Music: An Art and a Language Part 28

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Scandinavian music, as far as the outside world is concerned, practically centres about the Norwegian composer Grieg[332]

(1843-1907) just as its dramatic art centres about Ibsen. The names, however, of four other Norwegian composers deserve mention: the pioneers Kjerulf (1815-1868) noted for his melodious songs; Svendsen (1840-1911) endowed with a fine sense for orchestral color; and Nordraak (1842-1866) the first self-conscious representative of the Norwegian spirit: a talented musician who exerted a marked influence upon Grieg--his promise cut short by an early death. In modern times the mantle of Grieg has fallen upon Sinding (1856-still living) whose songs and poetic pieces for the pianoforte have become household favorites. In Norwegian music we find the exuberant rhythmic vitality typical of a people living in the bold and highly colored scenery of that sun-lit land.[333] Grieg, a born lyric poet saturated with folk-music, has embodied this spirit in his works. His fame rests upon his songs and descriptive pianoforte pieces; though in his Pianoforte Concerto, in his Peer Gynt Suite, in the Violin Sonatas and String Quartet he proved that he was not lacking in power to handle larger forms. But most of his work is in miniature--the expression, like the music of Schubert and Chopin,[334] of moods short and intense. While Grieg's music is patterned upon Norwegian folk-dances and folk-melodies it is something far more. He has evoked from the characteristics of his native land a bold, original harmony and a power of color and description thoroughly his own. He might say with de Musset "Mon verre n'est pas grand, mais je bois dans mon verre." In his music we feel the sparkling sunshine and the breezes of the North.

In fact, Grieg was the first popular impressionist and for his influence in humanizing music and freeing it from academic routine his fame will endure. We have cited in the Supplement (Nos. 68, 69) one of his most original songs--the melody of which was used also for the work _Im Fruhling_ for string orchestra--and a pianoforte piece which ill.u.s.trates his rhythmic life and also in certain measures that melodic line typical of all Norwegian music: the descent from the leading tone, _i.e._, G, F-sharp, D.

[Footnote 332: The best biography in English is that by H.T. Finck; the work, however, is somewhat marred by fulsome praise.]

[Footnote 333: During the summer solstice it is dark for only a few hours; and further north, in the land, so-called, of the Midnight Sun, for a few weeks there is perpetual daylight.]

[Footnote 334: He was called by Bulow the Chopin of the North.]

For a complete appreciation therefore of national music, we must always take into consideration the traits and environment of the people from which it sprung. Music, to be sure, is a universal language, but each nation has used this language in its own way. The most striking fact in present-day music is the variety gained from a free expression of nationalism[335] without infringing upon universality of appeal.

[Footnote 335: An admirable treatment of the whole subject may be found in Vol. III of _The Art of Music_.]



Modern music--broadly speaking, music since the beginning of the twentieth century--is certainly manifesting the characteristics which the preceding survey has shown to be inherent in its nature: that is, it has grown by a course of free experimentation, it is the youngest of the arts, and it is a human language as well as a fine art. Hence we find that modern composers are making daring experiments in dissonance, in rhythmic variety, in subtle blends of color and, above all, in the treatment of the orchestra. In comparison with achievements in the other arts music often seems in its infancy; being limited by no practical or utilitarian considerations, and employing the boundless possibilities of sound and rhythm, there is so much still before it. The truth contained in the saying, that music is the youngest as well as the oldest of the arts, becomes more apparent year by year; for although a work which originally had imaginative life can never die, yet many former works have pa.s.sed out of recognition simply because they have been superseded by more inspired ones, composed since their day. We can no longer listen with whole-hearted enthusiasm to many of the older symphonies, songs and pianoforte pieces, because Brahms, Franck, Debussy and d'Indy have given us better ones.

These experiments, just referred to, have been particularly notable on the part of two composers of the neo-Russian group, Stravinsky and Scryabin. Stravinsky,[336] in his brilliant pantomime ballets, _L'Oiseau du Feu_, _Petroushka_, and _Le Sacre du Printemps_, has proved incontestably that he is a genius--it being of the essence of genius to create something absolutely new. These works, in their expressive melody, harmonic originality and picturesque orchestration, have widened the bounds of musical characterization. Scryabin[337]

(1871-1915) is noted for his esoteric harmonic scheme, shown in a series of pianoforte preludes, sonatas and, above all, in his orchestral works, the _Divine Poem_, the _Poem of Ecstacy_ and _Prometheus_ or _Poem of Fire_. The effect of Scryabin's harmonies is one of great power, and, as previously said of Debussy in his earlier days, his imagination has undoubtedly heard sounds. .h.i.therto unrealized. The sensational style of _Prometheus_ is augmented by the use of a color machine which flashes upon a screen hues supposed to supplement the various moods of the music. How many of these experiments will be incorporated into the accepted idiom of music, time alone will tell; but they prove conclusively that modern music is thoroughly awake and is proving true to that spirit of freedom which is the breath of its being.

