SYMPHONIES AND THEIR MEANING
THIRD SERIES: MODERN SYMPHONIES.
PHILIP H. GOEPP
Criticism of contemporary art is really a kind of prophecy. For the appreciation of the classical past is an act of present perception, not a mere memory of popular verdicts. The classics live only because they still express the vital feeling of to-day. The new art must do more,—must speak for the morrow. And as the poet is a kind of seer, the true critic is his prophetic herald.
It is with due humility that we approach a view of the work of our own time, with a dim feeling that our best will be a mere conjecture. But we shall the more cheerfully return to our resolution that our chief business is a positive appreciation. Where we cannot praise, we can generally be silent. Certain truths concerning contemporary art seem firmly grounded in the recorded past. The new Messiah never came with instant wide acclaim. Many false prophets flashed brilliantly on the horizon to fall as suddenly as they rose. In a refracted view we see the figures of the great projected in too large dimension upon their day. And precisely opposite we fail to glimpse the ephemeral lights obscuring the truly great. The lesson seems never to be learned; indeed it can, of course, never be learned. For that would imply an eternal paradox that the present generation must always distrust its own judgment.
Who could possibly imagine in Schubert's time the sway he holds to-day. Our minds reel to think that by a mere accident were recovered the Passion of Bach and the symphonies of Schubert. Or must we prayerfully believe that a Providence will make the best prevail? And, by the way, the serious nature of this appreciation appears when we see how it was ever by the greatest of his time that the future master was heralded.
The symphony of the present age has perhaps fallen somewhat in estate. It was natural that it should rush to a high perfection in the halcyon days of its growth. It is easy to make mournful predictions of decadence. The truth is the symphony is a great form of art, like a temple or a tragedy. Like them it has had, it will have its special eras of great expression. Like them it will stay as a mode of utterance for new communities and epochs with varying nationality, or better still, with vanishing nationalism.
The tragedy was not exhausted with Sophocles, nor with Shakespeare nor with Goethe. So the symphony has its fallow periods and it may have a new resurgence under new climes. We are ever impatient to shelve a great form, like vain women afraid of the fashion. It is part of our constant rage for novelty. The shallower artist ever tinkered with new devices,—to some effects, in truth. Such is the empiric course of art that what is born of vanity may be crowned with highest inspiration.
The national element will fill a large part of our survey. It marks a strange trait of our own age that this revival of the national idea falls in the very time when other barriers are broken. Ancient folk-song grew like the flower on the battle-field of races. But here is an anxious striving for a special dialect in music. Each nation must have its proper school; composers are strictly labelled, each one obedient to his national manner. This state of art can be but of the day. Indeed, the fairest promise of a greater future lies in the morrow's blending of these various elements in the land where each citizen has a mixed inheritance from the older nations.
In the bewildering midst of active spirits comes the irresistible impulse to a somewhat partisan warfare. The critic, if he could view himself from some empyraean perch, remote in time and place, might smile at his own vehemence. In the clash of aims he must, after all, take sides, for it is the tendency that is momentous; and he will be excited to greater heat the stronger the prophet that he deems false. When the strife is over, when currents are finally settled, we may take a more contented joy in the impersonal art that remains.
The choice from the mass of brilliant vital endeavor is a new burden and a source almost of dismay. Why should we omit so melodious a work as Moskowski's Jeanne d'Arc,—full of perhaps too facile charm? It was, of course, impossible to treat all the wonderful music of the Glazounows and the Kallinikows. And there is the limpid beauty of the Bohemian Suk, or the heroic vigor of a Volbach. We should like to have mentioned Robert Volkmann as a later Romanticist; and Gade has ever seemed a true poet of the Scandinavian symphony.
Of the modern French we are loth to omit the symphonies of Chausson and of Dukas. In our own America it is a still harder problem. There is the masterly writing of a Foote; the older Paine has never been fully valued in the mad race for novelty. It would have been a joy to include a symphony of rare charm by Martinus van Gelder.
A critical work on modern art cannot hope to bestow a crown of laurels among living masters; it must be content with a view of active tendencies. The greatest classic has often come into the world amid least expectation. A critic in the year 1850 must need have omitted the Unfinished Symphony, which was then buried in a long oblivion.
The present author prefers to treat the main modern lines, considering the special work mainly as example. After all, throughout the realm of art the idea is greater than the poet, the whole art more than the artist,—though the particular enshrinement in enduring design may reflect a rare personality.
PHILIP H. GOEPP.
NOTE: Especial thanks are owed to the Philadelphia Orchestra for a free use of its library, and to Messrs. G. Schirmer Company for a like courtesy.—P.H.G.
CHAPTER I.—The Symphony during the Nineteenth Century
CHAPTER II.—Berlioz and Liszt
CHAPTER III.—Berlioz. "Romeo and Juliet." Dramatic Symphony
CHAPTER IV.—A Symphony to Dante's "Divina Commedia"
CHAPTER V.—The Symphonic Poems of Liszt "Les Preludes" "Tasso" "Mazeppa" "Battle of the Huns"
CHAPTER VI.—The Symphonic Poems of Saint-Saens "Danse Macabre" "Phaeton" "The Youth of Hercules" "Omphale's Spinning Wheel"
CHAPTER VII.—Cesar Franck Symphony in D minor
CHAPTER VIII.—D'Indy and the Followers of Franck D'Indy's Second Symphony
CHAPTER IX.—Debussy and the Innovators "The Sea"—Debussy "The Sorcerer's Apprentice"—Dukas
CHAPTER X.—Tschaikowsky Fourth Symphony "Manfred" Symphony Fifth Symphony
CHAPTER XI.—The Neo-Russians Balakirew. Symphony in C Rimsky-Korsakow "Antar" Symphony "Scherezade." Symphonic Suite Rachmaninow. Symphony in E minor
CHAPTER XII.—Sibelius. A Finnish Symphony
CHAPTER XIII.—Bohemian Symphonies Smetana. Symphonic Poem: "The Moldau River" Dvorak. Symphony: "From the New World"
CHAPTER XIV.—The Earlier Bruckner Second Symphony Fourth (Romantic) Symphony Fifth Symphony
CHAPTER XV.—The Later Bruckner Ninth Symphony
CHAPTER XVI.—Hugo Wolff "Penthesilea." Symphonic Poem
CHAPTER XVII.—Mahler Fifth Symphony
CHAPTER XVIII.—Richard Strauss. Symphonic Poems "Death and Transfiguration" "Don Juan" "Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks" "Sinfonia Domestica"
CHAPTER XIX.—Italian Symphonies Sgambati. Symphony in D major Martucci. Symphony in D minor
CHAPTER XX.—Edward Elgar. An English Symphony
CHAPTER XXI.—Symphonies in America Henry Hadley. Symphony No. 3 Gustav Strube. Symphony in D minor Chadwick. Suite Symphonique Loeffler. "The Devil's Round." Symphonic Poem
SYMPHONIES AND THEIR MEANING
THE SYMPHONY DURING THE NINETEENTH CENTURY
After the long dominance of German masters of the musical art, a reaction could not fail to come with the restless tendencies of other nations, who, having learned the lesson, were yet jealous of foreign models and eager to utter their own message. The later nineteenth century was thus the age of refraction of the classic tradition among the various racial groups that sprang up with the rise of the national idea. We can see a kind of beginning in the Napoleonic destruction of feudal dynasties. German authority in music at the beginning of the century was as absolute as Roman rule in the age of Augustus. But the seed was carried by teachers to the various centres of Europe. And, with all the joy we have in the new burst of a nation's song, there is no doubt that it is ever best uttered when it is grounded on the lines of classic art. Here is a paramount reason for the strength of the modern Russian school. With this semi-political cause in mind it is less difficult to grasp the paradox that with all the growth of intercommunication the music of Europe moves in more detached grooves to-day than two centuries ago. The suite in the time of Bach is a special type and proof of a blended breadth and unity of musical thought in the various nations of Europe of the seventeenth century. In the quaint series of dances of the different peoples, with a certain international quality, one sees a direct effect of the Thirty Years' War,—the beneficent side of those ill winds and cruel blasts, when all kinds of nations were jostling on a common battle-ground. And as the folk-dances sprang from the various corners of Europe, so different nations nursed the artistic growth of the form. Each would treat the dances of the other in its own way, and here is the significance of Bach's separate suites,—English, French and German.
Nationalism seems thus a prevailing element in the music of to-day, and we may perceive two kinds, one spontaneous and full of charm, the other a result of conscious effort, sophisticated in spirit and in detail. It may as well be said that there was no compelling call for a separate French school in the nineteenth century as a national utterance. It sprang from a political rather than an artistic motive; it was the itch of jealous pride that sharply stressed the difference of musical style on the two sides of the Rhine. The very influence of German music was needed by the French rather than a bizarre invention of national traits. The broader art of a Saint-Saens here shines in contrast with the brilliant conceits of his younger compatriots, though it cannot be denied that the latter are grounded in classic counterpoint. With other nations the impulse was more natural: the racial song of the Scandinavians, Czechs and other Slavs craved a deliverance as much as the German in the time of Schubert. In France, where music had long flourished, there was no stream of suppressed folk-song.
But the symphony must in the natural course have suffered from the very fulness of its own triumph. We know the Romantic reaction of Schumann, uttered in smaller cyclic forms; in Berlioz is almost a complete abandonment of pure music, devoid of special description. Liszt was one of the mighty figures of the century, with all the external qualities of a master-genius, shaking the stage of Europe with the weight of his personality, and, besides, endowed with a creative power that was not understood in his day. With him the restless tendency resulted in a new form intended to displace the symphony: the symphonic poem, in a single, varied movement, and always on a definite poetic subject. Here was at once a relief and a recess from the classic rigor. Away with sonata form and all the odious code of rules! In the story of the title will lie all the outline of the music.
