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Musical Thought and Action in Europe


By Arthur Elson


In the Quarterly of the Music Society, Tobias Norlind writes on the history of Polish dances. He cites a first period, ending in 1630, in which there was a “Vortanz” in even time and a “Nachtanz” in triple rhythm. A second period, lasting a century, included the lute era. In the third period, which culminated in the works of Chopin, the triple “Nachtanz” grew into the mazurka. Then came a time of foreign influence, the Swedish polonaise being held especially important by the writer.

Dances have always had an important influence on music, and we find them well developed and flourishing, even at the beginning of modern times. In the day of Bach and Handel many of them had outgrown their original uses, and become definite musical forms in the suite and elsewhere.

Best known among them was the minuet, with its stately triple rhythm. As a dance it was slow, but in the day of classical sonatas and symphonies it was often made a rapid movement. Its name came from the Latin “minimus” (smallest), as it was danced with small and dainty steps.

Dances in triple rhythm included also the Chaconne, though a few examples are found in even time. It was slow in tempo, and generally major in mode. The Sarabande was another dance of stately and dignified character. It was derived originally from a Spanish religious ceremony. The Passacaglia was rather bombastic in character, its name being sometimes said to mean “rooster step.” It was somewhat like the Chaconne, but more often minor. The Courante was light and rapid, as its French name (“running”) would imply.

Among dances of even rhythm the Gavotte is now the most familiar. It should begin on the third beat of the measure, and have short, bright phrases in moderate tempo. Sometimes it includes a musette, or rustic trio, with a drone bass like that of the bagpipe. The Bourrée is much like the Gavotte, but brighter, quicker and heartier. The Rigaudon is another lively affair, and was sometimes sung as well as danced. The Pavane was slow and stately like the Sarabande. The Allemande, which some say was not really a dance, had a cheerful style, like our allegretto. The Gigue and the quieter Loure were both in compound rhythm (6-8, 12-8), and very rapid, like the modern Italian Tarantella.

The Bach suite consisted usually of a Prelude, if desired, then Allemande, Courante, Sarabande, Intermezzi (two or more quiet dances), and Gigue. The Air, the Burlesca, and the Scherzo were sometimes used, but were not dance movements.

Dances show their influence on far more recent composers. In Norway Grieg used the Springdans and the Hailing, the latter a wild performance, in which the dancers try to kick the overhead rafters of a low barn or other building. Rubinstein brought into his symphonies the wild Russian Kamarinskaia. Berlioz employed a waltz in his Romeo and Juliet, but this, like the Bohemian polka, is more suited to the lighter kind of salon music. Edward German and others have done worthy and pleasing work in revising the old English dances.


Even as the 7.30 papers appear at 4 P.M., the periodicals have all been full of articles for the Liszt centenary, which occurs about with this issue of The Etude—both great events in their way. Liszt, too, is growing steadily in popularity. His career as a pianist and teacher was fully emphasized during his life, and rather overshadowed his deserved fame as a great composer. His Sunday afternoon gatherings are ended, lo, these many years, but his symphonic poems are marching on.

Many have chronicled his great kindness, but he could be angry enough on occasion. Once the Princess Metternich asked him if he had done a good business on a certain concert tour, whereupon he replied: “Madame, I am in music, not business; I leave that to diplomats.” It was a fair defence of art, but a needless dig at Prince Metternich. To the many young girls brought to play before him without due ability, he would never utter the wished-for opinion, but would murmur gently, “Marry soon, dear child.” But he found a different sort in Ingeborg von Bronsart. She came to him when a beautiful eighteen-year-old girl, and he expected another spoiled darling, but she played Bach fugues in a masterly fashion. “You don’t look like that,” he said, amazed. “I should hope I didn’t look like a fugue,” was the quick reply. Liszt had a peculiar hissing laugh. Once a male pupil (was it Rosenthal?) imitated this laugh behind the master’s back—only to find himself the recipient of a sudden and ample box on the ear.

Liszt sometimes did do “poor business” on his tours. A widely quoted anecdote describes him as having once had an audience so small that he invited it to supper. As a result, the hall was packed at his next concert. His playing was always great, but in his home gatherings he would often perform some unexpected tour de force. “When I was young,” he would say to someone at the piano, “I did it this way,” and the guests were then sure of a marvelous exhibition. When Grieg described a visit to Liszt he spoke of the great pianist “discharging one volley after another of heat and flame and vivid thoughts.” Grieg had brought a violin sonata in manuscript, and Liszt took it to the piano and played it with the violin part. “The violin got its due right in the middle of the piano part,” wrote Grieg, “He was literally over the whole piano at once, without missing a note, and how he did play! With grandeur, beauty, genius, unique comprehension!”

As a composer, Liszt broadened the scope of the piano. To him we owe the great antiphonal effects shown in his transcriptions, as well as his own compositions. This style has well been called “the orchestration of the pianoforte.” But his work in the larger forms has not even yet been fully appreciated. His grand symphonic poems and concertos really led the way to our modern orchestral freedom.


The business of manufacturing operas is in its usual flourishing condition. A contest for a prize at the San Carlo Theatre, Naples, has brought forth Hoffmann, by Guido Laccetti; La Tempesta, by Luigi Aversa; La Prigione Dorata, by Carlo Festa; Alberto Giannini’s Hedda; Giovanni Barbieri’s Ghismonda; and Cecilia, by Napoleone Cesi. Leoncavallo, always busy if seldom successful, has finished an operetta, The Little Queen, and begun a two-act opera, The Forest Murmurs. He is also setting a poem on the subject of Prometheus.

An act of Louis Aubert’s La Foret Bleue has shown a delightful score, “full of fancy, true poetry, and delicate picturesqueness.” This French pendant to Hänsel and Gretel contains old friends in the shape of Red Riding Hood, Tom Thumb, the Sleeping Beauty, the Ogre, and so on. Paris is to hear (and see) two new Ballets, Bruneau’s Les Bacchantes and La Roussalka by Lucien Lambert. Other novelties for the gay capital are De Lara’s opera, Noël; Henri Hirschmann’s La Vie Joyeuse and La Princesse au Moulin; Le Borne’s Girondins, and Cartouche, by Terrasse. Germany is trying opera in the open air at Zoppot, with a real forest setting; but no winter season has been announced yet.

For orchestra, it is said that Strauss thinks of treating Tartuffe, an excellent subject, in which the irony of his Eulenspiegel would appear again to advantage. A new symphony by Bernard Tittel was heard at Wildungen. Ostend heard Paul Lebrun’s beautiful symphonic poem, Sur la Montagne, and a selection from Jan Blockx’s new opera, Liefdelied, or The Love Song. The latter number gave an effective contrast between the heroine’s grief and the joyous echoes of a village festival. Paris heard an effective Fantaisie Pastorale by Henri Mulet, and a symphony, in Franck’s style, by Witkowski. The symphony incited M. Calvocoressi to write thus:—“Debussy and Ravel are shallow, but the earnest deportment and elaborate and pompous tactics of composition displayed by the Franckist school impose upon not over-critical hearers, and pass for profundity and vigor.” This is killing several birds with one stone.

The Liszt centenary was fitly anticipated by the discovery of a choral Hymn to Rome by him, the manuscript being found in the Library of St. Cecilia.


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