Ambros’s and Laurencin’s careers as music critics
 August Wilhelm Ambros (1816–1876) and Ferdinand Peter Graf Laurencin, Baron of Armond (1819–1890), were born in the territory of what is today the Czech Republic: Ambros in Bohemian Mýto close to Prague, Laurencin in Moravian Kroměříž. Each has gone down in the history of musical aesthetics in virtue of one writing, with a close connection to the work of Eduard Hanslick. Hanslick’s 1854 treatise Vom Musikalisch-Schönen [On the Musically Beautiful] prompted Ambros and Laurencin to write polemics: the former published his the following year under the title Die Gränzen der Musik und Poesie [The Boundaries of Music and Poetry]; the latter published his in 1859, after the appearance of Hanslick’s second (revised) edition, under the title Dr. Eduard Hanslick’s Lehre Vom Musikalisch-Schönen. Eine Abwehr [Dr. Hanslick’s Doctrine of the Beautiful in Music: a Rebuttal], with a dedication to Franz Liszt. When Ambros relocated to Vienna at the beginning of 1872 (27 years later than Laurencin), the paths of the two critics of Hanslick crossed again—both went from being music critics to being rival colleagues of Hanslick, the Viennese “pope of critics.” It is precisely this common Viennese period that stands at the center of the present article, especially since this period is bound up with two key issues: on the one hand, on the basis of Ambros’s and Laurencin’s musical critiques of the 1870s it is possible to trace the development of their aesthetic views after the publication of the aforementioned polemics against Hanslick; on the other hand, it is possible to compare the coverage of Viennese musical life in the Viennese and Prague press. Ambros’s musical critiques from the Wiener Zeitung and Laurencin’s Viennese correspondence reports in the Prague journal Dalibor form the source basis for this.
At the time that Ambros took over the music and art section of the Wiener Zeitung and Laurencin took up his correspondence work for the Dalibor, both were already experienced music critics. Ambros gained his long years of experience chiefly in the Prague feuilletonist paper Bohemia and in the Prager Zeitung, while Laurencin published above all in the Allgemeine Wiener Musik-Zeitung, the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, and the Blätter für Musik, Theater und Kunst. In contrast to Laurencin, Ambros was basically a musical autodidact. He nonetheless succeeded in making a name for himself not only in the field of musical criticism and aesthetics, but also in musical historiography. With his monumental Geschichte der Musik he even made a key contribution to the established historical musicology. Ambros also made his mark as a musical historian in his Viennese critiques. Instead of outbursts of poetic enthusiasm in the Schumannesque style, which were typical of Ambros’s early “League of David” Prague period, the Viennese critiques are dominated by sober treatments of works interspersed with observations about musical history. The purpose and goal of musical criticism is no longer the “poeticizing paraphrase”—the attempt to hold on to the fleeting moments of a musical performance in poetical (metaphorical) speech—but rather the passing of judgement, the refining of the public’s taste, and the influencing of the formation of repertoire. Laurencin’s reports in the Dalibor—like his other critiques, incidentally—consist first and foremost of descriptions of subjective feelings and impressions. Laurencin inclines on the one hand towards pedantic exactness and on the other towards enthusiastic frenzy; for the most part, however, he has to be brief, for he has much less space at his disposal in the Dalibor than Ambros has in the Wiener Zeitung. As a correspondent he often limits himself to brief reviews, which form a complex picture only in their totality.
Responses to Hanslick’s Vom Musikalisch-Schönen in the 1850s
 Ambros and Laurencin’s musical-aesthetic conception was already interpreted in the 19th century primarily against the background of the polemic against Hanslick. In the treatise Das Musikalisch-Schöne und das Gesammtkunstwerk vom Standpuncte der formalen Aesthetik[The Beautiful in Music and the Complete Artwork from the Viewpoint of Formal Aesthetics] by the Herbartian Otakar Hostinský, Ambros’s musical aesthetics study Die Gränzen der Musik und Poesie is characterized as follows:
Seine Schrift über “die Grenzen der Musik und Poësie” … bietet die von den Gegnern HANSLICK’S in’s Treffen geführten Gründe zugleich in so grosser Zahl und von so verschiedenen Gesichtspuncten, dass man sie füglich als den ersten Repräsentanten der gesammten gegen das Buch “Vom Musikalisch Schönen” gerichteten Polemik ansehen darf.
