Philip H. Goepp.

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Criticism of contemporary art is really a kind of prophecy. For the
appreciation of the classical past is an act of present perception, not
a mere memory of popular verdicts. The classics live only because they
still express the vital feeling of to-day. The new art must do
more, - must speak for the morrow. And as the poet is a kind of seer, the
true critic is his prophetic herald.

It is with due humility that we approach a view of the work of our own
time, with a dim feeling that our best will be a mere conjecture. But we
shall the more cheerfully return to our resolution that our chief
business is a positive appreciation. Where we cannot praise, we can
generally be silent. Certain truths concerning contemporary art seem
firmly grounded in the recorded past. The new Messiah never came with
instant wide acclaim. Many false prophets flashed brilliantly on the
horizon to fall as suddenly as they rose. In a refracted view we see the
figures of the great projected in too large dimension upon their day.
And precisely opposite we fail to glimpse the ephemeral lights obscuring
the truly great. The lesson seems never to be learned; indeed it can, of
course, never be learned. For that would imply an eternal paradox that
the present generation must always distrust its own judgment.

Who could possibly imagine in Schubert's time the sway he holds to-day.
Our minds reel to think that by a mere accident were recovered the
Passion of Bach and the symphonies of Schubert. Or must we prayerfully
believe that a Providence will make the best prevail? And, by the way,
the serious nature of this appreciation appears when we see how it was
ever by the greatest of his time that the future master was heralded.

The symphony of the present age has perhaps fallen somewhat in estate.
It was natural that it should rush to a high perfection in the halcyon
days of its growth. It is easy to make mournful predictions of
decadence. The truth is the symphony is a great form of art, like a
temple or a tragedy. Like them it has had, it will have its special eras
of great expression. Like them it will stay as a mode of utterance for
new communities and epochs with varying nationality, or better still,
with vanishing nationalism.

The tragedy was not exhausted with Sophocles, nor with Shakespeare nor
with Goethe. So the symphony has its fallow periods and it may have a
new resurgence under new climes. We are ever impatient to shelve a great
form, like vain women afraid of the fashion. It is part of our constant
rage for novelty. The shallower artist ever tinkered with new
devices, - to some effects, in truth. Such is the empiric course of art
that what is born of vanity may be crowned with highest inspiration.

The national element will fill a large part of our survey. It marks a
strange trait of our own age that this revival of the national idea
falls in the very time when other barriers are broken. Ancient folk-song
grew like the flower on the battle-field of races. But here is an
anxious striving for a special dialect in music. Each nation must have
its proper school; composers are strictly labelled, each one obedient to
his national manner. This state of art can be but of the day. Indeed,
the fairest promise of a greater future lies in the morrow's blending of
these various elements in the land where each citizen has a mixed
inheritance from the older nations.

In the bewildering midst of active spirits comes the irresistible
impulse to a somewhat partisan warfare. The critic, if he could view
himself from some empyraean perch, remote in time and place, might smile
at his own vehemence. In the clash of aims he must, after all, take
sides, for it is the tendency that is momentous; and he will be excited
to greater heat the stronger the prophet that he deems false. When the
strife is over, when currents are finally settled, we may take a more
contented joy in the impersonal art that remains.

The choice from the mass of brilliant vital endeavor is a new burden and
a source almost of dismay. Why should we omit so melodious a work as
Moskowski's _Jeanne d'Arc_, - full of perhaps too facile charm? It was,
of course, impossible to treat all the wonderful music of the Glazounows
and the Kallinikows. And there is the limpid beauty of the Bohemian
_Suk_, or the heroic vigor of a _Volbach_. We should like to have
mentioned _Robert Volkmann_ as a later Romanticist; and _Gade_ has ever
seemed a true poet of the Scandinavian symphony.

Of the modern French we are loth to omit the symphonies of _Chausson_
and of _Dukas_. In our own America it is a still harder problem. There
is the masterly writing of a _Foote_; the older _Paine_ has never been
fully valued in the mad race for novelty. It would have been a joy to
include a symphony of rare charm by _Martinus van Gelder_.

