misunderstood the meaning of his own reforms

This brings us to a second point. We are often told that programme
music is all right if it is so conceived and so handled that it
suffices _as pure music_, whether we know the programme or not.
And as this seems to many people like a fair compromise, and as
programme-musicians have been ill-treated so long that some of them are
positively thrilled with gratitude now for _not_ being kicked, there is
a tendency to accept this quasi-solution of the problem as something
like the final one. The programmist is willing to admit that a number
of themes, no matter how agreeable, do not constitute symphonic music
unless they have some emotional connection and some logical musical
development; while the absolutist graciously allows that a concrete
subject may be the basis of a symphony, if only the music is of such a
kind that it will appeal to the hearer just as much, although he may
not know what the subject is.

It is precisely against this compromise that I think we ought to
protest, for it seems to me to be based on a complete misunderstanding
of the natures of absolute and of programme music. Not only does it
ignore the difference in intellectual origin between a phrase such
as that which opens the finale of the _Jupiter_ symphony, and such a
one as that which symbolises _Till Eulenspiegel_, but it overlooks
the fact that along with this difference in the thing expressed there
must necessarily go a difference in the manner of expressing it. It
is impossible to subscribe to the insidious compromise that programme
music ought to “speak for itself,” without a knowledge of the programme
being necessary.[32] We not only need the programme–the statement of
the literary or pictorial subject of the composition–but this is at
once answerable for half our pleasure and a justification of certain
peculiarities of form which the music may now safely assume. If the
shape and colour of the themes of a piece of music, the order of
their occurrence, and the variations they undergo, are all determined
by the composer having a certain picture in his mind, it is surely
necessary for us to be told what that picture is. If it was necessary
for him when he was composing, it is necessary for us if we are to
listen to the music as he meant us to listen to it. To put a symphonic
poem before us without telling us all the composer’s intentions in
it, is as foolish as to make us listen to the music of a song or an
opera without hearing the words. In the opera and the song, things
go this way or that because the poetic purpose requires it, and the
justification of them is precisely their appropriateness to the poetic
purpose. Similarly, things go this way or that in the symphonic poem
because the poetic purpose requires it; and here also we require to
know what that poetic purpose was before we can justify or condemn what
the musician has done. Let us examine a simple case, say the _Romeo and
Juliet_ overture of Tchaikovski, and see whether this particular work
could be equally understood and appreciated, as pure music, by the man
who knows and the man who does not know the programme.

There is not the slightest doubt that the _Romeo and Juliet_ would
give intense pleasure to any one who simply walked unpremeditatedly
into a concert room and heard the overture without knowing that it
had a poetical basis–who listened to it, that is, as a piece of
music pure and simple in sonata form. But I emphatically deny that
this hearer would receive as much pleasure from the work as I do, for
example, knowing the poetic story to which it is written. He might
think the passage for muted strings, for example, extremely beautiful,
but he would not get from it such delight as I, who not only feel
all the _musical_ loveliness of the melody and the harmonies and the
tone colour, but see the lovers on the balcony and breathe the very
atmosphere of Shakespeare’s scene. I am richer than my fellow by two
or three emotions in a case of this kind. My nature is stirred on two
or three sides instead of only one. I would go further, and say that
not only does the auditor I have supposed get less pleasure from the
work than I, but he really does not hear Tchaikovski’s work at all. If
the musician writes music to a play and invents phrases to symbolise
the characters and to picture the events of the play, we are simply
not listening to _his_ work at all if we listen to it in ignorance of
his poetical scheme. We may hear the music, but it is not the music
he meant us to hear, or at all events not heard as he intended us to
hear it. If melody, harmony, colour and development are all shaped and
directed by certain pictures in the musician’s mind, we get no further
than the mere outside of the music, unless we also are familiar with
those pictures. Let us take another example. The reader will remember
that the overture opens with a _religioso_ theme, in the clarinets and
bassoons, that is intended to suggest Friar Lawrence. In the ensuing
scenes of conflict between the two opposing factions, this theme
appears every now and then in the brass, sometimes in a particularly
forceful and assertive manner. The casual hearer whom I have supposed
would probably look upon this simply as a matter of counterpoint;
Tchaikovski has invented two themes, he would say, and is now simply
combining them. But here again he would be wrong. These passages
certainly give us musical pleasure, and are as certainly meant to do
so, but they are intended also to do something more. The reappearance
of the “Friar Lawrence” theme has a dramatic as well as a musical
significance. Taken as it is from the placid wood-wind and given to the
commanding brass, and made to stand out like a warning voice through
the mad riot that is going on all round it, it tells its own tale at
once to any one with a knowledge of the subject of the overture. So
again with the mournful transformation of the love motive at the end
of the overture. Tchaikovski does not alter the melody and the harmony
in this way for merely musical reasons. He has something more in his
mind than an appeal to the abstract musical faculty; and I repeat that
the hearer who is ignorant of this something more not only gets less
than the full amount of pleasure from the work, but really does not
hear the work as Tchaikovski conceived and wrote it, and intended it
to be heard. The same argument holds good of the song. Imagine one
of the most highly and subtly expressive of modern songs–say the “O
wüsst’ ich doch” or the _Feldeinsamkeit_ of Brahms–sung to you at a
concert without your having the slightest knowledge of the words. Some
pleasure, of course, you could not help feeling in the music; but it
would be nothing compared with the sensations you would have if you
knew the words or could follow them in a programme. Then you would find
not only that certain passages that seemed to you the least interesting
before, as mere music, are poignantly expressive, but these apparent
peculiarities are justified, and indeed necessitated, by the poetry.
Now imagine that you hear the same song three months later. You have
forgotten the actual words point by point; but you still retain the
recollection of the emotional moods they suggested; and so you are
still responsive to each _nuance_ of expression in the music. Listening
to a song under these conditions is precisely the same as listening
to a symphonic poem. In _Die Ideale_, for example, Liszt divides
Schiller’s poem into sections of different intensity or different
_timbre_ of feeling, and places each of these in the score before the
section of the music that illustrates it. _Die Ideale_ is, in fact, an
extension of the song-form, in which the words are not sung but are
either suggested to us or supposed to be known to us. But it is folly
to suppose that either in the Brahms song or _Die Ideale_ the man who
does not know the literary basis can get the same pleasure as the man
who does.

We have only to treat all other symphonic poems in the same way as we
have just treated Tchaikovski’s _Romeo and Juliet_–to ask ourselves
what the composer meant us to hear, and how much of it we really _do_
hear if we do not know his poetical scheme–to see the folly of holding
up absolute music as the standard to which programme music ought to
conform. Occasionally, however, the objection is put in the inverse
way, and we are told that programme music is absurd because it does
not speak intelligibly to us, does not carry its story written upon it
so plainly that no one can mistake it. The charge of absurdity must be
really laid at the door of the composer. The plain truth is that a
composer has no right to put before us a symphonic poem without giving
us the fullest guide to his literary plans. It would be ridiculous of
Wagner or Schubert to think their business was ended when they had
simply given their music the title of, say, _The Ring of the Nibelung_
or _The Erl-king_; it is equally ridiculous of Strauss to call a work
_Till Eulenspiegel_ or _Don Juan_, and leave us to discover the rest
for ourselves. If Strauss, for example, put together the Don Juan theme
(the one on the four horns) in that particular order not merely because
he liked the sequence of sounds, but because they accurately limned
the picture of Don Juan which he had in his eye at that moment, it is
folly of him to throw it before _us_ as a mere self-existent sequence
of sounds, and not to tell us what aspect of Don Juan it is meant to

As for “the inherent stupidity of programme music”–to which opinion
one critic was led by having, in the innocence of his heart, thought
the motive just mentioned signified one thing, while, he afterwards
discovered, it signified quite another–I would put it to him that he
is never likely to go wrong again over this phrase, and that each time
he hears _Don Juan_ he will, to this extent, be nearer seeing what the
composer meant him to see than he ever was before. And if he had an
equal certainty of the meaning of all the other subjects in _Don Juan_,
would he not then be able to recreate the whole thing in accordance
with Strauss’ own ideas? And would not all difficulty then vanish,
and the “inherent stupidity” seem to be in those who cursed the form
because they had not the key to the idea? Let any one listen to _Till
Eulenspiegel_ with no more knowledge of the composer’s intentions than
is given in the title, and I can understand him failing to make head or
tail of it. But let him learn by heart the admirable German or English
analyses that can now be had in almost any programme-book, and if all
does not then become as clear to him as crystal, if then he cannot
follow all the gradations of that magical piece of story-telling–well,
one can only say that nature has deprived him of the symphonic-poem
faculty, just as she makes some people insensitive to Botticelli
or Maeterlinck. He does but throw an interesting light on his own
psychology; the value of the musical form remains unassailed.

Now why does not Strauss, or any other composer of programme music,
spare himself and us all this trouble by showing us, once for all, the
main psychological lines upon which he has built his work? The composer
himself, in fact, is the cause of all the misunderstanding and all the
æsthetic confusion. Nothing could be clearer than the symbolism of the
music in Strauss’ _Don Quixote_, when you know the precise intention
of each variation; but the fact that Strauss should give the clue to
these in the piano duet and omit it all from the full score shows how
absurdly lax and inconsistent the practice of these gentlemen is.
_Also sprach Zarathustra_, again, is quite clear, because indications
are given here and there of the precise part of Nietzsche’s book
with which the musician is dealing; while _Ein Heldenleben_, in the
absence of an official “Guide,” simply worries us by prompting futile
conjectures as to the meaning of this or that phrase. Wagner would not
have dreamt of throwing a long work before us, and simply telling us
that the subject of it was _Parsifal_. Why, then, should the writer
of symphonic poems expect us to fathom all his intentions when he has
merely printed the title of his work? If the words of the opera are
necessary for me to understand what was in Wagner’s mind when he wrote
this or that motive, surely words–not accompanying the music, but
prefixed to it–are needful to tell me what was in Strauss’ mind when
he shaped the violin solo in _Ein Heldenleben_. If it is absurd to
play to me a song without giving me a copy of the words, expecting me
to understand the music that has been born of a poetical idea as if it
had been written independently of any verbal suggestion, it is equally
absurd to put before me, as pure music, an orchestral piece that was
never conceived as pure music. If the poem or the picture was necessary
to the composer’s imagination, it is necessary to mine; if it is not
necessary to either of us, he has no right to affix the title of it to
his work.

It is curious, again, that people who can defend Wagner as against the
absolutists cannot also see that they are implicitly justifying Strauss
and his fellows. Thus another critic writes that “Wagner saw that the
intellectual idea could not be conveyed by music alone; that together
with the colour–the music–must go the spoken word to make clear
what was meant.” So far, good. But then he quarrels with Strauss for
trying to make _his_ themes expressive of something more than music
pure and simple, and giving us a programme to help us. Why, where in
the name of lucidity is the difference between singing to a phrase of
music the words that prompted it, and printing these words alongside
the phrase or at the beginning of the score? Does it matter whether
the composer writes a love-scene and has the actual words _sung_ by a
tenor and a soprano, or merely puts the whole thing on an orchestra,
and _tells_ us that this is a scene between two lovers, and that their
love is of such and such a quality? For the life of me I cannot see
why the one proceeding is right and the other wrong. And once more, if
it is essential that we should not be left in the slightest doubt in
the case of the opera as to who the protagonists are and what is the
nature of their sentiments, it is equally essential, in the case of the
symphonic poem, that we should not be left in ignorance of any of the
points that have gone to make the structure of the music what it is. No
symphonic poem ought to be published or performed without the fullest
analysis of it by the composer himself, just as he would never think of
publishing the music of his song or his opera without the words. There
is no compromise possible. If the song and the opera are legitimate
blends of literary ideas and musical expression, so is the symphonic
poem, and if the literary basis has to be given us in full in the case
of the opera, we equally need it in the other case as completely as it
can be set before us. The great trouble is that composers like Strauss
so often do neither the one thing nor the other; they neither put their
work before us as music pure and simple, nor give us sufficient clue to
what the representative music is intended to represent.

And now let me try to show briefly that Wagner misunderstood the
meaning of his own reforms, and that the ideal poetic art-form after
which he was striving was not the opera but the symphonic poem.

To make the following argument clearer I will state its conclusion
at once; I am going to try to show that Wagner’s own analysis of the
natures of poetry, music and drama conclusively proves that if there
can be said to be such a thing as the ideal form of art, it is not the
opera but the symphonic poem. I am not going to criticise Wagner’s
theory, except for a moment here and there. I am going to accept it
broadly just as it stands, assume it to be perfectly founded on facts
and perfectly logical in the bulk of its exposition, and prove from it
that he stopped short at the final conclusion–that had he been quite
consistent to the end he would have seen, all through his own argument,
the finger of demonstration beckoning him on to a point further
than that of opera, to a point still higher up the road, where the
symphonic poem was awaiting him. And to draw this conclusion I think we
do not need to call in the aid of anything but his own words.

In _A Study of Wagner_ (1899) I contended that, owing to the structure
of his mind, Wagner was to a large degree insensitive to the charms
of poetry purely as poetry and of music purely as music. He did not,
that is, and could not, get from poetry or from abstract music the
precise sensations, completely satisfactory in themselves, that a
lover of poetry or a lover of abstract music would get. Poetry to him
had something unsatisfactory, imperfect, incomplete in it, unless it
reached out a hand to music; music was similarly defective unless it
was born of a poetic stimulus. To dispute this is to be blind to the
plain evidence of Wagner’s prose works; the mere assertion to the
contrary of his more uncritical admirers counts for simply nothing
against the numerous passages that can be brought up in proof. Remarks
such as this, “What is not worth the being sung, neither is it worth
the poet’s pain of telling,” or this, “that work of the poet’s must
rank as the most excellent, which in its final consummation should
become entirely music,” or this, “A need in music which poetry alone
can still,” or this, “If the work of the sheer word-poet appears as a
non-realised poetic aim, on the other hand, the work of the absolute
musician is only to be described as altogether bare of such an aim; for
the Feeling may well have been entirely aroused by the purely-musical
expression, but it could not be _directed_,”[33]–remarks such as
these are not to be explained away. Nay, Wagner’s very notion of an
art-work that should embrace all the arts was a sure proof of there
being a specific something in each art to which he was impervious.

This, then, is the prime fact in Wagner’s artistic psychology. When
a poetical idea occurred to him, it was one that cried out for the
emotional colour of music to complete it; when a musical idea occurred
to him, it was one controlled and directed from the start by a poetic
concept. Hence not only his dramatic work but his theoretical work is
simply the expression of this psychological bias. His opponents did him
an injustice when they said he worked out certain theories and then
wrote operas to illustrate and justify them. The fact was that the
theories and the operas were only two branches from the same trunk–not
cause and effect, but two effects of the same cause. In the operas
and the prose works alike he was simply seeking self-expression. But
muddled thinker as I hold Wagner to have been upon most of the subjects
his busy brain took up, he was perfectly clear as to what he wanted
to do in opera, and what he wanted to say in explanation of it. Even
the distressing opacity of his style, that makes the reading of him so
severe a trial to one’s literary sense, cannot prevent the big outlines
of his system standing out in perfect clearness. In that system he
thought he had demonstrated three things–(1) that at a certain stage
of its evolution poetry has to call in the aid of music in order
fully to realise its desires, (2) that music for the same reason has
at a certain stage to call in the aid of poetry, and (3) that in the
musical drama we get the best powers of music and of poetry exerted to
the fullest, and combined in a harmonious whole. (He also held that
the scene-painting, the stage-setting, and the gestures of the actors
gratified adequately our other æsthetic senses; but we need not concern
ourselves with this aspect of his theory here.)

Let me first make it quite clear that Wagner wished to get an ideal
musical-poetic art-form by shearing off from music all that did not
tend towards poetry, and from poetry all that did not tend towards
music. “Unity of artistic Form,” he says in _Opera and Drama_, “is
only thinkable as the emanation of a united Content: a united Content,
however, we can only recognise by its being couched in an artistic
expression through which it can announce itself _entirely_ to the
Feeling. A Content which should prescribe a twofold expression,
_i.e._ an expression which obliged the messenger to address himself
alternately to the Understanding and the Feeling–such a Content
could only be itself a dual, a discordant one. Every artistic aim
makes primarily for a united Shape…. Since it is the instinctive
Will of every artistic Aim to impart itself to the Feeling, it
follows that the cloven Expression is incompetent to entirely arouse
the Feeling….” “This,” he goes on to say, “This entire arousing
of the Feeling was impossible to the sheer Word-poet, through _his_
expressional organ; therefore what he could not impart through that
to Feeling, he was obliged to announce to Understanding, so as to
compass the full utterance of the content of his Aim: he must hand
over to Understanding, to be thought out, what he could not give to be
perceived by Feeling.” Thus poetry falls to the ground, as it were,
between two stools; the poet wants to make a direct appeal to Feeling,
but he is partly defeated by having to make this appeal through the
medium of words, which are more the organ of Understanding than of
Feeling. The one thing to be done, then, is to supply this deficiency
of Feeling by a resort to music, whose appeal _par excellence_ is to
the Feeling.

But _per contra_, music itself, as abstract music, is incomplete;
because, although it does indeed move us, it leaves us in doubt as
to the cause and purpose of the emotion. “If the work of the sheer
Word-poet,” says Wagner, “appears as a non-realised poetic Aim, on the
other hand the work of the absolute Musician is only to be described
as altogether bare of such an Aim; for the Feeling may well have been
entirely aroused by the purely-musical expression, but it could not be
_directed_.” Or, as he phrases it in another place, instrumental music
had worked away at its regular sound-patterns until it “had won itself
an idiomatic speech–a speech which in any higher artistic sense,
however, was arbitrary and incapable of expressing the purely-human,
so long as the longing for a clear and intelligible portrayal of
definite, individual human feelings did not become its only necessary
measure for the shaping of those melodic particles.”

So much, then, is clear; according to the Wagnerian theory, mere
poetry needs music to help it to make its direct appeal to Feeling;
mere music needs the concrete suggestions of poetry to give it order
and direction. Even in the later works of Beethoven the pendulum
shifts from absolute, abstract musical tone-weaving to the effort to
say more definite things; there awoke in him, says Wagner, “a longing
for distinct expression of specific, characteristically individual
emotions,” and he “began to care less and less about merely making
music.” The climax of this impulse to blend musical feeling and poetic
purpose in the one art-work was, of course, to be the Wagnerian opera
or music-drama.

This line of argumentation leads to two other propositions:–

(1) In the first place, given that music and poetry are to co-operate
to make one product, and given that the most perfect art-form is that
which makes a single, undivided, undistracting appeal to us, it follows
that the more intimately the two factors are blended the better the
result will be. There must be no little bit of music that hangs out,
as it were, and declines to meet the poetry on equal terms; there must
be no little bit of poetry that refuses to be amenable to musical
expression. The compromise must be perfect; there must be just so much
poetic purpose as is necessary to keep the musical utterance definite
and unmistakable, and just so much musical outpouring as is necessary
to lift _all_ the poetry into the ideal realm of Feeling; just so much
in each case and no more. There must be a complete “emotionalisation
of the intellect”; or, to use yet another of Wagner’s phrases, we must
have “a truly unitarian” form. And in answer to the question, “Has
the poet to _restrict_ himself in presence of the musician, and the
musician in presence of the poet?” he says that they must not restrict
each other, “but rouse each other’s powers into highest might, by
love….” ” … If the _poet’s aim_–as such–is still at hand and
visible, then it has not as yet gone under into the Musical Expression;
but if the _Musician’s Expression_–as such–is still apparent, then
it, in turn, has not yet been inspired by the Poetic Aim.” In the
_Zukunftsmusik_ he puts the same idea in other words: the ideal text
can be achieved only by “that poet who is fully alive to Music’s
tendency and exhaustless faculty of expression, and therefore drafts
his poem in such a fashion that it may penetrate the finest fibres of
the musical tissue, and the spoken _thought_ entirely dissolve into the

(2) In the second place, the new circumstances must sanction a new
form. What was quite right in the symphony, having regard to its
peculiar purpose, will be quite wrong in the music-drama, where the
purpose is altogether different. Nowhere, perhaps, is Wagner on
safer ground, or more illuminative in his reasoning, than he is
here. He shows how the symphony–like all purely abstract musical
utterances–must adopt certain definite formal methods of procedure
if it is to hang together at all. The growth of sonata-form in the
eighteenth century was determined not by the arbitrary desires of
individuals here and there, but by a deep underlying logic–a logic of
the emotions–that ran unconsciously through them and through their
hearers. It was this obscure, intuitive logic that made the need felt
for a second subject in contrast with the first, for an exposition
of these two subjects, for their working out, and for their final
recapitulation; it was this logic that determined the contrast of
character between the different movements. The kaleidoscope had to be
perpetually bringing the picture before us in new aspects; the essence
of dramatic working is _development_; the essence of “all forms arisen
from the March or Dance” is _change_. Thus the new form for dramatic
music must be sought in the nature of that _genre_, not in the nature
of a quite alien _genre_. In the essay _On Franz Liszt’s Symphonic
Poems_, Wagner points out, as we have seen, how the laws of drama and
the laws of symphony are at variance. Let me quote the gist of his
remarks again. “It will be obvious that, in the conflict of a dramatic
idea with this (symphonic) form, the necessity must at once arise to
either sacrifice the development (the idea) to the alternation (the
form), or the latter to the former”; whereupon follows the criticism of
the _Leonora_ overture which I have already quoted. When he reaches
the point that a new form would have been necessary to allow free and
consistent play to Beethoven’s ideas in the _Leonora_, he asks, “What,
now, would that form be?” and replies, “Of necessity a form dictated by
the subject of portrayal and its logical development.”

Having briefly sketched out the two leading principles of Wagner’s
theory, let us now leave the second, which is perfectly clear in itself
and in all its implications, and return to the first, the implications
of which are perhaps not quite so clear. Wagner himself held that as he
grew in artistic wisdom, his opera-poems came closer and closer to the
ideal form, in which there should be just as much music as the poetry
required, and just as much poetry as the music required. He admitted
that the poems of _Rienzi_, _The Flying Dutchman_, _Tannhäuser_, and
_Lohengrin_ were not quite all they should be; they were simply stages
in his evolution. But he was willing to submit the poem of _Tristan_
to the severest possible test of conformity with his ideal. “Upon that
work,” he says, “I consent to your making the severest claims deducible
from my theoretic premisses: not because I formed it on any system,
for every theory was clean forgotten by me; but since here I moved
with fullest freedom and the most utter disregard of every theoretic

What now is the great advantage, according to Wagner’s theory, that
the musical dramatist has over the poet or the novelist? Simply this,
that he can discard all the more or less uninspired matter that they
require in order to make their purpose clear, and plunge at once into
the heart of his subject. Take, as an example, this very poem of
_Tristan and Isolde_. The poet or the novelist, before he can begin to
move you, must descend to a relatively unemotional plane in order to
acquaint your understanding with certain positive facts it is essential
it should know. He must tell you who Tristan and Isolde were, when and
where they lived, what was their relation to the other people of the
drama, and a score of other things that can hardly be made emotional in
themselves. A long poem or drama is bound, by the nature of the case,
to have a certain amount of dross scattered about among its gold; the
beautiful appeals to Feeling are only made into a coherent story or
picture by the use of this less emotional tissue. From this difficulty
the musical dramatist escapes; in music he has a powerful engine that
enables him to dispense with all these mere wrappings of his Feeling,
and reach directly and immediately to the Feeling itself. He avoids
the arbitrary, and takes up his stand at once in the centre of the
“purely human.” Thus Wagner needs no preliminary fumbling about for
_his_ tragedy; the first bar of the overture transports you at once
into the world and the mood to which the poet must drag you through
twenty explanatory pages. “All that detailed description and exhibition
of the historico-conventional which is requisite for making us clearly
understand the events of a given, remote historical epoch, and which
the historical novelist or dramatist of our times has therefore to
set forth at such exhaustive length–all this I could pass over.” He
concerns himself not with historical subjects but with the simple myth
or legend, for “the legend, in whatever age or nation it occurs, has
the merit of seeing nothing but the purely human content of that age
and nation, and of giving forth that Content in a form peculiar to
itself, of sharpest outline, and therefore swiftly understandable.”
The musician, in fact, must discard everything but the purely human;
he must take a poetical subject of which this is the core, and then
kindle it into incandescence by means of music. In _Tristan_, says
Wagner, “I plunged into the inner depth of soul-events, and from out
this inmost centre of the world I fearlessly built up its outward form.
A glance at the volume of this poem will show you at once that the
exhaustive detail-work which an historical poet is obliged to devote
to clearing up the outward bearings of his plot, to the detriment of a
lucid exposition of its inner motives, I now trusted myself to apply
to these latter alone. Life and death, the whole import and existence
of the outer world, here hang on nothing but the inner movements of
the soul.” The object, of course, was–to recur to a previous order of
imagery–to reduce the amount of dross in the work and to increase the
amount of pure gold; all the available space ought to be devoted not to
demonstrations or recitals of fact but to the evocation of feelings,
to “exhibiting the inner springs of action, those inner soul-motives
which are finally and alone to stamp the Action as a _necessary_ one.”

