Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 2.djvu/635

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

proportionate importance or (if a mere introductory prelude) one of such beauty and significance as that to Wagner's 'Lohengrin,' is a serious defect, and may generally be construed into an evidence of the composer's indolence, or of his want of power as an instrumental writer. Recurring to the comparison of a preface to an operatic overture, it may be said of the latter, as an author has well said of the former, that 'it should invite by its beauty, as an elegant porch announces the splendour of the interior.'

The development of the oratorio overture (as already implied) followed that of the operatic overture. Among prominent specimens of the former are those to the first and second parts of Spohr's 'Last Judgment' (the latter of which is entitled 'Symphony'); and the still finer overtures to Mendelssohn's 'St. Paul,' and 'Elijah,' this last presenting the specialty of being placed after the recitative passage with which the work really opens. Mr. Macfarren's overtures to his oratorios of 'John the Baptist,' 'The Resurrection,' and 'Joseph,' are all carefully designed to prepare the hearer for the work which follows, by employing themes from the oratorio itself, by introducing special features, as the Shofar-horn in 'John the Baptist,' or by general character and local colour, as in 'Joseph.' The introduction to Haydn's 'Creation'—a piece of 'programme music' illustrative of 'Chaos'—is a prelude not answering to the conditions of an overture properly so called, as does that of the same composer's 'Seasons,' which however is rather a cantata than an oratorio.

Reference has hitherto been made to the Overture only as the introduction to an opera, oratorio, or drama. The form and name have been however extensively applied during the present century to orchestral pieces intended merely for concert use, sometimes with no special purpose, in other instances bearing a specific title indicating the composer's intention to illustrate some poetical or legendary subject. Formerly a symphony, or one movement therefrom, was entitled 'Grand Overture,' or 'Overture,' in the concert programmes, according to whether the whole work, or only a portion thereof was used. Thus in the announcements of Salomon's London concerts (1791–4), Haydn's Symphonies, composed expressly for them, are generally so described. Among special examples of the Overture—properly so called—composed for independent performance are Beethoven's 'Weihe des Hauses,' written for the inauguration of the Josephsstadt Theatre in 1822; Mendelssohn's 'Midsummer Night's Dream Overture' (intended at first for concert use only, and afterwards supplemented by the exquisite stage music), and the same composer's 'Hebrides,' 'Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage,' and 'Melusine.' These overtures of Mendelssohn's are, indeed, unparalleled in their kind. It is scarcely necessary here to comment on the wondrous Shaksperean prelude, produced in the composer's boyhood as a concert overture, and in after years associated with the charming incidental music to the drama, passages of the overture occurring in the final chorus of fairies, and thus giving unity to the whole; nor will musical readers require to be reminded of the rare poetic and dramatic imagination, or the exquisite skill, by which the sombre romanticism of Scottish scenery, the contrasted suggestions of Goethe's poem, and the grace and passion of the Rhenish legend, are so happily illustrated in the other overtures referred to.

Schumann's Overtures of this class—'Bride of Messina,' 'Festival Overture,' 'Julius Cæsar,' 'Hermann and Dorothea'—though all very interesting are not very important; but in his 'Overture to Manfred' he has left one work of the highest significance and power, which will always maintain its position in the first rank of orchestral music. As the prelude, not to an opera, but to the incidental music to Byron's tragedy, this composition does not exactly fall in with either of the classes we have given. It is however dramatic and romantic enough for any drama, and its second subject is a quotation from a passage which occurs in the piece itself.

Berlioz's Overture 'Les Francs Juges,' embodying the idea of the Vehmgericht or secret tribunals of the Middle Ages, must not be omitted from our list, as a work of great length, great variety of ideas, and imposing effect.

The Concert-Overtures of Sterndale Bennett belong to a similar high order of imaginative thought, as exemplified in the well-known overtures entitled 'Parisina,' 'The Naiads,' and 'The Wood-Nymph,' and that string of musical pearls, the Fantasia-Overture illustrating passages from 'Paradise and the Peri.' Benedict's Overtures 'Der Prinz von Homburg' and 'Tempest,' Sullivan's 'In Memoriam' (in the climax of which the organ is introduced) and 'Di Ballo' (in dance rhythms), J. F. Barnett's 'Overture Symphonique,' Cusins's 'Les Travailleurs de la Mer,' Cowen's 'Festival Overture,' Gadsby's 'Andromeda,' Pierson's 'Faust' and 'Romeo and Juliet,' and many more, are all independent concert overtures.

The term has also been applied to original pieces for keyed instruments. Thus we have Bach's Overture in the French style; Handel's Overture in the first set of his Harpsichord Suites, and Mozart's imitation thereof among his pianoforte works. Each of these is the opening piece of a series. Beethoven has prefixed the word 'Overtura' to the Quartet-piece which originally formed the Finale to his B&#266d; quartet (op. 131), but is now numbered separately as op. 133; but whether the term is meant to apply to the whole piece or only to the twenty-seven bars which introduce the fugue we have nothing to guide us. [See Entrée; Intrada; Introduction; Prelude; Symphony.]

[ H. J. L. ]

OXFORD. An outline of the history of musical studies at the University of Oxford has been given under the head Bachelor. The regulations for the degree of Bachelor of Music have undergone change since the issue of that article, and are now (June, 1880) as follows. Every candidate for the degree of Bachelor in Music must previously matriculate at the University, i.e. enter his name on the books of some College or