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Title: Old Scores and New Readings - Discussions on Music & Certain Musicians
Author: Runciman, John F., 1866-1916
Language: English
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Discussions on Music & Certain Musicians



London at the Sign
of the Unicorn
VII Cecil Court


























Many years ago, in the essay which is set second in this collection,
I wrote (speaking of the early English composers) that "at length the
first great wave of music culminated in the works of Tallis and
Byrde ... Byrde is infinitely greater than Tallis, and seems worthy
indeed to stand beside Palestrina." Generally one modifies one's
opinions as one grows older; very often it is necessary to reverse
them. This one on Byrde I adhere to: indeed I am nearly proud of
having uttered it so long ago. I had then never heard the Mass in D
minor. But in the latter part of 1899 Mr. R.R. Terry, the organist of
Downside Abbey, and one of Byrde's latest editors, invited me to the
opening of St. Benedict's Church, Ealing, where the Mass in D minor
was given; and there I heard one of the most splendid pieces of music
in the world adequately rendered under very difficult conditions. I
use the phrase advisedly--"one of the most splendid pieces of music in
the world." When the New Zealander twenty centuries hence reckons up
the European masters of music, he will place Byrde not very far down
on the list of the greatest; and he will esteem Byrde's Mass one of
the very finest ever written. Byrde himself has rested peacefully in
his grave for over three hundred years. One or two casual critics have
appreciated him. Fetis, I believe, called him "the English
Palestrina"; but I do not recall whether he meant that Byrde was as
great as Palestrina or merely great amongst the English--whether a
"lord amongst wits," or simply "a wit amongst lords." For the most
part he has been left comfortably alone, and held to be--like his
mighty successor Purcell--one of the forerunners of the "great English
school of church composers." To have prepared the way for Jackson in
F--that has been thought his best claim to remembrance. The notion is
as absurd as would be the notion (if anyone were foolish enough to
advance it) that Palestrina is mainly to be remembered as having
prepared the way for Perosi. Byrde prepared the way for Purcell, it is
true; but even that exceeding glory pales before the greater glory of
having written the Cantiones Sacræ and the D minor Mass. In its way
the D minor Mass is as noble and complete an achievement as the St.
Matthew Passion or the "Messiah," the Choral symphony of Beethoven or
the G minor symphony of Mozart, "Tristan" or the "Nibelung's Ring." It
is splendidly planned; it is perfectly beautiful; and from the first
page to the last it is charged with a grave, sweet, lovely emotion.

The reason why Byrde has not until lately won the homage he deserves
is simply this: that the musical doctors who have hitherto judged him
have judged him in the light of the eighteenth-century contrapuntal
music, and have applied to him in all seriousness Artemus Ward's joke
about Chaucer--"he couldn't spell." The plain harmonic progressions
of the later men could be understood by the doctors: they could not
understand the freer style of harmony which prevailed before the
strict school came into existence. Artemus Ward, taking up Chaucer,
professed amazement to find spelling that would not be tolerated in an
elementary school; the learned doctors, taking up Byrde, found he had
disregarded all the rules--rules, be it remembered, formulated after
Byrde's time, just as our modern rules of spelling were made after
Chaucer's time; and as Artemus Ward jocularly condemned Chaucer, and
showed his wit in the joke, so the doctors seriously condemned Byrde,
and showed their stupidity in their unconscious joke. They could
understand one side of Tallis. His motet in forty parts, for instance:
they knew the difficulties of writing such a thing, and they could see
the ingenuity he showed in his various ways of getting round the
difficulties. They could not see the really fine points of the
forty-part motet: the broad scheme of the whole thing, and the almost
Handelian way of massing the various choirs so as to heap climax on
climax until a perfectly satisfying finish was reached. Still, there
was something for them to see in Tallis; whereas in Byrde there was
nothing for them to see that they had eyes to see, or to hear that
they had ears to hear. They could see that he either wrote consecutive
fifths and octaves, or dodged them in a way opposed to all the rules,
that he wrote false relations with the most outrageous recklessness,
that his melodies were irregular and not measured out by the bar; but
they could not feel, could not be expected to feel, the marvellous
beauty of the results he got by his dodges, the marvellous
expressiveness of his music. These old doctors may be forgiven, and,
being long dead, they care very little whether they are forgiven or
not. But the modern men who parrot-like echo their verdicts cannot and
should not be forgiven. We know now that the stiff contrapuntal school
marked a stage in development of music which it was necessary that
music should go through. The modern men who care nothing for
rules--for instance Wagner and Tschaikowsky--could not have come
immediately after Byrde; even Beethoven could not have come
immediately after Byrde and Sweelinck and Palestrina, all of whom
thought nothing of the rules that had not been definitely stated in
their time. Before Beethoven--and after Beethoven, Wagner and all the
moderns--could come, music had to go through the stiff scientific
stage; a hundred thousand things that had been done instinctively by
the early men had to be reduced to rule; a science as well as an art
of music had to be built up. It was built up, and in the process of
building up noble works of art were achieved. After it was built up
and men had got, so to say, a grip of music and no longer merely
groped, Beethoven and Wagner went back to the freedom and
indifference to rule of the first composers; and the mere fact of
their having done so should show us that the rules were nothing in
themselves, nothing, that is, save temporary guide-posts or landmarks
which the contrapuntal men set up for their own private use while they
were exploring the unknown fields of music. We should know, though
many of us do not, that it is simply stupid to pass adverse judgment
on the early composers who did not use, and because they did not use,
these guide-posts, which had not then been set up, though one by one
they were being set up. For a very short time the rules of
counterpoint were looked upon as eternal and immutable. During that
period the early men were human-naturally looked upon as barbarians.
But that period is long past. We know the laws of counterpoint to be
not eternal, not immutable; but on the contrary to have been
short-lived convention that is now altogether disregarded. So it is
time to look at the early music through our own, and not through the
eighteenth-century doctors' eyes; and when we do that we find the
early music to be as beautiful as any ever written, as expressive, and
quite as well constructed. There are, as I have said, people who
to-day prefer Mr. Jackson in F and his friends to Byrde. What, I
wonder, would be said if a literary man preferred, say, some
eighteenth-century poetaster to Chaucer because the poetaster in his
verse observed rules which Chaucer never dreamed of, because, to drag
in Artemus Ward once again, the poetaster's spelling conformed more
nearly to ours than Chaucer's!

The Mass is indeed noble and stately, but it is miraculously
expressive as well. Its expressiveness is the thing that strikes one
more forcibly every time one hears it. At first one feels chiefly its
old-world freshness--not the picturesque spring freshness of Purcell
and Handel, but a freshness that is sweet and grave and cool, coming
out of the Elizabethan days when life, at its fastest, went
deliberately, and was lived in many-gabled houses with trees and
gardens, or in great palaces with pleasant courtyards, and the Thames
ran unpolluted to the sea, and the sun shone daily even in London, and
all things were fair and clean. It is old-world music, yet it stands
nearer to us than most of the music written in and immediately after
Handel's period, the period of dry formalism and mere arithmetic.
There is not a sign of the formal melodic outlines which we recognise
at once in any piece out of the contrapuntal time, not an indication
that the Academic, "classical," unpoetic, essay-writing eighteenth
century was coming. The formal outlines had not been invented, for
rules and themes that would work without breaking the rules were
little thought of. Byrde evades the rules in the frankest manner: in
this Mass alone there are scores of evasions that would have been
inevitably condemned a century afterwards, and might even be
condemned by the contrapuntists of to-day. The eighteenth-century
doctors who edited Byrde early in this century did not in the least
understand why he wrote as he did, and doubtless would have put him
right if they had thought of having the work sung instead of simply
having it printed as an antiquarian curiosity. The music does not
suggest the eighteenth century with its jangling harpsichords, its
narrow, dirty streets, its artificiality, its brilliant candle-lighted
rooms where the wits and great ladies assembled and talked more or
less naughtily. There is indeed a strange, pathetic charm in the
eighteenth century to which no one can be indifferent: it is a dead
century, with the dust upon it, and yet a faint lingering aroma as of
dead rose petals. But the old-world atmosphere of Byrde's music is, at
least to me, something finer than that: it is the atmosphere of a
world which still lives: it is remote from us and yet very near: for
the odour of dead rose petals and dust you have a calm cool air, and a
sense of fragrant climbing flowers and of the shade of full foliaged
trees. All is sane, clean, fresh: one feels that the sun must always
have shone in those days. This quality, however, it shares with a
great deal of the music of the "spacious days" of Elizabeth. But of
its expressiveness there is not too much to be found in the music of
other musicians than Byrde in Byrde's day. He towered high above all
the composers who had been before him; he stands higher than any
other English musician who has lived since, with the exception of
Purcell. It is foolish to think of comparing his genius with the
genius of Palestrina; but the two men will also be reckoned close
together by those who know this Mass and the Cantiones Sacræ. They
were both consummate masters of the technique of their art; they both
had a fund of deep and original emotion; they both knew how to express
it through their music. I have not space to mention all the examples I
could wish. But every reader of this article may be strongly
recommended at once to play, even on the piano, the sublime passage
beginning at the words "Qui propter nos homines," noting more
especially the magnificent effect of the swelling mass of sound
dissolving in a cadence at the "Crucifixus." Another passage, equal to
any ever written, begins at "Et unam Sanctam Catholicam." There is a
curious energy in the repetition of "Et Apostolicam Ecclesiam," and
then a wistful sweetness and tenderness at "Confiteor unum baptisma."
Again, the whole of the "Agnus" is divine, the repeated "miserere
nobis," and the passage beginning at the "Dona nobis pacem,"
possessing that sweetness, tenderness and wonderful calm. But there is
not a number that does not contain passages which one must rank
amongst the greatest things in the world; and it must be borne in mind
that these passages are not detached, nor in fact detachable, but
integral, essential parts of a fine architectural scheme.



Purcell is too commonly written of as "the founder of the English
school" of music. Now, far be it from me to depreciate the works of
the composers who are supposed to form the "English school." I would
not sneer at the strains which have lulled to quiet slumbers so many
generations of churchgoers. But everyone who knows and loves Purcell
must enter a most emphatic protest against that great composer being
held responsible, if ever so remotely, for the doings of the "English
school." Jackson (in F), Boyce and the rest owed nothing to Purcell;
the credit of having founded _them_ must go elsewhere, and may beg a
long time, I am much afraid, in the land of the shades before any
composer will be found willing to take it. Purcell was not the founder
but the splendid close of a school, and that school one of the very
greatest the world has seen. And to-day, when he is persistently
libelled, not more in blame than in the praise which is given him, it
seems worth while making a first faint attempt to break through the
net of tradition that has been woven and is daily being woven closer
around him, to see him as he stands in such small records as may be
relied upon and not as we would fain have him be, to understand his
relation to his predecessors and learn his position in musical
history, to hear his music without prejudice and distinguish its
individual qualities. This is a hard task, and one which I can only
seek to achieve here in the roughest and barest manner; yet any manner
at all is surely much better than letting the old fictions go
unreproved, while our greatest musician drifts into the twilight past,
misunderstood, unloved, unremembered, save when an Abbey wants a new
case for its organ, an organ on which Purcell never played, or a
self-styled Purcell authority wishes to set up a sort of claim of part
or whole proprietorship in him.


Hardly more is known of Purcell than of Shakespeare. There is no
adequate biography. Hawkins and Burney (who is oftenest Hawkins at
second-hand) are alike rash, random, and untrustworthy, depending much
upon the anecdotage of old men, who were no more to be believed than
the ancient bandsmen of the present day who tell you how Mendelssohn
or Wagner flattered them or accepted hints from them. Cummings' life
is scarcely even a sketch; at most it is a thumbnail sketch. Only
ninety-five pages deal with Purcell, and of these at least ninety-four
are defaced by maudlin sentimentality, or unhappy attempts at
criticism (see the remarks on the Cecilia Ode) or laughable sequences
of disconnected incongruities--as, for instance, when Mr. Cummings
remarks that "Queen Mary died of small-pox, and the memory of her
goodness was felt so universally," etc. Born in 1658, Purcell lived in
Pepys' London, and died in 1095, having written complimentary odes to
three kings--Charles the Second, James the Second, and William the
Third. Besides these complimentary odes, he wrote piles of
instrumental music, a fair heap of anthems, and songs and interludes
and overtures for some forty odd plays. This is nearly the sum of our
knowledge. His outward life seems to have been uneventful enough. He
probably lived the common life of the day--the day being, as I have
said, Pepys' day. Mr. Cummings has tried to show him as a seventeenth
century Mendelssohn--conventionally idealised--and he quotes the
testimony of some "distinguished divine," chaplain to a nobleman, as
though we did not know too well why noblemen kept chaplains in those
days to regard their testimony as worth more than other men's. The
truth is, that if Purcell had lived differently from his neighbours he
would have been called a Puritan. On the other hand, we must remember
that he composed so much in his short life that his dissipations must
have made a poor show beside those of many of his great
contemporaries--those of Dryden, for instance, who used to hide from
his duns in Purcell's private room in the clock-tower of St. James's
Palace. I picture him as a sturdy, beef-eating Englishman, a puissant,
masterful, as well as lovable personality, a born king of men,
ambitious of greatness, determined, as Tudway says, to exceed every
one of his time, less majestic than Handel, perhaps, but full of
vigour and unshakable faith in his genius. His was an age when genius
inspired confidence both in others and in its possessor, not, as now,
suspicion in both; and Purcell was believed in from the first by many,
and later, by all--even by Dryden, who began by flattering Monsieur
Grabut, and ended, as was his wont, by crossing to the winning side.
And Purcell is no more to be pitied for his sad life than to be
praised as a conventionally idealised Mendelssohn. His life was brief,
but not tragic. He never lacked his bread as Mozart lacked his; he was
not, like Beethoven, tormented by deafness and tremblings for the
immediate future; he had no powerful foes to fight, for he did not bid
for a great position in the world like Handel. Nor was he a romantic
consumptive like Chopin, with a bad cough, a fastidious regard for
beauty, and a flow of anaemic melody. He was divinely gifted with a
greater richness of invention than was given to any other composers
excepting two, Bach and Mozart; and death would not take his gifts as
an excuse when he was thirty-seven. Hence our Mr. Cummings has
droppings of lukewarm tears; hence, generally, compassion for his
comparatively short life has ousted admiration for his mighty works
from the minds of those who are readier at all times to indulge in the
luxury of weeping than to feel the thrill of joy in a life greatly
lived. Purcell might have achieved more magnificent work, but that is
a bad reason for forgetting the magnificence of the work he did
achieve. But I myself am forgetting that the greatness of his music is
not admitted, and that the shortness of his life is merely urged as an
excuse for not finding it admirable. And remembering this, I assert
that Purcell's life was a great and glorious one, and that now his
place is with the high gods whom we adore, the lords and givers of


Before Purcell's position in musical history can be ascertained and
fixed, it is absolutely necessary to make some survey of the rise of
the school of which he was the close.

In our unmusical England of to-day it is as hard to believe in an
England where music was perhaps the dominant passion of the people as
it is to understand how this should have been forgotten in a more
musical age than ours. Until the time of Handel's arrival in this
country there was no book printed which did not show unmistakably that
its writer loved music. It is a fact (as the learned can vouch) that
Erasmus considered the English the most given up to music of all the
peoples of Europe; and how far these were surpassed by the English is
further shown by the fact that English musicians were as common in
continental towns in those days as foreign musicians are in England
nowadays. I refrain from quoting Peacham, North, Anthony Wood, Pepys,
and the rest of the much over-quoted; but I wish to lay stress on the
fact that here music was widespread and highly cultivated, just as it
was in Germany in the eighteenth century. Moreover, an essential
factor in the development of the German school was not wanting in
England. Each German prince had his Capellmeister; and English nobles
and gentlemen, wealthier than German princes, differing from them only
in not being permitted to assume a pretentious title, had each his
Musick-master. I believe I could get together a long list of musicians
who were thus kept. It will be remembered that when Handel came to
England he quickly entered the service of the Duke of Chandos. The
royal court always had a number of musicians employed in the making or
the performing of music. Oliver Cromwell retained them and paid them;
Charles the Second added to them, and in many cases did not pay them
at all, so that at least one is known to have died of starvation, and
the others were everlastingly clamouring for arrears of salary. It was
the business of these men (in the intervals of asking for their
salaries) to produce music for use in the church and in the house or
palace; that for church use being of course nearly entirely
vocal--masses or anthems; that for house use, vocal and
instrumental--madrigals and fancies (_i.e._ fantasias). As generation
succeeded generation, a certain body of technique was built up and a
mode of expression found; and at length the first great wave of music
culminated in the works of Tallis and Byrde. Their technique and mode
of expression I shall say something about presently; and all the
criticism I have to pass on them is that Byrde is infinitely greater
than Tallis, and seems worthy indeed to stand beside Palestrina and
Sweelinck. Certainly anyone who wishes to have a true notion of the
music of this period should obtain (if he can) copies of the D minor
five-part mass, and the Cantiones Sacræ, and carefully study such
numbers as the "Agnus Dei" of the former and the profound "Tristitia
et anxietas" in the latter.

The learned branch of the English school reached its climax. Meantime
another branch, not unlearned, but caring less for scholastic
perfection than for perfect expression of poetic sentiment, was fast
growing. The history of the masque is a stale matter, so I will merely
mention that Campion, and many another with, before, and after him,
engaged during a great part of their lives in what can only be called
the manufacture of these entertainments. A masque was simply a
gorgeous show of secular ritual, of colour and of music--a kind of
Drury Lane melodrama in fact, but as far removed from Drury Lane as
this age is from that in the widespread faculty of appreciating
beauty. The music consisted of tunes of a popular outline and
sentiment, but they were dragged into the province of art by the
incapacity of those who wrote or adapted them to touch anything
without leaving it lovelier than when they lighted on it. Pages might
be, and I daresay some day will be, written about Dr. Campion's
melody, its beauty and power, the unique sense of rhythmic subtleties
which it shows, and withal its curiously English quality. But one
important thing we must observe: it is wholly secular melody. Even
when written in the ecclesiastical modes, it has no, or the very
slightest, ecclesiastical tinge. It is folk-melody with its face
washed and hair combed; it bears the same relation to English
folk-melody as a chorale from the "Matthew" Passion bears to its
original. Another important point is this: whereas the church
composers took a few Latin sentences and made no endeavour to treat
them so as to make sense in the singing, but made the words wait upon
the musical phrases, in Dr. Campion we see the first clear wish to
weld music and poem into one flawless whole. To an extent he
succeeded, but full success did not come till several generations had
first tried, tried and failed. Campion properly belongs to the
sixteenth century, and Harry Lawes, born twenty-five years before
Campion died, as properly belongs to the seventeenth century. In his
songs we find even more marked the determination that words and music
shall go hand in hand--that the words shall no longer be dragged at
the cart-tail of the melody, so to say. In fact, a main objection
against Lawes--and a true one in many instances--is that he sacrificed
the melody rather than the meaning of the poem. This is significant.
The Puritans are held to have damaged church music less by burning the
choir-books and pawning the organ-pipes than by insisting (as we may
say) on One word one note. As a matter of fact, this was not
exclusively a plank in the political platform of the Puritans. The
Loyalist Campion, the Loyalist Lawes, and many another Loyalist
insisted on it. Even when they did not write a note to each word, they
took care not to have long roulades (divisions) on unimportant words,
but to derive the accent of the music from that of the poem. This
showed mainly two tendencies: first, one towards expression of poetic
feeling and towards definiteness of that expression, the other towards
the entirely new technique which was to supersede the contrapuntal
technique of Byrde and Palestrina. In making a mass or an anthem or
secular composition, the practice of these old masters was to start
with a fragment of church or secular melody which we will call A;
after (say) the trebles had sung it or a portion of it, the altos took
it up and the trebles went on to a new phrase B, which dovetailed with
A. Then the tenors took up A, the altos went on to B, the trebles went
on to a new phrase C, until ultimately, if we lettered each
successive phrase that appeared, we should get clear away from the
beginning of the alphabet to X, Y, and Z. This, of course, is a crude
and stiff way of describing the process of weaving and interweaving by
which the old music was spun, for often the phrase A would come up
again and again in one section of a composition and sometimes
throughout the whole, and strict canon was comparatively rare in music
which was not called by that name; but the description will serve.
This technique proved admirable for vocal polyphony--how admirable we
have all the Flemish and Italian and English contrapuntal music to
show. But it was no longer available when music was wanted for the
single voice, unless that voice was treated as one of several real
parts, the others being placed in the accompaniment. A new technique
was therefore wanted. For that new technique the new composers went
back to the oldest technique of all. The old minstrels used music as a
means of giving accent and force to their poems; and now, as a means
of spinning a web of tone which should not only be beautiful, but also
give utterance to the feeling of the poem, composers went back to the
method of the minstrels. They disregarded rhythm more and more (as may
be seen if you compare Campion with Lawes), and sought only to make
the notes follow the accent of the poetry, thus converting music into
conventionally idealised speech or declamation. Lawes carried this
method as far as ever it has been, and probably can be, carried. When
Milton said,

    "Harry, whose tuneful and well-measured notes
    First taught our English music how to span
    Words with just note and accent,"

he did not mean that Lawes was the first to bar his music, for music
had been barred long before Lawes. He meant that Lawes did not use the
poem as an excuse for a melody, but the melody as a means of
effectively declaiming the poet's verse. The poet (naturally) liked
this--hence Milton's compliments. It should be noted that many of the
musicians of this time were poets--of a sort--themselves, and wished
to make the most of their verses; so that it would be a mistake to
regard declamation as something forced by the poet, backed by popular
opinion, upon the musician. With Lawes, then, what we may call the
declamatory branch of the English school culminated. Except in his
avowedly declamatory passages, Purcell did not spin his web precisely
thus; but we shall presently see that his method was derived from the
declamatory method. Much remained to be done first. Lawes got rid of
the old scholasticism, now effete. But he never seemed quite sure that
his expression would come off. It is hard at this day to listen to his
music as Milton must have listened to it; but having done my best, I
am compelled to own that I find some of his songs without meaning or
comeliness, and must assume either that our ancestors of this period
had a sense which has been lost, or that the music played a less
important part compared with the poem than has been generally
supposed. Lawes lost rhythm, both as an element in beauty and a factor
in expression. Moreover, his harmonic resources were sadly limited,
for the old device of letting crossing parts clash in sweet discords
that resolved into as sweet or sweeter concords was denied him. What
would be called nowadays the new harmony, the new rhythm and the new
forms were developed during the Civil War and the Puritan reign. The
Puritans, loving music but detesting it in their churches, forced it
into purely secular channels; and we cannot say the result was bad,
for the result was Purcell. John Jenkins and a host of smaller men
developed instrumental music, and, though the forms they used were
thrown aside when Charles II. arrived, the power of handling the
instruments remained as a legacy to Charles's men. Charles drove the
secular movement faster ahead by banning the old ecclesiastical music
(which, it appears, gave him "the blues"), and by compelling his young
composers to write livelier strains for the church, that is, church
music which was in reality nothing but secular music. He sent Pelham
Humphries to Paris, and when Humphries came back "an absolute
Monsieur" (who does not remember that ever-green entry in the Diary?)
he brought with him all that could possibly have been learnt from
Lulli. He died at twenty-seven, having been Purcell's master; and
though Purcell's imagination was richer, deeper, more strenuous in the
ebb and flow of its tides, one might fancy that the two men had but
one spirit, which went on growing and fetching forth the fruits of the
spirit, while young Humphries' body decayed by the side of his younger
wife's in the Thames-sodden vaults of Westminster Abbey.


A complete list of Purcell's compositions appears somewhat formidable
at a first glance, but when one comes to examine it carefully the
solidity seems somewhat to melt out of it. The long string of church
pieces is made up of anthems, many of them far from long. The forty
odd "operas" are not operas at all, but sets of incidental pieces and
songs for plays, and some of the sets are very short. Thus Dryden
talks of Purcell setting "my three songs," and there are only half a
dozen "curtain-tunes," _i.e._ entr'actes. Many of the harpsichord
pieces are of tiny proportions. The sonatas of three and four parts
are no larger than Mozart's piano sonatas. Still, taking into account
the noble quality that is constantly maintained, we must admit that
Purcell used astonishingly the short time he was given. Much of his
music is lost; more of it lies in manuscript at the British Museum and
elsewhere. Some of it was issued last century, some early in this.
Four expensive volumes have been wretchedly edited and issued by the
Purcell Society, and those amongst us who live to the age of
Methuselah will probably see all the accessible works printed by this
body. Some half century ago Messrs. Novello published an edition of
the church music, stupidly edited by the stupidest editor who ever
laid clumsy fingers on a masterpiece. A shameful edition of the "King
Arthur" music was prepared for the Birmingham Festival of 1897 by Mr.
J.A. Fuller-Maitland, musical critic of "The Times." A publisher
far-sighted and generous enough to issue a trustworthy edition of all
Purcell's music at a moderate price has yet to be found.

Purcell's list is not long, but it is superb. Yet he opened out no new
paths, he made no leap aside from the paths of his predecessors, as
Gluck did in the eighteenth century and Wagner in the nineteenth. He
was one of their school; he went on in the direction they had led; but
the distance he travelled was enormous. Humphries, possibly Captain
Cook, even Christopher Gibbons, helped to open out the new way in
church music; Lawes, Matthew Lock, and Banister were before him at the
theatres; Lock and Dr. Blow had written odes before he was weaned; the
form and plan of his sonatas came certainly from Bassani, in all
likelihood from Corelli also; from John Jenkins and the other writers
of fancies he got something of his workmanship and art of weaving many
melodies into a coherent whole, and a knowledge of Lulli would help
him to attain terseness, and save him from that drifting which is the
weak point of the old English instrumental writers; he was acquainted
with the music of Carissimi, a master of choral effect. In a word, he
owed much to his predecessors, even as Bach, Haydn, Mozart, and
Beethoven owed to their predecessors; and he did as they did--won his
greatness by using to fine ends the means he found, rather than by
inventing the means, though, like them, some means he did invent.

Like his predecessors Purcell hung between the playhouse, the church,
and the court; but unlike most of them he had only one style, which
had to serve in one place as in another. I have already shown the
growth of the secular spirit in music. In Purcell that spirit reached
its height. His music is always secular, always purely pagan. I do not
mean that it is inappropriate in the church--for nothing more
appropriate was ever written--nor that Purcell was insincere, as our
modern church composers are insincere, without knowing it. I do mean
that of genuine religious emotion, of the sustained ecstasy of Byrde
and Palestrina, it shows no trace. I should not like to have to define
the religious beliefs of any man in Charles II.'s court, but it would
seem that Purcell was religious in his way. He accepted the God of
the church as the savage accepts the God of his fathers; he wrote his
best music with a firm conviction that it would please his God. But
his God was an entity placed afar off, unapproachable; and of entering
into communion with Him through the medium of music Purcell had no
notion. The ecstatic note I take to be the true note of religious art;
and in lacking and in having no sense of it Purcell stands close to
the early religious painters and monk-writers, the carvers of twelfth
century woodwork, and the builders of Gothic cathedrals. He thinks of
externals and never dreams of looking for "inward light"; and the
proof of this is that he seems never consciously to endeavour to
express a mood, but strenuously seeks to depict images called up by
the words he sets. With no intention of being flippant, but in all
earnestness, I declare it is my belief that if Purcell had ever set
the "Agnus Dei" (and I don't remember that he did) he would have drawn
a frisky lamb and tried to paint its snow-white fleece; and this not
because he lacked reverence, but because of his absolute religious
naïveté, and because this drawing and painting of outside objects (so
to speak) in music was his one mode of expression. It should be
clearly understood that word-painting is not descriptive music.
Descriptive music suggests to the ear, word-painting to the eye. But
the two merge in one another. What we call a higher note is so called
because sounds produced by the mere rapid vibrations make every
being, without exception, who has a musical ear, think of height, just
as a lower note makes us all think of depth. Hence a series of notes
forming an arch on paper may, and does, suggest an arch to one's
imagination through the ear. It is perhaps a dodge, but Handel used it
extensively--for instance, in such choruses as "All we like sheep,"
"When his loud voice" ("Jephtha"), nearly every choral number of
"Israel in Egypt," and some of the airs. Bach used it too, and we find
it--the rainbow theme in "Das Rheingold" is an example--in Wagner. But
with these composers "word-painting," as it is called, seems always to
be used for a special effect; whereas it is the very essence of
Purcell's music. He has been reproved for it by the eminent Hullah,
who prettily alludes to it as a "defect" from which other music
composed at the time suffers; but the truth is, you might as well call
rhyme a "defect" of the couplet or the absence of rhyme a "defect" of
blank verse. It is an integral part of the music, as inseparable as
sound from tone, as atoms from the element they constitute. But the
question, why did Purcell write thus, and not as Mozart and Beethoven,
brings me to the point at which I must show the precise relationship
in which Purcell stood to his musical ancestors, and how in writing as
he did he was merely carrying on and developing their technique.

For we must not forget that the whole problem for the seventeenth
century was one of technique. The difficulty was to spin a tone-web
which should be at once beautiful, expressive, and modern--modern
above all things, in some sort of touch with the common feeling of the
time. I have told how the earlier composers spun their web, and how
Lawes attained to loveliness of a special kind by pure declamation. In
later times there was an immense common fund of common phrases, any
one of which only needed modification by a composer to enable him to
express anything he pleased. But Purcell came betwixt the old time and
the new, and had to build up a technique which was not wholly his own,
by following with swift steps and indefatigable energy on lines
indicated even while Lawes was alive. Those lines were, of course, in
the direction of word-painting, and I must admit that the first
word-painting seems very silly to nineteenth century ears and
eyes--eyes not less than ears. To the work of the early men Purcell's
stands in just the same relation as Bach's declamation stands to
Lawes'. Lawes declaims with a single eye on making clear the points of
the poem: the voice rises or falls, lingers on a note or hastens away,
to that one end. Bach also declaims--indeed his music is entirely
based on declamation,--but as one who wishes to communicate an emotion
and regards the attainment of beauty as being quite as important as
expression. With him the voice rises or falls as a man's voice does
when he experiences keen sensation; but the wavy line of the melody as
it goes along and up and down the stave is treated conventionally and
changed into a lovely pattern for the ear's delight; and as there can
be no regular pattern without regular rhythm, rhythm is a vital
element in Bach's music. So with Purcell, with a difference. The early
"imitative" men had sought chiefly for dainty conceits. Pepys was the
noted composer of "Beauty, Retire" and his joy when he went to church,
"where fine music on the word trumpet" will be remembered. He
doubtless liked the clatter of it, and liked the clatter the more for
occurring on that word, and probably he was not very curious as to
whether it was really beautiful or not. But Purcell could not write an
unlovely thing. His music on the word trumpet would be beautiful (it
is in "Bonduca"); and if (as he did) he sent the bass plunging
headlong from the top to the bottom of a scale to illustrate "they
that go down to the sea in ships," that headlong plunge would be
beautiful too--so beautiful as to be heard with as great pleasure by
those who know what the words are about as by those who don't. Like
Bach, Purcell depended much on rhythm for the effect of his pattern;
unlike Bach, his patterns have a strangely picturesque quality;
through the ear they suggest the forms of leaf and blossom, the
trailing tendril,--suggest them only, and dimly, vaguely,--yet, one
feels, with exquisite fidelity. Thus Purcell, following those who, in
sending the voice part along the line, pressed it up at the word
"high" and down at "low," and thus got an irregularly wavy line of
tone or melody, solved the problem of spinning his continuous web of
sound; and the fact that his web is beautiful and possesses this
peculiar picturesqueness is his justification for solving the problem
in this way. After all, his way was the way of early designers, who
filled their circles, squares, and triangles with the forms of leaf
and flower. And just as those forms were afterwards conventionalised
and used by thousands who probably had no vaguest notion of their
origin, so many of Purcell's phrases became ossified and fell into the
common stock of phrases which form the language of music. It is
interesting to note that abroad Pasquini and Kuhlau went to work very
much in Purcell's fashion, and added to that same stock from which
Handel and Bach and every subsequent composer drew, each adding
something of his own.