[His writing on “die Grenzen der Musik und Poësie” presents the reasons put forward by the opponents of HANSLICK at once so copiously and from so many different points of view that one may conveniently regard them as the premier representatives of the entire polemic directed against the book “Vom Musikalisch Schönen.”]
In the chapter “Hanslick and his opponents,” Hostinský thoroughly analyzes Ambros’s approach and also briefly describes the polemic, waged from “an exclusively Hegelian standpoint,” of Laurencin. However, in speaking of Ambros and Laurencin in one breath and numbering them among the “opponents of Hanslick,” and in representing Ambros’s arguments as a certain compression of the entire anti-formalist polemic, he gives a narrow interpretation. Although Ambros immediately gives notice in the Introduction to Die Gränzen der Musik und Poesie that he will often “contest” Hanslick’s views, his polemic is by no means to be compared with Laurencin’s heated attack, which builds on the argumentation of Johann Christian Lobe. Laurencin defends the standpoint of feeling as “the only possible point of departure for all science of music,” and he can therefore only classify Hanslick as a representative of “soulless materialism” and a “fanatic against program music.” Ambros’s approach is consequently more complex, because Die Gränzen der Musik und Poesie is intended to be a double polemic. The author pits himself on the one hand against Hanslick and on the other hand against modern program music (Berlioz), the developmental tendency of which makes him suspicious:
Die Tonsetzer wollen ihren großen außermusikalischen Ideenreichtum in die Musik hineintragen, ihr Dinge aufzwingen, für welche sie keine Sprache hat …. Aber eben deswegen, weil der bunte Ideenreichtum sich überfluthend in alle Kreise drängt, gilt es, sich klar bewußt zu sein, was in jedem Kreise Raum hat und was nicht.
[Musicians wish to drag their great extra-musical wealth of ideas into music, force upon it things for which it has no speech. Precisely for this reason, however, that the motley wealth of ideas urges itself overflowingly into all circles, it is important that one should have a clear idea as to what belongs or does not belong to either sphere.]
The Hegelian aesthetics of ideas of Adolf Bernhard Marx, on which Ambros builds, indeed forms an overarching framework for his argumentation against Hanslick, yet nonetheless the polemic itself is marked by affinities both to romantic metaphysics and, under the surface, to Hanslick’s “idealistic materialism.” Despite consciously distancing himself from the formalistic standpoint, Ambros has not only completely grasped the Hanslickian form/spirit concept but has approached it himself in the second half of his writing through the continuous passage from the transcendence principle to the immanence principle.
Development of Ambros’s and Laurencin’s aesthetic views in the 1870s
 Ambros confronts the problem of program music in Die Gränzen der Musik und Poesie without having experienced the symphonic poems of Liszt; he can tentatively make for himself a picture of Wagner’s music drama only from Wagner’s theoretical writings. Twenty years later the situation of the European musical scene already looks essentially different. The battle between the aesthetics of content and the aesthetics of form assumes new dimensions through the intensive preparations for Wagner’s “Bayreuth” on the one hand and the flowering of Brahms’s “absolute” instrumental music on the other. There are quarrels between Wagnerians and anti-Wagnerians both in Vienna and in Prague, where the Wagner polemic encroaches significantly on the discussion about the establishment of Czech national music (N.B., national opera). It is precisely in this context that Ambros’s critiques for the Wiener Zeitung and Laurencin’s reports for the Prague Dalibor originate.
