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Title: Descriptive Analyses of Piano Works - For the Use of Teachers, Players, and Music Clubs
Author: Perry, Edward Baxter
Language: English
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  Copyright, 1902, by Theodore Presser
  International Copyright

  Printed in the United States of America

                          My Keys


    To no crag-crowning castle above the wild main,
    To no bower of fair lady or villa in Spain;
    To no deep, hidden vaults where the stored jewels shine,
    Or the South’s ruddy sunlight is prisoned in wine;
    To no gardens enchanted where nightingales sing,
    And the flowers of all climes breathe perpetual spring:
                To none of all these
                They give access, my keys,
                My magical ebon and ivory keys.


    But to temples sublime, where music is prayer,
    To the bower of a goddess supernally fair;
    To the crypts where the ages their mysteries keep,
    Where the sorrows and joys of earth’s greatest ones sleep;
    Where the wine of emotion a life’s thirst may still,
    And the jewels of thought gleam to light at my will:
                To more than all these
                They give access, my keys,
                My magical ebon and ivory keys.


    To bright dreams of the past in locked cells of the mind,
    To the tombs of dead joys in their beauty enshrined;
    To the chambers where love’s recollections are stored,
    And the fanes where devotion’s best homage is poured;
    To the cloudland of hope, where the dull mist of tears
    As the rainbow of promise illumined appears;
                To all these, when I please,
                They give access, my keys,
                My magical ebon and ivory keys.

                  Only an Interpreter

    The world will still go on the very same
    When the last feeble echo of my name
    Has died from out men’s listless hearts and ears
            These many years.

    Its tides will roll, its suns will rise and set,
    When mine, through twilight portals of regret,
    Has passed to quench its pallid, parting light
            In rayless night,

    While o’er my place oblivion’s tide will sweep
    To whelm my deeds in silence dark and deep,
    The triumphs and the failures, ill and good,
            Beneath its flood.

    Then other, abler men will serve the Art
    I strove to serve with singleness of heart;
    Will wear her thorned laurels on the brow,
            As I do now.

    I shall not care to ask whose fame is first,
    Or feel the fever of that burning thirst
    To win her warmest smile, nor count the cost
            Whate’er be lost.

    As I have striven, they will strive to rise
    To hopeless heights, where that elusive prize,
    The unattainable ideal, gleams
            Through waking dreams.

    But I shall sleep, a sleep secure, profound,
    Beyond the reach of blame, or plaudits’ sound;
    And who stands high, who low, I shall not know:
            ’Tis better so.

    For what the gain of all my toilsome years,
    Of all my ceaseless struggles, secret tears?
    My best, more brief than frailest summer flower,
            Dies with the hour.

    My most enduring triumphs swifter pass
    Than fairy frost-wreaths from the window glass:
    The master but of moments may not claim
            A deathless name.

    Mine but the task to lift, a little space,
    The mystic veil from beauty’s radiant face
    That other men may joy thereon to see,
            Forgetting me.

    Not mine the genius to create the forms
    Which stand serenely strong, thro’ suns and storms,
    While passing ages praise that power sublime
            Defying time.

    Mine but the transient service of a day,
    Scant praise, too ready blame, and meager pay:
    No matter, though with hunger at the heart
            I did my part.

    I dare not call my labor all in vain,
    If I but voice anew one lofty strain:
    The faithful echo of a noble thought
            With good is fraught.

    For some it cheers upon life’s weary road,
    And some hearts lightens of their bitter load,
    Which might have missed the message in the din
            Of strife and sin.

    My lavished life-blood warmed and woke again
    The still, pale children of another’s brain,
    Brimmed full the forms which else were cold,
            Tho’ fair of mold.

    And thro’ their lips my spirit spoke to men
    Of higher hopes, of courage under pain,
    Of worthy aspirations, fearless flight
            To reach the light.

    Then, soul of mine, content thee with thy fate,
    Though noble niche of fame and guerdon great
    Be not for thee: thy modest task was sweet
            At beauty’s feet.

    The Artist passes like a swift-blown breeze,
    Or vapors floating up from summer seas;
    But Art endures as long as life and love:
            For her I strove.


  Introduction,                                                   11
  Esthetic versus Structural Analysis,                            15
  Sources of Information Concerning Musical Compositions,         23
  Traditional Beethoven Playing,                                  32
  Beethoven: The Moonlight Sonata, Op. 27, No. 2,                 45
  Beethoven: Sonata Pathétique, Op. 13,                           50
  Beethoven: Sonata in A Flat Major, Op. 26,                      55
  Beethoven: Sonata in D Minor, Op. 31, No. 2,                    61
  Beethoven: Sonata in C Major, Op. 53,                           64
  Beethoven: Sonata in E Minor, Op. 90,                           68
  Beethoven: Music to “The Ruins of Athens,”                      72
  Weber: Invitation to the Dance, Op. 65,                         81
  Weber: Rondo in E Flat, Op. 62,                                 86
  Weber: Concertstück, in F Minor, Op. 79,                        90
  Weber-Kullak: Lützow’s Wilde Jagd, Op. 111, No. 4,              93
  Schubert: (Impromptu in B Flat) Theme and Variations,
    Op. 142, No. 3,                                               99
  Emotion in Music,                                              105
  Chopin: Sonata, B Flat, Op. 35,                                113
  The Chopin Ballades,                                           118
  Chopin: Ballade in G Minor, Op. 23,                            123
  Chopin: Ballade in F Major, Op. 38,                            130
  Chopin: Ballade in A Flat, Op. 47,                             137
  Chopin: Polonaise, A Flat Major, Op. 53,                       142
  Chopin: Impromptu in A Flat, Op. 29,                           147
  Chopin: Fantasie Impromptu, Op. 66,                            149
  Chopin: Tarantelle, A Flat, Op. 43,                            152
  Chopin: Berceuse, Op. 57,                                      156
  Chopin: Scherzo in B Flat Minor, Op. 31,                       158
  Chopin: Prelude, Op. 28, No. 15,                               161
  Chopin: Waltz, A Flat, Op. 42,                                 168
  Chopin’s Nocturnes,                                            172
  Chopin: Nocturne in E Flat, Op. 9, No. 2,                      174
  Chopin: Nocturne, Op. 27, No. 2,                               176
  Chopin: Nocturne, Op. 32, No. 1,                               179
  Chopin: Nocturne, Op. 37, No. 1,                               183
  Chopin: Nocturne, Op. 37, No. 2,                               186
  Chopin: Polish Songs, Transcribed for Piano by Franz Liszt,    191
  Liszt: Poetic and Religious Harmonies, No. 3, Book 2,          194
  Liszt: First Ballade,                                          199
  Liszt: Second Ballade,                                         201
  Transcriptions for the Piano by Liszt,                         203
  Wagner-Liszt: Spinning Song from “The Flying Dutchman,”        205
  Wagner-Liszt: Tannhäuser March,                                208
  Wagner-Liszt: Abendstern,                                      209
  Wagner-Liszt: Isolde’s Love Death,                             210
  Schubert-Liszt: Der Erlkönig,                                  213
  Schubert-Liszt: Hark! Hark! the Lark,                          216
  Schubert-Liszt: Gretchen am Spinnrad,                          217
  Liszt: La Gondoliera,                                          219
  The Music of the Gipsies and Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsodies,     222
  Rubinstein: Barcarolle, G Major,                               237
  Rubinstein: Kamennoi-Ostrow, No. 22,                           241
  Grieg: Peer Gynt Suite, Op. 46,                                247
  Grieg: An den Frühling, Op. 43, No. 6,                         257
  Grieg: Vöglein, Op. 43, No. 4,                                 260
  Grieg: Berceuse, Op. 38, No. 1,                                261
  Grieg: The Bridal Procession, from “Aus dem Volksleben,”
    Op. 19, No. 2,                                               264
  Saint-Saëns: Le Rouet d’Omphale,                               271
  Saint-Saëns: Danse Macabre,                                    276
  Counterparts among Poets and Musicians,                        281



The material comprised in the following pages has been collected for use
in book form by the advice and at the earnest request of the publisher,
as well as of many musical friends, who express the belief that it is of
sufficient value and interest to merit a certain degree of permanency,
and will prove of practical aid to teachers and students of music. A
portion of it has already appeared in print in the program books of the
Derthick Musical Literary Society and in different musical journals; and
nearly all of it has been used at various times in my own Lecture

The book is merely a compilation of what have seemed the most
interesting and valuable results of my thought, reading, and research in
connection with my Lecture Recital work during the past twenty years.

In the intensely busy life of a concert pianist a systematic and
exhaustive study of the whole broad field of piano literature has been
utterly impossible. That would require the exclusive devotion of a
lifetime at least. My efforts have been necessarily confined strictly to
such compositions as came under my immediate attention in connection
with my own work as player.

The effect is a seemingly desultory and haphazard method in the study,
and an inadequacy and incoherency in the collective result, which no one
can possibly realize or deplore so fully as myself. Still the work is a
beginning, a first pioneer venture into a realm which I believe to be
not only new, but rich and important. I can only hope that the example
may prompt others, with more leisure and ability, to follow in the path
I have blazed, to more extensive explorations and more complete results.

Well-read musicians will find in these pages much that they have learned
before from various scattered sources. Naturally so. I have not
originated my facts or invented my legends. They are common property for
all who will but seek. I have merely collected, arranged, and, in many
instances, translated them into English. I claim no monopoly. On the
other hand, they may find some things they have not previously known. In
such cases I venture to suggest to the critically and incredulously
inclined, that this does not prove their inaccuracy, though some have
seemed to fancy that it did. Not to know a thing does not always
conclusively demonstrate that it is not so.

To the general reader let me say that this book represents the best
thought and effort of my professionally unoccupied hours during the past
twenty years. It comes to you with my heart in it, bringing the wish
that the material here collected may be to you as interesting and
helpful as it has been to me in the gathering. The actual writing has
mainly been done on trains, or in lonely hotel rooms far from books of
reference, or aids of any kind; so occasional inexactitudes of data or
detail are by no means improbable, when my only resource was the memory
of something read, or of personal conversation often years before. With
the limited time at my disposal, a detailed revision is not practicable,
and I therefore present the articles as originally written. Take and use
what seems of value, and the rest pass by.

The plan and purpose of the book rest simply upon the theory that the
true interpretation of music depends not only on the player’s possession
of a correct insight into the form and harmonic structure of a given
composition, but also on the fullest obtainable knowledge concerning the
circumstances and environment of its origin, and the conditions
governing the composer’s life at the time, as well as any historical or
legendary matter which may have served him as inspiration or suggestion.

My reason for now presenting it to the public is the same as that which
has caused me to devote my professional life exclusively to the Lecture
Recital—namely, because experience has proved to me that a knowledge of
the poetic and dramatic content of a musical work is of immense value to
the player in interpretation, and to the listener in comprehension and
enjoyment of any composition, and because, except in scattered
fragments, no information of just this character exists elsewhere in

It being, as explained, impossible to make this collection of analyses
complete, or even approximately so, it has seemed wise to limit the
number here included to just fifty, so as to keep the book to a
convenient size. I have endeavored to select those covering as large a
range and variety as possible, with the view of making them as broadly
helpful and suggestive as may be.

It is my intention to continue my labors along this line so far as
strength and opportunity permit, in the faith that I can devote my
efforts to no more useful end.

                                                 _Edward Baxter Perry._

  Esthetic versus Structural Analysis

It has been, and still is, the general custom among most musicians, when
called upon to analyze a composition for the enlightenment of students
or the public, or in the effort to broaden the interest in their art, to
think and speak solely of the _form_, the _structure_ of the work, to
treat it scientifically, anatomically—to dwell with sonorous unction
upon the technical names for its various divisions, to lay bare and
delightedly call attention to its neatly fashioned joints, to dilate
upon the beauty of its symmetrical proportions, and show how one part
fits into or is developed out of another—in brief, to explain more or
less intelligently the details of its mechanical construction, without a
hint or a thought as to why it was made at all, or why it should be
allowed to exist. With the specialist’s engrossing absorption in the
technicalities of his vocation, they expect others to share their
interest, and are surprised and indignant to find that they do not. They
forget that to the average hearer this learned dissertation upon primary
and secondary subjects, episodical passages, modulation to related and
unrelated keys, cadences, return of the first theme, etc., has about as
much meaning and importance as so much Sanskrit. It is well enough, so
far as it goes, in the classroom, where students are being trained for
specialists, and need that kind of information; but it is only one
side,—the mechanical side,—and the general public needs something
else; and even the student, however gifted, if he is to become more than
a mere technician, must have something else; for composition and
interpretation both have their mere technic, as much as keyboard
manipulation, which is, however, only the means, not the end.

Knowledge of and insight into musical form are necessary to the player,
but not to the listener, even for the highest artistic appreciation and
enjoyment, just as the knowledge of colors and their combination is
essential to the painter, but not to the beholder. The poet must
understand syntax and prosody, the technic of rhyme-making and
verse-formation; but how many of his readers could analyze correctly
from that standpoint the poem they so much enjoy, or give the scientific
names for the literary devices employed? Or how many of them would care
to hear it done, or be the better for it if they did? The public expects
results, not rules or formulas; effects, not explanations of stage
machinery; food and stimulus for the intellect, the emotions, the
imagination, not recipes of how they are prepared.

The value of esthetic analysis is undeniably great in rendering this
food and stimulus, contained in every good composition, more easily
accessible and more readily assimilated, by a judicious selection and
partial predigestion, so to speak, of the different artistic elements in
a given work, and a certain preparation of the listener to receive them.
This is, of course, especially true in the case of the young, and those
of more advanced years, to whom, owing to lack of training and
opportunity, musical forms of expression are somewhat unfamiliar; or, in
other words, those to whom the musical idiom is still more or less
strange. But there are also very many musicians of established position
who are sorely in need of something of the kind to awaken them to a
perception of other factors in musical art besides sensuous beauty and
the display of skill; to develop their imaginative and poetic faculties,
in which both their playing and theories prove them to be deficient; and
the more loudly they cry against it as useless and illegitimate, the
more palpably self-evident becomes their own crying need of it.

Esthetic analysis consists in grasping clearly the essential artistic
significance of a composition, its emotional or descriptive content,
either with or without the aid of definite knowledge concerning the
circumstances of its origin, and expressing it plainly in a few simple,
well-chosen words, comprehensible by the veriest child in music, whether
young or old in years, conveying in a direct, unmistakable, and concrete
form the same general impressions which the composition, through all its
elaborations and embellishments, all its manifold collateral
suggestions, is intended to convey, giving a skeleton, not of its form,
but of its subject-matter, so distinctly articulated that the most
untrained perceptions shall be able to recognize to what genus it

Of course, when it is possible, as it is in many cases, to obtain and
give reliable data concerning the conception and birth of a musical
work, the actual historical or traditional material, or the personal
experience, which furnished its inspiration, the impulse which led to
its creation, it is of great assistance and value; and this is
especially so when the work is distinctly descriptive of external scenes
or human actions. For example, take the Schubert-Liszt “Erlkönig.” Here
the elements embodied are those of tempest and gloom, of shuddering
terror, of eager pursuit and panic-stricken flight, ending in sudden,
surprised despair. These may be vaguely felt by the listener when the
piece is played, with varying intensity according to his musical
susceptibility; but if the legend of the “Erlkönig,” or “Elf-king,” is
narrated and attention directly called to the various descriptive
features of the work,—the gallop of the horse, the rush and roar of the
tempest through the depths of the Black Forest, the seductive insistence
and relentless pursuit of the elf-king, the father’s mad flight, the
shriek of the child, and the final tragic ending, all so distinctly
suggested in the music,—the impression is intensified tenfold, rendered
more precise and definite; and the undefined sensations produced by the
music are focused at once into a positive, complete, artistic effect.

Who can doubt that this is an infinite gain to the listener and to art?
Again, take an instance selected from a large number of compositions
which are purely emotional, with no kind of realistic reference to
nature or action, the Revolutionary Etude, by Chopin, Opus 10, No. 12.
The emotional elements here expressed are fierce indignation, vain but
desperate struggle, wrathful despair. These are easily recognized by the
trained esthetic sense. Indeed, the work cannot be properly rendered by
one who does not feel them in playing it; and they can be eloquently
described in a general way by one possessing a little gift of language
and some imagination; but many persons find it hard to grasp abstract
emotions without a definite assignable cause for them, and are
incalculably aided if told that the study was written as the expression
of Chopin’s feelings, and those of every Polish patriot, on receipt of
the news that Warsaw had been taken and sacked by the Russians.

Where such data cannot be found concerning a composition, one can make
the content of a work fairly clear by means of description, of analogy
and comparison, by the use of poetic metaphor and simile, by little
imaginative word-pictures, embodying the same general impression; by any
means, in short,—any and all are legitimate,—which will produce the
desired result, namely: to concentrate the attention of the student or
the listener on the most important elements in a composition, to show
him what to listen for and what to expect; to prepare him fully to
receive and respond to the proper impression, to tune up his esthetic
nature to the required key, so it may re-echo the harmonious
soul-utterances of the Master, as the horn-player breathes through his
instrument before using it, to warm it, to bring it up to pitch, to put
it in the right vibratory condition.

The plan of esthetic analysis, in more or less complete form, was used
by nearly all of the great teachers, such as Liszt, Kullak, Frau
Schumann, and others, and was a very important factor in their
instruction. It was used by all the great writers on music who were at
the same time eminent musicians, like Liszt, Schumann, Mendelssohn,
Mozart, Wagner, Berlioz, Ehrlich, and many more. Surely, with such
examples as precedents, not to mention other good and sufficient
grounds, we may feel safe in pursuing it to the best of our ability, in
print, in the teaching-room, in the concert-hall, whenever and wherever
it will contribute to the increase of general musical interest and
intelligence, in spite of the outcries of the so-called “purists,” who
see and would have us see in musical art only sensuous beauty and the
perfection of form, with possibly the addition of, as they might put it,
a certain ethereal, spiritual, indefinable something, too sacred to be
talked about, too transcendental to be expressed in language, too lofty
and pure to be degraded to the level of human speech.

Who, I ask, are the sentimentalists—they, or we who believe that music,
like every other art, is _expression_, the embodying of human
experiences, than which there is no grander or loftier theme on this
earth? Trust me, it is not music nor its subject-matter that is
nebulous, indistinct, hazy; but the mental conceptions of too many who
deal with it.

If art is _expression_, as estheticians agree, and music is an art, as
we claim, then it must express something; and, given sufficient
intelligence, training, and insight, that something—the vital essence
of every good composition—can be stated in words. Not always
adequately, I grant, but at least intelligibly, as a key to the fuller,
more complex expression of the music; serving precisely like the
synopsis to an opera, or the descriptive catalogue in a picture gallery.
This is the aim and substance of esthetic analysis.

    Musicians are many who see in their mistress
      But physical beauty of “color” and “form,”
    Who hear in her voice but a sensuous sweetness,
      No thrill of the heart that is living and warm.

    They judge of her worth by “perfection of outline,”
      “Proportion of parts” as they blend in the whole,
    “Symmetrical structure,” and “finish of detail”;
      They see but the body—ignoring the soul.

    She speaks, but they seem not to master her meaning,
      They catch but the “rhythmical ring of the phrase.”
    She sings, but they dream not a message is borne on
      The breath of the sigh, while its “cadence” they praise.

    Her saddest laments are “melodious minors”
      To them, and her jests are but “notes marked staccato”;
    Her tenderest pleadings but “themes well developed,”
      Her rage—but “a climax of chords animato.”

    In vain she endeavors to rouse their perceptions
      By touching their brows with her soul-stirring hand
    They measure her fingers, their fairness admire,
      Declare her “divine,” but will not understand.

    Away with such worthless and sense-prompted service;
      Forgetting the goddess, to worship the shrine;
    Forgetting the bride, to admire her costume,
      Her garments that glitter, and jewels that shine:

    And give us the artists of true inspiration,
      Whose insight is clear, and whose brains comprehend,
    To interpret the silver-tongued message of music
      That speaks to the heart, like the voice of a friend;

    That wakens the soul to the joys that are higher
      And purer than all that the senses can give,
    That teaches the language of lofty endeavor,
      And hints of a life that ’twere worthy to live!

    For music is Art, and all Art is expression,
      The “beauty of form” but embodies the thought,
    Imprisons one ray of that wisdom supernal
      Which Genius to sense-blinded mortals has brought.

    Then give us the artist whose selfless devotion
      To Art and her service is earnest and true,
    To read us the mystical meaning of music;
      Musicians are many, but artists are few.

  Sources of Information Concerning Musical Compositions

During my professional career I have received scores of letters from
musical persons all over the country, asking for the name of the book or
books from which I derive the information, anecdote, and poetic
suggestion, concerning the compositions used in my Lecture Recitals,
particularly the points bearing upon the descriptive and emotional
significance of such compositions. All realize the importance and value
of this phase of interpretative work, and many are anxious to introduce
it in their teaching or public performances; but all alike, myself not
excepted, find the sources of such information scanty and difficult of

First, let me say frankly that there is no such book, or collection of
books. My own meager stock of available material in this line has been
laboriously collected, without definite method, and at first without
distinct purpose, during many years of extensive miscellaneous reading
in English, French, and German; supplemented by a rather wide
acquaintance among musicians and composers, and the life-long habit of
seizing and magnifying the poetic or dramatic bearing and import of
every scene, situation, and anecdote. If asked to enumerate the sources
from which points of value concerning musical works can be derived, I
should answer that they are three, not all equally promising, but from
each of which I myself have obtained help, and all of which I should try
before deserting the field. These are:

First, and perhaps the most important, reading. Second, a large
acquaintance among musicians, and frequent conversations with them on
musical subjects. Third, an intuitive perception, partly inborn and
partly acquired, of the analogies between musical ideas, on the one
hand, and the experiences of life and the emotions of the human soul, on
the other. I will now elaborate each of these a little, to make my
meaning more clear.

While there is no book in which information concerning the meaning of
musical compositions is collected and classified for convenient
reference, such information is scattered thinly and unevenly throughout
all literatures,—a grain here, a nugget there, like gold through the
secret veins of the earth,—and can be had only by much digging and
careful sifting. Now and again you come upon a single volume, like a
rich though limited pocket of precious ore, and rejoice with exceeding
gladness at the discovery of a treasure. But unfortunately, there is
usually nothing in the appearance or nature of such a book to indicate
to the seeker before perusal that this treasure is within, or to
distinguish it from scores of barren volumes. And the very item of which
he may be in search is very likely not here to be found; so he must turn
again to the quest, which is much like seeking a needle in a hay-mow, or
a pearl somewhere at the bottom of the Indian Ocean.

Musical histories, biographies, and essays—what is usually termed
distinctly musical literature—by no means exhibit the only productive
soil, though they are certainly the most fruitful, and should be first
turned to, because nearest at hand. Poetry, fiction, travels, personal
reminiscences, in short every department of literature, from the
philosophy of Schopenhauer to the novels of George Sand, must be made to
contribute what it can to the stock of general and comprehensive
knowledge, which is our ambition. I instance these two authors, because,
while neither of them wrote a single work which would be found embraced
in a catalogue of musical literature, the metaphysical speculations of
Schopenhauer are known to have had great influence upon Wagner’s
personality, and through that, of course, upon his music; while in some
of the characteristics of George Sand will be found the key to certain
of Chopin’s moods, and their musical expression. But even where no such
relation between author and composer can be traced, I deem one could
rarely read a good literary work, chosen at random, without chancing
upon some item of interest or information, which would prove directly or
indirectly of value to the professional musician in his life-work. And
this is entirely apart from the general broadening, developing, and
maturing influence of good reading upon the mind and imagination, which
may be added to the more direct benefit sought, forming a background of
esthetic suggestion and perception, against which the beauties of
tone-pictures stand forth with enhanced power and heightened color.

I know of no better plan to suggest to those striving for an intelligent
comprehension of the composer’s meaning in his great works than much and
careful reading of the best books in all departments, and the more
varied and comprehensive their scope the better. In the search for
enlightenment concerning any one particular composition, I should advise
the student to begin with works, if such exist, from the pen of the
composer himself, followed by biographies and all essays, criticisms,
and dissertations upon his compositions which are in print. If these
fail to give information, he should proceed to read as much as possible
regarding the composer’s country and contemporaries, and concerning any
and all subjects in which he has become aware, by the study of his life,
that the master was interested. The chances are that he will come upon
something of aid or value before finishing this task. Still very often
the quest will and must be in vain, because about many musical works
there exists absolutely no information in print.

I can perhaps better indicate the course to be pursued by giving some
illustrations in my own experience. The following will serve: During a
trip in New York State I was asked whether Grieg’s “Peer Gynt” suite was
founded upon any legend or story, and if so, what. Though familiar with
the composition in question, I had never played it myself, nor given it
any particular attention, and in point of fact was as ignorant on the
subject as my interrogator, and obliged to confess as much. This was
before the composition had become familiar in this country and before
the drama on which it is founded had been translated into English.
Being, however, convinced, from the names attached to different parts of
the suite, of the probability of its foundation upon some literary or
historic subject, I determined to investigate. I first read several
biographical sketches of Grieg, but found no special mention of the
“Peer Gynt” suite; then everything I could secure on the subject of
Norwegian music in general and Grieg’s compositions in particular,
without avail. As I knew Grieg to be, with the possible exception of
Chopin, the most intensely national and patriotic of all composers, I
inferred that if he had taken any legend or story as the basis of this
work, it was undoubtedly Norwegian in character. I read, therefore,
several articles on the history of Norway, the Norsemen, and the
Norwegian language and literature, watching carefully for the name of
Peer Gynt, but in vain. I next undertook some of the _sagas_ or ancient
Norse traditions, with the same result. Having exhausted my resources in
this direction, I began to investigate modern Norwegian literature.
Here, of course, I encountered, in large type, the names of Björnson and
Ibsen, and almost at the outset I found among the works of the latter
the versified drama of “Peer Gynt,” and my search was at an end. Having
procured a German translation of this drama, I found scenes and
characters to correspond exactly with those which figure in Grieg’s
music, and a reference in the preface to an orchestral suite, by this
composer, founded upon “Peer Gynt.”

Now had I been as well informed as I recommend all my readers to be, I
should have known at the outset of this Norwegian drama, and been at
once upon the right track. But being only familiar with those prose
dramas of Ibsen which have been translated into English, I was obliged
to undertake all this extra labor, to ascertain a single fact; which
only proves once again, that the more the musician’s memory is stored
with miscellaneous facts and ideas, even such as do not seem to have any
connection with music, the lighter and more successful will be his
labors in his profession.

The second main source of information concerning musical works is found
among musicians themselves. There is a vast amount of tradition,
suggestion, and knowledge appertaining to the masterpieces in this art,
which has never got into print, and lives only by passing from mouth to
mouth, much as the early legends of all countries were orally handed
down among minstrels and skalds from generation to generation. Every
great interpreter and every great composer becomes, with the passage of
years of a long and active life, a vast and valuable storehouse of all
sorts of hints, facts, and ideas on the subject of various compositions,
which usually die with him, except such portions as have been orally
transmitted to pupils and associates. In this respect the late Theodor
Kullak was worth any three men I have ever known, and those of his
pupils who had tastes and interests similar to his own, and were of
retentive memory, have all derived from him no mean portion of their
material. To cull from every musician and musically informed person all
the odds and ends of information in his possession is a valuable, though
perhaps selfish habit. And here let me emphasize to all students the
importance of not allowing the memory to get into that very prevalent
bad habit of refusing to retain anything which is not presented in print
to the organ of vision. The ear is as good a road to the brain as the
eye, and every one should possess the faculty of acquiring information
from conversations, lessons, and lectures, as readily as from books.

The third resource of the seeker after truth of this nature is to be
found within himself. The musician should early accustom himself to
grasp clearly the essential essence, the vital principle, of an artistic
moment, a dramatic situation. For some such moment, mood, or situation,
however vague or veiled, underlies every true art work; and unless the
performer can perceive and comprehend this inner germ of meaning clearly
enough to express it intelligibly, though it may be crudely, in his own
words, he will find that many a hint has been lost upon him, and many a
bit of knowledge, that might have been his, has escaped him. This is not
a musical faculty merely; it is a mental peculiarity. Every person,
whatever his profession, should train himself to catch, as quickly and
clearly as may be, the real drift of a book, of an argument, of a chain
of circumstances, of a political situation, of history, of character,
and to place his finger instinctively upon the germ upon which all else

The power to feel instinctively the real mood and meaning of a musical
composition is by no means confined to the musical profession; indeed,
is often strongly marked in those ignorant of the very rudiments of the
art. I remember once playing to a rough old trapper, of the early
pioneer days in Wisconsin, who had drifted back to civilization to “die
in camp,” as he expressed it, the Revolutionary Etude of Chopin, Op. 10,
No. 12, already cited in illustration, written on receipt of the
knowledge that Warsaw had been taken and sacked by the Russians. “What
does it mean?” I asked when it was finished. He sprang from his chair in
great excitement. “Mean?” he said; “it means cyclone in the big woods!
Indian onslaught! White men all killed, but die hard!” His
interpretation, I need not say, was not historically correct, but for
all artistic purposes it was just as good, though expressed in the rough
backwoods imagery familiar to him. He caught the tone of rage and
conflict, of desperate struggle and dark despair, which sounds in every
line, and he had truly understood the composition, to the shame of many
a well-educated musician, whose comment would probably have been, “How
difficult that left hand part is! De Pachmann plays it much faster, and
with such a beautiful pianissimo!”

This particular study is simply a vivid mood picture. It is not in any
sense what is called descriptive or program music; yet it has a distinct
meaning which can be more or less adequately expressed in words, for the
aid of those who do not readily grasp its expression. I wish to
reiterate here what I have before stated, that I would not be understood
to hold that all music has or should have some story connected with it.
I merely believe that every worthy composition is the musical setting of
some scene, incident, mood, idea, or emotion. Long practice in
perceiving and grasping what may be termed the “internal evidence” of
the music itself will develop, in the musician, a susceptibility to such
impressions, which will often lead him to a knowledge elsewhere sought
in vain, and greatly lessen his labors in arriving at knowledge
elsewhere to be found.

I have now thrown all the light in my power upon the _modus operandi_ of
obtaining information and ideas relating to musical compositions, and
have, I think, demonstrated the difficulty of such an undertaking. For
my own Lecture Recital programs I often select works about which I
happen to be well informed, and have more than once spent an entire
summer in reading and research concerning others which I wished to
include. It will be seen from the nature of the case, that because one
possesses full information in regard to a certain ballade or polonaise,
it by no means establishes a certainty, as is sometimes inferred, that
he will be equally enlightened concerning all others. There never was
and never will be any one man who can furnish information on the subject
of all compositions, and it is equally impossible that any glossary or
cyclopedia will ever be compiled which can refer the student to books
containing points in regard to any musical work one may chance to be
practising, or wish to perform.

  Traditional Beethoven Playing

How often of late years we hear this expression: Will some one who
claims to know kindly tell us what it means? For one, I confess myself,
after a decade of careful, thoughtful investigation, utterly unable to
find out. We hear one pianist extolled as a wonderful Beethoven player,
as a safe, legitimate, trustworthy champion of the good old classical
traditions; and another equally eminent artist condemned as wholly
unworthy to lift for the public the veil of awe and deep mystery
enshrouding the sublimities of this grandest of tone-Titans. The late
von Bülow, for instance, was well-nigh universally conceded to be the
representative Beethoven player of the age, for no better reasons, so
far as I can discover, than that he was generally admitted to be a
failure in the presentation of most works of the modern school, and that
cold, calculating, cynical intellectuality was the predominant feature
of his personality and his musical work, which made him the driest, most
unideal, uninteresting pianist of his generation, in spite of his
phenomenal technic, memory, and mental power.

On the other hand, Paderewski, with all his infinitely magnetic
personality, his incomparable beauty of tone and coloring, his blended
nobility and refinement of conception, is decried as a perverter of
taste, a destroyer of traditions and precedents, because, forsooth, he
plays Beethoven too warmly, too emotionally, too subjectively.

_De grace, messieurs_, what does it all signify? Are we then to accept
perforce as final, in spite of our better instincts, the dictum of the
long since petrified Leipsic School, which holds technic of the hand and
head, not only as the supreme, but as the sole element in musical
art—which relegates all emotion and its expression to the despised
limbo of sickly sentimentality, and which epitomizes its highest
encomium of an artist in the words “He allows himself no
liberties”—that is to say, he plays merely the notes, with the
faultless precision and soulless monotony of a machine? Is this, then,
_traditional_ playing of Beethoven, or any other composer? Is it art at
all? If there is any such thing as an authentic, authoritative musical
standard concerning any given composition, upon what does or should it
rest? Surely either upon the way its composer rendered it, or desired it
rendered, if that can be ascertained, or upon the way it was given by
its first great public interpreter. Let us examine the scanty available
data concerning Beethoven’s piano works from this point of view. How did
Beethoven himself play his own works?

This question reminds one of the century-old dispute among scholars as
to the propriety of the so-called English pronunciation of Latin, an
absurdity on the face of it. Fancy talking of the English pronunciation
of French or German! Of course, we do not know and have no means of
learning exactly how the old Latins did pronounce their language in all
the niceties of detail, but one thing we do know with absolute
certainty, and that is that they did not Anglicize it, for the one good
reason that our language did not come into existence until centuries
after the Latin tongue was dead. Similarly, as there is no one now
living who can remember and tell us just how Beethoven did play any
given sonata, and as, unfortunately, the phonograph was not then
invented to preserve for us the incalculably precious records of his
interpretations, we have no means of ascertaining just what his
conceptions were, even supposing they had been twice alike, which they
probably were not. But this we may be sure of, beyond a question or a
doubt: He did not play them according to von Bülow. Furthermore, there
is no ground for believing that his performances were at all such as the
conservative sticklers for classic traditions insist that our renditions
of Beethoven must be to-day. We know this from a study of the life and
characteristics of the man, from the internal evidence of his works, and
from the reports given us by his contemporaries of his manner of playing
them and their effect upon the hearer.

Beethoven was preëminently a romanticist, in the content, if not always
in the form of his works; a man of pronounced, self-loyal individuality
and intense subjectivity, who wrote, and consequently must have played,
as he felt, and not in accordance with prescribed rules and formulas; a
man who can reply without immodesty when criticized for breaking a
preëstablished law of harmony, “I do it,” with the calm confidence in
the divine right of genius to self-utterance in its own chosen way which
always accompanies true greatness and has been the infallible compass of
progress in all ages. The man who was the fearless, outspoken champion
of artistic sincerity and profound earnestness, whose scorn of shallow,
pedantic formulas was as uncompromising as it was irrepressible, whose
watchword was universality of content, who believed that music could and
should be made to express every phase of human emotion, who could
venture on the unheard-of innovation of beginning a sonata with a
pathetic adagio, and introducing a chorus into the last movement of a
symphony, in open defiance of all established tradition, who was
repeatedly accused by the critics of his day of being unable to write a
correct fugue or sonata, and whose music was declared to be that of a
madman by leading musicians even as late as the beginning of our
century—this is surely not the man whose artistic personality can be
fairly represented by a purely intellectual, stiffly precise, though
never so scholarly reading of his printed scores. How is that better
than the bloodless plaster casts of the living, breathing children of
his genius? The printed symbols represent audible sounds and the sounds
symbolize emotions. The mere sounds with the emotions left out are no
more Beethoven’s music than the printed notes if never made audible.

Of his own playing, we are told that it lacked finish and precision, but
never warmth and intensity; that, like his nature, it was stormy,
impetuous, impulsive, at times even almost brutal in its rough strength
and fierce energy; that he often sacrificed tone quality and even
accuracy in his complete abandonment to the torrent of his emotions, but
never failed to stir to their profoundest depths the hearts of his
hearers. Is this the man, this hero of musical democracy, this giant
embodiment of the Titanic forces of primitive Nature, this shaggy-maned
lion, with the great, warm, keenly sentient human heart, whose nearest
prototype among modern players is Rubinstein; is this the man with whom
originated the severely classical school, the cold, prim, stately
interpretations which we are told to reverence as traditional, in which
the head is everything, the heart nothing—form all-important, and
feeling a deplorable weakness? It is impossible, incredible!

I honestly believe that if Beethoven himself could revisit the world and
appear _incognito_ in the concert-halls of our musical centers to give
us an ideal, authoritative rendition of his great works, one-half of his
audience and nine-tenths of his critics would hold up their hands in
holy horror at his untraditional and un-Beethoven-like readings, and
would declare that while he was an interesting and magnetic artist, and
an enjoyable player of the lighter, more emotional modern school, his
renderings of the revered classics were dangerously perverting to the
public taste and could not be sufficiently condemned.

