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From Beethoven to Wagner

Third and Last Article in the Extremely Interesting Series upon The Ten Most Important Epochs in Musical History
 
hermann_ritter-650.jpgBy PROF. HERMANN RITTER
Of the Royal Conservatory at Wurzburg
 
THE PERSONIFICATION OF THE BEST IN MUSIC.
 
And now to Beethoven! There is hardly an educated person who in reading or hearing a work of Beethoven is not involuntarily reminded of the highest conception of music—reminded that it is the powerfully affecting language of the deepest human emotions. And, truly, the name of Beethoven has become the personification of the highest and noblest ideals of music.
 
With Beethoven, the history of his life and the development of his compositions go side by side, and are especially interesting to us. In him we come in contact with an exceptional character, who requires us to consider not only the purely human, but the deeply religious, the political and the moral aspects of existence. The two chief chapters in the life of this great musician and great man are:
 
From 1770 to 1800. This period covers the time of study and preparation, which was influenced by the manner of Haydn and Mozart.
 
From 1801 to 1827. In this period Beethoven’s creations became wholly original. His greatness reaches its climax in his instrumental music. For Beethoven’s music did not exist merely because of the sensuous beauty of its sounds; it was, on the contrary, an ethical power. As proof of his attitude we have his own dictum: “Music is a higher revelation than all of wisdom and philosophy.”
 
The epochs or periods into which Beethoven’s compositions fall are:
 
1. The period in Bonn and Vienna, till 1800 or 1802 (the youthful Beethoven).
 
2. The period from 1800 (1802) to 1814 (the middle period).
 
3. The time from 1814 till his death (the later Beethoven).
 
Beethoven is already a child of the nineteenth century whose impassioned spirit makes itself felt in his creations. So his style is deeply emotional as compared with Haydn and Mozart. Beethoven demands of music that its style and idea shall correspond (expression shall be characterized). Quite in contrast to the music of Haydn and Mozart, the music of Beethoven expresses the personal, the individual feelings. It is the utterance of the feeling of personal freedom. As with Haydn and Mozart, so also with Beethoven, the idiom of the folk-song was the basis of his music. The art of these three heroes of music-history grew out of the deep longing to give expression to something which could not be said in words. Music was for them not the slave of the lower pleasures, but a freeing, liberating power, the comfort of mankind. And truly, in these days of the division of labor, the man who comes out from his one-sided business pursuits into the influence of music, feels himself once more a whole and complete man; through her the oppressed may throw off his burden, and herein consists her liberating power.
 
THE SONG AND FRANZ SCHUBERT.
 
7. The Song and Its Classic Master, Franz Schubert.
 
The culminating period of the German folk-song, which flourished from the fourteenth century to the beginning of the eighteenth, was followed by the development of the art-song and the chorus (art-song of the people). The song developed especially in the German nation. It was a particular growth of German musical life, and is found in such comprehensive and manifold forms in no other nation.
 
After Bach, Gluck, Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven had made the first beginnings of the art-song came Franz Schubert (1797-1828).
 
To this is really due his important position in music
 
history. His songs can be counted by hundreds, and they group themselves in four divisions, which include every style of song.
 
Group 1. Those songs which are closely related to the folk-song in imitating its form and simple expression; the form is as in the folk-song in strophes or stanzas. Examples are Sylvia, Haiden Röslein and the Wiegenlied.
 
Group 2. Songs with extended forms, the so-called ternary song-form.
 
Group 3. Those songs which take their musical form from the form of the poem. These songs show a wealth of resources. The piano accompaniment is important in rhythm and harmony.
 
Interesting melodic forms and characteristic modulations distinguish these songs. Examples are: “Ach! um deine feuchten Schwingen,” several of the Miller’s songs, songs from the “Winterreise,” the songs from “Fraulein vom See,” and the great “Waldesnacht.”
 
Group 4. The ballades and kindred songs. In this group belong, for instance: The Erlkönig; Die Burgschaft, Gretchen am Spinnrad, Der Wanderer, Der Zwerg, Gruppe aus den Tartarus, Die junge Nonne and Das Meer.
 
Group 5. Those songs of Schubert’s in which the so- called instrumental melody does not dominate, but rather musical speech—musical declamation, founded on the prosody of the words of the text. Examples are: Orest auf Tauris, Der entsühute Orest, Freiwilliges Versinken, Der Doppelgänger and Grenzen der Menschheit.
 
As has been said, in Schubert’s songs are comprised all forms of the song (Lied), from the simplest, the folk-song, to the lyric recitative—musical speech.
 
THE MUSICAL ROMANTICISTS.
8. The Musical Romanticists. (Schubert, Spohr, Weber, Marschner, Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, Schumann and Brahms (nineteenth century).
 
