Philip H. Goepp.

Symphonies and Their Meaning; Third Series, Modern Symphonies online

. (page 7 of 17)
Online LibraryPhilip H. GoeppSymphonies and Their Meaning; Third Series, Modern Symphonies → online text (page 7 of 17)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


redoubled (in thirds of the wood), the sweep of strings of the first
motive is added, with chords of horns. A rising figure is now opposed to
the descent of the second melody, with shaking of woodwind that brings
back the old trumpet legend. Here the storm grows apace, with increasing
tumult of entering hostile strains, the main song now ringing in low
brass.

In various versions and changes we seem to see earlier themes briefly
reappearing. Indeed there is a striking kinship of themes throughout,
not so much in outline as in the air and mood of the tunes. This seems
to be proven by actual outer resemblance when the motives are developed.
Here in a quiet spot - though the battle has clearly not ceased - is the
answer of old trumpet motto, that pervaded the first Allegro. There is a
strong feeling of the Scherzo here in the _pizzicato_ answers of
strings. The second theme of the Andante is recalled, too, in the
strokes of the second of the Finale. In the thick of the fray is a
wonderful maze of versions of the theme, diminished and augmented at the
same time with the original pace. Yet it is all a clear flow of melody
and rich harmony. The four beats of quarter notes, in the lengthened
theme, come as high point like the figure of the leader in battle. A
later play of changes is like the sport of the Scherzo. This insensibly
leads to the figure of the fanfare, whence the earlier song returns
with the great joyous march.

The final height of climax is distinguished by a stentorian, fugal blast
of the theme in the bass, the higher breaking in on the lower, while
other voices are raging on the quicker phrases. It is brought to a
dramatic halt by the original prelude of trumpet legend, in all its
fulness. Though the march-song recurs, the close is in the ruder humor
of the main themes.


_THE "MANFRED" SYMPHONY_

Schumann and Tschaikowsky are the two most eminent composers who gave
tonal utterance to the sombre romance of Byron's dramatic poem.[A] It is
interesting to remember that Byron expressly demanded the assistance of
music for the work. If we wish to catch the exact effect that is sought
in the original conception, Schumann's setting is the nearest approach.
It is still debated whether a scenic representation is more impressive,
or a simple reading, reinforced by the music.

[Footnote A: Prefixed are the familiar lines:

"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy."]

Tschaikowsky's setting is a "symphony in four pictures, or scenes (_en
quatre tableaux_), after Byron's dramatic poem." In the general design
and spirit there is much of the feeling of Berlioz's "Fantastic"
Symphony, though the manner of the music shows no resemblance whatever.
There is much more likeness to Liszt's "Faust" Symphony, in that the
pervading recurrence of themes suggests symbolic labels. Moreover, in
the very character of many of the motives, there is here a striking line
of descent.

_Lento lugubre_, the first scene or picture, begins with a theme in
basses of reeds:

[Music: _Lento lugubre_
(Woodwind)
(Strings)]

with later _pizzicato_ figure of low strings.

An answering strain is one of the most important of all the melodies:

[Music]

On these, a bold conflict and climax is reared. If we care to indulge in
the bad habit of calling names, we might see "Proud Ambition" in the
first motives, intertwined with sounds of sombre discontent. The pace
grows _animando_, - _piu mosso_; _moderato molto_. Suddenly Andante sings
a new, expressive song, with a dulcet cheer of its own, rising to
passionate periods and a final height whence, _Andante con duolo_, a
loudest chorus of high wood and strings, heralded and accompanied by
martial tremolo of low wood, horns, basses, and drums, sound the fateful
chant that concludes the first scene, and, toward the close of the work,
sums the main idea.

[Music: (Strings and flutes)
(Basses, wood and horns)
(Same continuing rhythm)]

The apparition of the Witch of the Alps is pictured in daintiest,
sparkling play of strings and wood, with constant recurrence of mobile
figures above and below. It seems as if the image of the fountain is
fittest and most tempting for mirroring in music. Perhaps the most
beautiful, the most haunting, of all the "Manfred" music of Schumann is
this same scene of the Witch of the Alps.

Here, with Tschaikowsky, hardly a single note of brass intrudes on this
_perpetuum mobile_ of light, plashing spray until, later, strains that
hark back to the first scene cloud the clear brilliancy of the cascade.
Now the play of the waters is lost in the new vision, and a limpid song
glides in the violins, with big rhythmic chords of harps, is taken up in
clarinets, and carried on by violins in new melodic verse, _con
tenerezza e molto espressione_. Then the whole chorus sing the tune in
gentle volume. As it dies away, the music of the falling waters plash as
before. The returning song has phases of varying sadness and passion. At
the most vehement height, - and here, if we choose, we may see the stern
order to retire, - the fatal chant is shrieked by full chorus in almost
unison fierceness.

