TABLE OF CONTENTS
POEM FRONTISPIECE TRANSLATOR'S NOTE ON CONDUCTING APPENDIX A APPENDIX B APPENDIX C APPENDIX D
MOTTO NACH GOETHE:
"Fliegenschnauz' und Muckennas' Mit euren Anverwandten, Frosch im Laub und Grill' im Gras, Ihr seid mir Musikanten!"
* * * * * * * *
"Flysnout and Midgenose, With all your kindred, too, Treefrog and Meadow-grig. True musicians, YOU!"
[The lines travestied are taken from "Oberon und Titanias goldene Hochzeit." Intermezzo, Walpurgisnacht.—Faust I.]
Wagner's Ueber das Dirigiren was published simultaneously in the "Neue Zeitschrift fur Musik" and the "New-Yorker Musik-zeitung," 1869. It was immediately issued in book form, Leipzig, 1869, and is now incorporated in the author's collected writings, Vol. VIII. p. 325-410. ("Gesammelte Schriften und Dichtungen von Richard Wagner," ten volumes, Leipzig, 1871-1883.) For various reasons, chiefly personal, the book met with much opposition in Germany, but it was extensively read, and has done a great deal of good. It is unique in the literature of music: a treatise on style in the execution of classical music, written by a great practical master of the grand style. Certain asperities which pervade it from beginning to end could not well be omitted in the translation; care has, however, been taken not to exaggerate them. To elucidate some points in the text sundry extracts from other writings of Wagner have been appended. The footnotes, throughout, are the translator's.
The following pages are intended to form a record of my experience in a department of music which has hitherto been left to professional routine and amateur criticism. I shall appeal to professional executants, both instrumentalists and vocalists, rather than to conductors; since the executants only can tell whether, or not, they have been led by a competent conductor. I do not mean to set up a system, but simply to state certain facts, and record a number of practical observations.
Composers cannot afford to be indifferent to the manner in which their works are presented to the public; and the public, naturally, cannot be expected to decide whether the performance of a piece of music is correct or faulty, since there are no data beyond the actual effect of the performance to judge by.
I shall endeavour to throw some light upon the characteristics of musical performances in Germany—with regard to the concert-room, as well as to the theatre. Those who have experience in such matters are aware that, in most cases, the defective constitution of German orchestras and the faults of their performances are due to the shortcomings of the conductors ("Capellmeister," "Musikdirectoren," etc.). The demands upon the orchestras have increased greatly of late, their task has become more difficult and more complicated; yet the directors of our art-institutions, display increasing negligence in their choice of conductors. In the days when Mozart's scores afforded the highest tasks that could be set before an orchestra, the typical German Capellmeister was a formidable personage, who knew how to make himself respected at his post—sure of his business, strict, despotic, and by no means polite. Friedrich Schneider, of Dessau, was the last representative I have met with of this now extinct species. Guhr, of Frankfort, also may be reckoned as belonging to it. The attitude of these men towards modern music was certainly "old fashioned"; but, in their own way, they produced good solid work: as I found not more than eight years ago [Footnote: Circa, 1861.] at Carlsruhe, when old Capellmeister Strauss conducted "Lohengrin." This venerable and worthy man evidently looked at my score with some little shyness; but, he took good care of the orchestra, which he led with a degree of precision and firmness impossible to excel. He was, clearly, a man not to be trifled with, and his forces obeyed him to perfection. Singularly enough, this old gentleman was the only German conductor of repute I had met with, up to that time, who possessed true fire; his tempi were more often a trifle too quick than too slow; but they were invariably firm and well marked. Subsequently, H. Esser's conducting, at Vienna, impressed me in like manner.
The older conductors of this stamp if they happened to be less gifted than those mentioned, found it difficult to cope with the complications of modern orchestral music—mainly because of their fixed notions concerning the proper constitution of an orchestra. I am not aware that the number of permanent members of an orchestra, has, in any German town, been rectified according to the requirements of modern instrumentation. Now-a-days, as of old, the principal parts in each group of instruments, are allotted to the players according to the rules of seniority [Footnote: Appointments at German Court theatres are usually for life.]—thus men take first positions when their powers are on the wane, whilst younger and stronger men are relegated to the subordinate parts—a practice, the evil effects of which are particularly noticeable with regard to the wind instruments. Latterly [Footnote: 1869.] by discriminating exertions, and particularly, by the good sense of the instrumentalists concerned, these evils have diminished; another traditional habit, however, regarding the choice of players of stringed instruments, has led to deleterious consequences. Without the slightest compunction, the second violin parts, and especially the Viola parts, have been sacrificed. The viola is commonly (with rare exceptions indeed) played by infirm violinists, or by decrepit players of wind instruments who happen to have been acquainted with a stringed instrument once upon a time: at best a competent viola player occupies the first desk, so that he may play the occasional soli for that instrument; but, I have even seen this function performed by the leader of the first violins. It was pointed out to me that in a large orchestra, which contained eight violas, there was only one player who could deal with the rather difficult passages in one of my later scores!
Such a state of things may be excusable from a humane point of view; it arose from the older methods of instrumentation, where the role of the viola consisted for the most part in filling up the accompaniments; and it has since found some sort of justification in the meagre method of instrumentation adopted by the composers of Italian operas, whose works constitute an important element in the repertoire of the German opera theatres.
At the various court theatres, Italian operas have always found favour with the Directors. From this it follows as a matter of course, that works which are not in the good grace of those gentlemen stand a poor chance, unless it should so happen that the conductor is a man of weight and influence who knows the real requirements of a modern orchestra. But our older Capellmeisters rarely knew as much—they did not choose to recognize the need of a large increase in the number of stringed instruments to balance the augmented number of wind instruments and the complicated uses the latter are now put to.
In this respect the attempts at reform were always insufficient; and our celebrated German orchestras remained far behind those of France in the power and capacity of the violins, and particularly of the violoncellos.
Now, had the conductors of a later generation been men of authority like their predecessors, they might easily have mended matters; but the Directors of court theatres took good care to engage none but demure and subservient persons.
It is well worth while to note how the conductors, who are now at the head of German music, arrived at the honourable positions they hold.
We owe our permanent orchestras to the various theatres, particularly the court theatres, small and great. The managers of these theatres are therefore in a position to select the men who are to represent the spirit and dignity of German music. Perhaps those who have been thus advanced to posts of honour, are themselves cognizant of how they got there—to an unpractised observer it is rather difficult to discern their particular merits. The so-called "good berths" are reached step by step: men move on and push upwards. I believe the Court orchestra at Berlin has got the majority of its conductors in this way. Now and then, however, things come to pass in a more erratic manner; grand personages, hitherto unknown, suddenly begin to flourish under the protection of the lady in waiting to some princess, etc. etc.—It is impossible to estimate the harm done to our leading orchestras and opera theatres by such nonentities. Devoid of real merit they keep their posts by abject cringing to the chief court official, and by polite submission to the indolence of their musical subordinates. Relinquishing the pretence of artistic discipline, which they are unable to enforce, they are always ready to give way, or to obey any absurd orders from headquarters; and such conductors, under favourable circumstances, have even been known to become popular favourites!
At rehearsals all difficulties are got over by means of mutual congratulations and a pious allusion to the "old established fame of our Orchestra." Who can venture to say that the performances of that famous institution deteriorate year by year? Where is the true authority? Certainly not amongst the critics, who only bark when their mouths are not stopped; and the art of stopping mouths is cultivated to perfection.
Recently, the post of chief conductor has here and there been filled by a man of practical experience, especially engaged with a view to stimulating the slumbering energy of his colleagues. Such "chiefs" are famed for their skill in "bringing out" a new opera in a fortnight; for their clever "cuts"; for the effective "closes" they write to please singers, and for their interpolations in other men's scores. Practical accomplishments of this sort have, for instance, supplied the Dresden Opera with one of its most energetic Capellmeisters.
Now and again the managers look out for "a conductor of reputation." Generally none such are to be had at the theatres; but, according to the feuilletons of the political newspapers, the singing societies and concert establishments furnish a steady supply of the article. These are the "music-brokers," as it were, of the present day, who came forth from the school of Mendelssohn, and flourished under his protection and recommendation. They differ widely from the helpless epigonae of our old conductors: they are not musicians brought up in the orchestra or at the theatre, but respectable pupils of the new- fangled conservatoires; composers of Psalms and Oratorios, and devout listeners at rehearsals for the subscription concerts. They have received lessons in conducting too, and are possessed of an elegant "culture" hitherto unknown in the realms of music. Far from shewing any lack of politeness, they managed to transform the timid modesty of our poor native Capellmeister into a sort of cosmopolitan bon ton; which stood them in good stead with the old-fashioned philistine society of our towns. I believe the influence of these people upon German orchestras has been good in many respects, and has brought about beneficial results: certainly much that was raw and awkward has disappeared; and, from a musical point of view, many details of refined phrasing and expression are now more carefully attended to. They feel more at home in the modern orchestra; which is indebted to their master—Mendelssohn—for a particularly delicate and refined development in the direction opened up by Weber's original genius.
