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Musical Thought and Action in the Old World.




A notice of one of Bruckner’s symphonies suggests the subject of modern musical tendencies, as well as the individual greatness of that composer. Bruckner’s reputation has been steadily increasing, and now he has fairly become one of the immortals, of whom music numbers less than a score. Yet in his lifetime he met much persecution. Friends of Brahms looked askance at him, and critics attacked. Hanslick was especially violent and unfair. Once the Austrian Emperor, receiving Bruckner as a guest, asked what favor he could do. “If you would prevent Mr. Hanslick from maltreating me,” suggested the composer with great earnestness, “I should be very thankful.” Time has done what the Emperor could not, and Bruckner has gained fame while Hanslick has lost it. Indeed, it seems strange now that Hanslick was so long regarded as a great critic.

Bruckner led the way to a school that is growing, although he is still its greatest exponent. This may be called the modern school of pure music. The modern program school has been fully developed; Berlioz, Liszt and Wagner have led to Strauss and many others. But the path indicated by Bruckner has been followed successfully by very few. Cesar Franck, working independently, produced one great symphony, but only one. Elgar has written effective movements, but does not succeed on the whole. Paderewski grows tedious, and Dohnanyi, though known here by few works, seems to do the same thing. The great Tchaikowsky is a transition from old to new. D’Indy is earnest, but his “Mountain Air” symphony verges a little toward the program idea. Bruckner is still the pioneer, and the hour-long symphonies of his later years are titanic in conception and execution.

Brahms looked backward while Bruckner looked forward. The former, with Beethoven as a noble model, sought (and found) the earnestness and intensity and beauty that can be obtained by the expressive use of simple means. He used the thirteen parts of the classical orchestra, and employed the pure colors. The modern orchestra, with only a few more instruments, has a greatly increased range of combinations. As an example, there are 495 different combinations of eight instruments in twelve, but in sixteen there would be 5,148 such combinations. Thus it is no wonder that the modern orchestra affords such variety of color. No one man can grasp it all, and there is room for many styles, all the way from The Isle of the Dead to Till Eulenspiegel or the 1812 overture. This must influence the modern symphonist. For the time being it has led to a revel in program effects, though the pure school is again coming into its own.

But a symphony is more than a revel in tone-color. It is even more than a certain plastic form. It is a work in which the themes, besides occurring in proper sequence, should be lofty, well-balanced, and dignified. A symphony is a work of well-planned logic, as well as true sentiment, while a symphonic poem is a romance of passion, a novel in tones. With Bruckner, as with Beethoven, intellectual balance is joined to emotional power. The excess of the latter in Mahler’s symphonies is what makes them seem like program works with an unwritten program.


Modern music brings one to Debussy. In the Revue du Temps Présent, M. Raphael Cor has been getting a symposium of opinions about him, so the present writer feels justified in giving one.

Debussy is wholly a member of the program school with an advanced and individual style of harmony. In his piano works this style is discreetly used, and his excellent tone-pictures form a genre of their own. Here, as in all his works, he shows a fastidious delicacy rather than emotional breath. The latter, as exemplified in Schumann, is a sealed book to the Debussyites.

In his orchestral works Debussy has carried his bizarre harmonies to excessive lengths. Here, too, the effects are all delicacy rather than strength. One of his later works, Iberia, shows a slight recession in radicalism and a definite and easily- followed program. Hugo Wolf always asked of a composer, “Can he exult?” In the Festival Morning of Iberia, Debussy has shown that he can exult, in his delicate way.

In opera his Pèlleas and Mélisande is a strict music-drama. The orchestra no longer wanders at will, but echoes the text skilfully. Where Wagner shows strength and makes the music important, Debussy shows refinement and makes the music subservient—as Wagner’s theories demanded. The non-melodic style of Debussy may be independent, or come from Franck, but here it could be an outcome of Tristan. Being subservient, the music loses much when heard by itself. Debussy had once decided to set Tristan himself, but gave up the idea. This was wise, as his bizarre delicacy could hardly be compared to Wagner’s direct power.

Much is said of a Debussy school, and that composer’s influence is shown in many modern works. Undoubtedly harmony is growing more complex with each generation. But the greatest works always have some measure of direct simplicity in them, and Debussy stands for complex impressionism—musical stippling, as it has been aptly called.

There may well be an important Debussy school with harmonies of a new style that grow upon one with repetition. But in spite of wild claims, this will not be the only school of the future. There will still be the broader program school of Strauss, and one may hope that Bruckner will find worthy successors. And if Debussy does not monopolize the present, still less does he abolish the past. He and his disciples have made many ridiculous attacks on others, especially Schumann. Composers, however, are usually poor critics, as each one, if sincere, must give most admiration to the style that he chooses for his own work. The world then keeps what it judges best. The haunting sweetness of Couperin and the elders, the subtle beauty and infinite skill of Bach, the glory of the Messiah, the deep expressiveness of Beethoven, the romance of Schumann, the richness of Wagner—must we give up these to appreciate the elfin delicacy of Debussy? Decidedly not. Debussy does not abolish the others, any more than Swinburne abolishes Shakespeare, or the bittersweet of grape-fruit abolishes roast beef.


Speaking of Schumann brings to mind that a new work of his was recently heard in Paris. It comprised two movements of an unfinished violin sonata, the manuscript having belonged to Charles Malherbes, opera librarian. The first movement is built on large lines, and very effective, but the inspiration did not extend to the second movement. The most important of classical novelties, however, is still the Jena symphony. In the quarterly magazine Prof. Stein, the finder, gives resemblances to other Beethoven works, to prove the Beethoven signature (on two of the string parts) authentic. The symphony as a whole is too quiet for the composer whose student style was so independent that Haydn called him “The Great Mogul.” But the orchestration is clearer than Haydn’s or Mozart’s (no blurred violin scales), and Beethoven may have adopted a smooth style to show that he could succeed in it if he chose. It was for this reason that Berlioz wrote his Enfance du Christ. The critics had been calling him too advanced and involved, as they did Beethoven also; and he turned the tables on them by putting an assumed name on the work. They at once praised it, and asked why the radical Berlioz never wrote like that; whereupon he disclosed the real authorship. Strauss is a modern examples of change in style, his F minor symphony being in the classical vein of Brahms’.

Among living composers Hausegger gives the best novelty, a symphony for orchestra, chorus and organ. Erich Korngold’s overture, Op. 4, shows wonderful inspiration and originality, being really a man’s music written by a boy. Other orchestral works include a symphony by Camillo Horn, a piano concerto by Braunfels, and a bright suite, Ländliches Fest, by Göhler. Mahler’s example has led Julius Major to include voices in his new symphony. Pierre Maurice uses excellent instrumentation and good material in his suite, Pecheur d’Islande. The monotonous ocean, the wedding procession, the lovers’ conversation, and the endless wait for the fisherman who will never return, form four effective tone-pictures. More pastoral is Louis Vierne’s Suite Bourguignonne, with its Aubade, Legende, Angelus and Danse Rustique. The Dance-Rhapsody of Delius is more emphatic, and scared one critic with its noise.

In opera, Puccini’s setting of the Spanish comedy, Genia Allegra, will deal with a heroine whose pleasing unconventionally shocks her aristocratic set. Otto Neitzel’s Barbarina treats of the dancer who won fame at the court of Frederick the Great. Excerpts from Maugue’s one-act Sphinx were well received in Paris, and Alberic Magnard’s Berenice met with the same fate. Weingartner has remade Oberon into a Singspiel with spoken dialogue, but it is too late for him to remake it into an up-to-date success.


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