Critical & Historical Essays eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 248 pages of information about Critical & Historical Essays.

It is difficult to give an adequate idea of Mozart’s works.  He possessed a certain simple charm of expression which, in its directness, has an element of pathos lacking in the comparatively jolly light-heartedness of Haydn.  German opera profited much from his practically adopting the art principles of Gluck, although it must be confessed that this change in style may have been simply a phase of his own individual art development.  His later symphonies and operas show us the man at his best.  His piano works and early operas show the effect of the “virtuoso” style, with all its empty concessions to technical display and commonplace, ear-catching melody.

[15] At that time the harpsichord player was a very important
     member of an orchestra, as he accompanied the recitative
     from figured bass and was practically the conductor.  On
     one occasion when the harpsichordist was absent Haendel
     took his place with so much success that it paved the
     way for a hearing of his operas.



There is one side of music which I am convinced has never been fully studied, namely, the relation between it and declamation.  As we know, music is a language which may delineate actual occurrences by means of onomatopoetic sounds.  By the use of more or less suggestive sounds, it may bring before our minds a quasi-visual image of things which we more or less definitely feel.

Now to do all this, there must be rules; or, to put it more broadly, there must be some innate quality that enables this art of sounds to move in sympathy with our feelings.  I have no wish to go into detailed analysis of the subject; but a superficial survey of it may clear up certain points with regard to the potency of music that we are too often willing to refer back to the mere pleasing physical sensations of sound.

Some consideration of this subject may enable us to understand the much discussed question of programme music.  It may also help us to recognize the astonishing advance we have made in the art; an advance, which, strange to say, consists in successively throwing off all the trammels and conventionalities of what is generally considered artificial, and the striking development of an art which, with all its astounding wealth of exterior means, aims at the expression of elemental sensations.

Music may be divided into four classes, each class marking an advance in receptive power on the part of the listener and poetic subtlety on that of the composer.  We may liken the first stage to that of the savage Indians who depict their exploits in war and peace on the rocks, fragments of bone, etc.  If the painter has in mind, say, an elephant, he carves it so that its principal characteristics are vastly exaggerated.  A god in such delineation is twice the size of the ordinary man, and so it is in descriptive music.  For instance, in Beethoven’s “Pastoral” symphony, the cuckoo is not a bird which mysteriously hides itself far away in a thicket, the sound of whose voice comes to one like a strange, abrupt call from the darkness of the forest; no, it is unmistakably a cuckoo, reminding one strangely of those equally advanced and extremely cheap art products of Nuremberg, made of pine wood, and furnished with a movable tail.

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Critical & Historical Essays from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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