A critical work on modern art cannot hope to bestow a crown of laurels
among living masters; it must be content with a view of active
tendencies. The greatest classic has often come into the world amid
least expectation. A critic in the year 1850 must need have omitted the
Unfinished Symphony, which was then buried in a long oblivion.

The present author prefers to treat the main modern lines, considering
the special work mainly as example. After all, throughout the realm of
art the idea is greater than the poet, the whole art more than the
artist, - though the particular enshrinement in enduring design may
reflect a rare personality.


NOTE: Especial thanks are owed to the Philadelphia Orchestra for a free
use of its library, and to Messrs. G. Schirmer Company for a like
courtesy. - P.H.G.


CHAPTER I. - The Symphony during the Nineteenth Century

CHAPTER II. - Berlioz and Liszt

CHAPTER III. - Berlioz. "Romeo and Juliet." Dramatic Symphony

CHAPTER IV. - A Symphony to Dante's "Divina Commedia"

CHAPTER V. - The Symphonic Poems of Liszt
"Les Préludes"
"Battle of the Huns"

CHAPTER VI. - The Symphonic Poems of Saint-Saëns
"Danse Macabre"
"The Youth of Hercules"
"Omphale's Spinning Wheel"

CHAPTER VII. - César Franck
Symphony in D minor

CHAPTER VIII. - D'Indy and the Followers of Franck
D'Indy's Second Symphony

CHAPTER IX. - Débussy and the Innovators
"The Sea" - Débussy
"The Sorcerer's Apprentice" - Dukas

CHAPTER X. - Tschaikowsky
Fourth Symphony
"Manfred" Symphony
Fifth Symphony

CHAPTER XI. - The Neo-Russians
Balakirew. Symphony in C
"Antar" Symphony
"Schérézade." Symphonic Suite
Rachmaninow. Symphony in E minor

CHAPTER XII. - Sibelius. A Finnish Symphony

CHAPTER XIII. - Bohemian Symphonies
Smetana. Symphonic Poem: "The Moldau River"
Dvôrák. Symphony: "From the New World"

CHAPTER XIV. - The Earlier Bruckner
Second Symphony
Fourth (Romantic) Symphony
Fifth Symphony

CHAPTER XV. - The Later Bruckner
Ninth Symphony

CHAPTER XVI. - Hugo Wolff
"Penthesilea." Symphonic Poem

Fifth Symphony

CHAPTER XVIII. - Richard Strauss. Symphonic Poems
"Death and Transfiguration"
"Don Juan"
"Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks"
"Sinfonia Domestica"

CHAPTER XIX. - Italian Symphonies
Sgambati. Symphony in D major
Martucci. Symphony in D minor

CHAPTER XX. - Edward Elgar. An English Symphony

CHAPTER XXI. - Symphonies in America
Henry Hadley. Symphony No. 3
Gustav Strube. Symphony in D minor
Chadwick. Suite Symphonique
Loeffler. "The Devil's Round." Symphonic Poem





After the long dominance of German masters of the musical art, a
reaction could not fail to come with the restless tendencies of other
nations, who, having learned the lesson, were yet jealous of foreign
models and eager to utter their own message. The later nineteenth
century was thus the age of refraction of the classic tradition among
the various racial groups that sprang up with the rise of the national
idea. We can see a kind of beginning in the Napoleonic destruction of
feudal dynasties. German authority in music at the beginning of the
century was as absolute as Roman rule in the age of Augustus. But the
seed was carried by teachers to the various centres of Europe. And, with
all the joy we have in the new burst of a nation's song, there is no
doubt that it is ever best uttered when it is grounded on the lines of
classic art. Here is a paramount reason for the strength of the modern
Russian school. With this semi-political cause in mind it is less
difficult to grasp the paradox that with all the growth of
intercommunication the music of Europe moves in more detached grooves
to-day than two centuries ago. The suite in the time of Bach is a
special type and proof of a blended breadth and unity of musical thought
in the various nations of Europe of the seventeenth century. In the
quaint series of dances of the different peoples, with a certain
international quality, one sees a direct effect of the Thirty Years'
War, - the beneficent side of those ill winds and cruel blasts, when all
kinds of nations were jostling on a common battle-ground. And as the
folk-dances sprang from the various corners of Europe, so different
nations nursed the artistic growth of the form. Each would treat the
dances of the other in its own way, and here is the significance of
Bach's separate suites, - English, French and German.

