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 8 of 194)
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the unlikelihood of many performances in the
future does not by any means diminish.

An interesting fact in connection with Spohr
and the history of the Symphony is that he seems
to have been the first to conduct an orchestra
in England with a baton ; the practice having
previously been to conduct 'at the pianoforte.'
The occasion was one of the Philharmonic Con-
certs in 1820. The habit of conducting at the
pianoforte was evidently a tradition continued
from the days when the Symphony was an
appendage of the Opera, when the princi^
authority, often the composer in person, sat at
the principal clavier in the middle of the
orchestra giving the time at his instrument, and
filling in the harmonies under the guidance of a
figured bass. Almost all the earlier independent
symphonies, including those of Philip Emanuel
Bach of 1776, and some of Haydn's earlier ones,
have such a figured bass for the clavier player,
and an extra bass part is commonly found in the
sets of parts, which may be reasonably surmised
to be for his use.' The practice was at last

1 Mendelssohn's early Symphonies are marked ' Klavier mit den:
Basse.' [See toI. ii. 2&3, Dole 3.)



SYMPHONY.

Togated inEngland by Spohr, possibly because he
IS not a clavier but a violin player. In Germany
was evidently discontinued some time earlier.
The most distinguished composers of sym-
ionies who wrote at the same time as Spohr,
2re entirely independent of him. The first of
ese is Mendelssohn, whose earliest symphonies
en overlap Beethoven, and whose better-known
jrks of the kind, as before mentioned, begin
lOut the same time as Spohr's best examples,
id extend over nearly the same period as his
ter ones. The earliest which survives in
int is that in C minor dedicated to the Lon-
■n Philharmonic Society. This work was
ally his thirteenth symphony, and was finished
I March 31, 1824, when he was only fifteen
ars old, in the very year that Beethoven's
loral Symphony was first performed. The
)rk is more historically than musically in-
resting. It shows, as might be expected, how
uch stronger the mechanical side of Mendels-
hn's artistic nature was, even as a boy, than his
•etical side. Technically the work is extra-
dinarily mature. It evinces not only a perfect
id complete facility in laying the outline and
.rrying out the details of form, but also the
;utest sense of the balance and proportion of
ne of the orchestra. The limits of the attempt
•e not extensive, and the absence of strong
eling or aspiration in the boy facilitated the
;ecution. The predominant influence is clearly
lat of Mozart. Not only the treatment of the
wer and subordinate parts of the harmony, but
le distribution and management of the different
ctions and even the ideas are like. There is
arcely a trace of the influence of Beethoven, and
)t much of the features afterwards characteristic
' the composer himself. The most individual
ovements are the slow movement and the trio.
he former is tolerably free from the influence of
le artificial and mannered slow movements of
le Haydn and Mozart style, and at the same
me does not derive its inspiration from Beetho-
m: it contains some very free experiments
. modulation, enharmonic and otherwise, a few
laracteristic figures similfvr to some which he
ade use of later in his career, and passages
melody clearly predicting the composer of
"•lie Lieder ohne Worte and the short slow-
'"■j.ovements of the organ sonatas. The Trio is
™|ng and very original in intention, the chief
"jatnre being ingenious treatment of arpeggios
"°r the strings in many parts. The other move-
^ ents are for the most part formal. The Minuet
^'- extraordinarily like that of Mozart's G minor
'•''■ ymphony, not only in accent and style, but in
*^ 16 manner in which the strings and the wind
" e grouped and balanced, especially in the short
t; issage for wind alone which occurs towards the
■' id of each half of tlie movement. It was
-'■ issibly owing to this circumstance that Mcn-
fi slssohn substituted for it the orchestral arrange-
16 ' ent of the Scherzo of his Octet when the work
wias performed Liter in his life. In the last
iSMiOvement the most characteristic passage is the
j5i icond subject, with the short chords of pizzicato



SYMPHONY.



31



strings, and the tune for tiie clarinet which
comes after the completion of the first period by
strings alone. He used the same device more
than once later, and managed it more satis-
factorily. But it is just such suggestions of the
working of the musical spirit in the man which
make an early work interesting.