Yet in this rebellious age—and here is the significance of the form—the symphony did not languish, but blossomed to new and varied flower. Liszt turned back to the symphony from his new-fangled device for his two greatest works. It has, indeed, been charged that the symphony was accepted by the Romantic masters in the spirit of a challenge. Mendelssohn and even Schumann are not entirely free from such a suspicion. Nevertheless it remains true that all of them confided to the symphony their fairest inspiration. About the middle of the century, at the high point of anti-classical revolt, a wonderful group of symphonies, by Berlioz, Mendelssohn, Schumann, and Liszt, were presented to the world. With the younger Brahms on a returning wave of neo-classicism the form became again distinctively a personal choice. Finally, in the spontaneous utterance of a national spirit on broad lines, as in the later Russian and Finnish examples, with the various phases of surging resolution, of lyric contemplation and of rollicking humor, the symphony has its best sanction in modern times.
To return to the historical view, the course of the symphony during the century cannot be adequately scanned without a glance at the music-drama of Richard Wagner. Until the middle of the century, symphony and opera had moved entirely in separate channels. At most the overture was affected, in temper and detail, by the career of the nobler form.
The restless iconoclasm of a Liszt was now united, in a close personal and poetic league, with the new ideas of Wagner's later drama. Both men adopted the symbolic motif as their main melodic means; with both mere iteration took the place of development; a brilliant and lurid color-scheme (of orchestration) served to hide the weakness of intrinsic content; a vehement and hysteric manner cast into temporary shade the classic mood of tranquil depth in which alone man's greatest thought is born.
But a still larger view of the whole temper of art in Europe of the later century is needed. We wander here beyond the fine distinctions of musical forms. A new wave of feeling had come over the world that violently affected all processes of thought. And strangely, it was strongest in the land where the great heights of poetry and music had just been reached. Where the high aim of a Beethoven and a Goethe had been proclaimed, arose a Wagner to preach the gospel of brute fate and nature, where love was the involuntary sequence of mechanical device and ended in inevitable death, all overthrowing the heroic idea that teems throughout the classic scores, crowned in a greatest symphony in praise of "Joy."
Such was the intrinsic content of a "Tristan and Isolde" and the whole "Nibelungen-Ring," and it was uttered with a sensuous wealth of sound and a passionate strain of melody that (without special greatness of its own) dazzled and charmed the world in the dramatic setting of mediaeval legend. The new harmonic style of Wagner, there is good reason to suppose, was in reality first conceived by Liszt, whose larger works, written about the middle of the century, have but lately come to light.[A] In correspondence with this moral mutiny was the complete revolt from classic art-tradition: melody (at least in theory), the vital quality of musical form and the true process of a coherent thread, were cast to the winds with earlier poetic ideals.
[Footnote A: The "Dante" Symphony of Liszt was written between 1847 and 1855; the "Faust" Symphony between 1854 and 1857. Wagner finished the text of Tristan und Isolde in 1857; the music was not completed until 1859. In 1863 was published the libretto of the Nibelungen-Ring. In 1864 Wagner was invited by King Ludwig of Bavaria to complete the work in Munich.]
If it were ever true that a single personality could change an opposite course of thought, it must be held that Richard Wagner, in his own striking and decadent career, comes nearest to such a type. But he was clearly prompted and reinforced in his philosophy by other men and tendencies of his time. The realism of a Schopenhauer, which Wagner frankly adopted without its full significance (where primal will finds a redemption in euthanasia), led by a natural course of thought to Nietzsche's dreams of an overman, who tramples on his kind.
In itself this philosophy had been more of a passing phase (even as Schopenhauer is lost in the chain of ethical sages) but for its strange coincidence with the Wagnerian music. The accident of this alliance gave it an overwhelming power in Germany, where it soon threatened to corrupt all the arts, banishing idealism from the land of its special haunts.[A] The ultimate weakness of the Wagnerian philosophy is that it finds in fatalism an excuse for the surrender of heroic virtue,—not in the spirit of a tragic truth, but in a glorification of the senses; just as in Wagner's final work, the ascetic, sinless type becomes a figure almost of ridicule, devoid of human reality. It is significant that with the revival of a sound art, fraught with resolute aspiration, is imminent a return to an idealistic system of philosophy.
[Footnote A: In literature this movement is most marked, as may be seen by contrasting the tone of Goethe with that of Sudermann; by noting the decadence from the stories of a Chamisseau and Immermann to those of a Gottfried Keller; from the novels of Freytag to the latest of Frenssen and Arthur Schnitzler; from the poems of Heine to those of Hoffmansthal, author of the text of Strauss' later operas.
Or, contrast merely the two typical dramas of love, Goethe's "Faust" and Wagner's "Tristan and Isolde."]
In the musical art even of Germany the triumph was never complete. The famous feud of Brahms and Wagner partisans marked the alignment of the classical and radical traditions. Throughout the second half of the century the banner of a true musical process was upheld; the personal meeting of the youthful Brahms with the declining Schumann is wonderfully significant, viewed as a symbol of this passing of the classic mantle. And the symphonies of Gustav Mahler seem an assurance of present tendencies. The influence of Bach, revived early in the century, grew steadily as a latent leaven.
Nevertheless in the prevailing taste and temper of present German music, in the spirit of the most popular works, as those of Richard Strauss (who seems to have sold his poetic birthright), the aftermath of this wave is felt, and not least in the acclaim of the barren symphonies of a Bruckner. It is well known that Bruckner, who paid a personal homage to Wagner, became a political figure in the partisan dispute, when he was put forth as the antagonist of Brahms in the symphony. His present vogue is due to this association and to his frank adoption of Wagner idiom in his later works, as well as, more generally, to the lowered taste in Germany.
In all this division of musical dialect, in the shattering of the classic tower among the diverse tongues of many peoples, what is to be the harvest? The full symbol of a Babel does not hold for the tonal art. Music is, in its nature, a single language for the world, as its alphabet rests on ideal elements. It has no national limits, like prose or poetry; its home is the whole world; its idiom the blended song of all nations.
In such a view there is less hope in the older than in the newer world. No single, limited song of one nation can in the future achieve a second climax of the art. It is by the actual mingling of them all that the fairest flower and fruit must come. The very absence of one prevailing native song, held a reproach to America, is in reality her strength; for hers is the common heritage of all strains of song. And it may be her destiny to lead in the glorious merging of them all.
BERLIOZ AND LISZT
The path of progress of an art has little to do with mere chronology. For here in early days are bold spirits whose influence is not felt until a whole generation has passed of a former tradition. Nor are these patient pioneers always the best-inspired prophets; the mere fate of slow recognition does not imply a highest genius. A radical innovation may provoke a just and natural resistance. Again, a gradual yielding is not always due to the pure force of truth. Strange and oblique ideas may slowly win a triumph that is not wholly merited and may not prove enduring.
To fully grapple with this mystery, we may still hold to the faith that final victory comes only to pure truth, and yet we may find that imperfect truth will often achieve a slow and late acceptance. The victory may then be viewed in either of two ways: the whole spirit of the age yields to the brilliant allurement, or there is an overweighing balance of true beauty that deserves the prize of permanence. Of such a kind were two principal composers of the symphony: Franz Liszt and Hector Berlioz. Long after they had wrought their greatest works, others had come and gone in truer line with the first masters, until it seemed these radical spirits had been quite rejected.
Besides the masters of their own day, Schumann and Mendelssohn, a group of minor poets, like Raff and Goetz, appeared, and at last Brahms, the latest great builder of the symphony, all following and crowning the classical tradition.
The slow reception of the larger works of Liszt strangely agrees with the startling resemblance of their manner to the Russian style that captivated a much later age. It seemed as if the spirit of the Hungarian was suddenly revived in a new national group. His humor wonderfully suited the restless and sensational temper of an age that began after his death.
The very harmonies and passionate manner that influence modern audiences evoked a dull indifference in their own day.[A] They roused the first acclaim when presented in the more popular form of the music-drama. It may well be questioned whether Liszt was not the fountain source of the characteristic harmonies of Wagner's later opera.
[Footnote A: Compare the similarity of the themes of the Faust Symphony of Liszt and of the Pathetique of Tschaikowsky in the last chapter of vol. ii, "Symphonies and Their Meaning."]
Historically considered, that is in their relation to other music preceding and following them, the symphonies of Liszt have striking interest. They are in boldest departure from all other symphonies, save possibly those of Berlioz, and they were prophetic in a degree only apparent a half-century later. If the quality of being ahead of his time be proof, instead of a symptom, of genius, then Liszt was in the first rank of masters. The use of significant motif is in both of his symphonies. But almost all the traits that startled and moved the world in Tschaikowsky's symphonies are revealed in this far earlier music: the tempestuous rage of what might be called an hysterical school, and the same poignant beauty of the lyric episodes; the sheer contrast, half trick, half natural, of fierce clangor and dulcet harmonies, all painted with the broad strokes of the orchestral palette. Doubly striking it is how Liszt foreshadowed his later followers and how he has really overshadowed them; not one, down to the most modern tone-painters, has equalled him in depth and breadth of design, in the original power of his tonal symbols. It seems that Liszt will endure as the master-spirit in this reactionary phase of the symphony.
Berlioz is another figure of a bold innovator, whose career seemed a series of failures, yet whose music will not down. His art was centred less upon the old essentials, of characteristic melody and soul-stirring harmonies, than upon the magic strokes of new instrumental grouping,—a graphic rather than a pure musical purpose. And so he is the father not only of the modern orchestra, but of the fashion of the day that revels in new sensations of startling effects, that are spent in portraying the events of a story.
Berlioz was the first of a line of virtuosi of the orchestra, a pioneer in the art of weaving significant strains,—significant, that is, apart from the music. He was seized with the passion of making a pictured design with his orchestral colors. Music, it seems, did not exist for Berlioz except for the telling of a story. His symphony is often rather opera. A symphony, he forgot, is not a musical drama without the scenery. This is just what is not a symphony. It is not the literal story, but the pure musical utterance. Thus Berlioz's "Romeo and Juliet" symphony is in its design more the literal story than is Shakespeare's play. And yet there is ever a serious nobility, a heroic reach in the art of Berlioz, where he stands almost alone among the composers of his race. Here, probably, more than in his pictured stories, lies the secret of his endurance. He was, other than his followers, ever an idealist. And so, when we are on the point of condemning him as a scene-painter, we suddenly come upon a stretch of pure musical beauty, that flowed from the unconscious rapture of true poet. As the bee sucks, so may we cull the stray beauty and the more intimate meaning, despite and aside from this outer intent.
