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Title: Chopin and Other Musical Essays
Author: Finck, Henry Theophilus, 1854-1926
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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II. HOW COMPOSERS WORK,                                        59


IV. MUSIC AND MORALS,                                         141

V. ITALIAN AND GERMAN VOCAL STYLES,                           183

VI. GERMAN OPERA IN NEW YORK,                                 233




Leipsic, the centre of the world's music trade, exports about one
hundred thousand dollars' worth of music to America every year. I do
not know how much of this sum is to be placed to the account of
Chopin, but a leading music dealer in New York told me that he sold
three times as many of Chopin's compositions as of any other romantic
or classical composer. This seems to indicate that Chopin is popular.
Nevertheless, I believe that what Liszt wrote in 1850, a year after
the death of Chopin--that his fame was not yet as great as it would be
in the future--is as true to-day as it was forty years ago. Chopin's
reputation has been constantly growing, and yet many of his deepest
and most poetic compositions are almost unknown to amateurs, not to
speak of the public at large. A few of his least characteristic pieces
are heard in every parlor, generally in a wofully mutilated condition,
but some of his most inspired later works I have never heard played
either in private or in the concert hall, although I am sure that if
heard there they would be warmly applauded.

There is hardly a composer concerning whom so many erroneous notions
are current as concerning Chopin, and of all the histories of music I
have seen that of Langhans is the only one which devotes to Chopin an
amount of space approximately proportionate to his importance. One of
the most absurd of the misconceptions is that Chopin's genius was born
in full armor, and that it did not pass through several stages of
development, like that of other composers. Chopin did display
remarkable originality at the very beginning, but the apparent
maturity of his first published works is due to the fact that he
destroyed his earliest efforts and disowned those works which are
known as posthumous, and which may have created confusion in some
minds by having received a higher "opus" number than his last works.

Another misconception regarding Chopin is that his latest works are
morbid and unintelligible. The same charge was brought by philistines
against the best works of Beethoven, Schumann, and Wagner. The fact is
that these last works are of an almost matchless harmonic depth and
originality, as superior to his earlier works as Wagner's last music
dramas are to his first operas. I make this comparison with Wagner
advisedly because, although I have the most exalted notions of
Wagner's grandeur and importance, I do not for a moment hesitate to
say that in his own sphere Chopin is quite as original and has been
almost as revolutionary and epoch-making as Wagner. Schumann was the
first to recognize the revolutionary significance of Chopin's style.
"Chopin's works," he says, "are cannons buried in flowers;" and in
another place he declares that he can see in "Chopin's G minor
Nocturne a terrible declaration of war against a whole musical past."
Chopin, himself, modest as he was in his manners, wrote to his teacher
Elsner, in 1831, when he was twenty-two years of age: "Kalkbrenner
will not be able to break my perhaps bold but noble determination to
create a new epoch in art."

Now, why has the world been so slow in recognizing that Chopin stands
in the very front rank of creative musicians? One reason doubtless is
that he was so quiet and retiring in his personal disposition. His
still, small voice was lost in the din of musical warfare. He warmly
defended the principles of the romantic school, if necessary, and had
decided opinions of other musicians, especially of the popular
pianists of his day who vitiated the public taste with their show
pieces; but he generally kept them to himself or confided them only to
his friends, whom he even occasionally implored to keep them secret.
Had he, like Richard Wagner, attacked everybody, right and left, who
stood in the way of the general recognition of his genius, his cause
would have doubtless assumed greater prominence in the eyes of the
public, even though the parlor piano does not afford so much
play-ground for warfare as the operatic stage.

The chief reason, however, why musical authorities have so long
hesitated to acknowledge that Chopin is one of the very greatest
explorers and pioneers in the domain of their art, is to be found in
what, for want of a better term, may be called æsthetic Jumboism. When
the late lamented Jumbo was in New York he attracted so much attention
that his colleagues, although but little inferior in size, had "no
show" whatever. Everybody crowded around Jumbo, stuffing him with
bushels of oranges and apples, while the other elephants were entirely
ignored. As elephants are intelligent animals, is it not probable that
Pilot, the next in size to Jumbo, went mad and had to be shot because
he was jealous of the exclusive attentions bestowed on his rival? In
æsthetics, this Jumboism, this exaggerated desire for mammoth
dimensions, seems to be a trait of the human mind which it is
difficult to eradicate. It is a suggestive fact that the morbid, sham
æstheticism which prevailed in England a few years ago, chose for its
symbol the uncouth sunflower. And many who know that a sunflower is
less beautiful and fragrant than a violet, will nevertheless, on
visiting a picture gallery, give most of their attention to the large
canvases, though the smaller ones may be infinitely more beautiful. It
cannot be said that the critics of art or literature follow the
popular disposition to measure genius with a yard-stick; but in music
there seems to be a general tendency to do this. Liszt remarks,
apropos, in his work on Chopin: "The value of the sketches made by
Chopin's extremely delicate pencil has not yet been acknowledged and
emphasized sufficiently. It has become customary in our days to regard
as great composers only those who have written at least half a dozen
operas, as many oratorios, and several symphonies."

Even Schumann, and Elsner, Chopin's teacher, seem to have been
affected a little by this irrational way of looking at music.
Schumann, in a complimentary notice of Chopin's nocturnes, expresses
his regrets that the composer should confine himself so strictly to
the pianoforte, whereas he might have influenced the development of
music in all its branches. He adds, however, on second thought, that
"to be a poet one need not have written ponderous volumes; one or two
poems suffice to make a reputation, and Chopin has written such."
Elsner who was unusually liberal in his views of art, and who
discovered and valued his pupil's originality long before Schumann
did, nevertheless bowed before the fetish of Jumboism in so far as to
write to Chopin in Paris that he was anxious, before he departed this
Vale of Tears, to hear an opera from his pen, both for his benefit,
and for the glory of his country. Chopin took this admonition to heart
sufficiently to ask a friend to prepare for him a libretto; but that
is as far as the project ever went. Chopin must have felt
instinctively that his individual style of miniature painting would be
as ineffective on the operatic stage, where bold, _al fresco_ painting
is required, as his soft and dreamy playing would have been had he
taken his piano from the parlor and placed it in a meadow.

Besides Chopin's abhorrence of musical warfare and his avoidance of
the larger and more imposing forms of the opera, symphony, and
oratorio, there were other causes which retarded the recognition of
his transcendent genius. The unprecedented originality of his style,
and the distinct national coloring of his compositions, did not meet
with a sympathetic appreciation in Germany and Vienna, when he first
went there to test his musical powers. Some of the papers indeed had a
good word for him, but, as in the case of Liszt and later of
Rubinstein, it was rather for the pianist than for the composer. On
his first visit to Vienna he was greatly petted, and he found it easy
to get influential friends who took care that his concerts should be
a success, because he played for their benefit, asking no pecuniary
recompense. But when, some years later, he repeated his visit, and
tried to play for his own pecuniary benefit, the influential friends
were invisible, and the concert actually resulted in a deficit.

Chopin's letters contain unmistakable evidence of the fact that, with
some exceptions, the Germans did not understand his compositions. At
his first concert in Vienna, he writes, "The first allegro in the F
minor concerto (not intelligible to all) was indeed rewarded with
'Bravo!' but I believe this was rather because the audience wished to
show that they appreciated serious music than because they were able
to follow and appreciate such music." And regarding the fantasia on
Polish airs he says that it completely missed its mark: "There was
indeed some applause by the audience, but obviously only to show the
pianist that they were not bored." The ultra-Germans, he writes in
another letter, did not appear to be quite satisfied; and he relates
that one of these, on being asked, in his presence, how he liked the
concert, at once changed the subject of conversation, obviously in
order not to hurt his feelings. In a third letter, in which he gives
his parents an account of his concert in Breslau, in 1830, he says
that, "With the exception of Schnabel, whose face was beaming with
pleasure, and who patted me on the shoulder every other moment, none
of the other Germans knew exactly what to make of me;" and he adds,
with his delicious irony, that "the connoisseurs could not exactly
make out whether my compositions really were good or only seemed so."

Criticisms culled from contemporary newspaper notices and other
sources emphasize the fact that the Germans were at that time blind to
the transcendent merits of Chopin's genius. The professional critics,
after their usual manner, found fault with the very things which we
to-day admire most in him--the exotic originality of the style, and
the delightful Polish local color in which all his fabrics are "dyed
in the wool," as it were. How numerous these adverse criticisms were,
may best be inferred from the frequency with which Schumann defended
Chopin in his musical paper and sneered at his detractors. "It is
remarkable," he writes, "that in the very droughty years preceding
1830, in which one should have thanked Heaven for every straw of
superior quality, criticism, which it is true, _always lags behind
unless it emanates from creative minds_, persisted in shrugging its
shoulders at Chopin's compositions--nay, that one of them had the
impudence to say that all they were good for was to be torn to
pieces." In another article, after speaking in the most enthusiastic
terms of Chopin's trio, in which "every note is music and life," he
exclaims, "Wretched Berlin critic, who has no understanding for these
things, and never will have--poor fellow!" And seven years later, in
1843, he writes, with fine contempt for his critical colleagues, that
"for the typical reviewers Chopin never did write, anyway." And this,
be it remembered, was only six years before Chopin's death.

Not a few of the composers and composerlings of the period joined the
professional critics in their depreciation of Chopin's works. Field
called his "a talent of the sick chamber." Moscheles, while admitting
Chopin's originality, and the value of his pianistic achievements,
confessed that he disliked his "harsh, inartistic, incomprehensible
modulations," which often appeared "artificial and forced" to
him--these same modulations which to-day transport us into the seventh
heaven of delight! Mendelssohn's attitude toward Chopin was somewhat
vacillating. He defended him in a letter against his sister's
criticisms, and assured her that if she had heard some of Chopin's
compositions "as he himself played them" for him, she too would have
been delighted. He adds that Chopin had just completed "a most
graceful little nocturne," of which he remembered much, and was going
to play it for his brother Paul. Nevertheless, he did not recommend
the pupils at the Leipsic Conservatory to study Chopin's works, and
various utterances of his are on record showing that he had a decided
artistic antipathy for the exotic products of Chopin's pen. To give
only one instance. In one of the letters to Moscheles, first printed
in _Scribner's Magazine_ for February, 1888, he complains that "a book
of mazurkas by Chopin, and a few new pieces of his are so mannered
that they are hard to stand."

I have dwelt so much on the attitude of the Germans toward Chopin,
because I am convinced that in this attitude lies one of the main
reasons why no one has hitherto dared to place him in the front rank
of composers, side by side with Bach, Beethoven, and Wagner. For the
Germans are the _tonangebende_ (the standard-setting) nation in music
to-day, and, as there seems to be a natural antipathy between the
Slavic and the Teutonic mind, the Germans are apt, like Mendelssohn,
to regard as mannerism what is simply the exotic fragrance which
betrays a foreign nationality. The ultro-Teutons still persist in
their depreciation of Chopin. In the latest edition of Brockhaus's
"Conservations-Lexicon" we read, apropos to Chopin's larger works,
that "he was deficient in the profounder musical attainments"(!) Dr.
Hanslick, generally considered the leading German critic of the
period, in a 534-page collection of criticisms, discussing twenty
concert seasons in Vienna, has only about half a dozen and by no
means complimentary references to Chopin. And even the late Louis
Ehlert, in his appreciative essay on Chopin, comes to the conclusion
that Chopin is certainly not to be ranked with such giants as Bach and
Beethoven. This is Teutonism, pure and simple. No doubt Chopin is, in
some respects, inferior to Bach and Beethoven, but in other respects
he is quite as unquestionably superior to them. He wrote no mammoth
symphonies, but there is a marvellous wealth and depth of ideas in his
smaller works--enough to supply half a dozen ordinary symphony and
opera writers with ideas for a lifetime. His works may be compared to
those men of genius in whose under-sized bodies dwelt a gigantic mind.

Schumann appears to have been the only contemporary composer who did
not underrate Chopin. Whether he would have gone so far as to rank him
with the greatest of the German composers, I cannot say, for he avoids
direct comparisons. But if imitation is the sincerest form of
flattery, then Schumann flattered Chopin more than any other master,
for his pianoforte works are much more in the manner of Chopin than of
Bach or Beethoven. I do not mean direct imitation, but that
unconscious adoption of Chopin's numerous innovations in the treatment
of the piano and of musical style, which are better evidence of
influence than the borrowing of an idea or two. He himself testified
to the "intimate artistic relations" between him and Chopin.
Moreover, his praise of Chopin is always pitched in such a high key
that it would seem as if praise could no higher go. It was he who
first proclaimed Chopin's genius authoritatively, and to this fact he
often referred subsequently, with special pride. The very first
article in his volumes of criticisms is devoted to Chopin's variations
on "La Ci Darem'," published as "opus 2." In those days, Schumann used
to give his criticisms a semi-dramatic form. On this occasion he
represents his _alter ego_, Eusebius, as rushing into the room with a
new composition, and the exclamation "Hats off, gentlemen! a genius!"
He then analyzes the variations in glowing poetic language and
rapturously exclaims at the end that "there is genius in every bar."
And this was only one of the _early_ works of Chopin, in which he has
by no means attained his full powers. Of another quite early work, the
second concerto, he writes that it is a composition "which none of us
can approach except it be with the lips to kiss the hem;" and later
on, the Preludes, the most inspired of his works, led Schumann to
exclaim that Chopin "is and remains the boldest and noblest artistic
spirit of the time."

Schumann would have found it difficult to induce any of his countrymen
to endorse his exalted opinion of Chopin, but the Hungarian Liszt
joined hands with him heartily, and pronounced Chopin "an artist of
the first rank." "His best works," he says, "contain numerous
combinations of which it must be said that they did nothing less than
create an epoch in the treatment of musical style. Bold, brilliant,
enchanting, his pieces _conceal their depth behind so much grace,
their erudition behind so much charm_, that it is difficult to
emancipate one's self from their overpowering magic and estimate them
according to their theoretic value. This fact is already recognized by
some competent judges, and it will be more and more generally realized
when the progress made in art during the Chopin epoch is carefully

That Elsner, Chopin's teacher, detected his pupil's originality, has
already been stated. Fortunately he allowed it a free rein instead of
trying to check and crush it, as teachers are in the habit of doing.
But there are some passages in Chopin's early letters which seem to
indicate that the general public and the professional musicians in his
native Poland were not so very much in advance of the Germans in
recognizing his musical genius. Liszt doubts whether Chopin's national
compositions were as fully appreciated by his countrymen as the work
of native poets; and Chopin writes to a friend, apropos of his second
concert at Warsaw: "The _élite_ of the musical world will be there;
but I have little confidence in their musical judgment--Elsner of
course excepted." Elsewhere he complains of a patriotic admirer who
had written that the Poles would some day be as proud of Chopin as the
Germans were of Mozart. And when in addition to this the editor of a
local paper told him he had in type a sonnet on him, Chopin was
greatly alarmed, and begged him not to print it; for he knew that such
homage would create envy and enemies, and he declared that after that
sonnet was published he would not dare to read any longer what the
papers said about him.

Chopin's want of confidence in the judgment of his countrymen showed
that, after all, the national Polish element in his compositions was
not the main cause why they were not rated at once at their true
value. It was their novelty of form, harmonic depth and freedom of
modulation, that made them for a long time cavïare to the general.
This was again proved when he went to Paris. Chopin was a Pole only on
his mother's side, his father having been a Frenchman, who had
emigrated to Poland. It might have been supposed, therefore, that
there would be a French element in Chopin's genius which would make it
palatable to the Parisians. But this did not prove to be the case. In
the remarkable group of musicians, poets, and artists who were
assembled at that time in Paris, and who mutually inspired one
another--a group which included Liszt, Meyerbeer, Hiller,
Mendelssohn, Berlioz, Heine, George Sand, the Countess D'Agoult,
Delacroix, etc.--there were no doubt not a few who knew what a rare
genius their friend Chopin was. George Sand wrote in her
autobiography: "He has not been understood hitherto, and to the
present day he is underestimated. Great progress will have to be made
in taste and in the appreciation of music before it will be possible
for Chopin's work to become popular." Heine also wrote that his
favorite pianist was Chopin, "who, however," he adds, "is more of a
composer than a virtuoso. When Chopin is at the piano I forget all
about the technical side of playing and become absorbed in the sweet
profundity, the sad loveliness of his creations, which are as deep as
they are elegant. Chopin is the great inspired tone-poet who properly
should be named only in company with Mozart, Beethoven, and Rossini."

But aside from these select spirits and a small circle of aristocratic
admirers, mostly Poles, Chopin was not understood by the Paris public.
At first he could not even make his living there, and was in
consequence on the point of emigrating to America when a friend
dragged him to a _soirée_ at Rothschild's, where his playing was so
much admired that he was at once engaged as a teacher by several
ladies present. In a very short time he became the fashionable teacher
in aristocratic circles, where his refined manners made him
personally liked. As he refused to take any but talented pupils,
teaching was not so irksome to him as it might have been. Nevertheless
one cannot but marvel at the obtuseness of the Parisians who put into
the utilitarian harness an artist who might have enchanted them every
evening with a concert, had their taste been more cultivated. He _did_
play once, when he first arrived, but the receipts did not even meet
the expenses, and the audience received his work so coldly that his
artistic sensibilities were wounded, and he did not again appear in
public for fourteen years. Occasionally he played for the select
aristocratic circles into which he had been introduced; but even here
he did not often meet with the genuine appreciation and sympathy which
the artist craves. "Whoever could read in his face," says Liszt,
"could see how often he felt convinced that among all these handsome,
well-dressed gentlemen, among all the perfumed, elegant ladies, not
one understood him."

As for the French critics they seem to have been as obtuse as their
German colleagues. To give only one instance: M. Fétis, author of the
well-known musical dictionary, states in his article on Chopin, that
this composer is overrated to-day, and his popularity largely due to
the fact that he is fashionable. And in his article on Heller, he
asserts, more pointedly still, that "the time will undoubtedly come
when the world will recognize that Heller, much more than Chopin, is
the modern poet of the pianoforte." In this opinion Fétis probably
stands alone; but many who have not studied Chopin's deepest works
carefully, are still convinced that the pianoforte compositions of
Mozart, Beethoven, and Schumann, are of greater importance than
Chopin's. So far am I from sharing this opinion that if I had to
choose between never again hearing a pianoforte piece by any or all of
those composers, or never again hearing a Chopin composition, I should
decide in favor of Chopin. Some years ago I expressed my conviction,
in _The Nation_, that Chopin is as distinctly superior to all other
piano composers as Wagner is to all other opera composers. A
distinguished Cincinnati musician, Mr. Otto Singer, was horrified at
this statement, and wrote in _The Courier_, of that city, that it
could only have been made by "a patriotically inclined Frenchman or a
consumptive inhabitant of Poland;" adding that "he would readily yield
up possession of quite a number of Chopin's bric-à-brac for Schumann's
single 'Warum.'" I am neither a patriotic Frenchman nor a consumptive
Pole, and I am a most ardent admirer of Schumann; nevertheless I
uphold my former opinion, and my chief object in this essay is to
endeavor to justify it.

All authorities, in the first place, admit that Chopin created an
entirely new style of playing the pianoforte. Many have pointed out
the peculiarities of this style--the use of extended and scattered
chords, the innovations in fingering which facilitate _legato_
playing, the spray of dainty little ornamental notes, the use of the
capricious _tempo rubato_, and so on. But it has not been made
sufficiently clear by any writer how it was that Chopin became the
Wagner of the pianoforte, so to speak, by revealing for the first time
the infinite possibilities of varied and beautiful tone-colors
inherent in that instrument. To understand this point fully, it is
necessary to bear in mind a few facts regarding the history of the

The name of pianoforte was given about a century and a half ago to an
instrument constructed by the Italian Cristofori, who devised a
mechanism for striking the strings with hammers. In the older
instruments--the clarichords and harpsichords--the strings were either
snapped by means of crow's quills, or pushed with a tangent. The new
hammer action not only brought a better tone out of the string, but
enabled the pianist to play any note loud or soft at pleasure; hence
the name _piano-forte_. But the pianoforte itself required many years
before all its possibilities of tone-production were discovered. The
instruments used by Mozart still had a thin short tone, and there was
no pedal for prolonging it, except a clumsy one worked with the
knee--a circumstance which greatly influenced Mozart's style, and is
largely responsible for the fact that his pianoforte works are hardly
ever played to-day in the concert hall. For, as the tone could not be
sustained, it was customary in Mozart's time to hide its meagre frame
by means of a great profusion of runs and trills, and other ornaments,
with which even the slow movements were disfigured. Under the
circumstances, these ornaments were justifiable to some extent, but
to-day they seem not only in bad taste, but entirely superfluous,
because our improved instruments have a much greater power of
sustaining tones.

Czerny, the famous piano teacher, touched in his autobiography on the
peculiarities of Mozart's style. Beethoven, who gave Czerny some
lessons on the piano, made him pay particular attention to the
_legato_, "of which," says Czerny, "he was so unrivalled a master, but
which at that time--the Mozart period, when the short staccato touch
was in fashion--_all other pianists thought impossible_. Beethoven
told me afterwards," he continues, "that he had often heard Mozart,
whose style from his use of the clavecin, the pianoforte being in his
time in its infancy, was not at all adapted to the newer instrument. I
have known several persons who had received instruction from Mozart,
and their playing corroborated this statement."

In view of these facts, we can understand why Beethoven did not like
Mozart's pianoforte works as well as those of Clementi, in which there
was more _cantabile_, and which required more fulness of tone in the
execution; and we can understand why even so conservative a critic as
Louis Ehlert should exclaim, apropos of Chopin's "entirely new
pianoforte life," "How uninteresting is the style of any previous
master (excepting Beethoven) compared with his! What a litany of
gone-by, dead-alive forms! What a feelingless, prosaic jingle! If
anyone should, without a grimace, assure me sincerely that he can play
pianoforte pieces by Clementi, Dussek, Hummel, and Ries, with real
enjoyment even now, I will esteem him as an excellent man--yes, a very
honest one; but I will not drink wine with him."

Were it not for what I have ventured to call the fetish of Jumboism, I
am convinced that Professor Ehlert would have written Mozart's name in
this last sentence in place of Clementi's. By excepting Beethoven
alone from the list of "uninteresting" composers preceding Chopin, he
_implicitly_ condemns Mozart; but he does not dare to do so
_explicitly_, although such a confession would not have affected
Mozart's greatness in other departments of music, which is undeniable.
Indeed, if Professor Ehlert had been perfectly sincere I am not quite
sure that he would have excepted Beethoven's sonatas. Although they
teem with great and beautiful ideas, these sonatas are not really
adapted to the intrinsic nature of the pianoforte, and hence fail to
arouse the enthusiasm of those whose taste has been formed by the
works of Chopin and Schumann. It was no doubt an instinctive antipathy
to Beethoven's unpianistic style (if the adjective be permissible),
which prevented Chopin from admiring Beethoven as deeply as he did
some other composers, whom he would have admitted to be his inferiors.
And Beethoven himself does not seem to have regarded his pianoforte
works with the same satisfaction as his other compositions. At least,
he wrote the following curious sentence in a corner of one of his
sketch books in 1805; "Heaven knows why my pianoforte music always
makes the worst impression on me, especially when it is played badly."
He must have felt that his ideas found a much more appropriate and
adequate expression in the orchestra than on the piano. Not being a
radical innovator he did not, in his treatment of the pianoforte, go
beyond Clementi; and so it remained for Chopin to show the world that
the pianoforte, if properly treated, will yield tones whose exquisite
sensuous beauty can hardly be surpassed by any combination of
orchestral instruments.

The two principal means by which he accomplished these reforms were
the constant employment of the pedal, and the use of extended and
scattered chords, in place of the crowded harmonies and the massive
movements of the older accompaniments.

Very few pianists seem to comprehend the exact function and importance
of the pedal. Many will be surprised to hear that the word "touch,"
which they suppose refers to the way the keys are struck by the
fingers, has quite as much to do with the feet--that is, the use of
the pedal--as with the fingers. No matter how thoroughly a pianist may
have trained his fingers, if he does not use the pedal as it was used
by Chopin and Schumann, he cannot reveal the poetry of their
compositions. In one of his letters Chopin notes that Thalberg played
_forte_ and _piano_ with the pedals, not with his hands, and some
piano bangers do so still; but every pianist who deserves the name
knows that loudness and softness must be regulated by the hands (and
very rarely the left-side pedal). Yet even among this better class of
pianists the notion seems to prevail that the main object of the
right-side pedal is to enable them to prolong a chord or to prevent a
confusion of consecutive harmonies. This is one of the functions of
the pedal, no doubt, but not the most important one. The chief service
of the pedal is _in the interest of tone-color_. Let me explain.

Every student of music knows that if you sing a certain tone into a
piano (after pressing the pedal), or before a guitar, the strings in
these instruments which correspond to the tone you sing will vibrate
responsively and emit a tone. He also knows that when you sound a
single note, say G, on the violin or piano, you seem to hear only a
simple tone, but on listening more closely you will find that it is
really a compound tone or a complete chord, the fundamental tone being
accompanied by faint overtones, which differ in number and relative
loudness in different instruments, and to which these instruments owe
their peculiar tone-color.

Now when you press the pedal of a pianoforte on striking a note you do
not only prolong this note, but its vibrations arouse all the notes
which correspond to its overtones, and the result is a rich deep
tone-color of exquisite sensuous beauty and enchanting variableness.
Hence, whenever the melodic movement and harmonic changes are not too
rapid, a pianist should press the pedal _constantly_, whether he plays
loudly or softly; because it is only when the damper is raised from
the strings that the overtones can enrich and beautify the sound by
causing their corresponding strings to vibrate in sympathy with them.
Those who heard Schumann play say that he used the pedal persistently,
sometimes twice in the same bar to avoid harmonic confusion; and the
same is true of Chopin, concerning whose playing an English amateur
says, after referring to his _legatissimo_ touch: "The wide arpeggios
in the left hand, _maintained in a continuous stream of tone_ by the
strict legato and fine and constant use of the damper pedal, formed an
harmonious substructure for a wonderfully poetic _cantabile_."

I have italicised and emphasized the words _maintained in a continuous
stream of tone_, because it calls attention to one of the numerous
resemblances between the style of Chopin and that of Wagner, who in
his music dramas similarly keeps up an uninterrupted flow of richly
colored harmonies to sustain the vocal part. Schumann relates that he
had the good fortune to hear Chopin play some of his études. "And he
played them very much _à la Chopin_," he says: "Imagine an Æolian harp
provided with all the scales, commingled by an artist's hand into all
manner of fantastic, ornamental combinations, yet in such a way that
you can always distinguish a deeper ground tone and a sweet continuous
melody above--and you have an approximate idea of his playing. No
wonder that I liked best those of the études which he played for me,
and I wish to mention specially the first one, in A flat major, a poem
rather than an étude. It would be a mistake to imagine that he allowed
each of the small notes to be distinctly audible; it was rather a
surging of the A flat major chord, occasionally raised to a new billow
by the pedal; but amid these harmonies a wondrous melody asserted
itself in large tones, and only once, toward the middle of the piece,
a tenor part came out prominently beside the principal melody. After
hearing this étude you feel as you do when you have seen a ravishing
picture in your dreams and, half awake, would fain recall it."

Now it is obvious that such dreamy Æolian-harp-like harmonies could
not have been produced without Chopin's novel and constant use of the
pedal. And this brings out the greatest difference between the new and
the old style of playing. In the pianoforte works of Mozart and
Beethoven, and even in those of Weber, which mark the transition from
the classical to the romantic school, there are few passages that
absolutely require a pedal, and in most cases the pieces sound almost
as well without as with pedal; so that, from his point of view, and in
his days of staccato playing, Hummel was quite right in insisting that
a pianist could not be properly judged until he played without the
pedal. But as regards the romantic school of Chopin, Schumann, Liszt
and their followers, it may be said with equal truth that a pianist's
use of the pedal furnishes the supreme test of his talent. If he has
not the delicacy of ear which is requisite to produce the "continuous
stream of tone" in Chopin's compositions, without the slightest
harmonic confusion, he should leave them alone and devote himself to
less poetic composers.

An amusing anecdote illustrates visibly how helpless Chopin would have
been without his pedal. He was asked one evening at a party in Paris
to play. He was quite willing to do so but discovered to his surprise
that the piano had no pedals. They had been sent away for repairs. In
this dilemma a happy thought occurred to Liszt, who happened to be
present. He crawled under the piano, and, while Chopin was playing,
worked the mechanism to which the pedals ought to have been attached
so cleverly that they were not missed at all! He stooped that his
friend might conquer.

The fact that Chopin in his later works, often omitted the sign for
the pedal on his MSS. must not be held to indicate that he did not
wish it to be constantly used. In his earlier works he carefully
indicated where it should be employed, but subsequently he appears to
have reasoned rightly that a pianist who needs to be told where the
pedal ought, and where it ought not, to be employed, is not
sufficiently advanced in culture to play his works at all, and had
therefore best leave them alone.

Chopin's remarkable genius for divining the mysteries of the
pianoforte enabled him, as it were, to anticipate what is a
comparatively recent invention--the middle pedal which is chiefly used
to sustain single tones in the bass without affecting the rest of the
instrument. The melancholy "F sharp minor Prelude," for example,
cannot be played properly without the use of this middle pedal. In
another prelude, we have an illustration of how the pedal must often
be used in order to help in forming a chord which cannot be stretched.
And this brings us to the second important innovation in the treatment
of Chopin's pianoforte--the constant use of scattered and extended

Karasovski relates that Chopin, a mere boy, used to amuse himself by
searching on the piano for harmonies of which the constituent notes
were widely scattered on the keyboard, and, as his hands were too
small to grasp them, he devised a mechanism for stretching his hands,
which he wore at night. Fortunately, he did not go so far as Schumann,
who made similar experiments with his hands and thereby disabled one
of them for life. What prompted Chopin to search for these widely
extended chords was his intense appreciation of tonal beauty. To-day
everybody knows how much more beautiful scattered, and widely extended
harmonies are than crowded harmonies; but it was Chopin's genius that
discovered this fact and applied it on a large scale. Indeed, so novel
were his chords, that at first, many of them were deemed unplayable;
but he showed that if his own system of fingering was adopted, they
were not only playable, but eminently suited to the character of the
instrument. The superior beauty of scattered intervals can be
strikingly demonstrated in this way. If you strike four or five
adjacent notes on the piano at once, you produce an intolerable
cacophony. But these same notes can be so arranged by scattering them
that they make an exquisite chord in suspension. Everything depends on
the arrangement and the wideness of the intervals. Chopin's fancy was
inexhaustible in the discovery of new kinds of scattered chords,
combined into harmony by his novel use of the pedal; and in this way
he enriched music with so many new harmonies and modulations that he
must be placed, as a harmonic innovator, on a level with Bach and

These remarks apply especially to Chopin's later compositions; but his
peculiarities are already distinctly traceable in many of his earlier
works; and Elsner, his teacher, was sufficiently clear-sighted and
frank to write the following words: "The achievements of Mozart and
Beethoven as pianists have long been forgotten; and their pianoforte
compositions, although undoubtedly classical works, must give way to
the diversified artistic treatment of that instrument by the modern
school." Mr. Joseph Bennett quotes this sentence in his Biography of
Chopin, and adds an exclamation point in brackets after it, to
express his surprise. Mr. Bennett is considered one of the leading
London critics; yet I must say that I have never seen so much
ignorance in a single exclamation point in brackets. Note the
difference between Elsner and Bennett. Elsner adds to the sentence
just quoted, that the _other_ works of Mozart and Beethoven--their
symphonies, operas, quartets, etc., "will not only continue to live,
but will, perhaps, remain unequalled by anything of the present day."
This is genuine discriminative criticism, which renders unto Cæsar
what is Cæsar's due: whereas, Mr. Bennett is guided by the vicious old
habit of fancying that because Mozart and Beethoven are great masters,
therefore they must be superior to everybody in everything. Is it not
about time to put an end to this absurd Jumboism in music?

The fact is, we are living in an age of division of labor and
specialism; and those who, like Robert Franz and Richard Wagner,
devote themselves to a single branch of music have a better chance of
reaching the summit of Parnassus than those who dissipate their
energies in too many directions. Chopin was the pianoforte genius _par
excellence_, and in his field he stands above the greatest of the
German composers, whatever their names. Mendelssohn once wrote to his
mother that Chopin "produces effects on the piano as novel as those of
Paganini on the violin, and he performs marvels which no one would
have believed to be possible." Mendelssohn benefited to a slight
extent by Chopin's example, but he did not add anything new to the
treatment of the pianoforte. Nor does even Liszt mark an advance on
Chopin from a purely pianistic point of view. Paradoxical as it may
seem, Liszt, the greatest pianist the world has known, was really a
born _orchestral_ composer. He was never satisfied with the piano, but
constantly wanted to convert it into an orchestra. His innovations
were all in the service of these orchestral aspirations, and hence it
is that his rhapsodies, for example, are much more effective in their
orchestral garb than in their original pianoforte version. The same is
true of many of Rubinstein's pianoforte works--the Bal Masqué, for
instance, which always has such an electric effect on Mr. Theodore
Thomas's audiences. Not so with Chopin. Liszt remarks, somewhere, that
Chopin might have easily written for orchestra, because his
compositions can be so readily arranged for it. I venture to differ
from this opinion. Chopin's Funeral March has been repeatedly arranged
for orchestra--first by Reber at Chopin's funeral (when Meyerbeer
regretted that he had not been asked to do this labor of love); and
more recently by Mr. Theodore Thomas. Mr. Thomas's version is very
clever and effective, yet I very _much_ prefer this sublime dirge on
the piano. In a small room the piano has almost as great a capacity
for dynamic shading as the orchestra has in a large hall; and, as I
have just pointed out, one who knows how to use the pedal can secure
an endless (almost orchestral) variety of tone-colors on the piano,
thanks to the hundreds of overtones which can be made to accompany the
tones played. Chopin spoke the language of the piano. His pieces are
so idiomatic that they cannot be translated into orchestral language
any more than Heine's lyrics can be translated into English. Chopin
exhausted the possibilities of the pianoforte, and the piano exhausts
the possibilities of Chopin's compositions.

The innovations of Chopin which I have so far alluded to, have been to
some extent adopted by all modern composers, and the more they have
adopted them the more their works ingratiate themselves in the favor
of amateurs. But there is another epoch-making feature of Chopin's
style, which is less easy, especially to Germans, because it is a
Slavic characteristic; I mean the _tempo rubato_. This is a phrase
much used among musicians, but if pressed for an exact definition, few
would be able to give one. Let us see first what Chopin's
contemporaries have to say of the way in which he himself treats it.
Chopin visited England in 1848, and on June 21 gave a concert in
London. Mr. Chorley, the well-known critic, wrote a criticism on this
occasion for "The Athenæum," in which he says: "The delicacy of M.
Chopin's tone and the elasticity of his passages are delicious to the
ear. He makes a free use of _tempo rubato_, leaning about within his
bars more than any player we recollect, but still subject to a
presiding sentiment of measure, such as presently habituates the ear
to the liberties taken. In music not his own, we happen to know he can
be as staid as a metronome; while his Mazurkas, etc., lose half that
wildness if played without a certain freedom and license--impossible
to imitate, but irresistible if the player at all feels the music.
This we have always fancied while reading Chopin's works:--we are now
sure of it after hearing him perform them."

