The sweep of events in this new era has been so grand in its cumulative
momentum and high tendency, that one is quite as much embarrassed by
its richness in data as by the poverty of the older period.
At the opening of its second era music began to make history, and
many painstaking and erudite men have devoted the best years of their
lives to collating her records; we are therefore amply supplied with
books of reference, which fact would seem to justify me in still
further pursuing the path marked out by my individual impressions. My
deductions and theories may not always follow beaten paths; indeed, I
am only led to discuss the well-known events of this era by the hope
that these digressions may afford my readers new points of view, and
thus, perhaps, incite them to acquire a more intimate knowledge of the
nature of music.
Before commencing our explorations I should like to emphasize the
theory advanced in Chapter II.,–viz., that the progress of musical
evolution is more or less rapid as the quality of its culture
environment is better or less well suited to its requirements. Great
composers are not eccentric growths, but they are the natural fruits of
the conditions into which they are born and in which they create.
Acorns thrown upon bare rocks will decay; planted in sands exposed to
the violent winds from the sea, they grow into gnarled scrubs; but if
they fall into a soil possessing qualities calculated to expand their
inherent germs, they become noble oaks, differing in size according to
the assertive vitality of their several germs and to the impulses which
they receive from earth and sky. These conditions also mould their
forms, for their branches reach out for sunlight and rain just as their
root-tendrils seek more substantial, but no more necessary, sustenance.
This quest gives direction to their growth.
The forest giants are like our Bach, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, and
Wagner; they, like these musical giants, tower above their fellows. Our
musicians spread their roots out into the past (into the knowledge of
what others have achieved), their aspirations are warmed into activity
by the sunlight of widely diffused culture, and their creations take
form from their surroundings.
To illustrate my theory: if Beethoven were now living and composing
music, it would necessarily differ as much from that which he did
produce, in form and means, as our life conditions and modes differ
from those of seventy-five years ago, for such a genius would be
quick to feel the presence of new elements in either his material
surroundings or art atmosphere.
Some of these new elements are helpful to the composer, while others
tend to stifle his spontaneity or to distort the outlines and too
much brighten the colors of his tone pictures. In the first class
I would put the universal increase of musical intelligence; the
mechanical devices, which, as applied to the organ, piano, and most of
the orchestral wind instruments, greatly increase their efficiency;
Berlioz’s idea of color integrity, which has revolutionized orchestral
writing; the decrease of conventionality in form; the greater intensity
in harmonic successions; and the somewhat Bach-like import with which
the writer of to-day attempts to endow the bass and middle voices.
At the head of the second class (harmful elements) I should place the
immense practicality of our age, which intrudes its steam ploughs upon
our rural pictures, and, with its unending procession of mechanical
innovations, crowds poetic fancy into dark recesses, where she
survives but does not thrive; then comes the feverish haste to become
rich or famous, which so dominates our generation as to disturb the
contemplative moods of the artist, imparting sometimes a suggestion of
prosaic utility to his creations, and in other cases endowing them with
incongruous form and colors; and last, but not least, comes the modern
habit of self-introspection, which, springing from a laudable desire to
reason philosophically, smothers spontaneity.
Beethoven would have rebelled against these adverse conditions, but
he would nevertheless have been influenced by them. His spirit will
defy time, but his models and methods have become antiquated. A modern
composer, however gifted, could not follow them without sacrificing his
claims to recognition.
We willingly allow Bach and Beethoven to transport us back into their
times, and we draw refreshment from the natural atmosphere that
pervades them, but would reject a modern product which embodied similar
elements; for they would, in such case, be artificial, not the elements
suggested by and characteristic of an emotional mood.
Notation, which defined musical achievements, and thus fitted each
stage of development to serve as a stepping-stone to formulated art,
was unaccountably long in coming.
There is no absolute certainty as to who invented our present system
of writing music, but the honor is usually accredited to Huchbold, of
Flanders (840-930). He was a learned Benedictine monk and an ardent
worker in the field of music. Huchbold certainly employed a form of
notation at least suggestive of that now in use, but, according to
some historians, Huchbold’s own writings mention the device as if not
original with him. He left examples of part writing, which, however,
mark no improvement on the implied methods of the ancient Egyptians
(suggested through the mural paintings referred to in Chapter II.),
for his voices progress in parallel fourths, fifths, and octaves, and
consequently have no independent significance.
The earliest example of modern notation is to be seen in the Winchester
Cathedral. It is the setting of a prayer, and is supposed to have been
written in 1016 A.D. England also claims to have furnished the first
example of contrapuntal composition,–a four-voiced canon with two
free _bassi_, written in, or prior to, 1240. If this be authentic, it
is a phenomenon, like “thunder out of a clear sky,” for there was not
at that time, nor for three hundred years afterwards, any manifest
scientific tendency in England’s musical methods. This piece may have
been a direct or indirect product of the Flanders school, of which
Huchbold was the progenitor.
