WHAT ARE THE INFLUENCING FACTORS IN DECIDING MUSICAL DESTINIES? WHO IS TO BE OUR SEVENTH HIGH-PRIEST?

For reasons inherent both in music itself and in man’s sluggish and
prejudiced perceptions, really great composers have usually to wait
longer for recognition than do those of mediocre capacities. Music
that is worthy of consideration is as individual as its composer’s
features or his unconscious habits. It is a tonal utterance of his most
intimate nature, an inarticulate but clear expression of his strongest
emotions,–a shadow-picture of his very soul. The more intense the
nature, the stronger the emotions; and the deeper the soul of the
composer, the less quickly can we apprehend the full import of his
writings, for they are characteristic of him and foreign to us. Each
period-maker adds so much to art resources and so materially modifies
art methods, that he may be said to originate a musical dialect, with
which our ears and minds have to become familiar before his poetic
schemes can assume for us sustained and clear significance.

Because of this alien character of pronounced originality,
high-priestly honors are usually posthumous, for they are bestowed
only upon those who have convinced the musical world of their fitness
through the life-long, patient, and intelligent use of supreme
endowments. It is the musical world only that has the power to confer
high-priestly honors, for that office is not at the disposal of
composers’ friends or adherents, nor of parties or clans. One must
have gained universal recognition as a beneficent and radically new
factor in art in order to secure the requisite suffrages, and that
requires so much time that but two of our six high-priests lived to
realize the honor. Even Beethoven did not live to feel full assurance
of immortality, but Wagner did. He knew that his innovations had
been accepted by the world, that his achievements broadened the
foundations of art and opened new channels for musical thought, that
his individuality shone brightly across the broad sea of modern
culture, a “beacon-light” of resplendent brightness, and that he was
a period-maker, whose impress upon art was too deep to wear away, for
he was a musician who abated not one jot or tittle of that which he
thought was art’s due.

This working throughout life for posthumous honors is not so depressing
as it would seem at first glance, for any man, however modest, if
blessed with supreme endowments, must feel his power, and be buoyed up
by the certainty of ultimate recognition. The art love, steadfastness,
ambition, individuality, and imagination of truly great men are proof
against the struggles and discouragements of the artist’s existence.

Time is then our final tribunal, the only adjuster of musical values
who makes no errors in judgment. The individual judge gauges the
merits of contemporaneous composers, guided by his or her personal
impressions. Time gathers composite impressions made upon races of
music-lovers during decades, and her verdicts, based upon these
impressions, are final. We are sometimes nonplussed, and even
rebellious, when the success of our favorite composer, or of some
especially sympathetic piece of music, proves ephemeral, but the
fittest always survives, and the fittest is the composer or work
which, in addition to the indispensable technical and æsthetic
qualities, is pervaded by the richest vein of altruistic individuality.

If time be our final tribunal, then professional critics are the
advocates who present the claims of artists at the bar of her court.
These advocates differ widely in ability and in character. A few of
them have great learning, acute perceptions, and honesty; they will
advocate no cause that is prejudicial to the interests of art, our muse
having, as it were, endowed them with a super-retainer. Such advocacy
embodies the highest and best of which the limitations of individuality
admit. From this ideal standard professional critics grade downward
until they reach assertive, prejudiced, and sometimes malicious
ignorance. In passing down the scale we first find capacity without
the essential confidence in convictions (timid ability is always a
weak factor in adjusting affairs, whether artistic or material), then
honesty and good-will unsupported by capacity, then capacity biassed by
prejudice or self-interest, and last and worst, the pettifogger. These
classes show arrogance, and attract attention (temporarily) in inverse
ratio to their abilities. If we scan the history of our tribunal, we
find that the more assertive the advocate the smaller his sphere of
influence.

The great public is the jury in this court, and its decisions, although
ultimately wise and just, are always so delayed by the babel of pleas
that dins in its ears, that I feel justified in devoting a little space
to these “moulders of opinion,” and to facilitate my purpose will use
a simile drawn from nature, which is less whimsical and more reliable
than man.

Music is like a sensitive plant,–it flourishes only when each and
every condition is favorable to its growth. For this reason those
who find pleasure, edification, and comfort in its subtle qualities
should imitate the skilled gardener in his watchful and discriminating
culture of flowers. A professional gardener is to horticulture what a
critic should be to art. Each is supposed to bring trained faculties to
his task, but the gardener, familiar with the principles that govern
flower growth, studies the natures of his germs, and then adapts soil,
temperature, etc., to the requirements of each. He thus starts out with
one material advantage over his art _confrère_, in that his experience
enables him to recognize the genera of his germs and to anticipate
results. He deals with seeds, roots, slips, and bulbs; the art critic
with the mysteries of individuality, of which he most often judges from
the impressions made upon his susceptibilities by a momentary contact
of its outward manifestations. These manifestations are seldom full and
trustworthy indexes of creative capacity, especially in the cases of
young composers, because of the unfavorable conditions that so often
attend upon their development and presentation.