The songs of Schubert have already been recognized as marking an important epoch in the history of music. But in this next division we must consider Schubert yet again, with reference to his works in general. With Franz Schubert begins the series of great composers of the nineteenth century, whom we designate as “Romanticists.” In their compositions the peculiar tendencies to each, the individual, the personal, come more and more into the foreground, while the productions of the classicists of the eighteenth century chiefly sink the personal into the general and conventional. The struggle against the conventional, the stamp of the personal quality, is the distiguishing (sic) mark of the musical compositions of the period which opens with the nineteenth century. We observe in the creations of the tone-poets, Schubert, Spohr, Weber, Marschner, Mendelssohn, Schumann and Brahms, an entirely new emotional content, which grows out of a new fundamental tendency of thought, and this had been termed “Romanticism.”
 
Romanticism appears at the end of the eighteenth century, and in the course of the nineteenth as a tendency of human thought. In its influence there grew up a school of poets, of which the representative names are the two Schlegels, Ludwig Tieck, Wackenroder, Novalis, Schenkendorf, Matthison, Arhim von Arnim and Clemens Brentano. In painting, for example,   Moritz von Schwind, is a true romanticist, and the friendship of Schubert for this artist is to be traced to the similarity of their ideals.
 
It was a peculiar characteristic of human thought that it should return to that period from which the romantic idea first sprang—the time of the crusades, of chivalry, through which a new world—a world of miracles—was opened to the western countries of the Orient. Here suddenly was an unlimited field offered to the range, of the imagination. The abstract, the immaterial, the indeterminate, became the subjects to be represented in the arts of the romanticists. The Christian miracles had no small share in preparing the mind of the people to receive the ideas of the romanticists. The murmuring of the brook, the rustling of the forest, the rolling of the thunder, became “romantic” through the new conception of their origin. To music a wide field for new expression was thus opened. New forms, new ideas in color and dynamics came from the composers of this romantic period. Compare, for example, simply the dynamics and instrumentation (coloring) of a composition by Haydn, Mozart or Beethoven with those of a work by Weber or Mendelssohn.
 
That the spirit which ruled the romantic poets influenced also the composers of this period is shown by the composers from Schubert to Brahms. Even Liszt and Wagner must also be reckoned as belonging to this period, in that they derived much of their material from romantic sources. (Schubert, the opera Alfonso und Estrella and Fierrabras; Spohr, the operas Der Berggeist, Die Kreuzfahrer, Zemire und Azor and   Jessonda. With Weber romanticism appears in his three chief works, Freischütz, Euryanthe and Oberon. In Freischütz we see romanticism in the guise of the people (folk-lore); in Euryanthe we see it in the guise of the poetry of the middle ages, which tells of chivalry and knight-errantry (tales of chivalry), and in Oberon as the pure play of the imagination set free from all restraints of earth. Marschner, the operas Der Vampyr, Templer und Judin, Hans Heiling and others. Mendelssohn, the cantata Walpurgisnacht, music for the Midsummer Night’s Dream. Schumann, The Pilgrimage of the Rose, Paradise and the Peri, the opera   Genoveva. Brahms, the cantatas Rinaldo and Fingal. Liszt, Die heilage Elizabeth. Wagner, Tannhaeuser, Lohengrin, Tristan and Isolde and Parsifal.
 
PROGRAM MUSIC.
The Development of Program Music as an End in Itself. (Special types, Berlioz and Liszt.)
 
Hector Berlioz (born 1803, died 1869), like Liszt, is important in the history of music, because he broke the bonds of formal expression wherever the expression required such freedom. Berlioz, like Liszt, and Beethoven, in his latest period brought music to a height of expressiveness in depicting a situation which had never before been known. Words joined with music in the symphony, as in Beethoven’s Ninth, and the “Symphonic Ode,” arose. Berlioz is to be considered the founder of modern orchestral technic. To realize that with him a new principle of musical style has come into existence, one needs only to examine the Symphony Fantastique, the symphony with viola obligato; Harold in Italy, Romeo and Juliet, The Damnation of Faust, and to read the programs of the Fantastique and the Harold symphonies.
 
Franz Liszt (born 1811, died 1886), the friend and contemporary of Berlioz, built further on this new principle of musical style in his symphonic poems, as well as in his two great symphonies with chorus, the Faust Symphony and the Dante Symphony. If we inquire what is the difference between the symphony as it developed from Haydn to Beethoven, and the symphonic poem created by Liszt, the answer is: The symphony is a composition in several movements, based on general types of emotional life; the symphonic poem is composed in one continuous movement; it receives its form from a poetical idea which is set forth in a program. The symphonic poem, therefore, has not grown out of a pre-established form, but it is the direct product of poetic thought. The symphonic poems of Liszt, which have been a great inspiration to modern musical life and have found many imitators are: 1. Ce qu’on entend sur la montagne (Bergsymphonie); 2. Tasso (Lamento e trionfo); 3. Les Preludes; 4. Orpheus; 5. Prometheus; 6. Mazeppa; 7. Festklänge; 8. Her bide Funèbre; 9. Hungaria; 10. Hamlet; 11.   Hunnenschlacht; 12. Die Ideale.
 
