Symphonies and Their Meaning Part 4

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The verse ends in a prolonged threnody, then turns to a firm, serenely grave burst of the song in major, _Meno Adagio_, with just a hint of martial grandeur. For once, or the nonce, we seem to see the hero-poet acclaimed. In a middle episode the motive of the cadence sings expressively with delicate harmonies, rising to full-blown exaltation.

We may see here an actual brief celebration, such as Ta.s.so did receive on entering Ferrara.

And here is a sudden fanciful turn. A festive dance strikes a tuneful trip,--a menuet it surely is, with all the ancient festal charm, vibrant with tune and spring, though still we do not escape the source of the first pervading theme. Out of the midst of the dance sings slyly an enchanting phrase, much like a secret love-romance. Now to the light continuing dance is joined a strange companion,--the heroic melody in its earlier majestic pace. Is it the poet in serious meditation at the feast apart from the joyous abandon, or do we see him laurel-crowned, a centre of the festival, while the gay dancers flit about him in homage?

More and more brilliant grows the scene, though ever with the dominant grave figure. With sudden stroke as of fatal blast returns the earlier fierce burst of revolt, rising to agitation of the former lament, blending both moods and motives, and ending with a broader stress of the first tragic motto.

Now, _Allegro con brio_, with herald calls of the bra.s.s and fanfare of running strings (drawn from the personal theme), in bright major the whole song bursts forth in brilliant gladness. At the height the exaltation finds vent in a peal of simple melody. The "triumph" follows in broadest, royal pace of the main song in the wind, while the strings are madly coursing and the ba.s.ses reiterate the transformed motive of the cadence. The end is a revel of jubilation.


The Mazeppa music is based upon Victor Hugo's poem, in turn founded upon Byron's verse, with an added stirring touch of allegory.

The verses of Hugo first tell how the victim is tied to the fiery steed, how--

"He turns in the toils like a serpent in madness, And ... his tormentors have feasted in gladness Upon his despair.

"They fly.--Empty s.p.a.ce is behind and before them

"The horse, neither bridle nor bit on him feeling, Flies ever; red drops o'er the victim are stealing: His whole body bleeds.

Alas! to the wild horses foaming and champing That followed with mane erect, neighing and stamping, A crow-flight succeeds.

The raven, the horn'd owl with eyes round and hollow, The osprey and eagle from battle-field follow, Though daylight alarm.

"Then after three days of this course wild and frantic, Through rivers of ice, plains and forests gigantic, The horse sinks and dies;

"Yet mark! That poor sufferer, gasping and moaning, To-morrow the Cossacks of Ukraine atoning, Will hail as their King;

"To royal Mazeppa the hordes Asiatic Will show their devotion in fervor ecstatic, And low to earth bow."

In his splendid epilogue the poet likens the hero to the mortal on whom the G.o.d has set his mark. He sees himself bound living to the fatal course of genius, the fiery steed.

"Away from the world--from all real existence He is borne upwards, despite his resistance On feet of steel.

He is taken o'er deserts, o'er mountains in legions, Grey-h.o.a.ry, thro' oceans, and into the regions Far over the clouds; A thousand base spirits his progress unshaken Arouses, press round him and stare as they waken, In insolent crowds

"He cries out with terror, in agony grasping, Yet ever the mane of his Pegasus clasping, They heavenward spring; Each leap that he takes with fresh woe is attended; He totters--falls lifeless--the struggle is ended-- And rises as King!"[A]

[Footnote A: The English verses are taken for the most part from the translation of F. Corder.]

The original _Allegro agitato_ in broad 6/4 time (aptly suggestive of the unbridled motion) grows

[Music: (In bra.s.s and strings with lower 8ve.) (With constant clattering higher strings and chord of low wind on the middle beat)]

more rapid into an _alla breve_ pace (in two beats), with dazzling maze of lesser rhythms. Throughout the work a song of primeval strain prevails. Here and there a tinge of foreshadowing pain appears, as the song sounds on high, _espressivo dolente_. But the fervor and fury of movement is undiminished. The brief touch of pathos soon merges in the general heroic mood. Later, the whole motion ceases, "the horse sinks and dies," and now an interlude sings a pure plaint (in the strain of the main motive). Then, _Allegro_, the martial note clangs in stirring trumpet and breaks into formal song of war, _Allegro marziale_.

[Music: (Bra.s.s and strings) _Allegro marziale_ (With lower 8ve.)]

In the wake of this song, with a relentless trip and tramp of warrior hordes, is the real clash and jingle of the battle, where the sparkling thrill of strings and the saucy counter theme are strong elements in the stirring beauty.