BERLIOZ. "ROMEO AND JULIET."
In the sub-title we see the growing impulse towards graphic music. A "dramatic symphony" is not promising. For, if music is the most subjective expression of the arts, why should its highest form be used to dramatize a drama? Without the aid of scene and actors, that were needed by the original poet, the artisan in absolute tones attempts his own theatric rendering. Clearly this symphony is one of those works of art which within an incongruous form (like certain ancient pictures) affords episodes of imperishable beauty.
Passing by the dramatic episodes that are strung on the thread of the story, we dwell, according to our wont, on the stretches where a pure musical utterance rises to a lofty height of pathos or of rarest fantasy.
In the first scene of the Second Part is the clear intent of a direct tonal expression, and there is a sustained thread of sincere sentiment. The passion of Romeo shines in the purity rather than in the intensity of feeling. The scene has a delicate series of moods, with subtle melodic touches and dramatic surprises of chord and color. The whole seems a reflection of Romeo's humor, the personal (Allegro) theme being the symbol as it roams throughout the various phases,—the sadness of solitude, the feverish thrill of the ball. Into the first phrase of straying violins wanders the personal motive, sadly meditative.
[Music: Allegro. (Choir of wood, with sustained chords of strings)]
Sweeter dreams now woo the muser, warming into passion, pulsing with a more eager throb of desire, in changed tone and pace. Suddenly in a new quarter amid a quick strum of dance the main motive hurries along. The gay sounds vanish, ominous almost in the distance. The sadness of the lover now sings unrestrained in expressive melody (of oboe), in long swinging pace, while far away rumbles the beat of festive drum.
The song rises in surging curves, but dies away among the quick festal sounds, where the personal motive is still supreme, chasing its own ardent antics, and plunges headlong into the swirl of dance.
II Penseroso (in his personal role) has glided into a buoyant, rollicking Allegro with joyous answer. Anon the outer revel breaks in with shock almost of terror. And now in climax of joy, through the festal strum across the never-ceasing thread of transformed meditation resound in slowest, broadest swing the
[Music: Larghetto espressivo (Ob. with fl. and cl. and arpeggic cellos)]
warm tones of the love-song in triumph of bliss.[A] As the song dies away, the festal sounds fade. Grim meditation returns in double figure,—the slower, heavier pace below. Its shadows are all about as in a fugue of fears, flitting still to the tune of the dance and anon yielding before the gaiety. But through the returning festal ring the fateful motive is still straying in the bass. In the concluding revel the hue of meditation is not entirely banned.
[Footnote A: In unison of the wind. Berlioz has here noted in the score "Reunion des deux Themes, du Larghetto et de L'Allegro," the second and first of our cited phrases.]
The Shakespearian love-drama thus far seems to be celebrated in the manner of a French romance. After all, the treatment remains scenic in the main; the feeling is diluted, as it were, not intensified by the music.
The stillness of night and the shimmering moonlight are in the delicate harmonies of (Allegretto) strings. A lusty song of departing revellers breaks upon the scene. The former distant sounds of feast are now near and clear in actual words.
[Music: Adagio (Muted strings) (Pizz. basses an 8ve. lower)]
There is an intimate charm, a true glamor of love-idyll about the Adagio. On more eager pulse rises a languorous strain of horn and cellos. The flow
[Music: (Horn and cellos with murmuring strings)]
of its passionate phrase reaches the climax of prologue where, the type and essence of the story, it plays about the lovers' first meeting. As lower strings hum the burden of desire, higher wood add touches of ecstasy, the melting violins sing the wooing song, and all break into an overwhelming rapture, as though transfigured in the brightness of its own vehemence, in midst of a trembling mystery.
The restless spirit starts (allegro agitato) in fearsome agitation on quick nervous throb of melody; below, violas sing a soothing answer; there is a clear dialogue of wistful lovers.
Instead of the classic form of several verses led by one dominant melody to varied paths and views, here almost in reverse we seem to fall from a broader lyric mood to a single note of sad yearning that
[Music: (Fl. with Eng. horn an 8ve. below) (Muted violins with sustained lower strings)]
grows out of the several strains. Upon such a motive a new melody sings. The delicate bliss of early love is all about, and in the lingering close the timid ecstasies of wooing phrase. But this is a mere prelude to the more highly stressed, vehement song of love that follows on the same yearning motive. Here is the crowning, summing phase of the whole poem, without a return to earlier melody save that, by significant touch, it ends in the same expressive turn as the former languorous song.
The first melody does not reappear, is thus a kind of background of the scene. The whole is a dramatic lyric that moves from broader tune to a reiterated note of sad desire, driven to a splendid height of crowned bliss. The turbulence of early love is there; pure ardor in flaming tongues of ecstasy; the quick turn of mood and the note of omen of the original poem: the violence of early love and the fate that hangs over.
Berlioz has drawn the subject of his Scherzo from Mercutio's speech in Scene 4 of the First Act of Shakespeare's tragedy. He has entitled it "Queen Mab, or the Fairy of Dreams," and clearly intends to portray the airy flight of Mab and her fairies. But we must doubt whether this, the musical gem of the symphony, has a plan that is purely graphic,—rather does it seem to soar beyond those concrete limits to an utterance of the sense of dreams themselves in the spirit of Mercutio's conclusion:
"... I talk of dreams Which are the children of an idle brain, Begot of nothing but vain fantasy; Which is as thin of substance as the air;"
And we may add, as elusive for the enchanted mind to hold are these pranks and brilliant parade of tonal sprites. It stands one of the masterpieces of program-music, in equal balance of pure beauty with the graphic plan.
Imps they are, these flitting figures, almost insects with a personality. In pace there is a division, where the first dazzling speed is simply the fairy rhythm (halted anon by speaking pauses or silences), and the second, a kind of idyll or romance in miniature. It is all a drama of fairy actors, in a dreamland of softest tone. The main figure leads its troop on gossamer thread of varied journey.
[Music: (Violins) Prestissimo]
Almost frightening in the quickest, pulsing motion is the sudden stillness, as the weird poising of trembling sprites. Best of all is the resonant beauty of the second melody in enchanting surprise of tone.
[Music: (Strings without basses)]
Anon, as in a varied dance, the skipping, mincing step is followed by a gentle swaying; or the figures all run together down the line to start the first dance again, or the divided groups have different motions, or one shouts a sudden answer to the other.
Much slower now is the main song (in flute and English horn) beneath an ariel harmony (of overtones), while a quicker trip begins below of the same figure. And in the midst is a strange concert of low dancing strings with highest tones of harp,—strange mating of flitting sprites.
We are suddenly back in the first, skipping dance, ever faster and brighter in dazzling group of lesser figures. And here is the golden note of fairy-land,—the horn in soft cheery hunter's lay, answered by echoing voices. For a moment the call is tipped with touch of sadness, then rings out brightly in a new quarter. Beautiful it sings between the quick phrases, with a certain shock of change, and there is the terror of a sudden low rumbling and the thrill of new murmuring sounds with soft beat of drum that hails the gathering fairies. There is a sudden clarion burst of the whole chorus, with clash of drum and clang of brass, and sudden pause, then faintest echoes of higher voices.
A new figure now dances a joyous measure to the tinkling of harp and the sparkling strokes of high
[Music: (Harp in higher 8ve.) (Clarinet with chord of horns) (Violas)]
cymbals and long blown tone of horns. The very essence it is of fairy life. And so the joy is not unmixed with just a touch of awe. Amidst the whole tintinnabulation is a soft resonant echo of horns below, like an image in a lake. The air hangs heavy with dim romance until the sudden return to first fairy verse in sounds almost human. Once more come the frightening pauses.
The end is in a great crash of sweet sound—a glad awakening to day and to reality.
A SYMPHONY TO DANTE'S "DIVINA COMMEDIA"
FOR ORCHESTRA AND CHORUS OF SOPRANOS AND ALTOS
The "Divina Commedia" may be said in a broad view to belong to the great design by which Christian teaching was brought into relation with earlier pagan lore. The subject commands all the interest of the epics of Virgil and of Milton. It must be called the greatest Christian poem of all times, and the breadth of its appeal and of its art specially attest the age in which it was written, when classic pagan poetry broke upon the world like a great treasure-trove.
The subject was an ideal one in Dante's time,—a theme convincing and contenting to all the world, and, besides, akin to the essence of pagan poetry. The poet was needed to celebrate all the phases of its meaning and beauty. This is true of all flashes of evolutionary truth. As in the ancient epics, an idea once real to the world may be enshrined in a design of immortal art.
To-day we are perhaps in too agnostic a state to be absorbed by such a contemplation. The subject in a narrower sense is true at most to those who will to cherish the solace of a salvation which they have not fully apprehended. And so the Liszt symphony of the nineteenth century is not a complete reflection of the Dante poem of the fourteenth. It becomes for the devout believer almost a kind of church-liturgy,—a Mass by the Abbe Liszt.
Rare qualities there undoubtedly are in the music: a reality of passion; a certain simplicity of plan; the sensuous beauty of melodic and harmonic touches. But a greatness in the whole musical expression that may approach the grandeur of the poem, could only come in a suggestion of symbolic truth; and here the composer seems to fail by a too close clinging to ecclesiastic ritual. Yet in the agony of remorse, rising from hopeless woe to a chastened worship of the light, is a strain of inner truth that will leave the work for a long time a hold on human interest.
Novel is the writing of words in the score, as if they are to be sung by the instruments,—all sheer aside from the original purpose of the form. Page after page has its precise text; we hear the shrieks of the damned, the dread inscription of the infernal portals; the sad lament of lovers; the final song of praise of the redeemed. A kind of picture-book music has our symphony become. The leit-motif has crept into the high form of absolute tones to make it as definite and dramatic as any opera.