One thing however is wanting to these gentlemen, without which they cannot be expected to achieve the needful reconstruction of the orchestras, nor to enforce the needful reforms in the institutions connected with them, viz., energy, self-confidence, and personal power. In their case, unfortunately, reputation, talent, culture, even faith, love and hope, are artificial. Each of them was, and is, so busy with his personal affairs, and the difficulty of maintaining his artificial position, that he cannot occupy himself with measures of general import—measures which might bring about a connected and consistent new order of things. As a matter of fact, such an order of things cannot, and does not concern the fraternity at all. They came to occupy the position of those old fashioned German masters, because the power of the latter had deteriorated and because they had shewn themselves incapable to meet the wants of a new style; and it would appear that they, in their turn, regard their position of to-day as merely temporary—filling a gap in a period of transition. In the face of the new ideals of German art, towards which all that is noble in the nation begins to turn, they are evidently at a loss, since these ideals are alien to their nature. In the presence of certain technical difficulties inseparable from modern music they have recourse to singular expedients. Meyerbeer, for instance, was very circumspect; in Paris he engaged a new flutist and paid him out of his own pocket to play a particular bit nicely. Fully aware of the value of finished execution, rich and independent, Meyerbeer might have been of great service to the Berlin orchestra when the King of Prussia appointed him "General Musikdirector." Mendelssohn was called upon to undertake a similar mission about the same time; and, assuredly, Mendelssohn was the possessor of the most extraordinary gifts and attainments. Both men, doubtless, encountered all the difficulties which had hitherto blocked the way towards improvements; but they were called upon to overcome these very difficulties, and their independent position and great attainments rendered them exceptionally competent to do so. Why then did their powers desert them? It would seem as if they had no real power. They left matters to take care of themselves and, now, we are confronted by the "celebrated" Berlin orchestra in which the last trace of the traditions of Spontini's strict discipline have faded away. Thus fared Meyerbeer and Mendelssohn whilst at Berlin: what are we to expect elsewhere from their neat little shadows?
It is clear from this account of the survivals of the earlier and of the latest species of Capellmeisters and Musikdirectors, that neither of them are likely to do much towards the reorganization of our orchestras. On the other hand the initiative has been taken by the orchestral performers themselves; and the signs of progress are evidently owing to the increasing development of their technical attainments. Virtuosi upon the different orchestral instruments have done excellent service, and they might have done much more in the circumstances had the conductors been competent.
Exceptionally gifted and accomplished players easily got the upper hand of the decrepit Capellmeisters of the old sort, and of their successors, the parvenus without authority—pianoforte pedagogues patronized by ladies in waiting, etc., etc. Virtuosi soon came to play a role in the orchestra akin to that of the prima donna on the stage. The elegant conductors of the day chose to associate and ally themselves with the virtuosi, and this arrangement might have acted very satisfactorily if the conductors had really understood the true spirit of German music.
It is important to point out in this connection that conductors are indebted to the theatres for their posts, and even for the existence of their orchestra. The greater part of their professional work consists in rehearsing and conducting operas. They ought, therefore, to have made it their business to understand the theatre—the opera—and to make themselves masters of the proper application of music to dramatic art, in something like the manner in which an astronomer applies mathematics to astronomy. Had they understood dramatic singing and dramatic expression they might have applied such knowledge to the execution of modern instrumental music.
A long time ago I derived much instruction as to the tempo and the proper execution of Beethoven's music from the clearly accentuated and expressive singing of that great artist, Frau Schroder-Devrient. I have since found it impossible, for example, to permit the touching cadence of the Oboe in the first movement of the C minor Symphony—
[Figure: music example]
to be played in the customary timid and embarrassed way; indeed, starting from the insight I had gained into the proper execution of this cadence, I also found and felt the true significance and expression due to the sustained fermata of the first violins
[Figure: musical example (a single note, a G atop the treble clef, with a fermata)] [Footnote: Ante, bar 21.]
in the corresponding place, and from the touching emotional impressions I got by means of these two seemingly so insignificant details I gained a new point of view, from which the entire movement appeared in a clearer and warmer light.
Leaving this for the present, I am content to point out that a conductor might exercise great influence upon the higher musical culture with regard to execution, if he properly understood his position in relation to dramatic art, to which, in fact, he is indebted for his post and his dignity. But our conductors are accustomed to look upon the opera as an irksome daily task (for which, on the other hand, the deplorable condition of that genre of art at German theatres furnishes reason enough); they consider that the sole source of honour lies in the concert rooms from which they started and from which they were called; for, as I have said above, wherever the managers of a theatre happen to covet a musician of reputation for Capellmeister, they think themselves obliged to get him from some place other than a theatre.
Now to estimate the value of a quondam conductor of concerts and of choral societies at a theatre, it is advisable to pay him a visit at home, i.e., in the concert-room, from which he derives his reputation as a "solid" German musician. Let us observe him as a conductor of orchestral concerts. Looking back upon my earliest youth I remember to have had unpleasant impressions from performances of classical orchestral music. At the piano or whilst reading a score, certain things appeared animated and expressive, whereas, at a performance, they could hardly be recognised, and failed to attract attention. I was puzzled by the apparent flabbiness of Mozartian Melody (Cantilena) which I had been taught to regard as so delicately expressive. Later in life I discovered the reasons for this, and I have discussed them in my report on a "German music school to be established at Munich," [Footnote: "Bericht ueber eine in Munchen zu errichtende deutsche Musikschule" (1865). See Appendix A.] to which I beg to refer readers who may be interested in the subject. Assuredly, the reasons lie in the want of a proper Conservatorium of German music—a Conservatory, in the strictest sense of the word, in which the traditions of the CLASSICAL MASTERS' OWN style of execution are preserved in practice—which, of course, would imply that the masters should, once at least, have had a chance personally to supervise performances of their works in such a place. Unfortunately German culture has missed all such opportunities; and if we now wish to become acquainted with the spirit of a classical composer's music, we must rely on this or that conductor, and upon his notion of what may, or may not, be the proper tempo and style of execution.
In the days of my youth, orchestral pieces at the celebrated Leipzig Gewandhaus Concerts were not conducted at all; they were simply played through under the leadership of Conzertmeister [Footnote: i.e., the leader of the first violins.] Mathai, like overtures and entr'actes at a theatre. At least there was no "disturbing individuality," in the shape of a conductor! The principal classical pieces which presented no particular technical difficulties were regularly given every winter; the execution was smooth and precise; and the members of the orchestra evidently enjoyed the annual recurrence of their familiar favourites.
With Beethoven's Ninth Symphony alone they could not get on, though it was considered a point of honour to give that work every year. I had copied the score for myself, and made a pianoforte arrangement for two hands; but I was so much astonished at the utterly confused and bewildering effect of the Gewandhaus performance that I lost courage, and gave up the study of Beethoven for some time. Later, I found it instructive to note how I came to take true delight in performances of Mozart's instrumental works: it was when I had a chance to conduct them myself, and when I could indulge my feelings as to the expressive rendering of Mozart's cantilena.
I received a good lesson at Paris in 1839, when I heard the orchestra of the Conservatoire rehearse the enigmatical Ninth Symphony. The scales fell from my eyes; I came to understand the value of CORRECT execution, and the secret of a good performance. The orchestra had learnt to look for Beethoven's MELODY in every bar—that melody which the worthy Leipzig musicians had failed to discover; and the orchestra SANG that melody. THIS WAS THE SECRET.
