[Transcriber's Notes: Printer errors have been corrected. Full-page illustrations have been moved so as not to interrupt the flow of the text.]
CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN COMPOSERS
BEING A STUDY OF THE MUSIC OF THIS COUNTRY, ITS PRESENT CONDITIONS AND ITS FUTURE, WITH CRITICAL ESTIMATES AND BIOGRAPHIES OF THE PRINCIPAL LIVING COMPOSERS; AND AN ABUNDANCE OF PORTRAITS, FAC-SIMILE MUSICAL AUTOGRAPHS, AND COMPOSITIONS
Rupert Hughes, M.A.
Boston L.C. Page and Company (Incorporated) 1900
Copyright, 1900 BY L.C. PAGE & COMPANY (INCORPORATED)
All rights reserved
Colonial Press Electrotyped and Printed by C.H. Simonds & Co. Boston, U.S.A.
MUSICIAN TO THE TIP OF HIS PEN
One day there came into Robert Schumann's ken the work of a young fellow named Brahms, and the master cried aloud in the wilderness, "Behold, the new Messiah of music!" Many have refused to accept Brahms at this rating, and I confess to being one of the unregenerate, but the spirit that kept Schumann's heart open to the appeal of any stranger, that led him into instant enthusiasms of which he was neither afraid nor ashamed, enthusiasms in which the whole world has generally followed his leading—that spirit it is that proves his true musicianship, and makes him a place forever among the great critics of music,—a small, small crowd they are, too.
It is inevitable that a pioneer like Schumann should make many mistakes, but he escaped the one great fatal mistake of those who are not open to conviction, nor alert for new beauty and fresh truth, who are willing to take art to their affections or respect only when it has lost its bloom and has been duly appraised and ticketed by other generations or foreign scholars. And yet, even worse than this languorous inanition is the active policy of those who despise everything contemporary or native, and substitute sciolism for catholicity, contempt for analysis.
While the greater part of the world has stayed aloof, the problem of a national American music has been solving itself. Aside from occasional attentions evoked by chance performances, it may be said in general that the growth of our music has been unloved and unheeded by anybody except a few plodding composers, their wives, and a retainer or two. The only thing that inclines me to invade the privacy of the American composer and publish his secrets, is my hearty belief, lo, these many years! that some of the best music in the world is being written here at home, and that it only needs the light to win its meed of praise.
Owing to the scarcity of printed matter relating to native composers, and the utter incompleteness and bias of what exists, I have based this book almost altogether on my own research. I studied the catalogues of all the respectable music publishers, and selected such composers as seemed to have any serious intentions. When I heard of a composer whose work, though earnest, had not been able to find a publisher, I sought him out and read his manuscripts (a hideous task which might be substituted for the comparative pastime of breaking rocks, as punishment for misdemeanors). In every case I secured as many of each composer's works as could be had in print or in manuscript, and endeavored to digest them. Thousands of pieces of music, from short songs to operatic and orchestral scores, I studied with all available conscience. The fact that after going through at least a ton of American compositions, I am still an enthusiast, is surely a proof of some virtue in native music.
A portion of the result of this study was published au courant in a magazine, awakening so much attention that I have at length decided to yield to constant requests and publish the articles in more accessible form. The necessity for revising many of the opinions formed hastily and published immediately, the possibility now of taking the work of our musicians in some perspective, and the opportunity of bringing my information up to date, have meant so much revision, excision, and addition, that this book is really a new work.
The biographical data have been furnished in practically every case by the composers themselves, and are, therefore, reliable in everything except possibly the date of birth. The critical opinions gain their possibly dogmatic tone rather from a desire for brevity than from any hope—or wish—that they should be swallowed whole. No attempt to set up a standard of comparative merit or precedence has been made, though it is inevitable that certain music-makers should interest one more than certain others even more worthy in the eyes of eminent judges.
It may be that some inspectors of this book will complain of the omission of names they had expected to find here. Others will feel a sense of disproportion. To them there is no reply but a pathetic allusion to the inevitable incompleteness and asymmetry of all things human.
Many will look with skepticism at the large number of composers I have thought worthy of inclusion. I can only say that the fact that an artist has created one work of high merit makes him a good composer in my opinion, whether or no he has ever written another, and whether or no he has afterward fallen into the sere and yellow school of trash. So Gray's fame is perennial,—one poem among many banalities.
Besides, I do not concur in that most commonplace fallacy of criticism, the belief that not more than one genius is vouchsafed to any one period of an art, though this opinion can be justified, of course, by a very exclusive definition of the word genius. To the average mind, for instance, the whole literary achievement of the Elizabethan era is condensed into the name of Shakespeare. Contemporary with him, however, there were, of course, thirty or forty writers whose best works the scholar would be most unwilling to let die. There were, for instance, a dozen playwrights, like Jonson, Fletcher, Ford, Marlowe, and Greene, in whose works can be found literary and dramatic touches of the very highest order. There were poets less prolific than Spenser, and yet to be credited with a few works of the utmost beauty, minor geniuses like Ralegh, Sidney, Lodge, Shirley, Lyly, Wotton, Wither, John Donne, Bishop Hall, Drayton, Drummond, Herbert, Carew, Herrick, Breton, Allison, Byrd, Dowland, Campion—so one might run on without naming one man who had not written something the world was better for.
All periods of great art activity are similarly marked by a large number of geniuses whose ability is not disproved, because overshadowed by the presence of some titanic contemporary. It would be a mere impertinence to state such an axiom of art as this, were it not the plain truth that almost all criticism of contemporaries is based upon an arrant neglect of it; and if it were not for the fact that I am about to string out a long, long list of American music-makers whose ability I think noteworthy,—a list whose length may lead many a wiseacre to pull a longer face.
Parts of this book have been reprinted from Godey's Magazine, the Century Magazine, and the Criterion, to whose publishers I am indebted for permission. For the music reproduced here I have to thank the publishers whose copyrights were loaned for the occasion.
If the book shall only succeed in arousing in some minds an interest or a curiosity that shall set them to the study of American music (as I have studied it, with infinite pleasure), then this fine white paper and this beautiful black ink will not have been wasted.
A GENERAL SURVEY 11
THE INNOVATORS 34
THE ACADEMICS 145
THE COLONISTS 267
THE WOMEN COMPOSERS 423
THE FOREIGN COMPOSERS 442
LIST OF MUSIC.
AUTOGRAPH OF EDWARD MACDOWELL 34
"CLAIR DE LUNE," BY EDWARD MACDOWELL 46
AUTOGRAPH OF EDGAR STILLMAN KELLEY 58
"ISRAFEL" (fragment), BY EDGAR STILLMAN KELLEY 74
AUTOGRAPH OF HARVEY WORTHINGTON LOOMIS 77
"SANDALPHON" (fragment), BY H.W. LOOMIS 82
AUTOGRAPH OF ETHELBERT NEVIN 93
"HERBSTGEFUeHL" (fragment), BY ETHELBERT NEVIN 102
AUTOGRAPH OF JOHN PHILIP SOUSA 112
A PAGE FROM "EL CAPITAN," BY JOHN PHILIP SOUSA 127
AUTOGRAPH OF JOHN K. PAINE 145
POSTLUDE TO "OEDIPUS TYRANNUS," BY JOHN K. PAINE 158
"SPRING'S AWAKENING" (fragment), BY DUDLEY BUCK 172
AUTOGRAPH OF HORATIO W. PARKER 174
"NIGHT-PIECE TO JULIA" (fragment), BY HORATIO W. PARKER 180
"DIE STUNDE SEI GESEGNET" (fragment), BY FRANK VAN DER STUCKEN 194
"A LOVE SONG" (fragment), BY W.W. GILCHRIST 205
AUTOGRAPH OF G.W. CHADWICK 210
"FOLK SONG" (NO. 1), BY G.W. CHADWICK 216
AUTOGRAPH OF ARTHUR FOOTE 221
"IT WAS A LOVER AND HIS LASS," BY ARTHUR FOOTE 230
"IDYLLE" (fragment), BY ARTHUR WHITING 287
"BALLADE" (fragment), BY HOWARD BROCKWAY 303
AUTOGRAPH OF HARRY ROWE SHELLEY 304
"SPRING" (fragment), BY GERRIT SMITH 314
"WHEN LOVE IS GONE," BY C.B. HAWLEY 330
"SONG FROM OMAR KHAYYAM," BY VICTOR HARRIS 339
"HYMN OF PAN" (fragment), FRED FIELD BULLARD 352
"PEACE," BY HOMER A. NORRIS 362
AUTOGRAPH OF G.W. MARSTON 367
EXCERPT FROM AN ORCHESTRAL SCORE, BY F.G. GLEASON 378
"IDYLLE" (fragment), BY WILLIAM H. SHERWOOD 385
AUTOGRAPH OF WILSON G. SMITH 395
"ARABESQUE," BY WILSON G. SMITH 404
FRAGMENT OF THE SCORE OF "SALAMMBO," BY JOHANN H. BECK 408
AUTOGRAPH OF JAMES H. ROGERS 412
"BLACK RIDERS" (fragment), BY WILLIAM SCHUYLER 416
"PHANTOMS" (fragment), BY MRS. H.H.A. BEACH 429
"GHOSTS," BY MARGARET RUTHVEN LANG 436
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.
Edward MacDowell Frontispiece
Edgar Stillman Kelley 57
Harvey Worthington Loomis 77
Ethelbert Nevin 92
John Philip Sousa 112
Henry Schoenefeld 128
John Knowles Paine 145
Horatio W. Parker 174
Frank van der Stucken 188
George Whitefield Chadwick 210
Arthur Foote 221
Henry K. Hadley 241
Adolph M. Foerster 248
Charles Crozat Converse 256
Louis Adolphe Coerne 262
Henry Holden Huss 291
Harry Rowe Shelley 304
Frederick Field Bullard 351
Homer A. Norris 357
Frederic Grant Gleason 367
William H. Sherwood 383
A.J. Goodrich 388
Wilson G. Smith 395
Mrs. H.H.A. Beach 426
Margaret Ruthven Lang 432
CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN COMPOSERS.
A GENERAL SURVEY.
Coddling is no longer the chief need of the American composer. While he still wants encouragement in his good tendencies,—much more encouragement than he gets, too,—he is now strong enough to profit by the discouragement of his evil tendencies.
