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Thought And Action In Musical Europe

     In the Quarterly of the Musical Society, Thomas Casson has an article on some improvements of his in organ building. He deplores the present lack of delicate tones in the bass, and regrets the disappearance of the long-manual organs that flourished a few decades ago. As a partial remedy, he advocates the common practice of "borrowing," or allowing certain pipes to do service for two stops. Thus he takes the lower of certain manual pipes to serve as the upper of a pedal series, thereby getting bass tones that are sweet and fairly soft, giving a good bass for the swell organ.
Organs are divided into great, swell, choir, solo and pedal. All these groups will be present in any very large instrument. The great organ contains the largest diapasons and other stops suitable for grandiose effects. The swell organ has its set of pipes enclosed in a "swell box," which alters the tone by opening partly when played. The choir organ consists of softer stops, and is used, as its name implies, to accompany voices. The solo organ has the stops imitating the voice and instruments. Each of these has its own manual, while the pedals of course are worked by the feet.
There are three chief mechanisms in an organ— the bellows and other apparatus for the motive power, the chain of levers by which pressing a key will open a pipe, and the couplers, by which one key may open more than one pipe. The different groups mentioned above are joined to one another by couplers, or a tone may be coupled to its octave or other intervals used to reinforce it.
One of Mr. Casson's improvements is a "pedal help," coupling the appropriate pedals to the manuals. Another invention is the "melody action." In this the air passes through chambers opposite each key, from higher to lower notes. When the device is thrown in, a valve closes in the chamber belonging to the highest note, allowing only that note to sound. The lower notes of any chord played will sound in a different stop, giving the effect of melody and accompaniment.
As an example of popular ignorance concerning the organ, a Chicago clipping may be cited. It seems that the action of an organ in that city was interfered with in some way by a mouse. In the hands of the omniscient newspaper writer the story grew, and included a striking account of a mouse being blown out of the top of one of the organ pipes after the air pressure was turned on. Any student of acoustics would know that the air does not blow through an organ pipe, but passes by the lip, or opening near the lower end. This causes air flutterings, and the column of air in the pipe vibrates in synchronism with those flutterings that suit its length.
We had hoped that we were a musical nation. Most of us go to symphony concerts, and know what is what, and we even have some composers whom we hold to be reasonably great. But it seems this is not enough. Busoni now tells us that we will never be a musical nation until we have a school of our own, as France and Italy have. Such a school, he says, should grow out of the ground, so to speak, and arise from feelings of earnest sentiment and idealism. It is not enough, he says, to have great musicians and crowded conservatories, but we must also have a school of folksong, among other music, that belongs to us distinctively.
Busoni is himself a great composer, who writes fugues thirty-seven pages long and sends them to his friends; so he ought to know. He asks for a great progressive chain of folk-songs illustrating all our history. But this is a little hard. At the time of the Revolution, we did not claim to be a musical nation. The work of Hopkinson, Lyon and Billings, crude as it was when compared with European music, was an advance on what had preceded it. The Puritans looked on music as an invention of the evil one. By some strange process of reasoning, they allowed a 'cello in church, but the organ was barred for a long while. When Mr.
Brattle gave the first one that was used in the service, he had to back up his gift with many scriptural citations.
Busoni says that the Negro and Indian music do not represent the white race. But the former is the direct outcome of plantation life with the whites. Then there are the songs of Foster and others. Why is not "My Old Kentucky Home" as good a folk-song as any of them? The Civil War, too, brought many songs besides "Dixie" and "Glory Hallelujah." Such a rollicking tune as "Say, Darkies, Hab you Seen My Massa" is as lively as a Mendelssohn Scherzo.
The real trouble is elsewhere. All through the civilized world life is becoming too complex and too comfortable for the deepest inspiration to flourish. We live in a time when there are almost no composers of the first rank, none with a new and individual message to the world. Strauss is the chief exception to the rule of mediocrity, and he cannot even approach the level of a Wagner, in spite of repeated efforts. We cannot have a genius just for the asking, and our folk-music has not really had time to take shape, but it would seem that Busoni has overlooked much that has been already accomplished.
The death of Pauline Viardot ends a generation in a famous musical family. Her brother was Manuel Garcia, and her sister Mme. Malibran. Her father, the earlier Manuel Garcia, was a singer of note, and her teacher as well. While still a child she came with him to America, and she always remembered how her father was forced to sing for a band of Mexican robbers who had captured the pair and relieved them of their valuables. Growing up, she became famous in opera, holding the foremost place in Europe after her sister's death. After a career of fame and honor, she left the stage, and devoted herself to teaching and composition. Her daughter, Mme. Heritte, was also talented.
Another death to chronicle is that of J. B.   Weckerlin, a composer made famous by his organ and choral works.
Among French novelties are Antoine Barre's "Leda," for performance at Monte Carlo, and "Le Mariage de Telemaque." The latter is a curious mixture of mythology, ending with the marriage of Telemachus and Nausicaa, but the music, by Claude Terrasse, proved effective enough.
In Germany, the prodigy Erich Korngold is much in the public eye. His pantomime, "Der Schneemann," is to be published, also a Waltz Entr'acte, a Waltz Rondo, and a Serenade for violin and piano, while Die Musik contains two of his pieces, a Sonata and "Sancho Panza auf seinen 'Grauen.' "
An operatic prize is offered, and let us hope it will bring as good results as the Sonzogno prize has in Italy. Busoni has invented a new notation. No details are given as yet, but it is being used by Breitkopf & Haertel in publishing Bach's Chromatic Fantasia. Arnold Mendelssohn's "Pandora," given entire at Darmstadt, has received high praise. Especially noteworthy are the solos of Epimetheus, Phileros, and Epimeleia, and the choruses of smiths, fishers, herdsmen and warriors. Other new works are Emil Rodger's "Die Schlacht," for male chorus, soli and orchestra, and Dr. Rosegger's opera, "Der Schwarze Doktor."
In Italy, Leoncavallo has started work on a new opera, "Prometheus." In England, Elgar's quartet setting of Cardinal Newman's poem, "They Are at Rest," is highly praised. Much applause was given also to a symphony by the Russian composer Steinberg, now a teacher in the St. Petersburg Conservatory. A millionaire amateur, wishing a musical celebration for his birthday, sent his servant to the great basso Chaliapin to ask the latter's terms for two songs. The singer, taking umbrage at the method, sent his own servant to the millionaire a day later, with the same request. The answer was not mentioned, but probably it would not bear publication.
It is injurious to keep pupils too long with easy compositions, for it hinders their progress. They should have, from the first, a few more difficult selections, and should become accustomed, little by little, to harder work. If they have had good foundation work, and are led along carefully, they will not find the new difficulties burdensome.—K. P. E. Bach.

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You are reading Thought And Action In Musical Europe from the August, 1910 issue of The Etude Magazine.

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