Communities are gardens in which music thrives, barely exists (the
most common condition), or entirely fails to take root. Propagation is
the crucial test of vitalizing qualities. A community that can produce
new varieties, really audacious talents, must possess a high degree of
fertility. The composers to be found living and creating in any given
place are therefore reflections of their musical environment, for the
faculties of musical organisms are more sensitive even than music
itself. Transplanted music will continue to exist under conditions that
afford no incitement to earnest creation, nor the elements from which
virility may be drawn. Beethoven’s works interest communities in which
his faculties would have remained latent.

The legitimate functions of criticism are to seek out and to nurture
true talent and to guide public discrimination in its initial judgment.
Critics and reviewers are experts to whose expressed opinions the
printing-press imparts degrees of convincing power not always
comportable with their merit, and spreads them broadcast for good or
ill. Printed criticism, because of this cogent quality, and because
it appeals, and may repeatedly appeal,–being in fixed form,–to so
broad a radius of intelligence, should be the most powerful as well as
the most active agency in creating the conditions essential to musical
growth; but a careful review of the past and present relations of
criticism to art culture would, to my mind, convince any unbiassed
thinker that the decision of our court had been delayed and not
facilitated by the average advocate, and that the productivity of our
garden had never been increased by the ministrations of professional
gardeners.

Nevertheless, printed criticism has a momentary influence. We do
not necessarily surrender when confronted by criticisms at variance
with our own ideas, but the undue weight with which printed matter
is endowed often causes even expert opinion to waver, protest to the
contrary as it may.

Printed news is not always authentic, nor are printed opinions on
finance, political economy, sports, weather, etc., infallible, although
usually written by specialists; but these matters, being material,
adjust themselves, and their editorial short-comings seldom do
irreparable harm; whereas our sensitive art, the elements of which are
emotional, and the supersensitive organisms which are blessed with art
productivity, are less capable of recovering from the shock incident to
misconception and misrepresentation.

Wagner was unique in this respect, for he endured years of calumny
and injustice without flinching. His nature was dual, as if his art
instinct had been grafted into an heroic character, like a noble oak,
from which it drew vitality, and whose wide-spread roots imparted
stability to its convictions without infusing into them any other
suggestion of its stern elements. Were all talented composers as firmly
rooted as Wagner, there would be less reason for protesting against
ignorance and carelessness in print.

The second question propounded in the headlines of this chapter can
be discreetly considered, but it can receive no conclusive answer
until time’s verdict is rendered. We can weigh the impressions made
upon our individual susceptibilities by the qualities of the more
prominent candidates for high-priestly honors, and compare these with
like individual conceptions of ideal attributes, but the result of
our speculations must necessarily partake more of the character of a
weather-vane, subject to the caprice of changing conditions, than of a
finger-post, giving reliable direction to our anticipations.

Of all the composers of recent times, Brahms attracted the largest
following of musicians, and with right, for the volume of his worthy
creations is larger than that produced by any of his contemporaries. He
wrote a vast number of songs, ensemble pieces for a great variety of
instrumental combinations, accompanied and unaccompanied piano-forte
pieces, and symphonies, overtures, etc., for the grand orchestra.
His work is usually characterized by rich harmonies, melodic
voice-leading, transparent form, and a varying amount of spontaneity
that at times fails to conceal evident effort. This effort makes itself
felt in peculiar and even grotesque harmonic successions and rhythms,
and it is traceable through all periods of his career. These, which
to me are forced methods, are the only features that individualize
Brahms’ music. He is greatest when self-forgetful, and these unnatural
features bespeak self-consciousness. Schumann, who was, as I said in
a previous chapter, Brahms’ musical god-father, was a genius with a
clearly defined individuality, the complete and natural expression
of which obliged him to invent means to supplement those that he had
inherited from his predecessors. These invented means were peculiar
harmonic compounds and erratic accents. Schumann usually employed
these devices with grateful results; for he makes us feel that they are
essential to the development of full significance in his tonal schemes.
Genius has a magical power over resources and modes, often transforming
eccentricities into felicitous, expressive means, and endowing that
which would be chaotic in other hands with logical import.

Brahms seems to have been dazzled by these extreme manifestations
of his great prototype’s individuality. He not only adopted, but
exaggerated these, and made them the distinguishing features of his
style. He was a masterly contrapuntist, had a clear sense of form,
handled the orchestra well, although he never exhausted its resources,
and was always a logical thinker. His skill in the treatment of themes
was so astounding that he often imparted significance to trivial
motives (_vide_ the “Academic Overture” and his sets of variations),
but he was not a great initial inventor (an originator of pregnant
themes) nor was he a resourceful colorist.

