Symphonies and Their Meaning; Third Series, Modern Symphonies
Philip H. Goepp
Part 3 out of 5
[Footnote A: In the old version the word "Calender" is used; in the new
translation by Lane we read of "The Three Royal Mendicants." In certain
ancient editions they are called "Karendelees,"--i.e., "miserable
beggars." Each of the three had lost an eye in the course of his
misfortunes. The story (of the Third Kalender) begins with the wreck of
the prince's vessel on the mountain of loadstone and the feat of the
prince, who shoots the brazen horseman on top of the mountain and so
breaks the charm. But there is a long chain of wonders and of troubles,
of evil enchantments and of fateful happenings.]
_III._--The third number is the idyll,--both of the stories and of the
music. Here we are nearest to a touch of sentiment,--apart from the mere
drama of haps and mishaps.[A] But there are all kinds of special
events. There is no prelude of the narrator. The idyll begins
straightway, _Andantino quasi allegretto_, winds through all kinds of
scenes and storms, then sings again _dolce e cantabile_. Here, at last,
the Scherezade phrase is heard on the violin solo, to chords of the
harp; but presently it is lost in the concluding strains of the love
[Footnote A: The story, if any particular one is in the mind of the
composer, is probably that of the Prince Kamar-ez-Zeman and the Princess
Budoor. In the quality of the romance it approaches the legends of a
later age of chivalry. In the main it is the long quest and the final
meeting of a prince and a princess, living in distant kingdoms. Through
the magic of genii they have seen each other once and have exchanged
rings. The rest of the story is a long search one for the other. There
are good and evil spirits, long journeys by land and sea, and great
perils. It is an Arab story of the proverbial course of true love.]
_IV._--The last number begins with the motive of the sea, like the
first, but _Allegro molto_, again followed by the phrase of the story
teller. The sea returns _Allegro molto e frenetico_ in full force, and
likewise the vague motive of the story in a cadenza of violin solo. Then
_Vivo_ comes the dance, the pomp and gaiety of the Festival, with
tripping tambourine and strings and the song first in the flutes.[A]
Presently a reminder of the sea intrudes,--_con forza_ in lower wood and
strings. But other familiar figures flit by,--the evil jinn and the
love-idyll. Indeed the latter has a full verse,--in the midst of the
[Footnote A: We may think of the revels of Sindbad before the returning
thirst for adventure.]
Right out of the festival, rather in full festal array, we seem to
plunge into the broad movement of the surging sea, _Allegro non troppo e
maestoso_, straight on to the fateful event. There are no sighs and
tears. Placidly the waves play softly about. And _dolce e capriccioso_
the siren Scherezade once more reappears to conclude the tale.
_RACHMANINOW. SYMPHONY IN E MINOR_[A]
[Footnote A: Sergei Rachmaninow, born in 1873.]
_I._--The symphony begins with the sombre temper of modern Russian art;
at the outset it seems to throb with inmost feeling, uttered in subtlest
The slow solemn prelude _(Largo)_ opens with the
chief phrase of the work in lowest strings to ominous chords, and treats
it with passionate stress until the main pace of Allegro.
[Music: _Espr_. (Violins)
(Wood and horns)]
But the germ of prevailing legend lies deeper. The work is one of the
few symphonies where the whole is reared on a smallest significant
phrase. The first strain (of basses) is indeed the essence of the
following melody and in turn of the main Allegro theme. But, to probe
still further, we cannot help feeling an ultimate, briefest motive of
single ascending tone against intrinsic obstacle, wonderfully expressed
in the harmony, with a mingled sense of resolution and regret. And of
like moment is the reverse descending tone. Both of these symbols
reappear throughout the symphony, separate or blended in larger melody,
as principal or accompanying figures. Aside from this closer view that
makes clear the tissue of themal discussion, the first phrase is the
main melodic motto, that is instantly echoed in violins with piquant
harmony. In the intricate path of deep musing we feel the mantle of a
Schumann who had himself a kind of heritage from Bach. And thus we come
to see the national spirit best and most articulate through the medium
of ancient art.
The main Allegro melody not so much grows out of the Largo prelude, as
it is of the same fibre and
[Music: _Allegro moderato_
_molto expr._ (Violins)
(Wood with _tremolo_ strings)
(Strings with clarinets and bassoons)]
identity. The violins sing here against a stately march of harmonies.
Such is the fine coherence that the mere heralding rhythm is wrought of
the first chords of the Largo, with their descending stress. And the
expressive melody is of the same essence as the original sighing motto,
save with a shift of accent that gives a new fillip of motion. In this
movement at least we see the type of real symphony, that throbs and
sings and holds us in the thrall of its spirit and song.
Moments there are here of light and joy, quickly drooping to the darker
mood. Following the free flight of main melody is a skein of quicker
figures, on aspirant pulse, answered by broad, tragic descent in minor
Milder, more tranquil sings now the second melody, a striking embodiment
of the sense of striving ascent. Chanted in higher reeds, it is
[Music: (Oboes and clarinets)
(Violins) (Oboes and clar'ts)
followed and accompanied by an expressive answer in the strings. On the
wing of this song we rise to a height where begins the path of a brief
nervous motive (of the first notes of the symphony) that with the
descending tone abounds in various guise. As a bold glance at the sun is
punished by a sight of solar figures all about, so we feel throughout
the tonal story the presence of these symbols. An epilogue of wistful
song leads to the repeated melodies.
The main figure of the plot that follows is the first melody, now in
slow, graceful notes, now in feverish pace, though the brief (second)
motive moves constantly here and there. A darkest descent follows into
an Avernus of deep brooding on the legend, with an ascending path of the
brief, nervous phrase and a reverse fall, that finally wears out its own
despair and ends in a sombre verse of the prelude, with new shades of
melancholy, then plunges into an overwhelming burst on the sighing
phrase. Thence the path of brooding begins anew; but it is now
ascendant, on the dual pulse of the poignant motto and the brief,
nervous motive. The whole current of passion is thus uttered in the
prelude strain that at the outset was pregnant with feeling. At the
crisis it is answered or rather interwoven with a guise of the second
theme, in hurried pace, chanted by stentorian brass and wood in
hallooing chorus that reaches a high exultation. To be sure the Russian
at his gladdest seems tinged with sense of fate. So from the single
burst we droop again. But the gloom is pierced by brilliant
shafts,--herald calls (of brass and wood) that raise the mood of the
returning main melody, and in their continuous refrain add a buoyant
stimulus. And the verse of quicker figures has a new fire and ferment.
All absent is the former descent of minor tones. Instead, in solemn hush
of tempest, without the poignant touch, the tranquil second melody
returns with dulcet answer of strings. A loveliest verse is of this
further song where, in a dual chase of tune, the melody moves in
contained rapture. In the cadence is a transfigured phase of the
ascending tone, mingled with the retiring melody, all woven to a
But the struggle is not over, nor is redemption near. The dulcet phrases
sink once more to sombre depth where there is a final, slow-gathering
burst of passion on the motto, with a conclusive ring almost of fierce
_II._--The second movement, _Allegro molto_, is a complete change from
introspection and passion to an
[Music: _Allegro molto_
(Insistent strum of strings)
abandon as of primitive dance. Strings stir the feet; the horns blow the
first motive of the savage tune; the upper wood fall in with a dashing
jingle,--like a stroke of cymbals across the hostile harmonies.
Whether a recurring idiom is merely personal or belongs to the special
work is difficult to tell. In reality it matters little. Here the
strange rising tone is the same as in the former (second) melody. In
the rude vigor of harmonies the primitive idea is splendidly stressed.
Right in the answer is a guise of short, nervous phrase, that gets a new
touch of bizarre by a leap of the seventh from below. In this figure
that moves throughout the symphony we see an outward symbol of an inner
connection.--Bells soon lend a festive ring to the main tune.
In quieter pace comes a tranquil song of lower voices with a companion
melody above,--all in serene major. Though it grew naturally out of the
[Music: _Molto cantabile_]
dance, the tune has a contrasting charm of idyll and, too, harks back to
the former lyric strains that followed the second melody. When the dance
returns, there is instead of discussion a mere extension of main motive
in full chorus.
But here in the midst the balance is more than restored. From the dance
that ceases abruptly we go straight to school or rather cloister. On our
recurring nervous phrase a fugue is rung with all pomp and ceremony
(_meno mosso_); and of the dance there are mere faint echoing memories,
[Music: _Meno mosso_
(Oboe) _molto marcato_
fugal text seems for a moment to weave itself into the first tune.
Instead, comes into the midst of sermon a hymnal chant, blown gently by
the brass, while other stray
voices run lightly on the thread of fugue. There is, indeed, a playful
suggestion of the dance somehow in the air. A final tempest of the
fugue[A] brings us back to the full verse of dance and the following
melodies. But before the end sounds a broad hymnal line in the brass
with a dim thread of the fugue, and the figures steal away in solemn
[Footnote A: It is of the first two notes of the symphony that the fugal
theme is made. For though it is longer in the strings, the brief motion
is ever accented in the wood. Thus relentless is the themal coherence.
If we care to look closer we see how the (following) chant is a slower
form of the fugal theme, while the bass is in the line of the
dance-tune. In the chant in turn we cannot escape a reminder, if not a
likeness, of the second theme of the first movement.]
_III._--The Adagio has one principal burden, first borne by
violins,--that rises from the germ of earlier
(Strings with added harmony in bassoons and horns)]
lyric strains. Then the clarinet joins in a quiet madrigal of tender
phrases. We are tempted to find here an influence from a western
fashion, a taint of polythemal virtuosity, in this mystic maze of many
strains harking from all corners of the work, without a gain over an
earlier Russian simplicity. Even the Slavic symphony seems to have
fallen into a state of artificial cunning, where all manners of greater
[Music: (Solo clarinet)
(Divided strings) _dolce_]
or lesser motives are packed close in a tangled mass.
It cannot be said that a true significance is achieved in proportion to
the number of concerting themes. We might dilate on the sheer inability
of the hearer to grasp a clear outline in such a multiple plot.
