Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 3.djvu/306

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294 SCHOOLS OF COMPOSITION.

important works. And hence it is, that, with all his freedom of expression, his contempt for con- ventionality, and his inexhaustible fancy, he is one of the last to be cited as an authority by those who recognise no law beyond their own caprice.

It would be difficult to imagine two lines of thought more divergent than those pursued by Schumann and Mendelssohn. The differ- ence may be partly explained by the different circumstances under which the two Masters were trained. The course of Schumann's education was so changeful, so irregular, that nothing short of unconquerable determination would have enabled him to profit by it at all. Mendelssohn, on the contrary, enjoyed every advantage that care and counsel could place at his disposal. From his earliest youth he was made to understand that natural gifts, untrained by study, would sooner or later develope themselves into dangerous snares. And he understood this so well, that, even in his earliest works, we find an obedience to law, as strict as that which distinguished him in his prime. To his well-ordered mind, this subjection to fixed principles conveyed no idea in the least degree inconsistent with perfect moral freedom. The right to think for himself had never been denied to him ; nor could he, under any circum- stances, have forborne to exercise it. But he was equally ready, even in his full maturity, to study the thoughts of others, and to learn from them all that it is given to man to learn from his fellow. And so it was, that, while maintaining, throughout, his own strong masterful individu- ality, he drew, from the accumulated experience of his predecessors, a store of knowledge well fitted to serve as a bulwark against the self- sufficiency which too often ruins a youthful genius, before his talents have had time to produce the effect that might fairly have been expected from them. From Haydn he learned that perfection of Form which, from his first work to his last, clothed the sequence of his ideas with logical consistency. From Mozart and Beethoven he learned a system of Instrumentation which, like a wheel within a wheel, enabled him to work out another system, entirely his own. From Seb. Bach he learned that admirable method of Part-writing which raised his Compositions far above the level attained by the best Masters of the period, and entitled him to rank beside men whose position had long been regarded as im- pregnable. Dowered with this store of technical resources, his natural genius carried everything before it, and, while yet a youth, he was unanim- ously accepted as the leader of the German Schools. Reading his history with the experience of half a century to guide us, we can now understand the true bearings of many things which could not possibly have been foreseen during the eventful years of his early residence at Berlin. Times have changed very much since then. The freedom from restraint which we are now taught to reverence, would have been condemned as midsummer madness, in 1830. Mendelssohn was no pedant; but, he never encouraged the slightest approach to this licen-

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tious anomaly. Bad Part-writing he could not endure ; and, by way of safeguard against so miserable an error he has not only shown us that Bach's grand style of Part-writing is per- fectly compatible with Haydn's clear principle of symmetrical design ; but has so entwined the two, that they have enabled him to form a style, which, drawing its strength from both, presents an aspect so free from borrowed charms that we are compelled to accept it as an original creation. Not a whit less dangerous is the doctrine that clearness of design is by no means indispensable, provided its absence be duly compensated by the expression of some mystic sentiment, which, if necessary, may be explained, in so many words, at the beginning of a work, with a perspicacity worthy of the limner who wrote beneath his picture, ' This is a house.' Against this heresy Mendelssohn waged implacable war ; and he has left us, in his four Concert Overtures, an antidote sufficiently strong to neutralise its poison to the end of time. We need only point to one of them. The Overture to 'A Midsummer Night's Dream ' contains, in its first ten bars, more Poetry, more Imagination, more Romance, more Fancy, than a hundred thousand pages of the jargon which is forced upon us under the garb of modern sestheticism ; though its design is as symmetrical as that of the Overture to ' Figaro,' and as clear as that of ' La Heine de France.' Yet nowhere is the Form permitted to obscure, or be obscured by, the primary intention of the Composition ;. which aims at nothing lower than the perfect illustration of Shakespeare's meaning. If, then, Mendelssohn could make shapeliness of contour, and purity of Harmony, smoothness of Part- writing, and clearness of Instrumentation, subserve the purposes of an aim so lofty as this, there must surely be something wrong in the theory which represents these qualities as intrinsically opposed to all advance beyond the rudest forms of pedantry the ' rule-and-compass work ' suggestive of a return to the period when Art was in its infancy, and its union with Poetry impossible.

Had Mendelssohn lived long enough to endow THE SCHOOL OF LEIPZIG with a patrimony as rich as that possessed by its Viennese proge- nitor, his earnest work must necessarily have exerted a purifying influence upon every centre of Art in Europe. Even now, we cannot say that it has wholly failed to do so ; for there are men still living, who have made his principles their own, and allowing fair scope for individu- ality are conscientiously striving to work them out, whether the outer world cares to accept them or not. First among these stands Gade, who, though by birth, education, and national sympathies, a Dane, spent so interesting a portion of his life in Leipzig, and worked so earnestly there, in conjunction with Mendelssohn, that it is im- possible to overlookhis relationship to the Classical German School. This relationship, however, ex- tends no farther than technical construction. In their inner life, his Compositions are too intensely Scandinavian to assimilate with those of any Ger- man author, antient or modern. His Overture,

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