Nationalism seems thus a prevailing element in the music of to-day, and
we may perceive two kinds, one spontaneous and full of charm, the other
a result of conscious effort, sophisticated in spirit and in detail. It
may as well be said that there was no compelling call for a separate
French school in the nineteenth century as a national utterance. It
sprang from a political rather than an artistic motive; it was the itch
of jealous pride that sharply stressed the difference of musical style
on the two sides of the Rhine. The very influence of German music was
needed by the French rather than a bizarre invention of national traits.
The broader art of a Saint-Saëns here shines in contrast with the
brilliant conceits of his younger compatriots, though it cannot be
denied that the latter are grounded in classic counterpoint. With other
nations the impulse was more natural: the racial song of the
Scandinavians, Czechs and other Slavs craved a deliverance as much as
the German in the time of Schubert. In France, where music had long
flourished, there was no stream of suppressed folk-song.

But the symphony must in the natural course have suffered from the very
fulness of its own triumph. We know the Romantic reaction of Schumann,
uttered in smaller cyclic forms; in Berlioz is almost a complete
abandonment of pure music, devoid of special description. Liszt was one
of the mighty figures of the century, with all the external qualities of
a master-genius, shaking the stage of Europe with the weight of his
personality, and, besides, endowed with a creative power that was not
understood in his day. With him the restless tendency resulted in a new
form intended to displace the symphony: the symphonic poem, in a single,
varied movement, and always on a definite poetic subject. Here was at
once a relief and a recess from the classic rigor. Away with sonata form
and all the odious code of rules! In the story of the title will lie all
the outline of the music.

Yet in this rebellious age - and here is the significance of the
form - the symphony did not languish, but blossomed to new and varied
flower. Liszt turned back to the symphony from his new-fangled device
for his two greatest works. It has, indeed, been charged that the
symphony was accepted by the Romantic masters in the spirit of a
challenge. Mendelssohn and even Schumann are not entirely free from such
a suspicion. Nevertheless it remains true that all of them confided to
the symphony their fairest inspiration. About the middle of the century,
at the high point of anti-classical revolt, a wonderful group of
symphonies, by Berlioz, Mendelssohn, Schumann, and Liszt, were presented
to the world. With the younger Brahms on a returning wave of
neo-classicism the form became again distinctively a personal choice.
Finally, in the spontaneous utterance of a national spirit on broad
lines, as in the later Russian and Finnish examples, with the various
phases of surging resolution, of lyric contemplation and of rollicking
humor, the symphony has its best sanction in modern times.

To return to the historical view, the course of the symphony during the
century cannot be adequately scanned without a glance at the music-drama
of Richard Wagner. Until the middle of the century, symphony and opera
had moved entirely in separate channels. At most the overture was
affected, in temper and detail, by the career of the nobler form.

The restless iconoclasm of a Liszt was now united, in a close personal
and poetic league, with the new ideas of Wagner's later drama. Both men
adopted the symbolic motif as their main melodic means; with both mere
iteration took the place of development; a brilliant and lurid
color-scheme (of orchestration) served to hide the weakness of intrinsic
content; a vehement and hysteric manner cast into temporary shade the
classic mood of tranquil depth in which alone man's greatest thought is

But a still larger view of the whole temper of art in Europe of the
later century is needed. We wander here beyond the fine distinctions of
musical forms. A new wave of feeling had come over the world that
violently affected all processes of thought. And strangely, it was
strongest in the land where the great heights of poetry and music had
just been reached. Where the high aim of a Beethoven and a Goethe had
been proclaimed, arose a Wagner to preach the gospel of brute fate and
nature, where love was the involuntary sequence of mechanical device and
ended in inevitable death, all overthrowing the heroic idea that teems
throughout the classic scores, crowned in a greatest symphony in praise
of "Joy."