In other words, the American composer is ready for criticism.
The first and most vital flaw of which his work will be accused is the lack of nationalism. This I should like to combat after the sophistic fashion of Zeno,—showing, first, why we lack that desideratum, a strictly national school; secondly, that a strictly national school is not desirable; and thirdly, that we most assuredly have a national school.
In building a national individuality, as in building a personal individuality, there is always a period of discipleship under some older power. When the rudiments and the essentials are once thoroughly mastered, the shackles of discipleship are thrown off, and personal expression in an original way begins. This is the story of every master in every art: The younger Raphael was only Perugino junior. Beethoven's first sonatas were more completely Haydn's than the word "gewidmet" would declare. The youthful Canova was swept off his feet by the unearthing of old Greek masterpieces. Stevenson confesses frankly his early efforts to copy the mannerisms of Scott and others. Nations are only clusters of individuals, and subject to the same rules. Italy borrowed its beginnings from Byzantium; Germany and France took theirs from Italy; we, ours, from them.
It was inconceivable that America should produce an autocthonous art. The race is one great mixture of more or less digested foreign elements; and it is not possible to draw a declaration of artistic, as of political, independence, and thenceforward be truly free.
Centuries of differentiated environment (in all the senses of the word environment) are needed to produce a new language or a new art; and it was inevitable that American music should for long be only a more or less successful employment of European methods. And there was little possibility, according to all precedents in art history, that any striking individuality should rise suddenly to found a school based upon his own mannerism.
Especially was this improbable, since we are in a large sense of English lineage. As the co-heirs, with those who remain in the British Isles, of the magnificent prose and poetry of England, it was possible for us to produce early in our own history a Hawthorne and a Poe and an Emerson and a Whitman. But we have had more hindrance than help from our heritage of English music, in which there has never been a master of the first rank, Purcell and the rest being, after all, brilliants of the lesser magnitude (with the permission of that electric Englishman, Mr. John F. Runciman).
A further hindrance was the creed of the Puritan fathers of our civilization; they had a granite heart, and a suspicious eye for music. Here is a cheerful example of congregational lyricism, and a lofty inspiration for musical treatment (the hymn refers to the fate of unbaptized infants):
"A crime it is! Therefore in Bliss You may not hope to dwell; But unto you I shall allow The easiest room in Hell."
It was only at the end of the seventeenth century that singing by note began to supplant the "lining-out" barbarism, and to provoke such fierce opposition as this:
"First, it is a new way—an unknown tongue; 2d, it is not so melodious as the old way; 3d, there are so many tunes that nobody can learn them; 4th, the new way makes a disturbance in churches, grieves good men, exasperates them, and causes them to behave disorderly; 5th, it is popish; 6th, it will introduce instruments; 7th, the names of the notes are blasphemous; 8th, it is needless, the old way being good enough; 9th, it requires too much time to learn it; 10th, it makes the young disorderly."
At the time when such puerility was disturbing this cradle of freedom and cacophony, Bach and Haendel were at work in their contrapuntal webs, the Scarlattis, Corelli and Tartini and Porpora were alive. Peri, Josquin and Willaert and Lassus were dead, and the church had had its last mass from the most famous citizen of the town of Palestrina. Monteverde was no longer inventing like an Edison; Lulli had gone to France and died; and Rameau and Couperin were alive.
At this time in the world's art, the Americans were squabbling over the blasphemy of instruments and of notation! This is not the place to treat the history of our music. The curious can find enlightenment at such sources as Mr. Louis C. Elson's "National Music of America." It must be enough for me to say that the throttling hands of Puritanism are only now fully loosened. Some of our living composers recall the parental opposition that met their first inclinations to a musical career, opposition based upon the disgracefulness, the heathenishness, of music as a profession.
The youthfulness of our school of music can be emphasized further by a simple statement that, with the exception of a few names like Lowell Mason, Louis Moreau Gottschalk, Stephen A. Emery (a graceful writer as well as a theorist), and George F. Bristow, practically every American composer of even the faintest importance is now living.
The influences that finally made American music are chiefly German. Almost all of our composers have studied in Germany, or from teachers trained there; very few of them turning aside to Paris, and almost none to Italy. The prominent teachers, too, that have come from abroad have been trained in the German school, whatever their nationality. The growth of a national school has been necessarily slow, therefore, for its necessary and complete submission to German influences.
It has been further delayed by the meagre native encouragement to effort of the better sort. The populace has been largely indifferent,—the inertia of all large bodies would explain that. A national, a constructive, and collaborative criticism has been conspicuously absent.
The leaders of orchestras have also offered an almost insurmountable obstacle to the production of any work from an American hand until very recently. The Boston Symphony Orchestra has been a noble exception to this rule, and has given about the only opening possible to the native writer. The Chicago Orchestra, in eight seasons under Theodore Thomas, devoted, out of a total of 925 numbers, only eighteen, or something less than two per cent., to native music. Yet time shows a gradual improvement, and in 1899, out of twenty-seven orchestral numbers performed, three were by Americans, which makes a liberal tithe. The Boston Symphony has played the compositions of John Knowles Paine alone more than eighteen times, and those of George W. Chadwick the same number, while E.A. MacDowell and Arthur Foote each appeared on the programs fourteen times. The Kaltenborn Orchestra has made an active effort at the promulgation of our music, and especial honor is due to Frank Van der Stucken, himself a composer of marked abilities; he was among the first to give orchestral production to American works, and he was, perhaps, the very first to introduce American orchestral work abroad. Like his offices, in spirit and effect, have been the invaluable services of our most eminent pianist, Wm. H. Sherwood, who was for many years the only prominent performer of American piano compositions.
Public singers also have been most unpatriotic in preferring endless repetition of dry foreign arias to fresh compositions from home. The little encore song, which generally appeared anonymously, was the opening wedge for the American lyrist.
Upon the horizon of this gloom, however, there is a tremor of a dawning interest in national music. Large vocal societies are giving an increasing number of native part songs and cantatas; prizes are being awarded in various places, and composers find some financial encouragement for appearing in concerts of their own work. Manuscript societies are organized in many of the larger cities, and these clubs offer hearing to novelty. There have latterly appeared, from various publishers, special catalogues vaunting the large number of American composers represented on their lists.
Another, and a most important sign of the growing influence of music upon American life, is seen in the place it is gaining in the college curriculum; new chairs have been established, and prominent composers called to fill them, or old professorships that held merely nominal places in the catalogue have been enlarged in scope. In this way music is reestablishing itself in something like its ancient glory; for the Greeks not only grouped all culture under the general term of "Music," but gave voice and instrument a vital place in education. Three of our most prominent composers fill the chairs at three of the most important universities. In all these cases, however, music is an elective study, while the rudiments of the art should, I am convinced, be a required study in every college curriculum, and in the common schools as well.
Assuming then, for the nonce, the birth—we are too new a country to speak of a Renascence—of a large interest in national music, there is large disappointment in many quarters, because our American music is not more American. I have argued above that a race transplanted from other soils must still retain most of the old modes of expression, or, varying them, change slowly. But many who excuse us for the present lack of a natural nationalism, are so eager for such a differentiation that they would have us borrow what we cannot breed.
The folk-music of the negro slaves is most frequently mentioned as the right foundation for a strictly American school. A somewhat misunderstood statement advanced by Dr. Antonin Dvorak, brought this idea into general prominence, though it had been discussed by American composers, and made use of in compositions of all grades long before he came here.
The vital objection, however, to the general adoption of negro music as a base for an American school of composition is that it is in no sense a national expression. It is not even a sectional expression, for the white Southerners among whose slaves this music grew, as well as the people of the North, have always looked upon negro music as an exotic and curious thing. Familiar as it is to us, it is yet as foreign a music as any Tyrolean jodel or Hungarian czardas.
The music of the American Indian, often strangely beautiful and impressive, would be as reasonably chosen as that of these imported Africs. E.A. MacDowell had, indeed, written a picturesque and impressive Indian suite, some time before the Dvorakian invasion. He asserts that the Indian music is preferable to the Ethiopian, because its sturdiness and force are more congenial with the national mood.
But the true hope for a national spirit in American music surely lies, not in the arbitrary seizure of some musical dialect, but in the development of just such a quality as gives us an individuality among the nations of the world in respect to our character as a people; and that is a Cosmopolitanism made up of elements from all the world, and yet, in its unified qualities, unlike any one element. Thus our music should, and undoubtedly will, be the gathering into the spirit of the voices of all the nations, and the use of all their expressions in an assimilated, a personal, a spontaneous manner. This need not, by any means, be a dry, academic eclecticism. The Yankee, a composite of all peoples, yet differs from them all, and owns a sturdy individuality. His music must follow the same fate.
As our governmental theories are the outgrowth of the experiments and experiences of all previous history, why should not our music, voicing as it must the passions of a cosmopolitan people, use cosmopolitan expressions? The main thing is the individuality of each artist. To be a citizen of the world, provided one is yet spontaneous and sincere and original, is the best thing. The whole is greater than any of its parts.
Along just these lines of individualized cosmopolitanism the American school is working out its identity. Some of our composers have shown themselves the heirs of European lore by work of true excellence in the larger classic and romantic forms.
The complaint might be made, indeed, that the empty, incorrect period of previous American music has given place to too much correctness and too close formation on the old models. This is undoubtedly the result of the long and faithful discipleship under German methods, and need not be made much of in view of the tendency among a few masters toward original expression. For, after all, even in the heyday of the greatest art periods, only a handful of artists have ever stood out as strongly individual; the rest have done good work as faithful imitators and past masters in technic. It is, then, fortunate that there is any tendency at all among any of our composers to forsake academic content with classical forms and text-book development of ideas.
Two things, however, are matters for very serious disappointment: the surprising paucity of musical composition displaying the national sense of humor, and the surprising abundance of purest namby-pamby. The presence of the latter class might be explained by the absence of the former, for namby-pamby cannot exist along with a healthy sense of the ludicrous. There has been a persistent craze among native song-writers for little flower-dramas and bird-tragedies, which, aiming at exquisiteness, fall far short of that dangerous goal and land in flagrant silliness. This weakness, however, will surely disappear in time, or at least diminish, until it holds no more prominent place than it does in all the foreign schools, where it exists to a certain extent.