This learned priest, who strove to materialize and co-ordinate musical
means (not its spirit), may be taken as an index of the intellectual
bent of his time in the Netherlands, whose people, undaunted by human
foes, or by the more merciless sea, which was a perpetual menace to
their very existence, devoted much attention to the development of the
arts and sciences and to building up industries. Their intelligent and
persistent enterprise walled out the North Sea and made it a tractable
servant, and created on those reclaimed marshes a civilization which
for several hundred years represented the highest attainments of man.
This earnestness of character and high culture were congenial elements
to the growth of music, and there is abundant evidence that their
complement, a distinct sense for sound expression, was not wanting,
for Taine, in his “Art in the Netherlands,” says, “Other people
cultivate music; to them it seems an instinct.” It is not strange
that this instinct, coupled with the perpetuated spirit of Huchbold,
should have produced a formulated art at that propitious stage in
music’s evolution. Music itself had become a ripe impulse, ready and
waiting for just such conditions. The Flanders school adjusted tone
relationships and invented counterpoint and canon. John Osteghem
and his pupil Despres were the greatest masters of that initial
school, which for nearly two centuries, beginning with the middle
of the fourteenth, furnished all the European courts with singers,
instrumentalists, and composers.
Their more elaborate music was written for the Church, and a damper
was consequently put upon production by the Reformation, which greatly
simplified religious observances and closed choir doors to the
composers of ambitious works.
Before the development of opera and the institution of the concert
orchestra and chorus, the Church was the sole patron of high musical
endeavor. Fortunately, the Netherlands musicians had forestalled
the calamitous results of this religious revolution through the
establishment of conservatories of music in Venice and Naples. They
transplanted their knowledge and high aspirations into sunny and
Catholic Italy, where they flourished and bore fruit after their native
land had ceased to be musically supreme.
A new art is unavoidably over-conservative. The natural laws, upon
which it is founded, hold its devotees to literal conformity until
experience has evolved a sense of their broader meaning.
They are in reality but rigid outlines, drawn in accordance with
fundamental art adjustments, the recognition of which saves the curved
lines of our fancy’s pictures from abnormity and chaos. They are quite
analogous to the anatomical knowledge which is essential to the artist,
who conforms to its general requirements and still endows his figures
with individual character.
The Netherland music of that period was more intellectual than
emotional; therefore, taking the comparative characteristics of the
two peoples into account, we can but regard the migration of the focus
of musical activity to Italy as an extremely fortunate event; beside
the fact that this change of base avoided delay in evolution, or
The emotional Italians would not have made music’s foundation as deep
or as broad, but they were well fitted to contribute grace and beauty
to its superstructure. The sensuous element in music is almost wholly
a reflex of Italian temperament. We northern peoples, recognizing the
power inherent in this quality, cultivate it with more or less success,
but it is an exotic in our colder natures.
Under the influence of Italian character music soon began to assume
more graceful lines, purer euphony, and richer significance. Science
was further developed, but it was treated as a means, subject to
individual conceptions. The success of this school transplanted from
the Netherlands to Italy culminated in the production of Palestrina
(1524-1594), the first high-priest of our finally clarified art.
The inherent qualities of music, which were considered at some length
in Chapters I. and II., make our art exclusive. They wall it about,
forming an outer temple, an inner temple, and a holiest of holies. The
first is accessible to all sincere and responsive adherents of the
musical faith. The second is for those who minister, priests dedicated
to the service. To the innermost sanctuary, which holds the presence
of our musical goddess, Aaron-like high-priests alone are admitted,
but the song incense which they bring forth diffuses itself, filling
the inner and the outer temples to their farthermost recesses. It is
primarily to the ministrations of these high-priests that we owe the
widely diffused musical culture of to-day. It shall therefore be one
of my tasks to trace the characteristic influence of each one of this
line, whose creations will endure throughout time. In the course of
music’s refining she had necessarily become more and more exclusive,
less accessible in her ever higher estate to coarse and uncultivated
mankind. This exclusiveness had from the first step in evolution been
raising the walls of our now finished temple.
By permission of E. H. Schroeder, Berlin
Although most of Italy’s early music, like that of the Netherlands,
was written for the Church, Palestrina was the first composer to
strike a clear ecclesiastical tone. The tendency had been towards
brilliancy, with a seasoning of unbecoming sentimentality, and Pope
Marcelli, realizing the inappropriateness of such musical settings,
conferred with this rising genius, and commissioned him, in 1563, to
write a mass consistent with the spirit of worship. Palestrina’s third
attempt resulted in the great “Pope Marcelli Mass,” which is to-day as
acceptable a model for church music as it was in the sixteenth century.