His next symphony happened to illustrate
the supposed tendency of the age towards pro-
gramme. It was intended for the tercentenary
festival of the Augsburg Protestant Confession
in 1830, though owing to political circumstances
its performance was deferred till later. He evi-
dently had not made up his mind what to call
it till some time after it was finished, as he
wrote to his sister and suggested Confession
Symphony, or Symphony for a Church Festival,
as alternative names. But it is quite evident
nevertheless that he must have had some sort
of programme in his mind, and a purpose to
illustrate the conflict between the old and new
forms of the faith, and the circumstances and
attributes which belonged to them. The actual
form of the work is as nearly as possible what
is called perfectly orthodox. The slow in-
troduction, the regular legitimate allegro, the
simple pretty scherzo and trio, the short but com-
pletely balanced slow movement, and the regular
last movement preceded by a second slow in-
troduction, present very little that is out of the
way in point of structure ; and hence the work
is less dependent upon its programme than
some of the examples by Spohr above described.
But nevertheless the programme can be clearly
seen to have suggested much of the detail of
treatment and development in a perfectly con-
sistent and natural manner. The external traits
which obviously strike attention are two ; first,
the now well-known passage which is used
in the Catholic Church at Dresden for the
Amen, and which Wagner has since adopted
as one of the most conspicuous religious motives
of the Parsifal ; and secondly, the use of
Luther's famous hymn, ' Ein' feste Burg,' in the
latter part of the work. The Amen makes its
appearance in the latter part of the opening
Andante, and is clearly meant to typify the old
church ; and its recurrence at the end of the
working out in the first movement, before the
recapitulation, is possibly meant to imply that
the old church still holds its own: while in
the latter portion of the work the typical hymn-
tune, introduced softly by the flute and by
degrees taking possession of the whole orchestra,
may be taken to represent the successful spread
of the Protestant ideas, just as its final utterance
fortissimo at the end of all, does the establishment
of men's right to work out their own salvation
in their own way. There are various other
details which clearly have purpose in relation to
the programme, and show clearly that the com-
poser was keeping the possible succession of events
and circumstances in his mind throughout. The
actual treatment is a very considerable advance
upon the Symphony in C minor. The whole
work is thoroughly Mendelssohnian. There is no



32



SYMPHONY.



obvious trace either in the ideas thennselves, or in
the manner of expression of tlie Mozartian in-
fluence which is so noticeable in the sjnnphony
of six 5'eais earlier. And considering that the
composer was still but 21, the maturity of style
and judgment is relatively quite as remarkable
as the facility and mastery shown in the work
of his 15th year. The orchestration is quite
characteristic and free ; and in some cases, as
in part of the second movement, singularly happy.
The principle of programme here Mssumed seems
to have been maintained by him thenceforward ;
for his other symphonies, though it is not so
stated in the published scores, are known to
have been recognised by him as the results
of his impressions of Italy and Scotland. The
first of them followed very soon after the Re-
formation Symphony. In the next year after
the completion of that work he mentioned the
new symphony in a letter to his sister as far ad-
vanced ; and said it was ' the gayest thing he
had ever done.' He was in Rome at the time,
and it appears most probable that the first and
last movements were written there. Of the
slow movement he wrote that he had not found
anything exactly right, ' and would put it oif till
he went to Naples, hoping to find something to
inspire him there.' But in the result it is dif-
ficult to imagine that Naples can have had
much share. Of the third movement there is
a tradition that it was imported from an
earlier work ; and it certninly has a consider-
able flavour of Mozart, though coupled with
traits characteristic of Mendelssohn in perfect
maturity, and is at least well worthy of its
position ; and even if parts of it, as is possible,
appeared in an earlier work, the excellences of
the Trio, and the admirable effect of the final
Coda which is based on it, point to considerable
rewriting and reconstruction at a mature period.
The actual structure of the movements is based
upon familiar principles, though not without
certain idiosyncrasies : as for instance the appear-
ance of a new prominent feature in the working-
out portion, and the freedom of the recapitula-
tion in the first movement. In the last move-
ment, called Saltarello, he seems to have given
a more free rein to his fancy in portraj'ing some
scene of unconstrained Italian gaiety to which
he was a witness ; and though there is an un-
derlying consistency in the usual distribution
of keys, the external balance of subjects is
not so ob\'ious. The last movement is hence
the only one which seems to depend to any
extent upon the programme idea; in all other
respects the symphony belongs to the 'classical'
order. Indeed such a programme as the pur-
pose to reproduce impressions of particular
countries is far too vague to lend itself to ex-
act and definite musical portrayal of external
ideas, such as might take the place of the
usual outlines of structure. In fact it could
lead to little more than consistency of style,
which would be equally helpful to the composer
and the audience ; and it may well have served
as an excuse for a certain laxity and profusion



b



SYMPHONY.

