The eighteenth century lies behind us like a fruitful land, with the touch of the old-world distinction on it, the old-world aroma clinging to it. On paper, on canvas, on wooden panels, it is very picturesque in its queer stately way, if very artificial. The sunlight seems always to bask on it. It reminds one of a perpetual summer Sunday afternoon in a small provincial town. But its voice speaks in its music, often bitterly sad and sweetly regretful, and there is little hint of sunshine or careless merrymaking there. Bach is steeped in cloister gloom, with frequent moments of religious ecstasy. Haydn is generally cheerful in a humdrum sort of way, but when his real feelings begin to speak, not even Mozart is sadder. They were human beings with greedy, desiring souls in them, these men and women of the dead eighteenth century, not delicate painted figures on screens and panels, and none but actors would be consoled by their undoubted picturesqueness when they are being tortured or ennuied. They saw their youth slipping away uneventfully, and dark old age coming steadily upon them. The gay bustle and hurry-skurry of arriving and departing parties, the great dames and languid gentlemen lounging on the terraces, the feasts and dignified dances—these are very pleasant for us to look back on, but what did they seem to the human beings, the players, actors and singers, who watched the show go on? The great ones were in their element: at Esterhaz or elsewhere their world and mode of life were the same—but the poor artists?... The single cafe was a poor compensation for a rollicking life of change. The exile from Paris—the avocat, or notaire, or docteur in the provinces—how he hankers after the electrically lit boulevards, and wonders whether he dare run up for a day or two, and what will happen, there and here, if he does. And Haydn—we can fancy him, after brilliant evenings at Esterhaz standing, looking Viennawards on still nights, the starry immensity above him and the quiet black woods and waters around him—the gay lights of Vienna must have danced before his inner vision, and his soul must have risen in revolt, full of angry desire to be once again in the midst of the happy chattering tide of life in the great town. No other great composer could have stuck to his task as he did. Mozart would have forgotten his duties; Beethoven would purposely have neglected them. But Haydn’s Prince willed the thing to be done, and Haydn acquiesced. The patient blood of generations of industrious, persevering, plodding peasant labourers was in him; and perhaps his early training under Frankh and Reutter counted for something. He went on unflinchingly, outwardly calm—calm even in the eyes of languid eighteenth-century people—inwardly living strenuously as he battled with and conquered his art-problems.
MUSIC OF THE MIDDLE PERIOD