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The Great German Composers eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 143 pages of information about The Great German Composers.
of outline—­like, indeed, the hazy aureole which painters set on the brow of the man Jesus, to fix the seal of the ultimate Divinity.  Though several or all of these may be united in the same composition, each musical work may be characterized in the main as descriptive, sensuous, suggestive, or dramatic, according as either element contributes most largely to its purpose.  Simple melody or harmony appeals mostly to the sensuous love of sweet sounds.  The symphony does this in an enlarged and complicated sense, but is still more marked by the marvelous suggestive energy with which it unlocks all the secret raptures of fancy, floods the border-lands of thought with a glory not to be found on sea or land, and paints ravishing pictures, that come and go like dreams, with colors drawn from the “twelve-tinted tone-spectrum.”

Shelley describes this peculiar influence of music in his “Prometheus Unbound,” with exquisite beauty and truth: 

     “My soul is an enchanted boat,
     Which, like a sleeping swan, doth float
     Upon the silver waves of thy sweet singing;
     And thine doth like an angel sit
     Beside the helm conducting it,
     While all the waves with melody are ringing. 
     It seems to float ever, forever,
     Upon that many-winding river,
     Between mountains, woods, abysses,
     A paradise of wildernesses.”

As the symphony best expresses the suggestive potency in music, the operatic form incarnates its capacity of definite thought, and the expression of that thought.  The term “lyric,” as applied to the genuine operatic conception, is a misnomer.  Under the accepted operatic form, however, it has relative truth, as the main musical purpose of opera seems, hitherto, to have been less to furnish expression for exalted emotions and thoughts, or exquisite sentiments, than to grant the vocal virtuoso opportunity to display phenomenal qualities of voice and execution.  But all opera, however it may stray from the fundamental idea, suggests this dramatic element in music, just as mere lyricism in the poetic art is the blossom from which is unfolded the full-blown perfection of the word-drama, the highest form of all poetry.

II.

That music, by and of itself, cannot express the intellectual element in the beautiful dream-images of art with precision, is a palpable truth.  Yet, by its imperial dominion over the sphere of emotion and sentiment, the connection of the latter with complicated mental phenomena is made to bring into the domain of tone vague and shifting fancies and pictures.  How much further music can be made to assimilate to the other arts in directness of mental suggestion, by wedding to it the noblest forms of poetry, and making each the complement of the other, is the knotty problem which underlies the great art-controversy about which this article concerns itself.  On the one side

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