The legend of the portal is proclaimed at the outset in a rising phrase (of the low brass and strings)
[Music: (Doubled in two lower 8ves.) Lento (3 trombones and tuba: violas, cellos and brass)]
Per me si va nella cit-ta do-lente; Per me si va nell'eterno dolore;
and in still higher chant—
Per me si va tra la perduta gente.
Then, in antiphonal blast of horns and trumpets sounds the fatal doom in grim monotone (in descending harmony of trembling strings):
[Music: (Chant in octaves of trumpets and horns) La-scia-te ogni spe-ran- - -za. (Brass, wood and tremolo strings)]
Lasciate ogni speranza mi ch' entrate![A]
"Through me the way is to the city dolent; Through me the way is to eternal dole; Through me the way among the people lost. All hope abandon, ye who enter in!"
—From Longfellow's translation.]
A tumult on a sigh (from the first phrase) rises again and again in gusts. In a violent paroxysm we hear the doom of the monotone in lowest horns. The fateful phrases are ringing about, while pervading all is the hope-destroying blast of the brass. But the storm-centre is the sighing motive which now enters on a quicker spur of passionate stride (Allegro frenetico, quasi doppio movimento). In its winding
[Music: Alla breve Allegro frenetico (quasi doppio movimento) (Theme in violins and cellos) (Woodwind and violas)]
sequences it sings a new song in more regular pace. The tempest grows wilder and more masterful, still following the lines of the song, rising to towering height. And now in the strains, slow and faster, sounds the sigh above and below, all in a madrigal of woe. The whole is surmounted by a big descending phrase, articulate almost in its grim dogma, as it runs into the line of the first legend in full tumult of gloom. It is followed by the doom slowly proclaimed in thundering tones of the brass, in midst of a tempest of surging harmonies. Only it is all more fully and poignantly stressed than before, with long, resonant echoes of the stentorian tones of lowest brass.
Suddenly we are in the dulcet mood (Quasi Andante, ma sempre un poco mosso) 'mid light waving strings and rich swirling harp, and soothing tones of flutes and muted horns. Then, as all other voices are hushed, the clarinet sings a strain that ends in lowest notes of expressive grief (Recit., espressivo dolente)—where we can almost hear the words. It is answered by a sweet plaint of other wood, in
[Music: Quasi Andante, ma sempre un poco mosso dolce teneremente (Clarinets and bassoons)]
questioning accents, followed by the returning waves of strings and harp, and another phrase of the lament; and now to the pulsing chords of the harp the mellow English horn does sing (at least in the score) the words,—the central text of all:
[Music: Poco agitato (English horn, with arpeggic flow of harp) Nes-sun mag-gior do-lo-re che ri-cor-dar-si del tem-po fe-li-ce.[A]]
[Footnote A: "There is no greater sorrow than to be mindful of the happy time in misery."—From Longfellow's translation.]
Other voices join the leader. As the lower reed start the refrain, the higher enter in pursuit, and then the two groups sing a melodic chase. But the whole phrase is a mere foil to the pure melody of the former plaint that now returns in lower strings. And all so far is as a herald to the passage of intimate sentiment (Andante amoroso) that lies a lyric gem in the heart of the symphony. The melting strain is stressed in tenderness by the languor of harmonies, the delicate design of elusive rhythm and the appealing whisper of harp and two violins,—tipped by the touch of mellow wood.
[Music: Andante amoroso. (Tempo rubato) dolce con intimo sentimento (Melody in first violins; arpeggios of harp and violas; lower woodwind and strings)]
With the rising passion, as the refrain spreads in wider sequences, the choirs of wood and strings are drawn into the song, one group answering the other in a true love duet.
The last cadence falls into the old sigh as the dread oracle sounds once more the knell of hope. Swirling strings bring us to a new scene of the world of shades. In the furious, frenetic pace of yore (Tempo primo, Allegro, alla breve) there is a new sullen note, a dull martial trip of drums with demonic growls (in the lowest wood). The sigh is there, but perverted in humor. A chorus of blasphemous mockery is stressed by strident accents of lower wood and strings.[A]
[Footnote A: We are again assisted by the interpreting words in the score.]
Gradually we fall into the former frenzied song, amid the demon cacchinations, until we have plunged back into the nightmare of groans. Instead of the big descending phrase we sink into lower depths of gloom, wilder than ever, on the first tripping motive. As the sighing strain resounds below in the midst of a chorus of demon shrieks, there enters the chant of inexorable fate. Mockery yields to a tinge of pathos, a sense almost of majestic resignation, an apotheosis of grief.
A state of tranquillity, almost of bliss, is in the opening primal harmonies (of harp and strings and
[Music: Andante con moto quasi Allegretto. Tranquillo assai (Oboe molto espressivo) Sempre piano e legato (Full arpeggic harp and muted strings)]
soft horns). Indeed, what else could be the mood of relief from the horrors of hell? And lo! the reed strikes a pure limpid song echoed in turn by other voices, beneath a rich spray of heavenly harmonies.
This all recurs in higher shift of tone. A wistful phrase (piu lento, in low strings) seems to breathe
[Music: Un poco meno mosso (English horn, clarinets, bassoons, French horn)]
a spoken sob. Then, as in voices of a hymn, chants a more formal liturgy of plaint where the phrase is almost lost in the lowest voice. It is all but articulate, with a sense of the old sigh; but it is in a calmer spirit, though anon bursting with passionate grief (lagrimoso).
[Music: Lamentoso (In fugue of muted strings)]
And now in the same vein, of the same fibre, a fugue begins of lament, first in muted strings.
It is the line of sad expressive recitative that heralded the plaint and the love-scene. There is here the full charm of fugue: a rhythmic quality of single theme, the choir of concerted dirge in independent and interdependent paths, and with every note of integral melody. There is the beauty of pure tonal architecture blended with the personal significance of the human (and divine) tragedy.
The fugue begins in muted strings, like plaintive human voices, though wood and brass here and there light up the phrases. Now the full bass of horns and wood strikes the descending course of theme, while higher strings and wood soar in rising stress of (sighing) grief.
[Music: (In double higher 8ves.) With lower 8ves. (Strings, with enforcing and answering wind)]
A hymnal verse of the theme enters in the wood answered by impetuous strings on a coursing phrase. The antiphonal song rises with eager stress of themal attack. A quieter elegy leads to another burst, the motive above, the insistent sigh below. The climax of fugue returns to the heroic main plaint below, with sighing answers above, all the voices of wood and brass enforcing the strings.
Then the fugue turns to a transfigured phase; the theme rings triumphant retorts in golden horns and in a masterful unison of the wood; the wild answer runs joyfully in lower strings, while the higher are strumming like celestial harps. The whole is transformed to a big song of praise ever in higher harmonies. The theme flows on in ever varying thread, amidst the acclaiming tumult.
But the heavenly heights are not reached by a single leap. Once more we sink to sombre depths not of the old rejection, but of a chastened, wistful wonderment. The former plaintive chant returns, in slower, contained pace, broken by phrases of mourning recitative, with the old sigh. And a former brief strain of simple aspiration is supported by angelic harps. In gentle ascent we are wafted to the acclaim of heavenly (treble) voices in the Magnificat. A wonderful utterance, throughout the scene of Purgatory, there is of a chastened, almost spiritual grief for the sin that cannot be undone, though it is not past pardon.
The bold design of the final Praise of the Almighty was evidently conceived in the main as a service. An actual depiction, or a direct expression (such as is attempted in the prologue of Boito's Mefistofele) was thereby avoided. The Holy of Holies is screened from view by a priestly ceremony,—by the mask of conventional religion. Else we must take the composer's personal conception of such a climax as that of an orthodox Churchman. And then the whole work, with all its pathos and humanity, falls to the level of liturgy.
The words of invisible angel-chorus are those of the blessed maid trusting in God her savior, on a theme for which we are prepared by preluding choirs of harps, wood and strings. It is sung on an ancient Church tone that in its height approaches the mode of secular song. With all the power of broad rhythm, and fulness of harmony and volume, the feeling is of conventional worship. With all the purity of shimmering harmonies the form is ecclesiastical in its main lines and depends upon liturgic symbols for its effect and upon the faith of the listener for its appeal.
At the end of the hymn, on the entering Hosanna! and Hallelujah! we catch the sacred symbol (of seven tones) in the path of the two vocal parts, the lower descending, the higher ascending as on heavenly scale. In the second, optional ending the figure is completed, as the bass descends through the seven whole tones and the treble (of voices and instruments) rises as before to end in overpowering Hallelujah! The style is close knit with the earlier music. A pervading motive is the former brief phrase of aspiration; upon it the angelic groups seem to wing their flight between verses of praise. By a wonderful touch the sigh, that appeared inverted in the plaintive chant of the Purgatorio, is finally glorified as the motive of the bass to the words of exultation.
THE SYMPHONIC POEMS OF LISZT
Liszt was clearly a follower of Berlioz in the abandon to a pictorial aim, in the revolt from pure musical form, and in the mastery of orchestral color. If we feel in almost all his works a charming translation of story in the tones, we also miss the higher empyraean of pure fancy, unlimited by halting labels. It is a descent into pleasant, rich pastures from the cosmic view of the lofty mountain. Yet it must be yielded that Liszt's program-music was of the higher kind that dwells in symbols rather than in concrete details. It was a graphic plan of symbolization that led Liszt to choose the subjects of his symphonic poems (such as the "Preludes" and the "Ideals") and to prefer the poetic scheme of Hugo's "Mazeppa" to the finer verse of a Byron. Though not without literal touches, Liszt perceived that his subjects must have a symbolic quality.
Nevertheless this pictorial style led to a revolution in the very nature of musical creation and to a new form which was seemingly intended to usurp the place of the symphony. It is clear that the symphonic poem is in very essence opposed to the symphony. The genius of the symphony lies in the overwhelming breadth and intensity of its expression without the aid of words. Vainly decried by a later age of shallower perception, it achieved this Promethean stroke by the very magic of the design. At one bound thus arose in the youngest art a form higher than any other of human device,—higher than the epic, the drama, or the cathedral.