Moscheles wrote to his wife that Chopin's "_ad libitum_ playing,
which, with the interpreters of his music degenerates into offences
against correct time, is, in his own case, merely a pleasing
originality of style." He compares him to "a singer who, little
concerned with the accompaniment, follows entirely his feelings."
Karasovski says that Chopin "played the bass in quiet, regular time,
while the right hand moved about with perfect freedom, now following
the left hand, now ... going its own independent way. 'The left hand,'
said Chopin, 'must be like an orchestral conductor; not for a moment
must it be uncertain and vacillating.'" Thus his playing, free from
the fetters of _tempo_, acquired a unique charm; thanks to this
_rubato_, his melody was "like a vessel rocked upon the waves of the

The world suffered a great loss when a band of ignorant soldiers found
the bundles of letters which Chopin had written from Paris to his
parents, and used them to feed the fire which cooked their supper. But
it lost a still greater treasure when Chopin tore up the manuscript of
his pianoforte method, which he began to write in the last years of
his life, but never finished. In it he would no doubt have given many
valuable hints regarding the correct use of the _rubato_. In the
absence of other authentic hints beyond the one just quoted, Liszt
must be depended upon as the best authority on the subject; for it is
well known that Liszt could imitate Chopin so nicely that his most
intimate friends were once deceived in a dark room, imagining that
Chopin was playing when Liszt was at the piano. "Chopin," Liszt
writes, "was the first who introduced into his compositions that
peculiarity which gave such a unique color to his impetuosity, and
which he called _tempo rubato_:--an irregularly interrupted movement,
subtile, broken, and languishing, at the same time flickering like a
flame in the wind, undulating, like the surface of a wheat-field, like
the tree-tops moved by a breeze." All his compositions must be played
in this peculiarly accented, spasmodic, insinuating style, a style
which he succeeded in imparting to his pupils, but which can hardly be
taught without example. As with the pedal, so with the _rubato_,
Chopin often neglected to mark its use in later years, taking it for
granted that those who understood his works would know where to apply

Perhaps the importance of the _rubato_ in Chopin cannot be more
readily realized than by his concession that he could never play a
Viennese waltz properly, and by the fact that sometimes, when he was
in a jocular mood, he would play one of his mazurkas in strict,
metronomic time, to the great amusement of those who had heard him
play them properly.

When Liszt speaks of the _tempo rubato_ as a unique characteristic of
Chopin's style, he must not be understood too literally. As a matter
of fact, the _rubato_ is too important an element of expression not to
have been partially anticipated in the works of some of Chopin's
predecessors, just as Wagner's leading motives had imperfect
prototypes in the works of some preceding composers. As early as 1602,
the Italian, Caccini, describes what he calls the "Stile Nobile, in
which the singer," he says, "emancipates himself from the fetters of
the measure, by prolonging or diminishing the duration of a note by
one-half, according as the sense of the word requires it." But it is
probable that the Italian singers of that period, as to-day, used
this kind of _rubato_ merely to display the beauty of their voice on a
loud high note, and not, like Chopin, for the sake of emphasizing a
pathetic or otherwise expressive note or chord.

Of the Germans it may be said that, as a rule, they had, until
recently, no special liking for the _tempo rubato_. Dr. Hanslick, the
eminent Viennese critic, referred to it thirty years ago, as "a morbid
unsteadiness of _tempo_." Mendelssohn, who always liked a "nice, swift
_tempo_," repeatedly expressed his aversion to Chopin's _rubato_.
Nevertheless, traces of it may be found in the rhythms of the
classical school. Although Mozart's _tempo_ in general was as strict
and uniform as that of a waltz in the ball-room, in playing an adagio
he appears to have allowed his left hand some freedom of movement for
the sake of expression (see Jahn I., 134). Beethoven, according to
Seyfried, "was very particular at rehearsals about the frequent
passages in _tempo rubato_;" and there are other remarks by
contemporaries of Beethoven which indicate that although he wrote in
the classical style, in his playing and conducting he often introduced
a romantic _rubato_. Still, in the majority of his compositions, there
is no room for the _rubato_, which cannot be said to have found a home
in German music till it was assimilated by the Schumann school, under
the influence of Chopin. Since then, it has leavened the spirit of
modern music in a manner which has never been sufficiently emphasized.
I am convinced that even Richard Wagner was, unconsciously, influenced
by it through Liszt; for one of the chief peculiarities of his style
is a sort of dramatic _rubato_ which emancipates his music from the
tyranny of the strict dance measure. In his essay on the proper
interpretation of Tannhäuser, Wagner declares that the division of
music into regular measures, or bars, is merely a mechanical means for
enabling the composer to convey his ideas to the singer. As soon as
the singer has grasped the idea, he says, the bar should be thrown
aside as a useless incumbrance, and the singer, ignoring strict time,
should be guided by his feelings alone, while the conductor should
follow and preserve harmony between him and the orchestra.

It might be said that this dramatic _rubato_ is something different
from Chopin's _rubato_. _Rubato_ literally means "robbed," and it is
generally supposed that the peculiarity of Chopin's style consisted
simply in this, that he prolonged certain notes in a bar at the
expense of the others--robbing from one what he gave to his neighbor.
But this is a very inadequate conception of the term. Chopin's
_rubato_ means much more than this. It includes, to a large extent,
the frequent unexpected changes of time and rhythm, together with the
_ritardandos_ and _accelerandos_. It includes, secondly, those unique
passages, first conceived by Chopin, where the right hand has to play
irregular groups of small notes--say twenty-two, while the left hand
plays only twelve; or nineteen, while the left plays four--passages in
which Chopin indicated as clearly as Wagner did in the words just
quoted that the musical bar is a mere mechanical measure which does
not sufficiently indicate the phrasing of the romantic or dramatic
ideas that lie beyond the walls of a dance-hall.

There is a third peculiarity of Chopin's style which may be included
under the name of _rubato_, namely, his habit of "robbing" the note,
not of its duration, but its _accent_. Every student of music knows
that the symphony and sonata are called "idealized dance forms,"
because they are direct outgrowths of the dances that were cultivated
originally in Italy, France, and Germany. Now, one peculiarity of
these dances is the fact that the accent always falls on the first
beat of each bar. This is very appropriate and convenient for dancing,
but from an artistic point of view, it is decidedly monotonous. Hence,
Chopin conferred a vast benefit on modern art by introducing the
spirit of Slavic music, in which the accent often falls on other beats
beside the first. These regular accents produce the effect of the
variable _tempo rubato_, and it is to them that Chopin's works largely
owe their exotic, poetic color. As they open up new possibilities of
emotional expression, they have been eagerly appropriated by other
composers and have leavened all modern music. To Chopin, therefore,
chiefly belongs the honor of having emancipated music from the
monotony of the Western European dance-beat by means of the _tempo
rubato_ in its varied aspects.

But, it was not merely in the accent of the dance forms, that he
introduced an agreeable innovation; he was one of the giants who helped
to create a new epoch in art, by breaking these old forms altogether,
and substituting new ones better suited to modern tastes. And here we
come across one of the most ludicrous misconceptions which have been
fostered concerning Chopin by shallow critics, and which brings us back
again for a moment to the question of Jumboism. I do not know whether
he was a German or a French critic who first wrote that Chopin,
although great in short pieces, was not great enough to master the
sonata form. Once in print, this silly opinion was repeated parrot-like
by scores of other critics. _How_ silly it is may be inferred from the
fact that such third-rate composerlings as Herz and Hummel were able to
write sonatas of the most approved pattern--and that, in fact, _any_
person with the least musical talent can learn in a few years to write
sonatas that are absolutely correct as regards form. And yet we are
asked to believe that Chopin, one of the most profound and original
musical thinkers the world has ever seen, could not write a correct
sonata! _Risum teneatis amici_! Chopin not able to master the sonata
form? The fact is, _the sonata form could not master him_. He felt
instinctively that it was too artificial to serve as a vehicle for the
expression of poetic thought; and his thoroughly original genius
therefore created the more plastic and malleable shorter forms which
have since been adopted by composers the world over. The few sonatas
which Chopin wrote do not deviate essentially from the orthodox
structure, but one feels constantly that he was hampered in his
movements by the artificial structure. Though they are full of genius,
like everything he composed, he did not write them _con amore_.
Concentration is one of Chopin's principal characteristics, and the
sonata favors diffuseness. Too much thematic beating out is the bane of
the sonata. A few bars of gold are worth more than many square yards of
gold leaf; and Chopin's bars are solid gold. Moreover, there is no
organic unity between the different parts of the sonata, whatever may
have been said to the contrary. The essentially artificial character of
the sonata is neatly illustrated by a simile used by Dr. Hanslick in
speaking of Chopin. "This composer," he said, "although highly and
peculiarly gifted, was never able to unite the fragrant flowers which
he scattered by handfuls, into beautiful wreaths." Dr. Hanslick intends
this as censure. I regard it as the greatest compliment he could have
paid him. A wreath may be very pretty in its way, but it is artificial.
The flowers are crushed and their fragrance does not blend. How much
lovelier is a single violet or orchid in the fields, unhampered by
strings and wires, and connected solely with its stalk and the
surrounding green leaves. Many of Chopin's compositions are so short
that they can hardly be likened unto flowers, but only to buds. Yet is
not a rosebud a thousand times more beautiful than a full-blown rose?

One more consideration. The psychology of the sonata form is false.
Men and women do not feel happy for ten minutes as in the opening
allegro of a sonata, then melancholy for another ten minutes, as in
the following adagio, then frisky, as in the scherzo, and finally,
fiery and impetuous for ten minutes as in the finale. The movements of
our minds are seldom so systematic as this. Sad and happy thoughts and
moods chase one another incessantly and irregularly, as they do in the
compositions of Chopin, which, therefore, are much truer echoes of our
modern romantic feelings than the stiff and formal classical sonatas.
And thus it is, that Chopin's habitual neglect of the sonata form,
instead of being a defect, reveals his rare artistic subtlety and
grandeur. It was natural that a Pole should vindicate for music this
emotional freedom of movement, for the Slavic mind is especially prone
to constant changes of mood. Nevertheless, as soon as Chopin had shown
the way, other composers followed eagerly in the new path, and in the
present day the sonata may be regarded as obsolete. Few contemporary
composers have written more than one or two--merely in order to show
that they can do so if they want to; and even Brahms, the high priest
of the conservatives, has, in his later period, devoted himself more
and more exclusively to shorter modern forms in his pianoforte music.

Strictly speaking, Chopin was not the first who tried to get away from
the sonata. Beethoven, though he remained faithful to it, felt its
fetters, as is shown by his numerous poetic licenses. Schubert wrote
"Moments Musicals," Mendelssohn, "Songs without Words," Weber,
Polonaises, and Field, Nocturnes. But these were merely straws which
indicated in which direction Chopin's genius would sweep the field and
clear the musical atmosphere. His polonaises and nocturnes are vastly
superior to those of Weber and Field; and his poetic preludes, his
romantic ballads, his lovely berçeuse, his amorous mazurkas, are new
types in art which have often been imitated but never equalled. Only
in one field did Chopin have a dangerous rival among his predecessors,
namely, in the Waltz. Weber's "Invitation to the Dance" is the source
of the modern idealized waltz, because it was not written for the feet
alone, but also for the heart and the imagination. Like Chopin's
waltzes, it contains chivalrous passages, amorous episodes, and subtle
changes of movement. And it seems as if the fact that there was less
room for formal and emotional innovations in the waltz than in the
other forms, had somewhat affected Chopin's imagination. For, although
the most popular of his works, his waltzes are, with a few exceptions
in which the _rubato_ prevails, less characteristic than his other
pieces. Nevertheless, they are charming, every one of them. But they
are fairy dances--mortals are too clumsy to keep time to them.

Next to the waltzes in popularity come the polonaises; and they fully
deserve their popularity. Liszt has given us a charming description of
the polonaise as it was formerly danced in Chopin's native country. It
was less a dance than a promenade in which courtly pomps and
aristocratic splendor were on exhibition. It was a chivalrous but not
an amorous dance, precedence being given to age and rank, before youth
and beauty. And whereas, in other dances, the place of honor is
always given to the fair sex, in the polonaise the men are in the
foreground. In a word, the polonaise represents, both in its subject
and the style of music, the masculine side of Chopin's genius.

The feminine side is chiefly embodied in the mazurkas and the
nocturnes. It has been said that the highest genius must combine
masculine with feminine traits, and it is a remarkable fact that the
works of two of the most spontaneous composers--Chopin and
Schubert--are often characterized by an exquisite feminine tenderness
and grace; as if, seeing that women have not done their duty as
composers, they had tried to introduce the feminine spirit in music.
Yet it is unfair to place too much emphasis on this side of their
genius. In their bolder moments, Chopin and Schubert are thoroughly

It seems strange at first sight that the mazurkas, these exquisite
love poems, should be so much less popular than the waltzes, for they
are quite as melodious and much easier--although here, as elsewhere,
Chopin often introduces a few very difficult bars in an otherwise easy
composition, as if to keep away bunglers. Perhaps the cause of their
comparative neglect is, that they are so thoroughly Polish in spirit;
unless they are played with an exotic _rubato_, their fragrance
vanishes. There is more local color in the mazurkas than in any of
his other works. The Mazurs are musically a highly gifted nation, and
Chopin was impressed early in life with the quaint originality of
their melodies. No doubt some of his mazurkas are merely artistic
settings of these old love songs, but they are the settings of an
inspired jeweller. If we can judge by the number of pieces of each
class that he wrote, the mazurka was Chopin's favorite form. Even on
his death-bed he wrote one. It was his last effort, and he was too
weak to try it over on the piano. It is of heart-rending sadness, and
exquisite pathos. Perhaps it was a patriotic rather than an æsthetic
feeling which led him thus to favor the mazurka. His love for his
country was exceeded only by his devotion to his art. "Oh, how sad it
must be to die in a foreign country," he wrote to a friend in 1830;
and when, soon afterward, he left home he took along a handful of
Polish soil which he kept for nineteen years. Shortly before his death
he expressed a wish that it should be strewn in his coffin--a wish
which was fulfilled; so that his body rested on Polish soil even in

A countless number of exquisite melodic rhythmic and harmonic details
in the mazurkas might be dwelt upon in this place, but I will only
call attention to the inexhaustible variety of ideas which makes each
of them so unique, notwithstanding their strong family likeness. They
are like fantastic orchids, or like the countless varieties of humming
birds, those "winged poems of the air," of which no two are alike
while all resemble each other.

The nocturnes represent the dreamy side of Chopin's genius. They are
sufficiently popular, yet few amateurs have any idea of their
unfathomable depth, and few know how to use the pedal in such a way as
to produce the rich uninterrupted flow of tone on which the melody
should float. Most pianists play them too fast. Mozart and Schumann
protested against the tendency to take their slow pieces too fast, and
Chopin suffers still more from this pernicious habit. Mendelssohn in
"A Midsummer Night's Dream," and Weber in "Oberon," have given us
glimpses of dreamland, but Chopin's nocturnes take us there bodily,
and plunge us into reveries more delicious than the visions of an
opium eater. They should be played in the twilight and in solitude,
for the slightest foreign sound breaks the spell. But just as dreams
are sometimes agitated and dramatic, so some of these nocturnes are
complete little dramas with stormy, tragic episodes, and the one in C
sharp minor, _e.g._, embodies a greater variety of emotion and more
genuine dramatic spirit on four pages than many popular operas on four

One of Chopin's enchanting innovations, which he introduced
frequently in the nocturnes, consists in those unique and exquisite
_fioriture_, or dainty little notes which suddenly descend on the
melody like a spray of dew drops glistening in all the colors of the
rainbow. No less unique and original are the exquisite modulations
into foreign keys which abound in the nocturnes, as, indeed, in all
his works. Schucht calls attention to the fact that in his very opus 1
Chopin permits himself a freedom of modulation which Beethoven rarely
indulged in. But this is a mere trifle compared with the works of his
last period. Here we find a striking originality and boldness of
modulation that has no parallel in music, except in Wagner's last
music-dramas. Now we have seen that Moscheles, and other
contemporaries of Chopin, found his modulations harsh and
disagreeable; and doubtless there are amateurs to-day who regard them
in the same way. It seems, indeed, as if musical people must be
divided into two classes--those who find their chief delight in melody
pure and simple, and those who think that rich and varied harmony is
the soul of music. Chopin fortunately wrote for both classes. Italy
has produced no melodist equal to him, and Germany only one--Franz
Schubert. No one has written melodies more soulful than those of the
nocturne, opus 37, No. 2, the second ballad, the études, opus 10, No.
3; opus 25, No. 7, etc. I distinctly remember the thrill with which I
heard each of these melodies for the first time; but it was a deeper
emotion still which I felt when I played for the first time the
sublimest of his nocturnes--the last but one he wrote--and came across
that wonderful modulation from five sharps to four flats, and, later
on, the delicious series of modulations in the fourth and fifth bars
after the Tempo Primo. I realized then that modulation is a deeper
source of emotional expression than melody.

In speaking of Chopin's melancholy character, the nocturnes are often
referred to as illustrations of it. They do, indeed, breathe a spirit
of sadness, but the majority represent, as I have said, the dreamy
side of his genius. The real anguish of his heart is not expressed in
the nocturnes but in the preludes and études, strange as these names
may seem for such pathetic effusions of his heart. The étude, opus 10,
No. 6, seems as if it were in a sort of double minor; as much sadder
than ordinary minor, as ordinary minor is sadder than major. Chopin
had abundant cause to be melancholy. He inherited that national
melancholy of the Poles which causes them even to dance to tunes in
minor keys, and which is commonly attributed to the long-continued
political oppression under which they have suffered. But, apart from
this national trait, Chopin had sufficient personal reasons for
writing the greater part of his mazurkas and his other pieces in
minor keys. Like other men of genius, he keenly felt the anguish of
not being fully appreciated by his contemporaries. Moreover, although
he was greatly admired by the French and Polish women in Paris, and
was even conceded a lady-killer, he was, in his genuine affairs of the
heart, thrice disappointed. His first love, who wore his engagement
ring when he left Warsaw, proved faithless to the absent lover, and
married another man. The second love deceived him in the same way,
preferring a Count to a genius. And his third love, George Sand, after
apparently reciprocating his attachment, for a few years, not only
discarded him, but tried to justify her conduct to the world, by
giving an exaggerated portraiture of his weaknesses, in her novel
"Lucrezia Floriani."

Nevertheless, it was in one respect fortunate for the world that
George Sand was Chopin's friend so long, for we owe to her facile pen
many interesting accounts of Chopin's habits and the origin of some of
his compositions. The winter which he spent with her on the Island of
Majorca was one of the most important in his life, for it was here
that he composed some of those masterpieces, his preludes--a word
which might be paraphrased as Introductions to a new world of musical
emotion. There is a strange discrepancy in the accounts which Liszt
and George Sand give of the Majorca episode in Chopin's life. Liszt
describes it as a period of calm enjoyment, George Sand as one of
discomfort and distress. As she was an eye-witness, her testimony
appears the more trustworthy, especially as it is borne out by the
character of the preludes which he composed there. There are among
Chopin's preludes a few which breathe the spirit of contentment and
grace, or of religious grandeur, but most of them are outbreaks of the
wildest anguish and heart-rending pathos. If tears could be heard,
they would sound like these preludes. Two of the saddest--those in B
minor and E minor--were played by the famous organist Lefebure Wely,
at Chopin's funeral services. But it is useless to specify. They are
all jewels of the first water.

Some years ago I wrote in "The Nation" that if all pianoforte music in
the world were to be destroyed, excepting one collection, my vote
should be cast for Chopin's preludes. If anything could induce me to
modify that opinion to-day, it would be the thought of Chopin's
études. I would never consent to their loss. Louis Ehlert, speaking of
Chopin's F Major ballad, says he has seen even children stop in their
play and listen to it enraptured. But, in the études I mentioned a
moment ago, there are melodies which, I should think, would tempt even
angels to leave their happy home and indulge, for a moment, in the
luxury of idealized human sorrow. There is in these twenty-seven
études, as in the twenty-five preludes, an inexhaustible wealth of
melody, modulation, poetry and passion. One can play them every day
and never tire of them. Of most of them one might say what Schumann
said of one--that they are "poems rather than studies;" and much
surprise has been expressed that Chopin should have chosen such a
modest and apparently inappropriate name for them as "studies." Now, I
have a theory on this subject: I believe it was partly an ironic
intention which induced Chopin to call some of his most inspired
pieces "studies." Pianists have always been too much in the habit of
looking at their art from purely technical or mechanical points of
view. They looked for mere five-finger exercises in Chopin's études,
and finding at the same time an abundance of musical ideas, they were
surprised. It did not occur to them that Chopin might have intended
them also as studies in musical composition--studies in melody,
harmony, rhythm and emotional expression. I believe he did so intend
them; and finding that his contemporaries did not take his idea, he
probably laughed in his sleeve, and exclaimed, "_O tempora!_"

This conjecture seems the more plausible, from the fact that there was
a pronounced ironic and comic vein in Chopin's character. The accounts
of his melancholy, in fact, like those of his ill-health, have been
too much exaggerated. He was often in a cheerful mood. Sometimes he
would amuse himself for a whole evening playing blind-man's buff with
the children. As a mere child he had formed the habit of mimicking and
caricaturing pianists and other distinguished men. Liszt often
suffered from this mischievous habit, but he did not complain, and
even seemed to enjoy it. Of Chopin's wit, two specimens may be cited.
A rich Parisian one day invited him to dinner, with the intention of
getting him to entertain the guests afterward. In this case, however,
the host had reckoned without the guest, for, when asked to play,
Chopin exclaimed, "But, my dear sir, I have eaten so little." The
other instance occurs in one of his letters, where he says of the
pianist Aloys Schmitt, that he was forty years old, and his
compositions eighty--a _bon mot_ worthy of Heine.

There was much, indeed, in common between Chopin and Heine. Nothing is
more characteristic of Heine than the way in which he works up our
sentimental feelings only to knock us on the head with a comic or
grotesque line at the end. Similarly, Chopin, after improvising for
his friends for an hour or two, would suddenly rouse them from their
reveries by a _glissando_--sliding his fingers from one end of the
key-board to the other. In almost all of Chopin's or Heine's poems
there is this peculiar mixture of the sad and the comic veins--even
in the scherzos, which represent the gay and cheerful moods of
Chopin's muse.

Another point between these two poets is their elegance of style, and
their ironic abhorrence of tawdry sentimentality and commonplace.
Heine is the most elegant and graceful writer of his country, and
Chopin the most elegant and graceful of all composers. Not a redundant
note or a meaningless bar in all his compositions. Heine owed his
formal finish to French influences, but Chopin did not need them, for
the Poles are as noted as the French for elegance and grace. He
avoided not only the modulatory monotony of the classical school, but,
especially, the commonplace endings which marred so many classical
compositions. "All's well that ends well," is a rule that was
generally ignored by composers till Chopin taught them its value and
effect. Chopin's pen always stopped when his thoughts stopped, and he
never appends a meaningless end formula as if to warn the audience
that they may now put on their hats. On the contrary, some of his
later compositions, especially of the last period, end with exquisite
miniature poems, connected in spirit with the preceding music and yet
distinct--separate inspirations. I refer, especially, to the endings
of his last two nocturnes and to the final bars of the mazurka, opus
59, No. 3.

George Sand has given us a vivid sketch of Chopin's conscientiousness
as a composer. "He shut himself up in his room for entire days," she
says, "weeping, walking about, breaking his pen, repeating and
changing a bar a hundred times, and beginning again next day with
minute and desperate perseverance. He spent six weeks over a single
page, only to go back and write that which he had traced at the first
essay." As regards his creativeness, George Sand says that "it
descended upon his piano suddenly, completely, sublimely, or it sang
itself in his head during his walks, and he made haste to hear it by
rushing to the instrument." I have already mentioned the fact that
when he wrote his last mazurka he was too weak to try it on the piano.
In one of his letters he speaks of a polonaise being ready in his
head. These facts indicate that he composed mentally, although, no
doubt, during the improvisations, many themes occurred to him which he
remembered and utilized. When he improvised he did not watch the
key-board, but generally looked at the ceiling. Already as a youth he
used to be so absorbed that he forgot his meals; and, in the street,
he was often so absent-minded that he very narrowly escaped being run
over by a wagon. Visions of female loveliness and patriotic
reminiscences inspired many of his best works. Sometimes the pictures
in his mind became so vivid as to form real hallucinations. Thus it
is related that one evening when he was alone in the dark, trying over
the A major polonaise which he had just completed, he saw the door
open and in marched a procession of Polish knights and ladies in
mediæval costumes--the same, no doubt, that his imagination had
pictured while he was composing. He was so alarmed at this vision that
he fled through the opposite door and did not venture to return.
Another illustration of the relations between genius and insanity.

The foregoing remarks on Chopin's compositions suffice, I think, to
show how absurd is the prevalent notion that he is the composer for
the drawing-room, and that his pieces reflect the spirit of
fashionable Parisian society. They do, perhaps, in their elegant form,
but certainly not in their spirit. The frivolous aristocratic circles
that heard Chopin could never have comprehended the depth of his
emotional life. The pianists for them, the real drawing-room composers
were Kalkbrenner, and Field, and Thalberg, with their operatic
fantasias. Chopin is the composer for the few, and he is the composer
_par excellence_ for musicians. From him they can get more ideas, and
learn more as regards form, than from anyone else, except Bach and
Wagner. In comparing his last works with his first, and noting their
progress, the mind tries in vain to conceive where he would have led
the world had he lived eighty instead of forty years. One thing is
certain: he would have probably written more for other instruments.
His pianoforte concertos belong to his early period, and betray a lack
of experience in the treatment of the orchestra. But he wrote two
pieces of chamber music which have never been excelled--a 'cello
sonata and a trio. The 'cello sonata was the last of his larger works,
and in my opinion it is superior to any of the 'cello sonatas of
Mendelssohn, Brahms, and even Beethoven and Rubinstein. The trio,
though an earlier work, is, like the 'cello sonata, admirably adapted
to the instruments for which it is written. I once belonged to an
amateur trio club. Our tastes naturally differed on many points, but
in one thing we all agreed: we always closed our entertainment with
this Chopin trio. It was the climax of the evening's enjoyment. Yet,
only a few years ago, the leader of one of the principal chamber music
organizations in New York admitted to me that he had never heard of
this trio!--an incident which vividly illustrates the truth of my
assertion that Chopin's genius is still far from being esteemed at its
full value.



Forty years ago Robert Schumann complained that the musical critics
had so much to say about singers and players, while the composer was
almost entirely ignored. To-day this reproach could hardly be made,
for although vocalists still receive perhaps a disproportionate share
of attention, compositions, new and old, are also discussed at great
length in the press. Nevertheless, I believe that the vast majority of
those who attend an operatic performance in New York, and are
delighted with "Siegfried" or "Faust," have but vague and shadowy
notions as to the way in which such an opera is composed. My object
here is to illustrate the way composers work, and to prove that the
creating of an opera is perhaps the most difficult and marvellous
achievement of the human intellect.

Professor Langhans notes, in his history of music, that in the Middle
Ages, as late as Luther's time, it took two men to compose the
simplest piece of music: one who conceived the melody, and the other
who added the harmonic accompaniment. The theoretical writer,
Glareanus, deliberately expressed his opinion, in 1547, that it might
be _possible_ to unite these two functions in one person, but that one
would rarely find the inventor of a melody able to work it out
artistically. We have made much progress in music within these three
hundred years, and to-day every composer is not only expected to
invent his own harmonies and accompaniments to his melodies, but,
since Wagner set the example, composers are beginning to consider it
incumbent on them to write their own librettos; and, what is more
remarkable, if we examine biographies of musicians carefully we find
that, even _before_ Wagner, not a few composers assisted in the
preparation of their operatic texts; and this remark applies even to
some of the Italian composers, who were proverbially careless
regarding their librettos. Rossini was, perhaps, too indolent to
devote much attention to his texts, and he was apt to postpone even
the _musical_ work to the last moment, so that he sometimes had to be
locked up in his room by his friends, to enable him to finish his
score by the date named in his contract. Yet it is worthy of note that
during the composition of what Rossini's admirers commonly regard as
his best and most characteristic work--the "Barber of Seville"--he
lived in the same house with his librettist. "The admirable unity of
the 'Barber,' in which a person without previous information on the
subject could scarcely say whether the words were written for the
music or the music for the words, may doubtless," as Mr. Sutherland
Edwards suggests, "in a great measure be accounted for by the fact
that poet and musician were always together during the composition of
the opera; ready mutually to suggest and to profit by suggestions."

"Donizetti," the same writer informs us, while at the Bologna Lyceum,
"occupied himself not only with music, but also with drawing,
architecture, and even poetry; and that he could turn out fair enough
verses for musical purposes was shown when, many years afterward, he
wrote--so rapidly that the word 'improvise' might here be used--for
the benefit of a manager in distress, both words and music of a little
one-act opera, called 'Il Campanello' founded on the 'Sonnette de
Nuit' of Scribe. Donizetti also arranged the librettos of 'Betty' and
'The Daughter of the Regiment,' and of the last act of 'Lucia' he not
only wrote the words but designed the scenes."

Concerning Verdi, Arthur Pougin says: "It is not generally known that,
virtually, Verdi is himself the author of all his poems. That is to
say, not only does he always choose the subject of his operas, but, in
addition to that, he draws out the sketch of the libretti, indicates
all the situations, constructs them almost entirely as far as regards
the general plan, brings his personages and his characters on the
stage in such a way that his _collaborateur_ has simply to follow his
indications to bring the whole together, and to write the verses."

One of Verdi's poetic assistants was Francesco Piave, who supplied the
verses for "La Traviata," "Ernani" and several other of his operas. He
was, Pougin informs us, "a tolerably bad poet, quite wanting in
invention," but he had the most important quality (from Verdi's point
of view) "of effacing himself completely, of putting aside every kind
of personal vanity and of following entirely the indications and the
desires of the composer, cutting out this, paring down that,
shortening or expanding at the will of the latter--giving himself up,
in short, to all his exigencies, whatever they might be."

A question having arisen some years ago, as to the origin of the
libretto of "Aida," the author of it, M. du Locle, wrote to a Roman
paper that the first idea of the poem belongs to the celebrated
Egyptologist, Mariette Bey. He adds: "I wrote the libretto, scene by
scene, phrase by phrase, in French prose, at Busseto, under the eye of
the maestro, who took a large share in the work. The idea of the
finale of the last act, with its two stages, one above the other,
belongs especially to him."

The libretto for Verdi's last work, "Otello," was prepared by Boïto,
who had previously assisted him in rearranging his "Simon Boccanegra,"
and who also wrote the poem of "La Gioconda" for Ponchielli. Boïto is
a thorough believer in Wagner's doctrine that every composer should
write his own opera books, and he followed this rule in his
interesting opera "Mefistofele."

Mozart was altogether too careless in accepting librettos unworthy of
his genius. Yet occasionally he took the liberty to improve the stuff
that was submitted to him. As the learned librarian, Herr Pohl,
remarks, "In the 'Entführung' it is interesting to observe the
alterations in Bretzner's libretto which Mozart's practical
acquaintance with the stage has dictated, to the author's great
disgust. Indeed, _Osmin_, one of the most original characters, is
entirely his own creation, at Fischer's suggestion."

Weber resembled Wagner, among other things, in the habit of carrying
plans for operas in his head for many years. Thus we read that while
on the look out for a subject for an opera he and Dusch hit upon "Der
Freischütz," a story by Apel, then just published. At the time,
however, it did not get beyond the beginning; and not till seven years
later did Weber begin the work which made his reputation, a work which
in Dresden, where it was first produced, has had already more than a
thousand performances, and which even in London was at one time
played simultaneously at three theatres. When he finally did begin his
work on the "Freischütz" the libretto he used was by another author,
Herr Kind, a man of considerable dramatic ability, but who--perhaps
for that very reason--was subsequently so mortified by the fact that
Weber's superior genius caused his music to receive the lion's share
of the public's attention, that he refused to write another libretto
for him. This was unfortunate, for, as ill luck would have it, Weber
fell into the hands of a Leipsic blue stocking, Wilhelmine von Chezy,
whose literary gifts were not of the most brilliant order. She
submitted several subjects to him, from which he selected "Euryanthe;"
but her sketch proved so unsatisfactory that he altered it entirely
and compelled her to work it over nine times before he was
sufficiently satisfied with it to set it to music. The libretto for
his last opera, "Oberon," was prepared for him in London, but the
subject, as usual, was his own choice and was based on Wieland's
famous poem of that name. Weber's rare artistic conscientiousness is
indicated by the fact that at this time, although he felt that his end
was approaching, he set to work to learn the English language in order
to avoid mistakes in adapting his melodies to the accent of the words
and the spirit of the text.

Having now caught a glimpse of the manner in which the great
composers find subjects for their operas, and elaborate them, with or
without the assistance of poets, we may go on to consider the sources
of the musical inspiration which provides appropriate melodies and
harmonies for these texts. Experience shows conclusively that the most
powerful stimulant of the composer's brain is _the possession of a
really poetic and dramatic text_. To take only one instance--it surely
cannot be a mere coincidence that the best works of four great
composers--Spohr, Berlioz, Gounod, and Schumann, are based on the
story of "Faust." And Schumann, in one of his private letters,
indicates very clearly why his "Faust" is such an inspired
composition. Speaking of a performance of this work he says: "It
appeared to make a good impression--better than my 'Paradise and
Peri'--no doubt in consequence of the superior grandeur of the poem
which aroused _my_ powers also to a greater effort."

More significant still are the words which Weber wrote to Fran von
Chezy when she was writing the libretto for "Euryanthe;" which he
intended to make better than all his previous works. "When you begin
to elaborate the text," he wrote; "I entreat you by all that is sacred
to task me with the most difficult kinds of metre, unexpected rhythms,
etc., which will force my thoughts into new paths and draw them out of
their hiding-places."

In one of his theoretical essays, Wagner emphasizes the value of a
good poem in kindling the spark of inspiration in a composer's mind by
exclaiming: "Oh, how I adore and honor Mozart because he found it
impossible to compose for his 'Titus' as good music as for his 'Don
Juan,' or for his 'Così fan Tutte' as good music as for 'Figaro.'"
Mozart, he adds, always wrote music, but _good_ music he could only
write when he was inspired, and when this inspiration was supplied by
a subject worthy of being wedded to his muse.

No doubt Wagner was right in maintaining that Mozart's operas contain
his best music. Where among all his purely instrumental works is
anything to be found as inspired as the music in the scenes where the
ghostly statue nods at _Don Juan_, and subsequently where it enters
his room and clutches his hand in its marble grasp? I venture to add
that even Beethoven, although he is not generally regarded as an
operatic composer _par excellence_, and although his fame chiefly
rests on his symphonies and other instrumental works, nevertheless
composed his most inspired music in connection with his one opera
"Fidelio." I refer to the third "Leonora" overture, and to the music
in the prison scene, where the digging of the grave is depicted in the
orchestra with a realism worthy of Wagner, and where the music when
_Leonora_ levels her pistol at the villain reaches a climax as
thrilling as is to be found in any dramatic work, musical or literary.
Obviously, it was the intensely dramatic situation which here inspired
Beethoven to the grandest effort of his genius.

