Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 4.djvu/49

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SYMPHONY.

in the inner parts of the second section of that movement, serves very good purpose; and the concluding of the movement with the melancholy tune of the introduction helps both the senti- ment and the structural effect. The scherzo is far the best and most characteristic movement of the whole. In no department of his work was Mendelssohn so thoroughly at home ; and the obviousness of the formal outlines is less objectionable in a movement where levity and abandonment to gaiety are quite the order of the day. The present scherzo has also certain very definite individualities of its own. It is a departure from the 'Minuet and Trio' form, as it has no break or strong contrasting portion in the middle, and is continuous bustle and gaiety from beginning to end. In technical de- tails it is also exceptionally admirable. The orchestral means are perfectly suited to the end, and the utterances are as neat and effective as they could well be ; while the perfect way in which the movement finishes off is delightful to almost every one who has any sense for art. The slow movement takes up the sentimental side of the matter, and is in its way a good example of his orchestral style in that respect. The last move- ment, Allegro vivacissimo, is restless and im- petuous, and the tempo-mark given for it in the Preface to the work, 'Allegro guerriero,' affords a clue to its meaning. But it evidently does not vitally depend upon any ideal pro- gramme in the least; neither does it directly suggest much, except in the curious independent passage with which it concludes, which has more of the savour of programme about it than any other portion of the work, and is scarcely ex- plicable on any other ground. It is to be noticed that directions are given at the beginning of the work to have the movements played as quickly as possible after one another, so that it may have more or less the effect of being one piece. Men- delssohn's only other symphonic work was the Lobgesang, a sort of ecclesiastical counterpart of Beethoven's Qth Symphony. In this of course the programme element is important, and is il- lustrated by the calls of the brass instruments and their reiteration with much effect in the choral part of the work. The external form, as in Beethoven's 9th Symphony, is that of the three usual earlier movements (i) Introduction and Allegro, (2) Scherzo, or Minuet and Trio, and (3) Slow Movement (which in the present case have purposely a pietistic flavour), with the Finale or last movement supplanted by the long vocal part.

The consideration of these works shows that though Mendelssohn often adopted the appearance of programme, and gained some advantages by it, he never, in order to express his external ideas with more poetical consistency, relaxed any of the familiar principles of structure which are regarded as orthodox. He was in fact a thoroughgoing classicist. He accepted formulas with perfect equanimity, and aimed at resting the value of his works upon the vivacity of his ideas and the great mastery which he had attained in technical

VOL. IV. PT. I.

��SYMPHONY.

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��expression, and clearness and certainty of or- chestration. It was not in his disposition to strike out a new path for himself. The per- fection of his art in many respects necessarily appeals to all who have an appreciation for first- rate craftsmanship ; but the standard of his ideas is rather fitted for average musical intel- ligences, and it seems natural enough that these two circumstances should have combined suc- cessfully to attain for him an extraordinary popularity. He may fairly be said to present that which appeals to high and pure sentiments in men, and calls upon the average of them to feel at their best. But he leads them neither into the depths nor the heights which are be- yond them ; and is hence more fitted in the end to please than to elevate. His work in the de- partment of Symphony is historically slight. In comparison to his great predecessors he esta- blished positively nothing new ; and if he had been the only successor to Beethoven and Schubert it would certainly have to be confessed that the department of art represented by the Symphony was at a standstill. The excellence of his or- chestration, the clearness of his form, and the accuracy and cleverness with which he balanced and disposed his subjects and his modulations, are all certain and unmistakeable ; but all these things had been attained by great masters before him, and he himself attained them only by the sacrifice of the genuine vital force and power of harmonic motion and freedom of form in the ideas themselves, of which his predecessors had made a richer manifestation. It is of course obvious that different orders of minds require different kinds of artistic food, and the world would not be well served without many grades and standards of work. Mendels- sohn did good service in supplying a form of symphony of such a degree of freshness and light- ness as to appeal at once to a class of people for whom the sternness and power of Beethoven in the same branch of art would often be too severe a test. He spoke also in the spirit of his time, and in harmony with it; and as illustra- tions of the work of the period in one aspect his symphonies will be among the safest to refer to. Among his contemporaries the one most natural to bracket with him is Sterndale Bennett, whose views of art were extraordinarily similar, and who was actuated in many respects by similar impulses. His published contribution to the department we are considering is extremely slight. The symphony which he produced in 1834 was practically withdrawn by him, and the only other work of the kind which he allowed to be published was the one which was written for the Philharmonic Society, and first played in 1864. The work is slight, and it is recorded that he did not at first put it forward as a symphony. It had originally but three movements, one of which, the charming minuet and trio, was imported from the Cambridge Installation Ode of 1862. A slow movement called Romanze was added afterwards. Sterndale Bennett was a severe classicist in his views about form in music, and

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