The scherzo, however, must grow in favor. It is impossible that the most jocose of races, a nation that has given the world an original school of humor, should not carry this spirit over into its music. And yet almost none of the comparatively few scherzos that have been written here have had any sense of the hilarious jollity that makes Beethoven's wit side-shaking. They have been rather of the Chopinesque sort, mere fantasy. To the composers deserving this generalization I recall only two important exceptions, Edgar S. Kelley and Harvey Worthington Loomis.
The opportunities before the American composer are enormous, and only half appreciated. Whereas, in other arts, the text-book claims only to be a chronicle of what has been done before, in music the text-book is set up as the very gospel and decalogue of the art. The theorists have so thoroughly mapped out the legitimate resources of the composer, and have so prescribed his course in nearly every possible position, that music is made almost more of a mathematical problem than the free expression of emotions and aesthetics. "Correct" music has now hardly more liberty than Egyptian sculpture or Byzantine painting once had. Certain dissonances are permitted, and certain others, no more dissonant, forbidden, quite arbitrarily, or on hair-splitting theories. It is as if one should write down in a book a number of charts, giving every scheme of color and every juxtaposition of values permissible to a painter. The music of certain Oriental nations, in which the religious orders are the art censors, has stuck fast in its rut because of the observance of rules purely arbitrary. Many of the conventions of modern European music are no more scientific or original or consistent; most of them are based upon the principle that the whim of a great dead composer is worthy to be the law of any living composer. These Blue Laws of music are constantly assailed surreptitiously and in detail; and yet they are too little attacked as a whole. But music should be a democracy and not an aristocracy, or, still less, a hierarchy.
There is a great opportunity for America to carry its political principles into this youngest of the arts. It is a gratifying sign that one of the most prominent theorists of the time, an American scholar, A.J. Goodrich, is adopting some such attitude toward music. He carries dogma to the minimum, and accepts success in the individual instance as sufficient authority for overstepping any general principle. He refers to a contemporary American composer for authority and example of some successful unconventionality with the same respect with which he would quote a European's disregard of convention. His pioneering is watched with interest abroad as well as here.
Worthy of mention along with Mr. Goodrich' original work is the effort of Homer A. Norris to instil French ideas of musical theory. As a counterweight to the German monopoly of our attention, his influence is to be cordially welcomed.
Now that Americanism is rife in the land, some of the glowing interest in things national might well be turned toward an art that has been too much and too long neglected among us.
The time has come to take American music seriously. The day for boasting is not yet here,—if indeed it ever comes; but the day of penitent humility is surely past.
A student of the times, Mr. E.S. Martin, shortly before the Spanish War, commented on the radical change that had come over the spirit of American self-regard. We were notorious in the earlier half of the century for boasting, not only of the virtues we indubitably had, but of qualities that existed solely in our own imagination. We sounded our barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world. A century of almost unanimous European disapproval, particularly of our artistic estate, finally converted us from this attitude to one of deprecation almost abject. Having learned the habit of modesty, it has clung to us even now, when some of the foremost artists in the world are Americans.
Modesty, is, of course, one of the most beautiful of the virtues, but excess is possible and dangerous. As Shakespeare's Florio's Montaigne has it: "We may so seize on vertue, that if we embrace it with an over-greedy and violent desire, it may become vitious." In the case of the American composer it is certainly true that we "excessively demeane ourselves in a good action." If, then, the glory of our late successes in the field of battle shall bring about a recrudescence of our old vanity, it will at least have its compensations.
Meanwhile, the American artist, having long ago ceased to credit himself with all the virtues, has been for years earnestly working out his own salvation in that spirit of solemn determination which makes it proverbial for the American to get anything he sets his heart on. He has submitted himself to a devout study of the Old Masters and the New; he has made pilgrimage after pilgrimage to the ancient temples of art, and has brought home influences that cannot but work for good. The American painter has won more European acceptance than any of our other artists, though this is partly due to his persistence in knocking at the doors of the Paris salons, and gaining the universal prestige of admission there. There is, unfortunately, no such place to focus the attention of the world on a musician. Yet, through the success of American musical students among their rivals abroad; through the concerts they are giving more and more frequently in foreign countries; through the fact that a number of European music houses are publishing increasing quantities of American compositions, he is making his way to foreign esteem almost more rapidly than at home.
A prominent German critic, indeed, has recently put himself on record as accepting the founding of an American school of music as a fait accompli. And no student of the times, who will take the trouble to seek the sources of our art, and observe its actual vitality, need be ashamed of looking at the present state of music in America with a substantial pride and a greater hope for the future.
Edward Alexander MacDowell.
The matter of precedence in creative art is as hopeless of solution as it is unimportant. And yet it seems appropriate to say, in writing of E.A. MacDowell, that an almost unanimous vote would grant him rank as the greatest of American composers, while not a few ballots would indicate him as the best of living music writers.
But this, to repeat, is not vital, the main thing being that MacDowell has a distinct and impressive individuality, and uses his profound scholarship in the pursuit of novelty that is not cheaply sensational, and is yet novelty. He has, for instance, theories as to the textures of sounds, and his chord-formations and progressions are quite his own.
His compositions are superb processions, in which each participant is got up with the utmost personal splendor. His generalship is great enough to preserve the unity and the progress of the pageant. With him no note in the melody is allowed to go neglected, ill-mounted on common chords in the bass, or cheap-garbed in trite triads. Each tone is made to suggest something of its multitudinous possibilities. Through any geometrical point, an infinite number of lines can be drawn. This is almost the case with any note of a melody. It is the recognition and the practice of this truth that gives the latter-day schools of music such a lusciousness and warmth of harmony. No one is a more earnest student of these effects than MacDowell.
He believes that it is necessary, at this late day, if you would have a chord "bite," to put a trace of acid in its sweetness. With this clue in mind, his unusual procedures become more explicable without losing their charm.
New York is rather the Mecca than the birthplace of artists, but it can boast the nativity of MacDowell, who improvised his first songs here December 18, 1861. He began the study of the piano at an early age. One of his teachers was Mme. Teresa Carreno, to whom he has dedicated his second concerto for the piano.
In 1876 he went to Paris and entered the Conservatoire, where he studied theory under Savard, and the piano under Marmontel. He went to Wiesbaden to study with Ehlert in 1879, and then to Frankfort, where Carl Heyman taught him piano and Joachim Raff composition. The influence of Raff is of the utmost importance in MacDowell's music, and I have been told that the great romancist made a protege of him, and would lock him in a room for hours till he had worked out the most appalling musical problems. Through Raff's influence he became first piano teacher at the Darmstadt Conservatorium in 1881. The next year Raff introduced him to Liszt, who became so enthusiastic over his compositions that he got him the honor of playing his first piano suite before the formidable Allgemeiner Deutscher Musik Verein, which accorded him a warm reception. The following years were spent in successful concert work, till 1884, when MacDowell settled down to teaching and composing in Wiesbaden. Four years later he came to Boston, writing, teaching, and giving occasional concerts. Thence he returned to New York, where he was called to the professorship of music at Columbia University. Princeton University has given him that unmusical degree, Mus. Doc.
MacDowell has met little or none of that critical recalcitrance that blocked the early success of so many masters. His works succeeded from the first in winning serious favor; they have been much played in Germany, in Vienna, St. Petersburg, Amsterdam, and Paris, one of them having been performed three times in a single season at Breslau.
MacDowell's Scotch ancestry is always telling tales on him. The "Scotch snap" is a constant rhythmic device, the old scale and the old Scottish cadences seem to be native to his heart. Perhaps one might find some kinship between MacDowell and the contemporary Glasgow school of painters, that clique so isolated, so daring, and yet so earnest and solid. Says James Huneker in a monograph published some years ago: "His coloring reminds me at times of Grieg, but when I tracked the resemblance to its lair, I found only Scotch, as Grieg's grand-folk were Greggs, and from Scotland. It is all Northern music with something elemental in it, and absolutely free from the heavy, languorous odors of the South or the morbidezza of Poland."
Some of MacDowell's most direct writing has been in the setting of the poems of Burns, such as "Deserted" ("Ye banks and braes o' bonnie Doon," op. 9), "Menie," and "My Jean" (op. 34). These are strongly marked by that ineffably fine melodic flavor characteristic of Scottish music, while in the accompaniments they admit a touch of the composer's own individuality. In his accompaniments it is noteworthy that he is almost never strictly contramelodic.
The songs of opera 11 and 12 have a decided Teutonism, but he has found himself by opus 40, a volume of "Six Love Songs," containing half a dozen flawless gems it is a pity the public should not know more widely. A later book, "Eight Songs" (op. 47), is also a cluster of worthies. The lilt and sympathy of "The Robin Sings in the Apple-tree," and its unobtrusive new harmonies and novel effects, in strange accord with truth of expression, mark all the other songs, particularly the "Midsummer Lullaby," with its accompaniment as delicately tinted as summer clouds. Especially noble is "The Sea," which has all the boom and roll of the deep-brooding ocean.
His collections of flower-songs (op. 26) I confess not liking. Though they are not without a certain exquisiteness, they seem overdainty and wastefully frail, excepting, possibly, the "Clover" and the "Blue-bell." It is not at all their brevity, but their triviality, that vexes an admirer of the large ability that labored over them. They are dedicated to Emilio Agramonte, one of MacDowell's first prophets, and one of the earliest and most active agents for the recognition of the American composer.
In the lyrics in opus 56 and opus 58 MacDowell has turned song to the unusual purposes of a landscape impressionism of places and moods rather than people.
For men's voices there are some deftly composed numbers curiously devoted to lullaby subjects. The barcarolle for mixed chorus and accompaniment on the piano for four hands obtains a wealth of color, enhanced by the constant division of the voices.
Studying as he did with Raff, it is but natural that MacDowell should have been influenced strongly toward the poetic and fantastic and programmatic elements that mark the "Forest Symphony" and the "Lenore Overture" of his master.
It is hard to say just how far this descriptive music can go. The skill of each composer must dictate his own limits. As an example of successful pieces of this kind, consider MacDowell's "The Eagle." It is the musical realization of Tennyson's well-known poem:
"He clasps the crag with crooked hands; Close to the sun in lonely lands, Ring'd with the azure world, he stands. The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls; He watches from his mountain walls, And like a thunderbolt he falls."