Habeneck, who solved the difficulty, and to whom the great credit for this performance is due, was not a conductor of special genius. Whilst rehearsing the symphony, during an entire winter season, he had felt it to be incomprehensible and ineffective (would German conductors have confessed as much?), but he persisted throughout a second and a third season! until Beethoven's new melos [Footnote: Melody in all its aspects.] was understood and correctly rendered by each member of the orchestra. Habeneck was a conductor of the old stamp; HE was the master—and everyone obeyed him. I cannot attempt to describe the beauty of this performance. However, to give an idea of it, I will select a passage by the aid of which I shall endeavour to shew the reason why Beethoven is so difficult to render, as well as the reason for the indifferent success of German orchestras when confronted by such difficulties. Even with first class orchestras I have never been able to get the passage in the first movement
[Figure: musical example]
performed with such equable perfection as I then (thirty years ago) heard it played by the musicians of the Paris "Orchestre du Conservatoire." [Footnote: Wagner, however, subsequently admitted that the passage was rendered to his satisfaction at the memorable performance of the Ninth Symphony, given May 22nd, 1872, to celebrate the laying of the foundation stone of the theatre at Bayreuth.] Often in later life have I recalled this passage, and tried by its aid to enumerate the desiderata in the execution of orchestral music: it comprises MOVEMENT and SUSTAINED tone, with a DEFINITE DEGREE OF POWER. [Footnote: ("An dieser Stelle ist es mir, bei oft in meinem spateren Leben erneueter Erinnerung, recht klar geworden, worauf es beim Orchestervortrag ankommt, weil sie die BEWEGUNG und den GEHALTENEN TON, zugleich mit dem Gesetz der DYNAMIK in sich schliesst.")] The masterly execution of this passage by the Paris orchestra consisted in the fact that they played it EXACTLY as it is written. Neither at Dresden, nor in London [Footnote: Concert of the Philharmonic Society, 26th March, 1855.] when, in after years, I had occasion to prepare a performance of the symphony, did I succeed in getting rid of the annoying irregularity which arises from the change of bow and change of strings. Still less could I suppress an involuntary accentuation as the passage ascends; musicians, as a rule, are tempted to play an ascending passage with an increase of tone, and a descending one with a decrease. With the fourth bar of the above passage we invariably got into a crescendo so that the sustained G flat of the fifth bar was given with an involuntary yet vehement accent, enough to spoil the peculiar tonal significance of that note. The composer's intention is clearly indicated; but it remains difficult to prove to a person whose musical feelings are not of a refined sort, that there is a great gap between a commonplace reading, and the reading meant by the composer: no doubt both readings convey a sense of dissatisfaction, unrest, longing—but the quality of these, the true sense of the passage, cannot be conveyed unless it is played as the master imagined it, and as I have not hitherto heard it given except by the Parisian musicians in 1839. In connection with this I am conscious that the impression of dynamical monotony [Footnote: i.e., a power of tone the degree of which remains unchanged.] (if I may risk such an apparently senseless expression for a difficult phenomenon) together with the unusually varied and ever irregular movement of intervals in the ascending figure entering on the prolonged G flat to be sung with such infinite delicacy, to which the G natural answers with equal delicacy, initiated me as by magic to the incomparable mystery of the spirit. Keeping my further practical experience in view, I would ask how did the musicians of Paris arrive at so perfect a solution of the difficult problem? By the most conscientious diligence. They were not content with mutual admiration and congratulation (sich gegenseitig Complimente zu machen) nor did they assume that difficulties must disappear before them as a matter of course. French musicians in the main belong to the Italian school; its influence upon them has been beneficial in as much as they have thus been taught to approach music mainly through the medium of the human voice. The French idea of playing an instrument well is to be able to SING well upon it. And (as already said) that superb orchestra SANG the symphony. The possibility of its being well sung implies that the TRUE TEMPO had been found: and this is the second point which impressed me at the time. Old Habeneck was not the medium of any abstract aesthetical inspiration—he was devoid of "genius:" BUT HE FOUND THE RIGHT TEMPO WHILE PERSISTENTLY FIXING THE ATTENTION OF HIS ORCHESTRA UPON THE MELOS [Footnote: MELODY in all its aspects.] OF THE SYMPHONY.
THE RIGHT COMPREHENSION OF THE MELOS IS THE SOLE GUIDE TO THE RIGHT TEMPO; these two things are inseparable: the one implies and qualifies the other. As a proof of my assertion that the majority of performances of instrumental music with us are faulty it is sufficient to point out that OUR CONDUCTORS SO FREQUENTLY FAIL TO FIND THE TRUE TEMPO BECAUSE THEY ARE IGNORANT OF SINGING. I have not yet met with a German Capellmeister or Musik-director who, be it with good or bad voice, can really sing a melody. These people look upon music as a singularly abstract sort of thing, an amalgam of grammar, arithmetic, and digital gymnastics;—to be an adept in which may fit a man for a mastership at a conservatory or a musical gymnasium; but it does not follow from this that he will be able to put life and soul into a musical performance. The whole duty of a conductor is comprised in his ability always to indicate the right TEMPO. His choice of tempi will show whether he understands the piece or not. With good players again the true tempo induces correct phrasing and expression, and conversely, with a conductor, the idea of appropriate phrasing and expression will induce the conception of the true tempo.
This, however, is by no means so simple a matter as it appears. Older composers probably felt so, for they are content with the simplest general indications. Haydn and Mozart made use of the term "Andante" as the mean between "Allegro" and "Adagio," and thought it sufficient to indicate a few gradations and modifications of these terms.
Sebastian Bach, as a rule, does not indicate tempo at all, which in a truly musical sense is perhaps best. He may have said to himself: whoever does not understand my themes and figures, and does not feel their character and expression, will not be much the wiser for an Italian indication of tempo.
Let me be permitted to mention a few facts which concern me personally. In my earlier operas I gave detailed directions as to the tempi, and indicated them (as I thought) accurately, by means of the Metronome. Subsequently, whenever I had occasion to protest against a particularly absurd tempo, in "Tannhauser" for instance, I was assured that the Metronome had been consulted and carefully followed. In my later works I omitted the metronome and merely described the main tempi in general terms, paying, however, particular attention to the various modifications of tempo. It would appear that general directions also tend to vex and confuse Capellmeisters, especially when they are expressed in plain German words. Accustomed to the conventional Italian terms these gentlemen are apt to lose their wits when, for instance, I write "moderate." Not long ago a Capellmeister complained of that term (massig) which I employed in the score of "Das Rheingold"; the music, (it was reported) lasted exactly two hours and a half at rehearsals under a conductor whom I had personally instructed; whereas, at the performances and under the beat of the official Capellmeister, it lasted fully three hours! (according to the report of the "Allgemeine Zeitung"). Wherefore, indeed, did I write "Massig"? To match this I have been informed that the overture to "Tannhauser," which, when I conducted it at Dresden, used to last twelve minutes, now lasts twenty. No doubt I am here alluding to thoroughly incompetent persons who are particularly shy of Alla breve time, and who stick to their correct and normal crotchet beats, four in a bar, merely to shew they are present and conscious of doing something. Heaven knows how such "quadrupeds" find their way from the village church to our opera theatres. But "dragging" is not a characteristic of the elegant conductors of these latter days; on the contrary they have a fatal tendency to hurry and to run away with the tempi. THIS TENDENCY TO HURRY is so characteristic a mark of our entire musical life latterly, that I propose to enter into some details with regard to it.
Robert Schumann once complained to me at Dresden that he could not enjoy the Ninth Symphony at the Leipzig Gewandhaus concerts because of the quick tempi Mendelssohn chose to take, particularly in the first movement. I have, myself, only once been present at a rehearsal of one of Beethoven's Symphonies, when Mendelssohn conducted; the rehearsal took place at Berlin, and the Symphony was No. 8 (in F major). I noticed that he chose a detail here and there—almost at random—and worked at it with a certain obstinacy, until it stood forth clearly. This was so manifestly to the advantage of the detail that I could not but wonder why he did not take similar pains with other nuances. For the rest, this incomparably bright symphony was rendered in a remarkably smooth and genial manner. Mendelssohn himself once remarked to me, with regard to conducting, that he thought most harm was done by taking a tempo too slow; and that on the contrary, he always recommended quick tempi as being less detrimental. Really good execution, he thought, was at all times a rare thing, but short-comings might be disguised if care was taken that they should not appear very prominent; and the best way to do this was "to get over the ground quickly." This can hardly have been a casual view, accidentally mentioned in conversation. The master's pupils must have received further and more detailed instruction; for, subsequently, I have, on various occasions, noticed the consequences of that maxim "take quick tempi," and have, I think, discovered the reasons which may have led to its adoption.
I remembered it well, when I came to lead the orchestra of the Philharmonic Society in London, 1855. Mendelssohn had conducted the concerts during several seasons, and the tradition of his readings was carefully preserved. It appears likely that the habits and peculiarities of the Philharmonic Society suggested to Mendelssohn his favourite style of performance (Vortragsweise)— certainly it was admirably adapted to meet their wants. An unusual amount of instrumental music is consumed at these concerts; but, as a rule, each piece is rehearsed once only. Thus in many instances, I could not avoid letting the orchestra follow its traditions, and so I became acquainted with a style of performance which called up a lively recollection of Mendelssohn's remarks.
The music gushed forth like water from a fountain; there was no arresting it, and every Allegro ended as an undeniable Presto. It was troublesome and difficult to interfere; for when correct tempi and proper modifications of these were taken the defects of style which the flood had carried along or concealed became painfully apparent. The orchestra generally played mezzoforte; no real forte, no real piano was attained. Of course, in important cases I took care to enforce the reading I thought the true one, and to insist upon the right tempo. The excellent musicians did not object to this; on the contrary, they showed themselves sincerely glad of it; the public also approved, but the critics were annoyed and continued so to browbeat the directors of the society that the latter actually requested me to permit the second movement of Mozart's Symphony in E flat to be played in the flabby and colourless way (ruschlich herunter spielen) they had been accustomed to—and which, they said, even Mendelssohn himself had sanctioned.
The fatal maxims came to the front quite clearly when I was about to rehearse a symphony by a very amiable elderly contrapuntist, Mr. Potter, [Footnote: Cipriani Potter, 1792-1871, pianist and composer, author of "Recollections of Beethoven." etc.] if I mistake not. The composer approached me in a pleasant way, and asked me to take the Andante rather quickly as he feared it might prove tedious. I assured him that his Andante, no matter how short its duration might be, would inevitably prove tedious if it was played in a vapid and inexpressive manner; whereas if the orchestra could be got to play the very pretty and ingenious theme, as I felt confident he meant it and as I now sang it to him, it would certainly please. Mr. Potter was touched; he agreed, and excused himself, saying that latterly he had not been in the habit of reckoning upon this sort of orchestral playing. In the evening, after the Andante, he joyfully pressed my hand.
