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Answers To Questions

Edited by LOUIS C. ELSON

Q. What is the loudest musical instrument of all? That is to say, which musical instrument could be heard at the farthest distance? (K. C.)
A. Of the orchestral instruments, the tuba could be heard farthest off, though at close range a shrill instrument like the piccolo would be more noticeable. Band clarinets, in E flat, or even A flat, are extremely shrill, yet even in bands the deep brasses carry farthest. For distance, length and amplitude of vibration is more important than a high rate. Notice, when leaving church, that the deep pedal tones (which do not sound especially loud in the edifice) can be heard a good distance down the street, when all the higher tones have become inaudible.

Q. I saw in a paper the other day that “if Verdi were to come back, and compose another opera like ‘Il Trovatore’ no one would listen to it.” Yet the work is repeatedly produced at the grand opera houses to large audiences. If it is old-fashioned and bad, why do people stand for it? If it is good, why wouldn’t opera managers want more of the same kind? (J. F. L.)
A. One might almost call this another case where “the little boy lied.” If another “Il Trovatore” were written now, it would attract nearly the same audiences that listen to the present one. Many people enjoy the simple melodic style of this school, which derives part of its strength from the chances it gives for artistic singing. Thus a selection like “Di quella pira” becomes a wonderful tour de force for a Caruso, even though its music falls far below the standard of Beethoven’s fifth symphony, or the Death and Transfiguration of Strauss. The newspaper writer would have been more accurate if he had said that the composer of a new Il Trovatore would no longer be hailed as a genius. He would please audiences that were not deeply musical, but when compared with the later Verdi, to say nothing of Humperdinck or Puccini, he would be called reactionary, and treated as a backslider. Yet there are some melodies in Il Trovatore (the duet “Ai nostri Monti,” for example) which are models of their kind. The composer of the future ought to unite such melodies with the rich orchestral treatment of the modern school.

Q. To which of all other arts is music most closely related? (R. B.)
A. By force of circumstances, music is most closely related to poetry, because it is used as a setting for poems and librettos, and made to reflect the sentiments expressed by the words. There is some analogy with painting, in the fact that combinations of tone-color appeal to the ear as an artist’s colors do to the eye. Some great music has been inspired by paintings, notably Liszt’s Hunnenschlacht, Hans Huber’s symphony on Boecklin’s pictures, Weingartner’s Gefilde der Seligen, and Rachmaninoff’s Toteninsel. But the music is more like a written description than a copy. Music, by its nature, must proceed in narrative form, as poetry does. Not all music needs to tell a story but even poetry may be descriptive rather than narrative. When a passage of music appeals to us, it does not come as a beautiful scene, but as a thought well expressed. Another analogy with poetry is the fact that in the simple forms of instrumental music there is rhyming like poetry. The period is like the stanza of poetry, the musical phrase is like the poetic line, and the figure is somewhat like the poetic foot, although in classical music it is sometimes used in a manner (development) that finds no parallel in poetry.

Q. When composers write for the orchestra, do they write out the full score complete, or do they write a piece for the piano first? (L. A. B.)
A. Different composers use different methods, but usually no one writes the piano score first. The customary way has been to outline the orchestral score by writing the string parts first, with any other short passages that carry the theme, and fill in the rest afterwards. But some of the great composers could write out a score as a whole. Mendelssohn wrote his Ruy Blas overture in this way, completing each measure for the whole orchestra before starting the next. But the piano itself is often a great aid to composers, and ideas come during improvisation. Haydn, for instance, used the piano frequently in composing, and put his ideas into shape on the keyboard before writing them out in orchestral score. With most composers the score is revised again and again before it reaches print and the public eye. It is very interesting to study the first sketches made in his memorandum book by Beethoven with the compositions as they stand now. The grand first movement of the fifth symphony was first sketched as a light and chattering movement. Only with Schubert do we come pretty near to the original inspiration, for he generally wrote out his musical thoughts the moment that they occurred to him, and seldom revised them afterwards.

Q. Why should expression marks be written in Italian, instead of in plain English? (E. O. J.)
A. Music is a universal language, and it is convenient to have one set of tempo or expression marks that can be understood in all civilized countries. If we used English, every country in continental Europe would claim the right to use its own language, and we should have to learn many tongues instead of one. Italy’s former prestige gave her terms to the world, and there is no reason for laying them aside. Yet Wagner and Schumann used German; Berlioz, Franck and Debussy, French, and MacDowell, English. It was a step in the wrong direction by these composers. For a full argument on this matter see my “Mistakes and Disputed Points in Music,” page 45, of my “Musical Dictionary.”

Q. Kindly describe the following forms, so that I can identify them when I hear them: Moment Musical, Rondo Caprice, Cavatina. (C. L. W.)
A. A Moment Musical is not a definite form but merely a short and expressive composition. It may be in any of the usual song forms—bipartite, bipartite with partial return, full or abbreviated tripartite, long-form with trio or even a small rondo. A rondo consists of an alternation of one or more divisions with a chief division, which also returns as the last section of the piece. The divisions are not so definitely separated as those of the song-forms, with or without trio; in fact, a complete song-form may be included as a single division of a rondo. A Rondo Caprice is a rondo in capricious style. A cavatina is a fluent and melodious passage of song in an operatic scena, usually preceded and followed by recitative or florid work. It also meant a song-form of one or two periods only. The word is rather vaguely applied in music, but the Cavatina is a vocal form which is always short and expressive, and without much embellishment. It can be applied to a separate composition which meets these requirements, and it has been applied to instrumental works which are formed as above. 

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