But if not with Beethoven himself, with whom did these so-called
traditions originate? Was it with the first great public interpreters of
his works, who introduced them to the world of concert-goers and so
earned the right to have their readings respected? Who was the first,
most enthusiastic, courageous, and efficient champion of Beethoven’s
piano works? Who did most to introduce them to the concert audiences of
Europe, to force for them first a hearing, then a reluctant recognition?
Who first and oftenest dared to present Beethoven’s serious chamber
music to the frivolous sensation-loving Parisians, and to risk his
unprecedented popularity with them upon the venture? Who but Franz
Liszt! For nearly two decades, during the whole of his phenomenal career
as a virtuoso, the vast weight of his musical influence and example, the
incalculable force of his fervid, magnetic personality, and his
inexhaustible resources as an executant, were all brought to bear in
behalf of his revered Beethoven, in the effort to render his best piano
works familiar and popular with the European public. It is safe to say
that during that period Liszt introduced more Beethoven sonatas to more
people than all other pianists combined. He then established such
traditions as there may be regarding the proper interpretation of these
works; and surely no one who heard him play, no one who is even slightly
familiar with his life, characteristics, and art ideals, will think for
a moment of classing him with the conservative school, with the
inflexible, puritanical adherents to cut-and-dried theories and the cold
dead letter of the law as represented by the printed notes.

But we are told that precisely these printed notes and signs should be
our only and all-sufficient guide. We are commanded to stick to the text
and not to presume to take personal liberties with so sacred a thing as
a Beethoven composition. I wonder if the advocates of this idea, which
does so much credit to their bump of veneration and so little to their
artistic insight, ever took the trouble to examine the text of these
same Beethoven compositions in the earliest editions, as they came first
from his own hand; and if so, whether they noticed the conspicuous
absence of marks of expression. When they urge that Beethoven probably
knew best how his works should be rendered and that we ought to follow
exclusively and religiously his indications, do they know how very few
and inadequate these were? So few, in fact, that if only those given by
the composer are to be observed, even the most rigid of our sticklers
for classical severity are guilty of the most flagrant breaches of their
own rule. Are we then to suppose that Beethoven wished his music played
without varying expression, on one dead monotonous level? Not at all;
but simply to infer that, like many great composers, he felt such
indications to be wholly unnecessary, and was far too impatient to stop
for such mechanical details. To him his music was the vital utterance of
the intense life within. The meaning and true delivery of each phrase
were vividly, unmistakably self-evident, needing arbitrary marks of
expression as little as a heart-felt declaration of love or outburst of
grief. He rightly assumed that to be played at all as it should be, such
music must first be felt, and that visible marks of expression would be
as needless to the player with intuitive comprehension, as they would be
useless to the player without it. Just as Chopin omitted the indication
“tempo rubato” from all his later works, declaring that any one who had
sense enough to play them at all would know that it was demanded without
being told.

True, Beethoven’s works have been edited well-nigh to death since his
time, but of course without his sanction or revision; and as no two
editions agree, who shall decide which is infallible? And why, I ask, is
not the audible interpretation at the piano of a Liszt, a Rubinstein, or
a Paderewski just as likely to be legitimate as the printed
interpretation of a Bülow or a Lebert? Has not one artist as good a
right to his conception as another? And in heaven’s name what possible
reason is there for assuming, in regard to an intensely emotional
composer and player like Beethoven, that the coldly, stiffly scholastic
reading of his works is more in accordance with his original intention
than a more warm and subjective one?

Moreover, even if there were a complete, corrected, authorized edition
of Beethoven, carefully revised by the composer himself, any one who has
ever written out, proof-read, and finally published the simplest
original composition knows well by experience how utterly impossible it
is to indicate definitely, with our imperfect system of marking, just
how each strain should be rendered. A general outline of the whole
effect desired can be given; but try as we may, all the more delicate
shades, the finer details of accent and inflection, must always be left
to the taste, insight, and temperament of the individual performer; just
as the intelligent reading of a poem depends upon much besides an
observance of the punctuation marks. It is not within the limits of
human ability to edit a single period of eight measures so perfectly
that no variations or mistakes in the interpretation are possible.

In view of these facts, I am bold enough to maintain that there is no
such thing as an absolutely correct traditional rendering of any single
Beethoven composition, one to be followed inflexibly. It might be said
of Beethoven, and in fact of any great composer, as aptly as of
Shakespeare, that he is always on the level of his readers. Those
possessing neither natural nor acquired appreciation for the best music
will find in Beethoven nothing but a series of unintelligible and more
or less disagreeable noises, like Humboldt. Those who by nature,
training, and habit of mind are fitted to perceive and enjoy only the
physical and intellectual elements in tonal art,—its sensuous effect
upon the ear, its rhythmic movement, its ingenious intricacies of
structure and symmetry of form,—will seek and find, and, if they are
players, will emphasize in Beethoven only these factors, and will
vehemently protest that there is nothing else there, and that any
attempt to find or to introduce anything else is presumptuous and
morbid. But those to whom music is the artistic medium for the
expression of the strongest, deepest, and best of human emotions, who
demand that every strain shall come fresh and warm from the heart of the
composer and speak directly and forcefully to the heart of the hearer;
those to whom the brain, no less than the hand, is a servant to that
higher, subtler ego we call the soul, and form and technic alike mere
vehicles for soul utterance, will strive, with humble, self-abnegating
fidelity, to read between the lines of the printed music that unwritten,
unwritable spirit of their composer; will infuse for the moment their
own pulsing, revivifying life into the symbolic forms until they glow
with at least a faint suggestion of their original warmth and vitality,
as when freshly born of the passion and the labor of genius. These alone
can give us, in the light and truth of spiritual intuition, the only
approximately _traditional Beethoven playing_.

  1770 1827

  Beethoven: The Moonlight Sonata, Op. 27, No. 2 (C Sharp Minor)

There is probably no composition for the piano of any real merit, by any
writer, which is so universally known, at least by name, as this sonata.
Every one has heard of it, read about it, and most persons are more or
less familiar with the music, or at any rate with portions of it,
especially the first movement, which is, technically, easy enough to be
_executed_, in the literal sense, with the greatest facility by every

According to strict requirements of the law of form it is, in reality,
not a sonata at all, but a free fantasia, in three detached movements,
of a very pronounced but widely diverse emotional character. There has
been considerable questioning on the part of the public, and much
discussion among musicians, as to the origin of its name, its relevancy
to the music, and the true artistic significance of the work.

There is little, if any, suggestion of moonlight, or the mood usually
associated with a moonlight scene, in any of the movements; but there
are several more or less credited traditions concerning it afloat,
legitimatizing the title and explaining its origin. Of these, the one
that seems to the present writer most fully authenticated and best
sustained by the content of the compositions as a whole is the
following. It is given, not as a verified fact, but as a suggestive
possibility, a legendary background in keeping with the work.

It is a well-known matter of history that, during his early struggles
for existence in Vienna, while experiencing the inevitable period of
probation, well named the “starvation epoch,” common to the lot of every
creative artist, and the equally inevitable heritage of great genius,
born fifty years in advance of its time,—lack of appreciation and
scathing abuse from the self-constituted, self-satisfied foes of all
progressive art, called critics,—Beethoven had the additional
misfortune to fall deeply, but hopelessly, in love with a beautiful and
brilliantly accomplished, though shallow, young heiress, of noble birth
and lofty social position, Julie Guicciardi by name, who was, for a
short time, one of his pupils. She is said to have returned his
affection, but the union was, of course, under the then prevailing
conditions, utterly impossible; and even if it could have taken place,
would doubtless have proved most incompatible and uncongenial. She was a
countess, accustomed to luxury and splendor; he an obscure musician
fighting for the bare necessities of life, hardly higher in the social
scale than her father’s valet and not so well paid. It was absurd; and
blind Love had blundered once again in his marksmanship. Or was it an
intentional, cruel shaft from the tricky little god? In any case,
Beethoven was deeply smitten; and this unlucky passion darkened and
saddened his life for many years, and is accountable for much of the
somber tone which we find in his compositions of that period.

So much is fact. The story goes that one evening, when wandering in the
outskirts of the city, on one of those long, solitary walks, which were
his only relaxation, he chanced to pass an elegant suburban villa in
which a gay social gathering was in progress. Some one was playing one
of his recent compositions as he went by—a rare occurrence in those
days. His attention was attracted and, half unconsciously, he stopped to
listen—stopped, as luck would have it, in a full flood of moonlight,
was recognized from within, and a laughing company of the guests, Julie
among them, sallied out, surrounded and captured him, and fairly
compelled him to come in and play for them. They insisted that he should
improvise and should take for his theme the moonlight which had been the
cause of his capture and their unexpected pleasure. The usually
reticent, intractable, not to say morose, Beethoven at last
consented—under who shall say what subtle spell of Julie’s voice and
eyes?—and seated himself at the piano.

But those who are at all familiar with his music know that Beethoven
was, except in a few rare instances, an emotional, not a realistic
writer; a subjective, not an objective artist; reproducing not the
scenes and circumstances of his environment or fancied situations, but
the emotional impressions which they produced upon his own inner being,
colored by his own personality and the mental conditions of the moment,
often just the reverse of what might naturally have been expected. What
he most keenly felt on this particular occasion was not the soft
splendor of the summer night, or the opulent luxury and careless,
superficial gaiety about him, but the bitter and cutting contrast which
they afforded to his own struggling, sorrow-darkened, care-laden
existence, full of disappointments and humiliations, of petty, sordid,
yet unavoidable anxieties, with those twin vultures ever at his heart—a
hopeless love, an unappreciated genius. The result was moonlight music
in which no gleam of moonlight was reflected; only its somber shadow
lying heavily and depressingly upon the stream of his emotions, which
poured themselves out through the harmonies of this composition with an
unconscious power and truth and a pathetic grandeur which have justly
made it world-famous.

The first movement expresses unmingled sadness, but without any weakness
of vain complaint; a calm, candid, but hopeless recognition of the

The second seems to be an attempt at a lighter, more cheerful strain, a
fleeting recollection of his ostensible theme; but it is only partially
successful and very brief, and is followed by a reaction into a mood far
more intense and darkly fierce than the first.

The last movement is full of indignant protest, of passionate rebellion,
with occasional bursts of fiery defiance. In it we see the strong soul,
surging like the waves of a mighty sea against the rocky borders of
fate, striving desperately to break through or over them, and returning
again and again to the fruitless attempt, with a courage only equaled by
its futility. It is the Titan Beethoven battling with the gods of

It is, of course, unlikely, even impossible, that this
improvisation,—the tradition being true,—was precisely the music of
the Moonlight Sonata in its present form. It could but furnish the
themes, outlines, and moods of the various movements, subsequently
developed into the composition so widely known and admired.

  Beethoven: Sonata Pathétique, Op. 13

With the exception, perhaps, of the “Moonlight,” this work is the best
known to the world at large, and the one most frequently attempted by
ambitious students of the Beethoven sonatas. Its familiar title was not
bestowed by Beethoven himself, but by some publishers later, and seems
to me inaptly chosen; in fact, not at all justly applicable to the
composition as a whole. It was probably suggested partly by the minor
key, but mainly by the second movement, which is gravely pathetic in
mood. As a whole the work is far too strong, intense, and dramatic to
warrant the name. _Sonata Tragica_ would have been better. I have not
been able to find any authority for attributing to it definite
descriptive significance in the objective sense. It is the forceful
expression of a pronounced emotional condition, or rather, sequence of
experiences, embodied with all the fervent glow and impetuous power of
early manhood, yet with the precision and finish of maturity. Every
measure is replete with intense feeling as well as intrinsic beauty.
There is not a superfluous note or a meaningless embellishment in it
from beginning to end; not an ounce of sawdust stuffing to fill out the
defective contours of a stereotyped form—which, alas! is not true of
many of Beethoven’s piano works; and, all in all, it seems to the
present writer to be the most musically interesting and evenly sustained
composition for the piano from Beethoven’s pen.

The broad, impressive introduction marked _grave_ is full of strength
and somber majesty. It is gloomily grand rather than pathetic, like the
epitome of some stern fatalist’s philosophy of life, and reminds one of
Swinburne’s lines:

   “More dark than a dead world’s tomb,
    More high than the sheer dawn’s gate,
    More deep than the wide sea’s womb,

The first subject of the allegro movement is anything but pathetic. It
is full of fire, energy, and restless striving; of fierce conflict and
desperate endeavor; of the defiant pride of genius exulting in the
unequal combat with the world’s stony indifference, and the inimical
conditions of life.

The second theme is warmer and more nearly approaches the lyric vein. It
is half pleading, half argumentative in tone, strikingly suggestive of
the mood so common to young but gifted souls, in the bitterness of their
first pained surprise at the cruel contrast between the ideal and the
actual in life. It seems to strive to reason with unreasoning and
unreasonable facts, and to touch the heart of a heartless fate with its
tender pleading. The continually reiterated embellishments upon the
melody notes here should be given distinctly as a _mordente_, with
marked accent on the last of the three tones in every case, not played
as a triplet with accent on the first, as is so often done, and even so
indicated in many standard editions, thus materially weakening the
effect of the passage, rendering it trivial and characterless as well as
out of keeping with the general mood. This is what Kullak used to call
“the lazy way” of playing it. The striking contrast between the first
and second subjects should be maintained throughout, with greatest
possible distinctness, and the closing chords must be given boldly,
defiantly, like a challenge proudly flung to all the powers of darkness,
to fate, no matter how adverse.

With the second movement comes a radical change of mood. The first
impetuous vigor has been expended in the struggle; the first joy of
combat and self-reliant consciousness of strength have ebbed away like a
receding tide, leaving the soul exhausted, discouraged, but not
despairing. There is a moment of truce in life’s battle, a moment of
calm, though sad reflection; a moment in which to contemplate the
impassable gulf between the heaven-piercing heights of ambition and the
petty levels of possible human achievement, in which to dream, not of
victory and happiness,—those are among the unattainable ideals,—but of
rest and sweet forgetfulness, and to say with Tennyson—

    “What profit do we have to war with evil?
          Let us alone.”

There is an occasional hint of the volcanic fires of passion, slumbering
beneath this surface calm of a spirit sent to earth, but not broken,
gathering its forces for a fresh uprising. But as a whole it is
tranquilly thoughtful, gravely introspective, and should be rendered
with great deliberation and profound earnestness.

The last movement is hardly up to the standard of the other two, either
musically or emotionally. Still it is interesting, symmetrically made,
and not devoid of depth and intensity. It is perhaps a logical
conclusion to the work, if we regard the whole as a sort of tone-poem on
life. With most of us in youth, our boundless courage and aspiration
lead us to dare all things and believe in the possibility of all things;
to hurl ourselves into the fight with destiny, with the limitless
presumption of untried powers and unwarrantable hopes. Later comes a
period of depression and discouragement, in which nothing seems worth
effort, so far do realities fall below our expectations. Then, if we are
reasonable, we learn, at last, to adapt ourselves in a measure to things
as they are, to content ourselves in some wise with the flowers, since
the stars are out of reach, and to measure achievement relatively, not
by the standard of our first glorious, ever-to-be-regretted ambitions,
but of the possible, the partial and imperfect, under the limitations of
inflexible earthly conditions; and we quench our soul’s thirst as best
we may with the meager, mingled draught of bitter-sweet that life

This movement is light, rapid, and would be cheerful but for its minor
key and its undertone of plaintive sadness. It seems like an attempt to
take a brighter view of life, but is still shadowed by past
experiences,—a touching gaiety dimmed by the mist of recent tears,—and
this is, perhaps unintentionally, the most nearly pathetic of the three
movements. It should be given with life and warmth, and, despite the
pedants, with a free use of the rubato, but not with extreme velocity.

  Beethoven: Sonata in A Flat Major, Op. 26

This sonata, like the “Moonlight” and several others in the collection
of Beethoven’s piano work bearing this name, is not cast in the usual
sonata mold; in fact, it is not a sonata at all, according to the modern
technical application of the term. But as the name sonata was originally
derived from the Italian verb _sonare_, to sound, or, in musical
parlance, to cause to sound, to play upon a musical instrument, and was
used to designate any piece of instrumental music whatsoever, in
distinction from that which was intended to be sung, it is perhaps as
correctly employed in this connection as in any other.

The first movement of this work consists of a simple, beautiful,
melodious, noble lyric theme, followed by five strongly contrasted and
strikingly characteristic variations, and an exquisitely tender and
expressive little coda.

The _theme and variations_, not only in this, but in every case where
the form is well wrought out, is a musical illustration of the natural,
logical process of evolution. The simple, vital germ of thought or
feeling, inherent in the theme, as the life principle inheres in the
germ of wheat, is seen to expand gradually and develop through the
successive variations into new and changing forms of ever-increasing
beauty and suggestiveness until every latent possibility of expression
has been matured and exhausted, and the idea has been presented to us in
every practicable light and from every attainable standpoint; just as
the gradual growth and ripening of the wheat, subjected to nature’s
infinite variety of conditions and her ceaseless alternation of day and
night, cold and heat, sun and rain, calm and storm, present to us daily
some change of form and hue, some new phase of its progressive
existence, until complete maturity is reached and its utmost limit of
development attained.

A still better analogy may be drawn from human experience itself, from
the constant modification and development of a given character,
subjected to the shifting vicissitudes and changeful, often conflicting
influences of daily life. It is interesting and helpful, in studying or
listening to any work in the _theme and variation_ form, to conceive of
the theme as symbolizing a definite personality, as of hero or heroine
in a narrative, a personality clearly marked, but undeveloped, distinct
to the mind of the composer, and which the performer or hearer should
endeavor to grasp with equal definiteness. Each variation may then
represent some varying phase of life, some different experience or
influence, or emotional condition, bearing upon this typified
personality. The peculiar mood and suggestive characteristics of each
variation must be clearly perceived and strongly emphasized, and its due
relation to the whole work preserved, while the underlying,
all-pervading theme must be kept intelligibly recognizable through all
its most capricious and widely contrasting modifications, to give
purpose and continuity to the whole; just as the strongly marked
individuality of a well-drawn character is traceable through all the
manifold vicissitudes of life and may be counted on to follow out its
own inherent laws of evolution, no matter what the circumstances or
conditions to which it may be subjected.

Let us, in the case of this sonata, conceive of the first simple theme
as suggesting, through the subtle symbolism of tone effects, the
character of our hero, gravely tender, calmly resolute, nobly, warmly,
generously affectionate, with much of innate strength, tempered by
gentleness and latent passion, refined by ideality.

In the first variation life presents itself to him as a serious but
interesting and agreeable problem, possessing the charm of mystery. He
investigates, speculates, reflects, lingers fascinated upon the
threshold of the shadowy unknown, enjoys the vague delight of its dim
but inviting perspective.

In the second he faces storm and conflict, revels in the discovery and
fullest exercise of his own strength and courage and in his successful
wrestle with danger and difficulty. The mood here is bold, heroic, full
of life and energy.

In the third our hero is suddenly confronted by the twin giants, death
and despair. The shadow of their sable forms envelops him with
impenetrable gloom. His soul is crushed by a weight as of a leaden pall,
and from the depths it sends up a half-stifled cry of unutterable,
inarticulate anguish, equaled by nothing in literature, unless it may be
by the verses of Edgar Allan Poe entitled “The Conqueror Worm.”

The fourth variation brings a reaction toward a brighter mood, flashes
of sunlight through parting clouds, fitful gleams of spasmodic gaiety,
half hope, half defiance, showing intermittently against the somber
background of grief.

Finally, the fifth and last variation is a tender, cheerful love poem,
telling, with a charming intermingling of fervent warmth and playful
brightness, of the sovereign magic of human affection, in which the
tried spirit has at last found solace and repose; while the brief but
significant little coda seems like a dreamy retrospect, a tender
reminiscence of bygone joys, and griefs, and struggles, tempered by
distance and brightened by the light of present happiness.

If the work ended here it would be well rounded and complete, and it may
be, in fact often is, presented in this form, entirely omitting the
other three movements. But though not indispensable to the symmetry of
the composition, the remaining three movements of the sonata are all
intrinsically interesting and enjoyable, and embody three radically
differing types of emotional life. In them we are dealing no longer with
an individual experience, but with general moods, with abstract elements
and conditions.

The principal subject of the scherzo is bright, piquant, exhilarating;
expressing unmixed, uncontrolled gaiety, toned down for a moment in the
trio to a touch of arch tenderness, but immediately breaking away again
into rollicking hilarity. It should be given with great clearness and
crispness, very little pedal, and a clean, sparkling tone, like sharply
cut glass icicles with the sun behind them. The term _scherzo_ is an
Italian word, signifying a jest, and all that is most capricious,
sportive, and humorous in music finds expression in this form.

The third movement is one of the two great funeral marches for the piano
in existence, the other being that in the sonata, Op. 35, by Chopin.
This one by Beethoven is so forcefully characteristic in mood and
movement, so full of gloomy grandeur, of dramatic intensity, of depth
and richness of somber harmonic coloring, that it may be ranked among
his very ablest artistic creations. It should be played with the utmost
fullness and sonority of tone, but not extremely loud even in the
climaxes, and never hard or rough; so as to convey the impression of
suppressed power and of a noble, sustained sorrow, not a spasmodic,
petulant distress. Its inflexible, unvarying rhythm throughout should
suggest, not only the slow, solemn movement of the funeral procession,
the heavily tolling bells, the awed, hushed grief of the mourners, but
as well the more abstract and universal thoughts of the slow but
relentless march of time and destiny and the might and majesty of death.

The last movement of the sonata is in the usual rondo form, light,
graceful, ethereal, with a certain subdued cheerfulness, telling of
dreamy aspiration and vague, intuitive faith in ultimate good, of the
airy, upward flight of light-winged hope toward a brighter realm beyond
the grave, where pain and death shall be remembered only as the minor
cadences and passing dissonances which lead to the enhanced beauty of
the final major harmony.

The sonata as a whole is one of the most interesting productions of
Beethoven’s second period, and is technically within the reach of most
good amateurs.

  Beethoven: Sonata in D Minor, Op. 31, No. 2

This is not usually considered a descriptive composition, but Beethoven,
when questioned regarding it, answered: “Read Shakespeare’s ‘Tempest.’”
With this hint from the most authoritative of all sources, the composer
himself, we may easily trace, if not a strongly realistic, at least a
suggestive reference in the music to that most romantic drama by the
greatest of English play-writers. And we may also find a pertinent
rebuke for those who are inclined to sneer at the idea of descriptive
suggestion in music in general and in Beethoven’s works in particular,
in spite of Beethoven’s own words: “I always have some picture in mind
when I write.”

The first movement of this sonata opens with an extremely simple theme,
consisting merely of the notes of the common triad—_do-mi-sol-do_—a
theme so bald, so apparently devoid of beauty and latent resources that
only Beethoven would have ventured to use it; and only his genius could
have given it any degree of interest. It is evidently chosen with
deliberate intention to indicate naïve simplicity and natural primitive
conditions of life in the island, as Prospero found it, with that
half-animal, half-savage man, Caliban, as the most prominent figure in
it. His singular, ludicrously grotesque personality may have suggested
some of the clumsily rollicking passages in this movement. The tempest
is only hinted at, not vividly portrayed—a tempest in miniature, a
storm in fairyland. Still, it is unmistakable, though divested of all
its terrors, just as it must have appeared to Prospero himself, whose
magic power and complete mastery over the elemental forces placed him
above and beyond all fear.

The second movement, full of sweet repose, of grave, tranquil happiness,
is like the hearts of the two lovers in the drama, safe in the loving
and powerful protection of Prospero, living close to the gentle,
passionless breast of Mother Nature, childlike in their simple trust,
their spontaneous affection, their simple joy in the passing hour. It
seems at first rather tame and colorless to our modern ears, accustomed
to the ceaseless stress and din of complex and conflicting elements,
warring together in the life and art of our own day; but if we can
forget for a moment the intensity, the restless questioning and striving
of the present and go back in spirit for a century or two to more normal
conditions, we shall find this music restful and soothing as the green
sweep of woods and meadows on a June morning in the country, after the
glare and fever of a city ball-room.

The closing movement, with its light, tripping rhythm, its playful,
half-facetious mood, is evidently intended to recall the pranks of that
merry, tricksy sprite, Puck, so brimming over with good-natured fun and
laughing mischief, yet so ready and able, at his master’s command, to
“put a girdle round the world in forty minutes.”

The whole is a work of delicate fancy rather than emotional depth or
dramatic force. It shows us a somewhat unusual phase of Beethoven’s
genius, and is but one more proof of his versatility, one more
justification for his title, “The Shakespeare of Music.”

  Beethoven: Sonata, C Major, Op. 53

This is one of the best and justly most beloved of the pianoforte works
from what is known as Beethoven’s Second Period; that is to say, the
period when his creative power was at its zenith, when his genius had
reached its fullest maturity, yet showed no sign of waning; when, in its
individual development, it had outgrown all youthful crudities, all
reminiscent suggestions of older masters, occasionally to be found in
his earlier writings, yet before it had lapsed into that somewhat
obstruse, metaphysical vein to which some of us are inclined to object
in his latest works, in which individuality is sometimes exaggerated
into eccentricity. The present writer is not among those who regard his
latest sonatas for the piano as in any sense his greatest works, and it
is something of a question whether any pianist would play or any
audience tolerate the Op. 111, for instance, if it bore any signature
but that of Beethoven. The works of his second or middle period are
instinct with far more genuine spontaneity and true musical effect.

The Op. 53 is familiarly known among musicians under two names. It is
often designated as the “Aurora Sonata,” because of its suggestive
reference to, not to say actual description of, those wondrous fireworks
of the heavens, the northern lights. The first movement particularly,
with its constant change of key, its well-nigh infinite variety of light
and shade, above all, its constant flash and play of scintillating
embellishment and brilliant passage work, cannot fail to call up before
the imaginative mind the varying hues, the shifting, intermittent
splendors of the aurora borealis, with its flashes of crimson and
orange, and its flickerings of softest violet and rose.

The second movement forms a distinct and restful contrast and quiet
background to the brilliancy of the first. It is slow, reposeful, and
gravely impressive, symbolizing the hushed solemnity of the quiet,
frost-clear, winter night.

The last movement, a prefect rondo in form, returns to the mood and
general style of the first. It is bright and crisp, full of brilliant
ornamentations and striking contrasts, and should be given with the idea
of the northern lights again distinctly before the mind. Its airy,
buoyant melody, floating lightly upon swiftly flowing waves of
accompaniment, reminding one of that Wotan’s bridge which the ancient
Northman fancied he beheld in the glittering, far-spanning arch of the
aurora, that bright, but perilous, path of heroes from Earth to

This composition is also known as the “Waldstein Sonata,” because
dedicated to Count Waldstein, of Vienna, one of Beethoven’s best
friends, during his earlier years in the Austrian capital. Count
Waldstein was a descendant of the famous general and most prominent
Catholic leader, who figured so prominently during the thirty years’ war
in Germany, that sanguinary struggle between Catholics and Protestants,
from 1618 to 1648. The name of this brilliant leader, a Bohemian noble
of vast wealth and power, and commander of the Austrian imperial forces,
is usually spelled Wallenstein; but the name and lineage are identical
with that of the Count to whom this sonata is dedicated—the confusion
arising from the difference between the German and Bohemian orthography.
The original Wallenstein, though unquestionably a man of pronounced
intellectual ability and a devout, enthusiastic Catholic, was a firm
believer in what we term the obsolete science of astrology and an
earnest student of its mysteries. He had fullest faith in all the mystic
auguries and prophetic omens of the skies, and never undertook any
important step without first carefully consulting them, aided by the
profounder knowledge of a trained, professional astrologer, whom he
always kept close at hand. It is of interest to note that the famous
German scientist, Kepler, served for many years as the private
astrologer of Wallenstein, In the researches and belief of Duke
Wallenstein he included every manifestation of the aurora borealis. In
fact, he seems to have laid particular stress upon these as bearing
directly upon his own life and career, as fraught with special prophetic
import for him personally. It is a curious coincidence, in view of these
facts, that the most brilliant display of the northern lights recorded
for the first half of the seventeenth century took place on the very
evening on which Wallenstein was assassinated, only a few hours prior to
his murder. In the light of his theories it would almost seem like an
attempt of his old friends in the skies to warn him of impending peril.
At all events, the aurora was, according to his belief, an important
factor in his life. His descendants, who naturally treasured all the
facts and traditions concerning their brilliant ancestor, would
therefore regard the aurora with special interest as being, in a certain
sense, connected with their own family history. It was for this reason,
as a delicate and appropriate compliment to his friend, that Beethoven,
in writing a work which was to be dedicated to him, chose this theme and
embodied it in a composition which, for his time and in view of the then
prevailing musical conditions, as well as the necessary limitations of
the strict sonata form, is remarkably, even graphically, descriptive.

  Beethoven: Sonata, E Minor, Op. 90

This composition is one of the shortest, easiest, and, from the
standpoint of magnitude, least important of Beethoven’s later works. It
has but two movements, neither of them of extreme technical difficulty,
and in structure it fails, in various essential respects, to fulfil the
requirements of the conventional sonata form. Indeed, the same may be
said of many of his best known and most played sonatas, which are
sonatas only in name, according to the generally accepted technical
significance of the term, notably the Op. 26, Op. 27, No. 2, and others.
Yet this little Op. 90, in E minor, is among his most genial,
interesting, and gratefully musical compositions. In spite of an
occasional touch of pedantry, it is full of melodic charm and emotional
suggestiveness. It is not descriptive in the sense of portraying either
actual scenes or events. It deals not with action, but with a series of
varying, strongly contrasted moods.

It is dedicated to Count Lichnowsky, a resident of Vienna, with whom the
composer was intimately acquainted, and of whose touching little love
story it is a musical embodiment. The Count’s personal experiences of
mind and heart suggested the work and formed its emotional content. He
was a member of one of the most aristocratic Viennese families, belonged
to the highest nobility, and had inherited a proud old name and vast
estates. He occupied a lofty position in both social and diplomatic
circles, but he had become seriously and profoundly attached to a young
actress of unquestioned talent and rising fame, but of obscure and very
humble origin—a girl of exceptional beauty, sterling character, and
refined, winning personality, but, considered from the standpoint of
worldly position and class traditions, a wholly unsuitable alliance for
the great noble.

It is difficult for one educated in democratic America to grasp the
conditions involved in such a situation, or to understand and to
sympathize with the painful struggle in the mind of the Count, the
maddening doubts, the heart-sick vacillation on her account, as much as
his own, before the final decision was reached; the obstacles to be
overcome, the opposition of friends and relatives to be met or defied,
before the path could be cleared to his desired goal. On the one hand,
love and happiness with the woman of his choice; on the other, social
ostracism for his future wife, certainly, and for himself, probably;
serious detriment to his promising career; a life of constant battle
with class prejudice, of incessant petty slights and mortifications; a
position necessarily trying and humiliating to both. At last, however,
love triumphed over all doubts and difficulties, as it always should and
must if genuine, and the wedding took place.

It is said, “All the world loves a lover,” and certainly the story of
true love victorious over all opposition is the oldest and to most
people the most interesting ever told. This story, or at least the
emotions underlying it, expressed in music, Beethoven gives us in the
two strongly contrasted movements of this little sonata: a simple drama
of hearts, in two acts, written in the language of tone.

The first movement deals with the period of doubt and indecision, of
mental conflict and moody alternation, of resolve and depression. Its
strong, passionate minor first subject in chords expresses the struggle
and unrest, the indignant protest against petty prejudice and inflexible
conventionality; while its plaintive little counter-theme tells of
tender longings, of sad discouragements, of hopes deferred and desire
thwarted. In the development it reaches a vigorous, rough, almost
dissonant climax, as of bitter defiance and fierce scorn of the world
and its trammels.

The second movement, calm, fluent, and sweetly melodious, full of rest
and tranquil content, deals with the period after love’s victory, when
hope has been fulfilled and the heart’s unrest has been transformed to
peace and happiness, where life flows onward like a placid stream, its
waters brightened and purified by the glad sunlight of perfect love and
full-orbed happiness, its waves murmuring the old yet ever new refrain,
the simple, natural, yet magically potent melody, to which the symphony
of the universe is harmonized.

There is an occasional brief suggestion of past strife and remembered
trial, just sufficient to give enduring zest to the present, reposeful
joy; but, as a whole, this last movement, with its constantly reiterated
tender yet cheerful major melody, seems to sing over and over, with
trifling variations of form, but untiring delight in its essential
burden, the song of love’s completeness. A song without words it may be,
but with a meaning passing words.

  Beethoven: Music to “The Ruins of Athens”

This composition, or rather series of fragmentary musical sketches,
containing some very original and telling movements, is wholly unknown
to the American public, and unfamiliar to most musicians, except for the
“Turkish Grand March,” the only number that has gained any considerable
popularity. “The Ruins of Athens” is the name of a curious but very
ingenious production for the stage, once quite popular in Germany—a
sort of combination of the spectacular play, the musical melodrama and
classical allegory, designated “A Dramatic Mask” by the author, a
playwright of Vienna. It was written and produced at a time when the
sympathies and interest of the Christian world were strongly enlisted
for the Greeks in their gallant and desperate struggles for freedom from
Turkish domination and oppression which ended successfully in 1829,
after a contest of seven years.

The scene is laid in Athens, then practically in ruins. The characters,
situations, and environment are all, of course, Greek. To this work
Beethoven furnished the music, originally scored for orchestra, some
numbers of which have since been transcribed for the piano. Of these,
only two are of any real value or importance to the pianist.

  Turkish Grand March

First, the “Turkish Grand March” referred to, written to accompany the
march of the Turkish troops across the stage in one scene. Rubinstein,
when in this country years ago, scored many of his greatest popular
successes with his own effective arrangement of this number. It contains
no great originality or musical depth, in fact is quite primitive in
both content and structure, but is brilliant and pleasing, with a
strongly marked, rhythmic swing and a shrill, strident melody which, in
its intentional, bald simplicity, strongly suggests the rude but
spirited martial music of a half-barbaric people, given by fife and
drum. Its artistic effectiveness depends upon the skilful handling of an
old but ever popular device, the audible illusion of approach and
departure. The music, beginning with the softest possible pianissimo,
swells in a gradual, almost imperceptible crescendo, to the heaviest
obtainable triple forte, and then as gradually diminishes to double
pianissimo, tapering off at last into silence; thus simulating the
approach of marching troops from a distance nearer and nearer, till they
pass across the stage in immediate proximity, and then their gradual
receding till lost again in the distance. It is a device of which many
composers have availed themselves, and makes great demands upon the
player’s self-control and sense of proportion and gradation, as well as
his command of the tonal resources of his instrument.

  The Dance of the Dervishes

By far the most original of these numbers is “The Dance of the
Dervishes,” the second one referred to. This brief but complete
composition is full of striking originality and graphic realism. It is
one in which Beethoven’s genius seems to have anticipated by half a
century the pronounced modern trend toward descriptive or program music,
and is as realistic a tone-painting as we might expect from the pen of
Saint-Saëns, Wagner, or any of the recent writers. The dance was
introduced into the play as an interesting local feature,—the dervishes
being numerous in connection with the Turkish army,—and Beethoven
naturally selected it as an effective subject for musical treatment.
But, before speaking of their dancing as illustrated by Beethoven, it
may be of sufficient historical interest to give a brief sketch of the
dervishes themselves.