It was not by accident that Purcell, with this astonishing fertility
of picturesque phrases, should also have written so much, and such
vividly coloured picturesque pieces--pieces, I mean, descriptive of
the picturesque. Of course, to write an imitative phrase is quite
another matter from writing a successful piece of descriptive music.
But in Purcell the same faculty enabled him to do both. No poet of
that time seems to have been enamoured of hedgerows and flowers and
fields, nor can I say with certitude that Purcell was. Yet in
imagination at least he loves to dwell amongst them; and not the
country alone, the thought of the sea also, stirs him deeply. There
need only be some mention of sunshine or rain among the leaves, green
trees, or wind-swept grass, the yellow sea-beach or the vast
sea-depths, and his imagination flames and flares. His best music was
written when he was appealed to throughout a long work--as "The
Tempest"--in this manner. Hence, it seems to me, that quality which
his music, above any other music in the world, possesses: a peculiar
sweetness, not a boudoir sweetness like Chopin's sweetness, nor a
sweetness corrected, like Chopin's, by a subtle strain of poisonous
acid or sub-acid quality, but the sweet and wholesome cleanliness of
the open air and fields, the freshness of sun showers and cool morning
winds. I am not exaggerating the importance of this element in his
music. It is perpetually present, so that at last one comes to think,
as I have been compelled to think this long time, that Purcell wrote
nothing but descriptive music all his life. Of course it may be that
the special formation of his melodies misleads one sometimes, and that
Purcell in inventing them often did not dream of depicting natural
objects. But, remembering the gusto with which he sets descriptive
words, using these phrases consciously with a picturesque purpose, it
is hard to accept this view. In all likelihood he was constituted
similarly to Weber, who, his son asserts, curiously converted the
lines and colours of trees and winding roads and all objects of nature
into thematic material (there is an anecdote--apparently, for a
wonder, a true one--that shows he took the idea of a march from a heap
of chairs stacked upside down in a beer-garden during a shower of
rain). But Purcell is infinitely simpler, less fevered, than Weber.
Sometimes his melodies have the long-drawn, frail delicacy, the
splendidly ordered irregularity of a trailing creeper, and something
of its endless variety of leaf clustering round a central stem. But
there is an entire absence of tropical luxuriance. A grave simplicity
prevails, and we find no jewellery; showing Purcell to have been a
supreme artist.


So far I have spoken of his music generally, and now I come to deal
(briefly, for my space is far spent) with the orchestral, choral, and
chamber music and songs; and first with the choral music. I begin to
fear that by insisting so strongly on the distinctive sweetness of
Purcell's melody, I may have given a partially or totally wrong
impression. Let me say at once, therefore, that delicate as he often
was, and sweet as he was more often, although he could write melodies
which are mere iridescent filaments of tone, he never became flabby
or other than crisp, and could, and did, write themes as flexible,
sinewy, unbreakable as perfectly tempered steel bands. And these
themes he could lay together and weld into choruses of gigantic
strength. The subject and counter-subject of "Thou art the King of
Glory" (in the "Te Deum" in D), the theme of "Let all rehearse," and
the ground bass of the final chorus (both in "Dioclesian"), the
subjects of many of the fugues of the anthems, are as energetic as
anything written by Handel, Bach or Mozart. And as for the choruses he
makes of them, Handel's are perhaps loftier and larger structures, and
Bach succeeds in getting effects which Purcell never gets, for the
simple enough reason that Purcell, coming a generation before Bach,
never tried or thought of trying to get them. But within his limits he
achieves results that can only be described as stupendous. For
instance, the chorus I have just mentioned--"Let all rehearse"--makes
one think of Handel, because Handel obviously thought of it when he
wrote "Fixed in His everlasting seat," and though Handel works out the
idea to greater length, can we say that he gets a proportionately
greater effect? I have not the faintest wish to elevate Purcell at
Handel's expense, for Handel is to me, as to all men, one of the gods
of music; but Purcell also is one of the gods, and I must insist that
in this particular chorus he equalled Handel with smaller means and
within narrower limits. It is not always so, for Handel is king of
writers for the chorus, as Purcell is king of those who paint in
music; but though Handel wrote more great choruses, his debt to
Purcell is enormous. His way of hurling great masses of choral tone at
his hearers is derived from Purcell; and so is the rhetorical plan of
many of his choruses. But in Purcell, despite his sheer strength, we
never fail to get the characteristic Purcellian touch, the little
unexpected inflexion, or bit of coloured harmony that reminds that
this is the music of the open air, not of the study, that does more
than this, that actually floods you in a moment with a sense of the
spacious blue heavens with light clouds flying. For instance, one gets
it in the great "Te Deum" in the first section; again at "To thee,
cherubim," where the first and second trebles run down in liquid
thirds with magical effect; once more at the fourteenth bar of "Thou
art the King of Glory," where he uses the old favourite device of
following up the flattened leading note of the dominant key in one
part by the sharp leading note in another part--a device used with
even more exquisite result in the chorus of "Full fathom five."
Purcell is in many ways like Mozart, and in none more than in these
incessantly distinctive touches, though in character the touches are
as the poles apart. In Mozart, especially when he veils the poignancy
of his emotion under a scholastic mode of expression, a sudden tremor
in the voice, as it were, often betrays him, and none can resist the
pathos of it. Purcell's touches are pathetic, too, in another
fashion--pathetic because of the curious sense of human weakness, the
sense of tears, caused by the sudden relaxation of emotional tension
that inevitably results when one comes on a patch of simple naked
beauty when nothing but elaborate grandeur expressive of powerful
exaltation had been anticipated. That Purcell foresaw this result, and
deliberately used the means to achieve it, I cannot doubt. Those
momentary slackenings of tense excitement are characteristic of the
exalted mood and inseparable from it, and he must have known that they
really go to augment its intensity. All Purcell's choruses, however,
are not of Handelian mould, for he wrote many that are sheer
loveliness from beginning to end, many that are the very voice of the
deepest sadness, many, again, showing a gaiety, an "unbuttoned"
festivity of feeling, such as never came into music again until
Beethoven introduced it as a new thing. The opening of one of the
complimentary odes, "Celebrate this festival," fairly carries one off
one's feet with the excess of jubilation in the rollicking rhythm and
living melody of it. One of the most magnificent examples of
picturesque music ever written--if not the most magnificent, at any
rate the most delightful in detail--is the anthem, "Thy way, O God, is
holy." The picture-painting is prepared for with astonishing artistic
foresight, and when it begins the effect is tremendous. I advise
everyone who wishes to realise Purcell's unheard-of fertility of great
and powerful themes to look at "The clouds poured out water," the
fugue subject "The voice of Thy thunders," the biting emphasis of the
passage "the lightnings shone upon the ground," and the irresistible
impulse of "The earth was moved." And the supremacy of Purcell's art
is shown not more in these than in the succession of simple harmonies
by which he gets the unutterable mournful poignancy of "Thou knowest,
Lord," that unsurpassed and unsurpassable piece of choral writing
which Dr. Crotch, one of the "English school," living in an age less
sensitive even than this to Purcellian beauty, felt to be so great
that it would be a desecration to set the words again. Later composers
set the words again, feeling it no desecration, but possibly rather a
compliment to Purcell; and Purcell's setting abides, and looks down
upon every other, like Mozart's G minor and Beethoven's Ninth upon
every other symphony, or the finale of Wagner's "Tristan" upon every
other piece of love-music.


Purcell is also a chief, though not the chief, among song-writers. And
he stands in the second place by reason of the very faculty which
places him amongst the first of instrumental and choral writers. That
dominating picturesque power of his, that tendency to write
picturesque melodies as well as picturesque movements, compelled him
to treat the voice as he treated any other instrument, and he writes
page on page which would be at least as effective on any other
instrument; and as more can be got out of the voice than out of any
other instrument, and the tip-top song-writers got all out that could
be got out, it follows that Purcell is below them. But only the very
greatest of them have beaten him, and he often, by sheer perfection of
phrase, runs them very close. Still, Mozart, Bach, and Handel do move
us more profoundly. And an odd demonstration that Purcell the
instrumental writer is almost above Purcell the composer for the
voice, is that in such songs as "Halcyon Days" (in "The Tempest") the
same phrases are perhaps less grateful on the voice than when repeated
by the instrument. The phrase "That used to lull thee in thy sleep"
(in "The Indian Queen") is divine when sung, but how thrilling is its
touching expressiveness, how it seems to speak when the 'cellos repeat
it! There are, of course, truly vocal melodies in Purcell (as there
are in Beethoven and Berlioz, who also were not great writers for the
voice), and some of them might almost be Mozart's. The only difference
that may be felt between "While joys celestial" ("Cecilia Ode" of
1683) and a Mozart song, is that in Mozart one gets the frequent
human touch, and in Purcell the frequent suggestion of the free winds
and scented blossoms. The various scattered songs, such as "Mad Tom"
(which is possibly not Purcell's at all) or "Mad Bess" (which
certainly is), I have no room to discuss; but I may remark that the
madness was merely an excuse for exhibiting a series of passions in
what was reckoned at the time a natural manner. Quite possibly it was
then thought that in a spoken play only mad persons should sing, just
as Wagner insists that in music-drama only mad persons should speak;
and as a good deal of singing was required, there were a good many mad
parts. Probably Purcell would have treated all Wagner's characters,
and all Berlioz's, as utterly and irretrievably mad. Nor have I space
to discuss his instrumental music and his instrumentation, but must
refer shortly to the fact that the overtures to the plays are equal to
Handel's best in point of grandeur, and that in freedom, quality of
melody, and daring, and fruitful use of new harmonies, the sonatas are
ahead of anything attempted until Mozart came. They cannot be compared
to Bach's suites, and they are infinitely fresher than the writings of
the Italians whom he imitated. As for Purcell's instrumentation, it is
primitive compared to Mozart's, but when he uses the instrument in
group or batteries he obtains gorgeous effects of varied colour. He
gets delicious effects by means of obligato instrumental parts in the
accompaniments to such songs as "Charon the Peaceful Shade Invites";
and those who have heard the "Te Deum" in D may remember that even
Bach never got more wonderful results from the sweeter tones of the


Having shown how Purcell sprang from a race of English musicians, and
how he achieved greater things than any man of his time, it remains
only to be said that when, with Handel, the German flood deluged
England, all remembrance of Purcell and his predecessors was swiftly
swept away. His play-music was washed out of the theatres, his odes
were carried away from the concert-room; in a word, all his and the
earlier music was so completely forgotten that when Handel used anew
his old devices connoisseurs wondered why the Italians and Germans
should be able to bring forth such things while the English remained
impotent. So Handel and the Germans were imitated by every composer,
church or other, who came after, and all our "English music" is purely
German. That we shall ever throw off that yoke I do not care to
prophesy; but if ever we do, it will be by imitating Purcell in one
respect only, that is, by writing with absolute simplicity and
directness, leaving complexity, muddy profundity and elaborately
worked-out multiplication sums to the Germans, to whom these things
come naturally. The Germans are now spent: they produce no more great
musicians: they produce only music which is as ugly to the ear as it
is involved to the eye. It is high time for a return to the simplicity
of Mozart, of Handel, of our own Purcell; to dare, as Wagner dared, to
write folk-melody, and to put it on the trombones at the risk of being
called vulgar and rowdy by persons who do not know great art when it
is original, but only when it resembles some great art of the past
which they have learnt to know. It was thus Purcell worked, and his
work stands fast. And when we English awake to the fact that we have a
music which ought to speak more intimately to us than all the music of
the continental composers, his work will be marvelled at as a
new-created thing, and his pieces will appear on English programmes
and displace the masses of noisome shoddy which we revel in just now.
It will then be recognised, as even the chilly Burney recognised a
century ago, failing to recognise much else, that "in the accent of
passion, and expression of English words, the vocal music of Purcell
is ... as superior to Handel's as an original poem to a translation."
Though this is slight praise for one of the very greatest musicians
the world has produced.



More is known of our mighty old Capellmeister Bach than of
Shakespeare; less than of Miss Marie Corelli. The main thing is that
he lived the greater part of his obscure life in Leipzig, turning out
week by week the due amount of church music as an honest Capellmeister
should. Other Capellmeisters did likewise; only, while their
compositions were counterpoint, Bach's were masterworks. There lay the
sole difference, and the square-toed Leipzig burghers did not perceive
it. To them Master Bach was a hot-tempered, fastidious, crotchety
person, endured because no equally competent organist would take his
place at the price. So he worked without reward, without recognition,
until his inspiration exhausted itself; and then he sat, imposing in
massive unconscious strength as a spent volcano, awaiting the end.
After that was silence: the dust gathered on his music as it lay
unheard for a century. Haydn and Mozart and Beethoven hardly suspected
their predecessor's greatness. Then came Mendelssohn (to whom be the
honour and the glory), and gave to the world, to the world's great
surprise, the "Matthew" Passion, as one might say, fresh from the
composer's pen. The B minor mass followed, and gradually the whole of
the church and instrumental music; and now we are beginning dimly to
comprehend Bach's greatness.


The "John" Passion and the "Matthew" Passion of Bach are as little
alike as two works dealing with the same subject, and intended for
performance under somewhat similar conditions, could possibly be; and
since the "Matthew" version appeals to the modern heart and
imagination as an ideal setting of the tale of the death of the Man of
Sorrows, one is apt to follow Spitta in his curious mistake of
regarding the differences between the two as altogether to the
disadvantage of the "John." Spitta, indeed, goes further than this. So
bent is he on proving the superiority of the "Matthew" that what he
sees as a masterstroke in that work is in the "John" a gross blunder;
and, on the whole, the pages on the "John" Passion are precisely the
most fatuous of the many fatuous pages he wrote when he plunged into
artistic criticism, leaving his own proper element of technical or
historical criticism. This is a pity, for Spitta really had a very
good case to spoil. The "Matthew" is without doubt a vaster,
profounder, more moving and lovelier piece of art than the "John."
Indeed, being the later work of a composer whose power grew steadily
from the first until the last time he put pen to paper, it could not
be otherwise. But the critic who, like Spitta, sees in it only a
successful attempt at what was attempted unsuccessfully in the
"John," seems to me to mistake the aim both of the "John" and the
"Matthew." The "John" is not in any sense unsuccessful, but a
complete, consistent and masterly achievement; and if it stands a
little lower than the "Matthew," if the "Matthew" is mightier, more
impressive, more overwhelming in its great tenderness, this is not
because the Bach who wrote in 1722-23 was a bungler or an incomplete
artist, but because the Bach who wrote in 1729 was inspired by a
loftier idea than had come to the Bach of 1723. It was only necessary
to compare the impression one received when the "John" Passion was
sung by the Bach Choir in 1896 with that received at the "Matthew"
performance in St. Paul's in the same year, to realise that it is in
idea, not in power of realising the idea, that the two works
differ--differ more widely than might seem possible, seeing that the
subject is the same, and that the same musical forms--chorus, chorale,
song and recitative--are used in each.

Waking on the morrow of the "John" performance, my memory was
principally filled with those hoarse, stormy, passionate roarings of
an enraged mob. A careless reckoning shows that whereas the people's
choruses in the "Matthew" Passion occupy about ninety bars, in the
"John" they fill about two hundred and fifty. "Barabbas" in the
"Matthew" is a single yell; in the "John" it takes up four bars. "Let
Him be crucified" in the "Matthew" is eighteen bars long, counting
the repetition, while "Crucify" and "Away with Him" in the "John"
amount to fifty bars. Moreover, the people's choruses are written in a
much more violent and tempestuous style in the earlier than in the
later setting. In the "Matthew" there is nothing like those terrific
ascending and descending chromatic passages in "Wäre dieser nicht ein
Ubelthäter" and "Wir dürfen Niemand töden," or the short breathless
shouts near the finish of the former chorus, as though the infuriated
rabble had nearly exhausted itself, or, again, the excited chattering
of the soldiers when they get Christ's coat, "Lasst uns den nicht
zertheilen." Considering these things, one sees that the first
impression the "John" Passion gives is the true impression, and that
Bach had deliberately set out to depict the preliminary scenes of the
crucifixion with greater fulness of detail and in more striking
colours than he afterwards attempted in the "Matthew" Passion. Then,
not only is the physical suffering of Christ insisted on in this way,
but the chorales, recitatives, and songs lay still greater stress upon
it, either directly, by actual description, or indirectly, by uttering
with unheard-of poignancy the remorse supposed to be felt by mankind
whose guilt occasioned that suffering. The central point in the two
Passions is the same, namely, the backsliding of Peter; and in each
the words, "He went out and wept bitterly," are given the greatest
prominence; but one need only contrast the acute agony expressed in
the song, "Ach mein Sinn," which follows the incident in the "John,"
with the sweetness of "Have mercy upon me," which follows it in the
"Matthew," to gain a fair notion of the spirit in which the one work,
and also the spirit in which the other, is written. The next point to
note is, that while the "Matthew" begins with lamentation and ends
with resignation, "John" begins and ends with hope and praise. In the
former there is no chorus like the opening "Herr, unser, Herrscher,"
no chorale so triumphant as "Ach grosser König," and certainly no
single passage so rapturous as "Alsdann vom Tod erwecke mich, Dass
meine Augen sehen dich, In aller Freud, O Gottes Sohn" (with the bass
mounting to the high E flat and rolling magnificently down again). So
in the "John" Passion Bach has given us, first, a vivid picture of the
turbulent crowd and of the suffering and death of Christ; second, an
expression of man's bitterest remorse; and, last and above all, an
expression of man's hope for the future and his thankfulness to Christ
who redeemed him. These are what one remembers after hearing the work
sung; and these, it may be remarked, are the things that the
seventeenth and eighteenth century mind chiefly saw in the sorrow and
death of Jesus of Nazareth.


The "Matthew" Passion arouses a very different mood from that aroused
by the "John." One does not remember the turbulent people's choruses,
nor the piercing note of anguish, nor any rapturous song or chorus;
for all else is drowned in the recollection of an overwhelming
utterance of love and human sorrow and infinite tenderness. Much else
there is in the "Matthew" Passion, just as there is love and
tenderness in the "John"; but just as these are subordinated in the
"John" to the more striking features I have mentioned, so in the
"Matthew" the noise of the people and the expression of keen remorse
are subordinated to love and human tenderness and infinite sorrow. The
small number and conciseness of the people's choruses have already
been alluded to, and it may easily be shown that the penitential music
is brief compared with the love music, besides having a great deal of
the love, the yearning love, feeling in it. The list of penitential
pieces is exhausted when I have mentioned "Come, ye daughters," "Guilt
for sin," "Break and die," "O Grief," "Alas! now is my Saviour gone,"
and "Have mercy upon me"; and, on the other hand, we have "Thou
blessed Saviour," the Last Supper music, the succeeding recitative and
song, "O man, thy heavy sin lament," "To us He hath done all things,"
"For love my Saviour suffered," "Come, blessed Cross," and "See the
Saviour's outstretched arm," every one of which, not to speak of some
other songs and most of the chorales, is sheer love music of the
purest sort. This, then, seems to me the difference between the
"Matthew" Passion and its predecessor: in the "John" Bach tried to
purge his audience in the regular evangelical manner by pity and
terror and hope. But during the next six years his spiritual
development was so amazing, that while remaining intellectually
faithful to evangelical dogma and perhaps such bogies as the devil and
hell, he yet saw that the best way of purifying his audience was to
set Jesus of Nazareth before them as the highest type of manhood he
knew, as the man who so loved men that He died for them. There is
therefore in the "Matthew" Passion neither the blank despair nor the
feverish ecstasy of the "John," for they have no part to play there.
Human sorrow and human love are the themes. Whenever I hear a fine
rendering of the "Matthew" Passion, it seems to me that no composer,
not even Mozart, could be more tender than Bach. It is often hard to
get into communication with him, for he often appeals to feelings that
no longer stir humanity--such, for instance, as the obsolete "sense of
sin,"--but once it is done, he works miracles. Take, for example, the
scene in which Jesus tells His disciples that one of them will betray
Him. They ask, in chorus, "Herr, bin ich's?" There is a pause, and
the chorale, "_Ich bin's_, ich sollte büssen," is thundered out by
congregation and organ; then the agony passes away at the thought of
the Redeemer, and the last line, "Das hat verdienet meine Seel," is
almost intolerable in its sweetness. The songs, of course, appeal
naturally to-day to all who will listen to them; but it is in such
passages as this that Bach spoke most powerfully to his generation,
and speaks now to those who will learn to understand him. Those who
understand him can easily perceive the "John" Passion to be a powerful
artistic embodiment of an eighteenth century idea; and they may also
perceive that the "Matthew" is greater, because it is, on the whole, a
little more beautiful, and because its main idea--which so far
transcended the eighteenth century understanding that the eighteenth
century preferred the "John"--is one of the loftiest that has yet
visited the human mind.


Mr. George Frideric Handel is by far the most superb personage one
meets in the history of music. He alone of all the musicians lived his
life straight through in the grand manner. Spohr had dignity; Gluck
insisted upon respect being shown a man of his talent; Spontini was
sufficiently self-assertive; Beethoven treated his noble patrons as so
many handfuls of dirt. But it is impossible altogether to lose sight
of the peasant in Beethoven and Gluck; Spohr had more than a trace of
the successful shopkeeper; Spontini's assertion often became mere
insufferable bumptiousness. Besides, they all won their positions
through being the best men in the field, and they held them with a
proud consciousness of being the best men. But in Handel we have a
polished gentleman, a lord amongst lords, almost a king amongst kings;
and had his musical powers been much smaller than they were, he might
quite possibly have gained and held his position just the same. He
slighted the Elector of Hanover; and when that noble creature became
George I. of England, Handel had only to do the handsome thing, as a
handsome gentleman should, to be immediately taken back into favour.
He was educated--was, in fact, a university man of the German sort; he
could write and spell, and add up rows of figures, and had many other
accomplishments which gentlemen of the period affected a little to
despise. He had a pungent and a copious wit. He had quite a
commercial genius; he was an impresario, and had engagements to offer
other people instead of having to beg for engagements for himself; and
he was always treated by the British with all the respect they keep
for the man who has made money, or, having lost it, is fast making it
again. He fought for the lordship of opera against nearly the whole
English nobility, and they paid him the compliment of banding together
with as much ado to ruin him as if their purpose had been to drive his
royal master from the throne. He treated all opposition with a
splendid good-humoured disdain. If his theatre was empty, then the
music sounded the better. If a singer threatened to jump on the
harpsichord because Handel's accompaniments attracted more notice than
the singing, Handel asked for the date of the proposed performance
that it might be advertised, for more people would come to see the
singer jump than hear him sing. He was, in short, a most superb
person, quite the grand seigneur. Think of Bach, the little shabby
unimportant cantor, or of Beethoven, important enough but shabby, and
with a great sorrow in his eyes, and an air of weariness, almost of
defeat. Then look at the magnificent Mr. Handel in Hudson's portrait:
fashionably dressed in a great periwig and gorgeous scarlet coat,
victorious, energetic, self-possessed, self-confident, self-satisfied,
jovial, and proud as Beelzebub (to use his own comparison)--too proud
to ask for recognition were homage refused. This portrait helps us to
understand the ascendency Handel gained over his contemporaries and
over posterity.

But his lofty position was not entirely due to his overwhelming
personality. His intellect, if less vast, less comprehensive, than
Beethoven's, was less like the intellect of a great peasant: it was
swifter, keener, surer. Where Beethoven plodded, Handel leaped. And a
degree of genius which did nothing for Bach, a little for Mozart, and
all for Beethoven, did something for Handel. Without a voice worth
taking into consideration, he could, and at least on one occasion did,
sing so touchingly that the leading singer of the age dared not risk
his reputation by singing after him. He was not only the first
composer of the day, but also the first organist and the first
harpsichord player; for his only possible rival, Sebastian Bach, was
an obscure schoolmaster in a small, nearly unheard-of, German town.
And so personal force, musical genius, business talent, education, and
general brain power went to the making of a man who hobnobbed with
dukes and kings, who ruled musical England with an iron rule, who
threatened to throw distinguished soprano ladies from windows, and was
threatened with never an action for battery in return, who went
through the world with a regal gait, and was, in a word, the most
astonishing lord of music the world has seen.

That this aristocrat should come to be the musical prophet of an
evangelical bourgeoisie would be felt as a most comical irony, were it
only something less of a mystery. Handel was brought up in the bosom
of the Lutheran Church, and was religious in his way. But it was
emphatically a pagan way. Let those who doubt it turn to his setting
of "All we like sheep have gone astray," in the "Messiah," and ask
whether a religious man, whether Byrde or Palestrina, would have
painted that exciting picture on those words. Imagine how Bach would
have set them. That Handel lived an intense inner life we know, but
what that life was no man can ever know. It is only certain that it
was not a life such as Bach's; for he lived an active outer life also,
and was troubled with no illusions, no morbid introspection. He seemed
to accept the theology of the time in simple sincerity as a sufficient
explanation of the world and human existence. He had little desire to
write sacred music. He felt that his enormous force found its finest
exercise in song-making; and Italian opera, consisting nearly wholly
of songs, was his favourite form to the finish. The instinct was a
true one. It is as a song-writer he is supreme, surpassing as he does
Schubert, and sometimes even Mozart. Mozart is a prince of
song-writers; but Handel is their king. He does not get the breezy
picturesqueness of Purcell, nor the entrancing absolute beauty that
Mozart often gets; but as pieces of art, each constructed so as to
get the most out of the human voice in expressing a rich human passion
in a noble form, they stand unapproachable in their perfection. For
many reasons the English public refused to hear them in his own time,
and Handel, as a general whose business was to win the battle, not in
this or that way, but in any possible way, turned his attention to
oratorio, and in this found success and a fortune. In this lies also
our great gain, for in addition to the Italian opera songs we have the
oratorio choruses. But when we come to think of it, might not
Buononcini and Cuzzoni laugh to see how time has avenged them on their
old enemy? For Handel's best music is in the songs, which rarely find
a singer; and his fame is kept alive by performances of "Israel in
Egypt" at the Albert Hall, where (until lately) evangelical small
grocers crowded to hear the duet for two basses, "The Lord is a man of
war," which Handel did not write, massacred by a huge bass chorus.

His "Messiah" is in much the same plight as Milton's "Paradise Lost,"
the plays of Shakespeare and the source of all true religion--it
suffers from being so excessively well known and so generally accepted
as a classic that few want to hear it, and none think it worth knowing
thoroughly. A few years ago the late Sir Joseph Barnby went through
the entire work in St. James's Hall with his Guildhall students; but
such a feat had not, I believe, been accomplished previously within
living memory, and certainly it has not been attempted again since. We
constantly speak of the "Messiah" as the most popular oratorio ever
written; but even in the provinces only selections from it are sung,
and in the metropolis the selections are cut very short indeed,
frequently by the sapient device of taking out all the best numbers
and leaving only those that appeal to the religious instincts of
Clapham. I cannot resist the suspicion that but for the words of "He
was despised," "Behold, and see," and "I know that my Redeemer
liveth," Clapham would have tired of the oratorio before now, and that
but for its having become a Christmas institution, like roast beef,
plum-puddings, mince-pies, and other indigestible foods, it would no
longer be heard in the provinces. And perhaps it would be better
forgotten--perhaps Handel would rather have seen it forgotten than
regarded as it is regarded, than existing merely as an aid to
evangelical religion or an after-dinner digestive on Christmas Day.
Still, during the last hundred and fifty years, it has suffered so
many humiliations that possibly one more, even this last one, does not
so much matter. First its great domes and pillars and mighty arches
were prettily ornamented and tinted by Mozart, who surely knew not
what he did; then in England a barbarous traditional method of singing
it was evolved; later it was Costa-mongered; finally even the late
eminent Macfarren, the worst enemy music has ever had in this
country, did not disdain to prepare "a performing edition," and to
improve Mozart's improvements on Handel. One wonders whether Mozart,
when he overlaid the "Messiah" with his gay tinsel-work, dreamed that
some Costa, encouraged by Mozart's own example, and without brains
enough to guess that he had nothing like Mozart's brains, would in
like manner desecrate "Don Giovanni." Like "Don Giovanni," there the
"Messiah" lies, almost unrecognisable under its outrageous adornments,
misunderstood, its splendours largely unknown and hardly even
suspected, the best known and the least known of oratorios, a work
spoken of as fine by those who cannot hum one of its greatest themes
or in the least comprehend the plan on which its noblest choruses are

Rightly to approach the "Messiah" or any of Handel's sacred oratorios,
to approach it in any sure hope of appreciating it, one must remember
that (as I have just said) Handel had nothing of the religious
temperament, that in temperament he was wholly secular, that he was an
eighteenth century pagan. He was perfectly satisfied with the visible
and audible world his energy and imagination created out of things;
about the why and wherefore of things he seems never to have troubled;
his soul asked no questions, and he was never driven to accept a
religious or any other explanation. It is true he went to church with
quite commendable regularity, and wished to die on Good Friday and so
meet Jesus Christ on the anniversary of the resurrection. But he was
nevertheless as completely a pagan as any old Greek; the persons of
the Trinity were to him very solid entities; if he wished to die on
Good Friday, depend upon it, he fully meant to enter heaven in his
finest scarlet coat with ample gold lace and a sword by his side, to
make a stately bow to the assembled company and then offer a few
apposite and doubtless pungent remarks on the proper method of tuning
harps. Of true devotional feeling, of the ecstatic devotional feeling
of Palestrina and of Bach, there is in no recorded saying of his a
trace, and there is not a trace of it in his music. When he was
writing the "Hallelujah Chorus" he imagined he saw God on His throne,
just as in writing "Semele" he probably imagined he saw Jupiter on his
throne; and the fact proves only with what intensity and power his
imagination was working, and how far removed he was from the genuine
devotional frame of mind. There is not the slightest difference in
style between his secular and his sacred music; he treats sacred and
secular subjects precisely alike. In music his intention was never to
reveal his own state of mind, but always to depict some object, some
scene. Now, never did he adhere with apparently greater resolution to
this plan, never therefore did he produce a more essentially secular
work, than in the "Messiah." One need only consider such numbers as
"All they that see Him" and "Behold the Lamb of God" to realise this;
though, indeed, there is not a number in the oratorio that does not
show it with sufficient clearness. But fully to understand Handel and
realise his greatness, it is not enough merely to know the spirit in
which he worked: one must know also his method of depicting things and
scenes. He was wholly an impressionist--in his youth from choice, as
when he wrote the music of "Rinaldo" faster than the librettist could
supply the words; in middle age and afterwards from necessity, as he
never had time to write save when circumstances freed him for a few
days from the active duties of an impresario. He tried to do, and
succeeded in doing, everything with a few powerful strokes, a few
splashes of colour. Of the careful elaboration of Bach, of Beethoven,
even of Mozart, there is nothing: sometimes in his impatience he
seemed to mix his colours in buckets and hurl them with the surest
artistic aim at his gigantic canvases. A comparison of the angels'
chorus "Glory to God in the highest" in Bach's "Christmas Oratorio"
with the same thing as set in the "Messiah" will show not only how
widely different were the aims of the two men, but also throws the
minute cunning of the Leipzig schoolmaster into startling contrast
with the daring recklessness of the tremendous London impresario. Of
course both men possessed wonderful contrapuntal skill; but in Bach's
case there is time and patience as well as skill, and in Handel's only
consummate audacity and intellectual grip. Handel was by far a greater
man than Bach--he appears to me, indeed, the greatest man who has yet
lived; but though he achieves miracles as a musician, his music was to
him only one of many modes of using the irresistible creative instinct
and energy within him. Any one who looks in Handel for the
characteristic complicated music of the typical German masters will be
disappointed even as the Germans are disappointed; but those who are
prepared to let Handel say what he has to say in his own chosen way
will find in his music the most admirable style ever attained to by
any musician, the most perfect fusion of manner and matter. It is a
grand, large, and broad style, because Handel had a large and grand
matter to express; and if it errs at all it errs on the right side--it
has too few rather than too many notes.