[Footnote 336: For a detailed account of his life and works consult the essay in _Contemporary Russian Composers_ by Montagu-Nathan and Vol. III of _The Art of Music_.]

[Footnote 337: For a comprehensive estimate of his style and achievements the following works will prove useful: the _Biography_, by Eaglefield Hull; the Essay, by Montagu-Nathan in the volume referred to, and an article by W.H. Hadow in the Musical Quarterly for Jan. 1915.]

Music is, furthermore, not only a fine art in which have worked and are working some of the best intellects of our race, but is inevitably becoming a universal language. We see this clearly in the rapid growth of music among peoples and nations which, comparatively a short time ago, were thought to be quite outside the pale of modern artistic development. No longer is music confined exclusively to the Italians, French and Germans. A national spokesman for the Finns is the gifted Sibelius, the composer of five symphonies, several Symphonic poems, numerous songs and pianoforte pieces; his second Symphony in E minor being a work of haunting beauty, and the Fourth noted for its bold use of the dissonant element. The Roumanians have come to the fore in Enesco, who has written several characteristic works for orchestra.

The Spaniards are endeavoring to restore their former glories--for we must not forget that, in past centuries, the Spanish composers Morales and Vittoria ranked with the great painters which that nation has produced. Three Spanish composers, indeed, are worthy of distinct recognition: Albeniz for his pianoforte pieces, _tangos_, _malaguenas_, etc., in which there is such a fascinating treatment of national dance rhythms; Granados,[338] with several operas to his credit, and Laparra, the composer of a fantastic suite recently played by the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Spanish rhythms, melodies and local color have been frequently incorporated in the works of other composers, _e.g._, by Bizet in _Carmen_, by Debussy in _Iberia_, and in the pianoforte piece _Soiree dans Granade_, by Chabrier in _Espana_, by Lalo in several works, and by the Russians, Glinka and Rimsky-Korsakoff, in brilliant orchestral works. The Spanish influence,[339] in fact, may be called one of the most potent in modern music.

[Footnote 338: Who lost his life on the Suss.e.x when it was torpedoed by the Germans.]

[Footnote 339: For a comprehensive account, historical and critical, of this influence consult the volume by Carl Van Vechten _The Music of Spain_.]

Although there is no doubt of the strong musical instinct inherent in the Hungarians--witness the prevalence of Hungarian rhythms in Schubert, Liszt, Brahms and others--their country has always been so torn with political dissensions that the lack of a national artistic culture is not to be wondered at. Recently however three Hungarian composers, Dohnanyi, Moor and Bela Bartok, have produced works embodying racial tendencies and yet of such significant content and sound workmanship as to attract the attention of the world outside.

Italy, also, is awakening from a long sleep, and there is now a group of young men representing New Italy (of whom Malipiero and Casella are the best known) which should accomplish results worthy of the glorious musical traditions of that country.

England is shaking off her subserviency[340] to the influence of Handel and Mendelssohn, and at last has made a promising start toward the achievement of works which shall rank with her glories in poetry, in fiction and in painting. Among the older group we have such names as Sullivan, with his inimitable series of operas, the _Mikado_, _Gondoliers_, _Iolanthe_, etc.; Parry, with some notable choral works, and Stanford--a most versatile man--Irish by birth, and with the humor and spontaneity natural to his race; his _Irish Symphony_ and his opera _Shamus...o...b..ien_ would give l.u.s.tre to any period. The only genius of the first rank however which England has produced since the days of Purcell is Edward Elgar (1857-still living). Practically self-educated and spending his early life in his native country he escaped the influences of German training which so deadened the efforts of former composers, such as Pierson and Bennett. Elgar's music is thoroughly English in its st.u.r.dy vigor[341] and wholesome emotion. With something first-hand to say he has acquired such a technique in musical expression that his compositions rank in workmanship with those of the great continental masters. In his use of the modern orchestra Elgar need be considered second to none. His overtures _In the South_ and _c.o.c.kaigne_, his two Symphonies and his _Enigma Variations_ are universally acknowledged to be models of richly-colored and varied scoring. Although his music is English it is never parochial but has that note of universal import always found in the work of a real genius. Among the younger men there are Wallace, both composer and writer on musical subjects (his Threshold of music being particularly stimulating), Holbrook, Vaughan Williams, Roger Quilter, Arthur Hinton, Balfour Gardiner and John Ireland, a composer of genuine individuality, as is evident from his Violin Sonata in D Minor.