It has often been asserted that the best numbers in "Fidelio" were
directly inspired in Beethoven by the emotional exaltation resulting
from one of his unhappy love affairs. Mr. Thayer doubts this story,
because he could not find anything in Beethoven's sketch-books
corroborating it; but even if it should be a myth, there are many well
authenticated facts which show that Beethoven, like other composers,
owed many of his best ideas to the magic influence of love in
stimulating his mental powers. He dedicated thirty-nine compositions
to thirty-six different women, and it is well known that he was
constantly falling in love, had made up his mind several times to
marry, and was twice refused. Female beauty always made a deep
impression on him, and Marx relates that "even in his later years he
was fond of looking at pretty faces, and used to stand still in the
street and gaze after them with his eyeglasses till they were out of
sight; if anyone noticed this he smiled and looked confused, but not
annoyed. His little Werther romance he had lived at an early age in
Bonn. In Vienna, he is said to have had more than one love affair and
to have made an occasional conquest which would have been difficult
if not impossible to many an Adonis."

Weber's "Freischütz" doubtless owes much of its beauty to the fact
that it was written but a few months before the composer's marriage.
In one of his letters to his betrothed he writes, "Yesterday I
composed all the forenoon and thought of you _very often_, for I was
at work on a scene of _Agatha_, in which I still cannot attain all the
fire, longing, and passion that vaguely float before me." And his son
testifies that Weber's love influenced all his work at the time. "It
was the reason," he says, "that Weber took to heart, above everything
else, the part of _Aennchen_, in which he saw an embodiment of his
bride's special talent and characteristics, and it was under the
fostering stimulus of this warm feeling that he allowed those parts of
the opera in which _Aennchen_ appears to ripen first. The first note
which he wrote down for the 'Freischütz' belongs in the duo between
_Aennchen_ and _Agatha_." He adds that his father, while composing,
actually saw his bride in his mind's eye, and heard her sing his
melodies, and accordingly as this imaginary vocalist nodded approval
or shook her head, he was led to retain or reject certain musical

Schumann's letters contain a superabundance of evidence showing how
love suggested to him immortal musical thoughts. "I have discovered,"
he writes to his bride, "that nothing transports the imagination so
readily as expectation and longing for something, as was again the
case during the last few days, when I was awaiting a letter from you,
and meanwhile composed whole volumes--strange, curious, solemn
things--how you will open your eyes when you play them. Indeed, I am
at present so full of musical ideas that I often feel as if I should
explode." This was in 1838, two years before his marriage. "Schumann
himself admits," as Professor Spitta remarks, "that his compositions
for the piano written during the period of his courtship reveal much
of his personal experiences and feelings, and his creative work of
1840 is of a very striking character. In this single year he wrote
over a hundred songs, the best he ever gave to the world, and," as
Professor Spitta continues, "when we look through the words of his
songs, it is clear that here, more than anywhere, love was the
prompter--love that had endured so long a struggle, and at last
attained the goal of its desires. This is confirmed by the 'Myrthen,'
which he dedicated to the lady of his choice, and the twelve songs
from Rückert's 'Springtime of Love'--which were written conjointly by
the two lovers."

The gay and genial Haydn appears to have been as great a favorite of
women as Beethoven, and he doubtless owed some of his inspirations to
their influence upon his susceptible heart. "He always considered
himself an ugly man," Herr Pohl writes, "and could not understand how
so many handsome women fell in love with him; 'at any rate,' he used
to say, 'they were not tempted by my beauty,' though he admitted that
he liked looking at a pretty woman, and was never at a loss for a

Everybody has heard of the marvellous effect produced on Berlioz's
ardent imagination by the _Juliet_ of Miss Smithson. He relates in his
memoirs that an English critic said that after seeing Miss Smithson in
_Juliet_ he had cried out, "I will marry that woman, and write my
grandest symphony on this play." "I did both things," he adds, "but I
never said anything of the sort." It is in "Lelio" that the story of
his love is embodied; and other compositions of his might be mentioned
which were simply the overflow of his passions.

Poor Schubert, who enjoyed little of the fame and less of the fortune
that were due him during his brief life, and who was as unattractive
in personal appearance as Haydn and Beethoven, does not seem to have
cared as much for women as most other composers. Nevertheless he fell
deeply in love with a countess, who, however, was too young to
reciprocate his feelings. But one day she asked him why he never
dedicated any of his compositions to her, whereupon he replied, "Why
should I? Are not all my compositions dedicated to you?" This was as
neat a compliment as Beethoven once made Frau von Arnim--an incident
which also gives us a glimpse of his manner of composing. One evening
at a party Beethoven repeatedly took his note-book from his pocket and
wrote a few lines in it. Subsequently, when he was alone with Frau von
Arnim, he looked over what he had written and sang it; whereupon he
exclaimed: "There, how does that sound? It is yours if you like it; I
made it for you, you inspired me with it; _I saw it written in your

Many similar cases might be cited, showing that although women may
have done little for music from a creative point of view, they are
indirectly responsible for many of the most inspired products of the
great composers. And the moral of the story is that a young musician,
as soon as he has secured a good poetic subject for a song or an
opera, should hasten to fall in love, in order to tune his
heart-strings and devotions to concert pitch. And a patriotic wag
might, perhaps, be allowed to maintain that, as America has more
pretty girls than any other country in the world, it is easier to fall
in love here than elsewhere, and that there is, therefore, no excuse
whatever for American composers if they do not soon lead the world in
musical inspiration.

Feminine beauty, however, is not the only kind of beauty that arouses
dormant musical ideas and brings them to light. The beauty of nature
appeals as strongly to musicians as to poets, and is responsible for
many of their inspirations. When Mendelssohn visited Fingal's Cave, he
wrote a letter on one of the Hebrides, inclosing twenty bars of music
"to show how extraordinarily the place affected me," to use his own
words. "These twenty bars," says Sir George Grove, "an actual
inspiration, are virtually identical with the opening of the wonderful
overture which bears the name of 'Hebrides' or 'Fingal's Cave.'" And
an English admirer of Mendelssohn, who had the honor of entertaining
him in the country, notes how deeply he entered into the beauty of the
hills and the woods. "His way of representing them," he says, "was not
with the pencil; but in the evenings his improvised music would show
what he had observed or felt in the past day. The piece which he
called 'The Rivulet,' which he wrote at that time, for my sister
Susan, will show what I mean; it was a recollection of a real, actual

"We observed" he continues, "how natural objects seemed to suggest
music to him. There was in my sister Honora's garden a pretty creeping
plant, new at that time, covered with little trumpet-like flowers. He
was struck with it, and played for her the music which (he said) the
fairies might play on those trumpets. When he wrote out the piece he
drew a little branch of that flower all up the margin of the paper."
In another piece, inspired by the sight of carnations, they found that
Mendelssohn intended certain arpeggio passages "as a reminder of the
sweet scent of the flower rising up."

Mozart, as many witnesses have testified, was especially attuned to
composition by the sight of beautiful scenery. Rochlitz relates that
when he travelled with his wife through picturesque regions he gazed
attentively and in silence at the surrounding sights; his features,
which usually had a reserved and gloomy, rather than a cheerful
expression, gradually brightened, and then he began to sing, or rather
to hum, till suddenly he exclaimed: "If I only had that theme on
paper." He always preferred to live in the country, and wrote the
greater part of his two best operas, "Don Juan," and "The Magic
Flute," in one of those picturesque little garden houses which are so
often seen in Austria and Germany. In one of these airy structures, he
confessed, he could write more in ten days than he could in his
apartments in two months.

Berlioz relates somewhere that the musical ideas for his "Faust" came
to him unbidden during his rambles among Italian hills. Weber's
melodies are so much like fragrant forest flowers that one feels sure
before being told that he came across them in the woods and fields.
His famous pupil, Sir Julius Benedict, relates that Weber took as
great delight in taking his friends to see his favorite bits of
landscape, as he did in composing a fine piece of music; and he adds
that "this love of nature, and principally of forest life, may explain
his predilection, in the majority of his operas, for hunting choruses
and romantic scenery."

Richard Wagner conceived most of his vigorous and eloquent leading
melodies during his rambles among the picturesque environs of
Bayreuth, or the sublime snowpeaks of Switzerland. How he elaborated
them we shall see later on. Of Beethoven's devotion to nature many
curious anecdotes are told by his contemporaries. A harp manufacturer
named Stumpff met him in 1823 and wrote an account of his visit in
"The Harmonicon," a London journal, in which occurs this passage:
"Beethoven is a capital walker and delights in rambling for hours
through wild, romantic scenery. I am told, indeed, that he has
sometimes been out whole nights on such excursions, and is often
absent from home for several days. On the way to the valley [the
Hellenenthal, near the Austrian Baden] he often stopped to point out
the prettiest views, or to remark on the defects of the new buildings.
Then he would go back again to his own thoughts and hum to himself in
an incomprehensible fashion; which, I heard, was his fashion of

Professor Klöber, a well-known artist of that period, who painted
Beethoven's portrait, relates that he often met Beethoven during his
walks near Vienna. "It was most interesting to watch him," he writes;
"how he would stand still as if listening, with a piece of music paper
in his hands, look up and down and then write something. Dont had told
me when I met him thus not to speak or take any notice, as he would be
very much embarrassed or very disagreeable. I saw him once, when I was
taking a party to the woods, clambering up to an opposite height from
the ravine which separated us, with his broad-brimmed felt hat tucked
under his arm; arrived at the top, he threw himself down full length
and gazed long into the sky."

Another contemporary of Beethoven, G.F. Treitschke, gives us an
interesting glimpse of Beethoven's manner of creating and improvising.
Treitschke had been asked to write the text for a new aria that was to
be introduced in "Fidelio" when that opera was revived at Vienna in
1814. Beethoven called at seven o'clock in the evening and asked how
the text of the aria was getting on. Treitschke had just finished it,
and handed it to him. Beethoven read it over, he continues, "walked up
and down the room, humming as usual, instead of singing--and opened
the piano. My wife had often asked him in vain to play; but now,
putting the text before him, he began a wonderful improvisation,
which, unfortunately, there were no magic means of recording. From
this fantasy he seemed to conjure the theme of the aria. Hours passed
but Beethoven continued to improvise. Supper, which he intended to
share with us, was served, but he would not be disturbed. Late in the
evening he embraced me and, without having eaten anything, hurried
home. The following day the piece was ready in all its beauty."

This anecdote appears to indicate that Beethoven sometimes composed at
the piano. Meyerbeer, it is said, always composed at his instrument,
and there is a story that he used to jot down the ideas of other
composers at the opera and concerts, and, by thinking and playing
these over, gradually evolve his own themes. It is rather more
surprising to hear, from Herr Pohl, that Haydn sketched all his
compositions at the piano. The condition of the instrument, he adds,
had its effect upon him, beauty of tone being favorable to
inspiration. Thus he wrote to Artaria in 1788: "I was obliged to buy a
new forte-piano, that I might compose your clavier sonatas
particularly well." "When an idea struck him he sketched it out in a
few notes and figures; this would be his morning's work; in the
afternoon he would enlarge this sketch, elaborating it according to
rule, but taking pains to preserve the unity of the idea."

Weber's son relates that it was his father's habit to sit at the
window on summer evenings and jot down the ideas that had come to him,
during his solitary walks, on small pieces of music paper, of which a
large number were usually lying on his table. "No piano," he adds,
"was touched on these occasions, for his ears spontaneously heard a
full orchestra, played by good spirits, while he wrote down his neat
little notes." And Weber himself remarks in one of his essays that,
"the tone poet who gets his ideas at the piano is almost always born
poor, or in a fair way of delivering his faculties into the hands of
the common and commonplace. For these very hands, which, thanks to
constant practice and training, finally acquire a sort of independence
and will of their own, are unconscious tyrants and masters over the
creative power. How very differently does _he_ create whose _inner_
ear is judge of the ideas which he simultaneously conceives and
criticises. This mental ear grasps and holds fast the musical visions,
and is a divine secret belonging to music alone, incomprehensible to
the layman."

Mozart had already learned to compose without a piano when he was only
six years old; and, as Mr. E. Holmes remarks, "having commenced
composition without recourse to the clavier, his powers in mental
music constantly increased, and he soon imagined effects of which the
original types existed only in his brain."

Schumann wrote to a young musician in 1848: "Above all things, persist
in composing mentally, without the aid of the instrument. Turn over
your melodic idea in your head until you can say to yourself: 'It is
well done.'" Elsewhere he says: "If you can pick out little melodies
at the piano, you will be pleased; but if they come to you
spontaneously, away from the piano, you will have more reason to be
delighted, for then the inner tone-sense is aroused to activity. The
fingers must do what the head wishes, and not _vice versa_." And again
he says: "If you set out to compose, invent everything in your head.
If the music has emanated from your soul, if you have felt it, others
will feel it too."

Schumann had discovered the superiority of the mental method of
composing from experience. In a letter dated 1838 he writes concerning
his "Davidstänze:" "If I ever was happy at the piano it was when I
composed these pieces;" and it was well known that up to 1839 "he used
to compose sitting at the instrument." We have also just seen how
Beethoven practically composed one of his "Fidelio" arias at the
piano. Nor was this by any means an isolated instance. To cite only
one more case: Ries relates that one afternoon he took a walk with
Beethoven, returning at eight o'clock. "While we were walking," he
continues, "Beethoven had constantly hummed, or almost howled, up and
down the scale, without singing definite notes. When I asked him what
it was, he replied that a theme for the last allegro of the sonata had
come into his head. As soon as we entered the room, he ran to the
piano, without taking off his hat. I sat down in a corner, and he had
soon forgotten me. For at least an hour he now improvised impetuously
on the new and beautiful finale of the sonata [opus 57]." Another of
Beethoven's contemporaries, J. Russell, has left us a vivid
description of Beethoven when thus composing at the piano, or
improvising: "At first he only struck a few short detached chords, as
if he were afraid of being caught doing something foolish; but he soon
forgot his surroundings, and for about half an hour lost himself in an
improvisation, the style of which was exceedingly varied, and
especially distinguished by sudden transitions. The amateurs were
transported, and to the uninitiated it was interesting to observe how
his inspirations were reflected in his countenance. He revelled rather
in bold, stormy moods than in soft and gentle ones. The muscles of his
face swelled, his veins were distended, his eyes rolled wildly, his
mouth trembled convulsively, and he had the appearance of an enchanter
mastered by the spirit he had himself conjured."

Russell was probably one of the witnesses of whom Richard Wagner
remarked, in his essay on Beethoven, that they have testified to the
incomparable impression which Beethoven made by his improvisations at
the piano. And Wagner adds the following suggestive words: "The
regrets that there was no way of writing down and preserving these
instantaneous creations cannot be regarded as unreasonable, even in
comparing these improvisations with the master's greatest works, if we
bear in mind the fact, taught by experience, that even _less_ gifted
musicians, whose written compositions are not free from stiffness and
inelegance, sometimes positively amaze us by the quite unexpected and
fertile inventiveness which they display while improvising."

A similar remark was made by De Quincey, in pointing out the
spontaneous origin of some of his essays: "Performers on the organ,"
he says, "so far from finding their own _impromptu_ displays to fall
below the more careful and premeditated efforts, on the contrary have
oftentimes deep reason to mourn over the escape of inspirations and
ideas born from the momentary fervors of inspiration, but fugitive and
irrevocable as the pulses in their own flying fingers."

By way of illustrating this thesis a few more cases may be cited.
Mozart used to sit up late at night, improvising for hours at the
piano, and, according to one witness, "these were the true hours of
creation of his divine melodies," a statement which, however, we shall
presently see reason to modify somewhat. Schubert never improvised in
public like Mozart, but only "in the intervals of throwing on his
clothes, or at other times when the music within was too strong to be
resisted," as Mr. Grove remarks. What an inestimable privilege it must
have been to witness the spontaneous overflow of so rich a genius as
Schubert! And once more, Max Maria von Weber writes that his father's
improvisations on the piano were like delightful dreams. "All who had
the good fortune to hear him," he says, "testify that the impression
of his playing was like an Elysian frenzy, which elevates a man above
his sphere and makes him marvel at the glories of his own soul."

In reading such enthusiastic descriptions--and musical biographies are
full of them--we cannot but echo De Quincey and Wagner in regretting
that there has been no shorthand method of taking down and preserving
these wonderful improvisations of the great masters. Future
generations will be more favored, if Mr. Edison's improved phonograph
fulfils the promises made of it. For by simply placing one of these
instruments near the piano it will be possible hereafter to preserve
every note and every accent and shade of expression, and reproduce it
subsequently at will. And not only will momentary inspirations be thus
preserved, but musicians will no longer be compelled to do all the
manual labor of writing down their compositions, but will be able to
follow the example of those German professors, who when they wish to
write a book, simply engage a stenographer to take down their
lectures, which they then revise and forward to the publisher. True,
the orchestration will always have to be done by the master's own
hands, but in other respects musicians of the future will be as
greatly benefited as men of letters by the new phonograph which, it is
predicted, will create as great a revolution in social affairs as the
telegraph and railroad did when first introduced.

The charm of improvisation lies, of course, in this, that we hear a
composer creating and playing at the same time. This very fact,
however, ought to make us cautious not to overestimate the value of
such improvisations. For we all know how a great genius can invest
even a commonplace idea with charm by his manner of expressing or
rendering it. It is probable, therefore, that in most cases these
improvisations, if noted down and played by _others_, would not make
as deep an impression as the regularly written compositions of the
great masters. It is with music as with literature. Schopenhauer says
that there are three classes of writers: The first class, which is
very numerous, never think at all, but simply reproduce echoes of what
they have read in books. The second class, somewhat less numerous,
think only while they are writing. But the third class, which is very
small, only write _after_ thinking and because their thoughts clamor
for utterance.

If we apply this classification to music we see at once that
improvising comes under the second head: improvising is thinking or
composing while playing. But the greatest musical ideas are those
which are conceived entirely in the mind, which needs no pen or piano
mechanically to stimulate its creative power. Of this there can be no
question, whatever. With an almost absolute unanimity we find that the
greatest composers conceived their immortal ideas in the open air,
where there was no possibility of coaxing them out of an instrument.
And not only is the bare outline thus composed mentally, but the whole
composition with all its involved harmonies and varied orchestral
colors is present in the composer's mind before he puts it down on
paper. The composition of "Der Freischütz" affords a remarkable
confirmation of this statement. Weber began to compose this opera
mentally on February 23, but did not write down a single note before
the second of July. That is, he kept the full score of this wonderful
work in his brain for more than four months, and, as his son remarks,
"there is not a number in it which he did not work over ten times in
his mind, until it sounded satisfactory and he could say to himself
'That's it,' and then he wrote it down rapidly without hesitation and
almost without altering a note."

This power of elaborating a musical score in the mind, and hearing it
inwardly, is a gift which unmusical people find it difficult to
comprehend, and which even puzzles many musical people. Yet it is a
power which all students of music ought to possess; and, like other
capacities, it can be easily cultivated and strengthened.

A comparison with two other senses will throw some light on the
matter. Most of us can, by thinking fixedly of some appetizing dish,
recall its flavor sufficiently to start a nerve current and stimulate
the salivary glands. The image of the flavor, so to speak, makes the
mouth water. What do we do when we go to a restaurant and look over
the bill of fare? We simply, on reading the list, recall a faint
gastronomic image, as it were, of each dish, and the one which is most
vivid, owing to the peculiar direction of the appetite, decides our

The sense of sight presents many curious analogies. Mr. Galton, in his
"Inquiries into Human Faculty," gives the results of a series of
investigations which show that there are great differences among
persons of distinction in various kinds of intellectual work in the
power of recalling to the mind's eye clear and distinct images of what
they have seen. Some, for instance, in thinking of the breakfast
table, could see all the objects--knives, plates, dishes, etc., in the
mental picture as bright as in the actual scene, and in the
appropriate colors; others could recall only very dim or blurred
images of the scene, or none at all; and all stages, from the highest
to the lowest visualizing power, were represented in the letters he
received on the subject.

Sometimes these mental images are as vivid as the actual images, or
even more vivid. Everybody has heard the story of Blake, who, when he
was painting a portrait, only required one sitting, because
subsequently he could see the model as distinctly as if he were
actually sitting in the chair. Mrs. Haweis wrote to Mr. Galton that
all her life she has had at times a waking vision of "a flight of pink
roses floating in a mass from right to left," and that before her
ninth year they were so large and brilliant that she often tried to
touch them; and their scent, she adds, was overpowering.

Much has been written regarding the remarkable feats of Zuckertort and
Blackburn who can play as many as sixteen to twenty games of chess at
once, and blindfolded. Of course the only way they can do this is by
having in the mind a clear picture of each chess-board, with all the
figures arranged in proper order.

Mr. Galton says he has among his notes "many cases of persons mentally
reading off scores when playing the pianoforte, or manuscripts when
they are making speeches;" and he knows a lady, the daughter of an
eminent musician, who often imagines she hears her father's playing.
"The day she told me of it," he says, "the incident had again
occurred. She was sitting in her room with her maid, and she asked the
maid to open the door that she might hear the music better. The moment
the maid got up the music disappeared."

It is obvious that this case, like that of the eminent painter just
referred to, borders closely on the hallucinations of the insane, and
Blake _did_ become insane subsequently. But usually there is nothing
abnormal or pathologic in the power of mentally recalling sights or
sounds, and it would be well if everybody cultivated this power. Mr.
Galton mentions an electrical engineer who was able to recall forms
with great precision, but not color. But after some exercise of his
color memory he became quite an adept in that, too, and declared that
the newly-acquired power was a source of much pleasure to him.

In music most of us have the power of recalling a simple melody; and
who has not been tormented at times by an unbidden melody persistently
haunting his ears until he was almost ready to commit suicide? But to
recall a melody at will _with any particular tone-color_, _i.e._, to
imagine it as being played by a flute, or a violin, or a horn, is much
less easy; and still more difficult is it to hear two or more notes
_at once_ in the mind, that is to recall harmonies. It is for this
reason that people of primitive musical taste care only for operas
which are full of "tunes." These they can whistle in the street and be
happy, while the harmonies and orchestral colors elude their
comprehension and memory. Consequently they call these works "heavy,"
"scientific," or "intellectual;" whereas if they took pains to educate
their musical imaginations, they would soon revel in the magic
harmonies of modern operas, with their infinite variety of gorgeous
orchestral colors.

Every student of music should carefully heed Schumann's advice.
"Exercise your imagination," he says, "so that you may acquire the
power of remembering not only the melody of a composition, but also
the harmonies which accompany it." And again he says, "You must not
rest until you are able to understand music on paper." I remember
that, as a small boy, I used to wonder at my father, who often sat in
a corner all the evening looking over the score of an opera or
symphony. And I was very much surprised at the time when he informed
me that this simple reading of the score gave him almost as vivid a
pleasure as if he heard it with full orchestra. This power of hearing
music with the eyes, as it were, is common to all thorough musicians,
and is, of course, most highly developed in the great composers.
Schumann even alludes to the opinion, which some one had expressed,
that a thorough musician ought to be able, on listening for the first
time to a complicated orchestral piece, to _see_ it bodily as a score
before his eyes. He adds, however, that this is the greatest feat that
could be imagined; and I, for my part, doubt whether even the
marvellously comprehensive mind of a musical genius would be able to
accomplish it.

These facts illustrate the manner in which composers, being virtuosi
of the musical imagination, are able to elaborate mentally, and keep
in the memory, a complete operatic or symphonic score, just as, for
example, Alexander Dumas, when he wished to write a new novel, used to
hire a yacht and sail on Southern waters for several days, lying on
his back--which, by the way, is an excellent method of starting a
train of thought--and thus arranging all the details of the plot in
his mind.

The exact way in which _original_ ideas come into the mind is, of
course, a mystery in music as in literature. Every genius passes
through a period of apprenticeship, in which he _assimilates_ the
discoveries of his predecessors, reminiscences of which make up the
bulk of his early works. Everybody knows how Mozartish, _e.g._,
Beethoven's first symphony is, and how much in turn Mozart's early
works smack of Haydn. Gradually, as courage comes with years, the
gifted composer sets out for unexplored forests and mountain ranges,
attempting to scale summits which none of his predecessors had trod. I
say, as courage comes, for in music, strange to say, it requires much
courage to give the world an entirely new thought. An original
composer needs not only the courage that is common to all explorers,
but he must invariably come back prepared to face the accusation that
his new territory is nothing but a howling wilderness of discords.
This has been the case quite recently with Wagner, as it was formerly
with Schumann, Beethoven, Mozart, the early Italian composers, and
many others, including even Rossini, who certainly did not deviate
very far from the beaten paths. Seyfried relates that when Beethoven
came across articles in which he was criticised for violating
established rules of composition, he used to rub his hands gleefully
and burst out laughing. "Yes, yes!" he exclaimed, "that amazes them,
and makes them put their heads together, because they have not seen it
in any of their text-books."

Fortunately for their own peace of mind, the majority of the minor
composers never get beyond a mere rearrangement of remembered melodies
and modulations. Their minds are mere galleries of echoes. They write
for money or temporary notoriety, and not because their brains teem
with ideas that clamor for utterance. The pianist Hummel was one of
this class of composers. But whatever his short-comings, he had at
least, as Wagner admits, the virtue of frankness. For when he was
asked one day what thoughts or images he had in his mind when he
composed a certain concerto, he replied that he had been thinking of
the eighty ducats which his publisher had promised him!

Yet even the greatest composers cannot always command new thoughts at
will, and it is therefore of interest to note what devices some of
them resorted to rouse their dormant faculties. Weber's only pupil,
Sir Julius Benedict, relates that Weber spent many mornings in
"learning by heart the words of 'Euryanthe,' which he studied until he
made them a portion of himself, his own creation, as it were. His
genius would sometimes lie dormant during his frequent repetitions of
the words, and then the idea of a whole musical piece would flash
upon his mind, like the bursting of light into darkness."

I have already referred to the manner in which Weber, while composing
certain parts of the "Freischütz," got his imagination into the proper
state of creative frenzy by picturing to himself his bride as if she
were singing new arias for him. Now, in one of Wagner's essays there
is a curious passage which seems to indicate that Wagner habitually
conjured his characters before his mental vision and made them sing to
him, as it were, his original melodies. He advises a young composer
who wishes to follow his example never to select a dramatic character
for whom he does not entertain a warm interest. "He should divest him
of all theatrical apparel," he continues, "and then imagine him in a
dim light, where he can only see the expression of his eyes. If these
speak to him, the figure itself is liable presently to make a
movement, which will perhaps alarm him--but to which he must submit;
at last the phantom's lips tremble, it opens its mouth, and a
supernatural voice tells him something that is entirely real, entirely
tangible, but at the same time so extraordinary (similar, for
instance, to what the ghostly statue, or the page _Cherubin_ told
Mozart) that it arouses him from his dream. The vision has
disappeared; but his inner ear continues to hear; an idea has
occurred to him, and this idea is a so-called musical _motive_."

As this passage implies, and as he has elsewhere explained at length,
Wagner looked on the mental process of composing as something
analogous to dreaming--as a sort of clairvoyance, which enables a
musician to dive down into the bottomless mysteries of the universe,
as it were, thence to bring up his priceless pearls of harmony.
According to the Kant-Schopenhauer philosophy, of which Wagner was a
disciple, objects or things in themselves do not exist in space and
time, which are mere forms under which the human mind beholds them. We
cannot conceive anything except as existing either in space or in
time. But there is one exception, according to Wagner, and that is
harmony. Harmony exists not in time, for the time-element in music is
melody; nor does it exist in space, for the simultaneousness of tones
is not one of extension or space. Hence our harmonic sense is not
hampered by the forms of the mind, but gives us a glimpse of things as
they are in themselves--a glimpse of the world as a superior spirit
would behold it. And hence the mysterious superterrestrial character
of such new harmonies as we find in the works of Wagner and
Chopin--which are unintelligible to ordinary mortals, while to the
initiated they come as revelations of a new world.

Without feeling the necessity of accepting all the consequences of
Wagner's mystical doctrine, which I have thus freely paraphrased, no
one can deny that the attitude of a composer in the moment of
inspiration is closely analogous to that known as clairvoyance. The
celebrated vocalist, Vogel, tells an anecdote of Schubert which shows
strikingly how completely this composer used to be transported to
another world, and become oblivious of self, when creating. On one
occasion Vogel received from Schubert some new songs, but being
otherwise occupied could not try them over at the moment. When he was
able to do so, he was particularly pleased with one of them, but as it
was too high for his voice, he had it copied in a lower key. About a
fortnight afterwards they were again making music together, and Vogel
placed the transposed song before Schubert on the desk of the piano.
Schubert tried it through, liked it, and said, in his Vienna dialect,
"I say, the song's not so bad; _whose is it?_" so completely, in a
fortnight, had it vanished from his mind. Grove recalls the fact that
Sir Walter Scott once similarly attributed a song of his own to Byron;
"but this was in 1828, after his mind had begun to fail."

There is no reason for doubting Vogel's story when we bear in mind the
enormous fertility of Schubert. He was unquestionably the most
spontaneous musical genius that ever lived. Vogel, who knew him
intimately, used the very word _clairvoyance_ in referring to his
divine inspirations, and Sir George Grove justly remarks that, "In
hearing Schubert's compositions, it is often as if one were brought
more immediately and closely into contact with music itself, than is
the case in the works of others; as if in his pieces the stream from
the great heavenly reservoir were dashing over us, or flowing through
us, more directly, with less admixture of any medium or channel, than
it does in those of any other writer--even of Beethoven himself. And
this immediate communication with the origin of music really seems to
have happened to him. No sketches, no delay, no anxious period of
preparation, no revision appear to have been necessary. He had but to
read the poem, to surrender himself to the torrent, and to put down
what was given him to say, as it rushed through his mind."

Schubert was the most omnivorous song composer that ever lived. He
could hardly see a poem--good, bad, or indifferent, without being at
once seized by a passionate desire to set it to music. He sometimes
wrote half a dozen or more songs in one day, and some of them
originated under the most peculiar circumstances. The serenade, "Hark,
hark, the lark," for instance, was written in a beer garden. Schubert
had picked up a volume of Shakespeare accidentally lying on the
table. Presently he exclaimed, "Such a lovely melody has come into my
head, if I only had some paper." One of his friends drew a few staves
on the back of a bill of fare, and on this Schubert wrote his
entrancing song. "The Wanderer," so full of original details, was
written in one evening, and when he composed his "Rastlose Liebe,"
"the paroxysm of inspiration," as Grove remarks, "was so fierce that
Schubert never forgot it, but, reticent as he often was, talked of it
years afterward."

These stories remind one of an incident related by Goethe, who one day
suddenly found a poem spontaneously evolved in his mind, and so
complete that he ran to the desk and wrote it diagonally on a piece of
paper, fearing it might escape him if he took time to arrange the

In a word, Schubert _improvised with the pen_, and he seems to have
been an exception to Schopenhauer's rule, that the greatest writers
are those whose thoughts come to them before writing, and not while
writing. Nevertheless, it must be admitted that much of the music
which Schubert composed in this rapid manner is poor stuff; and
although his short songs are generally perfect in their way, his
longer compositions would have gained very much had he taken the
trouble to think them out beforehand, or to revise and condense them
afterward, which he very rarely did.

With a strange perversity and persistency, musical students and the
public have been led to believe that the surest sign of supreme
musical inspiration is the power to dash off melodies as fast as the
pen can travel. Weber relates in his autobiographic sketch that he
wrote the second act of one of his early operas in ten days, and adds,
significantly, that this was "one of the many unfortunate results of
the wonderful anecdotes about great masters, which make a deep
impression on youthful minds, and incite them to imitation."

Mozart has always been pointed to by preference to show how a really
great master shakes his melodies from his sleeves, as it were. Yet, on
reading Jahn's elaborate account of Mozart's life and works, nothing
strikes one more than the emphasis he places on the amount of
preliminary labor which Mozart expended on his compositions, before he
wrote them down. It appears to be a well-authenticated fact that
Mozart postponed writing the overture to "Don Giovanni," until the
midnight preceding the evening when the opera was to be performed in
public; and that at seven o'clock in the morning, the score was ready
for the copyist, although he had been drinking punch and was so sleepy
that his wife had to allow him to doze for two hours, and kept him
awake the rest of the time by telling him funny stories. But this
incident loses much of its marvellous character, when we bear in mind
that Mozart, according to his usual custom, must have had every bar of
the overture worked out in his head, before he sat down to commit it
to paper. This last labor was almost purely mechanical, and for this
reason, whenever he was engaged in writing down his scores, he not
only worked with amazing rapidity, but did not object to conversation,
and even seemed to like it; and on one occasion when at work on an
opera, he wrote as fast as his hands could travel, although in one
adjoining room there was a singing teacher, in another a violinist,
and opposite an oboeist, all in full blast!

Mozart himself tried to correct the notion, prevalent even in his day,
that he composed without effort--that melodies flowed from his mind as
water from a fountain. During one of the rehearsals of "Don Giovanni,"
at Prague, he remarked to the leader of the orchestra: "I have spared
neither pains nor labor in order to produce something excellent for
Prague. People are indeed mistaken in imagining that art has been an
easy matter to me. I assure you, my dear friend, no one has expended
so much labor on the study of composition as I have. There is hardly a
famous master whose works I have not studied thoroughly and

Jahn surmises, doubtless correctly, that the reason why Mozart
habitually delayed putting down his pieces on paper, was because this
process, being a mere matter of copying, did not interest him so much
as the composing and creating, which were all done before he took up
the pen. "You know," he writes to his father, "that I am immersed in
music, as it were, that I am occupied with it all day long, that I
like to study, speculate, reflect." He was often absent-minded and
even followed his thoughts while playing billiards or nine pins, or
riding. Like Beethoven, he walked up and down the room, absorbed in
thought, even while washing his hands; and his hair-dresser used to
complain that Mozart would never sit still, but would jump up every
now and then and walk across the room to jot down something, or touch
the piano, while _he_ had to run after him holding on to his pigtail.

Allusion has been made to the fact that it was almost always in the
open air that new ideas sprouted in Mozart's mind, especially when he
was travelling. Whenever a new theme occurred to him he would jot it
down on a slip of paper, and he always had a special leather bag for
preserving these sketches, which he carefully guarded. These sketches
differ somewhat in appearance, but generally they contained the melody
or vocal part, together with the bass, and brief indications of the
middle parts, and here and there mention of a special instrument.
This was sufficient subsequently to recall the whole composition to
his memory. In elaborating his scores he hardly ever made any
deviations from the original conception, not even in the
instrumentation; which seems the more remarkable when we reflect that
he was the originator of many new orchestral combinations, the beauty
of which presented itself to his imagination before his ears had ever
heard them in actuality. These new tone-colors, as Jahn remarks,
existed intrinsically in the orchestra as a statue does in the marble;
but it remained for the artist to bring them out; and that Mozart was
bound to have them is shown by the anecdote of a musician who
complained to him of the difficulty of a certain passage, and begged
him to alter it. "Is it possible to play those tones on your
instrument?" Mozart asked; and when he was told it was, he replied,
"Then it is your affair to bring them out."

Beethoven's way of mental composing appears at first sight to differ
widely from Mozart's. But if we had as many specimens of Mozart's
preliminary sketches as we have of Beethoven's, the difference would
perhaps appear less pronounced, and would to a large extent resolve
itself into the fact that Beethoven did not trust his memory so much
as Mozart did, and therefore put more of his _tentative_, or rough
sketches, on paper. He always carried in his pockets a few loose
sheets of music paper, or a number of sheets bound together in a
note-book. If his supply gave out accidentally, he would seize upon
any loose sheet of paper, or even a bill of fare, to note down his
thoughts. In a corner of his room lay a large pile of note-books, into
which he had copied in ink his first rough pencil-sketches. Many of
these sketch-books have been fortunately preserved, and they are among
the most remarkable relics we have of any man of genius. They prove
above all things that rapidity of work is not a test of musical
inspiration, and that Carlyle was not entirely wrong when he defined
genius as "an immense capacity for taking trouble." In the "Fidelio"
sketch-book, for example, sixteen pages are almost entirely filled
with sketches for a scene which takes up less than three pages of the
vocal score. Of the aria, "O Hoffnung," there are as many as eighteen
different versions, and of the final chorus, ten; and these are not
exceptional cases by any means. As Thayer remarks: "To follow a
recitative or aria through all its guises is an extremely fatiguing
task, and the almost countless studies for a duet or terzet are enough
to make one frantic." Thayer quotes Jahn's testimony that these
afterthoughts are invariably superior to the first conception, and
adds that "some of his first ideas for pieces which are now among the
jewels of the opera are so extremely trivial and commonplace, that one
would hardly dare to attribute them to Beethoven, were they not in
his own handwriting."