There is somehow a false kind of polyphony, a too great facility of
spurious counterpoint, that differs subtly though sharply from the true
art where the number entails no loss of individual quality; where the
separate melodies move by a divine fitness that measures the perfect
conception of the multiple idea; where there is no thought of a later
padding to give a shimmer of profound art. It is here that the symphony
is in danger from an exotic style that had its origin in German
From this point the Rachmaninow symphony languishes in the fountain of
its fresh inspiration, seems consciously constructed with calculating
There is, after all, no virtue in itself in mere themal
interrelation,--in particular of lesser phrases. One cogent theme may
well prevail as text of the whole. As the recurring motives are
multiplied, they must lose individual moment. The listener's grasp
becomes more difficult, until there is at best a mystic maze, a sweet
chaos, without a clear melodic thought. It cannot be maintained that the
perception of the modern audience has kept pace with the complexity of
scores. Yet there is no gainsaying an alluring beauty of these waves of
sound rising to fervent height in the main melody that is expressive of
a modern wistfulness.
But at the close is a fierce outbreak of the first motto, with a
defiance of regret, in faster, reckless pace, brief, but suddenly
recurring. Exquisite is this
[Music: (Ob.) _cantabile_
(Strings, wood and horns)]
cooing of voices in mournful bits of the motto, with a timid upper
phrase in the descending tone.
On we go in the piling of Ossa on Pelion, where the motto and even the
Scherzo dance lend their text. Yet all is fraught with sentient beauty
as, rising in Titanic climb, it plunges into an overwhelming cry in the
Adagio melody. Throughout, the ascending and descending tones, close
interwoven, give a blended hue of arduous striving and regret.
After a pause follow a series of refrains of solo voices in the melody,
with muted strings, with mingled strains of the motto. In the bass is an
undulation that recalls the second theme of former movement. And the
clarinet returns with its mystic madrigal of melody; now the Adagio
theme enters and gives it point and meaning. In one more burst it sings
in big and little in the same alluring harmony, whence it dies down to
soothing close in brilliant gamut as of sinking sun.
_IV.--Allegro vivace._ Throwing aside the clinging
[Music: _Allegro vivace_
(Strings, wood and horns with reinforced harmonies)]
fragments of fugue in the prelude we rush into a gaiety long sustained.
Almost strident is the ruthless merriment; we are inclined to fear that
the literal coherence of theme is greater than the inner connection of
mood. At last the romp hushes to a whisper of drum, with strange patter
of former dance. And following and accompanying it is a new hymnal (or
is it martial) line, as it were the reverse of the other
[Music: (Reeds and horns)
(Strings with the quicker dance phrase of 2d movement)]
chant. The gay figures flit timidly back,--a struggle 'twixt pleasure
and fate,--but soon regain control.
If we cared to interpret, we might find in the Finale a realized
aspiration. The truth is the humors of the themal phrases, as of the
movements, jar: they are on varying planes. The coarser vein of the last
is no solace to the noble grief of the foregoing.
Again the change or series of moods is not clearly defined. They seem a
parade of visions. The hymn may be viewed as a guise of the former chant
of the Scherzo, with the dance-trip in lowest bass.
Straight from the rush and romp we plunge anew into a trance of sweet
memories. The lyric vein here binds together earlier strains, whose
kinship had not appeared. They seemed less significant, hidden as
subsidiary ideas. If we care to look back we find a germ of phrase in
the first Prelude, and then the answer of the second (Allegro) theme of
first movement. There was, too, the sweep of dual melody following the
rude dance of Scherzo. Above all is here the essence and spirit of the
central Adagio melody of the symphony.
The answering strain is of high beauty, with a melting sense of
farewell. From the sad ecstasy is a
[Music: (Strings with higher and lower 8ve.)
(Wood and horns in 8ves.)
(Basses of strings and reeds)]
descent to mystic musing, where abound the symbols of rising and falling
tones. More and more moving is the climactic melody of regret with a
blended song in large and little. Most naturally it sinks into a full
verse of the Adagio tune--whence instantly is aroused a new battle of
While the dance capers below, above is the sobbing phrase from the heart
of the Adagio. The trip falls into the pace of hymnal march. The shadows
of many figures return. Here is the big descending scale in tragic minor
from the first movement. Large it looms, in bass and treble. Answering
it is a figure of sustained thirds that recalls the former second
(Allegro) melody. And still the trip of dance goes on.
Sharpest and strongest of all these memories is the big sigh of sombre
harmonies from the first Largo prelude, answered by the original legend.
And the dance still goes tripping on and the tones rumble in descent.
The dance has vanished; no sound but the drone of dull, falling tones,
that multiply like the spirits of the sorcerer apprentice, in large form
and small, with the big rumbling in a quick patter as of scurrying mice.
Suddenly a new spirit enters with gathering volume and warmer harmony.
As out of a dream we gradually emerge, at the end with a shock of
welcome to light and day, as we awake to the returning glad dance. And
here is a new entrancing counter-tune above that crowns the joy.
Once again the skip falls into the ominous descent with the phantom of
Scherzo dance in basses. Now returns the strange hymnal line of march
and the other anxious hue.
But quickly they are transformed into the tempest of gaiety in full
parade. When a new burst is preparing, we see the sighing figure all
changed to opposite mood. The grim tune of Scherzo dance enters
mysteriously in big and little and slowly takes on a softened hue,
losing the savage tinge.
After the returning dance, the farewell melody sings from full throat.
Before the ending revel we may feel a glorified guise of the sombre
legend of the symphony.
SIBELIUS. A FINNISH SYMPHONY[A]
[Footnote A: Symphony No. 1, in E minor, by Jan Sibelius, born in 1865.]
We must expect that the music of newer nations will be national. It goes
without saying; for the music comes fresh from the soil; it is not the
result of long refined culture. There is the strain and burst of a
burden of racial feeling to utter itself in the most pliant and eloquent
of all the languages of emotion. It is the first and noblest sentiment
of every nation conscious of its own worth, and it has its counterpart
in the individual. Before the utterance has been found by a people,
before it has felt this sense of its own quality, no other message can
come. So the most glorious period in the history of every country (even
in the eyes of other nations) is the struggle for independence, whether
successful or not.
All on a new plane is this northernmost symphony, with a crooning note
almost of savage, and sudden, fitful bursts from languorous to fiery
mood. The harmony, the turn of tune have a national quality, delicious
and original, though the Oriental tinge appears, as in Slav and Magyar
music, both in bold and in melancholy humor. Though full of strange and
warm colors, the harmonic scheme is simple; rather is the work a tissue
of lyric rhapsody than the close-woven plot of tonal epic. A certain
trace of revery does find a vent in the traditional art of contrary
melodies. But a constant singing in pairs is less art than ancient
folk-manner, like primal music in the love or dance songs of savages.
The symphony begins with a quiet rhapsody of solo clarinet in wistful
minor, clear without chords, though there is a straying into major.
There is no accompaniment save a soft roll of drum, and that soon dies
[Music: _Andante, ma non troppo_
The rhapsody seems too vague for melody; yet there are motives, one in
chief, winding to a pause; here is a new appealing phrase; the ending is
return to the first. Over the whole symphony is cast the hue of this
rhapsody, both in mood and in the literal tone.
All opposite, with sudden spring of buoyant strings, strikes the
Allegro tune ending in a quick, dancing trip. The first voice is
immediately pursued by another
[Music: _Allegro energico_
(Violins with higher 8ve.)
(Cellos with higher 8ve. in violas)]
in similar phase, like a gentler shadow, and soon rises to a passionate
chord that is the main idiom of the movement.
[Music: (Strings, wood and horns)]
A second theme in clear-marked tones of reed and horns, as of stern
chant, is taken up in higher wood and grows to graceful melody in
There is a series of flights to an ever higher perch of harmony until
the first Allegro motive rings out in fullest chorus, again with the
companion tune and the cadence of poignant dissonance.
A new episode comes with shimmering of harp and strings, where rare and
dainty is the sense of primal
(Strings with chord of harp)]
harmony that lends a pervading charm to the symphony. Here the high
wood has a song in constant thirds, right from the heart of the
rhapsody, all bedecked as melody with a new rhythm and answer. Soon this
simple lay is woven in a skein of pairs of voices, meeting or diverging.
But quickly we are back in the trance of lyric song, over palpitating
strings, with the refrain very like the former companion phrase that
somehow leads or grows to a
(Oboe, with other wood)
(Strings with higher E)]
rhythmic verse of the first strain of the rhapsody. Here begins a long
mystic phase of straying voices (of the wood) in the crossing figures of
the song, in continuous fantasy that somehow has merged into the line of
second Allegro theme, winging towards a brilliant height where the
strings ring out the strain amid sharp cries of the brass in startling
hues of harmony and electric calls from the first rhapsody.
From out the maze and turmoil the shadowy melody rises in appealing
beauty like heavenly vision and lo! is but a guise of the first strain
of rhapsody. It rises amid flashes of fiery brass in bewildering blare
of main theme, then sinks again to the depth of brooding, though the
revery of the appealing phrase has a climactic height of its own, with
the strange, palpitating harmonies.
In a new meditation on bits of the first Allegro theme sounds suddenly a
fitful burst of the second, that presently emerges in triumphant,
sovereign song. Again, on a series of flights the main theme is reached
and leaps once more to impassioned height.
But this is followed by a still greater climax of moving pathos whence
we descend once more to lyric meditation (over trembling strings).
Follows a final tempest and climax of the phrase of second theme.
The movement thus ends, not in joyous exultation, but in a fierce
triumph of sombre minor.
The Andante is purest folk-melody, and it is strange how we know this,
though we do not know the special theme. We cannot decry the
race-element as a rich fount of melody. While older nations strive and
strain, it pours forth by some mystery in prodigal flow with less
tutored peoples who are singing their first big song to the world. Only,
the ultimate goal for each racial inspiration must be a greater
The lyric mood is regnant here, in a melody that, springing from distant
soil, speaks straight to every heart, above all with the concluding
refrain. It is of the purest vein, of the primal fount, deeper than mere
racial turn or trait. Moreover, with a whole coronet of gems of modern
harmony, it has a broad swing and curve that gives the soothing sense of
[Music: _Andante ma non troppo lento_
(Sustained horns and basses with lower 8ve.; constant stroke of harp)
it bears a burden of elemental, all-contenting emotion. In the main, the
whole movement is one lyric flight. But there come the moods of musing
and rhapsodic rapture. In a brief fugal vein is a mystic harking back to
the earlier prelude. In these lesser phrases are the foil or
counter-figures for the bursts of the melody.
