One of the very earliest

Bearing in mind, then, that the Berlioz whom we have hitherto been
discussing is mostly the youthful Berlioz–the writer of mad letters,
the actor of extravagant parts, the composer of the _Symphonie
fantastique_ (1829-1830), and _Lélio_ (1831-1832)–let us look for a
moment at his art as it was then, and afterwards trace it through its
later and more sober manifestations.

In trying to follow him historically we meet with this difficulty,
that it is impossible to say exactly when some of his conceptions
first saw the light. He was in the habit of using up an early piece of
material in a later work, especially if the early work was one that
had been tried and had failed. We know, as I have already said, that
the theme of the opening of the _Symphonie fantastique_ is taken from
a boyish composition. A phrase from another boyish work–a quintet–is
used again in the _Francs Juges_ overture. Parts of the early cantata
_La Mort d’Orphée_ become the _Chant d’amour_ and _La harpe éolienne_
in _Lélio_. The _Chœur d’ombres_ in _Lélio_ is a reproduction of an
aria in the scena _Cléopâtre_–one of his unsuccessful _Prix de Rome_
essays. Part of the _Messe solennelle_ (1824) goes into _Benvenuto
Cellini_ (1835-1837). The _Marche au supplice_ in the _Symphonie
fantastique_ is taken from his youthful opera _Les Francs Juges_.
The fantasia on _The Tempest_ goes into _Lélio_. I strongly suspect,
indeed, that more of his work dates from the first ten years of his
artistic life (1824-1834) than we have ever imagined. My theory is that
he was overflowing with ideas in his younger days, and that there was
a gradual failure of them in his latest years, owing to the terrible
physical tortures he endured, and the large quantities of morphia he
had to take to still his pangs. At first he turns out work after work
with great rapidity. Taking the larger ones alone, we have in 1826[10]
_La révolution grecque_, in 1827 or 1828 the _Waverley_ and _Francs
Juges_ overtures, in 1828-1829 the eight _Faust_ scenes, in 1829 the
_Irish Melodies_, in 1829-1830 the _Symphonie fantastique_, in 1830 the
_Sardanapalus_ and the _Tempête_, in 1831 the _Corsair_ and _Le Roi
Lear_ overtures, in 1831-1832 the _Rob Roy_ overture, _Le Cinq Mai_,
_Lélio_ and part of the _Tristia_, in 1832-1833 various songs, in 1834
the _Harold en Italie_, and the _Nuits d’Été_, in 1835-1837 _Benvenuto
Cellini_ and the _Messe des Morts_, in 1838 the _Roméo et Juliette_.
This is a good output for some twelve years of a busy and struggling
man’s life, during the earlier part of which he was little more than an
apprentice in his art. Berlioz lived another thirty-one years, but in
that time did surprisingly little. Again keeping to the larger works,
we have in 1840 the _Symphonie funèbre et triomphale_, in 1843 the
_Carnaval romain_ overture, in 1844 the _Hymne à la France_, in 1846
the completion of _Faust_, in 1848 the remainder of the _Tristia_, in
1851 _La Menace des Francs_, in 1850-1854 the _Enfance du Christ_, in
1849-1854 the _Te Deum_, in 1855 _L’Impériale_, in 1860-1862 _Béatrice
et Benedict_, in 1856-1863 the double opera _La Prise de Troie_ and
_Les Troyens à Carthage_. Even allowing for the facts that in his
middle and later periods he spent a good deal of time in foreign tours
and in literary work, we shall still, I think, be forced to conclude
that his ideas flowed more slowly in his later days, while they were
certainly of an inferior quality at times. We must remember, too, that
some of his works were written long before their production, and that
there is sometimes reason to believe this to have been the case even
where we have no positive testimony on the point. The _idée fixe_ theme
of the _Symphonie fantastique_ first appeared in _Herminie_ (1828);
the “Harold” theme in the _Harold en Italie_ had already figured on
the _cor anglais_ in the _Rob Roy_ overture. It is probable that the
_Roméo et Juliette_ was not all written in 1838 as a consequence of
Paganini’s gift, as every one was led to believe; Berlioz had the
idea of the work in 1829, and perhaps conceived some of the music
then.[11] The _Symphonie funèbre et triomphale_, produced in 1840, was
to a great extent written in 1835. The stirring phrases that are the
life and soul of the _Carnaval romain_ overture (1843) are taken from
_Benvenuto Cellini_ (1835-1837); while the theme of the love-episode
in the overture had already appeared in _Cléopâtre_ (1829). It is,
indeed, impossible to say how much of the music of what I have called
Berlioz’s second epoch really dates from his first, thus still further
diminishing the quantity belonging to the years after 1838. I think, if
the truth were known, it would be found that one or two of the themes
of _Béatrice et Benedict_, ostensibly written between 1860 and 1862,
belong to 1828, when Berlioz first resolved to make an opera out of
Shakespeare’s play. It is incontestable that the ten years from 1828
to 1838 were years of inexhaustible musical inspiration. At times, he
himself has told us, he thought his head would have burst under the
peremptory pressure of his ideas; so rapidly did they flow, indeed,
that he had to invent a kind of musical shorthand to help his pen to
keep pace with them. There was, I take it, very little of this in the
last two or three decades of his life. Make what allowances we will
for other demands upon his time, it seems undeniable that his brain
then worked less eagerly and less easily in musical things. Had the
ideas been there in full vigour they would have come out in spite of
all other occupations; and that they were not there as they were in his
youth can only be explained, I think, on physiological grounds.[12]

The latter aspect of the case, however, will be dealt with more fully
later on. Here we may just note that Berlioz’s early life was in
every way calculated to produce both the inflation of the prose style
that we see in his letters and the eccentricity and exaggeration that
we see in some of his early music. His friend Daniel Bertrand tells
us that “in his youth he sometimes amused himself by deliberately
starving, in order to know what evils genius could surmount; later on
his stomach had to pay for these expensive fantasies.” At the time of
his infatuation with Henrietta Smithson, he used to play the maddest
pranks with his already over-excited brain and body; he would take long
night-walks without food, and sink into the sleep of utter exhaustion
in the fields. His body, like his brain, could not be kept at rest;
he had a mania for tramping and climbing that invariably carried him
far beyond his powers of endurance.[13] In 1830 the veteran Rouget
de l’Isle, without having seen the youthful musician, diagnosed him
excellently from his correspondence–“Your head,” he wrote, “seems to
be a volcano perpetually in eruption.” We may smile at his antics all
through this epoch, especially in _l’affaire Smithson_. But though
there may have been a little conscious pose in it all, it is
unquestionable that in the bulk of it he was in deadly earnest. Twice
he tried to commit suicide–once at Genoa, and again in the presence
of Henrietta. Nor were they merely stage performances, mere efforts at
effect; it was not his fault that they did not turn out successfully.

Roughly speaking, it will be found that the Berlioz I have so
far depicted comes into view about 1827. It was about that date,
apparently, that youthful enthusiasm, combined with starvation and
folly, gave his system that lurid incandescence that people always
think of when they hear the name of Berlioz. It is about that date
that his letters begin to show the inflation of style to which I have
referred, and his music begins to acquire force and penetration and
expressiveness, together with a tincture of the abnormal. Previously
to 1827 he had presumably not written very much, or if he had it has
not survived. What has remained is now accessible to us in the new
complete edition of his works. There we can see some songs that,
whatever their precise date may be, clearly belong to his earliest
period. One of the very earliest–_Le Dépit de la Bergère_–shows a
quite inexperienced brain and hand. _Amitié, reprends ton empire_
is of much the same order; it looks, indeed, like a pot-boiler, an
attempt to meet the contemporary demand for this kind of thing. Nor
does the little cantata _La révolution grecque_ come to anything. But
negative and futile as much of this early work is, it shows one thing
quite clearly–that individuality of manner that accounts at once for
the successes and the failures of Berlioz. As I have already pointed
out, his type of melody is something peculiarly his own. The same may
be said of his harmony, which moves about in a way so different from
everything we are accustomed to that often we are quite unable to see
the _raison d’être_ of it. The popular judgment is that his melody is
ugly and his harmony shows a want of musical education. This, however,
is rather a hasty verdict. Nothing is more certain than that our first
impression of many a Berlioz melody is one of disgust–unless it be
that the second impression is one of pleasure. What Schumann noticed
long ago in connection with the _Waverley_ overture is still quite
true, that closer acquaintance with a Berlioz melody shows a beauty
in it that was unsuspected at first. I can answer for it in my own
experience, for some of the things that move me most deeply now were
simply inexpressive or repellent to me at one time; and I fancy every
one who will not be satisfied with the first impression of his palate,
but will work patiently at Berlioz, will have the same experience.
The truth seems to be that many of his conceptions were of an order
quite unlike anything else we meet with in music, and hence we have
some difficulty in putting ourselves at his point of view and seeing
the world as he saw it. And occasionally this individuality of thought
degenerates into sheer incomprehensibility. Some of his melodies,
play and sing them as often as we will, never come to mean anything
to us. It is not that they are ugly or commonplace, not that they are
cheap or platitudinous, but simply that they convey nothing; they
stand like something opaque between us and the emotion that prompted
them; instead of being the medium for the revelation of the composer’s
thought they are a medium for the concealment of it. In cases like
these the explanation seems to be that his mental processes, always
rather different from ours, are here so very different that the chain
of communication snaps between us; what was a difference of degree now
becomes a difference of kind; he speaks another language than ours; the
thought, as it were, lives in a space of other dimensions than ours. We
may find a rough-and-ready analogy in a writer like Mallarmé, where the
general strangeness of thought and style becomes now and then downright
unintelligibility. In the one case as in the other, we are dealing with
a type of brain so far removed from the normal that the normal brain
occasionally finds it simply impossible to follow it.

So again with the harmony of Berlioz. Here the peculiarity of his style
has often been commented on, with its odd way of getting from one
chord to another, its curious trick of conceiving the harmony in solid
blocks, that succeed one another without flowing into one another–much
as in certain modern Dutch pictures the colours stand away from each
other as if a rigid line always lay between them and prevented their
being blended by the atmosphere. The general explanation of this
peculiarity of Berlioz’s harmony is the easiest one–that it comes from
his imperfect technical education. There may be something in this,
but a little reflection will show that it is a long way from being
the complete explanation. In the first place, one needs scarcely any
“training” to avoid some of the progressions that Berlioz constantly
uses; the mere hearing of other music would be sufficient to establish
unconsciously the routine way of getting from one chord to another;
and if Berlioz always takes another way, it can only be because the
peculiarity of his diction has its root in a peculiarity of thought.
In the second place, the harmonic oddities are really not so numerous
in his earliest as in his later works. The melodies of the _Waverley_,
_Francs Juges_, and _King Lear_ overtures and of many of the earlier
songs are usually harmonised more in the ordinary manner than the
melodies of the works of his middle and last epochs; which seems to
show again that his harmonic style was rooted in his way of thinking,
and became more pronounced as he grew older and more individual. In the
third place, if the peculiarities of his harmony had been due to lack
of education, one would have expected him, when in more mature years
he revised an early work, to correct some of the so-called faults to
which a wider experience must have opened his eyes. But it is quite
clear that the matter never struck him in this way. In the new edition
of his works we have some instructive examples. In 1850, for example,
he revised one of his songs, _Adieu, Bessy_, which he had written in
1830. He has altered it in many ways, and made many improvements in the
melody, in the phrasing, and in the accompaniment; but the sometimes
odd harmonic sequences of the original version remain unchanged in the
later. It clearly never struck him that there was anything odd about
them; he had really seen his picture in that particular way; it was a
question not so much of mere technique as of fundamental conception. In
the fourth place, we must always remember that whatever Berlioz thought
he thought in terms of the orchestra. He neither played nor understood
the piano, and his writing is not piano writing. Now every one knows
that many effects that seem strange or ugly on the piano are perfectly
pleasurable on the orchestra, where they are set not in the one plane,
as it were, but in different planes and different focuses. I fancy
that when Berlioz imagined a melodic line or a harmonic combination he
saw it not merely as a melody or a harmony but as a piece of colour
as well; and the movement of the parts was not only a shifting of
lines but a weaving of colours. Many things of his that are ugly or
meaningless on the piano have a beauty of their own when heard, as he
conceived them, on the orchestra, set in different depths, as it were,
with the toning effect of atmosphere between them; not all standing in
the same line in the foreground, with the one white light of the piano
making confusion among their colour-values.

There is good reason for believing, then, that much of Berlioz’s
peculiarity of style is far less the result of lack of education than
is generally believed, and that more of it must be attributed to a
peculiar constitution of brain that made him really see things just in
the way he has depicted them.

Among these early songs and other works there are some that show
great strength and charm and originality of expression, such as _Toi
qui l’aimas, verse des pleurs_, _La belle voyageuse_, _Le coucher
du soleil_, and _Le pêcheur_ (that was afterwards incorporated in
_Lélio_). His two youthful overtures, the _Waverley_ and the _Francs
Juges_, though relatively unsubtle in their working-out–for he had
little feeling for the symphonic form pure and simple–are yet very
individual, while parts of the _Francs Juges_ in particular are
exceedingly strong. Then the apprentice makes rapid strides on to
mastery. The year 1828 may be taken as the turning-point in his career.
His unsuccessful scena for the _Prix de Rome_–_Herminie_–exhibits
remarkable ardour of conception. There is much that is very youthful
in it; but it is decidedly individual, and above all it shows a
feeling for rhythm to which there had been no parallel in French
music up to that date. The next year saw another _Prix de Rome_
scena–_Cléopâtre_–of which the same description will mostly hold
good. The rhythmic scene is just as delicate, the melody is becoming
purer and stronger, and we have in the aria _Grands Pharaons_ a
really fine piece of dramatic writing. About the same time he wrote
the original eight scenes from _Faust_, containing such gems as the
chorus of sylphs, the song of the rat, the song of the flea, Margaret’s
ballad of the King of Thule, her “Romance,” and the serenade of
Mephistopheles. Berlioz’s musical genius was now entering upon its
happiest phase; never, perhaps, did it work so easily and so joyously
as in 1829 and the next seven or eight years. It was about 1829, too,
that his orchestration began to be so distinctive; one can see him
reaching out to new effects in the _Cléopâtre_, the chorus of the
sylphs, the ballad of the King of Thule, the _Ballet des Ombres_ and
the fantasia on _The Tempest_.