I have often been astonished at the singularly slight sense for tempo and execution evinced by leading musicians. I found it impossible, for instance, to communicate to Mendelssohn what I felt to be a perverse piece of negligence with regard to the tempo of the third movement in Beethoven's Symphony in F major, No. 8. This is one of the instances I have chosen out of many to throw light upon certain dubious aspects of music amongst us.
We know that Haydn in his principal later symphonies used the form of the Menuet as a pleasant link between the Adagio and the final Allegro, and that he thus was induced to increase the speed of the movement considerably, contrary to the character of the true Menuet. It is clear that he incorporated the "Landler," [Footnote: A South German country dance in 3/4 time, from which the modern waltz is derived.] particularly in the "Trio"—so that, with regard to the tempo, the designation "Menuetto" is hardly appropriate, and was retained for conventional reasons only. Nevertheless, I believe Haydn's Menuets are generally taken too quick; undoubtedly the Menuets of Mozart's Symphonies are; this will be felt very distinctly if, for instance, the Menuetto in Mozart's Symphony in G minor, and still more that of his Symphony in C major, be played a little slower than at the customary pace. It will be found that the latter Menuet, which is usually hurried, and treated almost as a Presto, will now shew an amiable, firm and festive character; in contrast with which, the trio, with its delicately sustained
[music score excerpt]
is reduced, as usually given, to an empty hurry-skurry (eine nichtssagende Nuschelei). Now Beethoven, as is not uncommon with him, meant to write a true Menuet in his F major Symphony; he places it between the two main Allegro movements as a sort of complementary antithesis (ein gewissermassen erganzender Gegensatz) to an Allegretto scherzando which precedes it, and to remove any doubt as to his intentions regarding the Tempo he designates it NOT as a Menuetto: but as a Tempo di Menuetto. This novel and unconventional characterization of the two middle movements of a symphony was almost entirely overlooked: the Allegretto scherzando was taken to represent the usual Andante, the Tempo di Menuetto, the familiar "Scherzo" and, as the two movements thus interpreted seemed rather paltry, and none of the usual effects could be got with them, our musicians came to regard the entire symphony as a sort of accidental hors d'oeuvre of Beethoven's muse—who, after the exertions with the A major symphony had chosen "to take things rather easily." Accordingly after the Allegretto Scherzando, the time of which is invariably "dragged" somewhat, the Tempo di Minuetto is universally served up as a refreshing "Landler," which passes the ear without leaving any distinct impression. Generally, however, one is glad when the tortures of the Trio are over. This loveliest of idylls is turned into a veritable monstrosity by the passage in triplets for the violoncello; which, if taken at the usual quick pace, is the despair of violoncellists, who are worried with the hasty staccato across the strings and back again, and find it impossible to produce anything but a painful series of scratches. Naturally, this difficulty disappears as soon as the delicate melody of the horns and clarinets is taken at the proper tempo; these instruments are thus relieved from the special difficulties pertaining to them, and which, particularly with the clarinet, at times render it likely to produce a "quack" [FOOTNOTE: Anglice, "a goose,"] even in the hands of skilful players. I remember an occasion when all the musicians began to breathe at ease on my taking this piece at the true moderate pace: then the humorous sforzato of the basses and bassoons at once produced an intelligible effect; the short crescendi became clear, the delicate pianissimo close was effective, and the gentle gravity of the returning principal movement was properly felt. Now, the late Capellmeister Reissiger, of Dresden, once conducted this symphony there, and I happened to be present at the performance together with Mendelssohn; we talked about the dilemma just described, and its proper solution; concerning which I told Mendelssohn that I believed I had convinced Reissiger, who had promised that he would take the tempo slower than usual. Mendelssohn perfectly agreed with me. We listened. The third movement began and I was terrified on hearing precisely the old Landler tempo; but before I could give vent to my annoyance Mendelssohn smiled, and pleasantly nodded his head, as if to say "now it's all right! Bravo!" So my terror changed to astonishment. Reissiger, for reasons which I shall discuss presently, may not have been so very much to blame for persisting in the old tempo; but Mendelssohn's indifference, with regard to this queer artistic contretemps, raised doubts in my mind whether he saw any distinction and difference in the case at all. I fancied myself standing before an abyss of superficiality, a veritable void. SOON after this had happened with Reissiger, the very same thing took place with the same movement of the Eighth Symphony at Leipzig. The conductor, in the latter case, was a well-known successor of Mendelssohn at the Gewandhaus concerts. [FOOTNOTE: Ferdinand Hiller.] He also had agreed with my views as to the Tempo di Menuetto, and had invited me to attend a concert at which he promised to take it at the proper moderate pace. He did not keep his word and offered a queer excuse: he laughed, and confessed that he had been disturbed with all manner of administrative business, and had only remembered his promise after the piece had begun; naturally he could not then alter the tempo, etc. The explanation was sufficiently annoying. Still I could, at least, flatter myself that I had found somebody to share my views as to the difference between one tempo and another. I doubt, however, whether the conductor could be fairly reproached with a want of forethought and consideration; unconsciously, perhaps, he may have had a very good reason for his "forgetfulness." It would have been very indiscreet to risk a change of tempo which had not been rehearsed. For the orchestra, accustomed to play the piece in a quick tempo, would have been disturbed by the sudden imposition of a more moderate pace; which, as a matter of course, demands a totally different style of playing.
We have now reached an important and decisive point, an appreciation of which is indispensable if we care to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion regarding the execution of classical music. Injudicious tempi might be defended with some show of reason inasmuch as a factitious style of delivery has arisen in conformity with them, and to the uninitiated such conformity of style and tempo might appear as a proof that all was right. The evil, however, is apparent enough if only the right tempo is taken, in which case the false style becomes quite unbearable.
To illustrate this, in the simplest possible way, let us take the opening of the C minor Symphony
[Musical Score excerpt of the famous main motif from Beethoven's Fifth]
Usually the fermata of the second bar is left after a slight rest; our conductors hardly make use of this fermata for anything else than to fix the attention of their men upon the attack of the figure in the third bar. In most cases the note E flat is not held any longer than a forte produced with a careless stroke of the bow will last upon the stringed instruments. Now, suppose the voice of Beethoven were heard from the grave admonishing a conductor: "Hold my fermata firmly, terribly! I did not write fermatas in jest, or because I was at a loss how to proceed; I indulge in the fullest, the most sustained tone to express emotions in my Adagio; and I use this full and firm tone when I want it in a passionate Allegro as a rapturous or terrible spasm. Then the very life blood of the tone shall be extracted to the last drop. I arrest the waves of the sea, and the depths shall be visible; or, I stem the clouds, disperse the mist, and show the pure blue ether and the glorious eye of the sun. For this I put fermatas, sudden long-sustained notes in my Allegro. And now look at my clear thematic intention with the sustained E flat after the three stormy notes, and understand what I meant to say with other such sustained notes in the sequel."
[FOOTNOTE: In the original this fine passage is: "Nun setzen wir den Fall, die Stimme Beethoven's habe aus den Grabe einem Dirigenten zugerufen; Halte du meine Fermate lange und furchtbar! Ich schrieb keine Fermaten zum Spass oder aus Verlegenheit, etwa um mich auf das Weitere zu besinnen; sondern, was in meinem Adagio der ganz und voll aufzusaugende Ton fur den Ausdruck der schwelgenden Empfindung ist, dasselbe werfe ich, wenn ich es brauche, in das heftig und schnell figurirte Allegro, als wonnig oder schrecklich anhaltenden Krampf. Dann soll das Leben des Tones bis auf seinen letzten Blutstropfen aufgesogen werden; dann halte ich die Wellen meines Meeres an, und lasse in seinen Abgrund blicken; oder hemme ich den Zug der Wolken, zertheile die wirren Nebelstreifen, und lasse einmal in den reinen blauen Aether, in das strahlende Auge der Sonne schauen. Hierfur setze ich Fermaten, d. h. plotzlich eintretende lang auszuhaltende Noten in meine Allegro's. Und nun beachte du, welche ganz bestimmte thematische Absicht ich mit diesem ausgehaltenen Es nach drei sturmisch kurzen Noten hatte, und was ich mit allen den im Folgenden gleich auszuhaltenden Noten gesagt haben will."]
Suppose a conductor were to attempt to hold the fermata as here directed, what would be the result? A miserable failure. After the initial power of the bow of the stringed instruments had been wasted, their tone would become thin and thinner, ending in a week and timid piano: for—(and here is one of the results of indifferent conducting)—our orchestras now-a-days hardly know what is meant by EQUALLY SUSTAINED TONE. Let any conductor ask any orchestral instrument, no matter which, for a full and prolonged FORTE, and he will find the player puzzled, and will be astonished at the trouble it takes to get what he asks for.