As I said before, Brahms was greatest when self-forgetful, for at such
times the artificial element dropped out of his diction and he became
a masterful musician, possessed of all the qualities but one that have
characterized our priestly line. This missing quality is to my mind the
most essential of all,–viz., a natural, distinguishing, and pervading
individuality.

Tschaikowski received brief mention while we were considering Russia’s
services to art in the fourth chapter. Because of Russia’s half-closed
door her art has, until recent times, been very much isolated. For
this reason Tschaikowski’s claims have not even now been fully laid
before our tribunal. It is a peculiar but characteristic circumstance
that America anticipated Europe by several years in her knowledge and
appreciation of this great creator. America is constantly eager for
novelty, and has not learned to seek it at home; Germany, and in a less
degree the other European countries, feel complacency in their own
achievements, and corresponding distrust and intolerance of foreign
products.

It was but six years ago that Germany was made aware of the fact that
a great genius had lived, created, and died outside of her sphere
of direct influence, and almost without her knowledge. Tschaikowski
had naturally been known in a way to well-read German musicians, but
it required such a blow as was struck by Professor Leopold Auer to
draw from our tocsin a peal sufficiently vibrant to penetrate to the
farthermost confines of the musical world and to herald the coming of a
new hero. Never was an act of justice and love more conscientiously and
adequately accomplished. Auer showed rare judgment in the selection
of his programme. His evident desire was to display as many features
of Tschaikowski’s versatile genius as possible. He therefore chose
the scholarly second, instead of the more assertively emotional sixth
symphony. The violin concert, the “Nutcracker” suite, and the symphonic
poem “Francesca da Rimini” followed. I know of no other composer of any
time whose works could furnish an equal variety of defined moods, each
bearing the unmistakable stamp of his individuality.

Professor Auer conducted the orchestral works and played the concerto
with a skill which drew its inspiration from the reverent memory of
his lost friend. His exaltation infected the orchestral players, and
finally the audience, making the evening memorable, and sending out
waves of enthusiasm that have carried Tschaikowski’s name and music to
the remotest corners of the musical world.

In my previous mention of Tschaikowski I accorded him virtues that
“place him at the head of symphonists of his time.” He had, however,
two frailties, one of which more or less pervades his works, while
the other shows itself but seldom. The former is a too great fealty
to his themes as at first announced, and the latter is an occasional
tendency to be melodramatic. Plastic compositions must be true to the
spirit, but not to the initial form of their themes, for pregnant
themes possess many phases of suggestiveness, and the more of these
phases a composer feels and displays, the richer the homogeneity of his
creations.

Were it not for these slight weaknesses in Tschaikowski’s work I should
not hesitate to predict that time would make him her choice for our
seventh high-priest, and he may win the honor in spite of them, for
his great qualities are overpowering.

There are no known candidates who are worthy of comparison with these
two giants, Brahms and Tschaikowski, one mechanically and the other
emotionally musical.

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WAGNER AND THE MUSIC DRAMA

It is quite proper to devote a chapter to Richard Wagner, for his
later works are not only examples of the most skillful and purposeful
employment of the contrapuntal and instrumental resources which he, in
common with his contemporaries, inherited from the past, but they show
how audacious genius may safely pursue its purposes out beyond beaten
paths into unexplored regions of tonal expression.

Why may genius do this, which is so uniformly fatal to the less gifted?
It is because of its comprehensive grasp of logical sequence and its
intuitive choice of adaptable means.

Ripe genius is a definite talent which has been subjected to
exhaustive discipline, which is familiar with traditions, and takes
full cognizance of pedantic forms, but is guided by an art feeling
engendered by this knowledge, and not by the knowledge itself.

It is a law unto itself. It conceives a picture, a poem, or a musical
sentiment, and communicates it to us through means that are often as
unfamiliar as is the effect of the whole original; for it usually
avoids the ruts of travelled ways, its clear view of the objective goal
enabling it to follow the less frequented stream-side or mountain-top
paths.

Wagner was, in the last thirty years of his life, a ripe genius. He was
the sixth of our musical high-priests, and he filled the art temple
with a characteristic song incense which will pervade its atmosphere as
long as human passions continue to furnish art impulse.

There is a class of pedants who still take satisfaction in calling
Wagner’s music artificial; but these short-sighted critics cannot or
will not properly survey the field of his activity and its fruits. No
human mind could, unless impelled by natural, sequential feeling and
virile imagination, write even one of his later dramas without manifold
exhibitions of weakness in redundancies and lapses in significance.
The fact that Wagner’s works, from the “Meistersinger” on, show few,
if any, such barren moments, adequately evidences their natural growth
from musical germs.