Bowing to an impatient demand for verbal meaning, Liszt invented the Symphonic Poem, in which the classic cogency yielded to the loose thread of a musical sketch in one movement, slavishly following the sequence of some literary subject. He abandoned sheer tonal fancy, surrendering the magic potency of pure music, fully expressive within its own design far beyond the literal scheme.[A]
[Footnote A: Mendelssohn with perfect insight once declared,—"Notes have as definite a meaning as words, perhaps even a more definite one."]
The symphonic poems of Liszt, in so far as his intent was in destructive reaction to the classic process, were precisely in line with the drama of Wagner. The common revolt completely failed. The higher, the real music is ever of that pure tonal design where the fancy is not leashed to some external scheme. Liszt himself grew to perceive the inadequacy of the new device when he returned to the symphony for his greatest orchestral expression, though even here he never escaped from the thrall of a literal subject.
And strangely, in point of actual music, we cannot fail to find an emptier, a more grandiose manner in all these symphonic poems than in the two symphonies. It seems as if an unconscious sense of the greater nobility of the classic medium drove Liszt to a far higher inspiration in his melodic themes.
Yet we cannot deny the brilliant, dazzling strokes, and the luscious harmonies. It was all a new manner, and alone the novelty is welcome, not to speak of the broad sweep of facile melody, and the sparkling thrills.
This work has a preface by the composer, who refers in a footnote to the "Meditations poetiques" of Lamartine.
"What else is our life than a series of preludes to that unknown song of which the first solemn note is struck by death? Love is the morning glow of every heart; but in what human career have not the first ecstasies of bliss been broken by the storm, whose cruel breath destroys fond illusions, and blasts the sacred shrine with the bolt of lightning. And what soul, sorely wounded, does not, emerging from the tempest, seek to indulge its memories in the calm of country life? Nevertheless, man will not resign himself for long to the soothing charm of quiet nature, and when the trumpet sounds the signal of alarm, he runs to the perilous post, whatever be the cause that calls him to the ranks of war,—that he may find in combat the full consciousness of himself and the command of all his powers."
How far is the music literally graphic? We cannot look for the "unknown song" in definite sounds. That would defeat, not describe, its character. But the first solemn notes, are not these the solemn rising phrase that reappears in varying rhythm and pace all about the beginning and, indeed, the whole course
[Music: Andante (Strings, doubled in two lower 8ves.)]
of the music. Just these three notes abound in the mystic first "prelude," and they are the core of the great swinging tune of the Andante maestoso, the beginning and main pulse of the unknown song.
[Music: Andante maestoso (Basses of strings, wood and brass, doubled below; arpeggic harmonies in upper strings; sustained higher wood)]
Now (dolce cantando) is a softer guise of the phrase. For death and birth, the two portals, are like
[Music: (Strings, with arpeggic violins) dolce cantando (Pizz. basses)]
elements. Even here the former separate motive sounds, and so in the further turn of the song (espressivo dolente) on new thread.
The melody that sings (espressivo ma tranquillo) may well stand for "love, the glow of dawn in every heart." Before the storm, both great motives (of love and death) sound together very beautifully, as in
[Music: espress. ma tranquillo dolce. (Horns and lower strings, with arpeggic harp and violins)]
Tennyson's poem. The storm that blasts the romance begins with the same fateful phrase. It is all about, even inverted, and at the crisis it sings with the fervor of full-blown song. At the lull the soft guise reappears, faintly, like a sweet memory.
The Allegretto pastorale is clear from the preface. After we are lulled, soothed, caressed and all but entranced by these new impersonal sounds, then, as if the sovereign for whom all else were preparing, the song of love seeks its recapitulated verse. Indeed here is the real full song. Is it that in the memory lies the reality, or at least the realization?
Out of the dream of love rouses the sudden alarm of brass (Allegro marziale animato), with a new war-tune fashioned of the former soft disguised motive. The air of fate still hangs heavy over all. In spirited retorts the martial madrigal proceeds, but it is not all mere war and courage. Through the clash of strife break in the former songs, the love-theme in triumph and the first expressive strain in tempestuous joy. Last of all the fateful original motto rings once more in serene, contained majesty.
On the whole, even with so well-defined a program, and with a full play of memory, we cannot be quite sure of a fixed association of the motive. It is better to view the melodic episodes as subjective phases, arising from the tenor of the poem.
Liszt's "Tasso" is probably the earliest celebration, in pure tonal form, of the plot of man's suffering and redemption, that has been so much followed that it may be called the type of the modern symphony.[A] In this direct influence the "Tasso" poem has been the most striking of all of Liszt's creations.
[Footnote A: We may mention such other works of Liszt as "Mazeppa" and the "Faust" Symphony; the third symphony of Saint-Saens; Strauss' tone poem "Death and Transfiguration"; Volbach's symphony, besides other symphonies such as a work by Carl Pohlig. We may count here, too, the Heldenlied by Dvorak, and Strauss' Heldenleben (see Vol. II).]
The following preface of the composer accompanies the score:
"In the year 1849 the one hundredth anniversary of Goethe's birth was celebrated throughout Germany; the theatre in Weimar, where we were at the time, marked the 28th of August by a performance of 'Tasso.'
"The tragic fate of the unfortunate bard served as a text for the two greatest poets produced by Germany and England in the last century: Goethe and Byron. Upon Goethe was bestowed the most brilliant of mortal careers; while Byron's advantages of birth and of fortune were balanced by keenest suffering. We must confess that when bidden, in 1849, to write an overture for Goethe's drama, we were more immediately inspired by Byron's reverential pity for the shades of the great man, which he invoked, than by the work of the German poet. Nevertheless Byron, in his picture of Tasso in prison, was unable to add to the remembrance of his poignant grief, so nobly and eloquently uttered in his 'Lament,' the thought of the 'Triumph' that a tardy justice gave to the chivalrous author of 'Jerusalem Delivered.' We have sought to mark this dual idea in the very title of our work, and we should be glad to have succeeded in pointing this great contrast,—the genius who was misjudged during his life, surrounded, after death, with a halo that destroyed his enemies. Tasso loved and suffered at Ferrara; he was avenged at Rome; his glory still lives in the folk-songs of Venice. These three elements are inseparable from his immortal memory. To represent them in music, we first called up his august spirit as he still haunts the waters of Venice. Then we beheld his proud and melancholy figure as he passed through the festivals of Ferrara where he had produced his master-works. Finally we followed him to Rome, the eternal city, that offered him the crown and glorified in him the martyr and the poet.
"Lamento e Trionfo: Such are the opposite poles of the destiny of poets, of whom it has been justly said that if their lives are sometimes burdened with a curse, a blessing is never wanting over their grave. For the sake not merely of authority, but the distinction of historical truth, we put our idea into realistic form in taking for the theme of our musical poem the motive with which we have heard the gondoliers of Venice sing over the waters the lines of Tasso, and utter them three centuries after the poet:
"'Canto l'armi pietose e'l Capitano Che'l gran Sepolcro libero di Christo!'
"The motive is in itself plaintive; it has a sustained sigh, a monotone of grief. But the gondoliers give it a special quality by prolonging certain tones—as when distant rays of brilliant light are reflected on the waves. This song had deeply impressed us long ago. It was impossible to treat of Tasso without taking, as it were, as text for our thoughts, this homage rendered by the nation to the genius whose love and loyalty were ill merited by the court of Ferrara. The Venetian melody breathes so sharp a melancholy, such hopeless sadness, that it suffices in itself to reveal the secret of Tasso's grief. It lent itself, like the poet's imagination, to the world's brilliant illusions, to the smooth and false coquetry of those smiles that brought the dreadful catastrophe in their train, for which there seemed to be no compensation in this world. And yet upon the Capitol the poet was clothed with a mantle of purer and more brilliant purple than that of Alphonse."
With the help of the composer's plot, the intent of the music becomes clear, to the dot almost of the note. The whole poem is an exposition of the one sovereign melody, where we may feel a kindred trait of Hungarian song, above all in the cadences, that must have stirred Liszt's patriot heart. Nay,—beginning as it does with melancholy stress of the phrase of cadence and the straying into full rhythmitic exultation, it seems (in strange guise) another
[Music: Adagio mesto (With rhythmic harp and horns)]
of Liszt's Hungarian rhapsodies,—that were, perhaps, the greatest of all he achieved, where his unpremeditated frenzy revelled in purest folk-rhythm and tune. The natural division of the Hungarian dance, with the sad Lassu and the glad Friss, is here clear in order and recurrence. The Magyar seems to the manner born in both parts of the melody.[A]
[Footnote A: A common Oriental element in Hungarian and Venetian music has been observed. See Kretschmar's note to Liszt's "Tasso" (Breitkopf & Haertel).]
In the accents of the motive of cadence (Lento) we feel the secret grief of the hero, that turns Allegro strepitoso, in quicker pace to fierce revolt.
In full tragic majesty the noble theme enters, in panoply of woe. In the further flow, as in the beginning, is a brief chromatic strain and a sigh of descending tone that do not lie in the obvious song, that are drawn by the subjective poet from the latent fibre. Here is the modern Liszt, of rapture and anguish, in manner and in mood that proved so potent a model with a later generation.[A]
[Footnote A: See note in the final chapter of Volume II.]
The verse ends in a prolonged threnody, then turns to a firm, serenely grave burst of the song in major, Meno Adagio, with just a hint of martial grandeur. For once, or the nonce, we seem to see the hero-poet acclaimed. In a middle episode the motive of the cadence sings expressively with delicate harmonies, rising to full-blown exaltation. We may see here an actual brief celebration, such as Tasso did receive on entering Ferrara.
And here is a sudden fanciful turn. A festive dance strikes a tuneful trip,—a menuet it surely is, with all the ancient festal charm, vibrant with tune and spring, though still we do not escape the source of the first pervading theme. Out of the midst of the dance sings slyly an enchanting phrase, much like a secret love-romance. Now to the light continuing dance is joined a strange companion,—the heroic melody in its earlier majestic pace. Is it the poet in serious meditation at the feast apart from the joyous abandon, or do we see him laurel-crowned, a centre of the festival, while the gay dancers flit about him in homage?
