Symphonies and Their Meaning Part 9

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Back again in the quieter play of rhythm the strange, sweet song (of horns) returns.

In a ravishing climax of gentle chorus of quick plashing waves and swirling breeze the song sings on and the trumpet blows its line of tune to a ringing phrase of the clarinet.

[Music: (Strings and horns) _ad lib. faster_]

When this has died down, the lapping waves, as in concert, strike in full chord that spreads a hue of warmth, as of the first peep of sun. It is indeed as though the waves rose towards the sun with a glow of welcome.

In the wake of the first stirring shock is a host of soft cheering sounds of bustling day, like a choir of birds or bells. The eager madrigal leads to a final blast (with acclaiming chorus of big rocking waves), echoed in golden notes of the horns. One slight touch has heightened the hue to warmest cheer; but once do we feel the full glow of risen sun.

The chilling shadows return, as the wistful air of hushed trumpet sounds again. We hover between flashes of warming sun, until the waves have abated; in soothing stillness the romantic horn[A] sings a lay of legend.

[Footnote A: English horn.]

Now to friendly purling of playful wavelets, the sea moves in shifting harmonies. In sudden climax the motion of the waves fills all the bra.s.s in triumphant paean, in the gleam of high noon.

_II.--Play of the Waves._ There is a poetic background as for the play of legend. We seem to be watching the sea from a window in the castle of _Pelleas_. For there is a touch of dim romance in a phrase of the clarinet.

The movement of waves is clear, and the unconscious concert of sea-sounds, the deeper pulse of ocean (in the horns), the flowing ripples, the sharp dash of lighter surf (in the Glockenspiel), all with a constant tremor, an instability of element (in trembling strings). We cannot help feeling the illusion of scene in the impersonal play of natural sounds. Anon will come a shock of exquisite sweetness that must have something of human. And then follows a resonant clash with spray of colliding seas.

Here the story of the waves begins, and there are clearly two roles.

To light lapping and cradling of waters the wood sings the simple lay, while strings discourse in quicker, higher phrase. The parts are reversed. A shower of chilling wave (in gliding harps) breaks the thread.

[Music: _Con anima_ (Highest and lowest figure in strings.

Middle voices in octaves of wood)]

Now golden tones (of horns) sound a mystic tale of one of the former figures. The scene shimmers

[Music: (With rhythmic harps and strings) (Flutes) (Eng. horn) _espressivo_ (Strings) (Horns)]

in sparkling, glinting waters (with harp and trilling wood and strings).

But against the soothing background the story (of English horn) has a chill, ominous strain.

With the returning main song comes the pa.s.sionate crisis, and we are back in the mere plash and play of impersonal waves.

On dancing ripples, a nixie is laughing to echoing horns and lures us back to the story.

[Music: (Strings with lower 8ve.) (Cl.) _grazioso_ (Horns)]

Later, it seems, two mermaids sing in twining duet. In a warm hue of light the horns sound a weird tale. It is taken up by teasing chorus of lighter voices. In the growing volume sounds a clear, almost martial call of the bra.s.s.

In a new shade of scene we recover the lost burden of song; the original figures appear (in the slower air of trembling strings and the quicker play of reed, harp and bells), and wander through ever new, moving phases. A shower of chords (in strings and shaking bra.s.s) brings back the ominous melody, amidst a chorus of light chatter, but firmly resting on a warm background of harmony. And the strain roves on generous path and rises out of all its gloom to a burst of profound cheer.

[Music: (1st violins with lower 8ve.) (2d violins; percussion with cellos below) (Harp with violas) (Flutes with higher 8ve.) (See page 104, line 11.)]

As in all fairy tales, the scene quickly vanishes. On dancing rays and ripples is the laughing nixie; but suddenly breaks the first song of the main figures. A climactic phrase of trumpets ends with a burst of all the chorus on stirring harmony, where in diminishing strokes of bells long rings the melodic note.

