John F. Runciman.

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of riotous excitement, though there is not one of
them to match " Ye tutelar gods " in " Belshazzar."
But there is little in " Belshazzar " to match the
pathos of "Return, O God of hosts," or "Ye
sons of Israel, now lament." The latter is a
notable example of Handel's art. There is not a
new phrase in it : nothing, indeed, could be
commoner than the bar at the first occurrence of
" Amongst the dead great Samson lies," and yet
the effect is amazing ; and though the " for ever "
is as old as Purcell, here it is newly used — used as
if it had never been used before — to utter a depth
of emotion that passes beyond the pathetic to the
sublime. This very vastness of feeling, this power
of stepping outside himself and giving a voice to
the general emotions of humanity, prevents us
recognising the personal note in Handel as we
recognise it in Mozart. But occasionally the


personal note may be met. The recitative " My HANDEL
genial spirits fail," with those dreary long-drawn
harmonies, and the orchestral passage pressing
wearily downwards at " And lay me gently down
with them that rest," seems almost like Handel's
own voice in a moment of sad depression. It
serves, at anyrate, to remind us that the all-
conquering Mr. Handel was a complete man who
had endured the sickening sense of the worthless-
ness of a struggle that he was bound to continue
to the end. But these personal confessions are
scarce. After all, in oratorio Handel's best music
is that in which he seeks to attain the sublime.
In his choruses he does attain it : he sweeps you
away with the immense rhythmical impetus of the
music, or overpowers you with huge masses of
tone hurled, as it were, bodily at you at just the
right moments, or he coerces you with phrases
like the opening of " Fixed in His everlasting seat,"
or the last (before the cadence) in " Then round
about the starry throne." It is true that with his
unheard-of intellectual power, and a mastery of
technique equal or nearly equal to Bach's, he was
often tempted to write in his uninspired moments,
and so the chorus became with him more or less of
a formula ; but we may also note that even when
he was most mechanical the mere furious speed at
which he wrote seemed to excite and exalt him, so
that if he began with a commonplace " Let their
celestial concerts all unite," before the end he was
L 8i

HANDEL pouring forth glorious and living stuff like the last
twenty-seven bars. So the pace at which he had
to write in the intervals of bullying or coaxing
prima donnas or still more petulant male sopranos
was not wholly a misfortune ; if it sometimes com-
pelled him to set down mere musical arithmetic, or
rubbish like " Honour and arms," and " Go, baffled
coward," it sometimes drew his grandest music out
of him. The dramatic oratorio is a hybrid form of
art — one might almost say a bastard form ; it had
only about thirty years of life ; but in those thirty
years Handel accomplished wonderful things with
it. And the wonder of them makes Handel appear
the more astonishing man ; for, when all is said,
the truth is that the man was greater, infinitely
greater, than his music.




T is a fact never to be forgotten, in hearing good
papa Haydn's music, that he Hved in the
fine old world when stately men and women
went through life in the grand manner with a
languid pulse, when the earth and the days were
alike empty, and hurry to get finished and proceed
to the next thing was almost unknown, and elbow-
ing of rivals to get on almost unnecessary. For
fifty years he worked away contentedly as band-
master to Prince Esterhazy, composing the due
amount of music, conducting the due number of
concerts, taking his salary of some seventy odd
pounds per annum thankfully, and putting on
his uniform for special State occasions with as
little grumbling as possible, all as a good band-
master should. He had gone through a short
period of roughing it in his youth, and he had
made one or two mistakes as he settled down. He
married a woman who worked with enthusiasm to
render his early life intolerable, and begged him in
his old age to buy a certain cottage, as it would suit
her admirably when she became a widow. But he
consoled himself as men do in the circumstances,
and did not allow his mistakes to poison all his
life, or cause him any special worry. His other
troubles were not very serious. A Music Society
which he wished to join tried to trap him into an
agreement to write important compositions for it
whenever they were wanted. Once he offended
his princely master by learning to play the baryton,