I have chosen Palestrina as the first high-priest because he, like his
successors, Bach, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, and Wagner, was a
creator, and because his works, like theirs, exhale the incense of the
holiest of holies; an incense which, unlike all others, gains power
with the passage of time.
Palestrina’s works are characterized by lofty purpose and by logically
audacious methods. His voice leading was so smooth and melodic as to
prompt one of the most erudite of living musicians, who was at first
an anti-Wagnerite, to say that “Wagner began with Meyerbeer and ended
with Palestrina;” meaning in the latter comparison to pay the highest
possible tribute to the contrapuntal skill and musical methods of the
writer of “Die Meistersinger.”
Besides Palestrina, Scarlatti and Pergolesi were the only early Italian
composers whose music outlived the generation in which it was written.
Scarlatti wrote operas, but it is through his piano-forte music that
his name has been kept alive. Pergolesi, who appeared on the scene
nearly two hundred years later than Palestrina, wrote operas which were
received with wild enthusiasm.
During the period of Italy’s supremacy (1500-1700) many forms of
composition were originated, and many mechanical devices for recording
and performing music were invented or perfected. Among the former
were the fugue, the oratorio, the latter of which was at first
responsive (alternating music and reading), but soon assumed its
present character, the mass, and the opera. (It is astonishing that
Monteverde’s operas “Arianna” and “Orfeo,” produced in 1607-8, embody
to some degree Wagner’s idea of consistent musical drama.) The organ,
violin, and piano-forte were improved, the flageolet, clarionet,
bassoon, music type, punches, and metal plates were invented, the first
opera-house was built (in Venice), and the elements of modern orchestra
(wind, stringed, and percussion instruments) were formally combined.
Flanders’ light had shone into France and England, had awakened the
people of those lands to a sense of music’s latent possibilities, and
we find them working intelligently and with good results; but our
present aim is to follow the main stream of musical development, guided
by the successive “beacon-lights” of achievement, along its course. We
will later trace these lesser tributaries.
At the beginning of the eighteenth century two lights of dazzling
brilliancy draw our gaze from Italy to Germany. The direct influence of
the Netherlands, which made a deep and lasting impression on the slow,
but earnest, intellectual, and song-loving Germans, had quickened their
susceptibilities, and had made them responsive to the riper musical
development of Italy.
The Teutonic character is less emotional and impulsive than the
Italian, but it is more methodical, more romantic, and deeper. It is
more like that of the Netherlanders, but in measuring their status we
must not forget that at the period of which I write two hundred years
had passed since the beginning of music’s decadence in the northern
first home. The Reformation, which had such a depressing effect upon
that initial art, incited these less scientifically musical people
to song. Luther, who co-ordinated the modern German language, also
struck a song tone, which set the hearts of his race into sympathetic
The choral voices the deepest strata of German character, and its
spirit echoes through their more earnest works,–in the substratum,
mentioned in Chapter III.,–so the Reformation marks the beginning of
Germany’s musical culture, which under direct and indirect guidance
and incitement from Italy grew substantially and broadened until the
eighteenth century, when the appearance of Händel and Bach evidences a
northward turn in the stream of development.
The Italians had contributed the most potent qualities of their
nature to this stream, and now the Germans added their deep feeling,
intellectual force, and somewhat later their romance. As will be seen,
Italy had not entered an inactive era, but Germany at this period
took first place among the factors of evolution, a place she still
My theory in regard to the essential character of widely diffused
interest in music finds full endorsement in the conditions which
prevailed at that time, and still continue in Germany. Luther’s chorals
were written for and were sung by the people. Each worshipper found in
them a conveyance for his devotional feelings. This feature of church
service, this song essence, gradually permeated every-day life and
bore wonderful fruit; produced a really musical nation, out of which
our second high-priest, Johann Sebastian Bach, and his less German
contemporary, George Frederick Händel, could arise.
Before the advent of these giants Germany had written and performed
numerous operas, and had in various ways manifested high aspirations,
but her musicians had composed no monumental works.
Her early troubadours, of whom Walther von der Vogelweide was the
greatest, and the “Meistersänger,” of whom Hans Sachs, who lived
1494-1576, was the most gifted, left no record of their melodies. The
very existence of these Meistersänger guilds for hundreds of years
shows vitality of purpose and high aim. Spurred on to ever higher
accomplishment by friendly rivalry, these guilds doubtless contributed
much to the lyric strain in the German nature, and therefore to the
ultimate greatness of their “Fatherland.” The last of these guilds was
disbanded at Ulm in 1836.
