Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 3.djvu/428

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416

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��the adventures of a pair of lovers in the East. By the term 'new form of music' Schumann means a form in which it was possible to make use for concert performances of romantic stories, which had hitherto been only used on the stage. He was the first to follow this example in his 'Paradise and the Peri.' The text was taken from Moore's poem, of which Schumann short- ened some parts to suit his purpose, while he lengthened others by his own insertions. It was his first work for voices and orchestra, and is one of his greatest and most important. The subject was happily chosen. The longing felt by one of those ideal beings created by the imagination from the forces of nature, to attain or regain a higher and happier existence, and using every means for the fulfilment of this longing, is of frequent occurrence in the German popular legends, and is still a favourite and sympathetic idea in Germany. It is the root of the legends of the Fair Melusina, of the Water Nixie, and of Hans Heiling. Schumann's fancy must have been stimulated by the magic of the East, no less than by Moore's poem, with its poetic pic- tures displayed on a background of high moral sentiment. It has been very unnecessarily ob- jected to ' Paradise and the Peri' that it follows none of the existing forms of music. If it be necessary for the enjoyment of a work of art that it should be ticketed after some known pattern, it is obvious that this one belongs to the class of Oratorio. That the oratorio may be secular as well as sacred was shown by Handel, and con- firmed by Haydn in his ' Seasons.' For the text no especial poetic form is required. It may be dramatic or narrative, or a mixture of the two ; Handel has left examples of each. The essential characteristic of an oratorio is that it should bring the feelings into play, not directly, as is done in the cantata, but by means of a given event, about which the emotions can be aroused. The form of the poetry, the choice of material and form in the music, should all depend upon the particular subject to be treated. The fact of Schumann's having retained so much of Moore's narrative is worthy of all praise ; it is the de- scriptive portions of the poem that have the greatest charm, and the music conforms to this. To call this method an imitation of the music of the Evangelist in Bach's Passion Music is un- necessary and untrue ; for the narrative portions are given by Schumann both to solos and chorus. True, there will always be a certain disadvantage in using a complete self-contained poem as a text for music, a great deal of which will inevitably have been written without regard to the com- poser. Much that we pass over lightly in read- ing has, when set to music, a more definite and insistent effect than was intended. In other places again, the poem, from the musician's point of view, will be deficient in opportunities for the strong contrasts so necessary for effect in music. This is very obvious in Schumann's composition. The third portion of the work, although he took much trouble to give it greater variety by addi- tions to the poetry, suffers from a certain mono-

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tony. Not that the separate numbers are weaker than those of the former parts, but they are wanting in strong shadows. But there is some- thing else that prevents the work from producing a really striking effect upon large audiences, and that is, if we may say so, that there is too much music in it. Schumann brought it forth from the fulness of his heart, and threw, even into its smallest interludes, all the depth of ex- pression of which he was capable. The beauties are crowded together, and stand in each other's light. If they had been fewer in number they would have had more effect. But, with all these allowances, ' Paradise and the Peri ' is one of the most enchanting musical poems in existence. And we can now confirm his own words in a letter to a friend after the completion of the work : 'A soft voice within me kept saying while I wrote, It is not in vain that thou art writing' ; for this composition will go far to make him immortal. No comparison is possible between it and the great oratorios of Mendelssohn, with their grand structure and historical character. Its object is wholly different to lead us into the bright magical fairy-world of the East, and make us sympathise with the sorrows and the struggles of a gentle daughter of the air. It can only be really impressive to a somewhat small circle. The more so that the chorus, the chief means for representing broad and popular emotions, has only a moderate share in the work. All the choruses in 'Paradise and the Peri,' perhaps with the exception of the last, are fine, original, and effective. But it must be admitted that choral composition was not really Schumann's strong point. In this respect he is far inferior to Mendelssohn. In many of his choruses he might even seem to lack the requisite mastery over the technical requirements of choral com- position, so instrumental in style, so imprac- ticable and unnecessarily difficult do they seem. But if we consider Schumann's skill in poly- phonic writing, and recall pieces of such grand conception and masterly treatment as the begin- ning of the last chorus of the Faust music, we feel convinced that the true reason of the defect lies deeper. The essential parts of a chorus are large and simple subjects, broad and flowing development, and divisions clearly marked and intelligible to all. In a good chorus there must be something to speak to the heart of the masses. Schumann took exactly the opposite view. The chorus was usually an instrument unfitted for the expression of his ideas. His genius could have mastered the technical part of choral composition as quickly and surely as that of orchestral com- position. But since the case was otherwise, the chief importance of Paradise and the Peri ' is seen to be in the solos and their accompaniments, especially in the latter, for here the ^orchestra stands in the same relation to the voice as the pianoforte does in Schumann's songs. A good orchestral rendering of ' Paradise and the Peri ' is a task of the greatest difficulty, but one re- warded by perfect enjoyment. Compositions such as this, as we have already said, correspond in

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