They developed as a sect or order from Mohammedanism after it was well
established in the world. The name “dervishes,” which they assumed,
comes from a Russian word which means “beggars from door to door.” The
Arabic word which means the same thing is “fakirs.” So they are called
dervishes or fakirs in different localities, but are the same body. They
declared themselves Moslems, but their doctrines, in many respects,
differed widely from those of Mohammed. Their beginnings are in
obscurity, but they were a well-established order by the eleventh
century. Their expressed beliefs, as we earliest come to know them, were
chiefly and decidedly religious. They seemed to represent the spiritual
and mystical side of Islam, having a philosophy much like that of the
Hindus, and perhaps borrowed from them. Their central idea seemed to be
that the soul is an emanation from God, and that man’s highest aim is to
seek a total absorption in Him. Their various and strange rites and
ceremonies seem only different ways by which they sought for union with
the deity. In this way they claimed that they secured miraculous powers.
At first they largely lived in convents, under rules and orders, giving
themselves up to meditation and penance, observing the rules of poverty,
abstinence from wine, and celibacy, in the higher classes. Their growth
was rapid; but in time they largely fell away from their highest estate,
ceased to be so strictly a religious body, broke up into various ranks
and sub-orders, became more free from conventional rules, more nomadic,
and more wild and fanatical; but their social and political influence
ever increased, so that they have long been regarded as a dangerous
element in the state. There are crowds of them all through the East that
seem to belong to no society, wandering mendicants, and, though often
skilled in trades, largely subsisting by professional jugglery, bigoted
in their fantastic beliefs, and varying in their rites and strange
ceremonies. And yet always and everywhere there is still some general
adherence to the old appointed religious ways, a peculiar tie or
affiliation with the distinctive body or sect, however differing in
certain notions or modes of worship. The lowest devotee of them all
claims that the dervishes or fakirs constitute a distinct body of
religious believers in spite of all divisions and varieties in
manifestation. They acknowledge no authority but that of their spiritual
guides, as that of the Mahdi in the Soudan, where these fanatics have
been so lately fighting the English. They agree also in not following
the letter of the Koran, or the general teachings of its interpreters.
As a whole body, in all its orders, all over the world, they seek, as an
act of worship, to get into an ecstatic state. They do this in various
ways: Sometimes by drinking hasheesh, but more generally by some
physical or mental ways, and while under the excitement they perform
astounding feats in jugglery or mysticism that really seem almost
miraculous. We cannot stop to detail these different methods. One of
them is the dance of a certain order which has received the name of the
“dancing or whirling dervishes.”

This is the dance of Beethoven—an ingenious method of excitement and
self-torture, and at the same time a strict religious ceremonial. It
consists of little more than an exceedingly rapid gyration upon an
imaginary pivot, spinning round and round like tops, with almost
incredible velocity, till overcome by dizziness from the protracted
rotary motion, or by physical exhaustion, they fall in a swoon, after
passing through all the successive stages of delirious frenzy always
attending intense fanatical religious excitement, no matter what the
race or faith. The dance is accompanied by frantic gestures, wild cries,
and doleful groans, and often by a species of weird oriental music,
adapted to its rhythm, and intended to stimulate the dancers to greater
excitement, and consequently greater exertion and speed.

This music, as well as a portrayal of the dance, Beethoven gives us in
this composition, which has been admirably transcribed for the piano by
Saint-Saëns. It begins softly and a little slowly. As the dancers
gradually get under way and warmed to their task, it gradually grows in
speed and power as the frenzy increases, till it reaches a furious,
almost insane climax; then rapidly diminishes as, one by one, the
dancers, exhausted or swooning, drop out of the circle.

It demands great freedom and facility in octave playing, and endless
verve and abandon of style; and needs, to be comprehended and enjoyed by
an audience, some explanation of its character and artistic
signification, either given by the player or printed on the program.

  1786 1826

  Weber: Invitation to the Dance, Op. 65

Critics have generally ascribed to this composition the honor of
inaugurating a new and important department in the realm of tonal
creation—namely, that of descriptive or program music; that is to say,
music which attempts to embody in tone something more than mere ideal
beauty of metrical form and rhythmic symmetry, and to express something
more than vague emotional states, too intangible for utterance in words;
music which conveys not only sensuous pleasure and indefinite moods, but
a distinct, realistic suggestion; which gives, against a background of
harmony, with its general emotional coloring, an actual picture of some
scene in nature or experience in life; music, in a word, which takes its
place in line with the advanced position of the other arts, in progress
toward dramatic truth and worthy realism. Descriptive music, like
landscape painting, has been the latest, and in some respects the
loftiest, phase of the art to be developed.

We can scarcely with justice credit to Weber, as a strictly original
departure, the opening of this new path in the domain of musical art,
which was in modern times to lead so far and to such important and
magnificent results. Descriptive music, of a more or less pronounced
character, had already appeared from time to time, though rarely so
labeled, and mostly in detached fragments, in the works of most of the
greatest composers, preëminently in those of Haydn, Mozart, Gluck, and
Beethoven. Even the austere Handel was not entirely free from occasional
digressions into this field. But we may safely ascribe to Weber the
honor of being one of the first to have the full courage of his
convictions and to declare himself boldly for this phase of creative
art, by giving to this distinctly descriptive composition an
unmistakably descriptive title, thus fearlessly unveiling and
emphasizing its realistic intentions.

The work opens with a simple but serious passage of recitative in single
notes, in the baritone register, conveying the “Invitation to the Dance”
as if by a mellow masculine voice. Then comes the reply, in a soft
soprano, brief, kindly, but as if offering some playful objection, as
the lady, true to her sex, waits to be asked a second time before saying
yes. The invitation is repeated more urgently, followed by the assenting
treble, as the lady steps upon the floor on the arm of her partner. A
brief dialogue ensues, in which the two voices can be distinctly traced
by their differing registers, alternating and interwoven, as the pair
pace the polished floor, exchanging those airy nothings of the
ball-room. Then the orchestra enters, with a passage of brilliant
resonant chords, full of spirited life and gay challenge, calling the
dancers to their places, and the waltz proper begins. Its crisp, piquant
rhythm and free elasticity of movement, its bright, graceful melody and
cheerful major harmony, all express youthful elation, fresh, joyous
excitement, thoughtless, hence unmixed, gaiety.

As the steps and the pulses quicken, there comes on that exhilaration of
mood familiar to all dancers, caused by the lights, the flowers, the
perfumes, the music, the gay costumes, the beauty and the gallantry of a
ball-room, the rhythmic exercise of the muscles and free circulation of
the blood, all acting together to produce upon the senses and the fancy
an effect amounting almost to intoxication; an echo of which is awakened
in every breast, which has felt it often and keenly, on catching a
strain of distant dance music, to the end of life. This mood is depicted
in the composition before us by an exuberance of runs and ornamentation,
following the first simple enunciation of the waltz melody.

After rising to quite a little climax of ecstasy, this mood lapses
abruptly into the second waltz theme, slower, more lyric, dreamy,
languorous, almost melancholy in tone, conveying that impression which
every susceptible person feels, to the verge of rising tears, after
listening long to waltz music, which is quite different from its first
inspiring effect, and which every devoted dancer feels equally surely in
the prolonged waltz. The time has come when one has grown so accustomed
to the waltz movement as to be scarcely conscious of it, seems rather,
in a state of rhythmic rest, to be floating on the atmosphere, which
ebbs and flows to a three-four measure. Thoughts, breath, pulses, flying
feet, the murmur of voices, all existence has adapted itself to this
waltz tempo, as to its normal element, and the very planets seem to
swing through space in triple rhythm. The true waltz has but two moods,
which touch the opposite poles of emotion—that of joyous elation and of
dreamy languor. We may call them the _Allegro_ and the _Penseroso_ of
the waltz. And Weber, in the “Invitation to the Dance,” has recognized
this and woven his composition of but two themes, representing the
contrasting phases of feeling described.

In the midst of the second warm and sinuous melody, we hear again the
masculine voice, in less conventional accents, and the soft responses of
the treble, through quite a colloquy, while the accompaniment keeps ever
steadily to the undulating waltz movement, till the two voices merge
gradually into the general murmur and are drowned in the flourishes of
the orchestra, as our couple disappears in the whirl, with which the
waltz, taking up again the first sparkling melody with accelerated pace,
draws with increasing confusion to its close. When the dance has ceased,
and the orchestra is silent, the introductory theme recurs, as the
gentleman leads his lady to a seat and expresses his thanks with the
sedate courtesy of his first greeting; and thus ends this charming
composition and this glimpse into that gay social world, where the hand
some, talented, but rather dissolute young composer was only too great a
favorite in his early years.

In spite of a certain baldness and primitive naïveté noticeable in the
treatment at times, the “Invitation to the Dance,” so widely and justly
popular, is one of Weber’s ablest pianoforte compositions, both from a
musical and a dramatic standpoint. Regarded from that of pure music, it
is especially interesting from the fact that it was the first
composition to raise the waltz, used up to that time only as an
accompaniment for dancing, to the level of legitimate and recognized
artistic musical forms. In the hands of Schubert, Chopin, Strauss,
Rubinstein, and Moszkowski, these successive kings of the waltz, it has
since reached its present development.

The “Invitation to the Dance” was written a few months after Weber’s
happy marriage with the opera singer, Caroline Brandt, and is dedicated
to “My Caroline.”

  Weber: Rondo in E Flat, Op. 62

The rondo is the most ancient, simple, and natural form of homophonic
musical construction. It is based upon the folk-song and is always in
one or the other of the more or less complex song forms. It consists of
a simple melodic period, usually eight measures in length, bright and
cheerful in character, alternating several times, virtually unchanged at
each reappearance, with one or more subordinate subjects, in a more
lyric or dramatic mood, for the sake of variety and contrast.

An apt but homely illustration of the rondo may be found in that most
laborious and indigestible product of American cookery, that culinary
absurdity, originating in our natural tendency toward display and
dyspepsia, the layer cake. In the most primitive form of rondo, or more
strictly speaking, rondino, the first theme appears but twice,
corresponding to a first and second layer of cake, with the filling of
cream or jelly between, represented by the second contrasting subject,
of a more piquant and savory flavor, between the first theme and its
reappearance—a sort of musical Washington pie. In the more extended
forms, the principal melody recurs several times, occasionally with
slight changes of treatment, but without radical transformation or
development, like a successive series of cake layers of slightly
different flavor, but the same fundamental material and an entirely
different filling between them, each time; and a coda, or musical
postscript, is occasionally added by way of frosting over the whole.

The rondo form is by nature adapted to the expression of the lighter,
more pleasurable emotions. Graceful fancy, playful tenderness, arch
coquetry, sparkling vivacity, here find their most ready and appropriate
embodiment. The form is sometimes employed to express pensive sadness or
restless, impatient longing, but never effectively to utter grave,
profound thought or grand and lofty sentiment. Hence it most frequently
appears as the final movement of symphony or sonata, a sort of light,
pleasant dessert after the more substantial repast.

_Rondo_ is one of those words of many relatives, both in our own English
and other languages. Probably the great-grandfather of them all is the
Latin _rotundus_, and probably the first emigrant to America, in the
musical line of descent, was the old-fashioned _round_, familiar to our
ancestors. Cousins and other close connections of the rondo are in music
the _roundelay_ and in poetry the _rondeau_, _rondel_, and _roundel_,
all bearing a striking family resemblance both in external features and
inward characteristics.

The poet Algernon Charles Swinburne, in his “Century of Roundels,”
presents to us many charming representatives of this most modern branch
of the family. The following verses, quoted from the work mentioned, are
the best possible descriptive illustration of the form, scope, and
characteristics of both the roundel in poetry and the rondo in music:

                       “THE ROUNDEL.

   “A Roundel is wrought as a ring or a star-bright sphere,
    With craft of delight and with cunning of sound unsought,
    That the heart of the hearer may smile if to pleasure his ear
            A Roundel is wrought.

   “Its jewel of music is carven of all or of aught—
    Love, laughter, or mourning—remembrance or fear—
    That fancy may fashion to hang in the ear of thought.

   “As the bird’s quick song runs round, and the hearts in us hear
    Pause answer to pause, and again the same strain caught.
    So moves the device whence, round as a pearl or tear,
            A Roundel is wrought.”

The E flat rondo of Weber is a fine specimen of its class, perfect and
considerably complex in form and charmingly exhilarating in mood, with
just enough of dramatic suggestion to give the necessary contrast of
shading. It is neither distinctly descriptive nor deeply emotional. It
pleases like a piece of rare old lace or hand embroidery, rather than
like a picture or poem, by its delicate workmanship, its fine finish,
and its beautiful, skilfully combined materials. Its mission is to charm
the esthetic taste, like some dainty little Italian villa of variegated
marbles, half hidden in a grove of olive and orange trees, by its
symmetry of outline, its harmony of varied colors, and the simple,
joyous, sunshiny life and love of life which it suggests, rather than to
arouse the intellect or stir the depths of feeling by historic or
legendary association with vivid or tragic human interests.

This composition should be played freely and fluently, with a certain
gaiety and vivacity, but at a reasonably moderate tempo, with a tone
crisp and sparkling, not dry, yet not too legato; clear, but not heavy.
The player should employ few, if any, of the modern rubato effects and
be careful to avoid blurred or too close pedaling, especially in the
first subject. A somewhat slower tempo and more decided lyric effect
should be introduced when the left-hand theme in B flat major occurs,
and still more during the suggestion of dramatic recitative, alternating
between the two hands, which opens with the half note in the right hand
on G flat, A natural, and E flat. But, as a whole, the tempo should be
kept very steady, and a strongly marked rhythmic distinctness and
precision are absolute essentials in the proper presentation of this, as
of all Weber’s works.

  Weber: Concertstück in F Minor Op. 79

Although written for piano and orchestra, and still occasionally given
as a concerto in symphony concerts, this work is more familiar and more
frequently heard as a piano solo merely, or with the orchestral parts
arranged for second piano, in which form it is very popular, especially
for use in pupils’ recitals and music schools. It is one of the best and
most effective of Weber’s compositions for piano, and one of the most
successful of his attempts in the line of descriptive music, in which he
was a pioneer; for as Sir George Grove well says, “His talent shone most
conspicuously whenever he had a poetical idea to interpret musically.”
On the subject of this concerto, he continues: “Though complete in
itself as a piece of music, it is prompted by a poetical idea, for a
whole dramatic scene was in the composer’s mind when he wrote it.... The
part which the different movements take in this program is obvious
enough, but a knowledge of the program adds greatly to the pleasure of

It is rare indeed to find in print any accurate and detailed information
concerning the artistic and dramatic content of any particular
composition; but in regard to this Concertstück by Weber, we are
fortunate enough to have the whole story on which the music was founded
given in the words of Benedict, who had it from the composer himself.

“The châtelaine sits alone on her balcony, gazing far away into the
distance. Her knight has gone to the Holy Land. Years have passed by,
battles have been fought. Is he still alive? Will she ever see him
again? Her excited imagination calls up a vision of her husband, lying
wounded and forsaken on the battlefield. Can she not fly to him and die
by his side? She falls back unconscious. But hark! What notes are those
in the distance? Over there in the forest something flashes in the
sunlight—nearer and nearer! Knights and squires with the cross of the
crusaders, banners waving, acclamations of the people. And there, it is
he! She sinks into his arms. Love is triumphant. Happiness without end.
The very woods and waves sing the song of love. A thousand voices
proclaim his victory.”

The composition is in four movements, and it is hardly necessary to add
that the first, _larghetto_, represents the sorrowful meditation of the
lonely châtelaine upon her balcony; the second, _allegro_, her lively
imagination picturing her lord upon the field of battle; the third,
_march_, the tramp of the returning crusaders with flying banners; and
the fourth, _finale_, the reunion when “the very woods and waves sing
the song of love.”

Those Philistines who contend that program music is but a mushroom
growth of the last decades of the nineteenth century will hardly care to
come face to face with this instance of it, backed by the authority of
Grove, Benedict, and von Weber, and nearly a hundred years old.

  Weber-Kullak: Lützow’s Wilde Jagd, Op. 111, No. 4

Among the better class of rather old-fashioned but effective
transcriptions for the piano, which have fallen somewhat into neglect of
later years, Kullak’s pianoforte version of Weber’s “Lützow’s Wild Ride”
deserves attention.

The original ballad, which formed the text of Weber’s song, was one of
the best of many of similar character by Karl Theodor Körner, that
trumpet-voiced Swabian poet, the popular idol of his time in southern
Germany, who sounded the notes of patriotism, conflict, and heroism in
simple but ringing verses, which still echo in the hearts of his
countrymen, and which describe the scenes, and glow with the fervid
spirit of the century’s dawn.

Major Lützow, the hero of the ballad, was an officer in the Prussian
Hussars during the brief and disastrous struggle with Napoleon in 1813,
when his country went down, crushed well-nigh out of existence, by the
invincible power and iron hand of the all-conquering Emperor. When
Berlin surrendered, the Prussian army was disarmed and disbanded, and
the King, Frederick William III, was forced to accept with thanks the
most humiliating conditions of peace; and even the beautiful Queen
Louisa, the people’s beloved divinity, had to humble herself in her
despair to beg from the generosity of the victor the most ordinary
concessions to the vanquished. Major Lützow indignantly repudiated the
disgraceful treaty and openly defied the vengeance of the great
Napoleon. Rallying a few of his gallant riders about him, he escaped to
the forests, and there organized a guerrilla band, for months waging a
phenomenally desperate but successful war on his own account with the
world’s conqueror and his matchless army.

Lützow and his “Black Riders” were soon known far and near, the hope and
pride of friends, the terror of foes; and hundreds of the best martial
spirits of Germany flocked to his standard. He pushed his daring raids
even across the Rhine into France, sweeping down like a whirlwind
apparently from the sky, at the most unexpected times and places,
leaving consternation and destruction in his track, and was gone again
before the French could rally to oppose him. Soon the belief spread that
the “Black Riders” were a supernatural phenomenon, an incarnation of the
bloody spirit of the time, half men, half demons, bearing charmed lives,
ignoring time, distance, and other human limitations, and liable to
appear at any moment, without warning, in the midst of the imperial
camp, or in the heart of Paris. Their very name was enough to shake the
nerves of the bravest veteran.

This element of the supernatural Körner has ingeniously worked into the
ballad, and it adds materially to the thrilling power of the heroic
narration, though it is used, and very judiciously, not in the form of
positive statement, but in a mood of shuddering inquiry and doubt.

Weber, in his vocal setting of the ballad, with his usual ability in
grasping and utilizing every realistic suggestion of his subject, has
emphasized both the martial and the spectral phases of the theme,
treating with equal skill the spirit of martial daring and heroic
patriotism which spoke in Lützow’s deeds, and the supernatural terrors
which they awoke. One moment the “Black Huntsmen” sweep by us across
some open moonlit plain, with a wild haste, with the clang of saber, the
ring of bugle, and the tramp of rushing steeds; the next they flit
before us through the gloom of the forests, vague, mysterious, like the
indistinct phantoms of war. The distinct imitation of the rhythmic beat
of galloping hoofs, so frequent a device in descriptive music, is
effectively utilized here in accompaniment, while the melody of the
song, full of trumpet-like suggestions, is raid to consist in part of
actual bugle calls which were used among Lützow’s raiders.

Kullak, in his instrumental transcription, while preserving with
artistic fidelity the composer’s intention in all the original effects
of the song, has broadened, enriched, and intensified them, and at the
same time adapted them cleverly to the resources of the piano. In places
they may be still further enhanced by playing, as I would recommend to
those possessing sufficient technic for it, all the scale passages for
both hands in octaves, instead of single notes, as they are written,
thus adding volume and brilliancy to the work as a whole.

The introduction, in rapid triplets, with marked accentuation,
reproducing the exact rhythm of the gallop of horses, should begin
softly, as if distant, and rise in a steady crescendo to a strong
climax, suggesting the swift approach of a troop of riders; then the
melody enters, bold and distinct, as if in trumpet tones, or given by
the resonant voices of the dashing troopers. The piece must be varied by
frequent and marked contrasts; now a trumpet-call, clear and sharp,
answered by a distant echo; now a whispered hint of spectral terrors;
again the sweep and rush, the clash and clamor, the delirious excitement
of the impetuous charge.

The exultant climax, at the close, well expresses the sentiment of the
final verse of the ballad:

   “The Fatherland is free, famous, and triumphant,
    Glory to the heroes whose blood has bought the victory!”

This composition of Weber’s, when given by a rousing, ringing,
full-voiced male chorus of Germans, stirs the martial spirit in every
breast, just as the Marseillaise fires the blood of the French. In its
piano transcription, by Kullak, I recommend it to every player and
teacher who is seeking something which is very difficult to
find—namely: a good and effective number, martial and rhythmic in
character, which is of real merit, and is a novelty to the audience of
to-day, and yet has a classic name attached. It is admirably adapted to
close a program or to end a group of several shorter compositions of
varying mood.

  1797 1828

  Schubert: (Impromptu B Flat) Theme and Variations, Op. 142, No. 3

Franz Schubert, the golden sands of whose brief existence, rich with the
jewel gleams of genius, ran all too swiftly through the glass of time,
between the years 1797 and 1828, may be considered, if not the
strongest, certainly the most genial, fluent, and spontaneous composer
of the modern Romantic School, which arose and flourished so luxuriantly
during the vigorous youth of our own century. He is most generally known
as the master of the German “Lied” or song. This brief, concise,
epigrammatic form of condensed musical expression, though not, of
course, original with Schubert, received at his hand its fullest
development, its highest perfection, both as regards intrinsic beauty
and dramatic precision; while in quantity, as well as quality, he far
surpasses all competitors in this vein of creative work. There are
something like 600 of these songs from his pen, and such was his fluent
versatility of production, that he is known to have completed seven of
these inimitable musical gems in one day. His instrumental compositions,
whether for orchestra or piano, though far less numerous, are for the
most part equally able and effective, and deserve a much more frequent
hearing in the concert-room than they at present receive, displaying, as
they do, to the full, his inventive spontaneity, his inexhaustible fund
of fresh, original melody, and the peculiar, tender, poetic grace of his

Most of Schubert’s best known pianoforte works, like the composition
under discussion, belong to the smaller, more modest, and unpretentious
forms. They are eminently soft, sweet, and winning, rarely exhibiting
that breadth, grandeur, and passionate intensity with which such
composers as Chopin, Schumann, and Liszt have made us familiar. But who
would despise the wood anemone because it chances not to possess the
voluptuous perfume of the queenly rose or the gorgeous hues of the
wizard poppy?

The “theme and variations,” of which this work is an excellent example,
is one of the most ancient, natural, and logical forms of musical
construction. A simple melody, clearly enunciated at the beginning, is
used by the composer as the musical germ of his work, from which he
evolves, as by the process of spontaneous growth, all its manifold
possibilities for varied expression and contrasted effect; much as the
skilful orator expands from his tersely stated thesis or text, by means
of elaborate comparison, analysis, antithesis, and peroration, all that
far-reaching sequence of deduction and argument latent in his
thought-germ. It is always fascinating to watch this growth, this
gradual evolution, this play of many colored lights over the familiar
theme, under the skilful and ingenious manipulation of a master hand.
But there is, I claim, a deeper interest and a higher pleasure to be
derived from seeking, beneath the smoothly flowing harmonies and
graceful, rippling embellishment, for the allegorical significance or
suggestion mirrored in their clear depths, as scenes and faces are
reflected in the tranquil stream, and which are rarely, if ever, wanting
in the true art work.

The “theme and variations” in music, which owes its origin to the first
crude attempts of early composers to elongate and develop a musical idea
into a symmetrical art form, corresponds to a very early phase of
another art. I refer to the series of progressive pictures carved on the
friezes of many ancient Oriental and Grecian temples, portraying
successive episodes in the life of some god, hero, king, or prophet. The
central figure is ever the same, however attitude, action, mood, and
environment may vary, to suit the stage of his story represented in each
scene. No smoke of battle, strangeness of garb, or storm of emotion can
so obscure or distort the familiar lineaments that they are not
recognizable, though they take contour and expression from
circumstances, those variations in the theme of life. The same idea is
carried out in pictorial art in the interiors of more modern edifices,
when the walls of cathedrals are adorned with frescoes representing the
life of Christ, in numerous consecutive panels, from the infant in the
manger to the death upon the cross. Painting can tell a story, within
certain limitations, as well as words, and more powerfully. The same is
true of music, for those who have ears to hear.

As already stated in connection with the Beethoven sonata, Op. 26, to me
the “theme and variations” always seems to represent a given character
or personality, met at different times, amid varying scenes and
circumstances, in many moods and situations, as would be the case in
real life; developing with the progress of acquaintance and contrasting
experiences, showing now one aspect, now another, according to the
changes of inner emotion or outward environment, but always preserving
the same individuality, an identity which lends itself to, but does not
lose itself in, the vicissitudes of human existence. In the particular
work before us, let the first fresh, simple, tender theme symbolize a
maiden, the heroine of the story we will call her, fair, with the
delicate freshness of first youth, full of the winning grace, the naïve
simplicity and the dreamy poetic fancy of one of Lytton’s heroines: a
young girl,

   “Standing with reluctant feet
    Where the brook and river meet—
    Womanhood and childhood fleet.”

All the manifold vicissitudes of life are lying untried before her, with
the latent possibilities of her nature waiting to be unfolded and
developed by experience, that climate of the soul.

In the first variation, with its tremulous yet flowing embellishment,
all is vague, uncertain, conjectural. She seems in a mood of
speculation, of reverie, to be gazing forward down the dim vista of the
years, and wondering, with a thrill at heart, what they promise or
presage for her. It is the first rosy, dawning twilight of as yet
indefinite hope and desire.

In the second, her pulses beat to a swifter, stronger measure. She has
begun to taste the zest of life and is borne along impetuously on the
stream of youthful exhilaration and unbroken confidence, out into the
broad, full sunlight of the first great happiness. Light ripples of
laughter, quick-drawn breaths of delight, a sunny circuit of bright and
blithe fancies, envelop the theme and well-nigh conceal it.

The mournful melody, somber minor harmonies, and sobbing accompaniment
of the third variation, so full of passionate pain, express the all too
certain reaction from the former hilarious mood, the coming of that
inevitable shadow of all great joy—its corresponding grief. The hour
has come when the first great, crushing sorrow surges in upon the soul,
in a resistless, overwhelming tide; and our heroine, from fancying that
her life’s pathway was to be all roses and sunshine, is forced to find
it, for the time at least, all thorns and midnight darkness, and to
match her single strength with the might of woe in that struggle for
supremacy which must come soon or late to all.

The fourth again changes wholly in character; is bold, energetic,
spirited, almost martial. The struggle of life is in full progress. The
resolute, forceful bass tones, with which the left hand enters from time
to time, seem like the impetus of a strong will giving momentum to
earnest purpose. This variation tells in stirring trumpet tones of
victory, of the dauntless courage and the elastic strength born in noble
natures of endurance and endeavor, of a character invigorated by
conflict, deepened and matured by adversity; and it leads us back, at
its close, through many winding ways and devious modulations, to a later
happiness, expressed in the fifth and last—a happiness hard-won, but
more complete than the first, though less exuberant, more ethereal and
spiritual, with something in it of the mellow sunset glow.

The work closes with a tranquil coda, a brief evening retrospect, grave
and thoughtful; but, on the whole, cheerful in tone, as if the backward
glance were, all in all, fraught with satisfaction. Here we find the
opening theme, the character melody, in all its first simplicity, but
given an octave lower, in slower tempo and in full chords. Our heroine
has not altered; the contours are clear, the proportions identical, not
a note is wanting; but the _leit-motif_ of her personality is deeper,
broader, and fuller for the experiences of life behind her, and seems to
bear the imprint as of an epitaph, “I have lived and loved and labored.
All is well.”

  Emotion in Music

Not long since, when urging upon a pupil the necessity of bringing out
the deeper mood and meaning of a certain composition, the present writer
received this response: “I am afraid to make it say all that, to put so
much of myself into it; people will call me sentimental!”

The reply voiced a prevailing and thoroughly American weakness. It is
far too common here to find, especially among our girls, a bright, warm,
impulsive nature, full of genuine sentiment and poetic fancy, choked and
perverted, turned shallow and bitter, by this same paralyzing fear of
ridicule; to meet persons who take a morbid pride in concealing and
repressing their better selves so effectually, that even their most
intimate friends shall never suspect them of being one degree less
frivolous and heartless than their companions, who in their turn are
doubtless vying with them in this deplorable, misguided effort to
belittle themselves, their lives and influence.

It is one of the most significant and lamentable signs of the time, that
any allusion to or expression of a warm, true, earnest sentiment is met
in society with more or less open and bitter derision, even by those who
are secretly in sympathy with it, admire the courage and sincerity of
its champion, and would gladly take the same bold stand in its defense,
but dare not, and so add their coward voices to swell the majority. This
is the more deplorable, since this tendency is at once cause and effect.
The continual and systematic denial and suppression of emotion and
ideality result finally in their complete extinction in most cases, or
leave them deformed and feeble, to struggle for a precarious existence
in some dark, hidden recess of the soul, whose highest throne is their
rightful heritage.

George Sand says, somewhere, speaking of the French, “We once had
sentiment, but the sirocco of sarcasm has scorched it from our hearts,
and where it grew is a desert place!” Alas for the people of whom this
is true! Alas for the young man or maiden who can say, “I have no
sentiment,” and speak truth. And let me here caution any young person
against a light and frequent, even though purposely insincere, denial of
any characteristic of value; for there is a strange and subtle sympathy
between the heart and the lips, which works steadily, if stealthily, to
bring them more and more into accord. A lie is in every sense a
violation of the laws of nature; and what is first uttered as a
conscious, flagrant falsehood, becomes less so with each repetition,
till unawares a day will come which shall see it transformed into a
glaring truth. Such a person, no matter how highly organized, or
perfectly trained otherwise, is no better than a machine. He does not
live, he simply runs.

One may not be to blame for a natural deficiency in those higher
qualities which make a life warm and rich and attractive, which mark a
personality as something more than an animated clod, or even a
well-adjusted mental mechanism; he must be pitied even though
instinctively shunned; but he who wantonly draws the fatal knife of
sarcasm across the throat of a true sentiment or a lofty ideal, however
feebly or imperfectly embodied, commits a crime against humanity at
large, more injurious and far-reaching in its effects than slaughter of
the body only. Above all, let us beware how we tamper with the natural,
essential relations between art and the emotions. Good-by to the artist
who has no place or use for sentiment in his work; he should turn his
attention at once to some more practical and creditable branch of

One grievous mistake in our American system of training is that we
ignore almost altogether this phase of culture. We develop the
conscience, the reason, the memory, but do nothing for the taste, the
imagination, the esthetic sense, the whole ideal and spiritual side of
the character. The faithful, protracted study of music, or other branch
of art, even though it never result in any financial profit or the
smallest degree of professional success, will develop faculties and
tendencies of more advantage to the student and to all who may come in
contact with him in private life, than any amount of algebra, or any
number of Greek roots. The German methods of study, especially for young
ladies, might teach us a valuable lesson in this connection.

He who would attain the best results in art should remember that we do
not gather dates of thorns, nor figs of thistles; that “only life begets
life,” and that after its own kind; that an art product, to be really
good and great, must be the concentrated, crystallized essence of the
best that is in him, the epitome of his highest moods and aspirations,
of those rare, intuitive glimpses of a loftier existence, to which in
favorable moments he can lift himself, the distilled perfume of weeks,
it may be years, of living. He should subject himself to every possible
cultivating, elevating influence, should train, not only hand and head,
but heart as well; for these three are the inseparable trinity of art.
He should increase his resources, widen his experiences, expand his
horizon; not by cramming a quantity of facts, or by the conquest of mere
technical means—what use in commanding words, or tones, if one has
nothing to express withal?—but by increased familiarity with and
capacity to appreciate and exercise the qualities so constantly
requisite in his work.

Let us remember, too, what the scientists tell us, that light and heat
radiated from a given center are dissipated in force and intensity in
proportion to the square of the distance to be traversed. The same is
emphatically true of emotion. If one would stir his audience to a
pleasurable excitement, he must himself be shaken as in a tempest; to
warm them, he must be at white heat.

Should the question arise, How shall one learn to feel music more deeply
and make it more expressive? my answer would be, Read, think, feel,
dream, love, live! Read—not musical history and biography—these give
information, not culture; they are valuable, but not in this connection;
read poetry, especially the lyric and dramatic, and good prose
literature. A person entirely unaccustomed to understand or to utter
anything in tones, will often find the key to this unfamiliar medium of
expression by the following indirect method: Find some work, a poem is
best, because briefer and more concrete, which expresses, approximately
at least, the sentiment of the composition to be studied. Most persons
are more familiar with the language of words than with that of tones,
and will reach a given mood more directly and easily through that
channel. Let the poem be well studied, not only with the mind, but with
the imagination, dwelling upon it, trying to feel its meaning and beauty
as deeply as possible; then throw the same emotional content into the
music, making the tones tell what the words have said. The present
writer has found this course in teaching very effective with all
sensitive natures, even with those who have but the rudiments of an
artistic temperament.

Above all, artist or amateur, teacher or pupil, fear not to use in your
work to the full all the emotional power you have or can acquire. It may
be the injudicious application of force that sometimes impairs artistic
results; it is never the excess. Vital energy should be controlled,
regulated, but never stinted. Ill-timed frenzy is not art, of course;
but where intensity is demanded and proper gradations and proportions
are observed, no dirge is ever too deeply gloomy, no dramatic climax too
strong. The danger is always of tameness, rather than of excessive

Let us, then, be genuine, earnest, whole-hearted, open, in our
allegiance to the ideal; and as for those who sneer at sentiment in art
or in life, why, let them rave. We adhere to the creed which T. T.
Munger has beautifully formulated for our profession in his “Music as
Revelation”: “Emotion is the summit of existence, and music is the
summit of emotion, the art pathway to God.”

  1810 1849

  Chopin: Sonata, B Flat Minor, Op. 35

Whether regarded from the standpoint of musical form, of intrinsic
beauty, or of dramatic intensity, this work may safely be pronounced
Chopin’s masterpiece; and in the present writer’s opinion it ranks as
the greatest composition in all piano literature. Chopin’s ability to
handle the strict sonata form successfully has been sometimes called in
question; but whatever may be said of his other two sonatas, this one
will certainly bear comparison with the most perfect models of symmetry,
finish, and architectural completeness, by the best known and most
universally recognized classic masters. In the _allegro_ movement, upon
which the distinguishing character of the sonata form always depends,
the first and second subjects are well contrasted and admirably
balanced, the development is logical, ingenious, and forceful, and the
statement of the dramatic content is clear, concise, and strong, without
a single irrelevant phrase or superfluous measure.

The work is founded upon an ancient Polish poem of a semi-legendary,
semi-allegorical significance, by a once prominent, now well-nigh
forgotten Polish writer. It consists of four movements, corresponding to
the four cantos of the poem, of which it is, in a sense, a musical
translation, treating successively the principal moods and situations in
the story. The fact that in the first two movements the incidents are
treated symbolically, emotionally, in accordance with the composer’s
usual subjective mode of expression, rather than with the descriptive or
imitative devices of the modern school, does not in the least detract
from the poetic impression or suggestive power of the music.

In the last two movements he has recourse, for obvious reasons, to the
direct method of definite realism. The first movement pictures the life
and feelings of the hero, a Polish knight of the middle ages, facing
storm and conflict, danger and hardship, in camp and field, fighting for
king and country, cheered now and then, in lonely hours of vigil at the
camp-fire, by waking visions of his distant home and his waiting bride.

The opening measures of the brief introduction tell of stern courage and
inflexible resolve. Then the first subject enters, stirring, impetuous,
fiery, full of the ring of trumpets, the clash of steel, the fierce
exultation of desperate combat. The tranquil second subject suggests
memories of the happy days of youth in his quiet home—dreams of a
future brightened by the light of promised love, but still enveloped in
the softening haze of distance and uncertainty. The development, with
its complex, conflicting rhythms, its resistless, tempestuous sweep,
thrills with the excitement of sudden onset, the rush of charging
squadrons, the battle cry of struggling hosts. The closing chords
express a somber triumph, the proud but sorrow-shadowed elation of a
hard-won victory, purchased by the blood of many a patriot comrade.

The second movement, the scherzo, gives us the triumphant return of our
hero crowned with laurel, accompanied by the jubilant strains of martial
music, and the glad acclamations of the crowd. Yet, in the midst of his
pride and well-earned glory, he finds time to dream again; this time
more tenderly, sweetly, hopefully; to dream of his home-coming, and the
fond greeting that awaits him in his own native village, where, through
the difficulties and dangers of the campaign, his promised bride has
been watching, and hoping, and praying for his return in faithful but
anxious affection.

Here again we find two contrasting and strongly characteristic themes:
The first, full of martial pride and exultation, the thoughts of
victory, the glad tribute of applause to a nation’s hero; the second,
tender, dreamy, pulsing with love’s anticipation. After this soulful
trio melody, the first martial strains are repeated; but in the coda, a
brief recurrence of the trio theme seems to emphasize the idea that with
him the love thought dominates. This brings us to the third movement,
the Funeral March, unquestionably the best funeral march ever written
for the piano, the most intrinsically beautiful, the most touchingly,
intensely sad, and the most complete, finely finished, and perfectly
sustained, from first measure to last; the strongest, noblest, deepest
expression of heart-crushing sorrow to be found in all piano literature.

As it is published and most often heard by itself, many who have played
and listened to it have not even been aware that it affords the third
chapter, so to speak, in a great tone epic, for as such this sonata must
be considered.