Yet TONE SUSTAINED WITH EQUAL POWER is the basis of all expression, [FOOTNOTE: Die Basis aller Dynamik.] with the voice as with the orchestra: the manifold modifications of the power of tone, which constitute one of the principal elements of musical expression, rest upon it. Without such basis an orchestra will produce much noise but no power. And this is one of the first symptoms of the weakness of most of our orchestral performances. The conductors of the day care little about a sustained forte, but they are particularly fond of an EXAGGERATED PIANO. Now the strings produce the latter with ease, but the wind instruments, particularly the wood winds do not. It is almost impossible to get a delicately sustained piano from wind instruments.
The players, flautists particularly, have transformed their formerly delicate instruments into formidable tubes (Gewaltsrohren). French oboists, who have preserved the pastoral character of their instrument, and our clarinetists, when they make use of the "Echo effect," are the exceptions.
This drawback, which exists in our best orchestras, suggests the question: why, at least, do not conductors try to equalise matters by demanding a somewhat fuller piano from the strings? But the conductors do not seem to notice any discrepancy.
To a considerable extent the fault lies not so much with the wind instruments, as in the character of the piano of the strings; for we do not possess a TRUE PIANO, just as we do not possess a TRUE FORTE; both are wanting in fulness of tone—to attain which our stringed instruments should watch the tone of the winds. Of course it is easy enough to produce a buzzing vibration by gently passing the bow over the strings; but it requires great artistic command of the breath to produce a delicate and pure tone upon a wind instrument. Players of stringed instruments should copy the full-toned piano of the best winds, and the latter, again, should endeavour to imitate the best vocalists.
The sustained soft tone here spoken of, and the sustained powerful tone mentioned above, are the two poles of orchestral expression. [FOOTNOTE: Dynamik des Orchesters.]
But what about orchestral execution if neither the one nor the other is properly forthcoming? Where are the modifications of expression to come from if the very means of expression are defective? Thus, the Mendelssohnian rule of "getting over the ground" (des flotten Daruberhinweggehens) suggested a happy expedient; conductors gladly adopted the maxim, and turned it into a veritable dogma; so that, nowadays, attempts to perform classical music correctly are openly denounced as heretical!
I am persistently returning to the question of tempo because, as I said above, this is the point at which it becomes evident whether a conductor understands his business or not.
Obviously the proper pace of a piece of music is determined by the particular character of the rendering it requires; the question, therefore, comes to this: does the sustained tone, the vocal element, the cantilena predominate, or the rhythmical movement? (Figuration). The conductor should lead accordingly.
The Adagio stands to the Allegro as the sustained tone stands to the RHYTHMICAL MOVEMENT (figurirte Bewegung). The sustained tone regulates the Tempo Adagio: here the rhythm is as it were dissolved in pure tone, the tone per se suffices for the musical expression. In a certain delicate sense it may be said of the pure Adagio that it cannot be taken too slow. A rapt confidence in the sufficiency of pure musical speech should reign here; the languor of feeling grows to ecstasy; that which in the Allegro was expressed by changes of figuration, is now conveyed by means of variously inflected tone. Thus the least change of harmony may call forth a sense of surprise; and again, the most remote harmonic progressions prove acceptable to our expectant feelings.
None of our conductors are courageous enough to take an Adagio in this manner; they always begin by looking for some bit of figuration, and arrange their tempo to match. I am, perhaps, the only conductor who has ventured to take the Adagio section of the third movement of the Ninth Symphony at the pace proper to its peculiar character. This character is distinctly contrasted with that of the alternating Andante in triple time; but our conductors invariably contrive to obliterate the difference, leaving only the rhythmical change between square and triple time. This movement (assuredly one of the most instructive in the present respect), finally (in the section in twelve-eight time), offers a conspicuous example of the breaking up of the pure Adagio by the more marked rhythms of an independent accompaniment, during which the cantilena is steadily and broadly continued. In this section we may recognize, as it were, a fixed and consolidated reflex
[FOOTNOTE: In the original: "Hier erkennen wir das gleichsam fixirte Bild des zuvor nach unendlicher Ausdehnung verlangenden Adagio's, und wie dort eine uneingeschrankte Freiheit fur die Befriedigung des tonischen Ausdruckes das zwischen zartesten Gesetzen schwankende Maass der Bewegung angab, wird hier durch die feste Rhythmik der figurativ geschmuckten Begleitung das neue Gesetz der Festhaltung einer bestimmten Bewegung gegeben, welches in seinen ausgebildeten Konseqnenzen uns zum Gesetz fur das Zeitmaass des Allegro wird."]
of the Adagio's tendency towards infinite expansion; there, limitless freedom in the expression of sound, with fluctuating, yet delicately regulated movement; here, the firm rhythm of the figurated accompaniments, imposing the new regulation of a steady and distinct pace—in the consequences of which, when fully developed, we have got the law that regulates the movement of the Allegro in general. We have seen that sustained tone with its modifications is the basis of all musical execution. Similarly the Adagio, developed, as Beethoven has developed it in the third movement of his Ninth Symphony, may be taken as the basis of all regulations as to musical time. In a certain delicate sense the Allegro may be regarded as the final result of a refraction (Brechung) of the pure Adagio-character by the more restless moving figuration. On careful examination of the principal motives of the Allegro it will be found that the melody (Gesang) derived from the Adagio, predominates. The most important Allegro movements of Beethoven are ruled by a predominant melody which exhibits some of the characteristics of the Adagio; and in this wise Beethoven's Allegros receive the EMOTIONAL SENTIMENTAL significance which distinguishes them from the earlier naive species of Allegro. However, Beethoven's [Musical Score: Symphony III. "Eroica."] and Mozart's [Footnote: Symphony in C major, "Jupiter."]
[Musical Score excerpt]
are not far asunder. And with Mozart, as with Beethoven, the exclusive character of the Allegro is only felt when the figuration gets the upper hand of the melody (Gesang) that is, when the reaction of the rhythmical movement against the sustained tone is entirely carried out. This is particularly the case in those final movements which have grown out of the Rondeau, and of which the Finales to Mozart's Symphony in E flat, and to Beethoven's in A, are excellent examples. Here the purely rhythmical movement, so to speak, celebrates its orgies; and it is consequently impossible to take these movements too quick. But whatever lies between these two extremes IS SUBJECT TO THE LAWS OF MUTUAL RELATIONSHIP AND INTERDEPENDENCE; AND SUCH LAWS CANNOT BE TOO DELICATELY AND VARIOUSLY APPLIED, for they are fundamentally identical with the laws which modify all conceivable nuances of the sustained tone.
I shall now turn to the question of the MODIFICATION OF TEMPO; a question of which our conductors know nothing, and for which they consequently profess contempt. Whoever has followed me so far with attention will, I trust, understand that this question goes to the root of the matter before us. In the course of the argument so far, two species of Allegro have been mentioned; an emotional and sentimental character has been assigned to the latter, the true Beethovenian Allegro, whereas the older Mozartian Allegro was distinguished as showing a naive character. I have adopted the expressions "sentimental" and "naive" from Schiller's well-known essay upon "sentimental and naive poetry."
It is needless to discuss the aesthetic problems Schiller touches upon. It is enough to state here that I take Mozart's quick Alla- breve movements as representative of the naive Allegro. The Allegros of the overtures to his operas, particularly to "Figaro" and "Don Giovanni" are the most perfect specimens. It is well known that Mozart wished these pieces to be played as fast as possible. Having driven his musicians into a sort of rage, so that to their own surprise they successfully rendered the unheard of Presto of his overture to "Figaro," he commended them, saying: "that was beautiful! Let us take it still quicker this evening." Quite right. As I have said of the pure Adagio that, in an ideal sense, it cannot be taken too slowly, so this pure unmixed Allegro cannot be given too quickly.
The slow emanations of pure tone on the one hand, and the most rapid figurated movement on the other, are subject to ideal limits only, and in both directions the law of beauty is the sole measure of what is possible. The law of beauty establishes the point of contact at which the opposite extremes tend to meet and to unite. The order of the movements in the symphonies of our masters—from the opening Allegro, to the Adagio, and thence by means of a stricter dance-form (the Menuet or Scherzo), to the quickest Allegro (Finale)—shows a perfect sense of fitness. To my mind, however, there are signs of a deterioration of the sense of fitness when composers exhibit their platitudes in the SUITE [FOOTNOTE: Compare Franz Lachner's Suites for Orchestra.] and attempt to bolster up that old form, with its less thoughtfully arranged succession of typical dance tunes; for these have been fully developed elsewhere, and have already been embodied in far richer, more extensive and complex forms.
