Symphonies and Their Meaning Part 30

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Again rises the towering pile. At the thickest the high horns blow loud a slow, speaking legend,--the farewell motive, it seems, from the end of Adagio, fierce energy struggling with fatal regret gnawing at the heart.

Gripping is the appeal of the sharp cry almost of anguish into which the toiling energy is suddenly resolved. Again the fateful march enters, now in heroic fugue of bra.s.s and opposite motion of strings and reed,--all overwhelmed with wild recurring pangs of regret.

And so "double, double, toil and trouble," on goes the fugue and follows the arduous climb (into the sad motto in the horns), each relieving the other, till both yield again to the heart-breaking cry.

The cheerier melody here re-enters and raises the mood for the nonce.

Soon it falls amid dim harmonies. Far in the depths now growls the dull tread, answered by perverted line of the hymn.

A mystic verse sounds over pious chords of harp in the tune of the march, which is sung by antiphonal choirs of strings,--later with fuller celestial chorus, almost in rapture of heavenly resignation. Only it is not final; for once again returns the full struggle of the beginning, with the farewell-legend, and in highest pa.s.sion the phrase of regret rung again and again--till it is soothed by the tranquil melody. The relentless stride of march too reaches a new height, and one last, moving plaint. When the fast chasing cries are in closest tangle, suddenly the hymn pours out its benediction, while the cries have changed to angelic acclaim. Here is the transfigured song in full climactic verse that fulfils the promise of the beginning. A touch of human (or earthly joy) is added in an exultant strain of the sweeping melody that unites with the hymn at the close.



When we come to a view of modern music in symphonic design, written in America, we are puzzled by a new phase of the element of nationalism.

For here are schools and styles as different as of far corners of Europe. Yet they can be called nothing else than American, if they must have a national name. In the northern centre whence a model orchestra has long shed a beneficent influence far afield, the touch of new French conceits has colored some of the ablest works. Elsewhere we have cited a symphony more in line with cla.s.sical tradition.[A]

[Footnote A: A symphony by Wm. W. Gilchrist. Vol. II, Appendix.]

Perhaps most typical is a symphony of Hadley where one feels, with other modern tradition, the mantle of the lamented MacDowell, of whom it may be said that he was first to find in higher reaches of the musical art an utterance of a purely national temper.


[Footnote A: Opus 60, Henry Hadley, American, born 1871.]

With virile swing the majestic melody strides in the strings, attended by trooping chords of wood and bra.s.s, all in the minor, in triple rhythm. In

[Music: _Moderato e maestoso_ (Harp and wind) (All the trebles) (Strings with lower 8ve.)]

the ba.s.s is a frequent retort to the themal phrase. For a moment a dulcet line steals in, quickly broken by the returning martial stride of stentorian horns, and of the main theme in full chords. Strange, though, how a softer, romantic humor is soon spread over the very discussion of the martial theme, so that it seems the rough, vigorous march is but the sh.e.l.l for the kernel of tender romance,--the pageant that precedes the queenly figure. And presently, _piu tranquillo_, comes the fervent lyric song that may indeed be the chief theme in poetic import, if not in outer rank. After a moving verse in the strings,

[Music: _Piu tranquillo_ (Strings) (_Pizz._ ba.s.ses _8va._) (Added woodwind)]

with an expressive strain in some voice of the woodwind or a ripple of the harp, it is sung in tense chorus of lower wood and horns,--soon joined by all the voices but the martial bra.s.s, ending with a soft echo of the strings.

Now in full majesty the stern stride of first theme is resumed, in faster insistence,--no longer the mere tune, but a spirited extension and discussion, with retorts between the various choirs. Here the melodious march is suddenly felt in the ba.s.s (beneath our feet, as it were) of lowest bra.s.s and strings, while the noisy bustle continues above; then, changing places, the theme is above, the active motion below.

Long continues the spirited clatter as of warlike march till again returns the melting mood of the companion melody, now sung by the expressive horn, with murmuring strings. And there are enchanting flashes of tonal light as the song pa.s.ses to higher choirs. The lyric theme wings its rapturous course to a blissful height, where an intrusion of the main motive but halts for the moment the returning tender verse.

When the first vigorous phrase returns in full career, there is somehow a greater warmth, and the dulcet after-strain is transfigured in a glow greater almost than of the lyric song that now follows with no less response of beauty. In the final spirited blending of both melodies the trumpets sound a quicker pace of the main motive.

In the Andante (_tranquillo_) the sweet tinkle of church-bells with soft chanting horns quickly defines the scene. Two voices of the strings, to the

[Music: (Bells and harp in continuous repet.i.tion) _Andante tranquillo_ _Espress._ (Cellos) (Strings, with added choir of lower reeds)]

continuing hum of the bells, are singing a responsive song that rises in fervor as the horns and later the woodwind join the strings. Anon will sound the simple tune of the bells with soft harmonies, like echoes of the song,--or even the chant without the chimes.