This increasing mastery of his thoughts coincided with the epoch of
his most intense nervous excitement, in which Henrietta Smithson
played the part of the match to the gunpowder. So there came about the
typical Romantic Berlioz of the _Symphonie fantastique_ and _Lélio_,
moving about in the world with abnormally heightened senses, his brain
on fire, turning waking life into a nightmare, dreaming of blood and
fantastic horrors. He exploited this mad psychology to its fullest in
the last two movements of the symphony; after that the volcano lost
a good deal of its lurid grandeur, and in _Lélio_ we get rather less
molten lava and rather more ashes than we want. Some of the music of
_Lélio_–the ballad of the fisher, the _Chœur des ombres_, the _Chant
de bonheur_, the _Harpe éolienne_–is among the finest Berlioz ever
wrote; but the scheme as a whole, with its extraordinary prose tirades,
is surely the maddest thing ever projected by a musician. Here was
the young Romantic in all his imbecile, flamboyant glory, longing to
be a brigand, to indulge in orgies of blood and tears, to drink his
mistress’ health out of the skull of his rival, and all the rest of
it. But after all there is very little of this in Berlioz’s music. We
meet with it again in the “orgy of brigands” in the _Harold en Italie_;
and whether that really belongs to 1834 or was written two or three
years earlier, at the time when the hyperæmic brain was working at
its wildest in the _Symphonie fantastique_ and _Lélio_,[14] matters
comparatively little. In any case, the madness ends in 1834 with

And then, with almost startling suddenness, a new Berlioz comes into
view. We first see the change in the scena _Le Cinq Mai_–a song on
the death of the Emperor Napoleon, to words by Béranger–which is
dated 1834 by M. Adolphe Jullien and 1832 by Herr Weingartner and M.
Malherbe. The precise date is unimportant. The essential fact is that
Berlioz’s brain was now acquiring what it had hitherto lacked–it
was beginning to be touched with a philosophic sense of the reality
of things. He had, of course, in much of his earlier work, written
seriously and beautifully; but _Le Cinq Mai_ has qualities beyond
these. His songs _La captive_ (1832) and _Sara la baigneuse_ (1833?)
carry on the line from the earlier songs and overtures; what we get
in addition, in _Le Cinq Mai_, is a gravity and ordered intensity of
conception that as a whole are absent from the earlier works. He is
becoming less of an egoist, more capable of voicing the thought of
humanity as a whole; the Romanticist is making way for the complete
human being. In the _Nuits d’Été_ (1834) there is a larger spirit than
in any of his previous songs. Between 1835 and 1838 we have three noble
works–_Benvenuto Cellini_, the _Requiem_, and _Roméo et Juliette_;
and to no previous work of Berlioz would the epithet “noble” be really
applicable. The change is not so much a musical as an intellectual–we
may almost say ethical–one. Look at him, for example, in the opening
of the _Requiem_. All the madness, the pose, the egoism of the
_Symphonie fantastique_ and its brethren have disappeared. Berlioz
now has an eye for something more in life than his own unshorn locks
and his sultry amours. He no longer thinks himself the centre of the
universe; he no longer believes in the Berliozcentric theory, and does
not write with one eye on the mirror half the time. In place of all
this we have a Berlioz who has sunk his aggressive subjectivity and
learned to regard life objectively. His spirit touched to finer issues,
he sings, not Berlioz, but humanity as a whole. He is now what every
great artist is instinctively–a philosopher as well as a singer;
by the _Requiem_ he earns his right to stand among the serious,
brooding spirits of the earth. So again in the final scene of _Roméo et
Juliette_, where he rises to loftier heights than he could ever have
attained while he was in the throes of his egoistic Romanticism. Here
again, as in the _Requiem_, he speaks with the authority of the seer
as well as the voice of the orator; there is the thrill of profound
conviction in the music, the note of inspired comprehension of men and
nature as a whole. In a word, the old Berlioz has gone; a new Berlioz
stands in his place, wiser than of old, purified and chastened by his
experiences, artist and thinker in one.

In 1838, then, everything seemed of the happiest promise for his art.
But that promise, alas, was not fulfilled so amply as might have been
hoped for. Whatever the real cause may have been, Berlioz, as we have
seen, now slackened greatly in his musical production. It could not
have been wholly due to his _feuilleton_ writing, for he was never so
busy with this as in the seven years onward from 1833 (the year in
which he married Henrietta Smithson, and had to earn money in some way
or other). He complains to Humbert Ferrand that his journalism leaves
him little time to write music, but the facts are that he was really
keeping up a very good output. At the end of what I have called his
first epoch he received some large sums of money–4000 francs for the
_Requiem_ (1837), 20,000 francs from Paganini for _Harold en Italie_
(1838), and 10,000 francs for the _Symphonie funèbre et triomphale_
(1840)–enabling him to give up journalism and to travel. He was away
frequently between 1841 and 1855, but not enough to account for the
singularly small amount of music he wrote–an amount that becomes still
smaller in the later years.

We cannot, I think, resist the conclusion that even between 1840 and
1855 the seeds of his illness were in him and affecting his powers of
work. So far as can be ascertained from his letters, he became aware of
his malady about 1855, but there is no warrant for thinking it actually
began then; his father had suffered from the same complaint, and the
son was evidently a doomed man. It is about 1855 that his letters begin
to show what ravages his awful malady–a neuralgia of the intestines,
he calls it–was making in him. The atrocious pain weakened him through
and through; then the springs of energy within him were still further
relaxed by the quantities of opium he had to take. He lost, at times,
even his interest in art. In November 1856 he speaks to the Princess
Sayn-Wittgenstein of “the horrible moments of disgust with which my
illness inspires me,” during which “I find everything I have written”
(he is working at _Les Troyens_) “cold, dull, stupid, tasteless; I have
a great mind to burn it all.” A month later he writes that he has been
so ill that he could not go on with his score. Thus the melancholy
record continues in letter after letter: he is ill “in soul, in body,
in heart, in head;” an access of his “damned neuralgia” keeps him on
his back for sixteen hours; “I cannot walk, I only drag myself along;
I cannot think, I only ruminate;” “I live in an absolute isolation of
soul; I do nothing but suffer eight or nine hours a day, without hope
of any kind, wanting only to sleep, and appreciating the truth of the
Chinese proverb–it is better to be sitting than standing, lying than
sitting, asleep than awake, and dead than asleep;” “my neurosis grows
and has now settled in the head; sometimes I stagger like a drunken
man and dare not go out alone;” “these obstinate sufferings enervate
me, brutalise me; I become more and more like an animal, indifferent
to everything, or almost everything;” his doctors tell him he has “a
general inflammation of the nervous system,” and that he must “live
like an oyster, without thought and without sensation;” some days he
has “attacks of hysteria like a young girl;” “Mon Dieu, que je suis
triste!”; “I suffer each day so terribly, from seven in the morning
till four in the afternoon, that during such crises my thoughts are
completely confused;” he takes so long over the writing of _Béatrice
et Benedict_ because, owing to his illness, his musical ideas come to
him with extreme slowness–while after he has written it he forgets
it, and when he hears it it sounds quite new to him. To his other
correspondents it is always the same pitiful story: “On certain days I
cannot write ten consecutive lines; it takes me sometimes four days to
finish an article.”

It is impossible to believe that so serious a disorder began only
in 1855, when Berlioz first became fully conscious of it; it must
have been in him years before, and must even then have affected his
powers of work.[15] But such music as he did find energy to write
is eloquent of the new condition of his being. Not only bodily but
mentally Berlioz was a changed man–a point that should be insisted
on in view of the traditional misunderstanding of him. I have already
remarked upon the Berlioz “legend” that is generally accepted, a legend
founded solely on the Berlioz of twenty-five or thirty. Heine gave
perhaps the finest expression to this aspect of him in the passage in
which he speaks of him as “a colossal nightingale, a lark the size
of an eagle, such as once existed, they say, in the primitive world.
Yes, the music of Berlioz, in general, has for me something primitive,
almost antediluvian; it sets me dreaming of gigantic species of extinct
animals, of mammoths, of fabulous empires with fabulous sins, of all
kinds of impossibilities piled one on top of the other; these magic
accents recall to us Babylon, the hanging gardens of Semiramis, the
marvels of Nineveh, the audacious edifices of Mizraim, such as we see
them in the pictures of the English painter Martin.” That is not a bad
description, in spite of its verbal fantasy, of the Berlioz of the last
two movements of the _Symphonie fantastique_, the orgy of brigands in
_Harold en Italie_, the ride to the abyss in _Faust_, and, let us even
say, the “Tuba mirum” of the _Requiem_. But it is only a quarter, a
tenth, of the real Berlioz. Yet the old legend still goes on; even so
careful a student as Mr. W. H. Hadow has just said, in his article in
the new “Grove’s Dictionary,” that “his imagination seems always at
white heat; his eloquence pours forth in a turbid, impetuous torrent
which levels all obstacles and overpowers all restraint. It is the
fashion to compare him with Victor Hugo, and on one side at any rate
the comparison is just. Both were artists of immense creative power,
both were endowed with an exceptional gift of oratory, both ranged
at will over the entire gamut of human passion. But here resemblance
ends. Beside the extravagance of Berlioz, Hugo is reticent; beside the
technical errors of the musician the verse of the poet is as faultless
as a Greek statue.”

One really gets rather tired of this perpetual harping upon the
extravagance of Berlioz. The picture is pure caricature, not a
portrait; one or two features in the physiognomy are selected and
exaggerated, posed in the strongest light, and factitiously made
to appear as the essential points of the man. Yet a baby with any
knowledge of Berlioz could demonstrate the falsity of the picture.
Where is the “extravagance,” the want of “reticence,” in the _Waverley_
overture, the _Roi Lear_ overture, the first three movements of the
_Symphonie fantastique_, the twenty or thirty songs, the bulk of
_Faust_, the bulk of _Harold en Italie_, the bulk of _Lélio_, the three
fine pieces that make up the _Tristia_, the _Cinq Mai_, the bulk of
the _Requiem_, _Benvenuto Cellini_, _Roméo et Juliette_, the noble
_Symphonie funèbre et triomphale_, the _Carnaval romain_ overture, the
_Enfance du Christ_, _Béatrice et Benedict_, or _Les Troyens_? Out of
all these thousands of pages, how ridiculously few of them deserve
the epithet of “extravagance”; of how many of them is it true that
Berlioz’s “eloquence pours forth in a turbid, impetuous torrent which
levels all obstacles and overpowers all restraint”?

The truth is that even in the youthful Berlioz there was considerable
“reticence,” considerable power to sympathise with and express not
only the flamboyant but the tender, the pathetic, the delicate. We
have already seen that his intellectual and moral powers came to their
climax about 1838, at which time he was singing with enormous passion,
but also with perfect restraint and impressive nobility. Both the music
and the prose of his later years show how greatly his character was
altering; it is simply ludicrous to attempt to describe _this_ Berlioz
in the language that was applicable only to the worst of the Berlioz of
twenty years before. Physical and mental suffering, trials in private
and perpetual disappointment in public life, chastened the man’s soul,
brought out the finer elements of it. He fought the powers of evil
calmly and steadily with that admirable weapon of irony of his. Once he
forgot himself, in the Wagner affair of 1861; but one can forgive, or
at any rate understand, the momentary wave of malevolence that surged
up in him then, if one thinks of the grievous illness that racked
the poor frame, and the unending insults that had been his own lot as
an opera composer. Apart from this episode, Berlioz always commands
our respect in his later years. Always the brain, the spirit, were
uppermost; where other men would have become abusive he only became
more mordantly witty; where the passion of defeat would have obscured
the eyes of other men he only saw the more clearly and penetratingly.
Look at him in his later portraits, with that fine intellectual mouth,
full of a strength that is not contradicted, but reinforced, by the
ironic humour that plays over it. Yes, he met the shocks of fortune
well, and they were many and rude. If we want a summary contrast
of the later and the earlier Berlioz, we have only to compare the
ebullient letters of his youth with the letters written to the Princess
Sayn-Wittgenstein between 1852 and 1867. The very style is altered; the
later letters read easily and beautifully, without any of those abrupt
distortions and exaggerations that pull us up with a shock in the
earlier ones. When he has to castigate, he does it like a gentleman,
with the rapier, not the bludgeon. And how perfectly does he maintain
the essential dignity of the artist against this well-meaning but
inquisitive and slightly vulgar aristocrat; with what fine breeding,
what exquisite use of the iron hand within the glove, does he repel
her interferences with matters that concern only himself, conveying
to her that there are precincts within his soul to which neither her
friendship nor her position give her the right of entry!

No, the cheap literary oleographs that do duty for the portraits of
Berlioz are ludicrously in suggestive of what Berlioz really was.
His fever had all died down even by 1846–supposing the ride to the
abyss in _Faust_ really to belong to that and not an earlier date;
and everything after then speaks of a vastly altered being. Had he
only kept his health up to this stage of his career, who knows to what
sunlit heights he might not have attained? In spirit, in experience
of life, in moral balance, in the technique of his art, he had now
enormously improved; but set against all this was that insidious
disease that so woefully hindered the free working of what had once
been so eager and keen a brain. It diminished the quantity of work he
could do; it spoiled some of it altogether–the cantata _L’Impériale_,
for example, where the unimpressive writing is throughout that of a
mentally exhausted man. Yet a sure instinct seems often to have guided
him even in this epoch of distress and frustration. He could write
only a few hours each week; but as a rule he seems to have chosen
happily his times for work, seizing the rare and fleeting moments when
the poor brain and body were held together in a temporary harmony.
The best of his later work need not fear comparison with the best of
his earlier periods. And how changed in mood and outlook it all is!
All his old Romanticism is gone, not only from his music but from the
basis of his music. Instead of the old violent literary themes, with
their clangorous rhetoric and their purple colouring, he now loves to
dwell among themes of classic purity of outline, and to lavish upon
them an infinite delicacy of treatment. His musical style becomes at
times extraordinarily beautiful and supple; without losing any of
the essential strength of his earlier manner, he confutes, by the
exquisite, pearly delicacy of _L’Enfance du Christ_ and _Béatrice et
Benedict_, the ignoramuses who then, as now, saw nothing in him but
a master of the _baroque_ and grotesque. His subjects are simple;
he draws and colours them, as in _Béatrice and Benedict_, with the
rarest and brightest grace,[16] or, as in _L’Enfance du Christ_, with
a curiously engaging simplicity of manner that suggests Puvis de
Chavannes or the _primitifs_. And his strength, where he chooses to let
it show, is now so finely controlled, so thoroughly and masterfully
bent to the creation of beauty. In the great _Te Deum_ we see his
style at something like its finest; all the coarseness and clumsiness
that clung to his earlier strength have gone; the muscle shows none
of the raw vigour of the early days, but plays easily and flexibly
under the velvet skin; while in his softer moments there is a new and
extraordinary sweetness, a honeying of the voice that yet sacrifices
none of its old virility. And for his last work he draws not upon any
of the Romantic contemporaries of his youth, not even upon that other
Romanticist–Shakespeare–to whom he was always so closely drawn,
but upon his beloved Virgil; it is with a classic subject, set with
classic sobriety of manner and amplitude of feeling, that he chooses
to end his career. What that work meant for him only those can realise
who study his letters during the seven years in which he was engaged
upon it. It was his refuge, his method of escape from the world; it
was for him that “tower of ivory” of which Flaubert speaks, into which
the artist can mount, there to dream of the ideal that is unrealisable
in life. He was a dying man all these years, and in much of the music
of _Les Troyens_ there are only too many signs of physical and mental
exhaustion. But it has its extraordinarily fine moments, and the
general conception is grander than anything Berlioz had attempted
since the _Requiem_. There is something strangely moving in this
reversion of the old musician, in his latest years, to the passions
and the ideals of his youth. Fiction could not invent anything more
touchingly beautiful than that final meeting with the Estelle he had
loved as a boy of ten or twelve, and the resurgence of all the old
romantic feeling for his _Stella montis_–that curious blinding of
the fleshly eye that permitted him to see in the woman of sixty-seven
only the winsome girl he had loved half-a-century before. In his art
there was a similar atavism; the old fighter puts away, with a sadly
ironic smile, the red flag under which he had once fought so fiercely,
and seeks companionship among the great calm figures of the past.
There may have been a deliberate intention of separating himself quite
pointedly from Wagner, which may account for something at least of his
later clinging to Gluck and the classics. But on the whole it seems
more probable that the reversion to these less fevered, more spacious
spirits was just the spontaneous sinking of the weary soul into the
arms that were most ready to receive it. He knew he was a beaten man;
he knew that during his lifetime at any rate his star was doomed to
suffer eclipse; whatever chance he might have had of fighting his way
through the clouds again, of overcoming the Parisian ignorance of and
prejudice against him, was shattered by the disease that broke him,
body and soul. So he retired into himself and waited, as calmly and
philosophically as might be, for the end.