More and more brilliant grows the scene, though ever with the dominant grave figure. With sudden stroke as of fatal blast returns the earlier fierce burst of revolt, rising to agitation of the former lament, blending both moods and motives, and ending with a broader stress of the first tragic motto.
Now, Allegro con brio, with herald calls of the brass and fanfare of running strings (drawn from the personal theme), in bright major the whole song bursts forth in brilliant gladness. At the height the exaltation finds vent in a peal of simple melody. The "triumph" follows in broadest, royal pace of the main song in the wind, while the strings are madly coursing and the basses reiterate the transformed motive of the cadence. The end is a revel of jubilation.
The Mazeppa music is based upon Victor Hugo's poem, in turn founded upon Byron's verse, with an added stirring touch of allegory.
The verses of Hugo first tell how the victim is tied to the fiery steed, how—
"He turns in the toils like a serpent in madness, And ... his tormentors have feasted in gladness Upon his despair.
* * * * *
"They fly.—Empty space is behind and before them
* * * * *
"The horse, neither bridle nor bit on him feeling, Flies ever; red drops o'er the victim are stealing: His whole body bleeds. Alas! to the wild horses foaming and champing That followed with mane erect, neighing and stamping, A crow-flight succeeds. The raven, the horn'd owl with eyes round and hollow, The osprey and eagle from battle-field follow, Though daylight alarm.
* * * * *
"Then after three days of this course wild and frantic, Through rivers of ice, plains and forests gigantic, The horse sinks and dies;
* * * * *
"Yet mark! That poor sufferer, gasping and moaning, To-morrow the Cossacks of Ukraine atoning, Will hail as their King;
* * * * *
"To royal Mazeppa the hordes Asiatic Will show their devotion in fervor ecstatic, And low to earth bow."
In his splendid epilogue the poet likens the hero to the mortal on whom the god has set his mark. He sees himself bound living to the fatal course of genius, the fiery steed.
"Away from the world—from all real existence He is borne upwards, despite his resistance On feet of steel. He is taken o'er deserts, o'er mountains in legions, Grey-hoary, thro' oceans, and into the regions Far over the clouds; A thousand base spirits his progress unshaken Arouses, press round him and stare as they waken, In insolent crowds
* * * * *
"He cries out with terror, in agony grasping, Yet ever the mane of his Pegasus clasping, They heavenward spring; Each leap that he takes with fresh woe is attended; He totters—falls lifeless—the struggle is ended— And rises as King!"[A]
[Footnote A: The English verses are taken for the most part from the translation of F. Corder.]
The original Allegro agitato in broad 6/4 time (aptly suggestive of the unbridled motion) grows
[Music: (In brass and strings with lower 8ve.) (With constant clattering higher strings and chord of low wind on the middle beat)]
more rapid into an alla breve pace (in two beats), with dazzling maze of lesser rhythms. Throughout the work a song of primeval strain prevails. Here and there a tinge of foreshadowing pain appears, as the song sounds on high, espressivo dolente. But the fervor and fury of movement is undiminished. The brief touch of pathos soon merges in the general heroic mood. Later, the whole motion ceases, "the horse sinks and dies," and now an interlude sings a pure plaint (in the strain of the main motive). Then, Allegro, the martial note clangs in stirring trumpet and breaks into formal song of war, Allegro marziale.
[Music: (Brass and strings) Allegro marziale (With lower 8ve.)]
In the wake of this song, with a relentless trip and tramp of warrior hordes, is the real clash and jingle of the battle, where the sparkling thrill of strings and the saucy counter theme are strong elements in the stirring beauty.
There is a touch here of the old Goth, or rather the Hun, nearer akin to the composer's race.
At the height rings out the main tune of yore, transformed in triumphant majesty.
The musical design embraces various phases. First is the clear rhythmic sense of the ride. We think of other instances like Schubert's "Erl-King" or the ghostly ride in Raff's "Lenore" Symphony.
The degree of vivid description must vary, not only with the composer, but with the hearer. The greatest masters have yielded to the variety of the actual graphic touch. And, too, there are always interpreters who find it, even if it was never intended. Thus it is common to hear at the very beginning of the "Mazeppa" music the cry that goes up as starts the flight.
We are of course entitled, if we prefer, to feel the poetry rather than the picture. Finally it is probably true that such a poetic design is not marred merely because there is here or there a trick of onomatopoeia; if it is permitted in poetry, why not in music? It may be no more than a spur to the fancy, a quick conjuring of the association.
HUNNENSCHLACHT—"THE BATTLE OF THE HUNS"
Liszt's symphonic poem, "Hunnenschlacht," one of the last of his works in this form, completed in 1857, was directly inspired by the picture of the German painter, Wilhelm Kaulbach, which represents the legend of the aerial battle between the spirits of the Romans and Huns who had fallen outside of the walls of Rome.[A]
[Footnote A: A description of the picture is cited by Lawrence Gilman in his book, "Stories of Symphonic Music," as follows:
"According to a legend, the combatants were so exasperated that the slain rose during the night and fought in the air. Rome, which is seen in the background, is said to have been the scene of this event. Above, borne on a shield, is Attila, with a scourge in his hand; opposite him Theodoric, King of the Visigoths. The foreground is a battle-field, strewn with corpses, which are seen to be gradually reviving, rising up and rallying, while among them wander wailing and lamenting women."]
The evidence of the composer's intent is embodied in a letter written in 1857 to the wife of the painter, which accompanied the manuscript of an arrangement of the music for two pianos. In the letter Liszt speaks of "the meteoric and solar light which I have borrowed from the painting, and which at the Finale I have formed into one whole by the gradual working up of the Catholic choral 'Crux fidelis,' and the meteoric sparks blended therewith." He continues: "As I have already intimated to Kaulbach, in Munich, I was led by the musical demands of the material to give proportionately more place to the solar light of Christianity, personified in the Catholic choral ... than appears to be the case in the glorious painting, in order to win and pregnantly represent the conclusion of the Victory of the Cross, with which I both as a Catholic and as a man could not dispense."
The work begins tempestuoso (allegro non troppo), with a nervous theme over soft rolling drums and
[Music: Tempestuoso. Allegro non troppo (Bassoons with tremolo cellos and roll of kettle-drums)]
trembling low strings, that is taken up as in fugue by successive groups and carried to a height where enters a fierce call of the horns. The cries of battle spread with increasing din and gathering speed. At the first climax the whole motion has a new energy, as the strings in feverish chase attack the quickened motive with violent stress. Later, though the motion has not lessened, the theme has returned to a semblance of its former pace, and again the cries of battle (in brass and wood) sound across its path.
[Music: (Strings, tremolo, doubled above) (Horns)]
In the hush of the storm the full-blown call to arms is heard in lowest, funereal tones. Of a sudden, though the speed is the same, the pace changes with a certain terror as of a cavalry attack. Presently amid the clattering tramp sounds the big hymn,—in the ancient rhythm that moves strangely out of the rut of even time.[A]
[Footnote A: Quoted on the following page.]
A single line of the hymn is followed by a refrain of the battle-call, and by the charge of horse that brings back the hymn, in high pitch of trumpets. And so recur the former phases of battle,—really of threat and preparation. For now begins the serious fray in one long gathering of speed and power. The first theme here grows to full melodic song, with extended answer, led by strepitous band of lower reed over a heavy clatter of strings. We are in a
[Music: (Trombones with lower 8ve) Marcato]
maze of furious charges and cries, till the shrill trumpet and the stentorian trombone strike the full call in antiphonal song. The tempest increases with a renewed charge of the strings, and now the more distant calls have a slower sweep. Later the battle song is in the basses,—again in clashing basses and trebles; nearer strike the broad sweeping calls.
Suddenly over the hushed motion in soothing harmonies sings the hymn in pious choir of all the brass. Then the gathering speed and volume is merged in a majestic tread as of ordered array (Maestoso assai; Andante); a brief spirited prelude of martial motives is answered by the soft religious strains of the organ on the line of the hymn:
"Crux fidelis, inter omnes Arbor una nobilis, Nulla silva talem profert Fronde, flore, germine. Dulce lignum, dulces clavos, Dulce pondus sustinet."[A]
Faithful cross, among the trees Thou the noblest of them all! Forest ne'er doth grow a like In leaf, in flower or in seed. Blessed wood and blessed nails, Blessed burden that it bears!]
As in solemn liturgy come the answering phrases of the organ and the big chorus in martial tread. As the hymn winds its further course, violins entwine about the harmonies. The last line ends in expressive strain and warm line of new major tone,—echoed in interluding organ and violins.
Suddenly a strict, solemn tread, with sharp stress of violins, brings a new song of the choral. Strings alone play here "with pious expression"; gradually reeds add support and ornament. A lingering phrase ascends on celestial harmonies. With a stern shock the plain hymn strikes in the reed, against a rapid course of strings, with fateful tread. In interlude sound the battle-cries of yore. Again the hymn ends in the expressive cadence, though now it grows to a height of power.
Here a former figure (the first motive of the battle) reappears in a new guise of bright major,[A] in full, spirited stride, and leads once more to a blast of the hymn, with organ and all, the air in unison of trumpets and all the wood. The expressive cadence merges into a last fanfare of battle, followed by a strain of hymns and with reverberating Amens, where the organ predominates and holds long after all other sounds have ceased.
[Footnote A: In the whole tonality we may see the "meteoric and solar light" of which the composer speaks in the letter quoted above.]
THE SYMPHONIC POEMS OF SAINT-SAENS
There is something charming and even ideal in a complete versatility, quite apart from the depth of the separate poems, where there is a never-failing touch of grace and of distinction. The Philip Sydneys are quite as important as the Miltons, perhaps they are as great. Some poets seem to achieve an expression in a certain cyclic or sporadic career of their fancy, touching on this or that form, illuminating with an elusive light the various corners of the garden. Their individual expression lies in the ensemble of these touches, rather than in a single profound revelation.
