Various.

Famous Composers and their Works, Vol. 2 online

. (page 14 of 32)
Online LibraryVariousFamous Composers and their Works, Vol. 2 → online text (page 14 of 32)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


the first time in the history of the symphony. The Sixth is full of peace
and serenity and joy in life that comes from the contemplation of Nature,
and stands in strong contrast with the sublime struggle and exulting
triumph of the Fifth. The Seventh is perhaps the most truly romantic
and sensuously beautiful of all. Joy and sorrow, humor and wild passion
alternate in its strongly contrasted movements. This great work, together
with the three string quartets, Op. 59, are held by some musicians to be
the highest manifestation of subjective feeling and ideal beauty that
musical art has yet revealed. In conciseness of form the Eighth is almost
a return to earlier conditions, but in concentrated power and joyousness
it is one of the most remarkable and Beethovenish. He himself described
it as a "little symphony in F." The substitution of the Ariel-like and
humorous _allegretto_ in place of the slow movement, and the use of the
_menuetto_ are eminently characteristic. The Choral Symphony stands
alone in the history of music. It is said that the first three movements
"have reference, more or less intelligible according to the organization
and sympathies of the hearer, to the _finale_," which is a setting of
Schiller's "Ode to Joy," or rather "Liberty," which was the original title
of the poem. Here all "the dramatic and human elements which Beethoven
introduced into his instrumental music to a degree before undreamed
of" are brought together in complete expression. Moreover in the Ninth
Symphony as in his great Mass in D there dwells the profound spirit of
religious consciousness. The burden of the hymn heard above the symphonic
struggle of the orchestra is joy, love and brotherhood for all mankind,
or that charity which is the true essence of the Christian religion. Like
Dante's Divine Comedy or Bach's Passion Music, the Ninth Symphony will
live as one of the greatest monuments of genius.

[Illustration: BEETHOVEN'S MONUMENT IN BONN.

Executed by Prof. Hähnel. Unveiled in August, 1845. From a photograph made
in 1880.]

The human voice was to Beethoven an orchestral instrument, and he too
often treated it as such. This failing is seen particularly in the Mass
in D, "Fidelio," and the Ninth Symphony. Yet he showed in the song-cycle,
"To the Absent Loved-one," a knowledge of the art of Italian song and the
principles of _bel canto_ that accompanied German taste and sentiment, as
also in his most famous song "Adelaide." In his great choral works and
in his opera he showed himself everywhere as the instrumental writer _par
excellence_. "Fidelio" is undoubtedly a masterpiece. The text has been
praised highly, but probably more on account of its noble subject than
dramatic treatment; for the interest stops with the great dungeon-scene.
As a drama it has the defects of operas in general of his time. Spoken
dialogue and separate solo and concerted numbers naturally prevent
dramatic unity and consistency of effect.

Undoubtedly the orchestra is the chief figure of the opera, dominating
constantly the scene. This, however, is as true of Wagner as of Beethoven.
"There is not an instrumental note that has not its passionate, dramatic
meaning; there is not an instrument that is not a party to the drama."
With the exception of the prisoners' chorus, the most impressive
passages of "Fidelio" are those in which the orchestra is openly master:
the overture No. III., the melodramas, the introduction to the air of
_Florestan_. The overture No. III. is the whole story of the agony and
the womanly devotion of Leonore in concise and tragic form; just as the
overtures to "Egmont" and "Coriolanus" are the summing up of the tragedies
of Goethe and Collin, although "Coriolanus" is undoubtedly derived
directly from Plutarch and Shakespeare. The force and the meaning of the
accompaniment is always in proportion with the degree of passion on the
stage. When _Pizarro_ meditates his vengeance and the orchestra mimics the
storm within his breast, it matters little that the voice of the singer
is drowned. And so the air of the delirious _Florestan_ is less thrilling
than the preceding prelude; and the oboe tells of his agony although he
himself cries it to the dungeon walls.

