Symphonies and Their Meaning; Third Series, Modern Symphonies
Philip H. Goepp
Part 1 out of 5
SYMPHONIES AND THEIR MEANING
THIRD SERIES: MODERN SYMPHONIES.
PHILIP H. GOEPP
Criticism of contemporary art is really a kind of prophecy. For the
appreciation of the classical past is an act of present perception, not
a mere memory of popular verdicts. The classics live only because they
still express the vital feeling of to-day. The new art must do
more,--must speak for the morrow. And as the poet is a kind of seer, the
true critic is his prophetic herald.
It is with due humility that we approach a view of the work of our own
time, with a dim feeling that our best will be a mere conjecture. But we
shall the more cheerfully return to our resolution that our chief
business is a positive appreciation. Where we cannot praise, we can
generally be silent. Certain truths concerning contemporary art seem
firmly grounded in the recorded past. The new Messiah never came with
instant wide acclaim. Many false prophets flashed brilliantly on the
horizon to fall as suddenly as they rose. In a refracted view we see the
figures of the great projected in too large dimension upon their day.
And precisely opposite we fail to glimpse the ephemeral lights obscuring
the truly great. The lesson seems never to be learned; indeed it can, of
course, never be learned. For that would imply an eternal paradox that
the present generation must always distrust its own judgment.
Who could possibly imagine in Schubert's time the sway he holds to-day.
Our minds reel to think that by a mere accident were recovered the
Passion of Bach and the symphonies of Schubert. Or must we prayerfully
believe that a Providence will make the best prevail? And, by the way,
the serious nature of this appreciation appears when we see how it was
ever by the greatest of his time that the future master was heralded.
The symphony of the present age has perhaps fallen somewhat in estate.
It was natural that it should rush to a high perfection in the halcyon
days of its growth. It is easy to make mournful predictions of
decadence. The truth is the symphony is a great form of art, like a
temple or a tragedy. Like them it has had, it will have its special eras
of great expression. Like them it will stay as a mode of utterance for
new communities and epochs with varying nationality, or better still,
with vanishing nationalism.
The tragedy was not exhausted with Sophocles, nor with Shakespeare nor
with Goethe. So the symphony has its fallow periods and it may have a
new resurgence under new climes. We are ever impatient to shelve a great
form, like vain women afraid of the fashion. It is part of our constant
rage for novelty. The shallower artist ever tinkered with new
devices,--to some effects, in truth. Such is the empiric course of art
that what is born of vanity may be crowned with highest inspiration.
The national element will fill a large part of our survey. It marks a
strange trait of our own age that this revival of the national idea
falls in the very time when other barriers are broken. Ancient folk-song
grew like the flower on the battle-field of races. But here is an
anxious striving for a special dialect in music. Each nation must have
its proper school; composers are strictly labelled, each one obedient to
his national manner. This state of art can be but of the day. Indeed,
the fairest promise of a greater future lies in the morrow's blending of
these various elements in the land where each citizen has a mixed
inheritance from the older nations.
In the bewildering midst of active spirits comes the irresistible
impulse to a somewhat partisan warfare. The critic, if he could view
himself from some empyraean perch, remote in time and place, might smile
at his own vehemence. In the clash of aims he must, after all, take
sides, for it is the tendency that is momentous; and he will be excited
to greater heat the stronger the prophet that he deems false. When the
strife is over, when currents are finally settled, we may take a more
contented joy in the impersonal art that remains.
The choice from the mass of brilliant vital endeavor is a new burden and
a source almost of dismay. Why should we omit so melodious a work as
Moskowski's _Jeanne d'Arc_,--full of perhaps too facile charm? It was,
of course, impossible to treat all the wonderful music of the Glazounows
and the Kallinikows. And there is the limpid beauty of the Bohemian
_Suk_, or the heroic vigor of a _Volbach_. We should like to have
mentioned _Robert Volkmann_ as a later Romanticist; and _Gade_ has ever
seemed a true poet of the Scandinavian symphony.
Of the modern French we are loth to omit the symphonies of _Chausson_
and of _Dukas_. In our own America it is a still harder problem. There
is the masterly writing of a _Foote_; the older _Paine_ has never been
fully valued in the mad race for novelty. It would have been a joy to
include a symphony of rare charm by _Martinus van Gelder_.
A critical work on modern art cannot hope to bestow a crown of laurels
among living masters; it must be content with a view of active
tendencies. The greatest classic has often come into the world amid
least expectation. A critic in the year 1850 must need have omitted the
Unfinished Symphony, which was then buried in a long oblivion.
The present author prefers to treat the main modern lines, considering
the special work mainly as example. After all, throughout the realm of
art the idea is greater than the poet, the whole art more than the
artist,--though the particular enshrinement in enduring design may
reflect a rare personality.
PHILIP H. GOEPP.
NOTE: Especial thanks are owed to the Philadelphia Orchestra for a free
use of its library, and to Messrs. G. Schirmer Company for a like
CHAPTER I.--The Symphony during the Nineteenth Century
CHAPTER II.--Berlioz and Liszt
CHAPTER III.--Berlioz. "Romeo and Juliet." Dramatic Symphony
CHAPTER IV.--A Symphony to Dante's "Divina Commedia"
CHAPTER V.--The Symphonic Poems of Liszt
"Battle of the Huns"
CHAPTER VI.--The Symphonic Poems of Saint-Saens
"The Youth of Hercules"
"Omphale's Spinning Wheel"
CHAPTER VII.--Cesar Franck
Symphony in D minor
CHAPTER VIII.--D'Indy and the Followers of Franck
D'Indy's Second Symphony
CHAPTER IX.--Debussy and the Innovators
"The Sorcerer's Apprentice"--Dukas
CHAPTER XI.--The Neo-Russians
Balakirew. Symphony in C
"Scherezade." Symphonic Suite
Rachmaninow. Symphony in E minor
CHAPTER XII.--Sibelius. A Finnish Symphony
CHAPTER XIII.--Bohemian Symphonies
Smetana. Symphonic Poem: "The Moldau River"
Dvorak. Symphony: "From the New World"
CHAPTER XIV.--The Earlier Bruckner
Fourth (Romantic) Symphony
CHAPTER XV.--The Later Bruckner
CHAPTER XVI.--Hugo Wolff
"Penthesilea." Symphonic Poem
CHAPTER XVIII.--Richard Strauss. Symphonic Poems
"Death and Transfiguration"
"Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks"
CHAPTER XIX.--Italian Symphonies
Sgambati. Symphony in D major
Martucci. Symphony in D minor
CHAPTER XX.--Edward Elgar. An English Symphony
CHAPTER XXI.--Symphonies in America
Henry Hadley. Symphony No. 3
Gustav Strube. Symphony in D minor
Chadwick. Suite Symphonique
Loeffler. "The Devil's Round." Symphonic Poem
SYMPHONIES AND THEIR MEANING
THE SYMPHONY DURING THE NINETEENTH CENTURY
After the long dominance of German masters of the musical art, a
reaction could not fail to come with the restless tendencies of other
nations, who, having learned the lesson, were yet jealous of foreign
models and eager to utter their own message. The later nineteenth
century was thus the age of refraction of the classic tradition among
the various racial groups that sprang up with the rise of the national
idea. We can see a kind of beginning in the Napoleonic destruction of
feudal dynasties. German authority in music at the beginning of the
century was as absolute as Roman rule in the age of Augustus. But the
seed was carried by teachers to the various centres of Europe. And, with
all the joy we have in the new burst of a nation's song, there is no
doubt that it is ever best uttered when it is grounded on the lines of
classic art. Here is a paramount reason for the strength of the modern
Russian school. With this semi-political cause in mind it is less
difficult to grasp the paradox that with all the growth of
intercommunication the music of Europe moves in more detached grooves
to-day than two centuries ago. The suite in the time of Bach is a
special type and proof of a blended breadth and unity of musical thought
in the various nations of Europe of the seventeenth century. In the
quaint series of dances of the different peoples, with a certain
international quality, one sees a direct effect of the Thirty Years'
War,--the beneficent side of those ill winds and cruel blasts, when all
kinds of nations were jostling on a common battle-ground. And as the
folk-dances sprang from the various corners of Europe, so different
nations nursed the artistic growth of the form. Each would treat the
dances of the other in its own way, and here is the significance of
Bach's separate suites,--English, French and German.
Nationalism seems thus a prevailing element in the music of to-day, and
we may perceive two kinds, one spontaneous and full of charm, the other
a result of conscious effort, sophisticated in spirit and in detail. It
may as well be said that there was no compelling call for a separate
French school in the nineteenth century as a national utterance. It
sprang from a political rather than an artistic motive; it was the itch
of jealous pride that sharply stressed the difference of musical style
on the two sides of the Rhine. The very influence of German music was
needed by the French rather than a bizarre invention of national traits.
The broader art of a Saint-Saens here shines in contrast with the
brilliant conceits of his younger compatriots, though it cannot be
denied that the latter are grounded in classic counterpoint. With other
nations the impulse was more natural: the racial song of the
Scandinavians, Czechs and other Slavs craved a deliverance as much as
the German in the time of Schubert. In France, where music had long
flourished, there was no stream of suppressed folk-song.
But the symphony must in the natural course have suffered from the very
fulness of its own triumph. We know the Romantic reaction of Schumann,
uttered in smaller cyclic forms; in Berlioz is almost a complete
abandonment of pure music, devoid of special description. Liszt was one
of the mighty figures of the century, with all the external qualities of
a master-genius, shaking the stage of Europe with the weight of his
personality, and, besides, endowed with a creative power that was not
understood in his day. With him the restless tendency resulted in a new
form intended to displace the symphony: the symphonic poem, in a single,
varied movement, and always on a definite poetic subject. Here was at
once a relief and a recess from the classic rigor. Away with sonata form
and all the odious code of rules! In the story of the title will lie all
the outline of the music.