A symptom of the eminence of Saint-Saens in the history of French music lies in his attitude towards the art as a whole, especially of the German masters,—the absence of national bias in his perceptions. He was foremost in revealing to his countrymen the greatness of Bach, Beethoven and Schumann. Without their influence the present high state of French music can hardly be conceived.
It is part of a broad and versatile mastery that it is difficult to analyze. Thus it is not easy to find salient traits in the art of M. Saint-Saens. We are apt to think mainly of the distinguished beauty of his harmonies, until we remember his subtle counterpoint, or in turn the brilliancy of his orchestration. The one trait that he has above his contemporaries is an inbred refinement and restraint,—a thorough-going workmanship. If he does not share a certain overwrought emotionalism that is much affected nowadays, there is here no limitation—rather a distinction. Aside from the general charm of his art, Saint-Saens found in the symphonic poem his one special form, so that it seemed Liszt had created it less for himself than for his French successor. A fine reserve of poetic temper saved him from hysterical excess. He never lost the music in the story, disdaining the mere rude graphic stroke; in his dramatic symbols a musical charm is ever commingled. And a like poise helped him to a right plot and point in his descriptions. So his symphonic poems must ever be enjoyed mainly for the music, with perhaps a revery upon the poetic story. With a less brilliant vein of melody, though they are not so Promethean in reach as those of Liszt, they are more complete in the musical and in the narrative effect.
Challenged for a choice among the works of the versatile composer, we should hit upon the Danse Macabre as the most original, profound and essentially beautiful of all. It is free from certain lacks that one feels in other works, with all their charm,—a shallowness and almost frivolity; a facility of theme approaching the commonplace.
There is here an eccentric quality of humor, a daemonic conceit that reach the height of other classic expression of the supernatural.
The music is founded upon certain lines of a poem of Henri Calais (under a like title), that may be given as follows:
Zig-a-zig, zig-a-zig-a-zig, Death knocks on the tomb with rhythmic heel. Zig-a-zig, zig-a-zig-zig, Death fiddles at midnight a ghostly reel.
The winter wind whistles, dark is the night; Dull groans behind the lindens grow loud; Back and forth fly the skeletons white, Running and leaping each under his shroud. Zig-a-zig-a-zig, how it makes you quake, As you hear the bones of the dancers shake.
* * * * *
But hist! all at once they vanish away, The cock has hailed the dawn of day.
The magic midnight strokes sound clear and sharp. In eager chords of tuned pitch the fiddling ghost summons the dancing groups, where the single fife is soon followed by demon violins.
Broadly sings now the descending tune half-way between a wail and a laugh. And ever in interlude is the skipping, mincing step,—here of reeds answered by solo violin with a light clank of cymbals. Answering the summoning fifes, the unison troop of fiddlers dance the main step to bright strokes of triangle, then the main ghostly violin trips in with choir of wind. And broadly again sweeps the song between tears and
[Music: In waltz rhythm (Flute) (Harp, with sustained bass note of strings)]
smiles. Or Death fiddles the first strain of reel for the tumultuous answer of chorus.
Now they build a busy, bustling fugue (of the descending song) and at the serious moment suddenly
[Music: (Solo violin) Largamente (Pizz. strings)]
they skip away in new frolicsome, all but joyous, tune: a shadowy counterfeit of gladness, where the sob hangs on the edge of the smile. As if it could no longer be contained, now pours the full passionate grief of the broad descending strain. Death fiddles his mournful chant to echoing, expressive wind. On the abandon of grief follows the revel of grim humor in pranks of mocking demons. All the strains are mingled in the ghostly bacchanale. The descending song is answered in opposite melody. A chorus of laughter follows the tripping dance. The summoning chords, acclaimed by chorus, grow to appealing song in a brief lull. At the height, to the united skipping dance of overpowering chorus the brass blows the full verse of descending song. The rest is a mad storm of carousing till ... out of the whirling darkness sudden starts the sharp, sheer call of prosaic day, in high, shrill reed. On a minishing sound of rolling drum and trembling strings, sings a brief line of wistful rhapsody of the departing spirit before the last whisking steps.
On a separate page between title and score is a "Notice,"—an epitome of the story of Phaeton, as follows:
"Phaeton has been permitted to drive the chariot of the Sun, his father, through the heavens. But his unskilful hands frighten the steeds. The flaming chariot, thrown out of its course, approaches the terrestrial regions. The whole universe is on the verge of ruin when Jupiter strikes the imprudent Phaeton with his thunderbolt."
There is a solemn sense at first (Maestoso), a mid-air poise of the harmony, a quick spring of resolution and—on through the heavens. At the outset and always is the pervading musical charm. In the beginning is the enchantment of mere motion in lightest prancing strings and harp with slowly ascending curve. In farther journey comes a spring of the higher wood and soon a firm note of horns and a blast of trumpets on a chirruping call, till the whole panoply of solar brilliance is shimmering. Now with the continuing pulse (of saltant strings) rings a buoyant,
[Music: Allegro animato (Violins) Marcato (Trumpets and trombones)]
regnant air in the brass. A (canon) chase of echoing voices merely adds an entrancing bewilderment, then yields to other symbols and visions.
Still rises the thread of pulsing strings to higher empyraean and then floats forth in golden horns, as we hang in the heavens, a melody tenderly solemn, as of pent delight, or perhaps of a more fatal hue, with the solar orb encircled by his satellites.
Still on to a higher pole spins the dizzy path; then at the top of the song, it turns in slow descending curve. Almost to Avernus seems the gliding fall when the first melody rings anew. But there is now an anxious sense that dims the joy of motion and in the
[Music: (With trembling of violins in high B flat) (Horns)]
returning first motive jars the buoyant spring. Through the maze of fugue with tinge of terror presses the fatuous chase, when—crash comes the shock of higher power. There is a pause of motion in the din and a downward flight as of lifeless figure.
Now seems the soul of the sweet melody to sing, in purest dirge, without the shimmer of attendant motion save a ghostly shadow of the joyous symbol.
THE YOUTH OF HERCULES
The "Legend" is printed in the score as follows:
"Fable tells us that upon entering into life Hercules saw the two paths open before him: of pleasure and of virtue.
"Insensible to the seductions of Nymphs and Bacchantes, the hero devotes himself to the career of struggle and combat, at the end of which he glimpses across the flames of the funeral pyre the reward of immortality."
We can let our fancy play about the score and wonderfully hit an intention of the poet. Yet that is often rather a self-flattery than a real perception. In the small touches we may lose the greater beauty. Here, after all, is the justification of the music. If the graphic picture is added, a little, only, is gained. The main virtue of it lies in our better grasp of the musical design.
In the muted strings, straying dreamily in pairs, is a vague line of the motto,—a foreshadowing of the heroic idea, as are the soft calls of the wind with wooing harp a first vision of delight.
[Music: Allegro moderato (Strings)]
Now begins the main song in sturdy course of unmuted strings. The wood soon join in the rehearsing. But it is not all easy deciphering. The song wanders in gently agitated strings while the horns hold a solemn phrase that but faintly resembles the motto.[A] Lesser phrases play about the bigger in rising flight of aspiration, crowned at the height with a ray of glad light.
[Footnote A: It is well to resist the vain search for a transnotation of the story. And here we see a virtue of Saint-Saens himself, a national trait of poise that saved him from losing the music in the picture. His symphonic poems must be enjoyed in a kind of musical revery upon the poetic subject. He disdained the rude graphic stroke, and used dramatic means only where a musical charm was commingled.]
As the dream sinks slowly away, the stern motto is buried in quick flashes of the tempting call. These are mere visions; now comes the scene itself of temptation.
To ripples of harp the reed sings enchantingly in swaying rhythm; other groups in new surprise of
[Music: (Flutes, oboe, clarinets and harp)]
scene usurp the melody with the languishing answer, until one Siren breaks into an impassioned burst, while her sisters hold the dance.
Straight upon her vanished echoes shrieks the shrill pipe of war, with trembling drum. We hear a yearning sigh of the Siren strain before it is swept away in the tide and tumult of strife. Beneath the whirl and motion, the flash and crash of arms, we have glimpses of the heroic figure.
Here is a strange lay in the fierce chorus of battle-cries: the Siren song in bright insistence, changed to the rushing pace of war.
The scene ends in a crash. Loud sings a solemn phrase; do we catch an edge of wistful regret? Now returns the sturdy course of the main heroic melody; only it is slower (Andante sostenuto), and the high stress of cadence is solemnly impassioned.
As if to atone for the slower pace, the theme strikes into a lively fugue, with trembling strings (Allegro animato).
There is an air of achievement in the relentless progress and the insistent recurrence of the masterful motive. An episode there is of mere striving and straining, before the theme resumes its vehement attack, followed by lusty echoes all about as of an army of heroes. There is the breath of battle in the rumbling basses and the shaking, quivering brass.
At last the plain song resounds in simple lines of ringing brass, led by the high bugle.[A]
[Footnote A: Saint-Saens employs besides the usual 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones and tuba, a small bugle (in B-flat) and 2 cornets.]
Yet the struggle, the inner combat, is not over. At the very moment of triumph sings on high over purling harp the mastering strain of Sirens, is buried beneath martial clash and emerges with its enchantment. But here the virile mood and motive gains the victory and strides on to final scene.
We remember how Hercules built and ascended his own funeral pyre. In midst of quivering strings, with dashing harp and shrieking wood, a roll of drum and a clang of brass sounds the solemn chant of the trombone, descending in relentless steps. As the lowest is reached, there comes a spring of freedom in the pulsing figures, like the winging of a spirit, and a final acclaim in a brief line of the legend.
OMPHALE'S SPINNING WHEEL
Between title and score is this Notice:
"The subject of this symphonic poem is feminine witchery, the triumphant struggle of weakness. The spinning wheel is a mere pretext, chosen from the point of view of rhythm and the general atmosphere of the piece.
"Those persons who might be interested in a study of the details of the picture, will see ... the hero groaning in the toils which he cannot break, and ... Omphale mocking the vain efforts of Hercules."