The exchange on musical aesthetics with Hanslick, with whom, incidentally, both Ambros and Laurencin were on friendly terms, enters a new phase in the 1870s. Laurencin continues along the path taken in Dr. Eduard Hanslick’s Lehre, while consciously distancing himself from the conservative party and its Brahms propaganda. Ambros strives to reach an understanding with Hanslick. This desire finds expression especially in his comprehensive review of the fourth edition of Hanslick’s Vom Musikalisch-Schönen. Ambros welcomes the edition as an “essentially improved” one. Nonetheless, on closer examination it emerges that most of the passages that Ambros cites and endorses are already contained in the first edition. The tenor of the review was not so much on account of the changes in the later editions—these, as is well known, tended rather in the opposite direction, especially since Hanslick, under the influence of Robert Zimmermann, had deleted some idealistic-sounding passages—than it was motivated by an increasing liberalization of Ambros’s musical criticism and aesthetics. The Ambros of 1874 accepts Hanslick’s standpoint as a “philosophical” attitude of reception. In order to defend Hanslick’s approach, Ambros even goes so far as to (mis)interpret the revision of the treatise as a kind of softening of the harshly formalistic standpoint under the influence of contemporary instrumental music:
Als Hanslik [sic] seine Schrift später, nicht mehr in dem Lärm und Tumult des allgemeinen Kampfes, wieder einmal vornahm, als die Programm-Symphonien außer Mode kamen und die kurzen Klavierstücke mit Ueberschriften—beiläufig gesagt: auch schon bei François Couperin und Rameau wohl bekannt—seltener wurden, als man gelegentlich wieder von bedeutenden Tonstücken in größeren Formen hörte, die einfach Symphonie, Sonate u. s. w. hießen und der Phantasie des Hörers nicht zumutheten, dazu ganze Novellen zu dichten, schliff Hanslik die schärfsten Spitzen weg.
[When Hanslik revisited his writing again later, no longer in the noise and tumult of the general struggle, when program symphonies went out of fashion and short piano pieces with titles—well known, incidentally, in the days of François Couperin and Rameau—became rarer, when one occasionally heard of significant compositions in grander forms, which are simply called symphonies, sonatas, etc., and do not expect the reader’s imagination to compose whole novellas for them, Hanslik cut off the sharpest points.]
Ambros’s rehabilitation of Hanslick’s formal aesthetics is certainly partly fabricated, but his enthusiasm for the music favored by the conservative party is nonetheless spontaneous and genuine. When in December 1872 Brahms’s Triumphlied op. 55 was premiered in Vienna, Ambros allowed himself to get carried away to the point of penning a truly enthusiastic review full of prophetic confidence:
Eine Zeit, welche es noch vermag Werke hervorzubringen wie das “Triumphlied” von Johannes Brahms … bedeutet denn doch noch etwas und sogar viel! … Nein, eine Zeit, welche dergleichen vermag, ist noch keine Zeit des Kunstverfalls! … Brahms aber “trete” ruhig weiter, der Weg, den er tritt, führt zur Unsterblichkeit!
[A time that is still capable of bringing forth works like the Triumphlied of Johannes Brahms still means something, and even much! No, a time that is capable of such is still no time of the fall of art! But let Brahms “tread” on gently; the way that he treads leads to immortality!]
 What did the readers of the Prague Dalibor learn of the Triumphlied? Laurencin keeps it short: a “frozen music” that does not flow from the composer’s “own soul.” Laurencin also expresses his thoroughly lukewarm attitude to Brahms on other occasions, when he even extends his criticism to Brahms’s conducting. Ambros, however, values Brahms’s achievements in this area too. It is noteworthy that he discovers in Brahms a symphonist as well, without having heard his first symphony.
The judgement on Brahms goes along with an appreciation of the classics Haydn and Mozart. Since Laurencin is accustomed to measuring the classics against the “spirit of modern music,” works such as Mozart’s piano concerto in C major (K. 503) or Franz Lachner’s suites embarrass him. Ambros admires in the former work the “fine embroidery of passages” and rejoices over these “buried treasures”; Laurencin repudiates it as a youthful work written “while drinking coffee” and full of empty, expressionless phrases. The differences in the reporting about Haydn’s London Symphony C major (Hob. I:97) are uncanny. Laurencin mocks Haydn’s “playing with notes” [Tonspielerei], while Ambros finds the rococo swing of this work charming. Although Laurencin professes the principle of totality and so wishes to be open to the works of all artistic periods, his judgements all too often violate this principle. As “the son of a more fortunate and higher-standing artistic period,” he looks down on Haydn’s symphony—the product, according to him, of a “childhood period” of art. Ambros decisively rejects this model, by which he had still been influenced in Die Gränzen der Musik und Poesie. His displeasure at the glorification of modern music at the expense of the music of older epochs is directed unmistakeably against the New Germans:
Wir [haben] dazu lächeln gelernt, wenn man uns z. B. gelegentlich Mozart verblümter und Gluck unverblümter Weise als veraltet und nicht mehr hörenswerth schildert und wenn manche kritische Tintenfässer zu Petroleumbüchsen werden, mit denen die Prachtbauten jener hohen Meister in Brand gesteckt werden wollen, und das alles nur, damit Raum werde, daß einziehe der König der Ehren und keine Götter auf Erden seien neben ihm.