Yet in this rebellious age--and here is the significance of the
form--the symphony did not languish, but blossomed to new and varied
flower. Liszt turned back to the symphony from his new-fangled device
for his two greatest works. It has, indeed, been charged that the
symphony was accepted by the Romantic masters in the spirit of a
challenge. Mendelssohn and even Schumann are not entirely free from such
a suspicion. Nevertheless it remains true that all of them confided to
the symphony their fairest inspiration. About the middle of the century,
at the high point of anti-classical revolt, a wonderful group of
symphonies, by Berlioz, Mendelssohn, Schumann, and Liszt, were presented
to the world. With the younger Brahms on a returning wave of
neo-classicism the form became again distinctively a personal choice.
Finally, in the spontaneous utterance of a national spirit on broad
lines, as in the later Russian and Finnish examples, with the various
phases of surging resolution, of lyric contemplation and of rollicking
humor, the symphony has its best sanction in modern times.
To return to the historical view, the course of the symphony during the
century cannot be adequately scanned without a glance at the music-drama
of Richard Wagner. Until the middle of the century, symphony and opera
had moved entirely in separate channels. At most the overture was
affected, in temper and detail, by the career of the nobler form.
The restless iconoclasm of a Liszt was now united, in a close personal
and poetic league, with the new ideas of Wagner's later drama. Both men
adopted the symbolic motif as their main melodic means; with both mere
iteration took the place of development; a brilliant and lurid
color-scheme (of orchestration) served to hide the weakness of intrinsic
content; a vehement and hysteric manner cast into temporary shade the
classic mood of tranquil depth in which alone man's greatest thought is
But a still larger view of the whole temper of art in Europe of the
later century is needed. We wander here beyond the fine distinctions of
musical forms. A new wave of feeling had come over the world that
violently affected all processes of thought. And strangely, it was
strongest in the land where the great heights of poetry and music had
just been reached. Where the high aim of a Beethoven and a Goethe had
been proclaimed, arose a Wagner to preach the gospel of brute fate and
nature, where love was the involuntary sequence of mechanical device and
ended in inevitable death, all overthrowing the heroic idea that teems
throughout the classic scores, crowned in a greatest symphony in praise
Such was the intrinsic content of a "Tristan and Isolde" and the whole
"Nibelungen-Ring," and it was uttered with a sensuous wealth of sound
and a passionate strain of melody that (without special greatness of its
own) dazzled and charmed the world in the dramatic setting of mediaeval
legend. The new harmonic style of Wagner, there is good reason to
suppose, was in reality first conceived by Liszt, whose larger works,
written about the middle of the century, have but lately come to
light.[A] In correspondence with this moral mutiny was the complete
revolt from classic art-tradition: melody (at least in theory), the
vital quality of musical form and the true process of a coherent thread,
were cast to the winds with earlier poetic ideals.
[Footnote A: The "Dante" Symphony of Liszt was written between 1847 and
1855; the "Faust" Symphony between 1854 and 1857. Wagner finished the
text of _Tristan und Isolde_ in 1857; the music was not completed until
1859. In 1863 was published the libretto of the _Nibelungen-Ring_. In
1864 Wagner was invited by King Ludwig of Bavaria to complete the work
If it were ever true that a single personality could change an opposite
course of thought, it must be held that Richard Wagner, in his own
striking and decadent career, comes nearest to such a type. But he was
clearly prompted and reinforced in his philosophy by other men and
tendencies of his time. The realism of a Schopenhauer, which Wagner
frankly adopted without its full significance (where primal will finds a
redemption in euthanasia), led by a natural course of thought to
Nietzsche's dreams of an overman, who tramples on his kind.
In itself this philosophy had been more of a passing phase (even as
Schopenhauer is lost in the chain of ethical sages) but for its strange
coincidence with the Wagnerian music. The accident of this alliance gave
it an overwhelming power in Germany, where it soon threatened to corrupt
all the arts, banishing idealism from the land of its special
haunts.[A] The ultimate weakness of the Wagnerian philosophy is that it
finds in fatalism an excuse for the surrender of heroic virtue,--not in
the spirit of a tragic truth, but in a glorification of the senses; just
as in Wagner's final work, the ascetic, sinless type becomes a figure
almost of ridicule, devoid of human reality. It is significant that with
the revival of a sound art, fraught with resolute aspiration, is
imminent a return to an idealistic system of philosophy.
[Footnote A: In literature this movement is most marked, as may be seen
by contrasting the tone of Goethe with that of Sudermann; by noting the
decadence from the stories of a Chamisseau and Immermann to those of a
Gottfried Keller; from the novels of Freytag to the latest of Frenssen
and Arthur Schnitzler; from the poems of Heine to those of Hoffmansthal,
author of the text of Strauss' later operas.
Or, contrast merely the two typical dramas of love, Goethe's "Faust" and
Wagner's "Tristan and Isolde."]
In the musical art even of Germany the triumph was never complete. The
famous feud of Brahms and Wagner partisans marked the alignment of the
classical and radical traditions. Throughout the second half of the
century the banner of a true musical process was upheld; the personal
meeting of the youthful Brahms with the declining Schumann is
wonderfully significant, viewed as a symbol of this passing of the
classic mantle. And the symphonies of Gustav Mahler seem an assurance of
present tendencies. The influence of Bach, revived early in the century,
grew steadily as a latent leaven.
Nevertheless in the prevailing taste and temper of present German
music, in the spirit of the most popular works, as those of Richard
Strauss (who seems to have sold his poetic birthright), the aftermath of
this wave is felt, and not least in the acclaim of the barren symphonies
of a Bruckner. It is well known that Bruckner, who paid a personal
homage to Wagner, became a political figure in the partisan dispute,
when he was put forth as the antagonist of Brahms in the symphony. His
present vogue is due to this association and to his frank adoption of
Wagner idiom in his later works, as well as, more generally, to the
lowered taste in Germany.
In all this division of musical dialect, in the shattering of the
classic tower among the diverse tongues of many peoples, what is to be
the harvest? The full symbol of a Babel does not hold for the tonal art.
Music is, in its nature, a single language for the world, as its
alphabet rests on ideal elements. It has no national limits, like prose
or poetry; its home is the whole world; its idiom the blended song of
In such a view there is less hope in the older than in the newer world.
No single, limited song of one nation can in the future achieve a second
climax of the art. It is by the actual mingling of them all that the
fairest flower and fruit must come. The very absence of one prevailing
native song, held a reproach to America, is in reality her strength; for
hers is the common heritage of all strains of song. And it may be her
destiny to lead in the glorious merging of them all.
BERLIOZ AND LISZT
The path of progress of an art has little to do with mere chronology.
For here in early days are bold spirits whose influence is not felt
until a whole generation has passed of a former tradition. Nor are these
patient pioneers always the best-inspired prophets; the mere fate of
slow recognition does not imply a highest genius. A radical innovation
may provoke a just and natural resistance. Again, a gradual yielding is
not always due to the pure force of truth. Strange and oblique ideas may
slowly win a triumph that is not wholly merited and may not prove
To fully grapple with this mystery, we may still hold to the faith that
final victory comes only to pure truth, and yet we may find that
imperfect truth will often achieve a slow and late acceptance. The
victory may then be viewed in either of two ways: the whole spirit of
the age yields to the brilliant allurement, or there is an overweighing
balance of true beauty that deserves the prize of permanence. Of such a
kind were two principal composers of the symphony: Franz Liszt and
Hector Berlioz. Long after they had wrought their greatest works, others
had come and gone in truer line with the first masters, until it seemed
these radical spirits had been quite rejected.
Besides the masters of their own day, Schumann and Mendelssohn, a group
of minor poets, like Raff and Goetz, appeared, and at last Brahms, the
latest great builder of the symphony, all following and crowning the
The slow reception of the larger works of Liszt strangely agrees with
the startling resemblance of their manner to the Russian style that
captivated a much later age. It seemed as if the spirit of the Hungarian
was suddenly revived in a new national group. His humor wonderfully
suited the restless and sensational temper of an age that began after
The very harmonies and passionate manner that influence modern audiences
evoked a dull indifference in their own day.[A] They roused the first
acclaim when presented in the more popular form of the music-drama. It
may well be questioned whether Liszt was not the fountain source of the
characteristic harmonies of Wagner's later opera.
[Footnote A: Compare the similarity of the themes of the Faust Symphony
of Liszt and of the _Pathetique_ of Tschaikowsky in the last chapter of
vol. ii, "Symphonies and Their Meaning."]
Historically considered, that is in their relation to other music
preceding and following them, the symphonies of Liszt have striking
interest. They are in boldest departure from all other symphonies, save
possibly those of Berlioz, and they were prophetic in a degree only
apparent a half-century later. If the quality of being ahead of his time
be proof, instead of a symptom, of genius, then Liszt was in the first
rank of masters. The use of significant motif is in both of his
symphonies. But almost all the traits that startled and moved the world
in Tschaikowsky's symphonies are revealed in this far earlier music: the
tempestuous rage of what might be called an hysterical school, and the
same poignant beauty of the lyric episodes; the sheer contrast, half
trick, half natural, of fierce clangor and dulcet harmonies, all painted
with the broad strokes of the orchestral palette. Doubly striking it is
how Liszt foreshadowed his later followers and how he has really
overshadowed them; not one, down to the most modern tone-painters, has
equalled him in depth and breadth of design, in the original power of
his tonal symbols. It seems that Liszt will endure as the master-spirit
in this reactionary phase of the symphony.
Berlioz is another figure of a bold innovator, whose career seemed a
series of failures, yet whose music will not down. His art was centred
less upon the old essentials, of characteristic melody and soul-stirring
harmonies, than upon the magic strokes of new instrumental grouping,--a
graphic rather than a pure musical purpose. And so he is the father not
only of the modern orchestra, but of the fashion of the day that revels
in new sensations of startling effects, that are spent in portraying the
events of a story.