Bach was the mightiest man who has composed music. A writer who saw him
says, “His black eyes, shining out of his massive head, looked like
flames bursting from a rock.” He was the descendant of a line that was
both mentally and physically stalwart. His remotest traceable ancestor
was a baker who migrated from Hungary to Saxony, and his son, Johann
Sebastian’s great-grandfather, was a carpet-weaver and musician. The
two succeeding generations devoted themselves exclusively to music,
and they furnished half Thuringia with capable musicians. Their
conscientious work, however, gave no premonition of the coming sublime
climax in their family achievements.
Johann Sebastian Bach inherited an iron will, self-abnegation, and
devotion to art. His conceptions soared so far above the existing
traditions, and he did so little to attract public attention, that
he was but slightly heeded during his lifetime; indeed, it required
a century after his death and the appreciation of a Mendelssohn to
make the world realize that a veritable god had lived among men.
The modest cantor of Leipzig’s St. Thomas’ school was obliged to
struggle to support his large family, but he made no concessions to
prevailing taste; he did not depart from the lines of his ideal to
secure popularity. He patiently submitted to whatever teaching-drudgery
was necessary to earn bread for his children, but when seated on his
organ-bench or when he took his quill in hand he admitted no other
allegiance than that to art, and no other impulse than that which
prompted him to serve her with his fullest powers.
The force, dignity, simple loveliness, pathos, and grandeur which in
turn characterize his conceptions are so wonderful, when considered
as products of the eighteenth century, that they and his serene
indifference to recognition stamp him a unique man,–a musical Messiah.
Bach’s versatility, facility, and physical endurance were as remarkable
in their way as was the quality of his creations. He wrote for organ,
piano, violin, for voices unaccompanied and with organ or orchestra,
and asserted his mastery in each and all of these fields. His preserved
writings would busy a copyist ten hours per day for fourteen years,
and still Bach, in the absence of other outlets, found time to engrave
much of his own music. It is to be hoped that the tardy appreciation
of his character and works, which have at last filled the world with
adoration, may penetrate the Beyond and warm his heart towards mankind,
who during his life so little fathomed the depths of his emotions and
failed to see the loftiness of his ideals.
Händel was also great, unless compared with his greater contemporary.
His best work was the oratorio “Israel in Egypt.” His style was a
mixture of Italian grace and German vigor. He was a master of vocal
resources, and his works are therefore strong in sonority, and
grateful to both singers and hearers. Händel wrote fluently, but with
a less sustained earnestness than Bach, and his compositions have done
more to foster chorus singing than have all other agencies combined;
for which reason the musical world is but discharging a just debt in
assigning to him the place of honor on its vocal repertoires.
Of these two masters, Händel wrote less involvedly. Bach depended upon
the legitimate development of his themes, whereas Händel often resorted
to tone masses,–was more harmonic than contrapuntal.
Soon after the middle of the eighteenth century the ever-rising flood
of musical culture became highest in Vienna. This resulted quite as
much from the city’s contiguity to Italy, whose lyric springs had by
no means run dry, as from the stream of northern influence. Musical
intelligence had by this time become so diffused that bright lights
showed themselves at many points on the horizon, but Vienna was made
resplendent by a galaxy that illumined her musical life and prepared
her for our third and fourth high-priests, Beethoven and Schubert.
The most brilliant of this galaxy were Haydn, Mozart, and Gluck, each
and all of whom bequeathed treasures to the world surpassed in value
only by those with which our priestly line endowed us. “Papa Haydn”
gave expression to his pure aspirations and childlike simplicity in
symphonies, stringed quartets, and other ensemble works, and in large
vocal compositions. The “Creation” and “Seasons” are his most ambitious
writings. Few of Haydn’s works have great intellectual power, but they
are as refreshing as rural scenes or well-told tales. Mozart and Gluck
will be necessarily discussed in Chapter V., so I will pass them now.
Beethoven was our third high-priest, because his somewhat earlier
appearance entitles him to precedence over his later coadjutor. The
Vienna school had originated or evolved the sonata form, had endowed
music with more sustained and more clearly defined melody, richer
harmonic color, and dramatic power, and had greatly enriched the
orchestra; so Beethoven began his work with far ampler resources at his
command and more fertile traditions in which to root his art than had
any of his predecessors.