As our hero approaches home, his heart swelling with anticipation, he is
greeted by the distant, solemn tolling of cathedral bells, too evidently
funeral bells, and soon is met by a slowly moving, somber procession of
black-robed monks and mourners, bearing to her last resting-place in the
church-yard the very bride to whose fond greeting he has so ardently
looked forward. The music, soft and muffled at first, like the toll of
far-off bells, gradually grows in power and intensity as the procession
advances, assuming more and more the heavy, measured, inflexible rhythm
of a funeral march, and swelling at last to an overwhelming climax of
passionate pain.

Then the procession comes to a stand by the open grave. After a brief
pause, the sweet, plaintive trio melody enters, pure and tender as a
prayer, touched and thrilled to warmth and pathos by memories of happier
days; after which the march movement is resumed, as the procession
slowly and sadly returns to the village; the music, heavy, crushing,
inexorable at first as the voice of fate, gradually recedes, diminishes,
dies in the distance; and then follows the last movement, the presto, in
some respects the most original and most impressive of all, the lament
of the autumn night-wind over a forsaken grave, one of the few cases in
which Chopin chose to be distinctly realistic, a literal and graphic
imitation of wind effects; yet woven through it is an unmistakable
suggestion of the mood of the hour and situation, the chill, the gloom,
the wild despair, and a hint of that ever darker thought that will arise
at such moments; after death, formless void, chaos.

There is an important vein of allegory underlying this whole story, like
a deep substratum. The hero is a personification of the typical Polish
patriot, struggling, in a forlorn hope, for his native land; the bride
is Poland, and the mighty, overwhelming grief expressed is more than a
personal sorrow: it is for the death and burial of a nation.

The authority for connecting the poem referred to with this sonata has
been frequently questioned. I wish to state here that the poetic
background to this great work is by no means hypothetically sketched in
by my own imagination, however fully justified by the inherent character
of the music. I have my data in full from Kullak and Liszt, the latter
having been a personal friend of Chopin, as is well known, and having
first presented the sonata in public to the musical world. We may safely
assume, therefore, that he was correctly informed with regard to it, and
that this interpretation is authentic and authoritative.

  The Chopin Ballades

Probably no class of musical compositions ever presented to the world by
any master has been so little understood, and consequently so much
misrepresented as the ballades by Frederic Chopin. Even so standard an
authority as Grove, in his “Dictionary of Music and Musicians,” writes
as follows: “_Ballade_, a name adopted by Chopin for four pieces of
pianoforte music, which have no peculiar form or character of their own,
beyond being written in triple time, and to which the name seems to be
no more applicable than that of sonnet to the pieces which others have
written under that title”—a statement which proves that he had little
information and less interest in regard to the subject.

The French word _ballade_, which Chopin used as title for these
compositions, is derived from the Provencal _ballata_, a dancing song,
which in turn comes from _bellare_, to dance; and our modern English
words ballad, ball, ballet, all descend to us from the same source. In
Italian, _ballata_ meant a dancing piece, in distinction from _sonata_,
a sounding piece, and _cantata_, a singing piece; and the _ballade_ and
_ballata_ originally meant a piece of music to be sung while dancing or
accompanied by dancing. The dance element, however, was early lost, and
ballade in French, like ballad in English, came to mean a short and
popular narrative poem adapted for singing or recitation. The ballad is
a tale in verse. It differs from the epic in being briefer, less
dignified in tone, and in concerning itself with actual practical events
in the lives of individuals, instead of with historic and mythological
subjects, which form the main province of the epic. The true ballad
treats of some knightly exploit, some national episode, or some tale of
love and adventure; and, as we shall see, Chopin, in adopting this title
for instrumental compositions, adhered strictly to its definition and
its literary characteristics and significance.

The Chopin ballades, four in number and ranking among his most
strikingly original and effective contributions to pianoforte music,
introduced an entirely new and distinctly unique musical form, well-nigh
limitless in its possibilities of expression and application, its facile
adaptability to every phase of emotional and descriptive writing. As was
natural, they opened the way for a host of more or less worthy
followers, bold, independent free lances, heedless of the forms and
rules which bind in rank and file the more orderly conservative
compositions; all bearing a strong racial resemblance, but variously
designated by such special clan cognomens as ballade, novelette, legend,
fable, fairy-tale, and the like. They now constitute a complete and
markedly individual school of composition, of which Chopin in his
ballades was the originator, and which is differentiated from all others
by its distinctly declamatory, narrative style.

Chopin used the name ballade in the sense in which it is employed in
modern literature—to designate a short, poetic narrative, a miniature
epic, as distinguished from the lyric, didactic, and dramatic forms of
poetry. He intended the ballade in music to be a counterpart of the
ballad in poetry, and his inventive genius and unerring taste supplied
and perfected a form precisely adapted to the end in view; a form which
is strictly akin neither to the rondo, the sonata allegro, nor the free
fantasia, though having certain points of resemblance to all three,
still less to any of the dance forms. It reminds us more of some of the
larger, more complex song forms, as, for instance, the musical settings
by Schubert and others of the more pretentious German ballads by Goethe,
Berger, and Uhland; but its development is broader and ampler, at once
more extended and more logical, evincing a greater degree of
constructive musicianship.

Chopin’s able biographer, Karasowski, says of the ballades: “Some
regarded them as a variety of the rondo; others, with more accuracy,
called them poetical stories. Indeed, there is about them a narrative
tone (_Märchenton_) which is particularly well rendered by the six-four
and six-eight time, and which makes them differ essentially from the
existing forms.” In view of these facts, patent even to the superficial
student of Chopin’s life and works, it seems very strange that we should
so often hear and even see in print sneering insinuations to the effect
that the composer christened these works ballades for lack of any better
or more appropriate name; that the title has in reality nothing of
significance or distinctness, which is justified either by the form or
the content of the works.

As a matter of fact, all four of these ballades, according to Chopin’s
own statement to Schumann during an interview at Leipsic, are founded
directly upon Polish poems by the greatest poet of that nation, Adam
Mickiewicz, the father of the romantic school in Poland, a contemporary
and personal friend of the composer, a man whose fervent patriotism and
unswerving fidelity to national themes, as well as the warmth,
tenderness, and power of his creative genius, specially endeared him to
the heart of his compatriot and brother artist, the tone-poet Chopin. It
is difficult, not to say impossible, to estimate the stimulating
influence of Mickiewicz and his works upon the creative activity of
Chopin. That the music of the latter has attained world-wide celebrity,
while the poems of the former are scarcely heard of outside of the small
and cultured circle of his own countrymen and women, is due perhaps not
so much to the superiority of the composer’s genius over that of the
poet, as to the more universal intelligibility of his chosen idiom, his
medium of expression, Polish being a language understood by few persons
even of cosmopolitan tendencies, and one which is ill adapted for
translation into non-Slavonic tongues. Certain it is that Chopin himself
was quick to acknowledge his deep indebtedness to his gifted countryman,
and rose to some of his loftiest flights of creative effort when
translating into his own beloved language of tone ideas, experiences,
incidents, and situations which had already been molded and vivified
into artistic life and beauty by the hand of the poet, as in the case of
the four ballades under consideration.

Though the origin of these ballades as musical transcripts of certain
poems by Mickiewicz is indisputable, it has always been a mooted
question, and one fraught with the keenest interest, at least to some of
us, upon what particular poem any given ballade is founded; what special
experience or incident, national, personal, or imaginary, found its
first embodiment in the verses of the Slavic poet, to thrill with its
power and beauty a limited circle of Polish readers, and was later
reincarnated by Chopin, to find a far wider sphere of influence
throughout the musical world; and what may be the peculiar subtle karma
of romantic or dramatic association which this vital art germ has
brought with it in its transmigration from a former existence; in a
word, whence and what is the essential artistic essence of each ballade?

If we could trace it to its fountain head and familiarize ourselves with
the sources of Chopin’s own inspiration, the task of rightly
comprehending and interpreting any one of these compositions would be
vastly facilitated. This no one has hitherto done successfully. Few
among English-speaking musicians are able to read Mickiewicz in the
original Polish; translations of his works are meager, imperfect, and
very difficult to obtain. It is therefore not without a certain glow of
satisfaction that the present writer is able, after diligent, unwearying
inquiry and voluminous reading, covering a period of some fifteen years,
confidently to affirm that he has at last traced back to their
inspirational sources three at least of the four ballades; and he
submits to the reader the results of his research, in the hope that some
degree of the interest and pleasure he has himself derived from this
line of investigation may be shared by others.

Should any question arise with regard to the accuracy of the statements
and conclusions here advanced, I would say that the authority on which
they are based is derived partly from definite historical data,
existing, though widely diffused, in print; partly from direct
traditions gathered from those who enjoyed the personal acquaintance of
the composer; and partly from the carefully considered internal evidence
of the works themselves, when critically compared with the poems to
which they presumably had reference. I will say further that concerning
the fourth ballade, in F minor, I am still as completely in the dark as
any of my readers, and would gratefully welcome any information or
suggestion which might tend to throw the smallest light upon the

  Ballade in G Minor, Op. 23

The first ballade, Op. 23, in G minor, was published in June, 1836,
perhaps written a year or two earlier. It was suggested by and is
founded upon one of the most able and forceful, as well as extended,
patriotic historical poems by Mickiewicz, often called the Lithuanian
Epic, entitled “Konrad Wallenrod,” and published in 1828. The following
is a brief synopsis of its plot:

During the latter half of the fourteenth century, the Red Cross knights,
a powerful religious, political, and military order, controlling large
dominions on the Baltic, in territory now included in modern Russia,
were at fierce feud with Lithuania, then an independent principality,
later united with Poland by a marriage of its reigning prince, Jagiello,
to the heiress of the Polish throne, thus founding the dynasty of the
Jagiellos, the most illustrious of the royal houses of Poland. Long and
desperate was the struggle. The Lithuanians, though vastly outnumbered
and frequently outgeneraled and defeated, defended every inch of their
beloved fatherland, now absorbed in western Russia, with heroic valor.
At last their ruling prince and idolized leader fell in battle, their
army was routed and cut to pieces, the scanty remnant taking refuge from
their merciless pursuers among the fastnesses of the mountains; and the
country was for a time practically subjugated and forced to submit to
the most cruel and tyrannical oppression. The conquerors, being
Crusaders and Christian knights, considered every species of atrocious
spoliation and barbaric violence, when practised against the infidel
Lithuanians, as justifiable, even laudable, and for some years the
sufferings of the conquered knew no limit.

Among the prisoners taken and carried into virtual slavery by the
Teutonic Order, was the little seven-year-old son of the fallen
prince—a bright, precocious, winsome lad, who, after serving for some
time as page in the household of the grand master of the Order, so
completely won the heart of the old knight, that he adopted the boy and
educated him with his own children, in all the courtly and martial
accomplishments of the time. Years passed. Young Konrad grew in manly
power and promise, and came to be ranked among the flower of Teutonic
chivalry, first in the tourney, first in the field, and first in the
ladies’ hall. But ever at his side, as strange friend and secret
counselor, was seen the somber figure of the aged Wajdelote, or bard, a
venerable minstrel, who had come none knew whence, and, despite his
proud and gloomy bearing, had won high favor at the court by the magic
of his voice and lute. Ostensibly a wandering singer, he was in reality
a Lithuanian noble of high degree, a former friend of Konrad’s father,
the fallen prince, and stood high in the confidence of the Lithuanian
people and nobility as an able, devoted patriot. He came as an emissary
from them to find and win back their lost prince Konrad to his own true
flag and his native land. They were still hoping and fitfully struggling
to throw off the tyranny of the Red Cross knights and wanted Konrad for
their leader.

Under the cloak of his minstrelsy, the Wajdelote plied this secret
mission. With all the fiery eloquence of his poet’s genius, he wrought
upon the spirit of the young man, rousing it to duty and action, to
honor, ambition, and patriotism, to sympathy with the wrongs of his
oppressed fellow-countrymen, to vengeance for the death of his
slaughtered father, stirring its latent heroism, steeling it to
steadfast purpose. And as his influence strengthened day by day, the
open brow of the young prince grew clouded, the smile vanished from his
lips, and his sunny eyes grew deeper and darker with stern resolve.

At last the occasion came. In a foray against a band of insurgent
Lithuanians, Konrad and his mentor detached themselves from their
companions, and feigning to be taken captive, joined the forces of their
own countrymen, where they were welcomed with the wildest enthusiasm.
The two years that followed were the happiest of Konrad’s life. He threw
himself heart and soul into the fierce joy of combat for his native
land, devoting to her service all his personal courage and ability, and
all the military skill so carefully acquired at the court and camp of
the Red Cross knights; yet found time in the brief pauses of activity to
woo and win as wife the fairest and truest of the Lithuanian maids. For
a time the pulses of his life throbbed with a full but fluctuating tide,
in the swift interchange of love’s delights and the thrill of gallant
deeds. Caressing whispers alternated with the clash of swords, and the
tender light of the honeymoon with the lurid gleam of the camp-fire; but
his happiness was destined to be as transient as his valor was vain. A
sterner duty, a more self-sacrificing devotion claimed him, and his
veteran mentor was still at his side to mature the plan and urge its
execution. His beloved Lithuania, enfeebled, broken, disorganized for so
long, was wholly unable to cope in open field with her powerful,
disciplined, and well-equipped antagonist. Some daring, subtle, and
far-sighted stratagem alone might save her; and such a one had formed
itself in the mind of the old minstrel. Again his eloquence rang in the
ears of Konrad, like the voice of fate, “Behold, this is to do! Thou art
the man!”

A heart-breaking farewell to his bride, and Konrad disappears utterly
from the scene for ten years; then returns irrecognizably altered in
appearance, under an assumed name, with wealth and fame and following,
acquired in wars with the Saracens of Spain. The old grand master of the
Red Cross knights is dead, and Konrad with little difficulty secures his
own election to that office; and then begins the work of vengeance. By
his absolute power as grand master, and his cunning diplomacy, he
involved the order in bitter internal dissensions, depleted its
treasury, wasted its resources, weakened its garrisons, and in every
possible way sapped its strength, and finally led the flower of its army
to complete annihilation in a winter campaign against the Lithuanians,
into whose snares and ambuscades the Red Cross knights were mercilessly
thrown by secret and preconcerted arrangement with his countrymen.

Thus by a course of treachery, which for daring, subtlety, and sustained
purpose, both in conception and execution, has hardly a parallel in
history, was accomplished what could not have been done by force. The
power of the order was effectually broken and Lithuania set free. But
Konrad’s life, as well as his happiness, paid the price of his
patriotism. His beloved bride he never saw but once again, and that only
for a moment of agonized parting through dungeon bars, just before his
execution. And it is said he never smiled from the hour when the voice
of the stern old minstrel first stirred his heart with the trumpet call
of inexorable duty, till the hour when its proud pulses were stilled
forever by the daggers of the secret tribunal. For his identity was
discovered; he was, of course, tried and condemned as a traitor to the
order, and died in disgrace by the hands of his former comrades.

Such is the story, sad but stirring, which Mickiewicz handles in his
poem, and which Chopin reëmbodied in the G minor ballade, not following
literally its successive steps, but emphasizing to his utmost its
spirit, character, and moral. I think no one ever played this
composition, or listened to it attentively, without feeling that its
mood was not of our day and land. The time it represents is the middle
ages, its scene is laid in stern and rugged Lithuania, among warlike
knights and resentful rebels, and its whole spirit is therefore medieval
and military.

It opens with a brief but scornfully defiant introduction, a call to
arms, reminding one of the first lines of that familiar address to the
Roman gladiators: “Friends, I come not here to talk; ye all do know the
story of our thraldom.” Then the first and principal theme enters,
symbolizing the forceful personality and stern mentor voice of the old
minstrel, in its somber yet resolute phrases, solemn, inflexible,
relentless as fate; telling of wrongs to be avenged, of a nation in
bondage awaiting its deliverer; of the imperative call of duty and
patriotism; and it constantly recurs all through the composition as its
leading motive, whenever, as is vividly suggested by the other
contrasting, conflicting themes and passages, continually introduced,
the young prince wavers in his purpose, deterred by doubts and
forebodings, lured by seductive temptations from pursuance of the
desperate and soul-trying venture; whenever his mind wanders, as it must
at times, to regretful memories of happier days, to the splendors of
feast and tournament, to the pomp and pride of a martial career under
the adopted flag of the order, to the blithe hunting-horns of his gay
companions in youth, and tender dreams of the first great love of his
manhood, all sacrificed to a grand but pitiless cause. He is ever
recalled to the heroic mood, to the proud but rugged path of duty, by
this mentor voice—gravely insistent, quietly determined, which will not
be gainsaid; and which finally triumphs over all other considerations.
The impetuous presto which closes the work portrays the fierce
excitement and fiery rush of conflict, the utter self-abandon that hurls
itself jubilantly into the arms of an ignominious death for a cherished
ideal; and it ends with the savage but triumphant shout of a
blood-bought victory.

This ballade, though comparatively an early work, is one of Chopin’s
most darkly grand and dramatically powerful efforts; and the subjective
personal moods of the exiled Polish patriot are voiced in its gloomy
indignation, its desperate courage, and its fierce defiance.

There is an undercurrent of political meaning in “Konrad Wallenrod,”
which fortunately escaped the notice of the Russians, who allowed its
publication at St. Petersburg, but which appeals to every native and
friend of Poland and has had no small share in making its popularity.
Lithuania in the fourteenth century, broken and crushed, represents
Poland in the nineteenth, and the tyrannical Teutonic Order stands for
Russian oppression. The Wajdelote’s recitals of the wrongs of a dear but
downtrodden land, the indignation and resentment under a foreign yoke,
and the appeal to arms for freedom and revenge, are all spoken in the
cause of Poland, and are so felt by the native reader. Konrad’s dire
vengeance on the conqueror is a picture of the secret hope of all Polish
patriots of the final overthrow and punishment of the tyrant and the
reëstablishment of Polish independence.

  Ballade in F Major, Op. 38

The second ballade, in F major, is, of the three under consideration,
the least of a favorite and the least played; probably because the
radical extremes of mood which it presents, in abrupt, almost painful
contrast, its apparent incoherency, and its sudden, startling, seemingly
causeless changes of movement, render it difficult to comprehend and
still more so to interpret, and difficult to follow with intelligent
sympathy even when well rendered.

It opens with an exceedingly simple, undemonstrative theme, in the major
key, almost too lucid and childlike in the naïve directness of its
utterance, and singularly devoid of the glowing warmth and color which
usually characterize the melodies by this writer. Cool, pure, and
passionless, yet velvet-soft and delicately sweet, it floats upon the
gentle pulsations of the simple accompaniment, like a snow-white,
freshly fragrant water-lily, upon the crystal ripples of some
glacier-fed mountain lake. Then suddenly, without warning or apparent
reason, there bursts a furious tempest of rage, pain, and conflict, as
if some vast Titanic embodiment in bronze of lurid war had been melted
by a world-conflagration into a stream of fluid destruction, and poured
out upon some fair scene of pastoral peace and happiness.

Almost as suddenly the storm of fury abates, or rather seems to recede
into distance, sounding still for a time, but far and faint, as if its
tumult reached us muffled by intervening walls. Then the first simple
theme returns, sweetly calm in its pristine innocence, but soon merged
into a series of plaintive minor cadences, as of pathetic pleading, of
earnest, insistent supplication, interrupted by a brief and startlingly
abrupt climax, in full massive chords, like the confident defiance
hurled by the children of light at the hosts of darkness, certain of
victory, in their reliance on the omnipotent arm of the God of battles.
Once more the gentle first theme, followed by those imploring minor
cadences and a repetition of the strong, courageous climax, and then the
tempest breaks again with renewed intensity, the stress of desperate
strife, the agony of terror, a seething, surging, rushing torrent of
tone, as if men and demons were struggling for life in a swirling
vortex, where the elemental forces of ocean and fire had met in a

The _finale_, in presto movement, an impetuous sweep of gloomy, exultant
harmonies, suggests the mood of a brave but sorely tried spirit,
dominating distress, rising superior to disaster, and proudly triumphant
in spite of seeming defeat. At the close, in form of a coda, a few
measures of the first melody return, saddened, but still gentle, ending
plaintively in the minor, as if to say, “There have been great wrong and
suffering and bitterness, but now is peace.”

Unquestionably this work presents two radically opposing elements in
sharpest contrast; the one, reposeful purity; the other, infuriate
passion. Of this much we are sure in simply listening to the music,
without searching for historical origin or collateral information. It is
interesting to note Rubinstein’s words with regard to it, and to see how
near his art instinct led him to the discovery of its realistic
significance, presumably without the aid of any definite knowledge as to
its actual origin. He writes of it:

“Is it possible that the interpreter does not feel the necessity of
representing to his hearers a field flower caught by a gust of wind, a
caressing of the flower by the wind, the resistance of the flower, the
stormy struggle of the wind, the entreaty of the flower, which at last
lies broken there? This may be paraphrased: the field flower, a rustic
maiden; the wind, a knight.”

Let us now examine the substance at least of the poetic material from
which Chopin derived the mood and suggestion of this musical work. Again
it is a ballad upon a Lithuanian theme, from the pen of Mickiewicz. But
this time it is a legendary and not a historical subject which is
treated. The Polish ballad is entitled “The Switez Lake,” and its
substance is here given in a somewhat abbreviated and simplified form:

In the heart of Lithuania lies the beautiful, sequestered Lake Switez,
its forest-mantled shores rarely visited by the foot of a stranger, but
peopled by the peasant fancy with wild legends, shadowy traditions, and
wraith-like memories of bygone days. Its blue waves murmur, at the foot
of giant oaks, their strange tales of nymphs and sprites and
water-kelpies, while through the long and still summer nights the sleepy
branches make answer, in dreamy whisperings, of elves and gnomes and the
uncanny doings of the little people of the forest. At least so the
belated countryman affirms, overtaken by nightfall in this haunted
region; and many are the tales of that awesome place and hour with which
he terrifies his companions around the winter fire.

Once, many years ago, a gallant knight, of a most ancient and lofty
lineage, with dauntless courage and a pious heart, whose castle crowned
a neighboring height, resolved to sound and solve the mystery hid in its
depths; and, taking with him a mammoth net of stoutest cords, a score of
brawny henchmen to draw its meshes, and a venerable priest, to bless the
catch and exorcise spirits, he proceeded to the shore. Prayer was said,
the net was flung and sank, and mighty was the struggle that ensued. The
tightened meshes strained to bursting, the taut ropes writhed and moaned
like things alive, and dragged upon the arms that strained to draw them
shoreward. The water raved and churned against the trembling banks, and
black clouds, thunder-voiced, concealed the sky. The pious father’s
constant prayers at last prevailed, and the net, with its strange
burden, was safely landed. A pale but exquisitely lovely maid, with
sweet, calm dignity in face and mien, a wreath of snow-white
water-lilies on her shining hair, arose from out the tangles of the net,
and in a voice like the low murmur of soft waves at twilight, thus she

“Rash knight! Thy lineage and piety combined protect thee, else hadst
thou found a grave, with all thy following, in this adventure. But as
thou art of godly mind and as we are akin by blood, through long
descent, it is vouchsafed to me this once to break the mystic silence of
the centuries, and to reveal to thee the secret of the lake, and mine,
its lily queen.

“Know then, where now is forest dark and dense, a noble city reared its
lofty battlements in former years. My sire, its ruling prince, held all
but regal sway; and I, his child, a princess well beloved by all,
counted my sunny years beside the Switez waves, as blithe as they. One
morning, in that ne’er-to-be-forgotten spring, the trumpet voice of war
through all our streets rang out the call to arms. Our royal master,
Mindog, Lithuania’s king, had summoned all who wielded lance, to join
him in the field, against a horde of merciless Russian barbarians,
wasting all the land. And forth my father hastened, with him all his
goodly company of knights and men at arms, and left us women, trembling
and defenseless, in the town, trusting in God and in our innocence, till
their return. That very night, by a circuitous route, evading Mindog’s
might and my stout father’s sword, the Russians came, many as the sands
upon the shore, ruthless as wolves in winter’s dearth. Our gates
unguarded proved an easy prize, and in they poured, thronging our
streets, demoniac in their lust for blood, exulting in the havoc of our
homes. My maidens, wild with terror, crowded round, imploring succor;
while I, as weak as they, saw our dishonor, worse than death, stalking
upon us from the barbarian ranks.

“Then, in the frenzied panic, some one cried, ‘Our only hope is mutual
destruction! Let us slay each other, cursed be she who falters!’ Like
sudden inspiration, the mad purpose seized us all. And then was seen a
sight to set red war atremble with affright, and blanch the lurid sun to
sickly pallor. Fair hands, used only to the lute and broidery frame,
unsheathed the dagger and made bare the breast. With clinging arms and
lips together pressed, and sad eyes beaming love-light through their
tears, each sought to find her sister’s heart and still its throbbing
with her poniard’s point. Yet strength and courage faltered at the fatal
stroke. In my great agony I raised my voice in prayer to Him who guides
the storm-clouds’ wrath and curbs the tempest in its wild career.
‘Prevent,’ I cried, ‘this awful crime, and save us in this hour of
direst need! Send us in mercy the swift death we needs must find, but
let not maiden blood by maiden hands be shed!’

“The prayer was heard. An earthquake shook our city, until it rocked and
reeled, crumbling and sinking like the snow-drifts in a springtime rain;
while from the lake a mighty wall of water rose and rushed upon us,
whelming alike pursuer and pursued, foeman and friend; hushing the din
of war and shriek of victim in one common flood of cool, safe silence.

“So our city fell. My maidens, all transformed to water-lilies, blossom
here in happy purity through long summers, and palsy-withered is the
impious hand that strives to drag them from the friendly shelter of the
waves; while I, their lily queen, within my crystal realm hold quiet
sway, safe from the rude approach of man’s destructive passions. Now
thou knowest the story, all save this. My father fell by Russian spears.
My princely brother, on returning from the wars, found all his realm a
waste, his capital destroyed, found home and sister vanished in the
flood; and wandering in other lands, when years had passed, he wedded a
stranger bride. From this their union, through a long, illustrious line
of heroes, thou art sprung. Hence thou art safe upon these shores,
despite this day’s temerity, so long as with a pure heart and noble
mind, thou dost guard our name and honor in the world. Remember this.
But seek no more to pierce the kindly veil of mysteries, not meant for
mortal eyes; and never hope or strive to see again the lily queen of

So speaking, with a smile of saddest sweetness, she turned slowly to the
lake, and vanished in its whelming waters, which closed with laughing
ripples round her.

No one familiar with Chopin’s ballade in F can fail to perceive the
close and accurate application of the music to this romantic tale. It
begins at and deals with the appearance and story of the lily queen, and
her gentle, pure, and winning personality, and soft-voiced narration,
figure symbolically in the opening melody. The sudden burst of the
terrific war cloud, the maiden’s trust in and confident appeal to a
higher power, the final whelming of the city in the friendly flood,
follow successively in almost literal portrayal, the work closing in the
mood of the maiden’s final farewell and warning to the adventurous
knight who had disturbed her repose.

Viewed from the standpoint of the subject-matter, the startling, almost
drastic, contrasts of the work seem not only intelligible, but
legitimate and artistic.

  Ballade No. 3, in A Flat, Op. 47

This is the best known, the most played, and most popular of all the
Chopin ballades. Its warm, lyric opening theme, its strikingly original
rhythmic effects, its piquant, bewitching second subject, full of
playful grace, as well as its magnificently developed climax, one of the
finest in the piano literature, have all endeared it to the hearts of
Chopin lovers and rendered it one of the most effective of concert

Like the second ballade in F major, this composition is founded upon an
ancient legend of Lake Switez, which seems to be a center about which
cluster many of the Lithuanian myths. The one in question had been
previously treated by Chopin’s friend and compatriot, Adam Mickiewicz,
in the form of a ballad in Polish verse, and the substance of the story,
briefly and simply told, is as follows:

A young and fearless knight, whose ancestral castle crowned a
forest-covered eminence above the beautiful blue lake, was wont to
wander on its lone and wooded shores at evening and to meet there
clandestinely his radiant, beautiful, mysterious lady-love, whose name,
home, and origin he was unable to discover, and which she persistently
refused to disclose. She always appeared to him suddenly, without
warning or visible approach, as if born anew each night of the filtering
moonlight and shifting forest shadows, or as if drawing her ethereal
substance at will from the floating mist wreaths above the lake. And she
vanished as miraculously, when she chose to end their interview,
dissolving from his very arms into mist once more. Perhaps the very
mystery which enveloped her enhanced her charms. In any case, her power
grew upon the knight till he became most desperately enamoured, pressing
his suit with growing ardor. At first she coquetted with his passion,
laughing at his fervor and meeting his fiery protestations with playful,
incredulous mockery; but, finally touched by his fiery eloquence, she
made him a conditional promise. If he would prove his fidelity, would
remain true to her and her memory during her absence, no matter what
temptations might arise, for the space of just one little passing moon,
she would then return, reveal her identity, and become his bride, if he
still desired it.

Of course, he swore eternal fidelity, and she, with a little half-sad,
half-incredulous smile, vanished into the night mist. For several
evenings he wandered, lonely and disconsolate, on the shores of the
lake, longing and vainly seeking for his absent love and cursing the
tardy hours of his probation. Then, when his patience was about
exhausted, he was met there, on the selfsame spot, in the same mystic
moonlight and with the same suddenness and mystery, by another maiden,
even more beautiful than the first, and not inclined to be so distant.
She jeered at him for his depression, for his useless and stupid
fidelity to an absent prude, while with many lures and graces she
beckoned him on to join her in the moonlit mazes of the dance.

At first, remembering his promise, he made some show of resistance, but
very soon he yielded completely to her seductions, declaring his
admiration for this new beauty in ardent terms, and followed her with
extended arms, as she flitted on before him, keeping always just a
little out of reach; followed, heedless where his steps might lead,
reckless of consequences, conscious only of her tender glances and her
beckoning hand, till, borne up and on by the spell of her enchantment,
she had led him far out upon the treacherous surface of the lake, whose
placid ripples seemed magically to sustain both pursuer and pursued.
Then, when midway across the lake, she turned upon him, indignation
blazing in her eyes. With a single impatient gesture she flung off her
disguise and faced him, poised upon a curling wave, in all the airy
grace and winsomeness of his first abandoned love. “False lover!” she
cried, “where is now thy true love, thy sworn love? Forgotten, forsaken,
ere the moon that witnessed thy plighted vows hath run one-quarter of
its little circle. Behold thy doom! So perish the faithless!” Her white
arms waved in mystic incantation, a sudden storm-wind swept the lake,
the billows heaved and swirled beneath him, and a yawning chasm opened
at his feet. With a last passionate appeal he sank to its chilly depths,
while she, laughing in mocking derision, vanished in a shower of silver

The peasants declare that to this day, on quiet moonlit nights, one may
still see the white form of the Switez maid wandering, as if in search,
among the shadows of the forest-mantled shores or gliding over the
surface of the lake; while mingling with the whisper of the wind among
the trees and the murmurs of the waves upon the strand, one still hears
the echo of her words: “Forsaken, forsworn. So perish the faithless.”

Such is the story of the Switez maid, as told by Mickiewicz in
inimitable Polish verse, and translated into the symbolic language of
music by the Polish tone-poet, Chopin, in the A flat ballade.

The first warmly emotional theme of the composition, with its tender,
persuasive cadences, its ever-growing passionateness, symbolizes the
ardent and impulsive hero of the legend; while the bright, piquant
second theme admirably portrays the arch, coquettish heroine, with her
airy witcheries and playful grace. It cannot be mistaken, for it compels
attention as it enters, after a moment of suspense, in radical contrast
to what precedes, with the dainty rhythmic effect, so difficult to
render for most players. Its introduction later in a different key, with
different accompaniment and embellishments, represents the disguise with
which the maid attempts to cloak her identity, but the same melody is
distinctly traceable through all changes. The superb climax near the
close of the work forcibly depicts at once the swift approach and
resistless sweep of the tempest upon the lake and the intensity of the
emotional situation at the moment of the final catastrophe. Here, too,
is heard again the first melody, the hero theme, in a brief return, as
he makes his last, vain appeal, and we even catch the vanishing ripple
of the maiden’s mocking laughter.

The details of the story are not so literally worked out in the music,
or followed with so much realistic fidelity, as would have been the case
with Liszt or Wagner, or with some other more recent writers. Chopin’s
art is always rather suggestive than descriptive, dealing directly with
the moods evoked by a given situation or event, rather than with the
physical aspect of the events themselves; with the awe and terror
produced by the tempest, for instance, rather than with the audible or
visible phenomena of the tempest. In this particular case he deals
mainly with the general emotional and mental elements which underlie the
legend and the characteristics of the two personages who figure in it,
instead of treating its successive incidents in detail, or in definite
chronological order. The work is therefore sketched on broad,
fundamental lines, and leaves the setting and filling in in large
measure to the imagination of the hearer. This must always be the ideal
method in an art so ethereal and, in one sense, so vague as that of
music. Still, the connection between the music of this ballade and the
actual scenes and development of the legend is distinct enough to be
easily traced by those familiar with the story, and players or listeners
will find, as always, that the purely musical interest of this and all
the Chopin ballades is materially deepened and increased by the
background of relevant facts—by an acquaintance with the material on
which they are based and which gave to the composer the impulse for
their creation.

  Chopin: Polonaise, A Flat Major, Op. 53

Interesting from a historic as well as a musical standpoint is the
origin of the polonaise. In the year 1573, when the Polish throne became
vacant on the extinction of the royal dynasty of Jagiello, a national
assembly of electors was convened at the then capital, Cracow, to decide
upon a new sovereign. The candidates for the throne were all of royal
blood—Ernest of Austria, Henry of Anjou of the house of Valois, brother
to the ruling king of France, a Swedish prince, and Ivan the Terrible of
Russia. But the real struggle lay between the Austrian and French
princes. The choice fell at last on Henry of Anjou, later himself king
of France as Henry III.

In the following autumn he ascended the Polish throne, and among the
many gorgeous ceremonials attending his coronation, was one quite
natural and proper under the circumstances—a formal presentation to the
new monarch, of the leading dignitaries and personages of his realm. It
took place in the vast and magnificent throne hall of the royal castle
at Cracow. The nobles and officials, each with his lady on his arm,
defiled before the throne where the monarch was seated, in a stately
procession, and as they passed before the king were presented by the
master of ceremonies. This formal march was accompanied by suitable
music, written expressly for the occasion and performed by the royal
band. Whether this embryonic polonaise is still in existence, no one
knows; probably not; but two distinct ideas were, or should have been,
before the composer’s mind in penning the harmonies for this solemn

First, of course, to write music eminently suited to the occasion, to
embody, and, if possible, enhance all the pomp and splendor of the
magnificent, august assembly; second, to portray through the music, so
far as might be, something of the national characteristics of this
Polish race which the Frenchman came as a stranger to rule over. The
music in its own way was to serve as a species of introduction.

Little by little, from this crude but characteristic beginning was
developed through the centuries the peculiar national dance, or, more
strictly speaking, march of the Poles; and the music performed during
its progress came to have among dance forms the same title. It partook
of the various stages of evolution to which all music was subject at
different epochs, and within the last hundred years has been modified to
keep pace with the general development of musical resources. But however
it may vary in minor details of form and treatment, every polonaise
which is true to itself must express the original ideas upon which the
form was primarily based—on the one hand a splendid ceremonial, on the
other Polish national life.

In the present day the polonaise is a universally accepted musical form,
common property with the composers of all nations. But Chopin, Polish by
birth, education, and sympathies, found it strictly within his scope,
and has easily surpassed all other writers in number, quality, and
characteristic force as a polonaise writer.

Of his many works in this vein, the Op. 53, in A flat, is in my opinion
decidedly the best, both as regards virile power and direct, forceful
expression of the original polonaise idea. It begins with a wild,
impetuous introduction, brief but stirring, a sort of fanfare of drums
and trumpets, intended to call the people to order and to establish at
the outset the tonality of the mood, so to speak. Then follows the
swinging, pompous measure of the polonaise proper, readily suggesting by
its splendid martial harmonies the proud military bearing, the gorgeous
armor, and the stately tread of those steel-clad feudal heroes, as they
defiled before the throne.