A great creator always incites a large number of lesser lights to
imitate his methods, but few of them do so successfully. Wagner is not,
however, answerable for the vague effects of his dramatic means, when
they are transplanted into Wagnerish overtures and symphonic poems. He
evolved situations that made these means legitimate and significant;
isolated, they fall into bizarre artificiality. Although we cannot fail
to be influenced by the elements which Wagner added to tonal resources,
they, like all other elements, must be applied because most adaptable
to the development of the musical scheme in hand, and not because of
their newness.

“A prophet is not without honor save in his own country.” This was
strikingly exemplified by the attitude of professional Leipzig towards
Wagner during the earlier stages of his career. Leipzig was at that
time regarded by the outlying world as the musical centre of the
universe, a Mecca with a magic balm, dispensed by a priesthood whose
Mahomet was Mendelssohn.

The town had been a prominent seat of learning since the first part
of the fifteenth century, had possessed Bach as cantor of its
“St. Thomas’ school,” had for a long series of years maintained
its “Gewandhaus” concerts, and was the greatest of all book- and
music-selling marts.

These circumstances combined to make Leipzig stand out in bold relief
on the world’s map, but it required Mendelssohn’s magnetism to make its
attractions irresistible.

The Conservatory faculty of those days included all the most prominent
musicians domiciled in Leipzig, for the town was too small to furnish
adherents for such contra-minded parties or factions as exist in
larger cities. Mendelssohn had enlisted his forces with well-directed
regard for harmony, but their creed, although properly placing Bach
as the corner-stone of musical faith, was too narrow in its tenets
to admit those to communion whose fancy led them outside the pale of
traditional forms. They were even lukewarm towards Schumann, who
had lived among them, had created a period,[A] and had contributed
treasures to musical literature so luminous with genius that, as
the mists of prejudice clear away, they will eclipse forever all
contemporaneous productions in the various forms which they followed.
The rugged boldness of originality was in the esteem of the Leipzig
pedagogue but an exhibition of crude ignorance. Those who could not or
would not recognize Schumann’s great throbbing heart in his writings,
because he, in expressing his individuality, did not always follow
prescribed formulæ, would naturally have rejected Wagner, for his
earlier works were not cast in classic moulds.

[A] Composers who originate forms or methods that recommend themselves
to the musical world because they voice recognizable advance in art
expression, create periods. Mendelssohn was in his more earnest moods a
modernized Bach. He did not originate forms, but adapted those of his
great ideal to our nineteenth century habits of thought and feeling. He
did this inimitably, but he was more finished than forceful or bold,
and his impress on art was consequently not deep, although extremely
salutary.

Those of Wagner’s creations which had been before the public previous
to 1860 were characterized by few departures from Weber and Meyerbeer
in scheme. Wagnerian harmonies were, however, too strong for the
Leipzig critic, but the public flocked to hear them, and was pleased.

Original ideas often find first recognition among the non-professional,
because musical leaders are so saturated with pedantry that sparks of
genius cannot quickly kindle them to enthusiasm.

In 1862 the Gewandhaus directors made a great concession; they invited
Richard Wagner to conduct his “Tannhäuser Overture” at one of their
concerts. This was a fatal mistake, for his triumph was complete,
and their influence as opponents of the “music of the future” was
correspondingly weakened. I have discussed Leipzig at such length,
not because it was Wagner’s birthplace, but because from this town,
with all its intolerance and smallness, started the only short road to
success. Leipzig’s endorsement was a universally accepted voucher.

Wagner had found this direct path barred, and his wanderings in
surmounting or circumventing obstacles lasted for a long series of
years, but his faith remained steadfast, and he reached the goal of
his ambition a far stronger man because of the difficulties he had
overcome. His appearance at the Gewandhaus was only a station on his
course to already assured success, and not his starting-point.

Wagner found opera a succession of solo, ensemble, and chorus pieces,
strung upon plots often too slender to give them coherence.

Texts had been made subservient to music, and that, in turn, to the
singer’s convenience and ambition for display. Operas were written as
early as the thirteenth century, but Cherubini was the first Italian,
and Gluck the first German, to produce works that have survived.
Cherubini was followed by Rossini, a man of genius, but too indolent
to fully develop his gifts. Had his beautiful sensuous melodies been
put into richer settings, had more earnest thought been added to his
spontaneity, his operas would have taken their places among the undying
creations.

Flashes of genius ultimately tire. It is the steady light of genius,
fed by knowledge and earnestness (as in Beethoven, Schubert, and
Schumann), that can hold the world’s attention restfully, which means
perpetually.