The versions of the story differ slightly. After the fulfilment of his twelve labors Hercules is ordered by the oracle to a period of three years' service to expiate the killing of the son of King Eurytus in a fit of madness. Hermes placed him in the household of Omphale, queen of Lydia, widow of Tmolus. Hercules is degraded to female drudgery, is clothed in soft raiment and set to spin wool, while the queen assumes the lion skin and club.
In another version he was sold as slave to Omphale, who restored him to freedom. Their passion was mutual. The story has a likeness to a similar episode of Achilles.
The spinning-wheel begins Andante in muted strings alternating with flutes and gradually hurries into a lively motion. Here the horn accents the spinning, while another thread (of higher wood) runs through the graceful woof. A chain of alluring harmonies preludes the ensnaring song, mainly of woodwind above the humming strings, with soft dotting of the harmony by the horns. The violins, to be sure, often enforce the melody.
[Music: Andantino (Fl. and muted violins) Grazioso (Strings, muted)]
In the second verse, with fuller chorus, the harp adds its touches to the harmony of the horns, with lightest tap of tonal drum. Later a single note of the trumpet is answered by a silvery laugh in the wood. Between the verses proceeds the luscious chain of harmonies, as with the turning of the wheel.
Now with the heavily expressive tones of low, unmuted strings and the sonorous basses of reed and brass (together with a low roll of drum and soft clash of cymbals) an heroic air sings in low strings and brass, to meet at each period a shower of notes from the harp. The song grows intense with the
[Music: (Wood and trem. violins doubled above) (Horns) espress. e pesante (Cellos, basses, bassoons and trombone, doubled below)]
added clang of trumpets and roll of drums,—only to succumb to the more eager attack of the siren chorus. At last the full effort of strength battling vainly with weakness reaches a single heroic height and sinks away with dull throbs.
In soothing answer falls the caressing song of the high reed in the phrase of the heroic strain, lightly, quickly and, it seems, mockingly aimed. In gently railing triumph returns the pretty song of the wheel, with a new buoyant spring. Drums and martial brass yield to the laughing flutes, the cooing horns and the soft rippling harp with murmuring strings, to return like captives in the train at the height of the gaiety.
The new French school of symphony that broke upon the world in the latter part of the nineteenth century had its pioneer and true leader in Cesar Franck.[A] It was he who gave it a stamp and a tradition.
[Footnote A: If language and association, as against the place of birth, may define nationality, we have in Cesar Franck another worthy expression of French art in the symphony. He was born at Liege in 1822; he died in 1890.]
The novelty of his style, together with the lateness of his acclaim (of which it was the probable cause), have marked him as more modern than others who were born long after him.
The works of Franck, in other lines of oratorio and chamber music, show a clear personality, quite apart from a prevailing modern spirit. A certain charm of settled melancholy seems to inhere in his wonted style. A mystic is Franck in his dominant moods, with a special sense and power for subtle harmonic process, ever groping in a spiritual discontent with defined tonality.
A glance at the detail of his art discloses Franck as one of the main harmonists of his age, with Wagner and Grieg. Only, his harmonic manner was blended if not balanced by a stronger, sounder counterpoint than either of the others. But with all the originality of his style we cannot escape a sense of the stereotype, that indeed inheres in all music that depends mainly on an harmonic process. His harmonic ideas, that often seem inconsequential, in the main merely surprise rather than move or please. The enharmonic principle is almost too predominant,—an element that ought never to be more than occasional. For it is founded not upon ideal, natural harmony, but upon a conventional compromise, an expedient compelled by the limitation of instruments. This over-stress appears far stronger in the music of Franck's followers, above all in their frequent use of the whole tone "scale" which can have no other rationale than a violent extension of the enharmonic principle.[A] With a certain quality of kaleidoscope, there is besides (in the harmonic manner of Cesar Franck) an infinitesimal kind of progress in smallest steps. It is a dangerous form of ingenuity, to which the French are perhaps most prone,—an originality mainly in details.
[Footnote A: Absolute harmony would count many more than the semitones of which our music takes cognizance. For purpose of convenience on the keyboard the semitonal raising of one note is merged in the lowering of the next higher degree in the scale. However charming for occasional surprise may be such a substitution, a continuous, pervading use cannot but destroy the essential beauty of harmony and the clear sense of tonality; moreover it is mechanical in process, devoid of poetic fancy, purely chaotic in effect. There is ever a danger of confusing the novel in art with new beauty.]
And yet we must praise in the French master a wonderful workmanship and a profound sincerity of sentiment. He shows probably the highest point to which a style that is mainly harmonic may rise. But when he employs his broader mastery of tonal architecture, he attains a rare height of lofty feeling, with reaches of true dramatic passion.
The effect, to be sure, of his special manner is somewhat to dilute the temper of his art, and to depress the humor. It is thus that the pervading melancholy almost compels the absence of a "slow movement" in his symphony. And so we feel in all his larger works for instruments a suddenness of recoil in the Finale.
One can see in Franck, in analogy with his German contemporaries, an etherealized kind of "Tristan and Isolde,"—a "Paolo and Francesca" in a world of shades. Compared with his followers the quality of stereotype in Franck is merely general; there is no excessive use of one device.
A baffling element in viewing the art of Franck is his remoteness of spirit, the strangeness of his temper. He lacked the joyous spring that is a dominant note in the classic period. Nor on the other hand did his music breathe the pessimism and naturalism that came with the last rebound of Romantic reaction. Rather was his vein one of high spiritual absorption—not so much in recoil, as merely apart from the world in a kind of pious seclusion. Perhaps his main point of view was the church-organ. He seems a religious prophet in a non-religious age. With his immediate disciples he was a leader in the manner of his art, rather than in the temper of his poetry.
SYMPHONY IN D MINOR
The scoring shows a sign of modern feeling in the prominence of the brasses. With all contrast of spirit, the analogy of Franck with the Liszt-Wagner school and manner is frequently suggestive.
The main novelty of outer detail is the plan of merely three movements. Nor is there a return to the original form, without the Scherzo. To judge from the headings, the "slow" movement is absent. In truth, by way of cursory preamble, the chronic vein of Cesar Franck is so ingrainedly reflective that there never can be with him an absence of the meditative phrase. Rather must there be a vehement rousing of his muse from a state of mystic adoration to rhythmic energy and cheer.[A]
[Footnote A: The key of the work is given by the composer as D minor. The first movement alone is in the nominal key. The second (in B flat) is in the submediant, the last in the tonic major. The old manner in church music, that Bach often used, of closing a minor tonality with a major chord, was probably due to a regard for the mood of the congregation. An extension of this tradition is frequent in a long coda in the major. But this is quite different in kind from a plan where all of the last movement is in insistent major. We know that it is quite possible to begin a work at some distance from the main key, leading to it by tortuous path of modulation; though there is no reason why we may not question the composer's own inscription, the controlling point is really the whole tonal scheme. Here the key of the second movement is built on a design in minor,—would have less reason in the major. For it rests on a degree that does not exist in the tonic major. To be sure, Beethoven did invent the change to a lowered submediant in a succeeding movement. And, of course, the final turn to the tonic major is virtually as great a license.]
Lento in basses of the strings a strain sounds like a basic motive, answered with harmonies in the wood. In further strings lies the full tenor of quiet reflection, with sombre color of tonal scheme. Motives are less controlling probably in Franck than in any other symphonist,—less so, at any rate, than his one
special mood and manner. Yet nowhere is the strict figural plot more faithful in detail than with Cesar Franck.
The theme has an entirely new ring and answer when it enters Allegro after the Lento prelude. The further course of the tune here is in eccentric, resolute stride in the descending scale. Our new answer is much evident in the bass. The Allegro seems a mere irruption; for the Lento prelude reappears in full solemnity. Indeed, with all the title and pace, this seems very like the virtual "slow" movement. A mood of rapt, almost melancholy absorption prevails, with rare flashes of joyous utterance, where the Allegro enters as if to break the thrall of meditation. A very striking inversion of the theme now appears. The gradual growth of phrases in melodious instalments is a trait of Franck (as it is of Richard Strauss). The rough motto at each turn has a new
[Music: Allegro non troppo (Strings) (Wind)]
phase and frequently is transfigured to a fresh tune. So out of the first chance counter-figures somehow spring beautiful melodies, where we feel the fitness and the relevance though we have not heard them before. It is a quality that Franck shares with Brahms, so that in a mathematical spirit we might care to deduce all the figures from the first phrase. This themal manner is quite analogous to the harmonic style of Franck,—a kaleidoscope of gradual steps, a slow procession of pale hues of tone that with strange aptness reflect the dim religious light of mystic musing.
More and more expressive are the stages of the first figures until we have a duet molto cantabile in the strings. Much of the charm of the movement lies in the balance of the new rhythms, the eccentric and the flowing. By some subtle path there grows a song
[Music: Allegro. Molto cantabile]
in big tones of unison, wood and strings and trumpets, that is the real hymnal refrain of the movement. Between this note almost of exultation and all shades of pious dreaming the mood is constantly shifting.
Another phrase rises also to a triumphant height (the clear reverse of the former tuneful melody) that comes now like a big envoi of assuring message.
Though the whole movement is evenly balanced between Allegro and Penseroso (so far as pace is concerned), the mood of reflection really finds full vent; it has no reason for a further special expression.
Simple as the Allegretto appears in its suggestion of halting dance, the intent in the episodes is of the subtlest. The slow trip of strings and harp is soon given a new meaning with the melody of English horn. Throughout we are somehow divided between pure dance and a more thoughtful muse. In the first departure to an episode in major, seems to sing the essence of the former melody in gently murmuring strings, where later the whole chorus are drawn in. The song moves on clear thread and wing right out of the mood of the dance-tune; but the very charm lies in the mere outer change of guise. And so the second episode is still far from all likeness with the first dance beyond a least sense of the old trip that does appear here and there. It is all clearly a true scheme of variations, the main theme disguised beyond outer semblance, yet faithfully present throughout in the essential rhythm and harmony.