Hans von Bülow was one of the 19th-century’s foremost musicians. As a teenager, he became a piano pupil of Liszt, who said that Bülow was “one of the greatest musical phenomena he had encountered.” Bülow’s most lasting musical contribution, however, was as a conductor; he insisted on the highest performance standards and was the first to conduct from memory. Bülow supported the music of Liszt and Wagner, as well as that of both Brahms and Tchaikovsky. He gave the premiere of Brahms’ Fourth Symphony with his own Meiningen orchestra in 1885, and played the piano for the U.S. premiere of the Tchaikovsky First Piano Concerto in Boston in 1875, a stormy affair marred by jeers, heckling and insults.
From 1878 to 1880 Bülow was Hofkapellmeister in Hanover, but was forced to leave after fighting with a tenor singing the “Knight of the Swan” role in Lohengrin (von Bülow had called him the “Knight of the Swine”). In 1880 he moved to Meiningen where he took the equivalent post, and where he built the orchestra into one of the finest in Germany; among his other demands, he insisted all the musicians learn to play their parts from memory. Bülow premiered many of the 19th century’s most important works, such as Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde and Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. Bülow was a powerful advocate of Liszt and his music and never wavered in his devotion to him.
Richard Pohl was another of Liszt’s devotees, a tireless champion of the New German School in general and of Liszt’s music in particular. He was an unabashed apologist for Liszt and wrote prolifically for most of the 19th century’s most important musical periodicals. Pohl and Bülow were part of Liszt’s inner circle and each undoubtedly became acquainted with the other’s genius during those years.