an instrument on which the prince was a performer
greatly esteemed by his retainers. Such teacup
storms soon passed : Prince Esterhazy doubtless
forgave him ; the Society was soon forgotten ; and
Haydn worked on placidly. Every morning he
rose with or before the lark, dressed himself with
a degree of neatness that astonished even that
neat dressing age, and sat down to compose music.
Later in each day he is reported to have eaten, to
have rehearsed his band or conducted concerts,
and so to bed to prepare himself by refreshing
slumber for the next day's labours. At certain
periods of the year Prince Esterhazy and his court
adjourned to Esterhaz, and at certain periods they
came back to Eisenstadt: thus they were saved
by due variety from utter petrifaction. Haydn
seems to have liked the life, and to have thought
moreover that it was good for him and his art.
By being thrown so much back upon himself, he
said, he had been forced to become original.
Whether it made him original or not, he never
thought of changing it until his prince died, and
for a time his services were not wanted at Esterhaz
or Eisenstadt. Then he came to England, and by
his success here made a European reputation (for
it was then as it is now — an artist was only
accepted on the musical Continent after he had
been stamped with the hall-mark of unmusical
England). Finally he settled in Vienna, was for a
time the teacher of Beethoven, declared his belief


that the first chorus of the " Creation " came HAYDN

direct from heaven, and died a world-famous man. ^^^ ^^^^

. . " CREA-

To the nineteenth century mind it seems rather jion"

an odd Hfe for an artist : at least it strikes one

as a life, despite Haydn's own opinion, not

particularly conducive to originality. To use

extreme language, it might almost be called a

monotonous and soporific mode of existence.

Probably its chief advantage was the opportunity

it afforded, or perhaps the necessity it enforced,

of ceaseless industry. Certainly that industry

bore fruit in Haydn's steady increase of inventive

power as he went on composing. But he only

took the prodigious leap from the second to the

first rank of composers after he had been free

for a time from his long slavery, and had been in

England and been aroused and stimulated by new

scenes, unfamiliar modes of life, and by contact

with many and widely differing types of mind.

Some of his later music makes one think that if

the leap — a leap almost unparalleled in the history

of art — had been possible twenty years sooner,

Haydn might have won a place by the side of

Mozart and Handel and Bach, instead of being

the lowest of their great company. On the other

hand, one cannot think of the man — lively, genial,

kind-hearted, garrulous, broadly humorous, actively

observant of details, careful in small money matters

— and assert with one's hand on one's heart that

he was cast in gigantic or heroic mould. That he



HAYDN had a wonderful facility in expressing himself is
^^^P obvious in every bar he wrote ; but it is less
obvious that he had a great deal to express. He
had deep, but not the deepest, human feeling ; he
could think, but not profoundly ; he had a sense of
beauty, delicate and acute out of all comparison
with yours or mine, reader, but far less keen than
Mozart's or Bach's. Hence his music is rarely
comparable with theirs : his matter is less weighty,
his form never quite so enchantingly lovely ; and,
whatever one may think of the possibilities of the
man in his most inspired moments, his average
output drives one to the reluctant conclusion that
on the whole his life must have been favourable to
him and enabled him to do the best that was in
him. Yet I hesitate as I write the words. Remem-
bering that he began as an untaught peasant, and
until the end of his long life was a mere band-
master with a small yearly salary, a uniform, and
possibly (for I cannot recall the facts) his board
and lodging, remembering where he found the
symphony and quartet and where he left them,
remembering, above all, that astonishing leap, I
find it hard to believe in barriers to his upward
path. It is in dignity and quality of poetic content
rather than in form that Haydn is lacking. Had
the horizon of his thought been widened in early
or even in middle life by the education of mixing
with men who knew more and were more advanced
than himself, had he been jostled in the crowd of a


great city and been made to feel deeply about the
tragi-comedy of human existence, his experiences
might have resulted in a deeper and more original
note being sounded in his music. But we must
take him as he is, reflecting, when the unbroken
peacefulness of his music becomes a little tiresome,
that he belonged to the " old time before us " and
was never quickened by the newer modes of
thought that unconsciously affected Mozart and
consciously moulded Beethoven ; and that, after
all, his very smoothness and absence of passion
give him an old-world charm, grateful in this hot
and dusty age. If he was not greatly original, he
was at least flawlessly consistent : there is scarce a
trait in his character that is not reflected some-
where in his music, and hardly a characteristic of
his music that one does not find quaintly echoed
in some recorded saying or doing of the man.
His placid and even vivacity, his sprightliness,
his broad jocularity, his economy and shrewd
business perception of what could be done with
the material to hand, his fertility of device, even
his commonplaceness, may all be seen in the sym-
phonies. At rare moments he moves you strongly,
very often he is trivial, but he generally pleases ;
and if some of the strokes of humour — quoted in
text-books of orchestration — are so broad as to be
indescribable in any respectable modern print,
few of us understand what they really mean, and
no one is a penny the worse.
M 89



