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Opera, and Cabinet music, bequeathed to us by the great masters of the eighteenth century, have been strangely elaborated by Beethoven, Mendelssohn, and Schumann, and are even now undergoing startling modifications in the hands of Wagner and his disciples. It is not for us to
in what direction the rich veins of ore will be found still further to extend, or what undiscovered gems may yet lie in the rivers, or be embedded in the mountain ranges of the musical cosmos. But we may safely affirm that for all purposes of inquiry into the rationale or into the moral properties of music, we are at this moment as much in possession of the full and sufficient facts as we ever shall be; and therefore we see no reason why inquiries, to which every other art has been fully and satisfactorily subjected, should be any longer deferred in the case of music.
The difference between “tweedledum and tweedledee” has always been a subject of profound mystery to the unmusical world; but the musical world is undoubtedly right in feeling strongly upon the subject, though unhappily often wrong when trying to give its reasons. It is quite impossible for any one, who has thoughtfully and sympathetically studied the different schools of music, not to feel that one style and conception of the art is nobler than another. That certain methods of using musical sound are affected, or extravagant, or fatiguing, or incoherent, whilst others are dignified, natural, or really pathetic, arranging and expressing the emotions in a true order, representing no vamped-up passion, but passion as it is, with its elations, depressions, intensities, velocities, varieties, and infinitely fine inflexions of form.
Between the spirit of the musical sentimentalist and the musical realist there is eternal war. The contest may rage under different captains. At one time it is the mighty Glück, who opposes the ballad-mongering Piccini; at another, it is the giant Handel versus the melodramatic Bononcini; or it is Mozart against all France and Italy; or Beethoven against Rossini, or Wagner against the world. In each case the points at issue are, or are supposed by the belligerents to be, substantially the same. False emotion, or abused emotion, or frivolous emotion versus true feeling, disciplined feeling, or sublime feeling. Musicians perhaps cannot always explain how music is capable of the above radical distinctions—granted. I am concerned just now with this remarkable fact, the distinction exists in their minds. They arrange the German, the Italian, French, and the Franco-German schools in a certain order of musical merit and importance ; there is a fair general agreement about what this order should be; and, perhaps without knowing why, an enlightened musician would no more compare Rossini to Beethoven, or Gounod to Mozart, than a literary critic would speak of Thomas Moore in the
same breath with Shakespeare, or place M. Boucicault by the side of Schiller.
The reason of the superiority of the modern German school from lück to Schumann over the French and Italian, we believe to be a real and substantial one; although, owing to the extraordinary nature of the connection between sound and emotion, it is far more easy to feel than to explain the distinction between a high and an ignoble school of music. This difference, however, we believe consists entirely in the view taken of the emotions and the order and spirit in which they are evoked and manipulated by the composer's magical art.
Towards the close of the seventeenth century, in Italy, music began to feel its great powers as an emotional medium. The great musical works were then nearly all of a sacred character, and devoted to the service of the Roman Catholic churches. The art was still firmly held in the trammels of strict fugue and severe counterpoint; the solemn and startling process of musical discovery was nevertheless in rapid progress. The composers seemed a little overawed by the novel effects they were daily producing, and the still powerful devotion to the Catholic religion hallowed their emotions, and gave to their Masses a severity and purity quite unknown to the Italian music of the nineteenth century. We cannot now stop to inquire whether it was the rapid decline of the Papal Power, and consequently of the Roman Catholic faith, which caused the degradation of Italian music; or whether, when sound came to be understood as a most subtle and ravishing minister to pleasure, the temptation to use it simply as the slave of the senses proved too great for a politically-degraded people, whose religion had become half an indolent superstition and half a still more indolent scepticism; certain it is that about the time of Giambattista Jesi (Pergolesi), who died in 1733, the high culture of music passed from Italy to Germany, which latter country was destined presently to see the rise and astonishing progress of Symphony and modern Oratorio, whilst Italy devoted itself henceforth to that brilliant bathos of art known as the “ Italian Opera.”
We cannot deny to Italy the gift of sweet and enchanting melody. Rossini has also shown himself a master of the
limited effects of harmony which it suited his purpose to cultivate. Then why is not Rossini as good as Beethoven ? Absurd as the question sounds to a musician, it is not an unreasonable one when coming from the general public, and the only answer we can find is this. Not to mention the enormous resources in the study and cultivation of harmony in which the Germans revel, and which the Italians, from want of inclination or ability neglect, the German music is higher
than the Italian because it is a truer expression, and a more disciplined expression, of the emotions.