There is a touch here of the old Goth, or rather the Hun, nearer akin to the composer's race.

At the height rings out the main tune of yore, transformed in triumphant majesty.

The musical design embraces various phases. First is the clear rhythmic sense of the ride. We think of other instances like Schubert's "Erl-King" or the ghostly ride in Raff's "Lenore" Symphony.

The degree of vivid description must vary, not only with the composer, but with the hearer. The greatest masters have yielded to the variety of the actual graphic touch. And, too, there are always interpreters who find it, even if it was never intended. Thus it is common to hear at the very beginning of the "Mazeppa" music the cry that goes up as starts the flight.

We are of course ent.i.tled, if we prefer, to feel the poetry rather than the picture. Finally it is probably true that such a poetic design is not marred merely because there is here or there a trick of onomatopoeia; if it is permitted in poetry, why not in music? It may be no more than a spur to the fancy, a quick conjuring of the a.s.sociation.


Liszt's symphonic poem, "Hunnenschlacht," one of the last of his works in this form, completed in 1857, was directly inspired by the picture of the German painter, Wilhelm Kaulbach, which represents the legend of the aerial battle between the spirits of the Romans and Huns who had fallen outside of the walls of Rome.[A]

[Footnote A: A description of the picture is cited by Lawrence Gilman in his book, "Stories of Symphonic Music," as follows:

"According to a legend, the combatants were so exasperated that the slain rose during the night and fought in the air. Rome, which is seen in the background, is said to have been the scene of this event. Above, borne on a shield, is Attila, with a scourge in his hand; opposite him Theodoric, King of the Visigoths. The foreground is a battle-field, strewn with corpses, which are seen to be gradually reviving, rising up and rallying, while among them wander wailing and lamenting women."]

The evidence of the composer's intent is embodied in a letter written in 1857 to the wife of the painter, which accompanied the ma.n.u.script of an arrangement of the music for two pianos. In the letter Liszt speaks of "the meteoric and solar light which I have borrowed from the painting, and which at the Finale I have formed into one whole by the gradual working up of the Catholic _choral_ 'Crux fidelis,' and the meteoric sparks blended therewith." He continues: "As I have already intimated to Kaulbach, in Munich, I was led by the musical demands of the material to give proportionately more place to the solar light of Christianity, personified in the Catholic _choral_ ... than appears to be the case in the glorious painting, in order to win and pregnantly represent the conclusion of the Victory of the Cross, with which I both as a Catholic and as a man could not dispense."

The work begins _tempestuoso_ (_allegro non troppo_), with a nervous theme over soft rolling drums and

[Music: _Tempestuoso. Allegro non troppo_ (Ba.s.soons with _tremolo_ cellos and roll of kettle-drums)]

trembling low strings, that is taken up as in fugue by successive groups and carried to a height where enters a fierce call of the horns. The cries of battle spread with increasing din and gathering speed. At the first climax the whole motion has a new energy, as the strings in feverish chase attack the quickened motive with violent stress. Later, though the motion has not lessened, the theme has returned to a semblance of its former pace, and again the cries of battle (in bra.s.s and wood) sound across its path.

[Music: (Strings, _tremolo_, doubled above) (Horns)]

In the hush of the storm the full-blown call to arms is heard in lowest, funereal tones. Of a sudden, though the speed is the same, the pace changes with a certain terror as of a cavalry attack. Presently amid the clattering tramp sounds the big hymn,--in the ancient rhythm that moves strangely out of the rut of even time.[A]

[Footnote A: Quoted on the following page.]

A single line of the hymn is followed by a refrain of the battle-call, and by the charge of horse that brings back the hymn, in high pitch of trumpets. And so recur the former phases of battle,--really of threat and preparation. For now begins the serious fray in one long gathering of speed and power. The first theme here grows to full melodic song, with extended answer, led by strepitous band of lower reed over a heavy clatter of strings. We are in a

[Music: (Trombones with lower 8ve) _Marcato_]

maze of furious charges and cries, till the shrill trumpet and the stentorian trombone strike the full call in antiphonal song. The tempest increases with a renewed charge of the strings, and now the more distant calls have a slower sweep. Later the battle song is in the ba.s.ses,--again in clashing ba.s.ses and trebles; nearer strike the broad sweeping calls.

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Symphonies and Their Meaning Part 4 summary

You're reading Symphonies and Their Meaning. This manga has been translated by Updating. Author(s): Philip H. Goepp. Already has 119 views.

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