In place of the trio, usually of a more quiet nature in works of this
kind, Chopin has introduced a very singular passage, the most strikingly
original portion of the whole composition—a long-sustained, stupendous
octave climax of the left hand, consisting of a little rhythmic figure
of four notes, constantly reiterated with growing power, against a sort
of trumpet obligato in brilliant measured chords for the right. The
movement vividly suggests the tramp of cavalry. The composer had in mind
the Polish light-horse of medieval fame, a very aristocratic body of
picked horsemen, composed of the flower of Polish chivalry and
disciplined in constant warfare with the Turks. A number of the
brilliant officers of this division were necessarily present at the
coronation ceremony when the polonaise form originated, and these with
their exploits Chopin endeavors to introduce by means of this singular

There is a curious anecdote afloat concerning the effect of this
movement on the composer himself. On one occasion, when playing the
nearly completed work, his nervous organism enfeebled by illness and his
imagination intensely excited by the fever-glow of composition, he was
seized by a peculiar hallucination. He fancied that a band of the
knights he had been attempting to portray, came riding in from the gloom
of the outer night, in through the opening walls of his apartment,
arrayed in their antique war panoply, horse and rider just as they might
have arisen from their century-old graves in Poland. He was so overcome
by this self-invoked apparition that he actually fled from the room, and
it was some days before he could be induced to re-enter it or resume
work on the mighty polonaise.

Immediately following the great octave climax referred to is a subdued,
vague, fearsome little passage in light running figures, totally foreign
in movement, mood, and even key to the remainder of the work, for which
we would be at a loss to account if unacquainted with the circumstances
narrated, but which, with the light just thrown upon it, is readily
understood. The author seems to have lost for the time the thread of the
composition, to have drifted far from its martial mood and swinging
rhythm, but after a period of groping indecision, through which we hear
the trepidation and reluctant fascination with which he again approaches
this monster of his own creation, with a sudden boldness of attack he
regains the clew, resumes with energy the march movement, and the work
sweeps to its close with even more than its original power and splendor.

  Chopin: Impromptu in A Flat, Op. 29

Light, graceful, dainty, capricious, full of playful tenderness and
delicate fancy is this little work, written for and presented as a
wedding gift to one of his favorite pupils, La Comtesse de Lobau, to
whom it is dedicated. The first movement embodies the joyous, hopeful,
congratulatory spirit of the occasion, expressed with all that refined
elegance and polished perfection of style of which Chopin was so
preëminently the master, both in music and language. It is the most
unqualifiedly optimistic strain from his pen with which I am acquainted.

The trio, in F minor, brings a touch of half-veiled sadness and
irrepressible regret, as if called forth by the thought that their art
work together is now to end. She has been for years one of his most
talented, diligent, and interesting students. She is, like himself, a
Polish exile in a foreign land, and their community of sympathies and
sorrows, combined with her charming personality and congenial
temperament, have tended to merge the relations of teacher and pupil
into the closer bonds of a life-long friendship. He is naturally
reluctant to lose her, but this mood of depression is soon subordinated
to the thought that she has found the philosopher’s stone, the fabled
blue flower of the German poets, the subtile, yet supreme panacea for
all human ills—love. This idea is expressed in the last half of the
trio as only Chopin could express it; and the work ends with a
repetition of the first strain, brightly, happily, with a certain
restful completeness of fulfilled desire in the reiterated closing

  Chopin: Fantasie Impromptu, Op. 66

Among other manuscripts found on Chopin’s writing-table after his death
was the original of this composition, complete in every detail, but
written across the back, in his own trembling hand, were the words, “To
be destroyed when I am gone.”

It is difficult to account for this injunction, except upon the theory
that he feared that both the form and the content of the work were too
original, too subtle and complex, and too wholly unfamiliar to the
musical world of his day, to be readily comprehended, and that it would
either suffer from incorrect rendition or be condemned and ignored. So
he preferred a quick death by fire for this child of his sad later days,
to a slow death by mutilation or cruel neglect.

Fortunately the request was disregarded by his friends. The work was
published and has become one of his most beloved, as it is one of his
most faultlessly beautiful compositions. The peculiarity of form
referred to is familiar to all who have attempted the study of this
impromptu. The whole first movement, consisting of a continuous rapid
figure of four notes in the right hand against three in the left, is one
of the most unusual and difficult musical problems to solve
satisfactorily, and only to be mastered by long and special practice—a
case, as I have often said, where it is well to remember the biblical
injunction, “let not thy right hand know what thy left hand doeth.” But
when smoothly played, it produces just that sinuous, interwoven, flowing
effect which the composer desired, and which could not have been
obtained, in such perfection, in any other way.

The content of this composition, like that of many of Chopin’s smaller
works, is purely emotional, like a strictly lyric poem, by his literary
counterpart Tennyson, for instance; it is a wholly subjective expression
of a mental state, an emotional condition, not of any scene or any
action. It touches the minor key and sounds the plaintive harmonies to
which his heart-strings were tuned and vibrating at the time when it was
written. It voices a soft summer twilight mood, half sad, half tender,
full of vague regrets, of indefinite longings and aspirations, of
fluttering hope, never destined to be realized, and bright fleeting
memories that rise and pass, dimmed by intervening clouds of sorrow and
disappointment, like the shifting forms and hues of a kaleidoscope seen
through a misty glass, or the luminous phantoms of dead joys and shadowy
suggestions of the “might have been,” against the gray background of a
sad present and an uncertain, promiseless future. It is a strange,
delicately complex mood, a mood of life’s sunset hour, colored by the
pathetic glories of the dying day, and the depressing, yet tranquilizing
shadows of the coming night—a mood well-nigh impossible to express, but
perfectly embodied in the music.

The following simple little verses, in which, as will be seen, has been
made a somewhat free use of the suggestive symbolism of nature, may
serve to illustrate, though by no means to the writer’s satisfaction,
his conception of the artistic significance of this composition:


    The sigh of June through the swaying trees,
    The scent of the rose, new blown, on the breeze,
    The sound of waves on a distant strand,
    The shadows falling on sea and land;
        All these are found
        In this stream of sound,
    This murmuring, mystical, minor strain.

    And stars that glimmer in misty skies,
    Like tears that shimmer in sorrowing eyes,
    And the throb of a heart that beats in tune
    With tender regrets of a happier June,
        When life was new
        And love was true,
    And the soul was a stranger to sorrow and pain.

  Chopin: Tarantelle, A Flat, Op. 43

Brilliant, effective, and not excessively difficult though it be, this
admirably constructed and thoroughly characteristic _tarantelle_ in A
flat is but little played; perhaps because it appeals less to the love
of the “true Chopinism of Chopin” than most of his compositions, as
being out of the recognized Chopin vein, deficient in the special
melodic and emotional elements usually distinguishing his works.
Nevertheless, considered objectively as a tarantelle, from the
standpoint, not of Chopinism, but of what the true tarantelle should be,
it is one of the best ever written,—hence one of his masterpieces,—and
furnishes another proof of the almost infinite versatility of his
creative power, both in style and in mood.

The origin of the tarantelle, as a musical form, is interesting and must
be considered in judging the real merit of this or any similar work. The
name is derived from that of the tarantula, that venomous denizen of
southern climes, of the spider species, whose bite is usually fatal.
There is a generally prevalent belief among the peasants of both Spain
and Italy, a belief founded, no doubt, upon centuries of experience,
that there is but one reliable cure for this poison, and one which
Nature herself prescribes and imperatively demands—that of violent and
protracted bodily exercise, and the consequent excessively profuse
perspiration, enabling the system to throw off the poison through the
pores. The idea has the same pathological base as the ancient Arabic
cure for hydrophobia, recently revived with great success in this day of
resurrection of buried wisdom—an extremely hot and long-continued steam

It is claimed that the victim of the tarantula is seized by a delirious
desire, an uncontrollable madness for dancing, which, if fully
gratified, in fact encouraged and stimulated to the utmost, may save his
life by means of the prosaic but practical process above suggested. So
his friends assemble in haste, form a circle on the village green or
plaza, strike up the wildest, most furiously rapid and exciting music
possible, on any instrument that may be at hand, preferably the mandolin
and tambourine, as the most rhythmic and inspiring, and take turns
dancing with him, until each is exhausted and gives place to the next,
and until the victim recovers or dies of fatigue. The faster the tempo,
the more intoxicating the music, the better the purpose will be served,
and the greater the hope of a successful cure.

From this crude and primitive germ the modern musical art form, known
and used all over the world, has gradually developed, retaining, of
course, as must every characteristic dance form, the spirit and
fundamental element of the situation and circumstances which gave it

The true tarantelle may be either in a major or minor key, the latter
being most common; but it must be wild, stirring, exceedingly rapid,
with a strong rhythmic swing and a certain dash and go, irresistibly
suggesting the fever of the dance at its most delirious ecstasy. It is
always written in six-eight time, which is somewhat singular, as it has
none of the usual rhythmic peculiarities of that measure, but invariably
produces the impression of twelve-eight, or, perhaps still more
strongly, that of four-four with the beats divided into triplets. In
fact, this is generally the best method of counting it for the pupil. It
should contain no harmonic or technical complexities to distract the
attention of either player or listener from the regular rhythmic swing
and form and movement of the dance; and the melodic trio, occasionally
introduced by some composers, is always an incongruous artistic
absurdity, wholly out of place.

Though the musical form is common property of all composers in all
lands, the actual dance, as such, is specially identified with southern
Spain and Italy, and is rarely used elsewhere. To the tourist one of the
most unique and vividly interesting episodes of his sojourn in these
localities is the performance of the tarantelle by one of the trained
dancing girls, which may be witnessed almost any evening, given with all
the dash and verve of the southern temperament, a perfect embodiment of
grace and fire and dance frenzy.

This tarantelle by Chopin possesses all the essential characteristics in
a high degree, with not a single lapse or irrelevant digression in mood,
in form, even in the details of accompaniment. It may be taken as a
model of the true tarantelle, spirited, well sustained throughout, and
eminently playable.

  Chopin: Berceuse, Op. 57

The Chopin Berceuse (which is the French word for cradle-song) is a most
unique as well as most ideally beautiful composition, standing alone in
all piano literature, as regards its form and harmonic structure, the
only one of its species. It is beyond all question or comparison, the
finest cradle-song ever written for the piano, an exceptionally perfect
example of that rare blending of spontaneous genius and mechanical
ingenuity, for which Chopin was so preëminent, resulting in a work
matchless in its originality, its suggestive realism, its delicacy of
finish, and its poetic content. An organ point on D flat, which is its
only bass note, sustained throughout the entire composition, and a
couplet of the simplest chords, the tonic and dominant seventh,
alternating back and forth in a swinging, rocking motion, form the
accompaniment, continued practically without change, from first measure
to last, portraying naturally, easily, yet unmistakably, the soothing
monotony of the rockaby movement. The left hand may be said to rock the
cradle throughout the whole composition, while in the soft, continually
intertwining melody in the right hand, like an endless, infolding circle
of maternal love, we find the lullaby song of the mother, sung as she
sits there in the hush of the twilight, rocking her little one to sleep.

Around and over this melody Chopin has flung, with his own inimitable
delicacy, a silver lace-work of embellishment, falling soft and light as
the moonlight spray from fountains in fairyland, as through the
idealizing summer haze, half veiling a distant landscape, we seem to
catch dim glimpses of the dream-pictures, the fleeting fancies, the
changing phantasmagoria of prophetic visions, that drift through the
brain of the mother as she sits there in the gathering dusk, waiting for
the little eyes to be tightly closed, and wondering vaguely to herself
on what scenes they will open in the far future years.

Slower and gentler grows the motion of the cradle, softer and lower the
lullaby song, further and further the dream pictures drift into the
shadows, until at last the wings of slumber are folded about the little
one. Silence reigns. The mother’s daily task of loving ministry is ended
and she, too, may rest. The two lingering closing chords, soft and slow,
suggest the moment when she rises from the cradle and spreads her hands
in silent benediction over the sleeping child.

Infinite tenderness and delicacy are needed for the interpretation of
this composition; a tone like violet velvet, and a light, fluent finger
technic, to which its really extreme difficulties seem like dainty play.

  Chopin: Scherzo in B Flat Minor, Op. 31

A very familiar, yet always fresh and intensely interesting composition
is this scherzo. The name is an Italian word signifying a jest, and we
find in musical nomenclature a number of derivatives from it, as
_scherzino_ (little jest) and _scherzando_ (jestingly, playfully). The
term is used by most composers to designate compositions that are
bright, playful, humorous in character. Nearly all the leading composers
have written more or less in this vein. Mendelssohn particularly
excelled in it, and even serious old Beethoven became quite jocose at
times in the scherzo movements of his symphonies; though it always
reminds one of the sportive dancing of an elephant.

Chopin applied the name to four of his greatest, most intense and
impassioned works, seemingly without the smallest reason or relevancy.
Why, no one can even surmise, unless it may have been in a mood of
sardonic perversity, of sarcastic bitterness, purposely to mislead the
public as to the real artistic intention and significance of the music,
and see if they would have sufficient perception to discover it for
themselves. It is a sad commentary on the insight of many of our
so-called musicians, that they have not done so even to this day, and
persist in playing the Chopin scherzi jestingly and as trivially as
possible, which may be the subtle, covert jest which Chopin intended.
Who knows? In reality these four works, especially the first three of
them, are among his greatest and grandest. They are broad, heroic,
seriously and profoundly emotional productions, marking the high-water
line of his creative power; full of the strength and virile energy which
those acquainted only with his nocturnes and waltzes are inclined to
deny him altogether, but in which he far exceeds all other composers,
past or present, with the possible exception of Beethoven and Wagner.
Jests only in name, or, if in fact, then in the sense of bitterest
satire, aimed at the world and at life, jests written in the heart’s
blood of the composer; written when Poland, his beloved native land, lay
in her death agony, when three great European powers had combined to
write the word _finis_ in Polish blood and tears, across the last page
of her history. What wonder that the music throbs with intense but
conflicting emotions—fiery indignation, fierce defiance, bitter scorn,
and, in the next breath, pitiful tenderness for the wronged and the
suffering, heart-breaking sorrow for the unavailing heroism and wasted
lives of his countrymen!

All these moods will be found in swift and sharply contrasting
succession in all the four scherzi, but notably in the one in B flat
minor, which I regard as the best of the four. The seeming incongruity
between its name and its musical content, its ostensible and its real
significance, always recalls to me famous lines:

   “The lip that’s first to wing the jest
      Is first to breathe the secret sigh;
    The laugh that rings with keenest zest
      But chokes the flood-gates of the eye.”

  Chopin: Prelude (D Flat Major), Op. 28, No. 15

A unique position in pianoforte literature is occupied by these
Preludes, Op. 28. They derive their name rather from their form than
from their musical import. Like the usual preludes to songs, or more
extended musical works, they are short, fragmentary tone sketches rather
than complete pictures; each consisting, as a rule, of a single, simple
movement, and embodying but a single concrete idea, and seeming to imply
by its brevity and its suggestive rather than fully descriptive
character, that a more elaborately developed composition is to follow,
to which this has been but an introduction and in which the idea, here
merely outlined, will receive more exhaustive treatment. In reality,
however, each of these preludes is complete in itself; an exquisite
musical vignette containing, like some dainty vial of hand-cut Venetian
glass, the distilled essence of dead flowers of memory and experience
from Chopin’s past; particularly of scenes, episodes, and emotional
impressions of his romantic life on the island of Majorca. Just as a
painter might have sketched, with hasty but truthfully graphic pencil,
on the pages of his portfolio, the fleeting impressions produced upon
his senses and imagination by this novel, picturesque environment, so
the composer has preserved in these bits of offhand but vivid tone
painting, glimpses into his daily life, his moods and experiences during
that winter of 1838-39.

Banished by his physicians to this Mediterranean isle, in the hope of
benefit to his fast failing health, and refused shelter in any hotel or
private residence, on account of the there prevalent belief that
consumption was contagious, Chopin and the little party of devoted
friends who accompanied him (most notable among whom was the famous
French novelist, George Sand) were forced to improvise a temporary abode
in the semi-habitable wing of an old ruined convent, which had been
abandoned by the monks. It was picturesquely situated on a rocky
promontory, commanding a view, on the one side, of the open sea, dotted
with the countless white sails of Mediterranean commerce; on the other,
of the sheltered bay, the village beyond, and the lofty volcanic
mountains in the background. Here they spent the winter, and here nearly
all of the preludes, with many others of Chopin’s most poetic smaller
works, originated—artistic crystallizations of passing impressions and
experiences, concerning which and the life in which they originated,
George Sand writes: “While staying here he composed some short but very
beautiful pieces which he modestly entitled preludes. They were real
masterpieces. Some of them create such vivid impressions that the shades
of the dead monks seem to rise and pass before the hearer in solemn and
gloomy funeral pomp. Others are full of charm and melancholy, glowing
with the sparkling fire of enthusiasm, breathing with the hope of
restored health. The laughter of the children at play, the distant
strains of the guitar, the twitter of birds on the damp branches, would
call forth from his soul melodies of indescribable sweetness and grace.
But many also are so full of gloom and sadness that, in spite of the
pleasure they afford, the listener is filled with pain. Some of his
later tone-poems bring before us a sparkling crystal stream reflecting
the sunbeams. Chopin’s quieter compositions remind us of the song of the
lark as it lightly soars into the ether, or the gentle gliding of the
swan over the smooth mirror of the waters; they seem filled with the
holy calm of nature. When Chopin was in a despondent mood, the piercing
cry of the hungry eagle among the crags of Majorca, the mournful wailing
of the storm, and the stern immovability of the snow-clad heights, would
awaken gloomy fancies in his soul. Then again, the perfume of the orange
blossoms, the vine bending to the earth beneath its rich burden, the
peasant singing his Moorish songs in the fields, would fill him with

The Prelude in D flat, No. 15, which I select as one of the most
beautiful and characteristic of these sketches, embodies a strange day
dream of the composer in which, as he says, “vision and reality were
indistinguishably blended.”

One bright, late autumn morning the little party of friends had taken
advantage of the weather, and of the fact that Chopin seemed in
unusually good health and spirits, to make a long-talked-of excursion to
the neighboring village, promising to return before sunset. During their
absence a sudden tropical tempest of terrific severity swept the island.
The wind blew a hurricane, the rain descended in floods, the streams
rose, bridges and roadways were destroyed, and it was only with extreme
difficulty and considerable danger that they succeeded in reaching the
convent about midnight, having spent six hours in traversing the last
mile and a half of the distance. They found Chopin in a state bordering
on delirium. The physical effect of the storm on his shattered nerves,
combined with his own depression and his keen anxiety for them, had
combined to work his sensitive, and at that time morbid, temperament up
to a state of feverish excitement, in which the normal barriers between
perception and hallucination had well-nigh vanished. He told them
afterward that he had been a prey to a gruesome vision of which this
prelude is the musical portrayal.

He fancied that he lay dead at the bottom of the sea; that near him sat
a beautiful siren singing in exquisitely sweet and tender strains, a
song of his own life and love and sorrow. But though her voice was
soothing in its dreamy pathos, and though he felt oppressed by a
crushing languor and fatigue and longed for rest, he could not lose
consciousness, because tormented by the regular, relentlessly monotonous
fall of great drops upon his heart. As the drops continued increasing
steadily in weight and in importunate demand upon his attention, as if
burdened with some great and sad significance which he must recognize,
he became aware that they were the tears of his friends on earth whom he
had loved and lost. With this knowledge, vivid memory and poignant pain
awoke together, and his anguish grew to an overpowering climax of
intensity. Then, nature’s limit being reached, the force of his tempest
of grief finally exhausted itself, and he sank gradually into a state of
dull, despairing lethargy, and at last into welcome unconsciousness, the
last sound in his ears being the soothing strains of the siren, and his
last sensation the now faint and feeble, but still regular falling of
his friends’ tears upon his heart.

This composition should be conceived and executed so as to render, to
the full, its intensely emotional character. The first theme in D flat
major, with its sweetly languorous tone, should be given quite slowly,
with pressure touch, producing a penetrating, but not loud, singing
quality of tone, while the reiterated A flat in the accompaniment,
which, throughout the whole work suggests the falling drops, must be at
first vaguely hinted rather than distinctly struck. The middle part in
chords should be commenced very softly with a whispering, mysterious
tone, affecting the hearer like the first shadow of an approaching
thunder cloud, or the presentiment of coming woe. Then the power should
steadily increase—gradually, relentlessly, like the stealthy,
irresistible rising of the dark cold tide about some chained victim in
an ocean cave, where the light of day has never penetrated; mounting
steadily—not rapidly—to the overwhelming climax of the reiterated
octave B in the right hand.

In the repetition of this passage the same effect should be produced,
with the climax still more intensified. Then let the power as gradually
decrease, till at the return of the siren’s song it has sunk into
pianissimo and the closing measure should fade away into silence, like
the echo of dream bells.

I have dwelt at some length upon this prelude because it is the best
known of the set; the most complete and, generally speaking, the most
effective; and because, in connection with the suggestive quotation from
George Sand, it will serve as a helpful illustration to the student in
arriving at an intelligent comprehension of the others. But a few words
in further elucidation of some of them may be in place.

The first, in somber, sonorous chords, expresses Chopin’s initial
impressions of the stately, but half-ruined monastery in which he and
his little party had found refuge, and the solemn thoughts called up by
its decaying grandeur, its silent loneliness, its vast, gloomy,
memory-haunted halls and cloisters.

The third represents an evening scene, with the setting sun kindling to
crimson and gold the spires and picturesque whitewashed cottages of the
village of Majorca, a mile away across the little bay, while the gentle
breeze, like the sigh of departing day, brings the sound of silvery
bells from the little village church ringing the vesper chimes.

The fifth and sixth embody the same mood, in an almost identically
similar setting. They may be effectively combined into one picture of a
dark, depressing, late autumnal day; a day of gray skies and leaden sea;
of heavy, windless calm, the calm of exhaustion and utter weariness,
with the low, sad rain dripping monotonously upon the roof like the
tears of the gods for a dying world. In one, the melody expressing the
element of human sorrow is in the soprano, plaintively, touchingly,
sweetly pathetic. In the other, it is placed in the lower register of
Chopin’s favorite orchestral instrument, the ’cello, which it
reproduces, throbbing with a more passionate intensity, a more poignant
pain. But in general character and treatment the two belong together.

No. 8 tells of the gay carol of the birds at dawn, floating in at the
open windows of Chopin’s chamber. No. 17 is a rustic dance of the
Majorcan peasants. No. 24, the last, is a graphic description of a
tropical storm with the flash of lightning and the ominous roll of the
thunder literally portrayed.

Space does not permit of a detailed analysis of all the numbers, but
each has its special character and suggestive import, and is a picture
of some episode or mood during that winter’s sojourn on Majorca.

  Chopin: Waltz, A Flat, Op. 42

Every dance, the waltz included, is based upon and adapted to some
particular dance movement. All its effects, whether of melody, harmony,
rhythm, or embellishment, are carefully calculated by the composer to
meet the requirements of this special movement, to conform to and
express its general character and be governed by its usual rate of
speed. Each of these dance movements embodies in itself some peculiar
quality or characteristic, such as stately grace in the minuet, martial
pomp in the polonaise, impetuous vivacity in the galop, which the music
must indicate and supplement. The Chopin waltzes are no exception to
this rule. They are distinctly and preëminently waltzes; and though of
course not for actual dance purposes, they are intended as idealized
tone-pictures of the waltz, and of ball-room scenes and experiences.

The one in question, Op. 42 in A flat, is planned upon a broader scale,
contains more variety, and taxes more thoroughly the resources of the
accomplished pianist than any other work of Chopin in this vein. Its
tender, floating melodies, bright, delicate passage work, and swinging,
swaying rhythms are replete with all that eloquent, gliding grace, that
arch coquetry, that passionate warmth of mood, which we so invariably
associate with the festive scenes,

          “Where youth and pleasure meet
    To chase the glowing hours with flying feet.”

Lights sparkle, delicate draperies are afloat, like perfumed clouds,
upon the languid air, bright eyes scintillate with mirth or soften with
emotion, and

    “All goes merry as a marriage bell.”

And yet throughout all there runs a half-hidden undertone that tells of
deeper, sterner thought and far intenser feeling; that tells of dark
forebodings, of distant alarms, of sudden trumpet calls; so that the
work in its entirety cannot but seem to us the counterpart in music of
that familiar, almost hackneyed, but immortal word-picture of Byron,
describing the great ball on the eve of the battle of Waterloo, to whose
thunderous music the fate of nations was reversed, like the steps of the
dancers in a ball-room, and France changed monarchs as a lady shifts her

The somber trio strain, about the middle of the composition, suggests to
us “Brunswick’s fated chieftain,” who sat apart and watched the dancers
and listened to the revelry with “Death’s prophetic ear.” Later, where
the rhythmic pulsation of the waltz is abruptly and violently
interrupted in the midst of its flowing cadences, by a strong emphasized
G natural F, repeated twice by both hands in unison, we are forcibly
reminded of the line—

    “But hush! hark! a deep sound strikes like a rising knell!”

After a moment of consternation and suspense, the waltz movement
proceeds, appearing almost flippant by contrast, and seeming to say,
like the verse which follows,

    “On with the dance, let joy be unconfined!”

Lastly, the breathless, impetuous finale indicates the “hurrying to and
fro,” the “mounting in hot haste,” and “marshalling in arms,” with which
the dance broke up at midnight, as cavaliers rushed from the ball-room
to the battlefield. Both Chopin, the greatest musician of Poland, and
Mickiewicz, her greatest poet, were powerfully impressed by the
personality and poetry of Lord Byron, and there is no doubt that our
composer had the stanzas of the contemporaneous English writer in mind
in the creation of this work.

The first duty of the performer in rendering this composition should be
to suggest irresistibly to the listeners both the mood and movement of
the waltz, and to force them to feel, as far as may be, the elastic
swing of the rhythm and the warm, voluptuous mood of the music. The tone
quality employed should constantly change to suit the contrasting colors
of the different strains; now warmly lyric, now sparkling and vibrant,
at times deeply somber, and again strikingly dramatic and declamatory.

As to tempo, I would caution the player against an extreme rate of
speed. Remember that the usual waltz step is, approximately at least,
our guide in choosing the proper movement. I am aware that many
pianists, of the greatest skill and reputation, are guilty of the
cardinal error of playing one of these beautiful poetic little
compositions of Chopin’s at _prestissimo_ tempo, so as to display their
phenomenal finger dexterity at the expense of all musical and artistic
truth; so fast, indeed, that even if the notes were all struck with
accuracy, which is by no means always the case, its graceful rhythmic
swing and all its melodic and harmonic effects are utterly lost, leaving
nothing but an incoherent, formless, purposeless whirlwind of tone, as
dry and unlovely as the eddies of dust in a September gale, suggesting
neither the mood nor movement of a waltz.

  Chopin’s Nocturnes

In derivation and general significance the term nocturne coincides with
our English word nocturnal. It is music appertaining to the night, a
night piece, suited to and expressing its usually quiet, dreamful,
pensive mood, and frequently portraying some nocturnal scene or episode.
The name nocturne was originally used as synonymous with that of
serenade, and they were virtually identical in character. But in later
times it has come to have a much broader application, and to-day, though
every serenade is of course a nocturne, all nocturnes are by no means

The serenade is a real or imaginary song of love, and presupposes a fair
listener at a lattice window and a lover singing beneath the stars, to
the accompaniment of a harp, mandolin, or guitar. The nocturne may
legitimately embody any phase of human emotion or experience, or any
aspect of inanimate nature, which can rationally be conceived of as
appropriately emanating from or environed by nocturnal conditions.

It must not be supposed that this vein of composition was Chopin’s only
or even his most important field of activity. To judge him exclusively
by his nocturnes and waltzes is precisely like judging Shakespeare
solely by his sonnets. But it was a vein in which, owing to his
peculiarly poetic temperament and fertile imagination, he far excelled
all other writers, no less in the quality than in the number and variety
of his creations.

  Chopin: Nocturne in E Flat, Op. 9, No. 2

This perhaps is the easiest and certainly the best known of Chopin’s
nocturnes. Scarcely a student but has played it at one time or another.
In fact, it has been worn well-nigh to shreds; yet still retains its
simple, tender charm, if approached in the proper spirit. It is replete
with melodic beauty and warm harmonic coloring, and is an excellent
study in tone-production and shading, as well as a model of symmetrical
form. It was one of his early works, and the glow of first youth still
lingers about it, in spite of its over-familiarity and much abuse. As a
teaching-piece it sometimes surprises the weary teacher with a waft of
unexpected freshness, like the fleeting odor from an old and much-used
school-book in which violets have been pressed.

It is a pure lyric, a love-song without words, but to which a dreamily
tender poetic text can easily be imagined and supplied; and the very
evident suggestion of the harp or guitar in its accompanying chords
facilitates the effort and brightens the poetic effect. So far as I can
learn, it has no definite local background, either in fact or tradition;
no special place or persons to which it refers. It is an abstract idea
treated subjectively, the embodied emotional reflex of imaginary
conditions. The scene is a garden—any garden, so it be beautiful, rich
with the vivid luxuriance of the South, fragrant with the breath of
sleeping flowers, with the South summer-night hanging fondly over it,
and the summer stars glittering above. The melody is the song of the
ideal troubadour, pouring out his heart to the night and his listening
lady, while the accompanying chords are lightly swept from vibrant
strings by the practised fingers of the minstrel. The cadenza at the
close is intended as a mere delicate ripple of liquid brilliancy, as if
the moon, suddenly breaking through a veil of evening mist, had flooded
the scene with a rain of silvery radiance.

  Chopin: Nocturne, Op. 27, No. 2

This nocturne, though one of Chopin’s most intrinsically beautiful
compositions for the piano, is even more frequently heard upon the
violin. It has been, for decades, a favorite lyric number with all the
leading violinists of the world, and adapts itself admirably to the
resources and peculiar character of this instrument.

For this there is an excellent reason, far other than mere chance. On a
certain evening in the early thirties were assembled in an elegant
Parisian salon a company of the musical and literary _élite_ of the
French capital, to meet several foreign celebrities and enjoy one of
those rare opportunities for intellectual and artistic converse and
companionship, of which we read with envious longing, but which are
practically unknown in our busy, prosaic age.

There were present Chopin, Liszt, Mendelssohn, the latter then in Paris
on a brief visit, besides many local musicians of note, including some
of the professors of the Conservatoire, also George Sand, Heinrich
Heine, Alfred De Musset, with some lesser literary lights, and a
brilliant gathering of social leaders. It was an evening long to be
remembered for the sparkling wit and repartee, flashed back and forth
from these brilliant intellects, like the rays of light from the
glittering jewels of the ladies, for the occasional bursts of glowing
eloquence and poetic thought from the profounder minds, and especially
for the music, which was plentiful and of the best.

It may have been on this very occasion that Rossini made his famous, but
most unfriendly, hit at the expense of Liszt’s marvelous powers of
improvisation, which he, Rossini, was inclined seemingly to doubt. Liszt
was being pressed to play and to improvise, and Rossini called out
across the room: “Yes, my friend, do improvise that beautiful thing that
you improvised at Madam —’s last Friday, and at Lord So and So’s the
week before.”

In the course of the evening a local violinist of prominence played for
the company a new composition of his own, a sweet, long-sustained
cantilena, with a more involved second movement in double stopping. When
he had finished and the applause had subsided, one of the ladies was
heard to remark, “What a pity that the piano is incapable of these
effects! It is brilliant, dramatic, resourceful, what you will; but only
the violin can stir the heart in that way.”

Chopin rose, bowing with one of his equivocal smiles, half-sad,
half-playfully mocking, stepped to the piano and improvised this
nocturne, a perfect reproduction of all the best violin effects,
cantilena and all, including the double-stopping in the second theme,
with a certain warmth and poetry added, which were all his own. Of
course, it was afterward finished and perfected in detail, but in
substance it was the same as the D flat nocturne which we all know so
well and which the violinists, though most of them unconscious of the
reason, have singled out as specially adapted to their instrument.

The player should keep the violin and its effects in mind in rendering
it, the lingering, songful, string quality of tone in the melody, the
smooth legato, the leisurely, well-rounded embellishments; and the tempo
should never be hurried. It may be well to say, in this connection, that
in these Chopin nocturnes, and in all other lyric compositions, the
embellishments, grace-notes, and the like should be made to conform to
the general mood and character of the rest of the music. Symmetry and
fitting proportions are among the primal laws of all art.

In a Liszt rhapsody, a cadenza should flash like a rocket, but in a
Chopin nocturne it should glide with easy, undulating grace, should
float like a wind-blown ribbon, a fallen rose-leaf. Too often we hear
the ornamental passages in a lyric played as if they were wholly
irrelevant matter, dropped in there by accident out of some other
entirely different compositions,—a bit of vain, noisy display in the
midst of a poetic dream, breaking instead of enhancing its charm,
utterly incongruous. Harmonize the embellishments with the subject! Fit
the trimming to the fabric!

  Chopin: Nocturne, Op. 32, No. 1

Although technically easy and thoroughly musical, this little work is
strangely enough but little played. It is technically no harder than the
Op. 9 referred to, though it requires more intensity and stronger
contrasts in its treatment.

It is singular that a comparatively simple composition, of such
intrinsic merit, by one of the great composers, comprising, as it does,
so many attractive elements in such small compass, should be so little
used. Possibly, to those not acquainted with its subject, the closing
chords, with their sharp, almost painful contrast, and utter
dissimilarity to the preceding movement, have seemed incongruous and
unintelligible; but, when the theme and purpose of the whole are
understood, it is seen in what a masterly manner, and with what simple
material, Chopin has produced the most striking dramatic results.

The subject of this nocturne is the same as that of Robert Browning’s
later poem, “In a Gondola”; an episode to be found in the annals of
Venice, when, at the height of her pride and power, she was nominally a
republic, but from the large legislative body elected exclusively from
among the nobility, an inner, higher circle of forty was chosen, and
they, in turn, selected from their number, by secret ballot, the
mysterious, potent Council of Ten, gruesomely famous in history, who
wielded the real power of the State, often for the darkest personal
ends, the Doge being little more than a figure-head. Highest and most
dreaded of all was the Council of Three, chosen from their own number by
the Ten, by an ingenious system of secret ballot so perfect that only
those selected knew on whom the choice had fallen, and they did not know
each other’s identity. They met at night, in a secret chamber, in which
the three tables and three chairs, and even the blocks of marble in the
pavement of the floor were symbolically triangular. They entered at the
fixed hour, by three separate doors, disguised in black masks and long
black cloaks, conferred in whispers only, and their decrees, like those
of the Greek Fates, were inexorable and inevitable. Veiled and shielded
by mystery, they worked their awful will, from which there was no escape
and no appeal.

The story runs that once a beautiful and high-spirited heiress, the
daughter of a former Doge, and the special ward of the Council of Three,
as the disposal of her hand and fortune was an important State matter,
had the courage to brave their prohibition and secretly to welcome the
suit and return the love of a young, gallant, but fortuneless knight,
who risked his life to obtain their brief, stolen interviews, or to
breathe his love in subdued but heart-stirring melody beneath her
window. One night, when a great ball at the palace seemed to afford an
opportunity for her to escape unnoticed, he came disguised as a
gondolier, and for a few sweet moments they were alone together upon the
moonlit water.

The first theme of this nocturne suggests the scene in the gondola, with
its softly swaying motion as it feels the faint swell of the great sea’s
distant heart-throb, while the melodic phrases embody the tender mood of
the lovers as if in a sweet, low song. Browning expresses the mood in
his opening lines:

   “I send my heart up to thee, all my heart,
      In this my singing;
    For the stars help me and the sea bears part;
      The very night is clinging
    Closer to Venice’s streets to leave one space
      Above me, whence thy face
    May light my joyous heart to thee, its dwelling-place.”

The second theme is somewhat more intense, though still subdued. It
tells of greater passion and also of deeper sadness, with an occasional
passing thrill of suppressed terror. Browning sings it:

   “O which were best, to roam or rest?
    The land’s lap or the water’s breast?
    To sleep on yellow millet sheaves,
    Or swim in lucid shadows, just
    Eluding water-lily leaves.
    An inch from Death’s black fingers, thrust
    To lock you, whom release he must;
    Which life were best on summer eves?”

To which the lady answers:

   “Dip your arm o’er the boat-side, elbow deep,
    As I do; thus; were death so unlike sleep,
    Caught this way? Death’s to fear from flame or steel,
    Or poison, doubtless; but from water—feel!”

