George Grove.

A dictionary of music and musicians (A.D. 1450-1889) by eminent writers, English and foreign : with illustrations and woodcuts (Volume 4) online

. (page 10 of 194)
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bilities of instrumental music, and appreciat
the greatest works of the kind by other coi
posers as fully as the best of his contemporarit
but it was not his own natural way of expressi
himself. His natural bent was always towai
the dramatic elements of effect and drama ^jj
principles of treatment. It seems to have be
necessary to him to find some moving circu
stance to guide and intensify his inspirati<
When his mind was excited in such a manner
produced the most extraordinary and origii
effects ; and the fluency and clearness w
which he expressed himself was of the high
order. His genius for orchestration, his vig
ous rhythms, and the enormous volumes
sound which he was as much master of as 1
most delicate subtleties of small combinatii
of instruments, have the most powerful efi
upon the hearer ; while his vivid dramatic p
ception goes very far to supply the place
the intrinsically musical development wh
characterises the works of the greatest mast



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SYMPHONY.

ibstract music. Bat on the other hand, as is
ritable from the position he adopted, he was
■£i at times to assume a theatrical manner,

a style which savours rather of the stage
n of the true dramatic essence of the situa-
is he deals with. In the 'Symphonie Fan-
-ique,' for instance, which he also called ' Epi-
e de la Vie d'un Artiste,' his management of

programme principle is thorough and weU-
ised. The notion of the ideal object of the
5t's affections being represented by a definite
sical figure, called the 'idee fixe,' unifying

work throughout by its constant reappear-
e in various aspects and surroundings, is very
tpy; and the way in which he treats it in
eral parts of the first movement has some of

characteristic qualities of the best kind of
elopment of ideas and figures, in the purely
sical sense ; while at the same time he has
ained most successfully the expression of the
plied sequence of emotions, and the absorption
sequent upon the contemplation of the ' be-
id object.' In the general laying out of the
rk he maintains certain vague resemblances
the usual symphonic type. The slow intro-
;tion, and the succeeding Allegro agitato —
resenting his passion, and therefore based to
ery great extent on the 'id^e fixe' — are equi-
ent to the familiar opening movements of

classical sjonphonies ; and moreover there is
n a vague resemblance in the inner structure
the Allegro to the binary form. The second
vement, called 'Unbal,' corresponds in position
the time-honoured minuet and trio ; and
ugh the broad outlines are very free there is
srtain suggestion of the old inner form in the
itive disposition of the valse section and that
•oted to the ' id^e fixe.' In the same way the
:ene aux Champs' corresponds to the usual
w movement. In the remaining movements

programme element is more conspicuous. A
arche au supplice ' and a ' Songe d'un nuit de
jbat' are both of them as fit as possible to
dte the composer's love of picturesque and
rible effects, and to lead him to attempt

•stic presentation, or even a sort of musical
nepainting, in which some of the character-
cs of instrumental music are present, though
y are submerged in the general impression by
iracteristics of the opera. The effect produced
jf much the same nature as of that of pas-
es selected from operas played without action
the concert-room. In fact, in his little pre-
e, Berlioz seems to imply that this would be a
t way to consider the work, and the condensed
tement of his view of programme music
xe given is worth quoting : ' Le compositeur
u pear but de d^velopper, dans ce qu'eUes ont
musical, differentes situations de la vie d'un
iate. Le plan du drame instrumental, privd

secours de la parole, a besoin d'etre expos^
vance. Le programme (qui est indispensable

intelligence complete du plan dramatique de
ivrage) doit dont etre consider^ comme le texte
•1^ d'un Opera, servant h amener des morceaux

musique, dont il motive le caractfere et I'ex-



SYMPHONY.