To us his situation seems even more tragic than it must have seemed
to himself. Knowing what extraordinary promise he was giving in 1838,
we can only regard the last thirty years of his life as a failure to
redeem that promise, at all events in its entirety. In both fields–the
vocal and the instrumental–he seems to halt uncertainly, not quite
knowing how to carry on the work he had begun. The later music, as I
have tried to show, is generally beautiful enough; the fault does not
lie there. But Berlioz failed to beat out for himself the new forms
that might reasonably have been expected from him by those who had
followed his career from the first. All his life he longed ardently to
be an opera composer. But the failure of _Benvenuto Cellini_ in 1837,
combined with the intrigues of his enemies, shuts him out of the Opera
for twenty-five years; in 1846, again, the failure of _Faust_ gives
him another crushing blow. When he resumes his operatic writing, the
capacity and the desire to strike out new forms seem to have gone; he
is content to work within the limits of the frame that Gluck bequeathed
to him. All this time he practically neglects purely instrumental
music, thus failing to work out the conclusions towards which he seemed
to have been feeling his way in his earlier works. Nothing in him comes
to its full fruition; each branch is lopped off almost as soon as it
leaves the trunk. He is a pathetic monument of incompleteness; his
disease and the ignorant public between them slew his art. But the work
he actually did seems on this account only the more wonderful. He was a
genius of the first rank; and there is little doubt that the better his
music is known the more respectful and the more sympathetic will be the
tone of criticism towards him.


[1] The reader who is interested in the matter may turn to letters
to Liszt of 1852. Here he speaks slightingly of Berlioz’s _Cellini_,
and alludes to “the platitudes of his Faust _Symphony_(!)” The last
phrase alone is sufficient to show that Wagner was completely ignorant
of the work he had the impertinence to decry–for every one knows
that Berlioz’s _Faust_ is not a symphony. In a recent article in _The
Speaker_ on “The Relations of Wagner and Berlioz,” I have, I think,
shown that Wagner could not have known a note either of the _Faust_
or the _Cellini_; the dates of performance and of publication put
any such knowledge on his part out of the question. It is necessary,
however, to warn the reader that in both the English translation of the
Wagner-Liszt letters (by Dr. Hueffer, revised by Mr. Ashton Ellis),
and the big Glasenapp-Ellis _Life of Wagner_, the real facts are kept
from the English public. The incriminating phrase, “Faust Symphony,” is
quietly abbreviated to “Faust,” so that there is nothing to rouse the
reader’s suspicions and make him look further into the matter. In the
big _Life_, again, now in course of publication, Mr. Ellis, though he
has thousands of pages at his disposal–though, indeed, he can devote a
whole volume of five hundred pages to two years of Wagner’s life–still
cannot find room for the brief line or two from the 1852 letter that
would put the real facts before the reader; discreet and silent dots
take their place. The British public is apparently to be treated like a
child, and told only so much of the truth about Wagner as is thought to
be good for it–or at any rate good for Wagner.

[2] This is an error; he arrived in Paris in 1821.

[3] See Julien Tiersot’s _Hector Berlioz et la société de son temps_
(1904)–an excellent book that is indispensable to every student of

[4] It is interesting to note that Alfred de Musset anticipated Arthur
Rimbaud and the modern symbolists in having coloured audition. He once
maintained that the note F was yellow, G red, a soprano voice blond, a
contralto voice brown. See Arvède Barine’s _Alfred de Musset_ (in _Les
Grands Écrivains Français_), p. 115.

[5] Hoffmann was, of course, a musician as well; but he is more truly
the novelist who wrote about music than the musician who wrote fiction.

[6] Buckle (note 316 to Chap. VII. of the _History of Civilisation_)
remarks that “All great revolutions have a direct tendency to increase
insanity, as long as they last, and probably for some time afterwards;
but in this as in other respects the French Revolution stands alone in
the number of its victims.” See the references he gives, bearing upon
“the horrible but curious subject of madness caused by the excitement
of the events which occurred in France late in the eighteenth century.”
Buckle speaks only of the Revolution, but of course the subsequent wars
must have operated in much the same way.

[7] Chateaubriand, _Souvenirs d’enfance et de jeunesse_, p. 2.

[8] In his letter of March 18, 1839, he gives Ernest Chevalier the plan
of a work that is curiously like that of Berlioz mentioned on page 38,
in its preposterous fantasies and its over-emphasis of form and colour.

[9] He puts the same rhodomontade into the mouth of his Lélio.

[10] One or two of these dates can only be looked upon as
approximative, but if wrong at all, they are so only to the extent of a
year or two, which does not affect the question.

[11] It appears from the Sayn-Wittgenstein letters that the beautiful
theme of the love-scene in _Roméo et Juliette_ was inspired by the
youthful love for Estelle that also produced the opening theme of the
_Symphonie fantastique_. It must, therefore, have been quite a boyish
invention, though no doubt its development and general treatment really
belong to 1838.

[12] M. Julien Tiersot, in his admirable _Berlioz et la société de son
temps_, divides the life of Berlioz into five epochs–1803-1827 (his
childhood, youth, and apprenticeship), 1827-1842 (the epoch of his
greatest activity), 1843-1854 (in which he does little except _Faust_,
which in reality, perhaps, dates from an earlier time), 1854-1865
(the epoch of _L’Enfance du Christ_, _Béatrice et Benedict_, and _Les
Troyens_), and 1865-1869 (barren of works). The discussion in the text
will make it clear why I have substituted my own classification for
that of M. Tiersot, and will, I hope, be convincing. One other point
deserves noting. Towards the end of his _Mémoires_ Berlioz tells us
that he had dreamed a symphony one night, but deliberately refrained
from writing it because of the expense of producing and printing it.
Such a reason may have weighed a little with him; but no one who knows
anything of artistic psychology can regard it as the total explanation.
If the dream-work had really sunk into Berlioz’s soul and he had felt
that he had full command of it, he could not have rested until he had
it down on paper, if only for his own gratification. It is far more
probable that he felt himself unequal to the mental strain of thinking
out his vision and forcing the stubborn material into a plastic piece
of art. There was, I take it, a lassitude of tissue in him at this time
that made protracted musical thinking a burden to him.

[13] On the whole question see the chapter on “Le Tempérament” in
Edmond Hippeau’s _Berlioz Intime_.

[14] The date of _Lélio_ is 1831-1832, but the most absurd thing in it,
the _Chanson de brigands_, was written in January 1830–at the same
epoch, therefore, as the _Symphonie fantastique_. It is fairly clear
that 1829-1830 marked the climax of Berlioz’s eccentricity, and that
his passion for Henrietta Smithson had much to do with it.

[15] Jullien (p. 241) says “it was about this time that the neuralgia
_to which he had always been subject_ settled in the intestines….”

[16] He himself describes it as “a caprice written with the point of a
needle, and demanding excessive delicacy of execution.” Yet this is the
man for whom the world can find only the one epithet of “extravagant”!



The musical settings of _Faust_, in one form or another, now number, I
believe, something like thirty or thirty-five. It is perhaps the most
popular of all subjects with musicians, far outdistancing in favour
the Hamlets and Othellos and Romeo-and-Juliets and all the other
lay figures which composers are fond of using to show off their own
garments. It cannot be said that they have added very much, on the
whole, to our comprehension of the drama; indeed, with half-a-dozen
exceptions the Faust-symphonies and Faust-operas and Faust-scenes have
quite failed to justify their existence. One of the main difficulties
in the way of the musician–even supposing him to have the brain
capacity to rise to the height of the psychology of the thing–is the
enormous range and wealth of material of the drama itself. The First
Part of Goethe’s work alone, or the Second Part, is quite sufficient
to tax the constructive powers of any composer to the uttermost; but
to reshape the whole of _Faust_ in music is a desperate undertaking.
Since Goethe’s day we are bound to see the Faust picture through _his_
eyes; any harking back to earlier forms of it is quite out of the
question. And Goethe, while he has enormously extended and deepened
the spiritual elements of the story, has by this very means set the
musician a problem of discouraging difficulty. No musical version
of the play, in the first place, can be adequate unless it embraces
Goethe’s Second Part as well as the First. Due opportunity, again, must
be given for the exposition of all the essential, the seminal “motives”
of the drama, and they are many indeed. The composer is thus on the
horns of a dilemma. If he wants his work to stand in the same gallery
with Goethe’s, he has to run a line through Faust’s soul long enough
and sinuous enough to touch upon all its secret places; but any one who
tries to do this soon perceives how hard it is to focus so vast a scene
and to keep the picture within one frame of reasonable size. An opera
or a symphony that should attempt to cover all the psychological ground
of the drama would take at least ten or twelve hours in performance.
Apparently the only rational course for the future composer who may
think of setting the Faust subject is to take two or three evenings
over it, after the manner of Wagner’s _Ring of the Nibelung_; and until
this is done we shall have to rest satisfied with the more or less
inadequate versions we have at present.

The cosmic quality of the subject, one would think, should have
attracted more of the first-rank men, considering how many of the
second and third rank it has tempted to self-destruction. One wonders,
for example, why it should have fallen to the lot of Gounod to give so
many honest but uninstructed people their first, perhaps their only,
idea of _Faust_–an experience something like getting one’s first
notions of _Hamlet_ from the country booth. We can understand their
taking the thing seriously, for I fancy we all took it seriously at
one time–in the callow stage of our musical culture–and many quite
respectable musicians do so still. Yet we have only to come back to
it one day, after dropping acquaintance with it for many years, to
see what a laughter-moving monstrosity the thing is. The book gets
as near the inane at times as anything founded on Goethe could do,
though the music has its good points, of course. In the overture and
opening scene there really is some suggestion of the gravity and
the spirituality of the problems of Faust’s soul; but from the time
Margaret and Mephistopheles appear upon the scene the thing becomes for
the most part mere opera, and Faust just the ordinary amorist–_l’homme
moyen sensuel_. The melodrama, _quâ_ melodrama, is sometimes good of
its kind; the Valentine scenes generally ring true, and now and then
they become really impressive. There is plenty of lovely music, too,
in the opera, which may suffice you if you are not very critical as
to the poetic basis–if you do not attempt, that is, to get below the
ear-tickling sounds and to see the characters as Goethe has drawn them.
But once you begin to think of these matters you can only smile at
Gounod and his fellow-criminals who concocted the libretto.

Look at the Gounod overture, for example. For a couple of minutes it
is worthy of almost the loftiest subject or of the best man who has
taken up the _Faust_ theme; and then how woefully it fizzles out,
drifting back into its native habitat of banality, where the air is
more congenial to it–for all the world like a man who goes to an Ibsen
play, sternly resolved to be a serious moralist for one evening at
least, but at the end of the first act makes for the nearest music-hall
or _café chantant_. One can see where it is all tending; Faust the
philosopher has already, at this early stage of his career, become
Faust the _boulevardier_. So with the opening scene, wherein we just
catch the accent of Goethe for a breath or two, but never longer. And
then that absurd devil Mephistopheles, with his stage strut, his stage
idiom, his stage brain! “Are you afraid?” he asks Faust at his first
red-fire appearance, when “Are you amused?” would be more appropriate.
There is a touch of the genuine sardonic quality in his serenade;
but on the whole he suggests not so much the spirit of denial as the
spirit of the pantomime rally. Nor, till you quietly think about the
structure of the libretto, do you realise how exceedingly funny it all
is. In the drinking-scene it is Wagner who gets up to sing the song of
the rat; Wagner! who by no process of shuffling of names can be got
out of our heads as the pupil and companion of Faust. It is true he
does not go very far with the ballad, Mephistopheles interrupting him
after the first line or two–for which Gounod, remembering that Berlioz
had set the same song once for all–was no doubt duly grateful to the
devil. Then Mephistopheles sings his fatuous air about the Calf of
Gold, and quarrels with Valentine–who, oddly enough, is also of the
party–about his sister. So the opera goes on–very charming where it
has least to do with the subject, but merely feeble or ludicrous when
it comes near enough to Goethe to suggest a comparison. For Gounod,
whose own religion was merely Catholicism _sucré_, not only lacked the
brain to grasp the austere philosophy of a subject of this kind; his
musical faculty was not deep enough nor strong enough to save him from
aiming perpetually at drama and achieving only melodrama. Watch him,
for example, in the scenes where he is trying to carry on a dramatic
dialogue, and see to what straits he is put in the effort to make the
orchestra do something expressive in between the actors’ speeches. See
the catchpenny trade he drives in those stale operatic formulas for
whose poetic equivalent we have to go to the country booth; see him
capering about with his fussy little runs and twiddles, and striking
all kinds of pompous musical poses, that really signify nothing at all,
and only remind us of the conventional up-down-right-left-cut-thrust
of stage-fencing. And this banal thing, this cheap vulgarisation of
Goethe, this blend of the pantomime, the novelette and the Christmas
card, still represents _Faust_ in the minds of nine musical amateurs
out of ten! It is no more the real Faust than Sardou’s _Robespierre_,
for example, is the real Robespierre; in each case a portentous name
has simply been tacked on to a piece of very ordinary melodrama. The
most pleasing elements in Gounod’s work–the really lovely, if not
always profound, love-music–are precisely those that withdraw it
furthest from Goethe; for here it is clearly not Faust speaking to
Margaret, but any man to any woman, any Edwin to any Angelina. Gounod’s
Margaret alone suggests dimly the drama of Goethe; but that is because
she is the easiest of all the characters to represent in music. In
most of the settings of _Faust_, indeed, the portrait of Margaret
carries a kind of conviction even when the other two characters have
nothing more in common with Faust and Mephistopheles than the names.
He must be a very inferior musician who could fail here. The essence
of Margaret’s character is simplicity, innocence, the absence of all
complicating elements; and accordingly we find that all the settings
of her have a strong family resemblance to each other. Schumann’s
Margaret is very German, Liszt’s very German but at the same time quite
cosmopolitan, Berlioz’s curiously _moyen-âge_, Gounod’s decidedly
modern and town-bred, but all have the same fundamental qualities; none
does violence to our conception of the real Margaret. Faust, however,
has to be something more than the seducer of Margaret; we want to see
some traces in his music of the weariness of life, the disgust with
knowledge, that distinguish him at the beginning of the drama; we
want to see him growing at once stronger and weaker as he develops,
his character being purged of its dross, his soul’s insight into the
world of real things becoming prophetically clear just as he is bidden
to leave it. Unless some elements at least of this picture are given
us, the composer has no right to attach to his painting the title of

One wonders, again, why a musician like Boïto should ever have thought
himself fit company for Marlowe and Goethe. Here is a poet–one
can cheerfully pay a tribute to his general culture if not to his
musicianship–with a semi-musical gift that rarely rises above the
mediocre and generally dips a point or two below it, who not only
fancies he can throw new light on Faust’s soul through his music, but
serenely undertakes a reconstruction of the drama that Goethe gave him.
Boïto made such a really good libretto for Verdi out of _Othello_ that
it is rather surprising what an abject mess he has made of _Faust_.
His hash of the great drama is really deplorable. His superior culture
and his finer literary palate put him above the commonplace Gounod
conception of the play as a melodramatic story of a man, a maid, and
a devil. He knows there is a “problem,” a “world-view,” in it that
really makes it what it is. But as soon as he begins to set the play
to music he seems to forget what the problem is, where it begins and
where it ends. The result is that he is not content to write a piece of
plain, straightforward music of the ordinary operatic type, but must
needs drag in just enough of Goethe’s great plan to make the whole
thing preposterous. I say nothing of his musical deficiencies–of his
incurable old-Italian-opera tricks of style, his lame, blind, and
halt melody, the monotonous tenuity of his harmony, the odd jumble
of Wagner and Rossini in his idiom, his notion that the terrible is
adequately expressed in five-finger exercises, and the horrible by a
reproduction of the noises made when the bow is drawn across all four
strings of the violin at once. These are mere details, as is also the
fact that his powers of dramatic characterisation are very limited,
or that his choruses of angels would be more suitable to _contadini_,
or that his Mephistopheles is transported bodily and mentally from
the _buffo_ stage. What is most awesome in Boïto’s opera is the
pseudo-philosophical scheme of the libretto. He begins with a Prologue
in Heaven that is almost entirely superfluous, not one-fifth of it
being concerned with Faust. The first half of the first Act might also
be dispensed with entirely, for all it has to do with the problem
of Faust’s soul. The second half of this Act, and the first half of
the next, are, in the main, essential to the drama, though there is
no need for musical composers to retain, in the garden scene, the
episodes between Mephistopheles and Martha, that are right enough in
the play, but mar the more ideal atmosphere of music. The descent into
the _buffo_ is perilously easy here; and it is much better to omit all
this, as Schumann does, and concentrate the whole of the light on Faust
and Margaret.