Of course the crag and the crooked hands and the azure world must be granted the composer, but general exaltation and loneliness are expressed in the severe melody of the opening. The wrinkling and crawling of the sea far below are splendidly achieved in the soft, shimmering liquidity of the music. Then there are two abrupt, but soft, short chords that will represent, to the imaginative, the quick fixing of the eagle's heart on some prey beneath; and there follows a sudden precipitation down the keyboard, fortississimo, that represents the thunderous swoop of the eagle with startling effect.
On the other hand, the "Moonshine" seems to be attempting too much. "Winter" does better, for it has a freezing stream, a mill-wheel, and a "widow bird." These "four little poems" of opus 32 had been preceded by six fine "Idylls" based on lyrics of Goethe's. The first, a forest scene, has a distinct flavor of the woods, the second is all laziness and drowsiness, and the third is moonlight mystery. The fourth is as intense in its suppressed spring ecstasy as the radiant poem itself singing how
"Soft the ripples spill and hurry To the opulent embankment."
The six short "Poems" (op. 31) based on poems of Heine's are particularly successful, especially in the excellent opportunity of the lyric describing the wail of the Scottish woman who plays her harp on the cliff, and sings above the raging of sea and wind. The third catches most happily the whimsicality of the poet's reminiscences of childhood, but hardly, I think, the contrasting depth and wildness of his complaint that, along with childhood's games, have vanished Faith and Love and Truth. In the last, however, the cheery majesty that realizes Heine's likening of Death to a cool night after the sultry day of Life, is superb.
Then there are some four-hand pieces, two collections, that leave no excuse for clinging to the hackneyed classics or modern trash. They are not at all difficult, and the second player has something to employ his mind besides accompanying chords. They are meaty, and effective almost to the point of catchiness. The "Tale of the Knights" is full of chivalric fire and martial swing, while the "Ballad" is as exquisitely dainty as a peach-blossom. The "Hindoo Maiden" has a deal of the thoroughly Oriental color and feeling that distinguish the three solos of "Les Orientales," of which "Clair de Lune" is one of his most original and graceful writings. The duet, "In Tyrol," has a wonderful crystal carillon and a quaint shepherd piping a faint reminiscence of the Wagnerian school of shepherds. This is one of a series of "Moon Pictures" for four hands, based on Hans Christian Andersen's lore. Two concertos for piano and orchestra are dazzling feats of virtuosity; one of them is reviewed at length in A.J. Goodrich' book, "Musical Analysis." He has written also a book of artistic moment called "Twelve Virtuoso-Studies," and two books of actual gymnastics for piano practice.
[Music: CLAIR DE LUNE.
La lune etait sereine et jouait sur les flots. La fenetre enfin libre est ouverte a la brise; La sultane regarde, et la mer qui se brise, La-bas, d'un flot d'argent brode les noir ilots. (Victor Hugo, "Les Orientales.")
E.A. MACDOWELL, Op. 37, No. 1.
Copyright, 1889, Arthur P. Schmidt.]
But MacDowell did not reach his freedom without a struggle against academia. His opus 10 is a piano suite published at the age of twenty-two, and opus 14 is another; both contain such obsolescences as a presto, fugue, scherzino, and the like. But for all the classic garb, the hands are the hands of Esau. In one of the pieces there is even a motto tucked, "All hope leave ye behind who enter here!" Can he have referred to the limbo of classicism?
It is a far cry from these to the liberality that inspired the new impressionism of "Woodland Sketches" (op. 51) and "Sea Pieces" (op. 55), in which he gives a legitimate musical presentation of a faintly perfumed "Wild Rose" or "Water Lily," but goes farther, and paints, with wonderful tone, the moods inspired by reverie upon the uncouth dignity and stoic savagery of "An Indian Lodge," the lonely New England twilight of "A Deserted Farm," and all the changing humors of the sea, majesty of sunset or star-rise, and even the lucent emerald of an iceberg. His "From Uncle Remus" is not so successful; indeed, MacDowell is not sympathetic with negro music, and thinks that if we are to found a national school on some local manner, we should find the Indian more congenial than the lazy, sensual slave.
He has carried this belief into action, not only by his scientific interest in the collection and compilation of the folk-music of our prairies, but by his artistic use of actual Indian themes in one of his most important works, his "Indian Suite" for full orchestra, a work that has been often performed, and always with the effect of a new and profound sensation, particularly in the case of the deeply impressive dirge.
A proof of the success of MacDowell as a writer in the large forms is the fact that practically all of his orchestral works are published in Germany and here, not only in full score, but in arrangement for four hands. They include "Hamlet;" "Ophelia" (op. 22); "Launcelot and Elaine" (op. 26), with its strangely mellow and varied use of horns for Launcelot, and the entrusting of the plaintive fate of "the lily maid of Astolat" to the string and wood-wind choirs; "The Saracens" and "The Lovely Alda" (op. 30), two fragments from the Song of Roland; and the Suite (op. 42), which has been played at least eight times in Germany and eleven times here.
The first movement of this last is called "In a Haunted Forest." You are reminded of Siegfried by the very name of the thing, and the music enforces the remembrance somewhat, though very slightly.
Everything reminds one of Wagner nowadays,—even his predecessors. Rudyard Kipling has by his individuality so copyrighted one of the oldest verse-forms, the ballad, that even "Chevy Chace" looks like an advance plagiarism. So it is with Wagner. Almost all later music, and much of the earlier, sounds Wagnerian. But MacDowell has been reminded of Bayreuth very infrequently in this work. The opening movement begins with a sotto voce syncopation that is very presentative of the curious audible silence of a forest. The wilder moments are superbly instrumented.
The second movement, "Summer Idyl," is delicious, particularly in the chances it gives the flautist. There is a fragmentary cantilena which would make the fortune of a comic opera. The third number, "In October," is particularly welcome in our music, which is strangely and sadly lacking in humor. There is fascinating wit throughout this harvest revel. "The Shepherdess' Song" is the fourth movement. It is not precieuse, and it is not banal; but its simplicity of pathos is a whit too simple. The final number, "Forest Spirits," is a brilliant climax. The Suite as a whole is an important work. It has detail of the most charming art. Best of all, it is staunchly individual. It is MacDowellian.
While the modern piano sonata is to me anathema as a rule, there are none of MacDowell's works that I like better than his writings in this form. They are to me far the best since Beethoven, not excepting even Chopin's (pace his greatest prophet, Huneker). They seem to me to be of such stuff as Beethoven would have woven had he known in fact the modern piano he saw in fancy.
The "Sonata Tragica" (op. 45) begins in G minor, with a bigly passionate, slow introduction (metronomed in the composer's copy, [quarter-note]-50). The first subject is marked in the same copy, though not in the printed book, [half-note]-69, and the appealingly pathetic second subject is a little slower. The free fantasy is full of storm and stress, with a fierce pedal-point on the trilled leading-tone. In the reprise the second subject, which was at first in the dominant major, is now in the tonic major, though the key of the sonata is G minor. The allegro is metronomed [quarter-note]-138, and it is very short and very wild. Throughout, the grief is the grief of a strong soul; it never degenerates into whine. Its largo is like the tread of an AEschylean choros, its allegro movements are wild with anguish, and the occasional uplifting into the major only emphasizes the sombre whole, like the little rifts of clearer harmony in Beethoven's "Funeral March on the Death of a Hero."
The last movement begins with a ringing pomposo, and I cannot explain its meaning better than by quoting Mrs. MacDowell's words: "Mr. MacDowell's idea was, so to speak, as follows: He wished to heighten the darkness of tragedy by making it follow closely on the heels of triumph. Therefore, he attempted to make the last movement a steadily progressive triumph, which, at its climax, is utterly broken and shattered. In doing this he has tried to epitomize the whole work. While in the other movements he aimed at expressing tragic details, in the last he has tried to generalize; thinking that the most poignant tragedy is that of catastrophe in the hour of triumph."
The third sonata (op. 57) is dedicated to Grieg and to the musical exploitation of an old-time Skald reciting glorious battles, loves, and deaths in an ancient castle. The atmosphere of mystery and barbaric grandeur is obtained and sustained by means new to piano literature and potent in color and vigor. The sonata formula is warped to the purpose of the poet, but the themes have the classic ideal of kinship. The battle-power of the work is tremendous. Huneker calls it "an epic of rainbow and thunder," and Henry T. Finck, who has for many years devoted a part of his large ardor to MacDowell's cause, says of the work: "It is MacDowellish,—more MacDowellish than anything he has yet written. It is the work of a musical thinker. There are harmonies as novel as those we encounter in Schubert, Chopin, or Grieg, yet with a stamp of their own."
The "Sonata Eroica" (op. 50) bears the legend "Flos regum Arthurus." It is also in G minor. The spirit of King Arthur dominates the work ideally, and justifies not only the ferocious and warlike first subject with its peculiar and influential rhythm, but the old-fashioned and unadorned folk-tone of the second subject. In the working out there is much bustle and much business of trumpets. In the reprise the folk-song appears in the tonic minor, taken most unconventionally in the bass under elaborate arpeggiations in the right hand. The coda, as in the other sonata, is simply a strong passage of climax. Arthur's supernatural nature doubtless suggested the second movement, with its elfin airs, its flibbertigibbet virtuosity, and its magic of color. The third movement might have been inspired by Tennyson's version of Arthur's farewell to Guinevere, it is such a rich fabric of grief. The finale seems to me to picture the Morte d'Arthur, beginning with the fury of a storm along the coast, and the battle "on the waste sand by the waste sea." Moments of fire are succeeded by exquisite deeps of quietude, and the death and apotheosis of Arthur are hinted with daring and complete equivalence of art with need.
Here is no longer the tinkle and swirl of the elf dances; here is no more of the tireless search for novelty in movement and color. This is "a flash of the soul that can." Here is Beethoven redivivus. For half a century we have had so much pioneering and scientific exploration after piano color and tenderness and fire, that men have neglected its might and its tragic powers. Where is the piano-piece since Beethoven that has the depth, the breadth, the height of this huge solemnity? Chopin's sensuous wailing does not afford it. Schumann's complex eccentricities have not given it out. Brahms is too passionless. Wagner neglected the piano. It remained for a Yankee to find the austere peak again! and that, too, when the sonata was supposed to be a form as exhausted as the epic poem. But all this is the praise that one is laughed at for bestowing except on the graves of genius.
