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European Musical Topics.



The Bach number of Die Musik brought forth the expected panegyrics upon the works of that great master, which by their excess of zeal rather displeased the reviewer of the Kunstwart magazine. That we should learn to cherish and strive for that composer’s simplicity of means and power of invention has seemed too broad a statement to please the Munich critic, who thinks our modern Bach-revival is more fashion than reality. If the contributors had been asked about Bach’s limitations, he asserts, this lack of real appreciation would have been made more evident. Comparisons of Bach with Luther, Moses, Dürer, Bismarck, and others are held up to mild ridicule, as also the many puns on his name.

A more important point to be criticized is the glib readiness with which writers assure us that Bach is the “foremost of all time,” “everything,” “the highest,” “the greatest musical model,” and so on. “Handel’s monumental oratorios,” they say, “Mozart’s ever fragrant beauty, Beethoven’s loftiness of expression, Schubert’s depth of feeling and melodic power, Schumann’s fine romanticism—all these, consciously or unconsciously, draw their inspiration from Bach.” They even assert that Max Reger may find examples of his dissonances in the works of Bach. Such indiscriminate praise does surely defeat its own ends. The power of Beethoven and the poetry of Schumann are no more the results of Bach’s skill than the delicate tracery of the Milan Cathedral or the gleaming splendor of the Taj Mahal are due to the classic simplicity of the Parthenon.

It is a thankless task to compare the great composers with one another; their genius lies in different lines. “There is nothing of Bach,” says the writer, “in the Adagio from Opus III, in the ‘Unfinished Symphony,’ in Schuman’s (sic) ‘Aufschwung,’ Wagner’s ‘Tristan Vorspiel,’ or Wolf’s ‘Feuerreiter.’ ” Let us give to each his due, then, and admire Bach for the delicious clearness of his expressive polyphony, without seeking to detract from the glories of those who came after him.

The program of the Tonkünstlerfest, at Essen this year, includes a new symphony by Gustav Mahler. This work, in A-minor, is of the colossal modern type, for it demands no less than 110 instruments, including the new keyboard, celesta, first used by Strauss in his “Salome.” Also this single symphony constitutes the entire program of the second orchestral concert in the festival, presumably taking about an hour and a half in performance.

It is said to resemble the composer’s fifth symphony, and like that earlier work is not rated as program music. But the fifth symphony, somewhat chaotic in its strong dramatic qualities, appeared to be much in need of a program. Mahler’s effects are too powerful to masquerade as pure music, and are decidedly in need of an explanation. The sixth symphony is built in Mahler’s favorite six-part form. The first movement, allegro energico ma non troppo, shows his usual boldness of style. It is followed by a clear scherzo and an expressive andante. Then comes the finale, in three sections,—a sostenuto in C-minor, another allegro energico of tremendous power, and a short, quiet coda, a calm after the storm.

Incidentally it seems a pity that there are not more composers in the field of pure music. At present all the ambitious young men indulge in symphonic poems. Here are some, from the festival program: “Heroische Tondichtung,” by Rudolf Siegel; “Das Leben ein Traum,” tone-poem for violin and orchestra, by Otto Neitzel; and “Dem Schmerze sein Recht,” symphonic poem, by Richard Mors. Hermann Bischoff contributes a symphony in E-major, but it remains to be seen whether this is not of the program type. It seems as if our living composers had forgotten the principle of art for art’s sake, and were always trying to tell a story, often a morbid one. There is no plot in the clean-cut fugues of Bach, the charming seventh symphony of Beethoven, the C-major work of Schubert, or that of Schumann in the same key. Learned writers tell us every few weeks that the day of the strict symphony is past; and yet we have seen the triumph of Brahms.

Other new works at the festival were a selection from the fairy opera “Falada,” by Walter Braunfels; a Hymn for male chorus and orchestra, by Humperdinck; “Sea Drift,” for baritone, male chorus and orchestra, by Fred. Delius. The chamber concerts include Zoellner’s string quartet, a piano quintet by Paul Juon, another by Bruno Walter, a quartet by Hugo Kaun, of Milwaukee fame, songs by Henri Marteau and Hans Sommer, and a piano trio by Hans Pfitzner.

Now that we have passed the century mark in number of orchestral instruments, and can hear performances that would have astounded our grandfathers, it may not be amiss to glance at former times. Friedrich Hegar, of Zurich, who retires after a long career of conductorship, praises in most definite terms our orchestral advance. Speaking of half a century ago, he says, “We were practising a Mozart symphony. After we had played about an hour, one of the first violins arose and declared in the name of the orchestra that they would play no more, they could all play a Mozart symphony without rehearsal, and it was too much to waste an hour over such light music.” At that time, according to Hegar, it was considered enough if the musicians played the notes correctly, with some regard for dynamic shading. Now and then a player with more than usual taste would put some expression into a cantilena passage; but of the poetry, passion, and infinite variety of our modern performances there was absolutely no conception. “I played in orchestras in my youth,” he states, “and I know that it is a great mistake to think that our classical master-works were better given formerly than to-day.”

Another conductor who has left his post, though not on account of old age, is Siegmund von Hausegger, director of the Museum concerts in Frankfort. Hausegger delivers himself sententiously in the “Neue Zeitschrift fur Musik”—“Art is no merchandise, to be offered for sale and made to suit its customer, the public. Art is no amusement for the refined luxury of society. It is the deepest emanation of the human soul, and therefore a most mighty factor in cultivation. It is the duty of every artist to keep its educational value in view.” The trouble is that the Frankfort public did not like Hausegger’s method of making programs, and he rises to defend it at some length, and with many large words. His programs, giving a whole evening to one style, were apparently voted dull by the public. But he need not despair, for his own music is beautiful, and if he will keep on composing as well in the future as he has in the past, the world will acclaim him with a just tribute of praise.


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You are reading European Musical Topics. from the July, 1906 issue of The Etude Magazine.

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