The Etude
Name the Composer . Etude Magazine Covers . Etude Magazine Ads & Images . Selected Etude Magazine Stories . About . Donate .

Dream Radio .. LinkNYC Radio .. Payphone Radio .. Practice Room Radio .. Sleep Radio .. Snore Radio


Beginnings of Modern Instrumentation

By Arthur Bird
 
It takes much time to discover the waters of the musical seas, but still more to learn to sail on them.Berlioz.
 
The dream, of almost every student of music is, or most certainly should be, not only to be able to read and understand any orchestral score, but likewise to orchestrate, if not his own, other peoples' ideas. Having successfully overcome all the obstacles necessary to accomplish this, the road thereto may be paved with good intentions, but it is certainly rough and steep; he is not only become a musician worthy of the name, but his mastery of the intricate machinery of an orchestral score permits him to enjoy an orchestra a thousand times more than he who would if he could but can't. Hector Berlioz, the father of modern instrumentation, on being asked if he considered it an absolute necessity for a student to study it, is said to have declared that an M. D. (Dr. Mus.), or even a less titled one; in fact, anyone who considers himself a cultivated musician, to whom instrumentation is a world unknown, is as consummate a quack as an M. D. (Dr. Med.), to whom anatomy is a riddle. If this is perhaps a trifle exaggerated, it came nevertheless from a man, himself a genuine musician, modern   symphonist, a master of musical effects, and from one who knew perfectly well out of what stuff and how musicians should be made.
 
Berlioz and modern instrumentation are inseparables; for Berlioz as a composer is scarcely conceivable without modern instrumentation, and the same can be said of modern instrumentation without Berlioz.
 
It is necessary right here, so far as time and space permit, to describe his kind and art. His principal works are: Requiem, Romeo et Juliette, Symphonie Fantastique, Damnation de Faust, Carnival Romain.
 
Berlioz was a most brilliant writer, not a composer by the grace of God, and that he was a daring and fearless one nobody can deny; also that his orchestra overthrew all tradition and firmly established a new school is equally undeniable; but that he was a great creative musical genius few maintain to-day. Had he been able to clothe his highly poetical ideas in corresponding and equally spiritual notes, he would have been the genius of our late century. Positive it is that through his bold and characteristic treatment of the orchestra, he is one of the most brilliant, remarkable, original and epoch-making musicians of all times. These scores of his are priceless gems of reference for both ripe musicians and students of music, showing them the richness, and likewise the emptiness, of modern orchestral coloring. His treatise on orchestration is a standard work, and even to-day one of the very best. He was an inventor of orchestral combinations, not of musical ideas; hence, figuratively speaking, he often clothed a lean, dirty beggar in silks and satins.
 
 
Take away the cunning, sometimes spontaneous, sometimes tentative orchestral coloring from the majority of his compositions and the ground idea dwindles to a haggard spectre, even to triviality itself. This is especially true of his pet score—Requiem—which is likewise the best specimen of Berlioz's art, with its immense chorus and five orchestras. Berlioz says while composing it he was so deeply interested, so enthusiastic, that his ideas came faster than he could possibly write them down; so that he often surprised himself writing in one movement with his thoughts in the next. This perhaps accounts for the many superficial themes which were enthusiastically, but alas, too hurriedly written down.
 
After having heard numberless private rehearsals and public performances of this work, I am prepared to say that with all its originality, its pomposity of effects, its bombastical orchestration, its immense climaxes, how many a theme stripped of its cloak is wretchedly naked; how theatrically the whole structure steams forth odors of paint, powder and gaudy stage dresses, instead of incense and solemn reflection. The Tuba mirum is the most original movement; in fact, one of the most interesting and remarkable in the whole musical literature. When the four side orchestras take up their themes and blow to the four winds, it is truly as if the day of judgment had dawned. The effect is fearful, appalling, and never fails to nearly annihilate the patient audience, which, after recovering sufficiently, fervently praises God that it was only a false alarm, a public rehearsal, as it were, of Gabriel's last blast. Berlioz's name will ever live among the most extraordinary lights of the nineteenth century, and will be handed down to posterity as one who
 
conscientiously believed in his own ways and means; as one who, notwithstanding the most unscrupulous opposition and vilest intrigues, trod his chosen path with unshaken conviction. Hans Sachs would have said of him:
 
Des Ritters Lied und Weise,
Sie fand ich neu, doch nicht verwirrt;
Verliess er uns're G'leise, Schritt er doch fest und unbeirrt.
 