So much, then, is clear. Without questioning one of Wagner’s
contentions–accepting his theory as true, without disagreeing with his
data or his reasoning–we come to these positions:–

a. Poetry without music is lacking in expression, in appeal to
Feeling: music without poetry is lacking in the power to give a
definite direction to Feeling.

b. An art-form therefore must be sought that will be an amalgam of
the two, with the advantages of each and the defects of neither.

c. In proportion as the advantages are retained and the defects
eliminated will the new art-form approach ideal perfection.

d. The musical defect to be guarded against is the attempt to
subject dramatic music to the laws of symphonic music: this is
easily overcome, and there only remains the poetic defect to be
avoided, _i.e._

e. All poetic or verbal material that cannot be “musicalised,”
or caught up into the spirit of music, is superfluous and harmful;
therefore in proportion as the music-drama is perfected will this
kind of material tend to disappear.

So far, so good. The point remaining to be considered is this: can
we _ever_ totally eliminate this non-musical material from opera?
Let us say, for example, in terms of the Wagnerian æsthetic, that a
good opera on the subject of Romeo and Juliet will be nearer artistic
perfection than Shakespeare’s play, because it will dispense with
all the poet’s clumsy methods of reaching the Feeling through the
viscous waters of the Understanding–that it will concern itself only
with the “purely human,” with the “inner springs of action” of the
souls of the characters, and that it will raise these–to use a term
borrowed from electrical science–to the highest potential, the highest
incandescence. Granting all this, let us then press our question a
point further still. There will, let us admit, be less non-emotional
matter in the opera than in the drama, less hard, incalcitrant material
that cannot be emotionalised, but that has to be there because without
it the structure cannot hang together. Admitting that there will be
less of it, will any one venture to say that there will be _none_ of
it in the opera? I think not. _Â priori_ considerations apart, an
appeal to practical experience will soon disillusionise us. Of all
the thousands of operas that have been written since opera began,
not one, outside the works of Wagner, will pass successfully through
the ordeal. Of Wagner’s operas, _Rienzi_, _The Flying Dutchman_,
_Tannhäuser_, and _Lohengrin_ are, by his own admission, as I have
already shown, put out of court. _The Ring_ will certainly not stand
the test; _Parsifal_ certainly will not; _The Mastersingers_ certainly
will not. There only remains _Tristan_, of the form and substance of
which he himself was justly proud. It will pass the judges with a
lighter sentence than any of the others; but will it be dismissed
without a stain on its character? By no means. Even in the pure,
dazzling, magnificent metal of _Tristan_ itself we find embedded, here
and there, a refractory piece of alien ore, of raw material not yet put
through the subtle alchemy that must divinise it. If then this last
straw fails us, where shall we look for salvation? The only answer can
be that _salvation on these lines is impossible_. Reduce the coarser,
explanatory, unemotional matter of opera–the merely utilitarian stuff,
the paste that binds the more precious things together–reduce this
as you will, _some_ of it you are still bound to retain in opera, for
without it opera cannot have enough intellectual, dramatic consistency
to ensure our getting hold of it. And if (1) granting the premisses,
the reasoning by which the Wagnerian theorem is supported has been
flawless, and (2) the brain that strove to embody that theorem in
practical art was an organ mightier than anything the sons of men are
likely to see for a very long time to come–then, I take it, there
is only one conclusion possible, that the failure occurs through
attempting to realise the theory in the wrong medium. To phrase it
differently, the logic of the case is not rigorously enough applied at
the last stage, when it comes to be pushed to its ultimate conclusion.
Always bearing in mind that, according to Wagner, the strong point of
the musical drama, as compared with any other poetic art-form, is that
the non-emotional matter in it can be reduced to a minimum, let us ask
ourselves whether a form cannot be found in which even this minimum can
be dispensed with. The answer will be that the necessary conditions
are united in the symphonic poem, which is therefore the true heir
of Wagner’s theory, and has been too long kept out of its lawful

Two points now fall to be considered: (1) Can the affiliation of the
symphonic poem to the Wagnerian theory be properly established, and the
superiority of its rights of succession over those of its half-brother
opera be fully demonstrated; and (2) are there no defects, suggested by
Wagner himself, that unfit the symphonic poem to hold sway over opera?

The first point need not detain us long; least of all can the
thorough-going Wagnerian here have much right to protest. If Wagner’s
reasoning is right his conclusion must be accepted–namely, that the
less waste matter you have in your poetic music the better. Now he
himself attributed the failure to “musicalise” the poetic subject
completely to this cause, that instead of addressing the Feeling we
were too prone to address the Understanding. He tells us, too, that
_words_ are the channel through which the Understanding operates.
In all cases, then, where words are employed, there is a strong
probability of their carrying us with them further along the path of
mere Understanding than the ideal art requires; and diminish this
feature as much as you can, some of it is still bound to persist. So
that your only resort is to find a form that shall make use of all the
advantages of poetic music and keep clear of this one defect. This form
is unquestionably the symphonic poem. It _does_ eliminate the defects
that attend the use of words, for it dispenses with words; it meets
Wagner’s demand that music shall not sing merely for its own sake, but
for a poetic purpose; it can order its structure upon the same lines
as opera, _i.e._ the themes are conceived at once in terms of musical
beauty and in terms of poetic appropriateness, and they suggest, by the
modifications they undergo, the changing aspect of the personages and
scenes of the drama. A symphonic poem is the concentrated essence of
opera; it is to the opera as Bovril is to the ox.

But Wagner himself, it may be said, expressly warned us against
programme music as being an artistic error. That is quite true.
Wagner’s argumentation here, however, is exceptionally weak. It is
clear that he had no properly thought-out principles to guide him at
this point. To begin with, his differentiation of programme music
from the symphonic poem is thoroughly fallacious. If programme music
is music based upon a programme–_i.e._ upon a literary subject–then
every symphonic poem, nay, every opera, necessarily belongs to that
category. The truth probably is that Wagner clung to this false
distinction because he thought it would help him out of an embarrassing
situation. He found himself compelled to say something publicly upon
Liszt’s symphonic poems; and I am afraid his essay on that subject
is hardly a model of the ingenuous. To condemn Liszt was, of course,
impossible for many reasons. At all costs he had to be commended; but
if we critically examine the essay of eighteen pages, we shall find
that surprisingly little of it really deals with Liszt’s work. There
is much declamation, and much æsthetic theorizing–most of it very
good; but surprisingly little rational criticism of Liszt’s symphonic
poems. Practically all that Wagner does is (1) to admit the _â priori_
proposition that it is just as sensible to write a symphonic poem as
a symphony–he asks “whether March or Dance … can supply a worthier
motive of form than, for instance, a mental picture of the …
characteristic features in the deeds and sufferings of an Orpheus, a
Prometheus, and so forth,” and whether it is not nobler for music to
take its Form “from an imagined Orpheus or Prometheus motive, than from
an imagined march or dance motive”; and (2) to contrast disparagingly
the procedure of Berlioz with that of Liszt. But the final impression
the essay leaves on me is that it was a duty which Wagner performed
rather unwillingly. He did not want to say too much for Liszt’s music;
so on the one hand he argued that at any rate the symphonic poem was
permissible, and on the other hand that it was preferable to the
programme music of Berlioz.

Here his distinctions and his reasoning will not hold. He objected in
Berlioz, as we have seen, to the way in which the musician followed the
literary clues of his subject, without recasting these so as to fit
them in with a scheme that was _musically_ logical. Now it is absurd to
condemn programme music _en masse_ because a particular man blunders in
it; Berlioz may quite well be wrong[34] and programme music still be
right. But take Wagner’s criticism as it stands, and correlate it with
the previous arguments of this paper, and what is the conclusion to be
drawn? Just this, that if Wagner could not, as he says, “hold on to
scenic motives not present” before his eye, he was not listening to the
music in the proper way. It is _not_ necessary, for most of us, to have
a poetic scene put visibly before us; we can easily reconstruct it in
imagination; and what the symphonic poem does is to give us the musical
feeling the opera aims at giving us, and to tell us to _imagine_ the
occasion of it all, instead of putting this occasion on a stage before
us. The prelude and finale of _Tristan_ constitute a rudimentary
symphonic poem, in the hearing of which we never ask to hear a word
or see an actor. A more explicit symphonic poem does the same thing
on a larger scale. We can, if we like, make a three-act opera out of
_Romeo and Juliet_, but on Wagner’s own principles the essence of the
thing is contained in Tchaikovski’s concert overture. And if I am
told that this theme is to be associated with the lovers, this with
Friar Lawrence, and so on, then during the playing of the overture the
whole drama is acted in my brain, and is quite as real for me as if I
beheld artificial men and women acting artificially in an artificial
stage-setting. So with _Ein Heldenleben_. Nothing would be easier than
to make an opera out of this subject; but who wants the opera, with
its eking out of the parts that really do matter with a number of
parts that really do not matter, with all its stage absurdities, its
posturing actors? We have the diffuse emotions of three or four hours
concentrated into the rich emotions of forty minutes. We have the whole
life of the hero just as we would get it in the opera; but the small
basket of strawberries has fewer pieces of grit in it than the bigger

I hope I shall not be taken to mean that the opera is a false and
useless form, and that composers should henceforth all work frenziedly
at the manufacture of symphonic poems. My position is that for certain
purposes we _must_ have opera; by it alone can certain needs of our
soul be satisfied, just as–though Wagner did not know it–for the
satisfaction of other needs we must resort to pure poetry and pure
music. But for certain other satisfactions we must have recourse to the
symphonic poem; and this form, I contend, is the only form that can be
deduced logically from Wagner’s own æsthetic theory. As I have tried
to show, in the symphonic poem alone can you get music fertilised by
a poetic purpose, and yet, by eliminating the actual words, avoid the
intrusion even of the minimum of non-emotional substance. In _The Ring
and the Book_, Browning describes how the artificer has to fashion a
gold ring. In order to make his material workable, he has to blend an
alloy with the gold; but when the circle is complete he drives out
the alloy with a spirt of acid, leaving the pure metal only. That
is the symphonic poem; the opera is the ring with the alloy left in
it. If perfection of form is what we want–the consummate, intimate
transfusion of matter and form, the “truly unitarian” form to which
Wagner aspired–then it is in the symphonic poem that we must look for
it, not in the opera.

Only one objection that Wagner might urge against this has, I believe,
not yet been considered. He expressly laid it down, it may be pointed
out, that it is _not_ sufficient for us to carry the external, moving,
concrete features of the drama in our heads; they must be set before
us, in the fulness of real life, on the stage. “Not a Programme,” he
says in _Zukunftsmusik_, “which rather prompts the troublous question
‘Why’?[36] than stills it–not a Programme, then, can speak the meaning
of the symphony; no, nothing but a stage performance of the Dramatic
Action itself.”

This was an opinion he always maintained; but after all is it anything
more than a mere _obiter dictum_? Wagner had a passion for seeing
anything and everything upon the stage–a passion that at times becomes
rather childish, for he was quite unconscious of a number of the
absurdities of his characters and his situations that are painfully
evident to the audience. Truth to tell, his notions of the stage were
just a little crude at times; in any case he did not see that even
the best acting in opera is _per se_ bound to be inferior to the best
acting in drama–people cannot sing and at the same time be wholly
natural in demeanour. I take it, then, that his predilection for
stage-settings was a purely personal one; it has no logical relation to
his general æsthetic theory; and we can refuse to be bound by it. We
all like opera, and we tolerate its absurdities and its intellectual
deficiencies because we know these are inseparable from it; but once
more it has to be said that from these stage absurdities the symphonic
poem is free. Mr. Arthur Symons has recently pointed out the strain
that is put on our sense of the ridiculous when what should be merely
a symbol is thrust visibly before our eyes. The Stranger in Ibsen’s
_Lady from the Sea_ is very impressive as a symbol of the call of the
sea to the blood of Ellida Wangel; but when an ordinary human being
in a tourist suit comes on the stage and purports to be the symbol
incarnate, our sense of the poetry of the thing is severely tried. So
with the scene where Wotan attempts to bar Siegfried’s progress with
his spear, and Siegfried shatters it with his sword. This is all
very fine as a symbol of “the last ineffectual stand of constituted
authority against the young, untrammelled individuality of the future”;
but what the candid eye sees on the stage is a young man chopping in
two a piece of stick held by an old man, who picks up the pieces,
walks off with them, and says, “Advance! I cannot stop thee!” What is
very impressive, merely conceived imaginatively as a symbol, becomes
unimpressive when narrowed down to ordinary men with legs and arms,
holding “property” swords and spears.

Opera, indeed, has no lack of absurdities, and this will always prevent
it taking rank as the highest form of dramatic art; and Wagner, as I
have said, must be held to have taken some of his own stage absurdities
and puerilities with quite abnormal seriousness. It stands to reason,
too, that the symphonic poem suffers from no such disabilities. If
Wagner’s theory be correct, then a symphonic poem on a given subject
can follow, as regards its musical form, the lines laid down for it
by the poetic impulse, just as efficiently as an opera on the subject
could do; while it avoids the “padding” that is inseparable from
opera by simply giving us, in our programme, an outline of the poetic
subject, instead of daubing the subject over, from head to foot, with
pseudo-poetry that rarely rises above the level of rhymed or rhythmic
prose. As for the inability to follow the poetic motives of the subject
from the programme–well, I fancy we are not all so imperfectly endowed
with imagination as Wagner seems to have been here. I quite admit that
there are minds like his in this respect, to which poetic music conveys
little or nothing without speech and action–that are unable, while
they listen, say to _Ein Heldenleben_, to keep all the details of the
story moving at equal pace with the music; but the sufficient answer to
such people is that other people _can_ do this. To sum it all up, the
symphonic poem is theoretically deducible from Wagner’s own æsthetic;
while in practice, if we miss in it some of the elements that make
opera interesting, we are compensated by the absence of other elements
that make opera tedious and absurd.

One point still remains to be discussed, though we need only touch on
it very briefly. How far can music represent external things–ought
it, indeed, to try to represent external things at all? It was
Schopenhauer, I think, who said that music was not a representative
but a presentative art. But that was very superficial psychologising
even in his day, and it is still more superficial in ours. The whole
problem is exceedingly simple if people, in their anxiety to prove
that music cannot “imitate,” would not confuse it unnecessarily.
Heaven only knows how much bastard æsthetic has been born of that
unfortunate remark of Beethoven’s about the Pastoral Symphony, which
we have already had occasion to examine. As a specimen, look at this
quotation from Victor Cousin, intended to demonstrate, in its own
way, that music must not be “painting,” but only an “expression of
emotion.” “Give the wisest symphonist a tempest to render. Nothing is
easier than to imitate the whistling of the winds and the noise of the
thunder. But by what combination of ordered sounds could he present
to our sight the lightning flashes which suddenly rend the veil of
night, and that which is the most terrific aspect of the tempest, the
alternate movement of the waves, now rising mountain high, now sinking
and seeming to fall headlong into bottomless abysses? If the hearer
has not been told beforehand what the subject is, he will never divine
it, and I defy him to distinguish a tempest from a battle. In spite
of scientific skill and genius, sounds cannot represent forms. Music,
rightly advised, will refuse to enter upon a hopeless contest; it will
not undertake to express the rise and fall of the waves and other like
phenomena; it will do better; with sounds it will produce in our soul
the feelings which successively arise in us during the various scenes
of the tempest. It is thus that Haydn will become the rival, even the
conqueror of the painter, because it has been given to music to move
and sway the soul even more profoundly than painting.”[37]

The point is, be it observed, that unless you were told beforehand, you
could not say whether a given orchestral piece was meant to represent
a tempest or a battle; the composer is therefore advised not to try
to paint a tempest, but to “produce in our soul the feelings which
successively arise in us during the various scenes of the tempest.”
Why, how in the name of all æsthetic innocence does this help us? How
are we, in the absence of a verbal indication, to distinguish “the
feelings which successively arise in us during the various scenes of
the tempest” from the feelings which would arise in us during the
various scenes of a battle? We only hear, that is, a certain mass of
sound; how are we to know, from the mere “feeling” this arouses in us,
that it refers to a battle or a tempest or anything else? What man, for
example, listening to solemn music, can possibly know whether it is
meant to describe the death of Napoleon, the funeral of Mr. Gladstone,
the poetic contemplation of nature, the opening of the St. Louis
Exhibition, the life-work of John Stuart Mill, or anything else under
the sun? The “feelings” are perfectly incompetent to pierce through
the indefinite tone to the definite scene that inspired it. What the
composer has to do is to tell us what this definite scene is; nobody,
for example, would have guessed that the fourth movement of Schumann’s
_Rhenish_ symphony had its origin in the installation of the Archbishop
of Geissel as Archbishop of Cologne, if the composer himself had not
told us so. Nobody would have known that a certain part of the Pastoral
Symphony represents a peasant’s gratitude after a storm, if Beethoven
had not said so himself. The “feelings” are no more reliable guides in
cases of this kind than the “painting” is. And if the composer has to
give us a verbal clue in order to let us know definitely what feelings
he is representing, he has only to give us a verbal clue to make it
quite clear to us what his painting is intended to represent; and there
is no more odium in needing the verbal clue in the latter case than
there is in the former.

No one in his senses has ever pretended that music alone could depict
external things so accurately that we could recognise them infallibly
at once, without any assistance from the sight, as in opera, or from
a verbal accompaniment. As M. Alfred Ernst has put it: “It is not a
question of painting an object–music could not succeed in doing that;
nor is it a question of reproducing exactly the sounds of nature,
such as the murmur of flowing water, the rumbling of thunder, the
song of birds; but, when these phenomena are in the subject that is
being treated, of recalling them to the mind by means of tone…. Thus
conceived, music does not materialise itself in becoming descriptive;
it would be more accurate to say that it spiritualises the phenomena of
nature….” And he shows how Mozart, for example, employs description.
“In his _Don Juan_ he has more than once translated the gesture, the
mimic, of his personages. We may cite, for instance, the ascending
scales in the orchestra in the duel between the Commandant and Don
Juan. The figures in the bass refer to the old man, those above to
Juan; each time that one of the two adversaries steps towards the other
and attacks, this figure comes out, strident, quick as the thrust of a
sword, and at the moment when Don Juan presses the Commandant, lunges
at him time after time, strikes him and kills him, the violin scales
succeed each other without giving the auditor time to breathe….
At the beginning of the sextet, when Leporello tries to slip away,
fearing to be taken for Don Juan, the orchestra reproduces his stealthy
movements; we see the unhappy wretch creeping along cautiously, his
back bent, feeling round for a way out.”[38] Nor does one need to be
reminded of the numerous pieces of “description,” of “imitation,” in
Wagner–of the water-music, the fire-music, the swish of Klingsor’s
spear, the voices of the forest, and so on. Every dramatic, or, indeed,
vocal writer is full of passages of this kind; it simply cannot be
avoided in music that aims at something beyond abstract note-spinning.

But in every case, as we can see, the music is not left to tell its
story alone; we are not compelled to guess the subject represented
merely from the tones themselves. The subject is told us in some way
or other–we see Don Juan thrusting at the Commandant, or the spear
flying at Parsifal’s head, or the fire licking the couch of Brynhilde;
or else there is, in the words of the song or opera, some suggestion
of the external thing that is being illustrated in the music. And in
the symphonic poem, all that we require in order that everything may
be perfectly clear is a statement, in the programme, of the picture
upon which the music is based. I am not expected to know, merely from
the tones alone, what the “giant” motive in the _Rheingold_ is meant
to represent; but when I am told that it relates to the giants, I
can take delight in the expressiveness of its lumbering, unwieldy
movements. Similarly I must be told that the opening pages of _Also
sprach Zarathustra_ are meant as a representation of the majesty and
spaciousness of Nature. And–again to draw upon the argument of the
foregoing pages–there is nothing that can be done in this line in
the song or the opera that cannot be done quite as effectually in
the symphonic poem, if composers would only give their hearers the
same full insight into their literary intentions as the song or opera
writer does, and if hearers would only take the trouble to master
these intentions before they listen to the music that is based upon
them. If they would do this, their pleasure in the symphonic poem
would be enormously increased; everything in it would be alive to
them. For myself, at any rate, to listen to _Till Eulenspiegel_ or
_Ein Heldenleben_ or _Don Quixote_ is not only to enjoy the music but
to see the whole action as clearly as if I were reading it in a book
or watching it on the stage. I get none of the boredom, none of the
unfortunate provocations to laughter, that are inseparable from that
artificial, stagey form of art, the opera. I miss, of course, some of
the factors that make opera so glorious–the inexpressible thrill
communicated by the human voice, the quickening of the pulse that is
given by the movements of the actors and the catastrophes of the stage;
but on the other hand I am spared a great many things, and I have the
satisfaction of knowing that my sense of form is receiving the purest,
most undiluted pleasure it is possible for it to receive in poetic
music. The case for programme music is quite as strong as the case for
opera or for the symphony. That many stupid things have been done in
its name, that many fools and weaklings have fought under its banner,
counts for nothing; how many symphonies, how many operas, are there
that the world would willingly let die! The rightness of the form is
not affected by the wrongness of the people who choose to work in it;
and that the form itself is essentially right, I have, I hope, given
adequate proof. Finally, to the question of how far music is justified
in trying to suggest external things, we can only say that it is better
not to be too dogmatic. Things that would have seemed impossible a
hundred years ago are done with ease to-day. Who would believe that a
windmill could be represented in music? Yet Strauss’s windmill in _Don
Quixote_ is really extraordinarily clever and satisfying; he suggests
wonderfully, too, the caracoling of the horse as the knight puts him
through his paces. His pictorial faculty, indeed, is something unique
in the history of music; Wagner’s is only an imperfect instrument by
the side of it. The representative power of music is growing day by
day. The only æsthetic fact we can be sure of is this, that no piece
of representation will be tolerated unless it is at the same time
_music_. That is the ultimate test; the imitative passages that make us
smile are the passages that are merely imitative, without sufficient
musical charm to keep them alive for us. But here, of course, we simply
get back to the position already advanced in this article–that in all
poetic music there must be as thorough a satisfaction as possible not
only of the literary or the pictorial but of the musical sense.


[19] See an interesting article by Max Vancsa–_Zur Geschichte der
Programm-Musik_–in Nos. 23 and 24 of _Die Musik_ (1903).

[20] The reader will of course not take this to mean that a piece of
programme music should sound just as well when played as absolute
music, _i.e._ should be as interesting to the man who does not know the
programme as to the man who does. Against that current fallacy I argue
further on.