39



pression.'^ This is a very important and clear
statement of the position, and marks sufiiciently
the essential difference between the principles of
the most advanced writers of programme music,
and those adopted by Beethoven. The results are
in fact different forms of art. An instrumental
drama is a fascinating idea, and might be carried
out perfectly within the limits used even by
Mozart and Haydn ; but if the programme is in-
dispensable to its comprehension those limits have
been passed. This does not necessarily make
the form of art an illegitimate one ; but it is
most important to realise that it is on quite a
different basis from the type of the instrumental
symphony; and this will be better understood
by comparing Berlioz's statement with those
Symphonies of Beethoven and Mendelssohn, or
even of Kaff and Eubinstein, where the adoption
of a general and vague title gives the semblance
of a similar use of programme. Beethoven liked
to have a picture or scene or circumstance in
his ^ mind ; but it makes all the difference to
the form of art whether the picture or story is
the guiding principle in the development of the
piece, or whether the development follows the
natural implication of the positively musical idea.
The mere occurrence, in one of these forms, of a
feature which is characteristic of the other, is
not sufficient to bridge over the distance between
them; and hence the 'instrumental drama' or
poem, of which Berlioz has given the world its
finest examples, must be regarded as distinct
from the regular type of the pure instrumental
symphony. It might perhaps be fairly regarded
as the Celtic counterpart of the essentially Teu-
tonic form of art, and as an expression of the
Italo-Gallic ideas of instrumental music on lines
parallel to the German symphony ; but in reality
it is scarcely even an offshoot of the old sym-
phonic stem; and it will be far better for the
understanding of the subject if the two forms
of art are kept as distinct in name as they are in
principle.

The only composer of really great mark who
has worked on similar lines to Berlioz in modem
times is Liszt ; and his adoption of the name
'Symphtmic poem' for sucli compositions suffi-
ciently defines their nature without bringing them
exactly under the head of symphonies. Of these
there are many, constructed on absolutely inde-
pendent lines, so as to appear as musical poems
or counterparts of actual existing poems, on such
subjects as Mazeppa, Prometheus, Orpheus, the
battle of the Huns, the ' Preludes * of Lamartine,
Hamlet, and so forth. [See p. lo b.] A work
which, in name at least, trenches upon the old
lines is the 'Faust Symphony,' in which the con-
nection with the programme-principle of Berlioz

1 The composer has aimed at developing various situations in the
life of an artist, so far as seemed musicaliy possible. The plan of an
instrumental drama, being without words, requires to be eiplained
beforehand. The programme (which is indispensable to the perfect
compreiiension of the dramatic plan of the work) ought therefore to
be considered in the light of the spoken text of an Opera, serving to
lead up to the pieces of music, and indicate the character and ex-
pression.

2 This important admission was made by Beethoven to ^eate: I
have always a picture in my thoughts i\heu I am composing, and
•work to It/ (Thayer, Ui. $13.)



40



SYMPHONY.



is emphasised by the dedication of the piece to
him. In this work the connection with the old
fonn of symphony is perhaps even less than in
the examples of Berlioz. Subjects and figures are
used not for the purposes of defining the artistic
form, but to describe individuals, ideas, or cir-
cumstances. The main divisions of the work are
ostensibly three, which are called 'character pic-
tures ' of Faust, Margaret, and Mephistopheles
severally ; and the whole concludes with a setting
of the 'Chorus mysticus.' Figures are used
after the manner of Wagner's ' Leit-motiven ' to
portray graphically such things as bewildered
inquiry, anxious agitation, love, and mockery,
besides the special figure or melody given for each
individual as a whole. These are so interwoven
and developed by modifications and transforma-
tions suited to express the circumstances, as to
present the speculations of the composer on the
character and the philosophy of the poem in
various interesting lights ; and his great mastery
of orchestral expression and fluency of style con-
tribute to its artistic importance on its own basis;
while in general the treatment of the subject
is more psychological and less pictoriaUy realistic
than the prominent portions of Berlioz's work,
and therefore slightly nearer in spirit to the
classical models. But with all its striking char-
acteristics and successful points the music does
not approach Berlioz in vitality or breadth of
musical idea.