It is the first motive of the main tune that is the refrain in ever
higher and more fervent exclamation, or in close pressing chase of
voices. Then follows a melting episode,--some golden piece of the melody
in plaintive cellos, 'neath tremulous wood or delicate choirs of
But there is a second tune, hardly less moving, in dulcet group of
horns amid shimmering strings and harp, with a light bucolic answer in
[Music: _Molto tranquillo_
(With arpeggic harp)]
And it has a glowing climax, too, with fiery trumpet, and dashing
strings and clashing wood.
Gorgeous in the warm depth of horns sound now the returning tones of the
first noble melody, with playful trill of the wood, in antiphonal song
of trumpets and strings. And there are revels of new turns of the tune
(where the stirring harmony seems the best of all) that will rise to a
frenzy of tintinnabulation. A quicker counter-theme lends life and
motion to all this play and plot.
A big, solemn stride of the middle strain (of main melody) precedes the
last returning verse, with all the tender pathos of the beginning.
The Scherzo is wild race-feeling let loose--national music that has not
yet found a melody. Significantly the drums begin the tune, to a dancing
strain of _pizzicato_ strings. The tune is so elemental that the
(_Pizz._ cellos double above in violas)]
drums can really play it; the answer is equally rude,--an arpeggic
motive of strings against quick runs of the higher wood. Out of it grows
a tinge of tune with a fresh spring of dance,--whence returns the first
savage motive. This is suddenly changed to the guise of a fugal theme,
with new close, that starts a maze of disputation.
Right from the full fire of the rough dance, sad-stressed chords plunge
into a moving plaint with much sweetness of melody and higher
counter-melody. Then returns again the original wild rhythm.
[Music: _Lento ma non troppo_]
In the last movement the composer confesses the "Fantasy" in the title.
It begins with a broad sweep of the returning rhapsody, the prologue of
the symphony, though without the former conclusion. Now it sings in a
strong unison of the strings _largamente ed appassionato_, and with
clang of chord in lower brass. The appealing middle phrase is all
disguised in strum as of dance. The various strains sing freely in
thirds, with sharp punctuating chords. Throughout is a balance of the
pungent vigor of harmonies with dulcet melody.
In sudden rapid pace the strumming figure dances in the lower reed, then
yields to the play (in the strings) of a lively (almost comic) tune of a
strong national tinge,--a kind that seems native to northern countries
and is not unlike a strain that crept into
[Music: _Allegro molto_]
American song. A tempest of pranks is suddenly halted before the
entrance of a broad melody, with underlying harmonies of latent passion.
The feeling of fantasy is in the further flow, with free singing chords
of harp. But ever between the lines creeps in the strumming phrase, from
the first prelude, returned to its earlier mood.
[Music: _Andante assai_
(Violins) _cantabile ed espressivo_
(_Tremolo_ cellos, with lower C in basses)]
With baffling mystery anon come other appealing phrases from the
beginning, that show the whole to be the woof almost of a single figure,
or at least to lie within the poetic scope of the prologue. A fugal
revel of the comic phrase with the quick strum as counter-theme ends in
a new carnival,--here a dashing march, there a mad chase of strident
harmonies. Now sings the full romance and passion of the melody through
the whole gamut from pathos to rapture. It ends with poignant stress of
the essence of the song, with sheerest grating of straining harmonies.
In the midst, too, is again the mystic symbol from the heart of the
prelude. Then with a springing recoil comes a last jubilation, though
still in the prevailing minor, with a final coursing of the quick theme.
The whole is a broad alternation of moods, of wild abandon and of tender
feeling,--the natural dual quality of primal music. So, at least in the
Finale, this is a Finnish fantasy, on the very lines of other national
In the music of modern Bohemia is one of the most vital utterances of
the folk-spirit. The critic may not force a correspondence of politics
and art to support his theory. Yet a cause may here be found as in
Russia and Finland. (Poland and Hungary had their earlier song). There
is a sincerity, an unpremeditated quality in Bohemian music that is not
found among its western neighbors. The spirit is its own best proof,
without a conscious stress of a national note. Indeed, Bohemian music is
striking, not at all in a separate tonal character, like Hungarian, but
rather in a subtle emotional intensity, which again differs from the
wild abandon of the Magyars. An expression it must be of a national
feeling that has for ages been struggling against absorption. Since
ancient times Bohemia has been part of a Teutonic empire. The story of
its purely native kings is not much more than legendary. Nor has it
shared the harder fate of other small nations; for the Teuton rule at
least respected its separate unity.
But the long association with the German people has nearly worn away the
racial signs and hall-marks of its folk-song. A Bohemian tune thus has a
taste much like the native German. Yet a quality of its own lies in the
emotional vitality, shown in a school of national drama and, of late, in
symphony. It is not necessary to seek in this modern culmination a
correspondence with an impending danger of political suppression. Art
does not follow history with so instant a reflection.
The intensity of this national feeling appears when Smetana himself, the
minstrel of the people, is charged at home with yielding to the foreign
influence. Here again is the hardship of the true national poet who
feels that for the best utterance of his message he needs the grounding
upon a broader art; here is the narrow Chauvinism that has confined the
music of many lands within the primitive forms.
Two types we have in Bohemian music of later times: one, Smetana, of
pure national celebration; a second, Dvorak, who with a profound
absorption of the German masters, never escaped the thrall of the
folk-element and theme.
_SMETANA. SYMPHONIC POEM, "THE MOLDAU RIVER"_[A]
[Footnote A: Friedrich Smetana, 1824-1884, foremost among Bohemian
dramatic composers, wrote a cycle of symphonic poems under the general
title "My Country." Of these the present work is the second.]
Simplicity is uppermost in these scores; yet the true essence is almost
hidden to the mere reader. With all primitive quality they are more
difficult than many a classic symphony. The latent charm of folk humor
and sentiment depends more on tradition and sympathy than on notation.
The naively graphic impulse (that we find throughout the choral works of
Bach) that merely starts a chance themal line, as here of the first
branch of the Moldau, does not disturb the emotional expression. And
while the feeling is sustained, the art is there, not to stifle but to
utter and set free the native spring of song.
It must be yielded that the design is not profound; it smacks of the
village fair rather than of grand tragedy. Song is ever supreme, and
with all abundance of contrapuntal art does not become sophisticated.
The charm is not of complexity, but of a more child-like, sensuous kind.
It must all be approached in a different way from other symphonic music.
The minstrel is not even the peasant in court costume, as Dvorak once
was called. He is the peasant in his own village dress, resplendent with
color and proud of his rank.
We cannot enjoy the music with furrowed brow. It is a case where music
touches Mother Earth and rejuvenates herself. Like fairy lore and
proverbs, its virtue lies in some other element than profound design.
For any form of song or verse that enshrines the spirit of a people and
is tried in the forge of ages of tradition, lives on more surely than
the fairest art of individual poet.
The stream is the great figure, rising from small sources in playful
flutes, with light spray of harp and
[Music: _Allegro commodo non agitato_
(Flute with chord of _pizz._ strings)]
strings. The first brook is joined by another (in clarinets) from a new
direction. Soon grows the number and the rustle of confluent waters. The
motion of the strings is wavelike, of a broader flow, though underneath
we scan the several lesser currents. Above floats now the simple, happy
song, that expands
(Reeds and horns with waving strings and stroke of triangle)]
with the stream and at last reaches a glad, sunny major.
Still to the sound of flowing waters comes the forest hunt, with all the
sport of trumpets and other brass.
It is descriptive music, tonal painting if you will; but the color is
local or national. The strokes are not so much of events or scenes as of
a popular humor and character, which we must feel with small stress of
each event. The blowing of trumpets, the purling of streams, the swaying
of trees, in primal figures, all breathe the spirit of Bohemia.
The hunt dies away; emerging from the forest the jolly sounds greet us
of a peasant wedding. The
[Music: _Tempo moderato_
(Reeds and strings)]
parade reaches the church in high festivity and slowly vanishes to
Night has fallen; in shifted scene the stream is sparkling in the
moonlight still to the quiet sweet harmonies. But this is all background
for a dance of nymphs, while a dulcet, sustained song sounds through the
night. At last, to the golden horns a faintest harmony is added of
deeper brass. Still very softly, the brass strike a quicker phrase and
we seem to hear the hushed chorus of hunt with the call of trumpets, as
the other brass lead in a new verse that grows lustier with the livelier
song and dance, till--with a flash we are alone with the running stream
with which the dance of nymphs has somehow merged.
On it goes, in happy, ever more masterful course, a symbol of the
nation's career, surging in bright major and for a moment quieting
before the mighty Rapids of St. Johann. Here the song of the stream is
nearly lost in the rush of eddies and the strife of big currents, with
the high leaps of dashing spray,--ever recurring like unceasing battle
with a towering clash at the height of the tempest. At last all meet in
overpowering united torrent, suddenly to hush before the stream, at the
broadest, rushes majestically along in hymnal song of exalted harmonies
and triumphant melody, with joyous after-strains.
As the pilgrim to his Mecca, so the waters are wafted into the climactic
motive of the Hradschin, the chant of the holy citadel. The rest is a
[Music: _Motiv Vyserad_
(Full orchestra, with rapid figures in the strings)]
on quicker beats of the chant, amid the plash of waters and the shaking
of martial brass. Strangely, as the other sounds die away, the melody of
the stream emerges clear and strong, then vanishes in the distance
before the jubilant Amen.
In the general view we must feel a wonderful contrast here with the
sophomoric state of the contemporary art in other lands where the
folk-song has lost its savor,--where the natural soil is exhausted and
elegant castles are built in the air of empty fantasy, or on the sands
of a vain national pride.
_DVORAK. SYMPHONY, "FROM THE NEW WORLD."_[A]
[Footnote A: Anton Dvorak, 1841-1904.]
It is a much-discussed question how far Dvorak's American symphony is
based on characteristic folk-song. Here are included other questions: to
what extent the themes are based on an African type, and whether negro
music is fairly American folk-song. Many, perhaps most people, will
answer with a general negative. But it seems to be true that many of us
do not really know the true negro song,--have quite a wrong idea of it.
