Usefulness Of Some Recent Composition.
BY JAROSLAW DE ZIELINSKI.
A Flemish musician, Jerome de Cockx, once visited Martin Luther, and was astonished, on his introduction to the great reformer, at seeing on the table a flute and a guitar. “Here,” said Luther to him, “are the two companions of my labors. When I am weary of writing, when my brain grows heavy, or when the devil comes to play me one of his tricks, I take my flute and play an air. My ideas then return fresh as a flower dipped in water, the devil takes flight, and I resume my work with new ardor. Music is a divine revelation; it is the language of the angels in heaven, and on earth that of the ancient prophets.” Yet not more than seventy years ago music study in this country was not only unfashionable, but actually inconsistent with all puritanic ideas of propriety; a musician was ostracized from society, and the Puritan fathers regarded it as wicked to have instrumental music form any part of their church worship.
In the early stages of our musical development at home, the fantasia, battle pieces, and variations of questionable merit,—according to our present advanced taste,—formed the repertoire of most young people; then came the influx of German professors, and little by little music as an art became subservient to science. The intellectual side of music became gloriously neglected, and the pupil was condemned to an almost life-long study of exercises, etudes,—introductory, preparatory, and otherwise,—with nearly all of Mozart’s, Haydn’s, and Beethoven’s sonatas thrown in (Bach was seldom, if ever, considered), whether the temperament could stand it or not. Of course, under such conditions the labor became purely mechanical, and if asked whether he could form any intelligent conception of the music he was playing, the average student would have replied, in the words of the eunuch: “How can I, except some man should guide me?”
Lately, however, musical people—those of advanced education—have become tired of form as an abstract idea, and a large majority, having broken ranks, is actually enjoying new forms, harmonic combinations and progressions, which, though against the rules of a system of harmony, are nevertheless in accordance with the laws of nature, and are supplied in the shape of teaching or concert pieces, by the ever-increasing number of gifted composers. Originality of any sort in music of that character would have been sufficient, a few years ago, to disqualify it; now ingenious harmony does not disconcert an earnest student, nor is a new form perplexing, though melody is still best understood by the masses of musical patrons; taking all these three principal points into consideration, I am safe in calling the attention of my readers to the immense educational value of the pieces which I will here discuss.
Trying to realize the intentions of the composer in the piece that one is studying, the student should first read it throughout mentally, the teacher assisting when necessary in the work of preliminary analysis. It was Schumann who said, “You must not be content until you succeed in reading music without playing.”
The new Russian school will naturally claim my first attention, since the writer of these lines was among the first in this country to introduce excerpts from Russian composers to the notice of the public, in face of the fact that some years ago a prominent critic had written that “the Russians were genial composers, with all their freaks and whims, which seem to have become indisspensable (sic) with the genius of modern times. To study Russian music seems rather dangerous, for it is food which needs a stomach thoroughly prepared for it. Modern writers of this stamp ought to be offered in the smallest possible doses, for the ear of the masses can not understand it.”
I submit, therefore, to “the masses” a number of interesting and not very difficult pieces by my Russian friends; pieces which, if properly studied, will reveal rare beauties and absolute freedom from the crashes and bangs that abound in a Lisztian rhapsody or fantasy.
Within the past eight or ten years a great change has undergone in the general tone of social life in Russia, and the rise of the social temperature could not remain without effect upon the arts in general and music in particular. The modern Russian composer does not content himself with introducing modifications; he despises half measures; and, actuated by the spirit of progress, he indicates his independence of thought by setting aside rules and regulations which heretofore have worked well and been accepted by the best composers.
