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grandest suggestions of genius; but if a work of art is to be judged, as surely it ultimately must be, by its finish in form as well as by its greatness of idea, this finale must be regarded rather as a colossal sketch than a finished picture-vast and glorious in its perspectives, but wavering in outline, uncertain in composition, unequal in finish, in comparison with many previous works of its author. It is a
It is a popular fallacy to suppose that Beethoven was a kind of vast irregular genius (as the French critics used to imagine Shakspeare), overflowing with Geist, but indifferent to artistic form and finish. On the contrary, he was one of the most consummate artists in feeling and practice that ever lived, and the minute and detailed finish of all his finest works is as remarkable as their pathetic power. But these qualities are ignored, and a wholesale misrepresentation of the scope of his genius put forth, because the adherents of Wagner are determined to persuade the world that Wagner is a Beethoven, in pursuance of which end they use all their ingenuity to prove that Beethoven was no more than a Wagner.
We have thought it worth while to point out the manner in which Beethoven is manipulated by a clique of critics who think they can pay no greater homage to so transcendent a genius than by endeavouring to make him the hobby-horse of their theories. But what are we to say of the theory, taken in the abstract, which denies to Music any voice of her own, which represents her only as the medium for assisting the expression of words, as dependent entirely on a defined intention as a basis? It difficult to know how to reach the minds of people who are capable of such an assertion. The very power and pride, the very raison d'être of music, is that it expresses that which words are powerless to express, which can be expressed in no other way. Mr. Browning has put this well in one of the finest of his shorter poems, the reverie of Abt Vogler 'after he has been extemporising on the orgau. If he had painted it as a picture, or written it in verse, says the musician, still effect proceeds from cause':'Ye know why the forms are fair, ye hear how the tale is told; But here is the finger of God, a flash of the will that can, Existent behind all laws, that made them, and lo, they are ! And I know not if, save in this, such gift be allowed to man, That out of three sounds he frame, not a fourth sound, but a star. Consid it well ; each tone of our scale in itself is nought; It is everywhere in the world-loud, soft, and all is said: Give it to me to use! I mix it with two in my thought, And there ! ye have seen and heard; consider and bow the head !
Sorrow is hard to bear, and doubt is slow to clear,
his scheme of the weal and woe:
No doubt the musician does write from a previous impulse; no doubt, too, that modern music is more purely emotional than that of the older writers. But the change is one of feeling, not of principle. The transition from the earlier contrapuntal style of music to that of Beethoven is nearly analogous to that which has taken place in painting, from the figuredrawing of the great Italian painters to the landscape art of which Turner unlocked the treasury, and the idyllic subjects to which our best painters are now so much devoting themselves. As Michael Angelo took a delight in the drawing and foreshortening of a figure for its own sake, and thereby expressed the power that was in him, so the older composers took a delight in the working out of a theme for its own sake, and thereby expressed the power that was in them, and gave us that which speaks no definite language certainly, but which appeals to what is beyond the reach of language-to the metaphysical sense of a divine order and harmony, of which music is the most subtle and at the same time the most direct and comprehensive expression. But, says Wagner, Beethoven's symphonies, and all instrumental music expressing anything more than mere tone-play,' awaken in the listener that troublesome question, Why? Wherefore?' which the musician cannot answer, and which only the addition of the dramatic action can satisfy. We might perhaps be allowed to question whether Wagner's own employment of all the resources of a great orchestra to illustrate such glorified pantomime as Lohengrin' and parts of the Nibelungen’amount to, with their real horses, and dwarfs, and dragons, and phantasmagoric effects, is not calculated in its own way to provoke a more unanswerable 'warum?' than anything in Beethoven's symphonies could awaken; or whether it can be seriously urged that a listener who felt the want of an ultimate meaning to the first movement of the · Eroica Symphony 'would really feel his intellectual enjoyment and perception heightened by the vision of the hero behind the footlights with a tin helmet and shield. But the fact is that the . Why?' spoken of only exists in the minds of those who are under the domination of a theory, or who are deficient in musical education, perception, or sympathy, and consequently unable to apprehend the unknown * tongue of the musical poet; or if to others the “Why?' exist at all, it is in a form which neither wishes nor requires
To attempt to answer it by a definite explanation is to substitute a finite pleasure and significance for an infinite one—to bring down music from its real “poetic basis 'to the prosaic level demanded by listeners who are destitute of feeling and imagination. This is the case to some extent even with so poetic a piece of programme music as the Pastoral • Symphony, which is accordingly the one generally presented to popular' audiences, who are furnished with annotations telling them where to look out for the nightingale, and where for the thunderstorm, &c. Its successor, the Symphony in A, appeals to higher intellectual perceptions, and demands a much higher class of audience for its appreciation. That this also sprang from some definite mood or impulse in the composer's mind, we may readily imagine; but when the edifice is complete, what further need of the plans or the scaffolding? Should we gain anything if, in listening to that wonderful intermediate episode in the Scherzo--that slower movement which seems to speak of some vague and solemn glory such as eye hath not seen, nor ear heard,' we were to be offered a label to tell us the meaning of it? Would we not rather listen in the spirit a modern poet has expressed in a sonnet * written during music':
