Critical & Historical Essays eBook

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

The music of the period we have been considering is well described by Browning in “A Toccata of Galuppi’s”: 

    Yes you, like a ghostly cricket,
      Creaking where a house was burned: 
    Dust and ashes, dead and done with,
      Venice spent what Venice earned.



Up to the time of Beethoven, music for the pianoforte consisted mainly of programme music of the purely descriptive order, that is to say, it was generally imitative of natural or artificial externals.  To be sure, if we go back to the old clavecinists, and examine the sonatas of Kuhnau, sundry pieces by Couperin, Rameau, and the Germans, Froberger, C.P.E.  Bach and others, we find the beginnings of that higher order of programme music which deals directly with the emotions; and not only that, but which aims at causing the hearer to go beyond the actual sounds heard, in pursuance of a train of thought primarily suggested by this music.

To find this art of programme music, as we may call it, brought to a full flower, we must seek in the mystic utterances of Robert Schumann.  It is wise to keep in mind, however, that although Schumann’s piano music certainly answers to our definition of the higher programme music, it also marks the dividing line between emotional programme music without a well-defined object and that dramatically emotional art which we have every reason to believe was aimed at by Beethoven in many of his sonatas, and which, in its logical development and broadened out by orchestral colours and other resources, is championed by Richard Strauss at the present day.

We have already learned that C.P.E.  Bach had entirely broken with the contrapuntal style of his father and his age in order to gain freer utterance, and that the word “colour” began to be used in his time in connection with music for even one instrument.  It is, perhaps, needless to say that the vastly enlarged possibilities, both technical and tonal, of the newly invented forte-piano were largely the outcome of this seeking for colour in music.  In addition to this, the new art of harmonic dissonances was already beginning to stretch out in the direction of new and strange tonal combinations, thus giving to the music written for the instrument many new possibilities in the way of causing and depicting emotions.  That the first experiments were puerile, we know, as, for example, Haydn’s attempts, in one of his pianoforte sonatas, to suggest the conversion of an obdurate sinner.

When we consider Mozart, it is impossible to forget the fact that in his piano works he was first and foremost a piano virtuoso, a child prodigy, of whom filigree work was expected by the public for which he wrote his sonatas.  (We cannot call this orientalism, for it was more or less of German pattern, traced from the fioriture of the Italian opera singer.) Therefore, emotional utterance or even new or poetic colouring was not to be expected of him.

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Critical & Historical Essays from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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