Famous Composers and their Works, Vol. 2 online

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importance, however, are several works with orchestra, undeservedly
neglected, Rückert's "Advent" and "New Year Songs," Hebbel's gloomy
"Nachtlied," and especially the touching "Requiem for Mignon" from
Gœthe's "Wilhelm Meister." Less distinction is attributed to the four
great ballads for chorus, soli and orchestra, Uhland's "Glück von
Edenhall," "des Sänger's Fluch," "der Königssohn," and Geibel's "Vom
Pagen und der Königstochter." By having these ballads arranged in a
more extended, dramatic form, Schumann impaired the work of the poet;
moreover he succeeded only partially in his musical setting, weak portions
predominating over the more effective and even fine passages, which
are by no means wanting. The Requiem and the Mass, both for chorus and
orchestra without solos, the latter acknowledged as decidedly superior,
were composed in feverish haste, and give little proof of his ability to
reveal his religious feelings by means of great choruses or to adapt his
music to the Catholic service. In these late years he tried his powers in
almost every field of composition, even applying the melodramatic form to
poems, which are recited to a pianoforte accompaniment ("Schön Hedwig,"
"die Flüchtlinge," "der Haideknabe.")

[Illustration: CLARA SCHUMANN.

From a photograph by Hanfstängl, Munich.]

There yet remain several great works which have helped to make Schumann's
name immortal. In the poem of "Paradise and the Peri," forming a part of
Thomas Moore's "Lalla Rookh," Schumann found a subject particularly suited
to his individuality, a touching romantic fairy tale with rich Oriental
scenery and pictures of strongly contrasted vivid colors. Schumann changed
the poem in some places and made a few additions of his own, but did
not in the least impair its beauty or coherency. The epic portions are
attributed to different solo voices and sometimes even to the chorus. The
orchestral accompaniment is very elaborate, demanding great care for an
adequate performance. All these scenes in India, Africa and at the gates
of Eden required a sensuous, yet refined instrumentation to portray them
in their peculiar colors. Orchestra and the human voice were called upon
to furnish the truest and most touching expression for the varied emotions
of every number, which might be warlike and thrilling or tender and sweet,
exuberant with joy or hopeless with despair, illustrating the charm of
a blooming scenery or the gloom, suffering and death brought by the
plague. The solos demand singers with beautiful, well-trained voices, and
a thorough comprehension of all the musical and poetic beauties. A more
brilliant and impressive soprano solo part than the Peri does not exist in
all concert literature. There are also parts assigned to a second soprano,
alto, tenor and two bass voices, the solos alternating with concerted
numbers of extreme beauty. Of the chorus numbers the finales of parts one
and three are on a large plan and have a jubilant and highly spirited
character. Not less beautiful are the smaller numbers, each so wonderfully
adapted to its particular situation and mood. Indeed one cannot speak
too highly of all this music, and even one who does not sympathize with
some monotonous portions in the third part, or an occasional deviation
from correct declamation, will admit that this work is indeed the finest
repository of the wealth, beauty and peculiarity of Robert Schumann's
musical genius, in a field in which he has no superior and hardly a rival.
It inaugurated indeed a new form of secular chorus music, more modern in
spirit and freer in the whole arrangement than the oratorio proper, more
dramatic than the cantata, and of greater refinement than the opera.

"The Pilgrimage of the Rose" cannot claim a similar high position.
Arranged for Schumann by Horn after a poem of Pfarrius, it deals with a
conventional story of a weakly, sentimental character, in spite of a few
highly poetical incidents, and is unduly extended. Yet the music contains
a most beautiful chorus for male voices with horns, and charming mixed
choruses for female and mixed voices, their tones being either soft and
mellow or as bright and spirited as anything written in much younger and
happier years. The solos are, however, more monotonous, the famous duet
of the miller and his wife being one of the few exceptions. It is also
doubtful whether Schumann did right in arranging the original piano
accompaniment for a whole orchestra.