To be sure, all argument aside, it is a mistake to think that folk-song
gets its virtue purely from a distinctive national quality,--because it
is Hungarian, Scandinavian, or Slavonic. If all the national modes and
rhythms of the world were merged in one republic, there would still be a
folk-song of the true type and value. There is a subtle charm and
strength in the spontaneous simplicity, all aside from racial color. It
is here that, like Antaeus, the musician touches Mother Earth and renews
his strength. So, when Dvorak suddenly shifts in the midst of his New
World fantasy into a touch of Bohemian song, there is no real loss. It
is all relevant in the broad sense of folk feeling, that does not look
too closely at geographical bounds. It is here that music, of all arts,
leads to a true state of equal sympathy, regardless of national
prejudice. What, therefore, distinguishes Dvorak's symphony may not be
mere negro melody, or even American song, but a genuine folk-feeling, in
the widest meaning.
In one way, Dvorak's work reminds us of Mendelssohn's Scotch Symphony:
both exploit foreign national melody in great poetic forms. One could
write a Scotch symphony in two ways: one, in Mendelssohn's, the other
would be to tell of the outer impression in the terms of your own
folk-song. That is clearly the way Mendelssohn wrote most of the Italian
Symphony,--which stands on a higher plane than the Scotch. For folk-song
is the natural language of its own people. It is interesting to see the
exact type that each theme represents; but it is not so important as to
catch the distinction, the virtue of folk-song _per se_ and the purely
natural utterance of one's own. Of course, every one writes always in
his folk-tones. On the other hand, one may explore one's own special
treasures of native themes, as Dvorak himself did so splendidly in his
Slavic Dances and in his Legends. So one must, after all, take this
grateful, fragrant work as an idea of what American composers might do
in full earnest. Dvorak is of all later masters the most eminent
folk-musician. He shows greatest sympathy, freedom and delight in
revelling among the simple tones and rhythms of popular utterance,
rearing on them, all in poetic spontaneity, a structure of high art.
Without strain or show, Dvorak stood perhaps the most genuine of late
composers, with a firm foot on the soil of native melody, yet with the
balance and restraint and the clear vision of the trained master.[A]
[Footnote A: The whole subject of American and negro folk-song is new
and unexplored. There are races of the blacks living on the outer reefs
and islands of the Carolinas, with not more than thirty whites in a
population of six thousand, where "spirituals" and other musical rites
are held which none but negroes may attend. The truest African mode and
rhythm would seem to be preserved here; to tell the truth, there is
great danger of their loss unless they are soon recorded.]
In a certain view, it would seem that by the fate of servitude the
American negro has become the element in our own national life that
alone produces true folk-song,--that corresponds to the peasant and serf
of Europe, the class that must find in song the refuge and solace for
its loss of material joys. So Dvorak perhaps is right, with a far seeing
eye, when he singles the song of the despised race as the national type.
Another consideration fits here. It has been suggested that the
imitative sense of the negro has led him to absorb elements of other
song. It is very difficult to separate original African elements of song
from those that may thus have been borrowed. At any rate, there is no
disparagement of the negro's musical genius in this theory. On the
contrary, it would be almost impossible to imagine a musical people that
would resist the softer tones of surrounding and intermingling races.
We know, to be sure, that Stephen Foster, the author of "The Old Folks
at Home," "Massa's in the Cold, Cold Ground," and other famous ballads,
was a Northerner, though his mother came from the South. We hear, too,
that he studied negro music eagerly. It is not at all inconceivable,
however, Foster's song may have been devoid of negro elements, that the
colored race absorbed, wittingly or unwittingly, something of the vein
into their plaints or lullabies,--that, indeed, Foster's songs may have
been a true type that stirred their own imitation. From all points of
view,--the condition of slavery, the trait of assimilation and the
strong gift of musical expression may have conspired to give the negro a
position and equipment which would entitle his tunes to stand as the
real folk-song of America.
The eccentric accent seems to have struck the composer strongly. And
here is a strange similarity with Hungarian song,--though there is, of
course, no kinship of race whatever between Bohemians and Magyars. One
might be persuaded to find here simply an ebullition of rhythmic
impulse,--the desire for a special fillip that starts and suggests a
stronger energy of motion than the usual conventional pace. At any rate,
the symphony begins with just such strong, nervous phrases that soon
gather big force. Hidden is the germ of the first, undoubtedly the chief
theme of the whole work.
It is more and more remarkable how a search will show the true
foundation of almost all of Dvorak's themes. Not that one of them is
actually borrowed, or lacks an original, independent reason for being.
Whether by imitation or not, the pentatonic scale of the Scotch is an
intimate part of negro song. This avoidance of the seventh or leading
tone is seen throughout the symphony as well as in the traditional
jubilee tunes. It may be that this trait was merely confirmed in the
African by foreign musical influence. For it seems that the
leading-note, the urgent need for the ascending half-tone in closing,
belongs originally to the minstrelsy of the Teuton and of central
Europe, that resisted and conquered the sterner modes of the early
Church. Ruder nations here agreed with Catholic ritual in preferring the
larger interval of the whole tone. But in the quaint jump of the third
the Church had no part, clinging closely to a diatonic process.
The five-toned scale is indeed so widespread that it cannot be fastened
on any one race or even family of nations. The Scotch have it; it is
characteristic of the Chinese and of the American Indian. But,
independently of the basic mode or scale, negro songs show here and
there a strange feeling for a savage kind of lowering of this last note.
The pentatonic scale simply omits it, as well as the fourth step. But
the African will now and then rudely and forcibly lower it by a
half-tone. In the minor it is more natural; for it can then be thought
of as the fifth of the relative major. Moreover, it is familiar to us in
the Church chant. This effect we have in the beginning of the Scherzo.
Many of us do not know the true African manner, here. But in the major
it is much more barbarous. And it is almost a pity that Dvorak did not
strike it beyond an occasional touch (as in the second quoted melody). A
fine example is "Roll, Jordan Roll," in E flat (that opens, by the way,
much like Dvorak's first theme), where the beginning of the second line
rings out on a savage D flat, out of all key to Caucasian ears.
We soon see stealing out of the beginning _Adagio_ an eccentric pace in
motion of the bass, that leads to the burst of main subject, _Allegro
molto_, with a certain
[Music: _Allegro molto_
(Clarinets doubled below in bassoons)
ragged rhythm that we Americans cannot disclaim as a nation. The working
up is spirited, and presently out of the answer grows a charming jingle
that somehow strikes home.
[Music: (Violins, with harmony in lower strings)]
It begins in the minor and has a strange, barbaric touch of cadence.
Many would acknowledge it at most as a touch of Indian mode. Yet it is
another phase of the lowered seventh. And if we care to search, we find
quite a prototype in a song like "Didn't My Lord Deliver Daniel." Soon
the phrase has a more familiar ring as it turns into a friendly major.
But the real second theme comes in a solo tune on the flute, in the
[Music: (Solo flute)
with a gait something like the first.[A] Less and less we can resist the
genuine negro quality of these melodies, and, at the same time, their
beauty and the value of the tonal treasure-house in our midst.
[Footnote A: Again it is interesting to compare here the jubilee song,
"Oh! Redeemed," in the collection of "Jubilee and Plantation Songs," of
the Oliver Ditson Company.]
The whole of the first Allegro is thus woven of three melodious and
characteristic themes in very clear sonata-form. The second, Largo,
movement is a lyric of moving pathos, with a central melody that may not
have striking traits of strict African song, and yet belongs to the type
closely associated with the negro vein of plaint or love-song. The
(English horn solo)]
turns that lead to periods of excitement and climaxes of rapid motion,
are absent in the main melody. But
[Music: (Oboe and clarinets)
(Basses _pizz._ with _tremolo_ figures in violins)]
they appear in the episode that intervenes. Even here, in the midst, is
a new contrast of a minor lament that has a strong racial trait in the
sudden swing to major and, as quickly, back to the drearier mode. This
is followed by a rhapsody or succession of rapid, primitive phrases,
that leads to a crisis where, of a sudden, three themes sing at once,
the two of the previous Allegro and the main melody of the Largo, in
distorted pace with full chorus. This excitement is as suddenly lulled
and soothed by the return of the original moving song.
The Scherzo starts in a quick three-beat strum on the chord we have
pointed to as a true model trait of negro music, with the lowered
[Music: _molto vivace_ (Fl. and oboes)
theme, discussed in close stress of imitation, seems merely to mark the
rapid swing in the drone of strange harmony. But what is really a sort
of Trio (_poco sostenuto_) is another sudden, grateful change to major,
perfectly true to life, so to speak, in this turn of mode and in the
simple lines of the tune. The lyric mood all but suppresses the dance,
the melody sounding like a new verse of the Largo. The trip has always
lingered, but not too much for the delicious change when it returns to
carry us off our feet.
The Scherzo now steals in again, quite a piece, it seems, with the Trio.
As the rising volume nears a crisis, the earliest theme (from the first
Allegro) is heard in the basses. In the hushed discourse of Scherzo
theme that follows, the old melody still intrudes. In mockery of one of
its turns comes an enchanting bit of tune, as naive an utterance as any,
much like a children's dancing song. And it returns later with still new
enchantment of rhythm. But the whole is too full of folk-melody to trace
out, yet is, in its very fibre, true to the idea of an epic of the
Presently the whole Scherzo and Trio are rehearsed; but now instead of
the phase of latest melodies is a close where the oldest theme (of
Allegro) is sung in lusty blasts of the horns and wood, with answers of
the Scherzo motive.