Mozart's ABSOLUTE Allegros belong to the naive species. As regards the various degrees of power of tone (Nach der Seite der Dynamik hin) they consist of simple changes of piano and forte; and, as regards structure they show certain fixed and stable rhythmic melodic traits (Formen) which, without much choice or sifting, are placed side by side, and made to chime with the changes of piano and forte; and which (in the bustling ever- recurring semi-cadences) the master employs with more than surprising ease. But such things—even the greatest negligence (Achtlosigkeit) in the use of common-place phrases and sections— are explicable and excusable from the nature of this sort of Allegro, which is not meant to interest by means of Cantilena, but in which the restless incessant movement is intended to produce a certain excitement. It is a significant trait in the Allegro of the overture to Don Giovanni that this restless movement ends with an unmistakable turn towards the "sentimental." Here—where the extremes meet, at the point of contact indicated above—it becomes necessary to modify the tempo in the bars leading from the overture to the first tempo of the opera (which is also an alla-breve but a slower one)—and the pace must be slackened accordingly. But our conductors, in their customary crude way, generally miss this point in the overture. We need not, however, now be lead into premature reflections. Let us merely consider it established that the character of the older classical or, as I call it, naive Allegro differs greatly from the new emotional sentimental Allegro, peculiar to Beethoven. Mozart became acquainted with the orchestral crescendo and diminuendo at Mannheim, (in 1777) when the orchestra there had acquired it as a novelty: up to that time the instrumentation of the old masters shows that, as a rule, nothing was inserted between the forte and piano sections of the allegro movements which can have been intended to be played with emotional expression. Now, how does the true Beethovenian Allegro appear with regard to this? To take the boldest and most inspired example of Beethoven's unheard-of innovation in this direction, the first movement of his Sinfonia eroica: how does this movement appear if played in the strict tempo of one of the Allegros of Mozart's overtures? But do our conductors ever dream of taking it otherwise? Do they not always proceed monotonously from the first bar to the last? With the members of the "elegant" tribe of Capellmeisters the "conception" of the tempo consists of an application of the Mendelssohnian maxim "chi va presto va sano."
Let the players who happen to have any regard for proper execution make the best of it in passages like:—
or the plaintive:—
the conductors do not trouble their minds about such details; they are on "classic ground," and will not stop for trifles; they prefer to progress rapidly "grande vitesse," "time is money."
We have now reached the point in our discussion from which we can judge the music of the day. It will have been noticed that I have approached this point with some circumspection. I was anxious to expose the dilemma, and to make everyone see and feel that since Beethoven there has been a very considerable change in the treatment and the execution of instrumental music. Things which formerly existed in separate and opposite forms, each complete in itself, are now placed in juxtaposition, and further developed, one from the other, so as to form a whole. It is essential that the style of execution shall agree with the matter set forth— that the tempo shall be imbued with life as delicate as the life of the thematic tissue. We may consider it established that in classical music written in the later style MODIFICATION of Tempo is a sine qua non. No doubt very great difficulties will have to be overcome. Summing up my experiences I do not hesitate to assert that, as far as public performances go, Beethoven is still a pure chimera with us. [FOOTNOTE: i.e.. in 1869.]
I shall now attempt to describe what I conceive to be the right way of performing Beethoven, and music akin to his. In this respect also the subject seems inexhaustible, and I shall again confine myself to a few salient points.
One of the principal musical forms consists of a series of VARIATIONS upon a theme. Haydn, and eventually Beethoven, have improved this form, and rendered it artistically significant, by the originality of their devices, and particularly, by connecting the single variations one with the other, and establishing relations of mutual dependence between them. This is accomplished with the happiest results in cases where one variation is developed from another—that is to say, when a degree of movement, suggested in the one is carried further in the other, or when a certain satisfactory sense of surprise is occasioned by one variation supplying a complementary form of movement, which was wanting in the one before it. The real weakness of the Variation-form, however, becomes apparent when strongly contrasting parts are placed in juxtaposition, without any link to connect them. Beethoven often contrives to convert this same weakness into a source of strength; and he manages to do so in a manner which excludes all sense of accident or of awkwardness: namely—at the point which I have described above as marking the limits of the laws of beauty with regard to the sustained tone (in the Adagio), and the unfettered movement (in the Allegro)—he contrives to satisfy, in a seemingly abrupt way, the extreme longing after an antithesis; which antithesis, by means of a different and contrasting movement, is now made to serve as a relief. This can be observed in the master's greatest works. The last movement of the Sinfonia eroica, for instance, affords excellent instruction in this respect; it should be understood as a movement consisting of a greatly expanded series of variations; and accordingly it should be interpreted with as much variety as possible. To do this properly, here as in all similar cases, the above mentioned weakness of the Variation-form, and the disadvantage which is felt to result from it, must be taken into account. Single and separate variations are frequently seen to have had each an independent origin, and to have merely been strung together in a conventional manner. The unpleasant effects of such fortuitous juxtaposition are particularly felt in cases where a quiet and sustained theme is followed by an exceptionally lively variation.
The first variation on that most wonderful theme in Beethoven's grand Sonata in A major for piano and violin (Kreutzer) is an example. Virtuosi always treat this as "a first variation" of the common type—i.e., a mere display of musical gymnastics, which destroys all desire to listen any further. It is curious that, whenever I have mentioned the case of this variation to anyone, my experience with the tempo di minuetto of the eighth symphony has been repeated. Everybody agreed with me "on the whole"; but in particular, people failed to see what I was aiming at. Certainly (to go on with the example) this first variation of that lovely sustained theme is of a conspicuously lively character; when the composer invented it he could hardly have thought of it as immediately following the theme, or as being in direct contact with it. The component parts of the Variation-form are each complete in themselves, and perhaps the composer was unconsciously influenced by this fact. But, when the entire piece is played, the parts appear in uninterrupted succession. We know from other movements of the master's (for instance the second movement of the C minor symphony, the Adagio of the great quartet in E flat, and above all from the wonderful second movement of the great sonata in C minor, Op. III), which are all written in the form of Variations, but in which the parts are conceived as standing in immediate connection, how deftly and delicately the links between the different variations can be contrived. A player who, in a case like that of the so-called "Kreutzer-Sonata," claims the honour of representing the master in full, might, at least, attempt to establish some sort of relation and connection between the sentiment of the theme and that of the first variation; he might begin the latter at a more moderate pace, and gradually lead up to the lively movement. Pianoforte and violin players are firmly persuaded that the character of this variation differs considerably from that of the theme. Let them then interpret it with artistic discrimination, and treat the first part of the variation as a gradual approach to the new tempo; thus adding a charm to the interest the part already possesses per se.
A stronger case, of similar import, will be found in the beginning of the first Allegro 6-8 after the long introductory Adagio of the string quartet in C sharp minor. [FOOTNOTE: Op. 131.] This is marked "molto vivace," and the character of the entire movement is thus appropriately indicated. In quite an exceptional way, however Beethoven has, in this quartet, so arranged the several movements that they are heard in immediate succession, without the customary interval; indeed they appear to be developed one from the other according to certain delicate laws. Thus the Allegro immediately follows an Adagio full of a dreamy sadness, not to be matched elsewhere in the master's works. If it were permitted to interpret the Allegro as showing a state of feeling, such as could in some sort be reproduced in pictorial language, (deutbares Stimmungsbild) one might say that it shews a most lovely phenomenon, which arises, as it were, from the depths of memory, and which, as soon as it has been apprehended, is warmly taken up, and cherished. Evidently the question, with regard to execution, here is: how can this phenomenon (the new Allegro theme) be made to arise naturally from the sad and sombre close of the Adagio, so that its abrupt appearance shall prove attractive rather than repellant? Very appropriately, the new theme first appears like a delicate, hardly distinguishable dream, in unbroken pp, and is then lost in a melting ritardando; thereafter, by means of a crescendo, it enters its true sphere, and proceeds to unfold its real nature. It is obviously the delicate duty of the executants to indicate the character of the new movement with an appropriate modification of tempo—i.e., to take the notes which immediately succeed the Adagio for a link, and so unobtrusively to connect them with the following that a change in the movement is hardly perceptible, and moreover so to manage the ritardando, that the crescendo, which comes after it, will introduce the master's quick tempo, in such wise that the molto vivace now appears as the rhythmical consequence of the increase of tone during the crescendo. But the modifications here indicated are usually overlooked; and the sense of artistic propriety is outraged by a sudden and vulgar vivace, as though the whole piece were meant for a jest, and the gaiety had at last begun! People seem to think this "classical." [FOOTNOTE: For further comments upon this Quartet see Appendix B.]
I may have been top circumstantial, but the matter is of incalculable importance. Let us now proceed to look still more closely into the wants and requirements of a proper performance of classical music. In the foregoing investigations I hoped to have elucidated the problem of the modification of tempo, and to have shewn how a discerning mind will recognise and solve the difficulties inherent in modern classical music. Beethoven has furnished the immortal type of what I may call emotional, sentimental music—it unites all the separate and peculiar constituents of the earlier essentially naive types; sustained and interrupted tone, cantilena and figurations, are no longer kept formally asunder—the manifold changes of a series of variations are not merely strung together, but are now brought into immediate contact, and made to merge one into the other. Assuredly, the novel and infinitely various combinations of a symphonic movement must be set in motion in an adequate and appropriate manner if the whole is not to appear as a monstrosity. I remember in my young days to have heard older musicians make very dubious remarks about the Eroica. [FOOTNOTE: Beethoven's Symphony, No. III.] Dionys Weber, at Prague, simply treated it as a nonentity. The man was right in his way; he chose to recognise nothing but the Mozartian Allegro; and in the strict tempo peculiar to that Allegro, he taught his pupils at the Conservatorium to play the Eroica! The result was such that one could not help agreeing with him. Yet everywhere else the work was thus played, and it is still so played to this day! True, the symphony is now received with universal acclamations; but, if we are not to laugh at the whole thing, the real reasons for its success must be sought in the fact that Beethoven's music is studied apart from the concert-rooms—particularly at the piano— and its irresistible power is thus fully felt, though in rather a round-about way. If fate had not furnished such a path of safety, and if our noblest music depended solely upon the conductors, it would have perished long ago.
