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Musical Thought and Action in the Old World.



In the Musical Times, Ernest Newman writes on the subject of heart and head in music. This is not a contrast between classicism and modernism, but an inquiry as to whether inspiration at the time of composition is a matter of emotion or intellect.

It is probable that the actual inspiration, the mental creation of musical material, comes some time before the writing out of a composition. On the first occasion it is probably a matter of heart rather than head. The composer, hearing a beautiful theme mentally, is moved by its attractive nature. He feels as much enthusiasm and emotion over it as if it were something by another composer, played to him for the first time. It strikes him as new and interesting.

The actual composition, as Mr. Newman states, is a matter of head rather than heart. It is a more or less cold-blooded building-up of a large musical structure, to be made out of those fragments that we have at hand. Here is where the opponent of modernism indulges in his little fling, by saying that the modern harmonic experiments have no heart in them anyway, and are wholly a cold-blooded cerebral affair. This is partly true of the work of some composers; but it has nothing to do with the method of composition. That is a mental process dealing with the creation of music and seeing that it is endowed with certain qualities desired by the composer. Thus Beethoven fashioned his works over and over. The opening theme of his fifth-symphony Andante is very commonplace in its original note-book form, but very expressive in its final shape. The result, though appealing to the heart, was surely brought about by head-work. Handel, when composing the “Hallelujah” chorus, was so excited by its impressiveness that it seemed to him as if all Heaven lay open before him; but he still followed the mental plan that he had evolved for that great number in his oratorio. With the large orchestras of the modern composers, brain-work is a necessity, and composition becomes in part a mathematical problem of uniting instruments into chords. But apart from this, composition is head-work, no matter how much its results move the heart of composer or hearer.


H. Montagu-Nathan writes on the influence of women on the Russian school. Moussorgsky, one may believe, was influenced by “wine, woman, and song” in about the order named. Seroff was married to a talented wife, who composed several operas herself. Tschaikowsky was set on his feet financially by Mme. von Meek, who gave him an annual pension, and let him write to her about his work, but would not permit him to meet her. This last is such an excellent example that one wishes it had happened to some earlier composers. Beethoven could have used an annual stipend with much comfort. Bach, with his family of twenty children, must have longed for some early Roosevelt to give him financial aid and an anti-race-suicide reputation. Schubert was helped somewhat by a friend who shared his rooms as an excuse for paying most of his expenses; but other help would not have come amiss to the composer who could get only little more than the equivalent of $100 for seventy songs, including “The Wanderer.” In later times, Hugo Wolf lived in great poverty.

The influence of women on composers has often been very marked. Beethoven is perhaps the most striking example, for he was almost always under the spell of some attractive female. The list of them runs from Eleonora von Breuning to Amalia Seebald, with the “immortal beloved,” Giulietta Guicciardi, about in the middle of it. We are told that Amalia Seebald’s influence was of a cheering nature, and is reflected in the brightness of the seventh and eighth symphonies.

Schubert, too, was a sentimentalist. His pupil Caroline Esterhazy once asked him, “Why do you dedicate nothing to me?” He answered at once “All that I ever did is dedicated to you.” Spohr had a musical wife in the harpist Dorette Scheidler, for whom he composed much music. Schumann, like Beethoven, admired more than one woman. There are still some romancers who pretend that “Warum” was written as an inquiry why Clara Wieck’s father should have opposed her marriage to Schumann; but in reality the latter sent the piece to the pianist Anna Robena Laidlaw, and discussed it fully with her. At another time he wrote his Carnival chiefly for Ernestine von Fricken, the letters “Asch,” used in the work, being the name of her native village. He was so smitten with her that after he found a new object for his attentions she felt almost in a breach-of-promise mood. The influence of Clara Wieck, afterwards Clara Schumann, is shown in many of the composer’s most inspired songs. Mendelssohn had an attractive sister and charming wife, but made music out of his own inner consciousness without having them influence it greatly. Wagner’s genius was not a matter of marital influence, though his first wife, Minna Planer, drudged faithfully at household cares in order to leave him free for musical work. Strauss has given us a “Domestic Symphony,” but we may hope that his family life is not quite so noisy as that work might imply.


In connection with this subject, one may be pardoned for opposing the belief, sometimes held, that women composers are only of recent date. It is true that Mendelssohn would not let his sister sign her productions, and that Rubinstein thought that the young Cecile Chaminade should not be trained for composition, even though her works were good. Yet there have been famous women composers in many eras since the original feminist movement engineered by Sappho.