On the whole, the "Messiah" is as vigorous, rich, picturesque and
tender as the best of Handel's oratorios--even "Belshazzar" does not
beat it. There is scarcely any padding; there are many of Handel's
most perfect songs and most gorgeous choruses; and the architecture of
the work is planned with a magnificence, and executed with a lucky
completeness, attained only perhaps elsewhere in "Israel in
Egypt"--for which achievement Handel borrowed much of the bricks and
mortar from other edifices. Theological though the subject is, the
oratorio is as much a hymn to joy as the Ninth symphony; and there is
in it far more of genuine joy, of sheer delight in living. Of the
sense of sin--the most cowardly illusion ever invented by a degenerate
people--there is no sign; where Bach would have been abased in the
dust, Handel is bright, shining, confident, cocksure that all is right
with the world. Mingled with the marvellous tenderness of "Comfort ye"
there is an odd air of authority, a conviction that everything is
going well, and that no one need worry; and nothing fresher, fuller of
spring-freshness, almost of rollicking jollity, has ever been written
than "Every valley shall be exalted." "And the glory of the Lord shall
be revealed" is in rather the same vein, though a deeper note of
feeling is struck. The effect of the alto voices leading off, followed
immediately by the rest of the chorus and orchestra, is overwhelming;
and the chant of the basses at "For the mouth of the Lord" is in the
biggest Handel manner. But just as "He was despised" and "I know that
my Redeemer liveth" tower above all the other songs, so three or four
choruses tower above all the other choruses in not only the "Messiah,"
but all Handel's oratorios. "Worthy is the Lamb" stands far above the
rest, and indeed above all choruses in the world save Bach's very
best; then comes "For unto us a Child is born"; and after that "And
He shall purify," "His yoke is easy," and "Surely He hath borne our
griefs"--each distinctive, complete in itself, an absolute piece of
noble invention. "Unto us a Child is born" is written in a form
devised by Handel and used with success by no other composer since,
until in a curiously modified shape Tschaikowsky employed it for the
third movement of his Pathetic symphony. The first theme is very
simply announced, played with awhile, then the second follows--a
tremendous phrase to the words "The government shall be upon His
shoulders"; suddenly the inner parts begin to quicken into life, to
ferment, to throb and to leap, and with startling abruptness great
masses of tone are hurled at the listener to the words "Wonderful,
Counsellor." The process is then repeated in a shortened and
intensified form; then it is repeated again; and finally the principal
theme, delivered so naïvely at first, is delivered with all the pomp
and splendour of full chorus and orchestra, and "Wonderful,
Counsellor" thundered out on a corresponding scale. A scheme at once
so simple, so daring and so tremendous in effect, could have been
invented by no one but Handel with his need for working rapidly; and
it is strange that a composer so different from Handel as Tschaikowsky
should have hit upon a closely analogous form for a symphonic
movement. The forms of the other choruses are dissimilar. In "He
shall purify" there are two big climaxes; in "His yoke is easy" there
is only one, and it comes at the finish, just when one is wondering
how the splendid flow of music can be ended without an effect of
incompleteness or of anti-climax; and "Surely He hath borne our
griefs" depends upon no climactic effects, but upon the sheer
sweetness and pathos of the thing.

Handel's secular oratorios are different from anything else in the
world. They are neither oratorios, nor operas, nor cantatas; and the
plots are generally quaint.

Some years ago it occurred to me one morning that a trip by sea to
Russia might be refreshing; and that afternoon I started in a
coal-steamer from a northern seaport. A passport could hardly be
wrested from hide-bound officialdom in so short a time, and, to save
explanations in a foreign tongue at Cronstadt, the reader's most
humble servant assumed the lowly office of purser--wages, one shilling
per month. The passage was rough, the engineers were not enthusiastic
in their work, some of the seamen were sulky; and, in a word, the name
of God was frequently in the skipper's mouth. Otherwise he did not
strike one as being a particularly religious man. Nevertheless, when
Sunday evening came round he sat down and read the Bible with genuine
fervour, spelling the hard words aloud and asking how they should or
might be pronounced; and he informed me, by way of explaining his
attachment to the Book, that he had solemnly promised his wife never
to omit his weekly devotions while on the deep. Though I never shared
the literary tastes of Mr. Wilson Barrett, the captain's unfathomable
ignorance of the Gospels, Isaiah and the Psalms startled even me; but
on the other hand he had an intimate acquaintance with a number of
stories to be found only in the Apocrypha, with which he had
thoughtfully provided himself. To gratify my curiosity he read me the
tale of Susanna and the Elders. Being young, my first notion was that
I had chanced on a capital subject for an opera; and I actually
thought for ten minutes of commencing at once on a libretto. Later I
remembered the censor, and realised for the first time that in
England, when a subject is unfit for a drama, it is treated as an
oratorio. As soon as possible I bought Handel's "Susanna" instead, and
found that Handel curiously--or perhaps not curiously--had also been
before me in thinking of treating the subject operatically. In fact
"Susanna" is as much an opera as "Rinaldo," the only difference being
that a few choruses are forcibly dragged in to give colour to the
innocent pretence. Handel's librettist, whoever he was, did his work
downright badly. That he glorifies the great institution of permanent
marriage and says nothing of the corresponding great institution of
the Divorce Court, is only what might be expected of the horrible
eighteenth century--the true dark age of Europe; but surely even a
composer of Handel's powers could scarcely do himself justice with
such a choice blend of stupidity and cant religion as this--

    "_Chorus_. How long, O Lord, shall Israel groan
      In bondage and in pain?
    Jehovah! hear Thy people moan,
      And break the tyrant's chain!

    "_Joachim._ Our crimes repeated have provok'd His rage,
    And now He scourges a degen'rate age.
    O come, my fair Susanna, come,
    And from my bosom chase its gloom," etc.

Or is the abrupt third line of Joachim's speech to be regarded as a
masterstroke of characterisation? I will tell the whole story, to show
what manner of subject has been thought proper for an oratorio.
Joachim and Susanna are of course perfect monsters of fidelity; though
it is only fair to say that Joachim's virtue is not insisted on, or,
for that matter, mentioned. Joachim goes out of town--he says so:
"Awhile I'm summoned from the town away"--and Susanna, instead of
obeying his directions to entertain some friends, goes into a dark
glade, whither the Elders presently repair. She declines their
attentions; then they declare they caught her with an unknown lover,
who fled; and she is condemned to death, the populace seeing naught
but justice in the sentence. But before they begin to hurl the stones,
Daniel steps forward and by sheer eloquent impudence persuades the
people to have the case re-tried, with him for judge. He sends one
elder out of court, and asks the other under what tree Susanna
committed the indiscretion. The poor wretch, knowing no science,
foolishly makes a wild shot instead of pleading a defective education,
and says, "A verdant mastick, pride of all the grove." The other, in
response to the same question, says, "Yon tall holm-tree." Incredible
as it seems, on the strength of this error, which would merely gain a
policeman the commendation of an average London magistrate, the two
Elders are sent off to be hanged! Why, even the late Mr. Justice
Stephen never put away an innocent man or woman on less evidence! But
the chorus flatters Daniel just as the Press used to flatter Mr.
Justice Stephen; Susanna is complimented on her chastity; and all ends
with some general reflections--

    "A virtuous wife shall soften fortune's frown,
    She's far more precious than a golden crown."

Nothing is said about the market value of a virtuous husband. Probably
the eighteenth century regarded such a thing as out of the question.
As I have said, I tell this story to show what the British public will
put up with if you mention the word oratorio. Voltaire's dictum needs
revision thus: "Whatever is too improper to be spoken (in England) is
sung, and whatever is too improper to be sung on the stage may be sung
in a church."

Nevertheless, out of this wretched book Handel made a masterpiece. The
tale of Susanna is not one in which a man of his character might be
expected to take a profound interest; though it should always be
remembered that hardly anything is known of his relations with the
other sex save that he took a keen and lifelong interest in the
Foundling Hospital. But so strong had the habit of making masterpieces
become with him that he could not resist the temptation to create just
one more, even when he had nothing better than "Susanna" to base it
on; just as a confirmed drunkard cannot resist the temptation to get
one drink more, even if he be accustomed to the gilded chambers of the
West End, and must go for really the last to-night into the lowest
drinking-saloon of the East. Some of the choruses are of Handel's
best. The first, "How long, O Lord," shows that he could write
expressive chromatic passages as well as Purcell and Bach; the second
is surcharged with emotion; "Righteous Heaven" is picturesque and full
of splendid vigour; "Impartial Heaven" contains some of the most
gorgeous writing that even Handel achieved. But the last two choruses,
and "The Cause is decided" and "Oh, Joachim," are common, colourless,
barren; and were evidently written without delight, to maintain the
pretext that the work was an oratorio. But it stands to this day,
unmistakably an opera; and it is the songs that will certainly make it
popular some day; for some of them are on Handel's highest level, and
Handel's highest level has never been reached by any other composer.
His choruses are equalled by Bach's, his dramatic strokes by Gluck's,
his instrumental movements by Bach's and perhaps Lulli's; but the
coming of Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Weber, and Wagner has only
served to show that he is the greatest song-writer the world has known
or is likely to know. Even Mozart never quite attained that union of
miraculously balanced form, sweetness of melody, and depth of feeling
with a degree of sheer strength that keeps the expression of the main
thought lucid, and the surface of the music, so to speak, calm, when
obscurity might have been anticipated, and some roughness and storm
and stress excused. "Faith displays her rosy wing" is an absolutely
perfect instance of a Handel song. Were not the thing done, one might
believe it impossible to express with such simplicity--four sombre
minor chords and then the tremolo of the strings--the alternations of
trembling fear and fearful hope, the hope of the human soul in
extremist agony finding an exalted consolation in the thought that
this was the worst. As astounding as this is the quality of light and
freshness of atmosphere with which Handel imbues such songs as "Clouds
o'ertake the brightest day" and "Crystal streams in murmurs flowing";
and the tenderness of "Would custom bid," with the almost divine
refrain, "I then had called thee mine," might surprise us, coming as
it does from such a giant, did we not know that tenderness is always a
characteristic of the great men, of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Wagner,
and that the pettiness, ill-conditionedness, and lack of generous
feeling observable in (say) our London composers to-day stamp them
more unmistakably than does their music as small composers. If the
poor fellows knew what they were about, they would at least conceal
the littlenesses that show they are destined never to do work of the
first order. The composer of the "Rex tremendæ" (in the Requiem) wrote
"Dove sono," Beethoven wrote both the finale of the Fifth symphony and
the slow movement of the Ninth, Wagner both the Valkyries' Ride and
the motherhood theme in "Siegfried," Handel "Worthy is the Lamb" and
"Waft her, angels"; while your little malicious musical Mimes are
absorbed in self-pity, and can no more write a melody that
irresistibly touches you than they can build a great and impressive
structure. And if Mozart is tenderest of all the musicians, Handel
comes very close to him. The world may, though not probably, tire of
all but his grandest choruses, while his songs will always be sung as
lovely expressions of the finest human feeling.

"Samson" is not his finest oratorio, though it may be his longest. It
contains no "Unto us a Child is born" nor a "Worthy is the Lamb," nor
a "Now love, that everlasting boy"; but in several places the sublime
is reached--in "Then round about the starry throne," the last page of
which is worth all the oratorios written since Handel's time save
Beethoven's "Mount of Olives"; in "Fixed is His everlasting seat,"
with that enormous opening phrase, irresistible in its strength and
energy as Handel himself; and in the first section of "O first created
beam." The pagan choruses are full of riotous excitement, though there
is not one of them to match "Ye tutelar gods" in "Belshazzar." But
there is little in "Belshazzar" to match the pathos of "Return, O God
of hosts," or "Ye sons of Israel, now lament." The latter is a notable
example of Handel's art. There is not a new phrase in it: nothing,
indeed, could be commoner than the bar at the first occurrence of
"Amongst the dead great Samson lies," and yet the effect is amazing;
and though the "for ever" is as old as Purcell, here it is newly
used--used as if it had never been used before--to utter a depth of
emotion that passes beyond the pathetic to the sublime. This very
vastness of feeling, this power of stepping outside himself and giving
a voice to the general emotions of humanity, prevents us recognising
the personal note in Handel as we recognise it in Mozart. But
occasionally the personal note may be met. The recitative "My genial
spirits fail," with those dreary long-drawn harmonies, and the
orchestral passage pressing wearily downwards at "And lay me gently
down with them that rest," seems almost like Handel's own voice in a
moment of sad depression. It serves, at anyrate, to remind us that the
all-conquering Mr. Handel was a complete man who had endured the
sickening sense of the worthlessness of a struggle that he was bound
to continue to the end. But these personal confessions are scarce.
After all, in oratorio Handel's best music is that in which he seeks
to attain the sublime. In his choruses he does attain it: he sweeps
you away with the immense rhythmical impetus of the music, or
overpowers you with huge masses of tone hurled, as it were, bodily at
you at just the right moments, or he coerces you with phrases like the
opening of "Fixed in His everlasting seat," or the last (before the
cadence) in "Then round about the starry throne." It is true that with
his unheard-of intellectual power, and a mastery of technique equal or
nearly equal to Bach's, he was often tempted to write in his
uninspired moments, and so the chorus became with him more or less of
a formula; but we may also note that even when he was most mechanical
the mere furious speed at which he wrote seemed to excite and exalt
him, so that if he began with a commonplace "Let their celestial
concerts all unite," before the end he was pouring forth glorious and
living stuff like the last twenty-seven bars. So the pace at which he
had to write in the intervals of bullying or coaxing prima donnas or
still more petulant male sopranos was not wholly a misfortune; if it
sometimes compelled him to set down mere musical arithmetic, or
rubbish like "Honour and arms," and "Go, baffled coward," it sometimes
drew his grandest music out of him. The dramatic oratorio is a hybrid
form of art--one might almost say a bastard form; it had only about
thirty years of life; but in those thirty years Handel accomplished
wonderful things with it. And the wonder of them makes Handel appear
the more astonishing man; for, when all is said, the truth is that the
man was greater, infinitely greater, than his music.


It is a fact never to be forgotten, in hearing good papa Haydn's
music, that he lived in the fine old world when stately men and women
went through life in the grand manner with a languid pulse, when the
earth and the days were alike empty, and hurry to get finished and
proceed to the next thing was almost unknown, and elbowing of rivals
to get on almost unnecessary. For fifty years he worked away
contentedly as bandmaster to Prince Esterhazy, composing the due
amount of music, conducting the due number of concerts, taking his
salary of some seventy odd pounds per annum thankfully, and putting on
his uniform for special State occasions with as little grumbling as
possible, all as a good bandmaster should. He had gone through a short
period of roughing it in his youth, and he had made one or two
mistakes as he settled down. He married a woman who worked with
enthusiasm to render his early life intolerable, and begged him in his
old age to buy a certain cottage, as it would suit her admirably when
she became a widow. But he consoled himself as men do in the
circumstances, and did not allow his mistakes to poison all his life,
or cause him any special worry. His other troubles were not very
serious. A Music Society which he wished to join tried to trap him
into an agreement to write important compositions for it whenever they
were wanted. Once he offended his princely master by learning to play
the baryton, an instrument on which the prince was a performer
greatly esteemed by his retainers. Such teacup storms soon passed:
Prince Esterhazy doubtless forgave him; the Society was soon
forgotten; and Haydn worked on placidly. Every morning he rose with or
before the lark, dressed himself with a degree of neatness that
astonished even that neat dressing age, and sat down to compose music.
Later in each day he is reported to have eaten, to have rehearsed his
band or conducted concerts, and so to bed to prepare himself by
refreshing slumber for the next day's labours. At certain periods of
the year Prince Esterhazy and his court adjourned to Esterhaz, and at
certain periods they came back to Eisenstadt: thus they were saved by
due variety from utter petrifaction. Haydn seems to have liked the
life, and to have thought moreover that it was good for him and his
art. By being thrown so much back upon himself, he said, he had been
forced to become original. Whether it made him original or not, he
never thought of changing it until his prince died, and for a time his
services were not wanted at Esterhaz or Eisenstadt. Then he came to
England, and by his success here made a European reputation (for it
was then as it is now--an artist was only accepted on the musical
Continent after he had been stamped with the hall-mark of unmusical
England). Finally he settled in Vienna, was for a time the teacher of
Beethoven, declared his belief that the first chorus of the
"Creation" came direct from heaven, and died a world-famous man.

To the nineteenth century mind it seems rather an odd life for an
artist: at least it strikes one as a life, despite Haydn's own
opinion, not particularly conducive to originality. To use extreme
language, it might almost be called a monotonous and soporific mode of
existence. Probably its chief advantage was the opportunity it
afforded, or perhaps the necessity it enforced, of ceaseless industry.
Certainly that industry bore fruit in Haydn's steady increase of
inventive power as he went on composing. But he only took the
prodigious leap from the second to the first rank of composers after
he had been free for a time from his long slavery, and had been in
England and been aroused and stimulated by new scenes, unfamiliar
modes of life, and by contact with many and widely differing types of
mind. Some of his later music makes one think that if the leap--a leap
almost unparalleled in the history of art--had been possible twenty
years sooner, Haydn might have won a place by the side of Mozart and
Handel and Bach, instead of being the lowest of their great company.
On the other hand, one cannot think of the man--lively, genial,
kind-hearted, garrulous, broadly humorous, actively observant of
details, careful in small money matters--and assert with one's hand on
one's heart that he was cast in gigantic or heroic mould. That he had
a wonderful facility in expressing himself is obvious in every bar he
wrote: but it is less obvious that he had a great deal to express. He
had deep, but not the deepest, human feeling; he could think, but not
profoundly; he had a sense of beauty, delicate and acute out of all
comparison with yours or mine, reader, but far less keen than Mozart's
or Bach's. Hence his music is rarely comparable with theirs: his
matter is less weighty, his form never quite so enchantingly lovely;
and, whatever one may think of the possibilities of the man in his
most inspired moments, his average output drives one to the reluctant
conclusion that on the whole his life must have been favourable to him
and enabled him to do the best that was in him. Yet I hesitate as I
write the words. Remembering that he began as an untaught peasant, and
until the end of his long life was a mere bandmaster with a small
yearly salary, a uniform, and possibly (for I cannot recall the facts)
his board and lodging, remembering where he found the symphony and
quartet and where he left them, remembering, above all, that
astonishing leap, I find it hard to believe in barriers to his upward
path. It is in dignity and quality of poetic content rather than in
form that Haydn is lacking. Had the horizon of his thought been
widened in early or even in middle life by the education of mixing
with men who knew more and were more advanced than himself, had he
been jostled in the crowd of a great city and been made to feel
deeply about the tragi-comedy of human existence, his experiences
might have resulted in a deeper and more original note being sounded
in his music. But we must take him as he is, reflecting, when the
unbroken peacefulness of his music becomes a little tiresome, that he
belonged to the "old time before us" and was never quickened by the
newer modes of thought that unconsciously affected Mozart and
consciously moulded Beethoven; and that, after all, his very
smoothness and absence of passion give him an old-world charm,
grateful in this hot and dusty age. If he was not greatly original, he
was at least flawlessly consistent: there is scarce a trait in his
character that is not reflected somewhere in his music, and hardly a
characteristic of his music that one does not find quaintly echoed in
some recorded saying or doing of the man. His placid and even
vivacity, his sprightliness, his broad jocularity, his economy and
shrewd business perception of what could be done with the material to
hand, his fertility of device, even his commonplaceness, may all be
seen in the symphonies. At rare moments he moves you strongly, very
often he is trivial, but he generally pleases; and if some of the
strokes of humour--quoted in text-books of orchestration--are so broad
as to be indescribable in any respectable modern print, few of us
understand what they really mean, and no one is a penny the worse.

The "Creation" libretto was prepared for Handel, but he did not
attempt to set it; and this perhaps was just as well, for the effort
would certainly have killed him. Of course the opening offers some
fine opportunities for fine music; but the later parts with their
nonsense--Milton's nonsense, I believe--about "In native worth and
honour clad, With beauty, courage, strength, adorned, Erect with front
serene he stands, A MAN, the Lord and King of Nature all," and the
suburban love-making of our first parents, and the lengthy references
to the habits of the worm and the leviathan, and so on, are almost
more than modern flesh and blood can endure. It must be conceded that
Haydn evaded the difficulties of the subject with a degree of tact
that would be surprising in anyone else than Haydn. In the first part,
where Handel would have been sublime, he is frequently nearly sublime,
and this is our loss; but in the later portion, where Handel would
have been solemn, earnest, and intolerably dull, he is light,
skittish, good-natured, and sometimes jocular, and this is our gain,
even if the gain is not great. The Representation of Chaos is a
curious bit of music, less like chaos than an attempt to write music
of the Bruneau sort a century too soon; but it serves. The most
magnificent passage in the oratorio immediately follows, for there is
hardly a finer effect in music than that of the soft voices singing
the words, "And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters,"
while the strings gently pulse; and the fortissimo C major chord on
the word "light," coming abruptly after the piano and mezzo-forte
minor chords, is as dazzling in its brilliancy to-day as when it was
first sung. The number of unisons, throwing into relief the two minor
chords on C and F, should be especially noted. The chorus in the next
number is poor, matched with this, though towards the end (see bars 11
and 12 from the finish) Haydn's splendid musicianship has enabled him
to redeem the trivial commonplace with an unexpected and powerful
harmonic progression. The work is singularly deficient in strong
sustained choruses. "Awake the harp" is certainly very much the best;
for "The heavens are telling" is little better than Gounod's "Unfold,
ye everlasting portals" until the end, where it is saved by the
tremendous climax; and "Achieved is the glorious work" is mostly
mechanical, with occasional moments of life. As for the finale, it is
of course light opera. On the whole the songs are the most delightful
feature of the "Creation," and the freshness of "With verdure clad,"
and the tender charm of the second section of "Roaming in foaming
billows," may possibly be remembered when Haydn is scarcely known
except as an instrumental composer. The setting of "Softly purling,
glides on, thro' silent vales, the limpid brook" is indeed perfect,
the phrase at the repetition of "Thro' silent vales" inevitably
calling up a vision, not of a valley sleeping in the sunlight, for of
sunlight the eighteenth century apparently took little heed, but of a
valley in the dark quiet night, filled with the scent of flowers, and
the far-off murmur of the brook vaguely heard. The humour of the
oratorio consists chiefly of practical jokes, such as sending Mr.
Andrew Black (or some other bass singer) down to the low F sharp and G
to depict the heavy beasts treading the ground, or making the
orchestra imitate the bellow of the said heavy beasts, or depicting
the sinuous motion of the worm or the graceful gamboling of the
leviathan. It has been objected that the leviathan is brought on in
sections. The truth, of course, is that the clumsy figure in the bass
is not meant to depict the leviathan himself, but his gambolings and
the gay flourishings of his tail. It is hard to sum up the "Creation,"
unless one is prepared to call it great and never go to hear it. It is
not a sublime oratorio, nor yet a frankly comic oratorio, nor entirely
a dull oratorio. After considering the songs, the recitatives, the
choruses, in detail, it really seems to contain very little. Perhaps
it may be described as a third-rate oratorio, whose interest is
largely historic and literary.


It may well be doubted whether Vienna thought even so much of
Capellmeister Mozart as Leipzig thought of Capellmeister Bach. Bach,
it is true, was merely Capellmeister; he hardly dared to claim social
equality with the citizens who tanned hides or slaughtered pigs; and
probably the high personages who trimmed the local Serene Highness's
toe-nails scarcely knew of his existence. Still, he was a burgher,
even as the killers of pigs and the tanners of hides; he was
thoroughly respectable, and probably paid his taxes as they came due;
if only by necessity of his office, he went to church with regularity;
and on the whole we may suppose that he got enough of respect to make
life tolerable. But Mozart was only one of a crowd who provided
amusement for a gay population; and a gay population, always a
heartless master, holds none in such contempt as the servants who
provide it with amusement. So Mozart got no respect from those he
served, and his Bohemianism lost him the respect of the eminently
respectable. He lived in the eighteenth century equivalent of a "loose
set"; he was miserably poor, and presumably never paid his taxes; we
may doubt whether he often went to church; he composed for the
theatre; and he lacked the self-assertion which enabled Handel,
Beethoven, and Wagner to hold their own. Treated as of no account,
cheated by those he worked for, hardly permitted to earn his bread, he
found life wholly intolerable, and as he grew older he lived more and
more within himself and gave his thoughts only to the composition of
masterpieces. The crowd of mediocrities dimly felt him to be their
master, and the greater the masterpieces he achieved the more
vehemently did Salieri and his attendants protest that he was not a
composer to compare with Salieri. The noise impressed Da Ponte, the
libretto-monger, and he asked Salieri to set his best libretto and
gave Mozart only his second best; and thus by a curious irony stumbled
into his immortality through sheer stupidity, for his second best
libretto was "Don Giovanni"--of all possible subjects precisely that
which a wise man would have given to Mozart. When Mozart laid down the
pen after the memorable night's work in which he transferred the
finished overture from his brain to the paper, he had written the
noblest Italian opera ever conceived; and the world knew it not, yet
gradually came to know. But the full fame of "Don Giovanni" was
comparatively brief, and at this time there seems to be a hazy notion
that its splendours have waned before the blaze of Wagner, just as the
symphonies are supposed to have faded in the brilliant light of
Beethoven. At lectures on musical history it is reverently spoken of;
but it is seldom sung, and the public declines to go to hear it; and,
though few persons are so foolish as to admit their sad case, I
suspect that more than a few agree with the sage critic who told us
not long since that Mozart was a little _passé_ now. Is it indeed so?
Well, Mozart lived in the last days of the old world, and the old
world and the thoughts and sentiments of the old world are certainly a
little _passés_ now. But if you examine "Don Giovanni" you must admit
that the Fifth and Ninth symphonies, "Fidelio," "Lohengrin," the
"Ring," "Tristan," and "Parsifal" have done nothing to eclipse its
glories, that while fresh masterpieces have come forth, "Don Giovanni"
remains a masterpiece amongst masterpieces, that in a sense it is a
masterpiece towards which all other masterpieces stand in the relation
of commentaries to text. And though this, perhaps, is only to call it
a link in a chain, yet it is curious to note how very closely other
composers have followed Mozart, and how greatly they are indebted to
him. Page upon page of the early Beethoven is written in the
phraseology of the later Mozart; in nearly every bar of "Faust," not
to mention "Romeo and Juliette," avowedly the fruit of a long study of
"Don Giovanni," a faint echo of Mozart's voice comes to us with the
voice of Gounod; Anna's cries, "Quel sangue, quella piaga, quel
volto," with the creeping chromatic chords of the wood-wind, have the
very accent of Isolda's '"Tis I, belov'd," and the solemn phrase that
follows, in Tristan's death-scene. Apart from its influence on later
composers, there is surely no more passionate, powerful, and moving
drama in the world than "Don Giovanni." Despite the triviality of Da
Ponte's book, the impetus of the music carries along the action at a
tremendous speed; the moments of relief occur just when relief is
necessary, and never retard the motion; the climaxes are piled up with
incredible strength and mastery, and have an emotional effect as
powerful as anything in "Fidelio" and equal to anything in Wagner's
music-dramas; and most stupendous of all is the finale, with its
tragic blending of the grotesque and the terrible. Or, if one
considers detail, in no other opera do the characters depict
themselves in every phrase they utter as they do in "Don Giovanni."
The songs stamp Mozart as the greatest song-writer who has lived, with
the exception of Handel, whose opera songs are immeasurably beyond all
others save Mozart's, and a little beyond them. The mere musicianship
is as consummate as Bach's, for, like Bach, Mozart possessed that
facility which is fatal to many men, but combined with it a high
sincerity, a greedy thirst for the beautiful, and an emotional force
that prevented it being fatal to him. For delicacy, subtlety, due
brilliancy, and strength, the orchestral colouring cannot be matched.
And no music is more exclusively its own composer's, has less in it of
other composers'. Beethoven is Beethoven _plus_ Mozart, Wagner is
Wagner _plus_ Weber and Beethoven; but from every page of Mozart's
scores Mozart alone looks at you, with sad laughter in his eyes, and
unspeakable tenderness, the tenderness of the giants, of Handel, Bach,
and Beethoven, though perhaps Mozart is tenderest of them all. He
cannot write a comic scene for a poor clownish Masetto without
caressing him with a divinely beautiful "Cheto, cheto, mi vo' star,"
and in presence of death or human distress the strangest, sweetest
things fall from his lips. And finally, he is always the perfect
artist without reproach; there is nothing wanting and nothing in
excess; as he himself said on one occasion, his scores contain exactly
the right number of notes. This is "Don Giovanni" as one may see it a
century after its birth: a faultless masterpiece; yet (in England at
least) it only gets an occasional performance, through the freak of a
prima donna, who, as the sage critic said of Mozart, is undoubtedly "a
little _passée_ now."

After all, this is hardly surprising. Perfect art wants perfect
listeners, and just now we are much too eager for excitement, too
impatient of mere beauty, to listen perfectly to perfect music. And
there are other reasons why "Don Giovanni" should not appeal to this
generation. For many years it was the sport of the prima donna, and
conductors and singers conspired to load it with traditional
Costamongery, until at last the "Don Giovanni" we knew became an
entirely different thing from the "Don Giovanni" of Mozart's thought.
Not Giovanni but Zerlina was the principal figure; the climax of the
drama was not the final Statue scene, but "Batti, batti"; Leporello's
part was exaggerated until the Statue scene became a pantomime affair
with Leporello playing pantaloon against Giovanni's clown. Such an
opera could interest none but an Elephant and Castle audience, and
probably only the beauty of the music prevented it reaching the
Elephant and Castle long ago. So low had "Don Giovanni" fallen, when,
quite recently, serious artists like Maurel tried to take it more
seriously and restore it to its rightful place. Only, unfortunately,
instead of brushing away traditions and going back to the vital
conception of Mozart, they sought to modernise it, to convert it into
an early Wagner music-drama. The result may be seen in any performance
at Covent Garden. The thing becomes a hodge-podge, a mixture of drama,
melodrama, the circus, the pantomime, with a strong flavouring of
blatherskite. The opera _is_ largely pantomime--it was intended by
Mozart to be pantomime; and the only possible way of doing it
effectively is to accept the pantomime frankly, but to play it with
such force and sincerity that it is not felt to be pantomime. And the
real finale should be sung afterwards. Probably many people would go
off to catch their trains. But, after all, Mozart wrote for those who
have no trains to catch when this masterpiece, the masterpiece of
Italian opera, is sung as he intended it to be sung.