Berlioz was the first of a line of _virtuosi_ of the orchestra, a
pioneer in the art of weaving significant strains,--significant, that
is, apart from the music. He was seized with the passion of making a
pictured design with his orchestral colors. Music, it seems, did not
exist for Berlioz except for the telling of a story. His symphony is
often rather opera. A symphony, he forgot, is not a musical drama
without the scenery. This is just what is not a symphony. It is not the
literal story, but the pure musical utterance. Thus Berlioz's "Romeo and
Juliet" symphony is in its design more the literal story than is
Shakespeare's play. And yet there is ever a serious nobility, a heroic
reach in the art of Berlioz, where he stands almost alone among the
composers of his race. Here, probably, more than in his pictured
stories, lies the secret of his endurance. He was, other than his
followers, ever an idealist. And so, when we are on the point of
condemning him as a scene-painter, we suddenly come upon a stretch of
pure musical beauty, that flowed from the unconscious rapture of true
poet. As the bee sucks, so may we cull the stray beauty and the more
intimate meaning, despite and aside from this outer intent.
BERLIOZ. "ROMEO AND JULIET."
In the sub-title we see the growing impulse towards graphic music. A
"dramatic symphony" is not promising. For, if music is the most
subjective expression of the arts, why should its highest form be used
to dramatize a drama? Without the aid of scene and actors, that were
needed by the original poet, the artisan in absolute tones attempts his
own theatric rendering. Clearly this symphony is one of those works of
art which within an incongruous form (like certain ancient pictures)
affords episodes of imperishable beauty.
Passing by the dramatic episodes that are strung on the thread of the
story, we dwell, according to our wont, on the stretches where a pure
musical utterance rises to a lofty height of pathos or of rarest
In the first scene of the Second Part is the clear intent of a direct
tonal expression, and there is a sustained thread of sincere sentiment.
The passion of Romeo shines in the purity rather than in the intensity
of feeling. The scene has a delicate series of moods, with subtle
melodic touches and dramatic surprises of chord and color. The whole
seems a reflection of Romeo's humor, the personal (_Allegro_) theme
being the symbol as it roams throughout the various phases,--the sadness
of solitude, the feverish thrill of the ball. Into the first phrase of
straying violins wanders the personal motive, sadly meditative.
(Choir of wood, with sustained chords of strings)]
Sweeter dreams now woo the muser, warming into passion, pulsing with a
more eager throb of desire, in changed tone and pace. Suddenly in a new
quarter amid a quick strum of dance the main motive hurries along. The
gay sounds vanish, ominous almost in the distance. The sadness of the
lover now sings unrestrained in expressive melody (of oboe), in long
swinging pace, while far away rumbles the beat of festive drum.
The song rises in surging curves, but dies away among the quick festal
sounds, where the personal motive is still supreme, chasing its own
ardent antics, and plunges headlong into the swirl of dance.
II Penseroso (in his personal role) has glided into a buoyant,
rollicking Allegro with joyous answer. Anon the outer revel breaks in
with shock almost of terror. And now in climax of joy, through the
festal strum across the never-ceasing thread of transformed meditation
resound in slowest, broadest swing the
[Music: _Larghetto espressivo_
(Ob. with fl. and cl. and arpeggic cellos)]
warm tones of the love-song in triumph of bliss.[A] As the song dies
away, the festal sounds fade. Grim meditation returns in double
figure,--the slower, heavier pace below. Its shadows are all about as in
a fugue of fears, flitting still to the tune of the dance and anon
yielding before the gaiety. But through the returning festal ring the
fateful motive is still straying in the bass. In the concluding revel
the hue of meditation is not entirely banned.
[Footnote A: In unison of the wind. Berlioz has here noted in the score
"_Reunion des deux Themes, du Larghetto et de L'Allegro_," the second
and first of our cited phrases.]
The Shakespearian love-drama thus far seems to be celebrated in the
manner of a French romance. After all, the treatment remains scenic in
the main; the feeling is diluted, as it were, not intensified by the
The stillness of night and the shimmering moonlight are in the delicate
harmonies of (_Allegretto_) strings. A lusty song of departing revellers
breaks upon the scene. The former distant sounds of feast are now near
and clear in actual words.
(_Pizz._ basses an 8ve. lower)]
There is an intimate charm, a true glamor of love-idyll about the
Adagio. On more eager pulse rises a languorous strain of horn and
cellos. The flow
[Music: (Horn and cellos with murmuring strings)]
of its passionate phrase reaches the climax of prologue where, the type
and essence of the story, it plays about the lovers' first meeting. As
lower strings hum the burden of desire, higher wood add touches of
ecstasy, the melting violins sing the wooing song, and all break into an
overwhelming rapture, as though transfigured in the brightness of its
own vehemence, in midst of a trembling mystery.
The restless spirit starts (_allegro agitato_) in fearsome agitation on
quick nervous throb of melody; below, violas sing a soothing answer;
there is a clear dialogue of wistful lovers.
Instead of the classic form of several verses led by one dominant melody
to varied paths and views, here almost in reverse we seem to fall from a
broader lyric mood to a single note of sad yearning that
[Music: (Fl. with Eng. horn an 8ve. below)
(Muted violins with sustained lower strings)]
grows out of the several strains. Upon such a motive a new melody sings.
The delicate bliss of early love is all about, and in the lingering
close the timid ecstasies of wooing phrase. But this is a mere prelude
to the more highly stressed, vehement song of love that follows on the
same yearning motive. Here is the crowning, summing phase of the whole
poem, without a return to earlier melody save that, by significant
touch, it ends in the same expressive turn as the former languorous
The first melody does not reappear, is thus a kind of background of the
scene. The whole is a dramatic lyric that moves from broader tune to a
reiterated note of sad desire, driven to a splendid height of crowned
bliss. The turbulence of early love is there; pure ardor in flaming
tongues of ecstasy; the quick turn of mood and the note of omen of the
original poem: the violence of early love and the fate that hangs over.
Berlioz has drawn the subject of his Scherzo from Mercutio's speech in
Scene 4 of the First Act of Shakespeare's tragedy. He has entitled it
"Queen Mab, or the Fairy of Dreams," and clearly intends to portray the
airy flight of Mab and her fairies. But we must doubt whether this, the
musical gem of the symphony, has a plan that is purely graphic,--rather
does it seem to soar beyond those concrete limits to an utterance of the
sense of dreams themselves in the spirit of Mercutio's conclusion:
"... I talk of dreams
Which are the children of an idle brain,
Begot of nothing but vain fantasy;
Which is as thin of substance as the air;"
And we may add, as elusive for the enchanted mind to hold are these
pranks and brilliant parade of tonal sprites. It stands one of the
masterpieces of program-music, in equal balance of pure beauty with the
Imps they are, these flitting figures, almost insects with a
personality. In pace there is a division, where the first dazzling
speed is simply the fairy rhythm (halted anon by speaking pauses or
silences), and the second, a kind of idyll or romance in miniature. It
is all a drama of fairy actors, in a dreamland of softest tone. The main
figure leads its troop on gossamer thread of varied journey.
[Music: (Violins) _Prestissimo_]
Almost frightening in the quickest, pulsing motion is the sudden
stillness, as the weird poising of trembling sprites. Best of all is the
resonant beauty of the second melody in enchanting surprise of tone.
[Music: (Strings without basses)]
Anon, as in a varied dance, the skipping, mincing step is followed by a
gentle swaying; or the figures all run together down the line to start
the first dance again, or the divided groups have different motions, or
one shouts a sudden answer to the other.
Much slower now is the main song (in flute and English horn) beneath an
ariel harmony (of overtones), while a quicker trip begins below of the
same figure. And in the midst is a strange concert of low dancing
strings with highest tones of harp,--strange mating of flitting sprites.
We are suddenly back in the first, skipping dance, ever faster and
brighter in dazzling group of lesser figures. And here is the golden
note of fairy-land,--the horn in soft cheery hunter's lay, answered by
echoing voices. For a moment the call is tipped with touch of sadness,
then rings out brightly in a new quarter. Beautiful it sings between the
quick phrases, with a certain shock of change, and there is the terror
of a sudden low rumbling and the thrill of new murmuring sounds with
soft beat of drum that hails the gathering fairies. There is a sudden
clarion burst of the whole chorus, with clash of drum and clang of
brass, and sudden pause, then faintest echoes of higher voices.
A new figure now dances a joyous measure to the tinkling of harp and the
sparkling strokes of high
[Music: (Harp in higher 8ve.)
(Clarinet with chord of horns)
cymbals and long blown tone of horns. The very essence it is of fairy
life. And so the joy is not unmixed with just a touch of awe. Amidst the
whole tintinnabulation is a soft resonant echo of horns below, like an
image in a lake. The air hangs heavy with dim romance until the sudden
return to first fairy verse in sounds almost human. Once more come the
The end is in a great crash of sweet sound--a glad awakening to day and
A SYMPHONY TO DANTE'S "DIVINA COMMEDIA"
_FOR ORCHESTRA AND CHORUS OF SOPRANOS AND ALTOS_
The "Divina Commedia" may be said in a broad view to belong to the great
design by which Christian teaching was brought into relation with
earlier pagan lore. The subject commands all the interest of the epics
of Virgil and of Milton. It must be called the greatest Christian poem
of all times, and the breadth of its appeal and of its art specially
attest the age in which it was written, when classic pagan poetry broke
upon the world like a great treasure-trove.
The subject was an ideal one in Dante's time,--a theme convincing and
contenting to all the world, and, besides, akin to the essence of pagan
poetry. The poet was needed to celebrate all the phases of its meaning
and beauty. This is true of all flashes of evolutionary truth. As in the
ancient epics, an idea once real to the world may be enshrined in a
design of immortal art.
To-day we are perhaps in too agnostic a state to be absorbed by such a
contemplation. The subject in a narrower sense is true at most to those
who will to cherish the solace of a salvation which they have not fully
apprehended. And so the Liszt symphony of the nineteenth century is not
a complete reflection of the Dante poem of the fourteenth. It becomes
for the devout believer almost a kind of church-liturgy,--a Mass by the
Rare qualities there undoubtedly are in the music: a reality of passion;
a certain simplicity of plan; the sensuous beauty of melodic and
harmonic touches. But a greatness in the whole musical expression that
may approach the grandeur of the poem, could only come in a suggestion
of symbolic truth; and here the composer seems to fail by a too close
clinging to ecclesiastic ritual. Yet in the agony of remorse, rising
from hopeless woe to a chastened worship of the light, is a strain of
inner truth that will leave the work for a long time a hold on human
Novel is the writing of words in the score, as if they are to be sung by
the instruments,--all sheer aside from the original purpose of the form.