[21] The term “poetic” is used as a kind of verbal shorthand. A piece
of music may be suggested by a drama, a novel, a historical event, a
poem, a philosophical treatise (like _Also sprach Zarathustra_), or
anything else. The one phrase “poetic music” will conveniently cover
the æsthetic facts involved in all these modes of suggestion.

[22] That is, sound _quâ_ sound (music), _plus_ sound congealed into
definite symbols (words).

[23] I am not, of course, putting this forward as the way in which
music actually and historically developed. I am simply disengaging from
the historical facts, in order to throw it into stronger relief, the
psychological element underlying them; just as in economics we try to
understand what has actually been the course of events by isolating
from the other factors of human nature the factors that concern the
desire of gain, and arguing deductively from these.

[24] There is emotion, of course, at the back of the notes; the reader
will not take me to mean that the pleasure is merely physical, like
a taste or an odour. But the emotive wave is relatively small and
very vague; it neither comes directly from nor suggests any external

[25] I take some of these historical facts from the article of Max
Vancsa, already cited.

[26] See Strabo’s _Geography_, Bohn edition, vol. ii. p. 120.

[27] The Bible Sonatas, together with Kuhnau’s other piano works and
his prose writings, may be had in vol. iv. of the _Denkmäler Deutscher
Tonkunst_, carefully edited by Karl Päsler. Mr. Shedlock, in his book
on _The Pianoforte Sonata_, gives a pretty full account of Kuhnau; but
it is a pity he could not have found space for a complete translation
of the preface to the Bible Sonatas.

[28] “He was and remained,” says Wagner, “a prince’s musical officer,
with the duty of catering for the entertainment of his pomp-struck
master…. Docile and devout, the peace of his kind and cheerful temper
stayed unruffled till advanced old age; only the eye, that looks upon
us from his portrait, is suffused with a gentle melancholy.”

[29] See Ambros: _Die Grenzen der Musik und Poesie_ (1885), iv. v.

[30] It is significant that even the sturdy, independent Gluck too
fell a victim to princely patronage in the very middle of his career.
After striking out for himself in _Telemacco_ (1749) and _La Clemenza
di Tito_ (1750), and apparently being well on the way to the reform of
the opera, he became, in 1754, Kapellmeister at Vienna. From that date
to 1762, when _Orfeo_ was produced, he wrote, not like Gluck, but like
a court servant. See a pithy paragraph on the subject in Mr. Hadow’s
book, _The Viennese Period_ (vol. v. of the Oxford History of Music),
p. 90.

[31] The development of the opera, too, was an important factor. It was
not till men had mastered dramatic musical expression in association
with words that they could properly aim at the same kind of expression
without words.

[32] Even Berlioz, in a weak moment, said he hoped that the music of
the _Symphonie fantastique_ would itself “have a musical interest,
independent of the dramatic intention,” though he insisted on the
title, at any rate, of each movement being given to the audience. See
his Preface to the Symphony.

[33] Here, and elsewhere in this article, I venture to make my
quotations from Mr. W. Ashton Ellis’s translation of Wagner’s prose

[34] I am not, of course, agreeing with Wagner’s criticism of Berlioz;
it seems to me quite superficial and unilluminative, but to discuss it
would be foreign to our present purpose.

[35] The reader will understand that I am not founding my case on the
actual musical value of _Ein Heldenleben_; I am only using that work
as an illustration of an æsthetic theory. In the actual _Heldenleben_
there is rather more grit than I like; but there is no real need for it
to have been put there. In the article on Strauss in the present volume
I have tried to show how he has needlessly weakened his scheme by not
keeping to the one piece of portraiture throughout.

[36] _i.e._ the troublous question as to what the music “means”

[37] _Du Vrai, du Beau, et du Bien._ I make the quotation from Mr.
Basil Worsfold’s little book on _Judgment in Literature_.

[38] _L’Œuvre dramatique de Berlioz_, pp. 30-34, etc.




It is now nearly fifty years since Spencer first published his
celebrated essay on “The Origin and Function of Music.” That essay has
been elaborately assailed from many quarters; it has been objected to
as insufficient from the standpoint of æsthetic psychology, and as at
variance with some of the known facts of musical history. Nevertheless
Spencer, in accordance with his general intellectual habit, always
clung tenaciously to his theory, and, without modifying it at all,
returned to the subject in later years only in order to re-asseverate
his doctrine and to repel the critical assaults that were made upon it.
He had no difficulty in dealing with the counter-theory of Darwin–that
music sprang from the amorous rivalry of the males in the presence of
the females of certain species–for Darwin’s brief excursion into the
alien field of musical æsthetic was as humorous and unprofitable as a
discussion of bimetallism by Tchaikovski would have been. Then Spencer
dealt with the redoubtable objections of the late Edmund Gurney and
those of Dr. Wallaschek, undoubtedly scoring at times against them when
they had needlessly overstated their own case, though not, it seems
to me, removing the impression that they had successfully attacked
the central point of his theory. Towards the very end of his days he
returned yet again to the subject, in his _Facts and Comments_, and
did me the honour to combat the brief criticism of his theory which I
had put forward in my _Study of Wagner_, asserting that I exhibited a
“confusion between the origin of a thing and the thing which originates
from it,” and that some of my criticisms “went far towards conceding”
what I denied. I can only say that while I considered that Spencer
passed over in silence certain of the stronger points I had urged
against him, aiming at a merely dialectical victory here and there by
interpreting my words in a different sense from that intended by me,
I was still quite unconvinced, even by his later arguments, of the
truth of his original theory. I shall try to show that that theory
rests on a misunderstanding of the real nature of music, and on too
ready an assumption of a causal connection between phenomena that
are really only similar, and that it is helped out by unintentional
misstatements as to some of the main factors of the problem. The
question has an interest above and beyond Spencer’s connection with
it. The speech-theory of the origin of music has here and there been
adopted as an established æsthetic fact, and æsthetic deductions have
been made from it that must affect our views of current developments
of the art. Wagner–working of course on lines of his own–contended
that song is “just speech aroused to highest passion,” and admiring
commentators innumerable have followed him in his error. It is worth
while therefore, as a contribution to a rather obscure point in musical
æsthetic, to try to demonstrate the falsity of the speech-theory, and
at the same time to place over against it a theory of the origin and
nature of music that squares better with the facts of history and
psychology; and this is best done by examining the speech-theory in the
hands of its strongest advocate.

Briefly, Spencer’s theory is this: “Variations of voice are the
physiological results of variations of feeling,” since “all feelings
… have this common characteristic, that they are muscular stimuli.”
Thus according to the intensity and the quality of the feeling, the
tones in which it is expressed will vary in loudness, in _timbre_,
in pitch, in width of intervals, and in rapidity. “These vocal
peculiarities, which indicate excited feeling, are those which
especially distinguish song from ordinary speech.” In other words,
excited speech merges into recitative, and recitative in its turn
merges into song; and song “originally diverged from emotional speech
in a gradual, unobtrusive manner.” Against this view I argued, in
my _Study of Wagner_, that “it errs in supposing that, because song
exhibits some of the characteristics of speech, the one has necessarily
taken its rise from the other. The resemblances between the external
characteristics of speech and those of song are only what might be
expected, seeing that both are phenomena of sound, and sound can only
vary in the ways indicated by Spencer…. The mere resemblance of song
and speech in their most external characteristics is not a proof that
one is the outcome of the other, but simply that they have certain
causal phenomena in common; while the internal differences between them
are greater than their resemblances.” The careful reader will observe,
in fact, that Spencer unconsciously sophisticates his argument from the
very commencement. It is quite true that “variations of voice are the
physiological results of variations of feeling”; it is also quite true
that the “vocal peculiarities which indicate excited feeling”–such
as loudness, high pitch, increased resonance, and so on–are more
pronounced in song than in ordinary speech. But it does not at all
follow from this that _song took these peculiarities from speech_–that
speech got them first, then developed them into recitative, and then
still further into song. To make a symmetrical but artificial chain
of this kind is to beg the question at the outset. Spencer never put
before himself the obvious alternative–“Could not, and would not,
song have had all these peculiarities even if speech had never been
invented? Given, that is, the capacity of men to feel emotion in
varying degrees, would not a strong emotion naturally express itself in
louder, more varied, more resonant tones than a weak emotion–and this
even if man had as yet no language?” Spencer, in fact, simply details
the characteristics of _tone_ as the expression of feeling, and then
illegitimately appropriates them, in the first place, to one order of
tone, namely speech. No one would dream of disputing the physiological
facts which he established in his essay with his usual patient and
scrupulous accuracy. It is unquestionable that, on the whole, a loud
tone in speaking and a loud tone in singing both indicate heightened
feeling; and that in all the other respects enumerated by him, song
and speech exhibit precisely the same characteristics. But this does
not authorise us, in any way, to assert that song has “grown out of”
speech. Spencer argued too hastily from a mere analogy to a cause.
We are prepared to admit–to state the foregoing argument in another
way–that in moments of emotional excitement the ordinary speech of
men becomes more rhythmical, acquires a more pronounced _timbre_, and
generally varies in the ways Spencer has enumerated. What we are _not_
prepared to admit is that this is either a lower form of music or the
stuff out of which music has grown. Our contention is that while the
difference between speech and excited speech is one of degree only,
_the difference between speech and music is one not merely of degree,
but of kind_–we are dealing with similar physiological but widely
separated psychological phenomena; and that this is true not only of
modern music, as Spencer seems to admit, but of that primitive music
out of which our complex modern art has grown.

Moreover, Spencer ignored the new light which modern
physio-psychological research has thrown upon the question, some of
which I referred to in the _Study of Wagner_. Stricker, in his _Du
Langage et de la Musique_ (1885), has, among a lot of statements and
conclusions that need to be taken with caution, at all events made out
a good case for believing that the organs of speech and the organs
of song are controlled by different cerebral spheres. Wallaschek’s
conclusions, again, are too important to be passed over in silence by
any advocate of the speech-theory. I venture to quote in full from
my _Wagner_ the passage in which I condensed Wallaschek’s argument:
“Further, it is now not only placed beyond dispute that the faculty of
articulate speech has its distinct cerebral centre, but it has been
localised in the third frontal convolution of the left hemisphere
of the brain;” and Dr. Wallaschek, in a brilliant paper, has striven
to show that there must be another centre that controls musical
thought and speech.[39] Without going into Dr. Wallaschek’s theory
in detail, it may be sufficient here to note some of his facts and
conclusions: (_a_) “the forming of concepts goes on in a different part
of the brain, and the concepts travel along other channels, than the
expression of the feelings and the merely automatic processes;”[40]
(_b_) children with aphasia (_i.e._ destruction or disturbance of the
faculty of articulate speech) are yet able to sing;[41] (_c_) patients
with aphasia, who cannot speak connectedly upon ordinary occasions, can
sometimes articulate the words when singing a song–the words being
brought up into consciousness by association with the melody;[42] (_d_)
the third left frontal convolution (which controls articulate speech)
is very small in idiots and lower races, who yet are highly susceptible
to music;[43] (_e_) the faculty of musical memory may be destroyed
without disturbing the other mental faculties;[44] (_f_) consequently
“we express ourselves and hear in quite a different manner when we sing
and when we speak.”[45] All this evidence Spencer ignored to the last.

Nor does it ever seem to have occurred to him to analyse the state of
mind of a musician at the moment of composition, and to utilise the
result thus obtained in order to throw light on the origin of music.
Had he done this he would have seen the force–which his criticism
of me showed he had _not_ seen–of M. Combarieu’s remark that “Mr.
Spencer neglects or ignores everything that gives to the art he is
studying its special and unique character; he does not appear to have
realised what a musical composition is, what are the rules it obeys,
what is the nature of the charm and the beauty we find in it. In
short, we can bring against him a fundamental fact, in comparison with
which everything else has only a quite secondary value: that is, the
existence of a musical manner of thinking (_une pensée musicale_). The
musician thinks with sounds, as the literary man thinks with words.”[46]

Here, indeed, is the crux of the disagreement between Spencer and those
who reject the speech-theory as an absolutely inadequate explanation of
the origin of music. What was his criticism of this criticism? “Here,”
he says, “we have a striking example of the way in which an hypothesis
is made to appear untenable by representing it as being something
which it does not profess to be. I gave an account of the _origin_
of music, and now I am blamed because my conception of the origin of
music does not include a conception of music as fully developed. What
is every process of evolution but the gradual assumption of traits
which were not originally possessed?” It will be seen, I think, that
Spencer quite missed the true point of M. Combarieu’s objection. We do
not expect that from a theory of the origin of music among primitive
men one should be able to forecast all the later _forms_ into which
music has branched; but we do expect that, since evolution is a
continuous process, the theory of the earlier music should not be at
variance with all the main psychological features of the later music.
We say to Spencer, “Take your theory, and we are unable to work it
out in detail. You assert that the expression of musical thought and
emotion has taken three successive forms–excited speech, recitative,
and music. Well, we find it impossible to leap to this conclusion,
as you have done, merely because there are certain resemblances, due
to physiological causes, between speech and song. We cannot trace
such a process historically–for your own sketch of the supposed
historical process is demonstrably inaccurate in evidence and hasty
in inference–nor can we even _imagine_ the process psychologically.
To us, there is a great psychological and æsthetic gulf fixed between
excited speech and song–_not only between the speech and the song of
to-day, but between the ruder speech and ruder song of primitive man_.
On the other hand, we have a theory that imposes no such strain, either
historical or psychological, upon us. That theory is, that music arises
from a peculiar set of stimuli and peculiar organs of expression of
its own, with which speech not only has nothing whatever to do now,
but never had anything to do, as _fons et origo_. Allowing for all the
differences between our music and that of the savage who blows his reed
and thumps his tam-tam, and for all the differences of general mental
structure between him and us, we can still see that the same causes
which incite us to music incited him. Now no one will for a moment
contend that there is any but an infinitesimal resemblance between a
Bach fugue or a Strauss symphonic poem and excited speech; neither
can we perceive that there was ever any but the faintest resemblance
between the causes that provoked the savage to excited speech and
those that impelled him to his rude kind of music. But _your_ theory,
while it disregards the plain fact that no demonstration could deduce
a Bach fugue from excited speech, and overlooks the mental elements in
primitive man from which the Bach fugue _could_ develop step by step,
invites us to believe that music grew out of something with which we
are unable to correlate it either now or in the most primitive times.”

“But,” it may be objected, “all this is pure assertion. You simply take
music as it is written to-day, attribute this to something which you
call a ‘musical faculty,’ or a ‘musical manner of thinking,’ and then,
having invented this convenient faculty, blandly assume that it is from
a similar faculty that the rude music of primitive man originated. What
you have to do is to prove the existence of this musical faculty, this
specifically musical way of conceiving and expressing things, that, on
your assumption, is innate in the human mind, and needs no help from
speech even in the earliest days of the race.” Well, no one, I think,
will question the existence in us, at the present day, of something
that may well be called, in general terms, the musical faculty. For
the musician as we now know him–and, indeed, have known him for some
centuries–music is a means of emotional expression that can function
without the aid of poetry or even of speech. It takes its rise from
its own order of feelings; it has its own self-sufficient manner of
expressing them; it tells its own story to the mind of the hearer; and
neither the feeling, nor its manner of expression, nor its effect on
the auditor, suggests any dependence on speech. The musician, in order
to begin composition, has not to receive a preliminary stimulus either
from poetry, or from any concept or sentiment that could for a moment
be expressed in words. (He may, of course, set poetry to music; but on
the other hand he may not; and it is the self-existing order of music
we are now discussing.) The musician, under the influence of an inward
stimulus of some very obscure kind, may take three or four tones–say
those of the opening subject of a sonata or a fugue–and build with
them a structure ordered and controlled by certain laws purely its
own, having for its object the susciting in our minds of a series of
feelings from which all thought of speech is absent. The musician joys
in building tones together in this way; we in our turn joy both in the
process of building and in the finished edifice itself.

“So far, so good,” the opponent may say; “this is what music now is, as
the result of a long course of evolution from its original germ. But
will you assert that primitive man was impelled to _his_ rude music
by the workings of some similar faculty–that, without any reliance,
even in the earliest days, upon speech, and without any intermediate
stage of recitative, he _produced music_, bearing the same relation
to his emotions as the music of Bach and Beethoven did to theirs?”
Well, this is precisely what we do assert; nor do I see any difficulty
in the way of the theory that primitive man came to utter himself in
his rude music by the same psychological processes by which we utter
ourselves in ours to-day. Speech had no more to do with the impulse
to his music than it has with the impulse to ours. Spencer’s theory
would have it that first man spoke, then he advanced to excited
speech, that this became more rhythmical and more definite and thus
expanded into recitative, and that from this there emerged song “in
a gradual, unobtrusive manner”–so gradual and so unobtrusive, I am
afraid, that we can neither trace it emerging nor imagine it doing so.
Is it not more reasonable to believe that music first came into the
world when the savage took delight in any tones–those of the human
voice, of a reed, or of a drum–purely _as_ tone, and began to take a
further simple delight in the relations between tones? Need we concern
ourselves at all with speech, excited or torpid? Can we not begin with
mere feeling venting itself in mere sound–as we know it must have
done at first–and draw a line from this straight through all the
music of all the world? Why should we assume that for man to express
his feelings in tone he must first have invented speech, and then have
developed the emotional side of this until it was able to cut itself
loose and commence life on its own account, by some process that is
really unimaginable? We know that feeling vents itself in sound, and
that waves of feeling vent themselves in waves of sound, as may be
observed in the vague crooning of an infant over its toys, or the
moaning of a man in pain. This is one fundamental fact in the origin of
music. Another is the indisputable fact that men, whether civilised or
savage–that many animals, indeed–are susceptible to tone _purely as
tone_; and a further fact is that the primitive organism takes pleasure
in the relations between tones, as may be seen in the boy who keeps
on thumping two tin cans that happen to give out different sounds.
There is surely no need to insist upon the point that both tones and
the relations between tones _in themselves_ interest and charm, in a
minor degree, the savage as they do us. It is from this phenomenon, I
should imagine, not from excited speech, that music took its rise; and
the evidence from the music of primitive tribes, upon which Spencer
drew in support of his theory, does nothing to invalidate mine. In
his original essay he quoted, from his own _Descriptive Sociology_, a
number of passages relating to the song-customs of various undeveloped
races. I cannot, among all these quotations, see one that suggests
that the music of these people was simply a hyper-excited form of
speech. On the contrary, it is clear from his own citations that their
delight was in music purely as music; that their feelings spontaneously
flowed, as ours do, into a system of tones and relations between tones
that existed in and by and for itself, with only the same kind of
dependence upon the words that is exhibited in a song by Brahms or a
chorus by Handel.[47] No doubt the general course of the words controls
the general course of music in some degree, as it does in our own
song-writing; but there is nothing whatever to contradict the view that
savage music, even as our own, springs spontaneously from a non-verbal
emotion, and seeks an expression either absolutely independent of
speech or only remotely influenced by it. The East African, says
Spencer, “in singing, contents himself with improvising a few words
without sense or rhythm, and repeats them till they nauseate.” If this
does not betoken a state of mind fundamentally analogous to that of
the absolute musician, it is hard to say what the words mean. Plainly,
what sets the East African singing, what determines that one note
shall follow another, what makes him so indifferent to the sense or
nonsense of the words, is simply the delight in tone _as_ tone, in
the relations of tones _as_ relations of tones, simply the need for
what he feels to vent itself in precisely that way and no other–in a
word, the primitive _pensée musicale_, the primitive “musical manner of
thinking.”[48] Abundant evidence can be had to corroborate this, and I
quoted some of it in my _Wagner_. “Speaking of the Iroquois, Dr. Morgan
says that their war-songs are in a dead language, or, at all events,
they are unable to interpret them…. Mr. Baker, too, observed the
meaninglessness of the Indian song.”[49] There is not much trace here
of excited speech first becoming recitative and then musical song.[50]

Dr. Wallaschek’s conclusions, again, as to the music of savages are as

(1) “In primitive times vocal music is not at all a union of poetry and
music. We find, on the contrary, vocal music among tribes which, owing
to the insufficient development of language, cannot possibly have any
kind of poetry. Thus the position of vocal music is quite independent
of any other art. (2) It is impossible that in these cases music arose
as a direct imitation of the natural accents ready made in speech.
(3) Because these texts are neither themselves a language, nor could
the melody _alone_ have been taken from a developed language, for
in such case the words would have been borrowed together with the
music. Entirely meaningless words simply serve to facilitate the
vocalisation.” Further, “another striking feature of these savage
songs is _the liberty with which the composer treats the grammatical
structure of the sentence and the logical order of words_. Thus in
many of the Andamanese songs the words in their poetic form are so
mutilated to suit the metre as to be hardly recognisable…. If negroes
sing they keep strict time, and do not allow themselves to be hindered
by any obstacle in the use of the words.” Other evidence of the same
kind might be adduced, from which it is quite clear that we are face
to face with a phenomenon on which Spencer’s theory throws no light at
all. There seems to be no doubt that there is in the savage, though
of course in a relatively undeveloped form, the same musical sense
as in ourselves, something that has always flown directly, for its
expression, to a mode of utterance of its own, compounded of tones,
relations of tones, and rhythm, which is the natural language of this
sense, and which never needed to pass through the intermediate stage of
imitation or exaggeration of the accents of speech.[51]

Look for a moment at the two theories and their implications side by
side. We know that primitive man, like the animal,[52] is susceptible
to tone, sequences of tone, colour of tone, and rhythm; and that, from
purely physiological causes, a number of his feelings tend to express
themselves in vocal sounds. Now these are all the elements we require
in order to construct modern music. The composer feels strongly, and
is impelled to find an outlet for his emotions in tone. According to
the line of his emotion, so to speak, is the line of his music–the
pure feeling takes hold of the sounds through which alone it can
utter itself, and shapes them, in form, in colour, in sequence, in
intensity, after its own image. We have in primitive man, in a rude
and undeveloped stage, all these elements out of which the modern
music-maker builds his gorgeous palaces. According to the intensity of
the emotion of the savage will be the width of the intervals of his
voice, the resonance, the colour of it; according to the shade of his
feeling will be the shade of his rude melody; and from the _ensemble_
of the qualities of the sounds in which he is uttering himself will
his hearers be able to guess what mood it was that animated his song.
Here, then, are all the elements out of which music _could_ grow,
even if man had never learned to speak three connected words. Yet we
are asked by Spencer to believe that these elements, _sufficient in
themselves to give birth to music_, remained dormant in the human
breast for untold centuries, until man had evolved a fairly elaborate
system of speech–for it must be remembered that Spencer’s theory
presupposes not the rude and merely utilitarian speech of the man
only one remove from the beast, but a comparatively highly organised
language, capable of expressing connectedly a savage’s thoughts about
something more than his daily physical wants. Some such abstract,
æsthetic, reflective form of speech we are compelled to postulate if we
are to grant the probability of music arising, as Spencer says it did,
from the excited speech of man. Then, when man has slowly and painfully
learned to speak, and had plenty of practice in speaking excitedly, we
are invited to believe that by some mysterious process _music_ arose,
the expression of feeling in organised tone, the delight in tone _quâ_
tone, in sequences and relations _quâ_ sequences and relations. And
all this time the elements out of which this organised system of sound
_could_ grow, which were innate in man from the very first, by reason
of the fact that he had nerves, muscles, and vocal organs, have been
doing absolutely nothing! Though they required only the stimulus of
feeling to call them into being, and though they were receiving this
stimulus day by day, hour by hour, they had to deny themselves for
centuries upon centuries, until they could receive precisely the same
kind of stimulus _after_ man had learned to speak! Is this credible?


