Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 4.djvu/238

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222

��VARIATIONS.

��are constructed on the same principles as the great set of thirty, but more often the melody of the theme plays an unmistakeable part. This may be seen from a comparison of the melody of the 3rd, 4th, and 5th bars of the theme, with the same portion of the third variation.

���The influence of the tune is similarly apparent in several other variations, putting a new com- plexion upon variation-making, in the direction cultivated by the next generation ; but the result is neither so vigorous nor so intrinsically valuable as in other works more after Bach's usual manner, though historically interesting as an experiment in a line which Bach generally thought fit to let alone.

Handel's way of treating variations was very different from Bach's, and more like the methods of the Italian school, as illustrated by Corelli. In most cases, indeed, he regarded the matter from the same point of view as Bach, since he looked upon the harmonic framework as the principal thing to follow; but he reduced the interest of his representation of that frame- work in new figures to a minimum. Where Bach used ingenious and rhythmical figures, and worked them with fascinating clearness and consistency, Handel was content to use mere empty arpeggios in different forms. In many of his sets of Variations, and other works of the same kind, he makes the effect depend chiefly upon the way in which the quickness of the notes varies, getting faster and faster up to the bril- liant but empty conclusion. The set which has most musical interest is the ' Harmonious Black- smith* in the Suite in E ; and in this the usual characteristic is shown, since the variations begin with semiquavers, go on to triplet semiquavers, and end with scale passages of demisemiquavers. The extraordinary popularity of the work is probably owing chiefly to the beauty of the theme, partly also to the happy way in which the style of the variations hits the mean between the elaborate artistic interest of such works as Bach's and the emptiness of simple arpeggios, and partly to the fact that their very simplicity shows to advantage the principles upon which a succession of variations can be knit together into an effective piece, by giving all the members of the series some relative bearing upon each other. In this set the connection and function of each is so thoroughly obvious that the most ordinary

��VARIATIONS.

musical intelligence can grasp it, and it is to such grounds of effect that Handel trusted in making all his sets, whether in such an example as the Passacaglia in the G minor Suite or the Chaconne with sixty variations. Only in very few cases does he even appear to attempt to make the separate numbers of the series interest- ing or musically characteristic, and yet the series as a whole is almost always effective. He is more inclined to allow the tune of his theme to serve as a basis of effect than Bach was. In the variations in the Suite in D it is very promi- nent, and in the earlier variations of the ' Har- monious Blacksmith * is clearly suggested ; and in this way he illustrates the earlier stage of the tendency which came to predominate in the next generation. The following are types of the figures used by Handel in more than one set :

Ex. 14.

��s

���Ex. 16.

��Another composer showed this tendency to follow the tune even more markedly. This was Rameau, who was born two years before Handel and Bach, but was brought more strongly under the rising influences of the early Sonata period, through his connection with the French operatic school, and the French instrumental school, of which Couperin was the happiest represent- ative. These French composers were almost the first of any ability in Europe to give their attention unreservedly to tunes, and to make tune, and character of a tuneful kind, the object of their ambition. Rameau produced a number of charming tuneful pieces of a harmonic cast, and naturally treated variations also from the point of view of tune, studying to bring the tune for- ward, and to make it, rather than the harmonic successions, the basis of his variations. When operatic influences came into play and influ- enced the instrumental music of German com- posers, and when the traditions of the Protestant school gave place to those of the southern and Catholic Germans, the same result followed.

Other circumstances also affected the form unfavourably. The cause of the falling off in vigour, depth of feeling, and technical resource from the standard of Handel and Bach, is obvious enough in other departments; since men were thrown back as they had been after Palestrina's time, through having to cope with new forms of art. In the case of variations by this time an old and established form the cause of such falling off is not easy to see ; but in reality varia- tions were just as amenable to unfavourable influences as the rest of instrumental music,

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