Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 1.djvu/238

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226
BENNETT.
 

delicate and poetic suggestiveness which charms alike the educated and the uneducated listener. In 1870 he received the honorary degree of D.C.L. from the University of Oxford. In 1871 Bennett received the distinction of knighthood, an honour which could add nothing to such an artist's reputation as his. In 1872 a public testimonial was presented to him at St. James's Hall in presence of a large and enthusiastic audience, and a scholarship at the Royal Academy of Music was founded out of the subscriptions.

Bennett died after a short illness, almost 'in harness,' as it might be said, on Feb. 1, 1875. So quiet and unobtrusive had been his later life, that the spectacle of the crowd of distinguished persons who assembled at Westminster Abbey on the 6th to pay their last tribute of respect at his funeral, conveyed to many, even among those who had been in the habit of meeting him in society, the first intimation of the true intellectual rank of their departed countryman.

In estimating the position in his art of Sterndale Bennett (by this double name he has always been best known among writers and discoursers on music), it must be admitted that his genius had not that irresistible sweep and sway which compels the admiration even of the crowd, and utters things which sink deep into the souls of men. He can hardly be reckoned among the great musical poets of the world, and it would be both unwise and uncritical to claim that place for him. But what he wanted in power is almost made up, in regard to the artistic enjoyment to be derived from his works, in individuality and in finish. He is in a special degree a musician's composer. His excellences, in addition to the real and genuine feeling for beauty and expression which pervades his music, belong to that interesting and delicate type of art which illustrates in a special degree the fitness of means to an end, the relation between the feeling expressed and the manner and medium of expressing it; a class of artistic production which always has a peculiar interest for artists and for those who study critically the details of the art illustrated. His compositions do not so much carry us away in an enthusiasm of feeling, as they compel our deliberate and considerate admiration by their finish and balance of form, while touching our fancy by their grace and suggestiveness. But these qualities are not those which compel the suffrages of a general audience, to whom in fact many of the more subtle graces of Bennett's style are not obvious, demanding as they do some knowledge of the resources of the art, as well as critical and discriminating attention, for their full appreciation. On the other hand, the enjoyment which his works do convey, the language which they speak, to those who rightly apprehend it, is of a very rare and subtle description, and one to which there is no precise parallel in the art of any other composer.

If we try to define the nature of Bennett's genius more in detail, we should describe him in the first place as being almost, one might say, a born pianist. His complete sympathy with this instrument, his perfect comprehension of its peculiar power and limitations, are evident in almost everything he wrote for it; and his pianoforte compositions form, numerically, by far the larger section of his writings. His love for the instrument, indeed, might be said to have developed into favouritism in some instances, for in the Sestett for piano and stringed instruments the lion's share of the labours and honours of the performance is so completely given to the former that the work becomes almost a pianoforte concerto with accompaniments for strings only. In his pianoforte concertos, written as such, however, the composer gives its full share of importance to the band part, which is treated always with great beauty and piquancy, and an equally unerring perception of the special aesthetic qualities of the various instruments. In his treatment of the pianoforte, Bennett depends little upon cantabile passages, which are only by convention a part of the function of the piano, and in his writings are mostly [1]episodical; his sources of effect lie more in the use of glittering staccato passages and arpeggio figures, which latter peculiarly characteristic pianoforte effect he used, however, in a manner of his own, often alternating single with double notes in extended passages, as in this—

{ \override Score.Rest #'style = #'classical \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \time 4/4 \key a \major \partial 4 << \relative e' { s4_\markup { \smaller \italic Allegro } | e8 <a cis> e' <a cis> e' e,, <a cis> e' | a, <cis e> a'4 ~ a8 e, <a cis> e' | e, <fis a> e'4 ~ e8 d, gis e' | cis, a' e' e, e' a,-1 cis-3 e^\markup { \finger x } | e'\sf cis b a gis fis e dis | b' gis fis e_\markup { \smaller etc. } }
\new Staff { \clef bass \key a \major \relative e { << { e8 <a cis> } \\ { r4 } >> | <a, a,> r <cis ~ e ~ a ~ cis ~ >2 | <cis e a cis> <fis a cis> <b, b'> <e b'> | <a, a'>4 r r2 | r2 r4 \clef treble <a'' b> ~ | <g b> r } } >> }

from the short 'Capriccio in A minor,' a very typical specimen on a small scale of his style of workmanship; at other times doubling them in close passages for both hands, as in the following from the finale of the 'Maid of Orleans' Sonata—

{ \override Score.Rest #'style = #'classical \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \time 4/4 \key aes \major << \relative c''' { cis8\ff bes\sf g e cis bes g e | cis'\sf bes g e \clef bass cis bes g e_\markup { \smaller etc.} | \clef treble <g'' g'>8\sf r r_\markup { \smaller \italic "marcato assai" } g cis-> bes aes g | fis-> ees des c b-> aes g f | ees' g, c ees,_\markup { \smaller etc. } }
\new Staff { \clef bass \key aes \major \relative a, { a4 r g''8 e cis a | g'4 r g,8 e cis a | <cis' e,>4 r \clef treble g''8-> ees cis aes cis-> aes fis des \clef bass f-> des bes g | c,4 s } } >> }

  1. A curious and charming exception is the now well-known 'Serenade' from the 'Trio' for pianoforte and strings, in which the piano has the singing melody with a pizzicato accompaniment for the violin; the composer, with his characteristic ear for subtleties of timbre, having evidently conceived the idea of giving a cantabile effect to the percussion sounds of the piano by opposing to it the still shorter and sharper sounds of the pizzicato.