Alexandre Borodine, discussed very intelligently by Habets after the biography and correspondence published by Stassoff, was a great scientist, professor of chemistry at the Academy of Medicine in St. Petersburg, a counsellor of state, and, practically speaking, the head of the “young school” of Russian music. For purposes of musical evenings, and accessible to an advanced student, are the “Reverie” and “Serenade,” both in D-flat, from his “Petite Suite,” which he wrote in 1885, dedicated to the Countess Mercy-d’Argenteau, and called “Petit poême d’amour d’une jeune fille.” Both are little gems to which may be aptly applied the term “fascinating”; it is music that is at once interesting to play and pleasant to listen to. César Cui, who is major-general in the Russian army and professor of fortifications in the three military academies of St. Petersburg, who had seven grand dukes for pupils, and who also instructed the famous General Skobeleff, is another and most important member of this “young school.” While not a pianist, he understands thoroughly that instrument, which he uses simply as a means of expressing his very original thoughts. Somewhat in advance of the two pieces by Borodine are his “Trois Morceaux-Nocturne,” in F-sharp, “Scherzino,” in F, and “Polka,” in E-flat; they abound with original harmonic progressions, while in the “Polka” the composer shows how interesting a simple subject may become in the hands of one who can treat it skilfully. More difficult is his fascinating “Nocturne,” in F-sharp minor, op. 22, No. 3, rich in modulations and quaint resolutions. His twelve “Miniatures,” op. 20, are not only extremely simple in construction, but also very musical; excepting perhaps two or three, they are quite easy, and can not fail to be valued as gems of sentiment and expression. In Europe the “Miniatures” have had a great success; the composer arranged them for piano and violin. He scored six of them for orchestra, and the set is known as the “Suite Miniature,” which in turn has been arranged for four hands. Charles Davidoff transcribed the “Cradle Song” for violoncello, while the set has been arranged for string quartet by Gustav Dannreuther. I will speak only of the little “Valse” which, gay and sprightly at first, is followed by a bit of Chopinesque cantabile, ending with a return to the first subject, and a coda that presents a striking effect with a crescendo in the contrary movement.
From one of the most southern provinces of Russia, the ancient Iberia, now known as Georgia, I will introduce to my readers an unusually talented musician, Genari Karganoff, who died at the very early age of thirty-two, leaving but a comparatively small number of compositions to testify to his originality and their beauty. The “Arabesques,” op. 6, is a set of 12 solos, out of which I would particularly recommend No. 2, an exquisitely tender dialogue in B-minor, which can take its place side by side with Schumann’s “Warum?” (Why ?); No. 5, in G-minor, full of vim and strength ; No. 8, a piquant little morceau in A-flat; and No. 12, in G, a piece of “absolute” music—that is, music which does not aim at illustrating situations, sensations or ideas, but is to be played and listened to for its own sake, and not wanting either in boldness or individuality. A trifle more exacting is a very graceful “Mazurka,” op. 3, No. 3, F-sharp minor, conceived in the true spirit of the Polish national dance. In his “Album Lyrique,” op. 20, a “Valse” in A-flat; “Barcarolle” in G minor; “Reverie du Soir,” in F; and No. 12, in F-sharp minor, will surely find favor with teachers and pupils. Anatole Diadoff has not written very much, and to me is most interesting in the two ” Preludes,”—op. 13, No. 1, in G, and op. 27, No. 1, in E-flat-and a “Mazurka,” op. 11, in F-sharp minor, which I have revised and edited; all three pieces requiring skill in pianism to be made effective. To the same category belongs a brilliant “Gavotte,” op. 4, No. 2, in E, by W. Sapellnikoff, also a dainty and less difficult “Mazurka,” in C, op. 2, by the same composer.
Another writer, full of scintillating ideas, is Nicholas Stcherbatcheff, whose “Mosaïque,” a picturesque album, contains a charming morceau, “Orientale,” in F, which presents little to debar players of moderate ability from giving it a satisfactory reading; much more exacting and fantastic is his “Scherzo Caprice,” op. 17, in D.
Of Tschaikowsky, whose name is tolerably familiar to all musicians, I will only mention one of his last compositions, a “Valse a cinq temps,” op. 72, No. 16: as the name indicates, it is of peculiar rhythm, yet within the reach of ordinarily good players whose taste for piquant rhythms and harmonies has not been dulled by two much finger exercises and Czerny.
In and out of Denmark, Ludwig Schytte is pretty well recognized as its representative composer; but how about Emil Sjögren? Certainly his “Novellettes,” op. 14, particularly No. 4, in G-minor, and No. 5, in C, which are not very difficult, and charming withal, breathe of the crystal air of that country where lilacs and roses bloom everywhere. Otto Mailing is another Dane, and his “Fantasiebilder,” op. 16, No. 4, in F, will prove most taking, when played by an advanced student. It is no longer music reflecting Mendelssohn, but music whose diction has a genuine Norse ring about it.