If Spencer’s theory is æsthetically and psychologically inconceivable,
he is hardly happier in the pseudo-historical evidence by which he
seeks to support it. His notion seems to be that all ancient music, and
the Oriental and savage music of the present day, represent the art
at the second or recitative stage of development–a kind of half-way
house between excited speech and full-blown song. Thus the Chinese
and Hindoos “seem never to have advanced” beyond recitative. “The
dance-chants of savage tribes are very monotonous, and in virtue of
their monotony are more nearly allied to ordinary speech than are the
_songs_[53] of civilised races”–which is surely a quite illegitimate
comparison. Again, “hence it follows that the primitive (Greek)
recitative was simpler than our modern recitative, and, as such, much
less remote from common speech than our own singing is.” These typical
quotations will serve to show how blandly Spencer assumes the very
thing he has to prove. The dance-chants of savages are not as highly
organised as our European songs; but does this indicate that there
is not the same psychological difference between the song and the
speech of the savage as there is between the song and the speech of
the European? The ancient Greek music was not so complex as ours; but
will Spencer be bold enough to say that a man of Athens, listening to
contemporary music, did not feel under it precisely the same kind of
æsthetic pleasure as we feel when we listen to a song by Brahms or a
symphony by Beethoven–a kind of pleasure different in essence and
in temperature from any that can be given by speech? Did the Greek,
that is, listening to Greek music, feel as I do when I listen to an
eloquent preacher or an intoning Quaker, or as I do when I listen to
_music_ in the real sense of the term? Surely there can be no doubt
in the matter. Setting aside the difference due to the enormous
development of our art on the formal and technical side, there can be
no question that the Greek took pleasure in his music _quâ_ music, not
_quâ_ “recitative.”[54] And as with the Greeks, so with Orientals and
savages. How Spencer can imagine that Oriental music as a whole, and
particularly that of China and India, has for the most part remained
stationary at recitative, is a mystery to me, in face of the mass of
evidence that may be had from any history of music or any collection
of travels. There is, indeed, in much Oriental music, that dubiety of
scale (according to our notions) which has misled unwary travellers
into the belief that the native singing cannot be real music, because
it is so different from ours. But nothing can be better established
than the fact that melodies pure and simple, tunes written and sung
merely to express that _pensée musicale_ to which I have already
referred, are common in the music of all Oriental nations. Spencer’s
statement “that the music of Eastern races is not only without harmony,
but has more the character of recitative than of melody,” and that “the
chant of the early Greek poet was a recitative with accompaniment in
unison on his four-stringed lyre,” is a fair sample of the uncritical
way in which he has assumed anything that would be likely to bear out
his theory. His confusion of two or three distinct things by dubbing
them all “recitative” is one of the main sources of his errors on this

As for his attempt to limit harmonic music to modern Europe, I will
only say, with Naumann, that wherever we have, as in the old Egyptian
paintings, a representation of a concert with many instruments of
various shapes and sizes, it is incredible that the performers should
all have been playing the same notes. The result, of course, could
not have been harmony in our acceptation of the word, for this is to
a large extent dependent upon theory for its development; but it was
conceivably one of the roots from which harmony could grow. And as
Spencer admitted that his theory contained no explanation of harmony,
that theory is obviously weakened by any fact indicating that the
desire for harmony is innate in the human breast, like the love of
tones, sequences of tones, and relations between tones. We must dismiss
from our minds all the misleading connotations of the term “harmony,”
as we must with the term “recitative”; and when we do this there is
ample evidence to show that the harmonic sense–the joy in hearing
two tones sounded together–is as innate, and as independent of the
stimulus of speech, as the melodic sense. The mere sweeping of the
harp-strings during singing is not what _we_ would call harmony; but if
it does not point to a rudimentary feeling that tones in combination
are more pleasurable than single tones, it is difficult to say what
it does indicate. Everywhere, in truth, we come down to the really
fundamental fact, that there is even in primitive man a real _musical
sense_, independent of speech in origin, and, as far as we can see,
much earlier than speech in the order of time, for man certainly
expressed his feelings in pure indefinite sound long before he had
learned to agree with his fellows to attach certain meanings to certain
stereotyped sounds.


The music of savage tribes is, however, the last stronghold of Spencer;
and if his theory fails to find proper support in that quarter, it can
hardly resist all the weight of evidence that may be brought against
it from others. Here, he says, he has Sir Hubert Parry on his side,
“who adopts the view I have here re-explained and defended,” and who
“has in his chapter on Folk-Music exemplified the early stages of
musical evolution, up from the howling chants of savages–Australians,
Caribs, Polynesian cannibals, etc.–to the rude melodies of our own
ancestors. I do not see how any unbiassed reader, after examining the
evidence placed by him in its natural order, can refuse assent to the
conclusion drawn.” Well, the final refutation of Spencer can be had out
of the mouth of Sir Hubert Parry himself. What Sir Hubert’s own theory
of the origin of music may be I do not know; but certainly neither
the facts nor the arguments he has adduced in his _Art of Music_ give
any colour to the theory that music first arose as a modification of
the attributes of emotional speech. Let us examine Sir Hubert Parry’s

We begin at the beginning with the descending chromatic howl of the
Carib which he quotes on page 49 of his book–the “howling chant” to
which Spencer refers; and if, as the philosopher will have it, this
represents “the early stages of musical evolution,” his case has gone
by the board at once. There could be no more conclusive testimony to
the fact that music has its origin not in speech, but in the venting
of mere vague emotion in mere vague sound; for where Spencer sees
the previous influence of speech in this howl of the Carib I cannot
imagine. He might as well suppose that speech antedates the howl of a
dog or the roar of a lion. On what grounds does he find support for
his theory here? Simply that a howl of this kind, like the song of the
Omaha Indians, is distinguished by indefiniteness of intervals! “Now
this,” he says, “is just one of the traits to be expected if vocal
music is developed out of emotional speech; since the intervals of
speech, also, are indefinite.” Was there ever a more palpable _non
sequitur_? Because A has one of the characteristics of B, therefore
A must have grown out of B! Here is a complete justification of my
previous remark that Spencer has converted a mere likeness into a
cause. The real reason for music exhibiting some of the traits of
speech is that, music and speech being the expression of allied orders
of feeling, and both finding voice through the same muscular apparatus,
they simply cannot help having a great many features in common. But
we really require something more than a demonstration that the
intonations of music, being affected by the same physical organs, point
to very much the same mental and physical phenomena as the intonations
of speech, in order to convince us that music _had its origin_ in

Take now the further examples given by Sir Hubert Parry, and discover
in them, if you can, any evidence that does not go to show that they
are born directly of a primitive _pensée musicale_, without any sign
of the previous intervention of speech. Written over them all, indeed,
is conclusive proof that when primitive man sings, or even croons, to
himself, he is unconsciously guided by a rudimentary musical sense.
Savages contrive, says Sir Hubert, “little fragmentary figures of two
or three notes, which they reiterate incessantly over and over again.
Sometimes a single figure suffices. When they are clever enough to
devise two they alternate them, but [naturally] without much sense or
orderliness”; and he shows, later on, how even among savages there is a
continuous growth in this primitive sense of design. Now all this is in
accordance with the theory of the origin of music already advanced in
this essay; and these phenomena of savage music will easily account for
all the most complex modern developments of the art, which Spencer half
admits his theory will _not_ account for. Savage man, merely because
he is a physical organism, expresses himself in sound. Again, merely
because he is a physical and psychical organism, he takes pleasure in
sounds, in successions of sounds, and in the co-relations of sounds;
and, to complete the list of the elements necessary to constitute all
the music that has ever been written in the world, Sir Hubert Parry
shows that, even in the savage whose rude attempt at song is little
more than a howl, there is a rudimentary sense of form, of balance, of
design. “When little fragments of melody[55] become stereotyped,” says
Sir Hubert, “as they do in every savage community sufficiently advanced
to perceive and remember, attempts are made to alternate and contrast
them in some way; and the excitement of sympathy with an expressive cry
is merged in a crudely artistic pleasure derived from the contemplation
of something of the nature of a pattern.” Is there any support for the
speech-theory here? Is it not, indeed, an interloper pure and simple,
obscuring a trail that is perfectly clear and open if left alone?

The one fact upon which Spencer always seems to rely is that the
intervals of speech and the intervals of the most primitive chant
are both indefinite. Even here, however, Sir Hubert Parry’s book is
unpropitious to him, for Sir Hubert insists on the obvious fact that
indefiniteness of intervals in early music is entirely a matter of
lack of instruments by which to fix the various notes of a scale. “It
is extremely difficult to make sure what intervals savages intend to
utter, as they are very uncertain about hitting anything like exact
notes till they have advanced enough to have instruments with regular
relations of notes more or less indicated upon them.” To pass from
an indefinite howl to a definite series of notes, when an instrument
has been invented that guides the voice and fixes its tones, may be
the work of a day. Wherein then comes the function of speech and
recitative, which are supposed to occupy the intermediate stages of
evolution between the howl and the song–for I suppose Spencer would
hardly contend that man learned to speak _before_ he learned to howl?
And at what stage appears this elementary feeling for musical design
which the savage exhibits? Can this be conceived to grow out of the
habit of speech? If not, if it is independent of speech, if it is
something that concerns itself with pure sound alone, what was it
doing in all the ages when man was making sounds, but had not yet
made himself a language? “The crudest efforts of savages,” says Sir
Hubert Parry, “throw light upon the true nature of musical design,
and upon the manner in which human beings endeavoured to grapple with
it.” Again, “the savage state indicates a taste for design, but an
incapacity for making the designs consistent and logical; in the lowest
intelligent stage, the capacity for disposing short contrasting figures
in an orderly and intelligent way is shown.” Once more, can speech
be logically conceived as playing the leading part in this long but
continuous drama of evolution?

Finally, in Sir Hubert Parry’s own pages Spencer could have found
evidence of yet another element of pure musical enjoyment in the
savage mind–none other than an incipient desire for harmony. Speaking
of the rise of harmony in the Middle Ages, and of the curious device
of making two wholly different tunes go together by the process of
“easing off the corners and adapting the points where the cacophony
was too intolerable to be endured,” Sir Hubert shows the existence of
this same practice among savages. “This,” he says, “may seem a very
surprising and even laughable way of obtaining an artistic effect, but
in reality the actual practice of combining several tunes together is
by no means uncommon. Several savage and semi-civilised races adopt
the practice, as, for instance, the Bushmen at the lower end of the
human scale, and the Javese, Siamese, Burmese, and Moors about the
middle. In these cases the process usually consists of simultaneously
singing or playing short and simple musical figures, such as savages
habitually reiterate, with the addition in some cases of a long sort of
indefinite wailing tune which goes on independently of all the rest of
the performance. The Javese carry such devices to extremes, producing
a kind of reckless, incoherent, instrumental counterpoint, very much
like a number of people playing various tunes at once, with just
sufficient feeling for some definite central principle to accommodate
the jarring elements. The practice of combining tunes seems to have
become universal quite suddenly, and it led very quickly to fresh
developments. And it is worth noting that one of these developments was
precisely the same in principle as that adopted by the Bushmen and the
Javese, and other semi-savage experimenters in such things; which was
to accompany the main combination of two melodies by a short musical
figure which could be incessantly reiterated as an accompaniment.”
Phenomena like these undermine the crude and hasty inference that
Orientals and savages have no notion of harmony; they prove that, as
low down in the human scale as our investigations will carry us, man
tries to make harmony because it pleases his musical sense. How far he
succeeds depends upon other things than his mere desire.

So that, to sum up, we can dismiss speech altogether from our
hypothesis of the origin of music, seeing that, while no man can
represent to us either the psychological or historical processes
by which music has grown or could grow out of speech, we find
innate in the human organism every element out of which music _can_
grow, independently of speech–the delight in tone, the delight in
successions of tones, the delight in combinations of tones, the delight
in rhythm, the delight in design. Even Spencer himself, in the chapter
on “Developed Music” in his _Facts and Comments_, sees that these
elements are sufficient to account for certain kinds of music, though
his total analysis, particularly in the distinction between merely
symmetrical music and poetical music, is æsthetically incomplete and _à
priori_. To Spencer’s oft-reiterated question, “If my theory does not
explain the origin of music, how else can its genesis be explained?”
we may reply that his theory really explains nothing; it only asserts.
It points to certain resemblances between speech and song, and then
dogmatically lays it down, without an atom of proof, that the one has
arisen from the other. _Per contra_, an analysis of primitive music
shows us that in the rudest savage we have, in embryo, every element
that goes to make the most complicated music of modern times–some of
these elements, indeed, appearing even in animals. If we are to believe
that these in themselves could not develop into music, we must have a
reason why; and if we are to believe that an imitation of the accents
of speech was necessary before primitive man could express what he felt
in mere indefinite sound, we must have not only some proof that it
ever occurred, but some demonstration of how the process is possible;
for to me, at least, it is psychologically inconceivable. When Spencer
says that “song emerged from speech,” he is, I contend, merely using a
verbal formula that conveys nothing representable to us; it is of the
family of those “pseudo-ideas” upon which he himself has emptied the
vials of his scorn in _First Principles_.


[39] _Ueber die Bedeutung der Aphasia für den musikalischen Ausdruck_
(Vierteljahrsschr für Mus-Wiss., September 1891).

[40] Article cited, p. 57.

[41] _Ibid._, p. 60.

[42] For example: “One patient, from the beginning of his disease
to his death, could say nothing but _Yes_ and _No_…. One morning
a patient began to sing ‘I dreamt I dwelt in marble halls.’ The
speechless patient joined in and sang the first verse with the
other, and then the second verse alone, articulating every word
correctly.”–_Ibid._, p. 61.

[43] Article cited, p. 53, _note_: “Many idiots, who are scarcely
capable of other impressions, are extraordinarily susceptible to music,
and can remember a song which they have once heard.”

[44] “A peasant, who as the result of a heavy blow on the head lay
unconscious for three days, found, when he came to himself, that he
had forgotten all the music he ever knew, though he had lost nothing
else.”–_Ibid._, p. 64 (quoted from Carpenter, _Mental Physiology_, 4th
edit., p. 443).

[45] _Ibid._, p. 65.

[46] See Jules Combarieu, _Les rapports de la musique et de la poésie,
considerées au point de vue de l’expression_ (1894), wherein there is
an elaborate and searching examination of Spencer’s theory.

[47] To say nothing of the savage music which is either purely
non-verbal, or linked to an almost meaningless refrain.

[48] No importance, I take it, need be attached to such sentences as
that the Malays “rehearse in a kind of recitative at their _bimbangs_
or feasts.” The word recitative here affords no support for Spencer’s
theory. Travellers who have written of the music of primitive races
have always been prone to use the term too loosely. Accustomed as they
are to the highly developed music of Europe, with its fixity of scale
and its wide range of instrumental tone, they use the term recitative
as the easiest one to indicate, in a rough-and-ready way, a kind of
music much less developed than our own in these respects. But such a
use of the term is quite unscientific. There is no reason to believe
that what we call their recitative is not really their music.

[49] Wallaschek, _Primitive Music_, pp. 173, 174.

[50] Of course Spencer might have rejoined that the songs in their
present state represent the fully developed tree, which had to pass, in
remoter times, through the previous stages he mentions. Apart from the
general objections I have already urged against this theory, however,
it is evident that Spencer cannot have the music of savage races under
two categories–song _and_ recitative–using the one or the other as
suits the purpose of his argument at the time. It will be seen later
that his theory rests, to a very large extent, on the supposition that
the music of savages and of Orientals represents only the second or
recitative stage of the development from speech.

[51] As Berlioz expressed it in the _Grotesques de la musique_,
“Music exists by itself; it has no need of poetry, and if every human
language were to perish, it would be none the less the most poetic, the
grandest, and the freest of all the arts.”

[52] See the chapters entitled “Orpheus at the Zoo,” in Mr. Cornish’s
_Life at the Zoo_. Every one who has kept dogs or snakes must have
noticed how vivid their musical perceptions are. My own dog has a
decided musical faculty in him. He is exceedingly susceptible to the
mezzo-soprano voice in the upper part of its middle register. Tones
produced there–but no others in that or any other voice–he will try
to imitate. It is not a howl, but a real attempt to hit the right pitch
and to shape the sound with his mouth. “Excited speech” has nothing to
do with _his_ musical perceptions. The excited speech usually comes
later, from the singer whom he is favouring with this sincerest form of

[53] Italics mine.

[54] It seems quite clear that the Greeks had distinct tunes like
our melodies, that were passed about from one singer or player to
another. “In later times,” says Müller, “there existed tunes written by
Terpander, of the kind called _nomes_…. These nomes of Terpander were
arranged for singing and playing on the cithara.” They were, he goes
on to say, “finished compositions, in which a certain musical idea was
systematically worked out, as is proved by the different parts which
belonged to one of them.” There were popular songs, and there were
certain tunes that were sung at festivals. Nor was the music invariably
associated with poetry; there was music that was purely instrumental.
Olympus (B.C. 660-620) seems to have been a musician only. “Olympus is
never, like Terpander, mentioned as a poet; he is simply a musician.
His nomes, indeed, seem to have been originally executed on the flute
alone, without singing.” See K. O. Müller’s _History of the Literature
of Ancient Greece_ (Eng. trans.), vol. i. chap. 12. For an expert
treatment of the whole subject, see Hugo Riemann’s _Handbuch der
Musikgeschichte_, Erster Teil (1904), especially Book I., chap. I., §
3, § 4, § 5.

[55] It does not seem to have occurred to Spencer that if savages have
melodies, however tiny and primitive, it can hardly be true that they
are only in the recitative stage. The plain fact is that his use of
the term recitative was wholly unscientific. He never saw that there
is a vast æsthetic distinction between recitative in the sense of
more sonorous and more formal speech–as in the case of an orator or
a preacher–and recitative in the musical sense. In the latter case
the distinctively musical appetite comes into play; in the former it
does not. The one is an intensification of ordinary speech, but never
becomes more than speech; the other is music, even though restricted
music. They spring from different faculties and appeal to different
organs of enjoyment.



One is always meeting with curious literary and artistic affinities
where one least expects them. The human mind, of course, is really
homogeneous throughout. We have all to build up our inner and outer
universe out of very much the same kind of brain and sense organs:
so that it is hardly surprising if here and there one feels that
the work of this or that musician or artist is the counterpart of
the work of this or that poet or prose writer, or _vice versâ_. One
sees, for example, a good deal of Weber and the German Romanticists
in the stories of Hoffmann; of Lessing and Diderot in the work of
Gluck; of Tourgeniev and Dostoievski in the music of Tchaikovski;
of Berlioz’s music–as Heine suggested–in the pictures of Martin.
This phenomenon is so frequent as to excite little wonder. What is
rather more curious is to find, here and there, that one of the main
spiritual principles of a certain artist is implicit in the æsthetic
system of another artist who works in an entirely different medium,
and whose whole work, at first sight, seems to be of a diametrically
opposite order. Between Wagner and Maeterlinck, for instance, who
would say that there is a fundamental sympathy of soul and a community
of artistic outlook–between the musician of stupendous passion and
restless activity and the quiet mystic who seems to be serenely
poised far above all activity and all passion, placing, in his lofty
philosophising, so little store by all the things that appeared so
vital, so real, to the musician? Nevertheless there is, as I shall try
to show, a curious similarity between the æsthetic systems of the two
men.[56] They share something of the same excellencies; they break down
or find their limitations almost at the same point. Let us cursorily
examine the two systems.


If we did not possess Maeterlinck’s own dramas, we might be able to
judge from his essays what his position towards the drama and fiction
would be. Here we have revealed to us a manner of apprehending life
and of looking out upon the world that could find expression only
in some such novel dramatic form as Maeterlinck has adopted. The
dramatist himself, however, has given us, in his exquisite chapters on
“The Tragical in Daily Life” and “The Awakening of the Soul,” in _The
Treasure of the Humble_, a statement, at once explicit and impassioned,
of his creed. He advances the theory that the ordinary tragedy of
startling incident is, or ought to be, a thing of the past, a concept
of barbaric ages, when men could be thrilled by the secret under forces
of life only by reaching towards them through crude and violent action.
In a more refined and subtle age like this, we should be able to trace
the hand of destiny even when it does not work through media so coarse
and palpable. It is not the primitive sensation of seeing one man act
the murder of another that is the essence of tragedy. It is the sense
of spiritual enlightenment that comes to us; the feeling that, somehow
or other, the murder itself, the passion and the events that led up
to it, the consequences that flow from it, are all subtly interwoven
threads of the great indwelling laws of things. Most of the action,
indeed, that is associated with our current notion of tragedy is, from
a higher point of view, both æsthetically superfluous and an evidence
of our earthiness. We should be capable of being moved to pity, of
feeling the most refined tragic sorrow, by a play that eliminates the
coarser and more obvious facts, and relies on gentler and more intimate
suggestions of universal truth. Our present age, he thinks, is capable,
or is becoming capable, of this. “In former days,” he says in his essay
on “The Awakening of the Soul,” “if there was question, for a moment,
of a presentiment, of the strange impressions produced by a chance
meeting or a look, of a decision that the unknown side of human reason
had governed, of an intervention or a force, inexplicable and yet
understood, of the sacred laws of sympathy and antipathy, of elective
and instinctive affinities, of the overwhelming influence of the thing
that had not been spoken–in former days these problems would have
been carelessly passed by; and, besides, it was but seldom that they
obtruded themselves upon the serenity of the thinker. They seemed to
come about by the merest chance. That they are ever pressing upon life,
unceasingly and with prodigious force–this was unsuspected of all; and
the philosopher hastened back to familiar studies of passion, and of
incident that floated on the surface.”

This is clearly part of a philosophy of life and art in which the
cruder nervous strands are put aside, as useless for that spiritual
illumination which the thinker desires. They are too thick to be
sensitive to the finer currents that pass through them; only the
more delicate nerve-tracts, alive to every wave of feeling, can
be stimulated to philosophic light and heat. The essence of all
Maeterlinck’s work, of course, is this supersensitiveness. He is
endowed with other senses than ours, other modes of apprehending the
universe. He is a mystic, and by reason of being a mystic he is at
the same time out of touch with many things that the normal man calls
real, and delicately sensitive to many currents in the spiritual
atmosphere of the universe of whose very existence the normal man is
all his life unaware. We have to remember that this world is after
all only what our own senses and intellect make it for each of us.
The little we can see and feel must be as nothing compared with the
immensities that we can neither see nor feel, but that always attend
our thoughts, our footsteps, our very breathing, like silent, invisible
spectators. Even the world of the animal is not our world, for the
animal is alive to many things that never penetrate our consciousness;
and there are exceptionally constituted human beings on whose nerves
the universe seems to write different messages from those that are
communicated to the ordinary soul. The mystic catches vibrations
in life to which duller natures are, except in moments of abnormal
exaltation, for the most part insensitive. When we find fault with
him for the apparent weakness of his hold upon reality, we need to
remember that his realities are not always ours. He frequently has
difficulty in expressing himself in our ordinary speech, for the reason
that this is mainly the instrument of normal cerebration, not of the
sub-normal or the super-normal. Hence Maeterlinck’s theorem–which is
not half such a paradox as it looks–that the profounder vibrations
of the soul are more easily communicated by silence than by speech.
We are beset by intuitions that can never find adequate expression in
words. “How strangely,” he says, “do we diminish a thing as soon as
we try to express it in words!” Speech hardly seems necessary to him
as a means of carrying on his thoughts, which, as they lie in deeper,
more obscure places than language has ever visited, must seek a more
immediate way of passage from his own brain to that of another. “A time
will come, perhaps, when our souls will know of each other without
the intermediary of the senses…. A spiritual epoch is perhaps upon
us….” Thus the favourite means of communication between the soul
of the spiritual elect is not speech, but silence–silence, which is
far more eloquent, far more illuminative of the profoundest depths of
being, than language can ever be. “It is idle,” he writes, “to think
that by means of words any real communication can ever pass from one
man to another…. It is only when life is sluggish within us that
we speak.” And just as the mystic despises words as instruments of
communication, so he looks down upon facts as guides to illumination.
As the inner life is too subtle to be expressed in ordinary language,
so its interests are too refined to be spent upon crude facts. These
are “nothing but the laggards, the spies and camp followers, of the
great forces we cannot see.”[57]


Here, then, is a philosophy of life which, in the hands of the artist,
aims at creating a new type of “static” drama, in which speech shall
give way, as far as possible, to suggestion, incident and action to the
immediate revelation of soul-states. Though the drama is to deal with
real life in a way that Maeterlinck would regard as most rigorously
real, there is to be a progressive withdrawal from most of the points
that the average man regards as the essence of reality.