Beethoven was like Bach in many of his characteristics; he was
self-reliant, manfully tender, and forcible without violence. His best
conceptions are so high and noble that they leave human frailties
far behind and suggest the music of the spheres, but he was less
constant in his fidelity to art than Bach; not because he yielded to
pressure from without, but because of his impatient nature, which at
times impelled him to follow routine rather than wait for inspiration
to outline his course. This resulted in lapses, which will, when awe
has given place to discriminating judgment, lead the musical world to
discard some of his now blindly accepted works. This is to be desired,
for those who profess to, or actually do, derive pleasure from all
of Beethoven’s works are either untrue to themselves, or they are
incapable of responsiveness to his supreme moments, which produced such
wonders of tonal expression as “Fidelio” and the “Eroica.”
It will not matter what forms music may assume in the course of her
further evolution, Beethoven’s more intensely individual creations
will retain their monumental character, looking serenely upon passing
generations of mankind like the Pyramids, but even less perishable than
In scanning Beethoven’s methods and the spirit which pervades his
compositions, as compared with those of Bach, we must take cognizance
of the different social and musical conditions which prevailed in their
respective periods. Europe was, at the beginning of the nineteenth
century, shaking off her powdered wigs and their attendant austerity.
Culture was becoming more confident and audacious, and music reflected
the features of her new environment in increased geniality and breadth
of scope. Beethoven’s methods were quite opposed to those employed
by Bach. The former drew a grand sweep of outline, and then used
counterpoint as a contributive element, whereas thematic counterpoint
was the substance of Bach’s creations,–the tissue which gave them
form. Each was a reflex of the noblest tendencies of his time.
By permission of E. H. Schroeder, Berlin
I approach Schubert, our fourth high-priest, whose ministrations,
coming in conjunction with those of Beethoven, make their epoch the
most remarkable one in music’s career, with wonder for his achievements
and regret for his half-lived life. That which was so beautifully said
of Keats, “Life of a long life condensed to a mere drop, and fallen
like a tear upon the world’s cheek, to make it burn forever,” would
apply equally to Schubert. He was born into a period that had already
manifested lyric tendencies, but he was an inexhaustible spring, from
which limpid melody gushed in ever-increasing volume, filling his every
musical scheme to repletion. Nature made Schubert the greatest musical
genius the world has seen, and had his life but reached completeness,
he would, perhaps, have drawn from his emotional well-spring greater
symphonies than the “C major” and the “Unfinished.”
Schubert was virtually the originator of the modern song, which has
been, and always will be, a great solace to mankind. It is at the
same time the most practical, because the most easily understood,
means of educating musical instinct into sympathy with the spirit that
pervades more elaborate forms. The associated texts make clear their
musical import, and the appreciation of one really good composition
places us on a vantage-ground from which we can better comprehend
others. Schubert required the song as a ready outlet for his lyric
productiveness, and wrote twelve hundred of them without redundancies
and with always definite and distinguishing significance.
Many gifted composers have put their most felicitous fancies into this
fireside form, but although some have sung more impassionedly, and
others have placed their melodies in richer settings, no one has been
so uniformly adequate as Franz Schubert. Schumann, Franz, and Jensen
always please, and they often excite our wonder by the beauty and
adaptability of their song conceptions, but Schubert’s songs do not
express, they embody, moods and sentiments. His flow of melody was so
fresh and strong that in instrumental compositions it often carried him
to uncommon length. The Germans call his C major symphony “The Symphony
of Heavenly Length.” This phrase quite aptly describes the work, for
an idea of its proportions, and of the quality which prevents them
from being prohibitory, are both voiced by the expressive adjective
employed, Schubert scarcely lived to maturity, but he dispensed such
unalloyed benefits that his name will be forever enshrined in the
hearts of those who love pure music.
During all this time culture had been making great strides, and a
comprehensive glance, at the time of Schubert’s death, would have
revealed all Europe aflood with musical enthusiasm. Orchestras were
multiplied and improved, grand chorus organizations were founded, and
institutions for the education of musical aspirants were established
under the patronage of various governments.
Out of this condition come two bright lights that rivet our attention
upon Cantor Bach’s old home as the centre of influence. Our stream
of development, which was a rivulet as it flowed from Flanders, soon
became a mighty river, and has now overflowed its banks and formed a
great sea of culture.
Mendelssohn was one of the most genial characters that we meet in the
annals of music. His education and temperament made the adequate
adjustment of resources to the fulfilment of his schemes almost
intuitive; but his conceptions themselves, although invariably round
and poetic, usually lack the bold lines and the deep import that have
distinguished the creations of our high-priests. Human characters,
like forest-trees, seem to need exposure to trying winds, which if
successfully weathered only strengthen their fibres and loosen the soil
about their roots, so that they may spread out and extend downward to
fresh and deeper sources of impulse. It may be that Mendelssohn’s life
conditions were too peaceful, that he was too much sheltered from care
and adversity to fully develop the depth and nobility of his nature,
which flashes out in some parts of “Saint Paul” and “Elijah,” and
pervades the “Walpurgis Night.”