The Requiem is a very different work. There is plenty of the gaiety
and sunshine of life in "Don Giovanni." The Requiem is steeped in
sadness and gloom, with rare moments of fiery exaltation, or
hysterical despair; at times beauty has been almost--almost, but never
quite--driven from Mozart's thought by the anguish that tormented him
as he wrote. While speaking of Bach's "Matthew" Passion, I have said
it "was an appeal, of a force and poignancy paralleled only in the
Ninth symphony, to the emotional side of man's nature ... the æsthetic
qualities are subordinated to the utterance of an overwhelming
emotion." Had I said "deliberately subordinated" I should have
indicated the main difference as well as the main likeness between
Bach's masterwork and Mozart's. The æsthetic qualities are
subordinated to the expression of an overwhelming emotion in the
Requiem, but not deliberately: unconsciously rather, perhaps even
against Mozart's will. Bach set out with the intention of using his
art to communicate a certain feeling to his listeners; Mozart, when he
accepted the order for a Requiem from that mysterious messenger clad
in grey, thought only of creating a beautiful thing. But he had lately
found, to his great sorrow, that his ways were not the world's ways,
and fraught with even graver consequences was the world's discovery
that its ways were not Mozart's. Finding all attempts to turn him from
his ways fruitless, the world fought him with contempt, ostracism,
and starvation for weapons; and he lacked strength for the struggle.
There had been a time when he could retire within himself and live in
an ideal world of Don Giovannis and Figaros. But now body as well as
spirit was over-wearied; spirit and body were not only tired but
diseased; and when he commenced to work at the Requiem the time was
past for making beautiful things, for his mind was preoccupied with
death and the horror of death--the taste of death was already in his
mouth. Had death come to him as to other men, he might have met it as
other men do, heroically, or at least calmly, without loss of dignity.
But it came to him coloured and made fearful by wild imaginings, and
was less a thought than an unthinkable horror. He believed he had been
poisoned, and Count Walsegg's grey-clad messenger seemed a messenger
sent from another world to warn him of the approaching finish. As he
said, he wrote the Requiem for himself. In it we find none of the
sunshine and laughter of "Don Giovanni," but only a painfully pathetic
record of Mozart's misery, his despair, and his terror. It is indeed a
stupendous piece of art, and much of it surpassingly beautiful; but
the absorbing interest of it will always be that it is a "human
document," an autobiographical fragment, the most touching
autobiography ever penned.

The pervading note of the whole work is struck at the beginning of
the first number. Had Mozart seen death as Handel and Bach saw it, as
the only beautiful completion of life, or even as the last opportunity
given to men to meet a tremendous reality and not be found wanting, he
might have written a sweetly breathed prayer for eternal rest, like
the final chorus of the "Matthew" Passion, or given us something equal
or almost equal to the austere grandeur of the Dead March in Saul. But
he saw death differently, and in the opening bar of the "Requiem
æternam" we have only sullen gloom and foreboding, deadly fear
begotten of actual foreknowledge of things to come. The discord at the
fifth bar seems to have given him the relief gained by cutting oneself
when in severe pain; and how intense Mozart's pain was may be
estimated by the vigour of the reaction when the reaction comes; for
though the "Te decet hymnus" is like a gleam of sweet sunshine on
black waters, the melody is immediately snatched up, as it were, and,
by the furious energy of the accompaniment, powerful harmonic
progressions, and movement of the inner parts (note the tenor
ascending to the high G on "orationem"), made expressive of abnormal
glowing ecstasy. To know Mozart's mood when he wrote the Requiem is to
have the key to the "Kyrie." His artistic sense compelled him to veil
the acuteness of his agony in the strict form of a regular fugue; but
here, as everywhere else in the Requiem, feeling triumphs over the
artistic sense; and by a chromatic change, of which none but a Mozart
or a Bach would have dreamed, the inexpressive formality of the
counter-subject is altered into a passionate appeal for mercy. In no
other work of Mozart known to me does he ever become hysterical, and
in the Requiem only once, towards the end of this number, where the
sopranos are whirled up to the high A, and tenors and altos strengthen
the rhythm; and even here the pause, followed by that scholastic
cadence, affords a sense of recovered balance, though we should
observe that the raucous final chord with the third omitted is in
keeping with the colour of the whole number, and not dragged in as a
mere display of pedantic knowledge. The "Dies Iræ" is magnificent
music, but the effect is enormously intensified by Mozart first (in
the "Kyrie") making us guess at the picture by the agitation of mind
into which it throws him, and then suddenly opening the curtain and
letting us view for ourselves the lurid splendours; and surely no more
awful picture of the Judgment was ever painted than we have here in
the "Dies Iræ," "Tuba minim," "Rex tremendæ," and the "Confutatis."
The method of showing the obverse of the medal first, and then
astonishing us with the sudden magnificence of the other side, is an
old one, and was an old one even in Mozart's time, but he uses it with
supreme mastery, and results that have never been equalled. The most
astonishing part of the "Confutatis" is the prayer at the finish,
where strange cadence upon cadence falls on the ear like a long-drawn
sigh, and the last, longer drawn than the rest, "gere curam mei
finis," followed by a hushed pause, is indeed awful as the silence of
the finish. Quite as great is the effect of the same kind in the
"Agnus Dei," which was either written by Mozart, or by Sussmayer with
Mozart's spirit looking over him. Written by Mozart, the Requiem
necessarily abounds in tender touches: the trebles at "Dona eis"
immediately after their first entry; the altos at the same words
towards the end of the number, and at the twenty-eighth bar of the
"Kyrie"; the first part of the "Hostias," the "Agnus Dei," the
wonderful "Ne me perdas" in the "Recordare." And if one wants sheer
strength and majesty, turn to the fugue on "Quam olim Abrahæ," or the
C natural of the basses in the "Sanctus." But the prevailing mood is
one of depressing sadness, which would become intolerable by reason of
its monotony were it possible to listen to the Requiem as a work of
art merely, and not as the tearful confessions of one of the most
beautiful spirits ever born into the world.


As an enthusiastic lover of "Fidelio" I may perhaps be permitted to
put one or two questions to certain other of its lovers. Is it an
opera at all?--does it not consist of one wonderfully touching
situation, padded out before and behind,--before with some
particularly fatuous reminiscences of the old comedy of intrigue,
behind with some purely formal business and a pompous final chorus?
"Fidelio" exists by reason of that one tremendous scene: there is
nothing else dramatic in it: however fine the music is, one cannot
forget that the libretto is fustian and superfluous nonsense. Had
Beethoven possessed the slightest genius for opera, had he possessed
anything like Mozart's dramatic instinct (and of course his own
determination to touch nothing but fitting subjects), he would have
felt that no meaner story than the "Flying Dutchman" would serve as an
opportunity to say all that was aroused in his heart and in his mind
by the tale of Leonora. As he had no genius whatever for opera, no
sense of the dramatic in life, the tale of Leonora seemed to him good
enough; and, after all, in its essence it is the same as the tale of
Senta. The Dutchman himself happens to be more interesting than
Florestan because of his weird fate; but he is no more the principal
character in Wagner's opera than Florestan is the principal character
in Beethoven's opera. The principal character in each case is the
woman who takes her fate into her own hands and fearlessly chances
every risk for the sake of the man she loves. And just as Wagner wrote
the best passage in the "Dutchman" for the moment when Senta promises
to be faithful through life and death, so Beethoven in the prison
scene of "Fidelio" wrote as tremendous a passage as even he ever
conceived for the moment when Leonora makes up her mind at all costs
to save the life of the wretched prisoner whose grave she is helping
to dig. The tale is simple enough--there is scarcely enough of it to
call a tale. Leonora's husband, Florestan, has somehow fallen into the
power of his enemy Pizarro, who imprisons him and then says he is
dead. Leonora disbelieves this, and, disguising herself as a boy and
taking the name of Fidelio, hires herself as an assistant to Rocco,
the jailer of the fortress in which Florestan is confined. At that
time the news arrives that an envoy of the king is coming to see that
no injustice is being done by Pizarro. Pizarro has been hoping to
starve Florestan slowly to death; but now he sees the necessity of
more rapid action. He therefore tells Rocco to dig a grave in
Florestan's cell, and he himself will do the necessary murder. This
brings about the great prison scene. Florestan lies asleep in a
corner; Leonora is not sure whether she is helping to dig his grave or
the grave of some other unlucky wretch; but while she works she takes
her resolution--whoever he may be, she will risk all consequences and
save him. Pizarro arrives, and is about to kill Florestan, when
Leonora presents a pistol to his head; and, before he has quite had
time to recover, a trumpet call is heard, signalling the arrival of
the envoy. Pizarro knows the game is up, and Florestan that his wife
has saved him. This, I declare, is the only dramatic scene in the
play--here the thing ends: excepting it, there is no real incident.
The business at the beginning, about the jailer's daughter refusing to
have anything more to do with her former sweetheart, and falling in
love with the supposed Fidelio, is merely silly; Rocco's song,
elegantly translated in one edition, "Life is nothing without
money"--Heaven knows whether it was intended to be humorous--is
stupid; Pizarro's stage-villainous song of vengeance is unnecessary;
the arrangement of the crime is a worry. These, and in fact all that
comes before the great scene, are entirely superfluous, the purest
piffle, very tiresome. Most exasperating of all is the stupid
dialogue, which makes one hope that the man who wrote it died a
painful, lingering death. But, in spite of it all, Beethoven, by
writing some very beautiful music in the first act, and by rising to
an astonishing height in the prison scene and the succeeding duet, has
created one of the wonders of the music-world.

Being a glorification of woman--German woman, although Leonora was
presumably Spanish--"Fidelio" has inevitably become in Germany the
haus-frau's opera. Probably there is not a haus-frau who faithfully
cooks her husband's dinner, washes for him, blacks his boots, and
would even brush his clothes did he ever think that necessary, who
does not see herself reflected in Leonora; probably every German
householder either longs to possess her or believes that he does
possess her. Consequently, just as Mozart's "Don Giovanni" became the
playground of the Italian prima donna, so has "Fidelio" become the
playground of that terrible apparition, the Wifely Woman Artist, the
singer with no voice, nor beauty, nor manners, but with a high
character for correct morality, and a pressure of sentimentality that
would move a traction-engine. I remember seeing it played a few years
ago, and can never forget a Leonora of sixteen stones, steadily
singing out of tune, in the first act professing with profuse
perspiration her devotion to her husband (whose weight was rather less
than half hers), and in the second act nearly crushing the poor
gentleman by throwing herself on him to show him that she was for ever
his. A recent performance at Covent Garden, arranged specially, I
understand, for Ternina, was not nearly so bad as that; but still
Ternina scared me horribly with the enormous force of her Wifely
Ardour. It may be that German women are more demonstrative than
English women in public; but, for my poor part, too much public
affection between man and wife always strikes me as a little false.
Besides, the grand characteristic of Leonora is not that she loves her
husband--lots of women do that, and manage to love other people's
husbands also--but that, driven at first by affection and afterwards
by purely human compassion, she is capable of rising to the heroic
point of doing in life what she feels she must do. Of course she may
have been an abnormal combination of the Wifely Woman with the heroic
woman; but one cannot help thinking that probably she was not--that
however strong her affection for Florestan, she would no sooner get
him home than she would ask him how he came to be such a fool as to
get into Pizarro's clutches. Anyhow, Ternina's conception of Leonora
as a mixture of the contemptible will-less German haus-frau with the
strong-willed woman of action, was to me a mixture of contradictions.
Yet, despite all these things, the opera made the deep impression it
does and always will make.

That impression is due entirely to the music and not to the drama.
Dramatic music, in the sense that Mozart's music, and Wagner's, is
dramatic, it is not. There is not the slightest attempt at
characterisation--not even such small characterisation as Mozart
secured in his "La ci darem," with Zerlina's little fluttering,
agitated phrases. Nor, in the lighter portions, is there a trace of
Mozart's divine intoxicating laughter, of the sweet sad laugh with
which he met the griefs life brought him. There is none of Mozart's
sunlight, his delicious, fresh, early morning sunlight, in Beethoven's
music; when he wrote such a number as the first duet, intended to be
gracefully semi-humorous, he was merely heavy, clumsy, dull. But when
the worst has been said, when one has writhed under the recollection
of an adipose prima donna fooling with bear-like skittishness a German
tenor whose figure and face bewray the lager habit, when one has
shuddered to remember the long-winded idiotic dialogue, the fact
remains firmly set in one's mind that one has stood before a gigantic
work of art--a work whose every defect is redeemed by its overwhelming
power and beauty and pathos. There has never been, nor does it seem
possible there ever will be, a finer scene written than the dungeon
scene. It begins with the low, soft, throbbing of the strings, then
there is the sinister thunderous roll of the double basses; then the
old man quietly tells Leonora to hurry on with the digging of the
grave, and Leonora replies (against that wondrous phrase of the
oboes). After that, the old man continues to grumble; the dull
threatening thunder of the basses continues; and Leonora, half
terrified, tries to see whether the sleeping prisoner is her husband.
Then abruptly her courage rises; her short broken phrases are
abandoned; and to a great sweeping melody she declares that, whoever
the prisoner may be, she will free him. These twenty bars are as
great music as anything in the world: they even leave Senta's
declaration in the "Dutchman" far behind; they are at once triumphant
and charged with a pathos nearly unendurable in its intensity. The
scene ends with a strange hushed unison passage like some unearthly
chant: it is the lull before the breaking of the storm. The entry of
Pizarro and the pistol business are by no means done as Wagner or
Mozart would have done them. The music is always excellent and
sometimes great, but persistently symphonic and not dramatic in
character. However, it serves; and the strength of the situation
carries one on until the trumpet call is heard, and then we get a
wonderful tune such as neither Mozart nor Wagner could have written--a
tune that is sheer Beethoven. The finale of the scene is neither here
nor there; but in the duet between Leonora and Florestan we have again
pure Beethoven. There is one passage--it begins at bar 32--which is
the expression of the very soul of the composer; one feels that if it
had not come his heart must have burst. I have neither space nor
inclination to rehearse all the splendours of the opera, but may
remind the reader of Florestan's song in the dungeon, Leonora's
address to Hope, and the hundred other fine things spread over it. It
is symphonic, not dramatic, music; but it is at times unspeakably
pathetic, at times full of radiant strength, and always an absolutely
truthful utterance of sheer human emotion. Wagner hit exactly the word
when he spoke of the _truthful_ Beethoven: here is no pose, no mere
tone-weaving, but the precise and most poignant expression of the
logical course taken by the human passions.


Excepting during his lifetime and for a period of some thirty years
after his death, Schubert cannot be said to have been neglected; and
last year there was quite an epidemic of concerts to celebrate the
hundredth anniversary of his birth. Centenary celebrations are often a
little disconcerting. They remind one that a composer has been dead
either a much shorter or a much longer time than one supposed; and one
gets down Riemann's "Musical Dictionary" and realises with a sigh that
the human memory is treacherous. Who, for instance, that is familiar
with Schubert's music can easily believe that it is a hundred years
since the composer was born and seventy since he died? It is as
startling to find him, as one might say, one of the ancients as it is
to remember that Spohr lived until comparatively recent times; for
whereas Spohr's music is already older than Beethoven's, older than
Mozart's, in many respects quite as old as Haydn's, much of Schubert's
is as modern as Wagner's, and more modern than a great deal that was
written yesterday. This modernity will, I fancy, be readily admitted
by everyone; and it is the only one quality of Schubert's music which
any two competent people will agree to admit. Liszt had the highest
admiration for everything he wrote; Wagner admired the songs, but
wondered at Liszt's acceptance of the chamber and orchestral music.
Sir George Grove outdoes Liszt in his Schubert worship; and an
astonishing genius lately rushed in, as his kind always does, where
Sir George would fear to tread, boldly, blatantly asserting that
Schubert is "the greatest musical genius that the Western world has
yet produced." On the other hand, Mr. G. Bernard Shaw out-Wagners
Wagner in denunciation, and declares the C symphony childish, inept,
mere Rossini badly done. Now, I can understand Sir George Grove's
enthusiasm; for Sir George to a large extent discovered Schubert; and
disinterested art-lovers always become unduly excited about any art
they have discovered: for example, see how excited Wagner became about
his own music, how rapt Mr. Dolmetsch is in much of the old music. But
I can understand Wagner's attitude no better than I can the attitude
of Mr. Shaw. I should like to have met Wagner and have said to him,
"My dear Richard, this disparaging tone is not good enough: where did
you get the introduction to 'The Valkyrie'?--didn't that long tremolo
D and the figure in the bass both come out of 'The Erl-king'? has your
Spear theme nothing in common with the last line but one of 'The
Wanderer'? or--if it is only the instrumental music you object to--did
you learn nothing for the third act of 'The Valkyrie' from the
working-out of the Unfinished Symphony? did you know that Schubert had
used your Mime theme in a quartet before you? do you know that I could
mention a hundred things you borrowed from Schubert? Go to, Richard:
be fair." Having extinguished Richard thus, and made his utter
discomfiture doubly certain by handing him a list of the hundred
instances, I should turn to Mr. Shaw and say, "My good G.B.S., you
understand a good deal about politics and political economy,
Socialism, and Fabians, painting and actors [and so on, with untrue
and ill-natured remarks _ad lib_.], but evidently you understand very
little about Schubert. That 'Rossini crescendo' is as tragic a piece
of music as ever was written." Yet, after dismissing the twain in this
friendly manner, I should have an uneasy feeling that there was some
good reason for their lack of enthusiasm for Schubert. The very fact
of there being such wide disagreement about the value of music that is
now so familiar to us all, points to some weakness in it which some of
us feel less than others; and I, poor unhappy mortal, who in my
unexcited moments neither place Schubert among the highest gods, like
Liszt and Sir George Grove, nor damn him cordially, like Wagner and
Mr. Shaw, cannot help perceiving that along with much that is
magnificently strong, distinguished, and beautiful in his music, there
is much that is pitiably weak, and worse than commonplace. The music
is like the man--the oddest combination of greatness and smallness
that the world has seen. Like Wagner and Beethoven, Schubert was
strong enough to refuse to earn an honest living; yet he yielded
miserably to publishers when discussing the number of halfpence he
should receive for a dozen songs. He had energy enough to go on
writing operas, but apparently not intelligence to see that his
librettos were worth setting, or to ensure that anything should come
of them when they were set. He thought, rightly or wrongly, that he
needed more counterpoint, yet continued to compose symphonies and
masses without it, vaguely intending to the very end to take lessons
from a sound teacher. He had spirit enough to fall in love (so far as
stories may be relied on), but not to make the lady promise to marry
him, nor yet resolutely to cure himself of his affliction. He had
courage to face the truth, as he saw it, and he found life bitter, and
not worth enduring; yet he could not renounce it, like Beethoven, nor
end it as others have done. As in actual life, so in his music; having
once started anything, he seemed quite unable to make up his mind to
fetch it to a conclusion. He was like a man who lets himself roll down
a hill because it is easier to keep on rolling than to stop. He
repeats his melodies interminably, and then draws a double bar and
sets down the two fatal dots which mean that all has to be played
again. If the repeat had not been a favourite resort of lazy composers
before his time he would have invented it, not because he was lazy,
but because he wanted to go on and could not afford infinite
music-paper. Hence his music at its worst is the merest drivel ever
set down by a great composer; hence at anything but its best it lacks
concentrated passion and dramatic intensity; more than any other
composer's it has one prevailing note, a note of deepest melancholy;
and therefore, when a few pieces are known, most of the rest seem
barren of what is wanted by those who seek chiefly in music the
expression of all the human passions.

Of his lengthiness, his discursiveness, Schubert might possibly have
been cured, but not of his melancholy: it is the very essence of his
music, as it was of his being. "The Wanderer" is his typical song: he
was himself the wanderer, straying disconsolately, helplessly,
hopelessly through a strange, chilly, unreal world, singing the
saddest and sometimes the sweetest songs that ever entered the ears of
men. That his home and his happiness lay close at hand counts for
nothing; for he did not and could not know that he was the voice of
the eighteenth century, worn out and keenly sensible of the futility
of the purely intellectual life. Even had he arrived at a
consciousness of the truth that the cure for his despair lay in
throwing over the antiquated forms, modes, and ideas of the eighteenth
century and living a nineteenth century life, free and conscienceless
in nature's way, he would have been little better off; for the
tendencies of many generations remained strong in him; and besides,
had he the physical energy for a free, buoyant, joyous existence, was
he not physiologically unfit for happiness? He lived with an
ever-present consciousness of his impotence to satisfy his deepest
needs. He was even destitute of that sense of the immeasurable good to
come which of old time found expression in the fiction of a personal
immortality, and in the nineteenth century in the complacent
acceptance of full and vigorous life, with death as a noble and
fitting close. Life and death alike were tragic, because hopeless, to
Schubert. His career, if career it can be called, is infinitely
touching. His helplessness moves one to pity, odd though it seems that
one in some ways so strong should also in so many ways be so weak; and
his death was as touching as his life. Of all the composers he met
death with least heroism. Mozart, it is true, shrieked hysterically;
but death to his diseased mind was merely an indescribable horror; and
the fact of his hysteria proves his revolt against fate. Beethoven,
during a surgical operation shortly before the end, saw the stream of
water and blood flowing from him, and found courage to say, "Better
from the belly than the pen;" and as he lay dying and a thunderstorm
broke above the house, he threatened it with his clenched fist.
Schubert learnt that he was to die, and turned his face to the wall
and did not speak again. It is hard to say whether his music was
sadder when he sang of death than when he sang of life. Even in his
rare moments of good spirits one catches stray echoes of his
prevailing note, and realises how completely his despair dominated
him. He could not sing of love or fighting or of the splendours of
nature without betraying his deep conviction of the futility of all
created things. It is characteristic that his major melodies should
often be as sad and wailing as his minor, and that his scherzos and
other movements, in which he has deliberately set out to be
light-hearted, should often be ponderous and without the nervous
energy he manifests when he gives his familiar feelings free play.

Despite its incessant plaintive accent, his music is saved by the
endless flow of melody, often lovely, generally characteristic, though
sometimes common, in which Schubert continually expressed anew his one
mood; and he was placed among the great ones by the miraculous
facility he possessed of extemporising frequent passages of
extraordinary power and bigness. At least half of his songs are
poor--for a composer capable of rising to such heights; but of the
remainder at least half are nearly equal to any songs in the world for
sweetness, strength, and accurate expressiveness, while a few approach
so close to Handel's and Mozart's that affection for the composer
presses one hard to put them on the same level. But, compared with
those high standards, Schubert, even at his best, is unmistakably felt
to be second-rate, while his average--always comparing it with the
highest--cannot truly be said to be more than fourth-rate. That he
stands far above Mendelssohn and Schumann, and perhaps a little above
Weber, almost goes without saying; for those composers have no more of
the great style, the style of Handel and Mozart, and Bach and
Beethoven at their finest, than Schubert, and they lack the lovely
irresistibly moving melody and the bigness. But it must be recognised
that Schubert never rose to a style of sustained grandeur and dignity;
he was always colloquial, paying in this the penalty for the extreme
facility with which he composed ("I compose every morning, and when I
have finished one thing I commence something fresh"). Compose is
scarcely the word to use: he never composed in the ordinary sense of
the word; he extemporised on paper. Even when he re-wrote a song, it
meant little more than that, dissatisfied with his treatment of a
theme, he tried again. He never built as, for instance, Bach and
Beethoven built, carefully working out this detail, lengthening this
portion, shearing away that, evolving part from part so that in the
end the whole composition became a complete organism. There is none of
the logic in his work that we find in the works of the tip-top men,
none of the perfect finish; but, on the contrary, a very considerable
degree of looseness, if not of actual incoherence, and many marks of
the tool and a good deal of the scaffolding. But, in spite of it all,
the greatness of many of his movements seems to me indisputable. In a
notice of "The Valkyrie," Mr. Hichens once very happily spoke of the
"earth-bigness" of some of the music, and this is the bigness I find
in Schubert at his best and strongest. When he depicts the workings of
nature--the wind roaring through the woods, the storm above the
convent roof, the flash of the lightning, the thunderbolt--he does not
accomplish it with the wonderful point and accuracy of Weber, nor with
the ethereal delicacy of Purcell, but with a breadth, a sympathy with
the passion of nature, that no other composer save Wagner has ever
attained to. He views natural phenomena through a human temperament,
and so infuses human emotion into natural phenomena, as Wagner does in
"The Valkyrie" and "Siegfried." The rapidly repeated note, now rising
to a roar and now falling to a subdued murmur, in "The Erl-king" was
an entirely new thing in music; and in "The Wanderer" piano fantasia,
the working-out of the Unfinished symphony, and even in some of the
chamber music, he invented things as fresh and as astounding. And when
he is simply expressing himself, as at the beginning of the
Unfinished, and in the first and last movements of the big C symphony,
he often does it on the same large scale. The second subject of the C
symphony finale, with its four thumps, seems to me to become in its
development, and especially in the coda, all but as stupendous an
expression of terror as the music in the last scene of "Don Giovanni,"
where Leporello describes the statue knocking at the door. In short,
when I remember Schubert's grandest passages, and the unspeakable
tenderness of so many of his melodies, it is hard to resist the
temptation to cancel all the criticism I have written and to follow
Sir George Grove in placing Schubert close to Beethoven.


There are critics, I suppose, prepared to insist that Weber, like
Mozart, is a little _passé_ now. And it is true that no composer, save
Mozart, is at once so widely accepted and so seldom heard; for even
Bach is more frequently played and less generally praised. At rare
intervals Richter, Levi, or Mottl play his overtures; the pieces for
piano and orchestra are occasionally dragged out to display the
prowess of a Paderewski or a Sauer; and one or another of the piano
sonatas sometimes finds its way into a Popular Concert programme. But
the pieces thus made familiar to the public may be counted on one's
ten fingers; and the operas are scarcely sung at all, though they
contain the finest music that Weber wrote. The composers who have
lived since Weber, even if they differed on every other subject and
did not agree as to the value of his instrumental music, united to
sing a common song in praise of the operas. Indeed, so enthusiastic
were they, that after listening to them anyone who does not know his
Weber well may easily experience a certain disappointment on looking
carefully for the first time at the scores of "Der Freischütz,"
"Oberon," and "Euryanthe"; and it is perhaps because they have
experienced that disappointment, that some critics whose opinions are
worth considering have come to think that a faith in Weber is nothing
more than a part of the creed learned by every honest Wagnerite at the
Master's knee. But it need be nothing so foolish, so baseless If you
look, and look rightly, for the right thing in Weber's music,
disappointment is impossible; though I admit that the man who
professes to find there the great qualities he finds in Mozart,
Beethoven, or any of the giants, must be in a very sad case. Grandeur,
pure beauty, and high expressiveness are alike wanting. You look as
vainly for such touches as the divine last dozen bars "Or sai chi
l'onore" in "Don Giovanni," or the deep emotion of the sobbing bass at
"the first fruits of them that sleep" in "I know that my Redeemer
liveth," as for the stately splendour of "Come and thank Him" in the
"Christmas Oratorio," or the passion of "Tristan." His music never
develops in step with the movement of the drama he treats: if he
writes a tragic scene, he is apt to commence with a scream; and if he
is not at his best, then the scream may degenerate into a whimper
before the moment for the climax has arrived. Like Spohr, with whom he
had much in common, despite the difference between his mercurial
temperament and the pedagogic gravity of the composer of "The Last
Judgment," he set great store upon his learning, and was fond of
trivial themes that admitted of obvious contrapuntal treatment. Even
when he avoided that failing, his music is often uncouth and
ponderous, while on its surface lies a superfluous, highly-coloured
froth. The basses move with leaden-footed reluctance; the melodies
consist largely of ineffective arpeggios on long-drawn chords; the
embroidery seems greatly in excess of modest needs. All this may be
conceded without affecting Weber's claim to a place amongst the
composers; for that claim is supported in a lesser degree by the gifts
which he shared, even if his share was small, with the greater masters
of music, than by his miraculous power of vividly drawing and painting
in music the things that kindled his imagination. Drawing and
painting, I say; for whereas the other musicians sang the emotions
that they experienced, Weber's music gives you the impression that he
depicted the things he saw, that melody and harmony were to him as
lines and colours to the painter. He is first, and perhaps greatest,
of all the musicians who have attempted landscape; and that froth of
seemingly superfluous colour and excess of melodic embroidery, instead
of being in excess and superfluous, are the very essence of his music.
Being a factor of the Romantic movement, that mighty rebellion against
the tyranny of a world of footrules and ledgers, he lived and worked
in a world where two and two might make five or seven or any number
you pleased, and where footrules were unknown; he took small interest
in drama taken out of the lives of ordinary men and enacted amidst
everyday surroundings; his imagination lit up only when he thought of
haunted glens and ghouls and evil spirits, the fantastic world and
life that goes on underneath the ocean, or of men or women held by
ghastly spells. Hence his operas are not so much musical dramas as
series of tableaux, gorgeous glowing pictures of unheard-of things; in
them we must expect only to find the elfish, the fantastic, the wild
and weird and grotesquely horrible; and to look for drama, captivating
loveliness, and emotional utterance, is to look for qualities which
Weber did not try to attain, or only in a small measure and not very
successfully. And if we consider carefully the remarks of the best
critics amongst the later masters, Berlioz and Wagner, we can see that
they knew Weber had not attained these high qualities,--that what they
grew enthusiastic over was his astonishing pictorial gift, shown,
first, in the pictures his imagination presented to him, and second,
in the way he projected those pictures on to the music-paper before
him, using the common musician's devices of his day to suggest line,
colour, space, and atmosphere.

The precise provocation of this essay was a certain performance of
"Lohengrin." During the first act the drama proceeded with charming,
almost Mozartean, smoothness; and I was surprised to find that the
smoother it went the more irresistibly the music reminded me of Weber,
until I remembered that "Lohengrin" is Wagner's most Weberish opera,
and that in his youth Wagner heard Weber sung, not as he is sung
now--that is, like an early Wagner music-drama--but as Weber intended
it to be sung, like a later Mozart opera. For Weber stood very near to
Mozart, modern as he often seems. He was born before Mozart died; he
worshipped him, and absolutely refused to speak to Salieri because
Salieri had been Mozart's enemy; and it is easy to see, when once we
rid ourselves of the idea that he was a rudimentary music-dramatist,
that in his music he adhered as closely to Mozartean simplicity as his
very different genius would permit. Perhaps, after all, it is his
greatest glory that he is the connecting link between Mozart and
Wagner, between the greatest composer born into the eighteenth century
and the greatest born into the nineteenth; for the musical-pictorial
art which he evolved from Mozart's technique was used by Wagner with
only the slightest modifications in the making of his music-dramas.
But whereas Weber was a factor in the Romantic movement when it was
most magnificently unreasonable, Wagner came later, and, though he
felt the force of the current, it did not carry him into the
absurdities that weaken--for they do weaken--much of Weber's work.
Wagner has been described as Weber, as Weber might have become; but
the truth is that he was Weber's younger brother, who took Weber's art
and used it to nobler ends with a degree of intellect, dramatic power,
invention, and passion which Weber did not possess. To Weber the
scenery was the important thing, and humanity almost seemed to be
dragged in because the human voice was indispensable; but Wagner,
going back to Mozart, restored humanity to its proper place, thus
making his opera into real drama, and kept the fantastic creatures who
haunted Weber's woods and glens and streams only as emblems of the
natural forces that war for or against humanity. Above all, he got rid
of Weber's stage villains--for Samiel is merely the stage villain of
commerce; and, instead of the dusk and shadow in which Weber's fancy
loved to roam, he gives us sunlight and the sweet air. "Lohengrin" is
full of sunlight and freshness; full, too, of a finer mystery than
ever Weber dreamed of--the mystery with which the most delicate German
imagination invested the broad rivers that flowed through the black
forests from some far-away land of unchangeable stillness and beauty,
some "land of eternal dawn," as Wagner calls it. No more Mozartean
music is in existence, save Mozart's own, than that first act of
"Lohengrin," where Wagner, by dint of being Weberish, came nearer to
Mozart than ever Weber came; for Weber never wrote anything which,
regarded as absolute music, apart from its emotional significance, or
the picture it suggests to the inner eye, is so purely beautiful as,
for instance, the bit of chorus sung after Lohengrin concludes his
little arrangement with Elsa. Both the first and the second acts are
full of such melodies, any two of which would prove Wagner to be the
greatest melody-writer of the century; and those critics who say that
Verdi is greater because his melodies are more like Mozart's in form,
would have said, had they lived last century, that Salieri was greater
than Mozart because Salieri's melodies were more like Hasse's in form.
Perhaps the last act might be quite as exquisite on the stage, for it
is even more exquisite in the score; but that we shall not know until
our operatic singers abandon their vanity and their melodrama, and by
reading an occasional book, and sometimes going out into the world,
learn how much they themselves would gain if they always worked with
artistic sincerity.