[We have learnt to smile when, e.g., someone describes Mozart obliquely, and Gluck plainly, as obsolete and no longer worth listening to, and when some inkpots turn into petrol cans with which the magnificent buildings of these high masters are to be set alight, and all of this solely in order that room may be made for the mighty king of honor to move in, next to whom there are no gods on earth.]
From Ambros’s rejection of the idea of progress and his critique of the imitators of Wagner, we may not, however, yet draw any conclusions about his judgement of particular works by Wagner. The concert performances of Wagner’s Ring of the Nibelung that Ambros heard in Vienna helped to dispel his fearful ideas of the Complete Artwork as a “monster formed from the centaur-like coalescence of all arts.” Thus, on the strength of the 1874 performance of the first act of Walküre in the Bösendorfer Saal, Wagner is apostrophized by Ambros as one of the greatest and most ingenious musical dramatists of all time. Laurencin’s reaction to this evening, of such surpassing significance for many Viennese Wagnerians, was rather more lukewarm. The performance, using a four-hand piano reduction, was in his opinion a “labor of Sisyphus” that in no way helped people to get to know Wagner’s music-drama. It is also evident from his appraisal of Julius Zellner’s set of five programmatic pieces Melusine (op. 10) that Laurencin’s pedantry—in this case, his insistence on the complete agreement of music and program—sometimes makes it difficult for him to approach modern musical works. Laurencin finds the fifth piece lacking in true dramatic life and faults it for being in a major key, in contradiction to the programmatic idea (Melusine remains alone and bewails Raimund’s death). Ambros, on the other hand, considers just this fifth piece the most successful and, moreover, most successful in both purely musical and programmatic respects:
Besondere Freude hat mir die letzte Nummer gemacht—sie zeigt, was man aus Richard Wagner lernen und holen könne, das nicht bloß für die ganz eigene künstlerische Individualität dieses musikalischen Mannes des Tages Berechtigung hat. Ohne Tannhäusers Pilgerfahrt wäre diese Bußfahrt Raymunds vielleicht nicht entstanden …. Ich bemerke noch, daß diese fünf kleinen Instrumentalsätze nicht allein durch den äußerlich verknüpfenden Faden des Programms, sondern auch innerlich durch einzelne Themen und durch die (im Gegenstand motivirte) Wiederkehr des ersten Anfangs zum letzten Schlusse, ganz so und aus demselben Grunde wie in Mendelssohns Ouverture, zusammengehalten werden.
[The last number gave me special joy—it shows what can be learnt and drawn from Richard Wagner that does not belong exclusively and properly to the unique artistic individuality of this musical man of the day. Without Tanhäuser’s pilgrimage, this penitential journey of Raymund’s would perhaps not have come into being. I further note that these five little instrumental movements are held together not only by the externally binding threads of the program, but also inwardly by the particular themes and by the return (motivated by the subject matter) of the opening at the conclusion—just as in Mendelssohn’s overture, and for the same reason.]
 Just as Ambros, despite his enthusiastic reception of Brahms, cannot be classified as an anti-Wagnerian, conversely Laurencin is no dogmatic Wagnerian. He keeps a healthy distance from the Wagner party thanks above all to his strong interest in church music. Similarly to Ambros, Laurencin reports enthusiastically on the performances of the old masters in the church music concerts of the Society of St. Cecilia, but—and here again he is close to Ambros—without striving for a German Cecilianism. Moreover, Laurencin’s occasional positive judgements on contemporary chamber music, such as those on the works of Karl Grammann and occasionally even on Brahms, are rarely “progressive.”
Musical Criticism and the idea of Czech national music
Ambros and Laurencin find a common language not only with reference to church music. Their judgements are in agreement on, for example, the C minor symphony of Anton Bruckner. Laurencin hears in the symphony merely “mosaic-like waste-phrases glued together”; the impression the work makes on him is that of a slavish imitation partly of classical and partly of Wagnerian works. Ambros’s dismissive judgement is based on very similar arguments:
Wo wir eine zusammenhängende, gegliederte, Eines durch das Andere motivirende Rede wünschen und erwarten, vernehmen wir unaufhörliche Suspensionen, Interjectionen—musikalische Frage- und Ausrufungszeichen und Gedankenstriche, denen kein Inhalt vorangegangen und keiner nachfolgt. Wo wir eine festgefügte musikalische Tektonik erwarten, werden wir durch willkürlich an einander gereihte Tongebilde bis zur Athemlosigkeit gehetzt.