On the other hand these sketch-books bear witness to the extreme
fertility of Beethoven's genius. Thayer estimates that the number of
distinct ideas noted in them, which remained unused, is as large as
the number which he used; and he refers to this as a commentary on the
remark which Beethoven made toward the close of his life: "It seems to
me as if I were only just beginning to compose." And Nottebohm, who
has studied these sketch-books more thoroughly than any one else,
thinks that if Beethoven had elaborated all the symphonies which he
began in these books we should have at least fifty instead of nine.

The sketch-books show that Beethoven was in the habit of working at
several compositions at the same time; and the ideas for these are so
jumbled up in his books that he himself apparently needed a guide to
find them. At least, when ideas belonging together are widely
separated he used to connect them by writing the letters VI over the
first passage and DE over the second. He also used to write the word
"better" in French on some pages, or else the figures 100, 500, 1,000,
etc., probably, as Schindler thinks, to indicate the relative value of
certain ideas.

When his mind was in a creative mood, Beethoven was as completely
absorbed (or "absent-minded," as we generally say) as Mozart. This is
illustrated by an amusing trait described by his biographers.
"Beethoven was extremely fond of washing. He would pour water
backwards and forwards over his hands for a long time together, and if
at such times a musical thought struck him and he became absorbed, he
would go on until the whole floor was swimming, and the water had
found its way through the ceiling into the room beneath" (Grove).
Consequently, as may be imagined, he not infrequently had trouble with
his landlord. He was constantly changing his lodgings, and always
spent the summer in the country, where he did his best work. "In the
winter," he once remarked to Rellstab, "I do but little; I only write
out and score what I have composed in the summer. But that takes a
long time. When I get into the country I am fit for anything."

On account of his deafness, Beethoven affords a striking instance of
the power musicians have of imagining novel sound effects which they
never could have heard with their ears. In literature we blame a
writer who, as the expression goes, "evolves his facts from his inner
consciousness;" but in music this proceeding is evidence of the
highest genius, because music has only a few elementary "facts" or
prototypes, in nature. Beethoven was deaf at thirty-two. He never
heard his "Fidelio," and for twenty-five years he could hear music
only with the inner ear. But musicians are in one respect more
fortunate than painters. If Titian had lost his eyesight, he could
never have painted another picture; whereas Beethoven after losing his
principal sense still continued to compose, better than ever. Mr.
Thayer even thinks that from a purely artistic point of view
Beethoven's deafness may have been an advantage to him; for it
compelled him to concentrate all his thoughts on the symphonies in his
head, undisturbed by the harsh noises of the external world. And that
he did not forego the _delights_ of music is obvious from the fact
that the pleasure of creating is more intense than the pleasure of
hearing; and is, moreover illustrated by the great delight he felt in
his later years when he read the compositions of Schubert (for he
could not hear them) and found in them the evidence of genius, which
he did not hesitate to proclaim.

In considering Beethoven's deafness, it is well to bear in mind the
words of Schopenhauer: "Genius is its own reward," he says. "If we
look up to a great man of the past we do not think, How fortunate he
is to be still admired by all of us; but, How happy he must have been
in the immediate enjoyment of a mind the traces of which refresh
generations of men." Schumann, Weber, and others, repeatedly testify
in their letters to the great delight they felt in creating; and at
the time when he was arranging his "Freischütz" for the piano, Weber
wrote, more forcibly than elegantly, that he was enjoying himself like
the devil.

I have already stated that Weber, like Beethoven, generally got his
new ideas during his walks in the country; and riding in an open
carriage seems to have especially stimulated his brain, as it did
Mozart's. The weird and original music to the dismal Wolf's-Glen scene
in the "Freischütz" was conceived one morning when he was on his way
to Pillnitz, and the wagon was occasionally shrouded in dense clouds.

A curious story is told by a member of Weber's orchestra, showing how
a musical theme may be sometimes suggested by incongruous and
grotesque objects. He was one day taking a walk with Weber in the
suburbs of Dresden. It began to rain and they entered a beer garden
which had just been deserted by the guests in consequence of the rain.
The waiters had piled the chairs on the tables, pell mell. At sight of
these confused groups of chairs and tables Weber suddenly exclaimed,
"Look here, Roth, doesn't that look like a great triumphal march?
Thunder! hear those trumpet blasts! I can use that--I can use that!"
In the evening he wrote down what his imagination had heard, and it
subsequently became the great march in "Oberon."

Some psychological interest also attaches to the remark with which
Weber's son prefaces this story--namely that Weber was constantly
transmuting forms and colors into sounds; and that lines and forms
seemed to stimulate his melodic inventiveness pre-eminently, whereas
sounds affected his harmonic sense.

My subject is by no means exhausted, but for fear of fatiguing the
reader with an excess of details I will close with a few facts
regarding Richard Wagner's method of composing. I am indebted for
these facts to the kindness of Herr Seidl, of the Metropolitan Opera
House in New York, who was Wagner's secretary for several years, and
helped him prepare "Götterdämmerung" and "Parsifal" for the press.

Like his famous predecessors, Wagner always carried some sheets of
music paper in his pocket, on which he jotted down with a pencil such
ideas as came to him on solitary walks, or at other times. These he
gave to his wife, who inked them over and arranged them in piles. In
these sketches the vocal part was always written out in full, while
the orchestral part was roughly indicated in two or more additional
staves. Frau Cosima has preserved most of these sketches, and they
will doubtless some day be reproduced in fac-simile, like some of

Whenever Wagner was in the mood for composing he would say to Herr
Seidl, "Bring me my sketches." Then he would retire to his composing
room, to which no one was ever admitted, not even his wife and
children. At lunch-time, the servant would bring something to the
ante-room, without being allowed to see the master in his sanctum. How
Wagner conducted himself there is not known, except that strange vocal
sounds, and a few passionate chords on the piano would occasionally
reach the ears of neighbors. Wagner appears to have used his piano
just as Beethoven did his, even after he had become deaf:--as a sort
of lightning-rod for his fervent emotions.

Much nonsense has been written concerning the fact that Wagner used to
wear gaudy costumes of silk and satin while he was composing, and that
he had colored glass in his windows, which gave every object a
mysterious aspect. He was called an imitator of the eccentric King of
Bavaria, and some went so far as to declare him insane. But in truth,
Wagner was simply endeavoring to put himself into an atmosphere most
favorable for dramatic creation. We all know how much clothes help to
make a man, in more than one sense; and any one who has ever taken
part in private theatricals will remember how much the costume helped
him to get into the proper frame of mind for interpreting his rôle.
This was all that Wagner aimed at in wearing his mediæval costumes;
and the wonderful realism and vividness of his dramatic conceptions
certainly more than justify the unusual methods he pursued to attain

After elaborating the melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic details of his
scores, Wagner considered his main task done, and the orchestration
was completed down-stairs in his music room. In his earliest operas
Wagner did not write his scenes in their regular order, but took those
first which specially proffered themselves. Of the "Flying Dutchman,"
for instance, he wrote the spinning chorus first, and he was delighted
to find on this occasion, as he himself says, that he could still
compose after a long interruption. He used a piano but rather to
stimulate and correct than to invent. In his later works the piano is
absolutely out of the question. He wrote the music, scene after scene,
following the text; and the conception of the whole score is so
absolutely orchestral that the piano cannot even give as faint a
notion of it as a photograph can give of the splendors of a Titian.
Wagner, as he himself tells us, was unable to play his scores on the
piano, but always tried to get Liszt to do that for him.

It is possible that some of my readers have never seen a full
orchestral score of "Siegfried" or "Tristan." If so, I advise them to
go to a music store and look at one as a matter of curiosity. They
will find a large quarto volume, every page of which represents only
one line of music. There are separate staves for the violins, violas,
cellos, double basses, flutes, bassoons, clarinets, horns, tubas,
trombones, kettle-drums, etc., each family forming a quartette in
itself, and each having its own peculiar emotional quality. In
conducting an opera the Kapellmeister has to keep his eye and ear at
the same time on each of these groups, as well as on the vocal parts
and scenic effects. If this requires a talent rarely found among
musicians, how very much greater must be the mind which created this
complicated operatic score! No one who tries to realize what this
implies, and remembers that Wagner wrote several of his best music
dramas among the mountains of Switzerland, years before he could dream
of ever hearing the countless new harmonies and orchestral tone-colors
which he had discovered, can deny, I think, that I was right in
maintaining that the composing of an opera is the most wonderful
achievement of human genius.




Clara Schumann, the most gifted woman that has ever chosen music as a
profession, and who, at the age of sixty-nine, still continues to be
among the most fascinating of pianists, placed the musical world under
additional obligations when she issued three years ago the collection
of private letters, written by Schumann between the ages of eighteen
and thirty (1827-40), partly to her, partly to his mother, and other
relatives, friends, and business associates. She was prompted to this
act not only by the consciousness that there are many literary gems in
the correspondence which should not be lost to the world, but by the
thought that more is generally known of Schumann's eccentricities than
of his real traits of character. Inasmuch as a wretched script was one
of the most conspicuous of these eccentricities, it is fortunate that
his wife lived to edit his letters; but even she, though familiar with
his handwriting during many years of courtship and marriage, was not
infrequently obliged to interpolate a conjectural word. Schumann had
a genuine vein of humor, which he reveals in his correspondence as in
his compositions and criticisms. He was aware that his manuscript was
not a model of caligraphy, but, on being remonstrated with, he
passionately declared he could not do any better, promising, however,
sarcastically that, as a predestined diplomat, he would keep an
amanuensis in future. And on page 245 begins a long letter to Clara
which presents a curious appearance. Every twentieth word or so is
placed between two vertical lines, regarding which the reader is kept
in the dark until he comes to this postscript: "In great haste, owing
to business affairs, I add a sort of lexicon of indistinctly written
words, which I have placed within brackets. This will probably make
the letter appear very picturesque and piquant. The idea is not so
bad. Adio, clarissima Cara, cara Clarissima." Then follows the
"lexicon" of twenty words, including his own signature.

Although, in a semi-humorous vein, Schumann repeatedly alludes in
these letters to the "foregone conclusion" that they will some day be
printed, there is hardly any indication that such a thought was ever
in his mind while writing them. They are, in fact, full of confidences
and confessions, some of which he could not have been very ambitious
to see in print; such as his frequent appeals for "more ducats,"
during his student days, and his sophistically ingenious excuses for
needing so much money, placed side by side with his frank admission
that he had no talent for economy, and was very fond of cigars, wine,
and especially travelling. In one of the most amusing of the letters,
he advances twelve reasons why his mother should send him about $200
to enable him to see Switzerland and Italy. As a last, convincing
argument, he gently hints that it is very easy for a student in
Heidelberg to borrow money at 10 per cent. interest. He got the money
and enjoyed his Swiss tour, mostly on foot and alone; but in Italy
various misfortunes overtook him--he fell ill, his money ran out, and
he was only too glad to return to Heidelberg in the same condition as
when he had first arrived there, on which occasion the state of his
purse compelled him to make the last part of the journey from Leipsic
on foot.

On this trip he enjoyed that unique emotional thrill of the German,
the first sight of the Rhine, with which he was so enchanted that he
went to the extreme forward end of the deck, smoking a good cigar
given him by an Englishman: "Thus I sat alone all the afternoon,
revelling in the wild storm which ploughed through my hair, and
composing a poem of praise to the Northeast wind"--for Schumann often
indulged in poetic efforts, especially when inspired to flights of
fancy by his favorite author, Jean Paul.

At Heidelberg, which he called "ein ganzes Paradies von Natur," he
spent one of the happiest years of his life. Student life at this town
he thus compares with Leipsic:

"In and near Heidelberg the student is the most prominent and
respected individual, since it is he who supports the town, so that
the citizens and Philistines are naturally excessively courteous. I
consider it a disadvantage for a young man, especially for a student,
to live in a town where the student only and solely rules and
flourishes. Repression alone favors the free development of a youth,
and the everlasting loafing with students greatly limits
many-sidedness of thought, and consequently exerts a bad influence on
practical life. This is one great advantage Leipsic has over
Heidelberg--which, in fact, a large city always has over a small
one.... On the other hand, Heidelberg has this advantage, that the
grandeur and beauty of the natural scenery prevent the students from
spending so much of their time in drinking; for which reason the
students here are ten times more sober than in Leipsic."

Schumann himself, as we have said, was fond of a glass of good wine.
On his first journey, at Prague, he tells us, the Tokay made him
happy. And in another place he exclaims, "Every day I should like to
drink champagne to excite myself." But, though of a solitary
disposition, he did not care to drink alone, for "only in the intimate
circle of sympathetic hearts does the vine's blood become transfused
into our own and warm it to enthusiasm." Schumann's special vice was
the constant smoking of very strong cigars; nor does he appear to have
devoted to gastronomic matters the attention necessary to nourish such
an abnormally active brain as his. At one time he lived on potatoes
alone for several weeks; at another he saved on his meals to get money
for French lessons; and although he took enough interest in a good
_menu_ to copy it in a letter, he repeatedly laments the time which is
uselessly wasted in eating. Such tenets, combined with his smoking
habit, doubtless helped to shatter his powers, leading finally to the
lunatic asylum and a comparatively early death.

His frequent fits of melancholy may also perhaps be traced in part to
these early habits. Though probably unacquainted with Burton, he held
that "there is in melancholy sentiments something extremely attractive
and even invigorating to the imagination." Attempts were frequently
made by his friends to teach him more sociable habits. Thus, at
Leipsic, "Dr. Carus's family are anxious to introduce me to
innumerable families--'it would be good for my prospects,' they
think, and so do I, and yet I don't get there, and in fact seldom go
out at all. Indeed, I am often very leathery, dry, disagreeable, and
laugh much inwardly." That his apparent coldness and indifference to
his neighbors and friends were due chiefly to his absorption in his
world of ideas, and his consequent want of sympathy with the
artificial usages of society, becomes apparent from this confession,
written to Clara in 1838:

"I should like to confide to you many other things regarding my
character--how people often wonder that I meet the warmest expressions
of love with coldness and reserve, and often offend and humiliate
precisely those who are most sincerely devoted to me. Often have I
queried and reproached myself for this, for inwardly I acknowledge
even the most trifling favor, understand every wink, every subtle
trait in the heart of another, and yet I so often blunder in what I
say and do."

In these melancholy moods nature was his refuge and consolation.
He objected to Leipsic because there were no delights of
nature--"everything artificially transformed; no valley, no mountain,
where I might revel in my thoughts; no place where I can be alone,
except in the bolted room, with the eternal noise and turmoil below."
Although he had but a few intimate friends, he was liked by all the
students, and even enjoyed the name of "a favorite of the Heidelberg
public." One of his intimate friends was Flechsig, but even of him he
paradoxically complains that he is too sympathetic: "He never cheers
me up; if I am occasionally in a melancholy mood, he ought not to be
the same, and he ought to have sufficient humanity to stir me up.
That I often need cheering up, I know very well." Yet he was as often
in a state of extreme happiness and enjoyment of life and his
talents. He even, on occasion, indulged in students' pranks. On his
journey to Heidelberg he induced the postilion to let him take the
reins: "Thunder! how the horses ran, and how extravagantly happy I
was, and how we stopped at every tavern to get fodder, and how I
entertained the whole company, and how sorry they all were when I
parted from them at Wiesbaden!!" At Frankfort, one morning, he
writes: "I felt an extraordinary longing to play on a piano. So I
calmly went to the nearest dealer, told him I was the tutor of a
young English lord who wished to buy a grand piano, and then I
played, to the wonder and delight of the bystanders, for three hours.
I promised to return in two days and inform them if the lord wanted
the instrument; but on that date I was at Rüdesheim, drinking
Rüdesheimer." In another place he gives an account of "a scene
worthy of Van Dyck, and a most genial evening" he spent with some
students at a tavern filled with peasants. They had some grog, and at
the request of the peasants one of the students declaimed, and
Schumann played. Then a dance was arranged. "The peasants beat time
with their feet. We were in high spirits, and danced dizzily among
the peasant feet, and finally took a touching farewell of the company
by giving all the peasant girls, Minchen, etc., smacking kisses on
the lips."

Were women, like men, afflicted with retrospective jealousy,
Schumann's widow, in editing these letters, would have received a pang
from many other passages revealing Schumann's fondness for the fair
sex. He allowed no good-looking woman to pass him on the street
without taking the opportunity to cultivate his sense of beauty. After
his engagement to Clara he gives her fair warning that he has the
"very mischievous habit" of being a great admirer of beautiful women
and girls. "They make me positively smirk, and I swim in panegyrics on
your sex. Consequently, if at some future time we walk along the
streets of Vienna and meet a beauty, and I exclaim, 'Oh, Clara! see
this heavenly vision,' or something of the sort, you must not be
alarmed nor scold me." He had a number of transient passions before he
discovered that Clara was his only true love. There was Nanni, his
"guardian angel," who saved him from the perils of the world and
hovered before his vision like a saint. "I feel like kneeling before
her and adoring her like a Madonna." But Nanni had a dangerous rival
in Liddy. Not long, however, for he found Liddy silly, cold as marble,
and--fatal defect--she could not sympathize with him regarding Jean
Paul. "The exalted image of my ideal disappears when I think of the
remarks she made about Jean Paul. Let the dead rest in peace."

Several of his flames are not alluded to in this correspondence. On
his travels he appears to have had the habit of noting down in his
diary the prevalence and peculiarities of feminine beauty. He
complains that from Mainz to Heidelberg he "did not see a single
pretty face." Yet, as a whole, the Rhine maidens seem to have won his

"What characteristic faces among the lowest classes! On the west shore
of the Rhine the girls have very delicate features, indicating
amiability rather than intelligence; the noses are mostly Greek, the
face very oval and artistically symmetrical, the hair brown; I did not
see a single blonde. The complexion is soft, delicate, with more white
than red; melancholy rather than sanguine. The Frankfort girls, on the
other hand, have in common a sisterly trait--the character of German,
manly, sad earnestness which we often find in our quondam free
cities, and which toward the east gradually merges into a gentle
softness. Characteristic are the faces of all the Frankfort girls:
intellectual or beautiful few of them; the noses mostly Greek, often
snub-noses; the dialect I did not like."

The English type of beauty appears to have especially won his
approval. "When she spoke it sounded like the whispering of angels,"
he says of an Englishwoman, "as pretty as a picture," whom he met.
Elsewhere he says, laconically: "On the 24th I arrived at Mainz with
the steamer, in company with twenty to thirty English men and women.
Next day the number of English increased to fifty. If I ever marry, it
must be an English woman." Some years later, however, with the
fickleness of genius, he writes about Ernestine, the daughter of a
rich Bohemian Baron, "a delightfully innocent, childish soul, tender
and pensive, attached to me and to everything artistic by the most
sincere love, extremely musical--in short, just the kind of a girl I
could wish to marry." He did become engaged to her, but the following
year the engagement was dissolved; and soon after this he discovered
that his artistic admiration for Clara Wieck had assumed the form of
love. Although her father opposed their union several years, on
account of Schumann's poverty, the young couple often met, and not
only in the music-room. In 1833 he writes to his mother regarding
Clara: "The other day, when we went to Connewitz (we take a two or
three hours' walk almost daily), I heard her say to herself, 'How
happy I am! how happy!' Who would not like to hear that! On this road
there are a number of very useless stones in the midst of the
footpath. Now, as it happens in conversation that I more frequently
look up than down, she always walks behind me and gently pulls my coat
at every stone, lest I may fall."

It was most fortunate for Schumann that his bride and wife was one of
the greatest living pianists. For, owing to the accident to his hand,
though he could still improvise, he could not appear in public to
interpret his own compositions, which depended so much for their
success on a sympathetic performance, since they differed so greatly
from the prevalent style of Hummel and the classical masters, that
even so gifted a musician as Mendelssohn failed to understand them.
But Clara made it the task of her life to secure him recognition, and
this was an additional bond that united their souls. "When you are
mine," he writes, "you will occasionally hear something new from me; I
believe you will often inspire me, and the mere fact that I shall then
frequently hear my own compositions will cheer me up;" and: "Your
Romance showed me once more that we must become man and wife. Every
one of your thoughts comes from my soul, even as I owe all my music
to you." To Dorn he writes that many of his compositions, including
the Noveletten, the Kreisleriana, and the Kinderscenen, were inspired
by Clara; and it is well known that his love became the incentive to
the composition, in one year, of over a hundred wonderful songs--his
previous compositions, up to 1840, having all been for the piano
alone. In the last letter of this collection he says: "Sometimes it
appears to me as if I were treading entirely new paths in music;" and
there are many other passages showing that he realized well that the
very things which his contemporaries criticised and decried as
eccentric and obscure (Hummel, _e.g._, objects to his frequent changes
of harmony and his originality!), were really his most inspired
efforts. Though he never allowed the desire for popularity to
influence his work, yet he occasionally craves appreciation. "I am
willing to confess that I should be greatly pleased if I could succeed
in composing something which would impel the public, after hearing you
play it, to run against the walls in their delight; for vain we
composers are, even though we have no reason to be so." It must have
given him a strange shock when an amateur asked him, at one of his
wife's concerts in Vienna, if he also was musical!

In her efforts to win appreciation for her husband, Clara was nobly
assisted by Liszt. Just like Wagner, Schumann was not at first very
favorably impressed with Liszt, owing to the sensational flavor of his
early performances. But he soon changed his mind, especially when
Liszt played some of his (Schumann's) compositions. "Many things were
different from my conception of them, but always '_genial_,' and
marked by a tenderness and boldness of expression which even he
presumably has not at his command every day. Becker was the only other
person present, and he had tears in his eyes." And two days later:
"But I must tell you that Liszt appears to me grander every day. This
morning he again played at Raimund Härtel's, in a way to make us all
tremble and rejoice, some études of Chopin, a number of the Rossini
soirées, and other things." Of other contemporary pianists Hummel,
"ten years behind the time," and Thalberg, whom he liked better as
pianist than as composer, are alluded to. Yet he writes in 1830 that
he intends going to Weimar, "for the sly reason of being able to _call
myself_ a pupil of Hummel." Wieck, his father-in-law, he esteemed
greatly as teacher and adviser, but it offended him deeply that Wieck
should have followed the common error of estimating genius with a
yard-stick, and asked where were his "Don Juan" and his "Freischütz?"
His enthusiasm for Schubert, Chopin, and especially for Bach, finds
frequent expression. Bach's "Well-Tempered Clavichord" he declares is
his "grammar, and the best of all grammars. The fugues I have
analyzed successively to the minutest details; the advantage resulting
from this is great, and has a morally bracing effect on the whole
system, for Bach was a man through and through; in him there is
nothing done by halves, nothing morbid, but all is written for time
eternal." Six years later: "Bach is my daily bread; from him I derive
gratification and get new ideas--'compared with him we are all
children,' Beethoven has said, I believe." One day a caller remarked
that Bach was old and wrote in old-fashioned manner: "But I told him
he was neither old nor new, but much more than that, namely, eternal.
I came near losing my temper." Concerning the unappreciative
Mendelssohn, he writes to Clara:

"I am told that he is not well disposed toward me. I should feel sorry
if that were true, since I am conscious of having preserved noble
sentiments toward him. If you know anything let me hear it on
occasion; that will at least make me cautious, and I do not wish to
squander anything where I am ill-spoken of. Concerning my relations
toward him as a musician [1838], I am quite aware that I could learn
of him for years; but he, too, some things of me. Brought up under
similar circumstances, destined for music from childhood, I would
surpass you all--that I feel from the energy of my inventive powers."

Concerning this energy he says, some time after this, when he had
just finished a dozen songs: "Again I have composed so much that I am
sometimes visited by a mysterious feeling. Alas! I cannot help it. I
could wish to sing myself to death, like a nightingale."

One of the most interesting bits of information contained in this
correspondence is that, when quite a young man, Schumann commenced a
treatise on musical æsthetics. In view of the many epoch-making
thoughts contained in his two volumes of collected criticisms, it is
very much to be regretted that this plan was not carried out. On one
question of musical psychology light is thrown by several of these
letters. Like many other composers, it seems that Schumann often, if
not generally, had some pictorial image or event in his mind in
composing. "When I composed my first songs," he writes to Clara, "I
was entirely within you. Without such a bride one cannot write such
music." "I am affected by everything that goes on in the
world--politics, literature, mankind. In my own manner I meditate on
everything, which then seeks utterance in music. That is why many of
my compositions are so difficult to understand, because they relate to
remote affairs; and often significant, because all that's remarkable
in our time affects me, and I have to give it expression in musical
language." One of the letters to Clara begins: "Tell me what the first
part of the Fantasia suggests to you. Does it not bring many pictures
before your mind?" Concerning the "Phantasiestücke" he writes: "When
they were finished I was delighted to find the story of Hero and
Leander in them.... Tell me if you, too, find this picture fitting the
music." "The Papillons," he says once more, are intended to be a
musical translation of the final scene in Jean Paul's "Flegeljahre."

Believers in telepathy will be interested in the following additional
instance of composing with a visual object in mind: "I wrote to you
concerning a presentiment; it occurred to me on the days from March
24th to 27th, when I was at work on my new composition. There is a
place in it to which I constantly recurred; it is as if some one
sighed, 'Ach, Gott!' from the bottom of his heart. While composing, I
constantly saw funeral processions, coffins, unhappy people in
despair; and when I had finished, and long searched for a title, the
word 'corpse-fantasia' continually obtruded itself. Is not that
remarkable? During the composition, moreover, I was often so deeply
affected that tears came to my eyes, and yet I knew not why and had no
reason--till Theresa's letter arrived, which made everything clear."
His brother was on his death-bed.

       *       *       *       *       *

The collection of Schumann's letters so far under consideration met
with such a favorable reception that a second edition was soon called
for, and this circumstance no doubt promoted the publication of a
second series, extending to 1854, two years before Schumann's sad
death in the lunatic asylum near Bonn. This second volume includes a
considerable number of business letters to his several publishers. In
one of these he confides to Dr. Härtel his plan of collecting and
revising his musical criticisms, and publishing them in two volumes.
But as this letter was, a few months later, followed by a similar one
addressed to the publisher Wigand, who subsequently printed the
essays, it is to be inferred that Breitkopf & Härtel, though assured
of the future of Schumann's compositions, doubted the financial value
of his musical essays--an attitude pardonable at a time when there was
still a ludicrous popular prejudice against literary utterances by a
musician. In 1883, however, after Wigand had issued a third edition of
the "Collected Writings on Music and Musicians" (which have also been
translated into English by Mrs. Ritter), Breitkopf & Härtel atoned for
their error by purchasing the copyright.

Schumann's letters to his publishers show that he used to suggest his
own terms, which were commonly acceded to without protest. For his
famous quintet he asked twenty louis d'or, or about $100; for
"Paradise and the Peri," $500; the piano concerto, $125; Liederalbum,
op. 79, $200; "Manfred," $250. He frequently emphasizes his desire to
have his compositions printed in an attractive style, and in 1839
writes to Härtel that he cannot describe his pleasure on receiving the
"Scenes of Childhood." "It is the most charming specimen of musical
typography I have ever seen." The few misprints he discovers in it he
frankly attributes to his MS. In a letter to his friend Rosen he
writes that "it must be a deucedly comic pleasure to read my
Sanskrit." But his musical handwriting appears to have been nearer to
Sanskrit than his epistolary, if we may judge by the specimen
fac-similes printed in Naumann's "History of Music."

The promptness with which all the leading music publishers of Germany
issued complete editions of Schumann's vocal and pianoforte
compositions, as soon as the copyright had expired, shows how
profitable they must be. But during his lifetime it was quite
otherwise, and in a letter to Kossmaly he adduces the following four
reasons for this state of affairs: "(1) inherent difficulties of form
and contents; (2) because, not being a virtuoso, I cannot perform them
in public; (3) because I am the editor of my musical paper, in which I
could not allude to them; (4) because Fink is editor of the other
paper, and would not allude to them." Elsewhere he remarks, concerning
this rival editor: "It is really most contemptible on Fink's part not
to have mentioned a single one of my pianoforte compositions in nine
[seven] years, although they are always of such a character that it is
impossible to overlook them. It is not for my name's sake that I am
annoyed, but because I know what the future course of music is to be."
It was in behalf of this tendency that he toiled on his paper, which
at first barely paid its expenses, having only 500 subscribers several
years after its foundation. And he not only avoided puffing his own
compositions, but even inserted a contribution by his friend Kossmaly
in which he was placed in the second rank of vocal composers! Yet,
though he printed the article, he complains about it in a private
letter: "In your article on the Lied, I was a little grieved that you
placed me in the _second_ class. I do not lay claim to the first, but
I think I have a claim to a place of _my own_, and least of all do I
wish to see myself associated with Reissiger, Curschmann, etc. I know
that my aims, my resources, are far beyond theirs, and I hope you will
concede this and not accuse me of vanity, which is far from me."

Many of the letters in the present collection are concerned with the
affairs of Schumann's paper, the _Neue Zeitschrift für Musik_,
detailing his plans for removing it to a larger city than Leipsic, and
the atrocious red-tape difficulties and delays he was subjected to
when he finally did transfer it to Vienna. Although the paper was
exclusively devoted to music, the _Censur_ apparently took three or
four months to make up its mind whether the state was in danger or not
from the immigration of a new musical periodical. The editor confesses
that he did not find as much sympathy as he had expected in Vienna;
yet the city--as he writes some years later at Düsseldorf--"continues
to attract one, as if the spirits of the departed great masters were
still visible, and as if it were the real musical home of Germany."
"Eating and drinking here are incomparable. You would be delighted
with the Opera. Such singers and such an _ensemble_ we do not have."
"The admirable Opera is a great treat for me, especially the chorus
and orchestra. Of such things we have _no conception_ in Leipsic. The
ballet would also amuse you." "A more encouraging public it would be
difficult to find anywhere; it is really too encouraging--in the
theatre one hears more applause than music. It is very merry, but it
annoys me occasionally." "But I assure you confidentially that long
and alone I should not care to live here; serious men and affairs are
here in little demand and little appreciated. A compensation for this
is found in the beautiful surroundings. Yesterday I was in the
cemetery where Beethoven and Schubert are buried. Just think what I
found on Beethoven's grave: _a pen_, and, what is more, a steel pen.
It was a happy omen for me and I shall preserve it religiously." On
Schubert's grave he found nothing, but in the city he found Schubert's
brother, a poor man with eight children and no possessions but a
number of his brother's manuscripts, including "a few operas, four
great masses, four or five symphonies, and many other things." He
immediately wrote to Breitkopf & Härtel to make arrangements for their

It is anything but complimentary to the discernment of Viennese
publishers and musicians of that period that, eleven years after
Schubert's death, another composer had to come from Leipsic and give
to the world the works of a colleague who not only had genius of the
purest water, but the gift of giving utterance to his musical ideas in
a clear style, intelligible to the public. Schubert died in 1828, and
in 1842 Schumann could still write to one of his contributors: "It is
time, it seems to me, that some one should write something weighty in
behalf of Schubert; doesn't this tempt you? True, his larger works are
not yet in print. But his vocal and pianoforte compositions suffice
for an approximate portrait. Consider the matter. Do you know his
symphony in C? A delightful composition, somewhat long, but
extraordinarily animated, in character entirely new." To a Belgian
friend who intended to write an article on the new tendencies in
pianoforte music, he wrote: "Of older composers who have influenced
modern music I must name above all Franz Schubert.... Schubert's songs
are well known, but his pianoforte compositions (especially those for
four hands) I rate at least equally high."

Of the numerous criticisms of well-known composers contained in this
correspondence, a few more may be cited. They are mostly favorable in
tone, but concerning the "Prophète" he writes: "The music appears to me
very poor; I cannot find words to express my aversion to it."
"Lortzing's operas meet with success--to me almost incomprehensible."
To Carl Reinecke he writes that he is "no friend of song-transcriptions
(for piano), and of Liszt's some are a real abomination to me." He
commends Reinecke's efforts in this direction because they are free
from pepper and sauce _à la_ Liszt. Nevertheless, those of Liszt's
song-transcriptions in which he did not indulge in too much bravura
ornamentation are models of musical translation, and the collection of
forty-two songs published by Breitkopf & Härtel should be in every
pianist's library. "Of Chopin," he writes in 1836, "I have a new ballad
[G minor]. It seems to me to be his most enchanting (though not most
_genial_) work; I told him, too, that I liked it best of all his
compositions. After a long pause and reflection he said: 'I am glad you
think so, it is also my favorite.' He also played for me a number of
new études, nocturnes, mazurkas--everything in an incomparable style.
It is touching to see him at the piano. You would be very fond of him.
Yet Clara is more of a _virtuoso_, and gives almost more significance
to his compositions than he does himself."

Brendel having sent him some of Palestrina's music, he writes that "it
really sounds sometimes like music of the spheres--and what art at the
same time! I am convinced he is the greatest musical genius Italy has
produced." Nineteen years previous to this he had written from
Brescia: "Were not the Italian language itself a kind of eternal music
(the Count aptly called it a long-drawn-out A-minor chord), I should
not hear anything rational. Of the ardor with which they play, you can
form no more conception than of their slovenliness and lack of
elegance and precision." Handel appears to be mentioned only once in
all of Schumann's correspondence ("I consider 'Israel in Egypt' the
ideal of a choral work"), but Bach is always on his tongue. The
following is one of the profoundest criticisms ever written: "Mozart
and Haydn knew of Bach only a few pages and passages, and the effect
which Bach, if they had known him in all his greatness, would have had
on them, is incalculable. The harmonic depth, the poetic and humorous
qualities of modern music have their source chiefly in Bach:
Mendelssohn, Bennett, Chopin, Hiller, all the so-called Romanticists
(I mean those of the German school) _approximate in their music much
closer to Bach than to Mozart_."

To Wagner there are several references, betraying a most remarkable
struggle between critical honesty and professional jealousy. Thus, in
1845, Schumann writes to Mendelssohn of "Tannhäuser:"

"Wagner has just finished a new opera--no doubt a clever fellow, full
of eccentric notions, and bold beyond measure. The aristocracy is
still in raptures over him on account of his 'Rienzi,' but in reality
he cannot conceive or write four consecutive bars of good or even
correct music. What all these composers lack is the art of writing
pure harmonies and four-part choruses. The music is not a straw better
than that of 'Rienzi,' rather weaker, more artificial! But if I should
write this I should be accused of envy, hence I say it only to you, as
I am aware that you have known all this a long time."

But in another letter to Mendelssohn, written three weeks later, he
recants: "I must take back much of what I wrote regarding
'Tannhäuser,' after reading the score; on the stage the effect is
quite different. I was deeply moved by many parts." And to Heinrich
Dorn he writes, a few weeks after this: "I wish you could see Wagner's
'Tannhäuser.' It contains profound and original ideas, and is a
hundred times better than his previous operas, though some of the
music is trivial. In a word, he may become of great importance to the
stage, and, so far as I know him, he has the requisite courage. The
technical part, the instrumentation, I find excellent, incomparably
more masterly than formerly."