"O! what is this that knows the road I came?' The absurdities, again, which the attempt to tack a definite meaning to music sometimes gives rise to, are instructive enough. In Mendelssohn's · Meerestille'overture, for instance, the little flourishes for the flute before the allegro commences have always been explained to mean the first catspaws' of the breeze on the water; but it appears that the composer, when asked one day about it, laughingly confessed that he believed the passage had been suggested by a little pasteboard figure of an opera-dancer on the mast of a Naples fishing boat, which kicked up a leg when the breeze caught it. Last season an overture by a clever young English musician, Mr. Gadsby, was played at the Crystal Palace concerts, which its author had named " The Witches Frolic'(a beading from the • Ingoldsby
Legends ') as a title appropriate to a work of rather piquant and faërie character. But this was not enough; and three or four pages of the programme were filled with a reprint of Barham's vulgarity, that the audience might lose nothing towards the right understanding of the music. It is due to the composer to say that he denied any complicity in this remarkable effort of programme analysis ; but such a reductio ad absurdum is none the less suggestive of what the poetic basis 'theory may lead us to. A more serious possible result, already too largely illustrated, is that if music is to be valued for an arbitrary meaning attached to it, beauty of melody and purity of harmonic relation come to be, theoretically if not practically, of no consequence; and a determined theorist may persuade his ears, on principle, to like almost anything. It is only on such a supposition that we can understand the existence of the extraordinary cacophony presented to us as music in some recent instrumental compositions, and in many parts of Wagner's operas.* Of course we know all that has been said and will be said by the apologists of the new theory; how every innovator in composition has been condemned in turn; how Mozart's quartetts were scouted as inharmonious, and the andante of the *Pastoral Symphony’drove a gifted but conservative English musician from the room ; and all the rest of it. But this is an argument which is not capable of the indefinite application claimed for it, because there is the irrefragable fact that music is founded on a basis of physical law and mathematical proportion, which you must ultimately bow to. There is only one combination of sounds on which the ear can finally rest with satisfaction. Wagner himself, in the close of Lohengrin furnishes a curious instance of the despotic nature of this law. The chorus parts conclude with a discord, as illustrative of the distress as Lohengrin disappears; and to keep up the illustration strictly, the work ought so to close, for the stage group is left in unalleviated anguish. But the physical law of music is inflexible, and the composer is obliged to use the orchestra to veer round into the full common chord' of the key before he can drop the curtain and dismiss his audience. And the whole philosophy of musical composition, broadly stated, is the art of progressing logically and yet with apparent freedom from one such point of repose to another. The final resolution may be indefinitely deferred-even, as in Wagner's later practice, throughout an entire act; though we think the ear feels keenly the want of repose in that case. Combinations the most inharmonious in themselves may recur over and over again (as is constantly the case with the two greatest
Some of those who heard Lizst's ‘Pianoforte Concerto in A' at the Sydenham concerts last season will appreciate the point of this remark. Look at such a passage, again, as that for the horns in the 'Rheingold,' at the moment when Alberic puts on his helmet, with its horrible false relation which almost sets the teeth on edge. To write such a sequence is almost like declaring that two and two make five. But in music two and two make four-always; and music will revenge herself, ultimately, on any composer who endeavours to ignore this.
masters of construction, Bach and Mozart), but they will never offend so long as the ear, which, as it were, unconsciously reasons, can recognise their logical relation to the context, and to the unalterable statics of harmony. In this light even Haydn, who is mentioned by the new school (if at all) with a kind of patronising condescension, was a profounder thinker in music than Lizst or Wagner. It may be open to the critics of their school to say that the rule which shall reduce to order their system is not yet comprehended, just as there is no doubt that Beethoven wrote passages which, regarded as abnormal in his day, are since seen to be logically embraced by a more extended theory of the genesis of concords. But as a fact, the tendency of the modern school seems to be to deny the existence of any rule or law whatever, either in regard to detail or general form; and not long since we read in an advanced critique on a work by Lizst, that though the composition might seem fragmentary and incoherent, 'What was
wanting in form was supplied by the poetic impulse which pervaded the whole.' That is a fair specimen of the loose and shallow talk about music which passes for philosophical criticism at present; to which one can only reply that those who use it simply do not know what · Art' means.
Art is Form; and to suppose that poetic impulse without form can give rise to anything worth calling a work of Art, is as reasonable as to imagine that an organised being can be generated by a father without a mother.
Nothing, we may add, tends more to awaken suspicion as to the real importance or greatness of Wagner's contribution to the progress of the art than the atmosphere of intolerance, exaggeration, and what we fear must be called “humbug,' which seems to surround it everywhere. A reference to the essay by Mr. Dannreuther, in Macmillan's Magazine' of May last, in which the ground is cleared for Wagner by the direction of a fire of abuse against every previous and contemporary opera composer (with a partial reservation in favour of Gluck and Mozart), will give some idea of the lengths to which the fervour of the clique is carried. On the other hand, if we were to quote some average specimens of the eloquence of inspired Wagnerian prophets, most of our readers would probably think a hoax was being put upon them. What the smaller fry of the Anglo-German critics are equal to may be partly imagined from what we find in the writing of Mr. Hüffer, their best representative, where, amid repeated sneers at the British Philistine,'* we read
* It is, perhaps, scarcely worth while, but we may just remind these