[Where we wish for and expect a coherent, articulate speech in which one thing follows naturally from another, we experience instead unlistenable suspensions, interjections—musical question marks and exclamation marks and dashes, with no content either preceding or following them. Where we expect fixed musical tectonics, we are hounded by arbitrarily ordered tonal structures to the point of breathlessness.]
In this case it would have made no great difference if Ambros’s review of Bruckner had been printed in the Dalibor. Nonetheless, on the whole the editorial staff would have had difficulty remaining true to the newspaper’s credo—“v pravdě národní hudba na pokročilém stanovisku moderního umění” [true national music, from the progressive standpoint of modern art]—if Ambros had been its Viennese correspondent. In his musical essays and reviews in the Wiener Zeitung, Ambros pleads neither for the idea of Czech national music nor for the program of the modern musical school. The absence of a nationally oriented criticism is on the one hand unsurprising, considering that in the concerts reviewed by Ambros the music of Czech composers was performed extremely rarely. On the other hand, it nonetheless becomes evident from a comparison with Laurencin that a commitment, while in Vienna, to Czech national music was at that time already entirely possible. While Ambros in 1874 is reporting with great interest on the performances of Rossini, Donizetti, Lortzing, and Boieldieu, among others, at the newly opened Comic Opera (later the Ring Theatre), Laurencin is writing for the Dalibor an extensive study of Bedřich Smetana’s The Bartered Bride, relying simply on the published piano reduction. This is the first essay on the opera, and one of the most detailed treatises on a Czech composition to have been written up to that point. In describing The Bartered Bride as a masterpiece of modern comic opera, he completely fulfills the objectives of the Dalibor. In the new series of Dalibor, Ambros is represented only by an essay on Anton Rubinstein—an analytical observation on the qualitative differences within Rubinstein’s œuvre. The relation of the editorial staff, or rather of the “leader of ideas” Hostinský to his compatriot Ambros, was clearly somewhat ambivalent; the same issue (1874) includes Hostinský’s content-focused interpretation of instrumental music, in which the author takes issue with Ambros’s interpretation of Beethoven in Die Gränzen der Musik und Poesie. For Hostinský, who is enthusiastic about Liszt and Wagner without giving up the formalistic standpoint of his aesthetics, Ambros remains a child of romantic aesthetics of content whose thinking is insufficiently progressive and nationalist.
 The relationship between theoretical and practical musical aesthetics in the 19th century was a very complex one. A striking illustration of this is the musical literary labor of Hanslick: although the relationship between his treatise Vom Musikalisch-Schönen and his essays in musical criticism has often been seen as contradictory, more recent analyses have shown that, for Hanslick, the two work-areas are in fact connected. In Ambros’s case as well, it becomes clear that the seeming inconsistencies and contradictions between his 1855 polemic against Hanslick and his Viennese musical criticism rather reflect a one-sided reception of his Die Gränzen der Musik und Poesie. In order to recognize that the musical criticism actually grows organically out of the book, one must visualize again the musical situation, in many ways precarious, around the middle of the century. Both the “dead time” of the symphonic genre and the discrepancy between Wagner’s theoretical concept and the resounding reality of his romantic operas prevented Ambros in Die Gränzen der Musik und Poesie from relating his pluralistic aesthetic conception to contemporary music. It was only through his experiences of the music of Brahms on the one hand and of Wagner’s music dramas (though in an imperfect realization) on the other that the somewhat heavy-handed and indeed ridicule-provoking ambivalence of his book was converted into a plurality, which contrasts strongly with a representation of the musical aesthetics of the time as one of irreconcilable conflict between Wagnerians and anti-Wagnerians. Even in the case of Laurencin, who in his polemical writing argues from a more starkly marked idealistic standpoint, it is evident from his critiques that the musical-aesthetic thought of the second half of the 19th century was by no means as black and white as the contemporary partisan struggle, or rather the opening/closing words in some of the “polemics” that originated in this struggle, might suggest. For his deceased colleague Ambros, he writes in 1877 an extensive obituary in which he praises among other things Ambros’s “universalism” and his “philosophical tolerance.”