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intercourse with congenial fellow students helped to mature his own
musical individuality. A peculiar influence is attributed to a certain
Reupsch, whom Franz describes as quite extraordinary in improvisations on
the organ and in the treatment of chorals. Nothing has ever been published
of all the works (consisting of pianoforte sonatas, a mass, etc.) which
were composed during these years. Franz felt that his nature would lead
him upon an independent path of his own, but his instinct had not yet
found this sphere. After two years of study he returned home, only to
meet with new opposition and mistrust in his talent. No position was
offered him, no compositions appeared in print; and it was then that the
sympathy of his faithful mother remained his best comfort. In the circles
of cultivated dilettanti he learned that the intrinsic value of a work of
art is found in its inner significance, and that its formal value, if it
be a really artistic production, should be a matter of course. This is the
very idea for which Robert Schumann was then fighting, and which men like
Wagner, Liszt and Berlioz have made the principle of their artistic creed.
Yet all true art rests on the closest harmony between both elements,
where the form is the necessary and most perfect expression of the ideal
contents, the two forming a perfect union. What a blessing was it that
Franz in this way found rich opportunities to become acquainted with old
Italian music, and with the three great German masters, Bach, Schubert and
Schumann, whose works have most essentially influenced the moulding of his
own musical language.

He gave such close study to their works that his nervous system was
overwrought, and becoming his own severest critic he destroyed all his
former compositions. Courage and confidence seemed to leave him and for
years his production ceased. This did not prevent him from striving to
acquire a higher general education, however, and he applied himself
especially to the study of philosophy and literature, availing himself of
the rich opportunities afforded by the University of his city. At last a
short dream of love brought forth the music of his soul, his first songs,
which came forth from the depths of his heart. This was in 1843. Schumann,
to whom he sent the songs, honored him with a most hearty recognition of
his talent, and was helpful in finding a publisher. But Franz's nervous
condition and ominous, early developing auricular sufferings obliged him
to take an extended trip to Tyrol and Italy. The journey strengthened
him so much that after his return he was finally able to devote with
enthusiasm his rich talents untrammelled to the cultivation of his new
field. Others followed Schumann in their sincere recognition of our
composer's talent, among whom were Gade, Mendelssohn, and especially
Liszt, who was so often the noble champion for new talents, and who wrote
one of his finest pamphlets in praise of Franz's songs. Wagner, who
certainly never could be accused of being too liberal in his praise of
others, was not to be outdone. In a letter to Uhlig he says he will never
forget that Franz was, after Liszt, the first German musician who had done
him justice.

[Illustration: ROBERT FRANZ.

Reproduction of an engraving made by A. Weger from a daguerreotype.]

Besides some compositions for the church, and a few part songs, Franz has
confined himself to the cultivation of the German "Lied" with a wonderful
concentration of all his faculties, reaching the highest perfection,
richness, depth, and beauty in this one _genre_, as Chopin did in his
field of pianoforte compositions. As regards his practical occupation in
Halle, he held several positions, with which he had been entrusted soon
after his first success as a composer, being organist at the St. Ulrici
church and director of the singing Academy and the symphony concerts, as
well as at the University. However, his increasing nervous and auricular
maladies obliged him in 1868 to resign all these offices and to live from
the limited earnings of his compositions. A generous gift in money started
by the always noble minded Liszt, and supported by admirers in Germany,
England and America, released him from all further anxieties. Thus the
dear master, invalid in body but young in spirit, lived in retirement
in his native city, with his wife, Maria Hinrichs, slowly winning the
recognition of the musical world. Letters received from him in the summer
of 1892 still showed an unusually bright and active mind, so that the
announcement of his death, which occurred Oct. 24th in Halle, came as a
sad surprise. Many an honor has been conferred upon him, the title of a
royal music director, of an honorary doctor of the Halle University, and
Bavarian and Prussian orders. Yet greater than all these is the honor of
living forever through his works in the hearts of his people, and in the
high esteem of all students of music and its history.

