Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 3.djvu/674

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662

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��occur over and over again, until they appear to partake more of the nature of mechanical contrivances than to be the natural emanations of a living musical organism. His powers of invention are by no means weak, and many of his melodies have not only an indescribable charm of sweet and tender melancholy, but are of truly surpassing beauty. Modern critics are in the habit of charging him with a want of force and manliness, but it is difficult to see how such a charge can be maintained in the face of many of his best works, even if it be true in regard to the less important ones. Surely there is no want of manly vigour, or noble pathos, in such pieces as the first Allegro of the 9th Concerto, the Introduction to ' Jessonda,' some of his symphony-movements, and many others that might be named ! Such criticism, however fre- quent now-a-days, is probably only the natural reaction from an unbounded and indiscrimin- ating enthusiasm, which, in England at one time, used to place Spohr on the same level with Handel and Beethoven. These temporary fluc- tuations will, however, sooner or later subside, and then his true position as a great master, second in rank only to the very giants of art, will be again established.

The technical workmanship in his compositions is admirable, the thematic treatment his strong point; but it would appear that this was the result rather of a happy musical organisation than of deep study. He cannot be reckoned amongst the great masters of counterpoint, and the fugues in his oratorios, though they run smoothly enough and are in a sense effective, can hardly be called highly interesting from a musical point of view.

Symmetry of form is one of the chief char- acteristics of his works; but this love of symmetry grew eventually into a somewhat pedantic form- alism. A cadence without its preceding 'passage and shake' he is reported to have held in ab- horrence. His instrumentation shows the master hand throughout, although his predilection for extreme keys presents much difficulty to the wind-instruments, and sometimes, especially in his operas, the orchestra is wanting in perspicuity, and not free from monotony.

To his violin-concertos and among them especially to the 7th, 8th, and pth must be assigned the first place among his works. They are only surpassed by those of Beethoven and Mendelssohn, and are probably destined to live longer than any other of his works. They are distinguished as much by noble and elevated ideas as by masterly thematic treatment; while the supreme fitness of every note in the solo-part to the nature of the violin, need hardly be men- tioned. They are not likely to disappear soon from the repertoires of the best violinists.

His duets and concertantes for two violins, and for violin and viola, are of their kind unsur- passed. By the frequent employment of double stops great sonority is produced, and, if well played, the effect is charming.

The mass of his chamber -music, a great number

��SPOHR.

of quartets, quintets, double quartets, trios, etc., is now-a-days but rarely heard in public. Though still favourites with amateurs of the older gener- ation, they are, with few exceptions, all but un- known to the musicians of the present day. The reason for this must be found in the fact that a severer standard of criticism is applied to chamber- music in general, and especially to the stringed quartet, than to any other form of musical com- position, not even excepting the symphony. In orchestral music effects of sound and tone-colouring distinct from pure musical ideas play an un- deniable and important part ; but in the stringed quartet, the means of representation are so limited, and the perspicuity is such, that anything not absolutely essential to the musical thought any- thing in the way of mere effect or ' padding ' cannot be introduced without at once betraying superfluity and weakness of construction. The stringed quartet may well be compared to an outline-drawing in which every line must tell, and in which no colouring or effects of light and shade can atone for weakness of design or execu- tion. Hence none but the very greatest masters have succeeded in producing lasting works of this class. Spohr as a composer of quartets was rarely able to shake off the great violin-virtuoso. Some of the quartets the so-called Quatuors brillants or Solo Quartets are avowedly violin- concertos accompanied by violin, viola and violoncello, and appear to have been written to supply a momentary want. And even those which claim to be quartets in the proper sense of the term, almost invariably give to the first violin an undue prominence, incompatible with the true quartet-style. The quick movements especially are full of showy and florid passages for the leading instrument ; and the finales are not unfrequently written in a somewhat anti- quated rondo-style (a la Polacca). On the other hand, many of the slow movements are of great beauty; and altogether, in spite of undeniable drawbacks, his quartets contain so much fine and noble music as certainly not to deserve the utter neglect they have fallen into.

Among them, that in G minor (op. 27), dedi- cated to Count Rasoumoffsky ; the three quartets in Eb, C, and F (op. 29), dedicated to Andreas Romberg, and the earlier double quartets, are perhaps the finest. They belong to a period when Spohr's powers as a composer were fully developed, and the mannerism of his later years not yet so conspicuous.

Of his symphonies, the and, in D minor, the 3rd, in C minor (with the famous unison passage in the slow movement), and especially the 4th, 'The Consecration of Sound' are still occasionally heard at concerts. They are truly original and beautiful works, and too well known to require further comment.

His 1 operas and oratorios have already been dis- cussed under those headings in this Dictionary. They rank high among Spohr's compositions : in some parts showing true greatness of conception, breadth of sentiment, and even remarkable power of characterisation. We will only mention the

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