There is little or no doubt that when Beethoven wrote his Ninth Symphony,
he thought of Schiller's original conception, the ode to Freedom, and not
the altered and present version, the ode to Joy. To Beethoven, freedom
was the only joy; to him the universal freedom of loving humanity was
true religion: the brotherhood of man. That the singers rebelled against
the frightful difficulties of their task was nothing to him; he heard the
voices of a triumphant world, and he was not to be confined by individual
limitations. So in his mass in D, he thought not of the service of the
Roman Catholic church: he arrayed the human against the supernatural.
It is not church music so much as the direct, subjective expression of a
religious heart, which cannot be restrained by the barriers of mere form
and ritual. Some have argued seriously that because Beethoven was not
punctilious in the observance of the rites of the Church he was therefore
unfitted to celebrate in music her solemn service. Now whatever his
religious opinions were, whether he was deist or pantheist, there is no
doubt that he appreciated fully the dignity of his task and consecrated
all his energies to the performance of it. He meditated it most carefully,
as we know by his sketch-books. In 1818 he wrote a memorandum: "To compose
true religious music, it is necessary to consult the olden chorals in use
in monasteries"; and he added below: "Make once more the sacrifice of
all the petty necessities of life for the glory of thy art. God before
all!" In the manuscript is written over the _Kyrie_, "From the heart! May
it go back to the heart!" and over the _Dona Nobis, "Dona nobis pacem_.
Representing the inner and exterior peace."

It is idle to compare this Mass with the religious works of Palestrina
and Bach and to say that if Beethoven had been a devout Catholic or an
orthodox Lutheran his Mass would have been more thoroughly imbued with
religious feeling. In the first place it is necessary to define the word
"religious." Palestrina wrote in his peculiar style not because he was a
devout Catholic, but because his religious individuality found expression
in the methods of his time. Bach wrote his great Mass in a time when
counterpoint ruled in the music of the church and of the dance. Beethoven
was a man, not only of his time, but of the remaining years of this
century.

Now in this mass Beethoven wherever he is most imposing, he is intensely
dramatic, and when he follows tradition, he is least himself. Notice for
instance the change from the passionate entreaty that is almost a defiance
in the _Kyrie_ to the ineffable tenderness in the _Christe eleison_; the
wonderful setting of the _Incarnatus_ and the _Crucifixus_. On the other
hand, where Beethoven felt that it was his duty to follow the approved
formulas, as in certain passages of the _Credo_ that relate to the
communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, etc., we realize fully the
story of Schindler, who found the composer singing, shouting, stamping,
and sweating at his work; for although he was a master of the _fugato_,
the fugue was to him, apparently, not his natural mode of expression.
But von Bülow's commentary should not be forgotten: "The fugue is with
Beethoven the last and highest means of intensifying the expression of
emotions."

Again, the religious element in the music of Beethoven is not confined
to works which have a sacred text. The yearning after heavenly rest,
the discontent with the petty vanities of life, sublime hope and humble
thanksgiving, - these are not found exclusively in his works for the church
or in such a movement as the _canzona in moda lidico_ in the A minor
quartet Op. 132. The finale of the Ninth Symphony as well as movements in
the sonatas, the chamber-music and the symphonies are religious music in
the profoundest sense of the word.

And yet the great works of his last years have been decried and are
not now accepted by many. He himself was discontented with many of his
earlier compositions, and this self-depreciation does not seem the
singular yet not uncommon affectation of genius. In a letter written to
Ries in 1816 he declared that the death of his brother had impressed him
profoundly and influenced not only his character but his works. For a
time following he wrote but little; and then he pondered compositions
of gigantic proportions. The pianoforte ceased to accommodate itself to
his thoughts; the string quartet and the orchestra were constantly in
his mind. "The most exalted, the most wondrous, the most inconceivable
music," says Rubinstein, "was not written until after his total deafness.
As the seer may be imagined blind, that is, blind to his surroundings,
and seeing with the eyes of the soul, so the hearer may be imagined
deaf to all his surroundings and hearing with the hearing of the soul."
Deafness befriended him when it closed the doors of sense. It helped him
to turn from outward things, and find peace and consolation in the ideal
world of tones. The spiritual voices that he heard were the companions
of his solitude. He thus vindicated the true spirituality of music. The
deaf man justified its ancient, poetical significance. This inward life
accounts for his early inclination for instrumental music. The highly
developed forms gave wide range to his imagination, through the almost
unlimited resources of the orchestra, in compass, technical execution, and
tone-color.

