Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 4.djvu/43

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page needs to be proofread.


SYMPHONY.

paper spread over several years. Of the intro- duction of voices into this form of composition, which is its strongest external characteristic, Beethoven had made a previous experiment in the Choral Fantasia ; and he himself spoke of the symphony as 'in the style of the Choral Fantasia, but on a far larger scale.' The scale is indeed immensely larger, not only in length but in style, and the increase in this respect applies to it equally in comparison with all the sym- phonies that went before. The first movement is throughout the most concentrated example of the qualities which distinguish Beethoven and the new phase upon which music entered with him, from all the composers of the previous half century. The other movements are not less characteristic of him in their particular ways. The second is the largest example of the typical scherzo which first made its appearance for the orchestra in the Eroica; and the supreme slow movement (the Theme with variations) is the finest orchestral example of that special type of slow movement; though in other depart- ments of art he had previously illustrated it in a manner little less noble and deeply ex- pressive in the slow movements of the Bb Trio and the Bb Sonata (op. 106). These movements all have reference, more or less intelligible ac- cording to the organisation and sympathies of the hearer, to the Finale of the Symphony, which consists of a setting of Schiller's ode 'An die Freude.' Its development into such enormous proportions is of a piece with the tendency shown in Beethoven's previous symphonies, and in some of his sonatas also, to supplant the conventional type of gay last movement by something which shall be a logical or poetical outcome of the preceding movements, and shall in some way clench them, or crown them with its weight and power. The introduction of words moreover gives a new force to the definite interpretation of the whole as a single organism, developed as a poem might be in relation to definite and co- herent ideas. The dramatic and human elements which Beethoven introduced into his instru- mental music to a degree before undreamed of, find here their fullest expression ; and most of the forms of music are called in to convey his ideas. The first movement of the symphony is in binary form ; the second in scherzo, or ideal- ised minuet and trio form ; the third in the form of theme and variations. Then follows the curious passage of instrumental recitative, of which so many people guessed the meaning even before it was defined by the publication of the extracts from the MS. sketch-books in the Berlin Library; then the entry of the noble tune, the theme of the entire Finale, introduced contrapuntally in a man- ner which has a clear analogy to fugal treatment ; and followed by the choral part, which treats the theme in the form of variations apportioned to the several verses of the poem, and carries the sentiment to the extremest pitch of exult- ation expressible by the human voice. The instrumental forces employed are the fullest ; in- cluding, with the usual complement, four horns,

��SYMPHONY. 27

three trombones in the scherzo and finale, and contrafagotto, triangle, cymbals, and big drum in the finale. The choral forces include four sola voices and full chorus, and the sentiment ex- pressed is proportionate to the forces employed.

In Beethoven's hands the Symphony has again undergone a change of status. Haydn and Mo- zart, as above pointed out, ennobled and en- riched the form in the structural sense. They took up the work when there was little more expected of the orchestra than would have been expected of a harpsichord, and when the object of the piece was slight and almost momentary entertainment. They left it one of the most im- portant branches of instrumental music, though still to a great extent dependent on formal per- fection and somewhat obvious artistic manage- ment for its interest. Their office was in fact to perfect the form, .and Beethoven's to use it. But the very use of it brought about a new ratio between its various elements. In his work first clearly appears a proportion between the force& employed and the nobility and depth and general importance of the musical ideas. In his hands the greatest and most pliable means available for the composer could be no longer fit for light- ness and triviality, but only for ideal emotions of an adequate standard. It is true that earlier com- posers saw the advantage of adopting a breadth of style and largeness of sentiment when writing for the orchestra ; but this mostly resulted in posi- tive dullness. It seems as if it could only be when the circumstances of history had undergone a violent change that human sentiment could reach that pitch of comprehensiveness which in Beethoven's work raised the Symphony to the highest pitch of earnest poetic feeling : and the history of his development is chiefly the coor- dination of all the component elements ; the pro- portioning of the expression and style to the means ; the expansion of the form to the require- ments of the expression ; the making of the or- chestration perfectly free, but perfectly just in every detail of expression, and perfectly balanced in itself; and the eradication of all traces of conventionalism both in the details and in the principal outlines, and also to a great extent in the treatment of the instruments. It is chiefly through Beethoven's work that the symphony now stands at the head of all musical forms what- ever; and though other composers may here- after misuse and degrade it as they have degraded the opera, the cantata, the oratorio, the mass, and such other forms as have equal possibilities with the symphony, his works of this kind stand at such an elevation of human sympathy and emotion, and at such a pitch of individuality and power, in expression and technical mastery, that it is scarcely likely that any branch of musical art will ever show anything to surpass them.

It might seem almost superfluous to trace the history of Symphony further after Beethoven.. Nothing since his time has shown, nor in the changing conditions of the history of the race is it likely anything should show, any approach to the vitality and depth of his work. But it

�� �