Boïto’s next scene, however–the Walpurgis night–is pure waste of
time and space; there is a great deal too much of Mephistopheles and
the chorus, and not half enough of Faust to let us grasp the bearing
of the scene upon the evolution of his soul. The whole of the third
Act helps to carry on the story; but the fourth Act–the Classical
Walpurgis Night–becomes pure nonsense in Boïto’s handling of it.
Whatever meaning there may be in the Helena episode in Goethe’s long
allegory, there can be no sense at all in simply pushing her on the
operatic stage in order to sing a duet with Faust, the pair having
incontinently fallen in love at first sight–presumably behind the
scenes. Finally, the Epilogue–the Death of Faust–ends the work only
in an operatic, not a spiritual, sense; there being no spiritual
connection between the earlier and the later Faust, no reason why he
should die just then, no hint of the bearing of his death upon his
life. And why in the name of common sense should Boïto have permitted
himself to rewrite the final Act, the crowning pinnacle of the whole
mighty structure that Goethe has so slowly, so painfully reared? In
place of the great motives and profoundly moving scenes of the poetic
drama–Faust’s schemes for human happiness, the poor old couple and
their little house on the shore, the conversation with the four gray
women, the blinding and death of Faust, the coming of Mephistopheles
with the Lemures to dig the grave, the pathetic death-scene, the
transportation of the purified Faust into that diviner air where
he meets the purified Margaret–instead of all this we have Faust
back again in the old laboratory of the first Act, Mephistopheles
holding out banal operatic temptations to him, after the manner
of Gounod, and Faust clinging for salvation to the Bible and going
straight off to heaven on his knees, all in the most approved fashion
of the Stratford-on-Avon novelette.[17] Yet, bad as it is, Boïto’s
_Mefistofele_ is not the worst that might be done with the drama. His
musical faculties may be of the kind that move us to more laughter
than is good for us; but he certainly had some understanding of the
inner spirit as well as of the external action of Goethe’s poem; and
the very extent of his failure serves to show how difficult it is to
mould the play to musical requirements. The difficulty lies not so
much in finding appropriate musical episodes as in dealing with such a
multiplicity of them as there is. The drama, indeed, is amazingly rich
in musical “stuff”–as Wagner would have put it–of the first order;
as Berlioz expressed it in connection with Gounod’s _Faust_, “the
librettists have passed over some admirably musical situations that it
would have been necessary to invent if Goethe had not already done so.”

There is a vast quantity of the poem, of course, that is as alien to
the spirit of music as it is to that of literature. But there is a
certain irreducible minimum that _must_ be dealt with, if the musical
setting is to aim at reproducing the spiritual problem of Goethe with
anything like completeness. The Prelude and the Prologue in Heaven may,
in case of need, be dispensed with; but almost all the First Part ought
to be utilised, not following Goethe word for word, of course, but
taking the pith of each scene. Here and there we come across sections
that either defy musical treatment or are comparatively unimportant
episodes in the poem. But the main psychological moments must all be
dealt with; and the omission of any one of these cuts a piece out of
the intellectual interest, breaks the subtle line of development,
and makes all that comes after it seem insufficiently led up to. The
First Part of Goethe’s _Faust_, in fact, is in itself a masterpiece of
construction, holding the balance most carefully and skilfully between
dramatic action and philosophical reflection. Omit any of the steps by
which the characters have been brought to the dramatic completeness in
which we see them at the end of the First Part, and you break the spell
that makes them real to us.

There is, then, in the First Part alone, more than enough to constitute
the poetical material of at least two operas. Many composers have
chosen to end their labours here, with the death of Margaret and the
flight of Mephistopheles with Faust; and from the purely operatic point
of view there is much to be said for such a course. The First Part does
at least run on the lines that are common to a philosophical drama and
an opera; whereas the Second Part deliberately flouts the musical sense
at point after point. In the First Part the poetry marches hand-in-hand
with the ethical conception; in the Second Part the poetry has often
to be dug out of the jungle of prosaic diffuseness in which Goethe has
hidden it. Nevertheless one great purpose runs like a fine, continuous
thread through all the seemingly unrelated incidents of the drama; and
this line at least must be followed by the musician, though he may
disregard the excursions from its direct course which Goethe so often
permits himself. The poet’s purpose, of course, was not complete,
could not possibly be complete, without the Second Part. From the
very beginning we feel that the vast issues must end, full-orbed, in
something like the remote, non-earthly atmosphere of the opening; and
we keep in our memory the words of the Prologue in Heaven–

“A good man, through obscurest aspiration,
Has still an instinct of the one true way”–

waiting for the ultimate gleam that shall make the darkness of Faust’s
first perplexed flight quite clear to us. Plainly one-half only of the
problem had been stated in the First Part; and though comparatively
few people read the Second Part, and few of those who have read it
once read it twice, it is really the rounding-off of the philosophical
conception here that gives the First Part its proper meaning. The
human striving of the earlier poem demanded the later episodes, both
as poetical completion and ethical solution. Without the Second Part,
the First Part is a broken cadence, a discord only half resolved.
Goethe himself, we are told, “compared the Prologue in Heaven to the
overture to Mozart’s _Don Giovanni_, in which a certain musical phrase
occurs which is not repeated until the finale.” A musical setting can
be adequate only if it really deals with the central spiritual forces
of _Faust_, not only as they affect the protagonist up to the death of
Margaret, but in the crowded after-years. Life was wider than art to
Goethe; and the vastness and unwieldiness of the scheme of the play
are mostly due to his attempt to embrace so much of life in it. The
trouble with the average musical setting is that it fails to rise to
the level of Goethe’s own lofty humanism. The theatrical is there in
plenty; but there is little that brings home to us the grave philosophy
of the drama, little that speaks of that great, moving, human figure of
the Second Part, beating his way painfully through the darkness to the
light. Above all, one cannot spare the ethical elevation of that final
scene, with its supremely pathetic picture of the man’s defeat in the
very moment of victory, and its mystical suggestion of this material
defeat being in reality a spiritual triumph. Goethe, in fact, made the
subject an essentially modern one–put into it the fever and the fret,
the finer joys and finer despairs, the deepened philosophy and the more
impassioned spiritual aspirations, of the generations that succeeded
the great upheaval of the eighteenth century. In Marlowe’s _Faustus_ we
feel that, powerful as the wings of the poet are, there still clings to
them something of the grossness of the Middle Ages, and the grossness,
only more superficially refined, of the Renaissance. The thick breath
of materiality hangs like a cloud over Marlowe’s drama. Faustus himself
has in him much of the coarseness of tissue of the Elizabethan age.
On the purely human side, especially in the later scenes, he does
indeed touch and move us; but in the mainsprings of his being, in the
limitations of his desire–

“Sweet Mephistopheles, thou pleasest me;
Whilst I am here on earth, let me be cloyed
With all things that delight the heart of man.
My four-and-twenty years of liberty
I’ll spend in pleasure and in dalliance,
That Faustus’ name, whilst this bright frame doth stand,
May be admired through the furthest land”–

how immeasurably does he fall short of the philosophic Faust of Goethe–

“Two souls, alas! reside within my breast,
And each withdraws from, and repels, its brother.
One with tenacious organs holds in love
And clinging lust the world in its embraces;
The other strongly sweeps, this dust above,
Into the high ancestral spaces.”

The mere magic-working Mephistopheles of Marlowe, again, takes on, in
the modern poet, something of the terrifying grandeur of one of the
essential forces of the universe. How subtle is Goethe’s insight into
him, and how one longs to get something of that subtlety in his music–

“Part of that Power, not always understood,
Which always wills the Bad, and always works the Good.”
“Part of the Part am I, once all, in primal Night–
Part of the Darkness which brought forth the Light,
The haughty Light, which now disputes the space,
And claims of Mother Night her ancient place.”

He is the element of destruction that is the other half of being; not
a mere tempting devil, the crude beguiler of the theological fancy,
but simply the evil side of Faust becoming self-conscious. See, for
example, in the eleventh scene of the First Part, and again in the
fourteenth scene, how he probes to the very depth of Faust’s soul,
dragging into the light the true motives that sway him, which Faust
himself is incompetent to analyse. His taunt in the seventeenth scene,
again, “Thou, full of sensual, super-sensual desire,” is a stroke of
which Marlowe was incapable.

There are one or two scenes in the Second Part which lend themselves
to music, but have been curiously neglected–it being strange, for
example, that no musician of the first rank has set the scene of
Faust’s discovery of ideal beauty (Act i., Scene 7). But on the whole
the Second Part is uncongenial to music, until we come to the gravely
passionate human element at the end. Even to poetry Goethe’s plan
is somewhat unpropitious, as Schiller pointed out to him. “A source
of anxiety to me,” he wrote in 1797, “is that _Faust_, according to
your design, seems to require such a great amount of material, if
the idea is finally to appear complete; and I find no poetical hoop
which can encircle such a cumulative mass…. For example, Faust must
necessarily, to my thinking, be conducted into the active life of the
world, and whatever part of it you may choose out of the great whole,
the very nature of it seems to require too much particularity and
diffuseness.” If the “poetical hoop” was so hard to find, a musical
hoop to contain such wildly-mixed material is beyond the power of man
to cast. All the musician can do is to make sure of the final scenes
(from Act vii. Scene 4 onwards); though even then–and this is the
perpetual dilemma–one feels the need of some connecting link between
the Faust whose life is drawing so near to the end, and the Faust
whom we saw being torn away by Mephistopheles from Margaret and the
prison. As Schiller said, Faust must go “into the active life of the
world” before that stupendous cadence can have its true significance;
yet most of the intermediate scenes into which Goethe has put him can
never be caught up into the being of music. As one looks at the poem
itself, one admits despairingly that it would be impossible to build
the first four Acts into any operatic structure. But one broad purpose
of spiritual development runs through even this desert of apparently
endless aridity; and surely this might be treated by the musician, if
not in operatic, at least in symphonic form. That is, between the stage
of Faust’s life that ends with the death of Margaret and the awakening
of Faust to a new joy in earth and a resolution to seek the highest
good, and the stage where his own death puts the seal on the drama, we
might have a symphonic interlude that would make the transition less
abrupt for us. The comparative vagueness of the music in this form
would match the increased indefiniteness of the poetical handling;
while the more positive operatic form could be resumed in the Fifth
Act, where the closeness of the association with actual life demands
the continuous use of words. It is not an ideal device, perhaps, but it
is the only adequate one. Only in some such manner as this can we hope
to get the real _Faust_ translated into music. As it is, the composers
who have grasped the philosophy of the work have been restricted to a
canvas far too small for the whole subject, while those who have not
laid stress on the philosophy have simply not dealt with the Faust
drama at all.

Men like Wagner and Rubinstein, again, who have really had the
thinker’s appreciation of the deeper currents of the theme, and have
tried to express these in the single-movement form, have been woefully
hampered by the limited space in which they have been compelled
to work. Wagner, of course, never meant his _Faust Overture_ to be
a complete treatment of the subject; it was intended merely as one
section of a large Faust Symphony. The general excellence and the one
defect of the work inspire us with regret that the scheme as a whole
was never carried out. Its one shortcoming is that it deals only with
the melancholy, brooding, world-weary Faust of the opening of Goethe’s
poem, the egoistic Faust on whom the larger world-issues have not yet
dawned. We should like to have had Wagner’s treatment of the final and
complete Faust, taken out of himself, touched with sublimer sorrows
and compassions, pouring out his soul upon the greater interests of
humanity. As it is, however, we have in the _Faust Overture_ the
veritable Faust of the opening of Goethe’s poem. No attempt is made
at the portraiture of Margaret–the beautiful theme in the middle
section simply representing the “ever-womanly” floating before Faust’s
eye in vague suggestion–nor is there any Mephistopheles in the work.
But in regard to the special task Wagner seems to have set himself,
the translation into music of the first scene of Goethe’s First Part,
nothing more perfect could well be imagined. There are few more
convincing pieces of musical portraiture than this great grey head,
with the look of the weary Titan in the eyes, that looms out in heroic
proportions from Wagner’s score.

One of the least known of the settings of _Faust_–or at any rate of
the fine settings of it–is that of Henri Hugo Pierson.[18] Though
he was an Englishman, his music is practically unknown in England,
for which his residence in Germany is no doubt mainly responsible.
It is a pity such a man could not have found in his own country the
conditions under which his talents could thrive and expand; for when
one realises how much strength and originality there is in his music,
one feels that had he worked in England he might have helped to found
a native school, and so brought our musical Renaissance to birth at
any rate a generation earlier than it has come. His music is always
that of a musician who is at the same time poet and thinker. The very
plan of his _Faust_ is original. As its title indicates, it deals only
with the Second Part of Goethe’s play. This in itself is a slight
fault, for it brings before us that tremendous drama of regeneration
without having prepared us for it by the previous drama of struggle and
error. Starting with Ariel and the Chorus of Fairies singing round the
sleeping Faust, Pierson takes us through the scene in the Emperor’s
Castle, the calling up of the apparitions of Paris and Helena, and the
attempt of Faust to seize the Grecian beauty–all from Act i. From
the second Act we have Wagner and the birth of the Homunculus, and
the journey of Faust, Mephistopheles, and the Homunculus through
the air. From the third Act we have the scene before the Palace of
Menelaus (Helen and the Chorus of captive Trojan women), the coming of
Faust as a knight of the Middle Ages, his dialogue with Helena, the
appearance and death of Euphorion; from the fourth Act, the battle
between the Emperor and his enemies; from the fifth Act, the song of
Lynceus the warder, the entry of the four Grey Women–Want, Guilt,
Care, and Need–and the blinding of Faust; the digging of the grave by
the Lemures, the death of Faust, the choruses of the spirits and the
anchorites, the chorus of the younger seraphs and angels ascending with
the spirit of Faust, the scene in the empyrean, and the final “Chorus
Mysticus”–_Alles Vergängliche ist nur ein Gleichniss_.

The scheme, it will be seen at once, is not an ideal one. It achieves
comprehensiveness at the expense of organic unity. It keeps too
strictly to the letter and the order of Goethe’s scenes; episodes like
the battle, that are of the very slightest significance, are needlessly
included; other and more essential episodes are so lightly dwelt upon
that their full value can hardly be brought out; and others are omitted
altogether. As a mere piece of architecture the thing is extremely
imperfect. Too much use, again, is made of the melodrama–_i.e._ the
union of the reciting voice with the orchestra–one of the least
justifiable and most trying forms of art ever invented. But with all
its faults of structure it is a notable work; the music redeems
all its errors. The opening scene, with Ariel and the spirits, is
exquisitely fresh and sunny; the death of Euphorion and the death of
Faust are both very moving, and there are some fine choruses in the
work, notably the “Heilige Poesie.” Pierson re-creates for us the
philosophic atmosphere of the Second Part of _Faust_, and gives us
the same impression of the largeness of the issues at work; which is
no small achievement. It is a pity one of our Festival Committees
could not be prevailed upon to let us hear the score, or at any rate a
portion of it.

Unduly neglected, again, is Henry Litolff’s setting of certain scenes
from Goethe (op. 103). Like Pierson, he adopts occasionally the
unpleasant form of declamation with orchestral accompaniment. This
spoils an otherwise fine treatment of the first scene (in Faust’s
study). It is really a symphonic poem with a vocal element here
and there; and paradoxically enough, though Faust is restricted to
declamation, the Earth-Spirit sings his part to a melodic and very
expressive _quasi recitativo_. The movement has the prevailing fault
of all Litolff’s writing–a certain slackness and want of resource in
the development; but the ideas themselves are often most striking.
The first scene concludes with a fine setting of the Easter Hymn. The
second scene, before the City Gate, is exceedingly fresh and charming;
while the seventh, the scene in the Cathedral (No. 20 of Goethe’s First
Part) is a masterly piece of work–finer even, perhaps, than Schumann’s
version of the same scene. If Goethe’s drama has moved many of the
second-rate musicians only to show how very second-rate they are, it
has at all events stimulated others to efforts that at times put them
very nearly in the ranks of the first-rate.