In the last movement, _Allegro con fuoco_, appears early a new kind of
march tune that, without special
[Music: _Allegro con fuoco_
(Horns and trumpets with full orchestra)]
trick of rhythm, has the harsh note of lowered leading-note (in the
minor, to be sure) in very true keeping with negro song. The march is
carried on, with flowing answer, to a high pitch of varied splendor and
tonal power. The second theme is utterly opposed in a certain pathetic
rhapsody. Yet it rises, at the close, to a fervent burst in rapid
[Music: (Solo clarinets)
may expect in the Finale an orgy of folk-tune and dance, and we are not
disappointed. There is, too, a quick rise and fall of mood, that is a
mark of the negro as well as of the Hungarian. By a sudden doubling, we
are in the midst of a true "hoe-down," in jolliest jingle, with that
naive iteration, true to life; it comes out clearest when the tune of
the bass (that sounds like a rapid "Three Blind Mice") is
[Music: (Strings, wood and brass)
(See page 205, line 9.)]
put in the treble. A pure idealized negro dance-frolic is here. It is
hard to follow all the pranks; lightly as the latest phrase descends in
extending melody, a rude blast of the march intrudes in discordant
humor. A new jingle of dance comes with a redoubled pace of bits of the
march. As this dies down to dimmest bass, the old song from the Largo
rings high in the wood. Strangest of all, in a fierce shout of the whole
chorus sounds twice this same pathetic strain. Later comes a redoubled
speed of the march in the woodwind, above a slower in low strings. Now
the original theme of all has a noisy say. Presently the sad second
melody has a full verse. Once more the Largo lullaby sings its strain
in the minor. In the close the original Allegro theme has a literal,
vigorous dispute with the march-phrase for the last word of all.
The work does less to exploit American music than to show a certain
community in all true folk-song. Nor is this to deny a strain peculiar
to the new world. It seems a poet of distant land at the same time and
in the same tones uttered his longing for his own country and expressed
the pathos and the romance of the new. Dvorak, like all true workers,
did more than he thought: he taught Americans not so much the power of a
song of their own, as their right of heritage in all folk-music. And
this is based not merely on an actual physical inheritance from the
various older races.
If the matter, in Dvorak's symphony, is of American negro-song, the
manner is Bohemian. A stranger-poet may light more clearly upon the
traits of a foreign lore. But his celebration will be more conscious if
he endeavor to cling throughout to the special dialect. A true national
expression will come from the particular soil and will be unconscious of
its own idiom.
The permanent hold that Dvorak's symphony has gained is due to an
intrinsic merit of art and sincere sentiment; it has little to do with
the nominal title or purpose.
THE EARLIER BRUCKNER[A]
[Footnote A: Anton Bruckner, born at Annsfelden, Austria, 1828; died in
Vienna in 1896.]
Whatever be the final answer of the mooted question of the greatness of
Bruckner's symphonies, there is no doubt that he had his full share of
technical profundity, and a striking mastery of the melodious weaving of
a maze of concordant strains. The question inevitably arises with
Bruckner as to the value of the world's judgments on its contemporary
poets. There can be no doubt that the _furore_ of the musical public
tends to settle on one or two favorites with a concentration of praise
that ignores the work of others, though it be of a finer grain. Thus
Schubert's greatest--his one completed--symphony was never acclaimed
until ten years after his death. Even his songs somehow brought more
glory to the singer than to the composer. Bach's oratorios lay buried
for a full century. On the other hand, names great in their day are
utterly lost from the horizon. It is hard to conceive the _eclat_ of a
Buononcini or a Monteverde,--whose works were once preeminent. There are
elements in art, of special, sensational effect, that make a peculiar
appeal in their time, and are incompatible with true and permanent
greatness. One is tempted to say, the more sudden and vehement the
success, the less it will endure. But it would not be true. Such an
axiom would condemn an opera like "Don Giovanni," an oratorio like the
"Creation," a symphony like Beethoven's Seventh. There is a wonderful
difference, an immeasurable gulf between the good and the bad in art;
yet the apparent line is of the subtlest. Most street songs may be poor;
but some are undoubtedly beautiful in a very high sense. It is a problem
of mystic fascination, this question of the value of contemporary art.
It makes its appeal to the subjective view of each listener. No rule
applies. Every one will perceive in proportion to his capacity, no one
beyond it. So, a profound work may easily fail of response, as many
works in the various arts have done in the past, because the average
calibre of the audience is too shallow, while it may deeply stir an
intelligent few. Not the least strange part of it all is the fact that
there can, of necessity, be no decision in the lifetime of the poet.
Whether it is possible for obscure Miltons never to find their meed of
acclaim, is a question that we should all prefer to answer in the
negative. There is a certain shudder in thinking of such a chance; it
seems a little akin to the danger of being buried alive.
The question of Bruckner's place can hardly be said to be settled,
although he has left nine symphonies. He certainly shows a freedom, ease
and mastery in the symphonic manner, a limpid flow of melody and a sure
control in the interweaving of his themes, so that, in the final
verdict, the stress may come mainly on the value of the subjects, in
themselves. He is fond of dual themes, where the point lies in neither
of two motives, but in the interplay of both; we see it somewhat
extended in Richard Strauss, who uses it, however, in a very different
spirit. The one evident and perhaps fatal lack is of intrinsic beauty of
the melodic ideas, and further, an absence of the strain of pathos that
sings from the heart of a true symphony. While we are mainly impressed
by the workmanship, there is no denying a special charm of constant
tuneful flow. At times this complexity is almost marvellous in the clear
simplicity of the concerted whole,--in one view, the main trait or trick
of symphonic writing. It is easy to pick out the leading themes as they
appear in official order. But it is not so clear which of them
constitute the true text. The multiplicity of tunes and motives is
Of the Wagner influence with which Bruckner is said to be charged,
little is perceptible in his second symphony. On the contrary, a strong
academic tradition pervades. The themes are peculiarly symphonic.
Moreover they show so strikingly the dual quality that one might say, as
a man may see double, Bruckner sang double. Processes of augmenting and
inverting abound, together with the themal song in the bass. Yet there
is not the sense of overloaded learning. There is everywhere a clear and
But with all masterly architecture, even enchanting changes of harmony
and a prodigal play of melody, the vacuity of poetic ideas must preclude
a permanent appeal. Bruckner is here the schoolmaster: his symphony is a
splendid skeleton, an object lesson for the future poet.
In the FOURTH (ROMANTIC) SYMPHONY the main light plays throughout on the
wind. The text is a call of horns, that begins the work. It is a
[Music: _In tranquil motion_
of wood-notes, where the forest-horn is sovereign,--awakening a widening
world of echoes, with a murmuring maze of lesser notes. One has again
the feeling that in the quiet interweaving of a tapestry of strains lies
the individual quality of the composer,--that the _forte_ blasts, the
stride of big unison figures are but the interlude.
In the Andante the charm is less of tune than of the delicate changing
shades of the harmony and of the colors of tone. We are ever surprised
in the gentlest way by a turn of chord or by the mere entrance of a horn
among the whispering strings. The shock of a soft modulation may be as
sudden as of the loud, sudden blare. But we cannot somehow be consoled
for the want of a heart-felt melody.
The Scherzo is a kind of hunting-piece, full of the sparkle, the color
and romance of bugles and horns,--a spirited fanfare broken by hushed
phrases of strings or wood, or an elf-like mystic dance on the softened
call of trumpets. The Trio sings apart, between the gay revels, in soft
voices and slower pace, like a simple ballad.
The Finale is conceived in mystical retrospect, beginning in vein of
prologue: over mysterious murmuring strings, long sustained notes of the
reed and horn in octave descent are mingled with a soft carillon of
horns and trumpets in the call of the Scherzo. In broad swing a free
fantasy rises to a loud refrain (in the brass) of the first motive of
In slower pace and hush of sound sings a madrigal of tender phrases. A
pair of melodies recall like figures of the first Allegro. Indeed, a
chain of dulcet strains seems to rise from the past.
The fine themal relevance may be pursued in infinite degree, to no end
but sheer bewilderment. The truth is that a modern vanity for subtle
connection, a purest pedantry, is here evident, and has become a baneful
tradition in the modern symphony. It is an utter confusion of the letter
with the spirit. Once for all, a themal coherence of symphony must lie
in the main lines, not in a maze of unsignificant figures.
Marked is a sharp alternation of mood, tempestuous and tender, of
Florestan and Eusebius. The lyric phase yields to the former heroic
fantasy and then returns in soothing solace into a prevailing motive
that harks back to the second of the beginning movement. The fantasy,
vague of melody, comes
[Music: (Wood and horns)
(in more than one sense) as relief from the small tracery. It is just to
remember a like oscillation in the first Allegro.
When the prologue recurs, the phrases are in ascent, instead of descent
of octaves. A climactic verse of the main dulcet melody breaks out in
resonant choir of brass and is followed by a soft rhapsody on the
several strains that hark back to the beginning. From the halting pace
the lyric episode rises in flight of continuous song to enchanting lilt.
Now in the big heroic fantasy sing the first slow phrases as to the
manner born and as naturally break into a paean of the full motive,
mingled with strains of the original legend of the symphony, that flows
on to broad hymnal cadence.
In mystic musing we reach a solemn stillness where the prologue phrase
is slowly drawn out into a profoundly moving hymn. Here we must feel is
Meister Bruckner's true poetic abode rather than in the passion and
ecstasy of romance into which he was vainly lured.[A]
[Footnote A: Bruckner's Fifth Symphony (in B flat) is a typical example
of closest correlation of themes that are devoid of intrinsic melody.
An introduction supplies in the bass of a hymnal line the main theme of
the Allegro by inversion as well as the germ of the first subject of the
Adagio. Throughout, as in the Romantic Symphony, the relation between
the first and the last movement is subtle. A closing, jagged phrase
reappears as the first theme of the Finale.
The Adagio and Scherzo are built upon the same figure of bass. The theme
of the Trio is acclaimed by a German annotator as the reverse of the
first motive of the symphony.
In the prelude of the Finale, much as in the Ninth of Beethoven, are
passed in review the main themes of the earlier movements. Each one is
answered by an eccentric phrase that had its origin in the first
movement and is now extended to a fugal theme.
The climactic figure is a new hymnal line that moves as central theme of
an imposing double fugue.]
THE LATER BRUCKNER
In Bruckner's later works appears the unique instance of a discipline
grounded in the best traditions, united to a deft use of ephemeral
devices. The basic cause of modern mannerism, mainly in harmonic
effects, lies in a want of formal mastery; an impatience of thorough
technic; a craving for quick sensation. With Bruckner it was the
opposite weakness of original ideas, an organic lack of poetic
individuality. It is this the one charge that cannot be brought home to
the earlier German group of reaction against the classic idea.
