Make your own free website on Tripod.com

List Of Contents | Contents of On Conducting
< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

together in a full and novel philosophical system [Footnote:
Hanslick's "Vom Musicalish-Schoenen," and particularly Vischer's
voluminous "System der AEsthetik."]--wherein our varnished
musical heroes find a comfortable and undisputed place of honour.

How the latter heroes treat great musical works I have shewn by
the aid of a few representative examples. It remains to explain
the serene and cheerful Greek sense of that "getting over the
ground" which Mendelssohn so earnestly recommended. This will be
best shown by a reference to his disciples and successors.
Mendelssohn wished to hide the inevitable shortcomings of the
execution, and also, in case of need, the shortcomings of that
which is executed; to this, his disciples and successors
superadded the specific motive of their "CULTURE": namely, "to
hide and cover up in general," to escape attention, to create no
disturbance. There is a QUASI physiological reason for this which
I accidentally discovered once upon a time.

For the performance of Tannhauser, at Paris, I re-wrote the scene
in the "Venusberg" on a larger scale: at one of the rehearsals I
explained to the ballet master that the little tripping pas of
his Maenads and Bacchantes contrasted miserably with my music,
and asked him to arrange something wild and bold for his corps--
something akin to the groups of Bacchantes on ancient bas-
reliefs. Thereupon the man whistled through his fingers, and
said, "Ah, I understand perfectly, but to produce anything of the
sort I should require a host of premiers sujets; if I were to
whisper a word of what you say, and indicate the attitudes you
intend to my people here, we should instantly have the 'cancan,'
and be lost." The very same feeling which induced my Parisian
ballet-master to rest content with the most vapid pas of Maenads
and Bacchantes, forbids our elegant, new-fangled conductors to
cut the traces of their "culture." They are afraid such a thing
might lead to a scandal a la Offenbach. Meyerbeer was a warning
to them; the Parisian opera had tempted him into certain
ambiguous Semitic accentuations in music, which fairly scared the
"men of culture."

A large part of their education has ever since consisted in
learning to watch their behaviour, and to suppress any
indications of passion; much as one who naturally lisps and
stammers, is careful to keep quiet, lest he should be overcome by
a fit of hissing and stuttering. Such continuous watchfulness has
assisted in the removal of much that was unpleasant, and the
general humane amalgamation has gone on much more smoothly;
which, again, has brought it about that many a stiff and poorly
developed element of our home-growth has been refreshed and
rejuvenated. I have already mentioned that amongst musicians
roughness of speech and behaviour are going out, that delicate
details in musical execution are more carefully attended to, etc.
But it is a very different thing to allow the necessity for
reticence, and for the suppression of certain personal
characteristics, to be converted into a principle for the
treatment of our art! Germans are stiff and awkward when they
want to appear mannerly: BUT THEY ARE NOBLE AND SUPERIOR WHEN
THEY GROW WARM. And are we to suppress our fire to please those
reticent persons? In truth, it looks as though they expected us
to do so.

In former days, whenever I met a young musician who had come in
contact with Mendelssohn, I learnt that the master had admonished
him not to think of effect when composing, and to avoid
everything that might prove meretriciously impressive. Now, this
was very pleasant and soothing advice; and those pupils who
adopted it, and remained true to the master, have indeed produced
neither "impression nor meretricious effect;" only, the advice
seemed to me rather too negative, and I failed to see the value
of that which was positively acquired under it. I believe the
entire teaching of the Leipzig Conservatorium was based upon some
such negative advice, and I understand that young people there
have been positively pestered with warnings of a like kind;
whilst their best endeavours met with no encouragement from the
masters, unless their taste in music fully coincided with the
tone of the orthodox psalms. The first result of the new
doctrine, and the most important for our investigations, came to
light in the execution of classical music. Everything here was
governed by the fear of exaggeration (etwa in das Drastische zu
fallen). I have, for instance, hitherto not found any traces that
those later pianoforte works of Beethoven, in which the master's
peculiar style is best developed, have actually been studied and
played by the converts to that doctrine.

For a long time I earnestly wished to meet with some one who
could play the great Sonata in B flat (Op. 106) as it should be
played. At length my wish was gratified--but by a person who came
from a camp wherein those doctrines do NOT prevail. Franz Liszt,
also, gratified my longing to hear Bach. No doubt Bach has been
assiduously cultivated by Liszt's opponents; they esteem Bach for
teaching purposes, since a smooth and mild manner of execution
apparently accords better with his music than "modern effect," or
Beethovenian strenuousness (Drastik).