The second immortal work, by which Schumann has enriched vocal concert
literature, is his music to scenes from Gœthe's "Faust." Part I. consists,
after the weak overture, of the scenes in the garden, the dome, and before
the Mater dolorosa, from the first part of Gœthe's tragedy; the scene
in the garden is distinguished by a peculiarly fine musical dialogue
and orchestral accompaniment, that in the dome by the addition of an
impressive Dies iræ. The more important scenes, however, divided in two
parts, are from Gœthe's second play: "Ariel's song in the morning dawn,"
"Sunrise," "Faust's monologue," "Scene of the four grey women," "Faust's
blinding, death and glorification." For this mystic poetry Schumann has
found a sublime musical language, which revealed to thousands the beauty
of Gœthe's verses, and the hidden meaning of his thoughts. The fantastic
scene of the grey women, Faust's farewell song, the dialogue between
Mephisto and his Lemures, digging Faust's grave, the latter's death
followed by a wonderful postlude, are extremely impressive. Yet the climax
is reached in the half-religious, allegorical third part, where saints and
angels sing, amongst them Gretchen as "una poenitentium." Here are true
gems of musical sublimity, comparable with nothing else in the works of
Schumann or any other composer. The incorporeal world of spirits becomes
almost visible through the music. The final chorus in eight parts shows in
its solemn beginning a marvellous mastery of contrapuntal art, while the
allegro on the "eternal womanly" perhaps in neither of the two different
settings which Schumann has written, fully reaches his high intentions,
and is unduly extended. There are many solo and concerted numbers, yet
Faust remains the central figure. The sublime music accorded to him makes
his part unique, approaches nearest the Christ in Bach's "Passion," and
demands a noble voice, technical perfection, and the finest shading in the
spiritual expression of every phrase. The orchestral part, too, demands a
careful preparation. Schumann also composed many numbers in which Gœthe
did not prescribe the assistance of music, and if it is true that as a
whole this work has a fragmentary character, one must not forget that
Schumann originally intended it for the concert stage, and as such it
will forever remain one of the noblest tasks for great choral societies.
However it cannot be denied that here too a full enjoyment of all the
musical depth and beauty is only possible in connection with the German
text, with the peculiar melody, rhythm and color of Gœthe's diction.

Of a somewhat fragmentary character is also the music to Byron's
"Manfred." This dramatic poem with its wealth of thought and almost
unbearable gloom was never intended for theatrical purposes; it has
a kindred spirit with Faust and even with Schumann's own nature, and
certainly no composer could have entered deeper into this poetical
glorification of melancholy and despair. Schumann wrote the music under
such conditions of mind that it could only come from the depths of his
heart. The overture ranks among his greatest productions as a highly
impressive picture of a passionate mental struggle, rich in new orchestral
effects and finenesses of expression. Besides a lovely entr'acte the
many melodramas force even upon those who generally are opposed to this
form, the confession that Schumann was one of the greatest musical
psychologists; while the few vocal numbers (except perhaps the song of the
spirits of Ahrimanes and the Requiem) have less significance. One feels
this especially in theatrical performances, which, although not intended
by either poet or composer, impress us still deeper than the usual
reading, singing and playing in concert form.