There is melody, almost abundant, in Wagner and Liszt and their German
contemporaries. Indeed it was an age of lyricists. The fault was that
they failed to recognize their lyric limitation, lengthening and padding
their motives abnormally to fit a form that was too large. Hence the
symphony of Liszt, with barren stretches, and the impossible plan of the
later music-drama. The truest form of such a period was the song, as it
blossomed in the works of a Franz.
Nor has this grandiose tendency even yet spent its course. A saving
element was the fashioning of a new form, by Liszt himself,--the
Symphonic Poem,--far inferior to the symphony, but more adequate to the
special poetic intent.
Whatever be the truth of personal gossip, there is no doubt that
Bruckner lent himself and his art to a championing of the reactionary
cause in the form that was intrinsically at odds with its spirit. Hence
in later works of Bruckner these strange episodes of borrowed romance,
abruptly stopped by a firm counterpoint of excellent quality,--indeed
far the best of his writing. For, if a man have little ideas, at least
his good workmanship will count for something.
In truth, one of the strangest types is presented in Bruckner,--a pedant
who by persistent ingenuity simulates a master-work almost to
perfection. By so much as genius is not an infinite capacity for pains,
by so much is Bruckner's Ninth not a true symphony. Sometimes, under the
glamor of his art, we are half persuaded that mere persistence may
transmute pedantry into poetry.
It seems almost as if the Wagnerians chose their champion in the
symphony with a kind of suppressed contempt for learning, associating
mere intellectuality with true mastery, pointing to an example of
greatest skill and least inspiration as if to say: "Here is your
symphonist if you must have one." And it is difficult to avoid a
suspicion that his very partisans were laughing up their sleeve at their
We might say all these things, and perhaps we have gone too far in
suggesting them. After all we have no business with aught but the music
of Bruckner, whatever may have been his musical politics, his vanity,
his ill judgment, or even his deliberate partisanship against his
betters. But the ideas themselves are unsubstantial; on shadowy
foundation they give an illusion by modern touches of harmony and rhythm
that are not novel in themselves. The melodic idea is usually divided in
two, as by a clever juggler. There is really no one thought, but a
plenty of small ones to hide the greater absence.
We have merely to compare this artificial manner with the poetic reaches
of Brahms to understand the insolence of extreme Wagnerians and the
indignation of a Hanslick. As against the pedantry of Bruckner the style
of Strauss is almost welcome in its frank pursuit of effects which are
at least grateful in themselves. Strauss makes hardly a pretence at
having melodic ideas. They serve but as pawns or puppets for his
harmonic and orchestral _mise-en-scene_. He is like a play-wright
constructing his plot around a scenic design.
Just a little common sense is needed,--an unpremeditated attitude. Thus
the familiar grouping, "_Bach_, _Beethoven_ and _Brahms_" is at least
not unnatural. Think of the absurdity of "_Bach_, _Beethoven_ and
[Footnote A: A festival was held in Munich in the summer of 1911, in
celebration of "Bach, Beethoven and Bruckner."]
The truth is, the Bruckner cult is a striking symptom of a certain
decadence in German music; an incapacity to tell the sincere quality of
feeling in the dense, brilliant growth of technical virtuosity. In the
worship at the Bayreuth shrine, somehow reinforced by a modern national
self-importance, has been lost a heed for all but a certain vein of
exotic romanticism, long ago run to riotous seed, a blending of hedonism
and fatalism. No other poetic message gets a hearing and the former may
be rung in endless repetition and reminiscence, provided, to be sure, it
be framed with brilliant cunning of workmanship.
Here we feel driven defiantly to enounce the truth: that the highest
art, even in a narrow sense, comes only with a true poetic message. Of
this Bruckner is a proof; for, if any man by pure knowledge could make a
symphony, it was he. But, with almost superhuman skill, there is
something wanting in the inner connection, where the main ideas are
weak, forced or borrowed. It is only the true poetic rapture that
ensures the continuous absorption that drives in perfect sequence to
_SYMPHONY NO. 9_
_I.--Solenne._ Solemn mystery is the mood, amid trembling strings on
hollow unison, before the eight
(Eight horns with _tremolo_ strings on D in three octaves)]
horns strike a phrase in the minor chord that in higher echoes breaks
into a strange harmony and descends into a turn of melodic cadence. In
answer is another chain of brief phrases, each beginning
[Music: (1st violins)
(Lower reeds with strings _tremolo_ in all but basses)]
with a note above the chord (the common mark and manner of the later
school of harmonists[A]) and a new ascent on a literal ladder of
subtlest progress, while hollow intervals are intermingled in the pinch
of close harmonies. The bewildering maze here begins of multitudinous
design, enriched with modern devices.
[Footnote A: See Vol. II, note, page 104.]
A clash of all the instruments acclaims the climax before the unison
stroke of fullest chorus on the solemn note of the beginning. A favorite
device of Bruckner, a measured tread of _pizzicato_ strings with
interspersed themal motives, precedes the romantic episode. Throughout
the movement is this alternation of liturgic chorale with tender melody.
[Music: _Molto tranquillo_
(Oboes and horns)]
Bruckner's pristine polyphonic manner ever appears in the double strain
of melodies, where each complements, though not completes the other.
However multiple the plan, we cannot feel more than the quality of
_unusual_ in the motives themselves, of some interval of ascent or
descent. Yet as the melody grows to larger utterance, the fulness of
polyphonic art brings a beauty of tender sentiment, rising to a moving
climax, where the horns lead the song in the heart of the madrigal
chorus, and the strings alone sing the expressive answer.
[Music: (Violins doubled in 8ve.)
(Strings, woods and horns)]
A third phrase now appears, where lies the main poetry of the movement.
Gentle swaying calls of
[Music: _Tranquillo_ (Wood and violins)
(4 horns in 8ve.)
(Strings with bassoons)]
soft horns and wood, echoed and answered in close pursuit, lead to a
mood of placid, elemental rhythm, with something of "Rheingold," of
"Ossian" ballad, of the lapping waves of Cherubini's "Anacreon." In the
midst the horns blow a line of sonorous melody, where the cadence has a
breath of primal legend. On the song runs, ever mid the elemental
motion, to a resonant height and dies away as before. The intimate,
romantic melody now returns, but it is rocked on the continuing pelagic
pulse; indeed, we hear anon a faint phrase of the legend, in distant
trumpet, till we reach a joint rhapsody of both moods; and in the never
resting motion, mid vanishing echoes, we dream of some romance of the
Against descending harmonies return the hollow, sombre phrases of the
beginning, with the full cadence of chorale in the brass; and beyond,
the whole prelude has a full, extended verse. In the alternation of
solemn and sweet episode returns the tender melody, with pretty
inversions, rising again to an ardent height. The renewed clash of
acclaiming chorus ushers again the awful phrase of unison (now in octave
descent), in towering majesty. But now it rises in the ever increasing
vehemence where the final blast is lit up with a flash of serene
This motive, of simple octave call, indeed pervades the earlier symphony
in big and little. And now, above a steady, sombre melodic tread of
strings it rises in a fray of eager retorts, transfigured in wonderful
harmony again and again to a brilliant height, pausing on a ringing
refrain, in sombre hue of overpowering blast.
A soft interlude of halting and diminishing strings leads to the
romantic melody as it first appeared, where the multiple song again
deepens and ennobles the theme. It passes straight into the waving,
elemental motion, where again the hallowed horn utters its sibyl phrase,
again rising to resonant height. And again merges the intimate song with
the continuing pulse of the sea, while the trumpet softly sounds the
legend and a still greater height of rhapsody.
Dull brooding chords bring a sombre play of the awing phrase, over a
faint rocking motion, clashing in bold harmony, while the horns surge in
broader melody. The climactic clash ends in a last verse of the opening
phrase, as of primal, religious chant.
_II.--Scherzo._ In the dazzling pace of bright clashing harmonies, the
perfect answers of falling and rising phrases, we are again before the
(Flute with _pizz._ violins)
least, of a great poetic idea. To be sure there is a touch of stereotype
in the chords and even in the pinch and clash of hostile motives. And
there is not the distinctive melody,--final stamp and test of the shaft
of inspiration. Yet in the enchantment of motion, sound and form, it
seems mean-spirited to cavil at a want of something greater. One stands
bewildered before such art and stunned of all judgment.
A delight of delicate gambols follows the first brilliant dance of main
motive. Amid a rougher trip of unison sounds the sonorous brass, and to
softest jarring murmur of strings a pretty jingle of reed,
(_Pizz._ strings with soft chord of wind and rhythmic bassoon)]
with later a slower counter-song, almost a madrigal of pastoral answers,
till we are back in the ruder original dance. The gay cycle leads to a
height of rough volume (where the mystic brass sound in the midst) and a
revel of echoing chase.
In sudden hush of changed tone on fastest fairy trip, strings and wood
play to magic harmonies. In calming motion the violins sing a quieter
[Music: _Piu tranquillo_
(Oboes with sustained strings)]
echoed by the reed. Though there is no gripping force of themal idea,
the melodies are all of grateful charm, and in the perfect round of
rhythmic design we may well be content. The original dance recurs with a
full fine orgy of hostile euphony.
_III.--Adagio._ _Feierlich,--awesome_ indeed are these first sounds, and
we are struck by the originality
[Music: _Molto lento (Solenne)_
(Violins, G string)
(Strings with choir of tubas, later of trombones and contrabass-tuba)]
of Bruckner's technic. After all we must give the benefit at least of
the doubt. And there is after this deeply impressive _introit_ a
[Music: (Woodwind and low brass with _tremolo_ strings)
spring of up-leaping harmonies. The whole has certainly more of concrete
beauty than many of the labored attempts of the present day.
The prelude dies down with an exquisite touch of precious
dissonance,--whether it came from the heart or from the workshop. The
strange and tragic part is that with so much art and talent there should
not be the strong individual idea,--the flash of new tonal figure that
stands fearless upon its own feet. All this pretty machinery seems
wasted upon the framing and presenting, at the moment of expectation, of
the shadows of another poet's ideas or of mere platitudes.
In the midst of the broad sweeping theme with a
[Music: (Strings, with cl't and oboe)
promise of deep utterance is a phrase of horns with the precise accent
and agony of a _Tristan_. The very semblance of whole motives seems to
be taken from the warp and woof of Wagnerian drama. And thus the whole
symphony is degraded, in its gorgeous capacity, to the reechoed rhapsody
of exotic romanticism. It is all little touches, no big thoughts,--a
mosaic of a symphony.
