Riehl says that art is always in danger of ruin when its simple foundation forms are too much elaborated, overlooking the fact that music is not an art, but psychological utterance.
It needed all Wagner’s gigantic personality to rise above this wave of formalism that looked to the past for its salvation, a past which was one of childish experimenting rather than of aesthetic accomplishment. The tendency was to return to the dark cave where tangible walls were to be touched by the hands, rather than to emerge into a sunlight that seemed blinding.
ON THE LIVES AND ART PRINCIPLES OF SOME SEVENTEENTH AND EIGHTEENTH CENTURY COMPOSERS
There is much of value to the student to be derived from a study of the lives and art principles of the composers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. To go back to an earlier period would hardly be worth while, as the music composed in those days is too much obscured by the uncertainty of tradition and the inevitable awkwardness of expression that goes with all primitiveness in art.
The first whom I would mention are Don Carlo Gesualdo, Prince of Venosa, and Ludovico Viadana.
The former was a nephew of the Archbishop of Naples, was born in 1550, and died in 1613. His name is important from the fact that he went boldly beyond Monteverde, his contemporary, in the use of the new dissonant chords (sevenths and ninths) which were just beginning to be employed, and adopted a chromatic style of writing which strangely foreshadowed the chromatic polyphonic style of the present century. He wrote innumerable madrigals for a number of voices, but his innovations remained sterile so far as the development of music is concerned, for the reason that while his music often acquired a wonderful poignancy for his time by the use of chromatics, just as often it led him into the merest bramble bush of sound, real music being entirely absent.
Viadana (1566-1645) has been placed by many historians of music in the same category as Guido d’Arezzo (who is credited with having invented solmization, musical notation, etc.), Palestrina, Monteverde and Peri, who are famed, the one for having discovered the dominant ninth chord, and the other for the invention of opera. Viadana is said to have been the first to use what is called a basso continuo, and even the figured bass. The former was the uninterrupted repetition of a short melody or phrase in the bass through the entire course of a piece of music. This was done very often to give a sense of unity that nowadays would be obtained by a repetition of the first thought at certain intervals through the piece. The figured (or better, ciphered) bass was an entirely different thing. This device, which is still employed, consisted of the use of figures to indicate the different chords in music. These figures or ciphers were written over or under the bass