The few remaining modern composers of sym-
phonies belong essentially to the German school,
even when adopting the general advantage of
a vague title. Prominent among these are Ilatf
and Rubinstein, whose methods of dealing with
instrumental music are at bottom closely related.
EafF almost invariably adopted a title for his
instrumental works; but those which he selected
admit of the same kind of general interpretation
as those of Mendelssohn, and serve rather as a
means of unifying the general tone and style of
the work than of pointing out the lines of actual
development. The several Seasons, for instance,
serve as the general idea for a symphony each.
Another is called 'Im Walde.' In another
several conditions in the progress of the life of a
man serve as a vague basis for giving a certain
consistency of character to the style of expression,
in a way quite consonant with the pure type. In
one case Kaff comes nearer to the Berlioz ideal,
namely in the Lenore Symphony, in some parts
of which he clearly attempts to depict a suc-
cession of events. But even when this is most
pronounced, as in the latter part of the work,
there is very little that is not perfectly intel-
ligible and appreciable as music without re-
ference to the poem. As a matter of fact Rafif
is always rather free and relaxed in his form ;
but that is not owing to his adoption of pro-
gramme, since the same characteristic is observ-
able in works that have no name as in those that
have. The ease and speed with which he wrote,
and the readiness with which he could call up a
certain kind of genial, and often very attractive
ideas, both interfered with the concentration



SYMPHONY.

necessary for developing a closely-knit and coi
pact work of art. His ideas are clearly defini i^
and very intelligible, and have much poeti
sentiment ; and these facts, together with a v«
notable mastery of orchestral resource and feeli i
for colour, have ensured his works great succ(
but there is too little self-restraint and concen
tion both in the general outline and in the gt;
ment of details, and too little self-criticism in
choice of subject-matter, to admit the works to 1 K-
highest rank among symphonies. In the broad ^
outlines he generally conformed to the princip ^■
of the earlier masters, distributing his alleg] »
slow movements, scherzos, and finales, accor
to precedent. And, allowing for the laxity abi
referred to, the models which he followed in
internal structure of the movements are
familiar types of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethov(
His finales are usually the most irregular,
times amounting almost to fantasias; but
this, as already described, is in conformity
tendencies which are noticeable even in
golden age of symphonic art. Taken as a who!
Raff's work in the department of symphony
the best representative of a characteristic ck
of composition of modern times — the class
which the actual ideas and general colour ai sc
sentiment are nearly everything, while thelifc
development and the value of the artistic sii
of structure are reduced to a minimum.

Rubinstein's works are conspicuous exampi
of the same class ; but the absence of concenia ^■
tion, self-criticism in the choice of subjects, ai
care in statement of details, is even more co
spicuous in him than in Raff. His most
portant symphonic work is called 'The Oceaa'!
— the general title serving, as in Raff's sym s
phonies, to give unity to the sentiment and tomi
of the whole, rather than as a definite programnH't
to work to. In this, as in Raff, there is mucl'f^
sponaneity in the invention of subjects, and i|!fc
some cases a higher point of real beauty an^W'
force is reached than in that composer's works •'
and there is also a good deal of striking interest ii *"
the details. The most noticeable external featurt*
is the fact that the symphony is in six mov»||
ments. There was originally the familiar groujt
of four, and to these were added, some yeanl
later, an additional slow movement, which standii
second, and a further genuine scherzo, whid'
stands fifth, both movements being devised ii "
contrast to the previously written adagio am'*-
scherzo. Another symphony of Rubinstein's if
showing much vigour and originality, and sonu'v
careful and intelligent treatment of subject, is th( P
'Dramatic' This is in the usual four movements
with well devised introductions to the first ant
last. The work as a whole is hampered b}'
excessive and unnecessary length, which ii
not the result of the possibilities of the sub'
jects or the necessities of their development ; ancj
might be reduced with nothing but absoluti'
advantage. ' f

The greatest existing representative of th<
highest art in the department of Symphony ii ^
Johannes Brahms. Though he has as yet giver



Ii



SYMPHONY.



SYMPHONY.