While mediaeval music was confined to monasteries, the women had little share in it. But when it became a more popular affair, they began to play their part in creative work as well as in performance. The Troubadours are remembered as men; but such famous women as Eleanor of Acquitaine and the Countess of Champagne were held to belong to their ranks. Ladies would sometimes vie with knights in the poetic dialogue known as the Tenson, or Contention; and the lyrics of the period were often given a musical setting by the poet who made them. The so-called glee-maidens sometimes wandered about from place to place, entertaining town and village audiences with music that was often original. At other times they were definitely attached to courts, and even became great poets like the renowned Marie de France.

In the contrapuntal period there were a number of famous women composers,—Bernada de Lacerda in Portugal, Clementine de Bourges in France, Madelka Bariona in Germany, and Francesca Caccini at Florence. The last-named was the daughter of the opera pioneer, which proves that the early opera did not at once abolish counterpoint. In the classical period we find that Maria Teresa von Paradies. blind from childhood, not only became a great pianist, but wrote many large compositions. Thus we may see that women have almost always had the privilege of working if they wished to do so.


Two or three operas, perhaps the last stage novelties before the great European war, seem to have met with some success. Paul Graener’s three-act Don Juan’s Last Adventure, based on a play of the same name by Otto Anthes, treats of that individual’s sudden awakening to the fact that he has missed real love. The music sometimes has effects of melos that are rather spun-out, but on the whole it is interesting, and shows both skill and feeling.

Alfred Bachelet won a Prix de Rome at twenty-four, which gave him the right to have a work given either at the grand opera or the opera comique in Paris. The former has now brought out his Scemo, which is a Corsican title meaning “outcast.” The hero is the lonely herdsman Lazzaro. Francesca, daughter of a prominent man in the village, and already married, is moved by the lonely shepherd’s flute-playing and lyrics. Her father discovers the pair together, and orders Lazzaro to leave the country. In a day or two the father is taken sick and dies; and the mourning women at his funeral, seizing the idea that Lazzaro’s magic was responsible, work themselves into a frenzy and tie him to a tree with the view of burning him alive. In despair, he blinds himself rather than witness the people’s hatred; whereupon Francesca saves him from the pyre. In the last act, after an Easter scene that does not advance the plot much, she finds the outcast in the cave of robbers who protect him; whereupon

he makes a sacrifice for her good, and tells her that he loves her no longer. In the music, the composer has shown himself an excellent painter of moods and atmospheres. The voices are sometimes kept to an excessively high tessitura, but the score is almost always effective especially when depicting the rising fury of the mourners.

A comic opera success is found in Henri Rabaud’s Marouf, Cobbler of Cairo. Marouf is the individual in the Arabian Nights who pretends to be rich, and is made rich in the nick of time by a spirit that he has helped. The first act shows him beaten at the request of a virago, and running away to sea. When saved alone from a shipwreck, he finds an old friend, Ali, who leads him to make an impression by pretending to wealth, and using borrowed money for the first needs. The stranger’s munificence brings it about that he is ordered to marry the Sultan’s daughter. The latter, who grows to love him, flees with him to avoid discovery; the pair help a poor stranger in the desert; the poor stranger turns out to be the spirit who makes the pretended wealth real; and the castigation intended for Marouf is given to the jealous Vizier who had been trying to expose him. The music shows an orientalism that reminds the hearer of Rimsky-Korsakoff.

Among ballets, Stravinsky’s Nightingale deals with the bird that charmed the Chinese Emperor until supplanted by an automatic bird. The music is only partly discordant, as some of it was written years ago. Hansli the Dwarf, with music by J. and N. Gallon, treats of a good hunchback whose hump was magically removed and put on his rival’s back. The story is Alsatian, and the music introduces some old Alsatian airs. Other ballets include Richard Drigo’s Magic Flute, given at Moscow, and Le Reveil de Flore, by the same composer.

Orchestral works include a comedy overture by Victor Merz; Karl Ehrenberg’s symphonic poem Youth; a dance-suite by Paul Juon; three Poëmes Juifs by the Swiss composer E. Bloch; Reger’s ballet-suite; Conrado del Campo’s symphonic poem Granada, and Oscar Espla’s delicately fresh suite entitled Poema de Vinos, the last two being given at Madrid.

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