His happy disposition found its most characteristic expression
in inimitable scherzi and works of that less emotional class.
Mendelssohn’s elegance of style, richness of color, and his personality
caused a wave of imitation to set across musical production, but it
soon subsided, for only the most stalwart methods endure the dilution
incident to their adoption by lesser talent without degenerating to
insipid weakness. Mendelssohn’s greatest service to the musical world
was rendered in his persistent advocacy of Bach.
Schumann, our fifth high-priest, had to encounter the difficulties of
life in the open field, having had no social nor financial breastworks
from behind which he could ignore the “arrows of outrageous fortune.”
His path was strewn with thorns, and was unlighted by recognition until
near its end. Schumann was not so consummate a master of counterpoint
as was Mendelssohn, but his stronger individuality and deeper
sensibility filled his fancies with epoch-making qualities. Our art had
during the previous quarter century taken on more intensity, greater
freedom in voice leading, and, last of all, a well-defined romantic
By permission of E. H. Schroeder, Berlin
The first two appealed strongly to Schumann’s nature, as is evidenced
by his writings, for the pictures of his imaginings are not peaceful
pastoral scenes, but depict storms of passion and emotional struggles.
Romance shows itself at times, but it is not a distinguishing element.
Schumann wrote four symphonies, of which the last one heard is always
the best. They rank among the few immortal works in this epic form,
but entirely because of the individual character of their schemes and
the richness of their musical texture, for their instrumental colors
are not adequate. He succeeded equally well in ensemble, chorus, and
piano-forte music, and his songs almost rival those of Schubert, but
strange to say, the orchestra seems to have been a closed book to our
Schumann had, in his impatience to overcome the weakness of his fourth
or ring fingers, employed a mechanical appliance which permanently
lamed his hands, thereby dashing his hopes of becoming a piano
virtuoso. This is the only recorded case in which violent methods have
produced desirable fruits; for they usually deaden the nerves only,
and result in strength without facility, and tone without beauty; in
other words, in wooden pianists. In this case they produced entire
disability, and forced Schumann into his proper sphere,–creation,–in
which he accomplished lasting good, whereas the benefits to art of even
the highest grade of virtuosity are comparatively ephemeral.
His love for the piano-forte led him to study its capacities
and limitations most thoroughly, the consequence being that his
compositions for that instrument are more grateful to the fingers and
ears of pianists than those of any other classical composer.
Schumann’s music is more involved than Beethoven’s or Schubert’s,
and his restless passion found expression in broken rhythms and in
dissonant compounds, which, however they may at first impress us, gain
natural and deep significance with close familiarity. He was the first
composer to feel and apply the immense, expressive resources inherent
Schumann’s quintet for strings and piano-forte is one of the greatest
pieces of ensemble music that has been written, and his piano concerto
in A minor is, to my mind, without a rival. Of his songs, the “Frauen
Liebe und Leben” cyclus are, when the numbers are considered singly,
and then in their respective relations to his beautifully rounded
conception of womanliness, the most remarkable, although the “Dichter
Liebe” is full of gems, and the “Spring Night” is a picture which is
more suggestive of a magic wand than of a human intellect.
Our fifth high-priest was not alone a musician; he was a philosopher
and the ablest critic the musical world has seen. He was so broad that
he could be generous as well as just, as was shown by his laudatory
writings in regard to his rival,–Mendelssohn. He estimated Wagner’s
cruder stage correctly, and would doubtless have become an adherent of
the new faith had he lived to see its riper fruits; for he was always
susceptible to manifestations of genuine creative ability and logical
The consideration of Wagner, the sixth in line, involves entering
upon a somewhat new field, and it will require so much space that I
will give him, his forms, and his methods a separate chapter. Before
undertaking that task it may be well to trace some of the tributary
influences which, following collateral lines, have helped to swell the
tide of musical culture. It will facilitate the accomplishment of this
purpose to scan the achievements of each nation separately, mentioning
only such individuals and events as were active agents in furthering
France evinced a very marked interest in music early in its second era,
but her good intentions were several hundred years in crystallizing.
The establishment of an Academy of Music in Paris (1672) was the first
really noteworthy event in the history of French music. Tulli, who was
its first director, was a very able man. He wrote operas, which were
sung in French, and he created the chrysalis from which our symphony
was later developed.
Although the next hundred years were not productive of great men,
Paris had at the end of that period become attractive and congenial to
such masters as Gluck, Cherubini, and Piccini. This shows that she had
educated a generation of intelligent listeners, and at least a portion
of the executants necessary to the performance of grand opera.
