Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 3.djvu/276

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


264 SCHOOLS OF COMPOSITION.

wonderful Mass was supposed to possess certain constructive peculiarities which not only marked it out as the greatest piece of Church Music that ever was conceived as it undoubtedly is but which also interposed, between Music written before, and that produced after it, a gulf as un- fathomable as that which separates the Polyphony of the 1 6th century from the Monodia of the 1 7th. No idea can possibly be more fallacious. The true Ecclesiastical Style, as determined by the 'Missa Papae Marcelli,' differs from that which preceded it, not in its technical, but in its aesthetic character. In so far as its external mechanism is concerned, it exhibits no contrivances which were not already well known to Okenheim, Josquin des Pre"s, Goudimel, and a hundred other writers of inferior reputation. It was not for the sake of its faultless symmetry, that it was selected as the model of Ecclesiastical purity. Ambros, indeed, denies that it ever served as a model at all ; that it effected any reform whatever in the style of Ecclesiastical Music ; or even that any such reform was needed, at the time of its pro- duction. This position, however, is untenable. The opinion of a critic so learned, so talented, and, generally, so unprejudiced as Ambros, must not be lightly contravened: but, it is certain that the Council of Trent did not exaggerate the necessity for a reform, immediate, stern, and un- compromising ; and, equally so, that that reform was effected by means of this Mass alone. What, then, was the secret of this wondrous revolution ? It lay in the subjugation of Art to the service of Nature, of learning to effect, of ingenuity to the laws of beauty. Palestrina was the first great genius who so concealed his learn- ing as to cause it to be absolutely overlooked in the beauty of the resulting effect. If it was given to Okenheim to unite the dry bones of Counterpoint into a wondrously articu- lated skeleton, and to Josquin to clothe thatt skeleton with flesh ; to Palestrina was committed the infinitely higher privilege of endowing the perfect form with the spirit which enabled it, not only to live, but to give thanks to God in strains such as Polyphony had never before ima- gined. It was not the beauty of its construc- tion, but the presence of the SOUL within it, that rendered his Music immortal. He was as much a master of contrivance as the most accomplished of his predecessors; but while they loved their clever devices for their own sake, he only cared for them in so far as they served as means for the attainment of something better. And, though his one great object in intro- ducing this new feature as the basis of his School was the regeneration of Church Music, it was impossible that his work should rest there. In establishing the principle that Art could only be rightly used as the handmaid of Nature, he not only provided that the Mass and the Motet should be devotional ; but, also, that the Chanson and

move In very close Imitation, answering, In many places, Interval for Interval, with the most perfect exactness : but, as this exactness is not carried out continuously, the passage cannot fairly be called a Canon.

��SCHOOLS OF COMPOSITION.

the Madrigal should be sad, or playful, in ac- cordance with the sentiment of the verses to which they were adapted. His reform, there- fore, though first exemplified in the most perfect of Masses, extended afterwards to every branch of Art. The Canzonetta felt it as deeply as the Offertorium ; the Frottola, as certainly as the Faux-bourdon. Henceforth, Imitation and Canon, and the endless devices of which they form the groundwork, were estimated at their true value. They were cultivated as precious means, for the attainment of a still more precious end. And, the new life thus infused into the Art of Counterpoint, in Italy, extended, in a wonderfully short space of time, to every con- temporary centre of development in Europe ; though the great Roman School monopolised, to the last, the one strong characteristic which, more than any other, separates it from all the rest the absolute perfection of that ars artem celandi which is justly regarded as the most difficult of all arts. In this, Palestrina excelled, not only all his predecessors and contemporaries, without exception, but all the Polyphonic Composers who have ever lived. Nor has he ever been rivalled in the perfect equality of his Polyphony. Whatever may be the number of Parts in which he writes, none ever claims precedence of another. Neither is any Voice ever permitted to introduce itself without having something important to say. There is no such thing as a 'filling up of the Harmony ' to be found in any one of his Com- positions. The Harmony is produced by the in- terweaving of the separate Subjects ; and when, astonished by the unexpected effect of some strangely beautiful Chord, we stop to examine its structure, we invariably find it to be no more than the natural Consequence of some little Point of Imitation, or the working out of some melodious ^ Response, which fell into the delicious combina- tion of its own accord. In no other Master is this peculiarity so strikingly noticeable. It is no uncommon thing for a great Composer to de- light us with a lovely point of repose. The later Flemish Composers do this continually. But they always put the Chord into its place, on purpose ; whereas Palestrina's loveliest Harmonies come of themselves, while he is quietly fitting his Sub- jects together, without, so far as the most careful criticism can ascertain, a thought beyond the melodic involutions of his vocal phrases. How far the Harmonies form a preconceived element in those involutions is a question too deep for consideration here.

The features to which we have drawn atten- tion, as most strongly characteristic of Pale- strina's peculiar style, were imitated, without reserve, by the greatest Composers of his School ; and though, in no case, does the Scholar ever approach the perfection reached by the Master, we find the same high qualities pervading the works of Vittoria, Giovanni Maria and Berna- dino Nanini, Felice and Francesco Anerio, Luca Marenzio, and all the best writers of the period. The School continued, in full prosperity, until the closing years of the i6th century; and its

�� �