In the first place, naked facts and violent actions are to be passed
over, as not necessary for the communication to us of the essential
thing that the dramatist has to say; in the second place, mere words
are no longer to be looked upon as indispensable intermediaries between
the thought and the expression. Now all this, in its main features,
finds a very close parallel in the work and the arguments of Wagner.
Let us look for a moment at his theories as they figure in actual
practice, taken out of the wordy metaphysic in which he delighted to
obscure them.

The drama and the novel represent an attempt to fire the reader with a
certain emotion that has already flamed up in the writer. The tragedy
of _King Lear_, for example, aims at inspiring in us a sentiment of
pity for an old man who is shattered by filial ingratitude. _Othello_
aims at enlisting our sympathies for an affectionate man and wife whose
happiness is broken to pieces, partly by misunderstanding, partly by
diabolical machinations. There are innumerable other points in the
plays, but these are the great central forces. These are what moved
Shakespeare to the composition of the dramas. These are the ideas
from which he started; and these are the ideas that finally remain
with us when we have seen or read the plays. But owing to the clumsy,
intractable nature of the material in which he works, the dramatist can
stimulate this central idea or feeling in us only by a most roundabout
process. He cannot plunge at once into his subject. He must commence at
a point far distant from that to which he wishes to lead us, and then
work up to it gradually. He cannot adequately communicate an emotion
without unfolding before our eyes the long and complex scenes or set
of circumstances that give rise to this emotion. He cannot confine
himself to the characters and the events that make up the real drama;
he has to illustrate these–to draw sparks from them, as it were–by
the impact of minor incidents and persons. In a word, he has to fill us
with a multiplicity of more or less superfluous feelings before he can
communicate to us the feeling that is really essential.

In music all this is altered. (The reader will of course remember
that I am expounding Wagner.) There being no distinction between the
feeling and the expression, no bar between the emotion and the speech,
the musician can plunge at once into the very heart of his subject.
Further, he need never leave the heart of it; he can devote all his
energies to elucidating the really necessary factors; he has no need
to waste half his time in showing, from the description of extraneous
things, how such and such a situation has come about, or how a man
comes to feel in such and such a way. It takes half-an-hour’s reading
of the Tristan legend, or any poem on the subject, before we feel
the atmosphere of tragedy closing round us, or know precisely why it
should come. In Wagner’s opera, not only is the fact that there _is_
a tragedy suggested in the first bars of the music, but the very tint
and spiritual quality of the tragedy are painted for us at once. All
through the work, again, we live in the very centre of the metropolis
of that territory of emotion–love, grief, and pity–to which the
legend and the poets have to guide us by devious and frequently
uninteresting paths. We see Tristan and Isolde in the first bar and
in the last; we never leave them for a moment. Thus not only does
the musician draw us at once to the point he wishes us to reach, but
his independence of all the scaffolding necessary to the poet gives
him more freedom of development. He can wring from the souls of his
characters the last bitter juice of their emotions. Wagner himself was
fond of pointing out the gradual growth of his art in these respects.
In the _Flying Dutchman_ he tried “to keep the plot to its simplest
features; to exclude all useless detail, such as the intrigues one
borrows from common life.” The plot of _Tannhäuser_ will be found
“far more markedly evolving from its inner motives”; while “the whole
interest of _Lohengrin_ consists in an inner working within the heart
of Elsa, involving every secret of the soul.” Wagner’s aim was to shake
himself clear of the wearisome mass of detail that, in the poetical
drama, is necessary to show the “whence and wherefore” of each feeling.
“I too, as I have told you,” he writes, “felt driven to this ‘whence
and wherefore’; and for long it banned me from the magic of my art. But
my time of penance taught me to overcome the question. All doubt at
last was taken from me, when I gave myself up to the _Tristan_. Here,
in perfect trustfulness, I plunged into the inner depth of soul-events,
and from out this inmost centre of the world I fearlessly built up
its outer form. A glance at the _volume_ of this poem will show you
at once that the exhaustive detail-work which an historical poet is
obliged to devote to clearing up the outward bearing of his plot, to
the detriment of a lucid exposition of its inner motives, I now trusted
myself to apply to these latter alone. Life and death, the whole import
and existence of the outer world, here hang on nothing but the inner
movements of the soul. The whole affecting Action comes about for the
reason only that the inmost soul demands it, and steps to light with
the very shape foretokened in the inner shrine.”

Here the analogy with Maeterlinck’s theory becomes evident. Both men
despise the cruder, external, historical, active facts on which the
drama has felt itself till now compelled to rely; both aim at a subtle
form of drama in which the soul-states shall be the first and last
thing. There is more in life, they say, than conscious reason; it is
the innermost processes of the soul that we desire to have laid bare
to us in drama. This reflection led Wagner to the choice of the myth
as the best material on which to work. “I therefore believed,” he
writes, “I must term the ‘mythos’ the poet’s ideal Stuff–that native
nameless poem of the Folk, which throughout the ages we ever meet new
handled by the great poets of periods of consummate culture; for in it
_there almost vanishes the conventional form_ _of man’s relations,
merely explicable to abstract reason_, to show instead the eternally
intelligible, the purely human.” This is not clarity itself, but what
Wagner means is that in music as he conceives it you come face to face
with the essential truth of things at once, without having to make a
wearisome journey through a mass of unimportant detail, as you have
to do in the novel and the poetical drama before you can get to the
heart of the emotion. And this is quite true, so far as it goes. If you
conceive life like the mystic or his soul’s brother the musician, if
you prefer the general to the particular, the vague to the definite,
the suggested to the spoken, you will naturally seek a medium that
shall allow free passage to your emotion in its broadest form. Like
Wagner, you will not want to stop and explain for half-an-hour who
Tristan and Isolde were, who were the people round them, what the
causes were that led to their tragic end, and so on. You will want to
get to the centre of your subject at once; you abandon all attempts
at demonstration and plunge at once into expression. And if, with
Maeterlinck, it seems quite unimportant to know the names and histories
of two or three given men and women, the scenes in which they live,
the commonplace routine of their daily lives–if you only want to
know how destiny is dealing with them, what bitter-sweet emotion is
being distilled from their souls in some quiet hour that is pregnant
with vital meaning–then you will pass over, like the musician, every
detail that seems to you unimportant, and concentrate yourself on
that supremely fateful hour. You will not depict anything happening,
because it is not the event that is the essential thing, but the
soul-states that are born of the event. To Maeterlinck, as to Wagner,
the “purely human”–the whole man, the essential man–lies deeper than
what is “merely explicable to abstract reason.” “A new, indescribable
power,” he says, in speaking of Ibsen’s _Master Builder_, “dominates
this somnambulistic drama. All that is said therein at once hides and
reveals the source of an unknown life. And if we are bewildered at
times, let us not forget that our soul often appears, to our feeble
eyes, to be but the maddest of forces, and that there are in man many
regions more fertile, more profound, and more interesting than those of
his reason or his intelligence.”

For these obscure perceptions of the soul, words alone are plainly
an inadequate mode of expression. Hence both Wagner and Maeterlinck
feel that some more direct kind of utterance is required, some more
immediate means of communication between the feeling of the artist
and the feeling of the auditor. Wagner finds this in music, which
substitutes a direct appeal for the indirect appeal of the ordinary
poet. The dramatic poem must be drafted “in such a fashion that it
may penetrate the finest fibres of the musical tissue, and the spoken
_thought_ entirely dissolves into the _feeling_.” Not that there is
to be any surrender of that grip upon the inner life that is the
essence of thoughtful drama. On the contrary, Wagner maintains, after
the manner of Maeterlinck, that it is only when the soul is set free
from the disturbing accidents of the temporary life that it can see
clearly into the movements of the universal life. Wagner holds that in
the Beethoven symphony, for example, a world-view is presented, quite
as philosophical, quite as logically connected, as any that can be put
together in words. “In this symphony, instruments speak a language
whereof the world at no previous time had any knowledge; for here,
with a hitherto unknown persistence, the purely musical expression
enchains the hearer in an inconceivably varied mesh of nuances; rouses
his inmost being to a degree unreachable by any other art; and in all
its changefulness reveals an ordering principle so free and bold that
we can deem it more forcible than any logic, yet without the laws of
logic entering into it in the slightest; nay, rather, the reasoning
march of thought, with its track of causes and effects, here finds no
sort of foothold. So that this symphony must positively appear to us a
revelation from another world; and in truth it opens out a scheme of
the world’s phenomena quite different from the ordinary logical scheme,
and whereof one foremost thing is undeniable: that it thrusts home with
the most overwhelming conviction, and guides our feeling with such
a sureness that the logic-mongering reason is completely routed and
disarmed thereby.”

Now set beside this view of the relations of the musical drama to the
poetical drama Maeterlinck’s comparison of his own dramatic ideals with
those of the “active” poet. The latter passes unthinkingly over many
of the feelings that give to a tragic event its real significance.
Why should not these feelings, the essential core of the drama, be
given fuller play, and the mere incidents be looked upon as either
superfluous or purely ancillary? He too, like Wagner, wants to
show the heart of a tragic situation without the customary tedious
cataloguing of all its limbs. He wants the spiritual essence of drama,
and the essence alone, not the crude material facts from which this
essence has to be distilled. The whole of Maeterlinck’s magnificent
passage must here be quoted: “The mysterious chant of the Infinite,
the ominous silence of the soul and of God, the murmur of Eternity on
the horizon, the destiny or fatality that we are conscious of within
us, though by what tokens none can tell–do not all these underlie
_King Lear_, _Macbeth_, _Hamlet_? And would it not be possible, by
some interchanging of the _rôles_, to bring them nearer to us, and
send the actor farther off? Is it beyond the mark to say that the
true tragic element, normal, deep-rooted, and universal–that the
true tragic element of life only begins at the moment when so-called
adventures, sorrows, and dangers have disappeared?… When we think
of it, is it not the tranquillity that is terrible, the tranquillity
watched by the stars? And is it in tumult or in silence that the
spirit of life quickens within us? Is it not when we are told, at the
end of the story, ‘They were happy,’ that the great disquiet should
intrude itself? What is taking place while they are happy? Are there
not elements of deeper gravity and stability in happiness, in a single
moment of repose, than in the whirlwind of passion? Is it not then
that we at last behold the march of time–ay, and of many another
on-stealing besides, more secret still–is it not then that the hours
rush forward? Are not deeper chords set vibrating by all these things
than by the dagger-stroke of conventional drama? Is it not at the very
moment when a man believes himself secure from bodily death that the
strange and silent tragedy of the being and the immensities does indeed
raise its curtain on the stage? Is it while I flee before a naked sword
that my existence touches its most interesting point? Is life always at
its sublimest in a kiss? Are there not other moments, when one hears
purer voices that do not fade away so soon? Does the soul flower only
on nights of storm? Hitherto, doubtless, this belief has prevailed.
It is only the life of violence, the life of bygone days, that is
perceived by nearly all our tragic writers; and truly may one say that
anachronism dominates the stage, and that dramatic art dates back as
many years as the art of sculpture.”

He places the spiritual purposes of painting and music on a higher
plane; “for these,” he says, “have learned to select and reproduce
those obscurer phases of daily life that are not the less deep-rooted
and amazing. They know that all that life has lost, as regards mere
superficial ornament, has been more than counterbalanced by the depth,
the intimate meaning, and the spiritual gravity it has acquired. The
true artist no longer chooses Marius triumphing over the Cimbrians,
or the assassination of the Duke of Guise, as a fit subject for his
art; for he is well aware that the psychology of victory or murder is
but elementary and exceptional, and that the solemn voice of men and
things, the voice that issues forth so timidly and hesitatingly, cannot
be heard amidst the idle uproar of acts of violence. And therefore
will he place on his canvas a house lost in the heart of the country,
an open door at the end of a passage, a face or hands at rest, and by
these simple images will add to our consciousness of life, which is a
possession that it is no longer possible to lose.”


The excellence and the wisdom of these thoughts need no pointing out.
What is the defect in them–or, rather, wherein are they incomplete?

This may be seen, in the first place, by playing off Maeterlinck’s
theory against that of Wagner. It is quite true, as Wagner says, that
his kind of music-drama has one great advantage over the poetical
drama: that by surrendering certain outlying interests it can
concentrate all its power on the central interest–giving full play,
as Wagner would express it, to the inner motives of the dramatic
action. But, on the other hand, music must, from its very nature, fail
to touch a score of ideas and passions that are within us, and for
whose expression we are compelled to go to poetry that is unhampered
by music. Thus there are certain mental states with which music can
have practically no communion. The girl can sing, as Ruskin has told
us, of her lost love, but the miser cannot sing of his lost money-bags.
For a study of the miser, then, and of all the shades of character
that resemble his, we must look, not to music, but to poetry or prose.
Again, any one who has seen Verdi’s _Otello_ on the stage must have
been struck with the relative feebleness of the character-drawing
of Iago. A monster of this kind, made up entirely of cunning and
deception, is a concept almost entirely foreign to the art of music,
which does indeed give a heightened value to the primary emotions,
but, on the other hand, has difficulty in reaching beyond these. One
frequently finds it hard to believe that Wagner’s Mime, who sings such
pleasant music, is really a hateful character, owing to the difficulty
music has in expressing the mean and despicable. It can render, mainly
by physical means, the horrible and the terrible, but the contemptible,
the abortive, are practically beyond its sphere.

Nor, again, even in the field where music and poetry meet, does
music so far cover the ground, as Wagner would contend, as to make
non-musical poetry a superfluity, a mere echo of what can be heard in
fuller tones in the drama that is a blend of poetry and music. For the
sheer emotional beauty of pity, for exquisite tenderness and complete
consolation, nothing, in any art, could surpass certain portions of
_Parsifal_. But it is essentially _emotion_ here, not thought; it
is wholly esoteric; it achieves its miracle by withdrawing into its
own lovely atmosphere the crude, hard facts of the world, and there
transforming them. If we want an expression of pity that shall bear
more closely on our real life, give us the emotional balm at the same
time that it allows free play to our philosophic thought, we must go to
poetry. Look at the colloquy of the pots in the Rubaiyat, in which the
humanist Omar empties the vials of his compassion upon the marred and
broken beings of this world:–

“Said one among them–‘Surely not in vain
My substance of the common Earth was ta’en
And to this Figure moulded, to be broke,
Or trampled back to shapeless Earth again.’

Then said a Second–‘Ne’er a peevish Boy
Would break the Bowl from which he drank in joy:
And He that with His hand the Vessel made
Will surely not in after Wrath destroy.’

After a momentary silence spake
Some Vessel of a more ungainly Make;
‘They sneer at me for leaning all awry:
What! did the Hand then of the Potter shake?'”

There is not here the sensuous anodyne of Wagner’s music, but there is
something equally precious; the thought is farther flung; it brings
more elements of reality back with it to be bathed and softened in
emotion; it stirs the more vital philosophic depths. As one reads
the verses, one thinks sadly of all the bruised and broken beings
of the world, the poor misshapen souls who carry within them, from
no fault of their own, the seeds of the things that are to blight or
slay them–the men afflicted with incurable vices of body or mind or
will, the criminals, often more sinned against than sinning, upon whom
society wreaks its legalised vengeance. We have not merely a warm wave
of pity passing through us, as in the case of _Parsifal_; the exquisite
art of the thing is strengthened by the closeness of its association
with innumerable problems of theology, of philosophy, and of social
science. So, again, with the line Maeterlinck himself places in the
mouth of old Arkel, after one of the most terrible scenes in _Pelleas
and Melisanda_: “If I were God, how I should pity the heart of men!”
Music, in its grave, wise speech after a dire catastrophe, may almost
compass some such wealth of ethical significance as this; but there
is in Maeterlinck’s line a peculiar fulness of divination that can
be conveyed to us only in words. Numberless other instances might be
cited, all proving this existence of a philosophic sphere to which even
the greatest music can, by reason of its indefiniteness, never have
access. Matthew Arnold may have been a prejudiced witness, being a poet
himself; yet one feels that he has the right with him in that passage,
in his _Epilogue to Lessing’s Laocöon_, in which he points out how the
painter and the musician excel respectively in expressing “the aspect
of the moment” and “the feeling of the moment,” but that the poet deals
more philosophically with the total life and interlacement of things:–

“He must life’s movement tell!
The thread which binds it all in one,
And not its separate parts alone.
The movement he must tell of life,
Its pain and pleasure, rest and strife;
His eye must travel down, at full,
The long, unpausing spectacle;
With faithful unrelaxing force
Attend it from its primal source,
From change to change and year to year,
Attend it of its mid career,
Attend it to the last repose,
And solemn silence of its close.”

Arnold’s expression might perhaps have been a little more artistic,
but there is no controverting the general truth he voices–that poetry
looks before and after in a way that music cannot possibly do; is wider
in its philosophic sweep than music, clearer in its vision, making up
for its weaker idealism by its sympathetic evocation of a hundred notes
that are denied to music.


And just as we pass from music to poetry to reach certain emotions
that are not to be found in the more generalised art, so we pass
from Maeterlinck’s æsthetic world to that of the cruder realist, in
the search for certain further artistic satisfactions. Mysticism has
this in common with music–that it gives voice to the broader, more
generalised feelings of mankind, and hesitates to come into contact
with the less ecstatic faculties that are exercised upon the harder
facts of life. Maeterlinck, like Wagner, tries to lay hold upon the
universal in art; but he does so simply because, again like Wagner,
he is comparatively insensitive to other stimuli. And as Wagner’s
æsthetic holds good for the most part only of those who, like him,
apprehend the world through music, so Maeterlinck’s theory of drama
is completely valid only for those who share his general attitude
toward life and knowledge. If it is really the mystics who have the
key to the knowledge of things; if, as Maeterlinck himself says in
his introduction to Ruysbroeck’s _L’Ornement des Noces Spirituelles_,
“toute certitude est en eux seuls,” and that “les vérités mystiques
ont sur les vérités ordinaires un privilège étrange–elles ne peuvent
ni vieillir ni mourir”; if in the hypnotic semi-swoon of the faculties
before the abyss of the universal we come closest to the real secret
of things, then is there nothing to be added to or taken from
Maeterlinck’s statement of the essence of drama. If, on the other hand,
the evolution of the more acutely specialised perceptions in us points
to man’s need of a mental system that shall embrace ever more and more
of the phenomena of the world, then must we have an art that can shape
these perceptions too into a beauty of their own. Did we all apprehend
the universe as Maeterlinck and the mystics do–through a kind of
sixth sense that is an instantaneous blend of the ordinary five; could
we all arrive at his serenely philosophical outlook, and be content
with so much understanding of the world as came to us in immediate
intuitions–we should then see in his kind of art a mode of expression
co-extensive with all that we could know or feel. But since we do not
all look at life with the semi-Oriental fatalism of Maeterlinck, in
whose soul the passive elements seem to outweigh the active, we have
to turn to other types of dramatic art for the satisfaction of our
cravings. “The poet,” he says in one place, “adds to ordinary life
something–I know not what–which is the poet’s secret: and there comes
to us a sudden revelation of life in its stupendous grandeur, in its
submissiveness to the unknown powers, in its endless affinities, in its
awe-inspiring misery.” Well, for a great many of us there are moments
when “submissiveness to the unknown powers” does not express the be-all
and the end-all of life–more vivid moments of revolt, of struggle
with uncertainties, of passionate assertions of personality, that have
little kinship with the grey resignation of the mystic. If life is
ugly and bitter, there is an art that can interest us deeply in this
bitterness and ugliness, because it ministers to that deep-seated need
of ours to leave no corner of life and nature unexplored. This art of
the mercilessly real may not be so “philosophical” as Maeterlinck’s;
it may not speak to us so clearly of the “mysterious chant of the
infinite, the ominous silence of the soul and of God, the murmur of
Eternity on the horizon,” for these voices can make themselves heard
only in a wider, serener, less turbid space than ours. But just as the
poet foregoes some of the formal perfection of the musician, finding
his compensation in his power to touch a wider range of things, so the
realist finds in the bracing, ever-interesting contact with the cruder
facts of life something that compensates him for missing the broader
peace of the mystic–a sense of energetic personality, of struggle with
and dominion over inimical forces, that the languor of mysticism cannot
provide. “No human reason,” says Maeterlinck, in our actions, “no human
reason; nothing but destiny.” Well, thought and action, to the mystic,
may be only the children of illusion; but may there not be as much
illusion in passivity, in the ecstatic collapse of the intellect under
the pressure of an incomprehensible world? In the Maeterlinck drama,
beautiful as it is, we cannot all of us find complete satisfaction.
To quote the words that he himself has used in another context: “Here
we are no longer in the well-known valleys of human and psychic life.
We find ourselves at the door of the third enclosure–that of the
divine life of the mystics. We have to grope timidly, and make sure
of every footstep, as we cross the threshold.” And when we _have_
crossed the threshold, we find ourselves hungering and thirsting for
the more troubled but at any rate broader life we have left behind us;
just as the Wagnerian drama, mighty as it is, brings home to us the
fact that there are needs of our nature that music cannot satisfy.
Formal perfection, absolute homogeneity, are obtainable in an art only
when we abstract it from outer incident and long reflection. Music
comes before poetry in this respect, poetry before the drama, the
drama before fiction. Take, from a master of reticence, an example of
apparent dissipation of artistic force that Wagner would have held
to prove his own theories. It is the scene in _Madame Bovary_ where
Léon, expecting to see Emma, is detained at dinner by Homais. “At two
o’clock they were still at table, opposite each other. The large room
was emptying; the stovepipe, in the shape of a palm tree, spread its
gilt leaves over the white ceiling, and near them, outside the window,
in the bright sunshine, a little fountain gurgled in a white basin,
where, in the midst of watercress and asparagus, three torpid lobsters
stretched across to some quails that lay heaped up in a pile on their
sides.” “Watercress! asparagus! quails! three torpid lobsters!” Wagner
would have said, “what have these to do with art? Music’s manner of
describing the impatience of two separated lovers is that of the mad
prelude to the duet in _Tristan_. Here we have all the essential
soul-states, without the admixture of crude external realities.” Yet
there is something in Léon’s impatience that music cannot express–the
dreary boredom inflicted by his companion, the helpless wandering of
the mind over the insignificant uglinesses of his surroundings. This
also is part of human psychology, and a part that can find expression
only in words. In consideration of the wider sweep of the artistic net,
we gladly abate our demands for perfection of quality in the yield;
for the phenomena of the extensive and the intensive are meant to be
compensatory, the one taking the burden upon itself where the strength
of the other fails. Wagner erred in thinking that the union of all
the arts in music-drama could render each separate art superfluous;
Maeterlinck errs in thinking that the mystic, in his withdrawal to the
centre of consciousness, can tell us all we desire to know of the outer


[56] I am compelled to draw attention to the words “æsthetic _systems_”
because, on the appearance of this article in _The Atlantic Monthly_,
a not unkindly reviewer took me to task for asserting, as he thought,
that the art-_work_ of Wagner was akin to that of Maeterlinck; he
pointed out, quite rightly, that César Franck’s work lies closer to
Maeterlinck’s than does Wagner’s. But of course I had never asserted
that Wagner and Maeterlinck spoke to us in the same language or of the
same things. I was only concerned to prove that underlying the so very
different practice of the two men was a curious similarity of æsthetic

[57] Compare Amiel’s saying–“Action is but coarsened thought.”