All art forms are conventions, and all conventions appear ridiculous
when they are superseded by new ones. The old Italian opera form is
laughed at to-day as an absurdity by Wagnerians, who see nothing
absurd in a many-legged monster with a donkey's head uttering deep
bass curses through a speaking-trumpet; and perhaps to-morrow the
Wagnerian music-drama and the many-legged monsters will be laughed at
by the apostles of a new and equally absurd convention. It is
absolutely the first condition of the existence of an art that one
shall be prepared to tolerate things ludicrously unlike anything to be
found in real life; and when (for instance) you have swallowed the
camel of allowing the heroes and heroines to sing their woes at all,
it is a little foolish to strain at the gnat of permitting them to
sing in this rather than in that way, when both ways are alike
preposterous. It is not, therefore, on the score of its inherent
absurdity that I should throw brickbats at Italian opera, any more
than with the female dress of to-day before my eyes I should insist
that the women who wore the fashions of ten years ago were only fit to
be incarcerated in a lunatic asylum; knowing, as I do, that the dress
of ten years ago was not--and could not be--more absurd than the dress
of to-day. The only reasonable objection that can be brought against
Italian opera is that when it is sincere it offers what no one wants,
and that when it tries to offer what everyone wants it is not sincere.
I cannot quite understand what this means, but will endeavour to

Italian opera was moulded to its present form chiefly by Gluck, before
whose time it was less irrational than it became later. In the
beginning it was music-drama of a pedantic kind; then it served as the
opportunity for setting singers to deliver a series of beautiful songs
for the delectation of an audience largely seated in the wings; and
finally Gluck, with his immense dramatic instinct and lack of lyrical
invention, saw that by securing a story worth the telling, and telling
it well, and inserting songs and concerted pieces only in situations
where strong feelings demanded expression, and making his songs
truthful expressions of those feelings, a form might be created which
would enable him to lever out the best that was in him. Of these three
periods of opera, the second was the luckiest; for then the form
entirely fulfilled its purpose. The sole function of the story was to
provide a motive for song after song; so that no one was scandalised
or moved to laughter when the death of the hero was re-enacted because
his death-song pleased the audience, or when the telling of the story
was interrupted on any other equally ridiculous pretext. The
characters were the merest puppets, or shadows of puppets; and there
was no reason why Julius Cæsar should not be a male soprano and sing
charmingly feminine florid airs. In a word, there was no drama nor
pretence of drama in the old Italian form; and those who can accept
it as it is will find in many old Italian writers some perfect music
of its sort, and in the Italian operas of Handel the divinest songs
ever written--songs even more divine than Mozart's. But the childish
delight in lovely melodies and in absolute perfection of vocal art, at
its highest in the early part of the eighteenth century, died out
rapidly after 1750; and Italian opera became the medium of the
vulgarest instead of the most refined kind of ear-tickling. How Gluck
rebelled, and determined to "reform" the opera stage, and how in
reforming it he was impelled to a large extent by a desire to find a
medium through which he could express himself, are matters well enough
known to everyone nowadays. Like every other teacher, he left no
disciples; for Mozart, the next master of Italian opera, was a hundred
thousand miles away from him in intention, in method, and in
achievement. He commenced where Gluck ended his pre-Reformation
period; and all his life his intention was to please first, and only
in the second place to express himself. But so splendid were his
gifts, so inevitably did he fit the lovely word to the thrilling
thought, so lucky was he in the libretto of "Don Giovanni" (the
luckiest libretto ever devised), that he went clean ahead not only of
Gluck but of Beethoven and every composer who has written opera since.

His operas stand at the parting of the ways. In them we find the
fullest measure of dramatic truth combined with the most delicious
ear-tickling. But it is safe to say that Mozart is the only composer
of Italian operas who ever succeeded in combining the two things thus,
for in Gluck there is short measure of sheer beauty, and in
Handel--who used the oldest form--no attempt at drama. Mozart, like
Gluck, had no disciples--only the second-rate men have disciples; but
their example, and the tendency which they represented, had a curious
result. Before their time all opera-writers had been avowed
ear-ticklers. But after them, and especially after Mozart, the old
line of composers may be observed to have split up into two lines, the
one doing the old ear-tickling business, the other trying to express
dramatic movement, and their thought and feeling, in the old medium.
The first of these lines has not been broken to this day: Rossini
came, and, after Rossini, Donizetti, Auber, Bellini, Meyerbeer, and
the rest; and ear-tickler follows ear-tickler unto this day. The
second line in its turn quickly split into those who, not content with
the form, sought to alter it, and those who, quite content with it,
went gaily on, turning out opera after opera, dealing with modern
subjects in the old-fashioned way. Of these last Gounod must be
reckoned the chief; and he began, not where Mozart left off, but with
the Mozartean method of the "Don Giovanni" period. Now, it is of the
very essence of the Italian opera of the Gluck-cum-Mozart model that
it enables a composer to represent moments. The drama does not unfold
gradually, as it does in the music-play, with its continuous flow of
music marking the subtlest changes. It unfolds in jerks, each number
advancing it a stage; so that Gluck never got any appearance of
continuity whatever, while Mozart got it only by the consummate tact
with which he arranged his pictures, and by the exciting pace at which
he passes them before us. The figures seem to move, as in the
Kinetoscope, or its forerunner the Wheel of Life: the Mozartean opera,
when most dramatic, is a musical Wheel of Life. Gounod possessed
neither Mozart's tact nor his fiery energy. Neither was called for in
"Faust," which is not a drama, but a series of scenes, of crucial
moments, from a drama; and since the moments were moments charged with
the one feeling which Gounod appears to have felt very strongly or to
have had the faculty for expressing, he is here at his very best.
There was nothing spiritual in love as Gounod knew it--it was purely
animal, though delicately animal; and Marguerite remains, and will
remain, as the final expression of the most refined and voluptuous
form of sensuality. What he had done in "Faust" he attempted to do
again, with sundry differences, in "Romeo and Juliet"; and here the
method which had served him so faithfully and so well in "Faust"
utterly broke down. In "Faust" there were virtually but two
characters, Faust and Marguerite, while in "Romeo" the stage was
encumbered with Tybalt, Capulet, Mercutio, Laurent; and what would
have been Mozart's opportunity was his undoing. He could give none of
them pungent or characteristic language; they are the merest Italian
operatic puppets; and it is only when they are off the stage that the
opera shows any signs of life. In the story of "Romeo" the passion is
of a far more fiery quality than in that of "Faust"; and whereas in
"Faust" the passion, once aroused, remains at an even level until the
finale, where it becomes a little more intense, in "Romeo" it is
passion which gradually amounts to a tremendous climax in the Balcony
scene, and in the Bedroom scene is strangely blended with chilly
forebodings of death. The Mozartean method did not permit Gounod to
depict these metamorphoses and blendings of feeling. Mozart himself
would have been hard pressed to do it; and, for want of the only
method that might have enabled Gounod to do it,--the Wagnerian method
of continuous development of typical themes,--the unfolding of the
drama hangs fire in every scene, not a scene ends at a higher pitch of
feeling than it began. The last scene of all, the scene where a more
sincere composer would have made his most stupendous effect, demanded
at least sympathy with emotions for which Gounod at no time showed the
slightest sympathy. He could give us the erotic fervour with which
Romeo looks death in the eyes, but the mood preceding and indeed
leading up to that fervour he could not give us--the mood which finds
the world barren, ugly, and so repellent that death itself appears
beautiful by comparison, the mood to which Christianity makes its
strongest appeal. But it was not the subject which led to Gounod's
failure in "Romeo and Juliet." He failed in every opera excepting
"Faust," and he failed because, lacking perfect sincerity and perfect
knowledge of his own powers, he endeavoured to express feelings he had
never experienced, in a form which he would have felt at once to be
inadequate had he experienced them for ever so brief a moment. As
Gounod failed in "Romeo," and failed in every other opera, so every
modern composer who tries to treat dramatic subjects in the old
undramatic form has failed, and will fail. The Italian opera was well
enough for the purpose it was devised to serve; but as soon as
composers seek to put strenuous action, elaborately worked-out
situations, and the gradual growth and change of human passion into
it, we feel that there must be a lack of artistic sincerity somewhere.
Italian opera may offer all these things, the things that the age
wants in its opera, but it can never be sincere in offering them, and
art is the one place where insincerity is intolerable.

But those who have heard "Romeo and Juliet" may possibly prefer even
the insincere and unsatisfactory form of Italian opera which it
represents to the perfectly sincere and perfectly satisfactory kind
represented, say, by "La Favorita." For, as I said, when Italian opera
is sincere it offers what no one wants--ear-tickling, and
ear-tickling, moreover, of a sort which is gone completely out of
fashion. Donizetti was a genuine descendant of the true line of
opera-composers upon whom Gluck laid his curse, and he spent his life
in devising pleasant noises to make his patrons' evenings pass
agreeably. I cannot believe that anyone ever yet understood what "La
Favorita" is all about, or that anyone ever wanted to understand. It
is a series of songs of the inanest and insanest sort, without a
single expressive bar, or a single tone-pattern which is beautiful
regarded simply as a pattern. Even the famous "Spirito Gentil" is
merely a stream of the brackish water that flowed, day and night, from
Donizetti's pen, only it happens to be a little clearer than usual.
But those tunes, so feeble and insipid now, pleased the ears of the
time when Lord Steyne went to the opera for a momentary respite from
boredom and to recruit his harem from the ballet corps; and Donizetti
wrote them with no intention of posing as a grand composer, but simply
as a humble purveyor of sweetmeats. In those days there was no
music-hall, and the opera had to serve its purpose: hence the slight
confusion which results in Donizetti, poor soul, being thought a
better man than Mr. Jacobi is thought at the present time, although
Mr. Jacobi cannot have less than a thousand times Donizetti's brains
and invention. Mr. Jacobi's music is capital in its place; but I doubt
whether it will be revived fifty years hence; and but for the fact
that Donizetti was an opera-composer--and Mozart and Gluck were
opera-composers too!--it is pretty certain that not the united prayers
of Patti, Albani, Melba, and Eames would induce any operatic
management to resurrect "La Favorita." Even up-to-date ear-tickling is
not popular now in the opera-house: we go to the music-hall for it;
and we don't want to pay a guinea at the opera to be tickled in a way
that arouses no pleasurable sensations. Those terrific tonic and
dominant passages for the trombones, sounding like the furious sawing
of logs of wood, only make us laugh; and pretty tootlings of the
flutes have long been done better, and overdone, elsewhere. Donizetti
is amongst the dead whom no resurrection awaits.


And first, for the sake of chronology, Verdi younger. "La Traviata"
was produced in 1853, says the learned Grove, which I have consulted
on the point, and "Aïda" not till 1871. And though Verdi was not
young, for an ordinary man, in 1871, he was very young indeed for the
composer of "Falstaff" and "Otello"; while in the "Traviata" period
one can scarcely say he was doing more than cutting his teeth, and not
his wisdom teeth. One finds it difficult to understand how ever the
thing came to be tolerated by musicians. Of course the desire to find
a counter-blast to Wagner has done much for Verdi; but while one can
understand how Dr. Stanford and others hoped to sweep away "Parsifal"
with "Otello" and "Falstaff," it is not so easy to see what on earth
they proposed to do with "Traviata." It won fame and cash for its
composer in the old days when people went to the opera for lack of the
music-hall, not yet invented; when Costa still lorded it not over
living musical London merely, but over all the deceased masters, and
without compunction added trombones to Mozart's scores, and defiled
every masterwork he touched with his unspeakable Costamongery; when
Wagner was either unheard of or regarded as a dangerous lunatic and
immoral person; and it shows every sign of having been written to
please the opera-goers of those days. Curiously, the critics of the
time, in the words of the "Daily Telegraph," saw in "the Bayreuth
master another form of Bunyan's man with the muck-rake," who "never
sought to disguise the garbage he found in the Newgate Calendar of
Mythland, or set his imagination to invent," and they were disgusted,
also like the "Daily Telegraph," by "approaching incest" in "The
Valkyrie"; yet they saw no harm whatever in the charming story of
"Traviata"--the story of a harlot who reforms to the extent of
retaining only one lover of her many, and who dies of consumption when
that one's father does his best to drive her out upon the streets
again by making her give up his son. Far from condemning the story
myself, I am glad Verdi or his employers had the courage to go boldly
to Dumas for it; only, let us be cautious how we condemn the morality
of other opera-stories while praising the immorality of this. Let us
see how Verdi has handled it. The opera is built after the same hybrid
model as Gounod's "Romeo"; it is neither frankly the old Italian
opera, existing for the sake of its songs, nor the later form in which
the songs exist for the sake of the drama, but an attempt to combine
the songs with the continuous working out of a dramatic impulse in the
modern manner. But the attempt is far less successful than in "Romeo";
and indeed it is a faint-hearted one. Whenever a song occurs, the
action is suspended, and all the actors save the lucky vocalist of the
minute are at their wits' end to know where to look, and what to do
with their hands, feet--their whole persons in fact--and the parts
they are playing. And the songs are far from being expressive of the
feeling of the situation that is supposed to call them up. The
drinking tune in the first act is lively and appropriate enough; and
not much more can be said against Violetta's song, "Ah! fors' è lui,"
than that while rather pretty its endless cadenzas are more than
rather absurd. But in the next act Alfredo sings of the dream of his
life to a pretty melody until he is interrupted by his sweetheart's
maid, who tells him that his joy is at an end, and then he howls "O
mio rimorso" to a march-tune of the rowdiest kind. Equally undramatic,
untrue, false in feeling, are the sentimental ditties sung by
Alfredo's father. The last act is best; but I must say that I have
always found it a tedious business to watch Albani die of consumption.
At the production of the piece, a soprano who must have looked quite
as healthy played Violetta, and it is recorded that, when the doctor
told how rapidly she was wasting away and announced her speedy
decease, the theatre broke into uproarious merriment. I respect Madame
Albani too highly to break into uproarious merriment at her pretence
of consumption; but no one is better pleased when the business is
over, although the music is more satisfactory here than in any other
portion of the opera. Anyone who has sat at night with a friend down
with toothache or cholera will recognise the atmosphere of the
sickroom at once. But it is not pleasant enough to atone for the rest
of the opera. For, to sum up, there is small interest in the drama,
and, on the whole, smaller beauty in the music, of "La Traviata." It
was made, as bonnets were made, to sell in the fifties; like the
bonnets sold in the fifties, it is hopelessly out of date now; and it
wants the inherent vitality that keeps the masterworks alive after the
fashion in which they were written has passed away. The younger Verdi
is not, after all, so vast an improvement on Donizetti and Bellini.
His melodies are too often sadly sentimental, and any freshness with
which he may have endowed them has long since faded. True, they
occasionally have a terseness and pungency, a sheer brute force, which
those other composers never got into their insipid tunes; while, on
the other hand, Verdi rarely shows his strength without also showing a
degree of vulgarity from which Bellini and Donizetti were for the most
part free.

"Aïda" is a different matter, though not so very different a matter.
Here we have the young Verdi--Verdi in his early prime, for he was
only fifty-eight; here also we have a story more likely to stir his
rowdy imagination, if not more susceptible of effective treatment in
the young Verdi manner. The misfortune is that the book is a very
excerebrose affair. The drama does not begin until the third act: the
two first are yawning abysms of sheer dulness. Who wants to _see_
that Radames loves Aïda, that Amneris, the king's daughter, loves
Radames, that Aïda, a slave, is the daughter of the King of the
Ethiopians, that Radames goes on a war expedition against that king,
beats him and fetches him back a prisoner, that the other king gives
Radames his daughter in marriage, that Radames, highly honoured, yet
wishes to goodness he could get out of it somehow? A master of drama
would begin in the third act, reveal the whole past in a pregnant five
minutes, and then hold us breathless while we watched to see whether
Radames would yield to social pressure, marry Amneris, and throw over
Aïda, or yield to passion, fly with Aïda, and throw over his country.
All this shows the bad influence of Scribe, who usually spent half his
books in explaining matters as simple and obvious as the reason for
eating one's breakfast. Verdi knew this as well as anyone, and used
the two first acts as opportunities for stage display. For "Aïda" was
written to please the Khedive of Egypt; and Verdi, always keenly
commercial, probably knew his man. Now, when the masters of
opera--Handel, Gluck, Mozart, Weber--got hold of a bad book, they
nearly invariably "faked" it by getting swiftly over the weak points
and dwelling on the strong; and, above all, they flooded the whole
thing with a stream of delicious melody that hypnotises one, and for
the time puts fault-finding out of the question. Not so Verdi. He
wrote to please his audience, and he knew that what one can only call
dark-skinned local colour was still fresh in spite of "L'Africaine,"
and that the vulgar would find delight in a blaze of glaring banners
and showy spectacle. So he set the two first acts as they stood,
trusting to local colour and spectacle to make them popular; and, as
we know, at the time they were popular, and the populace exalted Verdi
far above such second-rate fellows as Mozart and Beethoven. But now,
when local colour has been done to death, and when it has had a
quarter of a century to bleach out of Verdi's canvases, what remains
to interest, I do not say to touch, one? Certainly not the expression
of Radames' or Aïda's love, for here as everywhere Verdi fails to
communicate any new phase of emotion, but (precisely as he did in
"Falstaff" and "Otello") has written music which indicates that he had
some inkling of the emotion of the scene, and could write strains
calculated not to prevent the scene making its effect. That Verdi has
no well-spring of original feeling, perhaps explains why he is so poor
in the scenes with Radames, Amneris, and Aïda. (Also, perhaps, it
explains why he has fallen back in his best period upon masterpieces
of dramatic art for his librettos. It is almost outside human
possibility to add anything to "Falstaff" or "Otello"; and such
success as Verdi has made with them is the result of writing what is,
after all, only glorified incidental music--music which accompanies
the play. To class these accompaniments with the masterpieces of
original opera is surely the most startling feat of modern musical
criticism.) Moreover, the plan of writing each scene in a series of
detached numbers--for, even where song might flow naturally into song,
the two are quite detached--breaks up the interest as effectually as
it does in "Traviata"; and the songs do not themselves interest.
Verdi's music is not based, like the masters', upon the inflexions of
the human voice under stress of sincere feeling, but upon figures and
passages easily executed upon certain instruments. The great composers
strove to make instruments speak in the accent of the human voice,
while Verdi has always tried to make the voice sound like an
instrument. His roulades and cadenzas, for example, sound prettier on
the clarinet than on the voice, as one hears when he sets the one
chasing the other in "Traviata"; and if only our orchestral players
would take the trouble to play with the same expression as the stage
artists sing, we might soon be content to have a repetition (with a
difference) of the feat of the old-world conductor who, in the absence
of the hero, played the part upon the harpsichord with universal
applause. The stock patterns out of which the songs are made soon grow
old-fashioned, and are superseded by fresh ones: hence Verdi's songs
are the earliest portions of his operas to wither. There are two
powerful scenes in "Aïda"--the second of the second act, and the
final in the last act. The last is certainly terribly repulsive at the
first blush; but the weird chant of the priestesses in the
brightly-lit temple, where the workmen are closing the entrance to the
vault underneath in which we see Radames left to die, contrasts finely
with the sweet music that accompanies the declaration of Aïda that she
has hidden there to die with him; and, while guessing at the splendour
of the music Wagner might have given us here, one may still admit
Verdi to have succeeded well in a smaller way than Wagner's. But on
the whole "Aïda" is to be heard once and have done with, for save
these scenes there is little else in it to engage one. Aïda is alive,
but Amneris is a hopeless piece of machinery--something between the
stage conception of a princess and the Lady with the Camellias, any
difference in modesty being certainly not in favour of Amneris. The
music very rarely rises above commonness--that commonness which is
proclaimed in every bar of Verdi's instrumentation, and in his
shameless Salvation Army rhythms; and it is sometimes (as in the
Priest's solo with chorus in the last scene of the second act)
odiously vulgar. "Aïda" is more dramatic than "Traviata," has more of
Verdi's brusque energy, less of his sentimentality; but it has none of
the youthful freshness of his latest work. The young Verdi has already
aged--how long will the old Verdi remain young?


Wagner took "The Flying Dutchman", "Tannhäuser," and "Lohengrin," in
three long running steps; from "Lohengrin" he made a flying leap into
the air, and, after spending some five or six years up there, he
landed safely on "The Nibelung's Ring." The leap was a prodigious one,
and you may search history in vain for its like; and still more
astounding was it if you reckon from the point where the run was
commenced. "The Flying Dutchman" was avowedly that point. "Die Feen"
is boyish folly, and "Rienzi" an attempt to out-Meyer Meyerbeer. But
in the "Dutchman" Wagner sought seriously to realise himself, to find
the mode of best expressing the best that was in him. That mode he
found in "The Rheingold" and mastered in "The Valkyrie," with its
continuous development and transmogrification of themes. And (to
discard utterly my former metaphor) after steeping oneself for several
nights in that last great river of melody, wide and deep and clear, it
is interesting to be led suddenly to its source, and see it bubbling
up with infinite energy, a good deal of frothing, and some brown mud.

Compared with "The Valkyrie," "The Flying Dutchman" is ill-contrived
and stagy. It is flecked here and there with vulgarity. It has far
less of pure beauty; it has only its moments, whereas "The Valkyrie"
gives hours of unbroken delight. "The Valkyrie" appeals to the primary
instincts of our nature--instincts and desires that will remain in us
so long as our nature is human; while for a large part of its effect
the "Dutchman" trusts to a feeling which is elusive at all times and
has no permanent hold upon us. Horror of the supernatural is not very
deeply rooted in us, after all. Modern training tends to eliminate it
altogether. In later life Goethe could not call up a single delightful
shiver. There are probably not half a dozen stories in the world from
which we can get it a second time. The unexpected plays a part in
producing it, and the same means does not produce it twice with
anything approaching the same intensity. Hence the Dutchman's phantom
ship must be more ghost-like at each representation, its blood-red
sails a bloodier red; and in the long-run, do what the stage
carpenters will, we coldly sit and compare their work with previous
ships. True, the music which accompanies its entry is always
impressively ghastly; yet, while we know this, we are acutely
conscious that our feeling is more or less a laudable make-believe--a
make-believe that requires some little effort. Then Heine's notion,
which seemed so brilliant at first, that the Dutchman could be
redeemed by the unshakable love of a woman, has now all the
disagreeable staleness of a decrepit and obvious untruth. It has no
essential verity to give it validity, it is no symbol of a fact which
is immediately and deeply felt to be a fact. The condition of
redemption is entirely arbitrary: it might as reasonably be that the
Dutchman should find a woman who would not shrink from eating his
weather-stained hat. What was it to the Dutchman's damned soul if all
the women in the world swore to love him eternally, so long as he was
unable to love one of them? The true Wandering Jew is not the unloved
man, but the man who cannot love, who is destitute of creative emotion
and cannot build up for himself a world in which to dwell, but must
needs live in hell--a world that others make, a world where he has no
place. Wagner knew this, and makes the Dutchman fall in love with
Senta; and that only leaves the drama more than ever in a muddle. One
wants a reason for his suddenly being able to love. It cannot be
because Senta promises to love him till death; for he has had hundreds
of fruitless love-affairs before, and knows that all women promise
that, and some of them mean it. Besides, the highest moment of the
drama ought either to arrive when he feels love dawning in his
loveless heart, or when he renounces his chance of salvation and sails
away to eternal torment, believing that Senta made her promise in a
passing fit of enthusiasm; and at one or other of those moments we
ought to have some sign that he is redeemed. There is no such sign.
The phantom ship falls to pieces, and the Dutchman is freed from his
curse when Senta casts herself into the waves; and the highest moment
of the whole drama is that in which the dreamy monomaniac, the modern
Jeanne d'Arc, the real heroine of the opera, wins her own salvation,
masters the world and makes it her heaven, by taking her fate in both
hands and setting out to do the thing she feels most strongly impelled
to do. If the Dutchman's salvation depends on himself, it is evidently
unnecessary for Senta to be drowned; if it depends upon her, it only
shows that Wagner, writing fifty years ago, and dazzled by the
brilliance of a new idea, could not see so clearly as can be seen
to-day that Senta was her own and not the Dutchman's saviour; and if
(as it apparently does) it depends upon both Dutchman and Senta, then,
at a performance at least, one can merely feel that something in the
drama is very much askew, without knowing precisely what.

In minor respects "The Flying Dutchman" falls considerably short of
perfection, even of reasonableness. For example, the comings and
goings of Daland are fearfully stagy. But worst of all are the
arrangements of the first act. I can go as far as most people in
accepting stage conventions. If Wagner brought on a four-eyed,
eight-horned, twenty-seven-legged monster and called it a Jabberwock,
I should not so much as ask why the legs were not all in pairs, like
the horns and eyes, so long as I saw in the animal's habits a certain
congruity, a conformity to what I would willingly regard as
Jabberwock nature. But who can pretend to believe in a ship which
comes against the rocks in a storm and anchors there while the captain
goes ashore to see whether shipwreck is imminent? That the majority of
opera-goers cannot live near the sea is self-evident, and that few of
them should ever have seen a shipwreck unavoidable; but surely anyone
who has crossed the Channel must have a vague suspicion that to place
this vessel against the rocks in a tempest is the last thing a seaman
would dream of doing, and that, if he were driven there and managed to
get ashore, he would call his men after him (if they needed calling),
and trouble neither about casting anchor nor going aboard again. The
thing is ludicrously stagy. I suppose that Wagner was too sea-sick to
observe what happened during his weeks of roughing it in the North
Sea. But the second scene is admirable. That monotonous drowsy hum of
the Spinning song is exactly what is needed to put one in the mood for
sympathising with Senta and her dreams. With the third there is an
occasional return to the bad stagecraft of Scribe; but there are also
hints of the simple directness of the later Wagner.

The music is like the stagecraft: now and then simply dramatic, now
and then stagily undramatic; sometimes rich and splendid, sometimes
threadbare and vulgar. And by this I do not mean that the
old-fashioned set pieces are of necessity bad, and the freer portions
necessarily good. Good and bad may be found in the new and the old
Wagner alike. That sailor's dance is to me as odious as anything in
Meyerbeer, and the melody which ends the love-duet is scarcely more
tolerable. On the other hand, not even in "The Valkyrie" did Wagner
write more picturesquely weird music than most of the first act. The
shrilling of the north wind, the roaring of the waves, the creaking of
cordage, the banging of booms, an uncanny sound in a dismal night at
sea,--these are suggested with wonderful vividness. At times Wagner
gives us gobbets of unassimilated Weber and Beethoven, but some
passages are as original as they are magnificent. The finest bars
in the work are those in which Senta declares her faith in her
"mission," and the Dutchman yields himself to unreasoning adoration.
Other moods came to Wagner, but never again that mood of rapturous
self-effacement. It is perhaps a young man's mood; certainly it is
identical with the ecstasy with which one contemplates a perfect piece
of art, or a life greatly lived; and here it finds splendid


"Lohengrin" has been sung scores of times at Covent Garden in one
fashion or another; but I declare that we heard something resembling
the real "Lohengrin" for the first time when the late Mr. Anton Seidl
crossed the Atlantic to conduct it and other of Wagner's operas. We
had come to regard it as a pretty opera--an opera full of an
individual, strange, indefinable sweetness; but Mr. Anton Seidl came
all the way from New York city to show us how out of sweetness can
come forth strength. Mr. Seidl was a Wagner conductor of the older
type, and with some of the faults of that type; he knew little or
nothing of the improvements in the manner of interpreting Wagner's
music effected by Mottl, Levi, and that stupendous creature Siegfried
Wagner; he was a survival of the first enthusiastic reaction against
Italian ways of misdoing things; and he was, if anything, a little too
strongly inclined to go a little too far in the opposite direction to
the touch-and-go conductors. But there is so much of sweetness and
delicacy in "Lohengrin" that the whole opera, including the sweet and
delicate portions, actually gains from a forceful and manly
handling--gains so immensely that, as already said, those of us who
heard it under Mr. Seidl's direction must have felt that here, at
last, was the true "Lohengrin," the "Lohengrin" of Wagner's
imagination. It was a pleasure merely to hear the band singing out
boldly, getting the last fraction of rich tone out of each note, in
the first act; to hear the string passages valiantly attacked, and the
melodies treated with breadth, and the trumpets and trombones playing
out with all their force when need was, holding the sounds to the end
instead of letting them slink away ashamed in the accepted Italian
style. And not only were these things in themselves delightful--they
also served to make the drama doubly powerful, and the tender parts of
the music doubly tender, to show how splendid in many respects was
Wagner's art in the "Lohengrin" days, and to prove that Maurel's way
of doing the part of Telramund some years ago was, as Maurel's way of
doing things generally are, perfectly right. Maurel, it will be
remembered, stuck a red feather in his cap; and the eternally wise
critics agreed in thinking this absolutely wrong. They told him the
feather was out of place--it made him appear ridiculous, and so on.
Maurel retorted that he was playing the part of a fierce barbarian
chief who would not look, he thought, like a gilded butterfly, and
that his notion was to look as ferocious as he could. Now the odd
thing is, that though Maurel was right, we critics were in a sense
right also. As the music used to be played, a Telramund one degree
nearer to a man than the average Italian baritone seemed ludicrously
out of place; and when, in addition, the Lohengrin was a would-be
lady-killer without an inch of fight in him, Henry the Fowler a
pathetic heavy father, and Elsa a sentimental milliner, there was
something farcical about Maurel's red feather and generally militant
aspect. What we critics had not the brains to see was that the playing
of the music was wrong, and that Maurel was only wrong in trying to
play his part in the right manner when Lohengrin, Elsa, King, and
conductor were all against him in their determination to do their
parts wrong. Mr. Bispham follows in Maurel's footsteps, as he
frequently does, in a modified costume, but when for the first time
the orchestra played right he would not have seemed ridiculous had he
stuck Maurel's red feather into his helmet. The whole scene became a
different thing: we were thrown at once into the atmosphere of an
armed camp full of turbulent thieves and bandits itching for fighting,
and wildly excited with rumours of conflicts near at hand. Amidst all
this excitement, and amidst all the unruly fighters, Telramund,
strongest, fiercest, most unruly of them all, has to open the drama;
and to command our respect, to make us feel that it is he who is
making the drama move, that it is because all the barbarians are
afraid of him that the drama begins to move at all, he cannot possibly
look too ferocious and hot-blooded, too strong of limb and tempestuous
of temper. The proof that this (Seidl's) reading of the opera was the
right one, was that, in the first place, the drama immediately
interested you instead of keeping you waiting for the entry of Elsa;
and, in the second place, that the noisy, energetic playing of the
opening scene threw the music of Elsa and Lohengrin into wonderfully
beautiful relief--a relief which in the old way of doing the opera was
very much wanting. To play "Lohengrin" in the old way is to deny
Wagner the astonishing sense of dramatic effect he had from the
beginning; to play it as Seidl played it is to prove that the
conductor appreciates the perfection of artistic sense that led,
compelled, Wagner to set the miraculous vision of Lohengrin against a
background made up of such stormy scenes. Had Seidl kept his vigour
for the stormy scenes, and given us a finer tenderness in the prelude,
the love-music, and Lohengrin's account of himself, his rendering
would have been a flawless one.