And so the second theme[A] is almost too heavily laden with fine detail
for its own strength, though
[Music: (Violins, reeds and horns)
_Poco piu lento_
(_Pizz._ of lower strings)]
it ends with a gracefully delicate answer. The main melody soon recurs
and sings with a stress of warm feeling in the cellos, echoed by glowing
strains of the horns. Romantic harmonies bring back the solemn air of
the prelude with a new counter melody, in precise opposite figure, as
though inverted in a mirror, and again the dim moving chords that seem
less of Bruckner than of legendary drama. In big accoutrement the double
theme moves with double answers, ever with the sharp pinch of harmonies
and heroic mien. Gentlest retorts of the motives sing with fairy
clearness (in horns and reeds), rising to tender, expressive dialogue.
With growing spirit they ascend once more to the triumphant clash of
empyraean chords, that may suffice for justifying beauty.
[Footnote A: We have spoken of a prelude, first and second theme; they
might have been more strictly numbered first, second and third theme.]
Instead of the first, the second melody follows with its delicate grace.
After a pause recurs the phrase that harks from mediaeval romance, now
in a stirring ascent of close chasing voices. The answer, perfect in its
timid halting descent, exquisite in accent and in the changing hues of
its periods, is robbed of true effect by its direct reflection of
As if in recoil, a firm hymnal phrase sounds in the strings, ending in a
more intimate cadence. Another chain of rarest fairy clashes, on the
motive of the prelude, leads to the central verse, the song of the first
main melody in the midst of soft treading strings, and again descends
the fitting answer of poignant accent.
And now, for once forgetting all origin and clinging sense of
reminiscence, we may revel in the rich romance, the fathoms of mystic
harmony, as the main song sings and rings from the depths of dim legend
in lowest brass, amidst a soft humming chorus, in constant shift of
A flight of ascending chords brings the big exaltation of the first
prophetic phrase, ever answered by exultant ring of trumpet, ending in
sudden awing pause. An eerie train of echoes from the verse of prelude
leads to a loveliest last song of the poignant answer of main song, over
murmuring strings. It
[Music: (_Tremolo_ violins with lower 8ve.)
is carried on by the mystic choir of sombre brass in shifting steps of
enchanting harmony and dies away in tenderest lingering accents.[A]
[Footnote A: In place of the uncompleted Finale, Bruckner is said to
have directed that his "_Te Deum_" be added to the other movements.]
_"PENTHESILEA." SYMPHONIC POEM_[B]
[Footnote A: Hugo Wolff, born in 1860, died in 1903.]
[Footnote B: After the like-named tragedy of Heinrich von Kleist.]
An entirely opposite type of composer, Hugo Wolff, shows the real
strength of modern German music in a lyric vein, sincere, direct and
fervent. His longest work for instruments has throughout the charm of
natural rhythm and melody, with subtle shading of the harmony. Though
there is no want of contrapuntal design, the workmanship never obtrudes.
It is a model of the right use of symbolic motives in frequent
recurrence and subtle variation.
In another instrumental piece, the "Italian Serenade," all kinds of
daring suspenses and gentle clashes and surprises of harmonic scene give
a fragrance of dissonant euphony, where a clear melody ever rules.
"Penthesilea," with a climactic passion and a sheer contrast of tempest
and tenderness, uttered with all the mastery of modern devices, has a
pervading thrall of pure musical beauty. We are tempted to hail in Wolff
a true poet in an age of pedants and false prophets.
PENTHESILEA.--A TRAGEDY BY HEINRICH VON KLEIST.[A]
[Footnote A: German, 1776-1811.]
As Wolff's work is admittedly modelled on Kleist's tragedy, little known
to the English world, it is important to view the main lines of this
poem, which has provoked so divergent a criticism in Germany.
On the whole, the tragedy seems to be one of those daring, even profane
assaults on elemental questions by ways that are untrodden if not
forbidden. It is a wonderful type of Romanticist poetry in the bold
choice of subject and in the intense vigor and beauty of the verse.
Coming with a shock upon the classic days of German poetry, it met with
a stern rebuke from the great Goethe. But a century later we must surely
halt in following the lead of so severe a censor. The beauty of diction
alone seems a surety of a sound content,--as when Penthesilea exclaims:
"A hero man can be--a Titan--in distress,
But like a god is he when rapt in blessedness."
An almost convincing symbolism has been suggested of the latent meaning
of the poem by a modern critic,[A]--a symbolism that seems wonderfully
reflected in Wolff's music. The charge of perverted passion can be based
only on certain lines, and these are spoken within the period of madness
that has overcome the heroine. This brings us to the final point which
may suggest the main basic fault in the poem, considered as art. At
least it is certainly a question whether pure madness can ever be a
fitting subject in the hero of a tragedy. Ophelia is an episode;
Hamlet's madness has never been finally determined. Though the Erinnys
hunted Orestes in more than one play, yet no single Fury could, after
all, be the heroine of tragedy. Penthesilea became in the crisis a pure
Fury, and though she may find here her own defense, the play may not
benefit by the same plea. On the other hand, the madness is less a
reality than an impression of the Amazons who cannot understand the
heroine's conflicting feelings. There is no one moment in the play when
the hearer's sympathy for the heroine is destroyed by a clear sense of
[Footnote A: Kuno Francke. See the notes of Philip Hale in the programme
book of the Boston Symphony Orchestra of April 3-4, 1908.]
For another word on the point of symbolism, it must be remembered that
the whole plot is one of supernatural legend where somehow human acts
and motives need not conform to conventional rule, and where symbolic
meaning, as common reality disappears, is mainly eminent. It is in this
same spirit that the leading virtues of the race, of war or of peace,
are typified by feminine figures.
The Tragedy is not divided into acts; it has merely four and twenty
scenes--upon the battle-field of Troy. The characters are Penthesilea,
Queen of the Amazons; her chief leaders, Prothoe, Meroe and Asteria, and
the high priestess of Diana. Of the Greeks there are Achilles, Odysseus,
Diomede and Antilochus. Much of the fighting and other action is not
seen, but is reported either by messengers or by present witnesses of a
The play begins with the battle raging between Greeks and Amazons.
Penthesilea with her hosts amazes the Greeks by attacking equally the
Trojans, her reputed allies. She mows down the ranks of the Trojans, and
yet refuses all proffers of the Greeks.
Thus early we have the direct, uncompromising spirit,--a kind of
feminine Prometheus. The first picture of the heroine is of a Minerva in
full array, stony of gaze and of expression until--she sees Achilles.
Here early comes the conflict of two elemental passions. Penthesilea
recoils from the spell and dashes again into her ambiguous warfare. For
once Greeks and Trojans are forced to fight in common defence.
"The raging Queen with blows of thunder struck
As she would cleave the whole race of the Greeks
Down to its roots....
* * * * *
"More of the captives did she take
Than she did leave us eyes to count the list,
Or arms to set them free again.
* * * * *
"Often it seemed as if a special hate
Against Achilles did possess her breast.
* * * * *
"Yet in a later moment, when
His life was given straight into her hands,
Smiling she gave it back, as though a present;
His headlong course to Hades she did stay."
In midst of the dual battle between Achilles and the Queen, a Trojan
prince comes storming and strikes a treacherous blow against the armor
of the Greek.
"The Queen is stricken pale; for a brief moment
Her arms hang helpless by her sides; and then,
Shaking her locks about her flaming cheeks,
Dashes her sword like lightning in his throat,
And sends him rolling to Achilles' feet."
The Greek leaders resolve to retreat from the futile fight and to call
Achilles from the mingled chase of love and war.
Achilles is now reported taken by the Amazons. The battle is vividly
depicted: Achilles caught on a high ledge with his war-chariot; the
Amazon Queen storming the height from below. The full scene is witnessed
from the stage,--Penthesilea pursuing almost alone; Achilles suddenly
dodges; the Queen as quickly halts and rears her horse; the Amazons fall
in a mingled heap; Achilles escapes, though wounded. But he refuses to
follow his companions to the camp; he swears to bring home the Queen
wooed in the bloody strife of her own seeking.
Penthesilea recoils with like vehemence from the entreaties of her
maids, intent upon the further battle, resolved to overcome the hero or
to die. She forbids the Festival of Roses until she has vanquished
Achilles. In her rage she banishes her favorite Prothoe from her
presence, but in a quick revulsion takes her back.
In the next scene the high priestess and the little Amazon maids prepare
the Feast, which Penthesilea had ordered in her confident attack upon
the fleeing Greeks. One of the Rose-maidens recounts the passing scene
of the Queen's amazing action. The indignant priestess sends her command
to the Queen to return to the celebration. Though all the royal suite
fling themselves in her path, Penthesilea advances to the dual
[Footnote A: The law of the Amazons commanded them to wage war as told
them by the oracle of Mars. The prisoners were brought to the Feast of
Roses and wedded by their captors. After a certain time they were sent
back to their homes. All male children of the tribe were put to death.]
In a renewal of her personal contest, regardless of the common cause,
and in her special quest of a chosen husband, Penthesilea has broken the
The flight now follows of the Amazon hosts. When the two combatants meet
in the shock of lances, the Queen falls in the dust; her pallor is
reflected in Achilles' face. Leaping from his horse, he bends o'er her,
calls her by names, and woos life back into her frame. Her faithful
maids, whom she has forbidden to harm Achilles, lead her away. And here
begins the seeming madness of the Queen when she confesses her love. For
a moment she yields to her people's demands, but the sight of the
rose-wreaths kindles her rage anew. Prothoe defends her in these lines:
"Of life the highest blessing she attempted.
Grazing she almost grasped. Her hands now fail her
For any other lesser goal to reach."
