Page:EB1911 - Volume 25.djvu/424

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borrowings on a very large scale. In the 17th century the work of the Italian monodists was bound eventually to stimulate German composers to make songs, but their main interest lay in larger choral-instrumental works, in which solo songs naturally appear, not in song as an independent branch of art. A good general view of such isolated songs as appeared can be obtained from Reimann's collections Das deutsche geistliche Lied and Das deutsche Lied (Simrock). In spite of some stiffness and awkwardness, these 17th-century songs exhibit a loftiness of aim, a touching earnestness and sincerity, which mark them off as quite distinct from any work done elsewhere at the same time. On the other hand there is not that sure grasp of their material, nor the melodic and declamatory power, which make Purcell in England stand out pre-eminently as the greatest song composer of the 17th century. The treatment of the aria by Bach and Handel is discussed in separate articles (see Aria; Bach; Handel), which render unnecessary any further comment here. Nor need we pause to consider the vastly inferior work of lesser composers such as Telemann, Marpurg and Agricola, most of which is confined to opera, oratorio and cantata. Our concern is rather with the smaller lyrical forms, and to these the absence of suitable poetry was for long an insurmountable barrier. It was not till the middle of the 18th century that the reform in German poetry associated with the name of Martin Opitz (who translated Rinuccini's text of Dafne, J. Peri’s first opera, for Heinrich Schütz) bore real fruit.

At the outset it is necessary to make a broad distinction between the more distinctly popular form of song, known as the Volkstümliches Lied, in which the same music served for each stanza of a poem (as in the Volkslied itself, on which the Volkstümliches Lied was modelled), and the Kunstlied, or, to adopt the more descriptive term, the durch-componirtes Lied, in which the music forms a running commentary on a poem, without respect to its form—or, if stanza form is preserved, varying the music in some stanzas or in all in accordance with their poetical significance. Generally speaking the former aims at a wider audience than the Kunstlied, the appreciation of which, when it is worth appreciating, involves some degree of culture and intelligence, inasmuch as it aims as a rule at interpreting more complex and difficult kinds of poetry. In the 18th century the simpler Volkstümliches Lied in strophic form was most in favour, and those who care to trace its history in the hands of popular composers like J. A. Hiller, J. A. P. Schulz, Reichhardt, Berger and Zelter, can easily do so by consulting Härtel’s Liederlexicon (Leipzig, 1867) or one of a number of similar publications. Side by side with the outpouring of somewhat obvious and senti- mental melodiousness, which such volumes reveal, it must be remembered that the attention of greater men to instrumental composition, the growing power to compose for keyed instruments (which began to replace the lute in the middle of the 17th century), and the mechanical improvements, through which spinet, clavichord and harpsichord were advancing toward the modern pianoforte, were preparing the way for the modern Lied, in which the pianoforte accompaniment was to play an increasingly important part. C. P. E. Bach (d. 1788) alone of his contemporaries gave serious attention to lyrical song, selecting the best poetry he could get hold of, and aspiring to something beyond merely tuneful melody. The real outburst of song had to wait for the inspiration which came with Goethe and Schiller.

It is unfortunate that Haydn and Mozart, pre-eminently endowed with every gift that makes for perfect song except that of literary discernment, should have left us so little of real value. There is indeed much to admire in some of Haydn’s canzonets, of which “My Mother bids me bind my Hair” fully deserves its continued popularity, while Mozart’s “Schlafe mein Prinzchen”—if it is Mozart’s—and a few others, like these in simple strophic form, are isolated treasures which we could not afford to lose. But in only two songs by Mozart, “Abendempfindung” and “Das Veilchen,” is the goal, to which the art was to advance, clearly discerned and in the latter case perfectly attained. Both are durchcomponirt, that is, they follow the words in detail; in both the general spirit, as well as each isolated point of beauty in the verses, is seized and portrayed with unerring insight. “Abendempfindung” is indeed seriously marred by some carelessness in accentuation (worse examples may be seen in “An Chloe”) and by annoying repetition of words, due to the development of the melody into a formal and effective climax. In the process the balance of the poem is destroyed, and the atmosphere of suffused warmth and tenderness, which pervades the rest of the song, is almost lost. The lyrical mood passes into one in which the operatic aria is suggested on the one hand, and on the other the formality of instrumental methods of developing melody. Not till Schubert were these traditions, fatal to the pure lyric, finally overthrown, and the conditions of true union between music and poetry perfectly realized. In “Das Veilchen” however, where Mozart touched a poem that was worthy of his genius and appealed to his extraordinarily fine dramatic instinct, he produced a masterpiece—rightly regarded as the first perfect specimen of the durch-componirles Lied. Every incident in the flower’s story is minutely followed, with a detailed pictorial and dramatic treatment (involving several changes of key, contrasts between major and minor, variations of rhythm and melody, declamatory or recitative passages) which was quite new to the art. The accompaniment too takes its full share, illustrating each incident with exquisite fancy, delicacy and discretion—and all with no violence done to the form of the poem.

With Beethoven song was suddenly exalted to a place among the highest branches of composition. Taken in hand with the utmost seriousness by the greatest musician of the age and associated by him for the most part with lyrical poetry of a high order, it could at last raise its head, and, freed from the conventional formalities of the salon, look a larger world confidently in the face. It cannot, however, be admitted that Beethoven, in spite of several noble songs, was an ideal song composer. His genius moved more easily in the field of abstract music. The forms of poetry were to him rather a hindrance than a help. His tendency is to press into his melodies more meaning than the words will bear. The very qualities in fact which make his instrumental melodies so inspiring tell against his songs. Though his stronger critical instinct kept him as a rule from the false accentuation which marred some of the work of Haydn and Mozart, yet, like them, he often failed to escape from the instrumentalist’s point of view, especially in the larger song-forms. The concluding melody of “Busselied” would be equally effective played as a violin solo: the same might be said of the final movements of “Adelaide” and of the otherwise noble cycle “An die feme Geliebte”—movements in which the words have to adapt themselves as well as they can to the exigencies of thematic development, and to submit to several displacements and tiresome repetitions. In songs of a solemn or deeply emotional nature Beethoven is at his best, as in that cycle, to sacred words of Gellert, of which “Die Ehre Gottes aus der Natur” stands as a lasting monument of simple but expressive grandeur, in “Trocknet nicht,” in “Partenza,” “In questa tomba,” in the first of his four settings of Goethe’s “Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt,” and more than all, in the cycle “An die feme Geliebte,” which represents a further stage reached in song on the road marked out by Mozart in “Das Veilchen.” We have left behind the pretty artificialities so dear to the 18th century, that play around fictitious shepherds and shepherdesses, and entered the field of deeper human feeling with the surrounding influences upon it of nature and romance. The new spirit of the age, represented in German poetry by the lyrics of Burger, Voss, Claudius and Holty, members of the famous Göttinger Hainbund, and more notably by those of Goethe and Schiller, communicates itself in Beethoven to song, which now assumes its rightful position of joint interpreter. It needs no deep study of Beethoven’s songs to perceive that the accompaniment has assumed, especially in the “Liederkreis,” an importance, immeasurably greater than in the songs of any previous composer. It begins to act the part of the chorus in Greek drama and to