Nevertheless, seven years later still, he once more returns to the
attack, and declares that Wagner's music, "apart from the performance,
is simply amateurish, void of contents, and disagreeable; and it is a
sad proof of corrupt taste that, in the face of the many dramatic
master-works which Germany has produced, some persons have the
presumption to belittle these in favor of Wagner's. Yet enough of
this. The future will pronounce judgment in this matter, too." Poor
Schumann! His own opera, "Genoveva," was a failure, while "Tannhäuser"
and "Lohengrin" were everywhere received with enthusiasm. This was a
quarter of a century ago; and the future _has_ judged, "Tannhäuser"
and "Lohengrin" being now the most popular of all works in the
operatic repertory.

What caused the failure of Schumann's only opera was not a lack of
dramatic genius, but of theatrical instinct. He believed that in
"Genoveva" "every bar is thoroughly dramatic;" and so it is, as might
have been expected of the composer of such an intensely emotional and
passionate song as "Ich grolle nicht" and many others. But Schubert,
too, could write such thrilling five-minute dramas as the "Erlking"
and the "Doppelgänger," without being able to compose a successful
opera. Like Schumann, he could not paint _al fresco_, could not
command that bolder and broader sweep which is required of an operatic
composer. It is characteristic of Schumann that he did not write an
opera till late in life, whereas born operatic composers have commonly
begun their career with their specialty. Indeed, it was only ten years
before he composed his opera that Schumann wrote to a friend: "You
ought to write more for the voice. Or are you, perhaps, like myself,
who have all my life placed vocal music below instrumental, and never
considered it a great art? But don't speak to anyone about this."
Oddly enough, less than a year after this he writes to another friend:
"At present I write only vocal pieces.... I can hardly tell you what a
delight it is to write for the voice as compared with instruments, and
how it throbs and rages within me when I am at work. Entirely new
things have been revealed to me, and I am thinking of writing an
opera, which, however, will not be possible until I have entirely
freed myself from editorial work."

Like other vocal composers, Schumann suffered much from the lack of
suitable texts. In one letter he suggests that Lenau might perhaps be
induced to write a few poems for composers, to be printed in "The
Zeitschrift:" "the composers are thirsting for texts." In several
other letters we become familiar with some of his plans which were
never executed, owing, apparently, to the shortcomings of the
librettists. One of these was R. Pohl, who in all earnestness sent
Schumann a serious text in which the moon was introduced as one of the
vocalists! Schumann mildly remonstrated that "to conceive of the moon
as a person, especially as singing, would be too risky." So the
project of "Ritter Mond" was abandoned, and it is to be regretted that
Schumann did not reject his "Genoveva" libretto, which was largely
responsible for the failure of the opera.

One project of Schumann's is mentioned which it is to be very much
regretted he never carried out. "I am at present [1840] preparing an
essay on Shakspere's relations to music, his utterances and views, the
manner in which he introduces music in his dramas, etc., etc.--an
exceedingly fertile and attractive theme, the execution of which
would, it is true, require some time, as I should have to read the
whole of Shakspere's works for this purpose." His object was to send
this to Jena as a dissertation for a Doctor's degree, with which he
hoped to soften the heart of the obdurate Wieck, who opposed his
marriage with Clara, and at the same time to make an impression on the
public. Schumann had had painful experience of the fact that for
genius itself there is little recognition in Germany unless it has a
handle to its name--a "von" or a "Herr Doctor." Clara, however, loved
him for his genius, and for the impassioned pieces and songs he wrote
to express his admiration of her and of woman in general; and, like
other German men of genius, he had his reward--after death. "No tone
poet," says Naumann, "has been more enthusiastic in the praise of
woman than Robert Schumann; he was a second Frauenlob. This was
acknowledged by the maidens of Bonn, who, at his interment, filled the
cemetery, and crowned his tomb with innumerable garlands."



Although music in the complex harmonic form known to us is only a few
centuries old, simple rhythmic melodies were sung, or played on
various instruments, by all the ancient civilized nations, and are
sung or played to-day by African and Australian savages who have never
come into contact with civilization. And what is more, the remarkable
influence which music has in arousing human emotions has been
appreciated at all times.

Tourists relate that in some of the inland countries of Africa,
scarcely any work is done by the natives except to the sound of music;
and Cruikshank, speaking of the coast negroes, says it is laughable to
observe the effect of their rude music on all classes, old and young,
men, women, and children. "However employed, whether passing quietly
through the street, carrying water from the pond, or assisting in some
grave procession, no sooner do they hear the rapid beats of a distant
drum, than they begin to caper and dance spontaneously. The bricklayer
will throw down his trowel for a minute, the carpenter leave his
bench, the corn grinder her milling stone, and the porter his load, to
keep time to the inspiriting sound."

Dr. Tschudi, in his fascinating work on Peru, describes two of the
musical instruments used by the Indians, and their emotional function.
One is the Pututo, "a large conch on which they perform mournful
music, as the accompaniment of their funeral dances." The other is
called Jaina, and is a rude kind of clarionet made from a reed. "Its
tone," says Tschudi, "is indescribable in its melancholy, and it
produces an extraordinary impression on the natives. If a group of
Indians are rioting and drinking, or engaged in furious conflicts with
each other, and the sound of the Jaina is suddenly heard, the tumult
ceases, as if by a stroke of magic. A dead stillness prevails, and all
listen devoutly to the magic tones of the simple reed; tones which
frequently draw tears from the eyes of the apathetic Indians."

If the untutored primitive man can be thus overpowered by the charm of
such simple music, we can hardly wonder at the extravagant power
ascribed to this art by the ancient civilized nations. The fairy tale
of Orpheus, who tamed wild animals and moved rocks and trees with his
singing and playing, and the story of the dolphin that was attracted
by Arion's song and carried him safely across the sea, are quite as
significant as if they were true stories, for they show that the
Greeks were so deeply moved by music that they could readily imagine
it to have a similar effect on animals, and even on inanimate objects.
Almost three thousand years ago, Homer represented Achilles as
"comforting his heart with the sound of the lyre," after losing his
sweet Briseis; "stimulating his courage and singing the deeds of the
heroes." And, as Emil Naumann fancies, there is a moral underlying the
myth of the siren; "for, as Homer elsewhere suggests, noble and manly
music invigorates the spirit, strengthens wavering man, and incites
him to great and worthy deeds, whereas false and sensuous music
excites and confuses, robs man of his self-control, till his passions
overcome him as the waves overwhelmed the bewitched sailor who
listened to the voice of the charmer."

At a later period in Greek history, the philosophers, including Plato
and Aristotle, continued to attribute to music power so great, that we
can only understand them if we bear in mind that with the Greeks the
word music was a comprehensive term for all the arts presided over by
the Muses, and that, even when music in our sense is alluded to by
them, the reference is at the same time to the poetry which was almost
always associated with music, and made its meaning and expression more
definite. Thus, we can realize how Terpander could, by the power of
his song, reconcile the political factions in Sparta, and how Plato
could write, in the "Republic," that "any musical innovation is full
of danger to the state and ought to be prevented." He looked upon
music as a tonic which does for the mind what gymnastics do for the
body; and taught that only such music ought to be tolerated by the
state as had a moral purpose, while enervating forms should be
suppressed by the law makers.

Yet, after making due allowance for the fact that the word music was
used in this comprehensive sense, enough remains to show that the
power of music proper, the power of rhythmic melody, was profoundly
appreciated by the Greeks. If they had not felt how greatly music
intensifies and quickens the emotions, they would not have wedded all
their poetry to it, nor have resorted to it on all solemn and festive
occasions; nor would the Pythagoreans have found anyone willing to
believe in their doctrine that music has power to control the
passions. "They firmly believed," says Naumann, "that sweet harmony
and flowing melody alone were capable of restoring the even balance of
the disturbed mind, and of renewing its harmonious relations with the
world. Playing on the lyre, therefore, formed part of the daily
exercises of the disciples of the renowned philosopher, and none dared
seek his nightly couch without having first refreshed his soul at the
fount of music, nor return to the duties of the day without having
braced his energies with jubilant strains. Pythagoras is said to have
recommended the use of special melodies as antidotal to special
passions, and indeed, it is related of him that on a certain occasion
he, by a solemn air, brought back to reason a youth who, maddened by
love and jealousy, was about setting fire to the house of his

Similar marvellous powers were ascribed to music by the other nations.
The Chinese have an old saying that "Music has the power to make
Heaven descend upon earth." This art was constantly kept under rigid
supervision by the government, and 354 years before Christ, one of the
Emperors issued a special edict against weak, effeminate music; to
which, therefore, a demoralizing influence was obviously attributed.
The Japanese, we read, likewise "revere music and connect it with
their idol worship," and in olden times it seems to have had even a
political function, for it is said that "formerly an ambassador, in
addressing a foreign court to which he was accredited, did not speak,
but sang his mission." The Hindoos, again, attributed supernatural
power to music. Some melodies had the power, as they believed, to
bring down rain, others to move men and animals, as well as lifeless
objects. The fact that they traced the origin of music to the gods
shows in what esteem they held it; and their quaint story of the
16,000 nymphs and shepherdesses, each of whom invented a new key and
melody in her emulous eagerness to move the heart and win the love of
the handsome young god Krishna, shows that the amorous power of music
was already understood in those days.

Once more, the exalted notions which the ancient Hebrews had of the
dignity and importance of music, is indicated by the fact that,
according to Josephus, the treasures of Solomon's Temple (which was
also a great school of music) included 40,000 harps and psalteries of
pure copper, and 200,000 silver trumpets. In the schools of the
prophets, musical practice was an essential item. During the period of
captivity the Israelites at first gave way to despondency, exclaiming,
"How shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land?" "But by and by
they would take down their harps again from the willow bows and seek
solace for the sorrows of the long exile in recalling the loved melody
of their native land, and the sacred psalmody of their desolated
temple" (McClintock and Strong). There was hardly an occasion arising
above the commonplace events of everyday life, when the ancient
Hebrews did not resort to music. Trumpets were used at the royal
proclamations and at the dedication of the Temple. There were doleful
chants for funeral processions; joyous melodies for bridal
processions and banquets; stirring martial strains to incite courage
in battle and to celebrate victories, religious songs, and domestic
music for private recreation and pleasure; and even "the grape
gatherers sang as they gathered in the vintage, and the wine-presses
were trodden with the shout of a song; the women sang as they toiled
at the mill, and on every occasion the land of the Hebrews, during
their national prosperity, was a land of music and melody." And
finally, the therapeutic value of music and its power to stimulate the
creative faculties were recognized. The prophets composed their songs
and uttered their prophecies to the sound of musical instruments, and
David drove out the evil spirit from Saul, as we read in the Bible:
"And it came to pass when the spirit from God was upon Saul, that
David took a harp and played with his hands. So Saul was refreshed,
and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him."

The preceding facts sufficiently illustrate the effects of music on
the emotions and morals of ancient and primitive nations. Now, within
the Christian era music has made enormous strides in its evolution as
an art, and it seems therefore reasonable to infer that its emotional
and moral power has also increased. Yet, strange to say, a tendency
has manifested itself of late, in many quarters, to flatly deny the
emotional and moral potency of music. The late Richard Grant White,
for instance, in a series of articles on the Influence of Music, in
"The Atlantic Monthly," comes to the conclusion that "a fine
appreciation of even the noblest music is not an indication of mental
elevation, or of moral purity, or of delicacy of feeling, or even
(except in music) of refinement of taste." "The greatest, keenest
pleasure of my life," he adds, "is one that may be shared equally with
me by a dunce, a vulgarian, or a villain;" and he ends by asserting,
dogmatically, that a taste for music has no more to do with our minds
or morals than with our complexions or stature. Dr. Hanslick, the
eminent critic and professor of musical history in the University of
Vienna, goes even farther. "There can be no doubt," he says, "that
music had a much more direct effect on the ancient nations than it has
on us." To-day, "the feelings of the layman are affected most, those
of an educated artist least, by music." "The moral influence of tones
increases in proportion as the culture of mind and character
decreases. The smaller the resistance offered by culture, the more
does this power strike home. It is well known that _it is on savages
that music exerts its greatest influence_."

Let us briefly test these sceptical paradoxes in the light of mediæval
history and modern biography. Is it only among the ancient and
primitive people, and among the musically uneducated, that the divine
art exerts an emotional influence? St. Jerome evidently did not think
so. He believed, at any rate, that music can exert a _demoralizing_
influence, and he taught that Christian maidens should know nothing of
the lyre and the flute. The eminent divine was guided in this matter
by the same process of illogical reasoning of which, later, the
Puritans were guilty when they banished music from the churches. In
view of the fact that music was used to heighten the charms of wanton
Roman festivities or Pagan rites, St. Jerome condemned the art itself,
ignorant of the fact that music can never be immoral in itself, but
only through evil associations. St. Augustine took a different view of
music from St. Jerome. When he first heard the Christian chant at
Milan he exclaimed: "Oh, my God! When the sweet voice of the
congregation broke upon mine ear, how I wept over Thy hymns of praise.
The sound poured into mine ears and Thy truth entered my heart. Then
glowed within me the spirit of devotion; tears poured forth, and I
rejoiced." Here we have an illustration of how music intensifies and
exalts the emotions of educated men. St. Augustine's devotion "glowed
within him" when he heard the music. It is for this power that the
church has always employed music as a hand-maid; and those
ecclesiastics who would to-day banish it arbitrarily from the church,
know not what a valuable ally they are blindly repulsing in these
days of religious scepticism. As Mr. Gladstone very recently remarked:
"Ever since the time of St. Augustine, I might perhaps say of St.
Paul, the power of music in assisting Christian devotion has been upon
record, and great schools of Christian musicians have attested and
confirmed the union of the art with worship."

But the greatest musical enthusiast in the ranks of mediæval churchmen
was Martin Luther. To judge by the extraordinary influence which music
had on him, Luther must doubtless be classed among the lowest of
savages, if Dr. Hanslick is right in saying that it is on savages that
music exerts its greatest influence. He wrote a special treatise on
music, in which he placed it next to theology. "Besides theology," he
wrote in a letter to the musician Senfel, "music is the only art
capable of affording peace and joy of the heart like that induced by
the study of the science of divinity. The proof of this is that the
devil, the originator of sorrowful anxieties and restless troubles,
flees before the sound of music almost as much as he does before the
Word of God. This is why the prophets preferred music before all the
other arts ... proclaiming the Word in psalms and hymns.... My heart,
which is full to overflowing, has often been solaced and refreshed by
music when sick and weary."

Luther had a good voice and a knowledge of musical composition. He
played the flute and the lute, and in church he introduced
congregational singing, in which the people took an active part in
worship by means of the chorales. It is related that, as a child, he
used to sing with other boys in the street in winter, for his daily
bread, and that on one occasion, Frau Cotta frantically rushed from
her house on hearing his pleading tones, took him in, and gave him a
warm meal. Later in life, when he was an Augustine monk, he often
chased away his melancholy and temptations by playing on his lute, and
the story goes that "one day, after a self-inflicted chastisement, he
was found in a fainting condition in his cell, and that his cloistered
brethren recalled him to consciousness by soft music, well knowing
that music was the balsam for all wounds of the troubled mind of their
'dear Martinus.'"

Coming to more recent times, we find that some of the greatest
composers and other men of genius were "savages," judged by Dr.
Hanslick's standard.

When Congreve wrote that "music hath charms to soothe the savage
breast," did he not mean to imply that educated people are not
affected by it? Take the case, for instance, of that old barbarian,
Joseph Haydn, and note how he was affected by the "Creation" when he
heard it sung. "One moment," he said to Griesinger, "I was as cold as
ice, and the next I seemed on fire, and more than once I feared I
should have a stroke." Another "savage," Cherubini, when he heard a
Haydn symphony for the first time, was so greatly excited by it that
it forcibly moved him from his seat. "He trembled all over, his eyes
grew dim, and this condition continued long after the symphony was
ended. Then came the reaction. His eyes filled with tears, and from
that instant the direction of his work was decided." (Nohl.)

Similar incidents might be quoted from the biographies of almost all
the great composers. Berlioz, in his essay on Music, after referring
to the story of Alexander the Great, who fell into a delirium at the
accents of Timotheus, and the story of the Danish King Eric, "whom
certain songs made so furious that he killed some of his best
servants," dwells on the inconsistency of Rousseau, who, while
ridiculing the accounts of the wonders worked by ancient music,
nevertheless, "seems in other places to give them enough credence to
place that ancient art, which we hardly know at all, and which he
himself knew no better than the rest of us, far above the art of our
own day." For himself, Berlioz believed that the power of modern music
is of at least equal value with the doubtful anecdotes of ancient
historians. "How often," he says, "have we not seen hearers agitated
by terrible spasms, weep and laugh at once, and manifest all the
symptoms of delirium and fever, while listening to the masterpieces of
our great masters." He relates the case of a young Provençal musician,
who blew out his brains at the door of the Opéra after a second
hearing of Spontini's "Vestale," having previously explained in a
letter, that after this ecstatic enjoyment, he did not care to remain
in this prosaic world; and the case of the famous singer Malibran,
who, on hearing Beethoven's Fifth Symphony for the first time, at the
Conservatoire, "was seized with such convulsions that she had to be
carried out of the hall." "We have in such cases," Berlioz continues,
"seen time and again, serious men obliged to leave the room to hide
the violence of their emotions from the public gaze." As for those
feelings which Berlioz owed personally to music, he affirms that
nothing in the world can give an exact idea of them to those who have
not experienced them. Not to mention the moral affections that the art
developed in him, and only to cite the impressions received at the
moment of the performance of works he admired, this is what he says he
can affirm in all truthfulness: "While hearing certain pieces of
music, my vital forces seem at first to be doubled; I feel a delicious
pleasure, in which reason has no part; the habit of analysis itself
then gives rise to admiration; the emotion, growing in the direct
ratio of the energy and grandeur of the composer's ideas, soon
produces a strange agitation in the circulation of the blood; my
arteries pulsate violently; tears, which usually announce the end of
the paroxysm, often indicate only a progressive stage which is to
become much more intense. In this case there follow spasmodic
contractions of the muscles, trembling in all the limbs, a total
numbness in the feet and hands, partial paralysis of the optic and
auditory nerves. I can no longer see, I can hardly hear: vertigo ...
almost swooning...." Such was the effect of music on Berlioz.

As in a matter of this sort personal testimony is of more value than
anything else, I may perhaps be permitted to refer to some of my own
experiences. I have often been in the state of mind and body so
vividly described by Berlioz, except as regards the numbness of the
extremities and the partial paralysis of the sensory nerves. Hundreds
of times I have enjoyed that harmless æsthetic intoxication which I
believe to be more delicious to the initiated than the sweet delights
of an opium eater--a musical intoxication which does not only fill the
brain with floods of voluptuous delight, but sends thrills down the
spinal column and to the very finger-tips, like so many electric
shocks. As a boy, every experience of this sort fired my imagination
with ambition, and led to all sorts of noble resolutions, some of
which, at any rate, were carried into execution. The deepest
impression ever made on me by any work of art was at Munich, ten years
ago, when I heard for the first time Wagner's "Tristan and Isolde,"
which I was already familiar with through the pianoforte score. The
performance began at six o'clock, and I had had nothing to eat since
noon. It lasted till eleven o'clock, and one might imagine that, after
all this emotional excitement, I must have been ravenously hungry. So
I was; but without the slightest affectation, I was horrified at the
mere thought of indulging in such a coarse act as eating after
enjoying such ravishing music. So I hurried back to the hotel, eager
to get into my room and indulge in a long fit of weeping; and not a
wink did I sleep that night, the most passionate scenes from the opera
haunting me persistently, and almost as vividly as if I had been back
in the theatre.

Indeed, it was the irresistible power of Wagner's music that first
made me go to Europe, and that changed the whole current of my life.
After graduating from Harvard I had only a few dollars in my pocket;
but instead of trying to find employment and earn my daily bread, I
recklessly borrowed $500 of a good-natured uncle and went to Europe,
for the sole purpose of attending the first Bayreuth Festival. I had
about four hundred dollars when I arrived in Bayreuth, and of these I
spent two hundred and twenty-five dollars for tickets for the three
series of Nibelung performances, not knowing what would become of me
after the remaining one hundred and seventy-five dollars was spent. It
was several weeks before the performances, and Wagner had given strict
orders that no one, without exception, should be admitted to the
rehearsals. But I was not to be so easily baffled, and one afternoon I
sneaked into the lobby and succeeded in catching some wonderful
orchestral strains by applying my ear to a keyhole. But my pleasure
was short-lived. An attendant espied me and summarily ordered me off
the premises, despite my humble entreaties and attempts at bribery. I
now resolved to make a personal appeal to Wagner; so, a few days
later, as he was entering the theatre, arm in arm with Wilhelm, I
boldly walked up to him and told him I had bought tickets to all the
performances, but was very anxious to attend the rehearsals, adding
that I represented a New York and a Boston journal. At the mention of
the word newspaper, a frown passed over his face, and he said, rather
abruptly, "I don't care much about newspapers. I can get along without
them." But, in a second, a smile drove away the frown and he added: "I
have given orders that no one shall be admitted. However, you have
come a long way--and as I have found it necessary to make some
exceptions, I will admit you too." He then asked for my card and told
me I would be admitted by mentioning my name to the doorkeeper. That
he did not bear any deep resentment against me for unfortunately being
a newspaper man, he showed the next day, by walking up to me and
asking me if I had succeeded in getting in.

I mention these incidents because I think they help to disprove the
notion that modern music has less power over the actions and feelings
of men than primitive and ancient music. It was the wild enthusiasm
inspired in me by Wagner's earlier operas that led me irresistibly to
Bayreuth, and I really would have been willing to toil as a slave for
years rather than miss this festival. And my experience was that of
hundreds who had saved up their pennies for this occasion, or had
formed pools and drawn lots if the sum was too small. I met three men
in Bayreuth who had scraped together enough money for a third-class
trip from Berlin, but not enough to pay for a complete Nibelung ticket
for each. So they took turns and each heard his share of the Trilogy.
The artists, moreover, the greatest in Germany, were prompted by their
enthusiasm to give their services at this festival without any
pecuniary compensation. Such actions are more eloquent of deep feeling
than any words could be. How trivial are those ancient _myths_ about
Arion and Orpheus compared with this modern _fact_--the building of
the Bayreuth Theatre with the million marks contributed by Wagner's
admirers in all parts of the world!

It is easy to see how Prof. Hanslick fell into the error of imagining
that music exerts its greatest influence on savages. He probably
inferred this from the fact that savages are more obviously excited by
it, and gesticulate more wildly, than we do. But this does not prove
his point. Savages are more _demonstrative_ in their expression of
_all_ their emotions than we are; but this does not indicate that
their emotions are _deeper_. On the contrary, as the poet has told us,
it is the shallow brooks and the shallow passions that murmur; "the
deep are dumb." It is a rule of etiquette in civilized society to
repress any extravagant demonstration of feeling by gestures; and this
is the reason why we are apparently less affected by music than
savages. Yet, how difficult it is even to-day to repress the muscular
impulses imparted by gay music, is seen in the irresistible desire to
dance which seizes us when we hear a Strauss waltz played with the
true Viennese swing; and in the provoking habit which some people have
of beating time with their feet. Would anyone assert that a man who
thus loudly beats time with his boots is more deeply affected by the
music than you or I who keep quiet? Fiddlesticks! He shows just the
contrary. If he had as delicate and intense an appreciation of the
music as you have, he would know that the noise made by his boots
utterly mars the purity of the musical sound, and jars on refined ears
like the filing of a saw. If demonstrativeness is to be taken as a
test of feeling, then the ignorant audiences who stamp and roar over
the vulgar horse-play in a variety show have deeper feelings than the
educated reader who, in his room, enjoys the exquisite works of humor
of the great writers without any other expression than a smile.

Granted, then, that music has as much power to move our feelings as
ever, if not more, and bearing in mind that feeling is the chief
spring of action, does it not follow that music affects our _moral_
conduct, making us more refined and considerate in our dealings with
other people? Not necessarily and obviously, it seems, for there are
authorities who, while conceding the emotional sway of music, deny
that it has any positive moral value. The eminent critic, Prof.
Ehrlich, takes this sceptical attitude, in his "History of Musical
Æsthetics." If music, and art in general, has power to soften the
hearts of men, how is it, he asks, that the citizens of Leipsic did
not come to the rescue of the last daughter of the great Bach, but
allowed her to live in abject poverty? And how is that, in Florence
and Rome, some of the greatest patrons of art were princes who were
extremely unscrupulous in their manner of getting rid of their
enemies? Other instances might be added to those given by Prof.
Ehrlich. African tourists say that the Dahomans, although passionately
fond of singing and of instrumental music, are probably the most cruel
of all negroes. Nero, the cruelest of emperors, is said to have
regaled his ears with music after setting fire to Rome; and you have
all heard the story of the two famous prima donnas whose vicious
temper and jealousy drove them to a tooth and nail contest on the
stage, right before the public. Everybody knows, furthermore, what a
lot of scamps and vagabonds are included in the number of so-called
music teachers, and what irregular lives some composers have led.

At first sight, these facts look formidable and discouraging; but they
are nothing of the sort. If anyone asserted that music is _a moral
panacea_, an infallible cure for all vices, these facts would, of
course, be fatal to his argument; but no one would be so foolish as to
make such an extravagant claim in behalf of music. Music may be, and
doubtless is, a moral force, but it is not strong enough to overcome
all the various demoralizing forces that counteract it; hence, it must
often fail to show triumphant results. If we take the cases just
cited, and examine them separately, we see that they are delusive. Is
it not asking a good deal of the Leipsic citizens to support the poor
relatives and descendants of all the great men that city has produced?
If Bach himself had lived to claim their charity, I am convinced he
would have been cared for, notwithstanding the fact that probably most
of those who love his music are poor themselves, while the public at
large does not even understand it, and cannot, therefore, be morally
affected by it. Similarly, the reason why the Viennese allowed
Schubert to starve was not because his music failed to make them
generous, but because he died before they had learned even to
understand it. To-day they worship his very bones, and build Schubert
museums and monuments.

Again, if savages and emperors can be musical and cruel at the same
time, this only proves, as I have just said, that music is not strong
enough to overcome _all_ the vicious inherited and cultivated habits
of civilized and uncivilized barbarians. As for the fighting prima
donnas, it is obvious that a singer whose success is constantly
dependent upon the whims of a fickle public, is more subject than
almost any other mortal to constant attacks of envy and jealousy, so
that it is unfair not to make some allowance for temper in her case.
Allowances must also be made for music teachers, who, from the very
nature of their profession, rarely hear music as it ought to be, and
therefore naturally become impatient and irritable. They illustrate,
not the normal, but the abnormal effects of music. Moreover, owing to
the lamentable ignorance of so many parents and pupils, the
profession of music teachers is invaded with impunity by hundreds of
tramps who know so little of music that, if they tried to become
cobblers or tailors with a corresponding amount of knowledge, they
would be ignominiously kicked out of doors. Surely it is unfair to lay
the sins of these vagabonds on the shoulders of music.

Finally, as regards the moral character and temper of composers, it
should be remembered that, if some of them occasionally gave way to
their angry passion, they were generally provoked to it by the
obtuseness and insulting arrogance of their contemporaries. Had these
contemporaries honored and commended them for enlarging the boundaries
of art and the sphere of human pleasures, instead of tormenting them
with cruel and ignorant criticisms, the great composers would, no
doubt, have been amiable in their public relations, as they appear to
have been almost invariably toward their friends. Wagner's pugnacity
and frequent ill-temper, for instance, arose simply from the fact
that, while he was toiling night and day to compose immortal
master-works, his contemporaries not only refused to contribute enough
for his daily bread, but assailed him on all sides with malicious
lying, stupid criticisms, with as much obvious enjoyment of this
flaying alive of a genius as if they were a band of Indians torturing
a prisoner of war. Among his friends, Wagner was one of the most
gentle, tender, and kind-hearted of men, and it made him frantic to
see even a dumb animal suffer. He wrote a violent pamphlet against
vivisection, and one day missed an important train because he stopped
to scold a peasant woman who was taking to the market a basket of live
fish in the agony of suffocation. I hardly know of a great composer
who, in his heart of hearts, was not gentle and generous. Bach,
Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Gluck, Schubert, Beethoven, Schumann,
Mendelssohn, Weber, Liszt, and a dozen others who might be named,
though not without their faults, were kind and honest men, living
arguments for the ennobling effects of music.

In no other profession can men and women be found so ready to aid a
colleague in distress. Take the case of poor Robert Franz, for
instance, who lost his hearing through the whistle of a locomotive,
and thereby lost his professional income, and was brought to the verge
of starvation because his stupid contemporaries (I mean ourselves)
refused to buy his divine songs. Hardly had his misfortune become
known when Liszt, Joachim, and Frau Magnus arranged a concert tour for
his benefit which netted $23,000, and insured him comfort for the rest
of his life.

And in general, let me ask, why is it that, whenever a charitable
project is organized, musicians are invariably called upon first to
give their services? Does not this amount to an eloquent and universal
presumption that musical people are generous and kind-hearted?

Nor is this the only kind of presumption indicating that music
commonly goes hand in hand with kindness. The English in the days of
Elizabeth, as Chappell tells us, "had music at dinner, music at
supper, music at weddings, music at funerals, music at night, music at
dawn, music at work, music at play. He who felt not, in some degree,
its soothing influence, was viewed as a morose unmusical being, whose
converse ought to be shunned, and regarded with suspicion and
distrust." That this was the general sentiment in England is also
proved by the oft-quoted passage in "The Merchant of Venice," where
Shakspere notes the magic effect of music on men and animals, and
concludes with the verses--

    "The man that hath no music in himself
    Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds,
    Is fit for treasons, stratagems and spoils;
    The motions of his spirit are dull as night,
    And his affections dark as Erebus;
    Let no such man be trusted."

This, of course, is a poetic exaggeration, for we know that there are
other sources of refinement besides music, and that some of the
noblest men and women can hardly tell two tunes from one another.
Nevertheless, the general presumption remains that music and jolly
good-nature go together, and that music is incompatible with crime. An
experience I once had in Switzerland brought home this fact to my mind
in a forcible manner. I was taking a fortnight's tramp, all alone, and
one day I came near the summit of a mountain pass where, some time
previously, a solitary tourist had been robbed and murdered. There was
no house within five miles, and I had not met a soul that morning
until I approached this place, when I suddenly saw a shabbily dressed
man coming down the road. Not having any weapon, I could not but feel
nervous, and my heart began to beat almost audibly. Presently the man,
who had apparently not yet noticed me, began to sing a Tyrolese
melody. With the first notes all my fear instantly vanished, and I
breathed freely again; for an instinctive feeling had told me that a
man intent on murder and robbery would not sing.

Such presumptions, however, although they have some weight as
arguments, do not amount to full proof. Our feelings may mislead us,
and cannot be accepted in lieu of facts. We must therefore confront
our problem more directly. In what manner does music affect our moral
character? Does it make us less inclined to murder, stealing, lying,
lust, avarice, anger, hatred, jealousy, dishonesty, cruelty, and other
vices? And if so, by what means?

I find among writers on Music and Morals, a curious tendency to dodge
the direct question, and indulge in side issues and digressions. Mr.
Haweis, in his book on the subject, talks glibly about the training of
the emotions, and has much to tell about the lives of the composers,
but very little bearing directly on his subject. Wagner, in one of his
essays, asserts that music has as much influence on tastes and morals
as the drama itself. A frivolous and effeminate taste, he says, cannot
but affect our moral conduct. The Spartans understood this when they
forbade certain kinds of music as demoralizing. He believes that men
who are inspired by Beethoven's music make more active and energetic
citizens than those who are charmed by Rossini, Bellini, and
Donizetti; and he refers to the fact that in Paris, at a certain
period, music became more and more frivolous as the people degenerated
morally. At the same time he is obliged to admit that this, perhaps,
proves rather the effect of morals on music than of music on morals;
and so our problem remains in a vague twilight.

To gain more light on the subject, let us take a few specific cases.
Does the influence of music make us less inclined to perpetrate
murder, suicide, or cruel practices? Everybody has heard the story of
the famous Italian composer and vocalist, Stradella, whose wonderful
singing in an oratorio made such a profound impression on two men who
had been hired to murder him, that they not only spared him, but gave
him warning that his life was in danger. This story is now regarded as
a myth by some of the best authorities; but the fact that it was so
long believed universally is not without significance. Take another
case, which, though occurring in a ficticious drama, might easily be
true. Faust, in Goethe's drama, when on the point of committing
suicide, is brought back to his senses on suddenly hearing the Easter
hymn. But in this case it might be said it was not the music itself,
but the religious and other associations and memories awakened by it,
that prevented Faust from carrying out his criminal intention. Such
associations must always be taken into account when estimating the
moral value of music; and yet they do not explain everything. A
residue is left which must be placed to the credit of music.

Perhaps the vice best adapted to illustrate the direct influence of
musical culture is cruelty. If you find a boy in the back yard
torturing a cat or a dog, or bullying and maltreating his playmates,
it will probably do no good to sing or play to him by way of softening
his heart. On the contrary, he will probably not appreciate or
understand the music at all, and the interruption will only annoy and
anger him. But if you take that same boy and put him in a house where
there is an _infectious musical atmosphere_, the chances are that
before long his feelings will undergo a change, and he will no longer
derive any pleasure from cruelty. This pleasure is one which boys
share with savages, and the best way to eradicate it is by cultivating
the æsthetic sensibilities. "It cannot be doubted," says Eduard von
Hartmann, in his "Philosophie des Schönen," "that æsthetic culture is
one of the most important means of softening the moral sentiments and
polishing coarse habits;" and Shelley, in his "Defence of Poetry,"
says, "It will readily be confessed that those among the luxurious
citizens of Syracuse and Alexandria who were delighted with the poems
of Theocritus were less cold, cruel, and sensual than the remnant of
their tribe."

Now, music seems to be better adapted to bring about a regeneration of
the heart than even poetry, and for two reasons: In the first place,
poetry can, and often does, inculcate immoral sentiments, whereas
music, pure and simple, can never be immoral. As Dr. Johnson remarks,
"Music is the only sensual pleasure without vice." Secondly, it is in
childhood that our moral habits are formed, and it is well known that
children are susceptible to the influence of music at least five or
ten years before they can really understand poetry. The infant in arms
has its impatience and anger subdued countless times by the charms of
a cradle song; and in this way music sweetens its temper, turns its
frowns into smiles, and prevents it from becoming habitually cross and
vicious. True, some young children also like to read and recite
poetry, but what delights them in this case is the _musical_ jingle of
rhyme and rhythm, rather than the specific qualities of the verse.

Later in life, when the children go to school, they are, as expert
testimony proves, beneficially affected by singing together, which
rests and refreshes the brain, and teaches them the value and beauty
of co-operation. While thus singing, each child experiences the same
joyous or sad feelings as its classmates, and learns in this way the
great moral lesson of _sympathy_. And this brings us back to what was
said a moment ago regarding the vice of cruelty. Sympathy is the
correlative and antidote of cruelty. If savages were not utterly
devoid of sympathy, they would not take such strange delight in
witnessing the cruel tortures they inflict upon their prisoners.
Indeed, it may be asserted that almost all crimes spring from a lack
of sympathy, and modified forms of cruelty. If you reflect a moment,
you must admit that a man who is truly sympathetic--that is, who
rejoices in his neighbor's happiness and grieves over his
misfortunes--can be neither ungenerous, nor deceitful, nor covetous,
nor jealous, nor ferocious, nor avaricious, etc.; and one need not
therefore be a pantheist to agree with Schopenhauer, that Mitleid, or
sympathy, is the basis of all virtues. If, therefore, it can be shown
that music is a powerful agent in developing this feeling of sympathy,
its far-reaching moral value will become apparent. And this can be
done easily.

