Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 3.djvu/323

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�� ��SCHOOLS OF COMPOSITION".

the Double-Bass. What Joachim is to the Violin, Clara Schumann is to the Pianoforte the most poetical interpreter now living of the great works of the Classical Schools; and, judging as well as we can by the traditions handed down to us, the most perfect, in some respects, on record. Scarcely less remarkable, as the representative of a newer School, is Hans von Billow, who, not- withstanding his strong predilections in favour of Liszt and Wagner, is rivalled by few in his reading of the works of the older Masters, from Bach to Beethoven. Even Liszt himself, the Paganini of the Pianoforte, and the greatest executant of the century, still possesses powers, which, despite his seventy years, one sometimes half expects to welcome once more in all the glories of a second youth ; and of which we do, in a manner, see a strange revival in the per- formances of Rubinstein. We speak of the giants only, having no room to chronicle the facts at our command. Yet who can forget the names of Halle, and Madame Norman -Neruda, of Arabella Goddard, Agnes Zimmermann, Marie Krebs, and a hundred other conservative Artists who delight us every day ; and not these only, but a host of players on every Orchestral In- strument, so accomplished in their generation, that many of the Second Violins of to-day would have been thankfully accepted as Leaders, not so very many years ago. Whence, then, in pre- sence of so splendid an array of Virtuosi, the manifest decline in Instrumental Compositions of the highest order? We shall best explain it by an illustration drawn from the history of another Art. The Instrumental Movements of Beethoven and Schumann, present, towards those of Haydn and Mozart, a contrast curiously analogous to that which the voluptuous chiaroscuro of Correggio presents to the clearer definitions of Pietro Perugino, and the youthful RafFaelle. Now Cor- reggio was, himself, so consummate a draughts- man, that, knowing, to a hair's breadth, where his contours would fall, he could afford to throw them into shadow, whenever he pleased, without running the slightest risk of injuring his ' draw- ing.' But, among his would-be imitators were certain very poor draughtsmen, who found it much easier to throw in a shadow, than to fix the place of a correct outline. So, the contours of the early Masters were condemned, as ' hard ' ; and the chiaroscuro of Correggio was used to cover a multitude of incorrect outlines; and so it came to pass, that a notable degradation of Art was once referred to this great Master's School. In like manner, Beethoven, having a perfect symmetrical form at command, could afford to clothe it, to any extent, with those deeply imaginative passages which formed the very essence of his genius, without running the slightest risk of distorting its fair proportions. But, among some later Composers, this reverence for form has either passed unnoticed, or fallen into contempt, as a relique of barbarism; and the stringing together of passages, supposed to be imaginative, has been held to be all that is necessary for the production of a Work of Art.

��SCHOOLS OF COMPOSITION. 311

There can be no more fatal error than this : and Beethoven's own history proves it. We know that he worked hard at Fux's 'Gradus,' and Albrechtsberger's 'Anweisung'; and that, after- wards, he produced many wonderful works. And we know that some of his followers, whose works are not at all wonderful, have not worked hard, either at Albrechtsberger or Fux. Of course, this may be merely a coincidence. The merest beginner will tell us, now-a-days, that Fux and Albrechtsberger were superseded, long ago. No doubt, Beethoven used their miserable books as the basis of his method, because no better ones had then been published. Still, he seems to have got some small amount of good out of them. At any rate, so far as the Symphony is concerned to go no farther there is ' writing' in the im- mortal Nine which has not yet been equalled, but which, nevertheless, must be more than equalled, if the School has not yet entered upon the period of its decline.

In considering the future of Sacred Music, it is difficult to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion, with regard to the coming history, either of the Oratorio or the Mass. We cannot but look for- ward with deep interest to the production of Gounod's new work, 'The Redemption,' at the Birmingham Festival of 1882 ; nor can we doubt that it will be worthy of its Composer's reputa- tion. Still, it must be evident to every one, that, since the year 1846, the Oratorio has not shown a tendency to rise, either in England or in Germany, to a higher Ideal than that which was presented to us at the memorable Birmingham Festival of that year. Many reasons may be ad- duced for this among them, a technical one, of trenchant force. The chief strength of an Oratorio lies in its Choruses. Where these are weak, no amount of beautiful Airs will save the work . And, they always will be weak, unless they rest upon a firm contrapuntal foundation. This fact enables us to predict, without fear of contradiction, that, cceteris paribus, the best Contrapuntist will write, not only the best Oratorio, but the best Mass ; for the same law applies, with equal force, to the modern Mass with Orchestral Accompaniments. No one will attempt to say that the sensuous beauty, either of Rossini's 'Messe Solennelle,' or Gounod's, is the highest type of perfection to which a Choral Composer can aspire. Verdi's ' Requiem * is as theatrical as ' Aida ' far more so than ' II Trovatore,' or ' La Traviata.' Anomalies such as these invariably present themselves, in Sacred Music, where contrapuntal skill is wanting ; for, in this kind of Composition, inventive power will prove of no avail, without an equal amount of con- structive power to support it. How is this power to be acquired? At this moment, there is no Master in Europe capable of taking Hauptmann's place, as a teacher of Counterpoint; and, were such a Master to arise among us, it is doubtful whether, in the present state of public feeling, his learning would meet with adequate recogni- tion. This is an evil, the continuance of which no School can survive. If the Oratorio is to rise higher than it has yet done, our next generation

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