In the last part of the scene the Queen falls more and deeper into
madness. It is only in a too literal spirit that one will find an
oblique meaning,--by too great readiness to discover it. In reality
there seems to be an intense conflict of opposite emotions in the
heroine: the pure woman's love, without sense of self; and the wild
overpowering greed of achievement. Between these grinding stones she
wears her heart away. A false interpretation of decadent theme comes
from regarding the two emotions as mingled, instead of alternating in a
Achilles advances, having flung away his armor. Prothoe persuades him to
leave the Queen, when she awakes, in the delusion that she has conquered
and that he is the captive. Thus when she beholds the hero, she breaks
forth into the supreme moment of exaltation and of frenzied triumph. The
main love scene follows:
Penthesilea tells Achilles the whole story of the Amazons, the conquest
of the original tribe, the rising of the wives of the murdered warriors
against the conquerors; the destruction of the right breast (_A-mazon_);
the dedication of the "brides of Mars" to war and love in one. In
seeking out Achilles the Queen has broken the law. But here again
appears the double symbolic idea: Achilles meant to the heroine not love
alone, but the overwhelming conquest, the great achievement of her life.
The first feeling of Penthesilea, when disillusioned, is of revulsive
anger at a kind of betrayal. The Amazons recover ground in a wild desire
to save their Queen, and they do rescue her, after a parting scene of
the lovers. But Penthesilea curses the triumph that snatches her away;
the high priestess rebukes her, sets her free of her royal duties, to
follow her love if she will. The Queen is driven from one mood to
another, of devoted love, burning ambition and mortal despair.
Achilles now sends a challenge to Penthesilea, knowing the Amazon
conditions. Against all entreaty the Queen accepts, not in her former
spirit, but in the frenzy of desperate endeavor, in the reawakened rage
of her ambition, spurred and pricked by the words of the priestess.
The full scene of madness follows. She calls for her dogs and elephants,
and the full accoutrement of battle. Amidst the terror of her own
warriors, the rolling of thunder, she implores the gods' help to crush
the Greek. In a final touch of frenzy she aims a dart at her faithful
The battle begins, Achilles in fullest confidence in Penthesilea's love,
unfrightened by the wild army of dogs and elephants. The scene, told by
the present on-lookers, is heightened by the cries of horror and dismay
of the Amazons themselves.
Achilles falls; Penthesilea, a living Fury, dashes upon him with her
dogs in an insane orgy of blood. The Queen in the culminating scene is
greeted by the curses of the high priestess. Prothoe masters her horror
and turns back to soothe the Queen. Penthesilea, unmindful of what has
passed, moves once more through the whole gamut of her torturing
emotions, and is almost calmed when she spies the bier with the hero's
body. The last blow falls when upon her questions she learns the full
truth of her deed. The words she utters (that have been cited by the
hostile critics) may well be taken as the ravings of hopeless remorse,
with a symbolic play of words. She dies, as she proclaims, by the knife
of her own anguish.
The last lines of Prothoe are a kind of epilogue:
"She sank because too proud and strong she flourished.
The half-decayed oak withstands the tempest;
The vigorous tree is headlong dashed to earth
Because the storm has struck into its crown."[A]
[Footnote A: Translations, when not otherwise credited, are by the
The opening scene--"Lively, vehement: Departure of the Amazons for
Troy"--begins impetuous and hefty with big strokes of the throbbing
[Music: (_Tutti_ with higher 8ves.)
(Piccolo in 8ve.)
(Bass in 8ve.)]
the majestic rhythm coursing below, lashed by a quicker phrase above.
Suddenly trumpets sound, somewhat more slowly, a clarion call answered
by a choir of other trumpets and horns in enchanting retort of changing
harmonies. Ever a fresh color of
[Music: (Flutes and oboes)
(Answering groups of brass)
(Lower strings _pizz._)]
tone sounds in the call of the brass, as if here or yonder on the
battle-field. Sometimes it is almost too sweetly chanting for fierce
war. But presently it turns to a wilder mood and breaks in galloping
pace into a true chorus of song with clear cadence.
[Music: (Flutes with reeds in lower 8ve.)
(Violins with upper 8ve.)
(Lower strings and brass with lower 8ve.)]
The joyful tinge is quickly lost in the sombre hue of another phase of
war-song that has a touch of funeral trip (though it is all in 3/4
[Music: (Muted strings)
(Horns and bassoons)]
A melody in the minor plays first in a choir of horns and bassoons,
later in united strings, accompanied by soft rolls of drums and a touch
of the lowest brass. Harp and higher woodwind are added, but the volume
is never transcendent save in a single burst when it is quickly hushed
to the first ominous whisper. Out of this sombre song flows a romance of
tender sentiment, _tranquillo_ in strings, followed by the wood. The
crossing threads of expressive melody
(In the midst enters a strain of solo horn)]
rise in instant renewal of stress and agitation. The joy of battle has
returned, but it seems that the passion of love burns in midst of the
glow of battle, each in its separate struggle, and both together in one
fatal strife. The sombre melody returns in full career, dying down to a
[Footnote A: In a somewhat literal commentary attributed to Dr. Richard
Batka, the Amazons here, "having reached their destination, go into
night-encampment--as represented by the subdued roll of the
kettle-drums, with which the movement concludes."]
_Molto sostenuto_, in changed rhythm of three slow beats, comes
"Penthesilea's Dream of the Feast of Roses." Over a thick cluster of
harmonies in harp and strings the higher wood sing a new song in long
drawn lyric notes with ravishing turns of tonal color,--a
[Music: _Molto sostenuto_
(Flutes, oboes and clarinets)
(Rapid arpeggic figures of harps and muted strings)]
dual song and in many groups of two. The tranquil current of the dream
is gradually disturbed; the main burden is dimmed in hue and in mood.
Faster, more fitful is the flow of melody, with hostile intruding motive
below; it dashes at last into the tragic phase--Combats; Passions;
Madness; Destruction--in very rapid tempo of 2/2 rhythm.
In broad, masterful pace, big contrary figures sweep up and down,
cadencing in almost joyous chant, gliding, indeed, into a pure hymn, as
of triumph (that harks back to the chorussing song in the beginning).
Throughout the poem the musical symbols as well as the motives of
passion are closely intertwined. Thus the identity of the impetuous
phrase of the very beginning is clear with the blissful theme of the
Dream of the Feast of Roses. Here, at the end of the chorussing verse is
a play or a strife of phrases where we cannot escape a symbolic intent.
To _tremolo_ of violas the cellos hold a tenor of descending melody over
a rude rumbling phrase of the basses of wood and strings, while the oboe
sings in the treble an expressive answer of ascending notes. A conflict
[Music: (_Molto vivace_)
(cello _molto espressivo_)
(Basses and bassoons with upper 8ve.)
evident, of love and ambition, of savage and of gentle passion, of chaos
and of beauty. At the height, the lowest brass intrude a brutal note of
triumph of the descending theme. To the victory of Pride succeeds a
crisis of passionate yearning. But at the very height is a plunge into
the fit of madness, the fatal descending phrase (in trombones) is ever
followed by furious pelting spurts in the distorted main theme.
At last the paroxysm abates, throbbing ever slower, merging into the
tender song of the Dream that now rises to the one great burst of
love-passion. But it ends in a wild rage that turns right into the
war-song of the beginning. And this is much fuller of incident than
before. Violins now ring an hostile motive (the former rumbling phrase
of basses) from the midst of the plot against the main theme in
trumpets. Instead of the former pageantry, here is the pure frenzy of
actual war. The trumpet melodies resound amidst the din of present
battle. Instead of the other gentler episodes, here is a more furious
raving of the mad Queen (in the hurried main motive), where we seem to
see the literal dogs of war let loose and spurred on,--each paroxysm
rising to a higher shock.
Great is the vehemence of speed and sound as the dull doom of
destruction drones in the basses against a grim perversion of the
yearning theme above, that overwhelms the scene with a final shriek.
Slowly the dream of love breathes again, rises to a fervent burst, then
yields to the fateful chant and ends in a whisper of farewell.
[Footnote A: Gustav Mahler, 1860-1911.]
In Mahler the most significant sign is a return to a true counterpoint,
as against a mere overlading of themes, that began in Wagner and still
persists in Strauss,--an artificial kind of structure that is never
conceived as a whole.
While we see in Mahler much of the duophonic manner of his teacher,
Bruckner, in the work of the younger man the barren art is crowned with
the true fire of a sentient poet. So, if Bruckner had little to say, he
showed the way to others. And Mahler, if he did not quite emerge from
the mantle of Beethoven, is a link towards a still greater future. The
form and the technic still seem, as with most modern symphonies, too
great for the message. It is another phase of orchestral virtuosity, of
intellectual strain, but with more of poetic energy than in the
symphonies of the French or other Germans.
In other forms we see this happy reaction towards ancient art, as in the
organ music of a Reger. But in the Finale of Mahler's Fifth Symphony
there is a true serenity, a new phase of symphony, without the climactic
stress of traditional triumph, yet none the less joyous in essence.
We cannot help rejoicing that in a sincere and poetic design of
symphony is blended a splendid renaissance of pure counterpoint, that
shines clear above the modern spurious pretence. The Finale of Mahler's
Fifth Symphony is one of the most inspired conceptions of counterpoint
in all music. In it is realized the full dream of a revival of the art
in all its glorious estate.
_SYMPHONY NO. 5_
I.--1. _Funeral March._
2. _In stormy motion (with greatest vehemence)._
II.--3. _Scherzo (with vigor,--not too fast)._
III.--4. _Adagietto (very slowly)._
5. _Rondo-Finale (allegro)._
Mahler's Fifth Symphony, whatever be its intrinsic merit, that can be
decided only by time and wear, undoubtedly marks a high point of
orchestral splendor, in the regard of length and of the complexity of
resources. By the latter is meant not so much the actual list of
instruments as the pervading and accumulating use of thematic
[Footnote A: The symphony is probably the longest instrumental work that
had appeared at the time of its production in 1904. The list of
instruments comprises 4 flutes, 3 oboes, 3 clarinets, 2 bassoons,
contra-bassoon, 6 horns, 4 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, kettle-drums,
cymbals, bass-drum, snare-drum, triangle, glockenspiel, gong, harp and
Compared with D'Indy's Second Symphony, the Fifth of Mahler has a larger
body of brass as well as of woodwind.]
The plan of movements is very original and in a way, two-fold. There are
three great divisions, of which the first comprises a Funeral March,
and an untitled Allegro in vehement motion. The second division has
merely the single movement, Scherzo. In the third are an Adagietto and a
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