Page after page has its precise text; we hear the shrieks of the damned,
the dread inscription of the infernal portals; the sad lament of lovers;
the final song of praise of the redeemed. A kind of picture-book music
has our symphony become. The _leit-motif_ has crept into the high form
of absolute tones to make it as definite and dramatic as any opera.
The legend of the portal is proclaimed at the outset in a rising phrase
(of the low brass and strings)
[Music: (Doubled in two lower 8ves.)
(3 trombones and tuba: violas, cellos and brass)]
_Per me si va nella cit-ta do-lente;
Per me si va nell'eterno dolore;_
and in still higher chant--
_Per me si va tra la perduta gente._
Then, in antiphonal blast of horns and trumpets sounds the fatal doom in
grim monotone (in descending harmony of trembling strings):
[Music: (Chant in octaves of trumpets and horns)
La-scia-te ogni spe-ran- - -za.
(Brass, wood and _tremolo_ strings)]
_Lasciate ogni speranza mi ch' entrate!_[A]
"Through me the way is to the city dolent;
Through me the way is to eternal dole;
Through me the way among the people lost.
All hope abandon, ye who enter in!"
--_From Longfellow's translation._]
A tumult on a sigh (from the first phrase) rises again and again in
gusts. In a violent paroxysm we hear the doom of the monotone in lowest
horns. The fateful phrases are ringing about, while pervading all is
the hope-destroying blast of the brass. But the storm-centre is the
sighing motive which now enters on a quicker spur of passionate stride
(_Allegro frenetico, quasi doppio movimento_). In its winding
[Music: _Alla breve_
_Allegro frenetico (quasi doppio movimento)_
(Theme in violins and cellos)
(Woodwind and violas)]
sequences it sings a new song in more regular pace. The tempest grows
wilder and more masterful, still following the lines of the song, rising
to towering height. And now in the strains, slow and faster, sounds the
sigh above and below, all in a madrigal of woe. The whole is surmounted
by a big descending phrase, articulate almost in its grim dogma, as it
runs into the line of the first legend in full tumult of gloom. It is
followed by the doom slowly proclaimed in thundering tones of the brass,
in midst of a tempest of surging harmonies. Only it is all more fully
and poignantly stressed than before, with long, resonant echoes of the
stentorian tones of lowest brass.
Suddenly we are in the dulcet mood (_Quasi Andante, ma sempre un poco
mosso_) 'mid light waving strings and rich swirling harp, and soothing
tones of flutes and muted horns. Then, as all other voices are hushed,
the clarinet sings a strain that ends in lowest notes of expressive
grief (_Recit., espressivo dolente_)--where we can almost hear the
words. It is answered by a sweet plaint of other wood, in
[Music: _Quasi Andante, ma sempre un poco mosso_
(Clarinets and bassoons)]
questioning accents, followed by the returning waves of strings and
harp, and another phrase of the lament; and now to the pulsing chords of
the harp the mellow English horn does sing (at least in the score) the
words,--the central text of all:
[Music: _Poco agitato_
(English horn, with arpeggic flow of harp)
Nes-sun mag-gior do-lo-re che ri-cor-dar-si del tem-po fe-li-ce.[A]]
[Footnote A: "There is no greater sorrow than to be mindful of the happy
time in misery."--_From Longfellow's translation._]
Other voices join the leader. As the lower reed start the refrain, the
higher enter in pursuit, and then the two groups sing a melodic chase.
But the whole phrase is a mere foil to the pure melody of the former
plaint that now returns in lower strings. And all so far is as a herald
to the passage of intimate sentiment (_Andante amoroso_) that lies a
lyric gem in the heart of the symphony. The melting strain is stressed
in tenderness by the languor of harmonies, the delicate design of
elusive rhythm and the appealing whisper of harp and two
violins,--tipped by the touch of mellow wood.
[Music: _Andante amoroso. (Tempo rubato)_
_dolce con intimo sentimento_
(Melody in first violins; arpeggios of harp and violas;
lower woodwind and strings)]
With the rising passion, as the refrain spreads in wider sequences, the
choirs of wood and strings are drawn into the song, one group answering
the other in a true love duet.
The last cadence falls into the old sigh as the dread oracle sounds once
more the knell of hope. Swirling strings bring us to a new scene of the
world of shades. In the furious, frenetic pace of yore (_Tempo primo,
Allegro, alla breve_) there is a new sullen note, a dull martial trip
of drums with demonic growls (in the lowest wood). The sigh is there,
but perverted in humor. A chorus of blasphemous mockery is stressed by
strident accents of lower wood and strings.[A]
[Footnote A: We are again assisted by the interpreting words in the
Gradually we fall into the former frenzied song, amid the demon
cacchinations, until we have plunged back into the nightmare of groans.
Instead of the big descending phrase we sink into lower depths of gloom,
wilder than ever, on the first tripping motive. As the sighing strain
resounds below in the midst of a chorus of demon shrieks, there enters
the chant of inexorable fate. Mockery yields to a tinge of pathos, a
sense almost of majestic resignation, an apotheosis of grief.
A state of tranquillity, almost of bliss, is in the opening primal
harmonies (of harp and strings and
[Music: _Andante con moto quasi Allegretto. Tranquillo assai_
(Oboe _molto espressivo_)
_Sempre piano e legato_
(Full arpeggic harp and muted strings)]
soft horns). Indeed, what else could be the mood of relief from the
horrors of hell? And lo! the reed strikes a pure limpid song echoed in
turn by other voices, beneath a rich spray of heavenly harmonies.
This all recurs in higher shift of tone. A wistful phrase (_piu lento_,
in low strings) seems to breathe
[Music: _Un poco meno mosso_
(English horn, clarinets, bassoons, French horn)]
a spoken sob. Then, as in voices of a hymn, chants a more formal liturgy
of plaint where the phrase is almost lost in the lowest voice. It is all
but articulate, with a sense of the old sigh; but it is in a calmer
spirit, though anon bursting with passionate grief (_lagrimoso_).
[Music: _Lamentoso_ (In fugue of muted strings)]
And now in the same vein, of the same fibre, a fugue begins of lament,
first in muted strings.
It is the line of sad expressive recitative that heralded the plaint and
the love-scene. There is here the full charm of fugue: a rhythmic
quality of single theme, the choir of concerted dirge in independent
and interdependent paths, and with every note of integral melody. There
is the beauty of pure tonal architecture blended with the personal
significance of the human (and divine) tragedy.
The fugue begins in muted strings, like plaintive human voices, though
wood and brass here and there light up the phrases. Now the full bass of
horns and wood strikes the descending course of theme, while higher
strings and wood soar in rising stress of (sighing) grief.
[Music: (In double higher 8ves.)
_With lower 8ves._
(Strings, with enforcing and answering wind)]
A hymnal verse of the theme enters in the wood answered by impetuous
strings on a coursing phrase. The antiphonal song rises with eager
stress of themal attack. A quieter elegy leads to another burst, the
motive above, the insistent sigh below. The climax of fugue returns to
the heroic main plaint below, with sighing answers above, all the voices
of wood and brass enforcing the strings.
Then the fugue turns to a transfigured phase; the theme rings triumphant
retorts in golden horns and in a masterful unison of the wood; the wild
answer runs joyfully in lower strings, while the higher are strumming
like celestial harps. The whole is transformed to a big song of praise
ever in higher harmonies. The theme flows on in ever varying thread,
amidst the acclaiming tumult.
But the heavenly heights are not reached by a single leap. Once more we
sink to sombre depths not of the old rejection, but of a chastened,
wistful wonderment. The former plaintive chant returns, in slower,
contained pace, broken by phrases of mourning recitative, with the old
sigh. And a former brief strain of simple aspiration is supported by
angelic harps. In gentle ascent we are wafted to the acclaim of heavenly
(treble) voices in the _Magnificat_. A wonderful utterance, throughout
the scene of Purgatory, there is of a chastened, almost spiritual grief
for the sin that cannot be undone, though it is not past pardon.
The bold design of the final Praise of the Almighty was evidently
conceived in the main as a service. An actual depiction, or a direct
expression (such as is attempted in the prologue of Boito's Mefistofele)
was thereby avoided. The Holy of Holies is screened from view by a
priestly ceremony,--by the mask of conventional religion. Else we must
take the composer's personal conception of such a climax as that of an
orthodox Churchman. And then the whole work, with all its pathos and
humanity, falls to the level of liturgy.
The words of invisible angel-chorus are those of the blessed maid
trusting in God her savior, on a theme for which we are prepared by
preluding choirs of harps, wood and strings. It is sung on an ancient
Church tone that in its height approaches the mode of secular song. With
all the power of broad rhythm, and fulness of harmony and volume, the
feeling is of conventional worship. With all the purity of shimmering
harmonies the form is ecclesiastical in its main lines and depends upon
liturgic symbols for its effect and upon the faith of the listener for
At the end of the hymn, on the entering _Hosanna!_ and _Hallelujah!_ we
catch the sacred symbol (of seven tones) in the path of the two vocal
parts, the lower descending, the higher ascending as on heavenly scale.
In the second, optional ending the figure is completed, as the bass
descends through the seven whole tones and the treble (of voices and
instruments) rises as before to end in overpowering _Hallelujah!_ The
style is close knit with the earlier music. A pervading motive is the
former brief phrase of aspiration; upon it the angelic groups seem to
wing their flight between verses of praise. By a wonderful touch the
sigh, that appeared inverted in the plaintive chant of the _Purgatorio_,
is finally glorified as the motive of the bass to the words of
THE SYMPHONIC POEMS OF LISZT
Liszt was clearly a follower of Berlioz in the abandon to a pictorial
aim, in the revolt from pure musical form, and in the mastery of
orchestral color. If we feel in almost all his works a charming
translation of story in the tones, we also miss the higher empyraean of
pure fancy, unlimited by halting labels. It is a descent into pleasant,
rich pastures from the cosmic view of the lofty mountain. Yet it must be
yielded that Liszt's program-music was of the higher kind that dwells in
symbols rather than in concrete details. It was a graphic plan of
symbolization that led Liszt to choose the subjects of his symphonic
poems (such as the "Preludes" and the "Ideals") and to prefer the poetic
scheme of Hugo's "Mazeppa" to the finer verse of a Byron. Though not
without literal touches, Liszt perceived that his subjects must have a
Nevertheless this pictorial style led to a revolution in the very nature
of musical creation and to a new form which was seemingly intended to
usurp the place of the symphony. It is clear that the symphonic poem is
in very essence opposed to the symphony. The genius of the symphony lies
in the overwhelming breadth and intensity of its expression without the
aid of words. Vainly decried by a later age of shallower perception, it
achieved this Promethean stroke by the very magic of the design. At one
bound thus arose in the youngest art a form higher than any other of
human device,--higher than the epic, the drama, or the cathedral.