The " Creation " libretto was prepared for
Handel, but he did not attempt to set it ; and
this perhaps was just as well, for the effort would
certainly have killed him. Of course the opening
offers some fine opportunities for fine music ; but
the later parts with their nonsense — Milton's non-
sense, I believe — about "In native worth and
honour clad, With beauty, courage, strength,
adorned, Erect with front serene he stands, A
MAN, the Lord and King of Nature all," and the
suburban love-making of our first parents, and the
lengthy references to the habits of the worm and
the leviathan, and so on, are almost more than
modern flesh and blood can endure. It must be
conceded that Haydn evaded the difficulties of the
subject with a degree of tact that would be sur-
prising in anyone else than Haydn. In the first
part, where Handel would have been sublime, he
is frequently nearly sublime, and this is our loss ;
but in the later portion, where Handel would have
been solemn, earnest, and intolerably dull, he is
light, skittish, good-natured, and sometimes jocular,
and this is our gain, even if the gain is not great.
The Representation of Chaos is a curious bit of
music, less like chaos than an attempt to write
music of the Bruneau sort a century too soon ; but
it serves. The most magnificent passage in the
oratorio immediately follows, for there is hardly a
finer effect in music than that of the soft voices
singing the words, " And the Spirit of God moved


upon the face of the waters," while the strings HAYDN
gently pulse ; and the fortissimo C major chord on ^^D HIS
the word " light," coming abruptly after the piano „"

and mezzo-forte minor chords, is as dazzling in its
brilliancy to-day as when it was first sung. The
number of unisons, throwing into relief the two
minor chords on C and F, should be especially
noted. The chorus in the next number is poor,
matched with this, though towards the end (see
bars II and 12 from the finish) Haydn's splendid
musicianship has enabled him to redeem the trivial
commonplace with an unexpected and powerful
harmonic progression. The work is singularly
deficient in strong sustained choruses. " Awake
the harp " is certainly very much the best ; for
"The heavens are telling" is little better than
Gounod's '* Unfold, ye everlasting portals " until
the end, where it is saved by the tremendous
climax ; and " Achieved is the glorious work " is
mostly mechanical, with occasional moments of
life. As for the finale, it is of course light opera.
On the whole the songs are the most delightful
feature of the " Creation," and the freshness of
" With verdure clad," and the tender charm of the
second section of " Roaming in foaming billows,"
may possibly be remembered when Haydn is
scarcely known except as an instrumental com-
poser. The setting of " Softly purling, glides on,
thro' silent vales, the limpid brook " is indeed
perfect, the phrase at the repetition of " Thro'


HAYDN silent vales " inevitably calling up a vision, not of
AND HIS a. valley sleeping in the sunlight, for of sunlight
TION" ^^^ eighteenth century apparently took little heed,
but of a valley in the dark quiet night, filled with
the scent of flowers, and the far-off murmur of the
brook vaguely heard. The humour of the oratorio
consists chiefly of practical jokes, such as sending
Mr. Andrew Black (or some other bass singer)
down to the low F sharp and G to depict the
heavy beasts treading the ground, or making
the orchestra imitate the bellow of the said
heavy beasts, or depicting the sinuous motion of
the worm or the graceful gamboling of the levia-
than. It has been objected that the leviathan is
brought on in sections. The truth, of course, is that
the clumsy figure in the bass is not meant to depict
the leviathan himself, but his gambolings and the
gay flourishings of his tail. It is hard to sum up
the " Creation," unless one is prepared to call it
great and never go to hear it. It is not a sublime
oratorio, nor yet a frankly comic oratorio, nor
entirely a dull oratorio. After considering the
songs, the recitatives, the choruses, in detail, it
really seems to contain very little. Perhaps it
may be described as a third-rate oratorio, whose
interest is largely historic and literary.