Rubinstein’s orchestral poem _Faust_–which the composer styles
simply “Ein musikalisches Charakterbild”–is not altogether easy to
understand, in its literary intentions, in the absence of a guide.
It is in one movement only, and contains apparently no allusion to
Mephistopheles, nor, as far as can be gathered beyond doubt from the
music itself, to Margaret–for the suave melodies that are interposed
as a contrast to the more passionate and more reflective utterances of
Faust are not distinctively feminine in nature. They may have nothing
at all to do with Margaret, or they may represent Faust’s attempt to
resolve his philosophic doubts by a contemplation of the simpler and
more constant elements of human nature–just as Wagner, in his _Faust
Overture_, does not so much limn an actual Margaret as suggest the
consolation which the thought of womanly love can bring to the soul
of Faust. Rubinstein’s work, though not quite on the same plane as
Wagner’s, is yet exceedingly sincere. What it lacks is sufficient
definiteness to make us refer it to Faust and to Faust only. It is
clearly a strenuous picture of a lofty and noble soul, striving in
its own way to read “the riddle of the painful earth,” and mournfully
acknowledging, at the last, that its only portion is defeat and
disillusion. But this is a psychological frame that might be made to
fit a score of pictures; and one misses, in Rubinstein’s piece, the
conclusive sense of congruence with Faust as we know him in Goethe’s
poem. There is nothing in it to clash with the poet’s conception; the
emotional atmosphere is the same in both; but in spite of the title
the musician has put upon his work, it is less a study of individual
character than a description of a type. Rubinstein’s Faust is the least
definite and the most symbolical of them all.

Rubinstein’s tone-poem and every other purely orchestral setting of
the subject, however, pale before the magnificence of Liszt’s _Faust
Symphony_. Liszt writes three movements–entitled respectively “Faust,”
“Margaret,” “Mephistopheles”–and then sums up the whole work in a
choral setting of Goethe’s final lines, “Alles Vergängliche ist nur ein
Gleichniss,” etc. Here the larger scale on which the picture is painted
permits Liszt both a breadth and an intimacy of psychology which are
impossible in the one-movement overtures. In the long first movement
(taking about twenty-five minutes in performance), we really do feel
that Faust is being analysed with something of the same elaboration
and the same insight as in Goethe’s poem. The handling is a trifle
loose here and there, owing to Liszt repeating his material from time
to time in obedience to literary rather than to musical necessities;
but apart from this the “Faust” movement is extraordinarily fine
character-drawing, and certainly the only instrumental Faust study
that strikes one as being complete. In the “Margaret” movement he
incorporates very suggestively a reference here and there to the
phrases of the “Faust,” thus not only sketching Margaret herself but
giving the love-scenes in a form of the highest concentration. This
section is surpassingly beautiful throughout; in face of this divine
piece of music alone the present neglect of Liszt’s work in England
is something inexplicable. Almost the whole Margaret is there, with
her curious blend of sweetness, timidity, and passion; while Faust’s
interpositions are exceedingly noble. All that one misses in Liszt,
I think, is the tragic Margaret of the scene in the Cathedral and
the prayer to the Mater Dolorosa. The “Mephistopheles” section is
particularly ingenious. It consists, for the most part, of a kind of
burlesque upon the subjects of the “Faust,” which are here passed, as
it were, through a continuous fire of irony and ridicule. This is a far
more effective way of depicting “the spirit of denial” than making him
mouth a farrago of pantomime bombast, in the manner of Boïto. The being
who exists, for the purposes of the drama, only in antagonism to Faust,
whose main activity consists only in endeavouring to frustrate every
good impulse of Faust’s soul, is really best dealt with, in music,
not as a positive individuality, but as the embodiment of negation–a
malicious, saturnine parody of all the good that has gone to the making
of Faust. The “Mephistopheles” is not only a piece of diabolically
clever music, but the best picture we have of a character that in the
hands of the average musician becomes either stupid, or vulgar, or
both. As we listen to Liszt’s music, we feel that we really have the
Mephistopheles of Goethe’s drama.

The Mephistopheles of Berlioz’s _Faust_ is interesting in another way.
Berlioz, of course, played fast and loose in the most serene way with
the drama as a whole, accepting, rejecting, or altering it just as it
suited his musical scheme. He blandly avows, for example, that he takes
Faust, in one scene, into Hungary, simply because he wants to insert
in the score his arrangement of a celebrated Hungarian march! Moral
criticism would be wasted on one so naked and unashamed as this–though
perhaps after all it is only pedantry that would regard most of
Berlioz’s alterations of Goethe’s drama as very serious perversions of
the main Faust legend. So long as the central problems of the character
are seen and stated, it matters very little through what incidents the
composer chooses to bring them home to us. And Berlioz really has a
very strong grip upon the inner meaning of the legend. His success,
indeed, is somewhat surprising when we consider how he approached
the work. He had been greatly impressed, in his youth, by Gérard de
Nerval’s translation of Goethe’s poem; but instead of attempting a
continuous setting of the work at this time (1829), he aimed only at
setting eight disconnected scenes. These were (1) “The Easter Scene”;
(2) “The Peasants’ Dance”; (3) “The Chorus of Sylphs”; (4) “The Song
of the Rat”; (5) “The Song of the Flea”; (6) “The Ballad of the King
of Thule”; (7) “Margaret’s Romance and the Soldiers’ Chorus”; (8)
“Mephistopheles’ Serenade.” Faust, therefore, had practically no part
in this selection; and it was not till seventeen years later that
Berlioz brought out his complete “dramatic legend.” It looks as if his
early interest in the work were more pictorial than philosophical, for
the two songs of Margaret alone suggest the deeper emotional currents
of the drama. Mephistopheles, however, seems to have captivated his
young Romantic imagination from the first, and, in the ironic serenade
to Margaret, the character as he conceived it is already fully
sketched. Berlioz’s devil is, perhaps, the only operatic Mephistopheles
that carries anything like conviction; he never, even for a moment,
suggests the inanely grotesque figure of the pantomime. Of malicious,
saturnine devilry there is plenty in him; no one, except Liszt, could
compete with Berlioz on this ground. But there is more than this in the
character. In such scenes as that on the banks of the Elbe, where he
lulls Faust to sleep, there is a real suggestion of power, of dominion
over ordinary things, that takes Mephistopheles out of the category of
the merely theatrical and puts him in that of the philosophical.

Nor, in sheer character-drawing, can any other operatic Faust and
Margaret compare with the figures of Berlioz; and when we consider the
piecemeal manner in which the work was built up, it is astonishing
how just, how sure, how incisive this portraiture is. It may not be
precisely Goethe; but it is a magnificent translation of Goethe into
French. Faust, of course, is the Romantic Faust, with his passionate
intimacy with nature. We miss in Berlioz what we get in Schumann, for
example–the close following of Goethe’s philosophical plan. Berlioz
is not greatly interested in Faust’s schemes for the regeneration of
mankind; his own culture had not brought him into contact with Louis
Blanc and Proudhon and Saint-Simon. But of its kind it is all amazingly
fine. No other Margaret, except Liszt’s and perhaps Schumann’s, can
compare with Berlioz’s for pure pathos–the sensuous simplicity of soul
that wrings the heart with compassion. Altogether, though the opera of
Berlioz deals only with the more primordial passions of the drama, and
ends in a manner rather too suggestive of a Christmas card conceived in
a nightmare, it is more subtle, more profound, than almost any other
work of the same order.

Only one setting surpasses it–that of Schumann; not because it
achieves a finer individual portraiture than Berlioz’s work, but
because, on the whole, it stirs us more deeply in precisely the way we
are stirred by Goethe’s poem. Schumann’s plan is peculiar and original.
Whereas most other composers who have employed the operatic or cantata
form have drawn largely on Goethe’s First Part and almost ignored
the Second, it is from the Second Part that two-thirds of Schumann’s
work are taken. Out of the First Part we have only the garden scene,
Margaret before the image of the Mater Dolorosa, and the scene in the
cathedral. Faust, therefore, does not so far appear at all, except
in the tiny garden scene; and the sole structural fault of the work
is that something of the earlier Faust should have been shown to us,
before he appears, in the next section, as the refined and vigorous
humanist of Goethe’s Second Part. Setting this defect aside, however,
the remainder of the work gives us the quintessence of Goethe’s drama.
We have first the scene, at the opening of Goethe’s Second Part, where
Ariel and his fellow-spirits sing round the sleeping Faust; then
Faust’s return to mental health and energy, and his resolve to devote
himself henceforth to the highest activities of human life. Upon this
scene there follows the visit of the four grey-haired women–Want,
Guilt, Need, and Care–the blinding of Faust by the breath of Care,
the last outburst of his passionate zeal for life and freedom, and
his death. The remainder of the work is devoted to a textual setting,
line for line, of the final scene of Goethe’s poem–the hermits, the
choruses of angels, the three women, the penitent (formerly Margaret),
the Mater Gloriosa, and the “Chorus Mysticus.”

Schumann’s scheme is thus in the highest degree philosophical. It
austerely disregards the conventional elements that enter into the
usual operatic _Faust_, and concentrates itself on the essential
spiritual factors of the poem. Mephistopheles appears only for a moment
in the garden duet, and again in Faust’s death-scene, so that there
is no attempt at full portraiture of him. Schumann’s Margaret really
suggests the Margaret of Goethe. The same mediæval atmosphere seems to
environ her, both in the garden and in the cathedral. She is naïve in
the scene with Faust as Goethe’s Margaret is naïve; and in the scene
where she bends before the Mater Dolorosa, and again when the evil
spirit, in the cathedral, harries her with his taunts, everything is
set in the right key and the right colour. In the portrait of Faust
it is the thinker, the philosopher, that is uppermost throughout.
All through Schumann’s Second Part, indeed, we feel this constant
pre-occupation of the musician with the great human elements of the
drama; while in the exquisite, subtilised mysticism of the Third
Part these elements glow with a purer and rarer light. The work is
uneven in its musical inspiration; but on the whole we can say that
Schumann’s is the real _German_ Faust, the Faust of Goethe. Writing in
his eightieth year, the old poet pointed out one of the main reasons
for the enduring interest in his work: “The commendation which the work
has received, far and near, may perhaps be owing to this quality–that
it permanently preserves the period of a development of a human soul,
which is tormented by all that afflicts mankind, shaken also by all
that disturbs it, repelled by all that it finds repellent, and made
happy by all that which it desires. The author is at present far
removed from such conditions: the world, likewise, has to some extent
other struggles to undergo: nevertheless, the state of men, in joy and
sorrow, remains very much the same; and the latest born will still
find cause to acquaint himself with what has been enjoyed and suffered
before him, in order to adapt himself to that which awaits him.” It is
this grave note, this width of outlook upon man and the world, that we
have in Schumann’s work in fuller quantity and richer quality than in
any other setting of _Faust_. His is really the spirit of the _Faust_
conceived by the great poet–full of a passionate reflection upon life,
an uplifted, philosophical sense of tragedy, a mellow sympathy with and
pity for the troubled heart of man. From first to last he has made his
emotions out of the deeper, not out of the more superficial, passions
of the play.


[17] The reader may need to be reminded that the published score of
_Mefistofele_ is an abbreviation of the opera as it was originally
given. The opening scene of the first Act and the Walpurgis Night
scene in the second have been cut down (see Mazzucato’s article on
Boïto in “Grove’s Dictionary”). “The grand scene at the Emperor’s
Palace,” says Signor Mazzucato, is “entirely abandoned.” “A strikingly
original _intermezzo sinfonico_ … stood between the fourth and fifth
Acts; it was meant to illustrate the battle of the Emperor against
the pseudo-Emperor, supported by the infernal legions led by Faust
and Mephistopheles–the incident which in Goethe’s poem leads to the
last period of Faust’s life. The three themes–that is, the _Fanfare_
of the Emperor, the _Fanfare_ of the pseudo-Emperor, and the _Fanfare
infernale_–were beautiful in conception and interwoven in a masterly
manner, and the scene was brought to a close by Mephistopheles leading
off with ‘Te Deum laudamus’ after the victory.” As to the beautiful
conception and the masterly interweaving I am inclined to be sceptical;
but in any case the inclusion of this scene simply puts Boïto in
a worse light than ever. The whole episode is practically without
significance as far as regards Faust’s spiritual evolution. So far as
music is concerned, it merely gives the opportunity for a clap-trap

[18] Henry Hugh Pearson was born at Oxford in 1815. He settled in
Germany, where he found a more congenial musical atmosphere than was to
be had at that time in England. After writing for a little while under
the pseudonym of “Edgar Mansfeldt,” he reverted to his own name, but
metamorphosed it into Henri Hugo Pierson. His “Music to the Second Part
of Goethe’s _Faust_” was brought out at Hamburg in 1854. Pierson died
in 1873.




There are three stages in the history of every new truth. Take, as
an example, the Darwinian theory. First of all it is assailed with
tooth and claw by a thousand people who know nothing about it and
have never given ten minutes’ consecutive thought to it, but who hate
it simply because it disturbs their long mental inertia. Then, when
its truth becomes more and more evident, and too many clear-headed
people believe in it for it to be laughed down, and too many strong
people adopt it for it to be howled down, the partisans of the older
school become obnoxiously polite to it; they no longer call it a mass
of error, but they graciously permit it to take rank, after their
own particular theory, as a secondary and imperfect kind of truth.
Finally, it is universally accepted, purged of its admixture of error,
and both it and its predecessors are then seen to be just inevitable
stages in the development of the human mind, the second having no more
title than the first to be considered the end of the story. At first
Darwin’s theory of development is thought to be crushed by the mere
flinging at it of citations from the Bible; then the professional
theologians try to impress it into their own service; finally its
victory over misunderstanding and ignorance and prejudice is complete,
but by this time it is no longer the ultimate theory of things, but
only a stepping-stone to other theories. Something of the same kind
has happened, or is in process of happening, with programme music.
Formerly the dear old virginal academics shuddered if the foul word
polluted their chaste ears; now they condescend to discuss it, more
or less temperately, but always with the idea that it is merely an
inferior branch of the great music-family–a kind of poor relation of
absolute music; in a little while the rationality of the thing will be
beyond question, but by that time it will probably be making way for
something still newer than itself–though what that may be we have at
present no means of knowing. Just now we are in the second stage of
the controversy upon the subject. The advocate of programme music, it
should be said at once, is not necessarily a hater of absolute music,
nor is the lover of absolute music necessarily an enemy of programme
music. One can like Wagner and Strauss and Liszt and Berlioz and still
appreciate to the full the Bach fugue or the Mozart or Beethoven or
Brahms symphony. Still it is an unfortunate fact that too often a
liking for the one kind of art goes along with an abhorrence of the
other. Any narrowness of this kind is to be regretted on either side;
but if one partisan exhibits more of it than the other, I should say
it is the absolutist, who is usually much less fair towards programme
music, and less open to conviction, than the programmist is to absolute
music. And since the contest between the two schools is very strenuous
just now, and as one of the services of the critic is to give an art
room to breathe and grow by clearing away dead traditions from around
it, some good may be done to the creative musician, as well as to the
ordinary concert-goer, by a review of the field of dispute between the


Just as the average programmist is, on the whole, more generous in
his appreciations than the average absolutist, so he has done more
to clear up the darkness that envelops too much of the subject. From
this side there has come some good æsthetic discussion; from the
other side there has come little but dogged and tiresome repetition
of old catch-words, without any serious attempt to grapple with the
psychology of the question as a whole. In the latest edition of Grove’s
Dictionary of Music, Mr. Fuller Maitland gives us an example of this
method of “killing Kruger with your mouth.” “It is only natural,” he
says, “that programme music should for the time being be more popular
with the masses than absolute music, since the majority of people
like having something else to think of while they are listening to
music.” The last clause I take to be purely random assertion; there
are millions of people–even among the masses–who prefer abstract
ear-tickling that saves them the trouble of thinking of anything else
while they are listening. Nay, one of the complaints of the untutored
amateur against programme music is that it is so hard to follow–that
he cannot sit quietly in his seat and just listen to the music as it
comes, but must needs first read and pre-digest a long story out of
the analytical programme. Minds of this kind–and I have met with many
of them–protest simply because they _have_ to think of something
else while the notes are being poured into their ears. This rather
lame device is one way of disparaging programme music–the device
of implying that it is most popular with the “masses,” with people,
that is, of limited musical culture–which is of course not true. The
other way of denigrating it is the time-honoured one of an appeal
to the past; it is the æsthetic equivalent of the frequent appeal
to the Agnostic to remember what he “learned at his mother’s knee.”
“In the great line of the classic composers,” Mr. Maitland tells us,
“programme music holds the very slightest place; an occasional _jeu
d’esprit_, like Bach’s _Capriccio on the Departure of a Brother_,
or Haydn’s ‘Farewell’ Symphony, may occur in their works, but we
cannot imagine these men, or the others of the great line, seriously
undertaking, as the business of their lives, the composition of works
intended to illustrate a definite programme. Beethoven is sometimes
quoted as the great introducer of illustrative music, in virtue of
the Pastoral Symphony, and of a few other specimens of what, by a
stretch of terms, may be called programme music. But the value he
set upon it as compared with absolute music may be fairly gauged by
seeing what relation his ‘illustrative’ works bear to the others. Of
the nine symphonies, only one has anything like a programme; and the
master is careful to guard against misconceptions even here, since
he superscribes the whole symphony, ‘More the expression of feeling
than painting.’ Of the pianoforte sonatas, op. 90 alone has a definite
programme; and in the ‘Muss es sein?’ of the string quartet, op. 135,
the natural inflections of the speaking voice, in question and reply,
have obviously given purely musical suggestions which are carried out
on purely musical lines.”