in the succession of the ideas, instead of thai
difiicult process of concentrating and makin;
relevant the whole of each movement upon thi
basis of a few definite and tj'pical subjects. The
characteristics of the work are for the most parti
fresh and genial spontaneity. The scoring is of! ''
course admirable and clear, without presenting! '
any very marked features ; and it is at thei '
same time independent and well proportioned inj "
distribution of the various qualities of sound, andj -l
in fitness to the subject matter. '

In orchestral eftects the Liter symphony— I
the Scotch, in A minor — is more remarkable.
The impressions which Mendelssohn received in
Scotland may naturally have suggested more ''
striking points of local colour ; and the manner '.
in which it is distributed from first page to last "*
serves to very good purpose in unifying the ~
impression of the whole. The effects are almost "
invariably obtained either by using close har "'
monies low in the scale of the respective in "
struments, or by extensively doubling tunes am '■
figures in a similar manner, and in a sombn ''
part of the scale of the instruments ; giving ai '"
effect of heaviness and darkness which were pos ^]
sibly Mendelssohn's principal feelings about th *'
grandeur and uncertain climate of Scotland
Thus in the opening phrase for wind instru
ments they are crowded in the harmonies almos
as thick as they will endure. In the statemen
of the first principal subject again the clarine
in its darkest region doubles the tune of th "^
violins an octave lower. The use of the who! T-
mass of the strings in three octaves, with the win
filling the harmonies in rhythmic chords, whic
has so fine and striking an effect at the bi •*
ginning of the 'working out' and in the cod.
has the same basis : and the same effect
obtained by similar means here and there
the Scherzo; as for instance where the slight
transformed version of the principal subject
introduced by the wind in the Coda. The san
qualities are frequently noticeable in the Slo
movement and again in the coda of the la
movement. As in the previous symphony, t
structure is quite in accordance with famili
principles. If anything, the work errs rath
on the side of squareness and obviousness
the outlines both of ideas and structure ;
may be readily perceived by comparing t'
construction of the opening tune of the inti
duction with any of Beethoven's introductic
(either that of the D or Bb or A Symphonii
or his overtures) : or even the introducti
to Mozart's Prague Symphony. And the i :;
pression is not lessened by the obviousni
of the manner in which the succeeding reci
tive passages for violins are introduced; nor
the squareness and tune-like qualities of the fi
subject of the first movement, nor by the w
in which the square tune pattern of the sche;
is reiterated. In the manipulation of the
miliar distribution of periods and phrases, he
ever, he used a certain amount of considerati
For example, the persistence of the rhythr
figure of the first subject of the first alleg



831

h



B
Iiiiii

onl



SYMPHONY.

the inner parts of the second section of that
ovenient, serves very good purpose; and the
ncluding of the movement with the melancholy
ne of the introduction helps both the senti-
ent and the structural effect. The scherzo is
the best and most characteristic movement

the whole. In no department of his work
is Mendelssohn so thoroughly at home ; and
e obviousness of the formal outlines is less
jectionable in a movement where levity and
andonment to gaiety are quite the order of
3 day. The present scherzo has also certain
ry definite indi\-idualities of its own. It is a
,parture from the 'Minuet and Trio' form,
it has no break or strong contrasting portion