The cautious Ben Jonson, when his erstwhile taproom roisterer, Will Shakespeare, was dead, defied "insolent Greece or haughty Rome" to show his superior. With such authority, I feel safe in at least defying the contemporary schools of insolent Russia or haughty Germany to send forth a better musicwright than our fellow townsman, Edward MacDowell.
Edgar Stillman Kelley.
While his name is known wherever American music is known in its better aspects, yet, like many another American, his real art can be discovered only from his manuscripts. In these he shows a very munificence of enthusiasm, scholarship, invention, humor, and originality.
Kelley is as thorough an American by descent as one could ask for, his maternal ancestors having settled in this country in 1630, his paternal progenitors in 1640, A.D. Indeed, one of the ancestors of his father made the dies for the pine-tree shilling, and a great-great-grandfather fought in the Revolution.
Kelley began his terrestrial career April 14, 1857, in Wisconsin. His father was a revenue officer; his mother a skilled musician, who taught him the piano from his eighth year to his seventeenth, when he went to Chicago and studied harmony and counterpoint under Clarence Eddy, and the piano under Ledochowski. It is interesting to note that Kelley was diverted into music from painting by hearing "Blind Tom" play Liszt's transcription of Mendelssohn's "Midsummer Night's Dream" music. I imagine that this idiot-genius had very little other influence of this sort in his picturesque career.
After two years in Chicago, Kelley went to Germany, where, in Stuttgart, he studied the piano with Kruger and Speidel, organ with Finck, composition and orchestration with Seiffritz. While in Germany, Kelley wrote a brilliant and highly successful concert polonaise for four hands, and a composition for strings.
In 1880 he was back in America and settled in San Francisco, with whose musical life he was long and prominently identified as a teacher and critic. Here he wrote his first large work, the well-known melodramatic music to "Macbeth." A local benefactor, John Parrot, paid the expenses of a public performance, the great success of which persuaded McKee Rankin, the actor, to make an elaborate production of both play and music. This ran for three weeks in San Francisco to crowded houses, which is a remarkable record for many reasons. A shabby New York production at an ill-chosen theatre failed to give the work an advantageous hearing; but it has been played by orchestras several times since, and William H. Sherwood has made transcriptions of parts of it for piano solo.
The "Macbeth" music is of such solid value that it reaches the dignity of a flowing commentary. Beyond and above this it is an interpretation, making vivid and awesome the deep import of the play, till even the least imaginative auditor must feel its thrill.
Thus the gathering of the witches begins with a slow horror, which is surely Shakespeare's idea, and not the comic-opera can-can it is frequently made. As various other elfs and terrors appear, they are appropriately characterized in the music, which also adds mightily to the terror of the murder scene. Throughout, the work is that of a thinker. Like much of Kelley's other music, it is also the work of a fearless and skilled programmatist, especially in the battle-scenes, where it suggests the crash of maces and swords, and the blare of horns, the galloping of horses, and the general din of huge battle. Leading-motives are much used, too, with good effect and most ingenious elaboration, notably the Banquo motive. A certain amount of Gaelic color also adds interest to the work, particularly a stirring Gaelic march. The orchestration shows both scholarship and daring.
An interesting subject is suggested by Kelley's experience in hunting out a good motif for the galloping horses of "Macbeth." He could find nothing suitably representative of storm-hoofed chargers till his dreams came to the rescue with a genuinely inspired theme. Several other exquisite ideas have come to him in his sleep in this way; one of them is set down in the facsimile reproduced herewith. On one occasion he even dreamed an original German poem and a fitting musical setting.
Dr. Wm. A. Hammond, in his book on "Sleep and Its Derangements," is inclined to scout the possibility of a really valuable inspiration in sleep. He finds no satisfactory explanation for Tartini's famous "Devil's Sonata" or Coleridge' proverbial "Kubla Khan." He takes refuge in saying that at least the result could not be equal to the dreamer's capabilities when awake; but Kelley's "Macbeth" music was certainly an improvement on what he could invent out of the land of Nod.
After composing a comic opera, which was refused by the man for whom it was written because it was too good, he drifted into journalism, and wrote reviews and critiques which show a very liberal mind capable of appreciating things both modern and classic.
Kelley was again persuaded to write a comic opera to the artistic libretto, "Puritania," by C.M.S. McLellan, a brilliant satirist, who has since won fortune by his highly successful and frequently artistic burlesquery. The work won excellent praise in Boston, where it had one hundred performances. The work musically was not only conscientious, but really graceful and captivating. It received the most glowing encomiums from people of musical culture, and largely enhanced Kelley's musical reputation in its run of something over a year. On its tour Kelley was also the musical conductor, in which capacity he has frequently served elsewhere.
Kelley plainly deserves preeminence among American composers for his devotion to, and skill in, the finer sorts of humorous music. No other American has written so artfully, so happily, or so ambitiously in this field. A humorous symphony and a Chinese suite are his largest works on this order.
The symphony follows the life of "Gulliver in Lilliput." In development and intertwining of themes and in brilliance of orchestration, it maintains symphonic dignity, while in play of fancy, suggestive programmaticism, and rollicking enthusiasm it is infectious with wit. Gulliver himself is richly characterized with a burly, blustering English theme. The storm that throws him on the shores of Lilliput is handled with complete mastery, certain phrases picturing the toss of the billows, another the great roll of the boat, others the rattle of the rigging and the panic of the crew; and all wrought up to a demoniac climax at the wreck. As the stranded Gulliver falls asleep, the music hints his nodding off graphically. The entrance of the Lilliputians is perhaps the happiest bit of the whole delicious work. By adroit devices in instrumentation, their tiny band toots a minute national hymn of irresistible drollery. The sound of their wee hammers and the rest of the ludicrous adventures are carried off in unfailing good humor. The scene finally changes to the rescuing ship. Here a most hilarious hornpipe is interrupted by the distant call of Gulliver's aria, and the rescue is consummated delightfully.
In nothing has Kelley showed such wanton scholarship and such free-reined fancy as in his Chinese suite for orchestra, "Aladdin." It is certainly one of the most brilliant musical feats of the generation, and rivals Richard Strauss in orchestral virtuosity.
While in San Francisco, where, as every one knows, there is a transplanted corner of China, Kelley sat at the feet of certain Celestial cacophonists, and made himself adept. He fathomed the, to us, obscure laws of their theory, and for this work made a careful selection of Chinese musical ideas, and used what little harmony they approve of with most quaint and suggestive effect upon a splendid background of his own. The result has not been, as is usual in such alien mimicries, a mere success of curiosity.
The work had its first accolade of genius in the wild protests of the music copyists, and in the downright mutiny of orchestral performers.
On the first page of the score is this note: "This should be played with a bow unscrewed, so that the hairs hang loose—thus the bow never leaves the string." This direction is evidently meant to secure the effect of the Chinese violin, in which the string passes between the hair and the wood of the bow, and is played upon the under side. But what self-respecting violinist could endure such profanation without striking a blow for his fanes?
The first movement of the suite is made up of themes actually learned from Chinese musicians. It represents the "Wedding of Aladdin and the Princess," a sort of sublimated "shivaree" in which oboes quawk, muted trumpets bray, pizzicato strings flutter, and mandolins (loved of Berlioz) twitter hilariously.
The second movement, "A Serenade in the Royal Pear Garden," begins with a luxurious tone-poem of moonlight and shadow, out of which, after a preliminary tuning of the Chinese lute (or sam-yin), wails a lyric caterwaul (alternately in 2-4 and 3-4 tempo) which the Chinese translate as a love-song. Its amorous grotesque at length subsides into the majestic night. A part of this altogether fascinating movement came to Kelley in a dream.
The third chapter is devoted to the "Flight of the Genie with the Palace," and there is a wonderfully vivid suggestion of his struggle to wrest loose the foundations of the building. At length he heaves it slowly in the air, and wings majestically away with it.
It has always seemed to me that the purest stroke of genius in instrumentation ever evinced was Wagner's conceit of using tinkling bells to suggest leaping flames. And yet quite comparable with this seems Kelley's device to indicate the oarage of the genie's mighty wings as he disappears into the sky: liquid glissandos on the upper harp-strings, with chromatic runs upon the elaborately divided violins, at length changed to sustained and most ethereally fluty harmonics. It is very ravishment.
The last movement, "The Return and Feast of the Lanterns," is on the sonata formula. After an introduction typifying the opening of the temple gates (a gong giving the music further locale), the first theme is announced by harp and mandolin. It is an ancient Chinese air for the yong-kim (a dulcimer-like instrument). The second subject is adapted from the serenade theme. With these two smuggled themes everything contrapuntal (a fugue included) and instrumental is done that technical bravado could suggest or true art license. The result is a carnival of technic that compels the layman to wonder and the scholar to homage.
A transcription for a piano duet has been made of this last movement.
In Chinese-tone also is Kelley's most popular song, "The Lady Picking Mulberries," which brought him not only the enthusiasm of Americans but the high commendation of the Chinese themselves. It is written in the limited Chinese scale, with harmonies of our school; and is a humoresque of such catchiness that it has pervaded even London and Paris.
This song is one of a series of six lyrics called "The Phases of Love," with this motive from the "Anatomy of Melancholy": "I am resolved, therefore, in this tragi-comedy of love, to act several parts, some satirically, some comically, some in a mixed tone." The poems are all by American poets, and the group, opus 6, is an invaluable addition to our musical literature. The first of the series, "My Silent Song," is a radiantly beautiful work, with a wondrous tender air to a rapturous accompaniment. The second is a setting of Edward Rowland Sill's perfect little poem, "Love's Fillet." The song is as full of art as it is of feeling and influence. "What the Man in the Moon Saw" is an engaging satire, "Love and Sleep" is sombre, and "In a Garden" is pathetic.
