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After To-morrow, What?

To-morrow, and to-morrow and to-morrow
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death.
—Macbeth.
After to-morrow, what? That is the question which just now drafts more of the attention of the world of music than any other. For over four centuries many of the greatest intellects ever born have been pushing further and further toward the boundaries of musical achievement. Vast as the field is, its limitations have become more and more apparent to serious thinkers. Wagner, Brahms, were in their day given the credit of having touched the very poles. Not content with their accomplishments, Bruckner, Mahler, Reger and Strauss started new voyages of discovery and have produced unquestioned masterpieces. Then came the modernists and futurists, Debussy, Ravel, Schoenberg, Scriabine and Stravinski, all seeming to jump right off the planet into the musical ether. Yet all of the extremists insist they have their feet securely upon terra firma.
 
Through sheer fear of the scorn of posterity there are multitudes of music lovers at this time who are suffering their ears to undergo all sort of tortures rather than condemn music which they do not like. They remember how Richard Wagner was lampooned in his day. A Berlin critic said of Die Meistersinger, "Shut a hundred organ-grinders in a circus and start them playing different tunes at the same time and the result would be less horrible." Step back a little farther in the history of music and we find Prince Grassalkowics tearing up the manuscript of a Mozart quartet because "the hideous stuff was so full of mistakes that no one could play it." While the crowds stood in the streets of Vienna before the house of Beethoven waiting for a glimpse of the master when he appeared daily at his front window to shave himself, the critics, with their intellects anchored in the conventions of a bygone century, were damning Beethoven for his ruinous modernity. Haydn, the pinnacle of lucidity in music, was scored by some of his contemporaries for daring to found a new school—indeed they even induced Emperor Joseph II to believe that Haydn was a mountebank.
 
In the face of all this, music-lovers in this day and generation have an almost unheard of tolerance bred by temerity. We are actually afraid to pass judgment upon a new work for fear that we may lack the foresight which has made some critics of the past ridiculous. Consequently when we hear a new orchestral work which sounds like a dynamite outrage in a house furnishing goods store we meekly stroke our chins and resign criticism to posterity.
 
Yet the music of to-morrow must appeal to those same human emotions which were moved by the music of yesterday. There is much in some of the music of the present which seems sheer idiocy. Indeed the very daring of some of the writers has robbed us of our criterions of judgment. Perhaps this is as it should be. Possibly it makes us more ready to appreciate the delightful atmospheric effects of Debussy, the sparkle and "whiz" of Rabaud, the dreamy Orientalism of Cyril Scott.
 
Yet what shall we say of the futurists who go into ecstasy over such a passage as the following from Schoenberg's Klavierstueck, Opus 11:
 
schoenberg.jpg
Is this to take the place of the Chopin Nocturne or the Mendelssohn Song Without Words of yesterday?
 
Every person who takes a serious interest in music, and thousands whose interest is very superficial indeed, cannot fail to be fascinated by this subject of futurism. Particularly those who aspire to be "up-to-date" will find a feast in this futuristic issue of The Etude. Meanwhile we are debating with ourselves whether the so-called futurist music is not very close indeed to the music of the yesterdays that may have lighted fools the way to dusty death. What do we see? On all sides Occidental peoples are taking more and more interest in the music of the Orient. With Russia as the bridge to the lands of mystery we now find serious books being published upon the music of India. Mme. Ratan Devê sits squat with her tambura centuries old, and sings songs from the Ganges that entrance London audiences, while her cultured husband, Dr. Amanda Coomaraswamy, "India's leading art critic," lectures upon the music of the country where the octave is divided into twenty-two parts instead of our paltry twelve.
 
What shall be the music of to-morrow? What but the best from the music of to-day? In the march from formalism to liberty in art the force of design is not lost—only softened. Because paintings by Whistler, Sorella or Sargent have not the sharp definition which Gerome and Kaulbach thought essential does not mean that all pictures in the future will resemble a custard pie.
 
It seems to us that Richard Strauss in his Rosenkavalier, possibly more than in Salome or in Elektra, has suggested one phase of future musical development. More people by far are musically educated now than at any time in the world's past, yet these people need music, which, however great its technical development, has elements of real melodic charm. As Goethe held fast to the philosophy of the eternal feminine in life, musical prophets of to-day still hold fast to that of the everlasting immortality of melody. Melody is the life-blood coursing through the veins of all music, great and small, here and hereafter. Strauss' Rosenkavalier is modernistic in every way, yet it is melodious—even more melodious than Moussorgski's Boris Godounov produced in 1874, although not in any sense as epoch making.
 
Even the atmosphere of Debussy is a cloud of cleverly conceived and delightfully balanced melodies. The late Gustave Mahler once told the editor of The Etude that he had strong convictions upon this point. Mahler felt that the same folk song influences to which Beethoven laid his soul open were those which should mould the musical work of composers of all nations. In other words, the composer should feel the throb of humanity in its own music and then interpret it in glorified form.

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