The collection of Robert Franz's songs may be well compared to a lovely
garden, most carefully adorned with beautiful flowers of every variety,
each of which attracts and deserves our special and close attention.
Indeed, whoever takes pains, in an earnest and loving mind to review these
songs one by one, and to penetrate into their peculiar nature, style and
beauty, will be surprised to observe that the composer has allowed not
one to be published without having perfected it in every detail. Even the
simplest folk-song had to be a true work of art, worthy of his name and
genius, before he would send it upon its wanderings through the world.
Another significant fact, which also does him great credit, is that each
song impresses us most forcibly as being born out of a deep, sympathetic
comprehension of the peculiar genius of the poet, and the language,
sentiment, and spirit of the poem. There is no conventionality, no
mannerism, no following of certain patterns, which so often characterize
ancient and modern manufacturers of songs. Every number presents, in
closest harmony with the text of the poem, an individual musical organism,
bearing the mark of Franz's artistic individuality, but forming with the
poem such a perfect union that we do not wish to separate the music from
the words, nor are we able to fully enjoy either independent of the other.
The music of his songs is not of such a character as to detract from the
beauty and interest of the poem. The musical setting is designed mainly to
enhance the charm of the poetic gem, and display it to best advantage.

[Illustration: [Music]

Fac-simile of musical manuscript and letter from Robert Franz.]

There are thousands of songs which please superficial singers and
audiences without awakening the least question as to the worth of the
poem and its author. This is not true of Franz's songs, however, and
never has a song writer succeeded better than he in doing his chosen poets
and poems full justice. He did not use them simply to serve his musical
purpose, but adapted himself to them in a way which might be called
self-abnegation of the highest form. It is this characteristic, together
with his use of the old contrapuntal and polyphonic art, that gives
Franz's compositions a classic aspect. His aim and task was to find a
formally clear, distinct expression for every kind of poetical sentiment,
and one hardly errs in saying that Franz has outgrown the romanticist
in himself and donned the superior garb of classical art. The musical
construction of his songs is firm and perfectly developed, and allows
no room for misunderstanding or individual conceptions. His ideas are
expressed fully and clearly, and although the general impression produced
may continue to move us, it is brought to a complete, satisfactory
conclusion by the last note. One feels that here a superior artistic
spirit, an eminent musical genius reigns; a genius drawing inspiration
from the purest musical source, guided by high literary and æsthetic
culture, scorning imitation and cheap, tawdry effects, but in each new
song striving for strength, character and perfect harmony with the poet
whose work his music honors.

It will readily be understood why the creator of such beautiful works of
art should be unwilling to make the piano accompaniment play a subordinate
part. However, he does not raise it to the principal position, as does
Wagner, in his latest music dramas, but melodically, rhythmically,
harmonically, interweaves it with the vocal strain in such a way that each
part completes the other, both forming a wonderful unity. In fact, as
regards this intimate and organic connection of song and accompaniment,
Franz hardly has his equal among the great song composers, notwithstanding
many splendid instances of this combining power found in the songs of
Schubert, Mendelssohn, Schumann and Brahms. Quite often Franz's song
accompaniments are written in such a manner that each part forms a
beautiful song by itself, so that one is almost tempted to sing one of the
inner voices; while sometimes the accompaniment is even written strictly
in four parts, making it seem like a choral composition. This leads us to
the cardinal features of Franz's style, and shows his close relationship
to Sebastian Bach and to the already mentioned old hymns and folk songs.
August Saran has treated this subject most thoroughly in a very remarkable
book culminating in the statement, "Robert Franz's song is in its whole
nature and musical structure nothing else but the old German folk-song,
enriched and idealized by the peculiar expressiveness of modern music."
Those old folk-songs had once reached their highest development on sacred
ground in the protestant Choral as it became so wonderfully perfected in
Bach's polyphonic and contrapuntal art. We find that Franz has applied
this same art and spirit to modern lyric songs, although at the same time
he fully recognizes what all the later musical epochs have contributed in
the way of greater delicacy or intensity of expression, richer, and freer
use of the rhythms, new harmonic modulations, a closer regard for the
intelligent phrasing of poetic words, and a richer and far more varied and
effective technique of the pianoforte.