To support so astounding an assertion I will take a popular example:—Has not every German heard the overture to Der Freyschutz over and over again? I have been told of sundry persons who were surprised to find how frequently they had listened to this wonderful musical poem, without having been shocked when it was rendered in the most trivial manner; these persons were among the audience of a concert given at Vienna in 1864, when I was invited to conduct the overture. At the rehearsal it came to pass that the orchestra of the imperial opera (certainly one of the finest orchestras in existence), were surprised at my demands regarding the execution of this piece. It appeared at once that the Adagio of the introduction had habitually been taken as a pleasant Andante in the tempo of the "Alphorn," [FOOTNOTE: A sentimental song by Proch.] or some such comfortable composition. That this was not "Viennese tradition" only, but had come to be the universal practice, I had already learnt at Dresden—where Weber himself had conducted his work. When I had a chance to conduct Der Freyschutz at Dresden— eighteen years after Weber's death—I ventured to set aside the slovenly manner of execution which had prevailed under Reissiger, my senior colleague. I simply took the tempo of the introduction to the overture as I felt it; whereupon a veteran member of the orchestra, the old violoncellist Dotzauer, turned towards me and said seriously: "Yes, this is the way Weber himself took it; I now hear it again correctly for the first time." Weber's widow, who still resided at Dresden, became touchingly solicitous for my welfare in the position of Capellmeister. She trusted that my sympathy with her deceased husband's music would bring about correct performances of his works, for which she had no longer dared to hope. The recollection of this flattering testimony has frequently cheered and encouraged me. At Vienna I was bold enough to insist upon a proper performance. The orchestra actually STUDIED the too-well-known overture anew. Discreetly led by R. Lewi, the Cornists entirely changed the tone of the soft woodnotes in the introduction, which they had been accustomed to play as a pompous show piece. The magic perfume of the melody for the horns was now shed over the PIANISSIMO indicated in the score for the strings. Once only (also as indicated) the power of their tone rose to a mezzoforte and was then gradually lost again without the customary SFORZANDO, in the delicately inflected
The Violoncellos similarly reduced the usual heavy accent, which was now heard above the tremolo of the violins like the delicate sigh it is intended to be, and which finally gave to the fortissimo that follows the crescendo that air of desperation which properly belongs to it. Having restored the mysterious dignity of the introductory Adagio, I allowed the wild movement of the Allegro to run its passionate course, without regard to the quieter expression, which the soft second theme demands; for I knew that I should be able SUFFICIENTLY TO SLACKEN THE PACE AT THE RIGHT MOMENT, so that the proper movement for this theme might be reached.
Evidently the greater number, if not all modern Allegro movements, consist of a combination of two essentially different constituent parts: in contrast with the older naive unmixed Allegro, the construction is enriched by the combination of the pure Allegro with the thematic peculiarities of the vocal Adagio in all its gradations. The second theme of the overture to "Oberon," which does not in the least partake of the character of the Allegro, very clearly shows this contrasted peculiarity. Technically, the composer has managed to merge the character of this theme into the general character of the piece. That is to say: on the surface, the theme reads smoothly, according to the scheme of an Allegro; but, as soon as the true character of the theme is brought out, it becomes apparent that A COMPOSER MUST THINK SUCH A SCHEME CAPABLE OF CONSIDERABLE MODIFICATION IF IT IS TO COMBINE BOTH PRINCIPLES. (Hauptcharactere.)
To continue the account of the performance of the Freyschutz overture at Vienna: after the extreme excitement of the tempo Allegro, I made use of the long drawn notes of the clarinet—the character of which is quite that of the Adagio—so as imperceptibly to ease the tempo in this place, where the figurated movement is dissolved into sustained or tremulous tone; so that, in spite of the connecting figure:
[music score example]
which renews the movement, and so beautifully leads to the cantilena in E flat, we had arrived at the very slight nuance of the main tempo, which has been kept up all along. I arranged with the excellent executants that they were to play this theme
[music score example]
legato, and with an equable piano, i.e., without the customary commonplace accentuation and NOT as follows:
[music score example]
The good result was at once apparent, so that for the gradual reanimation of the tempo with the pulsating
[music score example]
I had only to give the slightest indication of the pace to find the orchestra perfectly ready to attack the most energetic nuance of the main tempo together with the following fortissimo. It was not so easy on the return of the conflict of the two strongly contrasted motives, to bring them out clearly without disturbing the proper feeling for the predominant rate of speed. Here, when the despairing energy of the allegro is concentrated in successively shorter periods, and culminates in
[music score example]
the success of the ever-present modification of tempo was perhaps shown best of all.
After the splendidly sustained C major chords, and the significant long pauses, by which these chords are so well relieved, the musicians were greatly surprised when I asked them to play the second theme, which is now raised to a joyous chant, NOT as they had been accustomed, in the violently excited nuance of the first allegro theme, but in the milder modification of the main time.
This worrying and driving to death of the PRINCIPAL theme at the close of a piece is a habit common to all our orchestras—very frequently indeed nothing is wanting but the sound of the great horse-whip to complete the resemblance to the effects at a circus. No doubt increase of speed at the close of an overture is frequently demanded by composers; it is a matter of course in those cases where the true Allegro theme, as it were, remains in possession of the field, and finally celebrates its apotheosis; of which Beethoven's great overture to "Leonora" is a celebrated example. In this latter case, however, the effect of the increased speed of the Allegro is frequently spoilt by the fact that the conductor, who does not know how to modify the main tempo to meet the various requirements of the thematic combinations (e.g., at the proper moment to relax the rate of speed), has already permitted the main tempo to grow so quick as to exclude the possibility of any further increase—unless, indeed, the strings choose to risk an abnormal rush and run, such as I remember to have heard with astonishment, though not with satisfaction, from this very Viennese orchestra. The necessity for such an eccentric exertion arose in consequence of the main tempo having been hurried too much during the progress of the piece; the final result was simply an exaggeration—and moreover, a risk to which no true work of art should be exposed—though, in a rough way, it may be able to bear it.
However, it is difficult to understand why the close of the Freyschutz overture should be thus hurried and worried by Germans, who are supposed to possess some delicacy of feeling. Perhaps the blunder will appear less inexplicable, if it is remembered that this second cantilena, which towards the close is treated as a chant of joy, was, already at its very first appearance, made to trot on at the pace of the principal Allegro: like a pretty captive girl tied to the tail of a hussar's charger—and it would seem a case of simple practical justice that she should eventually be raised to the charger's back when the wicked rider has fallen off—whereat, finally, the Capellmeister is delighted, and proceeds to apply the great whip.
An indescribably repulsive effect is produced by this trivial reading of a passage, by which the composer meant to convey, as it were, a maiden's tender and warm effusions of gratitude. [Footnote: See the close of the Aria in E, known as "Softly sighing," in Der Freyschutz (No. 8).] Truly, certain people who sit and listen again and again to a vulgar effect such as this, whenever and wherever the Freyschutz overture is performed, and approve of it, and talk of "the wonted excellence of our orchestral performances"—and otherwise indulge in queer notions of their own about music, like the venerable Herr Lobe, [Footnote: Author of a "Kompositionslehre," "Briefe eines Wohlbekannten," etc.] whose jubilee we have recently celebrated— such people, I say, are in the right position to warn the public against "the absurdities of a mistaken idealism"—and "to point towards that which is artistically genuine, true and eternally valid, as an antidote to all sorts of half-true or half-mad doctrines and maxims." [Footnote: (See Eduard Bernsdorf in Signale fur die musicalishe Welt, No. 67, 1869).]
As I have related, a number of Viennese amateurs who attended a performance of this poor maltreated overture, heard it rendered in a very different manner. The effect of that performance is still felt at Vienna. People asserted that they could hardly recognize the piece, and wanted to know what I had done to it. They could not conceive how the novel and surprising effect at the close had been produced, and scarcely credited my assertion that a moderate tempo was the sole cause. The musicians in the orchestra, however, might have divulged a little secret, namely this:—in the fourth bar of the powerful and brilliant entrata I interpreted the sign >, which in the score might be mistaken for a timid and senseless accent, as a mark of diminuendo [Figure: diminuendo sign] assuredly in accordance with the composer's intentions—thus we reached a more moderate degree of force, and the opening bars of the theme were at once distinguished by a softer inflection, which, I now could easily permit to swell to fortissimo—thus the warm and tender motive, gorgeously supported by the full orchestra, appeared happy and glorified.
Our Capellmeisters are not particularly pleased at a success such as this.