And even as Seidl interpreted it, the supreme beauty of the music, the
sweetness of it as well as its strength, were manifest as they have
never been manifest before. "Lohengrin" is surely the most beautiful,
the fullest of sheer beauty, of all Wagner's operas. Some thirty or
forty years hence those of us who are lucky enough still to live in
the sweet sunlight will begin to feel that at last it is becoming
feasible to take a fair and reasonable view of Wagner's creative work;
and we shall probably differ about verdicts which the whole musical
world of to-day would agree only in rejecting. Old-school Wagnerites
and anti-Wagnerites will have gone off together into the night, and
the echo of the noise of all their feuds will have died away. No one
will venture to talk of the "teaching" of "Parsifal" or any other of
Wagner's works; the legends from which he constructed his works will
have lost their novelty. The music-drama itself will be regarded by
the Academics (if there are any left) with all the reverence due to
the established fact, and possibly it may be suffering the fierce
assault of the exponents of a newer and nobler form. Then the younger
critics will arise and take one after another of the music-dramas and
ask, What measure of beauty is there, and what dramatic strength, what
originality of emotion? and in a few minutes they will scatter
hundreds of harmless and long-cherished illusions that went to make
life interesting. In that day of wrath and tribulation may I be on the
right side, and have energy to go forward, giving up the pretence of
what I can no longer like, and boldly saying that I like what I like,
even should it happen to be unpopular. May I never fall so low as to
be talked of as a guardian of the accepted forms and laws. But even if
it should prove unavoidable to relinquish faith in Bach, in Beethoven,
in Wagner, yet it is devoutly to be hoped that it will never be
necessary to give up a belief in "Lohengrin"; for in that case my fate
is fixed--I shall be among the reactionaries, the admirers of the
thing that cannot be admired, the lovers of the unlovable. But indeed
it is incredible that "Lohengrin" should ever cease to seem
lovely--lovely in idea and in the expression of the idea. The story is
one of the finest Wagner ever set; it remains fresh, though it had
been told a hundred times before. The maiden in distress--we know her
perfectly well; the wicked sorceress who has got her into distress--we
know her quite as well; the celestial knight who rescues her--we know
him nearly as well. But the details in which "Lohengrin" differs from
all other tales of the same order are precisely those that make it the
most enchanting tale of them all. Lohengrin, knight of the Grail,
redeemer, yet with a touch of tragedy in his fate, drawn down the
river in his magic boat by the Swan from a far mysterious land, a land
of perpetual freshness and beauty, is an infinitely more poetic notion
than the commonplace angel flapping clumsily down from heaven; and
even if we feel it to be absurd that he should have to beg his wife to
take him on trust, yet, after all, he takes his wife on trust, and he
tells her at the outset that he cannot reveal the truth about himself.
Elsa is vastly preferable to the ordinary distressed mediæval maiden,
if only because a woman who is too weak to be worth a snap of the
fingers does move us to pity, whereas the ordinary mediæval is cut out
of pasteboard, and does not affect us at all. The King is perhaps
merely a stage figure; Ortrud is just one degree better than the
average witch of a fairy story; but Frederic, savage and powerful,
but so superstitious as to be at the mercy of his wife, is human
enough to interest us. And Wagner has managed his story perfectly
throughout, excepting at the end of the second act, where that dreary
business of Ortrud and Frederic stopping the bridal procession is a
mere reminiscence of the wretched stagecraft of Scribe, and quite
superfluous. But if there is a flaw in the drama, there cannot be said
to be one in the music. The mere fact that, save two numbers, it is
all written in common time counts for absolutely nothing against its
endless variety. Wagner never again hit upon quite so divine and pure
a theme as that of the Grail, from which the prelude is evolved; the
Swan theme at once carries one in imagination up the ever-rippling
river to that wonderful land of everlasting dawn and sacred early
morning stillness; and nothing could be more effective, as background
and relief to these, than the warlike music of the first act, and the
ghastly opening of the second act, so suggestive of horrors and the
spells of Ortrud winding round Frederic's soul. Then there is Elsa's
dream, the magical music of Lohengrin's tale, the music of the Bridal
procession in the second act, the great and tender melody first sung
by Elsa and Ortrud, and then repeated by the orchestra as Ortrud
allows Elsa to lead her into the house, the whole of the
Bridal-chamber duet, and perhaps, above all, Lohengrin's farewell. To
whatever page of the score you turn, there is perfect beauty--after
the first act not a great deal that is powerful or meant to be
powerful, but melody after melody that entrances you merely as
absolute music without poetic significance, and that seems doubly
entrancing by reason of the strange, remote feeling with which it is
charged, and its perpetual suggestion of the broad stream flowing
ceaselessly from far-away Montsalvat to the sea. "Lohengrin" is a
fairy-story imbued with seriousness and tender human emotion, and the
music is exactly adapted to it.


Says Nietzsche (pretending to put the words into the mouth of
another), "I hate Wagner, but I no longer stand any other music"; and
though the saying is entirely senseless to those who do hate Wagner,
the feeling that prompted it may be understood by all who love him and
who stand every other music, so long as it is real music. Immediately
after listening to "Tristan and Isolda" all other operas seem away
from the point, to be concerned with the secondary issues of life, to
babble without fervour or directness of unessential matters. This does
not mean that "Tristan" is greater than "Don Giovanni" or the
"Matthew" Passion--for it is not--but that it speaks to each of us in
the most modern language of the most engrossing subject in the world,
of oneself, of one's own soul. Who can stay to listen to the sheer
loveliness of "Don Giovanni," or follow with any sympathy the farcical
doom of that hero, or who, again, can be at the pains to enter into
the obsolescent emotions and mode of expression of Bach, when Wagner
calls us to listen concerning the innermost workings of our own being,
and speaks in a tongue every word of which enters the brain like a
thing of life? For one does not have to think what Wagner means: so
direct, so penetrating, is his speech, that one becomes aware of the
meaning without thinking of the words that convey it. Nietzsche is
right when he says Wagner summarises modernism; but he forgot that
Wagner summarises it because he largely helped to create it, to make
it what it is, by this power of transferring his thought and emotion
bodily, as it were, to other minds, and that he will remain modern for
long to come, inasmuch as he moulds the thought of the successive
generations as they arise.

"Tristan and Isolda" is one of the world's half-dozen stupendous
appeals in music to the emotional side of man's nature; it stands with
the "Matthew" Passion, the Choral Symphony, and Mozart's Requiem,
rather than with "Don Giovanni," or "Fidelio," or "Tannhäuser;" like
the Requiem, the Choral Symphony, the "Matthew" Passion, there are
pages of unspeakable beauty in it; but, like them also, its main
object is not to please the ear or the eye, but to communicate an
overwhelming emotion. That emotion is the passion of love--the
elemental desire of the man for the woman, of the woman for the man;
and to the expression of this, not in one phase alone, like Gounod in
his "Faust," but in all its phases. It is a glorification of sex
attraction: nevertheless, it refutes Tannhäuser or Venus as completely
as it refutes Wolfram or Elizabeth. Tannhäuser, we know, would have it
that love was wholly of the flesh, Wolfram that it was solely of the
spirit. That there is no love which does not commence in the desiring
of the flesh, and none, not even the most spiritual, which does not
consist entirely in sex passion, that the two, spiritual and fleshly
love, are merely different phases of one and the same passion, Wagner
had learnt when he came to create "Tristan." And in "Tristan" we
commence with a fleshly love, as intense as that Tannhäuser knew; but
by reason of its own energy, its own excess, it rises to a spiritual
love as free from grossness as any dreamed of by Elizabeth or Wolfram,
and far surpassing theirs in exaltation. This change he depicted in a
way as simple as it was marvellous, so that as we watch the drama and
listen to the music we experience it within ourselves and our inner
selves are revealed to us. Nothing comes between us and the passions
expressed. Tristan and Isolda are passion in its purest integrity,
naked souls vibrating with the keenest emotion; they have no
idiosyncrasies to be sympathised with, to be allowed for; they are
generalisations, not characters, and in them we see only ourselves
reflected on the stage--ourselves as we are under the spell of
Wagner's music and of his drama. For "Tristan" seems to me the most
wonderful of Wagner's dramas, far more wonderful than "Parsifal," far
more wonderful than "Tannhäuser." There is no stroke in it that is not
inevitable, none that does not immensely and immediately tell; and,
despite its literary quality, one fancies it could not fail to make
some measure of its effect were it played without the music. Think of
the first act. The scene is the deck of the ship; the wind is fresh,
and charged with the bitterness of the salt sea; and Isolda sits
there consumed with burning anger and hate of the man she loves, whose
life she spared because she loved him, and who now rewards her by
carrying her off, almost as the spoil of war, to be the wife of his
king. It has been said that Tolstoi asserted for the first time in
"The Kreuzer Sonata" that hate and love were the same passion. But the
truth is, Wagner knew it long before Tolstoi, just as Shakespeare knew
it long before Wagner; and the whole of this first act turns on it.
Isolda sends for Tristan and tells him he has wronged her, and begs
him to drink the cup of peace with her. Tristan sees precisely what
she means, and, loving her, drinks the proffered poison as an
atonement for the wrong he has done her, and for his treachery to
himself in winning her, for ambition's sake, as King Mark's bride
instead of taking her as his own. But the moment her hatred is
satisfied Isolda finds life intolerable without it, without love; her
love a second time betrays her; and she seizes the poison and drinks
also. Then comes the masterstroke. Done with this world, with nothing
but death before them, the two confess their long-pent love; in their
exalted state passion comes over them like a flood; in the first rush
of passion, honour, shame, friendship seem mere names of illusions,
and love is the only real thing in life; and finally, the death
draught being no death draught, but a slight infusion of cantharides,
the two passionately cling to each other, vaguely wondering what all
the noise is about, while the ship reaches land and all the people
shout and the trumpets blow. What is the stagecraft of Scribe compared
with this? how else could the avowal of love be brought about with
such instant and stupendous effect? Quite as amazing is the second
act. Almost from the beginning to close on the end the lovers fondle
each other, in a garden before an old castle in the sultry summer
night; and just as their passion reaches its highest pitch, Mark
breaks in upon them. For Tristan, at least, death is imminent; and the
mere presence of death serves to begin the change from the desire of
the flesh to the ecstatic spiritual passion. That change is completed
in the next act, where we have the scene laid before Tristan's
deserted and dilapidated castle in Brittany, with the calm sea in the
distance (it should shine like burnished steel); and here Tristan lies
dying of the wound he received from Melot in the previous scene, while
a melody from the shepherd's pipe, the saddest melody ever heard,
floats melancholy and wearily through the hot, close, breathless air.
Kurvenal, his servant, has sent for Isolda to cure him as she had
cured him before; and when at last she comes Tristan grows crazy with
joy, tears the bandages from his wounds, and dies just as she enters.
This finishes the metamorphosis begun in the second act: after some
other incidents, Isolda, rapt in her spiritual love, sings the
death-song and dies over Tristan's body. What is the libretto of
"Otello" or of "Falstaff" compared with this libretto? From beginning
to end there is not a line, not an incident, in excess. Anyone who is
wearied by King Mark's long address when he comes on the guilty pair,
has failed to catch the drift of the whole opera--failed to see that
two souls like Tristan and Isolda, wholly swayed by love, must find
Mark's grief wholly unintelligible, and have no power of explaining
themselves to those not possessed with a passion like theirs, or of
bringing themselves into touch with the workaday world of daylight,
and that all Mark's most moving appeal means to them is that this
world, where such annoyances occur, is not the land in which they fain
would dwell. They live wholly for their illusion, and if it is
forbidden to them in life they will seek death; nothing--not honour,
shame, the affection of Mark, the faithfulness of Kurvenal, least of
all, life--is to be considered in comparison with their love; their
love is the love that is all in all. It is entirely selfish: Mark is
as much their enemy as Melot, his affection more to be dreaded than
the sword of Melot.

Perhaps I have given the drama some of the credit that should go to
the music; and at least there is not a dramatic situation which the
music does not immeasurably increase in power. But indeed the two are
inseparable. The music creates the mood and holds the spectator to it
so that the true significance of the dramatic situation cannot fail
to be felt; while the dramatic situation makes the highest, most
extravagant flights of the music quite intelligible, reasonable. It
cannot be said that the music exists for the sake of the drama any
more than the drama exists for the music: the drama lies in the music,
the music is latent in the drama. But to the music the wild atmosphere
of the beginning of the first act is certainly due; and though I have
said that possibly "Tristan" might bear playing without the music, it
must be admitted that it is hard to think of the fifth scene without
that tremendous entrance passage--that passage so tremendous that even
Jean de Reszke dare hardly face it. To the music also the passion and
fervent heat of the second act are due, and the thunderous atmosphere,
the sense of impending fate, in the last, and the miraculous sweetness
and intensity of Tristan's death-music, and the sublime pathos of
Isolda's lament. Since Mozart wrote those creeping chromatic chords in
the scene following the death of the Commendatore in "Don Giovanni,"
nothing so solemn and still, so full of the pathetic majesty of death,
as the passage following the words "with Tristan true to perish" has
been written. This is perhaps Wagner's greatest piece of music; and
certainly his loveliest is Tristan's description of the ship sailing
over the ocean with Isolda, where the gently swaying figure of the
horns, taken from one of the love-themes, and the delicious melody
given to the voice, go to make an effect of richness and tenderness
which can never be forgotten. The opening of the huge duet is as a
blaze of fire which cannot be subdued; and when at last it does
subside and a quieter mood prevails we get a long series of voluptuous
tunes the like of which were never heard before, and will not be heard
again, one thinks, for a thousand years to come. And in the strangest
contrast to these is the earlier part of the third act, where the very
depths of the human spirit are revealed, where we are taken into the
darkness and stand with Tristan before the gates of death. But indeed
all the music of "Tristan" is miraculous in its sweetness, splendour,
and strength; and yet one scarcely thinks of these qualities at the
moment, so entirely do they seem to be hidden by its poignant
expressiveness. As I have said, it seems to enter the mind as emotion
rather than as music, so penetrating is it, so instantaneous in its
appeal. There never was music poured out at so white a white heat; it
is music written in the most modern, most pungent, and raciest
vernacular, with utter impatience of style, of writing merely in an
approved manner. It is beyond criticism. It is possible to love it as
I do; it is possible to hate it as Nietzsche did; but while this
century lasts, it will be impossible to appreciate it sufficiently to
wish to criticise it and yet preserve one's critical judgment with
steadiness enough to do it.


In all Wagner's music-plays there is shown an astonishing
appreciation of the value and effect of scenery and of all the changes
of weather and of skies and waters, not only as a background to his
drama but as a means of making that drama clearer, of getting
completer and intenser expression of the emotions for which the
persons in the drama stand. The device is not so largely used in
"Tristan" as in the other music-plays, yet the drama is enormously
assisted by it. In the "Ring" it is used to such an extent that the
first thing that must strike everyone is the series of gorgeously
coloured pictures afforded by each of the four plays. For instance, no
one can ever forget the opening of "The Valkyrie"--the inside of
Hunding's house built round the tree, the half-dead fire flickering,
while we listen to the steady roar of the night wind as the tempest
rushes angrily through the forest--nor the scene that follows, when
through the open door we see all the splendours of the fresh spring
moonlight gleaming on the green leaves still dripping with cold
raindrops. The terror and excitement of the second act are vastly
increased by the storm of thunder and lightning that rages while
Siegmund and Hunding fight. A great part of the effect of the third
act is due to the storm that howls and shrieks at the beginning and
gradually subsides, giving way to the soft translucent twilight, that
in turn gives way to the clear spring night with the dark blue sky
through which the yellow flames presently shoot, cutting off
Brünnhilde from the busy world. The same pictorial device is used
throughout "Siegfried" with results just as magnificent in their way;
though the way is a very different one. The drama of "The Valkyrie" is
tragedy--chiefly Wotan's tragedy (the relinquishing first of Siegmund,
and his hope in Siegmund, then of Brünnhilde)--but incidentally the
tragedy of Siegmund's life and his death, of Siegmund's loneliness and
of Brünnhilde's downfall; and at least one of the scenic effects--the
fire at the end--was thrown in to relieve the pervading gloom, and in
obedience to Wagner's acute sense of the wild beauty of the old
legend, rather than to illustrate and assist the drama. It is sheer
spectacle, but how magnificent compared with that older type of
spectacle which chiefly consisted of brass bands and ladies
insufficiently clothed! "Siegfried," on the other hand, contains no
tragedy save the destruction of a little vermin. It is the most
glorious assertion ever made of the joy and splendour and infinite
beauty to be found in life by those who possess the courage to go
through it in their own way, and have the overflowing vitality and
strength to create their own world as they go. Siegfried is the
embodiment of the divine energy that makes life worth living; and in
the scenery, as in the tale and the music of the opera, nothing is
left out that could help to give us a vivid and lasting impression of
the beauty, freshness, strangeness, and endless interest of life. Take
the first scene--the cave with the dull red forge--fires smouldering
in the black darkness, and the tools of the smith's trade scattered
about, and, seen through the mouth of the cave, all the blazing
colours of the sunlit forest; or again the second--the darkness, then
the dawn and the sunrise, and lastly the full glory of the summer day
near Fafner's hole in a mysterious haunted corner of the forest; or
the third--a far-away nook in the hills, where the spirit of the earth
slumbers everlastingly; or the final scene--the calm morning on
Brünnhilde's fell, the flames fallen, and all things transfigured and
made remote by the enchantment of lingering mists,--these scenes form
a background for the dramatic action such as no composer dreamed of
before, nor will dream of again until we cease to dwell in dusty stone
cities and learn once again to know nature and her greatest moods as
our forefathers knew them. Had Wagner not lived in Switzerland and
gone his daily walks amongst the mountains, the "Ring" might have been
written; but certainly it would have been written very differently,
and probably not half so well.

I have so often insisted on the pictorial power of Wagner's music,
that, save for one quality of the pictures in the "Ring," and
especially in "Siegfried," it would be unnecessary to say more about
it now. That quality is their old-world atmosphere, their power of
filling us with a sense of the old time before us. When the fire plays
round Brünnhilde's fell--Hinde Fell, Morris calls it--lighting the icy
tops of the farthest hills, or when Mime and Alberich squabble in the
dark of early morning at the mouth of Fafner's hole, or again when the
Wanderer comes in and scarifies Mime out of his wits, we are taken
back to the remotest and dimmest past, to the beginnings of time, to a
time that never existed save in the imagination of our forebears. This
may be partly the result of our unconscious perception of the fact
that these things never happen nowadays, and partly the result of our
having been familiar with the story of Brünnhilde and the gods since
earliest boyhood; but it is in the main due to Wagner's intense
historical sense, his sense of the past, and to his unapproached power
of expressing in music any feeling or combination of feelings he
experienced. So cunningly do music and scenery work together that we
credit the one with what the other has done; but, wonderful though the
pictures of "Siegfried" are, there cannot be a doubt that the
atmosphere we discover in them reaches us through the ear from the
orchestra. Besides giving us a series of singularly apposite and
significant pictures, Wagner has reproduced the very breath and colour
of the old sagas; he has re-created the atmosphere of a time that
never was; and it is this remote atmosphere which lends to
"Siegfried" and all the "Ring" a great part of their enchantment.
Fancy what it might have been, this long exposition of sheer
Schopenhauerism in three dramas and a fore-play! imagine what Parry or
Stanford or Mackenzie would have made of it! And then think of what
the "Ring" actually is, and especially of the splendour and weirdness
of some parts the "dulness" of which moves dull people to dull
grumbling. For example, a great many persons share Mime's wish for the
Wanderer to go off almost as soon as he comes on, "else no Wanderer
can he be called." They tell us that this scene breaks the action,
neglecting the trifling fact that were it omitted the remainder of the
act would be inconsequent nonsense, only worthy to rank with the
librettos of English musical critics, and that the truth happens to be
that nearly the whole of the subsequent drama grows out of it. In
itself it is a scene of peculiar power, charged to overflowing with
the essence of the Scandinavian legends. The notion of the god,
"one-eyed and seeming ancient," wandering by night through the wild
woods, clad in his dark blue robe, calling in here and there and
creating consternation in the circle gathered round the hearth, is one
of the most poetic to be found in the Northern mythology; and the
music which Wagner has set to his entry and his conversation cannot be
matched for unearthliness unless you turn to the Statue music in "Don
Giovanni," where you find unearthliness of a very different sort. The
scene with Erda in the mountains is even more wonderful, so laden is
the music with the Scandinavian emotional sense of the impenetrable
mystery of things. The scene between Mime and Alberich, or Alberich
and the Wanderer, gives us the old horror of the creeping maleficent
things that crawled by night about the brooks and rock-holes. It is
true this last will bear cutting a little; for Wagner being a German,
but having, what is uncommon in the German, an acute sense of balance
of form, always tried to get balance by lengthening parts which were
already long enough, in preference to cutting parts that were already
too long. Hence much padding, which a later generation will ruthlessly

All these things are the accessories, the environment, of the
principal figure; and their presence is justified by their beauty,
significance, and interest, and also by their being necessary for the
development of the larger drama of the whole "Ring." But in following
"Siegfried" that larger drama cannot altogether be kept in mind: it is
the hero that counts first, and everything else is accessory merely to
him. That Wagner, in spite of his preoccupation with the tragedy of
Wotan, should have accomplished this, proves how wonderful and how
true an artist he was. Siegfried is the incarnation, as I have said,
of the divine energy which enables one to make the world rich with
things that delight the soul; he is Wagner's healthiest, sanest,
perhaps most beautiful creation; he is certainly the only male in all
Wagner's dramas who is never in any danger of becoming for ever so
brief a moment a bore, whose view of life is always so fresh and novel
and at the same time so essentially human that he interests us both in
himself and in the world we see through his eyes. Never had an actor
such opportunities as here. The entry with the bear exhibits the
animal strength and spirits of the man, and the inquiries about his
parents, his purely human feeling; his temper with Mime the
unsophisticated boy's petulant intolerance of the mean and ugly; the
forging of the sword the coming power and determination of manhood.
The killing of the dragon is unavoidably rather ridiculous; but the
scene with the bird is fascinating by its naturalness and simplicity
as well as its tenderness and sheer sweetness. Finally, after the
scene with the Wanderer, the scene of the awakening of Brünnhilde
affords an opportunity for love-making, and it is love-making of so
unusual a sort that one does not feel it to be an anti-climax after
all the big things that have gone before. In fact, not even Tristan
has things quite so much to himself, nor is given the opportunity of
expressing so many phases of emotion and character. And the music
Siegfried has to sing is the richest, most copious stream of melody
ever given to one artist; in any one scene there is melody enough to
have made the fortune of Verdi or any other Italian composer who
wrote tunes for the tenor and prima donna; not even Mozart could have
poured out a greater wealth of tune--tune everlastingly varying with
the mood of the drama. Every scene provides a heap of smaller tunes,
and then there are such big ones as the Forge song, Siegfried's
meditation in the forest and the conversation with the bird, and the
awakening of Brünnhilde--every one absolutely new and tremulous with
intense life.


Quite a fierce little controversy raged a little while ago in the
columns of the "Daily Chronicle," and all about the "meaning" of "The
Dusk of the Gods" and the behaviour of Brünnhilde. Mr. Shaw played
Devil's Advocate for Wagner, declaring "The Dusk of the Gods" to be
irrelevant and operatic (as if that mattered); and Mr. Ashton Ellis
and Mr. Edward Baughan, two mad Wagnerians, rushed in to protect
Wagner from Mr. Shaw (as if he needed protection). In reading the
various letters, my soul was moved to admiration and reverent awe by
the ingenuity displayed by the various correspondents in their
endeavours to make the easy difficult, the perfectly plain crooked.
Wagner took enormous pains to make Brünnhilde a living character--that
is to say, to show us her inmost soul so vividly that we know why she
did anything or everything without even thinking about it; he set her
on the stage, where we see her in the flesh behaving precisely as any
woman--of her period--would behave. And then these excellent gentlemen
come along and tell us that because Wagner at one time or another
thought of handling her story, and the story of Wotan and Siegfried,
in this or that way, therefore Wagner "meant" this or that, and failed
or succeeded, or changed his original plan or held fast to it. All
these things have nothing to do with the drama that is played on the
stage: by that alone, and by none of his earlier ideas, is Wagner to
be judged: he is to be judged by the effect and conviction of the
finished play. Now, it seems to me that in the finished play
Brünnhilde is neither "a glorious woman "--_i.e._ an Adelphi
melodramatic heroine--nor "a deceitful, vindictive woman"--_i.e._ an
Adelphi melodramatic villainess. Also, while considered by itself "The
Dusk of the Gods" is interesting mainly on account of the music,
considered in association, as Wagner wished, and as one must--for,
after all, it is but the final act of a stupendous drama, and it is
unfair and foolish to consider any one act of a drama alone--with the
other minor dramas of the greater drama, "The Nibelung's Ring," it is
dramatically not only interesting, absorbing, but absolutely
indispensable, true, inevitable. It is true enough that the "Ring"
suffered somewhat through the fact that Wagner took nearly a quarter
of a century to carry out his plan, and during this period his views
on life changed greatly; yet nevertheless "The Dusk of the Gods"
stands as the noble--in fact, the only possible--conclusion to a story
which is, on the whole, splendidly told.

When seeing "The Valkyrie," one thinks of Sieglinde or Siegmund or
Brünnhilde; when listening to "Siegfried," one thinks of Siegfried and
Brünnhilde and no others; but when one thinks of the complete "Ring,"
the person of the drama most forcibly forced before the eye of the
imagination, the person to whom one realises that sympathy is chiefly
due, is Wotan. Wotan, not Siegfried or Siegmund, is the hero of the
"Ring." His tragedy--if it is indeed a tragedy to emerge from the
battle in the highest sense of the word triumphant--includes the
tragedy of Siegfried and Siegmund, Sieglinde and Brünnhilde--in fact,
the tragedy of all the smaller characters of the play. "The
Rheingold," in spite of its glorious music, is entirely
superfluous--dramatically, at all events, it is superfluous--but
there, anyhow, the problem which we could easily understand without it
is stated. Wotan, who has been placed at the head of affairs by the
three blind fates, has caught the general disease of wishing to gain
the power to make others do his will. So anxious is he for that
authority that he not only makes a bargain for it with the powers of
stupidity--the giants, the brute forces of nature--which bargain is
afterwards and could never be anything but his ruin, but also he
stoops to a base subterfuge to gain it, and with the help of Loge,
fire, the final destroyer, he does gain it. So determined was Wagner
to make his point clear, that even in "The Rheingold," the superfluous
drama, he made it several times superfluously. He was not content to
let his point make itself--the humanitarian, the preacher of all that
makes for the highest humanity, was too strong in him for that: it was
a little too strong even for the artist in him: he must needs make the
powers of darkness lay a curse on power over one's fellow-beings, the
Ring standing as the emblem of that power. While Wotan takes the
power, his deepest wisdom, which is to say, his intuition--represented
by the spirit of the earth, Erda--rises against him and tells him he
is committing the fatal mistake, and he yields to the extent of
letting the giants have the supreme power. But he thinks, just as you
and I, reader, might think, that by some quaint unthinkable device he
can evade the tremendous consequence of his own act; and, instead of
at once looking at the consequence boldly and saying he will face it,
he elaborates a plan by which no one will suffer anything, while he,
Wotan, will gain the lordship of creation. From this moment his fate
becomes tragic. The complete man, full of rich humanity--for whom
Wotan stands--cannot exist, necessarily ceases to exist, if he is
compelled to deny the better part of himself, as Peter denied Jesus of
Nazareth. And in consequence of his own act Wotan has immediately to
deny the better part of himself, to make war on his own son Siegmund,
and then on his own daughter Brünnhilde: he destroys the first and
puts away from him for ever Brünnhilde, who is incarnate love. The
grand tragic moment of the whole cycle is the laying to sleep of
Brünnhilde. Wotan knows that life without love is no life, and he is
compelled to part from love by the very bargain which enables him to
rule. Rather than live such a life, he deliberately, solemnly wills
his own death; and a great part of "Siegfried" and the whole of "The
Dusk of the Gods" are devoted to showing how his death, and the death
of all the gods, comes about through Wotan's first act. In "Siegfried"
and "The Dusk of the Gods" there is no tragedy--how can there be any
tragedy in the fate of the man who faithfully follows the impulse that
makes for his highest and widest satisfaction, for the fullest
exercise of his beneficent energies, for the man who says I will do
this or that because I know and feel it is the best I can do? "The
Dusk of the Gods" is Wotan's most splendid triumph; he deliberately
yields place to a new dynasty, because he knows that to keep
possession of the throne will mean the continual suppression of all
that is best in him, as he has had already to suppress it.
Incidentally there are many tragedies in the "Ring." The murder of
Siegmund by Hunding, aided by Wotan, before Sieglinde's eyes; the
hideous incident of Siegfried winning his own wife to be the wife of
his friend Gunther; the stabbing of Siegfried by Hagen; Brünnhilde's
telling Gutrune that she, Gutrune, was never the wife of
Siegfried,--all these are terrible enough tragedies. Brünnhilde's is
the most terrible of them all, though she too takes her fate into her
hands, and by willing the right thing, and doing it, goes victorious
out of life. What there is difficult to understand about her, why she
should be accused of deceit and have her conduct explained, I can
hardly guess. In "The Valkyrie" she is a goddess; but when she offends
Wotan by disobeying him and walking clean through all the
Commandments, he is bound, for the maintenance of his power, to punish
her. So he takes away her godhead, and she is thenceforth simply a
woman. Siegfried treats her treacherously--as she necessarily
thinks--and she very naturally takes vengeance on him. Mr. Shaw speaks
as though he wished her to be a bread-and-butter miss; but a woman of
Brünnhilde's type, a daughter of the high gods, could scarcely be

In short, "The Dusk of the Gods" seems to me perfectly clear, and in
no more need of explanation than "The Valkyrie" or "Siegfried." Of
course there are a thousand loose ends in the "Ring," as there are in
life itself; but to count them and find out what they all mean would
occupy one for an eternity. To throw away "The Dusk of the Gods"
because one cannot understand the loose ends, is ridiculous; instead
of wishing there were fewer of them, I wish Wagner had been more
careless, less German, and left more. It was through his endeavours to
get unity, to show the close relation of each incident to every other
incident, that he nearly came to utter grief. The drama was so
gigantic, to secure sympathy for Wotan it was so necessary to secure
sympathy for the minor characters whose story helps to make up Wotan's
story, that Wagner seemed perpetually afraid that the real, main
drama would be forgotten. And it is true that the story of Siegmund
and Sieglinde, or of Siegfried and Brünnhilde, absorbs one for a time
so completely that one forgets all about Wotan and his woes. So Wagner
came near to spoiling one of the most tremendous achievements of the
human mind, by shoving old Wotan on to the stage again and again to
recapitulate his troubles. But of these interruptions "The Dusk of the
Gods" has none. The story proceeds swiftly, inevitably to the end;
from the first bar to the last, the music is as splendid as any Wagner
ever wrote. It is the fitting conclusion to the vision of life
presented in the "Ring": it is a funeral chant, mournful, sombre, but
triumphant. The seed has been sown, the crop has grown and ripened and
been harvested, and now the thing is over: a chill wind pipes over the
empty stubble-land where late the yellow corn stood and the labourers
laboured: there is nothing more: "ripeness is all" that life offers or


"Parsifal" is an immoral work. One cannot for a moment suppose that
Wagner, who had written "Tristan" and "Siegfried," meant to preach
downright immorality, or that he meant "Parsifal" to stand as anything
more than the expression of a momentary mood, the mood of the
exhausted, the effete man, the mood which follows the mood of
"Tristan" as certainly as night follows day. Nevertheless, in so far
as "Parsifal" says anything to us, in so far as it brings, in
Nonconformist cant, "a message," it is immoral and vicious, just as in
so far as "Siegfried" carries a message it is entirely moral,
healthful, and sane. It is useless to quibble about this, seeking to
explain away plain things: the truth remains that "Siegfried" is a
glorification of one view of life, "Parsifal" of its direct opposite
and flat contradiction; and anyone who accepts the one view must needs
loathe the other as sinful. To me the "Siegfried" view of life
commends itself; and I unhesitatingly assert the sinfulness of the
"Parsifal" view. The two operas invite comparison; for at the outset
their heroes seem to be the same man. Siegfried and Parsifal are both
untaught fools; each has his understanding partly enlightened by
hearing of his mother's sufferings and death (compare Wordsworth's "A
deep distress hath humanised my soul"); each has his education
completed by a woman's kiss. All this may seem very profound to the
German mind; but to me it is crude, a somewhat too obvious allegory,
partly superficial, partly untrue, a survival of windy sentimental
mid-century German metaphysics, like the Wagner-Heine form of "The
Flying Dutchman" story, and the Wagner form of the "Tannhäuser" story.
However, I am willing to believe that Siegfried, when he kisses
Brünnhilde on Hinde Fell, and Parsifal, when Kundry kisses him in
Klingsor's magic garden, has each his full faculties set in action for
the first time. And then? And then Siegfried, with his fund of health
and vitality, sees that the world is glorious, and joyfully presses
forward more vigorously than ever on the road that lies before him,
never hesitating for a moment to live out his life to the full; while
Parsifal, lacking health and vitality--probably his father suffered
from rickets--sees that the grief and suffering of the world outweigh
and outnumber its joys, and not only renounces life, but is so
overcome with pity for all sufferers as to regard it as his mission to
heal and console them. And having healed and consoled one, he
deliberately turns from the green world, with its trees and flowers,
its dawn and sunset, its winds and waters, and shuts himself in a
monkery which has a back garden, a pond and some ducks. There is only
one deadly sin--to deny life, as Nietzsche says: carefully to pull up
all the weeds in one's garden, but to plant there neither flower nor
tree--and this is what "Parsifal" glorifies and advocates.

