Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 1.djvu/240

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228
BENNETT.
 

rather cold intellectual cast which is repelling to the average listener. In such a passage as this—

{ \override Score.Rest #'style = #'classical \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \time 4/4 \tempo "Allegro" << \relative a' { a8-. b-. c-. d-. dis-. e-. f-. g-. | a-. f-. d-. b-. a-. f-. d-. b-. | r4 r r_\markup { \null \lower #2 \smaller etc. } }
\new Staff { \clef bass \relative c { c4 r r2 | r4 <d a' b> r2 | a'8-.[ f-.] d-.[ b-.] e, r } } >> }

the ear of the uninitiated listener is almost startled by the closing E, like the sharp blow of a hammer, at the foot of an arpeggio passage which seems to presage a modulation to C through the dominant ninth on G. Equally significant passages might be quoted, such as this from the 'Rondeau à la polonaise'

{ \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \time 3/4 \key c \minor << \relative c' { <c e g>8 \times 2/3 { c16[ des c] } <e g>8 \override TupletNumber #'stencil = ##f \override TupletBracket #'bracket-visibility = ##f \times 2/3 { c16 des c } <e g>8 \times 2/3 { c16 des c } <e g>8 \times 2/3 { c16 des c } <f aes>8 \times 2/3 { c16 des c_\markup { \null \lower #2 \smaller etc. } } }
\new Staff { \key c \minor \clef bass \relative c { c8 r c r f, r | f r f' r } } >> }

and many others that might be adduced, in which evidence is given that the composer had before his mind conceptions of harmonic relation new or unusual at the time, but which have since been accepted and formulated into theory.

Bennett's larger works for orchestra, and his secular and sacred Cantatas already mentioned, are characterised, like his piano music, by great finish and perfection of form and detail, and by a peculiarly refined perception of the relation of special instruments and special combinations to the end in view. His one published Symphony, that in G minor, may be thought slight and fragile in effect in comparison with the now prevalent 'stormy' school of writing; but those who are alive to the fact that power of sound is not power of conception, who look to thought and feeling rather than to mere effect in music, will find no deficiency of passion and impulse in parts of this beautiful work, while the grace and refinement both of composition and instrumentation are universally admitted. His cantata, the 'May Queen,' displays the most refined and artistic writing, both in regard to the effectiveness and spontaneous character of the choruses, the melodic beauty of the solos, the strongly-marked individuality imparted to the music of the different personages, and the charming and piquant effects of the orchestral accompaniments. Indeed, the work has very much the character of an operetta off the stage, and one cannot but regret that a composer who showed in this work so much power of dramatic characterisation in music should not have enriched the English lyric stage (poor enough!) with an opera. 'The Woman of Samaria* is less spontaneous in character, and in its style and treatment does not appeal to the popular mind; but it will always be delightful to musicians, and to those who hear considerately and critically. It is in general construction very much modelled on the style of Bach, whose peculiar power Bennett has successfully emulated in the introductory movement, with the Chorale sung simultaneously with, but in a different tempo from, the independent orchestral movement. Bennett's separate songs (two sets published during his life, and one in course of publication when he died) are small compositions of almost Greek elegance and finish, both in the melodious and expressive character of the voice part, and the delicate suggestiveness of the accompaniments. They illustrate in the most perfect degree the character which belongs more or less to all his art; that of high finish of form and grace of expression, not without deep feeling at times, but marked in general rather by a calm and placid beauty, and appealing to the fancy, the sentiment, and the intellect, rather than to the more passionate emotions.

The most puzzling fact in connection with the artistic career of Sterndale Bennett is the comparative fewness of his compositions, at a time when his mind and genius were still young, notwithstanding the power of his earlier works, and the promise which those who then knew him saw of a still higher development. In all probability the explanation of this is to be found partly in the desire to secure a more comfortable subsistence from the regular exercise of professional business, and partly in what those who knew him best described as the 'shy and reticent' character of his genius, which led him to distrust his capability of accomplishing great works, and of taking his stand in the world on the strength of his genius alone. 'He was not, in his later years at least,' says one who knew him, 'quick to publish his works; he always had individuality without a rapid execution, and took more time a great deal to finish than to sketch.' Whatever be the true explanation, it is matter for deep regret for all lovers of what is best and purest in musical art, that one so well fitted to add to its stores should have condemned himself, for many of the best years of his life, mainly to the exercise of a teacher's vocation. Of the brilliant gifts as a player, and the tours de force of memory, by which the composer astonished and delighted the Leipzig circle in his younger days, there are accounts extant which remind us of what used to be told of Mozart. When he sold his 'Capriccio in E' to a Leipzig publishing firm, they were surprised at receiving only the MS. of the orchestral score, and on their inquiring for the pianoforte part, it turned out that this had never been written down, though the composer had played the work both in London and Leipzig, and had apparently entirely forgotten the omission in handing over the MS. to the publishers.

By those who knew Sterndale Bennett he is described as having been a man of most kindly nature, and exceedingly modest and unassuming in manner and character. The feeling of loyal and affectionate attachment which he created among the pupils of the Royal Academy of Music, by some of whom his death was lamented almost like that of a kind parent, is a strong testimony to the amiability of his character—an amiability which was exercised without the