Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 4.djvu/141

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TIME, BEATING.

most easily made intelligible by the indication of a single down-beat for each Semiquaver of the part written in 9-16 Time a method which Mendelssohn always adopted in conducting this Symphony. 1

This method of using down-beats only is also of great value in passages which, by means of complicated syncopations, or other similar ex- pedients, are made to go against the time ; that is to say, are made to sound as if they were

��TIME, BEATING.

��125

��written in a different Time from that in which they really stand. But, in these cases, the down- beats must be employed with extreme caution, and only by very experienced Conductors, since nothing is easier than to throw a whole Orchestra out of gear, by means used with the best possible intention of simplifying its work. A passage near the conclusion of the Slow Movement of Beethoven's ' Pastoral Symphony ' will occur to the reader as a case in point.

��FIG. 8.

���The rules we have given will ensure mechanical correctness in beating Time. But, the iron strict- ness of a Metronome, though admirable in its proper place, is very far from being the only qualification needed to form a good Conductor, who must not only know how to beat Time with precision, but must also learn to beat it easily and naturally, and with jusb so much action as may suffice to make the motion of his BUton seen and understood by every member of the Orches- tra, and no more. For the antics once practised by a school of Conductors, now happily almost extinct, were only so many fatal hindrances to an artistic performance.

Many Conductors beat Time with the whole arm, instead of from the wrist. This is a very bad habit, and almost always leads to a very much worse one that of dancing the Baton, instead of moving it steadily. Mendelssohn, one of the most accomplished Conductors on record, was very much opposed to this habit, and reprehended it strongly. His manner of beating was excessively strict ; and imparted such extraordinary precision to the Orchestra, that, having brought a long level passage such, for instance, as a continued forte into steady swing, he was sometimes able to leave the per- formers, for a considerable time, to themselves ; and would often lay down his Baton upon the desk, and cease to beat Time for many bars together, listening intently to the performance, and only resuming his active functions when his instinct told him that his assistance would pre- sently be needed. With a less experienced chief, such a proceeding would have been fatal : but, when he did it and it was his constant practice

See the examples of these two passages, In the foregoing article (p. 121).

���one always felt that everything was at its very best.

It may seem strange to claim, for the me- chanical process of time-beating, the rank of an element and a very important element neces- sary to the attainment of ideal perfection in art : yet Mendelssohn's method of managing the Baton proved it to be one. He held 'Tempo rubato ' in abhorrence ; yet he indicated nuances of emphasis and expression as opposed to the inevitable Accents described in the foregoing article with a precision which no educated musician ever failed to understand; and this with an effect so marked, that, when even Ferdi- nand David a Conductor of no ordinary ability took up the baton after him at the Gewand- haus, as he frequently did, the soul of the Orches- tra seemed to have departed. 2 The secret of this may be explained in a very few words. He knew how to beat strict Time with, expression ; and his gestures were so full of meaning, that he enabled, and compelled, the meanest Ripieno to assist in interpreting his reading. In other words, he united, in their fullest degree, the two quali- fications which alone are indispensable in a great Conductor the noble intention, and the power of compelling the Orchestra to express it. No doubt, the work of a great Conductor is immea- surably facilitated by his familiarity with the Orchestra he directs. Its members learn to understand and obey him, with a certainty which saves an immensity of labour. Sir Michael Costa, for instance, attained a position so eminent, that for very many years there was not, in all England, an orchestral player of any reputation

We do not make this assertion on our own unsupported authority. The circumstance has been noticed, over and over again ; and all who carefully studied Mendelssohn's method will bear witness to the fact.

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