Now, far be it from me to go hunting a moral tendency in a work of
art, and to praise or blame the art as I chance to like or dislike the
tendency. I am in a state of perfect preparedness to see beauty in a
picture, even if the subject is to me repulsive. But in the case of a
picture it is possible to say, "Yes, very pretty," and pass on. In the
case of a story, a play, or a music-drama, you cannot. You are tied to
your seat for one or two or three mortal hours; and however perfect
may be the art with which music-drama or play or story is set before
you, if the subject revolts or bores you, you soon sicken of the whole
business. And in the highest kind of story, play, or music-drama,
subject and treatment merge inseparably one in the other, substance
and form are one; for the idea is all in all, and the complete idea
cannot be perceived apart from the dress which makes it visible.
Besides, in the Wagnerian music-drama, it is intended that beauty of
idea and of arrangement of ideas shall be as of great importance as
beauty of ornament. Wagner certainly intended "Parsifal" to be such a
music-drama; and indeed the idea is only too clearly visible. The main
idea of the "Ring" is so much obscured by the subsidiary ideas twined
about it that very few people know that the real hero is Wotan, and
the central drama Wotan's tragedy, that Siegmund and Sieglinde,
Siegfried and Brünnhilde, and their loves--all the romance and
loveliness that enchant us--are merely accessory. But in "Parsifal"
there is nothing superfluous, no rich and lovely embroidery on the
dress of the idea to divert us from the idea itself--the idea is as
nearly nude as our limited senses and our modern respectability
permit. And the idea being what it is, it follows that the play, after
the drama once commences, is not only immoral, but also dispiriting
and boring, and, to my thinking, inconsequential and pointless. The
first act, the exposition, is from beginning to end magnificent: never
were the lines on which a drama was to develop more gorgeously, or in
more masterly fashion, set forth. Had Wagner seen that Amfortas was
merely a hypochondriac, a stage Schopenhauer, imagining all manner of
wounds and evils where no evils or wounds existed, had he made
Parsifal a Siegfried, and sent him out into the world to learn this,
and brought him back to break up the monastery, to set Amfortas and
the knights to some useful labour, and to tell them that the sacred
spear, like Wotan's spear, had power only to hurt those who feared it,
then we might have had an adequate working-out of so noble a
beginning. Instead of this, Kundry kisses Parsifal, Parsifal squeals,
and we see him in a moment to be only an Amfortas who has had the luck
not to stumble; and he, the poor fool who is filled with so vast a
pity because he sees (what are called) good and evil in entirely wrong
proportion--as, in fact, a hypochondriac sees them--he, Parsifal,
this thin-blooded inheritor of rickets and an exhausted physical
frame, is called the Redeemer, and becomes head of the Brotherhood of
the Grail. Beside this inconsequence, all other inconsequences seem as
nothing. One might ask, for instance, how, seeing that no man can save
his brother's soul, Parsifal saves the soul of Amfortas? This is a
fallacy that held Wagner all his life. We find it in "The Flying
Dutchman"; it is avoided in "Tannhäuser"--for, thank the gods,
Tannhäuser is _not_ saved by that uninteresting young person
Elizabeth; it plays a large part in the "Ring"; it is the culmination
of the drama of "Parsifal." Had Wagner thought more of Goethe and less
of the Frankfort creature who formulated his hypo-chondriacal
nightmares, and called the result a philosophy, he might have learnt
that no mentally sick man ever yet was cured save by the welling-up of
a flood of emotional energy in his own soul. He might also have seen
that Parsifal is as much the spirit that denies as Mephistopheles. But
these points, and many others, may go as, comparatively, nothings. The
first act of "Parsifal" is unsurpassable, the second is an
anti-climax, and the third, excepting the repentance of Kundry, which
is pathetic, and strikes one as true, a more saddening anti-climax.
There is one last thing to say before passing to the music, and this
is that "Parsifal" is commonly treated with respect as a Christian
drama--a superior "Sign of the Cross." I happen, oddly enough, to
know the four Gospels exceedingly well; and I find nothing of
"Parsifal" in them. It is much nearer to Buddhism in spirit, in
colour: it is a kind of Germanised metaphysical Buddhism.
Schopenhauer, not Christ, is the hero; and Schopenhauer was only a
decrepit Mephistopheles bereft of his humour and inverted creative

After hearing the whole opera twice, with all the supposed advantages
of the stage, the main thing borne in upon me is that the stage and
actors and accessories, far from increasing the effect of the music,
actually weaken it excepting in the first act. In that act there is
not a word or a note to alter. The story compels one's interest, and
the music is rich, tender, and charged with a noble passion. Even the
killing of the duck--it is supposed to be a swan, but it is really a
duck--is saved from becoming ludicrous by the deep sincerity of the
music of Gurnemanz's expostulations. The music, too, with the
magnificent trombone and trumpet calls and deep clangour of cathedral
bells, prevents one thinking too much of the absurdity of the trees,
mountains, and lake walking off the stage to make the change to the
second scene. On reflection, this panorama seems wholly meaningless
and thoroughly vulgar; and even in the theatre one wonders vaguely
what it is all about--for Gurnemanz's explanation about time and space
being one is sheer metaphysical shoddy, a mere humbugging of an
essentially uncultured German audience; but one does not mind it, so
full is the accompaniment of mystical life and of colour, of a sense
of impending great things. The whole cathedral scene--I would even
include the caterwaulings of Amfortas--is sincere, impressive, and
filled with a reasonable degree of mysticism. There is no falling off
in the second act until after the enchanting waltz and Kundry's
wondrously tender recital of the woes suffered by Parsifal's mother
(here the melody compares in loveliness with the corresponding portion
of "Siegfried"); indeed, the passion and energy go on increasing until
Parsifal receives Kundry's kiss, and then at once they disappear.
Between this point and the end of the act there is scarcely a fine
passage. Every phrase is insincere, not because Wagner wished to be
insincere, but because he tried to express dramatically a state of
mind which is essentially undramatic. Parsifal is supposed to
transcend almost at one bound the will to live, to rise above all
animal needs and desires; and though no human being can transcend the
will to live, any more than he can jump away from his shadow--for the
phrase means, and can only mean, that the will to live transcends the
will to live--yet I am informed, and can well believe, that those who
imagine they have accomplished the feat reach a state of perfect
ecstasy. Wagner knew this; he knew also that ecstasy, as what can only
be called a static emotion, could not be expressed through the medium
that serves to express only flowing currents of emotion; he himself
had pointed out, that for the communication of ecstatic feeling, only
polyphonic, non-climatic, rhythmless music of the Palestrina kind
served; and yet, by one of the hugest mistakes ever made in art, he
sought to express precisely that emotion in Parsifal's declamatory
phrases. The thing cannot be done; it has not been done; all
Parsifal's bawling, even with the help of the words, avails nothing;
and the curtain drops at the end of the second act, leaving one
convinced that the drama has untimely ended, has got into a
cul-de-sac. And in a cul-de-sac it remains. There is much glorious
music in the last act; the "Good Friday music" is divine; the last
scene is gorgeously led up to; and the music of it, considered only as
music, is unsurpassable. But heard at the end of a drama so
gigantically planned as "Parsifal," it is unsatisfying and
disappointing. It is to me as if the "Ring" had closed on the music of
Neid-höhle with the squabblings of Alberich and Mime. The powers that
make for evil and destruction have won; one knows that Parsifal is
eternally damned; he has listened and succumbed, even as Wagner
himself did, to the eastern sirens' song of the ease and delight of a
life of slothful renunciation, self-abnegation, and devotion to
"duty." The music of the last scene sings that song in tones of
infinite sweetness; but it cannot satisfy you; you turn from the
enchanted hall, with its holy cup and spear and dove, its mystic
voices in the heights, its heavy, depressing, incense-laden
atmosphere; and you hasten into the night, where the winds blow fresh
through the black trees, and the stars shine calmly in the deep sky,
just as though no "Parsifal" had been written.

"Parsifal" does not imply that Wagner in his old age went back on all
he had thought and felt before. Born in a time when the secret of
living had not been rediscovered, when folk still thought the victory,
and not the battle, the main thing in life, he always sought a creed
to put on as a coat-of-mail to protect him from the nasty knocks of
fate. Nowadays we do not care greatly for the victory, and we go out
to fight with a light heart, commencing where Wagner and all the
pessimists ended. Wagner wanted the victory, and also, lest he should
not gain it, he wanted something to save him from despair. That
something he found in pessimism. In his younger days--indeed until
near the last--he forgot all about it in his hours of inspiration, and
worked for no end, but for the sheer joy of working. But towards the
end of his life, when his inspiration came seldomer and with less
power, he worked more and more for the victory, and became wholly
pessimistic, throwing away his weapons, and hiding behind
self-renunciation as behind a shield. He won a victory more brilliant
than ever Napoleon or Wellington or Moltke won; and in the eyes of
all men he seemed a great general. But life had terrified him; he had
trembled before Wotan's--or Christ's--spear; in his heart of hearts he
knew himself a beaten man; and he wrote "Parsifal."


To Bayreuth again, through dirty, dusty, nasty-smelling, unromantic
Germany, along the banks of that shabby--genteel river known as the
Rhine, watching at every railway station the wondrously bulky
haus-fraus who stir such deep emotions in the sentimental German
heart; noting how the disease of militarism has eaten so deeply into
German life that each railway official is a mere steam-engine,
supplied by the State with fuel in case he should some day be needed;
eating the badly and dirtily cooked German food,--how familiar it all
seems when one does it a second time! One week in Bayreuth was the
length of my stay in 1896; yet I seem to have spent a great part of my
younger days here. The theatre is my familiar friend in whom I never
trust; the ditch called the river has many associations, pleasant and
other; I go up past the theatre into the wood as to a favourite haunt
of old time; I lunch under the trees and watch the caterpillars drop
into my soup as though that were the commonest thing in the world; I
wander into the theatre and feel more at home than ever I do at Covent
Garden; I listen to the bad--but it is not yet time for detailed
criticism. All I mean is, that the novelty of Bayreuth, like the
novelty of any other small lifeless German town, disappears on a
second visit; that though the charm of the wood, of the trumpet calls
at the theatre, of the greasy German food, and the primitive German
sanitary arrangements, remains, it is a charm that has already worn
very thin, and needs the carefullest of handling to preserve. Whether,
without some especial inducement, the average mortal can survive
Bayreuth a third time, is, to me, hardly a question. As for my poor
self, it suits me admirably--certainly I could stand Bayreuth half a
dozen times. I like the life--the way in which the hours of the day
revolve round the evening performance, the real idleness, passivity,
combined with an appearance of energy and activity; I like to get warm
by climbing the hill and then to sit down and cool myself by drinking
lager from a huge pot with a pewter lid, dreamily speculating the
while on the possibility of my ever growing as fat as the average
German; I like to sit in a café with my friends till three in the
morning, discussing with fiery enthusiasm unimportant details of the
performance we have lately endured; I like being hungry six times a
day. All these trifles please me, and please others. But the majority
of the crowd of visitors are not pleased by them; and what can they do
in Bayreuth after the freshness of novelty is worn off? They go to
Villa Wahnfried and look for a few seconds at the spot where Wagner is
buried--as I heard it said, like a cat in a back garden; they look for
a few seconds at the church; they lunch; they buy and partly read the
English papers; and then? Inevitably the intelligent reader will say,
the opera in the evening. And I, who have been to the opera in the
evening, gasp and remark, Really!

Lest this ejaculation be entirely misinterpreted by the irreverent,
let it be said at once that the performances are not, on the whole,
very bad. But I wish to consider whether they are of a quality and
distinction sufficient to drag one all the way from England, and to
compensate those who find the day dull for the dulness of the day,
whether they are what Bayreuth claims them to be--the best operatic
representations in the world, the best that could possibly be given at
the present time. The circular sent out by amiable Mr. Schulz-Curtius
states that, "while not guaranteeing any particular artists, the aim
of Bayreuth will be to secure the best artists procurable" (or words
to that effect). Is this genuinely the aim of Bayreuth, and does
Bayreuth come near enough to the mark to make some thousands of
English people think they have spent their time, money, and energy
well in coming here? For my part I say Yes: even were the
representations a good deal poorer, they form, as I have said, a
centre for the day; I rise in the morning with them before me, and
make all my arrangements--my lunches, discussions, and lagers--so as
to reach the theatre at four o'clock; they save me from a life without
an object, and add a zest to everything I do; they correspond to the
trifling errand which renders a ten-mile walk in the country an
enjoyment. But those who come here for nothing but the theatre, who
do not feel the charm of the Bayreuth life, will, I am much afraid,
answer No. Had I no friends here, or did I not enjoy their company and
conversation, if my stomach refused lager and I could not smoke
ten-pfennig German cigars, if I were not violently hungry every two
hours, I am very much afraid I should answer No. The working of the
scenic arrangements is, of course, as perfect as ever. Of course there
are one or two mistakes,--stage machinists, after all, are built of
peccable clay,--but these occur so seldom that one can sit with a
feeling of security that is not possible at Covent Garden. In "The
Valkyrie" the fire does not flare up ten minutes late; the coming of
evening does not suggest an unexpected total eclipse of the sun; the
thing that the score indicates is done, and not, as generally happens
at Covent Garden, the reverse thing. The colours of the scenery are
likewise as intolerably German as ever--the greens coarse and rank,
the yellows bilious, the blues tinged with a sickly green, the reds as
violent as the dress of the average German frau. On the other hand,
many of the effects are wonderful--the mountain gorge where Wotan
calls up Erda, Mime's cave, the depths of the Rhine, the burning of
the hall of the Gibichungs. But the most astounding and lovely effects
in the setting of the drama will not avail for long without true,
finished, and beautiful art in the singing and acting; and, with a
few exceptions, the singers do not give us anything approaching true,
finished, and beautiful art. The exceptions are Van Rooy, Brema,
Gulbranson, Brema, and Schumann-Heink. Van Rooy has a noble voice,
admirably suited to Wotan, and he both sings and acts the part with a
majesty and pathos beyond anything dreamed of by any other Wotan I
have heard. He appears to have been the success of the Festival; and
certainly so strong and exquisite an artist deserves all the success
he can gain in Bayreuth. Brema's Fricka is noble and full of charm;
Schumann-Heink sings the music of Erda with some sense of its mystery
and of Waltraute in "Siegfried" with considerable passion; and
Gulbranson has vastly improved her impersonation of Brünnhilde since
last year. She is still unmistakably a student, but no one can doubt
that she will develop into a really grand artist if she avoids ruining
her fine voice by continually using it in a wrong way. Her Brünnhilde
is just now very beautiful and intensely pathetic, but it owes less to
her art than her personality. She does not interpret Brünnhilde--rather
she uses the part as a vehicle for her private emotions; to an
inordinate degree she reads into it her real or imaginary experience;
and she has not learnt the trick of turning her feelings into the
proper channels provided, so to say, by the part--of so directing
them that Gulbranson disappears behind Brünnhilde. Still, it is a
great thing to find an artist of such force and passion and at the
same time such rare delicacy; and I expect to come here in 1899 and
hear an almost perfect rendering of Brünnhilde. As for the rest of
the singers, the less said about most of them the better. They have no
voices worth the mentioning; the little they do possess they have no
notion of using rightly; and their acting is of the most rudimentary
sort. We hear so much of the fine acting which is supposed to cover
the vocal sins of Bayreuth that it cannot be insisted on too strongly
that the acting here is not fine. I can easily imagine how Wagner,
endeavouring to get his new notion into the heads of the stupid
singers who are still permitted to ruin his music because they are now
veterans, would fume and rage at the Italian "business"--the laying of
the left hand on the heart and of the right on the pit of the
stomach--with which incompetent actors always fill up their idle
intervals, and how he would beg them, in Wotan's name, rather to do
nothing than do that. But to take the first bungling representation of
the "Ring" as an ideal to be approached as closely as possible, to
insist on competent actors and actresses standing doing nothing when
some movement is urgently called for, is to deny to Wagner all the
advantages of the new acting which modern stage singers have learnt
from his music. The first act of "The Valkyrie," for example, will be
absurd so long as Sieglinde, Hunding, and Siegmund are made to stand
in solemn silence, as beginners who cannot hear the prompter's voice,
until Sieglinde has mixed Hunding's draught. And some of the gestures
and postures in which the singers are compelled to indulge are as
foolish as the foolishest Italian acting. Who can help laughing at the
calisthenics of Wotan and Brünnhilde at the end of "The Valkyrie," or
at Wotan's massage treatment of Brünnhilde in the second act? The
Bayreuth acting is as entirely conventional as Italian acting, and
scarce a whit more artistic and sane. Even the fine artists are
hampered by it; and the lesser ones are enabled to make themselves and
whole music-dramas eminently ridiculous. On the whole, perhaps, acting
and singing were at their best in "Siegfried." In "The Rheingold" some
of the smaller parts--such as Miss Weed's Freia--were handsomely done;
the Mime was also excellent; but I cannot quite reconcile myself to
Friedrichs' Alberich. "The Dusk of the Gods" was marred by
Burgstaller, and "The Valkyrie" by the two apparently octogenarian
lovers. That is Bayreuth's way. It promises us the best singers
procurable, and gives us Vogl and Sucher, who undoubtedly were
delightful in their parts twenty years ago; and it would be shocked to
learn that its good faith is questioned so far as lady artists are
concerned. Whether it is fair to question it is another matter. In
Germany feminine beauty is reckoned by hundredweights. No lady of
under eighteen stones is admired; but one who is heavier than that,
instead of staying at home and looking after her grandchildren, is put
into a white dress and called Sieglinde, or into a brown robe and
called Kundry; and a German audience accepts her as a revelation of
ideal loveliness through the perfection of human form.

The Germans are devoid of a sense of colour, they are devoid of a
sense of beauty in vocal tone, and I am at last drawing near to the
conclusion that they have no sense of beauty in instrumental tone.
Throughout this cycle the tone of many of the instruments has been
execrable; many of them have rarely been even in approximate tune. The
truth is that the players do not play well unless a master-hand
controls them; and a master-hand in the orchestra has been urgently
wanted. Instead of a master-hand we have had to put up with Master
Siegfried Wagner's hand (he now uses the right), and in the worst
moments we have wished there was no hand at all, and in the best we
have longed passionately for another. I do not propose to discuss his
conducting in detail. Under him the band has played with steady,
unrelenting slovenliness and inaccuracy; the music has been robbed of
its rhythm, life, and colour; and many of the finest numbers--as, for
example, the Valkyrie's Ride, the prelude to the third act of
"Siegfried," the march in "The Dusk of the Gods"--have been
deliberately massacred. One cannot criticise such conducting: it does
not rise near enough to competence to be worthy of criticism. But one
has a right to ask why this young man, who should be serving an
apprenticeship in some obscure opera-house, is palmed off on the
public as "the best artist procurable"? He scarcely seems to possess
ordinary intelligence. I had the honour of being inadvertently
presented to him, and he asked me, should I write anything about
Bayreuth, to say that he objected very much to the Englishmen who came
in knickerbockers--in bicycle costume. When I mildly suggested that if
they came without knickerbockers or the customary alternative he would
have better reason to complain, he asserted that he and his family had
a great respect for the theatre, and it shocked them to find so many
Englishmen who did not respect it. I mention this because it shows
clearly the spirit in which Bayreuth is now being worked. The Wagner
family are not shocked when Wagner's music is caricatured by an
octogenarian tenor or a twenty-stone prima donna; they are shocked
when in very hot weather a few people wear the costume in which they
suffer least discomfort. So the place is becoming a mere fashionable
resort, that would cause Wagner all the pangs of Amfortas could he
come here again. The women seem to change their dresses for every act
of the opera; the prices of lodgings, food, and drinks are rapidly
rising to the Monte Carlo standard; a clergyman has been imported to
preach on Sunday to the English visitors; one sees twenty or thirty
fashionable divorce cases in process of incubation; and Siegfried
Wagner conducts. With infinite labour Wagner built this magnificent
theatre, the most perfect machine in the world for the reproduction of
great art-works; and Mrs. Wagner has given it as a toy to her darling
son that he may amuse himself by playing with it. And, like a baby
when it gets a toy, Siegfried Wagner is breaking it to pieces to see
what there is inside. Unless it is taken from him until he has spent a
few years in learning to play upon instead of with it, Bayreuth will
quickly be deserted. Already it is in decadence. I shall always come
to Bayreuth, for reasons already given; but fashions change, and the
people who come here because it is the fashion will not be long in
finding other resorts; and those who want only to see the music-plays
adequately performed will have learnt that this is not the place for
them. With one voice the ablest German, French, and Dutch critics are
crying against the present state of things; and it is certainly the
duty of every English lover of Wagner to refuse to take tickets for
the performances that are to be conducted by Wagner's son. Bayreuth
promises us the best artists. Whether some of the singers are or are
not the best artists is largely a matter of taste. But that Siegfried
Wagner is the best conductor procurable in Germany is too preposterous
a proposition to be considered for a moment. He may be some day; but
that day is far off.

As for the representation of "Parsifal," I should not trouble to
discuss it had not Mr. Chamberlain's book on Wagner lately come my
way. It shows me that the old game is being pursued as busily as ever.
Since Wagner's death the world has been carefully and persistently
taught that only Bayreuth can do justice to "Parsifal"; and since the
world believes anything if it is said often enough, it has come to
think it sheer blasphemy to dream of giving "Parsifal" elsewhere than
at Bayreuth. "Parsifal" is not an opera--it is a sacred revelation;
and just as the seed of Aaron alone could serve as priests in the
sacred rites of the temple at Jerusalem, so only the seed of Wagner
can serve as priests--that is to say, as chief directing priests--when
"Parsifal" is played. Thus declare the naive dwellers in Villa
Wahnfried, modestly forgetting the missing link in the chain of
argument which should prove them alone to be the people qualified to
perform "Parsifal"; and I regret to observe the support they receive
from a number of Englishmen and Scotchmen, who are grown more German
than the Germans, and just as religiously forget to make any reference
to this missing link of proof. But these Germanised Scotchmen and
Englishmen work hard for Bayreuth: now they whisper in awestruck tones
of the beauty and significance of "Parsifal"; now they howl at the
unhappy writers in the daily and weekly Press who dare to find little
significance and less beauty in the Bayreuth representation; and, to
do them bare justice, until lately they have been fairly successful in
persuading the world to think with them. Verily, they have their
reward--they partake of afternoon tea at Villa Wahnfried; they enjoy
the honour of bowing low to the second Mrs. Wagner; Wagner's legal
descendants cordially take them by the hand. And they go away
refreshed, and again spread the report of the artistic and moral and
religious supremacy of Bayreuth; and the world listens and goes up
joyfully to Bayreuth to be taxed--one pound sterling per head per
"Parsifal" representation. The performances over, the world comes away
mightily edified, having seen nothing with its own eyes, heard nothing
with its own ears, having understood nothing at all;--having, in fact,
so totally miscomprehended everything as to think "Parsifal" a
Christian drama; having been too deaf to realise that the singers were
frequently out of the key, and too blind to observe that the scenery
in the second act resembled a cheap cretonne, and that many of the
flower-maidens were at least eight feet in circumference. On the way
home the world whiles away the long railway journey by reading
metaphysical disquisitions on "Parsifal' and the Ideal Woman,"
"'Parsifal' and the Thing-in-Itself," "The Swan in 'Parsifal' and its
Relation to the Higher Vegetarianism." It knows the name of every
leit-motif, and can nearly pronounce the German for it; it can refer
to the Essay on Beethoven apropos of Kundry's scream (or yawn) in the
second act; it can chat learnedly of Klingsor, in pathetic ignorance
of his real offence, and explain why Amfortas has his wound on the
right side, although the libretto distinctly states it to be situated
on the left. It is a fact that this year a lady was heard to ask why
Parsifal quarrelled with his wife in the second act. (I might mention
that an admirer of "Parsifal" asked me who the dark man was in the
first act of "The Valkyrie," and whether Sieglinde or Brünnhilde was
burnt in the last.) The which is eminently amusing, and conjures up
before one a vision of Richard, not wailing, like the youth in
Shelley's "Prometheus Unbound," for the faith he kindled, but gazing
patiently, rather wearily, with a kindly ironical smile, on the world
he conquered, on the world that adores him _because_ it fails to
understand him.

Happily, it is not my business to reform the world; and writing in
October, when so many of the idealists who felt with Parsifal in his
remorse about the duck-shooting episode are applying the lesson by
wantonly slaughtering every harmless creature they can hit, it would
be superfluous to point out in any detail how very wrong and absurd is
the world's estimate of the Bayreuth performance. In fact, were it my
object to assist in the destruction of Bayreuth, no better plan could
be found than that of approving cordially of everything Bayreuth does.
For it is fast driving away all sincere lovers of Wagner; it lives now
on fashionable ladies, betting men, and bishops: when the fashion
changes and these depart, the Bayreuth festivals will come to an end.
Bayreuth is only an affectation; not one pilgrim in a hundred
understands the "Ring" or "Parsifal"; not one in a thousand is really
impressed by anything deeper than the mere novelty of the business.
Visitors go and are moved by the shooting of the duck (the libretto
calls it a swan, but the management chooses to use a duck); they talk
of Wagner's love of animals and of how they love animals themselves;
they go straight from Bayreuth to Scotland and show their love in true
sportsmanlike fashion by treating animals, birds, and fishes with a
degree of cruelty so appalling as to disgust every right-thinking and
right-feeling man and woman; and they tell you that the stag likes to
be disembowelled, the bird to have its wings shattered, the fish to be
torn to pieces in its agonised struggle for life. Or, having been
moved by the consequences of sin, they straightway go and prepare
cases for the divorce courts; having appreciated the purity and peace
of monastery life and a daily communion service, they return without
hesitation or sense of inconsistency to their favourite modes of
gambling; having revelled in the most lovely music in the world, they
proceed to listen nightly to the ugliest and silliest music in the
world. Their appreciation of Bayreuth is a sham; they would cheerfully
go elsewhere--say to Homburg--if Bayreuth were shut up; and before
long they will go to Homburg or elsewhere, whether Bayreuth is shut up
or not.


