Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 2.djvu/575

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page needs to be proofread.


ORCHESTRA.

called by its name, the true Polyphony of the i6th century was also replaced by that Polyodic Style, which, no less ingenious or complicated than the older method, was equally antagon- istic to the Mnnodic School then so zealously defended in Italy. This new German School reached its highest perfection in the works of Joh. Seb. Bach : and no one understood better than he the kind of Orchestra needed for the support of its vocal harmonies. Thoroughly re- cognising the necessity for using the Stringed Band as the basis of the whole, he preferred to employ Wind Instruments for the purpose of enlarging his original design, rather than that of strengthening or decorating it. When he added a Flute or Oboe or Bassoon to his Score, he loved not only to make it obbligato, but to write it in such wise that it should form a new real part. Hence, even in his regularly-constructed Arias, the Voice is scarcely so much accompanied by the various Instruments employed as made to sing in concert with them, the Scores containing as many real parts as there are Solo Voices or Instruments introduced into it. This plan has not been extensively adopted in later times. Indeed, it could only succeed in the hands of a Master of the highest rank ; for it causes a strain upon the faculties of the hearer, which, if unre- lieved by a well-balanced series of more simple combinations, would become intolerable. Bach saw this need, and provided for it very carefully. His power of self-abnegation was as great as his power of production ; and he used it with equal effect. Interspersed among his passages for the full Orchestra we find a multitude of others, written very thinly indeed ; sometimes employing only the Bass, and a single Solo Instrument, for the accompaniment of the Voice ; sometimes using nothing but a Thoroughbass, with Figures indi- cating the Chords to be applied upon the Organ or Harpsichord. These are the half-tints of the picture, introduced with magical skill in the exact places were relief is needed, and always so arranged as either to afford a point of neces- sary repose, after an exciting passage, or a moment of calm preparation for a coming effect. Bach's constant employment of this artifice, for the purpose of throwing in his lights and sha- dows, and thereby producing some of his finest effects, is very remarkable: but it has been and, alas ! still is entirely overlooked by some of his most zealous admirers. It is supposed that Bach did not leave these ' bare places ' intentionally that he meant them to be 'filled up.' So they have been filled up already in some of his greatest works, and are to be, we be- lieve, still more extensively so in time to come ; not by noisy lovers of the Bass Drum and Ophi- cleide, but by learned Musicians, incapable of vulgarity or roughness of any kind. First among these is Robert Franz, a profound Master of the Art of Part-writing, who has studied Bach so deeply, and so thoroughly imbibed his style, that, were his 'Additional Accompaniments' to the ' Matthaus Passion,' the Magnificat,' and the ' Kirchen-cantaten," submitted to a

��ORCHESTRA.

��5G3

��competent jury, with no written guide to dis- tinguish the added portions from the original work, it is quite possible that the one might sometimes be mistaken for the other. It would be by no means disgraceful to fancy that Bach had written some of Franz's additions only, he did not write them. Why not ? Because he did not wish to impose, either upon the ear or the mind, an uninterrupted strain which he knew could be borne by neither. Because he did not stoop to court popularity by introducing a grand effect into every bar, after the manner of some later writers, well knowing that every such forced effort becomes an anticlimax, alike de- structive to the symmetry and the consistency of the general design. It is said that our Orchestras differ so much from those used by Bach that his Music produces no effect when played without these unhappy additions. Our Orchestras do really differ from the older German ones, in three particulars : in the number of Instruments em- ployed ; in the proportion observed between the Stringed and Wind Instruments ; and, in the absence of many Instruments used by Bach and his contemporaries, which are now quite obsolete. Concerning the question of numerical strength we need say nothing ; for it is a matter of no consequence whatever, provided the proper pro- portion be maintained : but, this proportion is a matter of vital importance. Knowing, as we do, that Bach's Stringed Band rarely numbered more than twelve or fourteen Instruments, does it not follow that, if we increase that number, we must proportionately increase the number of the Wind Instruments also ? If Bach considered fourteen Stringed Instruments a fair balance for two Hautboys and two Bassoons, common sense should tell us that to balance fifty-six Stringed Instruments we shall need eight Hautboys and eight Bassoons. Yet, in practice, though our stringed power is continually on the increase, our Wind Instruments except at great Festivals are scarcely ever even doubled. The treatment of the parts written for Instruments now obsolete is undoubtedly surrounded with greater diffi- culties. Bach constantly wrote for the Oboe d'amore, the Oboe di caccia (or Taille de Basson), the Viol d'amore, the Viol di gamba, and other Stringed and Wind Instruments now regarded only as antique curiosities. Moreover, his Trumpet parts could not possibly be played with the mouthpieces now in use, even supposing the art of playing on the old-fashioned Trumpet to be not utterly lost. In cases of this kind, a certain amount of compromise is of course un- avoidable ; but surely it would be better to play a Trumpet-part on the Cornet, than to change the disposition of the Score.

Handel used a larger Orchestra, and treated it very differently. It is true that he frequently produced delightful effects by writing in real parts, but as a general rule he preferred treating the Acompaniment as a background to his pic- ture, only elevating it to the rank of an essential element in the design where he desired to invest it with more than ordinary interest. A huge Oo2

�� �