Herr Dessof, however, whose business it was afterwards to conduct "Der Freyschutz," at the Viennese opera, thought it advisable to leave the members of the orchestra undisturbed in the possession of the new reading. He announced this to them, with a smile, saying: "Well, gentlemen, let us take the overture a la Wagner."
Yes, Yes:—a la Wagner! I believe, there would be no harm in taking a good many other things, a la Wagner! [Footnote: "Wagnerisch"—there is a pun here: wagen = to dare; erwagen—to weigh mentally: thus "Wagnerisch," may be taken as—in a daring well considered manner.]
At all events this was an entire concession on the part of the Viennese Capellmeister; whereas in a similar case, my former colleague, the late Reissiger, would only consent to meet me HALF way. In the last movement of Beethoven's A major symphony, I discovered a PIANO which Reissiger had been pleased to insert in the parts when he conducted the work. This piano concerned the grand preparation for the close of this final movement, when, after the powerful reiterated chords on the dominant seventh A (Breitkopf and Haertel's Score, page 86) the figure
[Figure: musical example]
is carried on forte, until with "sempre piu forte," it becomes still more violent. This did not suit Reissiger; accordingly, at the bar quoted, he interpolated a sudden piano, so that he might in time get a perceptible crescendo. Of course, I erased this piano and restored the energetic forte in its integrity. And thus, I presume, I again committed an offence against "Lobe and Bernsdorf's eternal laws of truth and beauty," which Reissiger, in his day, was so careful to obey.
After I had left Dresden, when this A major symphony came to be performed again under Reissiger, he did not feel at ease about that passage; so he stopped the orchestra, and advised that it should be taken mezzo forte!
On another occasion (not very long ago, at Munich), I was present at a public performance of the overture to "Egmont," which proved instructive—somewhat after the manner of the customary performances of the overture to "Der Freyschutz." In the Allegro of the Egmont overture [Footnote: Beethoven: op. 84.] the powerful and weighty sostenuto of the introduction:
[Figure: musical example]
is used in rhythmical diminution as the first half of the second theme, and is answered in the other half, by a soft and smooth countermotive.
[Figure: musical example]
The conductor, [Footnote: Franz Lachner] in accordance with "classical" custom, permitted this concise and concentrated theme, a contrast of power and gentle self-content, to be swept away by the rush of the Allegro, like a sere and withered leaf; so that, whenever it caught the ear at all, a sort of dance pace was heard, in which, during the two opening bars the dancers stepped forward, and in the two following bars twirled about in "Laendler" [Footnote: Laendler—an Austrian peasant's dance, in triple time, from which the waltz is derived.] fashion.
When Bulow, in the absence of the favourite senior conductor, was called upon to lead the music to Egmont at Munich, I induced him, amongst other things, to attend to the proper rendering of this passage. It proved at once strikingly effective—concise, laconic—as Beethoven meant it. The tempo, which up to that point had been kept up with passionate animation, was firmly arrested, and very slightly modified—just as much, and no more than was necessary to permit the orchestra properly to attack this thematic combination, so full of energetic decision and of a contemplative sense of happiness. At the end of the 3/4 time the combination is treated in a broader and still more determined manner; and thus these simple, but indispensible, modifications brought about a new reading of the overture—the CORRECT reading. The impression produced by this properly conducted performance was singular, to say the least of it; I was assured that the manager of the Court theatre was persuaded there had been "a break-down."
No one among the audience of the celebrated Odeon Concerts at Munich dreamt of "a break-down" when the above-mentioned senior "classical" conductor led the performance of Mozart's G minor symphony, when I happened to be present. The manner in which the Andante of the symphony was played, and the effect it produced was altogether surprising. Who has not, in his youth, admired this beautiful piece, and tried to realize it in his own way? In what way? No matter. If the marks of expression are scanty, the wonderful composition arouses one's feelings; and fancy supplies the means to read it in accordance with such feelings. It seems as though Mozart had expected something of the kind, for he has given but few and meagre indications of the expression. So we felt free to indulge ourselves in the delicately increasing swing of the quavers, with the moon-like rise of the violins:
[Figure: musical example]
the notes of which we believed to sound softly legato; the tenderly whispering
[Figure: musical example]
touched us as with wings of angels, and before the solemn admonitions and questionings of
[Figure: musical example]
(which, however, we heard in a finely sustained crescendo) we imagined ourselves led to a blissful evanescence, which came upon us with the final bars. Fancies of this sort, however, were not permitted during the "strictly classical" performance, under the veteran Capellmeister, at the Munich Odeon; the proceedings, there, were carried on with a degree of solemnity, enough to make one's flesh creep, with a sensation akin to a foretaste of eternal perdition.
The lightly floating Andante was converted into a ponderous Largo; not the hundredth part of the weight of a single quaver was spared us; stiff and ghastly, like a bronze pigtail, the battuta of this Andante was swung over our heads; even the feathers on the angel's wings were turned into corkscrew curls— rigid, like those of the seven year's war. Already, I felt myself placed under the staff of a Prussian recruiting officer, A.D. 1740, and longed to be bought off—but! who can guess my terror, when the veteran turned back the pages, and recommenced his Largo—Andante, merely to do "classical" justice to the two little dots before the double bar in the score! I looked about me for help and succour—and beheld another wondrous thing: the audience listened patiently: quite convinced that everything was in the best possible order, and that they were having a true Mozartian "feast for the ears" in all innocence and safety.—This being so, I acquiesced, and bowed my head in silence.
Once, however, a little later on, my patience failed. At a rehearsal of "Tannhauser" I had quietly allowed a good deal to pass by unnoticed—even the clerical tempo at which my knights had to march up in the second act. But now it became evident that the undoubtedly "veteran" master could not even make out how 4/4 time was to be changed to an equivalent 6/4: i.e., two crotchets
[Figure: two crotchets (quarter notes)]
into a triplet of three crotchets
[Figure: a triplet of three crotchets (quarter notes)]
The trouble arose during Tannhauser's narrative of his pilgrimage (Act III.), when 4/4
[Figure: musical score example]
is replaced by 6/4
This was too much for the veteran. He was very properly accustomed to beat 4/4 on the square; but it is also the custom of such conductors to beat 6/4 after the manner of 6/8, that is, with an Alla breve beat—two in the bar. (Only in the Andante of the G minor symphony did I witness six grave quaver beats = 1, 2, 3,—4, 5, 6). But, for my poor narrative about the Pope at Rome, the conductor thought two timid Alla breve beats sufficient—so that the members of the orchestra might be left at liberty to make out the crotchets as best they could. Thus it came to pass that the tempo was taken at exactly double the proper pace: namely, instead of the equivalents just described, things appeared thus:
[Figure: musical score example]
Now, this may have been very interesting, musically, but it compelled the poor singer of Tannhauser to relate his painful recollections of Rome to a gay and lively waltz-rhythm (which, again, reminds me of Lohengrin's narrative about the Holy Grail, at Wiesbaden, where I heard it recited scherzando, as though it were about Queen Mab). But as I was, in this case, dealing with so excellent a representative of Tannhauser as Ludwig Schnorr, [Footnote: Ludwig Schnorr von Carolsfeld, the first "Tristan" died 1865.] I was bound to establish the right tempo, and, for once, respectfully to interfere. This, I am sorry to say, caused some scandal and annoyance. I fear in course of time, it even caused some little martyrdom, and inspired a cold-blooded Gospel- critic [Footnote: David Strauss, author of "Das Leben Jesu."] to celebrate and console the veteran-martyr in a couple of sonnets. Indeed, we have now got sundry "martyrs of classical music" crowned with a halo of poetry. I shall beg leave to examine them still more closely in the sequel.
It has repeatedly been pointed out that our conductors dislike attempts at modification of tempo, for the sake of perspicuity in the rendering of Beethoven and other classical music. I have shewn that plausible objections can be urged against such modifications, so long as they are not accompanied by corresponding modifications of tone and expression; and I have further shewn that such objections have no foundation other than the incompetence of conductors, who attempt to perform functions for which they are not fit. In fact, there is but one valid objection which can be urged against the mode of procedure I advocate, namely this: nothing can be more detrimental to a piece of music than ARBITRARY NUANCES of tempo, etc., such as are likely to be introduced by this or that self-willed and conceited time-beater, for the sake of what he may deem "effective." In that way, certainly, the very existence of our classical music might, in course of time, be undermined. Now, what is to be said or done in the face of so sad a state of things? A sound public opinion with regard to questions of art does not exist in Germany; and there is nothing amongst us that could effectually put a stop to such vagaries. Thus, the above objection, valid as it is (though seldom put forward in good faith), again points towards the conductors; for, if incompetent persons are not to be permitted to maltreat classical music at their pleasure, how is it that the best and most influential musicians have not taken this matter in hand? why have they themselves led classical music into such a groove of triviality and actual disfigurement? In many instances the objection in question is merely put forward as a pretext for opposition to all efforts in the direction I have indicated. Indolent and incompetent persons form an immense majority: and, under certain circumstances, incompetency and sluggishness unite, and grow aggressive.