Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 4.djvu/698
682 HUMOROUS MUSIC.
expressed in music, but, admitting that humorous music does exist, in what does its humour consist? The answer is, that in music, as in literature, humour is chiefly to be sought in (1) sudden and unexpected contrasts of thought or language, (2) grotesque exaggeration, and (3) burlesque. To all three of these forms of humour Beethoven was equally addicted, and added besides a farcical fun all his own, sometimes exhibited in allotting a passage to an instrument unsuited to it, and upon which it sounds absurd. The bassoon is the usual victim on such occasions. To class 1 belong such passages as the middle of the ist movement of the Symphony no. 8
the imitations of birds in the slow movement of the 'Pastoral,' and the tipsy bassoon in the scherzo of the same, the wrong entry of the horn in the Eroica and its indignant suppression by the rest of the orchestra [quoted in vol. i. p. 73], which may be compared with the somewhat similar joke at the opening of the Choral Symphony scherzo, the charming effect of the long pedal bass on the drums in the last movement of the E♭ Piano Concerto, and many other passages too numerous to mention. Under class 2 are to be ranked those especially 'Beethovenish' passages in which a phrase is insisted upon and repeated with a daring boldness, yet perfect artistic propriety, entirely beyond the conception of less gifted musicians, and indeed only imitated by one other—Anton Dvořák. Two conspicuous examples may be given from Beethoven's Pianoforte Sonatas; one in the last movement of the G major, op. 31. Here in the coda the simple first phrase of the principal subject is tossed about, fast, slow, in the treble, in the bass, until it finally dies of exhaustion. The passage is too long to quote, as is the equally delightful instance in the E minor Sonata op. 90 (1st movement), at the return to the 1st subject, where a mere transient semiquaver passage (a) metamorphoses itself into the actual subject:—
This whimsical exaggeration of a trifling phrase into momentary importance is a favourite device of Beethoven's. The instance in the slow move- of the C minor Symphony is familiar to every one.
The long dominant passages with which he returns to the subject in the 4th Symphony (1st movement), in the 'Waldstein' Sonata (1st movement), in the 7th Symphony (last movement), and many others, are all imbued with the same kind of humour. In his most serious moods, as in the passage from the C minor last quoted, and again at the end of the same movement, he does not fear, as a less consummate artist might, to weaken the impression of his most earnest and poetic thoughts by this momentary intrusion of the grotesque; he is conscious of holding the reins of our emotions so firmly that he can compel our smiles or tears at any moment.
The third kind of humour in which Beethoven indulges is the burlesque vein so conspicuous in the finales of Symphonies No. 7 and 8 and the concluding pages of the C minor. It is a sort of scoff at musical commonplaces, and consists indeed, like the previous class, in comical exaggeration, but so evidently intended as a satire on the inferior composers of the day as to justify us in classing it apart. To this class belong also such eminently droll passages as the hurry-scurry of the double-basses in the Trio of the C minor, and in the finale of No. 4, the snorting low notes for horn in the Trio of No. 7, etc. But after all, Beethoven's infinite variety of moods cannot be summed up so shortly as this; the quaint suggestion of 'tuning-up' in the following passage (A major Symphony, 1st movement)—
the comical introduction to the Finale of No. 1—
so suggestive of an animal let out of a cage, trying first cautiously one step, then another, then bolting off at full speed these and a hundred other examples partake of the characteristics of more than one of our suggested 'classes' and must be left to speak for themselves.Turning away from Beethoven we must remark, as we have done under Scherzo, that humour in music is rarely to be found elsewhere. Gaiety, liveliness, we find abundantly in Haydn and Mozart, piquant gracefulness in Schubert, Mendelssohn and composers of the French school, a certain grotesqueness occasionally in Schumann, Dvořák and Rubinstein; but in vain do we seek for those sudden contrasts of mood and matter which are the essence of humour. Not to be too sweeping, let us admit that the Clowns' March, and still more Pyramus's dead march in Mendelssohn's 'Midsummer Night's Dream' music