Already in 1842, Schumann had confessed that German opera was the subject
of his daily prayer, it being a field in which much could be accomplished.
This longing took a more decided shape in Dresden, where the operatic
interest predominated. There he heard many new and old operas, watching
also the development of him who was destined to become the central figure
of modern musical dramatic art. Schumann's relation to Wagner's personal
and artistic individuality and his opinion of the latter's earlier works
cover a ground on which we hope the future will gain more information
than that afforded by the occasional remarks in Schumann's letters. He
had an irresistible desire to participate in the reform of the opera, and
has shown in his "Genoveva," at least his idea of the best solution of
the problem. He believed honestly in his ability to write dramatic music.
After searching a long while among old legends and stories, thinking
also of Nibelungen, Wartburg Contest and similar subjects, he decided in
favor of "Genoveva," already treated as tragedy by Tieck and Hebbel.
The painter-poet Reinick was invited to write a libretto, based mainly
on Hebbel's drama; his book not being satisfactory, Schumann applied to
Hebbel, who, however, politely declined. The composer, being thus forced
to arrange it himself, not only combined the two different plots and
styles of Tieck and Hebbel, but added new features, and omitted others
which would have greatly increased the sympathy for his play and heroine.
Musically he followed Weber in his last operatic experiment "Euryanthe,"
closely uniting words, music and action, and connecting the single
scenes into one coherent act. But he substituted for the old form of the
recitative the more melodious, but certainly more monotonous, undramatic
arioso. There are four acts and four principal parts of contrasting
individuality. There is no lack of passionate or tender emotional scenes,
of great ensemble numbers, or of scenic display; nor does the lyric
element unduly predominate, but in Schumann's mode of treatment even the
dramatic speech assumes a lyric character, and with all the variety of
moods, all the great single effects and the large number of beautiful
music pieces (prayer, hunting song, love duet, etc.), one does not feel
able to retain a hearty, active interest till the end of the last act.
Instead of an impressive picture of human passions, sufferings and joys,
we have only a musical illustration of an old story which we liked to
read in childhood. Schumann entertained a very high opinion of his work,
saying that it did not contain one bar of undramatic music. He erred, but
nevertheless "Genoveva" remains a most interesting attempt of one of our
greatest masters to solve the operatic problem, an attempt noble in its
sincerity, rich in musical beauty and fine psychological detail, bright
in color, yet of more of the style of oil-painting than the al fresco
required by the stage. Long after the unsuccessful performances in Leipsic
the opera has been revived in many German cities, still finding to-day
a limited, but highly interested audience of those who love its author
from his immortal masterworks in other fields. At least the magnificent
overture will perpetuate its memory as a favorite concert number all over
the world.

Thus Schumann has cultivated every field of his art, not with equal
success, but always with sincere earnestness of purpose and a noble
ambition to widen its domain, and to refine its mode of expression.
How original was he in its treatment of melody, rhythm, harmony,
instrumentation, and of the relation of music to poetry, in the
combination of old forms with a new spirit and in his endeavors to find
new forms. Closely connected in spirit and form with Bach, Beethoven and
Schubert, he was himself so rich and original that he became a great
influence upon younger representatives of his art, even on the other
side of the Rhine and the British channel, though less so in southern
countries. Some younger composers were particularly successful as his
followers in some special field, while others showed his great influence
in the shaping or coloring of many of their best known and otherwise most
original productions. His music will be forever an inexhaustible source of
pure enjoyment for earnest music lovers, and of the most valuable studies
for young aspiring composers of any nationality.

There was however another means by which Schumann exercised a far-reaching
influence, namely, his literary and critical work. His writings, collected
by himself and published in two volumes, belong among the most instructive
and enjoyable books on music. Yet one must not forget the time when they
were written. Since then we have become accustomed to many new ideas
and names, while many once prominent men and once famous compositions
are already forgotten. Still, even if many articles of Schumann are
interesting more in a historical sense, we cannot help being impressed
everywhere by his pure, noble, enthusiastic spirit, his high opinion of
the dignity of art, his extensive knowledge of a general character, and
by his fine taste and clear judgment. He was as far from cold scientific
theories as from mystic philosophical comprehensions. He was fond of
an epigrammatic style, abounding in exclamations and beautiful poetic
pictures. Indeed there is undeniably a similarity of style between his
earlier writings and compositions.