To the general concert-goer Berlioz, taken as a whole, is and probably ever will be, more or less a musical bore; as but few amateurs have the interest, patience, or what is far more necessary, the musical intelligence to grasp his kind and method of expression, his ideal intention, to understand his complicated scores. Thus teachers put Berlioz into the hands of pupils with mixed feelings—on the one side, his treatise on instrumentation, which is highly instructive to all and harmless to the most sensitive; on the other, his scores which, if imitated, misunderstood, or still worse, if deficiently digested, are rank poison and beget riotous orgies. Berlioz compositions, taken as a whole, are like a hollow mountain covered with a thin crust, from which, if you can climb to the top without a mishap, you may have a good view, but probably not. Instrumentation is one of the arts which is strictly individual, or better, personal; for nobody ever did or can master it by hearsay or by reading. Thus, to understand and apply the theoretical part successfully, it is indispensable to hear a full orchestra as much and as often as possible; the better the orchestra, the more the benefit.
 
The appropriate and characteristic use of the flighty flute, the nasal hautboy, the soothing clarinet, or the playfully suggestive bassoon, to say nothing of the brass, demands not only mature judgment, but refined taste, and he who has of this last the most is the born orchestral writer.
 
He who has talent for inventing new, quaint, striking, non-previous combinations can revel in good things and find opportunities innumerable to make use of them as soon as the theoretical and technical part is mastered. This can only be acquired by making a special study of every instrument, which does not necessarily mean to learn to play each one, but it most certainly demands a positive knowledge of each one's special nature, compass, tone, effects of low. middle, high positions, natural and unnatural possibilities, and few but certain impossibilities. A certain class of ultra modern composers misuse instrumentation to cover their musical nakedness, and if they are but passing curiosities, their scores are most dangerous for those who have not acquired a well-founded opinion of their own; for those to whom musical genius and musical fireworks are synonymous.
 
Every one of Beethoven's symphonies has ever been and ever will be a priceless jewel; a standard model for those studying instrumentation, and should be a constant companion in the shape of a pocket edition.
 
It is highly improbable that a Beethoven, whose unrivaled scores have gloriously withstood all the brutal attacks of the so-called moderners, would have the patience to hear ten measures of their expectorations; for Beethoven was not only a master of instrumentation, but a genius of invention, and he composed because he possessed priceless musical ideas, which he clothed in raiment equally costly. Whereas most of the modern men, whether Germans, French or others, with the snobbish pretensions of an inflated peacock, strut about the "sphere of the blessed" in gaudy garments of silk and ermine to hide their musical impotence. The clever tailor can cover many a bodily defect, erase all crooked lines, but stripped of his artifices, the corpus delicti turns out to be a shaky scaffold of bones with scarcely a grain of marrow. Tschaikowsky once said to me: "It is a great mistake to believe celebrated orchestral composers ought to be splendid teachers. They are usually miserable ones; for they have no patience to teach the theoretical part, and the practical part is their own secret and cannot be taught." Berlioz says in the preface of his instrumentation: "This book has been written for the sole purpose of explaining the nature, etc., of all the instruments in a modern orchestra. The further use of them and their combinations would lead me much too far and into unknown lands, the discovery of which must be left to the creative genius alone."

<< MacDowell's Distinguished Career     Franz Liszt--The Last Word in Piano Playing >>

Monthly Archives

Pages

The Publisher of The Etude Will Supply Anything In Music

Dream Radio .. LinkNYC Radio .. Payphone Radio .. Practice Room Radio .. Sleep Radio .. Snore Radio