Gradually the innocent play of the waters is heard again, though a
gloomy pall hangs over. The chant sounds once more before the end.

The third, "Pastoral," scene we are most free to enjoy in its pure
musical beauty, with least need of definite dramatic correspondences. It
seems at first as if no notes of gloom are allowed to intrude, as if the
picture of happy simplicity stands as a foil to the tragedy of the
solitary dreamer; for an early climax gives a mere sense of the awe of
Alpine nature.

Still, as we look and listen closer, we cannot escape so easily, in
spite of the descriptive title. Indeed, the whole work seems, in its
relation to the poem upon which it is based, a very elusive play in a
double kind of symbolism. At first it is all a clear subjective
utterance of the hero's woes and hopes and fears, without definite
touches of external things. Yet, right in the second scene the torrent
is clear almost to the eye, and the events pass before us with sharp
distinctness. Tending, then, to look on the third as purest pastoral,
we are struck in the midst by an ominous strain from one of the earliest
moments of the work, the answer of the first theme of all. Here notes of
horns ring a monotone; presently a church-bell adds a higher note. The
peaceful pastoral airs then return, like the sun after a fleeting storm.

The whole of this third scene of Tschaikowsky's agrees with no special
one in Byron's poem, unless we go back to the second of the first act,
where Manfred, in a morning hour, alone upon the cliffs, views the
mountains of the Jungfrau before he makes a foiled attempt to spring
into the abyss. By a direction of the poet, in the midst of the
monologue, "the shepherd's pipe in the distance is heard," and Manfred
muses on "the natural music of the mountain reed."

The last scene of the music begins with Byron's fourth of Act II and
passes over all the incidents of the third act that precede the hero's
death, such as the two interviews with the Abbot and the glorious
invocation to the sun.

From Tschaikowsky's title, we must look for the awful gloom of the
cavernous hall of Arimanes, Byron's "Prince of Earth and Air." The gray
figure from most ancient myth is not less real to us than Mefistofeles
in "Faust." At least we clearly feel the human daring that feared not to
pry into forbidden mysteries and refused the solace of unthinking faith.
And it becomes again a question whether the composer had in mind this
subjective attitude of the hero or the actual figures and abode of the
spirits and their king. It is hard to escape the latter view, from the
general tenor, the clear-cut outline of the tunes, of which the
principal is like a stern chant:

[Music: (Wood, strings and horns)]

The most important of the later answers lies largely in the basses.

[Music: (Low wood)
(Rhythmic chords in strings)]

There is, on the whole, rather an effect of gloomy splendor (the
external view) than of meditation; a sense of visible massing than of
passionate crisis, though there is not wanting a stirring motion and
life in the picture. This is to speak of the first part, _Allegro con
fuoco_.

The gloomy dance dies away. _Lento_ is a soft fugal chant on elemental
theme; there is all the solemnity of cathedral service; after the
low-chanted phrase follows a tremendous blare of the brass. The
repeated chant is followed by one of the earliest, characteristic themes
of the first scene. And so, if we care to follow the graphic touch, we
may see here the intrusion of Manfred, at the most solemn moment of the
fearful revel.

As Manfred, in Byron's poem, enters undaunted, refusing to kneel, the
first of the earlier phases rings out in fierce _fortissimo_. A further
conflict appears later, when the opening theme of the work sounds with
interruptions of the first chant of the spirits.

A dulcet plaint follows, _Adagio_, in muted strings, answered by a note
of horn and a chord of harp.

[Music: _Adagio_
(Muted strings answered by horn and harp)]

It all harks back to the gentler strains of the first movement. In the
ethereal _glissando_ of harps we see the spirit of Astarte rise to give
the fatal message. The full pathos and passion of the _lento_ episode of
first scene is heard in brief, vivid touches, and is followed by the
same ominous blast with ring of horn, as in the first picture.

A note of deliverance shines clear in the final phrase of joined
orchestra and organ, clearer perhaps than in Manfred's farewell line in
the play: "Old man! 'tis not so difficult to die." To be sure, Schumann
spreads the same solace o'er the close of his setting, with the Requiem.
The sombre splendor of romance is throughout, with just a touch of
turgid. In the poignant ecstasy of grief we feel vividly the
foreshadowing example of Liszt, in his "Dante" and "Faust" Symphonies.