While in his orchestral works Beethoven reveals all the tragic fire, and
dramatic strength of his nature, it is in his string quartets that he is
most spiritual and mystical. This is due, first, to the nature of the
four combined instruments, so pure and ethereal in their tone effects.

His friend Schuppanzigh, the violinist, complained to him that certain
passages in one of his quartets were impossible; and Beethoven replied:
"Do you believe that I think of a wretched violin, when the spirit speaks
to me and I write it down?" The last five quartets have been called
transcendental, even incomprehensible, on account of their strangeness and
obscurity. They are his last utterances, the mystical creations of a man
who neared the end of his life-tragedy. "The events in Beethoven's life,"
says Nohl, "were calculated more and more to liberate him heart and soul
from this world, and the whole composition of the quartets appears like a
preparation for the moment when the mind, released from existence here,
feels united with a higher being. But it is not a longing for death that
here finds expression. It is the heartfelt, certain, and joyful feeling
of something really eternal and holy, that speaks to us in the language
of a new dispensation. And even the pictures of this world, here to be
discerned, be they serious or gay, have this transfigured light, this
outlook into eternity." Spirituality is impressed on the eternal features
of the music: that is, the technical treatment of the four instruments.
The melodies move freely in a wide compass, the voices cross each other
frequently. Widely extended, open harmony is often employed, giving
wonderful etherealness and spirituality to the effect of the strings
by their thinness and delicacy of tone when thus separated by long
intervals between the several parts of the chords. Nor is the polyphonic
melodiousness of the voices abandoned, as in certain quartets of later
masters in which the treatment is more orchestral than is in keeping with
the character of the solo instruments.

And yet these great quartets are not even now accepted by certain men
of marked musical temperament and discriminating taste. They are called
"charcoal sketches"; they are erroneously regarded as draughts for
elaboration in orchestral form. Others shrug their shoulders and speak
compassionately of the deafness of Beethoven. But he was deaf when, in
directing the Seventh Symphony, he was obliged to follow the movements of
the first violin that he might keep his place; he was deaf when he thought
out the melodic freshness and elegance of the Eighth Symphony; and even
before the Heroic, the Fifth and the Pastoral he mourned his physical
infirmity in the celebrated letter to his brothers. In judging of the
masterpieces of the so-called third period it is not necessary to join the
cry of the critics like Fétis who complain of "the aberrations of a genius
that goes out in darkness," or to swell the chorus of wild enthusiasts
as Nohl and Lenz, who wrench the dictionary in the expression of their
delight. In the light of these great works all criticism is blind and
impotent.

In the cyclical forms of instrumental music, Beethoven is preëminent from
all points of view, formally, technically, aesthetically, and spiritually.
Moreover, there is a Shakesperian quality in his wonderful tone-poems.
Like the great poet he touches every chord of the heart and appeals to
the imagination more potently than other poets. Beethoven's creations,
like Shakespeare's, are distinguished by great diversity of character;
each is a type by itself. His great symphonies stand in as strong contrast
with each other as do the plays of Shakespeare with each other. Beethoven
is the least of a mannerist of all composers. "Each composition leaves
a separate image and impression on the mind." His compositions are
genuine poems, that tell their meaning to the true listener clearly and
unmistakably in the language of tones, a language which, however, cannot
be translated into mere words, as has often been attempted in the flowery
and fanciful effusions of various writers, like Wagner, Lenz, Marx, and
others, who waste labor and thought in trying to do the impossible.

In the Pantheon of art Beethoven holds a foremost place beside the great
poets and artists of all time, with Æschylus and Dante, Michael Angelo
and Shakespeare. Like these inspired men he has widened and ennobled
the mind and the soul of humanity. "In his last works," says Edward
Dannreuther, "he passes beyond the horizon of a mere singer and poet, and
touches upon the domain of the seer and prophet, where in unison with all
genuine mystics and ethical teachers he delivers a message of religious
love and resignation, and release from the world." Or as Wagner wrote,
"Our civilization might receive a new soul from the spirit of Beethoven's
music, and a renovation of religion which might permeate it through and
through."

[Illustration: Signature: John K. Paine.]

[Illustration: FRESCO IN VIENNA OPERA HOUSE.

From a photograph. Representing scenes from the Opera of Fidelio.]