Rousseau named his collection of songs "The Consolations of the
Miseries of my Life;" Shakspere called music "The food of love;" and
Chopin, in one of his letters to a friend, after referring to his
first love affair, adds, "How often I relate to my piano everything I
should like to communicate to you." Similar remarks might be quoted by
the score from the letters of composers and other great men devoted to
music, showing that music is valued like a personal friend who is
always ready to sympathize with our joys and sorrows. And when a real
music-lover comes across a beautiful new piece, how he bubbles over
with enthusiasm to play or sing it to his friends, and let them share
the pleasure; his own being doubled thereby! I know of no other art
that so vividly arouses this unselfish feeling, this desire for
sympathetic communion. Indeed, music is the most unselfish of all the
arts. A poem is generally read in solitude, and a picture can be seen
by only a few at a time; but a concert or opera may be enjoyed by
5,000 or more at a time--the more the merrier. I have already stated
that in public schools music helps to develop a sympathetic feeling of
mutual enjoyment. And why is it that music, ever since the days of the
ancient Hebrews and Greeks, has been always provided at political
meetings and processions, at picnics, dances, funerals, weddings--in
short, at all social and public gatherings? Obviously, because it has
the power of uniting the feelings of many into one homogeneous and
sympathetic wave of emotion. It has a sort of _compulsive_ force which
hurries along even those who are sluggish or unwilling. Plato, in his
Republic, gives the curious advice that, at meetings of older people
wine should be distributed, in order to make them more pliable and
receptive to the counsel of sages. Many would object to such a risky
policy, which, moreover, can well be dispensed with, since music has
quite as much power as wine to arouse a sympathetic and enthusiastic
state of mind at a public assembly, and without any danger of
disastrous consequences. It is the special function of music to
intensify all the emotions with which it is associated. It inflames
the courage of an army of soldiers marching on to defend their
country, their homes and families. It exalts the religious feelings of
church-goers, and makes them more susceptible to the minister's moral
counsels. Is it not absurd to say that such an art has no moral value?
One of the most eloquent of modern preachers, the late Henry Ward
Beecher, went so far as to admit that "In singing, you come into
sympathy with the Truth as you perhaps never do under the preaching of
a discourse."

The Rev. Dr. Haweis also bears testimony to the moral value of music,
in the following words: "I have known the Oratorio of the Messiah draw
the lowest dregs of Whitechapel into a church to hear it, and during
the performance sobs have broken forth from the silent and attentive
throng. Will anyone say that for these people to have their feelings
for once put through such a noble and long-sustained exercise as that,
could be otherwise than beneficial? If such performances of both
sacred and secular music were more frequent, we should have less
drunkenness, less wife-beating, less spending of summer gains, less
winter pauperism. People get drunk because they have nothing else to
do; they beat their wives because their minds are narrow, their tastes
brutal, their emotions, in a word, ill-regulated."

These remarks suggest one of the most important moral functions of
music--that of _weaning the people from low and demoralizing
pleasures_. In proportion as the masses are educated to an
appreciation of the subtle and exquisite pleasures afforded by the
fine arts, and especially by music, will they become indifferent to,
and abhor, exhibitions which involve cruelty to man and animals, such
as dog-fights, boxing-matches, dangerous and cruel circus tricks,
executions of criminals, etc. The pleasure derived from such brutal
exhibitions is the same in kind as that which prompts savages to flay
alive their prisoners of war. And the morbid pleasure which so many
apparently civilized people take in reading in the newspapers, column
after column, about such brutal sports, is the survival of the same
unsympathetic feeling. I am convinced that no one who really
appreciates the poetic beauty of a Schubert song or a Chopin nocturne
can read these columns of our newspapers without feelings of utter
disgust. And I am as much convinced as I am of my own existence, that
a man who derives more pleasure from good music than from these vulgar
columns in the newspapers, is morally more trustworthy than those who
gloat over them. Music can impart only good impulses; whereas, we hear
every day of boys and men who, after reading a dime novel or the
police column in a newspaper, were prompted to commit the crimes and
indulge in the vices they had read about. Hence, if people could be
weaned from the vulgar pleasure of reading about crimes and scandals,
and taught instead to love innocent music, can any one doubt that they
would be morally the better for it? Just as a tendency to drunkenness
can best be combated by creating a taste for harmless light wines and
beer in place of coarse whiskey and gin, so a love of demoralizing
and degrading amusements can best be eradicated by educating the
poetic and musical sensibilities of the masses. Why are the lower
classes in Germany so much less brutal, degraded, and dangerous than
the same classes in England? Obviously, because, after their day's
labor, they do not drink poisonous liquor in a dirty den of crime, but
go to sip a few glasses of harmless beer in a garden while listening
to the merry sounds of music.

Men _will_ have, and _must_ have, their pleasures. Social reformers
and temperance agitators could not make a greater mistake than by
following the example of the Puritans and tabooing _all_ pleasures.
They ought to distinguish between those that have a tendency to excess
and vice, and those that are harmless and ennobling, encouraging the
latter in every possible way. And first among those that should be
encouraged is music, because it is always ennobling, and can be
enjoyed simultaneously by the greatest number. Its effect is well
described in Margaret Fuller's private journal: "I felt raised above
all care, all pain, all fear, and every taint of vulgarity was washed
out of the world." I think this is an extremely happy expression.
Female writers sometimes have a knack of getting at the heart of a
problem by instinct, more easily than men with their superior
reasoning powers. "Every taint of vulgarity washed out of the world by
music." That is precisely wherein the moral power of music lies; for
vulgarity is the twin sister of vice. It is criminal to commit a
murder; it is vulgar to gloat over the contagious details of it in
books and newspapers. But how rampant vulgarity still is, and how rare
æsthetic culture, is shown by the fact that two-thirds of the
so-called news in many of our daily papers consist of detailed reports
of crimes in all parts of the world, which are eagerly read by
hundreds of thousands, while our concert halls have to be filled with

There is one more way in which music affects our moral life, to which
I wish to call attention, namely, through its value as a tonic. No
operatic manager has ever thought of advertising his performances as a
tonic, yet he might do so with more propriety than the patent medicine
venders whose grandiloquent advertisements take up so much space in
our newspapers. Plato, in the "Laws," says that "The Gods, pitying the
toils which our race is born to undergo, have appointed holy festivals
in which men rest from their labors." Lucentio, in "The Taming of the
Shrew," advances the same opinion in more definite and pungent terms:

    "Preposterous ass! that never read so far
    To know the cause why music was ordain'd!
    Was it not to refresh the mind of man
    After his studies, or his usual pain?"

There can be no doubt whatever that music has the most remarkable
effect, not only on our minds, but on our bodies. Physiologists tell
us that different kinds of mental activity are carried on in different
parts of the brain, and that, in order to recover from fatigue, we
need not rest altogether, but merely take up some other kind of work.
Hundreds of times I have found that, however much I may be fatigued by
a day's brain work, I can play all the evening, or attend a concert or
opera, without in the least adding to my fatigue. On the contrary, in
most cases it disappears altogether, the music acting on the mind as a
surf bath does on the body. Like many others, I have found that the
best way to cure a headache is to attend an orchestral concert. It
works like a charm. It stirs up the circulation in the brain as a
brisk walk does in the body. Even brain disease is eased in this way.
The power of music even to cure insanity altogether, was frequently
maintained in ancient and mediæval times. This claim is doubtless
exaggerated, yet there is more than a grain of truth in it. There can
be no doubt that violent maniacs can be calmed, and melancholy ones
cheered and soothed, by music. To get an authoritative opinion on this
subject, I wrote to Dr. Hammond. He answered: "I know of no cases of
insanity that have been cured by music, but I have seen many cases in
which music has quieted insane persons, exerting the same calming
influence that it does on most of us when we are irritated by petty

"When we are irritated by petty annoyances." It is then that music
becomes a medicine and a moral tonic. Writers on ethics have,
hitherto, too much overlooked the moral importance of health. Where
there is a lack of health, we rarely find any moral sweetness of
temper. The vices may be small and peevish, but in their aggregate
they are enough to poison the happiness of the household. If a man
comes to ruin from drink and the crimes it leads him to commit, we
call him immoral. But is he not also immoral if, from excess of work
and worry, and wilful neglect of exercise, rest, and recreation, he
breaks down and beggars his family, becoming a burden to them instead
of a help? I think he is, and that, instead of pitying such a man, we
should censure him. Ignorance of the laws of hygiene, physical and
mental, is no valid excuse. He can buy a book on the subject for one
dollar. But he does not even need to do that. Music, we read in
Shakespere, has the power of "killing care and grief of heart," and
what he needs, therefore, is to hear some good music every evening, at
home or at the opera. This will draw the blood from the over-worked
part of his brain to another part, and by thus relieving it of the
tormenting persistency of worrying thoughts and business cares,
enable him to enjoy refreshing, dreamless sleep afterward. In this way
music may help to restore his health, cure his dyspepsia, and sweeten
his moral temper.

In America, more than anywhere else, is music needed as a tonic, to
cure the infectious and ridiculous business fever which is responsible
for so many cases of premature collapse. Nowhere else is so much time
wasted in making money, which is then spent in a way that contributes
to no one's happiness--least of all the owner's. We Americans are in
the habit of calling ourselves the most practical nation in the world,
but the fact is it would be difficult to find a nation less practical.
For, what is the object of life? Is it to toil like a galley slave and
never have any amusements? Every nation in Europe, except the English,
knows better how to enjoy the pleasures of life than we do. Our
so-called "practical" men look upon recreation as something useless,
whereas in reality it is the most useful thing in the world.
Recreation is re-creation--regaining the energies lost by hard work.
Those who properly alternate recreation with work, economize their
brain power, and are therefore infinitely more practical than those
who scorn or neglect recreation.

The utility and the moral value of refined pleasures is not
sufficiently understood. It should be proclaimed from the housetops
every day. Bread and butter to eat, and a bed to sleep in, are not the
only useful things in the world, but, in the words of Shelley,
"Whatever strengthens and purifies the affections, enlarges the
imagination, and adds spirit to sense, is useful." Music is useful
because it does this, and it is useful in many other ways. Singing
strengthens the lungs, playing the muscles, and both stimulate the
mind. Milton, Schiller, George Sand, Alfieri, and other geniuses have
testified that music aroused their creative faculties; and in
Beaconsfield's "Contarini" occurs this passage: "I have a passion for
instrumental music. A grand orchestra fills my mind with ideas. I
forget everything in the stream of invention." Furthermore, music is a
stepping-stone to social success. A gifted amateur is welcomed at once
into circles to which others may vainly seek admission for years; and
a young lady with a musical voice has a great advantage in the period
of courtship. But most important of all is the moral value of music as
an _ennui_ killer. _Ennui_ leads to more petty crimes than anything
else; and a devotee of music need never suffer a moment's _ennui_.
There are enough charming songs and pieces to fill up every spare
moment in our lives with ecstatic bliss, and to banish all temptation
to vice. It is in reference to similar pleasures that Sir John
Lubbock, in his essay on the "Duty of Happiness," exclaims: "It is
wonderful, indeed, how much innocent happiness we thoughtlessly throw
away." The art of enjoying life is an accomplishment which few have
thoroughly mastered.



Why is it that most persons are more interested in vocal than in
instrumental music? Obviously because, as Richard Wagner remarks, "the
human voice is the oldest, the most genuine, and the most beautiful
organ of music--the organ to which alone our music owes its
existence." And not only is the sound or quality of the human voice
more beautiful than that of any artificial instrument, but it is
capable of greater variation. Although a good artist can produce
various shades of tone on his instrument, yet every instrument has a
well-defined characteristic _timbre_, which justifies us in speaking,
for instance, of the majestic, solemn trombone, the serene flute, the
amorous violoncello, the lugubrious bassoon, and so on. The human
voice, on the other hand, is much less limited in its powers of tonal
and emotional coloring. It is not dependent for its resonance on a
rigid tube, like the flute, or an unchangeable sounding-board, like
the violin or the piano, but on the cavity of the mouth, which can be
enlarged and altered at will by the movements of the lower jaw, and
the soft parts--the tongue and the glottis. These movements change the
overtones, of which the vowels are made up, and hence it is that the
human voice is capable of an infinite variety of tone-color, compared
with which Wagner admits that even "the most manifold imaginable
mixture of orchestral colors must appear insignificant."

Notwithstanding that the superiority of the voice is thus conceded,
even by the greatest magician of the orchestra, we daily hear the
complaint that the good old times of artistic singing are gone by, and
have been superseded by an instrumental era, in which the voice merely
plays the part of the second fiddle and is maltreated by composers,
who do not understand its real nature. So far is this opinion from the
truth that it must be said, contrariwise, that it is only within the
last century--I might almost say the last half century--that composers
have begun fully to recognize the true function of the human voice and
its principal advantage over instruments.

What is this advantage? It is the power of articulating, of uniting
poetry with music, _definite words with indefinite tones_. Every
instrument, as I have just said, has a characteristic emotional
tone-color. But the emotions expressed by them are vague and
indefinite. A piece of instrumental music can express an eager,
passionate yearning for something, but it cannot tell what that
something is--whether it is the ardent longing of an absent lover, or
the heavenward aspiration of a religious enthusiast. The vocalist, on
the other hand, can clearly tell us the object of that longing by
using definite words. And by thus arousing reminiscences in the
hearer's mind, and adding the charm of poetry to that of music, he
doubles the power and impressiveness of his art.

Now, a very brief sketch of the history of solo singing will show that
this special advantage of the human voice over instruments was, if not
entirely overlooked, at least considered of secondary importance in
practice, until Gluck and Schubert laid the foundations for a new
style, in which the distinctively _vocal_ side of singing has
gradually become of greater importance than the instrumental side; as
we see in the music-dramas of Wagner, and the Lieder, or parlor-songs,
of Schumann, Franz, Liszt, and others.

Although _folk-song_ appears to be as old as the human race, the
history of _artistic_ song, or song written by professional composers
for the concert hall, can be traced back only about three centuries.
Before that time vocal music was generally polyphonic, that is, for
several voices; and a contrapuntal style of music had been introduced
into Italy from the Netherlands, which was so complicated and
artificial that the poetic text had no chance whatever of asserting
its rights and being understood. Now, the modern opera, which was
originated about three hundred years ago by a number of Florentine
amateurs, although it sprang from a desire to revive the ancient Greek
drama, in which music was united with poetry, represents at the same
time a reaction against this unintelligible Netherland style. The new
opera at first went to the opposite extreme, making the distinct
declamation of the text its principal object and neglecting vocal
ornamentation, and even melody, on purpose. The famous vocalist and
teacher, Caccini, although he taught his pupils how to sing trills and
roulades, declared that they were not essential to good singing, but
merely a means of tickling the ear, and, therefore, generally to be
avoided. He taught the Italian singers how to express the passions,
and reproduce the meaning of the words they sang--an art which,
according to the Roman, Pietro della Valle, was not previously known
to them.

The dry declamation of the first Italian operas, however, was not
supported by a sufficiently rich accompaniment to be enjoyable after
the first sense of novelty had passed away; and even the gifted
Monteverde's ingenious innovations in instrumental coloring and in
the free use of expressive discords, could not ward off a second
reaction, in favor of song pure and simple, which set in with
Scarlatti, the founder of the Neapolitan school, whose first opera was
produced a little over two centuries ago. From this time dates the
supremacy, in Italy, of the _bel canto_, or beautiful song, which,
however, gradually degenerated into mere circus music in which every
artistic aim was deliberately sacrificed to sensuous tone-revelry and
agility of execution, the voice being treated as a mere instrument,
without any regard for its higher prerogative of interpreting poetry
and heightening its effects.

This period of Italian song prevailed throughout Europe until the time
of Rossini. And in all the annals of music there is nothing quite so
strange as the extraordinary craze which existed during this time for
_the instrumental style of vocalism_. A special class of singers--the
male sopranists--was artificially created, in order to secure the most
dazzling results in brilliant, ornamental vocalization. Various kinds
of trills, grace notes, runs, and other species of _fioriture_, or
vocal somersaults, were introduced in every song, in such profusion
that the song itself was at last barely recognizable; and this kind of
stuff the audiences of that time applauded frantically. Everybody has
heard of the vulgar circus tricks performed by the most famous of the
sopranists, Farinelli--how at one time he beat a famous German
trumpeter in prolonging and swelling his notes, and how, at another
time, he began an aria softly, swelled it by imperceptible degrees to
such an astounding volume, and then decreased it again in the same way
to pianissimo, that the public wildly applauded him for five minutes.
Thereupon, Dr. Burney relates, he began to sing with such amazing
rapidity that the orchestra found it difficult to keep up with him.
Dr. Dommer justly comments on this story that, for such racing with an
orchestra, a singer would be hissed to-day by musical people.

It was not only quick and animated songs that were thus overloaded
with meaningless embroideries by the sopranists and the prima donnas
that followed them. Slow movements, which ought to breathe a spirit of
melancholy, appear to have been especially selected as background for
these vocal fireworks. I need not dwell on the unnaturalness of this
style. To run up and down the scale wildly and persistently in singing
a slow and sad song, is as consistent as it would be for an orator to
grin and yodle while delivering a funeral oration.

A question might be raised as to how far the great Italian composers
are responsible for this degradation of the vocal art to the level of
the circus. The public, it might be argued, wanted the florid style
of song; and if Rossini and Donizetti had refused to write in the
style admired by them, they would have been neglected in favor of
other and less gifted composers. I do not agree with this reasoning.
Rossini and Donizetti have revealed enough genius in some of their
sparkling melodies to make it probable that, if they had not so often
stooped to the level of a taste corrupted by the sopranists, they
might have raised the public to a higher standard of musical taste.
Rossini, in fact, _did_ introduce many reforms in Italian opera. He
enriched the orchestral accompaniments, removed some of the
superfluous arias, and for the first time wrote leading solo parts for
the bass--an innovation for which he was violently attacked, on the
ludicrous conservative ground that the bass could only be properly
used as a basis of harmonies. But Rossini's greatest merit lies in
this, that he refused to write for the sopranists, and would not even
let them sing in those of his operas which were brought out under his
own supervision. Furthermore, to prevent the singers from spoiling his
melodies with their florid additions, "he supplied his own
decorations, and made them so elaborate that the most skilled adorner
would have found it difficult to add to them" (Edwards). For thus
emancipating the composers from the tyranny of the singers Rossini
deserves great credit, and still greater honor is due him for having
shown, in his "William Tell," which he wrote for Paris, and in which
he discarded the florid style, that when he _did_ have a public which
appreciated simplicity of style and dramatic propriety in music, his
genius was equal to the occasion. It is a great pity that he did not
write several more operas in the style of "William Tell," for it is
the only one of his works which has preserved a portion of its former
popularity in Paris and elsewhere, thanks to its regard for dramatic

Like the composers, the singing teachers in Italy consented to adapt
their method to the universal clamor for decorative, florid singing.
The audiences did not seem to care at all _what_ was sung to them, as
long as it was sung with sensuous beauty of tone, and facility of
execution; consequently sensuous beauty of tone and facility of
execution were almost the only things that the teachers aimed at. This
is illustrated by an anecdote concerning the famous teacher Porpora
and his pupil Caffarelli, which, although doubtless exaggerated,
nevertheless describes the situation graphically. Porpora, it is
related, gave Caffarelli a page of exercises to which he confined him
for five years. And at the end of that time he exclaimed: "You have
nothing more to learn! Caffarelli is the first singer in the world!"

As if facility of execution or technical skill were not the mere
beginning of vocal culture--the fashioning of the instrument, as it
were, with which the singer must subsequently learn the higher arts of
expressing human emotions in tones, of phrasing intelligently, and of
pronouncing distinctly, so that the poetic qualities of the text may
be appreciated.

In looking over specimens of the vocal music written by Porpora and
his contemporaries, we find passages in which a single syllable is
extended over one hundred and fifty-eight, and even a hundred and
seventy-five, notes. A more atrocious maltreatment of the text, and
misconception of the true function of the human voice, could not be
imagined. As Mr. H.C. Deacon remarks, "The passages in much of the
music of that date, especially that of Porpora, are really
instrumental passages ... and possessing but little interest beyond
the surprise that their exact performance would create." People did
not ask themselves whether it was worth while for singers to go
through the most arduous training for five years, for the sake of
learning to execute runs which any fiddler or flute-player could learn
to play in a few weeks. Look at the fioriture which, to this day, Mme.
Patti sings in "Lucia," "Semiramide," etc. She is the only living
being who can sing them with absolute correctness and smoothness. Not
another singer can do it--whereas _every member of her orchestra can
play them at sight_. Does not this show, once and for all, that this
style of singing (which still has numerous admirers) is instrumental,
is unvocal, unsuited to the human voice, and should be abandoned
forever? Rossini showed his real opinion of it by writing his best and
most mature work in a different style; and Verdi has done the same in
"Aida" and "Otello," in which there is hardly a trace of colorature,
while the style often approaches to that of genuine dramatic song.

The colorature or florid style, however, is only one of the varieties
of Italian song. Side by side with it there has always been a
charming, melodious _cantabile_, which in the later period of Italian
opera gradually got the ascendancy. This _cantabile_ is often of
exquisite beauty, and gives Italian and Italianized singers a chance
to show off the mellow qualities of their voices to the best
advantage. The very word _cantabile_ emphasizes, by antithesis, the
unvocal character of the old florid style. _Fioritura_ means
embroidery, while _cantabile_ means "song-like." But now, note how the
sins of one period are visited on the next. The evils of the florid
style did not terminate with its supremacy. They cast a shadow before,
which prevented the real nature of human song from being discovered
even after the vocal style had become more simple and rational. During
the period in which the vocalists were in the habit of singing from a
dozen to a hundred or more notes to a single syllable of the text,
they, as well as the public, had become so indifferent to the words
and their poetic meaning, that this habit could not at once be altered
when the _cantabile_ style came more into vogue. The singers continued
to be careless in regard to pronunciation of the words, and the opera
libretti were so very silly that the public really did not care
whether the singers spoke their words correctly and distinctly or not.
Hence even the _cantabile_ style of Italian song continued to be more
or less instrumental in character--telling the audience little more
about the text than the flute or the violins told them about it.

Mrs. Wodehouse, in her article on song in Grove's "Dictionary of Music
and Musicians," calls attention to the injurious action of Italian
opera on the English School by breeding indifference to the text.
"From Handel's time until a very recent date," she says, "Italian
operas and Italian songs reigned supreme in England; Italian singers
and Italian teachers were masters of the situation to the exclusion of
all others. And the habit thus contracted of hearing and admiring
compositions in a foreign and unknown tongue, engendered in the
English public a lamentable indifference to the words of songs, which
reacted with evil effect both on the composer and the singer.
Concerned only to please the ears of his audience, the composer
neglected to wed his music to words of true poetic merit; and the
singer quickly grew to be careless in his enunciation. Of how many
singers, and even of good ones, may it not fairly be affirmed that at
the end of the song the audience has failed to recognize its

These remarks are quite as applicable to America as to England. We
hear singers every week to whom we can listen attentively for five
minutes without being able to tell what language they are singing in.
Most of these singers were trained by the Italian method: And yet we
are told every day that this Italian method, which has so little
regard for the distinctively vocal side of singing, is the only true
method for the voice. It is time to call a halt in this matter, time
to ask if the Italian method is really the one best adapted for
teaching pupils to sing in English. That it is the best and only
method for singing in Italian, and for interpreting the style hitherto
cultivated by the Italians, no one will deny. But whether it is the
proper method for those who wish to sing in English, French, or
German, and to devote themselves to the modern dramatic style, is
quite another question, which must be, partly at least, answered in
the negative.

A careful examination of the situation, leaving aside all national
prejudice, will show us that each of the two principal methods, as
exemplified by Italian and German singers, has its dark and its
bright side, and that the cosmopolitan American style of the future
ought to try to combine the advantages of both, while avoiding their
shortcomings. The dark side of Italian singing has been sufficiently
dwelt upon; let us now consider the bright side.

Italy owes much of her fame as the cradle of artistic song and "The
Lord's own Conservatory," to climatic and linguistic advantages.
Thanks to the mild climate, men and women can spend most of their time
in the open air, and their voices are not liable to be ruined by
constantly passing from a dry, overheated room into the raw and chilly
air of the streets. The Italians are a plump race, with well-developed
muscles, and their vocal chords share in the general muscular health
and development; so that the average voice in Italy has a much wider
compass than in most other countries; and an unctuous ease of
execution is readily acquired. Their language, again, favors Italian
singers quite as much as their climate. It abounds in the most
sonorous of the vowels, while generally avoiding the difficult U, and
the mixed vowels Ö and Ü, as well as the harsh consonants, which are
almost always sacrificed to euphony. And where the language hesitates
to make this sacrifice, the vocalists come to the rescue and
facilitate matters by arbitrarily changing the difficult vowel or
consonant into an easy one. In this they are encouraged by the
teachers, who habitually neglect the less sonorous vowels and make
their pupils sing all their exercises on the easy vowel A. No wonder,
then, that the tones of an Italian singer commonly sound sweet: he
makes them up of nothing but pure sugar. Characterization, dramatic
effect, variety of emotional coloring, are all bartered away for
sensuous beauty of tone; and hence the distinctive name for Italian
singing--_bel canto_, or beautiful song--is very aptly chosen.

Now, sensuous beauty of tone is a most desirable thing in music.
Wagner's music, _e.g._, owes much of its tonic charm to his fine
instinct for sensuous orchestral coloring, and Chopin's works lose
half their characteristic beauty if played on a poor piano, or by one
who does not know how to use the pedal in such a way as to produce a
continuous stream of rich saturated sound. Hence the Italians deserve
full credit for the attention they bestow on sensuous beauty of tone,
even if their means of securing it may not always be approved. Nor
does this by any means exhaust the catalogue of Italian virtues. As a
rule, Italian singers have a better ear for pitch, breathe more
naturally, and execute more easily than German and French singers,
whose guttural and nasal sounds they also avoid. The difference
between the average Italian and German singers is well brought out by
Dr. Hanslick, in speaking of the Italian performances which formerly
used to alternate with the German operas in Vienna: "Most of our
Italian guests," he says, "distinguish themselves by means of the
thorough command they have over their voices, which in themselves are
by no means imposing; our German members by powerful voices, which,
however, owing to their insufficient training, do not produce half the
effect they would if they had been subjected to the same amount of
training. With the Italians great certainty and evenness throughout
the rôle; with the Germans an unequal alternation of brilliant and
mediocre moments, which seems partly accidental."

It is this element of accident and uncertainty that lowers the value
of many German singers. Herr Niemann, for instance, has moments--and,
indeed, whole evenings--when his voice, seemingly rejuvenated, not
only rises to sublime heights of dramatic passion, but possesses rare
sensuous beauty; while on other occasions the sound of his voice is
almost unbearable. Niemann, of course, is fifty-eight years old, but
many of the younger German singers too often have their bad
quarter-hours; and even Lilli Lehmann--whom I would rather hear for my
own pleasure than any other singer now on the stage--emits
occasionally a disagreeable guttural sound. Nothing of the sort in
Mme. Patti, whom Niemann no doubt is right in pronouncing the most
perfect vocalist, not only of this period, but of all times. I, for my
part, have never cared much for the _bel canto_ as such, because it is
so often wasted on trashy compositions. Yet, when I heard Mme. Patti
for the first time in New York, I could not help indulging in the
following rhapsody: "The ordinary epithets applicable to a voice, such
as sweet, sympathetic, flexible, expressive, sound almost too
commonplace to be applied to Patti's voice at its best, as it was when
she sang the _valse_ Ombra Leggiera from 'Dinora,' and 'Home, Sweet
Home.' Her voice has a natural sensuous charm like a Cremona violin,
which it is a pleasure to listen to, irrespective of what she happens
to be singing. It is a pleasure, too, to hear under what perfect
control she has it; how, without changing the quality of the sound,
she passes from a high to a low note, from piano to forte, gradually
or suddenly, and all without the least sense of effort. Indeed her
notes are as spontaneous and natural as those of a nightingale; and
this, combined with their natural sweetness and purity, constitutes
their great charm." A few months later, when Patti gave one of her
innumerable farewell performances, I was again forced to admit that
she is the greatest of living lyric sopranos, but took the liberty to
express my conviction that "the charm of her voice is almost as purely
sensuous as the beauty of a dewdrop or a diamond reflecting the
prismatic colors of sunlight."

Patti, in a word, is the incarnation of the Italian style. Her voice
is flawless as regards beauty of tone, and spontaneity and agility of
execution. Moreover, she avoids the small vices common to most Italian
singers, such as taking liberties with the time and the sentiment of
the piece for the sake of prolonging a trill or a loud final high
note, and so on. At an early stage in her career she followed the
custom of the time, and lavished such an abundance of uncalled-for
scales and trills and arpeggios and staccatos on her melody, that even
Rossini entered a sarcastic protest; but in her later years she has
conscientiously followed the indications of the composers. At the same
time, she has shown more and more anxiety to win laurels as a dramatic
singer. But here the vocal style which she has exclusively cultivated
has proved an insuperable obstacle. Although free from the smaller
vices of the Italian school, she could not overcome the great and
fatal shortcoming of that school--the maltreatment of the poetic text.
She could not find the proper accents required in operas where the
words of the text are as important as the melody itself; and she has
failed therefore to give satisfaction even in such works as "Faust"
and "Aïda," which are intermediate between the old-fashioned opera and
the music-drama proper. I have been often surprised to hear how
Patti, so conscientious in other respects, slights her texts,
obliterating consonants and altering vowels after the fashion of the
Italian school. Having neglected to master the more vigorous vowels
and expressive consonants, she cannot assert her art in dramatic
works. Her voice, in short, is _merely an instrument_. "Bird-like" is
an epithet commonly applied to it by admirers. Is this a compliment? A
dubious one, in my opinion. The nightingale's voice is very sweet, no
doubt, but it is no better than a flute. A bird cannot pronounce words
and sing at the same time. The human voice alone can do that--can
alone combine poetry and music, uniting the advantage of both in one

On the other hand, have you ever heard anyone compare the voices of
Lehmann, Materna, Sucher, or Malten to a bird's voice? Of course not;
and the reason is obvious. The point of view is different. Although
Lilli Lehmann's voice is almost as mellow in timbre as Patti's, and
much richer and warmer, we never think of it as a bird-like or vague
instrumental tone, but as a medium for the expression of definite
dramatic emotion. And herein lies the chief difference between the
Italian and the German schools. _An Italian adores singing for its own
sake, a German as a means of definite emotional expression._

Now, whether we look at nations or at individuals, we always find
that simple beauty of tone and agility of execution in artistic
singing are appreciated sooner than emotional expression and dramatic
characterization. Hence it is that the Italian school came before the
German school. Even in Germany, a few generations ago, the Italian
school was so predominant that German composers of the first
rank--Gluck, Weber, and Beethoven--found it difficult to assert their
influence against it. In Vienna, during the season of 1823, the
Rossini furore was so great that none but Rossini's operas were sung;
and in Germany almost everyone of the three dozen big and little
potentates supported his own Italian operatic company. To-day you look
in vain through Germany or Austria for a single Italian company. The
few Italian operas that have remained on the repertory are sung in
German translations by German singers, and all of these operas
together hardly have as many performances in a year as a single one of

Here is a revolution in taste which may well excite our astonishment,
and arouse our curiosity as to how it was brought about. It was
brought about by the courage and perseverance of a few composers who,
instead of stooping down to the crude taste of the _fioriture_-loving
public, elevated that taste until it was able to appreciate the poetic
and dramatic side of music; and it was brought about with the
assistance of German singers, notwithstanding the great disadvantages,
climatic and linguistic, under which these labor in comparison with
Italian singers.

Although the Germans are a more robust nation than the Italians, with
more powerful muscles and voices, their climate is against them,
leading to frequent throat troubles which endanger the beauty of the
voice. Hence, the gift of mellow, supple song does not come to them so
spontaneously as to the Italians. About a thousand years ago, an
Italian compared the singing of some German monks to the noise made by
a cart rattling down a frozen street; and even Luther compared the
singing in cathedrals and monasteries at his time to the "braying of
asses." At a more recent period, Frederick the Great, on hearing of
the proposed engagement of a German singer, exclaimed: "What! hear a
German singer! I should as soon expect to derive pleasure from the
neighing of my horse!" Beethoven knew that the chief reason why he
could not compete with Rossini on the stage was the lack of good
German singers. He often lamented the inferiority of the German to the
Italian singers, and one day exclaimed to the organist Freudenberg:
"We Germans have no sufficiently cultivated singers for the part of
_Leonora_; they are too cold and feelingless. The Italians sing and
act with their whole souls." Nevertheless, Beethoven refused to adapt
his music to the style of the Italian singers--fortunately; for, if
he had, it would now be as obsolete as most of Rossini's and

When Berlioz made his famous tour in Germany, matters had somewhat
improved, to judge from the following remarks in his "À Travers
Chants:" "They say that the Germans sing badly; that may seem true in
general. I will not broach the question here, whether or not their
language is the reason of it, and whether Mme. Sontag, Pischek,
Tichatschek, Mlle. Lind, who is almost a German, and many others, do
not form magnificent exceptions; but, upon the whole, German vocalists
sing, and do not howl; the screaming school is not theirs; they make
music." Nevertheless, about the same time, Liszt complained that a
perfect training of the voice such as he admired in Viardot Garcia,
had almost become a legend of the past; and only eight years ago, an
excellent German critic, Martin Plüddemann, wrote that "Germany has
many good orchestras and not a few excellent pianists, even among
amateurs; but a city of 100,000 inhabitants seldom has ten vocalists
whose voices are tolerable, and of these two or three at most deserve
the name of artists."

When Richard Wagner made his preparation for the great Nibelung
festival in 1876, he had the greatest difficulty in securing a
sufficient number of competent interpreters for the different rôles
of the trilogy, though he had all the German opera companies to choose
from. His private letters and essays are full of lamentations
regarding the rarity of singers able to interpret, not only his works,
but those of Weber, Gluck, or Mozart. Good singers, he says in one
place, are so rare that the managers have to pay their weight in gold
and jewelry. But the cause of this, he continues, is not the lack of
good voices, but their improper training in the wrong direction.
German teachers have tried to adapt the voices of their pupils to the
Italian _canto_, which is incompatible with the German language.
"Hitherto," he says in another place, "the voice has been trained
exclusively after the model of Italian songs; there was no other. But
the character of Italian songs was determined by the general spirit of
Italian music, which, in the time of its full bloom, was best
exemplified by the sopranists, because the aim of this music was mere
enjoyment of the senses, without any regard for genuine depth of
feeling--as is also shown by the fact that the voice of young manhood,
the tenor voice, was hardly used at all at this period, and later only
in a sopranistic way, as falsetto. Now, the spirit of modern music,
under the undisputed leadership of German genius, especially
Beethoven, has succeeded in first rising to the true dignity of art,
by bringing within the sphere of its incomparable expressiveness, not
only what is agreeable to the senses, but also an energetic
spirituality and emotional depth." Evidently, he concludes, a singer
trained in the spirit of the old-fashioned, merely sensuous music, is
unable to cope with modern dramatic music, and the result is the
failure and premature collapse of so many promising singers, who might
have become great artists had they been rationally instructed.