The last measures of the lyric melody, full of lingering sweetness, are
like the parting kiss. Then suddenly, brutally, with the G major chord
against the crashing F’s in the bass, the voice of fate breaks the
tender spell. Death enters with swift, heart-crushing tread, and his icy
hand snatches his victim from the very arms of love; and the closing
chords, brief, but impressive, voice the shock, the cry of anguish, and
the swift sinking into black despair, which were the lady’s more bitter
share in the tragedy. For too soon the time had passed. Their brief
happiness had been saddened and softened to deeper, graver tenderness by
the knowledge of impending danger, by the ever-recurrent cloud like the
passing thought that Browning voices in the line:

    “What if the Three should catch at last thy serenader?”

They must return or be detected. Reluctantly he guides the boat back to
the landing, and just in the moment of their farewell he is surprised,
overpowered, and stabbed to death by waiting assassins, dying in her

The closing of the nocturne as just described is, to my thinking, more
dramatic, more realistic, and far stronger than the last lines of
Browning’s poem:

   “It was ordained to be so, sweet! and best
    Comes now, beneath thine eyes, upon thy breast.
    Still kiss me! Care not for the cowards! Care
    Only to put aside thy beauteous hair
    My blood will hurt! The Three I do not scorn
    To death, because they never lived; but I
    Have lived, indeed, and so (yet one more kiss) can die.”

  Chopin: Nocturne, Op. 37, No. 1

Opus 37, No. 1, in G minor, was written during Chopin’s winter sojourn
on the island of Majorca already described. On this occasion also the
composer had been left alone to occupy himself with his piano, while his
more active friends went for a sail on the bay. The sun had disappeared
behind a western bank of cloud. The evening shadows were fast closing
around him, filling with gloom and mystery the distant recesses of the
vast, irregular apartment where he sat, and the columned cloister
beyond, which led from the ruined refectory of the monastery to the
chapel where the priests and abbots of ten centuries lay entombed. The
ruins of a dead past were on every side. The silent presence of Death
seemed all about him. He felt that, like the day, his life was swiftly
declining, and the mood of the place and the hour was strong upon him.
It found utterance in the sorrowfully beautiful, passionately pathetic
first melody of this nocturne, with its falling minor phrases, like the
cry of a deep but suppressed despair, and its somber, sobbing
accompaniment, like the muffled moan of the surf on the adjacent beach.
A precisely similar mood is powerfully expressed in Tennyson’s poem
“Break, break, break,” especially in the closing lines,

   “But the tender grace of a day that is dead
    Will never come back to me.”

Suddenly, in the midst of his melancholy reveries, Chopin was seized by
one of those deceptive visions, so frequent at that time. The shadowy
forms of a procession of dead monks seemed to emerge from beneath the
obscure arches of the refectory, in a slow funeral march along the
cloister behind him to the chapel, where their evening services were
formerly held, solemnly chanting as they passed their _Santo Dio_. This
impressive chant, as if sung by a chorus of subdued male voices, is
realistically reproduced in the middle movement of the nocturne. The
very words _Santo Dio_ are distinctly suggested by each little phrase of
four consecutive chords.

When the monks have vanished, and their voices have died away in the
distance beneath the echoing vault of the chapel, Chopin recovers
himself with a shudder and resumes his sad dreaming, symbolized by a
return of the first melody. But just at its close the sun sinks below
the western bank, its last rays gleam for a moment on the white sail of
the boat just rounding up to the landing. His friends return. His lonely
brooding is cheerfully interrupted. His mood brightens and the nocturne
ends with an exquisite transition to the major key.

The player should strive in this work for a somber intensity of tone,
and should render each phrase of the melody as if the pain expressed
were his own, making the undertone of the sobbing sea distinctly
apparent in the accompanying chords. In the middle movement, where the
monks’ chant is introduced, the imitation of a muffled chorus of male
voices should be made deceptively realistic. All the notes of each chord
must be pressed, not struck, with a firm but elastic touch, and exactly
simultaneously; and each little quadruplet of chords must rise and fall
in power, so accented as to enunciate the words _Santo Dio_. This is at
once the saddest, the deepest, and the most descriptive, while
technically the easiest, of all the Chopin nocturnes.

  Chopin: Nocturne, Op. 37, No. 2

Graceful, tender, and cheerful is the general tone of the Nocturne in G
major. It was written the following summer after Chopin’s return to
France, during a visit of some weeks at Nohant, the beautiful country
seat of George Sand, where in the midst of a smiling rural landscape,
bright and winning, rather than awe-inspiring, breathing the mild but
invigorating air of his beloved France, surrounded by cheerful and
congenial companions and by every possible physical comfort, our
composer’s health and spirits temporarily revived. To this epoch, brief
as it was, we owe some of his most genial and attractive compositions.

Again it is evening and Chopin is alone, but this time it is in his own
familiar, cozy room, where the perfect appointments and tasteful
arrangement tell of loving feminine hands, glad to minister to every
fancy of his delicately fastidious nature. The scent of flowers floats
in through the open window, and mingled with it the low voices of
friends in the garden below. He watches the play of lights and shadows
among the swaying branches of a tall, graceful willow tree just outside
his casement, the vaguely outlined, fleecy, floating gray clouds, ghosts
of dead storms, silently passing on into the infinite unknown spaces of
the sky. He listens to the night wind sighing among the tree-tops, to
the good-nights of sleepy birds, to the vesper bell of a distant
village, and embodies his dreamy impressions in the first movement of
this nocturne, with its wavering, undulating murmurous effects, and its
faint, intermittent melodic suggestions, like the half-remembered music
of a dream.

The second movement, twice alternating with the first, though in
different keys, is distinctly a slumber song in rhythm and mood, a
restful, gentle, soothing lullaby to the composer’s own weary heart, to
his momentarily slumbering griefs, and forebodings; peaceful, tender,
pensively sad at times, but entirely free from that ultra-bitterness and
gloom which color most of his later works. His Polish biographer calls
this the most beautiful melody Chopin ever wrote, and it reminds us
strongly of Tennyson’s lines in the same mood:

   “There is sweet music here that softer falls
    Than petals from blown roses on the grass,
    Or night-dews on still waters between walls
    Of shadowy granite, in a gleaming pass;
    Music that gentler on the spirit lies
    Than tired eyelids upon tired eyes.”

An extremely light but fluent legato touch, and an ethereal delicacy and
grace of conception are demanded for the first movement, and the
ever-present curve of beauty should be indicated in each little passage
of three measures. Let the player imagine a brightly tinted feather
ball, tossed lightly into the air and fluttering softly and slowly to
earth again.

For the second movement, a singing lyric tone, a subdued warmth of
color, and a steady, reposeful, rocking rhythm are a necessity, and the
lullaby mood should be kept in mind.

  1811 1886

  Chopin’s Polish Songs, Transcribed for Piano by Liszt

Six of these songs, transcribed for piano, with all Liszt’s wonted
skill, render this charming vein of Chopin’s work available to the
pianist. I cite two as illustrations:

These Polish songs by Chopin are, comparatively speaking, unknown, even
among musicians, overshadowed and hidden as they have always been by the
number and magnitude of his pianoforte works, like wood-violets lost in
the depths of a forest. Yet, though small and unpretentious as the
violets, they are among his most genial and poetic creations. Seventeen
of them have been published, as genuine bits of vocal melody as ever
were penned or sung; and there are many more which have never been
printed, scarcely even written out in full; hasty pastime sketches, the
fair daughters of a momentary inspiration, wedded to stray verses of
Polish poetry which caught Chopin’s fancy, from the pen of Mickiewicz
and other national bards.

  The Maiden’s Wish

“The Maiden’s Wish,” the first of the two songs presented, is one of the
earliest and most popular, so far as known; a dainty, capricious little
mazurka song, half playful, half tender. The words embody the fond wish
of a merry, winsome maiden, whose life is touched to seriousness by the
shadow of first love upon her pathway, the wish that she were a sunbeam
to leave the high vault of Heaven and desert the flowers and streams of
earth to shine through her lover’s window and gladden him alone; or that
she were a bird to leave the fields and forests and fly on swift pinions
to his window at early dawn and wake him with a song of love.

The music accurately and closely reproduces the spirit of the words, in
all their warmth, archness, and grace. The short but continually
recurring trill, “ever on the self-same note,” in prelude and interlude,
suggests the thrill which the maiden feels at heart as she flits singing
about the house and garden, unconsciously keeping step to the rhythm of
the mazurka, the native dance of her province.

  The Ring

The second song selected resembles in form the ordinary folk-song, with
its single, reiterated musical strophe, and also in its simplicity, its
fresh, unaffected sincerity of mood. But it shows far more perfect
workmanship, and is of a much more refined and poetic quality. It is
plaintively sad, tenderly pathetic in every phrase, a pale, delicate
blossom of sentiment, dropped upon the grave of youth and first love. It
describes the early betrothal of a youth, full of faith, hope, and
happiness, to his playmate and child-love. On departing into strange
lands, the youth gives the maiden a ring and she gives him in exchange a
promise to become his bride on his return. After years of weary
wandering, during which his heart has been ever faithful to his early
love, he returns to find she has forgotten ring and promise and lover.
But in spite of her perfidy and the hopelessness of his attachment, his
constant thoughts cling ever to the little ring he gave and the little
playmate with her childish grace and garb. A very old story and a very
simple one, but none the less sad for that.

In addition to its intrinsic charm and artistic merit this little
composition possesses a personal interest in its subtle reference to
Chopin’s own experience. The great tone-poet knew a love other and
earlier than that destructive passion for George Sand which blasted his
life and broke his heart. But his beloved Constantia, to whom he was
betrothed before leaving Poland, at twenty years of age, to seek his
fortune in the great world, forgot her plighted vows and the little ring
he gave as their visible token, and married another; and it is the
composer’s own grieved and disappointed heart that speaks in this
tenderly beautiful song, saddened by the first of the many swiftly
gathering clouds which obscured the brightness of his sunny youth, and
in a few short years rendered the name of Chopin synonymous to his
friends with grief and suffering.

  The Poetic and Religious Harmonies by Franz Liszt

Liszt’s reputation in this country as a pianoforte composer has hitherto
rested, in the main, upon his brilliant and popular operatic fantasies,
a few of his études, and his unique and world-famous Hungarian
rhapsodies; all of which, though effective and by no means to be
despised, are, after all, only the bright bubbles tossed off in playful
mood from the surface of his genius, like the globules that rise from
the sparkling champagne.

That there is a deeper, more serious, and far more important vein of
strictly original work of his, which has as yet scarcely been
discovered, still less exploited, few persons, even among the musicians
themselves, seem to be aware. Of course, in the large cities, his
orchestral works—that is to say, some of them—have been occasionally
given and his concertos have become fairly well known; but elsewhere he
is chiefly known as the leading manufacturer of musical pyrotechnics,
the inventor of the best pianistic sky-rockets and the best articles in
tonal thunder and lightning thus far put upon the world’s market. But
the fact is that his future fame as a creative musician is destined to
stand upon a much firmer and more lasting basis—namely, that of the
original work referred to; and I believe in a much higher niche in the
temple of art than it at present occupies.

Among these original works, and forming an important and distinct
division of them, peculiar to itself both in form and subject matter,
the “Poetic and Religious Harmonies” claim our attention. These were
written under rather singular circumstances.

All through his life, from early boyhood, Liszt was subject to
occasional moods of intense religious fervor,—devotional paroxysms, one
might almost call them,—sweeping over him like a tidal wave,
submerging, for the time, all other thoughts and impulses, and then
receding, to leave him about where they found him. Their transitory and
spasmodic nature has led many to believe that they were not real, but
assumed, simulated hypocritically for effect, or for a purpose; as, for
example, to escape the importunate claims of his several mistresses.

But those who knew him best are inclined to make allowance for his
impulsive, erratic, unbalanced temperament, his undeveloped oriental
nature, half barbaric in spite of its immense and manifold powers, and
to concede that, while they lasted, they were very genuine and very
profound. Under this impelling force he was several times on the point
of giving up his worldly career and devoting himself to a monastic life,
and was only restrained by the efforts of his many friends and admirers.

In 1856 came the last and most enduring of these impulses, and, in
obedience to it, he abandoned his life as a concert artist, which, for
phenomenal success, has never had a parallel before or since, retired
into rigorous seclusion in the Vatican at Rome, where he was the guest
and pupil of the Pope himself, and devoted nearly five consecutive years
to religious study and contemplation, receiving the title of Abbé in the
Catholic Church, which he retained till his death, and writing a
considerable number of compositions, all of a distinctively religious
character, all based upon religious themes, either incidents narrated in
the Scriptures, or in the lives of the saints, or subjective experiences
connected with his own spiritual life and development.

Among these, his great “Legend of St. Elizabeth” is preëminent, and this
series of nine poetic and religious harmonies; each a complete
composition, having no connection with the others except in its general
character, bearing a special title indicating its nature and subject.
Some of them are of very great musical worth and importance, and are
among his best productions, notably, the No. 3, Book 2, entitled “The
Benediction of God in the Solitude.” It is one of the subjective,
emotional compositions referred to, giving us a glimpse into the heart
life of the composer during this epoch of profound and intense religious

It opens with a subdued but strongly emotional, ’cello-like theme in the
left hand, expressing the first discontent and vague longings of a soul
whose best aspirations and highest needs have found no real satisfaction
in worldly things, yet which has no certain grasp, no safe reliance on
any life beyond and above the present; a soul adrift on the dark ocean
of doubt and skepticism, with no guiding star of hope, no beacon-light
of promise, not even the compass of faith in things unseen by which to
shape its course. This mood grows steadily in intensity, through the
successive stages of unrest, agitation, distress, despair, to an
overpowering climax. Then it is followed by a short, quiet movement in D
major, literally imitating the tranquil strain of the organ and the
distant sound of cathedral bells; thus symbolizing the promises and
proffered consolations of the Church; then a period of grave pondering,
of thoughtful examination and introspection, and then the first theme
repeats, but with less vehement treatment, in a gentle though still
agitated mood, like a recapitulation of his former state from a newly
acquired standpoint, a softened memory of the old, stormy, desperate

The work closes with a tranquil, flowing movement, a complete inundation
of the spirit by a flood of that “peace which passeth understanding,”
the benediction of God in the solitude. He has found, as he believes,
safety, rest, and reconciliation with divine law and will. This closing
strain, in its reposeful happiness, forms a fitting and most beautiful
ending to this serious, ideally suggestive composition.

Other numbers of this set are almost equally interesting, but I have not
space for more of them. This one will serve as a good example, and I may
add that it was regarded by Liszt himself as the best of his piano

A little French poem from Liszt’s own pen, which stands as motto at the
head of this music, sums up its significance. I append a nearly literal

   “Whence comes, O my God, this sweet peace that surrounds
    My glad heart? And this faith that within me abounds?
    To me who, uncertain, in anguish of mind,
    On an ocean of doubt tossed about by each wind,
    Was seeking for truth in the dreams of the sage,
    And for peace, among hearts that were chafing with rage.
    A sudden—there flashed on my soul from above
    A vision of glorified heavenly love;
    It seemed that an age and a world passed away
    And I rise, a new man, to enjoy a new day.”

  Liszt’s Ballades

While speaking of Liszt’s original compositions, we must not omit his
two ballades, which, though musically a little disappointing, are works
of considerable magnitude and marked individuality, and possess no small
degree of descriptive interest. They are in the same general form and
vein as the Chopin ballades, and were evidently suggested by them,
though they cannot be compared with them either for beauty or for

  First Ballade

The first, in B minor, is decidedly the more vigorous of the two, and
the more difficult. It is based upon the pathetically tragic story of
the Prisoner of Chillon, so ably told in Byron’s poem, which the player
should read with care, so as to familiarize himself thoroughly with its
incidents and moods. The poem tells of that nameless captive chained for
life to a pillar in a rock-hewn dungeon beneath the castle of Chillon,
on Lake Leman, below the surface of the lake, so that he listens day and
night to the dull thunder or mournful murmur of the changeful waves
above his head, as his only indication of the shifting moods of Nature
in the living world, her passing smiles and storms, her slowly circling
seasons as they come and go.

   “A double dungeon, wall and wave
    Have made—and like a living grave.
    Below the surface of the lake
    The dark vault lies, wherein we lay:
    We heard its ripple night and day,
    Sounding o’er our heads it knocked,
    And then the very rock hath rocked,
    And I have felt it shake unshocked:
    Because I could have smiled to see
    The death that would have set me free.”

Years drag themselves out to eternities. One by one his few companions
die of cold and hunger, leaving him alone in that living tomb, with his
endless, changeless, unutterable misery.

   “I had no thought, no feeling—none.
    Among the stones I stood a stone.
    It was not night, it was not day,
    For all was blank and bleak and gray:
    A sea of stagnant idleness,
    Blind, boundless, mute, and motionless.”

His only gleam of comfort were the occasional visits of an azure-winged
bird that came now and then and perched on the window ledge outside his
dungeon bars, a fair and gentle companion symbolizing for him all the
beauty and tenderness and sweetness in the life he has lost; and on
which he comes to concentrate the love and interest of his famished

   “A lovely bird with azure wings,
    And song that said a thousand things,
    And seemed to say them all to me!
    I never saw the like before,
    I ne’er shall see its likeness more:
    It seemed, like me, to want a mate,
    But was not half so desolate;
    And it was come to love me, when
    None lived to love me so again.”

The opening movement of the ballade, representing the thunder of the
waves reverberating through the gloom of that cavern-like cell, and the
later lyric, which might be called the bird theme, suggesting his tender
communing with his little friend, are the best movements in the work.
The details of the story are not carried out, but its outlines, and
especially its moods, are clearly given.

  Second Ballade

The second ballade, in D flat major, is more melodious and attractive,
but less strong. It is dedicated to Liszt’s life-long friend and
powerful patron, the Duke of Weimar, and, out of compliment to him,
treats of an episode in the Duke’s family history, back in the days of
the second Crusade.

A young and gallant chief of the house of Weimar stands in the rosy
light of early dawn, on the highest turret of his castle, with his newly
wedded bride, taking a long farewell of her and of their fair domain,
for at sunrise he leads his knights and men-at-arms to the crusade, and
the return is years distant and uncertain. Their mood is full of sadness
and yet of a strong, religious exultation and trust. His mission is a
grand and glorious one. Heaven will surely guide and protect its
faithful knights, and his lady bids him Godspeed, though with tearful
eyes. From the castle court below, sounds of gathering troops and
martial preparation rise to their ears, at first faintly, then with
growing din and clamor, till a burst of trumpets greets the rising sun;
the gates are flung open and, hastily descending, he takes his place at
the head of his forces and they march away to the strains of inspiriting
military music. The lady still stands alone on her turret, waving her
greetings—stands there, as he sees her last, flooded with the glory of
the morning, an embodiment of love and hope and promise—a vision to
haunt his waking dreams in far-away Palestine, to cheer his lonely
camp-fire vigils and lead him to victory on the field of action.

As she still stands dreamily watching the last gleam of the
spear-points, the last flutter of the receding banners, the sanguine
fancy of youth leaps the intervening years, and she thinks she hears the
strains of the martial music at the head of the returning army coming in
triumph back from a successful campaign.

The successive moments in the story above sketched are given with
realistic distinctness in the music, and can be followed without

  Transcriptions for the Piano by Franz Liszt

The peculiar aptitude required for successfully rewriting a song or
orchestral composition for the piano, so that it shall become, not a
mere bald, literal reproduction of the melodies and harmonies, as in
most of the piano-scores of the opera, interesting only to students, but
a complete and effective art-work for this instrument, may be a lower
order of genius than the original creative faculty, but is certainly
more rare and almost as valuable to the musical world. It demands,
first, a clear, discriminating perception of the essential musical and
dramatic elements of the original work, in their relative proportions
and degrees of importance, distinct from the merely idiomatic details of
their setting; second, a supreme knowledge of the resources and
limitations of the new medium of expression, so as at once to preserve
unimpaired the peculiar character and primal force of the original
composition, and to make it sound as if expressly written for the piano.
It is one thing to write out the notes of an orchestral score so that
they are, in the main, playable by a single performer on the piano; but
it is quite another thing to readjust all the effects to pianistic
possibilities, so as to produce in full measure the intended artistic
impression. There is practically the same difference as in poetic
translation between the rough, verbal rendering of a Latin exercise by a
school-boy, and the finished, artistic English version of a poem from
some foreign tongue, by a gifted and scholarly writer like Longfellow.

Whatever may be thought or said of Liszt as an original composer, in his
piano transcriptions he has never had an equal, scarcely even a would-be
competitor. His work in this line is of inestimable importance to the
pianist, both as student and public performer, and forms a rich and
extensive department of piano literature. Think what a gap would be left
in any artist’s repertoire if Liszt’s transcriptions, including the
rhapsodies, were struck out of it; for the rhapsodies are only
transcriptions of gipsy music. Practically all of Wagner’s music that is
available for the pianist he owes to Liszt’s able intermediation. True,
Brassin has done some commendable work in his settings of fragments from
the Nibelungen operas, but of these the “Magic Fire” music is the only
really usable number; and this, though playable and attractive from its
own intrinsic merits, is hardly satisfactory, either as a genuinely
pianistic setting or as a reproduction of the artistic effects of the
original. One feels that it is an interesting attempt, not a complete
success; and the “Ride of the Walkyrie,” which ought to be the most
effective of all the Wagner numbers for piano, is wholly unusable for
concert purposes. One is practically restricted to Liszt in this
direction, but finds in him a mine of highly finished, admirably set
gems, accessible, though technically not easy to appropriate.

  Wagner-Liszt: Spinning Song, from the “Flying Dutchman”

Take, for example, the familiar and ever-enjoyable “Spinning Song” from
the “Flying Dutchman,” definite and symmetrical in form, perfect in
every detail as a piano composition, eminently playable and pianistic,
yet preserving the original dramatic intention with absolute
completeness and integrity. Those who are familiar with the opera will
need no explanation of its contents; but for the many piano students who
are not, I give a brief synopsis of the scene of which this music is at
once an accompaniment and a picture; for Wagner’s music is all intended
to intensify, by reduplicating in tone, scenes and moods represented on
the stage.

A little company of village maidens, in a seaport town in Holland, is
assembled of a winter evening to spin. It is to be a semi-social,
semi-useful gathering, much like the old quilting parties of our
grandmothers’ time, and they are all in the best of spirits. They start
the wheels, but something is wrong apparently; the thread breaks or
tangles, and two or three times they are obliged to stop, wait a moment,
and recommence, till finally the buzz and hum of the swift-rolling
wheels become continuous. This orchestral imitation of the
spinning-wheel is a piece of very graphic realism, and in the piano
arrangement is given almost equally well in the left-hand accompaniment,
while the right hand carries in chords the chorus of the spinning
maidens, as they sing at their work, a bright, joyous, rhythmical song,
full of gaiety and wit, as shown by an occasional interruption by a
burst of merry laughter.

In the very midst of their jollity they are startled into an abrupt
silence by the ominous sound of a single horn close by, and they suspend
their work to listen. The horn rings out, clear and strong, a peculiar
impressive signal, which they know and dread as that of the “Flying
Dutchman,” the terror of those shores, the fated commander of a phantom
ship, manned by a specter crew, who sails the northern seas eternally,
in winter storm and summer fog, condemned forever to this ghastly
isolation from his living fellow-men, and striking terror to the hearts
of all the simple fisher-folk, whenever the dim outlines of his ship are
seen in the misty offing; and especially when his signal horn is heard;
for it is known that he does sometimes land. His only possible chance of
escape from the awful curse upon him is that once in a hundred years he
is permitted to spend a few brief days on shore and mingle with his
kind, and if, during that short period, he can win the love of any true
maiden so completely that she will voluntarily give her life for him,
then the curse is ended and both may rise to the realms of the blessed
together. It is a grand opportunity for generous self-sacrifice on the
part of some noble girl; but naturally all shrink from it, and are
panic-stricken at his approach.

But the horn dies away. Echo repeats the notes and drops them. All is
still. They think he is merely passing, as he often does, and has no
intention of landing here at present. So, after a little timid
hesitation, they resume their work and their song, become as hilarious
as before, even more so, going off at last into a perfect gale of
laughter, in the midst of which the horn sounds again; this time nearer,
louder, more importunate. Surely he is about to land, perhaps is already
on shore and approaching; and then there is a frenzy of panic; work is
flung aside, wheels are overturned in the confusion, and the girls
scatter in mad terror in all directions; and with this flight the scene
closes, and this transcription for the piano ends.

I will add, however, for the completion of the story, that one of the
girls, the heroine, her woman’s heart touched to pity by the awful
destiny of the curse-laden commander, remains, half in eagerness, half
in fear, to meet him at his entrance and to become the willing sacrifice
for his redemption.

The keynote of the whole opera is found in that sublimest of all
facts—human love triumphant over fate.

With this story in mind, even those quite unfamiliar with the music
cannot fail to recognize and follow the successive details of the scene
described: the whir and hum of the spinning-wheels, the chorus of
singing maidens, the entrance of the signal horn, with its echo and the
terror that follows; the repetition of these incidents in growing
climax, and the mad confusion and scamper at the close.

  Wagner-Liszt: Tannhäuser March

Liszt’s brilliant transcription of this fragment of the _Tannhäuser_
music is another of the most popular and grateful Wagner numbers for the
piano. It must not be confounded with the “March of the Pilgrims,” or,
more properly, the “Pilgrim’s Chorus,” as it often is by those not
familiar with the opera. The latter, a chorus of fervently devout
pilgrims departing for the Holy Land, is solemn, inspiring, but somber
in character, while the march is brilliantly festive in tone, gorgeous
in coloring, pompously magnificent in its martial rhythms, its rich
major harmonies and its ringing trumpet themes. It appropriately
accompanies the entrance of a long and splendidly appareled procession
of guests into the old castle known as the _Wacht Burg_, a famous feudal
stronghold in Thuringia during the middle ages. They have assembled in
holiday mood and attire to witness one of those prize contests in
singing—a sort of musical tournament between the leading Minnesingers
of the time, frequently held at the castles of the powerful German
nobles of that period. The word _Minne_ is an old German, poetic synonym
for _Liebe_, or love. Hence the Minnesinger was a minstrel whose avowed
theme was love.

It was a gala occasion. Excitement and anticipation ran high, for some
of the most celebrated names of the time were on the list of
competitors. All had their favorites, to whom they were disposed to
accord the victory in advance, and all came in the expectation, not only
of a rich musical feast, but of a close and sharply contested combat of
genius, for the honors of the day. The opening trumpet signal announces
that the castle gates are thrown open, and summons the guests to form in
marching order, and then the glittering ranks move forward to the
rhythmically cadenced measures of the march music. Gallant knights in
glistening armor, the pride of race and martial glory in mien and
carriage, stately dames in silk and jewels, fair maidens sweet as the
blossoms they wear, and old men in the dignity of years and proven
wisdom—all are there and are faithfully mirrored in the music as they
pass before us. There is an imposing pomp and gorgeous splendor about
it; a little wearying, it may be, after a time, but certainly never
equaled, if approached, by any other composition, and absolutely in
keeping with the mood and setting of the scene. The tempo should be very
moderate, the rhythm marked and steady, the contrasts distinct, and the
tone, for the most part, full and brilliant, but never harsh.

  Wagner-Liszt: Abendstern

Another selection from this same opera, this time in the lyric vein,
which Liszt has effectively arranged for the piano, is the “Evening Star
Romance,” as it is often called. It is one of the songs of Wolfram, the
leading baritone of the opera. The theme is love, and the opening line
of the song, “O thou, my gracious evening star,” clearly indicates the
bard’s intention. The love of which he sings is to be a modest, distant,
respectful devotion, a pure adoration rather than a passionate desire.
His lady-fair is to be his light, his guide, his inspiration to lofty
vows and noble deeds of chivalry. For her will he be all things, achieve
all things, sacrifice all things, asking no reward but her smile of
approbation. She is to be his divinity, not his bride; to be worshiped,
not possessed.

The mood is one of glowing enthusiasm and ideal unselfishness, but
subdued to a dreamy, half intensity, like sunlight through a fleece of
summer clouds. The player should strive to produce in the melody the
effects of a rich, mellow baritone voice, clearly, smoothly, musically
modulated, warm, but never impassioned. The Minnesingers always
accompany themselves upon the harp, and the harp effects used by Wagner
in the orchestra have been retained, as a matter of course, by Liszt in
the piano arrangement, and must be reproduced by the player with the
utmost fidelity.

  Wagner-Liszt: Isolde’s Love Death

One of the most vividly interesting, to musicians, of all the
Wagner-Liszt transcriptions, is the death scene from “Tristan und
Isolde,” known as “Isolde’s Love Death.” It is not a number easily
grasped, or usually enjoyed by the general audience; and the elemental
power and intensity of the passion it so forcefully expresses have been
often criticized as morbid, unnatural, and exaggerated, by those, the
mildly tempered milk-and-water of whose stormiest passions never exceed
the moderate, decorous fury of a tempest in a tea-pot. But to those who
can sympathize with and appreciate its irresistible, volcanic outburst
of emotion, its overwhelming sweep of life-rending anguish, it is one of
the strongest, grandest lyric utterances in all the realm of music,
thrilling and overpowering the heart to the degree of pain and terror.

It is a lyric in form, in treatment, and in subject-matter, dealing
exclusively with emotion, not action, though its breadth of outline, its
somber strength, and its passionate intensity give it a decidedly
dramatic effect. Here is no pink-and-white pet of the modern
drawing-room, grieving for her missing poodle, or another’s failure to
wear the most up-to-date tie; but a glorious primeval woman, with the
fire of youth and plenty of good red blood in her veins, a goddess in
the unreserved frankness of her feelings, the boundless strength of her
devotion, sublime in the might of her passion and the majesty of her

Her life is her love and must end with it. Her hero-lover, Tristan, lies
beside her, dying of a mortal wound received in combat for love of her,
however dishonorable in the world’s eyes; and he is the more to be
cherished because despised and hunted to his death by his king and
former comrades for her sake. Further attempt at flight with him is
hopeless. Fate and their foes are closing swiftly in around them. The
end is inevitable. Their brief, wild dream of stolen happiness is over.
The first black, crushing moment of despairing realization, portrayed in
the opening measures in sober chords, is followed by a strain of sweet,
tender, but plaintive reminiscence of what love was to them and might
have been. Then comes a long, steadily growing, tremendously impassioned
climax of impotent protest, of desperate love, of vehement,
heart-breaking sorrow, all mingled in one glowing lava stream of
frenzied anguish, merging at last into a soft, half-delirious vision of
reunion and happiness beyond the grave, in which her spirit takes its
flight, to realms, we will hope, where hearts, not crowned heads, were
the arbiters of her woman’s destiny.

Those who have no sympathy with a really great passion which sweeps all
before it, flinging the pretty policies and cut-and-dried conventions of
life aside like straw in the path of a cataract, had better let this
music alone. It is not for them either to feel or to render. It requires
exceptional intensity of treatment, a broad, strong, yet flexible
chord-technique, and an absolute mastery of the tonal resources of the

  Schubert-Liszt: Transcriptions

Some of Liszt’s very best though earliest work in the line of pianoforte
transcription was done in connection with the Schubert songs; most of it
in the thirties. These songs were then first coming into prominence, and
their markedly romantic and descriptive character appealed strongly to
the dramatic instincts of this master of the piano, understanding and
utilizing as no other writer ever had, the resources and possibilities
of his instrument. Liszt adapted a large number of these songs to it,
rendering them most effectively available as piano solos, selecting
mainly those in which the character of the text and original music gave
opportunity for suggestively realistic and descriptive treatment.

  Der Erlkönig

Most famous and decidedly most dramatic of these is the “Erlkönig.” All
German students and most vocalists are familiar with the text of this
song, which is its own best explanation; but the piano student may find
a sketch of the story helpful. It is a legend of the Black Forest in
Baden, brought to the world’s notice by Goethe in one of his most
dramatic and perfectly wrought ballads. This ballad Schubert set to
music in a moment of highest inspiration; then, in the natural reaction
and discouragement following such a supreme effort of genius, he threw
the manuscript into the waste-basket as unsuccessful and impracticable.
It was rescued a few hours later by a celebrated tenor of the day, who
chanced to call, and accidentally discovering this gem among the torn
papers, saved it to the world. Liszt recognized its immense
possibilities as a piano number and gave the song an instrumental
setting which is even more effective than the original vocal

The story is briefly this. A horseman is riding homeward through the
depths of the Black Forest at midnight in a raging tempest, bearing in
his arms his little boy, wrapped safely against the storm, held close
for warmth and safety. The “Erlkönig,” or, as we should say, “Elf King,”
is abroad in the dark, storm-racked forest. He espies the boy, takes a
freakish fancy to him, determines to possess the child, approaches
softly, with coaxing and persuasion, offers flowers, playthings, pretty
elf playmates, everything he can think of, to tempt the boy to leave his
father, and come with him. But the little one is terrified, shrieks to
his father for protection; and the father, while striving to quiet his
fears, spurs onward at utmost speed, seeking in vain to distance the
pursuing Elf King.

The composition is graphically descriptive and contains many varied, yet
blended elements. The swift gallop of the horse over the broken ground
is given in rapid triplets as a continuous accompaniment; the rush of
the storm-wind through the moaning pine-tops, the roar of the thunder,
the chill and gloom and terrors of the wild night, are forcefully
depicted in the sweeping crescendos and somber harmonies of the left
hand, while the three voices engaged in the flying, intermittent
colloquy are rendered the more distinct and easy to follow, by being
played in different and suitable registers; the father’s voice in the
baritone—grave, stern, impressive; the child’s in the
soprano—plaintive and pathetic; and the Elf King’s high in the
descant—sweet, seductive, persuasive, impossible to mistake. Three
times this colloquy is renewed, with growing agitation, each time ending
with the terrified shriek of the child, while the flight and pursuit
continue with increasing speed, and the tempest grows apace. Finally the
Elf King loses patience, throws off the mask of friendly gentleness,
declares that if the child will not come willingly he shall use force,
and tries to take him by violence. The child shrieks for the third time
in an anguish of fear, for the touch of the elf is death to a mortal.

The father, now himself frantic with terror, spurs on madly for home,
with the tempest crashing about him. He reaches his door at last and
dismounts in fancied security, only to find the boy dead in his arms;
and perhaps the most impressive moment of the whole composition is that
at its suddenly subdued, solemnly mournful close, when he stands at the
goal of his furious but futile race, and gazes, by the light of his own
home fire, into the dead face of his child.

  Hark! Hark! the Lark

Among the Schubert-Liszt transcriptions, the one which probably stands
next to the “Erlkönig” in general popularity is the song “Hark! Hark!
the Lark at Heaven’s Gate Sings!” the words being the well-known,
charming little matin song by Shakespeare which Schubert has set to
music with all his infallible insight into their exact emotional import,
and all his masterly command of musical resources, reproducing in the
melody and its harmonic background the effect intended in every line of
the text, filling every subtlest shade of feeling to a nicety, realizing
once again that ideal union, that perfect marriage of words and music,
so difficult and so rare with most song-writers, but which was a
distinguishing characteristic of Schubert’s work.

In his piano accompaniment Liszt has displayed even more than his usual
skill in preserving all the intrinsic beauty and precise poetic
significance of the original, besides giving to it an eminently
pianistic form. The music is bright, buoyant, joyous as the summer
morning, fresh as its breezes, light as its floating clouds, stirring
our hearts with the revivifying call of a new day, breathing hope and
happiness in every measure, while the airy rippling embellishments
remind us of the exuberant song of the skylark, as he rises exultantly
to meet the dawn, shaking the dew from his swift wings and pouring out
the plenitude of his glad heart upon the awakening earth in a sparkling
shower of music, like the bubbling overflow of some sky fountain of pure

The player and listener will do well to have in mind Shelley’s lines,
describing the “clear, keen joyance” of that “scorner of the ground,”
the English skylark.

  Gretchen am Spinnrad

A striking contrast to the composition just described is afforded by the
equally able but intensely mournful transcription entitled “Gretchen am

The text of this song is taken from Goethe’s “Faust.” It is the song of
Marguerite, sitting at her wheel, in the gathering dusk of evening,
spinning mechanically from the force of long habit, but with her
thoughts engrossed by memories of her lost happiness, her ruined life,
and blighted future. The mood is one of overwhelming melancholy, of
crushing despair, whose dark depths are fitfully stirred from time to
time by a rebellious surge of passionate but hopeless longing, as her
heart throbs to some passing recollection of departed joys and love’s
fateful delirium.

Her dashing but faithless lover, Faust, after winning and betraying her
affection, robbing her of the innocence and tranquil happiness of
girlhood, has abandoned her to face her bitter fate alone; and she moans
in her solitary anguish:

   “My peace is gone, my heart oppressed,
    And never again will my soul find rest.”

