By FRANK H. MARLING.
C. F. Pohl, the learned librarian of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde, in Vienna, has made the following striking statement about Mozart:
“Mozart has often been compared with other great men, Shakespeare, Goethe, Beethoven, Haydn, etc., but the truest parallel of all is that between him and Raphael. In the works of both, we admire the same marvelous beauty and refinement, the same pure harmony and ideal truthfulness; we also recognize in the two men the same intense delight in creation which made them regard each fresh work as a sacred task, and the same gratitude to their Maker for his divine life of genius. The influence of each upon his art was immeasurable. As painting has but one Raphael, so music has but one Mozart.” Making some allowance for rhetorical exaggeration, the man of whom such words as these can be said with even a measure of truth is evidently one of the few really great masters in music, and it is therefore of the highest importance and interest to the music-lover to be familiar with his life and works.
One of the most succinct and satisfactory monographs on Mozart is the article upon him by Herr Pohl (whose words have just been quoted) in Grove’s “Dictionary of Music.” Like so many other articles in this dictionary, it forms an admirable summary of the results of the best scholarship and latest researches in its field, and in its twenty-seven closely-printed, double-column pages gives an all-round picture of the man as well as the composer, which, within its limits, can hardly be excelled. The same author has published in German two volumes of a life of Mozart (Leipzig, 1875); but we believe it has never been completed and has certainly never been translated into English. In a previous work, “Mozart and Haydn in London” (Vienna, 1867), the author describes at considerable length the juvenile triumphs and experiences of Mozart during his memorable visit to England in 1764, at the age of eight.
The earliest adequate biography of Mozart was written by Herr Nissen, the Danish chargé d’affaires at Vienna, who married the composer’s widow, and spent twenty-five years in collecting and arranging his material. This was issued in 1828, just after the author’s death, and is esteemed as a valuable and authoritative compilation of facts, rather than a full-fledged biography.
The next important life of Mozart to appear, taking them in chronological order, was that by Edward Holmes, an Englishman, first published in London in 1845, and reissued in revised form (with interesting notes by Prof. E. Prout) in 1878. This is based on Nissen’s life, and includes Mozart’s correspondence. While not a work of original research, Otto Jahn, the highest authority on Mozart, of whom more will be said later, has paid it the high tribute of saying “it is a trustworthy and serviceable biography, in which the author has employed the materials generally accessible with skill, intelligence, and discrimination.”
While doubtless of little practical value, it may be of interest to note here briefly that an enthusiastic Russian amateur, Alexander von Oulibicheff, published in Moscow, in 1843, three octavo volumes on Mozart, in which he revealed an idolatrous, but far from judicious, devotion to the composer. This can be had in a German translation, but has never been done in English.
Jahn’s Great Work.
And now we must allude to the magnum opus of all Mozartiana: the colossal work of Otto Jahn, covering the composer’s life, letters, and works, first brought out in four volumes in Leipzig in 1856-59, and reprinted in two volumes in 1862. The English translation in three large and closely-printed volumes, issued in 1882, is the work of Pauline D. Townsend, who performed a difficult piece of work with thoroughness and accuracy. This life, like Spitta’s “Life of Bach,” Glasenapp’s “Life of Wagner,” and others, is a typical example of the profundity of German scholarship, reminding the reader in its voluminousness of detail, of the well-known story of the Teutonic professor of languages, who, in reviewing his achievements on his death-bed, regretted that he had not devoted his entire life to the dative case.