Bellini, with “Norma” and “Sonnambula,” and Donizetti, with “Lucia di
Lammermoor” and “Lucretia Borgia,” still hold a place on the operatic
stage, but their grasp is weakening. Verdi was the best equipped of all
Italian opera composers, and his “Trovatore,” with it rare gems, will
crown his memory to the end of musical time. His later works, “Aida,”
“Othello,” and “Falstaff,” written under the influence of the Wagner
period, are quite different from his earlier operas in instrumentation
and in treatment of themes. In them he is more logical and stronger,
but less sensuous. They furnish the first instances of Italian music
dressed in foreign garb; of Italian music written under pressure from
without. It has until recently been Italy’s province to shed influence
over the musical world. I construe Verdi’s concessions to Wagner as
the strongest possible endorsement of the latter’s ideas. No other
composer was in position to pay such tribute to Wagner’s forceful and
far-reaching art sense.

The Italian composers of the new school are musical brigands, who for a
brief space succeeded in taking tribute from the musical world. Their
leader, Mascagni, made such a sensational raid with his “Cavalleria
Rusticana” that young Italy jumped into the breach he made, and
evidently thought to take possession of our temple, regardless of their
lack of equipment and discipline. Although but few years have elapsed
since this assault on art, its episodes have already been relegated to
the realm of disturbing memories.

“Cavalleria Rusticana,” the first and best of its class, has some
merits; it is short, melodious, and dramatic, but its melodies are
often sentimental, and its dramatic points are usually made through the
audacious employment of crude means. The direct influence of this work
and its reception, conspired for harm to art.

Gluck was a Teuton, and although educated in Italy and adopted by
France, can with propriety be called the father of German opera.
His “Iphigenia in Tauris” and “Orpheus and Eurydice” will always
be regarded as classic models of lyric writing. Gluck’s schemes
differed little from those of the Italian school, but his harmonic and
instrumental methods were German.

Mozart was a phenomenal combination of inconsistencies. His routine and
creative genius were of the highest order, his spontaneity and finish
make his music delightful alike to amateurs and musicians, but he
seldom seems to take matters seriously. “Don Juan,” the “Requiem,” and
his string quartets are exceptions, for in these he is earnest and does
his genius full justice.

Beethoven gave us “Fidelio.” He was equally endowed with Mozart, but
was actuated in what he did by earnest, deep feeling. “Fidelio,”
although built on the old and now discarded lines, will only take
second place (musically) when some genius arises capable of writing
symphonies to supersede Beethoven’s nine. In “Fidelio” we still have
the string of well-defined pieces, but they are rich in harmonization
and polyphony.

Weber made a great impression on opera. His audacious use of the
orchestra and of modulation, opened up new fields of possibility, and
there is a doubt as to whether modern German opera would have become
what it is, had Weber not lived. He was gifted with an inexhaustible
store of melody, was equal to all dramatic situations, however
exacting, and could court popular favor without belittling his art,–a
very rare quality. Weber was at first Wagner’s model, and “Rienzi” and
“Der Fliegende Holländer” bear a distinct Weber impress.

Meyerbeer was a German, but early adopted Italian methods. He was an
excellent business man, possessed ample means, and therefore secured
deserved recognition early in his career, instead of having lived
almost a life of deferred hopes, as is usually the good musician’s
lot. Meyerbeer is melodious, and is often dramatic, but unlike Weber,
sometimes belittles his art in catering to public tastes. His pageant
and ballet music are the most characteristic and impressive features of
his operas.

Wagner expressed contempt for Meyerbeer, but evidently recognized the
grandeur of the operatic pageantry of which he was the creator. We see
evidences of this phase of Meyerbeer’s influence until we pass the
“Lohengrin” stage.

Many other good operas were produced during the first half of this
century, but as they were not potential factors in operatic evolution,
I shall mention them only in passing.

Adam wrote “Postillion;” Auber, “Fra Diavolo,” “Die Stumme von
Portici,” etc.; Flotow, “Martha” and “Alessandro Stradella;”
Hérold, “Zampa;” Kreutzer, “Nachtlager von Granada;” Lortzing, “Der
Waffenschmied,” “Der Czar und Zimmermann,” etc; Marschner, “Hans
Heiling,” “Der Templer und die Jüdin,” and “Der Vampyre;” Nicolai, “The
Merry Wives;” Spohr, “Jessonda” and “Faust,” and Schumann, “Genoveva.”
All of these operas are still given at least occasionally, and most of
them are excellent musical compositions.