41



world only two examples,* they have that
rk of intensity, loftiness of purpose, and artistic
stery which sets them above all other con-
iporary work of the kind. Like Beethoven
. Schumann he did not produce a sym-
ny till a late period in his career, when
judgment was matured by much practice
other kindred forms of instrumental com-
lition, such as pianoforte quartets, string
itets and quartets, sonatas, and such forms of
iiestral composition as variations and two
ijuades. He seems to have set himself to prove
rc the old principles of form are still capable
serving as the basis of works which should
thoroughly original both in general character
in detail and development, without either
ng back on the device of programme, or
^gating or making any positive change in the
ciples, or abandoning the loftiness of style
ch befits the highest form of art ; but by
timate expansion, and application of careful
aght and musical contrivance to the develop-
it. In all these respects he is a thorough de-
idant of Beethoven, and illustrates the highest
best way in which the tendencies of the age in
rumental music may yet be expressed. He dif-
most markedly from the class of composers re-
ented by Kaff, in the fact that his treatment
orm is an essential and important element in
artistic eflFect. The care with which he deve-
it is not more remarkable than the insight
.vn in all the possible ways of enriching it with-
weakening its consistency. In appearance it is
emely free, and at available points all possible
is made of novel effects of transition and in-
ious harmonic subtleties ; but these are used
uch a way as not to disturb the balance of
whole, or to lead either to discursiveness or
K)logy. In the laying out of the principal
ions as much freedom is used as is consistent
1 the possibility of being readily followed
understood. Thus in the recapitulatory por-
of a movement the subjects which charac-
36 the sections are not only subjected to
iiderable and interesting variation, but are
n much condensed and transformed. In
xirst movement of the second symphony, for
ance, the recapitulation of the first part
be movement is so welded on to the working-
portion that the hearer is only happily con-
ns that this {)oint has been arrived at with-
the usual insistance to call his attention to
Again, the subjects are so ingeniously varied
transformed in restatement that they seem
ost new, though the broad melodic outlines
sufl&cient assurance of their representing the
pitulation. The same effect is obtained in
iS of the allegrettos which occupy the place
cherzos in both symphonies. The old type of
net and trio form is felt to underlie the well-
'en texture of the whole, but the way in which

8 joints and seams are made often escapes
5rvation. Thus in the final return to the



third. In F, was produced at Vienna on Dec. 2, 18S3. but the
ascertainable about it aie not y:t sufScieut); full to base aiij
MluD upon (Dec. Zl),



principal section in the Allegretto of the 2nd
Symphony, which is in G major, the subject
seems to make its appearance in Fj major,
which serves as dominant to B minor, and going
that way round the subject glides into the prin-
cipal key almost insensibly.''' In the Allegretto
of the Symphony in C the outline of a charac-
teristic feature is all that is retained in the
final return of the principal subject near the
end, and new effect is gained by giving a fresh
turn to the harmony. Similar closeness of tex-
ture is found in the slow movement of the
same symphony, at the point where the prin-
cipal subject returns, and the richness of the
variation to which it is subjected enhances
the musical impression. The effect of these
devices is to give additional unity and consist-
ency to the movements. Enough is given to
enable the intelligent hearer to understand the
form without its appearing in aspects with which
he is already too familiar. Similar thorough-
ness is to be found on the other sides of the
matter. In the development of the sections, for
instance, all signs of ' padding ' are done away
with as much as possible, and the interest is
sustained by developing at once such figures of
the principal subjects as wiU serve most suitably.
Even such points as necessary equivalents to
cadences, or pauses on the dominant, are by
this means infused with positive musical in-
terest in just proportion to their subordinate
relations to the actual subjects. Similarly,
in the treatment of the orchestra, such a thing
as filling up is avoided to the utmost possible ;
and in order to escape the over-complexity of
detail so unsuitable to the symphonic form of art,
the forces of the orchestra are grouped in masses in
the principal characteristic figures, in such a way
that the whole texture is endowed with vitality.
The impression so conveyed to some is that the
orchestration is not at such a high level of per-
fection as the other elements of art ; and certainly
the composer does not aim at subtle combinations
of tone and captivating effects of a sensual kind
so much as many other great composers of modem
times ; and if too much attention is concentrated
upon the special element of his orchestration it
may doubtless seem at times rough and coarse.
But this element must only be considered in its
relation to all the others, since the composer
may reasonably dispense with some orchestral
fascinations in order to get broad masses of
harmony and strong outlines ; and if he seeks
to express his musical ideas by means of sound,
rather than to disguise the absence of them
by seductive misuse of it, the world is a gainer.
In the putting forward and management of
actual subjects, he is guided by what appears
to be inherent fitness to the occasion. In the
first movement of the Symphony in C, atten-
tion is mainly concentrated upon one strong
subject figure, which appears in both the prin-
cipal sections and acts as a centre upon which the
rest of the musical materials are grouped ; and