Such was the intrinsic content of a "Tristan and Isolde" and the whole
"Nibelungen-Ring," and it was uttered with a sensuous wealth of sound
and a passionate strain of melody that (without special greatness of its
own) dazzled and charmed the world in the dramatic setting of mediaeval
legend. The new harmonic style of Wagner, there is good reason to
suppose, was in reality first conceived by Liszt, whose larger works,
written about the middle of the century, have but lately come to
light.[A] In correspondence with this moral mutiny was the complete
revolt from classic art-tradition: melody (at least in theory), the
vital quality of musical form and the true process of a coherent thread,
were cast to the winds with earlier poetic ideals.

[Footnote A: The "Dante" Symphony of Liszt was written between 1847 and
1855; the "Faust" Symphony between 1854 and 1857. Wagner finished the
text of _Tristan und Isolde_ in 1857; the music was not completed until
1859. In 1863 was published the libretto of the _Nibelungen-Ring_. In
1864 Wagner was invited by King Ludwig of Bavaria to complete the work
in Munich.]

If it were ever true that a single personality could change an opposite
course of thought, it must be held that Richard Wagner, in his own
striking and decadent career, comes nearest to such a type. But he was
clearly prompted and reinforced in his philosophy by other men and
tendencies of his time. The realism of a Schopenhauer, which Wagner
frankly adopted without its full significance (where primal will finds a
redemption in euthanasia), led by a natural course of thought to
Nietzsche's dreams of an overman, who tramples on his kind.

In itself this philosophy had been more of a passing phase (even as
Schopenhauer is lost in the chain of ethical sages) but for its strange
coincidence with the Wagnerian music. The accident of this alliance gave
it an overwhelming power in Germany, where it soon threatened to corrupt
all the arts, banishing idealism from the land of its special
haunts.[A] The ultimate weakness of the Wagnerian philosophy is that it
finds in fatalism an excuse for the surrender of heroic virtue, - not in
the spirit of a tragic truth, but in a glorification of the senses; just
as in Wagner's final work, the ascetic, sinless type becomes a figure
almost of ridicule, devoid of human reality. It is significant that with
the revival of a sound art, fraught with resolute aspiration, is
imminent a return to an idealistic system of philosophy.

[Footnote A: In literature this movement is most marked, as may be seen
by contrasting the tone of Goethe with that of Sudermann; by noting the
decadence from the stories of a Chamisseau and Immermann to those of a
Gottfried Keller; from the novels of Freytag to the latest of Frenssen
and Arthur Schnitzler; from the poems of Heine to those of Hoffmansthal,
author of the text of Strauss' later operas.

Or, contrast merely the two typical dramas of love, Goethe's "Faust" and
Wagner's "Tristan and Isolde."]

In the musical art even of Germany the triumph was never complete. The
famous feud of Brahms and Wagner partisans marked the alignment of the
classical and radical traditions. Throughout the second half of the
century the banner of a true musical process was upheld; the personal
meeting of the youthful Brahms with the declining Schumann is
wonderfully significant, viewed as a symbol of this passing of the
classic mantle. And the symphonies of Gustav Mahler seem an assurance of
present tendencies. The influence of Bach, revived early in the century,
grew steadily as a latent leaven.

Nevertheless in the prevailing taste and temper of present German
music, in the spirit of the most popular works, as those of Richard
Strauss (who seems to have sold his poetic birthright), the aftermath of
this wave is felt, and not least in the acclaim of the barren symphonies
of a Bruckner. It is well known that Bruckner, who paid a personal
homage to Wagner, became a political figure in the partisan dispute,
when he was put forth as the antagonist of Brahms in the symphony. His
present vogue is due to this association and to his frank adoption of
Wagner idiom in his later works, as well as, more generally, to the
lowered taste in Germany.

In all this division of musical dialect, in the shattering of the
classic tower among the diverse tongues of many peoples, what is to be
the harvest? The full symbol of a Babel does not hold for the tonal art.
Music is, in its nature, a single language for the world, as its
alphabet rests on ideal elements. It has no national limits, like prose
or poetry; its home is the whole world; its idiom the blended song of
all nations.

In such a view there is less hope in the older than in the newer world.
No single, limited song of one nation can in the future achieve a second
climax of the art. It is by the actual mingling of them all that the
fairest flower and fruit must come. The very absence of one prevailing
native song, held a reproach to America, is in reality her strength; for
hers is the common heritage of all strains of song. And it may be her
destiny to lead in the glorious merging of them all.