Besides two small sketches, a waltz and a gavotte, and his own arrangements, for two and for four hands, of the Gaelic March in "Macbeth," Kelley has published only three piano pieces: opus 2, "The Flower Seekers," superb with grace, warm harmony, and May ecstasies; "Confluentia," whose threads of liquidity are eruditely, yet romantically, intertangled to represent the confluence of the Rhine and the Moselle; and "The Headless Horseman," a masterpiece of burlesque weirdness, representing the wild pursuit of Ichabod Crane and the final hurling of the awful head,—a pumpkin, some say. It is relieved by Ichabod's tender reminiscences of Katrina Van Tassel at the spinning-wheel, and is dedicated to Joseffy, the pianist, who lives in the region about Sleepy Hollow.
To supplement his successful, humorously melodramatic setting of "The Little Old Woman who Went to the Market her Eggs for to Sell," Kelley is preparing a series of similar pieces called "Tales Retold for Musical Children." It will include "Gulliver," "Aladdin," and "Beauty and the Beast."
Kelley once wrote music for an adaptation of "Prometheus Bound," made by the late George Parsons Lathrop for that ill-starred experiment, the Theatre of Arts and Letters. The same thoroughness of research that gave Kelley such a command of Chinese theories equipped him in what knowledge we have of Greek and the other ancient music. He has delivered a course of lectures on these subjects, and this learning was put to good and public use in his share in the staging of the novel "Ben Hur." His music had a vital part in carrying the play over the thin ice of sacrilege; it was so reverent and so appealing that the scrubwomen in the theatre were actually moved to tears during its rehearsal, and it gave the scene of the miraculous cure of the lepers a dignity that saved it from either ridicule or reproach.
In the first act there is a suggestion of the slow, soft march of a caravan across the sand, the eleven-toned Greek and Egyptian scale being used. In the tent of the Sheik, an old Arabian scale is employed. In the elaborate ballets and revels in the "Grove of Daphne" the use of Greek scales, Greek progressions (such as descending parallel fourths long forbidden by the doctors of our era), a trimetrical grouping of measures (instead of our customary fourfold basis), and a suggestion of Hellenic instruments,—all this lore has not robbed the scene in any sense of an irresistible brilliance and spontaneity. The weaving of Arachne's web is pictured with especial power. Greek traditions have, of course, been used only for occasional impressionisms, and not as manacles. Elaborately colored modern instrumentation and all the established devices from canon up are employed. A piano transcription of part of the music is promised. The "Song of Iras" has been published. It is full of home-sickness, and the accompaniment (not used in the production) is a wonderwork of color.
Tottering above In her highest noon The enamoured moon blushes with love While to listen The red levin With the rapid pleiads even Which were seven Pauses in heaven! Pauses in heaven! And they say the starry choir And the other listening things, That Israfel's fire is owing to that lyre By which he sits and sings The trembling living wire Of those unusual strings Of those unusual strings.
FRAGMENT OF "ISRAFEL," BY EDGAR S. KELLEY.]
Kelley has two unpublished songs that show him at his best, both settings of verse by Poe,—"Eldorado," which vividly develops the persistence of the knight, and "Israfel." This latter poem, as you know, concerns the angel "whose heart-strings are a lute." After a rhapsody upon the cosmic spell of the angel's singing, Poe, with a brave defiance, flings an implied challenge to him. The verse marks one of the highest reaches of a genius honored abroad as a world-great lyrist. It is, perhaps, praise enough, then, to say that Kelley's music flags in no wise behind the divine progress of the words. The lute idea dictates an arpeggiated accompaniment, whose harmonic beauty and courage is beyond description and beyond the grasp of the mind at the first hearing. The bravery of the climax follows the weird and opiate harmonies of the middle part with tremendous effect. The song is, in my fervent belief, a masterwork of absolute genius, one of the very greatest lyrics in the world's music.
Harvey Worthington Loomis.
In the band of pupils that gathered to the standard of the invader, Antonin Dvorak, when, in 1892, he came over here from Macedonia to help us, some of the future's best composers will probably be found.
Of this band was Harvey Worthington Loomis, who won a three years' scholarship in Doctor Dvorak's composition class at the National Conservatory, by submitting an excellent, but rather uncharacteristic, setting of Eichendorff's "Fruehlingsnacht." Loomis evidently won Doctor Dvorak's confidence, for among the tasks imposed on him was a piano concerto to be built on the lines of so elaborate a model as Rubinstein's in D minor. When Loomis' first sketches showed an elaboration even beyond the complex pattern, Dvorak still advised him to go on. To any one that knows the ways of harmony teachers this will mean much.
Loomis (who was born in Brooklyn, February 5, 1865, and is now a resident of New York) pursued studies in harmony and piano in a desultory way until he entered Doctor Dvorak's class. For his musical tastes he was indebted to the artistic atmosphere of his home.
Though Loomis has written something over five hundred compositions, only a few works have been published, the most important of which are "Fairy Hill," a cantatilla for children, published in 1896 (it was written on a commission that fortunately allowed him liberty for not a little elaboration and individuality), "Sandalphon," and a few songs and piano pieces.
A field of his art that has won his especial interest is the use of music as an atmosphere for dramatic expression. Of this sort are a number of pantomimes, produced with much applause in New York by the Academy of Dramatic Arts; and several musical backgrounds. The 27th of April, 1896, a concert of his works was given by a number of well-known artists.
These musical backgrounds are played in accompaniment to dramatic recitations. Properly managed, the effect is most impressive. Feval's poem, "The Song of the Pear-tree," is a typically handled work. The poem tells the story of a young French fellow, an orphan, who goes to the wars as substitute for his friend Jean. After rising from rank to rank by bravery, he returns to his home just as his sweetheart, Perrine, enters the church to wed Jean. The girl had been his one ambition, and now in his despair he reenlists and begs to be placed in the thickest of danger. When he falls, they find on his breast a withered spray from the pear-tree under which Perrine had first plighted troth. On these simple lines the music builds up a drama. From the opening shimmer and rustle of the garden, through the Gregorian chant that solemnizes the drawing of the lots, and is interrupted by the youth's start of joy at his own luck (an abrupt glissando); through his sturdy resolve to go to war in his friend's place, on through many battles to his death, all is on a high plane that commands sympathy for the emotion, and enforces unbounded admiration for the art. There is a brief hint of the Marseillaise woven into the finely varied tapestry of martial music, and when the lover comes trudging home, his joy, his sudden knowledge of Perrine's faithlessness, and his overwhelming grief are all built over a long organ-point of three clangorous bride-bells. The leit-motif idea is used with suggestive clearness throughout the work.
The background to Longfellow's "Sandalphon" is so fine an arras that it gives the poet a splendor not usual to his bourgeois lays. The music runs through so many phases of emotion, and approves itself so original and exaltedly vivid in each that I put it well to the fore of American compositions.
Hardly less large is the—Loomis calls it "Musical Symbolism," for Adelaide Ann Proctor's "The Story of the Faithful Soul." Of the greatest delicacy imaginable is the music (for piano, violin, and voice) to William Sharp's "Coming of the Prince." The "Watteau Pictures" are poems of Verlaine's variously treated: one as a head-piece to a wayward piano caprice, one to be recited during a picturesque waltz, the last a song with mandolin effects in the accompaniment.
How, erect, at the outermost gates of the City Celestial he waits, With his feet on the ladder of light, That, crowded with angels unnumbered, By Jacob was seen as he slumbered Alone in the desert at night? The Angels of Wind and of Fire Chant only one hymn, and expire With the song's irresistible stress, Expire in their rapture and wonder, As harp-strings are broken asunder By music they throb to express. But serene in the rapturous throng, Unmoved by the rush of the song, With eyes unimpassioned and slow, Among the dead angels, the deathless Sandalphon stands listening, breathless, To sounds that ascend from below,...
Copyright, 1896, by Edgar S. Werner.
A FRAGMENT OF "SANDALPHON," BY H.W. LOOMIS.]
The pantomimes range from grave to gay, most of the librettos in this difficult form being from the clever hand of Edwin Starr Belknap. "The Traitor Mandolin," "In Old New Amsterdam," "Put to the Test," "Blanc et Noir," "The Enchanted Fountain," "Her Revenge," "Love and Witchcraft" are their names. The music is full of wit, a quality Loomis possesses in unusual degree. The music mimics everything from the busy feather-duster of the maid to her eavesdropping. Pouring wine, clinking glasses, moving a chair, tearing up a letter, and a rollicking wine-song in pantomime are all hinted with the drollest and most graphic programmism imaginable.
Loomis has also written two burlesque operas, "The Maid of Athens" and "The Burglar's Bride," the libretto of the latter by his brother, Charles Battell Loomis, the well-known humorist. This latter contains some skilful parody on old fogyism.
In the Violin Sonata the piano, while granting precedence to the violin, approaches almost to the dignity of a duet. The finale is captivating and brilliant, and develops some big climaxes. The work as a whole is really superb, and ought to be much played. There are, besides, a "Lyric Finale" to a sonata not yet written, and several songs for violin, voice, and piano.
A suite for four hands, "In Summer Fields," contains some happy manifestations of ability, such as "A June Roundelay," "The Dryad's Grove," and, especially, a humoresque "Junketing," which is surely destined to become a classic. From some of his pantomimes Loomis has made excerpts, and remade them with new elaboration for two pianos, under the name of "Exotics." These are full of variety and of actual novelty, now of startling discord, now of revelatory beauty. A so-called "Norland Epic," freely constructed on the sonata formula, is one of Loomis' most brilliant and personal achievements.
Loomis has an especial aptitude for writing artistic ballet-music, and for composing in the tone of different nationalities, particularly the Spanish. His pantomimes contain many irresistible dances, one of them including a Chinese dance alternating 4-4 with 3-4 time. His strikingly fleet "Harlequin" has been published.
The gift of adding art to catchiness is a great one. This Loomis seems to have to an unusual degree, as is evidenced by the dances in his pantomimes and his series of six pieces "In Ballet Costume," all of them rich with the finest art along with a Strauss-like spontaneity. These include "L'Amazone," "Pirouette," "Un Pas Seul," "La Coryphee," "The Odalisque," and "The Magyar." One of his largest works is a concert waltz, "Mi-Careme," for two pianos, with elaborate and extended introduction and coda.