The teasing motive of the nixie returns while the trumpet sounds a shadowy echo of its phrase, again to dying peal of bells. A chorus of eerie voices sing the mocking air, and again sounds the refrain of trumpet as in rebuke. On a tumult of teasing cries flashes a delivering burst of brilliant light, and we are back in the first scene of the story. Only the main figure is absent. And there is in the eager tension of pace a quivering between joy and doubt. Then, in answer to the lighter phrase of the other, is the returning figure with a new song now of blended longing and content that soars into higher flights until a mighty chorus repeats the strain that rises to triumphant height of joy and transforms the mocking motive to the same mood.

But it is all a play of the waves. And we are left once more to the impersonal scene where yet the fragrance of legend hovers over the dying harmonies.

_III.--Dialogue of the Wind and the Sea._ Tumultuous is the humor of the beginning; early sounds the stroke of wave of the first hour of the sea.

The muted trumpet blows a strain (to trembling strings) that takes us back to the first (quoted) tune of the symphony in the wistful mood of dawn. For a symphony it proves to be in the unity of themes and thought.

Now unmuted and unrestrained in conflict of crashing chords, the trumpet blows again the motto of the roving sea. In various figures is the pelagic motion, in continuous coursing strings, in the sweeping phrase of the woodwind, or in the original wave-motion of the horns, now unmuted.

The main burden is a plaint

[Music: (Woodwind in lower octaves and touches of horns) (_Animato_) _poco rit._ (Strings in higher and lower octaves)]

(in the wood) against the insistent surge (of strings), on a haunting motive as of farewell or eventide, with much stress of pathos. It is sung in sustained duet against a constant churning figure of the sea, and it is varied by a dulcet strain that grows out of the wave-motive.

Indeed, the whole movement is complementary of the first, the obverse as it were. The themes are of the same text; the hue and mood have changed from the spring of dawn to the sadness of dusk. The symbol of noontide peace reappears with minor tinge, at the hush of eve. The climactic motive of the sea acclaiming the rising sun is there, but reversed.

The sea too has the same tempestuous motion (indeed, the plaintive song is mainly of the wind), unrestrained by the sadder mood. At the pa.s.sionate climax, where the higher figure sinks toward the rising lower, it is as if the Wind kissed the Sea.

The concluding scene begins as in the first movement, save with greater extension of expressive melody. And the poignant note has a long song against a continuous rippling (of harps).

More elemental figures crowd the scene; the first melody (of trumpet) has a full verse, and the dulcet phrase (of wave-motive).

Toward the end the plaintive song has an ever-growing chorus of acclaiming voices. In the fever of united coursing motion the phrase loses the touch of sadness until in eager, spirited pace, as of galloping steeds, it ends with a shout of victory.


Chief among the companions of Claude Debussy in his adventures is Paul Dukas.[A] Though he lags somewhat in bold flights of harmonies, he shows a clearer vein of melody and rhythm, and he has an advantage in a greater freedom from the rut of repeated device.

[Footnote A: Born in 1865.]

It is somehow in the smaller forms that the French composer finds the trenchant utterance of his fancy. A Scherzo, after the ballad of Goethe, "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," tells the famous story of the boy who in his master's absence compels the spirit in the broom to fetch the water; but he cannot say the magic word to stop the flood, although he cleaves the demon-broom in two.

After the t.i.tle-page of the score is printed a prose version (by Henri Blaze) of Goethe's ballad, "Der Zauberlehrling."

Of several translations the following, by Bowring, seems the best:


I am now,--what joy to hear it!-- Of the old magician rid; And henceforth shall ev'ry spirit Do whatever by me is bid: I have watch'd with rigor All he used to do, And will now with vigor Work my wonders, too.

Wander, wander Onward lightly, So that rightly Flow the torrent, And with teeming waters yonder In the bath discharge its current!

And now come, thou well-worn broom, And thy wretched form bestir; Thou hast ever served as groom, So fulfil my pleasure, sir!

On two legs now stand With a head on top; Water pail in hand, Haste and do not stop!

Wander, wander Onward lightly, So that rightly Flow the torrent, And with teeming waters yonder In the bath discharge its current!

See! he's running to the sh.o.r.e, And has now attained the pool, And with lightning speed once more Comes here, with his bucket full!

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Symphonies and Their Meaning Part 9 summary

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