In 1795 the Conservatory was founded, which event marked the beginning
of that earnest, organized effort that has given the world so many rare
instrumentalists and vocalists. The finesse of the French school is
delicious when applied with intellectual breadth sufficient to prevent
its becoming finical. France has also produced numberless composers,
but few who have attained to more than passing fame. Her people are
quick in their perceptions, and deft and dainty in all that appertains
to æsthetics. They are enthusiastic lovers of such music as does not
require them to think earnestly while following it, but they are
Berlioz is the only French composer who successfully resisted the
pressure of this environment. He was made of stern stuff, and followed
the promptings of his muse without wavering, although she often
dictated courses and methods that precluded immediate success with the
public. In his Requiem Mass, which looks bizarre to a casual observer
of the score, he uses each and all of the executive forces, an immense
orchestra with all possible accessories, auxiliary brass corps, chorus,
and _soli_, with such keen appreciation of individual quality and
such unerring judgment as to the appropriate rôle for each quality
in the grand ensemble, that the effects he attains not only disarm
criticism, they fill one with awe. Still, if we scrutinize Berlioz’s
works closely, we find that he was more a Rubens than a Rembrandt, for
while his diction was often more erratic than sequential, his sense
of tone color was so acute that it led him to inaugurate the movement
that is still in progress for purging music of pernicious _unisons_
Of the other notable French composers, Gounod is delightfully
melodious, but is too sweet to be entirely wholesome, and Saint-Saëns
(half German in instinct and manner) is a phenomenal master of
instrumentation, and he is very ingenious, but one is seldom convinced
that his compositions have grown from emotional germs. Massenet, Bizet,
and others have written, or are writing, charming music, but it has
little substantiality. Its charms are liable to effervesce, like the
emotions of the Paris public. The French seem to reserve all of their
earnestness for the more tangible arts, and for science, to all of
which they have contributed their full share.
England’s musical career has been unique. The people of that snug
little island across the channel should be an enthusiastically happy
race, for nature endowed their land with fertility and beauty, and
centuries of skillful cultivation have enhanced these virtues until
Albion’s rural loveliness is to-day unequalled. They have exceptionally
rich traditions, their prowess in arms and achievements in literature,
science, pictorial art, and industry furnish abundant grounds for
their national pride, but it is a pity that their blessings have not
made them more demonstrative, for stoical complacency is not good soil
in which to grow an emotional art. For this reason recorded English
composition, which began so unprecedentedly well in the sixteenth
century with the invention of the madrigal, has not fulfilled the
promise implied by that event.
The English are a sturdy race, and their climate and out-of-door
amusements have endowed their voices with uncommonly mellow and tuneful
qualities. It is therefore quite natural that their musical activities
should have been so largely centred in chorus singing, which they make
peculiarly sonorous and artistically adequate.
This choral virtuosity is not a recent growth, for it attracted Händel
in the eighteenth century. It was also recognized by Mendelssohn. This
love for song has been materially fostered by the Established Church,
whose elaborate services have furnished composers with both incitement
and outlet. Most of England’s choral works are dignified and smooth,
but they lack intensity.
There is an element in English (and American) musical life the evil
influence of which cannot be easily over-estimated: it is the popular
ballad. In them the best lyric texts in any language are associated
with musical conceptions which are usually so devoid of artistic
qualities and significance, that no one at all musical would endure
them were it not for the halo cast about their imbecility by the poet’s
art, which they profane.
The Scandinavian countries, and Russia, Poland, and Hungary, each with
its distinctive folk-song treasury and romantic traditions, have,
during this century, awakened to great musical activity, and each of
them has produced one or more composers who have made an impression on
The first named have given us Svendsen, Grieg, and Hamerik, not to
mention the artistic but less stalwart Gade, with their weird and at
times grotesque rhythms, melodic contour, and harmonies. The sensation
produced by these Scandinavian song characteristics when first brought
to the notice of the outside world, impelled these talented men to
incorporate them into their art. This was a mistake, for great music
is as broad as the universe, whereas the vein of national song is
narrow and only limitedly fruitful. Had Svendsen escaped infection from
this northern piquancy, he might possibly have fitted himself to wear
high-priestly robes, for his endowments were of the highest, and his
début as a composer was startlingly brilliant.
Russia’s musical type is less pronounced than the Scandinavian. Her
producers have therefore developed on cosmopolitan lines. Tschaikowski,
who was beyond compare the most gifted composer that Russia has given
to the world, may with the passage of time be recognized as the
natural heir of our priestly line. His emotional power, clean-cut
individuality (originality), fine sense of rhythmic values and color
combinations, and his inexhaustible lyric invention place him at the
head of symphonists of his time.