A series of Genre Pictures contains such lusciousness of felicity as "At an Italian Festival," and there are a number of musical moments of engaging charm, for instance, "N'Importe Quoi," "From a Conservatory Program," "A Tropical Night," a fascinating "Valsette," a nameless valse, and "Another Scandal," which will prove a gilt-edged speculation for some tardy publisher. It is brimming with the delicious horror of excited gossipry. An example of how thoroughly Loomis is invested with music—how he thinks in it—is his audacious scherzo, "The Town Crier," printed herewith.
In songs Loomis has been most prolific. He has set twenty-two of Shakespeare's lyrics to music of the old English school, such as his uproarious "Let me the cannikin clink," and his dainty "Tell me where is fancy bred."
"The Lark" is written in the pentatonic scale, with accompaniment for two flutes and a harp.
In the same vein are various songs of Herrick, a lyrist whose verse is not usually congenial to the modern music-maker. Loomis' "Epitaph on a Virgin" must be classed as a success. Indeed, it reaches positive grandeur at its climax, wherein is woven the grim persistence of a tolling bell. In the same style is a clever setting of Ben Jonson's much music'd "To Celia."
In German-tone are his veritably magnificent "Herbstnacht" and his "At Midnight," two studies after Franz. Heine's "Des Waldes Kapellmeister" has been made into a most hilarious humoresque.
"Bergerie" is a dozen of Norman Gale's lyrics. "Andalusia" is a flamboyant duet.
In Scotch songs there is a positive embarrassment of riches, Loomis' fancies finding especial food and freedom in this school. I find in these settings far more art and grace than I see even in Schumann's many Scotch songs, or those of any other of the Germans. "Oh, for Ane and Twenty" has bagpipe effects. Such flights of ecstasy as "My Wife's a Winsome Wee Thing," and "Bonnie Wee Thing," are simply tyrannical in their appeal. Then there is an irresistible "Polly Stewart;" and "My Peggy's Heart" is fairly ambrosial. These and several others, like "There Was a Bonnie Lass," could be made into an album of songs that would delight a whole suite of generations.
A number of his songs are published: they include a "John Anderson, My Jo," that has no particular right to live; a ballad, "Molly," with a touch of art tucked into it; the beautiful "Sylvan Slumbers," and the quaint and fascinating "Dutch Garden."
Aside from an occasional song like "Thistledown," with its brilliantly fleecy accompaniment, and the setting of Browning's famous "The Year' at the Spring," for which Loomis has struck out a superb frenzy, and a group of songs by John Vance Cheney, Loomis has found some of his most powerful inspirations in the work of our lyrist, Aldrich,—such as the rich carillon of "Wedded," and his "Discipline," one of the best of all humorous songs, a gruesome scherzo all about dead monks, in which the music furnishes out the grim irreverence of the words with the utmost waggery.
Chief among the lyrics by Cheney are three "Spring Songs," in which Loomis has caught the zest of spring with such rapture that, once they are heard, the world seems poor without them in print. Loomis' literary culture is shown in the sure taste of his selection of lyrics for his music. He has marked aptitudes, too, in creative literature, and has an excellent idea of the arts kindred to his own, particularly architecture.
Like Chopin, Loomis is largely occupied in mixing rich new colors on the inexhaustible palette of the piano. Like Chopin, he is not especially called to the orchestra. What the future may hold for him in this field (by no means so indispensable to classic repute as certain pedants assume) it is impossible to say. In the meantime he is giving most of his time to work in larger forms.
If in his restless hunt for novelty, always novelty, he grows too original, too unconventional, this sin is unusual enough to approach the estate of a virtue. But his oddity is not mere sensation-mongering. It is his individuality. He could make the same reply to such criticism that Schumann made; he thinks in strange rhythms and hunts curious effects, because his tastes are irrevocably so ordained.
But we ought to show a new genius the same generosity toward flaws that we extend toward the masters whose fame is won beyond the patronage of our petty forgiveness. And, all in all, I am impelled to prophesy to Loomis a place very high among the inspired makers of new music. His harmonies, so indefatigably searched out and polished to splendor, so potent in enlarging the color-scale of the piano; his patient building up, through long neglect and through long silence, of a monumental group of works and of a distinct individuality, must prove at some late day a source of lasting pride to his country, neglectful now in spite of itself. But better than his patience, than his courage, than his sincerity, better than that insufficient definition of genius,—the capacity for taking infinite pains,—is his inspired felicity. His genius is the very essence of felicity.
It is refreshing to be able to chronicle the achievements of a composer who has become financially successful without destroying his claim on the respect of the learned and severe, or sacrificing his own artistic conscience and individuality. Such a composer is Ethelbert Nevin.
His published writings have been altogether along the smaller lines of composition, and he has won an enviable place as a fervent worker in diamonds. None of his gems are paste, and a few have a perfection, a solidity, and a fire that fit them for a place in that coronet one might fancy made up of the richest of the jewels of the world's music-makers, and fashioned for the very brows of the Muse herself.
Nevin was born in 1862, at Vineacre, on the banks of the Ohio, a few miles from Pittsburgh. There he spent the first sixteen years of his life, and received all his schooling, most of it from his father, Robert P. Nevin, editor and proprietor of a Pittsburgh newspaper, and a contributor to many magazines. It is interesting to note that he also composed several campaign songs, among them the popular "Our Nominee," used in the day of James K. Polk's candidacy. The first grand piano ever taken across the Allegheny Mountains was carted over for Nevin's mother.
From his earliest infancy Nevin was musically inclined, and, at the age of four, was often taken from his cradle to play for admiring visitors. To make up for the deficiency of his little legs, he used to pile cushions on the pedals so that he might manipulate them from afar.
Nevin's father provided for his son both vocal and instrumental instruction, even taking him abroad for two years of travel and music study in Dresden under Von Boehme. Later he studied the piano for two years at Boston, under B.J. Lang, and composition under Stephen A. Emery, whose little primer on harmony has been to American music almost what Webster's spelling-book was to our letters.
At the end of two years he went to Pittsburgh, where he gave lessons, and saved money enough to take him to Berlin. There he spent the years 1884, 1885, and 1886, placing himself in the hands of Karl Klindworth. Of him Nevin says: "To Herr Klindworth I owe everything that has come to me in my musical life. He was a devoted teacher, and his patience was tireless. His endeavor was not only to develop the student from a musical standpoint, but to enlarge his soul in every way. To do this, he tried to teach one to appreciate and to feel the influence of such great minds of literature as Goethe, Schiller, and Shakespeare. He used to insist that a man does not become a musician by practising so many hours a day at the piano, but by absorbing an influence from all the arts and all the interests of life, from architecture, painting, and even politics."
The effect of such broad training—enjoyed rarely enough by music students—is very evident in Nevin's compositions. They are never narrow or provincial. They are the outpourings of a soul that is not only intense in its activities, but is refined and cultivated in its expressions. This effect is seen, too, in the poems Nevin chooses to set to music,—they are almost without exception verses of literary finish and value. His cosmopolitanism is also remarkable, his songs in French, German, and Italian having no trace of Yankee accent and a great fidelity to their several races.
In 1885, Hans von Buelow incorporated the best four pupils of his friend, Klindworth, into an artist class, which he drilled personally. Nevin was one of the honored four, and appeared at the unique public Zuhoeren of that year, devoted exclusively to the works of Brahms, Liszt, and Raff. Among the forty or fifty studious listeners at these recitals, Frau Cosima Wagner, the violinist Joachim, and many other celebrities were frequently present.
Nevin returned to America in 1887, and took up his residence in Boston, where he taught and played at occasional concerts.
Eighteen hundred and ninety-two found him in Paris, where he taught, winning more pupils than here. He was especially happy in imparting to singers the proper Auffassung (grasp, interpretation, finish) of songs, and coached many American and French artists for the operatic stage. In 1893 the restless troubadour moved on to Berlin, where he devoted himself so ardently to composition that his health collapsed, and he was exiled a year to Algiers. The early months of 1895 he spent in concert tours through this country. As Klindworth said of him, "he has a touch that brings tears," and it is in interpretation rather than in bravura that he excels. He plays with that unusual combination of elegance and fervor that so individualizes his composition.
Desirous of finding solitude and atmosphere for composition, he took up his residence in Florence, where he composed his suite, "May in Tuscany" (op. 21). The "Arlecchino" of this work has much sprightliness, and shows the influence of Schumann, who made the harlequin particularly his own; but there is none of Chopin's nocturnity in the "Notturno," which presents the sussurus and the moonlit, amorous company of "Boccaccio's Villa." The suite includes a "Misericordia" depicting a midnight cortege along the Arno, and modelled on Chopin's funeral march in structure with its hoarse dirge and its rich cantilena. The best number of the suite is surely the "Rusignuolo," an exceedingly fluty bird-song.
From Florence, Nevin went to Venice, where he lived in an old casa on the Grand Canal, opposite the Browning palazzo, and near the house where Wagner wrote "Tristan und Isolde." One day his man, Guido, took a day off, and brought to Venice an Italian sweetheart, who had lived a few miles from the old dream-city and had never visited it. The day these two spent gondoliering through the waterways, where romance hides in every nook, is imaginatively narrated in tone in Nevin's suite, "Un Giorno in Venezia," a book more handsomely published even than the others of his works, which have been among the earliest to throw off the disgraceful weeds of type and design formerly worn by native compositions.
The Venetian suite gains a distinctly Italian color from its ingenuously sweet harmonies in thirds and sixths, and its frankly lyric nature, and "The Day in Venice" begins logically with the dawn, which is ushered in with pink and stealthy harmonies, then "The Gondoliers" have a morning mood of gaiety that makes a charming composition. There is a "Canzone Amorosa" of deep fervor, with interjections of "Io t'amo!" and "Amore" (which has the excellent authority of Beethoven's Sonata, op. 81, with its "Lebe wohl"). The suite ends deliciously with a night scene in Venice, beginning with a choral "Ave Maria," and ending with a campanella of the utmost delicacy.
After a year in Venice Nevin made Paris his home for a year, returning to America then, where he has since remained.