To follow a movement of Beethoven is, in the first place, a bracing exercise of the intellect. The emotions evoked, whilst assuming a double degree of importance by association with the analytic faculty, do not become enervated, because in the masterful grip of the great composer we are conducted through a cycle of naturally progressive feeling, which always ends by leaving the mind recreated, balanced, and ennobled by the exercise. In Beethoven all is restrained, nothing morbid which is not almost instantly corrected, nothing luxurious which is not finally raised into the clear atmosphere of wholesome and brisk activity, or some corrective mood of peaceful self-mastery, or even playfulness. And the emotions thus roused are not the vamped-up feelings of a jaded appetite, or the false, inconsequent spasms of the sentimentalist. They are such as we have experienced in high moods or passionately sad ones, or in the night, and in summer-time, or by the sea ; at all events, they are unfolded before us, not with the want of perspective, or violent frenzy of a bad dream, but with true gradations in natural succession, and tempered with all the middle tints that go to make up the truth of life.
Hence the different nature of the emotional exercise gone through in listening to typical German and typical Italian music. The Italian makes us sentimentalise, the German makes us feel. The sentiment of the one gives the emotional conception of artificial suffering or joy, the true feeling of the other gives us the emotional conception which belongs to real suffering or joy. The one is stagey-smells of the oil and the rouge pot—the other is real, earnest, natural, and reproduces with irresistible force the deepest emotional experiences of our lives. It is not good to be constantly dissolved in a state of love-melancholy, full of the langour of passion without its real spirit—but that is what Italian music aims at. Again, the violent crises of emotion should come in their right places -like spots of primary colour with wastes of grey between them. There are no middle tints in Italian music; the listeners are subjected to shock after shock of emotion-half a dozen smashing surprises, and twenty or thirty spasms and languors in each scene, until at last we become like children who thrust their hands again and again into water charged with electricity, just on purpose to feel the thrill and the relapse. But that is not healthy emotion—it does not recreate the feelings; it kindles artificial feelings, and makes reality tasteless.
Now whenever feeling is not disciplined, it becomes weak, diseased, and unnatural. It is because German music takes emotion fairly in hand, disciplines it, expresses its depressions in order to remove
them, renders with terrible accuracy even its insanity and incoherence in order to give relief through such expression, and restore calm, flinches not from the tender and the passionate, stoops to pity, and becomes a very angel in sorrow ;—it is because German music has probed the humanities and sounded the emotional depths of our nature—taught us how to bring the emotional region, not only into the highest activity, but also under the highest control—that we place German music in the first rank, and allow no names to stand before Glück, Bach, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Spohr, Mendelssohn, and Schumann.
It would not be difficult to show in great detail the essentially voluptuous character of Italian music, the essentially frivolous character of French music, and the essentially moral, many-sided, and philosophical character of German music; but I hasten to pass on to the “Performers,” merely qualifying my previous remarks with this general caution—Let not the reader suppose that in the schools of music that take rank after the German school, there is nothing worthy and beautiful to be found. Rossini, and even Verdi, are manifestly full of extraordinary merit; the veteran Auber is a real musical giant; and M. Gounod is surely a very remarkable genius. What I have said above on the three national schools of European music applies to the general tendencies of each as a school, and is not intended to condemn in the productions of individual composers much that is, and'that deserves to be, the admiration of the civilised world.
H. R. HAWEIS. (To be continued.)
“POLITICAL writers," says David Hume, in one of his best known essays,
“have established it as a maxim, that, in contriving any system of government, and fixing the several checks and controls of the constitution, every man ought to be supposed a knave, and have no other end, in all his actions, than private interest.” If this be true of individuals and of nations, there can be no doubt whatever of its applicability to sections or classes of men. Here, then, we have the groundwork of the claim made by the working class to political power.
The gradual, but certain, extension of political freedom in this country is in itself a proof that it will continue to widen. The barons first, then the middle class, and now the working section. It would be interesting to view the various arguments that have, from time to time, been used against extension. I have little doubt but what immediate ruin was in each instance prophesied, that the right of the aspirants to political equality was vigorously denied, that ignorance and political incapacity were in each instance broadly proclaimed, and that a superior numerical strength was looked upon as a final extinguisher to all such claims. Such have been the arguments used in my day, and, if I am not mistaken, I have heard of similar objections being preferred against the Reform Bill by which