[58] It is interesting to note that many things in Maeterlinck either
move us, by their very vagueness, just in the way that music does, or
else seem like a fragment from a libretto, needing to be set to music
before they can attain their full significance. Of the former class the
reader will remember such things as the conclusion of _Alladine and
Palomides_. To the latter class belong many of those curious scenes
in which the characters keep on reiterating apparently insignificant
words, to the intense annoyance of the Man in the Street, who cannot
see the meaning of it all. In _Aglavaine and Selysette_ there are
many passages that seem, without music, to be only the skeleton, the
scaffolding, of an emotional effect. There is a salient example of the
same thing in _Joyzelle_:

_Joyzelle._ Je t’embrassais la nuit, quand j’embrassais mes rêves….

_Lancéor._ Je n’ai pas eu de doute…. _Joyzelle._ Je n’ai pas eu de

_Lancéor._ Et tout m’est accordé….

_Joyzelle._ Et tout me rend heureuse!…

_Lancéor._ Que tes yeux sont profonds et pleins de confiance!…

_Joyzelle._ Et que les tiens sont purs et pleins de certitudes!…

_Lancéor._ Comme je les reconnais!…

_Joyzelle._ Et comme je les retrouve!…

_Lancéor._ Tes mains sur mes épaules ont le geste qu’elles avaient
quand je les attendais sans oser m’eveiller….

_Joyzelle._ Et ton bras sur mon cou reprend la même place….

_Lancéor._ C’est ainsi qu’autrefois tes paupières se fermaient au
souffle de l’amour.

_Joyzelle._ Et c’est de même aussi que les larmes montaient dans tes
yeux qui s’ouvraient….

_Lancéor._ Quand le bonheur est tel….

_Joyzelle._ Le malheur ne vient pas tant que l’amour l’enchaine.

_Lancéor._ Tu m’aimes?…

_Joyzelle._ Oui….

It reads almost exactly like a libretto without its music.




Two or three years ago Richard Strauss was practically unknown in this
country. A few people had heard works of his abroad; a few more had
bought his complex scores and worried through them as best they could,
mostly deriving from them only the impression that Strauss was getting
madder and madder every year. From other and happier climes, where the
demand for music is almost as great as the supply, there came weird
stories of this new art. One thing was universally admitted as being
beyond dispute–that Strauss was a master of orchestral effect such as
the world had never seen; but all the rest was pure legend. In 1897
_Also sprach Zarathustra_ was played at the Crystal Palace; old Sir
George Grove, in a private letter, expressed what was probably the
opinion of most of the people who sat it out: “What can have happened
to drag down music from the high level of beauty, interest, sense,
force, grace, coherence and any other good quality, which it rises to
in Beethoven and also (not so high) in Mendelssohn, down to the low
level of ugliness and want of interest that we had in Strauss’s absurd
farrago …? _Noise_ and _effect_ seems to be so much the aim now.”
It was the old, old story. The man who listens to a new art and is
momentarily revolted by it never thinks that the deficiencies may be
not in the art but in himself; with sublime arrogance he disposes in
half-an-hour of a work that perhaps took a brain three times the weight
of his own half a decade to write. There was some excuse for Grove;
he was nearly eighty years old, and _Also sprach Zarathustra_ may
well have sounded to his venerable ears like chaos come again. Other
people had not the same excuse. In any case, an isolated performance
of so complex a work as this was hardly the way to educate the musical
masses up to the new evangel. The Strauss-flower languished decidedly
for some time after in England. It is true that one could occasionally
hear, either in London or in the provinces, _Till Eulenspiegel_, _Don
Juan_, _Tod und Verklärung_, and a song or two, but this was all. Now
and then there was a little wrangle in the press over the merits and
tendencies of Strauss. One courageous group of critics dared to say
that here was a composer likely to be the next big figure in musical
history after Wagner; another group, equally courageous, was steadily
occupied in laying up material for the laughter of future generations.
Some of these latter gentlemen had already firmly secured their place
in history by their opposition, two or three decades ago, to Wagner.
Now, with undiminished zeal and energy, anxious to achieve a plural
immortality, they industriously plied their mops against the oceanic
tide of Strauss. A third group followed the banner of the ingenious
gentleman who “hedged” by declaring that Strauss’s music was still
_sub judice_–as if _all_ musicians were not continually _sub judice_.
But while it was very gratifying to behold this contest–all fighting
being a testimony to life–what was all the strife about? Merely, for
the most part over _Don Juan_, a comparatively early work of Strauss,
in no way representative of the possibilities of his methods or of the
stage of evolution at which he had even then arrived. The real Strauss
was to be seen not in _Don Juan_ but in _Don Quixote_, _Also sprach
Zarathustra_, and _Ein Heldenleben_. Yet the flower of the intelligence
of England was wrangling noisily over three works of the composer’s
youth–_Till Eulenspiegel_, _Tod und Verklärung_, and _Don Juan_! It
was as if, in 1881, just before the production of _Parsifal_, the
English champions of the rival schools had been slaying each other over
the question as to whether Wagner had not gone a little too far in
_Tannhäuser_ and _Lohengrin_. Verily England was asleep.

Then Strauss himself came twice to the metropolis, first to conduct
some miscellaneous works, then to produce his latest tone-poem _Ein
Heldenleben_, for the first time in England. Now the interest, or at
any rate the curiosity, of London was stirred a little. An abstract,
disinterested passion for music itself, a cultivated desire for
new things as distinguished from the merely circus interest in new
performers, seems beyond the powers of all but a few souls in that vast
population. Organised discussion of a new composer only comes into
being when he himself happens to be in the city. As Sir Thomas Browne
has it, “Some believe the better for seeing Christs sepulchre; and
when they have seen the Red Sea, doubt not of the miracle.” As it was,
it is questionable whether so large an audience would have flocked to
hear–or to see–Strauss on the _Heldenleben_ occasion, if that concert
had not also happened to be the first at which Mr. Henry Wood appeared
after a long illness. When, some six months later, a three days’
Strauss Festival was given at St. James’s Hall, with the fine Amsterdam
orchestra that plays him so intelligently, and with Mengelberg and
Strauss himself as conductors, but this time without a convalescent Mr.
Wood, the general public showed disgracefully little interest in the
thing. However, the seed had been sown, and its growth has been fairly
rapid. We have not yet heard in England the latest work of Strauss–the
_Symphonia domestica_–and _Don Quixote_[59] has not been repeated
since it was given its solitary English performance at the Festival.
But _Ein Heldenleben_–the terrible _Ein Heldenleben_, the bugbear,
the bogey of a couple of years ago–has become astonishingly popular.
It is played quite frequently; young ladies barely out of their teens
study the score and discuss the love-music appreciatively. _Till
Eulenspiegel_, _Tod und Verklärung_, _Don Juan_,–these we hear so
often that one no longer gets a shock when one sees them on the bills;
even _Also sprach Zarathustra_ is occasionally given. _Aus Italien_
has had several performances, and the youthful Symphony in F minor
(op. 12) has been played once at least. The violin concerto, the violin
sonata, the ‘cello sonata, and the piano quartet may all be heard
from time to time. So that at last the reproach of total ignorance of
Strauss is taken away from us, even if we do not hear so much of him,
especially of his very latest works, as we would like.

It is a pity we cannot get more performances of his bigger works,
for the amateur who does not hear him often on the orchestra, and
who tries to get a knowledge of him from the easier things that can
be played at home, is likely to get a very false impression of him.
He has passed through so many stages of artistic development that
we have only to pick up an early work of his here and there to be
capable of a dogmatism concerning him that is ludicrously wrong. I
can recall no example in musical history of a man with such native
strength and such pronounced individuality suggesting, in his youthful
works, so many other musicians of note who have gone before him. You
will find in the earlier Strauss abundant traces of Mozart, of Haydn,
of Beethoven, of Wagner, of Schumann, of Brahms, of Liszt. Yet the
curious thing is that nowhere do we feel that Strauss has been, even
for a little time, wholly under the influence of any one of these; he
is always himself, though he unaccountably lapses at times into the
most distinct reminiscences of the manner of other men. No one but
he could have penned the vigorous Piano Sonata (op. 5); in the first
movement, for example, not only the _mâle_ _tristesse_ of the mood,
but the firm and flexible handling is indubitably his. Yet in this
same movement, with its modern atmosphere, its modern force, and its
modern audacity, he must needs insert passages here and there that go
right back to the eighteenth century, in their form, their speech, and
their psychology. Something of the same phenomenon meets us again in
his Symphony in F minor (op. 12). The singular thing is that he has
never had a real Beethoven epoch, or a real Schumann epoch, or a real
Wagner epoch; but that he seemed to fall quite naturally, at times,
into bygone modes of feeling and utterance, like a man whose prose
style had an unaccountable tendency to lapse, every now and then, into
reminiscences of the authors he read most in his youth. The _Guntram_
(op. 25) may have looked very Wagnerian when it first appeared; but
as we read it now, in the light of Strauss’s later work, it is clear
that Wagner does not enter into a twentieth part of the opera. People
could pick out the passages that resembled Wagner–particularly that
extraordinary reminiscence of _Tristan_ which Strauss seems to use
so unconsciously–and sum the whole opera up as the work of a mere
disciple of Wagner. It was hard in those days to grasp the significance
of the more individual parts of _Guntram_, or to frame to oneself
a connected scheme of what the composer’s psychological processes
were. But we can see it all now, after _Also sprach Zarathustra_,
_Don Quixote_, _Enoch Arden_ and the songs; and it is evident that
_Guntram_ never owed its origin to Wagner, but to a mind of quite a
different type from his. It is not Wagner’s texture, it is above all
not Wagner’s world-view; it comes from a brain of a different outlook,
making its own terminology for itself as it goes along, and only
occasionally dropping into the idiom of Strauss’s great forerunner. So
again with the much-cited influence of Liszt upon him. That the flower
of Strauss’s achievement has grown up from the soil Liszt watered is
unquestionable. But no one work, no section of one work, can be quoted
that sounds as if it came direct from Liszt. With the exception of some
half-dozen of the juvenile writings, there is nothing of Strauss that
does not, in spite of its suggestions of this or that predecessor,
belong as completely to him as _Orfeo_ does to Gluck or _Lohengrin_ to
Wagner; while in the work of the last few years, the years of attained
maturity and full self-consciousness, he stands proudly, loftily alone,
unique among musicians long before he had reached his fortieth year.
Yet the tradition that he is merely an artificial blend of Wagner and
Liszt will probably hold the field for a long time to come.

So great, again, is the distance between his earlier and his later
work that one who only knows him from the efforts of his adolescence
is certain to misconceive him. The present Strauss commands respect
even from those who think he is merely using his great gifts to
achieve perversity and ugliness; but we may go through page after
page of his earliest work and yet hardly once come across anything
that would make us believe we were face to face with genius. Some of
it, like the _Fünf Klavierstücke_ (op. 3) and the _Stimmungsbilder_
(op. 9), is quite mediocre at times, commonplace in rhythm, weak in
structure, and decidedly cheap in melody. Even where his early work
was most excellent–and some of it was admirable–it was impossible to
say from it that the composer was one of the predestined spirits of
music, fated to remove landmarks, to explore undiscovered countries.
Clearly it was not a common talent; even in those days it was generally
vigorous, audacious, self-confident; but it rarely flamed up into
incandescence. In those years of apprenticeship Strauss was quietly
and almost unconsciously evolving a musical bias that was to re-mould
the æsthetics of music–doubtful yet as to whither his own ideals
were drawing him, and no doubt puzzled at times at his failure to
get precisely the picture he would have liked, but still remaining
autonomous, a new and vigorous force aiming at an idiom of its own.
We see now how hopelessly absurd it is to judge the composer of _Also
sprach Zarathustra_ by any of the standards of the past–that the
man’s whole mind is unique, seeing things in music that no one ever
saw before, and taking the most direct, even if most perilous, path to
the expression of them. It took him a long time to learn that he had
no great faculty for abstract beauty, for weaving the impalpable stuff
of a vision into something that lives and shall be immortal, like the
sculptor’s work, by virtue of the sheer harmony of every element of its
being. The great test of the existence of this order of beauty in a
musician is to be had in his slow movements. Mere vigour of rhythm and
intensity of colour here go for less than anywhere else: in this ideal,
abstracted world, where the soul listens darkling, brooding upon the
mystery of things like the dove upon the waters, the musician’s sense
of sheer self-existent beauty must be at its finest; and the complete
absorption in pure tone that such a mood demands is the quality of the
absolute rather than of the poetic musician. I am not for a moment,
of course, denying that Strauss has written some slow passages which
are surcharged with emotional beauty–such as the “Redemption” theme
at the end of _Tod und Verklärung_, the noble _mit Andacht_ section at
the beginning of _Also sprach Zarathustra_, the pathetic death-music
in _Don Quixote_, or the end of _Ein Heldenleben_. What I mean is that
his is not the order of musical mind to which the extended formalism
of the symphony, with its intentness on architectonic effect, is the
most propitious. His genius is for the literary rather than for the
architectural or sculpturesque.

Look, for example, at his songs. If his gift were for sheer musical
beauty, the melody that sings from pure joy in itself, it would
certainly appear here if anywhere. Yet among all his songs I cannot
recall more than one or two that seem to be written out of the mere
heart of lyrism itself; while in all the really great ones the magic
and the power come not from pure melodic or harmonic loveliness, but
from the sense they give us of absolute emotional veracity–as it
were a man speaking upon a lofty subject very gravely and with intense
conviction, and so attaining, not the rapturous abandonment of poetry,
but an eloquent, impassioned, heart-searching prose.

Strauss is perhaps not a great melodist, if we restrict that term to
the meaning it has acquired in the absolute music of the past. Only
once, I think–in the slow movement of the Piano Quartet (op. 13)–does
he sing himself into that ideal world of ecstasy and enchantment in
which the older musicians spent their most golden hours. Here, indeed,
he loses sight of that real world of men and things which it has been
his glory to make musical for us in his later work; here, indeed, he
is content to sing in rapt absorption, content to pour out a flood of
tone that shall be all it is meant to be if it is divine, merely “a
wonder and a wild desire.” This movement stands unique among Strauss’s
work, both in its pure beauty and in its æsthetic purpose. For once in
his life, at all events, the great realist has had his honeyed hour
of idealism. But the very qualities of alertness, of quick interest
in life, which have gone to make Strauss, in his later music, the
symbol of a new era of æsthetics, have prevented him from falling
often into that ecstatic, clairvoyant swoon from which the music of
the great dreamers has been born. A melody, with him, is not something
irresponsibly beautiful, as sheer a delight to the ear as the flight
of a bird or the play of sunlight on the water are to the eye, but
a commentary upon a character or a situation, aiming at veracity
in the first place rather than at self-existent beauty. Hence that
impression of tortuous, huddled drawing which we get at times in a
work like _Guntram_, where his hand has not yet learned to follow the
inward vision with complete fidelity. Hence also the feeling given
us occasionally, by some of his melodies, that they are bordering
perilously on the commonplace or the obvious–as in the cadence of
the charming little folk-song with which _Till Eulenspiegel_ ends,
or in one or two portions of the finale of _Tod und Verklärung_. The
closer a musician comes to pure simplicity the more difficult is it to
achieve verisimilitude without dropping into bathos. If Strauss has now
and again made us feel that it is only a step from the sublime to the
ridiculous, it behoves us to remember also that no musician has ever
been so triumphant in his handling of the simplest material–as in some
passages of _Also sprach Zarathustra_, the ending of _Ein Heldenleben_,
the Sancho Panza music in _Don Quixote_, or the music of the children
in _Feuersnot_. If Tchaikovski brought the last new shudder into music,
Strauss has endowed it with a new simplicity. It is this, indeed, that
makes him Strauss; for paradoxical as it may seem, this builder of
colossal tone-poems, this wielder of the mightiest orchestral language
ever yet spoken, this Mad Mullah of harmony, is what he is because he
has dared to throw over almost all the conventions that have clustered
round the art in the last two hundred years. He is complex because he
is simple; he appears so wildly artificial because he is absolutely
natural; he is called sophisticated because he casts aside all artifice
and speaks like the natural musical man. To establish which position,
let us digress for a moment into a discussion of æsthetics.


Of all the arts, music is the one whose ideal of form is the loftiest,
the most exacting, the most imperative; the art in which we are least
willing to tolerate any defection from the highest we can conceive.
This, indeed, has been the cause both of the rapid development of music
in comparison with the other arts, and of the frenetic warfare of the
schools in one generation after another. The intensity of the great
musician’s desire for ideal perfection in his art leads to his carrying
it, within a few years, over a curve of evolution that it takes a
century for the other arts to describe. This æsthetic concentration
gave us the Beethoven symphony and the Wagner music-drama–each the
most perfect thing of its kind, each the most perfect expression of
the musical needs of the generation that brought it into life. At the
same time this principle of evolution has caused the world, when it
discovered how absolutely complete was the musician’s achievement of
the particular thing he had aimed at, to desire to rest permanently
in that form, to regard it as the final word in music. It was so with
the symphony according to Beethoven, and with the opera according to
Wagner. Now what we have to recognise in the case of Richard Strauss is
that he is the destroyer–or at any rate, the symbol of destruction–of
all previous values, as Nietzsche would say, and the creator at once of
a new expression and a new form.

Music could no more stop at Wagner than it could stop at Bach, Gluck,
or Beethoven. The expansion of manner which music underwent at the
hands of each of these men, be it noted, was the fruit of a correlative
expansion of the mental world of the musician–not the individual
musician, but the type. The great interest of Wagner for many of us is
that with him, for the first time, music aimed at becoming co-extensive
with human life. (So much, I think, may be broadly postulated without
entering on very contentious grounds, if we complete the proposition by
saying that Berlioz and Liszt–the Liszt of the twelve symphonic poems,
the _Dante_ symphony and the _Faust_ symphony–are to be understood
as subsumed under Wagner.) But the very element in his work that made
Wagner an unquestionable evolution from Beethoven–the clear perception
that in the symphony pure and simple you could never, do what you
would, advance entirely out of the decorative into the human, that to
concern herself more pointedly with man and the world, music must call
in the aid of poetry, with its wider and deeper associations with
human life–this was at the same time, curiously enough, the element
that marked the limits of the opera and foretold its ultimate passing
away. Opera, it is now evident, is _not_ the form of either the present
or the future. It was once the revolutionary form, and under its red
banner men imbrued their hands with the gore of their fellow-men; now
it is a classic, and in twenty years we shall have a school that quotes
its Wagner against the new troublers of our musical conventions as a
former school quoted Mozart and Beethoven against Wagner. And why is
the opera now beginning to be recognised as a limited form, instead of
the universal form which Wagner fondly hoped to make it? Simply because
it has now become clear to us that the admixture of the human voice
in music really limits the range of the art as much as the absence
of it formerly limited the symphony. What the old music needed was
fertilisation by speech, as Wagner never wearied of telling us; what
music at present needs is emancipation from the tyranny of speech. A
glance at the æsthetic of the art will make this seem less paradoxical
than it sounds at first.

As I have tried to show in another essay in this volume, the people
who despise programme music as a derogation from the high nature and
pure origin of the art are labouring under a delusion. Music, they say,
ought to be able to stand alone, in splendid isolation as it were;
and they regard it as a sign of musical weakness when a composer,
associating himself with the literary element of poetry, “calls in to
his aid a foreign art,” as they express it. All this is based upon a
misunderstanding of the real essence of music, and a faulty analysis
of the psychological states from which it has sprung. From the very
infancy of the art, there have been two main impulses stimulating
the musician–the abstract and the human, the decorative and the
poetic. The fact that these two are almost always interblended, in
one proportion or another, in the actual music we know, does not in
any way upset the analysis. Broadly speaking, the revolution effected
by Wagner was precisely an infusion of a greater human pre-occupation
into an art that had previously been over-intent on the architectural
or decorative. He saw that it was impossible for a modern man to
say all he wanted to say in a form that attributed relatively too
much importance to the propriety of the pattern, and left too little
opportunity for the sleuth-like tracking of thoughts as fluid, as
complex, as evasive as life itself. On the one hand the transition
had to be made from inarticulate to articulate tone, from music as a
generalised expression to music as a particularised expression of life;
and this could only be done by conquering for her, by means of speech,
a new territory of human interests in which she was to be supreme.
On the other hand, there had to be a general break-up of the older
official form, and a general discarding of useless garments in order
that the limbs of this fresh young art might move more freely. What
Wagner’s achievement was we know. Apart from his stupendous musical
gifts, he will live by the closeness of the bearing of his thought
upon actual life; for he was searchingly real, albeit in his own
semi-romantic way.

But the impetus given to music by Wagner could not end where he desired
it to end. Already, in his own lifetime, Berlioz and Liszt had hit upon
a form of symphonic poem, which, had it not been for the overwhelming
vogue of Wagner’s operas, would probably have come to be recognised
as the pre-eminent form of the nineteenth century. It must always be
remembered that Liszt was no mere imitator of Wagner, but that they
worked separately for many years on much the same general æsthetic
lines–Liszt being, if anything, the one of the twain who saw first the
new possibilities of modern music. Now that Wagner’s work is done and
become a thing of the past–the art-form which he perfected having died
with him, so far as we can see at present–the long-submerged trail of
Liszt is making its reappearance. Despised as a composer in his own
epoch, he is now having a posthumous and vicarious justification in
Richard Strauss. Like the river Arethusa, that was lost in one place
and came to light again in another, the peculiar psychology of the
symphonic poem according to Liszt re-emerges in _Tod und Verklärung_
and _Also sprach Zarathustra_, after having been hidden for half a
century by the more lyrical, less “representative” art of _Tristan_ and
the _Meistersinger_. The strong point of Strauss is just that he has
shown how often speech can with the greatest advantage be discarded
in music, because speech, while a fertilising element up to a certain
point, becomes a positive obstruction when once that point has been
passed. Where there are words there is necessarily a human voice, and
where there is a voice you are necessarily bound by the limitations
of the voice, and shut out from one-half of the circle of life. You
can, of course, accept these limitations as far as the voice itself
is concerned, and leave to the orchestra the portrayal of things that
are too vast, too mysterious, or too terrible to be sung–which was
the method of Wagner. But the success of this system depends upon the
quality of your subject; and when you come to the big modern material,
and desire to look through music at the life and the philosophy of your
own day, you will find that the voice is, as often as not, a hindrance.
A subject like _Also sprach Zarathustra_, for example, neither demands
nor would tolerate the human voice in a musical setting of it.
Nietzsche’s book is not lyrical, not dramatic; it is–or purports to
be–a piece of philosophy, a reflection upon the cosmos as it appears
to a bitter, disillusioned modern man. In weaving music into a gigantic
scheme like this, the tiny egoistic tinkle of the human voice would be
a ludicrous descent into bathos.[60] We have only to look round at
the music of the past hundred years to see that, as its psychology
extended, it first of all required speech to gain it access to one
new territory, and then had to throw over speech in order to secure
entrance into a territory still more remote and more mysterious. This
is the environment towards which Strauss has had to feel his way
through one experiment after another.