IT may well be doubted whether Vienna thought MOZART,
even so much of Capellmeister Mozart as ^^S "DON
Leipzig thought of Capellmeister Bach. Bach,
it is true, was merely Capellmeister ; he hardly
dared to claim social equality with the citizens
who tanned hides or slaughtered pigs ; and prob-
ably the high personages who trimmed the local
Serene Highness's toe-nails scarcely knew of his
existence. Still, he was a burgher, even as the
killers of pigs and the tanners of hides ; he was
thoroughly respectable, and probably paid his taxes
as they came due ; if only by necessity of his office,
he went to church with regularity; and on the
whole we may suppose that he got enough of
respect to make life tolerable. But Mozart was
only one of a crowd who provided amusement for
a gay population ; and a gay population, always a
heartless master, holds none in such contempt as
the servants who provide it with amusem.ent. So
Mozart got no respect from those he served, and his
Bohemianism lost him the respect of the eminently
respectable. He lived in the eighteenth century
equivalent of a " loose set " ; he was miserably poor,
and presumably never paid his taxes ; we may doubt
whether he often went to church ; he composed
for the theatre ; and he lacked the self-assertion
which enabled Handel, Beethoven, and Wagner to
hold their own. Treated as of no account, cheated
by those he worked for, hardly permitted to earn
his bread, he found life wholly intolerable, and as



he grew older he lived more and more within him-
self, and gave his thoughts only to the composition
of masterpieces. The crowd of mediocrities dimly
felt him to be their master, and the greater the
masterpieces he achieved the more vehemently did
Salieri and his attendants protest that he was not
a composer to compare with Salieri. The noise
impressed Da Ponte, the libretto-monger, and he
asked Salieri. to set his best libretto and gave
Mozart only his second best ; and thus by a curious
irony stumbled into his immortality through sheer
stupidity, for his second best libretto was " Don
Giovanni" — of all possible subjects precisely that
which a wise man would have given to Mozart.
When Mozart laid down the pen after the memor-
able night's work in which he transferred the
finished overture from his brain to the paper, he
had written the noblest Italian opera ever con-
ceived ; and the world knew it not, yet gradually
came to know. But the full fame of "Don
Giovanni" was comparatively brief, and at this
time there seems to be a hazy notion that its
splendours have waned before the blaze of Wagner,
just as the symphonies are supposed to have faded
in the brilliant light of Beethoven. At lectures on
musical history it is reverently spoken of; but it is
seldom sung, and the public declines to go to hear
it ; and, though few persons are so foolish as to
admit their sad case, I suspect that more than a
few agree with the sage critic who told us not long



since that Mozart was a little passe now. Is MOZART,
it indeed so? Well, Mozart lived in the last JJl''pON
days of the old world, and the old world and
the thoughts and sentiments of the old world
are certainly a little passes now. But if you
examine " Don Giovanni " you must admit
that the Fifth and Ninth symphonies, " Fidelio,"
"Lohengrin," the "Ring," "Tristan," and "Parsi-
fal " have done nothing to eclipse its glories, that
while fresh masterpieces have come forth, " Don
Giovanni " remains a masterpiece amongst master-
pieces, that in a sense it is a masterpiece towards
which all other masterpieces stand in the relation
of commentaries to text. And though this, per-
haps, is only to call it a link in a chain, yet it is
curious to note how very closely other composers
have followed Mozart, and how greatly they are
indebted to him. Page upon page of the early
Beethoven is written in the phraseology of the
later Mozart ; in nearly every bar of " Faust," not
to mention " Romeo and Juliette," avowedly the
fruit of a long study of " Don Giovanni," a faint
echo of Mozart's voice comes to us with the voice
of Gounod ; Anna's cries, " Quel sangue, quella
piaga, quel volto," with the creeping chromatic
chords of the wood- wind, have the very accent of
Isolda's "'Tis I, belov'd," and the solemn phrase
that follows, in Tristan's death-scene. Apart from
its influence on later composers, there is surely no
more passionate, powerful, and moving drama in
N 97

