Page:EB1911 - Volume 25.djvu/428

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412
SONG


begun to yield during the last quarter of a century to tendencies which correspond closely with those of the impressionist movements in French literature and painting. The deeper side of the movement, in which a strong element of mysticism plays an important part, is represented in the best songs of César Franck, Faure and Bruneau, a notable group of composers, whose occasional extravagances are atoned for by original impressions of nature in her more unusual moods, and- by much that arrests attention both in thought and style. The songs of Duparc (b. 1848) and Vincent d’Indy likewise repay study. Nothing can be clearer than that traditional methods were inadequate, if modern French poetry was to find interpretation in the sister sphere of music; but how far the work of composers such as those named is likely to be regarded as final, it is premature to ask. The world had hardly had time to feel at home with them before it was called upon to face what it is difficult not to regard as representing the extreme limits of impressionistic style in Debussy. We are still too much accustomed to melody and rhythm, to harmonies that have some intelligible principle in their successions, to judge securely of music which is neither melodious nor rhythmical nor in the accepted sense harmonious. We are still too much accustomed to music regulated by analysable laws to feel at ease with music that seems, at any rate at present, to acknowledge none. Whether the work of Debussy is the beginning of a new epoch the future alone can decide, but it is permissible to feel apprehensive of an art which is based upon impressions rather than upon convictions; and the value of impressions is apt to be measured more by the degree in which they are fugitive, elusive, evanescent, or merely peculiar to the composer's temperament, than by the relation which they bear to permanent elements in nature or humanity. Hence in the modern school of song-writers, which finds its culmination in Debussy, the quality of unselfconsciousness is the one which seems most difficult for them to attain. In French art we are too often reminded how close the sublime is to the ridiculous, the dramatic to the theatrical, pathos to bathos, truth to paradox. Even in the quieter pictures we are conscious of a forced atmosphere, an unnatural calm, not the abiding peace of a landscape by Corot or Millet. Lastly, the opinion of Bruneau (La Musique française, p. 233) that prose will in time supplant poetry in drama and song is, at least to those to whom form is still an essential element of beauty, a disquieting omen for the future. The best qualities of the French nation, its unaffected gaiety, its sincerity, grace, humour, pathos, tenderness, are far more touchingly and truthfully revealed in the simple melodies of the country-side—or in the less pretentious songs (of which Bruneau and Massenet have given examples, as well as many others) formed upon their model.

Limitations of space do not form the only reason for dealing in a cursory manner with English songs of the 19th century. A more valid one is to be found in the absence, until its two closing decades, of great names to which can be attached the history of any orderly Modern English Song.development, of any well-conceived and definite ideals. The authors of the very limited number of good songs are too often the authors of others in larger quantities which are bad, and that not in every case owing to failure of inspiration but to a lowering of ideals in order to gratify the tastes of an unintelligent public on the one hand, and the demands of exacting publishers on the other. That a healthier art might have arisen is indicated by the presence of such songs as Hatton's " To Anthea," Loder's unexpectedly fine setting of " The Brooklet " (the words of which Schubert had already immortalized in its original German version as " Wohin "), Sullivan's fresh and original settings of several Shakespearian lyrics, and of Tennyson's uninspired cycle of verses entitled " The Songs of the Wrens," and Clay's " I'll sing thee songs of Araby." The name of Sterndale Bennett stands out as that of a composer who remained steadfastly true to his ideals. His output was indeed a small one, and covered a somewhat limited range of style and feeling: but the thought, like the workmanship, is always of delicate and beautiful quality. Though Mendelssohn's influence is apparent he has a touch which is all his own. " To Chloe in sickness," " Forget-me-not," " Gentle Zephyr " and " Sing, Maiden, sing," have certainly not yet lost their charm. Sterndale Bennett marks the beginning of higher ideals in English song—but it is only within the last twenty-five years that we have begun to see their realization, owing to the training of many English musicians in German schools and to the increasing familiarity of the musical public with the best German Lieder. The lead has been taken by Parry and Stanford—composers who have published large numbers of songs in great variety of styles, and with uniform seriousness of aim and treatment. Parry's delightfully fresh early work is represented at its best . in " A Spring Song," " A Contrast," and " Why does azure deck the skies?" The transition to a later manner is marked by the four anacreontic odes; and several small volumes of lyrics have since made their appearance. If some of these miss the true lyrical note, of which absolute spontaneity is an essential condition, yet a lofty level of thought and workmanship is always manifest, rising to highest inspiration perhaps in " When we two parted," " Through the ivory gate," and " I'm weaving Sweet Violets." Stanford has essayed songs in many styles, suited to poems drawn from many periods, but he is most himself and most successful in Keats's weird and dramatic ballad " La Belle dame sans merci," in Browning's cavalier songs, in the cycle of sea songs (H. Newbolt) and above all in the Irish idyll (Moira O'Neill)—where in six pieces of rarest beauty the composer has revealed different phases of Irish feeling, pathos and humour with a poetical and imaginative power unequalled in British art. It is hard to imagine a more perfect alliance between poetry and music, from the general conception of each song down to the minutest detail of declamation, than is found here. As an arranger of Irish melodies—of which four volumes have been published—Stanford has also shown himself a complete master. Cowen, Mackenzie and Elgar have contributed few songs worthy of reputations gained in larger forms of composition. Of the work done and being done by younger composers much might be said. There is activity in many directions; a cycle of songs by Arthur Somervell from Tennyson's Maud is an artistic work of very real value, beautiful and original as music, and forming a highly interesting commentary upon the poem. R. Vaughan Williams, in the more difficult . task of setting six sonnets from Rossetti's House of Life and in three of Stevenson's Songs of Travel, has displayed imaginative qualities of a remarkable order. Not less original is the highly finished and poetical work of H. Walford Davies. Somewhat slighter in style and thought, but instinct with true lyrical tenderness and charm, are the songs of Roger Quilter, drawn mainly from the Elizabethan period, and the poems of Herrick. Various songs by Maude V. White, W. H. Hadow, Hamilton Harty, Harold Darke, Ernest Walker, Donald Tovey, William Wallace and others give evidence, with the work already mentioned, of a revolution in the treatment and conception of song in England, which is full of promise for the future. Its fulfilment how r ever is likely to depend upon a change in the prevailing conditions, under which professional vocalists have a financial interest in popularizing inferior productions. Good songs, apart from the initial difficulty of finding a publisher, are thus penalized from the start, whilst the larger and less instructed portion of the public, which forms its taste upon what the singers of the day provide, remains ignorant of precisely those works which are most necessary for its enlightenment.

Bibliography.—In Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians (new ed.) Mrs E. Woodhouse's article on " Song " (vol. iv.) gives a practically exhaustive bibliography of the whole subject of song and folk-song, country by country; her account is quite unique, and indispensable to the student. The following list is mainly of books which the present writer has found most valuable: Sir Hubert Parry, Art of Music (London, 1897); Oxford History of Music (1901–1905),esp. vol.iii.;" The Seventeenth Century "by Sir Hubert Parry, vol. iv. ; " The Age of Bach and Handel " by J. A. Fuller- Maitland, vol. v.; " The Viennese Period "byW. H. Hadow, vol. vi.; " The Romantic Period " by E. Dannreuther; Combarieu, La Musique, ses lois et son evolution (Paris, 1907) ; Ambros, Geschichte der Musik (1862–1882) ; Coussemaker, Histoire de Vharmonie au tnoyen