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Robert Franz.

Our readers who have followed the series of “Chats With Teachers and Students” have not forgotten that in February an offer of a prize of four volumes of “Franz’s Songs,” bound, with the name of the successful essayist thereupon, was made to the one who should send the best essay on that composer. The fact that the compositor, in making up the form, printed the closing paragraph, which should have ended the “Chats with Voice Students,” at the close of the “Chats with Voice Teachers,” has not seemed to have occasioned any serious misunderstanding, and we are highly gratified at the returns, and also by the quality of mind and thought indicated by the various papers received.

The successful competitor is Miss Carolyn A. Nash, of San Francisco, Cal. The essay is properly indorsed, and in it she has met with all the requirements. I am sure her competitors will join me in congratulating her upon her success.

Following appears the essay, which meets the requirements of sufficient literary merit for publication. Among the essays received, a few are so exceptionally worthy that we can not forbear to give the writers honorable mention; their names are as follows:

Amanda Vierheller, Pittsburg, Pa.; Clarence Chandler, Waupaca, Wis.; Minta Z. Phillips, New York City; Ida Morrison, Greenville, Tex.



robert-franz.jpgOn the 28th day of June, 1815, was born at Halle, the historic birthplace of Handel, Robert von Knauth Franz, who was destined to add many a pure gem to the treasure of the song world.

At the early age of two years the little Franz received his first musical impression from Luther’s chorale, “Eine Feste Burg’ ist Unser Gott,” played from the church- steeple on the occasion of a religious anniversary.

Although during his childhood Franz displayed a strongly marked talent for music, his parents opposed his wish to obtain a thorough knowledge of the subject, and it was only after working almost unaided for many years that Franz was allowed, at the age of twenty, to go to Dessau to study counterpoint under Freidrich Schneider. Upon his return home, after a two years’ course, unable to obtain a position or to find a publisher for his compositions, Franz continued with great earnestness his study of Bach and Handel.

Little inspiration as he must have derived from the cold, dry teaching of Schneider, the substantial knowledge which he had received, combined with the experience gained much earlier by playing the organ in choral rehearsals, had ably fitted Franz for the task which he now undertook. This was nothing less than the complete revision of the principal choral works of Bach and Handel, writing out in full the instrumental portions, which the masters had but indicated by a figured bass. Franz accomplished the undertaking in the most masterly fashion, and gained the gratitude of posterity by placing in its hands inspired creations otherwise inaccessible.

Among the most important of these revisions may be mentioned Bach’s “St. Matthew’s Passion,” “Magnificat,” and ten cantatas, and Handel’s “Messiah” and “Jubilate.”

Throughout his life-time Franz valued Bach and Handel above all other masters. Bach’s wonderful productive capacity was eminently satisfying to him. He says, “What the Bible is to Christianity, the Well-tempered Clavichord is to music,” thus recalling the almost identical declaration of Schumann, that music owes as much to Bach as Christianity does to its founder. Franz was never tired of pointing out, in the works of the great Sebastian, motives introduced with fine effect by contemporaneous composers, who believed them to be entirely original with themselves.

Daring the long years of obscurity, after completing his studies at Dessau, Franz met with no encouragement save from his mother, whose love and sympathy were always his. Nevertheless, his firm conviction that he had received the summons of the art he loved continued to sustain him, and at last he obtained the posts of church-organist, conductor of the Sing Akademie, and later that of music director of the University.

In 1843 appeared his first mature compositions, a set of twelve songs (he had wisely destroyed his boyish attempts at writing music). The value of the lyrics was quickly recognized by Liszt, Mendelssohn, and also by Schumann, who noticed them kindly and with just appreciation in his “Neue Zeitschrift für Musik.” From this time he was recognized as a composer of much worth, and he found no difficulty in publishing the songs now forthcoming in quick succession.

Besides more than two hundred and fifty of these immortal songs, Franz’s original compositions include a setting of the 117th Psalm for a double choir, a kyrie for solo and chorus, and a number of part songs for male and mixed choir.

Unfortunately, in middle life a great affliction began to creep over him; he gradually lost his hearing, and, being attacked also by a nervous disorder, he was obliged, in 1868, to resign his positions. His great anxiety for the support of his family was relieved, however, by the proceeds of a concert tour generously undertaken in his behalf by Liszt, Joachim, and several others of his musician friends.

The keynote of Franz’s theory in regard to the true construction of the Lied-form consisted in his fine understanding of the mutual relations of text and music. He maintained that “every true lyric poem held latent within itself its own melody.”

In this respect the theories of Wagner and Franz are analogous; on another most important point, however, the masters failed to coincide.

Wagner declared that the voice should be at the command of the composer, whereas Franz was convinced that the “human voice should command the first attention, accompaniment or orchestra forming but a background.” “Instruments,” said he, “can be improved to meet the demands made upon them; the human voice is given;—who dares venture beyond its limits?”

It is profitable to note that in discussing Schubert and Schumann, his predecessors in the field of Lied-writing, he never hesitated to acknowledge the great influence which the study of their works had exercised upon his own compositions. It is said that he found Schubert’s melodies at times too luxuriant, overflowing the limits of the words, and it is plain that he preferred Schumann’s form of accompaniment. Of a broad, pure, and highly sympathetic nature, and gifted with wonderful penetration, Franz understood thoroughly the aspirations and limitations of contemporaneous composers. Combining classical tendencies with those of the romantic school, he was ably fitted to judge impartially of their worth. Mendelssohn’s perfection of form and great refinement, Schumann’s vigor and depth, Chopin’s melodic genius, were duly appreciated and admired by him even when other of their characteristics failed to please his artistic sense. Franz was eminently a subjective writer, and, shunning contact with the tumult of the world, his calm spirit found truest inspiration within itself. No more exciting life could have so well agreed with his self-resourceful nature as did the quiet seventy-seven years passed peacefully in the University town.

At Franz’s death, in October, 1892, he was acknowledged as having raised the song-form to its highest level, and as being one of the most thorough musicians of the day.

He left many friends and admirers among the cognoscenti, while the circle of his disciples is growing yearly larger. It seems reasonable to hope that in the near future the lyric wreath which he has woven will receive the general recognition which it deserves.


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