_FIFTH SYMPHONY (E MINOR)_

With all the unfailing flow of lesser melodies where the charm is often
greatest of all, and the main themes of each movement with a chain of
derived phrases, one melody prevails and reappears throughout. The
fluency is more striking here than elsewhere in Tschaikowsky. All the
external sources, - all the glory of material art seem at his command. We
are reminded of a certain great temptation to which all men are subject
and some fall, - however reluctantly. Throughout there is a vein of
daemonic. The second (Allegro) melody grows to a high point of
pathos, - nay, anguish, followed later by buoyant, strepitant, dancing
delight, with the melting answer, in the latest melody. The daemon is
half external fate - in the Greek sense, half individual temper. The end
is almost sullen; but the charm is never failing; at the last is the
ever springing rhythm.

[Music: _Andante_
_pesante e tenuto sempre_
(Clarinet)
(Low strings)]

The march rhythm of the opening Andante is carried suddenly into a quick
trip, _Allegro con anima_ (6/8), where the main theme of the first
movement now begins, freely extended as in a full song of verses. New
accompanying figures are added, contrasting phrases or counter-melodies,
to the theme.

[Music: _Allegro con anima_
Solo clarinet (doubled below with solo bassoon.)
(Strings)]

One expressive line plays against the wilder rhythm of the theme, with
as full a song in its own mood as the other. A new rhythmic motive, of
great charm, _un pocchetino piu animato_, is answered by a bit of the
theme. Out of it all grows, in a clear

[Music: _Molto espr._
(Strings)]

welded chain, another episode, where the old rhythm is a mere gentle
spur to the new plaint, - _molto piu tranquillo, molto cantabile ed
espressivo_.

[Music: _Molto piu tranquillo_
_Molto cantabile ed espr._]

To be sure, the climax has all of the old pace and life, and every voice
of the chorus at the loudest. In the answering and echoing of the
various phrases, rhythmic and melodic, is the charm of the discussion
that follows. Later the three melodies come again in the former order,
and the big climax of the plaintive episode precedes the end, where the
main theme dies down to a whisper.


_Andante cantabile, con alcuna licenza._ After preluding chords in
lowest strings a solo horn begins a

[Music: _Andante cantabile, con alcuna licenza_
(Horn)
_dolce con molto espr._
(Strings)]

languishing song, _dolce con molto espressione_. It is a wonderful
elegy, a yearning without hope, a swan-song of desire, sadder almost
than the frank despair of the Finale of the _Pathétique_
symphony, - pulsing with passion, gorgeous with a hectic glow of
expressive beauty, moving too with a noble grace. Though there is a foil
of lighter humor, this is overwhelmed in the fateful gloom of the
returning main motto.

The abounding beauty with all its allurement lacks the solace that the
masters have led us to seek in the heart of a symphony. The clarinet
presently twines a phrase about the tune until a new answer sounds in
the oboe, that now sings in answering and chasing duet with the horn.
The phrase of oboe proves to be the main song, in full extended
periods, reaching a climax with all the voices.

[Music: _Con moto_
(Solo oboe)
_dolce espr._]

Well defined is the middle episode in minor reared on a new theme of the
clarinet with an almost fugal polyphony that departs from the main lyric
mood.

[Music: _Moderato con anima_
(Solo clar.)
(Strings)]

At the height all the voices fall into a united chorus on the original
motto of the symphony. The first melodies of the Andante now return with
big sweep and power, and quicker phrases from the episode. The motto
reappears in a final climax, in the trombones, before the hushed close.

We must not infer too readily a racial trait from the temper of the
individual composer. There is here an error that we fall into frequently
in the music of such men as Grieg and Tschaikowsky. The prevailing mood
of the Pathetic Symphony is in large measure personal. Some of the more
recent Russian symphonies are charged with buoyant joyousness. And,
indeed, the burden of sadness clearly distinguishes the last symphony of
Tschaikowsky from its two predecessors, the Fourth and the Fifth.

The tune of the _valse_, _Allegro moderato_, is first played by the
violins, _dolce con grazia_, with accompanying strings, horns and
bassoon. In the second part, with some loss of the lilt of dance, is a
subtle design - with a running phrase in _spiccato_ strings against a
slower upward glide of bassoons. The duet winds on a kind of _crescendo_
of modulations. Later

[Music: (_Spiccato_)
(Strings)
(Horns)
(Bassoon)]

the themes are inverted, and the second is redoubled in speed. The whole
merges naturally into the first waltz, with a richer suite of adorning
figures. The dance does not end without a soft reminder (in low
woodwind) of the original sombre phrase.