MOZART, the world than " Don Giovanni." Despite the

HIS ' DON triviahty of Da Ponte's book, the impetus of the

GIOVANNI jjjusic carries alonsf the action at a tremendous

REOUIEM speed ; the moments of relief occur just when relief

is necessary, and never retard the motion ; the
climaxes are piled up with incredible strength and
mastery, and have an emotional effect as power-
ful as anything in " Fidelio " and equal to any-
thing in Wagner's music-dramas ; and most
stupendous of all is the finale, with its tragic blend-
ing of the grotesque and the terrible. Or, if one
considers detail, in no other opera do the characters
depict themselves in every phrase they utter as
they do in " Don Giovanni.'' The songs stamp
Mozart as the greatest song-writer who has lived,
with the exception of Handel, whose opera songs
are immeasurably beyond all others save Mozart's,
and a little beyond them. The mere musicianship
is as consummate as Bach's, for, like Bach, Mozart
possessed that facility which is fatal to many men,
but combined with it a high sincerity, a greedy
thirst for the beautiful, and an emotional force that
prevented it being fatal to him. For delicacy,
subtlety, due brilliancy, and strength, the orchestral
colouring cannot be matched. And no music is
more exclusively its own composer's, has less in it
of other composers'. Beethoven is Beethoven //z^i-
Mozart, Wagner is Wagner plus Weber and Beet-
hoven ; but from every page of Mozart's scores
Mozart alone looks at you, with sad laughter in


his eyes, and unspeakable tenderness, the tender- MOZART,

ness of the giants, of Handel, Bach, and Beethoven, HIS " DON

though perhaps Mozart is tenderest of them all. GIOVANNI


He cannot write a comic scene for a poor clownish requiem

Masetto without caressing him with a divinely-
beautiful " Cheto, cheto, mi vo' star," and in pres-
ence of death or human distress the strangest,
sweetest things fall from his lips. And finally, he
is always the perfect artist without reproach ; there
is nothing wanting and nothing in excess ; as he
himself said on one occasion, his scores contain
exactly the right number of notes. This is " Don
Giovanni" as one may see it a century after its
birth : a faultless masterpiece ; yet (in England at
least) it only gets an occasional performance,
through the freak of a prima donna, who, as the
sage critic said of Mozart, is undoubtedly " a little
passee now."

After all, this is hardly surprising. Perfect art
wants perfect listeners, and just now we are much
too eager for excitement, too impatient of mere
beauty, to listen perfectly to perfect music. And
there are other reasons why " Don Giovanni "
should not appeal to this generation. For many
years it was the sport of the prima donna, and
conductors and singers conspired to load it with
traditional Costamongery, until at last the "Don
Giovanni" we knew became an entirely different
thing from the "Don Giovanni" of Mozart's
thought. Not Giovanni but Zerlina was the prin-


MOZART, cipal figure ; the climax of the drama was not the
HIS " DON final Statue scene, but " Batti, batti " ; Leporello's
. part was exaggerated until the Statue scene became

REQUIEM ^ pantomime affair with Leporello playing panta-
loon against Giovanni's clown. Such an opera
could interest none but an Elephant and Castle
audience, and probably only the beauty of the
music prevented it reaching the Elephant and
Castle long ago. So low had " Don Giovanni "
fallen, when, quite recently, serious artists like
Maurel tried to take it more seriously and restore
it to its rightful place. Only, unfortunately, instead
of brushing away traditions and going back to the
vital conception of Mozart, they sought to modernise
it, to convert it into an early Wagner music-drama.
The result may be seen in any performance at
Covent Garden. The thing becomes a hodge-podge,
a mixture of drama, melodrama, the circus, the
pantomime, with a strong flavouring of blatherskite.
The opera is largely pantomime — it was intended
by Mozart to be pantomime; and the only pos-
sible way of doing it effectively is to accept the
pantomime frankly, but to play it with such force
and sincerity that it is not felt to be pantomime.
And the real finale should be sung afterwards.
Probably many people would go off to catch their
trains. But, after all, Mozart wrote for those who
have no trains to catch when this masterpiece, the
masterpiece of Italian opera, is sung as he intended
it to be sung.


The Requiem is a very different work. There is MOZART,

plenty of the gaiety and sunshine of Hfe in " Don HIS " DON

Giovanni," The Requiem is steeped in sadness and G'OV^NNI


gloom, with rare moments of fiery exaltation, or dfouifm

hysterical despair ; at times beauty has been almost
— almost, but never quite — driven from Mozart's

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Online LibraryJohn F. RuncimanOld scores and new readings: discussions on music & certain musicians → online text (page 5 of 14)