Now just as Wagner’s music, though more complex than the old art in
certain respects, was simpler than the old in that it substituted a
natural for a stilted form of operatic speech–a revolution similar to
that effected in English poetry by the lyrical writers of the end of
the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth centuries–so Strauss
represents yet another movement towards naturalness, when compared
with contemporary music-makers like Brahms or even Tchaikovski. The
proof of this is writ large over almost all his music, from opus 5
onwards; it is visible everywhere, in his melodies, his rhythms,
his harmonies, his _facture_. Now and again, of course, there is
a lapse into the polite formalities which come so fatally easy to
the musician of all artists. But on the whole Strauss gives one the
impression of a singularly fresh and unconventional temperament, whose
new mode of vision spontaneously generates its own new manner of
utterance. The peculiar quality of his mature style is its absolute
_Selbstständigkeit_–its entire independence, throughout its whole
texture, of any laws but its own. I need not speak of his marvellous
orchestration, for his overlordship there is unquestionable. But
we need only look at his harmonies–those harmonies which are the
horror of a great many people who are by no means academics–to see
how supremely natural, how infinitely remote from the mere desire to
stagger humanity,[61] is the style of Strauss even in its most defiant
moments.[62] What was said of old of the harmonies of Wagner is now
being said of the harmonies of his successor. I will frankly admit
that there are certain things among them which are a cruel laceration
of our ears–things at which we can only cross ourselves piously, as
at the profanity of the natural man at the street corner, and hurry
on our way. These deviations from the normal are mostly to be seen in
his songs, where he permits himself a much broader license than in
any of his other works. For the rest, it will be found that, a few
eccentricities apart, our first prejudice against most of his novel
harmonies and progressions is due simply to their unexpectedness,
and that as soon as we have grown accustomed to them they seem quite
logical and inevitable. Undoubtedly our palate for harmony has been
cloyed by too much of the saccharine; the tonic, astringent quality of
the discord has not yet been sufficiently appreciated by any musician
but Strauss. Like all other superstitions, the harmonic superstition
cannot survive the bold experimenter. One’s faith in the malign powers
that dog the footsteps of him who walks under a ladder, or spills
the salt at table, receives a rude shock when we find a man tempting
Providence in this way and coming to no particular harm; and many
things in music that we would _à priori_ pronounce impossible look
quite simple and natural when they are actually done. To end a big
orchestral work with reiterated successions of the chord of B natural
followed by the tonic of C natural seems like a device of Colney
Hatch; but it is strangely suggestive and hugely impressive in _Also
sprach Zarathustra_. Of course the invention and elaboration of a new
technique are very difficult matters; and it is only to be expected
that here and there Strauss should give us the impression of not
being quite at home even in his own territory. Nothing could be more
audacious, or, as a rule, more successful, than his bland persistence
in a certain figure or a certain sequence when the chances are all in
favour of the thing toppling down like a house of cards long before he
can reach the summit; there is something positively grim and eerie,
at times, in the _nonchalant_ way Strauss steers his bark through all
the dangers of the musical deep. In the lovely song _Ich schwebe_ (op.
48, No. 2), for example, one is alternately astonished and amused at
the freedom of the harmonic sequences; one hardly knows whether to be
angry at the cool unconventionality with which we are being treated,
or to chuckle with delight at the sheer impudence of the performance.
Strauss seems to think it a fallacy to look upon chords as being built
up from a certain base. In a way, his system is a reversion to the
view of the old contrapuntists, that music is a matter of a series of
horizontal lines, not of the vertical lines into which the thoughts of
the modern harmonist have come to flow. Substitute horizontal figures
or groups for horizontal lines, and we have the distinction between the
harmonic Strauss in his more daring moments, and, say, the harmonic
Tchaikovski. A certain sequence of chords has to be carried through,
willy-nilly, in one part of the piano or of the orchestra; another
and quite independent sequence has to be carried through, willy-nilly,
in another part. They are heard against each other at every point
of their career. If they blend, according to the current notions of
harmony, well and good; if they do not, equally well and good. You are
only shocked for the moment, says Strauss, because your ear has become
sophisticated, artificialised, by dwelling too long in the conventional
harmonic atmosphere that has been manufactured for you; you must learn
to breathe a new atmosphere, to take delight in a new type of musical
sequence, wherein opposing notes or opposing chords go each to its
own appointed end, regardless of isolated harmonic effects, or of
certain cramping formalities known as “resolutions.” We have to learn
to think horizontally. In musical matters, however, it takes even the
most advanced of us a little time to readjust our point of view; and
whether it is that we are not yet quite worthy of the light of the
new dispensation, or whether the voice of the prophet fails him at
times and his speech becomes a little thick and his thought a trifle
incoherent, it is certain that Strauss now and again tries our patience
somewhat. Here and there in _Ein Heldenleben_ and some of the maddest
of the songs we feel that no amount of familiarity with the music will
ever make us like certain effects–or defects–of harmony; and even in
a great song like the _Traum durch die Dämmerung_ (op. 29, No. 1) we
have an uneasy feeling, at more than one point, that instead of Strauss
being the master he has become the servant of his material. There is
just a suspicion, here and there, that he is working his pre-ordained
sequence a shade too rigidly, and that he would have gained by relaxing
it a little. In any case, as I have already remarked, it is generally
in his songs–which, beautiful as they are, are not the most important
part of his work–that his harmonic system is most apt to take our
breath away; though I cannot agree with a recent writer that the
harmonies are merely “wild experimentation.” In ninety-nine cases
out of a hundred they seem to me perfectly spontaneous, even when
they are most trying; I think Strauss writes precisely as he feels,
without any mere attempt, in cold blood, to achieve the unexpected
or the impossible. One frequent cause of the novelty of his harmonic
progressions is that he resolves the constituent tones of his chords
in any part of the gamut he chooses. This, of course, is only a
continuance of a tendency that has been going on in music for the last
hundred years; and Wagner and Liszt have made certain resolutions of
this kind so familiar to us that they now excite no comment. In another
half-century the majority of the new harmonies and new resolutions of
Strauss will probably be part of the common vocabulary of every musical

Whatever may be thought, however, of the sincerity or artificiality of
his harmonies, there can be no question that in his melodies and his
rhythms he is pre-eminently natural and unforced. Once he had got rid
of the suspicion of mediocrity that hung about him in his earlier
works, owing to his having momentarily taken up with the wrong artistic
company, he made rapid progress along a line that was peculiarly his
own. No one can listen to _Don Juan_, for example (op. 20), without
feeling how exquisitely fresh is the work, how absolutely adolescent
in the best sense. Here for the first time we have a revelation of
what the future Strauss was to be–the writer of a new music, in which
the expression and the technique shall follow the poetic idea with an
unquestioning, unswerving fidelity. He is now acquiring an instrument
of speech that, in its power to bite into the essentials of an object,
reminds us of the consummate style of Flaubert or Maupassant; the
realist Strauss is coming into view. All the previous works of any
importance–the Symphony in F minor (op. 12), the String Quartet (op.
13), the _Wanderers Sturmlied_ (op. 14), _Aus Italien_ (op. 16), and
the Violin Sonata (op. 18)–had been preliminary studies for this. In
these works we see Strauss finally emerging from the slough of polite
acquiescence in the manners of his forerunners which had been now and
then painfully evident in the _Fünf Klavierstücke_ (op. 3) and the
_Stimmungsbilder_ (op. 9), and even at times in the virile, breezy
Piano Sonata (op. 5). He gradually forms a musical style of his own,
in which the idiom is extraordinarily spontaneous and forceful. The
melody becomes more serpentiform, more flexibly articulated, more and
more independent, in its rhythm, of the four or eight-bar props upon
which composers generally find it so convenient to lean. I do not
refer so much to the mere crossing or interlocking of rhythms which
the _Wanderers Sturmlied_ and _Also sprach Zarathustra_ exhibit here
and there, for this is more or less an affair of merely conscious
technique, which may, as is frequently the case in Brahms, exist rather
on paper than in actuality, and make more impression on the eye than on
the ear. The rhythmical interest of the juvenile works of Strauss lies
rather in the growing sense of perfect freedom and naturalness in the
trajectory of the melodies. All the new qualities of the works that lie
between opus 12 and opus 18 come to their fine fruition in _Don Juan_,
which is the first work of Strauss that shows in something like its
entirety the true psychology, æsthetic and moral, of the man.


Upon some features of that psychology–its sincerity, its originality,
its artistic fearlessness–I have already touched. Strauss, however,
is an epoch-making man not only in virtue of his expression and his
technique, but in virtue of the range and the quality of his subjects.
He is the first complete realist in music. The Romantic movement came
to a somewhat belated head in Wagner, who had been the chief master
of the ceremonies at the prolonged funeral of the classical spirit.
The Romantic movement persisted longer in music than in any of the
other arts; and even in our own day it still makes an occasional
ineffectual effort to raise its old head, ludicrous now with its faded
garlands of flowers overhanging the wrinkled cheeks. But it has done
its work, and the future is with the men who live not in that old and
somewhat artificial world of gloomy forests, enchanted castles, men
that are like gods and gods that are like men, impossible maidens, and
superannuated professors of magic,[63] but in a world recognisably
similar to that in which we ourselves move from day to day. We like our
art to have a rather more acrid taste, and to come to closer quarters
with reality. Even the apparatus of the Wagnerian opera seems to us a
trifle _vieux-jeu_ in these days. Strauss has wisely recognised that
the operatic form, at its worst a ludicrous parody on life, is at its
best only a compromise, limited in its choice of subjects no less than
in its structure. Much greater freedom is to be had in the symphonic
poem, or in other purely instrumental modern forms, because here we
have at once a wider range of subjects open to us, and a medium of
expression into which the voice, with its limiting associations, does
not enter. Nothing but the freest, most expansive of forms could be
suited to the peculiar temperament of a realist like Strauss, and fine
as his own opera work is, bubbling over, as _Feuersnot_ is, with life
and humour, it is not there that we see the essential Strauss.

For it is as a realist that he is most remarkable. He is not a dreamer,
nor a philosopher, except in so far as philosophy–in Mr. Meredith’s
sense of the term–is at the centre of every great artist’s vision of
life. He is at his best in studies of character in action, as in _Till
Eulenspiegel_ and _Don Quixote_; and he follows his trail with the most
cheerful disregard as to whether his work is or is not formal music
in the older acceptations of the word. Further, his interest is in
human life as a whole, not in the one wearisome episode of the eternal
masculine and the eternal feminine. Strauss’s is the cleanest, most
sexless, most athletic music I know. Just as it is the easiest thing
in the world to make love, so is the making of love-music the easiest
part of the musician’s trade. It is one other sign of the death of the
Romantic spirit and the revival of realism in Strauss that he should
have thrown over almost all the old erotic tags of the musician–though
he can be passionate enough upon occasion–in order to tell the story,
in the true modern spirit, of other elements in human life that also
have their poetry and their pathos. One refreshing characteristic of
the earlier works–such as the Piano Sonata, the Violin Sonata, and
the Piano Quartet–was their unclouded virility, their total freedom
from those phantasms of sex that have been hovering over so much of
our music during the past century. The adolescent work of Strauss is
proud, vigorous, uncontaminated, Greek in quality. Even in the _Don
Juan_, it may be noted, his interest is in another aspect of the story
than the blatantly erotic; and the music itself is plainly not the work
of a Romanticist but of a realist and humanist. The love-themes in
_Don Juan_ are not sexual in the way that Wagner or Tchaikovski, for
example, would have made them. Even in his songs his love-making is
grave and philosophical, with none of the feline sex-element showing
through it that is so prominent in Wagner; Strauss is untroubled by the
_hysterica passio_ of the tiles. For this generation, at all events,
the last word in mere sex-music has been said in _Tristan and Isolde_;
and instead of imitating his weaker brethren, who occupy themselves
energetically in vending the spilth of Wagner’s wine, Strauss has
turned his eyes upon other elements than the erotic in the human
composition. Hence the cosmic magnificence of conception of _Also
sprach Zarathustra_, the graphic humour of _Till Eulenspiegel_, and the
supreme humanity of his greatest work, _Don Quixote_.

I call this his greatest work, because it is the one in which his
qualities of realist and humanist come to their finest flower. It
has all the fervour of _Don Juan_, and all the humour of _Till
Eulenspiegel_, with a technique still more amazing than that of either
of these works, and that riper feeling that could only come to him
with the process of the years. I would rank the _Don Quixote_ higher
even than _Also sprach Zarathustra_, because of this sensation that
it gives us of the enormous fund of sincere emotion that underlies
all Strauss’s audacity and cleverness, and that never leaves him
even in his moments of most reckless humour. Certainly _Also sprach
Zarathustra_ is a marvellous work; no such overwhelming picture of man
and the universe has ever before been unfolded to our eyes in music; it
almost makes the world-philosophy of Wagner seem, in comparison, like
the bleat of evangelical orthodoxy. But it is in the _Don Quixote_ that
Strauss is most really and truly himself and most thoroughly human.
It is here also that every trace of other men’s style has definitely
disappeared, for even in _Also sprach Zarathustra_ we seem at times to
catch the voice of Liszt. The _Don Quixote_ marks the final rupture of
the realist and the romantic schools in music. I say nothing here of
its technique, though that alone is sufficient to make one ask oneself
whether it is possible for music to develop further than this. Nowhere,
outside the work of glorious old Bach, is there such a combination in
music of inexhaustible fertility of imagination and the most rigid
austerity in the choice of material. Description would avail nothing
for these aspects of _Don Quixote_; every student must revel in the
riches of the work on his own account. But when we consider its more
human qualities, the _Don Quixote_ must be pronounced an epoch-making
work, both in its form and its psychology. It is not a symphonic
poem, but a series of variations upon practically three themes–Don
Quixote, Sancho Panza, and Dulcinea; and for wit, humour, pathos,
and humanism there is nothing like it in the whole library of music.
Certainly to any one who knows Strauss’s music of _Don Quixote_, the
story of Cervantes is henceforth inconceivable without it; the story
itself, indeed, has not half the humour and the profound sadness which
is infused into it by Strauss. What he has done in this work is to
inaugurate the period of the novel in music. We have had our immortal
lyrists, our sculptors, our dramatists, our builders of exquisite
temples; we now come to the writers of fiction, to our Flaubert and
Tourgeniev and Dostoievski. And here we see the subtle fitness of
things that has deprived Strauss of those purely lyrical qualities,
whose absence, as I have previously argued, makes it impossible for
him to be an absolute creator of shapes of pure self-sustained beauty.
His type of melody is now seen to be not a failing but a magnificent
gift. It is the prose of music–a grave, flexible, eloquent prose, the
one instrument in the world that is suitable for the prose fiction in
music that it is Strauss’s destiny to develop. His style is nervous,
compact, sinuous, as good prose should be, which, as it is related,
through its subject-matter, more responsibly to life than is poetry,
must relinquish some of the fine abandonment of song, and find its
compensation in a perfect blend, a perfect compromise, of logic and
rapture, truth and ideality. “I can conceive,” says Flaubert in one
of his letters, “a style which should be beautiful; which some one
will write one of these days, in ten years or in ten centuries; which
shall be rhythmical as verse, precise as the language of science, and
with undulations, modulations as of a violoncello, flashes of fire; a
style which would enter into the idea like the stroke of a stiletto; a
style on which our thoughts would sail over gleaming surfaces, as it
were, in a boat with a good wind aft. It must be said that prose is
born of yesterday; verse is the form _par excellence_ of the ancient
literatures. All the prosodic combinations have been made; but those of
prose are still to make.”

No better description, it seems to me, could be had of the musical
style of Strauss, with its constant adaptation to the emotional and
intellectual atmosphere of the moment, and its appropriateness to the
realistic suggestion of character and _milieu_ which is his mission
in music. His qualities are homogeneous; he is not a Wagner _manqué_
nor an illegitimate son of Liszt, but the creator of a new order of
things in music, the founder of a new type of art. The only test of a
literature being alive is, as Dr. Georg Brandes says, whether it gives
rise to new problems, new questionings. Judged by this test, the art
of Strauss is the main sign of new and independent life in music since
Wagner; for it perpetually spurs us on to fresh problems of æsthetics,
of psychology, and of form.


It is not difficult to understand the attitude of musical purists
towards Strauss, and of many others who are not altogether purists.
There is something provocative, defiant, almost repellent, in the
power of the man’s genius. He is so enormously strong, so proudly
self-confident, that he joys in flouting the world in the face as it
has never been flouted before. His whole career is a testimony to
how far courage and resource can carry a man. According to all known
precedents, he ought to have struggled for years, vainly endeavouring
to get a bare hearing; when he was actually performed he should have
been crushed under critical ridicule and poisoned with critical venom;
he should have had a ceaseless fight with singers, with players, with
opera-houses, with publishers, with concert-givers, and have perished
miserably, a martyr to an impossible ideal. For sheer indifference
to other people’s opinion, for sheer determination to go his own way
without regard for all the time-honoured conventions, there is simply
nothing like him in the history of music. Yet his career has been one
of unbroken triumph. At the age of forty he is not only recognised as
the most astonishing of European musicians, but there is no demand
of his, no matter how imperious, that people do not gladly hasten to
fulfil. In _Zarathustra_ he apparently reaches the limits of what can
be demanded from a human orchestra; yet in _Don Quixote_, and again
in _Ein Heldenleben_, he strains their breaking sinews to a still
higher tension; while in the _Symphonia domestica_ he treats them and
us with a superb, tyrannic insolence. Never before has an orchestra
of sixty-two strings, two harps, a piccolo, three flutes, two oboes,
an oboe d’amore, a cor anglais, five clarinets, five bassoons, four
saxophones, eight horns, four trumpets, three trombones, a bass tuba,
four kettledrums, a triangle, a tambourine, a glockenspiel, cymbals,
and a big drum, been required to describe a day in the life of a baby;
never before have the energies of over a hundred able-bodied men been
bent to such a task. He tunes his strings below the normal limit just
as he likes; he employs obsolete instruments, and others that are
never used in concert-orchestras; he multiplies difficulties, and,
by reason of the many rehearsals required, makes performances of his
works enormously expensive affairs. Yet he does it all with sublime
impunity. An Oriental potentate riding his horse contemptuously over
the prostrate bodies of a half-adoring, half-resentful populace, is the
only image that will justly describe him in his forceful, irresistible
career. The gods have indeed smiled on Strauss. Much of his success,
or of his power to command success, may no doubt be due to financial
causes; he has never had to fight the world with an empty purse and
empty stomach. But still he is the most remarkable phenomenon the
musical world has ever seen; no composer ever insulted us one quarter
so much without having the life drubbed out of him.

He is evidently a man of enormous nervous energy. You can see it,
for one thing, in the style of his melodies. They are remarkable for
their huge leaps, the great arcs they traverse, the wide distances
between their parts–all pointing to great waves of nervous energy that
cannot be confined within the narrow bounds of the ordinary melody.
Occasionally it does him rather a disservice; it becomes his master
instead of his servant. There is really no need for this incessant
piling-up of more and more sound in the orchestra; its one sufficient
condemnation is that frequently no result comes out commensurate with
the huge means that have to be employed. Thousands of pages of our
modern music would be equally great, equally moving, with a vastly
smaller expenditure of effort. A man like Strauss takes an exuberant
joy, the joy of a healthy athlete doing difficult feats, in weaving
a musical texture that is a marvel of ingenious technique. It looks,
and really is, wonderful on paper; but there is no gainsaying that
precisely the same effect could often be achieved by much simpler
means. Now and again we find ourselves saying that line after line
might have been struck out of the score without any of the final effect
being lost. Nay, Strauss’s absorption in the pure joy of scoring
occasionally leads him into errors of technique that a smaller man
would have escaped. In the dance in _Zarathustra_, for example, his
excessive subdivision of the strings merely results in the waltz-theme
coming out far too feebly. His own specification at the beginning
of the score is for sixteen first violins (to consider this section
alone). In the waltz he divides them into (1) first desk, (2) second,
third, fourth, and fifth desks. Then he divides the first desk again,
giving part of them an arpeggio figure, and the remainder a theme in
two parts, involving a further subdivision of this small remainder. The
result is that the melody is shorn of all its power. He has marked it
_forte_, but a _forte_ is impossible, even with the proper toning down
of the rest of the strings. There is no earthly need for such a page as
this. The whole strength of the strings is frittered away upon things
that do not come out, and would be quite unimportant if they did come
out; and the really important theme is shorn of all its impressiveness.
There is really no necessity for a great deal of the orchestral
complexity in which Strauss now and then delights. It is not essential
to the proper presentation of his ideas; it puts an unnecessary strain
on the time and the nerves of the orchestra; and it tempts young
admirers to go and do likewise, with results absolutely fatal to their
chance of getting a performance from any conductor.

It may be that we are only beating the air in calling Strauss’s
attention to facts like these; it may be that without his defects we
should not have his qualities, that the turbulent flood of energy that
leads him into occasional extravagances of scoring is only part of the
greater flood that makes his inspiration the colossal, overwhelming
thing it is. All through the man’s brain there is a touch of disorder,
a strain of something or other abnormal, that makes it hard for him
to work at anything for ten minutes without an irresistible desire
surging up in him to deface it. He works at the picture like the soul
of inspiration itself; then suddenly a saturnine whim shoots along
his nerves, and he makes a long erratic stroke with the brush that
comes perilously near to destroying the harmony of the whole thing.
An able critic once expressed it to me, after a performance of _Ein
Heldenleben_, that Strauss as a composer was something like Rubinstein
as a pianist–he cannot go through anything of any length without doing
at least one foolish thing in it. Roughly speaking he was right. Shall
we say that in every great musician there is a flaw in the mental
structure that has to show in one way or another, and that those are
lucky in whom it does not show in their music? So much folly, that
is, is given to each of them, and it has to come out somewhere. In
Wagner it came out in the prose works; they were a beneficent scheme
of Providence for sweeping the brain free of its cobwebs, and leaving
the purified instrument in all the better condition for its music.
Beethoven’s madness came out in his private life, again leaving the
brain working in music in perfect ease and balance. Strauss does not
write prose works like Wagner, and does not, like Beethoven, pour
the water all over himself when he is washing his hands, or use a
lady’s candle-snuffers as a tooth-pick. He is distressingly normal
in these respects; and lacking such safety valves for the little bit
of folly there is in him, it unfortunately comes out in his music. In
the earlier days he could give full rein to his humour, his power of
characterisation, with the minimum of desire to irritate his hearer
for the pure love of the thing; in _Till Eulenspiegel_, for example,
it is almost all pure delight, a flow of wit and humour that only
for a moment or two is interrupted by the antics of the mischievous
schoolboy. But after that the tendency grew seriously on Strauss to
mar his picture by some piece of malicious folly, to thrust his head
through the canvas and grin at the public, or to place his thumb to his
nose and extend his fingers at them in a derisive flourish.

It is in _Ein Heldenleben_ that this tendency is seen at its worst.
With all its great beauties and its titanic powers, it remains finally
less satisfactory than it easily might have been. It is not all bathed
in the one light; the picture has been seen disconnectedly; it is
an attempt at the marriage of contrarieties. The great question is,
What does _Ein Heldenleben_ purport to represent? Is it meant for a
purely objective painting of a hero–a representation, as it were, of
the hero, _per se_–or is it intended, in parts at least, to draw the
hearer’s attention to the personality of Strauss himself? The official
explanation of the work–authorised, we are told, by the composer–is
that _Ein Heldenleben_ is meant as a kind of pendant to _Don Quixote_.
There he had sketched an individual figure, “whose vain search after
heroism leads to insanity.” Here he was concerned to present “not a
single poetic or historical figure, but rather a more general and free
ideal of great and manly heroism”; and the idea that the hero of the
poem is anywhere Strauss himself is scouted vigorously.