The situation at the time when Wagner first manifested a defined
tendency towards the music drama was as follows: Gluck had given the
world his two great works, and they, together with “Fidelio,” “Don
Juan,” “The Magic Flute,” “The Marriage of Figaro,” “Der Freischutz,”
and “Oberon” of the German, and “Trovatore,” “William Tell,” “Norma,”
“Lucia di Lammermoor,” “La Sonnambula,” “Robert le Diable,” “Der
Prophet,” and “Die Hugenotten” of the Italian, were the most prominent
and best examples of operatic writing.

Although the first steps towards the emancipation of opera from
inconsistencies were the result of conditions rather than of
premeditation, Wagner had sufficient genius to appreciate the power
inherent in logical sequence: a power which, when compared with that
resulting from eccentric modes, is as the progress of the ages to
that of a leaf borne by the wind. Logical sequence moves onward with
irresistible momentum, whereas fragmentary diction is blown about by
every wind of caprice.

The condition which most influenced Wagner’s conceptions was his
relation as poet to his musical undertakings. He was in each instance
first poet and then composer, and nothing could have been more natural
than his early evinced disposition to guard his texts from distorted,
disconnected renderings. This disposition grew, as through experience
his grasp became more and more comprehensive. There were no backward
steps in his career. It was like his schemes,–consequent,–advancing
unwaveringly from inception to full realization in “Parsifal” and
“Tristan und Isolde.”

Wagner had courage adequate to sustain him in following his
conceptions through ridicule, want, and almost utter friendlessness.
No discouragement could divert him from the even tenor of his chosen
course. His early operas, although their texts were treated with
unwonted respect, gave little intimation of the revolution which was
to be accomplished by their author, and it is extremely doubtful
whether Wagner at this period had a shadowy conception even of that
later ideal, which time and experience developed, in which music and
the pictorial element were not only to collaborate with, but were to
reproduce the situations and sentiments of his poems.

This kind of tone painting, in which the composer endeavors to endow
his musical phrases with definite significance, is justifiable and
effective when they are so closely associated in performance with the
motive text as to derive directness from its more tangible character.
Such efforts must not be classed with so-called program music.

“Der Fliegende Holländer”, “Rienzi,” and “Tannhäuser” might have
been produced through the co-operation of Weber and Meyerbeer, with
Wagner’s individuality as a flavor. In them the voices are given
melodies in clear-cut form, and they contain pompous Meyerbeerisms
almost approaching the bizarre. This Wagner flavor, which consisted
largely of a disregard of harmonic laws and key relationships, as
dictated by the pedantic school, caught the public, but it aroused the
violent opposition of older musicians. They denounced Wagner as a crazy
ignoramus and his operas as abominations.

Viewed from a theoretical stand-point, there was that in Wagner’s
earlier works which in a measure justified his critics. He was not a
good contrapuntist, and he consequently violated tenets of musical
structure when conformity would have been more adequate.

The relations borne by plastic musical diction to the elementary rules
of tonal science are so little understood, and a clear understanding of
these relations is so important, that I feel justified in reiterating
in different form what was said in a former chapter,–viz., that
musical theory as a whole is but the codification of nature’s
adjustments. Extraordinary requirements license exceptional means and
modes, but when composers abandon the letter of musical tenets and
substitute therefor the higher law of compensation, they enter upon
a field in which pitfalls abound, and through which nothing but keen
judgment, founded upon experienced erudition, can safely guide them.

This law of compensation allows us to disregard elementary laws, when
the nature of the situation in hand is such as to warrant and reconcile
our musical sense to combinations or successions, which would without
this justification sound crude and faulty. The habit of what is called
free writing is most pernicious, for compensation must legitimize each
irregularity or we lapse into incoherency.

Wagner was a firm, but an equally thoughtful man, and while apparently
undisturbed by the cyclone of criticism evoked by his compositions,
saw his vulnerable points, and at once set about fortifying them.
He studied counterpoint exhaustively, taking Bach as his model, and
memorizing many of that master’s most characteristic works. He then
gave the world “Die Meistersinger” as the fruit of his labor, and
therewith forever silenced honest cavillers who had based their adverse
criticisms on his ignorance, for that work is a sublime example of
contrapuntal virtuosity, and it marks the beginning of a new era in
Wagner’s development as a musician. His orchestral settings having
kept pace with his musical growth, had ripened, had become tempered,
consequently “Die Meistersinger” is one of the most beautiful
compositions of any time, and in it we have the clear announcement of
the new dispensation.

There have been tons of literature printed, having as subjects “The
Music of the Future,” “Wagner,” and “The Music-drama,” some of the
authors of which have been properly equipped (good musicians and
liberally educated men), but more have been literary scavengers. The
former class, having been on a war footing ever since Wagner became
a bone of contention, are only just now beginning to discuss his
creations dispassionately. Most of them were quite naturally arrayed
against Wagner, for the most pungent flavor of the educated critic’s
writing is pedantry. He prefers traditions without originality to
originality which does nor conform to traditions.