To all this there are a good many objections to be raised. (1) In
Bach’s time programme music, as we understand it, simply could _not_ be
written. There was not the modern orchestra with the modern orchestral
technique; you could no more delineate _Francesca da Rimini_ with the
instruments of Bach’s time than you could adequately suggest a rainbow
with a piece of paper and a lead pencil. Further, for the expression
of a number of things that we now express in music, there were needed
(_a_) the modern enlargement of the musical vocabulary, and (_b_)
the “fertilisation of music by poetry,” on which Wagner rightly laid
such stress. But in any case Bach’s neglect of programme music is no
argument against the form. We might as well say that the fact that he
wrote no operas is a proof of the natural and perpetual inferiority of
opera. (2) Mr. Maitland passes over the fact that, imperfect as their
means of utterance were, many old composers _were_ frequently obsessed
by the desire to write something else than absolute music. He says
nothing of the attempts of Muffat, of the composers represented in the
Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, of Jannequin, of Buxtehude, of Frescobaldi,
of Hermann, of Gombert, of Carlo Farino, of Frohberger, of Kuhnau,
of Couperin, of Rameau, of Dittersdorf, and others, of some of whom
I shall speak shortly.[19] There has always been a strong desire
to write “illustrative” music, but for a long time it was checked
by the imperfection of the media through which it had to work. (3)
He ignores Haydn’s excursions into “illustrative” music in the
_Creation_ and the _Seasons_–the representation of chaos, of the
passage from winter to spring, of the dawn, of the peasants’ joyful
feelings at the rich harvest, of the thick clouds at the commencement
of winter; he says nothing of the “illustrative” symphonies or parts
of symphonies and other works of Haydn–“the morning,” “midday,”
“the evening,” “the tempest,” “the hunt,” “the philosopher,” “the
hen,” “the bear,” and so on. (4) He says nothing of the manner in
which the overture, both operatic and non-operatic, became more and
more “illustrative” at the end of the eighteenth and beginning of
the nineteenth century; he does not refer to the works of Beethoven
in which the “illustrative” function is very apparent, such as the
_Battle of_ _Vittoria_, the _Leonora_ overtures, the _Egmont_, the
_Coriolan_, the _Ruins of Athens_, the _King Stephen_, and so on. (5)
He blindly accepts Beethoven’s nonsensical remark about the Pastoral
Symphony being “more the expression of feeling than painting.” The
imitations of the nightingale, the cuckoo, and the quail may or may
not be a Beethoven joke; but if they are not specimens of “painting”
in music it is difficult to say what deserves that epithet. If the
peasants’ merrymaking, again, the brawl, the falling of the raindrops,
the rushing of the wind, the storm, the flow of the brook–if these
are not “painting” but merely the “expression of feeling,” well, so is
the hanging of Till Eulenspiegel, the death-shudder of Don Juan, and
the battle in _Ein Heldenleben_. (6) Even supposing that Beethoven’s
words could be taken literally, even supposing that in his music he
had not given them contradiction after contradiction, still this would
not settle the matter. Music did not end with Beethoven, and he might
have detested “illustrative” music to his heart’s content without that
fact being an argument against the writing of it by other people. It
is curious that the men who always tell admiringly the stories of
Beethoven breaking through the fetters in which his contemporaries
would have bound him, should try to use the same Beethoven as a barrier
against all future innovations. _He_ was great because he refused to
write in any way but his own; _we_ are to be great by submitting our
convictions to those of a hundred years ago. With all respect, and
without any irreverent desire to pluck the beards of our fathers, we
are unable to regard the question as finally settled by what Beethoven
said. He himself would surely have been the last man to play the
ineffective Canute, and dictate to the art the exact spot on the beach
to which its flood might rise. There is no evidence that he meant his
words to be a judicial condemnation of anybody or anything; there is no
evidence that he had ever given much critical thought to the question;
and it is quite certain that no matter how much he had thought about it
he could not have seen in it all that we, with our later experience,
can see.


One fact alone should make opponents of programme music think seriously
of their position. The most significant feature of the problem is the
way in which the practical musicians have dealt with it. Whereas most
of the older orchestral music of any value was absolute music, most
of the later orchestral music of any value is programme music; and
the momentum of the latter species seems to be increasing every year.
It will not do to pooh-pooh a phenomenon of this kind, nor to seek to
fasten upon it the explanation that some of the new men write music
depending upon literary or pictorial subjects because they cannot
write music of the other kind. This is like saying that Shakespeare
pusillanimously wrote dramas because he could not write epics–which
is probably a true saying, but quite irrelevant. The point is, why
should Shakespeare, with a gift for good drama, force himself to write
bad epics? And if a man’s musical ideas spring from quite another way
of apprehending life than that of the absolute musician, why should
he abjure his own native form of speech in order to mouth and maul
unintelligently the phrases and the forms of another musician whose
mental world is wholly foreign to his? In any case, while some of the
critics have been paternally warning young composers against falling
into the toils of programme music, and recommending them to keep to
the lines of structure as they were laid down by Haydn, Mozart, and
Beethoven, the musicians themselves have been flinging programme music
right and left to the world. One has only to take up a catalogue
of the Russian, French, German, Belgian, American, or even English
music published during the last twenty years to see how enormously
this form of art has grown, and how the really big men all display
a marked liking for it. You may regret, if you like, that so many
modern musicians should prefer programme music to absolute music;
but you cannot settle the big æsthetic problem involved by shrugging
your shoulders and invoking Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven, nor by
airily flinging out a formula or two of moribund æsthetic. And as bad
æsthetic, bad argumentation, are accountable for most of the confusion
upon the subject, let us try to analyse it more closely down to its

Programme music–by which we mean purely instrumental (_i.e._
non-vocal) music that has its _raison d’être_ in a definite literary or
pictorial scheme–is not an ideal term for this kind of art; but since
all names which we can give it are open to objections of some kind, we
may as well use this as any other. It must be remembered, too, that
though programme or representative music is indeed differentiable from
abstract or self-contained music, it is not absolutely differentiable.
All programme music must indeed be representative, but it must also
be, in part, self-contained; that is, a given phrase must not only
be appropriate to the character of Hamlet or Dante, or suggestive of
a certain external phenomenon such as the wind, or the fire, or the
water, but it must also be interesting _as music_.[20] On the other
hand, in thousands of works that have been written without a formal
programme, the expression–it may be throughout the work, or only in
parts of it–is so vivid, so strenuous, so suggestive of something more
than an abstract delight in making a beautiful tone-pattern, that it
spontaneously evokes in us images of definite scenes or characters or
actions. Surely no one can listen to the C minor symphony, for example,
and feel that Beethoven’s only concern was with the invention and
interweaving of abstract musical themes; here at any rate we feel
that there is much truth in Wagner’s contention, that behind the mere
tones a kind of informal drama is going on. The expression comes, at
times, as close to the suggestion of definite thought and definite
action as any symphonic poem could do. Thus some of the qualities of
programme music are found in absolute music, and _vice versâ_; there
is no hard-and-fast line of division between the two. Even in the
most mathematical music that ever pedant misconceived, a human accent
will sometimes make itself heard; and even the most human music–the
music that has its fount and origin and its final justification in the
veracious expression of definite human feeling–must be bound together
by some mathematical principle of form. But we all understand what we
mean by the broad distinction of absolute and poetic music.[21] In the
latter we have a definite literary or pictorial scheme controlling
(_a_) the shape and colour of the phrases, (_b_) the order in which
they appear, (_c_) the way in which they are played off against each
other, (_d_) their relative positions at the end. This it is, roughly
speaking, that distinguishes it from absolute music, where the manner
in which the themes are handled depends upon no conception, external to
the themes themselves, that could be phrased in words.

Now we are often told that when music takes upon itself to represent or
narrate, as in programme music, it is “stepping beyond its legitimate
boundaries.” We are told that it is “passing out of its own sphere;”
that it is abdicating the purely musical function, and trying to do
what it is the function of literature or of painting to do; that a
piece of music ought to be comprehensible from its music alone; that
its whole message should be written plainly on the music, without the
necessity of calling in the aid of a programme. If there is anything in
this thesis it will dispose of programme music at once. But I shall try
to show that there is nothing whatever in it–that it is not argument,
but pure assertion. I shall try to show in the first place that so far
from being a passing disease of the present generation, the desire to
write programme music is rooted in humanity from the very beginning;
and in the second place that the argument just outlined could be made
to dispose not only of programme music, but also of the song and the


The late Sidney Lanier, a critic of unusual sanity and freshness
of vision, contended that so far from being a late and excrescent
growth, programme music is “the very earliest, most familiar, and most
spontaneous form of musical composition.” We need not go quite so far
as this, for it seems to me that it is impossible to date either
kind of music first in order of time. Just as one early man placed
straight and curved lines in such relations that they pleased the
eye by their mere formal harmony, while another placed them in such
relations that they pleased by suggesting some aspect of man or nature,
so did early music spring with one musician from the mere pleasure
in the successions and combinations of tones, with another from the
desire to convey in sound a suggestion of the thoughts aroused in him
by his intercourse and his struggles with his fellow-men and with the
world. Lanier’s statement is evidently a slight exaggeration; but I
think he has invincible reason with him when he goes on to ask, “What
is any song but programme music developed to its furthest extent? A
song is … a double performance; a certain instrument–the human
voice–produces a number of tones, none of which have any intellectual
value in themselves; but, simultaneously with the production of the
tones, words are uttered, each in a physical association with a tone,
so as to produce upon the hearer at once the effect of conventional
and of unconventional sounds.[22] … Certainly, if programme music
is absurd, all songs are nonsense.” This, I think, is the key to the
problem. Let us look at it a little more closely.

Let us imagine two primitive men, each with the capacity for expressing
feeling in musical sound. One of them manages to find a phrase of a
few notes that gives him pleasure. Because it gives him pleasure he
repeats it. Having repeated it a number of times he finds the mere
repetition of it becoming monotonous; so next time he repeats it in
a slightly different way. He now experiences, without understanding
why, a subtler form of pleasure. If you told him he was making a very
practical demonstration of the law that a great deal of æsthetic
delight consists in realising unity in variety, he would not grasp
your meaning; but all the same that is what he is doing. He still
has his old pleasure in the agreeable succession of tones; but this
pleasure is intensified, subtilised, by another–the pleasure of
detecting the theme in the disguises it assumes. This primitive man
has made the first step towards sonata form; he is assisting at the
birth of absolute music. From this root there grows up all our pure
delight in agreeable tunes for their own sake, in the embroidery of
them, in the juggling with them; in a word, all our delight in absolute
music.[23] Now take the other man. He starts along another line. When
he begins to trace his rude melodic curve, it is not primarily because
he finds an all-absorbing delight in the curve itself. He begins
because some definite experience has moved him emotionally, and the
emotional disturbance must find an outlet in tone; his melodic curve
must suggest the experience. Let us say it is the death of a friend.
Here is a much more definite impulse than was acting upon the other
man; and it accordingly leads to a more definite expression. The curve
the melody takes is now determined not merely by the musical pleasure
it gives by going this way or that, but primarily by the need to make
the melody representative of a definite feeling, or suggestive of the
being or the event that aroused the feeling. _This_ man is at the turn
of the road that leads to poetical music–to the song, the opera, and
the symphonic poem. (I do not allege, let me say again, that there
is an absolute line of demarcation between absolute music and poetic
music, or between the states of mind from which they flow; the two
are always crossing and re-crossing into each other’s territory. I am
simply throwing into high relief the element in each that gives it its
peculiar significance.) In absolute music, as Wagner pointed out, the
essential thing is “the arousing of pleasure in beautiful forms.” In
poetic music the essential thing is the veracious rendering in tone
of an emotion that is as definite as the other is indefinite. Take
two concrete examples. The opening phrase of Beethoven’s 8th Symphony
refers to nothing at all external to itself; it is what Herbert Spencer
has called the music of pure exhilaration; to appreciate it you have to
think of nothing but itself; the pleasure lies primarily in the way
the notes are put together.[24] But the sinister motive that announces
the coming of Hunding, in the first act of the _Valkyrie_, appeals to
you in a different way. Here your pleasure is only partially due to
the particular way the notes go; the other part of it is due to the
_veracity_ of the theme, its congruence with the character it is meant
to represent. And, to go back to our two primitive men, the first of
them was in the mood that would ultimately give birth to the opening of
the 8th Symphony, while the second of them was in the mood that would
ultimately give birth to the Hunding motive.

Any one who takes the trouble to analyse the phrases of an ordinary
symphony and those of a modern song will perceive a broad difference
between the kinds of ideas evoked by them. In the old symphony or
sonata a succession of notes, pleasing in itself but not having
specific reference to actual life–not attempting, that is, to get
at very close quarters with strong emotional or dramatic expression,
but influencing and affecting us mainly by reason of its purely
formal relations and by the purely physical pleasure inherent in it
as sound–was stated, varied, worked out and combined with other
themes of the same order. Take a thousand of these themes–from Haydn,
Mozart, and the early Beethoven, for example–and while they affect
you musically you will yet be unable to say that they have taken their
rise from any _particular_ emotion, or that they embody any special
reflection upon life. It is the peculiarity of music that while on the
one hand it may speak almost as definitely as poetry, and refer to
things that are cognised intellectually, as in poetry, on the other
hand it may make an impression on us, purely as sound, to which the
words of poetry, purely as words, can offer no parallel effect. A verse
of Tennyson with the words so transposed as to have no intellectual
meaning would make no impression when read aloud; no pleasure, that
is, would be obtainable merely from the sound of the words themselves.
But play the diatonic scale on the piano, or strike a random chord
here and there, and though the thing means nothing, the ear is bound
to take some pleasure in it. Musical sound gives us pleasure in and by
and for itself, independently of our finding even the remotest mental
connection between its parts. This connection may be great, or small,
or practically non-existent; and the greater it is, of course, the
more complicated becomes our pleasure; but it is not essential to our
taking physiological delight in music considered purely as sound. Now
it is quite possible to construct a lengthy piece of music that shall
have absolutely no emotional expression, in the sense of suggesting
a reference to human experience–that shall be purely and simply a
succession and combination of pleasurable sounds. In the nature of
the case, it is clear that not much of the actual music that is
written could be of this order throughout. Emotion of some quality and
degree is sure to intrude itself here and there into even the most
“mathematical” music; but it is quite unquestionable that while some
music is alive with suggestions of human interest, of actual man and
life, there is an enormous quantity of very pleasant music from which
the interest of actuality is wholly absent, that reaches us through
physiological rather than through psychological channels, or at any
rate, if this is putting it unscientifically, through quite other
psychological channels.