In more eager motion,--out of the normal measure of bells and hymn, breaks a new song in minor with a touch of pa.s.sion, rising to a burst of ardor. But it pa.s.ses, sinking away before a new phase,--a bucolic

[Music: _Poco piu mosso_ (Oboe) (Clar'ts & horns) (Strings)]

fantasy of trilling shepherd's reed (in changed, even pace), supported by strumming strings. The sacred calm and later pa.s.sion have yielded to a dolorous plaint, like the dirge of the Magyar plains. Suddenly the former fervor returns with strains of the second melody amidst urging motion (in the triple pace) and startling rushes of harp-strings. At the height, trumpets blare forth the first melody, transformed from its earlier softness, while the second presses on in higher wood and strings; the trombones relieve the trumpets, with a still larger chorus in the romantic song; in final exaltation, the ba.s.ses of bra.s.s and strings sound the first melody, while the second still courses in treble voices.

Of a sudden, after a lull, falls again the tinkle of sacred chimes, with a verse each of the two main melodies.

The Scherzo begins with a Saltarello humor, as of airy faun, with a skipping theme ever accompanied by a lower running phrase and a prancing trip of

[Music: _Allegro con leggerezza, ben sostenuto_ (Cl.) (_Pizz._ strings) (Ba.s.soon)]

strings, with a refrain, too, of chirruping woodwind. Later the skipping phrase gains a melodic cadence. But the main mood is a revel of gambols and pranks of rhythm and harmony on the first phase.

In the middle is a sudden shift of major tone and intimate humor, to a slower pace. With still a semblance of dance, a pensive melody sings in the cellos; the graceful cadence is rehea.r.s.ed in a choir

[Music: _Poco meno mosso_ (Strings) (Cello)]

of woodwind, and the song is taken up by the whole chorus. As a pretty counter-tune grows above, the melody sings below, with a blending of lyric feeling and the charm of dance. At a climactic height the horns, with clumsy grace, blare forth the main lilting phrase.

The song now wings along with quicker tripping counter-tunes that slowly lure the first skipping tune back into the play after a prelude of high festivity. New pranks appear,--as of dancing strings against a stride of loud, muted horns. Then the second (pensive) melody returns, now above the running counter-tune. At last, in faster gait, to the coursing of quicker figures, the (second) melody rings out in choir of bra.s.s in twice slower, stately pace. But the accompanying bustle is merely heightened until all four horns are striking together the lyric song. At the end is a final revel of the first dancing tune.

The Finale, which bears the unusual mark _Allegro con giubilio_, begins with a big festive march that may seem to have an added flavor of old English merrymaking. But as in the other cantos of the poem there

[Music: _Allegro con giubilio_ _Tutti_ (Ba.s.ses in 8ve.)]

is here, too, an opposite figure and feeling. And the more joyous the gaiety, the more sweetly wistful is the recoil. Nay there is in this very expressive strain, beautifully woven in strings, harp, woodwind and horns, a vein of regret that grows rather than lessens, whenever the melody appears alone. It is like the memory, in the midst of festival, of some blissful moment lost forever.

Indeed, the next phase seems very like a disordered chase of stray memories; for here a line of martial air is displaced by a pensive strain which in

[Music: (Cello and harp with harmony of wood, horns and strings) _Piu tranquillo_ _Molto espress._]

turn yields to the quick, active tune that leads to a height of celebration.

But here is a bewildering figure on the scene: l.u.s.tily the four horns (helped by the strings) blow in slow notes against the continuing motive an expressive melody. Slowly it breaks upon our ears as the wistful air that followed the chimes of Sunday bells. It has a stern, almost sombre guise, until it suddenly glows in transfigured light, as of a choir of celestial bra.s.s.

Slowly we are borne to the less exalted pitch of the first festive march, and here follows, as at first, the expressive melody where each hearer may find his own shade of sadness. It does seem to reach a true pa.s.sion of regret, with poignant sweet sighs.

At length the sadness is overcome and there is a new animation as separate voices enter in fugal manner in the line of the march. Now the festive tune holds sway in lower pace in the ba.s.ses; but then rings on high in answer--the wistful melody again and again, in doubled and twice redoubled pace.

When we hear the _penseroso_ melody once more at the end, we may feel with the poet a state of resigned cheer.

A remarkable work that shows the influence of modern French harmony rather than its actual traits, is a SYMPHONY BY GUSTAV STRUBE.[A] It is difficult to resist the sense of a strain for bizarre harmony, of a touch of preciosity. The real business of these harmonies is for incidental pranks, with an after-touch that confesses the jest, or softens it to a lyric utterance. It cannot be denied that the moving moments in this work come precisely in the release of the strain of dissonance, as in the returning melody of the Adagio. Only we may feel we have been waiting too long. The desert was perhaps too long for the oasis. _Est modus in rebus_: the poet seems n.i.g.g.ardly with his melody; he may weary us with too long waiting, with too little staying comfort.

He does not escape the modern way of symbolic, infinitesimal melody, so small that it must, of course, reappear. It is a little like the wonderful arguments from ciphers hidden in poetry.

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Symphonies and Their Meaning Part 30 summary

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