Though he has dabbled somewhat in orchestration, he has been wisely devoting his genius, with an almost Chopin-like singleness of mind, to songs and piano pieces. His piano works are what would be called morceaux. He has never written a sonata, or anything approaching the classical forms, nearer than a gavotte or two. He is very modern in his harmonies, the favorite colors on his palette being the warmer keys, which are constantly blended enharmonically. He "swims in a sea of tone," being particularly fond of those suspensions and inversions in which the intervals of the second clash passionately, strongly compelling resolution. For all his gracefulness and lyricism, he makes a sturdy and constant use of dissonance; in his song "Herbstgefuehl" the dissonance is fearlessly defiant of conventions.
... Rose Loeset lebenssatt. Sich, das letzte lose, Bleiche Blumenblatt. Goldenes entfaerben, Schleicht sich durch den Hain, Auch vergeh'n und sterben, Daeucht mir suess zu sein.
... failing, From the rose unbound, Falls, its life exhaling, Dead upon the ground. Golden colors flying, Slant from tree to tree; Such release and dying, Sweet would seem to me.
Copyright, 1889, by G. Schirmer, Jr.
A FRAGMENT FROM "HERBSTGEFUeHL."]
Nevin's songs, whose only littleness is in their length, though treated with notable individuality, are founded in principle on the Lieder of Schumann and Franz. That is to say, they are written with a high poetical feeling inspired by the verses they sing, and, while melodious enough to justify them as lyrics, yet are near enough to impassioned recitative to do justice to the words on which they are built. Nevin is also an enthusiastic devotee of the position these masters, after Schubert, took on the question of the accompaniment. This is no longer a slavish thumping of a few chords, now and then, to keep the voice on the key, with outbursts of real expression only at the interludes; but it is a free instrumental composition with a meaning of its own and an integral value, truly accompanying, not merely supporting and serving, the voice. Indeed, one of Nevin's best songs,—"Lehn deine Wang an meine Wang,"—is actually little more than a vocal accompaniment to a piano solo. His accompaniments are always richly colored and generally individualized with a strong contramelody, a descending chromatic scale in octaves making an especially frequent appearance. Design, though not classical, is always present and distinct.
Nevin's first published work was a modest "Serenade," with a neat touch of syncopation, which he wrote at the age of eighteen. His "Sketch-Book," a collection of thirteen songs and piano pieces found an immediate and remarkable sale that has removed the ban formerly existing over books of native compositions.
The contents of the "Sketch-Book" display unusual versatility. It opens with a bright gavotte, in which adherence to the classic spirit compels a certain reminiscence of tone. The second piece, a song, "I' the Wondrous Month o' May," has such a springtide fire and frenzy in the turbulent accompaniment, and such a fervent reiterance, that it becomes, in my opinion, the best of all the settings of this poem of Heine's, not excluding even Schumann's or that of Franz. The "Love Song," though a piano solo, is in reality a duet between two lovers. It is to me finer than Henselt's perfect "Liebeslied," possibly because the ravishing sweetness of the woman's voice answering the sombre plea of the man gives it a double claim on the heart. The setting of "Du bist wie eine Blume," however, hardly does justice either to Heine's poem, or to Nevin's art. The "Serenade" is an original bit of work, but the song, "Oh, that We Two were Maying!" with a voice in the accompaniment making it the duet it should be,—that song can have no higher praise than this, that it is the complete, the final musical fulfilment of one of the rarest lyrics in our language. A striking contrast to the keen white regret of this song is the setting of a group of "Children's Songs," by Robert Louis Stevenson. Nevin's child-songs have a peculiar and charming place. He has not been stingy of either his abundant art or his abundant humanity in writing them. They include four of Stevenson's, the best being the captivating "In Winter I get up at Night," and a setting of Eugene Field's "Little Boy Blue," in which a trumpet figure is used with delicate pathos.
Nevin's third opus included three exquisite songs of a pastoral nature, Goethe's rollicking "One Spring Morning" having an immense sale. Opus 5 contained five songs, of which the ecstatic "'Twas April" reached the largest popularity. Possibly the smallest sale was enjoyed by "Herbstgefuehl." Many years have not availed to shake my allegiance to this song, as one of the noblest songs in the world's music. It is to me, in all soberness, as great as the greatest of the Lieder of Schubert, Schumann or Franz. In "Herbstgefuehl" (or "Autumn-mood") Gerok's superb poem bewails the death of the leaves and the failing of the year, and cries out in sympathy:
"Such release and dying Sweet would seem to me!"
Deeper passion and wilder despair could not be crowded into so short a song, and the whole brief tragedy is wrought with a grandeur and climax positively epic. It is a flash of sheer genius.
Three piano duets make up opus 6; and other charming works, songs, piano pieces, and violin solos, kept pouring from a pen whose apparent ease concealed a vast deal of studious labor, until the lucky 13, the opus-number of a bundle of "Water Scenes," brought Nevin the greatest popularity of all, thanks largely to "Narcissus," which has been as much thrummed and whistled as any topical song.
Of the other "Water Scenes," there is a shimmering "Dragon Fly," a monody, "Ophelia," with a pedal-point of two periods on the tonic, and a fluent "Barcarolle" with a deal of high-colored virtuosity.
His book "In Arcady" (1892) contains pastoral scenes, notably an infectious romp that deserves its legend, "They danced as though they never would grow old." The next year his opus 20, "A Book of Songs," was published. It contains, among other things of merit, a lullaby, called "Sleep, Little Tulip," with a remarkably artistic and effective pedal-point on two notes (the submediant and the dominant) sustained through the entire song with a fine fidelity to the words and the lullaby spirit; a "Nocturne" in which Nevin has revealed an unsuspected voluptuousness in Mr. Aldrich' little lyric, and has written a song of irresistible climaxes. The two songs, "Dites-Moi" and "In der Nacht," each so completely true to the idiom of the language of its poem, are typical of Nevin's cosmopolitanism, referred to before. This same unusual ability is seen in his piano pieces as well as in his songs. He knows the difference between a chanson and a Lied, and in "Rechte Zeit" has written with truth to German soldierliness as he has been sympathetic with French nuance in "Le Vase Brise," the effective song "Mon Desire," which in profile suggests Saint-Saens' familiar Delilah-song, the striking "Chanson des Lavandieres" and "Rapelle-Toi," one of Nevin's most elaborate works, in which Alfred De Musset's verse is splendidly set with much enharmonious color. Very Italian, too, is the "Serenade" with accompaniment a la mandolin, which is the most fetching number in the suite "Captive Memories," published in 1899.
Nevin has also put many an English song to music, notably the deeply sincere "At Twilight," the strenuous lilt "In a Bower," Bourdillon's beautiful lyric, "Before the Daybreak," the smooth and unhackneyed treatment of the difficult stanza of "'Twas April," that popular song, "One Spring Morning," which has not yet had all the charm sung out of it, and two songs with obbligati for violin and 'cello, "Deep in the Rose's Glowing Heart" and "Doris," a song with a finely studied accompaniment and an aroma of Theokritos.
A suite for the piano is "En Passant," published in 1899; it ranges from a stately old dance, "At Fontainebleau," to "Napoli," a furious tarantelle with effective glissandi; "In Dreamland" is a most delicious revery with an odd repetition that is not preludatory, but thematic. The suite ends with the most poetic scene of all, "At Home," which makes a tone poem of Richard Hovey's word-picture of a June night in Washington. The depicting of the Southern moonlight-balm, with its interlude of a distant and drowsy negro quartette, reminds one pleasantly of Chopin's Nocturne (op. 37, No. 1), with its intermezzo of choric monks, though the composition is Nevin's very own in spirit and treatment.
In addition to the works catalogued, Nevin has written a pantomime for piano and orchestra to the libretto of that virtuoso in English, Vance Thompson; it was called "Lady Floriane's Dream," and was given in New York in 1898. Nevin has also a cantata in making.
It needs no very intimate acquaintance with Nevin's music to see that it is not based on an adoration for counterpoint as an end. He believes that true music must come from the emotions—the intelligent emotions—and that when it cannot appeal to the emotions it has lost its power. He says: "Above everything we need melody—melody and rhythm. Rhythm is the great thing. We have it in Nature. The trees sway, and our steps keep time, and our very souls respond." In Wagner's "Meistersinger," which he calls "a symphonic poem with action," Nevin finds his musical creed and his model.
And now, if authority is needed for all this frankly enthusiastic admiration, let it be found in and echoed from Karl Klindworth, who said of Nevin: "His talent is ungeheures [one of the strongest adjectives in the German language]. If he works hard and is conscientious, he can say for the musical world something that no one else can say."
John Philip Sousa.
In common with most of those that pretend to love serious music, a certain person was for long guilty of the pitiful snobbery of rating march-tunes as the lowest form of the art. But one day he joined a National Guard regiment, and his first long march was that heart-breaking dress-parade of about fifteen miles through the wind and dust of the day Grant's monument was dedicated. Most of the music played by the band was merely rhythmical embroidery, chiefly in bugle figures, as helpful as a Clementi sonatina; but now and then there would break forth a magic elixir of tune that fairly plucked his feet up for him, put marrow in unwilling bones, and replaced the dreary doggedness of the heart with a great zest for progress, a stout martial fire, and a fierce esprit de corps; with patriotism indeed. In almost every case, that march belonged to one John Philip Sousa.
It came upon this wretch then, that, if it is a worthy ambition in a composer to give voice to passionate love-ditties, or vague contemplation, or the deep despair of a funeral cortege, it is also a very great thing to instil courage, and furnish an inspiration that will send men gladly, proudly, and gloriously through hardships into battle and death. This last has been the office of the march-tune, and it is as susceptible of structural logic or embellishments as the fugue, rondo, or what not. These architectural qualities Sousa's marches have in high degree, as any one will find that examines their scores or listens analytically. They have the further merit of distinct individuality, and the supreme merit of founding a school.
It is only the plain truth to say that Sousa's marches have founded a school; that he has indeed revolutionized march-music. His career resembles that of Johann Strauss in many ways. A certain body of old fogies has always presumed to deride the rapturous waltzes of Strauss, though they have won enthusiastic praise from even the esoteric Brahms, and gained from Wagner such words as these: "One Strauss waltz overshadows, in respect to animation, finesse, and real musical worth, most of the mechanical, borrowed, factory-made products of the present time." The same words might be applied to Sousa's marches with equal justice. They have served also for dance music, and the two-step, borne into vogue by Sousa's music, has driven the waltz almost into desuetude.