Compare with music of this kind the phrases of a highly expressive
modern song, or of such a piece as Wagner’s _Faust Overture_, or of
one of Liszt’s or César Franck’s symphonic poems. Here the inspiration
comes direct from some aspect of external nature or from some actual
human experience; and the musical phrase becomes correspondingly
modified. While there still remain (1) the physiological pleasure in
the theme as sound, and (2) the formal pleasure in the structure,
balance, and development of the theme, there is now superadded a third
element of interest–the recognition of the veracity of the theme, its
appropriateness as an expression of some positive, definite emotion,
something seen, some actual experience of men. And music with a
content of this kind, it is important to note, can depart widely from
the manner of expression and of development of absolute music, and
still be interesting. The proof of this is to be had in recitative.
Here there is a very wide departure from the more formal music in
every quality–melodic, rhythmic, and harmonic. Attempt to play an
ordinary piece of recitative as pure music, without the voice and
without a knowledge of the words, and its divergence from music of the
self-sufficing order generally becomes obvious. The justification of
recitative is to be sought not in its compliance with the laws that
govern pure non-dramatic instrumental music, but in its congruence
with a definite literary idea that is seeking expression through the
medium of tone; and our tolerance of it and appreciation of it are
due to this supplementing of the somewhat inferior physical pleasure
by the superior mental pleasure given by the sense of dramatic truth
and fitness. So again in the song. Let any one try to imagine how
little the ending of Schubert’s _Erl-King_ would suggest to him if he
were totally ignorant of the words or the subject of the song, and he
will realise how the literary element at once modifies and supports
music of this kind. As a piece of absolute music, the final phrase of
the _Erl-King_ means nothing at all; it only acquires significance
when taken in conjunction with the words; and the justification of
its relinquishment of the mode of expression of pure self-sufficing
music is precisely its congruence with the literary idea. To go a step
further, the phrases typical of Mazeppa in Liszt’s symphonic poem,
both in themselves and in their development, would probably puzzle us
if we met with them in a symphony pure and simple; they only become
such marvels of poignant and veracious expression when associated
in the mind with Mazeppa. And, to go still further, and to show not
from the structure of a theme but from the treatment of it the change
that may be induced by a “programme,” I may instance the repetitions
in the last movement of Tchaikovski’s “Pathetic” Symphony, which,
though unwarrantable in a symphony of the older pattern, seem to many
of us surcharged with the most direct psychological significance.
Right through, from recitative to the symphonic poem or the programme
symphony, we see that the fusion of the literary or pictorial with the
musical interest necessarily leads to a modification of the tissue of
the musical theme and of the musical development. You could not, if
you would, express the story of Mazeppa in such phrases as those of
the “Jupiter.” So that, while we thus have an _a priori_ justification
of the programme phrase, we begin to understand the difficulties that
attend programme development, and some reasons for its many failures
in the past. Much of the work that had been done by the older men in
consolidating and elaborating the form of the symphony was found to
be of little help to the new school. A new type of phrase had to be
evolved, and with it a new method of development.

No one, I think, will dispute the broad truth of the principles here
laid down. That absolute music _per se_ and vocal or programme music
_per se_ have marked psychological differences between them, and that,
while the older bent was towards the one, the modern men show a marked
preference for the other–these are fairly obvious facts. Hence the
necessity of urging it upon the classicists that it will not do to
apply the formal rules of the old music to the new _en bloc_, as if
they were equally valid in both _genres_. If the modern men reject
the classical forms, and try to produce new ones of their own, it can
only be because their ideas are not the classical ideas, and must find
the investiture most natural and most propitious to them. When Wagner
rejected the current opera-form, and strove to attain congruence of the
poetical and the musical schemes at all points of his work, the pedants
told him that he avoided the long-sanctioned forms because he could
not write in them. They did not see that it would have been much less
trouble for him, as a mere musician, to shelter himself behind the old
forms than to evolve a consistent new one, and that he aimed at a new
structure simply because he had something quite new to say. Similarly,
when the pedants lay it down that the programmists choose the programme
form because it is an easier one to work in than the absolute form,
they fail to see how much originality of mind is needed to get veracity
of expression in the song or the symphonic poem, where the work,
besides having to satisfy our musical sense, will be tested by the
standard of the literary utterance or the literary idea with which it


Without making too wide a digression into the æsthetics of music, we
can see that the tendency to write the one kind of music is as deeply
rooted in us as the tendency to write the other kind. Some musicians,
by constitutional bias, take the one route, some the other; but neither
party has the right to assume that the kind of music it prefers is the
only kind. Hence it is an error to say that music is stepping out of
her own province when she becomes programme music. Her real province
includes both absolute and programme music; the one is as inherent in
us as the other.

But for reasons that will become apparent later, the absolute branch of
the art developed more rapidly than the poetical branch. Even by the
time absolute music had come to its magnificent climax in Beethoven,
programme music had really done nothing at all of any permanent value.
Many composers seemed to have a vague idea that purely instrumental
music _could_ be made to convey suggestions of real life just as poetry
does, and just as the song does; but they had not yet learned where to
begin and where to end, what was worth doing in this line and what was
not worth doing. Their attempts at programme music were mostly crude
imitations of external things, in a language not yet rich enough to
express what they wanted to say; they contain, for our ears, rather
too much programme and rather too little music. In the sixteenth
and seventeenth centuries the minds of the men who tried to write
poetic music for instruments alone, ran in two main directions. They
either wrote pieces musically interesting in themselves, and gave them
fanciful titles, such as “Diana in the wood,” “The virtuous coquette,”
“Juno, or the jealous woman,” and so on, or they frankly began with
the intention of representing appearances and events in music. Thus in
the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book we have pieces with the titles, “Faire
wether,” “Calm wether,” “Lightening,” “Thunder,” and “A clear day.”
These things were not confined to one country; they are met with all
over Europe. Occasionally the programme writers worked through vocal
as well as instrumental forms. Muffat wrote pieces of the “Diana in
the wood” order. Jannequin described the battle of Malegnano in music,
Hermann the battle of Pavia. In the seventeenth century Carlo Farina
wrote orchestral pieces in which the voices of animals were imitated.
Buxtehude wrote seven klavier-suites, describing in music the nature
and quality of the seven planets. Frescobaldi did a battle capriccio.
Frohberger wrote a suite showing the Emperor Ferdinand IV. making
his way up into heaven along Jacob’s ladder. Frohberger, indeed, was
realistic beyond the average. He not only painted nature, for example,
but indicated the locality as accurately as a geography or a guide-book
could do; and it was not merely humanity in general that moved about
among his scenes, but the Count this or the Prince that. In some
suites, that are unfortunately lost to an admiring world, he painted a
storm on the Dover-Calais route, and gave a series of pictures of what
befell the Count von Thurn in a perilous journey down the Rhine.[25]

All this seems very crude now, but the very prevalence of the practice
points to a widespread feeling in those times that music _could_ be
made to serve as an art of representation. Indeed, a much earlier
example of this tendency can be quoted, showing that even the ancient
Greeks had their programme-music writers. There is a passage in the
Geography of Strabo, in which he describes what he heard at Delphi.
Here, he says, they had a musical contest “of players on the cithara,
who executed a pæan in honour of Apollo. The players on the cithara
were accompanied by players on the flute, and by citharists, who
performed without singing. They performed a melos (strain) called
the Pythian mood. It consisted of five parts–the anacrusis, the
ampeira, cataceleusmus, iambics and dactyls, and pipes. Timosthenes,
the commander of the fleet of the second Ptolemy, and who was the
author of a work in ten books on Harbours, composed a melos. His
object was to celebrate in this melos the contest of Apollo with the
serpent Python. The anacrusis was intended to express the prelude;
the ampeira, the first onset of the contest; the cataceleusmus, the
contest itself; the iambics and dactyls denoted the triumphal strain
on obtaining the victory, together with musical measures of which the
dactyl is peculiarly appropriated to praise and the iambics to insult
and reproach; the syrinxes and pipes described the death, the players
imitating the hissings of the expiring monster.”[26] The unsympathetic
may say it is to be hoped that the gentleman was a better admiral than
he seems to have been a musician.

But to get back to modern Europe again. These crude imitations of
birds and beasts and the rolling of the waves are not programme music;
they are the rawest part of the raw material out of which programme
music is made. The difficulty is to make the piece interesting both
as music, and as a representation of what it purports to describe.
A composer may fling a phrase before us and tell us this represents
Hamlet, or Othello, or a death-rattle, or the Israelites crossing
the Red Sea, or anything else he likes; but unless the phrase has an
interest of its own, and unless he can satisfy our musical as well as
our literary sense by the way he handles and combines and transforms
it in the sequel, he will not arrest our attention. The great problem,
indeed, of both the modern symphonic poem and the modern opera is to
tell a story adequately and at the same time to satisfy our desire for
interesting musical development. If the composer fixes his attention
too exclusively on the literary part of his subject, his work will
lack organic _musical_ unity; if he is too intent on achieving this,
he will probably fail in dramatic definiteness. This, I shall soon try
to show, is really the crux both of opera and of programme music; and
if _we_ rarely succeed in solving so knotty a problem, it is not to be
wondered at that the solution did not come to the men of the sixteenth
or seventeenth or eighteenth century.

As a matter of fact, however, one old composer _did_ try to effect a
union of the programme purpose with some real sense of musical form.
This was Johann Kuhnau (1660?-1722), who, in his six Bible Sonatas,
describes “the fight between David and Goliath,” “the melancholy of
Saul being dissipated by music,” “the marriage of Jacob,” and so on.
Kuhnau was a really remarkable man. He was a good musician who could
write interesting clavier-pieces apart from any programme scheme. He
was moreover a keen-witted man who tried to think out seriously the
problem of the union of musical expression and poetical purpose, so
far as any man in those days could do so. In the preface to the Bible
Sonatas he points out that the musician, like the poet, prose-writer,
and painter, often wants to turn his hearers thoughts in a particular
direction. If he wants to express in his music not merely sadness
but the sadness of this or that individual–to distinguish, as he
says, a sad Hezekiah from a weeping Peter or a lamenting Jeremiah–he
must employ words in order to make the emotion definite. But not
necessarily, be it observed, by writing the music _to_ the words, as
in a song. His own plan is to illustrate his subject in music, and make
his poetic purpose clear to us by giving a detailed verbal account
of it. Thus he prefaces each of his Bible Sonatas with an elaborate
account of the event it deals with, and then summarises the main
motives. This, for example, is the summary of the first Sonata, after a
long general introduction. The Sonata expresses, he says–

1. The stamping and bravado of Goliath.

2. The trembling of the Israelites, and their prayer to God at sight
of their awful enemy.

3. The courage of David, his desire to break the proud spirit of the
giant, and his childlike trust in God’s help.

4. The contest of words between David and Goliath, and the contest
itself, in which Goliath is wounded in the forehead by the stone,
falls down, and is slain.

5. The flight of the Philistines, and how they are pursued by the
Israelites, and slaughtered with the sword.

6. The jubilation of the Israelites over the victory.

7. The chorus of the women in praise of David.

8. And, finally, the general joy, finding vent in vigorous dancing and

It will be seen at once that the programme here is of a different
kind from those of some of Kuhnau’s predecessors and contemporaries.
It does indeed aim at representing some external things–such as the
stamping of Goliath, the impact of the stone against his head, and so
on–but they are not inherently absurd or impossible; while he gives a
great deal of his space to the really emotional moments of the story.
Throughout the sonatas, however, it is the poetic purpose that directs
the music, determining both expression, sequence, and form. Every
episode that occurs in the story has to be represented in the music;
and Kuhnau is careful to print, in his score, the verbal indication at
the precise point where the music follows it. He tells us the exact bar
at which the stone is aimed at Goliath, and the bar in which the giant
falls down; where Laban begins to practise his deceit on Jacob, where
Jacob is “amorous and contented,” and where “his heart warns him that
something is wrong”; and so on–thereby setting an example to composers
like Strauss, who foolishly give the purchaser of such a score as _Till
Eulenspiegel_ no guide to the various adventures of the hero. Some of
Kuhnau’s devices provoke a smile, as in the Fifth Sonata–“Gideon,
the Saviour of the People of Israel.” The sign to Gideon was that the
fleece was to be wet with dew, but the ground dry; the next night the
ground was to be wet and the fleece dry. Kuhnau naïvely expresses the
second sign by giving the theme of the first sign in contrary motion.
But all _naïvetés_ apart, a great deal of the music of the Sonatas
is very fine; and it is noteworthy that Kuhnau points out, in his
general preface, that the writer of programme music must be allowed
more liberty than the absolutist to break a traditional “law” when the
expression demands it.[27] Kuhnau, indeed, was on the right path. He
was a man born before his due time; had he lived in our days, and had
at his command all the resources of modern expression and our enormous
orchestras, he might have taken up very much the same position towards
music as the modern programmists.

John Sebastian Bach, who succeeded Kuhnau at the Thomas Church in
Leipzig, made one, and only one, experiment in the same line. This
was the “Capriccio on the departure of my dearly beloved brother.”
The first movement, he says, depicts “The cajoleries of friends,
trying to induce him to give up the idea of the journey”; the second
is “a representation of the various things that may happen to him in
foreign lands”; the third gives utterance to a “general lament of his
friends as they say good-bye to him”; and the finale is a fugue on the
postillion’s signal.

Bach, however, made no further attempt to develop along these lines.
The work _he_ had been sent into the world to do was of another order.

About the same time Couperin, in France, was cultivating the programme
_genre_ with some success. He not only wrote harmless little things
with titles like “La Galante,” but also connected pieces of musical
delineation, such as “The Pilgrims.” Like Kuhnau, he justified his
principles in a preface. “In the composition of my pieces,” he says,
“I have always a definite object or matter before my eyes. The titles
of my pieces correspond to these occasions. Each piece is a kind of

In Rameau again, we get such things as “Sighs,” “Tender Plaints,”
“The Joyous Girl,” “The Cyclops,” etc.; and at a slightly later date
Dittersdorf (1739-1799) wrote twelve programme symphonies, illustrating
Ovid’s “Metamorphoses” and “The War of Human Passions.”

Mozart’s father wrote a musical description of a sledge-journey, in
which the ladies are represented shivering with the cold; but Mozart
himself avoided the programme form as positively as Bach. Haydn,
however, dabbled in it more extensively, as I have already pointed out.