Schumann's aim was to promote all high interests of art, a better
knowledge of old masters, a loving appreciation of any merits of
contemporaneous composers and the preparation of new fields for coming
talents. How happy is he, when permitted to praise enthusiastically! how
rare his ability, to so describe the beauty of a composition that we
become really acquainted with its form and spirit! Yet he is not always
enthusiastic, but sometimes quietly instructive, sarcastic and witty, or
passionately angry, as in his one-sided, yet comprehensible attacks on
Meyerbeer, Italian opera, or light piano music after the fashion of Herz.
But it shows a generous and noble character that he, a rare productive
genius, found almost his greatest pleasure in discovering new talents;
that even after many years' retirement from all journalistic work, he once
more raised his enthusiastic, prophetic voice to introduce Brahms to the
musical world! Nor was he narrow-minded regarding nationality; no Pole
could ever write of Chopin with more enthusiasm, no Frenchman of Berlioz
with a keener appreciation than Schumann did, and how heartily did he
welcome Gade the Dane, Bennett the Englishman, Verhulst the Hollander!
He calls art a fugue, in which all the civilized nations participate
alternately. His articles also abound in most remarkable statements of
a general nature. Of a true work of art he demands a spiritual meaning
and a form corresponding to the composer's individuality. "Music impels
nightingales to utter love-songs, pug-dogs to yelp." "An equipped eye
sees stars where others only clouds and shadows." "The critic must hasten
past those who are sinking and fight for the men of the future." He
ridicules those who "on a ladder try to measure a colossus like Beethoven
with yard-sticks in their hands." In his reviews on new publications he
confined himself to instrumental music, with a few exceptions. The famous
article on Schubert's symphony in C has hardly more lasting value than
the one on Berlioz, with the many significant remarks on the power of
orchestral instruments for expression and description. But his many high
praises of Mendelssohn honor him most. When once told that Mendelssohn
was not true to him, he refused to believe it and always kept his
memory as sacred as that of Schubert. Yet in speaking of their mutual
relations Schumann confessed that he could learn much from Mendelssohn,
but Mendelssohn could also learn something from him, and that, if he had
been brought up in the same happy circumstances as his contemporaries, he
would surpass them one and all. In Dresden Schumann kept a little theatre
journal, in which he wrote short notes on old and new pieces; interesting
remarks just like those in "Meister Raro's, Florestan's and Eusebius'
Denk- und Dichtbüchlein" or the well known "Rules for young people."


From an engraving by F. Schauer of Berlin, after the medallion in relief
by Prof. Rietschel.]

Aside from all musical interest, one may regard Schumann's writings as
valuable contributions to literature emanating from an author of the
finest artistic sense, a master of his language and of the most wonderful
expressions for the subtleties of poetic or musical feelings. It would
not be right not to mention here his many letters, which so far have
been published in several collections and which are as instructive for
the musician as enjoyable for the general reader. They help greatly to
understand his individuality as man and artist. By his literary writings
Schumann has perhaps exercised directly and indirectly as great an
influence as by his musical works. Yet it is the latter, by which he
will live for ever as one who has given his life-blood to his art and
enriched our literature by masterworks of absolute beauty, greatness
and originality, and who, even where he erred or made unsuccessful
experiments, is worthy of our sincere sympathy because of the honesty
of his purpose. Boundless is our gratitude and veneration for him whose
genius will continue to reach thousands of new admirers that will honor in
him a peer of those who are the corner stones of musical art.

[Illustration: Louis Kelterborn]


Fac-simile musical manuscript No. 5 of Schumann's Ritornelles, for male
chorus, in Canon form.]

[Illustration: ROBERT FRANZ

_Reproduction of a photograph from life, made in 1891, by C. Höpfner of



In the study of the history of musical art, nothing can strike our mind
more impressively than the observation of its coherency, of the connection
between the different phases in the development of each particular field
and between its most prominent representatives; but most striking is this
impression when we become aware of an influence directly felt through
generations. When about a generation ago the conservative Professor
Bischoff sarcastically threw the term "music of the future" into the
world with reference to Wagner's music dramas, the master accepted it as
a watchword, and in his pamphlet "The art work of the future," laid down
the hopes and ideals which he strove to realize. Numberless times since
then has this phrase been used everywhere, and those who, standing in the
midst of the movement, wanted to become clear as to its true meaning,
had at least to admit that all great music has ever been "music of the
future," whether its value has been recognized by contemporaries or not.
But most eminently it has seemed to apply to the great master, Johann
Sebastian Bach. Of him, who died more than fourteen decades ago, it could
have been said, that only a very remote future would do his works justice,
for even to-day they must still be regarded as "music of the future," and
the influence which they were destined to exert upon the development of
musical art in various fields, is still far from having reached its end.
It is inspiring to see how the thorough understanding and appreciation
of this genius, and of the wealth, depth and greatness of his style, are
progressing in the different countries, and just as inspiring to examine
his extraordinary influence upon the more recent epochs of musical
history. While some composers tried to follow him in his own fields,
as Mendelssohn in the oratorio or Rheinberger in compositions for the
organ, others, as Schumann and Brahms in instrumental works, have adopted
his wonderful polyphonic and contrapuntal art, showing his influence
just in those productions, which otherwise exhibit most strongly their
own individuality. Even the revolutionary Wagner held Bach's genius in
veneration, and paid a noble tribute to it in his Mastersingers. Indeed,
considering these facts, an overwhelming sense of admiration and gratitude
must fill our hearts, particularly in thinking of the great master of
modern German song to whom this article is devoted.