[Illustration: FRANZ PETER SCHUBERT

_Reproduction of a lithograph portrait made by Kriehuber, of Vienna._]

[Illustration: Schubert]




[Illustration]

FRANZ PETER SCHUBERT


[Illustration]

Franz Peter Schubert was born in Vienna, January 31, 1797, and died there
November 19, 1828. The house in which Schubert was born is now Number 54
in the Nussdorfer Strasse, and the fact is recorded upon a marble tablet
over the door. His immediate ancestry were peasants. His father and
uncle came from Moravia to Vienna, and were schoolmasters there for many
years. His mother, Elizabeth Fitz, before her marriage, was in domestic
service as a cook. After her death in 1812 the elder Schubert married Anna
Klayenbök. By his first marriage he had fourteen children, of whom Franz
was the thirteenth; by the second marriage there were five children, two
of whom were living about 1880. The step-mother was an excellent mother
to Franz. Two of his elder brothers, Ignaz and Ferdinand, lived and died
as schoolmasters, like their father. It seems to have been an admirable
family; its members, so far as we know, were noted for conscientious
industry and integrity, and were affectionately devoted to one another.
It is clear that there was a love for music in the family, though we have
few details on this point. Ignaz and Ferdinand were taught the violin by
their father. The little Franz began of himself to pick out melodic themes
on an old piano much the worse for wear, and thought it a rare treat when
a friendly joiner's apprentice used now and then to take him to a piano
shop, where he was allowed to try his infant hands upon new and fine
instruments. At the age of seven he began to study the violin with his
father, and the piano with his brother Ignaz, then aged nineteen; but in
a very short time he had got quite beyond these teachers, and was sent to
the parish choir-master, Michael Holzer, for instruction in violin, piano,
organ, and thorough-bass, as well as in singing. But the astounded Holzer
soon found, as he said long afterward, "whenever I wished to teach him
anything fresh, he always knew it already." Holzer was fond of giving him
themes on which to extemporize, and used to exclaim with rapture that the
little fellow "had harmony at his fingers' ends."

Instances of precocity among musicians of genius are by no means rare. But
for precocity of the highest order, as well as for spontaneous exuberance
of musical originality, Schubert has probably been equalled by none save
Mozart. The world is familiar with the stories of Mozart found by his
father in the act of scrawling a piano concerto at four years of age, and
of his composing a symphony for full orchestra at eight. A piano sonata
in D major for four hands, which he wrote in his ninth year, is still
very commonly played, and is astonishing for its maturity of thought
and its complete mastery of the sonata form. There is no evidence of
the beginning of such work on Schubert's part at such an early age. His
fantasia for four hands was written when he was thirteen years old, and
his first recorded song, "Hagar's Lament," in the following year; but
there is reason for believing that he had before that time composed songs,
pieces for piano, and string quartettes. Before completing his eleventh
year he had come to be leading soprano singer and violin player in the
choir at the parish church of Lichtenthal, in Vienna. The next year he
obtained a situation as chorister in the Emperor's Chapel, and became a
pupil in the Imperial school known as the "Convict," a name derived not
from _convincere_, but from _convivere_, and implying that the members
or "convictors" were "messmates." It was but scant conviviality that
was allowed by the ignorant parsimony with which that somewhat famous
institution was managed. Those poor growing boys, with the wolfish
appetites belonging to their time of life, had but two wretched meals
daily and more than eight hours apart, while in the winter season their
benumbed fingers shrank from contact with the ice-like key-boards. How
often some promising lad may have succumbed to such a regimen, while
his death was piously ascribed to Providence, we are not informed. That
the effect upon Schubert's constitution was deleterious may readily be
believed. In one of the earliest of his letters that have been preserved,
dated November 24, 1812, we find him beseeching his brother for a few
kreutzers wherewith to get now and then a roll or some apples to keep off
starvation during the long exercises in the freezing schoolroom.