2 For a counterpart to this see the first movemeat of Beethoven's
Sonata in F, op. 10, no. 2.



42



SYMPHONY,



the result is to unify the impression of the whole
movement, and to give it a special sentiment in
an unusual degree. In the first movement of
the Symphony in D there are even several sub-
jects in each section, but they are so interwoven
with one another, and seem so to fit and illustrate
one another, that for the most part there appears
to be but little loss of direct continuity. In
several cases we meet with the devices of trans-
forining and transfiguring an idea. The most
obvious instance is in the Allegretto of the
Symphony in D, in which the first Trio in 2-4 time
(o) is radically the same subject as that of the
principal section in 3-4 time (6), but very differ-
ently stated. Then a very important item in the
second Trio is a version in 3-8 time (c) of a figure
of the first Trio in 2-4 time {d).



-m- -a- 9*-



^■^*






P3E



Of similar nature, in the Symphony in C minor,
are the suggestions of important features of sub-
jects and figures of the first Allegro in the open-
ing introduction, and the connection of the last
movement with its own introduction by the same
means. In all these respects Brahms illustrates
the highest manifestations of actual art as art ;
attaining his end by extraordinary mastery of
both development and expression^ And it is
most notable that the great impression which his
larger works produce is gained more by the effect
of the entire movements than by the attractive-
ness of the subjects. He doss not seem to




35



SYMPHONY. I

aim at making his subjects the test of success,
They are hardly seen to have their full meaning .'(
till they are developed and expatiated upon in j
the course of the movement, and the musical
impression does not depend upon them to any
thing like the proportionate degree that it didL
in the works of the earlier masters. This is in
conformity with the principles of progress whicl
have been indicated above. The various elementi
of which the art-form consists seem to have beei ^
brought more and more to a fair balance of funo '^
tions, and this has necessitated a certain amoun.' "j
of ' give and take ' between them. If too mud ■
stress is laid upon one element at the expense
others, the perfection of the art-form as a whol) ^'
is diminished thereby. If the effects of orchestra j
tion are emphasised at the expense of the idea *
and vitality of the figures, the work may ga| >'
in immediate attractiveness, but must lose i ^
substantial worth. The same may be said ( '8
over-predominance of subject-matter. The sul *
jects need to be noble and well marked, but j "■
the movement is to be perfectly complete, and f *"
express sometliing in its entirety and not as f
string of tunes, it will be a drawback if the mei ^
faculty for inventing a striking figure or pasSi"*^
of melody preponderates excessively over
power of development ; and the proportion
which they are both carried upwai'ds together 1
the highest limit of musical effect is a great tei
of the artistic perfection of the work. In tha
respects Erahms's Symphonies are extraordS
arily successful. They represent the austerai
and noblest form of art in the strongest
healthiest way; and his manner and methi
have already had some influence upon the youi
and more serious composers of the day.

It would be invidious, however, to endeav(
to point out as yet those in whose works
influence is most strongly shown. It must
fice to record that there are still many
posers alive who are able to pass the sympb
ordeal with some success. Amongst the el .
are Benedict and Hiller, who have given fl*
world examples in earnest style and full of vij
and good workmanship. Among the you
representatives the most successful are the
hemian composer Dvorak, and the Itl
Sgambati ; and among English works ma;
mentioned with much satisfaction the No
gian Symphony of Cowen, which was orij
and picturesque in thought and treatment ;
Elegiac Symphony of Stanford, in which ei
lent workmanship, vivacity of ideas, and flu
of development combine to establish it as ai
mirable example of its class ; and an early (
phony by Sullivan, which had such marks of e:
lence as to show how much art might have gai
if circumstances had not drawn him to
lucrative branches of composition. It is obvB
that composers have not given up hopes of dOTJT"'
loping something individual and complete intii ^-^
form of art. It is not likely that many will "J «
able to follow Brahms in his severe and uncoi T ^^
promising methods ; but he himself has sho^ "'"^i
more than any one how elastic the old principl



li.






SYMPHONY OECHESTEA.

' yet be made without departing from the
jine type of abstract instrumental music ;



Online LibraryGeorge GroveA dictionary of music and musicians (A.D. 1450-1889) by eminent writers, English and foreign : with illustrations and woodcuts (Volume 4) → online text (page 10 of 194)