Now, as regards the general handling of the music, it is, I think,
because Strauss has had this generalised picture in his mind that he
has here come to grief. _Don Quixote_ is such a masterpiece of humanism
precisely because Strauss has confined himself to a strictly human
figure. You can psychologise both broadly and minutely about a human
character, but it is extremely difficult to make a pure abstraction
interesting. At every step you are likely to fall into either the
bombastic or the commonplace. Especially in music should an abstraction
be treated as broadly as possible; the only hope of salvation lies in
avoiding an absurd contrast between the particular and the general.
This is precisely what Strauss, with all his genius, has not succeeded
in avoiding; and when we come to examine his scheme a little more
closely, we have every reason to be dissatisfied with the authorised
version of its purport. In the first place, this hero in the abstract,
this representative of “a more general and free ideal of great and
manly heroism,” becomes less and less a generalised type as the work
goes on, and at last–in spite of what the inspired commentators may
say–strikes a great many of us as being nothing more nor less than a
musician–rather a singular narrowing, surely, of the conception of a
hero; and this musician has a curious resemblance to Strauss himself.
No official disclaimers can get rid of those twenty or twenty-five
quotations from Strauss’s own earlier works which figure as “the
Hero’s Works of Peace” in the authorised analysis. The ingenious
remark of the analyst, that “quoting salient features from his most
important works, he lets us see that the experiences of the hero have
also been his own,” is really the idlest trifling. When a man sets
out to describe a typical hero, a “general and free ideal of great
and manly heroism,” he does not, as a rule, give as samples of that
universal hero’s activity a bunch of quotations from almost every work
he himself has already written. To have done this seriously would have
argued a ludicrous egoism in Strauss; and, in spite of the official
story, I prefer to believe that he was not quite so absurd as this.
We are here face to face with that curious muddling of the purpose,
that perverse desire to stick his own head through the canvas, that is
occasionally so characteristic of him. He cannot resist the impulse at
once to exhibit his marvellous technique, and to fling a pot of paint
in the public’s face, as Ruskin said of Whistler; and the result is
this wonderfully clever but psychologically unjustifiable rhapsody
upon himself, inserted in the middle of what is meant to be a purely
objective portrait of a hero. It is not easy, again, to understand the
significance or see the appropriateness of the section entitled “The
Hero’s Battlefield.” If ever there was anything in music that could
be said to aim at suggesting, crudely and melodramatically, the horror
and the nervous excitement of a physical conflict between armed hosts,
it is this section, with its appalling and hideous racket, that sounds
like strenuous boiler-riveting. But _musicians_ do not fight battles
of this kind, surely; and a scheme that represents a hero whose “works
of peace” are purely intellectual becomes nonsense when it depicts
him fighting like a Hooligan among Hooligans, bludgeoning and being

It is all due, of course, to this muddling up of the two plans–that
of a very definite hero whom Strauss knows very well, and that of
a generalised and indefinite hero whom he finds himself compelled
to describe in the biggest superlatives. The two conceptions will
not equate, will not blend; the one is always trying to destroy the
other. All through the work one is dimly conscious of an absence of
homogeneity, of failure to make the general scheme as coherent and
convincing as it might be; though the man’s genius is so titanic that
it almost kills our criticism while we are listening to the work. It is
a pity, too, that he should sacrifice for a moment the nobility of the
general scheme in order to turn aside for a trifling _jeu d’esprit_, in
the notorious section that treats of the hero’s antagonists. There is
cleverness in the characterisation; Strauss is painting the portraits
of individual critics who have annoyed him, and those who have seen
him, at rehearsal, suggest to the eyes of the players the different
types he is satirising, must needs laugh even against their own will.
But the section as a whole is a monstrosity; and it is lamentable to
see a great genius turn aside from that mighty statue that he has just
begun to carve, in order to vent his personal feeling against his
personal antagonists. It is simply a crime against art.


It is in _Ein Heldenleben_, more than anywhere else, that we have the
defects of Strauss’s qualities. He is of the type that, masterly as
its self-control generally is, cannot refrain at times from becoming
defiantly extravagant. It all goes along with his enormous vital
energy, that energy which is met with in only one or two men in every
century, and that invariably prompts its possessor now and then to the
commission of something or other we would rather have had left undone.
There is in Strauss something of the _débordement_ of Rabelais, a lust
of existence and of apprehension too big to be kept within normal
bounds. There is something in him, too, of Hokusai–that colossal
genius whose eager spirit seemed to try to fill every corner, every
crevice, of the visible world; something of the Japanese artist’s
interest in all forms of life, something too of the same occasional
corruption of the imagination–as in the unfinished series of prints
entitled _The Hundred Tales_, where the artist, out of the very excess
of his power and ardour, turns life into a hideous, terrifying mockery
of itself. Strauss is cosmic in his understanding and his sympathies,
but not as men like Goethe and Leonardo are, whose vision is always
clear, and whose energies are always held in check by another energy
higher than themselves; like Rabelais, like Hokusai, like Goya, there
come to him moments when the flood of life within him overflows, and
he is hardly master of the strange shapes that issue from his brain. A
positive artistic rage seizes him, and he embraces life with an ardour
that is cruel, brutal–a passion that has a touch of Sadism in it.

If this enormous sensitiveness to everything that goes on in the
world, and this quickness of reaction of the imagination upon it
all, are answerable for Strauss’s occasional lapses from good taste,
they account also for the profounder and more vital qualities of his
art–his humour and his humanism, the qualities that make _Feuersnot_
so delightful and _Don Quixote_ so exceedingly great. London treated
the latter work unkindly at its solitary hearing of it; it is, indeed,
too vast, too many-sided, to be understood at first acquaintance.
One critic called it “ugly, laboured, and eccentric”; another wrote
that it “contains more sheer ugliness than any other score written
by any responsible person of whom we have ever heard, or whose work
we have ever studied…. Everything seems in _Don Quixote_ to be
discordant for the sheer sake of discord…. We condemn that work
from every musicianly point of view; the thing is an artistic
arrogance, an attempt to make the best out of the worst, … utterly
and completely a failure; it has no recommendation of beauty, not
even the recommendation of fine construction; it is a hopeless piece
of exaggerated and intentional cleverness.” Well, a significant
thing happened on the very night on which _Don Quixote_ created such
heartburning. This frightfully complex work, which was absolutely
unknown to more than perhaps ten people in the audience, and was
consequently misunderstood almost from first to last, was followed by
the much earlier _Tod und Verklärung_, a work which itself, a few years
ago, was looked upon as perilously near folly and ugliness. Anyone who
now thinks _Tod und Verklärung_ a tough nut to crack is looked upon as
a hopeless Conservative in music, so very quickly does the world move
in these matters. Even the _Times_ said that after _Don Quixote_ the
_Tod und Verklärung_ sounded quite sane and normal, or words to that
effect. We know how _Also sprach Zarathustra_ was received in 1897,
and how accustomed we have grown to it since then, on the strength of
some three or four performances; we know how many people who shied
nervously at the first performance of _Ein Heldenleben_ now take it as
easily as a cat laps milk. In the face of facts like these, is it not
somewhat hasty to bespatter the _Don Quixote_ with opprobrious epithets
on the strength of just one performance? People have blundered over
Strauss before, and been compelled to eat their words when they came
to know him better; they have run away from the ogre like frightened
children, only to discover long after that the supposed ogre was a
kindly and well-disposed person, of something more than ordinary human
build perhaps, but still on the plane of normal, not sub-normal nor
super-normal, humanity. I say with confidence that they will in time
admit that they have gone grievously astray over _Don Quixote_. It lies
on the mere surface of the matter that some parts of it are ravishingly
beautiful; you have only to play for yourself on the piano the death
music, or the Don’s long eulogy of the knightly life, to feel the
very heart leap within you. If this is not surpassingly great music
there is no music in the world worthy of the name. Of other parts the
beauty will be perceived when the work is better known; and the _Don
Quixote_ will then be recognised to be in some ways the profoundest,
noblest thing Strauss has ever done. It is, of course, extraordinarily
realistic in its imitations at times, and I can imagine how the sheep
and the wind-machine jar on the nerves of ordinarily sensitive people.
But you must just laugh at these things and pass them by, take them
as a piece of deliberate musical impertinence, and laugh with the
composer, not at him. It is really a gratuitous assumption that Strauss
is a fool because he has given free wing to his _diablerie_ here and
there; he knows as well as any one the precise value of all this kind
of thing, but he apparently claims that once or twice in a lifetime
it is worth doing for the pure fun of it. We must first of all get
the right point of view if we are to understand _Don Quixote_. It is
all set in a strange, mad atmosphere; the folly that hovers round
it is part of the psychology of the piece; and it is the perfect
transmutation of the mental processes of Quixote into tone that makes
the work so wonderful, so unique. If a man is not smitten through and
through by the pathos of section after section of the piece, I can only
say, for my part, that he has not grasped the real significance of the
work. Frequent hearing of it will make the extraordinarily original
musical tissue quite familiar to men’s ears, and when this has been
done there will be no bar to the comprehension of the profoundly human
psychology of a masterpiece that only Strauss could have written. The
score is a treasure-house of true and noble things, which only come
to you in full force when you have steeped yourself in its strange
atmosphere. Take, for example, the variation immediately preceding the
Finale, representing the weary homeward ride of Quixote and Sancho
after the Don’s defeat by the Knight of the White Moon. In these long
descending wails of the orchestra you have all the anguish, all the
disillusionment of the poor knight painted with an expressiveness,
a fidelity, that sets one thinking of visual as well as auditory
things. He illustrates the scene as consummately as a pictorial artist
could do, and at the same time throws over it the melting melancholy
that music alone among the arts can express. You can see these poor
broken creatures, with bowed heads, pacing wearily along on steeds
no less sorry, no less bruised than themselves. The whole thing
breathes physical and mental fatigue and moral despair. The score of
_Don Quixote_ is full of a human quality that we rarely get to such
perfection anywhere else, even in Strauss; and London lost a golden
opportunity in not taking the work to its heart at once. As it was, the
more obvious bits of realism in it revolted a good many people, and
left them with insufficient patience to seek beneath the better kind
of humour for the pathos that underlies it; while the extraordinary
complexity of the musical tissue was all against a comprehension of the
work at a first hearing.

What makes the _Don Quixote_ so great a work is, in a word, the wise
and tender humanity of its humour. We can put aside, if we like, all
the wonderful witchery of its technique, its extraordinary graphic
power, its exhilarating and amusing imitations of reality–for there
is here a descriptive sense surpassing in its manifestations _Till
Eulenspiegel_ and _Ein Heldenleben_ at their best. The wise man, who
accepts with thankfulness all that music can give him, will not reject
all this with a sneer and a condescending remark about music “confining
itself to its proper province.” The day has gone by for primitive
academic æsthetics of that kind. But I do not want to lay stress upon
this side of _Don Quixote_, simply because there is infinitely more in
the work than this. It represents musical character-sketching brought
to a finer point of perfection than can be met with anywhere outside
the magic world of Wagner. But it differs from Wagner’s drawing in
that it is less opulent, more concise, more sharply conceived; it is
wholly appropriate to the sketching block upon which the characters are
drawn, just as Wagner’s heroic figures depend upon and are justified
by the huge canvas and the gorgeous range of colour that he is able
to devote to them. The _Don Quixote_ puts us in mind of first-rate
book-illustration; we could hardly see the characters more distinctly,
both in themselves and in relation to their surroundings, if they were
set before us in black and white.

And how tender the drawing is, how exquisitely human is the feeling
for these two poor tragic-comic actors! It is this that finally makes
the work so precious–its unfailing pity, its intuitive avoidance of
anything that would make it simply unthinking comedy. Strauss’s Sancho
is very humorous, but your laughter at him is always softened with
tears; while the portrait of Quixote has an added touch of pathos
in that it invariably suggests the spare, worn frame of the poor,
middle-aged knight. It is true in this as in every other respect. His
love-singing is that of a middle-aged man; the pitiful sorrow that
envelops the ride homeward after his defeat is that of middle-age; the
knight is broken, disillusioned, as only men can be whose physical as
well as mental forces have passed their prime. For my part, I can no
longer think of Cervantes’s story without Strauss’s music, just as I
cannot think of Goethe’s _Erl King_ without the music of Schubert, or
of the _Lorelei_ without the music of Liszt.

“The German literary laugh,” says Mr. Meredith, in his _Essay on
Comedy_, “like the timed awakenings of their Barbarossa in the hollows
of the Untersberg, is infrequent, and rather monstrous–never a laugh
of men and women in concert. It comes of unrefined abstract fancy,
grotesque or grim, or gross, like the peculiar humours of their
little earthmen. Spiritual laughter they have not yet attained to.”
So much may be said, I think, of some of Strauss’s laughter. Here and
there–in _Ein Heldenleben_, for example–it seems to come from the
dry and wizened throat of the “little earthman”; it is not yet broadly
and deeply human, not yet cosmopolitan in its appeal. His humour on
occasions like this is very like Jean Paul’s; you hardly know whether
he is laughing with you or at you–perhaps he does not quite know
himself. But in _Don Quixote_ you have the philosophic laughter of
the great humanist. It is not to be found there only among Strauss’s
works. It gave warmth and pathos to _Till Eulenspiegel_–for wonderful
humoresque as that is, its informing spirit is something much more
complex and much more pity-moving than the idly humorous. We have
assimilated only half of _Till Eulenspiegel_ if we see nothing but
_diablerie_ in it. But it is in _Don Quixote_ that the blending of
tears and laughter is most perfect; and I, for my part, would gladly
sacrifice _Ein Heldenleben_ for this, were I compelled to make the
choice, just as I would relinquish the epic and dramatic grandeur of
_Die Götterdämmerung_ if I might have left to me _Die Meistersinger_,
with its perpetual truth, its perpetual sanity, its perpetual appeal to
real men and women in a real world.


It will be seen from page 252 that the foregoing essay was set up
in type before the _Symphonia domestica_ was produced in London in
February last. That performance threw a new light on Strauss and his
art, and calls for some few words of comment. We need not here go very
deeply into the question of how much or how little programme there is
in the work. There is a strain of foolishness in Strauss that always
prompts him to go through the heavy farce of mystifying his hearers
at first. He tells them he prefers not to give them the clue to his
literary scheme, but wants them to accept the work as absolute music;
this was his tactic, for example, with _Till Eulenspiegel_. All the
while he gives one clue after another to his personal friends, till
at length sufficient information is gathered to reconstruct the story
that he had worked upon; this gradually gets into all the programme
books, and then we are able to listen to the work in the only way it
_can_ be listened to with any comprehension–with a full knowledge of
the programme. So it is now with the _Symphonia domestica_. He has
told us that “he wished the work to be judged as absolute music”; he
has also told us that “he had in his mind a very definite programme
when composing the symphony.” Some of his admirers, with a canine
fidelity that is positively touching, have tried to reconcile these
contradictory positions by ingenious dialectic. That, however, is
taking Strauss’s whimsies just a little too seriously; it suggests the
Shakespearologists of the George Dawson type, who used to tell us that
even “if there is anything you do not understand or which you think
is wrong in Shakespeare, you may safely conclude that he is right and
you are wrong.” We need not discuss Strauss’s self-contradictions as
if they were æsthetic antinomies that could be resolved by an Hegelian
dialectic in a more profound harmony; the real explanation is simply
that we are dealing with a man of erratic nerves, a musician not very
well used to consistent thinking, whose sense of humour sometimes
skittishly takes a turning along which it is hardly worth our while to
follow it. There is not the faintest doubt that the whole symphony is
founded on a very definite programme, and that we shall know it all one
of these days, as we now know the minutest details of the programmes of
_Till Eulenspiegel_ and _Ein Heldenleben_.

Then the question arises, is the programme of the _Symphonia domestica_
intrinsically interesting? It avowedly illustrates a day in the
composer’s family life, “and we are told”–to quote Messrs. Pitt
and Kalisch, the authors of the admirable Queen’s Hall analytical
book–“that it illustrates such everyday incidents as a Walk in the
Country, the Baby’s Evening and Morning Bath, the Striking of the
Clock, the Yawns of the Parents when awakened by the Child, and so
on.” They will have it, however, that there is more in the work than
this, and that underneath this “trivial subject” there is “one of far
deeper and wider import”–_i.e._ “not so much a day in the life of a
particular family as a realisation of the joys and griefs of motherhood
and paternity, the gradual growth of the child-soul, and the mutual
relationship of children and parents….” But this exalted theory
soon comes to grief. It is quite clear that the striking of seven in
the evening and again in the morning confines the time of the drama
within twelve hours; and on these lines indeed there is some sense in
the programme. That is, we see in the first section the parents and
child; in the second (the _scherzo_) the joys and diversions of the
group, the lullaby, the striking of 7 P.M., and the putting of the
child to bed; in the third (the _adagio_), the parents’ love-scene
and the striking of 7 A.M.; in the fourth (the _finale_) the morning
wakening, and–in the double fugue–the dispute between the parents
as to the future of the child. This is not a very great scheme, but
it is at least comprehensible; mix Teutonic moonshine up with it and
it becomes nonsense. Thus Messrs. Pitt and Kalisch, trying to put the
best face possible on that stupid noise that is meant to illustrate
“the energetic protests of the child when it is first brought into
contact with the alien element of cold water” (by the way, _are_
babies usually dumped into cold water?) remark that “if the more
idealistic method of interpretation be adopted, it may be taken as a
very uncompromising musical picture of the earliest struggles of a
new-born soul.” But this “idealistic method” will not work. The episode
in question occurs just before the clock strikes 7 P.M. It occurs
again just before the clock strikes 7 A.M. Are we to understand, then,
that the “new-born soul” is born once in the evening and again next
morning? This is being “born again” with a vengeance–quick work even
in these days of Welsh revivals and Torrey-Alexander missions! No, we
must reject the “idealistic method of interpretation,” and just settle
down to the plain fact that Strauss is painting nothing more ideal than
the baby squalling in its bath (hot or cold), just as in other works
he has painted Till’s death-rattle, the dying shudder of Don Juan,
the windmill and the sheep of Don Quixote, and the braying of Sancho
Panza’s donkey–all frankly realistic things, which we do not attempt
to gild with idealistic interpretations.

I lay stress upon these trivial points because it is important that
we should know exactly what Strauss’s intentions were, for only with
a knowledge of them can we judge his symphony as a work of art. It
is quite clear then that he has thought it worth while to put about
a hundred people to a great deal of trouble and expense in order to
suggest the imbecile spectacle of a baby shrieking in its bath; and
I think it is time the world protested against so much of its leisure
and its funds being taken up with sheer inanities of this kind. In
Strauss’s previous works there are at most only two or three passages
of realism at which I would shy; they have generally been saved for
us by some touch of beauty, or humour, or technical cleverness. But
the baby episodes in the _Symphonia domestica_ are too great a demand
on our indulgence, and one is bound to say that there is something
physically wrong with a brain that can fall so low as this. I hold him
to be a man of enormous gifts, a magician, a wonder-worker of the first
rank. But he can do nothing now on a large scale without deliberately
spoiling it at some point or other out of pure freakishness–a
freakishness that has ceased to be humour, and is merely the temporary
lapse into silliness of a very clever man.

It goes without saying that if there is this degeneration–temporary
or permanent–of the artistic sense that I suppose to be now going on
in Strauss, it will show in other departments; and I think it shows
pretty evidently in the music of the symphony as a whole. To my mind
there is not a memorable theme in it; neither the theme of the husband,
of the wife, nor of the child has anything like the quality that will
entitle it to rank with the pregnant melodies of Strauss’s other work.
Think of the countless felicities of _Ein Heldenleben_, and you will
realise at once the comparative poverty of the _Symphonia domestica_.
Further, he is getting too fond of working upon mere snippets of
phrases, instead of the great soaring, sweeping melodies of his earlier
days; these tiny figures will of course go contrapuntally with almost
anything–which is probably one reason for his using them–but for
that same reason their perpetual chattering in the orchestra becomes
in the end rather tiresome. I am not denying, of course, that at times
the music rises to great heights; the scene of the parents playing
with the child is exquisitely beautiful; there are fine moments in the
love-music; and the fugue simply picks one up and carries one away, so
broad and healthy is its heartiness. There is again much of that old
technical mastery that makes slaves of us even where our soul revolts
against the actual message of the composer. But on the whole I do not
see how the new work can stand comparison with _Ein Heldenleben_ in any
way. It looks far more impressive on paper than it actually sounds;
it is grossly overscored, a good third of the notes being perfectly
superfluous, as anyone can discover for himself by following it with
the score. The mania is growing on Strauss for filling the music-paper
with something or other, it matters not what; he has a lust for ink;
it positively afflicts him to see an empty bar for any instrument.
Master of orchestration as he is, there is page after page in the
_Symphonia domestica_ containing the grossest of miscalculations; time
after time we can see what his intention has been and how completely
it has been frustrated by his own extravagance. He wants to wear all
the clothes in his wardrobe at once. The same tendency is noticeable
in his thematic work. When he has a good theme now he cannot leave it
alone; he must fumble and fuss all round it till he has blurred its
outline and stifled half its expression; the pleasant little lullaby,
for example, would have been three times as effective without that
jerky counterpoint against it in the oboe d’amore, bassoon, and viola,
which simply gives the impression that somebody or other is always
coming in at the wrong place, and quite disturbs the atmosphere of the
lullaby itself. Altogether I am inclined to think that the new work as
a whole shows a decided falling-off. And the reason? Well, is it not
very likely that there has at last happened what some of us prophesied
some two or three years ago? No artist can put so great a physical and
mental strain upon himself as Strauss does and still keep his brain
at its best. With all his many duties and occupations, his conducting
and his constant travelling, it is a wonder he has any strength left
to compose. For years he has been wearing his sensitive nervous system
down to the very edge; and I should not be surprised to find that in
doing so he has injured a good deal the delicacy of its tissue. It is
said that he lives the busy life he does in order to make enough money
to give up all public work and devote himself entirely to composition;
but before that time comes he will probably, if he is not careful,
have lost more of the divine fire than he can ever replace. The
_Symphonia domestica_ I take to be the work of an enormously clever man
who was once a genius.


[59] It is put down for a performance in London this spring.

[60] It is worth noting how Berlioz justified his own setting of some
passages in _Roméo et Juliette_ orchestrally instead of vocally. “If,”
he says, “in the celebrated scenes of the garden and the cemetery, the
dialogue of the two lovers, the _a parte_ of Juliet and the passionate
outbursts of Romeo are not vocalised, if, in short, the duets of
love and despair are confided to the orchestra, the reasons for this
are numerous and easy to grasp. First, because we are dealing with a
symphony, not with an opera. Secondly, duets of this nature having been
treated vocally a thousand times, and by the greatest masters, there
was both prudence and curiosity in trying another mode of expression.
It is, moreover, because the very sublimity of this love made the
painting of it so dangerous for the musician, that he had to give his
imagination a latitude which the positive connotations of chanted
words would not have permitted him, by resorting to the instrumental
language–a language richer, more varied, less restricted, and by its
very indefiniteness incomparably more powerful in cases of this kind.”

[61] The reader will, of course, remember that I am here speaking only
of the _tissue_ of Strauss’s work. In the intellectual part of it,
as I shall show later, he sometimes does things with the deliberate
intention of startling us. See Section IV. of this essay.

[62] Perhaps I ought to except such things as the passage in _Ein
Heldenleben_ (page 50 of the full score), where the strings and oboe
run up in sevenths, instead of the sixths we expect–an agonising thing
that always sounds as if somebody in the orchestra had made a mistake.
Either Strauss wrote it so out of pure devilment, with his tongue in
his cheek all the time, or it may answer to some subtle harmony in his
brain that ours are incompetent to grasp. There can be no doubt that
his ear must be vastly more acute than the normal organ. As Mr. James
Huneker puts it in a brilliant article in his _Overtones_: “His is the
most marvellous agglomeration of cortical cells that science has ever
recorded. So acute are his powers of acoustical differentiation that he
must hear, not alone tones beyond the base and the top of the normal
scale unheard of by ordinary humans, but he must also hear, or rather
overhear, the vibratory waves from all individual sounds. His music
gives us the impression of new over-tones, of scales that violate the
well-tempered, of tonalities that approximate to the quarter-tones of
Oriental music.”

[63] In _Feuersnot_, it may be said, Strauss himself goes back for
a moment to something like that old world. But he does not take it
seriously; the quaint mediæval story is only a background against
which he can display his passion, his humour, his irony. Wagner would
have made a portentous thing of the _Feuersnot_ subject; he would have
discovered the profoundest philosophy and ethic in it. Strauss behaves
towards it like a graceless, irreverent urchin in a cathedral.