The music perfectly voices the piteous sadness of her mood, with the
occasional intermittent outbursts of passion; while the monotonous hum
of the spinning-wheel, literally imitated in the accompaniment, as in
every good spinning song, seems in this case to adapt itself to the song
of the maiden, to harmonize with its sadness, to take on a corresponding
melancholy, reflecting the emotions expressed in her voice and words, as
a stream reflects the somber cloud that shadows it—a good illustration
of that universal principle in art, which invests inanimate things with
a fancied sympathy with human experiences.

Nothing could be more complete or perfectly appropriate than the musical
treatment of this subject; but its unmitigated sadness probably prevents
its becoming a popular favorite; and its extreme, though not at first
apparent, difficulty places it beyond the reach of most amateur players.

  Liszt: La Gondoliera

Like many of Liszt’s contributions to piano literature, this dainty and
most pleasing little work is not exclusively his own; that is, it is not
an original melodic creation, but the admirably clever arrangement or
setting of an old Venetian boat-song. The melody has been in existence
for many decades, perhaps centuries, and may be heard by any one who
visits Venice, as sung by the gondolier in time to the swing of his
dextrously handled single oar. It is called “La Biondina in Gondoletta”
(“the blond maid in a gondola”), and was originally composed by
Pistrucci, to words by Peruchini, and harmonized later by Beethoven, in
his folk-songs, entitled “Zwölf verschiedene Volkslieder.”

It is a distinctly Italian melody, with no pretensions to great depth or
dramatic intensity, but simple, tender, and sweet, winning rather than
commanding—a lyric of the sensuously beautiful type, but not to be
despised, as it is a spontaneous product of the sunny-tempered,
warm-hearted children of the South. It contains no hint of the Venice of
mystery, of secret cruelty, of world-wide powers, of the Council of the
Ten, that masked midnight tribunal of former days; but breathes only of
Venice the fair, in her moonlit beauty—of Venice, “the Bride of the

Liszt’s setting gives us not only the melody enhanced by effective
harmonic coloring and delicate embellishment, but a characteristic and
picturesque background of accompaniment suggesting the scene, the mood,
and the environment; the low murmur of the Adriatic, at the distant
water-gate, pleading to be admitted to the presence of his Queen; the
soft ripples stealing up the long winding canals, whispering their love
secrets under the palaces of Juliette and Desdemona, and creeping
fearfully beneath the Bridge of Sighs, and past the dreaded dungeons of
the doges; the silvery moonlight gleaming upon marble frieze and column,
and touching to soft brilliancy the fadeless tints of glass mosaic; the
dip and sway of the graceful gondola as it glides on its silent way
along those water streets between rows of stately buildings, every
carved stone of which is alive with history or with some romantic

All these are delicately yet graphically depicted, while the boatman’s
song rises and falls, seeming now near, now distant, as it is borne to
us on the varying breath of the light sea-breeze. The whole picture is
one of subdued evening tints, of half-disclosed, half-hinted outlines,
with a pervading mood of dreamy fancy, of wistful tenderness. It seems
to me one of Liszt’s most perfect and ably sustained efforts in the
purely lyric, yet suggestively descriptive vein.

At the close, the great, sonorous bell of St. Mark’s Cathedral strikes
midnight, its grave, deep-toned voice majestically commanding the
attention. The F sharp here used to produce the bell effect, and at the
same time serving as bass in a prolonged organ-point throughout the
coda, is the actual keynote of the St. Mark’s bell, ingeniously utilized
for this double purpose. Meanwhile, the last notes of the song die away
in the distance, and slumber, like a veil of mist floating in from the
summer sea, envelops the city.

  The Music of the Gipsies and Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsodies

Liszt, in his able and unique but somewhat prolix work, entitled “The
Bohemians and Their Music in Hungary,” which, so far as I can learn, has
never been translated into English, gives some most interesting
information concerning these much-played and much-discussed Rhapsodies,
their origin, character, and artistic importance, their relation to the
national music of the gipsies and the racial peculiarities of this
strange people, which I believe will be new to most readers.

I present here what seem to me the most valuable facts and ideas in
Liszt’s book in connection with these Rhapsodies, using, so far as
possible, his own words translated from the French. I have used the word
“gipsies” for “Bohemians” in the translation; this being the usual
English name for the race, as “Bohemian” is the French.

It should be distinctly borne in mind that, contrary to the generally
prevailing impression, these so-called Hungarian Rhapsodies are not in
any sense derived from or founded upon national Hungarian music, or the
national life and racial traits of the Hungarians. The floating
fragments of wild, fantastic melody and strange, weird harmony which
Liszt has gathered and utilized in this form, came neither from the Huns
nor from the Magyars, whose blended tribes compose the present Hungarian
race; but they are of purely gipsy origin. It is distinctly and
characteristically gipsy music which Liszt has merely adapted to the
piano. His reasons for calling these works Hungarian Rhapsodies he
states as follows:

“In publishing a part of the material which we had the opportunity to
collect during our long connection with the gipsies of Hungary, in
transcribing it for the piano, as the instrument which could best
render, in its entirety, the sentiment and the form of the gipsy art, it
was necessary to select a generic name which should indicate the doubly
national character which we attach to it.

“We have called the collection of these fragments ‘Hungarian
Rhapsodies.’ By the word ‘Rhapsody’ we have wished to designate the
fantastically epic element which we believe we recognize therein. Each
of these productions has always seemed to us to form a part of a poetic
series. These fragments narrate no facts, it is true; but ‘those who
have ears to hear’ will recognize in them certain states of mind, in
which are condensed the ideals of a nation. It may be a nation of
Pariahs; but what difference does that make to art? Since they have
experienced sentiments capable of being idealized, and have clothed them
in a form of undisputed beauty, they have acquired the right to
recognition in art.

“Furthermore, we have called these Rhapsodies ‘Hungarian’ because it
would not be just to separate in the future what has been united in the
past. The Hungarians have adopted the gipsies as their national
musicians. They have identified themselves with their proud and warlike
enthusiasms, as with their poignant griefs, which they know so well how
to depict. They have not only associated themselves in their ‘Frischka’
with their joys and feasts, but have wept with them while listening to
their ‘Lassans.’

“The nomadic people of the gipsies, though scattered in many countries,
and cultivating elsewhere their music, have nowhere given it a value
equivalent to that which it has acquired on Hungarian soil; because in
no other place has it met, as there, the popular sympathy which was
necessary to its development. The liberal hospitality of the Hungarians
toward the gipsies was so necessary to its existence that it belongs as
much to the one as to the other. Hungary, then, can with good right
claim as its own this art nourished by its cornfields and its vineyards,
developed by its sun and its shade, encouraged by its admiration,
embellished and ennobled, thanks to its favor and protection.”

These compositions, then, according to Liszt’s own statement, are called
“Hungarian” only by courtesy and a sort of national adoption. They are
called “Rhapsodies” because of their resemblance, in form, character,
and content, to those detached, fragmentary poems sung or recited by the
wandering bards, troubadours, and rhapsodists of the olden time—poems
embodying the collective sentiments, the heroic deeds, the touching or
stirring experiences of a people, which were later collected and welded
together, with more or less coherency, by some master mind, to form the
national epic of that people. This music, of an authentically gipsy
parentage, of which Liszt speaks as “the songs without words” of the
gipsies, and to which he has merely stood sponsor at its rechristening
and its introduction, in new civilized dress, to the musical world, is
the only art form in which this enigmatical race has ever expressed
itself—the only channel through which its ill-comprehended but intense
inner life of emotion, imagination, and vague idealism has found vent.
It is the inarticulate, but none the less expressive, cry of the soul of
a race struggling with that universal human longing for self-utterance.

Liszt’s aim, pursued for many years, at great pains and with masterly
ability, was to collect and preserve for the world at least certain
representative portions of this music, and construct from them a tone
epic of the gipsies, possessing, not only from the artistic, but from
the historical and anthropological standpoint, an interest and value
similar to that of other epics in verse, as, for instance, those of the
Greeks, the Persians, the Germans, the Finns, Scandinavians, etc.

Of the actual history of the gipsies little is known, save that they are
the strangest and most anomalous people of the globe. Numerous theories
as to their origin have been advanced, only to be abandoned. But the
best belief of to-day is that they originated in India, being of the
lowest Soodra caste or Pariahs there, driven out by the terrible Mongol
invasions between the tenth and thirteenth centuries A. D. They first
appear to the historical world in Egypt, and their name, “gipsies,”
given them in this country and Great Britain, is but a corruption of the
word “Egyptian”; and hence they were long erroneously supposed to have
originated there. In other countries they have received various names,
as Bohemians in France, Gitanos in Spain, Zigeuner in Germany, Zingari
in Italy. But they always and everywhere designate themselves as Romani,
or Roma Sinte, meaning, “Roma” (men) and “Sinte,” probably from Scind,
or the Indus River. They did not appear in Western Europe till the early
part of the fifteenth century, first in Bohemia, then in France and
Germany, and thence they spread, in wandering bands, from natural
increase, and, perhaps, from further immigration, over most of Europe
and other large portions of the world, everywhere abused and hated, and
by most governments cruelly persecuted. The Austrian government, under
Maria Theresa, was the main, modified exception to this harshness. She
encouraged and protected them in some localities in Hungary, and, under
this more humane care, they have there lived, in very considerable
numbers, a more stable and localized life than elsewhere on earth,
affording some modifications and improvement of their general habits and
character, as nomad, oriental vagabonds.

Liszt, in the book referred to, has eloquently and strikingly
characterized this strange people, as follows: “Among the nations of
Europe there suddenly appeared one day a people, whence no one could
definitely say. It cast itself upon the Continent without showing any
desire of conquest, but also without asking any right to a domicile. It
did not desire to appropriate to itself an inch of ground, but it
declined to give up an hour of time. It had no wish to conquer, but it
refused to submit. It avowed neither from what Asiatic or African
plateaus it had descended, nor from what necessity it had sought other
skies. It brought no memories; it betrayed no hope. Too vain of its sad
race to condescend to merge itself in any other, it was content to live
repulsing all foreign elements.... This is a strange people, so strange
as to resemble no other in any respect. It possesses neither country,
nor religion, nor history, nor any law whatever.... It permits no
influence, no will, no persecution, no instruction either to modify,
dissolve, or extirpate it. It is divided into tribes, hordes, and bands
which wander here and there, following each the route dictated by
chance, without communication with each other, largely ignoring their
collective existence, but each preserving, under the most distant
meridian, with a solidarity which is sacred to them, infallible rallying
signs, the same physiognomy, the same language, the same manners.... The
ages pass. The world progresses. The countries where they sojourn make
war or peace, change masters and manners, while they remain impassive
and indifferent, living from day to day, profiting by the preoccupations
caused by events which decide the fate of nations, to secure their own
existence with less difficulty.... This people that shares the joys, the
sorrows, the prosperities, and misfortunes of no other; that, like an
incarnate sarcasm, laughs at the ambitions, the tears, the combats, and
festivals of all others; that knows neither whence it came nor whither
it goes; ... that preserves no traditions and registers no annals; that
has no faith and no law, no belief and no rule of conduct; that is held
together only by gross superstitions, vague customs, constant misery,
and deep humiliation; this people, that nevertheless is obstinate, at
the price of all degradation and destitution, to preserve its tents and
its tatters, its hunger and its liberty; this people, that exercises
upon civilized nations an indescribable and indestructible fascination,
passing as a mysterious legacy from one age to the next, all defamed as
it is, offers nevertheless some striking and charming types to our
grandest poets; this people, so heterogeneous, of a character so
indomitable, so intractable, so inexplicable, must conceal, in some
corner of its heart, some lofty qualities, since, susceptible of
idealization, it has idealized itself; for it has poems and songs which,
if united, might perhaps form the national epic of the gipsies.”

It is from such a people, so understood and described by him, that Liszt
has taken the musical fragments inwrought into his Hungarian Rhapsodies;
and he reasons at length and ingeniously as to his right to call these
musical cycles parts of what could be enlarged and made to cohere into a
national tone epic. This people, being unfitted to express itself
nationally in any other mode save through its wonderful, though rude and
uncultivated, instinct for music, “as it drew the bow upon the strings
of the violin, inspiration taught it, without its seeking, rhythms,
cadences, modulations, songs, speech, and discourse. Hegel was not
wrong,” says Liszt, “when he gives to the word ‘epic’ more of the
signification of the verb ‘to speak,’ or utter, than of the substantive,
‘recital’; and these tone pictures are fragments of an epic, because
they speak sentiments which are common to all the race, which form their
inner nature, the physiognomy of their soul, the expression of their
whole sentient being.” And therefore, in summary conclusion, Liszt says:
“Believing that the scattered fragments of the instrumental music of the
gipsies, properly arranged, with some understanding of the succession
necessary to make them reciprocally valuable, would afford the
expression of those collective sentiments which inhere in the entire
people, determining their character and customs, one feels himself
authorized to give to such a collection the name of National Epic.”

Regarded from a purely musical standpoint, the Rhapsodies have
occasioned much controversy and considerable adverse criticism on the
part of certain musicians who pride themselves on their loyalty to
conservative traditions. They have been decried as trivial, superficial,
and sensational; as lacking in depth and dignity, in symmetry of form
and nobility of sentiment. These critics seem to forget that the object
of all art is primarily, not instruction or elevation, or even abstract
beauty, but expression. Its mission is to portray, not exclusively the
highest and grandest emotions of humanity, but every experience, every
shade of feeling, every psychological possibility of the race, with
equally sympathetic fidelity. Humanity is the broad theme; and the
various forms of art, on which the specialist is apt to lay undue
stress, are only the means of expression, not the supreme end. That form
is best, in any given case, which best serves the artist’s purpose.

It should be remembered that the music under discussion does not purport
to embody the loftiest or profoundest sentiment which Liszt was
personally capable of feeling or portraying, but the life, scenes, and
moods of the gipsy camp, presented in the primitive, but spontaneous and
vividly graphic, tone imagery of the gipsies themselves. Who shall say
that, as a representative racial art, it is not precisely as legitimate,
as worthy, and as genuinely artistic as the characteristic national art
of the Germans, the Italians, or any other people? Who shall presume to
dictate to the artist what subject, or class of subjects, he may or may
not select for treatment? I repeat, all art has for its mission the
expression of life, all life; not the establishment or maintenance of
standards either of morals or emotions; still less of mere forms of
expression. Is not the gipsy maid, with her ungoverned caprices, her
moments of exuberant gaiety, or passionate grief, just as much alive,
hence as legitimate a theme for the artist, and certainly as interesting
and romantic a subject for art treatment, as the staid German
_Hausfrau_, or the frivolous American society girl? The beggar boy has
been as ably painted, and is considered as artistic a figure as the
king. Poets have sung the loves of shepherds and shepherdesses as fondly
as those of lords and ladies. Is not, then, a good portrayal of a gipsy
camp, whether in words, colors, or tones, just as legitimate a work of
art as an equally able picture of an imperial palace, or an imposing
cathedral? Will not “Carmen” live as long on the operatic stage as even
that paragon of all feminine virtues, “Fidelio”? Is not Don Juan as
immortal a personage in art as Lohengrin? Goethe says: “We have only the
right to ask three questions of any art work: First, what did the artist
intend? Second, was it worth doing? Third, has he succeeded?” Judged
from this, the only true standpoint of esthetic criticism, I venture to
maintain that the Hungarian Rhapsodies are just as good and just as
legitimate music, in their own peculiar way,—that is to say, they
fulfil the essential conditions of their special artistic purpose, as
well and as completely,—as the Bach fugues, or the Beethoven sonatas.

Granting, if need be, that the Rhapsodies are sensational, heaven
protect us from music that produces no sensation! And, in this case, it
is the sensation, or startling effect, not of mere brilliancy, but of
the unfamiliar contact with the spirit of a race radically differing
from our own; not sensuous and superficial, but profoundly
temperamental, possessing all the fresh charm of new thought expressed
in a novel idiom. Granting again that their melodies are capricious and
fantastic, their harmonies strange and half-barbaric, their form
incoherent and wholly at variance with our established notions of
musical structure, all this but renders them the more characteristic.
The picturesque gipsy could not appear to advantage, nor as a typical
figure in conventional evening dress, with punctilious drawing-room
manners; and the sentiments imputed to him, to be true to life, must not
be those of the cultivated modern gentleman, expressed with the stately
precision affected by the scholastic world; but primitive, elementary,
to some degree chaotic, uttered with the rude force and directness of
the undeveloped nature. In brief, he must be represented against the
background and amid the surroundings which are his natural environment.

These Rhapsodies are to be taken as rough but faithful self-portraitures
of the gipsies, strictly on their own standards of merit, as art works
in a department by themselves, with a pronounced individuality and a
definite purpose. They are sixteen in number, and all constructed on the
same general plan, made up, like mosaics, of widely varying fragments of
melody, each expressing some particular mood or phase of life, but
combined so as to give a comprehensive impression of the scenes and
conditions of gipsy camps, familiar to Liszt for many years, through
frequent and lengthy visits, as vividly described by him in the book
from which we have so largely quoted.

Roughly speaking, the melodies so interwoven in the Rhapsodies may be
divided into three classes, all of which appear in about equal
proportions, and with their ever startling sharpness of contrast, in
each and all of these works: the “lassan,” a slow, mournfully lugubrious
song, expressing the uttermost depths of depression; the “frischka,” a
bright, playful, capricious dance movement, full of grace, humor, and
witching coquetry, and the “czardas,” a furious, almost demoniac dance
portraying the dance delirium at its most intoxicating extreme,
resembling somewhat the Tarantelle of Spain and the Dervish dance of the
Orient. These three, with an occasional brief strain from a fugitive
love-song, shy and elusive as the notes of some timid night bird, or a
march-like movement of wild but distinctly martial character, formed the
crude material from which Liszt has wrought these always effective and
thoroughly pianistic compositions. A brief, special reference to two or
three of the best known among them will be sufficient to indicate an
intelligent interpretation of them all.

The No. 6, for instance, begins with one of the march movements referred
to. It is rhythmic and pompous, with a bold, half-barbaric splendor.
Next comes one of the slower forms of the “frischka,” which is often
sung in Hungary to the words of a half-tipsy drinking-song. Then follows
one of the most doleful of the “lassans,” the words to which, in free
translation, run as follows: “My father is dead, my mother is dead, I
have no brothers or sisters, and all the money that I have left will
just buy a rope to hang myself with.”

The work closes with one of the wildest, most impetuous of the “czardas”
dances, which Liszt has wrought up to an irresistible, overwhelming

The No. 12 begins with a slow, gloomy recitative delivered with an
impressive dignity so exaggerated as to border on the bombastic; a tale
of strange adventures, it may be, narrated by the chief of the tribe at
the evening camp-fire, while the flickering firelight plays upon the
picturesque figures grouped about against the somber background of the
pines, and the thunder mutters sullenly in the distance. Then a quiet
bit of lyric, evidently a love-song, gives a touch of softness to the
scene, and hints at a covert courtship among the shadows. Later, the
crisp, piquant music of the “frischka” calls the young people to the
dance, which gradually increases in speed and brilliancy, till it
finally merges in the “czardas,” in which all join, and which is given
with the greatest possible dash and abandon.

No. 15 is founded upon, and mainly consists of the Rakoczy March,
composed by a gipsy musician in honor of Rakoczy, that Hungarian
patriot, popular general, and hero, whose daring exploits as leader, in
the Hungarian struggle for independence, made him a prominent historical
figure of his time, and the idol of his countrymen. This march has been
adopted as the national march of Hungary, and Liszt’s setting of it for
piano is among his most stupendous works.

These few illustrations may serve as guides in forming a correct
conception of all the Rhapsodies. I have given to the foregoing article
more space than seems, at first thought, to be warranted; partly,
because it gives a somewhat unusual point of view in considering Liszt,
not only as a composer, but as a thoughtful and philosophic student of
esthetics, and as an eloquent, forceful writer; partly, because I hope
it may produce in the minds of some readers a more favorable, because
more justly discriminating, attitude of mind toward these Hungarian
Rhapsodies as musical art works; but mainly, because it emphasizes, with
the powerful support of Liszt’s authority, certain general principles of
art which seem to me all-important, but which are too often ignored in
considering the special art of music.

  1830 1894

  Rubinstein: Barcarolle, in G Major

Strictly speaking, the “barcarolle” is an Italian boat-song—“barca”
being the Italian word for boat. But in musical terminology it has been
localized and signifies distinctly a Neapolitan boat-song associated as
exclusively with the Vesuvian bay as is the gondoliera with the lagoons
and canals of Venice. In each case it is the song of the local boatman,
sung to the rhythmical accompaniment of the swinging oar, and enhanced
in poetic charm by the beauty and romantic atmosphere of the
surroundings. In each case also it has served as a suggestive and
grateful artistic subject for musical treatment, used by nearly all the
modern composers, great and small, and one which is particularly suited
to the pianoforte and facilely adapted to its characteristic resources.

In many respects the barcarolle, in this its idealized form as a musical
art work, closely resembles the gondoliera, similarly developed; for
instance, in its graceful six-eight rhythm, its gliding, swaying
boat-like movement, its suggestions of dipping oar and rippling water,
and in its sustained song-like melody which we may easily consider as
representing the voice of the boatman.

These descriptive elements are common to all works of both classes, but
the characteristic mood of the typical barcarolle is less tender and
passionate, more cheery and fanciful than that of the gondoliera. It has
less of the human element, more of the sea and its slumbering mystery;
less of the lover’s sigh, and more of the half-seen witchery of
sea-sprites and mermaids in the clear depths of inverted sky beneath. To
appreciate this mood to the full, one must have drifted, with suspended
oars, in a small boat, upon the far-famed bay of Naples, just as evening
fell, with the lofty banner of blue-black smoke waving majestically
above the summit of Vesuvius, in the distance, like the pennon of some
mighty earth giant, an ominous reminder of his terrible, through
slumbrous, power; with the city rising in the background, terrace on
terrace, from the water’s edge to the stern old ducal castle, which
crowns the height and looms dark and forbiddingly against the sky, a
memory in stone, with the fairy island of Capri lying to seaward and the
cool breath of the Mediterranean filling the sails of the countless
fishing-boats gliding shoreward, while the boatmen sing to the subdued
accompaniment of the evening chimes softened by distance. Seen at midday
from the height, under the glare and scorch of the noonday sun, with the
discordant, jangling sounds of busy life rising harshly to one, like the
cries from some pit of torment, Naples seems a hell; but at the evening
hour, viewed from the bay, it is a veritable dream of heaven.

No one has caught and embodied in music the mood and scene of this hour,
with its caressing coolness, its murmuring ripples, whispering secrets
of other days, like Rubinstein, though many have attempted it with more
or less success. Of his five barcarolles, all beautiful and
characteristic, the most faultlessly typical seems to me the one in G
major which I have selected for special mention.

This is not only one of the most graceful and characteristic, as well as
most perfect in form and finish, but also decidedly the most realistic
of the five. The rhythmic play of the oars, the undulating movement of
the boat, and the constant plash of the water, are all vividly
suggested, and the melody of the boatman’s song, original with
Rubinstein, is very appropriate and typical, heard in intermittent
fragments as if sung fitfully in broken snatches. The chords
accompanying the melody should be given lightly, though in nearly strict
time, in regular, rhythmic pulsations, but with a broken arpeggio
effect, that may well coincide with the representation of rippling
water, which idea is to be kept in mind.

The passages in double-thirds, which form the principal difficulty of
the work, must be rendered with the utmost smoothness and delicacy. It
is a good plan to begin each passage with a very low and extremely loose
wrist, raising it gradually till quite high toward the middle of the run
and then lowering it as gradually and easily to the end. This insures
absolute flexibility and enhances the undulating effect. The following
little verses, by T. Buchanan Read, express exactly in words the mood of
this barcarolle, and I never play it without thinking of them:

       “My soul to-day
        Is far away,
    Adrift upon the Vesuvian bay.
        My winged boat,
        A bird afloat,
    Glides by the purple peaks remote.
        Across the rail
        My hand I trail
    Within the shadow of the sail.
        With bliss intense
        The cooling sense
    Glides down my drowsy indolence.”

  Rubinstein: Kamennoi-Ostrow, No. 22

Kamennoi-Ostrow is the name of one of a group of islands situated in the
Neva River, some miles below St. Petersburg, “Ostrow” being the Russian
word for island, and “Kamennoi” the specific name for this particular
island, signifying at once small and rocky. This island is a favorite
pleasure resort, both winter and summer, for the wealthy and
aristocratic classes of St. Petersburg; one of the imperial palaces is
situated upon it, besides many cafés, dance halls, summer and winter
concert gardens, and the like. In winter it is the objective point for
countless gay sleighing parties, in which the lavish Russian nobles vie
with each other in the display of elaborately decorated sledges, fine
blooded horses in glittering harness, and piles of almost priceless
furs. At this time the highway to and from the island is the smooth,
solid ice of the frozen river. In summer the transit is made by boat,
and the gaiety is higher during those gorgeous summer nights, when the
midnight sun, never quite vanishing below the southern horizon, floods
the scene with its wondrous, mystical light, unlike either moonlight or
the ordinary light of day, but described by enthusiastic beholders as
possessing a peculiar, magical charm wholly its own and scarcely to be
imagined by those who have never witnessed it.

Rubinstein, who spent many years of his later life at St. Petersburg,
was naturally a frequent visitor at Kamennoi-Ostrow. In fact, on several
occasions he spent a number of weeks consecutively at one of its summer
hotels and became very familiar with all phases of gaiety at this
festive resort and well acquainted with most of its habitués. His set of
twenty-four pieces for the piano, entitled “Kamennoi-Ostrow,” is a
series of tone sketches suggested by and representing various scenes and
personages which his sojourn there brought within his experience. The
No. 22, which is probably the best of the set and certainly the most
widely known, is intended as the musical portrait of a lady,
Mademoiselle Anna de Friedebourg, a personal acquaintance of Rubinstein,
to whom the composition is dedicated. It is a portrait drawn in tender
yet glowing tints against the soft background of the summer night,
outlining, however, the spiritual rather than the physical charms and
characteristics of the lady, affording us a conception of her
individuality as well as the mood of the surroundings. The first and
principal subject, a slow and song-like lyric melody, enunciated by the
left hand, with its peculiarly warm and mellow character, reminding one,
in color and quality, of the tone of the G string on the violin, is
intended to suggest the personality of the lady, or perhaps, more
strictly, the emotional impression which this personality produced upon
the composer; while the delicate, vibratory accompaniment of the right
hand indicates the poetic setting or background, the luminous midsummer
night, in one of those island pleasure gardens, the weird light
quivering down through tremulous leaves, the mingled scent of flowers
and faint sea-breezes, the hum of summer insects, and the whisper of the
reeds stirred by the lazily flowing river.

Upon the dreamful hush of this audible silence sounds clear, but sweet
and silvery, the little bell of a Greek Catholic chapel, not far
distant, calling to midnight mass and ringing out at regular intervals,
with soft persistency, through the whole of the second strain or
movement. Below and subordinate to it is heard a curious series of
colloquial phrases of melody, subdued and fitful, like the fragments of
a murmured conversation, as if a low and interrupted dialogue were
taking place. Then the full, rich chords of the organ roll out upon the
quiet night, flooding it at once with ample waves of grave, solemn
harmony. This is followed by a brief passage of recitative in single
notes, suggesting the voice of the priest intoning the service within
the chapel. It is said to be an exact reproduction, note for note, of a
fragment of very ancient Hebrew music, once forming a part of the
religious exercises of the Jews and long ago incorporated into the Greek
Catholic service.

Then comes an effective, but seemingly irrelevant, cadenza in double
arpeggios which, though pleasing, has no apparent connection either with
the subject or the mood of the rest of the composition, but which serves
indifferently well as a means of leading back to the first theme,
presented this time with full, flowing accompaniment in a more
impassioned guise, as if to indicate the deeper, more intensified
emotions developed by the romantic scene and poetic surroundings.

The composition closes with a momentary return of the little
conversational strain, merely suggested and only just audible this time,
like whispered words of farewell; and then a few quiet chords of the
organ, lingering and slowly fading into the silence, as a pleasant
memory reluctantly dissolves into slumber.

  1843 1907

  Grieg: Peer Gynt Suite, Op. 46

Grieg is the chief living exponent of Norwegian music, as Ibsen is of
its literature. “Peer Gynt” is a versified drama by Henrik Ibsen, to
which Grieg has written an orchestral suite of that name, from which
arrangements for piano have been transcribed, both for two and four

The scenes, incidents, moods, and characters of Ibsen’s drama are
essentially Scandinavian; wild, gloomy, fantastic, often vague and
incoherent to the reader of more classic and polished literature. Peer
Gynt, the hero, is a lawless adventurer, of wild and uncouth
personality, undisciplined instincts and passions, and most chaotic

The various parts of the Grieg suite are founded upon various scenes of
the drama, but the numbering of the different movements will mislead the
player, as the chronological progression of the drama is not always
adhered to in the music. The following is the order in which the numbers
should be presented to fit the scenes which they represent in the life
and adventures of Peer Gynt: (1) Peer Gynt and Ingrid; (2) Troll Dance;
(3) Death of Ase; (4) Arabian Dance; (5) Anitra’s Dance; (6) Solveig’s
Song; (7) Morning; (8) Storm; (9) Cradle Song. I have included in their
proper places two of the songs of Solveig, the principal heroine of the
drama, which Grieg has also set to music and which should be rendered by
soprano voice.

  1. Peer Gynt and Ingrid

This is also called “Ingrid’s Complaint” and _“Brautraub_,” or the
robbery of the bride. It is the first of the scenes in the drama which
Grieg has rendered into music, and represents one of the earliest
escapades in the life of the hero, when he attended the rustic
festivities of a wedding in the neighborhood, and, seized with a sudden
infatuation for the bride, Ingrid, ran away with her to the mountains,
in the face of the assembled company. The first four measures, marked
“allegro furioso,” suggest the furious movement and delirious excitement
of the flight and pursuit, contrasting ludicrously with the dazed,
helpless astonishment of the disappointed bridegroom.

The following protracted plaintive minor strains embody the complainings
and reproaches of Ingrid, grieving for a life ruined and happiness
destroyed, from which Peer suddenly makes his escape, brutally leaving
her to her fate in the hills; and the first four measures are repeated
at the close, to indicate that the only lasting impression made upon him
by the whole affair was that of the exciting and triumphant moment of
his success.

  2. Troll Dance

This is the most graphic of all the numbers, and is sometimes called “In
the Hall of the Mountain King.” The _troll_ seems to be the Scandinavian
mountain spirit, but more of the nature of gnomes, kobolds, and goblins
than of the gentle elves and fairies of English lore. After deserting
the unfortunate Ingrid in the forest, Peer fled still deeper into the
rugged fastnesses, where he was surrounded at nightfall by a pack of
trolls, who alternately teased and entertained him with their pranks and
antics, until scattered at dawn by the sound of church-bells in the

The grotesque character of this movement admirably depicts the uncanny
mood and nature of the trolls. The opening measures are light and weird,
fantastically suggesting the stealthy footsteps of the gathering pack of
trolls, emerging on tiptoe from the mists and shadows of the night, and
cautiously surrounding their uninvited guest. Little by little the
movement becomes more impetuous, as the hilarity and excitement
increase, until toward the close it grows to an incoherent whirl and
rush, above which ring out sharply the gruesome shrieks of the
infuriated goblins, balked of the continuance of their vindictive
delight in tormenting their victim, by the approach of dawn.

  3. Death of Ase

On returning to his mother’s hut in his native village, after these and
many other adventures, Peer finds her on her death-bed, and remains with
her through the night, during which she passes away, enlivening her last
hours with the most preposterous tales and pantomimes. This scene of the
drama, in spite of its solemnity and sadness, carries the fantastic to
the extreme verge of the grotesque.

The illustrative music is cast in the mold of a “funeral march,” without
trio and with but one well-developed theme. In it Grieg has emphasized
only the somber and tragical aspect of the situation, ignoring entirely
its touches of ghastly humor. The utter and crushing despair of a
wrecked and disappointed life, of shattered hopes and unrequited and
unappreciated maternal affection, sobs through its strains, enhancing
the pangs of approaching dissolution. Its mood is that of unqualified
gloom, unrelieved by a single vibration of hope or consolation.

  4. Arabian Dance

In the interval which has elapsed since the death of Ase, our hero, now
in the prime of life, driven by his erratic spirit and love of
adventure, has landed upon the coast of Africa, after being fairly
hounded out of his own country by the ridicule and contempt of his
neighbors. This scene takes place in an oasis of the Great Desert, where
an Arab chief has pitched his tent, and where Peer, mounted on a stolen
white charger and clad in stolen silk and jeweled robes, has arrived in
the rôle of the prophet to the Bedouins. A bevy of Arabian girls are
dancing before him in oriental costume, pausing to render homage at
intervals to the supposed prophet, who reclines among cushions, drinking
coffee and smoking a long pipe. The music begins with a monotonous
rhythmical figure in the accompaniment, suggesting the beat of
tambourines and castanets, and the melody of the opening strain is weird
rather than bright, stealthily playful rather than openly gay, rising
soon to a considerable degree of excited movement. The trio, with its
double melody and its languorous warmth of cadence, tells of
increasingly involved figures in the dance and a more voluptuous,
seductive grace of motion among the dancers. Then the opening strain is
repeated, with its clash of tambourines, its tinkle of silver bangles
and anklets, and its mood of repressed, but jocose, humor, beneath a
flimsy veil of fictitious gravity.

  5. Anitra’s Dance

Anitra, the light-limbed and dark-eyed daughter of the chief, has won
the especial favor of the prophet, and dances alone before him after her
companions have retired. Peer is enraptured and promises to make her an
houri in paradise, and to give her a soul, a very little one, in return
for her love and service. She is not much tempted by the soul, but
finally consents to fly to the desert with him for the gift of the large
opal from his turban. Anitra’s dance is more warmly subjective, more
distinctly personal in character than the preceding, at once lighter and
more rapid, more tender and winningly graceful, full of arch defiance,
playful witcheries, and the coquettish confidence of the high-born
maiden and practised solo-danseuse, certain of her power and bent on
using it to the full, for the complete subjugation of their prophet
guest. We can almost feel her smoothly undulating movements, her swift,
but seductive, changes of pose, and those sharp, stolen side-glances,
skilfully blended of shyness and fire, flashing from beneath her
drooping black lashes, fascinating, but dangerous, like lightning gleams
from a fringe of somber cloud.

  6. Solveig’s Song

Solveig, a Norwegian maiden of Peer’s own village, the earliest and only
worthy love of his life, whom he has deserted in a spasm of virtue,
feeling himself unfit to remain with her, sits spinning at the door of a
log hut, in a forest far up in the North. She is now a middle-aged
woman, fair and comely, and as she spins she sings of her unfailing
faith in Peer’s return, her own ever-constant love, and her prayers to
God to strengthen and gladden her lover on earth or in heaven. In the
music to this song Grieg has admirably depicted the character of
Solveig: beautiful, tender, joyous, and full of hope. The English
translation of the words, which is but a poor and inadequate
representation of the original, runs as follows:

   “Though winter departeth,
      And fadeth the May;
    Though summer, too, may vanish,
      The year pass away;
    Yet thou’lt return, my darling,
      For thou, love, art mine.
    I gave thee my promise,
      Forever I am thine.

   “God help thee, my darling,
      If living art thou;
    God bless thee, O my darling,
      If dead thou art now.
    I will wait thy coming
      Till thou drawest near;
    Or tarry thou in heaven,
      Till I can meet thee, dear.”

  7. Morning

This, the most musical and sensuously beautiful movement of the whole
suite, represents daybreak in Egypt, with the desert in the distance and
the great pyramids, with groups of acacias and palms in the foreground,
against a rosy eastern sky. Peer stands before the statue of Memnon in
the first hush of the dawn, and watches the rays of the rising sun
strike upon it, when, true to the ancient tradition, the statue sings.
Soft and mysterious strains of music, monotonous and prolonged, are
drawn by the sunbeams from the venerable stone.

The melody of this movement is of extreme simplicity and lyric beauty,
pure and fresh as the dawn. Its cadences swell in power and volume as
the sun rises higher; and the full flood of light is transmitted into a
full flood of song, as the statue thrills and vibrates with the first
kisses of the ardent Egyptian sun.

After the climax, which is full and joyous, but never passionate, the
music diminishes and dies away in broken snatches, as the statue, now
thoroughly impregnated with light and warmth, ceases to emit those
sounds with which it has been said to salute the daybreak for four
thousand years.