Beethoven’s position in the history of programme music is somewhat
peculiar. Just about that time, when the Napoleonic wars had
familiarised every one with the pomp of armies, there was a perfect
deluge of battle pieces. There was probably not a battle of any
importance in those days that had not a fantasia written upon it, each
differing from the others in little else but its title. In a weak
moment Beethoven succumbed to the general temptation and wrote his
“Battle of Vittoria,” which is not only one of the least significant
of his works, but one of the least significant works in the history
of programme music. Beethoven’s real contributions to this form of
art were indirect rather than direct. He told one of his friends that
he had always a picture in his mind when composing; and if this could
be taken quite literally, it would seem as if we were on the trail of
programme music pure and simple. But we shall probably never know the
extent to which Beethoven relied on poetic suggestions for his musical
inspiration; and if we look at the internal evidence of his music, we
shall see that although it often deals with poetic subjects, it treats
them from the standpoint of the old forms rather than from that of
the new. So far as their intellectual origin is concerned, the superb
_Leonora_, _Egmont_, and _Coriolan_ overtures are poetic music; that
is, they aim, in a musical texture, at sketching a character or telling
a story. But so far as the form is concerned in which the composer
has chosen to work, the procedure is determined almost entirely by
the laws of absolute music. Wagner has drawn attention to this in
a well-known passage in his essay on “Liszt’s Symphonic Poems.” He
shows what the formal laws of the old symphony were, and how necessary
they were to give logical coherence to abstract music. But, he says,
when these laws were applied uncompromisingly to a different kind of
art-work–the overture–a disturbance occurred at once between the aims
of the overture and the demands of the symphonic form. All that the
latter was concerned with was _change_–the constant representation
of themes in new lights. The overture had, in addition to this, to
concern itself with dramatic development. “Now it will be obvious,” he
says, “that, in the conflict of a dramatic idea with this form, the
necessity must at once arise either to sacrifice the development (the
idea) to the alternation (the form), or the latter to the former.”
He goes on to praise Gluck’s _Iphigenia in Aulis_ overture for the
skilful way it keeps the dramatic development from being spoiled by
compliance with extraneous laws of form. Then, he says, Beethoven,
working on a bigger scale and with a more stupendous imagination than
Gluck, nevertheless came to grief on the rock Gluck managed to escape.
“He who has eyes,” says Wagner, “may see precisely by this overture
(_i.e._ the great _Leonora No. 3_), how detrimental to the master the
maintenance of the traditional form was bound to be. For who, at all
capable of understanding such a work, will not agree with me when I
assert that the repetition of the first part, after the middle section,
is a weakness which distorts the idea of the work almost past all
understanding; and that the more, as everywhere else, and particularly
in the coda, the master is obviously governed by nothing but the
dramatic development. But whoso has brains and lack of prejudice enough
to see this, will have to admit that the evil could only have been
avoided by entirely giving up that repetition; an abandonment, however,
which would have done away with the overture-form–_i.e._ the original,
merely suggestive, symphonic dance-form–and have constituted the
departure-point for creating a new form.”

Wagner is undoubtedly right. Beethoven hovered uncertainly at times
between the demands of poetic expression and the demands of absolute
form. To write poetic music pure and simple, of course, was not his
mission in the world. That was reserved for other men. One side of his
powerful genius was to be taken up by Wagner and pushed to its logical
conclusion in the music-drama. Another side, cultivated by Berlioz,
Liszt, and Richard Strauss, comes to its logical end in the symphonic
poem; and just as Wagner criticised the Beethoven overture from the
standpoint of music-drama, I propose, shortly, to criticise Wagner
from the standpoint of the symphonic poem. I shall try to show that
so far from the Wagnerian opera representing, as Wagner thought, the
ideal after which the music of Beethoven was striving, it is really
only a transitional form; and that the symphonic poem is the completely
satisfactory, completely logical form, to which the Wagnerian opera
stands in the same relation as the _Leonora_ overture does to _Tristan
and Isolde_.


Before embarking on this æsthetic argument, however, let us briefly
conclude our historical view of the development of programme music.
It was with the Romantic movement that the infusion of poetry into
music became complete, and at the same time the vocabulary and the
colour-range of music became adequate to express all kinds of literary
and pictorial ideas. The older musicians could not, if they had tried,
have written the modern symphonic poem or the modern song. And this for
several reasons. In the first place, they were pretty fully occupied
with making music the language it now is; they had to form a vocabulary
and think out principles of architecture; and the last thing they
could have done was to leave the safe and formal lines of their own
art–safe because they were precise and formal–and plunge into a mode
of expression that would have seemed to them to offer no coherence, no
guiding principle. In the second place, they lacked one of the main
stimuli to the development of modern programme music, the suggestion
of a vivid, living, modern, highly emotional and picturesque poetry. A
Schumann, a Brahms, a Franz could not have written such songs as they
have done in any century but this; for the mainspring of their songs
has been the emotional possibilities contained in the words. It was
only when composers really felt the deepest artistic interest in the
words they were setting, instead of regarding them as merely a frame
for musical embroidery, that they attained the modern veracity and
directness of phrase. You cannot do much more with words like those
of the older song or opera than set them with a view to their purely
musical rather than their musico-poetical possibilities; and if you
persist, out of deference to a foolish tradition, in setting to music
the words of a foreign and relatively unfamiliar language, you will
perforce become more and more conventional in your phrases and in your
general structure. It was the peculiar advantage of the modern German
song-writers that they could set lyrics of their own language, alive
with every suggestion that could lend itself to musical treatment.
The emotion was intense, the form concentrated and direct, the idea
definite and concise; and the musicians, having by this time a fully
developed language for their use, set themselves to reproduce these
qualities of the poem in their music. Hence the new spirit that came
into music with the Romantic movement, and that reacted on opera, on
piano music, and on the symphonic poem.

Another great difference between the pre-Romantic and the post-Romantic
composers was that the latter were, on the whole, much more cultured
men than the former. This was due, of course, not to any particular
merit of their own, but to the changed social circumstances of the
musician. The system of patronage in the eighteenth century, while it
undoubtedly helped the musician to develop _as_ a musician, must have
retarded his development in other ways. Under that system, where he was
often little better than the servant of some aristocrat, he must often
have been debarred from studying the world at first-hand, meeting it
face to face, looking at it through his own eyes. Neither Haydn[28]
nor Mozart, for example, stood on the level of the best culture of
the time. The great German historian of music, Ambros, has pointed out
how, in Mozart’s letters from Italy, the talk is all of the singers
and dancers; “he scarcely seems to have noticed the Coliseum and the
Vatican, with all that these contain.” And Ambros goes on to say that
the modern musician reads his Shakespeare and his Sophocles in the
original, and knows them almost by heart. He reads Humboldt’s Cosmos
and the histories of Niebuhr and Ranke; he studies the dialectic of
Hegel as well as, or perhaps more than, the art of fugue; and if he
goes to Italy he does not trouble himself about the opera, but occupies
himself with nature and the remains of classic art. He is, in fact,
says Ambros, “Herr Microcosmos.”[29]

For a fair picture of the ordinary life of a musician in the house
of his patron in the eighteenth century we have only to turn to the
Autobiography of Dittersdorf. Among them all, indeed, Gluck and Handel
seem to be the only musicians who possessed much culture,[30] and who
strike us as being, apart from music, the intellectual equal of the
great men of the time–of Voltaire, Rousseau, Condorcet, Diderot,
Lessing, and the rest. There is no evidence that Beethoven was either
a man of wide culture, or a respectable thinker outside his own art.
It is, indeed, probable that the enormous musical power of many of
these men, and the centuries of progress through which they rushed
music in comparatively a few years, was due to their being nothing
else but musicians, to the concentration of all their faculties, all
their experiences, upon the problem of making sound a complete, living,
flexible medium of expression. But the later musicians were of another
order. The Romantic movement bred a new type of musician. He no longer
sat in the music-room of an aristocrat, clothed in the aristocrat’s
livery, and spun music out of his own inner consciousness. He moved
about in the world and saw and learned a good deal. He associated
with poets; he frequented the studios of painters. We get men like
Hoffmann, at once novelist, painter, musician, and critic; like Liszt,
pianist, composer, author; like Schumann, musician and musical critic;
like Wagner, ranging greedily over the whole field of human knowledge,
and mixing himself up–in more senses than one–with every possible
and impossible subject under the sun. I am not using the term in any
offensive or disparaging sense when I say that the average modern
musician, in matters outside music, is a much better educated and more
all-round man than his predecessor; he knows more, sees more, reads
more, thinks more. Men like Wagner, Brahms, Richard Strauss, Hugo
Wolf, and Bruneau, stand much closer to the general intellectual life
of their day than any of the older musicians did to the intellectual
life of _his_ day. I am not for a moment contending that they are any
greater _musicians_ merely on this account; I simply state it as a
psychological factor in their work, as something that determines, to a
great extent, the quality of that work, and certainly determines their
choice of subjects.

The way it does this is by making them anxious to express in their
music all the impressions they have gathered from the world and from
their culture. But in order that they might do this, two things were
necessary, as we have already seen. The vocabulary of music–its range
of melody and harmony–had to be increased, and the capacity of the
orchestra had to be enormously developed. It is folly to laugh at the
men of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries for not getting on
further with poetical music. They had not the means at their disposal
to do so. Sonata-form grew up to a great extent on the piano and the
violin; and the nature of these instruments largely determined what
could and should be uttered upon them. It was not till harmony got
richer and deeper and fuller, and men had learned to extract all kinds
of expression from the orchestra, that programme music in the true
sense of the word became possible.

The broad historical facts, then, are that the stimulus to poetic
music in the nineteenth century came from the wider education of the
musician, the great development of the means of musical expression, and
the incessant stimulation of the musician by poetry and literature in
general.[31] As we know, the new spirit broke out in three forms–in
the highly emotional song of Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Franz, and the
others; in the poetical music-drama of Wagner; and in the symphonic
poems or programme symphonies of Berlioz, Liszt, Tchaikovski, Raff, and
a dozen others, leading up to Richard Strauss. Even the men who did
not actually dabble much in the last-named form helped the cause of
instrumental poetic music in other ways. Schumann, for example, with
his poetic little piano pieces, his delicate sketches of character in
the _Carneval_ and _Papillons_ and elsewhere, was really following
up the same trail as led to Liszt’s _Mazeppa_, Berlioz’s _Harold en
Italie_, and Strauss’s _Till Eulenspiegel_.


On two lines of inquiry, then, we have found the case for programme
music somewhat stronger than its hasty opponents have imagined. On the
one hand, we have seen that when the nature and origin of music are
psychologically analysed, there are two mental attitudes, two orders
of expression, and two types of phrase, from one of which has arisen
absolute, from the other, programme music. On the other hand, we have
seen that, from a variety of reasons, programme music could not have
been cultivated by the great masters of the eighteenth century who
beat out the form of the classical symphony; while its fascination for
the modern men is due to its being the only medium of expression for a
certain order of modern ideas. It is quite time, then, that not only
critics but composers realised that when the brains are out the form
will die; that you cannot write a symphony in the form of Mozart or
Beethoven unless your mental world is something like theirs, and that
if the literary, or pictorial, or dramatic suggestion is all-potent
with a composer, it is folly for him to throw it aside, and try, by
using a form that is uncongenial to him, to get back into an emotional
atmosphere it would be impossible for him to breathe.

The change that came over music about the beginning of the nineteenth
century, and that first came to full fruition in Wagner’s operas, is
best described in the oft-quoted words of Wagner himself, as “the
fertilisation of music by poetry.” He felt that there was considerable
evidence of the action of poetry upon music in Beethoven, though, as
can be seen from the passages on the _Leonora_ overture already quoted,
in Beethoven the reins are still too tightly clutched by absolute
music. He always, no matter what the origin of his conceptions may
have been, worked them out within the limits of symphonic form.
Berlioz, roughly speaking, went the other way, always keeping his eye
fixed intently on the lines of his poetic scheme. Wagner’s criticism
upon this practice of Berlioz is interesting, even if not final. In
listening to music of this kind, he says, “it always happened that I
so completely lost the musical thread that by no manner of exertion
could I re-find and knit it up again.” His point was this, to put it
in words of our own: if he was listening to a Berlioz work, he could
not get complete pleasure out of the music, _as_ mere music, because
it was not developed along purely musical lines; the chief theme, let
us say, gave him pleasure on its first announcement, but he could not
see the _rationale_ of its future treatment, as one can always see
the _rationale_ of the return of the themes in a symphony. This was
because the course of the music was determined not by abstract musical
intentions, but by poetic intentions which were not made clear to
him; and the result was, as it were, that he fell between two stools.
“I discovered,” he says, “that while I had lost the musical thread
(_i.e._ the logical and lucid play of definite motives), I now had to
hold on to scenic motives not present before my eye, nor even so much
as indicated in the programme. Indisputably these motives existed in
Shakespeare’s famous balcony scene” (Wagner is speaking of Berlioz’s
_Romeo and Juliet_); “but in that they had all been faithfully
retained, and in the exact order given them by the dramatist, lay
the great mistake of the composer.” And Wagner’s contention was this,
that when a composer wants to reproduce in music a certain scene from
a drama, he must not take the thing as it stands and move on from
point to point in exactly the same way as the poet did. What was
right for the poet would be wrong for the musician. _He_ must tell
his story or paint his scene according to the laws and capacities of
music, not those of poetry; and Wagner goes on to praise Liszt for
having, by superior artistic instinct, avoided the pitfall that nearly
proved fatal to Berlioz. Liszt, instead of trying to tell us in music
precisely what the poet had already told us in verse, rethinks in music
what the poet has said, and gives it out to us as something born of
musical feeling itself.

Now we need not go into the question of how far Wagner is right in
what he says of Berlioz. This, at all events, is certain, from his
own words in praise of Liszt, that Wagner had no _à priori_ objection
to the symphonic poem, but only to the symphonic poem when it went
on what he took to be the wrong lines. All that is needed is for the
proper compromise to be agreed upon between the poetic purpose and the
musical form. This, I think, Richard Strauss has effected, and it would
be interesting to have had Wagner’s criticism of Strauss. But since we
cannot get that, _we_ may criticise Wagner from the standpoint of the
symphonic poem.


Before doing this, however, let us briefly touch upon one or two other
main issues.

The first point I lay stress on is this, that “form” in programme
music cannot mean the same thing as form in absolute music; and for
this reason. So long as you work in one medium alone, the form is
controlled simply by the necessities and potentialities of that medium.
In a symphony or a fugue you have to consider nothing but the nature
of absolute music; in the drama, you have to worry about no problems
except those that lie in the nature of drama. But as soon as you begin
to work in a form that is a blend of the two, each of them wants to
pull the other along its own road, and a compromise has to be arrived
at. This is why it is easier to satisfy our sense of form in a drama
or a symphony than in an opera or a symphonic poem. We see the same
thing in prose literature. If you are going to write a pure romance,
concerned with nothing but romance, your course is fairly easy. If
you are going to write a treatise on society, again, you are bound by
no laws but those pertaining to this kind of work. But if you want
to combine the two–if you want to write a novel that shall not only
depict character but also enforce a sociological lesson, as in Zola’s
novels or some of the stories of the American Frank Norris, then
there is a wrench between the two tendencies. The sociology is apt to
spoil the fiction, and the fiction the sociology. So it is in poetic
music; the poetry wants the music to go _its_ way, the music insists
on the poetry going _its_ way. In the case of the sociological novel,
what really happens is this. We admit that Zola’s _Débâcle_ is not so
artistic a piece of work as, say, R. L. Stevenson’s _Prince Otto_; but
we make allowances; we give up a little purely æsthetic pleasure in
consideration of getting a great deal of another kind of pleasure–that
of seeing a bigger picture of a more real life put on the canvas. If we
can only get the larger human quality in fiction by giving up a little
of the æsthetic gratification that comes from perfect form–well, being
reasonable creatures, there are times when we will cheerfully accept
the situation and make the compromise.

And so it is in poetic music. Wagner’s _Tannhäuser_ overture and the
_Tristan_ prelude are not so satisfactory, from the point of view
of pure form, as a movement from a Beethoven symphony. We get the
repetitions of the themes determined by poetic rather than musical
necessities. Push the principle a little further, and you will get
almost no musical continuity at all, but a continuity of picture only.
If we examine the prelude to the _Dream of Gerontius_, we see that the
order of the themes follows a poetic or scenic purpose rather than
a musical purpose. This is legitimate so long as it does not go too
far, so long as we are not made to feel that the musical continuity is
absolutely thrown overboard to secure didactic or literary continuity.
But the broad principle is, that a piece of musical development, like
the _Tristan_ or _Gerontius_ prelude, that would not be altogether
satisfactory in absolute music, is quite satisfactory in poetic music.
It tells the literary story well enough, and yet does not starve our
musical sense.