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Art for the Sake of Art

Near the Lake by Pierre Auguste Renoir. Art Institute of Chicago.
Near the Lake by Pierre Auguste Renoir. Art Institute of Chicago.
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My first experience with theatre was as a child with my parents and sisters at the Broadway production of Man of La Mancha. Children’s concerts led by Maestro Leonard Bernstein came next and when Jesus Christ Superstar appeared, I excitedly followed the era’s period works like Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Godspell, and Hair.

Carnegie Hall exterior, 1899
Carnegie Hall exterior, 1899

Many people are compelled to defend the arts as adjuncts to “reading, writing and ‘rithmetic”, valuing them solely for developing vocabulary, critical and abstract thinking, or simply improving math scores akin to the Mozart Effect.

While these values are genuine, they are at best secondary. We affirm rather that the arts possess their own profound intrinsic values that enrich the human condition with beauty, laughter, piety, joy, sadness, reflection, insight, hope, and nature’s wonders, just as they provide unique venues for sharing human expression–mysteriously providing means to share one’s thoughts and imagination through more accessible means like music, dance, literature, visual art, drama, and film—after all, while humans are intuitive and possess innate Gestalten that helps make sense of what we see and hear, we are not mind readers. It’s as 19th-century poet and art critic Charles Baudelaire espoused, “L’art pour l’art“, or as you’ve seen in MGM’s motto, “Ars gratis artis“. Whether it’s Wolfgang A. Mozart imagining music and memorializing it in writing for musicians to perform and audiences to experience and enjoy, or Andrew Lloyd Webber putting to paper his afternoon reveries about a musical production entitled Phantom of the Opera, we concur with René Magritte that “Art evokes the mystery without which the world would not exist.”

Tchaikovsky. c.1915
Tchaikovsky. c.1915

As a young man, mini score in hand, I sat in the audience at Carnegie Hall crammed in the low budget undergrad favorite top balcony seats, knees pressed awkwardly against the staircase top, eagerly awaiting the Adagio opening bassoon solo of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6 in B minor (1893), to be performed by the Chicago Symphony.

What a splendid unforgettable night of music! Superb acoustics and sold-out concert, 5/4 meter in vogue nearly a century before Dave Brubeck’s Take Five, binoculars to see who was whispering on the stage, and Carnegie Deli on 7th Avenue preparing hot pastrami, onion rings, cheesecake, babka and knishes for the musicians and concert patrons who gather there after the concert. While some of the most distinctive, beautiful, and memorable musical themes drifted throughout the opening of the work later to be brilliantly restated in the Andante come Prima, it was during the Finale, Lamentoso-Andante, that I noticed fellow audience members musically overwhelmed, subjugated to gently weep and nod in affirmation. Others bowed heads, silent and motionless. My own experience, sensations, and observations of the emotive pathos and expressive depths of the music that evening transcended any initial naive expectations I possessed. It was a deeply moving, almost spiritual experience.

Carnegie Hall Opening Festival booklet
Carnegie Hall Opening Festival booklet

Adding to the work’s irony, provenance, and mystery, Tchaikovsky died just a few days after conducting its St. Petersburg premiere. At the time, 19th-century music critic and Moscow Conservatory professor Nikolay Kashkin deemed it logical “to interpret the overwhelming energy of the third movement and abysmal sorrow of the Finale in the broader light of a national or historical significance, rather than to narrow them to the expression of an individual experience. If the last movement is intended to be predictive, it is surely of things faster and issues more fatal than are contained in a mere personal apprehension of death. It speaks, rather, of a lamentation large et sufferance inconnue (broad lamentation and unknown sufferance), and seems to set a seal of the finality of all human hopes. Even if we eliminate any purely subjective appreciation, this autumnal inspiration of Tchaikovsky’s in which we hear the ground whirl of the perished leaves of hope, still remains the most profoundly stirring of his works.”

Back to my Carnegie Hall experience–the Chicago Symphony concert that evening was breathtaking, with superb brass and marvelous strings. Conductor Sir George Solti was in his element as he commanded the mighty orchestra. I imagined what it must have been like on Carnegie Hall’s Opening Night when Walter Damrosch led the New York Symphony Orchestra and the Oratorio Society in performing America the Beautiful, Beethoven’s Leonore Overture No. 3, and the New York premiere of Berlioz’s Te Deum. 

Just a few yards from where I sat, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was here that evening, in person, in Carnegie Hall when he conducted his “Marche solennelle”, May 5, 1891.

Edward A. Kliszus

Edward A. Kliszus

Performer, conductor, and educator Edward Kliszus began his musical studies at the age of 5 and has since been deeply involved in the fine, performing, and literary arts. He is a long-time and current member of the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) and the American Federation of Musicians (AFM). He studied trumpet performance and music education while attending the Manhattan School of Music and was a student of Mel Broiles, principal trumpet of the New York Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. His post-graduate studies at New York University focused on trumpet and piano performance, music composition, and analysis of composer Elliott Carter's 1974 work Brass Quintet. He was music director and conductor of the New Jersey based Union Symphony Orchestra for 15 years and has performed at Manhattan's West Village venue Monologues and Madness. He currently focuses his artistic and creative endeavors on writing, music composition, piano jazz, and as a critic for and OpeningNight.Online. He holds a Ph.D. from New York University, Master of Music from the Manhattan School of Music, and Bachelor of Music from Nyack College.

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Tchaikovsky Symphony No.6, Finale, Adagio lamentoso – Andante, Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio, France, Myung-Whun Chung, Salle Pleyel, Paris


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Art for the Sake of Art

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