The Romantic Composers
THE MACMILLAN COMPANY
NEW YORK · BOSTON · CHICAGO · DALLAS
ATLANTA · SAN FRANCISCO
MACMILLAN AND CO.,
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THE MACMILLAN COMPANY
OF CANADA, LIMITED
DANIEL GREGORY MASON
AUTHOR OF "FROM GRIEG TO BRAHMS,"
"BEETHOVEN AND HIS FORERUNNERS," ETC.
"Consciously or unconsciously a new school is being
founded on the basis of the Beethoven-Schubert romanticism,
a school which we may venture to expect will mark
a special epoch in the history of art."
THE MACMILLAN COMPANY
LONDON: MACMILLAN & CO., LTD.
BY THE MACMILLAN COMPANY.
BY DANIEL G. MASON.
All rights reserved—no part of this book may be reproducedin any form without permission in writingfrom the publisher, except by a reviewer who wishesto quote brief passages in connection with a reviewwritten for inclusion in magazine or newspaper.
Set up and electrotyped. Published November, 1906.
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
This book completes the seriesof studies of composers and oftheir music, from Palestrina tothe present day, which was begunwith "From Grieg to Brahms"(1902), and continued in "Beethoven and hisForerunners" (1904). It will be noted thatthese three volumes should be read in an orderdifferent from that of their publication. Firstshould come "Beethoven and his Forerunners,"in which are made a general survey of theperiods of musical history and the principles ofmusical style, and special studies of Palestrina,Bach, Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven; then"The Romantic Composers," in which the storyis taken up at the death of Beethoven and carriedthrough the period of romanticism, withessays on Schubert, Schumann, Mendelssohn,[Pg vi]Chopin, Berlioz, and Liszt; and finally "FromGrieg to Brahms," comprising studies of thechief modern musicians, including Grieg,Dvořák, Saint-Saëns, Franck, Tschaïkowsky,and Brahms, and two more general papers on"The Appreciation of Music" and "TheMeaning of Music." Thus read, the threebooks should serve as a commentary on themore important individual composers, æstheticprinciples, and historical schools in moderninstrumental music.
From the first I have had in mind the intentionof illuminating the musical peculiaritiesof each composer by constant reference to hispersonal character and temperament. For thisreason, while I have dealt as briefly as possiblewith colorless biographical facts, I havemade free use of characteristic anecdotes, ofcontemporary descriptions of appearance, manners,etc., and of letters and table-talk wherethey are available. Music is indeed a uniqueartistic medium, and no man can express anythingin it except through a technical masterywhich has little to do with his character. Yet,given the medium, what he does express is[Pg vii]bound to be permeated with his peculiar personality;and as the general reader can get amuch clearer idea of a human being like himselfthan he can of so subtle a technique as thatof music, it has seemed better to lay stress onthat side, even though it is not the only orperhaps even the most important one. Withthe object of keeping awake, nevertheless, thereader's sense of those technical methods andtraditions which so largely determine the natureof all music, I have included in each booksome pages dealing with impersonal principlesand historical schools.
Believing that one has no right to intrude,in such studies as these, one's own prejudices,but should transcend as far as possible one'stemperamental limitations, I had hoped to beable to maintain throughout the attitude of thechronicler, and to exclude all special pleading.In the essays on Berlioz and Liszt I have perhapsnot achieved this detachment of attitude.Realism is a tendency which seems to me quitemistaken and mischievous in music, and I haveattacked it with some warmth. But in viewof the great favor that realism enjoys in contemporary[Pg viii]composition, the shoals of writersthat rally every day to its defence, and thepotency of its appeal to the average listener,whose dramatic sense and pictorial imaginationare always livelier than his purely musical perception,I do not greatly fear that I shall dangerouslydisturb any reader's critical equilibrium.
These studies are intended simply as guidesto the music they discuss. If they lead thereader to the concert-hall, to the piano, to thelibrary of scores; if they help him to hearthemes and their development where beforehe heard only masses of agreeable sound; ifthey incite him to repeat and analyze his musicalexperiences, to listen with his mind as wellas his ears, to study a symphony as alertly ashe would study a painting or an essay,—thenonly will they have justified their existence.
October 17, 1906.
|I.||INTRODUCTION: ROMANTICISM IN MUSIC||1|
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
|SCHUMANN AS A YOUNG MAN||Title|
ROMANTICISM IN MUSIC
ROMANTICISM IN MUSIC
Historians of music are accustomedto speak of the first halfor three-quarters of the nineteenthcentury as the RomanticPeriod in music, and of thosecomposers who immediately follow Beethoven,including Schubert, Schumann, Mendelssohn,Berlioz, Chopin, Liszt, and some others, asthe Romantic Composers. The word "romantic,"as thus used, forms no doubt a convenientlabel; but if we attempt to explain its meaning,we find ourselves involved in several difficulties.Were there then no romanticists before Schubert?Have no composers written romanticallysince 1870? Such questions, arising at once,[Pg 4]lead us inevitably to the more general inquiry,What is romanticism?