An event which reflected honor on the empire of the Czar was the birth
within her borders of that giant of all pianists, Anton Rubinstein.
I speak of him as a pianist rather than as a composer, for while he
often showed the possession of uncommon creative faculties, he was too
diffuse, seldom focussed his tonal diction to such coherent strength as
would make his writings comparable with his playing.
Poland gave us Chopin, who is the one exception to the rules by which
I have endeavored to trace the successive stages of musical evolution.
All other composers have taken inherited forms and means, and have
moulded them into shapes comporting with the spirit of their individual
conceptions, and even these conceptions were to a considerable extent
reflections of their environment. Beethoven was a mighty genius, but he
did not create an art type, and was therefore not, in a broad sense,
original, whereas Chopin was radically so, his works seeming to owe
no allegiance to schools, and seldom to nationality, but only to his
poetic soul, of which they were the legitimate offspring.
His fancies are sometimes more graceful than strong; they even, now and
then, verge on the sentimental; so Chopin is not entitled to a place
among the giants, although he revolutionized composition for the piano,
and wrote some things so beautiful that they excite ever fresh wonder.
The small form seemed to best suit his spontaneous style; therefore op.
10 and op. 25, and the preludes, undoubtedly better represent Chopin’s
individuality than do any other of his works.
Franz Liszt was born in Hungary, and in his less serious moments made
use of the gypsy-like rhythms, twists, and spasmodic utterance of her
national music. At other times he wrote universal music, which he made
characteristic through breathing into it his own rich individuality.
The Abbé Doctor was more fêted and less spoiled thereby than any
successful artist of modern times. He led a life of triumph from youth
to old age, and through it all preserved a simple modesty of manner,
interest in new talents and accomplishments, and an indescribable
Nothing afforded Liszt more pleasure than to give advice to, or to
use his influence for the benefit of, talent struggling to clarify
its own conceptions, or seeking indispensable publicity. The list of
his protégés includes many who have made world records, like Raff,
Bülow, Tausig, and Wagner. But for “Meister” Liszt’s early perception
of Wagner’s then undeveloped genius, we should have had no sixth
high-priest to record, and no Bayreuth festivals.
America has only recently entered the lists, for the conditions
attendant upon a new civilization make artistic achievement impossible.
These conditions were emphatically bad in our land, and they yielded
reluctantly to art requirements. The religious bigotry of a large
portion of those who first came to America, seeking freedom of
conscience (for those who thought and believed as they thought and
believed), was deadly to art impulse. They looked upon any music not
set to sacred words as a frivolity that would imperil their souls, and
they exercised little judgment in selecting such music as they did use.
This narrow view of our art greatly delayed the advent of musical
intelligence, and it called a species of “psalm-smiters” into being,
who, with inappropriate adaptations of secular melodies, and worse
attempts at composition, debased both music and the services of the
church, and sapped the vitality of art tendency when it first became
manifest. America still harbors some of these vampires, but the day of
art is breaking over our land, and these creatures of darkness will
Our progress was at first slow, but there have been no backward steps,
and the past fifty years have witnessed a magical advance in general
intelligence and in creative capacity.
Before closing this chapter I must return to Germany and trace some of
the subsidiary sources of her present supremacy.
The name “Robert Franz,” which was years ago adopted by a timid young
musician as his _nom de plume_, was formed by combining the first
names of his ideal tone poets, Schumann and Schubert. His success was
immediate, and he soon became so identified with this name that his own
almost passed out of use. Robert Franz was a pure lyrist, and his songs
must be given place little below those of his great models. He served
to perpetuate the spirit of song, and placed the world under tribute by
his Bach researches.
Raff was a man of startling routine, and of no less astounding
inequalities in merit. Some of his symphonies are replete with sensuous
melody and fresh harmonic, contrapuntal, and instrumental color, while
others are incomprehensibly dull. “Leonora” and “Im Walde” represent
Raff at his best, and they are so strong and beautiful that they will
keep their creator’s name before the musical world for many years. No
one can predict how long Raff’s mastery of methods and forms will exert
a salutary influence upon composers.
Schumann was Brahms’ musical god-father, and he predicted great results
from the development of his godson’s talent. There is much difference
of opinion as to whether Schumann’s prophecy was fulfilled, but many
capable critics are on the affirmative side. Brahms has, in one way
at least, shown the possession of absolutely great qualities,–viz.,
his productivity did not exhaust, but increased the vitality of his
conceptions. He was an artist with whom future generations will have to
do, but he was not an epoch-maker.