The path of progress of an art has little to do with mere chronology.
For here in early days are bold spirits whose influence is not felt
until a whole generation has passed of a former tradition. Nor are these
patient pioneers always the best-inspired prophets; the mere fate of
slow recognition does not imply a highest genius. A radical innovation
may provoke a just and natural resistance. Again, a gradual yielding is
not always due to the pure force of truth. Strange and oblique ideas may
slowly win a triumph that is not wholly merited and may not prove

To fully grapple with this mystery, we may still hold to the faith that
final victory comes only to pure truth, and yet we may find that
imperfect truth will often achieve a slow and late acceptance. The
victory may then be viewed in either of two ways: the whole spirit of
the age yields to the brilliant allurement, or there is an overweighing
balance of true beauty that deserves the prize of permanence. Of such a
kind were two principal composers of the symphony: Franz Liszt and
Hector Berlioz. Long after they had wrought their greatest works, others
had come and gone in truer line with the first masters, until it seemed
these radical spirits had been quite rejected.

Besides the masters of their own day, Schumann and Mendelssohn, a group
of minor poets, like Raff and Goetz, appeared, and at last Brahms, the
latest great builder of the symphony, all following and crowning the
classical tradition.

The slow reception of the larger works of Liszt strangely agrees with
the startling resemblance of their manner to the Russian style that
captivated a much later age. It seemed as if the spirit of the Hungarian
was suddenly revived in a new national group. His humor wonderfully
suited the restless and sensational temper of an age that began after
his death.

The very harmonies and passionate manner that influence modern audiences
evoked a dull indifference in their own day.[A] They roused the first
acclaim when presented in the more popular form of the music-drama. It
may well be questioned whether Liszt was not the fountain source of the
characteristic harmonies of Wagner's later opera.

[Footnote A: Compare the similarity of the themes of the Faust Symphony
of Liszt and of the _Pathétique_ of Tschaikowsky in the last chapter of
vol. ii, "Symphonies and Their Meaning."]

Historically considered, that is in their relation to other music
preceding and following them, the symphonies of Liszt have striking
interest. They are in boldest departure from all other symphonies, save
possibly those of Berlioz, and they were prophetic in a degree only
apparent a half-century later. If the quality of being ahead of his time
be proof, instead of a symptom, of genius, then Liszt was in the first
rank of masters. The use of significant motif is in both of his
symphonies. But almost all the traits that startled and moved the world
in Tschaikowsky's symphonies are revealed in this far earlier music: the
tempestuous rage of what might be called an hysterical school, and the
same poignant beauty of the lyric episodes; the sheer contrast, half
trick, half natural, of fierce clangor and dulcet harmonies, all painted
with the broad strokes of the orchestral palette. Doubly striking it is
how Liszt foreshadowed his later followers and how he has really
overshadowed them; not one, down to the most modern tone-painters, has
equalled him in depth and breadth of design, in the original power of
his tonal symbols. It seems that Liszt will endure as the master-spirit
in this reactionary phase of the symphony.

Berlioz is another figure of a bold innovator, whose career seemed a
series of failures, yet whose music will not down. His art was centred
less upon the old essentials, of characteristic melody and soul-stirring
harmonies, than upon the magic strokes of new instrumental grouping, - a
graphic rather than a pure musical purpose. And so he is the father not
only of the modern orchestra, but of the fashion of the day that revels
in new sensations of startling effects, that are spent in portraying the
events of a story.

Berlioz was the first of a line of _virtuosi_ of the orchestra, a
pioneer in the art of weaving significant strains, - significant, that
is, apart from the music. He was seized with the passion of making a
pictured design with his orchestral colors. Music, it seems, did not
exist for Berlioz except for the telling of a story. His symphony is
often rather opera. A symphony, he forgot, is not a musical drama
without the scenery. This is just what is not a symphony. It is not the
literal story, but the pure musical utterance. Thus Berlioz's "Romeo and

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Online LibraryPhilip H. GoeppSymphonies and Their Meaning; Third Series, Modern Symphonies → online text (page 1 of 17)