As regards his style Franz is thus an absolutely modern composer, else
his songs would be mere scholarly experiments, having no inner life. But
his melodies are evidently designed for a polyphonic treatment. They
need to be supplemented by other parts, not merely by a simple chord
accompaniment, although this is also used occasionally. Yet with all
these finesses, and the difficulties of such a complicated style, most of
the songs have quite a popular character in the noblest meaning of the
word. Only a small number are what the Germans term "durchcomponirt,"
(composed through), a large majority are in the strophe form. Yet the
composer understands just how in the most wonderful, scarcely perceptible,
and often extremely delicate manner, to do justice to the changing moods
of the different strophes. Quite a number of the compositions are true
folk-songs, the poems being old German, Suabian, Swiss, Bohemian and
Scotch.

Franz's favorites among prominent poets, are Heine, Lenau, Eichendorff,
Burns and Osterwald, while secondary are Goethe, Rückert, Geibel, Möricke
and Roquette. The subjects treated by him are many and varied; there are
many beautiful songs of nature in various deeply affecting, concentrated
moods, songs of night and stars, of water and waves, weather and storm,
autumn and spring, forest and heath; also songs of love in all the phases
which a heart may experience, from the first sweet, chaste dawn, to the
exultation of final happiness; the woe of a broken heart, and of parting
and death; nor are merry, dancing or humorous songs missing. Yet there are
no ballads.

How many remarkable, strong, or delicate features could be singled out of
this wealth of lyric music, but how much easier and more directly could
this be done with the songs themselves before one! The sharp eye or ear
would then be delightfully surprised by many strange and new details.
They would meet with unusual keys and modulations, intentional indefinite
fluctuations between major and minor keys, rhythmical finesses and
curious combinations such as a 7/4 time or the periodical change of the
time, impressive declamatory effects, an effective use of syncopations,
sequences, inversions, cadences, characteristic figures and ornaments.
And this never for purely musical purposes, but for the sake of a better
expression of the poetic meaning. Would that these lines might help to
induce many readers to study closely the songs of Robert Franz! They would
then experience delightful surprises with nearly every song, and their
hearts would be filled more and more with music of a new and independent
style, each tone of which has life and meaning, and helps to arouse one's
sympathy for a new, though limited, world of beauty and ideal contents.
But never will the student's surprise and pleasure be greater than when
meeting with songs such as are already familiar and dear to him in other
famous settings. For none of these need to step aside and shun comparison
with their more celebrated rivals. For illustration, his "Restless Love,"
by Goethe, certainly has not a less passionate melody than Schubert's
setting of the same subject, while the brilliant accompaniment of the
former is decidedly superior to Schubert's. "When Midnight Dreams"
("Allnächtlich im Traume") is a worthy rival of Schumann's fine song, and
much better than Mendelssohn's conventional setting of Heine's poem. It
is difficult to decide which deserves the preference, Franz's or Brahms'
setting of the beautiful slumber-song "Ruhe Süssliebchen" from Tieck's
"Schöne Magelone;" though quite dis-similar, both hold high places among
the songs of these two masters. Especially interesting is the comparison
of those, the poems of which, mostly written by Heine, have also inspired
Schumann to some of his very finest productions. These are the songs
which are recommended to all who desire to study the strong individuality
and significance of Robert Franz as a composer of songs. In such a rich
collection it is impossible to specify the merits of each song; for all
appeal equally to our sympathy and attention.

[Illustration: ROBERT FRANZ]

The adequate rendering of Franz's songs lies both with the singer and the
accompanist. Most of them demand a well trained voice of a fine musical
quality, and often of a wide compass, an unusual degree of general musical
education, a clear poetical comprehension of text and music, and a most
distinct enunciation and intelligent phrasing. The accompaniment calls for
a very clever player, well schooled in Bach's polyphonic style, who has
a singing tone and who, in the whole conception and delivery, is in full
harmony with the singer. Nearly all of these songs can be well rendered
and enjoyed in an English translation, if only the translator be guided
in his work by the utmost regard for the melos and rhythm of the poem and
its music. Franz's songs are still far too little known, although in the
old world, and we are proud to say in the new also, some enthusiastic
admirers, singers, musicians and writers have done a great deal for their
introduction. They are everywhere respected, but unduly neglected in vocal
concerts as well as in our homes, where their influence would be felt
still more. May these lines help to win them many true and lasting friends.