Misinformed or prejudiced critics have told us countless times that
Wagner assigned the voice a secondary place in his works because he
cared less for it than for the orchestra, and did not understand its
nature and uses. The fact is that no one can read his essays,
especially those on Schnorr von Carolsfeld, and on Actors and
Vocalists, without being impressed with his unbounded admiration for
the voice, and his practical knowledge of its highest functions and
correct use. As a vocal teacher, Wagner has perhaps never had an
equal. A few words from him regarding tone emission, breathing, or
phrasing, have often sufficed to show to a singer that a passage which
he had considered unsingable, was really the easiest thing in the
world, if only the poetic sense were properly grasped and the breath
economized. It is difficult to realize how much of their art and
popularity the greatest dramatic singers of the period owe to Wagner's
personal instruction. Materna, Malten, Brandt, Tichatschek, Schnorr
von Carolsfeld, Niemann, Vogl, Winkelmann, Betz, Scaria, Reichmann,
and many others have had the benefit of his advice; and if Wagner
could have carried out his plans of establishing a college of dramatic
singing at Bayreuth--a plan which was frustrated by the lack of
funds--the cause of dramatic art would have gained immeasurably. We
speak with scornful contempt of the Viennese of a former generation,
who allowed a rare genius like Schubert to starve; but posterity will
look back with quite as great astonishment on the sluggishness of a
generation which did not eagerly accept the offer of the greatest
dramatic composer of all times, to instruct gratuitously a number of
pupils in his own style and those of Gluck, Mozart, and Weber.

Leaving out of consideration the instructions which they personally
received from Wagner, the greatest dramatic singers of the time may be
regarded as self-made men and women. Experience taught them their art,
other teacher they had none; for it is only within a few years that a
few teachers have begun to realize that the old methods of instruction
are partly incorrect, and partly insufficient for the demands of
contemporary art. Such teachers as Mme. Viardot-Garcia and Mme.
Marchesi have done much good, and trained many excellent lyric
vocalists; but Mme. Marchesi herself admits that the great demand
to-day is for dramatic, and not for lyric, singers. Formerly, it was
the _bravura_ singer who bought dukedoms with his shekels; to-day,
with the solitary exception of Patti, it is the _dramatic_ soprano or
tenor that gets from $500 to $1,000 a night. When will teachers and
pupils wake up and recognize the new situation? When will American
girls cease flocking by the hundreds to Milan to learn such rôles as
_Lucia_ or _Amina_, for which there is now no demand, either in Europe
or America, if we except the wild Western audiences to which Emma
Abbott caters. A good _Elsa_ or _Brünnhilde_ will get an engagement
ten times sooner than a good _Lucia_; and young vocalists whose voices
have not sufficient volume and power to cope with German dramatic
music, will do well to devote their attention to the better class of
French operas, for which there is a growing demand, as the French
style has always been much more like the German than like the Italian,
owing to the great attention paid by French composers, especially
since the days of Gluck, to vigorous declamation and distinct
enunciation. Wagner especially recommends the works of the older
French schools as a preparation for his own more difficult operas.

Director Stanton, of the Metropolitan Opera House, in New York, is
obliged every summer to make a trip to Germany and look about for
dramatic singers wherewith to replenish his casts. As a number of
American singers have already won fame here and abroad, the time no
doubt will come when he will be able to find the dramatic singers he
needs at home, and when opera in English will have supplanted foreign
opera, so far as the language is concerned. But until that happy epoch
arrives every aspirant to operatic honors cannot be too strongly urged
to begin his or her studies by learning the French and German
languages. Almost all the greatest singers of the century have been
able not only to sing but to speak in several languages. Above all
things, students of song should learn to speak their own language. Mr.
H.C. Deacon remarks that "no nation in the civilized world speaks its
language so abominably as the English.... Familiar conversation is
carried on in inarticulate smudges of sound which are allowed to pass
current for something, as worn-out shillings are accepted as
representatives of twelvepence.... When English people begin to study
singing, they are astonished to find that they have never learned to

Mr. Deacon's strictures do not apply in all their force to Americans,
for the average American speaks English more distinctly than the
average Englishman; yet there is room for vast improvement in the
enunciation of our singers. Now, the great value of the German style
to English students lies in this, that it emphasizes above all things
the importance of correct and distinct speech in song. Julius Hey, of
Munich, who has just published a vocal method which will mark an epoch
in the teaching of singing, devotes the whole of his first volume to
an analysis of the elements of speech, and to exercises in speaking.
The second and third volumes contain vocal exercises for male and
female voices, while the fourth volume, which has just appeared,
discusses the special characteristics of the German dramatic method,
and gives detailed instructions for the development and training of
each variety of voice, together with an appendix in which some of the
most popular operatic rôles are analyzed and described. It is a book
which no teacher or student who wishes to keep abreast of the times
can afford to be without.

Although Herr Hey is a disciple of Wagner, he is a cosmopolitan
admirer of all that is good in every style of the past and present. In
the elaborate scheme for the establishment of a conservatory in Munich
which Wagner submitted to King Ludwig, he dwells on the fact that
every student of song, whatever his ultimate aims, should be
instructed in Italian singing, in conjunction with the Italian
language. Herr Hey, too, admits that there is no branch of the Italian
method which the German teachers can afford to ignore. In the emission
of a mellow tone, the use of the portamento, in the treatment of
scales, of trills, and of other ornaments, and in facile vocalization
in general, all nations can learn from the Italians. But the Italian
method does not go far enough. It does not meet the demands of the
modern opera and the modern music-drama. It delights too much in
comfortable solfeggios, in linked sweetness long drawn out, which soon
palls on the senses. The modern romantic and dramatic spirit demands
more characteristic, more vigorous, more varied accents than Italian
song supplies. These dramatic accents are supplied by the German
method, and in this chiefly lies its superiority over the Italian

Herr Hey uses a very happy comparison in trying to show the bad
consequences of relying too much on the Italian principles of vocal
instruction which have been current until lately in Germany as in all
other countries. Students, he says, are taught to fence with a little
walking-cane, and when it comes to the decisive battle they are
expected to wield a heavy sword. A most happy illustration this, I
repeat, for it indicates exactly what vocal teachers of the old school
are doing. They choose the easiest of the vowels and the easiest
melodic intervals, and make the pupils exercise on those constantly,
ignoring the more difficult ones; and the consequence is, that when,
subsequently, the pupils are confronted with difficult intervals in a
dramatic rôle, they sing them badly and make the ludicrous protest
that the composer "doesn't know how to write for the voice;" and when
they come across difficult vowels they either change them into easier
ones, and thus make the text unintelligible, or else they emit a crude
tone because they have never learned to sing a sonorous U, I, or E

The German principle, on the other hand, is that all vowels (and the
German language has a greater number of them than the Italian) must be
cultivated equally, the difficult ones all the more because they are
difficult. Herr Hey has found in practice that not only can the vowels
which at first sound dull and hollow, like U, be made as sonorous as A
(Ah), but that, by practising on U, the A itself is rendered more
sonorous than it can ever become by exclusive practice on it alone.
Not only does the German method in this way secure a greater variety
of sonorous vowel sounds, useful for the expression of different
dramatic moods, but the registers are equalized, and there is a great
gain in the power and endurance of the voice, which is of immense
importance to-day in grand opera.

Prof. Stockhausen, the distinguished vocal teacher, recently remarked
in the _Frankfurter Zeitung_ that "the _mezza voce_ is the natural
song, the constant loud singing being only a struggle with unequal
weapons against our modern orchestra." No doubt he is right. But the
orchestra has become such an important factor in modern opera that
musicians would be unwilling to have it reduced in size--the tendency
being, in fact, the other way; and at the same time opera is such an
expensive luxury that it can only be made to pay in a very large
theatre, which obliges the singers to have stentorian voices.
Consequently, the German method, which develops the power and the
sonority of the voice on _every_ vowel, is the method of the future,
all the more because the English language, which is the world language
of the future, is even more difficult for vocal purposes than the
German, and calls for similar treatment.

In the treatment of consonants, the German method marks a still
greater advance on the Italian method. Professor Ehrlich thinks that
the reason why Italians care so much for melody and so little for
harmony is because they are too indolent to make the mental effort
which is required to follow a complicated harmonic score. They are,
certainly, too lazy to pronounce any harsh or difficult consonants,
and the Italian language therefore presents a picture of sad
effeminate degeneracy compared with the more vigorous Latin and even
Spanish. Now the English language and the English character have much
more of German vigor and masculine strength than of the Italian
_dolce far niente_: hence, the English vocal style of the future will
have to be modelled after the German style, which, instead of shirking
difficult consonants boldly tackles and utilizes them. It will never
be possible to sing so sweetly in the English and German languages as
in Italian; but it is possible to sing with much more vigor, dramatic
definiteness, and variety of emotional expression.

At the same time, the harshness of the consonants in German and
English song must not be too much emphasized. Wagner has shown in his
music-dramas, and Hey in his vocal method, that by means of a proper
division of syllables and correct articulation, the harshness of
consonants can be toned down as much as is desirable. On the
desirability and effectiveness of strong consonants Liszt has some
admirable remarks in speaking of the Polish language, which is noted
for its melodious beauty, although it bristles with consonants: "The
harshness of a language," he says, "is by no means always conditioned
by the excessive number of consonants, but rather by the way in which
they are united; one might almost say that the weak, cold color of
some languages is due to the lack of characteristic and strongly
accented sounds. It is only an unharmonious combination of dissimilar
consonants that offends a refined ear. The frequent return of certain
well-united consonants gives shading, rhythm, and vigor to language;
whereas the predominance of vowels produces a certain pallor in the
coloration, which needs the contrast of darker tints."

Those who are always ready to insist on the superiority of the Italian
language for song, would do well to ponder these remarks of Liszt, who
knew what he was talking about, as he spoke a number of modern
languages fluently. And when they have done that, they should procure
a few of Wagner's later vocal scores and note the extremely ingenious
manner in which he has made the peculiarities of German consonants
subservient to his dramatic purposes. I refer especially to his use of
alliteration--the repetition of a consonant in the same or in
consecutive lines. This not only insures a smooth, melodious flow, but
enables the composer to heighten the effect of any situation by
choosing consonants that harmonize with it. What, for instance, could
be more delightfully descriptive than the words sung by the three
Rhine daughters as they merrily swim and gambol under the water in

    "Weia! Waga!
    Woge, du Welle,
    Walle zur Wiege!
    Wallala, weiala, weia!"

One need only look at this, without understanding the language, to
feel the rhythmic motion of the water, and imagine the song of the
merry maidens. Again, in the famous love duo in the "Walküre," note
the repetition of the liquid consonants, the l's and m's, which give
the sound such a soft and sentimental background. Does it not seem
incredible that the Italian operatic composers should have ignored
such poetic means of deepening the emotional color of their songs?

But this is by no means all. In the same scene in "Rheingold" to which
reference has just been made, the ugly Nibelung _Alberich_ appears
presently and tries to catch one of the lovely maidens. But they elude
his grasp and he angrily complains that he slips and slides on the
slimy soil. Note the slippery character of these sounds:

    "Garstig glatter
    Glitschriger Glimmer!
    Wie Gleit ich aus!
    Mit Händen und Füssen
    Nicht fasse noch halt'ich
    Das schlecke Geschlüpfer."

_There_ is a real Volapük for you--a world language which all can
understand, for it is onomatopoetic realism.

Of course it is not "beautiful;" but is that a reasonable objection?
What would you say to an artist who painted dramatic battle-scenes,
but made all the soldiers' faces as pretty as he could and adorned
with sweet smiles? _That_ is precisely what the Italian opera
composers have done in stage music; and it is because Wagner taught
the singer to express not only _sweet_ sentiments but _all_ dramatic
emotions, whether harsh or agreeable, that his new style marks an
epoch in the evolution of the art of singing. At the same time, even
these harsher passages in Wagner's vocal music are not really ugly,
that is, disagreeable to the ear, _when properly sung_. Just as a
homely face becomes attractive when it expresses a vivid emotion, so
the harshest vocal measures in the realistic music-drama become a
source of enjoyment if they are sung _with expression_.

Unfortunately, there are only a few artists as yet who have
sufficiently caught Wagner's intentions to be able to sing in this
manner. Carl Hill, who created the part of the magician _Klingsor_ at
the Parsifal Festival, in 1882, was one of these exceptions. He
reflected the spirit of the gruesome text assigned to him so admirably
that Wagner was delighted; but afterward he complained that Hill's
fine impersonation was not so widely appreciated as it deserved to be;
and why? Apparently, because _Klingsor's_ melodic intervals were not
pleasing, nor his sentiments sympathetic.

We must conclude from this that, in regard to dramatic singing, many
opera-goers are still a good deal like the honest Scotchman who, on
his first visit to a theatre, climbed on the stage and administered
the villain of the play a sound thrashing; or, like the Bowery
audiences, which applaud the good man in the play, no matter how badly
he acts, and hiss the villain, though he be a second Salvini.

Until operatic audiences begin to understand that singing is
commendable in proportion as it gives realistic expression, not only
to sweet and pleasing moods, but to various kinds of dramatic emotion,
the full grandeur and value of Wagner's vocal style cannot be
appreciated. A real epicure does not care to eat cakes and candy all
the time; he loves olives and caviare too. These may be acquired
tastes, but all taste for high art is acquired. And the time is,
apparently, not very distant when Wagner's realistic vocal style will
no longer be caviare even to the public at large, but will be more
enjoyed--even when it gives expression to emotions of anger, jealousy,
and revenge--than the cloying, sugar-coated melodies of Bellini and
Rossini, or those meaningless embroideries which even some of the best
of the older Italians (Tosi, for example) regarded as the most
beautiful part of song.

The great enthusiasm frequently shown at performances of Wagner's
operas in other countries as well as in Germany, seems to argue that
the public at large _has_ already entered into the real spirit and
meaning of the Wagnerian style of singing. But numerous experiences
lead me to believe the contrary. Allow me to quote, for example, an
extract from one of those letters, abusive or censorious, which
musical editors receive almost daily. "Is it not undeniable," writes a
correspondent, "that as long as the world lasts, one of its greatest
delights will consist in listening to the music furnished by the human
voice? The more highly cultivated, pure, sweet, and flexible the
voice, the more the enjoyment derived. And is it not equally true that
Wagner's style of music discourages singing of this sort, or, in fact,
singing of any sort? Are not the principal features of Wagner's operas
the orchestra, acting, and general _mise-en-scène_, and does not
singing, pure and simple, have but little part in it?"

If the writer of these questions had asked them in Wagner's presence I
believe that Wagner would have jumped up and boxed his ears. Nothing
so irritated him as this notion that the singing in his operas is
subordinate to the orchestra, or, in other words, that he puts the
statue in the orchestra and the pedestal on the stage. As early as
1850, he complained to Liszt about his friend Dingelstedt, who, in his
article on the first performance of "Lohengrin," had expressed a
similar opinion. And many years later, in writing of Schnorr von
Carolsfeld's wonderful impersonation of _Tristan_, he begs the reader
to note that the last act of this work contains "an exuberance of
orchestral devices, such as no simple instrumental composer has ever
had occasion to call into use. Then assure yourself," he continues,
"that this complete gigantic orchestra, considered from an operatic
point of view, is, after all, only related as _accompaniment_ to the
'solo' part represented by the monologue of the vocalist, who lies on
his couch; and infer from this the significance of Schnorr's
impersonation, if I call to witness every conscientious spectator at
those Munich performances, that, from the first bar to the last, the
attention and interest of all was centred on the vocalist actor, was
chained to him, and never allowed a single word of the text to escape
through a momentary absence of mind; and that the orchestra, as
compared with the singer, completely disappeared, or, more correctly
speaking, seemed to be a constituent part of his song."

I have never had the privilege of hearing Schnorr, but I heard Scaria
repeatedly at Bayreuth and Vienna, and he always impressed on me, in
the manner here described by Wagner, the supreme importance of the
vocal part in his scores. Not a word of the text was lost, and in the
most difficult intervals his voice was always beautifully and
smoothly modulated. He enabled me to realize for the first time, the
truth of what Wagner said regarding his vocal style, in the following
words: "In my operas there is no difference between phrases that are
'declaimed' and 'sung,' but my declamation is at the same time song,
and my song declamation." Scaria's method also afforded an eloquent
illustration of the wonderful manner in which, in Wagner's vocal
style, the melodic accent always falls on the proper rhetorical accent
of each word of the text, which is one of the secrets of clear
enunciation. He emphasized important syllables by dwelling on them,
thus producing that dramatic _rubato_ which Wagner considered of such
great importance in his operas that, when he brought out "Tannhäuser"
in Dresden, he actually had the words of the text copied into the
parts of all the orchestral players, in order that they might be able
to follow these poetic licenses in the dramatic phrasing of the
singer. This dramatic _rubato_ is, of course, a very different thing
from the freedom which Italian singers often allow themselves on
favorable high notes, which they prolong, not in order to emphasize an
emotion but to show off the beauty and sustaining power of their

Scaria, unfortunately, was never heard in opera in this country. But
we have had Materna and Niemann and Brandt and Fischer, and Alvary
and Lehmann, who have given us correct ideas of the German vocal
style. Surely no one can say, on listening to Lehmann's _Brünnhilde_,
or Fischer's _Hans Sachs,_ or Alvary's _Siegfried_, that the vocal
part is inferior in beauty or importance to the orchestral. When
Alvary sang _Siegfried_ for the first time in New York, he presented a
creditable but uneven impersonation, not having sufficiently mastered
the details of the acting to feel quite at ease, and not being able to
husband his vocal resources for the grand duo at the close. But at the
end of the season, at the eleventh performance, he had become a
full-fledged _Siegfried_, acting the part as by instinct, while his
voice was as fresh at the close of the opera as at the beginning: thus
affording a striking proof of Wagner's assertion, that the greatest
vocal difficulties of his rôles can be readily mastered if the singer
will only take the pains to enter thoroughly into the spirit of the
text and the dramatic situations. Alvary spent a whole year in
learning this rôle, availing himself of the hints given him by Herr
Seidl, who has the Wagnerian traditions by heart; and to-day he might,
if he felt so inclined, amass wealth and win honor by travelling about
Europe and singing nothing but this one rôle. Vienna and Brussels made
strenuous efforts to entice him away from New York after his great
success as _Siegfried_.

This success is the more gratifying and encouraging because,
previously, he had been only a second-rate singer. It was his
conscientious and prolonged study of the German vocal style that
enabled him to win his present lucrative and honorable position. If
there were a few more young singers like him the operatic problem might
be considered solved, for it is the rarity of well-trained singers that
causes all the financial embarrassment in our opera-houses. They are so
scarce, that as soon as one is discovered he is hurried on the stage,
after a year's hasty preparation, and if his untrained voice soon gives
out--as it must under the circumstances--the blame is laid on Wagner's
shoulders. But, as Mme. Lucca remarks, "neither Wagner nor any other
composer spoils the voice of any one who knows how to sing." She thinks
that at least six years of faithful study are necessary to develop the
voice in accordance with artistic principles. Herr Hey is somewhat more
lenient, three years of thorough training sufficing, in his opinion, as
a preparation for the stage. Much, of course, depends on individuals,
and the number of hours given to study every day. In the old Italian
vocal schools, two centuries ago, the pupils were kept busy six or
eight hours a day, devoting one hour to difficult passages, another to
trills and to accuracy of intonation, others to expression, to
counterpoint, composition and accompaniment, etc. They often practised
before a mirror in order to study the position of the soft parts in the
mouth, and to avoid grimaces; and sometimes they sang at places where
there was a good echo, so as to hear their own faults, as if some one
else were singing. Yet, as we have seen, the main stress was laid on
agility of technical execution, whereas the modern German method,
without in the least neglecting technique, calls upon pupils to devote
more attention to the principles of soulful expression and dramatic
accentuation. A singer who wishes to appear to advantage as _Euryanthe_
or _Lohengrin_ or _Tristan_ must not only be entirely familiar with his
own vocal parts but he ought to be as familiar with the orchestral
score as the conductor himself: for, only then, can he acquire that
ease which is necessary for producing a deep impression. As he has not
the conductor's advantage of looking on the printed score while
singing, he must therefore have an excellent memory. As Dr. Hanslick
remarks, "the artists who sing 'Tristan and Isolde' by heart, if they
do nothing more than sing the notes correctly, deserve our most sincere
admiration. That they can do to-day what seemed almost impossible
twenty years ago is indeed Wagner's achievement, an achievement which
has hardly been noted hitherto." Let me add that in modern German
music, _everything_ is difficult to the singer--the consonants of the
language, the unusual intervals and accents, the necessity of being
actor and singer at the same time, etc. Hence we ought to be charitable
and condone an occasional slip. But the average opera-goer in this
country is anything but charitable. If one of these dramatic singers,
thus hampered by difficulties, makes the slightest lapse from tonal
beauty (which may be even called for) he is judged as unmercifully as
if he were a representative of the _bel canto_, whose art consists in a
mere voice without emotion--_vox et præterea nihil_. This is as unfair
as it is to judge Wagner's dramas by the music alone, and is, indeed a
consequence of this attitude.

It has been too much the habit in America and in England to sneer at
German singers; and it is customary if a German singer has a good
mellow voice to attribute that to his Italian method, while his
shortcomings are ascribed to the German method. This, again, is as
absurd as it is unjust; for, as I have endeavored to show, the real
German method, by insisting on an equal treatment of all the vowels,
develops a richer and more sonorous voice than the Italian method;
and, indeed, the reason why powerful dramatic voices are so rare among
Italians, is because of their one-sided preference, in their
exercises, for the easiest vowels.

When Mendelssohn travelled in Italy he noted that there were very few
good singers at the opera-houses, and that one had to go to London
and Paris to find them. To-day few of them can be found even in London
and Paris; and, indeed, I could easily show, by giving lists of the
famous singers of the past and present, that the Italians constitute a
small minority as compared with the German, French, and Scandinavian
singers of the first rank. The custom so long followed by singers of
all nationalities of adopting Italian stage names has confused the
public on the subject. And, finally, I could name a dozen German
singers who have won first-class honors in Italian opera; but where is
there an Italian _Tannhäuser_ or _Brünnhilde_ or _Wotan_? All honor,
therefore, to the versatility of German singers, who, like Lilli
Lehmann, for instance, can sing _Norma_ and _Isolde_ equally well.

And still more honor to the German composers who have restored the
true function of song. Everybody knows that in the popular songs, or
folk songs, of _all_ nations, including the Italian, the words are
quite as important as the melody. It was only in the artificial songs
of the Netherland school and the Italian opera composers that the
voice was degraded to the function of a mere inarticulate instrument;
and it remained for Wagner, following the precedence of Gluck, to
restore it to its rank as the inseparable companion of poetry. And
what led him to do this was not abstract reflection but artistic
instinct and experience. He does not even claim the honor of having
originated the true vocal style, but confesses with pride that it was
a _woman_, Frau Schroeder-Devrient, who first revealed to him the
highest possibilities of dramatic singing, and he boasts that he was
the only one that learned this lesson of the great German singer, and
developed the hints regarding the correct vocal style unconsciously
given by her.

It must not be forgotten, however, that side by side with the
music-drama and partly preceding it, another form of vocal music grew
up in Germany, which in a very similar manner restored the voice to
its true sphere as the wedded wife of poetry. I refer, of course, to
the _Lied_, or parlor song, to which, indeed, I might have devoted
this whole essay, quite as well as to the music-drama, if there were
anything in Italian music that might have been compared to the songs
of Schubert, Schumann, Franz, Brahms, Liszt, Rubinstein, etc.

As Sir George Grove poetically puts it, in Schubert's songs "the music
changes with the words as a landscape does when the sun and clouds
pass over it. And in this Schubert has anticipated Wagner, since the
words in which he writes are as much the absolute basis of his songs
as Wagner's librettos are of his operas." Liszt, too, notes somewhere
that Schubert doubtless exerted an indirect influence on the
development of the opera by means of the dramatic realism which
characterizes the melody and accompaniment of his parlor songs (such
as the "Erl King," the "Doppelgänger," etc.)--a realism which becomes
still more pronounced in Schumann, Franz, and Liszt, in whose songs
every word of the poem colors its bar of music with its special
emotional tint, instead of merely serving, as in the old _bel canto_,
as an artificial and meaningless scaffolding for the construction and
execution of a melody.

This parallel evolution of the parlor song and the music-drama cannot
be too strongly emphasized: for the same tendency being followed by so
many of the greatest geniuses (some of whom are not Germans) affords
cumulative evidence of the fact that the German style (which, as I
have explained, includes all that is valuable in the Italian method)
is the true vocal style, the style of the future, the style which
cosmopolitan American art will have to adopt. I have been told that
since the revival of German opera in New York, the Italian teachers in
the city have lost many of their pupils. Obviously, if they wish to
regain them they will have to adopt the best features of the German
method, just as the Germans have adopted all that is good in the
Italian method. It cannot be denied that the pupils turned out by the
average vocal teachers are quite unable to sing a Franz or even a
Schubert song correctly and with proper emotional expression. Now, it
is evident, as Ehlert says, that "that art of singing which abides
with the _bel canto_ and is unable to sing Bach, Beethoven, and
Schumann, has not attained to the height of their period. It becomes
its task to adapt itself to these new circumstances, to renounce the
comfortable solfeggios and acquire the poetic expression that they

The famous tenor Vogl, a contemporary of Schubert, wrote in his diary
the following significant words: "Nothing shows so plainly the want of
a good school of singing as Schubert's songs. Otherwise, what an
enormous and universal effect must have been produced throughout the
world, wherever the German language is understood, by these truly
divine inspirations, these utterances of a musical clairvoyance! How
many would have comprehended, probably for the first time, the meaning
of such expressions as 'Speech and Poetry in Music,' 'Words in
Harmony,' 'ideas clothed in music,' etc., and would have learned that
the finest poems of our greatest poets may be enhanced and even
transcended when translated into musical language." It is humiliating
to be obliged to confess that good schools of singing, the absence of
which Vogl deplored, are still lamentably rare, although he himself,
by his example, did much to develop the correct method. We have just
seen how Wagner obtained valuable hints from Schroeder-Devrient.
Similarly, we find that Schubert learned from his friend Vogl, who
alone at first could sing his songs properly, and by showing that they
_could_ be sung encouraged Schubert in developing his original style.

It seems to me that these facts ought to be extremely gratifying and
encouraging to students of vocal music, because they refute the notion
that vocalists can only be interpretative and not creative, and their
fame and influence, therefore, merely ephemeral. On the contrary, they
can, like Vogl and Schroeder-Devrient, even aspire to guide composers
and help to mark out new paths in art: which surely, ought to be more
gratifying to their pride than the cheap applause which the sopranists
and prima donnas of the _bel canto_ period used to receive for the
meaningless colorature arias which they compelled the enslaved
composers to write, or manufactured for themselves. And there is
another way in which singers of the new style can become creative.
Chopin speaks in one of his letters of a violoncellist who played a
certain poor piece so remarkably well that it actually appeared to be
good music. Similarly, a good vocalist (like Fräulein Brandt, for
instance, who is very clever in this respect) can put so much art and
feeling into the weaker parts and episodes of songs and operas as to
make them entertaining where they are naturally tiresome. When we
bear in mind these high possibilities of singing, we must admit that
there is no nobler profession than that of a conscientious vocalist--a
profession without which some of the deepest feelings that stir the
human soul would remain unknown to the world.



Perhaps it is not generally known that Mr. Theodore Thomas some years
ago entertained the project of reviving German opera in New York, in a
manner that should eclipse all previous operatic enterprises in this
country. It was his intention to give in the leading American cities a
series of performances of Wagner's Nibelung Tetralogy, and he looked
forward to this as the crowning achievement of his busy life. For
years he never gave a concert without having at least one Wagner
selection on the programme, no matter how much some of the critics and
patrons protested. In 1884 he considered the public sufficiently
weaned of Italian sweets to stand a strong dose of Wagner; so he
imported the three leading singers of the Bayreuth festivals--Materna,
Winkelmann, and Scaria--for a number of festival concerts. The
extraordinary success of these concerts seemed to indicate that the
time was ripe for a complete theatrical production of Wagner's later
music-dramas, and Mr. Thomas was already elaborating his plans when an
accident frustrated them and took the whole matter out of his hands.

This accident was the signal failure of Italian opera at the
Metropolitan Opera House during the first season of its existence. As
Mr. Abbey lost over a quarter of a million dollars by this disaster,
no other manager could be found willing to take his place and risk
another fortune. Since Mr. Abbey's company included several of the
most popular artists--Nilsson, Sembrich, Scalchi, Campanini, Del
Puente, etc., and his repertory embraced the usual popular operas, the
conclusion seemed inevitable that the public wanted a complete change.
Dr. Damrosch was accordingly appealed to at the eleventh hour, and he
hastened to Germany and brought over a company that scored an
immediate success, surprising even to those who had long advocated the
establishment of a German opera in New York. And this success became
still more pronounced in the following seasons, when a better company
was secured, with Herr Seidl as conductor.

Perhaps it is fortunate that Mr. Thomas's project was never realized.
Had he succeeded, New York and several other cities would no doubt
have enjoyed a series of interesting Wagner performances for one or
two seasons; but after the first curiosity had been satisfied, it is
very likely that the enterprise would have come to an end for lack of
funds. For it is a well-established fact that grand opera, if given
with the best singers, artistic scenery, and an orchestra of sixty to
one hundred men, cannot be made self-supporting, however generously
the public may contribute to it. The Paris opera is kept afloat by
means of an annual subsidy of eight hundred thousand francs, and the
imperial opera-houses of Berlin and Vienna, although similarly
endowed, are burdened with large annual deficits which have to be
covered by additional contributions from the imperial exchequers. New
York can hardly claim so large a public interested in high-class opera
as Vienna and Berlin; hence it would be unreasonable to expect that
grand opera should fare better here. It was, therefore, one of the
most lucky accidents in the history of American music that the
Metropolitan Opera House was built, in opposition to the Academy of
Music, by a number of the richest people in New York, who had made up
their minds to spare no cost to make it successful and to annihilate
the rival house. Having once built the new opera-house, it became
necessary to continue giving in it the only kind of opera adapted to
the vast dimensions of its auditorium, unless the stockholders should
become willing to pay the high annual rent without any return at all.
And thus German opera has been established in New York, if not for all
time, at least for years to come.

The fact cannot be too much emphasized that, properly speaking, there
is _no deficit_ at the Metropolitan Opera House. True, the total
expenses of the operatic season of 1886-1887 were about four hundred
and forty-two thousand dollars, and the receipts only two hundred and
thirty-five thousand dollars, thus necessitating an assessment of two
thousand five hundred dollars on each stockholder. But it must be
borne in mind that this assessment simply represents the sum that the
stockholders paid for their boxes. As there were forty-five
subscription nights, and as each box holds six seats, the price of
each was nine dollars, which can hardly be deemed too much for the
best seats in the house, considering that outsiders have to pay ten
dollars for these same seats, or sixty dollars for a box. A large part
of the assessment (about one thousand dollars for each stockholder)
would remain for covering the general expenses of the building
(including the mortgage bonds), even if no opera were given at all;
and surely the box-holders would be foolish if they refused to pay the
extra sum (four dollars and eighty-eight cents for each seat), which
insures them forty-five evenings of social and musical entertainment.
To persons of their wealth this extra sum is, after all, a mere
trifle; and it enables them to bask in the proud consciousness of
taking the place, in this country, of royalty abroad in supporting a
form of art that has always been considered pre-eminently

Some of the stockholders make no secret of the fact that they would
very much prefer Italian to German opera, which is Sanskrit to them;
and every year, at the directors' meetings, the question of reviving
Italian opera is warmly debated. There is also a considerable number
of amateurs, editors, and correspondents who are eagerly waiting for
some signs showing that German opera is losing ground, so that they
may raise a war-whoop in behalf of Italian opera. But the powers that
rule the destinies of the Metropolitan Opera House are too wise to
heed the arguments of these prophets. They know that Italian opera can
never again be successfully revived in New York, and that the only
alternative for the present lies between German opera and no opera at
all. Signor Angelo and Mr. Mapleson were as unsuccessful in their last
efforts in behalf of Italian opera as Mr. Abbey. And although Mme.
Patti fared better at her last appearance, it was only because a large
number of people believed that she _really_ was singing in New York
for the last time; for when she returned a fortnight later for
_another_ "farewell," the sale of seats was so small that the spoiled
prima donna refused to sing, and only one performance was given
instead of two.

The lovers of vocal tight-rope dancing and threadbare orchestral
accompaniments who insist that Wagner is merely a fashion, and that
ere long there will be a return to the saccharine melodies of Rossini
and Bellini, show thereby that they have never studied the history of
the opera. This history teaches a curious lesson, viz., that operas
which had a great vogue at one time and subsequently lost their
popularity can _never_ be galvanized into real life again. What has
become of the threescore and more operas of Donizetti, and the forty
of Rossini--some of which for years monopolized the stage so
completely the world over that Weber and Beethoven were ignored even
in Vienna and the German capitals? They are dead, and all efforts to
revive them have been futile. These operas had sprung into _sudden_
popularity, whereas "Fidelio," "Euryanthe," "Lohengrin," and
"Tannhäuser," which for years had to fight for every inch of ground,
are now masters of the situation, and gaining in popularity every
year. And this brings us to the second lesson taught by the history of
the opera--that the works that thus had to _fight_ their way into the
hearts of the public are the immortal operas that are sure to gain
more and more favor as years go by. Moreover, the statistics of German
opera-houses show that Wagner's operas, from the "Flying Dutchman" to
the "Nibelung's Ring," have been gaining in popularity and frequency
of repetition, year by year, with a constancy that might almost be
expressed with mathematical exactness by means of a _crescendo_: <.
And we are by no means at the biggest end of the _crescendo_ yet. For
there are scores of cities where Wagner would be even more popular
than he is, were it not for the woful rarity of competent dramatic
singers and conductors.

There is, therefore, no hope for the _Italianissimi_, who sigh for
their maccaroni arias and their "Ernani" and "Gazza Ladra" soup.
Italian opera has ceased to exist in New York, Paris, Berlin, Vienna,
and St. Petersburg, and even in Italy dramatic music of the modern
school is gradually driving out the old-fashioned lyric and florid

In New York, moreover, the press is almost unanimous in favor of
German opera, and the press, as a rule, is omnipotent in theatrical
matters. I am convinced, for instance, that one of the principal
reasons why Wagner was more rapidly acclimated in New York than in the
German capitals is that most of the leading German critics are old
men--too old to submit readily to Wagner's revolutionary tendencies;
whereas in New York all the critics are young men, who only needed to
hear a few good performances of Wagner's operas to be filled with an
enthusiasm for them, with which many of their readers could not help
being infected.

Still another important point must be borne in mind: the fact that
the vastness of the Metropolitan auditorium makes it impossible to
hear the weak voices and the thin scores of Italians to advantage.
_Ergo_, if this house remains the centre of music in New York, there
can be no question that, as I have just stated, the prospect for the
next decade or two is, either German Opera or No Opera.