In the _Convict_ more or less instruction was given in history and
mathematics, French and Italian, drawing and writing. In such branches
as he studied, Schubert seems to have done fairly well, but as he went
on the tendency grew upon him to neglect everything else for the sake
of music. Instrumental music was elaborately studied, and symphonies
and overtures of Haydn, Mozart, and others were diligently practised
by an orchestra of boys, in which Schubert distinguished himself from
the first. Soon after his arrival in the school, the conductor of this
orchestra - a big boy, named Joseph von Spaun, afterward Baron and Member
of the Imperial Council, and well known as an amateur musician - remarked
how finely "the little fellow in spectacles" played; from which we may
infer that Schubert's near-sightedness dated from his childhood. After
a while the little fellow himself became first violin and often served
as conductor. A warm friendship grew up between Schubert and Spaun, who
presently discovered that the shy boy of twelve was already possessed by
an unappeasable rage for composition. His head was brimming over with
melodious thoughts, with which he would cover every scrap of music paper
that he could get hold of. But either the _Convict_ was niggardly in
its supply of writing materials no less than of food and fuel, or else
the needs of the new-comer were such as had never before been heard of;
for he could not get enough paper on which to jot down the daily flow
of musical ideas, nor was his scanty stock of copper coins sufficient
to procure sheets enough to meet his wants. Having made this discovery,
the kindly Spaun determined that his little friend should no longer
suffer from this kind of privation; and from that time forth Schubert's
consumption of music paper was astonishing. In April, 1810, he wrote the
four-hand fantasia for piano, probably the earliest of his compositions
that is still preserved. It fills thirty-two closely written pages, and
contains a dozen movements, each ending in a different key from that in
which the piece begins. "Hagar's Lament," written in March, 1811, is
the earliest of his songs still preserved. Perhaps it ought rather to
be called a nondescript vocal piece, or an attempt at a song-cycle; it
comprises twelve numbers, with singular and sometimes irrelevant changes
of key, and covers twenty-eight pages. In spite of its fragmentary and
inorganic character, it bears the unmistakable stamp of genius. From the
outset, whatever his faults, Schubert was always free from the fault of
which Schiller complains that it fetters so many of us poor mortals: he
was never guilty of being commonplace. Whatever came from him was sure to
be something that no one else would have thought of, and it was sure to
be rich in beauty. In view of this, the spontaneity of his creativeness
was almost incredible, and fully justifies the comparison with Mozart.
This same year saw the production of two other vocal pieces, a second
piano fantasia, a string quartet, and a quintet-overture, - to mention
only those that have survived. Doubtless many writings of that early time
were neglected and lost. Schubert seldom showed much interest in a work
of his own after it was finished, for his attention was absorbed in fresh
composition. But he had a methodical habit of dating his works and signing
them "Frz. Schubert, _mpia_," i.e. _manu propria_; and this habit has
been helpful to his biographers in studying the progress of his artistic
labors. The list for 1812 is remarkable for this half-starved boy of
fifteen, containing as it does an overture for full orchestra, two string
quartets, and a sonata for piano, violin, and viola, besides other works
for piano and strings.

But the list for 1813 begins to seem portentous. Here comes the first
symphony (in D; four movements), an octet for wind instruments, three
string quartets, a third piano fantasia, thirty-four minuets, a cantata
for his father's birthday, and about thirty other vocal pieces, including
canons, terzets, and songs for a single voice. Besides all this he began
to set to music Kotzebue's opera "Des Teufels Lustschloss," which he
completed in the following year. In looking over the vocal pieces, one
observes an almost unbroken succession of about a dozen with words by
Schiller; and this illustrates one of Schubert's ways of doing things.
When he happened to turn over the leaves of a volume of poetry, verses
that pleased him would become straightway clothed in melody; they would
sing themselves in his mind, often in all their concrete fullness, with
superb accompaniments, noble in rhythm and rich in wondrous harmonies.
If paper happened to be within reach the song would at once be written
down, and the inspired youth would turn to some other poem, with like
results. What in the ordinary reader fond of poetry is simply an emotional
reaction of keen indescribable pleasure was in his case a sudden thrill
of musical creation. Thus we are told that on a July evening in 1826,
after a long walk, the thirsty Schubert strolled into a beer-garden and
found a friend sitting at one of the tables with a volume of Shakespeare.
After he had laid down the book Schubert picked it up and alighted upon
the song in Cymbeline, "Hark, hark, the lark!" The beautiful melody with



Online LibraryVariousFamous Composers and their Works, Vol. 2 → online text (page 14 of 32)