In the broadest sense in which the word"romanticism" can be used, the sense in whichit is taken, for example, by Pater in the Postscriptof his "Appreciations," it seems to meansimply interest in novel and strange elements ofartistic effect. "It is the addition of strangenessto beauty," says Pater, "that constitutesthe romantic character in art; and the desireof beauty being a fixed element in every artisticorganization, it is the addition of curiosity tothis desire of beauty that constitutes the romantictemper." Romanticism is thus theinnovating spirit, as opposed to the conservingspirit of classicism; romanticists appear inevery age and school; and Stendhal is right insaying that "all good art was romantic in itsday." It is interesting, in passing, to note therelation of this definition to the widely prevalentnotion that romanticism is extravagant andlawless. To the mind wedded to tradition allnovelty is extravagant; and since an artisticform is grasped only after considerable practice,all new forms necessarily appear formless at[Pg 5]first. Hence, if we begin by saying that romanticart is novel and strange art, it requires onlya little inertia or intolerance in our point of viewto make us add that it is grotesque and irrationalart, or in fact not art at all. Critics have oftenbeen known to arrive at this conclusion.
Suggestive as Pater's definition is, however,it is obviously too vague and sweeping to carryus far in our quest. It does not explain whyMonteverde, with his revolutionary dominantseventh chords, or the Florentine composersof the early seventeenth century, with theirunheard-of free recitative, were not quite as genuineromanticists as Schubert with his whimsicalmodulation and Schumann with his harshdissonances. We have still to ask why, insteadof appending our label of "romantic" to the innovatorsof centuries earlier than the nineteenth,we confine it to that comparatively small groupof men who immediately followed Beethoven.
The answer is to be found in the distinctnessof the break that occurred in musical developmentat this time, the striking difference intype between the compositions of Beethoven andthose of his successors. From Philipp Emanuel[Pg 6]Bach up to Beethoven, the romanticism of eachindividual composer merely carried him a stepforward on a well-established path; it promptedhim to refine here, to pare away there, to expandthis feature, to suppress that, in a schemeof art constantly maturing, but retaining alwaysits essential character. With Beethoven, however,this particular scheme of art, of which thetype is the sonata, with its high measure offormal beauty and its generalized expression,reached a degree of perfection beyond which itcould not for the moment go. The romanticimpulse toward novelty of Beethoven's successorshad to satisfy itself, therefore, in someother way than by heightening abstract æstheticbeauty or general expressiveness; until new technicalresources could be developed the limit wasreached in those directions. Beethoven hadhimself, meanwhile, opened the door on an invitingvista of possibilities in a new field—thatof highly specialized, idiosyncratic, subjectiveexpression. He had shown how music, withMozart so serene, detached, and impersonal,could become a language of personal feeling,of individual passion, even of whim, fantasy,[Pg 7]and humor. It was inevitable that those whocame after him should seek their novelty,should satisfy their curiosity, along this newpath of subjectivism and specialized expression.And as this music of the person, as we maycall it, which now began to be written, was differentnot only in degree but in kind from theobjective art which prepared the way for it, itis natural that in looking back upon so strikinga new departure we should give it a specialname, such as romanticism.
As for the other line of demarcation, whichseparates the romantic period from what we callthe modern, that is purely arbitrary. "Modern"is a convenient name for us to give to thosetendencies from which we have not yet got farenough away to view them in large masses andto describe them disinterestedly. As the blurof too close a vision extends back for us to 1870or thereabout, we find it wise to let our romanticperiod, about which we can theorize and formhypotheses, end there for the present. But italready seems clear enough that the prevalenttendency even in contemporary music is still thepersonal and subjective one that distinguished[Pg 8]the early romantic period. Probably ourgrandchildren will extend that period fromBeethoven's later works to those of some composeryet unborn. And thus we have, in studyingthe romantic composers, the added interestthat we are in a very real sense studying ourselves.
If, with a view to getting a more precise notionof the new tendencies, we ask ourselves nowwhat are the salient differences between a classicaland a romantic or modern piece of music,we shall be likely to notice at once certain traitsof the latter, striking enough, which are neverthelessincidental rather than essential to romanticism,and must be discounted before wecan come at its inmost nature. These changeshave come chiefly as a result of the general evolutionof musical resources, and though necessarilymodifying the romantic methods, are notprimary causes or effects of them. Thus, forexample, the nineteenth century has seen an extraordinarydevelopment in the mechanism ofall musical instruments, and in the skilful use[Pg 9]of them by musicians. This is impressed uponus by the most cursory glance at any modernorchestral score. Haydn's and Mozart's orchestraconsisted of a nucleus of strings, with afew pairs of wood and brass wind instrumentsadded casually for solos or to reinforce certainvoices in the harmonic tissue. The scheme wasfundamentally monochromatic, however muchit might be set off by bits of color here andthere. By the time of Wagner the orchestrawas essentially a group of several orchestras ofdivers colors: the addition of a third flute, ofEnglish horn to the oboe family, of bass clarinet,and of contrafagotto made each group of thewood-wind instruments capable of fairly completeharmony; the horns were increased innumber from two to six or eight, the bass trumpetmade possible complete chords for the trumpets,and there were four trombones and achoir of tubas. Thus, instead of having a uniformfoundation, with variety merely in thetrimming, the modern orchestra has complete,independent choirs of