Bowing to an impatient demand for verbal meaning, Liszt invented the
Symphonic Poem, in which the classic cogency yielded to the loose thread
of a musical sketch in one movement, slavishly following the sequence of
some literary subject. He abandoned sheer tonal fancy, surrendering the
magic potency of pure music, fully expressive within its own design far
beyond the literal scheme.[A]
[Footnote A: Mendelssohn with perfect insight once declared,--"Notes
have as definite a meaning as words, perhaps even a more definite one."]
The symphonic poems of Liszt, in so far as his intent was in destructive
reaction to the classic process, were precisely in line with the drama
of Wagner. The common revolt completely failed. The higher, the real
music is ever of that pure tonal design where the fancy is not leashed
to some external scheme. Liszt himself grew to perceive the inadequacy
of the new device when he returned to the symphony for his greatest
orchestral expression, though even here he never escaped from the thrall
of a literal subject.
And strangely, in point of actual music, we cannot fail to find an
emptier, a more grandiose manner in all these symphonic poems than in
the two symphonies. It seems as if an unconscious sense of the greater
nobility of the classic medium drove Liszt to a far higher inspiration
in his melodic themes.
Yet we cannot deny the brilliant, dazzling strokes, and the luscious
harmonies. It was all a new manner, and alone the novelty is welcome,
not to speak of the broad sweep of facile melody, and the sparkling
This work has a preface by the composer, who refers in a footnote to the
"_Meditations poetiques_" of Lamartine.
"What else is our life than a series of preludes to that unknown song of
which the first solemn note is struck by death? Love is the morning glow
of every heart; but in what human career have not the first ecstasies of
bliss been broken by the storm, whose cruel breath destroys fond
illusions, and blasts the sacred shrine with the bolt of lightning. And
what soul, sorely wounded, does not, emerging from the tempest, seek to
indulge its memories in the calm of country life? Nevertheless, man will
not resign himself for long to the soothing charm of quiet nature, and
when the trumpet sounds the signal of alarm, he runs to the perilous
post, whatever be the cause that calls him to the ranks of war,--that he
may find in combat the full consciousness of himself and the command of
all his powers."
How far is the music literally graphic? We cannot look for the "unknown
song" in definite sounds. That would defeat, not describe, its
character. But the first solemn notes, are not these the solemn rising
phrase that reappears in varying rhythm and pace all about the beginning
and, indeed, the whole course
(Strings, doubled in two lower 8ves.)]
of the music. Just these three notes abound in the mystic first
"prelude," and they are the core of the great swinging tune of the
Andante maestoso, the beginning and main pulse of the unknown song.
[Music: _Andante maestoso_
(Basses of strings, wood and brass, doubled below; arpeggic
harmonies in upper strings; sustained higher wood)]
Now (_dolce cantando_) is a softer guise of the phrase. For death and
birth, the two portals, are like
[Music: (Strings, with arpeggic violins)
elements. Even here the former separate motive sounds, and so in the
further turn of the song (_espressivo dolente_) on new thread.
The melody that sings (_espressivo ma tranquillo_) may well stand for
"love, the glow of dawn in every heart." Before the storm, both great
motives (of love and death) sound together very beautifully, as in
[Music: _espress. ma tranquillo_
(Horns and lower strings, with arpeggic harp and violins)]
Tennyson's poem. The storm that blasts the romance begins with the same
fateful phrase. It is all about, even inverted, and at the crisis it
sings with the fervor of full-blown song. At the lull the soft guise
reappears, faintly, like a sweet memory.
The Allegretto pastorale is clear from the preface. After we are lulled,
soothed, caressed and all but entranced by these new impersonal sounds,
then, as if the sovereign for whom all else were preparing, the song of
love seeks its recapitulated verse. Indeed here is the real full song.
Is it that in the memory lies the reality, or at least the realization?
Out of the dream of love rouses the sudden alarm of brass (_Allegro
marziale animato_), with a new war-tune fashioned of the former soft
disguised motive. The air of fate still hangs heavy over all. In
spirited retorts the martial madrigal proceeds, but it is not all mere
war and courage. Through the clash of strife break in the former songs,
the love-theme in triumph and the first expressive strain in tempestuous
joy. Last of all the fateful original motto rings once more in serene,
On the whole, even with so well-defined a program, and with a full play
of memory, we cannot be quite sure of a fixed association of the motive.
It is better to view the melodic episodes as subjective phases, arising
from the tenor of the poem.
Liszt's "Tasso" is probably the earliest celebration, in pure tonal
form, of the plot of man's suffering and redemption, that has been so
much followed that it may be called the type of the modern symphony.[A]
In this direct influence the "Tasso" poem has been the most striking of
all of Liszt's creations.
[Footnote A: We may mention such other works of Liszt as "Mazeppa" and
the "Faust" Symphony; the third symphony of Saint-Saens; Strauss' tone
poem "Death and Transfiguration"; Volbach's symphony, besides other
symphonies such as a work by Carl Pohlig. We may count here, too, the
Heldenlied by Dvorak, and Strauss' Heldenleben (see Vol. II).]
The following preface of the composer accompanies the score:
"In the year 1849 the one hundredth anniversary of Goethe's birth
was celebrated throughout Germany; the theatre in Weimar, where we
were at the time, marked the 28th of August by a performance of
"The tragic fate of the unfortunate bard served as a text for the
two greatest poets produced by Germany and England in the last
century: Goethe and Byron. Upon Goethe was bestowed the most
brilliant of mortal careers; while Byron's advantages of birth and
of fortune were balanced by keenest suffering. We must confess that
when bidden, in 1849, to write an overture for Goethe's drama, we
were more immediately inspired by Byron's reverential pity for the
shades of the great man, which he invoked, than by the work of the
German poet. Nevertheless Byron, in his picture of Tasso in prison,
was unable to add to the remembrance of his poignant grief, so
nobly and eloquently uttered in his 'Lament,' the thought of the
'Triumph' that a tardy justice gave to the chivalrous author of
'Jerusalem Delivered.' We have sought to mark this dual idea in the
very title of our work, and we should be glad to have succeeded in
pointing this great contrast,--the genius who was misjudged during
his life, surrounded, after death, with a halo that destroyed his
enemies. Tasso loved and suffered at Ferrara; he was avenged at
Rome; his glory still lives in the folk-songs of Venice. These
three elements are inseparable from his immortal memory. To
represent them in music, we first called up his august spirit as he
still haunts the waters of Venice. Then we beheld his proud and
melancholy figure as he passed through the festivals of Ferrara
where he had produced his master-works. Finally we followed him to
Rome, the eternal city, that offered him the crown and glorified in
him the martyr and the poet.
"_Lamento e Trionfo_: Such are the opposite poles of the destiny
of poets, of whom it has been justly said that if their lives are
sometimes burdened with a curse, a blessing is never wanting over
their grave. For the sake not merely of authority, but the
distinction of historical truth, we put our idea into realistic
form in taking for the theme of our musical poem the motive with
which we have heard the gondoliers of Venice sing over the waters
the lines of Tasso, and utter them three centuries after the poet:
"'Canto l'armi pietose e'l Capitano
Che'l gran Sepolcro libero di Christo!'
"The motive is in itself plaintive; it has a sustained sigh, a
monotone of grief. But the gondoliers give it a special quality by
prolonging certain tones--as when distant rays of brilliant light
are reflected on the waves. This song had deeply impressed us long
ago. It was impossible to treat of Tasso without taking, as it
were, as text for our thoughts, this homage rendered by the nation
to the genius whose love and loyalty were ill merited by the court
of Ferrara. The Venetian melody breathes so sharp a melancholy,
such hopeless sadness, that it suffices in itself to reveal the
secret of Tasso's grief. It lent itself, like the poet's
imagination, to the world's brilliant illusions, to the smooth and
false coquetry of those smiles that brought the dreadful
catastrophe in their train, for which there seemed to be no
compensation in this world. And yet upon the Capitol the poet was
clothed with a mantle of purer and more brilliant purple than that
With the help of the composer's plot, the intent of the music becomes
clear, to the dot almost of the note. The whole poem is an exposition of
the one sovereign melody, where we may feel a kindred trait of Hungarian
song, above all in the cadences, that must have stirred Liszt's patriot
heart. Nay,--beginning as it does with melancholy stress of the phrase
of cadence and the straying into full rhythmitic exultation, it seems
(in strange guise) another
[Music: _Adagio mesto_
(With rhythmic harp and horns)]
of Liszt's Hungarian rhapsodies,--that were, perhaps, the greatest of
all he achieved, where his unpremeditated frenzy revelled in purest
folk-rhythm and tune. The natural division of the Hungarian dance, with
the sad _Lassu_ and the glad _Friss_, is here clear in order and
recurrence. The Magyar seems to the manner born in both parts of the
[Footnote A: A common Oriental element in Hungarian and Venetian music
has been observed. See Kretschmar's note to Liszt's "Tasso" (Breitkopf &
In the accents of the motive of cadence (_Lento_) we feel the secret
grief of the hero, that turns _Allegro strepitoso_, in quicker pace to
In full tragic majesty the noble theme enters, in panoply of woe. In the
further flow, as in the beginning, is a brief chromatic strain and a
sigh of descending tone that do not lie in the obvious song, that are
drawn by the subjective poet from the latent fibre. Here is the modern
Liszt, of rapture and anguish, in manner and in mood that proved so
potent a model with a later generation.[A]
[Footnote A: See note in the final chapter of Volume II.]