the middle, and is continuous bustle and
iety from beginning to end. In technical de-
ls it is also exceptionally admirable. The
:hestral means are perfectly suited to the end,
i the utterances are as neat and effective as they
]ld well be ; while the perfect way in which
! movement finishes off is delightful to almost
3ry one who has any sense for art. The slow
vement takes up the sentimental side of the
•tter, and is in its way a good example of his
hestral style in that respect. The last move-
nt, Allegro vivacissimo, is restless and im-
uous, and the tempo-mark given for it in
; Preface to the work, 'Allegro guerriero,'
)rds a clue to its meaning. But it evidently
:3 not vitally depend upon any ideal pro-
mme in the least; neither does it directly
gest much, except in the curious independent
sage with which it concludes, which has more
the savour of programme about it than any
er portion of the work, and is scarcely ex-
•able on any other ground. It is to be noticed
t directions are given at the beginning of the
■k to have the movements played as quickly
)ossible after one another, so that it may have
•e or less the effect of being one piece. Men-
:sohn's only other sjTnphonic work was the
•gesang, a sort of ecclesiastical counterpart of
thoven's 9th Symphony. In this of course

programme element is important, and is il-
rated by the calls of the brass instruments

their reiteration with much effect in the
•al part of the work. The external form, as
ieethoven's 9th Symphony, is that of the three
il earher movements (i) Introduction and
■gro, (2) Scherzo, or Minuet and Trio, and
blow Movement (which in the present case
i purposely a pietistic flavour), with the
lie or last movement supplanted by the lono-
1 part. x-r J o

be consideration of these works shows that

gh Mendelssohn often adopted the appearance

:ogramme, and gained some advantages by it,

ever, in order to express his external ideas

more poetical consistency, relaxed any of the

liar prmciples of structure which are rec^arded

rthodox. He was in fact a thoroughgoino-

icist. He accepted formulas with perfect

imnnty, and aimed at resting the value of

^i-orks upon the vivacity of his ideas and the

V, mastery which he had attained in technical

VOL. IV. PT. I.



SYMPHONY. 33

expression, and clearness and certainty of or-
chestration. It was not in his disposition to
strike out a new path for himself. Tlie per-
fection of his art in many respects necessarily
appeals to all who have an appreciation for first-
rate craftsmanship; but the standard of his
ideas IS rather fitted for average musical intel-
ligences, and it seems natural enough that these
two circumstances should have combined suc-
cessfully to attain for him an extraordinary
popularity. He may fairly be said to present
that which appeals to high and pure sentiments
in men, and calls upon the average of them to
feel at their best. But he leads them neither
mto the depths nor the heights which are be-
yond them ; and is hence more fitted in the end
to please than to elevate. His work in the de-
partment of Symphony is historically slight. In
comparison to his great predecessors he esta-
blished positively nothing new; and if he had been
the only successor to Beethoven and Schubert it
would certainly have to be confessed that the
department of art represented by the Symphony
was at a standstill. The excellence of his or-
chestration, the clearness of his form, and the
accuracy and cleverness with which he balanced
and disposed his subjects- and his modulations,
are all certain and unmistakeable ; but all
these things had been attained by great masters
before him, and he himself attained them
only by the sacrifice of the genuine vital force
and power of harmonic motion and freedom of
form in the ideas themselves, of which his
predecessors had made a richer manifestation.
It is of course obvious that different orders of
minds require different kinds of artistic food,
and the world would not be well served without
many grades and standards of work. Mendels-
sohn did good service in supplying a form of
symphony of such a degree of freshness and light-
ness as to appeal at once to a class of people
for whom the sternness and power of Beethoven
in the same branch of art would often be too
severe a test. He spoke also in the spirit of his
time, and in harmony with it ; and as illustra-
tions of the work of the period in one aspect his
symphonies will be among the safest to refer to.
Among his contemporaries the one most
natural to bracket with him is Sterndale Bennett,
whose views of art were extraordinarily similar,
and who was actuated in many respects by similar
impulses. His published contribution to the
department we are considering is extremely slight.
The symphony which he produced in 1834
was practically withdrawn by him, and the only
other work of the kind which he allowed to be
published was the one which was written for
the Philharmonic Society, and first played in 1864.
The work is slight, and it is recorded that he did
not at first put it forward as a symphony. It had
originally but three movements, one of which,
the charming minuet and trio, was imported
from the Cambridge Installation Ode of 1862.
A slow movement called Romanze was added
afterwards. Sterndale Bennett was a severe
classicist in his views about form in music, and

D



u



SYMPHONY.



the present symphony does not shovtr anything
sufficiently marked to call for record in that
respect. It is singularly quiet and iinpretentious,
and characteristic of the composer, showing his
taste and delicacy of sentiment together with
his admirable sense of symmetry and his feeling
for tone and refined orchestral effect.