I once asked one of the best-reputed older musicians, a friend
and companion of Mendelssohn (whom I have already mentioned
apropos of the tempo di menuetto of the eighth symphony),
[Footnote: Ferdinand Hiller] to play the eighth Prelude and Fugue
from the first part of "Das Wohltemperirte Clavier" (E flat
minor), a piece which has always had a magical attraction for me.
[Footnote: i.e. Prelude VIII., from Part I. of Bach's 48 Preludes
and Fugues.] He very kindly complied, and I must confess that I
have rarely been so much taken by surprise. Certainly, there was
no trace here of sombre German gothicism and all that old-
fashioned stuff; under the hands of my friend, the piece ran
along the keyboard with a degree of "Greek serenity" that left me
at a loss whither to turn; in my innocence I deemed myself
transported to a neo-hellenic synagogue, from the musical cultus
of which all old testamentary accentuations had been most
elegantly eliminated. This singular performance still tingled in
my ears, when at length I begged Liszt for once to cleanse my
musical soul of the painful impression: he played the fourth
Prelude and Fugue (C sharp minor). Now, I knew what to expect
from Liszt at the piano; but I had not expected anything like
what I came to hear from Bach, though I had studied him well; I
saw how study is eclipsed by genius. By his rendering of this
single fugue of Bach's, Liszt revealed Bach to me; so that I
henceforth knew for certain what to make of Bach, and how to
solve all doubts concerning him. I was convinced, also, that
THOSE people know NOTHING of Bach; and if anyone chooses to doubt
my assertion, I answer: "request them to play a piece of Bach's."
[Footnote: See Appendix C]

I would like further to question any member of that musical
temperance society and, if it has ever been his lot to hear Liszt
play Beethoven's great B flat Sonata. I would ask him to testify
honestly whether he had before really known and understood that
sonata? I, at least, am acquainted with a person who was so
fortunate; and who was constrained to confess that he had not
before understood it. And to this day, who plays Bach, and the
great works of Beethoven, in public, and compels every audience
to confess as much? a member of that "school for temperance?" No!
it is Liszt's chosen successor, Hans van Bulow.

So much for the present on this subject. It might prove
interesting to observe the attitude these reticent gentlemen take
up with regard to performances such as Liszt's and Bulow's.

The successes of their policy, to which they are indebted for the
control of public music in Germany, need not detain us; but we
are concerned in an examination of the curious religious
development within their congregation. In this respect the
earlier maxim, "beware of effect"--the result of embarrassment
and cautious timidity--has now been changed, from a delicate rule
of prudence and security, to a positively aggressive dogma. The
adherents of this dogma hypocritically look askance if they
happen to meet with a true man in music. They pretend to be shocked,
as though they had come across something improper. The spirit of
their shyness, which originally served to conceal their own
impotence, now attempts the defamation of other people's potency.
Defamatory insinuations and calumny find ready acceptance with the
representatives of German Philistinism, and appear to be at home
in that mean and paltry state of things which, as we have seen,
environs our musical affairs.

The principal ingredient, however, is an apparently judicious
caution in presence of that which one happens to be incapable of,
together with detraction of that which one would like to
accomplish one's self. It is sad, above all things, to find a man
so powerful and capable as Robert Schumann concerned in this
confusion, and in the end to see his name inscribed on the banner
of the new fraternity. The misfortune was that Schumann in his
later days attempted certain tasks for which he was not
qualified. And it is a pity to see that portion of his work, in
which he failed to reach the mark he had set himself, raised as
the insignia of the latest guild of musicians. A good deal of
Schumann's early endeavour was most worthy of admiration and
sympathy, and it has been cherished and nurtured by us (I am
proud here to rank myself with Liszt's friends) in a more
commendable and commending way than by his immediate adherents.
[Footnote: See Appendix D.] The latter, well aware that Schumann
had herein evinced true productivity, knowingly kept these things
in the background, perhaps because they could not play them in an
effective way. On the other hand, certain works of Schumann
conceived on a larger and bolder scale, and in which the limits
of his gifts become apparent are now carefully brought forward.
[Footnote: Such as the Overtures to Faust, Die Braut von Messina,

< < Previous Page     Next Page > >



Other sites:

db3nf.com screen-capture.net floresca.net simonova.net flora-source.com flora-source.com sourcecentral.com sourcecentral.com geocities.com