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Musical Thought And Action In Europe

By ARTHUR ELSON

In the Revue of the International Society is an article on an almost unknown composer, Erik Satie, signed by a modest J. E., which suggests Ecorcheville. Some have heard faintly of the composer’s name in connection with certain mystical works, but the majority have not known of his existence. He does live, however, having been really born on May 17, 1866, at Honflur. His mother was Scotch. Thirteen years later, at the Conservatoire, Lavignac, Tandon, and Mathias grew tangibly aware of him as a pupil. Becoming pianist, as well as composer, he played his Ogives in 1886 and a set of Sarabandes a year later.

Then followed many compositions—a group of Gymnopedies, the Gnossiennes, incidental music for the Chaldaic Fils des Etoiles, the Sonneries de la Rose-Croix the Messe des Pauvres, the Danses Gothiques, The little ballet Uspud, full of strange harmonies, caused dissension between Satie and the National Academy. His originality found further utterance in the Pieces Froides, the Morceaux en forme de Poire, and other works equally strange in style, if not in name. Few are printed, for the author cares little for public favor; but Debussy and Ravel have recently taken pains to bring him to the attention of the musical world.

In the opinion of J. E., Satie becomes important in relation to the problem of modern musical style. His music shows the charm of the unforeseen. Its peculiar color results from harmonic touches subtly blended, yet without regard to conventional cadences or resolutions. The composer is called “a modern Monteverde, experimenting with indefinite colors.” The end of the nineteenth century brought, with it the idea of non-resolution in the field of pure music, as well as in the operatic or program school. Satie revels in the style of fugitive dissonances, showing the sensibility of ear which serves the modern innovators in place of the usual harmonic system. He is called “a wanderer among keys, an experimenter in rhythm, attentive to the thousand voices of the imperceptible curious about everything and nothing.” The strange part of all this is that these words fit a certain well-known individual called Debussy. Yet Satie preceded Debussy by several years. After working in silence all his life, the composer of the Gnossiennes now finds himself hailed as the pioneer of the most advanced school of modern music.

A NEGLECTED MASTER.

In the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, Franz Gräflinger writes on another pioneer composer—Anton Bruckner. The article aims to show that Bruckner’s descent was somewhat higher than peasant lineage; but artisans and innkeepers are of the people, after all. Bruckner’s glory comes, not from his ancestors, but from his own deep sincerity in art; for earnestness is surely the keynote of a genius that dedicated its last symphony to God.

Bruckner’s fame as a composer has grown slowly, and even now there are some who fail to rate him as highly as he deserves. In his lifetime he had the misfortune of being considered a rival of Brahms, and a representative of Wagnerian iconoclasm in the symphonic field. He was treated with ridicule by the friends of Brahms, and the critic Hanslick vented especial bitterness upon him. When Bruckner was at length presented at the imperial court, and asked if he had any favor to request, he begged imploringly that Hanslick should be made to stop his bitter attacks. Incidentally, this and other anecdotes show Hanslick as a narrow-minded autocrat, not wholly deserving his usual reputation for critical insight.

Bruckner’s work was the logical outcome of his nature. Often involved and abstruse, it was always an effort to express great thoughts. In the later symphonies, especially the seventh and eighth, this effort becomes grandly successful, in spite of some prolixity. He used larger canvases than Brahms, and aimed to employ the varied colors of the grand orchestra, while the latter restricted himself to the classical.

But Bruckner was more than a colorist; hence these few words. Unlike Liszt, he clung to the prescribed, symphonic form, and tried to infuse into it the modern freedom of theme and color. He did more than try; he succeeded. His works thus become of great value as examples of logical composition in the modern school. The student, and even the critic, is too apt to regard modern music as consisting of Liszt and Wagner at one end, with Strauss and Debussy at the other, and no one of importance between. We have opera remodeled into music-drama, the symphonic poem has been developed into a great school of program music, and our harmonic system has been enlarged, for better or worse, by the school of “fugitive dissonances” mentioned above. But Bruckner has shown that form itself may be modernized. We have program symphonies, like Huber’s tribute to Böcklin or Mahler’s vocalized productions. But Bruckner used no program, and his works lead us to hope that the school of pure music shall not perish from the earth. Let the young composer write in the free style if he so chooses; but at least let him study the triumphs of this great modern symphonist before he decides to abandon form.

RECENT OPERATIC EVENTS.

Opera goes on merrily abroad, with Der Rosenkavalier cavorting from one city to another. As an exchange of civilities, Tiefland has been given in French at Nice, while Massenet’s Don Quixote was heard in German at Nuremberg. D’Albert continues his operatic career with a three-act comedy, Die Verschenkte Frau, which appears from the name to be a better bargain than Die Verkaufte Braut. Humperdinck has finished his Blue Bird music in ample time for the bluebird season. Other new operas in Germany are Frankenstein’s Rahab and Robert-Hansen’s Frauenlist. Graz calls Bittner’s Musikant the most truly German opera since Wagner. Opera statistics in the Fatherland show that Wagner’s works led in number of performances, receiving 1,994 last year, while the hearings of his son Siegfried’s operas were represented by the ominous number 23. Puccini came second with 776 hearings, and after him Verdi with 724. Lortzing (681), D’Albert (459), and Nicolai (179) are comparatively unheard in America. Strauss was endured 113 times.

France reports continued success for the Dejanire of Saint Saëns, while Felix Fourdrain’s new works, Vercingetorix will be heard at Nice. De Lara’s Solea succeeded at Rouen. Italy offers La Giovane Italia, in four acts, by Mario Pierracini, and Sull’ Orma, by Carlo Vittardini. Both Mascagni and Leoncavallo are attempting operetta, the former setting Anima Allegra, from a Spanish story of Guinteros, while the latter offers The Queen of the Roses. Can it be that these gentlemen have forsworn opera at last? In Madrid, Conrado del Campo’s opera, The End of Don Alvaro, was well received; also the symphony-drama, Alma Remota, by Jesus Aroca. In Prag a new name seems to challenge attention—that of Ottokar Ostrcil, whose Knospe appeared at the National Theatre.

Among choral works Hans Huber’s Der Heilige Hain, with solo parts and orchestra, showed compelling beauty and dramatic power in its treatment of a Hindoo legend. Hermann Suter’s Walpurgisnacht, with broad, modern style and strong themes, proved another Swiss success. In the same field Richard Mandl’s Elfentanz pleased Vienna, and Wilhelm Rudnick’s Woman of Samaria was unusually successful at Leipsic. There is also a new Wagner to record, with Gerhardt as given name, who charmed Dorpat with his Volkers Tod.

Orchestral works include a fair crop of symphonies. Those of Straesser and Weissmann were heard at Munich. That of Grammann pleased Dresden by its clearness. Elgar’s second symphony will be tried upon the inoffensive Congress of the International Musical Society. London will hear in addition a symphony by Walford Davies and new works by Bantock and Percy Pitt. Le Moissonneur, by Casadesus, won a Parisian success by its pastoral charm.

Among chamber works, Reger’s string sextet, Op. 118, was acclaimed at Leipsic. Die Musik hails Joseph Marks as a great song composer. New publications include violin works by Sinding (Romance, Op. 100), Sitt, Klengel, Blanco and Halvorsen. In the Musical Standard, Sydney Grew writes at length on the value of the player-piano; we used to think that its value was $500, with comments notable for intensity rather than length.

 

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You are reading Musical Thought And Action In Europe from the June, 1911 issue of The Etude Magazine.

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