to find the Farewell Symphony amongst them. Some of the string figuration comes out a bit clunkily at the keyboard, but it is still a view inside the work which you don’t get just from listening to a recording.

Which is all thanks to the arranger, Hugo Ulrich. Seeking to date my (undated) Peters Edition, I became a little curious about him.

The Internets, chanelling 1952 Groves, are rather severe on Ulrich, saying, just for starters, that he:

“was a composer of great ability, whose life was wasted owing to adverse circumstances, and probably also to want of strength of character. “

They just don’t write reference books like that any more, do they?

According to Grove, Ulrich had some early successes but they were not to last:

In 1855 [when he was 27] Hugo Ulrich went to Italy and lived for long in the various great towns, but was driven back by want of means to Berlin. He brought with him an unfinished opera, Bertrand de Born (still in manuscript). He taught for a short time in the Conservatorium, but teaching was distasteful to him; he had not the strength to struggle against fate, and after attempting a third symphony (in G) he appears to have broken down, or at least to have relinquished his old high standard, and to have betaken himself to pot-boilers of various kinds. Amongst these his arrangements of symphonies and other orchestral works are prominent, and of first-rate merit. He left a quartet, two overtures, a violoncello sonata, and various pianoforte works.

Nevertheless his 4-handed arrangements are still quite widely in print, though obviously long out of any copyright. That’s not so bad, Hugo!

On Sunday, D and I went to Balmain for a stroll and (for his part) a recce of the Rozelle markets. There I spotted and, in the circumstances, had to buy Edmund White‘s The Farewell Symphony. I stayed up late Sunday night reading this, but it would probably stretch the associations of this post to go into it in any detail, other than to remark that I’d already read the best bits in their non-fiction versions in his memoir from last year, City Boy.

One Response to “Tribute to Hugo Ulrich”

  1. Thinking of Lord McNaghten « Stumbling on melons Says:

    […] My Hungarian neighbour Z, who appears to have made a permanent switch to my side as a result of the concert-rage she provoked the concert before last, enthused to me: “Simone, that’s a good Jewish […]

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