Wagner’s first works almost paralyzed these gentlemen, and they were
a long time forgetting and forgiving the shock. Their criticisms were
terribly acrid, but, as I have before mentioned, were instrumental in
creating the music-drama, inasmuch as through pointing out veritable
faults and weaknesses they led Wagner to broaden his scholarship. These
critics find it hard to lay down their arms, although the battle is
over, and Wagner died in full possession of the field. The few who were
from the outset in sympathy with Wagner were quite as intemperate in
their laudations as were his opponents in their strictures. They were
blind idolaters, and Wagner was their musical “golden calf.”

The essence of the creed upon which the new dispensation is based
is logical consistency. Poetry, music, and “stage business” are by
it required to co-operate in expressing sentiments and in carrying
the threads of dramatic schemes. Each of these arts is entirely
essential to Wagner’s creations. His texts are statues, which music,
stage-setting, and action imbue with life. For this reason no one can
hope to follow Wagner intelligently who starts without having made
himself conversant with his poems. His later texts are heroic epics
of no mean order. Their adaptability and musical suggestiveness are
phenomenal. They could have been produced only by a musician-poet who
had his completed pictures in view while writing them.

They contain a vast amount of a species of word-painting,–viz., the
use of words the very sounds of which are expressive. I remember well
the hilarity caused among the anti-Wagnerites by the “Nibelungen” text,
which was published some years before the operas were performed.
Satires and parodies were written; Wagner was described wooing his muse
arrayed in fanciful vestments suiting the character of the subject
under treatment. That was a happy time for his opponents. Opera texts
that were not sentimental lyrics were incomprehensible. The “Call of
the Walküre” was to them the climax of inanity; but those who have
heard its musical setting will readily understand how its performance
hushed these scoffers into respectful silence. I mention this “call”
because most musical persons have heard it, and wondered at its
adaptability.

Wagner bestowed the utmost care upon each and every task which
he undertook; his effects are, therefore, less accidental than
those of any other composer. He was in the habit of making three
manuscripts,–viz., a sketch in which the outlines of form and
character were defined, then a score in which contrapuntal and
instrumental material were developed, and, lastly, a manuscript in
which, after ample weighing and filing, each detail of dynamic marking,
etc., was not approximately but precisely indicated. A Wagnerian
crescendo or decrescendo must begin and end with the notes and dynamic
force prescribed by the master, or we miss the full realization of
his pictures. In securing instrumental color he was liable to mark
the various parts played together differently, ranging from forte
to pianissimo, according to the combination and registers of the
instruments employed.

Wagner left little or nothing to the conductor’s discretion.
Nevertheless, there are few who have the keen, delicate perception
requisite to understanding his aims, and still fewer who have it in
their power to so control their forces as to secure their fulfilment.

We will now look at some of Wagner’s methods of musical treatment.
In the first place, we find the Overture replaced by the Vorspiel
(prelude or introduction). The former, in its independent completeness,
complying more or less with the exactions of the sonate form, was
quite in place when operas consisted of detached pieces; whereas
the “Vorspiel,” which is analogous to the dramatic prologue, is
better adapted to the newer form. It is composed of, or at least it
introduces, the pivotal themes of the drama which it precedes. In the
prelude to “Parsifal,” which begins with the _communion_ theme, Wagner
has accorded to it, and to the _grail_ and _faith_ motives, places of
honor. They are, indeed, the foundation upon which the whole drama
rests, and are the keys to its situations. We find the traditional
closing form (Coda) conspicuous by absence, the prelude leading up to
and closing in the opening tones of the first act. This omission is
grateful, for all careful musical listeners must have been disturbed
time and again by the long-drawn, fanfare effects that custom has
placed at the end of musical pieces. They are relics of barbarism to
which even Beethoven’s genius could not impart logical significance.
The composer who, having finished the development of his themes, having
said what he had to say, appends a closing form composed of either new
material or of old inconsequently presented, sacrifices symmetry and
vital force.

If custom required poets to attach Hallelujah-Hosanna verses to their
finished poems, the result would not be intrinsically more incongruous
than that produced by the average musical coda. A piece of music should
end roundly, with a peroration, but this peroration must be adapted
to the character and length of that which has preceded it, must grow
out of the themes from which the piece has been developed, and form an
integral part of the whole. The oft-mentioned intangibility of our art
seems to induce timidity among her devotees, and unfortunately this
timidity is often greatest among those who are best fitted to introduce
innovations.

We will next consider the vocal treatments of Wagner’s texts. Following
his course from the beginning, we find the singer’s parts grow less
and less melodic, but the listener, if not the singer, has more than
adequate compensation for this loss of lyric quality in the dramatic
power gained. Reverting to our simile of the statue, the stage setting
and orchestra provide an atmosphere, and the singer breathes into the
text the breath which launches it into life.

