Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 2.djvu/496

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484
NUNC DIMITTIS.
NUANCES.

1670), 'which is called a Curtain Tune, probably from the curtain being first drawn up during the performance of this species of overture, he has, for the first time that has come to my knowledge, introduced the use of crescendo (louder by degrees) with diminuendo and lentando, under the words soft and slow by degrees.' From the fact of these directions being in Italian, we may gather that they had been previously used by Italian coinposers, but the date cannot be put much earlier than 1670 for their first appearance. From this time until about 1740, when they were quite settled and in constant use, these marks of expression were used, at first very sparingly, and gradually more and more frequently. A comparison has been made (vol. i. p. 205) between Beethoven's marks and those of Mozart with respect to number, to which may be added the following calculation, showing that their frequency depends in a great measure on the development of the pianoforte. In the Adagio of Beethoven's sonata, op. 106, there are 150 marks to 188 bars, and in Chopin's Largo in the sonata in B minor, op. 58, there are 141 marks to 120 bars. The place of accents was taken, on keyed instruments, by the manieren, or grace-notes, which served to emphasize the notes before which they were placed. Possibly it is from this cause that the confusion, so common in some musical criticisms, has arisen of using the word nuances to indicate the grace-notes or fioriture of singers. These marks occur occasionally in the works of Bach, as for instance in the Italian Concerto, and they are used by Rameau and Couperin, who give them in French, retaining their own language in spite of the general use of Italian for musical purposes. This custom remains still in French music, in which such terms as 'pressez le temps,' 'animez un peu,' etc., are of frequent occurrence; and of late, German composers have taken to excluding Italian expressions altogether, substituting 'zunehmend' and 'abnehmend' for crescendo and diminuendo, etc. This is the latest development of the practice originated by Beethoven in one or two of his later works, and continued by Schumann, who confined himself, almost entirely, to the German language.

With regard to the nuances which are left to the performer, no rule can be laid down as to their use, nor can their insertion be a matter of teaching. Almost all modern music requires the use of certain modifications of time and expression, which it is impossible to convey altogether by words or signs. These should never be attempted by any but a more or less finished musician. The difficulty of steering between the error, on the one hand, of going through the composition in a dry and desultory manner, without attempting any 'interpretation,' as it is called, of the composer's thoughts, and, on the other hand, of exaggerating or setting at defiance the marks which are put for the guidance of the performer, and bringing out the performer's own individuality at the sacrifice of that of the composer, is very great, and can only be entirely overcome by those artists who have the rare gift of losing their own individuality altogether, and merging it in the composer's idea. Two of the best instances of the utmost limit of this kind of nuances, are Herr Joachim's rendering of the Hungarian Dances by Brahms, and (in a very different grade of art) the playing of Strauss's Waltzes by his own band in Vienna. In both these examples there is an utter absence of exaggeration, and yet the greatest possible freedom of expression. This kind of liberty of interpretation is only allowable, it will be understood, in the works of the later modern masters; for example, in those of Bach it would be quite inadmissible, and should be only used very sparingly in those of the masters from Beethoven to Schumann, while in Schumann and Chopin a great deal more licence is given. It is almost entirely by means of these unwritten nuances that the comparative merits of the greatest performers can be judged. [App. p.732 "For corrections of this article see Notation, vol. ii. p. 468b, 476b, and also 535b."]

NUITS BLANCHES (Restless Nights). The French and English names respectively of the series of 18 'Morceaux Lyriques,' for pianoforte solo, by Stephen Heller (op. 82), also called 'Blumen-Frucht-und Dornenstücke,' after Jean Paul's work with the same title. They differ in character from one another, some being throughout restless, excited, and impassioned, and others entirely calm and peaceful.

NUMBER. The several pieces or sections of operas, oratorios, or other long works, are numbered for convenience of reference, etc. This is sometimes very arbitrarily done even by so methodical a person as Mendelssohn. (Compare e.g. in Elijah, Nos. 40 and 41.) The overture is never counted, but 'No. 1' is the first piece after it. See also Opus-number.

[ G. ]

NUNC DIMITTIS. The first words of the Song of Simeon, occurring in the 29th, 30th, 31st and 32nd verses of the 2nd chapter of the Gospel of St. Luke. This canticle has been used at either Vespers or Compline from the earliest ages. It is mentioned in the Apostolical Constitutions (written about the beginning of the 5th century) and though St. Benedict does not order its use in his Rule (a.d. 530), Amalarius, writing early in the 9th century mentions it as in use in his own time, and English versions of it are extant as far back as the 14th century. It appears that in the most ancient times this hymn was sung at Vespers, of which service it still for part in the Greek Use. The Roman and Armenian Uses, however, appoint it to be sung at Compline, the solemn character of the hymn seeming more appropriate to the last service of the day. (It is worthy of note that the Armenian differs from the Western Use in having two distinct Offices of Compline, one for public, and the other for private use. The former contains neither Magnificat nor Nunc Dimittis, but the latter includes both canticles, thus resembling the Evening Office of the Anglican Church).

The Anglican Evensong was formed by combining the two ancient services of Vespers and