RICHARD WAGNER.
The Creator of the National Music Drama, Richard Wagner (1813-1883).
 
The culmination of the last great period of music history is marked by Richard Wagner and his influence on the development of music. Wagner is the creator of the drama as a product of the combined arts. His music dramas have only the externals—the materials, in common with the previous operas. The musical innovations which we find in them are—new harmonic devices, new effects of instrumentation, musical declamation, and the Leit motif. In general, the antique drama was Wagner’s model of form, while as poet he drew his material from the German myths and the German legends of the middle ages. Musically, he was influenced by the compositions of loftiest inspiration, from Palestrina to Beethoven. The essentially human was the idea which Wagner sought in the material of his music dramas—the eternal struggle of light with darkness, the contest of freedom, of love and of faith, with the evil powers of the world. From The Flying Dutchman to Parsifal through all the operas runs as a leading idea the theme of redemption. Wagner devoted his art to the themes of the highest moral ideals of humanity and because it is a source of the highest edification it may be regarded as the sister of religion. Therefore Wagner’s stage is no theatre in the ordinary sense but a temple. From the union of poet, musician and thinker (philosopher) arose Wagner’s art work for which he took possession of all man’s powers. Song is the speech of his characters who are not individual limited separate beings in the historical sense but types of nature and of humanity as these were embodied in the German myth. It would carry us beyond the limits of this sketch to trace the ethical and ideal content of Wagner’s music drama. According to him the realization of the incompleteness of life and of a loveless world led to avisitation which pointed the way to those high moral ideals which the master expresses in his music dramas. From the Flying Dutchman to Parsifal they depict all-pitying love in its unselfishness and deep sympathy. Love in all its forms is according to Wagner the one effectual power for the redemption of man and this view gives to his art a widely human significance. Wagner’s compositions comprise: Rienzi, Der Fliegender Hollander, Tannhauser, Lohengrin, Tristan und Isolde, Die   Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Der Ring des Nibelungen and Parsifal.
 
THE LAND OF SONG
We have come to the end of our journey through the centuries. We have seen that music, especially the art of song arose from Italy. In Italy took place the evolution from the universal to the individual form of expression in song—music combined with words. Song was quite distinct from absolute music. The province of vocal music comprised the following forms: the melodrama, the song in its many modifications, the mass (for church use), the oratorio, the opera, and the music drama. Word and tone were each the complement of the other, and mutually assisted toward more definite expression—the word as the bearer of thought, and tone as the direct utterance of emotion. As the word gives to thought a certain definite expression, so tone supplies the general mood. And so vocal music has acquired an especial significance in opera and music drama, as well as in song and oratorio. We have learned that Florence and Naples were the two cities which gave rise to the opera, the drama with the addition of music. Polyphony, which in the church music of the Netherlands had become a ruling influence in Italy, met a counter influence in Florence—monody and recitative; in Naples, the aria—the melodic style, which gave an extraordinary impetus to individual, personal expression. It was a strong influence which the opera, originating in Italy, exerted on France, Germany and other countries of musical importance. The art of singing first began to flourish in the opera of Italy, fostered by the climatic influences in this land of beautiful voices. In Germany, less rich in natural voices, instrumental music developed to its highest technical perfection.
 
The Italians, as a rule, sacrificed truth of expression in the opera to sensuous beauty of tone and virtuosity. These tendencies were, as we saw, reformed by Gluck. From Gluck, through Mozart and Weber, down to Wagner, opera made such tremendous advance that in Wagner’s time it had lost all its distinctively Italian characteristics. We have seen Germany receive her inheritance after the decline of music in Italy—an inheritance which she used in her own ways. At the very beginning of the great German movement stand the masters Bach, Handel and Gluck; Bach as master of the lyric form, Handel of the epic, Gluck of the dramatic. In their works are the germs of all the music of great significance which has been written since, whether absolute music or vocal, whether in Germany or in other countries. Their great successors, Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, developed the fundamental characteristics of instrumental music, and Schubert, Mendelssohn and Schumann perfected the art- song, in which no people is so rich as the German nation. For besides the symphonies of Beethoven, the symphonic poems of Liszt and the music dramas of Wagner, it is the art-song which, through Schubert, marks an epoch in the development of music at the beginning of the nineteenth century. If, in Italian opera, music was degraded and made only the servant of language; in the German song, she has become a true comrade. In the songs of the great German masters we can perceive how great a capacity for expression Music has acquired in the course of nearly two thousand centuries of growth. How much has she been able to intensify, to make truly impressive, the language of poetry! It is probable that in Wagner’s works the union of language and music has reached its highest possibility. No wonder, then, if this master is, of all composers of our time, the one most beloved of the people. But all of us, as we stand, rapt and wondering before this last giant of our art, desire to heed and to honor all the many other outpourings of art, especially all honest and sincere music. Let us not be narrow-minded; let us belong to no party, but to Art. So shall we share in the blessings of this great kingdom, which, like a vast garden, contains a wealth of flowers and fruit for him who comes in need!
 
 

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