The verse ends in a prolonged threnody, then turns to a firm, serenely
grave burst of the song in major, _Meno Adagio_, with just a hint of
martial grandeur. For once, or the nonce, we seem to see the hero-poet
acclaimed. In a middle episode the motive of the cadence sings
expressively with delicate harmonies, rising to full-blown exaltation.
We may see here an actual brief celebration, such as Tasso did receive
on entering Ferrara.
And here is a sudden fanciful turn. A festive dance strikes a tuneful
trip,--a menuet it surely is, with all the ancient festal charm, vibrant
with tune and spring, though still we do not escape the source of the
first pervading theme. Out of the midst of the dance sings slyly an
enchanting phrase, much like a secret love-romance. Now to the light
continuing dance is joined a strange companion,--the heroic melody in
its earlier majestic pace. Is it the poet in serious meditation at the
feast apart from the joyous abandon, or do we see him laurel-crowned, a
centre of the festival, while the gay dancers flit about him in homage?
More and more brilliant grows the scene, though ever with the dominant
grave figure. With sudden stroke as of fatal blast returns the earlier
fierce burst of revolt, rising to agitation of the former lament,
blending both moods and motives, and ending with a broader stress of the
first tragic motto.
Now, _Allegro con brio_, with herald calls of the brass and fanfare of
running strings (drawn from the personal theme), in bright major the
whole song bursts forth in brilliant gladness. At the height the
exaltation finds vent in a peal of simple melody. The "triumph" follows
in broadest, royal pace of the main song in the wind, while the strings
are madly coursing and the basses reiterate the transformed motive of
the cadence. The end is a revel of jubilation.
The Mazeppa music is based upon Victor Hugo's poem, in turn founded upon
Byron's verse, with an added stirring touch of allegory.
The verses of Hugo first tell how the victim is tied to the fiery
"He turns in the toils like a serpent in madness,
And ... his tormentors have feasted in gladness
Upon his despair.
* * * * *
"They fly.--Empty space is behind and before them
* * * * *
"The horse, neither bridle nor bit on him feeling,
Flies ever; red drops o'er the victim are stealing:
His whole body bleeds.
Alas! to the wild horses foaming and champing
That followed with mane erect, neighing and stamping,
A crow-flight succeeds.
The raven, the horn'd owl with eyes round and hollow,
The osprey and eagle from battle-field follow,
Though daylight alarm.
* * * * *
"Then after three days of this course wild and frantic,
Through rivers of ice, plains and forests gigantic,
The horse sinks and dies;
* * * * *
"Yet mark! That poor sufferer, gasping and moaning,
To-morrow the Cossacks of Ukraine atoning,
Will hail as their King;
* * * * *
"To royal Mazeppa the hordes Asiatic
Will show their devotion in fervor ecstatic,
And low to earth bow."
In his splendid epilogue the poet likens the hero to the mortal on whom
the god has set his mark. He sees himself bound living to the fatal
course of genius, the fiery steed.
"Away from the world--from all real existence
He is borne upwards, despite his resistance
On feet of steel.
He is taken o'er deserts, o'er mountains in legions,
Grey-hoary, thro' oceans, and into the regions
Far over the clouds;
A thousand base spirits his progress unshaken
Arouses, press round him and stare as they waken,
In insolent crowds
* * * * *
"He cries out with terror, in agony grasping,
Yet ever the mane of his Pegasus clasping,
They heavenward spring;
Each leap that he takes with fresh woe is attended;
He totters--falls lifeless--the struggle is ended--
And rises as King!"[A]
[Footnote A: The English verses are taken for the most part from the
translation of F. Corder.]
The original _Allegro agitato_ in broad 6/4 time (aptly suggestive of
the unbridled motion) grows
[Music: (In brass and strings with lower 8ve.)
(With constant clattering higher strings and
chord of low wind on the middle beat)]
more rapid into an _alla breve_ pace (in two beats), with dazzling maze
of lesser rhythms. Throughout the work a song of primeval strain
prevails. Here and there a tinge of foreshadowing pain appears, as the
song sounds on high, _espressivo dolente_. But the fervor and fury of
movement is undiminished. The brief touch of pathos soon merges in the
general heroic mood. Later, the whole motion ceases, "the horse sinks
and dies," and now an interlude sings a pure plaint (in the strain of
the main motive). Then, _Allegro_, the martial note clangs in stirring
trumpet and breaks into formal song of war, _Allegro marziale_.
[Music: (Brass and strings)
(With lower 8ve.)]
In the wake of this song, with a relentless trip and tramp of warrior
hordes, is the real clash and jingle of the battle, where the sparkling
thrill of strings and the saucy counter theme are strong elements in the
There is a touch here of the old Goth, or rather the Hun, nearer akin to
the composer's race.
At the height rings out the main tune of yore, transformed in triumphant
The musical design embraces various phases. First is the clear rhythmic
sense of the ride. We think of other instances like Schubert's
"Erl-King" or the ghostly ride in Raff's "Lenore" Symphony.
The degree of vivid description must vary, not only with the composer,
but with the hearer. The greatest masters have yielded to the variety of
the actual graphic touch. And, too, there are always interpreters who
find it, even if it was never intended. Thus it is common to hear at the
very beginning of the "Mazeppa" music the cry that goes up as starts the
We are of course entitled, if we prefer, to feel the poetry rather than
the picture. Finally it is probably true that such a poetic design is
not marred merely because there is here or there a trick of
onomatopoeia; if it is permitted in poetry, why not in music? It may be
no more than a spur to the fancy, a quick conjuring of the association.
_HUNNENSCHLACHT--"THE BATTLE OF THE HUNS"_
Liszt's symphonic poem, "Hunnenschlacht," one of the last of his works
in this form, completed in 1857, was directly inspired by the picture of
the German painter, Wilhelm Kaulbach, which represents the legend of the
aerial battle between the spirits of the Romans and Huns who had fallen
outside of the walls of Rome.[A]
[Footnote A: A description of the picture is cited by Lawrence Gilman in
his book, "Stories of Symphonic Music," as follows:
"According to a legend, the combatants were so exasperated that the
slain rose during the night and fought in the air. Rome, which is seen
in the background, is said to have been the scene of this event. Above,
borne on a shield, is Attila, with a scourge in his hand; opposite him
Theodoric, King of the Visigoths. The foreground is a battle-field,
strewn with corpses, which are seen to be gradually reviving, rising up
and rallying, while among them wander wailing and lamenting women."]
The evidence of the composer's intent is embodied in a letter written in
1857 to the wife of the painter, which accompanied the manuscript of an
arrangement of the music for two pianos. In the letter Liszt speaks of
"the meteoric and solar light which I have borrowed from the painting,
and which at the Finale I have formed into one whole by the gradual
working up of the Catholic _choral_ 'Crux fidelis,' and the meteoric
sparks blended therewith." He continues: "As I have already intimated to
Kaulbach, in Munich, I was led by the musical demands of the material to
give proportionately more place to the solar light of Christianity,
personified in the Catholic _choral_ ... than appears to be the case in
the glorious painting, in order to win and pregnantly represent the
conclusion of the Victory of the Cross, with which I both as a Catholic
and as a man could not dispense."
The work begins _tempestuoso_ (_allegro non troppo_), with a nervous
theme over soft rolling drums and
[Music: _Tempestuoso. Allegro non troppo_
(Bassoons with _tremolo_ cellos and roll of kettle-drums)]
trembling low strings, that is taken up as in fugue by successive groups
and carried to a height where enters a fierce call of the horns. The
cries of battle spread with increasing din and gathering speed. At the
first climax the whole motion has a new energy, as the strings in
feverish chase attack the quickened motive with violent stress. Later,
though the motion has not lessened, the theme has returned to a
semblance of its former pace, and again the cries of battle (in brass
and wood) sound across its path.
[Music: (Strings, _tremolo_, doubled above)
In the hush of the storm the full-blown call to arms is heard in lowest,
funereal tones. Of a sudden, though the speed is the same, the pace
changes with a certain terror as of a cavalry attack. Presently amid the
clattering tramp sounds the big hymn,--in the ancient rhythm that moves
strangely out of the rut of even time.[A]
[Footnote A: Quoted on the following page.]
A single line of the hymn is followed by a refrain of the battle-call,
and by the charge of horse that brings back the hymn, in high pitch of
trumpets. And so recur the former phases of battle,--really of threat
and preparation. For now begins the serious fray in one long gathering
of speed and power. The first theme here grows to full melodic song,
with extended answer, led by strepitous band of lower reed over a heavy
clatter of strings. We are in a
[Music: (Trombones with lower 8ve)
maze of furious charges and cries, till the shrill trumpet and the
stentorian trombone strike the full call in antiphonal song. The tempest
increases with a renewed charge of the strings, and now the more distant
calls have a slower sweep. Later the battle song is in the
basses,--again in clashing basses and trebles; nearer strike the broad
Suddenly over the hushed motion in soothing harmonies sings the hymn in
pious choir of all the brass. Then the gathering speed and volume is
merged in a majestic tread as of ordered array (_Maestoso assai;
Andante_); a brief spirited prelude of martial motives is answered by
the soft religious strains of the organ on the line of the hymn:
"Crux fidelis, inter omnes
Arbor una nobilis,
Nulla silva talem profert
Fronde, flore, germine.
Dulce lignum, dulces clavos,
Dulce pondus sustinet."[A]
Faithful cross, among the trees
Thou the noblest of them all!
Forest ne'er doth grow a like
In leaf, in flower or in seed.
Blessed wood and blessed nails,
Blessed burden that it bears!]
As in solemn liturgy come the answering phrases of the organ and the big
chorus in martial tread. As the hymn winds its further course, violins
entwine about the harmonies. The last line ends in expressive strain and
warm line of new major tone,--echoed in interluding organ and violins.
Suddenly a strict, solemn tread, with sharp stress of violins, brings a
new song of the _choral_. Strings alone play here "with pious
expression"; gradually reeds add support and ornament. A lingering
phrase ascends on celestial harmonies. With a stern shock the plain hymn
strikes in the reed, against a rapid course of strings, with fateful
tread. In interlude sound the battle-cries of yore. Again the hymn ends
in the expressive cadence, though now it grows to a height of power.