It is not an exaggeration to say that probably there are not a dozen
musicians in Europe who have formed any precise and final opinion as
to where Brahms should be placed. One gets to know him very slowly.
His appearance and manner (so to speak), so extremely dignified, are
very much in his favour; but when one tries to get to terms of
intimacy with him he has a fatal trick of repelling one by that
"austerity" or chilliness of which we have heard so much. And the
worst of it is that too frequently a sharp suspicion strikes one that
there is little behind that austere manner--that his reticence does
not so much imply matter held in reserve as an absence of matter. I do
not mean by this that Brahms was a paradoxical fool who was clever
enough to hold his tongue lest he was found out, nor even that he
purposely veiled his lack of meaning. On the contrary, a composer who
wished more devoutly to be sincere never put pen to paper. But he had
not the intellect of an antelope; and he took up in all honesty a rôle
for which he had only the slightest qualification. The true Brahms,
the Brahms who does not deceive himself, is the Brahms you find in
many of the songs, in some of the piano and chamber music, in the
smaller movements of his symphonies, and in certain passages of his
overtures; and I have no hesitation whatever in asserting (though the
opinion is subject to revision) that his songs are much the most
satisfactory things he did. Here, unweighted by a heavy sense of a
mission, he either revels in making beautiful--though never supremely
beautiful--tunes for their own sake, or he actually expresses with
beauty and considerable fidelity certain definite emotions. Had he
written nothing but such small things--songs, piano pieces,
Allegrettos like that in the D symphony--his position might be a
degree lower in the estimation of dull Academics who don't count, but
he would be accepted at something like his true value by the whole
world, and the whole world would be the better for oftener hearing
many lovely things. But merely to be a singer of wonderful songs was
not sufficient for Brahms: he wanted to be a great poet, a new
Beethoven. It was a legitimate ambition. The kind of music Brahms
really loved was the kind of which Beethoven's is the most splendid
example; and he wanted to create more of the same kind. He doubtless
thought he could; in his early days Robert Schumann predicted that he
would; and in his later days his intimate friend Hanslick and a small
herd of followers asserted that he did. He was run as the prophet of
the classical school with all the force of all who hated Wagner and
had not brains enough to understand either Brahms' or Wagner's music;
he became the god of all the musical dullards in Europe; and it is
small wonder that he took himself with immense seriousness. A little
more intelligence, ever so little more, would have shown him that,
despite the noise of those who perhaps admired him less than they
dreaded Wagner, he was not the man they said he was. He had not a
great matter to utter; what he had he could not utter in the classical
form; yet he tried to write in classical form. If ever a musician was
born a happy, careless romanticist, that musician was Brahms--he was
even a romanticist in the narrower sense, inasmuch as he was fond
rather of the gloomy, mysterious, and dismal than of sunlight and the
blue sky; and whenever his imagination warmed he straightway began
breaking the bonds in which he had endeavoured to work. But that
miserable article of Schumann--deplorable gush that has been
tolerated, nay, admired, only because it is Schumann's--the evil
influence of the pseudo-classicism of Mendelssohn and his followers,
the preposterous over-praise of Hanslick,--these things drove Brahms
into the mistake never made by the really able men. Wilkes denied that
he ever was a Wilksite; Wagner certainly never was a Wagnerite; there
are people who ask whether Christ was ever a Christian. But Brahms
became more and more a devoted Brahmsite; he accepted himself as the
guardian of the great classical tradition (which never existed); and
he wrote more and more dull music. It is idle to tell me he is austere
when my inner consciousness tells me he is merely barren, and idler
to ask me feel beauty when my ears report no beauty to me. He had no
original emotion or thought: whenever his music is good it will be
found that he has derived the emotion from a poem, or else that there
is no emotion but only very fine decorative work. In most of his
bigger works--the symphonies, the German Requiem, the Serious songs he
wrote in his later days--he sacrificed the beauty he might have
attained to the expression of emotions he never felt; he assumed the
pose and manner of a master telling us great things, and talked like a
pompous duffer. An exception must be made: one emotion Brahms had felt
and did communicate. It was his tragedy that he had no original
emotion, no rich inner life, but lived through the days on the merely
prosaic plane; and he seems to have felt that this was his tragedy.
Anyhow, the one original emotion he brought into music is a curious
mournful dissatisfaction with life and with death. The only piece of
his I know in which the feeling is intolerably poignant, seems to cut
like a knife, is his setting of that sad song of Goethe's about the
evening wind dashing the vine leaves and the raindrops against the
window pane; and in this song, as also in the movement in one of the
quartets evolved from the song, the mournfulness becomes absolutely
pitiable despair. Brahms was not cast in the big mould, and he spent a
good deal of his later time in pitying himself. It is curious that
one of his last works was the batch of Serious songs, which consist of
dismal meditations on the darkness and dirt of the grave and
feebly-felt hopes that there is something better on the other side.
That does not strike one as in the vein of the big men.

Much of Brahms' music is bad and ugly music, dead music; it is a
counterfeit and not the true and perfect image of life indeed; and it
should be buried or cremated at the earliest opportunity. But much of
it is wonderfully beautiful--almost but never quite as beautiful as
the great men at their best. There are passages in the Tragic overture
that any composer might be proud to have written. If the opening of
the D symphony is thin, unreal, an attempt at pastoral gaiety which
has resulted merely in lack of character, at anyrate the second theme
is delightful; if the opening of the slow movement is also twaddle,
there are pleasant passages later on; the dainty allegretto is as
fresh and fragrant as a wild rose; and the finale, though void of
significance, is full of an energy rare in Brahms. Then there are many
of the songs in which Brahms' astonishing felicity of phrase, and his
astounding trick of finding expression for an emotion when the emotion
has been given to him, enable him almost to work miracles. And it must
be remembered that all his music is irreproachable from the technical
point of view. Brahms is certainly with Bach, Mozart, and Wagner in
point of musicianship: in fact, these four might be called the
greatest masters of sheer music who have lived. A Brahms score is as
wonderful as a Wagner score; from beginning to end there is not a
misplaced note nor a trace of weakness; and one stands amazed before
the consummate workmanship of the thing. The only difference between
the Wagner score and the Brahms score is, that while the former is
always alive, always the product of a fervent inner life, the latter
is sometimes alive too, but more frequently as dead as a door-mat, the
product of extreme facility and (I must suppose) an extraordinary
inherited musical instinct divorced from exalted thought and feeling.
The difference may be felt when you compare a Brahms and a
Tschaikowsky symphony. Although in his later years Tschaikowsky
acquired a mastery of the technique of music, and succeeded in keeping
his scores clear and clean, he never arrived at anything approaching
Brahms' certainty of touch, and neither his scoring nor his
counterpoint has Brahms' perfection of workmanship. Yet one listens to
Tschaikowksy, for the present at least, with intense pleasure, and
wants to listen again. I have yet to meet anyone who pretends to have
received any intense pleasure from a Brahms symphony.

Brahms is dead; the old floods of adulation will no longer be poured
forth by the master's disciples; neither will the enemies his friends
made for him have any reason to depreciate his music; and ultimately
it will be possible to form a fair, unbiassed judgment on him. This is
a mere casual utterance, by the way.


I remember the Philharmonic in its glory one evening, when it had a
couple of distinguished foreigners to a kind of musical high tea, very
bourgeois, very long and very indigestible. One of the pair of
distinguished foreigners was Mr. Sauer; the other, Dvorák, was the
hero of the evening. Now, whatever one may think of Dvorák the
musician, it is impossible to feel anything but sympathy and
admiration for Dvorák the man. His early struggles to overcome the
attendant disadvantages of his peasant birth; his unheard-of labours
to acquire a mastery of the technique of his art when body and brain
were exhausted by the work of earning his daily bread in a very humble
capacity; his sickening years of waiting, not for popular recognition
merely, but for an opportunity of showing that he had any gifts worthy
of being recognised,--these command the sympathy of all but those
happy few who have found life a most delicate feather-bed. Dvorák has
honestly worked for all that has come to him, and the only people who
will carp or sneer at him are those who have gained or wish to gain
their positions without honest work. There could be no conjecture
wider of the mark than that of his success being due to any charlatan
tricks in his music or in his conduct of life. No composer's
music--not Bach's, nor Haydn's, nor even Mozart's--could be a more
veracious expression of his inner nature; and if Dvorák's music is at
times odd and whimsical, and persistently wrong-headed and _outré_
through long passages, it does not mean that Dvorák is trying to
impress or startle his hearers by doing unusual things, but merely
that he himself is odd and whimsical and has his periods of persistent
wrong-headedness. He is Slav in every fibre--not a pseudo-Slav whose
ancestors were or deserved to be whipped out of the temple in
Jerusalem. He has all the Slav's impetuosity and hot blood, his love
of glaring and noisy colour, his love of sheer beauty of a certain
limited kind, and--alas!--his unfailing brainlessness. His impetuosity
and hot blood are manifested in his frequent furious rhythms and the
abrupt changes in those rhythms; his love of colour in the quality of
his instrumentation, with its incessant contrasts and use of the
drums, cymbals, and triangle; his sense of beauty in the terribly
weird splendour of his pictures, and its limitations in his rare
achievement of anything fine when once he passes out of the region of
the weird and terrible; his brainlessness in his inability to
appreciate the value of a strong sinewy theme, in the lack of
proportion between the different movements of his works and between
the sections of the movements, and, perhaps more than in any other
way, in his unhappy choice of subjects for vocal works. One stands
amazed before the spectacle of the man who made that prodigious
success with the awful legend of "The Spectre's Bride" coming forward,
smiling in childlike confidence, with "Saint Ludmila," which was so
awful in another fashion. And then, as if not content with nearly
ruining his reputation by that deadly blow, he must needs follow up
"Saint Ludmila" with the dreariest, dullest, most poverty-stricken
Requiem ever written by a musician with any gift of genuine invention.
These mistakes might indicate mere want of tact did not the qualities
of Dvorák's music show them to be the result of sheer want of
intellect; and if the defects of his music are held by some to be
intentional beauties, no such claim can be set up for the opinions on
music which he has on various occasions confided to the ubiquitous
interviewer. The Slav is an interesting creature, and his music is
interesting, not because he is higher than the Western man, but
because he is different, and, if anything, lower, with a considerable
touch of the savage. When Dvorák is himself, and does not pass outside
the boundaries within which he can breathe freely, he produces results
so genuine and powerful that one might easily mistake him for a great
musician; but when he competes with Beethoven or Handel or Haydn, we
at once realise that he is not expressing what he really feels, but
what he thinks he should feel, that he is not at his ease, and that
our native men can beat him clean out of the field. To be sure, they
can at times be as dull as he, but that is when they forget the lesson
they should before now have learnt from him, when they leave the field
in which they work with real enjoyment and produce results which may
be enjoyed.


A very little while since, Tschaikowsky was little more than a name
in England. He had visited us some two or three times, and it was
generally believed that he composed; but he had not written any piece
without which no orchestral programme could be considered complete,
and the mere suggestion that his place might possibly be far above
Gounod would certainly have been received with open derision. However,
when his fame became great and spread wide on the Continent, he became
so important a man in the eyes of English musicians that Cambridge
University thought fit to honour itself by offering him an honorary
musical degree. Tschaikowsky, simple soul, good-humouredly accepted
it, apparently in entire ignorance of the estimation in which such
cheap decorations are held in this country; and it is to be hoped that
before his death he obtained a hearing in Russia for the Cambridge
professor's music. The incident, comical as it appeared to those of us
who knew the value of musical degrees, the means by which they are
obtained, and the reasons for which they are conferred, yet served a
useful purpose by calling public attention to the fact that there was
living a man who had written music that was fresh, a trifle strange
perhaps, but full of vitality, and containing a new throb, a new
thrill. Since 1893 his reputation has steadily grown, but in a curious
way. One can scarcely say with truth that Tschaikowsky is popular:
only his "Pathetic" symphony and one or two smaller things are
popular. Had he not written the "Pathetic," one may doubt whether he
would be much better known to-day than he was in 1893. It caught the
public fancy as no other work of his caught it, and on the strength of
its popularity many of the critics do not hesitate to call it a great
symphony, and on the strength of the symphony Tschaikowsky a great
composer. (For in England criticism largely means saying what the
public thinks.) Passionately though that symphony is admired, hardly
any other of his music can be truly said to get a hearing; for, on the
rare occasions when it is played, the public thoughtfully stays away.
It is true that the Casse Noisette suite is always applauded, but it
is a trifling work compared with his best. Tschaikowsky shares with
Gray and one or two others in ancient and modern times the distinction
of being famous by a single achievement. The public is jealous for the
supremacy of that achievement, and will not hear of there being
another equal to it.

Whether the public is right or wrong, and whether we all are or are
not just a little inclined to-day to exaggerate Tschaikowsky's gifts
and the value of his music, there can be no doubt whatever that he was
a singularly fine craftsman, who brought into music a number of fresh
and living elements. He seems to me to have been an extraordinary
combination of the barbarian and the civilised man, of the Slav and
the Latin or Teuton, the Slav barbarian preponderating. He saw things
as neither Slav nor Latin nor Teuton had seen them before; the touch
of things aroused in him moods dissimilar from those that had been
aroused in anyone before. Hence, while we English regard him as a
representative Russian, or at anyrate Slav, composer, many Russians
repudiate him, calling him virtually a Western. He has the Slav fire,
rash impetuosity, passion and intense melancholy, and much also of
that Slav naïveté which in the case of Dvorák degenerates into sheer
brainlessness; he has an Oriental love of a wealth of extravagant
embroidery, of pomp and show and masses of gorgeous colour; but the
other, what I might call the Western, civilised element in his
character, showed itself in his lifelong striving to get into touch
with contemporary thought, to acquire a full measure of modern
culture, and to curb his riotous, lawless impulse towards mere sound
and fury. It is this unique fusion of apparently mutually destructive
elements and instincts that gives to Tschaikowsky's music much of its
novelty and piquancy. But, apart from this uncommon fusion, it must be
remembered that his was an original mind--original not only in colour
but in its very structure. Had he been pure Slav, or pure Latin, his
music might have been very different, but it would certainly have
been original. He had true creative imagination, a fund of original,
underived emotion, and a copiousness of invention almost as great as
Wagner's or Mozart's. His power of evolving new decorative patterns of
a fantastic beauty seemed quite inexhaustible; and the same may be
said of his schemes and combinations and shades of colour, and the
architectural plans and forms of his larger works. It is true that his
forms frequently enough approach formlessness; that his colours--and
especially in his earlier music--are violent and inharmonious; and
that in his ceaseless invention of new patterns his Slav naïveté and
lack of humour led him more than a hundred times to write
unintentionally comic passages. He is discursive--I might say voluble.
Again, he had little or no real strength--none of the massive, healthy
strength of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Wagner: his force is sheer
hysteria. He is wanting in the deepest and tenderest human feeling. He
is plausible to a degree that leads one to suspect his sincerity, and
certainly leaves it an open question how long a great deal of his
music will stand after this generation, to which it appeals so
strongly, has passed away. But when all that may fairly be said
against him has been said and given due weight, the truth remains that
he is one of the few great composers of this century. I myself, in all
humility, allowing fully that I may be altogether wrong, while
convinced that I am absolutely right, deliberately set him far above
Brahms, above Gounod, above Schumann--above all save Beethoven, Weber,
Schubert, and Wagner. His accomplishment as a sheer musician was
greater than either Gounod's or Schumann's, though far from being
equal to Brahms'--for Brahms as a master of the management of notes
stands with the highest, with Bach, Mozart, and Wagner; while as a
voice and a new force in music neither Brahms nor Schumann nor Gounod
can be compared with him other than unfavourably. All that are
sensitive to music can feel, as I have said, the new throb, the new
thrill; and that decides the matter.

It is now a long time since Mr. Henry Wood, one winter's afternoon,
the only Englishman who may be ranked with the great continental
conductors, gave a Tschaikowsky concert, with a programme that
included some of the earlier as well as one or two of the later works.
It served to show how hard and how long Tschaikowsky laboured to
attain to lucidity of expression, and why the "Pathetic" symphony is
popular while the other compositions are not. In all of them we find
infinite invention and blazes of Eastern magnificence and splendour;
but in the earlier things there is little of the order and clarity of
the later ones. Another and a more notable point is that in not one
thing played at this concert might the human note be heard. The suite
(Op. 55) and the symphony (Op. 36) are full of novel and dazzling
effects--for example, the scherzo of the symphony played mainly by the
strings pizzicato, and the scherzo of the suite, with the short, sharp
notes of the brass and the rattle of the side-drum; the melodies also
are new, and in their way beautiful; in form both symphony and suite
are nearly as clear as anything Tschaikowsky wrote: in fact, each work
is a masterwork. But each is lacking in the human element, and without
the human element no piece of music can be popular for long. The fame
of Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, is still growing and will continue to
grow, because every time we hear their music it touches us; while
Weber, mighty though he is, will probably never be better loved than
he is to-day, because his marvellously graphic picturesque music does
not touch us--cannot, was not intended to, touch us; and the fame of
Mendelssohn and the host of lesser men who did not speak with a human
accent of human woe and weal wanes from day to day. The composer who
writes purely decorative music, or purely picturesque music, may be
remembered as long as he who expresses human feeling; but he cannot
hope to be loved by so many. It is because Tschaikowsky has so
successfully put his own native emotions, his own aspirations and
hopes and fears and sorrows, into the "Pathetic," that I believe it
has come to stay with us, while many of his other works will fade
from the common remembrance. Surely it is one of the most mournful
things in music; yet surely sadness was never uttered with a finer
grace, with a more winning carelessness, as one who tries to smile
gaily at his own griefs. Were it touched with the finest tenderness,
as Mozart might have touched it, we might--if we could once get
thoroughly accustomed to a few of the unintentionally humorous
passages I have referred to--have it set by the side of the G minor
and "Jupiter" symphonies. As it is, it unmistakably falls short of
Mozart by lacking that tenderness, just as it falls short of Beethoven
by lacking profundity of emotion and thought; but it does not always
fall so far short. There are passages in it that neither Beethoven nor
Mozart need have been ashamed to own as theirs; and especially there
is much in it that is in the very spirit of Mozart--Mozart as we find
him in the Requiem, rather than the Mozart of "Don Giovanni" or the
"Figaro." The opening bars are, of course, ultramodern: they would
never have been written had not Wagner written something like them
first; but the combination of poignancy and lightness and poise with
which the same phrase is delivered and expanded as the theme for the
allegro is quite Mozartean, and the same may be said of the semiquaver
passage following it. The outbursts of Slavonic fire are, of course,
Tschaikowsky pure and simple; but everyone who hears the symphony may
note how the curious union of barbarism with modern culture is
manifest in the ease with which Tschaikowsky recovers himself after
one of these outbursts--turns it aside, so to speak, instead of giving
it free play after the favourite plan both of Borodine the great and
purely Russian composer, and Dvorák the little Hungarian composer. The
second theme does not appear to me equal to the rest of the symphony.
It has that curious volubility and "mouthing" quality that sometimes
gets into Tschaikowsky's music; it is plausible and pretty; it
suggests a writer who either cannot or dare not use the true
tremendous word at the proper moment, and goes on delivering himself
of journalistic stock-phrases which he knows will move those who would
be left unmoved were the right word spoken. There is nothing of this
in the melody of the second movement. Its ease is matched by its
poignancy: the very happy-go-lucky swing of it adds to its poignancy;
and the continuation--another instance of the untamed Slav under the
influence of the most finished culture--has a wild beauty, and at the
same time communicates the emotion more clearly than speech could. The
mere fact that it is written in five-four time counts for
little--nothing is easier than to write in five-four time when once
you have got the trick; the remarkable thing is the skill and tact
with which Tschaikowsky has used precisely the best rhythm he could
have chosen--a free, often ambiguous, rhythm--to express that
particular shade of feeling. The next movement is one of the most
astounding ever conceived. Beginning like an airy scherzo, presently a
march rhythm is introduced, and before one has realised the state of
affairs we are in the midst of a positive tornado of passion. The
first tunes then resume; but again they are dismissed, and it becomes
apparent that the march theme is the real theme of the whole
movement--that all the others are intended simply to lead up to it, or
to form a frame in which it is set. It comes in again and again with
ever greater and greater clamour, until it seems to overwhelm one
altogether. There is no real strength in it--the effect is entirely
the result of nervous energy, of sheer hysteria; but as an expression
of an uncontrollable hysterical mood it stands alone in music. It
should be observed that even here Tschaikowsky's instinctive tendency
to cover the intensity of his mood with a pretence of carelessness had
led him to put this enormous outburst into a rhythm that, otherwise
used, would be irresistibly jolly. The last movement, too, verges on
the hysterical throughout. It is full of the blackest melancholy and
despondency, with occasional relapses into a tranquillity even more
tragic; and the trombone passage near the end, introduced by a
startling stroke on the gong, inevitably reminds one of the spirit of
Mozart's Requiem.

The whole of this paper might have been devoted to a discussion of
the technical side of Tschaikowsky's music, for the score of this
symphony is one of the most interesting I know. It is full of
astonishing points, of ingenious dodges used not for their own sake,
but to produce, as here they nearly always do, particular effects; and
throughout, the part-writing, the texture of the music, is most
masterly and far beyond anything Tschaikowsky achieved before. For
instance, the opening of the last movement has puzzled some good
critics, for it is written in a way which seems like a mere perverse
and wasted display of skill. But let anyone imagine for a moment the
solid, leaden, lifeless result of letting all the parts descend
together, instead of setting them, as Tschaikowsky does, twisting
round each other, and it will at once be perceived that Tschaikowsky
never knew better what he was doing, or was more luckily inspired,
than when he devised the arrangement that now stands. Much as I should
like to have debated dozens of such points, it is perhaps better,
after all, just now to have talked principally of the content of
Tschaikowsky's music; for, when all is said, in Tschaikowsky's music
it is the content that counts. I might describe that content as
modern, were it not that the phrase means little. Tschaikowsky is
modern because he is new; and in this age, when the earth has grown
narrow, and tales of far-off coasts and unexplored countries seem
wonderful no longer, we throw ourselves with eagerness upon the new
thing, in five minutes make it our own, and hail the inventor of it as
the man who has said for us what we had all felt for years.
Nevertheless, it may be that Tschaikowsky's attitude towards life, and
especially towards its sorrows,--the don't-care-a-hang attitude,--is
modern; and anyhow, in the sense that it is so new that we seize it
first amongst a hundred other things, this symphony is the most modern
piece of music we have. It is imbued with a romanticism beside which
the romanticism of Weber and Wagner seems a little thin-blooded and
pallid; it expresses for us the emotions of the over-excited and
over-sensitive man as they have not been expressed since Mozart; and
at the present time we are quite ready for a new and less Teutonic
romanticism than Weber's, and to enter at once into the feelings of
the brain-tired man. That the "Pathetic" will for long continue to
grow in popularity I also fully expect; and that after this generation
has hurried away it will continue to have a large measure of
popularity I also fully expect, for in it, together with much that
appeals only to us unhealthy folk of to-day, there is much that will
appeal to the race, no matter how healthy it may become, so long as it
remains human in its desires and instincts.


Richter and Mottl, the only considerable conductors besides
Lamoureux whom we had heard in England up to 1896, may be compared
with a couple of organists who come here, expecting to find their
instruments ready, in fair working order, and accurately in tune.
Lamoureux, on the other hand, was like Sarasate and Ysaÿe, who would
be reduced to utter discomfiture if their Strads were to stray on the
road. He played on his own instrument--the orchestra on which he had
practised day by day for so many years. Richter and Mottl took their
instruments as they found them, and devoted the comparatively short
time they had for rehearsal to the business of getting their main
intentions broadly carried out, leaving a good deal of minor detail to
look after itself, and not complaining if a few notes fell under the
desks at the back of the orchestra. Lamoureux had laboriously
rehearsed every inch of his repertory until it was note-perfect, and
each of his men knew the precise bowing, phrasing, degree of piano or
forte, and tempo of every minutest phrase. Now I do not mean by this
that the orchestras on which Richter and Mottl performed played many
wrong notes, while the Lamoureux orchestra played none; and still less
do I mean that Lamoureux got finer results than Richter or Mottl. So
far as the mere notes are concerned, the Englishmen who played for the
German conductors acquitted themselves quite as well as the Frenchmen
who played for Lamoureux. Both made mistakes at times; and a seemingly
paradoxical thing is that when a Lamoureux man stumbled all the world
was bound to hear it, whereas in our English orchestras a score of
mistakes might be made in an evening without many of us being much the
wiser. The reason for this is the reason why the playing of Lamoureux
on his trained orchestra, for all its accuracy, was not better than,
nor in many respects so good as, the playing of Richter and Mottl on
the scratch orchestras which their agents engaged for them. Probably
few uninformed laymen have any notion of the extent to which mere
noise is responsible for the total effect of a Wagner piece or a
Beethoven symphony--not the noise of big drum, cymbals and so on; but
the continuous slight discords caused by some of the players being
various degrees in front and others various degrees behind; the
scratching produced by uncertain bowing, or by an unfortunate fiddler
finding himself a little behind the general body (as he does
sometimes) and making a savage rush to catch it up; the hissing of
panting flautists; and the barnyard noises produced by exhausted
oboe-players. Even with Richter, stolid and trustworthy though he is,
these unauthorised sounds count for a great deal; and with a conductor
like Mottl, who varies the tempo freely in obedience to his mood in
the most rapid pieces, they count for very much more. They result in a
continuous murmur which, so to speak, fills the interstices in the
network of the music, covering wrong notes, and giving the mass of
tone a richness and unity which otherwise it would lack. In such
movements as the Finale of the Fifth symphony this continuous murmur
does the work done for the piano by the upper strings without dampers
and the lower ones when the pedal is pressed down; it gives solidity
and colour to the music; and certainly half the effect in fine
renderings of "The Flying Dutchman" overture, the Walkürenritt, and
the Fire-music, is due to it. But Lamoureux's men had practised so
long together under their conductor's beat that all the instruments
played like one instrument, no matter how the tempo was varied; the
bowing of each passage had been considered and finally settled, so
that there was no uncertainty there; and in the course of long
rehearsal every wind-player had learned precisely where he must
breathe, where he must reserve his breath, and where he could let
himself go, so that the tone of flutes, oboes, clarinets, and bassoons
never became in the smallest degree forced or hoarse. And the result
of this was the entire absence of that murmur which one has come to
regard as characteristic of the orchestra. If a wrong note was played,
there was nothing to hide its nakedness. It was as though a
penetrating flood of cold white light were poured upon the music and
made it transparent: one perceived every remotest and least
significant detail with a vivid distinctness that can only be compared
with a page of print seen through a strong magnifying glass, or,
perhaps better still, with a photograph seen through a stereoscope. As
in a stereoscope, the outlines were defined with a degree of clearness
and sharpness that almost hurt the eye; as in a stereoscope, there was
neither colour nor suggestiveness. An orchestral virtuoso, like a
piano or violin virtuoso, may over-practise.

Having delivered this verdict with all solemnity, I must straightway
proceed to hedge. If Lamoureux had not the qualities which give
Richter and Mottl their pre-eminence, he had qualities which they do
not possess, and his playing had qualities which one cannot find in
theirs. If he had not absolutely a genius for music, he certainly had
a genius for attaining perfection in all he did, which was perhaps the
next best thing. I imagine that he would have made a mouse-trap or
built a cathedral exactly as he played a Beethoven symphony. The mouse
would never escape from the trap; there would be nothing wanting, down
to the most modern appliances and conveniences, in the cathedral. In
the Fifth symphony he gave us every minute nuance in rigid obedience
to the composer's directions or evident intentions, and gave them with
a fastidious care strangely in contrast with Mottl's rough-and-ready
brilliancy or Richter's breadth. He began every crescendo on the
precise note where Beethoven marked it to begin; and he gradated it
with geometrical faultlessness to the exact note where Beethoven
marked it to cease. In diminuendos and accelerandos and ritenutos he
was just as faithful. In the softer portions his sforzandos were not
irrelevant explosions, but slight extra accents: he made microscopic
distinctions between piano and pianissimo; he achieved the most
difficult feat of keeping his band at a level forte through long
passages without a symptom of breaking out into fortissimo. His
players treated the stiffest passages in the "Dutchman" overture as if
they were baby's play; and I detected hardly a wrong note either in
that or in the Fifth symphony. In a word, nothing to compare with the
technical perfection of his renderings, or his unswerving loyalty to
the composer, has been heard in London in my time. Yet, by reason of
that very prodigious correctness, the "Dutchman" overture seemed bare
and comparatively lifeless: the roar and the hiss of the storm were
absent, and the shrill discordant wail of wind in the cordage; one
heard, not the wail or the hiss or the roar, but the notes which--in
our crude scale with its arbitrary division into tones and
half-tones--Wagner had perforce to use to suggest them. There was even
something of flippancy in it after Mottl's gigantic rendering: one
longed for the dramatic hanging back of the time at the phrase, "Doch
ach! den Tod, ich fand ihn nicht!" which is of such importance in the
overture. On the other hand, a more splendid reading of the first
movement of the Fifth symphony I have never heard; but the rest of the
movements were hardly to be called readings at all. The most devoted
admirers of Lamoureux--and I was his fairly devoted admirer
myself--will not deny that the slow movement is full of poetry, the
scherzo of a remote, mystical emotion, and the Finale of a wondrous
combination of sadness, regret and high triumphant joy; and anyone who
claims that Lamoureux gave us the slightest hint of those qualities
must be more than his admirer--must be his infatuated slave. The last
movement even wanted richness; for that excessive clearness which
prevented the tones blending into masses, and forced one to
distinguish the separate notes of the flutes, the oboes, the
clarinets, and so forth, seemed to rob the music of all its body, its
solidity. But, when all is said, Lamoureux was, in his special way, a
noble master of the orchestra; and, even if I could not regard him as
a great interpreter of the greatest music, I admit that the side of
the great music which he revealed was well worth knowing, and should
indeed be known to all who would understand the great music.

When I wrote the preceding paragraphs on Lamoureux, some of my
colleagues were good enough to neglect their own proper business while
they put me right about orchestral playing in general and that of
Lamoureux in particular. These gentlemen told me that, when Beethoven
(whom they knew personally) wrote certain notes, he intended them and
no others to be played; that the more accurate a rendering, the closer
it approaches to the work as it existed in Beethoven's mind; that,
ergo, Lamoureux's playing of Beethoven, being the most accurate yet
heard in England, was the best, the truest, the most Beethovenish yet
heard in England. All which I flatly deny, and describe as the foolish
ravings of uninformed theorists. Only unpractical dreamers fancy that
a composer thinks of "notes" when he composes. He hears music with his
mental ear in the first place, and he afterwards sets down such notes
as experience has taught him will reproduce approximately what he has
heard when they are played upon the instrument for which his
composition is intended, whether the instrument is piano, violin, the
human voice, or orchestra. And just as he counts on the harmonics and
sympathetic vibrations of the upper strings of the piano for the
proper effect of a piano sonata, so for the effect of an orchestral
work he relies on the full rich tone and the subdued murmur, which are
only produced by the members of the orchestra playing a little wrong.
That they play wrong in a million different ways does not matter:
provided they do not play too far wrong the result is always the same,
just as the characteristic sound of an excited crowd is always the
same whether there are a few more men or fewer women in one crowd
than in another. This may be wrong theoretically; but all theorising
breaks down hopelessly before the fact that it was such an orchestra
the masters wrote for. Perhaps some day the foot-rule, the metronome,
and the tuning-fork will take the place of the human ear and artistic
judgment; but until that day arrives I prefer the wrongness of Mottl's
orchestra to the strict correctness which Lamoureux used to give us;
and I leave the æsthetic illogical logic-choppers, who demand from
the orchestra the correctness they would not stand from a solo-player,
to find what delight they may in such playing as Lamoureux's used to
be in the "Meistersinger" overture, or the "Waldweben," or the Good
Friday music. It must be remembered, however, that the excessive
correctness of which I have complained was only one of the means
through which Lamoureux attained excessive lucidity. He sacrificed
every other quality to lucidity; and those who preferred lucidity to
every other qualify--that is to say, all Frenchmen--naturally
preferred Lamoureux's playing to that of any other conductor. In the
"Meistersinger" overture he would not allow the band to romp freely
for a single moment; in the "Waldweben" he succeeded in playing every
crescendo, every diminuendo, with astonishing evenness of gradation,
even when a trifling irregularity to relieve the mechanical stiffness
of the thing would have been as water to a thirsty traveller in the
desert; in the Good Friday music he stuck rigidly to the composer's
directions, and would not permit a breath of his own life to go into
the music. In Berlioz's "Chasse et Orage" (from "Les Troyens") and a
movement from the "Romeo and Juliet" symphony, he manifested the same
qualities as when he played Beethoven and Wagner. His playing wanted
colour, suggestiveness, and human warmth; and, lacking these, its
chill clearness, its cleanness and sharp-cut edges, merely made one
think of an iceberg glittering in a wan Arctic sunlight. Still he was
a notable man; and his death robbed France of her one perfectly
sincere musician.

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