A series of interviews published in the newspapers indicate that the
indifference of the stockholders to German music has been greatly
exaggerated; and the vote that was taken on January 27, 1888, stood
forty to nine in favor of continuing German opera, with an assessment
of three thousand two hundred dollars on each box. Not a few of the
stockholders would, indeed, prefer "Siegfried" to "Ernani," even if
"Ernani" could be depended on for as large audiences as Wagner's
opera, which is far from being the case; and I have myself heard some
of them confess that after repeatedly hearing Wagner's later operas,
they discovered in them a constant stream of melody where all had
seemed to them at first a mere chaos of sound. Some of the
stockholders, on the other hand, are so absolutely unmusical that they
do not know the meaning of the words "tenor" and "soprano," and if
blindfolded could not tell if "Faust" or "Aïda" was being sung. (This
is a real fact that I might prove by an amusing anecdote, were it not
too personal.) To this class of stockholders what difference can it
make whether they have German or Italian opera? They merely go to the
opera because it is a very fashionable thing to do so, and because the
ownership of an opera-box confers on them a social distinction almost
equal to an order, or a title of nobility, in foreign countries.

Many of the stockholders have converted the ante-rooms to their boxes
into luxurious parlors, into which they can retire and talk if the
music bores them. But, unfortunately, there are some black sheep among
them and their invited guests who do not make use of this privilege,
but give the rest of the audience the benefit of their conversational
accomplishments. The parquet often resents these interruptions, and
hisses lustily until quiet is restored. There are not a few lovers of
music who, although able to pay for parquet seats, frequent the upper
galleries for fear of being annoyed by the conversation in the boxes.
In the highest gallery the quiet of a tomb reigns supreme, and woe to
any one who comes late, or whispers, or turns the leaves of his score
too noisily: he is immediately pierced with a volley of indignant

It must be admitted, however, that there is much less talking in the
opera-house at present than there was a few years ago. This difference
is especially noticeable on Wagner nights, and the change is simply
one of the numerous operatic reforms introduced by Wagner and his
followers. It must be borne in mind that in Italian opera conversation
frequently is not at all out of place, but is a factor of the
entertainment _recognized even by the composer_! Wagner brings out
this point clearly in the following remarks: "In Italian opera," he
says, "the public gives its attention only to the most brilliant
numbers sung by the popular prima donna or her vocal rival; the rest
of the opera it ignores almost entirely, and devotes the evening to
mutual visits in the boxes and loud conversation. This attitude of the
public led the composers of yore to confine their efforts at artistic
creation to the solo numbers referred to, and to fill up deliberately
all intermediate portions, the choruses and minor parts, with
commonplace and empty phrases that had no other purpose than that of
serving as noise to sustain the conversation of the audience."

That this is not an exaggerated statement is shown by an extract from
a private letter written by Liszt at Milan. Speaking of the famous
Scala Opera House, he says: "In this blessed land putting a serious
opera on the stage is not at all a serious thing. A fortnight is
generally time enough. The musicians of the orchestra, and the
singers, who are generally strangers to each other and get no
encouragement from the audience (the latter are generally either
chatting or sleeping--in the fifth box they either sup or play cards),
assemble inattentive, insensible, and troubled with catarrh, not as
artists, but as people who are paid for the music they make. There is
nothing more icy than these Italian representations. No trace of
_nuances_, in spite of the exaggeration of accent and gesture dictated
by Italian taste, much less any effect _d'ensemble_. Each artist
thinks only of himself, without troubling his thoughts about his
neighbor. Why worry one's self for a public that does not even

In German opera, on the other hand, the orchestral part and the
choruses and declamatory sections are just as important as the lyric
numbers, and many of the most exquisite passages in the operas of
Weber and Wagner are a kind of superior pantomime music during which
no voice at all is heard on the stage. Now I am convinced that much of
the talking in opera-boxes is simply due to ignorance of this fact.
Vocal music is much more readily appreciated than instrumental music,
and those who have no ear for orchestral measures do not realize that
others are enraptured by them. Hence they talk as soon as the singing
ceases, unconscious of the fact that they are greatly annoying those
who wish to listen to the orchestra.

To a large extent the stupid custom of having music between the acts
at theatres is responsible for the talking at the opera. For between
the acts everybody, of course, wants to talk; and since at the theatre
the orchestra merely furnishes a sort of background or support for the
conversation, people naturally come to look upon the overtures and
interludes and introductions to the second and third acts of an opera
in similar light. Even if _entr'acte_ music in theatres were much
better than it is commonly, this consideration alone ought to suffice
to banish it from the theatres. It degrades the art and spoils the

Those of the stockholders of the Metropolitan Opera House who indulge
in loud conversation while the music goes on, or who rent their boxes
to irresponsible parties, should remember that it is their _pecuniary_
interest to preserve quiet. For not a few amateurs, as already stated,
are driven to the cheaper parts of the house, or discouraged from
going at all, by the annoying conversation; and the losses thus
resulting are of course added to their annual assessments.

Again, it ought to be clear to any one who has the most elementary
knowledge of the laws of etiquette that to disturb others needlessly
in the enjoyment of a dearly purchased pleasure is evidence of very
bad manners. Musical people suffer more from such interruptions than
persons whose ears are not similarly refined can imagine; for the
tone colors of a Wagnerian score are as exquisitely delicate and
refined as the evanescent films and colors of a soap-bubble, so that
the mere rustling of a fan or a programme mars them.

Everybody has heard the story of Handel, who used to get very angry if
any one talked in the room, even when he was only giving lessons to
the Prince and Princess of Wales. At such times, as Barney relates,
the Princess of Wales, with her accustomed mildness and benignity,
used to say: "Hush! hush! Handel is in a passion." And Liszt never
gave a finer exhibition of his wit and artistic courage than when, at
an imperial soirée in the Russian capital, he suddenly ceased playing
in the midst of a piece, because the Czar was talking loudly with an
officer. The Czar sent an attendant to inquire of Liszt why he
stopped; whereupon Liszt retorted that it was the first rule of court
etiquette that when the Czar was speaking others must be silent. The
Czar never forgave him this well-merited rebuke.

This anecdote has a moral for those who talk loudly at the opera; for
it calls attention to the fact that they not only annoy those of the
audience who wish to hear the music, but also insult the artists on
the stage.

The establishment of habitual silence during operatic performances is
only one of the beneficial changes introduced into operatic etiquette
through German opera. The method of applauding has been revolutionized
too. It is no longer customary to interrupt the flow of the orchestral
music by applauding a singer. All the applause is now reserved for the
end of the acts. I remember a performance of "Lohengrin," at the
Academy of Music, at which the music was thrice interrupted by some
ill-bred admirers of Campanini, who applauded him when he first
appeared in sight on the swan-boat; again, when he stepped on shore,
and a third time when he came to the front of the stage. Now here was
one of the most poetic scenes on the whole operatic stage utterly
marred for all refined listeners, merely for the sake of showing
admiration for a singer which might as well have been expressed later
on when the curtain was down. Campanini recognized all these
interruptions, and bowed his thanks to the audience.

Quite different was Herr Niemann's behavior when he made his _début_
at the Metropolitan Opera House. Here was the greatest living dramatic
tenor, an artist identified with the cause and the triumphs of Wagner,
appearing on a new continent, in the same rôle that he had created at
the historic Bayreuth festival of 1876. The house, of course, was
packed, and included many old admirers who had heard him abroad, and
who, of course, received him with a volley of applause when he
staggered into _Hunding's_ hut. But Niemann did not acknowledge this
applause with a bow or even a smile. He appeared before the public as
_Siegmund_, and not as Herr Niemann. But when the curtain was down he
promptly responded to the enthusiastic recalls, and was quite willing,
and more than willing, to come forward as often as the audience
desired and acknowledge their kindness with bowed thanks.

Now, it is to be noted in this case that Herr Niemann did not lose
anything by refusing to recognize the applause that greeted him when
he first appeared on the stage; on the contrary, it raised him in the
estimation of all whose esteem was worth having; and these applauded
him all the more vigorously for his self-denial when the curtain was
down. Singers of the old school should take this lesson to heart and
ponder it. They imagine success is measured by the number of times
they are applauded, and consequently introduce loud, high notes and
other clap-trap at the end of every solo, if possible. They forget
that while they thus secure the applause of the uncultured, real
connoisseurs are disgusted, and put them down in their mental
note-books as second-rate artists or charlatans.

Those artists who have followed Wagner's precepts, and merged their
individuality and personal vanity in their rôles, have never had
occasion to regret their apparent self-sacrifice. They are the only
kind of singers now eagerly sought for by managers; and an educated
public that does not tolerate applause while the orchestra plays,
never fails to vent its pent-up enthusiasm at the end of the act, as
has been abundantly proved at the Metropolitan Opera House. A curious
episode may be noted sometimes. As soon as the singing has ceased and
the curtain begins to descend, a number of people begin to applaud.
But the full-blooded Wagnerites wait until the last chord of the
orchestra has died away before they join in. The volume of applause is
then suddenly multiplied three or four times, to the bewilderment of
novices, who do not understand what it all means. It simply means that
the concluding strains of Wagner's acts, are usually among the most
beautiful measures in the whole opera, which it is a pity and a shame
to mar by premature applause.

I have often wondered why people, who put on their overcoats during
the final measures, are not ashamed thus to advertise their utter lack
of artistic sensibility and indifference to other people's feelings.
Nor can one wonder, in view of such facts, that the late King of
Bavaria preferred to have opera given when no other spectator was in
the house, or that the present Emperor of Germany is beginning to
follow his example.

Wagner does not merely ask his interpreters to scorn the usual methods
of securing cheap applause, but he himself avoids them in his
compositions with a heroic conscientiousness. There is a story of a
well-known English conductor who objected to produce a piece by a
noted German composer because it ended _pianissimo_. He was afraid
that it would not be applauded if it did not end loudly. Now the
finales of Italian operas are habitually constructed on this method.
The chorus is brought in at the end, whether the situation calls for
it or not, and made to sing as loudly as possible. This stirs up the
audience to equally loud applause, and all ends well.

How differently Wagner goes to work! In "Siegfried," for instance,
there is no chorus at all. The first act ends with _Siegfried's_
cleaving of the anvil with the sword which he has just forged before
the eyes of the audience; and the third ends with the love duo. In
these cases there are only two persons on the stage; and at the end of
the second act _Siegfried_ is _entirely alone_, and the curtain falls
as he mutely follows the bird to the fire-girdled rock on which
_Brünnhilde_ lies asleep, amid the intoxicating and promising strains
of the orchestra. The ending of "Die Walküre" is equally quiet and
poetic. _Wotan_ has placed poor _Brünnhilde_ on a mound of moss, for
disobeying his orders, and covered her with her helmet, after plunging
her into a magnetic sleep which is to last until a hero shall come to
wake her. He strikes the rock with his spear, whereupon a flame breaks
out that quickly becomes a sea of fire encircling the rock. Then he
disappears in the fire toward the background, and for several minutes
there is no one on the stage but the sleeping Valkyrie, and nothing to
be heard but the crackling and roaring of the flames, re-echoed in the
orchestra; and this is the end of the opera.

One more illustration: The greater part of the second act of "Die
Meistersinger" is taken up with _Beckmesser's_ serenade, comically
interrupted by the songs and the hammering of _Hans Sachs_ the
cobbler. Toward the end the apprentice _David_ sees _Beckmesser_, and
imagining he is serenading _his_ sweetheart, assaults and beats him
most unmercifully. The noise attracts the neighbors, who all take part
in the affray, and the scene culminates in a perfect pandemonium of
noise. Now there is hardly an operatic composer who would not have
closed the act with this exciting and tumultuous chorus. Not so
Wagner. The sound of the watchman's horn suddenly clears the street,
and no one is left but the watchman himself, who timorously toddles up
the street with his lantern, while the moon rises above the roofs of
the houses, and the muted strings of the orchestra softly and dreamily
recall a few of the motives of the preceding scenes. I was sitting
next to Professor Paine, of Harvard, at a performance of this opera at
the Metropolitan, one evening. He had not seen it before, and I shall
never forget the expression of surprise on his face when he saw the
curtain descending on this dreamy moonlight scene, with _a deserted
stage_. He considered it a bold deviation from established operatic
customs, and yet he could not for a moment deny that it was infinitely
more poetic than the traditional final chorus, with its meaningless
noise and pomp.

Not that Wagner despised the chorus, as is sometimes said. He showed
in the third act of this same opera, in the scene of the
folk-festival, that when a chorus is called for by the situation no
one can supply a more inspired and inspiring volume of concerted sound
than he. With the possible exception of the last number in Bach's
Passion music, I regard the choral music of this act as the most
sublime ever written. Here, at any rate, the _vox populi_ is divine.

The magnificent quintet in this act of "Die Meistersinger" also
affords proof that if Wagner banished concerted music from his later
works, it was not because he lacked inspiration for that kind of work.
Although extremely Wagnerian in its harmonies, it is one of those
numbers which even Wagner's enemies admire. Some years ago I witnessed
a curious scene in the Berlin Opera House. According to Wagner's
directions, the curtain goes down after this quintet, but the music
continues until the scene is changed. Now, on the occasion in
question, the quintet evoked so much enthusiasm that a storm of
applause arose. The extreme Wagnerites resented this interruption of
the music, and began to hiss; whereupon the others redoubled their
applause and their calls for an "encore," which finally had to be
granted, as the only way of appeasing this paradoxical disturbance in
which Wagnerites hissed while the others applauded!

At the Metropolitan Opera House the stage arrangements are so clumsy
that it is necessary to have an intermission of over a quarter of an
hour, in order to change this scene. Consequently the last and most
popular part of this master-work is never seen till after midnight;
and many leave the house annoyed by the long intermission.

And this brings us to the weakest part of modern opera. It lasts too
long. Wagner is not the only guilty composer. Gounod's "Faust,"
Weber's "Euryanthe," and most of Meyerbeer's operas, if given without
cuts, would last over four hours. But in these cases no irreparable
harm is done by a few cuts, whereas in Wagner's operas there are very
few bars that can be spared, both on account of their intrinsic beauty
and because they are required to keep up the dramatic continuity of
the story. Nevertheless, Wagner's operas must be cut, in some cases
most unmercifully, as in "Die Götterdämmerung," in which Herr Seidl
was obliged to omit the whole of the first prelude--the weirdly grand
scene of the three Fates, and the scene between the two
Valkyries--merely to prevent the opera from lasting till one o'clock.

Herr Seidl is perhaps the greatest living interpreter of Wagner. He
brings to his works the enthusiasm without which they can neither be
interpreted nor fully understood; and his enthusiasm proves contagious
to the orchestra and the singers. He not only rehearses every bar of
the orchestral score with minute care, but each of the vocalists has
to come to his room and go through his or her part until he is
satisfied. Although he is invariably civil, his men obey him as they
would the sternest general, and admiration of his superior knowledge
makes them more attentive to their duty than fear ever would. I do not
believe German opera would have won its present popularity under any
other conductor excepting Hans Richter. One of the traits to which he
owes his great success as a Wagner conductor is his instinctive
perception of what parts can be omitted with the minimum of injury to
the work he is interpreting. Except at Bayreuth, Wagner's later works
did not especially prosper at first, because they were either too long
or injudiciously cut. Herr Seidl, however, succeeded with them
everywhere. One time Wagner wrote to him complaining that he made so
many cuts in his operas. But Herr Seidl wrote back, giving his
reasons, and explaining the situation; whereupon he received the
laconic telegram from Wagner, "_Schiessen Sie los!_" (Fire away!).

Eduard von Hartmann, in his recent work, "Die Philosophie des
Schönen," has some just remarks on Wagner's mistake in making his
operas so long that conductors are _obliged_ to use the red pencil,
which is not always done intelligently; whereas if he himself had
undertaken the task of condensing his works their organic unity might
have been preserved. True, Wagner did not intend his later works to be
incorporated in the regular operatic repertory, but desired them to be
sung only on certain festal occasions, as at Bayreuth, where people
went with the sole object of hearing music, and with no other business
oppressing them for the moment. But at a time when the struggle for
existence is so severe as now it was chimerical on Wagner's part to
hope that such a plan could be permanently realized. Few musical
people can afford to journey to Bayreuth merely to gratify their taste
for opera. Hence the Bayreuth festivals, although most delightful from
an artistic point of view, would have never been financially
successful, had not the vocalists given their services _gratis_; and
it is doubtful if they will be continued after the death of Wagner's
widow. Moreover, it would have been a musical calamity to have the
treasures of melody and harmony that are stored away in the Nibelung
scores reserved for the lucky few who are able to go to Bayreuth.
Wagner himself must have felt this when, contrary to his original
intention, he gave Neumann permission to perform the Tetralogy (under
Seidl's direction) in Germany, Italy, and Belgium; and since that time
it has been successfully incorporated into the repertory of all the
leading German cities, and many smaller ones, such as Weimar,
Mannheim, and Carlsruhe.

In Germany the length of Wagner's and Meyerbeer's operas is not so
objectionable as here, because there the opera commences at seven, or
even at six thirty, and six, if it is a very long one; hence it is all
over shortly after ten, and everybody has time to take supper before
going to bed. But in New York, where it is not customary to sup, and
where the dinner hour is between six and seven, it would hardly be
advisable to commence the opera before eight. Nor is the interest in
the opera sufficiently general to inspire the hope that for its sake
any change will be made in the hour of dining. The danger rather lies
the other way: that the custom of delaying dinner till eight, which is
coming into vogue among the English (who care neither for music nor
the theatre), will be followed in this city.

Now consider the inevitable consequences of having excessively long
operas. America has plenty of poor loafers, but few wealthy _rentiers_
who spend their days in bed or in idleness, and are therefore
insatiable in their appetite for entertainment in the evening. The
typical American works hard all day long, whether he is rich or poor,
and in the evening his brain is too tired to follow for four hours the
complicated orchestral score of a music-drama. If he listens
attentively, he will be exhausted by eleven o'clock, and the last act,
which he might have enjoyed hugely if not so "played out," will weary
him so much that he will probably resolve to avoid the opera in the
future. Thus opera suffers in the same way that society suffers: the
late hour at which all entertainments begin prevents the "desirable"
men who have worked all day, and must be at their work bright and
early the next day, from attending parties, balls, and operas.

It must be said, on the other hand, in defence of long German operas,
that it is only while they are novelties to the hearer that they
fatigue his brain beyond endurance. After they have been heard a few
times they cease to be a study that calls for a laborious
concentration of the attention, and become a source of pure delight
and recreation. The difficulty lies in convincing people of this
fact. There are in New York hundreds of persons, who, having read of
the rare beauties of "Tristan" or "Siegfried," went to the opera to
hear and judge for themselves. Of course, as everything was new to
them, they found it hard work to follow all the intricacies of the
plot and the music at the same time; hence, their verdict next day was
that German opera was "too heavy" for them. These persons cannot be
made to believe that if they would only repeat their visits, the labor
of listening would be reduced to a minimum and the pleasure increased
to enthusiasm. I know a man, one of the cleverest writers for the New
York press, a man who can afford to go to the opera every evening, and
who _does_ go when Meyerbeer's operas are given, but who absolutely
and stubbornly refuses to attend a Wagner performance at the
Metropolitan. Why? Because a number of years ago he attended a
wretched performance in Italian of "Lohengrin" which bored him! I
believe there are many like him in New York.

Mr. Carl Rosa, in an article which appeared in _Murray's Magazine_ a
year ago, remarks on this topic: "An Englishman, once bored [at the
opera] will with difficulty be made to return; and this is the reason
why light opera, opera bouffe, and burlesque have their advantage in
this country. They are so easy to digest after dinner." And again:
"There is no doubt that opera is, to some extent, an acquired taste;
but the taste, once imparted, grows rapidly. From personal experience
I know that _some of my best supporters had to be dragged to the opera
at first_, and induced to sit it through."

In these remarks lies a valuable hint to the lovers of German opera.
The most important thing to do, if opera is to be permanently
retained, is to _enlarge the operatic public_. This can only be done
by means of a concerted action of all admirers of the opera. Let them
keep on, with "damnable iteration," to drum into their friends' heads
the fact that if they will only make up their minds to attend one good
opera _three or four times in succession_ they will become devoted
admirers of it the rest of their lives. The friends will finally
consent, in pure self-defence, to try the experiment; and in three
cases out of four they will become converted and admit that German
operatic music is indeed a thing of beauty and a joy forever.

There is at present in New York a considerable number of musical
Mugwumps, persons who formerly doted on Italian opera, but who now
find it tiresome after hearing German opera. The distinguished English
psychologist, Mr. James Sully, incidentally speaks of his experiences
in regard to Wagner's operas, in his work on "Sensation and
Intuition." "Although," he says, "I went to the first performance
decidedly prejudiced against the noisy _Zukunftsmusik_, I found that
after patient study of these operas I became so susceptible of their
high dramatic beauties that I lost much of my relish for the older
Italian opera, which began to appear highly unnatural. I heard from
other cultivated Germans--among others from Professor Helmholtz--that
they had undergone quite a similar change of opinion with respect to
these operas."

Who, on the other hand, has ever heard of a renegade Wagnerite? Such
an animal does not exist, and if a specimen could be found, it would
pay to exhibit him in a dime museum. The very expression seems a
contradiction in terms. Wagner frequently asserted that no one could
_understand_ his music unless he admired it; and there is truth in
this, for only enthusiasm can sharpen the mental faculties
sufficiently to enable us to perceive the countless subtle beauties in
Wagner's and Weber's scores. M. Saint-Saëns, who is considered the
best living score-reader, compares Wagner's scores to those
master-works of mediæval architecture which are adorned with
sculptured reliefs that must have required infinite care and labor in
the chiselling. Now, just as a careless observer of such architectural
works hardly notices the lovely figures sculptured on them, so the
average opera-goer does not hear the exquisite harmonic and melodic
miniature-work in Wagner's music-dramas. But if he has once taken the
trouble to study them, he becomes an enthusiast for life; for he
constantly discovers new and beautiful details which had previously
escaped his notice.

The eighth performance of "Siegfried" in New York was one of those
events that will always live in the memory of those who were so
fortunate as to be present. Everyone on the stage and in the orchestra
seemed to be inspired, and the audience in consequence was
electrified. For my part, although I had heard this music-drama at
least a dozen times previously, and knew every bar by heart, it seemed
as if I had never heard it before, so vividly were all its beauties
revealed in the white heat of Conductor Seidl's enthusiasm. All the
evening I sat trembling with excitement, and could not sleep for hours
afterward. I have for twelve years made a special study of the
emotions, but I could not conceive any pleasure more intense and more
prolonged than that of listening to such a music-drama. Is not such a
pleasure worth cultivating, even if it involves some toil at first?
And have not musical people reason to regard with profound pity those
poor mortals who can enjoy beauty only through the medium of their
eyes, their ears being deaf to the charms of artistically combined

At the "Siegfried" performance just referred to the audience
fortunately was large; but there have been other performances, equally
good, when the audience was meagre. On such occasions much of my
enjoyment was marred by the melancholy thought that such glorious
music should be wasted on empty stalls, when there were thousands of
persons in the city who, if they only could have been induced to
overcome their prejudices and devote a few hours of previous study to
the libretto and the pianoforte-score of these operas, would not only
have found them entertaining, but would have enjoyed them rapturously.

The essence and perennial charm of German music lies in its _melodious
harmony_. Nothing is more absurd than the notion that there is more
melody in Italian than in German music. The only difference is that in
Italian music the melody is more prominent, being unencumbered by
complicated harmonies and accompaniments, while in German music the
melody is interwoven with the various harmonic parts, which makes it
difficult to follow at first. But when once this gift has been
acquired, it is a source of eternal pleasure. Nor is it so difficult
to cultivate the harmonic sense, if one takes pains to hear good music
often and _attentively_. I once met a young lady on a transatlantic
steamer, who frankly confessed she could not see any beauty in certain
exquisite Wagnerian and Chopinesque modulations and harmonies which I
played for her on the piano. When asked if she did not care for
harmony at all, she replied: "Oh, yes! I know a chord which is _simply
divine_!" Then she played--what do you fancy?--the _simple major
triad_--A flat in the bass, and A flat, C, E flat an octave
higher--which is the most elementary of all chords, the very alphabet
of music. If she found this commonplace chord "simply divine," what
would she have said could she have been made to realize that the
modulations I had played were as superior to her chord in poetic charm
as a line of Shakspere is to the letters A B C? And she _could_ have
been made to realize this truth in a few months, under proper

I have dwelt so long on this matter because I have come to the
conclusion, as already stated, that the greatest problem in connection
with German opera is to enlarge the patronage, and induce persons to
reserve their judgment of a "heavy" opera until they have heard it two
or three times. They will soon find that the word "heavy" is a very
relative and changeable term in music. To one who really admires
Shakspere and Homer, a fashionable novel is tedious beyond endurance;
just so, to one who can appreciate "Tristan" or "Euryanthe," Verdi's
"Ernani" and Bellini's "Norma" are heavy as lead, soporific as opium.

The difficulty of understanding subtle harmonies is perhaps the main
reason why English-speaking people are so slow in appreciating and
encouraging the opera. But there are two other important reasons which
may be briefly referred to--religious rigorousness, and a certain
predilection for the ornamental style of singing.

No doubt there was a time when the stage was so profligate that the
Puritans were justified in tabooing it altogether. But that is not now
the case. There are many theatres where plays are given that are not
only pure in tone, but exert a refining and educating influence on all
who hear them. And as for operas, there is hardly one in the modern
repertory that is open to censure on moral grounds. Mr. Carl Rosa
refers to the curious fact that, when circumstances compel him to give
an operatic performance in a hall instead of a theatre, the audiences
are of quite a distinct character, including many who like opera, but
do not wish to go to a theatre. Now, this general condemnation of the
theatre because it is often used for frivolous purposes is just as
unreasonable as it would be to condemn and avoid all novels because
Zola writes novels.

There is, indeed, a positive harm that results from the tabooing of
the theatre by religious people. Why is so large a proportion of our
plays frivolous and vulgar? Because the frivolous and vulgar
predominate among theatre-goers. If the large number of refined
people who avoid the theatre were to attend, this proportion might be
reversed, and more of the managers would find it profitable to bring
out clean and wholesome dramas. Some prominent clergymen have lately
expressed themselves in this sense, and it is probable that a reaction
is at hand that will benefit the cause of serious opera. There is
absolutely nothing in any of the operas given at the Metropolitan that
could not be fitly sung before a Sunday-school audience. Why, then,
taboo the opera and jeopardize its existence, leaving the field to the
frivolous operettas and farces?

The other obstacle alluded to--the love of colorature song--is a thing
that will cure itself with the advance of musical culture. The Germans
and the French have long since turned their backs on the florid
variety of vocalists, and the Italians are now following suit. An
eminent Italian teacher in New York, who has made a specialty of
teaching trills and runs and roulades and other vocal circus tricks,
lately declared that he was tired of this style of singing, and began
to prefer a more simple and dramatic style. The same is true of the
modern Italian composers. It is well known that Boïto, Ponchielli, and
Verdi in his latest operas, approximate the German style; and their
admirers will doubtless ere long adapt their taste to this change.
Nevertheless, there are not a few remaining who look upon opera as a
sort of vocal acrobatics. They go once or twice to the Metropolitan,
and feel defrauded of their money if the prima donna fails to come
forward to the prompter's box to run up some breakneck scales, and,
having arrived at the top, descend by means of a chain of trills or
series of somersaults. Their interest in music is _athletic_ (feats of
skill), not _æsthetic_ (artistic expression of emotions). Yet these
people have the impudence to say that German opera is "stupid,"
forgetting that their case might be analogous to that of the drunkard
who thinks the earth is reeling when he is.

This class of opera-goers never tire of abusing such singers as
Fräulein Brandt and Herr Niemann because their voices are no longer as
mellow as in their youth, and sometimes weaken in a sustained note or
swerve for a second from the pitch. Such blemishes are no doubt to be
regretted, but they are a hundred times atoned for by the passion and
the variety of emotional expression that animate their voices, and by
their superb acting. Fräulein Brandt's _Ortrud_, _Eglantine_, and
_Fides_ will be referred to generations hence as models, as will Herr
Niemann's _Tannhäuser_, _Siegmund_, _Cortez_, _Lohengrin_, _Tristan_,
etc. New Yorkers must consider themselves fortunate in having heard
for two seasons the greatest of Wagnerian tenors--even though he is no
longer in his prime--the man who sang the title _rôle_ of
"Tannhäuser" when that opera was produced in Paris in 1861; who
created the part of _Siegmund_ in 1876 at Bayreuth; and who, in his
way, has done as much to popularize Wagner's operas as Liszt did
during the Weimar period, when people had to go to that city to hear
"Lohengrin" and "Tannhäuser," as they now go to Bayreuth to hear
"Parsifal." He is not only valuable for the sake of his artistic
qualities, but because of his enthusiasm for the cause of the best
music. Wagner held him in the highest esteem; and he wrote in his
review of the Bayreuth festival of 1876, that without Niemann's
devotion and ardor its success would not have been assured. He
regretted subsequently that he did not ask Niemann to create the
_rôle_ of _Siegfried_ in the last drama of the Tetralogy, as well as
that of _Siegmund_ in the second. Thanks to this mistake, New Yorkers
had the privilege of hearing Niemann's _début_ in this _rôle_--at the
age of fifty-seven, an age when most tenors have retired on their

Three artists are included in the present company at the Metropolitan
whom Mr. Stanton could not dispense with under any circumstances. One
of these is Herr Fischer, who, now that Scaria is no more, is beyond
comparison the finest dramatic bass on the stage. No Italian could have
a more mellow and sonorous voice, and his method has all the
conscientiousness, passion, and distinctness of enunciation that
characterize the German style. His _Wotan_ and his _Hans Sachs_,
especially, are marvels of operatic impersonation. Herr Alvary, the
second of the vocalists who unite Italian with German merits, is a
young singer who has a great future before him, if his _Siegfried_, a
most realistic and powerful impersonation, may be argued from. And as
for the third of these artists--Lilli Lehmann--her equal can hardly
to-day be found on the operatic stage. It is very characteristic of the
late Intendant of the Berlin theatres--Herr von Hülsen (who waited nine
years before he accepted "Lohengrin" for performance, and afterward
repeated the same _faux pas_ with the Nibelung Trilogy)--that he
confined Fräulein Lehmann for years to subordinate _rôles_. Indeed,
although she had acquired considerable fame abroad, it may be said that
her real career did not begin till she came to New York. Here her rare
merits were at once recognized, and instead of resting on her laurels,
she has grown more admirable as an actress and singer every year. Her
voice has a sensuous beauty that is matchless, and no other prima
donna, except Materna, has emotion in her voice so deep and genuine as
that which moves us in Lehmann's _Isolde_ and _Brünnhilde_.

She made her _début_ in 1866, at Prague, and ten years later sang the
small _rôles_ of the first Rhine maiden and the forest bird in
"Rheingold" and "Siegfried," at the Bayreuth festival--little
fancying, perhaps, that she would twelve years later be the queen of
German opera in America. She takes excellent care of her voice, and
never allows the weather to interfere with her daily walk of several
miles. Her versatility is extraordinary, for she sings _Norma_ and
_Valentine_ as well as she does _Isolde_. She scouts the idea that
Wagner's music ruins the voice, agreeing on this point with the most
famous vocal teacher of the day, Madame Marchesi. It is only when
Wagner's music is sung to excess that it injures the voice, according
to Fräulein Lehmann, because it requires such extraordinary power to
cope with the orchestra. Heretofore she has not always succeeded in
holding her own against the full orchestra, but in her latest and
greatest impersonation--_Brünnhilde_, in "Die Götterdämmerung"--her
voice rivalled Materna's in power without losing a shade of its
sensuous beauty, which is always enchanting.

If it were possible to secure half a dozen more singers like Lehmann,
Alvary, and Fischer, the operatic problem might be regarded as solved.
It is the scarcity of first-class acting vocalists that makes opera so
expensive, and prevents it from being self-supporting. The number of
first-class singers is so small that every manager competes for them,
and enables them to charge fancy prices, which are ruinous to any
manager who has no government or other support to fall back on.

It is a curious thing, this scarcity of good singers. We read so much
about all professions being over-crowded; and yet here is a profession
in which success literally means millions, and yet so few come forward
in it that managers are at their wits' ends what to do, especially in
the case of tenors. Herr Niemann obtains seven hundred and fifty
dollars for every appearance; Fräulein Lehmann gets six hundred
dollars, and there are singers who are much better paid still because
they appear under the star system. Surely this ought to be a
sufficient bait to catch talented pupils. How many professions are
there in which one can make between five hundred and two thousand
dollars in three or four hours?--not to speak of the possibility of
winning the great prize--Madame Patti's four or five thousand?

It is sometimes said that the repertory is at fault; but I am
convinced that if there were plenty of good singers in the field, many
of the operas that were formerly in vogue might be revived
successfully--always excepting the flimsy productions of Bellini and
Donizetti. It was formerly believed for years that "Lohengrin" was the
only one of Wagner's early operas that American audiences cared for.
But "Tannhäuser" has, in a few years, become more popular than
"Lohengrin," thanks largely to its better staging and interpretation.
Owing in a large measure to Fräulein Brandt's _Fides_ and Fräulein
Lehmann's _Bertha_, Meyerbeer's "Prophète" has been a success for
several years. Spontini's "Cortez," Weber's "Euryanthe," Wagner's
"Rienzi," and Beethoven's "Fidelio," are among the most interesting
revivals during Mr. Stanton's enterprising _régime_.

No composer, and few poets, have ever inspired so many artists to
visualize their conceptions on canvas as the poetic scenes suggested
in Wagner's dramas. A special exhibition of such pictures was held in
Vienna some years ago. It is not too much to say that Wagner's scenic
backgrounds are as much more artistic than those of other opera
composers as his texts are more poetic than theirs. He avoids frequent
changes, and generally has only three scenes for an opera. But each of
these, if executed according to his directions, is a masterpiece, and
impresses itself on the memory like the canvas of a master.

The performance of the Trilogy in New York has naturally revived among
the Wagnerites the question as to which of the master's works is the
greatest. Leaving aside "Tristan" and "Die Meistersinger," which he
never surpassed, many regard the first act of "Die Walküre" the most
finished of Wagner's creations; and certainly it has a marvellously
impressive climax--_Siegmund's_ drawing of the sword from the
ash-tree, and the love duo which follows; and another in _Wotan's_
farewell in Act III. But grand as these are, many consider the last
act of "Die Götterdämmerung" the supreme achievement of Wagner. The
exquisite trio of the Rhine maidens swimming and singing in a
picturesque forest scene; the death of _Siegfried_, and the procession
that slowly carries his body by the light of the moon up the hill; and
the burning of the funeral pyre at the end, until it is put out by the
rising waters of the Rhine bearing the maidens on the surface; these
scenes, with the glorious music accompanying, cannot be matched by any
act of any other opera. Nevertheless, as a whole, "Siegfried" is, in
my opinion, the grandest part of the Trilogy. In no other work of
Wagner is there such a minute correspondence, every second, between
the poetry, music, and scenery. Every action and gesture on the stage
is mirrored in the orchestra; and I shall never forget the remark made
to me in 1876, at Bayreuth, by a musician, that in "Siegfried" we hear
for the first time music such as Nature herself would make if she had
an orchestra.

       *       *       *       *       *

    | Typographical errors corrected in text:                      |
    |                                                              |
    | Page  92: removed extra 'to' in 'resorted to to rouse'       |
    | Page 158: Wilhelmj replaced with Wilhelm                     |
    | Page 162: Erlich replaced with Ehrlich                       |
    |                                                              |
    | Since 'Erlking' (page 138) and 'Erl King' (page 237) are     |
    | from two articles, and both are legitimate spellings of      |
    | Schubert's music, these are left as is.                      |

       *       *       *       *       *

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