  8. Storm

Peer Gynt, now a vigorous old man, is on board a ship on the North Sea
off the Norwegian coast, trying to discern the familiar outline of
mountains and glaciers through the growing twilight and gathering storm.
The wind rises to a gale; it grows dark; the sea increases; the ship
labors and plunges; breakers are ahead; the sails are torn away; the
ship strikes and goes to pieces, a shattered wreck, and the waves
swallow all. Peer, true to his nature, saves his life and adds to the
list of his sins by pushing a fellow-passenger from an upturned boat
which will not support both, and floating to shore.

This, the final instrumental number of the suite, is by far the most
difficult, important, and pretentious of them all; and whether regarded
from a musical or descriptive standpoint, is unquestionably the crowning
effort of the whole work. It portrays the mood and the might of the
tempest with startling vividness, the blackness of the storm-racked
clouds, the rage of the wind-lashed waters, the shrieking of the gale
through snapping cordage, the almost human complaining of the noble
ship, struggling hopelessly with her doom. In brief, the strength, the
power, and the manifold phantom voices of the storm are simultaneously
and graphically expressed, and the mood and movement, both in duration
and completeness of development, exceed those in any of the other
numbers. At length, however, after the catastrophe, the force of the
storm is broken, the fury of wind and waves subsides, and the receding
thunder clouds mutter their baffled rage and threats of deferred
destruction more and more faintly as they disappear, and the light of
morning breaks upon the scene. Then softly, like the audible voice of
the sunlight, comes an instrumental transcription of Solveig’s song of
love, previously sung, whose familiar strains symbolically express the
idea that her sleepless affection, her guardian thoughts and prayers
have watched over her loved one and brought him at last safely through
danger and tempest to his native shore. This symbolic use of Solveig’s
song, with its suggestive significance, is in my opinion the happiest
and most poetic touch in the whole composition.

  9. Solveig’s Cradle Song

Solveig, the guardian angel of Peer’s life, represents and appeals to
all that is good in his nature. Her influence, even in the midst of his
maddest escapades, has never wholly deserted him, and serves at last as
the magnet to draw him back to her and home. The last scene in the drama
represents Solveig, now a serene-faced, silver-haired old lady, stepping
forth from the door of the forest hut, on her way to church. Peer, who
in his chaotic fashion has become a prey to disappointment, to remorse,
and to fear of death, appears suddenly before her, calling himself a
sinner and crying for condemnation from the lips of the woman whom he
has most sinned against. Solveig sinks upon a bench at the door of the
hut. Peer drops upon his knees at her feet and buries his face in her
lap. The sun rises and the curtain falls as she sings her lullaby song
of peace and happiness. Grieg has set these last stanzas of the drama to
music under the title of Solveig’s Wiegenlied, or Cradle Song. They are
translated as follows:

   “Sleep thou, dearest boy of mine!
    I will cradle thee, I will watch thee.
    The boy has been sitting on his mother’s lap,
    The two have been playing all the life-day long.
    The boy has been resting at his mother’s breast
    All the life-day long. God’s blessing on my joy.
    The boy has been lying close in to my heart
    All the life-day long. He is weary now.
    Sleep thee, dearest boy of mine!
    I will cradle thee, I will watch thee.
    Sleep and dream thou, dear my boy!”

These lines seem to indicate a transition from wifely love to maternal
love in the affection of Solveig, with the advent of age.

The moral of the drama, not a very ethical one, but one which has
possessed the minds of many devoted women since the world began, appears
to be that in love alone is salvation. Whatever the errors and sins and
follies of the man, he is won at last and saved, even at the eleventh
hour, by the faith, the hope, and the love of one devoted woman.

  Grieg: An den Frühling (Spring Song), Op. 43, No. 6

Among the very few strictly lyric compositions for the piano by
Grieg,—a vein in which he was singularly unproductive for so eminent a
genius,—this spring song must unquestionably take rank as the best, the
most evenly sustained throughout, the most perfect in form and finish,
and decidedly the finest as well as most emotional in quality.

The opening notes of the right hand accompaniment fall light and silvery
as the soft drops of the April shower upon the waiting woods, when the
first faint shimmer of tender green begins to tint the tips of the
waving boughs. Then the melody enters in the left hand with subdued,
repressed intensity, warmly, sweetly vibrant, like the upper register of
that most passionate of instruments, the ’cello, a melody telling of
mild, languorous days and soft, dream-haunted nights, thrilled through
by the mysterious throbbing of a new life in the earth’s long-frozen
veins; telling of Nature, surprised but radiantly happy, awakening at
the touch of her ardent lover, the sudden spring, from her ice-locked
sleep, like the slumbering, frost-fettered bride in the old legend of
Siegfried and Brünnhilde; telling of summer joys and brightness begotten
of their union, of bird songs, sweeter for the long silence, of
many-tinted flowers springing in fragrant profusion where the cold white
drifts of winter lay but yesterday, as if the snowflakes had all been
transformed to blossoms by the magic kiss of the sun; of love as sudden
as the spring, as tenderly sweet as its violets, strong as its rushing
torrents, but alas! too often as transient as its fleeting glories. This
sudden, startling thought of pain and disillusion strikes sharply across
the mellow, golden current of the stream with a somber threatening note
of danger and distress rising to a swift, strong climax of indignant
protest or fierce defiance, a contrasting reactionary mood common to
certain minds, like those, for instance, of Byron and Heine, aptly
illustrated by the following lines, translated from the German of

   “Sing not to me of spring, its flowers and azure skies,
    Fleeting delusions all to cheat unwary eyes.
    Talk not to me of love, its dreams of Paradise.
    The charms of spring, the joys of love, are brilliant lies.”

But this dark mood is of but brief duration; it is soon exorcised by the
plenitude of sunshine and the exuberance of springtime happiness, and
the first melody returns with all its glowing beauty and seductive
sweetness, and with a fuller, more fluent, voluptuous accompaniment,
suggesting the mingled voices of many streams exulting in their new
freedom, or the irregular, intermittent sighs of May breezes, impatient
with having to rock all the baby leaves at once.

This composition is technically of only moderate difficulty, but
requires for its proper delivery a fine taste, great warmth of feeling,
and a telling, sensuous quality of tone for the melody, while the right
hand accompaniment in the first movement is kept almost infinitely light
and delicate. The sudden burst of passionate pain and resentment in the
climax should be given with extreme intensity and a decided acceleration
of tempo, as well as increase in power; followed by an abrupt fall to a
caressing pianissimo, and a long lingering hold on the final chord just
preceding the return of the first melody, to accentuate the renewal of
the softer, sunnier mood.

  Grieg: Vöglein (Little Birds), Op. 43, No. 4

A charming and effective supplementary companion piece to the spring
song is that exquisitely, daintily fanciful, yet exceedingly brief piece
of descriptive tone painting, called “The Little Birds,” published in
the same volume of lyrics with the preceding number. It may be played as
an added and appropriate coda to the spring song. It is one of those
graphically realistic productions which tell their own story. It
portrays very literally, by more than suggestive imitation, the blithe
twitter of the spring birds fluttering amid the dancing leaves and
sunlight, engaged in their delightful occupation of nest-building.
Notice, too, the sudden touch of facetious drollery, so characteristic
of Grieg, where the delicate little bird motive is abruptly transferred
to the bass register, producing a peculiarly comical, grotesque effect,
reminding one of the gutteral hilarity of the spring-awakened frogs in
some neighboring pool.

Exceeding lightness and delicacy, combined with a certain playful
staccato effect, are the chief technical requisites for the correct
performance of this work, which, though small, will well repay careful
study. The tone produced should be crisp and bright, though never rising
above piano, and the tempo not exceedingly rapid.

  Grieg: Berceuse, Op. 38, No. 1

One of Grieg’s most charming lyrics is this thoroughly unique and
characteristic Cradle Song. This has always been a most attractive and
facilely treated subject for piano-compositions, on account of the way
in which it lends itself to realistic handling.

The general plan of these compositions is always substantially the same:
a simple, swinging accompaniment in the left hand, symbolizing the
rocking cradle, and a soft, soothing melody in the right, more or less
elaborately ornamented, suggesting the song of the nurse or mother
lulling the child to rest.

An almost infinite variety of effect is possible, however, within these
seemingly narrow limits, dependent upon the differing ability and
personality of the composer, the diversity in melodic and harmonic
coloring, and especially upon the environment and conditions conceived
of by the writer as the setting or background of the picture. The range
of legitimate suggestion in this regard by means of such works is as
broad as that of human experience itself. For instance, the child
imagined may be the idolized prince of a royal line, rocked in a golden
cradle with a jeweled crown embossed upon its satin canopy, and guarded
by the loyalty, the hopes and pride of a mighty nation; or it may be the
sickly offspring of want and suffering, doomed from its birth to sorrow
and struggle and disappointment, to a crown of toil and a heritage of
tears; or perhaps it may be a fairy changeling, stolen by Titania in
some wayward caprice, rocked to sleep in a lily-cup upon crystal waves,
or watching, with large, wondering human eyes, the pranks of the forest
elves as they trace with swiftly circling feet their magic rings upon
the moss, or awaken the morning-glories upon the lawn with a shower-bath
of dew.

The lullaby song of the mother may thrill with the sweet content and
rapturous joy of a life of love and brightness but just begun, and
seemingly endless in its forward vista of ever new and ever glad
surprises. Her fancies may be winged by hope and happiness to airy
flights in which no sky-piercing height seems impossible; or her voice
may vibrate with the songs of a broken-hearted widow, who guards the
little sleeper in an agony of loving fear, as the last treasure saved
from the wreck of her world. As the smallest plot of garden ground
possesses the capacity to receive and develop the germs of the most
diverse forms of vegetation, from the violet to the oak, from the
fragrant rose to the deadly poppy, so these modest little musical forms
are replete with an almost boundless potentiality of suggestion.

In the case of this particular work by Grieg, the child portrayed is no
delicate rose-tinted girl-baby, downily cushioned upon silken pillows,
peeping timidly from a drift of dainty laces like the first crocuses
from the feathery snow of April, but the lusty son of a Viking stock,
with the blood of a sturdy race of fighters coursing red through his
veins, and with a will and a voice of his own, cradled in the hollow
trunk of a pine or the hide-lashed blade-bones of the elk, wrapped in
the skin of wolf or bear, and lulled to sleep by the rough, but kindly,
crooning of a peasant nurse. May we not fancy the refrain of her song
somewhat after the fashion of the following lines?

   “Oh, hush thee, my baby;
      The time will soon come
    When thy rest will be broken
      By trumpet and drum,
    When the bows will be bent,
      The blades will be red,
    And the beacon of battle
      Will blaze overhead.
    Then hush thee, my baby,
      Take rest while you may,
    For strife comes with manhood
      As waking with day.”

  Grieg: The Bridal Procession, from “Aus dem Volksleben.” Op. 19, No. 2

One of the best known and most popular of Grieg’s compositions is the
second movement of his piano suite entitled “Aus dem Volksleben”
(sketches of Norwegian country life), a work which portrays, with all
his graphic power and good-natured humor, a number of unique and
characteristic phases of the peasant life in Norway. This second
movement, at once the easiest and most pleasing number of the suite, is
intended as a realistic representation of the music of a primitive
peasant band, which leads a rural bridal procession, made up of
Norwegian countrypeople, on its way to the church.

We may fancy ourselves seated on a bank by the roadside, with a jolly
company of villagers in picturesque holiday costume, listening to their
jests and gaiety as we await the rustic pageant. Soon our attention is
caught by the sound of distant music, gradually approaching, strange,
weird, uncanny music, as if the gnomes and trolls had left their work in
the secret mines and caverns of the mountains, where they are ever
forging new chains for the fettered earth-giants as their prisoned
strength increases, and had turned musicians for a frolic and come forth
into the light of day to join the festival. The rhythmic beat of drums
and cymbals, the shrill, strident notes of the fife, the quaint,
quavering tones of the pipe and clarinet, mingle in a strain jocosely
mirthful, rather than truly gay, and becoming more insistent as it

There is no trace of tenderness, no hint of sweet anticipation, no
suggestive undertone of sacred solemnity, in this music. We miss the
warm color and tremulous, sustained effects of the violins, which with
us are always symbolic of love. It seems almost like a musical satire on
the tender passion; as if the divine but dethroned Balder (the God of
Love in Norse mythology), disgusted by the infidelity and ingratitude of
mankind, were employing all his wondrous power as a minstrel to
depreciate and deride this his best gift to humanity. But perhaps we do
not rightly appreciate the significance of the music. As it draws nearer
and nearer, growing stronger with every moment, we begin to suspect that
perhaps its very rudeness and primitive energy express more truthfully
than more delicate, dreamy, finely shaded cadences could do, the idea
that human love is one of the elemental forces of nature, underlying and
antedating all the subtilizing refinements of civilization, and destined
to outlast them, as the rugged granite of the northern mountains
antedates and will outlast all the crystal palaces of taste and luxury.

On comes the procession, the music swelling and growing with every step,
till as it passes immediately before us it becomes an almost deafening
crash of dissonant instruments, each player with lusty good-will doing
his utmost to honor the occasion, outvie his comrades, and earn his
share in the wedding feast, by making his part most prominent in the
general din. First comes the band, then the bride and groom and the
bridesmaids in white, with wands and wreaths, a troop of children with
baskets of flowers, then a company of the immediate friends and
relatives of the bridal pair, with the older neighbors and acquaintances
soberly bringing up the rear. So they defile before us, and pass on
their way down the sunlit country road to the church, the music
gradually diminishing as it recedes into the distance, growing fainter
and fainter till only occasional shriller notes or louder fragments
reach us, and at last even these are sunk in the summer silence.

This movement is in march time and form, and the strict, unvarying march
rhythm should be preserved throughout, absolutely without variation. The
tone should be crisp and clear, with but little singing quality, to
represent that of wooden wind instruments, but varying in degree from
the softest possible _pp_ to the most tremendous _fff_ which the
performer is capable of producing. The player is here afforded an
opportunity of testing his powers in that most difficult of all elements
in pianism—a long-sustained, evenly-graded crescendo and diminuendo. To
produce its true realistic effect, the music should emerge almost
imperceptibly out of silence, increase steadily, but by infinitesimal
degrees, to the greatest quantity of tone power which the instrument
will produce; then diminish as gradually and steadily till it dissolves
into silence again at the close; not stopping at a given point, but
simply ceasing to sound. Those who have heard Rubinstein render the
Turkish march from “The Ruins of Athens” will remember it as a masterly
model for this effect.


  Saint-Saëns: Le Rouet d’Omphale

Saint-Saëns, though himself a first-rate concert pianist and the
composer of some excellent things for the piano, notably in concerto
form, is, nevertheless, chiefly gifted and principally celebrated as a
writer for orchestra, having done his best, most original, and most
interesting work in this line. Among his many important compositions for
full orchestra, there are perhaps none which better represent his
individuality and peculiar style than his four “Symphonic Poems,” of
which two have been selected for illustration here. This form of
composition, as well as its name, originated with Franz Liszt, whose
twelve “Symphonic Poems” are his most important contributions to
orchestra literature. In musical structure the symphonic poem
corresponds to the modern overture and to the pianoforte ballade, as
exemplified by Chopin, much more nearly than to the symphony proper. It
consists of a single movement, without different divisions and
pronounced differentiated parts, such as are to be found in the
regulation symphony, though it often expresses a wide variety of moods,
merging into one another without pause or interruption.

Its only radical point of similarity to the symphony lies in the fact
that its first principal theme is subjected to an elaborate and logical
development in most cases, as in the symphonic allegro. It is distinctly
an outgrowth of modern romanticism and deals always with the somewhat
definite poetic thought, or some real or imaginary episode from life. It
is, in fact, program music of the most pronounced and uncompromising
type, and the special thought or episode is always indicated by its
descriptive title.

The four Symphonic Poems of Saint-Saëns are: (1) Le Rouet d’Omphale; (2)
Phaeton; (3) Danse Macabre; (4) La Jeunesse d’Hercule.

I have selected for consideration here the first and third, entitled
respectively the “Rouet d’Omphale” and the “Danse Macabre”; the one
descriptive of a classic, the other of a medieval scene and tradition.

The first, the “Wheel of Omphale,” was suggested by the Greek myth of
Hercules and Omphale. The story of the pair is familiar to all readers
of classic mythology, and represents perhaps the most singular episode
in the checkered career of this hero and demigod. The legend runs as
follows: Hercules, having killed his friend Iphitus in a fit of madness,
to which he was occasionally subject, fell a prey to a severe malady,
sent upon him by the gods in punishment for this murder. He consulted
the Delphic oracle with a view to learning the means of escaping from
this disease. He was informed by the oracle that he could only be cured
by allowing himself to be sold as a slave for three years, and giving
the purchase money to the father of Iphitus as recompense for the loss
of his son. Accordingly Hercules was sold by Mercury as a slave to
Omphale, the Queen of Lydia, then reigning in that country, who had long
been desirous to see this strongest of men and greatest hero of his age.
He remained with her the allotted three years, and during this period of
slavery, by the wish of the queen, the warrior-hero assumed female
attire and sat spinning among the women, where his royal mistress often
chastised him with her sandal for his awkward manner of holding the
distaff, while she paraded in his lion’s skin, armed with his famous
war-club. But if awkward at the distaff this son of Jupiter understood
other arts which he practised upon the Lydian queen; for in the
intervals of spinning he made love to her so successfully that from
their union sprang the race of Crœsus, famous in antiquity. Some
authorities regard this legend of Hercules and Omphale as of
astronomical significance, while others give it a moral interpretation,
saying it illustrates how even the strongest and bravest of men is
demeaned and belittled when subjugated by a woman.

The music opens with a playfully realistic introduction, consisting of a
series of light, rapid-running figures and graceful embellishments,
imitatively suggesting the roll and buzz of the spinning-wheels. A
series of delicate turns, each an audible circle, add their quota of
pertinent symbolism to the general effect. Soon the melody enters,
joyous, musical, yet with a certain arch mockery, enhanced by its odd,
piquant rhythm. It is the song of the spinning maidens, cheerfully
speeding their hours of toil with music and mirth, with occasional
irrepressible touches of gay raillery at the expense of the clumsy
captive warrior, whose long face and futile attempts at their handicraft
afford them vast amusement. Now and then a distinct burst of silvery
laughter is heard above the boom of the wheels, interrupting the strain.
Omphale, too, is there, admonishing, chiding, ridiculing the hero, as he
moodily pursues his unwonted and unwilling task with many a blunder and
comical mistake; yet we can fancy a half-tender smile softening her
reprimands and sweetening her playful chastisements.

Then with a radical change of mood and movement comes the second
important theme, a broad, impressive, strikingly original melody in the
bass, half gloomy, half indignant, the mighty manly voice of Hercules,
uplifted in grave lament and dignified protest, deploring his hard lot,
defying its humiliations, reproaching his gay tormentors, rebelling at
his menial duties and unworthy surroundings, yet with a stern, proud
gravity, a grand fortitude which scorns alike weak complainings and
impotent petulance. It subsides at last into philosophic resignation and
sorrowful self-repression, as if consoled by the thought that his
punishment is after all just and his submission voluntary.

Then the spinning movement is resumed and the first song virtually
repeated, though in a materially modified rhythm; and the work ends
playfully, as it begins, with a wonderfully realistic imitation of the
gradual stopping of the wheels, as their momentum exhausts itself and
little by little their speed slackens and they finally come to a
complete rest when abandoned by the girls, as sunset ends the day’s

This composition is one of Saint-Saëns’ most genial and melodious
productions, as well as an excellent piece of descriptive work. It may
be rendered on the piano either in the four-hand arrangement by Guiraud,
or as transcribed for two hands by the composer himself. It is about
equally feasible and effective in either of these forms.

  Saint-Saëns: Danse Macabre

For the significance of the French word _macabre_ we must turn to the
Arabic _makabir_, signifying a burial place or cemetery. The “Danse
Macabre,” therefore, is simply a “cemetery dance” or “Dance of Death.”

One of the most prevalent superstitions during the middle ages
throughout Europe, and especially France, was that of the “Danse
Macabre,”—a belief that once a year, on Hallowe’en, the dead of the
churchyards rose for one wild, hideous carnival, one bacchanalian revel,
in which old King Death acted as master of ceremonies. This gruesome
idea appears frequently in the literature of the period, and also in its
painting, particularly in church decoration, and a more or less graphic
portrayal of the “Danse Macabre” may still be seen on the walls of some
old cathedrals and monasteries.

This composition, belonging as it does to the ultra-realistic French
school of the present day, is a vivid tone picture of the same “Danse
Macabre.” At the head of the original composition, serving as motto and
undoubtedly as direct inspiration for the music, stands a curious
ancient French poem in well-nigh obsolete fourteenth century idiom. I
have made a free translation of these verses into English, as follows:

    On a sounding stone,
    With a blanched thigh-bone,
    The bone of a saint, I fear,
    Death strikes the hour
    Of his wizard power,
    And the specters haste to appear.

    From their tombs they rise
    In sepulchral guise,
    Obeying the summons dread,
    And gathering round
    With obeisance profound,
    They salute the King of the Dead.

    Then he stands in the middle
    And tunes up his fiddle,
    And plays them a gruesome strain.
    And each gibbering wight
    In the moon’s pale light
    Must dance to that wild refrain.

    Now the fiddle tells,
    As the music swells,
    Of the charnel’s ghastly pleasures;
    And they clatter their bones
    As with hideous groans
    They reel to those maddening measures.

    The churchyard quakes
    And the old abbey shakes
    To the tread of that midnight host,
    And the sod turns black
    On each circling track,
    Where a skeleton whirls with a ghost.

    The night wind moans
    In shuddering tones
    Through the gloom of the cypress tree,
    While the mad rout raves
    Over yawning graves
    And the fiddle bow leaps with glee.

    So the swift hours fly
    Till the reddening sky
    Gives warning of daylight near.
    Then the first cock crow
    Sends them huddling below
    To sleep for another year.

The composition opens with twelve weird strokes indicating the arrival
of midnight, struck out upon a vibrant tombstone by the impatient hand
of Death himself. There follows a light, staccato passage, suggesting
the moment when, in obedience to this awesome signal, the specters
appear from their graves and come tiptoeing forward to take their places
in the fantastic circle. Then comes a strikingly realistic passage where
Death attempts to tune up his fiddle, as he is to furnish the music for
the dance. It has been lying disused since the last annual festival, is
very much out of tune, and refuses to come up to pitch. In spite of his
best endeavors, the E string obstinately remains at E flat. The
repetition of this passage at intervals throughout the composition
suggests occasional hasty and ill-timed efforts to tune up.

Now comes the first theme of the dance itself, light, fantastic,
suggestive of purely physical excitement and ghastly pleasure, and
graphically representing the imagery of the corresponding verse of the

The second theme is slower, heavier, more gloomily impressive, with its
weird minor harmonies and its strongly marked rhythms, suggesting the
darkness and terror of that midnight scene, the gruesome gravity of old
King Death, as master of ceremonies, and the increasingly ponderous
tread of that ghostly multitude, to which the gray walls of the abbey
and the very ground itself seem to reel in unison. This is the moment
when “the sod turns black where each skeleton whirls with a ghost.”

Death again attempts to tune up his fiddle, with frenzied haste, and the
dance grows in speed and impetuous power. Later it is interrupted by a
lyric intermezzo, brief but pathetically sweet. It seems to be a
plaintive lament played in a momentary pause of the dancing, expressing
the sad memories and hopeless longings of the dancers, the real mood
which underlies the forced gaiety of this wild revel. It is
appropriately accompanied by the Æolian-like effect of the night wind
sighing among the cypress boughs. An onward rush follows, more furiously
impetuous than before, for just as in the small hours the boisterous and
frenzied merriment of the witches in “Walpurgis Night” grew apace, so
does this skeleton dance gradually reach an almost demoniac climax of
hilarity, as all unite in a grand finale, a thunderous whirl of hideous
merriment. Here the first and second dance themes are very ingeniously
woven together, appearing simultaneously in a piece of most grotesque
but effective counterpoint.

Then comes a sudden hush, in which the distant crow of the morning cock
is distinctly heard, a signal that daylight is approaching and the revel
must end. With a wild hurry and scurry the specters betake themselves to
their graves once more, a final lugubrious wail from the fiddle closing
the composition, as Death is the last to leave the field.

  Counterparts among Poets and Musicians

Those who have had sufficient interest to read any considerable number
of the foregoing chapters cannot have failed to perceive that, to the
mind of the author, the sister arts, music and poetry, sustain to each
other an even closer, more vitally intimate relation than the family
connection generally conceded to them.

It is a kinship of soul and sympathy, as well as of race—a similarity
of aim and influence upon humanity; a similarity, even in the kind of
effect produced, and the means employed to produce it, which renders
them largely interdependent and reciprocally helpful. The purpose of
both is expression, chiefly emotional expression, descriptions of nature
and references to natural phenomena being introduced merely as
accessories, as background or setting for the human life and interest,
which are of primary importance. Both express their meaning, not through
imitated sounds or forms borrowed from the physical world, but by means
of audible symbols devised by man for this express purpose, which have
come by long usage and general acceptance to have a definite
significance, but require a certain degree of education to comprehend
them, and which are therefore more intellectual, more adapted to the
expression of the subtler phases of life, and more purely human in their
origin, than the media of form and color employed in the plastic arts.

True, the one uses tones, the other words, as its material; but the
difference is by no means so radical as at first appears. Both exist in
time, while all other arts have to do with space and substance. Both
have but one dimension, so to speak,—namely, duration,—and owe
whatever of the beauty of form and proportion they possess to a
symmetrical subdivision of this given duration into correspondent parts
or sections, by means of accents, brief pauses, and rhymes or cadences.
Both may successfully treat a progressive series of moods or scenes, of
varying character, and fluctuating intensity, which is not possible in
the plastic arts, limited as they all are to the portrayal of a single
situation, a single instant of time, a single fixed conception. Both,
again, possess a certain warmth and inherent pulsing life, which is
their common, dominant characteristic, due to the heart-throb of rhythm,
which is lacking in all other arts.

Even in the media they employ, there is a strong though subtle
resemblance; both appeal directly to the sense of hearing, which
scientists tell us is more intimately connected with the nerve centers
of emotional life than any other of the senses. In both cases the
immediate appeal is to the feelings and the imagination, without
recourse to intervening imagery borrowed from external nature. Both
embody the cry of one soul to another, and they are not widely divergent
in quality or effect. Language at its highest is almost song, and music
at its best is idealized declamation. All good poetry must be musical.
It should, as we say, sing itself; and all good music must be poetical,
conveying a distinctly poetic impression.

To me every poem presupposes a possible musical setting, and every
worthy composition, a possible poetic text. Hence the language used, in
describing music, must of necessity, so far as the powers of the writer
permit, possess a generally poetic character. In all my thought and
reading, along this line, it has seemed to me, not only of extreme
interest, but of great practical value to every musician and writer, to
devote careful study to the analogy between these arts, to the
correspondences between artists, in these parallel lines of work, and
between their special productions in each, to obtain the widest possible
familiarity with both arts and their mutual relations, with a view to
letting each aid to a fuller elucidation and better appreciation of the
other. I have always grouped together in my mind Bach and Milton,
Beethoven and Shakespeare, Mozart and Spenser, Schubert and Moore,
Schumann and Shelley, Mendelssohn and Longfellow, Chopin and Tennyson,
Liszt and Byron, Wagner and Victor Hugo.

Bach and Milton seem to me to occupy corresponding niches in the temples
of music and of verse, because of the strong religious element in the
personality of both, of their severe, involved, lengthy, sonorous, and
dignified style of utterance; their mutual disdain of mere sentiment and
softer graces, and their fondness for works of large dimensions and
serious import. Furthermore, because of the proneness of both to
religious and churchly subjects, and the corresponding position which
they occupy as veteran classics in their respective arts.

The analogy between Beethoven and Shakespeare is almost too obvious for
remark. They are the twin giants of music and literature in their
colossal and comprehensive powers, in the breadth and universality of
their genius, and in the verdict of absolute superiority unanimously
accorded them by all nations, all schools, and all factions, both in the
profession and by the public. They are like the pyramids of Egypt; they
overtop all altitudes, cover more area, and present a more enduring
front to the “corroding effects of time” than aught else the world has

Mozart and Spenser resemble each other in their quaint and classic, yet
naïve and sunshiny style, their abundance, almost excess of fancy, and
their fondness for supernatural, though for the most part non-religious
and non-mythological scenes, incidents, and characters; also in their
habit of treating startling situations and normally grievous
catastrophes without exciting any very profound subjective emotions in
their readers and hearers. Not that they are flippant or superficial in
character; far from it; but with them art was somewhat removed from
humanity. With Spenser literature was not life, and with Mozart music
was not emotion. We smile and are glad at heart because of them, but we
are not thrilled; we are pensive or reflective, but we rarely weep and
are never plunged into despair. There is a moral lesson, it is true, in
the feats of the knights and ladies in the “Faery Queen,” as also in the
vicissitudes of that rather admirable scoundrel, Don Juan, but it is not
burned into us, as by a keener and crueler hand. Those who enjoy poetry
and music, rather than feel it, love it, or learn from it, are always
partial to Spenser and Mozart.

No artistic affinity is more marked than that of Schubert and Moore.
They are both preëminently song-writers. Both had a gift of spontaneous,
happy, graceful development of a single thought in small compass. Both
are melodious beyond compare, and both wrote with an ease, rapidity, and
versatility rarely matched in the annals of their arts. Moore is the
most musical of poets, and Schubert, perhaps, the most poetic of
musicians. One of Moore’s life-purposes was the collection of stray
waifs of national airs and furnishing them with appropriate words.
Likewise, one of Schubert’s main services to art was the collection of
brief lyric poems and setting them to suitable melodies. Each reached
over into the sister art a friendly hand, and each, unawares, won his
chief fame thereby. Moreover, though clinging by instinct and preference
to the smaller, simpler, more unpretentious forms, each wrote one or two
lengthy and well-developed works, such as the “Lalla Rookh,” with Moore,
and the “Wanderer Fantaisie,” with Schubert, which gloriously bear
comparison with the masterpieces of their type from the pens of the
ablest writers in the larger forms.

Shelley has been called the poet’s poet, and Schumann might as aptly be
termed the musician’s composer; because the subtle, fanciful, subjective
character and the metaphysical tendency of the works of both require the
keen insight and the fertile imagination of the artistic temperament, to
follow them in all their flights and catch the full significance of
their suggestions. With both, the instinct for form is weak, and the
constructive faculty almost wanting. Ideas and figures are fine,
profound, and astute, but there is a lack of lucidity, brevity, and
force, as well as of logical development, in their expression. A few
bits of melody by Schumann, such as the “Träumerei,” and an occasional
brief lyric by Shelley, like “The Skylark,” have become well-known and
popular; but their works, in the main, are likely to be the last ever
written to catch the public ear. They appeal the more strongly to the
inner circle of initiates who are familiar spirits in the mystical
realm, whose language they speak. Where Shelley is the favorite poet,
and Schumann the favorite composer, an unusually active fancy and subtle
intellect are sure to be found.

Mendelssohn and Longfellow are alike in almost every feature. Both are
in temperament objective and optimistic. Both are graceful, fluent,
melodious, tender, and thoughtful, without being ever strongly
impassioned or really dramatic. Both display superior and
well-disciplined powers, nobility of sentiment, and ease and grace of
manner. Perfect gentlemen and polished scholars, both avoid all radical
and reformatory tendencies, to such an extent as to lend a shade of
conventionality to their artistic personality, as compared with the
extreme romanticists of their day. Both have reached the public ear and
heart as no other talent of equal magnitude has ever done. Many of the
ballads, narrative poems, and shorter pieces by Longfellow, and the
“Songs Without Words,” by Mendelssohn, have become so familiar as to be
almost hackneyed, even with the non-poetic and non-musical populace.

Chopin is beyond dispute the Tennyson of the pianoforte. The same depth,
warmth, and delicacy of feeling vitalizing every line, the same polish,
fineness of detail, and symmetry of form, the same exquisitely refined,
yet by no means effeminate, temperament are seen in both. Each shows us
fervent passion, beyond the ken of common men, without a touch of
brutality; intense and vehement emotion, with never a hint of violence
in its betrayal, expressed in dainty rhythmic numbers as polished and
symmetrical as if that symmetry and polish were their only _raison
d’être_. This similar trait leads often to a similar mistake in regard
to both. Superficial observers, fixing their attention on the preëminent
delicacy, tenderness, elegance, and grace of their manner and matter,
regard them as exponents of these qualities merely, and deny them
broader, stronger, sterner characteristics. Never was a grosser wrong
done true artists. No poet and no composer is more profound, passionate,
and intense than Tennyson and Chopin, and none so rarely pens a line
that is devoid of genuine feeling as its legitimate origin. But the
artist in each stood with quiet finger on the riotous pulses of emotion,
and forbade all utterance that was crude, chaotic, or uncouth. Both had
the heart of fire and tongue of gold. Tennyson wrote the model lyrics of
his language and Chopin the model lyrics of his instrument, for all
posterity. Edgar Poe said of Tennyson: “I call him and think him the
noblest of poets, because the excitement which he induces is at all
times the most ethereal, the most elevating, and the most pure. No poet
is so little of the earth, earthy.” The same words might well be spoken
of Chopin.

Liszt and Byron were kindred spirits, both as men and artists. Among the
serener stars and planets that move majestically in harmony with
heaven’s first law, to the music of the spheres, they were like meteors
or comets, appearing above the horizon with dazzling brilliance, and
darting to the zenith, through an erratic career, reaching a summit of
fame and popularity, attained during his lifetime by no other poet or
musician, and setting at defiance all laws of art, of society, and of
morals. Brilliancy of style and character, haughty independence,
impetuous passion, a matchless splendor of genius, a supreme contempt
for the weaknesses of lesser mortals, combined with the warmest
admiration for their peers, are the distinguishing attributes of both.
Byron’s devoted friendship for Moore and Shelley corresponds exactly to
Liszt’s feeling for Chopin and Wagner. Liszt himself recognized this
affinity between himself and Byron. The English poet was for many years
his model and favorite author; many of his scenes and poems he
translated into tones, and his influence is marked in most of his
earlier compositions. The works of both are remarkable for a fire and
fury almost demoniac, alternating with a light and flippant grace,
almost impish. Both understood a climax as few others have done, and
both had the dramatic element strongly developed. Both were lawless and
dissolute, according to the world’s verdict, yet scrupulous and refined
to an extreme in certain respects. Each scandalized the world, repaid
its censure with scorn, and saw it at his feet; and each left, like a
meteor, a track of fire behind him, which still burns with a red and
vivid, if not the purest, luster.

Wagner and Victor Hugo are the two Titans of the nineteenth century,
having created more stir and ferment in the world of art and letters
than any other writers, contemporary or previous. Each is the leading
genius of his nation. They resemble each other in the pronounced
originality of their genius, their virile energy and productivity, and
their colossal force. Of both, the rare and singular fact is true, that
their productions all attain about the same level of merit. Most authors
and most composers are known by one or a few sublime creations. I know
of no others who have written an equal number of great works and none
that are mediocre or feeble. They are also alike in the circumstance
that while each has done fine work in a number of other departments, it
is the dramatic element which forms the strongest feature of their
artistic personality. Few French novels can compare with those of Victor
Hugo; but it is the powers of the dramatist displayed in the plot,
striking situations and characters, which constitute their chief merit;
and in his writings for the stage he has far surpassed all that he has
done as novelist. Likewise, while Wagner’s orchestral works for the
concert room would alone have made him a reputation, it is by his operas
that he has made the world ring with his fame. Each had a sense of the
dramatic and a mastery of its effects not even approached by any other
artist. They bear, furthermore, a strong resemblance in their
revolutionary character and tendencies. Both were born pioneers,
innovators, reformers. Both headed a revolt against the reigning
sovereigns and the established government of their respective arts and
after a desperate struggle came out victorious. Both have been followed
by a host of disciples, belligerent and radical beyond all that the
annals of music and literature can show. They were like two powerful
battering-rams, attacking the bulwarks of classic prejudice and
conventionality. The revolution which Wagner brought about in opera was
exactly matched by Hugo with the drama. His “Hernani” was as great a
shock to the established precedents of the stage, as was Wagner’s
“Nibelungen.” Lastly, both display the unusual phenomenon of retaining
their creative power into extreme old age, and both died when life and
art and fame were fully ripe, with the eyes of the world upon them and
their names on every tongue.


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