There remains still another highly important musical achievement of Robert
Franz to be noted, - a series of works through which he has deserved the
lasting thanks of all earnest friends of musical art, and which will
for all time connect his name with those of our greatest masters of the
oratorio, Bach and Handel. Before him Mozart had made a similar attempt
with the music of Handel, and Mendelssohn with that of Bach, but neither
achieved a complete success. These old masters did not fully write out the
accompaniments to their great works in the form which has become the rule
with their successors, but rather left them as outlines, a mere figured
bass indicating the accompaniment, which the composer either played or
personally supervised. The old art of playing from a figured bass has
in our time become almost obsolete; besides our ears have through the
wonderful development of instrumental music become accustomed to new
sounds and orchestral effects, which are now absolutely essential to us.
Also, some instruments have since been discarded and others modified. It
was an extremely difficult task to complete this accompaniment, which was
merely suggested, and arrange it for our modern orchestral instruments,
at the same time retaining the spirit and style of the old great masters.
It required a thorough historical and theoretical knowledge, a fine
sense of the peculiar character of the different instruments and a
complete mastery of polyphonic and contrapuntal art, qualities found
only in a true musician, who was himself highly gifted as a composer.
Scholarly professors might perhaps have performed this feat in a merely
correct and antiquarian manner, but only a true musician could inspire
these accompaniments with the same life as the old masters would have
done had they lived at the present stage of musical art. It will be
easily understood that such an undertaking excited the most animated
criticism, which several times led Franz to defend his standpoint in very
interesting publications. Against such attacks by more or less famous and
learned musical writers he was warmly assisted by enthusiastic friends
and admirers in Germany, England and America, where Franz had early
found many marks of a high appreciation of his genius. However the most
gratifying reward for his labors is the fact that his arrangements of the
old masterworks are steadily coming into general use. Modern as is his
sentiment as a productive musician, he stands nearer to Bach and Handel
in style and spirit than any other modern composer. We know of none who
could have performed this great task more conscientiously, with a deeper
comprehension of the old art and with a more loving devotion than Robert
Franz. What he has achieved in this line secures him immortality not less
than his songs.

The most important of these arrangements are: Handel's "Messiah,"
"Jubilate," "l'Allegro il Pensieroso ed il Moderato," and many arias and
duets; Bach's "St. Matthew Passion," "Magnificat," "Christmas Oratorio,"
"Tragic Ode," and many cantatas and arias; Astorga's "Stabat Mater,"
Durante's "Magnificat," and quite a collection of old German chorals and
songs.

Considering, then, all that Franz has done for us, we bow in
admiration and thankfulness before a genius, who is one of the noblest
representatives of the latest musical epoch, and whose name is one of
the few worthy to continue the list of those masters whom we honor as
the corner stones of musical art. For it is not the size, but the ideal
significance and degree of perfection, which determines the greatness and
lasting value of a work of art. Whoever produces works of absolute beauty
and perfection, even in a minor field, deserves a place of honor amongst
the masters of all times.

[Illustration: Louis Kelterborn]

[Illustration: GIACOMO MEYERBEER

_Reproduction of a lithograph portrait made from life by Kriehuber of
Vienna. Meyerbeer in his fifty-sixth year._]




[Illustration: MEYERBEER]




[Illustration]