This class of biographers is not content with describing the subject of the life alone, but his remote ancestry, his numerous relatives (including his sisters, cousins, and aunts), his many friends and acquaintances are all characterized with painstaking and conscientious industry, but often with a sad lack of perception of the relative importance of facts. Having had the temerity to speak lightly of such works of learning as these German masterpieces, I must hasten to add that, in spite of its defects of over-elaboration and unbalanced admiration, Jahn’s “Life of Mozart” has received the highest praise at the hands of the most competent judges. One of our best American musical scholars, whose knowledge of such subjects is wide and discriminating, has called it “undoubtedly the most perfect specimen of biographical writing in the whole field of music-history.” And Sir George Grove, the editor of Grove’s “Dictionary of Music,” one of the best-informed and most accomplished writers on musical literature that England ever possessed, has said that Otto Jahn was “not only a thorough, practical musician, a careful and sympathetic critic, and a learned musical biographer, but he was, in addition, a skilled littérateur, an adept in philology, archeology, and the history of art and literature.”
It is small wonder that with such qualifications as these he produced a work which is not so much a life of Mozart as a veritable encyclopedia of musical art and biography, in which besides the fullest details about the composer, we have treated at length such diversified subjects as the history of the rise and progress of each branch of music that Mozart touched, long notices of the opera, oratorio, church and instrumental music, the French opera, Gluck, Rameau, the social and musical condition of the various cities visited by Mozart, not to mention numerous other topics. An unusual and most attractive feature of the work is that in spite of the mass of detail it is eminently readable, and full of anecdotes and lifelike touches. The price of this work is not low, but those who can possess themselves of it will find it a veritable treasure-house of knowledge and pleasure.
A French Work.
As an undoubted curiosity in musical literature, we must mention here “The Life of Haydn, and the Life of Mozart” by L. A. C. Bombet, both in one volume, first issued in Paris in 1814 and in London in an English edition in 1817. This is a remarkable case of literary dishonesty. The compiler’s real name was Henri Beyle, a man of ability as a writer, but without any artistic conscience. The work, though claiming to be original, was a barefaced appropriation of the work of a well-known Italian musical littérateur, G. Carpani, which had appeared in Milan in 1812. Although the plagiarism was at once exposed by the real author, M. Beyle had the effrontery to ignore his disgrace and to issue a second edition, under a new pseudonym: de Stendhal. This was issued in London in 1817, with notes by the well-known William Gardiner, an eccentric musical amateur and stocking weaver, who wrote the celebrated volume “The Music of Nature,” and who, being an enthusiastic admirer of Haydn, sent him a present of a pair of stockings, with subjects from the composer’s work woven in.
To revert now to books of smaller compass on the composer, we would first recommend Dr. F. Gehring’s life in the “Great Musicians Series” (edited by Dr. F. Hueffer). This is necessarily brief, but contains all the essential facts and has been pronounced by a leading London musical journal “an excellently compiled biography.”
A biography constructed on a similar plan and scale is Ludwig Nohl’s life. This is the work of a German writer whose books on musical subjects have obtained wide popularity in Germany, and have also been favorably received in the United States.
It would not do to omit in this résumé of books on Mozart his own charming letters edited and translated into English from L. Nohl’s collections by Lady Wallace. Beginning with the year 1770, when he was a lad of fourteen, they portray in vivid and artless style his labors, joys, and sorrows and abound in graphic and
life-like impressions and descriptions of the people he met and the countries through which he traveled. As a revelation of his genial and sunny personality, they are highly prized, and deserve the fame which they have attained among the classics of musical literature.
There is only a small space left to chronicle a few special books on certain phases of Mozart’s life and compositions.
One of the most fascinating and perplexing features of his career is the story of his “Requiem,” and the facts regarding it are impartially stated and discussed in a little brochure, “The Story of Mozart’s Requiem,” by William Pole, an English theoretical writer of repute.
A romance in biographical form, founded on the facts of Mozart’s life, by Heribert Rau, has been before the public for many years, in a translation by E. R. Sill, and has lately appeared in a new form under the title of “The Tone-King,” the translator in the latter case being J. E. St. Rae. This is a story full of artistic insight and sympathy, but, being of German origin, is naturally permeated more or less with German romanticism and sentimentalism, which often impresses the judicious reader as mawkish and overwrought. In spite of this drawback, it will prove an extremely useful volume to kindle the interest of a beginner in musical biography and lead him on to more solid and useful reading.