Here a former figure (the first motive of the battle) reappears in a
new guise of bright major,[A] in full, spirited stride, and leads once
more to a blast of the hymn, with organ and all, the air in unison of
trumpets and all the wood. The expressive cadence merges into a last
fanfare of battle, followed by a strain of hymns and with reverberating
Amens, where the organ predominates and holds long after all other
sounds have ceased.
[Footnote A: In the whole tonality we may see the "meteoric and solar
light" of which the composer speaks in the letter quoted above.]
THE SYMPHONIC POEMS OF SAINT-SAENS
There is something charming and even ideal in a complete versatility,
quite apart from the depth of the separate poems, where there is a
never-failing touch of grace and of distinction. The Philip Sydneys are
quite as important as the Miltons, perhaps they are as great. Some poets
seem to achieve an expression in a certain cyclic or sporadic career of
their fancy, touching on this or that form, illuminating with an elusive
light the various corners of the garden. Their individual expression
lies in the _ensemble_ of these touches, rather than in a single
A symptom of the eminence of Saint-Saens in the history of French music
lies in his attitude towards the art as a whole, especially of the
German masters,--the absence of national bias in his perceptions. He was
foremost in revealing to his countrymen the greatness of Bach, Beethoven
and Schumann. Without their influence the present high state of French
music can hardly be conceived.
It is part of a broad and versatile mastery that it is difficult to
analyze. Thus it is not easy to find salient traits in the art of M.
Saint-Saens. We are apt to think mainly of the distinguished beauty of
his harmonies, until we remember his subtle counterpoint, or in turn
the brilliancy of his orchestration. The one trait that he has above his
contemporaries is an inbred refinement and restraint,--a thorough-going
workmanship. If he does not share a certain overwrought emotionalism
that is much affected nowadays, there is here no limitation--rather a
distinction. Aside from the general charm of his art, Saint-Saens found
in the symphonic poem his one special form, so that it seemed Liszt had
created it less for himself than for his French successor. A fine
reserve of poetic temper saved him from hysterical excess. He never lost
the music in the story, disdaining the mere rude graphic stroke; in his
dramatic symbols a musical charm is ever commingled. And a like poise
helped him to a right plot and point in his descriptions. So his
symphonic poems must ever be enjoyed mainly for the music, with perhaps
a revery upon the poetic story. With a less brilliant vein of melody,
though they are not so Promethean in reach as those of Liszt, they are
more complete in the musical and in the narrative effect.
Challenged for a choice among the works of the versatile composer, we
should hit upon the _Danse Macabre_ as the most original, profound and
essentially beautiful of all. It is free from certain lacks that one
feels in other works, with all their charm,--a shallowness and almost
frivolity; a facility of theme approaching the commonplace.
There is here an eccentric quality of humor, a daemonic conceit that
reach the height of other classic expression of the supernatural.
The music is founded upon certain lines of a poem of _Henri Calais_
(under a like title), that may be given as follows:
Death knocks on the tomb with rhythmic heel.
Death fiddles at midnight a ghostly reel.
The winter wind whistles, dark is the night;
Dull groans behind the lindens grow loud;
Back and forth fly the skeletons white,
Running and leaping each under his shroud.
Zig-a-zig-a-zig, how it makes you quake,
As you hear the bones of the dancers shake.
* * * * *
But hist! all at once they vanish away,
The cock has hailed the dawn of day.
The magic midnight strokes sound clear and sharp. In eager chords of
tuned pitch the fiddling ghost summons the dancing groups, where the
single fife is soon followed by demon violins.
Broadly sings now the descending tune half-way between a wail and a
laugh. And ever in interlude is the skipping, mincing step,--here of
reeds answered by solo violin with a light clank of cymbals. Answering
the summoning fifes, the unison troop of fiddlers dance the main step
to bright strokes of triangle, then the main ghostly violin trips in
with choir of wind. And broadly again sweeps the song between tears and
[Music: _In waltz rhythm_
(Harp, with sustained bass note of strings)]
smiles. Or Death fiddles the first strain of reel for the tumultuous
answer of chorus.
Now they build a busy, bustling fugue (of the descending song) and at
the serious moment suddenly
[Music: (Solo violin)
they skip away in new frolicsome, all but joyous, tune: a shadowy
counterfeit of gladness, where the sob hangs on the edge of the smile.
As if it could no longer be contained, now pours the full passionate
grief of the broad descending strain. Death fiddles his mournful chant
to echoing, expressive wind. On the abandon of grief follows the revel
of grim humor in pranks of mocking demons. All the strains are mingled
in the ghostly bacchanale. The descending song is answered in opposite
melody. A chorus of laughter follows the tripping dance. The summoning
chords, acclaimed by chorus, grow to appealing song in a brief lull. At
the height, to the united skipping dance of overpowering chorus the
brass blows the full verse of descending song. The rest is a mad storm
of carousing till ... out of the whirling darkness sudden starts the
sharp, sheer call of prosaic day, in high, shrill reed. On a minishing
sound of rolling drum and trembling strings, sings a brief line of
wistful rhapsody of the departing spirit before the last whisking steps.
On a separate page between title and score is a "_Notice_,"--an epitome
of the story of Phaeton, as follows:
"Phaeton has been permitted to drive the chariot of the Sun, his father,
through the heavens. But his unskilful hands frighten the steeds. The
flaming chariot, thrown out of its course, approaches the terrestrial
regions. The whole universe is on the verge of ruin when Jupiter strikes
the imprudent Phaeton with his thunderbolt."
There is a solemn sense at first (_Maestoso_), a mid-air poise of the
harmony, a quick spring of resolution and--on through the heavens. At
the outset and always is the pervading musical charm. In the beginning
is the enchantment of mere motion in lightest prancing strings and harp
with slowly ascending curve. In farther journey comes a spring of the
higher wood and soon a firm note of horns and a blast of trumpets on a
chirruping call, till the whole panoply of solar brilliance is
shimmering. Now with the continuing pulse (of saltant strings) rings a
[Music: _Allegro animato_
_Marcato_ (Trumpets and trombones)]
regnant air in the brass. A (canon) chase of echoing voices merely adds
an entrancing bewilderment, then yields to other symbols and visions.
Still rises the thread of pulsing strings to higher empyraean and then
floats forth in golden horns, as we hang in the heavens, a melody
tenderly solemn, as of pent delight, or perhaps of a more fatal hue,
with the solar orb encircled by his satellites.
Still on to a higher pole spins the dizzy path; then at the top of the
song, it turns in slow descending curve. Almost to Avernus seems the
gliding fall when the first melody rings anew. But there is now an
anxious sense that dims the joy of motion and in the
[Music: (With trembling of violins in high B flat)
returning first motive jars the buoyant spring. Through the maze of
fugue with tinge of terror presses the fatuous chase, when--crash comes
the shock of higher power. There is a pause of motion in the din and a
downward flight as of lifeless figure.
Now seems the soul of the sweet melody to sing, in purest dirge, without
the shimmer of attendant motion save a ghostly shadow of the joyous
_THE YOUTH OF HERCULES_
The "Legend" is printed in the score as follows:
"Fable tells us that upon entering into life Hercules saw the two paths
open before him: of pleasure and of virtue.
"Insensible to the seductions of Nymphs and Bacchantes, the hero devotes
himself to the career of struggle and combat, at the end of which he
glimpses across the flames of the funeral pyre the reward of
We can let our fancy play about the score and wonderfully hit an
intention of the poet. Yet that is often rather a self-flattery than a
real perception. In the small touches we may lose the greater beauty.
Here, after all, is the justification of the music. If the graphic
picture is added, a little, only, is gained. The main virtue of it lies
in our better grasp of the musical design.
In the muted strings, straying dreamily in pairs, is a vague line of the
motto,--a foreshadowing of the heroic idea, as are the soft calls of the
wind with wooing harp a first vision of delight.
[Music: _Allegro moderato_
Now begins the main song in sturdy course of unmuted strings. The wood
soon join in the rehearsing. But it is not all easy deciphering. The
song wanders in gently agitated strings while the horns hold a solemn
phrase that but faintly resembles the motto.[A] Lesser phrases play
about the bigger in rising flight of aspiration, crowned at the height
with a ray of glad light.
[Footnote A: It is well to resist the vain search for a transnotation of
the story. And here we see a virtue of Saint-Saens himself, a national
trait of poise that saved him from losing the music in the picture. His
symphonic poems must be enjoyed in a kind of musical revery upon the
poetic subject. He disdained the rude graphic stroke, and used dramatic
means only where a musical charm was commingled.]
As the dream sinks slowly away, the stern motto is buried in quick
flashes of the tempting call. These are mere visions; now comes the
scene itself of temptation.
To ripples of harp the reed sings enchantingly in swaying rhythm; other
groups in new surprise of
[Music: (Flutes, oboe, clarinets and harp)]
scene usurp the melody with the languishing answer, until one Siren
breaks into an impassioned burst, while her sisters hold the dance.
Straight upon her vanished echoes shrieks the shrill pipe of war, with
trembling drum. We hear a yearning sigh of the Siren strain before it is
swept away in the tide and tumult of strife. Beneath the whirl and
motion, the flash and crash of arms, we have glimpses of the heroic
Here is a strange lay in the fierce chorus of battle-cries: the Siren
song in bright insistence, changed to the rushing pace of war.
The scene ends in a crash. Loud sings a solemn phrase; do we catch an
edge of wistful regret? Now returns the sturdy course of the main
heroic melody; only it is slower (_Andante sostenuto_), and the high
stress of cadence is solemnly impassioned.
As if to atone for the slower pace, the theme strikes into a lively
fugue, with trembling strings (_Allegro animato_).
There is an air of achievement in the relentless progress and the
insistent recurrence of the masterful motive. An episode there is of
mere striving and straining, before the theme resumes its vehement
attack, followed by lusty echoes all about as of an army of heroes.
There is the breath of battle in the rumbling basses and the shaking,
At last the plain song resounds in simple lines of ringing brass, led by
the high bugle.[A]
[Footnote A: Saint-Saens employs besides the usual 4 horns, 2 trumpets,
3 trombones and tuba, a small bugle (in B-flat) and 2 cornets.]