The contemporary of Mendelssohn and Stem-
dale Bennett who shows in most marked contrast
with them is Robert Schumann. He seems to
represent the opposite pole of music ; for as they
depended upon art and made clear technical
workmanship their highest aim, Schumann was
in many respects positively dependent upon his
emotion. Not only was his natural disposition
utterly different from theirs, but so was his
education. Mendelssohn and Stemdale Bennett
went through severe technical drilling in their
early days. Schumann seems to have developed
his technique by the force of his feelings, and
was always more dependent upon them in the
making of his works than upon general prin-
ciples and external stock rules, such as his two
contemporaries were satisfied with. The case
affords an excellent musical parallel to the
common circumstances of life ; Mendelssohn and
Stemdale Bennett were satisfied to accept cer-
tain rules because they knew that they were
generally accepted ; whereas Schumann was of
the nature that had to prove all things, and
find for himself that which was good. The
result was, as often happens, that Schumann
affords examples of technical deficiencies, and
not a few things which his contemporaries had
reason to compare unfavourably with the works
of Mendelssohn and Stemdale Bennett ; but in
the end his best work is far more interesting,
and far more deeply felt, and far more really
earnest through and through than theirs. It
is worth observing also that his feelings towards
them were disinterested admiration and enthu-
siasm, while they thought very slightly of him.
They were also the successful composers of their
time, and at the head of their profession, while
he was looked upon as a sort of half amateur,
part mystic and part incompetent. Such cir-
cumstances as these have no little effect upon
a man's artistic development, and drive him
in upon his own resources. Up to a certain
point the result for the world in this instance
was advantageous. Schumann developed alto-
gether his own method of education. He began
with songs and more or less small pianoforte
pieces. By working hard in these departments
he developed his own emotional language, and
in course of time, but relatively late in life as
compared with most other composers, he seemed
to arrive at the point when experiment on the
scale of the Symphony was possible. In a letter
to a friend he expressed his feeling that the
pianoforte was becoming too narrow for his
thoughts, and that he must try orchestral compo-
sition. The fruit of this resolve was the Bb Sym-
phony (op. 38), which was produced at Leipzig
in 184T, and was probably his first important
orchestral work. It is quite extraordinary how



SYMPHONY.

successfully he grappled with the difficulties c i
the greatest style of composition at the firs il
attempt. The manner is thoroughly symphonic i
impressive and broad, and the ideas are mor il
genuinely instrumental both in form and expres rs
sion than Mendelssohn's, and far more incisiv '1
in detail, which in instrumental music is a mof id
vital matter. Mendelssohn had great readine; n
for making a tune, and it is as clear as possibj i
that when he went about to make a large instri ns
mental work his first thought was to find a goc 1
tune to begin upon. Schumann seems to ha^ et
aimed rather at a definite and strongly markf m
idea, and to have allowed it to govern the for m
of period or phrase in which it was presente to
In this he was radically in accord with boi bI
Mozart and Beethoven. The former in his i Be
strumental works very commonly made what m
called the principal subject out of two distin fc
items, which seem contrasted externally in cf to
tain characteristics and yet are inevitable to oi h
another. Beethoven frequently satisfied himsi m
with one principal one, as in the first movemer ^
of the Eroica and the C minor; and even whe ^
there are two more or less distinct figures, th —
are joined very closely into one phrase, as in ti .
Pastoral, the No. 8, and the first movement i""
the Choral. The first movement of SchumanL
Bb Symphony shows the same characterist^
The movement seems almost to depend upon i
simple but very definite first figure —



$



. a m a \ — • » •-



which is given out in slow time in the Inf
duction,^ and worked up as by a mind ponder
over its possibilities, finally breaking away w
vigorous freshness and confidence in the ' Alle
molto Vivace.' The whole first section depe
upon the development of this figure ; and e £,'('



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 8 of 194)