[Footnote 340: Some pithy remarks on the habitual English att.i.tude toward music may be found in the history of Stanford and Forsyth, page 313, _seq._]

[Footnote 341: See for example the broad theme in the middle portion of the March, _Pomp and Circ.u.mstance_.]

Even such outlying parts of the world as Australia and South America have contributed executive artists of great ability though, to our knowledge, as yet no composer.

What, now, in this connection can be said of America? This much at least: when we consider that, beyond the most rudimentary attempts, music in our land is not yet a century old, a start has been made which promises great things. Such pioneers as Paine, Chadwick, MacDowell, Foote, Parker, Osgood, Whiting and Mrs. H.H.A. Beach have written works, often in the larger forms, showing genuine inspiration and fine workmanship, many of which have won permanent recognition outside of their own country. Of late years a younger group has arisen, the chief members[342] of which are Converse, Carpenter, Gilbert, Hadley, Hill, Mason, Atherton, Stanley Smith, Brockway, Blair Fairchild, Heilman, Shepherd, Clapp, John Powell, Margaret Ruthven Lang, Gena Brans...o...b.. and Mabel Daniels. These composers all have strong natural gifts, have been broadly educated, and, above all, in their music is reflected a freedom, a humor and an individuality which may fairly be called American; that is, it is not music which slavishly follows the "made-in-Germany" model.[343] The composer of greatest genius and scope in America is undoubtedly Charles Martin Loeffler; but, although he has become a loyal American, and although his best works have been composed in this country, we can hardly claim him as an American composer, for his music vividly reflects French taste and ideals. His inspired works--in particular _La Mort de Tintagiles_, _The Pagan Poem_ and a Symphony (in one movement)--are of peculiar importance for their connection with works of literature and for consummate power in orchestration. Not even Debussy has expressed more subtly the tragic spirit of Maeterlinck than has Loeffler in _La Mort de Tintagiles_; and _The Pagan Poem_, founded on an Eclogue of Virgil portrays most eloquently the romance of those pastoral days.

Loeffler's latest work, a String Quartet[344] dedicated to the memory of Victor Chapman, the Harvard aviator, is remarkable for the heart-felt beauty of its themes and for advanced technique in treating the four solo instruments.

[Footnote 342: This valuation of American composers is made solely on the basis of published compositions.]

[Footnote 343: For additional comments on this point see an article by the author in the Musical Quarterly for January, 1918.]

[Footnote 344: Performed recently several times by the Flonzaley Quartet.]

Let us now indulge in a few closing remarks of advice to the young student faced with all this perplexing novelty. Our studies should have made plain two definite facts: first, that the real message of music is contained in its melody--that part of the fabric which we can carry with us and sing to ourselves. Harmony and color are factors closely involved with melodic inspiration, but their impression is more fleeting; and in general, no work lacking in melody, however colorful or filled with daring harmonic effects, can long endure. But we must be judicious and fair in estimating exactly what const.i.tutes a real melody. The genius is always ahead of his time; if he thought just as other men, he would be no genius. New types of melody are continually being worked out; all we can say is that the creative composer hears sounds in his imagination, the result of his emotional and spiritual experiences and of his sympathy with the world. He recreates these sounds in terms of notation, hoping that, as they mean so much to him, they may be a delight and inspiration to his fellowmen. If enough people like these works for a long enough time, they _are_; that is, they live--no matter how much they differ from _a priori_ standards as to what music should be.

The second fact concerns the structure of music; that is, the way in which the thought is presented. We have seen that music always has a carefully planned architecture--that being necessary by reason of the indefiniteness of the material. But let us always remember that without abandoning the fundamental principles of all organic life, form may be--and should be--free and elastic. Every work which lives reveals a perfect balance between the emotional and imaginative factors and their logical presentation. If we are puzzled by the structure of a new work the a.s.sumption should be, not that it is formless but that, when we know the work, it will be seen to employ simply a new use of old and accepted principles; for the works a.n.a.lyzed must have convinced us that the principles of unity, contrast, balance and symmetry are eternal; and, however modified, can never be abandoned. The normal imagination must express itself logically, and can no more put forth incoherent works than the human body would give birth to misshapen offspring. Musical compositions, which after study prove to be incoherent, diffuse and flabby, are to be considered exceptional and not worth condemning; they are only to be pitied. The chief aim of the music-lover should be to become an intelligent and enthusiastic appreciator of the great works already composed, and to train himself liberally for the welcome of new works.

Towards such an end we hope that this book may offer a helpful contribution.

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