Yet the struggle, the inner combat, is not over. At the very moment of
triumph sings on high over purling harp the mastering strain of Sirens,
is buried beneath martial clash and emerges with its enchantment. But
here the virile mood and motive gains the victory and strides on to
We remember how Hercules built and ascended his own funeral pyre. In
midst of quivering strings, with dashing harp and shrieking wood, a roll
of drum and a clang of brass sounds the solemn chant of the trombone,
descending in relentless steps. As the lowest is reached, there comes a
spring of freedom in the pulsing figures, like the winging of a spirit,
and a final acclaim in a brief line of the legend.
_OMPHALE'S SPINNING WHEEL_
Between title and score is this _Notice_:
"The subject of this symphonic poem is feminine witchery, the triumphant
struggle of weakness. The spinning wheel is a mere pretext, chosen from
the point of view of rhythm and the general atmosphere of the piece.
"Those persons who might be interested in a study of the details of the
picture, will see ... the hero groaning in the toils which he cannot
break, and ... Omphale mocking the vain efforts of Hercules."
The versions of the story differ slightly. After the fulfilment of his
twelve labors Hercules is ordered by the oracle to a period of three
years' service to expiate the killing of the son of King Eurytus in a
fit of madness. Hermes placed him in the household of Omphale, queen of
Lydia, widow of Tmolus. Hercules is degraded to female drudgery, is
clothed in soft raiment and set to spin wool, while the queen assumes
the lion skin and club.
In another version he was sold as slave to Omphale, who restored him to
freedom. Their passion was mutual. The story has a likeness to a similar
episode of Achilles.
The spinning-wheel begins _Andante_ in muted strings alternating with
flutes and gradually hurries into a lively motion. Here the horn accents
the spinning, while another thread (of higher wood) runs through the
graceful woof. A chain of alluring harmonies preludes the ensnaring
song, mainly of woodwind above the humming strings, with soft dotting of
the harmony by the horns. The violins, to be sure, often enforce the
(Fl. and muted violins)
In the second verse, with fuller chorus, the harp adds its touches to
the harmony of the horns, with lightest tap of tonal drum. Later a
single note of the trumpet is answered by a silvery laugh in the wood.
Between the verses proceeds the luscious chain of harmonies, as with the
turning of the wheel.
Now with the heavily expressive tones of low, unmuted strings and the
sonorous basses of reed and brass (together with a low roll of drum and
soft clash of cymbals) an heroic air sings in low strings and brass, to
meet at each period a shower of notes from the harp. The song grows
intense with the
[Music: (Wood and _trem._ violins doubled above)
_espress. e pesante_
(Cellos, basses, bassoons and trombone, doubled below)]
added clang of trumpets and roll of drums,--only to succumb to the more
eager attack of the siren chorus. At last the full effort of strength
battling vainly with weakness reaches a single heroic height and sinks
away with dull throbs.
In soothing answer falls the caressing song of the high reed in the
phrase of the heroic strain, lightly, quickly and, it seems, mockingly
aimed. In gently railing triumph returns the pretty song of the wheel,
with a new buoyant spring. Drums and martial brass yield to the laughing
flutes, the cooing horns and the soft rippling harp with murmuring
strings, to return like captives in the train at the height of the
The new French school of symphony that broke upon the world in the
latter part of the nineteenth century had its pioneer and true leader in
Cesar Franck.[A] It was he who gave it a stamp and a tradition.
[Footnote A: If language and association, as against the place of birth,
may define nationality, we have in Cesar Franck another worthy
expression of French art in the symphony. He was born at Liege in 1822;
he died in 1890.]
The novelty of his style, together with the lateness of his acclaim (of
which it was the probable cause), have marked him as more modern than
others who were born long after him.
The works of Franck, in other lines of oratorio and chamber music, show
a clear personality, quite apart from a prevailing modern spirit. A
certain charm of settled melancholy seems to inhere in his wonted style.
A mystic is Franck in his dominant moods, with a special sense and power
for subtle harmonic process, ever groping in a spiritual discontent with
A glance at the detail of his art discloses Franck as one of the main
harmonists of his age, with Wagner and Grieg. Only, his harmonic manner
was blended if not balanced by a stronger, sounder counterpoint than
either of the others. But with all the originality of his style we
cannot escape a sense of the stereotype, that indeed inheres in all
music that depends mainly on an harmonic process. His harmonic ideas,
that often seem inconsequential, in the main merely surprise rather than
move or please. The enharmonic principle is almost too predominant,--an
element that ought never to be more than occasional. For it is founded
not upon ideal, natural harmony, but upon a conventional compromise, an
expedient compelled by the limitation of instruments. This over-stress
appears far stronger in the music of Franck's followers, above all in
their frequent use of the whole tone "scale" which can have no other
_rationale_ than a violent extension of the enharmonic principle.[A]
With a certain quality of kaleidoscope, there is besides (in the
harmonic manner of Cesar Franck) an infinitesimal kind of progress in
smallest steps. It is a dangerous form of ingenuity, to which the
French are perhaps most prone,--an originality mainly in details.
[Footnote A: Absolute harmony would count many more than the semitones
of which our music takes cognizance. For purpose of convenience on the
keyboard the semitonal raising of one note is merged in the lowering of
the next higher degree in the scale. However charming for occasional
surprise may be such a substitution, a continuous, pervading use cannot
but destroy the essential beauty of harmony and the clear sense of
tonality; moreover it is mechanical in process, devoid of poetic fancy,
purely chaotic in effect. There is ever a danger of confusing the novel
in art with new beauty.]
And yet we must praise in the French master a wonderful workmanship and
a profound sincerity of sentiment. He shows probably the highest point
to which a style that is mainly harmonic may rise. But when he employs
his broader mastery of tonal architecture, he attains a rare height of
lofty feeling, with reaches of true dramatic passion.
The effect, to be sure, of his special manner is somewhat to dilute the
temper of his art, and to depress the humor. It is thus that the
pervading melancholy almost compels the absence of a "slow movement" in
his symphony. And so we feel in all his larger works for instruments a
suddenness of recoil in the Finale.
One can see in Franck, in analogy with his German contemporaries, an
etherealized kind of "Tristan and Isolde,"--a "Paolo and Francesca" in a
world of shades. Compared with his followers the quality of stereotype
in Franck is merely general; there is no excessive use of one device.
A baffling element in viewing the art of Franck is his remoteness of
spirit, the strangeness of his temper. He lacked the joyous spring that
is a dominant note in the classic period. Nor on the other hand did his
music breathe the pessimism and naturalism that came with the last
rebound of Romantic reaction. Rather was his vein one of high spiritual
absorption--not so much in recoil, as merely apart from the world in a
kind of pious seclusion. Perhaps his main point of view was the
church-organ. He seems a religious prophet in a non-religious age. With
his immediate disciples he was a leader in the manner of his art, rather
than in the temper of his poetry.
_SYMPHONY IN D MINOR_
The scoring shows a sign of modern feeling in the prominence of the
brasses. With all contrast of spirit, the analogy of Franck with the
Liszt-Wagner school and manner is frequently suggestive.
The main novelty of outer detail is the plan of merely three movements.
Nor is there a return to the original form, without the Scherzo. To
judge from the headings, the "slow" movement is absent. In truth, by way
of cursory preamble, the chronic vein of Cesar Franck is so ingrainedly
reflective that there never can be with him an absence of the meditative
phrase. Rather must there be a vehement rousing of his muse from a state
of mystic adoration to rhythmic energy and cheer.[A]
[Footnote A: The key of the work is given by the composer as D minor.
The first movement alone is in the nominal key. The second (in B flat)
is in the submediant, the last in the tonic major. The old manner in
church music, that Bach often used, of closing a minor tonality with a
major chord, was probably due to a regard for the mood of the
congregation. An extension of this tradition is frequent in a long coda
in the major. But this is quite different in kind from a plan where all
of the last movement is in insistent major. We know that it is quite
possible to begin a work at some distance from the main key, leading to
it by tortuous path of modulation; though there is no reason why we may
not question the composer's own inscription, the controlling point is
really the whole tonal scheme. Here the key of the second movement is
built on a design in minor,--would have less reason in the major. For it
rests on a degree that does not exist in the tonic major. To be sure,
Beethoven did invent the change to a lowered submediant in a succeeding
movement. And, of course, the final turn to the tonic major is virtually
as great a license.]
_Lento_ in basses of the strings a strain sounds like a basic motive,
answered with harmonies in the wood. In further strings lies the full
tenor of quiet reflection, with sombre color of tonal scheme. Motives
are less controlling probably in Franck than in any other
symphonist,--less so, at any rate, than his one
special mood and manner. Yet nowhere is the strict figural plot more
faithful in detail than with Cesar Franck.
The theme has an entirely new ring and answer when it enters Allegro
after the Lento prelude. The further course of the tune here is in
eccentric, resolute stride in the descending scale. Our new answer is
much evident in the bass. The Allegro seems a mere irruption; for the
Lento prelude reappears in full solemnity. Indeed, with all the title
and pace, this seems very like the virtual "slow" movement. A mood of
rapt, almost melancholy absorption prevails, with rare flashes of joyous
utterance, where the Allegro enters as if to break the thrall of
meditation. A very striking inversion of the theme now appears. The
gradual growth of phrases in melodious instalments is a trait of Franck
(as it is of Richard Strauss). The rough motto at each turn has a new
[Music: _Allegro non troppo_
phase and frequently is transfigured to a fresh tune. So out of the
first chance counter-figures somehow spring beautiful melodies, where we
feel the fitness and the relevance though we have not heard them before.
It is a quality that Franck shares with Brahms, so that in a
mathematical spirit we might care to deduce all the figures from the
first phrase. This themal manner is quite analogous to the harmonic
style of Franck,--a kaleidoscope of gradual steps, a slow procession of
pale hues of tone that with strange aptness reflect the dim religious
light of mystic musing.
More and more expressive are the stages of the first figures until we
have a duet _molto cantabile_ in the strings. Much of the charm of the
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