Not an imitator, but a worthy successor of Bach, in a field, the highest
cultivation of which has been preserved to modern time as one of its
noblest tasks, is Robert Franz, whose life and works may perhaps awaken a
double interest, if viewed in the light of the above introductory remarks.
In outward appearance this life was, perhaps, even more quiet and simple
than that of Bach. Franz's soul and mind had always turned toward the
inner world, just as in his songs he studiously avoided all ostentation
and meaningless brilliancy. There is indeed a significant harmony between
his life and songs, the latter being the outgrowth of the former, not
occasionally written down from a vain ambition to compose, nor as a
pastime or fashion, but as the fulfilment of his life's task, to which his
genius had committed him.

Robert Franz was born June 28, 1815, in Halle, the old university town
in the centre of Germany, the birthplace of Handel. Here Franz has
remained all his life. He did not descend from a musical family, but from
plain, honest, business people; nor were there any direct early proofs
of his musical genius, as only in his fourteenth year he was given an
opportunity, on an antique, spinet-like pantaleon (or large dulcimer) to
make his first practical experiments, at the same time trying, unaided,
with a touching perseverance, to find out the secrets of musical
notation. However, he had received his first musical impressions when very
young. At two years of age he had been amply impressed by Luther's choral,
"A Mighty Fortress is Our Lord," played by trombones from the steeple of
a church at the celebration of the third centenary of the Reformation.
At home his father was accustomed to sing the old church and folk songs.
The effect of these early impressions on his young musical soul was soon
obvious, for he says that in school he had an irresistible desire to add a
second voice to the melodies which were being practised. His unsolicited
assistance was looked upon as a crime by the teacher, who punished him
for it repeatedly. It was the mother who first lent a helping hand to the
boy's outspoken talent and inclination, and who succeeded in persuading
his father to buy the already mentioned pantaleon. Naturally the
instruction which young Robert received, first from a relative and then by
nearly all the different music teachers of Halle in succession, was not of
much value. He achieved more by his own impulses, practising chorals with
friends, eagerly studying the organ and using every opportunity to play
accompaniments, as for instance, in the choral rehearsals of the famous
Franke Asylum. There he became acquainted with the music of Mozart, Haydn,
and his great fellow citizen, Handel, and there he was first fired with
the spirit of composition. Unadvised and without the least theoretical
preparation he yielded to his desire to compose, neglecting even his
school duties in favor of this impulse, the results of which, however, he
has declared utterly worthless. It was difficult for him, especially in
his own home, to brave all depreciation of his talents and to overcome all
opposition; only the firm belief in his artistic calling enabled him to
fight the battle through victoriously.

Franz was twenty years old, when at last his parents consented to his
thorough professional education. The Leipsic Conservatory not having been
founded, the music school of the famous theorist and composer, Friedrich
Schneider, in Dessau, was at that time held in highest esteem, and there
Franz was sent. The rather patriarchal, old fashioned, pedantic spirit
which prevailed in this school, could certainly offer to the young
aspiring student substantial knowledge, though it could do but little to
develop his poetic nature. Yet he learned a great deal there, and laid
a most excellent foundation to the eminent theoretical knowledge and
mastery in the strict contrapuntal and polyphonic style by which he later
won such a high distinction.

Besides this, the ever fresh impulses of his own nature and the inspiring

Online LibraryVariousFamous Composers and their Works, Vol. 2 → online text (page 28 of 32)