In his later dramas Wagner makes the vocal parts purely musical
declamation. He endeavors to, and usually succeeds in intensifying
the elocutionary effects through changes of pitch and expressive
rhythm, but gives the singer’s convenience and voice limitations
little attention. The singer’s parts are, therefore, very difficult to
learn and exhausting to sing, and they afford so little opportunity
for display that only a love of art, strongly flavored with
self-abnegation, could induce singers to attempt them.

My study of Wagner’s works has greatly increased my respect for
the intellects of Wagnerian singers. Any man or woman who can sing
a leading part in one of the music-dramas acceptably, must have
been endowed with strong throat and lungs, and must have acquired a
faultless vocal method.

It is almost needless to say that the texts are set without any of
those old-time illogical repetitions in which composers indulged, in
order that happy thoughts–good musical episodes–might be amplified.
Wagner never lost sight of his central idea, and made everything bend
to its fullest realization.

His orchestra does not accompany, in the common acceptation of that
term, but sings into its many-voiced melody the sentiments and moods
suggested by the text. The principal means used in the attainment of
this end is the “Leit Motif.” Its auxiliaries are the countless shades
of harmonic and instrumental color which Wagner commanded.

These “Leit Motifs” (leading and characteristic themes) constituted
Wagner’s vocabulary. They expressed to him personalities, moods, or
sentiments, as the case required, and they were consequently chosen
to impersonate these in his schemes. They sometimes consist of a
few tones, and again of phrases. They appear in varied forms to suit
changing conditions, but their impersonations are only made clearer
through their elastic adaptability. These themes seldom appear in
the vocal parts, but Wagner makes them, through adaptation and
instrumentation, express each shade, from sunlight to storm, from love,
trust, and worship, to wrath, fear, and hate, and in this way follows
his text on parallel lines,–music by the side of and reinforcing
poetry.

Wagner’s demands on the stage-carpenter and scene-painter are so great
that none but large theatres with ample means can properly realize his
ideas of pictorial illustration. He possessed remarkable talent for
inventing scenic effects, and disregarded cost.

Wagner originated the idea of having the stage overshoot the space
allotted to the orchestra, the effect of which has been good in
most instances where applied. It has two advantages over the common
placing,–viz., it brings the singer nearer his audience, which
facilitates his task of making himself understood, and it has a
grateful tendency to suppress obstreperous brass, who have a way, when
placed in front of the stage, of making singers forgotten. I have seen
singers struggle with tense muscles and swelling veins to make a vocal
climax with no other result than an heroic spectacle.

When a conductor allows his brass to bury the more modest elements
of his orchestra under their clangor, he shows incapacity,–either a
lack of control or a coarse conception of their mission,–and as this
incapacity is quite common, any mechanical device which will insure
moderation on the part of our assertive friends who play the trumpets
and trombones is worthy of commendation.

Now let us see what can be done towards putting ourselves still more
closely in sympathy with the master, and to better prepare ourselves to
follow his creations intelligently. Following intelligently does not
imply merely the recognition of episodes of especial significance or
beauty, but much more: it implies the loss of no contributive detail
and an easy grasp of the combined means.

Exhaustive study alone can make this possible. Its importance must
serve to excuse my reverting to the subject of texts. One should
never take a book into an opera-house, but should make it superfluous
through earnest and repeated readings at home. We should at least so
familiarize ourselves with the text of works worthy of hearing, that
we can anticipate situations and keep in touch with each and every
detail of action and shade of meaning. This having been accomplished,
and having made ourselves acquainted with the more important Leit
Motifs, we shall be intellectually equipped to follow the master in the
development of his music-drama on the lines and through the methods we
have considered.

I do not wish to claim that the most favorable conditions would enable
us to fully understand intentions, or to discover all points of beauty
and strength in one hearing; our study should, however, have placed
us quite inside the cold curiosity line. We would be entitled to a
creative sense akin to that felt by a co-worker: our natures would have
been made acoustically receptive and responsive.

Continue Reading

MUSIC FROM THE INVENTION OF NOTATION TO DATE

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
possible decadence.

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.

[Illustration: PALESTRINA]
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
vibration.

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
holds.

[Illustration: BACH]

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.”

[Illustration: BEETHOVEN]

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
they.

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.

[Illustration: SCHUBERT]
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
vein.

[Illustration: SCHUMANN]
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
fifth high-priest.

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
in rhythm.

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
reasoning.

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
the cause.

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
emotionally volatile.

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_
reinforcements.

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
art evolution.

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
intellectual fascination.

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
soon disappear.

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.

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