Almost for the first time a waltz has entered the shrine of the
symphony. And yet perhaps this dance has all the more a place there. It
came on impulse (the way to visit a sanctuary), not by ancient custom.
But with all its fine variety, it is a simple waltz with all the
careless grace, - nothing more, with no hidden or graphic meaning (as in
Berlioz's Fantastic Symphony).

The middle episode, though it lacks the dancing trip, is in the one
continuing mood, - like a dream of youthful joys with just a dimming hint
of grim reality in the returning motto.

In the Finale the main legend of the symphony is transformed and
transfigured in a new, serener mood, and is brought to a full melodic
bloom. Indeed, here is the idealization of the original motto. _Andante
maestoso_ it begins in the tonic major. When the theme ceases, the brass
blow the rhythm on a monotone, midst an ascending _obligato of strings_.

[Music: (Brass and lower woodwind)
(See page 139, line 1.)]

In answer comes a new phrase of chorale. Later the chorale is sounded
by the full band, with intermediate beats of rhythmic march.

Once more there is a well-marked episode, with a full share of melodic
discussion, of clashing themes, of dramatic struggle. First in the tonic
minor a theme rises from the last casual cadence in resonant march,
_Allegro vivace_. Then follows a duet, almost

[Music: _Allegro vivace_
(Strings and low wood)
(Trill of kettle drums)]

a harsh grating of an eccentric figure above against

[Music: (Solo oboe)
(Strings)
(Low wood)
(_Pizz._ cellos)]

the smoother course of the latest Allegro motive. The themes are
inverted. Presently out of the din rises a charming canon on the
prevailing smoother phrase, that soars to a full sweep of song. A new

[Music: (Violins)
(Wind)
(Basses 8va.) (Low strings)]

hymnal melody comes as a final word. Though the main motto returns in
big chorus, in full extension, in redoubled pace and wild abandon, still
the latest melody seems to contend for the last say. Or, rather,

[Music: (Woodwind doubled above and below)
_espr._
(Strings)
(See page 141, line 2.)]

it is a foil, in its simple flow, to the revel of the motto, now grown
into a sonorous, joyous march. And we seem to see how most of the other
melodies, - the minor episode, the expressive duet - have sprung from bits
of the main text.

To return for another view, - the Finale begins in a mood that if not
joyous, is religious. Out of the cadence of the hymn dances the Allegro
tune almost saucily. Nor has this charming trip the ring of gladness,
though it grows to great momentum. As a whole there is no doubt of the
assurance, after the earlier fitful gloom, and with the resignation an
almost militant spirit of piety.

In the dulcet canon, an exquisite gem, bliss and sadness seem
intermingled; and then follows the crowning song, broad of pace,
blending the smaller rhythms in ecstatic surmounting of gloom. In
further verse it doubles its sweet burden in overlapping voices, while
far below still moves the rapid trip.

But the motto will return, in major to be sure, and tempered in mercy.
And the whole hymn dominates, with mere interludes of tripping motion,
breaking at the height into double pace of concluding strain. Before
falling back into the thrall of the legend the furious race rushes
eagerly into the deepest note of bliss, where in sonorous bass rolls the
broad, tranquil song. And though the revel must languish, yet we attend
the refrain of all the melodies in crowning rapture. Then at last, in
stern minor, sounds the motto, still with the continuing motion, in a
loud and long chant.

In blended conclusion of the contending moods comes a final verse of the
legend in major, with full accoutrement of sounds and lesser rhythm, in
majestic pace. And there is a following frolic with a verse of the
serene song. The end is in the first Allegro theme of the symphony, in
transfigured major tone.

We must be clear at least of the poet's intent. In the Fifth Symphony
Tschaikowsky sang a brave song of struggle with Fate.




CHAPTER XI

THE NEO-RUSSIANS


For some mystic reason nowhere in modern music is the symphony so
justified as in Russia. Elsewhere it survives by the vitality of its
tradition. In France we have seen a series of works distinguished rather
by consummate refinement than by strength of intrinsic content. In
Germany since the masterpieces of Brahms we glean little besides the
learnedly facile scores of a Bruckner, with a maximum of workmanship and
a minimum of sturdy feeling, - or a group of "heroic" symphonies all cast
in the same plot of final transfiguration. The one hopeful sign is the
revival of a true counterpoint in the works of Mahler.