GIACOMO MEYERBEER


The great composer known under the name of Meyerbeer, and who occupied
one of the most important places in the history of musical art in the
nineteenth century, was in reality christened Jacob Liebmann Beer, his
Christian name being afterward Italianized into Giacomo. He was born at
Berlin, according to some authorities on Sept. 5th, according to others
on Sept. 23, 1791. His father, who was a Hebrew, and one of the richest
bankers of Prussia, had three other sons, William, Michael and Henry,
all of whom were distinguished men, although their notoriety has been
eclipsed by the glory of him who is known to the world as Meyerbeer.
William Beer, indeed, who succeeded his father as banker, was at the same
time a remarkable astronomer. He became the collaborator of Maedler for
his scientific works, and published a chart of the moon which won for him
an important prize from the Berlin Academy of Sciences; he died March 27,
1850. Michael Beer, who was born in 1800 and died when only thirty-three,
acquired considerable renown as a dramatic poet by his various works,
_Clytemnestra_, _les Fiancés d'Aragon_, _le Paria_, and especially
_Struensée_, his masterpiece, which afterwards received a new lustre in
being set to music by his brother the composer. To return to the latter,
while he was still quite a child, one of his uncles, named Meyer, who had
always had a great affection for him, died, leaving him his whole fortune
on condition that he should add to his name that of Meyer, whence resulted
the name Meyerbeer, under which the composer has always been known.

From his earliest years, Meyerbeer showed an exceptional bent for music.
His father, far from opposing this tendency, rather encouraged him in it,
and gave him an excellent piano teacher, Ignace Lauska, who had been a
pupil of Clementi. The child made such rapid progress that he was able to
appear at a public concert in Berlin, October 14, 1800, at which he made a
great success. He appeared again in 1803 and 1804 with the same success,
and it was then that the Abbé Vogler, whose disciple he became later on,
hearing him improvise with a rare facility, predicted that he would one
day be a great musician. Two or three years later, Meyerbeer had occasion
to play before Clementi, who was staying for some time in Berlin, on his
way back from Saint Petersburg, and the master was so charmed with the
lad's talent that he consented to give him lessons during his sojourn in
that city.

At this period, and without having given any attention to theoretic study,
Meyerbeer already occupied himself with composition. Guided alone by his
instinct and his natural taste, he wrote numerous songs and piano pieces,
so that his father resolved to give him a master in composition, and fixed
his choice on Bernard Anselme Weber, then leader of the orchestra at the
Berlin Opera. But this artist, very distinguished in his way, and who
could give excellent advice on dramatic style, instrumentation, etc., was
not himself sufficiently versed in the science of counterpoint and fugue
to be able to guide a pupil in this difficult study. Moreover, he showed
himself too easily satisfied with Meyerbeer's efforts. One day when the
latter brought him a fugue, he could not conceal his admiration, and,
regarding it as a masterpiece, thought he would send it to the celebrated
Abbé Vogler, who had been his own teacher, hoping thereby to prove to
him that he, Weber, was able to form good pupils. For several weeks they
anxiously awaited the Abbé's response, which arrived at length in the
form of a bulky package. On opening it, they found that the contents
were divided into three parts. The first constituted a sort of practical
treatise on the fugue, written by Vogler's own hand, and in which all
the rules for this kind of composition were set forth in a precise and
succinct manner. The second part, which was called _The Scholar's Fugue_,
reproduced that of Meyerbeer, analyzed step by step throughout its
development, with remarks which proved super-abundantly that it was far
from being good. The third part, entitled _The Master's Fugue_, was that
which Vogler had constructed on Meyerbeer's theme, analyzed in all its
details and in its _ensemble_, with an explanation of the reasons which
justified its general form and all the incidents.

Meyerbeer was greatly impressed by the theories set forth by Vogler. He
immediately put himself to work again and wrote a new fugue of eight
parts, according to this master's principles, which he sent directly to
Vogler at Darmstadt, his place of residence. The latter replied at once,
expressing his satisfaction, and the confidence which this new work gave
him in his future as an artist, and inviting him to come to Darmstadt; "I
will receive you like a son," said he, "and you shall slake your thirst at
the very sources of musical knowledge." Meyerbeer, delighted at this kind
invitation, easily obtained from his father the necessary permission, and
was soon on his way to Darmstadt.

The school of the Abbé Vogler was celebrated at that time throughout



Online LibraryVariousFamous Composers and their Works, Vol. 2 → online text (page 29 of 32)