An effective morceau de concours, for one who has acquired some skill in playing arabesques, and modern embellishments, is Grodzki’s “Barcarolle,” op. 1, in G- minor. From the “Album de Mai,” by Paderewski, No. 1, “Au Soir,” in A, does not call for a player with great technical powers, but the capability of expression which it offers commends it to experts. Stojowski, another Polish composer, has given, in his op. 2, No. 1, “Fileuse,” in G, a work that will be played by young pianists throughout the world; this spinning song has both beauty and grace, which will go far toward making it a very popular piece.
Music without words is not often successful in conveying the idea of humor or fun. Constantino Palumbo, in the “Eight Pieces” (“Don Chisciotte e Dulcinea,” “Danza Antica,” “Serenata Pietosa,” “Mazurka,” “Fuochi fatui”—a two part fugue, “Ninna Nanna,” “Servantese,” and ” Arlechino”), composed under that title, has shown conclusively that it can be done effectively. Of course, a technically and intellectually well-drilled player would give it a light and sportive treatment, and no other players should attempt it. Similar in character is Nevin’s “Maggio in Toscana,” a set of six pieces in which he flounders less than ordinarily, and Youferoff’s fantastic suite, “Theatre de Marionnettes,” op. 2.
Of MacDowell’s “Six Poems after Heine,” op. 31, No. 2, in F-minor, is exceptionally fine, and should prove of special utility, not only for recitals but also for teaching purposes. A “Valse in A,” by Clayton Johns, and dedicated to Paderewski, calls for elasticity and lightness, which, combined with a good technic, will make the piece brilliant and effective. One of Emil Liebling’s recent compositions is a “Spring Song,” op. 33, in A; not particularly difficult, though the player should have some practice in extended chords. The dainty, flowing melody will make this a very popular piece.
Having spoken of several American composers, I must not omit Wilson G. Smith, who has written an interesting set of “Six Romantic Studies,” op. 57, illustrative of different forms and styles; here is a good example of the useful being combined with the agreeable, for the musical content is charming, and can not fail to please the student. Still more simple than any of the above- mentioned pieces is a dainty little morceau in A-flat, “Amourette,” by Thorne; a player of moderate capacity even, will hold the attention of his listeners if he plays this piece with the requisite amount of delicacy and taste. Accessible to excellent players only are Wm. Mason’s “Toccata,” in A-flat, and Homer N. Bartlett’s “Grande Valse Brilliante,” op. 159, in B. Of my own works, I will only mention two dance movements, “Menuet” and “Bourrée,” and a gavotte of moderate difficulty.
The Spaniards who in the sixteenth century carried their horses and arms, gunpowder, theology, and music to Mexico and Peru, are always of interest to us; for it may be safely said that through the Moors on one hand, and the Romance civilization on the other, Spain reflects at this time, better than any other country, the spirit of the music of all the ancient nations that flourished on the shores of the Mediterranean. Prominent among its composers of to-day are Roberto Segura, whose peculiar “Mazurka” in D minor will prove a grateful work on account of its freshness and melodic beauty, and especially for being within the reach of ordinary players ; Echeverria, whose “Second Mazurka,” in A, is characteristic and interesting, and not difficult; Albeniz, whose “Danse Espagnole ” (really the Tango, or negro melody of Cuba), will prove most ingratiating and fascinating, with its rhythmic and melodic effects; Garcia, whose “Habanera,” somewhat on the order of the preceding composition, is full of life, character, and delightful coquetry. The above four pieces have been either transcribed or revised by the writer of these lines, and would form a pleasant addition to the repertoire of pupils in the fourth grade.
In fact, all these pieces are of a character that is antagonistic to the cramped and stilted style of the old formalists, revealing to us new phases of development, and especially a new and freer system of form in which to mold one’s ideas. New and old teachers who are willing to live in the present will find most of these pieces sufficiently short and simple as far as form is concerned, some of the pieces delineating, so far as music is capable of such delineations, some scene of ordinary and easily recognized associations, but all of them full of wonderful power and emotion; looking further would reveal nothing that could be used to better advantage by young amateurs or members of musical clubs for mutual culture.Etude Magazine. July, 1897