Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 4.djvu/54

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38 SYMPHONY.

cessors, and to give his instruments things to do which are not perfectly adapted to their idiosyn- crasies. On the other hand, in vigour, richness, poetry and earnestness, as well as in the balance which he was able to maintain between origin- ality and justness of art, his works stand at the highest point among the moderns whose work is done; and have had great and lasting effect upon his successors.

The advanced point to which the history of the Symphony has arrived is shown by the way in which composers have become divided into two camps, whose characteristics are most easily understood in their extremest representatives. The growing tendency to attach positive mean- ing to music, as music, has in course of time brought about a new position of affairs in the instrumental branch of art. We have already pointed out how the strict outlines of form in instrumental works came to be modified by the growing individuality of the subject. As long as subjects were produced upon very simple lines, which in most cases resembled one another in all but very trifling external particulars, there was no reason why the structure of the whole movement should grow either complex or individual. But as the subject (which stands in many cases as a sort of text) came to expand its harmonic out- lines and to gain force and meaning, it reacted more and more upon the form of the whole move- ment ; and at the same time the musical spirit of the whole, as distinguished from the technical aspects of structure, was concentrated and unified, and became more prominent as an important constituent of the artistic ensemble. In many cases, such as small movements of a lyrical cha- racter for single instruments, the so-called classi- cal principles of form were almost lost sight of, and the movement was left to depend altogether upon the consistency of the musical expression throughout. Sometimes these movements had names suggesting more or less of a programme ; but this was not by any means invariable or neces- sary. For in such cases as Chopin's Preludes, and some of Schumann's little movements, there is no programme given, and none required by the listener. The movement depends successfully upon the meaning which the music has sufficient character of its own to convey. In such cases the art form is still thoroughly pure, and depends upon the development of music as music. But in pro- cess of time a new position beyond this has been assumed. Supposing the subjects and figures of music to be capable of expressing something which is definite enough to be put into words, it is argued that the classical principles of struc- ture may be altogether abandoned, even in their broadest outlines, and a new starting-point for instrumental music attained, on the principle of following the circumstances of a story, or the succession of emotions connected with a given idea, or the flow of thought suggested by the memory of a place or person or event of history, or some such means ; and that this would serve as a basis of consistency and a means of uni- fying the whole, without the common resources

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of tonal or harmonic distribution. The story or event must be supposed to have impressed the composer deeply, and the reaction to be an out- flow of music, expressing the poetical imaginings of the author better than words would do. In some senses this may still be pure art ; where the musical idea has really sufficient vigour and vitality in itself to be appreciated without the help of the external excitement of the imagina- tion which is attained by giving it a local habi- tation and a name. For then the musical idea may still have its full share in the development of the work, and may pervade it intrinsically as music, and not solely as representing a story or series of emotions which are, primarily, ex- ternal to the music. But when the element of realism creeps in, or the ideas depend for their interest upon their connection with a given programme, the case is different. The test seems to lie in the attitude of mind of the composer. If the story or programme of any sort is merely a secondary matter which exerts a general influ- ence upon the music, while the attention is con- centrated upon the musical material itself and its legitimate artistic development, the advan- tages gained can hardly be questioned. The principle not only conforms to what is known of the practice of the greatest masters, but is on abstract grounds perfectly unassailable ; on the other hand, if the programme is the primary element, upon which the mind of the composer is principally fixed, and by means of which the work attains a specious excuse for abnormal de- velopment, independent of the actual musical sequence of ideas, then the principle is open to question, and may lead to most unsatisfactory results. The greatest of modern programme composers came to a certain extent into this position. The development of pure abstract instrumental music seems to have been almost the monopoly of the German race ; French and Italians have had a readier disposition for theatrical and at best dramatic music. Berlioz had an extraordinary perception of the possi- bilities of instrumental music, and appreciated the greatest works of the kind by other com- posers as fully as the best of his contemporaries ; but it was not his own natural way of expressing himself. His natural bent was always towards the dramatic elements of effect and dramatic principles of treatment. It seems to have been necessary to him to find some moving circum- stance to guide and intensify his inspiration. When his mind was excited in such a manner he produced the most extraordinary and original effects ; and the fluency and clearness with which he expressed himself was of the highest order. His genius for orchestration, his vigor- ous rhythms, and the enormous volumes of sound which he was as much master of as the most delicate subtleties of small combinations of instruments, have the most powerful effect upon the hearer ; while his vivid dramatic per- ception goes very far to supply the place of the intrinsically musical development which characterises the works of the greatest master*

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