Some national song, like the Bohemian, lends itself awkwardly to the
larger forms. The native vein is inadequate to the outer mould, that
shrinks and dwindles into formal utterance. It may be a question of the
quantity of a racial message and of its intensity after long
suppression. Here, if we cared to enlarge in a political disquisition,
we might account for the symphony of Russians and Finns, and of its
absence in Scandinavia. The material elements, abundant rhythm, rich
color, individual and varied folk-song, are only the means by which the
national temper is expressed. Secondly, it must be noted as a kind of
paradox, the power of the symphony as a national utterance is increased
by a mastery of the earlier classics. With all that we hear of the
narrow nationalism of the Neo-Russians, we cannot deny them the breadth
that comes from a close touch with the masters. Mozart is an element in
their music almost as strong as their own folk-song. Here, it may be,
the bigger burden of a greater national message unconsciously seeks the
larger means of expression. And it becomes clear that the sharper and
narrower the national school, the less complete is its utterance, the
more it defeats its ultimate purpose.

The broad equipment of the new Russian group is seen at the outset in
the works of its founder, Balakirew. And thus the difference between
them and Tschaikowsky lay mainly in the formulated aim.[A]

[Footnote A: In the choice of subjects there was a like breadth.
Balakirew was inspired by "King Lear," as was Tschaikowsky. And amid a
wealth of Slavic legend and of kindred Oriental lore, he would turn to
the rhythms of distant Spain for a poetic theme.]

The national idea, so eminent in modern music, is not everywhere equally
justified. And here, as in an object-lesson, we see the true merits of
the problem. While one nation spontaneously utters its cry, another,
like a cock on the barnyard, starts a movement in mere idle vanity, in
sheer self-glorification.

In itself there is nothing divine in a national idea that needs to be
enshrined in art. Deliberate segregation is equally vain, whether it be
national or social. A true racial celebration must above all be
spontaneous. Even then it can have no sanction in art, unless it utter a
primal motive of resistance to suppression, the elemental pulse of life
itself. There is somehow a divine dignity about the lowest in human
rank, whether racial or individual. The oppressed of a nation stands a
universal type, his wrongs are the wrongs of all, and so his lament has
a world-wide appeal. And in truth from the lowest class rises ever the
rich spring of folk-song of which all the art is reared, whence comes
the paradox that the peasant furnishes the song for the delight of his
oppressors, while they boast of it as their own. Just in so far as man
is devoid of human sympathy, is he narrow and barren in his song. Music
is mere feeling, the fulness of human experience, not in the hedonic
sense of modern tendencies, but of pure joys and profound sorrows that
spring from elemental relations, of man to man, of mate to mate.

Here lies the nobility of the common people and of its song; the
national phase is a mere incident of political conditions. The war of
races is no alembic for beauty of art. If there were no national lines,
there would still be folk-song, - merely without sharp distinction. The
future of music lies less in the differentiation of human song, than in
its blending.

Thus we may rejoice in the musical utterance of a race like the Russian,
groaning and struggling through ages against autocracy for the dignity
of man himself, - and in a less degree for the Bohemian, seeking to hold
its heritage against enforced submergence. But we cannot take so
seriously the proud self-isolation of other independent nations.


_BALAKIREW.[A] SYMPHONY IN C_

[Footnote A: Mili Alexeivich Balakirew was born at Nizhni-Novgorod in
1836; he died at St. Petersburg in 1911. He is regarded as the founder
of the Neo-Russian School.]

The national idea shines throughout, apart from the "Russian Theme" that
forms the main text of the Finale. One may see the whole symphony
leading up to the national celebration.

As in the opening phrase (in solemn _Largo_) with

[Music: (Lower reed, with strings in three 8ves.)
_Largo_]

its answer are proclaimed the subjects that presently

[Music: (Flute and strings)]

appear in rapid pace, so the whole movement must be taken as a big
prologue, forecasting rather than realizing. There is a dearth of
melodic stress and balance; so little do the subjects differ that they
are in essence merely obverse in outline.

Mystic harmonies and mutations of the motto lead to a quicker guise
(_Allegro vivo_). Independently of themes, the rough edge of tonality
and the vigorous primitive rhythms are expressive of the Slav feeling.


1 2 3 4 5 7 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17

Online LibraryPhilip H. GoeppSymphonies and Their Meaning; Third Series, Modern Symphonies → online text (page 7 of 17)